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(xv)

ALL her life Susan Quaife had worn without self-consciousness Botany wool in winter, prints in summer; in all her life she had donned one grand dress only, that with the gum flowers in which she had appeared at the Patrick's Day ball; and this, even, had been a loan from the gad-about wife of a sergeant. Now it had been determined, after study of the fashions in such collections as La Belle Assemblée or The Ladies' Elegant Souvenir, that Susan should endeavour to possess a waist, bosom, shoulders; in one word, a shape. She had no true inclination to this, appreciating the loss of liberty inherent in a shape; yet the prospect of for once being fine was not without temptation for her. Currency (be under no


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obligation) striving with natural vanity, lost the encounter.

The establishment kept by R. Bourne was chosen. The proprietor recollected Lady Henrietta and set out his best on the counters, pleased to find his own prophecy come true. They learn, mused the proprietor, that there's shops as good as George Street; they learn if they stay long enough.

Susan, out of a kind of shyness, the desire not to seem too eager, hung back a little from the preliminaries. She heard, however, the shopman's question:

“Would it be for self, madam, or daughter?”

Lady Henrietta, smiling at the girl over her shoulder, answered clearly:

“For the young lady. You must not show me pinks or browns.”

“The colour of the eyes, madam, blue, quite so. I have a periwinkle here, very suitable——”

Susan, drawing nearer gradually as a bird to crumbs, put out a finger and thumb. There was no rasping sound as she rubbed the stuff; idleness had brought her fingertips to a softness correct for such ladylike purposes as feeling silk.

“Miss prefers that shade? Very sweet, very much the young lady——”

Susan restrained the muttered denial: No young ladies here. The shopman draped her, casting extravagant silks upon her shoulders like some Eastern potentate adorning an odalisque, rapturously bringing out his most


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treasured blandishments, standing back, darting forward:

“Certainly, madam; harmonizes if I may use the word—new out from England this last week—nothing at the price to be seen in Sydney, don't care where you look—if His Excellency had a lady, she couldn't do better—three shades, periwinkle, sea-green, white—— And the styles, madam, have you any, so to speak, notions?”

They discussed the styles; shoulders widened with lappets, three flounces or four, not so much lace being used nowadays, beautiful piece of Limerick on madam's gown, nothing too elaborate, nothing conspicuous, nothing in the way of a spencer, Sydney very warm, quite so.

Susan, standing apart, heard this polite interchange of shopping jargon with contempt, yet felt a pang of fear. Silks and muslins, with the behaviour necessary to and consequent upon silks and muslins, set bonds invisible upon their wearer. No walking in dust, no impromptu meals, no running out hatless for any young lady cased and billowing in these materials. They implied too complete acceptance of a new way of life; the road to escape was closed by them, George Street cut off, invisible behind their sheen. She came behind Lady Henrietta to say:

“It's too much, too many. One's enough—I don't really ought to have even that.”

The shopman, silenced by this interjection unique in his experience of young ladies, heard Lady Henrietta make an answer which rendered the situation less intelligible still.




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“My dear, allow me this indulgence.”

“I'll never be able to wear them.”

“We'll get plainer things for morning.”

“For mourning?” The girl took the word at its sinister value, stammered out something about having no right and turned away. The shopman, shrewd, puzzled, stood looking from one to the other. Lady Henrietta rose quickly to go to her.

“I didn't mean that. Indeed, I think you have a right—But I meant, dresses for the day.”

“I couldn't wear those at home, it would look—they'd laugh.”

“But you'll be with me.”

The girl's look denied that and dropped. She hated herself for seeming ungracious, all the while a vision of George Street closing frightened her.

Lady Henrietta said no more, leisurely returned to the counter.

“Be so kind as to put aside lengths of those colours I have selected. The matter of the style and making I prefer to leave for the present. We have other establishments to visit.”

She called to the girl, bowed pleasantly to the shopman dashed down from his heights, and went out. He, bowing, ruminated:

“There's a queer start. Smooth, the lady, very smooth. A girl jib at silk dresses, that's new. That's never her daughter, I'd tell my oath; speaks too rough. Something up there. A madam picking up a girl? That's like it,


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getting her in her clutches, price of shame, eh? My silks——”

And he regarded them, turning to do so; had some momentary idea of making a noble scene when the madam came back, as she would surely do, having paid; relinquished this on second thoughts as not being business; and contented himself with watching from his door and shaking his head at the progress of the two figures down the street.

The figures were arguing:

“You said——”

“I know.”

The heat had increased while they were withdrawn in the shop; it was now insistent. Dust suddenly lifted above a crew of cur dogs darting from a side street, and hung after they had passed, drawn up almost like vapour by the power of the sun. The flies were pestilent.

“It is of no use, then, to go to other shops?”

The girl answered by catching at her companion's arm; a vehicle had almost run them down while they marched thus blindly, voicing alarms and persuasions. From this vehicle, unexpectedly, a voice first and then a gentleman descended.

“Lady Henrietta, surely! Do, if you please, give me the pleasure of taking you up out of the dust, and your companion too.”

They halted, and within the next minute Susan Quaife, elated (for which she reproved herself), had shaken hands with His Excellency. She kept her mouth


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shut while her companion and this legendary being exchanged amenities.

“We became tired of our shopping, and there is an hour before the carriage meets us.”

“I might offer you a chair at Government House; but I believe we should all be cooler in Mrs. Macquarie's seat.”

“Oh, by all means. That would be delightful.”

The vehicle turned, making for that pleasant road three miles long which a Governor's wife had caused to be made within the Government Domain. One rocky point near the shore still was known as her Chair, and no place could be cooler on such a day. As the horses swung, the harbour water shone like pewter between the trees; it was too windless a day for colour. At the Chair they dismounted, the Governor scanning his watch.

“It so happens that I have an appointment half an hour from now. Wilks shall set me down and come back for you. Meanwhile, let us be easy. It is this matter of your husband's school, by the way, that takes me from you.”

Lady Henrietta bowed, after an instant's hesitation. She was smiling, and appeared to the sidelong eye of Susan Quaife untroubled; not the same woman who, in the dust of King Street, had almost tearfully pleaded. Sham, thought Susan; stalling it off; but she envied this armour of manner, so supple, so readily donned, proof as her own silences could never be against social ambush.

“This country must stand on its own feet, says your


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husband; breed and train its people to its own conditions which are unique, rather than depend upon the caprices of English crime for craftsmen. At present the malignancy of individuals at home is such that you cannot catch them in misdemeanours; all the farmers and carpenters and builders that we need are resolutely respectful of the law, they will not be criminals, the law cannot transport them. Meanwhile our horses here go unshod and our houses blow away. It is a state of affairs which Mr. Flusky designs to alter.”

“Are you telling me that my husband has said all this?”

“Well——” His Excellency laughed. “Mr. Flusky believes in deeds rather than words. His view is that you cannot mistake the meaning of a blow or a five-pound note, whereas you may listen to a lawyer for hours and be never the wiser. But I don't need to interpret Mr. Flusky to his wife.”

He addressed a remark to Susan Quaife:

“I believe that deeds alone will not do for young ladies, though. They like something more poetical.”

“Miss Quaife was born here,” said Lady Henrietta quickly. “She knows the value of performance very well.”

“Does she? Then she is something rare among young ladies. I had one refuse me once because I could not read a charade for her.” His Excellency went on, staring at the ships lying like logs, their ensigns drooping, down in the airless bay. “Someone like Charles Adare; there is your real ladies' man. He has other stuff in him too, but it has


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been overlaid with chat and agreeableness. It remains to be seen what this country will do for him.”

There was no answer to that. His Excellency, looking round at his audience, perceived that both faces were perfectly white, and that the elder's eyes were fixed upon him. Swiftly he recollected the gossip that had prevailed before Adare's departure. Some truth in it, then? Well, no harm done if there were. He went on, through the silence:

“Six months of wandering may have taught him something other than how to cross a drawing-room. He has paid for the lesson, though. I daresay Mr. Flusky told you of his illness after the rescue.”

“What?” interjected Susan Quaife. The word came out like a shot fired among the rocks of the Chair, loud enough to echo. The Governor looked at her, a quick questioning glance.

“My husband told me as much,” said Lady Henrietta in a voice level as the water in the bay. “It has been a most cruel experience.”

“They found no gold. I'm glad of that, at least. A young country, like a young man, should not start life with too much or too easy money.”

“What is your latest news of Charles?”

“Why, there is nothing beyond what I gave your husband three weeks ago, that Dixon's messenger brought. The next, I hope, will come from our young man in person. He will be in time for Mr. Flusky's foundation-stone-laying, where——” His Excellency


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took out his watch and rose—“where I shall most certainly meet you again.”

“Most certainly,” she echoed, and gave him her hand, not rising.

“Good luck to your purchases. Wilks shall return for you both.”

Susan was looking at him without moving, mouth open as if to speak; then, suddenly, she thrust out her hand and he felt it cold through the silk glove. Another of them? questioned his Excellency's eyes. Not Charles, surely? Odd company for her Ladyship. A pretty creature, though.

The horses went off at a languid trot. Susan Quaife took a quick deep breath, and let it out, half-whistling, looking after the carriage. She stood with her feet apart like a boy, and surveyed Lady Henrietta as she sometimes watched Miss Milly, cruelly alert. She said, obscurely:

“Well. So that's all right.”

Lady Henrietta did not budge. Her head was leant backwards, her eyes had closed, as though she were recollecting or intently listening. The girl went on:

“I never shall get what your game is. You knew all the time—all this time.” Silence; no denial. “Why isn't there nobody that will talk straight?” She paused, forging jealous suspicions, then voiced them. “Was it to show me up? I know how I look by you. You talk right, I don't. Knives and forks and reading—all that. If anyone saw us together it's me would look the fool. In spite of


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everything, all that brandy what the doctor ordered. Fond of me, bender! I'm off home.”

She stood a moment, gave a little stamp like a horse, and set off, almost running, down Mrs. Macquarie's road.

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