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Title:      Ultima Thule
            Third book in the trilogy - The Fortunes of Richard Mahony
Author:     Henry Handel Richardson (1870-1946)
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0100071.txt
Language:   English
Date first posted:          September 2001
Date most recently updated: July 2006

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Title:      Ultima Thule
            Third book in the trilogy - The Fortunes of Richard Mahony
Author:     Henry Handel Richardson (1870-1946)





Dedication

To M.L.R.



Epigraph

"And some there be, which have no memorial . . ."
Ecclesiasticus, xliv, 90





Part I




Chapter I



When for the third time, Richard Mahony set foot in Ausralia, it was to
find that the fortune with which that country but some six years back
had so airily invested him no longer existed. He was a ruined man; and
at the age of forty-nine, with a wife and children dependent on him,
must needs start life over again.

Twice in the past he had plucked up his roots from this soil, to which
neither gratitude nor affection bound him. Now, fresh from foreign
travel, from a wider knowledge of the beauties of the old world, he
felt doubly alien; and, with his eyes still full of greenery and
lushness, he could see less beauty than ever in its dun and and
landscape.--It was left to a later generation to discover this: to
those who, with their mother's milk, drank in a love of sunlight and
space; of inimitable blue distances and gentian-blue skies. To them,
the country's very shortcomings were, in time, to grow dear: the
scanty, ragged foliage; the unearthly stillness of the bush; the long,
red roads, running inflexible as ruled lines towards a steadily
receding horizon . . . and engendering in him who travelled them a
lifelong impatience with hedge-bound twists and turns. To their eyes,
too, quickened by emotion, it was left to descry the colours in the
apparent colourlessness: the upturned earth that showed red, white,
puce, gamboge; the blue in the grey of the new leafage; the geranium
red of young scrub; the purple-blue depths of the shadows. To know,
too, in exile, a rank nostalgia for the scent of the aromatic foliage;
for the honey fragrance of the wattle; the perfume that rises hot and
heavy as steam from vast paddocks of sweet, flowering lucerne--even
for the sting and tang of countless miles of bush ablaze.

Of ties such as these, which end by drawing a man home, Richard
Mahony knew nothing. He returned to the colony at heart the stranger he
had always been.

Landing in Melbourne one cold spring day in the early seventies, he
tossed his belongings into a hansom, and without pausing to reflect
drove straight to his old club at the top of Collins Street. But his
stay there was short. For no sooner did he learn the full extent of his
losses, than he was ripe to detect a marked reserve, not to say
coolness, in the manner of his former friends and acquaintances. More
than one, he fancied, deliberately shunned him. Bitterly he regretted
his overhasty intrusion on this, the most exclusive club in the city;
to which wealth alone was the passport. (He had forgotten, over his
great wanderings, how small a world he had here come back to. Within
the narrow clique of Melbourne society, anything that happened to one
of its members was quickly known to all; and the news of his crash had
plainly preceded him.) Well! if this was a foretaste of what he had to
expect--snubs and slights from men who would once have been honoured
by his notice--the sooner he got out of people's way the better. And
bundling his clothes back into his trunk, he drove off again, choosing,
characteristically enough, not a quiet hotel in a good neighbourhood,
but a second-class boarding-house on the farther side of the Victoria
Parade. Here, there was no earthly chance of meeting any one he knew.
Or, for that matter, of meeting any one at all! For these outlying
streets, planned originally for a traffic without compare--the
seething mob of men, horses, vehicles that had once flowed, like a
living river, to the goldfields--now lay as bare as they had then been
thronged. By day an occasional spindly buggy might amble along their
vast width, or a solitary bullock-wagon take its tortoise way; but
after dark, feebly lit by ill-trimmed lamps set at enormous distances
one from another, they turned into mere desolate, wind-swept spaces. On
which no creature moved but himself.

It was here that he took his decisions, laid his plans. His days
resembled a blurred nightmare, in which he sped from one dingy office
to the next, or sat through interviews with lawyers and bankers--
humiliating interviews, in the course of which his unbusiness-like
conduct, his want of NOUS in money matters was mercilessly
dragged to light. But in the evening he was free: and then he would
pace by the hour round these deserted streets, with the collar of his
greatcoat turned up to his ears, his hands clasped at his back, his
head bent against the icy south winds; or, caught by a stinging
hail-shower, would seek shelter under the lee of an old, half dismantled
"Horse, Cow and Pig-Market," of which the wild wind rattled and shook
the loose timbers as if to carry them sky-high.

Of the large fortune he had amassed--the fortune so happily invested,
so carefully husbanded--he had been able to recover a bare three
thousand pounds. The unprincipled scoundrel in whose charge he had left
it--on Purdy's equally unprincipled advice--had fleeced him of all
else. On this pitiful sum, and a handful of second-rate shares which
might bring him in the equivalent of what he had formerly spent in the
year on books, or Mary on her servants and the running of the
nurseries, he had now to start life anew: to provide a home, to feed,
clothe, educate his children, pay his way. One thing was clear: he must
set up his plate again with all dispatch; resume the profession he had
once been so heartily glad to retire from. And his first bitterness and
resentment over, he was only too thankful to have this to fall back on.

The moot question was, where to make the start; and in the course of
the several anxious debates he had with himself on this subject, he
became ever more relieved that Mary was not with him. Her absence gave
him a freer hand. For, if he knew her, she would be all in favour of
his settling up-country, dead against his trying to get a footing in
Melbourne. Now he was as ready as any man could be, to atone to her for
the straits to which he had brought her. But--he must be allowed to
meet the emergency in his own way. It might not be the wisest or the
best way; but it was the only one he felt equal to.

Bury himself alive up-country, he could and would not! . . . not if she
talked till all was blue. He saw her points, of course: they were like
herself. . . entirely practical. There were, she would argue, for every
opening in Melbourne ten to be found in the bush, where doctors were
scarce, and twice and three times the money to be made there.
Living-expenses would be less, nor would he need to keep up any style.
Which was true enough . . . as far as it went. What, womanlike, she
would overlook, or treat as of slight importance, was the fact that he
had also his professional pride to consider. He with his past to
condemn himself to the backwoods! Frankly, he thought he would be doing
not only himself, but his children after him, an injury, did he agree
to anything of the kind. No! he was too good for the bush.

But the truth had still another facet. Constrained, at his age, to
buckle to again, he could only, he believed, find the necessary courage
under conditions that were not too direly repellent. And since, strive
as he might, he could not break down Mary's imagined disapproval, he
threw himself headlong into the attempt to get things settled--
irrevocably settled--before she arrived; took to scouring the city and
its environs, tramping the inner and outer suburbs, walking the soles
off his boots and himself to a shadow, to find a likely place. Ruefully
he turned his back on the sea at St. Kilda and Elsternwick, the
pleasant spot of earth in which he once believed he had found a resting
place; gave the green gardens of Toorak a wide berth--no room there
for an elderly interloper!--and, stifling his distaste, explored the
outer darkness of Footscray, Essendon, Moonee Ponds. But it was always
the same. If he found what he thought a suitable opening, there was
certain not to be a house within coo-ee fit for them to live in.

What finally decided him on the pretty little suburb of Hawthorn--
after he had thoroughly prowled and nosed round, to make sure he would
have the field to himself--was not alone the good country air, but the
fact that, at the junction of two main streets--or what would some day
be main streets, the place being still in the making--he lit on a
capital building lot, for sale dirt-cheap. For a doctor no finer
position could be imagined--and in fancy he ran up the house that was
to stand there. Of brick, two storeys high, towering above its
neighbours, it would face both ways, be visible to all comers. The
purchase of the land was easily effected--truth to tell, only too
easily! He rather let himself be blarneyed into it. The house formed
the stumbling-block. He sped from firm to firm; none would touch the
job under a couple of thousand. In vain he tried to cut down his
requirements. Less than two sitting-rooms they could not
possibly do with, besides a surgery and a waiting-room. Four bedrooms,
a dressing-room or two, a couple of bathrooms were equally necessary;
while no house of this size but had verandah and balcony to keep the
sun off, and to serve as an outdoor playroom for the children.

There was nothing for it, in the long run, but to put his pride in his
pocket and take the advice given him on every hand: to build, as
ninety-nine out of a hundred did here, through one of the numerous
Building Societies that existed to aid those short of ready money. But
it was a bitter pill for a man of his former wealth to swallow. Nor did
it, on closer acquaintance, prove by any means the simple affair he had
been led to believe. In the beginning, a thousand was the utmost he
felt justified in laying down. But when he saw all that was involved he
contrived, after much anxious deliberation, to stretch the thousand to
twelve hundred, taking out a mortgage at ten per cent, with regular
repayment of capital.

It was at this crisis that he felt most thankful Mary was not with him.
HOW she would have got on his nerves! . . . with her doubts and
hesitations, her aversion to taking risks, her fears lest he should
land them all in Queer Street. Women paid dearly for their
inexperience: when it came to a matter of business, even the most
practical could not see beyond the tips of their noses. And,
humiliating though the present step might be, there was absolutely no
cause for alarm. These things were done--done on every hand--his eye
had been opened to that, in his recent wanderings. By men, too, less
favourably placed than he. But even suppose, for supposing's sake, that
he did not succeed to the top of his expectations--get, that was, the
mortgage paid off within a reasonable time--where would be the
hardship in treating the interest on the loan as a rental, in place of
living rent-free? (And a very moderate rent, too, for a suitable
house!) But Mary would never manage to forget the debt that lay behind.
And it was here the temptation beset him to hold his tongue, to say
nothing to her about the means he had been forced to employ. Let her
believe he had built out of the resources left to him. For peace' sake,
in the first place; to avoid the bother of explanation and
recrimination. (What a drag, too, to know that somebody was eternally
on the QUI VIVE to see whether or no you were able to come up
to the mark!) Yet again, by keeping his own counsel, he would spare her
many an hour's anxiety--a sheerly needless anxiety. For any doubts he
might have had himself, at the start, vanished like fog before a
lifting breeze as he watched the house go up. Daily his conviction
strengthened that he had done the right thing.

It became a matter of vital importance to him that the walls should be
standing and the roof on, before Mary saw it: Mary needed the evidence
of her senses: could grasp only what she had before her eyes. Then,
pleasure at getting so fine a house might help to reconcile her to his
scheme. . . God alone knew what the poor soul would be expecting. And
so, in the belief that his presence stimulated the workpeople, he spent
many an hour in the months that followed watching brick laid to brick,
and the hodmen lumber to and fro; or pottering about among clay and
mortar heaps: an elderly gentleman in a long surtout, carrying gloves
and a cane; with greyish hair and whiskers, and a thin, pointed face.

Again, he cooled his heels there because he had nothing better to do.
Once bitten, twice shy, was his motto; and he continued rigidly to give
friends and relatives the go-by: time enough to pick up the threads
when he could step out once more in his true colours. Besides, the
relatives were Mary's; the friends as well. The consequence was, he now
fell into a solitariness beyond compare: got the habit of solitude, and
neither missed nor wanted the company of his fellows.

Since, however, every man who still stands upright needs some star to
go by, he kept his eyes steadfastly fixed on the coming of wife and
children. This was to be his panacea for every ill. And as the six
months' separation drew to an end, he could hardly contain himself for
anxiety and impatience. Everything was ready for them: he had taken a
comfortably furnished house in which to instal them till their own was
built; had engaged a servant, moved in himself. Feverishly he scanned
the shipping-lists. Other boats made port which had left England at the
same time . . . and even later. . . despite gales, and calms, and
contrary winds. But it was not till the middle of December that the
good ship SOBRAON, ninety odd days out, was sighted off Cape Otway; and
he could take train to Queenscliffe for a surprise meeting with
his dear ones, and to sail with them up the Bay.

In his hand he carried a basket of strawberries--the first to come on
the market.

Standing pointing out to the children familiar landmarks on the shores
of their new-old home, Mary suddenly stopped in what she was saying and
rubbed her eyes.

"Why! I do declare . . . if it's not--Look, children, LOOK, there's
your Papa! He's waving his handkerchief to you. Wave back! Nod your
heads! Throw him a kiss!"

"Papa! . . . dere's Papa!" the twins told each other, and obediently
set to wagging like a pair of china mandarins; the while with their
pudgy hands they wafted kisses in the direction of an approaching
boat-load of men.

"Where's he? I don't see!" opposed Cuffy, in a spirit to which the
oneness of his sisters--still more, of sisters and mother--often
provoked him. But this time he had a grievance as well. Throughout the
voyage there had been ever such lots of laughing and talking and
guessing, about who would reckernise Papa first: and he, as the eldest,
had felt quite safe. Now Mamma, who had joined in the game and guessed
with them, had spoilt everything, not played fair.

But for once his mother did not heed his pouting. She was gazing with
her heart in her eyes at the Health Officer's boat, in which, by the
side of the doctor coming to board the ship, sat Richard in a set of
borrowed oilskins, ducking his head to avoid the spray, and waving and
shouting like an excited schoolboy. In a very few minutes now the long,
slow torture of the voyage would be over, and she would know the worst.

Here he came, scrambling up the ladder, leaping to the deck.

"Richard! . . . my dear! Is it really you? But OH, how thin you've
got!"

"Yes, here I am, safe and sound! But you, wife . . . how are you?--AND
the darlings? Come to Papa, who has missed you more than he can say!--
Good day, good day, Eliza! I hope I see you well!--But HOW they've
grown, Mary! Why, I hardly know them."

The Dumplings, pink and drooping with shyness but docile as
ever, dutifully held up their bud mouths to be kissed; then, smiling
adorably, wriggled back to Mamma's side, crook'd finger to lip. But
Cuffy did not smile as his father swung him aloft, and went pale
instead of pink. For, at sight of the person who came jumping over, he
had been seized by one of his panicky fears. The Dumplings, of course,
didn't remember Papa, they couldn't, they were only four; but he did
. . . and somehow he remembered him DIFFRUNT. Could it be a mistake? Not
that it wasn't him . . . he didn't mean that. . . he only meant . . .
well, he wasn't sure what he did mean. But when this new-old Papa
asked: "And how's my big boy?" a fresh spasm of distrust shot through
him. Didn't he know that everybody always said "small for his age"?

But, dumped down on the deck again, he was forgotten, while over his
head the quick, clipped voice went on: "Perfectly well! . . . and with
nothing in the world to complain of, now I've got you again. I thought
you'd NEVER come. Yes, I've been through an infernally anxious time,
but that's over now, and things aren't as bad as they might be. You've
no need to worry. But let's go below where we can talk in peace." And
with his arm round her shoulders he made to draw Mary with him . . .
followed by the extreme silent wonder of three pairs of eyes, whose
owners were not used any more to seeing Mamma taken away like this
without asking. Or anybody's arm put round her either. When she
belonged to them.

But at the head of the companion-way Mahony paused and slapped his
brow.

"Ha! . . . but wait a minute . . . . Papa was forgetting. See here!"
and from a side pocket of the capacious oilskins he drew forth the
basket of strawberries. These had suffered in transit, were bruised and
crushed.

"What, strawberries?--already?" exclaimed Mary, and eyed the berries
dubiously. They were but faintly tinged.

"The very first to be had, my dear! I spied them on my way to the
train.--Come, children!"

But Mary barred the way . . . stretched out a preventing hand. "Not
just now, Richard. Later on, perhaps. . . when they've had their
dinners. Give them to me, dear."

Jocularly he eluded her, holding the basket high, out of her
reach. "No, this is MY treat!--Now who remembers the old game? 'Open
your mouths and shut your eyes and see what Jacko will send you!'"

The children closed in, the twins displaying rosy throats, their eyes
faithfully glued to.

But Mary peremptorily interposed. "No, no, they mustn't! I should have
them ill. The things are not half ripe."

"What? Not let them eat them? . . after the trouble I've been to, to
buy them and lug them here? Not to speak of what I paid for them."

"I'm sorry, Richard, but--ssh, dear! surely you must see . . ."
Mary spoke in a low, persuasive voice, at the same time frowning and
making other wifely signals to him to lower his. (And thus engrossed
did not feel a pull at her sleeve, or hear Cuffy's thin pipe: "I'LL eat
them, Mamma. I'd LIKE to!" Now he knew it was Papa all right.) For
several of their fellow passengers were watching and listening, and
there stood Richard looking supremely foolish, holding aloft a single
strawberry.

But he was too put out to care who saw or heard. "Well and good then,
if they're not fit to eat--not even AFTER dinner!--there's only one
thing to be done with them. Overboard they go!" And picking up the
basket he tossed it and its contents into the sea. Before the children
. . . Eliza . . . everybody.

With her arm through his, Mary got him below, to the privacy and
seclusion of the cabin. The same old Richard! touchy and irascible . . .
wounded by any trifle. But she knew how to manage him; and, by
appealing to his common sense and good feelings, soon talked him round.
Besides, on this particular day he was much too happy to see them all
again, long to remain in dudgeon. Still, his first mood of pleasure and
elation had fizzled out and was not to be recaptured. The result was,
the account he finally gave her of the state of his finances, and their
future prospects, was not the rose-coloured one he had intended and
prepared. What she now got to hear bore more relation to sober fact.




Chapter II



A neighbour's cocks and hens wakened him before daybreak. The insensate
creatures crew and cackled, cackled and crew; and, did they pause for
breath, the sparrows took up the tale. He could not sleep again. Lying
stiff as a log so as not to disturb Mary, he hailed each fresh streak
of light that crept in at the sides of the blinds or over the tops of
the valances; while any bagatelle was welcome that served to divert his
thoughts and to bridge the gap till rising-time. The great mahogany
wardrobe, for instance. This began as an integral part of the darkness,
gradually to emerge, a shade heavier than the surrounding gloom, as a
ponderous mass; only little by little, line by line, assuming its true
shape. Faithfully the toilet-glass gave back each change in the room's
visibility. Later on there were bars to count, formed by unevenness in
the slats of the venetians, and falling golden on the whitewashed
walls.

Yes, whitewash was, so far, the only covering the walls knew. The
papering of them had had to be indefinitely postponed. And gaunt indeed
was the effect of their cold whiteness on eyes used to rich, dark
hangings. This was one reason why he preferred the penance of
immobility, to getting up and prowling about downstairs. Never did the
house look more cheerless than on an early morning, before the blinds
were raised, the rooms in order. One realised then, only too plainly,
what a bare barn it was; and how the task of rendering it cosy and
homelike had baffled even Mary. He would not forget her consternation
on first seeing it; her cry of: "But Richard! . . . how shall we EVER
fill it?" Himself he stood by dumbfounded, as he watched her busy with
tape and measure: truly, he had never thought of this. She had toiled,
dear soul, for weeks on end, stitching at curtains and draperies to try
to clothe the nakedness--in vain. If they had not had his books to
fall back on, the place would have been uninhabitable. But he had
emptied the whole of his library into it, with the result that
books were everywhere: on the stair-landings, in the bedrooms; wherever
they could with decency stop a gap. Another incongruity was the
collection of curios and bric-a-brac garnered on their travels. This
included some rare and costly objects, which looked odd, to say the
least of it, in a room where there were hardly chairs enough to go
round. For he had had everything to buy, down to the last kitchen fork
and spoon. And by the time he had paid for a sideboard that did not
make too sorry a show in the big dining-room; a dinner-table that had
some relation to the floor-space; a piano, a desk for his surgery and
so on, he was bled dry. Nor did he see the smallest prospect, in the
meantime, of finishing the job. They had just to live on in this
half-baked condition, which blazoned the fact that funds had given out;
that he had put up a house it was beyond his means to furnish. How he
writhed when strangers ran an appraising glance over it!

No: unrested, and without so much as a cup of tea in him, he could not
bring himself to descend and contemplate the evidences of his folly.
Instead, the daylight by now being come, he lay and totted up pound to
pound until, for sheer weariness, he was ready to drop asleep again.
But eight o'clock had struck, there could be no lapsing back into
unconsciousness. He rose and went down to breakfast.

They had the children with them at table now. And good as the little
things were by nature, yet they rose from ten hours' sound sleep lively
as the sparrows: their tongues wagged without a stop. And though he
came down with the best intentions, he soon found his nerves jarred.
Altering the position of his newspaper for the tenth time, he was
pettishly moved to complain: "Impossible! HOW can I read in such a
racket?"

"Oh, come, you can't expect children to sit and never say a word."

But she hushed them, with frowns and headshakes, to a bout of
whispering, or the loud, hissing noise children make in its stead;
under fire of which it was still harder to fix his thoughts.

Retired to the surgery he was no better off; for now the thrumming of
five-finger exercises began to issue from the drawing-room, where the
children were having their music-lessons. This was unavoidable. With
the arrival of the patients all noise had to cease; later on,
Mary was too busy with domestic duties to sit by the piano; and that
the youngsters must learn music went without saying. But the walls of
the house had proved mere lath-and-plaster; and the tinkle of the
piano, the sound of childish voices and Mary's deeper tones, raised in
one-two-threes and one-two-three-fours, so distracted him that it took
him all his time to turn up and make notes on his cases for the day. By
rights, this should have been his hour for reading, for refreshing his
memory of things medical. But not only silence failed him; equally
essential was a quiet mind; and as long as his affairs remained in
their present uncertain state, that, too, was beyond his reach. Before
he got to the foot of a page, he would find himself adding up columns
of figures.

The truth was, his brain had reverted to its ancient and familiar
employment with a kind of malicious glee. He was powerless to control
it. Cark and care bestrode him; rode him to death; and yet got him
nowhere; for all the calculations in the world would not change hard
facts. Reckon as he might, he could not make his dividends for the past
six months amount to more than a hundred and fifty pounds: a hundred
and fifty! Nor was this wretched sum a certainty. It came from shares
that were to the last degree unstable--in old days he had never given
them a thought. And against this stood the sum of eight hundred pounds.
Oh! he had grossly over-estimated his faculty for self-deception. Now
that he was in the thick of things, it went beyond him to get this debt
out of his mind. Suppose anything should happen to him before he had
paid it off? What a legacy to leave Mary! Out and away his sorest
regret was that, in the good old days now gone for ever, he had failed
to insure his life. Thanks to his habitual dilatoriness he had put it
off from year to year, always nursing the intention, shirking the
effort. Now, the premium demanded would be sheerly unpayable.

At present everything depended on how the practice panned out. The
practice . . . Truth to tell, after close on a six months' trial, he
did not himself know what to make of it. Had he been less pressed for
time and money, he might have described it as not unpromising. As
matters stood, he could only say that what there WAS of it was good:
the patients of a superior class, and so on. But from the first
it had been slow to move--there seemed no sickness about--the fees
slower still to come in. If, by the end of the year, things did not
look up, he would have to write down his settling there as a bad job.
It was an acute disappointment that he had only managed to secure two
paltry lodges. Every general practitioner knew what THAT meant. He had
built on lodge-work: not only for the income it assured, but also to
give a fillip to the private practice. Again, not expecting what work
there was to be so scattered, he had omitted to budget for horse hire,
or the hire of a buggy. This made a real hole in his takings. He walked
wherever he could; but calls came from places as far afield as Kew and
Camberwell, which were not to be reached on foot. Besides, the last
thing in the world he could afford to do was to knock himself up. Even
as it was, he got back from his morning round tired out; and after
lunch would find himself dozing in his chair. Of an evening, he was
glad to turn in soon after ten o'clock; the one bright side to the
general slackness being the absence of night-work. Of course, such
early hours meant giving the go-by to all social pleasures. But truly
he was in no trim for company, either at home or abroad. How he was
beginning to rue the day when he had burdened himself with a house of
this size, merely that he might continue to make a show among his
fellow-men. When the plain truth was, he would not turn a hair if he
never saw one of them again.

Yes, his present feeling of unsociableness went deeper than mere
fatigue: it was a kind of deliberate turning-in on himself. Mary no
doubt hit the mark, when she blamed the months of morbid solitude to
which he had condemned himself on reaching Melbourne. He had, declared
she, never been the same man since.

"I ought to have known better than to let you come out alone."

She spoke heartily; but doubts beset her. It was one thing to put your
finger on the root of an ill; another to cure it. Yet a failure to do
so might cost them dear. Here was Richard with his way and his name to
make, a practice to build up, connections to form; and, instead of
taking every hand that offered, he kept up his "Ultima Thule" habits of
refusing invitations, shirking introductions; and declined into
this "let me alone and don't bother me" state, than which, for a
doctor, she could imagine none more fatal.

Of course, having to start work again at his age was no light matter,
and he undoubtedly felt the strain; found it hard also, after all the
go-as-you-please latter years, to nail himself down to fixed hours and
live by the clock. He complained, too, that his memory wasn't what it
used to be. Names, now. If he didn't write down a name the moment he
heard it, it was bound to escape him; and then he could waste the
better part of a morning in struggling to recapture it.

"You're out of the way of it, dear, that's all," she resolutely strove
to cheer him, as she brushed his hat and hunted for his gloves. "Now
have you your case-book? And is everything in your bag?" More than once
he had been obliged to tramp the whole way home again, for a forgotten
article.

The reminder annoyed him. "Yes, yes, of course. But my thermometer. . .
now where the dickens have I put that?" And testily he tapped pocket
after pocket.

"Here . . . you've left it lying. Oh, by the way, Richard, I wonder if
you'd mind leaving an order at the butcher's as you go past?"

But at this he flared up. "Now, Mary, IS it fair to bother me with that
kind of thing, when I've so much else to think of?"

"Well, it's only. . . the shop's so far off, and I can't spare cook.
You've just to hand in a note as you pass the door."

"Yes, yes. A thousand and one reasons!"

"Oh well, never mind. Eliza and the children must go that way for their
walk--though it does take them down among the shops."

"And why not? Are the children everlastingly to be spared at my
expense?"

He went off, banging the gate behind him. The latch did not hold; Mary
stepped out to secure it. And the sight of him trudging down the road
brought back her chief grievance against him. This was his obstinate
refusal to keep a horse and trap. It stood to reason: if he would only
consent to drive on his rounds, instead of walking, he would save
himself much of the fatigue he now endured; and she be spared his
perpetual grumbles. Besides, it was not the thing for a man of
his age and appearance to be seen tramping the streets, bag in hand.
But she might as well have talked to a post. The only answer she got
was that he couldn't afford it. Now this was surely imagination. She
flattered herself she knew something about a practice, and could tell
pretty well what the present one was likely to throw off. . . if
properly nursed. To the approximate three hundred a year which Richard
admitted to drawing from his dividends, it should add another three;
and on six, with her careful management, they could very well pull
through to begin with. It left no margin for extravagances, of course;
but the husbanding of Richard's strength could hardly be put down under
that head. Since, however, he continued obdurate, she went her own way
to work; with the result that, out of the money he allowed her to keep
house on, she contrived at the end of three months to hand him back a
tidy sum.

"Now if you don't feel you want to BUY a horse and buggy, you can at
least give a three months' order at the livery-stable."

But not a bit of it! More, he was even angry. "Tch! DO, for goodness'
sake, leave me to manage my own affairs! I don't want a horse and trap,
I tell you. I prefer to go on as I am." And, with that, her economics
just passed into and were swallowed up in the general fund. She
wouldn't do it again.

"Mamma!"

This was Cuffy, who had followed her out and climbed the gate at her
side. He spoke in a coaxy voice; for as likely as not Mamma would say:
"Run away, darling, and don't bother me. I've no time." But Cuffy badly
wanted to know something. And, since Nannan left, there had never been
any one he could ask his questions of: Mamma was always busy, Papa not
at home.

"Mamma! Why does Papa poke his head out so when he walks?"

"That's stooping. People do it as they grow older." Even the child, it
seemed, could see how tiresome Richard found walking.

"What's it mean growing old--really, truly?"

"Why, losing your hair and your teeth, and not being able to get about
as well as you used to."

"Does it hurt?"

"Of course not, little silly!"

"Does Papa lose his teeth? Does Eliza? And why has he always got a bag
in his hand now?"

"WHAT an inquisitive little boy! He carries things in it to make people
well with."

"Why does he want to make them well?"

"To get money to buy you little folks pretty clothes and good things to
eat. But come . . . jump down! And run and tell Eliza to get you ready
for your walk."

"I don't LIKE going walks with Eliza," said Cuffy and, one hand in his
mother's, reluctantly dragged and shuffled a foot in the gravel. "Oh, I
do wis' I had my little pony again."

"So do I, my darling," said Mary heartily, and squeezed his hand. "I'm
afraid you'll be forgetting how to ride. I must talk to Papa. Then
perhaps Santa Claus . . . or on your birthday . . ."

"Ooh! Really, truly, Mamma?"

"We'll see."--At which Cuffy hopped from side to side up the length of
the path.

And Mary meant what she said. It was unthinkable that HER children
should come short in any of the advantages other children enjoyed. And
not to be able to ride, and ride well, too, in a country like this,
might prove a real drawback to them in after life. Now she had pinched
and screwed for Richard's sake, to no purpose whatever. The next lump
sum she managed to get together should go to buying a pony.

But this was not all. Besides riding, the children ought to be having
dancing-lessons. She did so want her chicks to move prettily and
gracefully; to know what to do with their hands and feet; to be able to
enter a room without awkwardness; and they were just at their most
impressionable age: what they now took in they would never forget, what
they missed, never make good. But she could hope for no help from
Richard; manlike, he expected graces and accomplishments to spring up
of themselves, like wild flowers from the soil. Everything depended on
her. And she did not spare herself. Thanks to her skill with her
needle, they were still, did they go to a party, the best-dressed
children in the room; and the best-mannered, too, Nannan's
strict upbringing still bearing fruit. None of her three ever grabbed,
or gobbled, or drank with a full mouth; nor were they either lumpishly
shy or over-forward, like the general ruck of colonial children.

But they were getting big; there would soon be more serious things to
think of than manners and accomplishments. If only Richard did not
prove too unreasonable! So far, except for music-lessons, they had had
no teaching at all, one of his odd ideas being that a child's brain
should lie fallow till it was seven or eight years old. This meant that
she had sometimes to suffer the mortification of seeing children
younger than Cuffy and his sisters able to answer quite nicely at
spelling and geography, while hers stood mutely by. In the Dumplings'
case it did not greatly matter: they were still just Dumplings in every
sense of the word; fat and merry play-babies. But Cuffy was sharp for
his age; he could read his own books, and knew long pieces of poetry by
heart. It seemed little short of absurd to hold such a child back; and,
after she had once or twice seen him put publicly to shame, Mary took,
of a morning, when she was working up a flake-crust or footing her
treadle-machine, to setting him a copy to write, or giving him simple
lessons in spelling and sums. (Which little incursions into knowledge
were best, it was understood, not mentioned to Papa.)

Her thoughts were all for her children. Herself she needed little; and
was really managing without difficulty to cut her coat to suit her
cloth. In the matter of dress, for instance, she still had the rich
furs, the sumptuous silks and satins she had brought with her from home
--made over, these things would last her for years--had all her ivory
and mother-o'-pearl ornaments and trifles. True, she walked where she
had driven, hired less expensive servants, rose betimes of a morning,
but who shall say whether these changes were wholly drawbacks in Mary's
eyes, or whether the return to a more active mode of life did not, in
great measure, outweigh them? It certainly gave her a feeling of
satisfaction to which she had long been a stranger, to know that not a
particle of waste was going on in her kitchen; that she was once more
absolute monarch in her own domain. Minor pleasures consisted in seeing
how far she could economise the ingredients of pudding or cake and yet
turn it out light and toothsome. Had Richard wished to
entertain, she would have guaranteed to hold the floor with anyone, at
half the cost.

But there was no question of this. They lived like a pair of hermit
crabs; and, in spite of the size of the house, might just as well have
been buried in the bush. For, having talked herself hoarse in pointing
out the harm such a mode of life would do the practice, she had given
way and made the best of things; as long, that was, as Richard's
dislike of company had only to do with the forming of new
acquaintances. When he began his old grumbles at the presence of her
intimate friends and relatives, it was more than she could stand. In
the heated argument that followed her perplexed: "Not ask Lizzie? Put
off the Devines?" she discovered, to her amazement, that it was not
alone his morbid craving for solitude that actuated him: the house, if
you please, formed the stumbling-block! Because this was still
unpapered and rather scantily furnished, he had got it into his head
that it was not fit to ask people to; that he would be looked down on,
because of it. Now did ANYONE ever hear such nonsense? Why, half the
houses in Melbourne were just as bare, and nobody thought the worse of
them. People surely came to see you, not your furniture! But he had
evidently chafed so long in silence over what he called the
"poverty-stricken aspect of the place," that there was now no talking him
out of the notion. So Mary shrugged and sighed; and, silently in her turn,
took the sole way left her, which was an underground way; so contriving
matters that her friends came to the house only when Richard was out of
it . . . a little shift it was again wiser not to mention to Papa. She
also grew adept at getting rid of people to the moment. By the time the
gate clicked at Richard's return, all traces of the visit had been
cleared away.




Chapter III



Thus she bought peace.--But when the day came for putting up a guest
in the house, for making use of the unused spare room, finesse did not
avail; and a violent dispute broke out between them. To complicate
matters, the guest in question was Richard's old bugbear, Tilly.

Tilly, whose dearest wish had been fulfilled some six months back by
the birth of a child, but who since then had remained strangely silent,
now wrote, almost beside herself with grief and anxiety, that she was
bringing her infant, which would not thrive, to town, to consult the
doctors there. And Mary straightway forgot all her schemes and
contrivances, forgot everything but a friend in need, and wrote off by
return begging Tilly, with babe and nurse, to make their house her own.

Mahony was speechless when he heard of it. He just gave her one look,
then stalked out of the room and shut himself up in the surgery, where
he stayed for the rest of the evening. While Mary sat bent over her
needlework, with determined lips and stubborn eyes.

Later on, in the bedroom, his wrath exploded in bitter abuse of Purdy,
ending with: "No one belonging to that fellow shall ever darken MY
doors again!"

At this she, too, flared up. "Oh . . . put all the blame for what
happened on somebody else. It never occurs to you to blame yourself,
and your own rashness and impatience. Who but you would ever have
trusted a man like Wilding?--But Tilly being Purdy's wife is nothing
but an excuse. It's not only her. You won't let a soul inside the
doors."

"Why should my wishes alone be disregarded? The very children's likes
and dislikes are taken more account of. You consider every one . . .
only not me!" "And you consider no one but yourself!"

"Well, this is my house, and I have the right to say who shall come
into it."

"It's no more yours than mine. And Tilly's my oldest friend,
and I'm not going to desert her now she's in trouble. I've asked her to
come here, and come she shall!"

"Very well then, if she does, I go!"--And so on, and on.

In the adjoining dressing-room, the door of which stood ajar, Cuffy sat
up in his crib and listened. The loud voices had wakened him and he
couldn't go to sleep again. He was frightened; his heart beat pit-a-pat,
pit-a-pat. And when he heard somebody begin to cry, he just
couldn't help it, he had to cry, too. Till a door went and quick steps
came running; and then there were Papa's hands to hold to, and Papa's
arms round him; and quite a lot of Hambelin Town and Handover City to
make him go to sleep.

The knot was cut by Tilly choosing, with many, many thanks, to stay at
an hotel in town. There Mary sought her out one late autumn afternoon,
when the white dust was swirling house-high through the white streets,
and the south wind had come up so cold that she regretted not having
worn her sealskin. Alighting from the train at Prince's Bridge, she
turned a deaf ear to the shouts of: "Keb, Keb!" and leaving the region
of warehouses--poor John's among them--made her way on foot up the
rise to Collins Street. This was her invariable habit nowadays, if she
hadn't the children with her: was one of the numerous little economies
she felt justified in practising. . . and holding her tongue about.
Richard, of course, would have snorted with disapproval. HIS wife to be
tramping the streets! But latterly she had found her tolerance of his
grandee notions about what she might and might not do, wearing a little
thin. In the present state of affairs they seemed, to say the least of
it, out of place. She had legs of her own, and was every bit as well
able to walk as he was. If people looked down on her for it . . . well,
they would just have to, and that was all about it!

These brave thoughts notwithstanding, she could not but wish--as she
sat waiting in a public coffee-room, the door of which opened and shut
a dozen times to the minute, every one who entered fixing her with a
hard and curious stare--wish that Tilly had picked on a quieter hotel,
one more suitable to a lady travelling alone. She was glad when the
waiter ushered her up the red-carpeted stairs to her friend's private
sitting-room.

Tilly was so changed that she hardly knew her. Last seen in the
first flush of wifehood, high-bosomed, high-coloured, high-spirited,
she seemed to have shrunk together, fallen in. Her pale face was puffy;
her eyes deeply ringed.

"You poor thing! What you must have suffered!"

Mary said this more than once as she listened to Tilly's tale. It was
that of a child born strong and healthy--"As fine a boy as ever you
saw, Mary!"--with whom all had gone well until, owing to an
unfortunate accident, they had been forced to change the wet-nurse.
Since then they had tried one nurse after another; had tried
handfeeding, goat's milk, patent mixtures; but to no purpose. The child
had just wasted away. Till he was now little more than a skeleton. Nor
had he ever sat up or taken notice. The whole day long he lay and
wailed, till it nearly broke your heart to hear it.

"And me . . . who'd give my life's blood to help 'im!"

"Have you seen MacMullen? What does he say?"

Tilly answered with a hopeless lift of her shoulders. "'E calls it by a
fine name, Mary--they all do. And 'as given us a new food to try. But
the long and short of it is, if the wasting isn't stopped, Baby will
die." And, the ominous word spoken, Tilly's composure gave way: the
tears came with a gush and streamed down her cheeks, dropping even into
her lap, before she managed to fish a handkerchief from her petticoat
pocket.

"There, there, you old fool!" she rebuked herself. "Sorry, love. It
comes of seeing your dear old face again. For weeping and wailing
doesn't help either, does it?"

"Poor old girl, it IS hard on you . . . and when you've so wanted
children."

"Yes, and'm never likely to 'ave another. Other people can get 'em by
the dozen--as 'ealthy as can be."

"Well, I shouldn't give up hope of pulling him through--no matter what
the doctors say. You know, Tilly . . . it may seem an odd thing to come
from me . . . but I really haven't VERY much faith in them. I mean--
well, you know, they're all right if you break your leg or have
something definite the matter with you, like mumps or scarlet fever--
or if you want a tumour cut out. But otherwise, well, they never seem
to allow enough . . . I mean, for COMMON-SENSE things. Now what I think
is, as the child has held out so long, there must be a kind of
toughness in him. And there's always just a chance you may still find
the right thing."

But when, leaning over the cot, she saw the tiny, wizened creature that
lay among its lace and ribbons: ("Hardly bigger than a rabbit, Richard
. . . with the face of an old, old man--no, more like a poor starved
little monkey!") when, too, the feather-weight burden was laid on her
lap, proving hardly more substantial than a child's doll: then, Mary's
own heart fell.

Sitting looking down at the little wrinkled face, her mother eyes full
of pity, she asked: "What does Purdy say?"

"'IM.?" Again Tilly raised her shoulders, but this time the gesture
bespoke neither resignation nor despair. "Oh, Purd's sorry, of course."

"I should think so, indeed."

"SORRY! Does being sorry HELP?" And now her words came flying, her
aitches scattering to the winds. "The plain truth is, Mary, there's not
a man living who can go on 'earing a child cry, cry, cry, day and night
and night and day, and keep 'is patience and 'is temper. And Purd's no
different to the rest. When it gets too bad, 'e just claps on 'is 'at
and flies out of the 'ouse--to get away from it. Men are like that.
Only the rosy side of things for them! And, Purd, 'e must be free. The
smallest jerk of the reins and it's all up. As for a sick child . . .
and even though it's 'is own--oh, I've learnt SOMETHING about men
since I married 'im, Mary! Purd's no good to lean on, not an 'apporth o
good. 'E's like an air-cushion--goes in where you lean and puffs out
somewhere else. And 'ow can 'e 'elp it?--when there isn't anything BUT
air in 'im. No, 'e's nothing in the world but fizzle and talk . . . a
bag of chaff--an 'ollow drum."

Mary heard her sadly and in silence. This, too. Oh, the gilt was off
poor Tilly's gingerbread in earnest.

But, in listening, she had also cocked an attentive ear, and now she
said: "Tilly, there's something about that child's cry . . . there's a
tone in it--a . . ."

"'Ungry . . .!" said Tilly fiercely. "'E's starving--that's what it
is."

"Of course, hungry, too. But I must say it sounds to me more ANGRY. And
then look how he beats the air with his little fists. He's not
trying to suck them or even get them near his mouth. What I'm wondering
is . . . Richard can't, of course, touch the case, now it's in
MacMullen's hands. But I'm going home to tell him all about it. He used
to have great luck with children in the old days. There's no saying. He
MIGHT be able to suggest something. In the meantime, my dear, keep a
good heart. Nothing is gained by despairing."

"Bless you, Mary! If any one can put spunk into a mortal it's you."

"Starving?" said Mahony on hearing the tale. "I shouldn't wonder if
starving itself was not nearer the mark."

"But Richard, such a YOUNG child . . . do you really think. . . Though
--I must say when I heard that EXASPERATED sort of cry . . ."

"Exactly. Who's to say where consciousness begins? . . . or ends. For
all we know, the child in the womb may have its own dim sentience. Now
I don't need to give YOU my opinion of the wet-nurse system. None the
less, if the case were mine, I should urge the mother to leave no stone
unturned to find the person who first had it at the breast. A woman of
her class will still be nursing."

"Mary! I'll give 'er the 'alf of what I 'ave. I'll make a spectacle of
myself--go on me knees down Sturt Street if need be; but back she
comes!" were Tilly's parting words as she stepped into the train.

And sure enough, not a week later a letter arrived to say that, by dint
of fierce appeals to her motherhood and unlimited promises ("What it's
going to cost me, Purd will NEVER know!"), the woman had been induced
to return. A further week brought a second communication to the
breakfast-table, scrawled in a shaky hand and scrappily put together,
but containing the glad news that the child had actually gained a few
ounces in weight, and, better still, had ceased its heartrending wail.
Tilly's joy and gratitude were of such a nature that Mary did not dare
to deliver the message she sent Richard, as it stood. She just
translated the gist of it into sober English.

And a good job, too, that she had watered it down. For Richard proved
to be in one of his worst, early-morning moods; and was loud in scorn
of even the little she passed on.

He ended by thoroughly vexing her. "Never did I know such a
man! Things have come to such a pass that people can't even feel
grateful to you, without offending you. Your one desire is to hold them
at arm's length. You ought to have been born a mole."

In speaking she had hastily reinserted Tilly's letter in its envelope.
A second letter was lying by her plate. This she read with wrinkled
brows, an occasional surreptitious glance at Richard, and more than one
smothered: "Tch!" She also hesitated for some time before deciding to
hand it, past three pairs of inquisitive young eyes, over the table.

"Here! I wonder what you'll say to this? It's not my fault this time,
remember."

Mahony incuriously laid aside his newspaper, took the sheet, frowned at
the writing, and tilted it to the correct angle for his eyes, which
were "not what they used to be."

The letter ran:

MY DEAR MRS. MAHONY,

MY DEAR WIFE HAS BEEN ORDERED A SEA-VOYAGE FOR THE BENEFIT OF HER
HEALTH, AND BEFORE SAILING, WISHES, AS LADIES WILL, TO VISIT THE
MELBOURNE EMPORIUMS AND MAKE SOME ADDITIONS TO HER WARDROBE. IT IS
IMPOSSIBLE FOR ME TO ACCOMPANY HER, THOUGH I SHALL HOPE TO BID HER "AU
REVOIR" BEFORE SHE SAILS, A FORTNIGHT HENCE. MAY I TRESPASS UPON YOUR
GOODNESS, AND REQUEST YOU TO BE AGNES'S CICERONE AND ESCORT, WHILE IN
MELBOURNE FOR THE ABOVE OBJECT? I NEED NOT DWELL ON HER PREFERENCE FOR
YOU IN THIS ROLE, OVER EVERY ONE ELSE.

GIVE MY DUE REGARDS TO YOUR HUSBAND,

AND, BELIEVE ME,

VERY TRULY YOURS,

HENRY OCOCK.

"In plain English, I presume, it's to be your duty to keep her off the
bottle."

"RICHARD! . . . ssh! How CAN you?" expostulated Mary, with a warning
headshake; which was justified by Cuffy at once chiming in: "Do ladies
have bottles too, Mamma, as well as babies?" (Cuffy had been deeply
interested in the sad story of Aunt Tilly's little one and its struggle
for life.) "Now, you chicks, Lallie untie Lucie's bib and all
three run out and play.--NOT before the children, Richard! That boy
drinks in every word. You'll have him repeating what you say in front
of Agnes. For I suppose what Mr. Henry really means is that we are to
invite her here?"

"The hint is as plain as the nose on your face."

"Yes, I'm afraid it is," and Mary sighed. "I wonder what we should do.
I'm very fond of Agnes; but I've got the children to think of. I
shouldn't like THEM to get an inkling . . . On the other hand, we can't
afford to offend an influential person like Mr. Henry."

"I know what I can't afford--and that's to have this house turned into
a dumping-ground for all the halt and maimed of your acquaintance. The
news of its size is rapidly spreading. And if people once get the idea
they can use it as they used 'Ultima Thule,' God help us! There'll be
nothing for it but to move . . . into a four-roomed hut."

"Oh, Richard, if you would only tell me how we really stand, instead of
making such a mystery of it. For we can't go on living without a soul
ever entering our doors."

"We may be glad if we manage to live at all."

"There you go! One exaggeration after the other."

"Well, well! I suppose if Ocock has set his mind on us dry-nursing his
wife again, we've got to truckle to him. Only don't ask me to meet HIM
over the head of it. I've no intention of being patronised by men of
his type, now that I've come down in the world."

"PATRONISED? When I think how ready people were to take us up again
when we first came out! But you can't expect them to go on asking and
inviting for ever, and always being snubbed by a refusal."

Agnes. Sitting opposite her old friend in the wagonette that bore them
from the station, watching the ugly tic that convulsed one side of her
face, Mary thought sorrowfully of a day, many a year ago, when,
standing at the door of her little house, she had seen approach a
radiant vision in riding-habit, curls and feathers. What a lovely
creature Agnes had been! . . . how full of kindliness and charm . . .
and all to end in this: a poor little corpulent, shapeless,
red-faced woman, close on fifty now, but with the timid uncertain
bearing of a cowed child. Never should she have married Mr. Henry. With
another man for a husband, everything might have turned out
differently.

The first of a series of painful incidents occurred when, the cab
having drawn up at the gate, the question of paying the driver's fare
arose. Formerly, the two of them would have had a playful quarrel over
it, each disputing the privilege with the other. Now, Agnes only said:
"If you will be so good, love? . . . my purse so hard to get at," in a
tone that made Mary open her eyes. It soon came out that she had been
shipped to Melbourne literally without a penny in her pocket. Wherever
they went, Mary had to be purse-bearer, Agnes following meekly and
shamelessly at her heels. An intolerable position for any man to put
his wife in! It was true she had CARTE BLANCHE at the big drapery
stores; but all she bought--down to the last handkerchief--was
entered on a bill for Mr. Henry's scrutiny. Did she wish to make a
present--and she was just as generous as of old--she had so to
contrive it (and she certainly showed a lamentable want of dignity, the
skill of a practised hand, in arranging matters with the shopman) that,
for instance, one entry on the bill should be a handsome mantle, which
she never bought. The result was a sweet little ivory-handled parasol
for "darling Mary;" a box of magnificent toys and books for the
children, of whom she made much.

From her own she was completely divorced, both boy and girl having been
put to boarding-school at a tender age. But Agnes was fond of children;
and, of a morning, while Mary was shaking up the beds or baking pastry,
she would sit on the balcony watching the three at play; occasionally
running her fingers through the twins' fair curls, which were so like
the goldilocks of the child she had lost.

She never referred to her own family; had evidently long ceased to have
any motherly feelings for them. She just lived on dully and stupidly,
without pride, without shame--so long, that was, as she was not
startled or made afraid. The company of the children held no alarms for
her; but early in the visit Mary found it necessary to warn Richard:
"Now whatever you do, dear, don't be short and snappy before her. It
throws her into a perfect twitter."

And Richard, who, for all his violence of expression, would not have
harmed a fly, was thereafter gentleness itself in Mrs. Henry's
presence, attending to her wants at table, listening courteously to her
few diffident opinions, till the little woman's eyes filled with tears
and she ceased to spill her tea or mess her front with her egg. "The
doctor . . . so nice, love . . . so very, very kind!"

"She has evidently been bullied half out of her wits."

Throughout the fortnight she stayed with them, Mary was the
faithfullest of guardians, putting her own concerns entirely on one
side to dog her friend's footsteps. And yet, for all her vigilance, she
could sometimes have sworn that Agnes's breath was tainted; while on
the only two occasions on which she let her out of her sight . . .
well! what then happened made her look with more lenience on Mr.
Henry's precautions. Once, Lucie had a touch of croup in the night and
could not be left, so that Agnes must needs go alone to her dressmaker;
and once came an invitation to a luncheon-party in which Mary was not
included. Each time a wagonette was provided for Mrs. Henry from door
to door, and paid to wait and bring her home; while Richard even
condescended to give the driver a gentle hint and a substantial tip.
And yet, both times, when she returned and tried to get out of the cab
. . . oh dear! there was nothing for it but to say in a loud voice, for
the servants' benefit: "I'm so sorry you don't feel well, dear. Lean on
me!" to get the door of the spare room shut on her and whip her into
bed.

"Jus' like a REAL baby!" thought Cuffy, who had not forgotten the
remark about the bottle. Running into the spare room in search of his
mother, he had found Aunt Agnes sitting on the side of the bed, with
only her chemise on and a very red face, while Mamma, looking funny,
rummaged in a trunk. Going to bed in the daytime? Why? Had she been
naughty? And was Mamma cross with her, too? She was with him. She said:
"Go away at once!" and "Naughty boy!" before he was hardly inside. But
Aunt Agnes was funny altogether. Cook and Eliza thought so, too. They
laughed and whispered things he didn't ought to hear. But he did once.
And that night at the supper-table curiosity got the better of him, and
he asked out loud: "Where's Auntie Agnes too tight, Mamma?"

"Too tight? Now whatever do you mean by that?"

Mary's tone was jocosely belittling. But Cuffy was not deceived by it.
Instinctively he recognised the fond pride that lurked beneath the
depreciation--the amused interest in "what in all the world the child
would say next." He was also spurred on by the attention of the
Dumplings, who, remembering sad affairs of too much cake and tight
pinny-bands, sat eager and expectant, turning their eyes from Mamma to
him and back again.

"Why, Eliza said . . . she said Auntie Agnes was tight--too tight."

Above his head the eyes of husband and wife met; and Mahony threw out
his hands as if to imply: "There you have it!"

But Mamma was DREFULLY angry. "How dare you repeat such a nasty, vulgar
thing! I'm ASHAMED of you--you naughty boy!"

Besides really "wanting to know," Cuffy had thought his question a
funny one, which would call forth laughter and applause. He was
dumbfounded, and went red to the roots of his hair. What had he said?
Why was Mamma so cross? Why was it more wrong for Auntie Agnes to be
tight than Lallie or Lucie?--And now he had made Mamma and Papa cross
with each other again, too.

"It's not REPEATING kitchen talk that matters, Mary; but that the child
should be in the way of hearing it at all."

"Pray, how can I help it? I do my best; but it's quite impossible for
me never to let the children out of my sight. I've told you over and
over again they need a governess."

As the time approached for Mr. Henry's arrival, Agnes grew more and
more ill at ease: her tic redoubled in violence; she could settle to
nothing, and wandered aimlessly from room to room; while, on receipt of
the letter fixing the day, she began openly to shake and tremble. "You
won't mention to Henry, Mary . . . I mean . . . oh, love, you
understand?" and all Mary's tactful assurances did not quieten her. Her
fear of her husband was painful to see; almost equally painful her
barefaced relief when, at the eleventh hour, important business cropped
up which made it impossible for Mr. Henry to get away.

"Of course, if things have come to this pass between them, then
it's much better they should be separated for a while. But that he can
let ANY business interfere with seeing her off on so long a journey--
well, all I can say is . . ." said Mary; and left the rest of her wrath
to the imagination.

"Tut, tut! . . . when he's got some one here to do his dirty work for
him. He probably never had any intention of coming."

So the two women drove to Sandridge and boarded a sailing-vessel bound
for the Cape. The best cabin amidships had been engaged for Agnes, and
tastefully furnished. There were flowers in it, and several boxes of
biscuits and oranges for the voyage. But Agnes did not so much as look
round; she only cried and cried; and, when the time for parting came,
threw her arms about Mary and clung to her as if she would never let
go. It was, said Mary afterwards, just like seeing a doomed creature
off for perdition.

"I don't believe she'll ever come back. Oh, it's a burning shame! Why
couldn't he have put her in a Home?"

"My dear, that would publish his disgrace to the world. He has chosen
the one polite and irreproachable way of getting rid of her . . .
without a scandal."

"You mean . . .? But surely she won't be able to get it on board ship?"

"If you think that, Mary, you still know next to nothing of the tricks
a tippler is up to!"--And how right he was, was shewn when the cook,
in turning out the spare room, came upon a regular nest of bottles--
empty medicine bottles, the dregs of which bespoke their contents--
tucked away inside the first bend of the chimney.

Mary wrote to Mr. Henry informing him of Agnes's departure, also that
the visit had passed off WITHOUT CONTRETEMPS: and shortly after, she
received the gift of a photograph-album, bound in vellum and stamped in
gold with her initials. It was a handsome and costly present. But
Mahony waxed bitterly sarcastic over the head of it.

"An album! . . . a photograph-album! . . . as sole return for the
expense we've been put to--why, cab-hire alone must have run into
pounds--over HIS wife, whom we did not invite and had no wish
to see. Not to speak of the strain the visit has been on you, my dear."

"But Richard, you wouldn't have had him send us money?--ask for our
BILL?" Mary spoke heatedly to hide her own feelings, which were much
the same as his. Richard singled out cab-fares; but these were but one
item of many. In the course of a long day's shopping Agnes and she had
needed lunch and refreshment--manlike he no doubt imagined them living
on air!--and not infrequently Agnes had fancied some article in a shop
where no account was run: none of which extras had been mentioned to
him. The truth was, what with this, that and the other thing, Mary had
been forced to make a sad hole in her savings.

"We certainly don't need Ocock's assistance in going down-hill," was
Richard's parting shot.

It was true, a very hearty note accompanied the album; the pith of
which was: IF AT ANY TIME, MY DEAR MRS. MAHONY, AN OPPORTUNITY TO
RETURN YOUR GREAT KINDNESS TO MY DEAR WIFE SHOULD ARISE, I TRUST YOU
WILL LET ME HEAR OF IT.




Chapter IV



To-morrow was the Dumplings' birthday, and they were having a big
party. But it was his, Cuffy's, party, too; for when he had first got
six, they didn't have a house yet, and there was no room for a party.
It was really MOST his, 'cos he was the oldest: his cake would be six
storeys high, and have six lighted candles round it, and his chair be
trimmed with most green leaves. Mamma said he might cut the cake his
very own self, and make the pieces big or little just as he liked. She
stopped in the kitchen all day, baking jam tarts and sausage-rolls, and
men had taken the drawing-room carpet off and sprinkled the floor with
white dust, so's you could slide on it. All his cousins were coming,
and Cousin Emmy, and lots and lots of other children. But it was not of
these grandeurs Cuffy thought, as he sat on the edge of the verandah,
and, for sheer agitation, rocked himself to and fro. The truth was, in
spite of the glorious preparations he felt anything but happy. Guiltily
and surreptitiously he had paid at least a dozen visits to the outhouse
at the bottom of the yard, to steal a peep inside. First, Mamma had
said "soon" for the pony, and then "someday," and then his birthday: so
to-morrow was his last hope. And this hope was growing littler and
littler. If ONLY he hadn't told! But he had, had whispered it in a
secret to the Dumplings, and to that horrid tease, Cousin Josey, as
well. And promised them rides, and let the twins draw lots who should
be first; and they'd guessed and guessed what colour it would be; all
in a whisper so's Mamma shouldn't hear.

"I fink it'll be black," said Lallie; and Lucie nodded: "Me, too! An'
wiv a white tail."

"But I KNOW it'll be brown!"

"He knows it'll be bwown!" buzzed one Fatty to the other.

"Huh! I wouldn't HAVE a pony with a white tail."

But peep as he might, no little horse appeared in the shed; and Cuffy
went about with a strange, empty, sinking feeling inside him--
a sense of having been tricked. Nor did the several handsome presents
he found beside his bed make up to him for this disappointment. He
early kicked over a giraffe belonging to the giant Noah's Ark and broke
its neck; flew into a tantrum when rebuked; was obstreperous about
being dressed, and snarly to his sisters; till Mary said, if he didn't
behave he'd go to bed instead. How he dreaded the display of the
presents! Cousin Josey with her sneery laugh would be sure to blurt out
in front of everybody: "He said he was going to get a pony! Ho! Where's
your pony now?" The Dumplings were easier to deal with. In answer to
their round-eyed wonder he just said, in airy fashion: "He says he
can't come quite to-day. He didn't get born yet."

"Have you seed him?"

"Course I have!" Which left the twins more dazzled than would have done
the animal's arrival.

But it proved as lovely a party as they had ever had--lasted till past
eleven, and the whole house, with the exception of the surgery, was
turned upside down for it. Quite twenty children came, and nearly as
many grown-ups. The drawing-room was stripped bare of its furniture but
for a line of chairs placed round the walls. Verandah and balcony were
hung with Chinese lanterns and dozens of coloured balloons. In the
dining-room a long table, made up of several smaller tables put
together, was laden with cakes and creams and jellies; and even the big
people found the good things "simply delicious." And though, of course,
Mary could not attempt to compete with some of the lavish
entertainments here given for children--the Archie Whites had actually
had a champagne supper for their five-year-old, the Boppins had hired a
CHEF from a caterer's--yet she had spared no pains to make her
children's party unique in its way. And never for an instant did she
allow the fun to flag. Even the quite little tots, who soon tired of
games and dancing, were kept amused. For their benefit a padded see-saw
had been set up on the verandah, as well as a safe nursery swing. On
the stair-landings stood a bran pie and a lucky bag; while Emmy
superintended the fishing for presents that went on, with rod and line,
over the back of the drawing-room sofa.

In a pause between the games Mary walked through the drawing-room,
her black silk skirts trailing after her, the hands of two of the
smallest children in hers; one of them John's baby-boy, a bandy-legged
mite, still hardly able to toddle. Mary was enjoying herself almost as
much as the children; her cheeks were rose-pink with satisfaction, her
eyes a-sparkle. At this moment, however, her objective was Cuffy, who,
his black eyes not a whit less glittery than her own, his topknot all
askew--he was really getting too big for a topknot; but she found it
hard to forgo the morning pleasure of winding the silky curl about her
finger--Cuffy was utilising the pause to skate up and down the
slippery floor. He was in wild spirits: Cousin Josey had contented
herself with making a hidjus face at him and pinching him on the sly:
the titbit of the evening, the cutting of the cake, was still to come;
and he had played his piece--"Home Sweet Home" "with runs"--which had
earned him the usual crop of praise and applause. Now there was no
holding him.

"Cuffy! Cuffy DEAR, don't romp like that! You MUST behave, and set a
good example to your visitors. Listen! I think I heard Papa. Run and
tell him to slip on another coat, and come in and see the fun."

But Cuffy jerked his arm away: Mamma was not so easily forgiven.
"Shan't! . . . don't want to!" and was off again like a flash.

"Tch! He's so excited.--Emmy, you go to your uncle; you can usually
get round him. He really ought to put in an appearance. It will do him
good, too . . . and amuse him."

Emmy hesitated. "Do you think so, Aunt Mary?"

"Why, of course."

"I'll take Baby, then. Perhaps Uncle will let me lay him down on his
sofa. It's time he had a nap; he screams so at night if he gets
over-tired."

"You're wonderful with that child, Emmy," said Mary, watching the girl
cuddle her little stepbrother in her arms, where he curled up and shut
his eyes, one little hand dangling limp and sleepy over her shoulder.
"I'm sure Lizzie ought to be very grateful to you."

"I don't know what I'd do without him."

Emmy tapped at the surgery door. "May I come in?"

The blind was down; she could just make her uncle out, sitting
hunched and relaxed in his armchair. He gave a violent start at her
entrance, exclaiming: "Yes, yes? What is it?--Oh, you, Emmy! Come in,
my dear, come in. I think I must have dropped off." And passing a
fumbly hand over his forehead, he crossed to the window and drew up the
blind.

What! with all that noise? thought Emmy wonderingly. Aloud she said:
"May I stay here a little with Jacky? I want him to have a nap."

"Surely." And Mahony cleared the end of the sofa that she might find a
place with her burden. "And how is the little man to-day?"

"Oh, doing finely! He has hardly been afraid of anything this
afternoon."

"We must examine him again," said Mahony kindly, laying a finger on the
child's sweat-damp hair, and noting the nervous pucker of the little
brows.

There was a pause, Emmy gazing at her nursling, Mahony at her. Then:
"How vividly you do remind me of your mother, my dear! The first time I
ever saw her--she could have been little older than you are now--she
held you on her lap . . . just as you hold Jacky."

"Did she?" Emmy played meditatively with a tassel on the child's shoe.
"People are always saying that . . . that I'm like her. And sometimes,
Uncle, I think it would be nicer just to be like oneself. Instead of a
kind of copy."

To no one else would she have confided so heretical a sentiment. But
Uncle Richard always understood.

And sure enough: "I can see your point, Emmy," said he. "You think: to
a new soul why not a brand-new covering? All the same, child, do not
begrudge a poor wraith its sole chance of cheating oblivion."

"I only mean--"

"I can assure you, you've nothing to fear from the comparison, nothing
at all!" And Mahony patted his niece's hand, looking fondly at her in
her white, flounced tarlatan, a narrow blue ribbon round her narrow
waist, a wreath of forget-me-nots in her ripe-corn hair. There was no
danger to Emmy in letting her know what you thought of her, so free
from vanity was she. Just a good, sweet, simple creature.

But here the girl bethought herself of her errand. "Oh yes, Aunt Mary
sent me to tell you . . . I mean she thought, Uncle, you might like to
come and see what fun the children are having."

On the instant Mahony lost his warmth. "No, no. I'm not in the mood."

"Uncle, the Murdochs and the Archie Whites are here . . . people who'd
very much like to see you," Emmy gently transposed Mary's words.

"Entirely your aunt's imagination, child! In reality she knows as well
as I do that it's not so. In the course of a fairly long life, my dear,
I have always been able to count on the fingers of one hand, those
people--my patients excepted, of course--who have cared a straw
whether I was alive or dead. No, Emmy. The plain truth is: my fellow-men
have little use for me--or I for them."

"Oh, Uncle . . ." Emmy was confused, and showed it. Talk of this kind
made her feel very shy. She could not think of anything to say in
response: how to refute ideas which she was sure were not true.
Positively sure. For they opened up abysses into which, young girl-like,
she was afraid to peer. An awkward pause ensued before she asked
timidly: "Do you feel very tired to-night?"

"To the depths of my soul, child!" Then, fearing lest he had startled
her with his violence, he added: "I've had--and still have--great
worries, my dear . . . business worries."

"Is it the practice, Uncle? Doesn't it do well?"

"That, too. But I have made a sad fool of myself, Emmy--a sad fool.
And now here I sit, puzzling how to repair the mischief."

Alone again, he let himself fall back into the limp attitude in which
she had surprised him. It was well-being just to lie back, every muscle
relaxed. He came home from tramping the streets dog-tired, and all of a
sweat: as drained of strength as a squeezed lemon.

No one else appeared to disturb him. Emmy, bless her! had done her work
well, and Mary might now reasonably be expected to leave him in peace.
Let them jig and dance to the top of their bent, provided he
was not asked to join in. He washed his hands of the whole affair. From
the outset, the elaborate preparations for this party had put his back
up. It was not that he wanted to act the wet-blanket on his children's
enjoyment. But the way Mary went about things stood in absolutely no
relation to his shrunken income. She was striving to keep pace with
people who could reckon theirs by the thousand. It was absurd. Of
course she had grown so used, in the latter years, to spending royally,
that it was hard for her now to trim her sails. Just, too, when the
bairns were coming to an age to appreciate the good things of life.
Again, his reason nudged him with the reminder that any ultra-extravagance
on her part was due, in the first place, to her ignorance
of his embarrassments. He had not enlightened her . . . he never would.
He felt more and more incapable of standing up to her incredulous
dismay. In cold blood, it seemed impossible to face her with the
tidings: "The house we live in is not our own. I have run myself--run
you and the children--into debt to the tune of hundreds of pounds!" At
the mere thought of it he might have been a boy once more, standing
before his mother and shaking in his shoes over the confession of some
youthful peccadillo. A still further incentive to silence was the queer
way his gall rose at the idea of interference. And it went beyond him
to imagine Mary NOT interfering. If he knew her, she would at once want
to take the reins: to manage him and his affairs as she managed house
and children. And to what was left of his freedom he clung as if his
life depended on it.

Excuse enough for meddling she would have; he had regularly played into
her hands. Had he only never built this accursed house! It, and it
alone, was the root of all the trouble. Had he contented himself with a
modest weatherboard, they might still have been upsides with fate. Mary
would not have been led to entertain beyond their means--for the very
good reason that she would not have had room for it--and he have
enjoyed the fruits of a quiet mind. Instead of which, for the pleasure
of sitting twirling his thumbs in a house that was far too large for
him, he had condemned himself to one of the subtlest forms of torture
invented by man: that of being under constraint to get together, by
given dates, fixed sums of money. The past three months had
been a nightmare. Twenty times a day he had asked himself: shall I be
able to do it? And when, by the skin of his teeth, he had contrived to
foot his bill and breathe more freely, behold! the next term was at the
door, and the struggle had all to begin anew. And so it would go on,
month after month; round and round in the same vicious circle. Or with,
for sole variety, a steadily growing embarrassment. As it was, he could
see the day coming when he would be able to pay no more than the bare
interest on the loan. And the humiliation this spelt for him only he
knew. For, on taking up the mortgage, he had airily intimated that he
intended, FOR A START, making quarterly repayments of fifty pounds:
while later on . . . well, only God knew what hints he had dropped for
later on: his mind had been in haste to forget them. Did he now fall
into arrears, his ignominious financial situation would be known to
every one, and he become a marked man.

Who could have thought this place would turn out so poorly?--become a
jogtrot little suburban affair that just held together, and no more.
Such an experience was something new to him, and intolerable. In the
early days it was always he who had given up his practices, not they
him. He had abandoned them, one after the other, no matter how well
they were doing. Here, the pages of his case-book remained but scantly
filled. A preternaturally healthy neighbourhood. Or was that just a
polite fiction of his own making? More than once recently it had
flashed through his mind that, since putting up his plate, he had
treated none but the simplest cases. Only the A B C of doctoring had
been required of him. The fact was, specialists were all too easy to
get at. But no! that wouldn't hold water either. Was it not rather he
himself who, at first hint of a complication, was ready to refer a
patient? . . . to shirk undue worry and responsibility? Yes, this was
his own share in the failure; this, and the fact that his heart was not
in the work. But indeed how should it be? When he recalled the relief
with which, the moment he was able, he had forsaken medicine . . .
where COULD the joy come in over taking it up again, an older, tireder
man, and, as it were, at the point of the sword? And with the heart
went the will, the inclination. Eaten up by money-troubles, he had but
faint interest to spare for the physicking of petty ailments. Under the
crushing dread lest he should find himself unable to pay his
way, he had grown numb to all else. Numb. . . cold . . . indifferent.

What did NOT leave him cold but, on the contrary, whipped him to a fury
of impatience and aversion, was the thought of going on as he was: of
continuing to sit, day after day, as it were nailed to the spot, while
his brain, the only live part of him, burnt itself out in maddening
anxieties and regrets. Oh, fool that he had been! . . . fool and blind.
To have known himself so ill! NEVER was he the man to have got himself
into this pitiable tangle . . . with its continual menace of
humiliation . . . disgrace. What madness had possessed him? Even in his
youth, when life still seemed worth the pother, he had avoided debt
like the plague. And to ask himself now, as an old man and one grown
weary of effort, to stand the imposition of so intolerable a strain,
was nothing short of suicidal. Another half-year like the last, and he
would not be answerable for himself.

He began to toy with the idea of flight. And over the mere imagining of
a possible escape from his torments, he seemed to wake to life again,
to throw off the deadly lethargy that paralysed him. Change . . .
movement . . . action: this it was he panted after! It was the sitting
inactive, harried by murderous thoughts over which he had lost the
mastery, that was killing him. If once he was rid of these, all might
again be well. And now insidious fancies stole upon him: fancies which,
disregarding such accidents of the day as money and the lack of money,
went straight to the heart of his most urgent need. To go away--go far
away--from everything and every one he had known; so that what
happened should happen to him only--be nobody's business but his own!
Away from the crowd of familiar faces, these cunning, spying faces,
WHICH KNEW ALL, and which Mary could yet not persuade herself to forbid
the house. Somewhere where she would be out of reach of the temptations
that here beset her, and he free to exist in the decent poverty that
was now his true walk in life. Oh, for privacy!--privacy and seclusion
. . . and freedom from tongues. To be once more a stranger among
strangers, and never see a face he knew again!

He had not yet found courage, however, for the pitched battle he
foresaw, when something happened that fairly took his breath
away. As it were, overnight, he found himself the possessor of close on
two hundred and fifty pounds. Among the scrip he still held were some
shares called "Pitman's," which till now had been good for nothing but
to make calls. Now they took a sudden upward bound, and, at a timely
hint from a grateful patient who was in the swim, Mahony did a little
shuffle--selling, buying and promptly re-selling--with this result.
True, a second venture, unaided, robbed him of the odd fifty. None the
less there he stood, with his next quarter's payments in his hand. He
felt more amazed than anything else by this windfall. It certainly did
not set his mind at rest; it came too late for that. Try as he would,
he could not now face the idea of remaining at Hawthorn. He had dwelt
too much by this time on the thought of change; taken too fixed an
aversion to this room where he had spent so many black hours; to the
house, the practice, the neighbourhood. Something within him, which
would not be silenced, never ceased to urge: free yourself. . . escape
--while there is still time.

In these days Mary just sighed and went about her work. Richard had
hardly a word even for the children: on entering the house he retired
at once to the surgery and shut himself in. What he did there, goodness
only knew. But it was not possible nowadays for her to sit and worry
over him, or to take his moods as seriously as she would once have
done. And any passing suspicion of something being more than ordinarily
amiss was apt, even as it crossed her mind, to be overlaid by, say, the
size of the baker's bill, or the fact that Cuffy had again outgrown his
boots. But she had also a further reason for turning a blind eye.
Believing, as she truly did, that Richard's moroseness sprang mainly
from pique at having to take up work again, she was not going to risk
making matters worse by talking about them. Richard was as suggestible
as a child. A word from her might stir up some fresh grievance, the
existence of which he had so far not imagined.--But when the crash
came, it seemed as if a part of her had all along known and feared the
worst.

None the less it was a shattering blow: one of those that left you
feeling ten years older than the moment before. And in the scene that
followed his blunt announcement and lasted far into the night, she
strove with him as she had never yet striven, labouring to break down
his determination, to bring him back to sanity. For more, much
more than themselves and their own prosperity was now at stake. What
happened to them happened equally to the three small creatures they had
brought into the world.

"It's the children, Richard! Now they're there, you haven't the RIGHT
to throw up a fixed position, as the fancy takes you . . . as you used
to do. It didn't matter about me. But it's different now--everything's
different. ONLY have patience! Oh! I can't believe you really mean it.
It seems incredible . . . impossible."

Mahony was indignant. "And do you think no one considers the children
but you? When their welfare is more to me than anything on earth?"

"But if that's true, how can you even THINK of giving up this place?
. . . the house--our comfortable home! You know quite well you're not a
young man any more. The openings would be so few. You'd never get a
place to suit you better."

"I tell you I CANNOT stop here!"

"But why? Give me a single convincing reason.--As to the idea of going
up-country . . . that's madness pure and simple. How often did you vow
you'd never again take up a country practice, because of the distances
. . . and the work? How will you be able to stand it now? . . . when
you're getting on for fifty. You say there's nothing doing here; but,
my opinion is, there's just as much as you're able for."

This was so exactly Mahony's own belief that he grew violently angry.
"Good God, woman! is there no sympathy in you? . . . or only where your
children are concerned? I tell you, if I stop here I shall end by going
demented!"

"I never heard such talk. The practice may be slow to move--I think a
town-practice always would be--but it'll come right, I'm sure it will,
if you'll ONLY give it the chance." Here, however, another thought
struck her. "But what I don't understand is, WHY we're not able to get
on. What becomes of the money you make? There must be something very
wrong somewhere. Hand over the accounts to me; let me look into your
books. With no rent to pay, and three or four hundred coming in . . .
besides the dividends . . . oh, would any one else--any one but you--
want to throw up a certainty and drag us off up-country, just
when the children are getting big and need decent companions . . . and
schooling--what about their education?--have you thought of that? . . .
or thought of anything but your own likes and dislikes?" And as he
maintained a stony silence, she broke out: "I think men are the most
impossible creatures God ever made!" and pressing her face into the
pillow burst into tears.

Mahony set his teeth. If she could not see for herself that it was a
case, for once, of putting him and his needs first, then he could not
help her. To confide in her still went beyond him. Mary had such a
heavy hand. He could hope for no tenderness of approach; no instinctive
understanding meeting him half-way. She would pounce on his most
intimate thoughts and feelings, drag them out into daylight and
anatomise them; would put into words those phantom fears, and insidious
evasions, which he had so far managed to keep in the twilight where
they belonged. He shuddered at the thought.

But Mary had not finished. Drying her eyes she returned to the charge.
"You say this place is a failure. I deny it, and always shall. But if
it hasn't done as well as it might, there's a reason for it. It's
because you haven't the way with you any longer. You've lost your
manner--the good, doctor's manner you used to do so much with. You're
too short with people nowadays; and they resent it; and go to some one
who's pleasanter. I heard you just the other day with that lawyer's
wife who called . . . how you blew her up! SHE'LL never come again.--A
morbid hypochondriac? I daresay. But in old days you'd never have told
a patient to her face that she was either shamming or imagining."

"I'm too old to cozen and pander."

"Too old to care, you mean.--Oh, for God's sake, think what you're
doing! Try to stop on here a little longer, and if it's only for six
months. Listen! I've got an idea." She raised herself on her elbow.
"Why shouldn't we take in boarders? . . . just to tide us over till
things get easier. This house is really much too big for us. One
nursery would be enough for the children; and there's the spare room,
and the breakfast-room . . . . I could probably fill all three; and
make enough that way to cover our living expenses."

"BOARDERS? . . .YOU? Not while I'M above the sod!"

The children wilted . . . oh, it was a dreadful week! Papa never spoke,
and slammed the doors and the gate whenever he went out. Mamma sat in
the bedroom and cried, hastily blowing her nose and pretending she
wasn't, if you happened to look in. And Cook and Eliza made funny
faces, and whispered behind their hands. Cuffy, mooning about the house
pale and dejected, was--as usual when Mamma and Papa quarrelled--
harassed by the feeling that somehow or other he was the guilty person.
He tried cosseting Mamma, hanging round her: he tried talking big to
the Dumplings of what he meant to do when he was a man; he even glanced
at the idea of running away. But none of these things lightened the
weight that lay on his chest. It felt just as it had done the night
Luce had the croup and crowed like a cock.

And then one afternoon Mahony came home transfigured. His bang of the
gate, his very step, as it crunched the gravel, told its own tale. He
ran up the stairs two at a time, calling for Mary; and, the door of the
bedroom shut on them, broke into excited talk. It appeared that in a
chance meeting that day with a fellow-medico ("Pincock, that well-known
Richmond man!") he had heard of what seemed to him "an opening in a
thousand," a flourishing practice to be had for the asking, at a place
called Barambogie in the Ovens District.

"A rising township, my dear, half mining, half agricultural, and where
there has never been but one doctor. He's an old friend of Pincock's,
and is giving up--after ten years in the place--for purely personal
reasons . . . nothing to do with the practice. It arose through Pincock
asking me if I knew of any one who would like to step into a really
good thing. This Rummel wants to retire, but will wait on of course
till he hears of a successor. Nor is he selling. Whoever goes there has
only to walk in and settle down. Such a chance won't come my way again.
I should be mad to let it slip."

This news rang the knell of any hopes Mary might still have nursed of
bringing him to his senses. She eyed him sombrely as he stood before
her, pale with excitement; and such a wave of bitterness ran through
her that she quickly looked away again, unable to find any but bitter
words to say. In this glance, however, she had for once really seen him
--had not just looked, without seeing, after the habit of those
who spend their lives together--and the result was the amazed
reflection: "But he's got the eyes of a child! . . . for all his
wrinkles and grey hairs."

Mahony did not notice her silence. He continued to dilate on what HE
had said and the other had replied, till, in alarm, she burst out: "I
hope to goodness you've not committed yourself in any way? . . . all in
the dark as you are."

"Come, come now, my dear!" he half cozened, half fell foul of her.
"Give me credit for at least a ha'p'orth of sense. You surely don't
imagine I showed Pincock my cards? I flatter myself I was thoroughly
off-hand with him . . . so much so, indeed, that before night he'll no
doubt have cracked the place up to half a dozen others.--Come, Mary,
come! I'm not quite the fool you imagine. Nor do I mean to be
unreasonable. But I confess my inclination is, just to slip off and see
the place, and make a few confidential inquiries. There can surely be
nothing against that--can there?"

There could not. Two days later, he took the early morning train to the
north.




Chapter V



1


THE SUN HOTEL,

BARAMBOGIE.

MY OWN DEAR WIFE,

I HOPE YOU GOT MY NOTE ANNOUNCING MY SAFE ARRIVAL. I COULD NOT WRITE
MORE; THE TRAIN WAS LATE AND I TIRED OUT. THE JOURNEY TOOK EIGHT HOURS
AND WAS MOST FATIGUING. ABOUT NOON A NORTH WIND CAME UP, WITH ITS USUAL
EFFECT ON ME OF HEADACHE AND LASSITUDE. THE CARRIAGE WAS LIKE A
BAKING-OVEN. AS FOR THE DUST, I'VE NEVER SEEN ITS EQUAL. BALLARAT IN
SUMMER WAS NOTHING TO IT. IT ROSE IN WHIRLWINDS TO THE TOPS OF THE GUMS.
WE WERE SIMPLY SMOTHERED. BUT WHAT A COUNTRY THIS OF OURS IS FOR SIZE! YOU
HAVE ONLY TO GET AWAY FROM THE SEA-BOARD AND TRAVEL ACROSS IT, TO BE
STAGGERED BY ITS VASTNESS.--AND EMPTINESS. MILE AFTER MILE OF BUSH,
WITHOUT THE TRACE OF A SETTLEMENT. AND ANY TOWNSHIPS WE COULD SEE FOR
DUST, VERY SMALL AND MEAN. OF COURSE EVERYTHING LOOKS ITS WORST JUST
NOW. THERE HAVE BEEN NO RAINS HERE YET, AND THEY ARE SADLY NEEDED.
GRASS BURNT TO A CINDER, CREEKS BONE-DRY AND SO ON. HOWEVER AS IT WAS
ALL QUITE NEW TO ME, I FOUND PLENTY TO INTEREST ME. THE LANDSCAPE
IMPROVED AS WE GOT FURTHER NORTH, GREW HILLIER AND MORE WOODED: AND
BEYOND BENALLA WE HAD A FINE VIEW OF THE HIGH RANGES.

SO MUCH FOR THE JOURNEY. AS I MENTIONED, RUMMEL MET ME AT THE STATION,
WALKED TO THE HOTEL WITH ME AND STOPPED FOR A CHAT. HE IS A MOST
AFFABLE FELLOW, WELL UNDER FORTY I SHOULD SAY, TALL AND HANDSOME AND
QUITE THE GENTLEMAN--I SHALL FIND CONSIDERABLE DIFFICULTY IN COMING
AFTER HIM. I WAS TOO TIRED THAT NIGHT TO GET MUCH IDEA OF THE PLACE,
BUT NOW THAT I HAVE HAD A COUPLE OF DAYS TO LOOK ABOUT ME, I CAN
HONESTLY SAY I AM DELIGHTED WITH IT. TO BEGIN WITH, I AM MOST
COMFORTABLY LODGED; MY BED IS GOOD, THE TABLE PLENTIFUL, LANDLADY VERY
ATTENTIVE. IT IS A LARGER AND MORE SUBSTANTIAL TOWNSHIP THAN THOSE WE
PASSED ON THE WAY UP; THE HOUSES ARE MOSTLY OF BRICK--FOR COOLNESS IN
SUMMER--AND ALL HAVE LUXURIANT GARDENS. THERE IS A VERY PRETTY LITTLE
LAKE, OR LAGOON AS THEY CALL IT HERE, SKIRTED BY TREES AND
PLEASANT PATHS; AND WE ARE SURROUNDED BY WOODED RANGES. VINEYARDS COVER
THE PLAINS.

AS TO THE INFORMATION I HAD FROM PINCOCK, IT WAS RATHER UNDER THAN
ABOVE THE MARK. BARAMBOGIE IS UNDOUBTEDLY A RISING PLACE. FOR ONE
THING, THERE'S A GREAT MINE IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD, THAT HAS ONLY BEEN
PARTIALLY WORKED. THIS IS NOW ABOUT TO BE REORGANISED: AND WHEN STARTED
WILL EMPLOY NO FEWER THAN A HUNDRED AND FIFTY MEN. EVERY ONE IS
SANGUINE OF IT PAYING.--I WAS OUT AND ABOUT ALL YESTERDAY AND AGAIN
THIS MORNING, INTRODUCING MYSELF TO PEOPLE. I HAVE MET WITH THE
GREATEST COURTESY AND CIVILITY--THE BANK MANAGER WENT SO FAR AS TO SAY
I SHOULD BE A REAL ACQUISITION. I THINK I CAN READ BETWEEN THE LINES
THAT SOME WILL NOT BE DISPLEASED TO SEE THE LAST OF RUMMEL. HE IS BY NO
MEANS THE UNIVERSAL FAVOURITE I SHOULD HAVE IMAGINED. BETWEEN
OURSELVES, I FANCY HE TAKES A DROP TOO MUCH. HE IS STILL SEEING
PATIENTS, BUT INTENDS LEAVING IN A COUPLE OF DAYS. THE CHEMIST SAYS I
SHOULD EASILY DO EIGHT HUNDRED TO A THOUSAND PER ANNUM. AND RUMMEL
HIMSELF TOLD ME HE HAS HAD AS MANY AS A HUNDRED MIDWIFERY EASES IN A
YEAR. THERE ARE THREE OR FOUR NICE FAMILIES, SO YOU, MY DEAR, WILL NOT
BE ENTIRELY CUT OFF FROM SOCIETY. IT IS SAID TO BE A SPLENDID WINTER
CLIMATE. EVEN NOW, IN LATE AUTUMN, WE HAVE CLEAR BLUE SKIES AND BRACING
WINDS FROM THE SOUTH. AND WE SHOULD CERTAINLY SAVE. NO ONE HERE KEEPS
MORE THAN ONE SERVANT, AND GRAND ENTERTAINMENTS ARE UNKNOWN. NO CLUBS
EITHER, THANK GOD! YOU KNOW WHAT A DRAWBACK THEY. . . OR RATHER THE
LACK OF THEM HAS BEEN TO ME AT HAWTHORN. THEY'RE ALL VERY WELL IF YOU
HOLD THEM YOURSELF, BUT PLAY THE DICKENS WITH A PRACTICE IF YOU DON'T.
I SHOULD ONLY BE TOO GLAD TO SETTLE SOMEWHERE WHERE THEY'RE NON-EXISTENT.

THE DIFFICULTY IS GOING TO BE TO FIND A HOUSE. THERE ARE ONLY TWO
VACANT IN ALL BARAMBOGIE. ONE OF THESE IS IN POOR REPAIR, AND THE OWNER
--THE LEADING DRAPER--DECLINES TO DO ANYTHING TO IT. BESIDES HE WANTS
A RENTAL OF EIGHTY POUNDS P.A., ON A FOUR YEARS' LEASE--WHICH OF
COURSE PUTS IT OUT OF THE QUESTION. THE OTHER IS SO SMALL THAT NONE OF
OUR FURNITURE WOULD GO INTO IT. BUT WHERE THERE'S A WILL THERE'S A WAY;
AND I HAVE AN IDEA--AND I THINK A BRILLIANT ONE. THERE'S A FINE OLD
ODDFELLOWS' HALL HERE, WHICH IS IN DISUSE AND UP FOR AUCTION. IT'S OF
BRICK--LOOKS LIKE A CHAPEL--AND IS SIXTY FEET LONG BY TWENTY BROAD.
WELL, MY PLAN IS TO BUY THIS, AND CONVERT IT INTO A DWELLING-HOUSE. THE
BODY OF THE HALL WILL GIVE US SIX SPLENDID ROOMS, WITH A PASSAGE DOWN
THE MIDDLE, AND WE CAN ADD KITCHEN, SCULLERY, OUTHOUSES, ETC. I
WOULD ALSO THROW OUT A VERANDAH. THERE'S A FAIR PIECE OF LAND WHICH WE
WOULD TURN INTO A GARDEN. THE ALTERATIONS WILL BE EASY TO MAKE AND NOT
COST MUCH; AND THERE WE ARE, WITH OUT AND AWAY THE BEST HOUSE IN THE
TOWN!--I FEAR, THOUGH, EVEN UNDER THE MOST FAVOURABLE CIRCUMSTANCES WE
SHALL NOT BE ABLE TO USE ALL OUR FURNITURE HERE. I HAVEN'T YET SEEN A
ROOM THAT WOULD HOLD YOUR WARDROBE, OR THE DINING-ROOM SIDEBOARD.

IF I DECIDE TO STAY, I SHALL LOSE NO TIME IN CONSULTING A BUILDER. YOU
FOR YOUR PART MUST AT ONCE SEE AN AGENT AND PUT THE HAWTHORN HOUSE IN
HIS HANDS. I FEEL SURE WE SHALL HAVE NO DIFFICULTY IN LETTING IT.

AND NOW I MUST BRING THIS LONG SCRAWL--IT HAS BEEN WRITTEN AT VARIOUS
ODD MOMENTS--TO A CLOSE. I HAVE APPOINTED TO SEE RUMMEL AGAIN THIS
AFTERNOON, TO HAVE ANOTHER PARLEY WITH HIM. NOT THAT I SHALL DEFINITELY
FIX ON ANYTHING TILL I HEAR FROM YOU. FROM NOW ON I INTEND TO TAKE YOUR
ADVICE. BUT I DO TRUST THAT WHAT I HAVE TOLD YOU WILL PROVE TO YOU THAT
THIS IS NO WILDGOOSE CHASE, BUT THE VERY OPENING OF WHICH I AM IN
SEARCH. IT DISTRESSES ME MORE THAN I CAN SAY, WHEN YOU AND I DO NOT SEE
EYE TO EYE WITH EACH OTHER. NOW TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOUR DEAR SELF, AND
KISS THE CHICKS FOR ME. FORGIVE ME, TOO, ALL MY IRRITABILITY AND BAD
TEMPER OF THE PAST SIX MONTHS. I HAVE HAD A VERY GREAT DEAL TO WORRY ME
--FAR MORE THAN YOU KNEW, OR THAN I WANTED YOU TO KNOW. IT IS ENOUGH
FOR ONE OF US TO BEAR THE BURDEN. BUT THIS WILL PASS AND EVERYTHING BE
AS OF OLD, IF I CAN ONCE SEE THE PROSPECT OF EARNING A DECENT INCOME
AGAIN. WHICH I AM PERFECTLY SURE I SHALL DO HERE.

YOUR OWN

R.T.M.



2


THE SUN HOTEL,

BARAMBOGIE.

MY DEAR MARY,

I MUST SAY YOU ARE THE REVERSE OF ENCOURAGING. YOUR LETTER THREW ME
INTO SUCH A FIT OF LOW SPIRITS THAT I COULD NOT BRING MYSELF TO ANSWER
IT TILL TO-DAY. IT'S BAD ENOUGH BEING ALL ALONE, WITH NEVER A SOUL TO
SPEAK TO, WITHOUT YOU POURING COLD WATER ON EVERYTHING I SUGGEST. OF
COURSE, AS YOU ARE SO DOWN ON MY SCHEME OF REBUILDING THE ODDFELLOWS'
HALL, I WILL LET THIS UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY FOR A BARGAIN SLIP,
AND DISMISS THE IDEA FROM MY MIND. PERHAPS, THOUGH, YOU WILL TELL ME
WHAT WE ARE TO DO--WITB NOT ANOTHER HOUSE IN THE PLACE VACANT--OR AT
LEAST NOTHING BIG ENOUGH TO SWING A CAT IN. AS YOU ARE SO SCATHING
ABOUT MY POOR PLANS, YOU HAD BETTER EVOLVE SOME OF YOUR OWN.

I HAD THE NEWS ABOUT THE MINE ON RELIABLE AUTHORITY; IT WAS NOT, AS YOU
TRY TO MAKE OUT, A MERE WILD RUMOUR. NOR IS WHAT I SAID ABOUT PEOPLE
BEING GLAD TO GET RID OF RUMMEL A PRODUCT OF MY OWN IMAGINATION. I
RECEIVED MORE THAN ONE PLAIN HINT TO THAT EFFECT, IN THE COURSE OF MY
VISITS.

HOWEVER, SINCE I WROTE LAST, I HAVE BEGUN TO DOUBT THE WISDOM OF
SETTLING HERE. IT'S NOT THE HOUSE-QUESTION ALONE. I'VE SEEN GREATOREX
THE DRAPER AGAIN, AND HE HAS SO FAR COME ROUND AS TO AGREE TO RE-FLOOR
THE VERANDAH AND WHITEWASH THE ROOMS, IF I TAKE THE HOUSE ON HIS TERMS.
I REPEAT ONCE MORE, IT IS THE BEST HOUSE IN BARAMBOGIE. SIX LARGE
ROOMS, ALL NECESSARY OUTHOUSES, A SHED FITTED WITH A SHOWER-BATH, AND
A FINE GARDEN--WE MIGHT INDEED CONSIDER OURSELVES LUCKY TO GET IT.
RUMMEL LIVES IN A REGULAR HOVEL; THE PARSON IN A FOUR-ROOMED HUT WITH
NOT A FOOT OF GROUND TO IT, NOR ANY VERANDAH TO KEEP OFF THE SUN.
GREATOREX'S IS A PALACE IN COMPARISON. OF COURSE THOUGH, AS YOU EXPRESS
YOURSELF SO STRONGLY AGAINST THE FOUR--YEARS' LEASE, I SHALL GIVE UP
ALL IDEA OF COMING TO AN AGREEMENT WITH HIM.

BESIDES, AS I SAID ABOVE, I HAVE PRACTICALLY DECIDED NOT TO REMAIN.
YOUR LETTER IS CHIEFLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS. I CAN SEE YOU HAVE MADE UP
YOUR MIND BEFOREHAND NOT TO LIKE THE PLACE. AND IF YOU WERE UNHAPPY I
SHOULD BE WRETCHED, TOO, AND REPROACH MYSELF FOR HAVING DRAGGED YOU AND
THE CHILDREN INTO SO OUTLANDISH AN EXILE. I QUITE AGREE IT WOULD BE
HARD WORK FOR YOU WITH BUT A SINGLE SERVANT--BUT I CAN ASSURE YOU, WE
SHOULD BE EYED ASKANCE IF WE TRIED TO KEEP MORE. IN A PLACE LIKE THIS,
WHERE THERE IS ONLY ONE STANDARD OF LIVING, IT WOULD RENDER US MOST
UNPOPULAR. BUT EVEN SHOULD YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND, MY ADVICE WOULD BE,
NOT TO COME FOR AT LEAST THREE MONTHS. BY THAT TIME I SHOULD KNOW
BETTER HOW THE PRACTICE WAS SHAPING. OF COURSE THINGS MAY LOOK BRIGHTER
FOR ME WHEN RUMMEL GOES, AND I BEGIN TO GET SOMETHING TO DO. I'VE BEEN
HERE NEARLY A FORTNIGHT NOW, AND HE SHOWS NO MORE SIGNS OF LEAVING THAN
AT FIRST. HE IS STILL ATTENDING PATIENTS; THE PEOPLE RUN AFTER HIM IN
THE STREETS. HE HAS BEEN EXTRAORDINARILY POPULAR; WHICH IS NOT TO BE
WONDERED AT, WITH HIS GOOD LOOKS AND INGRATIATING MANNERS. ONLY A FEW
TRIFLING CASES HAVE COME MY WAY. IT IS VERY DISHEARTENING. TO
ADD TO THIS, I HAVE BEEN FEELING ANYTHING BUT WELL. THE CHANGE OF WATER
HAS UPSET ME. THEN MY BEDROOM IS DARK AND AIRLESS; AND THE NOISE IN THE
HOTEL ENOUGH TO DRIVE ONE CRAZY. IT GOES ON TILL LONG PAST MIDNIGHT AND
BEGINS AGAIN BEFORE SIX.

ANOTHER THING THAT WORRIES ME IS THE FACT THAT I SHOULD BE ALONE OF THE
PROFESSION HERE, IF I STAYED. I DARESAY I SHOULD GET USED TO IT IN
TIME; BUT JUST NOW, IN MY POOR STATE, IT WOULD BE AN ADDITIONAL STRAIN,
NEVER TO HAVE A SECOND OPINION TO FALL BACK ON.--I DON'T NEED YOU TO
TELL ME, MY DEAR, THAT A HUNDRED CONFINEMENTS IN THE YEAR WOULD BE
STIFF WORK. BUT THEY WOULD ALSO MEAN A PRINCELY INCOME. HOWEVER, I HAVE
NO INTENTION OF DRAGGING YOU HERE AGAINST YOUR WILL: AND SHALL NOW CAST
ABOUT FOR SOMETHING ELSE. I HEARD TO-DAY OF A PLACE CALLED TURRAMUNGI,
WHERE THERE IS ONLY ONE DOCTOR AND HE A BIT OF A DUFFER. I WILL GO OVER
BY COACH ONE MORNING AND SEE HOW THE LAND LIES.

BUT DO TRY AND WRITE MORE CHEERFULLY. I AM SURE YOU HAVE NO NEED TO BE
SO DEPRESSED--IN OUR PLEASANT HOME, AND WITH THE CHILDREN TO BEAR YOU
COMPANY. I AM SORRY TO HEAR YOU HAVE HEARD OF NO LIKELY TENANTS. WE
OUGHT TO GET A RENT OF AT LEAST TWO HUNDRED, WITHOUT TAXES. AS I SAID
BEFORE, YOUR WARDROBE AND THE SIDEBOARD WILL HAVE TO BE SOLD. PERHAPS
THE INCOMING TENANT WILL TAKE THEM.

THE FLIES ARE VERY TROUBLESOME TO-DAY. I HAVE CONSTANTLY TO FLAP MY
HANDKERCHIEF WHILE I WRITE.

SHALL HOPE TO SEND YOU BETTER NEWS OF MYSELF NEXT TIME.

R.T.M.



3


THE SUN HOTEL,

BARAMBOGIE.

MY DEAR WIFE,

A LINE IN GREAT HASTE. I HAVE JUST SEEN AN ADVERTISEMENT IN THE "ARGUS"
CALLING FOR APPLICATIONS FOR MEDICAL OFFICER TO THE BOORANDOORA LODGE,
AND HAVE MADE UP MY MIND TO APPLY. I HAVE WRITTEN OFF POSTHASTE FOR
FURTHER PARTICULARS, IN ORDER TO GET MY APPLICATION IN BEFORE FRIDAY.
AFTER SPENDING CLOSE ON THREE WEEKS HERE, I HAVE DECIDED ONCE AND FOR
ALL THAT IT WOULD BE INFINITELY MORE SATISFACTORY TO MAKE AN EXTRA
COUPLE OF HUNDRED A YEAR AT HAWTHORN, WITH A DECENT HOUSE BEHIND US,
THAN TO BURY OURSELVES IN THIS WILD BUSH. A THIRD LODGE WOULD
GIVE A TREMENDOUS FILLIP TO THE PRACTICE. AND THE MORE I SEE OF THIS
PLACE, THE LESS I LIKE IT.

OF COURSE, MY APPLICATION MAY NOT BE CONSIDERED. LAMBERT, WHO HAD THE
BOORANDOORA LAST, HELD IT AT TWENTY-ONE SHILLINGS A HEAD, AND FOUND
MEDICINE. I MEAN TO TENDER SEVENTEEN-AND-SIX, WITHOUT PHYSIC. GRAVES, I
KNOW, WON'T LOOK AT THEM UNDER TWENTY. SO I THINK I OUGHT TO STAND A
VERY GOOD CHANCE. DON'T TAKE ANY FURTHER STEPS ABOUT THE HOUSE IN THE
MEANWHILE.

SINCE I WROTE LAST I HAVE HAD A LITTLE MORE TO DO. I WAS CALLED OUT
SEVERAL MILES YESTERDAY. AND THE PEOPLE I WENT TO TOLD ME THAT IF I HAD
NOT BEEN HERE, THEY WOULD HAVE SENT FOR THE MAN AT TURRAMUNGI. SO YOU
SEE RUMMEL IS NOT PERSONA GRATA EVERYWHERE. HE IS STILL ABOUT, AND AS
MUCH IN MY WAY AS EVER; FOR AS LONG AS HE IS ON THE SPOT, PEOPLE WON'T
CONSULT ANY ONE ELSE. I WISH TO GOD I HAD NOT BEEN IN SUCH A HURRY TO
COME. HOWEVER, ONE THING MAKES ME MORE HOPEFUL: THE DATE OF HIS AUCTION
IS FIXED AT LAST, FOR MONDAY NEXT.

IN HASTE

YOUR OWN

R.T.M.



4


THE SUN HOTEL,

BARAMBOGIE.

MY DARLING MARY,

SO YOU APPROVE, DO YOU, OF MY IDEA OF PUTTING IN FOR THE BOORANDOORA? I
GOT THE INFORMATION I WANTED FROM THE SECRETARY OF THE LODGE; AND IF I
RESOLVE TO OFFER MY SERVICES, SHALL DO SO FOR THE SUM I NAMED. IT IS
ALL VERY WELL, MY DEAR, TO TALK ABOUT IT BEING BENEATH MY DIGNITY TO
UNDERBID OTHERS, AND TO ASK HOW I MYSELF SHOULD ONCE HAVE CHARACTERISED
SUCH A PROCEEDING. (PERSONALLY, I THINK YOU MIGHT KEEP REMARKS OF THIS
KIND TO YOURSELF.) WHAT I DO IS DONE FOR YOUR SAKE. IF I COULD GET THIS
THIRD LODGE, IT MIGHT SAVE YOU HAVING TO TURN OUT AND PART WITH YOUR
FURNITURE; AND TO MAKE THAT POSSIBLE I AM READY TO SACRIFICE MY
PROFESSIONAL PRIDE. THERE ARE SO MANY OTHERS, YOUNGER MEN THAN I, WHO
ARE ONLY TOO READY TO STEP IN. AND I LOOK ON IT AS MY SOLE REMAINING
CHANCE TO EARN A DECENT LIVELIHOOD WITHIN REACH OF CIVILISATION.

HOWEVER, I MUST CONFESS, I HAVE AGAIN BECOME SOMEWHAT UNDECIDED. THE
FACT IS, RUMMEL HAS GONE AT LAST: AND HE GAVE ME HIS WORD, ON
LEAVING, THAT HE WOULD NEVER COME BACK. THE AUCTION TOOK PLACE AS
ARRANGED; HOUSE AND GROUND SELLING FOR A HUNDRED AND NINETY POUNDS.
SINCE HE WENT, I HAVE BEEN GENUINELY BUSY. THE PARSON IS ILL WITH
INFLAMMATION OF THE LIVER; AND I WAS CALLED OUT YESTERDAY A DISTANCE OF
FIVE MILES. THE HIRE OF A BUGGY COSTS SEVEN-AND-SIX--LESS THAN HALF
WHAT I HAD TO PAY IN HAWTHORN. THIS AFTERNOON I GO BY TRAIN TO
MIRRAWARRA, AND SHALL WALK BACK. IT BECOMES DAILY MORE EVIDENT TO ME
THAT THERE IS A VERY FINE PRACTICE TO BE DONE HERE. AND EVERY ONE I
MEET IMPLORES ME TO STAY. SOME, INDEED, GROW QUITE PLAINTIVE AT THE
IDEA OF LOSING ME.

I HAVE ALSO HAD A PLEASANT SURPRISE ABOUT THE HOUSE. GREATOREX NOW SAYS
HE IS WILLING TO LET FOR THREE YEARS INSTEAD OF FOUR, IF I PAY THE
FIRST YEAR'S RENT IN ADVANCE. THIS SEEMS TO ME AN EXTREMELY FAIR OFFER.
YOU SEE IT WOULD ONLY BE LIKE PAYING A SMALL SUM DOWN FOR THE PRACTICE.
I AM GOING OVER THE HOUSE WITH HIM AGAIN TO-MORROW, AND WILL THEN LET
YOU KNOW WHAT I DECIDE. THE POINT AT ISSUE IS, SHOULD I NOT DO BETTER
TO ACCEPT THIS CERTAIN OPENING, WITH ALL ITS DRAWBACKS, THAN TAKE THE
UNCERTAIN CHANCE OF HAWTHORN WITH A THIRD LODGE . . . IF I GET IT!

YOUR VERY OWN

R.T.M.



5


THE SUN HOTEL,

BARAMBOGIE.

MY OWN DEAR WIFE,

WELL! THE DIE IS EAST; I HAVE FINALLY MADE UP MY MIND TO REMAIN IN
BARAMBOGIE. I DID NOT PUT IN FOR THE LODGE AFTER ALL, BUT RESOLVED TO
GIVE THIS PLACE A FURTHER TEN DAYS' TRIAL. AND WELL THAT I DID! FOR THE
PRACTICE HAS LOOKED UP WITH A VENGEANCE: IT IS NOW AS PLAIN AS A
PIKESTAFF THAT I HAVE CAPITAL PROSPECTS HERE, AND SHOULD BE A FOOL
INDEED TO LET THEM SLIDE. IF I HAD NOT POPPED IN WHEN I DID, THERE
WOULD CERTAINLY HAVE BEEN OTHERS--AND, FOR THAT MATTER, I AM STILL NOT
QUITE SURE THERE MAY NOT BE ANOTHER SETTLING. IN THE MEANTIME I AM
SEEING FRESH PATIENTS DAILY, AND HAVE NOT HAD MY CLOTHES OFF FOR THE
PAST TWO NIGHTS. THE DAY BEFORE YESTERDAY I WAS CALLED TEN MILES OUT TO
ATTEND A CASE WHICH GUTHRIE OF COORA HAS NEGLECTED: AND I HAVE BEEN
BESPOKEN FOR THREE FUTURE EVENTS. THIS MORNING I DROVE SEVEN
MILES INTO THE BUSH; FOR WHICH I SHALL CHARGE FIVE GUINEAS. IN THE
MONTH I HAVE BEEN HERE--TEN DAYS WITHOUT RUMMEL--I HAVE TAKEN FIFTEEN
POUNDS AND BOOKED CLOSE ON FIFTY. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT? I FEEL
QUITE SURE I SHALL EASILY TOUCH A THOUSAND A YEAR. OF COURSE IT WILL
MEAN HARD WORK, BUT THE MERE PROSPECT OF SUCH A THING KEYS ME UP. IT
WAS THE DOING NOTHING AT HAWTHORN THAT PREYED SO ON MY MIND. IF ONLY I
CAN EARN A GOOD INCOME, AND PROVIDE FOR YOU AND THE DARLINGS IN THE
STYLE TO WHICH YOU ARE ACCUSTOMED, I SHALL BE A HAPPY MAN ONCE MORE.

THE PEOPLE HERE ARE OVERJOYED AT THE PROSPECT OF KEEPING ME. THEY
CONTINUE TO DECLARE I CANNOT FAIL TO SUCCEED. EVERYBODY IS MOST CIVIL,
AND ALL INVITE ME TO DRINK WITH THEM. I HAVE CONSIDERABLE DIFFICULTY IN
MAKING THEM UNDERSTAND THAT I DO NOT GO IN FOR THAT KIND OF THING. IT
SOMETIMES NEEDS A GOOD DEAL OF TACT TO PUT THEM OFF WITHOUT GIVING
OFFENCE: BUT SO FAR I HAVE MANAGED PRETTY WELL. FROM ALL I NOW HEAR,
RUMMEL MUST HAVE BEEN A SEASONED DRINKER--A REGULAR TOPER. I SAW THE
BANK MANAGER TO-DAY. HE WAS VERY QUEER. HAD EVIDENTLY BEEN TAKING
NOBBLERS. HE HAS BEEN IN CHARGE OF THE BANK HERE FOR OVER TWENTY-YEARS,
AND THINKS THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE BARAMBOGIE. VOWS I SHALL MAKE MY
FORTUNE.

GREATOREX PROMISES TO SET ABOUT THE REPAIRS WITHOUT DELAY. MY PRIVATE
OPINION IS, HE'S IN HIGH FEATHER AT SECURING SUCH GOOD AND CAREFUL
TENANTS. I WENT OVER THE HOUSE WITH HIM AGAIN YESTERDAY. THE ROOMS ARE
NOT QUITE AS LARGE AS I THOUGHT--I WILL SEND YOU THE EXACT
MEASUREMENTS IN A DAY OR TWO--BUT ALL HAVE FRENCH WINDOWS AND ARE
FITTED WITH VENETIAN BLINDS. THE GARDEN IS WELL STOCKED WITH FRUIT,
FLOWERS AND VEGETABLES. I SHALL KEEP A MAN TO LOOK AFTER IT. I THINK
YOU HAD BETTER TRY AND INDUCE ONE OF THE SERVANTS FROM HOME TO
ACCOMPANY YOU. PERHAPS ELIZA WOULD COME; AS THE CHILDREN ARE USED TO
HER. HERE THERE IS LITTLE OR NOTHING IN THAT LINE TO BE HAD. SLIPSHOD
DOLLOPS DEMAND TEN SHILLINGS A WEEK. THE PARSON KEEPS NONE; HAS NO ROOM
FOR ANY.

ARCHDEACON COOTE OF TARALGA CALLED YESTERDAY, AND MADE QUITE A FUSS
OVER ME. I HAVE ALSO BEEN INTRODUCED TO THE WIFE OF ONE OF THE LEADING
SQUATTERS. LIKE EVERY ONE ELSE, SHE SAYS IT WILL BE A RED-LETTER DAY
FOR THE PLACE IF WE COME, AND LOOKS EAGERLY FORWARD TO MAKING YOUR
ACQUAINTANCE.

NOW, IF ONLY WE CAN LET THE HOUSE! THE MERE POSSIBILITY OF THIS,
AND OF OUR BEING ALL TOGETHER ONCE MORE MAKES ME WILDLY HAPPY.
TELL THE CHICKS THERE IS A SPLENDID SUMMERHOUSE IN THE NEW GARDEN, AND
I WILL SEE TO IT THAT A SWING IS PUT UP FOR THEM. THEY SHALL HAVE
EVERYTHING THEY WANT HERE.

YOUR OWN OLD HUSBAND,

RICHARD TOWNSHEND MAHONY.



6


THE SUN HOTEL,

BARAMBOGIE.

MY DEAR MARY,

I AM SORRY YOU WRITE IN SUCH LOW SPIRITS. I AGREE WITH YOU, IT IS MOST
UNFORTUNATE THAT WE ARE OBLIGED TO BREAK UP OUR HOME; BUT IT WAS
BLACKEST FOLLY ON MY PART EVER TO BUILD THAT HOUSE, AND NOW I AM
PUNISHED FOR IT. I CANNOT SAY HOW DEEPLY I REGRET HAVING TO ASK YOU AND
THE LITTLE ONES TO PUT UP WITH BUSH LIFE; AND YOU MAY REST ASSURED I
SHOULD NOT DO SO, IF I SAW ANY OTHER WAY OUT. BUT IT IS THIS OR
NOTHING.

IT DOESN'T MEND MATTERS TO HAVE YOU CARPING AT THE CLASS OF PERSON WE
SHALL NEED TO ASSOCIATE WITH. FOR GOODNESS' SAKE, DON'T GO PUTTING
IDEAS OF THAT KIND INTO THE CHILDREN'S HEADS! WE ARE ALL GOD'S
CREATURES; AND THE SOONER WE SHAKE OFF THE INCUBUS OF A FALSE AND
SNOBBISH PRIDE, THE BETTER IT WILL BE FOR US. THERE ARE GOOD AND WORTHY
PEOPLE TO BE FOUND IN EVERY WALK OF LIFE.

YOU ARE UTTERLY WRONG IN YOUR SUSPICIONS THAT I AM LETTING MYSELF BE
FLATTERED AND BAMBOOZLED INTO STAYING. BUT THERE! . . . YOU NEVER DO
THINK ANYONE BUT YOURSELF HAS A PARTICLE OF JUDGMENT.

NO, THERE'S NOTHING IN THE WAY OF A SCHOOL--EXCEPT, OF COURSE, THE
STATE SCHOOL. YOU HAD BETTER FIND OUT WHAT A GOVERNESS WOULD COST.
ABOUT THE HOUSE, I AM AFRAID IT IS REALLY NOT VERY MUCH BIGGER THAN OUR
FIRST COTTAGE IN WEBSTER ST--THE WOODEN ONE--BEFORE WE MADE THOSE
ADDITIONS TO IT. I ENCLOSE THE MEASUREMENTS OF THE ROOMS. YOU WILL SEE
THAT THE DRAWING-ROOM AND CHIEF BEDROOM ARE THE SAME SIZE--12 BY 13--
THE OTHERS SOMEWHAT SMALLER. IT WILL BE AS WELL TO SELL THE PIERGLASS
AND THE DRAWING-ROOM CHIFFONIER. AND IT'S NO GOOD BRINGING THE DINING-ROOM
TABLE, OR THE BIG SOFA . . . OR THE TALL GLASS BOOKCASE. OR THE
THREE LARGE WARDROBES EITHER; THEY WOULDN'T GO IN AT THE DOORS. BUT DO
TRY AND NOT FRET TOO MUCH OVER SACRIFICING THESE THINGS. A FEW
YEARS HERE, AND YOU WILL BE ABLE TO REPLACE THEM; AND THEN WE WILL
PITCH OUR TENT SOMEWHERE MORE TO YOUR LIKING.

I RECKON THE MOVE WILL COST US ABOUT A HUNDRED POUNDS.

I AM STILL BUSY. BARAMBOGIE IS ANYTHING BUT THE DEAD-AND-ALIVE PLACE
YOU IMAGINE. NO LESS THAN SIX COACHES A DAY DRAW UP AT THIS HOTEL. THE
WEATHER CONTINUES FINE. I HAVE A GOOD APPETITE: IT SUITS ME TO BE SO
MUCH IN THE OPEN AIR, INSTEAD OF COOPED UP IN THAT DULL SURGERY. I WISH
I SLEPT BETTER THOUGH. THE NOISE IN THE HOTEL CONTINUES UNABATED. I
HAVE THE UTMOST DIFFICULTY IN GETTING TO SLEEP, OR IN REMAINING ASLEEP
WHEN I DO. THE LEAST SOUND DISTURBS ME--AND THEN I AM INSTANTLY WIDE
AWAKE. THE OTHER NIGHT, THOUGH, I HAD A VERY DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE.
SOMETHING VERY QUEER HAPPENED TO ME. I DROPPED OFF TOWARDS THREE AND
HAD BEEN ASLEEP FOR ABOUT AN HOUR--FAST ASLEEP--WHEN SOME NOISE OR
OTHER, I DON'T KNOW WHAT, WAKENED ME WITH A TERRIFIC START . . . ONE OF
THOSE FEARFUL JERKS AWAKE WHICH THE NIGHTBELL USED TO GIVE ME. EXCEPT
THAT IN THOSE DAYS, I WAS ALL THERE IN AN INSTANT. HERE, I COULDN'T FOR
THE LIFE OF ME COME BACK, AND WENT THROUGH A FEW MOST AWFUL SECONDS,
ABSOLUTELY INCAPABLE OF RECOLLECTION. THERE I SAT, BOLT UPRIGHT, MY
HEART BEATING LIKE A SLEDGEHAMMER, POWERLESS TO REMEMBER WHO I WAS,
WHERE I WAS OR WHAT I WAS DOING. MY BRAIN SEEMED LIKE AN EMPTY SHELL
. . . OR A WATCH WITH ALL THE WORKS GONE OUT OF IT. OR IF YOU CAN IMAGINE
A KIND OF MENTAL SUFFOCATION, A HORRID STRUGGLE FOR BREATH ON THE PART
OF THE BRAIN. AND WHEN, BY SHEER FORCE OF WILL, I HAD SUCCEEDED IN
FIGHTING BACK TO A CONSCIOUSNESS OF MY PERSONAL IDENTITY, I STILL COULD
NOT LOCATE MYSELF, BUT IMAGINED I WAS AT HOME, AND FUMBLED FOR THE
MATCHES ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE BED! IT WAS MOST UNPLEASANT--A REAL
DISSOCIATION FOR THE TIME BEING--AND I DID NOT SLEEP AGAIN, DREADING A
RETURN. I THINK IT CAME FROM WORRY--I HAVE BEEN MUCH UPSET. YOUR
LETTER . . . AND ALL YOU SAID IN IT . . .YOUR GRIEF AND DISAPPOINTMENT.
ADD TO THIS THAT I HAD NO PROPER REST THE NIGHT BEFORE, HAVING BEEN UP
WITH A PATIENT TILL THREE. I SHALL BE MORE CAREFUL IN FUTURE.

MY LOVE TO THE DARLINGS,

YOUR OWN

R.T.M.




Chapter VI



It was nearing eleven, and a chilly, cloudy night, when the little
party, flanked by Eliza, alighted on the platform at Barambogie where
for nearly an hour Mahony had paced to and fro. They were the only
passengers to leave the train; which straightway puffed off again; and
since the man hired by Mahony to transport the baggage was late in
arriving, there was nothing for it but to wait till he came. The
stationmaster, having lingered for a time, turned out the solitary lamp
and departed; and there they stood, a forlorn little group, round a
tumulus of luggage. It was pitch dark; not a single homely light shone
out, to tell of a human settlement; not the faintest sound broke the
silence. To Mary it seemed as if they had been dumped down in the very
heart of nowhere.

But now came the man wheeling a truck; and straightway a wordy dispute
broke out between him and Richard, in which she had to act as
peacemaker. Boxes and portmanteaux were loaded up; carpet-bags,
baskets, bundles counted and arranged: all by the light of a lantern.
Richard, agog with excitement, had to be kept from waking the twins,
who had dropped asleep again on top of the trunks. And all the while an
overtired and captious Cuffy plucked at her sleeve. "Is this the bush,
Mamma? . . . is THIS the bush? WHERE? I don't see it!"

The little procession started, headed by the man with truck and
lantern, the Dumplings riding one in Richard's arms, one in Eliza's,
she and Cuffy bringing up the rear. Leaving the station behind them,
they walked on till they came to a broad road, flour-soft to the feet,
Cuffy kicking and shuffling up the dust to the peevish whine of: "What
SORT of a bush, Mamma?" and passed in single file down a long narrow
right-of-way, between two paling fences.

On emerging, they faced something flat and black and mysterious. Mary
started. "Whatever's that?"

"The Lagoon, my dear, the Lagoon! The house fronts it, you
know. Has the best outlook of any in the town."

(For the children to fall into! . . . AND mosquitoes.)

Long after every one else was asleep Mary lay and listened . . . and
listened. It was years since she had lived anywhere but in a town; and
this house seemed so lonely, so open to intruders. The leaves rustling
in the garden, each fresh flap of the venetians startled her afresh;
and in spite of the long, tiring journey, and the arduous days that had
preceded it, she could not compose herself to sleep. And when at last
she did fall into an uneasy doze, she was jerked back to consciousness
in what seemed the minute after, by a shrill and piercing scream--a
kind of prolonged shriek, that rent and tore at the air.

"Richard! . . . oh, Richard, what in the world is that?"

"Don't be alarmed, my dear. It's only the mill whistle."

"A mill? So close?"

"It's all right, Mary; you'll soon get used to it. Myself I hardly
notice it now. And it doesn't last long. There! you see, it has stopped
already."

His attempt to make light of the appalling din had something pathetic
about it. Mary bit back her dismay.

And it was the same in the morning, when he led her round house and
garden: he skimmed airily over the drawbacks--the distance of the
kitchen from the house; the poor water-supply; the wretched little box
of a surgery; the great heat of even this late autumn day--to belaud
the house's privacy, separated as it was from the rest of the township
by the width of the Lagoon; the thickness of the brick walls; the shade
and coolness ensured by an all-round verandah. And though daylight, and
what it shewed up, only served to render Mary more and more dubious,
she had not the heart on this first morning to damp him by saying what
she really thought. Instead, her tour of inspection over, she buckled
to her mammoth job of bringing comfort out of chaos: putting up beds
and dressers; unpacking the crockery; cutting down curtains and
carpets, and laying oilcloth; working dusty and dishevelled, by the
light of a candle, till long past midnight for many a night. While
Richard, his professional visits over, undertook to mind and amuse the
children, who were sadly in her way, dashing about helter-skelter, pale
with the excitement of the new.

For, oh what a lovely house this was!--Long before any one
else was astir, Cuffy had pattered out barefoot to explore; and, all
his life after, he loved an empty house for its sake. It had nothing
but doors, which spelt freedom: even the windows were doors. There were
no stairs. A passage went right down the middle, with a door at each
end which always stood open, and three room-doors on each side. You
could run out of any of the windows and tear round the verandah, to
play Hide-and-Seek or Hi-spy-hi. And not even Eliza was there to say:
"Don't!" or "You mustn't!" She was in the far-away kitchen, scrubbing
or washing up. They had breakfast off a packing-case, which was great
fun; and Papa was so nice, too. The very first morning he explained
what the bush meant; and took them all out walking to find it; and then
Cuffy learnt that it was not ONE bush he had come to see but lots of
bushes; with trees so high that, even if you almost broke your neck
bending back, you couldn't see the end of them.

Dancing ahead of Papa, who held hands with the Dumplings, and sometimes
walking backwards to hear better, Cuffy fired question after question.
How did the bush get there? Why did nobody live in it? What were all
the holes full of water? Why were they abandoned? Why did people dig
for gold? How did they do it? Why was money?--a fusillade of
questions, to which on this day he got full and patient answers. Papa
gave them each a threepenny bit, too, to spend as they liked. The twins
carried theirs squeezed tight to show Mamma; but he put his in his
pocket.

On the way home they went along a street where there were lots of
little shops. Men were leaning against the verandah posts, smoking and
spitting; and other men came to the doors and stared. Papa was very
polite to them, and said "Good morning!" to everybody with a little
bow, and whether they did or not. And sometimes he said as well: "Yes,
these are my youngsters! Don't you think I've reason to be proud of
them?" . . . and as often as this happened, Cuffy felt uncomfortable.
For these weren't the sort of men you stopped and talked to: you just
said good morning and went home. Besides, they didn't seem as if they
WANTED to speak to you. They didn't take their pipes out; and some of
them looked as if they thought Papa was funny . . . or silly.
Two winked at each other when they thought he wasn't looking--made
eyes like Cook and Eliza used to do.

Then at a hotel they met a fat, red-faced man--the landlord, Papa said
--who seemed at first to be going to be nicer. When Papa pushed them
forward and said: "My young fry arrived at last, you see!" he smiled
back and said: "And a very jolly little set of nippers, too! Pleased to
know you, missies! How do, sir, how do! Now what will yours be?"

"Cuthbert Hamilton Townshend-Mahony," replied Cuffy, lightning-quick
and politely. He was dumbfounded by the roar of laughter that went up
at his words; not only the landlord laughed, but lots of larrikins, who
stood round the bar. Even Papa laughed a little, in a funny, tight way.

Mamma didn't though. Cuffy heard them talking, and she sounded cross.
"Surely, Richard, you needn't drag the children in as well?"

Papa was snappy. "I don't think, Mary, you quite realise how necessary
it is for me to leave no stone unturned."

"I can't help it. I'm not going to have my children mixed up in the
affair." When Mamma was cross she always said "MY children."

Cuffy didn't wait to hear more. He ran down the garden, where he mooned
about till dinner-time. He wouldn't ever--no, he wouldn't!--go down
the street where those horrid men were again. And if he saw them, he'd
stamp his feet at them and call them nasty names. And he'd tell Papa
not to--he wouldn't let him; he'd hold on to his coat. For they didn't
like Papa either.

"Ooo . . . tum on! Us'll dance, too," cried the twins. And taking hands
they hopped and capered about the drawing-room, their little starched
white petticoats flaring as they swung. For Papa was dancing with
Mamma. He had seized her by the waist and polked her up the passage,
and now was whirling her round, she trying to get loose and crying:
"Stop, Richard, stop! You'll make me sick." But Papa just laughed and
twirled on, the Dumplings faithfully imitating him, till, crash, bang!
a vase of Parian marble on the big centre table lost its
balance, toppled over and was smashed to atoms.

"There! . . . that's just what I expected. There's no room here for
such goings-on," said Mary as she stooped to pick up the fragments.

It came of her having called Richard in to view the drawing-room, where
for over a week she had stitched and hammered, or sat perched on the
top rung of a step-ladder. Herself she was not displeased with her
work; though she mourned the absence of the inlaid secretaire, the
card-table, the ottoman. These things were still in the outhouse, in
their travelling-cases; and there they would have to remain. The
Collard and Collard took up nearly the whole of one wall; the round
rosewood table devoured the floor-space; everything was much too large.
And the best bits, the Parisian gilt-legged tables and gilt-framed
mirrors, made absolutely no show, huddled together as they were.

But Richard went into ecstasies. "They'll never have seen a room like
it!--the people here. We'll show them what's what, wife, eh? . . .
make 'em open their eyes. Mary! I prophesy you'll have the whole
township come trooping over the Lagoon to call. We shall need to charge
'em admission."--and therewith he had seized and swung her round. So
undignified. . . before Eliza. Besides egging the children on to do
likewise.

But there was no damping Richard just now. Though a fortnight had
passed, he was still in the simmer of excitement into which their
coming had thrown him. While she stitched, even while she turned the
handle of the sewing-machine, he would stand at her side and talk, and
talk, in a voice that was either pitched just a shade too high, or was
husky and tremulous. The separation had plainly been too much for him.
His joy at getting them again was not to be kept within bounds.

"You're absolutely all I've got, you know . . . you and the children."

Which was quite literally true: so true that, at times, Mary would find
herself haunted by the unpleasant vision of a funeral at which it was
not possible to fill a single coach with mourners. Richard--to be
followed to his grave by the doctor who had-attended him, the parson
who was to bury him . . . and not a soul besides. Her heart contracted
at the disgrace of the thing: the shame of letting the world know how
little he had cared for anyone, or been cared for in return.

Impatiently she shook her head and turned to listen to voices in the
passage. They were those of Richard and a patient; but chiefly
Richard's. For he had carried his talkative fit over to strangers as
well . . . and Mary sometimes wondered what they thought of him: these
small shopkeepers and farmers and vinegrowers and licensed publicans.
Well, at any rate, they wouldn't be able to bring the usual accusation
against him, of stiff-necked reserve. The truth was, they just came in
for their share of his all-pervading good humour. The children, too.
Had he always made so much of the children, they would have felt more
at home with him, and he have had less cause for jealous grumbles. He
even unearthed his old flute, screwed the parts together, and to
Cuffy's enchantment played them his one-time show-piece, THE MINSTREL
BOY. And it was the same with everything. He vowed the Barambogie bread
to be the best, the butter the sweetest he had ever tasted: going so
far as to compliment the astonished tradespeople on their achievements.
And Mary, watching in silence, thought how pleasant all this was . . .
and how unnatural . . . and waited for the moment to come when he would
drop headlong from the skies.

In waiting, her head with its high Spanish comb bent low over her work,
she gave the rein to various private worries of her own. For instance
she saw quite clearly that Eliza's stay with them would not be a long
one. Forgetful of past favours, of the expense they had been at in
bringing her there, Eliza was already darkly hinting her opinion of the
place; of the detached kitchen; the dust, the solitude. Again, the want
of a proper waiting-room for patients was proving a great trial. The
dining-room seemed never their own. More serious was the risk the
children thereby ran of catching some infectious illness. Then, she
sometimes felt very uneasy about Richard. In spite of his exuberance,
he looked anything but well. The bout of dysentery he had suffered
from, on first arriving, had evidently been graver than he cared to
admit. His colour was bad, his appetite poor; while as for sleep, if he
managed four consecutive hours of a night he counted himself lucky. And
even then it wasn't a restful sleep; for he had got the absurd idea in
his head that he might not hear the nightbell--in this tiny house!--
and at the least sound was awake and sitting up. Again, almost
every day brought a long trudge into the bush, from which he came home
too tired to eat. And Mary's old fear revived. Would he ever be able at
his age to stand the wear and tear of the work? especially as the
practice grew, and he became more widely known.

But, even as she asked herself the question, another doubt flew at her.
Was there any real prospect of the practice growing, and him retrieving
his shattered fortunes? Or had he, in burying himself in this wild
bush, committed the crowning folly of his life? And, of the two, this
fear ate the deeper. For she thought he MIGHT have so husbanded his
strength as to carry on for a few years; but, the more she saw of place
and people, the slenderer grew her belief that there was money to be
made there. How anybody in his five senses could have professed to see
in Barambogie what Richard did--oh! NO one but Richard could have so
deceived himself. Of all the dead-and-alive holes she had ever been in,
this was the deadest. Only two, trains a day called there, with eight
hours between. The railway station was mostly closed and deserted, the
stationmaster to be found playing euchre at the "Sun." Quite a quarter
of the shops in the main street were boarded up; the shafts round the
township had all been worked out or abandoned. As for the tale of the
big mine . . . well, she considered that had been just a bait with
which to hook a simple fish. How she did wish she had somebody to talk
to! Richard was no use at all . . . in his present mood. To the few
feelers she threw out, he declared himself exaggeratedly well content.
Though the number of patients was still not great, his calls into the
bush were royally paid. It was five guineas here, ten there; as
compared with the petty fees he had commanded at Hawthorn. "Surely, my
dear, if money flows in at this rate, we can put up with a few slight
drawbacks?"

Such as the flour mill, thought Mary grimly. This dreadful mill! Would
any but a man so complacently have planked them down next door to it?
It entirely spoilt the garden, with its noise and dust. Then, the
mill-hands who passed to and fro, or sat outside the fence, were a very
rough lot; and five times a day you had to stop in what you were saying
and wait for the shriek of the steam-whistle to subside. Except
for the railway station, their house and the mill stood alone on this
side of the Lagoon, and were quite five minutes' walk from the
township. Richard hugged himself with his privacy, and it certainly was
nicer to be away from shops and public-houses. But, for the practice,
their seclusion was a real disadvantage. Rummel had lived in the main
street; and his surgery had been as handy for people to drop into for,
say, a cut finger or a black eye, as was now the chemist's shop. Then,
the Lagoon itself . . . this view of which Richard had made so much!
After the rains, when there was some water in it, it might be all
right; but just now it was more than three parts dry, and most
unsightly. You saw the bare cracked earth of its bottom, not to speak
of the rubbish, the old tins and boots and broken china, that had been
thrown into it when full. And the mosquitoes! She had been obliged to
put netting round all their beds; and what it would be like in summer
passed imagining.

From such reflections, in the weeks and months that followed, she had
nothing but work to distract her. The society airily promised her by
Richard failed to materialise. She received just three callers. And
only one of these--the Bank Manager's wife, a young thing, newly wed--
was worth considering. The stationmaster's. . . the stationmaster
himself was an educated man, with whom even Richard enjoyed a chat; but
he had married beneath him . . . a dressmaker, if report spoke true.
Mrs. Cameron, wife of the Clerk of the Court, had lived so long in
Barambogie that she had gone queer from it. Nor was it feasible to ask
the old couple over of an evening, for cards or music; for by then old
Cameron was so fuddled that he couldn't tell a knave from a king. The
parson was also an odd fish, and a widower without family; the
Presbyterian minister unmarried. The poor children had no playfellows,
no companions. Oh, not for herself, but for those who were more to her
than herself, Mary's heart, was often very hot and sore.

Nevertheless she put her shoulder to the wheel with all her old spirit;
rising betimes to bath and dress the children, cutting out and making
their clothes, superintending the washing and ironing, cooking the
meals; and, when Eliza passed and a young untrained servant took her
place, doing the lion's share towards keeping the house in the
spotless state Richard loved and her own sense of nicety demanded. But
the work told on her. And not alone because it was harder. In Hawthorn,
she had laboured to some end; Richard had had to be re-established,
connections formed, their own nice house tended. All of which had given
her mind an upward lift. Here, where no future beckoned, it seemed just
a matter of toiling for toil's sake. The consequence was, she tired
much more readily; her legs ached, her feet throbbed, and the crow's-feet
began to gather round her eyes. She was paying of course, she told
herself, for those long years of luxury and idleness, in which Richard
had been against her lifting a finger. And it was no easy thing to
buckle to again, now that she was "getting on," "going downhill": Mary
being come to within a twelve-month of her fortieth year.




Chapter VII



"Cousin Emmy, tell about little Jacky."

"Little Jacky what died."

"No, DON'T! Tell what the gumtrees talk."

Cuffy hated the tale of Baby Jacky's illness and death; for Cousin Emmy
always cried when she told it. And to see a grown-up person cry wasn't
proper.

The four of them were out for their morning walk, and sat resting on a
fallen tree.

"Well, dears, poor little Jacky was so often ill that God thought he
would be happier in heaven. His back teeth wouldn't come through; and
he was so feverish and restless that I had to carry him about most of
the night. The last time I walked him up and down he put his little
arms round my neck and said: 'Ting, Memmy!'--he couldn't say 'sing' or
'Emmy' properly, you know"--a detail which entranced the Dumplings,
who had endless difficulties with their own speech. "And those were the
very last words he said. In the middle of the night he took convulsions
-----"

"What ARE c'nvulshuns, Cousin Emmy?" The question came simultaneously,
none of the three being minded, often as they had heard the story, to
let the narrator skip this, the raciest bit of it.

"Why, poor darling, he shivered and shook, and squinted and rolled his
eyes, and went blue in the face, and his body got stiff, and he turned
up his eyes till you could only see the whites. And then he died, and
we dressed him in his best nightgown, and he lay there looking like a
big wax doll--with white flowers in his hands. And his little coffin
was lined with white satin, and trimmed with the most BEAUTIFUL lace. . ."
And here sure enough, at mention of her nursling's last costly bed,
Emmy began to cry. The three children, reddening, smiled funny little
embarrassed smiles and averted their eyes; only occasionally taking
a surreptitious peep to see what Cousin Emmy looked like when
she did it.

With the heel of his boot Cuffy hammered the ground. He knew something
else . . . about Cousin Emmy . . . something naughty. He'd heard Mamma
and Papa talking; and it was about running away and Aunt Lizzie being
most awfully furious. And then Cousin Emmy had come to stay with them.
He was glad she had; he liked her. Her hair was yellow, like wattle;
her mouth ever so red. And she told them stories. Mamma could only read
stories. And never had time.

To-day, however, there would be no more. For round a bend of the bush
track, by which they sat, came a figure which the children were growing
used to see appearing on their walks. It was the Reverend Mr. Angus. He
wore a long black coat that reached below his knees and a white tie. He
had a red curly beard and pink cheeks. (Just like a lady, thought
Cuffy.) At sight of the lovely girl in deep mourning, bathed in tears,
these grew still pinker. Advancing at a jogtrot, their owner seated
himself on the tree and took Emmy's hand in his.

The children were now supposed to "run away and play." The twins fell
to building a little house, with pieces of bark and stones; but Cuffy
determined to pick a BEEYUTIFUL nosegay, that Cousin Emmy would like
ever so much, and say "How pretty!" to, and "How kind of you, Cuffy!"
Mr. Angus had a face like a cow; and when he spoke he made hissing
noises through his teeth. The first time he heard them, Cuffy hadn't
been able to tear his eyes away, and had stood stockstill in front of
the minister till Cousin Emmy got quite cross. And Mr. Angus said, in
HIS opinion, little people should not only be seen and not heard, but
not even seen.

All right then! Whistling his loudest Cuffy sauntered off. He would be
good, and not go near any of the old, open shafts; quite specially not
the one where the old dead donkey had tumbled in and floated. You
weren't allowed to look down this hole, not even if somebody held your
hand . . . like Mr. Angus did Cousin Emmy's. (Why was he? She couldn't
fall off a LOG.) It had a nasty smell, too. Cousin Emmy said only to
think of it made her sick. And Mamma said they were to hold their noses
as they passed. Why was the donkey so nasty because it was
dead? What did a dead donkey DO?

But first he would pick the flowers. It wouldn't take long, there were
such lots of them. Papa said we must thank the rains for the flowers;
and it had rained every day for nearly a month. The Lagoon was quite
full, and the tank, too; which made Mamma glad.--And now Cuffy darted
about, tearing up bits of running postman, and pulling snatches of the
purple sarsaparilla that climbed the bushes and young trees, till he
had a tight, close bunch in his hot little hand. As he picked, he
sniffed the air, which smelt lovely ... like honey.... Cousin Emmy said
it was the wattle coming out. To feel it better he shut his eyes,
screwed them up to nothing, and kept them tight. And when he opened
them again, everything looked NEW . . . as if he'd never seen it before
. . . all the white trees, tall like poles, that went up and up to
where, right at the top, among whiskery branches, were bits of blue
that were the sky.

With the elastic of his big upturned sailor-hat between his teeth--
partly to keep it on; partly because he loved chewing things: elastic,
or string, or the fingers of kid gloves--Cuffy ran at top speed to the
donkey-hole. But a couple of yards from the shaft his courage all but
failed him. What was he going to see? And ooh! . . . it DID smell.
Laying his flowers on the ground, he went down on his hands and knees
and crawled forward till he could just peep over. And then, why, what a
sell! It wasn't a donkey at all--just water--and in it a great lump
that stuck out like a 'normous boiled pudding. . . oh, and a million,
no, two million and a half blowflies walking on it, and a smell like--
ooh, yes! just exactly like . . .

But before he could put a name to the odour, there was a great shouting
and cooee-ing, and it was him they were calling. . . and calling. In
his guilty fright Cuffy gave a jerk, and off went his hat with its
pulped elastic--went down, down, down, while the blowflies came up. He
just managed to wriggle a little way back, but was still on all fours
(squashing the flowers) when they found him, Mr. Angus panting and
puffing with tears on his forehead, Cousin Emmy pressing her hand to
her chest and saying, oh dear oh dear! Then Mr. Angus took him by the
shoulder and shook him. Little boys who ran away in the bush ALWAYS got
lost, and never saw their Mammas and Papas again. They had
nothing to eat and starved to death, and not till years afterwards were
their skeletons found, Cuffy, who knew quite well where he was, and
hadn't meant to run away, thought him very silly . . . and rude.

It was the loss of the hat that was the tragedy. This made ever so many
things go wrong, and ended with Cousin Emmy having to go back to live
with Aunt Lizzie again, and them getting a real PAID governess to teach
them.

Hatless, squeezed close up to Cousin Emmy to be under her parasol,
Cuffy was hurried through the township. "Or people will think your
Mamma is too poor to buy you a hat."

The children's hearts were heavy. It infected them with fear to see
Cousin Emmy so afraid, and to hear her keep saying: "What WILL Aunt
Mary say?"

Not only, it seemed, had the hat cost a lot of money--to get another
like it Mamma would have to send all the way to Melbourne. But it also
leaked out that not a word was to have been said about Mr. Angus
meeting them, and sitting on the log and talking.

"Why not? Is it naughty?"

"Of COURSE not, Cuffy! How can you be so silly! But----" But . . .
well, Aunt Mary would certainly be dreadfully cross with her for not
looking after him better. How COULD he be so dishonourable, the first
moment she wasn't watching, to go where he had been strictly forbidden
to . . . such a DIRTY place! . . . and where he might have fallen
head-foremost down the shaft and never been seen again.

Yes, it was a very crestfallen, guilt-laden little party that entered
the house.

Mamma came out of the dining-room, a needle in one hand, a long thread
of cotton in the other. And she saw at once what had happened, and
said: "Where's your hat?--LOST it? Your nice, new hat? How? Come in
here to me." The twins began to sniff, and then everything was up.

Yes, Mamma was very cross . . . and sorry, too; for poor Papa was
working his hardest to keep them nice, and then a careless little boy
just went and threw money into the street. But ever so much crosser
when she heard where the hat had gone: she scolded and scolded. And
then she put the question Cuffy dreaded most: "Pray, what were
you doing there . . . by yourself?" In vain he shuffled and
prevaricated, and told about the nosegay. Mamma just fixed her eyes on
him, and it was no good; Mr. Angus had to come out. And now it was
Cousin Emmy's turn. She went scarlet, but she answered Mamma back quite
a lot, and was angry, too; and only when Mamma said she wouldn't have
believed it of her, it was the behaviour of a common nursegirl, and she
would have to speak to her uncle about her--at that Cousin Emmy burst
out crying, and ran away and shut herself in her room.

Then Mamma went into the surgery to tell Papa. She shut the door, but
you could hear their voices through it; and merely the sound of them,
though he didn't know what they were saying, threw Cuffy into a
flutter. Retreating to the furthest corner of the verandah, he sat with
his elbows on his knees, the palms of his hands pressed against his
ears.

And while Emmy, face downwards on her pillow, wept: "I don't care . . .
let them fall down mines if they want to . . . he's very nice . . .
Aunt Mary isn't fair!" Mary was saying: "I did think she could be
trusted with the children--considering the care she took of Jacky."

"Other people's children, my dear--other people's children! He might
have been her own."

Mary was horrified. "Whatever you do, don't say a thing like that
before Cuffy! It would mean the most awkward questions. And surely WE
are not 'other people?' If Emmy can't look after her own little cousins
. . . . The child might have been killed, while she sat there flirting
and amusing herself."

"It's not likely to happen again."

"Oh, I don't know. When I tackled her with it, she got on the high
horse at once, and said it wasn't a very great crime to have a little
chat with somebody: life was so dull here, and so on."

"Well, I'm sure that's true enough."

"WHAT a weak spot you have for the girl! But that's not all. It didn't
take me long to discover she'd been trying to make the children deceive
me. They were to have held their tongues about this Angus meeting them
on their walks . . . . Cuffy went as near as he could to telling a fib
over it. Now you must see I can't have that sort of thing going
on . . . the children taught fibbing and deceiving!"

"No, that certainly wouldn't do."

"Then, imagine a girl of Emmy's birth and upbringing plotting to meet,
on the sly, a man we don't invite to the house! She'll be the talk of
the place. And what if she got herself into some entanglement or other
while she's under our care? John's eldest daughter and an insignificant
little dissenter, poor as a church mouse, and years older than she is!
THINK what Lizzie would say!"

"My dear, Lizzie's sentiments would be the same, and were it Croesus
and Adonis rolled into one."

"Well, yes, I suppose they would.--But Emmy is far too extravagant for
a poor man's wife. She changes her underclothing every day of the week.
You should hear Maria grumble at the washing! Besides, she's
everlastingly titivating, dressing her hair or something. She does none
of the jobs one expects from a nursery--governess. And if I venture to
find fault . . . I don't know, but she seems greatly changed. I think
first her father's death, and then Jacky's have thoroughly spoiled
her."

"Well! to have the two mortals you've set your heart on snatched from
you, one after the other, isn't it enough to dash the stoutest? . . . .
let alone an innocent young girl. Emmy has been through a great
spiritual experience, and one result of it might very well be to mature
her . . . turn her into a woman who feels her power. It will probably
be the same wherever she goes, with a face like hers. In her father's
house, she would of course have met more eligible men than we, in our
poor circumstances, can offer her. Still, my advice would be, such as
they are, ask 'em to the house. Let everything be open and aboveboard."

"What! invite that little Angus? Nonsense! It would only be encouraging
him. Besides, it's all very well for you to theorise; I have to look at
it from the practical side. And it surely isn't what one has a
governess for? . . . to smooth the way for her flirtations. I may as
well tell you everything. When she first came, I used to send her
running up to the station--if I needed stamps, or small change, or
things like that--Mr. Pendrell is always so obliging. But I had to
stop it. She took to staying away an unconscionable time, and
his wife must have got wind of it, she began to look so queerly at Emmy
and to drop hints. Most uncomfortable. And then you've surely noticed
how often old Thistlethwaite comes to see us now, compared with what he
used to, and how he sits and stares at Emmy. He looks at her far too
much, too, when he's preaching, and I've heard him pay her the most
outrageous compliments. A clergyman and a widower, and old enough to be
her GRANDfather! But Emmy just drinks it in. Now, mind you, if there
were any question of a decent match for her, I'd do what I could to
help . . . for I don't believe Lizzie will ever let her say how-do-you-do
to an eligible. But I CANNOT have her getting into mischief here--
why, even the baker tries to snatch a word with her when he delivers
the bread!--and being branded as forward, and a common flirt. No, the
truth is, she's just too pretty to be of the least practical use."

Mahony made no reply.

"Are you LISTENING, Richard? . . . to what I say?"

"Yes, I hear."

"I thought you were asleep. Well, perhaps you'll rouse yourself and
tell me what I ought to do."

"I suppose there's nothing for it: Emmy must go."

"And then?"

"Then?"

"I mean about the children. Who's to give them their lessons and their
music-lessons? . . . and take them out walking?"

"My dear, CAN you not teach them yourself for a bit?"

"No, Richard, I CANNOT! At the age they're at now, they need one
person's undivided attention. They've simply GOT to have a governess."

"Oh well! I suppose if you must you must . . . and that's all about
it."

The implication in these words exasperated Mary.

"If I must? I'm not asking anything for myself! You've never heard me
utter a word of complaint. But I can't do more than I am doing. Any one
but you would see it. But you're as blind as a bat!"

"Not so blind as you think, my dear. One thing I see is that you never
hesitate to load me up with a fresh expense."

"No, that's out-and-away unfair," cried Mary, thoroughly
roused. "I, who slave and toil . . . and when I'm not even convinced
that it's necessary, either. For you're always saying you're satisfied
with the practice, that the fees come in well and so on; and yet to get
anything out of you nowadays is like drawing blood from a stone. I
don't care a rap about myself; I'll put up with whatever you like; but
I can't and won't sit by and see my children degenerate. I think that
would break my heart. I shall fight for them to my last breath."

"Yes, for them. But for me, never a trace of understanding!"--And now
the quarrel began in earnest.

Cuffy, sitting hunched up on the verandah, squeezed his ears until they
sang.




Chapter VIII



The day began at six . . . with the pestilential screech of the
mill-whistle. This also started the children off. Birdlike sounds began to
issue from their room across the passage: there was no muting these
shrill, sweet trebles. And soon Miss Prestwick's thin voice made itself
heard, capped by Mary's magisterial tones, and the dashing and
splashing of bath-water, and small feet scampering, and Maria thudding
up and down, clattering her brooms.

There was no more chance of sleep. He, too, rose.

The water of the shower-bath was tepid and unrefreshing. It had also to
be sparingly used. Then came breakfast--with mushy butter, the pat
collapsing on its way from the cellar; with sticky flies crawling over
everything, a soiled cloth, the children's jabber, Miss Prestwick's
mincing airs, and Mary checking, apportioning, deciding. Mahony ate
hastily, and, there being here no morning paper or early post to engage
him, retired to the surgery. His cases written up, his visits for the
day arranged, he sat and waited, and listened. This was the time when a
walking-patient or two might call for treatment; and the footsteps of
any one nearing the house could be heard a long way off, crunching the
gravel of the path by the Lagoon, coming up the right-of-way. And as he
sat, idly twirling his thumbs, it became a matter of interest to
speculate whether approaching steps would halt at his door or move on
towards the railway station. In waiting, he could hear Cuffy's voice
proclaiming loudly and unnaturally: JER SUISE URN PETTY GARSONG, DE BUN
FIGOOR.

After a couple of false alarms there was a knock at the door; and Maria
introduced a working-man with a foreign body in his eye. A grain of
mortar extracted and the eye bathed, Mahony washed, stitched and
bandaged a child's gashed knee, and drew a tooth for a miner's wife.
Mary's aid was needed here, to hold the woman's hands. It was Mary,
too, who applied restoratives and helped to clean up the
patient. After which she brushed yesterday's dust from his wide-awake,
held a silk coat for him to slip his arms into and checked the contents
of his bag.

He set off on his morning round, following the path that ran alongside
the Lagoon. Here and there the shadow of a fir-tree fell across it,
and, though the season was but late spring, the shade was welcome.
Emerging from the Lagoon enclosure, he entered the single street that
formed the township of Barambogie. This was empty but for a couple of
buggies which stood outside a public-house, their hoods white with the
dust of innumerable bush journeys.

But the sound of his foot on the pavement, his shadow on the glass of
the shop-windows, made people dart to their doors to see who passed.
Huh! it was only "the new doctor"; and out of HIM nothing was to be got
. . . in the shape of a yarn, or a companionable drink.

One or two threw him a "Mornin'!" The rest contented themselves with a
nod. But all alike regarded his raised hat and courteous "Good day to
you!" "Good morning, sir!" with the colonial's inborn contempt for form
and ceremony. By the Lord Harry! slapdash was good enough for them.

On this particular day Mahony had three calls to make.

Arrived at the Anglican parsonage--a shabby brick cottage standing on
a piece of ground that had never been fenced in--he took up the
knocker, which, crudely repaired with a headless nail and a bit of
twine, straightway came off in his hand. He rapped with his knuckles,
and the Reverend Thistlethwaite, in nightshirt and trousers and with
bare feet, appeared from his back premises, where he had been feeding
fowls. Re-affixing the knocker with a skill born of long practice, he
opened the door of the parlour, into which there was just room to
squeeze. On the table, writing-materials elbowed the remains of a
mutton-chop breakfast. Blowflies crawled over the fatted plates.

An unsightly carbuncle lanced and dressed, the reverend gentleman--he
was a fleshy, red-faced man, of whom unkind rumour had it that there
were times when his tongue tripped over his own name--laid himself out
to detain his visitor. He was spoiling for a chat.

"Yes, yes, doctor, hard at work. . . hard at work!"--with an
airy wave of the hand at pens, ink and paper. "Must always have
something fresh, you know, of a Sunday morning, to tickle 'em up with.
Even the minor prophets are racked, I can assure you, in the search for
a rousing heading."

Mahony replaced lancet and lint in silence. It was common knowledge
that old Thistlethwaite had not written a fresh sermon for years; but
had used his stale ones again and again, some even said reading them
backwards, for the sake of variety. The implements littering the table
were set permanently out on view.

Insensitive to Mahony's attitude, he ran on. "Talking of rummy texts
now. . . did y'ever hear the story of the three curates, out to impress
the Bishop with their skill at squeezing juice from a dry orange, who,
each in turn, in the different places he visited on three successive
Sundays, held forth on the theme: 'Now Peter's wife's mother lay sick
of a fever'? You have? . . . capital, isn't it? But I'll warrant you
don't know the yarn of old Minchin and the cow. It was at Bootajup in
the Western District, and his first up-country cure; and Minch, who was
a townbird born and bred, was officiating for the first time at Harvest
Festival. The farmers had given liberally, the church was full, Minch
in the reading-desk with his back to a side door that had been left
open for coolness. All went well till in the middle of the Psalms, when
he saw the eyes of his congregation getting rounder and rounder. Old
Minch, who was propriety in person, thought his collar had come undone,
or that he'd shed a private button . . . ha, ha! Whereas, if you
please, it was a cow which had strayed to the door, and was being
agreeably attracted by the farm produce. Minch looked round just as the
animal walked in, lost his head, dropped his book and bolted; taking
the altar rails at a leap, with cassock and surplice bunched up round
him. Ha, ha! Capital . . . capital! It was Minchin, too, who was once
preaching from the text: 'And God shall wipe away all tears from their
eyes,' when he found himself forced to sneeze some dozen times running.
Ha, ha, ha! His own eyes poured tears--ran with water. Out it came:
a-tischoo, a-tischoo! The congregation rocked with laughter.--What? . . .
you must be toddling? Well, well! we know you doctors are
busy men. Hot?--call this hot? I wonder what you'll say to our
summers! Well, good day, doctor, good day!"

"'Except ye become as little children' . . . 'for of such is the
kingdom of heaven.' MY God! . . . then give me earth."

Striking off on a bush track Mahony trudged along, leaving a low trail
of dust in his wake. His goal was a poor outlying wooden shanty, to
treat a washerwoman's severely scalded leg and foot. The wound, some
days old, was open, dirty, offensive; the woman, who sat propped up
before her tubs, struggling to finish her week's work, loud-mouthed
with pain.

"She don't half holler'n screech if oner the kids knocks up against
it," volunteered a foxy-looking girl who stood by, sucking her thumb,
and watching, with an unholy interest, the sponging off of the foul
rags, the laying bare of the raw flesh.

Mahony's impatient "Why on earth didn't you send for me sooner?"
brought no coherent response; but his prescription of complete rest in
a horizontal position effectually loosed the sufferer's tongue. "Didn't
I know you'd be after orderin' me some such foolery? Who's to kape us?
I've no man. I'm a poor lone widder . . ."

"Apply to your priest for aid."

"The praste? A fat lot o' good that 'ud be--the great lazy louse! We
cud all starve afore HE'D lift a finger."

"Well, I've warned you, I can do no more." And cutting further
discussion short, Mahony put on his hat and walked out of the house.

As, however, the foxy child, thumb in mouth, lolloped after him, he
took a sovereign from his pocket. "Here, my girl, here's something to
tide you over. Now see that your mother lies up. You're old enough to
lend a hand."

But before he had gone a hundred yards he turned on his heel, recalling
the low, cunning look that had leapt into the girl's eyes at sight of
the gold piece. "Fool that I am! . . . the mother will never see it."

Caught in the act of secreting the coin in her stocking, the girl went
livid with fury. "What d'you mean? D'you think I was goin' to pinch it?
Ma! . . . d'you hear, Ma? . . . what he says? Ma! he's callin' me a
thief."

"A thief, indeed! My child a thief?--And you, you pesky young
devil, you hand that chip over or I'll wring your neck!"

Thence to the shop of Ah Sing, the Chinese butcher, where a rachitic
infant lay cramped with the colic. Mahony looked with pity on the
little half-breed, slit of eye and yellow of skin, and was very short
with the mother, a monstrously fat woman who stood, her arms a-kimbo,
answering his questions with an air of sulky defiance. No she didn't
know, not she, what had caused the colic: she'd done 'nothing. But here
espying an empty tin dish that had been thrust under the bed, Mahony
picked it up and sniffed it. "Ha! here we have it. What filthy messes
has your husband been feeding the child on now? Haven't I told you her
stomach will not stand them?"

"Mrs. Ah Sing" bit back the abusive rejoinders that were given to
escaping her at any reference to her child's mixed origin: "Doctor's"
were Sing's best customers. But the visit over, she flounced into the
shop and, seizing a knife, let loose her spleen in hacking down some
chops, while she vociferated for all to hear: "Filthy mess, indeed . . .
I'll mess him! Let him look to his own kids, say I! That boy brat of
his is as white as a sheet and thin as a lizard.--Here, you Sing,
weigh this and look sharp about it, you crawling slug, you!"

"Malia! me give lil baby powder--you no sendee more for doctorman,
Malia!" said the soft-voiced, gentle Chinaman who owned her.

"Oh, hell take the kid!--and you along with it," gave back Maria.

On the way home Mahony overtook his children and the governess,
returning from their morning walk. The twins' short fag legs were
weary. Entrusting his bag to Cuffy, who forthwith became "the doctor,"
bowing graciously to imaginary patients, and only waggling the bag just
the least little bit to hear the things inside it rattle, their father
took his little girls by the hand. Poor mites! They were losing their
roses already. Somehow or other he must make it possible to send them
away when the real hot weather came. This was no place for children in
summer; he heard it on every side. And his, reared to sea-breezes,
would find it doubly hard to acclimatise themselves. Stung by these
reflections he unthinkingly quickened his pace, and strode
ahead, a gaunt figure, dragging a small child at a trot on either hand.
Miss Prestwick gave up the chase.

Dinner over, out he had to turn again. Back to the main street and the
hotel, where a buggy should have been in waiting. It was not. He had to
stand about in the sun while the vehicle was dragged out, the horse
fetched, harnessed, and backed between the shafts. A strap broke in the
buckling; the ostler, whistling between his teeth, leisurely repaired
the damage with a bit of string.

Stiffly Mahony jerked himself up into the high vehicle and took the
reins. He had a ten-mile drive before him, over the worst possible
roads; it would be all he could do to reach home by dark. The horse,
too, was unfresh. In vain he urged and cajoled; the animal's pace
remained a dilatory amble. And the heat seemed to accumulate under the
close black hood, which weighed on his shoulders like a giant hat. Yet,
if he alighted to slip a rail, it was so much hotter outside that he
was glad to clamber back beneath its covering. Still he did not
complain. These bush visits were what brought the shekels in: not the
tinkering with rachitic infants or impecunious Irish, whom, as this
morning, he sometimes paid for the privilege of attending. (Ha, ha! . . .
capital! . . . as that fool Thistlethwaite would have said.) And to-day
promised to be more than ordinarily remunerative; for he had
another long drive before him that evening, in an opposite direction.
He could count on clearing a ten-pound note.

But when, towards six o'clock, he reached home, the summons he was
expecting had not come. There was time for a bath, a change, a rest;
and still the trap that should have fetched him had not appeared. He
began to grow fidgety. The case was one of diphtheria. On the previous
day he had given relief by opening the windpipe; it was essential for
him to know the result of the operation. What could the people be
thinking of? Or had the child died in the meantime . . . the membrane
spread downwards, causing obstruction below the tube? "Surely in common
decency they would have let me know?"

He wandered from room to room, nervously snapping his fingers. Or sat
down and beat a tattoo on chair-arm or table, only to spring up at an
imaginary sound of wheels.

Mary dissuaded him from hiring a buggy and driving out to see
what had happened. She also pooh-poohed his idea of an accident to the
messenger. The father, a vinegrower, had several men and more than one
horse and buggy at his disposal. The likelihood was, he would have come
himself, had the child been worse. UNLESS, of course . . . well! it
wasn't death SHE thought of. But the township of Mittagunga was not
much farther than Barambogie from the patient's home; and there was
another doctor at Mittagunga. She did not speak this thought aloud; but
it haunted her; and, as the evening wore eventlessly away, the question
escaped her in spite of herself: "Can you have offended them? . . . in
any way?"

"OFFENDED them? I?--Well, if it's offensive to leave one's bed in the
middle of the night for an eight-mile drive on these abominable roads,
to perform a ticklish operation!" And very bitterly: "What
extraordinary ideas you do have, Mary! What on earth do you mean now?"

But Mary, repenting her slip, was not prepared to stir up the heated
discussion that would inevitably follow.

She went into the dining-room and sat down to her sewing; while he fell
to pacing the verandah. But though she, too, never ceased to keep her
ears pricked for the noise of wheels, no sound was to be heard but that
of Richard's feet tramping to and fro ("HOW tired he will be to-morrow!")
and the peevish whine of a little nightwind round the corners
of the house. Sorry as she felt for him, she did not again try to
reason with him or console him. For when in one of his really black
moods, he seemed to retire where words could not get at him. And these
moods were growing on him. Nowadays, any small mishap sufficed to throw
him into a state of excitement, the aftermath of which was bottomless
depression. How would it all end?--Letting her work fall, Mary put her
chin in her hand, and sat staring into the flame of the kerosene lamp.
But she did not see it. She seemed to be looking through the light at
something that lay beyond . . . something on the farther side, not only
of the flame, but of all she had hitherto known of life; to be looking,
in visionary fashion, out towards those shadowy to-morrows, for the
first of which Richard was so surely incapacitating himself. . . an
endless line of days, that would come marching upon her, with
never a break, never a respite, each fuller of anxiety than the one
that went before.

Till, with a shiver, she resolutely shook herself free. "Tch! . . . it
comes of listening to that silly, dismal wind."

Yet when, on the clock striking eleven, she stepped out on the
verandah, her first words were: "Oh, what a lovely night!"

For the little wind whistled and piped out of a clear sky; and the
moon, at full, drenched the earth with its radiance. Before the house
the Lagoon lay like a sheet of beaten silver. Trees and bushes, jet-black
on one side, were white as if with hoar frost on the other. The
distant hills ran together with the sky in a silver haze. All was peace
. . . except for the thudding of Richard's feet.

"My dear, I'm sure it's no use waiting up any longer. They won't come
now. Do go to bed."

"I'm too worried. I couldn't sleep."

"But at least it would rest you. As it is, you're wearing yourself
out."

"Very easy for you to talk! But if anything should happen . . . the
responsibility . . . my practice here--I can't afford it, Mary, and
that's the truth . . . not yet."

There was nothing to be done. With a sigh that was like a little prayer
for patience, Mary turned away.




Chapter IX



The postman handed in a letter with a mourning border fully an inch
wide: there was barely room for name and address, which were squeezed
in anyhow. It was from Mr. Henry; and opening it in some trepidation
Mary read the sad news of Agnes's death. Mr. Henry was kind enough to
give her full particulars. Agnes had, it seemed, stood the voyage out
well. But on landing at the Cape she had met with an accident; had
caught her foot in a rope and fallen heavily; and the shock had brought
on an apoplexy from which she never rallied. Mr. Henry wrote as one
bereft of all he held dear; as the fond father whose pious duty it
would henceforth be, to fill a mother's place to his orphaned children.
In reading the letter aloud, Mary swallowed hard; then veiled her
discomfort with an apologetic: "Oh well, you know. . . poor man, . . .
I daresay----" by which she meant to imply that, with death's entry
on the scene, the realities were apt to get overlaid. Mr. Henry saw
himself and his situation, not as they were, but as he would have
wished them to be.

Richard, of course, sniffed at Ocock's layman-ish account of his wife's
end. And he was right. For Tilly's gloss on the affair ran: PURD HEARD
FROM A MAN WHO WAS ON BOARD THE SAME SHIP. IT'S TRUE SHE DID TRIP OVER
A ROPE AND COME A CROPPER (AND NOT THE FIRST TIME NEITHER, AS WE KNOW)
AND THIS BROUGHT ON A VIOLENT ATTACK OF D.T.'S WHICH CARRIED HER OFF:
HENRY HASN'T LOOKED THE SAME MAN SINCE. HIS RELIEF IS IMMENSE--SIMPLY
IMMENSE.

But Mary's faithful stubborn heart rebelled. For Agnes's own sake, her
death was perhaps, pitifully enough, the best solution. But that, of
all who had known her, none should mourn her passing; that even among
her nearest it should stir only a sense of good riddance and relief:
the tragedy of such a finish moved Mary to the depths. Tenderly she
laid away the keepsake Mr. Henry sent her for remembrance: a large
cameo-brooch, at the back of which, under glass, was twined a golden
curl, cut from the head of the little child whose untimely end
had cost Agnes her bitterest tears.

A day or two later there came into her possession a still more pathetic
memento: a letter from the dead, which had to be opened and read though
the hand that wrote it was lying cold at the bottom of a grave. It had
been found by Mr. Henry amongst his wife's belongings--found sealed
and addressed but never posted--a blotted and scrawled production and
more than a little confused, but full of love and kindness; though
written with the firm conviction that they would never meet again. Poor
thing, poor thing! And having read, Mary hid it away at the back of a
drawer, where no eyes but her own would ever see it. She could not have
borne Richard's sarcastic comments on Agnes's poor spelling and poorer
penmanship.

But there was nothing new in this secretiveness: she was falling more
and more into the way of keeping Richard in the dark. A smash of china
by the clumsy servant; Miss Prestwick's airs and insufficiencies; the
exorbitant price of the children's new boots; disturbing gossip
retailed by the girl: of vexations such as these, which were her daily
portion, he heard not a word. It left her, of course, much freer to
deal with things. But it also spared him the exhaustion of many a
towering rage (under the influence of which he was quite capable of
writing to the bootmaker and calling him a thief); saved him, too, from
going off into one of his fits of depression when he imagined the whole
world in league against him. The real truth was, he hadn't enough to
occupy him; and not a soul to speak to . . . except his dreadful
patients. Nor did he ever write or receive a letter. In coming here he
seemed to have had but one desire: to forget and be forgotten.

She it was who sat up at night, spinning out the letters necessary to
make people remember you. And it fell to her to write the note of
welcome when Baron von Krause, the well-known botanist, proposed to
break his journey from Sydney to Melbourne, solely to pay them a visit.
--Though putting up a visitor nowadays meant considerable
inconvenience: they had to turn out of their own room, she going in
with the children, Richard making shift with the dining-room sofa.
Still, in this case she thought the upset worth while: for Richard's
sake. He had been as friendly with the Baron as it was in his
nature to be with anybody; and the latter had once spoken to her, in
warm terms, of Richard's intimate knowledge of the native flora, and
lamented the fact that he should not have found time to systematise his
studies.

The next morning, while Richard was out, she climbed the step-ladder
and unearthed the glass cases that contained his collections of plants,
minerals and butterflies: for the first time on moving into a new
house, he had not set them up in his room. But she wasn't going to let
people think that, because he had come to live up-country, he was
therefore running to seed. And having dusted and rubbed and polished,
she ranged the cases along the walls of the passage and on the dining-room
sideboard. To the delight of the children.

But she might have spared her pains. As far as Richard was concerned,
the visit was a failure.

Baron von Krause arrived during the forenoon. Richard was on his
rounds, and did not reach home till they were half through dinner. And
then he tried to get out of coming to table! Going in search of him on
his non-appearance, she found him sunk in his armchair, from which he
vowed he was too tired to stir . . . let alone exert himself to
entertain strangers.

"Strangers? There's only him! And he's just as nice as he always was.
We're getting on capitally. The children, too."

The Baron was a short, sturdy little man, bronzed brown with the sun--
beside him Richard, who never tanned, looked almost transparent--dark
of hair and beard, and with a pair of kindly blue eyes that beamed at
you from behind large gold spectacles. Veteran colonist though he was,
he still spoke a jargon all his own, coupled with a thick, foreign
accent. He also expressed himself with extreme deliberation, using odd,
archaic words ("Like the Bible," thought Cuffy); and, could he not at
once find the word he sought, he paused in what he was saying and
scoured his mind till he had captured it. This, added to the fact that
he did things at table that were strictly forbidden them, made him an
object of enormous interest to the children; and three pairs of eyes
hung entranced on him as he ate and spoke, to the detriment of their
owners' own table-manners. In waiting, too, for him to be delivered of
a word, three little faces went pink with a mixture of embarrassment
and anticipation. In vain did Mary privately frown and shake her head.
A knifeful of peas, "meLANcholy" for melancholy, and all three were agog
again. It was a real drawback, at a time like this, to have such NOTICING
children.

But with their father's entry a change came over their behaviour. Cuffy
kept his eyes fixed on his plate and minded what he was doing, and
Lallie and Lucie faithfully followed suit. The fun was at an end. For
it wasn't at all the same when Papa forgot, in the middle of a
sentence, what he was going to say (because Mamma interrupted him with
a potato) and tried and tried his hardest to remember and couldn't, and
got very cross with himself. Mamma thought it was funny though, for she
laughed and said she believed he'd forget his head if it weren't
screwed on; and then she told a story about Papa nearly going out
without his collar, and how she had rushed after him and saved him . . .
which made Papa cross with her as well.

It was too hot to go walking. And after dinner, Mahony having been
called back to the surgery, the Baron strayed to the drawing-room,
opened the piano, and put his hairy, knuckly hands on the keys. Mary
thought this an excellent chance to slip away and "see to things"; but
Richard, the patient gone, first set his door ajar, then came along the
passage and sat down in an armchair by the drawing-room window. Cuffy,
at ball on the verandah, also crept in and took up his position close
to the piano, leaning against it and staring fixedly at the player--
listening, that is to say, after the fashion of children, as much with
the eyes as with the ears (as if only by keeping the maker of the
sounds in view can they grasp the sounds themselves)--the while he
continued mechanically to tip his ball from hand to hand.

The Baron was playing something hard and ugly . . . like five-finger
exercises but with more notes, oh! LOTS of notes in it . . . and to and
fro went the ball, to and fro. This lasted a long time, and the Baron
was hot when he'd finished, and had to wipe his neck and clean his
glasses. Then he did some more; and this time it was prettier, with a
tune to it, and it danced in little squirts up the piano; and Cuffy was
obliged to smile . . . he didn't know why, his mouth just smiled by
itself. He also left off fiddling with the ball. By now the Baron had
become aware of his small listener. Musician-wise had noted,
too, the child's instinctive response to the tripping scherzo. Pausing,
he peered at Cuffy through his large round spectacles; and before
putting his fingers in place for the third piece, leant over and patted
the boy's cheek, murmuring as he did: "Let us see then . . . yes, let
us see!" To Cuffy he said: "Hearken now, my little one . . . hearken
well to this. Here I shall give you food for the heart as well as for
the head."--And then he began to play music that was quite, quite
different to that before . . . and wasn't LIKE music any more. It
whispered in the bass, and while it whispered it growled; but the
treble didn't growl: it cried.

And now something funny happened to Cuffy. He began to feel as if he'd
like to run away; he didn't WANT to listen . . . and his heart started
to beat fast. Like if he HAD run. The Baron 'd said he was playing to
it . . . perhaps that was why . . . for it seemed to be getting bigger
. . . till it was almost too tight for his chest. Letting his ball fall,
he pressed his fists close to where he thought his heart must be.
Something hurt him in there . . . he didn't LIKE this music, he wanted
to call out to it to stop. But the piano didn't care: it went on and
on, and though it tried once to be different, it always came back and
did the same thing over again . . . a dreadful thing . . . oh!
something WOULD burst in him if it didn't leave off . . . he felt all
swollen . . . yes, he was going to burst. . . .

Then, without so much as taking his fingers off the keys, the Baron
began to make a lot of little notes that sounded just like a wind, and
throwing back his head and opening his mouth wide, he sang funny things
. . . in ever such a funny voice.

UBER'M GARTEN DURCH DIE LUFTE
HORT' ICH WANDERVOGEL ZIEH'N,
DAS BEDEUTET FRUHLINGSDUFTE,
UNTEN FANGT'S SCHON AN ZU BLUH'N!

The relief, the ecstatic relief that surged through Cuffy at these
lovely sounds, was too much for him. His eyes ran over and tears ran
down his cheeks; nor could he help it, or stop them, when he found what
they were doing.

Mamma--she had come back--made ever such big eyes at him.

"CUFFY! What on earth . . . Is THIS how you say thank-you for
the pretty music?" (If only he was not going off before a visitor into
one of his tantrums!)

"Nay, chide him not!" said the Baron, and smiled as he spoke: a very
peculiar smile indeed, to Mary's way of thinking. And then he took no
more notice of her, but bent over Cuffy and asked, in quite a POLITE
voice: "Will you that I play you again, my little one?"

"No . . . NO!" As rude as the Baron was polite, Cuffy gave a great gulp
and bolted from the room to the bottom of the garden; where he hid
among the raspberry-bushes. He didn't know what the matter was; but he
felt all sore; humiliated beyond the telling.

When he went back, aggressively sheepish and ashamed, Papa had gone.
But Mamma and the Baron were talking, and he heard Mamma say: ". . .
without the least difficulty . . . ever since he was a tiny tot.--Oh,
here we are, are we?--Now, Baron, he shall play to you."

Something turned over in Cuffy at these words. "NO! I won't!"

But Mamma threw him a look which he knew better than to disobey.
Besides, she already had his music-book on the rack, the stool screwed
up, and herself stood behind it to turn the pages. Ungraciously Cuffy
climbed to the slippery leather top, from which his short legs dangled.
Very well then if he must play, he must, he didn't care; but he
wouldn't look at his notes, or listen to what he did. Instead, he'd
count how many flies he could see in front of him, on the wall and the
ceiling. One. . . two. . .

The piece--it dated from Mary's own schooldays--at an end, his mother
waited in vain for the customary panegyric.

But the Baron merely said: "H'm," and again: "H'm!" Adding as a kind of
afterthought: "Habile little fingers."

When he turned to Cuffy, however, it was with quite a different voice.
"Well, and how many were then the flies on the PLAFOND my little one?"

Colouring to his hair-roots (NOW he was going to catch it!) Cuffy just
managed to stammer out: "Twelve blowflies and seventeen little flies."

But the Baron only threw back his head and laughed, and
laughed. "Ha-ha, ha-ha! Twelve big and seventeen little! That is
good . . . that is very good!" To add mysteriously: "Surely this, too, is
a sign . . . this capacity for to escape!--But now come hither, my son,
and let us play the little game. The bad little boy who counts the
flies, so long he plays the bad piece, shall stand so, with his face to
the wall. I strike the notes--SO!--and he is telling me their names--
if Mr. G or Mrs. A--yes? List now, if you can hear what is this."

"Huh, that's easy! That's C."

"And this fellow, so grey he?"

"A-E-B." Cuffy liked this: it was fun.

"And now how many I strike? D, F . . . right! B, D sharp . . . good!
And here this--an ugly one, this fellow! He agree not with his
neighbour."

"That's two together . . . close, I mean. G and A."

"ACH, HIMMEL!" cried the Baron. "The ear, it, too, is perfect." And
swiftly crossing the room, he took Cuffy's face in his hands and turned
it up. For a moment he stood looking down at it; and his brown, bearded
face was very solemn. Then, stooping, he kissed the boy on the
forehead. "May the good God bless you, my child, and prosper His most
precious gift!"--And this, just when Cuffy (after the fly episode) had
begun to think him rather a nice old man!

Then he was free to run away and play; which he did with all his might.
But later in the afternoon when it was cool enough to go walking, it
was Cuffy the Baron invited to accompany him. "Nay, we leave the little
sisters at home with the good Mamma, and make the promenade alone, just
we both!"

Cuffy remembered the flies, forgave the kiss, and off they set. They
walked a long way into the bush, further than they were allowed to go
with Miss Prestwick; and the Baron told him about the trees and poked
among the scrub, and used a spyglass like Papa, and showed him things
through it. It WAS fun.

Then they sat down on a log to rest. And while they were there, the
Baron suddenly picked up his right hand and looked at it, as if it was
funny, and turned it over to the back, and stretched out the fingers
and felt the tips, and where the thumb joined on. And when he had done
this he didn't let it go, but kept hold of it; and putting his other
hand on Cuffy's shoulder said: "And now say, my little man, say
me why you did weep when I have played?"

Cuffy, all boy again, blushed furiously. He didn't like having his hand
held either. So he only looked away, and kicked his heels against the
tree so hard they hurt him. "I dunno."

Mamma would have said: "Oh, yes, you do." But the Baron wasn't cross.
He just gave the hand a little squeeze, and then he began to talk, and
he talked and talked. It lasted so long that it was like being in
church, and was very dull, all about things Cuffy didn't know. So he
hardly listened. He was chiefly intent on politely wriggling his hand
free.

But the Baron looked so nice and kind, even when he'd done this, that
he plucked up courage to ask something he wanted very much to know;
once before when he had tried it everybody had laughed at him, and made
fun.

"What does music SAY?"

But the Baron wasn't like that. He looked as solemn as church again,
and nodded his head. "Aha! It commences to stir itself . . . the inward
apperception. The music, it says what is in the heart, my little one,
to each interprets the OWN heart. That is, as you must comprehend, if
the one who is making it is the GENIE, and has what in his own heart to
say. That bad piece you have played me have said nothing--nothing at
all . . . oh, how wise, how wise to count the little flies! But that
what you have flowed tears for, my child, that were the sufferings of a
so unhappy man--the fears that are coming by night to devour the peace
--oh, I will not say them to one so tender! . . . but these, so great
were they, so unhappy he, that at the last his brain has burst" (There!
he KNEW he had been going to burst) "and he have become mad. But then,
see, at once I have given you the consolation. I have sung you of the
nightingale, and moonshine, and first love . . . all, all of which the
youth is full. Our dear madman he has that made, too. His name was
Schumann. Mark that, my little one . . . mark it well!"

"Shooh man.--What's mad?"

"ACH! break not the little head over such as this. Have no care. The
knowledge will soon enough come of pain and suffering."

Cuffy's legs were getting VERY tired with sitting still.
Sliding down from the log, he jumped and danced, feeling now somehow
all glad inside. "I will say music, too, when I am big."

"JA JA! but so easy is it not to shake the music out of the sleeve. Man
must study hard. It belongs a whole lifetime thereto. . . and much,
much courage. But this I will tell you, my little ambitious one! Here
is lying"--and the Baron waved his arm all round him--"a great, new
music hid. He who makes it, he will put into it the thousand feelings
awoken in him by this emptiness and space, this desolation; with always
the serene blue heaven above, and these pale, sad, so grotesque trees
that weep and rave. He puts the golden wattle in it when it blooms and
reeks, and this melancholy bush, oh, so old, so old, and this silence
as of death that nothing stirs. No birdleins will sing in his Musik.
But will you be that one, my son, you must first have given up all else
for it . . . all the joys and pleasures that make the life glad. These
will be for the others not for you, my dear . . . you must only go
wizout. . . renounce . . . look on.--But come, let us now home, and I
will speak . . . yes, I shall speak of it to the good Mamma and Papa!"

"Preposterous, I call it!" said Mary warmly and threw the letter on the
table. The Baron's departure was three days old by now, and the letter
she had just read was written in his hand. "Only a man could propose
such a thing. Why don't you say something, Richard? Surely you
don't . . ."

"No, I can see it's out of the question."

"I should think so! At HIS age! . . . why, he's a mere baby. How the
Baron could think for a moment we should let a tot like that leave home
. . . to live among strangers--with these Hermanns or Germans or
whatever he calls them--why, it's almost too silly to discuss. As for
his offer to defray all expenses out of his own pocket . . . no doubt
he means it well . . . but it strikes me as very tactless. Does he
think we can't afford to pay for our own children?"

"I'll warrant such an idea never entered his head. My dear, you don't
understand."

"It's you I don't understand. As a rule you flare up at the mere
mention of money. Yet you take this quite calmly."

"Good Lord, Mary! the man means it for a compliment. He not
only took a liking to the boy, but he's a connoisseur in music, a
thoroughly competent judge. Surely it ought to flatter you, my dear, to
hear his high opinion of our child's gift."

"I don't need an outsider to tell me that. If any one knows Cuffy is
clever it's me. I ought to: I've done everything for him."

"This has nothing to do with cleverness."

"Why not? What else is it?"

"It's music, my dear!" cried Mahony, waxing impatient. "Music, and the
musical faculty . . . ear, instinct, inborn receptivity."

"WELL?"

"Good God, Mary! . . . it sometimes seems as if we spoke a different
language. The fact of the matter is, you haven't a note of music in
you."

Mary was deeply hurt. "I, who have taught the child everything he
knows? He wouldn't even be able to read his notes yet, if it had been
left to you. Haven't I stood over him, and drummed things into him, and
kept him at the piano? And all the thanks I get for it is to hear that
I'm not capable of judging . . . haven't a note of music in me! The
truth is, I'm good enough to work and slave to make ends meet. But when
it comes to anything else, anything CLEVERER . . . then the first
outsider knows better than I do. Thank God, I've still got my children.
They at least look up to me. And that brings me back to where I
started. I've got them, and I mean to keep them. Nothing shall part me
from them. If Cuffy goes, I go too!"

On the verandah the three in question played a game of their own
devising. They poked at each other round a corner of the house, with
sticks for swords, advancing and retreating to the cry of "Shooh, man!"
from the army of the twins, to which Cuffy made vigorous response:
"Shooh, woman!"

And this phrase, which remained in use long after its origin was
forgotten, was the sole trace left on Cuffy's life by the Baron's
visit.




Chapter X



The almond-trees that grew in a clump at the bottom of the garden had
shed their pink blossom and begun to form fruit. At first, did you
slily bite one of the funny long green things in two, you came to a
messy jelly . . . bah! it WAS nasty . . . you spat it out again as
quick as you could. But a little later, though you could still get your
teeth through the green shell, which was hairy on your tongue and
sourer than ever, you found a delicious white slippery kernel inside.
Cuffy made this discovery one afternoon when Mamma had gone to the Bank
to tea, and Miss Prestwick was busy writing letters. He ate freely of
the delicacy; and his twin shadows demanded to eat, too. Their milk
teeth being waggly, he bit the green casing through for them; and they
fished out the kernels for themselves.

That night, there were loud cries for Mamma. Hurrying to them, candle
in hand, Mary found the children pale and distressed, their little
bodies cramped with grinding, colicky pains. Green almonds?--"Oh, you
naughty, NAUGHTY children! Haven't I told you never to touch them?
Where was Miss Prestwick?--There! I've always said it: she isn't FIT
to have charge of them. I shall pack her off in the morning."

Followed a time of much pain and discomfort for the almond-eaters; of
worry and trouble for Mary, who for several nights was up and down. All
three paid dearly for their indulgence; but recovery was not in order
of merit. Cuffy, who had enjoyed the lion's share, was the first to
improve: remarkable, agreed Richard, the power of recuperation
possessed by this thin, pale child. The twins, for all their
sturdiness, were harder to bring round.

But at last they, too, were on their feet again, looking very white and
pulled down, it was true; still, there they were, able to trot about;
and their father celebrated the occasion by taking the trio for a walk
by the Lagoon. The world was a new place to the little prisoners. They
paused at every step to wonder and exclaim.

What happened no one knew. At the time it seemed to Mary that,
for a first walk, Richard was keeping them out too long. However she
said nothing; for they came back in good spirits, ate their supper of
bread and milk with appetite, and went cheerily to bed.

Then, shortly after midnight, Lallie roused the house with shrill
cries. Running to her, Mary found the child doubled up with pain and
wet with perspiration. By morning she was as ill as before. There was
nothing for it but to buckle down to a fresh bout of nursing.

Of the two lovely little blue-eyed, fair-haired girls, who were the joy
of their parents' lives as Cuffy was the pride: of these, Mahony's
early whimsy that a single soul had been parcelled out between two
bodies still held good. Not an act in their six short years but had,
till now, been a joint one. Hand in hand, cheek to cheek, they faced
their tiny experiences, turning to each other to share a titbit, a
secret, a smile. But if, in such oneness, there could be talk of a
leader, then it was Lallie who led. A quarter of an hour older, a
fraction of an inch taller, half a pound heavier, she had always been a
thought bolder than her sister, a hint quicker to take the proffered
lollipop, to speak out her baby thoughts. Just as Cuffy was their
common model, so Lucie patterned herself on Lallie; and, without
Lallie, was only half herself; even a temporary separation proving as
rude a wrench as though they had been born with a fleshly bond.--And
it was a real trial, in the days that followed, to hear the bereft
Lucie's plaintive wail: "Where's Lallie? I want Lallie . . . I want
Lallie." "Surely, Cuffy, you can manage to keep her amused? Play with
her, dear. Let her do just as she likes," said Mary--with a contorted
face, in the act of wringing a flannel binder out of all but boiling
water.

She spoke briskly; was cheerful, and of good heart. For, in the
beginning, no suspicion of anything being seriously amiss crossed her
mind. It was just a relapse, and as such needed carefullest nursing and
attention. In the course of the fifth day, however, one or two little
things that happened stirred a vague uneasiness in her. Or rather she
saw afterwards that this had been so: at the moment she had let the
uncomfortable impressions escape her with all speed. It struck her that
the child's progress was very slow. Also she noticed that
Richard tried another remedy. However, this change seemed to the good;
towards evening Lallie fell into a refreshing sleep. But when next
morning after a broken night she drew up the blind, something in the
child's aspect brought back, with a rush and intensified, her hazy
disquiets of the previous day. Lallie was oddly dull. She would not
open her eyes properly or answer when spoken to; and she turned her
face from the cooling drink that was held to her lips.

"She doesn't seem so well this morning."

Mary's voice was steady as she uttered these words--this commonplace
of the sickroom. But even as she spoke, she became aware of the cold
fear that was laying itself round her heart. It seemed to sink, to grow
strangely leaden, as she watched Richard make the necessary examination
. . . ever so gently . . . she had never really known how tender his
hands were, till she saw them used on the shrinking body of his own
child.--"Papa's darling . . . Papa's good little girl."--But the
sheet drawn up again he avoided meeting her eyes. As if that would help
him! She who could read his face as if it were a book . . . how did he
hope to deceive HER?--and where one of her own babies was concerned.

"Richard, what is it? Do you . . ."

"Now, my dear, don't get alarmed. There's bound to be a certain amount
of prostration. . . till the dysentery is checked. I shall try ipecac."

But neither ipecacuanha nor yet a compound mixture--administered in
the small doses suited to so young a patient--had any effect. The
inflammation persisted, racking the child with pain, steadily draining
her of strength. It was a poor limp little sweat-drenched body, with
loosely bobbing head, that Mary, had she to lift it, held in her arms.
Throughout this day too, the sixth, she was forced to listen, sitting
helplessly by, to a sound that was half a wail and half a moan of utter
lassitude. And towards evening a more distressing symptom set in, in
the shape of a convulsive retching. On her knees beside the bed, her
right arm beneath Lallie's shoulders, Mary suffered, in her own vitals,
the struggle that contorted the little body prior to the fit of
sickness. Hers, too, the heartrending task of trying to still the
child's terror--the frightened eyes, the arms imploringly
outheld, the cries of "Mamma, Mamma!" to the person who had never yet
failed to help--as the spasms began anew.

"It's ALL right, my darling, my precious! Mamma's here--here, close
beside you. There, there! It'll soon be better now."--And so it went
on for the greater part of the night.

In the intervals between the attacks when the exhausted child dozed
heavily, Mary, not venturing to move from her knees, laid her face down
on the bed, and wrestled with the One she held responsible. "Oh, God,
be merciful! She's such a little child, God! . . . to have to suffer
so. Oh, spare her! . . . spare my baby."

By morning light she was horrified to find that the little tongue had
turned brown. The shock of this discovery was so great that it drove
over her lips a thought that had come to her in the night . . . had
haunted her . . . only to be thrust back into the limbo where it
belonged. What if Richard. . . if perhaps some new remedy had been
invented since last he was in practice, which he didn't know of?--he
had been out of the way of things so long.

Now, a wild fear for her child's life drowned all lesser
considerations. "What . . . what about getting a second opinion?"

Mahony looked sadly at her and laid his hand on her shoulder. "Mary. . .
dear wife--" he began; then broke off: too well he knew the agonies
of self-reproach that might await her. "Yes, you're right. I tell you
what I'll do. I'll run up to the station and get Pendrell to telegraph
to Oakworth. There's a man there . . . I happen to know his name."

Never a moment's hesitation over the expense it would put him to: never
a sign of hurt at the doubt cast on his own skill. From where she sat,
Mary watched him go: he took a short-cut up the back yard, past kitchen
and henhouse. Oh! but he had no hat on . . . had gone out without one
. . . had FORGOTTEN to put his hat on--he who was so afraid of the sun!
As she grasped what the omission meant, at the lightning-flash it gave
her into his own state of mind, she clenched her hands till her nails
cut her palms.

At earliest the doctor could not arrive before five o'clock. All
through the long hours of that long, hot day, she sat and waited
for his coming: pinning her faith to it--as one who is
whirling down a precipitous slope snatches at any frail root or blade
of grass that offers to his hand. Something--some miracle would . . .
MUST . . . happen--to save her child. She was quite alone. Richard had
to attend his patients, and in the afternoon to drive into the bush:
other people could not be put off, or neglected, because his own child
lay ill. The wife of the Bank Manager, hearing of their trouble, came
and took away the other children. And there Mary sat, heedless of food
or rest, conscious only of the little tortured body on the bed before
her; sat and fanned off the flies, and pulled up or turned down the
sheet, according as fever or the rigors shook the child, noting each
creeping change for the worse, snatching at fantastic changes for the
better. Her lips were thin and dogged in her haggard face; her eyes
burned like coals: it was as if, within her, she was engaged in
concentrating a store of strength, with which to invest her child.--
But on going out to the kitchen to prepare fresh rice-water, she became
aware that, for all the broiling heat of the day, her hands were numb
with cold.

Richard came rushing home to meet the train. To warn, too, the stranger
to caution. "Not a word, I beg of you, before my wife. She is breaking
her heart over it."

But one glimpse of the man who entered the room at Richard's side
brought Mary's last hope crashing about her ears; and in this moment
she faced the fact that Lallie must die. The newcomer was just an
ordinary country doctor--well she knew the type!--rough, burly,
uncouth. Into the ordered stillness of the sickroom he brought the
first disturbance. He tripped over the mat, his boots creaked, his
hands were clumsy--or seemed so, compared with Richard's. Oh! the
madness of calling in a man like this, when she had Richard at her
side. Fool, fool that she was! Now, her only desire was to be rid of
him again. She turned away, unable to look on while he handled Lallie,
disarranged--hurt--her, in pulling back the sheet and exposing the
distended drum-like little body. ("Um . . . just so.") His manner to
Richard, too, was galling; his tone one of patronage. He no doubt
regarded him as some old hack who had doddered his life away up-country,
and could now not treat even a case of dysentery without the
aid of a younger man. And for this, which was all her doing,
Richard would have to sit with him and listen to him till the down
train went at ten. It was too much for Mary. The tears that had
obstinately refused to flow for the greater grief rose to her eyes, and
were so hot and angry that they scorched the back of her lids.

That night, in the stillness that followed his departure, the last
torment was inflicted on the dying child in the shape of a monstrous
hiccough. It started from far, far down, shot out with the violence of
an explosion, and seemed as if it would tear the little body in two.
Under this new blow Mary's courage all but failed her. In vain did
Mahony, his arm round her bent shoulders, try to soothe her. "My
darling, it sounds worse than it is. We feel it more than she does . . .
now." Each time it burst forth an irrepressible shudder ran through
Mary, as if it were she herself who was being racked. And on this night
her passionate prayer ran: "Take her, God! . . . take her if You must.
I give her back to You. But oh! let it be soon . . . stop her
suffering. . . give her peace." And as hour after hour dragged by
without respite, she rounded on Him and fiercely upbraided Him. "It is
cruel of You . . . cruel! No earthly father would torture a child as
You are doing.... You, all-powerful, and called Love!"

But little by little, so stealthily that its coming was imperceptible,
the ultimate peace fell: by daybreak there was nothing more to hope or
fear. Throughout the long day that followed--it seemed made of years,
yet passed like an hour--Lallie lay in coma, drawing breaths that were
part snores, part heavy sighs. Time and place ceased to exist for Mary,
as she sat and watched her child die. Through noon and afternoon and on
into the dark, she tirelessly wiped the damp brow and matted curls,
fanned off the greedy flies, one little inert hand held firmly in her
own: perhaps somehow, on this, her darling's last, fearsome journey,
the single journey in her short life that she had taken unattended,
something would tell her that her mother was with her, her mother's
love keeping and holding her. On this day Richard did not leave the
house. And their kind friend again fetched away the other children.

The OTHER children? . . . what need now of this word! Henceforth, there
would always and for ever be only two. Never again, if not by
accident, would the proud words, "My three," cross her lips. There she
sat, committing to oblivion her mother-store of fond and foolish
dreams, the lovely fabric of hopes and plans that she had woven about
this little dear one's life; sat bidding farewell to many a tiny
endearing feature of which none but she knew: in the spun-glass hair
the one rebellious curl that would not twist with the rest; secret
dimples kneaded in the baby body; the tiny birthmark below the right
shoulder; the chubby, dimpled hands--Richard's hands in miniature--
all now destined to be shut away and hidden from sight. Oh, of what was
use to create so fair a thing, merely to destroy it! (They say He knows
all, but never, never can He have known what it means to be a mother.)

Midnight had struck before Mahony could half lead, half carry her from
the room. Her long agony of suspense over, she collapsed, broke utterly
down, in a way that alarmed him. He ran for restoratives; bathed her
forehead; himself undressed her and got her to bed. Only then came the
saving tears, setting free the desperate and conflicting emotions, till
now so rigorously held in check, in a storm of grief of which he had
never known the like. There was something primitive about it, savage
even. For in it Mary wept the passion of her life--her children. And
over the sacrifice she was now called on to make, her heart bled, as
raw, as lacerated, as once her body had lain in giving them birth.

For long Mahony made no attempt to soothe or restrain. Well for her
that she could weep! A nature like Mary's would not be chastened by
suffering: never would she know resignation; or forgive the injury that
had been done her. This physical outlet was her sole means of relief.

But the moment came when he put out his hand and sought hers. "Wife. . .
my own dearest! . . . it is not for ever. You . . . we . . . shall
see our child again."

But Mary would have none of it. Vehemently she tore her hand away. "Oh,
what does that help? . . . help ME! I want her now . . . and here. I
want to hold her in my arms . . . and feel her . . . and hear her
speak. She will never speak to me again. Oh, my baby, my baby! . . .
and I loved you so."

"She knew it well. She still does."

"How do YOU know? . . . how do you KNOW? Those are only words.
They may do for you.... But I was her mother. She was mine; my very
own. And do you think she wanted to die . . . and leave me? They tore
her away--and tortured her--and frightened her. They may be
frightening her still . . . such a little child, alone and
frightened . . . and me not able to get to her!--Oh, WHY should this just
happen to us? Other people's children grow up . . . grow old. And we are
so few . . . why, WHY had it to be?"

MEA CULPA, MEA MAXIMA CULPA! "If only I had never brought you to this
accursed place!"

There was an instant's pause, a momentary cessation of her laboured
breathing, as the bed shook under the shudders that stand to a man for
sobs, before she flung round and drew him to her.

"Mary, Mary! . . . I meant it for the best."

"I know you did, I know. I WON'T have you blame yourself. It might have
happened anywhere." (Oh, my baby, my baby!)

Now they clung to each other, all the petty differences they laboured
under obliterated by their common grief. Till suddenly a sound fell on
their ears, driving them apart to listen: it was little Lucie, waking
from sleep in an empty bed and crying with fear. Rising, her father
carried her over and laid her down in his own warm place; and Mary,
recalled from her profitless weeping by a need greater than her own,
held out her arms and gathered the child in. "It's all right, my
darling. Mamma's here."

This, the ultimate remedy. Half an hour later when he crept back to
look, mother and child slept, tear-stained cheek to cheek.

His hand in his father's, Cuffy was led into the little room where
Lallie lay.--"I want them to have no morbid fear of death."

On waking that morning--after a rather jolly day spent at the Bank . . .
or what would have been jolly, if Lucie hadn't been such a cry-baby . . .
where he had been allowed to try to lift a bar of gold and to step
inside the great safe: on waking, Cuffy heard the amazing news that
Lallie had gone away: God had taken her to live with Him. His eyes all
but dropped out of his head, a dozen questions jumped to his tongue;
but he did not ask one of them; for Mamma never stopped crying,
and Papa looked as he did when you didn't talk to him, but got away and
tried not to remember. So Cuffy sat on the edge of the verandah and
felt most awfully surprised. What had happened was too strange, too far
removed from the range of his experience, too "interesting," to let any
other feeling come up in him. He wondered and wondered . . . why God
had done it . . . and why He had just wanted Lallie. Now he himself . . .
well, Luce HAD got so whiny!

But the darkened room and a sheet over the whole bed did something
funny to him . . . inside. And, as his father turned the slats of the
venetian so that a pale daylight filtered in, Cuffy asked--in a voice
he meant to make whispery and small, but which came out hoarse like a
crow: "What's she covered up like that for?"

For answer Mahony drew back the double layer of mosquito netting, and
displayed the little sister's face. "Don't be afraid, Cuffy. She's only
asleep." And indeed it might well have been so. Here were no rigidly
trussed limbs, no stiffly folded arms: the heave of the breath alone
was missing. Lallie lay with one little hand under her cheek, her curls
tumbling naturally over her shoulder. The other hand held a nosegay, a
bit of gaudy red geranium tied up with one of its own leaves--the
single poor flower Mahony had found still a-bloom in the garden.

"Kiss her Cuffy."

Cuffy obeyed--and got a shock. "Why's she so cold?"

"Because her spirit is flown. This dear little body, that we have known
and loved, was only the house of the spirit; and now is empty and must
fade. But though we shall not see her, our Lallie will go on living and
growing. . . in a grace and beauty such as earth cannot show." And more
to himself than to the boy beside him Mahony murmured:

NOT AS A CHILD SHALL WE AGAIN BEHOLD HER,
FOR WHEN, WITH RAPTURES WILD,
IN OUR EMBRACES WE AGAIN ENFOLD HER,
SHE WILL NOT BE A CHILD,
BUT A FAIR MAIDEN IN HER FATHER'S MANSIONS . . .

"Will she . . . do you mean . . . be grown up?" And Cuffy fixed wide,
affrighted eyes on his father. For in listening to these words, he had
a sudden vision of a Lallie who looked just like Miss Prestwick or
Cousin Emmy, with a little small waist, and bulgings, and tight, high,
buttoned boots. And against this picture especially the boots--
something in him rose and screamed with repugnance. He wanted Lallie's
fat little legs in socks and strapped shoes, as he had always known
them. He WOULD not have her different!

"Oh, no, no . . . NO!" And with this, his habitual defence against the
things he was unwilling to face, Cuffy tore his hand away and escaped
to his sanctuary at the bottom of the garden.

Here for the first time a sense of loss came over him. (It was the
boots had done it.) What, never see Lallie any more? . . . as his
little fat sister? It couldn't be true . . . it couldn't! "I don't
believe it . . . I DON'T believe it!" (Hadn't they told him that very
morning that God had taken her away, when all the time she was in there
lying on the bed?) And this attitude of doubt persisted; even though,
when he got back the next afternoon from a long walk with Maria, God
had kept His word and she was gone. But many and many a day passed
before Cuffy gave up expecting her to re-appear. Did he go into an
empty room, or turn a corner of the verandah, it seemed to him that he
MUST find Lallie there: suddenly she would have come back, and
everything be as it was before. For since, by their father's care, all
the sinister ceremonials and paraphernalia of death were kept from
them, he was free to go on regarding it solely in the light of an
abrupt disappearance . . . and if you could be spirited away in this
fashion, who was to say if you mightn't just as easily pop up again?
Also by Mahony's wish, neither he nor Lucie ever set foot in the
outlying bush cemetery, where in due time a little cross informed the
curious that the small mound before them hid the mortal remains of
Alicia Mary Townshend-Mahony, aged five and a half years. Providing
people, at the same time, with a puzzle to scratch their heads over.
For, in place of the usual reference to lambs and tender shepherds,
they found themselves confronted by the words: DANS L'ESPOIR. And what
the meaning of this heathenish term might be, none in
Barambogie knew, but all were suspicious of.


* * * * *


"We've simply GOT to afford it," was Mary's grim reply.--There she
stood, her gaunt eyes fixed on Richard, the embodiment of a
mother-creature at bay to protect her young.

Christmas had come and gone, and the fierce northern summer was upon
them in earnest. Creeks and water-holes were dry now, rivers shrunk to
a trickling thread; while that was brown straw which had once been
grass. And Mary, worn down by heat and mental suffering, was fretting
her heart out over her remaining baby, little Lucie, now but the ghost
of her former self. Coming on top of Lucie's own illness, her
twin-sister's death had struck her a blow from which she did not seem able
to recover. And to see the child droop and fade before her very eyes
rendered Mary desperate. This was why, to Richard's procrastinating and
undecided: "I must see if I can afford it," she had flung out her
challenge: "We've GOT to!"

"I suppose you're right."

"I know I am!"

Many and heartfelt had been the expressions of sympathy from those
friends and acquaintances who had read the brief notice on the front
page of the ARGUS. Outsiders, too, people Mary had almost forgotten,
showed that they still remembered her, by condoling with her in her
loss. But it was left to dear old Tilly to translate sentiment into
practical aid.

HOW I FEEL FOR YOU, MY DARLING, WORDS WOULDN'T TELL. IT'S THE CRUELLEST
THING EVER HAPPENED. BUT OH, THE BLESSING, MARY, THAT YOU'VE STILL GOT
YOUR OTHER TWO. YOU MUST JUST REMEMBER HOW MUCH THEY NEED YOU, LOVE,
WHILE THEY'RE SO SMALL, AND HOW MUCH YOU ARE TO THEM.--AND NOW HARK TO
ME, MY DEAR. I'D BEEN PLANNING BEFORE THIS TO TAKE A SHANTY AT LORNE
FOR THE HOT WEATHER; AND WHAT I WANT IS FOR YOU TO COME AND SHARE IT
WITH ME--SHARE EXPENSES, IF YOU LIKE, ME KNOWING WHAT YOU ARE. BUT GET
THE CHICKS AWAY FROM THAT WICKED HEAT YOU MUST.--BESIDES, HELPING TO
LOOK AFTER BABY'LL BE THE BEST OF MEDICINES FOR THAT POOR FORLORN
LITTLE MITE, WHO IT MAKES MY HEART ACHE EVEN TO THINK OF.

Too great were the odds--in this case the welfare, perhaps the very
life, of his remaining children--against him. Mahony bowed his head.
And when Mary had gone he unlocked a private drawer of his
table, and drew out a box in which lay several rolls of notes,
carefully checked and numbered. Once more he counted them through. For
weeks, nay, for months he had been laboriously adding pound to pound.
In all there were close on forty of them. He had fully intended to make
it fifty by New Year. Now there was no help: it would have to go.
First, the doctor's fare from Oakworth; then the costs of the funeral
. . . with a five-pound note to the parson. What was left after these
things were paid must be sacrificed to Mary and the children. They
would need every penny of it . . . and more besides.





Part II




Chapter I



To come back to the empty house, having watched the train carry them
off ("Kiss papa good bye! . . . good bye . . . good bye, my darlings!
Come back with rosy cheeks.--Try to forget, Mary . . . my poor old
wife!"): to come back to the empty house was like facing death anew.
All the doors, three on each side of the central passage, stood open,
showing unnatural-looking rooms. Mary had done her best to leave things
tidy, but she had not been able to avoid the last disorder inevitable
on a journey. Odd sheets of newspaper lay about, and lengths of twine;
the floors were unswept, the beds unmade; one of the children had
dropped a glove. . . Mahony stooped to it. . . Cuffy's, for a wager,
seeing that the middle finger was chewed to pulp. And as he stood
holding it, it seemed as if from out these yawning doors, these dismal
rooms, one or other of his little ones must surely dart and run to him,
with a cry of "Papa . .. Papa!" But not a sound broke the silence, no
shadow smudged the whitewash of the walls.

The first shock over, however, the litter cleared up, the rooms
dressed, he almost relished the hush and peace to which the going of
wife and children had left him. For one thing, he could rest on the
knowledge that he had done for them all that was humanly possible. In
return, he would, for several weeks to come, be spared the mute
reproach of two wan little faces, and a mother's haggard eyes. Nor need
he crack his brains for a time over the problem of an education for the
children in this wilderness, or be chafed by Mary's silent but pregnant
glosses on the practice. In a word he was FREE . . . free to exist
unobserving and unobserved.

But his satisfaction was short-lived: by the end of the second day the
deathlike stillness had begun to wear him down. Maria was shut off in
the detached kitchen; and on getting home of a late afternoon
he knew that, but for the final mill-screech, and the distant rumble of
the ten-o'clock train, no mortal sound would reach his ears the long
night through. The silence gathered, descended and settled upon him,
like a fog or a cloud. There was something ominous about it, and
instead of reading he found himself listening. . . listening. Only very
gradually did the thought break through that he had something to listen
for. Dark having fallen, might not a tiny ghost, a little spirit that
had not yet found rest afar from those it loved, flit from room to room
in search of them? What more likely indeed? He strained his ears. But
only his pulses buzzed there. On the other hand, about eleven o'clock
one night, on coming out of the surgery to cross to the bedroom, he
could have sworn to catching a glimpse of a little shape . . . vague,
misty of outline, gone even as he saw it, and yet unmistakable . . .
vanishing in the doorway of the children's room. His heart gave a great
leap of joy and recognition. Swiftly following, he called a name; but
on the empty air: the room had no occupant. For two nights after he
kept watch, to waylay the apparition should it come; but, shy of human
eyes, it did not show itself again. Not to be baulked, he tried a fresh
means: taking a sheet of paper he let his hand lie lightly along the
pencil. And, lo and behold! at the second trial the pencil began to
move, seemed to strive to form words; while by the fourth evening words
were coming through. HER MAMMA . . . HER LUCE . . . WANTS HER MAMMA.

The kitchen clock had stopped: Maria, half undressed, stealing tiptoe
into the house to see the time, a tin lamp with a reflector in her
hand, was pulled up short, half-way down the passage, by the sound of
voices. Hello! who was Doctor talking to? A patient at this hour? But
nobody had knocked at the door. And what . . . oh, crikey! whatever was
he saying? The girl's eyes and mouth opened, and her cheeks went pale,
as the sense of what she heard broke on her. Pressing herself against
the wall, she threw a terrified glance over her shoulder into the inky
shadows cast by the lamp.----

"Ma! I was fair skeered out of me senses. To hear 'im sitting there
a-talkin' to that pore little kid, what's been dead and buried this month
and more! An' him calling her by her name, and saying her Ma would soon
be back, and then she wouldn't need to feel lonely any more--
why, I tell yer, even this mornin' in broad daylight I found meself
lookin' behind me the whole time.--Go back? Stop another night there?
Not me! I couldn't, Ma. I'm SKEERED."

"You great ninny, you! What could 'urt yer, I'd like to know? . . . as
long as you say yer prayers reg'lar and tells the troof. Ghosts,
indeed! I'll ghost you!"--But Maria, more imaginatively fibred, was
not to be won over.

Mahony listened to the excuses put forward by her mother on his
reaching home that evening: listened with the kindly courtesy he kept
for those beneath him who met him civilly and with respect. Maria's
plea of loneliness was duly weighed. "Though I must say I think she has
hardly given the new conditions a fair trial. However, she has always
been a good girl, and the plan you propose, Mrs. Beetling, will no
doubt answer very well during my wife's absence."

It not only answered: it was an improvement. Breakfast was perhaps
served a little later than usual, and the cooking proved rather coarser
than Maria's, who was Mary-trained. But it was all to the good that,
supper over, Mrs. Beetling put on her bonnet and went home, leaving the
place clear. His beloved little ghost was then free to flit as it
would, without fear of surprise or disturbance. He continually felt its
presence--though it did not again materialise--and message after
message continued to come through. Written always by a third person, in
an unfamiliar hand . . . as was only to be expected, considering that
the twins still struggled with pothooks and hangers . . . they yet gave
abundant proof of their authorship.

Such a proof, for instance, as the night when he found that his script
ran: HER BABY . . . NOSE . . . KITCHEN FIRE.

For a long time he could make nothing of this, though he twisted it
this way and that. Then, however, it flashed upon him that the twins
had nursed large waxen dolls clad as infants; and straightway he rose
to look for the one that had been Lallie's. After a lengthy search by
the light of a single candle, in the course of which he ransacked
various drawers and boxes, he found the object in question . . .
tenderly wrapped and hidden away in Mary's wardrobe. He drew it forth
in its white trappings and, upon his soul, when he held it up to the
candle to examine it, he found that one side of the effigy's
nose had run together in a kind of blob . . . MELTED . . . no doubt
through having been left lying in the sun, or--yes, OR held too close
to a fire! Of a certainty he had known nothing of this: never a word
had been said, in HIS hearing, of the accident to so expensive a
plaything. At the time of purchase he had been wroth with Mary over the
needless outlay. Now . . . now . . . oh! there's a divinity that shapes
our ends . . . now it served him as an irrefragable proof.

In his jubilation he added a red-hot postscript to his daily letter. I
HAVE GREAT--GREAT AND JOYFUL--NEWS FOR YOU, MY DARLING. BUT I SHALL
KEEP IT TILL YOU COME BACK. IT WILL BE SOMETHING FOR YOU TO LOOK
FORWARD TO, ON YOUR RETURN TO THIS DREADFUL PLACE.

To which Mary replied: YOU MAKE ME VERY CURIOUS, RICHARD. CAN NORTH
LONG TUNNELS HAVE STRUCK THE REEF AT LAST?

And he: SOMETHING FAR, FAR NEARER OUR HEARTS, MY DEAR, THAN MONEY AND
SHARES. I REFER TO NEWS COMPARED WITH WHICH EVERYTHING EARTHLY FADES
INTO INSIGNIFICANCE.

Alas! he roused no answering enthusiasm. NOW, RICHARD, DON'T DELUDE
YOURSELF . . . OR LET YOURSELF BE DELUDED. OF COURSE YOU KNEW ABOUT
THAT DOLL'S NOSE. LALLIE CRIED AND WAS SO UPSET. I'M SURE WHAT'S
HAPPENING IS ALL YOUR OWN IMAGINATION. I DO THINK ONE CAN GROSSLY
DECEIVE ONESELF--ESPECIALLY NOW YOU'RE QUITE ALONE. BUT OH DON'T
TRIFLE WITH OUR GREAT SORROW. I COULDN'T BEAR IT. IT'S STILL TOO NEAR
AND TOO BITTER.

Of his little ghostly visitant he asked that night: HOW SHALL WE EVER
PROVE, LOVE, TO DEAR MAMMA THAT YOU ARE REALLY AND TRULY HER LOST
DARLING?

To which came the oddly disconcerting, matter-of-fact reply: USELESS.
OTHER THINGS TO DO. COME NATURAL TO SOME. NOT TO HER. But Mahony could
not find it in his heart to let the matter rest there. So fond a
mother, and to be unwilling. . . not to dare to TRUST herself . . . to
believe!

And believe what, too? Why, merely that their little one, in place of
becoming a kind of frozen image of the child they had known, and
inhabiting remote, fantastic realms to which they might some day
laboriously attain: that she was still with them, close to them, loving
and clinging, and as sportive as in her brief earthly span. It was no
doubt this homely, UNDIGNIFIED aspect of the life-to-come that
formed the stumbling-block: for people like Mary, death was
inconceivable apart from awfulness and majesty: in this guise alone had
it been rung and sung into them. For him, the very lack of dignity was
the immense, consoling gain. Firmly convinced of the persistence of
human individuality subsequent to the great change, he had now been
graciously permitted to see how thin were the walls between the two
worlds, how interpenetrable the states. And he rose of a morning, and
lay down at night, his heart warm with gratitude to the Giver of
knowledge.

But a little child-ghost, no longer encased in the lovely rounded body
that had enhanced its baby prattle and, as it were, decked it out: a
little ghost had, after all, not very much to say. A proof of identity
given, assurances exchanged that it still loved and was loved, and the
talk trickled naturally to an end. You could not put your arms round
it, and hold it to you in a wordless content. Also, as time passed and
Lallie grew easier in her new state, it was not to be denied that she
turned a trifle freakish. She would not always come when called, and,
pressed as to where she lingered, averred through her mentor that she
was "fossicking." An attempt to get at the meaning of this involved
Mahony in a long, rambling conversation with the elder ghost, that was
dreary in the extreme. For it hinged mainly on herself and her own
affairs. And, grateful though he was to her for her goodness to his
child, he took no interest in her personally; and anything in the
nature of a discussion proved disastrous. For she had been but a
seamstress in her day, and a seamstress she remained; having, it would
seem, gained nothing through her translation, either in knowledge or
spirituality.

He flagged. To grip him, an occupation needed to be meaty--to give him
something with which to tease his brains. And his present one,
supplying none, began little by little to pall, leaving him to the
melancholy reflection that, for all their aliveness, our lost ones were
truly lost to us, because no longer entangled in the web called living.
Impossible for those who had passed on to continue to grieve for a
broken doll; to lay weight on the worldly triumphs and failures that
meant so much to us; to concern themselves with the changing seasons,
the rising up and lying down, the palaver, pother and ado that made up
daily life. Though the roads to be followed started from a
single point, they swiftly branched off at right angles, never to touch
again while we inhabited our earthly shell . . . and in this
connection, he fell to thinking of people long dead, and of how out of
place, how IN THE WAY they would be, did they now come back to earth.
We mortals were, for worse or better, ever on the move. Impossible for
us to return to the stage at which THEY had known us.

And so it came about that one evening when, with many a silent groan,
he had for close on half an hour transcribed the seamstress's
platitudes (if it was himself who wrote, as Mary averred, then God help
him! . . . he was in, beyond question, for cerebral softening) with
never a word or a sign from Lallie: on this evening he abruptly threw
the pencil from him, pushed back his chair and strode out on the
verandah. He needed air, fresh air; was ravenous for it . . . to feel
his starved lungs fill and expand. But the December night was hotter
even than the day had been; and what passed for air was stale and heavy
with sunbaked dust. The effort of inhaling it, the repugnance this
smell roused in him brought him to. Like a man waking from a trance, he
looked round him with dazed eyes, and ran a confused hand over his
forehead. And in this moment the dreams and shadows of the past two
weeks scattered, and he faced reality: it was near midnight, and he
stood alone on the ramshackle verandah, with its three broken steps
leading down to the path; with the drooping, dust-laden shrubs of the
garden before him; the bed of dust that formed the road beyond. He had
come to earth again--and with a bump.

A boundless depression seized him: a sheerly intolerable flatness,
after the mood of joyous elation that had gone before. He felt as
though he had been sucked dry: what remained of him was but an empty
shell. Empty as the house which, but for a single lamp, lay dark and
tenantless, and silent as the grave. Since the first night of Mary's
departure, he had not visualised it thus. Now he was dismayed by it--
and by his own solitude. To rehearse the bare facts: wife and children
were a hundred and fifty miles away; his other little child lay under
the earth; even the servant had deserted: with the result that there
was now not a living creature anywhere within hail. This miserable
Lagoon, this shrunken pool of stagnant water, effectually cut him off
from human company. If anything should happen to him, if he
should be taken ill, or break a limb, he might lie where he fell till
morning, his calls for help unheard. And the thought of this utter
isolation, once admitted, swelled to alarming proportions. His brain
raced madly--glancing at fire . . . murder . . . sudden death. Why,
not a soul here would be able even to summon Mary back to him . . . no
one so much as knew her address. Till he could bear it no longer:
jumping out of bed, he ran to the surgery and wrote her whereabouts in
large letters on a sheet of paper, which he pinned up in a conspicuous
place.

The first faint streaks of daylight, bringing relief on this score,
delivered him up to a new--and anything but chimerical--anxiety. What
was happening . . . what in the name of fortune was happening to the
practice? Regarding for the first time the day and the day's business
other than as something to be hurried through, that he might escape to
his communion with the unseen, he was horrified to see how little was
doing, how scanty the total of patients for the past fortnight. And
here Mary was writing that she would shortly need more money.

Nobody at all put in an appearance that morning--though he sat out his
consulting-hour to the bitter end. By this time he had succeeded in
convincing himself that the newcomer, Mrs. Beetling, was to blame for
the falling-off. Untrained to the job, she had very probably omitted to
note, on the slate provided for the purpose, the names of those who
called while he was absent. Either she had trusted to her memory and
forgotten; or had been out when she ought to have kept the house; or
had failed to hear the bell. The dickens! What would people think of
him, for neglecting them like this?

By brooding over it, he worked himself into a state of nervous
agitation; and directly half-past ten struck pushed back his chair and
stalked out, to take the culprit to task.

Mrs. Beetling was scrubbing the verandah, her sleeves rolled up above
her elbows, arms and hands newborn-looking from hot water and soda. At
Mahony's approach, she sat back on her heels to let him by; then,
seeing that he intended to speak to her, scrambled to her feet and
dried her hands on her apron.

"I wish to have a word with you, Mrs. Beetling."

"Yes, sir?"

She was civil enough, he would say that for her. In looking up at him,
too, she smiled with a will: a pleasant-faced woman, and ruddy of cheek
. . . another anomaly in this pale country.

But he fronted her squarely for the first time: at their former
interview he had been concerned only to cut her wordiness short. And
this broad smile of hers advertised the fact that she had gums bare
almost as a babe's; was toothless, save for a few black and rotten
stumps in the lower jaw.

Now Mahony was what Mary called a "fad of the first water" with regard
to the care of the mouth. He never tired of fulminating against the
colonial habit of suffering the untold agonies of toothache, letting
the teeth rot in the head rather than have them medically attended. And
the sight here presented to him so exasperated him that he clean forgot
what he had come out to say, his irritation hurling itself red-hot
against this fresh object of offence.

As though he had a meek and timid patient before him, he now said
sternly: "Open your mouth . . . wide!"

"SIR!" Mrs. Beetling's smile faded in amazement. Instinctively pinching
her lips, she blinked at Mahony, turned red, and fell to twiddling with
a corner of her apron. (So far she had turned a deaf ear to the tales
that were going the round about "the ol' doctor." Now . . . she
wondered.)

"Your mouth . . . open your mouth!" repeated Mahony, with the same
unnecessary harshness. Then, becoming vaguely aware of the confusion he
was causing, he trimmed his sails. "My good woman . . . I have only
this moment noticed the disgraceful state of your teeth. Why, you have
not a sound one left in your head! What have you been about? . . .
never to consult a dentist?"

"Dentist, sir? Not me! Not if I was paid for it! No one'll ever get me
to any dentist."

"Tut, tut, you fool!" He snapped his fingers; and went on snapping
them, to express what he thought of her. And Mrs. Beetling, growing
steadily sulkier and more aggrieved, was now forced to stand and listen
to a fierce tirade on the horrors of a foul mouth and foul breath, on
the harm done to the digestive system, the ills awaiting her in later
life. Red as a peony she stood, her apron still twisting in her
fingers, her lips glued tight; once only venturing a protest. "I never
bin ill in me life!" and still more glumly: "I suppose me teeth's me
own. I kin do what I like with 'em." To and fro paced Mahony, his hands
clasped behind his back, his face aflame; thus ridding himself, on his
bewildered hearer, of his own distractedness, the over-stimulation of
his nerves; and ending up by vowing that, if she had a grain of sense
in her, she would come to the surgery and let him draw from her mouth
such ruins as remained. At which Mrs. Beetling, reading this as a
threat, went purplish, and backed away in real alarm.--Not till he was
some distance off on his morning round, did it occur to him that he had
forgotten his original reason in seeking her out. Never a word had he
said of her carelessness in writing up the patients! The result was
another wild bout of irritation--this time with himself--and he had
to resist an impulse to turn on his heel. What the deuce would he do
next? What tricks might his failing memory not play him?

On her side also, Mrs. Beetling yielded to second thoughts. Her first
inclination had been to empty her bucket on the garden-bed, let down
her skirts, tie on her bonnet and bang the gate behind her. But she bit
it back. The place was a good one: it 'ud be lunatic not to keep it
warm for Maria. No sooner, though, did she see Mahony safely away, than
she let her indignation fly, and at the top of her voice. "Well, I'm
blowed . . . blowed, that's what I am! Wants to pull out all me teef,
does he? . . . the BUTCHER! Blackguardin' me like that. Of all the
lousy ol' ranters . . ."

"Eh, ma?" said a floury young mill-hand, and leant in passing over the
garden gate. "What's up with you? Bin seein' one of the spooks?"

"You git along with you, Tom Dorrigan. And take yer arms off that
gate."

"They do say Maria seed one widout a head and all. Holy Mother o' God
protect us!"--and the lad crossed himself fearfully as he went.

While Mrs. Beetling, still blown with spite and anger, gathered her
skirt in both hands, and charging at a brood of Brahmapootras that had
invaded the garden to scratch up a bed, scuttled them back into the
yard.




Chapter  II



His way led him through the main street. The morning was drawing
towards noon, and the overheated air, grown visible, quivered and
flimmered in wavy lines. He wore nankeen trousers, which looked a world
too wide for him, and flapped to and fro on his bony shanks. His coat,
of tussore, was creased and unfresh, there being no Mary at hand daily
to iron it out. On his head he had a sun-hat hung with puggaree and
fly-veil: he also carried a sun-umbrella, green-lined; while a pair of
dark goggles dimmed for him the intolerable whiteness of sky, road,
iron roofs. Thus he went: an odd figure, a very figure of fun, in the
eyes of the little township. And yet for all his oddity wearing an air
. . . an air of hauteur, of touch-me-not aloofness . . . which set him
still further apart. The small shopkeepers and publicans who made up
the bulk of the population had never known his like; and were given
vigorously to slapping their legs and exclaiming: "By the Lord Harry!
. . . goes about with his head as high as if he owned the place."

On this day though he passed unnoticed. In the broad, sun-stricken
street, none moved but himself. The heat, however, was not the sole
reason for its emptiness. He who ran might read that the place was
thinning out. With the abandonment of the project to reorganise the
great mine--the fairy-tale of which had helped to settle HIM there--
all hope of a fresh spurt of life for Barambogie was at an end. The new
Bank that was to have been opened to receive the gold, the crew of
miners and engineers who should have worked the reefs, had already
faded into the LIMBUS FATUORUM where, for aught he knew, they had
always belonged. What trade there was, languished: he counted no less
than four little shops in a row which had recently been boarded up.

Pluff went his feet in the smothery dust of the bush road--his black
boots might have been made of white leather--the flies buzzed
in chorus round his head. Of the two visits he had to pay, one was a
couple of miles off. Two miles there and two back . . . on a morning
when even the little walk along the Lagoon had fagged him. Oh! he OUGHT
to have a buggy. A country practice without a horse and trap behind it
was like trying to exist without bread . . . or water.--And now again,
as if on this particular day there was to be no rest or peace for him,
a single thought, flashing into his brain, took entire possession of it
and whizzed madly round. He plodded along, bent of back, loose of knee,
murmuring distractedly: "A buggy . . . yes, God knows, I ought to have
a buggy." But the prospect of ever again owning one seemed remote; at
present it was as much as he could do to afford the occasional hire of
a conveyance. What must the townspeople think, to see him eternally on
the tramp? For nobody walked here. A buggy stood at every door . . .
but his. They would soon be beginning to suspect that something was
wrong with him; and from that to believing him unable to pay his way
was but a step. In fancy he saw himself refused credit, required to
hand over cash for what he purchased . . . he, Richard Mahony! . . .
till, in foretasting the shame of it, he groaned aloud.

And the case he had come all this way to attend would not profit him.
His patient was a poor woman, lying very sick and quite alone in a bark
hut, her menfolk having betaken themselves to work. He did what he
could for her; left her more comfortable than he found her: he also
promised medicines by the first cart that went by her door. But he knew
the class: there was no money in it; his bill would have to be sent in
time after time. And the older he grew, the more it went against the
grain to badger patients for his fees. If they were too mean, or too
dishonest, to pay for his services, he was too proud to dun them. And
thus bad debts accumulated.

On the road home, the great heat and his own depression overcame him.
Choosing a shady spot he lowered himself to the burnt grass for a rest;
or what might have been a rest, had not the sound of wheels almost
immediately made him scramble to his feet again: it would never do for
him to be caught sitting by the roadside. In his haste, he somehow
pressed the catch of his bag, which forthwith opened and spilled its
contents on the ground. He was on his knees, fumbling to
replace these, when the trap hove in sight.

It was a single buggy, in which three people, a young man and two young
women, sat squeezed together on a seat built for two. None the less,
the man jerked his horse to a stand, and with true colonial
neighbourliness called across: "Like a lift?"--to receive, too late to
stop him, a violent dig in the ribs from his wife's elbow.

"Thank you, thank you, my good man! But you are full already." Provoked
at being caught in his undignified position, Mahony answered in a tone
short to ungraciousness.

"Devil a bit! Bess 'ere can sit by the splashboard."

"NO, sir! I should not dream of inconveniencing the lady on my
account."

"O.K.!" said the man. "Ta-ta, then!" and drove on.

"The LADY! Did you hear 'im? Oh, Jimminy Gig! . . . ain't he a cure?"
cried Bess, and bellowed out a laugh that echoed back to where Mahony
stood.

"Bill, you great GOFF, didn't you feel me poke you? Don't you know 'OO
that was? We don't want him up here along of us . . . not for Joe!"

Bill spat. "Garn! It's a goodish step for th' ol' cove, and a regular
roaster into the bargain."

"Garn yerself, y'ol' mopoke!--I say! what was 'e doin' there's what
I'd like to know. Did you see him, kneelin' with all them things spread
out around him? Up to some shady trick or other I'll be bound."

Bess nodded darkly. "Nobody 'ull go near the house any more after dark.
Maria Beetling sor a black figger in the passage one night, with horns
and all, and heard 'im talkin' to it. She tore home screamin' like mad
for her ma."

"Ah, git along with yer bunkum! You wimmin's mouths is allers full o'
some trash or other. I never HEARD such talk,"--and Bill ejected a
fresh stream of juice over the side.

His wife made a noise of contempt. "It's gospel truth. I heard ol'
Warnock the other day talkin' to Mrs. Ah Sing. An' they both said it
was a crying shame to have a doctor here who went in for magic and
such-like. Nor's that all. A fat lot o' good his doctoring kin be. To
go and let his own kid die. If he couldn't cure IT, what kin WE
hope for, 'oo he hates like poison?"

"They do say he BOILED her," said Bess mysteriously. "Made her sit in
water that was too hot for her, till her skin all peeled off and she
was red and raw. She screeched like blue murder: Maria heard her. They
had to rush out and send for another doctor from Oakworth. But it was
too late. He couldn't save her.--An' then just look at his pore wife.
So pale an' woebegone! Shaking in her shoes, I guess, what he'll be
doing to her next."

"He ought to be had up for it. Instead of being let streel round with
his highty-tighty airs."

"No, gorblimey, you two! . . . of all the silly, clatterin' hens!" and
leaning forward Bill sliced his horse a sharp cut on the belly. In the
cloud of dust that rose as the buggy lurched forward, they vanished
from sight.

"Ha! didn't I know it? their butt--their laughing-stock," chafed
Mahony in answer to the girl's guffaw; and his hands trembled so that
he could hardly pick up his scattered belongings. In his agitation he
forgot the rest he had intended to allow himself, and plodded on anew,
the sweat trickling in runnels down his back, mouth and nostrils caked
dry. Meanwhile venting his choler by exclaiming aloud, in the brooding
silence of the bush: "What next? . . . what next, I wonder! Why, the
likelihood is, they'll boggle at my diagnoses . . . doubt my ability to
dose 'em for the d.t.'s or the colic." And this idea, being a new one,
started a new train of thought, his hungry brain pouncing avidly upon
it. Thereafter he tortured himself by tracking it down to its last and
direst issues; and thus engrossed was callous even to his passage along
the main street, for which, after what had just happened, he felt a
shrinking distaste, picturing eyes in every window, sneers behind every
door.

Safe again within the four walls of his room, he tossed hat and bag
from him and sank into the armchair, where he lay supine, his taut
muscles relaxed, his tired eyes closed to remembrance. And in a very
few minutes he was fast asleep: a deep, sound sleep, such as night and
darkness rarely brought him. Dinner-time came and went; but he slept
on; for Mrs. Beetling, still nursing her injuries, did not as usual put
her head in at the door to say that dinner was ready; she just
planked the dishes down on the dining-room table and left them there.
And soon the pair of chops, which dish she served up to him day after
day, lay hard and sodden in their own fat.

Hunched in his chair, his head on his chest, his mouth open, Mahony
drew breaths that were more than half snores. His carefully brushed
hair had fallen into disarray, the lines on his forehead deepened to
grooves; on his slender hands, one of which hung between his knees, the
other over an arm of the chair, the veins stood out blue and bold.

No sound broke the stillness but that of the clock striking the hours
and half-hours. Only very gradually did the sleeper come up from those
unfathomed depths, of which the waking brain keeps no memory, to where,
on the fringe of his consciousness, a disturbing dream awaited him. It
had to do with a buggy, a giant buggy, full of people; and, inverting
the real event of the day on which it was modelled, he now longed with
all his heart to be among them. For it seemed to him that, if he could
succeed in getting into this buggy, he would hear somthing--some
message or tidings--which it was important for him to know. But though
he tried and tried again, he could not manage to swing himself up;
either his foot missed the step, or the people, who sat laughing and
grimacing at him, pushed him off. Finally he fell and lay in the dust,
which, filling eyes, nose, mouth, blinded and asphyxiated him. He was
still on his back, struggling for air, when he heard a voice buzzing in
his ear: "You're wanted! It's a patient come. Wake up, wake up!"--and
there was Mrs. Beetling leaning over him and shaking him by the arm,
while a man stood in the doorway and gaped.

He was out of his chair and on his feet in a twinkling; but he could
not as easily collect his wits, which were still dreambound. His hands,
too, felt numb, and as if they did not belong to him. It took him the
space of several breaths to grasp that his caller, a farmer, was there
to fetch him to attend his wife, and had a trap waiting at the gate. He
thought the man looked at him very queerly. It was the fault of his old
poor head, which was unequal to the strain of so sudden a waking.
Proffering an excuse, he left the room to plunge it in water. As he did
this it occurred to him that he had had no dinner. But he was
wholly without appetite; and one glance at the fatty mess on the table
was enough. Gulping down a cup of tea, he ate a couple of biscuits, and
then shouldering his dustcoat, declared himself ready. It was a covered
buggy: he leant far back beneath the hood as they drove. This time,
people should NOT have the malicious pleasure of eyeing him.


* * * * *


I SEND YOU WHAT I CAN, MY DEAR, BUT I ADVISE YOU TO SPIN IT OUT AND BE
CAREFUL OF IT, MARY, FOR IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO SAY WHEN MORE WILL BE
FORTHCOMING. THINGS ARE VERY, VERY SLACK HERE. THERE IS NO SICKNESS AND
NO MONEY. I COULD NEVER HAVE BELIEVED A PRACTICE WOULD COLLAPSE LIKE
THIS, FROM OVER SEVENTY POUNDS A MONTH TO AS GOOD AS NOTHING. IN THIS
PAST WEEK I HAVE ONLY HAD FOUR PATIENTS . . . AND THEY ALL POORISH
PEOPLE. I FEEL TERRIBLY WORRIED, AND SIT HERE CUDGELLING MY BRAINS WHAT
IT WILL BE BEST TO DO. THE TRUTH IS THIS PLACE IS FAST DYING OUT--
EVERY ONE BEGINS TO SEE NOW THAT IT HAS HAD ITS DAY AND WILL NEVER
RECOVER. TWO OF THE TRADES-PEOPLE HAVE BECOME INSOLVENT SINCE YOU LEFT,
AND OTHERS TOTTER ON THE BRINK.

THE HEAT IS UNBELIEVABLE. THE DROUGHT CONTINUES . . . NO SIGN YET OF IT
BREAKING, AND THE THERMOMETER ETERNALLY UP BETWEEN 90 AND 100. (AND
EVEN SO, NO SICKNESS.) I AM GETTING VERY ANXIOUS, TOO, ABOUT THE WATER
IN THE TANK, WHICH IS LOW AND DIRTY. IF RAIN DOES NOT SOON COME, WE
SHALL BE IN A PRETTY PLIGHT.

I SLEEP WRETCHEDLY; AND TIME HANGS VERY HEAVY. THE PEACHES ARE
RIPENING, GRAPES TWOPENCE A POUND; BUT BUTTER IS HARD TO GET, AND
UNLESS IT RAINS THERE WILL SOON BE NONE TO BE HAD.

I DO NOT SEE THAT WE CAN INCUR THE EXPENSE OF ANOTHER GOVERNESS. THE
CHILDREN WILL EITHER HAVE TO ATTEND THE STATE SCHOOL, OR YOU MUST TEACH
THEM YOURSELF.

I DO NOT LIKE YOUR LINED PAPER. I DETEST COMMON NOTEPAPER. GO TO
BRADLEY'S WHEN YOU ARE IN TOWN, AND ORDER SOME GOOD CREAM-LAID. THEY
HAVE THE DIE FOR THE CREST THERE.

"Oh dear, oh dear, he's at it again!" sighed Mary; and let the letter
fall to her knee.

"Whatever is it now?" asked Tilly.

In the shadow cast by the palings that separated a little
weatherboard house from the great golden-sanded beach, the two women,
in large, shady hats, sat and watched their children play. Lucie, at
her mother's side, was contentedly sorting a heap of "grannies and
cowries"; but Cuffy had deserted to the water's edge directly he spied
the servant-girl bringing out the letter. He HATED these letters from
Papa; they always made Mamma cross . . . or sorry . . . which spoilt
the day. And it WAS so lovely here! He wished the postman would never,
never come.

"Oh, the usual Jeremiad," said Mary; and dropped her voice to keep the
child from hearing. "No sickness, weather awful, the water getting low,
people going bankrupt--a regular rigmarole of grumbles and
complaints."

"Determined to spoil your holiday for you, my dear, or so it looks to
me."

"I agree, it's a DREADFUL place; never should we have gone there. But
he would have it, and now he's got to make the best of it. Why, the
move cost us over a hundred. Besides, it would be just the same
anywhere else."

"Well, look here, Mary, my advice is--now Lucie, be a good child and
run away and play with your brother, instead of sitting there drinking
everything in. Feeling as you do about it my dear you must just be firm
and stick to your guns. You've given in to 'im your whole life long,
and a fat lot of thanks you've ever 'ad for it. It's made me BOIL to
see you so meek . . . though one never dared say much, you always
standing up for him, loyal as loyal could be. But time's getting on,
Mary; you aren't as young as you were; and you've got others now to
think of besides 'im. I just shouldn't stand any more of 'is nonsense."

"Yes, I daresay it WAS bad for him, always having his own way. But now
he's got to learn that the children come first. They have all their
lives before them, and I won't sit by and see him beggar them. He says
we can't afford another governess; that they must either go to the
State School--my children, Tilly!--or I teach them myself. When my
hands are so full already that I could do with a day twice as long. And
then he's so unreasonable. Finds fault with my notepaper, and says I am
to go to Bradley's and order some expensive cream-laid. Now I ask you!"

"Unreasonable?" flamed Tilly, and blew a gust from mouth and
nose. "There's some people, Mary, 'ud call it by another name, my
dear!"

Mary sighed anew, and nodded. "I'm convinced from past experience that
this idea of the practice failing is just his own imagination. He's
lonely, and hasn't any one to talk to, and so he sits and broods. But
it keeps me on the fidget; for it's almost always been something
imaginary that's turned him against a place and made him want to leave
it. And if he once gets an idea in his head, I might as well talk to
the wind. Indeed, what I say only makes matters worse. Perhaps some one
else might manage him better. Really I can't help wondering sometimes,
Tilly, if I've been the right wife for him, after all. No one could
have been fonder of him. But there's always something in him that I
can't get at; and when things go badly, and we argue and argue . . .
why, then the thought will keep cropping up that perhaps some one else
. . . somebody cleverer than I am . . . Do you remember Gracey
Marriner, who he was so friendly with over that table-rapping business?
She was so quick at seeing what he meant . . . and why he did things
. . . and they found so much to talk about, and they read the same books
and played the piano together. Well, I've sometimes felt that perhaps
she . . ." But here the tears that had gathered in Mary's eyes
threatened to run over, and she had to grope for her handkerchief.

"HER! Lor, Mary! . . . he'd have tired of 'er and her la-di-da airs
inside three months," ejaculated Tilly, and fiercely blew her own nose
in sympathy. "If ever there's been a good wife, my dear, it's you. But
a fig for all the soft sawder that's talked about marriage! The long
and the short of it is, marriage is sent to TRY us women, and for
nothin' on earth besides."

The children reacted in distinctive fashion to the sight of their
mother crying. Little Lucie, who had heard, if not grasped, all that
passed, hung her head like a dog scolded for some fault it does not
understand. Cuffy, casting furtive backward glances, angrily stamped
his feet so that the water splashed high over his rolled-up
knickerbockers. This not availing, he turned and deliberately waded out
to sea.

Ah! then Mamma HAD to stop crying and to notice him. "Cuffy!
Come back!"

"WHAT a naughty boy!" sermonised Aunt Tilly. "When his poor mother is
so worried, too."

"Yes, my great fear is, Richard's heading for another move. Really,
after a letter like this I feel I ought just to pack up and go home."

"What? After you come down 'ere looking like a ghost, and as thin as
thin? . . . I won't HEAR of it, Mary."

"You see, last time he took me completely by surprise. I'm resolved
THAT shan't happen again."

"Hush! hark! . . . was that Baby?" And Tilly bent an ardent ear towards
the verandah, where her infant lay sleeping in a hammock.

"I heard nothing.--There's another reason, too, why I want to stay
there, wretched place though it is. It's the . . . I don't feel I CAN
go off and leave the . . . the little grave, with nobody to care for
it. It's all I've got left of her."

"The blessed little angel!"

"Later on . . . it may be different. But to go away now would tear me
in two. Though it may and probably will mean row after row."

"Yes, till he wears you down. That's always been 'is way.--Ah! but
that IS Baby sure enough." And climbing to her feet, Tilly propelled
her matronly form up the sandy path.

She returned in triumph bearing the child, which but half awake whined
peevishly, ramming two puny fists into sleep-charged eyes; on her face
the gloating, doting expression with which she was wont to follow its
every movement. For her love, waxing fat on care and anxiety, had
swelled to a consuming passion, the like of which had never before
touched her easy-going life.

Mary rose and shook the sand from her skirts. "I must see what I can
find to say to him, to cheer him up and keep him quiet."

"And our good little Lucie here, and Cuffy, too, shall mind darling
Baby for Auntie, whilst she makes his pap."

But the children hung back. Minding Baby meant one long fight
to hinder him from putting things--everything: sand, shells, your
hand, your spade--in his mouth, and kicking and screaming if you said
no; and Aunt Tilly rushing out crying: "What are they DOING to my
precious?"--Lucie had already a firm handful of her mother's dress in
her grasp.

"Now, Mary! you can't possibly write with that child hanging round
you."

"Oh, she won't bother . . . she never does," said Mary, who could not
find it in her heart to drive her ewe-lamb from her.

"Oh, well then!" said Tilly, with a loveless glance at the retreating
Cuffy. "Muvver's jewel must just tum WIF 'er, and see its doody-doody
dinner cooked."--And smothering the little sallow face, the overlarge
head in kisses, she, too, sought the house.

("Really Tilly is RATHER absurd about that baby!")

("How Mary DOES spoil those children!")

With which private criticism, each of the other, Tilly fell to stirring
a hasty-pudding, and Mary sat her down before pen and paper. And thus
ended what, little as they knew it, was to be the last of their many
confidential talks on the subject of Richard, his frowardness and
crabbedness, his innate inability to fit himself to life. From now on,
Mary's lips were in loyalty sealed.




Chapter III



Under the heat-veiled January skies Mahony saw his worst fears
realised. His few remaining patients dropped off, no others appeared to
take their place; and, with this, the practice in Barambogie virtually
came to an end.

There he sat, with his head between his hands, cudgelling his brains.
For it staggered credulity that every form of sickness, that the
break-neck casualties inseparable from bush life, should one and all fade
out in so preposterous a fashion. In the unhealthy season, too, compared
with the winter months in which he had settled there. What were the
people up to? What cabal had they formed against him? That some shady
trick was being played him, he did not for a moment doubt. Suspiciously
he eyed Mrs. Beetling when she came to her job of a morning. SHE knew
what was going on, or he was much mistaken: she looked very queerly at
him, and often gave him the impression of scuttling hurriedly away. But
he had never been any hand at pumping people of her class: it took Mary
to do that. And so he contented himself, did he chance upon the woman,
with fixing her in silence; and otherwise treating her with the
contempt she deserved. He had more important things to occupy him.
These first days of blank, unbroken idleness were spent in fuming about
the house like a caged animal: up the passage, out on the verandah,
round this and back to the passage. Again and again he believed he
heard the front gate click, and ran to seat himself in the surgery. But
it was always a false alarm. And after a few seconds' prickling
suspense, in which every nerve in his body wore ears, he would bound up
from his seat, hardly master of himself for exasperation. These
infamous people! Why, oh why had he ever set foot among them? . . .
ever trodden the dust of this accursed place! A man of his skill, his
experience, wilfully to put himself at the mercy of a pack of
bush-dwellers . . . Chinese coolies . . . wretched half-castes!--
And, striding ever more gauntly and intolerantly, he drove his thoughts
back and salved his bleeding pride with memories of the past. He saw
himself in his heyday, on Ballarat, famed alike for his diagnoses and
sureness of hand; saw himself called in to perform the most delicate
operations; robbed of his sleep by night, on the go the livelong day,
until at last, incapable of meeting the claims made on him, there had
been nothing left for him to do but to fly the place. And spurred by
the exhilaration of these memories, he quickened his steps till the
sweat poured off him.

But he was not to be done. He'd shew these numskulls whom they had to
deal with . . . make them bite the dust. Ha! he had it: that case of
empyema and subsequent operation for PARACENTESIS THORACIS, which he
had before now contemplated writing up for the AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL
JOURNAL. Now was the time: he would set to work straightway, dash the
article off, post it before the sun went down that night. It would
appear in the March issue of the journal; and these fools would then
learn, to their eternal confusion, that they had among them one whose
opinions were of weight in the selectest medical circles. With unsteady
hands he turned out a drawer containing old notes and papers, and
having found what he wanted, spread them on the table before him. But,
with his pen inked and poised ready to begin, he hesitated. In
searching, he had recalled another, rarer case: one of a hydatid cyst
in the subcutaneous tissue of the thigh. This would be more telling;
and going on his knees before a wooden chest, in which he stored old
memoranda, he rummaged anew. Again, however, after a lengthy hunt, he
found himself wavering. His notes were not as full as he had believed:
there would be finicking details to verify, books to consult which he
could no longer get at. So this scheme, too, had to be let drop. Ah!
but now he had really hit it. What about that old bone of contention
among the medical profession, homoeopathy? Once on a time he had meant
to bring out a pamphlet on the subject, and, if he remembered rightly,
had made voluminous notes for it. Could he find these, he would be
spared all brain-fag. And again he made his knees sore and his head
dizzy over a mass of dusty, yellowing papers. After which, re-seating
himself with an air of triumph, he ruled a line in red ink on a
sheet of foolscap, and wrote above it, in his fine, flowing hand: Why I
do not practise Homoeopathy.

IF, AS IS SO OFTEN ASSERTED, THE SYSTEM OF HOMOEOPATHY AS PRACTISED BY
HAHNEMANN AND HIS FOLLOWERS . . .

But having got thus far he came to a standstill, re-dipped a pen that
was already loaded, bit the end of it, wrinkled his brows. What next?
. . . what did he want to say? . . . how to end the sentence? And when he
did manage to catch a glimpse of his thought, he could not find words
in which to clothe it. . . the right words. They would not come at his
beck; or phrases either. He floundered, tried one, then another;
nothing suited him; and he grew more and more impatient: apparently,
even with his notes before him, it was going to be beyond him to make a
decent job of the thing. He had been silent too long. Nor could he, he
now found, work up the heat, the orthodox heat with which he had once
burnt: the points he had formerly made against this quack and his
system now seemed flat or exaggerated. So indifferent had he grown with
the years that his present attitude of mind was almost one of: let
those who choose adopt Hahnemann's methods, those who will, be
allopaths. And, as he sat there struggling to bring his thoughts to
heel, to re-kindle the old fire, the tardy impulse to express himself
died out. He threw his pen from him. CUI BONO? Fool, fool! to think of
blistering his brains for the benefit of these savages among whom his
present lot was cast. What would they understand of it, many of whom
were forced to set crosses where their names should have stood? And
when he was so tired, too, so dog-tired physically, with his feverish
runnings to and fro, and exhausted mentally with fretting and fuming.
Much too tired (and too rusty) to embark on a piece of work that
demanded utmost care and discrimination . . . let alone cope with the
labour of writing it down. Suddenly, quite suddenly, the idea of
exertion, of any effort whatever, was become odious to him . . . odious
and unthinkable. He put his arms on the table and hid his face in them;
and, lying there, knew that his chief desire was fulfilled: to sit with
his eyes screened, darkness round him, and to think and feel just as
little as he saw. But, a bundle of papers incommoding him, he raised
his hand, and with a last flash of the old heat crumpled notes and
jottings to balls and tossed them to the floor. There they lay
till, next morning, Mrs. Beetling swept them up and threw them on the
kitchen fire.

And now silence fell anew--a silence the more marked for the stormy
trampling that had preceded it. Said Mrs. Beetling to her crony, the
ostler's wife: "I do declare, 'e's that mousy quiet, you never c'd tell
there was a livin' creatur' in the 'ouse--not no more'n a triantelope
nor a centipede!" No longer had she to spend time dodging her master:
shrinking behind open doors to avoid crossing his path, waiting her
opportunity to reach bedroom or dining-room unobserved. He never left
the surgery; and she could work with a good grace, scrubbing floors
that were not trodden on, cooking food the lion's share of which it
fell to her to eat.

Meanwhile a burning February ran its course. To step off the verandah
now was like stepping into a furnace. The sky was white with heat:
across its vast pale expanse moved a small, copper-coloured sun. Or the
hot winds streaked it with livid trails of wind-smitten cloud. The very
air was white with dust. While, did a windstorm rise, the dust-clouds
were so dense that everything--trees, Lagoon, township, the very
garden itself--was blotted out. Dust carpeted the boards of the
verandah, drove into the passage, invaded the rooms. But never a drop
of rain fell. And then the fires started: in all the country round, the
bush was ablaze: the sky hung dark as with an overhead fog; the rank
tang of burning wood smarted the lungs.

In the little oven of a house the green blinds were lowered from early
morning on. Behind them, in a bemusing twilight, behind the high
paling-fence that defended house from road, Mahony sat isolate--sat
shunned and forgotten. And as day added itself to day the very sound of
his own voice grew strange to him, there being no need for him ever to
unclose his lips. Even his old trick of muttering died out--went the
way of his pacing and haranguing. For something in him had yielded, had
broken, carrying with it, in its fall, the black pride, the bitter
resentment, the aggressive attitude of mind which had hitherto
sustained him. And this wholesale collapse of what he had believed to
be his ruling traits made him feel oddly humble. . . and humiliated . . .
almost as if he had shrivelled in stature. Hence he never went out.
For the single road led through the street of malicious eyes:
and now nothing would have prevailed on him to expose himself to their
fire. More and more the four walls of his room began to seem to him
haven and refuge. And gradually he grew as fearful of the sound of
footsteps approaching the door as he had formerly been eager for them.
For they might mean a summons to quit his lair.

But no steps came.

Had he had but a dog to lay its moist and kindly muzzle on his knee, or
a cat to arch its back under his hand, the keenest edge might have been
taken off his loneliness. But for more years than he could count, he
had been obliged to deny himself the company of those dumb friends who
might now have sought, in semi-human fashion, to relieve the inhuman
silence that had settled round him. Nothing broke this--or only what
was worse than the silence itself: the awful mill-whistle, which, five
times a day, marked the passage of the empty hours with its
nerve-shattering shriek. He learnt to hate this noise as if it had been a
live and malignant thing; yet was constrained to wait for it, to listen
to it--even to count the seconds that still divided him from its
blast. His books lay unopened, withdrawn into their primary state of so
much dead paper. And it was not books alone that lost their meaning and
grew to seem useless, and a burden. He could forget to wind up his
watch, to pare his nails; he ceased to care whether or no his socks
were worn into holes. The one task to which he still whipped himself
was the writing of the few lines necessary to keep Mary from fretting.
(To prepare her, too. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING DOING . . . INCREDIBLE . . .
HEARTBREAKING.) Otherwise he would sit, for an hour at a time, staring
at some object on the table before him, till it, the table, the room
itself, swam in a grey mist. Or he followed, with all the fixity of
inattention, the movements of a fly . . . or the dance of dust motes
laddering a beam.

But this inertia, this seemingly aimless drifting, was yet not wholly
irrational. It formed a kind of attempt, a threefold attempt, on the
part of his inmost self, to recover from . . . to nerve himself anew
for . . . to avoid rousing a whit sooner than need be . . . the black
terrors that stalked those hours when he had not even the light of day
to distract him.


* * * * *


To wake in the night, and to know that, on this side of your
waking, lies no ray of light or hope . . . only darkness and fear. To
wake in the night: be wide awake in an instant with all your faculties
on edge: to wake, and be under compulsion to set in, night for night,
at the same point, knowing, from grim experience, that the demons
awaiting you have each to be grappled with in turn, no single one of
them left unthrown, before you can win through to the peace that is
utter exhaustion.

Sometimes he managed to get a couple of hours' rest beforehand. At
others, he would start up from a profound sleep believing the night far
advanced; only to find that a bare ten or fifteen minutes had elapsed
since he closed his eyes. But, however long or short the period of
oblivion, what followed was always the same; and after a very few
nights he learnt wisdom, and gave up struggling to escape the
unescapable. Rising on his pillow he drew a long breath, clenched his
fists, and thrust off.

The order in which his thoughts swept at him was always the same. The
future . . . what of the future? With the practice gone, with nothing
saved on which to start afresh, with but the slenderest of sums in hand
for living expenses and the everlasting drain of the mortgage, he could
see no way out of his present impasse but through the bankruptcy court.
And in this country even an unmerited insolvency, one brought about by
genuine misfortunes, spelt disgrace, spelt ruin. And not for oneself
alone. To what was he condemning Mary . . . and the children? . . . his
tenderly reared children. Poverty . . . charity . . . the rough and
ready scramble of colonial life. Oh, a man should indeed take thought
and consider, before he gave such hostages to fortune!--And here, as
he tossed restlessly from side to side, there came into his mind words
he had read somewhere or heard some one say, about life and its
ultimate meaning. Stripped of its claptrap, of the roses and false
sentiment in which we loved to drape it, it had actually no object but
this: to keep a roof over the heads and food in the mouths of the
helpless beings who depend on us.--Burns, too. . . Bobbie Burns.--Oh,
God! . . . there it was again. This accursed diminutive! Night for
night he vowed he would not use it, and night for night his tongue
slipped and it was out before he could help himself. Had he then no
longer the power to decide what he would or would not say?
Preposterous! . . . preposterous and infuriating! For the whole thing--
both the slip and his exasperation--was but a ruse on the part of his
mind, to switch him off the main issue. And to know this, and yet be
constrained, night after night, to the mechanical repetition of so
utter a futility . . . his cold rage was such that several minutes had
invariably to pass before he was calm enough to go on.

A way out! . . . there MUST be a way out. Hoisting himself on the
pillow, till he all but sat erect, and boring into the dark with eyes
hot in their sockets, he fell feverishly to telling over his affairs;
though by now this, too, had become a sheerly automatic proceeding: his
lips singsonging figures and sets of figures, while his brain roved
elsewhere. What he could NOT avoid was the recital of them: it formed
another of the obstacles he was compelled nightly to clamber over, on
the road to sleep. Bills and bad debts, shares and dividends and calls,
payments on the mortgage, redemption of the capital: these things
danced a witches' sabbath in his head. To them must now be added the
rent of the house they lived in. He had reckoned on covering this with
the rental from the house at Hawthorn. But they had had no luck with
tenants: were already at their second; and the house was said to be
falling into bad repair. In the Bank in Barambogie there stood to his
credit, stood between him and beggary, the sum of not quite one hundred
pounds. When this was done, God help them!

WHY had he ever left Melbourne What evil spirit had entered into him
and driven him forth? What WAS that in him over which he had no power,
which proved incapable of adhesion to any soil or fixed abode? For he
might arm himself, each time anew, with another motive for plucking up
his roots: it remained mere ratiocination, a sop flung to his reason,
and in no wise got at the heart of the matter. Wherein lay the fault,
the defect that had made of him throughout his life a hunted man? . . .
harried from place to place, from country to country. Other men set up
a goal, achieved it, and remained content. He had always been in
flight.--But from what? Who were his pursuers? From what shadows did
he run?--And in these endless nights, when he lay and searched his
heart as never before, he thought he read the answer to the riddle.
Himself he was the hunter and the hunted: the merciless in
pursuit and the panting prey. Within him, it would seem, lodged fears
. . . strange fears. And at a given moment one of these, hitherto dormant
and unsuspected, would suddenly begin to brew, and go on growing till
he was all one senseless panic, blind flight the only catholicon. No
matter what form it took--whether a morbid anxiety about his health,
or alarm at the swiftness with which his little day was passing--its
aim was always the same: to beat him up and on. And never yet had he
succeeded in defying it. With the result that, well on in years and
loaded with responsibilities, he stood face to face with ruin. Having
dragged with him those who were dearer to him than his own life.--But
stay! Was that true? . . . and not just one of those sleek phrases that
dripped so smoothly off the tongue. WERE they dearer? In this moment of
greater clarity he could no longer affirm it. He believed that the
instinct of self-preservation had, in his case, always been the primary
one. And digging deeper still, he got, he thought, a further insight
into his motives. If this were so, then what he fled must needs be the
reverse of the security he ran to seek: in other words, annihilation.
The plain truth was: the life-instinct had been too strong for him.
Rather than face death and the death-fear, in an attempt to flee the
unfleeable he had thrown every other consideration to the winds, and
ridden tantivy into the unknown.

But now all chance of flight was over. He sat here as fast a prisoner
as though chained to a stake--an old and weary man, with his fiftieth
birthday behind him.--OLD, did he say? By God! not as a man's years
were reckoned elsewhere. In this accursed country alone. Only here were
those who touched middle age regarded as decrepit, and cumberers of the
soil. Wisdom and experience availed a man nothing, where only brawn had
value. As for the three-score years and ten--But no! . . . no use, no
use! . . . words would not help him. Not thus could it be shirked. He
had to fight through, to the last spasm, the paroxysm of terror which
at this point shook him like a palsy, at the knowledge that he would
never again get free; that he was caught, trapped, pinned down . . . to
be torn asunder, devoured alive. His pulses raced, his breath came
hard, the sweat that streamed off him ran cold. Night after night he
had the same thing to undergo; and from bitter experience he
knew that the fit would gradually exhaust itself, leaving him spent,
inert.--But this was all. With this, his compliance ceased, and there
came a block. For, below the surface here, under a lid which he never
lifted, which nothing would have induced him to raise by a hair's-breadth,
lurked a darker fear than any, one he could not face and live;
even though, with a part of his mind, a watchful part, a part that it
was impossible to deceive, he KNEW what it was.

Swerving violently, he laid the onus of his terror on a side issue: the
confession that stood before him, the confession to Mary of his ruinous
debt. As he pictured this, and as the borrowed emotion swelled it out,
it turned to something horrible . . . monstrous . . . the performance
of which surpassed his strength. How could he ever break the news to
her, all unsuspecting, who shrank from debt as other women from fire or
flood? What would she say? . . . hurl what bitter words at him, in her
first wrath and distress? She being what she was, he believed the
knowledge would well-nigh break her heart. . . as it almost broke his,
to think of the anguish he must inflict on her.--And once again the
years fell away, and he was a little velvet-suited lad, paling and
quivering under the lash of a caustic Irish tongue. But there also came
times when some such vividly recalled emotion proved the way out. Then,
one or other episode from the forty-year-old past would rise before
him, with so amazing a reality that he re-lived it to its flimsiest
details, hearing the ominous tick of the clock on the chimney-piece,
smelling the scent of lavender that went out from his mother's
garments. At others, the past failing in its grip, there was nothing
for it but to fight to a finish. And so he would lie, and writhe, and
moan, and beat the pillow with his hands, while tears that felt thick
as blood scalded his cheeks.

But gradually, very gradually this last convulsion spent itself: and,
as at the approach of soft music from a distance, he was aware of the
coming end . . . of the peace advancing, at which all the labour of the
night had been directed. Peace at last! . . . for his raw nerves, his
lacerated brain. And along with it a delicious drowsiness, which stole
over him from his finger-tips, and up from his feet, relaxing knotted
muscles, loosening his hands, which now lay limp and free. He
sank into it, letting himself go . . . as into a pond full of feathers
. . . which enveloped him, closed downily about him . . . he sinking
deeper. . . ever deeper . . .

Until, angry and menacing, shattering the heavenly inertia, a scream.--
Who screamed? A child? What was it? Who was hurt?--Oh God! the shock
of it, the ice-cold shock! He fell back on the pillow, his heart
thudding like a tom-tom. Would he NEVER grow used to it? . . . this
awful waking! . . . and though he endured it day after day. For . . .
as always . . . the sun was up, the hour six of a red-hot morning, and
the mill-whistle flayed the silence. In all he had slept for not quite
three-quarters of an hour.

Thereafter he lay and stared into the dusty light as he had stared into
the darkness. Needle-like pulses beat behind his lids; the muscles
round eyes and mouth were a-twitch with fatigue. From the sight of food
he turned with a sick man's disrelish. Swallowing a cup of milkless
tea, he crossed to the surgery and shut himself in. But on this
particular day his habit of drowsing through the empty hours was rudely
broken through. Towards midday he was disturbed by the door opening. It
was Mrs. Beetling who, without so much as a knock, put her head in to
say that the stationmaster had hurt his foot and wanted doctor to come
and bandage it.

The stationmaster?--He had been far away, on high cliffs that sloped
to the sea, gathering "horsetails" . . . and for still an instant his
brain loitered over the Latin equivalent. Then he was on his feet,
instinctively fingering the place where his collar should have been.
But neither coat nor collar . . . and: "My boots, my good woman, my
boots!" The dickens! Was that he who was shouting? Tut, tut! He must
pull himself together, not let these spying eyes note his fluster. But
there was another reason for the deliberateness with which he sought
the bedroom. His knees felt weak, and he could hardly see for the tears
that would keep gathering. Over three weeks now close on a month--
since any one had sent for him. ALL were not dead against him then! Oh,
a good fellow, this Pendrell! . . . a good fellow! . . . a man after
his own heart, and a gentleman.--And throwing open drawers and
cupboards, he made many an unnecessary movement, and movements
that went wide of their mark.

In putting arnica and lint in his bag he became aware that his hands
were violently a-shake. This wouldn't do. Impossible to appear before a
patient in such a state. He clenched his fists and stiffened his arms;
but the tremor was stronger than his will, and persisted. As a last
resource he turned to the sideboard, poured some sherry into a tumbler,
and gulped it down.

Quitting the house by the back door, he went past the kitchen, the
woodstack, the rubbish-heap, a pile of emptied kerosene-tins, the
pigsties (with never a pig in them), the fowls sitting moping in the
shrinking shade. His eyes ran water anew at the brassy glare; and phew!
. . . the heat. In his haste he had forgotten to put a handful of
vine-leaves in the crown of his wideawake. The sun bore down on him with
an almost physical weight: he might have had a loaded sack lying across
neck and shoulders. And as soon as he let the hasp of the gate fall, he
was in the dust of the road; and then his feet were weighted as well.

But his thoughts galloped. Oh, that this summons might be the start of
a new era for him! . . . the awful stagnation of the past month prove
to have been but a temporary lull, a black patch, such as any practice
was liable to; the plot he had believed hatched against him prove to
have existed only in his own imagination; and everything be as before
. . . he still able to make a living, pay his way.--"Mercy! . . . dear
God, a little mercy!"--But if that were so, then he, too, would need
to do his share. Yes, he would make a point from now on of meeting the
people here on their own level. He would ask after their doings . . .
their wives and children . . . gossip with them of the weather and the
vines . . . hobnob--no, drink with them he could and would not! But he
knew another way of getting at them. And that was through their
pockets. Fees! Quite likely he had set his too high. He would now come
down a peg . . . halve his charges. They'd see then that it was to
their advantage to call him in, rather than send elsewhere for a
stranger. It might also be policy on his part--in the meantime at any
rate--to treat trivial injuries and ailments free of charge. (Once the
practice was set going again, he'd make them pay through the nose for
all the worry and trouble they'd caused him.) If ONLY he could get the
name of being freehanded . . . easygoing--could ingratiate
himself . . . become popular.

So rapt was he that though, at the level crossing, his feet paused of
themselves, he could not immediately think why he had stopped, and
gazed absently round. Ha! the trains, of course. But there WERE no
trains at this hour of day: the station was shut up, deserted. A pretty
fool he would look was he seen standing there talking to himself. He
must hurry in, too, out of the sun. The heat was beginning to induce
giddiness; the crown of his head felt curiously contracted. But he had
still some distance to go. He spurred himself on, more quickly than
before; his feet keeping time with his wingy thoughts.

Mary was hard put to it not to alarm the children. Every few minutes
her anxiety got the better of her, and dropping her work she would post
herself at a corner of the verandah, where she could see down the road.
She had been on the watch ever since the postman handed in Richard's
letter that morning, for the telegram that was to follow. Her first
impulse had been to start for home without delay; and, despite Tilly's
reasonings and persuasions, she had begun to sort out the children's
clothes. Then she wavered. It would be madness to go back before the
heat broke. And, if the practice was as dead as Richard averred, there
was no saying when the poor mites would get another change of air.

Still . . . Richard needed her. His letter ran: I AM AFRAID WHAT I HAVE
TO TELL YOU WILL BE A GREAT SHOCK TO YOU. I WAS UP AT THE
STATIONMASTER'S JUST NOW AND FOUND MYSELF UNABLE TO ARTICULATE. I COULD
NOT SAY WHAT I WANTED. I LAY DOWN, AND THEY BROUGHT ME WATER. I SAID I
THOUGHT IT WAS A FAINT--THAT I HAD BEEN OUT TOO LONG IN THE SUN. I
FEAR IT IS SOMETHING WORSE. I AM VERY, VERY UNEASY ABOUT MYSELF. I HAVE
BEEN SO DISTRESSED ABOUT THE PRACTICE. I THINK THAT MUST HAVE UPSET ME.
INTENSE MENTAL DEPRESSION . . . AND THIS AWFUL HEAT--WHAT WITH
SOLITUDE AND MISFORTUNES I HAVE BEEN TERRIBLY PUT ABOUT. ALL THE SAME I
SHOULD NOT WORRY YOU, IF IT WERE NOT FOR MY DREAD OF BEING TAKEN ILL
ALONE. I AM MOST UNWILLING TO BRING YOU AND THE CHILDREN BACK IN THE
MEANTIME. THE HEAT BAFFLES DESCRIPTION. I SHOULD NEVER SPEND ANOTHER
FEBRUARY HERE--IT WOULD BE AS MUCH AS MY LIFE IS WORTH. PERHAPS THE
BEST THING TO DO WILL BE TO WAIT AND SEE HOW I AM. I WILL
TELEGRAPH YOU ON MONDAY MORNING EARLY. TAKE NO STEPS TILL YOU HEAR.

But to this a postscript had been added, in a hand it was hard to
recognise as Richard's: OH MARY WIFE COME HOME, COME HOME!--BEFORE I
GO QUITE MAD.

Down by the water's edge Cuffy played angrily. He didn't know what he
loved best: the seaweed, or the shells, or the little cave, or the big
pool on the reef, or the little pool, or bathing and lying on the sand,
or the smell of the ti-trees. And now--oh, WHY had Papa got to go and
get ill, and spoil everything? HE'D seen Mamma beginning to pack their
things, and it had made him feel all hot inside. Why must just HIS
clothes be packed? He might get ill, too. Perhaps he would, if he drank
some sea. Aunt Tilly said it made you mad. (Like Shooh man.) All right
then, he would get mad . . . and they could see how they liked it! And
so saying he scooped up a palmful of water and put it to his mouth. It
ran away so fast that there was hardly any left; but it was enough:
ugh! wasn't it nasty? He spat it out again, making a 'normous noise so
that everybody should hear. But they didn't take a bit of notice. Then
a better idea struck him. He'd give Mamma the very nicest things he
had: the two great big shells he had found all by himself, which he
kept hidden in a cave so that Luce shouldn't even touch them unless he
said so. He'd give them to Mamma, and she'd like them so much that
she'd never want to go home--oh well! not for a long, long time. Off
he raced, shuffling his bare feet through the hot, dry, shifty sand.

But it was no good: she didn't care. Though he made her shut her eyes
tight and promise not to look, while he opened her hand and squeezed
the shells into it and shut it again, like you did with big surprises.
She just said: "What's this? Your pretty shells? My dear, what should I
do with them? No, no! . . . you keep them for yourself,"--and all the
while she wasn't REALLY thinking what she said. And he couldn't even
tell her why, for now Aunt Tilly shouted that the telegram-boy was
coming at last; and Mamma just pushed the shells back and ran out into
the road, and tore open the telegram like anything, and smiled and
waved it at Aunt Tilly, and they both laughed and talked and wiped
their eyes. But then everything was all right again; for it was from
Papa, and he had telegrammed: AM BETTER, DO NOT HURRY HOME.




Chapter IV



In spite, however, of this reassurance Mary could not rest. And one
fine morning not long after, the trunks were brought out again, and she
and Tilly fell to packing in earnest.

Cuffy's resentment at being torn from the sea a whole fortnight too
soon did not stand before the excitements of a journey: first in a
coach and then in a train. Besides, Mamma had given him a little box to
himself, to pack his shells in. Importantly he carried this, while she
and Aunt Tilly ran about counting the other luggage. There was so much
--portmanteaux and bundles, and baskets and bonnet-boxes, and beds and
mattresses, and buckets and spades and the perambulator--that they
were afraid there wouldn't be room for it in the coach. But there was:
they had it all to themselves. And diRECKLY the door was shut the
lunch-basket was opened; for one of the most 'squisite things about a
journey was that you could eat as much as you liked and whenever you
liked. Mamma was so nice, too, and didn't scold when you and Luce
rushed to look first out of one window and then the other. But Aunt
Tilly said you trod on her feet and knocked against Baby, and you were
a perfect nuisance; in all her born days she'd never known such
fidgets. But Mamma said it was only high spirits, and you couldn't be
always carping at children, wait till Baby got big and she'd see! And
Aunt Tilly said she'd take care he wasn't brought up to be a nuisance
to his elders. Cuffy was afraid they were going to get cross, so he sat
down again, and only waggled his legs. He didn't like Aunt Tilly much.
He didn't like fat people. Besides, when Baby squawked she thought it
was lovely, and gave him everything he wanted to put in his mouth. They
were in the train now, and WOULDN'T it be fun to pinch his leg! But he
couldn't, 'cos he wasn't sitting next him. But he stuck his boot out
and pressed it as hard as ever he could against Baby's foot, and Aunt
Tilly didn't see but Baby did, and opened his eyes and looked at him
. . . just horrid!

Then came Melbourne and a fat old lady in a carriage and two
horses, who called Mamma my dearie. She lived in a very big house with
a nice old gentleman with a white beard, who took his hand and walked
him round "to see the grounds" (just as if he was grown up). He was a
very funny man, and said he owed (only he said it "h'owed") everything
to Papa, which made Cuffy wonder why, if so, he didn't pay him back.
For Papa was always saying he hadn't enough money. But Mamma had told
them they must be specially good here, and not pass remarks about
ANYTHING. So he didn't. One night they went to a Pantomime called GOODY
TWO-SHOES--not Mamma, she was still too sorry about Lallie being dead
--and once to hear music and singing in a theatre. The old Sir and Lady
took them both times, and at the music Luce was a donkey and went to
sleep, and had to be laid down on a coat on the floor. He didn't! He
sat on a chair in the front of a little room like a balcony, and
listened and listened to a gipsy singing in a voice that went up and
up, and made you feel first hot and then cold all over. Afterwards
people made a great noise clapping their hands, and he did it, too, and
made more noise than anybody. And the gipsy came by herself and bowed
her head to every one, and then she looked at him, and smiled and blew
him a kiss. He didn't much care for that, because it made people laugh;
and he didn't know her. They all laughed again when they got home, till
he went red and felt more like crying. He didn't, though; he was too
big to cry now; everybody said so. The funny thing was, lots of big
people did cry here; there seemed always to be some one crying. Aunt
Zara came to see them all dressed in black, with black cloths hanging
from her bonnet and a prickly dress that scratched--like Papa's chin
when he hadn't shaved. This was because she was a widder. She had a
black streak on her handkerchief, too, to cry on, and felt most awfly
sorry about writing to Mamma on paper that hadn't a "morning border,"
but what with one thing and another . . . Cuffy hoped Mamma wouldn't
mind, and asked what a morning border was, but was only told to run
away and play. He didn't. He stopped at the window and pretended to
catch flies, he wanted so much to hear. Aunt Zara said she lit'rally
didn't know where to turn, and Mamma looked sorry but said if you made
beds you must lie on them. (That WAS rummy!) And Aunt Zara said
she thought she had been punished enough. Mamma said as long as she had
a roof over her head she wouldn't see any one belonging to her come to
want, and there WERE the children, of course, and she was at her wits'
end what to do about them, but of course she'd have to consult Richard
first, and Aunt Zara knew what he was, and Aunt Zara said, only too
well, but there was nothing she wouldn't do, she'd even scrub floors
and wash dishes.

"Maria always scrubs our floors!"

It just jumped out of him; he did so want her to know she wouldn't have
to. But then she said the thing about little pitchers and Mamma got
cross as well, and told him to go out of the room at ONCE, so he didn't
hear any more.

Then Cousin Emmy came, and she cried too--like anything. He felt much
sorrier for her than Aunt Zara. He had to sniffle himself. She was so
nice and pretty, but when she cried her face got red and fat, and Mamma
said if she went on like this she'd soon lose her good looks. But she
said who'd she got to be good-looking for, only a pack of kids, which
made him feel rather uncomfortable and he thought she needn't have said
that. But it was very int'resting. She told about somebody who spent
all her time dressing in "averdipoy," and was possessed by a devil
(like the pigs in the Bible). He longed to ask what she meant, but this
time was careful and didn't let anything hop out of him, for he was
going to hear just EVERYTHING. Mamma seemed cross with Cousin Emmy, and
said she was only a very young girl and must put up with things, and
one day Mister Right would come along and it would be time enough, when
that happened, to see what could be done. And Cousin Emmy got very
fierce and said there'd never be any Mister Right for her, for a man
was never allowed to show so much as his nose in the house. (Huh! THAT
was funny. Why not his nose?) Mamma said she'd try and make HER see
reason, and Cousin Emmy said it'd be like talking to a stone statue,
and it would always be herself first and the rest nowhere, and the
plain truth was, she was simply crazy to get married again and there'd
never be any peace till she had found a husband. And Mamma said, then
she'd have to look out for some one with lots of money, your Papa's
will being what it was. And Cousin Emmy said she was so sick and tired
of everything that sometimes she thought she'd go away and
drown herself. And then she cried again, and Mamma said she was a very
wicked girl, even to THINK of such a thing. He had to wink his own eyes
hard when she said that, and went on getting sorrier. And when she was
putting on her hat to say good-bye he ran and got his shells, and when
he was allowed to go to the gate with her he showed her them, and asked
if she'd like to have them "for keeps." And Cousin Emmy thanked him
most awfly but couldn't think of robbing him of his beautiful shells
. . . oh well then, if he wanted it SO much, she would, but only one, and
he should keep the other and it would be like a philippine, and they
wouldn't tell anybody; it would just be their secret. Which it was.

Next day they went to see Aunt Lizzie, where Cousin Emmy lived with
"John's cousins" . . . no, he meant "John's children." They couldn't
see John, for he was dead. In the wagonette Mamma told him all about
the 'squisite songs Aunt Lizzie used to sing him when he was quite a
young child, and he hoped she would again; but when he asked her, when
she had finished kissing, she clapped her hands and said law child, her
singing days were over. It was Aunt Lizzie who was averdipoy--he knew
now it meant fat, and not putting on something, for he had asked Mamma
at dinner and Mamma had told him; but she had been cross, too, and said
it was a nasty habit and he must get out of it, to listen to what his
elders said, especially if you repeated it afterwards. He didn't like
Aunt Lizzie much. She had a great big mouth to sing with, and she
opened it so wide when she talked you could have put a whole mandarin
in at once; and she had rings on her fingers that cut you when she
squeezed.

And then Mamma and her wanted to talk secrets, and they were told to go
and play with their cousins. Cousin Emmy took them. Two of them were
nearly grown-up, with their hairs in plaits, and they didn't take much
notice of them but just said, what a funny little pair of kids to be
sure, and whatever was their Mamma thinking of not to put them in
"morning" for their sister. They all had great big staring black eyes
and it made him sorry he had. Cousin Josey was as horrid as ever. She
said she guessed he was going to be a dwarf and would have to be shown
at an Easter Fair, and Luce looked a reg'lar cry-baby. Cousin Emmy told
her not to be so nasty, and she said her tongue was her own.
Cousin Josey was only ten, but ever so big, with long thin legs in
white stockings and black garters which she kept pulling up; and when
she took off her round comb and put it between her teeth, her hair came
over her face till she looked like a gorilla. When she said that about
the cry-baby he took hold of Luce's hand to pertect her, and squeezed
it hard so's she shouldn't cry. But then Cousin Josey came and pinched
Luce's nose off between her fingers and showed it to her, and she
pinched so hard that Luce got all red and screwed up her eyes like she
really was going to cry. Cousin Emmy said she was not to take any
notice what such a rude girl did, and then Cousin Josey stuck out her
tongue, and Cousin Emmy said she'd box her ears for her if she didn't
take care. And then Cousin Josey put her fingers to her nose and
waggled them--which was most awfly wicked--and Cousin Emmy said no it
was too much and tried to catch her, and she ran away and Cousin Emmy
ran too, and they chased and chased like mad round the table, and the
big girls said, go it Jo, don't let her touch you, and first a chair
fell over and then the tablecloth with the books on it and the
inkstand, and it upset on the carpet and there was an awful noise and
Aunt Lizzie and Mamma came running to see what was the matter. And Aunt
Lizzie was furious and screamed and stamped her foot, and Cousin Josey
had to come here, and then she boxed her ears on both sides fit to kill
her. And Mamma said oh Lizzie don't and something about drums, and Aunt
Lizzie said she was all of a shake, so she hardly knew what she was
doing, but this was just a specimen, Mary, of what she had to put up
with, they fought like turkey-cocks, and Cousin Emmy wasn't a bit of
good at managing them but just as bad as any of them, and there was
never a moment's peace, and she wished she'd seen their father at
Jericho before she'd had anything to do with him or his spoilt brats.
And the other two winked at each other, but Cousin Emmy got wild and
said she couldn't wish it more than she did, and she wouldn't stand
there and hear her father ubbused, and Aunt Lizzie said for two pins
and if she'd any more of her sauce she'd box HER ears as well though
she DID think herself so grand. And Cousin Emmy said she dared her to
touch her, and it was DREADFUL. He was ever so glad when Mamma said it
was time to go home, and he put on his gloves in a hurry. And when they
got home Mamma told the Lady about it and said it was a
"tragedy" for everybody concerned. He didn't like Cousin Emmy quite so
well after this. And that night in bed he told Luce all about the
shells and the philippine, and Luce said if he'd given it her she'd
have given it him back and then he'd still have had two. And he was
sorry he hadn't.

Uncle Jerry was a nice man . . . though he didn't have any whiskers.
Mamma said he looked a perfect sketch, and he'd only cut them off to
please Aunt Fanny who must always be ahlamode. Mamma said he had to
work like a nigger to make money, she spent such a lot, but he gave him
and Luce each a shilling. At first it was only a penny, and first in
one hand, then in the other, but at the end it was a shilling, to spend
EXACTLY as they liked.

And then they had to go home, and got up ever so early to catch the
train. This time it wasn't so jolly. It was too hot: you could only lie
on the seat and watch the sky run past. Mamma took off their shoes and
said, well, chicks, we shall soon be seeing dear Papa again now, won't
that be lovely? And he said, oh yes, won't it. But inside him he didn't
feel it a bit. Mamma had been so nice all the time at the seaside and
now she'd soon be cross and sorry again . . . about Lallie and Papa.
She looked out of the window, and wasn't thinking about them any more
. . . thinking about Papa.--Well, he WAS glad he hadn't spent his
shilling. He nearly had. Mamma said what fun it would be if he bought
something for Papa with it. But he hadn't. For Papa wrote a letter and
said for God's sake don't buy me anything, but Mamma did . . . a most
beautiful silver fruit knife. Luce had bought her doll new shoes . . .
perhaps some day he'd buy a kite that 'ud fly up and up to the sky till
you couldn't see a speck of it . . . much higher than a swing . . .
high like a . . .

Good gracious! he must have gone to sleep, for Mamma was shaking his
arm saying come children, wake up. And they put on their shoes again
and their hats and gloves and stood at the window to watch for Papa,
but it was a long, long time till they came to Barambogie. Papa was on
the platform, and when he saw them he waved like anything and ran along
with the train. And then he suddenly felt most awfly glad, and got out
by himself diRECKly the door was open, and Mamma got out too, but as
soon as she did she said oh Richard, what HAVE you been doing
to yourself? And Papa didn't say anything, but only kissed and kissed
them, and said how well they looked, and he was too tired to jump them
high, and while he was saying this he suddenly began to cry. And the
luggage-man stared like anything and so did the stationmaster, and
Mamma said, oh dear whatever is it, and not before everybody Richard,
and please just send the luggage after us, and then she took Papa's arm
and walked him away. And Luce and him had to go on in front . . . so's
not to see. But he did, and went all hot inside, and felt most awfly
ashamed.

And Papa cried and cried . . . he could hear him through the surgery
door.




Chapter V



When Mary came out of the surgery and shut the door behind her, she
leaned heavily up against it for a moment, pressing her hand to her
throat; then, with short steps and the blank eyes of a sleepwalker,
crossed the passage to the bedroom and sat stiffly down. She was still
in bonnet and mantle, just as she had got out of the train: it had not
occurred to her to remove them. And she was glad of the extra covering,
for in spite of the heat of the day she felt very cold. Cold . . . and
old. The scene she had just been through with Richard seemed, at a
stroke, to have added years to her age. It had been a dreadful
experience. With his arms on the table, his head on his arms, he had
cried like a child, laying himself bare to her, too, with a child's
pitiful abandon. He told of his distraction at the abrupt stoppage of
the practice; of his impression of being deliberately shunned; of his
misery and loneliness, his haunting dread of illness--and, on top of
this, blurted out pell-mell, as if he could keep nothing back, as if,
indeed, he got a wild satisfaction out of making it, came the
confession of his mad folly, the debt, the criminal debt in which he
had entangled them, and under the shadow of which, all unknown to her,
they had lived for the past year. Oh! well for him that he could not
see her face as he spoke; or guess at the hideous pictures his words
set circling in her brain; the waves of wrath and despair that ran
through her. After her first spasmodic gasp of: "RICHARD! EIGHT hundred
pounds!" the only outward sign of her inner commotion had been a sudden
stiffening of her limbs, an involuntary withdrawal of the arm that had
lain round his shoulders. Not for a moment could she afford to let her
real feelings escape her: her single exclamation had led to a further
bout of self-reproaches. Before everything, he had to be calmed,
brought back to his senses, and an end put to this distressing scene.
What would the children think, to hear their father behave like this?
. . . his hysterical weeping . . . his loud, agitated tones. And
so, without reflection, she snatched at any word of comfort that
offered; repeated the old, threadbare phrases about things not being as
black as he painted them; of everything seeming worse if you were
alone; of how they would meet this new misfortune side by side and
shoulder to shoulder--they still had each other, which was surely half
the battle? With never a hint of censure; till she had him composed.

But as she sat in the bedroom, with arms and legs like stone,
resentment and bitterness overwhelmed her . . . oh, a sheerly
intolerable bitterness! Never! not to her dying day, would she forgive
him the trick he had played on her.... the deceit he had practised. On
her . . . his own wife. So THIS was why he had left Hawthorn!--why he
had not been able to wait to let the practice grow--THIS the cause of
his feverish alarm here, did a single patient drop off. Now she
understood--and many another thing besides. Oh, what had he done . . .
so recklessly done! . . . to her, to his children? For there had been
no real need for this fresh load of misery: they could just as easily--
more easily--have rented a house. His pride alone had barred the way.
It wouldn't have been good enough for him; nothing ever WAS good
enough; he was always trying to outshine others. No matter how she
might suffer over it, who feared debt more than anything in the world.
But with him it had always been self first. Look at the home-coming he
had prepared for her! He had hardly let her step inside before he had
sprung his mine. Of course he had lost his head with excitement at
their arrival . . . had hardly known what he was saying. Yes! but no
doubt he had also thought to himself: at the pass to which things were
come, the sooner his confession was made, the better for him. WHAT a
home-coming!

Further than this, however, she did not get. For the children, still in
their travelling clothes and hot, tired and hungry, were at the door,
clamouring for attention. With fumbly hands she took off her bonnet,
smoothed her hair, pinned on her cap, tied a little black satin apron
round her waist; and went out to them with the pinched lips and haggard
eyes it so nipped Cuffy's heart to see.

Her pearl necklace would have to go: that was the first clear thought
she struck from chaos. It was night now: the children had been fed and
bathed and put to bed, the trunks unpacked, drawers and
wardrobes straightened, the house--it was dirty and neglected--looked
through, and Richard, pale as a ghost but still pitifully garrulous,
coaxed to bed in his turn. She sat alone in the little dining-room, her
own eyes feeling as if they would never again need sleep. Her necklace
. . . even as the thought came to her she started up and, stealing on
tiptoe into the bedroom, carried her dressing-case back with her. . .
just to make sure: for an instant she had feared he might have been
beforehand with her. But there the pearls lay, safe and sound. Well! as
jewellery she would not regret them: she hadn't worn them for years,
and had never greatly cared for being bedizened and behung. Bought in
those palmy days when money slid like sand through Richard's fingers,
they had cost him close on a hundred pounds. Surely she ought still to
get enough for them--and for their companion brooches, rings, chains,
ear-rings and bracelets--to make up the sums of money due for the
coming months, which he admitted not having been able to get together.
For consent to let the mortgage lapse she never would: not if she was
forced to sell the clothes off her back, or to part, piece by piece,
with the Paris ornaments, the table silver.. . Richard's books. It
would be sheer madness; after having paid out hundreds and hundreds of
pounds. Besides, the knowledge that you had this house behind you made
all the difference. If the worst came to the worst they could retire to
Hawthorn, and she take in boarders. She didn't care a rap what she did,
so long as they contrived to pay their way.

How to dispose of the necklace was the puzzle. To whom could she turn?
She ran over various people but dismissed them all. Even Tilly. When it
came to making Richard's straits public, she was hedged on every side.
Ah! but now she had it: ZARA! If, as seemed probable, Zara came to take
up her abode with them to teach the children, she would soon see for
herself how matters stood. (And at least she was one's own sister.)
Zara. . . trailing her weeds--why yes, even these might be turned to
account. Widows did not wear jewellery; and were often left poorly off.
People would pity her, perhaps give more, because of it.

And so, having fetched pen, ink and paper, Mary drew the kerosene lamp
closer and set to writing her letter.

It wasn't easy; she made more than one start. Not even to Zara
could she tell the unvarnished truth. She shrank, for instance, from
admitting that only now had she herself learnt of Richard's
difficulties. Zara might think strange things . . . about him and her.
So she put the step she was forced to take, down to the expenses of
their seaside holiday. Adding, however, that jewellery was useless in a
place like this where you had no chance of wearing it; and even
something of a risk, owing to the house standing by itself and having
so many doors.

The letter written she made a second stealthy journey, this time to the
surgery, where she ferreted out Richard's case-books. She had a lurking
hope that, yet once more, he might have been guilty of his usual
exaggeration. But half a glance at the blank pages taught her better.
Things were even worse than he had admitted. What COULD have happened
during her absence? What had he done, to make people turn against him?
Practices didn't die out like this in a single day--somehow or other
he must have been to blame. Well! it would be her job, henceforth, to
put things straight again: somehow or other to re-capture the patients.
And if Richard really laid himself out to conciliate people--he COULD
be so taking, if he chose--and not badger them . . . Let him only
scrape together enough for them to live on, and she would do the rest:
her thoughts leapt straightway to a score of petty economies. The
expenses of food and clothing might be cut down all round; and they
would certainly go on no more long and costly holidays: had she only
known the true state of affairs before setting out this summer! But she
had been so anxious about the children . . . oh! she was forgetting the
children. And here, everything coming back to her with a rush, Mary
felt her courage waver. Merciless to herself; with only a half-hearted
pity for Richard, grown man that he was and the author of all the
trouble; she was at once a craven and wrung with compassion where her
children were concerned.

At the breakfast-table next morning she sat preoccupied; and directly
the meal was over put the first of her schemes into action by sending
for the defaulting Maria and soundly rating her. But she could get no
sensible reason from the girl for running away--or none but the
muttered remark that it had been "too queer" in the house with them all
gone. After which, tying on her bonnet Mary set out for the
township, a child on either hand. Lucie trotted docilely; but Cuffy was
restive at being buttoned into his Sunday suit on a week-day, and
dragged back and shuffled his feet in the dust till they were nearly
smothered. Instead of trying to help Mamma by being an extra good boy!

"But I don't FEEL good."

Once out of sight of the house, Mary took two crepe bands from her
pocket and slipped them over the children's white sleeves. Richard's
ideas about mourning were bound to give . . . had perhaps already given
offence. People of the class they were now dependent on thought so much
of funerals and mourning. But he never stopped to consider the feelings
of others. She remembered how he had horrified Miss Prestwick, with his
heathenish ideas about the children's prayers. All of a sudden one day
he had declared they were getting too big to kneel down and pray "into
the void," or to "a glorified man"; and had had them taught a verse
which said that loving all things big and little was the best kind of
prayer and so on; making a regular to-do about it when he discovered
that Miss Prestwick was still letting them say their "Gentle Jesus" on
the sly.

Here she righted two hats and took Cuffy's elastic out of his mouth;
for they were entering the township; and for once the main street was
not in its usual state of desertedness, when it seemed as if the
inhabitants must all lie dead of the plague . . . or be gone EN MASSE
to a fairing. The butcher's cart drove briskly to and fro; a spring-cart
had come in from the bush; buggies stood before the Bank. The
police-sergeant touched his white helmet; horses were being backed
between the shafts of the coach in front of the "Sun." Everybody of
course eyed her and the children very curiously, and even emerged from
their shops to stare after them. It was the first time she had ever
walked her own children out, and on top of that she had been absent for
over two months. (Perhaps people imagined she had gone for good! Oh,
could THAT possibly be a reason?) However she made the best of it:
smiled, and nodded, and said good-day; and in spite of their
inquisitive looks every one she met was very friendly. She went into
the butcher's to choose a joint, and took the opportunity of thanking
the butcher for having served the doctor so well during her absence The
man beamed: and showed the children a whole dead pig he had
hanging in the shop. She gave an order to the grocer, who leaned over
the counter with two bunches of raisins, remarking "A fine little pair
of nippers you have there, Mrs. Mahony!" To the baker she praised his
bread, comparing it favourably with what she had eaten in Melbourne;
and the man's wife pressed sweets on the children. At the draper's,
which she entered to buy some stuff for pinafores, the same fuss was
made over them . . . till she bade them run outside and wait for her
there. For the drapery woman began putting all sorts of questions about
Lallie's illness, and what they had done for her, and how they had
treated it . . . odd and prying questions, and asked with a strange
air. Still, there was kindness behind the curiosity. "We did all feel
that sorry for YOU, Mrs. Mahony. . . losing such a fine sturdy little
girl!" And blinking her eyes to keep the tears back, Mary began to
think that Richard must have gone DELIBERATELY out of his way, to make
enemies of these simple, well-meaning souls. Bravely she re-told the
tale of her loss, being iron in her resolve to win people round; but
she was thankful when the questionnaire ended and she was free to quit
the shop. To see what the children were doing, too. She could hear
Cuffy chattering away to somebody.

This proved to be the Reverend Mr. Thistlethwaite, who had engaged the
pair in talk with the super-heartiness he reserved for what he called
the "young or kitchen fry" of his parish. In his usual state of undress
--collarless, with unbuttoned vest, his bare feet thrust in carpet
slippers--he was so waggish that Mary could not help suspecting where
his morning stroll had led him.

"Good morning, Madam, good morning to you! Back again, back again? AND
the little Turks! Capital . . . quite capital!"

He slouched along beside them, his paunch, under its grease spots, a-shake
with laughter at his own jokes. The children of course were all
ears; and she would soon have slipped into anothershop and so have got
rid of him--you never knew what he was going to say next--if a sudden
bright idea had not flashed into her mind.

It came of Mr. Thistlethwaite mentioning that the Bishop was shortly
expected to visit the district; and humorously bemoaning his own lot.
For, should his Lordship decide to break his journey at Barambogie on
his way home, he, Thistlethwaite, would be obliged to ask him
to share his bachelor quarters. "Which are all very well for hens and
self, Mrs. Mahony . . . hens and self! But for his Lordship? Oh dear,
no!"

Privately Mary recognised the ruse. The piggery in which Thistlethwaite
housed had stood him in good stead before now: never yet had the
parsonage been in fit state to receive a brother cleric. But at the
present crisis she jumped at the handle it offered her.

"But he must come to us!" cried she. "The doctor and I would be only
too delighted. And for as long as he likes. Another thing: why not,
while he IS here, persuade him to give us a short lecture or address?
We might even get up a little concert to follow, and devote the money
to the fencing fund."--For the church still stood on open ground. In
the course of the past year but a meagre couple of pounds had been
raised towards enclosing it; and what had become of these, nobody knew.

And now Mary's ideas came thick and fast; rising even to the supreme
labour of a "Tea-meeting." And while Thistlethwaite hummed aloud in
ever greater good humour, mentally cracking his fingers to the tune of:
"That's the ticket . . . women for ever! The work for them, and the
glory for us," Mary was telling herself that to secure the Bishop as
their guest would go far towards restoring Richard's lost prestige. He
would be reinstated as the leading person in the township; and the fact
of his Lordship staying with them would bring people about the house
again, who MIGHT turn to patients. At any rate Richard and he would be
seen in the street together, and at concert or lecture it would
naturally fall to Richard to take the chair.

Striking while the iron was hot, she offered her services to mend the
altarcloth; to darn and "get up" a surplice; to over-sew the frayed
edges of a cassock. She would also see, she promised, what could be
done to hide a hole in the carpet before the lectern, in which the
Bishop might catch his foot. For this purpose they entered the church.
It was pleasantly cool there, after the blazing heat out of doors; and
having made her inspection Mary was glad to rest for a moment. The
children felt very proud at being allowed inside the church when it
wasn't Sunday; and Thistlethwaite actually let Cuffy mount the
pulpit-steps and repeat: "We are but little children weak," so that he
could see what it felt like to preach a sermon. Cuffy spoke up well,
and remembered his words, and Mr. Thistlethwaite said they'd see him in
the cloth yet; but all the time he, Cuffy, wasn't REALLY thinking what
he was saying. For he spied a funny little cupboard under the ledge of
the pulpit, and while he was doing his hymn he managed to finger it
open, and inside he saw a glass and a water-jug and a medicine-bottle.
And next Sunday he watched the water Mr. Thistlethwaite drank before he
preached, and saw he put medicine in it first. But when he asked Mamma
if he was ill, and if not, why he took it, she got cross and said he
was a very silly little boy, and he was to be sure and not say things
like that before people.

There was still Richard to talk over on getting home. And he was in a
bad temper at their prolonged absence. "All this time in the township?
What for? Buying your own eatables? What on EARTH will people think of
you?--Not to speak of dragging the children after you like any
nursemaid."

"Oh, let me go my own way to work."

To reconcile him to the Bishop's visit was a tough job. Gloomily he
admitted that it might serve a utilitarian end. But the upset . . . to
think of the upset! "It means the sofa for me again. While old M.,
who's as strong as a horse, snores on my pillow. The sofa's like a
board; I never sleep a wink on it; it sets every bone in my body
aching."

"But only for one night . . . or at most two. Surely you can endure a
few aches for the good that may come of it? Oh, Richard, DON'T go about
thinking what obstacles you can put in my way! I'm quite sure I can
help you, if you'll give me a free hand."

And she was right . . . as usual. The mere rumour that so important a
visitor was expected--and she took care it circulated freely--brought
a trickle of people back to the house. By the end of the week, Richard
had treated four patients.




Chapter VI



They were at breakfast when the summons came--breakfast, the hardest
meal of any to get through without friction. Richard invariably ate at
top speed and with his eyes glued to his plate; in order, he said, not
to be obliged to see Zara's dusty crepe and bombazine, the mere sight
of which on these hot mornings took away his appetite. But he also
hoped by example to incite Zara to haste: now she was there, the meals
dragged out to twice their usual length. For Zara had a patent habit of
masticating each mouthful so-and-so many times before swallowing; and
the children forgot to eat, in counting their aunt's bites. With their
ears cocked for the click at the finish. Mamma said it was her teeth
that did it, and it was rude to listen. Aunt Zara called her teeth her
MASHWAR. Why did she, and why did they click? But it was no good asking
HER. She never told you anything . . . except lessons.

Yes, Mary had got her way, and for a couple of weeks now, Zara had been
installed as governess. As a teacher she had not her equal. She also
made a very good impression in the township, looking so much the lady,
speaking with such precision and all that. But--well, it was a good
job nothing had been said to Richard of her exaggerated offer to wash
dishes and scrub floors. How he would have crowed! Apart from this, she
had landed them in a real quandary by arriving with every stick of
furniture she possessed: her bed, her mahogany chest of drawers, a
night-commode. In the tiny bedroom which was all they had to offer her,
there was hardly room to stand; while still unpacked portmanteaux and
gladstone-bags lined the passage, Zara having turned nasty at a hint of
the outhouse. And directly lessons were over, she shut herself up among
her things with a bottle of French polish.

Of course, poor soul, they were all that was left her of her own home:
you couldn't wonder at her liking to keep them nice. And the
main thing was, the children were making headway. Reward enough for
her, Mary, to hear them gabbling their French of a morning, or learning
their steps to Zara's: "One, two, CHASSEZ, one!" Such considerations
didn't weigh with Richard though. Just as of old, everything Zara said
or did exasperated him. He was furious with her, too, for grumbling at
the size of her room.--But there! It wasn't only Zara who grated on
his nerves. It was everybody and everything.

On this particular day all her tact would be needed. For the message
Maria had looked in during breakfast to deliver was a summons to
Brown's Plains; and if there was one thing he disliked more than
another, it was the bush journeys he was being called on to face anew.
"What! . . . again? Good God!" he looked up from his gobbling to
ejaculate. Which expression made Zara pinch her lips and raise her
eyebrows; besides being so bad for the children to hear. She, Mary,
found his foot under the table and pressed it but that irritated him,
too, and he was nasty enough to say: "What are you kicking me for?"
Breakfast over, she sent Maria to the "Sun" to bespeak a buggy; looked
out his driving things, put likely requisites in his bag--as usual the
people hadn't said what the matter was--and, her own work in the house
done, changed her dress and tied on a shady hat. Now that Zara was
there to mind the children, she frequently made a point of accompanying
Richard on these drives.

The buggy came round: it was another of her innovations to have it
brought right to the door; he had nothing to do but to step in. But at
the gate they found Cuffy, who began teasing to be allowed to go, too.
He had no one to play with; Lucie was asleep and Maria was busy, and
Aunt Zara shut up in her room; and he was SO tired of reading. Thus he
pouted, putting on his special unhappy baby face; and as often as he
did this it got at something in his mother, which made her weak towards
her first-born. So she said, oh, very well then, if he wanted to so
much, he might; and sent him in to wash his hands and fetch his hat.
Richard, of course, let loose a fresh string of grumbles: it would be
hot enough with just the pair of them, without having the child thrown
in. But Mary, too, was cross and tired, and said she wasn't going to
give way over every trifle; and so Cuffy, who had shrunk back
at the sharp words, was hoisted up and off they set.--And soon the
three of them, a tight fit in the high, two-wheeled, hooded vehicle,
had left the township behind them, and were out on bush tracks where
the buggy rocked and pitched like a ship on the broken waters of a
rough sea.

Cuffy had never before been so far afield, and his spirits were
irrepressible. He twisted this way and that, jerked his legs and bored
with his elbows, flinging round to ask question after question. It fell
to Mary to supply the answers; and she had scant patience with the
curiosity of children, who hardly listened to what you told them in
their eagerness to ask anew. But her "I wonder!" "How do I know?" and
"Don't bother me!" failed to damp Cuffy, who kept up his flow till he
startled her by exclaiming with a vigorous sigh: "Ugh! I DO feel so hot
and funny." His small face was flushed and distressed.

"That's what comes of so much talking," said Mary, and without more ado
whisked off his sailor-hat, with its cribbing chin-elastic, undid his
shoes, slid his feet out of his socks.

Thus much Cuffy permitted. But when it came to taking off his tunic,
leaving him to sit exposed in his little vest, he fought her
unbuttoning hands.

"DON'T, Mamma--I won't!"

"But there's nobody to see! And it wouldn't matter if they did--you're
only a little boy. No, you WOULD come. Now you must do as I tell you."

And when she knew quite well how he felt! Why, not even Lucie was
allowed to see him undressed. Since they had slept in the same room she
had always to go to bed first, and turn her face to the wall, and shut
her eyes tight, while he flew out of his clothes and into his
nightshirt. To have to sit in broad daylight with naked arms, and his
neck, too, and his braces showing! All his pleasure in the drive was
spoiled. At each turn in the road he was on thorns lest somebody should
be there who'd see him. Oh, WHY must Mamma be like this? Why didn't she
take her own clothes off? His belonged to him. (He HATED Mamma.)

Nursing this small agony, he could think of nothing else. And now there
was silence in the buggy, which lurched and jolted, Richard taking as
good as no pains to avoid the foot-deep, cast-iron ruts, the lumpy
rocks and stones. Over they went sideways, then up in the air
and down again with a bump. "Oh, gently, dear! DO be careful." He
wasn't the driver for this kind of thing. She never felt really safe
with him.--And here there came to her mind a memory of the very first
time they had driven together: on their wedding journey from Geelong to
Ballarat. How nervous she had been that day . . . how home-sick and
lonely, too! . . . beside some one who was little more than a stranger
to her, behind a strange horse on an unknown road, bound for a place of
which she knew nothing. Ah well, it was perhaps a wise arrangement on
the part of Providence that you DIDN'T know what lay ahead . . . or you
might never set out at all. Could SHE have foreseen all that marriage
was to mean: how Richard would change and the dance he would lead her;
all the nagging worry and the bitter suffering; then, yes then, poor
young inexperienced thing that she was, full of romantic ideas, and
expecting only happiness as her lot, she might have been excused for
shrinking back in dismay.--Her chief objection nowadays to driving was
the waste of time. To make up for having to sit there with her hands
before her, she let her mind run free, and was deep in her usual
reckonings--reducing grocer's and butcher's bills, making over her old
dresses for the children--when a violent heave of the buggy all but
threw her from her seat: she had just time to fling a protective arm
round Cuffy, to save the child from pitching clean over the dashboard.
Without warning, Richard had leant forward and dealt the horse a
vicious cut on the neck. The beast, which had been ambling drearily,
started, stumbled, and would have gone down, had he not tugged and
sawed it by the mouth. For a few seconds they flew ahead, rocking and
swaying, she holding to the child with one hand, to the rail with the
other.--"Do you want to break our necks?"

Mahony made no reply.

Gradually the rough canter ceased, and the horse fell back on its
former jog-trot. It was a very poor specimen, old and lean; and the
likelihood was, had been in harness most of the morning.

Again they crawled forward. The midday heat blazed; the red dust
enveloped them, dimming their eyes, furring their tongues; there was
not an inch of shade anywhere. Except under the close black hood, where
they sat as if glued together.

Then came another savage lash from Richard, another leap on the
part of the horse, more snatching at any hold she could find, the buggy
toppling this way and that. Cuffy was frightened and clung to her
dress, while she, outraged and alarmed, made indignant protest.

"Are you crazy? If you do that again, I shall get out."

For all answer Richard said savagely: "Oh, hold your tongue, woman!"
Before the child, too!

But her hurt and anger alike passed unheeded. Mahony saw nothing--
nothing but the tremulous heat-lines, which caused the whole landscape
to quiver and swim before him. His head ached to bursting: it might
have had a band of iron round it, the screws in which were tightened,
with an agonising twist, at each lurch of the vehicle, at Cuffy's
shrill pipe, Mary's loud, exasperated tones. Inside this circlet of
pain his head felt swollen and top-heavy, an unnatural weight on his
shoulders: the exact reverse of an unpleasant experience he had had the
night before. Then, as he went to lay it on the pillow it had seemed to
lose its solidity, and, grown light as a puff-ball, had gone clean
through pillow, bolster, mattress, drawing his shoulders after it, down
and down, head-foremost, till he felt as if he were dropping like a
stone through space. With the bed-curtain fast in one hand, a bed-post
in the other, he had managed to hold on while the vertigo lasted, his
teeth clenched to hinder himself from crying out and alarming Mary. But
the fear of a recurrence had kept him awake half the night, and to-day
he felt very poorly, and disinclined for any exertion. He would
certainly have jibbed at driving out all this distance, had it not been
for Mary and her hectoring ways. He was unable to face the fuss and
bother in which a refusal would involve him.

If only they could reach their destination! They seemed to have been on
the road for hours. But--with the horse that had been fobbed off on
him ... old, spiritless, and stubborn as a mule.... And there he had to
sit, hunched up, crushed in, with no room to stir . . . with hardly
room to breathe. One of Mary's utterly mistaken ideas of kindness, to
dog his steps as she did. To tack the child on, too . . . . Because SHE
liked company . . . . But his needs had never been hers. Solitude . . .
solitude was all he asked . . . to be left alone the greatest favour
anyone could now do him. Seclusion had become as essential as
air or water to the act of living. His brain refused its work were
others present Which reminded him, there was something he had been
going to think over on this very drive: something vital, important. But
though he ransacked his mind from end to end, it remained blank. Or
mere disconnected thoughts and scraps of thought flitted across it,
none of which led anywhere. Enraged at his powerlessness he let the
horse taste the whip; but the relief the quickened speed afforded him
was over almost as soon as begun, and once more they ambled at a
funeral pace. Damnation take the brute! Was he, because of it, to sit
for ever on this hard, narrow seat, chasing incoherencies round an
empty brain? . . . to drive for all eternity along these intolerable
roads? . . . through this accursed bush, where the very trees grimaced
at you in distorted attitudes, like stage ranters declaiming an
exaggerated passion--or pointed at you with the obscene gestures of
the insane. . . obscene, because so wholly without significance.--And
again he snatched up the whip.

But the prolonged inaction was doing its work: a sense of unreality
began to invade him, his surroundings to take on the blurred edges of a
dream: one of those nightmare-dreams in which the dreamer knows that he
is bound to reach a certain place in a given time, yet whose legs are
weighed down by invisible weights . . . or which feel as if they are
being dragged through water, tons of impeding water . . . or yet again
the legs of elephantiasis . . . swollen, monstrous, heavy as lead: all
this, while time, the precious time that remains BEFORE the event, is
flying. Yes, somewhere. . . far away, out in the world . . . life and
time were rushing by: he could hear the rhythm of their passing in the
beat of his blood. He alone lay stranded--incapable of movement. And,
as always at the thought of his lost freedom madness seized him: dead
to everything but his own need, he rose in his seat and began to rain
down blows on the horse: to beat it mercilessly, hitting out where ever
the lash found place--on head, neck, ears, the forelegs, the quivering
undersides. In vain the wretched creature struggled to break free, to
evade the cut of the thong: it backed, tried to rear, dragged itself
from side to side, ducked its defenceless head, the white foam flying.
But for it, too, strapped down, buckled in, there was no chance
of escape. And the blows fell . . . and fell.

"RICHARD! Oh, DON'T!--don't beat the poor thing like that! How can
you? What are you doing?" For, cruellest of all, he was holding the
animal in to belabour it, refusing to let it carry out its pitiful
attempts to obey the lash. "You who pretend to be so fond of animals!"
There was no anger now in Mary's voice: only entreaty, and a deep
compassion.--And in the mad race that followed, when they tore along,
in and out of ruts, on the track and off, skimming trees and bushes,
always on the edge of capsizing, blind with dust: now, frightened
though she was, she just set her teeth and held fast and said never a
word . . . though she saw it was all Richard could do to keep control:
his lean wrists spanned like iron.

Brought up at length alongside a rail-and-post fence, the horse stood
shaking and sweating, its red nostrils working like bellows, the marks
of the lash on its lathered hide. And Richard was trembling too. His
hand shook so that he could hardly replace the whip in its socket.

With an unspoken "Thank God!" Mary slid to the ground, dragging Cuffy
after her. Her legs felt as if they were made of pulp.

"I think this must be the place . . . . I think I see a house . . . .
No, no, you stop here. I'll go on and find out." (Impossible for him to
face strangers in the state he was in.) "Hush, Cuffy! It's all right
now." Saying this she made to draw the child under a bush; he was lying
sobbing just as she had dropped him.

But Cuffy pushed her away. "Leave me alone!" He only wanted to stop
where he was. And cry. He felt so DREADfully miserable. For the poor
horse. . . it couldn't cry for itself. . . only run and run--and it
hadn't DONE anything . . . 'cept be very old and tired . . . prayeth
best who loveth best . . . oh! everything was turned all black inside
him. But for Papa, too, because . . . he didn't know why . . . only . . .
when Mamma had gone and Papa thought nobody would see him, he went up
to the horse's neck and stroked it. And that made him cry more still.

But when he came and sat down by him and said "Cuffy," and put out his
arms, then he went straight into them, and Papa held him tight,
so that he could feel the hard sticking-out bone that was his shoulder.
And they just sat and never spoke a word, till they heard Mamma coming
back; and then Papa let him go, and he jumped up and pretended to be
looking at something on the ground.

Marry carried a dipper of water.

"Yes, this is it right enough. There's been an accident--the son--
they're afraid he's broken his leg. Oh, WHY can't people send clearer
messages! Can you rig up some splints? A man's bringing a bucket for
the horse. Come, let me dust you down. No, I'll wait here I'd rather."

Richard went off bag in hand: she watched him displacing and replacing
slip-rails, walking stiffly over the rough ground. Just before he
vanished he turned and waved, and she waved back. But this last duty
performed, she sat heavily down, and dropped her head in her hands. And
there she sat, forgetful of where she was, of Cuffy, the heat, the
return journey that had to be faced: just sat, limp and spent, thinking
things from which she would once have shrunk in horror.

All the way home Cuffy carried in his pocket half one of the nicest
sugar-biscuits the people had sent him out by Papa. It was a present
for the horse. But when the moment came to give it, his courage failed.
Everybody else had forgotten: the horse, too: it was in a great hurry
to get back to its stable. He didn't like to be the only one to
remember, to make it look as if he was still sorry. So, having feebly
fingered the biscuit--the sugary top had melted and stuck to his
pocket--he ate it up himself.




Chapter VII



For some time after this, Cuffy fought shy of his father; and tried
never, if he could help it, to be alone with him. It wasn't only
embarrassment at having been nursed and petted like a baby. The events
of the drive had left a kind of fear behind them: a fear not of his
father, but for him: he was afraid of having to see what Papa was
feeling. If he was with him, he didn't seem able not to. And he didn't
LIKE it. For he wanted so awf'ly much to be happy--in this house that
he loved, with the verandah, and the garden, and the fowls, and the
Lagoon--and when he saw Papa miserable, he couldn't be. So he gave the
end of the verandah on which the surgery opened a wide berth; avoiding
the dining-room, too. . . when it wasn't just meals. For there was no
sofa in the surgery, and if Papa had a headache he sometimes went and
lay down in the dining-room.

But he couldn't ALWAYS manage it.

There was that day Mamma sent him in to fetch her scissors, and Papa
was on the sofa with the blind down and his eyes shut, and his feet
sticking over the end. Cuffy walked on the tips of his toes. But just
when he thought he was safe, Papa was watching him. And put his hand
out and said: "Come here to me, Cuffy. There's something I wish to say
to you."

The words struck chill. With resistance in every limb, Cuffy obeyed.

"Pull up the hassock; sit down." And there he was, alone in the dark
with Papa, his heart going pit-a-pat.

Papa took his hand. And held on to it. "You're getting a big boy now;
you'll soon be seven years old . . . when I was not much older than
that, my dear, I was being thrashed because I could not turn French
phrases into Latin."

"What's Latin?" (Oh, perhaps after all it was just going to be about
when Papa was little.)

"Latin is one of the dead languages."

"How can it . . . be dead? It isn't a . . . a man."

"Things perish, too, child. A language dies when it is no longer in
common use; when it ceases to be a means of communication between
living people."

This was too much for Cuffy. He struggled with the idea for a moment,
then gave it up, and asked: "Why did you have to? And why did your
Mamma let you be thrashed?" (Lots and lots of questions. Papa always
told.)

"Convention demanded it . . . convention and tradition. . . the slavish
tradition of a country that has always rated the dead lion higher than
the live dog. And thralls to this notion were those in whose hands at
that time lay the training of the young. The torturing rather! A
lifetime lies between, but I can still feel something of the misery,
the hopelessness, the inability to understand what was required of you,
the dread of what awaited you was your task ill done or left undone. A
forlorn and frightened child . . . with no one to turn to, for help or
advice. That most sensitive, most delicate of instruments--the mind of
a little child! Small wonder that I vowed to myself, if ever I had
children of my own . . . to let the young brain lie fallow . . . not so
much as the alphabet . . . the A B C . . ." Thus, forgetful of his
little hearer, Mahony rambled on. And Cuffy, listening to a lot more of
such talk (nasty talk!) kept still as a broody hen, not shuffling his
feet, or sniffling, or doing anything to interrupt, for fear of what
might come next.

Then Papa stopped and was so quiet he thought he'd gone to sleep again.
He hoped so. He'd stay there till he was QUITE sure. But through his
trying too hard not to make a noise, a button squeaked, and Papa opened
his eyes.

"But . . . this wasn't what I brought you here to say." He looked
fondly at the child and stroked his rough, little-boy hand. "Listen,
Cuffy. Papa hasn't felt at all well lately, and is sometimes very
troubled . . . about many things. And he wants you, my dear, to promise
him that if anything should . . . I mean if I should"--he paused,
seeking a euphemism--"if I should have to leave you, leave you all,
then I want you to promise me that you will look after Mamma for me,
take care of her in my place, and be a help to her in every way you
can. Will you?"

Cuffy nodded: his throat felt much too tight to speak. Dropping
his head he watched his toe draw something on the carpet. To hear Papa
say things like this made him feel like he did when he had to take his
clothes off.

"Your little sister too, of course, but Mamma most of all. She has had
so much to bear . . . so much care and trouble. And I fear there's more
to come. Be good to her, Cuffy!--And one other thing. Whatever
happens, my little son . . . and who knows what life may have in store
for you . . . I want you never to forget that you are a gentleman--a
gentleman first and foremost--no matter what you do or where you go,
or who your companions may be. NOBLESSE OBLIGE. With that for your
motto you cannot go far wrong."

"What a lot of little hairs you've got on your hand, Papa!" Cuffy
blurted this out, hardly knowing what he said. Nobody . . . not even
Papa . . . had the right to speak such things to him. They HURT.

Free at last he ran to the garden, where he fell to playing his
wildest, merriest games. And Mahony, lying listening to the childish
rout, thought sadly to himself: "No use . . . too young."

That Papa might be going away stayed Cuffy's secret: he didn't even
tell Lucie. Or at least not till she got a secret, too. He saw at once
there was something up; and it didn't take him half a jiffy to worm it
out of her. They sat on the other side of the fowl-house; but she
whispered, all the same. "I fink Mamma's going away."

Cuffy, leaning over her with his arm round her neck, jerked upright,
eyes and mouth wide open. WHAT? . . . Mamma, too? Oh, but that couldn't
be true . . . it couldn't! He laughed out loud, and was very stout and
bold in denial because of the fright it gave him. "Besides, if she did,
she'd take us with her."

But his little sister shook her head. "I heard her tell Papa yesterday,
one of vese days she'd just pack her boxes an' walk outer the house an'
leave bof him an' the child'en. An' then he could see how he liked it."
And the chubby face wrinkled piteously.

"Hush, Luce! they'll hear you--don't cry, there's a good girl.
I'll look after YOU . . . always! An' when I'm a big man I'll . . .
I'll marry you. So there! Won't that be nice?"

But Cuffy's world tottered. Papa's going would be bad enough . . .
though . . . yes . . . HE'D take care of Mamma so well that she'd never
be worried again. But that SHE should think of leaving them was not to
be borne. Life without Mamma! The nearest he could get to it was when
he had once had to stop alone at a big railway station to mind the
luggage, while Mamma and Luce went to buy the tickets. It had taken so
long, and there were so many people, and he was so sure the train would
go without them . . . or else they might forget him, forget to come
back . . . or get into a wrong train and he be left there . . .
standing there for always. His heart had thumped and thumped . . . and
he watched for them till his eyes got so big they almost fell out . . .
and the porters were running and shouting . . . and the doors banging
. . . oh dear, oh dear!

He knew what the row had been about--a picture Cousin Emmy had painted
quite by herself, and sent as a present to Mamma. Mamma thought it was
a lovely picture, and so did he: all sea and rocks, with little men in
red caps sitting on them. But Papa said it was a horrible dorb, and he
wouldn't have it in HIS house. And Mamma said that was only because it
was made by a relation of hers, and if it had been one of his, he would
have liked it; and it was an oil painting, and oil paintings were ever
so hard to do; and when she thought of the time it must have taken
Emmy, and the work she had put into it . . . besides, she'd always
believed he was fond of the girl. And Papa said, Good God, so he was,
but what had that to do with "heart"? And Mamma said, well he might
talk himself hoarse, but she meant to hang the picture in the
drawing-room, and Papa said he forbade it . . . and then he'd run away so
as not to hear any more, but Luce didn't, and it was then she heard.

He hated Aunt Zara. Aunt Zara said, with them quarrelling as they did,
the house wasn't fit to live in. He went hot all over when she said
this. And that night he got a big pin and stuck it in her bed with the
point up, so it would run into her when she lay down. And it must have;
because she showed it to Mamma next day and was SIMPLY FURIOUS. And he
had to say yes he'd done it, and on purpose. But he wouldn't say he was
sorry, because he wasn't; and he stopped naughty, and never did
say it at all.

For then the Bishop came to stay, and every one was nice and smiley
again.

The Bishop was the same genial, courtly gentleman as of old.
Tactfulness itself, too: in the three days he was with them never, by
word or by look, did he show himself aware of their changed
circumstances. He admired house and garden, complimented Mary on her
cooking, and made much of the children. Especially Lucie. "I shall
steal this little maid before I'm finished, Mrs. Mahony. Pop her in my
pocket and take her home as a present to my wife!" And the chicks were
on their best behaviour--they had had it well dinned into them
beforehand not to comment on the Bishop's attire. But even if it had
been left to his own discretion, Cuffy would in this case have held his
tongue. For, truth to tell, he thought the Bishop's costume just a
LITTLE RUDE. To wear your legs as if you were still a little boy, and
then . . . to have something hanging down in front. Mamma said it was
an apron and all Bishops did--even a "sufferin'" Bishop like this one.
But surely . . . surely . . . if you were a grown-up gentleman . . .

Zara, too, did her share. At table, what with looking after Maria and
the dishes, keeping one eye on the children, the other on the Bishop's
plate, Mary's own attention was fully occupied. Richard sat for the
most part in the silence that was now his normal state; he was,
besides, so out of things that he had little left to talk about. Hence
it fell to Zara, who was a fluent conversationalist and very well read,
to keep the ball rolling. The Bishop and she got on splendidly (Zara
had by now, of course, returned to the true fold.) Afterwards, he was
loud in her praises. "A very charming woman, your sister, Mrs. Mahony
. . . very charming, indeed!" And falling, manlike, under the spell of
the widow's cap, he added: "How bravely she bears up, too. So sad, so
VERY sad for her losing her dear husband as she did. Still! . . . God's
ways are not our ways. His Will, not ours, be done!"

At which Mary winced. For he had used the self-same words about their
own great grief, had worn the same sympathetic face, dispensed
a like warm pressure of the hand. And this rankled. It was true she did
not parade her loss in yards of crepe. But that any one who troubled to
think could compare the two cases! A little child, cut prematurely off,
and Hempel, poor old Hempel, Zara's PIS ALLER, who had had one foot in
the grave when she married him, whom she had badgered and bullied to
the end. But these pious phrases evidently formed the Bishop's
stock-in-trade, which he dealt out indiscriminately to whoever suffered
loss or calamity. And now her mind jumped back to the afternoon of his
arrival, when after tea Richard and he had withdrawn to the surgery. "A
most delightful chat," he subsequently described the hour spent in
there; though she, listening at the door, knew that Richard had hardly
opened his mouth. At the time, she had thought it most kind of the
Bishop so to make the best of it. Now, however . . .

And when, later on, he returned from a visit to church and parsonage,
and still professed himself well content, she began to see him with
other eyes. It was not so much tact and civility on his part, as a set
determination not to scratch below the surface. He didn't want to spoil
his own comfort by being forced to see things as they really were.

Of course this turn of mind made him the pleasantest of guests. (Fancy,
though, having to live perpetually in such a simmer of satisfaction!)
And even here his wilful blindness had its drawbacks. Had he been
different, the kind of man to say: "Your husband is not looking very
well," or: "Does Dr. Mahony find the climate here try him?" or
otherwise have given her an opening, she might have plucked up courage
to confide in him, to unburden herself of some of her worries--oh! the
relief it would have been to speak freely to a person of their own
class. As it was, he no doubt firmly refused to let himself become
aware of the slightest change for the worse in Richard.

Well, at least her main object was achieved: if wanted, the Bishop had
to be sought and found at "Doctor's." She also so contrived it that
Richard and he were daily seen hobnobbing in public. Each morning she
started them off together for the township: the short, thickset,
animated figure, the tall, lean, bent one.

And now the crown was to be set on her labours by a public
entertainment. First, a concert of local talent; after which his
Lordship had promised to give them a short address.

But at the very last minute, if Richard didn't threaten to undo all her
work! For, if he did not take the chair at this meeting, she would have
laboured in vain. Just to think of seeing that fool Thistlethwaite in
his place! Or old Cameron, who as likely as not would be half-seas
over.

But Richard was as obstinate as a mule. "I CAN'T, Mary," . . . very
peevishly . . . "and what's more, I won't! To be stuck up there for all
those yokels to gape at. For God's sake, let me alone!"

She could cheerfully have boxed his ears. But she kept her temper. "All
you've got to do, dear, is to sit there . . . at most to say half-a-dozen
words to introduce his Lordship. You, who're such a dab hand at
that sort of thing!"--Until, by alternate wheedling and bullying, she
had him worn down.

But when the evening came she almost doubted her own wisdom. By then he
had worked himself up into a sheerly ridiculous state of agitation: you
might have thought he had to appear before the Queen. His coat was too
shabby, his collar was frayed; he couldn't tie his cravat or get his
studs in--she had everything to do for him. She heard him, too, when
he thought no one was listening, feverishly rehearsing the reading
which the Bishop, at a hint from her, had duly persuaded him into
giving. No, she very much feared Richard's day for this kind of thing
was over.

The hall at the "Sun" was packed. From a long way round, from Brown's
Plains and the Springs, farmers and vinegrowers had driven in with
their families: the street in front of the hotel was blocked with
buggies, with wagonettes, spring-cars, shandrydans and drays. And the
first part of the evening went off capitally. There was quite a fund of
musical talent in the place: the native-born sons and daughters of
tradesmen and publicans had many of them clear, sweet voices, and sang
with ease. It was not till the turn came of the draperess, Miss Mundy,
that the trouble began--they hadn't ventured to leave her out, for she
was one of the main props of the church and head teacher in the Sunday
School. But she had no more voice than a peahen; and what there was of
it was not in tune. Then, though elderly and very scraggy, she
had dressed herself up to the nines. She sang COMIN' THRO' THE RYE with
what she meant to be a Scotch accent . . . said jin for gin, boody for
buddy . . . and smirked and sidled like a nancified young girl. To the
huge delight of the audience, who had her out again and again, shouting
"Brave-o!" and "Enkor!"

And the poor silly old thing drank it all in, bowed with her hand on
her heart, kissed the tips of her gloves--especially in the direction
of the Bishop--then fluttered the pages with her lavender kids and
prepared to repeat the song. This was too much for Richard, who was as
sensitive to seeing another person made a butt of, as to being himself
held up to ridicule. From his seat in the front row he hissed, so
loudly that everybody sitting round could hear: "Go back, you fool, go
back! Can't you see they're laughing at you?"

It was done out of sheer tenderheartedness, but . . . For one thing,
the Bishop had entered into the fun and applauded with the rest; so it
was a sort of snub for him, too. As for Miss Mundy, though she shut her
music-book and retired into the wings, she glared at Richard as if she
could have eaten him; while the audience, defrauded of its amusement,
turned nasty, and started to boo and groan. There was an awkward pause
before the next item on the programme could be got going. And when
Richard's own turn came--he was reading selections from OUT OF THE
HURLY-BURLY--people weren't very well disposed towards him. Which he
needed. For he was shockingly nervous; you could see the book shaking
in his hands. Then, too, the light was poor, and though he rubbed and
polished at his spectacles and held the pages up this way and that, he
couldn't see properly, and kept reading the wrong words and having to
correct himself, or go h'm . . . h'm . . . while he tried to decipher
what came next. And through his stumbling so, the jokes didn't carry.
Nobody laughed; even though he had picked out those excruciatingly
funny bits about the patent combination step-ladder and table, that
performed high jinks of itself in the attic at night; and the young man
who stuck to the verandah steps when he went a-courting: things that
usually made people hold their sides.

If only he would just say he couldn't see, and apologise and leave off
. . . or at least cut it short. But he was too proud for that;
besides, he wouldn't think it fair, to fail in his share of the
entertainment. And so he laboured on, stuttering and stumbling, and
succeeding only in making a donkey of himself. Suppressed giggles were
audible behind Mary: yes, people were laughing now, but not at the
funny stories. Of course at the finish, the audience didn't dare not to
clap; for the Bishop led the way; but the next minute everybody broke
out into a hullabaloo of laughing and talking; in face of which the
Bishop's "Most humorous! Quite a treat!" sounded very thin.

The exertion had worn Richard out: you could see the perspiration
trickling down his face. The result was, having immediately to get on
his feet again to introduce the Bishop, he clean forgot what he had
been going to say. Nothing came. There was another most embarrassing
pause, in which her own throat went hot and dry, while he stood
clearing his and looking helplessly round. But, once found, his words
came with a rush--too much of a rush: they tumbled over one another
and got all mixed up: he contradicted himself, couldn't find an end to
his sentences, said to-morrow when he meant to-day, and VISA VERSA;
which made sad nonsense. The Bishop sat and picked his nose, or rather
pinched the outside edge of one nostril between thumb and middle
finger, looking, as far as a man of his nature could, decidedly
uncomfortable. Behind her, a rude voice muttered something about
somebody having had "one too many."

And things went from bad to worse; for Richard continued to ramble on,
long after the Bishop should have been speaking. There was no one at
hand to nudge him, or frown a hint. His subject had of course something
to do with it. For the Bishop had elected to speak on "Our glorious
country: Australia," and that was too much for Richard. How could he
sing a TE DEUM to a land he so hated? The very effort to be fair made
him unnecessarily wordy, for his real feelings kept cropping up and
showing through. And then, unluckily, just when one thought he had
finished, the words "glorious country" seized on his imagination; and
now the fat was in the fire with a vengeance. For he went on to say
that any country here, wonderful though it might be, was but the land
of our temporary adoption; the true "glorious country" was the one for
which we were bound hereafter: "That land of which our honoured
guest is one of the keepers of the keys." Until recently this Paradise
had been regarded as immeasurably distant . . . beyond earthly contact.
Now the barriers were breaking down.--"If you will bear with me a
little, friends, I will tell you something of my own experiences, and
of the proofs--the irrefragable proofs--which I myself have received,
that those dear ones who have passed from mortal sight still live, and
love us, and take an interest in our doings."--And here if he didn't
give them . . . didn't come out in front of all these scoffing people,
with that foolish, ludicrous story of the doll . . . Lallie's doll!
Mary wished the floor would open and swallow her up.

The giggling and tittering grew in volume. ("Sit down, Richard, oh, sit
down!" she willed him. "CAN'T you see they're laughing at you?") People
could really hardly be blamed for thinking he had had a glass too much;
he standing there staring, with visionary eyes, at the back of the
hall. But by now he had worked himself into such a state of exaltation
that he saw nothing . . . not even the Bishop's face, which was a
study, his Lordship belonging to those who held spiritualism to be of
the devil.

"Where's dolly?" "Want me mammy!" "Show us a nose!" began to be heard
on all sides. The audience was getting out of hand. The Bishop could
bear it no longer: rising from his seat he tapped Richard sharply on
the arm. Richard gave a kind of gasp, put his hand to his forehead, and
breaking off in the middle of a sentence sat heavily down.

Straightway the Bishop plunged into his prepared discourse; and in less
than no time had his audience breathlessly engrossed, in the splendid
tale of Australia's progress.




Chapter VIII



Wept Mary, his Lordship's visit having ended in strain and coolness:
"How could you! . . . how COULD you? Knowing what he thinks--and him a
guest in the house! And then to hold our poor little darling up to
derision--for them to laugh and mock at--oh! it was cruel of you . . .
cruel. I shall never forget it."

"Pray would you have me refuse, when the opportunity offers, to bear
witness to the faith that is in me? Who am I to shrink from gibes and
sneers? Where would Christianity itself be to-day, had its early
followers not braved scorn and contumely?"

"But WE'RE not early Christians! We're just ordinary people. And I
think it's perfectly dreadful to hear you make such comparisons. Talk
about blasphemy . . ."

"It's always the same. Try to tell a man that he has a chance of
immortality . . . that he is not to be snuffed out at death like a
candle . . . and all that is brutal and ribald in him comes to the
surface."

"Leave it to the churches! . . . it's the churches' business. You only
succeed in making an utter fool of yourself."

Immortality . . . and a doll's nose! Oh, to see a man of Richard's
intelligence sunk so low! For fear of what she might say next, Mary
flung out of the room, leaving him still haranguing, and put the length
of the passage between them. At the verandah door she stood staring
with smouldering eyes into the garden. Telling herself that, one day,
it would not be the room only she quitted, but the house as well. She
saw a picture of herself, marching with defiant head down the path and
out of the gate, a child on either hand. (Oh! the children went, too:
she'd take good care of that.) Richard should be left to the tender
mercies of Zara: Zara who, at first sound of a raised voice, vanished
behind a locked door. That might bring him to his senses. For
things could not go on as they were. Never a plan did she lay for his
benefit but he somehow crossed and frustrated it. And as a result of
her last effort, they were actually in a worse position than before.
Not only was the practice as dead as a doornail again, but a new load
of contempt rested on Richard's shoulders.

The first hint that something more than his spiritistic rantings might
be at work, in frightening people off, came from Maria. It was a couple
of weeks later. Mary was in the kitchen making pastry, dabbing blobs of
lard over a rolled-out sheet of paste, and tossing and twisting with a
practised hand, when Maria, who stood slicing apples, having cast more
than one furtive glance at her mistress, volunteered the remark: "Mrs.
Mahony, you know that feller with the broke leg? Well, they do say his
Pa's bin and fetched another doctor, orl the way from Oakworth."

"What boy? Young Nankivell? Nonsense! He's out of splints by now."

"Mike Murphy told the grocer so."

"Now, Maria, you know I won't listen to gossip. Make haste with the
fruit for this pie."

But it was not so easy to get the girl's words out of her head. Could
there possibly be any truth in them? And if so, did Richard know? He
wouldn't say a word to her, of course, unless his hand was forced.

At dinner she eyed him closely; but could detect no sign of a fresh
discomfiture.

That afternoon, though, as she sat stitching at warm clothing--with
the end of March the rains had set in, bringing cooler weather--as she
sat, there came a knock at the front door, and Maria admitted what
really seemed to be a patient again at last, a man asking imperiously
for the doctor. He was shown into the surgery, and even above the
whirring of her sewing-machine Mary could hear his voice--and
Richard's, too--raised as if in dispute, and growing more and more
heated. She went into the passage and listened, holding her breath.
Then--oh! what was that? . . . who? . . . WHAT? . . . A HORSE-WHIPPING?
Without hesitation she turned the knob of the surgery door and walked in.

"What is it? What's the matter?" With fearful eyes she looked from one
to the other. In very fact the stranger, a great red-faced,
burly fellow, held a riding-whip stretched between his hands.

And Richard was cowering in his chair, his grey head sunk between his
shoulders. Richard . . . COWERING? In an instant she was beside him,
her arm about his neck. "Don't mind him! . . . don't take any notice of
what he says."

Roughly Mahony shook himself free. "Go away . . . go out of the room,
Mary. This is none of your business."

"And have him speak to you like that? I'll do nothing of the sort. Why
don't you turn him out?" And as Richard did not answer, and her blood
was up, she rounded on the man with: "How dare you come here and insult
the doctor in his own house? You great bully, you!"

"MARY!--for God's sake! . . . don't make more trouble for me than I've
got already."

"Now, now, madam, I'll trouble you to have a care what you're saying!"
--and the network of veins on the speaker's cheeks ran together in a
purplish patch. "None of your lip for me, if you please! As for
insults, me good lady, you'll have something more to hear about the
rights o' that. You've got a boy of your own, haven't you? What would
you say, I'd like to know, if a bloody fraud calling himself a doctor
had been and made a cripple of him for life?"

(THAT hit. Cuffy? . . . a cripple? Oh, Richard, Richard, what HAVE you
done?)

"As fine a young chap as ever you see, tall and upstanding. And now
'tis said he'll never walk straight again, but'll have to hobble on
crutches, with one leg four inches shorter than the other, for the rest
of his days.--But I'll settle you! I'll cork your chances for you!
I'll put a stop to your going round maiming other people's children.
I'll have the lor on you, that's what I'll do. I'll take it into court,
by Jesus I will!"

"You'll ruin me."

"I'll never stop till I have . . . so help me, God! . . . as you've
ruined me boy. You won't get the chance to butcher no one else--you
damned, drunken old swine, you!"

Richard sat motionless, head in hand, and the two fingers that
supported his temple, and the skin on which they lay, looked as though
drained of every drop of blood. But he said not a word--let
even the last infamous accusation pass unchallenged. Not so Mary. With
eyes so fierce that the man involuntarily recoiled before them, she
advanced upon him. "How dare you? . . . how DARE you say a thing like
that to my husband? You! . . . with a face which shows everybody what
your habits are . . . to slander some one who's never in his life been
the worse for drink? Go away . . . we've had enough of you . . . go
away, I say!"--and throwing open the door she drove him before her.--
But on the garden path he turned and shook his fist at the house.

Richard had not stirred; nor did he look up at her entry. And to her
flood of passionate and bewildered questions, he responded only by a
toneless: "It's no use, Mary; what he says may be true. A case of
malunion. Such things do happen. And surgery has never been one of my
strong points." Try as she would, there was nothing more to be got out
of him.

In despair she left him, and went to the bedroom. Her brain was
spinning like a Catherine wheel. Yet something must be done. They could
not--oh, they COULD not!--sit meekly there, waiting for this new and
awful blow to fall. She must go out, track the man, follow him up; and
snatching her bonnet from the drawer she tied it on--it had a red rose
on a stalk, which nodded at her from the mirror. She would go on her
knees to him not to take proceedings. He had a wife. SHE might
understand . . . being a woman, be merciful. But . . . Cuffy . . . a
cripple . . . would SHE have had mercy? What would HER feelings have
been, had she had to see her own child go halt and lame? No, Richard
was right, it was no good: there was nothing to be done. And tearing
off her wraps she threw herself face downwards on the bed, and wept
bitterly.

She did not hear the door open, or see the small face that peered in.
And a single glimpse of the dark mass that was his mother, lying
shaking and sobbing, was enough for Cuffy: he turned and fled.
Frightened by the angry voices, the children had sought their usual
refuge up by the henhouse. But it got night, and nobody came to call
them or look for them, and nobody lit the lamps; and when they did come
home the table wasn't spread for supper. Cuffy set to hunting for
Mamma. But after his discovery his one desire was not to see anything
else. In the dark drawing-room, he hid behind an armchair. Oh,
WHAT was the matter now? What HAD they done to her? It could only be
Papa that hurt her so. WHY did he have to do it? Why couldn't he be
nice to her? Oh, If only Papa--yes, if . . . if only Papa WOULD go
away, as he said, and leave them and Mamma together! Oh, pray God, let
Papa go away! . . . and never, never come back.

But that night--after a sheerly destructive evening, in which Mary had
never ceased to plead with, to throw herself on the mercy of, an
invisible opponent: I give you my word for it, he wasn't himself that
day . . . what with the awful heat . . . and the length of the drive
. . . and the horse wouldn't go . . . he was so upset over it. And then
the loss of our little girl . . . that was a blow he has never properly
got over. For he's not a young man any more. He's not what he was . . .
ANYONE will tell you that! But they'll tell you, too, that he has
never, never neglected a patient because of it. He's the most
conscientious of men . . . has always worked to the last ounce of his
strength, put himself and the state of his own health last of all . . .
I have known him tramp off of a morning when anybody with half an eye
could see that he ought to be in bed. And so kindhearted! If a patient
is poor, or has fallen on evil days, he will always treat him free of
charge. Oh, surely people would need to have hearts of stone, to stand
out against pleas such as these?--Or she lived through, to the last
detail, the horrors of a lawsuit: other doctors giving evidence against
Richard, hundreds of pounds having to be paid as damages, the final
crash to ruin of his career. And when it came to the heritage of shame
and disgrace that he would thus hand on to his children, her heart
turned cold as ice against him. But that night every warring feeling
merged and melted in a burning compassion for the old, unhappy man who
lay at her side; lay alarmingly still, staring with glassy eyes at the
moonlit window. Feeling for his hand she pressed it to her cheek.
"Don't break your heart over it, my darling. Trust me, I'll win him
round . . . SOMEHOW! And then we'll go away--far away from here--and
start all over again. No one need ever know."

But she could not get at him, could not rouse him from the torpor in
which this last, unmerited misfortune had sunk him. And there
they lay, side by side, hand in hand, but far as the poles apart.

The court, airless and fetid, was crowded to the last place. With
difficulty he squeezed into a seat on a hard, backless bench . . .
though he was too old and stiff nowadays to sit for long without a
support. The judge--why, what was this? He knew that face . . . had
surely met him somewhere? . . . had dined with him perhaps, or tilted a
table in his company--the judge held a large gold toothpick in his
hand, and in the course of the proceedings must have picked in turn
every tooth he had in his head. Foul teeth . . . a foul breath . . .
out of such a mouth should judgment come? He felt in his pocket to see
if, in a species of prevision, he had brought his forceps with him; and
sharply withdrew his hand from a mess of melting jujubes. (The children
of course . . . oh, devil take those children! They were always in his
way.) Believing himself unseen, he stealthily deposited the sticky
conglomerate on the floor. But his neighbour, a brawny digger, with
sleeves rolled high above the elbow and arms behaired like an ape's,
espied him, and made as if to call the attention of the usher to his
misdeed. To escape detection he rose and moved hurriedly to the other
side of the court; where, oddly enough, there seemed after all to be
plenty of room.

Here he was seated to much better advantage; and pulling himself
together, prepared to follow the case. But . . . again he was baffled.
Plaintiff's counsel was on his feet; and once more the striking
likeness of the fellow to somebody he had known distracted him. Hang it
all! It began to look as if every one present was more or less familiar
to him. Secretly he ran his eye over the assembly, and found that it
was so . . . though he could not have put a name to a single manjack of
them. However, since nobody seemed to recognise him, he cowered down
and trusted to pass unobserved. But, from now on, he was aware of a
sense of mystery and foreboding; the court and its occupants took on a
sinister aspect. And even as he felt this, he heard two rascally-looking
men behind him muttering together. "Are you all right?" said
one. To which the other made half-audible reply: "We are, if that
bloody fool, our client----" Ha! there was shady work in
hand; trouble brewing for somebody. But what was HE doing here? What
had brought him to such a place?

Wild to solve the riddle, he made another desperate attempt to fix his
thoughts. But these haunting resemblances had unnerved him; he could do
nothing but worry the question where he had met plaintiff's counsel.
The name hung on the very tip of his tongue; yet would not out. A
common, shoddy little man, prematurely bald, with a protruding paunch
and a specious eye--he wouldn't have trusted a fellow with an eye like
that farther than he could see him. Most improperly dressed, too;
wearing neither wig nor gown, but a suit of a loud, horsey check, the
squares of which could have been counted from across a road.

This get-up it was, which first made it plain to him that the case
under trial had some secret connection with himself. Somehow or other
he was involved. But each time, just as he thought he was nearing a
due, down would come a kind of fog and blot everything out.

Through it, he heard what sounded like a scuffle going on. It seemed
that the plaintiff was drunk, not in a fit state to give evidence...
though surely that was his voice protesting vehemently that he had
never been the worse for drink in his life? The two cut-throats in the
back seat muttered anew; others joined in; and soon the noise from
these innumerable throats had risen to an ominous roar. He found
himself shouting with the rest; though only later did he grasp what it
was all about: they were calling for the defendant to enter the
witness-box. Well, so much the better! Now at last, he would discover
the hidden meaning.

The defendant proved to be an oldish man, with straggly grey hair and
whiskers, and a round back: he clambered up the steps to the witness-box,
which stood high, like a pulpit, with a palpable effort. This bent
back was all that could be seen of him at first, and a very humble back
it looked, threadbare and shiny, though brushed meticulously free of
dust and dandruff. Surely to goodness, though, he needn't have worn his
oldest suit, the one with the frayed cuffs? . . . his second-best would
have been more the thing. . . even though the coat did sag at the
shoulders. Edging forward in his seat he craned his neck; then
half rose, in his determination to see the fellow's face--and, having
caught a single glimpse of it, all but lost his balance and fell, with
difficulty restraining a shriek that would have pealed like the whistle
of a railway-engine through the court, and have given him away . . .
beyond repair. For it was himself he saw, himself who stood there
perched aloft before every eye, holding fast, with veined and wrinkled
hands, to the ledge of the dock: himself who now suddenly turned and
looked full at him, singling him out from all the rest. His flesh
crawled, his hairs separated, while something cold and rapid as a ball
of quicksilver ran from top to bottom of his spine.--Two of him? God
in heaven! But this was madness. TWO of him? The thing was an infamy
. . . devilish . . . not to be borne. WHICH WAS HE?

And yet, coeval with the horror of it, ran an obscene curiosity. So
THIS was what he looked like! THIS was how he presented himself to his
fellow-men. Smothering his first wild fear, he took in, coldly and
cruelly, every detail of the perched-up figure, whose poverty-stricken
yet sorrily dandified appearance had been the signal for a burst of
ribald mirth. He could hear himself laughing at the top of his lungs;
especially when, after a painful effort to read a written slip that had
been handed to him, his double produced a pair of horn-rimmed
spectacles, and shakily balanced them on the tip of his long thin nose.
Ha, ha! This was good . . . was very good. Ha, ha! A regular owl! . . .
exactly like an old owl. A zany. A figure of fun.

Then, abruptly, his laughter died in his throat. For hark! . . . what
was this? . . . what the . . .! God above! he was pleading now--
PLEADING? nay, grovelling!--begging abjectly for mercy. He whined "Me
Lud, if the case goes against me I'm a ruined man. And he has got his
knife in me, me Lud! . . . he's made up his mind to ruin me. A hard man
. . . a cruel man! . . . if ever there was one. Oh, spare me, me Lud!
. . . have pity on my poor wife and my two little children!" The blood
surged to his head, and roared in neck and temples till he thought they
would burst. NEVER! . . . no, never in all his days had he sought
either pity or mercy. And never, no matter what his plight, would he
sink so low. The despicable sniveller! The unmanly craven! . . . he
disowned him--loathed him--spat at him in spirit: his whole being
swam in hatred. But even as, pale with fury, he joined in the
hyaena-like howl against clemency that was raised, a small voice
whispered in his ear that his time was running short. He must get out
of this place . . . must escape . . . save himself . . . from the wrath
to come. Be up and away, head high, leaving his ghost to wring its
hands . . . and wail . . . and implore. Long since he had lifted his
hat to his face, where he held it as if murmuring a prayer. But it was
no longer the broad-brimmed wideawake he had brought with him into
court; it had turned into a tall beaver belltopper, of a mode at least
twenty years old, and too narrow to conceal his face. He tossed it from
him as, frantic with the one desire, he pushed and struggled to get
out, treading on people's feet, crushing past their knees--oh! was
there no end to their number, or to the rows of seats through which he
had to fight his way? . . . his legs growing heavier and heavier, more
incapable of motion. And then . . . just when he thought he was safe
. . . he heard his own name spoken: heard it said aloud, not once but
many times, and, damnation take it! by none other than old Muir the
laryngologist, that pitiful old fossil, that infernal old busybody,
dead long since, who it seemed had been in court throughout the
proceedings and now recognised him, and stood pointing at him. Again a
shout rose in unison, but this time it was his name they called, and
therewith they were up and on his heels, and the hue and cry had begun
in earnest. He fled down Little Bourke Street, and round and up Little
Collins Street, running like a hare, but with steadily failing
strength, drawing sobbing breaths that hurt like blows; but holding his
left hand fast to his breast-pocket, where he had the knife concealed.
His ears rang with that most terrifying of mortal sounds: the wolf-like
howl of a mob that chases human game and sees its prey escaping it. For
he was escaping; he would have got clean away if, of a sudden, Mary and
the children had not stood before him. In a row . . . a third child,
too. He out with his knife . . . NOW he knew what it was for! But a
shrill scream stayed his hand . . . who screamed? who screamed? . . .
and with such stridency. Mary . . . it could ONLY be Mary who would so
deliberately foul his chances. For this one second's delay was his
undoing. Some one dashed up behind and got him by the shoulder, and was
bearing his down, and shaking, shaking, shaking . . . while a
fierce voice shrieked in his ear: "Richard! . . . oh, RICHARD, do wake
up! You'll terrify the children. Oh, what dreadful dream have you been
having?"

And it was broad daylight, the mill-whistle in full blast, and he
sitting up in bed shouting, and drenched in sweat. The night was over,
a new day begun, in which had to be faced, not the lurid phantasmagoria
of a dream-world that faded at a touch, but the stern, bare horrors of
reality, from which there was no awakening.




Chapter IX



The facts of the case, brought to light by vigorous action on Mary's
part, were these. The boy had been removed to the Oakworth hospital,
where he was to be examined. Only when this was done could the surgeon
in charge say whether there was any possibility of correcting the
malunion, by re-breaking and re-setting the limb; or whether the
patient would have to remain in his present degree of shortness. He
hoped to let them know in about three days' time. It might, of course,
be less.

"There's nothing for it; we must have patience," said Mary grimly and
with determination, as she re-folded the telegram and laid it back on
the table.

Patience? Yes, yes; that went without saying; and Mahony continued to
feign busyness with pencil and paper till the door had shut behind her.

Alone, he fell limply back in his chair. So this was it . . . this was
what it had come to! His fate had passed out of his own keeping.
Another--a man his junior by several years--would sit in judgment on
him, decide whether or no he was competent to continue practising the
profession to which he had given up the best years of his life. In the
course of the next three days.--Three days. What WERE three days? . . .
in a lifetime of fifty years. A flea-bite; a single tick of time's
clock. An infinitesimal fragment chipped off time's plenty, and for the
most part squandered unthinkingly. In the ecstasy of happiness--or to
the prisoner condemned to mount the scaffold--a breath, a flash of
light, gone even as it came.--THREE DAYS! To one on the rack to learn
whether or no he was to be found guilty of professional negligence,
with its concomitants of a court of law, publicity, disgrace; to such a
one, three days were as unthinkable as infinity: a chain of hours of
torture, each a lifetime in itself.

For long he sat motionless, wooden as the furniture around him; sat and
stared at the whitewashed walls till he felt that, if he did
not get out from between them, they might end by closing in on him and
crushing him. Pushing back his chair he rose and left the house,
heading in the direction of the railway station: never again would he
cross the Lagoon path to show his face in the township. From the
station he struck off on a bush track. This was heavy with mud; for it
had rained in torrents towards morning: the hammering of the downpour
on the iron roof no doubt accounted for some of the sinister noises of
which his dream had been full. Now, the day was fine: a cool breeze
swung the drooping leaves; the cloudless sky had deepened to its rich
winter blue. But to him the very freshness and beauty of the morning
seemed a mockery, the blue sky cruel as a pall. For there was a
blackness under his lids, which gave the lie to all he saw.

He trudged on, with the sole idea of somehow getting through the day
. . . of killing time. And as he went he mused ironically, on the shifts
mortals were put to, the ruses they employed, to rid themselves of this
precious commodity, which alone stood between them and an open grave.

Then, abruptly, he stopped, and uttering an exclamation swung round and
made for home. IT MIGHT, OF COURSE, BE LESS. Who knew, who knew? By
this time it was just possible that another telegram had arrived, and
that he was tormenting himself needlessly. Was he not omitting to allow
for the fellow-feeling of a brother medico, who, suspecting something
of what he was enduring, might hasten to put him out of suspense? (How
his own heart would have bled for such a one!) And so he pushed
forward, covering the way back in half the time, and only dropping his
speed as he neared the gate. For the children sat at lessons in the
dining-room, and three pairs of eyes looked up on his approach. At the
front door he paused to dry his forehead, before stepping into the
passage where the life-giving message might await him. But the tray on
the hall-table was empty; empty, too, the table in the surgery. His
heart, which had been palpitating wildly, sank to normal; and
simultaneously an immense lassitude overcame him. But without a
moment's hesitation he turned on his heel and went out again . . . with
stealthy, cat-like tread. The last thing he wanted to do was to attract
Mary's attention.

He retraced his steps. But now so tired was he that every
hundred yards or so he found himself obliged to sit down, in order to
get strength to proceed. But not for long: there was a demon in him
that would not let him rest; which drove him up and on till, in the
end, he was seized and spun by a fit of the old vertigo, and had to
throw his arms round a tree-trunk to keep from falling. "Drunk again!
. . . drunk again."

He was done for. . . played out. Home he dragged once more, sitting by
the wayside when the giddy fits took him, or holding fast to the
palings of a fence. It was one o'clock and dinner-time when he reached
the house. Well! in any case, he would not have dared to absent himself
from the table. (Oh God, on such a day to have been free and
unobserved!)

But he had over-rated his powers of endurance. The children's prating,
Mary's worried glances in his direction, the clatter of the dishes,
Zara's megrims: all this, the ordinary humdrum of a meal, proved more
than his sick nerves could bear. His usual weary boredom with the
ritual of eating turned to loathing: of every word that was said, every
movement of fork to mouth, of the very crockery on the table. Half-way
through, he tossed his napkin from him, pushed his chair back, and
broke from the room.

To go out again was beyond him. Entering the surgery, he took his
courage in both hands; and, not with his nerves alone, but with every
muscle at a strain, braced himself to meet the slow torture that
awaited him, the refined torture of physical inaction; the trail of
which may be as surely blood-streaked as that from an open wound. With
his brain on fire, his body bound to the rack, he sat and watched the
hands of the clock crawl from one to two, from two to three and three
to four; and the ticking of the pendulum, and the beat of his own
pulses, combined to form a rhythm--a conflicting rhythm--which well-nigh
drove him crazy. As the afternoon advanced, however, there came
moments when, with his head bedded on his arms, he lapsed into a kind
of coma; never so deeply though, but what his mind leapt into awareness
at the smallest sound without. And all through, whether he waked or
slept, something in him, inarticulate as a banshee, never ceased to
weep and lament . . . to wail without words, weep without tears.

Later on, a new torture threatened; and this was the coming
blast of the mill-whistle. For a full hour beforehand he sat
anticipating it: sat with fingers stiffly interlocked, temples a-hammer,
waiting for the moment when it should set in. Nor was this all.
As the minute-hand ticked the last hour away, stark terror seized him
lest, when the screech began, he, too, should not be able to help
shrieking; but should be forced to let out, along with it, in one harsh
and piercing cry, the repressed, abominable agony of the afternoon. At
two minutes to the hour he was on his feet, going round the table like
a maddened animal, wringing his hands and moaning under his breath: it
is too much . . . I am not strong enough . . . my God, I implore Thee,
let this cup pass! And now, so sick and dazed with fear was he, that he
could no longer distinguish between the murderous din that was about to
break loose, and the catastrophe that had befallen his life. When,
finally, the hour struck, the whistle discharged, and the air was all
one brazen clamour, he broke down and wept, the tears dripping off his
face. But no sound escaped him.

Supper time.--He wanted none; was not hungry; asked only to be left in
peace. And since Mary, desperate, too, after her own fashion, could not
make up her mind to this, but came again and yet again, bringing the
lamp, bringing food to tempt him, he savagely turned the key in the
lock.

Thereafter, all was still: the quiet of night descended on the house.
Here, in this blissful silence, he took his decision. Numbed to the
heart though he was--over the shrilling of the siren something in him
had cracked, had broken--he knew what he had to do. Another day like
this, and he would not be answerable for himself. There was an end to
everything . . . and his end had come.

Mary, stealing back to remind him that it was close on midnight, found
him stooped over a tableful of books and papers. "Don't wait for me.
I'm busy . . . shall be some time yet."

Relieved beyond the telling to find his door no longer shut against
her, and him thus normally employed, she put her arm round his
shoulders and laid her head against his. "But not too late, Richard.
You must be so tired." Herself she felt sick and dizzy with anxiety,
with fatigue. It was not only what had happened, but the way
Richard was taking it . . . his secrecy. . . his morbid self-communing.
God help him! . . . help them all.

Desperately Mahony fought down the impulse to throw off her hampering
arm, to cry out, to her face, the truth: go away. . . go away! I have
done with you! And no sooner had the bedroom door shut behind her than
he brushed aside his brazen pretence at work--it would have deceived
no one but Mary--and fell to making the few necessary preparations.
Chief of these was the detaching of a couple of keys from his bunch of
keys, and laying them in a conspicuous place. After which he sat and
waited, for what he thought a reasonable time, cold as a stone with
fear lest she, somehow sensing his intention, should come back to
hinder him. But nothing happened; and cautiously unlatching the door,
he listened out into the passage. Not a mouse stirred. Now was the
time! Opening the French window he stepped on to the verandah. But it
had begun to rain again; a soft, steady rain; and some obscure instinct
drove him back to get his greatcoat. This hung in the passage; and had
to be fetched in jerks--a series of jerks and pauses. But at last he
had it, and could creep up the yard and out of the back gate.

His idea was, to get as far from the house as possible . . . perhaps
even to follow the bush track he had been on that morning. (That
morning only? It seemed more like a century ago.) But the night was
pitch dark: more than once he caught his foot, tripped and stumbled.
So, groping his way along outside the palings of the fence, and the
fence of the mill yard, he skirted these, and doubled back on the
Lagoon. To the right of the pond stood a clump of fir-trees, shading
the ruins of what had once been an arbour. It was for these trees he
made: an instinctive urge for shelter again carrying the day.

Arrived there, he flung himself at full length on the wet and slimy
ground. (No need now, to take thought for tic or rheumatism, or the
other bodily ills that had plagued him.) And for a time he did no more
than lie and exult in the relief this knowledge brought him--this
sense of freedom from all things human. FEAR NO MORE THE HEAT OF THE
SUN, nor the strangle-coils in which money and money-making had wound
him, nor Mary's inroads on his life, nor the deadening
responsibilities of fatherhood. Now, at long last, he was answerable to
himself alone.

But gradually this feeling died away, and an extraordinary lucidity
took its place. And in his new clearness of vision he saw that his
bloodiest struggle that day had been, not with the thing itself, but
with what hid it from him. Which was Time. He had set up Time as his
bugbear, made of it an implacable foe, solely to hinder his mind from
reaching out to what lay beyond. That, he could not face and live. He
saw it now, and was dying of it: dying of a mortal wound to the most
vital part of him--his pride . . . his black Irish pride. That he, who
had held himself so fastidiously aloof from men, should be forced down
into the market-place, there to suffer an intolerable notoriety; to
know his name on people's lips. . . see it dragged through the mud of
the daily press . . . himself branded as a bungler, a botcher! God! no:
the mere imagining of it nauseated him. Dead, infinitely better dead,
and out of it all! Life and its savagery put off, like a garment that
had served its turn. Then, let tongues wag as they might, he would not
be there to hear. In comparison, his death by his own hand would make
small stir. A day's excitement, and he would pass for ever into limbo;
take his place among those pale ghosts of whose earth-life every trace
is lost. None would miss him, or mourn his passing--thanks to his own
NOLI ME TANGERE attitude towards the rest of mankind. For there had
been no real love in him: never a feeler thrown out to his fellow-men.
Such sympathy as he felt, he had been too backward to show: had given
of it only in thought, and from afar. Pride, again!--oh! rightly was a
pride like his reckoned among the seven capital sins. For what WAS it,
but an iron determination to live untouched and untrammelled . . . to
preserve one's liberty, of body and of mind, at the expense of all
human sentiment. To be sufficient unto oneself, asking neither help nor
regard, and spending none. A fierce, Lucifer-like inhibition. Yes, this
. . . but more besides. Pride also meant the shuddering withdrawal of
oneself, because of a rawness . . . a skinlessness . . . on which the
touch of any rough hand could cause agony; even the chance contacts of
everyday prove a source of exquisite discomfort.

Thus he dug into himself. To those, on the contrary, whose
welfare had till now been his main solicitude, he gave not a thought.
For this was HIS hour; the hour between himself and his God: the end of
the old life, the dawn, so he surely believed, of the new. And now that
release was in sight--port and haven made, after the desolate,
windswept seas--he marvelled at himself for having held out so long.
At the best of times small joy had been his: while for many a year
never a blink of hope or gladness had come his way. Weary and unslept,
he had risen, day after day, to take up the struggle; the sole object
of which was the grinding for bread. The goal of a savage: to one of
his turn of mind, degradation unspeakable. A battle, too, with never a
respite--interminable as time itself. (Why, the most famous Agony
known to history had lasted but for three hours, and a sure Paradise
awaited the great Martyr.) Even the common soldier knew that the hotter
the skirmish, the sooner it would be over, with, did he escape with his
life, stripes and glory for a finish. Ah! but with this difference,
that the soldier was under duress to fight to the end: for those who
flung down their muskets and ran, crying, hold! enough! the world had
coined an evil name. And at this thought, and without warning, such a
red-hot doubt transfixed him, such a blazing host of doubts, that he
fell to writhing, like one in the grip of insufferable physical
anguish. These doubts brought confusion on every argument that he had
used to bolster up his deed. What was he doing? . . . what was he about
to do? He, a coward? . . . a deserter? . . . abandoning his post when
the fire was hottest?--leaving others to bear the onus of his flight,
his disgrace? . . . and those others the creatures he had loved best?
Oh, where was here his pride!

Besides: no Lethe awaits me, but the judgment seat. How shall I face my
Maker?--The phrasing was that of his day; the question at issue one
with which men have tortured themselves since the world began. Have I
the right to do this thing? Is my life my own to take?--And in the
fierce conflict of which he now tossed the helpless prey, he dug his
left hand into the earth until what it grasped was a compact mass of
mud and gravel. (His right, containing the precious phial, was under
him, held to his breast.) Only little by little, with pangs
unspeakable, did the death-throes of his crucified pride cease,
and he emerge from the struggle, spent and beaten, but seeing himself
at last in his true colours. Too good . . . too proud to live? Then,
let him also be too proud to die: in this ignominious fashion . . .
this poltroon attempt to sneak out of life by a back door. Should it be
said of him, who had watched by so many a deathbed, seen the humblest
mortals rise superior to physical suffering, that, when his own turn
came, he was too weak to endure?--solely because the torments he was
called on to face were not of the body but the mind? Pain . . . anguish
. . . of body or of mind . . . individual pain . . . the pangs of all
humanity. Pain, a state of being so interwoven with existence that,
without it, life was unthinkable. For, take suffering from life, and
what remained? Surely, surely, what was so integral a part of creation
could not spring from blind chance? . . . be wholly evil? . . . without
value in the scheme of things? A test!--God's acid test . . . failing
to pass which, a man might not attain to his full stature. And if this
were so, what was HE doing to brush the cup from his lips, to turn his
back on the chance here offered him? But oh! abhorrent to him was the
pious Christian's self-abasement: the folded hands, the downcast eyes,
the meek "God wills it!" that all too often cloaked a bitter and
resentful spirit. Not thus, not thus! God would not be God, did He
demand of men grovelling and humiliation. Not the denial of self was
called for, but the affirmation: a proud joy (here, surely, was the
bone for his own pride to gnaw at?) at being permitted to aid and abet
in the great Work, at coupling, in full awareness, our will with His.
So, then, let it be! And with a movement so precipitate that it seemed
after all more than half involuntary, he lifted his hand and threw far
from him the little bottle of chloroform, which he had clutched till
his palm was cut and sore. It was gone: was lost, hopelessly lost, in
rain and darkness. He might have groped till morning without finding
it.

But such a thought did not cross his mind. For now a strange thing
happened. In the moment of casting the poison from him, he became aware
--but with a sense other than that of sight, for he was lying face
downwards, with fast closed eyes, his forehead bedded on the sleeve of
his greatcoat--became suddenly aware of the breaking over him
of a great light: he was lying, he found in a pool of light; a radiance
thick as milk, unearthly as moonlight. And this suffused him,
penetrated him, lapped him round. He breathed it in, drew deep breaths
of it; and, as he did so, the last vestiges of his old self seemed to
fall away. All sense of injury, of mortification, of futile sacrifice
was wiped out. In its place there ran through him the beatific
certainty that his pain, his sufferings--and how infinitesimal these
were, he now saw for the first time--had their niche in God's Scheme
(pain the bond that linked humanity: not in joy, in sorrow alone were
we yoke-fellows)--that all creation, down to the frailest protoplasmic
thread, was one with God; and he himself, and everything he had been
and would ever be, as surely contained in God, as a drop of water in a
wave, a note of music in a mighty cadence. More: he now yearned as
avidly for this submergedness, this union of all things living, as he
had hitherto shrunk from it. The mere thought of separation became
intolerable to him: his soul, ascending, sang towards oneness as a lark
sings its way upwards to the outer air. For, while the light lasted, he
UNDERSTOOD: not through any feat of conscious perception, but as a
state--a state of being--a white ecstasy, that left mere knowledge
far behind. The import of existence, the mysteries hid from mortal
eyes, the key to the Ultimate Plan: all now were his. And, rapt out of
himself, serene beyond imagining, he touched the hem of peace at last
. . . eternal peace . . . which passeth understanding.

Then, as suddenly as the light had broken over him, it was gone, and
again night wrapped him heavily round; him, by reason of the miracle he
had experienced, doubly dark, doubly destitute. (But I have KNOWN . . .
NOTHING can take it from me!) And he had need of this solace to cling
to, for his awakening found his brain of an icy clearness, in which no
jot or tittle of what awaited him was veiled from him. As if to test
him to the utmost, even the hideous spectre of his blackest nights took
visible form, and persisted, till, for the first time, he dared to look
it in the face.--And death seemed a trifle in comparison.

But he struggled no more. Caked in mud, soaked to the skin, he climbed
to his feet and staggered home.


* * * * *


What a funny noise! . . . lots of noises . . . people all talking
at once; and ever so loud. Cuffy sat up, rubbing his eyes, for
there were lights in them. Stars. . . no, LANTERNS! Huh! CHINESE
latterns? But it wasn't Christmas! He jumped out of bed and ran to the
door, opened it and looked out; and it was two strange men with
lanterns walking up and down the passage and round the verandah. And
Mamma was there as well, in her red dressing-gown with the black spots
on it, and her hair done for going to bed, and she was crying, and Aunt
Zara (oh! she DID look funny when she went to bed) was blowing her nose
and talking to the men. And when she saw him, she was most awfully
angry and said: "Go back to bed at once, you naughty boy!" And Mamma
said: "Be good, Cuffy . . . for I can bear no more." And so he only
just peeped out, to see what it was. And it was Papa that was lost.
PAPA . . . LOST? (How COULD grown-up people be lost?) in the middle of
the night . . . it was dark as dark . . . and he might never come back.
Oh no! it couldn't be true. Only to think of it made him make such a
funny noise in his throat that Luce woke up, and wanted to know, and
cried and said: "Oh dear Papa, come back!" and was ever so frightened.
And they both stopped out of bed and sat on the floor and listened. And
the men with the lanterns--it was the sergeant and the constable--
went away with them, and you could only hear Mamma and Aunt Zara
talking and crying. And he waited till it seemed nearly all night, and
his toes were so cold he didn't feel them. Luce went to sleep again,
but he couldn't. And all the time his heart thumped like a drum.

Then he thought he saw a monkey in a wood, and was trying to catch it,
when somebody shouted like anything; and first it was Maria on the
verandah, and then Aunt Zara in the passage, and she called out: "It's
all right, Mary! They've got him . . . he's coming!" And then Mamma
came running out and cried again, and kept on saying: "I must be brave
. . . I must be brave." And then one's heart almost jumped itself dead,
for there was Papa, and he couldn't walk, and the police were holding
him up, and he had no hat on, and was wet, the water all running out of
him, and so muddy, the mud sticking all over his greatcoat and in his
face and hair--just like the picture of Tomfool in the "King of Lear."
And Mamma began to say dreadfully: "Oh, RICHARD! How COULD--" and then
she stopped. For as soon as Papa saw her he pulled himself away
and ran to her, and put his arms round her neck and said: "Oh, Mary, my
Mary! . . . I couldn't do it . . . . I couldn't do it." And then he
nearly fell down, and they all ran to hold him up, and put him in the
bedroom and shut the door. And he didn't see him again, but he saw
Maria and Aunt Zara carrying in the bath, and hot water and flannels.
And Papa was found. He tried to tell Luce but she was too sleepy, and
just said: "I fought he would." But he was so cold he couldn't go to
sleep again. And then something in him got too big and he had to cry,
because Papa was found. But--What did it mean he said he COULDN'T be
lost? Why not?




Chapter X



On one of the numerous packing-cases that strewed the rooms--now just
so much soiled whitewash and bare boards--Mary sat and waited for the
dray that was to transport boxes and baggage to the railway station.
Her heart was heavy: no matter how unhappy you had been in it, the
dismantling of a home was a sorry business, and one to which she never
grew accustomed. Besides, this time when they left, one of them had to
stay behind. As long as they lived here, her child had not seemed
wholly gone; so full was the house of memories of her. To the next, to
any other house they occupied, little Lallie would be a stranger.

Except for this, she was as thankful as Richard to turn her back on
Barambogie--and he had fled like a hunted man, before he was really
fit to travel. For the first time in their lives, the decision to leave
a place had come from her; she had made up her mind to it while he was
still too ill to care what happened. By the next morning the tale of
his doings was all over the town: he would never have been able to hold
up his head there again. For it wasn't as if he had made a GENUINE
attempt . . . at . . . well, yes, at suicide. To the people here, his
going out to take his life and coming back without even having TRIED
to, would have something comic about it . . . something contemptible.
They would laugh in their sleeves; put it down to want of pluck. When
what it really proved--fiercely she reassured herself--was his
fondness for her, for his children. When the moment came he couldn't
find it in his heart to deal them such a blow.

But for several days she did no more than vehemently assert to herself:
we go! . . . and if I have to beg the money to make it possible.
Richard paid dearly for those hours of exposure: he lay in a high
fever, moaning with pain and muttering light-headedly. As soon,
however, as his temperature fell and his cough grew easier, she made
arrangements for a sale by auction, and had a board with "To let!" on
it erected in the front garden.

Then, his keys lying temptingly at her disposal, she seized
this unique opportunity and, shutting herself up in the surgery, went
for and by herself into his money-affairs; about which it was becoming
more and more a point of honour with him to keep her in the dark.
There, toilfully, she grappled with the jargon of the law: premiums,
transfers, conveyances, mortgagor and mortgagee (oh, WHICH was which?),
the foreclosing of a mortgage, rights of redemption. Grappled, too,
with the secrets of his pass-book. And it was these twin columns which
gave her the knock-out blow. As far as ready money went, they were
living quite literally from hand to mouth--from the receipt of one
pound to the next. In comparison, the deciphering of his case and
visiting-books was child's play. And here, taking the bull by the
horns, she again acted on her own initiative. Risking his anger, she
sent out yet once more the several unpaid bills she came across,
accompanying them by a more drastic demand for settlement than he would
ever have stooped to.

For the first time, she faced the possibility that they might have to
let the mortgage lapse. Already she had suspected Richard of leaning
towards this, the easier solution. But so far she had pitted her will
against his. And, even yet, something stubborn rose in her and rebelled
at the idea. As long as the few shares he held continued to throw off
dividends, at least the interest on the loan could be met. While the
rent coming in from the house at Hawthorn (instead of being a source of
income!) would have to cover the rent of the house they could no longer
live in, but had still to pay for. Oh! it sounded like a bad dream--or
a jingle of the House-that-jack-built order.

None the less, she did not waver in her resolution: somehow to cut
Richard free from a place that had so nearly been his undoing. And,
hedge and shrink as she might, fiercely as her native independence, her
womanish principles--simple, but still the principles of a lifetime--
--kicked against it, she had gradually to become reconciled to the
prospect of loading them up with a fresh burden of debt. The matter
boiled down to this: was any sacrifice too great to make for Richard?
Wasn't she really, at heart, one of those women she sometimes read of
in the newspapers, who, rather than see their children starve, STOLE
the bread with which to feed them?

Yet still she hesitated. Until one night, turning his poor old
face to her Richard said: "It's the sea I need, Mary. If I could just
get to the sea, I should grow strong and well again.--But there! . . .
what's the use of talking? As the tree falls, so it must lie!" On this
night casting her scruples to the winds, Mary sat down to pen the hated
appeal.

FOR RICHARD'S SAKE, TILLY, AND ONLY BECAUSE I'M DESPERATE ABOUT HIM, I
'M REDUCED TO ASKING YOU IF YOU COULD POSSIBLY SEE YOUR WAY TO LEND ME
A HUNDRED AND FIFTY POUNDS. I SAY "LEND" AND I MEAN IT, THOUGH GOODNESS
KNOWS WHEN I SHALL BE ABLE TO REPAY YOU. BUT RICHARD HAS BEEN SO ILL,
THE PRACTICE HAS ENTIRELY FAILED, AND IF I CAN'T GET HIM AWAY FROM HERE
I DON'T KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN.

Tilly's answer, received by return, ran: OH, MARY LOVE, I FEEL THAT
SORRY FOR YOU I CAN'T SAY. BUT THANKS BE I CAN "DO" MY DEAR, AND I
NEEDN'T TELL YOU THE MONEY IS YOURS FOR THE ASKING. AS FOR "LENDING"--
WHY, IF IT MAKES YOUR POOR MIND EASIER PUT IT THAT WAY BUT IT WON'T
WORRY ME IF I NEVER SEE THE COLOUR OF THE OOF AGAIN, REMEMBER THAT. ALL
I HOPE IS, YOU'LL MAKE TRACKS LIKE ONE O'CLOCK FROM THAT AWFUL PLACE,
AND THAT THE DOCTOR'LL SOON BE ON HIS LEGS AGAIN.--BUT MARY! AREN'T I
GLAD I KEPT THAT NEST-EGG AS YOU KNOW OF! YOU WERE A BIT DOUBTFUL AT
THE TIME, LOVE, IF YOU REMEMBER. BUT IF I HADN'T, WHERE SHOULD I BE
TO-DAY? SOMETHING MUST HAVE WARNED ME, I THINK: SIT UP, YOU LOVESICK OLD
FOOL YOU, AND TAKE THOUGHT FOR THE TIME WHEN IT'LL BE ALL CALLS AND NO
DIVIDENDS. WHICH, MARY, IS NOW. THE PLAIN TRUTH BEING, HIS LORDSHIP
KEEPS ME THAT TIGHT THAT IF I DIDN'T HAVE WHAT I DO, I MIGHT BE SITTING
IN PENTRIDGE. AND HE, THE GREAT LOON, IMAGINES I COME OUT ON WHAT HE
GIVES ME!--OH, MEN ARE FOOLS, MY DEAR, I'LL SAY IT AND SING IT TO MY
DYING DAY--AND IF IT'S NOT A FOOL, THEN YOU CAN TAKE IT FROM ME IT'S A
KNAVE. THERE OUGHT TO BE A BOARD UP WARNING US SILLY WOMEN OFF.--
EXCEPT THAT I'VE GOT MY BLESSED BABE. WHICH MAKES UP FOR A LOT. BUT OH!
IF ONE COULD JUST GET CHILDREN FOR THE WISHING, OR PICK 'EM LIKE FRUIT
FROM THE TREES, WITHOUT A THIRD PERSON HAVING TO BE MIXED UP IN IT. (I
DO THINK THE LORD MIGHT HAVE MANAGED THINGS BETTER.) AND I WON'T DENY,
MARY, THE THOUGHT HAS COME TO ME NOW AND THEN JUST TO TAKE BABY AND MY
BIT OF SPLOSH, AND VAMOOSE TO SOMEWHERE WHERE A PAIR OF TROUSERS'LL
NEVER DARKEN MY SIGHT AGAIN.

And now, for several mornings running, the postman handed in a couple
of newspapers, the inner sheets of which contained the separate
halves of a twenty-pound note: this being Tilly's idea of the safest
and quickest means of forwarding money.

"Just something I'd managed to lay past for a rainy day," Mary lied
boldly, on handing Richard his fare to town and ten pounds over for
expenses. And pride, scruples, humiliation, all faded into thin air
before the relief, the burning gratitude, her gift let loose in him.
"Wife! you don't . . . you CAN'T know what this means to me!" And then
he broke down and cried, clinging like a child to her hand.

Restored to composure, he burst into a diatribe against the place, the
people. What it had done to him, what they had made of him . . . him,
whose only crime was that of being a gentleman. "Because I wouldn't
drink with them, descend to their level. Oh, these wretched publicans!
. . . these mill-hands, and Chinese half-castes. . . these filthy Irish
labourers! Mary, I would have done better to go to my grave, than ever
to have come among them. And then the climate . . . and this water-hole
they call a Lagoon . . . and the mill-whistle--that accursed whistle!
It alone would have ended by driving me mad. But let me once shake the
dust of the place off my feet, and Richard will be himself again. A
kingdom for a horse? Mine--no kingdom, but a cesspool--for the sea!
The sea! . . . elixir of life . . . to me and my kind. Positively, I
begin to believe I'm one of those who should never live out of earshot
of its waves."

This new elation held up to the very end (when the thought of being
recognised or addressed by any of those he was fleeing from threw him
into a veritable fever). In such a mood he was unassailable:
insensitive alike to pain or pleasure. Hence, the report that finally
reached them from the Oakworth hospital didn't touch him as it ought to
have done. . . considering that the affair had all but killed him. He
really took it very queerly. The surgeon wrote that the operation had
been successful; there was now every hope that, the overlapping
corrected, perfect union would be obtained; which, as the lad's father
also professed himself satisfied, would no doubt lift a weight from Dr.
Mahony's mind. But Richard only waxed bitterly sarcastic. "Coming to
their senses at last, are they? . . . now it's too late. Beginning to
see how a gentleman ought to be treated?" Which somehow wasn't
like him . . . to harp on the "gentleman."

He even came back on it, in a letter describing an acquaintance he had
made (Richard and chance acquaintances!) in sailing down the Bay to
Shortlands Bluff. This was a fellow medico: LIKE MYSELF A GENTLEMAN WHO
HAS HAD MISFORTUNES, AND IS NOW OBLIGED TO RESUME PRACTICE. STILL MORE
DISCONCERTING WAS IT TO READ: I TOLD HIM ABOUT BARAMBOGIE AND MENTIONED
THE HOUSE BEING TO LET AND THE SALE OF THE FURNITURE, AND SAID THERE
WAS A PRACTICE READY TO HAND. RATHER QUIET JUST NOW, BUT CERTAIN TO
IMPROVE. IF HE TOOK IT, ALL I SHOULD ASK WOULD BE A CHEQUE FOR FIFTY
POUNDS AT THE END OF THE YEAR. I PUT OUR LEAVING DOWN ENTIRELY TO THE
CLIMATE. SHOULD HE WRITE TO YOU, BE SURE AND DO NOT PUT HIM OFF. At
which Mary winced.--And yet. . . Another man might get on quite well
here; some one who understood better how to deal with the people. So
she answered guardedly; being loath to vex him and spoil his holiday,
which really seemed to be doing him good. He boasted of sound nights
and improved appetite: AS USUAL THE SEA MAKES ME RAVENOUS. And so it
went on, until the time came when it was no longer possible to shirk
the question: what next? Then, at once, they were at loggerheads again.

In passing through Melbourne, Mahony had seen an advertisement calling
for tenders for a practice at a place named Narrong; and with her
approval had written for particulars. To Mary this opening seemed just
the thing. More than three times the size of Barambogie, Narrong stood
in a rich, squatting district, not very far north of Ballarat. The
practice included several clubs; the climate was temperate: if Richard
could but get a footing there--the clubs alone represented a tidy
income--the future might really begin to look more hopeful.

And at first he was all in favour of it. Then, overnight as it were, he
changed his mind, and, without deigning to give her a single reason,
wrote that he had abandoned the idea of applying. It was the sea that
had done it; she could have sworn it was: this sea she so feared and
hated! Besides, the usual thing was happening: no sooner did Richard
get away from her than he allowed himself to be influenced by every
fresh person he met. And taking advantage of his credulity, people were
now, for some obscure purpose of their own, making him believe he could
earn three or four hundred a year at Shortlands' Bluff. . .
though it was common knowledge that such seaside places lay dead and
deserted for nine months out of the twelve. Besides, there was a doctor
at Shortlands already; though now close on seventy, and unwilling to
turn out at night.

The one valuable piece of information he gave her was that the billet
of Acting Health Officer, with a yearly retaining-fee and an additional
couple of guineas for each boarding, was vacant. All else, she felt
sure, was mere windy talk. Thus, people were advising him, if he
settled there, not only to keep a horse and ride round the outlying
districts, but also to cross twice or thrice weekly to the opposite
side of the Bay, and open consulting-rooms at some of the smaller
places. WITH MY LOVE OF SAILING THIS WOULD BE NO TOIL TO ME . . .
SHEERLY A PLEASURE. It was true, old Barker intended to hang on to the
two clubs in the meanwhile; but by Christmas he might hope to have
these in his own hands. He had found the very house for them--a great
piece of good luck this, for private houses were few. She would do
well, though, to part with some of the heavier furniture; for the rooms
were smaller than those they were leaving. Also to try to find a
purchaser for the "Collard and Collard"--since coming here he had
learned that an "Aucher Freres" was better suited to withstand the sea
air. The climate, of course, was superb--though very cold in winter--
the bathing excellent: IN SUMMER I SHALL GO INTO THE SEA EVERY DAY.
Best of all they were within easy reach of Melbourne . . . and that
meant civilisation once more. I FEEL VERY HAPPY AND HOPEFUL, MY
DEAREST. QUITE SURE MY LUCK IS ABOUT TO TURN.

Angry and embittered, Mary made short work of his fallacies. And now
high words passed between them: she believing their very existence to
be at stake; he fighting, but with considerable shuffling and hedging
(or so it seemed to her), to defend his present scheme. And neither
would give way.

Till one morning she held the following letter in her hand.

I SEE IT'S NO USE MY BEATING ABOUT THE BUSH ANY LONGER--YOU FORCE ME,
WRITING AS YOU DO, TO TELL YOU WHAT I DID NOT MEAN TO WORRY YOU WITH.
THE TRUTH IS, I HAVE NOT BEEN AT ALL WELL AGAIN. MY OLD ENEMY, FOR ONE
THING--REQUIRING THE MOST CAREFUL DIETING--THE OLD HEADACHES AND FITS
OF VERTIGO. I HAVE ALSO FALLEN BACK ON VERY POOR NIGHTS; NO SLEEP TILL
FOUR OR FIVE . . . FOR WHICH HOWEVER I MUST SAY YOUR LETTERS ARE PARTLY
RESPONSIBLE. FEELING VERY LOW THE OTHER DAY, I WENT TO GEELONG
AND SAW BOWES-SMITH WHO VISITS THERE; AND IT WAS HIS OPINION THAT I
SHOULD BE TOTALLY UNFIT TO COPE WITH THE WORK AT NARRONG. WHICH BUT
CONFIRMS MY OWN. OF COURSE, AS YOU ARE SO SET ON IT, I MIGHT TRY IT FOR
THREE MONTHS--ALONE. BUT I CANNOT DO IMPOSSIBILITIES, AND IF EEL MORE
AND MORE THAT I AM AN OLD AND BROKEN MAN. (ANOTHER THING, I SHOULD
AGAIN HAVE NO ONE TO CONSULT WITH--AND . . . AS YOU OUGHT TO KNOW BY
NOW . . . I AM NOT WELL UP IN SURGERY.) MY POOR HEAD HAS NEVER
RECOVERED THE SHOCK IT GOT LAST SUMMER . . . WHEN YOU WERE AWAY. NO
DOUBT I HAD A KIND OF FIT. AND THOUGH I HAVE SAID NOTHING ABOUT IT, I
HAVE BEEN SENSIBLE OF SOME UNPLEASANT SYMPTOMS OF A RETURN OF THIS, ON
MORE THAN ONE OCCASION SINCE. MY AFFECTION, WHICH WAS APHASIA, MAY COME
ON AGAIN AT ANY TIME. IT MAY ALSO END IN . . . WELL, IN MY BECOMING A
HELPLESS BURDEN . . . TO YOU AND EVERY ONE. NOTHING CAN BE DONE; THERE
IS NO TREATMENT FOR IT BUT A TOTAL ABSENCE OF WORRY AND EXCITEMENT. SO
IF YOU REGRET NARRONG, YOU MUST FORGIVE ME; IT WAS DONE FOR YOUR SAKE.

ONE OTHER THING. EVERY ONE HERE TAKES BOARDERS DURING THE SEASON: THERE
IS NO DISGRACE ATTACHED TO IT. YOU COULD PROBABLY FILL THE HOUSE . . .
AND IN THAT WAY I SHOULD NOT FEEL THAT I WAS LEAVING YOU ENTIRELY
UNPROVIDED FOR. THERE IS NO DUST OR DIRT HERE EITHER: WHEREAS AT
NARRONG I SHOULD NEED TO KEEP TWO HORSES AND A MAN AND BUGGY.

SEND ME SOME WARMER UNDERCLOTHING, THE CONTINUAL BLOW OF THE
EQUINOCTIAL GALES.

THERE IS SURE TO BE PLENTY OF SICKNESS WHEN THE VISITORS COME.
SHORTLANDS WILL LEAD TO STRENGTH, NARRONG TO THE BENEVOLENT ASYLUM.

YOUR LOVING HUSBAND,

R.T.M.

P.S. I AM SO WORRIED I HARDLY KNOW WHAT I AM WRITING FOR GOD'S SAKE
CHEER UP.

At which Mary threw the letter on the table and laughed aloud. Hear how
ill I am, but be sure not to take it to heart! Oh! it wasn't fair of
him . . . it wasn't fair. He had her down and beaten, and he knew it:
to such a letter there could be but one reply. Picking it up she re-read
it, and for a moment alarm riddled her. Then with a jerk she
pulled herself together. How often Richard had . . . yes! over and over
again. Besides, you could just as easily deceive yourself with
bad dreams as with rosy ones. HOW MUCH OF WHAT HE WROTE WAS TRUE? His
health had certainly suffered; but that was all due to this place. He'd
said so himself. Let him once get away from here . . . . Places. And if
she now insisted on his going to Narrong, even on his definitely
applying for the practice, there would be more swords held over her
head, more insidious hints and threats. He complained of not being able
to find his words: well, would any one think that surprising, did they
know the life he had led here? . . . how he never went out, never spoke
to a soul, but sat, for days on end, gloomily sunk in himself.

His airy suggestion that she should open the house to boarders stung
and aggrieved her . . . coming from him. The idea was her own: she had
mooted it long ago. THEN, it had outraged his feelings. "Not as long as
I live!" Which attitude, bereft of common sense though it was, had yet
something very soothing in it. Now, without a word of excuse, he
climbed down from his perch and thrust the scheme upon her . . . as his
own! Blown into thin air was his pride, his thoughts for her standing,
his care for the children's future. Her heart felt dark and heavy. Of
course if the worst SHOULD come to the worst . . . but then she would
be doing it for THEM, not for him . . . or rather, not just in order
that he might somehow get his own way. Oh, he had cried wolf too often.
And a desperate bitterness; the sensation of being "had"; of him
baulking at no means to achieve his end, was upon her again, clouding
her judgment. She simply did not know what to think.

And this attitude of doubt accompanied her through all the dreary weeks
of uprootal; down to the day when the bellman went up and down the main
street crying the sale; when the auction-flag flew from the roof; and
rough, curious, unfriendly people swarmed the house, to walk off with
her cherished belongings. And as she worked, watched, brooded, a phrase
from Tilly's letter kept ringing and buzzing through her head.
SOMETIMES THE THOUGHT HAS COME TO ME, JUST TO TAKE BABY AND MY BIT OF
SPLOSH AND GO OFF SOMEWHERE WHERE . . .

For nothing in the world would she have her children defrauded of their
piano. Every toy they possessed, too, went with them; she saw to that.
(HE never thought of parting with his books!) While the Paris
ornaments were her share of the spoils. (But anyhow it would have been
casting pearls before swine, to offer them for sale here).--As, one by
one, she took apart the gilt-legged tables, the gilt candelabra, to lay
the pieces between soft layers of clothing, memories of the time when
they were bought came crowding in on her. She saw the Paris shops
again, the salesman bowing and smirking, the monkey-like little courier
who had acted as interpreter. But most vividly of all she saw Richard
himself. The very clothes he had worn were plain to her: there he
stood, erect and handsome, a fine and dignified figure. And then, in
pitiful contrast, a vision of him as, a few weeks back, he had slunk up
to the railway station: a shamed and humiliated old man. Dear God! . . .
these passionate angers he roused in her, the unspeakable irritations
she was capable of feeling with him, were things of the surface only.
Dig deeper, and nothing mattered . . . BUT him. Aye, dig only deep
enough, and her heart was raw with pity for him. Let what might, happen
to her; let the children go short, run wild; let him drag them at his
heels the whole world over: she would submit to everything, endure
everything, if she could only see him--Richard, her own dear husband--
hold up his head once more, carry himself with the old confidence, fear
to meet no one's eye, knowing that he had never yet wilfully done any
man hurt or wrong.





Part III




Chapter  I



"Papa, papa--the flag! The flag's just THIS minnit gone up."

"The flag! Papa's this minnit gone up."

The children came rushing in with the news, Lucie in her zeal to echo
Cuffy bringing out her words the wrong way round. But HOW funny! Papa
was fast asleep in his chair, and at first when he waked up couldn't
tell where he was. He called out quite loud: "Where am I? Where the
dickens am I?" and looked as if he didn't know them. But as soon as he
did, he ran to the window. "Quite right! Splendid! So it is.--Now who
saw it first?"

"Lucie," said Cuffy stoutly; for he had seen first ALL the times; Luce
never would, not if she was old as old. And so Lucie received the hotly
coveted penny, her little face, with the fatly hanging cheeks that made
almost a square of it, pink with pleasure. But also with embarrassment.
Would God be VERY angry with Cuffy for tellin' what wasn't true? (She
thought God must look just like Papa when he was cross.)

Papa scuttled about. Shouting.

"Mary! Where are you? The flag's gone up. Quick! My greatcoat. My
scarf."

"Yes, yes, I'm coming.--But . . . why . . . you haven't even got your
boots on! Whatever have you been doing since breakfast?"

"Surely to goodness, I can call a little time my own? . . . for reading
and study?"

"Oh, all right. But fancy you having to go out again to-day. With such
a sea running! And when you got so wet yesterday."

"It's those second-hand oilskins. I told you I ought to have new ones.
--Now where are my papers?--Oh, these confounded laces! They
WOULD choose just this moment to break. It's no good; I can't stoop, it
sends the blood to my head."

"Here . . . put up your foot!" And going on her knees, Mary laced his
boots. TILL she got him off! The fuss--the commotion!

Standing in the doorway Cuffy drank it all in. This WAS an exciting
place to live. To have to rush like mad as soon as ever a flag went up.
If only someday Papa would take him with him. To go down to the beach
with Papa, and row off from the jetty--Papa's own jetty!--and sit in
the boat beside him, and be rowed out by Papa's own sailors, to the big
ship that was waiting for him. Waiting just for Papa. When he was a big
man he'd be a doctor, too, and have a jetty and a boat of his own, and
be rowed out to steamers and ships, and climb on board, and say if they
were allowed to go to Melbourne.--But how FUNNY Papa was, since being
here. When his voice got loud it sounded like as if he was going to
scream. And then . . . he'd said he was busy . . . when he was really
asleep. He believed Papa was afraid . . . of Mamma. Knew she'd be cross
with him for going to sleep again directly after breakfast. It made him
want to say: Oh, DON'T be afraid, Papa, big men never do be. . . only
little children like Lucie. (Specially not one's Papa.)

Slamming the driving-gate behind him--with such force that it missed
the latch, and swinging out went to and fro like a pendulum--Mahony
stepped on to the wide, sandy road, over which the golden-flowered
capeweed had spread till only a narrow track in the centre remained
free. It was half a mile to the beach, and he covered the ground at a
jog-trot; for his fear of being late was on a par with his fear that he
might fail to see the signal: either through a temporary absence of
mind, or from having dozed off (the sea air was having an unholy effect
upon him) at the wrong moment. Hence his bribe to the children to be on
the look-out.--Now on, past neat, one-storeyed weatherboards, past
Bank and church and hotels he hurried, breathing heavily, and with a
watchful eye to his feet. For his left leg was decidedly stiffish; and,
to spare it, his pace had to be a long, springing step with the right,
followed by a shorter one with the left: a gait that had already earned
him the nickname in Shortlands of "Old Dot-and-go-one."

Taking the Bluff, with its paths, seats and vivid grass-carpet,
in his stride, he scrambled down the loose sand of the cliff, through
the young scrub and the ragged, storm-bent ti-trees, which were just
bursting into pearly blossom. And the result of this hurry-scurry was
that he got to the beach too soon: his men had only just begun to open
up the boat-shed. Fool that he was! But it was always the same . . .
and would be to-morrow, and the day after that: when his fears seized
him, he was powerless against them. Having irritably snapped his
fingers and urged on the crew with an impatient: "Come, come, my good
men, a little more haste, if you please!" he retired to the jetty,
where he paced to and fro.

But at last the boat was launched, the sailors had grasped their oars:
he, too, might descend the steps and take his seat.--And now he knew
that all the press and fluster of the past half-hour had been directed
towards this one, exquisite moment: in which they drew out to ride the
waves. Of the few pleasures left him, it was by far the keenest: he
relived it in fancy many a night when his head lay safe on the pillow.
To-day was a day, too, after his own heart. A high sea ran, and the
light boat dived, and soared, and fell again, dancing like a
cockleshell. The surface of the water was whipt by a wind that blew the
foam from the wave-crests in cloudlets of steam or smoke. The salt
spray was everywhere: in your eyes, your mouth, your hair. Overhead,
between great bales of snowy cloud, the sky was gentian-blue; blue were
the hills behind the nestling white huts of the quarantine station on
the other side of the Bay; indigo-blue the waters below. Intoxicated by
all this light and colour, at being one again with his beloved element,
he could have thrown back his head and shouted for joy; have sent out
cries to match the lovely commotion of wind and sea. But there was no
question of thus letting himself go: he had perforce to remain as dumb
as the men who rowed him. Above all, to remember to keep his eyes
lowered. For the one drawback to his pleasure was that he was not
alone. He had a crew of six before him, six pairs of strange eyes to
meet; and every time he half-closed his own and expanded his nostrils,
the better to drink in the savour of the briny, or, at an unusually
deep dip, let fly a gleeful exclamation, they fixed him stonily, one
and all. There was no escaping them, pinned to his seat as he
was: nor any room for his own eyes . . . nowhere to rest them . . .
except on the bottom of the boat. Only so could he maintain his
privacy.--Eyes . . . human eyes. Eyes . . . SPIES, ferreting out one's
thoughts . . . watchdogs on the qui vive for one's smallest movement
. . . spiders, sitting over their fly-victims, ready to pounce. Eyes.
Slits into the soul; through which you peered, as in a twopenny
peepshow, at clandestine and unedifying happenings. A mortal's outside
the NE PLUS ULTRA of dignity and suavity. . . and then the eyes,
disproving all. Oh! it ought not to be possible, so to see into
another's depths; it was indecent, obscene: had he not more than once,
in a woman's comely countenance, met eyes that were hot, angry,
malignant? . . . unconscious betrayers of an unregenerate soul. None
should outrage him in like fashion: he knew the trick and guarded
against it, by keeping his own bent rigidly on the boards at his
feet... on the boot-soles of the men in front of him. But smiles and
chuckles were not so easily subdued: they would out . . . and out they
came.

As the boat drew nearer the vessel that lay to, awaiting them, a new
anxiety got the upper hand. Wrinkling his brows, he strained to see
what was in store for him. Ha! he might have known it: another of those
infernal rope ladders to be scaled. He trembled in advance. For you
needed the agility of an ape to swing yourself from the tossing boat to
the bottom rung of the ladder; the strength of a navvy to maintain your
hold, once you were there, before starting on the precarious job of
hoisting yourself, rung by rung, up the ship's steep side. And to-day,
with this wild sea running, it was worse than ever--was all the men
could do to bring the boat close enough, yet not too close, alongside,
for him to get a grip on the rope. The seat he stood on was slippery,
his oilskins encumbered him: he made one attempt after another. Each
time, before he had succeeded in jerking himself across, the gulf
opened anew. Finally, in most undignified fashion, he was laid hold of,
and pushed and shoved from behind; and thereafter came a perilous
moment when he hung over the trough of sea, not knowing whether his
muscles would answer to the strain, or whether he would drop back into
the water. Desperately he clung to the swaying rope; what seemed an
eternity passed before he could even straighten himself, let
alone climb out of reach of the waves.--Deuce take it! you needed to
be at least twenty years younger for acrobatics of this kind.

Hanging over the side, the ship's crew followed his doings with the
engrossed and childish interest of men fresh from the high seas. As he
came within reach, however, willing hands were thrust forth to help
him. But he was shattered by his exertions, the deck was wet, and no
sooner did he set foot on it than his legs shot from under him, and he
fell heavily and awkwardly on his back. And this was too much for the
onlookers, just suited their elephantine sense of humour, already
tickled by his un-seamanlike performance on the ladder: one and all
burst into a loud guffaw. Bruised and dazed he scrambled to his feet,
and, hat and bag having been restored him, was piloted by a grinning
seaman to the captain's cabin.

There had been no single case of sickness on the outward voyage: the
visit was a mere formality; and the whole affair could have been
settled inside five minutes--had he not been forced to ask the
captain's leave to rest a little, in order to recover before
undertaking the descent: his hips ached and stung, his hand shook so
that he had difficulty in affixing his signature. He thought the
captain, a shrewd-eyed, eagle-nosed Highlander, whose conversation
consisted of a series of dry: "Aye, aye's!" looked very oddly at him on
his curt refusal of the proffered bottle. "Thank you, I never touch
stimulants."

As he hobbled home wet and chilled, his head aching from its contact
with the deck, arm and shoulder rapidly stiffening: as he went, he had
room in his mind for one thought only: I've taken on more than I can
manage. I'm not fit for the job--or shan't be . . . much longer. And
then? . . . my God! . . . AND THEN?--But hush! Not a word to Mary.

Entering the dining-room he pettishly snatched off the dish-cover.
"WHAT? . . . hash again? I declare of late we seem to live on nothing
else!"

Mary sighed. "If I serve the meat cold, you grumble; if I make it up,
you grumble, too. I can't throw half a joint away. What am I to do?"

He suppressed the venomous: "Eat it yourself!" that rose to his lips.
"I've surely a right to expect something fresh and appetising
when I get back after a hard morning's work? You know I loathe
twice-cooked meat!"

"I thought you'd bring such an appetite home with you that you'd be
equal to anything. Other times you do. But you don't know your own mind
from one day to the next."

"If THAT'S all you have to say, I won't eat anything!"--And despite
her expostulations and entreaties: "Richard! come back, dear, don't be
so silly," he banged out of the room.

Instantly Cuffy pushed his plate away. "I don't like it either, Mamma."

Glad of a scapegoat, Mary rounded on the child with a: "Will YOU kindly
hold your tongue, sir?" letting out not only her irritation with
Richard, but also the exhaustion of a morning's governessing: a task
for which she was wholly unfitted by nature. "You'll not leave the
table till you've eaten every scrap on your plate."

And Cuffy, being really very hungry--he had only said like Papa to try
and make Mamma think Papa wasn't quite so bad--obeyed without a
further word.

Afterwards, he had to go to the butcher's with a basket to buy a chop--
a big one and not too fat, Papa didn't eat fat--and then, when the
whole house smelt good with frying, to go in and say to Papa that
dinner was ready.

But Papa was asleep and snoring; and he didn't like to wake him. He
fidgeted about and made a noise for a bit, and then went out and said
so.

But Mamma sent him back: the chop was cooked and had to be eaten. So he
put his hand on Papa's arm and shook it. But Papa knocked it off, and
jumped up calling out: "What is it? . . . what is it now?" And very
angry: "CAN'T you let me be?--Oh, it's you, my dear?--What? Not I!
Tell your mother I want nothing."

And then Mamma came marching in herself, and was furious. "And when
I've sent out specially to get it! I never heard such nonsense. Going
the whole day without food just to spite me!"

She was quite close up to Papa when she talked this; and they were both
dreadfully angry; and then. . . then Cuffy disTINKLY saw Papa's foot
fly out and hit her . . . on her knee. And she said: "OOH!" and stooped
down and put her hand to it, and looked at him, oh! so fierce
. . . but she didn't say any more, not a word (and he knew it was because
he was there), but turned on her back and walked out of the room. And
he felt frightened, and went away, too; but not before he'd seen Papa
put his face in his hands, just as if he was going to cry.

They kept a goat now: it was chained up in the back yard to eat the
grass and things, which would have smothered them if it hadn't. Well,
he went out to the goat--it was tied up and couldn't run away--and
kicked it. It maa-ed and tore round like mad: but he just didn't care;
he kicked again. Till Luce came out and saw him and made awful eyes,
and said: "Oh, Cuffy! Oh, poor little Nanny! Oh, you bad, wicked boy!
I'll go wight in and tell Mamma what you're doin'."

But Mamma could not be got at. She was in the bedroom with the door
locked; and she wouldn't come out, though you called and called, and
rattled the handle. (But she wasn't dead, 'cos you could hear them
talkin'.)

With his arms round her, his face on her shoulder, Richard besought
her: "Mary, Mary, what is it? What's the matter with me? Why am I like
this?--oh, why?"

"God knows! You seem not to have an atom of self-control left. When it
comes to kicking me . . . and in front of the children . . ." Her heart
full to bursting, Mary just stood and bore his weight, but neither
raised her arms nor comforted him.

"I know, I know. But it isn't only temper--God knows it isn't! It's
like a whirlpool . . . a whirlwind. . . that rises in me. Forgive me,
forgive me! I didn't mean it. I had a nasty fall on the deck this
morning. I think that knocked the wits out of me."

"A fall? How? Were you hurt?" Mary asked quickly. At any hint of bodily
injury, and was it but a bruise, she was all sympathy and protection.

Meekly now, but with only the ghost of an appetite, Mahony sat down to
the congealed chop, which he sliced and swallowed half-chewed, while
Mary moved about the room, her lids red-rimmed and swollen. And the
children, having snatched one look at her, crept away with sinking
hearts. Oh, Mamma dear, dear, don't. . . DON'T be unhappy!

In telling of his fall and making it answerable for his subsequent
behaviour, Mahony failed to mention one thing: the uneasiness
his leg was causing him. Some perverse spirit compelled him to store
this trouble up for his own tormenting--that night when he lay stiff
as a corpse, so as not to deprive Mary of her well-earned rest. This
numbness ... this fatal numbness.... He tried to view himself in the
light of a patient: groped, experimented, investigated. What! cutaneous
anaesthesia as well? For he now found he could maltreat the limb as he
would; there was little or no answering sensation. Positively he
believed he could have run a pin into it. Sick with apprehension he put
his hand down to try yet once more, by running his finger-nails into
and along the flesh--and was aghast to hear a shrill scream from Mary.
"RICHARD! What ARE you doing? Oh, how you have hurt me!"

He had drawn blood on her leg instead of on his own.




Chapter II



Mary waited, as for the millennium, for the opening of the summer
season. In the meantime Shortlands lay dead to the rest of the world:
the little steamer neither brought nor took off passengers: the big
ships all went by. But on every hand she heard it said: let the season
once begin and there would be work for every one; the life of a year
was crowded into three brief months. If only they could manage to hold
out till then! For December was still two months off, and of private
practice there was as good as none. The place was so healthy for one
thing (oh, there must surely be something very wrong about a world in
which you had to feel SORRY if people weren't ill!) and the poorer
classes all belonged to the clubs, which Richard hadn't got. His dreams
of keeping a horse and riding round the district, of opening
consulting-rooms on the other side, had, as she had known they would,
ended in smoke: the twice he had crossed the Bay he had not even
covered his fare. She wondered, sometimes, if such sickness as there
was did not still find its way to Dr. Barker, retired though the old
man professed to be. It was certainly owing to him that nightwork had
become extinct here. Through him refusing to leave his bed, the
inhabitants had simply got out of the way of being taken ill at night.

And Richard did nothing to mend matters. On the contrary. At present,
for instance, he was going about in such a simmer of indignation at
what he called the trick that had been played on him--the misleading
reports of the income to be made here--that he was apt to let it boil
over on those who did approach him. Then, too, the dreadful habit he
had fallen into, of talking to himself as he walked, put people off.
(From something the servant-girl let drop, she could see that he was
looked on as VERY odd.) But when she taxed him with it he flared up,
and vowed he had never in his life been guilty of such a thing; which
just shewed he didn't know he was doing it. If he had, he would have
been more careful; for he liked the place (hardly a day passed
on which he did not sigh: "If I can ONLY make a living here!") in spite
of its deadness . . . and also of the cold, which found out his weak
spots. And for once in their lives they were in agreement: she liked
it, too. They were among people of their own class again by whom she
had been received with open arms. Though, as she could see, this very
friendliness might have its drawbacks. For Richard had been quite wrong
(as usual): the members of this little clique did not let lodgings,
most emphatically not; they drew, indeed, a sharp line between those
who did and those who didn't. Well! she would just have to see . . .
when the time came. If the practice did NOT look up.--But oh! how she
hoped and prayed it would: she could hardly trust herself to think what
might happen if it did not.

One afternoon as they sat at tea--it was six o'clock on a blustery
spring day--they heard the click of the gate, and looking out saw some
one coming up the path: a short, stoutish man in a long-skirted
greatcoat, who walked with a limp.

Mary rubbed her eyes. "Why . . . why, Richard!"

"What is it? . . . who is it?" cried Mahony, and made as if to fly: he
was in one of those moods when the thought of facing a stranger filled
him with alarm.

"Why . . . I . . ."

"He's walking right in," announced Cuffy.

"An' wavin' his hand, Mamma."

Sure enough, the newcomer came up the verandah steps and
unceremoniously tapped on the window-pane. "Hullo, good people all! . . .
how are you?" And THEN, of course, he with his hat off, shewing a
head innocent of hair, there was no mistaking him.

With one eye on Richard, who was still capable of trying to do a bolt,
one on the contents of her larder-shelves, Mary exclaimed in surprise.
"Well, of all the . . . Purdy! Where have you sprung from? Is Tilly
with you?"

"TILLY? Mrs. P. Smith? God bless my soul, no! My dear, this wind 'ud
give 'is Majesty the bellyache for a month; we'd hear tell of nothing
else. Lord bless you, no! We never go out if it blows the least little
tiddly-wink, or if there's a cloud in the sky, or if old Sol's rays are
too strong for us. We're a hothouse plant, WE are. What do you say to
that, you brawny young nippers, you?"

It was the same old Purdy: words just babbled out of him. And
having taken off his coat and chucked the children under the chin--
after first pretending not to know them because of their enormous size,
and then to shake in his shoes at such a pair of giants--he drew in
his chair and fell to, with appetite, on the toothsome remains of a
rabbit-pie and the home-baked jam tarts that Mary somehow conjured up
to set before him. "These sea-voyages are the very devil for makin' one
peckish. I've a thirst on me, too . . . your largest cup, Polly, if you
please, will just about suit my measure."--As she listened to his
endless flow, Mary suspected him of already having tried to quench this
thirst on the way there.

In eating, he told of the business that had brought him to Shortlands;
and at greater length than was either necessary or desirable; for there
was a lot in it about "doing" a person, in revenge for having been
"done" by him, and the children of course drank it all in. Mary did her
best to edge the conversation round, knowing how strongly Richard
disapproved of their being initiated, before their time, into the
coarse and sordid things of life. But what followed was even worse. For
now Purdy started indulging in personalities. "I say, you two, isn't
this just like old times . . . eh?" he said as he munched. "Just like
old times . . . except of course that we're all a good bit thicker in
the tummy and thinner on the thatch than we were, ha, ha! . . . your
humb. serv. in partic.! ALSO "--and he winked his right eye at the
room at large--"excepting for the presence of the young couple I
observe sitting opperSITE, who were NOT on the tappis, or included in
the programme, in those far-off days--eh, Poll? Young people who
insisted on putting in an appearance at a later date, unwanted young
noosances that they were!" (At which Cuffy, flaming scarlet, looked
anxiously at his mother for a denial: she had told him over and over
again how enjoyed she and Papa had been to see him.) "Well, well! such
little accidents will happen. But far from us was it to think of such
. . . all those many . . . now HOW many years was it ago? Thirty--for a
cert! Ah! no hidin' your age from me, Mrs. Poll . . . after the manner
of ladies when they come to the sere and yellow leaf. I've got you
nailed, me dear!"

Colouring slightly (she thought talk of this kind in sorry taste
before the children), Mary was just about to say she didn't
mind who knew how old she was, when Richard, who till now had sat like
a death's-head, brought his fist down on the table with a bang. "And I
say, not a day over twenty-five!" He did make them jump.

Purdy, so jovial was he, persisted in taking this to refer, not to the
date, but to her age, and bantered harder than ever, accusing Richard
of trying to put his wife's clock back. And what with Richard arguing
at the top of his voice to set him right, and Purdy waggishly refusing
to see what was meant, it looked for a moment as if it might come to an
open quarrel between them.

"Richard! . . . hush, dear!" frowned Mary, and surreptitiously shook
her head. "What can it matter? Oh, don't be so silly!" For he was
agitatedly declaring that he would fetch out his old case-books and
prove the year, black on white. She turned to Purdy: "You've told me
nothing at all yet about Tilly and the boy."

But Purdy had plainly no wish to talk of wife or child, and refused to
let himself be diverted from the course of reminiscence on which he had
embarked. To oblige her, he dropped his mischievous baiting with a:
"Well, well, then, so be it! I suppose I 'm getting soft in the
uppers," but continued to draw on his memories of the old days,
spinning yarns of things that had happened to him, and things she was
quite sure hadn't, egged on by the saucer eyes of the children.
"Remember this, Poll? . . . remember that?" she vainly endeavouring to
choke him off with a dry: "I'm afraid I don't." She sat on pins and
needles. If only he wouldn't work Richard up again. But it almost
seemed as if this was his object; for he concluded his tale of the
Stockade and his flight from Ballarat, with the words: "And so afeared
for his own skin was our friend old Sawbones there, that he only
ventured out of an evening, after dark; and so the wound got mucky and
wouldn't heal. And that's the true story, you kids, of how I came to be
the limping-Jesus I am and ever shall be, world without end, amen!"

Of all the wicked falsehoods! (Or had he REALLY gone about nursing this
belief?) Such expressions, too! . . . before the children. Thank
goodness, Richard hadn't seemed to hear: otherwise she would have
expected him to fly out of his chair. A stolen glance shewed
him sitting, head on chest, making patterns on the tablecloth with the
point of his knife. And having failed thus to draw him, if Purdy didn't
now dish up, with several unsavoury additions, the old, old story of
the foolish bet taken between the two of them as young men, that
Richard wouldn't have the pluck to steal a kiss from her at first
meeting; and how, in the darkness of the summer-house, he had mistaken
one girl for the other and embraced Jinny instead. "Putting his arms
round her middle--plump as a partridge she was too, by gum!--and
giving 'er a smack that could have been heard a mile off. Killing two
birds with one stone I call it! . . . gettin' the feel of a second gal
under his hands, free, gratis and for nothing."

At such indelicacy Mary held her breath. But what was this? Instead of
the furious outburst for which she waited, she heard a . . . chuckle.
Yes, Richard was laughing--his head still sunk, his eyes fixed on the
tablecloth--laughing and nodding to himself at the memory Purdy had
called up. And then--oh, no! it was incredible: to her horror, Richard
himself added a detail, the grossness of which sent the blood to her
cheeks.

What was more, he was going on. "Run away and play, children. At once!
Do you hear?" For Cuffy was listening open-mouthed, and laughing, too,
in an odd, excited way. She had them off their chairs and out of the
room in a twinkling. Herself she stood for a moment in the passage, one
hand pressed to her face. Oh! by fair means or foul--"You're wanted,
Richard! Yes, immediately!"--And after that it was not hard to get
Purdy up from the table and sent about his business.

But as soon as the children were in bed she went into the surgery, and
there, shutting fast the door, let out her smothered wrath, making a
scene none the less heated because it had to be carried on under her
breath. To her stupefaction Richard flatly denied the charge. What was
she talking about? No such words had ever crossed HIS lips! "Before my
children? Whose every hair is precious to me?" He was as perturbed as
she, at the bare idea. Oh, what was to be done with a person whose
memory was capable of playing him such tricks? In face of his
indignation, his patent honesty, you couldn't just rap out the word
"liar!" and turn on your heel.

Yes, a disastrous visit from start to finish. The children alone
got pleasure from it. Purdy took a great liking to them--he
who hadn't a word to say for his own child--and on the verandah next
morning the trio were very merry together. Cuffy's laugh rang out again
and again.

For Cuffy thought Mr. Purdy a VERY nice man . . . even if his head WAS
shiny like an egg, and he was nearly as fat as that ol' Sankoh in the
big book with the pictures. (Papa, he was like Donk Quick Shot, who
tried to kill the windmills.) He had two beautiful big diamond rings on
his fingers, and a watch that struck like a clock, and a whole bunch of
things, little guns and swords and seals, hanging on his chain. He gave
them each half-a-crown and said not to tell Mamma, and rode Luce to
market on his foot, and sang them a lovely song that went:

A MAN WHOSE NAME WAS JOHNNY SANDS
HAD MARRIED BETTY HAGUE,
AND THOUGH SHE BROUGHT HIM GOLD AND LANDS,
SHE PROVED A TERRIBLE PLAGUE;
FOR O SHE WAS A SCOLDING WIFE
FULL OF CAPRICE AND WHIM,
HE SAID THAT HE WAS TIRED OF LIFE,
AND SHE WAS TIRED OF HIM.

Ever so much of it, all about these people, till she fell into the
river and asked him to pull her out, and Johnny Sands would have, but:

I CAN'T, MY DEAR, THO' MUCH I WISH,
FOR YOU HAVE TIED MY HANDS!

He and Luce jumped about and sang it, too. Oh, wasn't it nice when
somebody was happy and jolly and funny?--instead of always being
sorry, or cross. He thought he could NEARLY have asked Mr. Purdy what
it meant when you said: the female nobleman obliges. It belonged to
him, Papa had said it did; but he hadn't ever dared ask anybody about
it; people like Aunt Zara laughed so, when you didn't understand. But
he was going to . . . some day.----

The climax came next morning when, the front door having closed behind
the guest, the children came running out of the dining-room crying
gleefully: "Look, Mamma! Look what he's left on the table!" For
an instant Richard stood and stared incredulously at the five-pound
note Cuffy was holding aloft; the next, with a savage exclamation he
had snatched it from the child's hand, and was through the porch and
down the path, shouting at the top of his voice: "Here you, sir, come
back! How dare you! Come back, I say! Do you take my house for an
hotel?"

But Purdy, already on the other side of the gate and limping off as
hard as he could go, only made a half-turn, waved one arm in a gesture
that might have meant anything, and was out of sight. Short of running
down the street in pursuit, or of mixing one of the children up in it
. . . Beside himself with rage, Richard threw the note to the ground and
stamped on it, then plucking it up, tore it to bits.

Taking him by the arm, Mary got him indoors. But for long she could not
calm him. (Oh, was there EVER such a tactless fool as Purdy? Or was
this just another of those spikey thrusts at Richard which he seemed
unable to resist?)

"Does he think because he's gone up in the world and I've come down
that it gives him the right to insult me in this way?--him, the common
little ragamuffin I once picked out of the gutter? (Oh no, Richard!) To
come here and offer me alms! . . . for that's what it amounts to . . .
pay his few shillingsworth of food with a present of pounds? Why, I
would rather rot in my grave than be beholden to him!" (Oh, how Richard
did at heart despise him!) "CHARITY!--from HIM to ME!"

"He shall never come again, dear." (Though how were you to help it, if
he just walked in?)

Behind the locked door (she seemed always to be locking doors now) she
sat, wide-lapped in her full skirts; and, when Richard had railed
himself tired, he knelt down before her and laid his face on her dress.
Her hands went to and fro over the grey head, on which the hair was
wearing so thin. What could she do for him? . . . what was to become of
him? . . . when every small mischance so maddened, so exasperated him.
That a stupid, boorish act like Purdy's could so shatter his self-control!
Her heart wept over him; this heart which, since the evening
before, had lain under the shadow of a new fear; a fear so ominous that
she still did not dare to put it into words; but against which, for
her children's sake, she might need to take up arms . . . to
lock, so to speak, yet another door.

The upshot of the matter was that she had to replace the destroyed note
by one from her jealously guarded store. This Richard haughtily sealed
up and posted back, without a single covering word.

There was, however, one bright side to the affair. And again it was the
children who benefited.

In running them out after breakfast to buy some lollipops, Purdy had
got permission from the postmaster, an old friend of his, to take them
up the lighthouse; and so the three of them went up and up and up a
staircase that twisted like a corkscrew, hundreds of steps, till they
came to where the great lamp was that shone at night; and then, tightly
holding hands, they walked round the little narrow platform outside and
looked down at the sea, all bubbly and frothy, and the white roofs of
the houses. They found their own, and it didn't look any bigger than a
doll's-house. Afterwards they were asked inside the post office--right
inside!--and they peeped through the little window where the stamps
were sold, and saw the holes where the letters were kept; and the two
tel'graph machines that went click, click; and how tape ran away on
wheels with little dots and dashes on it, that the postmaster said were
words. And then he took them into his house behind to see his Mamma and
his four grown-up sisters, who were ever so nice, and asked their
names, and said Cuffy WAS a big boy for his age, and Luce was a cuddly
darling; and they cut a cake specially for them, and showed them a ship
their Papa had made all by himself, even the little wooden men that
stood on the decks. They laughed and joked with Mr. Purdy, and they had
the most lovely teeth, and sang songs for them till Cuffy was wild with
delight.

Thus, through Purdy's agency, a house was opened to the children the
like of which they had never known: a home over which no shadow
brooded; in which the key was set to laughter and high spirits, and the
nonsensical gaiety that children love. Cuffy and Lucie, petted and made
much of, completely lost their hearts to their new friends, and talked
so much of them, teasing to be allowed to visit them, that Mary felt it
incumbent on her to tie on her bonnet and pay a call in person.
She came back entirely reassured. The daughters, one and all
Australian-born, were charming and accomplished girls; while in old
Mrs. Spence, the widow of an English university man who in the early
days had turned from unprofitable gold-digging to Government service,
she found one who, in kindliness and tolerance, in humour and common
sense, reminded her vividly of her own mother, long since dead.

To the children this old lady early became "Granny"; and even Cuffy,
who had begun to fight shy of his mother's knee, was not above sitting
on hers. A Granny was diffrunt . . . didn't make you feel such a baby.
And it was of her kind old face that he eventually succeeded in asking
his famous question.

"Bless the child! . . . now what can he mean?" Then, noting the
sensitive flush that mounted, Granny cried: "Pauline, come you here!--
Pauline will know, my dear. She's ever so much cleverer than a silly
old woman like me."

And pretty Pauline--they were all four so pretty and so nice that
Cuffy couldn't tell which he liked best--knelt down before him, he
sitting on Granny's lap, and, with her dress bunching out round her and
her hands on his knees, explained, WITHOUT LAUGHING A BIT. NOBLESSE
OBLIGE didn't mean the obliging female nobleman at all: he had got it
mixed up with poet and poetess. "What it says, Cuffy dear, is that
people who are born to a high rank . . . like Kings and Queens . . .
must always remember who they are and act accordingly. Little gentlemen
must always behave LIKE gentlemen, and never do anything low or mean.
Do you see?"

And Cuffy nodded . . . and nodded again. Yes, now he knew. And he never
would!--But he knew something else, too. He loved Pauline more'n
anybody in the world.




Chapter III



"There you go . . . tripping again. You keep one in a perfect fidget,"
sighed Mary.

"It's these confounded shoes. They're at least two sizes too big."

"I told you so! But you were so set on having them easy."

Entering the surgery Mahony kicked the inoffensive slippers from his
feet, and drew on his boots. After which, having opened the door by a
crack, to peer and listen, he stole into the passage to fetch hat and
stick.

But Mary, in process of clearing the breakfast-table, caught him in the
act. "What? . . . going out already? I declare your consulting hours
become more of a farce every day. Well, at least take the children with
you."

"No, that I can't. They're such a drag."

And therewith he whipped out of the house and down the path, not
slackening his pace till he had turned a corner: Mary was quite capable
of coming after him and hauling him back. And escape he must--from the
prison cell that was his room; from the laming surveillance to which
she subjected him. Only out of doors, with the wind sweeping through
him, the wild expanse of sea tossing in the sunlight, could he for a
little forget what threatened; forget her dogging and hounding; enjoy a
fictitious peace. . . dream of safety . . . forget--forget.

He made for the Bluff where, for an hour or more, he wandered to and
fro: from the old grey lighthouse and flagstaff at one end, to pier and
township at the other. He carried his hat in his hand, and the sea wind
played with his fine, longish hair till it stood up like a halo of
feathers round his head. That no chance passer-by should use them as
spy-holes, he kept his eyes glued to the ground; but at the same time
he talked to himself without pause; no longer mumbling and muttering as
of old, but in a clear voice for any to hear, and stressing his words
with forcible gestures: throwing out an open palm; thumping a closed
fist in the air; silencing an imaginary listener with a
contemptuous outward fling of the hand.

He was obliged to be energetic, for it was Mary he argued with, Mary he
laboured to convince; and this could only be done by means of a
tub-thumper's over-emphasis. Where he was in question. She believed others
readily enough. But he never had her wholly with him; invariably she
kept back some thought or feeling; was very woman in her want of
straightness and simplicity. Even here, while shouting her down with:
"I tell you once for all that it IS so!" he felt that he was not moving
her.--But stay! What was it he sought to convince her of? Confound the
thing! it had slipped the leash and was gone again: grope as he might,
standing stockstill the while in the middle of the path and glaring
seawards, he could not recapture it. Not that this was anything new.
Nowadays his mind seemed a mere receptacle for disjointed thoughts,
which sprang into it from nowhere, skimmed across it and vanished . . .
like birds of the air. Birds. Of Paradise. Parrakeets . . . their
sumptuous green and blue and rosy plumage. You caught one, clasped it
round, and, even as you held it, felt its soft shape elude you, the
slender tail-feathers glide past till but the empty hole of your curled
hand remained. A wonderful flight of parrakeets he had once seen at . . .
at . . . now WHAT was the name of that place?--a Y and a K, and a Y.
Damnation take it! this, too, had flown; and though he scoured and
searched, working letter by letter through the alphabet: first the
initial consonants, then the companion vowels.. . fitting them together
--mnemonics--artificial memory . . . failing powers . . . proper names
went first--gone, gone! . . . everything was gone now, lost in a
blistering haze.

Such a frenzied racking of his poor old brain invariably ended thus . . .
with a mind empty as a drum. And though he crouched, balled like a
spider, ready to pounce on the meagrest image that shewed, nothing
came: the very tension he was at held thought at bay. His senses on the
other hand were strung to a morbid pitch; and little by little a clammy
fear stole over him lest he should never again know connected thought;
be condemned eternally to exist in this state of vacuity. Or the terror
would shift, and resolve itself into an anticipation of what
would, what MUST happen, to end the strain. For there was nothing final
about it: the blood roared in his ears, his pulses thudded like a
ship's engines, the while he waited: for a roar fit to burst his
eardrums; for the sky to topple and fall upon his head, with a crash
like that of splitting beams. Thunder--thunder breaking amid high
mountains . . . echoing and reechoing . . . rolling to and fro. Or
oneself, with closed eyes and a cavernous mouth, emitting a scream: a
mad and horrid scream that had nothing human left in it, and the
uttering of which would change the face of things for ever. This might
escape him at any moment; here and now: wind and sea were powerless
against it--he could feel it swelling . . . mounting in his throat. He
fought it down: gritted his teeth, balled his fists, his breath
escaping him in hoarse, short jerks. Help, help! . . . for God's sake,
help!

And help approached . . . in the shape of a middle-aged woman who came
trapesing along, dragging a small child by the hand.

Swaying round his stick, which he dug into the gravel for a support,
Mahony blocked her way, blurting out incoherencies; in a panic lest she
should pass on, abandon him. "Good morn'g, my good woman . . . good
morn'g. A pleasant morn'g. Cool breeze. A nice lil girl you have there.
A fine child. Know what I'm saying, speak from exp'rience . . . a
father myself. Yes, yes, two little girls . . . golden curls, healthy,
happy. Like criteks . . . chirking. A boy, too. Porridge for rickets
. . . you've let yours walk too soon. Nothing like porridge for forming
bone. The Highlanders . . . main sustenance . . . magnif'cent men.--
Eh? What? Well, good day . . . good day!"

For, having edged round and past him, the woman grabbed her child and
made off. Not till she had put a safe distance between them did she
stop to look round. "Well, I'm blowed! Of all the rum ol' cusses!"
There he went, without a hat, his hair standing up anyhow, and talking
away nineteen to the dozen. The whole time he'd spoke to her, too, he'd
never so much as took his eyes off the ground.

In his wake Mahony left a trail of such open mouths. Espying a man
digging a garden, he crossed the road to him and leaned over
the fence. A painter was at work on the beach, re-painting a boat: he
headed for him, wading ankle-deep through the loose, heavy sand.

Of these, the former spoke up sturdily. "Can't say as I understand what
you're drivin' at, mister, with them sissyfass stones you tork of. But
this I do know: any one who likes can have MY job! An' to-day rather'n
to-morrow."

The painter knew the "ol' doctor" by sight and stopped his work to
listen, not impolitely, to certain amazing confidences that were made
him. After which, watching the departing figure, he thrust his fingers
under his cap and vigorously scratched his head. "Crikey! So THAT'S
him, is it? Well, they do say . . . and dang me! I b'lieve they're not
far wrong."

Dog-tired, footsore, Mahony limped home, his devils exorcised for the
time being. At the gate a little figure was on the watch for him--his
youngest, his lovely one, towards whom his heart never failed to warm:
her little-girl eyes had nothing of the boy's harassing stare. Holding
her to him he walked up the path. Then: "Good God! but I said I had
two. What . . . what came over me? The creature will think I was lying
. . . boasting!" Where should he find her to put things right? . . . by
explaining that one of the two no longer wore bodily form; but had been
snatched from them amid pain and distress, the memories of which, thus
rudely awakened, he now--in the twenty odd yards that divided gate
from door--re-lived to their last detail, and so acutely that he
groaned aloud.

Hot with the old pity, he laid a tender hand on Mary's shoulder; and
following her into the dining-room ate, meekly and submissively, what
she set before him: without querulous carping, or fastidious demands
for the best bits on the dish. And this chastened mood holding, he even
offered in the course of the afternoon to walk the children out for
her.

Bidden to dress himself, Cuffy obeyed with the worst possible grace. It
was dull enough walking with Mamma, who couldn't tell stories because
she was always thinking things; but when it came to going out with
Papa. . . well, Mamma never did it herself, and so she didn't know what
it was like. But he couldn't ask to be let stop at home, because of
Luce. He HAD to be there to pertect Luce, who was so little and
so fat. Mamma was always saying take care of her.

Papa held their hands and they started quite nice; but soon he forgot
about them, and walked so quick that they nearly had to run to keep up,
and could look at each other across behind him. And they went round by
the bay at the back, where the mussels were, and heaps of mud, and no
waves at all. Luce got tired direckly. Her face hung down, very red.
SOMEHOW he'd got to make Papa go slower.

"Tell us a story."--He said it twice before Papa heard.

"A story? Child, I've no stories left in me."

("You ask him, Luce.")

"Tell 'bout when you was a little boy, Papa," piped Lucie, and trotted
a few steps to draw level.

"No, tell 'bout when you first saw Mamma." Luce, she loved to hear how
Papa's big sisters had smacked him and put him to bed without his
supper; but he liked best the story of how Papa had seen nothing, only
Mamma's leg in a white stocking and a funny black boot, when he saw her
first; and it was jumping out of a window. He'd jumped out, too, and
chased her; but then he let her go and went away; but as soon as he got
home he slapped his leg and called himself a donkey, and hired a horse
and galloped ever and ever so many miles back again, to ask her if
she'd like to marry him. And first she said she was too young, and then
she did. He'd heard it a million times; but it was still exciting to
listen to . . . how in a hurry Papa had been.

But to-day everything went wrong. Papa began all right; but so loud
that everybody who was passing could hear. But then he got mixed, and
left out the best part, and said the same thing over again. And then he
couldn't remember Aunt Tilly's name, and didn't listen when they told
him, and got furious with himself. He said he'd be forgetting his own
name next, and that would be the end of everything. And then he jumped
on to the funny bit in the arbour that Mr. Purdy had teased him about,
where he'd kissed somebody called Miss Jinny instead of Mamma . . . and
this really truly WAS funny, because Mamma was so little and spindly
and Miss Jinny was fat. But when he came to this he forgot to go on,
and that he was telling them a story, and that they were there,
and everything. He said: "My God! how could I have done such an idiotic
thing? . . . have made such an unspeakable fool of myself. Took her in
my arms and kissed her--the wrong girl . . . the wrong girl. I can
hear them still--their ribald laughter, their jeers and guffaws . . .
their rough horseplay. And how she shrank before them . . . my shy
little Polly! . . . my little grey dove. I to make her the butt of
their vulgar mirth!" And then he made a noise as if something hurt him,
and talked about pain-spots one shouldn't ever uncover, but shut up and
hide from everybody. And then some more, in a dreadful hoarse voice,
about a scream, and somebody who'd soon have to scream out loud if he
didn't keep a hold on himself.

Cuffy couldn't bear it any longer; he pulled his hand away (Papa didn't
notice) and let Papa and Luce go on alone. He stayed behind and kicked
the yellow road-flowers till all their heads fell off. But then Luce
looked back, and he could see she was crying. So he had to gallop up
and take her hand. And then he called out--he simply shouted: "Papa!
Lucie's tired. She wants to go home to Mamma."

"Tired? . . . my poor little lamb! Such short leggykins! See. . . Papa
will carry her." And he tried to lift her up, and first he couldn't,
she was so heavy, and when he did, he only staggered a few steps and
then put her down again. Luce had to walk home with their hands, and
all the way back he made haste and asked questions hard, about the
yellow flowers and why they grew on the road, and why the wind always
sang in the treble and never in the bass, and always the same tune;
till they got to the gate. But you didn't tell how Papa had been . . .
not a word! You were too ashamed.

Shame and fear.

If you were coming home from Granny's, walking nicely, holding Luce's
hand and taking care of her, and if you met a lot of big, rough, rude
boys and girls coming from the State School, what did you do? Once, you
would have walked past them on the other side of the road, sticking
your chin up, and not taking any notice. Now you still kept on the
other side (if you didn't run like mad as soon as you saw them), but
you looked down instead of up, and your face got so red it hurt
you.

For always now what these children shouted after you was: "Who'd have a
cranky doctor for a father? . . . who'd have a cranky doctor for a
father!" and they sang it like a song, over and over, till you had gone
too far to hear. And you couldn't run away; you WOULDN'T have! You
squeezed Luce's hand till you nearly squeezed it off, and whispered:
"DON'T cry, Luce . . . don't let them see you cry." And Luce sniffed
and sniffed, trying not to.

You didn't tell this either; nor even speak to Luce about it. You just
tried to pretend to yourself you didn't know. Like once when Miss
Prestwick was new and had taken them too long a walk at Barambogie, and
Luce hadn't liked to ask, and had had an accident: he'd been ever so
partic'lar then not to look at her; he'd kept his head turned right
round the other way. That was "being a gentleman." But this about Papa
. . . though you tried your hardest to be one here, too, you couldn't
help it; it was always there. Like as if you'd cut your finger and a
little clock ticked inside. And being good didn't help either; for it
wasn't your FAULT, you hadn't DONE anything. And yet were ever so
ashamed . . . about somebody . . . who wasn't you . . . yet belonged to
you. Somebody people thought silly and had to laugh at . . . for his
funny walk . . . and the way he talked.--Oh, WHY had one's Papa got to
be like this? Other children's Papas weren't. They walked about . . .
properly . . . and if they met you they said: "Hullo!" or "How do you
do?"

Something else wormed in him. Once in Barambogie he had seen a
dreadful-looking boy, with his mouth open and his tongue hanging out,
and bulgy eyes like a fish. And when he'd asked Maria she said, oh, he
was just cranky and an idjut. But Papa wasn't like THAT! The thought
that any one could think he was, was too awful to bear.

"What's it really mean, Bridget, cranky?" he asked, out of this pain,
of the small servant-girl.

And Bridget, who was little more than a child herself, first looked
round to make sure that her mistress was not within hearing, then
mysteriously put her mouth to his ear and whispered: "It means . . .
WHAT YOUR PA IS."

Granny, on whose knee he sat, held him from her for an instant,
then snatched him close. "Why bother your little head with such
things?"

"I just want to know."

As usual Granny turned to Pauline for aid; and Pauline came over to
them and asked "Who's been saying things to you, my dear? Take no
notice, Cuffy. Oh, well, it just means . . . different--yes, that's
what it means: different from other people." But he saw her look at
Granny and Granny at her; and his piece of cake was extra big that day,
and had more currants in it than Luce's.

But a "diffrunt doctor" didn't mean anything at all.

But now you and Luce never stopped running all the way home, and you
went a long way round, so as not to have to go down the street where
the State School was. And when Papa took you for a walk, you CHOSE the
hidjus way at the back. When all the time you might have gone on the
real beach, by the real sea.

For what a lovely place this would have been, if it hadn't been for
Papa. There wasn't any wattle here to shut your eyes and smell and
smell at and you couldn't smell the sun either, like in Barambogie. But
the beach and the sea made up for everything. You could have played on
the beach till you died. The sand was hot and yellow and so soft that
it felt like a silk dress running through your fingers; and there were
big shells with the noise of the sea in them, and little ones with
edges like teeth; and brown and green and red and pink seaweed; and
pools to paddle in; and caves to explore when the tide went out. And
soon lots of little boys and girls--NICE ones--who you could have
played with if you had been allowed, came to the seaside, too. But
Mamma always said: keep to yourselves. Which meant there was only him
and Luce. And then you learned to swim. The bathing-woman said you were
a born fish; and you wished you were: then you could have stopped in
the water for ever--and never have needed to go home again--or for
walks with Papa.

Fear. All sorts of fears.

One was, when he lay in bed at night and listened to the wind, which
never stopped crying. Mamma said it was because the room was at
a corner of the house, and the corner caught the wind; but Bridget said
it was dead people: the noise people made when they were dead. "But my
little sister Lallie's dead!" "Well, then, it's her you hear." (But
Lallie had never cried like that.) But Bridget said it was the voice of
her soul in torment, hot in hell; and though he KNEW this wasn't true,
because Lallie was in heaven, he couldn't help thinking about it at
night, when he was awake in the dark. Then it did sound like a voice--
lots of voices--and as if they were crying and sobbing because they
were being hurt. Other times it seemed as if the wind was screeching
just at him, very angry, and getting angrier and angrier, till he had
to sit up in bed and call out (not too loud because of Luce):"Oh!
what's the matter?" But it didn't stop: it just went on. And even if
you stuffed your fingers in both your ears, you couldn't shut it out;
it was too treble. Till you couldn't stand it any longer, and jumped
out of your own bed and went to Luce's, and lifted the blankets and got
in beside her--she was always fast asleep--and held on to her little
fat back. And then you went to sleep, too.

But Mamma was cross in the morning when she came in and found you: she
said it wasn't nice to sleep two in one bed.

"But you and Papa do!"

"That's quite different. A big double bed."

"Couldn't Luce and me have a double bed, too?"

"Certainly not," said Mamma; and was ashamed of him for being afraid of
the dark. Which he wasn't.

Worse still were those nights when he had to lie and think about what
was going to happen to them when all their money was done. Mamma didn't
know; she often said: "What is to become of us?" And it was Papa's
fault. They never ought to have come to live here; they ought to have
gone to a place called Narrong, where there was plenty of money; but
Papa wouldn't; so now they hadn't enough, and quite soon mightn't have
any at all. Perhaps not anything to eat either. His mind threw up a
picture of Luce crying for bread, which so moved him that he had to
hurry on. Maria's mother had taken in washing. But you couldn't think
of Mamma doing that: standing at the tubs and mangling and ironing, and
getting scolded if the buttons came off. No, he wouldn't ever
let her! He'd hold her hands, so that she couldn't use the soap. Or
else he'd pour the water out of the tubs.

But QUITE the most frightening thing was, when no more money was left,
Mamma and Papa might have to go to prison. Once, when he was little,
he'd heard them talking about somebody who couldn't pay his debts, and
so had cheated people and been put in gaol. And this dim memory
returning now to torture him, he rolled and writhed, in one of
childhood's hellish agonies. WHAT would he and Luce do? How could they
get up in the morning and have breakfast, and know what to put on, or
what they were to practise, without Mamma and--no! JUST without Mamma.
And though he might talk big and say he wouldn't let her be a
washerwoman, yet inside him he knew quite well he was only a little
boy, and not a bit of use, REALLY. If the sergeant came and said she
had to go to prison, nothing he could do would stop her. Oh, Mamma . . .
Mamma! She alone, her dear, substantial presence, stood guard between
him and his shadowy throng of fears. And now, when he and Lucie raced
home hand in hand of an afternoon, their first joint impulse was to
make sure of Mamma: to see that she was still there . . . hadn't gone
out, or. . . been taken away. Only close up to where she stood,
radiating love and safety, a very pillar of strength, was it possible
for their fragile minds to sustain, uninjured, the grim tragedy that
overhung their home, darkening the air, blotting out the sun,
shattering to ruin all accustomed things; in a fashion at once
monstrous and incredible.




Chapter IV



As if struck by a beneficent blindness, Mary, alone unseeing, alone
unsuspecting, held to her way. And, in excuse of her wilful ignoring of
many a half-thought and passing impression, her care to keep these from
coming to consciousness, there was this to be said: she knew Richard so
well. Who but she had endured, for the better part of a lifetime, his
whimsies, his crotchets? When had she ever thought of him, or spoken of
him, but as queer, freakish, eccentric? Hence, was it now to be
wondered at that, as age crept on and added its quota, his
peculiarities should wax rather than wane? The older, the odder seemed
but natural to her, who had never looked for anything else.

Meanwhile October passed into November, November into December; and one
day--overnight, as it seemed--the season was upon them. The houses on
either side were full of new faces; there was hardly a spare seat in
church on Sunday; you had to wait your turn for a cabin at the baths.
And the deck of the little steamer, which came daily, was crowded with
lively, white-clad people. Now was the time . . . if ever . . . for
Richard's fortunes to turn.

But the days dragged by in the old monotony; not a single new patient
knocked at the door. Instead, by the end of the week Mary had definite
information that old Barker was being called out again. Yes, people
were actually preferring this antediluvian old man to Richard. And
could one altogether blame them? Who would want to consult a doctor who
went about talking to himself, and without a hat? . . . who omitted to
brush his hair or brush the fluff off his coat-collar, and thought
nothing of appearing in public with a two-days' growth on his chin? She
could imagine landladies and hotel-keepers advising their guests: "Oh,
I shouldn't have HIM, if I were you. Extremely queer! Goes nowhere."

Boarders. It was boarders or nothing now . . . and not a moment
to lose either, with a season that lasted for a bare three months. Like
the majority of people in Shortlands, she would have to seize the
chance and make money while she could, by throwing open her house to
strangers. Grimly she tied on her bonnet and went down into the
township, to hang out her name and her terms as a boarding-housekeeper;
to face the curious looks, the whispers and raised eyebrows: what? . . .
the grand Mrs. Mahony? . . . reduced to taking in lodgers? Not till
she got home again did she know how high she had carried her head, how
rigidly set her jaw, over the taking of this step which would once have
seemed like the end of the world to her. But, true to herself, she
refused to allow her strength to be sapped by vain regrets. Instead,
she turned with stubborn energy to the re--arrangement of her house. If
Richard and she moved into the children's bedroom, and the children
slept in a small inner room lit by a skylight, she would have two
good-sized bedrooms to let, in which she could put up as many as four to
five people. At two guineas a head this would bring in ten a week. Ten
guineas a week for three months! . . . of which not a penny should pass
out of her own hands.

On the day this happened--and in the swiftness and secrecy of her
final decision there was something that resembled a dash of revenge--
on this day, Richard was out as usual all the morning, strolling about
on cliffs or beach. And though he came home to dinner, he was in one of
his most vacant moods, when he just sat and ate--ravenously--noticing
nothing of what went on around him.--But anyhow she would not at this
eleventh hour have started to thresh the matter out with him. Better,
first to get everything irrevocably fixed and settled.

Perhaps, though, she had a dim foreboding of what awaited her. For the
next time he came back he was wider awake, and took in the situation at
a glance. And then there was a scene the like of which she had never
known. He behaved like a madman, stamping and shouting about the house,
abusing her, and frightening the poor children out of their wits. In
vain she followed him, reasoning, arguing, throwing his own words in
his teeth: had the idea not been his, originally? Besides, what else
was left for her to do, with no patients, no money coming in,
and old Barker resuming practice? He would not listen. Frenzy seized
him at the thought of his threatened privacy: strangers to occupy his
bedroom, hang their hats in the passage, go in and out of his front
door. Not as long as HE lived! "My mother . . . my sisters . . . the
old home in Dublin--THEY would sooner have starved!" And as he spoke
he sent hat and stick flying across the hall table, and the brass
card-tray clattering to the floor. He kicked it to one side, and with an
equally rough push past Mary, who had stooped to recover it, banged
into the surgery and locked the door. And there he remained. She could
neither get at him nor get a word out of him.

Late that night the children, their parents' neighbours now, sat
miserably huddled up together. Lucie had been fast asleep; but Cuffy
had so far only managed to doze uneasily, in this funny room where the
window was in the roof instead of the wall: he was quite sure something
would look in at him through it, or else fall down on his head. Now
they sat and clung to each other, listening . . . listening . . . their
little hearts pounding in their chests. "Oh, DON'T, Papa! Oh, what's he
doing to her?" To which Cuffy gave back sturdily: "I don't hear
anything, Luce, truly I don't!" "Oh, yes, you do! And now I'll know she
go away . . . Mamma will . . . and leave us." "No, she won't. She told
me so yesterday--promised she wouldn't ever!" Though his teeth were
chattering with fear.

For Mary had at last reached what seemed the limits of human endurance.
After pleading and imploring; after reasoning, as with a little child:
after stabbing him with bitter words, and achieving nothing but to tear
and wound her own heart, she gave it up, and, turning bodily from him,
as she had already turned in mind and deed, she crushed her face into
the pillow and gave way, weeping till she could weep no more; as she
had not wept since the death of her child. But on this night no loving
arms reached out to her, to soothe and console. Richard might have been
made of stone: he lay stockstill, unmoved, staring with glassy eyes
into the moonlight.

From sheer exhaustion she thought she must have sunk into a momentary
unconsciousness; for, coming to with a start, she found the place
beside her empty. Throwing back the sheet she jumped to the floor, her
temples a-throb, and ran into the hall. There, among the lines
and squares of greenish moonshine that filtered through the open doors
of the rooms, stood Richard, a tall white figure, just as he had got
out of bed. He was at the front door, fingering the lock, plainly on
the point of leaving the house. Abominably frightened, but mindful of
the sleeping children, she called to him under her breath: "RICHARD!
What are you doing?"

He did not answer: she had to go up to him and shake his arm. "What's
the matter? Where are you going?"

"To find peace."

So gaunt and old . . . the ribbed neck and stooping shoulders . . . the
poor thin shanks: and once, he, too, had been young, and handsome, and
upstanding. As always, did she compare present with past, an immense
compassion swept through Mary, driving every smaller, meaner feeling
before it. She put out her arms, put them round him, to hold, to
protect. "Oh, but not like this . . . and at this hour. Wait till
morning. Come back and try to sleep. Come, my dear, come!"

But he resisted her. Only by dint of half pushing, half pulling, did
she manage to get him back to bed. He seemed dazed; as if he were
moving in a dream. And though, during the hours that followed, she
sometimes believed he slept, she herself did not dare to close her
eyes, so great was the fright he had given her.

But Mahony slept as little as she did. With his back to her, withdrawn
from any chance contact, he merely put into practice an art learned in
scores of wakeful nights: that of lying taut as the dead, while the
long hours ticked away. Let her think what she chose . . . think him
asleep--OR dead . . . as long as she held her cruel tongue. His hatred
of her passed imagining: his mind was a seething cauldron of hate and
fury. Fury with himself. For he had been within an ace of deliverance,
of getting through that door; beyond which lay everything his heart
desired: space . . . freedom . . . peace. One and all drenched in the
moon's serene light. This light it was that drew him; affecting him as
do certain scenes or people which, on seeing them for the first time,
you feel you have known long since . . . in dreams, in a dream life.
The sea, too, lay without. Seas . . . silvered masses . . . leaping and
tumbling under a great round moon. And then, at the last moment, he had
been baulked of his freedom by the knowledge that he was grown too tall
for the doorway. To pass through it he would have needed to
risk knocking his head against the doorpost, or to stoop; and to-night
either alternative was beyond him. His poor head felt so queer . . . so
queer. Top-heavy, yet weightless as a toy balloon. Already on first
laying it down, he had had the old sensation of sinking through the
pillow; of falling head-foremost into nothingness. Hence he dared not
risk a blow; or the dizzy fit stooping would entail. And so he had been
caught and dragged back; made a prisoner of . . . yet once more. But
this time should be the last. Revenge! . . . revenge is sweet.
Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord: I will repay. Fill the house with
strangers, would she?--HIS house? Cut the ground from under his feet?
--deprive him of his only haven? . . . why! even a rabbit had its
burrow. To be without covert; to know no place to creep to for hiding,
when the fit, the burning need of escape seized him?--And then his
eyes. What in God's name should he do with his eyes? Strangers at his
table? On your p's and q's with strangers; aye, and on the watch, too,
lest they should find you out. And for all this he had only Mary to
thank--Mary, who might have been expected to show mercy. She? As well
ask blood of a stone.--And now such a paroxysm of hatred shook him:
the outcome, solidified, intensified, of thousands of conflicts; of the
ceaseless clash and war of their opposing temperaments: that it was all
he could do to master the itch his fingers felt to close round her
throat. But he would be even with her yet! . . . somehow . . . somehow
. . . though he did not yet know how. But . . . IT WOULD HAVE TO DO
WITH MONEY! For it was money she was after: with her it had always been
money, from first to last. What new tricks was she hatching this time?
Was it going to COST money to take these lodgers in? Or was she doing
it to MAKE money? He was so confused to-night; his poor brain seemed
smothered in cobwebs. But it didn't matter, either way would do. As
long as he remembered that IT HAD TO DO WITH MONEY. And surely, surely,
the long night would now soon end, and day break, and he be free to get
up and set about what had to be done. (His home, his poor home, his
sole refuge . . . eyes. . . greenish eyes in the moonlight, coming
towards him, and, most horribly, without any accompanying face.) First,
though, he would have to pull himself together to endure in
silence, without an answering shriek, the blast of the mill-whistle--
that thrice-accursed, infernal din! Not much more than an hour now,
till it was due to sound.

At breakfast he sat silent, seemed lost in thought. And Mary, to whom
the dark hours had brought no clearness--every way she turned seemed
barred to her--watched him, the passion of pity that had been wakened
by the sight of his poor old scraggy form at the door in the moonlight,
trying to escape from her--from HER!--still hot in her.

But the meal over, he roused to a kind of life. Taking his little
favourite on his knee, he caressed her. And then, of a sudden, he grew
solicitous about the children: their morning walk, their daily dip in
the sea. "Or"--to Lucie this, as he rocked her to and fro--"we shall
not have them growing up tall and sturdy!" (If only he could hold on to
the fact that IT HAD TO DO WITH MONEY.)

"Trust me to look after them," said Mary shortly, at a third
repetition. Her own thoughts ran: If I can't talk to some one I shall
go crazy. Something will have to be done. I know. There's old Mrs.
Spence. She is so wise.

Would he never be rid of them? It seemed this morning as if Mary
deliberately invented jobs to detain them. He fell to pacing the
dining-room, his arms a-swing . . . and each time he came to the window
he lifted his eyes in alarm, lest the flag should have run up the
flagstaff. A ship at this moment would ruin everything.

But . . . softly! Mary was growing suspicious. "Are you stopping at
home then?"

"Yes, yes, I'm staying in. I'll look after the house." (Ha, ha!)

And at last gowns and towels, spades and buckets were collected, the
children's hats and her bonnet tied on, and off they went. It was a
radiant summer morning, with a light breeze playing, but Mary saw
nothing of it: her brain continued its feverish work, in the hope of
finding some way out. Suppose I induced him to leave home for a time?--
to go away for a holiday? . . . and so get the house to myself. Or
even persuaded him to put up at an hotel. But before she had gone any
distance, she became aware of such a strange inner excitement
that it was only with difficulty she mastered an impulse to turn and go
back to the house. Why had he been so anxious to get rid of them? Why
this sudden odd concern for the children?--and here there leapt in her
mind a story she had once read, or heard, of somebody who had sent his
wife and his children out for a walk, and then deliberately hanged
himself on a nail behind the scullery-door. But, this half-born
apprehension spoken out, she fell righteously foul of herself: her
reason, her common sense, that part of her which had waged a life-long
war with the fantastic, the incorporeal, rose in arms. Such NONSENSE
Really . . . if one once began to let oneself go. . . . (Besides,
wasn't Bridget constantly in and out of the scullery?) Imaginings like
these came solely from want of sleep. How angry Richard would be, too,
if she reappeared!

So she went on, as usual making Cuffy the scapegoat for her nervous
perplexity. "Don't eat your bathing-dress, you naughty boy! How often
am I to tell you . . ."

"I'm NOT eating it! Only smelling."--He did though, some times. (And
his sponge, too.)

"Well, that's not nice either."

"It IS! It's scrumptious," cried Cuffy warmly. How did Mamma know? . . .
she never bathed. The salty smell--and the taste--of damp blue
serge when it was hot with the sun--ooh! too lovely for words. If he
put it to his nose he could hardly keep his legs from running: it made
him shiver all over, simply not able to WAIT, to be in the water. And
directly they came to the Bluff he bolted: shot along the narrow wooden
bridge that ran out from the beach, past the counter where gowns and
towels were for hire, and into the Baths, where nothing but gowns and
towels were hanging on the rails to dry, all one big salty smell. And
you poked your nose into every empty cabin, to find a dry one; and
then, hi! off with your clothes before Luce and Mamma got there, and
into your gown, hot with the sun, and all prickly and tickly; and then
you galloped round the platforms and out on the spring-board, which
bounced you ever so high in the air, into water they said was fifteen
feet deep, but you didn't know, only if you jumped straight, and made
yourself quite stiff, you went down and down, and took ever such a time
to come up. Then you swam back to the steps--they were all
slimy, and with seaweed washing round them, for they weren't ever out
of the water--and up and off the board again, again and again, till it
was time to fetch Luce, who was afraid to jump springboard.

"If I'm not back in an hour make them come out," Mary instructed the
fat bathing-woman, who knew what young water-rats the chicks were, and
could be trusted to use force if necessary.--And with this she turned
to go.

But she had done no more than set foot on the wooden causeway, when she
saw some one dash on to it from the other end, push rudely past a group
of people, a servant it was . . . and it was BRIDGET, with her hair
half down, in her dirty morning apron . . . and she came rushing up to
her and seized her hand, and pulled her by it, and sobbed and cried,
for every one to hear: "Oh, Mrs. Mahony, come home! . . . come home
quick! The doctor's bin and lighted a fire on the surgery table. He's
burning the house down!"

"Bridget!"

Her heart, which had begun to hammer at first sight of the girl, gave a
gigantic bound, then seemed to stop beating: she had to lean against
the wooden railing and press both hands to it, to get it to restart.
But, even so, she heard her own voice saying: "Be quiet! Don't make
such a noise. There are people . . . I'm coming, I'm coming."

Home! Uphill, through loose, clogging sand; a short cut over the grass
of the gardens; along one reddish street and into another, and round
into a third; hampered at every step by her long, heavy woman's
clothing; not daring to run, for fear of exciting comment, struggling
even yet, for Richard's sake, to keep up appearances; the perspiration
glistening below her bonnet, her breath coming stormily; but with only
one thought: that of being in time to save him. At her side Bridget,
gasping out her story. If it hadn't bin that he hadn't had no matches,
she'd never have known. But he'd had to come to the kitchen for some,
and she'd seen at once there was something in the wind. He'd looked at
her, oh, ever so queer! And first he'd tried to take 'em without her
seeing him . . . and when she had, he'd laughed, and had went up the
passage laughing away to himself. She'd gone after him on tiptoe to see
what he was up to, and she'd peeped through the crack of the
door, and he'd got that black tin box of his open, and was taking
papers and tied-up things out of it, piling 'em on the table, and
striking matches and setting fire to 'em. Holy Mother o' God, HOW she'd
run!

There was smoke in the passage. The surgery was full of it; full of
bits of flying ash and burnt papers. Through this she saw Richard. He
stood at the table, the deal top of which was scorched and blackened,
his dispatch-box open and empty before him, his hands in a heap of
ashes which he was strewing about the room. He laughed and shouted. She
heard her own name.

"RICHARD! My God! What have you done?"

MARY? . . . Mary's voice? Recoiling, he threw up his arms as if to ward
off a blow, looking round at her with a face that was wry and
contorted. At the sight of her standing in the doorway, he tried to
shake his fist at her; but his arm crumpled up, refused to obey; tried
to hurl a scurrilous word . . . to spit at her: in vain. What did
happen was the thing against which, waking and sleeping, he had battled
with every atom of his failing self-control: there escaped him, at long
last, the scream, the insane scream, which signified the crossing of
the rubicon. And, as it broke loose, ringing in his ears like the
bestial cry of a wounded, maddened animal, everything turned black
before his eyes. He lost his balance, staggered, caught at a chair and
went down, with the chair on top of him, like an ox felled by a single
blow of the pole-axe. And there he lay, in a confused and crumpled heap
on the floor.

And Mary, whom no audible sound had reached, who had read into the
outward fling of his arm towards her only an appeal for help, for
support, was on her knees beside him, her bonnet awry, her dress in
disarray, crushing the poor old head to her breast and crying:
"Richard! My DARLING! What is it, oh, what is it?"

But to these words, with which she had so often sought enlightenment,
sought understanding, there was now no reply.




Chapter V



His stertorous breathing could be heard through the house. Except for
this, he might have been dead . . . behind the snow-white dimity and
muslin hangings which she had put up in honour of those strangers who
would now never cross the threshold. For Bowes-Smith, the well-known
Melbourne physician whom she had called in on the advice of Dr. Barker
--yes! with Richard lying senseless at her feet she had forgotten
everything but his need, and had sent Bridget flying for the old man
whom she had borne so bitter a grudge; and he had come at once, and
been kindness itself. So active, too: it was hard to believe that he
was between twenty and thirty years Richard's senior--oh, how DID some
people manage to live so long and be so healthy! But in spite of his
consoling words, she could see that he took a very grave view of
Richard's case. And Bowes-Smith and he had had a sheerly endless
consultation--from which, of course, they shut her out--after which
the former had broken it to her that, even if he recovered from the
present fit, Richard would remain more or less of a sick man for the
rest of his life.

The utmost care was essential; an entire absence of excitement. "For I
cannot conceal from you that such apoplectiform attacks, which--as in
this case--differ little or not at all from true apoplexy, will be
liable to recur."

He stood on the dining-room hearthrug, tall, lugubrious, sandy-whiskered,
holding his gold-rimmed pince-nez in his hand, and tapping
the air with it while he cast about for words, which came laboriously.
They had known him well in the old days, and she remembered this habit;
it had always made him seem something of a bore. Now it maddened her.
For she was keyed up to hear the truth, learn the worst; and to be
obliged to sit there, listening to him stumbling and fumbling! He was
so bland, too, so non-committal; how differently he would have talked
to Richard had she lain ill. But she was only a woman; and,
doctors being what they were . . . oh, she knew something about them
from the inside. Usen't Richard to say that it was etiquette in the
profession to treat a patient's relatives, and particularly his
womenfolk, as so many cretins?

Ignoring her blunt question: "But if it isn't true apoplexy, then what
is it?" Bowes-Smith proceeded deliberately to catechise her.

"I don't know, Mrs. Mahony, whether you are . . . h'm. . . whether it
is . . . er . . . news to you that I saw your husband some two or three
months back? He . . . er . . . consulted me, at the time, with regard
to . . . h'm . . . to an attack . . . nay, to recurring attacks of
vertigo. I found him then under no . . . h'm . . . no delusion as to
his own state. He said nothing to you? Did not take you into his
confidence?"

"No, nothing," said Mary dully: and inconsequently remembered the
letter she had had from Richard when she was trying to induce him to
settle in Narrong. She hadn't known then what to believe; more than
half suspected him of writing as he did to further his own ends.

"And you have not noticed anything . . . h'm . . . out of the way?
There has been no marked change in his habits? No . . . er . . .
oddness, or eccentricity?" The questions lumbered along, she sitting
the while fiercely knotting her fingers.

"Nothing," she said again. Adding, though, in spite of herself: "But
then he has always been so peculiar. If he did seem a little odder of
late, I merely put it down to his growing old."

"Quite so . . . er . . . most natural." (She was keeping things back,
of course; wives always did. He remembered her well: a handsome
creature she had been when last he saw her. The eyes were still very
striking.) "And now . . . er . . . with regard to the present attack.
Are you aware of anything having happened to . . . er . . . cause him
undue excitement . . . or agitation?"

"No," said Mary staunchly. How could it matter now, what had brought
the fit on? Wild horses would not have dragged from her any allusion to
their bitter quarrel of the night before. That would have meant turning
out, to this stranger, the dark side of their married life. However,
she again glossed over the bluntness of her denial with: "But
he was always one to work himself up over trifles."

"Well, well! My colleague here . . . and if, at any time, you would
care to see me again, I am entirely at your disposal." (No need to
trouble the poor creature with more, at present. Yes, truly, a
magnificent pair of optics!) "Do not be . . . h'm . . . alarmed at any
slight . . . er . . . stiffness or rigidity of the limbs that may
ensue. That will pass."

And I a doctor's wife! thought Mary hotly. Aloud she said: "Oh, I'm not
afraid--of paralysis or anything--as long as he is spared." And while
the two men confabbed anew, she went to the bedroom and stood looking
down at Richard. Her own husband . . . and she could not even be told
frankly what was the matter with him. For twenty-five years and more
she had had him at her side, to give the truth if she asked for it. She
had never known till now how much this meant to her.

Meanwhile she spilt no jot of her strength in brooding or repining:
every act, every thought was concentrated on him alone. And not till
the first signs of betterment appeared: when the dreadful snoring
ceased and his temperature fell to normal; when his eyes began to
follow her about the room; when he was able to move one hand to point
to what he wanted: not till then did she sit down, cold and grim, to
face the future.

"My God! what's to become of us?"

A pitiful forty-odd pounds standing to his credit in a Melbourne Bank,
and her own poor remnant of Tilly's loan, was literally all they had in
the world. In that last mad holocaust everything else had gone: deeds
and mortgages, letters and securities, down to the last atom of scrip.
He had piled and burnt till the dispatch-box was empty. (Who would now
be able to prove what shares he had held? Or how much had been paid off
on the mortgage?) The house at Barambogie was still on their hands; and
almost the whole of their lease at Shortlands had still to run. How
were these rents to be met? . . . and what would happen if they
weren't? She would need expert advice, probably have to employ a lawyer
--a thought that made her shiver. For she had the natural woman's fear
of the law and its followers: thought of these only in terms of bills
of costs . . . and sharp, dishonest practices.

But that must all come later. The burning question was, where
to turn for ready money. The little she had would go nowhere: Richard's
illness . . . presents to the doctors, the servant's wages--nor could
they live on air. Boarders were out of the question now: for Richard's
sake. WHAT could she do? What did other women do who were left in her
plight, with little children dependent on them? Driving her mind back,
she saw that as a rule these "widows and things" were content to live
at somebody else's expense, to become the limpets known as "poor
relations," leaving the education of their children to a male relative.
But she had not been Richard's wife for nothing. At the mere thought of
such a thing, her back stiffened. Never! Not as long as she had a leg
to stand on . . . mere woman though she was.

IT'S NOT MONEY I WANT THIS TIME, TILLY, she wrote: and Tilly was but
one of many who, the news of Richard's breakdown having spread abroad
as on an invisible telegraph, came forward with offers of help. IT'S
WORK. I DON'T CARE WHAT; IF ONLY I CAN EARN ENOUGH TO KEEP US TOGETHER.
But here even Tilly's ingenuity failed her: women of Mary's standing
(let alone her advanced age, her inexperience) did not turn out of
their sheltered homes and come to grips with the world. Impossible,
utterly impossible, was to be read between the lines of her reply.

And, as day after day went by without enlightenment, it began to look
as if Tilly was right. Beat her brains as she would, Mary would find no
way out.

To old Mrs. Spence, who in this crisis had proved a friend indeed, she
finally made a clean breast of her despair.

"There seems literally nothing a woman CAN do. Except teach--and I'm
too old for that. Nor have I the brains. I was married so young. And
had so little schooling myself. No, the plain truth is, I'm fit for
nothing. Really there come moments when I can see us all ending in the
Benevolent Asylum."

It was here that Mrs. Spence, nodding her sage, white-capped head in
sympathy, made the tentative suggestion: "I wonder, my dear . . . has
it never occurred to you to try to enter Government service?"

Mary winced . . . she hoped not too perceptibly. "Oh, I'm afraid that
again would need more brains than I've got." It was well meant,
of course, but . . . SO to cut oneself adrift!

Undaunted the old lady went on. "Plenty of women before you have done
it. As a postmistress, you would have a house rent-free, with free
lighting and firing, all sorts of perquisites, and a fixed salary. And
I think, my dear, with the many friends you have at court, it would be
easy for you to skip preliminaries. My son, I know, would be only too
happy to help you in any way he could."

"You're very kind. But I feel sure I'm too old . . . and too stupid."

But that night, as she tossed wakeful on the hard little bed she had
set up beside Richard's, her friend's words came back to her, and rang
in her ears till they had effectually chased away all chance of sleep:
so spurred and pricked her, in fact, that she sat up in bed and,
hunching her knees, propped her elbows on them and dug her clenched
fists into her chin. A house rent-free.. . nothing to pay for light and
firing . . . a fixed salary--she didn't know how much, of course, but
it would need to be enough to support a family on, so many postmasters
being married men. It would also mean that she could keep Richard and
the children with her; and the fear of having to part from them was the
worst she knew. And then those rents, those dreadful rents, which hung
round her neck like millstones . . . might she not perhaps . . . But,
oh! the come-down . . . the indignity . . . the PUBLICITY of the thing
--in this colony where she had been so well known. A postmistress . . .
she, a postmistress! . . . forced to step out into the open, become a
kind of public woman. To see her name--RICHARD'S name--in printed
lists, in official communications. (She might even have to tell her
age.) Men--strange men--would be over her, she their subordinate,
answerable to them for what she did. Worse still, she herself would
have men under her, young men of a class with which she had never come
in contact. What would her friends and acquaintances say, to see her
sink like this in the social scale? (At which her native plain-dealing
jogged her elbow with the reflection that it would soon shew who were
true friends, and who not.) Oh, it was easy to SAY you didn't mind what
you turned your hand to. But when it came to doing it!--And then, too,
suppose she wasn't equal to the work? As she had said, and
truly, she had no faith in her own abilities. Directly it came to book
or head-learning, she thought of herself as dull and slow. Though here,
oddly enough, the thought perked up and declined to be quenched that,
if Richard had only let her have a say, however small, in the
management of his affairs, these might never have got into the muddle
they had. Figures didn't come hard to her.

Thus was she tossed and torn, between a womanly repugnance, her innate
self-distrust, and her sound common sense. And she got up in the
morning still having failed to reconcile the combatants. It was the
sight of Richard that determined her. When she saw him sitting propped
up among his pillows, his lower jaw on the shake; when she heard his
pitiful attempts to say what he wanted--like a little child he was
having to be taught the names of things all over again--when she
looked at this wreck, every other consideration fell away. What did she
matter? . . . what did anything or anybody matter?--if only she could
restore to health and contrive to keep, in something of the comfort he
had been used to, this poor old comrade of the years.

Henry Ocock held office in the present ministry; and it was to Mr.
Henry she turned; for they had a common bond in the memory of poor
Agnes. She wrote, without hedging, of Richard's utter physical
collapse; of the loss--through fire--of his papers and securities;
the urgent necessity she was under of finding employment. It had been
suggested to her that she might try to enter Government service. Would
he, for the sake of their old friendship, do her the great kindness to
use his influence, on her behalf, with the present Postmaster General?
Mr. Spence, in charge of the local office, had offered her the
preliminary training. Had this not been so . . . FOR I TELL YOU PLAINLY
I COULD NEVER GO IN FOR AN EXAMINATION--TRY TO PASS THE CIVIL SERVICE
OR ANYTHING OF THAT SORT. IT WOULD BE QUITE BEYOND ME.

Almost by return she held a page-long telegram in her hand, in which,
making no attempt (as she had half feared he would) to press a loan on
her, Mr. Henry said that he was only too happy to be able to help her.
Her request came in the nick of time. An up-country vacancy was on the
point of occurring. Did she think she could be ready, with Spence's
aid, to' take over charge there, say, in six weeks' time? If
so, the P.M.G. would put in a relieving officer for that period. The
rush and hurry of the thing cut the ground from under her feet. Hardly
knowing whether she stood on her head or her heels, she straightway
telegraphed acceptance.--And so the die was cast.

Henceforward she was a member of the working classes. To begin with,
she spent every afternoon from two till six at the Shortlands' post
office, learning her job.

The calvary this was to her, none but she knew. She would never have
believed she was so sensitive, so touchy. A host of prejudices (many of
them no doubt imbibed from Richard) which she hadn't even been aware of
possessing, woke to life in her. The very fact of being tied down to
leave home at a set hour, like any clerk or shopman, seemed to
humiliate her, who had never come and gone but at her own sweet will.
Then, every one in the township knew, of course, where she was bound
for. People eyed her and whispered about her, and pointed her out to
one another as she passed: in her full skirts flounced to the waist,
her dolman of silk velvet, her feathered bonnet; yes, there she went,
Mrs. Dr. Mahony off to learn to be a postmistress! The half-mile seemed
unending; before she reached her destination her pale cheeks were dyed
rose-pink.

In the office she stood, a middle-aged lady (close on two-and-forty
years old) bonnetless and capless, amid a posse of young clerks: the
telegraph operator, the messenger, the indoor clerk, the postman: to
whom she was an object of unending curiosity. All of whom, too, could
do in a twinkling the things that came so hard to her. And then their
manners! They jostled her, failed to apologise, kept their hats on in
her presence, lolled and lounged, bandied private jokes, laughed and
talked openly in disregard of her, did Mr. Spence quit the office. Her
courage might sometimes have failed her, had it not been that the money
side of the business gave her so little trouble: she learnt in no time
how to issue a money-order, to enter up a savings-book deposit, to
handle postage stamps and registered letters; even to draw up the
financial "statement" that was forwarded daily and monthly to Head
Office. The telegraph it was that baffled her. Oh, this awful morse
code! It was like going to school again to learn one's alphabet. Her
memory was weak and undeveloped: she floundered and was
hopelessly at sea amid the array of dots and dashes that stood for
letters. The little paper handbook containing the code grew as shabby
and dog's-eared as a child's lesson-book. For she carried it with her
everywhere she went, and slept with it under her pillow; of a night
often starting up and striking a match to see if it was B that had
three dots after its dash, or K more than one between its two. NEVER
would she be able to "take by ear"! How she marvelled at these young
clerks, who could jot down a whole telegram without so much as a glance
at the tape. Whereas she had painfully to puzzle the message out,
letter by letter. And the "sending" was harder still: with her lips
pinched thin, her head thrown back, her black eyes fixed, in desperate
concentration, on the empty air, laboriously she hammered out dash and
dot, dot and dash.

All this, too, with one anxious ear turned towards home, where things
grew worse instead of better. She had hoped that, once the physical
efforts of the stroke had worn off, and Richard was able to walk and
talk again, his mind, too, would clear. Now, she began to doubt whether
he would ever again be quite himself. Days came when he sat and brooded
from morning till night: sat with his head on one thin hand, staring
before him with eyes so sorrowful that it hurt you to look at them . . .
though what he was thinking or remembering, she could never get him
to say. At other times he was unable to be still, or to stay in the
same room for a minute on end; and then it took all her influence and
persuasion to keep him indoors. The children, poor mites, in whose
charge she was forced to leave him while she worked, could do nothing
with him, and her first question of the forlorn little pair who ran to
meet her, of an evening, was invariably: "Where's Papa?" To which more
often than not the answer came: "Gone out. He WOULD go, Mamma. . . we
couldn't stop him. He went to look for you."

And then it was always: "Run, Cuffy, run quick! ... and find him."

Once Cuffy had said: "Oh, CAN'T Bridget go instead of me?" but Mamma
had looked so funny at him that he'd never done it again. He went; his
hands cold like frogs. For he was so ashamed. Papa would be standing on
the green in front of the blacksmith's, and the blacksmith had stopped
work, and a whole lot of larrikins were there as well, and they
were all listening to Papa . . . who was sort of play-acting to himself
with his hands . . . and laughing at him and making fun. And Papa
didn't see them; but HE did. And then he wished Papa was dead, and that
he didn't ever need to come and fetch him again. But he took his hand
and said, quite small: "Papa, come home! Mamma wants you." And then he
left off acting direckly, and was most awfly glad and said: "Where is
she? Where IS Mamma?" and came away, holding on to his hand like a
little girl, and nearly running to get there.

That was one thing he hated. The other was, every afternoon Mamma went
out and left him and Luce quite alone . . . with Papa. (And you didn't
LIKE to be with Papa, since he couldn't speak right: when you heard him
say a spoon and he meant a chair, it made you feel sick inside, like
when you saw a snake.) You were supposed to practise while Mamma was
out, and you did; but your thoughts went on thinking and thinking; and
it was always the same: suppose she NEVER came back? Luce cried all the
time. And then Papa came and was almost crying, too, and said: "Oh,
WHERE is Mamma? Will she never come home?" and he must go out and look
for her. And it got tea-time, and nearly bedtime, and still she didn't
come; and every time you looked at the clock only five minutes had
gone, and it seemed like an hour. And at last it got so bad you went
and stood down at the gate, or a little way in the road, and waited for
the first bit of her to come round the corner. And then, oh, how they
ran! At least Luce did. He just whistled. For each time, once he saw
Mamma safe again, he didn't seem to care a bit any more.

The day she told them they'd got to go away and live where there wasn't
any sea, he'd been naughty. He'd cried and stamped and pushed people
when they tried to comfort him. But it wasn't a REAL "naught": it was
just something inside him and he couldn't stop it happening. No more
springboard, no more lovely blue water to jump down into, no more hot
salty smells. In his prayers at night, and in secret prayers offered up
in corners of the garden, he begged and prayed God to let them stop
there, or at least to let there be another sea where they were going.
But God just didn't seem to hear.

They weren't to take their toys with them either, their great
big best toys. They had to be sold. Mamma was sorry; but they simply
hadn't got enough money for what it would cost to take the rocking-horse
. . . or the doll's-house . . . or Cuffy's big grocer's-shop . . .
or Luce's huge doll's-p'rambulator. Each of them would have needed a
packing-case to itself.

Both he and Luce prayed about this, kneeling down in the long thick
grass that grew behind the closet, with their eyes tight shut and their
hands put properly together; and he told Luce what to say. But it was
no good. God wasn't there.

Or if He was, He liked Luce best. For by-and-by she was allowed to take
her doll with her, the big, baby one. Mamma said it was because she
could carry it; but he b'lieved it was because Luce had cried so much.
Of course you couldn't carry Dobbin or the shop; but, my! it DID hurt
to think of anybody else sitting on the saddle, or using the scales. He
took a pencil and wrote "My horse" in big letters under Dobbin's
stomach, and cut a bunch of hairs out of his tail for a keepsake. And
then, as God still didn't do anything, he STOLE something; took away a
little bag of sugar and a tiny wee tin of biscuits out of the shop, and
hid them; and when he told Luce, she did, too, and took a little sofa
from the doll's-house drawing-room. But afterwards a man came with a
pencil and book, and Mamma said he was going to write down the name of
every single thing that was for sale, and then Luce got afraid, and
told, and asked Mamma if she might keep it, and Mamma said no, it
wouldn't be honest; and so she put it back. But he didn't; he stayed a
thief; and said if Luce told on him, he'd put out both her doll's eyes.

Mamma, she didn't leave things behind . . . what SHE wanted. When
Bridget fetched down from the top of the wardrobe those dirty old
cork-boards with butterflies pinned to them--most of them had got their
wings knocked off them now--and old glass boxes with bits of stone in
them, and dead flowers, and asked Mamma what to do with all this
rubbish, Mamma said, give them here, and how she wouldn't part with
them not for anything in the world. And he said, then he didn't see why
he couldn't take his horse; and Mamma was cross, and said little boys
didn't know everything, but when he was as old as she was he'd
understand. But he did now: it was because they were Papa's.
And when he said so, she sat back on her legs and went very red, and
looked angry at him, and said: "What in the name of fortune is all this
fuss for about that wretched animal? You know you hardly ever ride it
now! It's too small."

"I don't care . . . it's mine!"

"Well, I think that's a very selfish way of looking at it.--Besides
where we're going, if we arrive with big, expensive toys, people will
think we've come there under false pretences."

"And then?"

"Then we might be turned out."

Cuffy paled. "Is that because it's going to be a post office?"

"Yes. And now I hope you'll leave off pestering."

The day the oxshun was, millions of people walked about the house just
as if it was theirs. He and Luce went to Granny's; and Pauline took
them for a bathe and let them stop in till his teeth trembled. But a
few days after they had to get up again in the middle of the night, and
a buggy came to the door and Mamma and Papa got in, and all their
trunks and portmanteaux, and drove to the pier. A funny little steamer
was there to take them to Melbourne, and it was pitch dark; they had to
go on board with a lantern. And they sat in a teeny-weeny saloon that
was the shape of a heart, with one lamp hanging in the middle; and it
was so dark you could hardly see your faces. And there was nobody else.
Luce went to sleep; and Mamma was sick; but in between, when she felt
better, she tried to pull the rug up round Papa--it would slip off. . .
she was always very kind to Papa now. But Papa was angry. He said: "I
don't LIKE this, Mary; it's not what I've been accustomed to. There's
something hole-and-corner about it." And she patted his hand: "But so
nice and private, dear. We've got it all to ourselves." But Papa went
on talking about who he was, and the kind of ships he'd travelled in,
till Mamma told him how cheap it was, and what a lot of money it was
going to save her. And then he began to cry, and cried and cried--and
the captain (Mamma said) came in and looked at him--till he went to
sleep. But HE couldn't sleep. He'd always thought, even if they had to
go away, there would be the beautiful steamer to sail on, with a big
deck, and lots of people, and the band playing. Now he knew, because of
Papa they weren't good enough for big steamers any more. And it
seemed just hours he lay and watched the lamp swing, and listened to
Mamma being sick, and the waves making a noise on the sides; and always
more strange men--sailors and things--came in and pretended to be
busy. But he believed just so they could take a good look at Papa, who
was asleep now, with his head hanging down and his mouth wide open,
making funny noises . . . not like a grown-up gentleman any more.




Chapter VI



Their final destination was a place called Gymgurra in the Western
District, some two hundred miles from Melbourne; to be reached either
by a night's sea voyage--round Cape Otway and along the wild coast--
or by a combined train and coach journey. With the ordeal of "taking
over charge" before her, Mary dared not risk the physical upset of a
voyage. So at Colac she got out of the train and into the mail coach,
to lumber, the night through, over the ruts and jolts of bush roads,
Lucie a dead weight on her lap, Cuffy lying heavily up against her.

There were only the three of them; Richard had had to be left behind.
It had torn her heart to part from him, to hand him over to strangers
but not only Bowes-Smith, every one she consulted had advised against
the fatigues of the journey for him in his present state. So she had
yielded--and not for his sake alone. In the beginning she would need
to give her whole mind to her new work. Richard would be better looked
after where he was. Thanks to Bowes-Smith, she had managed to get him
into a kind of private hospital, where he would live in comfort under a
doctor's eye.

At Toorak, the place was, standing in its own beautiful grounds: there
were shrubberies and summer-houses, a croquet-lawn, a bowling-green,
fruit and flower-gardens; the mere sight of which had a good effect on
Richard. He brightened up, carried himself more erectly--even gave
himself proprietary airs as they walked together through the gardens.
None the less, when the time for parting came he wept bitterly,
clinging like a child to her skirts. She had to romance about how soon
she was coming back to fetch him: all the doctor thought it wise for
him to be told, in the meanwhile, was that she was travelling on ahead
to set the new house in order: he surely remembered how he hated the
bother and confusion of moving? And by now he was too deeply sunk in
himself to put awkward questions. Not once, since his attack,
had he troubled his head about ways and means, or where to-morrow's
dinner was to come from. It was pitiable to see; and yet . . . she
couldn't find it in her heart to grudge him the peace and content this
indifference brought him. The doctors called it euphoria.

The one thing he did ask, again like a timid child, was: "Mary, it's
not that place . . . that other place, Mary. . . the one with the
whistle. . . and the. . . the . . . the canal, we're going back to, is
it?"

"No, no, dear, indeed it's not! It's somewhere quite new; where
there'll be all sorts of fresh things for you to see and do. And till
then, Richard, think how comfortable you're going to be here. Your own
room, your own books; and this armchair by the window, so that you can
sit and look out at the flowers, and watch the croquet, and see all
that happens."

But something else still wormed in him. "Who will--Mary, will you . . .
will they let me . . . clean . . . clean collars, Mary . . . and
those other things . . . hankchiefs?"

Here one had a glimpse of the old Richard, with his fastidious bodily
habits. Mary got a frog in her throat over it. But she answered
sturdily enough: "Of course, they will. As many as you like. And be
sure, my darling, if there's anything you don't feel quite happy about,
let me know, and I'll have it put right at once."

As indeed there should be no difficulty in doing, considering what she
was paying. Though this, again thanks to Bowes-Smith--and the fact of
Richard being a medical man--was only the half of what was charged an
ordinary patient: five guineas a week instead of ten. Even so, it was a
desperately heavy drain. She had put by as much as she dared towards it
--seventy pounds--from the sale of the furniture, so in the meantime
he was safe. When this was gone, she could but hope and pray he would
be well enough to come home.

Out of what remained of the auction money, together with Richard's
deposit and her own small savings, she had at once paid off a quarter's
rent on each of the houses. Neither was yet due . . . and when Sir Jake
heard what she had done, he rather called her over the coals for so
unbusiness-like a proceeding. But he didn't know--how could he?--the
load it took from her mind to know these things settled. With
her, in the coach, she carried three little packets of notes, two of
which, screwed up in old pieces of newspaper and tied securely and
privately to her body, were towards the next quarter again. The third
lay in her sealskin handbag, and was for the expenses of the journey
and the purchasing of a few sticks of furniture. It had been a sad blow
to learn that the salary attached to the Gymgurra post office was only
eighty pounds a year. Eighty pounds! Could she and the children
possibly live on that? And what, when Richard came too? Of course there
was always a chance the house at Shortlands might find a tenant--
houses were so scarce there--even though the summer was by now half
over. In which case she would be some pounds to the good. Jerry, too,
in whose hands she had left the affair of the perished documents, did
not despair of retrieving SOMETHING from the general ruin. But herself
add a single penny to her income she could not; as a Government servant
her hands were tied.

Over these reckonings the night wore away. (It would be money, always
money now she supposed, to the bitter end.) Still, she did not fail to
send a warm thought back to the dear friends who had stood by her in
her trouble. The Devines had not only housed them all, but had called
in their own medical man to Richard, had helped her to make
arrangements at the hospital, to interview doctor and matron. Lady
Devine, too--notwithstanding her corpulence--had promised to visit
Richard weekly and report on his progress. Old Sir Jake, with her hand
in both of his, had gone as near as he dared towards offering her a
substantial loan. Mr. Henry had driven out to tell her that Mr. Vibert,
the Deputy P.M.G., was in receipt of special instructions with regard
to her case; while the postmaster at the nearest town of any size to
Gymgurra had orders to give her what help she needed. More, said he,
the house at Gymgurra had been enlarged by three rooms. Then dear old
Tilly had travelled down from Ballarat to see her; Jerry come all the
way from Wangaratta. Not to speak of many a kindness shewn her by less
intimate acquaintances.--And yet, in spite of this, Mary felt that she
was seeing more than one of them for the last time. Still was she Mrs.
Townshend-Mahony, the one-time member of Melbourne society. From now
on, as plain Mrs. Mahony, postmistress, she would sink below
their ken: she read it in their eyes when she announced what she was
going to do; announced it bluntly, even truculently; for she was
determined not to sail under false colours.

It was the same with her relatives. Lizzie, for instance: Lizzie who
still traded on past glories--and also, alas! went on hoarding up poor
John's children--was loud in praise of her courage and independence.
But a blind man could have seen her relief when she learnt that these
virtues were to be practised at a distance. Jerry, of course, like the
sensible fellow he was, ranged himself on her side--if he did seem a
trifle unsure of Fanny--but Zara made no bones of her horrification.

"Have you really thought SERIOUSLY, Mary, of what you are about to do?
Of the publicity, the notoriety it will entail? For, no matter what has
happened, you are still our poor, dear Richard's wife. And my one fear
is, the odium may redound on him."

"Zara, I've thought till I could think no more. But it's either this or
the workhouse. People who are too good to know me any longer must
please themselves. To tell the truth, I don't very much care. But as
for what I'm doing reflecting on RICHARD . . . no, that's too absurd!"

It wasn't really Richard, it was herself Zara was concerned for; and in
how far having a postmistress for a sister would damage her prospects.
Besides, never again, poor thing, would she be able to give Richard's
name as a reference. Ah, had Zara only been different! Then the two of
them, sisters, and bound by one of nature's closest ties, might have
combined forces; Zara have managed the house? taught the children, even
perhaps have augmented their slender joint incomes by opening a little
school.

Thinking these things Mary found she must have dozed off; for when,
feeling extremely cold, she opened her eyes again, it was broad
daylight. Daylight: and all around her what seemed to her the flattest,
barest, ugliest country she had ever had the misfortune to see. Not a
tree, not a bit of scrub, hardly so much as a bush broke the monotony
of these plains, these immeasurable, grassy plains: here, flat as
pancake, there, rolling a little up and down, or rising to a few
knobbly hillocks, but always bare as a shorn head--except for lumps of
blackish rock that stuck up through the soil. You could see for
miles on every side, to where the earth met the sky. Another ugly
feature was the extreme darkness of the soil: the long, straight road
they drove was as black as all the other roads she had known had been
white or red. A cloudy sky, black roads, bare earth: to Mary, lover of
towns, of her kind, of convivial intercourse, the scene struck home as
the last word in loneliness and desolation.

Even the children felt it. "Why are there no trees?" demanded Cuffy
aggressively, the crosspatch he always was after a broken night. "I
don't LIKE it without."

And Lucie's echoing pipe: "Why are there no trees, Mamma?"

And then the place itself.

"Is THIS it? Is this ALL?" more resentfully still. "Then I think it's
simply hidjus!"

"Oh, come! Don't judge so hastily."

But her own courage was at zero when, having clambered down from the
coach with legs so stiff that they would hardly carry her, she stood, a
child on either hand, and looked about her.--Gymgurra! Two wide,
ludicrously wide cross-roads, at the corners of which clustered three
or four shops, a Bank, an hotel, the post office, the lockup; one and
all built of an iron-grey stone that was almost as dark as the earth
itself. There were no footpaths, no gardens, no trees: indeed, as she
soon learnt, in Gymgurra the saying ran that you must walk three miles
to see a tree; which however was not quite literally true; for, on the
skyline, adjoining a farm, there rose a solitary specimen . . . a
unicum.

Their new home, the "Post and Telegraph Office," with on its front the
large round clock by which the township told the time, stood at one of
the corners of the cross-roads. Facing it was a piece of waste ground
used for the dumping of rubbish: thousands of tins lay scattered about,
together with old boots, old pots, broken crockery: its next-door
neighbour was the corrugated-iron lock-up. Until now, it had consisted
only of an office and two small living-rooms. For her benefit a
three-roomed weatherboard cottage had been tacked on behind. This poor
little dingy exterior was bad enough; inside, it was even worse. The
former postmaster had been a bachelor; and before she and the children
could live in the rooms he had left, these would have to be cleaned
from top to bottom, and the walls given a fresh coat of whitewash, to
rid them of greasy smears and finger-marks, of the stains of flies and
squashed spiders. In the wooden portion--two small bedrooms and a
kitchen--all the workmen's sawdust and shavings still lay about. From
the back door three crude wooden steps led to a yard which, except for
the water tank, held only rubbish: bottles galore, whole and broken;
old boxes; boots and crockery again; with, she thought, every
kerosene-tin that had been emptied since the house was first built. Never
a spadeful of earth had been turned.

Thank God, she had not brought Richard with her. The mere sight of such
a place might have done him harm. By the time he came, poverty-stricken
though it was, she would engage to have it looking very different. And
this thought gave her the necessary fillip. Mastering her dismay,
throwing off her discouragement with bonnet and mantle, she pinned back
her skirts and fell to work. With the help of an old, half-blind woman
--women seemed very scarce here--she swept and scrubbed and polished,
in an effort to make the little house clean and sweet; to free it of a
dirty man's traces. Then, perched on top of a step-ladder, with her own
hands she whitewashed walls and ceilings. After this, taking coach to
the neighbouring coast town, she bought the few simple articles of
furniture they needed.--And, for all her preoccupation over trying to
make one pound go as far as two, she could not help smiling at Cuffy's
dismay as he watched her purchase of a kitchen-table for use in the
dining-room. "But we can't eat our dinner off THAT, Mamma!" he nudged
her, politely and under his breath lest the shopman should hear, but
with his small face one wrinkle of perplexity.

And her whispered assurance that a cloth would hide the deal top didn't
help. Cuffy continued sore and ashamed. It wasn't only this table.
There was the dressing-table, too; and the washstand: they were both
REALLY only empty packing-cases, stood on their sides and covered with
pink s'lesha and book-muslin, to look nice. And for long he lived in
dread of some inquisitive person lifting up cloth or curtain to peep
underneath. It would be like seeing Mamma found out in a story.
(If he were there, he would tell that one of the legs had come off the
real things and they were away being mended. It didn't matter about
HIM. But to think of Mamma turning cheat gave him a funny stiff ache in
his chest.)

He wasn't, he knew, being very good just now; he didn't seem able to
help it. It was so dull here; there was nothing to do--not even a
piano to play your pieces on. Out of chips and blocks of woods left by
the builders he cut little boats, which he and Luce sailed in the
wash-tubs by the back door . . . with matches for masts, and bits of paper
for sails. But you couldn't go on doing that always. And Luce soon got
tired, and went to see that Mamma hadn't run away. You weren't allowed
in the office, where there would have been the machine to look at, and
letters in the pigeon-boxes (had somebody once kept pigeons in them?)
and to see how stamps were sold. And the yard had palings round it so
high that you couldn't see over them, only peep through the cracks. You
weren't supposed to go out in the street. You did. But there wasn't
anything there either. The streets were all just bare.

This was the first time they hadn't had a garden; and fiercely Cuffy
hated the gaunt, untidy yard; the unfinished back to the house. There
hadn't been much at Shortlands either, only pear-trees and grass; but
he liked grass; specially if it nearly covered you when you sat down in
it. At Barambogie there had been flowers, and the verandah, and lots of
paths . . . and heaps and heaps of trees and wattle to go out and walk
in. He could remember it quite well. And in a kind of vague way he
remembered other things, too. Somewhere there had been straight black
trees like steeples, that swept their tops about when the wind blew;
lawns with water spraying on them; hairy white strawberries that
somebody made you open your mouth to have popped into. And, vague and
faint as these memories were, as little to be caught and held as old
dreams, they had left him a kind of heritage, in the shape of an
insurmountable aversion to the crude makeshifts and rough slovenliness
of colonial life. His little sister, on the other hand, carried with
her, as the sole legacy of her few years, only a wild fear lest, one
sure prop having given way, the other should now also fail her. Except
at her mother's side, little Lucie knew no rest. She had, as it
were, eternally to stand guard over the parent who was left. And to her
baby mind the one good thing about this poor, ugly place was that Mamma
never went out. Not even to church: a state of things that threw Cuffy
who, ever since he could toddle, had been walked to church on his
mother's hand, into fresh confusion. What would God think? It wouldn't
do for Him not to LIKE Mamma any more, now she was so poor. And He'd
said as plain as plain, Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. Oh
dear! he was only a little boy and nobody took any notice of him; but
what with boxes dressed up as tables, and a table that pretended to be
mahogany, and now none of them going to church, he felt as if his world
was turning upside down. And that it was one's MAMMA who did it . . .
who ought to know better; be perfect, without sin. . . .

Mary was unaware of these vicarious sufferings on her behalf: had
neither time nor thought to spare for a child's imaginary torments. She
was never off her feet--from seven in the morning till long past
midnight. For when the office closed, she had still the main part of
her work to do: food to prepare for the next day; to wash and iron and
sew: whatever happened, her children must be spotlessly turned out.

Very soon after arriving she had given the relieving officer his conge.
The man's manners were intolerable. It also came to her ears that he
was going about the township saying: "By the Lord Harry, there's a pair
of eyes for you!" Which explained why he and the boy who was her sole
assistant sat stolidly by, not budging to help, while she answered
knocks at the little window: to dole out a single penny stamp, sell a
postcard, repeat till she was tired: "Nothing to-day," to inquiries for
letters. She thought every man in the place must have come rapping at
the wooden shutter . . . to take a look at her. Once alone with the
lad, however, she had small difficulty in keeping him in his place. He
was a heavy, lumpish youth; clerk, operator, telegraph messenger rolled
in one. The trouble was, he was so often absent. For though no letters
were carried out, yet, had a telegram to be delivered, what with the
long distances to be covered on foot and the lad's incurable propensity
for gossip, she would find herself deserted for hours at a time on
the run between "key" and window, getting her "statement" made
up at any odd moment. Luckily enough, the money side of the business
continued to come easy to her. Figures seemed just to fall into line
and to add up of themselves.

Had there been the day's work only to contend with, she would not have
complained. It was the nights that wore her down. The nights were
cruel. On every one of them without exception, between half-past one
and a quarter to two, there came a knocking like thunder at the front
door. This was the coach arriving with the night mail: she had to open
up the office, drag a heavy mail-bag in, haul another out. Not until
this was over could there be any question of sleep for her.

Almost at once it became a nervous obsession (she who had had such
small patience with Richard's night fancies!) that, did she even doze
off, she might fail to hear the knocking--calculated though this was
to wake the dead!--fail in her duty, lose her post, bring them all to
ruin. Hence she made a point of sitting up till she could sit no
longer, then of lying down fully dressed, watching the shadows thrown
by the candle on walls and ceiling, listening to the children's steady
breathing, the wind that soughed round the corners of the house.

Then when the coach had rumbled off, the sound of wheels and hoofs died
away, and she might have slept, she could not. The effort of rising, of
pulling the bags about and exchanging words with the driver, had too
effectually roused her. Also, the glimpse caught through the open door
of the black darkness and loneliness without alarmed her each time
afresh. For the country was anything but safe. The notorious Kellys had
recently been at work in the district, and not so very far from
Gymgurra either; the township still rang with tales of their exploits.
And after the Bank, the post office was the likeliest place to be stuck
up, if not THE likeliest; for the Bank Manager had a strong-room, and
no doubt a revolver, too . . . besides being a man. While she was only
a defenceless woman, with no companions but two small children. If the
bushrangers should appear one night, and order her to "bail up" while
they rifled the office, she would be utterly at their mercy.

The result of letting her mind dwell on such things was that she grew
steadily more awake; and till dawn would lie listening to every
sound. Never did the cheering fall of a human foot pass the house.
Unlit, unpatrolled, the township slept the sleep of the dead. Only the
dingoes snarled and howled; at first a long way off, and then, more
shrilly, near at hand. Or the old volcano that stood in its lake some
three miles away--it was said to be extinct, but really one didn't
know--would suddenly give vent to loud, unearthly rumblings; which
sometimes became so violent that the jugs on the washstand danced and
rattled. And then the children, who had learned to sleep through the
bustle of the coach, would wake up, too, and be frightened; and she
would have to light the candle again and talk to them, and give them
drinks, and re-arrange their pillows.

"It's all right, chicks. There's nothing to be afraid of. Mamma's
here."

This satisfied them: Mamma was there, hence all was well . . . as
though she were a kind of demigod, who controlled even the eruptions of
volcanoes! With Lucie cuddled tight in her arms, all the fragrance of
the child's warm body mounting to her, she lay and thought of her
children with a pity that left mere love far behind. They trusted her
so blindly; and she, what could she do for them? Except for this
imagined security, she had nothing to give. And, should anything happen
to her, while they were still too young to fend for themselves--no!
that simply did not bear thinking of. She had seen too much of the
fates of motherless children in this country. Bandied from one home to
another, tossed from pillar to post. . . like so much unclaimed
baggage. Rather than know hers exposed to such a destiny. . . yes,
there came moments when she could understand and condone the madness of
the mother who, about to be torn away, refused to leave her little ones
behind. For, to these small creatures, bone of her bone and flesh of
her flesh, links bound Mary that must, she felt, outlast life itself.
Through them and her love for them, she caught her one real glimpse of
immortality.




Chapter VII



But these were night thoughts. By day, when the children were their
very human selves--high-spirited, quarrelsome, up to endless mischief
--the question of Richard and Richard's welfare again took first place
in her mind.

The improvement she had so hoped for him, in his pleasant, care--free
surroundings, did not come to pass. She saw this, not so much from what
the doctors wrote--they were painfully guarded--as from his own
letters to her. Week by week these grew more incoherent; not words
only, whole sentences were now being left out. They were written, too,
in a large, unformed, childish hand, which bore no likeness to his
fine, small writing; were smudged, and ill-spelt. She felt them as
shameful, and directly she had deciphered them hid them away: no eye
but hers should see to what depths he had sunk.

And the doctors kept up their non-committal attitude to the end: the
end, that was, of the three months for which she had their fees laid
by. Then, they were forced to come out of their shell; and, to her
letter saying that she could no longer afford to leave her husband in
their charge and asking for a frank opinion on his case, they wrote her
what she had feared and foreseen: there was no hope of recovery for
Richard. His mental deterioration, since coming under their notice, had
been marked; signs of arterial degeneration were now to be observed as
well. Did she seriously contemplate removing him, they could only
advise his further restraint in one of the public institutions. They
trusted, however, that she would reconsider her decision to remove him.
On all points it would be to the patient's advantage.

In her distress, Mary crushed the letter to a ball in her hand. To re-read
it, she had to stroke and smooth it flat again. For the step they
were urging upon her meant the end of everything: meant certification;
an asylum for the insane. (The children's father a certified lunatic!)
Yet, just because of the children . . . This was an objection
the doctors had raised, in telling her that Richard might last for
years--in his present state--when she first proposed keeping him with
her. They would be doubly against it now. And for days she went
irresolute, torn between pity for Richard and fear for her children. In
the end it was once more Bowes-Smith who got the better of her. He
pointed out how little, for all her devotion, she could do to
ameliorate her husband's lot, compared with the skilled nursing he
would receive from properly trained attendants. Besides, Richard was,
assured her, by now too far gone in inattention, really to miss her or
to need her. There seemed nothing for it but gratefully to accept his
offer, himself to take the affair in hand. Thanks to his influence,
Richard had a chance of being lodged in one of the separate cottages at
the asylum, apart from the crowd: he would be under a special warder,
have a bedroom more or less to himself. And so, with a heavy heart Mary
gave her consent; the various legal and medical formalities were set in
motion; and, soon after, the news came that the change had been made
and Richard installed in his new quarters. His books and clothing were
being returned to her. (Prisoners--no, she meant patients--were not
allowed any superfluous belongings. Nor, bitter thought! need she now
rack her brains where the new suit was to come from, for which his late
nurse had pressed, because of his growing habit of spilling his food.
From now on, he would wear the garb of his kind.) But after this she
heard no more: with the shutting of the gates behind him silence fell--
a horrible, deathlike silence. Never again did one of his pitiful
little letters reach her; and the authorities blankly ignored her
requests for information. Finally, in response to a more vigorous
demand than usual, she received a printed form stating that reports
were issued quarterly, and hers would reach her in due course. Grimly
she set her teeth and waited; meanwhile laying shilling to shilling for
the journey to Melbourne which she could see lay before her.--But,
when the time came, she had to part with a little brooch to which she
had clung, because it had been one of Richard's first gifts to her
after marriage. Mr. Rucker, the clergyman, bought it of her for his
wife.

Her story was, of course, common property in Gymgurra by now;
and it was just an example of people's kindness, when the very next day
Mrs. Rucker brought the brooch back and, with her own hands, pinned it
on again, saying things that made it impossible to take offence. Yes,
Mary never ceased to marvel at the way in which friends sprang up round
her in her need, and put themselves out to help her. These Ruckers, for
instance--they had no family of their own--were constantly taking the
children off her hands. Hence, when the week's leave of absence for
which she had applied was granted, she could part from Cuffy and Lucie
with an easy mind.

And one cold spring night towards two o'clock, she put on her warmest
travelling clothes and climbed into the coach for Colac. She had
bespoken a seat . . . and a good job, too! For an election had taken
place in the district, and the coach was crammed with men, some coming
from the polling, others on their way to a cattle market. She sat, the
night through, jammed in among them, her arms pinned to her sides, half
suffocated with smoke, and deafened by their talk. Not till daybreak
was she joined by one of her own sex. Then, on stopping at a wayside
public-house, they found a thinly clad, elderly woman waiting for the
coach, a little bundle in her hand. But there was not room for a mouse
in among them, let alone an old woman: one rude voice after another
bawled the information. At which the poor thing began to cry, and so
heartbrokenly that Mary was touched. Elbowing her way to the window,
she leaned out and questioned the woman. At what she heard, and at the
continued crude joking of her fellow-travellers, she lost her temper,
and rounding on them cried: "Do you mean to say there isn't one of you
who's man enough to give up his seat?" And as, though the laughter
ceased, none offered, she said hotly: "Very well then, if you won't, I
will! I'm on my way, too, to see a sick person, but I'll take my chance
of getting a lift later in the day.--I'm glad I'm not a man . . .
that's all!"

"Now then, missis, keep your hair on." And a lanky young fellow, with
hands like ploughshares and a face confusion-red at his own good deed,
gawkily detached himself and stepped out. "Here y'are, ma, in you get!
I'll toddle along on Shanks' p's."

The two women made the rest of the journey in company, Mary
even treading underfoot the prejudice of a lifetime and going second-class
in the train. (There was no Richard now, to cast up his eyes in
horror.) The poor soul at her side told a sad story: one's own troubles
shrank as one heard it. She was bound for the Melbourne Hospital, where
her son, her only child, lay dying: he had got "the water" on his
chest, and the doctors had telegraphed she must come at once if she
wanted to see him alive. Her husband had been killed at tree-felling
only a few months back; and, her son gone, she would be alone in the
world. Mary, feeling rich in comparison, shared with her her
travelling-rug, her packet of sandwiches, her bottle of cold tea; and
at Spencer Street station, having saved considerably on her fare, was
able to put the poor mother in a wagonette and pay for her to be driven
straight to the hospital. For she could see the bush-dweller's alarm at
the noise and bustle of the city.

On parting, the woman kissed her hand. "God bless you, ma'am . . . God
bless and keep you, the kindest lady ever I met!--and may He restore
your poor gentleman to his right mind! I shan't never forget what
you've done for me this day. And if ever there come a time when I c'ld
do su'thing for you . . . but there! not likely--only Bowman's my name
--Mrs. Bowman, at Sayer's Thack, near Mortlake."

For Mary the Devines' carriage and pair was in waiting. The old
coachman smiled and touched his hat and said: "Very glad to see you
again, ma'am!" tucked the black opossum-rug round her, and off they
rolled, she lying back on the springy cushions. And all the time she
was in Melbourne this conveyance stood freely at her disposal, Lady
Devine being by now grown too comfortable even for "carriage exercise."
"By the time I've buttoned me boots, dearie, and put on me plumes, I'm
dead beat. An' there are the 'orses eatin' their 'eads off in the
stable. You can't do Jake and me a greater kindness 'n to use 'em."

Without this mechanical aid: to expedite her hither and thither, to
wait for her while she kept appointments, to carry her on anew, Mary
could impossibly have got through what she did in the days that
followed: looked back on, they resembled the whirligig horrors of a
nightmare. She had come to Melbourne tired, sad, and anxious
enough, in all conscience. But in the hard-faced, unscrupulous woman
with which, at the end of the time, her glass presented her, she hardly
recognised herself. Never in her life had she fought for anything as
now for Richard's freedom.

The morning after her arrival, she drove out to the asylum. The way led
through lovely Toorak, with its green lawns and white houses, up
Richmond Hill, and down into the unattractive purlieus of Collingwood.
The carriage came to a standstill on a stretch of waste land, a kind of
vast, unfenced paddock, where hobbled horses grazed. It could go no
farther, for, between them and the complex of houses, cottages, huts
which formed the asylum, flowed the unbridged river. Rain had fallen
during the night, and the reddish, muddy stream, which here turned and
twisted like a serpent, ran so high that the weeping willows (Richard's
favourite SALIX BABYLONICA) which lined the bank, dragged their
branches deep in the flood. The houses, overhung by the ragged,
melancholy gums, looked shabby and neglected; one and all in need of a
coat of paint. Mary's heart fell.

Seating herself in the ferry, she was conveyed across the water.

She had not announced her visit. Her intention was to see for herself
how Richard was lodged and cared for, at those times when the place was
closed to the public. Had the authorities known beforehand that she was
coming, they might have dressed and dolled him up for her. (Yes! she
was fast turning into a thoroughly suspicious and distrustful woman.)
For passport, she had armed herself with a letter to the head doctor
from Sir Jake Devine.

And well that she had. Great its virtue was not, but, without it, she
would hardly have got over the threshold. And once inside the front
door she had to fight her way forward, step by step: it needed all her
native obstinacy, her newly acquired aggressiveness, not to allow
herself to be bowed out by the several assistants and attendants who
blocked her path. But having vowed to herself that she would see some
one in authority, see him she did; though in the end they fobbed her
off with a youngish fellow, to whom--he had cod's eyes and a
domineering manner--she took an instant and violent dislike.

By this time, too, her blood was up; and the incivility of her
reception seemed the last straw. A good log-fire burnt in the fireplace
--the rest of the building struck her as very damp and chill--a
comfortable armchair was suitably placed, but he did not invite her to
approach the fire or to take a seat. He stood while he spoke . . . and
kept her standing. She had, he presumed, already been informed that
this was not a visiting-day--and certainly not an hour for visitors.
But as he understood that she had made a special journey from up-country,
they had stretched a point. What did she want?

"To know how my husband is."

His fish eyes bulged still more. Was that all? When the report would
have been so shortly in her hands?

"I preferred to come myself. I wish to speak to my husband."

"For that, ma'am, you will need to present yourself at the proper
time." (Then it was as she thought. They were NOT going to let her see
Richard unprepared.)

As, however, she made no movement to withdraw, but stood her ground
with, for all her shabby dress and black gloves showing white at the
finger-tips, the air of a duchess, and an answer for everything (danged
if he knew how to treat such a bold, bouncing woman!), he crossed the
room, took a ledger from a rack, and asked in tones of exasperation:
"Well, what in thunder is it then? . . . your husband's name?"

"Quite so . . . exactly!" he cut her reply short. "If you think, madam,
with the dozens of patients we have on our hands . . . it is possible
to remember . . . the details and antecedents of each individual case.
. ." As he spoke he was running a fat finger down column after column.
"Ha! here we have it." Transporting the book to the central table, he
laid it flat and faced her over it. "Here it is; and I regret to inform
you that the report we should presently have sent you would have been
of a highly unsatisfactory nature."

"Why? Is he so much worse?" With difficulty her dry lips framed the
words.

"I refer not to his state of health--the disease is running a normal
course--but to his conduct. Ever since being admitted to the asylum,
your husband has proved to the last degree obstreperous and unruly."

"Well, that I cannot understand!" gave back Mary hotly. "Where
he was--before he came here--they had only good to say of him."

"No doubt, no doubt! A patient worth his eight or ten guineas a week--"

"FIVE, if you please! He received special terms . . . as a medical
man."

"All of which is beside the point. The fact remains that, to us, he is
a constant source of trouble. We have been obliged more than once to
place him in solitary confinement. His behaviour is such as to corrupt
the other patients."

"CORRUPT?"

"Corrupt."

"Well, all I can say is . . . there must be something very wrong in the
way he's treated. He would never willingly give trouble. By nature he's
one of the gentlest and politest of men."

"Perhaps you would like to hear his warder on the subject?" And going
to the fireplace the young man rang a bell and instructed a servant:
"Send 97B's keeper here to me."

(97B? . . . why B? . . . why not A? Mary's mind seized on the trivial
detail and held fast to it, so as not to have to face the . . . the
degradation the numbering implied.)

The warder entered touching his forelock: a coarse, strongly built
fellow, with a low forehead and the underjaw of a prize-fighter. Her
heart seemed to shrivel at thought of Richard. . . Richard! . . . in
the power of such a man.

She hung her head, holding tight as if for support to the clasp of her
sealskin bag, while the warder told the tale of Richard's misdeeds. 97B
was, he declared, not only disobedient and disorderly; he was extremely
abusive, dirty in his habits (here the catch of the handbag snapped and
broke), would neither sleep himself at night nor let other people
sleep; also he refused to wash himself, or to eat his food. "It's
always the same ol' story. No sooner I bring him his grub than he up
and pitches the dishes at me head."

She thought she had the fellow there. "Do you mean to tell me he . .
that you give him fresh crockery to break every day?"

"Crockery? Ho, no fear! The plates and cups is all of tin."

At this Mary laughed, but very bitterly. "Ah! now I see. That explains
it. For I know my husband. Never would you get him. . . nothing would
induce him . . . to eat off tin."

"Needs Sevres no doubt!"

"No! All he needs is to be treated like a gentleman . . . by
gentlemen."

But she had to keep a grip on her mind to hinder it from following the
picture up: Richard, forced by this burly brute to grope on the floor
for his spilt food, to scrape it together, and either eat it or have it
thrust down his throat. So she shut her ears, made herself deaf to
their further talk, stood as it were looking through the speakers and
out beyond--at her ripening purpose.

But when at the end of the interview she made a last, passionate appeal
to be allowed to see her husband, she was not too absorbed to catch the
glance, alive with significance, that passed between the men. Sorry,
said the keeper, but the patient was in bed resting after a very bad
night: he couldn't on any account have him woke up again. At which
excuse, things (old things), that she had heard from Richard about the
means used to quell and break the spirits of refractory lunatics,
jumped into her mind. There was not only feeding by force, the
straitjacket, the padded cell. There were drugs and injections, given
to keep a patient quiet and ensure his warders their freedom: doses of
castor oil so powerful that the unhappy wretch into whom they were
poured was rendered bedridden, griped, thoroughly ill.

But she saw plainly, here was nothing to be done. Her fight to get him
back would have to be carried on outside the walls of the asylum.
Buttoning her gloves with shaky, fumbling fingers, she confronted her
opponents in a last bout of defiance. "I find it hard to believe a word
of what you've said. But I know this: my husband shall not stay here.
I'll take him home and look after him myself. He shall never leave my
side again."

They all but laughed in her face. The idea was a very woman's! No
alienist would ever be got to revoke this particular patient's
certificate . . . or advise his release. In his fits of mania 97B was
dangerous, and not merely to those about him; he needed
protection against himself, which could only be given him by men
trained to the job. Impossible! . . . utterly impossible.

She left them at it, turned her back and marched out of the room and
down the corridor, through innumerable doors, not one of which she
could afterwards remember having opened or shut (they were as
insubstantial as the people she met on her passage), made her way to
the ferry and up the other side, where she was helped into the
carriage. And even while she bowled forward again, she continued to sit
rigid and insensible, her sole movement being to pull off her gloves
they incommoded her--that she might lock her fingers . . . in an iron
grip. The skin of her face felt stretched: like a mask that was too
tight for it. But she shed not a tear, either here or when, having
reached home, she paced the floor of the room and told her story.
Something stronger than herself had control of her: she was all one
purpose, one flame. Her old friend it was who wept. "Oh, just to THINK
of 'im being come to this! . . . 'im, the 'andsomest man I ever saw,
and the best as well."

But she, too, said: "Impossible! Oh no, my dear, it COULDN'T be done,"
when she heard of Mary's determination. "Your children--you 'ave your
children to consider."

"Oh, I can take care of them. But should I ever again know a moment's
peace, if I left him in that awful place? Richard? . . . my poor old
husband? As it is he'll believe I've deserted him . . . forgotten him
. . . left off caring. No: I mean to get him out, or die in the attempt."

And when the old lady saw the blazing eyes, the dilated nostrils, the
set jaw with which this was said, she bowed before the iron will made
manifest, and went over heart and soul to Mary's side. "Well, then, my
love and my dearie, if nothing else will do--and, oh my dear, I feel
in the bottom of my 'eart you're right--then what I say is, we--Jake
and me 'ull do everything that lies in our power to 'elp you. I'LL
manage Jake; you go on to the rest. Get 'old of 'em somehow, and give
'em no quarter . . . and though they talk till all's blue about their
laws and certificates. What's laws for, I'd like to know, if not to be
got round?"

But this was the sole word of encouragement Mary heard. The
rest of the world combined to iterate and reiterate the doctor's
verdict of impossible, utterly impossible.

She battered at every likely door. All sense of pride having left her,
any influential or well-known person who in former years had broken
bread at her table, or whom she had casually met at another's, she now
waylaid or ran to earth. For along with her pride went also the
retiring modesty, the shrinking from prominence, that had hall-marked
her years of wifehood. She was no longer the "lady," watchful of her
steps. She was a tiger fighting for her young--did not Richard, in his
present state, stand for the youngest and most helpless of her
children?--and she now found to her astonishment that she was quite
capable of standing up to men, of arguing with them, of talking them
down, and, if necessary, of telling them what she thought of them.

The medical profession, of course, furnished her with her most
implacable opponents. The doctors to whom she turned acted as if SHE
were the crazed one; or else they smiled good-humouredly at her, as at
a child . . . or a woman. But if she stood firm, refusing to be
browbeaten or cajoled, they gave her short shrift. To remove an insane
person with notedly violent periods--a perfectly proper subject for
detention--from medical safekeeping, in order to place him in
inexperienced lay-hands: such an act would be a criminal proceeding on
the part of any medical man found to sanction it. Her ignorance of
matters medical alone acquitted her. Nor could she get them to credit
the ill-treatment to which Richard was being subjected. Again it was
sheer ignorance on her part that made her take this view. The asylum
authorities were doubtless fully justified in what they did: you could
not REASON with the deranged. And so on . . . and on. How she came to
hate and dread the words Certification, Lunacy Laws, Lunacy
Authorities! Their very sound seemed to shut away for ever, from the
rest of humanity, from every human feeling, those unfortunates who had
fallen beneath the ban.

Giving the doctors up as a bad job, she turned her attention to other
influential people she had known: members of parliament, bankers, the
clergy. And here she was received with the utmost consideration, no one
of these old friends and acquaintances reminding her, by so much as a
look, that she was now but a poor up-country postmistress. All
alike deplored Richard's fate, and offered her their heartfelt
sympathy; but from none of them could she wring a promise of help or
interference. Their concern was entirely for her, her personal safety,
and that of her children. While the Bishop and his brethren spoke in
muted voices of God's Will, this mysterious Will to which it was one's
duty to submit--till she could have flung her bag at their heads. A
stone for bread, indeed, when her only cry was: "Give me back my
husband!"

Sir Jake, who had been won over--though rather half-heartedly, and
solely as a result of endless, nagging curtain-lectures--did what he
could; but he no longer held office and his influence was slight. And
the person on whom Mary had built most, the one member of the present
ministry she knew intimately, Henry Ocock, was not to be got at. Though
she called every day, and sometimes twice a day, at his chambers, it
was always to learn that business still detained him in Ballarat.

She applied for a second week's leave of absence--and got it. And when
but forty-eight hours of this remained and she had still achieved as
good as nothing, she sent Mr. Henry a page-long telegram, imploring
him, in the name of their old friendship, to grant her an interview.

He travelled to Melbourne by the next train. She met him one cold,
dusty autumn afternoon, in a private sitting-room at Scott's Hotel.

He came towards her with outstretched hands, but was so shocked at her
appearance that he would not let her say a word before she was
thoroughly rested and refreshed. Then, the waiter having withdrawn, he
drew up his chair and begged her to tell him what he could do for her.

To this old friend, whose mottled hair she had known when it was
sleekest, jettiest raven, she now opened her heart; beginning from the
time when, almost against her will and certainly against her better
judgment, she had yielded to the specious assurances of Bowes-Smith and
his kind, and had consented to Richard becoming the inmate of a public
lunatic asylum.--"Never should I have let him get into their
clutches!"--But so much had been made of the treatment, the individual
nursing he would receive there, and the beneficial effect this
would have on him, that she had sunk her scruples. Afterwards had come
the stoppage of his letters, the dead silence of his imprisonment, and
her growing doubts; followed by her journey to town, her tragic
discovery of his true state, the insolence she had had to put up with
from the young assistant--"Hardly more than a medical student!"--the
beggar's calvary she had since been through. Not a living soul, it
seemed, was willing to break a lance for Richard: once certified, a man
might just as well be under the soil. On all sides she had been bidden
to go home and live in peace. Knowing what she knew? Would other women
have done it? If so, they were made of different stuff from her. She
would think herself a traitor, if she did not fight for Richard's
release as long as she had a breath left in her body.

Ocock let her talk: heard her out in a lawyer's cogitative silence, the
while thoughtfully pulling at and stroking his chin. Even after she had
ceased speaking he sat meditative--and so used was Mary, by now, to
being instantly downed and dismissed, that this very silence fed her
hopes. Hence when at last he broke it, his words had the force of a
blow. For all he did was to bring to her notice a point which he very
much feared she had overlooked. And this was that she was no longer a
private individual, but a public servant in Government employ.
Difficulties would certainly be raised from this side, too, did she
apply--as she was bound to do--for permission to receive a certified
lunatic in her home. The Department would hold that the efficient
discharge of her duties and the care, at the same time, of a sick man,
would be irreconcilable. . . impossible.

At this repetition of the word that had dogged her every step,
something tipped over in Mary. Passionately flinging up her head, she
looked full and squarely at Ocock: pinned with her own what Richard had
been used to call "those shifty little black boot-buttons of eyes!" And
then, almost before she knew it, words began to pour from her lips,
things she could not have believed herself capable of saying--to any
one, let alone Henry Ocock, now so far above her. (In after years of a
sleepless night she would suddenly feel her face begin to burn in the
darkness, at the mere remembrance of them. Spiritual blackmail would
have been Richard's name for it.)

It was of herself and Richard that she had meant to speak; of
the tie between them which no living creature had the right to break.
But Ocock's presence seemed to bring the whole past alive before her,
and the past brought Agnes, and memories of Agnes--"The dearest,
truest little soul that ever lived!"--and of the murk and misery in
which the poor thing's days had ended. And under the influence of this
emotion everything came out. Not only, lost to shame, did she throw in
her listener's teeth all she had done for Agnes: the expense she had
been put to when she could ill afford it; the pains she had been at to
save Agnes from herself: she also stripped the veneer off his own
conduct, laying bare his heartlessness, his egoism, his cruelty, yes,
even brutality: how, in order to keep up his dignity, save his own
face, he had wantonly sacrificed his wife, abandoning her when she most
needed love, pity, companionship; shutting her up to drink herself to
death--even barbarously shipping her off to die alone, among
strangers, in a strange land. Not a shred of self-respect did she leave
on him: he should see himself for once as others saw him: and she went
on, pouring out scorn on his hypocrisy and pretence, till she had him
standing there as morally naked as he had come physically naked into
the world, and would one day go out of it. Before she finished the
tears were streaming down her cheeks . . . for Agnes; her own troubles
completely forgotten for the moment, over the other's tragedy.

Her voice failing her, she came to a stop: just sat and stared before
her, feeling, now the fit was over, cold and queer and shaky. But
nothing would have made her take back a word of what she had said; not
even though--as was only too likely--she had ruined her chances for
good and all.

As, however, the silence that followed seemed to be going to last for
ever, she plucked up courage to glance at Mr. Henry. And she had the
surprise of her life. For he was sitting gazing at her with a look such
as she had never seen on his face; a kindly, indulgent, almost FOND
look; and--oh, was it possible?--with his eyes full of tears. More,
those eyes were now as steady as her own: had quite ceased furtively to
dart and run. And the crowning touch was put to this strange reception
of her tirade, by his nodding head, slowly, several times in
succession, and saying: "A staunch and loyal advocate indeed!
My friend, a great fighter has been lost in you."

Then he got up and went to the window, where he stood looking down into
the street. Mary sat motionless, but odd thoughts and scraps of
thoughts were whizzing round her brain. This then was how . . . stand
up to him, BULLY him . . . if Agnes had only . . . but would never have
had the spirit. And then his eyes . . . the shiftiness more than half
fear . . . fear of discovery . . . and, once found out--But, oh! not
praise for her eloquence. If she hadn't touched him . . . or had
touched him solely in this way. . . .

Coming back to her he took her hands. "What you are asking of me, Mrs.
Mahony, means difficulties of which you, as a woman, do not realise the
quarter . . . the half. I will make you no fixed promises; which I
might be unable to keep. All I will say is, that for your sake--your
sake alone!--I will see what can be done."

And with this single, straw to cling to, Mary travelled home.




Chapter VIII



He had enjoined her to patience and patient she was--though week ran
into week and month to month, in all of which time she knew nothing of
what was happening behind the scenes, or what strings Ocock was pulling
to upset the cumbrous machinery of medical law. She just dragged on
from day to day, in ignorance and suspense. But her nerves often got
the better of her, and then the children felt her heavy, hasty hand.
While, in her official capacity, so set did she become on her "rights,"
so unblushing in making her voice heard, that her name grew to be a
by-word in the service. "That tartar at G.G.?" (which was the morse call
for Gymgurra) was how she was familiarly spoken of.

In this dreary time, when her narrow walls oppressed her to
breathlessness, but from which there was no possible escape for her,
one piece of good fortune came her way. The house at Shortlands found a
tenant; and so the money which she had laboriously scraped together for
the following quarter's rent would not be needed. Hence when at last
the tide began to turn, with the substitution of "highly dangerous,"
and "a most risky experiment," for the maddening "impossible," she
actually had a small sum in hand with which to make her preparations.
And she set about these forthwith; building on her recently acquired
knowledge of men and their ways. She could look for no complete VOLTE
FACE on their part. Only in this grudging, half-hearted fashion would
their consent be given.

Help in the house she must have, was she to be free to devote what time
she could spare from her office-work to Richard. Her first thought was
naturally of her poor old ageing sister, and she wrote to Zara,
offering her house-room in exchange for her services. But though in her
last situation little more than a nursemaid, Zara declined the proposal
as stiffly and uncompromisingly as if she were rolling in money:
dubbing Mary mad as a March hare to think of removing "our poor
dear Richard" from safe control; madder still to imagine that she,
Zara, with her delicate nerves, would be able to live for a single day
under the same roof as a lunatic. Emmy, unasked, wrote begging to be
allowed to help care for "poor darling Uncle." But quite apart from the
mixed motives that underlay the offer, this was out of the question.
You could not so take the bloom off a young girl's life. There would be
things to do for Richard--unfit things . . . And it was here that Mary
bethought herself of the woman she had befriended on her journey to
town, whose son had died soon after. So, in the same terms as to Zara,
she wrote to "Mrs. Bowman at Sayer's Thack"--though it did seem rather
like posting a letter into the void. Almost by return, however, came an
ill-spelt scrawl, joyfully accepting the job; and a little later Mrs.
Bowman herself got out of the coach, with all her worldly goods tied up
in one small cardboard-box, but carrying with her, as a gift, a stringy
old hen (fit only for the soup-pot) and half a pound of dairy butter.
And in this poor, lone soul, Mary found yet another of those devoted,
leech-like friends, who had starred her path through life.

The final surrender came in the form of a lengthy screed from Mr.
Henry, in which he informed her that, after surmounting difficulties
and obstacles greater even than he had anticipated, he had at last
succeeded in bringing the various authorities involved--medical,
legal, postal--to agree to the plan of Dr. Mahony's removal from
control being given a provisional trial. That was to say, the patient
would be accompanied to Gymgurra by two warders, who would remain while
the experiment was made. In the event of it failing, they would
immediately escort the patient back to the asylum. Followed, this, by
four pages in which Mr. Henry begged her once more seriously to
consider what she was doing. It was still not too late to draw back.
Should she, however, decide to go forward, he trusted she would further
show her friendship for him by regarding him as her banker, if the
expenses of the undertaking proved too heavy for her purse. He would be
only too happy to assist her.--Well, thank goodness, owing to her
little windfall, she need be beholden to nobody; although, at this
pass, she would not have hesitated to borrow freely. But, Bowey's
expenses settled, she had still enough in hand to cover the
three fares up from town, and those of the warders back; as well as
their board and lodging while in Gymgurra.

Only the day of arrival now remained to be fixed. But now, too, in the
small hours when she lay waiting for the night mail, Mary was assailed
by her first fears and apprehensions. It was not her ability to cope
with, and control, and nurse Richard that she doubted. No, her fears
concerned herself. Her own strength was already sorely taxed, she on
the brink of those years when a woman most needed rest and care and a
quiet life. Suppose SHE should fall ill? . . . need nursing herself? Or
that she should die before him . . . be forced to leave him? . . . him
and the children. This was the thought that haunted her nights; and
though she drove it from her, fought it valiantly, it was often not to
be got under till she had risen and paced the house.

When Cuffy heard that Papa was coming home, his black eyes opened till
they seemed to fill his face.

"Do you mean he . . . he's coming back here? NOW?"

"Yes. And you chicks must try your best to help me. I shall have more
than ever to do."

"But is he . . . isn't he still . . ." It was no use; his mouth was
full of tongue; the "mad" simply wouldn't come out. To which half-asked
question Mamma said firmly: "Run away and play."

But they were moving his bed, and he saw them: saw, too, a new bed
being carried into Mamma's room. "What's that for? And where's my bed
going?" And at the news that from now on he was to sleep in Bowey's
room, the dismay he had so far bitten back broke through. "Oh no, I
CAN'T, Mamma! I won't! . . . sleep in the same room as her."

"And why not, indeed?"

"She's . . . she's a LADY."

"Really, Cuffy! I do wonder where you get your ideas from. Pray,
haven't you been sleeping all this time with Lucie and me? Are we not
ladies, too?"

No, of course not--they were only just their two selves. But as usual
he didn't try to explain. It was never a bit of good.

With Lucie, whose chubby face wore a harassed look, beside him,
he sat on the back steps with his elbows on his knees, his chin hunched
in his hands. The yard was mostly potatoes now--the floury sort that
were so good to have for dinner, but left hardly any room to play. For
you hadn't got to tread on them.--Oh, WHY did Papa need to come back?
They had been so happy without him . . . even though they had to keep a
post office, and weren't REAL ladies and gentlemen any more. But nobody
had once laughed at them--at him and Luce--since they came here, and
they had had nothing to be ashamed of. Now it was all going to begin
over again. Oh, if only there had been anywhere to run to, he would
have run away. But there wasn't, only just long, straight roads.

Here Lucie put her mouth inside his ear and whispered guiltily "I don't
b'lieve you're a bit glad!"

"Are YOU?"

Luce nodded hard. Mamma was glad, so she was too; or she'd thought she
was till now. But Cuffy looked so funny that her little soul began to
be torn afresh, between these two arbiters of her fate.

Cuffy wrinkled his lips up and his nose down. "You're not TRUE! I don't
believe it."

"I am!" But her face puckered.

"Well, I'm NOT . . . not a scrap! So there! And if you want to, you can
go and tell."

But she didn't; she only cried. Cuffy was always making her cry. He
couldn't ever be nice and think the same as Mamma and her. He always
had to be diffrunt.

It certainly WAS hard though, to keep on being sorry, when you saw how
glad Mamma was. She smiled much more now, and sewed shirts, and got
them ready for Papa; and she bought a new rocking-chair, specially for
him to sit and rock in. And every day was most dreadfully anxious to
know if there wasn't a letter in the mail-bag, to say when he was
coming. And then she told them about how unhappy Papa had been since he
went away, and how he had to eat his dinner off tin plates; and how
they must try with all their mights to make up to him for it. And then
she went back and told them all over again about when they were quite
little, and how fond Papa had been of them, and how he thought there
were no children in the world like his; and how, now he was old
and ill, and not himself, they must love him much more than ever
before. It made you feel HORRID. But it didn't help; you JUST COULDN'T
be glad. It was like a stone you'd swallowed, which stuck in you, and
wouldn't go down.

And, at length, the suspense in which Mary lived was ended, by a letter
definitely fixing a date for the arrival of Richard and his keepers.
They would land at the neighbouring seaport, between eight and nine in
the morning. It was on her advice, Richard being so excellent a sailor,
that the sea route had been chosen for its greater privacy, few people,
even at this time of year, choosing to undergo a buffeting round the
wild coast. Now, all she had to do was to send word over the road to
Mr. Cadwallader Evans of the Bank. Long since, this kind friend had
placed his buggy and pair at her disposal for the occasion.

She rose at six when the morning came, and was busy brushing and
shaking out her clothes: she had not been over the threshold since her
return from Melbourne. Not wishing to disgrace Richard by too shabby an
appearance, she put on her one remaining silk dress with its many
flounces, her jet-trimmed mantle, her best bonnet. . . in which still
nodded the red rose he had been used to fancy her in. But her hands
were cold and stupid as she hooked and buttoned and tied strings; and,
having climbed into the buggy and taken her seat, she sat with a throat
too dry for speech.

And after one or two well-meant efforts at encouragement, the chatty
little man who was her companion respected her mood. He considered her
"a dam fine woman for her age," and "a dam plucky one, too," but held
the errand they were out on for "a dam unpleasant job," and one he had
undertaken solely to please his wife, who thought the world of Mrs.
Mahony. He didn't dare even to hum or to whistle, and so, except for a
passing flip or chirrup to the ponies, they drove mile after mile in
silence, neither casting so much as a glance at the landscape, which
both thought ugly and dull: once past the volcano--a knobbly bunch of
island-hills set in the middle of a shallow, weed-grown lake--it
consisted of unbroken grassy downs, which sloped to a sandy shore on
which the surf broke and thundered.

The wide streets of the little port were deserted; but at the
jetty quite a crowd had gathered. There stood passengers who had
already been landed, several idle girls and women, a goodly sprinkling
of larrikins. One and all had their eyes fixed on a small rowing-boat
that was making for the shore from the steamer, which lay at anchor
some way out.

Having dismounted and joined the throng, Mary asked of a young girl
standing by: "What is it? What's the matter?"

"Ooo . . . such fun!" said the girl, and tittered. "See that boat?
There's a madman in it. He's being put off here. They've had to tie his
arms up."

"Don't you think you should let me see to things? . . . and you wait in
the buggy?" asked Mr. Evans in concern. But Mary shook her head.

As the boat drew near, riding the surf, they saw that it contained,
besides the oarsmen, two burly men who sat stooped over something lying
prostrate on the floor of the boat. Mary hung back, keeping on the
outskirts of the crowd, the members of which now pushed and pressed
forward. But though the boat was alongside, its oars shipped, nothing
happened--or nothing but a series of cries and shouts and angry
exclamations, several men's voices going at once.

"They can't make him get up, that's what it is," volunteered the girl,
her pretty face distorted with excitement. "I bet they'll have to tie
his legs as well, and then just haul him out. What fun if he falls in
the water!"

"I can't bear this," said Mary in an undertone; she believed she could
hear, as well, the sound of cuffs and blows. "I must see what I can
do." And in spite of her companion's demur, she stepped forward.
Bravely tossing her head, she said to those around her: "Will you
please let me pass? It's my husband."

They almost jumped aside to make way for her; open-mouthed,
embarrassed, or flushed a dark red, like the pretty girl. Mary felt
rather than saw the nudging elbows, the pointing and whispering, as,
herself now the gazing-stock, she walked through the opening they left.
Outwardly erect and composed, inwardly all a-quake, she advanced to the
edge of the jetty and went down three shallow steps to the landing-place.

The rough voices ceased at her approach, and the warders
desisted from their efforts to shift a heavy body that struggled
desperately to oppose them.

"Please, stand back, and let me try." As she spoke she caught a
glimpse, at the bottom of the boat, of disordered clothing, dishevelled
strands of white hair, a pair of roped hands working violently. Leaning
as far over as she dared, she said in a low, but clear voice: "Richard
dear, it's me--Mary. Don't you know me?"

On the instant the contortions ceased, and a kind of listening silence
ensued. Then came a palpable attempt on the part of the prostrate form
to raise itself; while a thin, cracked voice, which she would never
have recognised as Richard's, said in a tone of extreme bewilderment:
"Why, it's . . . it's Mrs. Mahony!"

"Yes, it's me; I've come to take you home. Get up, Richard--but at
once, dear! . . . and don't lie there like that. The buggy's waiting."
Again he made, she saw, a genuine effort to obey; but once more fell
back.

"Take that rope off his hands." And disregarding a warder's: "Well, at
your own risk, lady!" she added: "And help him up."

But this was easier said than done. No sooner did the men approach him
than his struggles began anew. He would not be touched by them. It was
left to Mr. Evans and one of the sailors, who had not made off like the
rest, to untie his wrists; after which, seizing him under the armpits,
they hoisted him on to the quay. ("Mrs. Mahony . . . why, it's Mrs.
Mahony!" piped the thin voice.)

"And now take my arm and come quietly . . . as quietly as you can.
There are people watching. Show them how nicely you can walk."

("Mrs. Mahony. .. Mrs. Mahony.")

With him a dead weight on her right arm, Mr. Evans at his other side
pushing and supporting, they got his poor old shambling legs up the
steps and through the crowd. He was so cold and stiff from exposure
that it was all he could do to set one foot before the other. He had no
boots on, no hat, no greatcoat. Of the carpet-slippers in which they
had let him travel, one had been lost or had fallen off in the boat;
his sock was full of holes. In his struggles the right-hand sleeve of
his coat had been almost wrenched from its armhole, his dirty
shirt was collarless, his grey hair, long uncut, hung down his neck.

And the fear he was in was pitiful to see: he turned his head
continually from side to side, trying to look back. "Where are they?
Oh, DON'T let them get the doctor! . . . don't let them get him!"

"No, no, my darling! . . . don't be afraid. You're quite safe now . . .
with me." And as soon as he had been half shoved, half dragged into the
buggy, she sent her companion to warn the warders to keep out of sight.
If follow they must, it would have to be in a separate vehicle.

On the drive home she took Richard's poor benumbed hands in hers and
chafed them; she spread her skirts over his knees to keep the wind off,
unhooked her mantle and bound it round his chest. His teeth chattered;
his face was grey with cold. Then, opening the little bottle of wine
and water and the packet of sandwiches which she had brought with her,
she fed him, sip by sip and bit by bit, for he was ravenous with hunger
and thirst. And though he quieted down somewhat, under the shelter of
the hood, she did not cease to croon to him and comfort him. "It's all
right, my dear, quite all right now. Those horrid men are far away;
you'll never, never see them again. You're with me, your own Mary, who
will look after you and care for you." Until, his hunger stilled, his
worst fears allayed, exhausted, utterly weary, he put his head on her
shoulder and, with her arm laid round him to lessen the jolts of the
road, fell asleep, slumbering as peacefully as a child on its mother's
breast.

And so Richard Mahony came home.




Chapter IX



A week later Mary paid the warders off and dispatched them back to
Melbourne. Not once had she needed them; there had been absolutely
nothing for them to do--but hang about the hotel, eating and drinking
at her expense. She went, besides, in mortal fear of Richard seeing
them from the window, did they show themselves in the street, and of
the shock this sight might be, undoing all the good she had done. So
she handed out their return-fares and paid their bill, gladly . . .
even though this came to a good deal more than she had expected, coarse
brutes that they were! For their part, they could hardly believe their
ears when they heard her report on Richard's behaviour since getting
home; and they remained pessimistic to the end. "Ah! you'll have
trouble with him yet, lady . . . for sure you will," were their final
words.

But she laughed in their faces. Richard was a lamb in her hands, a
little child, whom she could twist round her finger. Just now he spent
his time weeping from sheer happiness, as he strayed from room to room
of the little house . . . so wretchedly poor and mean compared with any
he had known. But he was blind to its shortcomings. "And all this
belongs to the doctor? . . . it's HIS house? . . . he'll never have to
go away from it again? And these cups and plates--do they belong to
the doctor, too? . . . and may he drink out of them and eat off them?
And is this the doctor's own chair?" Again and again she had to assure
him and re-assure him: he might sit where he pleased, do what he liked,
use everything. With difficulty he took in his good fortune: at first,
any unexpected knock at the door made him shake and try to hide.

Gradually, however--along with the marks and bruises that stained his
poor old body--his alarms died out, and his eyes lost their hunted
look. As long, that is to say, as Mary was with him, or he knew her
close at hand: her presence alone spelt complete safety. It had
been hard to make him understand that he was not to follow her into the
office; he couldn't grasp this, and would often be found prowling round
the office door, muttering confusedly. Even after he had learnt his
lesson, she--hammering away at the key, or sitting stooped over her
desk--would sometimes see the door open by a crack, and Richard's eyes
and nose appear behind it . . . just to make sure. Then, if she nodded
and smiled and said: "It's all right, dear, I'm here!" he would go away
content. His devotion to her, his submissive dependence on her, knew no
bounds: a word of praise from her made him happy, a reproof bewildered
him to tears. And was he really troublesome, she had only to warn him:
"Richard, if you're not good, I shan't be able to keep you," for him
instantly to weep and promise betterment. No one, not even the
children, might in his presence handle any object that he looked on as
her peculiar property: the teapot, her scissors, her brush and comb.
"Put that down . . . put it down at once! It belongs to Mrs. Mahony."

Fortunately he took quite a fancy to Mrs. Bowman, and had no objection
to being waited on by her--when the monthly "statement" occupied Mary,
or a visit from the Inspector impended. But then Bowey was capital with
him, hit just the right tone, and never tried to order him about. She
was a good cook, too, and, since he was prescribed small quantities of
nourishing food, she was for ever popping in from the kitchen with a:
"Now, sir, I've got a nice little cup of soup here, made specially for
you . . . something I KNOW you'll enjoy!" And he would let her bind his
table-napkin round his neck, and even, in default of Mary, feed him
with a spoon, to avoid the pitiful dropping and spilling that otherwise
went on. He invariably addressed her as "the Cook," and spoke to her,
and of her, as if she stood at the head of a large staff of servants.
(Whose non-existence, oddly enough, he did not seem to remark.) For it
was just as if a sponge had been passed over a large part of his brain,
mercifully wiping out every memory of the terrible later years. He
re-lived the period of his greatest prosperity; was once more, in
imagination, either the well-to-do property-owner, or the distinguished
physician. And since only those images persisted which had to do with
one or other of these periods, his late-born children meant
little to him: if he thought or spoke of them, it was as though they
were still in their infancy. Sometimes, seeing them stand so tall and
sturdy before him--a well--grown girl and boy of seven and eight--he
grew quite confused. While, asked by Mary if he remembered his little
lost daughter, he looked at her with stupid, darkened eyes, and could
not think what she meant.

By seven of a morning, he was washed and dressed and fed. Eight
o'clock, when the office opened, saw him comfortably settled in the
rocking-chair. Here his day was spent. The chair stood by the window,
which gave on the cross-roads and the main street; from it, he could
see all that went on in the township. But his chief occupation was
"reading." For his sake Mary subscribed to a Melbourne newspaper--
though this was a day and a half old before it reached them. But, for
anything it mattered to him, it might have borne the date of a month
back. As often as not, he read it upside down; his spectacles perched
at an impossible angle on the extreme tip of his long, thin nose. In
this position he loved to proclaim the news, to whoever had time to
listen: Mary, slipping in and out; Mrs. Bowman, come to see that he
wanted for nothing. And his information was invariably of some long
past event: the death of Prince Albert, the siege of Sebastopol, the
Indian Mutiny. And there good old Bowey would stand, her hands clasped
under her apron, exclaiming: "What doings, sir, what awful doings you
do tell of!"--for, to throw his hearer into a state of surprise, even
of consternation, was one of the things that pleased him best.

Tired of reading, he would talk to himself by the hour together; his
clear voice, with its light Irish slur, ringing through the house. And
hampered no longer by those shackles of pride and reserve which had
made him the most modest of men, his theme was now always, and
blatantly, himself. This self--to whom, as to every one else, he
referred only in the third person--was the pivot round which his
thoughts revolved, he passionately asserting and reasserting its
identity, in a singsong that was not unlike a chant. "Richard Townshend
Mahony, F.R.C.S., M.D., Edinburgh, R. T. Mahony, M.D. and Accoucheur;
Specialist for the Diseases of Women; Consulting Physician to the
Ballarat Hospital!" and so on: only, the list having been sung
through, untiringly to begin afresh.

In appearance, now that he was once more clean and well cared-for, he
remained a striking-looking man, with his straight, delicate features,
his cloven chin, the silver hair smoothed back from his high forehead;
and often, on coming into the room and catching him seated and in
profile--his gait, of course, was lamentable; he had never recovered
the proper use of his legs--Mary had a passing, ghostlike glimpse of
the man who had been. It was his eyes that gave him away. There had
been a time when these blue-grey eyes had looked out on life with the
expression of a wantonly hurt animal. Still later, a day when they had
seldom lifted, but had brooded before them, turned inward on torments
visible to them alone. Now they met yours again, but as it were shrilly
and blindly, all the soul gone out of them; nor ever a trace remaining
of their former puzzlement over life the destroyer. He was now the
least troubled of men. Content and happiness had come to him at last,
in full measure. No more doubts, or questionings, or wrestlings with
the dark powers in himself: no anxiety over ways and means (Mary was
there, Mary would provide); never a twinge of the old passionate ache
for change and renewal . . . for flight from all familiar things. He
desired to be nowhere but here: had, at long last, found rest and
peace, within the four walls of a room measuring but a few feet square;
that peace for which he had sought, desperately and vainly, throughout
the whole of his conscious life; to which he would otherwise have
attained only through death's gates.

To see him thus was Mary's reward: Mary, grown so thin that she could
count her ribs; with black rings round her eyes, "salt-cellars" above
and below her collar-bones; with enlarged, knobby knuckles, and feet
that grew daily flatter. But she had no time to think of herself--to
think at all, in fact--nor did she linger regretfully over what had
been, or grieve in advance for what was bound to come. And Richard's
condition ceased to sadden her: valiantly she accepted the inevitable.

It was another matter with the children, who had in them a goodly share
of Mahony's own thin-skinnedness. Cuffy and Lucie never grew used or
resigned to the state of things: their father's imbecile
presence lay a dead weight on their young lives. And violently
conflicting feelings swung them to and fro. If, at dinner, Papa was
scolded for spilling his food, or for gobbling--and he was most
DREADF'LY greedy--Luce's eyes would shut so tight that almost you
couldn't see she had any: while he, Cuffy, red as a turkey-cock, would
start to eat just like Papa, from being made so sorry and uncomfortable
to hear a big man scolded like a baby. They kept out of his way as much
as possible, being also subtly hurt by his lack of recognition of them,
when he knew Mamma so well: they were just as much belonging to him as
Mamma! And, home from their morning lessons at the parsonage, they
withdrew to the bottom of the yard, where Mamma couldn't so easily find
them. For she was always trying to make Papa notice them . . . when you
knew quite well he didn't care. It would be: "Show Papa your copybook
. . . how nicely you can write now," or: "Let him see your new boots." At
which something naughty would get up in Cuffy, and make him say
nastily: "What for? . . . what's the good? He doesn't REALLY look!" But
then Mamma would look so sorry that it hurt, and say: "Oh, you must be
kind to him, Cuffy! And try not to let him feel it."

A doctor drove over once a week from Burrabool to write medicines for
Papa, and he said Papa ought to take exercise, and it would be a good
thing for him to go a short walk . . . every single day. And of course
he and Luce had to do this, to help Mamma. For half an hour. The
thought of it spoiled the whole morning--like a whipping.

"Does it matter which way we go?"

Cuffy never failed to ask this, as a sop to his conscience. But really
they always went the same road, the one that led straight out of the
township. For, if you got past the lock-up, where the constable's
little girl might be swinging on the gate, you were quite certain not
to meet anybody. To make sure she wasn't, you first sent Luce out to
look, then fetched Papa and hurried him by. After that, though, you had
to walk as slow as slow, because he couldn't hardly walk at all: his
knees bent and stuck out at every step. You each held his hand, and
went on, counting the minutes till it was time to turn back. And to
find when this was, you had to get his watch out of his pocket
yourself and look at it--which he didn't like, for he thought you were
going to take it away from him. But it was no use asking him the time,
because he said such funny things. Like: "The time is out of joint,"
or: "A time to be born and a time to die!"

But when you said it was far enough and they could go home, and turned
him round, he was glad, too; and the whole way back he talked about
nothing but his tea, and what there was going to be for it. And when
Mamma came to the door she didn't say what she would have said to THEM,
that it was greedy and piggy to think about your meals so long
beforehand. She just said: "Tea's all ready, dear; and Bowey has made
you some delicious scones." He and Luce only had bread and butter, and
didn't want it. They liked best to go and play like mad, because the
walk was done, and they didn't have to do it again till next day.

But then came that awful afternoon when . . . ugh! he didn't like even
to THINK about it . . . ever afterwards.

They had gone out as usual and walked along the road, and nobody saw
them. And he was just going to fetch Papa's watch to look at the time
. . . or had he TRIED to and it wouldn't come, and he had pulled at it?
He could never feel quite, quite sure: it remained a horrible doubt.
And then, all of a sudden, quite suddenly Papa fell down. "His legs
just seemed to shut up, Mamma, really, truly they did!" (when she
accused them of having hurried him). They couldn't stop him . . . .
Luce nearly tumbled down, too . . . and Papa fell flat on his face and
lay there; and it had rained, and the road was dirty, and he lay in it,
so that his clothes and his face were full of mud. And he called out
and so did Luce: "Get up, Papa, you'll be all wet and dirty!" and
again: "Mamma will be so cross if you don't!" and despairingly: "Oh,
dear Papa, DO get up and don't just lie there!" And then he did try,
but couldn't seem to make his legs work properly, and went on lying
with his face and hair in the dirt--quite flat. And they tugged and
tugged at him, at his arms and his coat, but couldn't move him, he was
so big and heavy; and Luce began to cry; and he felt such a bone come
in his own throat that he thought he'd have to cry, too. He began to be
afraid the mud would choke Papa, and what would Mamma say then? And
Papa kept on asking: "What is it? What's the doctor doing?" And
then he shouted out, like as if he was deaf: "You've fallen down, Papa
--oh, DO get up! WHAT shall we do if you don't!" And he said to Luce to
run home and fetch Mamma, but she was frightened to; and she was
frightened to stay there while he went; and so he felt his heart would
burst, for they couldn't leave Papa alone. But just then a man came
driving in a spring-cart, and when he saw them he stopped and said:
"Hullo, you kids, what's up?" And "Whoa!" to his horse, and got out.
And first he laughed a little, and winked at them, for he thought Papa
was tipsy; but when they told him, and said it was their Papa who
couldn't walk any more because his legs were wrong, he stopped laughing
and was kind. He took hold of Papa till he made him stand up, and then
he let down the flap of the cart and helped him in, and lifted them up,
too, and they drove home that way, their legs hanging out at the back.
And when they got to the post office Mamma came running to the door,
and had a most awful fright when she saw Papa so wet and dirty, with
mud on his face and hair, and scratched with stones where they had
pulled him; and she sort of screamed out: "Oh, WHAT'S the matter? What
have you done to him?" (and they hadn't done anything at all). But she
was so sorry for Papa, and so busy washing him clean and telling him
not to cry, that she didn't have any time to think about them, or how
upset they were. They went away and were together by themselves, at the
bottom of the yard.

After this, though, they didn't have to take Papa walking any more. He
never went out.--But the memory of the accident persisted, and was
entangled in their dreams for many a night to come. Especially Cuffy's.
Cuffy would start up, his nightclothes damp with sweat, from a dream
that Papa had fallen dead in the road and that he had killed him. And,
all his life long, the sight of a heavy body lying prostrate and unable
to rise--a horse down in its traces, even a drunkard stretched
oblivious by the roadside--had the power to throw him into the old
childish panic, and make him want blindly to turn and run . . . and run
. . . till he could run no more.




Chapter X



Thus the shadows deepened. For still some time Mahony contrived to
cover, unaided, the few yards that separated bedroom from sitting-room.
Then he took to shouldering his way along the walls, supporting himself
by the furniture. And soon, even this mode of progression proving
beyond him, he needed the firm prop of an arm on either side, was he to
reach his seat by the window. Finally his chair was brought to the
bedside, and, with him in it, was pushed and pulled by the two women to
the adjoining room.

He never set foot to the ground again; was very prisoner to this chair.
Nor could he stoop, or bend his body sideways; and did he now drop his
spectacles, or let his paper flutter to the floor, the house resounded
with cries of "Mrs. Mahony, Mrs. Mahony!" or "the Cook, the Cook!" Dead
from the waist down, he sat wooden and rigid; and the light of the poor
clouded brain that topped this moribund trunk grew daily feebler. His
newspaper ceased to interest him; he no longer hymned his own praises:
he just sat and stared before him, in mournful vacancy.

Oh, what a work it was to die!--to shake off a body that had no more
worth left in it than a snake's cast skin, Mary could imagine him
saying of himself.--Not so she. She clung jealously to each day on
which she still had him with her; plodding to and fro on hot, swollen
feet; gladly performing the last, sordid duties of the sick-room.

Then, gangrene setting in, he became bedridden; and she and Bowey
united their strength to turn him from side to side, or to raise him
the few necessary inches on his pillow. He was grown quite silent now,
and indifferent to every one; the sight of food alone called up a
flicker of interest in his dull eyes. But the day came when even to
swallow soft jellies and custards was beyond him, and a few
teaspoonfuls of liquid formed his sole nourishment. And at
length his throat refusing even this office, there was nothing to be
done but to sit and watch him die.

For three days he lay in coma. On the third, the doctor gave it as his
opinion that he would not outlive the night.

Beside the low, trestle-bed in which, for greater convenience, they had
laid him, and on which his motionless body formed a long, straight
hummock under the blankets, Mary sat and looked her last on the
familiar face, now so soon to be hidden from her . . . it might be for
ever. For who knew, who could REALLY know, if they would meet again? In
health, in the bustle of living, it was easy to believe in heaven and a
life to come. But when the blow fell, and those you loved passed into
the great Silence, where you could not get at them, or they at you,
then doubts, aching doubts took possession of one. She had sunk under
them when her child died; she knew them now, still more fiercely. Death
might quite well be the end of everything; just so many bones rotting
in a grave.--And even if it was not, if there WAS more to come, how
could it ever be quite the same again?--the same Richard to look at,
and with all his weaknesses, who had belonged to her for nearly thirty
years. She didn't believe it. If heaven existed, and was what people
said it was, then it would certainly turn him into something different:
a stranger. . . an angel!--and what had she to do with angels? She
wanted the man himself, the dear warm incompetent human creature at
whose side she had been through so much. Who had so tried, so harassed
her, made her suffer so.--Oh, as if that mattered now! What WAS life,
but care and suffering?--for every one alike. His had never been much
else. Even though his troubles were mostly of his own making. For he
had always asked more of life than it could give: and if, for once, he
got what he wanted, he had not known how to sit fast and hold it: so
the end was the poor old wreck on the bed before her. Now, death was
best. Death alone could wipe out the shame and disgrace that had
befallen him--the shame of failure, the degradation of his illness.
Best for the children, too; his passing would lift a shadow from their
lives . . . they were so young still, they would soon forget. Yes, best
for every one . . . only not for her. With Richard, the most vital part
of herself--a part compounded of shared experience, and mutual
endeavour, and the common memories of a lifetime--would go
down into the grave.--Burying her face in her hands, Mary wept.

By day, for the children's, for her work's sake, she was forced to bear
up. Now there was nobody to see or hear her. The office was closed, the
children slept: old Bowey dozed over the lamp in the kitchen. She could
weep, without fear of surprise, alone with him who had passed beyond
the sound of human grief; in this little back room where, by the light
of a single candle, monstrous shadows splashed walls and ceiling:
shadows that stirred, and seemed to have a life of their own; for it
was winter now, and the wild Australian wind shrilled round the house,
and found its way in through the loosely fitting sashes.

How long she sat thus she did not know: she had lost count of time.
But, of a sudden, something . . . a something felt not heard, and felt
only by a quickening of her pulses. . . made her catch her breath,
pause in her crying, strain her ears, look up. And as she did so her
heart gave a great bound, then seemed to leave off beating. HE HAD COME
BACK. His lids were raised, his eyes half open. And in the breathless
silence that followed, when each tick of the little clock on the chest
of drawers was separately audible, she saw his lips, too, move. He was
trying to speak. She bent over him, hardly daring to breathe, and
caught, or thought she caught the words: "Not grieve . . . for me. I'm
going . . . into Eternity."

Whether they were actually meant for her, or whether a mere instinctive
response to the sound of her weeping, she could not tell. But dropping
on her knees by the bedside, she took his half-cold hand in her warm,
live one, and kissed and fondled it. And his lids, which had fallen to
again, made one last supreme effort to rise, and this time there was no
mistaking the whisper that came over his lips.

"Dear wife!"

He was gone again, even as he said it, but it was enough . . . more
than enough! Laying her head down beside his, she pressed her face
against the linen of the pillow, paying back to this inanimate object
the burning thankfulness with which she no longer dared to trouble him.
Eternity was something vast, cold, impersonal. But this little phrase,
from the long past days of love and comradeship, these homely, familiar
words, fell like balsam on her heart. All his love for her, his
gratitude to her, was in them: they were her reward, and a full and
ample one, for a lifetime of unwearied sacrifice.

Dear wife! . . . dear wife.

He died at dawn, his faint breaths fluttering to rest.


* * * * *


Close on two days had to elapse before relative or friend could get to
her side: by the time Jerry and Tilly reached Gymgurra, she herself had
made all arrangements for the last rites, and Richard was washed and
dressed and in his coffin, which stood on a pair of trestles just
outside the kitchen door, the doorways of the rooms having proved too
narrow to admit it. There he lay, with a large bunch of white violets
in his folded hands, looking very calm and peaceful, but also
inexpressibly remote--from them all, from everything. Never again
would the clatter of crockery or the odours of cooking flay his nerves.

The children, feeling oddly shy, sought their usual refuge; and when
strange men came with the coffin, and there was a great walking about
and tramping, they were told to keep out of the way. But afterwards
Mamma called them in, and took their hands and took them to see Papa,
who was all put in his coffin now, with a bunch of flowers in front of
him and his head on a most BEAUTIFUL satin pillow trimmed with lace.
And Mamma kissed him and stroked his hair, and said how young and
handsome he looked, with the wrinkles gone away from his face; but
Cuffy only thought he looked most frightfully asleep.

Luce had to have her hand held every time she went by; but he didn't;
he didn't care. And all the time Papa had lain in bed and was so ill,
he hadn't either. Even when he heard he was dead, and saw him with a
sheet pulled over his face, it didn't seem to make any difference. Or
wouldn't have, if other people hadn't been so sorry for him. To see
them sorry gradually made him sorry, too. For himself. And that night,
when a great fat moon was on the sky, he went away and stood and looked
up at it, and then something that was just like a line of poetry came
into his head, and he said it over and over, and it went: "Now the moon
looked down on a fatherless child!"

Next day though, when Papa was put in and you couldn't help
seeing him every time you went along the passage, it was different. And
when Mamma got a large pocket-handkerchief and spread it over his face
and hands (when you were dead you couldn't shooh the flies away, and
they liked to walk on you), then he suddenly felt he wanted to see Papa
again, most awfully much. So when nobody was about, he went and pulled
the handkerchief off, and had a good long look at him: much longer than
when he was alive; for then Papa wouldn't have liked it; besides him
being too shy. Now he could stare and stare; and he did; till he saw a
secret: Papa had a little black mole at the side of his nose, which he
had never seen before. This, and what Bowey said: that they would soon
come now and screw the lid down (just as he was, with the little mole,
and his eyelashes, and everything), gave him a very queer feeling
inside, and made his knees seem as if they weren't going to hold him up
much longer. He had to look away. . . quickly. . . look at the violets,
which had been sent as a present: Papa was holding them just as if he
was still alive. And when he saw them, he suddenly felt he would like
to give him something, too. But only potatoes grew in the yard.
Potatoes had quite pretty little flowers when they did have, white and
purple, only they weren't come yet. But that afternoon, when he was at
the parsonage with a note and was coming away again, he STOLE a flower
(a LOVELY little "polyanthers"), his heart beating nearly to choke him
from having to step on the flower bed, which was all raked in lines,
and in case he should be seen from the window. It got rather crushed
being in his pocket, but it was very pretty, red and yellow, with
bevelledy edges, and soft like velvet. And when Mamma was in the office
and Bowey washing sheets, he went on tiptoe to Papa to put his flower
in. He meant to hide it under the violets, where nobody but him would
know; but doing this his hand touched Papa's--and that was the end of
everything. The mere feel of it, colder--much, much colder--than a
glass, or a plate, or a frog's back, filled him with horror . . . he
nearly screamed out loud . . . and just dropped the flower anywhere and
the handkerchief all rumpled up, and ran for his life. And tore and
tore, out of the house and down the yard . . . to the only quite
private place he knew . . . where no one but him ever went: the space
between the closet and the fence, so narrow that you had to squeeze in
sideways. And he was only just in time. Before he quite got
there he'd begun to cry--as he'd never cried before. It came jumping
out of him, in great big sobs.--He was GLAD Papa was dead--yes, ever
so glad!--he told himself so, over and over. He'd never, never, never
need to take him for walks again. And nobody would ever laugh, or point
their fingers at them, or make fun of them, any more. For if you were
once dead you stopped dead--he knew that now. Not like when Lallie
died, and he had gone on waiting for her to come back. Papa would never
come back . . . or walk about. . . or speak to them again. He was going
down into the ground, just like he was, with the shiny pillow, and the
violets, and . . . and everything.--Oh, no, NO! he couldn't bear it
. . . he couldn't--even to think of it nearly killed him. And he stamped
his feet and stamped them, in a frenzy of rebellious rage. Oh, he WOULD
be good, and not care about anything, if only--if only . . . he'd take
him for walks--anywhere!--yes, he would!--if only. . . Oh, Papa! . . .
dear, darling Papa! . . . come back, come back!

Afterwards, he had to go out of the gate and hang about the road, till
his eyes got un-red again: not for anything would he have let Mamma or
Luce or Bowey know he had had to cry.--And it made him feel hot and
prickly all over, when he went indoors, to see that somebody (Mamma
most likely) had found the little tumbled polyanthers and picked it up
and put it right in the middle of the bunch of violets. THAT hurt more
than anything.

At the last moment, the doctor who was to have attended the funeral
telegraphed that he was unavoidably detained. This left an empty place
in the single mourning coach; and Tilly, scandalised as she was by the
paucity of mourners, straightway fell to work to drape a streamer round
Cuffy's sailor-hat and sew a band on his left sleeve--she had arrived
laden with gifts of crepe and other black stuffs. Open-mouthed, aghast,
Cuffy heard his doom. But, though quaking inwardly, he clenched his
teeth and said not a word: just stood and let her sew him. Because of
Mamma.

It was Mary, suddenly grown aware of his silent agony, who came
out of her own grief to say: "No, Tilly, let the child be! . . . I
won't have him forced. Richard would have been the last to wish it."

But scarcely had Cuffy breathed again, when he was plunged into a fresh
confusion. Men came to shut down the coffin; and then, while Mamma was
waying good-bye to Papa, she suddenly burst out crying--oh, simply
DREADFULLY! He felt himself blush over his whole body, to hear her--
HIS Mamma!--going on like this in front of these strange people, so
fierce and don't-carish, and with her face all red and wrinkled up like
a baby's. But she didn't seem to mind, and didn't take a bit of notice
when he poked her with his elbow and said: "Oh, hush, Mamma! They'll
hear you." Or of Uncle Jerry either, who put his hand on her shoulder
and said: "It's all for the best, old girl--believe me, it is!" Aunt
Tilly blew her nose so loud it hurt your ears, and winked and blinked
with her eyes; but what SHE said was: "Remember, love, you're not left
quite alone; you've got your children. THEY'LL be your comfort. From
now on they'll put aside their naughty ways and be as good as gold--I
know they will." (Huh!)

The hearse stood at the door, its double row of fantastic plumes, more
brown than sable from long usage and the strong sunlight, nodding in
the breeze. Brownish, too, were the antique, funereal draperies that
hung almost to the ground from the backs of two lean horses. The blinds
in the neighbouring houses went down with a rush; and the narrow box,
containing all that remained of the medley of hopes and fears, joys and
sorrows and untold struggles, that had been Richard Mahony, was
shouldered and carried out. The mourners--Jerry, the parson, the Bank
manager--took their seats in the carriage, and the little procession
got under way.

Rounding the corner and passing in turn the fire-bell, the Rechabites'
Hall and the flour-mill, hearse and coach, resembling two black smudges
on empty space, set to crawling up the slope that led out of the
township. From the top of this rise the road could be seen for miles,
running without curve or turn through the grassy plains. About midway,
in a slight dip, was visible the little fenced-in square of the
cemetery, its sprinkling of white headstones forming a landmark
in the bare, undulating country.

Amid these wavy downs Mahony was laid to rest.--It would have been
after his own heart that his last bed was within sound of what he had
perhaps loved best on earth--the open sea. A quarter of a mile off,
behind a sandy ridge, the surf, driving in from the Bight, breaks and
booms eternally on the barren shore. Thence, too, come the fierce
winds, which, in stormy weather, hurl themselves over the land, where
not a tree, not a bush, nor even a fence stands to break their force.
Or to limit the outlook. On all sides the eye can range, unhindered, to
where the vast earth meets the infinitely vaster sky. And, under
blazing summer suns, or when a full moon floods the night, no shadow
falls on the sun-baked or moon-blanched plains, but those cast by the
few little stones set up in human remembrance.

All that was mortal of Richard Mahony has long since crumbled to dust.
For a time, fond hands tended his grave, on which in due course a small
cross rose, bearing his name, and marking the days and years of his
earthly pilgrimage. But, those who had known and loved him passing,
scattering, forgetting, rude weeds choked the flowers, the cross
toppled over, fell to pieces and was removed, the ivy that entwined it
uprooted. And, thereafter, his resting-place was indistinguishable from
the common ground. The rich and kindly earth of his adopted country
absorbed his perishable body, as the country itself had never contrived
to make its own, his wayward, vagrant spirit.



End of this Project Gutenberg of Australia etext of Utima Thule
by Henry Handel Richardson (1870-1946)





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