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(xi)

SUSAN QUAIFE, turning up out of the blue with a small hair-trunk at the house in Woolloomooloo, had her first encounter with Miss Milly on the doorstep.

“Ladyship's orders. I'll just see about that.”

Miss Milly closed the front door, and the girl heard the key turn. She was frightened enough, out of her depth completely, and would—or so she thought when she first


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descended from the cart—have been glad of the chance to run. But that click of the key angered her. She sat down upon her trunk. Miss Milly returned.

“There's been a mistake. Ladyship says she never heard of you.”

“I dare say,” Susan Quaife answered. “Nobody can't hear if they're not told.”

“Perhaps you'll give me a little more information, if I might presume to ask. What do you say you've come for?”

“To visit.”

“Oh, indeed! Very good. Come to visit! Whose invitation?”

“Hers.”

Miss Milly gave a laugh; then, composing herself and putting on her manner of the trustworthy and decent servant, leaned forward:

“Ah, I see. Very sorry, Miss. The fact is, Madam—she's not always what I call herself. By no means.” She paused, making a slight lifting movement of one hand, which recalled to the girl instantly that emptied tumbler of rum. “She don't always remember what she's said or done. That's how it is. So here's what we'll do. Come in a minute, and I'll have the cart got ready to take your box. A young girl like you! She's never done such a thing before, to my knowledge.”

She stood aside, and the girl walked, hesitating, into the hall. It shone darkly, it was cool; it was the biggest apartment, churches and the Temperance Hall apart, that


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Susan Quaife had ever set foot in. Her defiance found its match in the order and spaciousness about her rather than in Miss Milly's assurances, and in the silence, intimidating to one used to the clatter and eternal voices of George Street.

“In here,” said Miss Milly, opening a door, “I'll bring you a nice cup of tea after your ride.”

She withdrew. The dining-room was more alarming to Susan Quaife than the hall. How deep was its carpet, thick as lush grass! How the handles of the sideboard gleamed! They were elaborately cut in brass, swinging between pairs of lion heads, of which every hair and hollow shone. The pictures were darkly impressive, the inlay upon the table nowhere was dulled; the marvelling eye of Susan Quaife counted twelve chairs exactly of a pattern. Nowhere was there anything unsymmetrical or out of place, nowhere a speck of dust. The room silently but with conviction offered a testimony to the character of Miss Milly which the intruder could not but accept. She had not been offered one of the twelve chairs, and did not like to take one. She stood, feeling a fool.

The cup of tea did not come. She could hear no sound. She began to move about; stood at the window, and so escaped for a little the room's insistence that Miss Milly was to be esteemed. It occurred to her that Adare had sat at this table, on one of the twelve chairs; she turned back to stare at the furniture, imagining him with a glass of wine in his hand. But she could make no clear picture of his face. Her practical mind enquiring sardonically what was


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the use, she abandoned this effort of imagination and resumed her blank attitude of waiting.

The tea did not come, there was no clock in the room, no sound in the house. She fidgeted with her nails, which were a little ragged, and allowed herself to be beset by the notion that somehow it would be satisfying to cock a snook at this too righteous room. A cupboard in the corner tempted her. It might, from its appearance, hold salt which could be spilt, pepper to be artfully shaken out near the door on the chance that Miss Milly would catch a whiff of it and sneeze with the tray in her hands; a satisfying cataclysm. Susan Quaife, with a grin that was pure George Street of the gutters and the docks, gave the handle a twist and a tug. The cupboard opened; she saw among decanters a leaning, sleeping human head, its hair stiff and yellow as straw, the patterns on its cheeks standing up like flesh under a whip.

She did not cry out, nor at once shut the door. She continued to look at the head, while in her mind the evidence of the calm polished room, the orderly hall, strove with that offered by this new silent witness. She was not shocked by it, she had lived too long by the barrack square to be squeamish, but she was angry to think how nearly Miss Milly had bluffed her. Any house that casually kept such a curiosity in a cupboard was not innocent, however its brass might shine, however cool might be its rooms. That defiance mounted which had impelled her to sit on her trunk before the shut front-door; the recollected click of the lock dictated her next move, to


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turn the key of this room, thus momentarily disconcerting Miss Milly.

She slipped out on the verandah, remembered that her enemy's footsteps had marched one way, and stole in the direction opposite, peering in at windows as she moved. There was a big room with a pianoforte in it that looked forlorn, though spotless as the other. This monopolized three long windows, and the verandah went no further. She climbed down on to grass, and stood looking up at the windows above. A sound reached her, knocking and rattling to which she could assign a cause; she listened pleasurably, her eyes busy the while, assessing as a good bet a window with green curtains showing behind white ones. She hollowed her hands and called softly towards it:

“Cooee! Ladyship!”

There was no answer, and she could hear that the struggle with the locked door had been abandoned. She lifted her strong little hands to the first branch of a magnolia tree that was trained by the wall, easily found a footing, mounted towards the window. She caught at the sill as scolding voices broke out on the verandah below, whose roof concealed her now that she was above it. She put both hands upon the sill of the upper window, heaved herself up, lay flat across it for a moment, then tumbled into the room, panting. As she lay, the voice remembered from yesterday, which she loved unwillingly for its likeness to that of Charles Adare; this voice spoke, a trifle blurred with laughter, from the bed.




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“That will be the first thing for you to study; how to come into a room.”

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