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(viii)

MR. SAMSON FLUSKY, crossing his hall to the front door where a vehicle waited, was astonished to hear his wife's voice:




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“Sam, will you take me in to the town?”

He looked at her. She was dressed neatly enough; her gloved hands were clasped together in a gesture excessive for the request she was making; but then, that was her way.

“No reason why not.”

He surveyed her again, more closely than before; this time perceiving that she clasped her hands because they quivered, and that she was haggard in the cruelly clear morning light.

“If you've got some notion about Winter, it's no good. He's been rumpednote by this.”

“Winter?”

And her voice held genuine surprise. She had forgotten the secretary. Winter was a messenger, a walking gentleman, who played a little part and now had made his exit unnoticed from the stage of her mind; in him she had never divined an ally. She frowned a little at the word which she knew meant a flogging and answered:

“He's gone, hasn't he? Milly said something.”

“He's gone all right.” Flusky's scrutiny satisfied him. His voice was genial. “Well, you feel able for it? Step out, then. If I drop you in George Street, will that do?”

She sat beside him, while the groom let the horses' heads go and sprang up behind, the toe of his boot treading for an instant one spoke of the moving shining


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wheel. Lady Henrietta sat up straight enough, but did not speak as Flusky pointed out new buildings with his whip; she was fighting nausea. At the turning by Hyde Park Barracks he seemed to hesitate; the horses' feet stopped their clatter, and the sound could be heard of St. James's clock striking ten. Flusky grinned, gave a brief whistle, and a cluck that sent his beasts off straight forward down King Street.

“Now, which of the shops d'ye want?”

She could only think of the name Quaife, and the vague direction, “by a stationer's.”

“You have an appointment, perhaps. Don't consider me.”

“Appointment,” said he. “I'm late for that, anyway.”

“With whom?” she asked idly, for time to gather her powers of invention. It was long since she had been in the town, the names of the shops were strange to her, the soldiers ludicrous in their shakos and tight coats; a striding black fellow in a flax-fringed cloak seemed less perturbed, took the bustle more for granted, than did she. “With whom is your appointment?”

“With His Ex. Dick Bourke,” Flusky answered. “It won't do him any harm to wait half an hour.”

He looked at her, but she did not make the appeal that might have been expected; ask him for news, ask him what will be done about Charles Adare. S. Quaife was the idea regnant. Little speculations flitted about the initial S. Did it stand for Selina, Sarah, Susan? Thus she had no comment to make upon this appointment


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with Sir Richard, unwonted and interesting though Flusky's glance proclaimed it. It did not occur to her to ask the question, nor would he volunteer the answer unasked. They drove in silence until she, desperately spying about her, perceived the sign of R. Bourne and Co., Family Mourning, Millinery and Baby Linen, and touched his arm.

“This? How long will you be?”

“An hour—more—I don't know.”

He looked at the draper's shop; a public-house neighboured it. He leant over as if to speak, pulled back, gave a shake of the reins and a nod, and so left her. It occurred to Lady Henrietta as she stood in the street that there was no reason in the world why she should not have taken her husband into her confidence about S. Quaife. But somewhere in her half-sleeping spirit a vigilant personage warned her against explanations, against any use of the name Adare. She stood for a minute abstracted, until she saw a man in the doorway of the shop look inquisitively at her. She smiled at him, asked (for something to say) where was George Street. He put her on her way, and returning to his counter conjectured, grumbling:

“New out. You can always tell, asking for George Street, as if there wasn't as good shops in Pitt Street or King. They learn, I suppose, if they live long enough.”

Lady Henrietta began to walk. She felt ill; there was money in her purse, and drink offering at every street corner, under emblems of fertility, patriotism, and


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caprice; “The Wheatsheaf,” “The Trafalgar,” “The Cat and Mutton.” She walked faster, until loungers with broad hats tilted over their eyes began to stare after her. It was a hot day, her dress of the kind they were accustomed to see floating a foot or two out of the dust, smoothly, to the rhythm of hoofs. She had, besides, a characteristic step, very light and free. The loungers, nonplussed, found outlet for their oafish bewilderment as usual in laughter. But she was concerned with her own growing faintness, and with the need not to miss the sign of a small barber's shop—“clean, though”—somewhere near a stationer's.

To the right lay the barrack square. Vaguely she remembered spectacles other than purely military ones that were to be witnessed there; a wall on the south side had iron rings set in it, just a little higher than a man's head, to which were tied the wrists of those about to be flogged. Upon instinct she turned left, and almost immediately discovered the inconspicuous sign.

Quaife's customers waiting their turn stared at her, halting conversations to do so. She stood rather helplessly, aware of activities behind a half-drawn curtain, men's heads swathed in towels, a voice holding forth:

“—when you can tell me why the duty on home-made rum should be ten and tuppence, when it's only three bob on other spirits——”

“Easy. Rum's cheaper to make.”

“Who says?”

Lady Henrietta stood still, looking about her for some


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means of summoning attention. One of the waiting customers, with a wink at the others, got up, made an elaborate bow, and asked what he could do for her. She murmured that she wished to speak to Miss Quaife. He misheard her and called to the inner room:

“Boss! It's your lucky day. Lady here wants you.”

Lady Henrietta saw the curtain jerked back to admit a large man holding a razor in his right hand, from which, without looking at it, his left fingers drew off and flicked away soap.

“We don't attend to females here,” a voice told her, the same that had demanded enlightenment concerning the duty on rum.

“Your daughter—I don't know her name, I fear—might I speak to her?”

The quality of the voice surprised the barber. He stood aside, motioning with the hand that held the razor for her to pass through the shop, where his clients turned grotesque faces to watch her go; eyes red with soap swung above snow-men's cheeks to follow her progress towards the inner door. The barber pushed this open, and bade her go straight up. A clamour of questions and soft whistles arose as he turned back to attend to his business.

The girl was mending towels. She sat in the window, a sliver of sun lying across her cheek, feet tucked up on the bars of her chair. In this attitude, like some forlorn heroine at the beginning of a fairy story, she sat for a moment gazing at the visitor. When she decided to get


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up, surprised though she was, she did so slowly, blinking a little as though to free her eyes from the sun, and said abruptly:

“Who is it?”

Having said that, from sallow she became deadly pale, and Lady Henrietta saw recognition in the blue eyes. Yet she had never, to her knowledge, seen the girl before. Charles's description was a good one, however, the girl represented his words come to life. Immediately, and for no reason, she felt a rush of hope. Her knees weakened. The girl said nothing, did nothing.

“I will sit down, if I may.”

There was only one chair. The girl pushed it forward and stood looking straight at her visitor, while her hands busied themselves folding the towel as her father had, without giving an eye to it, cleared his razor of soap.

“You don't know who I am. But I am here because of somebody you do know; Mr. Charles Adare. He has asked me to call on you—” ridiculous word for a visit to a barber's shop—“to give you a message from him.”

“Is he back, then?”

Eagerness sharpened the voice, languid, with slurred vowels; the sort of voice he could not care for.

“I have had a letter.”

“Oh, you had a letter.” There was resentment in that; the girl looked at her sombrely.

“In which he asked me to say——” But he had asked nothing. “To find out if you were well.”

“What's it to do with him?” said the girl uncompromisingly,


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and left to be understood the pendant to her question: Or with you?

That should have ended the conversation. But Lady Henrietta was becoming each moment more strongly conscious of reassurance in the girl's presence; she would not investigate the reason for this feeling, lest there might prove to be none; but the vigilante who had argued while she gazed unseeing at Family Mourning told her that here was an ally. At the back of it all, confusedly, ran a feminine syllogism: This girl is alive to Charles, Charles to her, therefore Charles cannot have died.

“I came also for another purpose. Pray don't be surprised, or think the request very strange. It was only this, to ask if you would come to my house.”

“I don't do hairdressing.”

“Forgive me, I explain myself badly. As a guest.”

“Me?” The girl laughed, awkwardly, too loud for the room. “I don't see what you mean.”

“Nor do I, altogether,” said Lady Hentietta, apologetically, softly. “You must excuse me.” The girl heard the difference in their tones, her face became alive with positive anger.

“What are you getting at? I don't know how to talk to ladyships—honourables either, for that matter. I know when a person's on the cross, though. I'll keep where I am.”

“My husband was a felon,” said Lady Henrietta without hesitation or emphasis, surprising herself. “He has been whipped before now, perhaps by your father, down


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there in the square.” The girl stared at her, wholly taken aback. “So you see, I cannot put on airs, I am not on the cross, I am not teasing you. I am asking in good faith. Will you come?”

“But I don't see what for.”

“Will you?”

The girl, striving to make difficulties, outmatched by her own curiosity, did not answer. She regarded the visitor, gave again her uneasy laugh, and looked about the room. It was poor, too sunny; the loud talk of customers, the smell of soap, was ascending to it all day long.

“Charles wrote to me,” Lady Henrietta said after a pause, “that you had a face shaped like a heart. It's true; the way your hair grows on your forehead.”

The girl shifted her feet, looked down at them frowning, and was understood to say that she was fly, had to be, she knew his sort. Then, lifting her head and looking straight at her visitor, she asked clearly:

“What would you want me for? I won't say anything without you tell me what you want me for.”

It was the vigilante who spoke, above physical malaise which could no longer be fought in that hot small room.

“I want somebody to be with me that I'm not afraid of, or sorry for.”

With that she drooped at last. The girl forgot to be wary, to detest the woman she had last seen on the Governor's arm from that peephole on the stairs where, lacking partners, she had gone to cry. She knew sickness


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when she saw it, George Street being a place where the ills of the flesh came often enough under the casual eye. Coming close suddenly, with a strong hand she forced the visitor's head towards her knees, calling out at the same time in no ladylike simulation of a shout:

“Dad! Here, quick!”

There was suddenly silence below, and her father's voice:

“What's up?”

“She's gone off. Fetch water.”

There was rumbling talk. After a moment Quaife appeared in the room bearing a glass half full of brownish liquor.

“Water, I said.”

“This'll do her more good.”

He advanced it to Lady Henrietta's mouth as his daughter, shifting her fingers, lifted the bowed head, remonstrating:

“She'd ought to have salts, or something—a lady.”

But Lady Henrietta took a mouthful and swallowed it. Quaife winked at his daughter, tilting the glass. A few drops ran out of the corners of her mouth, but she continued to swallow as though the stuff had in fact been the water with which convention supplied fainting ladies. When it was empty she gave a little cough, wiped her lips, rose; and in her beautiful voice said with dignity to the barber:

“Your daughter has been good enough to promise to pay me a visit. I hope you will allow it.”




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His daughter, incredulously looking from the empty glass to the lady, and inwardly from the lady to a young man in a beautiful waistcoat, found nothing whatever to say. She nodded, however, to her father's glance.

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