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  ― 187 ―

(i)

STANDING before the map on the end wall of his room, Flusky erased from it features which had been provisionally marked; Captain Forbes' apocryphal stream, Kindur, the plains Babyran, the burning mountain, Kourada. All these first took shape in the imagination of an escaped convict, who thus endeavoured to lend his breakaway some glamour of exploration; now an expedition had disproved their existence, substituting barren words, Scrub Country, Swamp Country, for the life-giving River Flats. Flusky erased with reluctance, repelling symbolically one more raid upon the white spaces of the map. The attackers had mastered no key position, but only one more of the eternal escarpments by which the country's secret life was defended.

“Ought to be having news of Dixon's expedition soon,” said he to console himself. “He's been gone nigh on half a year.”

Winter answered, looking up from neat papers:

“No doubt, sir.” He added, hesitating: “Of Mr. Adare, too.”

Flusky received that with one of his silences. The secretary went on, in a voice louder than he intended,


  ― 188 ―
because the words were forced out by his will: “Excuse me, sir. Can something not be done, a search-party be sent out? If we could have some assurance of his safety, I think her ladyship——”

He stopped. Flusky eyed him, bringing his look and his will to bear as a wrestler uses a grip. When the secretary's face was colourless, he spoke:

“Adare's his Ex's cousin. It's for the Governor to move.”

He returned to the map. There was silence for a couple of minutes until the secretary once again took courage to address the broad back. It was a new subject, but one hardly less dangerous.

“Sir, is it necessary that I should answer this letter? I have no right to say it, perhaps, I am convinced from—my own observation——” he left Mr. Adare out this time, a measure of precaution—“that this woman is mischievous. It is not my affair. But from what I have gathered, and for her ladyship's sake——”

This time Flusky made interruption in words, catching, as was not unusual with him, at the name which had not been spoken.

“You bloody gentlemen! Your observation, what you have gathered, you and Mr. Adare. Where's this letter?”

Winter handed it, one sheet of paper, written in a hand angular yet unformed.

“Mr. Samson Flusky, Sir, Hearing that there is now no just cause or impediment, and being disengaged, beg to offer myself for the position given up in March last. Will


  ― 189 ―
be glad of an answer by return owing to many applications and oblige your respectful humble servant, Milly.”

Flusky read it to himself, mouthing one or two of the words soundlessly as he spelled them. When the secretary judged that he had finished he began to make an appeal, hardly audible, which Flusky checked.

“Stow the patter.”

“No,” the secretary answered, beginning to tremble like a man walking to the triangles. “No. I must not be silent. Lady Henrietta is not yet overcome. She is fighting her horrible weakness gallantly—Sir, if you bring this woman back it will be the end, indeed it will. Milly procured her the means of——” He broke off, with an inadequate gesture.

“What's that? Adare said that, you've parroted it from him.”

“No, sir—though he did speak of it to me.”

Flusky made a contemptuous sound.

“I go bail he did. What's the idea, Milly getting the stuff for her? What's Milly get out of it?”

“I don't know,” the secretary answered, “I don't know, but I do beg you to believe, sir——” Despairingly, flinging himself at the danger in that impassive face, he cried out: “What do I get out of it, come to that? Won't you understand that if I speak like this it's because I can't bear to see a woman, a lady——”

Flusky's gesture checked him, a doubling and with-drawing of the fist. His eyelids trembled, but he stood,


  ― 190 ―
gamely enough, to take the blow. Flusky unclenched his hand.

“You talk too much. It's the same with all of you gentlemen, you like the sound of your own voices. Talking shops; that's your fine schools. No good out here. By Cripes, I wish somebody'd tell me what's the good of gentlemen.”

The secretary did not answer that. Flusky threw at him Milly's letter, which dropped on the floor between them.

“Write Milly she can come.”

The secretary came forward to pick it up, observing as he stooped that his employer was at a drawer where employment and assignment forms were kept. He stood with the woman's letter in his fingers, quite still, like an animal threatened with the last danger. Flusky observed him not at all, investigating the papers with a thumb. When he had found the one he sought he sat down, and began laboriously to fill it in.

 
William Winter   Form of Application for the Return of Male Convicts.
To the Magistrate for the district of Sydney.
I have to request that the convict named in the margin now in my assigned service, may be returned to government, because
be object to take orders and not trustworthy in house.
I have the honor to be,
Sir,
Your most obedient Servant.
Signature of assignee or his Overseer
Samson Flusky




  ― 191 ―

When he had completed the formula he looked up. Winter still stood, and was very white; his imagination travailed with the unknown, conjecturing what punishment this defiance might bring. He had no words. His throat was dry with the beating of pulses in it, and a sick twist of his mind translated those pulse-throbs to a beating of hammers on the road, a rhythm of whips descending. He dropped his head and waited.

“Get on with your screeve.”

William Winter sat down and dipped his pen. His writing, neat from much recording of Latin verse, bent to feminine curves from much copying of Greek, informed a Nonconformist cook in polished phrases that she might, so soon as suited her convenience, enter again upon her duties at the house in Woolloomooloo. Flusky watched with curiosity the fluent words appearing, folding Form F meanwhile into a square which he put in his pocket.

“I won't send this off yet. All the same, Mister Winter——”

The secretary looked up, a passion of relief in his eyes, and half-rose.

“Sir.”

“Don't use your nose so much. Stick to your pen.”

He went away. The secretary, in whose mind, a city stricken with panic, no discipline now reigned, laid his forehead on the wet paper while phrases beset him. Nose as sharp as a pen—than a serpent's tooth—thy sting is


  ― 192 ―
not so sharp as friends remembered not, friends defended not; not so sharp as the iron of a coward's own fear entering his soul.

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