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(xii)

“WHAT'S these other places laid?”

“That's for Ladyship coming down, with a visitor.”

“What visitor?”

“Well, that's it, Mr. Flusky, I've been waiting for you to come in. Of course, I'm only a servant.” She paused. “I'm not consulted, quite so. It's your orders she's to do as she likes within limits. But it's my opinion this goes beyond. You may well ask what visitor. It's Quaife's daughter.”

“Whose?”

“You know very well, Mr. Flusky. The hangman that was. Now, what do you say? I done my part, laid the table and all, it's for you to say whether you'll sit down to it. It's not my business. ‘Be not curious in unnecessary matters,’ says the son of Sirach.”

Flusky, surveying the table conventionally set, gave a cluck with his tongue.

“Where's Ladyship now?”

“Drawing-room.” Miss Milly gave a laugh. “Old Quaife's daughter in a drawing-room. You'll excuse me, but it does look what I call comical. All things considered. Drawing fowls is more what she be used to.”

Flusky went out by the open long windows, and


  ― 246 ―
turned in to that room which S. Quaife on her exploration had summed up as forlorn. His wife sat in a low chair, dressed, her hair tossed up and held by yellow tortoise-shell combs. A dark girl sitting awkwardly, her legs slewed sideways, was looking towards him with all the silent insistent appeal of an animal compelled to take part in nursery games. She got up and stood as he entered, while Lady Henrietta told her husband that this was a guest, giving no further explanation. He did not offer to shake hands, nor did the girl. He said to his wife:

“You'd ought to be in bed.”

“Later.” She went on smoothly: “It is very good of Miss Quaife, is it not, to give me her company?”

“Is this what you——” He stopped. “I supposed it's all right. Dinner's nigh on ready.”

He went out, and almost at once a gong sounded. S. Quaife, intimidated by the thought of those twelve identical chairs and by the secret of the cupboard, which she had no business to know, hung back a little; but Lady Henrietta's hand was on her arm, that fine slender hand, untouched by the circumstances whose power her face acknowledged. They moved forward together.

At table began a period of uneasiness for S. Quaife. She was in two minds; the defiant mind which knew itself as good as anyone else or better; the mind more timid, which wished to melt into its surroundings and felt safe there. She contemplated the mahogany and silver with an eye which her will kept from widening; inwardly the most astonishing thing about the table was the


  ― 247 ―
discovery of her own legs under it. This mental see-sawing preoccupied every minute while she sat; with each dish, almost each mouthful, a decision had to be made—whether to eat fish as was the custom in George Street, to the tune of I'm as good as you; or to take up unfamiliar implements such as Lady Henrietta was using, and be safe in sameness. She had an odd sensation of embodying in herself the two other people at table; for if Lady Henrietta handled her forks delicately, she used them only to break and leave the food, while Mr. Flusky, selecting forks at random, and shifting them from hand to hand as convenience dictated, managed to make a very good dinner. Questions asked themselves. Ought ladies not to eat much?

“Better try a glass of this, Hattie. Madeira wine; just a toothful.”

“I think I'd rather not.”

But he filled her glass and poised the decanter.

“What about Miss?”

“Oh, certainly. Miss Quaife, you'll take some?”

So it was all right to drink wine, Miss Quaife understood. She swallowed her glassful in one or two gulps, being thirsty, which was one of the only two reasons she was aware of for drinking. The sweetish nutty burning taste disconcerted her, and increased her thirst; somewhere under her ribs warmth began to diffuse, as from a small brazier secretly lit. Her host had barely spoken to her, she observed that, so far as he was concerned, the decanter existed for show. “He has been whipped, perhaps by your father——” and yet here he was, could


  ― 248 ―
buy up her father's shop and never miss the money, hobnobbing with His Ex., and married to a ladyship. Currency declared at once and hotly that excellencies and ladyships were naught, but was obliged to recognize that to rise to them from the puzzling-sticksnote in the barrack square must be reckoned something. For currency was shrewd; knew that while there was nothing like five shillings' worth of silver in a dollar, yet a dollar bought five shillings' worth of goods.

The meal ended amid these confusions of thought, with a slight inviting bow of Lady Henrietta in Susan Quaife's direction, once the decanter had come to anchor in front of the host whose glass held water only. She observed that the hostess had not touched her wine. Her mind's eye set an empty tumbler beside this spindle-shanked glass, compared the quantity and power of the brown liquor in each, but could not make a sum of it. Again, they were in the drawing-room together, and the awkwardness of S. Quaife's legs became evident once more. She made conversation to distract attention from them.

“Who's that let me in to-day?”

“It would be the housekeeper, I imagine.”

“Do you like her?”

“She is useful. Very economical.”

“But you don't have to look at money both sides.”

Lady Henrietta lifted a hand, smiled, was going to answer—

“I don't like her,” said Susan Quaife in a rush,


  ― 249 ―
“she tells lies, too. Said you knew nothing about me.”

“Nor I did. Nor I do.”

At that, which seemed to herald some sort of questioning, the girl blushed suddenly and violently, and knew why. She could not say it, but she was in this house by reason only of Charles Adare, copying a way of holding forks in his honour, enduring for his sake a hundred blank misgivings, irrational fears, and scoldings from her currency conscience. She did not turn away, nor attempt to cover the blush. Lady Henrietta's eyes dropped first, and she spoke, looking at her hands:

“You must have wondered very much that I should come the other day and speak to you. You may hear them say—Milly say—that I am not always very well. That is true, but you must not think that I did not know what I was doing.” She saw an expression—“Milly told you something like that?”

“I locked her out, anyway,” said Susan Quaife, evading the question.

“There's something I want to show you. It will make us known to each other better than anything I can say.”

She took a paper from the long swinging gold bag upon her arm, and held it out; the girl backed a step or two.

“It is from somebody you know. Won't you take it?”

The girl said, the blush burning away under her eyes till they shone:

“I can't read. Not writing.”

“I see,” said Lady Henrietta with simplicity. “I'm


  ― 250 ―
sorry. Would you care for me to teach you while you're here?”

Before the answer, Miss Milly came in quietly upon them both.

“Time you was in bed, ladyship, if you please. We don't want you tired out. It's been a long enough day.”

It was the abrupt but devoted servant speaking, but she handled her keys as she spoke, beating with the bunch upon the palm of her left hand, a gesture which had its own significance for the girl. Men with just such keys went about their business in the gaol quarters, and spoke jovially to her father, beating time to just such a commanding measure. She owned an antipathy to gaolers, who, rather than judges and juries, made felons out of free men. She answered Lady Henrietta's question, not choosing to observe Miss Milly.

“I'd be thankful.”

“Very well,” said Lady Henrietta; but the acquiescence was spoken to Miss Milly first, her eyes sliding up for an instant towards the righteous woman's face before she smiled at the girl.

“To-night?”

“There's only one thing Ladyship's doing to-night, and that's bed. I'll bring you up your little something when you're settled.”

Lady Henrietta's eyelids flicked once or twice above her smile.

“Perhaps it would be better. Perhaps, just for tonight. I'm a little tired.”




  ― 251 ―

“Tired! So you'd ought.”

Miss Milly said no more, but she tightened and elongated her lips. The girl, coming out of her own excitement, saw that in fact her hostess did look deathly ill. On impulse she went to her chair.

“She's not used to you,” said Miss Milly; and that sentence, too, might have been addressed to either of the hearers. “Here, you let me.”

She pulled the girl aside, and taking Lady Henrietta behind the elbows, pulled her up. Her hands looked unpleasant against the white skin, but they were strong, they knew their business, and Lady Henrietta obeyed them. She went out to the clink of keys. Once again S. Quaife was left, alone and ripe for mischief, in an unfamiliar room.

She walked about it. No mittened governess had told her not to finger. She had the illiterate's pleasure in things that may be handled, and the young creature's delight in novelty. She fingered, therefore, such novelties as china shepherds whose knee-breeches were beautifully patterned with French lilies; small oval pictures in which each hair seemed separately painted; boxes made of tortoiseshell with designs in silver nails; and a fan whose ivory sticks, held against the light, showed lattice work and little climbing Chinamen. This last she was holding before her face when a shadow across the lamp lost her the Chinamen.

“By yourself?” said Mr. Flusky. “Where's my wife?”




  ― 252 ―

“Bed,” S. Quaife answered briefly and rather rudely, because he had surprised her spying on his possessions.

He did not take the tone amiss. They spoke on equal terms.

“How did she get hold of you?”

“Came and asked me. I didn't know her. I thought it might knock up a lark. She spoke very nice.”

“What's the idea?”

She spoke, with difficulty hardly surmountable, the name of Charles Adare; something about a letter.

“What's he got to do with it?”

“He told her to——” She stopped; but in fact, that was all there was to say.

“Ay,” said Mr. Flusky as if to himself. “All right. You're very welcome.”

He went out with that, and left her again to the toys. But she could no longer give them her attention, so engrossed was she with the spectacle provided by herself moving about in this house, its question awake and dinning in her ears.

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