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(iv)

ORDER was returning to the house called Why Are You Weeping? The fishermen came of a morning bearing samples of their catch strung on reeds: mullet, garfish, and bream, and departed discreetly. The blacks drifted no further than the kitchen door, and there were fobbed off with valueless articles, corks, candle-ends, and string, instead of bread or meat. Flo, indignant at being cast down from her consequence as cook, rebelled and went, under the irrevocable direction of Form F, back to Government. A young woman replaced her for whom Miss Milly took almost an affection; a cheesemonger's widow, cleanly, methodical, whose shop had been the meeting-place for certain too noisy partisans of Reform. Old Sal subsided into a Sunday-school sobriety of language. Tradesmen's bills went down. The trays which mounted to Lady Henrietta's room were models of what invalid trays should be.

The house, as it adjusted itself to this outward rule, as its corridors began to shine again and its windows to be neat, resumed the mysterious inner life which had found


  ― 199 ―
symbolic statement in its name. The silence that held by day, by night was broken. Once, as in early days, the secretary met his employer's wife wide-eyed on the stairs. He spoke respectfully to her. She looked at him, frowning, shaking her head in an endeavour to focus vision; steadied herself and sighed:

“Pray for me. No. No, couldn't have that, don't think of it. Pray—pray excuse. What I meant.”

He answered, as though gentling a frightened animal:

“Won't you let me give you my arm back to your room?”

“Must think of Sam,” she said gravely. “Mustn't trouble Sam. I assure you, assure you——” very earnestly—“he's my only thought and care.”

She swayed, pursing her mouth, and again looking intently at him.

“Forgotten how it goes. Easeful—something. It torments me.” Suddenly clapping her hands to her ears, she cried out: “It torments me, oh, oh! Always echoes, voices. Hurts to think—drink. Mustn't say that. Mustn't drink it—think it, on any account. Tell me the words, the verse.”

William Winter, at a loss, recollected suddenly a book lent him by Mr. Adare.

“I can't quite tell what you may be thinking of. Is it a line of John Keats, perhaps?”

Face strained to attention and thrust forward, she had the very poise and stillness of a ship's figurehead, and for


  ― 200 ―
an instant he saw her transformed to one, ploughing unknown waters.

“ ‘I have been half in love with easeful Death.’ Is that what you had in mind?”

She smiled wonderfully, the whole posture slackened, a hand was lifted to drop heavily upon his shoulder. She nodded again and again, murmuring:

“Go on. Go on.”

“I can't recollect. I'm sorry, madam.”

He saw her look over her shoulder, heard some person coming towards the stairs. He had a qualm of fear; it was not possible, however, to withdraw from the hand on his shoulder, or change the posture in which, almost like a lover, he stood looking up at her. It was Lady Henrietta who abandoned him, turning and running unsteadily towards her room. The voice of Miss Milly accosted him:

“What did she want?”

“Lady Henrietta was asking——” But he could not reveal the matter of that plaintive quest. “She was asking the time.”

“What made her squeal? I heard it in the kitchen.”

“I can't tell why she cried out.”

Miss Milly was turning away when Winter came after her, suddenly stirred out of prudence.

“But perhaps you can, perhaps you know.”

She faced him, nostrils pinched with a quick drawing-in of breath. “Another of Belial's sons! I do my work for God, and my work for Mr. Flusky, and if there's no complaints from either of them, who are you, I'd like


  ― 201 ―
to know? Look out for yourself, mister. The wicked may flourish, but at the last they shall be cut down, and cast into the pit, and be utterly consumed, Amen! You, indeed!” He took a step towards her. “You touch me, you lag! Only touch me, that's all!”

“I am trying to pass you, to get to my work.”

“About time you remembered your work. Speaking poetry to her—you did ought to know what comes of that.”

“You were listening?”

“Why not, pray? Was you talking so extremely private?” She became the housekeeper arraigning an assigned servant, speaking with a condescension which he found less easy to bear than her shrewishness. “Now you know very well you got no call to be in this part of the house. Be off before you get into trouble.”

He went, telling himself that he had been a scholar of Magdalen, that the crest on his ring had been borne by his family since Queen Elizabeth's day, that these humiliations were of his own purchasing. None of the considerations brought comfort. His thoughts were a rack, and where a free man might have tired himself by action, a bondman had no way of escape. He went to the room with the map, and standing under it felt envy of Adare and those other men pressing forward upon its white spaces, giving their everyday names to gullies and flats, suffering distresses which, because free will commanded them, were easily borne. He hated himself because he could not wholly control his indignation


  ― 202 ―
nor wholly yield to it, because he was helpless, and because he was afraid.

The immediate task was to check household bills for the past month. Mechanically he ranged upon his desk the ill-written books and the bills, scraps of paper dirty with kitchen stains, speared upon a file. Beside them he laid a paper on which Miss Milly had set down the moneys received by her, and by her paid out during the course of the month. He checked the books by the bills, comparing both with her statements. There was no fault to be found, not a halfpenny which might not be counted to the housekeeper for righteousness. He acknowledged to himself, when he had done two or three of the accounts, that he had been looking for signs of peculation, and that the hope had lent his work unusual interest. The last bill was the wine merchant's, and this he scanned with particular care. If the woman supplied Lady Henrietta, the woman must first obtain the liquor. He therefore gave attention to each item on this bill, which was not inconsiderable. He found only Madeira, claret, brandy in authentic quantities. Some arrangement, his mind insisted, with the merchant; gin disguised as one or other of these wines. Flusky kept the cellar-book accessible in a drawer, though the cellar keys were about his person. Winter searched it, comparing quantities paid for with quantities entered. The dozens matched. He returned the book, folded the wine-bill, and reluctantly made against Miss Milly's figures the V-shaped pencil mark that approved her integrity.

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