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Title: Boomerang (1932)
Author: Helen Simpson
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0800611h.html
Language:  English
Date first posted: June 2008
Date most recently updated: June 2008


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Boomerang

by

Helen Simpson


LONDON
WILLIAM HEINEMANN LTD
FIRST EDITION JANUARY, 1932
SECOND EDITION FEBRUARY, 1932
PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN AT THE WINDMILL PRESS


TO WINIFRED

My dear,

I would dedicate this book to you, if dedications any longer meant
anything, and if I were not, with the rest of us in our hurry, shy and
clumsy at making a gesture. I had better stand aside, I think, and let
one of your Elizabethans do the trick for me as it should be done.

Reginald Scot is speaking:

"I do not present this unto you because it is meet for you; but for that
you are meet for it (I meane) to judge upon it, to defend it. I hope you
will read it, or at the least, lay it up in your study with your other
books, among which, and this is sure, there is none dedicated to any with
more good will.

"Your sincere loving friend--"

H. S.
Queen Anne Street, London.


CONTENTS:

Foreword
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17


FOREWORD

Of the various incidents related in this book, some of the more improbable are true; for example, the impersonation of "Martina Fields" in a remote continent, and the visit of a woman to the Australian trenches on the Somme. I say this, not to forestall criticism of my invention, but as a pensive commentary on the difficulty imagination has to keep level when truth is allowed to set the pace.

The characters throughout are either imaginary or dead. In no case have real names been used, except that of the King of France who lost his throne in 1830; as for my Governor-General, like my Premier, Cardinal, and Lord Mayor, he is pure fantasy, having no original among the distinguished gentlemen who have held that office in reality.

The chapter headings throughout are taken from Sir Thomas Browne.

H. S.


CHAPTER I

But remembering the early civility they brought upon these countreys, and forgetting long passed mischiefs; we mercifully preserve their bones.
--Religio Medici.

Life can afford extravagance, books cannot; for this reason nobody will dream of believing in my two grandfathers. They are too true to be good--good fiction, at any rate; if I try to give some kind of picture of them, it is because they frame between them a vision of a golden age, which could only have existed in brand-new countries, among brand-new circumstances and laws. It was not a golden age for everybody, wives or servants for instance, but for these two it was; they were, to use a word which is almost dead, characters.

I am sorry to think what would happen to these two old gentlemen if they had the misfortune to live now; it would be something legal, that is certain, falling heavily to crush their magnificent egotism and eccentricity. Their wives, who in the 'seventies put up with them with the uncomprehending patience accorded by Insurance Companies to Acts of God, would nowadays divorce them. Servants would bring, and win, actions against them for assault. As for their families, these would scatter immediately after the first row or two, and go forth to earn their livings with all the horrid freedom that the post-war period accords. In an age of standardisation these old crusted, crusty gentlemen, mellow even in their rages as the Madeira which they sent for a roll round the Horn before bottling, would have the deuce of a time.

Doctors, to begin with, who in the last half century have swelled up into demi-gods, would be the first to interfere. They would view the couple, with their picturesquely flushed faces, their sudden wraths after meals, as mere examples of treacherous glands, and hardening arteries. (Character is a word which has died from the doctors' vocabulary too.) They would accept five-guinea fees to persuade the old gentlemen that what they needed was calm; and there would be a great recommending of suitable institutions--"quite in the country, you know, cooking not bad, and just supervision, nothing irksome." When the doctors had done, the lawyers would take their turn. Death duties, they would tell their victims, could best be avoided by making over the estate during lifetime to a reliable son. Relatives would then appear, with hints, backed by statistics, concerning vegetarian diet, and the undesirability of port by the pint twice a day. And at last, having shorn the bewildered unfortunates, for their own good, of home, money, wine and liberty, the twentieth century would turn the key on them with a sigh of genuine relief.

There was none of this in the colonies of last century, which was, for the tyrants, the very grandest imaginable time. There were doctors, true, and lawyers, but they were kept in their place, and the tyrants used them. Land was for the asking. Convicts were done with, to everybody's relief--the last batch reached Sydney in 1840; but there was labour to be had, labour which, like the doctors and lawyers, knew its place, and took its wage with a finger to the forelock. There were English immigrants who came after gold, and remained to use spade and shears. There were Chinese in numbers, who came, as they explained by an interpreter to astonished immigration officers, to earn prouder lacquered coffins in this rich new land than their own exhausted paddy-fields could yield them. (The price of the coffin once safe in a canvas bag, they broke their term of service and returned to China assured of respect.) To deal with the land and the labour, a great many laws were made, and printed, and forgotten on shelves; while on the land existed superbly a number of men and women who were laws to themselves; characters, obeyed as such, loved, feared, and occasionally murdered as such. And here we come upon those prime old personages, ripe and shocking and satisfying as good Stilton cheese, the despair of their families and neighbours, and worth the lot put together; Great-grandfather Boissy, and his son, Gustave-Félicité.

I may say at once that I never knew either.


CHAPTER II

All places, all Aires, make unto me one country; I have been ship wrackt, yet am not an enemy with the sea or winds.
--Religio Medici.

I

The first unbelievable thing about Grandfather Boissy is that he was born over a century and a quarter ago, in one of those little island colonies which the French and English were accustomed to snap up in passing during the eighteenth century. Great-grandfather, a ne'er-do-weel of family--Boissy de Mortemar was the full name--was sent there for his country's good in 1789, just before the French troubles began, and there remained and was forgotten, very conveniently for him, by his country's successive masters. It must not be thought that this exile, though imposed with a view to relieving a certain irritation which his presence set up in Parisian society, was attended with any humiliation such as the average deportee was obliged to endure. No; my great-grandfather, Auguste-Anne, went off to Santisimo Corazon in style, with a brevet of Lieutenant-Governor in his pocket, to be the representative of his king; my uncle has this brevet yet, with its seals, and its scrolly lawyer's writing, and the brave beginning "Il est ordonné," and at the bottom a fine flourishing signature, "Louis," the L of it three inches tall.

In Paris, Auguste-Anne had, I gather, been a nuisance. In Corazon, freed of relations, with no means ready-made of frittering money, and a climate which after a year or two either calmed or killed the individual submitted to it, he became a very respectable governor. He enjoyed being God, and had a fair conception of how the part should be played. He had a taste for splendour, as had the blacks he ruled. He encouraged their religion, which had withdrawn into the shadows as persecuted faiths will, so that witch doctors throve; even, they got up a procession or two after the fashion of those held at Church festivals, to the great scandal of the official priesthood. In ordinary times these latter would have protested to France, and there would have been a reprimand, and eventually a new Governor with a narrower mind; but by now the year was 1794, priests were disapproved in Paris, and it was felt, after the news of the massacre of Thermidor, that it would be tactless to invite the attention of Robespierre and his colleagues to a religious dispute in a distant island. The clergy did indeed send off some form of protest to the Pope, who replied absent-mindedly with an illuminated blessing, and an indulgence of thirty days for whosoever should recite, fasting, a prayer for the conversion of the heathen. After this their reverences gave it up, and retired with dignity from all competition in processions, wherein, as they had the wit to realize, they were hopelessly outclassed.

Meanwhile Auguste-Anne and his blacks went their scandalous and vivid way, working, but no more than was necessary, and breaking off into refreshing orgies of religion from time to time. The governor's religion, true, was that of Dr. Pangloss rather than of his baptism, but it included dancing and a certain show of physical prowess, and was perfectly understood by the governed. These, indeed, so far sympathised as to lend him occasionally their own mysterious drummers, though not the drums--sacred these, and strung with human hide; had they been borrowed and trifled with odd things might have happened. But the drummers had no objection to showing their skill, and condescended to rub knuckles on the garrison kettles, which thereupon spelt out the strangest aphrodisiac rhythms, unmilitary though commanding. Great-grandfather Boissy was probably the first European to tangle his feet in these rhythms, the germ of jazz, which fell upon barren ground, and bore no fruit for another century. It delights me to think of his two fiddlers and his solitary piper drawling out the artless melodies of old France--Bouton de Rose, Tendre Musette, Dans ce Bocage--with this primal wickedness thudding away underneath.

II

Such was his life on the island, while his impeccable relatives in Paris were scurrying this way and that like rats when a haystack burns. With two frontiers to defend, and a new philosophy to impose upon a sceptical hostile Europe, the Republic One and Indivisible had no thought to spare for Corazon. News came, blown in with stray ships, and was discussed, but without much interest. France was too far away. Then, somewhere about December 1794, came a warship flying the tricolour, from which landed two officers in full regalia with scarves of the three colours, to enquire of the governor why the devil the sacred three did not wave above the little mud fortress which guarded the port. They required an immediate lowering of the detested white flag, together with proofs of citizenship and loyalty from Auguste-Anne. The latter, who happily lacked the kind of principle which obliges a man to strike attitudes, had the flag down at once, and put up a makeshift affair of red, white and blue, made by the garrison's wives out of old petticoats. As for the proofs of citizenship and loyalty, these he provided until the officers were totally exhausted, and unable to deal with a girl or a glass more. He then had them conveyed aboard their vessel by polite negroes, with a note to say that he believed there were English ships in the offing; which hint, when they had recovered sufficiently to read it, they took, and made off under all sail.

When they had gone Auguste-Anne had the tricolour flag hauled down and stowed in a locker for future use. The island dreamed on under the white and gold as before.

A few months later an English sloop appeared, and remained in the harbour a week. At the end of this time another flag, red and white crosses on a blue ground, was stowed in the same locker, and another ship's company went off with aching heads to sea. It was the captain's hope to obtain at least a step in rank by reporting this new acquisition to the territory of George III, and he drew up an impressive report, dwelling on the dangerous nature of the exploit, and the stubborn resistance of the islanders. (More than one of the Governor's ladies had taken fright at his ginger whiskers, which were looked on by the unsophisticated creatures as lusus naturae.) But the Admiralty of those days was ancestor to the Admiralty of these. The king was having a fit when the tidings arrived, and so the report was initialled and docketed, and taken down into the bowels of the earth to be filed; that is to say, it was forgotten with all possible completeness, and the unlucky author remained a post-captain till death.

The years went on. Somewhere about the time when Napoleon was striking like forked lightning through Italy, a deputation waited on Auguste-Anne. He came from his bed to meet it in a peacock-coloured dressing-gown, and learned that it wished him to be king. Now that King Louis was dead, said the spokesman, nobody knew for certain whom the island belonged to. There were the Republicans, who sounded ferocious, and the English, who had run about after a little ball in full mid-day sun, and were regarded by the islanders as no better than lunatics. Remained Auguste-Anne; and the deputation, which included--privately glaring, but publicly all balm--the Bishop, and the most renowned of the witch-doctors, came to suggest that it was his duty to clear up the situation by accepting the crown. The whites harangued him, and drew examples from antiquity; the blacks wept and addressed him, not without a percentage of truth, as the father of their children. Seeing both parties so much in earnest, Auguste-Anne displayed no false modesty, but agreed then and there, all dressing-gowned as he was, to rule them. They thanked him without surprise and retired backwards to compose public demonstrations of rejoicing after their several manners. The blacks got up their inevitable procession, which was rained on, to the secret joy of the Bishop, whose Te Deum with augmented choir, and the now Royal piper playing the serpent, was a triumph of comfort and good producing.

Auguste-Anne was present, needless to say, while the canons and choirs felicitated God on having acquired him as vicegerent, sitting close to the altar and looking impressive in a blackguardly way. Later, when the Bishop, fired by the success of his performance, worked up to a coronation service, he submitted to the various ceremonies with dignity, and was respectful to such relics as the tibia of St. Athanasius and the ossa innominata of St. Stipendius, taken for the occasion from a magnificent charnel-house of solid silver. When it was over, the King, though tired, walked in procession under a canopy to a sort of natural grassy amphitheatre near the bay, and went through the whole thing again, according to the rather more ancient and much more disreputable rites of the blacks. The Bishop, though piqued, feigned not to notice this deliberate encouragement given to Paganism; remembering the result of his application to the Pope, and the distance of Corazon from any authority, he retired with a judicious migraine, and thus avoided taking any scandal. Happily, he recovered in time for the Palace dinner that evening, and did it full justice, which is more than can be said for the chief Witch-doctor, who lay on the shore all night in a sweat of blood, troubled by the resentful ghosts of sacrificed virgins.

III

When these civil and religious sprees were over, life went on as before; that is to say, the people supplied themselves at Nature's expense with food, and spent the rest of their time with women, or composing liquid symphonies upon a delectable ground-bass of rum. Such was the routine of blacks and whites alike, and Auguste-Anne was the last person to interfere with it. He left matters alone; it was his genius, the one thing he could do really well. Years had taught him that in an island such as Corazon, time and climate do all the ruling needed; glory, by which is usually meant wholesale killing, he left to the tornadoes which whirled through the gulf of Mexico every six or seven years. The anticipation of these disasters, and the rebuilding of life after they had occurred, were the island's artless substitutes for the thrills of civilised warfare, with this important difference, that the heads of the State and the poorest plodding conscript stood in exactly the same danger while the elements raged.

It was after one such tornado, which had blown in the Palace door as by a charge of gunpowder, flattening a couple of domestics, and cutting Auguste-Anne himself about the head with flying splinters, that the second deputation arrived. Auguste-Anne, piratical in bandages, received them and enquired their business; which was, put briefly, to get him married. They said that what with tornadoes and time they might lose him now any day. (Auguste-Anne started at this plain speaking, but the fact remained, he was forty-three and the climate was not tolerant to middle-age.) They knew, they said hastily, that so far there had been no diminishing of his remarkable physical powers, which had become a legend already, handed down in story from mothers to daughters when these attained suitable age; but all the same--

Then, as before, the whites harangued, and the blacks wept. "But where the devil," enquired Auguste-Anne, "am I to look for a wife in this bitch of an island?"

The deputation had an answer to this, having thought the whole situation out with care, amid the mourning and labour of a tornado's aftermath. It would not do, they agreed, to take a wife from the island. Women could not stand splendour; they had no heads for it. Lift up one island woman, and her first idea would be to trample the other island women, and these would rebel, and stir up their husbands, and there would be trouble in no time. (Witness that good-for-nothing daughter of old Tascher de Lapagerie, cocked up on a throne as Empress of the French, making her husband ridiculous with her extravagance and her bad taste in lovers.) Nor would it do, pursued the deputation, to return to France in search of a wife; nothing but parvenues now in France, none of the good old thin blood left, thin noses, thin notions; only a lot of dukes called after battles, and duchesses red-handed from the maternal wash-tub. America was out of the question, as was Canada, and the wilder republics of the south. The only place left where a personage like Auguste-Anne, last of a line of graceful existers, royalist and rich, might best look for a consort, was England. England swarmed with exiled ladies, poor but suitable, bending over embroidery, teaching deportment; even--these too--busied over wash-tubs. (But a wash-tub from which one has risen, and a wash-tub to which, after selling the last jewel, one descends, are two very different things.) The deputation's advice, then, was this: that Auguste-Anne should set sail in the next ship that touched at the little harbour, leaving his people to tidy up the island against his return; that he should take his time in England, look about him, choose, unhurried, some young creature who might enjoy the thought of processions and progeny, and bring her back to reign. Finances, they explained, would hardly run to a second crown; but there was always the Virgin's, which she only wore on feast-days, and could well spare the loan of now and then.

In fact, they had the whole plan neatly cut and dried.

As usual, Auguste-Anne did not keep them waiting, but assented at once, and dismissed them to such rejoicings as the devastation and threatening famine of the land allowed.


CHAPTER III

Saltimbancoes, Quacksalvers, and Charlatans...whose cries cannot conceal their mischief. For their impostures arc full of cruelty, and worse than any other, deluding not only unto pecuniary defraudations, but the irreparable deceit of death.
--Vulgar Errors.

I

Next month, in an opportune trading vessel, he set off to woo.

How he proposed to go about the business on landing at Bristol is unknown, for he was perfectly innocent of the English tongue, save for a few expletives, and had no introductions or passport except his brevet of governor and his still handsome though florid person. Probably this latter would have been the more useful of the two in a country where George the Prince Regent set fashions, but as things fell out he had no need to put it to the test, or to submit himself to the tilted eyebrows of dowagers, with fledglings in charge, ranged round a ballroom in Bath.

For while still in Bristol he met a young female by pure accident; ran her down, as a matter of fact, just as he was driving out for the first time in the immense chariot which had been specially built for him. The girl was small, and fair, and of no pretensions. Her nose was snub, not the aristocratic feature he had come to seek, but it had for the hawk--but purplish--beaked Auguste-Anne the violent attraction exercised by opposites.

She was hardly hurt at all, and had fainted more from a sense of propriety than anything else; and when she came to in the vast hotel bedroom to which she had been carried, and perceived herself to be wearing a gentleman's silk nightshirt, she was in half a mind to go off again. The nightshirt, however, had no immoral significance. The chambermaid had robed her in it at the bidding, but not in the presence, of Auguste-Anne. Still, he had come once to the door to see that his protégée was safely bestowed; and the sight of her lying there with her pale hair fanning out over the pillow caused him first a pang and then an exaltation. He swore at himself, a loud inconsequent French oath, but the exaltation persisted; then with a stamp of the foot, and a--"Why not? Sacred name of names!"--descended the stairs and ordered his horses to be put up again. He had decided with a truly royal impulsiveness to seek no further.

It must be remembered that he had had twenty years of sun and dark-favoured women, and this girl was fair, and the month an English November. It had rained since the day he arrived. The best inn was panelled throughout with oak, which absorbed any daylight left over from the narrow streets and high buildings. The best inn offered him twice a day mounds of half-raw meat in lieu of meals. There was an entire absence of any person who could converse in the only civil language. He had enquired if Bristol were a considerable city, and got the truthful reply that it was one of the greatest in England. He had enquired if any other part of England were less subject to rain, and was told no. He had enquired if there were anyone in the whole town who spoke French, and was briefly informed that there was a war on. He went to the carriage makers, and found them ignoramuses, unable to understand how the quarterings on the panels of the chariot should go. They had never heard of his illustrious family, and in their easy British way thought that anything ought to do for a Frenchy, and only one of these Markees at that. They were used to Markees, coming round with such pitiful fine bows to solicit the lowest paid jobs, and had got in the way of despising them. Even that anomaly, a Markee with quantities of money, ought, they considered, to put up with such heraldry as they chose to give him. Auguste-Anne nearly burst a blood vessel before he could get his mullets and leopards and blackamoors' heads in the right places.

All this may explain, at least partly, why Auguste-Anne, having set out upon an errand of State, with money in his pockets and the title of queen to offer, should have contented himself--more than that; should have set his heart upon, clung to, and refused to relinquish the first presentable young thing that happened to fall in his way.

II

Literally, to fall in his way; but as I said, she had hardly a touch from the hoofs. She came to, and blushed at the nightdress alone; then rang for the maid, and demanded to know where she was, and to be taken instantly home to her mother. Auguste-Anne, informed through the housemaid of this request, said with a wave of the hand when he had got the sense of it:

"Bring this mother to her."

And brought the mother was, in the identical chariot which had downed her daughter, and put her pale head in the way of a crown. She was a respectable middle-aged person in a clean cap, who let rooms to the grass-widows of sea-captains, and who somewhere in the Dark Ages had become the genuine, or turf-widow, of a sea-captain herself. It is impossible to guess at what she thought, and what the neighbours thought, when a large gilt chariot, its panels covered with blackamoors' heads, its horses glittering like successful generals, drew up with a prodigious jingling and stamping at her modest door. She was at once told of her daughter's accident, but having been brought up in a more practical and less ladylike way, neglected to swoon. Instead, she got into the vehicle, with a glance which made swift calculation of its cost, reflecting that this upset might turn out to be a bit of luck for the girl after all.

When she saw Auguste-Anne, however, she had something of a shock. Both England and France had grown out of the taste for brocades and bright colours. In civil life young gentlemen's choice for coats had dwindled down to a few sombre greens, black, mulberry, and a brown or two, though they might array themselves rather more picturesquely for any kind of slaughter. But Auguste-Anne, again remember, had not seen Europe for twenty years, and had lived among a people to whom strong colour was as natural and wholesome as strong wine. He wore now, in the year 1804, in Bristol, in November, a coat of bright yellow face-cloth, with a kind of laced stock, and crimson knee-breeches buckled with gold. Add to this a sword and a rather elaborate wig, curled so as to afford him an extra two inches of height; and the excellent mother's diffidence, her first astonished cry--"Love-a-duck, play actors!"--is easily explained.

Auguste-Anne led the fluttered lady to a chair, and by means of his interpreter, an able-bodied seaman who had been discovered in the tap, made known his project. His meaning was at first obscured unintentionally by the seaman, whose knowledge of the language of Racine had been acquired as a prisoner in the hulks of Toulon. At this intermediary's first statement of his principal's requirements the outraged mother rose from her chair, seeming to fluff out to twice her size, like an angry cat.

"Never!" declared the mother. "Tell him never, the wicked rascal, and you should think shame yourself to repeat such words, you nasty wretch, you!"

To which the seaman replied without heat:

"Stow your gab, I never said 'e didn't mean to sleep with 'er honest, did I?"

"Marriage?" said the mother incredulously, staring at Auguste-Anne, who recognised the word and bowed, saying in his own tongue:

"I have the honour, madame, as this person says, to demand mademoiselle your daughter's hand in marriage."

"Well!" said the mother, at this repetition of the word, and looked once more up and down the flaunting figure of her daughter's suitor.

"If," pursued Auguste-Anne smoothly, "as is natural, you should wish to peruse my credentials, I have them here--"

And he took from his bosom the parchment displaying King Louis' brevet, unrolled and let it hang, ribbon and seals and all, before the uncomprehending eyes of the mother.

"What's all this?" the latter enquired of the seaman.

"Licence," replied that worthy readily, "writ out in Greek by 'is Nibs the Archbishop o' Canterbury. Didn't I tell yer he wants to (an intolerable word) the girl honest?"

Stupefied, the mother sat surveying the mysterious parchment, while her thoughts played with a dream of riding about to the end of her days behind four horses, and of having done for ever with lodgers. After a brief period, during which it must be confessed that these and similar considerations received due attention while the possible happiness of her daughter went without more than perfunctory enquiry, she signified her willingness to ratify the arrangement.

But certain safeguards had to be thought of first. If there was one thing which a life among the grass-widows of seafarers had taught her, it was the importance of always having a sum of money down, and as far as possible payment in advance. Written pledges to pay she scorned; she had in her younger, more guileless days acquired quite a collection of these, which it gave her very little satisfaction to recall. She sat with folded hands, the primmest creature, while her mind flickered up and down columns of imaginary figures--price of chariot, gold hilt to sword, menservants in livery, diamond pin; and she had arrived at this conclusion, that the mysterious suitor, whatever he might be worth a year, was good as he stood for five hundred guineas. She therefore named this sum in gold as the price of her consent, adding the stipulation that the marriage should be performed by a clergyman of the church of England.

Somehow or other the seaman managed to get this proposition into a form assimilable by Auguste-Anne, with the unimportant difference that the sum demanded, in the usual way, was increased by passing through the middleman's hands. The seaman's eye had summed up the eccentric being more truly than the mother's could do, so long accustomed to the narrow horizons of lodgers. He had seen nabobs, had the seaman, and if this was not one, though a toad-eating Frenchy, blast his bowels, and so on, with a wealth of physiological detail. He demanded, accordingly, one thousand guineas; and when the Frenchy without turning a hair agreed, and told a servant to hand the purse, could have cursed himself blue for not asking double.

It must have been a curious scene, the three of them round the table in that foggy panelled room. There was the pinched respectable visage of the widow, who sat, telling over the coins with genteelly mittened hands; the tarry-tailed seaman striving to catch her eye with a wink, a plea not to give him away; finally the pantomime presence of Auguste-Anne Boissy de Mortemar, in his canary coat and wig twenty years out of date.

The tally completed--and it may be said at once that the mother never did give the seaman away; but to his blasphemous surprise, all that came to his pocket out of the surplus was two guineas, and those of a suspiciously light weight--the tally completed, it was suggested that Miss should be sent for, and informed of her good fortune. The sailor accordingly, not without protest, was banished; and the mother accepted a glass of wine from her son-to-be, while they waited for the girl to appear.

She came at last, looking timid and frail against the dark panelling, and ran towards her mother at once. There was a quick dialogue, unintelligible to Auguste-Anne, which may have run as follows:

"Oh, mother, whatever's been happening? Have you come to take me away?"

"Sit down, Bella, don't look so agitated. Not feverish, are you? Well, then, sit down."

"But who is that man? What does he want here?"

"That's not a man, child, that's a rich gentleman. Bob to him, do; look how he's bending himself nigh-on double--"

"Oh, the brute, that's him that was in the coach!"

"Well, what of it? He'll make you amends. He's a gentleman every inch--" here the purse in her pocket gave an approving clink--"and I don't want no better for my daughter. Ah, you'll be calling on your poor old mother, my dear, in your own carriage before long."

At this point the girl, turning one horrified glance on the hawk-face which, while it had not forgotten dignity so far as to smirk, was at any rate attempting an agreeable grimace, burst into tears, and subsided to a chair weeping. Over her bent head mother and suitor exchanged comprehending glances, and with a further bow, and a word or two of solace, Auguste-Anne left his heart's choice to a parent's care.

The argument was not soon over. Miss Bella had read quite a number of the fashionable horrid books in which mysterious strangers carried off damsels to castles hung with pictures whose hands dripped blood, whose lofty corridors resounded by night with female screams. To her otherwise untutored mind this dark personage was just such a being, and she had no fancy for screaming in corridors however lofty. She preferred, being a nice, ordinary, unadventurous girl, and a milliner's apprentice, to remain at home making bonnets for the gentry of Bristol, and told her mother so, as firmly as she could for tears. But she was no match for that lady, or for that lady's strict sense of honour, which having accepted payment, insisted upon delivering the goods. Finally to tears she opposed tears, louder, saltier, more abandoned. The daughter weakened, was assailed more closely, and at last yielded; on which the mother, her victory won, pocketed her handkerchief after a brisk final blast, and sent a servant to tell the foreign gentleman that the young lady would see him now.

Though the interview which followed from an English point of view could hardly have been reckoned a success, being in fact nothing but a series of silences linked by sobs, Auguste-Anne was not disturbed by it. Marriages, in his pre-revolution world, were entirely affairs between parents. Red eyes at the betrothal were to him only decent, a proof of sensibility, nothing out of the way. He looked his acquisition up and down, discreetly, not to cause her embarrassment, and putting his gleanings with the more particular information afforded by the housemaid who had undressed her, sat down content, and in good appetite, to the supper he had ordered.

III

The marriage, which took place soon, by licence, must have been an absurd and pathetic ceremony. Bella would have let it go over without fuss, swallowing Auguste-Anne like a pill, in private. Auguste-Anne himself, to whom a marriage service conducted by heretics was about as binding as a thread of cotton, would likewise have preferred to keep it quiet, and have the show on their return to Corazon in a climate better adapted to display.

But the mother was inexorable. Not content with the certainty of ease, she was determined that all Bristol should know of her divorce from the obloquy of furnished rooms, and of her daughter's elevation to a gilded coach. She had visions of lawn sleeves blessing the couple. Was there not, only a dozen miles off, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and was a Bishop any too good for a man who could hand out a thousand guineas without a blink, like so much copper? A thousand pounds in thy courts is but a day, thought the widow, transposing the psalmist to the tune of Auguste-Anne's pockets, while she urged making a semi-royal spread of it, and asking the Mayor. She even went so far as to broach the idea of the Bishop to her rector, but that humble priest was so aghast at the idea of asking the Bishop to drive a dozen miles, and don his lawn sleeves to join a milliner's apprentice and a person who looked like a pirate, was in fact so sincerely shocked at the notion of requiring the Bishop to do anything but exist, that she gave way, and relinquished her dear ambition. With the Bishop departed hope of the Mayor, and with hope of the Mayor the whole official character of the thing, so that in no time it had come down to a pullulation of captain's wives and millinery companions, and the glory had quite departed. It was the Rector himself who undertook to marry them in the end, and the service at any rate was fully choral.

It must have been a grand sight--though some of the milliners tittered--to see the ruler of Corazon in really full fig, heels, wig, colour, everything slightly higher than ordinary. Even his nose seemed to have a more pronounced cant upwards at the bridge; but this may have been due to the amused contempt with which the whole ceremony filled him, comparing it with what his own witch-doctors and canons could do in the same line. A puffy post-captain on leave borrowed for the occasion from an ex-lodger gave the bride away, so that her mother, who could be perfectly the lady when occasion called or opportunity offered, might ply the smelling salts and be genteelly overcome. One unfortunate though picturesque circumstance was the intrusion of the seaman whose exaggeration had obtained for the widow five hundred pounds over her due, and who had been so smoothly bilked of his rightful commission. This unbidden wedding-guest, having waited till the ceremony was well under way, began, in a voice that in its time had competed with tempests, to deliver his version of the bargain which had resulted in the present ceremony.

He made a most unbecoming uproar, and his neighbours and the vergers, though scandalised, were too much filled with respect for the Lord's house, and also perhaps too completely scared by his appearance, to make effective protest. They remonstrated in whispers, which availed against his bawling about as well as a lady's fan against a hurricane; they looked with disapproval, or else feigned to ignore. The rumpus increased with their efforts until the bridal couple, who had got to the exchange of vows, could hardly hear themselves speak; at which point it occurred to the groom that the noise, which he, accustomed to oddities in religion, had at first supposed to be an integral part of the Church of England service, was in fact an interpolation. Accordingly, not being troubled by any scruples as to the sanctity of the place, he put the ring back in his pocket, and leaving the bride to the clergyman's mercies, advanced towards the disturber drawing his sword; seeing which the disturber fled, vaulting pews, and escaped with a thwack on his backside, which split his breeches and showed a semi-circle of white, as though that part of his anatomy grinned. Having purged the sacred edifice of din, the groom returned at the stately pace to which his heels compelled him, and concluded the business of getting married with the utmost decorum.

IV

A ship for the West Indies sailed that night on the tide, and they went aboard her from the church. There was a good deal of the kind of British merriment which seeks to veil with jocosity the deadly possibilities of every marriage. There was a good deal of assorted liquor of the very best quality; rum for the sailors, and champagne for the puffy post-captain, and for the ladies a little mild punch with ratafia biscuits. After justice had been done to these, and all the refined jokes had been made--the vulgar ones are inexhaustible, but were confined to the forecastle--the captain, being anxious for his tide, cleared away the guests with nautical finality. There were tears, and on the part of the post-captain, dragged from his liquor untimely, a protest or two; but he was prevailed on, and departed at last, weeping, between a couple of seamen. The widow was, as was right, the last to go. She was in fact anxious to be quit of her daughter, whose behaviour during the fortnight of the betrothal had shown a complete lack of gratitude to fate; but the girl clung, down in the dark and narrow cabin, and it was only decent to remain, and pat her shoulder and prophesy, and take every means to console and reassure. Thus the widow, though glad to leave, was last along the gangway. She had, as has been said, a strong sense of right, and never failed to pay the tribute of a gesture to virtue. Accordingly, she remained on the wharf in a fine mizzling rain until the ship was warped out and began to slide down-channel. Then, full of elation, charged with the enviable task of selling the gilt chariot and keeping what she could get for it, happy in the consciousness of a thousand gold guineas safe hidden behind the chimney, she made her way up and down the curling streets of Bristol, home.

Her conviction that she need never more let lodgings, and that she would ride behind four horses was proved true, for two mornings later she was found by her new servant lying before the fireplace, from which some bricks had been removed. She had been dead since midnight, and there was an ugly knife, of the kind that seamen carry, standing up out of her breast.

V

Corazon, not having been warned of their majesties' arrival, which in any case was far sooner than anyone expected, had no flags out as the ship crept in on a light dawn wind to Seven Wounds Bay. The flagstaff was bare--it may be told here, unofficially, that the military had gone off duty the day after their ruler's departure, and the flags of three political systems had shared the same sea-chest for months. The wreckage of wattle and daub houses was still to be seen everywhere, and the master's eye, looking towards the summit of the cathedral tower, observed that the gilded Virgin who formed the wind-vane no longer caught the sun. His telescope sought her, for she was one of the chief landmarks, and it was customary to take a bearing by her at a certain point in the narrow entry to the port. But she had gone, leaving only her pedestal.

This was the first news that greeted Auguste-Anne when he came on deck in the most gorgeous dressing-gown of all his repertoire. He was not much upset by it; he was seldom ruffled by any event which did not intimately affect his own comfort, and the Virgin, though celebrated and useful to mariners, had never really captured his attention, save when he cursed her for predicting the devastating nor'-west wind. He stood still, watching the morning light grow pink over the town, and for some few uncounted minutes was completely happy; that is to say, he did not know himself to be so. He breathed, and existed, and ignored time, like a god, until a touch on his arm brought him out of the clouds to realise that he had been experiencing a number of outmoded emotions such, for example, as love of home. It was his wife at his elbow.

"Augustus," she began, "my love--"

She persisted in this form of address, which humbled her husband but which he could not prevail on her to drop. She could not pronounce properly the "Monsieur" which to his mind was all that was permissible to a wife, and his couple of surnames prevented her from employing the Bristol idiom "Mister--" followed by the initial letter of the name. Mr. B. de M. would have been altogether too complex.

"Augustus," said she, therefore, "my love, is this really the place?"

He signified that it was. She looked about as the ship drew nearer to the ravaged waterfront with an air of being dutifully willing to be pleased with what she saw: but in her heart she was obliged to confess that it was indeed very different from Bristol. For one thing, there was, although it was barely dawn, more light: and this light, streaming up from behind the mountains, was increasing every instant so that her English eyes could hardly bear it; but they were not so blind but that they could observe the general dilapidation of the town, like a tattered patchwork quilt tossed over a couple of hills. It was not ashamed of its raggedness, did not tuck the broken-down streets away out of sight as was the custom in England. There were gaping roofs everywhere, even a very palatial building had a temporary wig of thatch, and a list to eastwards. A qualm overcame her. "Is that," said she pointing, "our residence?"

Auguste-Anne, casting a careless eye in the direction her finger showed, nodded with no diminution of his calm.

"But," she insisted, "that building is all askew!" Auguste-Anne nodded once more, and vouchsafed a short explanation.

"We have a gale, it does so, pouf! The next gale--pouf--blows it straight again. What matter?"

And he resumed his contemplation of the approaching port.

His wife would have wept, but at the end of a six weeks' voyage in her husband's company she knew better than to weep. Nevertheless she inwardly thought both the residence and its prevailing angle shocking, and had a momentary daughterly pang of resentment against her mother. The pictures that inspired lady had drawn! The visions of splendour she had known how to call up, out of an imagination nourished upon seafarers' tales! As the dutiful but disillusioned wife went below to finish her packing, she had privacy to indulge in a tear or two. But she was married now, and in her inmost heart of a milliner's apprentice and lodging-keeper's daughter, she knew that while without a husband a woman was dross, for a woman armed by marriage against the world there was sometimes hope. And she resumed her packing resigned.

By the time she came on deck again the news of their arrival had swept through the town, in the manner so surprising to those unused to the ways of blacks. The mud fort was dotted with gay uniforms, and as she looked the squat gun poking out from its casement gave a kind of loud bark, and recoiled for an instant out of sight. Down every street, out of every door, window, and other practicable aperture people were swarming, calling to each other, waving bits of bright stuff, assembling on the front to watch the ship berth, and receive her gig when it should come ashore. Auguste-Anne, perceiving these preparations, and mindful of the politeness of princes, turned to go below and array himself. But first he looked at his wife.

She was dressed in her wedding-dress of silk. It was the finest she had, it would have stood alone had it been set on the floor, but it was grey. Her bonnet, self-made, was also grey, though stuffed with pink roses. She looked, no doubt, very charming, and would have made a picture against a background of tender English green; here the background gave her no chance. It was daubed in like a very modern picture, in the strongest primary colours, blue and yellow and blinding white, and against it Madame la Marquise would not do.

"What is this dress?" he asked abruptly in French. "Why do you wear the costume of a nun?"

She swallowed once--after all, it was her wedding finery--before she answered in English:

"It is my best dress, Augustus."

"Have you nothing more suitable? Grey! Come, you see for yourself--"

His hand indicated the startling shore and the harbour now filling with small boats, red-sailed. She understood what he meant, but this was an eventuality she had not foreseen. She had nothing but what, in England, was suitable and in good taste, little pink dresses, white dresses, one grand flounced dress with sprigs; nothing that would accord in the least with this glare. Auguste-Anne shrugged, saying drily:

"We must remedy that," and went below to do his subjects' expectation justice.

Bella remained, looking down with fascinated eyes at the swimmers and rowing boats that now by dozens surrounded the ship. They kept up a continuous yelling, and those in the boats splashed madly with their paddles. This, had she but known, was not occasioned by the wildness of their enthusiasm, but from the need to terrify sharks, which frequented the harbour in schools. She gazed, then averted her eyes with all possible speed. The swimmers were unclad.

"Oh!" thought the unhappy Bella, wondering whether or no she should swoon, "Never, never did I think such things could be!"

And it is possible that in this comprehensive wail she included certain practices of her husband, Auguste-Anne Boissy de Mortemar.

"Well, meddarm," said the captain's voice behind her, "you don't see this sort o' thing much in Bristol."

"No, indeed," she agreed with feeling, and blushing.

No indeed, people did not cast away all restraint, all clothing in Bristol. People did not yell, nor live in pink houses all blown to one side. There were matrons in the boats, grinning and publicly feeding naked babies, while what clothes they wore seemed to serve no decent purpose. No, things were very different in Bristol.

The captain took a few walnuts from his pockets and tossed them down among the swimmers, who dived as they saw them coining, and then caught them accurately between their teeth; caught and cracked with one motion, and ate with one more.

"Look at that," said the captain, "monkeys ain't in it with these coves."

And he laughed heartily, searching his pockets for more nuts.

"I think they are terrible," said Bella, faintly, averting her eyes.

"Well," said the captain, considering, "I don't know. They have human sacrifices, by what I've heard, but not for eating, more in the way of fun. And they get up to a lot of mischief, with spells and such-like. They go mad a lot, too. But I don't know that they're so terrible, taking them all round."

At this point, just as Bella had decided that she could bear no more, Auguste-Anne, dressed for the occasion, came majestically on deck, and the welcomers began to arrive.

VI

First, the Bishop, rowed by six unclad negroes, his processional umbrella fringed with gold held over him by a priest. He was a bishop of the old school, rounded and jolly, who always found plenty of words in season to say to brides; and he had been devoting the past months to getting up a ceremony of uncommon splendour for the coronation, and to thinking out in private, with chuckles, something appropriate for a christening. It was with a conscience at ease and a mind alert with benevolent curiosity that he permitted himself to be hoisted by his negroes up the ship's ladder, into the presence of the island's lord and master. Auguste-Anne, who enjoyed the Bishop and played up to him, sank to one silken knee for his blessing; Bella, completely awed by this tribute, sank to both of hers; and the Bishop let off a good long Latin benediction over their heads, which, owing to the incurable fruitiness of his voice, sounded more like an excerpt from Petronius Arbiter. Then they rose, the bride keeping an eye on her spouse for cues of behaviour, like a parvenu watching a duke's manipulation of forks, and there was an outburst of foreign chatter. She was able to catch a word here and there of it, and understood that Auguste-Anne was introducing her. She had been coached, and should have known what to do when the Bishop thrust out his exquisite little rosy hand towards her; she did know what to do, she remembered perfectly, but at the popishness of it all the Bristol blood in her revolted, and she did not kiss the hand, but shook it; timidly, civilly, and with a curtsy as she had been taught at school.

Auguste-Anne glowered, while the Bishop appeared surprised. Another outburst of rapid French permitted her to guess that she was being apologised for as a heretic. Strangely enough, the Bishop did not seem in the least put out, but taking her hand kindly in his own two, like scented cushions, made her a little speech, from which she gathered that he promised himself great pleasure in taking on his shoulders the responsibility of her instruction in the Faith. She had not French enough to repudiate this, nor strength to withstand any longer her husband's sombre eye; and so she blushed, and looked appealing, and could not help being the prettiest creature the Bishop had ever seen. He said, measuring every word:

"You have a treasure, monsieur. We have lost our Blessed Lady (figuratively, you understand), and we will make of Madame a little golden saint to replace her."

And he chuckled again, and motioned the pair to a share of his umbrella, which already was totally inadequate for one; and they all three stood in state to survey the arrival, in a dug-out canoe hung with skulls, of the chief witch-doctor, his reverence Hele Tombai. This personage needed no help from his rowers to ascend the ship's side; he was up and over it in one bound, bowing and grinning, and finally whirling dizzily on his heels, while in the canoe his assistants waved a mysterious shape on the end of a thong, which gave out sounds like an angry bull. Auguste-Anne said to this power, when he finished his introductory dance, in the pidgin French of the island:

"This woman queen alonga me, you bloody well love her, name of a sacred name of a sacred pig, Tombai!"

Sacred pig was not at all an inappropriate term for the witch-doctor. His calling and station excused a good deal in him; but then the same might have been said, for that matter, both of the Bishop and of Auguste-Anne. This latter, while the Bishop feigned an aside to his chaplain, continued and closed his harangue with the simple words:

"She bring luck all same Yellow Mary" (the black's name for the lost Virgin). "You make tella your people, species of sacred goose, Tombai!"

Sacred goose was not bad either, as a piece of description. The witch-doctor was always cackling warnings, and the hurricanes which came along punctually every few years always bore him out as a prophet of disaster. His reputation rested on these hurricanes. It was supposed that a man whom the deities forewarned of their intentions in one important respect would hardly keep him in the dark about such minor matters as lost goats and sore eyes. But he was not, or perhaps the deities themselves were not, quite so strong on good-luck prophecies, and Auguste-Anne thought it as well in his exordium to offer an immediate and suitable substitute for Yellow Mary departed. This image was the only fragment of the island's official faith that the blacks were able to take to at all. They had been used to revere and say prayers to her, standing there so high, telling the winds which way to blow, bidding with her outstretched sceptre. Mistress of the Winds was their secret sacred name for her, and she came in for a good deal of devotion, mingled, as the blacks love to do, with fear. Auguste-Anne was aware of this, and seized his opportunity to set Bella in her place; she was as unbelievably white and gold, and every hair of her head was most evidently as good for the strongest kind of white magic as the gilded Lady brought from Seville two centuries ago.

The witch-doctor gave Bella an all-over glance as the Bishop had done, but no sentiment, whether of delight, covetousness, or contempt, was betrayed in the glaucous mirrors of his eyes. (They were greyish and opaque, the colour of oysters, but by no means blind.) He looked, then gave a final caper and twirl, and leaped over the ship's side again into his waiting, roaring canoe.

When he was out of reasonable earshot the Bishop began, in a tone of some concern:

"Excellence, my dear friend; I perceive that you appreciate fully the situation which the loss of Our Lady brings upon us. May I congratulate you upon your quick-wittedness in setting up--" he bowed--"an equivalent? The facts are these--"

"Facts?" repeated Auguste-Anne, drily. He knew the turn of the Bishop's mind, which could make a good story out of a mule consuming an over-ripe orange. The everyday glowed in rainbow hues when he set tongue to it. In the pulpit he could lend to Christianity the strangeness, the interest of an Eastern fairy-tale. Therefore Auguste-Anne repeated, without malice, the single word:

"Facts?"

"Aha!" said the Bishop with good-humour, "you do not trust me; well you are right, perhaps. We will let the abbé tell my story."

Thus encouraged the chaplain began.

VII

"Excellence, after the last tornado--you were gone soon after, and may not have observed it--Our Lady was discovered to be growing very stiff in her bearings, by no means so active or so accurate with regard to the wind. She was oiled, every care was paid her by steeplejacks, but with no effect. She creaked. She groaned like a soul in purgatory. Finally, she stuck."

"Stuck, abbé?"

"Stuck, Excellence; at south-east by east. Whether she had been bent by the excessive force of the wind is not known. This was one evening. Next day at dawn she was gone."

"Alas!" said the Bishop with a comfortable sigh.

"Hum!" mused Auguste-Anne, his eyes upon the swarming boats with their freight of monkey-like humans. "Your steeplejacks, were they black men?"

"Certainly," replied the abbé, "they were black men, Excellence. They are accustomed to hurry up and down tall trees in search of fruits and I don't know what else. Certainly our climbers were blacks."

"And have you seen them since?"

"Yes, Excellence, oh indeed, yes. Poor fellows, they were much distressed when coming in the morning they found her gone."

"She had not fallen?"

"There was no sound; no trace. Our Lady weighed some hundredweights, you know. She could hardly have fallen unnoticed. His Lordship, to begin with, must have heard the noise in the palace, which is so very close by--"

"Hum!" said Auguste-Anne again. He had himself been present at parties in the said palace when the sky might have fallen without any one of the guests being in a condition to observe it. He took a few steps this way and that upon the deck, eyed by all; then faced-about abruptly to declare:

"Your steeplejacks have got her."

"Excellence!" exclaimed the Bishop and his chaplain together. "What atrocity, our Blessed Lady in such hands!"

"Permit me. They have taken her away to worship. She will be treated with every respect."

"They will set skulls full of rum before her," moaned the chaplain.

"Force her to witness obscenities," added the Bishop, with a regretful sigh.

"Gentlemen," said Auguste-Anne, "you exaggerate. Our Lady can take care of herself; besides, she has influence--" He pointed upwards; then, seized by a sickening thought: "she was not of real gold?"

"Lead, gilded," replied the chaplain tearfully.

The Bishop and the ruler exchanged a glance which seemed to say "that would have been sacrilege indeed." The Bishop, taking a scented handkerchief from under the lace of his cotta--for the crowd of boats was growing thicker every moment, and the odour of their human freight mounting higher--said to the chaplain in his comfortable voice:

"Remind me, abbé, to curse the miscreants to-morrow morning before my Mass. They must not go unscathed." Then, turning to Bella, to whom the whole scene was a mystery, and who stood looking more adorable than ever in her bewilderment--she was one of those women whose faces an expression of intelligence kills:

"Madame," said the Bishop, bowing as well as his rotundity would allow, "here at last is your state barge coming, with, let us hope, a somewhat less perilous ladder. Will you honour my arm by taking it towards the descent?"

She slipped her white fingers under the Bishop's elbow, and found them caught close to the Bishop's side by muscles of unexpected strength. Together they took the ten steps to the ship's bulwark, Auguste-Anne following contemptuously with the chaplain. The state vessel indeed was there, hung with brocades that looked as though they had been dyed in wine, gilded, carved, its rowers dressed in liveries copied from those which had served poor King Louis upon his ornamental waters. A kind of boatswain with a whip stood in her prow, flailing off the encroaching negro eyes. Another official fixed the steps and came half-way up them to take his new mistress's hand. The Bishop gently urged her. She came to stand upon the broad top stop, lifted up above the boats, for the first time in full view. The crowd yelled, seeing her, and timidly she put a hand to her breast, while the other hand still stretched out and down. She did not know it, but she stood for ten seconds in the very attitude of the lost Virgin, and the quick eyes of the blacks perceived it at once. The yell came down to a duller crooning noise, with a rhythm to it, so that the Bishop, who knew that prayers sound the same in all languages, gave a start. Then she stepped down into the gilt cabin of the barge, and was lost to the worshippers' sight.

What an experience for Bella! The whole old story of Cinderella was being lived by her over again. There she sat, amid hangings of silk, with a Bishop, who for grandeur could have played His Inertia of Bath and Wells off the stage, bending to her lightest whisper; and a husband whom thousands feared; and a whole dark people smitten with wonder at her pale beauty. Her thoughts are not to be known; but it would surprise me to learn that there was nothing in them of regret, no hankering for the bonnets, the sameness, the dear respectability of Bristol, as she set foot that morning in the island's preposterous only town.

VIII

Almost immediately after her arrival things began to happen in Corazon. This in itself was unprecedented; things, caprices of the elements, often happened to the island, but it was against nature for the ordinary lotus-life of the islanders to engender events. Auguste-Anne, having reigned twenty years over docility, found actual problems presenting themselves to his lazy and despotic eye. The blacks, to begin with, were restless. He supposed that they had installed some new gods--they were always getting tired of the old ones, and inventing conquerors for them--and that their irritating drumming in the hills would soon die down. Possibly it was the cathedral statue, he thought, idly listening to the thuds through his netted windows, and they were offering her the kind of treats which in their innocence they supposed a virgin must enjoy. But there was no telling. The witch-doctor, questioned as closely and subtly as the simplicities of pidgin-French would admit, was bland, and civilly ignorant.

No, he knew of no trouble. All were busy, all were contented. There had been no reshuffling of gods.

Then perhaps Tombai could tell them what had become of Yellow Mary? Tombai shrugged so that his necklaces of teeth rattled ominously. Behind the glaucous eyes Auguste-Anne, long attuned to him, perceived a sullenness.

Yellow Mary, answered the witch-doctor, was very holy no doubt, very strong for magic?

It was a question. Auguste-Anne answered, feeling his way through the dark of Tombai's mind, that she was indeed strong. Had she not for two centuries beckoned the winds to the island?

"Ha!" replied Tombai, in a grunt so expressionless that Auguste-Anne knew it concealed something. But what? Was the witch-doctor afraid, or plotting, or shielding the thieves who had stolen Yellow Mary from her tower? Auguste-Anne could not resolve the problem, and in the end had to let his chancellor go. It never occurred to him that the poor ageing man was trying to keep his temper and his face, and pretend that all was well while in his spiritual dominions heresy raged with the fury of the recent hurricane.

But this was the truth, as appeared from the terrified confession of one of the house-servants one evening after his fingers had been held for a minute or two over a live candle. (This was such a very short way to the truth that local morality did not frown on it.) He could speak easy French, having been in the Governor's service many years, and the story came out comprehensibly enough to make Auguste-Anne swear, and take turns about the room.

The blacks were, said Boule de Neige, dissatisfied with Tombai. They thought him a true, but a disagreeable prophet, always faithful to disaster. He predicted cyclones, cyclones came, and there was endless rebuilding and work, to say nothing of personal danger. It seemed as though he had authority only over storms, for his other prophecies about children and crops and live stock were not notably accurate. There had been murmurings for some time. It had occurred to a good many people that they might do well to unfrock Tombai of his magic masks and necklaces, but they found themselves up against the usual difficulty of finding someone to put in his place. Half the population had watched and adored Yellow Mary for years, as presumably half the population of England in Newton's day had seen apples fall, but only one among them all conceived the notion of electing her in Tombai's stead.

Once the idea was grasped, it was acclaimed. Yellow Mary, as everyone with eyes in his head could see, was beckoner to all winds, not the dreaded nor'-wester alone. Her sceptre held magic to make the airs gallop which way she pleased; and it seemed to them that any person who could contrive, with the utmost respect, of course, to keep her sceptre towards the calmer quarters, might put a stop to tornadoes and their laborious consequences for ever.

So the steeplejacks one night ran up the spire and with reverence tried the experiment of roping the figure to one of their desired directions. They did it after much prayer, and with terror at their hearts, realising that the audacious experiment might well provoke a chastening tempest. But nothing happened save a few groans from the straining statue; then they realised with ecstasy that she was theirs, and that if only they could get her down safe from her height they might snap their fingers at old Tombai, and set up as popes for themselves. A nice stroke of irony directing the Bishop's choice, they found themselves summoned to deal with the immobility which themselves had caused. They used this daylight opportunity to reconnoitre, to slacken certain screws, to attach certain pulleys; and by the following morning there was no more trace of the Virgin than if she had had a second assumption, and been drawn up to heaven, points of the compass and all.

Since then, Tombai's offerings had been falling off, and the new worship had been sending the people into unequalled frenzies. Even the old man's drummers had deserted, and sat thumping day and night in the distant grotto where Yellow Mary stood, pointing with her sceptre always south-east by east. And except for a few women, always apt to lag behind where new ideas were concerned, nobody came any more to ask magic advice of Tombai.

Thus Boule de Neige, sucking from time to time his roasted finger.

"Do you know this grotto?" the Bishop asked.

(He was present, and none the worst for two bottles of claret.) Boule de Neige fell to gibbering, from which they gathered that he did know, but that it was as much as his life was worth to tell.

"She must be rescued," the Bishop avowed. "Our Lady in the hands of infidels, never! A new crusade--"

And he began to describe, with delicate gestures, the joys of suffering, of marching, of fighting amid blood and sweat as Our Lady's knights.

"As to that, I don't know," said Auguste-Anne slowly, impervious to eloquence, "I don't know, monseigneur, that we need go to all this trouble. I have done some campaigning, when I was younger, in this scrub of ours; they have only to sink the figure in a swamp, or bury her, and we may hunt till our tails turn blue. No, my advice--with deference, monseigneur--is to leave them in possession."

"It is sacrilege," said the Bishop firmly, for he would have enjoyed organising a crusade, and might even have accompanied it in a hammock between porters on the first day's march as far as the foothills.

"It is infernally bad policy," retorted Auguste-Anne. "(You may go, Boule de Neige.) If we lend importance to this theft, we set these black fellows thinking, 'Ha, we have stolen the goddess of the whites, their power lies in her, we have stolen their power, ha, he!' Then trouble begins," said Auguste-Anne slowly, "that's all that comes of crusades."

The Bishop gave the faintest shrug, and as he imagined turned the subject.

"When is it your wish that Madame should be crowned?"

"You can take a hint, Monseigneur," answered Auguste-Anne, with his saturnine smile. "That is, of course, the answer to these thieving monkeys. Madame is the new goddess in person, and I wish this made clear to the people. She must be dressed like the statue; the sceptre and crown should be easy, and with a few yards of cloth of gold--"

"You refer to her robes for the coronation?"

"What else? Then, seeing her enthroned, messieurs the blacks say among themselves, 'Ha, these whites are more foxy than we thought, they have still the power, the true Yellow Mary comes down from the sky to them, they are still our masters, ha, he!'"

"Excellence," replied the Bishop after a moment's smiling thought, "as a Christian I must approve your detestation of force."

"Ay, do," said Auguste-Anne with his sneer. "Force would have had us all barbecued long ago. Force recoils. Inaction--there's the policy for this island; ruse, laissez-faire. I remind you that the blacks are to the whites in a proportion of a thousand to one, all a great deal better equipped than we are with muscle, force potential. But I do not believe there is a sou's worth of intelligence to set up a rattle in the ten thousand empty cocoanuts they call their brains; and so we shall continue, if we use our wits, to rule."

"You are right, no doubt, my dear Lord," the lazy Bishop answered. Then, with a fat chuckle, lifting his glass, "To our new little golden saint!"

Auguste-Anne glowered, but drank.

IX

The coronation ceremony drew near. Bella, poor little creature, was rapidly losing the stiffness, as of Bristol board, which at first had kept her backbone poker-wise. She had, in the space of a month on the island, become much suppled in her ideas; whether the climate, or the lack of example, or the Bishop's persuasions were responsible, is not known. She still jibbed at being baptised, but the Bishop--who, if he had ridden, would have had good hands for a horse--had got her to the point of tolerating the coronation ceremony, and their catechism hour had turned into a kind of rehearsal for this. The abbé, shyly laughing, they installed as bishop, and Bella would approach his chair with a silver coaster on her small head, genuflect, put her hands between his, and come in pat with her amens. (This word, with its strong Church of England flavour, was the only one of the responses her conscience would permit her to make: the others, a sub-deacon was to voice at her shoulder.)

The Bishop, that connoisseur of ceremony, stood aside during this go and come with the cool eye of a theatrical producer nicely calculating the adjustment of his means--Bella--to his end--the maintenance of white rule. He was jolly, but he was also a strategist, and it cost him little on the whole to let the abbé press the creamy fingers, smooth now after nearly three months neglect of the needle; for on his pupil's right behaviour depended, to put it very bluntly, the Bishop's own skin, with which the blacks would not hesitate to rig their drums in case of a successful revolt. Women, he may have meditated, are all very well, but a skin is essential to the full enjoyment of them. So he held off, and criticised, and was kind in the most fatherly way till her timidity almost vanished, and she stepping about in her absurd coaster-crown as to the manner born. Then the Bishop gave the hint, and Auguste-Anne gave notice, by means of trumpeters in the market square, that there would be a coronation, oyez, oyez, and a procession after it on the following Monday, and that there would be a general amnesty for all prisoners (thus enabling their guards to swell the ranks of the uniformed and add dignity to the affair). The new queen, added the trumpeters, would be proclaimed by the name of Golden Mary.

When this was announced, in French and the native tongue, there was something like a commotion in the market-place; all the dark eyes rolled up to look at the cathedral spire, as if they expected to see the new queen perched on it; and then down scowling. Evidently they did not in the least know what to make of this announcement, although, having seen Bella on the day of arrival, it did not take anyone quite by surprise. Auguste-Anne had kept her pretty close since then and except the palace servants few had set eyes on her. She was flesh and blood, so much they were sure of, but whether this gave her an advantage over her gilded rival remained to be seen. They dispersed chattering, and somehow or other the news came almost as soon as the trumpeters had done with it to the two usurping witch-doctors as these sat outside their grotto, making a very good meal off recent offerings. The message did not come by word of mouth, and since they were alone when it reached them they could give their real opinions play. Said the first steeplejack-pontiff, with a laugh:

"How can this other Mary be the true one? How can a woman be a goddess?"

"Our black women," answered pontiff the second seriously, "are beasts and witless, but even they prophesy now and then, after there has been singing. This white woman is strong magic, we know, for even the greatest, even Sword-Face (Auguste-Anne) himself bends before her, and kisses her hand like a slave."

"It will be a nice thing for us, if She can't hold her own. Back all the rats will go to Tombai, and this"--a gesture included the broken meat and maize and sugar--"will come to an end."

The other, still laughing, rebuked him.

"How is Her"--a nod--"praying-stick set?"

"In the way of the good wind," answered pontiff the second. The first wetted his finger and held it up.

"Do the same, brother. Which side do you feel it blow cold?"

"The side of the good wind," repeated the second, relieved.

They wasted no more words, but nodded at each other in a satisfied kind of way, and buried the superfluous victuals with the carelessness of men who know for certain whence their next meal is coming.

The fact was that a pleasant and persistent trade-wind had blown from exactly that quarter for a month, as was its habit at this time of year. But they had never had leisure to note the habits of winds; it was a branch of blessing which they had been content, in the old days, to leave to Tombai. They presumed that they owed this month of constancy to Yellow Mary's firmly wedged sceptre and, in the confidence engendered by the belief, made a plan--a plan that was more in the nature of a challenge. They brooded and shaped it for days and delivered it full-blown to Auguste-Anne on the very morning of the procession.

It will be remembered that the island's Excellence was himself a patron and encourager of the black rites. He found them interestingly archaic, though far from effete, and had submitted indulgently to certain of the ceremonies which were appropriate to his dignity and his sex. But his stupefaction, his rage at the calm proposition of these two jumped-up witch-doctors, none of Tombai's disciples, but a pair of heretics in imitation necklaces, was unchancy to behold. What they proposed with such calm was nothing less than a trial of strength between the two Marys, with the suggestion--half a threat--that there were a few ceremonies of their own which Golden Mary had better attend, after the Bishop's affair at the cathedral. Their tone, though glazed with the official whine, was confident to insolence.

Sword-Face had a moment's unreasoning impulse to string up the two blackmailers in front of his palace and chance a row; then his own words concerning force recurred to him, and he mastered himself. He did not reply to the challenge, nor even go so far as to indicate the door; he merely laughed, once, and resumed perusal of the papers on his table. The pontiffs, disconcerted, made some attempt at argument, and stood shuffling. He ignored them more completely than if they had been flies. The first, who believed most firmly and therefore was most sure of himself, lifted a hand and said to the disdainful master in ugly bastard French:

"We know who will rule the island, and it is not you, mossié."

On that they departed, the second of them more than a little cast down, for Sword-Face seen close was really alarming; but the other consoled him.

X

The coronation went off well enough while it kept to the cathedral. The canons sang loud, and the Bishop was dignified, and the abbé was devout as though he had never sat dressed as the Bishop in a red shawl to bless Bella with the coaster on her head. But the anxious time came afterwards. She was to have walked, crowned, from the cathedral to the palace, no very great way, and the procession was taking its final orders in the canons' robing-room when it occurred to somebody--the organ having stopped and the bells not begun--that outside the cathedral things were suspiciously silent. The abbé went to look out, and came back with both pink cheeks faded.

"Not a soul," said he, whispering in the Bishop's ear; "the market-place is bare as my hand; and one can hear drums."

"Hum!" said the Bishop, and communicated the news to Auguste-Anne. That authority considered, then answered with the half of a grin:

"We had better take our chance of a procession while we can get it. March!"

And march they did, under a canopy heavily fringed, across the burning white dust of the market-place. Bella in her heavy golden dress had to press upon her husband's arm; the ceremony had lasted a good while, and she was carrying a child. However, she had vanity to keep her up, that stronger supporter than a husband's arm, and she did not know enough to be frightened. She walked then with dignity, the milliner's apprentice, thinking with scorn how once she had nearly fainted from awe trying on the bonnet of a mere Viscountess. And here she was with a crown on her head--the Virgin's loan--and a train yards long, sweeping back to her own palace. She thought now with gratitude of her mother's strength of mind, and vowed to write the longest letter to that lady, of whose fulfilled destiny she was not yet aware. The guns down at the port were going, and the bells by this time rollicking in the cathedral spire, so that the drums, which were distant, had their warning covered over, stifled, entirely silenced. But their rhythm went on in the calculating heads of the Bishop and Auguste-Anne.

The moment they, with the new queen and such white officials as were necessary, had entered the doors of the palace, their attitude of joyful composure was abandoned with their swords, baldrics, and other excrescences of State. It was a council of war that, without warning, Bella saw come into being before her eyes. A dozen men about a table; shutters carefully closed; a map; voices in which sounded both haste and dismay.

"Incredible!" one pasty-faced gentleman was repeating. "A rising, but it is irrational. It lacks common-sense. Why rise?"

"Because," answered another, "it is the property of scum to do so. We must skim them off, skim them off as they come--" and he made the gesture of a cook with her ladle. Auguste-Anne replied impatiently:

"They rise because they want to be masters; because for once they have an idea rattling in their skulls, and it is driving them mad. They have our fetish, as they think."

"The proclamation was a mistake," said the Bishop, shaking his head, "they have not been taken in by our goddess."

"Madame Marie is endangered by it," another put in, "they have only to try a silver bullet--"

Auguste-Anne hushed him with a scowl. Madame Marie was in the room, glowing but forgotten. He went up to her with his grand manner of the husband-consort, and offered his hand, saying:

"You should rest, Madame, you are fatigued. These gentlemen will excuse you."

But she had learned a little French by now, and the sentence about the silver bullet had not escaped her.

"Augustus," said she, clinging suddenly to his formally-arched hand, "is it me, trouble through me? Is there danger?"

"None," said he, with his formal smile. "Will you come?"

"But what is happening with the blacks?"

"That, Madame, is what we would give something to know."

And with this for sole satisfaction, her train looped into a bundle on her arm, she was obliged to depart, and submit herself to her servant women, who to-day--these too--were sullen and silent.

Below, the conclave went on. Where to defend? There had been no such threat as this for fifty, sixty years. Defence had sunk to mere decoration, as the plates of steel of the man-at-arms dwindled at last to epaulettes of gold braid. The fort's cannon had not been asked for generations to take charges of ball. The walls of the palace had grown thick with mosses, and the climbing plants of the tropics made living ladders over them. They could still be defended by an adequate force, adequately supplied, but what force was there? Perhaps three hundred able-bodied white men in the town; and the walls, conceived and built in more spacious days, enclosed a park, and wandered for a couple of miles before they met again at the iron gates. There were no muskets, save the fifty down at the fort; the butts of these were shiny with the slapping of hands during a half century of presenting arms, but as weapons they would need, to be effective, to be held by the barrel end. The stocks of powder were low, and the last lot, purchased from the English warship, of doubtful quality. The ten gentlemen, made aware of these facts, turned as underlings will upon a leader at a loss; and Auguste-Anne had to defend, as a deliberate policy, his past years of aimless pure idleness. He made, however, no long protest.

"If there were nothing but discontent in this," said he, "if it were only a question of who is to wear the regalia, that might be settled. I have no wish to lie uneasy at night for the sake of being called Excellency by day. But there is a bitterness in this brew of trouble that--with deference to monseigneur the Bishop--only religion can give. Oppression will not wake our indolent islanders to frenzy; it is this deuced godliness that is too strong wine for them. Their heads cannot stand religion as European heads can; they take it seriously. I was wrong, I confess, to start with them a competition in saints."

"True enough," admitted the Bishop, whose lackadaisical airs were now overcast by the shrewdness of his native Normandy, "but if religion stirs up danger, gentlemen--which is part of her task in this world--she is also the provider of refuge; and it is my suggestion that the cathedral, which possesses narrow windows and towers admirably loopholed, should shelter God's flock while the present storm threatens."

There was a murmur of agreement. Then the literal gentleman who saw no common-sense in a negro rising took up the last words.

"A storm?" said he, sniffing the air, "I believe his lordship is right. What says the barometer?"

"I spoke figuratively, sir," said the Bishop, impatiently.

"Oh, did you?" replied the unabashed gentleman. "Well, I think you've hit the truth, for all that."

And going to the shutters, he threw them open and stood breathing deeply of the leaden air. A broken spider's web hanging loose from one of the slats did not even tremble. The sea, far down below, was steel. Colour, movement, and sound had gone together out of the atmosphere; yet the stillness was dangerous with movement withheld, violence to come.

"Feels like a hurricane," said another gentleman, coming to stand beside the first in the window.

At that they were all down on him. The last disaster was not six months old. Hurricanes took time to gather. No, no, he was altogether wrong. He subsided, and the conclave went on with its business; but the first obstinate gentleman remained, shaking his head, and looking out to sea in the direction which usually vented the first gush of storm wind; that is to say the nor'-west.

XI

He could not know the interest that point of the compass was exciting among those who were gathered in the hills to cause the whites uneasiness, and would only have damned them heartily had he been aware. But the fact was that alarmed by the portents, which they could recognise very surely without the aid of barometers, the blacks had interrupted their drumming and other preparations to beseech the steeple-jacks, and to pray that Yellow Mary should show herself. Both pontiffs were averse to letting the goddess be seen, though since all the world had looked at her for years, beckoning on top of her pinnacle, there might seem nothing very sacrilegious in it. But they had to pay the penalty of those elected to power by the people, and give the people what the people chose, loudly, to demand. Everyone knew they were not genuine papaloi, real priests who got knowledge by years of silence and starvation. Everyone knew that they had once been mere climbers, and that the goddess had come into their hands by trickery and thieving. This did not mean that the goddess was less potent, but only that her devotees would not stand the priesthood putting on airs. The goddess was mighty, the steeplejacks were nothing; anyone might take their place, anyone could keep a goddess prisoner in a grotto. This having been made clear to the two, they gave way.

Yellow Mary, her sceptre still pointing south by east, was rolled forward, somewhere about 4.30 in the afternoon, out of her sacred darkness, and down went a great many thousand black heads in adoration. The priests had tricked her out in decorations copied from those worn by Tombai, a scarf of crimson stuff, necklaces, shining beads. She glittered through these, indifferent, with her weathered smile unchanged and the sceptre rigid. There was silence, and much bowing. Then the chief of the drummers rose, tiptoeing, and went to his tall drum which stood beside the impromptu altar. He struck out a solemn tune which they all knew, and by and by the thousands were singing their hymn of the Mother-Goddess:--

She who nourishes,
She who keeps with safety,
She who is not afraid,
Help us, Lady!

Over and over they sang it, the petition to be fed, and delivered from fear, and kept out of mischief. They droned it until the words lost significance, and the drumming and stamping rose above and drowned them. A bull died by the knife while they sang, and some goats; the blood of these creatures, drained into a long trough-shaped wooden bowl, was sacramentally drunk. Women began to writhe, and froth at the mouth; they prophesied before they fell. Men raged at each other in mimic fights, brandishing weapons which had been anointed with brains. The bull-roarers whirled. Amid the fury, Yellow Mary smiled, and a darkness gathered, unnoticed, in the direction opposed to her sceptre.

XII

When night had fallen, with the abrupt finality of a theatre curtain, the white pilgrimage to the cathedral began, unimaginably different from the morning procession. There was no light; they were afraid that the blacks, from their vantage-point in the hills, would spy the lanterns and learn of the panic. So muskets and blankets, and children, food, pet monkeys and birds, powder, skins of wine and water--all were brought by men and women, shoving and struggling like ants in the complete darkness. It took three hours, from six till nine, to get the cathedral munitioned, though the Bishop and clergy, who could work unobserved, had been busy in the crypt since early noon. All told, there was little confusion. The building was huge, and hugely strong. It had been set up in earlier days, and those first essentials of all good building, time and unlimited slave labour, had gone to make it. The windows of the aisles were, as the Bishop had said, narrow and high. The east and west windows, wherein flaunted a Last Judgment and a terrifying Crucifixion, were more attackable; but the builders--Spaniards, always on guard against possible treachery--had provided galleries with loopholes which commanded them. Altogether the cathedral made a passable fortress, thought Auguste-Anne, looking about with the casual eye of the amateur soldier.

Nor were the ghostly forces at the Bishop's command neglected. Before the high altar, where the red lamp burned, the woman and older priests were engaged upon a litany, preparing, much as their enemies had done, for death and battle by a passionate appeal to the Woman.

"Tower of ebony," sang the leaders,
"Tower of ivory,
House of gold--"
"Pray for us!" implored the chorus.

And the Bishop had caused to be rigged, with pulleys, strong lamps just inside the Judgment window, in particular near that corner on the left of the central figure which was thronged with devils, convincingly imagined. These lamps were not to be lit until the besiegers were actually at the doors; for--

"If I cannot save my windows," said the Bishop, "at least they shall earn us a minute's grace through fear."

Apart from the crowd that worked, and planned, and prayed, sat the cause of half the bother, little Bella the milliner's apprentice, upright on the Bishop's throne. She still wore her gold gown, and felt heavy in it, fatigued and perplexed. She could not be busy, women's hands were unneeded among the barrels and great sacks of provisions; and as for prayer, the English liturgy did not seem to her memory to be designed for such emergencies as this. There was something green and peaceable about most of the prayers she could recollect; they were recited orderly, and without much emphasis or meaning, as though they apologised in a well-bred way for taking up God's attention. But these prayers--the people were opening their mouths wide, and clamouring:

"Queen of Patriarchs,
Queen of prophets,
Queen of apostles
Pray for us!"

It was as though they said:

"We've tried flattery. Now we'll try what old association can do. We are in great need, Lady, and shameless. You must listen; surely one of these titles will catch your ear--"

And on they went, tirelessly, while Bella, even in her fright and her languor a little contemptuous, sat up, and said a prim prayer or two decently, within her own mind.

XIII

A watcher had been posted in the tower. He sat there in the dark, among the bells, keeping an eye on the far camp-fires. By daylight the whole town could be seen from this vantage point, which was its apex, and by daylight the watcher might have enjoyed his task. There would have been ten thousand lives to spy on, and the masts of ships pricking up over the horizon a good ten minutes before they could be seen in the port below.

But to-night the town and the very air seemed dead. No lights, no footsteps, and the rats were disquieting. They rushed about, continually squealing, and there were more of them every minute. They came scampering over his legs, racing past him up the bell-ropes and even on to the bells. The rafters were clotted with them; they fought, squealing, for places. The watcher had never heard anything like it before, and he did not care for it. He struck a light, thinking to frighten them, and only frightened himself; for the flame was reflected in ten thousand beads of eyes, and showed him, besides, the brown ordinary rats outnumbered and outfought by lean buccaneers from the waterside. Brown corpses were being devoured. He stared, neglecting his scrap of tow, which gasped once and went out. Swearing and sweating, he lit it again. It was bad to see the brutes, but worse to hear them capering and scampering in a black world which contained no other sounds. To distract his mind from the problem they offered--waterside rats? waterside rats in the tower?--he turned to his spyhole again.

Downhill the lights were moving, torches he judged, and still a couple of miles away. There was a regular path of them, a winding line coming down through the bush, quick and regular as if their bearers marched to a drum-beat. The attack! And thank God for it, thought the watcher, kicking his way through the still increasing tide of rats, and making for the rope knotted and looped by which he had come. Rats were on it, and he heard, as he kicked again, one or two of them thud down on the belfry's stone floor. As he lowered himself hand over hand, they swarmed over and past him. The musty stink of them was in his nose, and twice he felt teeth in his forearm.

"Eh, well, man, what is it?" asked the Bishop, whom he found in the crypt, burying--not without a certain impatience and perfunctoriness--the reverend fibulae and pelvices, to put them out of the way of sacrilege. "The attack, you say; from which direction? Torches and drums? Excellence," to Auguste-Anne, from whose pocket hung the seals of his Lieutenant's brevet, all that he had troubled to salve, "as we feared, the priests are with them. That means madness."

"We'll keep them out while we can," responded Auguste-Anne, "and when they overpower us, I have a bullet here for myself and another for my wife. I have no fancy to be barbecued, nor, I imagine, have you. Your cloth forbids the carrying of arms. Permit me--"

The offered weapon was accepted and stowed somewhere within the Bishop's draperies, and a final question tossed to the watcher:

"Nothing else of importance?"

The watcher signified No. He was ashamed, amid these preparations and courtesies and impending mighty happenings, to mention anything so sordid as a gathering of rats. Even when he was sent up once more to observe he did not protest. Rats, thought the watcher, though dirty brutes, were but animals after all; while the blacks, lit up by their priests, would be devils. There was a chance, up in the steeple, of a not too courageous man being forgotten. Without more ado he climbed his stair and his rope again.

Steadily yet restlessly, on came the torches. They were nearer now, at the first outskirts of the town. He saw points of light dive into the narrow channels of the streets, and show only as a glare between the houses. There was noise, yelling, with a rhythm of drums behind it. The glare advanced, turning this and that corner, until it burst into a thousand flares in the open space before the palace. He could almost distinguish faces now, and could see individual movements. A man in a necklace whirled an object, made some gesture or other. Instantly the swarms were on to the palace's broken walls, poised, and over. He thought of the rats; and indeed the blacks looked very like them, crowding, trampling each other to be first over. In no time the thatch blazed, but the stream of black bodies assailing the walls did not cease, and the noise, which had been a continuous excited yelling, turned, he thought, to something uglier still. They had been cheated; they were searching. He saw the torches run in groups this way and that, quartering the gardens. Other groups pushed forward along the streets to other houses. Soon the whole of the white quarter was throwing up flames towards the sky, and from nearly all the streets of the town rose the glare of hidden lights and the clamour of voices.

Below, in the cathedral, the men were at their posts, the women recited prayers, and Bella, swaying a little sideways, had fallen asleep on the Bishop's crimson-hung throne. Auguste-Anne cast one faintly contemptuous glance at his goddess, lovely as ever despite her crown askew, and refrained from waking her. Time enough for that and the pistol-shot. He sat down on the altar steps, and pulling his ivory box out of a pocket, began throwing dice, right hand against left, until the business of the evening should begin.

Noise and the lights drew nearer. From all the five streets which led to it the blacks poured upwards into the little square. The Bishop gave his orders for the cressets to be hoisted, and the demon rout began to live before the besiegers' eyes, dancing to the capricious measure of the flames. From this, the west window, the yelling menace shrank away, but at the others it was loud. A stone, twenty stones came crashing through glass, and set children screaming. There were detonations; an acrid smell of burnt powder crept about the nave like devil's incense. The men, recharging their pieces, waited grimly for the beginning of the end, the thump of a tree trunk against the weak northern door.

Above in his tower, forgotten, the watcher sat with a candle off the altar burning by his side, watching the rats. He knew now what was wrong with them. They were mad with fear. But he had been a sailor, and had seen enough of them to know that rats cared little enough for men's disturbances. Noise did not scare them much, and as for fire, there was no sign of that yet. The one thing that drove them to panic like this was fear of being trapped in a hulk and given no chance--against what? Against water, the rush of invading water.

God! thought the watcher, white-faced; and the sweat began to shine on his lip and forehead. His spy-hole looked northwest; another duplicate opening faced down towards the waterfront and harbour. He ran to it, treading living bodies underfoot, and keeping his balance with difficulty, stared down.

XIV

All the water of the bay was running out of the harbour. No ebb--and the tides in those parts are strong--had ever drawn it away at such a pace. Some of the fishing boats, moored together as was the blacks' custom in a cluster, broke from the single buoy that held them and went bobbing and circling out to sea. By the quayside down sank the water, drawing with it shingle and weed, further, and always more quickly, until the whole floor of the harbour was laid bare, a new landscape shining in the moon; hills, forests of weed, and a narrow valley, the channel for navigation, through which Yellow Mary had been used to give pilots their course. Upon this new territory, soft with slime, such boats as had not dragged anchor settled down, listing sideways. The watcher heard behind him the strangest mad scuffling and crying among the rats; then the moon, hanging low in the sky with no cloud near it, went suddenly out.

He shut his eyes. From the square outside there floated up to his loophole a wail, thin and pitiful, with no fight left in it, no frenzy, only terror. All the prayers he knew went out of his head. He could only stand with shut eyelids counting the seconds while the monstrous roaring wave advanced. It took its time. He counted a slow seventy before he heard the roar burst in a sound that nearly broke his ear-drums, and set the belfry shaking under his feet. All other sound was engulfed in that one. The watcher sat huddled in the dark, waiting without hope for the water to pour in upon him through the loopholes set two hundred feet above ground.

But none came. The roaring retreated. He stood up and peered and saw the moon upon the horizon, calmly on guard again. Her light showed the retreating water foaming backward, cascading down the hill, and bearing black specks that were the remains of roofs and boats and bodies. Houses were beaten flat, trees sailed in the current like straws, but the cathedral stood safe. He turned, and struck his light again, to see the rats fighting their way towards the bell ropes and his ladder, to get down; there was no panic now, and the fighting was only the usual clan-battle between black and brown.

"There'll be feeding for them in what's left of the town," thought the watcher with disgust, "the filthy beasts!" But they were a comfort to him, for all that. As they had known of the danger, so now they knew that it was over. He kicked his way among them, and slowly--for his hands were still wet, and his whole body weak as if with fever--came down to earth.

The cathedral hummed, rhythmic as a huge engine, with prayer. The Bishop, kneeling before the altar, hands upheld and the pistol-butt showing in his sash, was giving out the litany of the Blessed Virgin. Beside him Auguste-Anne knelt on one knee, one hand inside his deep pocket busy still with his dice-box. Under the Bishop's canopy stood Bella, awake now, and very upright. She would not kneel, for that was Popish, nor could she sit, for that was hardly respectful to the God who had just preserved her. She stood, therefore, one hand at her heart, in the very pose and likeness of Yellow Mary; and to the watcher's eye it seemed as if the whole congregation, Bishop and all, were saying their prayers to her.

"Tower of ivory--"
     "Pray for us!"
"House of gold--"
     "Pray for us!"

These were the very phrases; no others could have described her so well, standing there in the faint light, with her hands and face of ivory and her dress and hair of gold. Auguste-Anne, kneeling inattentively at the Bishop's side, triumphed in his mind over the blacks and their childish competition in goddesses.

"And by Christ's bones, mine won!" thought His Excellency. "We'll have them licking her feet to-morrow--what's left of the poor devils."

It was not many. They reckoned something like eight thousand dead in that disaster, the first submerging of Corazon.


CHAPTER IV

Thus it is observed, that men sometimes, upon the hour of their departure, doe speak and reason above themselves.
--Religio Medici.

I

It is a pity to have to confess that life missed a dramatic opportunity here. It would have been so easy to allow this upheaval to coincide with my grandfather's birth, to let him make his first appearance on earth scandalously in a church, like that most inapropos child of Pope Joan; but occasionally life, which has so many other opportunities at command, disdains these theatrical strokes. My grandfather arrived six months later, in the normal way, and was christened Gustave-Félicité-George. This last name, such an abrupt resolution of the previous harmonies, was due to an outburst of Englishness on the part of his mother, who thought Gustave bad and Félicité worse, and was determined that her boy should have something solid in the way of a name. Auguste-Anne, who was not difficult on minor points, gave way readily enough, and continued to refer to his son by his title of Morhange. "Is M. de Morhange at liberty?" he would enquire. A servant would go to see, and on returning would answer gravely:

"M. de Morhange is having his binder adjusted. He will be at his Excellency's disposal in a few minutes." Bella, however, for the rest of her life never spoke of the boy except as George, nor could she acquire habits of ceremony with him. She loved him passionately in the most middle-class way, and when she died two years later of fever, though her delirium called and thirsted for him, she had the strength, in her lucid moments, to forbid him to be brought within range of the infection.

She died crying his name, and thrusting his imaginary presence away with her hands.

II

It would be possible to make a complete and not uninteresting book about Bella. Not many women in the course of their lives pass from milliner's apprentice to queen, with an interlude of goddess by the way. Emma Hamilton, of the same period, had something the same story, but the course of her fortune followed more everyday lines; men took her beauty, like a box of bricks, and built memorials with it to their own infatuation. Bella had beauty too--must have had, though there is no record of it, no portrait; but she had backbone, which Emma Hamilton never possessed, from the days when she wandered about Hove, her stockings mended with pins, to her zenith in the Queen of Naples' drawing-room. Bella was frightened of her husband, and stood up to him; awed by the Bishop, who still could get nothing out of her more Popish than the word Amen; and she had heard a tidal wave grind ships to powder within fifty yards of her with no audible or visible yielding to terror. It is strange to think that the mainspring of all this good behaviour was not courage, nor religion, nor duty, but simply an honest, healthy British contempt for foreigners and their ways. God bless this great-grandmother! I think--I hope--that I have a lot of her in me.

III

Things went on unchanged after her death. The boy grew, his father read Corneille to him, the Bishop conducted him here and there among the classics, as an able courier shows a traveller the sights of Rome; not too many stupendousnesses in one day, and ample intervals left for refreshment. He grew fair like his mother, beaky and lean like his father, and seemed to have no troubles in the world, and no ambitions beyond those of his years; to extend his body, and do better at sports than his fellows.

But greatness, as everyone knows, is thrust upon an unlucky few. In the year 1816 a ship came into the harbour, rebuilt by this time, and untroubled for a full ten years by storms. The ship was a French one, flying the old white flag, and named the Bon Souvenir, the Happy Memory; enough to show that she was an emissary of the Good Old Days, which somehow or another seemed to have come back to France. Her commander confirmed this impression; he came to inform Auguste-Anne of the accession, thanks to the goodness of God, Prince Metternich, and the higher powers generally, of Louis XVIII, brother to the late sainted king. As luck would have it, all the flags of the various political systems had been engulfed in the island's disaster, and the easiest to replace being the white, this was now flying over the fort and the palace. It did not need the brevet, signed by the lamented saint, to convince the commander of M. de Mortemar's persistent loyalty. He acknowledged it with tears of emotion, and begged the favour of doing so gallant a loyalist any service in his power. Auguste-Anne considered for a whole morning upon his verandah shaded by wistaria, and at length sent for M. de Morhange.

"My dear son," said Auguste-Anne when the boy presented himself, "there is once more a King Louis; and this being so, I propose, with your approval, to render him this island. God forbid that a Mortemar should strive with a Bourbon for a few square miles which may at any moment sink into the sea. You know the deathless motto, which our cousins Rohan stole from us centuries ago and changed--Crown he wears not, honour shares not, Mortemar cares not. There have been in Europe of late years, and still persist there, too many adventurers aping kings; a name such as ours does not enlist in such a shabby company. Better King's lieutenant, and hold our heads high, than a petty cringing equality. And so I have decided--always with your approval, monsieur--to send you to France in our good friend's charge to give His Majesty an account of our stewardship. If King Louis should offer you a place about the court, you may accept, that is only polite; but you are not to solicit any such thing, like a footman that renders a service for hire. This, I believe--with a recommendation against taking a mistress from your own class--is all the advice I have to give you. The first is a matter of dignity; as to the second, it is not to your interest to encourage lightness in a society which you hope may provide you with a wife."

With this inconsiderable amount of mental ballast the child--then aged twelve--set sail with Saint Louis XVI's brevet in his pocket for credentials, and the abbé and two or three old steady servants in attendance.

It may be said at once that he never set foot in Corazon again, never again saw his father, or trod, hand in hand with the Bishop, the maze of Latin prosody. For the next tidal wave was final. Earthquakes under the sea set it in motion, deep tremors affecting in their first onset only the bones of a few wrecks. But the subsidence meant the sudden shifting of a great mass of water, which tilted up in a wave five hundred feet high, and travelled solemnly, like a mountain walking, half-way across the Mexican Gulf before it struck land, curled, and broke. A few look-outs in the masts of distant vessels saw the slow-rolling horror go across their horizon; but there were no witnesses of the submerging of Corazon, and no survivors. Ships setting their course for the island months later found only water gently wrinkling and sank their lead many fathoms before they could discover where had been the town.

IV

Which event left Gustave-Félicité-George an orphan and dependent upon that very chancy factor, the gratitude of a Bourbon, for the means of continuing his existence. It may be wondered how he managed to survive; for Bourbon memories, though tenacious of such matters as court etiquette, old injuries, and a contempt for the third and fourth estates, were not otherwise reliable. Besides, there were many young men, of as good family, with better claims to gratitude than this latest sprig of the Mortemars, who could only proffer the submission and loyalty of an island, now, by a caprice of the earth's surface, entirely unpeopled. The Bourbons, however, could be capricious too; and the head of the family chose to exercise the family right in favour of this boy who asked nothing, to the annoyance of the other worthy young persons who had been assiduous, and were for the most part left kicking their heels. Gustave-Félicité became page of honour to the old king, whose brother, Charles X, when he succeeded found him similar employment. The family estates in Artois had been sequestrated; and so, although most of the pious and scandalized relatives who had hustled his father out of the country were conveniently dead and he was heir, it would have meant much money and long waiting to oust the tough Napoleonic general who was in possession. Gustave-Félicité had in his bones some of the indolent quality of the island which had bred him, where enough was enough and no man with ample leisure cared to waste any of his time looking forward. "Mortemar cares not." The motto lent authority for his disdain, the court gave him a sufficient background. He had not grown up like the other youths of his day, amid thrones toppling to the gutter and dominations rising out of it. A kingdom, to him, was something established and sure, in which people went about their business, and if now and then they loosed off guns, did it only in the sovereign's honour, and with the best intentions. (He had been told the story of the witch-doctor's rebellion often enough, but always at the end came in that convulsion of nature in support of the monarchic principle.) He witnessed, therefore, without any dismay the various experiments in government made by the witty and foolish old king. He saw the press being muzzled, the priests creeping back into their old places of power behind the throne, and being unaware that the citizens' attitude towards presses and priests had changed since 1790, thought his majesty well advised. Ministers came and went rather rapidly between 1825 and 1830; a certain restlessness invaded the court. Gustave-Félicité was touched by it; in a spasm of energy he volunteered for the expedition to Algiers, and at once got some inkling of the way democratic principles had invaded even the services. For the generals and admirals concerned in this venture actually consulted, before drawing up their plan of campaign, a little captain, of no importance, whose sole recommendation was that he knew the ground to be fought over, besides depths, and channels, and possible landings. His advice, though mauled about a good deal in the interests of discipline by his superiors in rank, was taken on the whole, with the result that the expedition met with quick and complete success. The force was limited, and even young gentlemen of the King's Household, in uniforms like the most elegant and gleaming strait-jackets, had to do their share of fighting. Gustave-Félicité did not resent this. He had something of the practical turn of mind of his grandmother, the lodging-house keeper in Bristol, to whom any situation, even disagreeable, was something to be grasped and looked at all round, and if possible used to advantage. He galloped, and went thirsty, and did his general's unintelligent errands with complete good temper, until the town of Algiers ceased to struggle, and the triumphant despatches began to speed home. He was one of the envoys chosen to bring the news to Paris, and astounded his general almost to apoplexy by respectfully applying for permission to remain with the troops in occupation.

The fact was, Gustave-Félicité liked all those things which set the general and most of the rank and file panting for home; he liked the heat and the glare and odd odours, and best of all he liked the blacks. He had, as a child, been used to all these things, and in his heart of hearts had missed them while he trotted obediently about vast chilly palaces, and laughed with the gaiety which springs cold from the mind. These Algerians were more solemn than his own native blacks; their religion stalked perpetually by them, instead of being resorted to only when they felt in a good mood; a wifely religion. Still, he liked them well enough to stay with them, if the general would allow it.

But the general had, after the manner of generals, his own ideas on the subject. "Lieutenant of Chasseurs the Marquis Boissy de Mortemar," wrote the general, cursing the flies and dripping sweat, "will make his report to the Minister of War according to orders." Then, with a growl to his aide-de-camp, "All this zeal makes me tired. Bah! I hate a careerist!"

The aide-de-camp might have rejoined that he hoped this lack of charity did not begin at home; but being a careerist himself--as was every man in the army with the exception of the unfortunate conscripts--refrained, and agreed with a nod. Thus Gustave-Félicité was despatched with the story of Hussein Dey's capitulation, and had the novel experience of sending it on twenty-four hours ahead of himself by means of the new telegraph station at Toulon. He arrived in Paris in time to put on his most superb uniform and attend the Te Deum in Notre Dame. That was on July 11th, a time of year when the temperature was trying pretty highly the ambition of careerists left behind in Algiers. But they could say, as they unhooked their stiff collars and cast down their bearskins--the expedition was fought throughout in parade uniform--"Our troubles are over." Gustave-Félicité, riding home through Paris streets after the King's carriage, seeing the lowering faces, hearing no cheers but only a threatening murmur, said to himself, "Our troubles begin."

What had happened to these Parisians, who so short a time back could get drunk on glory? They let the old King go by without a cheer; the flags on public buildings only showed how bare and unenthusiastic were private windows. The fact was, glory at second-hand no longer touched them. If old Charles X, that puppet of Jesuits, that muzzier of journalists, were to get all the credit, then down with glory, and spit on it! Napoleon--passe encore. He used to ride out and direct his own battles, and risk his own life. But an old Bourbon, with a face like the handsomest imaginable sheep, and the kind of wit that goes clean over people's heads--why should he take the cheering? Ah, that, no! said the Paris populace, swapping stories of the kind of thing Jesuits did, and being flicked to the point of madness by a popular press fighting for its life.

V

The tidal wave of revolution gathered during that fortnight, and sucked back in its withdrawal all the surface prosperity and gaiety and charm of Paris, until an ugly city showed, as sinister as that under-sea landscape which the watcher in the cathedral tower of Corazon had seen for a short time exposed to the moon. On the twenty-sixth of July the Ordonnances appeared, pat on the prophecies of the press. It was as though the poor king moved at the bidding of a malevolent hypnotist. Whatever enormity the journalists suggested he might do, that, after hesitation and fumbling, he at last triumphantly did. Their malicious wills goaded him ceaselessly; he was unaware of them, there was a crowd of defenders between them and him; yet somehow their commands reached him, somehow he always obeyed. The Ordonnances were the fine flower of their spite and his stupidity; a rigid censorship, a dissolution, and the disfranchising of a whole class of his own supporters. Trouble was bound to come, and it came. On the twenty-eighth there were barricades building in Paris streets, and a marshal, Marmont, who had once notoriously played the traitor, was given the task of restoring order. Delegates from the people approached him.

"Marshal, the Ordonnances must go."

"Gentlemen, I deplore the Ordonnances; but"--a shrug--"I am a soldier."

An answer equivalent to saying:

"Gentlemen, go ahead with your barricades."

The citizens translated it so, and proceeded tranquilly all night with their preparations, Marmont having withdrawn his troops to barracks after their day's work. The barracks, unluckily, were found to be ill-provided with necessaries, and the martial spirit of the soldiery was considerably lowered by the very circumstances which had been calculated to maintain it--tight uniforms, heavy shakos. To fight thus encumbered, and light of belly--is it any wonder that the following day saw traffic rather than bloodshed round the barricades? Cartridges were swapped for bread and wine with the barricade holders, comfortable in shirt sleeves. There were desertions; two whole regiments, the fifth and fifty-third of the line, went over to the mob. And always the heat increased.

July 29th saw events still more alarming, regiments bowling each other over, like a disaster among ninepins. The Swiss were fired upon in the Louvre by a few sharpshooters. Small blame to them if they remembered August 10th, 1789, when a previous company was massacred to a man in that very place. Attacked by a handful, and that memory, they ran. They ran in a mob towards the Tuileries, carrying panic with them. The picked gendarmes by the Arc de Triomphe were caught up in their rout; the gendarmes in turn swept away two battalions of the guard camped in the Tuileries gardens; and the end of it all was, a general riding like a madman to St. Cloud, stumbling into the King's presence blind with dust, standing painfully at attention and making a report in brief phrases, cut short by tears.

The old king had dignity. He did not interrupt, but when the general--Coetlosquet was his name, a Breton--at last hung his head, he asked with resignation:

"All's lost, then?"

"Not all, sire; but Paris."

VI

After that, excitements of all kinds. Marching and countermarching of citizens, pistol in one hand, the other arm about a female patriot's waist. Two hundred loyalists burned to death in the barracks of the rue de Babylone. Poets scribbling in rooms through whose windows spent bullets came flying. M. Hector Berlioz singing and conducting the "Marseillaise" from the balcony above a mercer's shop:

"First verse: silence complete. Second verse: same effect. This was rot to my mind--I, who had scored the national hymn for 'every man with a voice, and bowels, and blood in his veins.' I could stand it no longer, and when after the fourth verse they still were mute:

"'Sing!' I bawled at them, 'God damn you, can't you sing?'"

At that five thousand voices tore the refrain away from M. Berlioz, with an effect so exactly like a clap of thunder that, stunned by it, he fell backwards in the accommodating mercer's bedroom.

No doubt of it, the Three Days were glorious for the young. Not too much danger, just enough to spice the adventure of living; magnificent weather, when it was no hardship to sleep in the open upon some looted sofa at the summit of a barricade; the songs of Béranger to sing, and posterity to astonish. It was well to be M. Berlioz, aged twenty-seven and an artist, or the Marquis Boissy de Mortemar, aged twenty-five and with a range of becoming uniforms to choose from. As a careerist, however, this latter young gentleman was proving a failure. How easy to have approached Louis-Philippe with offers of sympathy! How easy to have gone to old Lafayette, that stormy petrel, with offers of service in the National Guard, now re-forming! How easy to put the country's good and one's own advancement together, and emerge as a patriot, conscience at rest! M. de Mortemar, however, did none of these things. He galloped about a good deal, true, but on the losing side, bearing messages of delay, unreasoning withdrawal, or equally inopportune defiance. This by day; at night he would stand by the green-clothed table while the old king, with voluntary tranquillity, enjoyed his habitual rubber of whist. Nothing of Paris, sweaty, loud, and merry, intruded upon that quiet room at St. Cloud. It was decorous, the wide windows admitted no sound nor ruffle of wind, only the scent of lime-trees in bloom; the old king with a firm thin hand added his tricks, laughed kindly, and pushed counters across the green baize to his victorious opponents. Not one sentinel more than ordinary, nor one less, guarded him during the three momentous days, and what apprehension or whispering there may have been confined itself to rooms outside the King's hearing.

Wilful blindness, or the disciplined calm of the gamester? Charles X had two essentials of a gentleman: he always picked up a challenge, and he was a good loser.

On July 31st, 1830, he lost with a shrug to Louis-Philippe, who came out of the Three Days as First Citizen of France, a title which immediately ranged him among the unconsidered personages of drama; First Citizen, First Murderer, and so on, necessary rôles but not star ones. However, there he was, wearing the crown which his father had helped to vote down into the guillotine basket, and out of France went Charles X, with no reproaches and no lament, save one ironic word. The young Duchess of Berry, flaunting in a riding habit, pointing with her crop to the provinces north and west which she would raise to save him, was gently snubbed:

"Dear child, you've been reading Walter Scott. Pray let us slip out of history with dignity--"

And his berlin rolled on along the Calais road.

VII

Gustave-Félicité, orphaned by a tidal wave, beggared by a revolution, now found himself exiled in perpetuity, and penalized here and there as well under various articles and sections of the Code Napoléon. His property was confiscated, there were penalties of the gravest kind attached to his presence in France, "or any of her dependencies"; an ironic reward for one of the victors of Algiers. But since he had never possessed the confiscated property, and was young enough not to find exile a burden, he went cheerfully into the northern mists, and served Charles X with affection until the King died at Holyrood six years later. Not till then did questions of occupation and domicile come within the scope of his plans for continuing to exist. But if he was penniless and proscribed, he was also free. The world was his oyster, and if he could no longer depend on family influence or royal patronage to provide the Chablis to go with it, he had energy and youth, together with curiosity. An atlas picked up and opened at random showed a clean and distant territory called Australia, half of it well within a comfortable Tropic. (The Scottish mists and draughts had been his severest test of loyalty.) He pulled a string or two, all that was left in the way of influence, and there fluttered down into his pocket a grant of five thousand acres in New South Wales. With this, and the famous original brevet of Auguste-Anne, the one rich with past pride, the other with hopes for the future, he set sail.

"At least there'll be blacks in Australia," thought Gustave-Félicité-George.

VIII

Somewhere about the same year, 1837, Grandfather Geraldine took ship for the same destination. I can give no biography of him, except to say that he had all the scoundrelly qualities of the best type of Irishman. He set out with the notion that Australia would provide none of the luxuries of life at all, and equipped himself accordingly with a wife, a wooden house numbered in parts, a great many hogsheads of claret, and several tons of Irish earth, which served during the voyage as ballast, and afterwards as a foundation for the wooden house and a protection against snakes.

He set up the wooden house facing Sydney Harbour on the pleasant heights which overlook Rushcutter's Bay. Perhaps in that year people still were cutting rushes there, or purses for a change when any plutocrat was mad enough to take a stroll by its shores. It was rustic, with the arid yet exotic charm of Australian scenes before they become professional beauty-spots. The wooden house, too, was rustic, and must have looked paltry among the stone palaces which other pioneers had built with the help of convict labour, and which were staffed with a nice assortment of forgers, poachers, and even duellists who had been assigned as servants. It rotted away fairly soon, however, having been contrived in a country which knew nothing of white ant, and was replaced, inevitably, by stone. This, the second house, was still there ten years ago. There were broad arrow marks chipped into many of the blocks, and as a child I remember one with initials, perhaps those of a convict who laid it: Y. R. What Christian name begins with Y? Or was it only meant as a tribute, from a subject distant and obscure, to little Queen Victoria; and the chisel slipped? I used to finger that inscription often as a child, with some idea that any writing on stone signified treasure if only one had the clue. Now I shall never know, for the house is pulled down.

But to go back ninety years, there is no need to describe the existence of Grandfather Geraldine in his new surroundings. The shock that decided him to leave Ireland had evidently spent its impetus, for he was respected, despite a temper. A copy of Burke's "Irish Landed Gentry" which he kept on his desk was apt to fall open of itself at "Geraldine: Fitzgerald Michael, Esq., of Corpus, Co. Sligo"; his father. Apparently nobody minded this touch; the distinction between "currency," the Australian born, and sterling, the English immigrant, was of importance, and made all the difference to a man's credit. Grandfather Geraldine had other eccentricities, but they were confined to his home, and did not affect the public estimate of him as a solid citizen to be esteemed. He threw out of the window, for instance, any dish which happened to displease his palate. He danced in all solemnity upon such of his wife's bonnets as did not, in his opinion, suit her. He insisted that their cook--a baby-farmer with the best of characters--should attempt to compound a dish of the locusts which trilled all summer in the pepper-trees by the stone house. These oddities were accepted by everyone as the kind of caprices to which overfed middle-aged gentlemen were liable. I cannot discover that anyone ever tried to protest, or that he was thought, as a paterfamilias, to be anything out of the way.

But for all this, he remains to me rather a shadowy figure. His children, my mother and uncles, never spoke of him. He loomed like the God of Israel; they could never manage to view him as a man, who suffered from indigestion, and might now and then be over-reached in business. Grandfather Boissy is different. He, too, loomed; but much more in the manner of Satan in the old Miracle plays, terrifying but rather comic, and carrying most of the sympathy since his was the losing side. Moreover, there is this difference. Grandfather Geraldine was a country man--Corpus, Co. Sligo, was extremely remote, a few hundred bare acres of tussocky grass, useless except for snipe shooting; while Grandfather Boissy was a man of the town, and of the creamiest life of that most pulsating town in the world, Paris. Yet it was he who went inland, over the ranges, to a new settlement so small that when he arrived it possessed no other traveller's accommodation than a thriving gaol. And he went with no capital, no knowledge of what one did with land when there were no peasants to hire and work it; no acquaintance, save a very nodding one, with the English language; no clothes save those suitable to the Place Vendôme or Princes Street. He went, in short, unbelievably ill-equipped, and ought soon to have gone to the bad and died without reputable posterity. That he did not is a tribute to his character; and it is also the reason why I choose to follow his fortune. Character makes happenings wherever it goes.


CHAPTER V

Man is the whole world, and teeth of God,--woman but the rib and crooked piece of man.
--Religio Medici.

I

Gustave-Félicité had, unlike most sons, been made aware of the circumstances of his father's courtship and marriage; not through Auguste-Anne's personal confidences, for he was not a personage who spoke freely to his juniors, but by way of the servants who had accompanied the wooing expedition, and later, grown dependable and grey, were sent off with the young master to France. They considered it, rightly, a romantic story, and told it often; which leaves a doubt whether the son's impetuous marriage may not have been due to vague emulation of his father's exploit. Possibly; but possibly too it was a family trait, a laziness, an unwillingness to spend much time securing women, those necessary accompaniments of a man's life. The Mortemars as a family were careless of quality. To carry the metaphor of the accompaniment further, they cared very little what was being vamped in the bass, so long as they had the tune to themselves. Their marriages appeared romantic, because they were surrounded by lucky or dramatic circumstance, but looked at closely they seemed as humdrum as their neighbours; and if they did not break asunder, that was due to laziness too. They took no trouble over women at all, win or lose, and the result was that their wives married them angrily for money or pique, and stayed with them, simmering down gradually through neglect to a passionate gratitude for not being interfered with, which served as well as love.

II

Witness the ridiculous wedding of Gustave-Félicité, which took place five weeks after he landed at Port Jackson. His bride disliked him. She could understand hardly two words in ten of what he said. She hid, in a hopeless kind of way, under her bed on the morning appointed for the wedding, and was discovered by a startled mother bent on verifying the housemaid's statement that she had swept beneath it. And there was a last minute attempt to get her younger sister to take her place.

This astounding incident occurred apropos of the wedding bonnets. That of the bride was, of course, white. She was dark, and looked sallow in white. The bridesmaid's bonnet was pink, and the bridesmaid, being fair, looked over-ripe in it. To swap headgear was unthinkable, but the bride's despair suggested an expedient.

"You have it, Harrie," said she piteously, "and the dress too."

"What next?" enquired her sister ironically.

"The Frenchman!" was the astounding reply. "Oh, do have him, do! At any rate we'd both get the bonnets we want--"

However, sanity and their mother with a dose of sal volatile prevailed. The sal volatile brought home as nothing else could have done the fact that Laura, the bride, was now grown up. Throughout her nonage the remedy for wilfulness had been castor-oil, sal volatile being reserved in a kind of tabernacle for maturer ills such as headaches and languor. With the first sip of it she felt herself inescapably a woman, and turned, sighing, to tie the strings of the white bonnet under her chin.

They were married by a hearty priest, whose address on the Marriage Feast of Cana was notable for its jolly translation of the Evangelist's material into a living and topical West of Ireland wedding fray.

"And the Mother of Jesus saith to him, they have no wine. (Some dirty fella drank more than his share, I suppose.) Ah, the Blessed Mother of God couldn't say that in this country! There's too much of it altogether at weddings here, more's the shame. No, what our Blessed Lady'd say here, she'd say, 'They have no wine, Son, and they're best off without it, so don't you go standing treat now.'"

But there was wine all the same, or rather spirits, blended together in certain nauseating but soul-stirring drinks which the ingenuity of exiles had invented. (The cocktail, for example, makes an interestingly early appearance in Australia, somewhere about 1853.) It was a grand party, for Laura's father was in government service, and "sterling" of the most ringing kind. There were officers there in stiffly frogged uniforms--War Offices being all the world over the same, and disdaining climate as an unsoldierly factor in designing military dress. There were a judge or two, and some young men from Government House; there was even a bishop. (How that fact would have delighted young Mortemar's grandmother, the lodging-house keeper!) A pleasant visiting bishop in partibus it was, of some apocryphal see such as Nineveh or Beth-Shemesh. He was present at the ceremony, but it is not known what he thought of the Reverend Aloysius Healy's address.

The festivities lasted some time, since there was no tide to hurry them, such as had bustled Auguste-Anne aboard the lugger with his bride. The inevitable post-captains and their potations were here allowed full scope, and--with the possible exception of the Bishop--no man departed altogether sober, not even the bridegroom. Still, he could carry liquor, and made a gallant enough show handing his bride in to the vehicle which was to convey them to Parramatta for the honeymoon. The bride herself, sustained only by sal volatile and a sandwich, found the whole performance impossible to credit; and as the triumphant feeling of being a cynosure wore off, she perceived with chill and mounting horror that she was in for it now, and with a perfect stranger.

Their three weeks' courtship had not taught her much. The actual proposal was on her in a flash and over before she knew where she was. It was the simplest story--a dance at Government House, and Gustave-Félicité in his dress uniform of lieutenant of chasseurs, a little out-of-date, a little tarnished, but straight out of a fairy-tale, with a great hanging sabretache and glittering boots. He looked, among the sober reds and blacks and blues, much as his father had looked in the inn at Bristol, something rich and strange, from an older and forgotten world. He had not worn it since the Te Deum in Notre Dame, and perhaps this thought saddened him; at any rate it was a Byronic figure that stood by the mantelpiece drawing the eyes of Laura Willis and her compeers in figured muslin. His attitude was a challenge which they took up in turn. They eyed him, fluttering. They lisped at him in the French which was fashionable at conversaziones, to which he smiled bewildered recognition. Then Laura had the presence of mind to feel slightly faint in the middle of a dance--nothing much, but the kind of ladylike indisposition which it is every man's first instinct to treat with air. On his arm, leaning with a dependence that was flattering, for she was taller than he, they went out into the reviving moonlight. She had the advantage of her faintness, and a full knowledge of what Sydney moons could do. But the splendour that evening was something out of the way; every object--the fringed leaves of pepper trees, the long elegant leaves of gum, the spars of distant ships--had a clear edge to it, and yet the light was kind. Laura's still and strapping beauty needed, in the ordinary way, no help; she too was black and white, foolish clothes could not spoil the lines of her body. But seen thus under the moon, she looked a goddess, and against all the cherished principles of Gustave-Félicité his braided arm went round her in a compelling grasp.

Goddess! That was one of the words, and one of the attitudes that enraged him. Women were inferiors; that a man should defer to them, save of course in trifles, or that he should seek companionship from them, was a ludicrous state of affairs, and one into which no sane man would let himself be drawn. One must desire them, one need never elect them to equality. They should not share the other, the true male hungers, for knowledge or glory or gain. Why, then, this braided arm with its convincing pressure?

It must be remembered that Gustave-Félicité had just endured a four months' voyage, out of sight, most of the time, of land or women. Remember, too, his exile; it rankled, though he laughed at it. This gesture represented a hidden spurt of determination to sigh no more for France, to bind himself body and soul to another country so that his children should care nothing, even if he himself should never get the French iron out of his soul.

"Marriage? Eternal plat du jour? After all, why not? One cannot live always a la carte," thought Gustave-Félicité as he kissed her.

They went back to the lighted rooms with decorum, but engaged, and when Laura saw the other girls' envious faces she did not repent it. When she went to bed that night she was still quite satisfied, being in a state of glamour, and beholding marriage as a triumphal procession through life, with rivals envying and making way, with a perpetual or at any rate frequent moon, and a young man in blue and gold always at her elbow but never too ardent.

Next morning came the shock. She rose late, and was lying in an oldish dressing-gown on the verandah, eating bananas in the sun, when she heard hoofs, and the click of the gate-latch. She sprang up, gave one brief sufficient look, and fled inside to collapse upon her bed, and laugh, laugh like the kookooburra that haunted the garden.

What she had seen was her admirer coming in state to demand her hand. No uniform for such an errand; instead, a costume which had been the last word in 1830 Paris, executed by an Edinburgh tailor apparently in the spirit of mockery. There was a vogue during the Romantic period for tartan, a vogue which still persists in French provinces, and lingers in the blouses and other trappings of children too young to protest. M. de Mortemar wore trousers of tartan. He wore, in the pale but deadly Australian sun, a coat of green velvet. His white cravat would have made a veil for a first Communicant; there must have been two yards of it at least, the very finest net, puffed up like a well-made meringue under his chin. On top of the whole array was a tall hat of the shape which Englishmen have decided to regard as comic, though its angles and curves are not noticeably more absurd than the angles and curves of their own stove-pipes. The horse from which M. the Marquis dismounted was a hired horse, a tired horse, a horse whose spirit flies and spurs had long since broken. It did not approach with any such proud gait as an ex-lieutenant of chasseurs might expect from his steed; it lounged along the street, stretching its ewe neck to snatch illicit grass, aware of the fact, and presuming on it, that the costume of a suitor does not include spurs. There was hardly need for a hand on the bridle to induce it to cease progress at the appointed gate; it drew up of its own accord, having reached the limits of endurance, and slumbered with bent baker-knees, ignoring the flies that crowded on its quarters.

And this, it occurred to Laura as she lay laughing on her bed, was the man she would have to live with, cat and sleep with, for the term of her natural life. The laughter abruptly ceased. It did not come to her mind that she might refuse Gustave-Félicité; the reputation of a jilt was not a desirable one, nor was it profitable to be considered a flirt. Flirts had a good time, but they did not get husbands; and in after-years no one would believe in the good time, while a husband, dead or alive, was a sure tribute to feminine prowess. She perceived that there could be no drawing back, and rising, began to look to her weapons. Off went the old wrapper, and on, after some striving and assistance from housemaids, went the new poplin. Hair-irons made their appearance, sizzling, from the kitchen range. At last, prinked and with never a crumple, she could go hatless down the steps to the garden, and stray among the flowers with as etherealan air as if bananas had never existed.

There had been voices in the study as she passed--or rather one voice, as is usually the way when two languages meet; one must take up the burden of speech, leaving to the other the nods and becks and wreathed smiles of comprehension. The voice in this case was that of Gustave-Félicité, who in the absence of any heavy male relative to do it for him, was extolling himself as a possible match. This disconcerted Mr. Willis, accustomed as he was to diffident wooers. There had been proposals before, which had run somewhat on the following lines:

"You wished to speak to me, Mr. So and So?"

"Yes, sir. The fact is--"

Pause. Attempt to assist by Mr. Willis.

"It is not business that brings you, I imagine? You would have come to my office."

"No, not business exactly. Well--I don't know--in a way. I don't suppose you'll listen to me, though."

Mr. Willis, from a listener's attitude:

"You have my full attention, on the contrary, Mr. So and So." Pause.

"Well--of course you'll say it's confounded impertinence and all that. I know it is. I know I'm not much. I had a bad year last year, what with the drought, and then Firefly not getting placed for the Cup. And it's not the place it was since we had the fire in December--"

Mr. Willis, intensifying the listening attitude to an alarming degree:

"Mr. So and So, I am pretty well aware of your prospects. Should you wish to borrow, I am not in favour of any young man starting in life with a weight round his neck."

The suitor, crimson, but seeing an opening:

"That's just what I'm after." With a burst of eloquence. "It's Laura!"

But this was not by any means the interview of which Gustave-Félicité took charge, tartan trousers, preposterous hat and all. To an astounded father he retailed at length his own desirability as a son-in-law. He traced back his ancestry, discoursed to his auditor's entire bewilderment of the marriages which had resulted in distinguished quarterings, described his own physical condition with frankness, his prospects with optimism, and at last, pausing to draw breath, couched the hat upon his thigh in a satisfied manner and awaited his answer.

All this in French, slowed down out of consideration for barbarian ignorance. Mr. Willis was intimidated. He put, in English, one or two of the orthodox questions, in which a disapproval of foreigners was veiled by concern for the future happiness of his daughter. But the answers were satisfactory, and he knew in his heart that it was no good. He was a timid man by nature. His daughter frightened him, for she was larger than he, and could be mulish. He was unaware of her feelings, but he presumed, from what this flamboyant young man had implied, that she too was set on the match. He could not know that behind her serenity her thoughts were running this way and that, like wild birds beating about a room into which they had flown.

"He felt nice last night. He--he smelt nice," Laura's thoughts were confessing as she ranged the garden. "He looked so handsome in his uniform. But he looks funny this morning. We've nothing to talk about. I don't want to be married to anyone, but everyone laughs at old maids. Here he comes! Those trousers--oh, what can I do?"

He was coming, certainly, in a brisk and satisfied way, with her father hovering behind; coming to look for her. She turned, for no reason, the loveliest pink, and stood still, waiting. She could not even pretend to be engaged with the flowers. There was nothing in that part of the garden but a loquat tree, whose fruit, too stony to be worth the eating, lay untidily on the ground. Gustave-Félicité approached and bowed with his heels together, never attempting to touch her hand. Mr. Willis made introductory, explanatory noises behind him.

"Er, Mr. de Mortemar, my dear. He has been asking me a very important question. I informed him that you alone knew the right answer to it--ahem!"

Neither of them heeded him. Laura saw that she need expect no help from that quarter. She was not aware of her father as a person easily bluffed, timid and shy. She saw him invested with the paterfamilial panoply, as something between an uncle and an ogre, and supposed that his consent meant her doom. Her father, finding her tongue-tied, was aware of relief. This young man, thought Mr. Willis, would take her away, right away, and replace her, after a suitable interval, by grandchildren, who would make the house feel young. He had never succeeded in liking his daughter after she had passed the age of seven, though he could never admit it and always agreed with people who said how proud he must be of her. He was proud, as an ordinary suburban citizen might be who had been presented by some potentate with a puma; but he was also embarrassed. He observed with gratitude how the young man's presence daunted her already; not a giggle was to be heard. He excused himself. Gustave-Félicité trumped his bow with a bow far more sophisticated in which the tall hat played its part, and forgot him with most civil ease.

"Avez-vous," said Laura, stammering, really nervous, and finding his presence more disturbing and moonlightish than she had expected, "jamais goûté un--loquat?"

Gustave-Félicité had, strangely enough, in that now nonexistent island of his birth, tasted loquats, and retained no opinion of them. He replied:

"Oui. C'est exécrable."

Conversation dropped. Laura tried again, with one hand indicating the sleepy and shimmering harbour below:

"Aimez-vous--" a comprehensive gesture--"la Nature?"

Gustave-Félicité was a disciple of the gloomier romantics, such who believed that Nature liked to have her laugh at man. Accordingly he replied:

"Non."

There was nothing left to say. They stood silent, always with the feeling of tension, of attraction, growing stronger. At last he said softly, in English:

"We marry soon, I think."

A statement, not a question. Any other man saying that to her would have been met with a flash, and a detonation:

"You think? Hadn't you better think again? Your thoughts will be getting you into trouble one of these days--"

But to Gustave-Félicité she answered, with the strangest mixture of reluctance and fascinated curiosity:

"If you want to."

She expected an outburst of proper gratitude, a declaration of unclouded happiness. What came was, if anything, a declaration of independence. He put his heels together once more, bowed; said in tones of no particular transport:

"That is very satisfactory. Mademoiselle, au revoir."

And with that clapped the hat on his head, and strode off, a fantastic figure seen against the background of the garden, with his waist like a wooden soldier, and his legs encased in swearing stripes.

The remaining interviews followed the same pattern. The suitor punctiliously came, and bowed, and ate, if food were offered, but made no attempt to endear himself. Why should he? After marriage would be time enough, when, besides, there were more facilities. Laura, who had always supposed the period of engagement to be the happiest of a girl's life--plenty of clothes and attention to look forward to, and lovemaking kept by decorum well within bounds, as most women prefer it--was disillusioned. And finally when all the guests and Father Aloysius were gathered together to tie her for life to this polite but laughable stranger, it was all she could do not to yield to the inevitable last-minute temptation and rush from the church screaming "No, no, no!" She surmounted it however, biting her lip. The presents would have to be returned, and such a display would spoil her chances of getting anyone else. With the ice-cold logic that sometimes assails women at a crisis she realised that marrying Gustave-Félicité would also spoil, with completeness, her chances of getting anyone else. Then another consideration came; standing by his side, in bridal white, she envisaged herself in weeds, and was consoled.

III

The party came next, and after the party, Parramatta, which was to the 1830's what the Blue Mountains are to the 1930's, the only place suitable for honeymoons. There were good reasons for this, though the name, which in blackfellow's language means only "Eels sit down," lacks romantic promise. Even as early as 1822 a prize poem addressed to Sydney Harbour has the lines:

"Whence she, coy wild rose on her virgin couch
Fled loath from Parramatta's am'rous touch."

And though I believe the coy wild rose in question typifies the bush retreating before civilisation the last phrase gives some notion of what might be expected in Parramatta.

Still, it served a purpose; it was unfrequented, save by other honeymooners, and such criminals as had qualified for a term in the female gaol; and there were many well-to-do villas there which friends, with a chuckle, lent. But there was nothing whatever to mitigate in any way the deadly aloneness that was de rigueur for couples. One could boat, but not in parties; one could look at the view, but arm in arm. The house-keeping, which might have provided the luckless brides with distraction, was taken off their hands by the careful orders of the aforesaid friends. As for the husbands, their lot was yet more unhappy; they could not even smoke, save in a room set apart, and wearing a specially embroidered cap; besides, their brides as a rule thought it womanly and charming to dislike the smell. In short, the full misery of honeymoons has never yet been told, and can now only be lightly touched on. Enough to say that Laura and Gustave-Félicité emerged from this seclusion at last, and returned to society's bosom with an impulsiveness and gaiety which told cynical observers just what their boredom had been. Their feelings about each other and the deathly fortnight may be crystallized in two sentences.

His:

"She is well-made and has--thank God, in this climate--dry hands."

Hers:

"None of the people who write novels about love can ever have been married."

But neither of these sentences found their way into the listening air.

IV

A month later they set off up-country, to spy out the land with which his grant endowed him. They took the road through Penrith, over the Nepean by ferry, and on to Emu Plains and the first gorges of the Blue Mountains. A wild road led them through trees that were tall pillars of charcoal with sprouting green crests, branded by bush fires but not killed; it proceeded by leaps and bounds, sometimes over steps and ledges of rock, called jumpers, sometimes through the dry beds of what in winter were mountain streams. The peculiarity of the road was its invariable, and almost conscious, choice of the greater evil; if a valley offered, this curmudgeon of a road chose rather to climb one of the neighbouring hills, and this not in zig-zag, but by direct perpendicular ascent. It crossed rivers for no evident purpose, as if to throw travellers off the scent, providing neither bridge nor ford, but only a ramshackle arrangement of tree-trunks padded with dead turf, which tilted, sagged, or fell utterly apart according to the weight of the vehicle which ventured upon them. Beside the road at frequent intervals lay the bones of oxen, stragglers or failures who had died under the yoke in the journey to Sydney from over the ranges. This road, with its too-steep gradient, its narrow ledges precipice-bounded, its unreasoning disregard for topography, was the conception of a former government surveyor, one Major Mitchell, a cross-grained personage whose delight it was to invite obvious suggestions from his subordinates, and then give orders for the opposite to be done. The perpendicular ascents were selected to annoy; the dangerous ledge-crawls rebuked all spirits less fiery than his own. His tantrums came expensive to the trade from inland to the coast.

Main road! The Frenchman, accustomed to the grand military roads of his own country, or the winding and unstrategic but smooth thoroughfares of England, found this track over which his barouche crawled and lurched a nightmare. It was no easier to ride, for the surface was pitted with holes, rocks of razor-like sharpness lay hidden under the dust. At one point, called Soldier's Pitch, was an incline cobbled with loose stones, whose foot was cluttered and almost impassable with heaps of wood; whole trees had been hooked on to drays at the top of the slope, lest, in spite of locked wheels, these should rush down and overrun their teams of bullocks. Nowhere was there an open prospect. The ranges folded in and behind each other as if they could go on till doomsday. And always the same grey leaves, the same mocking rustle that was never water, the same loneliness.

There were bushrangers about, convicts escaped from the chain gangs mostly, ugly customers; so that travellers, even the bullock teams, joined forces till they were through the passes. Gustave-Félicité, whose notions of what constituted danger and wild country were derived from his experiences in Algiers, mocked at these precautions. "One must go with an army corps," said he, thinking of the fleeting Arab bandits, "or alone." He provided himself with pistols, two menservants and a black guide called Jimmy, supposing, after the manner of fervid nationalists, himself to be a match for any three men of any other race. He had not reckoned with Major Mitchell and his opinionated road.

For just at the foot of Soldier's Pitch, that supreme practical joke of the whole engineering feat, things went wrong. The device of the tree-trunk was tried once too often. Half way down one of the chains that held it parted; the other took full strain a moment, then snapped with a sound like a shot. The coachman, in a last attempt to save the barouche, pulled the horses over across the track. A wheel heaved up on to a hidden stone, adding another three degrees or so to the vehicle's list of forty-five. It went over, laden as it was, like a brick wall falling, the pole snapped, gashing one horse badly; and bonnet boxes, crates of fowls, bottles, a ham, somersaulted down the incline from the barouche's laden roof.

No one was hurt. Laura, seeing the hill from the top, had decided to go down on foot. Gustave-Félicité, out of civility, had descended to give her his arm, though of the two she was more sensibly shod and better enabled to cope with rolling stones. The only casualty was the coachman, cut about the head, and he had the satisfaction of hearing himself damned with great heartiness in a foreign tongue.

"Oaf!" stormed his employer, "your head, you say! Who cares for your head, species of sacred unnamable camel that you are?"

To which the coachman made suitable reply, while Jimmy the black fellow, disengaging his big toe from the stirrup, kicked the already plunging horses with dispassionate comment:

"Budgeree* pfeller you, do no more work to-day."

[* lucky.]

But the fact was that there was not much more of the day left, and they were five miles still from the public-house that was to harbour them for the night. It was a question, argued out between the men in a symposium complicated by the admixture of two foreign tongues, whether to walk on in a body to the inn, or whether someone should stay by the wreck of the barouche; for if there were no bushrangers there were dingoes, starved brutes to whom the stores of food would be tempting. Things were settled at last by the determination to leave Jimmy on guard with a pistol. He protested that this particular track of country was the chosen haunt of devils, awful ones who walked with their feet turned heels first. He demanded, besides the pistol, such other aids to valour as the coachman's Wellington boots and a white pfeller's hat. These were refused, and a compromise was arranged which included a pannikin of rum and seemed to content him. The horses were disentangled, the stores piled, and the barouche righted; and the last seen of Jimmy was his face grinning above the light of a smoky fire while his fingers held strips of ham above the flames, and his toes manoeuvred the pistol.

It took no longer than fifteen minutes after that for the sun to die. It slipped down the sky with a rush, the ranges lifted above it like huge extinguishers, and there was darkness of a most satisfying blue, through which the silent party tramped, leading their horses, with only the barouche lantern to guide their steps. It was a stony and difficult five miles, with nothing much to be expected at the end. The inns were, for the most part, drink-shops only, for all they marked the stages of the road, and travellers had presumably other needs besides the drowning of care. They were, in their squalor, their insolent mishandling of food, their contempt for all custom which demanded service, an unholy revelation to Gustave-Félicité, used to the civility and infrequent drunkenness of France. Even Laura, though accustomed from earliest youth to the sight of men and women the worse for drink--the Willis's had a coachman who, when he took the family to the theatre, had orders to drive himself on to the police station, thus ensuring that he should be sober to get them home--even Laura had found the up-country publics a little too much for her. Apart from noise, there was dirt, and flat nightmarish bugs on the spotty sheets, and the foulest odours everywhere. She walked her five miles gallantly but hopelessly. There were no sounds in the bush. The wind had dropped with the sun, there was not even a rustling of grey leaves, and it suddenly came upon the Frenchman that to talk of this country as new was madness. It was not new; it was old, and worn-out, and dying. There was no generosity left in its earth. The blue-gums were sapless, the scent of the colourless bush flowers was concentrated as though by fire in an alembic, the very soil a mere sprinkling of sand upon lava. It was a country like an old courtesan, done with man, and cynical.

These reflections were, however, without effect upon that singular pioneer. His patrimony elsewhere had eluded him, sinking under the sea, or falling into other tenacious hands; these few thousand unseen acres, therefore, he was determined to possess. The sneering country woke a kind of gallant devil in him, that would not take an insult even from the ground beneath his feet. There was nothing but defiance in the look he threw upwards from time to time, through the branches to unfamiliar stars.

Lights began to show, the track widened to a clearing treacherous with stumps, and surrounded by a phalanx of ghostly trees, ring-barked, bled white. The inn known as "Blind Mick's" was before them, straggling like a small village with its out-houses and sheds. They pressed forward with relief, even while their memories of previous shelters warned them to expect little, and knocked on the door that, strangely enough, was closed. No answering movement could be heard in the house, though there were lights, one of which flitted to another room while they waited, and there was extinguished. They tried the door; it would not yield. One of the men was ready with the only too likely explanation that the household was in the after-throes of a "blind." He had not been on this road before--none of them had, except Jimmy--but pubs were and would be pubs the continent over. He proposed to get in somehow, through a window, and rouse the publican to a sense of duty; but as they stood in perplexity before this silent yet living house, steps came to the door, and the bolt shot back.

A man, the landlord presumably, stood before them with a lamp in his left hand. He was not drunk, to all appearances. He had shaved perfectly clean very recently, for his cheeks and jaws were shiny. He stood there confronting them, and seemed to be summing them up; but neither by gesture nor glance did he invite them in. There was nothing odd or ugly about him, nothing notable at all. He just stood there, and allowed the silence to continue.

It was Gustave-Félicité who broke it.

"We have an accident," said he briefly, "five miles back. My wife has walked and is tired. You will please accommodate us."

Still the man said nothing, but looked at Laura, and at the men in turn.

"This is an inn, I think?" Gustave-Félicité persisted. "It is your duty to receive travellers. It is the law."

On that the man gave a sudden sharp yelp of laughter, and an exaggerated bow. He did not let them pass him, but went before them down the entry, calling "Frank! Hey, here!"

A further man appeared at a door; his hands were covered with lather, and one held a kitchen knife like a weapon; he had the strangest look of angry apprehension.

"Frank," said the first man, "hustle up with that beauty treatment o' yours. Here's company come."

Frank's expression changed to a daze, and his eyes rested with incredulity on Laura.

"What's the sense, looking like that?" enquired the first man sharply, "this is an inn, ain't it? Aren't going to get us into trouble with the law, are you? Turning custom away--"

And on that, disregarding Frank, he opened the door of a room. Laura entered, her husband after her. Their host lit a candle, showing a bed, on whose counterpane dusty marks seemed to tell of a former occupant who had lain upon it in his boots. This was the more noticeable since the rest of the room was not merely cleanly, but almost prim. There was a toilet mirror dressed in some coarse stuff, on which the flies, which fouled clean curtains in a week, had not yet begun to make impression. There was a decent print of some historical carnage, and a text above the bed, while on the floor a rag rug, newly washed, held pride of place. It was so much more homely and kindly than the other inns along the road, that Laura could not reconcile it with the host's mocking and reluctant welcome, nor with the tumbled bed. She said, feeling her way:

"I thought it was--didn't they tell us that it was a blind man who kept this house?"

"That's right," the host agreed with a grin, "he's blind right enough."

Laura thought of the double significance of that word, and pursued her enquiries no further. She sat down thankfully, and opened her little toilet bag to cope with the dust of the road. The host brought water, but when asked for a clean counterpane looked nonplussed; he moved off, however, and she could hear him rummaging in cupboards. She changed her stockings, settled her dress, and was giving some attention to her hair, when a shouting arose, sudden as a dogfight, every word audible through the unpapered wooden partitions. It was the man called Frank, resenting some intrusion.

"Get out! Wot yer poking yer nose in 'ere for?"

The voice of the coachman, Andy:

"Where the 'ell am I to go? I want 'ay for my 'osses."

"You want yer face bloody well knocked in--"

The voice of the host, steely and quiet:

"Shut yer head, Frank. You"--to Andy--"keep where you belong."

"I got to see my 'osses gets their feed."

"That's right." A pause. "That's my business. I'll look to it, all in good time. My house, ain't it?" Pause. "Ain't it?"

"Yes, boss, I reckon so."

"That's more like. Frank, I want some candles; and where the hell's the sheets kept?"

"'Ow should I know?" With a laugh: "what's the idea? Not going to wake 'em, are yer?"

"Shut your mouth."

That was all. A minute later the host came in, after knocking, with a clean sheet to replace the soiled counterpane. The eternal up-country meal of ham and eggs would, he told them, be ready in ten minutes.

He was as good as his word. The meal came in, smoking, and the two menservants, standing awkwardly by, were bidden to sit down to it with their employers. Frank, too, made his appearance smelling of hot grease, and carrying a damper, unrisen flour cooked in ashes which served throughout the inland country as bread. It was, despite the inevitable nature of the food, an unusual meal. For instance, in such places it was not usual for the host to sit at table, nor for him to be sober, as this man was; cold-sober, and with a sobering eye that rested often and meaningly upon the sullen Frank. Then the parlour, like the bedroom, was clean, and had ribbon bows on the curtain-loops, such as a woman might have tied; but there was no sign of any woman. The lamp in the table's centre, trimmed and bright, lighted no laughter, and little conversation. The two servants were awkward, Laura was tired, Gustave-Félicité was preoccupied with the problem of mending his carriage, Frank went in awe, it seemed, of his employer, and looked to him between each mouthful. Only that personage was at his ease, and though not talkative, saw after their wants and kept order. He listened to the story of the disaster to the pole, questioned minutely as to the exact site of the accident, and promised to "have a look at it" for them in the morning. At the meal's end, when Laura stood to go, he picked up the lamp to escort her; the light, shining direct on his face from below, showed her something--but what was unusual, what was strange, in the sight of a chin shaved? Only it seemed as though a thick beard had been cut away, for the chin and lips were white, while the rest, even the eyelids, had the tan of years. It gave him an unhealthy look, as a sick dog goes white round the muzzle; and perhaps it was the contrast of this look with his brown and steady hand, the continued contrasts all through the house that set Laura's mind quivering, and made her sleep uneasy. She lay long awake after the house was quiet, save for snores; then dropped off, and started up out of an unremembered dream with a phrase in her mind.

At home, in Sydney, Laura was accustomed to be served by Catholics, men and women from Ireland. Teresa Mary McCarthy was the cook, James Kinehane was the groom. From a child she had listened to their talk, knew the ins and outs of their meaning, and the light of that knowledge threw fear into the remembered phrase. It was Frank's--"Not going to wake 'em, are you?" delivered with an ugly laugh. "To wake--" to dress up a corpse in state and hold a funeral feast, drinking round the coffin.

It frightened her so that she put out a hand to her husband and shook him by the shoulder. He was instantly alert; but when he asked "Yes? I am listening," she could find nothing to say of the play that her anxious mind had made upon some everyday words, and the feel of the house. She did ask, however, had he his pistols? One, yes; it was on the table loaded. Was he sure? Yes, yes, of what importance was it, the pistol? She said nothing more, but slipped out of bed and groped her way to the table, where, sure enough, the pistol lay. She brought it gingerly back to the bed, and thrust it under her husband's pillow, barrel turned upwards, but ready to his hand, or to hers. Gustave-Félicité laughed, and said something about these not being the kind of arms he preferred to take into bed with him. She hung awhile on her elbow, listening; there was snoring still, but no movement. She lay down, her heart thudding. Nothing stirred in the house. Slowly the heart slackened, her whole body seemed to grow heavy. She slept again, and soundly, till morning.

As a rule, in such wayside houses it was impossible to sleep after six. Drink or no drink the night before, someone had to milk the cows, who otherwise came roaring in misery to the slip-rails; an unwilling boy of twelve it was as a rule, booted out of bed with all the savagery that a six o'clock head can engender. Other travellers, stockmen and teamsters, eager to get half their mileage done before the heat of the day, had to be fed with chops and tea at dawn, and set off amid musket-cracks from their whips, and shouts to the bullock-leaders: "Git up, Bawly! Git on, you bastards!" But this house reposed like a gentleman's villa till the sun was up. Gustave-Félicité, fumbling under his pillow, found the pistol-butt with his fingers, and laughed; then his watch, and swore. It was the half-hour after seven, and he had meant to be up, and off to the wrecked barouche by that time. He got up stealthily, not to rouse his wife, put on half his clothes, and went to look for water to wash in. He had seen enough of the colony to know that water lived, not in pumps as at home, or as in Africa, in wells; but in square tanks of iron that caught all moisture from the roof. He went out through the back-door, which was open, into the level sunlight. Involuntarily his head went up, his shoulders widened to get a full draught of the air, fresh yet warm as new milk; his eyes ranged idly about the clearing which last night had seemed, with its dead trees, so sinister, and now looked a pleasant haven.

The horses, who had been turned into the back paddock the night before, came to the fence to greet him; and a parliament of cockatoos, observing him, took no notice, but continued their council, bowing gravely to each other, and gobbling with the utmost respect for decorum. Sinister! The place was full of promise. There were green flats behind the whitewashed house, and an attempt at a garden had been made outside the back door, where among the flowers pushed up sturdier growths--potatoes, and that dire English hybrid, neither fruit nor honest vegetable, detested rhubarb. He forgot, as he drank in the sunlight, his vision of the night before. The country was no longer a courtesan, sterile and weary, but an honest farmer's wife in a sunbonnet, her apron full of food.

"Ah, my dear," thought Gustave-Félicité, bending his arms to clench the muscles of his shoulders, "we shall get on together well enough, you and I."

The sentimental moment of idleness passed. The stillness of the house roused him to energy. Where were the men? The horses should have been watered, breakfast should have been prepared and eaten by now. Fresh from his sluice in a bucket he went authoritatively into the house, calling, knocking on doors.

"Hey, what the devil? Is there nobody to take orders in this place?"

Apparently not; no one answered. He thrust his way into the parlour, where his own two men had slept. Each clutched a bottle; other bottles, dead marines, were by their sides. He kicked the snorers, who opened glazed eyes, and rolled helplessly. What was all this? How had they got at the drink, with that sober-eyed man holding the keys? And where was the sober-eyed man?

This time he went back to the doors at which he had first knocked, kitchen he supposed, and the other some kind of doss-place. The kitchen was empty. The other room--

He stepped back involuntarily, and threw up a hand as a cloud of flies rose with a loud singing hiss from something on the floor; dried blood, a great pool of it, that seemed to have run out from under a cupboard that stood in one corner. He pulled open the cupboard door. A man and woman stood in it, very stiff. Their throats had been cut, and their bodies, bundled instantly into this hiding place still warm, had stiffened, propped upright by the closed door. The woman's face was comely, and she was tidy, save for the gap in her neck. The man's eyes were open, but opaque. Blind Mick, the tavern owner, with his wife, who had put bows to the curtains and tended the garden, looked out incuriously at their white-faced guest. By the side of the cupboard a text hung: "I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes. Ps. 101."

Gustave-Félicité crossed himself, banged the door to, and ran in blind haste for his pistol. He had to rouse Laura to get at it; she looked up sleepily, with a question. He snapped an order to stay quiet, and went through the house and outbuildings, pistol in hand. But the murderers, their hosts of the night before, had gone. (It is odd to have to relate that Laura, amid this panic search, turned over and went to sleep again. She had got her terror over, as is the manner of women, well before the event.)

V

These bushrangers, a pair of no particular distinction in a brotherhood which includes such spectacular figures as Thunderbolt and the Kellys, enjoyed no very long lease of dangerous life. Six months later they came before Mr. Justice Strutt at Bathurst, and Gustave-Félicité was one of the witnesses. The leader, that smooth and sober man, gave cool details in the dock. It seemed that the double murder had been done not more than twenty minutes before the traveller's arrival, and the bushrangers, taken unawares with their hands in stained soapsuds, had been afraid to tackle an armed party. They bluffed, then in the earliest dawn cleared out with their loot, having slept some hours on the bed in that room with the cupboard.


CHAPTER VI

--for omitting those improperations and termes of scurrility betwixt us, which only difference our affections and not our cause, there is between us one common name and appellation, one faith.
--Vulgar Errors.

I

THe land, when after these vicissitudes they arrived at it, proved to be a fertile tract inland from Bathurst. There was, in summer, a river flowing through it, the Wollondoola, so called by the blacks, with their gift for smooth and water-sounding names; and the rich treeless flats promised to the eye of the ex-lieutenant of chasseurs a living as a grazier.

The place once surveyed, and being found to include no habitation of any kind, save the gunyas of brushwood tossed up by a black tribe on the river's eastern bank, Gustave-Félicité turned his attention to the construction of a dwelling. And here again his curious unimaginativeness comes in. He was used to countries in which people had for generations lived, where certain natural features--a harbour, or a well, or a rock easily defended--made the nucleus, and went on being used for centuries. In the most deserted tracts of Africa great chiselled columns would be seen lying broken in the sand; in France, no hill or ford that had not its traces of use, the bones of houses scattered here and there. In Australia was nothing of the kind. The blacks' shelters of bark fell to pieces in six months, which was just as long as they were needed before the tribe moved on to fresh hunting-grounds. It had not occurred to the Frenchman that he would have to build his house in a wilderness, out of such materials as the wilderness could provide. It may have seemed excess of caution on the part of Grandfather Geraldine to transport from the old world an entire house, together with soil to build it on; but it shows a truer grasp of the situation than the airy nothing and the name of which Gustave-Félicité's local habitation was composed. He had the name pat; the name which had given his father a chance, and a crown, and a good swift death in full career. It sounded oddly, Corazon, three gentle Spanish syllables, among the tags of blackfellow's talk and names of Scottish villages, as Burrumbuttock, Inverlochty, Pilnagullagai and Fyvie, which served other landowners to identify their holdings.

Remember that in his life he had never set hand to a tool; a wrist for sword-play he possessed, but such dartings and twists do not lend themselves to the service of utility. Blind muscle is the wilderness's primal need, where there is the stubborn passive resistance of wood and earth to overcome. In such circumstances the mind takes, for once, its rightful place as the body's follower, and must be idle while the body strives. Gustave-Félicité had no knowledge whatever of how to cope with such primitive masses of material; intimacy with spades and axes he did not propose to acquire. He returned to Bathurst--Laura had been left there, in the charge of the bank manager's wife--with the polish undimmed on his nails, and applied to the governor of the prison for a chain-gang. The governor responded that convicts, being detained at Her Majesty's pleasure, could only be employed upon her lawful occasions: road-making, bridge-building, or the construction of even stronger and more forbidding gaols for their own accommodation. But the governor was secretly in a quandary; for various reasons--bushrangers, floods, or sheer officialdom--he was short of money.

It may be wondered what uses money could be put to in that wilderness; the answer is that whereas in older countries towns were built about an altar, in Australia they were built about a bar. Paddy or Johnny or Alf--the pub-keeper never possessed or needed a surname--was the most powerful of all the citizens, not excluding governor and graziers, for their underlings reposed in the hollow of his hand. It is curious to see how entirely this new-found country was in the grip of liquor; globe-trotters, denizens, all the memoirs of the early times speak of rum as of a personal devil. Let me quote the letter of one Australian house-wife of this period.

"I perhaps praise the tidy appearance and good cookery of a friend's servant: 'Ah, yes, she is an excellent cook, but we can so seldom keep her sober.' I have known a female servant drink camphorated spirits of wine, and suspect the same individual of consuming a pint of hartshorn which mysteriously disappeared from my room; its evident strength being no doubt too tempting. Eau de Cologne and lavender water, I know, they drink whenever they are left about. The universality of this vice is most dreadful to contemplate, far worse to witness and endure--"

Now the governor's plight becomes apparent. No pay, no rum; no rum, no warders, but only a residue of discontented men formidably armed. Warders were not selected for their moral qualities; they were chosen on physical strength, and if brutality went with it so much the better for discipline. The governor was a nervous man, and Gustave-Félicité had brought with him, with the usual French mistrust of paper currency, a good provision of solid sovereigns. The governor hung back a week or two, hoping for the lawful gold to arrive; his expectation was disappointed, and Her Majesty's dignity was put by for the time with a good grace. He even took the trouble, did the governor, to con the dossiers of some of his prisoners, with the result that an architect, tuberculous and serving a lifer for having throttled his own sister, was discovered in one of the cells. This wreck was removed from solitary confinement and sent, coughing blood, off under escort with a note hoping that Mr. Boissy--nobody could get hold of "de Mortemar"--might find him useful.

II

Gustave-Félicité gave the wreck pencils and a protractor, and a quire of the bank's foolscap, and watched with his ever-curious eye how the cheeks blazed, while the shaking hands slowed to calmness as they handled once more the tools of their trade.

"French, aren't you?" enquired the wreck in tones of equality. "I used to know France once. Made the grand tour once--wouldn't think it to look at me, would you?" A laugh, followed by a coughing fit; then, with a touch of malice, spying the home-sickness, "French, eh? I know the kind of thing--"

And from under the pencil flowed, in steady lines that balanced, curved and met in just proportion, the outline of a house; no château with turrets, but a long low manor. Gustave-Félicité, very silent, watched the pencil. It drew steadily the courtyard, the wall of the potager, a dove-cote; hesitated, as though not altogether trusting memory; then put in, with care, a gable and a preposterous round window, the oeil-de-boeuf, set a trifle askew in the gable's top. The astonished Laura, looking up over her sewing, saw that her redoubtable husband's face was perfectly white. As she looked a harsh voice came out of the white mask.

"What house is this you make?"

And the wreck, with his head on one side, approving his own picture, answered:

"Some French place. In Northern France it was--I forget the name."

There is no reason to suppose that the drawing was intended to represent the ancient home of the Mortemars, or that the tuberculous stranger had ever set eyes on it; the long arm can hardly be expected to stretch so far. But it called the mind of the exile back to his own country with cruel swiftness; that dove-cot, those poplars, and most of all the irrelevant round window, all were France, never to be seen again, never to be forgotten.

The wreck went on sketching. His hands, calloused with pick and shovel, moved daintily among the pencils and the coloured inks. He was drawing again, and talking:

"Y'see, they haven't got the right idea here yet. What is the right idea in architecture? Why, to build for the climate, whatever it may be. That's why I don't--didn't--take to the Palladian for England. Columns, stucco--they want sun, don't you agree? No, brick for England; there's nothing like a Thames Valley fog to mellow brick. Those little russet towns--Maidenhead, eh? And Bray--"

The attentive Laura, looking over her sewing, was obliged to endure another mystification; for the shattered creature had, unawares, turned his own weapon upon himself. He had raised, in his starved mind, already drunk with the relief from routine, a ghost which was never permitted to walk, the ghost of his own free youth, sculling and laughing with a girl at Bray. (That was before the sister with her tongue had put an end to his game, and he with a handkerchief twisted and knotted had put an end to hers.) England! The mists that he would never feel upon his forehead again; the grey skies, under which a man might go wide-eyed, and not as here, peering against the excess of light

"The willows and the hazel-copses green
Shall now no more be seen--"

No more, no more! He had the consumptive's unkillable faith in his own power to recover, a faith which could bear up against confinement, loneliness, the distress and pain of illness; but it could not hold fast against that ghost. No more, sounded the voice in his heart; and no more, thought the free man, staring down at the foolscap sheet covered with lines and squares that spelt home for him. Laura, incredulous, saw tears in both men's eyes.

It was the jingle of the escort's accoutrement that roused them all three. Time was up, the routine was upon them. At the first sound of that heavy stamping tread the convict shivered and shrank back, from Mr. James Spading talking with a client, to Number 10573 returning under escort to a cell four and a half feet by seven; the Marquis Boissy de Mortemar, lord of Morhange, Voeuvre and Geudecourt in Artois dwindled down to plain Mr. Boissy, who had, somehow or other, to get a house built for himself, and earn his living by the base peasant expedient of fattening beasts for sale. Laura resumed her mental comfort, which had been momentarily disturbed, and the queer little incident sank into time leaving hardly a ripple.

10573 was given a drawing-board in his cell, and some more pencils, and told to get on with his designing. He was at the height of his last flicker of strength, and became dictatorial, complaining that there was not light enough in his cell to draw by. The governor, to oblige his dear acquaintance Gustave-Félicité, but with misgivings, moved him to one more spacious, with a window which permitted light to enter: a concession which implied part remission of the solitary confinement penalty. A dying man cooped alone in darkness! Well, but it was the penalty for those convicts who made themselves nuisances, and 10573 had been hysterical and troublesome all his life, had committed a murder for which he appeared to suffer no particular remorse, and owned a tongue that could lash up his fellows to madness in no time. Hence the misgivings.

But they were unneeded. 10573 became, with the change of air, and the drawing materials, and the renewed sense of importance, the professional man on a job. He drew with unremitting care for two days at his plan to scale, making from time to time such notes as this:

"Memo.

"In view of the cedar forests not far distant, all doors should certainly be of this wood, which takes an elegant French polish, besides possessing an agreeable odour."

"Query: the rock known as blue metal used in the construction of roads--capable of being split so as to afford flagstones for the domestic premises?"

These notes are written almost undecipherably, as though--as was the case--they were scribbled against time. But the plan of the house, which still exists, is drawn with precision, and perfectly to scale. It has, however, a brownish smear across it through which the drawing shows, and which is the only trace left of the blood which poured from the artist's mouth in his final paroxysm. This came upon him just after he had written with pride his name, "James Sparling, Archt.," and underneath, ironically, his number as one of Her Majesty's guests. The warder arriving with supper on the third evening found the wreck sprawled across his drawing-board, untidily dying, and had the sense to rescue the plan at once before sending for the chaplain. Thus the blood had no time to dry or soak in, and did not ruin the drawing irrevocably. It had been washed with care by the time Gustave-Félicité received it, and still could serve his purpose.

The house that grew out of it, and stands now after nearly a century, is a kindly monument to the brain and hand which so soon after their achievement rotted away to nothing in prison quicklime. It is a rather gracious house, light and livable, admirably proportioned; yet when I turned up, out of curiosity, the report of Sparling's trial, I found him blown this way and that by gusts of weak rage, resentment over trifles, and a kind of dark furtive cruelty. But then, that was real life, always a foreign country to the artist, while the house was a dream in which he was at home.

III

I cannot imagine what put into Grandfather Boissy's head the idea of getting Chinamen as shepherds. In no account of the celestial empire is there any record, to my remembrance, of Mongols understanding the management of sheep. Where did he get them from? How did he train them? The fact remains that five years after the building of the house it was the centre of a village of shanties in which about twenty Chinamen had their unfastidious being. There were gardeners and cooks among them, but for the most part they cared, mated, delivered, dipped and shore sheep. Most of them could not speak English. Gustave-Félicité to the end of his days, though he mastered that tongue, would fly off into French whenever his own feelings demanded it, regardless of whether or not he were understood. And it is difficult to indicate the minutiae of the care of sheep by gestures. I suppose that he drove them along, as in six months of marriage he tamed his wife, and later, dragooned his family, by sheer force of character. Napoleon spoke indifferent French, the historians say.

These orientals, with occasional gins from the blacks' camp, did all the work of the place during the first few years, and gave the whole settlement an exotic air. Their manners were exquisite. They had their own religious feasts, but invariably remembered the Christian ones, letting off polite fireworks at Christmas and Easter and corning to the house on these occasions in their best rig, with little gifts such as the children adored. There were paper flowers, joss-sticks, rice-paper paintings of ingenious tortures, and boxes filled alluringly with what looked like green gelatine. For a long time the purpose of these last remained a mystery, until one day an enterprising child rubbed one of the sheets with a damp finger. Instantly the finger was covered with a beautiful rose-coloured dye, which transferred to the cheeks in round patches gave a doll-like appearance most objectionable to Papa. The innocent cosmetic was immediately banned, and it was conveyed somehow or other to the donors that henceforth gifts would be censored. The civil Chinese accepted the master's fiat, and when the next festival came round it brought only the usual fireworks, with a quantity of nicely written paper prayers.

IV

Looking back on what my elders can tell me of that time, the whole life of the house seems to revolve about the servants. Papa and Mamma were aloof and terrible; the servants were accessible, human, and as far as dependence went in much the same boat with the children. It was natural for the two down-trodden sections of Corazon society to league with each other. They had their wars; but the moment a parental raid threatened these were forgotten and no alliance could well have been more strong. They lied zestfully in each other's defence, accepted blame which even parental omniscience sometimes distributed wrongly, knew and kept each other's secrets. Ten children, pretty much the same number of house-servants; on the other side, Papa and Mamma, who for a minority kept their prestige up with a vigour which is very respectable. They had, of course, the tradition of infallibility and all-wisdom to help them; they had religious precept, the social usage of the time, and a whole Commandment of God himself to back them up. They were compassed about with awe. They invented ceremonies and restrictions. For example, it was forbidden that any child should speak to Papa before being spoken to. This, like the prison governor's treatment of his troublesome prisoner, may seem inhuman, but must be considered in its true light as a measure of self-defence. To be at the beck and call of ten children; to be liable to questioning, petitions and other disturbances from morning till night--it was too much to expect of an autocrat born. The result, at meals, of this ukase would be as follows:

Gustave-Félicité was invariably helped first. He did not carve, nor talk; in fact he took no share in the life of the table save to eat, and religiously drink one bottle of excellent claret. As a result, he was always the first to finish, and while waiting for the next course, as he was obliged in decency to do, looked to his children to provide him with entertainment. He would sit at the table's head, a heavy figure in the velvet coat which he was never to forsake, looking like an ageing pagan god; and from time to time, fixing one unhappy child with his small bright eyes, would issue the command:

"Say something!"

What detail of a child's day can be brought with any confidence to grown-up notice? The only topics which rushed to the victim's mind were sins. He would start, swallow water to gain time, look pitiably for help to his compeers, ranked about him or standing impassive by the serving table; finally in his misery giggle or cry.

After that the procedure never varied. Gustave-Félicité would rise, so gradually as to give the effect of one of Memnon's colossi standing up from his seat of stone; with his dinner napkin, which he manipulated as accurately as a teamster his whip, he would flick the unfortunate from the room, semi-fed and disgraced, and sit down once more, until the next stage wait produced boredom and the same command:

"Say something!"

With the same result. Occasionally a meal would end with no less than six empty chairs, while the remaining children, subduing the nausea which rice-pudding invariably caused, sat finishing the ultimate grains on their plates with mouse-like stealth.

It is difficult to choose among the fantastic events with which the memories of my relatives are strewn; an embarrassment of riches, mere decoration, and useless to propel the story on, but irresistible. There was that child, for instance, now a stately aunt, who once stole her dreaded father's razor to ease the corns of a vagrant who had won her heart with his performance on the ocarina; a cone-shaped instrument this last, made--can my memory be accurate?--of china, with a willow-pattern. It was played held sideways to the mouth like a flute, and the whole hand covered with vents, shifting up and down to produce the strangest mooing ghosts of airs.

There was the incident of Ben Tatton, a disreputable, who finally rose to the position of butler. After a year at this eminence he decided to leave, an event which cast only the faintest of shadows before--a single remark, made to my aunt Sophie, his particular friend among the children.

"If they miss a key," said Ben Tatton aside to her on the eve of departure, "I know nothing about it."

Next day he left, after an affecting scene with his employer. "Master, you've treated me well."

"Ben, I know it." Then as if excusing a weakness, "But you are a deuced good fellow."

Such sweet sorrow was this parting. Not till the cellar key was missed, the stout cellar door broken open, and the bins found to contain deflowered bottles filled with water to the number of seven dozen, was the measure of Ben's resourcefulness revealed. He was pursued, but had too good a start; the family lost sight of him. Only my Aunt Sophie, flattered by the confidence with which he had always treated her, kept his memory green. Eleven years later came a letter:

MISS SOPHEY,

My husband died Tuesday sent his best respects and last wishes for you miss to see him in his coffin. Funeral Thursday, but will keep him to your convenience.

Yours respeckfully,

MRS. B. TATTON.

How did Aunt Sophie, usually a meek and by no means obstinate aunt, succeed in wringing permission from her father to say farewell in person to Ben? Somehow she accomplished it, and set off to the town, not very far distant, where he waited. It was November weather, sultry; but the funeral was faithfully put off until, just as the undertaker and the other occupants of the house were at the end of their patience, she arrived to gratify the corpse's last wish.

Cooks were always Irish, and, owing to the extremes of temperature offered by the Wollondoola plains, nearly always angry. Only one, Mary Considine, sticks like a dart in memory because of the interesting way in which her intellect followed the phases of the moon, and the freakish nature of her final exploit. She was missed from the kitchen one morning. The mistress waited, waited; at last, relinquishing hope of an interview, she turned away across the courtyard--paved, after all, with small squares of black and white local stone--to stand astonished in mid-traverse, stricken motionless by the view of Mary Considine's crimson head protruding from the dog's kennel, wearing an expression of contented malice. The dialogue was brief.

"Mary Considine! Be good enough to come here at once!" (With a fine irony.) "And why, may I ask, have you got into that kennel?"

"Ma'am," triumphantly, "to sphite the dog!"

There is no end to these stories. Perhaps, since I have chosen to follow Gustave-Félicité's life, I had better stick to the incidents in which he figures. They will show the life at Corazon better than any detailed description of the days, which were, after all, much like each other, and melted into years with a treacherous swiftness. The years themselves were remembered by the prices the wool-clip fetched, or by drought, or the discoveries of gold, as at Bathurst in 1851. (Every station lost personnel during this rush, and the Ballarat rush that followed.) The details of sheep-breeding and rearing are in themselves of no very great interest, and I believe that Gustave-Félicité in his heart hated his trade, though his shrewdness and the pressure of "needs must" kept him at it, and brought success. He continued till the end of his life to present a finished study in contradictions; a man with a wife and ten children, yet lonely; a man self-condemned to live in the wilds, yet who refused to truckle to the wilds, wearing always his velvet coat and plaid trousers, going to bush funerals in full evening dress, hungering for France, yet forbidding all mention of it, and bringing up his children to a language and an allegiance he despised. Sometimes the home-sickness slipped through. His house, for instance, thanks to the accurate eye of the defunct murderer and late Grand Tourist, was such as you may see any day of the year in the northern provinces of France; and somewhere about 1860, luck threw in his way an escapee from New Caledonia, who in his youth had learned something of how to grow wine. It was a chance not to be missed. Within a year or two after the arrival of Poquareau, the escapee, the barren sunny slopes behind the house carried vines; and in a year more the vines bore grapes, over which Poquareau watched day and night with a rook-rifle, rarely sleeping, dreading to sniff the reek of the flying foxes, to whom no grapes are inaccessible and none therefore sour. The vintage thus guarded was finally gathered, and Gustave-Félicité may have felt a pang seeing the great baskets filled with purple clusters coming home. He had, however, no press; the carpenter had concocted some inadequate affair, it leaked, it responded with reluctance only to great physical force; there was nothing for it, if the grapes were not to be altogether wasted, but Poquareau's feet. These--after a fully supervised cleansing with Brown Windsor, on which the scandalized Laura insisted--finally took up their solitary jig in a gigantic tub; and it was hard on the children, who petitioned with tears to be allowed to assist, some even going so far as to scour their feet for the purpose, to be kept at bay by the terrifying escapee, who flailed them off with unintelligible abuse and a borrowed stock-whip, his feet keeping up their rigadoon the while.

When Gustave-Félicité tasted the first must from his own vines he dismissed an illusion; something was wrong, soil or climate, that could never be righted. Poquareau's feet had done their work well enough; the whole fault lay with Australia in that it was not France. He shrugged; and after an appropriate period in the seclusion of wood the wine was bottled, and drunk without relish by the family on winter evenings, mulled, with sugar and spice. It was also offered, enthusiastically, to strangers. Gustave-Félicité himself, after that first sip at the must, the potential vintage, never touched it, but continued to drink the Madeira or claret that had come rolling out round the Horn.

This was failure. Now I shall show him triumphant in two emergencies, and have done.

V

Emergency number one concerned him through one of his few friendships. There lived at Borrigo, not far away as Australian distances go, some twenty miles, a Corsican family. (Persons whose habit it has been to think of Australia solely in terms of English convict stock must revise their imaginings. Within a thirty-mile radius of Corazon were, in addition to these Corsicans, stations owned by Germans, Dutch, and Scottish Highlanders.)

No one knew the cause of Count Rotti's emigration; but fortunately Corsica is one of those countries, like Ireland, to whose inhabitants exile comes naturally. He was, however, very evidently a personage of distinction, and though he had not the same entire contempt for public opinion in the matter of clothes as Gustave-Félicité, was still something out of the way to meet in the remote bush. He wore a cut-away bottle-green coat by day, with a stiff stock under his chin, and legs arrayed, whether he rode or walked, in long white trousers strapped under the foot. Compare this with the attire of the currency cavaliers escorting a governor of the period--"handsome-looking men in loose tunics and blouses, broad belts, tweed pantaloons strapped inside the legs with wide leathern stripes, cabbage-tree hats tied under the throat, bare necks, and with beards and ringlets in hirsute profusion." He and Gustave-Félicité recognised in each other something of the same metal, and got on as well as two men may who meet only very rarely to converse in a tongue not their own. Both were Catholics, too, and took an interest in the Church as something which had followed them from their own continent unchanged, like an old servant whose turns of phrase go on down the generations, and who will never leave the family. They both subscribed towards church expenses pretty liberally, and had their money's worth, driving in on Sundays and festivals to the town in waggonettes overflowing with children, and spending the whole day on a spiritual spree; confessions, then Mass, succeeded by lunch at the public-house and three hours' torpor; then Benediction under the full glare of the four o'clock sun, with the candles on the altar keeling over slowly in the heat. The Rotti boys and the Boissys served the priest at all these ceremonies, in red cassocks and cottas starched till they cracked like icicles. The girls sang, with more or less success, innocent and tuneful little masses by obscure Italians, in which the Gloria and the Sanctus were always very loud, and the Creed wandered into as many moods as articles. The ladies took turns at the harmonium. There was an imposing marble tablet with cherubs mourning the memory of Count Rotti's father on the south wall. One way and another the church depended on these two families for years. Then--I suppose there must have been some trouble, perhaps a display of English statesmanship; at any rate there descended on Wollondoola a plague of Irish, not biddable and humble, though quarrelsome Irish, such as the servants were, but a set of powerful blue-jowled fellows--gombeen men, the retainers called them; not gentry, but mighty intent on soon being reckoned as such. They came as settlers, publicans, storekeepers; their relations crowded to them and hung on; all were pious; and they had unnumbered children apiece, just as well able to genuflect and shift the missal from Epistle side to Gospel as the children of the Corazon and Borrigo grandees. With astuteness they seized upon their common faith to inflict themselves socially upon the grandees, who were civil, as charity required, but no more; on which Con Toohey, who had bought out the previous licensee of the White Horse, where on Sundays both families were wont to dine, one day took the offensive in a manner difficult to disregard.

It was the custom of both gentlemen, the Count and the Marquis, to settle by cheque after Benediction for their Sunday hospitality enjoyed at the hotel. The cheque is an Australian habit, and does not necessarily imply social standing as in England, or Rothschild millions, as in France. Still the total of their payments through the year was not negligible. The two families mustered between them seventeen children, and this number to be fed, with four grown-ups--the servants brought cold meat and tea, which they were supposed to consume in the waggonettes--amounted to something over a couple of pounds a Sunday. What was the astonishment of the two noblemen to find Con Toohey repulsing their money, oozing friendliness over his bar counter on the evening of one Easter Day.

"Ah now, what's this?" said Mr. Toohey, sweeping the cheques away with a grand gesture. "There's no call to be paying down yer good money for the few fleabites of food yerselves and yer relations take--" Hills of hard, hot mutton, avalanching blancmanges, potatoes massed like boulders: these were the fleabites. "No, no. I take it unkind. What's a dinner and toothful of drink between Catholics?"

There was no way to prevent Mr. Toohey conferring this obligation. If they pressed him with their cheques he was at liberty to strike an attitude and tear these up. For once it might pass, but both gentlemen were pretty shrewd, and suspected that next Sunday would be the same, and the Sunday after that, until the Tooheys had accumulated a debt of benevolence which would have, somehow, to be wiped off socially. Gloomily and stiffly they wrung Mr. Toohey's damp hand, and went out to their wives, who instantly pounced upon the manoeuvre's significance, and were aghast.

"Never!" Laura declared. "That terrible blowsy woman--those children with their terrible accent!" She nursed the English of her own offspring as though it had been some sensitive plant. "Gustave, it can't be."

Mrs. Rotti said the same. Religion was all very well, and no doubt the Tooheys were excellent people, but manners and breeding, not piety and excellence, were the qualifications for a drawing-room. She suggested that next Sunday's food should be taken in the form of a bush-picnic after Mass; this would allow time for the matter to be thought over, and a plan of action concerted. She also suggested--having been in her time a great lady, to whom the resentment of inferiors was quite unimportant--that there was no need to continue to frequent the White Horse at all.

"Are there not in the town," asked she, "other places?"

There were; but they were kept, as the gentlemen knew, by Thomas Bannigan, cousin to the blowsy Mrs. Toohey, and by Lawrence Conor, brother-in-law to the intolerable Con. The mot d'ordre would have been passed. At these hostelries, which were, besides, of inferior standing and patronized by the lowest orders, the same tactics would be tried, the same benefits heaped. There seemed, both parties mused, driving home in the twilight, no alternatives other than the distasteful ones of battle or capitulation.

VI

No doubt about it, the assailants had planned well. They had that first law of the Church to help them, the obligation of attendance at Sunday Mass. A similar assault undertaken by Anglicans would have been met by the assailed parties abstaining for a while from the comforts of religion; but the unhappy Boissys and Rottis could not, under pain of mortal sin, so abstain. They had no choice between affronting the Tooheys and doing violence to their own niceness, and to affront the Tooheys meant slapping the face of the whole town, which was filled with their relatives as a nest with hornets. There was doubt and difficulty whichever way the afflicted families looked.

I have no wish to present this incident as a problem in snobbishness. It is not how I see it, and I do not believe that the fear of what other people would think, which is the snob's terror, entered into this business at all. The situation goes a little deeper, and the clue to it is Laura's exclamation concerning the children's voices. In the middle of wild country, with no railway as yet, and Sydney a five days' journey by coach, these people had made of their houses little oases of civilization. They had certain refinements in their way of living, come by with difficulty and preciously maintained; ways of speech, of eating, small civilities alien to this raw unsettled place. It was not easy to keep up a standard of manners in surroundings which made existence of any kind something of a struggle; and it needed no great prescience to foretell what the result of an incursion of Tooheys would be. Something of the bloom of that refinement, which, rightly or wrongly, these families prized, must rub off in intercourse with people of other standards. This was what the grown-ups of both families felt without being able to put it into acceptable words. The problem, thus lifted about the petty, becomes material for a full-dress argument; whether, for instance, refinement is worth preserving, or desirable at all in the wilderness; whether its effect upon character is such that it is worth defending at the risk of losing goodwill; finally, whether kind hearts and coronets can ever meet without the latter tumbling. There is something more than snobbery here.

VII

A respite, however, reached the grandees before next Sunday. The priest, riding home late at night through newly cleared ground, pitched over his horse's shoulder as it pecked at a stump, and was found with his neck broken. The grandees had been fond of the priest, but it is possible that their grief had some tinge of relief in it. Father Morgan from Bathurst left his own flock, and came out to bury his brother in Christ; the whole community stood by the grave. Gustave-Félicité attended in evening dress with medals, a cynosure, and to the irreverent a mock. (He in turn despised their attire, which, beyond a crape weeper or two, showed no sense of the occasion. "In grey--like kangaroos," was his description of these free-and-easy mourners.) A vast feast followed, offered by the White Horse, whose women-folk had been slaving at it since dawn. The Count and the Marquis could not in decency refuse to attend, but their appetites for once might very suitably have been described in terms of fleabites and toothfuls, and they departed early, earnestly conferring until the track forked, leading to their several homes. Before they quitted each other it was agreed that a letter should be written to the Bishop at Sydney.

They were good at intrigues, the one by nationality, the other by upbringing. Corsicans have little else to do, while there was never a Bourbon court without its mining and countermining, its scurryings up and down back-stairs. It was very evident to both what the Tooheys' next move would be. Maynooth was educating their kinsmen fast and competently, hardly an Irish family that could not boast its priest; and these enthusiastic and patriotic young men were coming out in biennial batches, agog to missionize. No doubt about it, the clan Toohey had one of their number somewhere among the shiploads, a weapon ready to their hand. They would ask him of an unsuspecting Bishop, and there would be junketings to meet "me cousin, Father Moriarty," and the hospitality debt would go on mounting skyward. So the only thing for it was a letter to his Lordship, regretting very sincerely the passing of bluff North-Country Father Fielding, and asking, very tactfully, for the appointment of someone as like him as possible. The Bishop had stayed, during his last visitation, at Corazon; he read French, and had complimented Laura upon the good taste and comfort of her house. He would understand and all would be well.

Off went the letter, and up the hearts of the magnificos. They endured with no misgivings a three weeks' silence, which seemed to them to imply that the Bishop was making his selection with care. During these weeks there was no Mass, and they had no occasion to drive into the town; they were not, therefore, aware that the coach which carried their mail also bore Con Toohey, his best clothes stowed in a carpet-bag of brightest Axminster, to Sydney. Their first warning of the march that had been stolen upon them was a prim note, wherein a small cross preceded the apostrophe, thus:--

"+Dear Sir,"

It said that his lordship was more than sorry to learn of the loss the parish had sustained, and more than glad that the late priest's services had been so truly appreciated. It added that such men were rare, and difficult indeed to replace, but that his Lordship, who was at present overlaid with work, would do his best to provide a successor "in every way acceptable." This was all very well as far as it went, but there was a sting in the tail of the letter; nothing much; nothing more than the neat signature, "Your obedient servant in J.C., Michael Joseph Quin."

It was ominous, that Irish name; it put the grandees in a stew. But the suspense did not last. One week more, and a plump figure in black was descending from a shaggy yet rawboned horse at the Corazon gate. (Mr. Boissy, that eccentric, possessed a gate, the only one in a land of sliprails.) One look at the plump figure was enough; its upper lip was the length of a shoe-horn, its chin and eyes were a West of Ireland blue, and when it spoke the genteel a's and i's of Maynooth lifted up and down in a West of Ireland sing-song. The Reverend James Sheehy was flesh and blood proof of the triumph of the Tooheys over grandeur and disdain.

Not that the young man himself was offensively assured. He was at the other extreme of servility and compliment, not always well-judged; as in his remark upon the eldest aunt, who cherished an interesting pallor, and the belief that she was not long for this world--"Madam Boissy, your darter's a very powerful young woman." But this humility and willingness to please were in themselves bad omens for his behaviour when he should find himself fast in the grip of his kinsmen. (For kin he was to the Tooheys, it came out with naive pride in the first ten minutes of conversation; and the Michael Joseph Quin of the Bishop's letter was, as might have been expected, a relative too.) Seeing him so young, and so entirely ignorant of the part he was to play, Gustave-Félicité dropped a hint or two; as that he and his family were very quiet people with no great taste for company, and no great leisure to be visited.

"We are here in the wilds. All must be occupied. I myself"--a gesture of the hand that defied the priest's eye to comment upon its lack of callouses--"I myself see to the well-being of all."

They kept the little priest at Corazon that night, and passed him on to Borrigo next morning. Borrigo, taking its tone from the note of introduction which he bore, showed itself as calm and retiring as its neighbour. (Borrigo, that gave its name to the most famous of the colony's picnic race-meetings; a house whose hospitality never ceased!) It was no easy matter to key down this household, all practical jokers of repute, to whom a fledgling priest such as the Reverend James Sheehy was a gift from heaven; but it was somehow contrived, the boys bore themselves meekly, the girls forsook their rendezvous above the stables where euchre and illicit reading were indulged; and the little priest jogged away on his unkempt horse with a very warm feeling of admiration at his heart for two truly Christian families. Next Sunday, having done what they could, the grandees set off in their waggonettes for Mass.

When the sermon began, after the reading of the First Gospel, it could be plainly seen that the poor man's mind was in a twitter of indecision, divided between what he had been told and what he had seen for himself. The text itself was an appeal:

"'When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and stars which Thou hast ordained; what is man, that Thou art mindful of him?' Words taken from the eighth psalm of David. My dear brethren in Jesus Christ--"

The Tooheys, Learys, Considines and Conors sat impassively listening to their nominee's exhortation, which came to this: that in a grand new country such as Australia where every man had his chance, where nature filled the air with sweet scents and gold was for the picking up, the little strifes of men were out of harmony with God's glorious plan. Everywhere under the canopy of heaven it was the duty of Christians to be neighbourly; but if they were not, what did it matter, anyway? "When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers--" When the Reverend James finally wound up his contradictions and turned to the altar again for the Creed there were a stern eye or two among his clan. James had got his head turned. James must be screwed round again, and up to the mark, and kept there. At the end of Mass, when the congregation streamed out, awaited by itching dogs and twitching horses, there was a short colloquy:

"It is good-day, Father, and au revoir. We meet again at Benediction?"

Voice of Con Toohey, intervening: "Before then, before then, Mr. Boissy. No later than dinner-time you'll be enconterin' his reverence once more. Sure, you're not forgettin' the word I said a week or two agone? Ten children--what's ten? If you'd a family as long as'd stretch a furlong, the Horse would be able for ye, aha! The Horse'd beat ye to it!"

"I regret--to-day we make a picnic to One-Tree Hill. Father Sheehy, my felicitations. Mr. Toohey"--a bow--"all my regrets."

"A picnic, is it?" sourly from Mr. Toohey. "Cold meat, and warm butter, and the bulldog ants over all. This is no day to be draggin' women and children up hills--"

And indeed the heat was stunning. The whole landscape had paled under it; trees, grass, sky were colourless; only the dancing distances were blue. But the grandees would not enter into argument concerning their plans. Into the waggonettes, rigged up with fringed awnings of holland, they piled their gasping families; the flies rose with the first lift of the horses' quarters, and followed, a restless escort; dogs took up position in the shade of the vehicles for their four-mile run; and off went the grandees, leaving bitterness behind them.

There were no more invitations after that day. Next Sunday's sermon kept clear of social controversy, and moved on safer ground among the inter-relationships of the Trinity. There were greetings as usual afterwards, and wary civilities, but it did appear that the clan had taken the hint, and that tension would cease. Two Sundays later the grandees lunched at the White Horse in the ordinary way, and cheques were accepted as usual.

VIII

It was a treacherous lull. The first intimation that a tempest was preparing reached Gustave-Félicité in the form of a letter, informing him that a meeting of parishioners had decided that the present church was too small to house the congregation--this was true--and that a resolution had been passed, and the hat sent round. In short, the clan Toohey proposed to rebuild the church, and one A. MacRory was prepared to contract for it. The letter regretted that Mr. Boissy had been unable to attend the meeting, and thought that he would be glad to know the decision to which "the majority of the parishioners" had come.

Rebuild! Gustave-Félicité had seen the first stones of the present chapel laid. It was an honest little building of stone, roofed with mellow shingles, cool inside and plain, with narrow windows and an altar of cedar, uncarved. The only splendours were the vestments, and the Rotti tablet on the south wall, whose blazon was painted in bright heraldic colours, gules and or. It might have been the private chapel of some devout family; it had dignity, and freedom from the more theatrical appeals to devotion, simpering statuary and the like. Now, all this was to be changed, unless something were very speedily done.

A boy rode over with a letter to Borrigo, encountering upon the way a Borrigo lad bound for Corazon on a similar errand. Though both notes reflected an equal horror, the alarm and despondency of Count Rotti had better cause; for the parishioners in their letter to him had gone into greater detail, informing him that the south wall was the one which must come down to make room; they would thank him, therefore, to remove the tablet to his father's memory and pay for the removal together with storage pending re-erection, since every penny of church money "would be required for other expenses."

"Touch not a cat but (without) a glove," runs the motto of some canny Scottish family. For "cat" read "Corsican," and this motto might well have served as warning to the Irish who chose, in this petty but infuriating manner, to avenge the insult of a drawing-room closed to them. "You won't have our wives in your house? Then take your father out of our church," said the Irish in effect. And "Sacrilege! Insolence!" exclaimed the grandees, hastening into their boots, ordering saddle-horses and spurs to ride in and reckon with the interlopers.

There was a stormy meeting in the little priest's parlour, he, poor man, sitting terrified with his hands in his sleeves while the powers thundered above him. A. MacRory was there, and showed his contract. An underling from the Bank affirmed that the sum of four hundred pounds stood to the priest's credit earmarked "Church Rebuilding Fund." No halfpenny of this sum, it was pointed out, had been subscribed by the grandees.

"We had no opportunity--" began Mr. Boissy, but was swept aside by the more impetuous Corsican.

"Opportunity, no! Nor the wish, nor the will. I do not give to a project so hasty, so trumped-up!"

It was pointed out that this was no sudden emergency. Sunday after Sunday families for whom there was no room had to kneel among the headstones.

"What do I care? Let them come in time."

It was pointed out that those persons who had put their hands in their pockets were the ones best qualified to speak; that the south was the only wall that could come down without disturbing graves; and that the resolution had been quite lawfully passed by a majority and endorsed by the priest.

"I write to the Bishop!" declared the Corsican, unyielding.

The Bishop, they replied, had already been informed of the project to enlarge the church, and had expressed his unqualified approbation of their zeal.

In short, there was no doubt as to which side had the better of the argument. The grandees had nothing to urge, no reasonable objections to raise. Their pride was pricked, but this was no adequate reason for refusing to countenance a reform long overdue. The fact that the reform was being undertaken for a sub-motive of spite did nothing to make it less necessary. How cope with the Tooheys, how make clear to the Bishop that a church augmented to annoy was a church not worth having?

The grandees stamped out. The Tooheys smiled. The little priest, uncomfortably voicing a scruple or two, was talked down, and A. MacRory told to get on with the job. A letter was concocted before the meeting broke up, a kind of Parthian arrow, to inform the Count that the work of demolition would begin in three days' time, by which date the tablet must be removed or the contractor could not be answerable for damage. Mass during the weeks while the church was under repair would be held in the Social Room of the White Horse Hotel "by kind arrangement with Connellan Toohey, Esq."

This challenge reached Borrigo next day, and for six hours the Count was unapproachable even by his dogs. Towards evening, however, he calmed down, and spent a cheerful hour or two furbishing up firearms. He slept soundly, and early next morning set out, a mounted armoury, for Corazon, where the two gentlemen talked purposefully together, grimly laughing from time to time. Of the gist of their talk the family at Corazon gathered nothing. A very small child was flipped from the dining room for asking if the Count meant to fight bushrangers with all those pistols, but there were no other questions. The looks of both gentlemen were altogether too grim for enquiry, and next day, which was Sunday, the family drove into Wollondoola, poising feet without comment on squarish obstacles which they knew to be gun-cases, and other parcels, purpose and contents unknown.

Neither Count nor Marquis returned with the waggonettes after Benediction. They offered no explanation, it was not their way, but their dependants were given to understand that business matters of some urgency required their continued presence in the town. The families, depleted by the absence of sons at school, but making double the usual noise by reason of the absence of both senior parents, went home unsuspecting that history was about to be made.

IX

Morning broke, the red morning of the Antipodes, which warns rather than delights the shepherd, and means a cloudless day. The employees of A. MacRory took their time. They could have worked in fair comfort from five to eight, and again from five to eight at night, but such a division of the day occurred to none of these workers, who brought their notions of labour from that side of the world which is right way up.

They elected, therefore, as though they had been working in their native County Limerick, to assemble their tools and set about their preparations at eight o'clock. The task of demolition was to begin at the roof. Ladders were sloped and wedged. But the first man going up with a pick, gave a start and exclaimed upon the name of God. The barrel of a rifle was against his legs, sticking out from one of the narrow loop-hole-like windows on the south wall, and a voice was uttering defiance in imperfect English.

"You will go away from here," said the voice. "It is an outrage. You have no right--" Then, with sudden vivid colloquialism, "Skip, bastard, skip!"

The man obeyed, sliding down the ladder, never touching the rungs with his feet. The man on the second ladder, receiving a similar command, disobeyed, scornfully laughing. There was a crack, a light puff of smoke; the scornful one clapped one hand under his armpit, and scuttled down, cursing. Both windows remained silent, tenanted by motionless gun-barrels; and the foreman of A. MacRory, examining his subordinate's hand, through whose palm a small-calibre bullet had torn its way, put the situation clearly in the fewest possible number of words.

"Boys," said the foreman, "by Cripes, this is no building contract, but a bloody siege we've signed on for!"

It was. They tried the door; it was barred and barricaded, and threats came through the keyhole. They scanned the eastern and other windows, but always through a neat hole in the glass a gun-barrel followed them. The priest came, exhorting the defenders to remember the sanctity which they were profaning with wickedness and pride. The defenders replied that since the Blessed Sacrament and the altar relics had been removed, and as moreover any blood spilt would be shed outside, they were untroubled by conscience. The police magistrate came and reasoned. The Mayor--a Considine--threatened the reading of the Riot Act and an appeal to force. A crowd of all denominations gathered, enthralled with this unhoped-for drama, and picnicked about the building. The defenders, presumably, picnicked within, for those parcels on which their children had been too well drilled to comment contained food, a sufficient store to last for weeks. No importunities, no reasoning, availed. Night found the tablet still in place, and the church inviolate.

X

Thus the strange boomerang-curve of Gustave Félicité's fate brought him back to the point which he had last passed through unknowing. He was three months on the way towards conscious life when the blacks of Corazon rose; but something of that siege must have reached him through the quick blood of Bella, his mother, and he had heard the story, of course, many a time from the survivors. Still I should be surprised if, while he waited at his loophole in a suspense half-comic, half-serious, any thought of the parallel came to his mind. He was a person who saw clearly only one idea at a time. This was his strength; he did not fritter it, as nowadays is the fashion, upon half a dozen loyalties. He did not perceive anything artistically shapely about the course of his life. Yellow Mary's cathedral, now under the sea, was one place, and St. Joseph's, Wollondoola, quite another. He saw himself as Count Rotti's second, avenging an insult in a way that barbarians could comprehend, and had no qualms beyond an occasional speculation as to when the wine would give out.

XI

But just as the besiegers in the cathedral had been saved by outside disaster, so--such is the curious rhythm which some men's fortunes keep--the defenders of St. Joseph's were saved from the overwhelming which must sooner or later have come by a happening which they did not provoke and could not have foreseen. The sun had gone down, and the greater part of the crowd departed to their homes. A couple of pickets remained, with instructions to watch for any sneaking out, in which case they were to go easy, and clip the gentlemen over the head with all due care; for the town was good-humoured still in spite of the bullet through the bricklayer's hand.

The pickets therefore were dozing, wrapped in blueys against the dew, when through the peace of the night came the racket of a galloping horse. Dust, the eternal red dust of Antipodean roads, muffled it somewhat, but the hoof-beats were urgent. They stopped at the churchyard rail, and a voice shouted:

"Master! Mister Boissy, for God's sake are you there?"

The pickets leapt up, but the new arrival shouldered them aside and lowering his mouth to the keyhole of the church door bawled again through it:

"Mister. Boissy, for God's sake!"

The answer came swiftly, suspiciously:

"Who is there? What trick is this?"

"It's George, sir. Come out, for God's sake, and get a horse and ride. Billy Durgan's at Corazon!"

"God Almighty!" from the startled pickets. "D'ye hear that now? Durgan, is it? How does it come ye're alive to squeal on him?"

"Durgan!" A pause of horror within the church. "You cowardly ape, you escape, you leave my wife and children--"

The mounting rage in Gustave-Félicité's voice died at the answer.

"Sir, you've got all the guns. I got in late from the boundary, and found them there. It was the best I could do. There's not so much as a kid's toy pistol left in the house!"

"Get on into the town!" Thus the pickets to each other, excitedly. "You, Andy, run on, knock up Bannigan, he's got horses. Does the Police know? I'll go that way myself--"

There was a thudding and a crashing, as of furniture being shifted, the grinding of a huge key in the church door; Gustave-Félicité and the Count came out at a run. The former, shifting his rifle to his left hand, leapt on the sweating horse and was away down the road. No one questioned or stayed him. The Count, George, and the pickets, taking to their heels, ran doggedly, blindly, townwards, towards the police station, horses, help.

To his other contradictions, Gustave-Félicité added the power to think while acting. His father's imperiousness and impulsiveness were modified in him by his grandmother's practicality, that characteristic so hardly acquired among the deceits and shifts of sea-captains' wives. Thus while he galloped, mechanically keeping to the road, his mind was busy in the coolest way with strategies. It had been so thirty years ago, galloping at his general's command on the heights above Algiers, combining gallantry with common-sense, and avoiding the humiliation of ambushes which had befallen certain of his more dashing corn-peers. He mentally disposed his forces as the gaunt trees went by, starting with an appreciation of the character of Billy Durgan, as far as this could be gleaned from previous exploits. He was not one of your bushrangers of character, a Robin Hood of the New World. He had none of the imaginative courage of the Kellys. No robbing of gold-coaches, no tackling of armed escorts for Billy. He never attempted these grand coups of bushranging, realizing, perhaps, that he had no head for them. His forays were a sinister mixture of petty thieving and brutality. There was one story in particular of a servant shot dead for refusing to give up a copper signet-ring. He preyed as a rule upon outlying stations; this was the first time he had come near to civilization as represented by the township of Wollondoola, and Gustave-Félicité drew the conclusion that he and his gang were growing, not more enterprising, but more hungry; as wolves will draw near to villages in winter. Durgan and his gang--there were two satellites only, one a black man--had probably had a hard day's riding; their bolt-hole was supposed to be somewhere in the Coonamar ranges, forty miles off. There was food and a cellar at Corazon. They would make a night of it, probably, Billy and his lieutenant, leaving the black on guard. They would sit swilling the Margaux--no, the cognac; Margaux had not sting enough for bush palates; would drink themselves sick and silly, with Laura and the children and servants tied up as like as not, all in the same room to prevent accidents; Billy keeping a drunken eye on them, with his gun on the table in front of him. Gustave-Félicité felt a violent spurt of anger, and dug his heels into the horse's heaving sides. Then the anger subsided, was thrust away to make room for calculation.

They would sit in the dining-room, that was pretty sure; it was nearest the approach to the cellar. Harry the black, with a rifle, would be stationed outside on the verandah, commanding the main way to the house, whence he could hear in the night silence the sound of pursuers' hoofs. Would they give him a bottle for company? No; Durgan had crude sense enough to know that a black with a bottle inside him was about as much use as a black with a bullet through him. He would have his drink next day when they got home with the loot.

Gustave-Félicité checked his sobbing horse at the white skeleton of a gate that barred the track to Corazon. The house was a mile and a half away yet. It was a question whether or no the sound of dust-muffled hoofs had reached that attentive ear on the verandah. He turned his face to discover the direction of the faint, hot breeze. It blew from the north-west, out of the central desert; he was to leeward of the watcher. So far, good. He hitched the horse to a young tree, climbed the fence, and began a detour which should bring him to the back of the house. His watch, consulted by moonlight, gave the hour as eleven. They had been in possession of Corazon four hours. Midnight was probably the moment of departure; they would be half-way to Coonamar by break of day. He began to walk at a good pace, keeping as far as he could in shadow. The blackfellow's sight was good for a mile or more at night.

He walked quickly, trying over plans of attack. Kill the black fellow first; but at sound of the shot, what might drunken Durgan do? Blaze off at random, perhaps into the crowd of children and servants. No, no shooting; useless. Bare hands, then. But how approach unheard a creature with wild-cat senses, alert for danger? How about entering the house by the kitchen way, through the courtyard? The dogs, damn them, would give tongue. Well, and why not?

Gustave-Félicité went forward more lightly; he had found his plan.

XII

He reached the vine-planted slope behind the house, and slipped in and out among the shadows of the deserted men's quarters. He was careful to step lightly, and at first no sound greeted him. Then, surprisingly, wafted round from the drawing-room, came the thin gaiety of a schottische, played on the piano. He knew that the performer was his wife; she alone of the family could compass the difficulties of that particular dance, and she had a pretty facility, a kind of bird-like quality in her music that was unmistakable. He thought for a moment, hearing that accustomed tune, that George had lied, that the whole alarm had been a ruse; but almost at once the piano began to spell out a different story. The rhythm faltered, died away in a jangle of false notes, then was taken up again at speed, as a horse breaks into a canter, touched with the spur. The noisy dance went through, jerkily, to its end; ceased; was succeeded by something else, a polka or mazurka, played with the same inequality of touch and time. Gustave-Félicité, clenching his hand, could very well picture what was going on. Billy Durgan, in an armchair with a bottle near him, was giving orders:

"Come on, step lively, missus. Not often me and my mate gets the chance of a musical evenin'. Excuse our shirtsleeves. Go on, put a bit of life in it, d'ye hear?"

But again the anger died down, to be out of calculation's way. They were in the drawing-room, whose long windows opened on to the verandah's western side. The watcher would be near those windows. He remembered the piano's fascination for occasional blacks of the neighbouring tribe that came begging to the house. It was an even chance that the watcher would be at that end of the verandah, looking in at the mysterious box that laughed and sang when a woman's fingers tickled it.

Gustave-Félicité slipped out of his shadow and presented himself to the view of old Nigger, the yard dog. Nigger, who had been moaning to the tune, broke off his lament, and began a cheerful greeting, bouncing up and down on his forepaws. His bark set other dogs off; in twenty seconds there was a small uproar, drowning the sound of the piano entirely. Gustave-Félicité, having made his calculation, acted instantly in the assumption that it was correct. He ran to the east side of the verandah, and saw, as he had expected, the watcher drop noiselessly down off the western side, going by the shortest route to investigate the cause of the din. Gustave-Félicité crept to the window, from which light was streaming.

Laura was at the piano. Her wide shoulders--she had grown heavy in the twenty years since Sydney--shook with sobs, while her hands scuttercd ceaselessly up and down the keys, jerking out those dances cheerful to the soul of Billy Durgan. The girls, white-faced, sat together on the sofa, the eldest with the youngest's head on her lap. The servants, two men with their hands tied, and three women, huddled where they could on the floor. Billy himself in an armchair beat time with the butt of his pistol on the table, at which sat his mate, methodically stowing spoons and forks away in a wallet.

Gustave-Félicité took this in at a glance, and it may be said that his first sentiment was not of indignation, but purest thankfulness that none of his household was in the line of fire. Billy Durgan's head was neatly outlined against the famous brevet of Auguste-Anne de Mortemar, which hung, framed and glazed, upon the wall, and the great seal showed like a gout of blood, just below his chin.

Instantly upon the shot there were screams; the piano stopped at a discord, and there was a thin jingle of silver falling as the second bushranger plunged for his gun. Another shot, and the second bushranger doubled up with a ludicrous expression of surprise and lay quiet. Laura, turning from the piano, gave one look at her husband, then caught up the eight-year-old youngest and ran with her from the room, holding a corner of her shawl between the child's eyes and the blood on the floor. Gustave-Félicité, remembering the watcher, wasted no time in words, but loaded his gun again and went cautiously on to the verandah. A sound from the back of the house told him what he needed to know; Harry the Black, having heard the shots, was showing discretion, making off for the ranges on his ready-saddled horse.

But against the sound of these hoofs another beat, stronger, more confused, was coming up against the wind. It grew to a commotion, with shouting, and three times the crack of a gun. Gustave-Félicité, peering out across the moonlit paddocks, saw a troop of horsemen halted; while he watched they moved, and came leathering towards him, leaving behind them a dark blot on the silvery grass and a riderless horse galloping madly away from it.

Con Toohey's was the first voice of the rescuing party to make itself heard.

We got 'um, Mr. Boissy, we got the blackfella. Now where's that dirty rogue, Billy?"

"Dead," said Gustave-Félicité, grimly cairn; then, changing tone, "But what's this? You're hurt--"

"Ah, what's a taste of shot in the shoulder? So ye got Billy, did ye, all on yer lone? There's men had statues put up to 'em for less. Well, well," as they stepped through the window, and came in sight of the bodies, "here's two of the devil's own, surely. Let none of us be plaguin' Almighty God for the souls of the likes of them."

XIII

Such was the entry of Con Toohey into that drawing-room which twelve hours before had seemed remote as Paradise and as angrily guarded. His shoulder was bound up, and he was constrained, with civilities and honour, to lie upon the sofa, while the other men disposed the dead decently, and the servants, too overwrought to sleep, handed round "Poquareau," laced with cognac, upon trays. Together in the friendliest manner Count Rotti and his persecutors sipped and spoke, as though A. MacRory and the siege had belonged to some other world. The matter of the tablet was not touched upon, but that night completed the moral victory of the defenders. It was left undisturbed, and remains to this day, a dignified reminder of times more spacious, amid St. Josephs in red, St. Anthonys in brown, and Stations of the Cross with all sacred personages arrayed like the tiger-lilies of the field. The only traces of the siege were, until twenty years ago, certain small squares of plain glass at the bottom of each window, which replaced those broken to let the gun-barrels through. Now all the windows are like story-books; and the most glaring of all, a St. Patrick in emerald green trampling snakes, is dedicated by his sorrowing descendants to the memory of Connellan Toohey, Esq.


CHAPTER VII

Whether a Lion be also afraid of a Cock, were very easie in some places to make triall.
--Vulgar Errors.

I

Time, what with children, and churches, and wool-clips, was passing on. Gold-rushes came and went. The Chinese labourers had purchased their ornamental coffins and returned to await, with the tranquillity of the just, that moment when they might put on the incorruption of lacquer. The six girls of the family departed in pairs to the sanctuary of a renowned convent school, where they came in for a certain amount of teasing owing to the tiny coronets with which their spoons and forks were engraved. One of the elders was discovered to have a vocation for the religious life--and in justice to the nuns it must be said that such fancies, which all girls pass through, were discouraged most purposefully by them; this aunt, however, had a soul made to the Dominican measure, and I cannot think of her in any garb other than the white habit.

Her parents attempted to distract her. There were dances, jaunts to Sydney even, and a spate of new dresses. The aunt, who was adorably pretty, smiled, and laced herself as tightly as her neighbours, and danced to whatever tune her relations chose to pipe. But there came a day when, borrowing the fare from a brother-in-law, she ran away to Christ. Her father made no sign, but regretted her, for she was almost the best-looking of the brood.

A wedding or two thinned the family down about this time. Young neighbouring squires, young visiting soldiers were eternally about the place, scorned by my father and uncles for languishing, envied for their whiskers and dress, and the assurance of their baritones as they sang duets. The Boissy boys, who had occurred in a crop towards the end of the family, were learning at King's School the casual manners and intolerance of regulation which marks the Australian born to this day, even while he wears, as they did, a uniform designed by the Duke of Wellington. They spoke--poor Laura!--in the lagging slipshod fashion which reassured their contemporaries, and guaranteed them against assault; an English accent was apt, in that school, to be driven out with pitchforks, never to return. They could ride; they knew how to tackle a bush-fire, how to do rudimentary cooking, how to muster sheep. These were things they cared for, and learnt automatically with intent to use, while the classics dropped off them with the dust of school. All four regarded reading of any kind as a toil which should be left to such cranks as enjoyed it; and beyond mathematics and football, they saw school as a meaningless tyranny with no end or purpose, which poisoned certain springs of the human mind for ever. They possessed, too, the suspicious Australian temperament, which always looks a gift horse in the mouth on principle. Nothing showed in them of either of the two western countries whence they drew their blood. They had neither English ruddiness, nor French swiftness, English tolerance nor French curiosity. They were lanky, and long-faced, and sallow, and sullen, with gleams of attractiveness and no dearth of brains. They quarrelled a good deal, between themselves, but were linked close as steel. Art was folly to them, and land a passion. The eldest, my father, Jacques-Marie, was just nineteen in the year when Bismarck juggled with the Ems telegram, and France under the spell of Empire challenged Germany to war.

II

That was a bad time for Gustave-Félicité. He had no faith in any of the Napoleons, least of all in that impassive yet theatrical adventurer, third of the name. To fight the Prussians was all very well; they were ancient enemies, and a trifle swollen-headed by reason of their victories over the Austrians and Danes; the French bayonets would lance that pride for them. But--and here came the torment--how would these bayonets be led? Who were these Marshals, MacMahon, Bazaine? And had their pinchbeck Emperor any of the eagle's luck sticking to him?

It is strange how underneath his Republicanism, Royalism, Imperialism, a Frenchman's loyalty is always to France. Here was this elderly man, forty years absent from his country, which had treated him, to say the least of it, cavalierly, stealing his property, stigmatising his name. He owed France nothing, not even the hospitality of her soil at birth, but the thought of that soil being trodden down in battle by men of another blood set his whole soul on fire. For years now he had had no communication with any of his relations; friends had died or were forgotten; deliberately he had kept aloof, not even seeing a French book, or following in the "Revue des Deux Mondes" the trend of thought. All he knew was what his Australian papers told him, and these, while they paid the war the compliment of headlines as a European event, took no great interest in the upshot. Why should they? Both countries were buyers of wool; war or no war, they would continue to buy wool. But whether the guns sounded and the regiments swayed this side or that of the imaginary line known as a frontier was to Australians a matter of indifference altogether.

"Take the strain!" is the command given before the tug-of-war actually starts. Gustave-Félicité took it with all his pride, bracing himself against the soil of his new allegiance. He became more silent, possibly more withdrawn; but noticeably he aged. It must have been pitiful to watch him during those months, while the war dwindled down from headlines to paragraphs, and soon fell away out of the news altogether. In the ironic heat of an early New South Wales summer his imagination endured the horrors of frozen cities and armies, the earth so bound with cold that it could not be opened even to make graves. From July to September he lived in thought the nightmare of suffering and betrayal, constant withdrawal checked by bloody gallant stands that make the story of the first months of the Franco-German war.

Probably he tortured himself more cruelly than there was any need for. Life seems to have gone on throughout France, save where the armies were actually operating, without any yielding to despair. Indeed the curious thing, reading the letters of the time, is to see how to the end the French were buoyed up by rumour and hope. Their minds had acquired the habit of victory, and they parted with it hardly. There were their little soldiers, the same little fellows who had trotted over all the roads of Europe, and into all the kings' palaces not so long ago, just as numerous, and wearing trousers of the authentic red; how should they not be victorious? Something would happen; France could not lose. French people talked and wrote like this while the Prussians drew round Paris.

III

Gustave-Félicité was feared by all his family, but by the sons most. They felt for him that curious antagonism which thrusts between the generations when the father's resentment at being displaced meets the young man's consciousness that the world moves on. The old prohibitions had gone as the family grew up, but the habit of awe remained; I do not believe that any one of the boys ever deliberately addressed his father unless he were spoken to first, and as the days crawled on between battle and battle these casual daily exchanges became more rare.

It was a shock then for Jack, riding home late in the cool of the night of December 1st, to discover, when he came in after putting up the horse, his father seated in his room. The old man sat with his eyes on the door waiting for his son, and to the startled boy it seemed as if those eyes belonged to a person he did not know. They were fixed, and heavily shadowed, and the expression did not change to welcome him. Nor did his father move. He said at once, speaking deliberately, in French:

"My son, we have something of importance to decide."

Jack answered, in his loosely-articulated English:

"Why, what's up, Papa?"

His father frowned, but for once did not reprove slang. He had other things to say.

"We are falling back. The river will hold these fellows, not for long. Still, it may give us time to get the men together. Men, more men! That is our affair. The good God must send a leader."

Jack, honestly bewildered, vaguely pictured a raid by blacks. But there were none within a hundred miles. What was this river?

"The army of the Loire," said Gustave-Félicité, answering his thought, "that this personage, this Gambetta, is forming. I know nothing of him; a revolutionary, by all accounts. But if he can lead, tant pis, he must be followed. France has had to lean on many a queer stick in her time."

Now Jack had his drift, but was none the less mystified. Who cared? What the hell interest was it, anyway? lie said, however:

"That's right. Look, hadn't you better be getting off to bed? It's pretty late."

His father put the interruption aside with one square white hand, and said, quite sanely, but fixing him with those unusual eyes:

"You are nineteen years of age. You can use a rifle. Is it necessary for me to indicate further your duty?"

Jack stared. When he had the meaning, he laughed. It was really very funny, this notion of going off to the other side of the world to put on a pair of red pants and bolster up a set of fool Frenchmen. Why, they were on the run, had been on the run from the start. You could lay out a regiment of them with a bag of pepper. He jumped as the old man spoke, a remembered ridiculous phrase that had taken on meaning:

"Say something!"

As in the old days when these words coming in the midst of a mouthful of pudding were the signal for an entire blankness of mind, so now. What was there to say? He couldn't tell the old man what he really thought of the Frenchies. Besides--besides, it was all too senseless. What, go off now; just when he's got rid of school, and that headmaster with hair like moss and sermons filled with cricketing metaphors about Christ always playing for his side; just when he was coming into his physical strength, and felt fit enough to push a bullock over; to go off and stop a dozen bullets from a German needle-gun! And what for? What on God's earth for?

His father was speaking.

"You can be ready by to-morrow's train. There is no need to pack, you may buy in Sydney what is necessary for the voyage. There will be time before the ship sails."

Here was a definite proposition, and Jack had to stand up to it, whether his father were, as he half thought, off his head or not.

"You mean you really want me to push off to France and fight?"

"I want?" A shrug. "Does it not seem to you a matter of duty?"

Jack came out plump with his scandalized refusal.

"No. It doesn't look one bit like that to me."

His father did not move, and his voice was oddly patient.

"You do not perhaps appreciate the position. Many do not, these newspapers are useless to give strategy. But I assure you the situation is most desperate."

"I know that. I dare say it is. But--God's truth, father, it's only France!"

With those three words all sense of proportion and justice fled from Gustave-Félicité. He ceased to remember that he had brought up his children as Australians, that he had never spoken to them of his own country, that all their interests, their whole life was in the soil that had adopted them. All these things, and the speaker's own relationship to him, he forgot. He struck with all his strength at the grinning brown face, knocking it backwards for a moment, and extinguishing the grin. Then his hands were caught and held in his son's; immediately, feeling the young man's greater strength and disdaining to pit his sixty-year-old muscles against it, he became quiet.

"Hold on, father; don't do that again," said Jack's voice angrily. Gustave-Félicité answered, biting out the words with a calm so contemptuous that the young man let him go:

"All my excuses, sir. I was in the wrong. One does not soil one's hands with a coward. You are right to remind me."

"But, Christ--listen here, father." A half turn down the room. "Listen, why the hell should I go? I'm not funking it. Put me down in front of a couple of Squareheads in the front paddock here, and I'll thrash 'em both to-morrow if they need it. I'll fight anyone if there's a reason. I don't see the sense of this idea of yours, that's all. I was born out here, I've got to live out here, haven't I? Where's the sense?"

"I do not argue with you. This is a matter of sentiment and proper feeling, not for argument."

"I don't want to argue, I want to make you see--"

"That is enough."

But at the door the old man paused and turned.

"One more chance. I cannot believe that one of my name would shelter himself. It is my last word. Will you fight?"

"No," said Jack, unhesitating. "I won't. France is nothing to me and this war's a mess and I'm bloody well not going to be bluffed into it."

He stood slouched against the chest of drawers as he spoke, and the words came out with that ugly unfinished drawl from which his mother had guarded him all his childhood. He seemed to the old soldier, whose eye for a man had been trained in quicker, more vivid countries, the very picture of degenerate youth. Gustave-Félicité looked him up and down, once, then said with the same calm:

"You are free to choose. I am master in this house. You must leave it."

"All right. Glad to. Better hump a bluey on my own than sweat my soul out running away from Germans."

But his father had got beyond the state of mind when taunts had power.

"You will go to-night. From to-night you do not come here again, nor speak to your mother and sisters. Understand; it is finished for you here."

"Right."

"You may take half an hour to pack your clothes."

"No, thanks."

And just as he was, in old breeches and a shirt, hatless, coatless, disdaining even to pick up his watch and the silver which while he talked he had emptied from his pockets to the dressing-table, Jacques-Marie swaggered out past his father.

Gustave-Félicité did not gaze after his son, nor take any further steps to make sure that he had left the place; so far he trusted the boy's pride. But in the morning, when at breakfast his wife commented:

"No Jack! That boy grows wilder every day. Regularity at meals is one of the truest marks of a gentleman Gustave-Félicité interposed:

"Jack will not return."

"Gustave! Not--"

"He is not dead. But he lacks other marks of the gentleman besides promptness. He will not return here. I forbid communication."

"But, Gustave, where's he gone?"

"I do not know."

IV

He had, in fact, and most naturally, gone to Borrigo and told the whole story there. Count Rotti was dead, but the eldest boy, Bert (Umberto), after conferring with Ben (Bentivoglio, the next in age), and deciding privately that old Boissy must be going mad, offered him a job about the place--"just till your old dad comes round," they said. Jack laughed, knowing better.

"He won't come round," said Jack.

But his presence at Borrigo, working out on the run, was a scandal, and news of it spread, together with garbled versions of the cause of his flight. His father had turned him out of the house for saying the French couldn't fight. He had been horse-whipped by his father for giving two Germans a job splitting rails. No, it was some kind of immorality, really too terrible. The rumours grew, and became more absurd as they spread wider, until old Madam Rotti was of opinion that this nonsense had gone on long enough. Besides, one of her girls showed signs of being interested in the unlucky Jack, was grown indeed quite fatuous, and of course there could be no question of anything if Jack were really, as the rumours said, cut out of his father's will. Old friends or no, that was a disaster not to be borne, and which should not occur for want of a little energy directed in the right quarter to prevent it.

Madam Rotti had out her landau, with her coachman in livery, and donning a hat with a fly-veil very similar to those worn by her horses, set off across the fifteen miles of bush track that lay between Borrigo and Corazon. She drove, regarding the ragged gum-trees, the endless grey border of post and rail fence, with an eye that lacked its usual bird's quickness. She was busy with the future. Of course, it was difficult to marry the girls out here in the bush; one had to find Catholics, and while these abounded, unfortunately they were all of the Toohey and Bannigan class, quite insufferable in the house except to cook and hand food. Trips to Sydney were costly. No, on the whole it was better to put all one's tact into playing peacemaker to the Boissys; to patch up the quarrel if possible, and see that Jack was given an interest in the station on his twenty-first birthday. The other boys did not matter, they would be several years yet coming along to marriageableness; one could put in a word there when the time came. If the quarrel were over money, she would have her work cut out, she told herself; the French, thought Madam Rotti, fanning herself, were always so mercenary, even the best-born of them. Now, in Corsica, money mattered nothing. Nobody had any. It took its proper place. Of course, one must be practical, but that was quite another thing.

So, musing, manipulating her ridiculous parasol to protect the fringes of her shawl, which already showed signs, after only two months' wear, of fading, Madam Rotti was driven along, through the ford at Gullagalong, past a boundary rider's deserted shanty. She remembered how Mr. Boissy, summoned post-haste to this spot to soothe the last moments of an employee who had brewed and swallowed a decoction of fly-papers, had addressed the writhing suicide without sympathy, thus:

"You are a bad man! You 'ave attempted to take your life."

A stare, and a turn on the heel. "I will 'ave you appre'ended."

Dear me, if he had genuine cause for quarrel with Jack! He was implacable. There would be nothing for it but that trip to Sydney.

Resolutely, when the landau drew up at the steps of Corazon, Madam Rotti dismounted. Her eye, withdrawn from inward contemplation and restored to its powers of observing, had leisure to note that the verandah, which ran round three sides of the house, was altogether deserted. Unusual, this; for as a rule the long chairs were tenanted, sewing and books littered the clean cedar boards where the feminine part of the family, immune from mosquitoes, carried on a perpetual out-of-door parliament, or talkery. Madam Rotti, a trifle worried lest they should all be out on some expedition and she have wasted her time, gave the bell a second savage tweak, and entered the hall through the open front door, calling, as she thumped forward on the stick she did not need:

"Madam! Louise, Sophie! Is anyone here?"

She was a woman who conducted her own life sans ceremony; and accordingly, as no answer came either to her tweak or her calling, she turned the handle of the first door on the right, which she knew led to the drawing-room.

"As well sit down, at any rate," thought Madam Rotti, "and he comfortable, even if they have all been struck deaf."

The room was pleasant, and deserted. Its bell, which she rang in a kind of supplementary summons, tinkled pitifully in the distant kitchen, and in vain. Madam Rotti, who had acquired a good working philosophy during her quarter-century of exile, seated herself at a frame whereon was stretched a chair seat in petit-point, from which one or other of the Muses looked out with starting eyes, and began to stitch. The clock under glass on the mantelpiece struck once; half-past twelve, and Madam Rotti had breakfasted at eight or a little before. She stitched on, resolving at one or thereabouts to raid the larder.

She was saved, however, from this breach of behaviour by the sound of wheels and hoofs; many wheels, many hoofs, coming up the drive. She went on to the verandah, parasol up, and beheld a cortège; the waggonette, a sulky or two, a couple of men on horses, approaching at a pace by no means brisk. She could see that in the waggonette Mrs. Boissy was holding a handkerchief to her eyes, while the girls appeared to be passing a bottle of smelling salts from hand to hand. A chill feeling overcame her. Could the old gentleman--so her upright seventy years regarded his heavy sixty-five--have gone off in a fit? He was nowhere to be seen. Yet the demeanour of the girls, which had, despite the smelling salts, some twinge of gaiety, seemed to give this conjecture the lie.

The waggonette drew up. Mrs. Boissy descended, cumbersomely, and looking up, saw her neighbour. The heavy silk skirt surged up the steps, and Laura, five foot eight, fell upon the shoulder of her neighbour, a slender five foot two, with the cry:

"My kindest friend, how did you know? How could you guess that I should need someone?"

And the large Laura wept anew. This was all that twenty-three years of marriage had done for her. The girl who attempted to pass off her bridegroom with the bribe of a bonnet, the moody girl of whom her father was afraid, could never have thought of needing a shoulder to weep on. But she had been thoroughly tamed and talked into womanliness, with the result that she could be overcome now at a few moments' notice, and had arrived at such expertness in sensibility that tears and voluntary unconsciousness were both at her command. Marriage had made of her no more than the shadow of a woman, having been for so long obliged to admire, believe, and do things which failed to interest her; a shadow cast by her husband's stronger personality. And now--"

"But, my dear," said Madam Rotti, patting her shoulder with the hand that still held the parasol, "I have heard nothing, I assure you. I know nothing. No, no, my pet"--as Laura attempted speech--"one of the girls shall tell me. Louise, you!"

"Papa's gone," said the youngest girl, thus exhorted, wide-eyed.

"Gone? Where gone?"

"Sydney, by the morning train. We've all spent the night in town to say good-bye. Servants and all."

An elder sister pushed this evidence aside, and communicated the true cause with some gusto, aided by a sniff at the salts.

"Papa's going back to France," said she, "to fight the Germans. Only think, he's taken his guns."

"At his age!" wailed Laura, gaining voice. She was in an armchair by now, being fanned. "The cold will kill him. And he's so venturesome, so impulsive. He'll never come back--"

"And Jack?" asked Madam Rotti, still with her eye to the main chance.

"Jack's cut off. There's to be a manager put in, some stranger."

"Ah!" said Madam Rotti, swiftly reversing her tactics, and compressing her plan to a single sentence--So! This means more for the younger sons, we must wait. "Your poor Jack is safe with us--or elsewhere. He is a fine worker. Such do not starve. Now, my dear friend, if I may suggest, you shall lie down, and take a little tea, and I will bathe your eyes."

"I don't want tea," responded Laura, sobbing, but moving as bidden towards the door. "I couldn't face a cup of tea." Pause.

"Perhaps a glass of Madeira

"Quickly, girls, a glass of Madeira for your mother. Where are the keys? Hurry."

A girl adroitly detached the bunch from her mother's chatelaine with an ease that betrayed long and subtle practice, and vanished into the dining-room. Her mother's voice followed her:

"Nor the good wine, darling. Papa would not wish that. The bottle that was opened for Sophie's cold--"

Then, with a burst of grief that was genuine, for it was a realization of how badly the years of marriage had cheated her, and how little of herself was left to carry on:

"But what does it all matter? He'll never come back."

V

Nor did he.

While he was on the sea, wasting time in the doldrums, more time at the mercy of strong contrary winds, things were happening in France that rendered all his impatience, together with his whole impulsive departure, tragically void. The Orleans' campaign, after a few clashes that cost men and settled nothing, failed for lack of generalship. There was Faidherbe, of course; but he was a mere junior amid that body for which the appropriate collective noun would have been a jealousy of marshals. Bourbaki ran his troops into a trap at Pontarlier, and shot himself--not dead; as ever, his conception and execution did not keep step, and the gesture ended with a flesh wound. Gambetta with his umbrella and haut-de-forme--what did he know of battles? Enough to muster and equip the troops somehow, to feed them, to get them into the field in numbers which at the beginning of January exceeded those of the invaders by some fifty thousand men; but, tragically, not enough to manoeuvre them. Or so the marshals said, marching the levies he raised for them here and there in the snow, never combining--what, one army in the field support another? The wrong marshal might get the credit--never seeing the four hundred miles of front as a whole. The German armies swung always forward, little by little, like the movement of a scythe. Francs-tireurs harried them, civilians passively resisted, a terribly severe winter season came upon them in their trenches; they moved inevitably on, bringing up by train from Germany the food they could not plunder, never short of shells, never for one moment in doubt of victory. The great battle of St. Quentin was the last effort of France to avert disaster; it failed, and she lay with the spine of her defences broken. On January 28th, as Gustave-Félicité was dawdling in his four-master round the seething Cape, armistice was signed.

VI

His ship arrived at Bordeaux at the beginning of March. The war was over, humiliating terms of peace were being added up into a treaty; two hundred millions in gold, and an army of occupation to be supported until they were paid. German troops were everywhere. France, like a woman in hysteria, was drumming her heels on the ground and shrieking that it was everyone else's fault. It was just the bad short period of disorder which preceded stern effort, the sort of thing to be expected of a country unaccustomed to defeat; but it shocked Gustave-Félicité, and that which disturbed him most of all was the fact that he was too late. It was the politicians' moment, now that the soldiers had failed, and politics had changed since 1830. Then there were still great names serving the state, Polignac, de Broglie, his own distant cousin, the Duc de Mortemar. Now a horde of nonentities, without money to preserve them from corruption, or tradition to keep them loyal, were negotiating on behalf of France, complacently making jobs and names for themselves out of her downfall.

He went to the Ministry of War to offer his services; repeated letters procured him an interview with an indifferent young man in varnished boots, who heard him with politeness, and at the end of the recital pointed out that there was no longer a war in progress. Gustave-Félicité questioned, uncomprehending:

"Is it your opinion that the country will swallow this peace that is preparing?"

"Why not, monsieur? The country is tired of war."

"But not of dishonour?"

The young man made a helpless gesture.

"I repeat, monsieur; is the country prepared to tolerate submission to these upstarts? Prepared to be bled? Will there be no resistance made?"

"Not, at any rate," delicately replied the young man, "by the Ministry of War. We have been beaten, unfortunately, in the field. We must make what terms we can. And if I may give my advice, M. le Marquis, it would be to suggest that fire-eating is definitely a harmful attitude at this moment, when every endeavour should be made to conciliate."

Gustave-Félicité, very white, took up his hat and gloves.

"I demand to see the Minister in person. He cannot be aware of the sentiments of his representative."

"On the contrary. The sentiments are officially recommended in a minute signed by him."

"Good God! A man of your age, tamely resigning himself and his country to servitude!"

The young man smiled.

"The word glory has been much trumpeted during the past six months; months, monsieur, during which you were on the other side of the world. We have seen where it leads."

"Am I to understand that my offer of service is refused?"

"The Minister regrets that it would be contrary to the understanding with the Prussian Government to enrol volunteers, however distinguished, during the present armistice."

And he bowed, eyeing his varnished boots with approval as he did so. The old man said, fury overcoming him:

"A War Office run by civilians! I no longer am astonished at the débâcle--"

"Monsieur," said the young man, very pale, "I fought at Gravelotte. Modern war is something more than an affair of sabres and gold braid. Permit me to close this interview."

Gustave-Félicité went out with no further word, bewildered and angry, into the street. How Paris had changed in those forty years since the revolution of July! Difficult, in this city of wide boulevards, to imagine such another revolution; no tangling of troops in narrow streets, no bottle-necked alleys to delay them. It had become a town defended by amenities against attack from within, for the new broad ways made easier traffic and afforded magnificent vistas, and the citizens, after a little natural grumbling, were proud of the Napoleonic achievement. Only a few revolutionaries and a few antiquaries mourned.

VII

Sitting in the unaltered gardens of the Tuileries to watch his countrymen pass by, he was astonished at their levity. The citizens talked of stocks and shares, of the weather, of women. German uniforms shouldered along the paths unchallenged, hardly noticed. The children stared with admiration after the handsome figure of a German officer of lancers, strolling with youthful assurance through this conquered garden. Two young men seated themselves on Gustave-Félicité's bench. He listened, still with his eyes on the officer, who had halted beside a pretty nursemaid. "These war taxes," said one, "I shall not pay, I for one."

"They'll make you, my friend," said the other. "Thank God, I have no money, no nice little business to be bled. I am not a voter; I escape the privilege of contributing."

"I do not say that I enjoy defeat," went on the first, "but looked at without prejudice, there may be money in it for the individual. One can pay too dear for glory."

"Ah, and for brioches too!" said the other, laughing. "Confess, the siege filled your pockets nicely!"

"Naturally, food becomes dearer. People expect that. It does not do, if one is in trade, to cheat expectation."

"No matter who else one cheats!"

"Perfectly. Glory! You can't dine off it; at least, not at my restaurant."

Gustave-Félicité got up from the seat, and in his somewhat ludicrous clothes--he had held for forty years to the fashions in vogue when he quitted France--addressed the two young men. They did not rise, but sat looking up at him, their legs sprawled out, hands in pockets, now and then winking. "Gentlemen," said Gustave-Félicité, "the tone of your talk surprises me. Do you in your hearts find that"--he indicated the lancer--"palatable?"

The two young men, having decided that this old personage must be one of those comic aristos so familiar in farces, grinned up at him, and the first, the restaurant-keeper, answered:

"His money is as good as another's."

"Money! Money," Gustave-Félicité repeated, "is that all you consider?"

"Look, monsieur," interposed the second young man, "we are young, both of us. Were we consulted about the war? No. Who will have to pay for this war? We shall. Not the generals. Not the politicians in top-hats. We, the workers, the young men, we have to pay for it. We have nothing to say to the old men. They made the war; we fought it. Who has the best right to talk?"

"The old men--"

"You, monsieur, and others like you; no offence, no blame to you. You get something out of war, and don't risk your skin; ribbons and dignities, win or lose. But it's all at our expense; we get nothing, not so much as a thank you. When they give medals for cooking soup, or telling the truth, maybe we'll get a look in."

"Do you say your leaders are cowards?"

"I say," said the young man, sneering, "that since they never go into danger, there's no way of telling whether they are cowards or not."

"Thank you, gentlemen," said Gustave-Félicité, removing his hat, "I am glad to have your opinion of your elders. I hope to prove to you that it is unjustified."

And with that he walked away in the German officer's direction. The lieutenant was speaking to the nursemaid, while the boy in her charge fingered his sabre. The two young men, giggling and nudging each other, saw the elderly madman approach, and speak to the officer, who looked haughtily at the broad stooped figure so oddly dressed, and gave a short answer which they could not overhear. The old man then spoke to the nursemaid, and quite gently took the little boy's hands. They heard what he said to the child.

"Little boy, you must not touch that sword. It has your countrymen's blood on it."

The officer's face was difficult to read. His bearing was insolent, but he was a man of breeding; and while he knew the old man's insult to be deliberate, he had self-control not to resent it. One could not pick a quarrel with an opinionated grandfather of this description, said his expression; it was more honourable to ignore the challenge than to accept it. He therefore said nothing, but bowed stiffly, pretending not to understand, and said in German:

"It is quite safe, the child will not cut himself."

And with a final lazy glance in the direction of the nursemaid, now, in terror, hurrying away, he turned to resume his stroll. But a hand at his elbow checked him.

"Do you speak French, lieutenant?"

The officer studied the white face and burning eyes, and shook his head.

"You do not? Fortunately, there is a language which every man understands."

And on that Gustave-Félicité struck the officer full on the mouth, as not so long ago he had struck his own son. The lieutenant swore, and carried his hand to his sword-hilt, sucking in the blood from his cut lip. A gendarme was approaching, the two young men had left their seat, and, forgetting their laughter, were running up in anticipation of some kind of immediate massacre. The lieutenant in ten seconds had hold of himself once more, and stanching the blood with his spotless glove said to his assailant in good French:

"Perhaps monsieur will favour me with his card?"

Gustave-Félicité took out his pocket-book and handed the rectangle of pasteboard without the formality of a bow. The officer, accepting it, wrinkled his brows.

"Corazon?" said he, "Wollondoola?" He pronounced it oddly. "Is this sufficient for my friends to find you, monsieur?" Gustave-Félicité took it again, and drawing a line through the address, scribbled the name of his hotel.

"Albrecht von Zeuss," said the officer, clicking his heels, "of the 21st Uhlans. My friends will not fail you."

"If they will be so good as to call in the morning, between nine and twelve, my friends will receive them."

"Au revoir, monsieur."

"Au revoir, lieutenant."

VIII

But as he walked away, Gustave-Félicité was wondering what the devil he should do. It was not the prospect of the fight that worried him, but the question of fighting en règie. Friends were necessary. A man could no more arrange his own duel with propriety than he could arrange his own marriage. And where were friends to be found? His mind ranged over the names of officers, brothers in arms of the campaign of Algiers, and of relatives not too distant who might be expected to help in an affair of honour. But how to trace them? So helpless and forlorn was he in this vast new Paris that he even considered approaching again the young man in varnished boots, that unsoldierly ex-soldier; but a memory of his execrable principles, his acceptance of defeat at the bidding of a War Office minute, drove that possibility away. "Corazon, Wollondoola," said his card, with truth. He belonged there now, although he could never think of it as home. This Paris, changed beyond recognition, this France defeated and humbled, meant home to him, though they treated him as a stranger. It was as if the lost heir should turn up at his inherited castle, after forty years in the wilds, to find the windows broken, and the caretaker dead, and nobody in the village who remembered.

It was time to eat. He turned into the nearest restaurant, a tidy, tiny place called "Au Bonheur de Vivre." It was empty, save for two young soldiers, privates in baggy red breeches, eating soup. They looked at him, but without displaying the amusement to which he was growing accustomed; and when they spoke, though it was only some triviality, some murmur from the corridors of the Opéra, the voices were of his own class. He finished his cutlet--how he would have loved to set this cook's ingenuity to work upon the prime meat that was the Australian staple!--and was served with a slice of Brie cheese, oozing fatness, cool on its platter of reeds. With the coffee that followed came decision. He got up and spoke to the two soldiers. They rose immediately, slightly bowed, and heard his first sentences with grave consideration.

"Gentlemen," said Gustave-Félicité, "you both wear uniform. Will you allow me to ask your help in a matter of honour?"

They asked him, very civilly, to be seated. They did not, like the young men upon the bench in the Tuileries, instantly conclude from his clothes that he was mad. Possibly each had a father or great-uncle just like him at home. They took cards from some inner pocket of their blue ill-fitting capotes and presented themselves; Bretons both, and gentlemen, one a cadet of a famous house.

They heard his further request in silence; at the end nodded to each other and agreed. They were on leave from their unit; the thing could be managed. They would wait next morning at his hotel for the German officer's friends. He, as the affronted person, would have choice of weapons. In case it should be pistols, would M. le Marquis care to employ the afternoon in a little practice shooting? After a long voyage the eye was apt to get a trifle out. They were at leisure, and could escort him.

To have the comfort of their society he agreed, and in a kind of saloon devoted to such displays astonished them both by his quickness with the weapon. They put him early to bed with cheerful good-byes, and promises to attend in the morning; he thanked them, and lay long awake, not from any fear of the issue of the quarrel, but plagued with memories, half-dreams. The scenes that came unbidden before his closed eyes were not French; one and all they were pictures of Australia, colourless plains, trees grey as lichen, unbelievable clouds of white birds with yellow crests halting in the front paddock on some pilgrimage north. His children moved in none of the scenes. It was the country always, brown or springing, or else tragic with forty miles of bush going up in flame. Thirty years of it! The place was in his bones. He longed for its warmth, and the great distances held in by eternally unfolding ranges. Yet he would not have given his blood, nor a snap of his fingers to defend it. Strange loyalty! that took no account of benefits received, but would give life for a thankless syllable, six letters of the alphabet; the name of France.

IX

His instructions had been explicit; neither apology, nor compromise. The two Bretons understood him, and did not trouble him with the proposal of the lieutenant's seconds that the matter should close upon a written recognition that the blow had been dealt "as the result of a malentendu due to a difference in language." The lieutenant's seconds, one very spick-and-span captain, one subaltern who remained voiceless throughout the interview, seemed uncomfortable about the whole affair, whether from a consideration of the disparity in age between the principals, or by reason of the moderation which their own War Office required them to show while the terms of peace were negotiating. They, with their excellent tailoring, valeting, burnishing, and physique, contrasted oddly with the Frenchmen, whose regulation coats and boots gave their figures a uniform and unsoldierly clumsiness.

The conversation lasted ten minutes, at the end of which time the lancers clicked and bent, and departed to their horses which stamped outside, attended by orderlies. The Frenchmen went upstairs, to knock on their principal's door.

Gustave-Félicité was breakfasting. Ah, the good rolls of Paris, the bad but seductive coffee of Paris! He had forgotten his Australian longings of the night before, and was back in France in spirit as in body, with his rolls before him, the din of a familiar street outside the window, and the prospect of putting in a blow for his country before twenty-four hours were over. He waved the young men to chairs, rang for more coffee, and listened, while he contentedly spread his butter, to what they came to tell him.

It was soon told. Foils, at eight-thirty next morning, in the Bois de Boulogne. Gustave-Félicité nodded, and complimented them on their talent for negotiation. But they were a trifle crestfallen, having hoped for pistols. Foils were quite another thing, a young man's weapon; with foils it was not only a question of eye, but of quick movement and supple muscles. They looked at their principal's heavy shoulders, the deliberate way he sipped his coffee from a spoon, and had doubts, which their unfailing gravity and courtesy covered. However, they had accepted responsibility, and were in no way inclined to shirk it. They took their duties seriously; and on the fresh coffee arriving the elder of the two, with apologies but firmness, tested its strength, and added more hot milk to the cup. Coffee, he explained, was very well as a stimulant--after an affair; before, no. Might he implore M. le Marquis to forgo its solace for the rest of the day? Its effect upon the nerves was--his fluttering hands exemplified most strikingly its effect upon the nerves.

Gustave-Félicité smiled and agreed. Unsmiling, they mapped out his day. Before lunch, a little work with the foils; afterwards, tranquillity, but not alone; a café, a club, somewhere with movement; early to bed. He agreed to it all, and thought with sudden anger of the lanky uncommunicative Jack; men of this type, precise, courageous and civil, should have been his sons.

X

Next morning was misty still at half-past eight, but beyond lending a certain reluctance to the thought of standing in shirt sleeves this was of no importance. It was not like a duel with pistols, when a thirty-foot veil of mist was enough to balk any man's aim. Perhaps, after all, thought the seconds, while before starting out they plied their man with tea--an English beverage reputed to cheer without unduly exciting--perhaps it was as well the Germans had selected foils. A bullet was a chancier thing than a prick with the point, did more damage and was less governable. The lieutenant, if he were any sort of a swordsman, would have no difficulty in satisfying honour without going to extremes.

From this it may be seen that they had no great confidence in their principal's powers, as these had been displayed the previous morning in a regimental salle d'armes. He had the wrist still, and the brain to conceive an attack; half, but only half, the necessary qualities for this form of fighting. The maitre had praised, and touched only when opportunities were too patent to be ignored; but to the young men afterwards, dropping his voice, he had remarked:

"Your grandfather needs a new mainspring, but the case is all right." (Le coffre est solide.)

The case was indeed in good condition. Gustave-Félicité had slept a reasonable time, untroubled by dreams of wide spaces, and with that queer unimaginativeness which pursued him through life, and drove him to oddities that he could not perceive were odd, he was not in the least apprehensive of the issue of his morning's quarrel. Deep in him was the thought, native to all nationalities, that by mere virtue of his Frenchness he was a match for any two foreigners. Besides, he had the supporting consciousness of making a gesture.

He looked about him as the carriage drove briskly along the new boulevards, not as his relatives had looked from tumbrils in '93, with avidity and despair, but with genuine interest and some disapproval; no tremors, no sudden stabbing thought--"It may be for the last time." The young men were impressed, and began to conceive fresh hopes, built on this steadiness. The talk was argumentative--they approved the Napoleonic town-planning--and almost gay. Then one young man turned with an exclamation, and tapped the coachman's back. They had arrived.

It was a patch of ground sheltered from questions by a grove of trees; far from paths, and in a kind of hollow, but level enough to serve the purpose of a piste. The Germans were there already, marching up and down, their cloaks caught close about them; the lieutenant, his seconds, and a bearded man, the doctor. Bows were exchanged; then followed a departure from formality. The captain came up to the little group of Frenchmen, and addressing himself to Gustave-Félicité in person, repeating his offer in terms which went to the farthest bounds of conciliation. Lieutenant von Zeuss was still willing to regard the blow as having been delivered under a misapprehension; an expression of regret would be accepted, if it were understood that the insult had been a personal one, and not directed at the uniform he had the honour to wear.

"Since you address your request to me, sir," Gustave-Félicité answered, "I will speak plainly. My quarrel is not with the lieutenant; he is a gentleman, I have no doubt, and knows how to conduct himself. But the uniform he wears is a challenge and an insult to every Frenchman. Make this clear to him. I have nothing further to say."

And he began to unbutton his coat.

The captain, wearing an expression for which any southerner would have used his shoulders, a shrug translated into terms of features, went back to his countrymen to report the result of his mission. The lieutenant received the statement with a brusque nod, and began likewise to strip. He was an elegant young man, with a girlish waist, who moved in his field-boots as easily as if they had been dancing pumps. The cases of foils were opened, the blades measured. Each combatant selected his weapon, and the officer began at once to make his whistle through the air in a series of cavalry slashes. Gustave-Félicité bent his double between his hands to prove the temper, tested the point against his palm. The seconds, after treading the ground to discover any inequalities, placed their men. Light favoured neither, there was no sun to be considered, nothing to wait for.

They stood facing each other, an unlikely pair of fighters. The lieutenant had the spring and slenderness of the foil in his hand, and his face, marred by the look of insolence to which it had been trained, seemed very young. Gustave-Félicité in his shirt-sleeves looked older, his shoulders more rounded, than when the tight stock and coat held him upright. Feet together, heads turned sideways, they went through the salute, the lieutenant with a flourish, his opponent with a minimum of display, much as he was wont to make the sign of the Cross; the sketch of a symbolic movement. They lowered the hilts from their lips. The German captain, standing a few paces off, dropped his sabre with the abrupt command: "En garde!"

On those words, in a flash, the characters of the opposed two changed. The top-heavy old man went forward with no single warning tap of the blade in a lunge from which the younger's guard alone could not protect him; he had to leap back in no very academic manner, and even then his forearm was touching his chest as he turned the point aside. He gave another foot, seeking room; another lunge came as he backed, catching him off his balance, so that the riposte came late and was easily taken. The attack was furious and incessant, but the young man kept his head and his temper, watched grimly, and without false pride continued to give ground.

In a series of forward lunges, and brief automaton-like withdrawals, they traversed some fifteen feet of grass. The fighting had lasted three minutes already, at a pace which had allowed no respite to lungs or muscles. Both were breathless; Gustave-Félicité, unknown to himself, groaned as he drove his point forward. The lieutenant was seeing opportunities now, as the thrusts grew wilder, leaving the heart uncovered; but he had hold of himself still, and until he could wound an arm or a shoulder, deal some scratch that would end the affair decently and without danger, he would not strike.

Four minutes, and still the attack persisted. They were nearly at the end of the piste, and a few yards further on the ground sloped downwards sharply to a kind of ditch. The lieutenant, his eyes fast to his opponent's blade, did not know how near he was to this drop; but the seconds saw, and Gustave-Félicité saw. Another two yards, and that steady left foot, retiring, would slip; the balance would be lost for a second, long enough to kill. Sobbing and straining he forced his body and mind to endurance, to the repeated agony of lunge and recovery. The blades slithered and flicked; back drew that left foot, six inches at a time, towards disaster. Again, again; nearer. Ah God, what--

The seconds saw the old man recover from his lunge; stand for an instant, then turn in his opponent's direction with a kind of slow helpless motion, and fall upon the point still held on guard. It pierced his throat. Immediately doctor and seconds came running; they propped him up, and the doctor with infinite precaution drew out the point. A little gush of blood followed, not the jet that a cut artery releases; there was no other movement, and the open eyes were already blind. The doctor fingered a wrist, laid his ear to the heart, and spoke a few grave German words to the lieutenant who knelt in the dew, his opponent's head lying back upon his knee, while the blood thickly and slowly soaked his elegant breeches. The arrogance was gone from his face, leaving only a boyish trouble as he looked up at the two Frenchmen, translating the doctor's speech:

"The doctor says, a rupture of the heart, and not my sword. God be thanked, gentlemen, not my sword!"


CHAPTER VIII

--the swiftest animal conjoined with that heavy body, implying that common moral, Festina lente; and that celerity should alwaies be contempered with cunctation.
--Vulgar Errors.

I

The Wollondoola Penny Post, that organ which supplied the district for a radius of twenty miles with its food for thought, came out with a couple of columns, black-edged and crossed at the corners, on the occasion of Gustave-Félicité's death. "Our respected fellow townsman," the editor's eulogy ended, "whose well-known family homestead is thus plunged into mourning, was ever to the fore in charitable schemes, and with his late co-religionist Count Rotti was largely instrumental in preserving intact the old historic R.C. chapel, at one time threatened by vandals with demolition. His services to the town were only equalled by the bonhomie, to use a word culled from his native language, of his demeanour to those who had the good fortune to be numbered among his friends. Both will be missed in this good town, which prides itself that worthy citizens of no matter which nationality or faith will always find the welcome here to which their merits entitle them. The dastardly deed robs a widow and seven unmarried children of their protector and main support."

Thus the editor, a non-Catholic for once, who could not resist the dig at the Tooheys about the chapel, or the opportunity, now that Gustave-Félicité was safely dead, of hinting at intimacy with the remote grandee. Actually, they had never exchanged ten words, and the sole communication from Corazon which had reached the editorial office was a protest against the wording of an advertisement in the Personal and Lost and Found column. "I, the undersigned, hereby offer 2/- reward for the name of the scabby thief who stole my prize pansies," ran the advertisement, evidently sent in at white-heat instantly after the unhappy event; and Mr Boissy, scandalized, had emerged from his thunderclouds to shake a threat or two at the editor, and to require from him a promise that in future the blue pencil would be more ruthlessly employed. Assurance had been given and there the matter ended. It is doubtful if the despot even knew the editor by sight.

Still, to some extent the editor was justified. His final sentence, the stock one with which every obituary notice was concluded, happened in this case to be nothing more nor less than the truth. Gustave-Félicité, ridiculously clad, inexpert in all that the colony regarded as the arts of life; a man who never drank whisky, rarely spoke, and took no pains with his inferiors, had in fact been his wife and family's main support, ruling his own domain with the sure hand of a Napoleon. All had depended upon that sombre and terrifying figure. Laura, as his departure discovered, had now no existence of her own; confronted with the ordering of a meal without her husband's taste as the standard, she was helpless as a newly-married chit of seventeen. The girls, who, what with the nuns at school and their father at home, had been like so many springs running underground, suddenly leapt into the open and became fountains, cascades, any free and merry simile that suggests itself.

Having taken their formal plunge into mourning they came out radiant six months later, leaving Laura still submerged in crape, and set about marrying in earnest. No need to cock their caps now at Catholics only. (Gustave-Félicité had been adamant on the mixed marriage question.) The vista of suitors widened, choice was free and might range, unfettered by considerations of faith or money, over the whole field of delightful detrimentals. The remaining Boissy girls, to the number of three, became in the course of one week of picnic races the most enchanting and accomplished flirts for a hundred miles round. Laura remonstrated, but her grip was flabby, a mittened grip incapable of holding the three huntresses back from their prey. Eighteen months after his death they were all married, with pomp and by bishops, to ne'er-do-weels. Their eldest brother gave them away, dressed up in ceremonial clothes, and feeling a fool.

It was the reappearance of Jacques-Marie, after a family row of vast dimensions that had surged up round him, and even eddied to the threshold of the law courts. For his father's will, drawn up by that eminent firm Geraldine and Fitzgerald of Sydney the day before he sailed for France, had been quite explicit. It divided the property, by this time worth a considerable sum, between Laura and nine of her children, with various safeguards in the way of trustees to preserve the female inheritors from being robbed in any but a legal manner; Jacques-Marie, the testator explained, having forfeited his share by conduct unbecoming a person of his antecedents. "I leave him nothing but my name, and this, if he has any respect for my wishes, he will change." That was in the original draft of the will, and the eminent firm had a day's work to get it into legal form, stripped of commas and pruned down to impersonality. They did it, though, and excluded him duly so that no claim could lie, while retaining with some skill the sting in the sentence's tail.

"Regrettable! Regrettable!" said Mr. Geraldine, Grandfather Geraldine who threw ill-conceived dishes out of windows, and had an air of being quite willing to do the same to disrespectful sons. "Not one penny--those were your father's words to me; or rather I believe he employed the French expression, sou. Not one sou. I am merely his agent in this matter; I am obliged to see that the provisions of his will are carried out. I may be--I am--deeply grieved that any young man should be left in this position after twenty years of luxury; but I can do nothing. That will"--he tapped the table proudly--"is unassailable in any court."

"I wasn't going to fight it," Jack mumbled, "I didn't come here for that."

"Very wise," said Mr. Geraldine, nodding brusquely, "I could not have advised you in conscience to do any such thing."

But for all that he was a little disappointed; he had a certain human curiosity to know what the offence had been. Gustav-eFélicité had given no details. Laura had never been told. The whole business was a mystery, probably rich with naughtiness, very tempting and thought-provoking.

"May I then," continued Mr. Geraldine, "enquire what it is that you have come for?"

"I came to say I'm not going to change my name," blurted Jack, and stood up. "And I won't get out of the country either. I've done nothing I'm ashamed of. The old man had this bee in his bonnet--"

"Yes?" said Mr. Geraldine, almost eagerly, for it looked as though the true story were coming at last; but instantly sank back into sternness. "Are you insinuating that your father at the time of making his will was not compos mentis?"

Jack looked at him stubbornly.

"I'm not saying anything against my father. His money's his own, he can do what he likes with it. I'm only saying he didn't see things straight."

"Didn't see with your eyes, I suppose, is what you mean to infer."

"No, that's right. I don't go round looking for trouble. He did. And he found it, too."

"Your father has been dead a bare three months, Mr. Boissy. It should not be necessary for me to remind you of that."

"All right, all right, I know he's dead, and I'm sorry in a way. They'll muck up Corazon, the way that manager's running it."

The manager was Mr. Geraldine's nominee, and a relation; a young man with half a line to himself in the "Irish Landed Gentry"; not a very illuminating half-line, merely the statement, to which everyone living and dead is entitled, that he had been born in a certain year. Still it was something; it set him up above the usual currency ruck; and the fact that he was related to the Geraldines removed him still further from criticism.

"What is this?" enquired Mr. Geraldine, purpling and shouting suddenly. "Are you aware, sir, that the administration of the estate is in my hands? The responsibility of advising your mother, poor lady, in her troubles? I'll thank you to bring your accusations to a point, and then--and then, Mr. Boissy, we shall see if the law of slander holds."

Jacques-Marie gazed uncomprehending on this turkey-cock rage, and answered, in his up-country sing-song:

"The manager's a new chum. He can't be expected to know. He gave a fancy price for those last two rams, and one of the chaps was telling me he reckons they're in for a go of scab if they don't look out. I'm not saying anything against him. I've never seen him. I suppose he's got to learn."

"You had better be careful," said Mr. Geraldine, unappeased. "My time's of value. If you have nothing to say beyond irreverent comments on your father, and vilification of a man unknown to you, we had better put an end to this interview."

"All right," Jacques-Marie agreed, moving towards the door, "I only wanted to say I'll see you and the old man and the family in hell before I change my name."

He said it without emphasis or theatricality, in a conversational tone; and followed it up with the question:

"How's your daughter Sheila? She all right?"

This was a blow in the dark to her father. How had this idle and most probably immoral cub contrived ever to approach within a hundred yards of her? With something of a pang he remembered those infernal picnic races, where chaperonage was notoriously ineffectual, and where the cub had been much in evidence, winning some cup or other on some undistinguished animal. He remembered to have observed his daughter wearing a new brooch. It was a trumpery thing, and it had not occurred to him to ask where she had got it, but now in a flash he knew. It was in the form of a whip, with the thong looped up in a kind of bow, and it had made its first appearance after her return, otherwise demure, from Borrigo. He drew breath to answer the young man.

"My daughter is in excellent health--"

"Good," replied the young man, without noticing the tone. "You might tell her I'll be looking in."

This was too much.

"I shall tell her nothing of the kind. But I'll tell you something else, my friend. My house is not open, and my daughter does not associate with anyone whom--upon whom a stigma rests."

"I told you," said the young man, astonished and sullen, "I'd done nothing--"

"I have your father's word to the contrary. Am I to suppose that your father, a just man if ever there was one, would have cut you out of his will unless he had been made aware of something to your discredit?"

"Oh, hell," responded the youth wearily, "think what you bloody well like."

And with that left the room before further lightnings could scorch him.

II

But it was a young man in a rage, for all the weariness, who turned down Hunter Street from the offices of Geraldine and Fitzgerald. He had not said all, or indeed anything that he had intended to say; the fact was that Mr. Geraldine had infuriated him from the start by treating him as though he were a criminal, and as though he had come to cadge, so that he had begun with defiance and wound up with insult. What hurt most was the infernal clause about changing his name. By a nice irony, the same quality in Gustave-Félicité that made him cling to France, the country to which he owed nothing, kept his son's teeth clenched in this matter of the name he bore, which he mispronounced and at whose traditions he mocked, but which for all that was part of himself.

It was an April morning; early autumn. The pleasant chill in the air cooled his temper a little, but certain facts remained in the back of his mind; as for instance that he owned exactly fifteen pounds in the world, and--a catastrophe on top of this--that he was in love. Not with the Rotti girl, who still languished, despite a good practical scolding from her mother on the terms of the will being made public; it never occurred to him to look at her, whom he had known from long frocks to short, and down to long again. But that vision from Sydney who had driven over with the Rouncevells from Walee, had the kind of figure and face that nineteen can hang a passion on. The thought of her watching the race had made him bucket an astonished filly along to victory at long odds, to the fury of Bert Rotti, the owner, who had laid heavily against his entry, while the only begetter of the performance sat in a tent with her back turned calmly having tea.

It was the pretty custom of those country races to give jewellery as prizes, one masculine and one feminine trinket for distribution, and there were always eyes alert to see where these last would fall. As in Spain the matador's supreme compliment is a casket containing the ears of his most recent bull, a privilege scrambled and even paid for by ladies, so at Borrigo picnic meeting these brooches and bracelets were eyed and coveted. Young men declared their intentions by means of them. They saved endless embarrassment by their tender implications to those who could never have got up courage enough to say the actual words. The cowards and the undecided gave them to sisters. They were straws showing which way inclinations blew.

And Shiela Geraldine had accepted the ridiculous gold whip in the form of a brooch which the amazing and unpopular win of Prophetess (out of Crystal by Jeremiah) had earned for that animal's rider. Shiela Geraldine, with her blue eyes and black lashes, was something to dream about at nights, and to hide, to hide deep away down in his mind, not to have her named or touched or fingered lightly, even in thought. He was not aware that by being thus in love he was breaking a tradition, the safe Mortemar practice of marrying in one swoop and then disregarding. The thing had hold of him, as after-events showed, pulling him into trouble and out again, this way and that about the world for long before he got hold of her; and even after they came together she continued to matter to him in a fashion at which his father and grandfather both would have stared.

Meanwhile he was not yet twenty, a youth disinherited, with nothing to offer life in exchange for a living; with his heart set on a girl, and an insolent injunction to the goddess's father warm upon his lips. The solitary prospect which contained a gleam of satisfaction was that of seeing the Sydney Cup run that afternoon. He was to meet Bert in the bar of the principal hotel and they were driving to Randwick together, independent of the Rotti family, which, with daughters and admirers and female friends, already overflowed a couple of brakes. He had a pretty good idea that in addition to seeing the Sydney Cup he might get a glimpse of Shiela; even, might have the joy of putting on money for her, another Australian opportunity for gallantry, and, from the feminine point of view, gold-digging. A chorus from a forgotten comic opera, Floradora, gives the strategy very exactly:--

"It's tact, tact,
Take it for a fact.
The race is run--you cannot see<