DOWNSTAIRS Flusky sat at the desk in his room, a lamp by his elbow, papers under his hands, which moved among the written sheets as awkwardly as their owner through a drawing-room confused with ladies. The room was warm, and his cigar-smoke scented it pleasantly, lazily twisting in the upper reaches of the lamp's light. Windows shut against a mizzle of rain prevented the usual inroad of voices from the kitchen. No sound came from the blacks' camp, their songs about dingoes, rainbows and food were being howled to other stars. Even the fire no longer spurted, but lay quiescent, glowing

  ― 237 ―
with the pink hue of burning cedar, more like light than flame.

Miss Milly came in with tea. He did not look up or thank her, but gave a grunt, fumbling still among the papers. She said, watching him:

“Can't I give you a hand, Mr. Flusky?”

He sighed suddenly, and became aware of her.

“Putting in for another secretary. No more gentlemen, though. Can't any other sort of a man read and write?”

“No, we've had enough of them,” Miss Milly agreed. “Look, I've made the tea just how you like it.”

Flusky took the cup she poured out for him, stirred it and drank. She went on with a kind of domestic calm and naturalness:

“I shall be wanting another female soon for the kitchen. That woman's due for her ticket any time now. Going just as she's begun to be useful.”

“Keep her, why don't you?”

“Now, Mr. Flusky, she's not worth wages, not when we can get help free only by asking. Help, do I call it? Hindrance, more like. I won't have you pay out your good money just to save me a few weeks' trouble.

He said nothing to that, so that she was obliged to make her own complimentary acknowledgment.

“I like managing, always did. Why, even nowadays I don't have all I can do. Work's my holiday.”

She poured tea into the empty cup he held out, sugared it, and with a grotesque little coquettish movement stirred it for him before she returned it. He

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observed none of this, and she saw with vexation that he used the spoon as freely as before. She sat down on the edge of a chair by the fire.

“Will you excuse me if I have a sit-down? It isn't that I'm tired, but—well, the fact is, I can't have any what I call conversation, so to speak, in the kitchen. Ladyship's comfortable, I've seen to that.”

“How is she to-night?”

“Why don't you go up yourself and see, Mr. Flusky?” He did not answer. “I know you don't care for to see her the way she is sometimes.” She added, after a brief pause: “We shall all be able to have a bit of peace now that Winter's gone, with his nose poked into all your concerns. My concerns too, for that matter. But you're a just man, I can take that to my comfort. Him to say I was keeping her supplied! What for, I should like to know? He couldn't answer that. No, nor anyone else.”

She settled back into her chair, and taking from her pocket (guarded now against depredations by a brooch made of bog-oak) a stocking and wools, began to occupy her hands as was her custom. From time to time she looked into the fire as a cat will do. The atmosphere of the room was tranquil.

“Of course, as you know very well, Mr. Flusky, she's taking brandy. The doctor won't have her deprived altogether; might go out of her mind if we did that. It's against what I think right, but I give her the dose, and I measure it out like as if it was poison—which it is, for that matter.”

  ― 239 ―

He had finished his tea, and now stood lighting another cigar. She said irrelevantly:

“You always stand on both your feet at once. Excuse me. I was thinking of that young fellow, Mr. Adare, that always used to be lounging and leaning about.” She began to match wool against the stocking she held. “This house is a very different place from what it was with him here. Winter, too. You're like me, Mr. Flusky, penny plain as they say. We can't do with fal-lals.”

She smiled as she bracketed herself thus with her employer, and looked about the room, neat, warm, her own creation.

“You've come on, Mr. Flusky. Since I came here five years back, you've come on like the righteous man in the Psalms, of whom it says: wealth and riches shall be in his house. You'll be able to leave off working one of these days. There's a funny thing to think of; not to have to work any more.” The voluntary briskness left her for an instant. “It would be acceptable, very.”

“How much are you giving her?” said he to the smoke of his cigar.

“That's something I won't speak about, Mr. Flusky, excuse me. Still, it's true she's gone down hill since that young Adare went from here. There's no good my denying what you can see with your own two eyes. He kept her going with-well, I say other interests. Now she don't care.”

“What does doctor say?”

“Oh, him! They can't afford to what I call dot their i's. It pays a doctor to be cheerful.”

  ― 240 ―

She put out her left hand towards him; the grey stocking drawn over it made the attempt at a tender gesture ridiculous.

“We've all got to go, Mr. Flusky. You'll feel it, but it's got to be. It's the best thing in the end for all, and that you can't gainsay. One go, another come, it's the Lord's plan for the world. But there's one will stand by you——”

Who this might be, the Almighty or Miss Milly herself, was left indeterminate. Flusky in any case paid no attention, disregarded the hand, and moved abruptly away towards his map, taking the lamp with him so that Miss Milly was left without light to darn by. She dropped the sock in her lap and sat quiet, doing nothing at all, savouring the funny, the acceptable delight of leaving off working, while he stood tracing with his eye the distance from the Fish River to the Bogan, and reckoning, with breath whistled in, the ranges, flats and forests between.