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(xix)

LADY HENRIETTA spread a letter above the silks upon her knee, with a single glance upwards to thank the bringer.

“MY DEAR FRIEND,—

“It was a great happiness to me to hear of you at last—after how long! I am into the fifth mystery, as the people here say, reckoning by their rosaries, forty-two, and you must be not far off. But there are more agreeable things to be thinking; we will not count the years.

“You have stayed too long in that distant hot country.


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Why do you not make a little change, pack your trunks, and come home to some rain and snow? It is blowing very hard to-day, there is quite a stir upon the lake, and the cows grazing have all their backs turned to it. But I dare say what I call a great blow is nothing to you, with your tornadoes and other tropical splendours. Or do you not have these? We know that you walk upside down, that your trees keep their leaves and shed their bark, that your pears are wooden, and your cherries grow with the stones outside. Your winds may be stillnesses for aught I know, and in that case I am sure you would like to see again the stirring of waves upon our lake.

“Charles in his letters says nothing of your circumstances, only that you have been kind to him, and that you are in great beauty. He makes no picture of your house or your life, and I am left to fill in the details with my imagination as best I may. Thus, remembering old days and your predilection for leps and dangers, I have painted an equestrian portrait of you. Is not New South Wales a land of horses? And, I do not know for what reason, in my picture you are always alone. This is nonsense, of course. You cannot be for ever caracoling among the—gum trees, is it? And your husband is by your side.

“I have much to say to you, but my pen is slow, and the ship that bears my thoughts, such as they are, slower still. Oh, for a talk such as in the old days we took so thanklessly for granted! It is a pity that women live so much by trifles, for these show less well upon paper than the


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important sentiments men have always at command; and though ours sound well enough in talk, yet to arrange them on paper makes us aware that they are nothing, and we ourselves no more than zeros till a man comes to stand in front of us like a digit and lend us meaning.

“You have your digit, bravely chosen. As for me, Charles told you, I make no doubt, that such meaning went out of my life ten years ago. I am not a clever or brave woman, I have neither ambition nor capacity to make a life for myself as you have done. I put all my eggs in two baskets, one has gone, but Charles may be reckoned still as a dozen new-laid. In plain words, he is all my heart has left. And thus I cannot very well describe, without seeming fulsome, the pleasure I had to hear of him safe in your kindest hands.

“My dear friend! Let me write that again, it gives me so much happiness after all these years. My dear friend, the time seems long, you wrote in your message. And yet as I sit here, with the dogs by me as they always used, and everything unchanged (save when I look in the mirror), time seems, not long, but at a standstill. There is a sound of hoofs now, outside. It might be you, come on a visit for the day as you used, bringing your music and needlework pillion in a basket. I know it cannot, but for a moment I allow my heart to play with expectation. Has it not often seemed to you strange, when the scene remains as it was, that the actors should not make their expected appearance?

“I could talk, but cannot write more. God bless you


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for what you and your good husband have done for Charles. May He bless you only for being alive, and for not forgetting me. Do, pray, when all your fortunes are made, come home. I promise you a welcome warm as the turf on our hearths. And now, shall I sign myself affectionately yours? sincerely, truly, gratefully? Take your choice, or better still, accept all four; since I am still, without any doubt, your affectionate, sincere, grateful, and true friend,

“ALETHEA ADARE.”

A barque, sails spread to a breeze which darkened the harbour water in patches, was moving towards the gap beyond which swung and lifted open sea. Her flags, each with a severely practical significance—departure, has been cleared at Customs, has pilot aboard—made the most of such wind as there was; they struggled in the air from time to time briefly and frantically as fish new-caught. The ship advanced unsteadily, obedient to shoves of the moody breeze, her escape watched and noted by authority in a flicker of signals exchanged:

Fort Phillip:

 Where is the vessel that left the Cove?

South Head:

 Vessel signalized now off Bradley's Point.

Fort Phillip:

 Report movements.




  ― 305 ―

South Head:

 Vessel signalized approaching Heads. Vessel has dropped pilot. Is vessel to proceed?

Fort Phillip:

 Affirmative. Departure in order.

The barque moved outwards, free.

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