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Title:      The Way Home
            Second book in the trilogy - The Fortunes of Richard Mahony
Author:     Henry Handel Richardson (1870-1946)
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.:  0100061.txt
Language:   English
Date first posted:          September 2001
Date most recently updated: July 2006

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A Project Gutenberg of Australia Etext

Title:      The Way Home
            Second book in the trilogy - The Fortunes of Richard Mahony
Author:     Henry Handel Richardson (1870-1946)




PROEM



When, having braved the bergs and cyclones of the desolate South
Pacific, and rounded the Horn; having lain becalmed in the Doldrums,
bartered Cross for Plough, and snatched a glimpse of the Western Isles:
when the homeward-bound vessel is come level with Finisterre and begins
to skirt the Bay, those aboard her get the impression of passing at one
stroke into home waters. Gone alike are polar blasts and perfumed or
desert-dry breezes; gone opalescent dawns, orange-green sunsets, and
nights when the very moon shines warm, the black mass of ocean sluggish
as pitch. The region the homing wanderer now enters is quick with
associations. These tumbling crested marbled seas, now slate-grey, now
of a cold ultramarine, seem but the offings of those that wash his
native shores; and they are peopled for him by the saltwater ghosts of
his ancestors, the great navigators, who traced this road through the
high seas on their voyages of adventure and discovery. The fair winds
that belly the sails, or the head winds that thwart the vessel's
progress, are the romping south-west gales adrip with moisture, or the
bleak north-easters which scour his island home and make it one of the
windy corners of the world. Not a breath of balmy softness remains.
There is a rawness in the air, a keener, saltier tang; the sad-coloured
sky broods low, or is swept by scud that flies before the wind;
trailing mists blot out the horizon. And these and other indelible
memories beginning to pull at his heartstrings, it is over with his
long patience. After tranquilly enduring the passage of some fifteen
thousand watery miles, he now falls to chafing, and to telling off the
days that still divide him from port and home.

On an autumn morning in the late 'sixties that smart clipper the RED
JACKET, of some seven hundred tons burden, entered the English Channel,
and having rolled about for a while, for want of a breeze to
steady her, picked up a fine free following wind and forged ahead at a
speed of eight and a half knots an hour.

At the eagerly awaited cry of "Land ho!" from the foretop, an excited
bunch of cuddy-passengers and their ladies, all markedly colonial in
dress and bearing, swarmed to the side of the vessel, and set to raking
and probing the distance. Telescopes and spy-glasses travelled from
hand to hand, arms were silhouetted, exclamations flew, the female
gaze, adrift in space, was gallantly piloted to the sober level of the
horizon. And even the most sceptical convinced that the dusky shadow on
the water's rim was, in truth, the goal of their journeying, three
cheers were called for and given, the gentlemen swung their hats with
an "England for ever!" the ladies blew kisses and fluttered their
kerchiefs. But, their feelings eased, they soon had their fill of
staring at what might equally well have been a cloud or a trail of
smoke; and having settled the wagers laid on this moment, and betted
anew on the day and hour of casting anchor, they accepted the
invitation of a colonial Croesus, and went below to drink a glass to
the Old Country.

Richard Mahony alone remained, though warmly bidden.

"The pleasure of your company, Mr. Mahony, sir!"

"Mayn't we hope, doctor, for a few words befitting the occasion?"

He had on the whole been a fairly popular member of the ship's party.
This was thanks to the do-nothing life. Here, on board ship, he had
actually known what it was to feel time hang heavy on his hands. In
consequence, he had come out of his shell, turned sociable and hearty,
taking an interest in his fellow-travellers, a lead in the diversions
of the voyage. And the golden weeks of sunshine and sea air having made
a new man of him--in looks he resembled a younger brother of the lean
and haggard individual who had climbed the ship's ladder--he was able
for once harmlessly to enjoy the passing hour. Again, a genuine sea-lover,
he had found not one of the ninety odd days spent afloat
unbearable; and in refusing to be daunted--either by the poor, rough
food, or the close quarters; or during a hurricane, when the very
cabins were awash; or again in the tropics, when the ship lay
motionless on a glassy sea, the cruel sun straight overhead--by making
light of inconvenience and discomfort, he had helped others,
too, to put a brave face on them. Nobody guessed how easy it came to
him. His cheerfulness was counted to him for a virtue, and set him high
in general favour; people fell into the way of running to him not only
with their ailments but their troubles; looked to him to smooth out the
frictions that were the crop of this overlong voyage. So unusual a
state of things could not last. And, indeed, with the vessel's first
knot in northern waters, he had become sensitively aware of a cooling-off.
Let but a foot meet the shore, and the whole ill-mixed company
would scatter to the winds, never to reassemble. Well, he, for one,
would not feel that his ties with the colony were broken beyond repair
until this had happened, and he had seen the last of all these
boisterous, kindly, vulgar people.

The liking was chiefly on their part. For though, since setting sail,
he had been rid of the big-mouthed colonial boaster, and among runaways
like himself, men who were almost as glad as he to turn their backs on
Australia--but a single one of the thirty cabin-passengers
contemplated returning--this was far from saying that he had found in
them congenial spirits. They chafed him in ways they did not dream of.
The Midases of the party--it was ruled sharply off into those who had
amassed a fortune and those who patently had not; none went "home" but
for one or other reason; he himself was the only half tint on the
palette--these lucky specimens were for ever trumpeting the opinion
that the colonies were a good enough place in which to fill your
money-bags; but to empty them, you repaired to more civilised climes. And
to hear his case--or at least what had once been his intention--put thus
crudely made Mahony wince. The speakers reminded him of underbred
guests, who start belittling their entertainment before they are fairly
over their host's door-sill. At the same time he had to laugh in his
sleeve. For where, pray, could Monsieur le Boucher and Monsieur
l'Epicier undo their purse-strings to better effect, find a society
more exactly cut to their shape, than in the Antipodes, where no
display was too showy, no banquet too sumptuous, no finery too loud;
and where the man who could slap a well-filled pocket was anyone's
equal?--Even less to his taste was the group of lean kine. With
nothing to show for themselves but broken health and shattered
illusions, these men saw the land of their exile through the smoked
glasses of hate, and had not a single good word to say for it. Which of
course was nonsense.

And so it came about that Mary was sometimes agreeably surprised to
hear Richard, if not exactly standing up for the colony, at least not
helping to swell the choir of its detractors. This was unending, went
round and round like a catch. People outdid one another in discovering
fresh grounds for their aversion. Besides the common grievances--the
droughts and floods, the dust winds and hot winds, the bare, ugly
landscape, the seven plagues of winged and creeping things--many a
small private grudge was owned to, and by the most unlikely lips. Here
was a burly tanner who had missed the glimmer of twilight, been vexed
at the sudden onrush of the dark. Another grumbler bemoaned the fact
that, just when you looked for snow and holly-berries: "Hanged if there
ain't the pitches and appricoats ripe and ready to tumble into your
mouth!"

"An onnatcheral country, and that's the truth."

"The wrong side of the world, say I--the under side."

Quaint home-sicknesses cropped up, too. On board was a skinny little
colonist from the Moreton Bay district, with, as the Irish wit of the
company had it, "the face of his own granddad upon his shoulders"--who
was, that is to say, more deeply wrinkled than the bewrinkled rest.
Where this man came from, dirt was not: the little weatherboard houses
were as clean when they dropped to pieces as when first run up. He it
was who now confessed to an odd itch to see again the grime and squalor
of London town: the shiny black mud that served as mortar to the
paving-stones; the beds of slush into which, on a rainy day, the
crossing-sweepers voluptuously plunged their brooms; the smoke-stained
buildings; monuments tarred with the dirt of ages. He wanted to feel
his cheek stung by the mixture of flying fodder and dry ordure that
whirls the streets, does the east wind go; to sniff the heavy smell of
soot and frost that greets the Londoner's nose on a winter morning--
even to choke and smother in a London fog.

No one smiled.

"Aye, it's what one's born to that tells; what one comes back to in the
end," nodded a pursy builder, whose gold watch-chain, hung with
seals and coins, was draped across his waistcoat like a line of gala
bunting. "I knew a man, gents--it's a fact I'm tellin' you!--who
could 'a bought out the up-country township he lived in twice and three
times over; and yet I'm blessed if this old Johnny-bono didn't as good
as turn on the waterworks when he spoke o' the pokey old cottage down
Devon way, where he'd been young. Seemed as if all the good smells o'
the rest o' the world couldn't make up to him for a bit o' peat burnin'
on a still winter's evenin'; or new thatch smellin' in the rains or the
softish stink o' the milch-cows' dung in long wet meadow grass."

That white raven, "the man who was going back," held aloof from the
sentimentalists. Was he however present at such a sitting, he kept
silence, an ambiguous expression on his face. Once only, in a
conversation engineered by Mahony out of curiosity, did he speak up.
And then it was with a disagreeable overbearing. "I left England, sir,
six years since, because man isn't a sprite to live on air alone. My
father went half-starved all his days--he was a farmhand, and reared a
family o' nine on eleven bob a week. He didn't taste meat from one
year's end to another. Out yon "--and he pointed with his cutty-pipe
over his shoulder--" I've ate meat three times a day. I've a snug
little crib of me own and a few acres o' land, and I've come home to
fetch out me old mother and the young fry. They shall know what it is
to eat their fill every day of the seven, and she'll drive to chapel of
a Sabbath in her own trap and a black silk gown.--Nay, be sure I
haven't loafed around, nor sat with me hands before me. There's not
much anyone can learn me in the way of work. But the old country
wouldn't either gimme anything to do, nor yet keep me free, gratis and
for nothing."--And so on, in a strain dear to the tongues of the lower
orders.

These things flitted through Mahony's mind as he stood, chin in hand,
elbow on gunwale, gazing over the last stretch of dividing sea. Before
him lay an aquarelle of softest colouring, all pale light and misty
shadow; and these lyric tints, these shades and half shades, gripped
his heart as the vivid hues of the south never had. Their very
fleetingness charmed. But a little ago and the day had been blue and
sunny, with just a spice of crispness in the air to remind one that it
was autumn. A couple of white bales of cloud, motionless
overhead, had flung gigantic purple shadows, which lay like painted
maps of continents on the glittering sea. But, the breeze freshening,
the clouds had been set in motion; and simultaneously the
shadow-continents, losing their form, had begun to travel the surface of
the water. A rain-shower was coming up from the west: it drew a curtain
over the sky, and robbed the sea of its colour. Only in the east did a
band of light persist, above which the fringes of the storm cloud hung,
sending down straight black rays. And now the squall was upon them;
wind and rain hunted each other over the waves; the deck slanted, masts
and spars whistled, sails smacked and shrilled.

In the course of that day the vessel was taken in tow, and when,
towards evening, the downpour ceased and Mahony again climbed the
companion-way, a very different scene met his eye. They now drove
through a leaden sea, which the rain had beaten flat, reduced to a kind
of surly quiescence. Above them was an iron-grey sky, evenly spread and
of a fair height, the lower clouds having withdrawn to the horizon
where, in a long, cylinder-like roll, they hung poised on the water's
rim. But this cold and stony aspect of things was more than made up
for. Flush with the ship, looking as though it had just risen from the
waves, was land--was the English shore.

At sight of it Mahony had a shock of surprise--that thrilled surprise
that England holds for those of her sons who journey back, no matter
whence, across the bleak and windy desert of the seas. Quite so lovely
as this, one had not dared to remember the homeland. There it lay,
stretched like an emerald belt against its drab background, and was as
grateful to sun-tired eyes as a draught of mountain water to a
climber's parched throat. Not a rood of this earth looked barren or
unkempt: veritable lawns ran down to the brink of the cliffs; hedges
ruled bosky lines about the meadows; the villages were bowers of trees
--English trees. Even the rain had favoured him: his first glimpse of
all this beauty was caught at its freshest, grass and foliage having
emerged from the clouds as if new painted in greenness.

Another aspect of it struck Mary who mounted in his wake, gloved,
shawled and hatted against the evening chills. With an exclamation of
pleasure she cried: "Oh, Richard--how pretty! How . . . how tidy! It
looks like . . . like"--she hesitated, searching her memory
for the trimmest spot she knew; and ended--"doesn't it? . . . just
like the Melbourne Botanic Gardens."

"It looks too good to be true, my dear."

But he understood what she was trying to say. If the landscape before
them was lovely as a garden, it had also something of a garden's
limitations. There was an air of arrangedness about it; it might have
been laid out according to plan, and on pleasing, but rather finikin
lines; it was all exquisite, but just a trifle overdressed. And as he
followed up the train of thought started by Mary's words, he was swept
through by a sudden consciousness of England's littleness, her tiny,
tight compactness, the narrow compass that allowed of so intensive a
cultivation. These fair fields in miniature!--after the wide acreage
of the colonial paddock. These massy hedgerows cutting up the good
pasture-land into chequerboard squares!--after the thready rail-and-post
fences that offered no hindrance to the eye. These diminutive
clusters of houses huddled wall to wall--compared with the sprawling
townships set, regardless of ground-space, at the four corners of
immense cross-roads. These narrow, winding lanes and highways that
crawled their mile or so from one village to the near next--after the
broad, red, rectilinear Australian roads, that dashed ahead, it might
be for the length of a day's journey, without encountering human
habitation. These duly preserved morsels of woodland, as often as not
guarded, they too, by a leafy wall where songsters trilled-compared
with the immense and terrible bush, bare alike of bird and man: all
these forcible contrasts worked in him as he stood gazing on the fair
natural garden of southern England; and a sensation that was half
wonder, half a kind of protective tenderness, called at the same time a
smile to his lips and tears to his eyes. In face of this adorable
littleness, this miniature perfection, his feelings were those of the
nomad son who, weary of beating up and down the world, turns home at
last to rest on the untravelled heart of his mother. Here the familiar
atmosphere of his childhood laps him round; and he breathes it greedily
--even while he marvels how time has stood still for the home-keepers,
and asks himself if he can ever again be one of them. All the
tempestuous years of his youth lie between. He has fought fire-spueing
dragons, suffered shipwreck in Sargasso, bent the knee at
strange shrines. And the sense of an older, tireder wisdom, which makes
of him the ancient, of them the young and untried, completes the
breach. How, knowing what he knows, can he placidly live through the
home day, with its small, safe monotony? How give up for ever the
excitement of great risks taken and met, on grander shores, under
loftier skies?

But a truce to such vapourings! Did the man exist that had it in him to
fret and go unhappy, feel pinioned, and a prisoner while, round the
cliffs of England, now grey, now white, now red, danced and beckoned
the English sea? For who, native to these coasts, would renounce, once
having drawn on it, that heritage of vagrancy which has come down to
him through the ages? Amphibian among the peoples, has he not learnt to
adjust his balance to the sea's tumblings, his sight to its vast
spaces?--so that into the English eye has, with time, come a look of
remoteness: the sailor-look, which, from much scouring of horizons,
seems to focus on near objects only with an effort.--And musing thus,
Mahony believed he knew why, for all its smallness, on this little
speck of an island rising green and crumbly from the waves, there
should have bred a mighty race. It was not in spite of its size, but
because of it. Just because the span of the land was so narrow, those
whose blood ran high could shove off on the unruly element from their
very doorsteps, and whether these looked north or south, faced sunrise
or sunset: the deep-sea fishers, the great traffickers, the navigators
and explorers, the fighting men of the deep. And with them, so it
pleased him to think, no matter for what point they headed, they bore
tidings of the mother-country, and of her struggles towards a finer
liberty, a nicer justice, that should make of her sons true freemen;
for her a difficult task because she lay isolate, shut off by barriers
of foam, a prey to hoary traditions, and with no land-frontier across
which seditious influences might slip; and yet for her most needful,
seeing that the hearts of her people were restless, indomitable--had
in them something of the unruliness of her seas. And just as these
rovers carried out news of England, so, homing again, either for a
breathing-space in the great tourney, or, old and feeble, to lay their
bones in English earth, they brought back their quota of things seen,
heard, felt on their Odyssey; a fruity crop of experience; so
that even the chimney-dwellers in England came by a certain bigness of
vision: through the eyes of son or brother they explored outlandish
parts, were present at exotic happenings. And now, his thoughts turning
inward, he asked himself whether even he, Richard Mahony, in his small
way, was not carrying on the great tradition. Having fared forth in his
youth, endured in exile, then heard and obeyed the home-call, did not
he, too, return the richer for a goodly store of spiritual experience--
HIS treasure-trove of life-wisdom--which might serve to guide others
on their road, or go before them as a warning? And the idea grew, under
his pondering. He saw his race as the guardian of a vast reserve fund
of spiritual force, to which all alike contributed--; as each was free
at will or at need to draw on it--a hoard, not of the things
themselves, but of their ghostly sublimates: the quintessence of all
achievement, all endeavour; of failure, suffering, joy and pain. And,
if this image held, it would throw light on the obscure purpose of such
a seemingly aimless life as his had been; a life ragged with broken
ends. Only in this way, he must believe, had it been possible to distil
the precious drop of oil that was HIS ultimate essence. Not ours to
judge of the means, or in what our puny service should consist: why to
one should fall the bugles and the glory--the dying in splendour for a
great cause, or the living illustriously to noble issues--to another,
a life that was one long blind stumble, with, for finish, an inglorious
end. Faith bid us believe that, in the sight of the great Foreordainer,
all service was equal. But this we could not know. The veil--a web of
steel despite its tenuity--was lowered, and would not rise on the
mystery until that day dawned towards which all our days had headed,
for which no man had ever waited in vain. And then, pinched of nostril
and marble-cold, earth's last little posy in our gripless hands, we
should lie supine and--such was the irony of things--no longer
greatly care to know.





Part I




Chapter I



The ancient little town of Buddlecombe, originally pressed down the
mouth of a narrow valley to the sea, from which it is protected by
rampart and breakwater, has, in the course of the centuries, scaled the
nearer of the two hills that confine it. Nowadays its streets go
everywhere up and down. A precipitous lane is climbed by the ridge-like
steps of an Italian donkey-path; the old town gardens, massively
walled, are built in tiers, so that the apple-trees on the higher
levels scatter their blossoms on the gardens beneath. Coming from the
upland, three driving-roads drop into the town at a bold gradient; and
vehicles, whether they mount or descend, creep like snails. Halfway
down the sheerest of the three, the quaint little old houses, that set
in oddly enough just where the road is steepest, appear to cling
shoulder to shoulder, each a storey or a half-storey lower than the
last, their lines all out of drawing with age and the insecurity of
their foothold; while those at the bottom of the hill, seen from this
point but as a dimpling cluster of gables, dormers, chimneys, look,
till you are virtually upon them, as if they were standing in the sea.
The roofs of one and all are silvered with the mortar of innumerable
repairs, some of their ancient tiles flying off afresh in every rowdy
equinox.

The sea-front is crescent-shaped; and a high, wooded cliff, which
leaves room for no more than a footpath between it and the surf-rolled
shingle, cuts the town in two. The smaller half, grouped about the
harbour, includes the old custom-house, a couple of ramshackle
magazines and their yards, an ancient inn or two, all bustling places
once on a time, when elephants' teeth and gold dust were unshipped
here, and the stuffs and linens of England arrived on pack-horses for
transit to France; when, too, much lucrative wine and spirit-running
went on with the French coast. Now, there is little doing,
either here or in the tiny antiquated storehouses and weighing-sheds
out on the famous old stone quay that crooks round the harbour. In
these sheds children play or visitors shelter while peeping forth at
the great waves which, in stormy weather, toss up over the breakwater;
and the storehouses are closed and deserted. A claim to notice, though,
they still have. More than one of them is tinted a delicate pink; and
the rays of the setting summer sun, catching this, reflect it like a
rose in the harbour; which sometimes, half full, lies a pool of melted
turquoise; sometimes, during the spring-tides, when the moored boats
ride level with the quay, has no more colour in it than an empty glass,
or a pure sky before dawn.

To get the best view of the town you must row out beyond harbour and
mole, or, better still, swim out, on one of those dead-calm days that
every summer brings--days when the yellow cliffs across the bay send
down perfect golden shadows in the blue mirror of the sea. Then, lying
pillowed on this saltest, most buoyant water, glance back to where,
grouped in that perfect symmetry that seems the lost secret of old
town-builders, the little place on its gun-cliffs lies curved to the
bay. Viewed thus, it looks like a handful of grey shells clustered on a
silver shingle--pearl, not stone grey--for there is no dourness about
Buddlecombe: light and graceful of aspect, it might have suffered
bodily transport at the hands of some giant Ifrit, from the French
coast over the way. Its silveriness is dashed only by the creeper on
the square church-tower--perched, this, too, on the very cliff edge--
a creeper which betimes in summer the salt air dyes a blood-red; and by
an old jet-black house, tarred and pitched against the breakers which,
in a south-west gale, beat to its topmost windows, and hurl roots and
branches of seaweed up the slope of the main street.

Above the town the green hillsides are dotted with goodly residences,
in which officers on half-pay, and Anglo-Indians in search of clemency,
lie snug for the rest of their dormouse days. The houses are as
secluded as a foliage of almost tropical luxuriance or walls well over
man's height, with great hedges atop of these, can make them; and the
loveliness of their jealously hidden gardens is only to be guessed at
from peeps through a door left ajar by a careless errand-boy; from the
bold application of an eye to a keyhole; or, in midsummer, from
the purple masses of buddleia and the wealth of climbing-roses--pink
and crimson, yellow and white--that toss over the walls in a confusion
of beauty.

In this pleasant spot Richard Mahony had made his home. Here, too, he
had found the house of his dreams. It was built of stone--under a
tangle of creeper--was very old, very solid: floors did not shake to
your tread, and, shut within the four walls of a room, voices lost
their carrying power. But its privacy was what he valued most. To the
steep road on which it abutted the house turned a blank face--or blank
but for entrance-door and one small window--while, in a line with it,
up-hill and down, to conceal respectively flower and kitchen-gardens,
ran two arms of massy wall. In addition to this, the front door was
screened by a kind of sentry-box porch, open only on one side. In this
porch was set a tiny glass oval; and here one could stand, secure from
rough weather or the curiosity of an occasional passer-by, and watch
for mounting postman or expected guest; just as no doubt fifty odd
years before, through this very peep-hole, anxious eyes had strained
for news-carrier or outrider bringing tidings of sailor son or soldier
husband, absent on foreign service in the Great War.

On stepping over the threshold you found yourself at once on the upper
floor; for so abruptly did the ground on the farther side fall away
that the house was one storey to the road, two to the garden. The
living-rooms were on the higher level, with a fine view over town and
bay--all but one, a snug little oak-panelled parlour on the ground
floor; and here it was that, one autumn morning between eight and nine
o'clock, the Mahonys sat at breakfast. Although the air of the young
day was mild in the extreme, a generous fire burned in the grate and
roared up the chimney, entirely putting to shame, with its scarlet
vigour, the wraith-like patch of sunshine that lay across the table.

Mary, seated behind the urn, looked very thoughtful; and this was the
more marked because, in obedience to the prevailing fashion, she had
swept the heavy bands of her hair off cheeks and forehead, and now wore
it braided high in a crown. The change threw up the fine, frank lines
of her head and brow; and atoned for the youthful softness it robbed
her of, by adding to the dignity and character of her face.

More than once during the meal she had made as if to speak. But as
certainly as she opened her lips, Richard, who was deep in The TIMES of
the day before, would either absently hold out his cup to her; or
attack the muffin-dish anew; or, in turning a richly crackling sheet of
the paper, exclaim: "Ha! Here we have it! Mr. Disraeli threatens to
resign. The poor Queen will be forced to send for that turncoat
Gladstone." And Mary did not wish to spoil his appetite or interrupt
his reading.

But when he had pushed cup and saucer from him, wiped his moustache,
and driven back his chair, fleetly to skim the less important columns,
she felt justified in claiming his attention.

"Richard, dear--I want to tell you something. What we suspected is
true. The Burroughs HAVE called in Mr. Robinson. Selina says his gig
stood outside their house yesterday for quite a time."

She paused, waiting for a rejoinder that did not come.

"And that's not the most annoying thing, either. He has been sent for
to 'Toplands' as well."

After this she was no longer in doubt whether he heard her. For though
he went on reading, his face changed in a way she well knew. To herself
she called it "going wrong"--"his face went wrong" was how she put it
--and in the year they had been in England, she had watched what was
formerly a casual occurrence turn to almost a habit. Now Richard had
always been a very transparent person, showing anger, pride, amusement,
all too plainly. But this was something different. It was not so much
an expression as a loss of expression; and it happened when anyone laid
a chance finger on some sensitive spot he had believed securely hidden.
Put thus out of countenance he wore an oddly defenceless, even a
hapless air; and it distressed her to see him give himself away in
front of strangers. Hence, she had a fresh reason for trying to be
beforehand with news of a disagreeable nature. In the old days, she had
wished to hinder him feeling hurt; now it was to hinder him showing
that he was hurt--which, of the two, she believed he minded more.

In the present case his sole response was a curt: "Well! . . . fools
will be fools," as he turned a page of the paper. A moment later,
however, he did what she expected: laid the TIMES down and
stalked out of the room.

She threw a motherly glance after him, and sighed. Poor old Richard!
She had been bound to tell him, of course; but by doing so she had
furnished him with a worry for the whole day. It was clear he had set
his heart on keeping "Toplands"; and now, after consulting him on and
off for a couple of months, the silly people seemed to be going back to
that red-nosed, ungentlemanly Mr. Robinson. She couldn't understand it.
Still, in Richard's place, she would have taken it calmly. Ten to one
turncoats like these would soon come running to him again. Time was
needed for people here to find out how clever he was.

Having cleared the breakfast-table, she rang the bell for the servant
to take away the tray. But neither her first ring nor a second was
answered. For at this moment the girl, her skirts bunched high above a
pair of neat prunellas, stood ruefully eyeing the condition of the
lower lawn, wondering how she could make her master hear without
soiling her boots or indecently raising her voice.

From the dining-room Mahony had stepped out into the garden. This was
saturated with moisture. During the night a sea fog had crept up and
enmuffled the land; and though by now a watery sun was dissipating the
mists--they lingered only about remote objects, like torn handfuls of
cotton wool--they had left everything drenched and sodden. As he
crossed the grass of the upper lawn, the water came in over the tops of
his carpet-slippers; bushes and shrubs against which he brushed
delivered showers of drops; and gossamer-webs, spun by the thousand in
lovely geometrics that hung whitey-grey and thick as twine, either
shattered themselves on his shoulders, or laid themselves fillet-wise
round his brow. At the foot of the garden he traversed a second lawn,
in which his feet sank and stuck, and climbed three wooden steps set
against a side wall. He had hammered these steps together himself, that
he might have a view to seaward. A small cutting, in the end wall, as
well as all the windows of the house, looked to the town and the row of
yellow cliffs beyond. They dated from a time when a land view of any
kind was preferred to that of the bare and open sea.

Here he now stood and stared at the palely glittering water. But he did
not see it. His mind was busy with the uncomfortable impression
left on it by Mary's last statement. At a stroke this had laid waste
the good spirits in which he had got up that morning; even if, for the
moment, it had done no more than pull him up short, as one is pulled up
by a knot in a needleful of pack-thread, or a dumb note on a keyboard.
For the feeling roused in him was no such simple one as mere
mortification at the rumoured loss of the big house known as
"Toplands"; though the dear soul indoors put it down to this, and he
should continue to let her think so. No; there was more behind. But
only now, when alone with himself, did he mutter under his breath:
"Good Lord! What if this place should prove to be Leicester over
again!"

He got no further; for here was it that Selina's prim voice broke on
his ear. The girl had followed in his steps to say that Jopson, the
liveryman, was at the back door and wished to speak to him. A patient
also waited in the passage.

Jopson, who was a short man of enormous bulk, had been accommodated
with a chair, after his drag uphill. He rose at Mahony's approach, but
continued to ease his weight against the doorpost.

"Sarry, surr, but I ca'an't let 'ee 'ave the mare to-day. 'Er's arff
'er feed. Sarry, surr. T'others is every one bespoke. No, surr, mine's
t' only livery in the town. One o' the inns MIGHT let 'ee 'ave a turn-out,
of a sart; but I dunno as I'd advise 'ee to go to they. They's
almighty partiklar, surr, 'ow their 'arses is drove. 'Twouldn't do to
bring one o' they whoam along, winded and h'all of a sweat."

"You surely don't mean to insinuate I've been overdriving the mare?"

"Well, surr, and since you mention it yourself, Allfred did say
yesterday as 'ow you took 'er h'up ovurr Brandlebury 'Ill faster than
'er 'dd anny mind to go. The 'ills is steep 'ereabouts, surr, and cruel
'aard on the 'arses. An' 'tis naat the furst time neether. If you'll
excuse me sayin' so, surr, them 'oove seen it do tell as 'ow you be
rather a flash 'and with the reins."

"Well, upon my word, Jopson, this is something new! I drive for
show?. . . I overwork a horse? Why, my man, where I come from, it used to
be dinned into me on all sides that I was far too easy with them."

"Ca'an't say, surr, I'm sure." Jopson was perfectly civil, but
equally non-committal.

"But I can!" gave back Mahony, with warmth. "I had two of my own there,
let me tell you, and no beasts were ever better treated or cared for.
They certainly hadn't to be walked up every slope for fear they'd lose
their wind. They took their honest share of the day's work. For where I
come from . . ." At the repetition of the phrase he bit his lip.

"Aye, surr, ahl very well, I dessay, for such a place--Australy, as I
unnerstand," answered Jopson unmoved. "But 'twouldn't do 'ere, surr--
in England. Thic's a civilised country." And so on to a somewhat acid
wrangle, in which Mahony, galled by the doubt cast on his compassion
for dumb brutes, was only restrained by the knowledge that, in this
matter of conveyance, he was wholly in Jopson's power.

"Really, my dear, if it weren't that the fellow kept his hat in his
hand and scattered his 'sirs' broadcast, it might just have been old
Billy de la Poer himself I was talking to. DO you remember Billy? And
how, in his palmy days, one had to wheedle a mount out of him, if he
wasn't in the vein to hire? The very same uppish independence! I don't
know, I'm sure, what this country's coming to. Though I will say, with
all his shortcomings Billy never had the impudence to tell me I
couldn't drive."

The woman who was waiting for him brought a summons to one of the
lonely little farms that dotted the inland hills.

"Three miles out and only shanks' ponies to get me there just my luck!
Imagine, Mary, a place with but a single horse for hire! To-night I
must go thoroughly into the money question again. I shan't be satisfied
now, my dear, till I am independent of Jopson and his great fat
pampered quadruped. Stable with him? Not I! Not if I have to build on
here myself!"

His first visit led him down the main street of Buddlecombe.

It was between nine and ten o'clock, the hour of day at which the
little town was liveliest. Shopkeepers had opened their shutters,
saw-dusted and sprinkled their floors, picked over their goods, unlocked
their tills and tied on clean white aprons. They might now be seen
sunning themselves in their doorways, exchanging the time of
day with their neighbours, or shooing off the dogs which, loosed from
chain and kennel, frolicked, yapped and sprawled over the pavement.
Mounted butcher-boys trotted smartly to and fro. A fisherman, urging a
sluggish horse and laden cart uphill, cried mackerel at two a penny.
And, from big houses and little, women were emerging, on foot or in
donkey and pony-chaises, to do their marketing, chat with one another,
glean the news that had accumulated overnight. For every one knew
everybody else in Buddlecombe, and was almost more interested in his
neighbour's business than in his own. You could not, vowed Mahony,
enter a shop for a penn'orth of tin-tacks--the selling of which was
conducted as if you had all eternity to spare for it; what with the
hunting up of a small enough bit of paper, the economical unravelling
of a tangled length of twine--without learning that Mr. Jones's
brindled cow had calved at last, or that the carrier had delivered to
Mr. Du Cane still another hogshead of brandy-wine. This, together with
many a sly inquiry as to where you yourself might be bound for, or the
trend of your own affairs. Alongside the rampart stood half a dozen
ancient men of the sea, discussing, with vigour, God knew what. A
bottle-nosed constable, stationed in the middle of the road to
superintend a traffic that did not exist, gossiped with the best.

Down this street Mahony walked, in the surtout, light trousers and
bell-topper which he still preferred to the careless attire of a
country doctor. He was greeted with bows and bobs and touched
forelocks. But the fact of his appearing on foot brought him many a
quizzing glance; and there were also shoppers who came at a trot to the
door to see and stare after him. Or perhaps, he thought with a grimace,
the more than common interest he roused this morning was due to his
ill-treatment of Jopson's mare, the tale of which had no doubt already
been buzzed abroad. He was really only now, after several months'
residence in Buddlecombe, beginning to understand the seven days'
wonder with which he must have provided the inhabitants by settling in
their midst--he, who bore with him the exotic aroma of the Antipodes!
At the time, being without experience of little English country places,
he had failed to appreciate it.

His visits in the town paid, he chose to leave it by the sea-front and
climb the steeper hill at the farther end, rather than retrace
his steps and present himself anew to all these curious and faintly
hostile eyes.

Thus began for him a day of fatigue and discomfort. The promise of the
early morning was not fulfilled: the sun failed; down came the mist
again; and the tops of the hills and the high roads that ran along them
were lost in a bank of cloud. He was for ever opening and shutting his
umbrella, as he passed from rain to fog and fog to rain. Not a breath
of air stirred. His greatcoat hung a ton-weight on his shoulders.

He walked moodily. As a rule on his country rounds, he had the
distraction of the reins: his eye, too, could range delightedly over
the shifting views of lovely pastoral country, fringed by the belt of
blue sea. To-day, even had the weather allowed of it, he could have
seen nothing, on foot between giant hedgerows that walled in the narrow
lanes leading from one cottage and one village to the next. Plodding
along he first tried, without success, to visualise the pages of his
passbook; then fell back on the deeper, subtler worry that was in him.
This, sitting perched hobgoblinlike on his neck, pricked and nudged his
memory, and would not let him rest. So that, on coming out of a house
and starting his tramp anew, he would murmur to himself: "Where was I?
. . . what was it? Oh, yes, I know: just suppose this should turn out
to be Leicester over again!"

For the present was not his first bid for a practice in England. That
had been made under very different circumstances.




Chapter II



It was at another breakfast-table, something over a year previously,
that Mary, having opened and read it, handed him a letter bearing the
Leicester postmark.--"From my mother."

This ran:

NOW MY DARLINGS I DON'T WANT TO HURRY YOU AWAY FROM ALL THE GRANDEURS
AND GAIETIES OF THE METROPOLIS, AND HAVE YOU GRUMBLING OH BOTHERATION
TAKE THAT OLD MOTHER OF OURS; BUT I DO LONG TO SEE YOU BOTH, MY
CHILDREN, AND TO GET MY ARMS ROUND YOU. YOUR ROOM IS READY, THE BED
MADE AND AIRED--LISBY HAS ONLY TO RUN THE BED-WARMER OVER THE SHEETS
FOR THE LAST TIME. MY HOME IS SMALL AS YOU KNOW, POLLY, BUT YOU SHALL
HAVE A ROYAL WELCOME, MY DEARS, AND I HOPE WILL MAKE IT YOURS TILL YOU
HAVE ONE OF YOUR OWN AGAIN.

"A royal welcome indeed, Mary! . . . one may say our first genuine
welcome to England," declared Mahony; and threw, in thought, a caustic
side-glance at the letters he had received from his own people since
landing: Irish letters, charming in phrase and sentiment, but--to his
own Irish eyes--only partially cloaking the writers' anxiety lest, as
a result of his long absence from the country, he should take Irish
words at their face value, take what was but the warm idea of an
invitation for the thing itself, and descend to quarter himself upon
them. "Now what do you say, love? Shall we pack our traps and be off?
Yes, yes, I suppose I shall have to gulp down another cup of these
dregs . . . that masquerade as coffee."

"Ssh, Richard! . . . not so loud." Mary spoke huskily, being in the
grip of a heavy cold and muffled to the chin. "I should like it, of
course. But remember, in engaging these rooms you mentioned a month--
if not six weeks."

"I did, I know. But . . . . Well, my dear, to speak frankly the sooner
I walk out of them for the last time the better I'll be
pleased. How the deuce that hotel we stopped at had the effrontery to
recommend them staggers me!" And with aversion Mahony let his eye skim
the inseparable accompaniments of a second class London lodging: the
stained and frayed table linen, cracked, odd china, dingy hangings; the
cheap, dusty coal, blind panes, smut-strewn sills. "Fitzroy Square
indeed! By hanging out of the window till I all but over-reach myself,
to catch a glimpse of a single sooty tree branch. And the price we're
asked to pay for the privilege! I assure you, Mary, though we had fork
out rent for the full six weeks, we should save in the end by going.
The three we've been here have made a sad hole in my pocket."

"Yes. But of course we've done some rather extravagant things, dear.
Cabs everywhere--because of your silly prejudice against me using the
omnibus. Then that concert. . . the Nightingale, I forget her
name . . . and the Italian Opera, and Adelina Patti. I said at the time
you should have left me at home; you could have told me all about it
afterwards. What with gloves and bouquet and head-dress, it must have
cost close on five pounds."

"And pray are we to be here at last, in the very heart of things, with
twenty years' rust--oh, well! very nearly twenty--to rub off, and yet
go nowhere and hear nothing? No, wife, that's not the money I begrudge.
All the same, just let me tell you what our stay in London has run to--
I totted it up at three A.M. when those accursed milk-wagons began to
rattle by"--and here he did aloud for Mary's benefit a rapid sum in
mental arithmetic. "What do you say to that?--No, I know I haven't,"
he answered another objection on her part. "But on second thoughts,
I've decided to postpone seeing over hospitals and medical schools till
I'm settled in practice again, and have a fixed address on my
pasteboards. I shall then get a good deal more deference shown me than
I should at present, a mere nobody, sprung from the dickens knows
where."

He had lighted the after-breakfast pipe he could now allow himself, and
pacing the room with his hands in his dressing-gown pockets went on:
"This sense of insignificance regularly haunts me. I'm paying, I
expect, for having lived so long in a place like Ballarat, where it was
easy to imagine oneself a personage of importance. Here, all
such vanity is soon crushed out of one. The truth of the matter is,
London's too big for me; I don't feel equal to it--I believe one can
lose the habit of great cities, just like any other. And sometimes,
especially since you've been laid up, Mary--for which I hold myself
mainly responsible, my dear, running you off your legs as I did at
first . . ."

"Still we can say, Richard, can't we, we've seen all there is to be
seen?" threw in Mary with a kind of cheerful inattention. Risen
meanwhile from the breakfast-table, she had opened the door of the
chiffonier; and her thoughts were now divided between Richard's words
and the fresh depredations in her store of provisions that had taken
place overnight.

Mahony snorted. "A fiftieth part of it would be nearer the mark!--
Well, as I was saying . . . if you'll do me the kindness to
listen . . . this last week or so, since I've been mooning about by
myself--Gad! to think how I once looked forward to treading these dingy
old streets again--half silly with the noise of the traffic . . . upon my
word, wife, that begins to get on my nerves, too: it goes on like a wave
that never breaks; I find myself eternally waiting for a crash that
doesn't come. Well, as I say, when I push my way through all these hard,
pale, dirty London faces--yes, my dear, even the best of 'em look as
though they needed a thorough scrub with soap and water . . . as for me,
if I wash my hands once, I wash 'em twenty times a day; I defy any one to
keep clean in such an atmosphere. All strange faces, too; never one you
recognise in the whole bunch; while out there, of course, the problem
was, to meet a person you did NOT know. Well, there come times, if
you'll believe me, when I've caught myself feeling I'd hail with
pleasure even a sight of old What-was-his-name?--you know, Mary, that
vulgar old jackanapes on board who was for ever buttonholing me . . .
my particular BETE NOIRE--yes, or even sundry other specimens of the
OMNIUM GATHERUM we were blessed with."

"Well, I never! And me who thought you were only too glad to ged rid of
them."

"Faith and wasn't I? . . . at the time. Indeed, yes." And Mahony
smiled; for at Mary's words a picture rose before him of his
fellow-passengers as he had last seen them, standing huddled together like
frightened sheep on the platform of the great railway terminus:
an outlandish, countrified, colonial-looking set if ever there was one,
with their over-bushy hair and whiskers, their overloud shepherds'-plaids
and massy watch-chains, the ladies' bonnets (yes, Mary's too!)
seeming somehow all wrong. Even the most cocksure of the party had been
stunned into a momentary silence by the murk of fog and steam that
filled the space under the lofty roofing; by the racket of whistling,
snorting, blowing engines; the hoarse shouts of cabbies and porters.
But the first shock over, spirits had risen in such crescendo that with
a hasty: "Come, love, let US get out of this!" he had torn Mary from
voluminous embraces, bundled her into a four-wheeler and bidden the
driver whip up. A parting glance through the peep-hole showed the group
still gesticulating, still vociferating, while crowns and half-crowns
rained on grinning porters, who bandied jokes about the givers with
expectant Jehus and a growing ring of onlookers. Their very luggage,
rough, makeshift, colonial, formed a butt for ridicule.

Lost in such recollections--they included the whole dirty, cold,
cheerless reality of arrival; included the first breath drawn of an air
that smells and tastes like no other in the world; the drive in a musty
old growler reeking of damp straw, and pulled by something "God might
once have meant for a horse!" to an hotel, the address of which he had
kept to himself: "Or we should have the whole lot of 'em trapesing
after us!"--sunk in these memories, Mahony let a further remark of
Mary's pass unheeded. But when, with a raucous cry, a butcher's boy
stumped down the area steps, bearing in his wooden tray the very meat,
red and raw, that was to be dished up on their table later on, he swung
abruptly round, turning his back on a sight he could not learn to
tolerate. "Was there EVER such a place for keeping the material needs
of the body before one? . . . meat, milk, bread! . . . they're at it
all day long. My dear, I think I've heard you say your mother's house
is not cursed with a basement? Come, love, let us accept her invitation
and go down into the country. The English country, Mary! Change of air
will soon put you right again, and I could do, I assure you, with a few
nights' uninterrupted sleep. Besides, once I'm out of London, it will
be easier to see how the land lies with regard to that country practice
I've set my heart on."

This last reason would, he knew, appeal to Mary, whose chief
wish was to see him back at work. And sure enough she nodded and said,
very well then, they would just arrange to go.

For her part Mary saw that Richard's mind was as good as made up: to
oppose him would only be to vex him. Of course, it went against the
grain in her to be so fickle: to take lodgings for six weeks and
abandon them at the end of three! (Vainly had she tried, at the time,
to persuade Richard to a weekly arrangement. Richard had BOUGHT the
smile on their landlady's grim face; and she felt certain did not
regret it.) But though she hadn't shown it, she had been shocked to
hear the sum total of their expenses since landing. Nor was there
anything to keep them in London. They had fitted themselves out from
top to toe, in order to lose what Richard persisted in calling "the
diggers' brand"; and, say what he might to the contrary, they had seen
and heard enough of London to last them for the rest of their lives.
Museums, picture galleries, famous buildings: all had been scampered
through and they themselves worn out, before the first week was over:
her ship-softened feet still burned at the remembrance. Yes, for
herself, she would be well pleased to get away. Privately she thought
London not a patch on Ballarat; thought it cold, comfortless, dreary; a
bewildering labyrinth of dirty streets. And the longer she stayed there
the more she regretted the bright, clean, sunny land of her adoption.

Thus it came about that before the third week was over, they were in
the train bound for Leicester.

It was a wet day. Rain set in at dawn, and continued to fall hour after
hour, in one of those steady, sullen, soulless downpours that mark the
English autumn. Little could be seen by the two travellers who sat
huddled chillily in wraps and rugs, the soles of their feet burning or
freezing on tin foot-warmers--seen either of the cast-iron sky, over
which drifted lower, looser bulges of cloud, or of the bare, flattish
country through which the train ran. On the one side the glass of the
narrow window was criss-crossed with rain stripes; on the other, the
flying puffs of steam, unwinding from the engine like fleecy cardings,
wearisomely interposed between their eyes and the landscape. Now and
then Mahony, peering disconsolately, caught a glimpse of a low-lying
meadow which, did a brook meander through it, was already half
under water. Here and there on a rise he distinguished a melancholy
spinney or copse: in its rainy darkness, trailed round by wreaths of
mist, it looked as fantastic as a drawing by Dore. On every station at
which they halted stood rows of squat, ruddy-faced figures, dripping
water from garments and umbrellas, the rich mud of the countryside
plastered over boots and leggings. They made Mahony think of cattle,
did these sturdy, phlegmatic country-people--the soaked and stolid
cattle that might be seen in white-painted pens beside the railway, or
herded in trucks along the line. And both men and beasts alike seemed
insensitive to the surrounding gloom.

On the platform at Leicester, reached towards five o'clock, so many
muddied feet had passed and repassed that, even under cover, not a
clean or a dry spot was left. And still the rain fell, hissing and
spitting off the edges of the roof, lying as chocolate-coloured puddles
between the rails. In the station-yard the wet cabs and omnibuses
glistened in the dusk; and every hollow of their leather aprons held
its pool of water. The drivers, climbing down from their boxes, shook
themselves like dogs; the patient horses drooped their heads and stood
weak-kneed, their coats dark and shiny with moisture.

"Good Lord! . . . what weather!" grumbled Mahony, and having got Mary
into the little private omnibus that was to bear them to their
destination, he watched a dripping, beery-faced coachman drag and bump
their trunks on to the roof of the vehicle, and stack the inside full
with carpet-bags and hand-portmanteaux. "Yet I suppose this is what we
have got to expect for the rest of our days.--Keep your mouth well
covered, my dear."

Behind her mufflings Mary vented the opinion that they would have done
better to time their landing in England for earlier in the year.

"Yes; one forgets out there what an unspeakable climate this is. The
dickens! Look at the mould on the floor! I declare to you the very
cushions are damp." Having squeezed into the narrow space left vacant
for him, Mahony vehemently shut the door against the intruding rain.
And the top-heavy vehicle set to trundling over the slippery cobbles.

But the discomfort of the journey was forgotten on arrival.

The omnibus drew up in a side street before a little red-brick
house--one of a terrace of six--standing the length of a broom-handle
back from the road. A diminutive leaden portico overhung the door.
Descending a step and going through a narrow passage, they entered what
Mahony thought would be but a dingy sitting-room. But although small,
and as yet unlit by candles, this room seemed all alive with
brightness. A clear fire burned in a well-grate; a copper kettle on the
hob shone like a great orange; the mahogany of the furniture, polished
to looking-glass splendour, caught and gave back the flames, as did
also, on the table spread for tea, a copper urn and the old dented,
fish-back silver. On the walls twinkled the glass of the family
portraits; even the horsehair had high lights on it. A couple of
armchairs faced the blaze. And to this atmosphere of cosy comfort came
in, chill and numb, two sun-spoiled colonials, who were as much out of
place in the desolate, rain-swept night as would have been two lizards,
but lately basking on a sun-baked wall.

"Come, this is really VERY jolly, Mary!"

Thus Mahony, toasting his coat-tails before the fire, while their hosts
were absent on the last ceremonies connected with tea. And went on,
warmed through now, both in mind and body: "I fear you've had a
shocking old grizzler at your side of late, love. But I've felt like a
fish out of water. Idleness doesn't agree with me, Mary. I must get
back to work, my dear. I want a house of my own again too. When I see a
snug little place like this, after those unspeakable lodgings, why,
upon my word it makes me feel inclined to jump at the first vacancy
that offers."

"Oh, that would never do," said Mary with a smile. And their hands,
which had met, fell apart at the sound of footsteps.

It was also a cheerful evening; one that opened with jest and laughter.
For barely were they seated at the tea-table when sister Lisby, who
towered head and shoulders above her stout little dot of a mother--
Lisby shamelessly betrayed a secret, telling how, while the travellers
were upstairs removing their wraps, mother had seized her and danced
her round, exclaiming as she did: "Oh, my dear, aren't we grand? . . .
aren't we grand? Which I may mention was not intended for you, Polly--
I would say Mary. For I feel sure, if you could see inside my mother's
heart, you would find yourself there no more than fourteen--
the age you were when last she saw you."

They all laughed; and Mother covered her old confusion by picking up
the sugar-tongs and dropping an extra lump into Mahony's cup.

"Now give over, miss, will you?" she said affectionately. "Any one but
such a pert young thing as you would make allowance for an old woman's
pleasure at getting a son again. Ready-made, too--without any bother.
Eight of 'em, Richard my dear, have I brought into this world in my day
--a baker's dozen all told, boys and girls together--and not one is
left to their poor old mother but this forward young party here. And
she'd be off if she could."

"My mother," said Lisby--having filled and handed round the cups, she
was now engaged in apportioning a pork pie, performing the task with a
nicety that made Mahony think of Shylock and his bond: not a crumb was
spilt or wasted--"My mother would have me sit all day at the parlour
window, on the watch for some Prince Charming. To him she would gladly
resign me. But because I wish to go out into the world and stand on my
own feet . . ."

"Lisby! Not woman's rights, I hope?" interposed Mary. And reassured:
"Then, mother, I should let her try it. Especially now you've got me to
look after you. Lisby, my dear, if you had been in the colony with us
in the early days--" and here Mary dilated on some of the hard and
incongruous jobs she had seen women put their hands to.

"Now, did you ever?" ejaculated Lisby--with force, but a divided mind.
At present she was carving a cold chicken with the same precision as
the pie. (Mahony laughed afterwards when, sunk deep in the feathers, he
lay watching the gigantic shadows flung by a single candle on the white
ceiling, and Mary braided her hair; laughed and said, Lisby's carving
made him think of a first-year medical performing on a frog.) "NEVER
did I hear tell of such things! I declare, my dear, I am reminded of
Miss Delauncey of Dupew. You will remember her, Polly--I would say
Mary." ("I think I do just remember the name," from Mary.) "Well, my
dear, what must she do but leave home--against her father's will--to
go and be a governess in Birmingham." And now Lisby in her turn
held forth on the surprising adventures of Miss Delauncey, who, finding
herself in a post that did not suit her, was obliged to take another.

This kind of thing happened more than once during the meal: the ball of
talk, glancing aside from the guests' remoter experiences, was
continually coming back to Lisby and the world she knew. Her old
mother, it seemed to Mahony, was shyer, more retiring. But though she
did not say much, it was she who peeped into cups to see if the bottoms
were showing; who put titbits on Mary's plate when Mary was not
looking; pressed Mahony to a dish of cheesecakes with a smile that
would have won any heart. He returned the smile, accepted the cakes,
but otherwise, finding no point of contact, sat silent. Mary, with an
eye to him through all Lisby's chat, feared her relatives would think
him stiff and dull.

But tea over, chairs drawn to the fire, feet planted on the fender,
Mother turned her pretty old pink-and-white face framed in lisse cap
and bands to Mahony, and seeing him still sit meditative, laid her
plump little hand over his long thin one, which rested on the arm of
his chair. And as he did not resist, she made it a prisoner, and
carried it to her shiny old black silk lap. Sitting in this way, hand
in hand with him, she began to put gentle questions about the lives and
fates of those dearest to her: John, John's two families of children,
and his wives, neither of whom, not the lovely Emma, nor yet soft,
brown-eyed Jinny--to whom, through her letters, she had grown deeply
attached--could she now ever hope to know on earth. Next Zara, whom
she called Sarah: "For the name I chose for her at her baptism I still
think good enough for her," with a stingless laugh at her eldest
daughter's elegancies. Steady Jerry, who would never set the Thames on
fire. Ned, poor dear unfortunate Ned, who had been a source of anxiety
to her since his birth--"Ah, but I was troubled when I carried him,
Richard!"--from whom she had not heard directly for many a long day.
Inquiring thus after her brood, and commenting on what she heard with a
rare good sense, she gradually lured Mahony into a talking-fit that
subdued even Lisby, and kept them all out of their beds till two
o'clock in the morning. Once started, Richard proved regularly in the
vein; and Mary no longer needed to fear lest he be thought dull or
stand-off. Indeed, she found herself listening with interest.
For he told things--gave reasons for throwing up his Ballarat
practice, described sensations on the homeward voyage and in London--
which were new even to her. At some of them she rather opened her eyes.
She didn't want to insinuate that Richard was inventing them on the
spur of the moment; but she did think--and on similar occasions had
thought before now--that certain ideas occurred to him only when he
got fairly wound up: he was like a fisher who didn't always know what
he was going to catch.--Besides, there was this odd contradiction in
Richard: he who was usually so reserved could, she had noticed,
sometimes speak out more frankly, unbosom himself more easily, to
people he was meeting for the first time, than to those he lived his
life with. It was as if he said to himself, once didn't count.




Chapter III



The next-door house, the first in the row, stood at right angles to the
rest, and faced two diverging streets of shops and stores. Further, the
little leaden rain-shield over the front door was supported by a pair
of pillars coloured to resemble marble, between which hung a red lamp.
This lamp had burned there, night for night, for over half a Century:
the stone of the doorstep was worn to a hollow by the countless feet
that had rubbed and scraped and shuffled, under its ruby glow. For the
house belonged to old Mr. Brocklebank the surgeon, who was one of the
original landmarks of the neighbourhood. He had, in fact, lived there
so long that none was old enough to remember his coming--with the
possible exception, said Mother, of old Joe Dorgan, for sixty years
past, ostler at the "Saddlers' Arms." Joe was now in his dotage, and
his word did not count for much; but in earlier life he had been heard
to tell of the slim and elegant figure young Brocklebank had once cut,
in redingote, choker and flowered gilet; and of how people had thought
twice before summoning him, owing to his extreme youth. This defect
time had remedied; and so effectually that it soon passed belief to
connect youth and slimness with the heavy and corpulent old man. When,
for instance, mother came there as a bride, he had seemed to her
already elderly; the kind of doctor a young wife could with propriety
consult.

The practice had flourished till it was second to none; and he was
reported, being a bachelor and very thrifty, not to say close-fisted,
to have laid by the thousands which in this town were commonly
associated only with leather or hose. But now he had all but reached
the eighties; and despite one of those marvellous country-bred English
constitutions--founded on ruddy steaks, and ale, and golden cheddars--
the infirmities of age began to vex him. For some time past his
patients had hesitated to call him out by night, or in bad weather, or
for what he might consider too trifling a cause; though they
remained his faithful adherents, preferring any day a bottle of Mr.
B.'s good physic to treatment by a more modish doctor. Recently,
however, he had let two comparatively simple cases slip through his
fingers; while the habit was growing on him of suddenly nodding off at
a bedside; what time the patient had to lie still until the old
gentleman came to himself again. A blend, too, of increasing deafness
and obstinacy led him to shout people down. So that altogether
something like a sigh of relief went up when one fine day a great-nephew
appeared, and the rumour ran that Mr. B. was retiring: was being
carried off to end his honourable and useful career under another's
tutelage; to be wheeled to the grave-brink in the humiliating bath-chair
to which he had condemned many a sufferer. And house and practice
were for sale.

Lisby came primed with the news--brought by the milkman on his early
round--to the breakfast-table. And Mother, her first shock over and
her eyes dried, fell into a reminiscent mood.

"Dear oh deary me! Old Mr. B. laid on the shelf! Why, it seems only
like the other day I saw him for the first time . . . when Johnny was
born. Yet it must be nigh on five-and-forty years; Johnny will be
forty-five come March. In walks Mr. B.--I'd never needed a doctor till
then--and says to me--me, poor young ignorant thing thankful to have
escaped with my life--in he comes: 'Here's a fine fish we've landed
to-day, madam! Here's a new recruit for the Grenadier Guards! Twelve
pounds if an ounce, and a leg like a three-year-old!' I up on my elbow
to see, and he quite gruffly: 'Lie down you villainous young mother,
you! Do you want to make an orphan of the brat?' He had always to have
his joke had Mr. B. and we were good friends from that day. One after
another he brought the whole batch of you into the world.--Deary me, I
shall miss him. Many and many's the time he's stepped over the railing
with his weekly news-sheet: 'Here's a murder case to make you ladies'
blood run cold,' he would say. Or: 'Another great nugget found on the
goldfields!'--for he knew the ties I had with the colony. And the last
sound I used to hear at night was him knocking out his pipe on the
chimney-piece. It was such a comfort to me--after your father went and
the boys scattered--to know we'd a man so close. Especially in
'59, when those dreadful burglaries took place."

"Now, mother, give over trying to make yourself engaging," was Lisby's
comment. "You know the truth is, no one troubled less about the
burglars than you. Before my mother went to bed she would lay out all
the silver and plate and her rings and brooches, in neat piles on the
table, so as to save the robbers trouble should they come."

"So as to save my own skin, you saucy girl!--Well, well! . . . what's
past is past. To be sure it wouldn't have done for him to go on
doctoring till he lost his memory, and perhaps mixed his drugs and
poisoned us all."

"It would not indeed. And for the rest, my dear mother, I tell you
what: Mary and I will take up our abode next door and look after you,"
said Mahony.

At the moment, the words passed as the jest they were meant for. But
they sowed their seed. Mahony ate his toast and drained his cup with an
absent air; and as soon as breakfast was over made Mary a private sign
to follow him upstairs. There, while she sat on the edge of the bed, he
fidgeted about the room, fingering objects and laying them down again
in a manner that told of a strong inner excitement.

"I spoke without reflection but, upon my soul, it does look rather like
the finger of Providence. An opening to crop up in this way at my very
elbow! . . . one that's not to be despised either, if report speaks
true. Really, wife, I don't know what to think. It has quite unsettled
me. Here have I been expecting to have to travel the country, visiting
this place and that, answering advertisements that lead to nothing, or
myself advertising and receiving no replies--all so much nerve and
shoe wear--and a dreary business at best. You see, my dear, what I
need first of all is English experience. I mean"--he made an airy
gesture--"I must be able to say, when I find the perfectly suitable
position I'm looking for: 'I've been practising in such and such a
place for so and so many years, and have had a first-class connection
there.'--You notice, I hope, I have no intention--should I take the
chance offered me, that is, and pop in here--of the making it a
permanency. It remains my ambition to live in the country. But if only
half what they say of old Brocklebank's affairs is to be
believed, a few years here wouldn't hurt me. There are POTS of money to
be made in these manufacturing towns, once a practice is set going--
and this has existed for over half a century. Besides, it might even
improve under my hands . . . why not, indeed? Such a Methuselah must
have been entirely out of date in medicine. I confess it isn't exactly
the spot I would have chosen, even to start in, were money and time no
object. But considering, Mary, what our expenses have been . . . the
lateness of the season, too! Why, it's virtually winter already, and
the worst possible time of year to travel about in." And so on, with
much more in the same strain, and a final bait of: "Another point we
mustn't lose sight of is that here, you, love, would have the company
of your mother and sister. And I think I know what a pleasure that
would be to you."

"Why, yes, of course, as far as that's concerned," said Mary, who had
not interrupted by a word.

"Well, and the rest?" he asked a trifle querulously. "Don't I convince
you?"

"Why, yes," she said again, but slowly. "In one way. I agree it might
be worth considering. But I wouldn't be in TOO great a hurry, Richard.
Look about you. See some other places first."

"Yes, and while I hum and haw and think myself too good for it, some
one else snaps it up. The profession is in very different case here, my
dear, from what it was in the colonies. It's overcrowded... worked to
death. I can't afford to be too particular. Must just find a modest
corner, slip into it and be thankful.--And let me give you a piece of
advice, Mary," he went on more warmly, with the waxing impatience of a
man who longs to see his own hesitation overthrown. "It's no earthly
use your comparing everything that turns up on this side of the globe,
with Ballarat. A practice like that won't come my way again; or at
least not in the meantime. TRY, love, not to let yourself be influenced
by the size of a house and the width of a street. I assure you once
more, you have no conception what these provincial concerns are worth.
If I step into old Brocklebank's shoes, you may drive in your carriage
yet, my dear!"

Mary had run through so many considerations in listening, that she had
really listened more to herself than to him. Of course, much of
what he said was sound. Did he settle here, it would save time and
money--and one of her standing fears about the new venture had been
that Richard would prove too hard to please. But for him now to rush to
the other extreme! Nor was she one to stand out for showiness and
style; or rather, she would not be, were Richard a different man. But
he, with his pernickitiness! And it was all very well for him to say,
don't draw comparisons; how could one help it? To have flung up a
brilliant practice, a big house and garden, a host of congenial friends
. . . for this a pokey house in a small dull street, in a dull, ugly,
dirty town. As for what SHE stood to gain by it, the living door by
door with mother and sister, fond as she was of them she could see,
even here, drawbacks that were invisible to his man's eye.

However, since the one way to deal with Richard was to give him his
head, and only by degrees deftly trickle in doubts and scruples, Mary
smothered her own feelings for the time being. Perhaps he was right,
said she: the place might do for a start; and she was certainly against
him going travelling in winter with the objection he had to flannel.
Mr. Brocklebank's advisers might, of course, ask a stiff price for the
goodwill of the practice; still, if he got on well for two or three
years, that would soon be covered. Thus Mary, trusting to a certain
blind common sense that DID exist in Richard for all his flightiness,
if he was neither badgered nor opposed. ("Just the Irish way of getting
at a thing backwards!" was how he himself described it.) One point
though she insisted on; and that was, he should take an outside opinion
on the practice before entering into negotiations.

Entirely pacified, Mahony kissed her and together they went downstairs.
According to Mother, who had now to be drawn into confidence, the
person to consult would be Bealby the chemist; he had dispensed for Mr.
B. ever since the old man grew too comfortable to do it for himself. So
Mahony on with his hat and off to Bealby's shop, well content to leave
Mary to damp the exasperating flutter into which the news had thrown
her relatives. Well, no, he wouldn't say that: in Mother even this was
bearable. It was true, declaring you might knock her down with a
feather, she had seated herself heavily in her chair by the fire, to
think and talk over the plan in detail. But her cheery old mind saw
only the bright side of it; while her kindly, humorous smile
took the sting from fuss and curiosity. Lisby was harder to repress.
She threw up her hands. "No! NEVER did I hear tell of such a thing,
Polly--I would say Mary! Going off to buy a practice, my dear, for all
the world as if it were a tooth-brush or a cravat!" Richard safely out
of the house, Mary felt constrained to come to his defence.

"You must remember, Lisby, it doesn't seem QUITE such an important
affair to Richard as it does to you. With all his experience. Living in
the colony, too, one learnt to make up one's mind quickly. You had to.
Think of shares, for instance. They might be all right when you went to
bed, and by the morning have sunk below par; so that you had to decide
there and then whether to sell out or risk holding on." The mild
amusement with which Richard's behaviour provided Lisby was apt to jar
on Mary.

From the chemist Mahony got all the information he wanted--and more.
The object of his visit grasped, he was led into a dingy little parlour
behind the shop, where, amid an overflow of jars and bottles and
drawer-cases, Bealby carried on his ex-business life. And both doors
noiselessly closed to ensure their privacy, the chemist--a rubicund,
paunchy old man, with snow-white hair and whiskers--himself grew so
private that he spoke only in a whisper, and accompanied his words with
a forefinger laid flat along his nose. This mysterious air gave the
impression that he was divulging dark secrets; though he had no secret
to tell, nor would his hearer have thanked him for any. Plainly he was
a rare old gossip, and as such made the most both of his subject and
the occasion. Mahony could neither dam nor escape from his flow of
talk. However, his account of the practice was so favourable that the
rest had just to be swallowed--even disagreeable tittle-tattle about
the old surgeon's mode of life. At the plum kept to the last--
Brocklebank, it appeared, had actually been called in professionally to
the great house of the district, Castle Bellevue--Mahony could not
repress a smile; Bealby alluding to it with a reverence that would have
befitted a religious rite. Of more practical importance was the
information that there were already two candidates for the practice in
the field; but that to these, he, Mahony, would no doubt be preferred;
for both were young men, just about to start. And: "We want no
fledglings, no young sawbones in a position such as this, sir! Now with
an elderly man like yourself. . ." Wincing, Mahony contrived soon after
to let slip the fact that he was but a couple of years over forty.

"His eyes almost jumped out of his head when I said it, Mary. The
fellow had evidently put me down for sixty or thereabouts," he came
back on the incident that night. "It made me feel I must be beginning
to look a very old man."

"Not old, Richard. Only rather delicate. And the people here are all so
rosy and sturdy that they don't understand any one being pale and
thin."

"Well, I'm positive he thought me a contemporary, if not just of old
B.'s, at least of his own."

What he did not mention to Mary was the impression he saw he left
Bealby under, that lack of success had been the reason of his quitting
Australia. Were he only more skilled at blowing his own trumpet!
Actually the old fool seemed to think he, Mahony, would be bettering
himself by settling in Leicester!

"Well, sir, I can promise you, you will find an old-established,
first-class practice, such as this, a very different thing from those you
have been used to. England, doctor, old England! There's no place like
it." At which Mahony, who had himself, aloud and in secret, rung
changes on this theme, regarded the speaker--his paunch, due to
insufficient exercise; his sheeplike, inexperienced old face; his dark
little living-room, and darker still, mysterious, provincial manner--
looked, and knew that he did not, in the very least, mean the same
thing any more.


* * * * *


"Come, give over, Mary!" said Mother affectionately.

Mother sat by the fire in the twilight, her hands folded placidly in
her lap. She was neither a sewer nor a knitter. If not nimbly trotting
about the house, in aid of the rheumaticky old servant, she liked best
to sit still and do nothing; which Richard said made her a most
soothing companion. Her words were addressed to Mary, who was rattling
a sewing-machine as if her life depended on it. They also referred to a
remark passed in a pause of her handle-twirling. This had constituted a
criticism of Richard--or as much of a criticism as Mary could
rise to. Which, here, she felt quite safe in making, so surely did she
know Richard nested in Mother's heart.

That afternoon--it was December, and night now soon after three
o'clock--he had--and not for the first time--stepped over the low
railing that separated the garden-plots to say: "Come, Lisby, let us go
a-gallivanting!" Nothing loath, Lisby, also not for the first time,
laid aside her needle, tied on bonnet and tippet, and off they went
arm-in-arm, to prowl round the lighted shops of the town.

Mary's objection was: "But if he's wanted, mother! I shouldn't know
where to send for him."

"My dear, Eliza would find him for you in less than half an hour.--
Besides, Mary, it's very unlikely anyone would want him in such a hurry
as all that."

"Yes, I suppose so. It's me that's silly. But you see, in Ballarat he
never dreamt of going out without leaving word just where he was to be
found. Indeed, he seldom went out for pleasure at all. He was much too
busy."

Mother did not put the question that would have leapt, under similar
conditions, to Lisby's lips: "Then, why, in the name of fortune, did he
leave it?" She only said: "You must have patience, my dear."

"Oh, it's not me--it's him I'm afraid of. Patience is one of the
things Richard hasn't got."

There was a brief silence. Then: "You have a very good husband, Mary.
Value him, my dear, at his true worth.--Nay, child, let the lamp be.
Can't you sit idle for half an hour?"

She stirred the fire to a blaze which lit up their faces, and the
many-folded drapery of their gowns.

"I know that, mother. But he doesn't get easier to manage as he grows
older. In some ways Richard is most difficult--very, very queer."

"And pray, doesn't the old tree get knobby and gnarled? . . . Take a
hint from your mother, my dear--for though, Mary, you've been so long
away from me, I know my own flesh and blood as no one else can. Be
glad, child, not sorry, if Richard has his little faults and failings--
even if you can't understand 'em. They help to bind him. For his roots
in this world don't go deep, Mary. He doesn't set proper store
on the prizes other men hanker after--money and position and
influence, and such like." She paused again, to add: "It's a real
misfortune, my dear, you have no children."

"Yes, and me so fond of them, too. But I'm not sure about Richard. He's
got used, now, to being without them, to having only himself to
consider. I'm afraid he'd find them in the way."

"And yet it was of Richard I was thinking," said the old lady gently.

"You say he's hard to manage, Mary," she went on. "But la! child, what
does that matter? He's kind, generous, straight as a die--I'm sure I'm
right in believing he's never done a mean action in his life?"

"Never! It isn't in him."

"Well, then!" said Mother: and her cheerful old tone was like a verbal
poke in the ribs. "He might be easier to manage, Mary--and thoughtless
. . . or stingy . . . or attentive to other women. You little know what
you're spared, child, in not having that to endure. There are some poor
wives would think you like the princess in the fairytale, who couldn't
sleep for the pea." She fell into a reverie over this, sat looking into
the heart of the fire. "Men?--ah, my dear! to me even the best of 'em
seem only like so many children. We have to be mothers to 'em as well
as wives, Mary; watch over them the same as over those we've borne; and
feel thankful if their nature is sound, behind all the little surface
tricks and naughtinesses. Men may err and stray, my dear, but they must
always find us here to come back to, and find us forgiving and
unchanged.--But tut, tut, what a sermon your old mother's preaching
you! As if you weren't the happiest of wives," and she laid her soft
old hand on Mary's. "I got led into it, I suppose, because of the
strong tie between us: you're more like me, Mary, than any of the rest.
Another thing, too: I'm a very old woman, my dear, and shan't live to
see the end of the day's business. So always remember, love, Mother's
advice to you was this: not to worry over small things--the big ones
will need all your strength. And you can't do Richard's experiencing
for him, Mary, however much you'd like to spare him the knocks and jars
of it.--But I do declare, here they come. Now what will they say to
finding us gossiping in the dark?"

The shoppers' steps echoed down the quiet street--really
sounding like one rather heavy footfall--and turned in at the gate.
And then there were voices and laughter and the sound of rustling paper
and snipped string in the little room, where Mary lit the lamp, and
Lisby displayed her presents--sweetmeats, a piece of music she had
coveted, a pair of puce-covered gloves, a new net for her chignon--
while Mother tried to prevent the great round pork pie Mahony deposited
on her lap, from sliding into the grate.

"You dear naughty spendthrift of a man! Why, the girl's head will be
turned."

"Come, mother, let me give her a little pleasure."

"You give yourself more, or I'm much mistaken."

"Pooh! Such trifles! I shouldn't otherwise know what to do with my
small change," retorted Mahony. And Mary laughed and said: "Wait,
mother, till the practice really begins to move, and then you'll see!"

This nudged Mahony's memory. "Has any one been?"

"They hadn't when I came over. And Mary Ann has not knocked at the
wall.--Oh yes, the boy called with an account from Mr. Bealby."

The news of the empty afternoon, together with Mary's colonialism,
grated on Mahony. "DO knight him, my dear, while you're about it," he
said snappishly.

"Oh well, Bealby then. Though, I really can't see what it matters. And
out there, if I HADN'T said Mr. Chambers, Mr. Tangye, you would have
been the one to suffer."

"And I can assure you, my dears, Bealby won't think any the worse of
you for turning him into a gentleman," soothed Mother.

"Oh! but Richard is very correct--aren't you, dear?"

Here Lisby had also to put in her spoke.

"And Bellvy Castle, pray?--what of Bellvy Castle? Has still no groom
come riding post-haste to summon you?"

Heartily tired of this jest, which he himself had innocently started,
Mahony picked up a book and stuck his nose in it. "No, nor ever will."

"Come, Lisby," said Mother, "the kettle's boiling its head off.--
Richard, my dear, draw up your chair; you must be cold and famished.--
Nay, Mary, I'll not let you go home. We're going to drink a
cosy cup together. And afterwards Richard shall tell us more adventures
of the early days. I've looked forward to it all the afternoon. It's as
good as any book."

Mahony had more than once said to his wife: "Before I knew your mother,
Mary, I used to think YOU the warmest-hearted creature under the sun.
But now that I know her, love, and can draw comparisons, I declare you
sometimes seem to me quite a hard and reasonable young woman."

And then he would fall to musing on the subject of wisdom inborn and
acquired. Here was this little old lady, who knew nothing of the world,
had never, indeed, travelled fifty miles from her native place, and yet
was richer in wisdom--intuitive wisdom, the wisdom of the heart--than
any second mortal he had met. He could not picture to himself the
situation, however tangled, that Mary's mother would fail to see
through, and, seeing, to judge soundly and with loving kindness. Yes,
his acquaintance with and affection for her was the one thing that
helped him over the blank disappointment of these early weeks.




Chapter IV



The surgery was a small, darkish room on the ground floor, a step or
two below street level; and the window behind which Mahony spent the
greater part of his first English winter was screened from the
curiosity of passers-by, by an attorney's brown gauze shade. Across
this blind he saw people move like shadows; or like bodies immersed in
water, only the tops of whose crowns shewed above the surface. There
went the hooded tray and crooked arm of the tinkling muffin-man; and
the wares of the buy-a-brooms. There, also, to the deep notes of his
bigger bell and his insistent: "To all whom it may concern!" passed the
shiny black hat of the town crier. Regularly, too, at dusk, through fog
or silvery rain, the lamp-lighter's ladder and torch rose into Mahony's
field of vision, flicking alive the little gas flame that set his own
brass plates a-glitter.

About this surgery hung a disagreeable, penetrating smell--a kind of
blend of the countless drugs that had been housed and mixed there for
over half a century--and, air as you might, it was not to be got rid
of. It gave even Mary, who was not sensitive to smells, the headache.
Otherwise, during Richard's absences she might have used this room,
which held a comfortable armchair. As it was, she found herself fairly
crowded out. The passage was so narrow that two people were a tight fit
in it; and, were more than two in waiting, they had to be furnished
with seats in the little parlour to the back, pokier, this, than even
the surgery, and very dark--Richard called it the "Black Hole"--
giving as it did on a walled-in yard no bigger than a roofless prison
cell. Altogether, the accommodation was so cramped that it was like
living in a mouse-trap. Still, it would have been folly in the
beginning to separate house from practice, when the two had hung
together for so long. Time enough later on to make changes. Mary's own
idea was to turn the first-floor bedroom into a drawing-room. Richard
talked of moving; of knocking two houses into one; even of
building for himself. In the meantime he had taken the house on a short
lease, preferring to pay a higher rent for a few years than to bind
himself for the mystic seven. And so it was mainly in the bedroom that
Mary spent her first winter; sewing, sheerly to kill time, garments she
did not need, or which she might just as well have "given out." Sitting
bent over her needle in the half daylight, she could sometimes almost
have smiled did she think of the sacrifices they had made--all for
this. But for the most part she felt troubled and anxious. Richard had
tied himself down for three years; but not a month had passed before
her constant, nagging worry was: how long will he hold out?

Mahony, too, was offended by the atmosphere of his room: though not so
much by the drugs, to which his nose was seasoned, as by the all-pervading
reek of stale tobacco. This hung about and persisted--though
a carpenter speedily prised open the hermetically sealed window--and
only became bearable when a good fire burned and the room was
thoroughly warm. Cooled off, it had a cold, flat, stagnant smell that
turned you sick. His old forerunner must have kept his pipe going like
a furnace; have wadded it, too, with the rankest of weeds. Even had the
practice been shaping satisfactorily this smell might have ended by
driving him from the room; which would also have meant from the house.
As things stood, however, it was not worth his while to think of
moving. Before a month was up he suspected what two months showed, and
three made plain as the nose on his face: the whole affair had been of
the nature of a gross take-in.

There he sat, with the last numbers of the medical journals, new books
on medicine before him, and was too unsettled to read, or, if he did,
to make sense of what he read. The mischief was not only that the
practice didn't move properly: what came was of entirely the wrong
sort. He had not had half a dozen calls to good houses since starting.
The patients who had thus far consulted him were the servant-girls and
petty tradesmen of the neighbourhood.

In fits of exasperation, he knew what it was to feel convinced that the
entries in the books laid before him at purchase, the rosy tales of
Brocklebank's receipts, had been invented for his decoying. If not,
what in the name of fortune had become of the practice? In
calmer moments, he absolved those about him from the charge of wilful
fraud: they had acted according to their lights--that was all. That
their way of looking at things was not his, was constantly being
brought home to him anew. And how, indeed, could he expect them, who
had passed their whole lives fixed as vegetables on the selfsame spot,
to know his touchstone for a practice? For example, the visit, famous
in local history, paid by old Brocklebank to Bellevue Castle. On closer
scrutiny this dwindled into the bandaging of a turned ankle, an ankle
belonging to one of the under-servants who had slipped on a greasy
cobble while at market. Never had old B. set foot in the Castle: or, at
most--little more than a servant himself--had entered it but by the
back door. Chagrin was not the only feeling this incident roused in
Mahony: he found insufferable the obsequious attitude of mind it spoke
to in those concerned. Long residence in a land where every honest man
was the equal of his neighbour had unfitted him for the genuflexions of
the English middle-classes before the footstools of the great. But he
had given up trying to make himself or his views intelligible. For all
that those about him understood, he might as well have been speaking
Chinese; while any reference to the position and income he had turned
his back on, called to their eyes a look of doubt, and even disbelief.
They considered him a supremely lucky man to have stepped into old
Brocklebank's shoes; and at his door alone would the blame be laid, if
he failed to succeed.

And failing he was! So far, he had booked the magnificent sum of
slightly over a couple of pounds weekly. Two pounds! It reminded him of
his first struggle-and-starve campaign on taking up practice after his
marriage. Only under one condition could he have faced the present
situation with equanimity; and that, paradoxically enough, was, if he
had not seen the colour of the money, and it had stood on account to
some of the big houses round about. As it was, it dribbled in, a few
shillings here, a few there; which meant that his spending had also to
be done in driblets--a habit it was easier to lose than to recapture.
Yes! if the handful of shares he had left invested in the colony were
not bringing in what they did, he and Mary would at this moment have
been reduced to living on their capital.

Talking of Mary: her position here was another bite he could
not swallow. It had really not been fair of him to foist this kind of
thing on Mary. To begin with, the house--possibly the neighbourhood,
too, dark, crowded, airless did not suit her. She looked pale and thin,
and had never quite lost the cough she had arrived with. How could she,
indeed, when she sat for hours at a stretch stooped over her needle?
She had no society worth the name--never a drive, a party, a bazaar.
Her sole diversion was tending her mother; undertaking the countless
odd jobs the old lady and her rheumaticky maidservant had need of. In
one way, of course, this was right and proper; and he did not begrudge
her to the mother from whom she had so long been parted. His grudge was
aimed at another quarter. Soon after Christmas Lisby had made good her
escape, and was now established as resident mistress at a Young Ladies'
Seminary, near Leeds. Which wormed, in spite of himself.

No complaint crossed Mary's lips; she sacrificed herself as cheerfully
as usual. None the less, he owed one of his chief worries during these
weeks to Mary. For he could FEEL that she did not expect him to hold
fast, and lived in suspense lest he should throw up the sponge. The
consciousness of this galled him--got on his nerves. Yet never had he
felt so averse from breaking silence. It was not only self-annoyance at
the foolishness he had been guilty of; or anticipation of a resigned,
I-told-you-so attitude on Mary's part--she HAD told him so, of course;
but it wouldn't be Mary if, when the crisis came, she twitted him with
it. No, what tied his tongue was his own disinclination to face the
future.

The result was that Mary, too, grew fidgety: it was so unlike Richard
to bottle himself up in this fashion. She began to be afraid he was
afraid of her and of what she might say. So, one evening, as they sat
together over book and needle, she herself broke the ice by asking him
point-blank whether he regretted having settled in Leicester. "For I
can see the practice is not doing much in the meantime. Still . . . if
you otherwise like the place . . ."

At her first word the torrent burst.

"LIKE it? I wish to God I'd never set foot in its hideous red-brick
streets! As for the practice not doing much--my dear, it has melted
into thin air, and that's all there is to say about it. The
great majority of that old horse-doctor's patients have given me the
go-by--what on earth has become of the wealthy shoemakers, etc., whose
names stood on his books, Heaven alone knows! It can't be that they
disapprove of my treatment, for they've never even tried it. Upon my
word, Mary, I sometimes think the whole thing was a fake and a swindle.
But I can tell you this: if I stop here, I'm on the high road to
becoming a sixpenny doctor for the masses. And I will confess to
feeling myself a little too good for that."

"I should think so! It's really most unfortunate, Richard. But what's
to be done?"

"The only course I can see, is to get out of it. I've made a big
mistake, my dear, and the shortest and cheapest way in the end will be
to admit it and tot up the balance. I could curse myself now, for not
having taken your advice. Over hasty as always! The only excuse for me
is, I honestly believed there was money to be made here. And was in a
panic at the rate our funds were running away."

"Well, it's no use crying over spilt milk. But since you own you did
rush rather blindly into this, be warned and don't, for goodness sake,
do the same thing in getting out of it. Give it a year's trial."

But the bare idea turned him cold. Now, too, that he had had his say,
he felt doubly resolute. Aloud, he declared that another three months
spent in these dark quarters, among this stickiest provinciality, in
the mud, wind and rain of this dirty, wet, dismal town, would drive him
crazy. "The very smell of the place does for me. Leather and corn and
horses--horses and leather and corn! A population of ostlers and
grooms and commercial gentlemen, and cattle-dealers and bull-necked
farmers. No, thank you, my dear, no more of it for me! Naturally I
shall sell at a loss; but the sooner the better, Mary, before the
practice falls to pieces altogether." And from this decision he was not
to be moved.

The question of what next brought them to another deadlock. Mary had
got it into her head that, if he went from here, it should only be to
London--and was dumbfounded by the moody silence into which he fell at
London's very name.--"It's society you've missed, Richard.
Even had you got on well, you couldn't have put up with the lack of
that. But if you persist in sticking to your original plan and going to
live in some miserable little village, it will be worse than ever. You
used to say you felt cut off in Ballarat. But since we've . . ."

"And you? . . . what about you, pray?"

"Oh, for me it's been different"--dear Mary!--"living next door to my
mother and all that."

"Well, I can tell you this, wife. I've grown more attached to your
mother, her kind heart and sound sense, than I was to any one in all
Australia. And certainly more than I am to my own."

"Surely it's time you proved that? What must they be thinking of you?"
("They? Oh? they'll understand. You forget they're Irish, too, love.")
"Well, Richard, my advice is . . . if you're quite determined to move
from here . . . go and pay some visits and travel about a bit, as you
ought to have done at first."

Than this, no suggestion could have jumped better with Mahony's mood:
his cramped soul longed to stretch its wings. Spring was at the door,
too: that English spring the marvels of which he had seen so often in
imagination--and in imagination continued to catch his only glimpse of
them, shut up between brick walls as he was. At Mary's words he had a
sudden vision of all the loveliness--green downs rolling to the sea,
orchards in blossom, dewy old bird-haunted gardens--that he had
missed, in flinging himself hugger-mugger on the business of money-making
in this sordid town. And so, overthrowing in his haste his
original plan of waiting till he was in more prosperous circumstances
to present himself, he packed his carpet-bag and went off to visit his
relatives and renew his acquaintance with his ALMA MATER, putting the
practice up for sale, and leaving a LOCUM to hold together what
remained of it. According to the innate perversity of things, he had no
sooner done this than it showed signs of betterment. His substitute was
called in to one of the hosier kings, bespoken by the wife of a wealthy
tanner. Mere chance, of course, but it did look as though fate had a
special down on him.


* * * * *


The nominal goal of his journey was Dublin; and after that Edinburgh.
But when he looked back on the weeks that followed, he saw them solely
in the light of a journey into the past. And now, too, he grasped why
he had so long postponed embarking on it. He was, he discovered, one of
those who have a nervous aversion from returning on their traces.

Alighting from his car at a corner of the square, he stood, bag in
hand, and gazed at his old home. It was very early on a gusty, grey,
spring morning; and he himself was cold and unslept. Already, too, the
spiritual depression that is Ireland's first gift to her homing sons
was invading him: looking about him he saw only stagnation and decay.
Here now he stood, a worn and elderly wayfarer, over whose head thirty
odd years had passed since, as a boy, he light-heartedly trod this
pavement. Thirty years! Yet it might have been yesterday. For nothing
was changed--or nothing but himself. And, as he moved towards the
house, he had--in self-defence as it were--a moment of vision, in
which the long trail of his life swept past the eye of his mind: his
rich, motley life, with all its blanks and prizes, its joys, pains and
compensations, let alone the multitude of other lives with which it had
made contact. And to think there had been moments when he counted it a
failure!

In the bulging glass flower-case outside the ground-floor window, a
familiar collection of ferns and green things pursued their morbid
growth. Down in the area stood the empty saucer, placed there full, of
a night, for any thirsty beast that passed. Here was the well-known
dent in the brass knocker; the ugly crack in the stone coping. As of
old, the balcony showed green and mildewed with the water that leaked
from a pair of flower-tubs; just as he remembered it, the white
carriage step was split asunder--a trap for delicate feet. With this
difference, that the mould was thicker, the split wider, the cracks
more pronounced.

It was the same with his relatives; they, too, had made giant strides
along the road of decay: throats had sagged, eyes grown smaller,
knuckles bonier. Of the three, the older generation had worn best. His
mother carried herself erectly, was slender--slender to emaciation--
and, an inveterate enemy of crinoline, wore clinging, trailing black
garments of a style all her own, she and his sisters moving
like lank, heavily draped maypoles, where other women bulged and
billowed and swam. ("Good Lord, what frights!" was his verdict on this
deviation from the norm.) With their ivory faces, long, finely pointed
noses, straight Irish eyebrows and pretty, insincere Irish mouths, the
three of them looked like replicas of the one cameo (as did also he,
could he but have seen himself); and since, in age, there was less than
a score of years between the trio, the relationship might have been
that of sisters rather than mother and daughters.

Thus dispassionately, and Irishly, he viewed them. As they him. "My
beloved son, colony life is disastrous. It ruins the soul . . . as it
ruins the body."--From the way they looked at him, as this was said,
he saw that they found him unnaturally withered--old for his age.
Still, his greying temples and wrinkled brows touched them little.
compared with the burning question whether he had come home in time to
save this soul of his alive. For they were even more deeply rapt than
of old in the mysteries and ecstasies of religion. On its conduct they
lavished their remaining vitality; while the mother faith, which
flourished so abundantly around them, supplied them with an outlet for
the bitter hatred which life's hardships had engendered in them. Popery
was an invention of the Arch-Fiend; its priests were the "men of sin."
--To Mahony, who had learnt to regard all sects and denominations as
branches of the one great tree, such an attitude was intolerable.

He stayed with them but for three days; longer he could not have borne
the lifeless atmosphere of his old home. But . . . seventeen years, and
for three days! There was, however, another reason. Their poverty was
such that it wrung his heart to have to watch their shifts and
makeshifts. In this big house not a single servant moved; his sisters'
thin, elderly hands were hard and seamy with work. The two women rose
at daybreak to clean the steps and polish the knocker. Themselves they
washed and ironed the finely darned damask; kept bright the massive
bits of silver, than which there was little else on the oval surface of
a dinner-table built to seat a score of people. They did their scanty
shopping in distant neighbourhoods where they were not known, creeping
out with their baskets early in the morning, while others of their
class were still between the sheets. No! the food they set
before him stuck in his throat; it was so much taken from them, who
looked so bloodless. Yet, though he grudged himself each mouthful, he
did not dare either to refuse what was offered him, or to add to it by
a gift of money or eatables--anything that might have shown them he
saw how matters stood. Banknotes slipped, unmentioned, into a letter
from far Australia had been a different thing. These could be politely
ignored--as indeed they had always remained unacknowledged. He
imagined the fine gesture with which his mother let them flutter
through her fingers, in saying airily to Sophy and Lucinda: "Some
nonsense of poor Richard's!" He ventured no more than to buy her a
bouquet of cut flowers and a vellum-bound book of devotions. Even
hothouse grapes might have exuded a utilitarian flavour. But all he
felt went into his gift; and he knew just the nerve in the proud old
heart that would be satisfied by it. For though he did not warm to
them, yet like spoke to like, blood to blood, directly they met again.
He could read their private thoughts, their secret feelings. At a
glance he saw through the inventions and excuses, the tricks and
stratagems with which they bolstered up their lives; while yet
retaining their dignity as great ladies. Again, the flashes of mordant
humour, which not your godliest Irishman can ever wholly subdue; or the
sudden, caustic, thumb-nail sketch of friend or foe: these were so
familiar to him as to seem his own: while the practical Irish habit of
stripping things of false sentiment was homely and refreshing. Thus,
with regard to Mary's childlessness, his mother queried briskly: "Has
fretted for lack of a family? Nonsense! In such a climate she was much
better without." Again: "Her relatives will miss you. No doubt they
placed great faith in your skill. Besides, your visits cost them
nothing." Or her description of a neighbour's state as: "A demi-fortune
--cab and one horse!"

Many were the inquiries made after Mary, the regrets expressed at her
absence; but he in his heart (as probably they in theirs) felt relieved
that she had not accompanied him. For Mary would certainly have put her
foot in it. There would have been no keeping out of her face the pity
she burned with; she would have made presents where presents were an
injury; have torn down veils that were sacred, even between the women
themselves; would, in short, have come hopelessly to grief amid
the shoals and quicksands through which it was necessary to steer a
course. Whereas to him the task was second nature. He took leave of
them without regret. Once away, however, he was conscious of a feeling
of something like guilt towards them. For he understood now, only too
plainly, what the withdrawal of the ninety to a hundred pounds yearly,
which in his later, palmy days he had been able to allow them-what the
abrupt stoppage of this sum must have meant to them. It had no doubt
made all the difference between comparative ease and their present dire
poverty. Yet never by so much as a word had they hinted at this. There
was surely something great about them, too--for all their oddity.


* * * * *


Did this experience give him the sensation of a dream in which he, who
was alive, went down among those who had ceased to live, his return to
Edinburgh and its well-known scenes had exactly the opposite effect:
made HIM feel like a shade permitted to revisit the haunts of men. For
here was life in all its pristine vigour, life bubbling hot from the
source--and aeons divided him from it. Here he found again his own
youth--eager, restless, passionate-though encased now in other forms.
Other keen young spirits swept from hospital to theatre, and from
theatre to lecture-room, as he once had done; and were filled to the
brim, they, too, with high purpose and ambition. Never before had it
been made so clear to him of what small worth was the individual: of
what little account the human moulds in which this life-energy was
cast. Momentous alone was the presence of the great Breath: the eternal
motor impulse. Each young soul had its hour, followed a starry trail,
dreamed a kingship; then passed--vanishing in the ranks of the
mediocre, the disillusioned, the conquered--to make room for the new
company of aspirants thronging on behind. Many of these lads would, no
doubt, in looking back, find as little in their lives to feel proud of
as he found in his: nothing accomplished of all they now so surely
anticipated. And one or other of them might also, when his time came,
hover as an elderly ghost, eyed with a flagrant curiosity by this
insolently young throng--how contemptuously would not he
himself in old days have stared at the apparition!--hover round the
precincts, the real old middle-aged hack, returned for a glimpse at the
scenes of his youth.--Such were his feelings, the experience being one
that drove his years home to him with a cruel stab.

The result was, he fell into an elegiac mood; and not having Mary at
his elbow to nudge his attention to realities, he let day after day
slip by without calling on, or otherwise making himself known to
distinguished members of the profession. He shirked the necessary
explanations. The one attempt he did make turned out poorly. Spelt,
too, a good dose of patronage for this untrumpeted doctor from the
backwoods.

To Mary he wrote: "I do not see much advancement in physick." But this
was in self-excuse. Of a truth new ideas were in the air. The shining
lights of his own day, now but a pair of crabbed old invalids, waited
each for his mortal release. The man of the hour--or so rumour had it
--was a young surgeon in Glasgow; which "Godforsaken" city British and
foreign physicians were actually travelling to and settling in, to see
demonstrated a new means for hindering germ-putrefaction. At first he
himself inclined to side with his old chief, who turned a cold shoulder
on young Lister and his experimenting. But after reading up the subject
in the Medical Library he changed his mind. Pasteur's theory of the
existence of certain spores in the atmosphere might not yet be proved
to every one's satisfaction; but the examples published by this Dr.
Lister, illustrating the successful employment of the new method, could
not but make a deep impression. In the end, he would for two pins have
taken rail himself to Glasgow, where in even the most insanitary
hospital wards pyaemia, erysipelas and hospital gangrene had been well
nigh stamped out.

It was while he still lingered, ruminating these things, that he saw
advertised for sale a practice on the south coast of England, in a
locality which was described as lovely, sheltered, salubrious.
Something in the wording of the paragraph took his fancy and he wrote
for particulars. The reply was so favourable that, instead of either
travelling to Glasgow or going back to Leicester, he set out by way of
Bristol for the south. To see the place was straightway to lose his
heart to it; here, for once was a dream come true. The
advertiser turned out to be as young as Brocklebank had been old--a
practitioner of but a year's standing. But to the hardy old surgeon as
a reed to an oak. For even the soft air of this sheltered nook had not
been mild enough for a congenital throat-weakness; and the young man
was hieing him to the Cape, where he proposed to settle. Such was his
eagerness to be gone that he came a considerable way to meet Mahony in
the matter of price.--And now letters passed and telegrams flew
between husband and wife; till, even the electric wire proving too
circumstantial for Richard's impatience, Mary was bidden to pack her
bag and join him there. She came, and was herself charmed with the spot
--as, indeed, how could she help being, cried Richard, who was as
elated as a child. You might search England through, and not find its
equal.

The chief difficulty was to get a house. Young Philips, as a bachelor,
had lived in furnished apartments; which of course was impossible for
them. But it was literally a case of Hobson's choice. For most people
owned their houses--had been born and would die in them like their
fathers before them--and in all the place only two were vacant. One
was of a type that disfigures many a seaside town: a high, gloomy house
--in a terrace of three--standing right on the pavement of a side
street. With no garden of its own, it was darkened by the foliage of
the big trees in the gardens opposite. Still worse, it turned its back
on the sea. A lawyer had lived there; the ground-floor windows bore the
hated shades. His widow, planning to move from the neighbourhood, was
willing to let the house on lease. But Mahony took a furious dislike to
it; and even Mary thought it dull, and rather large for the two of
them. The second, much smaller and older--some hundred and fifty
years, said report--was, on the other hand, bright and cheerful, and
had a charming old-world garden and a magnificent view across the Bay.
But it was for sale. Nor was the position it occupied so suitable as
that of the lawyer's: it stood above the town, half-way up a steep
hill. Still, distances were surely negligible, argued Mahony, in so
small a place; and whoever really needed a doctor would summon him,
whether it meant fifty yards further or no.

None the less the decision cost him his sleep of a night. Mary was all
in favour of the one to be rented: his inclinations leaned to
the other. He walked past this a dozen times a day, and went over it so
often that the agent suggested him keeping the keys until he had made
up his mind. It was ridiculous, he told himself, to think of buying a
house before he had sampled the practice; yet seldom had he been so
torn. And once again Mary, pitying his distraction, came to the rescue
and said, well, after all, perhaps he should just buy and be done with
it. For she saw what would happen if he didn't: he would never cease to
bemoan his loss, and to find fault with the house he was in. Better for
his peace of mind that he should take the monetary risk--and though
this meant using up the last remainder of their available ready money.
But there was also another unspoken thought at the back of Mary's mind.
The knowledge that he had thus involved himself might help him to sit
firm, if--and with a person like Richard the contingency HAD to be
allowed for--if he afterwards tired of the place.

So he bought; and not for a second had he regretted it--any more than
he regretted having pitched his tent in this loveliest of spots. On the
contrary he counted himself a remarkably lucky man.


* * * * *


And thus to Buddlecombe.




Chapter V



The practice bore out its reputation. The huckster, the publican and
the ostler were in the minority here; Mahony's visiting-list was
studded with good names. This change for the better, together with the
pride he took in his pretty house and garden, sent his spirits up
sky-high. And, as was natural, he read his own satisfaction into others.
"If I'm not much mistaken, Mary, people here are well pleased to have a
medical man of a reasonable age in their midst again." It fell to Mary
to keep him gently damped; to prevent him skipping off the earth
altogether, in his new-found lightness of heart.

At first, though, even she had to admit there was nothing to complain
of.

For if Mahony here felt himself restored to his own level
professionally, on the social side--which was important, too--things
also promised to run smoothly. Of course, English people were
notoriously slow to take you to their hearts; and, even after they had
found out all about you, would still go walking round you looking you
up and down. Once, however, these sticklers were sure with whom they
had to deal, they made rich amends. And so Mary had numerous callers of
the right kind; and invitations followed the calls. The vicar's wife
took her up--a due appearance at church having been made, and a pew
hired--and she joined a circle that sat twice a week to sew for the
heathen. Further, she was asked to help in visiting and distributing
tracts among the lower orders; in getting up a Penny Reading to raise
funds for the promulgation of the Gospel; to take a table at the annual
Sunday School Feast: was, in short, made free of all the artless
diversions of the parish.

In addition to this, the month was April; and the thousand and one
beauties of an exceptionally fine spring unrolled before their eyes.
Declared Mahony: to be present at this budding and bursting, this
sprouting and flowering, more than made up for the
disappointments he had suffered since landing in England. What a feast
of tender green, of changing colours, was here spread for eyes sore
with the harshness and aridity of the Australian landscape, the eternal
grey-green of its skimpy foliage! When he first arrived, every
sheltered slope and sunny bank was yellow with primroses; the lesser
celandine bedecked the meadow-grass, violets were mauve and purple in
the hedgerows; and no sooner did these show signs of fading than the
ground became blue with myriads of bells, which, taken in the mass,
looked like patches of sky dropped to earth. And the blue in its turn
yielded to the ruby-pink of the red campion. Against a background of
starry blackthorn blazed the golden gorse. The cliffs were covered with
the comical little striped brown pokers of the horsetails, which soon
branched out into bristly brooms; and piercing the rust-red carpet of
last year's growth, up sprang the straight nimble spears of the
bracken. In the high hedges the ruddy cane of the willows was smothered
by the succulent green tips of hawthorn and bramble; and on the rolling
countryside that belle of trees, the larch, stood out among the
copperish buds of the beeches and the first tightly folded leaves of
the chestnuts, with a pale green feathery loveliness all its own.

But with the onset of summer, when gardeners were busy netting
strawberry-beds and currant-bushes against the greedy thrush; and the
blackbird, his wooing done, was omitting the topnotes at the end of his
call: by this time, in spite of Mahony's liking for the moderate but
sympathetic practice, sly doubts had begun to invade him whether things
were really at bottom as satisfactory as they seemed, or whether both
in his professional and their twofold social life, there was not a fly
in the ointment. In his own case, the suspicion soon deepened to a
certainty.--Robinson was that fly.

Of the person who bore his name he had naturally heard nothing at the
time of buying. Only by degrees did Robinson come within his ken. A
surgeon some years his junior, the fellow had originally, it now turned
out, held the whole practice of the place for miles round in his hands.
Then, three years previously, he had married a rich widow--report
credited her with eight to ten thousand a year--bought a fine property
and retired. Since then--again according to rumour--he had spent
more time than was fitting in the company of the bottle.
However that might be, his former wide professional connection, his
wife's money and social standing, combined to make him PERSONA GRATA in
all the best houses; while among the townspeople and villagers, slow of
wit and opposed to change as only English country-people could be, the
memory, or rather the habit of him, had persisted, to the tribulation
no doubt of his successors. For there came moments when Mahony
mistrusted the throat-weakness alleged by young Philips; or at least
wondered whether this was his sole reason for quitting so promising a
place after a bare year's trial. And who had preceded Philips? At first
what he, Mahony, had to meet was no more than a casual mention of
Robinson's name. "Mr. Robinson said this, or would have done that";
and, at the outset, he had been simple enough to believe it a slip of
the tongue for Philips. He soon learned better. A question put, a scrap
of gossip retailed by Mary, taught him that Robinson was still a power
in the place. For yet a while, however, he ascribed what was going on
to hard-dying custom, which might be overcome. The first time he
scented actual danger was when one of two spinsters he was attending
complained of her sister's slow progress, and said she would ask Mr.
Robinson to look in, he understanding their constitutions better than
any one else.

"If you do that, my good woman, you see no more of me!" was Mahony's
quick retort. And so he lost a patient.

Thereafter on his rounds he himself began to catch glimpses of the
bottle-nosed surgeon--sitting perched in a high gig beside a groom in
livery; altogether a very smart turn-out--and this went on until it
positively looked as if the fellow intended taking up practice
again . . . filching it back from under his very nose. A pretty thing that
would be to happen, now he had staked his all on it! A shabby trick and
no mistake!--one, too, that ran counter to every known rule of medical
etiquette.

The mischief was--with a brain like his--let the door open to one
such suspicion, and straightway a dozen others seized the chance of
inserting themselves. He next fell to questioning the apparent ease
with which Mary and he had entered the polite society of the town. For,
the longer he lived there, the more plainly he saw just what a wasps'
nest of caste and prejudice they had fallen into. Social life
in Buddlecombe was the most complicated affair under the sun: was
divided into innumerable grades; made up of a series of cliques, rising
one above the other and fitting as exactly as a set of Japanese boxes.
No such simple matter, and that was a fact, for a pair of newcomers to
find themselves to rights in it. But they in their ignorance had
pranced boldly in, where those who knew better, walked warily and with
discretion. The vicar's wife had taken Mary up: yes; but by now Mahony
had come to see that she would be equally attentive to any one who
might prove useful in helping to run the parish, or in slaving for
foreign missions. And he began to doubt whether, often as Mary went to
the vicarage, she was invited to the really select parties there given.
She had never, for instance, met the Blakeneys of "The Towers," people
he knew to be hand-in-glove with the vicaress. Mary either did not
notice or, noticing, heed such trivial details she just laughed and
said: "Rubbish!" or "You ARE fanciful, Richard!"--but he most
emphatically did, and thanked you for being put off with the second
best. And besides her insensitiveness to slights, she was hopelessly
obtuse when it came to observing the invisible but cast-iron barriers
with which the various cliques hedged themselves round, to keep those a
step lower in the scale from coming too near.

"Not shake hands with that nice old Mr. Dandy just because he was once
in trade? I never heard such a thing!" In Ballarat Mary had been used
to feel flattered did her grocer--rich, influential, a trustee of the
church, a member of the Horticultural Society--emerge from behind the
counter specially to chat with her. "I think we should just make a
beginning."

"Indeed and you'll put your foot in it with a vengeance, my dear, if
you try anything of that kind here. . . when I'm still struggling to
get a stand."

"Oh well, of course, if you look at it that way.... But all the
same . . . when I think . . ." Her sentence tailed off into a speaking
silence.

He understood. "TEMPI PASSATI, love! Nowadays, we must do as Rome does.
--Recollect, too, my dear, these things may seem trifling enough to
you . . . and me. . . who have knocked about the world; but to people here
they're the very A B C of good breeding--have been sucked in
with their mother's milk. We mustn't let ourselves appear ignoramuses
of the first water."

"But I've GOT to be friendly with your patients, Richard, whoever they
are."

"True. But even you must draw the line somewhere, you know."

"I'm afraid I don't; I'm not clever enough. It doesn't seem human
either. For we're all the same flesh and blood."

Yes, for the countless niceties and distinctions of social etiquette,
Mary had, as she confessed, little aptitude. It sometimes seemed that,
if a mistake was possible, she made it.

The two chief houses in Buddlecombe, the "Hall" and the "Court," were
closed when the Mahonys settled there, the families being respectively
abroad and in residence in London. During their absence the temporary
leader, who gave the sign and set the key, and to whom the vicar
deferred with his treacliest smile, was the owner of "Toplands." This
was a Mrs. Challoner, a widow with two sons, and a person of great
wealth and importance--"Toplands" was really the biggest and most
up-to-date place in the neighbourhood, both Hall and Court being cramped
by comparison and mouldy with age. But let the Trehernes or the
Saxeby-Corbetts show so much as the tips of their noses, and this lady
subsided with extraordinary swiftness, collapsed like a jack-in-the-box;
for, though her husband's antecedents were irreproachable, there
was, on her own side, some shadowy connection with "malt" which could
never be forgotten or forgiven her; or at least "only by the grace of
God. . . or of the Saxeby-Corbetts."

Mrs. Challoner was a member of the vicarage sewing-circle; and here she
met Mary, to whom she seemed to take a liking; for she called, asked
her to "Toplands," and, as a special mark of favour, drove her out in
her carriage; Mahony being simultaneously summoned to attend the
younger of the two sons, a delicate lad of seventeen. Thus, when, in
Mary's opinion, the time had come to return the various invitations
they had received, by herself sending out cards for a party, she felt
justified in including Mrs. Challoner. And, sure enough, had in reply a
graceful note of acceptance. So far good. But now it was that
Mary let her hospitable impulses outride her discretion. At the
vicarage she had made a further acquaintance, in the shape of a Mrs.
Johnston-Perkes, a very charming lady who had been settled in
Buddlecombe not much longer than they themselves. And having it from
this person's own lips that she came of a good Oxfordshire family,
besides meeting her where she did--Mrs. Dandy, for example, was not
made free of the sewing-club--how was Mary to guess that the
Johnston-Perkes were not "in the swim"? Nor could Richard have helped her.
For the dark fact, unknown to either, was that in his day the husband's
father had had some Connection with a publishing firm; and though Mr.
Perkes himself had never soiled his hands thus, yet the business stigma
--pray, did not the issuing of books imply the abhorred counter?--
clung to him and his lady-wife and tracked them from place to place.
What followed proved--according to Mahony--that, though good enough
for God and His works--witness the lady's presence at the vicarage!--
the Johnston-Perkes were not by any means good enough for the upper
crust of Buddlecombe; and the consequence was, Mary's party was a
failure. There was no open contretemps; Mrs. Challoner and her
satellites behaved with perfect civility. But it was impossible, to
Mahony's mind, to misread the crippling surprise writ big on these
people's faces; and the atmosphere of the drawing-room remained icy--
would not thaw.

Another thing that sent people's eyebrows up was the supper to which
Mary sat them down as the clock struck ten. At this date she had not
been long enough in Buddlecombe to know it for an unalterable rule
that, unless the invitation was to dinner, a heavy, stodgy dinner of
one solid course after another, from which, if you happened to be a
peckish eater, you rose feeling as though you could never look on food
again; except in this case, the refreshment offered was of the lightest
and most genteel: a biscuit; a jug of barley-water for the gouty, or
lemon-water for the young--at most, a glass of inferior sherry,
cellars not being tapped to any extent on such occasions. But Mary had
gone at her supper in good old style, giving of her best. And Mahony
was so used to leaving such matters entirely to her that it had never
entered his head to inferfere. Not until the party was squeezed
into the little dining-room, round a lengthened dinner-table on which
jellies twinkled, cold fowls lay trussed, sandwiches were piled
loaf-high--not till then and till he saw the amazed glances flying between
the ladies, did he grasp how wrong Mary had gone. A laden supper-table
was an innovation: and who were these newcomers, hailing from God knew
where, to attempt to improve on the customs of Buddlecombe? It was also
a trap for the gouty--and all were gouty more or less. Thirdly, such
profusion constituted a cutting criticism on the meagre refreshments
that were here the rule. He grew stiff with embarrassment; felt, if
possible, even more uncomfortable than did poor Mary, at the refusals
and head-shakings that went down one side of the table and up the
other. For none broke more than the customary Abernethy, or crumpled a
sandwich. Liver-wings and slices of breast, ham patties and sausage-rolls
made the round, in vain. Mrs. Challoner gave the cue; and even
the vicar, a hearty eater, followed her lead, the only person to
indulge being the worthy gentleman who had caused half the trouble--
and HIM Mahony caught being kicked by his wife under the table.

He felt so sore on Mary's behalf that, by the time he had escorted the
last guest through the sentry-box porch, he was fairly boiling over.
Flinging downstairs to the dining-room, where he found his wife
disconsolately regarding her table--it looked almost as neat as when
she first arranged it--he flashed out: "Well, you've done it now! What
in heaven's name possessed you to sit people down to a spread like
this?"

Mary had begun to collect her tartlets--dozens of them--on one large
dish, and was too preoccupied to lend him more than half an ear. To
herself she said: "What SHALL I do with them?"

"Do? Bury 'em, my dear, in a corner of the garden--hide 'em away out
of sight! I wish you could get the memory out of people's minds as
easily. OUR supper-party will be the talk of Buddlecombe for many a day
to come!"

"Just because I tried to make it as nice as I knew how? I think you
judge every one by yourself, Richard. Because you didn't enjoy it . . ."

"Then why was nothing touched?"

"Perhaps they didn't feel hungry. I oughtn't to have had it
till an hour later."

"Nothing of the sort! Though you had given it to 'em at five in the
morning, they would still have walked home on empty stomachs. This kind
of thing isn't done here, and the sooner you get that into your head
the better!"

"Never will I descend to their starvation-diet!" cried Mary warmly.

"Another thing: what in heaven's name induced you to mix those Perkeses
up with Mrs. Challoner and her set? That was FAUX PAS of the first
water."

"I do declare I never seem to do anything right! But you said nothing:
you didn't know. For if it comes to that, Richard, you make mistakes,
too."

"Indeed and I should like to know how?"--Mahony was huffed in a
second.

"I didn't mean to say anything about it. But it appears the vicar took
it very badly, the other Sunday, that you went to hear that London
preacher at the Methodist Chapel. I overheard something that was said
at the last sewing-party--about your perhaps being really a
dissenter."

"Well, of all the. . . objects to my going to hear a well-known
preacher, just because he belongs to another sect? Preposterous!"

"Yes, if it's anything to do with yourself, it's preposterous. But when
it's me, it's mistakes, and FAUX PAS, and all the rest of it. Sometimes
I really feel quite confused. To remember I mustn't shake hands here or
even bow there. That in some quarters I must only say 'Good afternoon,'
and not 'How do you do?'--and then the other way round as well. That
nice Mrs. Perkes is not the thing and ought to be cold-shouldered; and
when I have company I'm not to give them anything to eat. Oh, Richard,
it all seems to me such FUDGE! How grown-up people can spend their
lives being so silly, I don't know. Out THERE, you had to forget what a
person's outside was like--I mean his table-manners and whether he
could say his aitches--as long as he got on and was capable . . . or
rich. But here it's always: 'WHO is he? How far back can he trace his
pedigree?'--and nothing else seems to matter a bit. I do believe you
might be friends with a swindler or a thief, as long as his
family-tree was all right. And the disgrace trade seems to be! Why,
looked at this way there wasn't any one in Ballarat who was fit to
know. Just think of Tilly and old Mr. Ocock. Here they would be put
down as the vulgarest of the vulgar. One certainly wouldn't be able
even to BOW to them! And then remember all they were to us, and how
fond I was of Tilly, and what a splendid character she had. No, this
kind of thing goes against the grain in me. I'm afraid the truth is, I
like them vulgar best. And I'm too old, now, to change."

"You too old!" cried Mahony, amazed to hear this, his own dirge, on his
wife's lips. "Why, Mary love,"--and from where he sat he held out his
hand to her across the table, over the creams and jellies standing like
flowers in their cups. "You but a couple of months over thirty, and far
and away the best-looking woman in the place! Candidly, my dear, never
did I set eyes on such a pack of scarecrows--from the vicaress with
her wolf's teeth, up the scale and down."

"You don't feel very happy or at home here, love--I see that," he went
on. "And I sometimes doubt, my dear, whether I did right to uproot you
from your adopted country."

"I certainly liked being there better than here. Still I'm quite ready,
as you know, to put up with things. Only you mustn't scold me, Richard,
when I make mistakes I do my best, dear, but . . ."

"We'll lay our heads together, love, and so avoid them. And as a
beginning, Mary, we'll stifle the natural feelings of friendliness and
goodwill we have always had for our fellow-mortals--no matter what
their rank in life. We'll forget that we're all, as you say, the sons
of Adam, and are placed on this earth-ball but for a very brief period,
in which it would certainly be to our advantage to love our neighbours
as ourselves. And we'll learn to be narrow, and bigoted, and snobbish,
and mean with our grub . . . eh, Mary? Joking apart, my dear, you see
how it is. We've either got to adapt ourselves to the petty outlook of
those about us, or be regarded as a pair of boors who've brought home
with them the manners and habits of the backwoods. And that means
turning out again, love. For I won't stay here to be looked down
on . . . when I feel every whit as good as anybody else."

"Now when you talk like that, Richard. . . You know I'm willing to put
up with any mortal thing, as long as I can feel sure you're happy and
contented. But when I think, dear, of the down YOU used to have on
narrowness and snobbishness . . . And this is even worse."

"All the same, I felt I could stand no more of the rough diamonds we
had to hobnob with out there."

"Still, some were diamonds, weren't they?"

"What we need, you and I, Mary, is a society that would take the best
from both sides. The warm-heartedness of our colonial friends, their
generosity and hospitality; while we could do without the promiscuity,
the worship of money, the general loudness and want of refinement.--
You wonder if I shall be happy here? I like the place, love; it's an
ideal spot. I like this solid old house, too: and so far the climate
has suited me. I seem to be getting on fairly well with the people; and
though the practice is still nothing extraordinary, it has
possibilities."

"Yes; but. . ."

"But? Well, I undoubtedly miss the income I used to have; there's
little money to be made--compared with Ballarat, it's the merest
niggling. And besides that, there was a certain breadth of view--that
we'd got used to, you and I. Here, things sometimes seem atrociously
cramped and small. But we must remember good exists everywhere and in
every one, wife, if we only take the trouble to look for it. And since
the fates have pitched us here, here we must stay and work our vein
until we've laid the gold bare. We've got each other, love, and that's
the chief thing."

"Of course it is."

And now they were up and doing, he helping her to stow away her feast
that it should not meet Selina's eye in the morning. And over this
there was a good deal of merriment: they had to eat up some of the more
perishable things themselves, which they did to a confession from Mary
that she really had not meant to make QUITE so much, but had been lured
on from one thing to another, by the thought of how nice it would look
on the table. They packed away a decent amount in the larder, for
appearance sake; the rest in a cupboard in the surgery.

But afterwards, Mary as she took down her hair, Mahony as he
went round the house locking up, each dedicated the matter a further
and private refection. She said to herself, astonished: "I do believe
Richard is turning radical," and then went on to muse, a little wryly,
that the "fates" to which he so jauntily referred were, after all, but
another name for his own caprices. He, on the other hand, after
justifying an omission to himself with: "No use worrying the poor
little soul about that dam fool Robinson!" sent her a thought so warm
that it resembled a caress. For at heart his whole sympathy was with
Mary and Mary's ineradicable generosity. Alone, and his irritation
cooled, he ranged himself staunchly on her side, against the stiff,
uncharitable little world into which they were fallen.




Chapter VI



Entering the house late one summer afternoon, his pockets bulged with
scraps of weed and wild-flower--the country people still gaped at
sight of their doctor descended from his trap, a round glass in one
eye, poking and prying in the hedgerows--Mahony was turning these
specimens out on the hall table when Mary called to him from the
dining-room. "Richard! A great surprise!"

He went downstairs to her, pulling off his gloves. "What? . . . the
mail in already? I calculated it wasn't due for another week at least."

"And such a big one!"

Mary sat in an armchair, her lap full of envelopes, a closely written
sheet of foreign note in her hand. Mahony picked up the several letters
bearing his name, and ran his eye over the superscriptions. Their
English post-bag was a lean one; but the arrival of the Australian mail
more than atoned for it; and the deciphering of the crossed and
recrossed pages, the discussing of news from the old home occupied the
pair of them for days. Among his pile Mahony found a letter from
Chinnery of the London Chartered, another from Archdeacon Long, a third
from an old fellow-practitioner; while a bulky envelope promised a full
business statement from the agent whom he had left in charge of his
affairs. Taking off his greatcoat he sat down to read at his ease.

First, though, he had to hear from Mary the gist of those she had
fleetly skimmed, prior to going back and reading them over again, word
by word, with a brooding seriousness.

"Just fancy, John writes he's been forced to shut up his house and go
and live at the Melbourne Club. WHAT a state of things! That lovely
house left to go to rack and ruin. It seems the last housekeeper turned
out worst of all. She didn't set her cap at him, like Mrs. Perry, but
he discovered that she was carrying on improperly with men. To
think of a woman like that looking after poor Jinny's children! Now
John has put all three to boarding-school. And Josey still the merest
baby. How he expects them to thrive, I don't know--with never a proper
home, or a mother's care. Then, here's Trotty . . . or Emma as he will
persist in calling her . . . accused of being idle and flighty. Trotty
flighty! If ever there was a dear, good-hearted little soul . . . easy
to manage and open as the day. But John still seems to have his old
down on Emma's children. And that brings me to some bad news. Johnny
has run away. Listen to this. AND NOW I PASS TO THE DOINGS OF MY SON
AND HEIR. AFTER KEEPING THE BOY TO HIS DESK UNDER MY OWN EYE FOR THE
PAST TWELVE MONTHS, AND ENDEAVOURING BY PRECEPT AND SEVERITY TO MAKE AN
HONEST MAN OF HIM--IN VAIN, MARY, FOR NEVER A MOMENT'S GRATIFICATION
OR SATISFACTION HAVE I HAD FROM HIM; NEVER A THANK-YOU HAS HE GIVEN ME
FOR ALL THE MONEY SPENT ON HIM--HE WAS LAZY, DECEPTIVE, AND FREQUENTED
LOOSE COMPANY . . . Richard! At seventeen! . . . NEGLECTED HIS DUTIES,
TOOK MORE WINE THAN WAS GOOD FOR HIM, PLAYED CARDS FOR MONEY, AND IN
THE END WENT SO FAR AS TO ABSTRACT HIS LOSSES FROM MY PRIVATE DRAWER.--
Isn't it dreadful?--WHEN I TAXED HIM WITH IT, AND THREATENED HIM WITH
EXPOSURE, HE AS GOOD AS WHISTLED IN MY FACE; THEN ACTUALLY HAD THE
AUDACITY TO ASSERT HE OWED ME NO GRATITUDE, SINCE I HAD NEVER DONE
ANYTHING FOR HIM; AND THE NEXT MORNING HE WAS MISSING--HIS BED HAD NOT
BEEN SLEPT IN. WHEN AFTER THE LAPSE OF SEVERAL WEEKS I CONTRIVED TO
TRACK HIM, I LEARNED, TO MY SHAME AND DISGRACE, THAT HE HAD SHIPPED
BEFORE THE MAST TO THAT ELDORADO OF THIEVES AND SCOUNDRELS, AMERICA.
NOW HE MAY SHIFT FOR HIMSELF; I WASH MY HANDS OF HIM. I HAVE CUT HIM
OUT OF MY WILL AND SHALL DO THE SAME BY EMMA, UNLESS SHE MENDS HER
WAYS. YOU WILL SCARCELY CREDIT IT, MY DEAR MARY, BUT HER SCHOOLMISTRESS
WRITES ME THAT THE GIRL--NOT YET FIFTEEN YEARS OF AGE, MARK YOU!--HAS
HAD TO BE 'PUBLICLY REBUKED' FOR COQUETTING WITH MEMBERS OF THE OTHER
SEX IN A PLACE OF WORSHIP.--Oh, stuff and nonsense, John! Never will I
believe such a thing of Trotty. I know the child a great deal better
than you. If I were only there, to find out what it all means He winds
up with the usual: THANK GOD, JANE'S CHILDREN ARE OF ANOTHER
DISPOSITION. I AM CONFIDENT I SHALL NEVER BE DISGRACED BY THEM. No, my
dear John, they haven't the spirit. But . . . well, I never
did!" and Mary let her hand fall flop on the table. "Just listen to
this! A postscript--I didn't see it before. He says: YOUR SISTER ZARA
SEEMS ABOUT TO MAKE A FOOL OF THE FIRST WATER OF HERSELF. SHE IS, I
HEAR--FOR I HAVE SEEN NOTHING OF HER, I AM THANKFUL TO SAY--
CONTEMPLATING MATRIMONY.--Richard! And he doesn't even say who to.
Isn't that like a man? Can it . . . could it be . . . But there! I
believe I saw a letter from Zara herself."

Dropping John's, Mary picked on one of the envelopes in her lap, slit
it open and began to fly the lines. "Mm . . . a tirade against John, of
course . . . how those two do bicker! They seem to get worse as they
grow older. Now where can it be? Mm . . . NO ONE CAN PUT UP WITH HIM
ANY LONGER . . . HAS HAD TO CLOSE HIS HOUSE, THUS PROVING----"

"Hullo, my dear, here's news!" cried Mahony and slapped his thigh. He
had waited patiently for John's Jeremiad to end. In Zara's pursuit of
matrimony he took no interest whatever. "Well, upon my word! . . . who
would have dreamt of this? Those AUSTRALIA FELIXES . . . you remember,
Mary, I bought them rather as a pig in a poke; and they've done nothing
but make calls ever since. Now here they are declaring a three-pound
dividend. My highest expectations did not exceed thirty shillings and
even that would have been handsome. Think what it will be when they get
in ten more stamps. Fifty pounds a month, for certain! My dear! we
shall end by being moneyed people after all."

"Indeed I hope so," said Mary; and resumed her search for Zara's plum.
"It looks as if she's not going to mention it. This is all about her
pupils. They dote on her as usual, and she drives out every day in the
carriage. Zara is certainly lucky in her employers.--Oh, here it is--
tucked away in a postscript. OTHER AND FAIRER PROSPECTS BECKON, MY DEAR
MARY, THAN THOSE OF ETERNALLY IMPROVING THE MINDS OF OTHER PEOPLE'S
CHILDREN. AT PRESENT I CAN SAY NO MORE. BUT YOUR CLEVERNESS WILL NO
DOUBT ENABLE YOU TO DIVINE WHAT I LEAVE UNSAID. And that's all. Now I
suppose I must wait another three months to hear who it is and how it
happened. Oh dear, how OUT of everything we do seem here!"

"They've got the money for the chancel at last," threw in
Mahony. "I must write and congratulate Long. Splendid work! They've had
the laying ceremony, too, and hope twelve months hence that the Bishop
will be up consecrating. The last Fancy Bazaar did the job. Here's a
message to you. Mrs. Long's warm love, and she missed your help sadly
at the refreshment-stall.--What? Well, I'm hanged! Old Higgins in my
place as Trustee. Ha, ha! Listen to this. AND NOW AN ITEM, DOCTOR,
AFTER YOUR OWN HEART. WE RECENTLY HAD WITH US A DISCIPLE AND FOLLOWER
OF SPURGEON--ONE OF THE FAITHFUL WHO SECEDED WITH THE GREAT MAN FROM
THE EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE. HE PREACHED A FIRST TIME IN THE BAPTIST
CHAPEL, BUT THIS PROVED TOO SMALL TO HOLD A QUARTER OF THOSE WHO WISHED
TO HEAR HIM. AND SO THE SECOND TIME, ON A SUNDAY EVENING, HE APPEARED
ON THE PLATFORM OF THE NEW ALFRED HALL. THIS WAS PACKED TO THE DOORS.
THE CONSEQUENCE WAS I PREACHED TO EMPTY BENCHES. WELL! BELIEVING THAT
THE WORD OF GOD REMAINS THE WORD OF GOD, NO MATTER UNDER WHAT GUISE IT
IS PRESENTED, I CUT MY DISCOURSE SHORT, DOFFED MY CASSOCK AND WENT HOME
TO BED. THE WORTHY FELLOW CALLED ON ME NEXT DAY; WISHED TO EXCHANGE
BIBLES--HIS, I AM TOLD, DEEPLY UNDER-SCORED--BUT I DID NOT FEEL
JUSTIFIED IN GOING SO FAR AS THAT."

"Oh, Polly's lost her baby, poor thing!" cried Mary, whom the doings of
Spurgeon's follower interested but mildly. "I do feel sorry for her.
Not but what she takes it very sensibly. And if you think . . . six
children and that teeny-weeny house. Still, it's rather sad. She says:
OF COURSE NOBODY MISSES IT OR CARED ANYTHING ABOUT IT BUT ME. BUT IT
WAS RATHER A NICE LITTLE KID MARY, AND WELL FORMED. I HAD IT AT THE
BREAST FOR A DAY, AND FELT ITS LITTLE FINGERS, AND IT HAD BLUE EYES.
Now fancy that!--and the rest of them so dark. Polly would think it
belonged all the more to her, because of it. She says Ned's keeping a
little steadier--that will be good news for Mother. He's clerk in a
coal merchant's office now, and brings home his wages pretty regularly.
Poor old Ned!" and Mary sighed.

But a message in Mr. Chinnery's made her smile. TELL MRS. MAHONY HOW
MUCH SHE IS MISSED IN SOCIETY HERE. THOSE PLEASANT EVENINGS WE USED TO
SPEND AT YOUR HOUSE, DOCTOR, AND HER FAMOUS SUPPERS ARE STILL TALKED
OF, AND WILL LONG BE REMEMBERED. "There, my dear! that's a feather in
your cap, and should console you for recent happenings."

With this Mahony's budget was exhausted, and he rose to go to
the surgery, where he proposed to make a few calculations in connection
with his little windfall. But Mary held him back for yet a moment.

"I declare marrying's in the air. Now here's Jerry gone and got
engaged. Who to? He writes: THE PRETTIEST GIRL IN ALL THE WORLD AND THE
BEST AS WELL. Let us only hope that's true. Dear old Jerry! He deserves
a good wife, if ever anyone did. But, oh dear me! she's only sixteen--
barely a year older than Trotty. That's too young."

"Is it indeed? I know somebody who was once of a different opinion."

"But I was old for my age. Dear Jerry! He's so sensible in other
things. If only he has not let his feelings run away with him here!"

"Poor old Mary wife! If only you were there to look after them all, eh?
Better as it is, love. You'd have the burden of Atlas on your shoulders
again."

"What atlas?" asked Mary absently, having passed to her next
correspondent.

But the letter she spent longest over was the one she kept till the
last--till Richard had retired to his room. For only to Tilly did she
write nowadays with anything approaching frankness; and in this reply,
oddly written, indifferently spelt, there might be private references
to things she had said, besides the plain truth about all and any it
touched on. Afterwards Richard would get, in her own words, all he
needed to hear.

BEAMISH HOUSE,
LAKE WENDOUREE,
BALLARAT.

MY DARLING MARY,--YOURS OF 19TH WAS A RARE OLD TREAT. JOB BROUGHT IT
WHEN I WASN'T AT HOME--I'D DRIVEN OUT TO HAVE A LOOK AT THE MARE ZOE,
WHO'S IN FOAL AND AT GRASS IN A PADDOCK OF WILLY URQUHART'S. DIDN'T I
POUNCE ON IT WHEN I FOUND IT. I READ IT THROUGH TWICE WITHOUT STOPPING,
MY DEAR. AND DIDN'T KNOW WHETHER TO BE GLAD OR SORRY WHEN I'D DONE. YOU
WRITE CHEERY ENOUGH, MARY, BUT IT DOESN'T SEEM TO ME YOU CAN BE REALLY
HAPPY IN A PLACE LIKE YOU SAY LEICESTER IS--ALL DAMP AND DREARY, AND
NO GARDEN OR SPACE, AND SO LITTLE COMPANY. I'M GLAD IT ISN'T ME
--THAT'S ALL. AUSTRALY FOR EVER, FOR THIS CHICKEN. YOUR DESCRIPTION OF
THE RAINY SEASON MAKES ME GET COLD SHIVERS DOWN MY SPINE. GIVE ME THE
SUN, THANK YOU, AND HORSES AND A GARDEN, AND EVERYTHING JUST AS JOLLY
AS CAN BE. FINE FEATHERS AND BLUE BLOOD AREN'T IN MY LINE ANYHOW.

NOW FOR MY BUDGET. I'M STILL THE GAY OLD WIDDER I WAS WHEN YOU HEARD
LAST, AND HAVEN'T FELT TEMPTED TO CHANGE MY STATE. TO TELL THE TRUTH,
MARY, THOUGH I GAD ABOUT AS USUAL AND DON'T SIT AT HOME AND PULL A LONG
FACE, I STILL MISS DEAR OLD PA. IT WAS SO HOMEY TO HEAR HIM SAY: "NOW
THEN, WHAT'S MY GIRL BEEN UP TO TO-DAY?" WHENEVER I CAME IN, AND THE
JOY OF MY LIFE TO HELP HIM SET HIS WILL AGAINST MONSEER H.'S. WELL, HE
CAN'T SAY HE'S FORGOTTEN. I'VE PUT HIM UP THE GRANDEST MONUMENT IN ALL
THE NEW CEMETERY. PA IN A SORT OF NIGHTSHIRT, MARY, WITH WINGS
ATTACHED, FLYING OFF, AND A FEMALE FIGURE ALL BOWED UP AND WEEPING ON
THE GROUND. THIS IS ALL RIGHT FOR ME, BUT SOMETIMES I THINK PA WOULD
RATHER HAVE BEEN TOOK JUST SITTING ON A LOG AND SMOKING HIS PIPE. BUT
HENRY AND THE MAN AS DONE IT WOULDN'T HEAR OF SUCH A THING, SAID IT
WOULDN'T BE IDEEL.

THE CHIEF NEWS OF THIS ESTABLISHMENT IS THAT TOM AND JOHNNY HAS MOVED
OUT. I WAS FOR KEEPING THEM ON--WE'RE NONE OF US CHICKENS ANY MORE--
BUT HENRY PECKED AND NAGGED AT ME ABOUT PROPRIETY, TILL I GAVE IN FOR
SHEER PEACE SAKE. THEY'RE BOARDED OUT, POOR BOYS, AND TOM COMES OVER
EVERY MORNING TO SEE AFTER THE FOWLS. ONE OF THESE DAYS I SHALL HAVE TO
PUT MY FOOT DOWN AND SQUASH HENRY--I SEE THAT. FOR IT WAS THE SAME
WITH THE WEEDS. PA USED TO SAY: "WEAR NO WEEPERS FOR ME, TILDA!"--
MEANING VEILS AND HANGERS AND ALL THAT--"YOU'VE NOTHING TO GRIEVE FOR,
OLD GIRL." AND I TO COMFORT HIM: "RIGHT YOU ARE, OLD JO! IF MY MEMORY
LASTS SO LONG, THAT IS, FOR YOU'LL BEAT METHUSELAH YET!" BUT WHEN HENRY
HEARD OF IT, HE ALL BUT STOOD ON HIS HEAD--MY DEAR, HE HAS AGNES GOING
ROUND WITH A FLOUNCE OF CREPE A YARD WIDE ON HER SKIRTS. AND INDEED,
MARY, I DON'T THINK I COULD HAVE FACED WALKING UP THE AISLE OF A SUNDAY
WITHOUT A BLACK BONNET AND ALL COMPLETE; THOUGH BETWEEN OURSELVES IT
MAKES ME FEEL A PROPER CROW. DON'T TELL, BUT WHEN I DRIVE OUT INTO THE
BUSH I STUFF A SHADY OLD HAT IN A BASKET UNDER THE SEAT, AND AS SOON AS
I GET FAR ENOUGH, I OFF WITH THE BONNET AND ON WITH THE HAT. THE
WEEPERS DO DRAW THE FLIES SO. AYE, AND FLIES OF ANOTHER COLOUR TOO,
MARY, IF YOU'LL BELIEVE ME. BUT THEY COME TO THE WRONG SHOP HERE; NONE
OF YOUR LONG-NOSED FORTUNE-SNUFFLERS FOR ME. AND THAT REMINDS
ME--WHAT DO YOU THINK HENRY'S LATEST IS? SAYS I OUGHT TO HAVE SOME ONE
TO LIVE WITH ME--THAT IT ISN'T COMMY FAUT FOR AN ATTRACTIVE YOUNG
WIDDER-WOMAN TO LIVE ALL ALONE! HA HA! DO YOU SEE ANY GREEN IN THIS
CHILD'S EYE? I THINK I CAN BE TRUSTED, DON'T YOU, MARY, TO LOOK AFTER
MYSELF. BUT I ENJOY KEEPING MOSSIEU HENRY ON THE QUAKE. WHAT HE'S
AFRAID OF IS THAT ALL I GOT FROM POOR OLD PA WON'T FALL TO HIS AND
AGNES'S KIDS WHEN I HOP THE TWIG. TALKING OF AGNES, I DON'T SEE MILADI
ONCE IN A BLUE MOON NOWADAYS. I HEAR SHE'S "NOT AT ALL WELL." IT'S MY
PRIVATE BELIEF SOMETHING'S WRONG THERE, MARY. THEY'VE CHANGED DOCTORS
THREE TIMES, TELL YOUR HUSBAND, SINCE HE LEFT. LOUISE URQUHART'S
PRESENTED HER HUSBAND WITH THE ELEVENTH. HOW SHE KEEPS IT UP SO REGULAR
BEATS ME. BUT THERE'S RUCTIONS IN THAT FAMILY AT PRESENT. WILLY'S BEEN
UNUSUAL GAY. THIS TIME IT WAS A GOVERNESS, A REAL YOUNG SPARK THEY HAD
UP TO YARANGOBILLY TO TEACH THE KIDS. SHE GOT BUNDLED OUT DOUBLE-QUICK
AT THE END, AND WILLY'S LOOKED MEEK AS A SUCKING-LAMB EVER SINCE. I
DROP IN TO SEE NED'S POLLY NOW AND AGAIN--YOU'VE HEARD I SUPPOSE SHE
LOST HER LAST. AND A GOOD THING TOO. SHE'S GOT MORE THAN SHE CAN MANAGE
AS IT IS. I HEARD FROM HER, YOUNG JERRY'S THE NEWEST CANDIDATE FOR THE
HOLY ESTATE. THEY DO SAY THE BRIDE ELECT STILL PLAYS WITH DOLLS. LOR,
MARY! WHAT WILL THESE INFANTS BE UP TO NEXT? ANOTHER PIECE OF NEWS IS
THAT THAT OBSTINATE OLD BRUTE IN MELBOURNE HAS GONE AND PUT ALL POOR
FINN'S BLESSED LITTLE NIPPERS TO BOARDING-SCHOOL. THAT DOES HIT ME
HARD, MARY. BUT I GET EVEN WITH HIM IN ANOTHER WAY, MY DEAR. I'VE WON
OVER THE OLD VINAIGRETTE HERE--SHE NEEDED NEW GLOBES, ETC. FOR HER
SCHOOLHOUSE--AND WE HAVE A KIND OF AGREEMENT, ALL UNBEKNOWNST TO THE
HONOURABLE, THAT THE KID TROTTY CAN COME HOME WITH ME OF A SATURDAY
AFTERNOON INSTEAD OF SPENDING THE DAY ON THE BACKBOARD. SHE'S A NICE
LITTLE KID, FULL OF LIFE, THOUGH YOUNG ENOUGH FOR HER AGE, AND I TRY TO
GIVE HER A GOOD TIME. BUT WHAT SHE LIKES BEST IS TO MAKE BUTTER, SO I
PIN AN APRON ON HER AND TURN HER INTO THE DAIRY WITH MARTHA, AMONG THE
MILK-PANS AND CHURNS. BUT LET ME TELL YOU THIS, MY DEAR. THE HONOURABLE
JOHN NEEDN'T INDULGE ANY FOOL IDEAS ABOUT ECONOMISING IN HOUSEKEEPERS
WHEN HER SCHOOLING'S OVER--AS OLD PRUNES AND PRISMS TELLS ME. SOME ONE
A GREAT DEAL YOUNGER AND HANDSOMER THAN HIM WILL WHIP HER OFF. SHE'S
MUCH TOO PRETTY FOR THE SINGLE LIFE.

I THINK THAT'S ALL MY NEWS. WE HAD GREAT CHURCH FESTIFICATIONS LATELY
AND LOOK FORWARD TO MORE WHEN THE CHANCEL'S BUILT. I SAY, THE
DOCTOR HAD SOME "AUSTRALIA FELIXES," HADN'T HE? I HEAR THEY'VE STRUCK
THE REEF. BUT THIS IS A FEARFUL LONG SCRAWL, AND YET NOT HALF SO
COMFORTABLE AS EVEN A QUARTER OF AN HOUR'S GOOD YARN WOULD BE. WHEN
SHALL WE HAVE THAT AGAIN, MARY DARLING? I DON'T LOSE HOPES FOR SOMEDAY.
AND AS YOU KNOW I'VE SWORN NEVER TO CROSS THE WATER, IT MUST MEAN THE
OTHER WAY ABOUT. YES, I STILL BELIEVE I SHALL SEE YOU BACK AGAIN: AND
WHEN YOU DO COME, YOU'LL FIND YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN BY YOUR DEVOTED OLD
CRONY--TILLY.




Chapter VII



The end of September brought day after day of soft, steamy mists, which
saturated everything with moisture, and by night fell as a fine rain
that turned low-lying parts of the garden to a bog. Did you mount to
the roads on the high level you were in the clouds themselves; they
trailed past you like smoke. There was no horizon seaward. At a little
distance from the shore the grey water became one with a bank of
vapour; the yellow cliffs vanished; suns neither rose nor set.

It was exasperating weather. These eternal sea fogs, which never a puff
of wind came to chase away, seemed literally to bury you alive. They
brought out the sweat on the flagged floors and passages of the old,
old house; a crop of mould sprang up in the corners of the dining-room;
the bread mildewed in the bin. Did the back door stand open, frogs took
advantage of it to hop in and secrete themselves; slugs squeezed
through cracks and left their silvery trail over the carpets. Mary
began to fear the house would prove but sorry winter quarters; and she
had ample leisure to indulge such reflections, the bad weather
confining her almost wholly within doors. Here was no kind friend with
buggy or shandrydan to rout her out and take her driving; and ladies
did not walk in Buddlecombe: the hilly roads were too steep, the flat
roads too muddy. So, once more, she sat and sewed, faced by the
prospect of a long, dull, lonely winter. Calls and invitations had
rather dropped off, of late. . . as was not unnatural . . . and she
would have been for seeing nothing peculiar in it, had she not
connected it in some obscure way with Richard and the practice. This
had also declined; was failing, it was plain, to live up to its early
promise.

She was unaware that no sooner had the "Court" reopened for the winter
than the tale--in a garbled version--of the innovations attempted by
the "new doctor's wife" had been carried to the ears of its mistress.
And Mrs. Archibald Treherne pinched a pair of very thin lips
and further arched already supercilious eyebrows. That was all; but it
was enough. And, in consequence, from the choicest entertainments of
the autumn the Mahonys found themselves conspicuously omitted.

Their only personal connection with the big house was due to an unhappy
contretemps of the kind that was given to rankling for ever after in
Mahony's mind.

On learning of the family's arrival, both he and Mary privately thought
an exchange of courtesies would follow. Hence when one day a footman
was found to have handed in cards during Mary's absence--his mistress
keeping her seat in her carriage at the foot of the hill--the visit
did not take them by surprise. Within the week Mary drove out in a
hired vehicle to return it.

A bare half-hour later she was home again, looking flushed and
disturbed.

"Richard! . . . a most AWKWARD thing has happened. Those cards were not
meant for us at all. It was the footman's mistake. He ought to have
left them at the next house down the road--that little thatched
cottage at the corner. They were for a Mrs. Pigott, who's staying
there."

"What? Well, upon my word!"

Leaning back in his chair Mahony stared at his wife, while he took in
the significance of her words. "And does that mean to say the woman
doesn't intend to call on you . . . as well?"

"Evidently not." Mary was crestfallen.

"WHAT? But will call on this Mrs. Pigott?--living in a farmer's
thatched cottage?" And Mary not replying, he burst out: "You will
never, with my consent, set foot in that house again!"

"Indeed, I don't want to," said Mary, and sitting down untied her
bonnet-strings and threw them over her shoulders. "I don't know WHEN
I've felt so uncomfortable. I was ushered into the drawing-room--it
seemed crowded with people--and there she sat, holding our cards and
looking from them to me and back again. I heard something about 'the
new doctor's wife' as I went in. Then she asked to what she owed my
visit, said she hadn't the pleasure and so on--all in front of these
other people--the Brookes of 'Shirley' I think they were--that
retired old General . . . you met him once, you know, and thought him
very stuck-up. I had to explain how it had happened; I felt my
face getting as red as fire. I didn't know whether to walk out again or
what, and she didn't help me--didn't get up, or shake hands, or
anything. Fortunately a very nice person--a sort of companion, I think
--asked me to rest a little after my drive, and I thought it would make
things less awkward for everybody if I did so; so I just sat down for a
minute and said a word or two, and then bowed and left. She came with
me to the door--the companion, I mean."

White with anger Mahony shuffled and re-shuffled the papers that lay
before him on the writing-table. "We've never been treated like this in
our lives before, Mary, and I for one won't put up with it! Damn the
woman and her insolence! Talk about breeding and blue blood--give me
ordinary decent feelings and a little kindness, and you can keep the
blood, thank you! I snap my fingers at it." In imagination he saw his
Mary, faced by a like predicament, doing her utmost to smooth over the
embarrassment of the moment and set the unfortunate intruder at ease.

And time did not lessen his resentment. Rudeness to Mary--such a thing
had never before come within the range of his experience--stung him,
he found, almost more than rudeness to himself. But was the thrust not
actually aimed at him . . . through her? What had the object of it been
but to drive home to him the galling fact that, on this side of the
world, the medical profession carried with it no standing whatever? In
the colonies, along with the Parson and the Police Magistrate, he had
helped to constitute the upper ten of a town. Here the doctor--and
quite especially the country doctor--stood little higher in the social
scale than did the vet. and the barber. Oh, those striped poles!
Tradition died so hard in this slow-thinking, slow-moving country.
Ingrained in people, not to be eradicated, was a memory of the day when
the surgeon had been but the servant, the attendant lackey of the great
house.

Grimly cogitating, he prepared in advance for further snubs and slights
by going about with his chin in the air, looking to the last degree
stiff and unapproachable. For, that Mary's misadventure would remain a
secret, he did not for a moment believe. There were all too many mouths
in Buddlecombe agape for gossip--it would be threshed out over every
tabby's tea-table--and those already inclined to look down
their noses at him and Mary would have a fresh excuse for so grimacing.
Anything was possible in such a petty-minded, tittle-tattling place.
Hence, it did not surprise him to hear that Robinson had been called to
the "Court." The trouble was, of course, that the townspeople and
lesser folk were faithful in imitation of their betters; and soon it
began to seem to him that he was not occasionally, but everlastingly
getting out of Robinson's way. And as he sat at home over the fire--
Mary kept fires going to drive the damp out; though, in order to
breathe, you had to leave the windows wide open to mist and fog--his
thoughts were anything but cheerful. There was not work enough for two
--or money either. As it was, he was having to depend more than he
cared for on his Australian dividends.

It was at this juncture that the report reached his ears of illness at
"Toplands," where the younger son lay prostrate with gastric fever. But
his services were not requisitioned.

Then came that morning when Mary, grave and worried, broke the news to
him that Robinson's gig had been seen at the gates of "Toplands"; the
morning when, unable to hire a horse for his rounds, he was tormented,
as he trudged the country lanes, by the idea that, like the last, this
practice also was threatening to peter out.

Late that evening as he sat reading, there came a loud rat-tatting at
the front door. The doctor in him pricked up his ears at the now
unfamiliar sound: it was like an old-time call to action--in the land
of cruel accident and sudden death. The visitor admitted, an excited
voice was heard in the passage, and Mary's in reply; after which Mary
herself entered the surgery, shutting the door behind her and looking
irresolute and uncomfortable. The elder of the two Challoner boys had,
it seemed, come driving down post-haste from "Toplands." His brother
lay dying. Would Dr. Mahony come back with him--the dogcart was at the
door--and meet Mr. Robinson?

"Meet ROBINSON? Not if I know it!"

"I told him I couldn't be sure. But, Richard, there's nobody else--
unless he rides all the way to Brixeter. And there and back would take
him at least four hours. His brother might be dead by then. Their
mother is almost out of her mind, poor thing."

"Poor thing, indeed! After the way she's treated us. But you
haven't a scrap of pride in you."

"Not when it's a case of life or death I haven't. Dear, don't you think
you could manage to overlook what's happened? . . . not stand on
etiquette? If the boy should die, you'd reproach yourself bitterly for
not having gone."

"You never will understand these things, Mary!--and though you live to
be a hundred. Little did I dream," he said with violence, as he slapped
his book to and ungraciously rose to his feet, "when I settled here,
that I should ever come down to playing second fiddle in this fashion."

"It may be your chance to play first again--if you cure him."

Mahony pshawed.

Off he drove though, as she had known all along he would; and did not
get back till four in the morning. Then, half a glance was enough to
show her that he was in a state of extreme nervous exasperation. So she
asked only a single question: did the lad still live? But Richard could
not contain himself; and as he moved about the bedroom, winding up his
watch and letting his collar fly, he burst out: "Nothing on earth will
induce me to stop in this place, Mary, to be insulted as I have been
to-night! This is worse--a hundred times worse!--than the colony."

From under her lashes Mary shot him a swift look he did not see: a look
full of motherly tenderness--and yet triumphant. Aloud she merely
said: "But think what a feather in your cap it will be, if the boy
recovers, . . . the prestige you will gain."

"Prestige? Pah! Robinson will say he did the curing, and I stepped in
and took the credit. A fat lot of prestige to be got from that! Mary,
there's been a dead set made against me here--I've felt it now for
some time, though why, I knew no more than Adam. To-night I believe I
got a clue. It's Australia if you please!--the fact of my having
practised in Australia is against me." And at Mary's vigorously
expressed disbelief: "Well! just listen to this, my dear, and judge for
yourself. First of all, they prefer Robinson FUDDLED, to me sober. Yes,
it's the truth. When I get to 'Toplands' I find him tight--stupidly
tight--standing by the bed staring like an owl. Quite devoid of shame
he evidently is not though, for no sooner did he see me than off he
bolted--leaving me as much in the dark as ever. I tried to get
some information from the womenfolk about the earlier stages of the
complaint; but not one was capable of giving a connected answer . . . .
I'd sent the other young fellow off for leeches and the barber. Young
Leonard lay convulsed and insensible. And yet, if you'll believe me,
Robinson had been telling them it was gastric, and plying him with
brandy. Inflammation of the membranes of the brain, Mary!--and the
fool killing him with stimulants. While I was making mustard poultices
for his feet and legs, back comes Robinson and attempts to feel his
pulse. I said: 'Now look here, my good man, if you don't give me some
particulars of this case, I shall proceed to treat it without you.' He
answered not a word. Then I turned to her. 'Now, madam,' said I, 'I'm
not going to stand this. Either he or I must leave the room--or indeed
the house--and, until you decide which, I go downstairs.' She
followed, all but clawing at my coat. He lurches after us, shouting
abuse. . . for the whole house to hear. And what, pray, do you think he
said? . . . amongst other scurrilous trash. 'Very well, if you prefer
the opinion of this old quack to mine, take it and abide by the
consequences. Australia! We all knows what THAT means. Ask him what
other trades he's plied there. Make him turn out his credentials.' It
was as much as I could do to keep from knocking him down. Only the
thought of the lad upstairs restrained me. SHE was very humble and
apologetic, of course; besought me to take no notice; almost grovelled
to me to save her son, etc. etc. I made short work of her, though."

"Besides, you can surely afford to smile at such nonsense, Richard?"
Mary strove to soothe him. "It would be beneath your dignity to notice
it. Especially as he wasn't himself." Distressed though she felt at
this return for Richard's kindness, Mary was also unpleasantly worked
on by his interlarded "My good man!" and the general hoity-toity air of
his narration. What a peppery fellow he was! How could he ever expect
to succeed and be popular? That kind of tone would not go down here.

"I make allowance for his condition . . . of course I do . . . but all
the same it does not incline me, my dear . . . If such are the tales
that are going the round about me, Mary--charlatan and quack, a
colonial ne'er-do-well trading on a faked diploma and so on; if
it's a blot on my reputation to have lived and practised in the
colonies, instead of mouldering my life away in this miserable village
--then much is explained that has been dark to me. Anyhow, it came over
me with a rush to-night: I go from here. They don't want me; I'm not
good enough for them--a man who has held a first-class practice in the
second city of Victoria not good enough for the torpid livers of
Buddlecombe! Very well, let them get some one else . . . I'm done with
'em. Really, Mary, I sometimes feel so sick and tired of the struggle
that I fancy throwing up medicine altogether. What would you say, love,
to taking a small cottage somewhere and living modestly on the little
we have?"

Now what WOULD he say next? wondered Mary with an inward sigh. But the
present was not the moment to combat such vagaries. Richard was sore
and smarting; and in this mood he just tossed off suggestions without
thinking; letting his anger out in them as the hole in the lid of a
kettle lets out steam. So she only said: "Let us first see what happens
here. Is there any chance of Lenny Challoner recovering?"

"Frankly, I don't think there is. I give him till the coming midnight.
He'll probably die between then and dawn."

But this prediction was not fulfilled. The boy weathered the night; and
after sixty hours' unconsciousness spoke to those about him, though
with wandering wits.

Buddlecombe was all a-twitter and agog: the affair was discussed over
counters by tradesmen and goodwives; at mahogany dinner-tables; in the
oaken settles of inns. Every one knew to a T everything that had
happened . . . and a good deal more: were for and against the two
doctors in their feud. "'Tis a'anyway little better'n boo'tchers a
hoald t'lot of un," thus Raby, the town crier, summed up the matter to
his cronies of the "Buddlecombe Arms." "Bu'ut if us was ca'alves, 'tis
the ha'and us knows as us 'ud ra'ather die by."

Yes, chiefly against him, felt Mahony: and it screwed him stiff as a
rod. The majority sided with the townsman who had lived among them for
years; who was rich enough to spend freely in their shops, subscribe
heavily to their charities; besides being an expert in the right
admixture of joviality and reserve necessary to make his failings go
down.

Mary fought this idea with all her might. Richard was just
reading his own feelings into other people, as usual. She herself clung
to the belief that the sick boy would pull through, now he had held out
so long. Which would be a veritable triumph for Richard. If only he did
not spoil things by his uncompromising behaviour! For he was in a most
relentless frame of mind. More than one of Robinson's patients
subsequently sent for him. But he, riding the high horse, declined to
touch a single other of the enemy's cases. They should apply for
relief, said he, to Mr. Jakes of Brixeter.

Meanwhile, of course, he did not spare himself over the patient he had
taken in hand. But eventually, in spite of his care, the boy died,
killing Mary's hopes, and enabling Robinson to go about cockahoop,
boasting that wrong treatment had finished him off. It HAD been
"gastric," after all!

And now, as he stalked his way or drove his gig about the hilly roads
and narrow streets, Mahony felt himself indeed a marked man.

"Till Christmas . . . not a day longer! I was never built for this."
And as he said it, his thoughts flew back to a time when the merest
hint that his skill was doubted had shaken his roots to their depths.
Here, where he had as yet hardly put out a sucker, the wrench was
easier, and at the same time a hundredfold more destructive.




Chapter VIII



But before Christmas came, Mary's hope that things would somehow right
themselves burned up anew--if hope that could be called which ran so
counter to her own inclinations, and to the possible issue she now
thought she descried.

With the onset of November it was the turn of "Buddlecombe Hall" to
reopen. And now a wave of new life seemed to run through the sluggish
little town. The Saxeby-Corbetts, returning, as it were took possession
of the place; and they had this advantage over the Trehernes--a
childless couple--that they counted a baker's dozen in family all
told. Their arrival was after the fashion of crowned heads. First came
dragloads of servants, male and female, and of varying ages--from the
silver-headed butler down to young scullery and laundry-maids--after
which the windows of the great house were flung up, the chimneys
belched smoke, hammerings and beatings resounded; while various elderly
women in the town tied on rusty black and went off to give obsequious
aid. Footmen in livery lounged about the inns; grooms rode swathed
horses out to exercise. The tradespeople wellnigh lost their wits with
excitement. One heard of nothing, now, on entering a shop, but "the
family," its needs and preferences.

"I've never seen anything to equal it!" cried Mahony exasperated. "The
way these poor creatures burn to prostrate themselves."

The list of young people would not be full till the holidays began; but
donkey and pony-carts were met with containing the smaller children,
their attendant governesses and nursemaids. The squire himself, a
ruddy-faced man in early middle age, mounted on a fine chestnut, might
be observed confabbing with the farmers; and lastly came his lady,
driving herself in a low chaise: a bony-jawed, high-nosed woman, whose
skin told of careless exposure to all weathers. Dressed anyhow, too,
said Mary, who had once seen her in the town with an old
garden-hat perched on her head, a red flannel spencer thrown over her
bodice.

And now, at the sound of wheels, grocer and butcher would prick up
their ears and pop from their respective doors, merely on the off
chance of pulling their forelocks, and (as likely as not) receiving in
return a snub from the lady of the "Hall." For in spite of what Mahony
called their "piteous desire" to please, she was never satisfied, and
hurled at their heads, in vigorous language, her frank opinion of their
wares.

"Now, Johnson, this will not do! That last meat you supplied to the
servants hall was tough as my boot. If the next is no better, I shall
come and superintend the slaughtering myself. It's my belief, my man,
you don't know a heifer from a leather-gutted milch-cow!"

And Johnson, doubled in two with relish of her "ladyship's" joke, could
be heard right down the street vowing there should be no further ground
for complaint; though a visit from her "ladyship" to his humble
establishment would at any time be reckoned as an honour--and so on.

To mark his disapproval of this fawning, and for fear any hint of
patronage or condescension might come his way, Mahony had all his
armour on, all his spines out, when he was unexpectedly summoned to the
"Hall" to attend one of the children, sick of a feverish cold. Mary saw
him go, with many misgivings; but it actually seemed as if, for once,
his lordly manner went down. By his own account he successfully faced
the imperious dame: "Who, if you please, was for herself pronouncing on
the ailment--it turns out to be chicken-pox--and had nurses and maids
dancing like puppets to a string. I soon let her see that kind of thing
wouldn't do with me, Mary. And she took the hint fast enough, changed
her tone, and behaved like any other decently bred woman.--I had
certainly rather though," he added, "have her for a friend than an
enemy."

Oh, if this could only be, thought Mary. It might alter everything. And
it was here, with him daily at the "Hall," where the nursery in a body
succumbed to the pox, that her confidence bloomed anew. For in a way
Richard even became a kind of protege of its mistress: she would keep
him, after his professional visit was paid, to chat about the
colonies and hear his impressions of England. Even Mary herself
received a call, and though it was one of a somewhat quizzing
inspection and Madam was "not at home" when she returned it, yet
Richard was pleased, which was the main thing. He himself was twice
bidden to dinner--a little informal dinner, at which only another man
or two was present; a state of things that seemed to mark as true the
report that the dame had small liking for the company of her own sex.

Yes, Richard's fortunes seemed at last to have taken a definite turn
for the better, when of a sudden the blow fell which put an end to
hopes and fears alike. What was behind it Mary did not know, and never
learned. But one morning at breakfast he blurted out in summary fashion
that he had resolved, overnight, to shake the dust of Buddlecombe off
his feet. And before she had recovered from the shock of this
announcement, the house was up for sale, and she hard at work sorting
and packing. Coming as it did on top of her renewed confidence, the
decision hit Mary hard. It also gave a further push to her tottering
faith in Richard's judgment. Of course, it was clear something
unpleasant had happened at the last dinner-party. But she could get
nothing out of Richard--absolutely nothing--except that he was done
"for all eternity" with place and people. In vain she reasoned, argued,
pleaded. . . and even lost her temper. He remained obstinately silent,
leaving her to her own conjectures--which led nowhere. Leicester? . . .
well, compared with this, his bolting from Leicester had been as easy
to understand as A B C--an ugly town with no practice worth speaking
of, and the little there was, of the wrong kind. But here where she had
thought his first irate "Till Christmas!" was gradually being overlaid;
here she could only put his abrupt determination down to one of his
most freakish and wayward impulses.

Mahony saw her trouble; saw, too, how rudely her trust in him was
shaken. But he did not enlighten her--he would rather have cut his
tongue out. For what had happened concerned Mary first of all; and
though there was a chance she might have taken it less tragically than
he--in real "Mary-ish" fashion--yet he felt as averse to bringing the
words over his lips as to letting her see how deeply it had mortified
him.

Another informal invitation to dine at the "Hall" had reached
him--at least, he took it to be such, since Mary was not included. At
the entrance to the great house, however--six o'clock of a frosty
December evening--he ran into old Barker, a retired Anglo-Indian, just
dismounting from his hired fly; and to his amazement saw that, this
time, Barker had his ladies with him. Becoming involved in their
entrance, he was waiting with the Colonel for wife and daughters to
rejoin them, when the old valetudinarian found that he had left his
jujubes in the pocket of his greatcoat. Standing thus alone, close to
the half-open drawing-room door, Mahony suddenly heard his own name
spoken and in the harsh, grating voice of their hostess.--"Yes, from
the colonies. I can tell you I WAS put out, when I came back and found
what had happened. I wrote off at once to that sheep, young Philips,
and gave him a sound rating for letting himself be frightened away,
after the trouble I had been to, to get him here." At this a gentler
voice murmured a query; to which the answer rang shrill and dear: "Oh,
well, HE is quite presentable!"

This it was that stuck in Mahony's throat. And on getting home shortly
after midnight he did not go down the passage to the bedroom, but
turned into the surgery, which faced the hall-door. No sound came from
Mary; she was evidently asleep.

He did not strike a match: feeling his way to the window, he raised the
blind and leaned his forehead on the glass. The sea lay still and black
as ink, under a starlit sky--as starlight went here. Presently the
moon, now entered on her last quarter, would come up from behind the
diffs and throw a lurid light--lurid, because the light of decay--
over the cold sea and sleeping town, picking out the line of silvery
shingle that edged the beach, and making the odd old curved breakwater
look as though it were built of marble.

He had been at white heat all the evening. Again and again amid the
desultory talk, both at the dinner-table and afterwards in the
drawing-room, the rasping voice had rung in his ears: "HE is quite
presentable!"--while he could imagine, though he had not seen, the
impudent shrug that accompanied the stressing of the pronoun. Thus
wantonly did mortals glance at, sum up and dismiss one another. The jar
to his pride was a rude one. For, ingrained in him, and not to
be eradicated was the conviction that he was gentleman first, doctor
second: slights might be aimed at his profession, but not at him in
person.--And yet, in comparison, the patronising "presentable" affixed
to himself left him cold. It was the sneer at Mary that stung him to
the quick. That was something he would never be able either to forget
or forgive. Did he contemplate this great heart, full to the brim of
charity, of human kindness; this mine of generous impulse; this swift
begetter of excuse and explanation for everything in others that was
not as fair and honest as in himself; did he consider that, to assist
in their need any of these purblind souls who sat so lightly in
judgment on her, she would have stripped the clothing from her back:
then he burned with a wrath too deep for words. He did not know one of
them worthy to tie up her shoe-lace. And yet, such a worm for truth
existed in him, so plaguy an instinct to get to the root of a matter,
that even as he burned, he found himself looking Mary up and down,
viewing her from every angle, and with a purely objective eye. He saw
her at home, in church, in the company of others; saw her gestures, her
movements, her smile; heard her laughter, the tones of her voice and
her way of speaking: all these, for the first time, as things for
themselves, detached from the true, sound core of her. And as he did
so, he was forced to own that, in a way, these people were justified of
their criticism: she WAS different. But not as they meant it. Her
manner had a naturalness, her gestures a spontaneity, which formed only
too happy a contrast to their ruled and measured restraint. Indeed as
he studied her, it began to seem to him that into all Mary did or said
there had crept something large and free--a dash of the spaciousness
belonging to the country that had become her true home. She needed
elbow-room. Her voice was deeper, fuller, more resonant than theirs;
she fixed a straight, simple gaze on people and things; walked with a
freer step, was franker in her speech, readier with her tongue; she
stood up to members of the other sex as women emphatically did NOT do
here, an they did not belong to the class of "Madam of the Hall." No
connection between Mary and the pursed-up mouth, the downcast,
unroving, unintelligent eye, the hands primly folded at the waist, the
short, sedate steps, of the professing English lady. For that, the net
of her experience had been too widely cast. She had rubbed
shoulders with all sorts; had been unable to afford the "lady's"
privilege of shutting an eye to evil or wrong-doing and pretending it
did not exist. And if, in the process, she had come to be a shade too
downright in her opinions, too blunt for the make-believe of antique
conventions . . . well, he thought he might safely leave it to Him who
had broken bread with publicans and sinners, to adjudge which was the
worthier attitude of the two.

Thus he reasoned; but ever and again his mind veered back to the
personal thrust. Mary vulgar!.. . Mary, of whom he had felt so fondly
proud, having grown to middle age hearing on all sides that she had not
her equal in those attributes that make a woman blessed. "Out there" he
had seen her courted, made much of; none had approached her in
popularity. And from this happy state he had torn her away . . . for
what? For the privilege of being looked down on as not quite a lady . . .
had uprooted her from the country she loved best and fitted best
into, to make her a stranger on the face of the earth. So much for
Mary. But did he himself feel any more at home here than she? Not a bit
of it! Nor had he been a jot apter at adjusting himself. They stood
out, the pair of them, like over-large figures on a miniature
background. The truth was they had lost the knack of running in a
groove: life, in its passage, had hammered them out into citizens of
the world. So that, by now, an indelible stamp was on them. And, with
this as their dower, cured for ever of an excessive insularity, they
had come back to find an England that had not budged by an inch; where
people's outlook, habits, opinions were just what they had always been
--inelastic, uninspired. Worse, these islanders seemed to preen
themselves on their very rigidity, their narrow-mindedness, their
ignorance of any life or country but their own; waving aside with an
elegant flutter of the hand, everything of which they themselves had no
cognisance. And into this closed circle he and Mary--especially Mary--
had come blundering, trampling on prejudice, surrounded by an aura of
adventure . . . and unsuccessful adventure at that! Was it indeed any
wonder they found themselves outside the pale?

Well, this ended it. He could not picture himself going on living there
with a nervous eye eternally cocked at Mary to see how she was
comporting herself, or how what she did struck the wretched group of
snobs he had been fool enough to dump her down amongst; the while he
winced at idiosyncrasies he yet grudged to admit. No, the wider the
distance he could put between himself and Buddlecombe the better he
would be pleased. But where to go? . . . what next? Back to some sordid
manufacturing town, with its black mud and slippery cobble-stones, to
act as medical adviser to a handful of grooms and servant girls? Or to
another village to see exclusive country-folk turn up their noses at
your wife, and watch the practice in which you had invested your
hard-earned hundreds melting away, filched by one whose chief merit was
never having been out of England? Not if he knew it!--There now
remained only London to consider--Mary would no doubt harp anew on the
openings to be found there. But at the mere thought of London he shrank
into himself, as he had shrunk under his first physical impression of
it. What he had then suspected he now felt sure of. Great cities were
not for him: he was too old to stand the strain of their wear and tear.
And therewith the list of possibilities on this side of the globe was
exhausted. Would he had stayed on the other! CIVIS BRITANNICUS SUM--
that knowledge should have been enough for him. Instead of which,
burning to prove his citizenship, he had chased back, with, in his
heart, the pent-up feelings of his long, long absence. He laughed did
he now recall the exultation with which he had descried the outlines of
the English coast. "Out there," he had seen this old country through
the rose-red spectacles of youthful memory. Now he knew that the thrill
he had experienced on again beholding it--his pleasure in its radiant
greenness--was the sum total of the satisfaction he would ever get
from it. No sooner ashore--and not even Mary had fathomed his
passionate desire to stand well here--than he had felt himself
outsider and alien. England had no welcome for her homing sons, or any
need of them: their places were long since filled.

But stay! let him be frank with himself. Had he liked the motherland
any better than it liked him? He had not. Indeed his feelings were a
great deal more active than any want of liking. He hated it--yes! hate
was not too strong a word--and had done, from the first moment of
landing. His attempt at transplanting himself had been a sad
and sorry failure. Returning full of honours and repute, he found that
the mere fact of his having lived and practised in Australia cast a
slur on his good name. Again, he had come back on what he believed to
be but the threshold of middle age--and without being greatly troubled
by it; for, "out there," men of his own years had kept pace, gone along
with him--and everywhere had been made to feel himself well over his
prime, if not indeed--thanks to Australian pallor and wrinkles--an
old man: one of those broken-down adventurers who limp home, at long
last, to eke out the remainder of a wasted life.

But what next?--what in all the world next? To this question he could
find no answer. Nor was he helped by staring at the sea, or the golden,
lemon-shaped moon that now came up on its back from behind the dark
mass of the cliffs. The purchase of a third practice was beyond him: if
he went from here he went empty-handed. Possibly he might get for the
house what he had given for it--though he had discovered that it was
both damp and in need of repair--but this sum would not suffice to set
him up anew. No, the outlook was darker than, a moment before, the
night had been; no moon rose for him. And he lay long wakeful,
grappling in a cold sweat with the many small practical details of the
break--details which it is so easy to overlook in the taking of
sweeping decisions, yet which afterwards rise up like mountains--and
following the square of silver that flooded in through the uncurtained
window, and slowly moved across the bed on its passage from wall to
wall. With the glimmer of the material dawn, however--red behind those
cliffs that had delivered up the moon, great Jupiter hanging like a
globe of silver above them--there came to him, too, the dawning of a
possible solution. But at the first hint of it he flung restlessly over
on his side, unable to bear its weight. A bolder hand than his was
needed, to sweep away the cobwebs of prejudice and nervous aversion in
which he had spun himself. It took Mary to do it; and she did; though
not till she had talked herself hoarse in an attempt to make him see
reason, begging him to hold the field and show fight; till her head
swam with listening to his monotonous: "What now? Where can I go?"
Then, abruptly determined, she cut the knot by facing him and answering
squarely: "Why, home again!"--words which first made Mahony
wince, then snort with contempt. But he had no other suggestion to
offer--or none but the fatuous one Mary had already smiled at, that,
he having given up practice, they should retire to some tiny cottage,
do without domestic help, see no company, and live on the slender sum
that came to them from Australia. "I think we could be very happy and
content, love, living so--just you and I." If a soul can be said to
laugh, then, in spite of her trouble, Mary's soul rocked with laughter
at this fresh sample of Richard's fantasy. Oh, was there ever such an
unpractical old dreamer? . . . such an inability to see things as they
were. No doubt he pictured a show cottage, wreathed in roses and
honeysuckle, where they would pass idyllic days. The slow death-in-life
of such an existence, the reaction of his haughty pride against the
social position--or want of position--that would be forced upon them,
was hidden from him. Perhaps mercifully hidden . . . and Mary sighed.

But she did not falter . . . either at his first disdainful sniff, or,
later on, when his eyes came stealing back to hers; came tamed, all the
scorn gone out of them. "Only do not call it home," was his unspoken
request. Short of a miracle that name would never, he believed, cross
his lips again. No place could now be "home" to him as long as he
lived. He was once more an outcast and a wanderer; must go back in
humiliation to the land that had eaten up his prime, and there make the
best of the years that were left him.

As time wore on, however, and their preparations for departure
advanced; as, too, the prospect of a change of scene hoisted its pirate
flag again, this sense of bitterness subsided; the acute ache turned to
a dull pain that was almost a relief. And worked on by this, as by the
joy which, for all her anxieties, Mary could not quite conceal, the
relief also imperceptibly changed its character, and grew to be a warm
spot in his heart.

And one evening, when the supper dishes had been pushed aside to make
room for Mary's desk--she was methodically noting the contents of a
tin trunk--Mahony in watching her and thinking how the frequent coughs
and colds she had suffered from, since landing in England, had thinned
her down, spoke his thought aloud. "Well, love, whatever happens, you
at least will grow fat and well again, and be the healthy woman
you always were."

"Now don't start to worry about me. I'm all right," said Mary. "It
takes time to get used to a strange climate." She entered a few more
items in her clean, pointed writing, then laid her pen down and put her
chin on her hand. "The thing I like to think of, Richard, is how soon I
shall be seeing them all again--Ned and Jerry and Tilly, and the dear
children. I can hardly believe it. I HAVE missed them so."

"Poor little wife! And shall I tell you what I dwell most on? 'Pon my
soul, Mary, it's of getting my teeth into a really sweet apple again--
instead of a specimen that's red on one side only. I believe England
will stick in my mind, for the rest of my days, as the land where the
fruit doesn't ripen."

"And yet costs so much to buy."

"And if I know you, my dear, it's the Abernethy biscuit and thin
lemon-water you won't forget. Well, well, madam! you'll soon be able to
pamper your guests once more to your heart's content."

"Perhaps. But I shall at least see who it is Jerry thinks of marrying."

"See? . . . yes. But don't hug the belief you'll be able to influence
him in his choice."

"I may not want to. And then there's Johnny to try and find out about,
poor boy, and to keep Zara from making a goose of herself. Oh! now that
we're going home, I feel how dreadfully cut off from them all I have
been here."

"And they'll every one hail you joyfully, my dear, rest assured of
that! . . . be literally foaming with impatience to make use of you
again. I should only like to know how they've got on without you."
Mahony had risen from his chair and was standing on the hearthrug with
his back to the fire. Having meditatively warmed his coat-tails for a
moment he added: "There's another thing, Polly, I don't mind telling
you I look forward to, and that is seeing a real sunrise and sunset
again. On this side of the world . . . well, as often as not the sun
seems just to slip in or out of a bank of clouds. There's none of that
sense of a coming miracle . . . that uplifting effect of space . . . or
splendour of colouring. Why, I've still in my memory evenings when half
the field of the sky was one pink flush--with a silver star
twinkling through--or a stretch of unreal green deepening into yellow
--or mauve . . . And the idea has come to me that it must have been
from glories of this kind that the old Greek scribe drew his picture of
the New Jerusalem.... Yes, I must say, things here--colouring,
landscape, horizon--have all seemed very dull and cramped . . . like
the souls of the people themselves."

Again he fell into thought. Then warmed by these confidences, went
further. "Mary, love, let me confess it: I realise what a sad fool I've
made of myself over this whole business. My ever leaving Ballarat was a
fatal mistake. If I'd only had the sense to take your advice! I was run
down--at the end of my tether--from years of overwork. A twelve-month
out of harness would have set me right again: a voyage to this side;
fresh surroundings and associations--and no need to stint with the
money either, for we should now have been going back to our old ample
income. Instead of having to face another start on as good as
nothing . . . eat humble pie before them all, too. For they will certainly
grasp what has happened.--No, I can see it now; I was too old for such a
drastic break. One's habits stiffen with one's joints. You've noticed
I've been hurt by people here implying I'm out-of-date, old-fashioned--
good enough for the colonies but not for the home-country--but, upon
my word, Mary, I don't know if there isn't some truth in it. I stopped
too long in the one place, my dear; with the result that I ought to
have stopped there altogether.--Well, well! . . . there's only this
about it: fiasco though it has proved, it has not hit me as hard as it
might have done, considering the exaggerated expectations I came home
with. Which in itself is enough to show me age is rendering me
indifferent. Actually, my dear, I believe much of the sting is taken
from what has happened by the sight of your satisfaction at returning.
Never should I have brought you here--never! I thought to find myself
among a different set of people altogether. In memory, I confused good
breeding with tact and kindliness. Whereas, now, if it comes to a
choice between blue blood and inborn goodness of heart, then what I say
is: give me nature's gentlefolk all the time. There's as little
likeness between them as between this eternal clammy drizzle and some
of those cloudless winter days we knew on the Flat."

"Richard! Don't forget how you hated the climate there. And how
poorly the sun made you feel."

"Nor do I. And in spite of the mizzle, and damp, and want of sun, I've
thriven in this country. But one can't live on climate alone. And when
I let my mind dwell on the way I--we--have been treated here; the
stodgy lack of goodwill . . . animosity even . . . the backbiting and
gossip, I tell you this, love: there's but one person I shall regret
when I leave; one only of whom I shall carry away a warm remembrance;
and that's, as you know, your dear old mother. But can you guess why?
Upon my word, I believe it's because there's something in her
warm-heartedness and generosity, her overflowing hospitality, that reminds
me of the people we lived among so long."

"Well! it's late . . . we must to bed," he went on, after a silence
which Mary did not break, there seeming really nothing left for her to
say. "I've no plans, my dear, nor have I at present the spirit to make
any. It seems best at this moment to leave the future in the laps of
the gods. I know this much though: I'm cured of castle-building for
ever."

Mary nodded and acquiesced; or at least again said nothing; and she
kept to this attitude in the weeks that followed, when, as was only
natural, Richard's mind, far too active and uneasy to rest, began to
play round the plans he MIGHT have made, had he not forsworn the habit.
These included settling somewhere by the sea; either near Melbourne or
at one of the watering-places on the Bay--Dromana or Schnapper Point.
Mary let him talk. She herself was persuaded that the only rational
thing for him to do was to return to Ballarat. It was of no use his
riding the high horse: feelings of pique and pride must yield to
practical considerations. He was known from one end of Ballarat to the
other; and the broken threads could there be picked up more swiftly and
with greater ease than anywhere else. It would, of course, no longer be
a case of Webster Street--unless the doctor to whom he had sold the
practice had failed, or proved otherwise unsatisfactory. But Richard
would find room somewhere; even if it had to be on the Redan, or at
Sebastopol, or out at Buninyong. And though he could now never hope to
occupy the position he had wilfully abandoned--oh, the unspeakable
folly of man!--never hope to give up general practice for that of
consultant or specialist, yet with care something might still
be saved from the wreck of the past. And nursing these schemes, Mary
set her lips and frowned with determination. Never again in the years
to come, should he be able to say he repented not having taken her
advice. This time she would set her will through, cost what it might.





Part II




Chapter I



The good ship FLORABELLA, eighty-four days out from Liverpool, made the
Australian coast early one spring morning; and therewith the faint,
new, spicy smell of land wafted across the water.

Coming up from below to catch a whiff of it, her passengers blinked
dazzled eyes at the gaudy brilliancy of light and colouring. Here were
no frail tints and misty trimmings; everything stood out hard, clear,
emphatic. The water was a crude sapphire; the surf that frothed on the
reefs white as milk. As for the sky, Mahony declared it made him think
of a Reckitt's bluebag; while a single strip of pearly cloud to the
east looked fixed, immovable--solid as those clouds on which, in old
paintings, cherubs perch or lean.

Outside the "Rip" the vessel hove to, to take up the pilot; and every
neck was craned to watch his arrival; for with him would come letters
and news--the first to reach the travellers since their departure from
England. Hungrily was the unsealing of the mail-bag awaited.

Mary's lap would hardly hold the envelopes that bore her name. They
were carried to her by the grizzled old Captain himself, who dealt them
out, one by one, cracking a joke to each. Mary laughed; but at the same
time felt a touch of embarrassment. For her to receive so large a share
of the good things--under the very noses, too, of those unfortunates
who got none--seemed not in the best of taste. So, the tale told, she
retired with her budget to the cabin; and Mahony, having seen her
below, went back to read his own correspondence on deck.

But she had done no more than finish John's note of welcome and break
the seal of Tilly's, when a foot came bounding through the saloon, off
which the cabin opened, and there was Richard again--Richard
with rumpled hair, eyes alight, red of face, looking for all the world
like a rowdy schoolboy. Seizing her by the hands he pulled her to her
feet, and would have twirled her round. But Mary, her letters strewing
the floor, protested--stood firm.

"What IS the matter?"

"Mary! Wife! Here's news for us! . . . here's news. A letter from----
" and he flourished a sheet of paper at her. "I give you three guesses,
love. But nonsense!--you couldn't . . . not if you guessed till
Doomsday. No more pinching and scraping for us, Mary! No more underpaid
drudgery for me! My fortune's made. I am a rich man . . . at last!"

"Richard dear! What is it now?"

Mary spoke in the lightly damping tone which Mahony was wont to grumble
she reserved for him alone. But to-day it passed unnoticed.

"Here you are, madam--read for yourself!" and he pushed a crumpled
letter into her hand. "It's those AUSTRALIA FELIXES we have to thank
for it. What a glorious piece of luck, Mary, that I should have stuck
to them and gone on paying their wretched calls, when every one else
let them lapse in despair. John will be green with envy. And this is
only the beginning, my dear. There's no telling what they'll do when
they get the new plant in--old Simmonds says so himself, and he's not
given to superlatives as you know.--Yes, it's good-bye to poverty!"--
and forgetting in his excitement where he was, Mahony flung round to
pace the floor. Baulked by the narrow wall of the cabin, he had just to
turn to the right-about. "It means I can now pick and choose, Mary--
put up my plate in Collins Street East--hold my head as high as the
best."

"Oh, dear, how glad I am! . . . for your sake." The tears sprang to
Mary's eyes; she had openly to wipe them away. "But it's so sudden. I
can hardly believe it. Are you sure it's REALLY true?" And now she
stroked the page smooth, to read for herself.

"You for my sake . . . I for yours! What haven't you had to put up
with, my poor love, through being tied to a rolling old stone like me?
But now, I promise you, everything will be different. There's nothing
you shall not have, my Mary--nothing will be too good for you.
You shall ride in your own carriage--keep half a dozen servants. And
when once you are free of worries and troubles you'll grow fat and rosy
again, and all these little lines on your forehead will disappear."

"And perhaps you won't dislike the colony so much . . . and the people
. . . if you can feel independent of them," said Mary hopefully. Could
he have promised her from this day forth a tranquil and contented mind,
it would have been the best gift of any.

When he had danced out--danced was the word that occurred to her to
describe the new spring in his step, which seemed intolerant of the
floor--had gone to consult the steward about the purchase of a special
brand of champagne, which that worthy was understood to hold in store
for an occasion such as this: when Mary sat down to collect her wits,
she indulged in a private reflection which neither then nor later did
she share with Richard. It ran: "Oh, how thankful I am we didn't get
the letter till we were safely away from that . . . from England. Or he
might have taken it into his head to stop there."

Mahony felt the need of being alone, and sought out a quiet spot to
windward where he was likely to be undisturbed. But news of the turn of
his fortunes had run like wildfire through the ship, started by the
steward, to whom in the first flush he had garrulously communicated it.
And now came one after another of his fellow-passengers to wring his
hand and wish him joy. It was well meant; he could not but answer in
kind. But then they, too, had changed. From mere nondescripts and
undesirables they were metamorphosed into kindly, hearty folk, generous
enough, it seemed, to feel almost as elated at a fellow-mortal's good
luck as if it were their own. His hedge of spines went down: he turned
frank, affable, easy of approach; though any remaining standoffishness
was like to have been forgiven him, who at a stroke had become one of
the wealthiest men on board.

He could see these simple souls thought he took his windfall very
coolly. Well! . . . in a way he did. Just for the moment he had been
carried off his feet--as indeed who could fail to be, when by a single
lucky chance, one spin of fate's wheel, all that had become his which
half a lifetime's toil had failed to give him? Yet ingrained in him was
so lively a relish, so poignant a need for money and the ease
of mind money would bring, that the stilling of the want had something
almost natural about it--resembled the payment of an overdue debt.
Yes, affluence would fit him like a second skin. The beggardom of early
days, the push and scramble for an income of later life--these had
been the travesty.

Next came a sense of relief--relief unspeakable. Alone by now in his
windy corner, he could afford to let his eyes grow moist; and the
finger he passed round inside his collar trembled. From what a
nightmare of black care, a horde of petty anxieties, did the miracle of
this day not set him free! To take but a single instance: the prospect
of having to explain away his undignified return to the colony had cost
him many a night's sleep. Now he was the master of circumstance, not
its playball. And into the delights of this sensation he plunged as
into a magic water; laved in it, swam, went under; and emerged a new
man. The crust of indifference, the insidious tiredness, the ennui that
comes of knowing the end of a thing before you have well begun it, and
knowing it not worth while: all such marks of advancing age fell away.
Youthfully he squared his shoulders; he was ready to live again, and
with zest. And under the influence of this revival there stirred in
him, for the first time, a more gracious feeling for the land towards
which he was heading. What he had undergone there in his day, none but
himself knew; but, if his sufferings had been great, great, too, was
the atonement now made him. Indeed the bigness of the reward had in it
something of the country's own immensity--its far-flung horizons.

"And perhaps, after all . . . who knows, who knows! . . . I myself . . .
the worm that was in me . . . that ceaseless hankering for--why,
happiness, of course . . . the goal of man's every venture . . . the
belief in one's RIGHT to it . . . the fixed idea that it must be
waiting for one somewhere . . . remains but to go in search of it. So,
it is not conceivable. . . thus made wiser. . . all fear for the future
stilled, too--HOW fear lames and deadens!--independent, now . . .
beholden to nobody"--such were some of the loose tags of thought that
drifted through his brain.

Till one or other touched a secret spring, and straightway he was
launched again on those dreams and schemes with which he believed his
last unhappy experience had for ever put him out of conceit.
Oh, the house he would build! . . . the grounds he would lay out . . .
the books he would buy . . . and buy . . . till he had a substantial
library of his own. All the rare and pretty things that should be
Mary's. The gifts they would make her dear old mother. The competency
that should rescue his own people from their obscure indigence. The
deserving strugglers to whom he would lend a hand. Even individuals he
disliked or was fretted by--Zara, Ned, Ned's encumbrances--sipped
from his overflow. Indeed he actually caught himself thinking of people
--poor devils, mostly--who had done him a bad turn, and of how he
could now requite them.

Over these imaginings the hours flew by--hours not divided off each
from the next, but fusing to form one single golden day: of a kind that
does not come twice in a lifetime. Meanwhile the vessel was well
advanced up the great Bay, and familiar landmarks began to rise into
view. He had sometimes wondered, on the voyage out, what his feelings
would be, when he saw these familiar places again and knew that the
pincer of the "Heads" had snapped behind him. Now, he contemplated them
with a vacant eye; did not take up the thread of a personal
relationship. Or once only: at sight of a bare old clump of hills
behind Geelong. Then he impulsively went below to fetch Mary--Mary was
packing the cabin furniture, sewing up mattresses in the floor-carpeting,
the mirror in the blankets--and she, good-naturedly rising
from her knees, for to-day she had not the heart to refuse him
anything, tied on her bonnet and accompanied him on deck. There,
standing arm-in-arm, they thought and spoke of a certain unforgettable
evening, now years deep in the past.

"What greenhorns we were then, love, to be sure! So mercifully ignorant
of all the ups and downs in store for us."--But his tone was light,
even merry; for to-day the ups had it.

"Yet you seemed to me very old and wise, Richard. I suppose it came of
you wearing that horrid beard."

"And what a little sprite you were!--so shy and elusive. There was no
catching you . . . or getting a word in edgeways--thanks to that poor
old chattering Mother B and her two bumpkins."

"Whom you couldn't tell apart . . . how that did make me laugh!" said
Mary To add with a sigh: "Poor Jinny! Little did we think she would
have to go so much sooner than the rest."

"My dear, a good half of that party is dust by now."

But no melancholy tinged the reflection. In his present mood, Mahony
accepted life, and the doom life implied, with cheerfullest composure.


* * * * *


Hardly a letter received by Mary that morning but had besought them to
regard the writer's house as their own: they had only to make their
choice. "Yes, and give umbrage to all the rest. Nonsense, Mary! We'll
just slip off quietly to a hotel. We don't need to consider the expense
now, and shall be much freer and more comfortable than if we tied
ourselves down to stay with people."

But Mahony's plan miscarried.

What a home-coming that was! No sooner had the ship cast anchor than
rowing-boats began to push off from the pier; while one that had been
lying on its oars made for them with all speed. Mary, standing hatted
and shawled for landing, looked, looked again, rubbed her eyes and
exclaimed: "Why, I do declare if it isn't Tilly! Oh, RICHARD, what a
difference the weeds make!" And sure enough a few minutes later Tilly's
head came bobbing up over the side, and the two women lay in each
other's arms half laughing, half crying, drawing back, first one, then
the other, the better to fix her friend. Certainly Tilly had never
shown to more advantage. In old days her hats had been flagrant, her
silks over-sumptuous, her jewellery too loud. Now, the neat widow's
bonnet with its white frill and black hangings formed a becoming frame
for her yellow-brown hair, tanned skin and strong white teeth; the
chains, lockets and brooches of twenty-two-carat Ballarat gold had
given way to decorous jet; the soft black stuff of the dress moulded
and threw up every good point in the rich, full-bosomed figure.
Silently Mary noted and rejoiced. But Tilly, one glance snatched,
blurted out: "Well, I must say England 'asn't done much for you, my
dear! In all my days, Mary, never did I see you look so peaked and
pasty. Seasickness? Not it! It's that HORRIBLE climate you've 'ad to
put up with. I declare your very letters--with their rain, rain, and
fog, fog--used to gimme the blue devils. Well! you've come
back 'ere to the finest climate in the world. We'll 'ave you up to the
mark again in a brace o' shakes."

Further she did not get, for here now was John arriving--a somewhat
greyer and leaner John than they had left, but advancing upon one,
thought Mahony, with the same old air of: I am here; all is well.
Having cordially embraced his sister, John wrung his brother-in--law's
hand: "It would be false to pretend surprise, my dear Mahony, at your
decision to return to us." On his heels came none other than Jerry and
his wife: a fair, fragile slip of a girl this--Australian-born and
showing it, in a skin pale as a white flower. Mary put her arms round
the child--she was scarcely more--and kissed her warmly; while in one
breath the little wife, who was all a-flutter and a-tremble, confided
to her how very, very much afraid she had felt of this meeting, knowing
Mary to be dear "Harry's" favourite sister; and how she hoped dear
Mary, please, wouldn't mind her calling him Harry, but she had once had
a dog named Jerry, a white dog with a black patch over one eye; and it
seemed so droll, didn't it? to call your husband by the same name as a
dog, especially such a funny-looking dog; although if dear Mary wished
it very, very much . . . all this gabbled off like a lesson got by
heart. Mary promptly reassured her: it was her good right to call her
husband by whatever name she chose, so long as he did not mind; and
that--with a loving glance at Jerry--she would guarantee he didn't.
Then she turned to her brother. The same steady old sober-sides; but
now grown quite the man: broad of shoulder, richly whiskered, and, as
could be seen at a glance, the most devoted of husbands. Did his young
wife speak to some one, he tried to overhear what she was saying;
watched the effect of her words on the other; smiled in advance at her
little jokes, to incite the listener to smile, too--for all the world
after the fashion of a fond mother playing off her child. And when,
sprite-like, the girl ran to the other side of the ship, he took the
opportunity before following her to squeeze his sister's hand and
murmur: "WHAT do you say to my little Fanny, Mary? Isn't she perfect?"

"Dear, dear Jerry! If she's only half as good as she's pretty. . . and
I can see she is," said Mary returning the squeeze.

Meanwhile quite a crowd had collected on the wharf, to which
the party was rowed in a boat so laden that, at moments, the ladies
instinctively held their breaths to lighten the load, and the little
bride shrank into the crook of her husband's arm. Here stood Zara
fluttering a morsel of cambric: she had feared an attack of MAL DE MER,
she whispered, did she embark on so choppy a sea. ("We could hardly, I
think, love, expect Zara to consider us worth the half-guinea the
boatmen were charging!" was Mahony's postprandial comment.) Here were
Agnes Ocock and Amelia Grindle with sundry of their children, and the
old Devines, and Trotty, advanced to a hair-net, and John's three
youngest in charge of their schoolmistress; besides many a lesser
friend and acquaintance who had made light of the journey to the port.
Hand after hand was thrust forth with: "I trust I see you in prime
health, ma'am?" "Dear, dearest Mary! HOW we have missed you!" or:
"Thought you'd never hold it out over there, sir." "Delighted, doctor,
I'm sure, to welcome you back to our little potato-patch!" And those
who could not get near enough for more, along with a sprinkling of
curious strangers, enjoyed just forming the fringe of the crowd. It was
a pleasant break in the monotony of colonial life to catch a glimpse of
arrivals from overseas; to note the latest fashion in hair and dress;
to hear news and pick up gossip.

Mary had just stooped to the youngest of the children, marvelling at
its growth, when her ear caught an oddly familiar sound, an uneven,
thumping footfall, and turning quickly, whom in all the world should
she see but Purdy, out of breath and red in the face, but otherwise
looking just the same as of old, or at least "not very different"--a
phrase with which Mary had already covered a marked change in more than
one present: John's singular spareness of rib, Zara's greying front,
Agnes's florid cheeks, the wizened-apple aspect of Amelia Grindle. In
Purdy's case it cloaked a shining-through of the cranium, did he bare
his head; more than a hint of coming stoutness; a cheap and flashy
style of dress. First, though, she shot a lightning glance at Richard:
how would he take this sudden apparition? The look reassured her: he
was to-day uplifted above all ordinary prejudice. There was just an
instant's hesitation, and then he himself stepped forward, both hands
outheld, one to grasp Purdy's right, the other to clap on his shoulder;
while his: "Dickybird, my boy! How are you? . . how are you?"
came simultaneously with Purdy's: "Dick, old man, I heard your tub was
in. I thought I'd just trot along and give you a pawshake."--And thus
the old bond was cemented anew.

Thought Mary: was there any end to the good things with which this day
was full?

Drawn to the group, Purdy came in for his share of the welcome. For he
had not been back to Ballarat since his abrupt departure some years
previously; and his former friends and acquaintances hailed him with
the lively interest and curiosity peculiar to people who see but few
fresh faces, and never forget an old one.

He shook hands all round. When it came to Tilly: "I need hardly
introduce you two, I think!" said Mary slyly.

Tilly burst into a roar. "I should say not, indeed! Why, my dear, I can
remember 'im when 'e was only SO 'igh,"--and she measured a foot from
the ground.

Purdy capped her fiction. "Is that all? Why, you lisped your first
prayer at my knee."

But the children grew peevish; it was time to make a move. At the first
breathing of the word hotel, however, such a chorus of dissent broke
out that Mahony's plan had there and then to be let drop. Not a
guest-chamber, it seemed, but had been swept and dressed for them--John's
excepted, John still leading a bachelor life at the Melbourne Club.
Even Jerry and his bride had made ready their tiny weatherboard; and
here Jerry put his lips to Mary's ear to say how inconsolable little
Fanny would be if they went elsewhere: she had sat stitching till past
midnight at wonderful bows for bed and window-hangings--a performance
which, in the young husband's eyes, far outweighed the fact of their
living miles out, at Heidelberg, to which place a coach ran but at ten
of a morning; so that the present night would have to be spent in
Melbourne, under the bride's father's roof. Had Mary been free to
please herself, she would have waived all other considerations rather
than disappoint the youthful pair. But Richard! She could hear his
amused and sarcastic ha-ha, at the idea of "camping out" with utter
strangers for the pleasure of next morning being "carted off" to
Heidelberg. Meanwhile, on her other side Fanny was whispering: just
fancy, Harry hadn't been able to tell her what dear Mary's
complexion was, whether blonde or brunette. She had chosen pink for her
bows, because pink suited most people, and she had clapped her hands on
finding she was right; but she thought she would have sunk through the
floor, had she hit on blue. And when Mary laughingly declared that blue
was one of her favourite colours, and that even in yellow or green the
trimmings would have been equally appreciated, little Fanny bit her lip
and looked as if she were going to cry.--All this in a rapid aside.

The Devines won the day--after a heated discussion in which everybody
spoke at once. These good people had actually a carriage-and-pair in
waiting, that the travellers might be spared the brief railway journey
from port to town; as well as a spring-cart for the baggage. There was
no standing out against Mrs. Devine's persuasions, seconded as they
were by the M.L.C. himself, who from a modest place in the background
threw in, whenever he got the chance: "My 'ouse is entirely at your
disposal, sir. We beg you and your good lady will do us the honour."

"Indeed and I'll NOT TAKE NO!" declared his wife; and, under a pair of
nodding, hearse-like plumes, her fat, rosy face beamed on those about
her, after the manner of a big red sun. "'Tis a great hempty barn,
that's what it is, and I've looked to this day to fill it. Why, dearie,
so's not to 'ear quite so much of me own footsteps, I've been and taken
in one o' Jake's sister's 'usband's sister's children."

Thus the Mahonys found themselves rolling townwards in the Devines'
well-hung landau, on their knees a picnic-basket containing port wine
and sandwiches with which to refresh and sustain the inner man.

Mahony fell silent as the wheels revolved; a smile played round his
lips. He was laughing at himself for having imagined that it would be
necessary to explain away his reappearance in these people's midst. One
and all had followed John's lead in finding his return to Australia--
Australia FACILE PRINCEPS!--the most natural thing in the world.

At South Yarra they became the occupants of the largest guest-chamber
in a brand-new mansion, which counted every comfort and luxury the
upholsterers had known how to cram into it, and now only needed
really to be lived in. Its stiff formality reminded Mary, the
homemaker, of the specimen rooms set out in a great furniture
warehouse; rooms in which no living creature has yet left a trace. Her
fingers itched to break up the prim rows of chairs ranged against the
walls; lightly to disarrange albums; to leave on antimacassars the
impress of a head.

Mrs. Devine having finally satisfied herself that they had everything
they had everything they required--; down to a plump and well-studded
pincushion on which the pins wrote "Welcome!"--for: "I've no faith in
them giddy girls, dearie,"--husband and wife were at last alone
together.

"Whew!" breathed Mahony, and sinking into an armchair he fanned himself
with his handkerchief. "Well! I sincerely hope you're satisfied, Mary.
Royalty itself could not ask for a warmer welcome than you have had, my
dear." But he smiled again as he spoke; and the usual edge to his words
was wanting.

"You, too," said Mary, who was fighting the lock of a carpetbag. Then
she laughed. "As if royalty ever got hugged, and kissed, and slapped on
the back! But indeed, Richard, I shall never, never forget the kindness
that's been shown us. And what a lovely house this is! I mean, could be
made."

"My dear, you shall have as good--and better. Rather much oilcloth
here for my taste. The grounds, too, struck me as stiffish, what I saw
of them." Rising to take another look through a raised slat of the
venetian, he turned and beckoned his wife. "What do you say to this,
Mary?" Peeping over his shoulder she saw their host, in comfortable
corduroys, without his coat, his shirt-sleeves rolled up above his
elbows, trundling a loaded wheelbarrow. Said Mahony: "Seems to have
turned into a very decent sort of fellow indeed, does our good
Cincinnatus."

"Who?. . . Mr. Devine? Yes, hasn't he? I thought it most tactful of him
to be quiet in the carriage, when he saw you didn't want to talk."

Below, on a dinner-table built to accommodate a score, a veritable
banquet had been spread. They sat down to it at six o'clock, a large
family party. For on the wharf Mrs. Devine, as winner, had scattered
her invitations broadcast, even insisting on Tilly exchanging
her hotel for the second-best spare room. Zara was there, together with
Jerry and his wife, and John, and Trotty, who hung on one of Aunt
Mary's arms as did pretty Fanny on the other; and the health of the
home-comers and the happy change in Mahony's fortunes were drunk to in
bumpers of champagne. By every one but the master of the house; before
whose plate stood a jug of barley-water. In the intervals of signalling
to the servants where to put the dishes, and whose glass or plate stood
empty, Mrs. Devine, purply moist with gratification and excitement,
drew Mahony's attention to this jug with a nudge and a wink.

"Your doin', doctor . . . all thanks to you. Jake took the pledge that
time you know of, and never 'as 'e broke it since, no matter where 'e
is or in 'oos company." She actually laid her pudgy hand on Mahony's
and gave it a warm squeeze.

"Very creditable . . . very creditable indeed," murmured Mahony, stiff
with embarrassment lest his host should overhear what was being said.

But Mrs. Devine had already telegraphed to her husband down the length
of the table; and the good man smiled and nodded, and sipped his
barley-water in Mahony's direction.

The ladies withdrawing and Jerry sidling out soon after, the three men
pulled their chairs closer; and now colonial affairs took the place of
family gossip and perfunctory inquiries about "home." As fellow-members
of the Legislative Council, John and Devine had become fast friends. It
was also in the wind, it seemed, that Devine might be called on to form
a ministry. Puzzled by the many changes, the new men and new names that
had come up during his absence, Mahony acted chiefly the listener; but
the interested listener, for it was gratifying to find himself once
more at the fountain-head. His companions' talk, ranging over a great
variety of topics, harked back yet and again to the great natural
catastrophe in the face of which legislation was powerless--the
unprecedented drought which, already in its fourth year, was ruining
the squatters, compelling them to part with thousands on thousands of
dying sheep, for the price of the skins alone.

In listening Mahony eyed the two men up and down. His bearded host
looked sound as a bell. But it was otherwise with John--"He's
a shocking bad colour,"--and knowing his brother-in-law to be of
temperate habits, he resolved to have a word with him in private.

It grew late: for over an hour John's horses had pawed the gravel of
the drive. Finally Mahony excused himself on grounds of fatigue and ran
upstairs. But he might have saved his haste. For Mary had taken her
hairbrush and gone to Tilly's room. There, a fresh log having been
thrown on the whitewashed hearth, the two women sat and talked far into
the night.




Chapter II



Mahony's first lightning plan of putting up his plate at the top of
Collins Street, among the bigwigs of the profession, was not carried
out. For when, the day after landing, he went to interview Simmonds,
his man of business, he found his affairs in even more brilliant
condition than Simmonds' letter--written a fortnight back to await the
ship's arrival--had led him to believe. That had put the sum lying to
his credit at between ten and eleven thousand pounds. By now, however--
a second company in which he was interested choosing the self-same
moment to look up--combined dividends were flowing in at the rate of
twelve to fifteen hundred pounds a month. And this, despite the
enormous outlay incurred by the Australia Felix Company in sinking a
fourth shaft, lighting the mine throughout with gas, erecting the
heaviest plant yet seen on the goldfields.

In the conveyance that left Collins Street at midday for South Yarra,
Mahony sat feeling mildly stunned by the extent of his good fortune, as
by Simmonds' confident prediction of still grander things to come; sat
with far-away eyes, absently noting the velvety black shadows that
accompanied vehicles and pedestrians up and down the glaring whiteness
of the great street. He had already drawn attention to himself by
smiling broadly at thought of the news he was taking home to Mary. Now,
as a fresh idea struck him, he uttered a smothered exclamation and
tried to slap his knee a gesture that entangled him with a stout party
whose crinoline overflowed him, and gave a pimply faced youth sitting
opposite a chance to exercise his wit.

"Fy, matey, fy! What 'ud our missis say?"

The vehicle--a kind of roofless omnibus--started with a lunge that
sent the two rows of passengers toppling like ninepins one against
another. Mahony alone raised his voice in apology: he had lain on the
shoulder of the fat woman. The man on her farther side angrily bade her
take her danged feathers out of his eye. The greater number
recovered their balance by thrusting forth an elbow and lodging it
firmly in a neighbour's rib.

Even in his present holiday mood this promiscuity was too much for
Mahony. He regretted not having accepted Devine's offer of a buggy; and
half-way to his destination dismounted, and covered the rest of the
distance on foot.

This was better. In the outlying district where he found himself, no
traffic moved. Roads and paths were sandy and grass-edged. The
scattered houses lay far back in their gardens, screened by rows of
Scotch firs. He met no one, could think in peace; and over a knotty
point he stopped short and dug with his stick in the sand.

The brilliant idea that had flashed through his mind in the omnibus
was: why go back into harness at all? Retire! . . retire and live on
his dividends . . . here was the solution. From now on be free to
devote himself to the things that really mattered, in which he had
hitherto had no share.

He threshed the scheme out as he went, and was plain-spoken with
himself. I am now a middle-aged man: forty-three and a quarter to be
exact in point of time, but a good ten years older with regard to
bodily health . . . and disillusionment: considerably more than
halfway, that is, on my journey to the green sod. And what have I so
far had of life? It has been but one long grind: firstly to keep my
head above water, and then, to live up to my neighbours; while every
attempt to free myself has failed, the last great wild-goose chase most
completely of any. Yes, the real trouble has always been want of money
--of money and time--or of money enough to have time. Now that the one
has fallen to me, should I not be a fool beyond compare if I failed to
master the other? Think of all the wonders of this world I shall die
without knowing--the books I shall not have read, the scientific
discoveries, the intellectual achievements I shall never have heard of.
Oh! the joy of devoting one's remaining years to a congenial
occupation. One cannot love one's work, the handle one grinds by--the
notion that such a thing is possible belongs to a man's green and salad
days. Though perhaps if one climbed to the top of the tree. . . . . But
for the majority of us, the fact that we labour to earn our bread by a
certain handiwork wears all liking for it threadbare. It
becomes a habit--like the meals one eats . . . the clothes one puts on
of a morning.--Ambitions to be sacrificed? But are there? I had them
once; in plenty. Where are they now? Blown into thin air--spent like
smoke. The fag of living was too much for them. And so, in following my
bent, I should sacrifice nothing--or nothing but the possibility of
fresh humiliations . . . and much unnecessary pother . . . an
infinitude of business . . . .

Thus he reasoned, thus justified himself to himself, arriving at the
house with his arguments marshalled ready to be laid before Mary. The
walk, however, had taken longer than he expected; the afternoon was now
far advanced and he footsore and hungry. But though he could hear the
servants chattering in the kitchen, none came to offer him so much as a
cup of tea. They would of course suppose him to have lunched; or else
Madam D. had the keys of the larder in her petticoat pocket. The big
house yawned inhospitably still and empty--but for a common-looking
child in copper-toed boots and oilcloth apron, which he unexpectedly
ran across: it fled from him like a startled cat. Mary was out driving
with her hostess and did not get back till close on dinner-time. There
was another party that night; they sat down fifteen to table and went
to bed only in the small hours. He could do no more than skim the cream
off his interview for her benefit, before retiring.

His chance came next morning.

Ten o'clock had struck, but Mary was still in bedgown and slippers, her
hair tied in its nightly bunch of half a dozen little plaits on the
crown of her head. This state of undress did not, however, imply that
she had newly risen--as a matter of fact she had been up and doing for
a couple of hours. But it was one of the rules of this extraordinary
house that visitors did not breakfast till after ten; the longer after,
the better, but at any moment PAST the hour, provided that the servants
did not know beforehand what it would be: they must be kept up to the
mark, hover perpetually alert for the ringing of the dining-room bell:
and many and scathing were Richard's comments on the practice of using
your guests as the stick with which to belabour your slaves. Mrs.
Devine herself, clad in a voluminous paisley gown, her nightcap bound
under her chin, was early astir: she gave her husband, who rose
at dawn to work among his flowers--as he had once worked among his
market produce--breakfast at eight, before he left for town. But if
you belonged to the elite, were truly BON TON, you did not descend till
the morning was half over, and even then must appear "stifling elegant
yawns, which show the effort it has been to tear your high-born limbs
from the feathers!"--so ran another of Richard's glosses. The first
morning he and Mary had blundered in this respect; on the second they
were wiser; and now loitered chilly and hungry above-stairs. Chafing at
the absurdity and fretting for his breakfast, Mahony grumbled: "Was
there ever such a fudge? As if the woman didn't know I used to have to
be up at daybreak, if necessary . . . was in my consulting-room hours
before this."

Mary, who had been writing letters and sewing, began to dress her hair.
"Do try not to fuss so, dear. After all, it's only a little thing. It
pleases her to imagine she's up in the ways of good society. Besides,
every house has its peculiarities."

"Then give me my own, thank you. But what absurd nonsense you do talk,
Mary! I'm sure, when you had 'em, you never tyrannised over guests in
this stark fashion. You were their drudge, my dear; danced to their
tune. But I believe you'd sacrifice the last scrap of your personal
comfort to pander to the foibles of other people."

"Nonsense!" said Mary stoutly. "But we can't possibly let her see we
don't like it."

She had unbound her hair: freed from its plaits, it hung all crinks and
angles. Now she set, with long, smooth sweeps, to brushing it to its
customary high gloss.

Mahony pulled a chair to the window, threw up the sash and leant his
elbow on the sill. The morning was warm and balmy, after a bitterly
cold night. By midday the sun would have gained almost summer strength,
gradually to fade through the autumn of the afternoon till, with
darkness, you were back in a wintry spring. The orange-blossom scent of
the pittosperums, now everywhere in flower, filled the air. Sunning
himself thus, he fell to informing Mary yet once again what he had made
up his mind to; spoke shortly and impatiently and with decision. For
this time at least he knew that his planning involved his wife
in no hardships: he was not asking her to shoulder fresh burdens.

Practised hand though she was at concealing surprise, and rightly
attributing Richard's snappishness to the want of a good hot cup of
coffee, Mary could not help echoing his words, her hairbrush suspended
in the air. "Give up practice altogether?" And, at his emphatic
affirmation: "But, Richard, you'd soon get tired of having nothing to
do."

"Nothing to do indeed! I, who all my life have longed for a little
leisure to follow my own pursuits! Haven't I told you, Mary, again and
again, that if I were to read from sunrise to sundown, for the rest of
my days, I shouldn't get through a quarter of the books that are
waiting for me?"

"Oh, dear, don't talk such rubbish. As if you could spend all the rest
of your life reading! Why, I've often heard you say, after sitting with
your head in a book for even a few hours running, that it felt like a
boiled turnip."

"But, good God!. . . I shall have a garden, I suppose?... and a decent
horse to ride?"

"Now, Richard, it's no use mincing words: you do tire easily of things
--much more easily than other people. And I'm sure you'd tire of
idleness as well. After working as you have."

"Oh, go on acting the brake on the coach. I suppose that, too, is a
mission in life."

"How you do snap one up! There's this about it, of course, you COULD go
back into practice at any time if you wanted to." ("Thank you, never
again for me!") "You only say that now, Richard. In a couple of years
you may have completely changed your mind. No, it's not a bit of good
getting angry. I think it's a step that requires most careful
consideration. Besides you promised, remember, not so VERY long ago, to
be guided next time by what I thought."

"So I did. But here the case is different--entirely different. Not
twopenceworth of risk is entailed. I have no intention of speculating
further, as you ought to know--if you know anything at all about me--
and, well invested, this money that has fallen to us is enough to keep
us in comfort to our lives' end."

But Mary refused to be rushed into a decision.

The long, elaborate breakfast over: they had to eat their way
through chops and steaks, eggs and rissoles, barracouta and garfish,
fruit, hot rolls, preserves, tea and coffee: breakfast coped with, Mary
waited, dressed for driving, for the carriage to come round, and for
her hostess to cease goading on her several maidservants and tracking
down their misdeeds. Propping her chin in her hand and poking with the
tip of her parasol at one of the fruit-and-flower baskets enworked in
the maroon ground of the Brussels carpet, Mary wrestled with the
problem of their future. Richard's present project called for a
readjustment of all her private plans for his benefit. These had never
wavered; remained those she had hatched on the morrow of the
Buddlecombe fiasco; and throughout the voyage she had listened in
silence to his fluid plannings and imaginings what he was going to do
next--had just listened and let him talk. Ballarat had seen his
beginnings; seen his rise to one of its most popular medical men: it
should also, she was resolved, learn to know him as the moneyed
consultant who could afford to see as few patients as he wished. It was
ridiculous for him to think of starting all over again in a strange
place, when there, in Ballarat, was his old reputation waiting for him.
What was the point of success either, if it did not come to you among
the friends of your less palmy days?

But his intention to retire into private life cut clean through these
aspirations. And yet, for the first time, Mary hesitated. The
difference was, what he now proposed made a subtle appeal to her. For,
to be nothing, to have neither trade nor profession, to fold one's
hands and live on one's income--that was the NE PLUS ULTRA of colonial
society, the ideal tirelessly to be striven after. Work brought neither
honour nor glory where all too many had been manual labourers, the work
itself of a low or disreputable kind. And the contingency of Richard
ending as the private gentleman, the leisured man of means, had never
been wholly absent from Mary's mind--or wouldn't have been, had he not
so quixotically cut his career in half.

There was another point, too: was anybody better fitted than he to live
as the gentleman? Where so many floundered like fish out of water, he
would be entirely in his element. If ONLY she could have felt surer of
him! But thanks to Buddlecombe she knew that, no matter how fixed he
seemed, at the first trifling unpleasantness--a hint, for
example, that medically he was on the shelf--he would be up and off to
prove the contrary; perhaps again, as on the last occasion, not even
condescending to tell her where the trouble lay. Oh dear! it WOULD be
nice to have a husband who saw things sensibly and practically--as one
did oneself. How the two of them could then have put their heads
together. Instead of her always having to make allowance for
unreckonable impulses.

One comfort: there was no more talk on his part of going "home" with
his fortune. The old foolish idea that he would be happier in England
had been knocked on the head. At considerable expense, and much worry
and trouble, poor old Richard! Still, if he WOULD buy his experience in
this costly fashion.... Here, however, her musings were cut short by
the entrance of Mrs. Devine in shawl and bonnet, and struggling to
button a magenta kid glove across a palm not built for such a covering:
it bulged through the opening, creased and rolled with fat. The good
lady was keyed up to a high pitch with domestic disasters--a chipped
wineglass, a scrap of flue found under a bed--"Liars and deceivers
every one, dearie!" But the great red face beamed with goodwill. No
malice was in it; only the delights of the chase; so that the onlooker
was reluctantly driven to conclude that Mrs. Devine heartily enjoyed
her slave-driving.

And her private doubts and scruples notwithstanding, Mary could not but
feel pleased and proud, for Richard's sake, at the stir caused by the
announcement that he had no further need to practise medicine.
Congratulations showered on him. Himself, he laughed, in his new, happy
fashion. "I declare, so much fuss they make, I might have discovered
the North Pole." And having got him safely away from the tyrannic rules
Mrs. Devine considered essential to his comfort--or the comfort of his
blue blood--and settled in a furnished house near the Carlton Gardens,
Mary prepared to guide him gently and imperceptibly along the road she
thought it for his good he should go. In doing this, however, she found
herself up against a stone wall, in the shape of a hitherto unsuspected
trait in Richard: a violent aversion from returning on his traces. When
it dawned on him that she was still hankering after Ballarat, he lost
his temper, and vowed with the utmost vehemence that WHEN he was done
with a place he WAS done, and wild horses shouldn't drag him
back to it.

"Good God, Mary! one's dead self would confront one at every turn. Here
one did this, there that. You don't stock-take, my dear, when you're
going on living in a place; but a break--and even a brief one--forces
you to it . . . in murderous fashion. I should thank you for the
constant reminder how life is flying, and how little one has made of
it, and what a fool one was in the past, and yet how full of hopes and
aspirations."--With cobwebby stuff such as this, there was no coming
to grips.

No, it was to be Melbourne this time. What was more, he had resolved to
build his own house. He was sick to death of suiting his needs to those
of other people.

BUILD? . . . well yes, there was something to be said for it: Mary
hastily swallowed her dismay, seeing his feathers rise in earnest.
Build? . . . before he knew anything about a locality? Why, a
neighbour's fowls only needed to cackle or crow too early of a morning,
railway-whistles or church-bells sound too plainly, and all his peace
and pleasure would be gone. She was not going to risk any such
contingency as that, thank you! And having wormed the information out
of him that he leaned to the district lying between St. Kilda and
Brighton, she took John into confidence, and John and she laid their
heads together to circumvent his harebrained scheme. A string or two
was pulled; and one day, while Richard and she were driving round
looking for a site, they happened, as if by chance, on the very house
to suit them. One, too, that was not yet in the public market. As John
had foreseen, Richard lost his heart to it on the spot, and before the
week was out had become its owner.--Well! buying offhand was bad
enough; but a good deal less risky than building.

Houses in Melbourne were of two types: either spacious, white,
two-storeyed buildings almost as broad as they were long, with balcony and
verandah to the front, and needing but to stand in a sandy compound to
advertise their origin; or low, sprawly villas a single storey high,
Covering much ground space, and wearing their circlet of verandah like
a shady hat. Mahony's purchase was of this latter kind.

Built some ten years previously, by a wealthy squatter who was
now about to become a permanent absentee, it stood within half an
hour's walk of the Brighton beach, on a quiet, sandy road the edges of
which were fringed with grass and capeweed. The grounds, running to
between four and five acres, were well stocked and fully grown; and
included kitchen and flower-gardens, a couple of croquet lawns and a
fair-sized orchard. From the gates, no glimpse of the house could be
caught, so thick were the protecting shrubberies, so closely set the
Scotch firs. These grounds turned the scales for Mahony. To get a
garden--and such a garden!--ready-made, instead of having to wait for
it to grow. In the house itself the only alteration he planned was a
large study to be thrown out on the orchard side. Otherwise it suited
them to a nicety.




Chapter III



While Richard haunted his new property and egged on the workmen, or sat
drawing up a list of books for dispatch to an Edinburgh bookseller,
Mary devoted herself to unravelling the knots and tangles into which
the several members of her family had tied themselves. And after for
two years having had to deal exclusively with a difficult, faddy person
like Richard, she found this a comparatively simple job. Those to whose
aid she now came saw things from the same angle as herself, and they
spoke a common language.

Zara had first innings. Seated in the drawing-room of the Carlton
house, Zara poured out her woes, with much drying of eyes and the old,
old recriminations against John. Never, she wept, had she met any one
so hard, so self-centred. He was also too stingy to lift a finger to
help you; and, in her opinion, richly deserved the misfortunes that had
befallen him--Emma's untimely death, and the loss of Jinny; the
disgrace of Johnny's flight and Trotty's misdemeanours. Who could
wonder at it, if he treated wives and children as he was now treating
her?

"But, Zara . . ."

Oh, John had the influence, could do it EASILY if he chose. But for
that, he was too down on the match. As if his own second marriage had
been anything to boast of! Pray, who was Jinny? A publican's
daughter . . . and, if the truth were told, common as dirt. But----

"I'm still utterly in the dark, Zara. Who is it John objects to . . .
that you want to marry?"

"Not I want to marry, if you please, Mary!" Zara's tone was acid as a
lemon. "It's QUITE the other way about. If it only rested with me . . ."

"Yes, but WHO?"

"Haven't you wits enough to guess, my dear? Who is it that has followed
me and pestered--yes, PESTERED!--me with his attentions, ever
since my first visit to Ballarat?"

Ballarat? Her first visit? "Zara! You surely don't mean . . ."

"My dear, I have not a heart of STONE--like SOME people I could
mention! I can stand out no longer against his prayers and persuasions.
Year after year, year after year--not MANY women, Mary, can boast of
having inspired such devotion. He worships the very ground I tread--
and has done ever since those early days. . . though I was then little
more than a child. Of course, I am aware he is not my equal . . ."

"Oh, good gracious, what does that matter if you really care for him?
I've no patience with nonsense of that kind."

Mary spoke with a robust heartiness; but her thoughts were elsewhere,
and travelled swiftly. In the two years that had elapsed since last she
saw her, Zara had crossed a subtle boundary, and, from being a youngish
person who looked a trifle worn and tired, had turned into an elderly
person who looked young for her age: which made all the difference in
the world. For, alas! Zara's features were not of that well-boned type,
whose cameo outlines show up even better in the middle years than under
the plump padding of youth. Short, irregular, piquant, they had
depended on freshness and round contours for their charm. Now that the
dimples had run to lines, the cheeks hollowed, the skin sagged, Zara
wore the pathetic aspect of a faded child. When she drooped her fine
eyes, it was really sad, to one who loved her, to see how haggard and
old she looked. Poor Zara! All her choice offers and good chances come
to nothing. She had dangled them too long; been over fastidious; and
now it was too late. Mary could read this out of what she said: this
and more. Even the posts open to her as finishing-governess were not,
it appeared, what they had once been. Younger women, competent to teach
the new--fangled "callisthenics," and dull, dry pieces by "Mosar"
instead of the tuneful MORCEAUX in which Zara excelled, were now
getting the plums. It did seem a shame, considering Zara's talents, and
her long experience but so it was. Perhaps she had grown a trifle
"scratchy" with the years. Her elegant sprightliness was certainly
deserting her, giving place to a kind of fixed pettishness. And so,
having turned the matter over, Mary soothed her by promising to do all
she could to further the marriage. She would beard John in his
den, and urge him to use his influence--according to Zara he was on
friendly terms with a prominent member of the Baptist Union--to
procure for her intended, who was still but an unsalaried "helper," the
pastorate that would enable them to wed.

"Meanwhile, you must bring Hemp . . . Mr. Hempel to see us."

As visiting John at the Melbourne Club was out of the question, Mary
took the only slightly less bold step of calling at the great warehouse
in Flinders Lane. And having climbed a dark, steep stair to the first
storey, and passed through various rooms where clerks, perched on high
stools, stole curious glances at the apparition of a silk-and-velvet-clad
lady whispered to be the senior partner's sister: this ordeal
behind her, she arrived, a trifle pink and confused, at the door of
John's sanctum.

John himself emerged to meet her.

"Yes, John, quite alone . . . . I hope you won't mind. But I wanted
very much to see you." And having regained breath and composure, Mary
lost no time in going straight to the core of Zara's business.

John listened, with a patience he would have shown no one else, his
dark eyes, so like Mary's own, yet so much older in worldly wisdom,
turned intently on her.--"Objections to her marrying? My dear girl, as
far as I personally am concerned, my sister Zara may wed a navvy if she
chooses--always provided he has the means to support her, once the
knot is tied. But this Methody-fellow now . . . have you seen him? No?
Then pray do so, without delay. After which, let me hear if you are
still of the same mind."

"Your sister Zara," he went on, "admits to having laid by, in the
course of her governessing, some five hundred pounds: knowing her as we
do, seven or eight hundred would, I make no doubt, be nearer the mark.
This sum, well invested, will ensure her yearly some eighty or ninety
pounds--not a princely income, I dare say, but sufficient for the
requirements of an unmarried female. Should she, however, fritter away
her savings on this what's-his-name, it would, in the event of his
decease, fall to her relatives to support her. Which I for one am not
disposed to do."

Mary had refrained from interrupting. Now, nothing daunted, she
insisted on John viewing the case from Zara's standpoint: the very
natural desire of an ageing woman for a home and a husband; the dreaded
stigma of old-maidism; the weariness and monotony of going on teaching
other people's children year after year; the mortification of seeing
younger women chosen over your head, and your salary steadily
decreasing as you grew older. And finally, by dint of what she
afterwards described to Richard as "this, that, and the other thing,"
she got John so far as to promise that if, after seeing the
bridegroom-elect, she still thought the marriage should go forward, he
would do what lay in his power to procure for Hempel the pastorate in the
little up-country township of Wangawatha, on which Zara had set her heart.

This accomplished, Mary drew on her gloves, which she had removed for
the sherry and biscuits brought forth by John from a cupboard, with a
"Both dry unfortunately, my dear girl, since I am not often honoured by
visits from the sweet-toothed sex."

"And does business flourish, John?"

"It does, Mary. Yes, on that score I have nothing to complain of--
nothing whatever. As you will have observed, we have recently made
considerable additions to the premises, and young MacDermott has been
definitely taken into partnership. Still, as far as I myself am
concerned, I confess there come moments when in spite of everything I
look round me and ask: CUI BONO? For whom do I build? . . . since there
is no one to step into my shoes when I am gone."

John and CUI BONO! . . . John to talk of being "gone"! Mary's eyes
widened and darkened. But she did not let the opportunity slip. "Look
here, John, what I have always been meaning to say: I firmly intend to
try and find out what has become of Johnny--and if possible get him
home again. It seems dreadful to me that a boy of that age, and one I
was so fond of, too, should just disappear and perhaps never be heard
of again. I feel convinced there was nothing radically wrong; and can't
help thinking he'd be ready to come back after this taste of hardship,
and settle down, and make you proud of him."

Was it fancy, or did a new expression flit over John's face at her
words?--a kind of hope look out of his eyes? If so, it was
gone again at once, drowned in the harsh expression he seemed to
reserve for poor Emma's children. "Nay, I have washed my hands of him,
Mary. He has publicly disgraced me. And from all I hear, I fear his
sister is about to follow the example he has set her."

At this Mary laughed outright. "Really, John! I'm surprised at you:
letting yourself be imposed on by the tales of some prim old school-marm.
You wait; I mean to have Trotty down to stay with me; and then
I'll very soon find out the truth about her. Besides, you know you
CAN'T wash your hands of your children like this; it's unnatural. I
wish to goodness I could see you comfortably settled in your own house
once more, with them all about you. This is very well, but it ISN'T
home."--And Mary's glance swept the leaded windows, the cobwebbed
corners, the white dust on books and papers, the dimness of the office
furniture; to end with John himself. To her eye he had a rather
uncared-for appearance nowadays; looked unbrushed, much less spruce
than of old.

"Well, well!" John, his elbows on the arms of his chair, lightly met
his ten fingers and tipped them, to a shrug of the shoulders. "Ah! had
it pleased the Almighty to make women other than they are--yourself
excepted, my dear Mary, always excepted. But that reminds me. I have
been intending for some time past to ask you to drive out and go over
the house, and report to me on its condition. The last person I placed
in charge proved as untrustworthy as the rest."

Stowing away the key in her petticoat pocket, Mary gladly undertook the
commission. And as she jogged homewards in a wagonette, she felt well
satisfied with what she had achieved; and not on Zara's score alone.
"Poor old John! He doesn't KNOW how lonely and uncomfortable he is. Or
how, in his heart of hearts, he's fretting for that boy."

Meanwhile, after considerable shilly-shallying, Zara had introduced
Hempel afresh, in what proved an exceedingly painful visit.

"I declare," said Mary afterwards, "every time I spoke, I seemed to put
my foot in it."

To begin with, it was plain at once what John had meant by his: wait
till you have seen him! Hempel was now but the shadow of his
former self, shrunken, emaciated, with over-bright eyes, and a dry
cough that took him in paroxysms, at the end of which he withdrew a
spotted handkerchief from his lips.

Zara looked so annoyed when this happened that Mary tried to seem
unobservant. But after one particularly violent explosion, the words:
"Oh, what do you do for it?" escaped her in spite of herself.

"It's NOTHING in the world but dust," cut in Zara smartly. "I vow
Carlton to be the dustiest suburb in all Melbourne. How you came to
select it amazes me--positively it does!"

"I look upon it as a righteous affliction, ma'am," said Hempel loudly
and slowly, and as though Zara had not spoken. "Such things are sent to
try us. 'Oom the Lord loveth 'e chasteneth."

"Besides he is perfectly well able to control it if he chooses."--Zara
was so caustic that Mary hurriedly made a diversion by inviting her
upstairs. And curiosity to hear a detailed account of the interview
with John got the better of Zara's patent reluctance to leave the two
men alone together.

"He looks dreadfully delicate, Zara," said Mary dubiously, when the
bedroom door had shut behind them.

"My dear Mary, a change of climate is ALL that is necessary. We have
taken the very BEST medical advice. I truly hope Richard will not go
putting any far-fetched notions into his head." And overriding Mary's
delicate inquiries with a dramatic: "The happiness of my life is at
stake!" Zara declined a chair, swept her crinoline about the room, and
having greedily extracted the gist of John's promises, knew no peace
till they returned to the parlour.

Hempel--he now wore a short, woolly beard round face and throat--had
certainly improved in his way of speaking. Still he did have lapses;
and these Zara accentuated and underlined in distressing fashion.
Throughout the visit she sat bolt upright on the extreme edge of her
chair, almost prompting the words into Hempel's mouth; while, at every
misplaced or unaccomplished "h," she half-closed her eyes and drew in
her breath with a semi-audible groan, as if the aspirate were a missile
that had struck her. Hempel alone remained undisturbed by her
behaviour. Richard, Mary knew, would be fuming inwardly at such
tactlessness; and her own discomfiture was so acute that she
trebled the warmth of her manner towards the unfortunate man.

"And what are we to call you?" she asked, as Zara rose to go. "Mister
sounds too stiff altogether for a relation."

Instantly she saw that, with this well-meant question, she had made
another mistake. Zara turned a dark red, and flashing a warning glance
at Hempel began a hurried babble of adieux. But Hempel was either too
dense or too obstinate to see.

"My name, ma'am, is Ebenezer." ("Edgar, Mary, Edgar is what I call
him!") "Yes, Miss Turn'am 'ere"--and so saying, Hempel signified Zara,
without looking at her, by an odd little outward jerk of the elbow and
a smile that struck even Mary as malicious--"Miss Turn'am don't cotton
to it, and wants to persuade me to fancy names. But I say the one as my
parents chose for me in the name of the Lord is good enough for me. So
I'll be obleeged by Ebenezer, if you please."

"It's in the Bible, too, isn't it?" threw in Mary, feeling, if she did
not see, the silent laughter with which Richard was shaking. And to
herself she thought: "Oh dear, won't he catch it when he gets outside!"

"Ha ha! Serves her right . . . serves her very well right. Mrs.
Ebenezer! Why, of course, it comes back to me now." ("I felt sure it
was Edward--or I shouldn't have asked," said Mary ruefully. "And now I
shan't know what to call him.") "But I can tell you this, my dear: Zara
is about to commit a monstrous folly. The fellow is far gone in
phthisis. If she wants a job as sick-nurse, she'll get it--and upon my
word, Mary, I don't know that she won't be better employed in seeing
the poor chap decently and comfortably into his coffin, than in
grafting her insincerities and affectations on the young. A more
lukewarm bridegroom, though, it has seldom been my lot to meet."

"How hard on her you are! Yes, both you and John. Every woman NATURALLY
wants a husband . . . and a good thing, too, or where would the world
be? Besides if she doesn't marry, you men are the first to twit her
with being an old maid. But if she shows any inclination for it, it's
considered matter for a joke . . . or not quite nice."

"Hear, hear! Why, love, at this rate we shall soon have you clad in
bloomers and spouting on a platform for women's rights."

"Richard! Don't speak to me of such horrors. But we're talking
about Zara. I must say, after seeing Hempel I agree with John, it's a
ridiculous match. He really doesn't seem to care THAT much for her . . ."

"Which is but natural. At his stage of the disease a man is entirely
occupied with his own health . . . and his God."

"And I thought Zara most cutting with him. No, I'm afraid she's taking
him just to be married."

But, even as she said it, Mary had a glimpse into depths that were
closed to her menkind. Just to be married! It meant that solace of the
woman who was getting on in years--the plain gold band on the ring
finger. It meant no longer being shut out from the great Society of
Matrons; no longer needing to look the other way were certain subjects
alluded to; or pretending not to notice the nods and winks, the
silently mouthed words that went on behind your back. It was all very
well when you were young; when your very youth and innocence made up
for it: as you grew older, it turned to a downright mortification--
like that of going in to dinner after the bride of eighteen.

"Besides we CAN'T dictate to Zara as if she were still a child. She has
a right to buy her own experience. . . even if it's only with a poor
creature like Hempel."

Another unspoken thought that lurked comfortably at the back of Mary's
mind was of the more than liberal pin-money Richard was now giving her.
He had said expressly, too, she need render no account of how she spent
it. Thus, should the worst happen, she would be able to see to it that
neither he nor John had to put hand to pocket.

A last attempt to bring Zara to reason, however, she made. And having
only succeeded in fanning the flames--sister-wise, Zara took
interference less well from her than from any one--Mary tilted her
chin, and sighing: "Well, we must just make the best of it!" forthwith
requested John to do his share.

One thing, though, she did not yield in: she went off by herself to
town and bought the stuff for Zara's wedding-dress. For Zara, she could
see, was meditating satin and orange-blossoms; and against this all
Mary's common sense rose in arms. "For a place like Wangawatha! And
with not even a Bishop to entertain . . . . I mean, Hempel
being a Baptist." So she chose Madras muslin--finest Madras, which
cost a good deal more than satin--and a neat bonnet trimmed with
lilac.

"For these you can wear to chur--to chapel, Zara, you know, when the
hot weather comes." But Zara was so angry that she forgot to thank Mary
for the gift, and tried the texture of the muslin between thumb and
finger as if it were a bit of print.

And so a quiet wedding was celebrated at the Carlton house, a ceremony
in which the only hitch was a somewhat lengthy pause for the bridegroom
to recover his breath after a fit of coughing; a glass of champagne was
drunk to the health of the newly wedded; and off they went in a shower
of rice which Mary took care was thick enough to satisfy even Zara. Nor
was a satin slipper forgotten for the back of the carriage-and-pair,
all flowers and favours, which Mahony had provided to drive the happy
couple to the steamboat on which they would sail to Sorrento.

The very last thing, upstairs in the bedroom, Mary pressed a small wad
of notes into Zara's hand. "A bit of my wedding present to you, dear
Zara. Now don't stint on your honeymoon. Put up at the best hotel and
enjoy yourselves. Remember, one is only married once."

"MERCI, MA BONNE MARIE, MERCI!" said Zara: in the course of the past
hour she had gradually taken on the allures of an elder married woman
towards her junior. "But I should have done so in any case."


* * * * *


The rice swept up, the hundred and one boxes of wedding cake dispatched
which should intimate to even the least of Zara's acquaintances that
she had quitted the single state, Mary turned to her next job, and
drove one morning to St. Kilda to inspect John's house. She went by
herself, for she thought John would thank you to have other eyes than
hers quizzing his neglected home. And she was glad indeed no one else
was present when, the coachman having unlocked the front door and drawn
up the blinds for her, she was free to wander through the deserted
rooms. The house had stood empty almost as long as she had been
absent from the colony; and, in such a climate as this, two years spelt
ruin. No window or door had fitted tightly enough, when hot winds and
their accompanying dust-storms swept the town. The dust crunched gritty
underfoot; lay in a white layer over all tables and polished surfaces;
made it impossible to look out of the windows. The cobwebs that hung
from the corners of the ceilings, and festooned the lustred
chandeliers, were thick as string with it. You could hardly see
yourself in the mirrors for fly-specks, or see the wax flowers under
their shades. Everywhere, in hundreds, flies and blowflies lay dead.
Moths had ravaged each single woollen article she laid hands on. The
beautiful Brussels carpets were eaten into holes, as were also curtains
and bed-hangings, table-covers and the backs of wool-worked chairs. It
was truly a scene of desolation.

In John's bedroom she chanced to open a leaf of the great triple-fronted
mahogany wardrobe, to look if any clothes had been left hanging
to share in the general dilapidation; and there, the first thing she
lighted on was a shawl of "poor Jinny's"--or what had once been a
shawl, for it was now riddled like a colander, and all but fell to
pieces as she touched it. For a moment Mary stood lost to her
surroundings. What memories that shawl called up! Of softest white
cashmere, with a handsome floral border, it had been John's present to
Jinny on the birth of their first child: "And if the next's a boy,
Jane, I promise you one of richest India silk, my love!" But, even so,
this gift had filled Jinny's cup to the brim. Mary could only remember
it tied up with ribbons in tissue paper, and smelling of camphor to
knock you down--Jinny had hardly dared to wear it for fear the dust
should discolour it, or the sun fade the bordering. There had been
quite a quarrel one day, when John and she were staying with them in
Ballarat, because Jinny had visited the Ococks in her second-best. "Far
from me be it, Mary, to inculcate an extravagant spirit in Jane, or
encourage her to run up bills at the milliner's. But she is now my
wife, and it is her duty to dress accordingly," had been John's way of
putting it. Well, poor Jinny, she might just as well have worn her
finery and worn it out . . . as only have had it on her back
some dozen times in all. She was gone where no shawls were needed.

"It's really a lesson not to hoard one's clothes, but to use and enjoy
them while you can. Not to get anything too grand, either, which makes
it seem a pity to wear."

"John ought to have given all such things away," she aid to herself a
few minutes later. For a nudge of memory had drawn her to a lumber-room,
where four zinc-and-wood saratogas were lined up in a row. These
held all that remained to mortal eyes of "poor Emma." For Jinny had
once soon after marriage confessed to a wild fit of jealousy, in which
she had packed away every scrap of her predecessor's belongings.--
Fifteen years dead! The things were now, no doubt, mere rags and
tatters, for the box-lid was not made that could keep out the moth.
Some day she, Mary, must make it her business to run through them, to
see if no little enduring thing was left that could be handed on to
Trotty, as a memento of her long-dead mother.

"Regular Bluebeard's chambers," was Richard's comment, when she told
him of her discoveries.

But Mary had on her thinking-cap, and sat wondering how she could best
reduce John's affairs to order. The house must be opened up without
loss of time, scrubbers and cleaners turned in, painters and
paperhangers and then . . .

A few days later she came home radiant.

"I've got the very PERSON for John!" and undoing her bonnet-strings,
she threw them back with an air of triumph. It was a hot November
afternoon.

"What! . . . yet again?" and having kissed her, Mahony laid his book
face downwards and prepared to listen. "Tell me all about it."

"Quite one of the most sensible women I've ever met."

"Then, my dear, you do NOT mean pretty Fanny!"

For Mary had been out spending a couple of days with the young pair at
Heidelberg, to pay her overdue respects to the cottage of which she had
heard so much.

"It really is a dear little place. And kept in apple-pie order."

She had soon discovered, though, that the prevailing neatness and
nicety were not the result of any brilliant housewifely
qualities in the little bride. The good genius proved to be an aunt--
"Auntie Julia"--who had had charge of the motherless girl since birth.

"One of those neat, brisk little women, Richard, who do everything well
they put their hands to. Her hair's grey, but she is not really old.
What struck me first was when she said: 'Now please don't imagine I'm a
fixture here, Mrs. Mahony. I just came to help my little Fan over her
first troubles in setting up house. I don't hold with old aunts--or
mothers either--quartering themselves upon the newly wed. Young people
should be left to their own devices. No, poor old Auntie Julia's job is
done; she's permanently out of work.'"

It was here Mary thought she saw a light in John's darkness. Taking the
bull by the horns, she there and then told Miss Julia the story of her
brother's two marriages, and of his vain attempts to live in peace and
harmony with Zara.

"Poor fellow, poor fellow! Dear Mrs. Mahony, I agree with you:
relatives are not the easiest people in the world to get on with. They
are either so much alike that each knows all the time just what the
other is thinking--and that is fatal; for, if you won't mind my saying
so, the private thoughts we indulge in, even of our nearest, are not of
a fit kind to be made public." ("But with such a merry twinkle in her
eye, Richard, that it took away anything that might have sounded sharp
or biting.") "Or else brothers and sisters are so different that they
might have been born on different planets."

Mary next enumerated the long line of housekeepers who had wandered in
their day through John's establishment. "In at one door, and out at the
next!"

"Aha! You needn't tell me where the shoe pinched there. I see, I see.
Each of 'em in turn thought she was THE one chosen by fate to fill your
poor sister-in-law's place. May I speak frankly? If I take the post,
you may make your mind perfectly easy on that score. I'm not of the
marrying sort. Some men are born to be bachelors; some women, bless
'em, what's known as old maids. I can assure you, my dear Mrs. Mahony,
I am happiest in the single life. Nor have I missed a family of my own,
for my little Fan here has been as much mine as though I had borne
her." Here, however, seeing Mary's rather dubious air, she laid
a hand on her arm and added reassuringly: "But don't be afraid, my
dear. I do not noise these views abroad. They're just between you, me
and the tea-caddy."

"It was really said very nicely, Richard--not at all indelicately."

"All the same, I should give her a hint that such radical ideas would
be fatal to her prospects with his lordship," said Mahony, who had
recently smarted anew under his brother-in-law's heavy-handed
patronage.

"She won't talk like that to a MAN. And I feel sure I'm right; she's
the very person."

And so she was. No sooner had John, on Mary's recommendation, made
definite arrangements with Miss Julia than tangles seemed to straighten
of themselves. Hers was a master mind. In less than no time the house
was cleaned, renovated, repaired; efficient servants were engaged; John
was transferred from his uncomfortable Club quarters to a comfortable
domesticity. And Miss Julia proved herself of an exquisite tact in
running the establishment, in meeting John's wishes, in agreeing with
him without yielding a jot of her own convictions. And thereafter John
--"He couldn't, of course, let the credit for the changed state of
affairs go out of the family!"--John went about singing Mary's
praises, and congratulating himself on being the possessor of so
capable a sister.

Next, Jinny's three mites were brought home from boarding school; and
together Mary and Miss Julia stripped them of their "uniforms," undid
their meagre little rats'-tails, and freed their little bodies from the
stiff corsets in which even the infant Josephine was encased. Three
pleasant-faced, merry-eyed little girls emerged, who soon learned to
laugh and play again, and filled the dead house with the life it
needed. They adored Auntie Julia: and were adored by their father as of
old.

There remained only Trotty--or Emmy, as she was now called. Mary had
confabbed with Miss Julia, and they had shaken their heads in unison
over John's extraordinary attitude towards his first family. But, on
meeting the girl, Miss Julia struck her palms together and cried:
"What! stand out against THAT? . . . my dear, have NO fear! Just let
your brother grow used to seeing such a daughter opposite him at
breakfast, and he'll soon miss her if she chances to be absent.
EXACTLY what he needs to preside over his dinner-table. It shall be my
task to train her for the post."

In the meantime, however, Mary kept Emmy at her own side, in order to
renew acquaintance with one she had known so well as a child.




Chapter IV



Emmy also served to fill a gap.

As always when forced to live at haphazard, without a fixed routine,
Mahony was restless and ill at ease. He had not even a comfortable room
to retire to: his present den was the dull little back parlour of a
town house. Books, too, he came very short in; it did not seem worth
while unpacking those he had brought out with him; and the newly
ordered volumes could not be expected to arrive for months to come. Nor
did he see much of Mary: what time she had to spare from her relatives
was spent in endless discussions with decorators and upholsterers.

The company of his young niece was thus a real boon to him. Emmy had no
obligations, was free to go with him when and where he chose. What was
more, with neither the cares of a family nor of house-furnishing on her
mind, her thoughts never strayed. And a sound friendship sprang up
between the oddly matched pair. No longer afraid of her uncle, Emmy
displayed a gentle, saucy, laughing humour. Mahony hired a little horse
for her and they rode out together, she pinned up in Mary's old habit;
rode out early of a morning while other people were still fast asleep.
Their destination was invariably the new house, to see what progress
had been made since the day before: holding her habit high, Emmy would
run from room to room, exclaiming. Thence they followed quiet, sandy
tracks that led through stretches of heath and gorse to the sea. Or
they strolled on foot, Emmy hanging on her uncle's arm and chattering
merrily: a simple-hearted, unaffected girl, as natural as she was
pretty, which was saying a good deal, for she promised to be a regular
beauty. "Strawberries and cream" was Mahony's name for her. She had
inherited her mother's ripe-corn fairness and limpid, lash-swept eyes;
but the wildrose complexion of the English-born woman had here been
damped to palest cream, in which, as a striking contrast, stood out two
lovely lips of a vivid carnation-red--a daring touch on the
part of nature that already drew men's eyes as she passed. In person,
she was soft and round and womanly. But the broad little hands with
their slyly bitten nails were still half a child's. She was childishly
unconscious too, of her attractions, innocent in the use to which she
put them; and blushed helplessly did any one remark on her appearance--
as the outspoken people who surrounded her were only too apt to do.
Without being in the least clever, she had a bright open mind, and
drank in with interest all Mahony could give her: tales of his travels
or of the early days; descriptions of books and plays; little homilies
on the wonders of nature. If he had a fault to find with her, it was
that she seemed just as sweetly grateful for, say, "Auntie Julia's"
enjoinders how to hold her crotchet-needle, or hints on dress and
deportment, as to him for his deeper lore. Yes, the child had an
artless and inborn desire to please, and dissipated her favours in a
manner that belonged very surely to her age . . . and her sex. For he
might say "child," but let him remember that his own little Polly-Mary
had been but a couple of months older, when he ran her off from among
her playmates and friends.

Altogether there was much about John's daughter--no! not thus would he
put it--about Mary's niece, that reminded him of Mary herself, as a
little mouse of a bride long years ago. And not the least striking
point of resemblance was this whole-hearted surrender of attention. It
would, of course, be unreasonable to expect the faculty to persist:
life in its course brought, to even the fondest of wives, distractions,
cares and interests of her own. But there was no denying it, this lack
of preoccupation it was, this freedom--even emptiness if you would--
of mind, into which oneself poured the contents, that rendered a very
young woman so delightful a companion.

And when, at length, the move to the new house was made, and Mahony set
about unpacking, arranging and cataloguing the books he had, and
planning where those to come should be shelved, Emmy was still his
right hand. Mary, busy with strange servants, with the stocking of
kitchen and larder, could do no more than occasionally look in to see
how the two of them were getting on, and keep them supplied with
refreshment. Good-naturedly she yielded Emmy entirely to Richard, who
now passed to overhauling his minerals, plants and butterflies,
all of which had made the journey to England with him and back. And
glass cases, stacks of blotting-paper and sheets of cork were set up
afresh in this big, pleasant room, the windows of which looked down a
vista cut through spreading oleanders to where, in the orchard, peach
and almond-blossom vied in pinkness against a pale blue sky.

But it was not very long before Emmy was spirited away to grace her
father's table. Then, his own affairs in order, domestic appointments
running smoothly, Mahony drove out with Mary in the neat brougham he
had given her, to return some of the visits that had been paid them.
Later on, too, he accompanied her to dinners, balls and soirees; or
played the host at his own table, which Mary soon filled with guests.

The society in which they here found themselves had a variety and a
breadth about it that put it on a very different footing from either
the narrow Ballarat circle of earlier years, or the medieval
provincialism into which they had stumbled overseas. And moments came
when, squarely facing the facts, Mahony admitted to himself he might go
farther and fare worse: in other words, that he could now never hope to
know anything better. The most diverse tastes were catered for. There
was the ultra-fashionable set that revolved round Government House and
the vice-regal entertainments; that covered the lawns at Flemington and
Caulfield; drove out in splendid four and six-in-hands to champagne
picnics at Yan Yean; overflowed the dress circle at the Theatre Royal,
where Bandmann was appearing in his famous roles; the ladies decked for
all occasions--lawn, theatre, picnics, dusty streets alike--in the
flimsiest and costliest of robes. At the head of this aristocracy of
wealth stood those primitive settlers the great squatter-kings, owners
of sheep-runs that counted up to a hundred thousand acres: men whose
incomes were so vast that they hardly knew how to dispense them, there
existing here no art treasures to empty the purse, nor any taste to buy
them had they existed. Neither did travel tempt these old colonists,
often of humble origin, whose prime had been spent buried in the bush;
while it had not yet become the fashion to educate sons and daughters
"at home." Since, however, fortunes were still notoriously precarious--
flood or fire could ruin a man overnight--and since, too, the
sense of uncertainty that characterised the early days had bitten too
deep ever to be got out of the blood, "spend while you may" remained
the motto men lived by. And this led to a reckless extravagance that
had not its equal. Women lavished money on dress, which grew to be a
passion in this fair climate; on jewellery with which to behang their
persons; on fantastic entertainments; men drank, betted, gambled; while
horse-racing had already become, with both sexes, the obsession it was
to remain. This stylish set--it also included fabulously lucky
speculators, as well as the great wool-buyers--Mahony did not do much
more than brush in passing. His sympathies inclined rather to that
which revolved round the trusty prelate who, having guided the
destinies of the Church through the ups and downs of its infancy, now
formed a pivot for the intellectual interests of the day--albeit of a
somewhat non-progressive, anti-modern kind. Still, the atmosphere that
prevailed in the pleasant rooms at Bishopscourt was the nearest thing
to be found to the urbane, unworldly air of English university or
cathedral life. Next in order came the legal luminaries, Irishmen for
the most part, with keen, ugly faces and scathingly witty tongues; men
whose enormous experience made them the best of good company. And to
this clique belonged also the distinguished surgeons and physicians of
the eastern hill; the bankers, astutest of financiers; with, for spice,
the swiftly changing politicians of the moment, here one day, gone the
next, with nothing but their ideas or their energy to recommend them,
and dragging with them wives married in their working days. . . well,
the less said of the wives the better.

Such was the society in which Mahony was now called on to take his
place. And the result was by so much the most vivid expression of his
personality he had yet succeeded in giving, that it became THE one that
imprinted itself on men's minds, to the confusion of what had gone
before and was to come after: became the reality from which his mortal
shadow was thrown.--"Mahony?" would be the query in later years.
"Mahony? Ah yes, of course, you mean Townshend-Mahony of 'Ultima
Thule,'" this being the name he had bestowed on his new house.--Mary
regarded him fondly and with pride. Certain it was, no matter in what
circle she moved, whose dinner-table he sat at, whose hearthrug
he stood on, he was by far the most distinguished-looking man in the
room. And not only this: a kind of mellowness now descended on him, a
new tolerance with his fellowmen. The lines of work and worry
disappeared; he filled out both in face and figure, and loved to tease
Mary by declaring he was on the high road to growing fat. He brushed up
his musical accomplishments, too; and his pleasant tenor, his skill as
a flute-player, brought him into fresh demand. Miss Timms-Kelly, Judge
Kelly's daughter, who had quite the finest amateur voice in Melbourne,
was heard to say she preferred Richard's second in a duet to any other;
and many an elaborate aria, full of shakes and trills, did she warble
to his OBBLIGATO on the flute.

How happy all this made Mary, she could not have told. To know Richard
even moderately contented would have satisfied her; to see him actually
taking pleasure in life caused her Cup to run over. She had now not a
care left, hardly a wish unfulfilled. And she showed it. The eclipse in
health and good looks she had suffered by reason of her transplantation
was past: never had she felt better than at present; while in
appearance she bloomed anew--enjoyed a kind of Indian summer. At
thirty-two, an age when, in the trying climate of the colony, a woman
was, as often as not, hopelessly faded, Mary did not need to fear
comparison with ladies ten years her junior. Her skin was still
flawless, eye as brilliant, her hair as glossy as of old. In figure she
inclined to the statuesque, without being either too tall or too full:
arms and shoulders were unsurpassed in their rounded whiteness. A
certain breadth of brow alone prevented her, at this stage of her life,
from being classed among the acknowledged beauties of her sex: it lent
her a thoughtful air, where she should have been merely pleasing.--
But, after all, what did this matter? Her real beauty, as Richard often
reflected, consisted in the warmth and loving-kindness that beamed from
her eyes, illuminating a face which never a malicious thought had
twisted or deformed. Her expression was, of course, no more one of
utter unsuspicion--experience had seen to that--just as her mind was
no longer afflicted with the adorable blindness that had been its
leading trait in girlhood. Mary now knew very well that evil existed,
and that mortals were prone to it. But she would not allow that it
could be inborn; held fast to her unconquerable belief in the
innate goodness of every living soul; and was never at a loss to
exonerate the sinner. "No wonder he's what he is, after the life he has
been forced to lead. We mightn't have turned out any better ourselves,
with his temptations." Or: "She has never had a chance, poor thing!
Circumstances have always been against her."

With her anxieties on Richard's behalf, Mary's ambitions for him--that
he should climb the tree, make a name--also gradually sank to rest.
Her mind was thus at liberty to follow its own bent. Fond though she
was of her fellow-creatures, the formal round of social life had never
made a very deep appeal to her: she liked to see people merry and
enjoying themselves, but she herself needed something more active to
engross her. Her house, well staffed, well run, claimed only a fraction
of her attention. Hence she had plenty of time to devote herself to
what Richard called her true mission in life: the care of others--
especially of the poor and suffering, the unhappy and unsure. And many
a heart was lightened by having Mary to lean on, her strong common
sense for a guide. Her purse, too, was an unending solace. Even in the
latter years in Ballarat, she had had to dispense her charities
carefully, balancing one against another. Now her income was equal to
all the calls made on it . . . and more . . . Richard generously
bidding her add to her own pin-money anything left over from the
handsome cheque he gave her for housekeeping expenses. And since he,
mindful of his promise, never inquired what she did with it, she was at
last free to give as royally as she chose . . . in any direction. But
if he did not ask to see her pass-book, neither did she see his: he
would not have her troubling her head, he said, about their general
expenditure. At first she rather demurred at this: she would have liked
to know how their outlay per month tallied with the sum at their
disposal; and she missed the talks they had been used to have, about
how best to portion out their income. But Richard said those days were
over and done with: she would lose her way, he teased her, among sums
of four figures--for, in a twinkling, his late-found affluence had
thrown him back on the traditional idea that money affairs were the
man's province, not the woman's. For her comfort, he stressed once more
the fact that he did not intend to speculate; also that at long
last, he would, despite the enormous premium, be able to insure his
life. In the event of anything happening to him, she would be well
provided for, and thus might spend what he gave her freely and without
scruple. Yielding to these persuasions, Mary acquiesced in the new
arrangement, and gradually slipped into the delightful habit of taking
money for granted. After all, the confidence was mutual: he trusted her
not to run up bills at milliner's or jeweller's; she, too, had to trust
in her turn. She valued his faith in her, and was careful not to abuse
it. Her own accounts were scrupulously kept: just as in the old days,
she wrote down every shilling she spent, and knitted her brows over the
halfpennies; with the result that she soon began to accumulate a tidy
little nest-egg.

Her charities were her sole extravagance, her personal wants remaining
few and simple. Besides, Richard was for ever making her presents. It
could not be said of him that his tastes did not expand with his purse.
He put his men-servants into livery, stocked his cellars, bought silver
table-appliances and egg-shell china, had his crest stamped wherever it
could find a place. And the things he bought for her were of the same
costly nature. In addition to the carriage, which she had to admit was
both useful and necessary, his gifts included jewellery (which she wore
more to please him than because she had any real liking for it)--rings
and chains, brooches and bracelets--all things HIS wife ought to have
and never had had: curling ostrich feathers for hat and fan; gold-mounted
mother-of-pearl opera-glasses; hand-painted fans; carved ivory
card-cases; ivory-backed brushes and silver vinaigrettes: any fal-lal,
in short, that struck his eye or caught his fancy.

There came a day on which he fairly outdid himself. Soon after
inscribing their names in the visiting-book at Government House, they
received invitations to a ball there, in honour of two men-of-war that
were anchored in the Bay--a very select affair indeed: none of your
promiscuous May Day crushes! As it would be their first appearance in
style, Mahony--a trifle uncertain whether Mary would do the thing
handsomely enough--insisted on fitting her out. The pale blue silk he
chose for her gown was finest Lyons, the cost of which, without making,
ran to thirty pounds: Mary had never seen a silk like it. It was got
privatim through John, who had it direct from the French
factory. John, too, was responsible for the crowning glory of Mary's
attire. For after Richard had added a high, pearl-studded Spanish comb
for her hair, John one day showed him a wonderful shawl that had just
come into the warehouse, suggesting it would look well on Mary. And for
once Mahony found himself in agreement with his brother-in-law. Of
softest cashmere, supple as silk--and even softer to the touch--the
scarlet ground of the shawl was well-nigh hidden by a massive white
Indian embroidery; so that the impression gained was one of sumptuous
white silk, broken by flecks of red. It was peaked, burnous-like, to
form a hood, and this and the corners were hung with heavy white silk
tassels. So magnificent an affair was it that Mary had severe qualms
about wearing it: in her heart she considered it far too showy and
elaborate. But Richard had no doubt paid an enormous price for it, and
would be hurt into the bargain if she said what she thought.

He himself was charmed with the effect, when she draped it over the
sky-blue of the gown. "Upon my word, my dear, you'll put every other
woman in the shade!"

But even he was not prepared for the stir that ran through the ballroom
on their arrival. In among the puces and magentas, the rose-budded
pinks and forget-me-notted blues came Mary, trailing a bit of oriental
splendour, and wearing it, as only she could, with a queenly yet
unconscious air. Seated on a dais among the matrons--for nowadays she
danced only an occasional "square," leaving round dances to the young--
Mary drew the fire of all eyes.

And it was not the opera-cloak alone.

"A skin like old Florentine ivory!" declared an Englishman fresh from
"home." The guest of the Governor, he was wandering through this
colonial assembly much as a musical connoisseur might wander through a
cattle-yard. Till Mary caught his eye . . . . And when she dropped the
cloak, for the honour of a quadrille with his Excellency, this same
visitor was heard to dilate on the tints cast by the blue on the ivory
. . . to murmur of Goya . . . Velasquez.

Subsequently he was introduced, and sat by her side for the better part
of an hour.

At two o'clock, when Mahony handed her to the carriage, it was
with something of the lover-like elan that even the least fond husband
feels on seeing his wife the centre of attraction.

"Now, madam! . . . wasn't I right? Who was the success of the evening I
should like to know?"

"Oh, Richard. . . Put up the window, dear, it's cold. If there can be
any talk of a success . . . then it's the cloak you mean, not me."

"It took you to carry it off, love. Not another woman in the room could
have done it. Made it seem very well worth the price I had to pay for
it."

"Which reminds me, you haven't yet told me what that was."

"My business, sweetheart! Yours to play the belle and get compared to
the old masters by admiring strangers."

"REALLY, Richard!" Mary made the deprecating movement of the chin with
which she was wont to rebuke extravagances. "Why, dear, he was so
high-falutin I didn't know half the time what he was talking about." Then
fearing she had been too severe, she added: "Of course I'm very glad
you were pleased,"--and hoped that was the end of it. Compliments,
even from one's husband, were things to be evaded if possible. "Well, I
must remember poor Jinny and not hoard it up for the moths to get at."
But there was more than a dash of doubt in Mary's tone, and she sighed.
Not merely for Jinny. She did not know when another opportunity so
splendid as this evening's would arise. For an ordinary one, such
finery would certainly be out of place.

"Wear it or not as you please, love. It has served its end . . .
stamped itself on a moment of time," said Mahony; and fell therewith
into a brown study.

But as he helped her from the carriage he stooped and kissed her . . .
which Mary was very much afraid the coachman saw.




Chapter V



Than queening it at balls, she felt more in her element seated in a
rather dingily furnished drawing-room, holding poor Agnes Ocock's hand.
Although it had struck five and the worst heat of the day was over,
Agnes was still in her bedgown--she had been lying down with the
headache, she said--nor could Mary persuade her to exchange this for
bonnet and shawl, and drive out with her in the brougham that stood at
the door.

"Another time, dearest, if you do not mind. To-day I have no fancy for
it."

Mary was shocked by the change the past six months had worked in her
friend; and disagreeably impressed by the common-featured house in
which she found her: it had no garden, but stood right on the dusty St.
Kilda Parade. Agnes was growing very stout; her fine skin looked as
creased as her robe, her cheek was netted with veins, her hair thin,
under a cap set awry. Mary knew the rumours that were current; and her
heart swelled with pity.

"Just as you like, dear. And how are the children? Are they in? May I
see them?"

"Oh, yes, the children. Why. . . the truth is, dearest Mary, I haven't
. . . they are not with me. Henry thought . . . he thought . . ."

Agnes's voice broke, and after a painful struggle to compose herself
she hid her face in her hands.

Leaning forward Mary laid an arm round her shoulders. "Dearest Agnes,
won't you tell me your trouble? Is it the little one you. . . you lost,
you are fretting over?"

And now there was no sound in the room but that of crying--and such
crying! It seemed difficult to connect these heavy nerve-racking sobs
with the lovely, happy little Agnes of former days. Holding her close,
Mary let her weep unstintedly.

"Oh, Mary, Mary! I am the most miserable creature alive."

Yes, it was the loss of the child that was breaking her heart . . . or
rather the way in which she had lost it.

"It was the finest baby you ever saw, Mary--neither of the others
could compare with it. They were all very well; but this one.... His
tiny limbs were so round and smooth--it was like kissing velvet. And
dimples everywhere. And he was born with a head of golden hair. I never
knew Henry so pleased. He said such a child did me credit . . . and
this used rather to make me wonder, Mary; for Baby wasn't a bit like
Henry . . . or like the other two. He took after my family and had blue
eyes. But do you know who he reminded me of most of all? It was of
Eddie, Mary . . . and through Eddie of Mr. Glendinning. When Eddie was
born he used to lie in my lap, just as soft and fair . . . and
sometimes I think I forgot, and imagined this baby WAS Eddie over again
. . . and that made me still fonder of him; for one's first is one's
first, love, no matter how many come after. And then . . . then . . .
He was five months old, and beginning to try to grasp things and take
notice--oh, such a happy babe! And then one morning, I wasn't feeling
well, Mary--the doctor said the nursing of such a hearty child was a
great strain on me; then a giddy fit took me--I had been giving him
the breast and got up to lay him down--nurse wasn't there. I must have
been dizzy with sitting so long stooped over him--and he was heavy for
his age. I got up and came over faint all of a sudden--the doctor says
so . . . and I tottered, Mary, and Baby fell--fell out of my arms . . .
on his little head--I heard the thud--yes, the thud . . . but not a
cry or a sound . . . nothing. . . nothing . . . he never cried again."

"Oh, my poor Agnes! Oh, you poor, poor thing!"

Mary was weeping, too; the tears ran down her cheeks. But she made no
attempt to palliate or console; did not speak of an accident for which
it was impossible to blame yourself; or of God's will, mysterious,
inscrutable: she just grieved, with an intensity of feeling that made
her one with the bereft. Things of this kind went too deep for words;
were hurts from which there could be no recovery. Time might grow its
moss over them . . . hide them from mortal sight . . . that was all.

As she drove home she reflected, pitifully, how strange it was
that so soft and harmless a creature as Agnes should thus be singled
out for some of life's hardest blows. Agnes had so surely been born for
happiness--and to make others happy. Misfortunes such as these ought
to be kept for people of stronger, harder natures and with broader
backs; who could suffer and still carry their heads high. Agnes was
merely crushed to earth by them . . . like a poor little trampled
flower.

But before she reached the house, a fearful suspicion crossed her mind.

Tilly nodded confirmingly.

"The plain English of it is, she was squiffy."

And went on: "It was hushed up, my dear, you bet!--kept dark as the
grave . . . doctor changed, etc. etc. They actually 'ad the face to put
it down to the nurse's carelessness: said nurse being packed off at
once, HANDSOMELY REMUNERATED, mind you, to hold 'er tongue. An' a mercy
the child died; the doctor seemed to think it might 'ave been soft, 'ad
it lived--after such a knock on the pate--and can you see Henry
dragging the village idiot at 'is heels? NEVER was a man in such a
fury, Mary. Ugh! that white face with those little pitch-black eyes
rolling round in it--it gave me the fair shakes to look at 'im. 'Pon
my word I believe, if 'e'd dared, 'e'd 'ave slaughtered Agnes there and
then. His child, HIS son!--you know the tune of it. 'E'll never
forgive 'er, mark my words he won't! . . . the disgrace and all that--
for of course everybody knew all about it and a good deal more. She was
odd enough beforehand, never going anywhere. Now she's taking the sea-air
at St. Kilda, and, if you ask me, she'll go on taking it . . . till
Doomsday."

"The very way to drive her to despair!" cried Mary; and burned.

Tilly shrugged. "It's six of one and 'alf a dozen of the other to my
mind. I'd almost rather be put away to rot like a poisoned rat in a
hole, than live under the whip of Mossieu Henry's tongue--not to
mention 'is eye!"

"Agnes shall not die like a rat in a hole if I can help it."

"Ah, but you can't, my dear! . . . don't make any mistake about that.
You might as well try to bend a bar of iron as 'Enry.--And I
must say, Mary, it does sometimes seem a good deal of fuss to make over
one small kid. She can 'ave more for the asking."

"TILLY!" Mary looked up from her sewing--the two women sat on the
verandah of Tilly's house in Ballarat, where Mary was visiting--in
reproof and surprise at a speech so unlike her friend. It was not the
first either; Tilly often wore a mopy, world-weary air nowadays, which
did not sit naturally on her. "Each child that lives is just itself,"
added Mary. "That's why one loves it so."

"Oh, well, I s'pose so. And as you know, love, I'd 'ave 'ad a dozen if
I could. It wouldn't 'ave been one too many to fill this 'ouse."

Mary believed she read the answer to the riddle. "Look here, Tilly,
you're lonely . . . that's what's the matter with you."

And Tilly nodded, dumpily--again unlike herself.

"Fact is, Mary, I want something to DO. As long as dear old Pa lived,
and I 'ad the boys to look after, it was all right--I never knew what
it was to be dull. But now. . . P'r'aps if they'd let me keep Tom and
Johnny . . . or if I could groom my own 'orses or ride 'em at the
stakes . . . No, no, of course, I know it wouldn't do--or be COMMY
FAUT. It's only my gab."

"I wonder, Tilly," said Mary, "I wonder if. . . have you never thought,
dear, at times like these that . . . that perhaps you might some day
marry again?" She put the question very tentatively, knowing Tilly's
robust contempt for the other sex.

But Tilly answered pat: "Why, that's just what I 'ave, Mary."

"Oh!" said Mary. And to cover up her amazement, added: "I think it
would be the very best thing that could happen."

There followed a pause of some length. Mary did not know what to make
of it. Tilly was humming and hawing: she fidgeted, coloured, shifted
her eyes.

"Yes, my dear," she said at length, in answer to Mary's invitation to
speak out: "I HAVE something on my chest . . . something I want to say
to you, Mary, and yet don't quite know, 'ow. Fact is, I want you to do
me a good turn, my dear. No, now just you wait a jiff, till you 'ear
what it is. Tell you what, Mary, I've found meself regularly down in
the mouth of late--off me grub--and that sort of thing. No,
Pa's death has nothing whatever to do with it. I was getting on
famously--right as a trivet--till . . . well, till I went to town--
yes, that time, you know, to meet you and the doctor." And as Mary
still sat blank and uncomprehending, she blurted out: "Oh, well . . .
till I saw . . . oh, YOU know!--till I met a CERTAIN PERSON again."

"A certain person? Do you . . . Tilly! Oh, Tilly, do you REALLY?
Purdy?"

Tilly nodded, heavily, gloomily, without the ghost of a smile. "Yes,
it's a fact--and not one I'm proud of either, as you can guess. And
yet again I ask meself why not? I need some one to look after, Mary . . .
and that's the truth. 'E'S down on HIS luck, as always; can't get the
money to stick; and I've more than I know what to do with. And to see
'im there, lookin' so poor and shabby, and yet keeping 'is pecker up as
'e did--why, I dunno, but it seemed some'ow to 'urt me 'ERE!"--and
Tilly, her aitches scattering more wildly than usual under the stress
of her emotion, laid her hands, one over the other, on her left breast.

"But Tilly----"

"Oh! now don't go and but me, Polly, like the dear good soul you are
and always 'ave been. If you mean, am I going to let 'im make ducks and
drakes of poor old Pa's money, I can truly say no--no fear! Not this
child. But . . . well . . . look 'ere, Mary, I 'aven't spit out the
whole truth yet. You'll laugh at what I'm going to tell you, and well
you may do; it sounds rum enough. But you know they do say old folks
fall to playing again with toys, cuddling dolls and whittling chips.
Well, a CERTAIN PERSON 'ad a bit of hair, Poll, that used to curl
behind 'is ear--many and many's the time in the old spoony days I've
sat and twiddled it round me finger. Now, 'is hair's wearing thin on
top, but the curl's still there--and I . . . would you believe it? . . .
yes, I'm blessed if my finger didn't itch to be at it again. And
what's worse, HAS itched ever since. 'Ere I go, properly in the dumps
and the doldrums, and feeling as if nothing 'ull ever matter much any
more if I can't. Oh, there's no fool like an old fool, Mary love! . . .
and nobody knows that better than the old fool 'im--herself."

"Oh come, Tilly, you're not quite so ancient as you try to make
out! As to what you say . . . it's been the living alone and all that,
it's come of."

But though she spoke in a reassuring tone, Mary was none the less
genuinely perturbed: her robust, sensible Tilly reduced to such a
foolish state! Why, it was like seeing one's dearest friend collapse
under a sudden illness.

"P'r'aps. And p'r'aps not. But what I want you to do for me, old girl,
is this. Ask me down to stop for a bit, and ask him to the house while
I'm there. The rest I'll manage for myself. Only you won't let on to
the doctor, will you, love, what I've told you? I don't want the doctor
to know. 'E'd look down 'is nose at me with that queer look of his--
no, I couldn't stand it, Poll! Henry, too--I shall keep 'Enry in the
dark till it's too late. 'E'd raise Cain. For, of course 'e thinks what
Pa left's safe to come to his brats. While, if I fix things up as I
want 'em"--she lowered her voice--"I may 'ave kids of my own yet."

"Indeed and I hope so . . . from the bottom of my heart."

Tell Richard? No, indeed! As that same afternoon Mary drove in Tilly's
double buggy down the dusty slope of Sturt Street, and out over the
Flat, she imagined to herself what Richard would say--and think--did
she make him partner in Tilly's confidences. What? . . . try to trap a
man, and an old friend to boot, into a loveless marriage, merely
because you want to twist a bit of hair round your finger? He would
snort with disgust at such folly . . . besides thinking it indelicate
into the bargain. As she was afraid she, Mary, did a little, too. The
difference was: she saw, as he never would, that loneliness was at the
bottom of it; loneliness, and the want of some one to care for, or, as
Tilly put it, of something to do. It might also be that the old girlish
inclination had never quite died out, but only slumbered through all
these years. Not that that would count with Richard; indeed, it might
count in just the opposite way. For he was more than straitlaced where
things of this kind were in question; had a constitutional horror of
them; and he would not consider it at all nice for the seeds of an old
attachment to have stayed alive in you, while you were happily married
to some one else. Another point: if Purdy yielded to the temptation and
took Tilly and her money, Richard might always think less well
of him for doing so; which would be a thousand pities, now a first move
towards a reconciliation had been made. Whereas if the engagement
seemed to come about of itself . . . . And in this respect there was
really something to be said for it. Purdy once married and settled, the
foolish barrier that had grown up between the two men would fall away,
and they again become the friends they had been of old.

Reasoning thus, Mary arrived at a row of mean little weatherboard
houses, in one of which Ned lived. She did not knock, but stepped
across the verandah, turned the door-knob and went down the passage. It
was a Monday, and washing day. The brick floor of the kitchen
overflowed with water, in which the young fry played. Polly, turning
from the tubs, ran her hands down her arms to sluice off the lather,
before extending them, all moist and crinkled, in an embrace. By the
copper sat Ned--poor Ned--convalescent from the attack of acute
bronchitis which had brought Mary in hot haste to Ballarat a few weeks
previously. Ned's chest and shoulders were wrapped up in an old red
flannel petticoat, pinned under the chin; his feet, well out of the
damp's way on an upturned sugar-box, were clad in down-at-heel felt
slippers. His thick ringletty hair and curly beard hung long and
unkempt above the scarlet drapery, forming a jet-black aureole from
which his face, chastened to a new delicacy, looked out beautiful as a
cameo.

Pouncing on Mary he talked volubly, in the hoarse whisper that was all
the voice his illness had left him. It was the same old Ned, holding
forth in the same old way: on the luck that had always been against
him, the fair chance he had never yet had; man and theme lit up by the
same unquenchable optimism. He had to-day a yarn to tell of the fortune
he might have made, not three months back, had he only at the critical
moment been able to lay hands on the needful: men had gone in and won
who had not a quarter of his flair. How much of this was truth and how
much imagination, Mary did not know or greatly care--unlike Polly who,
rasped beyond measure, clicked an angry tongue and lashed out at Ned's
"atrocious lies."

Striving to keep the peace by dropping in soothing words, Mary sat and
pondered how best these poor souls could be helped. On the voyage out,
she had seriously considered adopting one--perhaps even two--
of the black-haired brood. But again Polly made short work of the
suggestion. Not even to Mary whom she dearly loved, would she give up
her children.

"They're me own and I'll stick to 'em, come what may! For they're all
I've got, dearie . . . all I'll ever get from the whole galumphing
galoot." With which Mary was forced to agree; and though seven lived
and a ninth was on the way.

Nor could Polly be induced to part from them even for the benefit of
their education.

"Ta, love, you mean it kindly, but I'll not have 'em brought up above
their station. They're a working-man's kids, and such they'll remain.
Besides, you may be sure there'll be SOME of Ned's blowfly notions in
some of their heads. And the State School's the best place to knock
such nonsense out of 'em." Which, duly reported by Mary, Richard said
was a gross example of parental selfishness. What right had a mother to
stand in the way of her offspring? No child with any true affection
would grow up to despise his parents. On the contrary, as he understood
the sacrifice they had made for him, his love for them would deepen and
increase. But this was just Richard's high-flown way of looking at
things.

No, what Ned and Polly wanted was money, and money alone. This piece of
knowledge was accompanied, however, by so disagreeable a sensation that
Mary was thankful Richard was not there to share it. Not only were they
ready to take every shilling offered . . . poor things, no one could
blame them for that, pinched and straitened as they were . . . it was
their manner of accepting that wounded Mary. They pocketed what Richard
sent them almost as a matter of course, frankly inspecting the amount,
and sometimes even going so far as to wrinkle their noses over it.
Which was really hardly fair; for Richard was very generous to them;
considering they were no blood relations of his, and he felt they
didn't like him. Nor did they: there was no getting away from that;
they showed it even to the extent of begrudging him his good luck . . .
without which he would have been unable to do anything for them! Poor
Ned's eye was hot with envy whenever Richard's rise in the world was
mentioned. While Polly alluded to it with an open sneer.

"I say, INFRA DIG. isn't it and no mistake, for a heavy swell like
he is, to have such low-down connections. . . people who take
in other people's washing!"

Mary could not bring herself to sit in judgment on them: for all his
tall talk, Ned had never harmed a fly; and Polly's was just a generous
nature warped and twisted by poverty and an imprudent marriage. All the
same she took great pains not to let Richard know how the wind blew.
Her letters to him, on Ned and Polly's behalf, were full of the warm
gratitude she herself would have felt had she stood in their shoes.




Chapter VI



For the first time in his life Mahony found himself in possession of
all the books he wanted: rare books hard to get; expensive books he had
till now never felt justified in buying. And Mary, his social
conscience, being absent, he fell into depths of abstraction from which
there was nothing to rouse him.

His two old arch-enemies time and money--or rather the lack of them--
had definitely ceased to plague him. His leisure was unbounded, the
morrow well provided for, and the material comfort of his present
surroundings such as he had hitherto known only in dreams. No domestic
sounds rasped his ear, scattered his attention; his spacious study,
book-lined from ceiling to floor, stood apart from the rest of the
house, and was solidly built. Was cool and airy, too; even in the heat
of midday he caught a whiff of the sea. The garden with its shrubberies
and lawns of buffalo-grass, its spreading figtrees and dark firs,
rested and refreshed the eye. His meals appeared on the table as by
clockwork, served as he liked them, cooked to a turn. And so greatly
did the hermit's life he now led jump with his mood, that invitations
to social functions grew fly-spotted on the chimney-shelf, or were
swept up by the housemaid from the floor.

He first undertook to examine the great moderns: those world-famous
scientists and their philosophic spokesmen who dominated the
intellectual life of the day. So far he had read their works only in
snatches, and at random. He now re-read them systematically; followed
step by step the presentment of their monumental theories--the idea of
evolution, the origin of species, the antiquity of man--as well as the
constructive or subversive conclusions deduced therefrom.

Thus weeks passed. At the end of this time--Mary being still from home
--he emerged heavy-eyed and a trifle dazed, from sittings protracted
late into the night, and paused to take his bearings. And it was now,
on looking back over what he had read, that he became aware of
a feeling of dissatisfaction. Chiefly with regard to the mental
attitude of the writers themselves. So sound were their arguments that
they might well, he thought, have refrained from the pontifical airs
they saw fit to adopt; having been a shade less intolerant of views and
beliefs that did not dovetail with their own. Riding on the crest of
the highest wave of materialism that had ever broken over the world,
they themselves were satisfied that life and its properties could be
explained, to the last iota, in terms of matter; and, dogmatically
pronouncing their interpretation of the universe to be the only valid
one, they laid a crushing veto on any suggestion of a possible
spiritual agency. Here it was, he parted company with them. For the
same thing had surely happened before, in the world's history, bodies
of learned men arising at various epochs in divers lands, and claiming
to have solved the great riddle once and for all? Over and above this,
did Huxley's inflamed outbursts against the "cosmogony of the
semi-barbarous Hebrew"; his sighs that the "myths of Paganism, dead as
Osiris or Zeus," had not been followed to their graves by the "coeval
imaginations current among the rude inhabitants of Palestine"; his bald
definition of science as "trained and organised common sense"--DID
Huxley's type of mind, or yet that of another well-known savant, who
declared that one should decide beforehand what was possible and what
not, incline you to trust these men's verdict on the spiritual issues
of human existence? In his own case, certainly not. He believed and
would continue to believe it impossible wholly to account for life and
its phenomena, in terms of physiology, chemistry and physics.

Another thing that baffled him was: why, having advanced to a certain
point, should they suddenly stop short, with a kingly gesture of: "Thus
far and no farther"? Devoting decades of laborious research to the
ORIGIN of life on this globe, its age, its evolution, why should they
leave untouched two questions of still more vital import: life's
ultimate goal, and the moral mysteries of the soul of man? Yes, the
chief bone he had to pick with them was that they had no will to fathom
such deeps; plumed themselves instead on cold-shouldering them;
flaunted as their device: IGNORAMUS ET IGNORABIMUS. Arrogantly sure of
themselves, carried away by a passion for facts, they covered with
ridicule those--the seers, the poets, the childlike in heart--
who, over and above the rational and knowable, caught glimpses of what
was assumed to be unknowable; declaring, with a fierce and intolerant
unimaginativeness, that the assertion which outstripped the evidence
was not only a blunder, but a crime. Strange, indeed, was it to watch
these masters toiling to interpret human life, yet denying it all hope
of a further development, any issue but that of eternal nothingness.
For his part, he could not see why the evolution-formula should be held
utterly to rule out the transcendental-formula. But so it was; every
line of their works confirmed it. . . confirmed, too, the reader's
opinion that, in their bigoted attitude of mind, they differed not so
very markedly from those hard-and-fast champions of orthodoxy who, in
the rising flood of enlightenment, remained perilously clinging to the
vanishing rock of dogma and tradition. On the one hand, for all answer
to the burning needs and questions of the hour, the tale of Creation as
told in Genesis, the Thirty-nine Articles, the intolerable Athanasian
Creed; on the other, as bitterly stubborn an agnosticism--each surely,
in the same degree, stones for bread. One would have liked to call to
them: Fear not to turn the light of research on the conception of that
immortality which you affirm . . . which you deny.

Thus it came about that, little by little, Mahony found himself
drifting away from the barren conclusions of science: just as in
earlier years he had cast loose from a too rigid orthodoxy. Occult
subjects had always had a strong fascination for him, and he now turned
back to them; read ancient screeds on alchemy and astrology; the
writings of Paracelsus and Apollonius of Tyana. Thence he dived into
mysticism; studied the biographies of Saint Theresa, Joseph Glanvill,
Giordano Bruno; and pondered anew the trance history of Swedenborg. Men
and women like these, living their lives as a kind of experiment, and
an arduous and painful experiment at that, were yet supported and
uplifted by the consciousness of a mighty power outside, and at the
same time within themselves: a bottomless well of spiritual strength.
Out of this inspiration they taught confidently that all life emanated
from God (no matter what form it assumed in its progress), to God would
return, and in Him continue to exist. Yes, spirituality outstripped
intellect; there were mysteries at once too deep and too simple
for learned brains to fathom. Actually, the unlettered man who said:
"God is, and I am of God!" came nearest to reading the riddle of the
universe. How cold and comfortless, too, the tenet that this one brief
span of being ended all. Without faith in a life to come, how endure,
stoically, the ills that here confronted us? . . . the injustices of
human existence, the evil men did, the cruelty of man to his brothers,
of God to man? Postulate a Hereafter, and the hope arose that, some
day, the ultimate meaning of all these apparent contradictions would be
made plain: the endless groping, struggling, suffering prove but rungs
in the ladder of humanity's upward climb. Not for him the Byzantine
Heaven of the churches, with its mental stagnation, its frozen
immobility, wherein a jealous God, poorer in charity than the feeble
creatures built in His image, spent Eternity damning those who had
failed to propitiate Him. Nor yet the doctrine of the Fall of a perfect
man from grace. Himself he held this present life to be but a portal,
an antechamber, where dwelt an imperfect but wholly vital creation,
which, growing more and more passionately aware with the passing of the
ages of its self-contained divinity, would end by achieving, by being
reabsorbed in, the absolute consciousness of the Eternal.

Yes, old faiths lay supine, stunned by the hammer blows of science; and
science had nothing soul-satisfying to offer in their place. Surely
now, if ever, the age was ripe for a new revelation: racked by doubts,
or cut to the heart by atheistic denial, it cried aloud for a fresh
proof of God's existence, and of God's concern with man.--Restlessly
feeling his way, Mahony set himself to take the measure, where he had
so far only dabbled in it, of the new movement spiritualism, which,
from its rise in a tiny American hamlet, had run like a wildfire over
Europe. If what its followers claimed for it was true--and among them
were men of standing whose words could not be dismissed with a shrug--
if the spirits of those who had crossed the bourne were really able . . .
as in the days of Moses and the prophets . . . to return and speak
with their loved ones--then it meant that a new crisis had arisen in
man's relation to the Unseen, with which both science and religion
would eventually have to reckon. Unlike the majority, he was not put
off by the commonplace means of communication employed--the
rappings and the tappings, the laborious telling over of the alphabet--
nor yet by the choice, as agents, or the illiterate and immature. He
recalled the early history of Christianity: the Chaldean shepherds; the
Judean carpenter's shop; the unlettered fishermen; the sneers and gibes
of Roman society. God's ways had never been, never would be man's ways.
Why, even as it was, some found the practice of conventional
Christianity none too easy, thanks to the frailty of the human channels
through which the great message had to pass: the supercilious drawl of
a ritualistic parson; one's inability to admit that a bad priest might
read a true Mass; the fact that the celebrant from whom you received
the Eucharist was known to be, in his spare hours, drinker and gambler,
or one of those who systematically hunted small animals to death.
Measured by such stumbling-blocks as these, the spiritualists' sincere
faith and homely conduct of their seances did not need to shirk
comparison. Indeed, there would sometimes seem to be more genuine piety
at their meetings than at many an ordinary church service. But, however
one looked at it, the question to be answered remained: was it possible
to draw from this new movement proofs of the knowledge one's soul
craved--the continuity of existence; the nearness, the interwovenness,
of the spiritual world to the material; the eternal and omnipotent
presence of the Creator?


* * * * *


Mary wrote: WHAT IN ALL THE WORLD ARE YOU DOING WITH YOURSELF RICHARD?
THE CARTERS QUITE EXPECTED YOU LAST WEDNESDAY, AND THE RENTOULS HAD A
PLACE LAID AT DINNER FOR YOU ON FRIDAY EVENING. BOTH WRITE ME HOPING
YOU WERE NOT KEPT AWAY BY ILLNESS. I THINK IT'S TIME I CAME HOME TO
LOOK AFTER YOU.

To which Mahony replied: NONSENSE, MY DEAR, I AM GETTING ON CAPITALLY--
SERVANTS MOST ATTENTIVE, AND COOK DISHING ME UP ALL MANNER OF GOOD
THINGS. DO NOT HURRY BACK ON MY ACCOUNT.

Mary's next letter bore the heading "Yarangobilly," and ran:

YOU SEE WHERE I AM NOW. THE URQUHARTS INSISTED ON MY COMING OUT--AND
TILLY WITH ME. THERE'S A LARGE PARTY HERE AS USUAL, AND PICNICS,
DANCING, MUSIC AND SINGING GO ON ALL THE TIME. I WAS SORRY TO LEAVE
BALLARAT, WHICH IS AS LOVELY AS EVER, AND EVERY ONE JUST AS
KIND. WILLY IS JUST THE SAME; SO FULL OF LIFE AND FUN YOU REALLY CAN'T
HELP LIKING HIM, HOWEVER MUCH YOU MAY DISAPPROVE. BOTH HE AND LOUISA
SEEM PLEASED TO HAVE ME AND ARE FULL OF REGRETS THAT YOU ARE NOT WITH
ME. I THINK IT IS A GREAT PITY YOU DIDN'T TAKE MY ADVICE AND COME TOO.
EVER SO MANY PEOPLE HAVE INQUIRED AFTER YOU.

NOT I! was Richard's response. THEY NEVER WANTED ME WHEN I WAS AMONG
THEM; WHY ON EARTH SHOULD THEY MISS ME NOW? . . . WHEN THEY'VE HAD
AMPLE TIME TO FORGET ALL ABOUT ME. IT'S ONLY YOUR OWN IMAGINATION.

And Mary: WHAT RUBBISH YOU DO TALK, DEAR! I BELIEVE YOU'RE GROWING ODD
AND FANCIFUL THROUGH BEING SO MUCH ALONE. DO GO OUT MORE, AND NOT COOP
YOURSELF UP SO.--WELL, WE'RE STILL HERE. LOUISA WON'T HEAR OF OUR
LEAVING; IT'S QUITE A CHANGE FOR HER TO HAVE FRIENDS OF HER OWN IN THE
HOUSE--THE OTHERS ARE MOSTLY WILLY'S. POOR LOUISA THROUGH NEVER
GETTING AWAY--I MEAN WITH ALL THE BABIES, ETC. MAKES HARDLY ANY. SHE
LOOKS FAR OLDER THAN HER AGE, AND "VERY" DOWDY. SHE NEEDS SOME ONE TO
TAKE HER IN HAND AND FRESHEN HER UP. I'VE MADE HER PROMISE TO SPEND AT
LEAST A MONTH WITH ME AFTER I GET BACK--THE LAST BABY'S WELL OVER A
YEAR NOW, AND THERE ARE NO FRESH EXPECTATIONS IN THE MEANTIME, THANK
GOODNESS . . . TWELVE ARE SURELY ENOUGH. I INTEND TO STITCH A ROSE IN
HER BONNET, AND TEACH HER HOW TO DO HER HAIR. ALSO GET HER INTO ONE OF
THE NEW BUSTLES--HER DRESSES ARE IN THE STYLE OF THE YEAR ONE. SHE
WOULD STILL BE QUITE PRETTY IF NICELY DRESSED, AND I THINK THAT WOULD
BE MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE THAN SITTING MOPING AND FRETTING, AND NOT CARING
HOW SHE LOOKS. FRETTING ABOUT WILLY, I MEAN. I'M AFRAID HE'S INCURABLE.
HE'S VERY MUCH EPRIS AGAIN AT _PRESENT. THIS TIME IT'S A FASCINATING
WIDOW WHO'S STOPPING HERE--A VERY CHARMING PERSON, AND INTERESTED
UNFORTUNATELY IN EVERYTHING WILLY'S INTERESTED IN--HORSES, DOGS,
RIDING, DRIVING, CATTLE AND SHEEP--TO CUT IT SHORT, ALL LOUISA ISN'T.

A week later. I HAD A LONG TALK WITH MRS. MARRINER--THAT'S THE WIDOW-LADY
I MENTIONED IN MY LAST. SHE'S REALLY MUCH ATTACHED TO LOUISA, AND
WOULD BE HER FRIEND IF ONLY LOUISA WOULD LET HER. (NOW I'M NOT
IMAGINING THIS!) BUT L. IS SO JEALOUS THAT SHE CAN HARDLY BE CIVIL.
THERE WAS QUITE A SCENE LAST NIGHT. IT ENDED BY POOR LOUISA GOING TO
BED IN FLOODS OF TEARS. OF COURSE I CAN SEE IT FROM HER SIDE, TOO. IT
MUST BE VERY HARD TO KNOW THAT ANOTHER WOMAN PLEASES YOUR HUSBAND
BETTER THAN YOU DO. STILL, WILLY HAS HAD SO MANY FANCIES IN HIS DAY, I
THINK LOUISA NEEDN'T TAKE THIS ONE TOO SERIOUSLY. GRACEY--MRS.
MARRINER, THAT IS--WAS QUITE UPSET ABOUT IT HERSELF. SHE IS REALLY
VERY CHARMING AND IT ISN'T EXACTLY HER FAULT: SHE CAN'T HELP PLEASING.
AND SO SENSIBLE, TOO. WE HAD A TALK, SHE AND I, ABOUT POOR AGNES AND
HER FAILING--SHE KNOWS ALL ABOUT IT--AND SHE QUITE AGREES WITH ME,
IT'S REALLY SOME ONE'S DUTY TO TACKLE MR. HENRY.

And again: OH NO, RICHARD, YOU'VE GOT QUITE A FALSE IDEA OF HER. SHE'S
ANYTHING BUT DESIGNING--NOT ONE OF THOSE WIDOWS WHO GO ABOUT SETTING
THEIR CAPS AT MEN. BUT YOU'LL BE ABLE TO SEE FOR YOURSELF; FOR SHE
TALKS OF TAKING A HOUSE AT BRIGHTON. AND I'M SURE YOU'LL LIKE HER, AND
GET ON WELL WITH HER--SHE'S SO CLEVER. YOU SHOULD HAVE HEARD HER
YESTERDAY EVENING DISCUSSING THE REFORM OF GAOLS AND PENITENTIARIES
WITH A GENTLEMAN WHO'S STAYING HERE. WE OTHER LADIES FELT OUR NOSES
QUITE PUT OUT OF JOINT.

Back in Ballarat, Mary wrote: WELL! I'VE DONE THE DEED, DEAR. I THOUGHT
IT BEST NOT TO MENTION IT BEFOREHAND, FOR I KNEW YOU WOULD WRITE ABOUT
MINDING ONE'S OWN BUSINESS, NOT INTERFERING BETWEEN HUSBAND AND WIFE,
ETC. TILLY AND I CAME BACK TO "BEAMISH HOUSE" AT THE END OF THE WEEK,
AND ON WEDNESDAY OFF I WENT AND PAID A VISIT TO MR. HENRY. HE COULDN'T
HAVE RECEIVED ME MORE CIVILLY. HE TOLD HIS CLERK HE WOULD SEE NOBODY
ELSE WHILE I WAS THERE, AND HAD WINE AND BISCUITS FETCHED--I CAN TELL
YOU, PAID ME EVERY ATTENTION. HE ALSO ASKED MOST KINDLY AFTER YOU.--AS
YOU MAY GUESS, I APPROACHED THE SUBJECT OF AGNES VERY GINGERLY. JUST
HINTED I HAD SEEN HER AND HOW SORRY I WAS TO FIND HER IN SUCH A POOR
STATE OF HEALTH. HE WAS RATHER RESERVED AT FIRST. BUT WHEN I GAVE HIM
TO UNDERSTAND SHE HAD CONFIDED IN ME, AND HOW BROKEN-HEARTED SHE WAS
AND WHAT REPROACHES SHE WAS MAKING HERSELF, AND WHEN I SYMPATHISED WITH
HIM OVER THE LOSS OF SUCH A BEAUTIFUL CHILD . . . WHY, THEN HE QUITE
THAWED AND CAME OUT OF HIS SHELL. INDEED ALL BUT BROKE DOWN. THINK OF
THAT WITH MR. HENRY, WHO HAS ALWAYS BEEN SO COLD AND STERN! YOU'LL
PERHAPS SAY IT IS CHIEFLY HIS PRIDE HE HAS BEEN HURT IN: BUT DON'T YOU
THINK THAT'S HARD ENOUGH, FOR A MAN LIKE HIM? WELL, ONE THING LED TO
ANOTHER, AND BEFORE LONG WE WERE TALKING QUITE FREELY ABOUT POOR LITTLE
AGNES AND HER TERRIBLE WEAKNESS. HE ADMITTED HE WAS AT HIS WITS' END TO
KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH HER. HAD HAD SOME THOUGHTS OF PUTTING HER IN A
HOME, UNDER A DOCTOR'S CARE: BUT SHRINKS FROM THE PUBLICITY AND
DISGRACE. THEN HE FEARS HER BAD EXAMPLE ON THE CHILDREN--THE BOY
GEORGY IS SEVEN NOW, AND SHARP AS A NEEDLE. ONE THING I MADE HIM
PROMISE AND THAT WAS, TO LET AGNES LEAVE THAT DREADFUL HOUSE
AND COME TO US FOR A BIT, WHERE SHE CAN HAVE THE CHILDREN WITH HER
AGAIN. (I'LL TAKE GOOD CARE THEY DON'T DISTURB YOU, DEAR.) WHEN I CAME
AWAY HE TOOK BOTH MY HANDS AND SHOOK THEM AND SAID: "GOD BLESS YOU, MY
DEAR MRS. MAHONY! I SHALL NEVER FORGET YOUR GREAT KINDNESS IN THIS
MATTER. NOR DO I KNOW ANOTHER SOUL--CERTAINLY NOT ONE OF YOUR SEX--TO
WHOM I COULD HAVE SPOKEN AS I HAVE TO YOU." THINK OF THAT FROM MR.
HENRY! TILLY HASN'T GOT OVER IT YET. SHE SAYS IT COMES OF ME HAVING
WORN MY BEST BONNET (THE GAY ONE WITH THE FLOWER IN, THAT YOU LIKE).
BUT OF COURSE THAT'S ONLY HER NONSENSE. AND I DO FEEL SO GLAD I WENT
AND DIDN'T LET MYSELF BE PERSUADED NOT TO.

I HOPE THE SILK VESTS ARE A GREAT SUCCESS, AND THAT YOU REMEMBER THE
DAYS FOR CHANGING THEM.




Chapter VII



"My papeh dotes on music. Positively, I have known my papeh to say he
would rather go without his port at dinner than his music after dinner.
My papeh has heard all the most famous singers. In his opinion, no one
could compare with Malibran." Thus Miss Timms-Kelly; and at his cue the
chubby, white-haired old Judge, surreptitiously snatching forty winks
in a dark corner of the drawing-room, would start, open his eyes, and,
like a well-trained parrot, echo his daughter's words.

"Malibran? . . . ah, now there was a voice for you!--Pasta could not
hold a candle to her. As a young man I never missed an opera when she
sang. Great nights, great nights! The King's Theatre packed to
suffocation. All of us young music-lovers burning with enthusiasm . . .
our palms tingling from applause." Here however, at some private sign,
the speaker abruptly switched off his reminiscences, which threatened
to carry him away, and got to the matter in hand.--"My dear, give us,
if you please, CASTA DIVA. Though I say so myself, there is something
in my daughter's rendering of that divine air that recalls Malibran in
her prime."

A musical party at the Timms-Kellys' tempted even Mahony forth. On such
evenings, in company with other devotees, he would wander up Richmond
Hill and through the wooden gates of Vaucluse, where a knot of houses
stood sequestered in a grove. The French windows of the Timms-Kellys'
drawing-room were invariably set wide open; and guests climbing the
hill could hear, while still some way off, the great voice peal out--
like a siren-song that urged and cajoled.

Miss Timms-Kelly herself bore the brunt of the entertainment;
occasionally mingling in a duo with some manly second, or with the
strains of Mahony's flute; but chiefly in solo. For the thin little
tones of the other ladies, their tinkly performances of "Maiden's
Prayers" and "Warblings at Eve," or the rollicking strains of a
sea ballad (which was mostly what the gentlemen were good for) stood
none of them an earthly chance against a voice like hers. It was a
contralto, with, in its middle and lower registers, tones of a strange,
dark intensity which made of it a real VOIX SOMBRE; yet of such
exceptional compass that it was also equal to OR SAI CHI L'ONORE and
NON MI DIR, BELL' IDOL MIO. Mahony used to say there was something in
its lower notes that got at you, "like fingers feeling round your
heart." Ladies, while admitting its volume and beauty, were apt to be
rendered rather uncomfortable by it; and under its influence would fall
to fidgeting in their seats.

In person Miss Timms-Kelly matched her voice: though not over tall she
was generously proportioned, with a superb bust and exquisitely sloping
shoulders. Along with this handsome figure went piquantly small hands
and feet--she boasted a number three shoe--white teeth, full lips, a
fresh complexion. But her chief charm lay in her animation of manner:
she was alive with verve and gesture; her every second word seemed
spoken in italics. Amazing, thought and said all, that one so
fascinating should have reached the brink of the thirties without
marrying; society had known her now for twelve years, and during this
time the marvellous voice had rung out night for night, her old father
faithfully drawing attention to its merits, the while he grew ever
whiter and sleepier in his corner of the drawing-room.

But the little court that surrounded Miss Timms-Kelly consisted chiefly
of married men and bachelors well past marrying age: greybeards who, in
listening to the strains of NORMA or SEMIRAMIDE, re-lived their youth.
Eligible men fought a little shy of the lady and after a couple of
visits to the house were apt to return no more. Happily, Miss Timms-Kelly
did not take this greatly to heart. Indeed she even confessed to
a relief at their truancy. "All my life, love, I have preferred the
company of ELDERLY gentlemen. They make one feel so SAFE."

In process of dressing for such an evening, Mary remarked: "Of course,
it's very nice of Lizzie to say that . . . and most sensible. But all
the same it IS odd--I mean the fact of her never having married. Not
only because of her voice--one doesn't just marry a voice. But she
really is a dear, warm-hearted creature. And so generous." At which
Mahony stopped shaving his chin to throw in: "That's precisely it. Your
marriageable man instinctively fears not being able to live up
to the fair singer's generosity."

"REALLY, Richard! . . . it takes you to say queer things. Now I believe
it comes of Lizzie never having had a mother to go about with. She's
been obliged to put herself too much forward."

But for all his two-edged comments, let Miss Timms-Kelly but open her
mouth to sing, and Mahony was hopelessly her slave. His natural
instinct for music had outlived even the long years of starvation in
this country, where neither taste nor performance was worth a straw.
Under the present stimulus, his dormant feelings awoke to new life:
when the great voice rang forth he would sit rapt . . . absorbed. And
where others, but faintly responsive to the influence, listened with
only half an ear, the while they followed their own trains of thought,
musing, gently titillated: "How fine the moon to-night!" or "I shall
certainly succeed, if I carry through that deal," or "Perhaps after all
Julia will hear my suit," he surrendered thought for emotion, and
climbed the ladder of sound to a world built wholly of sound, where he
moved light-footedly and at ease.

"Upon my soul, I would walk ten miles to hear her rendering of an aria
by Mozart or Verdi!"

This was all very well in its way--its musical way. But now something
happened which brought him with a bump to earth. And, ever after, he
twitted and blamed himself with having been the innocent cause of a
most unnecessary complication.

Towards the close of her stay in Ballarat, Mary had a second meeting--
a chance one, this time--with Mr. Henry Ocock. And Ocock, in his new
role of friend and adviser, let fall a hint with regard to a certain
mining company in which he believed Mahony held shares. This was not
the case; but Mary rather thought John did, begged Richard to find out,
and if so, to let him know what was being said. As Mr. Henry's
information had been SUB ROSA, Mahony thought it wise to pass it on by
word of mouth, and wrote John saying he would drop in for a moment the
following evening, on his way to Richmond: he was bound with his flute
for Vaucluse. In the morning, however, John's groom brought a note
asking him to take pot-luck with the family at six o'clock.
Such things were possible in John's house nowadays, under the fairy
rule of Miss Julia. And so he found himself that night at John's
dinner-table.

As usual at this stage, when he had not seen his brother-in-law for a
time, Mahony's chief sensation on meeting John was one of discomfort.
Without doubt, some great change was at work in John. Lean as a
herring, yellow as a Chinaman, he had been for months past. But the
change in his manner was even more striking. Gone was much of the
high-handedness, the pompous arrogance it had once been so hard to
stomach; gone the opulent wordiness of his pronunciamentos. He was now in
point of becoming a morose and taciturn sort of fellow; prone, too, to
fits of blankness in which, staring straight before him, he seemed to
forget your very presence. So much at least was plain: John was not taking
the universe by any means so much for granted, as of old.

Money troubles? . . . such was the first thought that leapt to Mahony's
mind. Then he laughed at himself. John's business flourished like the
green baytree: you never heard of it but it was putting forth a fresh
shoot in a fresh direction. No lack of money there!--the notion was
just a telling example of how one instinctively tried to read into
another, what had been one's own chief bogey. Besides, the warning
passed on by Mary left John cold: he waved it aside with a gesture that
said: a few thousands more or less signified nothing to him. Could the
wife's idea that he was fretting over the loss of his boy be the right
one? Again, no: that was just a woman's interpretation: HE jumped to
money, she to the emotional, the personal. Then after all it must be
John's health that was causing him anxiety. But a tactful question on
this score called forth so curt a negative that he could not press it.

Not till the nuts and port were on the table did John shake off his
abstraction. Then his trio of little girls ran into the room--with the
playful antics of so many tame white mice--ran in and rubbed their
sleek little comb-ringed heads against their father's, and climbed over
him with their thin little white-stockinged legs. And John became
solely the fond parent, gathering his children to him, taking the
youngest on his knee and holding her to his watered-silk waistcoat,
letting them play with the long gold chain from which depended
his PINCE-NEZ, count his studs with their little fingers, disarrange
the ends of his tie. At the lower end of the table Emmy, who had
presided over the meal a radiant vision in white muslin and blue
ribbons, flushed, drooped her head, and looked as though she were going
to cry. For though the lovely girl had throughout dinner hung
distractingly on her father's lips, he had never so much as glanced in
her direction.

In watching her, Mahony fell into a reverie, so vividly did she remind
him of her dead mother, and the one--the only--time he had seen
John's first wife. It was here, in this very room, that the gracious
Emma, the picture of all that was comely, had dandled her babes. One of
the two, like herself, had vanished from mortal eyes. The other, a
full-grown woman in her turn, was now ripe for her fate.

When Emmy shepherded the little girls to their nursery, he turned to
John. "Upon my soul, it makes a man realise his age, to see the young
ones come on as they do."

Something in this reflection seemed to flick John. His response was
more in his old style. "You say so? For my part I cannot admit to
feeling a day older than I did ten years back. I am not aware of any
decrease of vigour. I still rise at six, take a cold shower-bath, and
attend to business for a couple of hours before breakfast. I have
needed neither to diet myself for a gouty constitution, nor to coddle
myself in flannel. Age? Bah! At forty-six a man is in the prime of his
life!"

After this one outburst, however, he relapsed into his former moody
silence; and they sat smoking, with scant speech, till Mahony rose to
leave. Then it turned out that John had forgotten the existence of a
previous engagement on Mahony's side, and now made a lame attempt to
overthrow it. ("Looks as if he didn't want to be left to his own
thoughts!") This being impossible, Mahony suggested that John should
accompany him, and undertook to guarantee him a hearty welcome: it
would be well worth his while to hear Miss Timms-Kelly sing. At first
John pooh-poohed the suggestion; musical evenings were not in his line;
and though he had knocked up against old Timms-Kelly at the Club, he
had never met the daughter. However, in the end he allowed himself to
be persuaded; and off they went, in company.

"And that, my dear, was how it came about in the first place. I
dragged him with me, like the fool I was. And, once there, the game was
up. From the moment John entered the drawing-room, your friend Lizzie
made what I can only describe as a dead set at him. She never took her
eyes off him. She talked to him, she talked at him; she sang for him,
asked his opinion of her selections; and there sat John, who doesn't
know doh from re, or a major key from a minor, tapping his foot to the
tune and looking as if he had been a judge of music all his life. On
two occasions afterwards, I found him there. Mind you, only two. Then
came that unfortunate evening at ERNANI. It's no use asking ME, Mary,
how the muddle occurred. I can't tell you; I had nothing to do with it.
All I know is, after the opera Mrs. Vance had to be escorted back to
North Melbourne; and this job naturally fell to me, John not being the
man to shoulder unpleasant duties if he can, with propriety, put them
off on some one else. Well, we hired a wagonette and drove away--in a
violent thunder-shower--leaving the other three outside the theatre.
But it appears that somehow or other, what with the rain and the crush,
the two of them lost sight of the old man. According to John's account
they stood waiting for him to turn up till Miss Lizzie's teeth were
chattering with cold. There seemed nothing for it but for him to call a
cab and drive her home. He did so, and the next morning I'm hanged if
he doesn't get a furious letter from the father, accusing them of
having slipped off alone on purpose. John heads straight for Vaucluse
to apologise; and when he gets there the old man hammers the table,
declares his daughter has been compromised, and ends by demanding to
know John's intentions. Now I ask you, what could John--what could any
man with the feelings of a gentleman--do, but offer the only
reparation in his power and at once propose for her hand? Therewith, of
course the old boy cools down . . . becomes amiability itself. I don't
know, my dear, whether John was really guilty of an indiscretion--
that's his affair. But if you want my candid opinion, I think the whole
thing was a put-up job. Your friend Lizzie is a veritable Leyden jar."

Mary, whom the news of John's engagement had brought flying home from
Ballarat, here uttered a disclaimer. "Tch! There you go, Richard . . .
jumping to conclusions . . . as usual. Still, I must say . . .
I'm confident, as far as John was concerned, he had no idea of marrying
again. I really don't know what to think."

"Ah! but such a dear, kind, generous creature . . ."

"Why, so she is. But . . ."

"But it's another story, eh, when John the Great comes in question?"

"Don't be sarcastic! You know quite well I'm very fond of Lizzie. But
poor John was so comfortably settled--I mean with Miss Julia to look
after him. It seemed as if he was going to have peace at last. And
then, think of the upset again for those poor dear children."

"Indeed and I do. Though, on the other hand . . . stepmother to two
families . . . I shouldn't care, love, to take on the job. But there's
another thing, Mary. Your brother is decidedly queer just now--I mean
in his manner . . . and appearance. He looks a tired man. My own
opinion is, he's seen the best of his health. Of course, he's lived a
strenuous life--like all the rest of us--and isn't as young as he
was. But that's not enough . . . doesn't account for everything. And
makes what has happened very disturbing. If only I'd let well alone
that evening . . . he'd probably never have set eyes on the woman. It
is certainly a lesson to mind one's own business--even when it's a
question of doing a kindness . . . or what one thinks a kindness."----

"My dehling Mary! So we are to be sisters, love--actually sisters! I
cannot say how overjoyed I am. Never have I had such a surprise,
dehling, as when my papeh informed me your brother had declared
himself. I said: 'Papeh, are you SURE you are not mistaken?' For never
had I imagined, love, that such a clever and accomplished man as your
brother would select ME, from all the ladies of his acquaintance. My
heart still flutters when I think of it. I walk on air.--Yes, dehling!
Though how I shall ever manage to leave my dear papeh, I do not know."

"Dear Lizzie! I, too, am very glad.--But what about the children? Have
you thought if it will suit you to be a stepmother? Emmy is a grown
girl now--turned seventeen."

"Mary! The dehlings! The poor neglected lambs! Why, I yearn,
dearest, simply yearn to show them a mother's love."

But on Emmy being presented, Lizzie's fervour suffered a visible
abatement. Even to Mary's eye. And an embrace given and received, her
stepmother-to-be looked the girl up and down, with a coolness which not
even her extreme warmth of manner could conceal.

"My dehling! Why, Mary, love, I had no idea--positively I had not . . .
I declare it will be like having a younger sister.--My dehling girl!
And I will show you how to dress your hair, love--two puffs, one on
each side of the parting--it will be a GREAT improvement to your
appearance. That will please papeh, won't it? His dear PET, I feel
sure. Who will be able to tell me ALL his little ways."

Emmy wept.

"I HATE the way she does her hair, Aunt Mary. I wouldn't wear mine like
that--not for anything! And I'm NOT going to show her how papa likes
things done.--Oh, couldn't I come and live with you and Uncle Richard?
I shall never be happy here, any more. Why does papa want to get
married? Auntie Julia always promised me I should keep house for him,
and he would learn to like me in time. And now . . . now. . ."

It was not for a daughter to sit in judgment on her father, and Mary
gently rebuked Emmy, even while she reflected that the girl had really
a great deal of John's own spirit in her. Lizzie would not find her new
position a bed of roses. For neither did the little ones take to her.
They clung to Auntie Julia's hands and skirts--although, to these
children who were without personal beauty, their future mother was
still more gracious than to Emmy. At first, that was. Afterwards,
remarked Mahony who was present at the introduction: afterwards when
she saw that they were not to be cozened into friendliness, she made
him think of a pretended animal lover, who, on a dog failing to respond
to his advances, looks as though he will presently kick it on the sly.
But then Richard had flown to the other extreme, and become both
prejudiced and unfair, not being able to get over the march that had
been stolen on him.

But to such a bagatelle as the likes or dislikes of a parcel of
children Miss Timms-Kelly paid small heed. She had other and
more important fish to fry. The engagement was to be as brief as
propriety admitted; and she was hard put to it to get her trousseau
bought, furniture chosen, the affairs of her maidenhood set in order.
Through the apartments of her new home she swept like a whirlwind . . .
like a whirlwind, too, overthrowing and destroying. Painters and
paperhangers were already hard at work. For much company would be seen
there after the wedding, great receptions held: as the Honourable Mrs.
Turnham she would move not only in musical circles, but in the wider
world of politics. John's prospects were of the best: it was an open
secret that, for his services in the Devine ministry, he would probably
receive a knighthood. And small wonder, thought Mary, that Lizzie found
the house shabby and antiquated. Nothing had been done to it since the
day on which John, in his first ardour, had dressed it for his first
bride.

Now, drastic changes were in progress. The old mahogany four-poster
with its red rep curtains--"Jinny's bed," as it persisted in Mary's
mind--was to be replaced by one of the new French testers, with canopy
and curtains at the head only. (A rather risky innovation at John's
age!) Oval plate-glass mirrors in gilt frames, with bunches of
candelabra attached, were hung round the drawing-room walls: a splendid
Collard and Collard ousted the old piano; bouquets of wax flowers and
fruit under glass shades topped the whatnots; horsehair gave way to
leather. And the nursery, which stood next John's own bedroom, was
requisitioned by Lizzie as a boudoir, the children being relegated to
the back of the house.

And John?--To the four eyes that watched him, with curiosity and a
motherly anxiety, John's attitude came as a surprise and a relief. He
was regularly caught up in the whirl; and, for once leaving both
business and politics in the lurch, danced attendance on his affianced
from morning till night. Though he still had a haggard air, and
certainly nowadays looked what he was, an elderly man, yet a wave of
new life ran through him. In his attire he grew almost as dapper as of
old. It seemed as if he was determined to carry the affair off with a
high hand. He spared no expense, baulked at no alteration; and the ring
that sparkled on Lizzie's plump finger was, even in this land of showy
jewellery, so costly and magnificent as to draw all eyes. Nor
would he have been human, had he not at heart felt proud of the fine
figure cut by his bride-elect. He WAS proud, and showed it. More: when
he returned from his wedding-trip to Sydney and the Blue Mountains,
every one could see that he was very much in love.




Chapter VIII



It was a promise of long standing that, once fairly settled in her new
house, Mary should invite to stay with her those of her friends to whom
she lay under an obligation. She had plenty of room for them, plenty of
time; all that remained to do was to fix the order of their coming.

First, though, she charged herself with Emmy and the children: to get
them out of the workpeople's way, and after the wedding--it was
celebrated at All Saints, Brighton, and proved a very swell affair
indeed, John's four daughters following the bride up the aisle--to
leave Miss Julia free to give the final touches to the house. Emmy
cried bitterly when the day came to return to it: all Mary's reasoning
and persuading had not succeeded in plucking from the girl's heart the
sting this third marriage of her father's had implanted there. A great
hope had been dashed in Emmy; and she went back hot with resentment
against the intruder. The young ones were easier to manage. The
excitement of the wedding, new frocks, new dolls, helped them over the
break. For them, too, this would not be so complete. Miss Julia
proposed to open a select school for the daughters of gentlemen, at
which the three little girls were to be day-pupils.

Not a word had passed between Mary and Miss Julia in criticism of
John's marriage. Their eyes just met for a moment in a look of complete
understanding ("Oh, these men. . . these men!"). Then with a nod and a
sigh they set resolutely to making the best of things--a task, said
Mahony, in which the wife had at last found her peer.

John's affairs having thus once more slipped from her grasp, Mary
devoted herself to the long line of visitors who now crossed the
threshold of "Ultima Thule."

Louisa Urquhart headed the list. Louisa arrived one afternoon at
Spencer Street railway station, and was drawn from the train,
her bonnet askew, her cheeks scarlet with excitement at having
undertaken without escort the four-hour journey from Ballarat. And
after Louisa, who far outstayed her welcome, came Agnes Ocock and her
children and her children's nurses; came Zara and her husband, in
search of expert medical advice; Jerry and his Fanny, the latter in a
delicate state of health; a couple of Ned's progeny; Amelia Grindle and
a sickly babe; came Mrs. Tilly: not to speak of other, less intimate
acquaintances.

Mahony groaned. It was all very well for Mary to say that, if he wished
to be alone, he had only to go into his study and shut the door. He
could and did retire there. But, like other doors, this, too, had a
handle; and since Mary could never get it into her head that to be busy
among your books was to be seriously busy, the petty interruptions he
suffered were endless. Take, for example, the case of Louisa Urquhart.
This was by no means exhausted with the stitching of a rose in a drab
bonnet. Louisa had lived so long in semi-invalid retirement that she
was little better than a cretin with regard to the small, practical
affairs of life. She did not know how to stamp a letter or tie up a
newspaper for the post; could not buy a pair of gloves or cross a
crowded street without assistance. They had to accompany her
everywhere. She also lived in a perpetual nervous flutter lest some
accident should happen at Yarangobilly while she was absent: the house
catch fire, or one of the children take a fit. "That Willy will not do
a bolt with a less dismal party than she, it would be rash indeed to
assume! Of all the woebegone wet-blankets . . ." Mahony was
disgruntled: it spoilt his appetite for breakfast to listen to Louisa's
whining, did she learn by the morning post that one of her infants had
the stomach-ache; or to look on at the heroic efforts made by Mary to
disperse the gloom. (The wife's tender patience with the noodles she
gathered round her invariably staggered him afresh.) Then parties must
needs be given in Louisa's honour--and the honour of those who came
after; the hours for meals disarranged, put backwards or forwards to
suit the home habits of the particular guest.

Even more disturbing was the visit of Mrs. Henry which followed. Here,
he could not but share Mary's apprehensions lest something untoward
should happen which might give servants or acquaintances an
inkling of how matters stood. As for poor Mary, she grew quite pale and
peaked with the strain; hardly dared let Agnes out of her sight. At
dinner-parties--and the best people had to be asked to meet the wife
of so important a personage as Mr. Henry--her eye followed the
decanters their rounds with an anxiety painful to see. (Between-times,
she kept the chiffonier strictly locked.) During this visit, too, the
servants made difficulties by refusing to wait on the strange
nursemaids, who gave themselves airs; while, to cap all, a pair of the
rowdiest and worst-behaved children ever born romped in the passage, or
trampled the flower-beds in the garden. No walls were thick enough to
keep out their noise; any more than the fact of being in a stranger's
house could improve their manners. The walls were also powerless
against Zara's high-pitched, querulous voice, or the good Ebenezer's
fits of coughing, which shook the unfortunate man till his very bones
seemed to rattle. Later on, for variety, they had the shrill screaming
of Amelia Grindle's sick babe (with Mary up and down at night,
preparing bottles); had Ned's children to be tamed and taught to blow
their noses; pretty Fanny tumbling into faints half a dozen times a
day. Of course, there was no earthly reason why all these good people
should not make his home theirs--oh dear no! If Jerry got a
fortnight's holiday, what more natural than that he should choose to
spend it in his sister's comfortable, well-appointed house, rather than
in his own poky weatherboard? If Mrs. Devine wanted to take sea-air
("And, really, Richard, one HAS to remember how extraordinarily kind
she was to us on landing"), the least one could do was to beg her to
exchange Toorak for Brighton-on-Beach. Only the fact of John's house
being but a paltry half-hour's walk distant, and the ozone both
families breathed of the same brand, saved them from having John and
Lizzie quartered on them as well.

Yes, Mary's hospitality was rampageous--no other word would describe
it. He had given her CARTE BLANCHE and he kept to his bond; but as time
went on his groans increased in volume, he was sarcastic at the expense
of "Mrs. Mahony's Benevolent Asylum," and openly counted the days till
he should have his house to himself again. A quiet evening was a thing
of the past; he was naturally expected to escort the ladies to their
various entertainments. Besides, he was "only reading." What
selfishness to shut yourself up with a book, when a visitor's amusement
was in question! For, as usual, Mary's solicitude was all for others.
Much less consideration was shown him personally than in the old
Ballarat days. Then, he had been the breadwinner, the wage-earner, and
any disturbance of his life's routine meant a corresponding disturbance
in their income. Here, with money flowing in without effort, and
abundantly--as it continued to do-there was no such practical reason
to respect his privacy. And so it was: "Richard, will you answer these
cards for me?" "See to the decanting of the port?" "Leave an order at
the fruiterer's?" "Book seats for EAST LYNNE, or MARITANA?"

In this hugger-mugger fashion week after week, month after month ran
away. Then, however, things seemed to be tailing off, and he was just
congratulating himself that he had bowed the last guest out, when Tilly
arrived, and back they fell into the old atmosphere of fuss and
flutter. Tilly had originally stood high on Mary's list. Then, for some
reason which was not made clear to him, her visit had been postponed;
and he had comfortably forgotten all about it.

Once she was there, though, it was impossible to forget Tilly, even for
an hour. Her buxom, bouncing presence filled the house. There was no
escape from her strident voice, her empty, noisy laugh. The very silk
of her gowns seemed to rustle more loudly than other women's; and she
had a foot like a grenadier. The truth was, his old aversion to Tilly,
and the type she represented, broke out anew directly she crossed his
door-sill. And three times a day he was forced to sit next her at
meals, attend to her wants, and listen, as civilly as he might, to her
crude comments on people and things.

In vain did Mary harp on Tilly's sterling qualities. Before a week was
out, Mahony swore he would prefer fewer virtues and more tact. Goodness
of heart could be rated too highly. Why should not quick-wittedness,
and sensitiveness to your neighbour's tender places, also be counted to
your credit? Why must it always be the blunt-tongued, the hob-nailed of
approach, who got all the praise?

It was at the dinner-table where, in the course of talk, the burning
question of spirits and spirit-phenomena had come up; and Mary
--Mary, not he: it would never have occurred to him to dilate on the
theme before such as Tilly!--had told of the raps and movements of
furniture that were taking place at the house of a Mrs. Phayre, a
prominent member of Melbourne society. Now Tilly knew very well he did
NOT belong to those who dismissed such happenings with a smile and a
shrug. Yet the mere mention of them was enough to send her off into an
unmannerly guffaw.

"Ha, ha! . . . ha, ha, ha! To see your furniture jumping about the
room! I'D pretty soon nab the slavey--you take my word for it, Mary,
it's the slavey--who played such tricks on me. I'D bundle 'er off with
a flea in 'er ear."

A glance at Richard showed him black as thunder. Mary adroitly changed
the subject. But afterwards she came back on it.

"It's all very well, Richard, but you can't expect a common-sense
person like Tilly NOT to be amused by that sort of thing."

"And pray do you mean to imply that every one who does not mock and
jeer is devoid of sense?"

"Of course not. Besides, I didn't say sense; I said common sense."

"Well, since you yourself bring in the 'common,' I'll quote you the
dictum of a famous man. 'Commonplace minds usually condemn everything
that is beyond the scope of their understanding.'"

"How sweeping! And so conceited. But Tilly is NOT commonplace. In many
ways, she's just as capable as her mother was. But I don't think we
ought to be discussing her. While she's our visitor."

"Good God! Is one to go blind and dumb because a fool is under one's
roof?"

"Well, really! I do wonder what you'll say next." Mary was hurt and
showed it.

But Mahony did not try to conciliate her. He had a further ground for
annoyance. Ever since Tilly had come to the house, that side of Mary's
nature had prevailed with which he was least in sympathy. Never had she
seemed so deadly practical, and lacking in humour; so instinctively
antagonistic to the imaginative and speculative sides of life.
Her attitude, for example, to the subject under discussion. At bottom,
this was no whit different from Tilly's. "THAT sort of thing," said as
Mary said it, put her opinion of the new movement in a nutshell.

Out of this irritation he now demanded: "Tell me: are we never in this
world to have our house to ourselves again?"

"But, Richard, Tilly HAD to come! . . . after the time I stayed with
her. And now she's here--even though you despise her so--we've got to
do all we can to make her visit a success. I should hate her to think
we didn't consider her good enough to introduce to our friends."

"Among whom she fits about as well as a porpoise in a basin of
goldfish."

"As if a porpoise could get inside a basin! How wildly you do talk!
Besides you don't mean it. For if ever there was a person particular
about paying debts, it's you."

Late one afternoon he came in from the garden, where he had been
superintending the laying out of a new shrubbery. Only the day before
he had found, to his dismay, that a gap in the screening hedge of
lauristinus and pittosporums allowed of errand-boys and nursemaids
spying on a privacy he had believed absolute. The thought was
unbearable. But the change had cost him a fierce tussle with his
pig-headed Scot of a gardener, who held there were already too many shrubs
about the place. Now he felt hot and tired.

As he crossed the verandah Mary came rustling out of the dining-room.
She looked mysterious, but also, if he knew his Mary, a trifle
uncomfortable. "Richard! I've got a surprise for you. I want you in the
drawing-room."

"Well, I suppose it will keep till I've washed the dust off." The
drawing-room spelt visitors; and he had looked forward to pipe and
book.

In course of making a hasty toilet, however, he pricked up his ears.
Down the passage came the tones of a voice that seemed strangely
familiar. And, sure enough, when he entered the room he found what he
expected: the visitor Tilly was entertaining with such noisy gusto was
no other than Purdy.

Purdy sat on the circular yellow-silk ottoman, in the easiest
of attitudes. With one leg stuck straight out before him, he hugged the
other to him by the knee, rocking his body backwards and forwards as he
told what was evidently a capital story--to judge by his own roars of
laughter and Tilly's purple face and moist eyes, at which she made
feeble dabs with her pocket-handkerchief.

The shock of the encounter drove the semblance of a hearty greeting out
of Mahony. But with this he had exhausted himself; Purdy and he could
find no points of contact; and after a few halting remarks and awkward
pauses, Purdy faced round to Tilly again and took up the broken thread
of his yarn. And from now on, both there and at the high tea to which
Mary presently led them, Mahony sat silent and constrained. For one
thing, he disdained competition with Tilly in her open touting for
Purdy's notice. Again, as he looked and listened, he understood Mary's
discomfort and embarrassment. On the occasion of last seeing Purdy,
they had both been giddy with excitement. Now the scales fell from his
eyes. This, his former intimate and friend? This common, shoddy little
man, already pot-bellied and bald?--whose language was that of the
tap-room and the stable; who sat there bragging of the shady knowledge
he had harvested in dark corners, blowing to impress the women; one of
life's failures and aware of it, and, just for this reason, cocksure,
bitter, intolerant--a self-lover to the Nth degree. In the extravagant
fables they were asked to swallow, he, Purdy, had seen the best of
everything, the worst of everything, had always been in the thick of a
fray and in at the finish.

Well! one person present seemed to enjoy the tasteless performance, and
that was Tilly, who hung on his lips. She even urged him to repeat some
of his tallest stories, for the benefit of Mary who had been out of the
room.

"Oh, love, you MUST 'ear that yarn of the splitter and the goanna. I've
laughed to burst my sides. Go on, Purd, tell it again. It was a regular
corker." And, belonging to the class of those who pre-indulge, Tilly
hee-hawed at full lung-strength. in anticipation of the coming joke.
After which Mahony had to listen for the second time to some witless
anecdote, the real point of which was to show Purdy in his role of top
dog.

Was it possible that he had ever enjoyed, or even put up with
this kind of thing? Had Purdy always been a vainglorious braggart, or
had the boasting habit grown on him as he went downhill? Of course he
himself had not become more tolerant as the years went by; and he could
afford to yield to his antipathies, now that no business reasons made
civility incumbent. But there was more in it than this. In earlier days
a dash of the old boyish affection had persisted, to blind him to
Purdy's failings; just as the memory of their boyhood's standing--he
the senior, Purdy the junior--had caused Purdy to look up to him and
defer to his opinion. Now, nothing of this remained. On either side.
Long-suffering, deference, affection had alike been flung on time's
scrap-heap--at least, during the two distasteful hours spent in
Purdy's company, not even the ghosts of such feelings stirred. Then
what had brought him back? Mere tuft-hunting? Where, too, in the name
of Christendom had Mary fished him up, who would have been so much
better left in obscurity? Had she really fancied she would give him,
Mahony, a pleasure thereby? POOR MARY!

But the thin smile of amusement that curled his lips at the thought
faded, when he heard her pressing Purdy to come again. And the first
time he got her alone--it was not till bedtime--he took her soundly
to task.

"Your surprise this afternoon was a surprise indeed--in more ways than
one. But what possessed you, Mary, to ask him to repeat the visit? My
dear, you must surely see for yourself we cannot have the eyesore he
has become, about this house?"

Mary paused in the act of slipping the rings off her fingers and on the
branches of her ring-tree, and looked surprised. "WHAT, Richard? Your
OLDEST friend?" But Mahony, versed in every lightest expression that
flitted across the candid face before him, felt the emphasis to be
overdone. Like himself it was plain Mary had suffered something of a
shock.

So he swallowed a caustic rejoinder, and said dryly: "I know your
intentions were of the best. But . . . well, frankly, my dear, I think
it's bad enough if you fill the house with YOUR old friends."

He was right. Her discomfiture showed in the way she now flared up.
"Fill the house? . . . with only one person here at a time, and never
more than two? But--since you put it that way, Richard--I
think it's rather a good thing I do. If we are ever to see anyone at
all!"

"Give me books and I don't want people."

"Oh, I've no patience with such a selfish standpoint. Whatever would be
the good of all this--I mean the nice house, and our not needing to
worry about expense--if we didn't ask other people to share it with
us?"

"Pray, have I hindered you from doing so?"

"Well, not exactly. But why start to grumble now, when it's a question
of your best friend?"

At the repetition his patience failed him. "Best friend! Oldest friend!
Good heavens, Mary! do think what you are saying. How can one continue
to be friends with a person one never sees or hears of? Surely the word
implies somebody with whom one has at least HALF an idea in common?
People don't stand still in this world. They're always growing and
changing--up or down or off at a tangent. PANTA REI is the eternal
truth: SEMPER IDEM the lie we long to see confirmed. And to hug a
sentimental memory of what a mortal once was to you, and go on trying
to bolster up an intimacy on the strength of it--why, that's to drag a
dead carcase behind you, which impedes your own progress.--No, the
real friend is one you pick up at certain points in your life, whose
way runs along with yours--for a time. A time only. A milestone on
your passage--no more. Few or none march together the whole way."

"Milestones? Why not tombstones while you're about it?" cried Mary
hotly, repudiating a theory that seemed to her wholly perverse "Of
course, you're able to use words I don't understand; but I say, once a
friend, always a friend. I know I'D be sorry to forget anyone I had
ever liked--even if I didn't find much to talk to them about. But you
must always have your own ideas. I declare you're going on now about
people just as you do about places, about not wanting to see them again
once you've left."

"Yes, places and people--one as the other. Let me face forward--not
back. But to return to the matter in hand: I don't mind telling you I'd
gladly PAY our visitor of this afternoon to stop away . . . and drink
his tea elsewhere."

"I never heard such a thing!" Then, however, another thought
struck her. "You're not letting that silly old affair in Ballarat still
prejudice you against him?"

Mahony laughed out loud. "Good Lord, no! The grass has been green over
that for what seems like half a century."

"Then it's because he drank his tea out of his saucer--and things like
that."

"Tch!" On the verge of letting his temper get away with him, Mahony
pulled up. "Well, my dear. . . well, perhaps you're not altogether
wrong. I'll put it even more plainly though. Mary, it's because he
spoke and looked like what I veritably believe him to be: an ostler in
some stable. Horsey checks, dirty nails, sham brilliants; and a mind
and tongue to match. No, I stick to what I've said: I'd offer him a
ten-pound note to stop away."

"I never knew anyone so hard on people as you."

"Come, DO I need to mix with ostlers at my time of life? . . . and in
my present position. It's not my fault that I've gone up in the world
and he down."

"No, but all the more reason not to turn your back on somebody who
hasn't had your luck."

"I deny that I'm a snob. I'd invite my butcher or my baker to the house
any day, so long as he had decent manners and took an interest in what
interests me."

"My dear Richard, you only say that because you know you'll never have
to! And if you did, you wouldn't like them a bit better than you do
Purdy. But I'm sure I sometimes don't know what's coming over you. You
used to be such a stickler for remembering old friends and old
kindnesses, and hadn't bad enough to say about people who didn't. I
believe it was the going home that changed you. Yet when you were in
England, how you railed at people there for letting themselves be
influenced by a person's outside--how he ate peas, or drank his soup,
and things like that."

"England had nothing whatever to do with it. But it was a very
different thing in Ballarat, Mary, where my practice brought me up
against all sorts of people to whom I was forced to be civil. Now,
there's no such obligation. And so I decline, once and for all, to
exhibit the specimen we saw to-day to our social circle. If you're
absolutely bent on befriending him--and I know doing good is,
to you, the temptation strong drink is to others--although in my
opinion, my dear, you'll end by OVERdoing it: you've not looked
yourself for weeks past. If you must have Purdy here, kindly let it be
when no one else is present, and if possible when I, too, am out of the
way. What you're to say about me? Anything you like. He won't miss me
so long as your friend Tilly is at hand to drink in his words. You
certainly hit the bull's-eye this time, my dear, in providing her with
entertainment. Purdy's egregious lying was pabulum after her own
heart."

With which Richard slung a towel round his neck and retired to the
bathroom, leaving Mary to the reflection that, if ever there was a
person who knew how to complicate the doing of a simple kindness, it
was Richard. Here he went, detesting Tilly with all his old fervour and
dead set from the start against Purdy and his coming to the house. (It
was true Purdy had got rather loud and bumptious; but a sensible woman
like Tilly might be trusted soon to knock the nonsense out of him.)
Meanwhile she, Mary, had somehow to propitiate all three; and in
particular to hinder Richard from showing what he felt. For if the
match came off, Purdy would become a rich and important personage to
whom every door would open. And then Richard, too, would come round--
would have to. If, that was, she could meanwhile contrive to keep him
from making lifelong enemies of the happy pair.




Chapter IX



Tilly said:

"My dear! the minute I set eyes on 'er, I knew she was a fraud. And I
thinks to myself: 'Just you wait, milady, till the lights go out, and
I'll cook your goose for you!' Well, sure enough, there we all sat
'and-in-hand in the dark, like a party of kids playing 'unt-the-slipper.
And by-and-by one and another squeals: 'I'm touched!' What do
I do, Mary? Why, I gradually work the hand I'm 'olding in me right,
closer to me left, till I'd got THEM joined and me right 'and free.
(It's as easy as Punch if you know 'ow to do it.) And when the man next
me--oh, 'e WAS a solemn old josser!--when 'e said in a voice that
seemed to come from 'is boots: 'The spirits 'ave deigned to touch me'--
as if 'e'd said: 'God Almighty 'as arrived and is present!'--I made
one grab, and got 'old of--now what do you think? I'm danged if it
wasn't 'er false chignon I found in my hand. I thought she was going to
give me the slip then, after all: she wriggled like an eel. But I held
on like grim death and, luckily for me, she'd a few 'airs left still
clinging to her cranium. She squeals like a pig. 'Up with the lights,'
says I; ' I've got 'er!' 'Turn up the lights if you dare,' cries she:
'it'll kill me.' Over goes a chair in the scrimmage, and then they did
turn 'em up, and there was she squirming on the floor, bald like an
egg, with I don't know how many false gloves and feathers and things
pinned on to 'er body!"

Tilly sat by the fire in Mary's bedroom, her black silk skirts turned
back from the blaze. She was in high feather, exhilarated by her own
acumen as by the smartness with which she had conducted the exposure.
Opposite her Mary, her head tied up in red flannel, crippled by the
heavy cold and the face-ache that had confined her to the house,
listened with a sinking heart. It was all very well for Tilly to preen
herself on what she had done: Richard would see it in a very different
light. He had gone straight to his study on entering; and
hurrying out in her dressing-gown to learn what had brought the two of
them home so early, Mary had caught a glimpse of his face. It was
enough. When Richard looked like that, all was over. His hatred of a
scene in public amounted to a mania.

It was most discouraging. For a fortnight past she had done everything
a friend could do, to advance Tilly's suit; plotting and planning,
always with an anxious ear to the study-door, in a twitter lest Richard
should suddenly come out and complain about the noise. For the happy
couple, to whom she had given up the drawing-room, conversed in tones
that were audible throughout the house: a louder courtship Mary had
never heard; it seemed to consist chiefly of comic stories, divided one
from the next by bursts of laughter. Personally she thought the signs
and portents would not be really favourable till the pair grew quieter:
every wooing SHE had assisted at had been punctuated by long, long
silences, in which the listener puzzled his brains to imagine what the
lovers could be doing. However, Tilly seemed satisfied. After an
afternoon of this kind she went into the seventh heaven, and leaning on
Mary's neck shed tears of joy: it WAS a case of middle-aged
lovesickness and no mistake! True, she also knew moments of
uncertainty, when things seemed to hang fire, under the influence of
which she would vehemently declare: "Upon my soul, Mary love, if HE
doesn't, I shall! I feel it in my bones." A state of mind which alarmed
Mary and made her exclaim: "Oh no, don't, Tilly!--don't do that. I'm
sure you'd regret it. You know, later on he might cast it up at you."

And now Tilly had probably spoilt everything, by her hasty, ill-considered
action.

Fortunately for her she didn't realise how deeply she had sinned;
though even she could see that Richard was angry. "Of course, love, the
doctor's in a bit of a taking. I couldn't get a word out of 'im all the
way 'ome.--Lor', Mary, what geese men are, to be sure!. . . even the
best of 'em. Not to speak of the cleverest. To see all those learned
old mopokes sitting there to-night, solemn as hens on eggs . . . it was
enough to make a cat laugh. But even if 'e DOES bear me a bit of a
grudge, it can't be helped. I'm not a one, love, to sit by and
see a cheat and keep my mouth shut. A fraud's a fraud, and even if it's
the Queen 'erself."

"Of course it is. I feel just the same as you. It makes my blood boil
to watch Richard, with all his brains, letting himself be duped by some
dishonest creature who only wants to make money out of him. But ...
when he once gets an idea in his head . . . . And he's not a bit
GRATEFUL for having his eyes opened."

Grateful, indeed! When, after an hour's solitude which might really
have been expected to cool him down, he came into the bedroom, his very
first words were: "Either that woman leaves the house, or I go myself!"

For all Mary's firm resolve to act as peacemaker, this was more than
she could swallow. "Richard, don't be so absurd! We can't turn a
visitor out. Decency forbids."

"It's MY house, and for me to say whom I'll have in it."

"Tilly's MY friend, and I'm not going to have her insulted." Mary's
tone was as dogged as his own.

"No! but she is at liberty to insult mine . . . and make me a
laughing-stock into the bargain. Such a scandalous scene as to-night's, it
has never been my lot to witness."

"However did it happen that you held a seance? The invitation only said
cards and music. I'd have kept her at home if I'd guessed, knowing her
opinion of that sort of thing."

"I wish to God you had! You talk of decency? You need hardly worry, I
think, in the case of a person who has so few decent feelings of her
own. If you could have heard her! 'I got 'er! Up with the gas! I'm
'olding 'er--by 'er false 'air!'"--Mahony gave the imitation with
extravagant emphasis. "I leave it to you to imagine the rest. That
voice . . . the scattered aitches . . . the gauche and vulgar
manner . . . the medium weeping and protesting . . . your friend parleying
and exclaiming--at the top of her lungs, too--glorying in what she had
done as if it was something to be proud of, and blind as a bat to the
thunder-glances that were being thrown at her . . . no! I shall never
forget it. She has rendered me impossible--in a house where till now I
have been an honoured guest."

The exaggeration of this statement nettled Mary. She clicked her
tongue. "Oh, DON'T be so silly! Surely you can write and
explain? Mrs. Phayre will understand . . . that you had nothing to do
with it."

"Who am I that I should have to explain and apologise?--and for the
behaviour of a person she did us the courtesy to invite."

"But considering the woman WAS a fraud? Tilly vows she had all sorts of
contrivances pinned to her body."

"There you go! Ready, as usual, to believe any one rather than me! She
was no more a fraud than I am. She came to us well attested by circles
of the highest standing. Yet in spite of this, an ignorant outsider,
who is present at a sitting for the first time in her life, has the
insolence to set herself up as a judge.--Mary! I've put up with the
job lot you call your friends for more than a twelvemonth. But this is
the last straw. Out she goes, and that's the end of it!"

But this flicked Mary on the raw. "You seem to forget SOME of the job
lot were my own relations."

"Oh, now get touchy, do! You know very well what I mean. But enough's
enough. I can stand no more."

"You talk as if you were the sole person to be considered. As usual,
think of nobody but yourself."

"Ha! I like that," cried Mahony, exasperated. "I think I'm possessed of
the patience of Job, if you ask me. For there's never been a soul among
them with whom I had two ideas in common."

"No, you prefer these wretched mediums and the silly people who are
taken in by them. I wish spiritualism had never been invented!"

"Don't talk about what you don't understand!"

"I DO. I know nearly every time we go out now, I have to sit by and
watch you letting yourself be humbugged. And then I'm not to open my
mouth, or say what I see, or have any opinion of my own."

"No! I should leave that to the superior wits of your friend."

"I think it's abominable the way you sneer at Tilly! But if you do it
just to get her out of the house, you're on the wrong tack. She's NOT
going just now, and that's all about it. Any one but you would
understand what's happening. But you're so taken up with yourself that
you never see a thing--not if it's under your very nose!"

"Pray what do you mean by that? WHAT is happening?" Pierced by
a sudden suspicion Mahony swung round and faced her. "Good Lord,
Mary!". . . his voice trailed off in a kind of incredulous disgust.
"Good Lord! You don't want to tell me you're trying to bolster up a
match between this woman and . . . and Purdy?"

Mary tightened her lips and did not reply.

Mahony's irritation burst its bounds. "Well, upon my soul! . .. well,
of all the monstrous pieces of folly!" After which he broke off, to
throw in caustically: "Of course if it comes to that, I 'll allow
they're well matched. . . in manners and appearance. But the fellow's
an incorrigible waster. He'll make ducks and drakes of old Ocock's
hard-earned pile. Besides, has he shown the least desire for matrimony?
Are you not lending yourself to a vulgar intrigue on the woman's part?
If so, let me tell you that it's beneath your dignity--your dignity as
my wife--and I for one decline to permit anything so offensive to go
on under my roof. Not to speak of having to see you bear the blame,
should things go wrong."

"No, really, Richard! this is too much," cried Mary, and bounced up
from her seat. "For GOODNESS sake, let me manage my own affairs! To
hear you talk, any one would think I was still a child, to be told what
I may and mayn't do--instead of a middle-aged woman. I'm quite able to
judge for myself; yes! and take the consequences, too. But you blow me
up just as if I wasn't a person for myself at all, but only your wife.
Besides, I think you might show a LITTLE confidence in me. I shan't
disgrace you, even if I am fool enough to bring two people together
again who were once so fond of each other. Which you seem to have quite
forgotten. Though your own common sense might tell you. Tilly's alone
in the world, and has more money than she knows what to do with. And he
has none. I think you can safely leave it to her to look after her own
interests. She's a good deal sharper than any of us, you included. And
Purdy, too. You sneer at him for an ostler and a ne'er-do-well. He's
nothing of the sort. For six months now he's worked hard as a traveller
in jewellery." ("Ha! . . . THAT explains the sham diamonds, the rings,
the breastpins.") "There you go! . . . sneering again. And here am I,
struggling and striving to keep the peace between you, till I
don't know whether I'm standing on my head or my heels. And as far as
you're concerned, it's not the least bit of good. I think you grow more
selfish and perverse day by day. You ought to have lived on a desert
island, all by yourself. Oh, I'm tired . . . sick and tired . . . of it
and of everything!"--and having said her say, passionately and at top
speed, Mary suddenly broke down and burst out crying.

Mahony's anger was laid on the instant. "Why, my dear! . . . why, Mary
. . . what's all this about? Come, come, love!"--as her sobs increased
in violence--"this will never do. There's nothing to upset yourself
over. The fact is, as you say, you're tired out. We shall be having you
ill in earnest if this goes on. And small wonder, I'm sure. I declare,
as soon as you're rid of your cold I shall shut this place up and take
you away from everybody, on a trip to Sydney and the Blue Mountains."

"I don't want to go to Sydney. I only want to be left alone, and not
have my friends insulted and turned out of the house."

"Good God, wife! . . . surely you can give me credit for some small
degree of tact? But now, enough. You lie still and go to sleep. Or as I
say, we shall have you really ill."

"Oh, leave me out of it, do. I shall be all right in the morning."

But this was not the case. Mary coughed and tossed, and went from hot
to cold and cold to hot, for the greater part of the night. In the
morning her head felt a ton weight on the pillow. It was no good
chafing; in bed she had to stay. Mahony and Tilly faced each other in
glum silence across the length of the breakfast-table.

The next few days bringing no improvement, Tilly had the good sense to
pack her trunks and return to Ballarat. And it was one crumb of comfort
to Mary that, thanks to her indisposition, this departure was
accomplished without further unpleasantness.

Leaning over the bed for a farewell embrace, Tilly answered her
friend's hoarse whisper with a shake of the head. "But don't you
bother, love. My dear, you'll see what you do see! I'm no chicken,
Mary, nor any mealy-mouthed schoolgirl to lose me chance for want of
opening me mouth. But whatever happens, I'll never forget how
you tried to pull it off for me, old girl--never! . . . not so long as
I live."

And now, the nervous strain she had been under of lying listening for
sounds of strife and warfare--this removed, Mary was left at peace in
her dimity-white bed, and gave herself up to the luxury of feeling
thoroughly out of sorts. Richard found plenty to say in admonition, as
the days went by and she continued low and languid, unable to shake off
what seemed but a heavy cold. He also laid down many a stringent rule
to safeguard her, in future, from the effects of her inexhaustible
hospitality.

Then, however, the words died on his lips.


* * * * *


When the truth dawned on them that Mary's illness could be ascribed to
a purely natural cause, and that, at long last, she was to bear a
child, husband and wife faced the fact as diversely as they now faced
all vital issues. In Mahony's feelings, bewilderment and dismay had the
upper hand. For though, at one time, Mary's childlessness had been a
real grief to him, so many years had passed since then that he had long
ceased either to hope or to regret. And when you had bowed thus to the
inevitable, and arranged your life accordingly, it was disquieting, to
say the least of it, to see your careful structure turned upside down.
Rudely disquieting.

And this sense of inexpediency persisted long after Mary was up and
about again, her old blithe self, and the two of them had more or less
familiarised themselves with the idea of the drastic change that lay in
store for them. The truth was: he no longer wished for children. One
needed to be younger than he, still in the early years of married life,
to accept their coming unconcernedly. (Nor was he enough of a self-lover
to crave to see himself re-duplicated, and thus assured of an
earthly immortality.) He felt old; WAS old: too late, now, to conjure
up any of the dreams that belonged by rights to the coming of a child.
His chief sensation was one of fear: he shrank from the responsibility
that was being thrust upon him. A new soul to guide, and shield, and
make fit for life! . . . when he himself was so unsure. How establish
the links that should bind it to the world around it?--as to
the world unseen. How explain evil? . . . and sin? . . . the doctrine
of reward and punishment?--and reconcile these with the idea of a
tender, all-powerful Creator. For though one might indulge in theory
and speculation for one's own edification, one dare not risk them on a
child. Another more selfish point of view was that he looked forward
with real apprehension to the upheaval of his little world: the inroads
on, the destruction of that peace and solitude with which he had fallen
so deeply in love.

A bright side to the affair was that they were now, for the first time
in their united lives, really able to afford the outlay involved. They
could make comfortable, even extravagant preparation for the new
arrival; and only too gladly did he bid Mary spend what she chose. For
though his own pleasure in the prospect of fatherhood was severely
tempered, it warmed his heart to see her joy. "Radiant" was the only
word that described Mary. No irksome thoughts of responsibility bore
her down. She would have laughed at the notion in regard to a child of
her own. But then, there never was less of a doubter than Mary: no
hypercritical brooding over man's relation to God, or God's to the
world, had ever robbed her of an hour's sleep. She accepted things as
they were with a kind of simple, untroubled faith. Or was it perhaps
just the reverse--the absence of any religious spirit? Sometimes he
half believed it--believed there existed in Mary more than a dash of
the pagan. Well, however that might be, the coming of a babe would set
the crown on a life which, in spite of its happiness, had so far lacked
the supreme gift. For women's arms, like their bodies, were built to
cradle and enfold the young of the race.

Mary wrinkled her brow over none but the most practical considerations.
Enough to occupy her was the burning question which rooms to take for
nurseries, in a house where all rooms had long ago had their use
allotted them.

Mahony laughed at her worried air. "Why, build 'em, my dear, and as
many as you choose! I'll not grudge the expense, I promise you."

But this was just one of Richard's harebrained schemes. The house was
amply big enough as it stood; and any additions would spoil its shape.
Time enough, too, to think of extra accommodation when all was
happily over. Thus Mary: deciding eventually that the guestrooms were
those that must be sacrificed: they were large, cool, airy; and once
the baby was there, she would have scant leisure for entertaining. At
least, in the beginning. And with this resolution, which was at once
put into effect, Mary's overdone and tiresome hospitality found its
natural end.

Next came the question of furnishing. And here Richard proved to have
ultra-queer notions about what would be good for a child--his child--
and what wouldn't. The nurse was not even to share a room with it--and
this, when most nurses slept with their charges in the same bed! Then
he tabooed carpets as dust-traps, so that there was no question of just
covering the floor with a good Brussels; and curtains must be of
thinnest muslin--not rep. In the end Mary had the floors laid in
polished wood, on which were spread loose strips of bamboo matting; and
dark green sunblinds were affixed to the outsides of the windows. The
walls were distempered a light blue. In place of the usual heavy
mahogany the furniture was of a simple style, and painted white. The
little crib--it had to be made to order, for Richard would have none
of the prevalent rocking-cradles, which, he declared, had rocked many a
babe into convulsions--was white as well. When all was finished the
effect was quite fairylike, and so novel that tales of the nurseries
got abroad, and visitors invariably asked before leaving if they might
be allowed a peep at them. Meanwhile, Mahony did his share by hunting
up pictures on which the infant eye might rest with pleasure. He also
bought toys; and would arrive home with his pocket bulging. Mary bore
with him as long as he confined his purchases to woolly balls and rag
dolls. But when it came to his ordering in an expensive rocking-horse,
she put her foot down.

"REALLY, Richard! Just suppose anything.. . I mean it will be more than
time enough for things like these a year or two from now."

"Oh, the doctor expects HIS kid to come into the world able to walk and
talk . . . like a foal or a calf. Never will such a miracle have trod
this old earth!"

And as Tilly--she had come down on her own initiative, solely
to be near Mary over her confinement--as she drove back to the hotel
at which she was putting up, she hummed the popular refrain:

OH, LA, LA!

WHAT FOOLS MEN ARE!

For besides making a donkey of himself over his purchases, Mahony was
haunted, now the end drew nigh, by a memory, by the fear of another
disappointment. He hardly trusted Mary out of his sight; hardly let her
put one foot before another,--"As jumpy as a Persian cat! You'd never
think 'e'd 'elped hundreds of brats into the world in 'is day!"

Mary sat in a rocking-chair on the shady side of the verandah, and
waved a palm-leaf fan to keep the flies off. More often she was
surrounded by yards of muslin, real India muslin, which she fashioned
into robes and petticoats, on which she frilled and tucked and
embroidered, sewing every stitch by hand.

"A regular trousseau!" said Tilly; and enviously fingered the piles of
gossamer garments.

On the ordeal that lay before her, Mary herself was not given to
brooding: for one thing, she was much stronger than she had been as a
girl. And the first discomforts of her state over, her health was well
maintained. But when December, with its livid heat, had slipped into
the greater heats of January and her time came, she gave birth as
hardly as on that first occasion long years ago; all but paying with
her own for the new life she was bringing into the world. Well-known
specialists, hastily summoned, performed a critical operation, Mahony's
trust in his own skill deserting him as usual where Mary was in
question. And though the operation was successful and the child born
alive, days of acute anxiety followed before it was certain that Mary
would pull through. Tilly and Mahony buried the hatchet in the long
hours they spent together in that darkened bedchamber, where Mahony
moved a pale, distraught shadow, and Tilly sat weeping silently, her
handkerchief to her eyes. In the dining-room John and Jerry strayed
aimlessly to and fro among the furniture; and outsiders like Mrs.
Devine would drive up early, and remain sitting in their carriages to
hear the latest bulletin. In the end Mary's sound constitution
triumphed, and she was gradually won back to life; but over a
week passed before she even asked to see her child. Then, in sudden
impatience, she tried to raise herself on her elbow--a movement that
sent Tilly and the nurse flying to lay her flat again. Tilly it was
who, going to the crib, carried to her on a pillow one of the tiniest
babies ever seen: a waxen doll, with black hair an inch long, and the
large black eyes of Mary's own family.

It was a boy. At his baptism, where John, Jerry and Lizzie stood
sponsors, he received the name of Cuthbert--in full was to be known as
Cuthbert Hamilton Townshend-Mahony.





Part III




Chapter I



These unlooked-for children--the following year twin girls were born,
thus rounding off a trio--came too late to form the bond between their
parents they might once have done. For that, the attitudes adopted
towards them by father and mother, themselves now branched so far
apart, were too dissimilar. In Mahony's case, once his children were
there in the flesh before him, all his puny fears of personal upset and
mental pother fell away. He had only to feel tiny soft fingers straying
over his face, to become the tenderest of fathers, loving his babies
wholeheartedly. Now he feared only for them, in their frailty and
helplessness. Did he wake in the night and think he heard a cry, he was
out of bed in an instant; and the nurse, entering from the next room to
make sure of her charges, would find her master there before her--a
tall, dressing-gowned figure, shading a candle with his hand. Often,
too, when wakeful, he would rise and steal into the night-nursery to
take a peep at his little ones, lying relaxed in sleep. Yes, he was
passionately solicitous for them--and not for their bodily health
alone. He would have wished to shield their little plastic minds from
all impressions that might pain or harm; have had them look only at
beautiful and pleasant things, hear soft voices and kind words; on no
child of his might hand be laid in anger. The result was that the
children, dimly conscious of his perpetual uneasiness, were rendered
uneasy by it in their turn, and, for all the deep affection from which
it sprang, never really warmed towards their father.

Instead, they sunned themselves in their mother's love, which knew
nothing of fears or apprehensions. Mary laughed at Richard's
exaggerated anxiety; though she rejoiced to see him so fond. A
self-centred person like him might well have found children a nuisance and
in the way.

To her they were all in all; and on them she lavished that
great hoard of mother-love which, till now, she had spent on the world
at large. Had they been born shortly after her marriage, she, who was
then little more than a child herself, would have been a child along
with them; and the four would have grown up together in a delightful
intimacy. Of this there was now no question. Coming when they did, the
children stood to her only for possessions--her most precious
possessions--but still, something absolutely her own, to do with just
as she thought good. Through them, too, she believed she would some day
gratify those ambitions which, where Richard was concerned, had proved
so stark a failure. He had had no desire to walk the high paths she had
mapped out for him. Her children would--and should. In the meantime,
however, ambition lay fallow in love; and it was to their mother the
babies ran with their pains and pleasures, their discoveries and
attainments. She alone gave them that sense of warmth and security in
which very young things thrive.

Their devotion to her was the one feature the three had in common. The
twins--they soon earned the nickname of "the Dumplings"--were mere
rolypoly bundles of good nature and jollity, who rarely cried, and were
as seldom ill as naughty. Mary boasted: the most docile children in the
world. Passionately attached to each other said Mahony, it was as
though a single soul had been divided between two bodies--they toddled
through babyhood hand in hand; faithfully sharing all good things that
came their way; sleeping in the same crib, face to face, each with an
arm flung protectively about the other's neck. To look at they were as
like as two peas, blue-eyed, fair-haired, dimpled, lovely to handle in
their baby plumpness, and the most satisfying of armfuls. Their
development, too, kept equal pace they walked late, owing to the burden
of their little rotundities and long remained content with inarticulate
sounds for speech.

The boy was of quite another fibre: as hard to manage as they were
easy; as quick as they were slow. Tilly early said of him: "Lor', Mary!
the doctor 'imself in frocks and petticoats." But this referred chiefly
to little physical tricks and similarities: a certain faddiness about
his food, his clothes, his belongings. A naughty child he was not--at
first. He, too, began life as a placid infant, who slept well,
did not cry, and accepted philosophically the bottle--substitute that
was put to his lips. This meant that, in spite of his midget-size at
birth, he was sound and healthy--in a fragile, wiry way. He continued
small, but was neatly formed. To his mother's colouring he added his
father's straight features; and even in babyhood had the latter's trick
of carrying his head well back, and a little to one side. He walked
before he was a year old, talked soon after; and, to his parents'
pride, was able to pick out a given letter from a play-alphabet before
he either walked or talked.

His precocity showed itself in other ways as well. For a year and a
quarter he was King of the House, the pivot of his little world, sole
occupant of his mother's knee. Then came the sudden apparition of his
sisters. In the beginning, Cuffy--thus he named himself--did not pay
much heed to this pair of animated dolls, who moved their legs and arms
when bathed, and rode out in a carriage beside his, but for the most
part lay asleep and negligible. Only gradually did it dawn on him that
his privileges were being invaded; that not only, indeed, was his reign
as sole ruler at an end, but that the greater favours were falling to
the newcomers' share. And one day the full knowledge of what had
happened burst through, with disastrous results, Cuffy being then
something over two years old. Dressed for driving Mary entered the
nursery; and Cuffy clamoured to be set upon her knee.

"Not now, darling, I've no time. You must wait till Mamma comes back."

But the nurses appearing at this moment with the babies, all warm and
fragrant from their afternoon nap, Mary was not able to resist holding
out her arms for them. She even lingered, fondling them, after the
carriage was announced.

Cuffy had docilely retreated to a corner, where he played with a stuff
elephant. But on seeing this--seeing his mother, who had been too busy
for him, petting the twins who had not even ASKED to be nursed--at
this he planted himself before her and regarded her with his solemn
black eyes. ("I do declare, Master Cuffy seems to look right through
you and out behind, when he stares so," was a saying of Nannan's.)

Relinquishing her babies Mary stooped to him. "Say good-bye to Mamma."

To her amazement, instead of putting up his face for a kiss,
Cuffy darted at her what she described to Richard as "a dreadfully
naughty look," and going over to his rocking-horse, which, though he
was not yet allowed to mount it, was his dearest treasure, started to
beat it with both hands, and with such force that the patient effigy
swung violently to and fro.

Shocked at this fit of temper, Nannan and Mary exclaimed in chorus:
"Master Cuffy! Well, I never did! Such tantrums!"

"Cuffy! What ARE you doing? If you are so naughty, Mamma will never
take you on her knee again."

The child's back being towards her, she did not see how at these words
the little face flushed crimson, the eyes grew round with alarm. Cuffy
at once left off hitting the horse; just stood stock-still, as if
letting what his mother had said sink in. But he did not turn and come
to her. Mary told Richard of the incident as she buttoned her gloves.
And Richard had Cuffy brought to him. Laying aside his book he lifted
the child to his knee.

"Papa is sorry to hear Cuffy has been naughty. Will Cuffy tell Papa
why?"

Unwinkingly the great eyes regarded him. But there was no response.

"Fy, fy! To hit poor horsey. . . when it had done nothing to deserve
it."

"Cuffy's 'orsey--own norsey."

"But, just because it is Cuffy's--Cuffy's very own--he must be
kind . . . all the kinder. . . to it. Never wreak your temper or your
vengeance, my little son, on a person or thing that is in your power.
It's ungenerous. And I want my Cuffy to grow up into a good, kind man.
As careful of the feelings of others as he is of his own."

Something in his father's voice--grave, measured, tender--got at the
baby, though the words went over his head. And then Mahony saw what he
long remembered: a fight for self-control extraordinary in one so
young. The black eyes filled; the little mouth twitched and trembled.
But the child swallowed hard in an attempt to keep back his tears. And
when at last they broke through, he turned and hid his face against his
father's coat. Not, Mahony felt sure, seeking there either
comfort or sympathy. Merely that his distress might be unobserved.
Taking in his own the two little hands, which were locked in each
other, Mahony drew them apart. Both palms were red and sore-looking,
and no doubt still tingled hotly. The child had hurt himself most of
all.

But Cuffy's tears soon dried. After a very few seconds he raised his
face, and, this having been patted with his father's handkerchief, slid
to the floor and trotted back to the nursery. And then, said Nannan,
what a to-do there was! Master Cuffy dragged his little chair up beside
the horse, climbed on the chair and put his arms round the animal's
neck, talking to it for all the world as if it was a live creature and
could talk back.

"Wos 'oo 'urt, dea' 'orsey?--poor 'ickle 'orsey! Cuffy didn't mean to.
Wot 'oo say, 'orsey? 'Orsey 'oves Cuffy double-much? Dea' 'orsey! Cuffy
'oves 'orsey, too--much more better zan Effalunt."

And having deposited horsey's rival upside-down in a dark cupboard, he
begged a lump of sugar from Eliza the under-nurse, and rammed it in
between the steed's blood-red jaws; where it remained, until a trail of
white ants was discovered making a straight line for it from the
window.

To Mary, Mahony said: "If I were you, my dear, I should be careful to
distribute my favours equally. Don't let the little fellow feel that
his nose has been put out of joint. He's jealous--that's all."

"Jealous? Of his own sisters? Oh, Richard! . . . I don't think that
augurs very well for him.--And surely he can't learn too soon that
it's for him to give way to them--as little girls?"

For almost the first time in his knowledge of her, Mahony seemed to
sense a streak of hardness in Mary; for the first time she did not
excuse a wrongdoer with a loving word. And this her own child!

"He's but a baby himself. Don't ask too much of him," he soothed her.
And added: "Of course, I only give you my idea. Do as you think best."
--For Mary had proved as capable as a mother as at everything else: she
solved problems by sheer intuition, where he would have fretted and
fumbled. Even the children's early religious training had, when the
time came, fallen to her. Here again she had no bothersome theories:
just the simplest practice. The question whether Cuffy and his
sisters should be taught to pray or not to pray, to invoke a personal
or an impersonal Deity, never entered her head. As soon as they could
lisp their first syllables, they knelt night and morning at her knee to
repeat their "Gentle Jesus!" and "Jesus, tender Shepherd!" And as long
as the great First Cause was set forth in this loving and protective
guise, Mahony saw no reason to interfere. He contented himself with
forbidding the name of God ever to be used as a threat, or in
connection with punishment: the children were taught that the worst
that could befall a sinner was a temporary withdrawal of God's love.
Nor would he have the THOU GOD SEEST ME! fallacy--this reduction of
the Omnipotent and Eternal to the level of spyer and peeper--instilled
into their young minds; while such a purely human invention as the
Devil--"That scapegoat on which man piles the blame for the lapses in
his own nature!"--was never to be so much as mentioned in the nursery.

These few simple rules laid down, he retired into the background. The
comfortable knowledge that his children were in the best of hands left
his mind free.

Until now it had been plain sailing. Now . . . well, Mary invariably
dated the beginning of the real trouble with Cuffy from the day on
which he flew into such a naughty passion with his horse. Exactly an
easy child to manage he had never been; he was too fanciful for that.
There was no need for Richard to fuss and fidget about keeping ugly
things from him. Cuffy himself would have none of them. Before he was a
twelve-month old, did he, in looking at his "Queen of Hearts" story-book,
draw near the picture of the thieving knave, you saw his eyes
getting bigger and bigger. And if he could not contrive, with his baby
hands, to turn two pages at once--and nobody else might do it for him
--he would avert his eyes altogether, or lay his palm flat over the
wretch's ugly face. The Dore illustrations to his big fairy-book had a
kind of horrid fascination for him. There he would sit staring at these
dense and gloomy forests, these ruined, web-hung castles surrounded by
their stagnant moats--and then, when bedtime came, he turned
frightened. It was of no use trying to shame him with: "A great boy
like you! Why, the Dumplings aren't a bit afraid." Or cheerily assuring
him: "There are no such things, darling, as witches and giants.
They're only made up to amuse little children."

Cuffy knew better--when the lamp was out and Nannan had left the
nursery. Then the picture he feared most: Hop-o'-my-Thumb, a creature
in petticoats, no bigger than himself, leading a long string of
brothers and sisters into a forest black as ink: this picture WOULD
rise up before him. Not only so, but he himself must join the tail,
fall in after Hop-o' and follow into that dreadful wood, where the ogre
lived. Since he could not resist its attraction, the book had to be
locked away.

The eldest, and a boy, to be such a baby! Mary felt quite abashed for
Cuffy, and lost no chance of poking fun at his fears. But it did not
help; and eventually she saw that she must leave it to time to drive
this nonsense out of him. There were other, more actively disturbing
traits in his nature, on which time might have the opposite effect. For
example, for such a little child he was far too close and reserved; he
kept his thoughts and feelings buttoned up inside himself. He had a
passionate temper--"Cuffy's temper" it was called, as though of a
special brand that belonged to him alone--but he did not often give it
play. Was he hurt or offended or angry, he would retire to a corner,
and stay there by himself. If he had to cry, he cried in a corner; he
did not want to be petted or comforted; and he would also in nine cases
out of ten not say--Richard declared would perhaps not be able to say
--why he cried. Mary saw him growing up very unfrank and secretive;
which, to her, spelt deceitful.

Again, it wormed in her that he was not a friendly or a trusting child
--one of those who indiscriminately hold out their arms, or present a
cheek. Cuffy would not go to strangers or always give his kiss when
bidden. Nor was he generous; he did not willingly share his toys, or
his picture-books, or his lollipops. The things that belonged to him
belonged absolutely. Really, he seemed to look upon them as bits of
himself, and hence not to be parted with. His favourite animals--horse
and elephant--might be touched by no one. Was there a children's party
in the nursery special playthings had to be provided, or only those
used that were the Dumplings' property. To Mary, bound by but gossamer
threads to all things material, her little son's attitude was something
of a mystery; and many a time did she strive with him over the
head of it. His inability to share with others stood to her for sheer
selfishness. She trembled, too, lest the Dumplings should learn to copy
him in this, and cease to be the open-hearted, open-handed little
mortals they were. For they looked up to Cuffy with adoring eyes--
Cuffy who walked while they still drove; was present at dessert in the
evening, while they were put to bed; wore knickerbockers instead of
skirts. But, try as she might, by teaching and example, she could not
influence the boy, let alone master him; while the usual nursery
proceeding of making a child's naughty fit end with an expression of
contrition shattered on Cuffy's obstinacy. If he did not feel sorry, he
would not say he was; and in the battle royal that ensued he generally
came off victor. The fact was, in the dark-eyed mite she had now to
deal with, Mary ran up against more than a dash of her own resolute
spirit; and naturally enough failed to recognise it.

"He's got a shocking will of his own. And what troubles me, Richard,
is, if he's as set as all this when he's not much more than a baby,
whatever will he be when he grows up?"

"Set? Nonsense, my dear! The child's got character. Give it scope to
expand. Try to influence him and work on his good feelings instead of
bullying him."

"It's all very well for you. You don't have to deal with him a dozen
times a day. I must say, I sometimes think you might help a little more
than you do." It was a sore point with Mary that Richard would not rise
to his responsibilities as a father, but went on leading the life of a
bookworm and a recluse. "Especially as the child takes more notice of
you than of any one else."

But Mahony was not to be bought. "My dear, you've the knack and I
haven't. Now don't worry. As long as he's honest and truthful, he'll be
all right."

Honest? . . . truthful? That went without saying! It was only that Mary
wanted her first-born to be so much more: sunny, lovable, transparent,
brave--and a hundred other things besides. He was Nurse's darling
though. You had only, said Nannan, to beware of knocking up against any
of his funny little fads, such as undressing him before people, or
asking him to eat with any but his own silver fork and spoon.

"What Master Cuffy needs is just a bit of managing. I can twist
him round my little finger." But it did not tally with Mary's ideas
that a child of that age should have to be "managed" at all.

Turning from these traits in her son of which she could not approve,
she dwelt with pleasure on his marked quickness and cleverness. Cuffy
had sure fingers and a retentive memory. At an early age he could catch
a ball and trundle a hoop; could say his prayers without prompting;
learn nursery rhymes at a single hearing; could eat nicely, keep
himself clean, button up those of his buttons which were within reach:
in short do everything in this line that could be expected of so young
a mortal.

And in addition he had one genuine talent. For some reason or other--
"a throwback to his grandmother," supposed Mahony--Cuffy had been
dowered with a natural gift for music. He learnt tunes more easily than
he learnt his letters; could hum "Rock of Ages" and "Sun of my Soul"
before he uttered a word. His ear was extraordinarily good, his little
voice sweet and true. And knowing that Mary's intonation was but
faulty, that of the nursery faultier still, Mahony here put in his
single spoke in Cuffy's education. He had the boy brought to his
dressing-room of a morning; and there, while he dressed, Cuffy with his
elephant would sit perched on a corner of the table, singing songs old
and new. Together Mahony and his son practised "Oft in the Stilly
Night" and "The Land o' the Leal," and with such success that, was
there company to dinner, Cuffy in his best velvet tunic would be stood
on a chair at dessert, to perform to the guests. And as he gave forth,
in baby language, such ditties as:

A TEMPLE TO FRIENDSHIP,
CRIED LAURA, ENCHANTED,
I'LL BUILD IN MY GARDEN
THE THOUGHT IS DIVINE!



The ladies uttered rapturous exclamations; while the gentlemen, mostly
without a note of music in them, declared: "'pon my word, very
remarkable, very remarkable indeed!" and Aunt Lizzie, from whom cuffy
had picked up this song by ear, hailed him as an infant prodigy, and
painted for him a future that made Mary's heart swell with pride.

Such were Mahony's children.




Chapter II



Mrs. Marriner, the youngish widow whose acquaintance Mary had made
while visiting on the Urquharts' station, was a person of character. In
the matter of dress, for example, she defied the prevailing fashion;
wore her light brown hair swept straight back from her brow (which was
classic), and, employing neither net nor comb, twisted it in a Grecian
knot on the nape of her neck. She also eschewed crinoline, and wandered
a tall, willowy form, the eyed of all beholders.

"Out and away too conspicuous!" was Mahony's verdict. "The woman must
WANT people to stare at her. Though I will say, Mary, it's something of
a treat to behold the natural female figure again, after the unnatural
bulgings we've put up with. And a very fine figure, too!"

For this he had to admit: there was nothing unfeminine or forbidding
about the lady. She was as handsome as she was striking. A full eye, a
Grecian nose, a slim waist: such were her charms; to say nothing of a
white, dimpled hand, and a well-turned ankle. And yet every one who
knew her agreed that she captivated less by reason of her comeliness,
than by the ease and elegance of her manner.

She was just as popular with her own as with the sterner sex. Which
said a good deal; for, wherever she went, she was run after by "the
gentlemen." And small wonder, thought Mary. For Gracey was up in any
subject, however dry; had brains really equal to "gentlemen's
conversation."

Richard said: "It's not the least piquant thing about her that after
she has been holding forth, supremely well, on one of those learned
themes ladies as a rule fight shy of, she will suddenly lapse into some
delightful feminine inconsequence. That, my dear, gives us men back,
for a finish, the sense of superiority we need." But here you just had
one of the satirical remarks Richard was so apt at making--especially
in the early stages of an acquaintance. Afterwards he generally
had to eat his words, or at least water them down.

Mrs. Marriner rented a villa within easy driving distance of "Ultima
Thule." This was in the early days of the nursery, while the twins were
still babies in arms, and Mary went out but little. It fell to the
newcomer to pick up the threads; and she did so with a will, calling
frequently and entering wholeheartedly into Mary's interests. She was
devoted to children; and sometimes, as they sat on the verandah, Nannan
would bring Cuffy out to them. And then it was a pretty sight to see
the tall, handsome woman on her knees before the little child, rolling
his woolly ball to him, or playing at peek-a-bo.

The merry voices lured even Mahony forth from his den. And having
tossed his son in the air, he lingered for a word with his wife's
guest. This happened more than once; after which, as Mary had foreseen,
his sarcasms died away. Mrs. Marriner had travelled widely, and owned a
large collection of photographs of famous beauty-spots; and the first
time Mahony went to her house was when he and Mary drove over one
evening to view these through a stereoscope. Dotted about the rooms
they found many another interesting memento of her travels. On the
chimney-piece were candelabra of Dresden china. Coloured prints of
Venice by night and the blue grotto of Capri adorned the walls. A
statuette of Christ by a Danish sculptor stood on the lid of the piano.
She had a very fair assortment of books--serious works, too: essays,
poetry, history--both old and of the newest; and Mahony carried away
with him a couple of volumes by a modern writer of verse named
Browning.

In addition she was musical. Not in sister Lizzie's superb, almost
professional fashion; but singing in a clear, correct voice, and
playing the pianoforte with neatness and skill. Her performance of
Mendelssohn's SONGS WITHOUT WORDS was most enjoyable. And now it was
Mahony's turn to suggest inviting her; after which he went back to sing
duets, and listen to her execution of a sonata by Haydn. He relished,
too, a conversation that for once rose above the affairs of the
nursery.

For, the piano closed, the lady and he dropped into talk. And having
skimmed the surface of various subjects on which they found themselves
in marvellous accord, they came round to the one which still
engrossed Mahony's attention. Of spiritualism Mrs. Marriner was
ignorant; she begged the doctor to enlighten her. And the rough sketch
he gave her interested her so much that she expressed a strong wish to
know more. He promised to bring her an armful of literature; and then,
if her interest still held, to procure her the entree to a sitting at
the house of that arch-spiritualist, Mrs. Phayre, where remarkable
phenomena took place. Weird noises might be heard there at dead of
night: furniture was moved by unseen hands from its place against the
wall.

The next day he carried over the books; and Mrs. Marriner read them
with what seemed to him a rare and unfeminine insight: that is to say,
she was neither alarmed, nor derisive, nor stupidly obstinate: and, so
far, except for members of the inner circle, he had known no woman
whose state of mind towards the question was not one of these three.
She also jumped at his offer of introducing her at a seance. Later on,
learning that he was eager to find an unprofessional medium with whom
he might experiment in private, and on whom no shadow of suspicion
could be held to rest, she herself proposed sitting at a small table in
her drawing-room. And after a few fruitless hours, during which he had
every reason to admire her patience, they met with success: the table
tilted under their hands and a pencil, delicately sustained by the
lady's fingers, wrote words that could be read. It was plain she was
possessed of the power.

He went home to Mary in high feather.

"Now, perhaps, you'll believe there's something in it!"

"I never said there wasn't SOMETHING. It's only that . . ."

"You can hardly suspect your friend of being an impostor?"

"Good gracious no! The idea!"

And Mary meant it. Gracey was no more capable of downright fraud than
she herself. And yet . . . yet . . . say what you liked, there was a
part of you that simply would not accept the conclusions you were asked
to draw. To think, because a table stood on two legs, or a pencil
wrote: "I am here," that dead people--people who lay mouldering in
their graves!--were speaking to you . . . no, that she would never be
able to believe, not if she lived to be Methusalah. Why, you might just
be leaning a little too heavily on your side of the table without
knowing it. Or your hand write things down in a kind of dream,
and you imagine somebody or something else was doing it. And still be
the most truthful person alive. Like Richard. Who again and again let
himself be imposed on.--The truth was: if people wanted to believe
such things, believe they would: the wish was father to the thought.
Well, at least this new hobby of Richard's had one advantage: it gave
him something to do. Which was just what he needed. Instead of always
sitting humped up over his books.

Under the stimulus he began to look more like his old self. He spruced
up his dress; and the daily ride to Gracey's gave him beneficial
exercise. As time went on, their sittings proved so satisfactory that
he began to think of publishing a small pamphlet, embodying the
results. And though Mary would rather it had been on a less outlandish
subject, she hailed the idea and encouraged it. For looking after
Richard became, year by year, more like minding a fidgety child, who
had always to be kept on the go. He had been such a worker in his day.
And the old fear could still wake in her at times that, being without
active employment, he might all of a sudden turn restless and declare
himself tired of their lovely home.

But then came that afternoon when Lizzie let drop an item of news which
successfully routed Mary's peace of mind.

They did not see much of Lizzie nowadays; she and John were always in
society; out night after night at concerts, dinners, balls. Or else
entertaining lavishly in their own home. It was an open secret that the
longed-for knighthood would very soon set the crown on John's labours
for the colony.

Stateliness in person, gauzes and laces floating from arms and
shoulders, trinkets and chains a-jingle, Lizzie swept through the hall,
a majestic figure indeed. No wonder John was still unable to refuse her
anything.

Then, just about to step into her carriage, she paused. "Mary,
dehling . . . I vow I all but forgot it! I have something to tell you,
love, that I think will interest you. Mary! I met a gentleman on Friday
who was once acquainted with our friend--the charmin' Gracey. And WHAT do
you think? My dear, she is not a widow at all."

Mary was thunderstruck. "Not a widow? Lizzie! Then----"

"My dehling, her husband is still alive. He left her, love--
deserted her for another woman. . . the lowest of the low! At this very
moment he lives with the creature . . . in his lawful wife's stead."

As always, Mary's first impulse was to protect. . . defend. "Oh, poor
Gracey! . . . how terrible for her!"

"Well, love . . . I thought you ought to know. Since dear Richard is so
friendly there. And considering the ultra-strict views he holds."

"Yes, of course. But, Lizzie, it's not her fault, is it? SHE can't help
the man she married turning out a scoundrel."

But though she spoke up thus, Mary was greatly perturbed and her mind
became a sea of doubts where no doubts had been. She found herself
looking at Gracey with other eyes. The fact was, a divorced or legally
separated woman--even one who was just living apart from her husband--
was by no means the same as a widow . . . and never could be. Gracey
knew that well enough; else why, to a close friend like herself, had
she made a mystery of her state? And though not a shadow of blame
should rest on her (and Mary was sure it didn't), it meant, none the
less, that she had been through all sorts of unpleasant matrimonial
experiences, which a properly married or widowed woman would know
nothing about. Something of them might have remained clinging to
her . . . the old saw about touching pitch would run in Mary's head. It
was dreadful. Such a dear, nice woman as Gracey. And yet. . . deep down in
Mary's heart there dwelt the obstinate conviction that once married was
always married, and that as long as your husband lived you belonged at
his side. Did you sit firm and hold fast to your rights as a wife, it
seemed incredible that another woman could ever usurp your place. Had
Gracey perhaps gone off in a tantrum, leaving the coast clear? Yes,
doubts would up, and the result was, she found herself considering,
with a more critical eye, the friendship that had sprung up between
Richard and Grace over their table-tilting. Never before had she known
Richard so absorbed by any one outside his home. Now suppose, just
suppose Gracey, thanks to her wretched married life, had come to regard
things--serious things, sacred things--more lightly than she ought?
What if, because of her own unhappy past, she should not hold
the marriage-tie to be binding? Why was she so attractive to gentlemen?
Did they know or suspect anything? In reply to which there flashed
through Mary's mind a memory of her last visit to Yarangobilly: Willy
Urquhart's infatuation and the state poor Louisa had worked herself
into. Of course there was really no comparison between the two cases--
none whatever! Willy was a notorious flirt: Richard a gentleman. And
poor Louisa's morbid, distorted outlook would never be hers.

Richard . . . The question that teased Mary was, should she tell him
what she had heard, or keep it to herself? In one way she agreed with
Lizzie that he ought to know, he being so fastidious in his views.
Besides, if he heard it from some other source, he might feel aggrieved
that she had held back. On the other hand, his knowing would probably
curtail, if not put a stop altogether to his and Gracey's experiments:
he wouldn't want to give people food for talk. And that would be a
pity. Would it be disloyal to say nothing? Disloyal to Gracey to tell
what she so plainly wished to keep dark? But Richard came first.--And
here again, unlike poor Louisa, Mary felt she could weigh the matter
very calmly; for in her was a feeling nothing could shake: the happily
married woman's sense of possession. It was not only the fact of
Richard being what he was. Their life together rested on the surest of
foundations: the experiences of many, how many years; the trials and
tribulations they had been through together; the joys they had shared;
the laughs they had had over things and people; a complete knowledge of
each other's prejudices and antipathies--who else could unlock, with
half a word, the rich storehouse of memories they had in common?
Homelier things, too, there were in plenty, which bound no less
closely: the airing and changing of your underlinen; how sweet or how
strong you drank your coffee; how you liked your bed made; your hatred
of the touch of steel on fruit; of a darn in a sock.--Deeper down
though, pushed well below the topmost layer of her consciousness, just
one unspoken fear DID lurk. If she told Richard what she had heard, and
he did not take it in the spirit he had hitherto invariably shown
towards irregularities of this kind, Mary knew she would feel both hurt
and humiliated. Not for herself--but for him.


* * * * *


The sitting at an end, the table was put back in its place
against the wall.

"You will smoke, doctor? Nay, please do . . . . I like it. Here are
matches.--Down, Rover! Not yet, Fitz!" For at her movement a red
setter had sprung up from a corner, and now stood, his front paws on
her knee, ingratiatingly wagging his tail; while observing his
comrade's advance an immense black cat, which had been dozing in an
arm-chair, rose and dropped a kind of bob-curtsey with its hind
quarters. "Behold my two tyrants! They think it time for a run.--Oh,
yes, Mr. Fitz comes too."

"You are very fond of animals?"

"I should be lost without them. They are such dear companions, in their
dumb way." As she spoke Mrs. Marriner fondled a silky ear, letting it
slip through a pretty, dimpled hand.

"Well do I know it. In my bachelor days, living in a bark-hut the whole
of which would have gone into this room, I kept no less than three."
And casting the net of his memory Mahony told of his long-forgotten
pets, and of their several untimely ends.--"After that I took no
more."

"You had not the heart?" Now could any but a genuine animal-lover have
put this question?

"Not exactly. But as a hard-worked medico, with a growing practice . . .
the burden of them, you see, would have fallen on my wife. And she
does not much care for animals."

"Dear Mary. And now, of course, she has her babies."

"Yes, and all a mother's fears for them, with regard to the four-footed
race."

"That is but natural. While they are so tiny." In the kindly indulgence
of her tone, the speaker seemed to take all mothers and their
weaknesses under her wing. "And yet, doctor, if I had been blessed with
little ones, I think I should have brought up babies, puppies and
kittens EN MASSE . . . as one family party. Correct me though, if I
speak foolishly. Perhaps, when children come, they are all in all."

"It IS amazing how the little beggars twine themselves round one's
heart. Before my boy was born, my chief feeling was a sense of the
coming responsibility. I can laugh at myself now. For my wife has
shouldered everything of that sort . . . I leave the children entirely
to her."

"I think dear Mary quite the most capable person I know."

What a handsome creature she was, to be sure, full-bosomed yet slender,
her neat waist held by a silver girdle, her face alight with sympathy
and understanding! Mahony answered heartily: "There have, indeed, been
few situations in life Mary has not proved equal to."

The words set a string of memories vibrating; and a silence fell.
Unlike many of her sex, who would have babbled on, the lady just smiled
and waited; and even her waiting was perfect in tact.

Mahony felt drawn to unbosom himself. "Talking of my children . . . it
is sometimes a sorry thought to me that my acquaintance with them can
only be a brief one. I mean, the probability is I shall see them but to
the threshold of their adult life--no further. And would like so well
to know what they make of it."

His meaning was grasped . . . and with ease. "I understand that . . .
especially in the case of such a gifted child as your sweet little
Cuffy."

"Yes, I do think the boy is quick beyond the common run."

"Without doubt he is. Look at his musical ability."

"Ah, there you mention the one bit of his education I take a hand in.
For Mary has no ear for music. Nor even any particular liking for it."

"And it is so important, is it not, that the ear should be well trained
from the first? The spadework done before the child is even aware of
it." (Here spoke your true musician.) "But, doctor, if our findings are
correct, you may still have the joy of watching over your little brood
from the other side . . . N'EST-CE-PAS?"

"Ah! . . . if that might be. If one could be sure of that." And on the
instant Mahony mounted his hobby-horse and was carried away. "With
this, my dear lady, you put your finger on what seems to me one of the
vital points of the whole question. Have you ever reflected what a
difference it would make, did we mortals SERIOUSLY believe in a life to
come? . . . I don't mean the Jewish-Byzantine state of petrified
adoration that the churches offer us.... I mean a life such as we know
it: a continuation of the best of this earthly existence--mental
striving, spiritual aspiration, love for our neighbour. If we
did so believe, our every perspective would alter. And the result be a
marked increase in spirituality. For the orthodox Christian's point of
view is too often grossly materialistic--and superstitious. The
tenacity with which he clings to a resurrection of the flesh--this
poor cankered flesh! . . . after countless years deep in its grave--
that grave on which he dwells with so morbid a pleasure. Or his
childish fear of death--despite the glories that are promised him on
the other side . . . do these not remind you of the sugar-candy with
which an infant is bribed to take its pill? Against all this, set the
belief that in dying we pass but from one room to another of the house
of life--Christ's 'many mansions.' The belief that an invisible world
exists around us--the spirit counterpart of this we know. That those
we have lost still live and love and await us . . . on the other side
of a veil which already a few, of rarer perceptions than the rest, have
pierced.--But forgive me! When once I get going on this subject I know
no measure. And I confess . . . so few opportunities to talk of it
arise. My wife has scant sympathy with the movement; sees, I fear, only
its shady side."

"Dearest Mary. She is so practically minded."

"Yes. She is often genuinely uneasy at the hours I spend over my books;
would rather have me up and doing--and though but riding for pleasure
along the seashore. Books to her are only a means of killing time."

Mrs. Marriner turned the full weight of a grave, sweet smile upon him.
"While we book-lovers. . . well! as far as I am concerned, doctor, my
life would be a blank indeed, without the company of the printed page."

"And what of me? . . . whose dearest dream it was, while I slaved for a
living, to be able to end my days in a library. I declare to you, it is
still a disturbing thought that I shall die leaving so many books
unread."

"Let me comfort you. My dear father, who lived to a ripe old age, was
given to complaining towards the end that he had 'read all the books'--
or at least all that were worth reading."

"Of course; as one grows older; and harder to please.... Myself though,
I seem still far from that. The lists I send my bookseller grow longer,
not shorter. And it's not the unread books only. While we're on
these ghost-thoughts--we all have them, I suppose--let me confess to
another, and that is that I shall probably need to go, having seen all
too few of the grandeurs and beauties of this world. Pass on to the
next without knowing what the Alps or the Andes are like, or the
torrents of the Rhine."

"But doctor . . . what hinders you? I don't mean the Andes,"--and
Mahony was the recipient of a roguish smile. "But travel is so easy
nowadays. One packs one's trunks, books one's berth--ET VOILA! What
hinders you?"

Ah! what . . . what, indeed? Mahony hesitated for a moment before
replying. "The truth is, the years we spent in England were thoroughly
uncongenial. . . to us both. We were glad, on getting back to the
colony, to settle down. And having once settled . . ."

Yes, that was it: of his own free will he had saddled himself with a
big, expensive house, and all that belonged to its upkeep: men-servants
and maid-servants, horses and carriages. Mary had taken root
immediately; and now the children... their tender age.... But darker
than all else loomed Mary's attitude . . . or what might he expect this
to be, if--"The truth is, my wife does not . . . I mean she has gone
through so many upheavals already, on my account, that I should hardly
feel justified . . . again . . . so soon . . . Still there's no denying
it: I do sometimes feel like an old hulk which lies stranded. But
there! All my days I've been gnawed by the worm of change--change of
any sort. As a struggling medico I longed for leisure and books. Pinned
to the colony, I would be satisfied with nothing but the old country.
Now that I have ample time, and more books than I can read, I could
wish to be up and out seeing the world. And my dear wife naturally
finds it difficult to keep pace with such a weathercock."

"I think it is with you as the German poet sings: 'There, where thou
art not, there alone is bliss!'"

"Indeed and that hits my nail squarely on the head. For I can assure
you it's no mere spirit of discontent--as some suppose. It's more a
kind of . . . well, it's like reaching out after--say, a dream one has
had and half forgotten, and struggles to recapture. That's baldly put.
But perhaps you will understand."

A lengthy silence followed. The clock ticked; the dog sighed
gustily. Then, feeling the moment come, the lady rose and swept her
skirts to the piano. "Let me play to you," said she.

Mahony gratefully accepted.

Once the music had begun, however, he fell back on his own reflections;
they were quickened rather than hampered by the delicate tinkling of
the piano. He felt strangely elated: not a doubt of it, a good talk was
one of the best of medicines, particularly for such a dry, bottled-up
old fogy as he was on the verge of becoming. Of course, did you open
your heart you must have, for listener, one who was in perfect tune
with you; who could pick up your ideas as you dropped them; take your
meaning at a word. And mortals of this type were all too rare; in
respect of them, his life had been a sandy waste. Which had told
heavily against him. Looking down the years he saw that, all through,
his most crying need had been for spiritual companionship; for the balm
of tastes akin to his own. It was a crippling reflection that never yet
had he found the person to whom he could have blurted out his thoughts
without fear of being misunderstood . . . or disapproved . . . or
smiled at for an oddity. Here, having unexpectedly tapped a woman's
quick perception, a woman's lively sympathy, he had a swift vision of
what might have been--that misty picture that inhabits the background
of most minds. To know his idiosyncrasies fondly accepted--his mental
gropings accompanied, his roving spirit gauged and condoned . . . not
as any fault of his own, but as an innate factor in his blood! Ah! but
for that to come to pass, one would need to leave choosing one's
fellow-traveller on the long life-journey until one's own mind and
character had formed and ripened. How could one tell, in the twenties,
what one would be on nearing the fifties?--in which direction one
would have branched out, and set, and stiffened? At twenty all was
glamour and romance; and it seemed then to matter little whether or no
a heart was open to the sufferings of the brute creation; whether the
written word outweighed the spoken; in how far the spiritual mysteries
made appeal--questions which gradually, with time, came to seem more
vital than all else. In youth one's nature cried aloud for
companionship . . . one's blood ran hot . . . the mysteries played no
part. And then the years passed and passed, and one drifted . . .
drifted . . . slowly, but very surely . . . until . . . well,
in many a case, he supposed the fact that you HAD drifted never came to
your consciousness at all. But should anything happen to pull you up
with a jerk, force you to cast the plummet; should you get an inkling
of something rarer and finer: then, the early flames being sunk to a
level glow, you stood confounded by your aloofness . . . by the
distance you had travelled . . . the isolation of your state. But had
he, in sooth, ever felt other than lonely, and alone? Mary was--had
always been--dearest and best of wives . . . yet . . . yet . . . had
they, between them, a single idea in common?... Did they share an
interest, a liking, a point of view?--with the one exception of an
innate sobriety and honesty of purpose. No, for more years than he
cared to count, Mary had done little, as far as he was concerned, but
sit in judgment: she silently censured, mentally condemned all those
things in life which he held most worth while: his needs, his studies,
his inclinations--down to his very dreams and hopes of a hereafter.


* * * * *


Lizzie said: "My dear, our lady friend is in hoops now, if you please!
Nothing extreme, of course, considering from whom she takes her present
cue. JUST the desired SOUPCON!--Mary, she went about as a Slim Jane
only because the CAVALIER of the moment approved the simplicity of the
human form divine. To-day she is a rapping and tapping medium--as we
very well know. To-morrow, love, the wind will shift to another
quarter, and we shall hear of the fair lady running to matins and
communicating on an empty stomach. Or visiting in a prison cell got up
as a nursing sister, A LA Elizabeth Fry."

Hoops . . . nothing extreme . . . considering from whom she takes her
present cue. At these words, and even while she was standing up for
Gracey's sincerity, there leapt to Mary's mind, with a stab of real
pain, Richard's nervous hatred of the exaggerated--the bizarre. And
whether it was hoops, or hooplessness.




Chapter III



These rather waspish comments--Lizzie never seemed able to resist
having a thrust at Gracey--were made in the drawing-room at "Ultima
Thule," where the two wives sat waiting for their husbands to rejoin
them. John and Lizzie were dining there at John's express request: the
groom had ridden over after lunch with a line from John, asking if he
and Lizzie might take pot-luck with them that evening. Richard said:
"Wonders will never cease," and a refusal was not to be thought of; but
Cook had been very put out by the shortness of the notice; so much so
that Mary had driven to town to fetch delicacies; thinking as she went,
how in the old days SHE would have run up a dinner for four, and one
well worth eating, too, in less than an hour. Her hands did sometimes
itch to show such a fair-weather worker as Cook what could be done.

By now the evening was more than half gone, and still the gentlemen
lingered; though Lizzie had sung all Richard's favourite songs and
pieces, some of them more than once. To pass the time, she had also
sung to Cuffy; for--as had happened ere this when she was dining there
--Nannan had knocked to say Master Cuffy could not be got to sleep, for
thinking his Auntie might sing to him. Cuffy as audience was better
than none, so Lizzie begged for the child to be brought in; and
thereupon Cuffy appeared on Nannan's arm in his little red flannel
nightgown, his feet swathed in a crib--blanket, his eyes alight with
expectation. Seated on his mother's knee he drank in: "There was a
Friar of Orders Grey," and the sad ditty of "Barbara Allan," himself
rendering "Sun of my Soul" before, soundly kissed and cosseted by his
aunt, who had a great liking for the little man, he was carried back to
bed.

Towards ten o'clock, Lizzie could no longer conceal her yawns. Mary and
she had talked themselves out: and where she had first surreptitiously
peeped, she now openly drew her watch from her belt. This,
John's latest present to her, was a magnificent affair, crusted back
and front with diamonds, while tiny brilliants sprinkled the long gold
chain on which it hung. Unlike most women, Lizzie could wear any
quantity of jewellery without looking overloaded. At the present moment
a little heap of rings and bracelets lay on the lid of the piano; for,
in despair, she had re-seated herself at the keys and begun anew to
sing.

At the best of times Mary found it hard to fix her mind on music for
five minutes together; and on this evening she had had more than enough
of it, and could now let her thoughts stray in comfort. She wondered
what could be keeping the two men . . . it was certainly rather
impolite of Richard . . . wondered if Nannan had at last got Cuffy to
sleep. The dinner had been very nice; Cook needn't have made so much
fuss beforehand. But there! When they undertook anything of this kind,
it usually went off well. The house, of course, had something to do
with it. This room, for instance, how well it lighted up! Richard
declared he much preferred it to John's, and Mary's eyes wandered
lovingly round walls and furniture, lingering on the great gilt-edged
mirror, which reached to the ceiling; the lovely girandoles, a present
from Richard; the lustred chandelier; the glass-shaded ormolu clock.
The carpet, too, was of a most uncommon lemon colour; the suite, in a
brocade to match, had a pattern of French lilies on it. She loved every
inch of the place. WHAT a happy ending to all their ups and downs! . . .
to be settled at last in such a home. Did she look back on the "Black
Hole," or the snails and damp of Buddlecombe, she felt she did not
always fully appreciate her present good fortune.

But Lizzie here striking up a tune Mary knew, her thoughts came back
with a jerk. She eyed the singer in listening, and: "Handsomer than
ever" was her mental comment; although by now Lizzie was embarked on
that adventure which, more than any other, steals from a woman's good
looks. What with her full, exquisitely sloping shoulders--they stood
out of the low-cut bertha as out of a cup--her dimpled arms and hands,
the fingers elegantly curled on the notes of the piano; her rich red
lips, opening to show the almond-white teeth; her massive throat,
swelling and beating as she sang . . . yes, Lizzie had indeed thriven
on matrimony. It was otherwise with John. One had grown
gradually used, as time passed, to the loss of that air of radiant
health, of masterful assertion, which had formerly distinguished him.
But since his marriage he had turned almost into an old man. Thin as a
lath, he walked with a slight stoop, and hair and beard were grey. His
face seemed to have grown longer, too, more cadaverous; his eye had an
absent, inturned expression. At dinner he had been very silent. He had
just sat there listening to Lizzie, hanging on her lips--really, if he
went on like this when the two of them were at a stranger's house, it
would not be quite the thing.

Afterwards, in the drawing-room, Lizzie had made open complaint of his
inertia; discussing him in that barefaced way of hers which plumed
itself on calling a spade a spade.

"Yes, he is growing stodgy, dehling--stodgy and slow! I said to him
the other day, I said: 'John, love! this will NEVER do. WHERE is the
man I married?' Will you believe it, Mary, he actually wished to stop
at home from Government House Ball last night? While this evening, if
you please, he throws up an important dinner-party at Sir Joshua
Dent's, to come here. Not but what it has been a CHARMIN' evening,
dehling. But a man in John's position has not the right to pick and
choose."

"Are you sure he is quite well, Lizzie? He looks very thin to me."

"Oh, dear, yes! Perfectly well. John was never made to be fat."

The laggards at length appearing, Lizzie crashed out a chord and rose
from the piano-stool to hail and reproach them. "A pretty pair to be
sure," cried she playfully yet not without malice, the while she slid
on rings and clicked the catches of bracelets; a pretty pair of
husbands to prefer the society of their pipes to that of their wives!
She had been so looking forward to a duo with Richard. It was evident
she had reckoned without her host! Richard made one lame attempt to
fall in with her tone, John none at all. He seemed only in haste to go;
asked for the carriage to be brought round at once; himself rang the
bell and gave the order.

Lizzie might be too full of her own grievances to notice how the wind
blew; but Mary had eyes in her head. She saw that something was
seriously amiss the moment the two men entered the room.
Richard looked pale and distracted--and as for John! Whatever could be
the matter? Had they quarrelled? . . . had a scene?

Then, in coming along the passage from the bedroom, with Lizzie
enshawled at her side, she caught a murmured word of Richard's that was
evidently meant only for John's ear. And when she had seen her guests
off she did not re-enter the house, but stood on the verandah,
anxiously awaiting Richard who had gone to open the gate.

At the crunch of his feet on the gravel, she moved forward, exclaiming
impetuously before she was level with him: "What's the matter? What was
wrong with John to-night?"

"Matter? What on earth do you mean?" He stooped to pick up something;
was exaggeratedly casual and indifferent.

"Now, dear, you needn't put on that tone to me. I saw directly you came
into the room . . . have you and he fallen out?"

"Good God, no! What have you got in your head now?"

"Well, then what is it? You can't deceive me, Richard . . . you don't
look like that for nothing."

"Who wants to deceive you, I'd like to know?" He was very short and
gruff.

"Is John ill?"

"My dear Mary, don't try and PUMP me, if you please! You know my
aversion to that kind of thing."

"Richard, I heard with my own ears what you said to him in the hall. . .
about a possible loophole. What did you mean? Oh, DON'T be so
obstinate!--Very well, then! I shall go over and see John myself, the
first thing in the morning."

"Indeed and you'll do nothing of the sort."

"He's my brother. I've a right to know what's happened."

"A confidence is a confidence; and I'm hanged if I'll be hectored into
betraying it."

"Anyone would think I was asking out of mere curiosity," cried Mary;
and tears of vexation rose to her eyes. "I know--I have the feeling--
there's something wrong. And you go on talking about confidences . . .
and your own pride in not betraying them . . . when John looked to me
as if he'd got his death sentence."

Richard's start did not escape her. He retorted, though less
surely: "But it is at his own urgent request, Mary, that I hold my
tongue!"

"Then he DID come to consult you about his health? Oh, Richard,
please! . . . don't keep me in suspense. What is it?"

"My dear, if you had gone through what I did to-night! I suppose I may
as well out with it; for as usual with your wild shot you have hit the
bull's-eye. The fact of the matter is, what I had to tell John did
amount to a sentence of death."

"Then . . . then it is . . ."

"The worst. I examined him. A growth in the liver. No, too late now,
for anything of that kind. My private opinion is he hasn't more than
six months to live."

"RICHARD! . . . though I think I've been afraid of something like
this . . . it's just as if, inside me, I had felt what was coming."

"And I suspected it. But you know, Mary, what John is . . . so
unapproachable. I must say this though: I was moved this evening to a
profound admiration for him. He took the verdict like a man . . .
without flinching."

"Yes, yes. But what does that matter now? The thing is, you've let him
go home alone--with this on his mind--and only Lizzie beside him . . .
who cares for no one but herself." Mary had not known she thought
this of Lizzie; it just popped out.

"A great spider! . . . that's what the woman is, if you want my
opinion," cried Mahony angrily. "But what could I do?--Besides, at
heart, I'm one with him. There are crises in a man's life that are best
fought through alone."

"Not while I'm here. Where I'm going? Why, to him, of course!"

"At this hour of night? Indeed I advise you very strongly, Mary, to do
nothing of the kind. Not only will he resent--and rightly too--my
having broken my word, but he won't thank you either for intruding.--
And he'll have gone to bed. How can you knock him up? What excuse have
you?"

Mary reached for a wrap and threw it over her shoulders. "John won't be
in bed. And I'll make it all right about you; don't be afraid.--No,
no, I'll just walk over. As for intruding . . . I've always
understood John better than any of you. Besides, I don't see how people
can care whether they do or not at a time like this."

"Well, at least put on a pair of sound walking-boots and take a shawl.
Of course I am. If you must go, I go with you."

Stepping out of the gate they plodded through the sand of the road that
led past now a large garden, now a wild, open space covered with gorse
and heath. Masses of firs stood out black and forbidding. In the
distance could be heard the faint lapping of the sea.

They walked in silence. Once only did Mary exclaim aloud, out of the
many conflicting thoughts that were going round in her head: "Lizzie,
of course, must know nothing. The last thing John will want is for her
to be worried or upset."

And Mahony: "It will not be long now before she and every one else has
to know."

" When I think . . . how . . . how proud she has been of it all--I
mean John's position . . . and their entertainments . . . and his
future--how she has looked forward to the title coming. . . Oh dear,
oh dear! If only Jinny were beside him now . . . or poor dear Emma."

On reaching the house they unlatched the gate with care, and crept like
a pair of conspirators over the grass, to avoid the noise their steps
would have made on the gravel. The venetian blinds were down, but bars
of light filtered through them in Lizzie's bedroom on the one side, and
in John's sanctum on the other. Mary tiptoed round the verandah, and
tapped on her brother's window-pane.

"It is I, John. . . . Mary."

There was a moment's pause, then the French window was noiselessly
opened, and she disappeared inside the room.

On the front verandah a rocking-chair had been left standing. Mahony
sat down in it and waited . . . and waited. Time passed; an hour . . .
two hours . . . and still Mary did not return. Lizzie's light had long
ago gone out; not a sound came from the house; nor did any living thing
move in garden or road. So absolute was the stillness that, more than
once as he sat, he heard a petal drop from a camellia in the central
bed. John had a fine show of these stiff, scentless flowers. They stood
out, white and waxen, against the dark polish of their leaves.

It was spring, and a night warm enough to release the scents of freesia
and boronia; though as usual the pittosporums outdid all else. There
was no moon; but the stars made up for that; the sky was powdered white
with them--was one vast field of glittering silver. Leaning back in
his chair Mahony lay looking up at them and thinking the old, well-worn
thoughts that besiege a mortal at sight of the Creator's prodigality.
Pigmy man's insignificance in face of these millions of worlds; the
preposterousness of the claim that his tiny existence can engage the
personal notice of Him who has strewn the Milky Way; and yet the bitter
reality of his small, mad miseries, the bottomless depths of his mental
anguish: pain, as the profoundest of life's truths, the link by which
man is bound up with the Eternal . . . pain that bites so much deeper
than pleasure, outlasting pleasure's froth and foam as granite outlasts
thistledown.

And now John's link was being forged . . . his turn had come to taste
pain's bitterness--John who, all his days, had looked haughtily down
on weakness and decay, as touching others, not himself. The material
things of this world had been his pride and his concern. His soul, that
poor soul which Mary, once more the comforter, was standing by in its
black hour, had gone needy and untended. Now he was being called on to
leave everything he prized: marriage and happiness, wealth, a proud
standing, ambition crowned. Never, in his forward march, had John
looked deeper; though in his own way he had walked according to his
lights: a man of enterprise and energy, upright in business, grappling
with the hardships of a new country, a pathfinder for those who would
come after.--Yet for all this, a strangely unsympathetic nature! It
was not alone the absence of the spiritual in him. It was the cold,
proud, narrow fashion in which he had lived enclosed in his earthy
shell, keeping the door rigidly shut on intruders. No one had really
known John--known what manner of man housed within. Perhaps he had
acted thus out of fear; had been afraid of the strange fears that might
be found in him. Afraid of his fellows discovering that he was hollow,
a sham and a pretence, where they had imagined wonderful strength and
lovely virtues.

Well! . . . be that as it might. The time was past for probing
and conjecturing. John's hour had struck; and the phantom which had
thus far borne his name, striding confident and alert through the world
of men, would soon be blotted out. However one looked at it, it was a
melancholy business. The swiftness of the blow made one realise, anew,
on the edge of what an abyss one walked. Life was like a procession
that trooped along this perilous margin, brimful of hope and vigour,
gay, superbly unthinking; and then of a sudden there was a gap in the
ranks, and one of the train had vanished, had pitched head-foremost
into the depths, to be seen no more--by mortal eyes at least. Such a
disaster must surely say--to those who had pinned their hearts to this
world, with no more than a conventional faith in one to come (which
amounted to little or none)--must surely seem to say: take all you can
get while there is still time! A little while and it may be too late.
Even in himself, who had won through to the belief that life was a kind
of semi-sleep, death the great awakening, it called up the old nervous
fear of being snatched away before he was ready to go. One lived on . . .
HE lived on . . . inactive as a vegetable . . . and at any moment the
blow might fall, and his chance be gone for ever--of doing what he had
meant to do, of seeing what he had meant to see. And now, sitting there
under the multitudinous stars, Mahony let the smothered ache for
movement, the acute longing for change of scene that was smouldering in
him, come to full consciousness. Yes, there was no denying it: the old
restlessness was strong on him again; he was tired of everything he
knew--tired of putting on his clothes in the morning and taking them
off at night; tired of nursery talk and the well-known noises about the
house, and the faces he saw every day. Tired of his books, too, and of
his own familiar company. He wanted fresh scenes and people; wanted to
open his eyes on new surroundings; be on the move again--feel a deck
under his feet, and the rigours of a good head wind--all this, while
health and a semblance of youth were left him. Another few years and he
would be past enjoying it. Now was the time to make the break . . . cut
his bonds . . . front Mary's grief and displeasure.

Mary. At her name the inner stiffening, the resistance, with which his
mind had approached her, yielded; and in its place came a warm uprush
of feeling. Her behaviour this very night--how surely and
fearlessly she had come to the stricken man's aid, without a single
hampering thought of self! There was nobody like Mary in a crisis:
happy the mortal who, when his end came, had her great heart to lean
on. That was worth all else. For of what use, in one's last hour, would
be the mental affinity, the ties of intellect he had lately so pitied
himself for having missed? One would see these things then for the
earth-trimmings they were. A child faced with the horrors of the dark
does not ask for his fears to be shared, or to have their origin
explained to him. He cries for warm, enfolding arms with which to keep
his terrors at bay; or which, if met these must be, alone can help him
through the ordeal. Man on his death-bed was little more than such a
child; and it was for the mother-arms he craved, to which he clung in
passing, until, again like a child, he had dropped to sleep. Hope,
faith and love, these three . . . yes, but needed was a love like
Mary's, compounded of utter selflessness, and patience, and infinite
forbearance--a love which it was impossible to sin against or
overthrow . . . which had more than a touch of the divine in it; was a
dim image of that infinite tenderness God Himself might be assumed to
bear towards the helpless beings He had created. Measured by it, all
other human experience rang hollow.




Chapter IV



Mamma and Papa were going away; Master Cuffy would need to be a VERY
good boy and do everything he was told; so that Mamma would be pleased
with him when she came back. Thus Nannan, while Eliza and she gave the
three children their morning bath; and four blue and two black eyes
were turned on her in curiosity and wonderment. Cuffy, extending his
arm to have the raindrops rubbed off it, echoed her words: "Mamma and
Papa goin' away!" It sounded exciting.

After breakfast he broke the news to Effalunt, who, though now in his
old age, hairless, and a leg short, was still one of the best beloveds;
for Cuffy had a faithful heart.

Going away? What would it be like? Hi-spy-hi in the garden? . . . or a
pitchnick? . . . or Mamma putting on a pretty dress wif beads round her
neck?

He played at it during the morning: he got under an opossum-rug and was
a bear to the Dumplings, and go'ed away. Later on, he was allowed to
crawl inside a leather trunk that stood in Mamma's bedroom, and have
the lid NEARLY shut over him.

The carriage came round after lunch; the trunk was hoisted to the roof;
Mamma and Papa had their bonnets on.

There stood Nannan, a Dumpling's hand in each of hers. The babies,
though o-eyed, were serene; but Cuffy by now was not so sure. He had
watched Mamma's dresses being put into the trunk and Eliza sitting on
it, to make it shut; and the thing that worried him was, how Mamma
could get up in the morning if her clothes were locked inside the big
box. He began to feel uncomfortable. And so, now the moment had come,
he was busy being a horse, capering up and down the verandah, stamping,
tossing his head.

The Dumplings obediently put up their faces and offered their bud-mouths.
Cuffy had to be called to order.

Said Mary: "Why, darling, aren't you coming to kiss Mamma and
Papa good-bye? Or be a little sorry they're going?"

Sorry? Why? He hadn't been naughty! Perfunctorily Cuffy did what was
required of him, but his heart went on being a horse.

It was not till night that the trouble broke. Then, as often as Nannan
entered the nursery, he was sitting bolt upright and wide-eyed in his
crib, his little face looking each time wanner and whiter as he piped:
"Is Cuffy's Mamma and Papa tum 'ome yet, Nannan?"

"There you have it!" said Nurse to Eliza. "This is what happens when
gentlemen get to interfering in things they don't understand. If the
doctor 'ud just 'ave let me say they were gone to a party, there'd 'ave
been none of this. Master Cuffy knows well enough what a party is, and
though it 'ad lasted for weeks it wouldn't 'ave made any difference to
him, bless 'is little heart! It's the things they DON'T understand that
worries children. This fad now that they must 'ave nothing but the
truth told 'em. Lord bless you! If we did that, there soon wouldn't be
any more children left . . . nothing but little old men and women."

And to mark her disapproval of Mahony's methods, Nannan kept the
forbidden lamp alight, and sat by the cribside with Cuffy's hand in
hers till he fell asleep.


* * * * *


Meanwhile Mary and Richard had taken the afternoon train to Ballarat.
For the date set for Tilly's marriage had come right in the middle of
the trouble about John.

Seated in a saloon carriage Mary undid her bonnet-strings and put her
feet up on the cushions. Off at last! And opposite her sat Richard--a
morose and unamiable Richard, it was true, who made it abundantly plain
that he was being dragged to Ballarat against his will. Still, there he
was, and that was the main thing. Up to the last minute she hadn't felt
sure of him.

She had early determined that it was his duty to be present at Tilly's
wedding, and had spared no pains to win him over. Hadn't it to a
certain extent been his fault that Tilly's plans had failed, the time
she stayed with them before Cuffy was born? If he had not been so down
on her, the plot she was hatching might then and there have come to a
head. As it was, one thing after another had happened to delay
the issue. Misunderstanding Tilly's abrupt departure, Purdy had
disappeared up-country again, on his commercial rounds. Then, still
up-country somewhere, he had been in a frightful buggy-accident, pitching
out head-foremost, and all but breaking his neck. For months nothing
could be heard of him, he lying at death's door with concussion and
broken bones, in a little bush hospital. When Tilly did finally
contrive to run him to earth, he was literally at his last farthing,
and a sick and broken man. Tilly had behaved like her own splendid
self: waiving any false pride, she had journeyed straight to see him;
and at their very first meeting they had arrived at an understanding
(Mary could make a shrewd guess how) and were now to be man and wife.
An even more urgent reason why Richard should appear at the wedding
was, it would greatly improve Purdy's social standing, if it became
known that Dr. Mahony had travelled all the way from Melbourne to be
present. And Purdy, poor fellow, could well do with such a lift. Even
she, Mary, who had known him in so many a tight fit, had felt shocked
at his condition after his last adventure.

Thus she reflected as she watched the landscape slip past: yellowish-grey
flats, or stone-strewn paddocks tufted with clumps of brown grass,
all of which she had seen too often before to pay much heed to them.
Still she never wanted to read in a train. So unlike Richard, whose
idea of a journey was to bury himself in a book from start to finish.
At the present moment he was deep in a pamphlet entitled: "The Unity,
Duality or Trinity of the Godhead?"--Tch, what questions he did vex
his head with! . . . he must always be trying to settle the universe.
If only he would sometimes give his poor brains a rest.

He was looking pale and washed out, too, not by any means his best. . .
for meeting all the old friends. But what could you expect if he WOULD
spend his life cooped up indoors?--never leaving the house except to
attend long, hot seances; or sittings with Gracey. And these had rather
fallen off of late. Mary didn't know why, and he said nothing; but
Lizzie as usual was prolific in hints. Poor old Richard! She did hope
things would go smoothly for him during the next three days. She would
feel relieved when they were over.

But no sooner did they reach Ballarat than the trouble began.
On the platform stood Tilly, wreathed in smiles, open-armed in welcome,
but gone, alas, was the decent and becoming black to which, as "old
Mrs. Ocock," she had been faithful for so long. In its stead . . .
well, there was no mincing the fact: she looked fit for PUNCH! Her
dress, of a loud, bottle-green satin, was in the very latest mode, worn
entirely without crinoline, so that her full form was outlined in
unspeakable fashion; her big capable hands were squeezed into
lemon-coloured kid gloves, tight to bursting, and on her head perched a
monstrous white hat, turned up at the side and richly feathered.

"Oh dear, oh dear!"

For Mary knew very well that neither the genuine sincerity of Tilly's
greeting, nor her multitudinous arrangements for their comfort, would
suffice to blot from Richard's mind the figure she cut this day.

Climbing to the driver's seat of an open buggy, all her feathers
afloat, Tilly trotted a pair of cream ponies in great style up Sturt
Street. Of course everybody in Ballarat knew her, so it didn't matter
for herself what she looked like. It was Richard who was to be pitied.

The next thing to provoke him was the arbitrary way in which she
disposed of his personal liberty. She had it all fixed and settled
that, directly supper was over, he should go back to town, to
"Moberley's Hotel," and there spend the evening with the bridegroom-elect.

"She wants them to be seen in public together," thought Mary as she
helped Richard on with his overcoat and muffled him up in a comforter;
for the air on this tableland struck cold, after Melbourne's sea-level.
"And for that, of course, there's no better place than Moberley's
Coffee Room."--Aloud she said reprovingly: "Ssh! She'll hear you. You
know, dear, you needn't stop long." But Richard, chilly and tired from
the railway journey, looked as though he could cheerfully have
consigned Tilly and her nuptials to Hades.

"And now you and I can 'ave a real cosy evening, love, while the lords
of creation smoke and jaw about early days," said dear blind old Tilly.
Or perhaps she was not quite so blind as she seemed; and just wanted to
be rid of Richard and the atmosphere of glacial politeness that
went out from him. Anyhow off he set, with a very bad grace, and the
two women retired to Tilly's bedroom. Here a great log fire burned on
the whitewashed hearth; and Tilly kept the poker in her hand with which
to thump the logs, did the blaze threaten to fail. This dyed the
dimity-hangings of the fourposter; made ruddy pools in the great
mahogany wardrobe.

Said Tilly: "Well, here we are again, Poll, you and me, like so often
before . . . and the day after to-morrow's me wedding-day. 'Pon my word
it's hard to believe; and yet . . . I don't know, dearie, but somehow
it seems no time since us three bits of girls used to sit over the fire
and gas about all the grand things that was going to happen to us.
That's ages back, and yet, except that we're grown a bit hulkier you
and me, it might be only yesterday. I don't feel a day older and that's
the truth; which is odd when you come to think of it . . . with pa and
ma and Jinn and poor old Pa all gone, these ever so many years! I say,
DO you remember, Poll, how Purd used to ride down from Melbourne? And
how, when 'e'd gone, I 'd count the days off on me fingers till 'e'd
come again?"

"I think you're a very lucky woman, Tilly, to get your heart's wish
like this. I do hope it will bring you every happiness."

"I think it will, Poll. I'm not going into it with my eyes shut, or any
of the flighty notions one has as a young girl--heaven on earth and
bunkum of that sort. But now, listen to me, dearie, there's things I
want to say to you. First of all, Mary, I've fixed, once we're spliced,
for Tom and Johnny to come back to this house--which they never ought
to 'ave left. I won't say it 'asn't taken a bit of managing. But my
mind was quite made up. It's gone to my heart, all these years, to see
how badly those poor lads were cared for. Enough to make poor old Pa
turn in 'is grave."

But Mary had raised her eyebrows. For all its kindness, she thought the
plan a most unwise one. Just suppose Purdy should turn nasty! In subtle
connection the question sprang to her lips: "What about the money side
of it--settlements, and all that?"

Tilly nodded. "Ah! I can see what you're thinking, love--
writing me down a lovesick old fool who's going to let Pa's good money
be made ducks and drakes of. It's true, most of what I've got WILL pass
to Purd, to do as 'e likes with. But somehow I don't believe 'e'll be a
waster. A man who's gone short as long as him . . . However, just in
case, Poll"--here Tilly sank her voice to a mysterious hiss--"the
fact is, love, I've got a reserve fund of my own, a nest-egg so to
speak, which I don't mean to let on one word about . . . no, not to
anybody. Except you. I've laid something by, my dear, in the last few
years, made a bit at the races; sold out of BLAZING DIAMONDS in the
nick of time; and the long and the short of it is, Mary, I've between
seven and eight thousand by me at this very minute. What's more, I
intend to keep it; just let it lie, have it to draw on, in case of
trouble. One never knows. I've got a small tin box, my dear, and out in
the dairy, going down the ladder into the cellar, a flag's come loose,
which just leaves room for it. There's no chance there of fire, or
thieves either--no one but myself even sets foot in the place. And if
anything happens to me, it's there you'll find it. The boys are to have
it, if I go first. For as you can see, love, with no blood-tie between
them and me, there wouldn't be much call on Purd, would there, to
support 'em after my death?"

Indeed that was true; nor could Purdy be blamed, if he failed to
recognise the obligation. It said a good deal for him that he was
willing to accept, as inmates of his house, these two middle-aged men,
one of whom was a confirmed drunkard with lucid intervals, the other
little more than an overgrown child. As for Tilly's plan of keeping a
large sum of money on the premises, risky though it seemed, Mary
faltered in her criticism of it. For she knew too well the advantage of
a private purse into which you could dip at will. Instead of having to
run to your husband with all the little extra expenses that WOULD crop
up, spare as you might. These were never kindly greeted. Richard, too,
had been the most generous of husbands, and she a fairly good manager.
Tilly on the other hand was lavish and lordly with money, Purdy still a
dark horse in respect of it.

Another thing, as long as Purdy and Mr. Henry knew nothing,
Tilly could neither be wheedled out of her savings nor bullied into
reinvesting them.

When at the end of an hour the two women kissed good-night, Tilly
uttered her usual request: "Now mind, not a word to the doctor!"

Oh dear no! (HOW Richard would have jeered!) Besides, when he got home
some half-hour later, he was so full of a new grudge against Tilly that
every word had to be weighed, for fear of fanning the flames. It seemed
that on reaching Moberley's, he had found Purdy the centre of a rowdy
party, whose noise and laughter could be heard even before he entered
the hotel. More: his appearance was totally unexpected. Purdy looked as
if he couldn't believe his eyes; ejaculated: "What, Dick? You here
already?" and then turned back to his companions--the motley
collection of commercial travellers and bar-haunters he had gathered
round him. Ten minutes of this were enough for Mahony; he slipped
unobserved from the room. Recognising, however, that the appointment
had been a ruse on Tilly's part to get rid of him, he did not come back
to the house, but took a long walk round the lake in the dark. There,
at least, he could be sure of not meeting any one he knew.

He seemed to have this idea of dodging familiar faces on the brain. Did
ever any one hear the like? . . . on his return, for the first time, to
the place where he had spent a third of his life . . . where he had
been so well known and sought after. But really JUST how odd Richard
had become, Mary did not grasp till now. And before the following day
was out, she was heartily sorry she had not left him at home. One of
his worst bad nights did not help to mend matters. He vowed he had not
missed the striking of a single hour; but had tossed and turned on a
too hard bed, in a too light room, listening to the strange noises of a
strange house, and wakened for good and all long before dawn, by the
crowing of "a thousand infernal roosters." Before any one else stirred
he was up and out, on a long tramp bushwards.

There was nothing to be done with him. Summoned to the drawing-room to
greet Amelia Grindle and Agnes Ocock, who drove over immediately after
breakfast "for a glimpse of our darling Mary," he was so stiff and
found so little to say that poor Amelia, timid and fluttery as ever,
hardly dared to raise her eyes from her boots. Thereafter Mary
left him in peace on the back verandah, and sought to waylay Tilly,
whose main idea of hospitality--poor old Tilly!--was continually to
be bothering him with something to eat.

The person who did not look near was Purdy; and this was an additional
source of offence. The least he could have done, said Richard, was to
ride out and make up for his offensive behaviour of the night before.
Didn't the fellow grasp that he, Mahony, had come to Ballarat solely
with the object of doing him a good turn? Privately Mary thought it
very unlikely that Purdy, or Tilly either, saw Richard's presence in
this light. Aloud she observed that he must know it would not be
considered proper for the bridegroom to hang about the house, the day
before the wedding. But Richard said: propriety be hanged!

He also flouted her suggestion that he should himself pay some visits--
look up the Archdeacon, or Chinnery of the National, or those
colleagues on hospital or asylum with whom he had once been intimate.

"Not I! If they want to see me, let THEM make the overture."

"Don't be silly. Of course they'd like to see you again."

"I know better."

"Then why, if you're so sure of it, feel hurt because they don't come?
For that's what you are," said Mary bluntly. She wore a large
cooking-apron over her silk gown, and looked tired but content. She had
helped to set the wedding-breakfast on long trestle-tables running the
length of the hall; had helped to pack and strap the bride's trunks for
the journey to Sydney; had baked some of her famous cakes, and laid the
foundation for the more elaborate cream dishes that were to be whipped
up the first thing next morning.

She went on: "Personally, I don't see how you can expect people to run
after you, when you've never troubled to keep up with them . . .
written a line or sent a message." And just because she herself thought
SOME of Richard's old friends might have done him the compliment of
calling, Mary spoke very warmly. Adding: "Well, at least you'll take a
stroll round the old place now you're here, and see how it's grown."

"Indeed and I'll do nothing of the sort! . . . now don't start
badgering me, Mary. Why on earth should I go to the trouble of
soldering old links, for the sake of a single day? I'll never be here
again."

"Tch, tch!" said Mary. "With you it's always yourself . . . nothing but
I, I, I!"

"Well, upon my word! . . . I like that. After me dragging all this way
. . . not to speak of being perched up to-morrow before a churchful of
people, for them to stare at!"

At this Mary laughed aloud. "Oh, Richard! As if they would ever think
of looking at anybody but the bride! . . . or bridegroom."

But Richard, it seemed, suffered from an intense nervous conviction
that he would be a target for all eyes.


* * * * *


Something before three o'clock the following afternoon, Mary stood on
the front verandah, which was white and scrunchy with flowers and rice,
and watched him, carpet-bag in hand, make a dash for gate, trap, and
the train that was to carry him back to town. Indoors the guests still
lingered: you could hear a buzz of talk, the clink of glasses, the
rustle of silk; and she herself was not leaving till next day, having
promised Tilly first to see the house restored to order. But nothing
would persuade Richard to stop a moment longer than was necessary. He
fled.

Tossing hat and bag on the cushions of the railway carriage, Mahony
fell into a seat and wiped his forehead. Doors slammed; a bell rang;
they were off. Well, THAT was over, thank God!... and never, no, never!
would he let himself be trapped into this kind of thing again. To begin
with, he had been inveigled here on false pretences. It no doubt
buttered Tilly's vanity to see his name topping the list of her
wedding-guests. But as far as all else was concerned, he might have
stayed comfortably at home. Purdy had not cared a threepenny-bit one
way or the other. As for it ever dawning on the fellow that he was
being given a leg-up--a social safe-conduct, so to speak--all such
rubbish originated in Mary's confounded habit of reading her own ideas
into other people. At his expense.

But while he could dismiss Tilly and her folly with a smile, Purdy's
bovine indifference roused a cold resentment in him.
Consciously he had washed his hands of the connection long since. And
yet it seemed as if a part of him still looked for gratitude--or at
least a show of gratitude--did he exert himself on Purdy's behalf.
Which was absurd.--And anyhow Purdy had never been famous for delicacy
of feeling--a graceless, thankless beggar from the start. In his
heyday, a certain debonair blitheness had cloaked his shortcomings.
Now, time having robbed him of every charm, he stood revealed in all
his crudity: obese, loose-mouthed, with an eye grown shifty from
overreaching his fellow-men: HOW he plumed himself on his skill as a
Jeremy Diddler! Oh, this insufferable exaggeration!--this eternal
bragging . . . even while they were waiting in church for the arrival
of the bride, he had been unable to refrain. Mary said: "Do have
patience. Mark my words, Tilly will knock him into shape." But Mahony
doubted it. Once a boaster, always a boaster!--besides, the fair fat
Tilly was too far gone in love to wish to chip and change her chosen.
Her face had been oily with bliss as she stood with her groom before
the altar, he in a check the squares of which could have been counted
from across the road, draped in a watch-chain on which he might have
hanged himself; she, puce-clad, in a magenta bonnet topped with roses
the size of peonies, which sat crooked over one ear. (Mary, cool and
pale in silver grey, looked as though sprung from a different branch of
the human race.)

What a farce the whole thing had been! . . . from beginning to end. The
congratulations he had had to smirk a response to on "his friend's"
marriage, "his friend's" good fortune. Then old Long's flowery periods,
which would have well befitted a dewy damsel of eighteen, but bordered
on the ludicrous when applied to Tilly, who would never see forty
again, and had been through all this before. Henry Ocock "giving away"
his mature stepmother and her money-bags, his father's money-bags,
those bags that should by rights have descended to HIS son: in spite of
his sleek suavity, it was not hard to imagine the wrath that burned
behind Henry's chalky face and boot-button eyes. He was ageing, was
Henry; white hairs showed in his jetty beard and the creasing of his
lids made him look foxier than ever. But so it was with all of them.
Those he had left young were now middle-aged the middle-aged had grown
old. Like Henry's, their faces had not improved in the process.
Time seemed to show up the vacancy that had once been overlaid by
rounded cheeks and a smooth forehead. Or else the ugly traits in a
nature, ousting the good, had been bitten in as by an etcher's acid. He
wondered what secrets his own phiz held, for those who had eyes to see.
The failures and defeats his prime had been spent in enduring--had
each left its special mark, in the shape of hollow, or droop, or
wrinkle? Oh, his return to this hated place called up bitter memories
from their graves: raised one obscene ghost after another, for his
haunting. Here, he was to have garnered the miraculous fortune that
would lift him for ever out of the mud of poverty; here had dreamt the
marriage that was to be like no other on earth; here turned back, with
a big heart, to the profession that should ensure him ease and renown--
even the cutting himself loose, when everything else had miscarried,
was to have heralded the millennium.--No! one's past simply did not
bear thinking about. Looking back was wormwood and a wound. It meant
remembering all the chances you had not taken; the gaudy soap-bubble
schemes that had puffed out at a breath; meant an inward writhing at
the toll of the years flown by, empty of achievement--at the way in
which you had let him get the better of you. Time, which led down and
down, with a descent ever steeper and more rapid, till it landed
you . . . in who knew what Avernus?--Nervously Mahony unclasped his bag
and rummaged a book from its depths. To lose himself in another's thoughts
was the one anodyne left him.

The train was racing now. They had passed Navigator, white and sweet
with lucerne; and the discomforts and absurdities of the past forty-eight
hours were well behind him.


* * * * *


Cuffy, playing that evening on the front verandah, was surprised by the
sudden advent of his father, who caught him up, tossed and soundly
kissed him with a: "And how is my little man? How is my darling?" But
at three years old even a short absence digs a breach. Cuffy had had
time to grow shy. He coloured, hung his head, looked sideways along the
floor; and as soon as he was released pattered off to Nannan and the
nursery.




Chapter V



The old mahogany fourposter with the red rep hangings had been brought
out from among the lumber, and set up afresh in John's study. And soon
after his interview with Mahony John shifted his quarters to this room,
on the pretence of sleeping poorly and disturbing his wife. Lizzie
raised fierce objections to the change. It took Mary to mollify her,
and to insist that she must now place her own health and comfort above
everything. Save in this one point, it was true, Lizzie needed small
persuasion. The household danced to her whims.

Emmy's room was only a trifle nearer the study than the other bedrooms;
but in everything that touched her father the girl's senses were
preternaturally acute. And so it happened that she started out of her
first sleep, wakened she did not know by what, but conscious, even as
she opened her eyes, of sounds coming from her father's room--the
strange, heart-rending sounds of a man crying. Sitting up in bed, her
hands pressed to her breast, Emmy listened till she could bear it no
longer: stealthily unlatching the door, she crept down the passage to
the study. And there, on this and many another night, she lay crouched
on the mat, her heart bursting with love and pity; while John,
believing himself alone with his Maker, railed and rebelled, in blind
anguish, against his fate. Yes, Emmy knew before any one else that some
disaster had come upon her father. And in the riot of emotion the
knowledge stirred in her, there was one drop of sweetness: she alone
shared his secret.

The feeling of intimacy this engendered did much to help her over the
days of suspense that followed; when she waited from hour to hour for
the unknown blow to fall. She confided in no one--not even Aunt Mary.
Her father himself she dared not approach. Papa was so stern with her.
Once, after a night when she really thought her heart would break, she
ventured a timid: "Papa, if there is anything . . . I mean, Papa . . .
if I could . . ." But he stared so angrily at her that she
turned and ran from the room, for fear of bursting out crying--as much
at the sound of her own words and the feeling of self-pity they roused
in her, as at his cold repulse. She did not see the look he threw after
her as she went. "Her mother's daughter," was his muttered comment; and
long past days rose before him, when there had been one at his side
from whom nothing was hid. Tatting and crocheting, crocheting and
tatting, Emmy gave her imagination free play. A failure in business,
even bankruptcy was the solution she favoured--being still too young
to face of herself the destructive thought of death. And did this
happen, and Papa lose all his money, then would come HER chance. He
would learn that he had one faithful soul at his side, one shoulder to
lean on. Together they would go away, he and she, right into the bush
if necessary, and start life afresh. But again there were moments when
she indulged an even dearer hope: at last, perhaps, Papa was beginning
to see what a dreadful mistake his marriage had been.

For Emmy hated her stepmother; hated her, and sat in judgment on her,
with the harshness of the young creature who has been wounded in her
tenderest susceptibilities. Thus, though for the most part she rejoiced
to know Lizzie among the uninitiated, she could also burn with a
furious, unreasoning anger against her for living on, so blindly, so
selfishly, without noticing that something was amiss. At sight of the
big woman lying stretched on her CHAISE LONGUE, idly fanning herself,
book and vinaigrette at her elbow; or Papa bathing her temples for her
with lavender-water, or running errands for her like a servant--at
things like these Emmy clenched her fist, and averted her tell-tale
eyes. She hated, too, Lizzie's vigorous, exaggerated manner of
speaking; hated the full red lips that went in and out and up and down
when she talked; her affected languor. . . her unwieldy figure . . .
the baby that was on the way.

But with the crash came also the chance of revenge. Then it was Emmy's
turn; and she could say in all good faith: "Oh, DON'T let her--don't
let . . . Mamma go in to him, Aunt Mary! She worries him so." As
always, there was just the suspicion of a pause--a kind of intake of
the breath--before she got the "Mamma" out; a name here bestowed for
the third time, and only after a severe inward struggle,
because HE had wished it.

Meanwhile John's serene and dignified existence had shattered to its
foundations; carrying with it, in its fall, the peace and security of
those lesser lives that depended on it. For close on six months, he had
kept his own counsel. With his once full lips pinched thin in his old,
greying face, he went doggedly to and from the warehouse in Flinders
Lane, as he had done every day for five-and-twenty years: driving off
at nine of a morning, and returning as the clock struck six to escort
Lizzie to any entertainment she still cared to patronise: and this,
though his skin had gone the colour of dry clay or a dingy plaster, and
he was so wasted that his clothes seemed to flap scarecrow-like on his
bones. Mary's heart bled for him; and even Richard was moved to remark
that what John must be suffering, both mentally and physically, God
alone knew. But they could only pity in silence; open compassion was
not to be thought of: after the one terrible night Mary had spent with
John, the subject of his illness was taboo, even to her. Alone,
sheathed in his impenetrable reserve, he prepared for his departure;
bade farewell, behind locked doors, to a life of surpassing interest,
now cut short in mid-career. In politics, his place would not be hard
to fill. But of the great business he had built up he was still the
mainspring; and, in a last spurt of his stiff pride, he laboured to
leave all that concerned it in perfect order.--And yet, watching him
with her heart in her eyes, Mary sometimes wondered... wondered whether
the unquenchable optimism that had made him the man he was had even yet
wholly deserted him. He had had so little experience of illness, and
was, she knew, still running privily from doctor to specialist; giving
even quacks and their remedies a trial. Did he nurse a hope that
medical opinion, right in ninety-nine cases, might prove wrong in his,
and he have the hundredth chance? One thing at least she knew: he
intended, if humanly possible, to bear up till the child was born and
Lizzie better able to withstand the blow.

But this was not to be. The morning came when, in place of rising and
tapping at his wife's door, solicitously to inquire how she had passed
the night, John, beaten at last, lay prostrate in his bed . . . from
which he never rose again.

A scene of the utmost confusion followed. Mary, summoned just
as she was sitting down to breakfast, found Lizzie in hysterics, John
writhing in an agony he could no longer conceal. The scared servants
scuttled aimlessly to and fro; the children, but half dressed, cried in
a corner of the nursery. Emmy alone had her wits about her--though
she, too, shook as with the ague.

Meeting Mary at the front door, she held out two clasped hands
imploringly. "Oh . . . what is it? Aunt Mary! what is the matter with
Papa?"

"Emmy . . . your poor, dear father--my darling, I look to you to be
brave and help me--he will need all our help now."

Long prepared for some such emergency, Mary took control. Dispatching
the groom at a gallop for the doctor, she mixed a soothing-draught for
Lizzie ("See to her first," was John's whispered request) and gave John
the strongest opiate she dared. The children were put in the carriage,
and sent to "Ultima Thule." Then, as Richard had directed, Mary cleared
the sickroom of superfluous furniture; while Emmy bore a note to Miss
Julia--Mary's sole confidante. And faithful to a promise, Miss Julia
was back with Emmy inside an hour. Without her aid she at once saw to
Lizzie, and brought the servants to their senses--without this sane,
calm presence, Mary did not know how she would have managed, John from
the start obstinately refusing to let her out of his sight. Or for that
matter without Emmy either . . . Emmy was her right hand. Nimble, yet
light-footed as a cat; tireless; brave; Emmy now proved her mettle.
Nothing was beneath her: she performed the most menial duties of the
sickroom with a kind of fiery, inner gratitude. And, these done, would
sit still as a mouse, a scrap of needlework in her hand, just waiting
for the chance of springing up afresh. Her young face grew thin and
peaked, and the life went out of her step; but she never complained, or
sought to obtrude her own feelings. Only one person knew what she was
suffering. It was on Auntie Julia's neck that she had had her single
breakdown, and wept out her youthful passion of love and despair.

"What shall I do! Oh, what SHALL I do?"

And Auntie Julia, knowing everything, understanding everything, wisely
let her cry and cry till she could cry no more. "There, there, my
little one! There, there!" But after this Emmy did not again
give way. Indeed, thought Mary, there was something in her of John's
own harsh self-mastery: a trait that sat oddly on her soft and lovely
girlhood.

Lizzie was the sorest trial. But then, poor thing, was it to be
wondered at in her condition, and after the shock John had given her?
For when, that first morning he failed to present himself at her
bedside, Lizzie passed in a twinkling from a mood of pettish surprise
to one of extreme ungraciousness. The housemaid was peremptorily bidden
to go knock at the master's door and ask the reason of his negligence.
The girl's confused stammerings throwing no light on this, Emmy was
loudly rung for. "Pray, my love, be so good as to find out if your
Papeh, who has evidently FORGOTTEN to wish me a good-morning, does not
intend going to town to-day!" And when Emmy, sick and trembling, yet
with a kind of horrific satisfaction, returned bearing John's brutal
reply: "No, not to-day, nor ever again!" Lizzie, now thoroughly roused,
threw on a wrapper and swept down the passage to her husband's room.

On discovering the true state of things she dropped to the floor in a
swoon. Restored to consciousness and got back to bed, she fell to
screaming in hysterical abandonment--on his arrival the doctor had
more to do for her than for John, and pulled a long face. And even when
the danger of a premature confinement was over, and the worst of the
hysteria got under, she would lie and sob and cry, breaking out, to
whoever would listen, in wild accusations.

"Oh, Mary, love! When I think HOW I have been deceived! . . . the trick
that has been played on me . . . me who ought to have known before any
one else. John and his secrecy!--he has made a fool of me, even in the
eyes of the servants."

"My poor, dear Lizzie! Do believe me, he only wanted to spare you . . .
as long as he could. Consider him now, and his sufferings, and don't
make it harder for him than you can help. Think, too, of your baby."

But she might as well have talked to a post: Lizzie continued stormily
to weep and to rail. The two older women bore patiently with her, even
coming to consider it a good thing that she was thus able to vent her
emotion. It remained for Emmy, Emmy with the hard and unyoung look her
face assumed when she spoke of her stepmother, to make the
bitter comment: "She's not really SORRY for Papa--she's SAVAGE, Aunt
Mary, that's what she is!"--a point of view which Mary herself was so
rigidly suppressing that it received but scant quarter. "Emmy, Emmy!
You must NOT say such things of your Mamma." But Richard declared the
girl had hit the nail on the head. It was herself and herself alone
Lizzie grieved for.

"And is it so unnatural? Has Fate not played her a shabby trick? She
took John, as we all know, because he was by far the best catch that
had ever come her way. Now, after a few brief years of glory, and when
her main ambition was about to materialise, the Lady Turnham-to-be sees
herself doomed to a widow's dreary existence: all weepers and
seclusion: with, for sole diversion, the care of an unwanted infant.
Not to speak of the posse of stepdaughters she has loaded herself up
with."

"It DOES sound harsh . . . the way you put it," said Mary, and re-tied
her bonnet-strings; she had run home one evening for a peep at her
children.

However, if he and Emmy were right about Lizzie and her feelings, then
what a blessing it was that John, in his illness, made no demands on
her, asking neither for nor after her. With his one request on the
morning of his collapse, that she should receive first attention, all
thought for her seemed exhausted: just as, in the brutal answer he
returned her by Emmy, had evaporated his love and care. From the sound
of her pitiless crying he turned with repugnance away. Did she enter
his room, with a swish of the skirts, either forgetting to lower her
voice or hissing in a melodramatic whisper, he was restless till she
withdrew. Except for Mary--and he fretted like a child if Mary were
long absent--John asked only to be alone.

On taking to his bed he had severed, at one stroke, every link with the
outside world: and soon he was to lie drug-sodden and mercifully
indifferent even to the small world of his sickroom. But before this
happened he expressed one wish--or rather gave a last order. The
nature of his illness was not to be made known beyond the family
circle.

"Trying to keep his Chinese Wall up to the end," said Mahony. "His
death--like his life--is to be nobody's business but his own. Well,
well . . . as a man lives so he shall die!"

But Mary was much perturbed. A dying man's whim--and as such,
of course, it had to be respected. But what COULD it hurt now whether
people knew what was the matter with him or not? Concealing the truth
meant all sorts of awkward complications. But Emmy, overhearing this,
flushed sensitively and looked distressed. "Oh, Aunt Mary, don't you
SEE? Papa is . . . is ASHAMED of having a cancer."

Ashamed? . . . ashamed of an illness? . . . Mary had never heard of
such a thing. But Richard, struck afresh by Emmy's acumen, declared:
"That's it! The girl is right. You call it a sick man's fancy, I the
exaggerated reserve of a lifetime, but Emmy knows better, sees deeper
than any of us." And added a moment later: "It strikes me, my dear,
that if instead of hankering after that impossible scapegrace of a son,
just because he WAS a son, your brother had had a little more eye for
the quick wits and understanding of his daughter, he might have been a
happier man."

News of the serious illness of the Honourable John Millibank Turnham,
M.L.C., brought an endless string of callers and inquirers to the door:
the muffled knocker thudded unceasingly. People came in their
carriages, on horseback, on foot; and included not merely John's
distracted partners, and his colleagues on the Legislative Council, but
many a lesser man and casual acquaintance--Mary herself marvelled to
see how widely known and respected John had been. And those who could
not come in person wrote letters of condolence, sent gifts of luscious
fruit and choice flowers and out-of-season delicacies--anything in
short of which kindly people could think, to prove their sympathy. It
was one person's while to receive the visitors, answer the letters,
acknowledge the gifts. Fortunately this very person was at hand in the
shape of Zara. Zara's elegant manners and her ease in expressing
herself on paper were exactly what was wanted.

She and Hempel were staying in lodgings at Fitzroy, prior to setting
out on the forlorn hope of a sea voyage. For, after numerous
breakdowns, poor Hempel--he looked as if the first puff of wind would
blow him overboard; Richard called him: "The next candidate for the
Resurrection!"--had been obliged definitely to abandon his pastorate.
In the meantime he was resting in bed from the fatigues of the
train journey, before undertaking the fresh fatigues to which Zara, in
her wilful blindness, condemned him.

At John's, Zara received in the dining-room among horsehair and
mahogany, as better befitting the occasion than the gilt and satin of
the drawing-room. Lugubriously clad, she spoke with the pious and
resigned air of one about to become a mourner. "My poor brother," "Our
great grief," "God's will be done!" But of an evening when the rush was
over, she carried to Lizzie a list of names and gifts and a sheaf of
letters.

Her sibilant tones were audible through the half-closed door. "Yes,
Judge O'Connor--yes, yes, my dear, himself in person! ... with his own
and his lady's compliments. . . desires to be kept informed of our dear
John's progress."

And Lizzie's rich, fruity tones: "Major Grenville, did you say? . . .
on behalf of his Excellency? Very gratifying . . . very gratifying
indeed!"

Mary was never one to jib at trifles. But as often as Emmy heard them
at it, she clenched her fist and ground her teeth. HOW she hated them!
. . . hated them. To be able to care who called and who didn't call,
when Papa lay dying! In her passionate young egoism she demanded that
there should be no room in any mind but for this single thought.

But, as week added itself to week, and John still lay prostrate, and
since, too, the most heartfelt inquiries evoked none but the
stereotyped response: "No improvement," the press of sympathisers
visibly declined. People ceased to call daily; came but once a week;
then at still wider intervals. And at length even the hardiest dropped
off, and a great stillness settled round the dying man. John was
forgotten; was reckoned to the dead before he was actually of them.
Only once more on earth would he, for a brief hour, play a leading
part.

The flawless constitution that had been so great an asset to him in
life stood him now in ill stead. His dying was arduous and protracted.
Behind the red rep hangings there went on one of those bitter struggles
with death that wring from even the least sensitive an amazed:
"Wherefore? To what end?" Cried Mahony, watching John's fruitless
efforts: "The day will come, I'm sure of it, when we shall agree to the
incurable sufferer being put painlessly away. We need a lethal
chamber, and not for dumb brutes alone." At which Mary looked
apprehensive, and wished he wouldn't. A good job he was no longer in
practice. Or what WOULD his patients have thought?

"Ah, thank God, the muzzle of medical etiquette is off my jowl!"

Meanwhile, thought his wife, he was in his element, all tenderness and
consideration for John--he went to endless trouble in procuring for
him the newest make of water-bed--which was just what one would expect
of Richard. Nor would he have him teased about religious questions or
his approaching end. On the other hand, had John shown the least desire
for religious consolation, Richard would have been the person to see
that he got it.

But this John did not. At those rare moments when he was awake to his
surroundings and tolerably free from pain, he lay exhausted and inert,
his eyes closed, and with little to distinguish him from one already
dead. What his innermost thoughts were, what his hopes and fears of a
hereafter, remained his own secret. The single wish that crossed his
lips seemed to point to his mind still occupying itself with earthly
things.

Mary, sewing beside the bed, looked up one day to find his sunken eyes
open and fastened on her.

She rose and leaned over him. "What is it, John? Do you want anything?"

He signified yes with his lids, sparing himself any superfluous word
for fear of rousing up his enemy. Then, in a thick, raucous whisper: "I
should like . . . to see . . . the boy. Yours."

Thus it came about--greatly against the wish of Mahony, who held that
illness and suffering were evil sights for childish eyes--that Cuffy
was one day lifted into the carriage beside Nannan, where he sat his
little legs a-dangle, clad in his best velvet tunic and with his Scotch
cap on his head. He looked pale and solemn. Nannan and Eliza had made
such funny faces at each other, and had whispered and whispered. And
while she was dressing him Nannan had talked about nothing but how good
and quiet he must be, and what would happen to him if he wasn't. In
consequence, directly he was set down from the carriage Cuffy started
walking on the tips of his toes; and on tiptoe, holding fast to his
nurse's hand, crept laboriously up the gravel path to the
house.

At the front door stood Cousin Emmy, who kissed him and led him in.
Like Nannan she, too, said: "Now you must be a VERY good boy, Cuffy,
and not make the least noise." Cuffy's heart began to thump with
anxiety: he walked more gingerly than before. The house felt like the
nursery when the Dumplings were asleep. Emmy opened a door into a room
that was quite dark. It had also a very nasty smell. Someone was
snoring. Cuffy tried to pull back.

"Now, be good, Cuffy!"

Then he was at his mother's knee, mechanically holding out his hands to
have his little gloves peeled off. But his thoughts were with his eyes
--pinned to some one lying in a bed . . . a man with a dark yellow face
and a grey beard, who was asleep and snoring--like Nannan did. Cuffy
did not associate this funny-looking person with his uncle; he just
stood and stared stupidly. Nevertheless, something very disturbing
began to go round inside him; and he swallowed hard.

Then two big black shiny eyes were awake and looking at him. They
looked and looked. Cuffy stood transfixed, his lips apart, his breath
coming unevenly, his own eyes round with a growing fear.

A yellow hand like a claw came over the bedclothes towards him, and
some one tried to speak; and only made a funny sound--and tried again.

". . . does you credit. But . . . at his age . . . John . . . a
finer . . . child." After which the eyes shut and the snoring began anew.

Then, though he had only just come, somebody said: "Kiss your uncle
good-bye, Cuffy."

This was too much. As he was lifted up Cuffy made protest, wildly
working his arms and legs. "No, no!"

But his lips had brushed something cold and clammy before, his clothes
all twisted round him, he was put back on the floor. And by then the
face on the bed had changed: the eyes were all wrinkles now; the mouth
like a big black hole. Somebody screamed. And now people were scurrying
about, and there came Aunt Lizzie running in her dressing-gown, and she
was naughty and cried, making the noise he had been told not to.
His own tears flowed; but true to his promise he did not utter
a sound.

Then some one took his hand and ran him out of the room to the
dining-room, where, his eyes wiped and his nose blown, Cousin Emmy gave
him a nectarine, which she peeled for him and cut up in quarters, because
it was "nicer so." He was also allowed to eat it messily, and not scolded
for letting the juice drip down his tunic.

But at home again, he felt the need of blowing out his shrunken
self-esteem. It was a chance, too, of making himself big in the eyes of
his playfellow Josey, the youngest of his three cousins, a long-legged
girl of seven, who domineered over him, smacked him and used his toys
without asking. There she came along the verandah, dragging his best
horse and cart--with her nasty big black eyes, and the hair that stuck
straight out behind her round comb.

Under seal of secrecy and with an odd sense of guilt, as if he was
doing something he ought not to, Cuffy confided to her his discovery
that big people could cry, too. "I seed your Mamma do it."

But in place of being impressed Josey was very angry. Grabbing the
secretmonger's silky topknot, she shook him soundly. "That's a storwy,
Cuffy Mahony, and you're a howwid storwy-teller! Gwownup people NEVER
cwy!" The fact that she spoke with a strong lisp, while a baby like
Cuffy would talk plainly, always rendered Josey very emphatic. Moreover
in the present case, she still burned with shame at the disgraceful
knowledge that not only Mamma could cry, but Papa, too.

John died five days later at midnight.

The afternoon before, an odd thing happened. Mary and Emmy were alone
with him, he lying drugged and comatose, and Mary had been fanning him,
for it was very warm. Outside, beneath a copper-coloured sky, a
scorching north wind blew; the windows of the room were shut against
swirling clouds of dust. There was no sound but John's laboured
breathing, and, exhausted, Mary thought she must have dropped into a
doze. For when, warned by a kind of instinct she started up, she saw
that John's eyes were open: he was gazing with a glassy stare at
the foot-end of the bed. And as she watched, an extraordinary
change came over the shrunken, jaundiced face. The eyes widened, the
pin-hole pupils dilated; while the poor, burst lips, on which were
black sores that would not heal, parted and drew back, disclosing the
pallid flesh of the gums. John was trying to smile.

A second later and the whole face was transfigured--lit by an
expression of rapturous joy. John even made an abortive effort to raise
himself--to hold out his arms. His breath came sobbingly.

"Emma! Oh, EMMA! . . . WIFE!"

At first sound of her name, Emmy sprang from her seat behind the
curtains and threw herself on her knees at the bedside, close to John's
groping hand. "Papa! . . . yes, oh yes? Oh, papa. . . DARLING!"

But John did not hear her. All the life left him was centred in his
eyes, which hung, dazed with wonder, on something visible to them
alone. Bending over the passionately weeping girl Mary whispered:
"Hush, hush, Emmy! Hush, my dear! He sees . . . he thinks he sees your
mother."

Mahony knew nothing of this occurrence till long after. By the time he
got there that evening, the death-agony had begun; and now the one
thought of those gathered round John's bed was to ease and speed his
passing. It was a murderous business. For the drug that had thus far
blunted the red-hot knives that hacked at his vitals suddenly lost its
power: injections now gave relief but for a few moments on end; and,
hour after hour, hour after hour, his heart-breaking cry for help beat
the air. "Morphia . . . morphia! For God's sake, morphia!"

But the kindly, bearded physician who sat with a finger on John's wrist
remained impassive: the dose now necessary to reduce the paroxysms
would be more than the weakened heart could bear. And so, livid,
drenched in sweat, John fought his way to death through tortures
indescribable.

At the end of the afternoon those present felt that the limits of human
endurance had been reached. All eyes hung on the doctor's, with the
same mute appeal. The two men, Mahony and the other, exchanged a rapid
glance. Then, bending over the writhing anguished thing that had once
been John Turnham, the doctor addressed it by name. "Mr. Turnham; you
are in your right mind . . . and fully aware of what you are
saying. Do you take the injection necessary to relieve you, of your own
free will and at your own risk?"

"For the love of God!"

A moment's stir and business, and the blessed sedative was running
through the quivering veins, the last excruciating pangs were throbbing
with hammer-strokes to their end: upwards from the feet crept the
blissful numbness. . . rising higher. . . higher. . . higher. And, as
peace descended and the heavy lids fell to, Mahony stepped forward, and
taking one of the dying hands in his said in a loud, clear voice: "Have
no fear of death, John!"

Already floating out on the great river, John yet heard these words and
was arrested by them. Slowly the lids rolled back once more, and for
the fraction of a second the broken eyes met Mahony's. In this, their
last, living look, not a trace was left of the man who had been. They
were now those of one who was about to be--fined and refined; rich in
an experience that transcended all mortal happenings; wise with an
ageless wisdom. And as they closed for ever to this world, there came
an answer to Mahony's words in ever so faint a flattening of the lips,
an almost imperceptible intake at the corners of the mouth, which, on
the sleeping face, had the effect of a smile: that lurking smile,
remote with peace, and yet touched with the lightest suspicion of
amused wonder, that sometimes makes the faces of the dead so good to
see.

John did not wake again. Towards midnight his breathing grew more
stertorous, the intervals between the breaths longer. And at last the
moment came when the watchers waited for the next . . . and
waited . . . in vain.

All was over; the poor weeping, shattered women were led from the room.
Mary, despite her grief, kept her presence of mind, and Miss Julia with
her. But Lizzie was convulsed; and poor little Emmy, her long service
ended, broke down utterly and had to be carried to bed, and chafed, and
dosed with restoratives. Zara was bidden see to the children, John's
three, who had been brought over during the afternoon in case their
father should ask for them: forgotten, hungry, tired, they had cried
themselves to sleep, and now lay huddled in a tear-stained group
on the dining-room sofa. Mahony and the doctor busied
themselves for yet a while in the death-chamber; after which, decently
composed and arranged, John formed no more than a sheet-draped rising
on the bed's smooth plain. Mahony locked the door behind him and took
the key. The dogcart had come round, and Jerry, who was to drive back
to town with the doctor, stood, his collar turned up, all of a fidget
to get home to Fanny and his children. Mahony went out with them and,
having watched them drive off, paused to breathe the night air, which
was fresh and welcome after the fetid odours of the sickroom. And
standing there under the stars he sent, like an arrow of farewell, a
parting thought to the soul that might even now be winging its way to
freedom, and to whom soon all mysteries would be plain. John had made a
brave end. There had been no whining for pity or pardon: on his own
responsibility he had lived, and he died by the same rule--the good
Turnham blood had come out in him to the last. And as he re-entered the
house, where, by now, the last exhausted watcher was sinking into
unconsciousness, Mahony murmured half-aloud to himself: "Well done,
John . . . well done!"




Chapter VI



Some six months later the Mahonys set out on their second voyage to
England. They sailed by the clipper-ship ATRATA and travelled in style,
accompanied by a maid to attend to Mary and both nurses.--And "Ultima
Thule" passed into other hands.

It had proved easier to persuade Mary to the break than Mahony had
dared to hope. John's illness and death paved the way. For, by the time
her long vigil at his bedside was over, and Lizzie seen safely through
a difficult confinement, Mary's own health was beginning to suffer. A
series of obstinate coughs and colds plagued her; and a thorough change
of air was advisable. A change of scene, too. Though Mary was not given
to moping and, at the time, had thankfully accepted John's release, yet
when it came to taking up her ordinary life again the full sense of her
loss came home to her. And not to her alone but to every one. John's
had been such a vigorous personality. Its withdrawal left a gap nothing
could fill.

None the less, the sacrifice she was now called on to make was a bitter
one, and cost her much heartburning: when she first grasped the KIND of
change Richard was tentatively proposing, she burst into heated
exclamation. What, break up their home again? . . . their lovely home?
Leave all the things they had collected round them? Leave intimates and
friends and their assured position? . . . to go off no one knew
where . . . and where nobody knew them? Oh, he couldn't mean it!--And what
about the children? . . . still mere babies--"For though you talked
till you were black in the face, Richard, you would never get me to
leave them behind!"--and the drawbacks of ship-life for them at their
tender age? . . . the upset in their habits . . . not to speak of
having to watch them grow spoilt and fractious: winding up with her
dread of the sea, his antipathy to England and English life.

But Mahony, though he spoke soothingly, stuck to his guns. It
was only to be a visit this time, he urged. It could hardly hurt the
house to be let for a year or so. A good tenant would take good care of
it; and it would be there, just as it stood, for them to come back to.
Then both nurses would go with them; and as for the darlings being too
young for a voyage, that was the sheerest nonsense: on the contrary, it
would do them a world of good; perhaps even turn Cuffy into a sturdy
boy. The same could be said for her own ailments: there was nothing
like the briny for laying coughs and colds; while the best cabin in the
ship would go far towards lessening the horrors of sea-sickness. As for
England, they would not know it for the same country, travelling as
they did to-day. Plenty of money, introductions to good people, going
everywhere, seeing everything; and ending up, if she felt disposed,
with a jaunt to the Paris Exhibition and a tour of the Continent. "It
isn't every wife, my dear, has such an offer made her."

But his words fell flat: Mary only shrugged her shoulders in reply.
Tours and exhibitions meant nothing to her. She hadn't the least desire
to travel--or at any rate to go farther afield than Sydney or
Tasmania. She had been so happy here . . . so perfectly happy! Why, oh
why, could Richard not be content? And that he could forget so easily
how he had hated England . . . and disliked the English . . . . well,
no, she must be fair to him. As he said, life over there would be a
very different thing now they had money. (Though all the money in the
world wouldn't stop it raining!) He might also be right about the
voyage doing the chicks good; and it would certainly give them, tiny
tots though they were, just that something which colonial-bred children
lacked. But oh, her home! . . . her beautiful home. To have to hand it
over to strangers, have strangers tramping on your best carpets,
sleeping in your beds, using your egg-shell china--even the best of
tenants would not care for the things as she did. She had asked nothing
better than to spend the rest of her life at "Ultima Thule"; and here
now came Richard, for whom even a few years of it had proved too many.
Luxury and comfort, or poverty and hard work, it did not seem to matter
which: the root of the evil lay in himself. On the other hand she
mustn't forget how splendidly he had behaved over John's illness: never
grumbling at her long absences, or at being left to the tender
mercies of the servants. Many another husband might have said: let them
hire some one to do their nursing, and not wear out my wife over it!
But Richard wasn't like that.

And her first heat cooled, wiser counsels prevailed; the end of which
was a sturdy resolve to smother her own feelings and think only of him.
Two considerations finally turned the scale. One was that when, with
Lizzie's convalescence, she was free to return home, she had a nasty
shock at the state in which she found Richard. Without her to nag at
him and rout him out, he had let himself go as never before: he had
forgotten to change his under-clothing or have his hair cut; had
neglected his meals, neglected the children--lost interest even in his
beloved garden. And for all this they had to thank that horrid
spiritualism! During the last few months it had come to be a perfect
obsession with him; and from a tolerably clear-headed person he had
turned into a bundle of credulous superstition. He actually sat for as
long as an hour at a time, with a pencil in his hand, waiting for it to
write by itself--write messages from the dead. . . and wasn't he angry
when she laughed at him!

This was one thing--the chance for him of a complete break with all
such nonsense. Again, coming back to him as it were with fresh eyes,
she saw that he was beginning to look very elderly. He seemed to be
growing downwards, losing his height, through always sitting crouched
over books; and the fair silky hair at his temples was quite silvery
now, did you peer closely at it. It was hard to think of Richard as old
. . . and him still well under fifty. Yet the coming on of age might
account for much. Elderly people did settle into ruts; and, once fixed
in them, were impossible to move. Perhaps his present morbid hankering
after change was a kind of warning from something inside him to shake
himself up and get out of his groove before it was too late. In which
case it would be folly and worse than folly, on her part, to try to
prevent him.

For his sake then and for his alone. When it came to a question of
Richard's welfare, all other considerations went by the board. One
condition, though, she did stand out for, and that was, the house
should not be let to any one, no matter whom, for longer than a year.
By then, she was positive, Richard would have had his fill of
travelling, with the varied discomforts it implied, and be thankful to
get back to his own dear home.

Thus it came that "Ultima Thule" was put into an agent's hands, and
Mary fell to sorting and packing and making her preparations for the
long sea voyage. Not the least of these was fitting the three children
out anew from top to toe. Richard had forbidden them even an armband as
mourning for their uncle--he was never done railing at Lizzie for
having turned John's three into little walking mountains of bombazine
and crepe. So Mary was free to indulge her love for dainty stuffs and
pretty colours. And, thought she, if ever children paid for dressing
hers did. The Dumplings were by now lovely, fair-haired, blue-eyed
three-year-olds, with serious red mouths and firm chubby legs. They
prattled the livelong day; loved and were loved by every one. Cuffy,
dark, slim, retiring, formed just the right contrast. People often
stopped nurse to ask whose children they were. And on this, their first
excursion into the big world, nobody should be able to say they were
not the best-dressed, best-cared-for children on the ship!

Before, however, a suitable tenant for the house had been found--
Richard turned up his nose at every one who had so far looked over it
(when it came to the point he was the fastidious one of the two)--
before anything had been fixed, a note came from Tilly saying she and
Purdy had travelled down from Ballarat overnight, and were putting up
at "Scott's." So after breakfast Mary on with her bonnet and drove to
town.

She found Tilly in a fine sitting-room on the first floor of the hotel,
looking very, very prosperous . . . all silk and bugles. Purdy was out,
on the business that had brought him to town: "So we two have all the
morning, love, to jaw in." As she spoke, Tilly whipped off Mary's
bonnet and mantle and carried them to the bedroom, supplying Mary
meanwhile with one of her own caps, lest any one should enter the room
and find her with a bare pate. Then, a second chair having been drawn
up for her to put her feet on, a table with cake and wine set at her
elbow, they were free to fall to work. They had not met since Tilly's
wedding; and Mary had now to tell the whole sad story of John's illness
and death, starting from the night on which he had unexpectedly
come to consult Richard, and not omitting his queer hallucination the
day before he died (an incident she had so far religiously kept from
Richard, as only too likely to encourage his present craze). Next they
discussed Lizzie, her behaviour during John's illness, her attitude to
the children and the birth of her boy--a peevish, puny infant to whom,
much against her inclination, she thinking the world of her own family
and little of any other, she had been induced to give John's name. And
then John's will, "John's infamous will!" as Richard called it, by
which Lizzie was left sole executrix, and trustee of Emmy and the
little girls' money (five thousand apiece), with free use of the
interest so long as she provided a home for them under her roof.
"Which, as you can see, Tilly, is about as foolish a condition as the
poor fellow could well have made."

Tilly nodded; but suppressed the: "Yes, but oh how like 'im!" that
jumped to her lips, on the principle of not picking holes in the dead.
"But what about if Madam marries again . . . eh, Mary? How then?"

Mary nodded ruefully. "Why, then it's the usual thing: she's cut off
with a penny; most of her money goes to the boy; and Richard and Jerry
become trustees in her stead." But, extenuating where Tilly had
suppressed, Mary added: "You must remember the will was drawn up
directly after marriage, when John was still very much in love."

"Lor', Mary, WHAT a picnic!" said Tilly, and sagely wagged her head.
"My dear, can't you see 'em? Madam, gone sour as curds, clinging like
grim death to 'er posse of old maids! Poor old Jinn! Poor little kids!
Caught like fishes in a net."

"Yes, well, except that . . . as Richard says . . . it's very
unlikely . . ."

Their eyes met.

"Why, yes, I suppose it is," said Tilly dryly.

Thence they passed to their own affairs; and Mary told of the fresh
uprootal that was in store for her--and, over the telling, let out
some of the exasperation that burned in her at the prospect. Tilly was
the one person who would understand what it meant; to whom she could
utter a word of complaint. To the world at large Richard and she must,
and would, always present a united front.

Said she: "Oh, I DID think this time, Tilly, he would be
content; when he'd got everything he could possibly wish for. It was a
different matter him leaving Ballarat--and I couldn't blame him myself
for not wanting to settle permanently in England. But here . . . our
nice house . . . his library . . . the garden . . . And the stupid part
of it is I know he'll regret it . . . tire of being on the move long
before we can get back into the house. I'm making up my mind to THAT,
before I start."

"Poor old girl! You do have a tough time of it."

"Besides, there are the chicks to think of now as well. Their father
says the voyage will do them good, and he may be right. But the voyage
isn't everything. What about the change of climate for them while
they're so small?--going over into the cold as we shall do. Then,
travelling isn't the thing for little children--you know what an
excitable child Cuffy is.--Besides, just think what it's going to cost
us, with three servants, renting a furnished house in London, making a
tour of the Continent and all the rest of it. Richard has such grand
notions nowadays. Economy's a word that has ceased to exist for him.
The money's there and it's to be spent, and that's the end of it. But
it does sometimes seem . . . I mean I can't help feeling it would be
better if I had some idea what we've got and how it goes."

But having opened her heart thus, Mary came to a stop: there were
things she drew the line at touching on, and though her hearer was only
Tilly. You did not, even to your dearest friend, belabour the point
that your husband was growing old and rusty, stiff in body and in mind.
You locked the knowledge up, with a pang, inside your own heart. Again,
Tilly had always made such game of spiritualism. Did she now hear that,
from an interested inquirer, Richard had become an out-and-out
adherent, accepting as gospel the rubbish its devotees talked,
attending sittings which opened with prayers and hymns, just as if they
were trying to take the place of going to church--why, at this, Tilly
would certainly tap her forehead and make significant eyes, imagining
goodness only knew what. So Mary kept a wifely silence.

Besides, it was Tilly's turn now to talk. Tilly had brought a rare
budget of gossip with her from the old home; and no one could
give this in racier, more entertaining fashion than she. Mary listened
and laughed, throwing in a reproving: "Now, REALLY, Tilly!" at some of
the speaker's most daring shots; growing grave-eyed were the tragedies
alluded to that underlay many a prosperous exterior.

Not till all the old friends had been asked after, did she press nearer
home. "And now, Tilly, how about yourself, my dear? Are you . . . has
it . . . come! you know what I mean!"

Tilly laughed out loud. "Indeed and it has, old girl!--and no
apologies needed. Yes, love, the very best of husbands. But I was right
as rain, Mary, in what I said beforehand--no spendthrift as I'm alive!
Why, 'e even goes to the other extreme, love, and holds the purse-strings
a bit tighter than yours truly 'as been used to. Though it's
not for me to complain, my dear, considering 'ow he handles money. I'm
still a bit dazed by it myself. A born knack with the shekels, and
that's the truth! I declare to you, old Pa's leavings have almost
DOUBLED in these six months. Purd's got a sort of second-sight, which
tells 'im to the minute what o'clock it is. All that was wrong with
him, Mary, was never having enough of the needful to show what 'e was
made of."

"Well, I AM glad to hear that--I am indeed!"

She went home full of the news. "We were both wrong, you see."

But it would not have been Richard if he hadn't made ironical remarks.
Wait till the bloom was off the grapes, said he, and then see how the
land lay. For, if Purdy had started speculating already . . .

"Ah, but Tilly says he has a kind of sixth sense for the ups and downs
of the market."

"Many a wife thinks the same, till the crash comes. But you know MY
opinion of the national vice."

"Well, you'll be able to judge for yourself. I've asked them to dinner
this evening."

"Oh, deuce take it! Have we really got to have them here?"

"Now, Richard . . . when Tilly's in town for the first time since her
wedding. Certainly we have. Besides, I know you'll be interested to see
what marriage has done for Purdy."

"Oh Lord, Mary! Am I not at my time of life allowed to know what
interests me and what doesn't?"

"Well, I shan't see Tilly again for ever so long. I do beg you
to be nice to her, dear . . . to both of them," said Mary.

And when the time came he was . . . of course he was: with the near
prospect of escape from people, Richard invariably found it easy to be
charming to them. Another thing, she had pandered to his weak side by
preparing a very choice little dinner; and she wore one of his
favourite dresses--a black velvet gown, with jet trimmings, cut square
at the neck.

But without a doubt, the main reason for his amiability was the immense
improvement that had taken place in Purdy: it was noticeable even as
the latter entered the drawing-room. In appearance he would, it was
true, never be very much, what with his limp, and so on; and his lack
of distinction was doubly remarkable when Richard was present, who was
so slender and aristocratic-looking. But his aggressiveness had gone;
he was no longer up in arms against the world. Gone, too, was the
dreadful boasting that had so set Richard against him; and he had quite
given over telling tiresome stories . . . thanks, thought Mary, to
having married one of the most sensible of women. At the single
threatened lapse into his old tone, she distinctly felt Tilly seek and
find his foot beneath the table.

"Didn't I say she'd pull him into shape?" and: "Upon my word, wife, if
ever there was an exploded notion, it is that the possession of this
world's goods makes for evil. Why, there was actually a trace of his
old self about the fellow to-night."

The ormolu clock on the drawing-room mantelpiece had just chimed
eleven. Mary was giving her toes a final toast before retiring, Richard
securing the hasps and bolts of shutters and French windows.

"Yes, indeed," agreed Mary; but with an absent air. She was thinking of
Tilly--dear old Tilly--in whom the change had been no less marked.
Looking very buxom and rather handsome in magenta velvet, Tilly had sat
smiling broadly, but with less to say for herself than ever in her life
before. Instead of paying attention to Richard, as she ought to have
done, she had all the time been listening to Purdy, drinking in his
words, and signing to Mary to listen, too, by many a private tilt of
the brows. So palpably eager was she for him to shine that she had been
unable to resist breaking in with a: "Oh, come now, Purd, take a LEETLE
bit of the credit to yourself!--it was his doing really, Mary,
and no one else's, though 'e tries now to make out it was Blake's." And
at Purdy's: "Forgive my old woman's dotage, you two . . . it's still
kissing-time with us, you know!"--at this Tilly had smirked and
blushed like a sixteen-year-old.

Meanwhile Richard was saying from the hearthrug, where he stood nursing
his coat-tails: ". . . an interesting chat after you had left the room,
my dear. I was hearing all about the Mitcham case from within--the big
mining suit, you know, that has created such a scandal in Ballarat. . .
you must remember old Grenville of Canterbury Station, his deafness and
his expletives, and those enormous black cigars--he always had one
stuck in the corner of his mouth when he drove his four-in-hand to
town."

"Of course I do. A very kind old gentleman I thought him."

"Yes. . . he had rather a way with the ladies.--Well, as I was saying,
this fellow Blake Purdy swears by was one of the partners in the
company formed after old G. had sold his mine--at a dead loss, mind
you, and on the express advice of his confidential manager, who,
directly after, became a promoter of the new company. When the output
suddenly redoubled and the shares began to soar, old Grenville,
naturally enough, thought he had been done, and sued them for fraud.
The jury could not agree. Now, there's rumour of a settlement. If it
takes place, it is calculated that the shares will rise in value by two
to three hundred per cent. Purdy stands to make his fortune--thanks to
having some one at his elbow who is in the swim."

But Mary pursed her lips and looked dubious. "Well, I don't know,
Richard . . . I must say it sounds to me rather shady."

"Hm . . . well, myself I prefer to keep clear of that sort of thing.
All the same, Mary, I couldn't help thinking what a terrible slowcoach
old Simmonds is, compared with these modern brokers one hears of. One
never gets any inside information from him--for the very good reason
that he doesn't know it himself."

"But so honest and trustworthy!"

"Oh, yes, there's that about it," said Richard, a trifle morosely Mary
thought.

"And what do you say to the house? Wasn't it a funny thing Purdy
tumbling across some one, like that?" she hastened to add, in
an attempt to divert his mind from old Simmonds's shortcomings.

"A stroke of luck of the first order!"

For amongst other news Purdy had had a titbit for them. Only that very
day, it seemed, in the coffee-room of the hotel, he had run up against
a squatter from Darumbooli who was on the look-out for a furnished
house, standing in its own grounds and not too far from the sea, where
he could settle wife and daughters while the latter attended a
finishing school. Purdy had at once thought of "Ultima Thule" and
extolled its beauties: its lawns and shrubberies and fruit gardens, its
proximity to the sea. The squatter had pricked up his ears and, if they
agreed, would come out to see it early next morning.

Whereupon the last trace of Mahony's starchedness had melted, in a glow
of gratitude and content.

"Upon my word, Mary, it sounds the very thing, at last!"




Chapter VII



That night he could not sleep. To begin with, he had been unused of
late to an evening's talk: bits and scraps of it went on buzzing round
his brain, long after he lay abed. Then, something he had eaten had
disagreed with him: Cook's short-crust must have been too rich, or the
pears over-ripe. He tossed and turned, to the disturbance of poor Mary;
tried lying high, lying low, counting sheep and other silly tricks, all
to no purpose: before an hour had passed, the black thoughts of the
night--those sinister imaginings born of darkness and immobility--had
him in their grip.

Their approach was stealthy. For he had gone to bed in high feather at
the prospect of at last securing a tenant. Weeks had dragged by, and
the house was still unlet. He fumed as often as he thought of it. To
put a house like his on the market and get no offers for it! Sell? . . .
yes; he could have sold three times over. But the idea of renting a
place ready furnished seemed not to enter the colonial mind. Now,
however, if Purdy was to be trusted. .. A rich squatter, too. . .
willing no doubt to pay a good price for a good thing--though this
condition was not, God be thanked, the SINE QUA NON it would once have
been. Still, money was money; you could not have too much of it . . .
especially here. Give a man means and you gave him friends and favours,
and a rank second to none. To take a petty instance: what had money not
done for the very person they had had before their eyes that evening?
From the seedy little down-at-heel of a year back, Purdy had been
metamorphosed into . . . well, at least rendered presentable enough to
bid to your table. Money had restored his shrunken self-respect. It had
also brought out in him talents which not his oldest friends had
guessed at. That Purdy, of all people, should prove a dabster in the
share-market!--exchange to such good purpose bar-parlour for "Corner."
No doubt the years he had spent hobnobbing with every variety
of individual had sharpened his wits. You saw something of that in the
shrewd choice he had made of a broker. For, three parts of the game,
did you enter the big gamble, depended on having a wide-awake adviser
at your elbow. And this man Blake, of whom they had heard so much that
night, did actually seem to be one in a thousand.

One in a thousand . . . one in a thousand . . . a thousand . . . Mahony
was on the point of dropping off, to the rhythm of these words, when a
vague uneasiness began to stir in him; more exactly, when he became
abruptly aware that, deep down in him, a nagging anxiety had for some
time been at work. Coming to with a jerk, he sent his thoughts back
over the evening. What was it? . . . what had happened to prick him,
when all had seemed to go so smoothly? He groped and groped. Then . . .
ha! . . . he had it. Simmonds. The name whizzed into his mind like a
dart; like a dart stuck there, and was not to be plucked out. And no
sooner had he found this clue than, with a rush, a swarm of vexatious
thoughts and impressions was upon him. His apparent good spirits were
all humbug; at heart he had been depressed by the tale of Purdy's
successes. They had made him feel a back number, an old fossil, who had
to learn from some one he had always looked down on as his inferior,
what was actually happening in the financial world. And for this he
held Simmonds to blame. What was the use of a confidential agent who
did not keep you up to the mark?--Not that he wanted to speculate; or
at least not as the word was here understood. But he wished to feel
that he COULD have done so, and with as much aplomb as anybody, did the
fit take him. And brooding over the chances he had no doubt missed and
even at this moment might be missing: at a picture of himself lying
high and dry, while one and another--mere whipper-snappers like Purdy
--floated easily out to fortune, an acute irritation mastered him.

He turned his pillow, and, even as he did so, told himself that the
fault had been not Simmonds's, but his own. Yes, the truth was, he had
had no ambition. Otherwise, why have laid his affairs in the hands of
such a humdrum?--and, what was worse, have left them there. Honest?--
yes: but so was many a noodle honest: and in these new countries
honesty alone, unbacked by any more worldly qualities, stood
not an earthly chance. And again a vision danced before his closed
lids. He saw the thousands he had failed to make--thousands that grew
to hundreds of thousands as he watched--fluttering just beyond HIS
grasp, though within easy reach of others. And now, to sting him, the
earlier bitterness returned . . . in the form of a galling envy. To see
Purdy, the foolish harum-scarum, the confessed failure, the mean little
COMMIS VOYAGEUR--to see such a one about to pass, surpass him, in
means and influence: this was surely one of the bitterest mouthfuls he
had ever had to swallow.

And here, seizing its chance, a further fear insinuated itself. What if
it should not end with this? Simmonds being what he was, might he not
fail in other ways as well?--let what he already held slip through his
fingers, and he, Mahony, wake one morning to find himself a poor man? A
shiver ran down his spine at the thought, and he made a feverish
movement: he would have liked to throw off the bedclothes, and go
hotfoot to call Simmonds to account. Since he was condemned to lie like
a log, his imagination did the work for him, running riot in a series
of pictures . . . till cold drops stood out on his forehead.

Sitting up he fumbled for a handkerchief. The change of position
brought him a moment's calmness. Good Lord, what was he doing . . .
working himself into such a state. It was like those bad old times when
he had had to worry himself half to death about money . . . or the lack
of it. He drank a glass of water, and rolled over on his other side.

Scarcely, however, had his head touched the pillow when he was off
again, stabbed by yet another nightmare thought. What if it should be a
case of fraud on Simmonds's part? Might not the lethargy, the stolid
honesty be but a pose?--the cloak to cover a rascally activity? Like
the confidential agent whose double-dealing they had heard of that
night, it would be child's play for Simmonds, just because he appeared
so straight and aboveboard, to fleece his clients--or at least such
among them as gave him the open chances he, Mahony, had. Careless,
distraught, interested in everything rather than in money, he had
ambled along unthinking as a babe, leaving Simmonds to his own devices
for months, nay, years, at a time. Now, he could not wait for daylight
to get his affairs back into his own hands. If only he were not
too late!--And thus on and on, ever deeper into the night, his
suspicions growing steadily more sinister, till there was no crime of
which he was not ready to suspect his man of business. A dozen times he
had trapped him, unmasked him, brought him to justice, before he fell
into a feverish doze, in which not Simmonds but himself was the
fugitive, hunted by two monstrous shadow policemen who believed him
criminal before the law. Waking with a terrific start he pulled himself
together, only at once to sink back in dream. This time, he was being
led by Purdy and some one strangely resembling that bottle-nosed
Robinson who had played him a dirty trick over an English practice, to
a cemetery, where stood a tombstone bearing Simmonds's name. Why, good
Lord! the fellow's dead . . . dead? . . . and what of me? "Who's got my
money? Where is it? Where am I?" cried Mahony aloud--and woke at the
sound of his own voice to see pale lines of light creeping in at the
sides of the windows. His pulse was bounding, Mary sleepily murmuring:
"Oh dear, oh dear, what IS the matter?"--Rising, he opened a window
and stuck his hot head out in the morning air.

At breakfast-time he emerged pale and peevish, to a day that proved
hardly less wearing than the night had been. One, too, that called for
a clear brain and prompt decisions. For the owner of Darumbooli,
Baillie by name, put in an appearance as arranged--an elderly Scot,
tanned, sun-wrinkled, grey-whiskered, with a bluff yet urbane manner--
a self-made man, it was plain, and wholly unlettered, but frank,
generous, honourable: one of nature's gentlemen, in short, and of a
type Mahony invariably found it easy to do business with. Better still,
he turned out to be one of your genuine garden-lovers: as the pair of
them walked the grounds of "Ultima Thule," none of the details and
improvements Mahony felt proudest of but was observed and bespoken: the
white-strawberry bed, the oleander grove, the fernery, the exquisitely
smooth buffalo-grass lawns on which sprays were kept playing. A good
garden was, it seemed, a desideratum with Baillie. And he fell in love
with Mahony's at first sight.

But . . . yes, yes! now came the fly in the ointment . . . he wished
not to rent but to buy: had never, he averred, had any idea of renting
a house: it was entirely "that fellow Smith's mistake" ("all
Purdy's muddle!"). The schooling proved another bit of fiction. His
daughters were past their school years; of an age to be launched in
society. Darumbooli was up for sale--Baillie had already refused a bid
of ninety thousand--and planned from now on to settle in Melbourne.

Having thus cleared the air and added that, only the day before, he had
seen a house at Toorak which, though not a patch on this, would serve
his purpose, he offered a sum for "Ultima Thule," just as it stood,
with all its contents, which sent Mahony's eyebrows half-way up his
forehead.

Mary was speechless when she heard the upshot of the interview; when,
too, she saw that Richard's mind--that mind which seemed unable to
hold fast to any mortal thing for long together--was more than three
parts made up to accept Baillie's offer. And too discomfited to meet
this Irish fluidity with her usual wily caution, she no sooner found
her voice than she cried: "Oh, Richard, NO!--that we CAN'T do . . . we
really can't! Think of all the things we got specially out from
home . . . the French tapestry . . . the carpets . . . and . . . and
everything!"

Tch! now he had this to go through . . . on top of his bad night, and
his own burning irresolution. His nerves felt like the frayed ends of a
rope. But as usual opposition spurred him on.

"But, my dear, with such a sum at our disposal, we shall be able to
furnish our NEXT house ten times as well. Look here, Mary, I tell you
what we'll do. We'll bring every atom of stuff out with us, from London
or Paris: the very newest of everything--there won't be a house in the
colony like it."

"Oh, Richard! . . . oh, I DO think--" For an instant bitterness choked
Mary. Then, she could not resist pricking him with a: "And have YOU
decided to let all your books go, as well?"

"My books? Most certainly not! I made that clear on the spot.--But how
absurd, Mary! What would a man whose whole life has been spent among
sheep and cattle do with my volumes of physic and metaphysics?" But
Mary put on her obstinate face. "Well, my things mean just as much to
me as yours to you."

"Now for goodness sake, my dear, be reasonable!" cried Richard, growing
excessively heated. "I suppose even a squatter can use a chair
or a sofa; needs a bed and a table; but what, I ask you, would he make
of Lavater? . . . or the Church Fathers?"

"It's always the same. I'm to give up everything, you nothing.--But if
my wishes and feelings can be trampled on, don't you care about the
children? . . . I mean about them all having been born here?"

"Indeed and I do not! I would no more have them tie their feelings to
the shell of a house than I'd have mourners hang round a grave."

"Oh, there's no talking to you nowadays, your head's so full of windy
stuff. But I tell you this, Richard, I refuse to have my children
dragged from place to place . . . as I've been. It's not as if it's
ever helped a bit either, our giving up home after home. You're always
wild, at the moment, to get away, but afterwards you're no happier than
you were before. And then, what makes me so angry, you let yourself be
influenced by such silly, trivial things. I believe you're ready to
sell this house just because you LIKE the man who wants to buy it, or
because he's praised up the garden. But you'll be sorry for it, I know
you will, before three months are out. I haven't lived with you all
these years for nothing."

"Oh well, my dear," said Mahony darkly, "I'm an old man now, and you
won't be troubled with me much longer. When I'm gone you'll be able to
do just as you please."

Mary's black eyes flashed, and her lips opened to a sharp retort; then
she snapped them to, and said nothing. For to this there could be no
real reply; and Richard knew it.

The bargain struck--for struck of course it was, as she had seen from
the first it would be: thereafter it only remained for Mary to apply
her age-old remedy, and make the best of a very bad job. But the
present was by so much the most unreasonable thing Richard had ever
done, and she herself felt so sore and exasperated over it, that not
for several days was she cool enough to discuss the matter with him.
Then, however, each coming half-way to meet the other, they had a long
talk, in the course of which Mahony sought to make amends by letting
her into some of his money secrets, and she extracted a solemn promise
that, except for a mere fringe--a couple of thousand, say, for
travelling and other immediate expenses--the sum he was
receiving (it ran to five figures) should be kept for the purpose of
setting them up anew on their return to the colony. Mahony bade her
make her mind easy. They ought to be able to live as comfortably on
their dividends in England, as here; and the price paid for "Ultima
Thule" should be faithfully laid by for the purpose of building, when
they came back, the house that would form their permanent home. "For by
then my travelling days will be over. We'll plan it together, love,
every inch of it; and it will be more our own than any house we've
lived in."

"Yes, I dare say." But Mary's tone lacked warmth, was rich in
incredulity.




Chapter VIII



And now for Simmonds.

As he made ready to go to town Mahony recalled, with a smile, his
grotesque imaginings of two nights back. What a little hell the mind
could create for a man's undoing! But none the less, though he now
ridiculed them, his nightmares had left a kind of tingling disquietude
in their train. He felt he would do well to have a straight talk with
Simmonds, go carefully through his share-list, and arrange in detail
for the conduct of his affairs during his absence.

He went off jauntily enough. "Don't expect me till about six."

But not a couple of hours later, as Mary was on her knees before a
drawer of the great wardrobe she was beginning to dismantle, she heard
his foot on the verandah, and the next moment his voice, sharp,
querulent, distracted, cried: "Mary! Mary, where are you?"

"Yes, dear? I'm coming. Why, Richard, whatever is wrong now?" For with
a despairing gesture Mahony had tossed his hat on the hall-table, and
himself dropped heavily on a chair.

"You may well ask. Here's a pretty kettle of fish! It's all over now
with our getting away."

"What do you mean? But not here. The servants . . . Come into the
bedroom. Well, you do look hot and tired."

She brought him a glass of water, and while he sat and sipped this, she
listened to his story; listened, and put two and two together. Arrived
at his agent's office in Great Bourke Street, he had found to his
surprise and annoyance that Simmonds was absent from business. Worse
still, had been, for over two months. He was ill, bedridden--yes,
seriously ill. "Confound the fellow! I believe he means to die, just to
inconvenience me. Mary! my dream the other night . . . it flashed
across me as I walked home. Depend upon it, one doesn't dream
that kind of thing for nothing." Richard's tone was full of gloomiest
foreboding.

"What nonsense, dear! How can you be so silly!"

In place of Simmonds he had been met by a . . . well, by a sort of
clerk, who was in charge--at least he presumed so: he had never set
eyes on the fellow before, and never meant to again, if he could help
it! "To find a par to his behaviour, Mary, you would need to go back to
the early days, when every scoundrelly Tom, Dick and Harry thought
himself your equal."

"What did he say?"

Say? Well, first, it was plain to Mary, he had not known from Adam who
Richard was. Without getting up from his chair, not troubling to take
his head out of a newspaper, he had asked the intruder's pleasure in
the free-and-easy colonial fashion which, long as he had lived there,
Richard had never learned to swallow. Besides, not to be recognised in
a place he honoured with his patronage was in itself a source of
offence. Haughtily presenting his card (which, she could see, had
lamentably failed to produce an effect), he demanded to speak to
Simmonds, with whom he had important business.

"Pray, what answer do you think I got? In a voice, my dear, the twang
of which you could have cut with a knife, I was informed: 'Well, in
that case, doc., I guess you'll have to keep it snug--locked up in
your own bosom, so to say! For the boss lies sick abed, and all the
business in the world wouldn't get him up from it.' Whereupon I clapped
on my hat and walked out of the place! In which, as long as Simmonds is
away, I shall not set foot again. But now, as you can see, we're in a
pretty fix. All our plans knocked on the head! The house sold, the
agreement signed--or as good as signed . . . it's utterly impossible
to draw back. Why the deuce was I in such a hurry? We shall have to go
into apartments, Mary--take the children into common lodgings. Good
God! Such a thing is not to be contemplated for a moment."

Mary let him talk; listened to this and much more before she threw in a
mild: "We'll take a furnished house. There'd be nothing common about
that.--All the same, I don't believe Simmonds, who has always been so
straight, would put any one in to look after things who wasn't
honest, too--in spite of uncouth behaviour. And you can't refuse to
deal with a person just because he has no manners. . . and doesn't know
how to address you."

"My dear Mary, it has been a one-man show all these years; and the
probability is, when the old fellow broke down he had no one to turn
to. But I can assure you, if I left my investments in such hands I
shouldn't know a moment's peace all the time I was away. Besides, if he
does die, the whole concern will probably go smash."

Oh, the fuss and the flutter! As if it wasn't bad enough to have your
house sold over your head, without this fresh commotion on top of it.
There must surely be something very slipshod and muddle-headed about
the way Richard managed his affairs. She didn't say so, but, had she
been in his shoes, she would have known long ago of Simmonds's illness.
As it was, this clerk might have been cheating the clients right and
left. But anything to do with money (except, of course, the spending of
it!) had of late years become anathema to Richard.

Now he went about with a hand pressed to an aching head; and after
putting up with this for some days and herself feeling wholly at a
loss, Mary made a private journey to town to visit Tilly. She would see
what that practical, sagacious woman thought of the situation. Tilly,
of course, at once laid her finger on the weak spot by asking bluntly:
"But whyever doesn't the doctor take advice of some of 'is friends?--
the big-bow-wow ones, I mean. They'd be able to tell 'im, right
enough."

"Why, the fact is, Richard hasn't got . . . I mean his friends are not
business men, any more than he is. If only John were alive! He'd have
been the one."

"Well, look here, Poll, I can ask Purd about it if you like. He may
know, and if e doesn't, 'e can easily find out--I mean whether old S.
is really going to hop the twig or what. Purd has strings 'e can pull."

Mary went home intending to keep silence about her intermeddling--at
any rate till she saw what came of it. But Richard was regularly in the
doldrums: he had to be comforted somehow. At first, as she had
expected, he was furious; and abused her like a pickpocket for
discussing his private affairs with an outsider. "You KNOW how I hate
publicity! As for telling them in that quarter. . . why, I might as
well go out and shout them from the housetop."

"Richard . . . you can't afford . . . if you re really set on getting
away . . . to mind now who knows and who doesn't."

But on this point, as always, they joined issue. He accused her of
lacking personal dignity; she said that his ridiculous secrecy over
money matters would end by leading people to believe there was
something fishy about them.

"Let them! What does it matter to me what they think?"

"Why, I don't know anyone who'd resent it MORE--so proud and touchy as
you are! And since home truths were the order of the day," she added:
"You know, dear, its just this: you've only yourself to thank for the
fix you're in. You've cut yourself off from every one, and now, when
you need help, you haven't a soul to turn to. And because I have, and
make use of them, then your pride's hurt."

Which was the very truth. He had let slip friends and acquaintances who
at this juncture might have been useful to him; but . . . could one
nurse people, the inner impulse to friendship failing, solely from
motives of opportunism? The idea revolted him. True, also, was what she
said about the damage to his pride. Not, however, because they were HER
friends as she supposed, but because they were the friends they were.
Again, he shrank in advance from the silly figure he was going to cut,
did the story get about town how he had sold his house and packed his
portmanteaux, while, all unknown to him, the chief spoke in his wheel
had collapsed. What a fool he would look! Though the fact was, Simmonds
had handled his affairs without supervision for so long, that he had
come to look on the fellow as a kind of fixture in his life.

And, in spite of everything, his determination to get away did not
weaken. In mind, he had already started--was out on the high seas.
Impossible now to call his thoughts home. And the feeling that such a
course might be expected of him--that Mary would expect it--only
served to throw him into a frenzy of impatience; make him more blackly
intolerant of each fresh obstacle that blocked his path.

Then Tilly appeared: he saw her from the window, all furbelows
and flounces, and wearing an air at once important and mysterious. She
and Mary retired to the drawing-room; and there he could hear them
jabbering, discussing HIM and his concerns, as he sat pretending to
read. This went on and on--would they never end? Even when plainer
tones, and the opening and shutting of doors seemed to herald Tilly's
departure, all that followed was a sheerly endless conversation on the
step of the verandah. By the time Mary came in to him, he was nervily
a-shake. And her news was as bad as it could be. Old Simmonds was
doomed; was in the last stages of Bright's disease; his place of
business would know him no more. Most of his clients had already
transferred to other agents; and Purdy's advice to Richard was, to lose
no time in following their example.

"Huh! All very well . . . very easily said! But to whom am I to turn,
I'd like to know? . . . when there isn't one honest broker in a
thousand. Swindlers--damned swindlers!--that's what they are, every
man-jack of 'em. And here am I, just going out of the colony, and with
all this fresh money to invest."

Said Mary: "I've been thinking" (which, of course, meant tittle-tattling
with Tilly), "why not write to Mr. Henry and consult him? He's
such a good business man, and knows so many people. He might be able to
recommend some one to you." But with this suggestion she only added
fuel to the inordinate, unreasonable grudge which Richard still bore
every one connected with the old life. "Nothing would induce me! . . .
to eat humble pie before that crew!"

"Well then, DO let us postpone our journey . . . if only for six
months."

He was equally stubborn. "Sooner than that--if it comes to that!--
I'll sell right out and take every penny I possess to the other side.
And never set foot in the colony again."

"Now, for goodness sake, Richard! . . ." cried Mary; then bit her lip.
He was quite capable of carrying out his threat, did she make the least
show of opposition.

However, on this occasion his rashness took another form. After
spending the whole of the next day in town, where he had gone to visit
his banker, to settle with his wine merchant, arrange for the
storing of his books and so on, he came home to dinner looking a
different man. On her, who had gone about all day with a crease between
her brows, not knowing whether to pack for a voyage or for the removal
to another house, he burst in, and catching her by the waist kissed her
and swung her round. "Here's your bear come home. But cheer up, Mary,
cheer up, my love, and make your mind easy! All will yet be well."

"What? Do you mean to say you've actually----?"

"Yes, thank the Lord, I have!"

Over the dinner-table he gave her particulars. At the end of a
bothersome, wasted morning he had dropped into "Scott's," and there, in
the coffee-room, had tumbled across Purdy. ("What!--PURDY?" was Mary's
amazed inner comment, she being as usual hard at work drawing
inferences.) Purdy had met him in friendliest fashion: "I've come to
the conclusion, my dear, I've sometimes been rather hard on the boy of
late." They had lunched together, over a chop and a bottle of claret
had got talking, and had sat for the better part of an hour. Naturally
the subject of Simmonds's collapse had come up, and the fix it had put
him into. Purdy--"'Pon my word, Mary, I saw to-day he's got his head
screwed on the right way!"--had given him various useful tips how to
deal with the modern broker, which an innocent old sheep like himself
would never have dreamt of. And then just at the end, as they were
making a move, Purdy had scratched his head and believed he knew some
one who might----

"NOT Blake?"

"Blake? Absurd! Good Lord, no! . . . Blake needs watching." (Richard
knew all about it to-night.) No, no: this was no flashy dare-devil, but
a steady-going, cautious sort of fellow, who could be trusted to "look
after your interests during your absence, and transmit THE interest . . .
ha, ha!--Oh, and I must tell you this, Mary. When he said--Purdy, I
mean--'I believe I know some one who'd suit you, Dick,' where do you
suppose my thoughts flew? They went back, love, to a day more years ago
than I care to count, when he used the self-same words. We were riding
to Geelong together, he and I, two carefree young men--heigh-ho!--and
not many hours after, I had the honour of meeting a certain young lady
. . . Well, wife, if this introduction turns out but half as well as
that, I shall have no cause to complain. Anyway, I took it as a
good omen. We hadn't time then to go further into the matter; but I am
to meet him again to-morrow and hear all details."

He rattled on in the highest spirits, seeing everything fixed and
settled; and Mary had not the heart to damp him by putting
inconvenient, practical questions. And having said his say and refilled
her glass and his own, he sent for the children--they had been hushed
back into the nursery for the past three days, while Papa had a
headache. Now, setting his girlies on his knees, with Cuffy standing
before him, he told the trio of the big ship that was coming to take
them away, and on which they were to live--for weeks, and weeks, and
weeks to come.

The Dumplings' eyes grew round. "An' s'all us 'ave bekspup on ze big
s'ip?" asked Lallie, the elder of the twins.

"Bekspup on ze big s'ip?" echoed her sister.

"Breakfast AND dinner, AND tea, and go to sleep in little beds like
boxes built on to the wall, and look out of little windows just big
enough for your little heads, and see nothing, wherever you look, but
the great, wide sea."

"Ooo! Bekfast, AN' dinner, AN' tea!"--Cuffy had to cut a few capers
about the room to let off steam, before he could listen to more.

Mary took no part in the merry chatter. And when Nannan had fetched the
children, she abruptly came back to the subject of her thoughts. "Of
course you'll see this person Purdy speaks of, see what you think of
him yourself, before actually deciding on anything?"

"Of COURSE, my dear, of course!"

"It seems rather . . . I mean, it seems strange Purdy didn't . . . .
And as he is doing the recommending, I can't very well ask Tilly's
opinion."

"And who wants you to? I'll be very much obliged if you DON'T
interfere! Surely, Mary, I can be trusted to attend to some of my own
business? I'm not quite on the shelf yet, I hope?"

"Oh, come, Richard. After all . . . I mean it's not so very long ago
and nothing would have induced you to take Purdy's advice."

"And pray who was it brought home glowing tales of how
splendidly he had got on, thanks to his acuteness and financial genius,
etc., etc., etc.?"

"Yes, I know. But still . . ."

"But as soon as I come into it, or because I come into it, you lose
every atom of faith. I wonder if all wives are as distrustful of their
husbands' capabilities. A bad look-out for them if they are."

Mary did not deny the charge. Doubtful she was, and doubtful she
remained: an attitude of mind that severely tried Mahony's temper, he
having more than one private scruple of his own.

For his second meeting with Purdy, in which he had planned to be very
cautious and to throw out wily feelers, was a failure. On getting to
the hotel he found that Purdy could spare him but a few moments,
himself having an urgent appointment to keep. They did not sit down,
and their talk was scampered through at lightning speed. However, Purdy
supplied him with a list of people for whom this man Wilding had acted
--well-known names they were too!--and himself undertook to put in a
word on Mahony's behalf. In the meantime it would be as well for him to
write and summon Wilding to town.--Write? Yes; for now it turned out
that Wilding's business was carried on, not in Melbourne but in
Ballarat. Purdy vowed he had mentioned this fact the day before; but if
so, Mahony had failed to hear him. Not that it mattered much, seeing
that he himself was about to leave Melbourne. It might even, he agreed,
the majority of his investments being in Ballarat mines, prove a
benefit to have an agent who was on the spot.

Still, the conversation left him visibly less jubilant. While from the
interview he had some days later with Wilding himself, he returned
tired and headachy--always a bad sign where Richard was concerned. He
met Mary with a: "Well, my dear, all our troubles are now over!"--
which was true in so far as the business side of the affair had gone
off smoothly. The transfer had been effected, power of attorney given,
new investments arranged for, his existing share-list overhauled and
revised. But . . . well, he had not been very favourably impressed by
the man himself. He could find no likeness in him to the portrait drawn
by Purdy--and probably amplified by his own mind, which looked for a
second Simmonds--of a staid and dignified man of affairs. No,
Wilding was again one of your rough diamonds: over-familiar, slangy, a
back-slapper, and, like every one else here, in a tearing hurry: he
hardly bothered to listen to what you said, knew everything you were
going to say beforehand, and better than you. His appearance, too, was
against him--at least to one who set store by the fleshly screen.
Wilding had a small, oblique eye; fat, pursed lips; fat, grubby fingers
on which flashy rings twinkled; a diamond pin that took your breath
away. Also, from an injudicious word he let drop, the idea leapt at
Mahony . . . well, it might be pure fancy on his part . . . or owing to
these unlovely looks . . . besides it was only a fleeting impression . . .
vaguely troubling. But come! it would not do to let a personal
antipathy to the man's appearance prejudice you against him . . . as
Mary was never tired of preaching. What though Wilding was no beauty?
Whose hands here WERE impeccably clean? Was this not just the type of
your modern broker, as compared with one of the old school? The main
thing, the only thing that really mattered was that he should prove
alert and up-to-date. And in this respect his credentials were of the
first water. What was more, it leaked out, in something he said, that
Purdy had already been in correspondence with him over the affair.
Might one not safely assume a hint on Purdy's part that he himself
meant to keep an eye on things, during his friend's absence from the
colony?

And now, at last, nothing stood in the way of their departure; and
preparations were rushed forward that they might sail by the vessel of
their choice. Mahony superintended the sorting and packing of his
books, and saw them carted to a depository; then rearranged the
furniture and bought fresh pieces to fill the bare walls where the
bookcases had stood. Next he conveyed the luggage--it filled a lorry--
to the wharf, saw it aboard and stowed away between hold and cabins. Of
these, they had three of the largest amidships; and the best warehouse
in Melbourne had carpeted, furnished, curtained them. No need, this
time, for Mary to toil and slave. Like a queen she had only to step
aboard and take possession.

They spent the last couple of days at an hotel. And one morning, having
received word overnight that the ATRATA was ready to sail, they packed
into two landaus and were driven to William's Town. There they
found a pretty crowd assembled. Everybody they knew, or had ever met,
had turned out to see them off, headed by dear old Sir Jake and Lady
Devine, the Bishop and Mrs. Moreton, Baron von Krause the famous
botanist, old Judge Barmore and many another, not to speak of Mary's
intimate personal friends, Richard's spiritualist circle, relatives and
members of the family. For a full half-hour they were hard at it,
shaking hands and exchanging greetings and farewells. Richard, in his
new travelling rig, spruce from top to toe, was urbanity itself: as
indeed how should he fail to be when, within cooee, rode the good ship
that was to carry him off? There was also a generous sprinkling of
children present, the colonial youngster never being denied the chance
of an outing. And to Cuffy, standing stiff and important in red gloves
and a tasselled sash, came Cousin Josephine to hiss in his ear: "Ooo . . .
aren't I glad I'M not going? Our servant, Mawy Ann, says you'll
pwobably ALL go to the bottom of the sea!" and then to laugh
maliciously at Cuffy's chalk-white face.

Rowed on board, they found the cabins hardly big enough to house the
masses of flowers that had been deposited in them--great stately
bouquets in lace or silver holders; lavish sprays; purple and white
arrangements shaped like anchors and inscribed "For remembrance." And
beside the flowers were piled cases of fruit and delicacies, as well as
other more endurable keepsakes: scent, and fans, and cushions, and
books. Nor were the children forgotten. Over-excited, the despair of
their nurses, Cuffy and his sisters rushed to and fro, their arms full
of wonderful new toys.

Said Mary in tears: "I think they're the dearest, kindest people in all
the world."

The last to leave the ship were Jerry, Tilly and Emmy. Emmy, looking
lovely as ever in her deep, becoming mourning, broke down over the
parting and cried bitterly. Mary--and Richard too--would have liked
to take the girl with them; both as a companion for Mary, and in order
that foreign travel might give a fitting polish to John's eldest
daughter. But Lizzie vehemently opposed the plan. Nor was Emmy's own
heart in it. For, since John's death, she had taken upon herself the
entire charge of her little brother, heaping on his infant head all the
love that had once been her father's. Hence she could not tear
herself away.

Jerry, a bank manager now, the father of a family, and hailing from the
township of Bummaroo, had stayed the night with them at their hotel;
and, John being no more, Mary had seized this chance of unburdening
herself to her staid, younger brother, of some of the doubts that
haunted her with regard to Richard's present flighty management of his
affairs. Bummaroo was not very far from Ballarat; and Jerry promised
indirectly to find out and keep her informed of what was going on.
"Don't worry, old girl. I can easily run over from time to time and see
how the land lies."

Tilly sat on the edge of a bunk and was very down in the mouth. "Upon
my word, Poll, I seem to feel it more this time than last--which is
just what a silly old Noah's Ark like me WOULD do, considering it was
for always then, and here you'll be back before the kids 'ave cut their
second teeth."

But the last bell went; the ship was cleared, the ladder hauled up; and
all the din and bustle of weighing anchor began. The wind being
favourable, the Captain undertook to reach the "Heads" before night;
and he was as good as his word. They made a record voyage down the Bay;
and, catching the tide before it turned, headed straight for the Bight.
Mahony, in his old sea-mood of rare expansiveness, went below to
announce their whereabouts. But by now, thanks to a freshening wind and
the criss-cross motion of the ship, all was confusion in the cabins.
The Dumplings, very sick, were being hurriedly undressed; Mary and the
nurses staggered about, their hands to their dizzy heads. Cuffy alone
was unconcerned: his father found him playing in the saloon, twirling
to and fro on one of the revolving chairs. Here was a chip of the old
block! Wrapping the child in a rug he bore him aloft, to watch the
passage through the "Rip."

Perched on a capstan, Cuffy followed the proceedings with a lively
interest, and to a running fire of questions. Why was the sea so white
and bubbly? Where was it running away to? What were reefs? Why were
light-houses? Why was a pilot? HOW did he know? Why did he have such a
big boat all to himself? Why didn't he have a staircase? Did he have
his own skin on under the oil? When was the sea SHUT? . . . and
many another. But gradually the little voice ceased its piping and a
silence fell--unnoticed by Mahony, who himself was carried away once
more by a splendid inner exultation, at dancing in the open, leaving
land behind. He stood lost in his own feelings, till suddenly he felt
the little body his arm enclosed give a great shiver.

He looked down. "What is it, dear? Are you cold?"

But Cuffy just nestled closer into the crook of his father's arm and
did not reply. He had no words at his disposal to tell what he felt at
sight of nightfall on these wild, grey, desolate seas. Nor did he dare
to resolve the more actual fear of Cousin Josey's implanting, and put
the question that burned on his lips: "How far is it to the bottom?" . . .
For perhaps Papa did not know that was where they were all sure to
go.

"Come, it's long past bedtime."--And lifting the child from his perch,
Mahony carried him below.

In the gloom of the cabin the hanging-lamp swayed from side to side,
with a slow, rhythmical movement; timbers creaked and groaned; from the
pantries came the noise of shifting, slithering china--sounds that
were as music in Mahony's cars, telling as they did of a voyage begun.

Mary turned a feeble head.

" Where HAVE you been? The child will be perished. Well, you'll have to
see to him yourself now. We're all much too ill."

And thereafter, between convulsive fits of retching, she heard from the
cabin opposite, where Mahony was undoing little buttons and untying
tapes, the voices of father and son raised in unison:

ROCKED IN THE CRADLE OF THE DEEP,
I LAY ME DOWN . . . IN PEACE TO SLEEP.




Chapter IX



The house they took for the winter was in Kensington Gore, and the
children walked every day with their nurses in Kensington Gardens. When
first they arrived, the great trees, with branches that grew almost low
enough to be pulled (if you jumped), were thick with leaves, and shady
like houses. Then the leaves tumbled off and lay on the ground, and,
when Nannan didn't see you, you shuffled your feet through them,
kicking up a dust and making a noise like crackly paper. Afterwards,
men brought brooms and swept the leaves into heaps and burned them in
little bonfires; and then what fun it was to run like blind men, with
eyes tight shut, through the clouds of smoke. You trundled your hoop up
and down these paths, but didn't go far away, because you couldn't see
where they ended for mist; and Nannan said you might get lost, or fall
into a round pond. And one day a strange, thick, yellow mist came down,
and hid even the path you were walking on, and made your throat tickle
and your eyes sting; and Nannan and Eliza, talking about pea-soup,
rushed for home, feeling frightened, big as they were, and having to be
helped across the road by a policeman, who made light with what Eliza
said was a "bull's-eye."

After this, Cuffy got a cough and had to take tablespoonfuls of cod-liver
oil, and to stay indoors while the Dumplings walked. It was dull
work. The nursery was so high up that you couldn't see anybody but
trees from the windows, which were barred; and you were not allowed to
look out at all, if they were open. Nannan said looking over made her
poor old head dizzy; and she lived in fear of seeing one of them "land
on the pavement." So Cuffy hammered with his knuckles on the panes,
making tunes for himself, or beat them out on his drum or xylophone,
till Nannan, sewing by the fire, said her poor old head was like to
split.

Cuffy gave her his gravest attention. "Are you so VERY old, Nannan?"

"Why, no, not so very," said Nannan with a queer laugh: she was
buxom, and in her prime.

"How old?"

"As old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth," was the cryptic
reply, which, far from ending the conversation, led on through a tangle
of question and answer--why tongues grew before teeth, what made
teeth, where they came from--to the eternal wonder: "Was I born, too?"
and "How?"

"A caution, that child, if ever there was one!" said Nannan, in
relating this "poser" and how she had queered it--"Only NAUGHTY little
boys ask things like that, Master Cuffy!"--to Eliza and Ann over tea.
This was drunk in a kind of cubby-hole off the night nursery, the three
colonials having failed to fraternise with the posse of English
servants who had been taken over with the house: a set of prim,
starched pokers these, ran the verdict; and deceitful, too, with their
"sirs" and "madams" to your face, and all the sneery backbiting that
went on below-stairs.

In regard to Cuffy, however, Nannan's opinion was general: an awkward
child to deal with. You never knew what fresh fad was going to get the
whiphand of him. For instance his first fear, of Cousin Josey's
suggesting that they would all be drowned, which had preyed on him
during the voyage: this allayed, he was haunted by the dread of being
lost, or at least overlooked--like a bag or an umbrella--in this
great, strange, bewildering place. Even at the pantomime at Drury Lane,
he suffered torments lest, when it was over, Nannan and Eliza should
suddenly forget that he and the Dumplings were there and go home
without them; and from the close of the first scene on, he inquired
regularly every few minutes throughout the afternoon: "Is this the
end?" till Nannan's patience gave way, and she roundly declared that
never would she bring him to a theatre again. It was the same at Madame
Tussaud's--the same, plus an antipathy that amounted to a horror of
all these waxen people with their fixed, glassy eyes; and a fantastic
fear that he might be mistaken for one of them and locked in among
them, did he not keep perpetually on the move. His hot little hand
tugged mercilessly at Eliza's baggy glove. Yes! more bother than half a
dozen children put together. Just a walking bundle, said Nannan, of
whims and crotchets.

Chief of these, and most tiresome of all, was the idea that he
could not--or must not--sleep of a night, as long as his father and
mother were out. Did they attend an evening party, he tossed restless
till their return. And if in spite of himself he dozed off, it was only
to start up with the cry: "Is my Papa and Mamma come home yet?" Nannan
was at her wits' end what to do with him; and more than once boldly
transgressed her instructions about absolute truth in the nursery. For
it was not as if Master Cuffy really wanted his parents, or even wanted
to see them. No sooner did he know they were back, under the same roof
with him again, than he turned over and slept like a top.

The mischief was: they were out almost every night. For, in violent
contrast to the hermit's life he had been leading, Mahony was now never
happy unless he was on the go. An itch for distraction plagued him;
books and solitude had lost their charm; and an evening spent in his
own society, in this large, dark, heavily furnished house, sent his
spirits down to zero. They had brought many an excellent letter of
introduction with them; a carriage-and-pair stood at their disposal;
and so, except for an occasional party of their own, they went out
night after night, to dinners, balls and card-parties; to soirees,
conversaziones and lectures; to concerts and plays. They heard Tietjens
sing, and Nilsson, and Ilma di Murska; Adelina Patti with Nicolini; and
a host of lesser stars. Richard said they must make the most of their
time; since it was unlikely they would ever be on this side of the
world again. To which, however, Mary now secretly demurred: or not till
the children are grown up. For, though foreign travel meant little to
her, she was already determined that her children should not miss it--
it, or anything else in life that was worth having.

In the beginning, she was heartily glad of the change in Richard's
habits, and followed him without a grumble wherever he wished: he
wouldn't budge a step without her. But, as week after week went by, she
did occasionally long for an hour to herself; to prowl round the shops;
see something of the children; write her letters in peace. As things
stood, it was a ceaseless rush from one entertainment to another, not
to mention all the dressing and re-dressing this implied. Done, too,
with Richard standing irritable and impatient in the hall, watch in
hand, calling: "Now DO come along, Mary!--can't you hear, my
dear? We shall certainly be late."

She comforted herself with the thought that it was not for long: they
had taken the house only for a twelvemonth; and there was talk, as soon
as the weather improved, of a trip to Ireland to see Richard's sisters,
and to the Midlands to visit Lisby, now Headmistress of a Young Ladies'
Seminary. So, in the meantime, Mary went without her tea to sit through
interminable political debates; or struggled to keep her eyes open at
meetings of learned societies, where old greybeards droned on by the
hour, without you being able to hear the half of what they said. "I
suppose it does SOMEBODY some good!" thought she. Richard, for
instance, who had read so many clever books and enjoyed teasing his
brains. Herself, she felt a very fish out of water.

Nowhere more so than at the spiritualist seances, which, for peace'
sake--and also because everybody was doing it--she now regularly
attended. London was permeated with spiritualism; you hardly met a
person who was not a convert to the craze. The famous medium Home had
already retired, on his marriage, into private life, much to Richard's
disappointment, but he had left scores of imitators behind, who were
only too well versed in his tricks and stratagems. The miracles you
could see performed! Through the ceiling came apports of fresh flowers
with the dew on them, or roots with the soil still clinging; great
dinner-tables rose from the floor; lights flitted; apparitions
appeared, spoke to you, took you by the hand. But nothing that happened
could shake Mary's convinced unbelief. She was of those who maintained
that so-called "levitation" was achieved by standing on your toes; the
"fire-test" by your having previously applied chemicals to the palm of
your hand; while the spirits that walked about were just so much
drapery on a broomstick. And it invariably riled her anew, to see
Richard sitting solemnly accepting all this nonsense as if it heralded
a new revelation. Of course, many clever men besides him were the dupes
of their own imagination. Learning and common sense did not seem to go
together. SHE preferred, thank you, to trust the evidence of her own
eyes and ears.

However, she kept these thoughts to herself, patiently doing all that
was required of her in the way of linking hands in dark rooms,
hymn-singing and the rest, with only an occasional silent chuckle at
the antics of the believers. But then came an evening when
circumstances forced her hand. Well, yes . . . that was partly true.
They were at a sitting with a medium of whom she had long had her
doubts; and, on this night, the evidence for fraud seemed to her so
glaring that she determined to put it to the test. For once, Richard
was not beside her. Instead, on her right, she had a lady who fell into
raptures at each fresh proof of the "dear spirits'" presence.
Stealthily bringing her two hands together (as Tilly had long ago
instructed her), Mary freed one from this person's hold; and, when
"spirit-touches" were again proclaimed by her neighbour (they never
visited HER!) she made a grab, and just as she expected, found the
medium easily recognisable by her bulk--crouched on her knees inside
the circle, with a long feather whisk in her hand. In the dark, and in
utter silence, a struggle went on between them, she holding fast, the
medium wriggling this way and that, and ultimately, by lying almost
flat on the floor, contriving to wrench herself free. Not a word did
Mary say. But at the end, when the lights were turned up, it was
announced that the "spirits" complained of an unsympathetic presence in
the circle; and after some hocus-pocus with slate-writing, etc., she,
Mary, was designated and asked to withdraw.

Richard, pale and extremely haughty, made the best of the situation in
face of all these strangers, none of whom but eyed Mary as if she were
a moral pariah. Inwardly he was raging; and he freely vented his anger
in the carriage going home.

"There you have it! Your mulish obstinacy . . . your intolerable lack
of imagination. . . your narrow, preconceived notions of what can and
cannot happen!" Till Mary, too, lost her temper, and blurted out the
plain facts of the case. "I knew her by her figure. What's more, I
distinctly felt the big wart she has on the side of her chin."

But with this, it seemed, she merely displayed her ignorance. For the
spirit body, in manifestation, was but the ethereal shadow cast by the
physical, and its perfect duplicate. Richard also went on to crush her
with St. Paul's "terrestrial and celestial"; harangued her on the
astounding knowledge of the occult possessed by the early Christians.
It was no good talking. Everything she said could be turned
against her.

As she brushed her hair for the night, however, she could not resist
remarking, in a final tone: "Well! all I know is, if these really ARE
spirits who come back, it doesn't make me think much of heaven. That
the dead can still take an interest in such silly, footling things!"

"Quite so, my dear. You keep your traditional fancy picture of semi-birds
and harps and crowns. It best suits a mind like yours to make its
heaven as remote and unreal as possible. For the truth is, you no more
believe in it than you do in the tale of Cinderella."

"REALLY, Richard! . . . what next, I wonder?--Though I must say, I
don't think there's much to choose between harps and things, and
playing concertinas and tilting tables. One's as stupid as the other."

"Well, how else . . . can you perhaps suggest a better way for a
discarnate being to make its presence known? Every beginning is crude--
and always has been. Though, for that matter, what is the Morse
alphabet they use on the electric telegraph, but a series of
transmitted raps?"

"Oh, I'm not clever enough to argue about these things. But I know
this: if I go to heaven, I hope at least to find there'll be something
something really useful--TO DO."

But when the light was out and they lay composing themselves for sleep,
she heard Richard mutter to himself: "There may be . . . there probably
IS . . . fraud. And why not? . . . do not rogues ofttimes preach the
gospel? But that there's truth in it--a truth greater than any yet
dreamed of--on that I would stake my soul. Ours the spadework. . . God
alone knows what the end will be."

The result of this affair was that Mary no longer frequented seances.
On such nights Richard went out alone, and she sat comfortably by the
fire, her feet on the fender, her needlework or the children at hand.

But not for long. As suddenly as Richard had thrown himself into the
whirl, so suddenly he tired of it, and at the first hint of spring--it
was early February; birds had begun to twitter in the parks, the spikes
of the golden crocus to push up through the grass, and Richard
petulantly to discard his greatcoat--on one of these palely sunny days
he came home restless to the finger-tips, and before the
evening ended was proposing to start, then and there, for the
Continent. Why should they not shut up the house, send the children to
the seaside, and jaunt off by themselves, hampered only by the lightest
of luggage, and moving from place to place as their fancy led them?

Why not? There was, nowadays, no practical reason why he should scruple
to satisfy any and every whim. And so his roughly sketched plan was
carried out. With the sole difference that they took Cuffy with them.
For, as soon as Nannan heard what was in the wind, she marched
downstairs and said bluntly, she did not choose to shoulder the entire
charge of Master Cuffy. The child was anyhow but poorly, what with the
colds and things he had had since getting here; a walking mass of the
fidgets besides; and if now his papa and mamma were going away as well,
she guaranteed he'd worry himself, and everybody else, into a nervous
fever. Mahony cut short the argument that followed by saying curtly:
"We'll take the youngster with us," and pooh-poohed Mary's notion that
travelling would be bad for the child. Much less harmful, said he, than
staying behind and fretting his heart out. Besides, Ann would be there.
Ann could look after him.

And so it came about that Cuffy journeyed in foreign parts, bearing
with him, snail-like, all that stood to him for home.

Of these early travels, the most vivid memory he retained was, oddly
enough, the trifling one of being wrapped in an opossum-rug and carried
in some one's arms from a train to a ship, and back to a train. But in
those buried depths of his mind to which he had normally no access, a
whole galaxy of pictures lay stored; and, throughout his life, was the
hidden spring that released them touched, one and another would
abruptly flash into consciousness. As a small boy they put him in many
an awkward fix; for he could never prove what he said, or even make it
sound probable; and, at school, among companions whose horizon was
bounded north, south, east and west by the bush, they harvested him a
lively crop of ridicule and opprobrium. ("A tarnation liar . . . that
young Cuffs MAHONY!") But there WERE houses built in water--somehow he
knew it--and bridges with shops on them. Boats with hoods, too, and
men who stood up in them to row with a single oar. There WAS a statue
so big that you could climb into its nose and sit there, and
look out of its eyes: rivers, not red and muddy but apple green; a
tower that leaned right over to one side; long-legged birds that built
their nests on chimney-tops.--But then again, on the heel of such bold
assertions, a sudden doubt would invade the speaker; a doubt whether he
had not, after all, only DREAMT these things. With no one to whom he
could turn for confirmation, with every object that related to them
lost or destroyed, Cuffy, throughout his later boyhood, swung like a
pendulum between fact and dream, and was sadly torn in consequence.




Chapter X



Travelling from Dover to Calais and thence to Paris, the party set off
on what, in thought, Mary ever after dubbed: "that mad race across
Europe."

For, the Channel behind them, Richard's restlessness broke out in a new
form: it seemed impossible for him to be content in any place they
visited for more than a day or two on end. In vain did Mary protest:
"But, Richard, we're not seeing anything!" Within a few hours of his
arrival in a town, he had had enough of it, sucked it dry; and was
fidgeting to be off to the next on their line of route. Nor was this
itch for movement all. The strange food did not suit him: he either
liked it too well and ate too heartily of it, or turned from it
altogether. Then the noisiness of foreign cities--the cobbled streets,
the rattling of the loosely hung vehicles, the loud foreign voices, the
singing, the tambourining--got on his nerves, and, together with the
unshaded windows of hotel bedrooms, kept him awake half the night: him
spoilt, for how many a year, by the perfectly darkened sashes, the
ordered silence of his sleeping-room at "Ultima Thule." And all the
beauties in the world could not make up to Richard for lack of sleep.
Or, to turn it round: rob him of his sleep, and you robbed him of all
power to enjoy fine scenery or handsome monuments. And so they
sometimes arrived at a place and left it again, without having really
seen very much more of it than the four walls of a room.

Before they had got any distance, it became clear to Mary that
Richard's travelling-days were . . . well, one could hardly say over,
when they had only just begun. The truth was, they had come too late.
He was no longer able to enjoy them.

It was not the physical discomforts alone that defeated him. The
fancies he went in for, as soon as he set foot on foreign soil, made
his life a misery to him. In Paris, for instance, he was seized by a
nervous fear of the street traffic; actually felt afraid he was
going to be run over. If he had to cross one of the vast squares, over
which vehicles dashed from all directions, he would stand and hesitate
on the kerb, looking from side to side, unable to resolve to take the
plunge; and wasn't he angry with her, if she tried to make a dash for
it! His own fears rendered him fussy about Cuffy and the maid's safety,
too. He wouldn't hear of them going out alone; and insisted every
morning on shepherding them to their walk in the Public Gardens. If he
was prevented, they must drive there in a FIACRE. Which all helped to
make the stay in Paris both troublesome and costly. Then there was that
time in Strasbourg, when they set out to climb the tower of the
cathedral. It was certainly a bad day to choose, for it had rained in
the night and afterwards frozen over, and even the streets were
slippery. But Richard was bent on seeing the Rhine, and the Vosges, and
the Black Forest from the top of the steeple; so up they went. As far
as the platform, it was plain sailing. But on the tower proper, when
they were mounting the innumerable stone steps--all glassy with ice,
and very tricky to keep a footing on--which led to the spire, he
turned pale, and confessed to giddiness . . . it was true you looked
through the wide-open stonework right down to the street below, where
people crawled like ants. And after another bend in the stair, he
clinging fast to the iron hand-rail, he had ignominiously to give in
and descend again: backwards, too! "I felt I should either fall through
one of the openings or throw myself out. Great heights are evidently
not for me."

And this was not wholly due to imagination. For, after going up the
Leaning Tower of Pisa and taking a peep over the side, he felt so sick
on reaching the ground that he had to go back to the hotel and lie
down.

Again a beautiful city like Munich was ruined for him, by the
all-pervading smell of malt from its many breweries. The whole time they
were there he went about with his nose in the air, sniffing; and he
never ceased to grumble. Next, as the Tyrolese mountains were so close,
they took train and went in among them; but this didn't suit him
either. The nearness of these drear, dark masses wakened in him, he
said, an overpowering sense of oppression; made him feel as if he MUST
climb them; get to their summits in order to be able to breathe. One
moment abjuring heights, another hankering after them!... who
could keep pace with such inconsistencies?

Of course there were times when he smiled at himself; saw the humour of
the situation; especially when he had just escaped from one of his
bugbears. But then came the next (he was never prepared for them) and
hit him equally hard. The thing he COULDN'T laugh at was his--their--
"infernal ignorance of foreign lingos." Not to be able to express
himself properly, make himself fully understood, riled and fretted him;
though less, perhaps, than did her loud and unabashed efforts to say
what she wanted. And because he couldn't argue, or expostulate, with
porters, waiters, cabbies and the like, he constantly suspected these
people of trying to do him. The queer thing was, he preferred being
diddled, putting up with it in gloomy silence, to trying, in broken
French, German or Italian, to call the cheats to account. Many an extra
franc and taler and lira did this hypersensitiveness cost him. But his
dread of being laughed at was stronger than himself.

Yes! there was always something. He never let himself have any real
peace or enjoyment. Or so thought Mary at the time. It was not till
afterwards, when he fell to re-living his travels in memory, that she
learned how great was the pleasure he had got out of them.
Inconveniences and annoyances were by then sunk below the horizon.
Above, remained visions of white cities, and slender towers, and vine-clad
hills; of olive groves bedded in violets; fine music heard in
opera and oratorio; coffee-drinking in shady gardens on the banks of a
lake; orchards of pink almond-blossom massed against the misty blue of
far mountain valley.

Of all the towns they touched, even including Naples and Rome, Venice
suited him best; and this, she firmly believed, because he went there
with the idea that, having neither streets nor wheeled traffic, it must
of necessity be a quiet and restful place. Herself she noticed nothing
of this. Dozens of people walked the narrow alleys--you could really
go everywhere on foot--and the cries of the gondoliers, the singing
and mandoline-playing lasted far into the night. But Richard throve on
it; though it was June now, and very hot, and alive with mosquitoes. He
bathed daily on the Lido, and for the rest of the day kept cool
in picture-galleries and churches, of which he never seemed to tire.
Whereas she, after half an hour of screwing up her eyes and craning her
neck at ceilings, had had more than enough.

They had been there for a whole fortnight, and there was still no talk
of their moving on, when something happened which cut their stay through
as with a knife. The smallest details of that July afternoon--it
started with one of Cuffy's outbreaks--were burnt into Mary's brain.

Richard had gone after lunch to the British Consul's, to fetch their
Australian mail: Mary was anxiously waiting for news of the birth of
Tilly's child. She wrote at her own home budget while expecting his
return, sitting in the cool hotel bedroom with Cuffy playing on the
floor beside her. Deep in her letter, she did not notice that the child
had strayed to the balcony. How long he had been there, still as a
mouse, she did not know; but she was suddenly startled by hearing him
give a shrill cry.

"Oh, no . . . NO!"

Laying down her pen, she stepped through the window. "What's the matter
with YOU?"

On the opposite side of the canal some men were engaged in drowning a
puppy. They had tied a weight to the little animal's neck before
throwing it into the water, but this was not heavy enough to keep it
down; and again and again, in a desperate struggle for breath, it
fought its way to the surface, only to be hit at with sticks did it
come within arm's reach. Finally, amid the laughter of the crowd, the
flat side of an oar caught it full on its little panting snout and
terrified eyes. With a shriek that was almost human, it sank, not to
rise again.

"Run inside, Cuffy. Don't stay here watching those nasty cruel men,"
said Mary, and took him by the arm. But Cuffy tore it away and remained
standing with dilated eyes and open lips, breathing rapidly. The last
blow struck, he burst into a passion of tears and, running to a corner
of the room, threw himself face downwards on the floor.

There followed one of those dreadful exhibitions of rage or temper
which Mary found it so hard to reconcile with her little son's usual
docility. Cuffy kicked and screamed and wouldn't be touched, like the
naughtiest of children; and at the same time was shaken from
head to foot by sobs about which there was nothing childish.

She was still bending over him, still remonstrating, when the door
opened and Richard came in. One glance at his face was enough to make
her forget Cuffy and spring to her feet.

"Richard! Why, my dear . . . why, whatEVER is the matter?" For he had
gone out, not an hour earlier, in the best of spirits; and here he came
back white as a ghost, with dazed-looking eyes and shuffling feet. "Are
you ill? Has the sun . . .?"

Midway in a sob Cuffy stopped to listen . . . held his breath.

Pouring himself out a glass of water and spilling it as he poured,
Richard drank, in a series of gulps. Then, from a bundle of newspapers
and letters he was carrying, he drew forth a folded sheet and handed it
to Mary.

"Read this."

In deep apprehension she took the paper. As she read she, too, went
pale. It was a telegram from Jerry, forwarded by their London banker,
and ran: RETURN IMMEDIATELY. MOST URGENT. WILDING ABSCONDED AMERICA.

Mary could not all at once take in the full sense of the words.

"But how . . . what does it mean, Richard? I don't understand."

"Mean? Ruin, I suppose. In all probability I am a ruined man." And
dropping heavily on a chair, Mahony buried his face in his hands.

Cuffy sat up, and peeped furtively at his father and mother, with round
eyes.

"Ruin? But how? . . . why? Oh dear, CAN'T you speak? No, no, Richard!
What are you thinking of? Remember the child." From under his hands
tears were dripping on the table.--"Go to Ann, Cuffy. She shall take
you out or give you your tea. Run away, dear . . . quickly!--Now,
Richard, pull yourself together. It's no good breaking down. WHAT has
happened? What do you intend to do?"

"Yes, what am I to do? Oh, help me, help me, Mary!"

"Of course, dear, of course I will."

Stifling her own alarm, Mary sat down at his side and took his hand in
hers. It was plain he had had a severe shock. He admitted as much
himself: the thing had come so suddenly. He told how, out of
the dazzling sunshine he had stepped into the cool office at the
consulate, had passed the time of day with a clerk, had been chatting
with the fellow when the telegram was handed him.

"This has just come for you, sir. I was about to send it on to your
hotel."

Yes, he had not even stopped talking as he tore it open. The next
moment the room had started to swing round him; he had been obliged to
take a seat, every one staring at him, eyeing him askance. How he
managed to get out of the place and home, he didn't know. His mind
seemed to have escaped control: felt like a child's puzzle that had
been rudely jolted into hundreds of pieces, and had now all to be re-set.
"Which I don't feel equal to, Mary--and that's the truth.
Something seems to have broken inside me."

Oh, how like a bad dream, the remainder of that day! For the practical
side of the matter could not wait--not for a single hour. Richard
half-way restored to composure, they had to set to work in cold blood
to discuss the situation. It was clear to both that he must return to
Melbourne with the least possible delay. Till then, he would not know
how he stood. Things might not, urged Mary, be quite so black as they
looked at first glance, Wilding's absence yet prove capable of a
rational explanation. But Richard, she could see, feared the worst . . .
had no real hope of this. (And in her heart even she thought the tone
of Jerry's message belied it. Oh, where would they have been, had she
not had that private confab with Jerry the night before sailing!) No,
the conclusion Richard had jumped to at first reading, he still
maintained: after the fashion of many a dishonest broker, Wilding had
sold the scrip he held from his clients and bolted with the proceeds.
Now, the only question was: what was left; what could be saved from the
wreck.--A mail steamer was due to leave Venice some time during the
week; and on this Richard must, if humanly possible, secure a berth.
And the rest of the day passed in running from wharf to agent, from
consul to banker. The money question had also to be gone into: what he
still had in hand; how much remained on his letters of credit; what
balance lay in the London bank. Then they had to think of the
furniture, the curios and pictures they had bought on their
travels, and sent back to England. The London house would have to be
got rid of; the servants paid off, and so on. Before evening Mary's
brain was reeling with all the details it was necessary for her to take
in. But this rush and flurry was exactly what Richard needed. And she
kept him at it, kept him on the go till late at night, with the result
that he went to bed dog-tired--too worn out to think.

But he had hardly dozed off, when they were roused by Cuffy starting up
in his sleep, screaming: "No, no! . . . don't hit him . . . oh, DOGGY!"

Hastily informed what had happened, Mahony struck a light and rose; and
forgetting himself over a trouble even more pressing than his own, he
lifted Cuffy out of bed and set him on his knee There he talked to him
as, thought Mary, only Richard could talk. He went through the scene of
the afternoon, made the child, amid tears and frantic sobs, live
through it afresh; then fell to work to dispel the brooding horror that
lay over it. Such things as this were often to be met with in life;
Cuffy must be a brave little man and face them squarely. Somehow, they
all fitted into a great scheme on God's part, which our poor brains
were too puny to understand. To be pitied was not only poor doggy,
whose struggles had soon ceased, but also the men who could act so
cruelly towards their little brother--no less a brother because he had
not the gift of speech. Cuffy must try to feel sorry for them, too;
they had probably never had any one to teach them the difference
between right and wrong. And he must make up for their want of love, by
being doubly kind himself to all dumb creatures.--And so on and on, in
a quiet, soothing voice, till the child's terror was allayed and he
slept, his arms clasped like a vice round his father's neck.

Forty-eight hours later Richard, with for luggage a single portmanteau,
boarded the Overland Mail for Egypt--and thus ended a two days'
nightmare in which he had never ceased to torture himself with the
bitterest reproaches. "It is all my fault . . . my own fault . . . I
alone am to blame. If ONLY I had not been so headstrong . . . had
listened to you!" The last glimpse Mary had of him showed him standing
at the taffrail of the tender that carried passengers to the
steamer; standing very erect, and even making a brave attempt to smile,
as he waved his hat in farewell; for, when the time came, his chief
thought was of her, and how he could ease the parting.

Till now Mary had kept up; had had, indeed, not a moment to think of
herself, so busy had she been consoling, supporting, encouraging. But
now that everything was over and she sat alone in the hotel bedroom,
all she had gone through, all the conflicting emotions of these two
past days--not the least of which were self-reproaches every whit as
bitter as Richard's own--took toll of her. Behind locked doors she
broke down and wept bitterly.

The thought of her coming loneliness appalled her. For over twenty
years she had never been absent from Richard for more than a few weeks
at a time . . . had never been parted from him by more than a couple of
hundred miles. Now, this violent abrupt separation, with all the seas
between, made her feel as if she had been roughly torn in two. For
months and months to come she would have no one to lean on, no one to
consult--oh, WHAT if one of the children should fall ill and Richard
not be there? She also shrank, with the timidity of unuse, from the
prospect of having to emerge from her womanly seclusion and rub
shoulders with the world. Her work had invariably been carried on in
the background. When it came to a personal contact with business and
business people, Richard had always been there, to step forward and
bear the brunt. Now she, who had travelled but the briefest of
distances unescorted, was called on to undertake by herself, not only
the far journey across the Continent, but the infinitely more trying
one of a two to three months' sea-voyage round the Cape. And until she
got on board! To be faced, before that, were railway officials,
porters, house-agents, shipping companies, bankers; the drawing of
cheques and the paying of bills; the dismissing of servants; the
packing and transport of baggage and furniture, the embarking, the
long, long voyage with but one nurse for the children, and nobody at
all to look after her. But hardest of anything was the knowledge that
she would have to remain in her present state of ignorance and
uncertainty, knowing nothing of what had actually happened, or of how
Richard was bearing up, and whether he was well or ill, until
she herself landed in Melbourne more than six months hence.

But the barest hint of illness in connection with Richard was enough to
make her mind swerve, with a sudden jerk, from herself and her own
troubles, to him. Desperately as she would miss him, and need him, yet
she had small doubt--something within told her so--that, when she
stood face to face with things, she would contrive to get on somehow.
But he!--how would he ever manage without her? . . . to nerve him and
to soothe him, and to listen to his outpourings--away from her, he
quite literally would not have a soul to speak to. She saw him on the
outward voyage, eternally pacing the deck, a prey to blackest anxiety--
and the last thought of self went under, in a fierce uprush of pity for
him, so solitary, so self--centred, so self-tormented. Oh, that he
might be spared the worst! He was old for his age; much too old to have
to begin life afresh--life which, with every caprice satisfied, had
yet become so hard for him: an hourly tussle with flimsy, immaterial
phantoms, whose existence other people never so much as dreamed of. And
to know him pinched for money again, going short, denying himself,
fretting over the straits to which he had brought her and the children
. . . no! Mary felt there was nothing, absolutely nothing she would not
do, to help him, to spare him.

Well! . . . sitting crying wasn't the way to begin. That was a fool's
job. She must just set her teeth and make the best of things--
separation, uncertainty, responsibility--endeavouring, when it came to
business, to stand her ground, even though she was but an inexperienced
woman. And as a first step she got up, dried her eyes, and bathed her
face. After which she had trunks and saratogas brought out, and fell to
packing

But more and more, as the day wore on, did a single thought take
possession of her--and, in this thought, Mary came as near as she ever
would, to a conscious reflection on the aim and end of existence. It
began with her suddenly becoming aware how she longed to hug her babies
to her again, and how much she had missed them; a feeling until now
resolutely repressed . . . for Richard's sake. Now, as, in imagination,
she gathered her little ones to her heart--and gathered Richard with
them, he, too, just an adored and absent child--it came over her like
a flash that, amid life's ups and downs, to be able to keep
one's little flock about one, to know one's dearest human relationships
safe and unharmed, was, in good truth, all that signified. Compared
with this, hardships and misfortune weighed no more than feathers in
the balance.

"As long as we can be together . . . as long as I have him and my
children . . . nothing really matters. I can bear anything . . . put up
with anything . . . if only they are spared me!"



End of this Project Gutenberg of Australia etext The Way Home
by Henry Handel Richardson (1870-1946)






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