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(vi)

MR. ADARE, thus licensed to accept, accepted; having no least notion of what he was about, or what forces he was setting to work. He was not accustomed to look forward, or to calculate sequels; even had he possessed the highest degree of prudence, he could hardly have read these few polite written words as the warrant setting forth a new course of existence for several people. First, the receipt of his letter produced a remarkable effect in the pleasant capacious dwelling in Woolloomoolloo, which Mr. Samson Flusky had elected to call by so odd a name. (He had no idea of the words' meaning; but hearing the house thus referred to by blacks perpetually encamped in his garden, he had adopted their outlandish phrase, the more readily that he had no wish to preserve, as so many of the other exiles did, any memory of a home on the far side of the world.) Mr. Adare's letter set half a dozen activities taking direction. Miss Milly, a large woman in carpet slippers, upon whom the domestic authority of the establishment devolved; Miss Milly, surname forgotten long ago, who could slap up a dinner, kill a rat, or—as had once been proved to the


  ― 33 ―
discomfiture of a visiting clergyman—deliver an excellent impromptu prayer; Miss Milly was summoned, and bid look to her staff, that they behaved themselves and were up to their work on Wednesday week. This order she received with a sniff, and withdraw to convey the sense of it to a mixed lot of female convicts, who, accustomed as they were to fight bloodily, to drink rum when they could get it and eau-de-Cologne when they could not, took philosophically her command to “act ladylike for once.” Then it was the turn of William Winter, secretary, a gentlemanlike person doing time for the seduction of a minor. He was new to his assignment; indeed the first task that had been set him was the drawing up of a menu for Wednesday week. He demurred; knew nothing of the resources of the country, what meats were procurable——

“Don't trouble for that,” said Flusky easily. “Anything you say, I can get.”

William Winter searched his memory. Meals in France; the delicate ridiculous ices of the Palais Royal, wine-dark soup of snails; meals at Oxford tables; méringues, a boar's head whose glass eyes stared from buttered sockets, larks with a bay leaf on their breasts; meals less clearly remembered, by reason of the ladies and wine that had accompanied them. He conferred with Miss Milly, summoned from among her kitchen furies to aid, and between them a programme of courses was assembled, to which William Winter gave French names. When the plan was drawn out he submitted it to Flusky,


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who glanced at the paper, counted the courses with a moving thumb, and asked:

“Is this a slap-up dinner?”

William Winter reassured him. Everything of the most expensive, everything out of season or reason would appear upon the table, in order serviceable as the bright-harnessed angels of Milton. Flusky nodded, and turned away. Winter stood, wondered, risked a suggestion.

“Am I to show the menu to Madam?”

Flusky stood still.

“To who?”

William Winter knew that his employer must have heard, and did not repeat his question. He was aware that somewhere in the large house there dwelt Flusky's wife, though he had not seen her, and though Miss Milly brushed aside questions. He waited therefore; but he had met his match at that. Flusky took up the paper on which the list of dishes was written, put it away in one of his sagging pockets, and sat down tranquilly to light a cigar such as he smoked perpetually, throwing the butts away before half the smoke was done: his one extravagance. When the cigar was going he gazed wildly through the smoke at William Winter, and the gaze was a challenge. The seducer (who had cut no very gallant figure when pursued by angry brothers on horseback, flourishing long-tailed whips) did not meet it. He busied himself mending a pen, and prepared, with every appearance of earnest attention to business, to receive orders.

These took the form of a command to write out


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further invitations. William Winter had not been long enough in the colony to understand how improbable it was that any of them would be accepted, but he was inclined to question his employer's insistence: “Say it's to sit down with the Honourable Adare.” Commissioners of this and that, elderly Colonels and Judges, were not, in his experience, lured to dine by the promise of meeting an Irish sprig, aged twenty, of no particular influence or notoriety. But the solecism had to go down, repeated ten times, and a servant was sent off on horseback with the notes, sealed and impressed by the Secretary's own signet ring, a proud crest which he was perfectly well entitled to use.

The dignitaries, unexpectedly enough, found themselves able, pleased, delighted, free to wait on Mr. Samson Flusky at the time he named. Their wives, however, with gospel unanimity, could not come. Flusky took the news with only one comment, a slightly bewildered question to his secretary:

“But don't they know I've got the Honourable Adare?”

They knew it. But they did not want him as sugar coating to the pill of Mr. Flusky's wife, about whom nothing was known, and upon whose respectability they were unwilling to stake that consequence which was their all. William Winter, casting about for a formula which should convey a hint of this to the giver of the feast, observed that individual toss away his cigar, a gesture habitual with him to underline a decision, and heard him declare, without heat:




  ― 36 ―

“Well, but, damn them; she shall be there. Henrietta shall be there.”

This was the first time William Winter had heard Mrs. Flusky's name. Its prim ladylike quality puzzled him, for he had added to his vague suspicions a fact or two; cries heard from her room sometimes at night, and rich dresses, torn and soiled, coming downstairs over Miss Milly's arm. The mistress of the house gave no orders, took no walks, ate alone, living a life of her own, meaningless yet apparently content; the life of a goddess without worshippers.

But she was to come to the dinner, and take her place at the foot of the long table. William Winter, setting out in copper-plate on cards the guests' names and titles, looked up at the sound of an order:

“My wife at the foot. I'll take the head. Write her name: Lady Henrietta Flusky.”

“But that's—excuse me, sir. That's what is called a courtesy title. It is borne by daughters of nobility. The wives of—private gentlemen—can't claim it.”

“Write what I say.”

William Winter shrugged, swallowing down further comment, but a little sorry to see how his employer persisted in social error. To atone for the various enormities Flusky had obliged him to commit, he took trouble in composing the table, allowing precedence due, constructing harmonies upon a figured bass of dignity as the Colony understood that word. The Governor's Private Secretary he set at Mrs. Flusky's


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left hand. On her right, as a newcomer and the guest of honour, was to sit the Honourable Charles Adare.

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