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  ― 279 ―

(xvii)

“WHY only two places to-night?”

“That girl's not back.”

“Ladyship coming?”

“Oh, she's coming. There's no one else, without you'd ask me to sit down with you, Mr. Flusky.” Miss Milly laughed. “There's your favourite ox-cheek pie to-night.”

He sat down to wait for Lady Henrietta, dragging from his pocket a newspaper, tightly folded for convenience of handling. When she came in he looked up quickly as if to guess at her mood, and asked:

“Susan not here to-night?”

“She has gone home. It was only a short visit.”

He nodded, and began to help the dishes. When their two plates were filled, his with pie, hers with vegetables, he looked at her again, this time long. She answered with a shallow smile and began to play with her food; accepted the wine he poured for her but did not drink it, tilting the liquor, coloured like wallflowers, this way and that to catch the light. It gave her eyes occupation; they were steadier than her hand. They sat in silence until the hot dish, the remove, had been cleared. Then Lady Henrietta said, looking into the wine-glass held with both hands before her:

“Tell me something, Sam, if you please. How long have you known that Charles Adare was alive?”




  ― 280 ―

He took time to answer, and before the words could come she had forestalled them.

“You have known for weeks. Sir Richard told you. I begin—I begin to think you are not human. Did you want, then, to torment me? I have suffered.”

He got up, thrust his hands deep in his pockets, and began to walk slowly up and down beside the table.

“The girl, too. She had cause for suffering. Different from mine, but it made her wretched enough.”

“The girl!” The word surprised, halted him. “What's it to do with her?”

“She loves Charles.”

Flusky resumed his march. She went on:

“I should have explained, but I felt a kind of delicacy—We have not spoken much together these last months; and then, I was not sure you would understand my reasons. It seemed a natural thing, somehow, to take up and comfort the creature Charles had begun to love.”

“Natural?” said he, with a jerk.

“Why not? You have done harm there, too, more than you know. I had become fond of the child, and she of me, I think. She won't trust me again.”

He seemed not to hear. He was half a dozen sentences behind.

“Me torment you. What did you mean by that? Suffering—why?” He was at the back of her chair, hands on her shoulders, heavily pressing. “Hattie? Answer, can't you?”

She sprang up, lifting against his heavy hands as though


  ― 281 ―
they had been the fringes of a scarf. The glass of wine went over, in the hurry of that unthinking movement.

“You have waited all these weeks to ease my mind. Was it nothing that I have been thinking you a murderer? Did you not care?”

He stood quite still. She caught at his coat, shaking him, enraged by the immobility which seemed to show him indifferent to her distress. “I have not forgotten it for one waking moment. I understood, I did pity you, I was in despair because you had done a horrible thing for no reason. No reason! I had not even that consolation. I could only think that you had done murder because of me, right or wrong, and hate myself, and resolve——” She shook her head; the outburst of strength was failing. She sat back against the table. “All this time you have allowed me to be unhappy. Why? Why did you not tellme?”

Flusky picked up the glass, filled it, and held the wine to her mouth. She shook her head, straining backwards away from it. He hesitated, then emptied the glass himself, and set it down. He said, puzzling it out:

“It was because of me, then? Not because of him?”

The suffering, the drinking, the fantasies, the frenzies—it comprehended them all; much virtue in it. She answered pitifully:

“You should have known. What do I care for Charles Adare?”

He put his right hand behind her head, pulling it forward and upwards till her eyes were level with his a foot away.




  ― 282 ―

“You was different with him. You seemed ashamed, like, to be yourself for me. Old Quaife's girl—anybody; not me. You couldn't even keep off the liquor for me.”

“Because I was no use to you, worse than useless, and I was ashamed. Not of you. Of myself. And so I tried to escape. It was the only way I knew. I'm not very brave.”

That puzzled him. Before he could take her meaning she spoke again.

“Give me some water, if you please.”

He stood away from her, tumbled some water into a glass and held it out. She put her fingers in it, ran them over her eyelids and forehead, waited a moment. Her pallor, the moisture on her forehead, made her look like a woman dying. Obscurely Flusky seemed to feel this, for he frowned and brushed his sleeve across the drops to dry them. She said:

“This morning, when Sir Richard told me about Charles, I pretended I knew of it. Afterwards, Susan was angry; she thought I really had known. She was bewildered, she accused me. And then she ran away, thinking I had deceived and hurt her, purposely. I said nothing. I let her go. And I lied to Sir Richard, rather than—rather than allow them to suppose you and I were not at one.” She paused. “It cost me something.”

There was silence. A night bird cried, and cried again, passing the window unseen. Flusky put a hand to her hair; the head was bent, and candlelight showed a silver streak that by day she kept in hiding. She did not


  ― 283 ―
speak, nor he, until softly, stroking the silver hair, he asked almost timidly:

“Would he ever marry her, d'ye think? A lord's son——” He paused. His brief laugh implied recognition and astonishment. “It would be like us, only t'other way round.”

“With a better chance. Better hope. Both free.”

He turned his hand swiftly at that, stroking her above the eyes, round the ears; the movement of a man gentling a timid mare. She leaned her head to the hand, and said, with shut eyes, talking levelly as though in sleep:

“I have always failed. All my schemes have been too big for me. What great things I have tackled, what ugly places I have ridden at, Sam! Too big, at least for me. The first of them all it was that broke my nerve, my brother's death; I never got past that, it was always with me, the memory, even here where nobody knew. I ought to have stayed at home and married a nonentity, some squireen or other, and been safe. Instead, I took you, and did murder and never paid for it, and came out to the ends of the earth, and tried to die—— All too big for me, all a failure.”

Above her head he was expressionless, as always when he did not understand and would not commit himself. At the word failure, however, his hand paused.

“If only I had looked different—who was the queen once in Ireland, that had red hair and stood six foot high? That is how Charles saw me. But I could never reign or rule, I can only see and do one thing at a time—not the


  ― 284 ―
wisest thing. If I had looked like Milly, perhaps, I should never have tried all these heroics. Your hand makes my head feel cooler.”

He pressed the heel of his hand for a second hard against her forehead, then resumed the go and come of fingers lightly over her eyes. She said, as though it mattered very little one way or the other:

“I wonder is it too late? I wonder am I going to die after all?”

He said:

“None of that. I'll see to that.”

“Rub me well down, and give me a bran mash.” She laughed suddenly. “Young ladies require something more poetical.”

“What?”

“Something Sir Richard said. Charles, he meant. But Charles is a difficult sort of poet. He can only work in flesh and blood. He made something of me for a while, only I was not young enough; and then, I didn't love him. She, though, Susan. He may turn her out an ode or, I don't know, a sonnet to Australia Felix.”

Flusky halted his hand to ask, in that lingo which best served his thought:

“Are we squared, then? You and me?”

She answered in the same slang of the hulks; the words sounded odd in her crisp speech:

“Fake away.”

He continued the stroking movements for a minute or two longer, his eyes fixed upon the cupboard


  ― 285 ―
in the corner of the room. She heard him chuckle.

“Sam, what?”

“It's just I was thinking; might as well bury that black fellow's head.”

She laughed, a relief from tension. He turned, reached to the cupboard and pulled the thing out by its stringy hair. As he held it a sound caught his attention and he stood fixedly. Lady Henrietta heard too the sound of footsteps on the gravel, whisperings, and a man's laugh. She rose at the laugh, but did not speak. It was Flusky who said:

“Somebody out there.”

Then the steps were on the verandah, coming towards them swiftly; like a pair of lovers in a play, Charles Adare and Susan stood in the long window, holding hands. Flusky very quietly, and not looking at the table, put the thing down upon it, and after one glance that identified the newcomers, watched his wife. She held out her arms, saying one word:

“Children!”

They came to her. She put an arm about each, bowed her head between them, and kissed the girl's cheek first, then the young man's. Flusky let out his breath as he had been used to do after watching a horse clear safely some dangerous leap. Adare, as usual, was the first to find words.

“I've brought this toad to make her apologies. She had the impudence to give you some uneasiness, running off in a temper. Do your civility, Miss. You


  ― 286 ―
see, she's obstinate, she can't bear to be in the wrong——”

“Let her alone,” said Lady Henrietta, and checked the girl's attempt to speak. “That's over. You're happy. Oh, Charles, how foolish you've been, and how glad I am!”

“Sit you down,” said Flusky. He brought forward two chairs simultaneously, one in each heavy hand, and Adare, with the insight that sometimes informed him, knew that Flusky did this by way of a gesture of friendliness which yet should dodge the ceremonial handshake. It is not his fault that I am not dead; but I can't detest the fellow rightly, blast his soul. Thus mused the young man, smiling, nodding his thanks.

His illness had left him a small legacy of nervousness; a knock on the door caught him midway to his seat and jerked him upright. But it was only Miss Milly entering the room to clear away, her satellite, the petty thief, following with a large tray held firmly against her waist.

Milly saw Adare at once. She stood in the doorway as in a frame; her mouth opened; then she shut it and came forward, beckoning the woman in, to go about her work. Adare would not have that silence. It threatened. He assailed it.

“Don't take our glasses away, leave them, the evening's only begun. D'you see me, Miss Milly? The bad penny, the black sheep, the rolling stone come home with devil a morsel of moss—no, Flusky, we never got sniff of any gold. Hullo, and there's my White Rose of York, isn't it? Promoted to the parlour. Long may she reign. And Milly too, so long as the Lord will let her. Did you know


  ― 287 ―
I was getting married? Here——” He dashed some wine out into a couple of glasses and held them out. “Toss this down to the health of the happiest pair, and the most improbable (present company excepted) that ever Capricorn threw together. Capricious—to spring about like goats; that's what the word derives from, that's us. Come on, now, haste to the wedding!”

He began to hum that tune, presenting glasses with a bow. White Rose stretched out a hand for the liquor eagerly enough. Miss Milly struck it away as her fingers touched it, with a jerky single movement of the arm, the rest of her body remaining still. She said to Adare:

“So you're back. Well, they've had their warning.” She turned to the thief. “Clear this table. That's what you're here for.”

“You can leave it, Milly,” Lady Henrietta bade her.

“What's your drawing-room for?” Miss Milly retorted. “Here it is, eight o'clock. How'm I to keep this house? Sitting over wine too. A new thing for Mr. Flusky.”

“Don't argue.” That was Flusky intervening. “If ladyship says leave the table, leave it.”

“I hope you've got no fault to find with me, Mr. Flusky. I do my work, and plenty more that isn't my work.”

“Yes,” said the girl suddenly and angrily, “plenty of that. What did you mean, they've had their warning?”

“I don't pretend,” Milly went on, speaking to Flusky, “to understand the Lord's ways, they're past finding out. I said to you months ago all I had to say, with respect to


  ― 288 ―
this young man. If you take him back you'll be sorry, you'll go down into the pit, that's what you'll do. And your wife with you.”

“Why can't you answer?” the girl badgered. “Go on, say out what you've got against him, without all this Bible——”

Miss Milly disregarded her, turning to Adare.

“It was always the way, from the moment you set foot in this house. Nothing how it ought to be, everything upside down, even to the women in the kitchen.”

Adare gave a frankly lewd laugh at that. She went on, trembling with anger, hands pressed together at her waist:

“Yes, you laugh. A mocker and an evil liver, that's you, Mister Charles Adare. This girl don't know what she's getting, but whatever she gets it's good enough for her, and that I go bail for.”

The girl had come forward, rejecting Lady Henrietta's hand that implored her to be quiet. She stood by Adare, feet a little apart, looking at the woman who, like a gaoler, carried keys at her waist. Her feeling for the young man, that possessiveness which could not find its way out except brokenly when she spoke to him, took this chance; happiness flowing into cruelty, lacking other outlet.

“He's going to marry me. That's more than you've ever been able to say, or ever will, for all your sermons.”

“I don't have to talk to you, Miss——” and the title carried a sneer; like the word ‘woman,’ used thus in quarrel. Miss Milly turned upon the thief, staring, the


  ― 289 ―
tray still pressed against her waist: “You be off to the kitchen.”

“Lady Hattie,” said Adare, a little alarmed by these feminine exchanges, “don't you think perhaps your drawing-room is after all the place for us?”

Lady Henrietta rose with a look at Flusky, who obeyed it. But Susan did not budge. Mr. Adare's hand at her waist felt a trembling; she took no notice of its gentle persistent pressure.

“Say that again, what you said about him. Say it again, and I'll tell what I know.”

“You?” Miss Milly laughed briefly. “What you know won't set the harbour afire.” She leaned forward, dropping her voice. “I don't wish you no ill, you're young, don't know no better. You think twice, that's all. I'm only a servant, well, a wise servant shall have rule over a son that causeth shame. And that's what he causes, wherever he goes.”

“Who wanted to marry Mr. Flusky?” Susan cried out suddenly, pointing, and beginning to dance like a street child. “Who wanted ladyship out of the way? Who's been planning, and scheming, and waiting to jacket her?note Mrs. Milly Meddler.”

At that there was a moment's silence; silence absolute. The tray broke it, dropping with a clang from the satellite's waist; her feet sounded a panic retreat as she fled. Flusky brought his fist down upon the table, and the


  ― 290 ―
glasses hummed to it. Lady Henrietta came swiftly back into the room.

“Oh, no, no! Sam, don't listen.” She was urgent, her pleading protected not Miss Milly's secret only, but her own. “And you, Susan—Charles, take her away, don't let her be loud and foolish. It's unkind, ridiculous, I can't bear it, I can't indeed. Milly——”

She went towards the housekeeper, stretching one hand in a gesture that said: It is not my fault. I pity you, I have not betrayed you. Miss Milly gave her a stare and moved at last. She put fingers to her waist, unhitched with a single wrench the bunch of keys from her belt, and slashed them down upon the open defenceless hand. Lady Henrietta gave a little gasp, but caught the keys, and turned quickly upon her husband, whose shadow she had seen move forward. He spoke, one single savage word.

“She will go,” said Lady Henrietta, pressing him back with her wounded hand upon his breast, the other clutching at his fist. “Don't hurt her, don't speak to her, let her alone. She will go now.”

Miss Milly went, not speaking, head erect. Flusky took his wife's hand, and looked at the reddened palm. Adare saw the man's face, and felt the curious discomfort which youth endures at sight of older persons moved by passions properly the patrimony of the young. At once he looked away, and thereby spied upon the table the impassive head.

“Flusky, what do you say? Let's have a wake!” The man's eyes questioned him; he nodded downwards. “This


  ― 291 ―
fellow. He ought to have Christian burial. Lady Hattie hates him, he's indecent, and he's been against the law of the land ever since Governor Darling's day. Well, I dare say he mayn't be a Christian, but burial's burial. Let's have up some of the blacks to howl for him.”

He was wrapping the head in a napkin as he spoke, hiding strawy hair, sea-blue stains, in linen whitened by Miss Milly's own hand. Flusky said:

“No fear. They'd dig him up and sell him again, and wear the money on strings round their necks.”

“You may be right,” Adare agreed, busy. “They are mercenary devils, different from us, who only want money for what we can do with it.” He finished his task, and straightened, holding the thing up by the napkin's ears. “Farewell to an unknown! Was he a hero? Or a nonentity? Or just a damn nuisance to all concerned, like most of us gentlemen? No answer. No matter. We'll do without the blacks. ‘So let me be thy choir, and make a moan Upon the midnight hours——’ Will you come, Sue?”

The girl came to him, but Lady Henrietta shook her head as the pair paused beside her. They went out together as they had come, through the window. Adare had taken up a three-branched candlestick from the table, and held this to light them down the path. Their steps sounded crisply at first, then were dulled by the grass. The two left in the room as the light dwindled found themselves assailed by scents from the antipodean garden, stirring memories to which these flowers had no claim,


  ― 292 ―
which were the due of lavenders or lilacs twelve thousand miles and twenty years away. Lady Henrietta spoke at last, on a deep breath:

“Perhaps one needs to be born here.”

He, for once, answered her thought unerringly:

“It's not the country for your sort. I'm all right here. That girl too; she'll do all right.”

“It has beauty,” said she, looking out at jacaranda trees showing ghostly through the dark, and stars appearing, suddenly as lamps lit, across the bay.

“I don't know for that,” said Flusky. “That's not my lay. It gives a cove a chance.”

Then they both sat quietly, listening to young voices downhill, and the pulse of the tide below them.

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