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(v)

HIS Excellency said, looking up from papers:

“Glad to see you, Charles. Sit down. I won't keep you long.”




  ― 157 ―

The young man, however, strolled to a window, and looked down across bleached grass to the bay. It was singularly blue, and large ships rode close to shore; deep water there. On Dawes' Battery soldiers in red coats, coifed with tall shakos that left their napes bare to the sun, were changing guard. Not a child watched them, not a dog. Heat prevailed over curiosity.

“Well, Charles?”

“Sir.” He turned and came towards the desk, standing by it. “I'm sorry our social endeavours the other night ended in smoke.”

“I heard you'd been hurt.”

“It's nothing.” Adare shook his hand free from its sling. “My own fault. Tell me, didn't you fall in love with my Lady Hattie?”

“She's a beauty, poor woman, no doubt of that. To look at her——”

“To look at her you wouldn't think she was scandalous, and you'd be right.”

The Governor did not take up the challenge. He began to seek among his papers, talking:

“You've had three months of this country now. You're acclimatized. I take it, too, you've learned better how to conduct speculations in land.”

“You are right, as it happens; there is no speculation in these eyes.” He checked. “It was an odd mistake for Flusky to make, of all people. He must have known the applications would go to you.”

“Are you so sure it was a mistake?” The young man


  ― 158 ―
stared. “It served his purpose very well; got you out of my house into his.”

“He couldn't have guessed you would take it so hard. No, that's far-fetched. He's not such a Machiavelli as that.”

The Governor dropped the subject.

“And the poetry? How does that go?”

“Oh, the poetry,” the young man answered, inexplicably smiling. “Not so badly.”

“Would a project of action appeal to you?” Adare gave consent by his silence, sitting down upon the edge of the desk to listen. “Fortescue is setting out on an expedition with a limited objective——” His Excellency found the paper he had been seeking. “You will hear historians talk of rivers as arteries of commerce. In this country they are life-blood. Mitchell was gone off before we arrived, to survey the Bogan; that was a Government project. Dixon, too, is one of our men. Fortescue is a private person, but he has Government backing to this extent: we will acknowledge his discoveries very handsomely on our maps, and he has authority from me to risk his own existence and that of anyone he can persuade to accompany him. He proposes to take ship along the coast—it is the shortest route—to a spot above Port Macquarie, and thence strike inwards. We know little, as yet, of the river that runs into Tryal Bay; or of the watershed inland, from which perhaps other streams are distributed. Three or four months' wandering, with the chance of giving your name to some mountain, or


  ― 159 ―
other conspicuous natural feature. What do you say?”

Adare answered, rather absently:

“Port Macquarie; not near the Fish River, is it?” The Governor did not answer, looking his astonishment, and Adare went on rapidly: “I have heard that name somewhere lately. It stays in my head. Who is Mr. Fortescue?”

“Dine to-night and meet him.”

“Very happy.” He stood up, half-laughing. “I suppose there would be no objection, if we found a reef of gold on the way, to our bringing some of it home?”

“Gold?” His Excellency looked up sharply. “The first thing every fool hopes to find in a new country.”

Adare answered as crisply:

“Why the devil not?” He knew he had spoken with too much abruptness, and turned it off. “Every man hopes to be rich without working. You are an Irishman yourself, we are all of us on the look-out for the leprechaun's crock.”

“A lot of good his crock has ever done. Look at the Spaniards, they found it in Peru; and now Spain's choked with the stuff, dying like King Midas. No, no, Charles, be said by me. If your services on this expedition are adequate, there'll be no difficulty about a grant. Get land, don't waste time listening for the tap of the little man's hammer.”

Adare was silent. The Governor stood up, offering his hand. “I expect you to-night, then. My regards to Lady Henrietta.”

“You made a conquest there.”




  ― 160 ―

“She is a fine creature. Very great beauty, great charm.”

“Very.”

“It is remarkable, for she must be, let me see; yes, she must be over forty.”

“Not a doubt of it. The dangerous age.”

His Excellency drew back from this thrust and parry, aware that the young man had become defiant for some reason, and put on the official again.

“I will endeavour to have someone from the Surveyor's Office this evening, with maps. No reason why you should not take advice, as far as advice may carry you. Will six o'clock suit you? Till then.”

The young man, turning down the left-hand sweep of Government House drive, past a sentry retired into his box to escape the sun, walked by the Secretary's offices, and so by way of Bridge Street to the centre of the town. There in George Street he found a cleanly-looking barber's shop, had his hair cut, and listened to New World gossip as it drifted to him from the neighbouring chairs; prevalence of influenza among sheep up-country, a project of growing tobacco in the Colony—“all right, but how about locusts?”—the recent public execution of a thief. There was no little discussion of this last, until the barber at the next chair pronounced with authority:

“Harper strung him up neat enough, but he had time to kick. It wants what I call the hand. It's something you can't teach a man. There's no call to let 'em kick, not if a man known his job.”




  ― 161 ―

Adare, head bent forward to allow the scissors' play upon his neck, recorded this utterance in his memory. To each man his conscience in art, thought he. But he was unprepared for the next comment, which came from a personage with the appearance of a turnkey:

“You'd never ought to have given it up. There's work enough, with men taking to the bush every week. You did ought to have stuck to it.”

The authoritative barber shook his head, delicately tilting his client's head sideways with a finger and thumb straddling the nose.

“There's not a living in it. I haven't got only myself to think of.”

“Tell me,” said Adare, low to his own attendant, “is that individual shaving my neighbour the hangman?”

“Was, sir. Was. Retired a year ago and set up here.”

“Does he do well?”

“Well? Yes, sir, nicely, he's got a wonderful light hand. It's a nice connection.”

The proprietor looked about him, razor in hand, lacked something, and with the strong crook of his little finger pulled a bell-rope that ended in a loop of twine. Someone entered, pushing aside the curtain at the back of the shop.

“Towels, Sue.”

Mr. Adare, idly raising his head, saw in the mirror before him a remembered profile. He sprang up, making a small commotion, sending a brush to the floor.

“It's you! Good day to you. Why didn't you wait?


  ― 162 ―
I lost you the other night. I hope you took no harm.”

The girl halted, and a flush brightened her eyes before she looked down at her apron.

“I was all right.”

“Who's the gent, Sue?” That was the proprietor, indulgently smiling, but with a steady suspicious glance.

“At the ball the other night.” She vouchsafed no other explanation. Adare perceived that the adventure of the escape had been left untold, and might remain so. He was aware, also, that in such circumstances it would not be de rigueur to return her petticoat. He repeated, elaborating, his first greeting:

“I hope you took no harm with all the flurry of the fire.”

She neither answered nor departed; she was looking at his sling. The other customers stared at them both, and Adare became conscious that once again he presented no very heroic figure, with a towel about his neck and his hair, untutored by any final combing, in disarray. He bowed and waited, unwilling to sit down again until she should be gone, aware of her father's eye upon him. For he had jumped up to greet her with a spontaneous gladness which astonished himself, and the flush that ran across her cheek had gratified something which he supposed must be his vanity. The proprietor strung up their embarrassment neatly and finally; not a kick was left in the situation when he had done with it.

“Towels, Sue. Are you done, Mister? There's others waiting.”




  ― 163 ―

Adare accepted the fiat, and did not await the girl's reappearance from behind the curtain. He looked at the sign as he passed out. “Vigors,” it read, in letters large and faded; above, inconspicuous, the words “Quaife, late,” indicated the shop's present owner, and the value that he set upon his predecessor's good-will.

“That's how I missed it,” he thought. This was nothing less than an admission that he had been on the look-out for possible bearers of that curious name. Stung, he moved on, but turned inexplicably after a moment to survey the house again. As he did so, the curtain of a window above the shop was drawn with a brisk clash of wooden rings. He knew why, and stood his ground, looking up. The curtain did not budge again. Nevertheless, putting his uninjured hand to his hat he swept it off, and felt the sun's full weight on his forehead for five seconds or so. Passers-by observed him. He stared them down, resumed his hat, cocked it as well as its width would allow, and strolled on.

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