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(vi)

THE picture composed in the withdrawing-room of the house in Woolloomooloo came within no catalogue description; it was not a conversation piece, nor a genre picture, nor wholly an interior, for two wide windows stood open on to the bay, and the fires of the blacks' camp could be seen from them. Two personages held


  ― 164 ―
the eye. One was a woman sewing, holding a thick white sock, manipulating her needle awkwardly, drawing too long a thread right and left to make the web; the lamplight, flaring and drooping, gave her figure primary value. The other, sprawled out of the lamp's range, was that of a man in dark trousers and jacket, bulky, motionless. Hands slid into pockets, slippered feet crossed, he sat still, for sole occupation eyeing the go and come of his wife's arm, into the light and out. A clock, of which both were unconscious, assumed the rôle of a third individual; one who betrays secrets he is never told.

Although in the room no one spoke, unless the clock's monotone might count as a voice, sounds enough entered, each carrying its implication. From the bay came the grating of wood upon sand as a boat was drawn up for the night. The blacks sang like dogs round their fire, drawing great breaths, launching a high note, and dwindling down the scale as their wind failed.

Morruda, yerraba, tundy kin arra
Morruda, yerraba, min yin guiny wite mala.note

Their curs howled with them. Frogs protested. Nearer, the voices of women in the kitchen never ceased, and upon the path that ran below the window footsteps moved with regular beat; Mr. Secretary taking half an hour's exercise after a long day at his desk.




  ― 165 ―

“I am sorry, Sam, that the dinner was not good. I have not Charles's knack with the women. They are insolent and lazy, and I can't be at the trouble of perpetually scolding and teaching.”

“I'm not grumbling.”

“You never grumble.”

Silence again, and the clock's insistence: time—time; going—going; gone—sirs; gone—sirs; gone.

“I wish Charles would come home. I am so greatly concerned to know what has happened, the Governor's plan for him. Sam——” the hand ceased its weaving—“you must help me persuade him.”

“It's his business.”

“You brought him to this house. You owe him, we both owe him very much.” A restless movement came from the figure outside the lamp's circle. She resumed her darning and spoke while appearing to give the sock entire attention:

“I have thought sometimes lately that you might be glad if his visit were to come to an end. Was I right, is that true? No, do not answer, I know words make you uneasy. But perhaps it would be better if he were to go.”

“Let him stay if you want him.”

“Sam, sometimes I wish you would or could be a little more open. I never know what you are thinking and planning. It is my own fault, do not suppose I blame you, it is I who have failed. I have been the worst wife any man ever had——”

“Stow that. None of that.”




  ― 166 ―

“No, but I want you to understand that I know what I have done. I have come to know it, and—let me say it, let us clear the air as far as we can. I am very sorry.”

“What have you done?” She looked towards his chair, saw him coming towards her, and held a hand to him.

“You know how I have failed you. Publicly shamed you—that dinner-party, I cannot remember, but I do not forget it. It was not the first time. But it shall be different now. I think I have the strength now.” She spoke slowly, gazing at her shiny halted needle. “Sam, do you remember what you told me once, how you looked through the window when my father and I were at dinner? You were riding that tall mare, Pope Joan; you could not have seen, otherwise. That was the beginning. How far it has led us!” He was standing by her; she put her hand on his thick arm, and heard, coming back from memories, the clock chanting without emphasis its requiem for time. “Both of us to this country, and you to fortune, and me to—I don't know, I can't tell yet. Isn't it a strange thing, Sam, I see what I have been doing as though some other person had done it. That is not the way to change and become better, is it? Not to forget the past; one should remember and be sorry, and build upon it. It was because I had not courage to remember that this all happened, this wretched failure——”

He said nothing, responding in no way when suddenly she laid her cheek to his sleeve. She began to laugh.




  ― 167 ―

“I wish I could train you to talk. I have often wished the same thing with a dog or a horse. What interesting different things they would have to say, seeing us from their own standpoint as they do! I would sometimes like to be able to make words I could understand out of the wuff-wuff you bestow upon me now and then——”

As though in answer to this wish, going away from her and settling suddenly in his chair again like a large dog lying down, he began:

“Milly's gone to some captain's wife.”

“Milly! Did you see her, speak to her?”

“Not me. They were talking.”

“Who, Sam? What did they say?”

“It's what she's been saying.”

“About us?”

“Some of us.”

“What does that mean?” Before he could answer she went on. “She disapproved of Charles. I suppose some legends have been started. It will give all the ladies something to talk of. They must be grateful.” Flusky continued to look at her, defenceless in her circle of light, from his ambush in shadow. “Charles—I suppose they have made him out my lover. How absurd it sounds! How——” A gesture of the hand, forsaking the silks for an instant to lift and drop, showed better than words could do how powerless over her heart, how preposterous was young Adare regarded as a lover.

“Hush, what's that?”

They had both become accustomed to the secretary's


  ― 168 ―
pendulum swing on the path below the window; the cessation of his steps served now as interruption. They heard voices, one breathless, as of a man who had come fast up the hill.

“You, Winter? I've been down there with Ketch and his pack. They stink prodigious awful. ‘However, the poor jackals are less foul (as being the brave lion's keen providers) than human insects, catering for spiders.’ ”

“I don't know that—sir.”

“Byron. I'll lend it you. You can't speak their lingo, can you? Ketch and Company? Never mind. Is anybody up still? There's a light.”

The two in the room heard his steps mounting quickly, then an interim of quiet while they crossed grass, then sounding again on the verandah boards. Adare stood at the window, arms stretched wide to support him as he leaned in.

“Domestic peace, salute! Here I come, fresh from Government House. There is a kind of tickling on my shoulders as if epaulettes were growing there. I'm thirsty. Why don't we all have some tea?”

Lady Henrietta nodded towards the bell, Flusky from his ambush observing her face. It was frankly welcoming, the mouth was parted, the eyes bright as a smile half-closed them. Before Adare could reach the bell, Flusky, stretching out an arm over the back of his chair, gave the rope a tug, and they heard a jangling in the kitchen which produced but a momentary effect upon the conversation there.




  ― 169 ―

“That won't get so much as a stir out of them, let alone wet the tea,” said Adare.

He turned, and in the darkness ran along the verandah to where the kitchen-window opened, round a corner. They heard a sudden silence from the women, then a whoop of laughter.

“Sam, what precisely is it that Milly has been saying? I laughed, but it is dangerous, perhaps, to let it go on.”

“That's right,” Flusky agreed soberly.

“Is there anything we can do?”

“Plenty.”

“Will you look to it? You are more in touch, more able to deal with such matters than I.”

“I'll look to it.”

She gave him a little nod of thanks before she began to fold her wools, and they waited silently for the tea. It came, heralded by voices in dispute.

“I never give a civil word to a man at the back door in my life.”

“There's plenty of other things you can give to men at back doors.”

“Never, don't I tell you! I'm a good girl.”

“No doubt of it. Give us a sermon next Sunday.”

“You want Miss Milly for that. Sermon! She'd ha' lined her kickseys with hymn-books.”

“Pretty thought. Now be off to the back door again. Give me the tray; sell your virtue dear. Don't take a farthing less than sixpence, as you value my regard.”

Adare appeared with the tray. He set it down, and


  ― 170 ―
stood negligently pouring the tea, talking the while.

“I begin to depend upon this national drink. Do you observe, in the generation growing up, a yellowish tinge of countenance? In China they are yellow, too, for the same cause. But we absorb beakers where they swallow thimblefuls. We shall be mahogany in two generations, while they can never advance beyond a paltry lemon. Observe, I say ‘we.’ That is because I am now finally resolved to leave my bones here, after I have done with them. Is this how you like your cup?”

She said as she accepted it, lively eagerness and interest in her voice:

“How went your dinner-party?”

“Fortescue—I told you about Fortescue?—was there. (Flusky, you take sugar, I think?) We did not agree. His Excellency my sixth cousin made the mistake of telling each one of us beforehand what a fine fellow was the other. Result: detestation immediate and irrevocable.”

“No expedition, then?”

“Oh, yes. Certainly an expedition, if I can raise the money. But not with Mr. Fortescue. What do you say to gold?”

Lady Henrietta, looking up startled at that word, saw her husband's steady eyes fixed on the young man. Her lamp had been moved to make room for the tea-tray, it no longer allowed him his hiding-place of shadow, and she could read very well the expression which showed for an instant and was gone.

“Gold! Not with Ketch, Charles. Not that gold——”




  ― 171 ―

“And why not, my dear? If, as I said, I can raise the money. Not much; but we want equipment. Shall we say, a hundred pounds?”

He looked at Flusky, as did she. They talked to each other, but Flusky with his silence was calling the tune. He spoke after a little.

“How much?”

“Blessed words!” Mr. Adare set down his teacup. “Does that mean you'll help? I knew it. You're the King-Emperor of good fellows, Flusky.”

Lady Henrietta on impulse, on the memory of that single second's glimpse, cried out:

“Sam, no! Don't offer, don't give it him.”

Adare turned in genuine surprise.

“What's this? Who's been at me this past month to do something with myself? What's the matter?”

“If you go with the Governor's man, yes.”

“My dear, here's a great to-do you're making. Where's the difference between going after gold we have proof of and going after some tomfool river that may not exist?”

“If you go with Ketch,” said she slowly, as though in fact she saw events unrolling before her fixed eyes, “he will lead you where he chooses, and leave you to die, walking in a circle in the bush. Then he will plunder your clothes and weapons, and disappear. That is what it is intended should happen.”

“Listen.” Adare was sensitive to her distress. “I'm not going alone. Listen quietly. There was a fellow there


  ― 172 ―
this evening from the Survey Office. Thomson is his name. He detested Fortescue as much as I did. (Priggish, self-satisfied, counter-jumper!) We walked home here in the cool. Thomson is no fool, he is a geologist by nature, and he performs to perfection those mysteries with rods, poles and perches which are Greek to me. In addition he can read—say, rather, he is aware that books exist, and are of a heavenly uselessness. Mr. Fortescue, on the other hand, supposes that books are things kept by double entry, which serve purposes in lawyers' dens. Thomson, like his namesake of the Seasons, is all for binding the nations in a golden chain. At the close of our walk I took him to see Ketch's necklace. He pronounces it gold.”

“It is, it is gold,” she said, beating her hands together. “That is the bait in the trap.”

“Trap?” He turned, following the direction of her eyes, to view Flusky, sprawled in his chair. The big man was smiling. Now, paying no attention to the emotional atmosphere, he repeated his question:

“How much is wanted? How much did you reckon?”

“Two hundred apiece for equipment and food. I have a hundred of my own left. Will you lend me the rest? And take half my share in anything we find. I hope, for your sake, we'll be lucky.”

Lady Henrietta came across the room and dropped to her knees at her husband's side. The movement, wholly impulsive, yet had some too dramatic quality due to her height and the sweep of her dress.




  ― 173 ―

“Sam, don't lend this money. I am asking you something with my whole heart.”

Adare lightly clapped his hands and went to lift her.

“Bravo! Now for the husband's curse, and the snow-storm of paper.”

She resisted the pressure of his hand on her arm, insisting, eyes on her husband's face:

“Sam, I am asking you not to do this. Because of what I now know; I beg you; I will do anything you want.”

Flusky patted her shoulder and rose, with a good-humoured nod to Adare over her head.

“Looks to me you haven't got a right notion.” His voice was reasonable, kind. “You talk as if I wanted this young fool to go off after gold. I've told him it's not healthy; I'm sick of talking.” He pulled her to her feet, and a slow shake of the head responded to her pleading. “You got to do me justice. I done what I could. I told him not to heed Ketch. You take me up wrong. I say it now, I'll say it as often as you like; Ketch is a liar, this gold's more danger than it's worth. He knows that. What more can I do?”

“You see,” said Adare, gently adding his persuasion, “I'm only twenty, Hattie. I don't want to settle down to ploughing yet awhile. This is a new country, what's a new country for? Not to sit—no offence, sweet lady—in a woman's pocket. Wait till I bring back nuggets, a beautiful necklace like the one Ketch is wearing——”

“You fool!” said she furiously.

“Hattie! What's come to you?”




  ― 174 ―

Flusky said nothing. He faced the two with a masculine calm that made her agony, expressed as it was in sudden sound and fury, appear a tale told by an idiot. Adare looked from one to the other, mystified. An explanation occurred to him. He lifted, simultaneously, his elbow a little and his eyebrows; Flusky gave a short nod. But she, from the corner of her eye, caught the interchange.

“Charles, no! Not that. I've not been drinking.”

“All right, my dear. Sober as a judge. As a whole bench of judges. Of course you are.”

The tone, humouring, tender, lent a last irony to her despair. She took a stride forward, tearing her dress; one hand went to her forehead, clutching and loosening the hair.

“Dear.” It was the young man's voice at her side. “It's late. Won't you go up to bed? Don't be angry, Hattie.”

“Is it no use, then, fighting? Can nothing ever be changed? No hope?”

This was spoken to herself, so softly that the men could take no meaning from the movement of her lips. She opened her eyes. Both were looking at her, and the same expression arrayed both faces; the tolerant masculine look, making allowance for creatures whose balance is less sure, whose emotions are gales which no barometer announces. She ran away from that look with a cry not articulate; ran blindly out of the room.

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