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(vi)

WINTER, standing in the kitchen to read a list and check groceries while Miss Milly unpacked them, met the eye of old Sal over the housekeeper's bent back. Old Sal had a most pregnant eye. It conceived rapidly, giving facile birth to innuendo or query. Its roll was easy as the turn of a fish, its wink the flick of a snake's tongue. Meeting the glance of Mr. Winter its promise made him in one instant aware that he was about to lose eight ounces of tobacco. This, his month's allowance, he had saved for the purpose of a wager with Sal, which she made sure and jovial anticipation of winning. Praise from James Hardy Vaux and his associates was not lightly given, nor was the skill which earned it readily forgotten. Old Sal's eye, by a deft lowering of the lid, bade the other party to the bet mark what she was about, and admire.

“Candles, wax, 20 lbs,” read Winter.

Miss Milly dumped the package upon the scales beside her, calculated the weight and announced:

“Short! Seven ounces. Mark that down.”




  ― 207 ―

“Peppercorns, black and white, 2 lbs. Sugar. Four loaves.”

“One broken.”

In Sal's trade it was customary to work in twos, one party distracting attention while the other employed forks of the only kind not made before fingers. She now allotted to the broken sugar-loaf the former inactive but necessary rôle, shifting towards it step by step. Her left hand was at it: Winter, watching from the corner of his eye, saw how her fingers deliberately rustled the torn corner of paper, and observed Miss Milly look towards the sound. Sal's right hand simultaneously narrowed itself; three fingers went down like prongs into the housekeeper's skirt. He did not see them emerge from the pocket, which they did as Miss Milly in rage examined the other hand for stolen sugar.

“Fed like the Queen of England, and still you lags keep prigging!”

“I never took nothing, Miss M., so help me!”

“Not for want of trying, then.”

Later the secretary, back in the room with the map, recognized the whistle of old Sal outside his window.

“Well? What did you get?”

Old Sal answered, aggrieved, that they might both have known the nasty thing never kept a handkercher, too mean, blows with her fingers to save washing——

“But you got something?”

Old Sal had indeed got something, as good as a handkercher for that matter; it had Miss M.'s writing


  ― 208 ―
in it, and that showed it couldn't have come from no one else. She brought out of the deeps of her bosom a small black-covered book.

It was all there, two years' expenditure, steadily mounting the sums totted up week by week, month by month, to make an appalling total. Miss Milly, save for the brief period of Adare's visit, had expended almost the whole of her earnings on spirits for her victim. She could not have kept above a shilling a week for her own needs of clothing, and the mild pleasures her convictions allowed. The cost of the stuff was her bribe to conscience, the price of continuing to approve herself. There was a curious little appendix, showing prices obtained for dresses, petticoats and such, and to whom the money had been given; the Temperance Society, the Bible Society, a female orphanage. Nothing of Lady Henrietta's self-despoiling had been used for the purpose she intended. Nor had Miss Milly bought for herself any least credit by these donations. To this, to that, anonymous, the entries insisted. The righteous woman at her victim's funeral might say: with a great price obtained I this freedom.

“Hey, Mister! Didn't I win my bacca fair?”

Winter perceived old Sal again, and paid her off without a word. She went away, grumbling a little, having given her performance as much for the hope of applause as for the price of hire. The secretary began to tremble all over; his knees failed. The fire, which Flusky caused to be lit of a night for the pleasure of staring in it,


  ― 209 ―
tempted him now intolerably. It was newly built of short logs, piled together tent-fashion; through the opening at the top the little book might so easily pass and be consumed——

Flusky came in. The abstraction into which Winter had fallen had allowed no warnings from his senses to reach him. Thus the master found the servant sprawled in his chair, legs stretched out to the fire, studying a notebook which could by no means be related to any business of Samson Flusky, Esquire. Winter sprang up.

“Take it easy, mister. Take it easy.”

“Sir, I beg your pardon——”

“Stow that. What's that you got there?”

“A private document, sir.”

“Give it here.”

“No, sir.”

“Do you want to go back to Government?”

Too late to run away. Winter took a breath, trying to steady his heart.

“Sir, this book does not belong to me——”

“How you come by it, then?”

The secretary had formed, as yet, no plan. Nevertheless even his fears could not hide from him that it was necessary to speak, because the man would, one way or another, compel him to speak. He got out the first four words in a rush:

“It is Miss Milly's.” Now, urgently, he was proffering the book. “Look, her handwriting, you know it. It is


  ― 210 ―
hers. You must believe me. Here is proof. You can't deny it, sir, with this in your hand.”

“What's the matter with you? Why are you all of a shake?”

Winter stood, shaking indeed. Flusky took the book, deliberately turned its pages; then leaned out the window, shouting towards the kitchen quarters:

“Milly! Here!”

Turning back into the room he saw the bell-rope, grinned at the gentleman in his employ, and pulled it. Winter said nothing, did not look at the master. When Miss Milly came in, he took a step forward, but Flusky stood still, holding the book out so that she might see it.

Miss Milly looked, recognized the book instantly, and folded her hands high up on her stomach. It was the attitude she took in the kitchen before making some demand with sardonic politeness; “And why, if I may presume to ask——” She did not appear angry or guilty. Flusky asked:

“This yours?”

She did not look at it but at him as she answered:

“It is. And how do you come by it, I should like to know?”

“It's a list of drink bought.”

“And why not, pray?”

Flusky at that blinked a little. The secretary said in a low voice:

“She admits it, sir. You see, she admits it.”

“You answer me a question. Have I or haven't I got


  ― 211 ―
a right to turn an honest penny by trading as well as another?” She did not wait for the answer, but went on with mounting temper. “Strong drink's a mocker, but it don't make a fool of the man that sells it. Or woman either. You look in that book you make so free with. Look in that, and see how much I've paid into Temperance these last years.” As he fumbled with the pages, she laughed. “Liquor making a rod for its own back, see? If I sell drink, and pay over what I make to the glory of the Lord, whose business is that?”

“There's nothing here about selling.”

“You've only got the book with the outgoings. There's another, and you shall see it, if you're going to make such a song about what's my business, Mr. Flusky. How you come by that book you got, if you please? I want an answer to that, Mr. Flusky, if you don't have no objection.”

“She's lying,” said the secretary, still in a low voice, but urgently. He believed what he said; at the same time he could not but see the horrid plausibility of the woman's story. It was in character that her business sense should have perceived the profits to be made from drink, while her religious sense saw no reason why these same profits should not be diverted, converted, made to pay dividends in the Kingdom of Heaven. He repeated what he had said, trying to convince the master by the tone of his voice.

“Now listen,” said the woman, advancing on him. “You, I mean, mister. This is your doing. Making


  ― 212 ―
mischief, eh? Talking poetry to madam, eh? Don't want nobody with their eyes open about this house, that's about the facts of it.”

“You're buying drink for her,” the secretary said. “I know it, you know it, the proof's there if only he'd look for it——”

And he had an inkling of defeat coming from the other quarter; as if Flusky would not look, had a reason for not looking at proof. But the woman was speaking again, moving towards him without dropping her hands, which still were folded upon each other tightly, at the level of her waist. It was alarming, as though a statue had walked.

“If ever I took so much as a farthing that's not mine, I'll swallow it red-hot. Red-hot, d'you hear?”

“I don't accuse you of stealing——”

“No, you don't accuse me of stealing. There's one or two things you don't dare do, Mr. Nose. What for should I give her drink? You sneak round this house in places where you've no right to be, saying things you've no right to say, but you can't answer that, and why? Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances, and with the bag of deceitful weights? No, nor use them myself, nor take a penny I don't earn with these two hands——” At that she did move them. Palms held upwards and flat, she shoved her hands at the secretary, as though to show him at once their emptiness and their strength. “What's this you're at? Want to get rid of me, do you? I know why.”

“Mr. Flusky,” said the secretary, stammering. “I beg


  ― 213 ―
you won't listen to this woman. I've accused her, and brought proof.”

“And I say before the Lord, Mr. Flusky, that I've been to you a good and faithful servant, labouring late and early. If you find a penny missing, or so much as a farthing dip, I'll answer for it, if it's gone from this house while I'm in charge. What for should I give her drink? And where did he get that book from?. That's what I'm asking.”

Her gaze was steady, it held no fear, it demanded justice. Winter, in his consternation, spoke unthinking. The moment the words were out of his mouth he knew that he had committed the final folly, and was done for.

“I swear it's the truth. Ask her ladyship, for God's sake! She'll bear me out.”

Miss Milly interrupted him, clamouring:

“That's right, her ladyship, that's good, that is! Ask her, do, Mr. Flusky!”

In those words, that confident cry, Winter heard the enigma of Lady Henrietta's behaviour smoothly and unhurriedly solved; she knew and accepted her fate. There was a thing which remained to be done. Without the warning of an exclamation he ran from the room and upstairs, tearing as he ran at something stitched inside his shirt; a letter. He got it out as he reached the bedroom door, and Flusky the turn of the stairs. There was time, just time, to thrust it under the pillow on which her hair made cat's cradle; to speak one word—“Adare.” Then he heard striding feet in the room at his back. Nothing after.

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