Australia Felix, by Henry Handel Richardson

Part IV

Chapter 1

The new house stood in Webster Street. It was twice as large as the old one, had a garden back and front, a verandah round three sides. When Mahony bought it, and the piece of ground it stood on, it was an unpretentious weather-board in a rather dilapidated condition. The situation was good though — without being too far from his former address — and there was stabling for a pair of horses. And by the time he had finished with it, it was one of those characteristically Australian houses which, added to wherever feasible, without a thought for symmetry or design — a room built on here, a covered passage there, a bathroom thrown out in an unexpected corner, with odd steps up and down — have yet a spacious, straggling comfort all their own.

How glad he was to leave the tiny, sunbaked box that till now had been his home. It had had neither blind nor shutter; and, on his entering it of a summer midday, it had sometimes struck hotter than outside. The windows of his new room were fitted with green venetians; round the verandah-posts twined respectively a banksia and a Japanese honey-suckle, which further damped the glare; while on the patch of buffalo-grass in front stood a spreading fig-tree, that leafed well and threw a fine shade. He had also added a sofa to his equipment. Now, when he came in tired or with a headache, he could stretch himself at full length. He was lying on it at this moment.

Polly, too, had reason to feel satisfied with the change. A handsome little Broadwood, with a ruby-silk and carved-wood front, stood against the wall of her drawing-room; gilt cornices surmounted the windows; and from the centre of the ceiling hung a lustre-chandelier that was the envy of every one who saw it: Mrs. Henry Ocock’s was not a patch on it, and yet had cost more. This time Mahony had virtually been able to give his wife a free hand in her furnishing. And in her new spare room she could put up no less than three guests!

Of course, these luxuries had not all rained on them at once. Several months passed before Polly, on the threshold of her parlour, could exclaim, with an artlessness that touched her husband deeply: “Never in my life did I think I should have such a beautiful room!” Still, as regarded money, the whole year had been a steady ascent. The nest-egg he had left with the lawyer had served its purpose of chaining that old hen, Fortune, to the spot. Ocock had invested and re-invested on his behalf — now it was twenty “Koh-i-noors,” now thirty “Consolidated Beehives”— and Mahony was continually being agreeably surprised by the margins it threw off in its metamorphoses. That came of his having placed the matter in such competent hands. The lawyer had, for instance, got him finally out of “Porepunkahs” in the nick of time — the reef had not proved as open to the day as was expected — and pulled him off, in the process, another three hundred odd. Compared with Ocock’s own takings, of course, his was a modest spoil; the lawyer had made a fortune, and was now one of the wealthiest men in Ballarat. He had built not only new and handsome offices on the crest of the hill, but also, prior to his marriage, a fine dwelling-house standing in extensive grounds on the farther side of Yuille’s Swamp. Altogether it had been a year of great and sweeping changes. People had gone up, gone down — had changed places like children at a game of General Post. More than one of Mahony’s acquaintances had burnt his fingers. On the other hand, old Devine, Polly’s one-time market-gardener, had made his thousands. There was actually talk of his standing for Parliament, in which case his wife bid fair to be received at Government House. And the pair of them with hardly an “h” between them!

From the sofa where he lay, Mahony could hear the murmur of his wife’s even voice. Polly sat the further end of the verandah talking to Jinny, who dandled her babe in a rocking-chair that made a light tip-tap as it went to and fro. Jinny said nothing: she was no doubt sunk in adoration of her — or rather John’s — infant; and Mahony all but dozed off, under the full, round tones he knew so well.

In his case the saying had once more been verified: to him that hath shall be given. Whether it was due to the better position of the new house; or to the fact that easier circumstances gave people more leisure to think of their ailments; or merely that money attracted money: whatever the cause, his practice had of late made giant strides. He was in demand for consultations; sat on several committees; while a couple of lodges had come his way as good as unsought.

Against this he had one piece of ill-luck to set. At the close of the summer, when the hot winds were in blast, he had gone down under the worst attack of dysentery he had had since the early days. He really thought this time all was over with him. For six weeks, in spite of the tenderest nursing, he had lain prostrate, and as soon as he could bear the journey had to prescribe himself a change to the seaside. The bracing air of Queenscliff soon picked him up; he had, thank God, a marvellous faculty of recuperation: while others were still not done pitying him, he was himself again, and well enough to take the daily plunge in the Sea that was one of his dearest pleasures. — To feel the warm, stinging fluid lap him round, after all these drewthy years of dust and heat! He could not have enough of it, and stayed so long in the water that his wife, sitting at a decent distance from the Bathing Enclosure, grew anxious, and agitated her little white parasol.

“There’s nothing to equal it, Mary, this side Heaven!” he declared as he rejoined her, his towel about his neck. “I wish I could persuade you to try a dip, my dear.”

But Mary preferred to sit quietly on the beach. “The dressing and undressing is such a trouble,” said she. As it was, one of her elastic-sides was full of sand.

Yes, Polly was Mary now, and had been, since the day Ned turned up again on Ballarat, accompanied by a wife and child. Mary was in Melbourne at the time, at John’s nuptials; Mahony had opened the door himself to Ned’s knock; and there, in a spring-cart, sat the frowsy, red-haired woman who was come to steal his wife’s name from her. This invasion was the direct result of his impulsive generosity. Had he only kept his money in his pocket!

He had been forced to take the trio in and give them house-room. But he bore the storming of his hard-won privacy with a bad grace, and Mary had much to gloss over on her return.

She had been greatly distressed by her favourite brother’s ill-considered marriage. For, if they had not held Jinny to be John’s equal, what WAS to be said of Ned’s choice? Mrs. Ned had lived among the mining population of Castlemaine, where her father kept a public-house; and, said Richard, her manners were accordingly: loud, slap-dash, familiar — before she had been twenty-four hours under his roof she was bluntly addressing him as “Mahony.” There was also a peculiar streak of touchiness in her nature (“Goes with hair of that colour, my dear!”) which rendered her extremely hard to deal with. She had, it seemed, opposed the idea of moving to Ballarat — that was all in her favour, said Mary — and came primed to detect a snub or a slight at every turn. This morbid suspiciousness it was that led Mary to yield her rights in the matter of the name: the confusion between them was never-ending; and, at the first hint that the change would come gracefully from her, Mrs. Ned had flown into a passion.

“It’s all the same to me, Richard, what I’m called,” Mary soothed him. “And don’t you think Polly was beginning to sound RATHER childish, now I’m nearly twenty-four?”

But: “Oh, what COULD Ned have seen in her?” she sighed to herself dismayed. For Mrs. Ned was at least ten years older than her husband; and whatever affection might originally have existed between them was now a thing of the past She tyrannised mercilessly over him, nagging at him till Ned, who was nothing if not good-natured, turned sullen and left off tossing his child in the air.

“We must just make the best of it, Richard,” said Mary. “After all, she’s really fond of the baby. And when the second comes . . . you’ll attend her yourself, won’t you, dear? I think somehow her temper may improve when that’s over.”

For this was another thing: Mrs. Ned had arrived there in a condition that raised distressing doubts in Mary as to the dates of Ned’s marriage and the birth of his first child. She did not breathe them to Richard; for it seemed to her only to make matters of this kind worse, openly to speak of them. She devoted herself to getting the little family under a roof of its own. Through Richard’s influence Ned obtained a clerkship in a carrying-agency, which would just keep his head above water; and she found a tiny, three-roomed house that was near enough to let her be daily with her sister-in-law when the latter’s time came. Meanwhile, she cut out and helped to sew a complete little outfit (“What she had before was no better than rags!”); and Mrs. Ned soon learned to know on whom she could lean and to whom she might turn, not only for practical aid, but also for a never failing sympathy in what she called her “troubles.”

“I vow your Mary’s the kindest-hearted little soul it’s ever been me luck to run across,” she averred one day to Mahony, who was visiting her professionally. “So common-sense, too — no nonsense about HER! I shouldn’t have thought a gaby like Ned could have sported such trump of a sister.”

“Another pensioner for your CARITAS, dear,” said Mahony, in passing on the verdict. What he did not grieve his wife by repeating were certain bad reports of Ned lately brought him by Jerry. According to Jerry — and the boy’s word was to be relied on — Ned had kept loose company in Castlemaine, and had acquired the habit of taking more than was good for him. Did he not speedily amend his ways, there would be small chance of him remaining in his present post.

Here, Mahony was effectually roused by a stir on the verandah. Jinny had entered the house to lay down her sleeping babe, and a third voice, Purdy’s, became audible. The wife had evidently brought out a bottle of her famous home-brewed gingerbeer: he heard the cork pop, the drip of the overflow on the boards, the clink of the empty glass; and Purdy’s warm words of appreciation.

Then there was silence. Rising from the sofa, Mahony inserted himself between blind and window, and peeped out.

His first thought was: what a picture! Mary wore a pale pink cotton gown which, over the light swellings of her crinoline, bulged and billowed round her, and generously swept the ground. Collar and cuffs of spotless lawn outlined neck and wrists. She bent low over her stitching, and the straight white parting of her hair intensified the ebony of the glossy bands. Her broad pure forehead had neither line nor stain. On the trellis behind her a vine hung laden with massy bunches of muscatelles.

Purdy sat on the edge of the verandah, with his back to Mahony. Between thumb and forefinger he idly swung a pair of scissors.

Urged by some occult sympathy, Mary at once glanced up and discovered her husband. Her face was lightly flushed from stooping — and the least touch of colour was enough to give its delicate ivory an appearance of vivid health. She had grown fuller of late — quite fat, said Richard, when he wished to tease her: a luxuriant young womanliness lay over and about her. Now, above the pale wild-rose of her cheeks her black eyes danced with a mischievous glee; for she believed her husband intended swinging his leg noiselessly over the sill and creeping up to startle Purdy — and this appealed to her sense of humour. But, as he remained standing at the window, she just smiled slyly, satisfied to be in communion with him over their unsuspecting friend’s head.

Here, however, Purdy brought his eyes back from the garden, and she abruptly dropped hers to her needlework.

The scissors were shut with a snap, and thrown, rather than laid, to the other implements in the workbox. “One ‘ud think you were paid to finish that wretched sewing in a fixed time, Polly,” said Purdy cantankerously. “Haven’t you got a word to say?”

“It’s for the Dorcas Society. They’re having a sale of work.”

“Oh, damn Dorcases! You’re always slaving for somebody. You’ll ruin your eyes. I wonder Dick allows it. I shouldn’t — I know that.”

The peal of laughter that greeted these words came equally from husband and wife. Then: “What the dickens does it matter to you, sir, how much sewing my wife chooses to do?” cried Mahony, and, still laughing, stepped out of the window.

“Hello! — you there?” said Purdy and rose to his feet. “What a beastly fright to give one!” He looked red and sulky.

“I scored that time, my boy!” and linking his arm in Mary’s, Mahony confronted his friend. “Afraid I’m neglecting my duties, are you? Letting this young woman spoil her eyes? — Turn ’em on him, my love, in all their splendour, that he may judge for himself.”

“Nonsense, Richard,” said Mary softly, but with an affectionate squeeze of his arm.

“Well, ta-ta, I’m off!” said Purdy. And as Mahony still continued to quiz him, he added in a downright surly tone: “Just the same old Dick as ever! Blinder than any bat to all that doesn’t concern yourself! I’ll eat my hat if it’s ever entered your noddle that Polly’s quite the prettiest woman on Ballarat.”

“Don’t listen to him, Richard, please!” and: “Don’t let your head be turned by such fulsome flattery, my dear!” were wife and husband’s simultaneous exclamations.

“I shouldn’t think so,” said Mary sturdily, and would have added more, but just at this minute Jinny came out of the house, with the peculiar noiseless tread she had acquired in moving round an infant’s crib; and Purdy vanished.

Jinny gazed at her sister-in-law with such meaning — that Mary could not but respond.

“Did you get her safely laid down, dear?”

“Perfectly, Mary! Without even the quiver of an eyelash. You recollect, I told you yesterday when her little head touched the pillow, she opened her eyes and looked at me. To-day there was nothing of that sort. It was quite perfect”; and Jinny’s voice thrilled at the remembrance: it was as if, in continuing to sleep during the transit, her — or rather John’s — tiny daughter had proved herself a marvellous sagacity.

Mahony gave an impatient shrug in Jinny’s direction. But he, too, had to stand fire: she had been waiting all day for a word with him. The babe, who was teething, was plagued by various disorders; and Jinny knew each fresh pin’s-head of a spot that joined the rash.

Mahony made light of her fears; then turning to his wife asked her to hurry on the six-o’clock dinner: he had to see a patient between that meal and tea. Mary went to make arrangements — Richard always forgot to mention such things till the last moment — and also to please Jinny by paying a visit to the baby.

“The angels can’t look very different when they sleep, I think,” murmured its mother, hanging over the couch.

When Mary returned, she found her husband picking caterpillars off the vine: Long Jim, odd man now about house and garden, was not industrious enough to keep the pests under. In this brief spell of leisure — such moments grew ever rarer in Richard’s life — husband and wife locked their arms and paced slowly up and down the verandah. It was late afternoon on a breathless, pale-skied February day; and the boards of the flooring gritted with sandy dust beneath their feet.

“He WAS grumpy this afternoon, wasn’t he?” said Mary, without preamble. “But I’ve noticed once or twice lately that he can’t take a joke any more. He’s grown queer altogether. Do you know he’s the only person who still persists in calling me by my old name? He was quite rude about it when I asked him why. Perhaps he’s liverish, from the heat. It might be a good thing, dear, if you went round and overhauled him. Somehow, it seems unnatural for Purdy to be bad-tempered.”

“It’s true he may be a bit out of sorts. But I fear the evil’s deeper-seated. It’s my opinion the boy is tiring of regular work. Now that he hasn’t even the excitement of the gold-escort to look forward to. . . . And he’s been a rolling stone from the beginning, you know.”

“If only he would marry and settle down! I do wish I could find a wife for him. The right woman could make anything of Purdy”; and yet once more Mary fruitlessly scanned, in thought, the lists of her acquaintance.

“What if it’s a case of sour grapes, love? Since the prettiest woman on Ballarat is no longer free . . . .”

“Oh, Richard, hush! Such foolish talk!”

“But is it? . . . let me look at her. Well, if not the prettiest, at least a very pretty person indeed. It certainly becomes you to be stouter, wife.”

But Mary had not an atom of vanity in her. “Speaking of prettiness reminds me of something that happened at the Races last week — I forgot to tell you, at the time. There were two gentlemen there from Melbourne; and as Agnes Ocock went past, one of them said out loud: ‘Gad! That’s a lovely woman.’ Agnes heard it herself, and was most distressed. And the whole day, wherever she went, they kept their field-glasses on her. Mr. Henry was furious.”

“If you’ll allow me to say so, my dear, Mrs. Henry cannot hold a candle to some one I know — to my mind, at least.”

“If I suit you, Richard, that’s all I care about.”

“Well, to come back to what we were saying. My advice is, give Master Purdy a taste of the cold shoulder the next time he comes hanging about the house. Let him see his ill-temper didn’t pass unnoticed. There’s no excuse for it. God bless me! doesn’t he sleep the whole night through in his bed?”— and Mahony’s tone took on an edge. The broken nights that were nowadays the rule with himself were the main drawbacks to his prosperity. He had never been a really good sleeper; and, in consequence, was one of those people who feel an intense need for sleep, and suffer under its curtailment. As things stood at present his rest was wholly at the mercy of the night-bell — a remorseless instrument, given chiefly to pealing just as he had managed to drop off. Its gentlest tinkle was enough to rouse him — long before it had succeeded in penetrating the ears of the groom, who was supposed to open. And when it remained silent for a night, some trifling noise in the road would simulate its jangle in his dreams. “It’s a wonder I have any nerves left,” he grumbled, as the hot, red dawns crept in at the sides of the bedroom-window. For the shortening of his sleep at one end did not mean that he could make it up at the other. All that summer he had fallen into the habit of waking at five o’clock, and not being able to doze off again. The narrowest bar of light on the ceiling, the earliest twitter of the sparrows was enough to strike him into full consciousness; and Mary was hard put to it to darken the room and ensure silence; and would be till the day came when he could knock off work and take a thorough holiday. This he promised himself to do, before he was very much older.

Chapter 2

Mary sat with pencil and paper and wrinkled her brows. She was composing a list, and every now and then, after an inward calculation, she lowered the pencil to note such items as: three tipsy-cakes, four trifles, eight jam-sandwiches. John Turnham had run up from Melbourne to fetch home wife and child; and his relatives were giving a musical card-party in his honour. By the window Jinny sat on a low ottoman suckling her babe, and paying but scant heed to her sister-in-law’s deliberations: to her it seemed a much more important matter that the milk should flow smoothly down the precious little throat, than that Mary’s supper should be a complete success. With her free hand she imprisoned the two little feet, working one against the other in slow enjoyment; or followed the warm little limbs up inside the swaddling, after the fashion of nursing mothers.

The two women were in the spare bedroom, which was dusk and cool and dimity-white; and they exchanged remarks in a whisper; for the lids had come down more than once on the big black eyes, and now only lifted automatically from time to time, to send a last look of utter satiation at the mother-face. Mary always said: “She’ll drop off sooner indoors, dear.” But this was not the whole truth. Richard had hinted that he considered the seclusion of the house better suited to the business of nursing than the comparative publicity of the verandah; for Jinny was too absorbed in her task to take thought for the proprieties. Here now she sat — she had grown very big and full since her marriage in the generous, wide-lapped pose of some old Madonna.

Mary, thrown entirely on her own judgment, was just saying with decision: “Well, better to err on the right side and have too much than too little,” and altering a four into a five, when steps came down the passage and John entered the room. Jinny made him a sign, and John, now Commissioner of Trade and Customs, advanced as lightly as could be expected of a heavy, well-grown man.

“Does she sleep?” he asked.

His eyes had flown to the child; only in the second place did they rest on his wife. At the sight of her free and easy bearing his face changed, and he said stiffly: “I think, Jane, a little less exposure of your person, my dear . . . .”

Flushing to her hair-roots, Jinny began as hastily as she dared to re-arrange her dress.

Mary broke a lance on her behalf. “We were quite alone, John,” she reminded her brother. “Not expecting a visit from you.” And added: “Richard says it is high time Baby was weaned. Jinny is feeling the strain.”

“As long as this rash continues I shall not permit it,” answered John, riding rough-shod over even Richard’s opinion. (“I shouldn’t agree to it either, John dear,” murmured Jinny.) “And now, Mary, a word with you about the elder children. I understand that you are prepared to take Emma back — is that so?”

Yes, Mary was pleased to say Richard had consented to Trotty’s return; but he would not hear of her undertaking Johnny. At eleven years of age the proper place for a boy, he said, was a Grammar School. With Trotty, of course, it was different. “I always found her easy to manage, and should be more than glad to have her”; and Mary meant what she said. Her heart ached for John’s motherless children. Jinny’s interest in them had lasted only so long as she had none of her own; and Mary, who being childless had kept a large heart for all little ones, marvelled at the firm determination to get rid of her stepchildren which her sister-in-law, otherwise so pliable, displayed.

Brother and sister talked things over, intuitively meeting half-way, understanding each other with a word, as only blood relations can. Jinny, the chief person concerned, sat meekly by, or chimed in merely to echo her husband’s views.

“By the way, I ran into Richard on Specimen Hill,” said John as he turned to leave the room. “And he asked me to let you know that he would not be home to lunch.”

“There . . . if that isn’t always the way!” exclaimed Mary. “As sure as I cook something he specially likes, he doesn’t come in. Tilly sent me over the loveliest little sucking-pig this morning. Richard would have enjoyed it.”

“You should be proud, my dear Mary, that his services are in such demand.”

“I am, John — no one could be prouder. But all the same I wish he could manage to be a little more regular with his meals. It makes cooking so difficult. To-morrow, because I shan’t have a minute to spare, he’ll be home punctually, demanding something nice. But I warn you, to-morrow you’ll all have to picnic!”

However, when the day came, she was better than her word, and looked to it that neither guests nor husband went short. Since a couple of tables on trestles took up the dining-room, John and Mahony lunched together in the surgery; while Jinny’s meal was spread on a tray and sent to her in the bedroom. Mary herself had time only to snatch a bite standing. From early morning on, tied up in a voluminous apron, she was cooking in the kitchen, very hot and floury and preoccupied, drawing grating shelves out of the oven, greasing tins and patty-pans, dredging flour. The click-clack of egg-beating resounded continuously; and mountains of sponge-cakes of all shapes and sizes rose under her hands. This would be the largest, most ambitious party she had ever given — the guests expected numbered between twenty and thirty, and had, besides, carte blanche to bring with them anyone who happened to be staying with them — and it would be a disgrace under which Mary, reared in Mrs. Beamish’s school, could never again have held up her head, had a single article on her supper-table run short.

In all this she had only such help as her one maidservant could give her — John had expressly forbidden Jinny the kitchen. True, during the morning Miss Amelia Ocock, a gentle little elderly body with a harmless smile and a prominent jaw, who was now an inmate of her father’s house, together with Zara, returned from England and a visitor at the Ocock’s — these two walked over to offer their aid in setting the tables. But Miss Amelia, fluttery and undecided as a bird, was far too timid to do herself justice; and Zara spent so long arranging the flowers in the central epergnes that before she had finished with one of them it was lunch time.

“I could have done it myself while she was cutting the stalks,” Mary told her husband. “But Zara hasn’t really been any good at flowers since her ‘mixed bouquet’ took first prize at the Flower Show. Of course, though, it looks lovely now it’s done.”

Purdy dropped in during the afternoon and was more useful; he sliced the crusts off loaf-high mounds of sandwiches, and tested the strength and flavour of the claret-cup. Mary could not make up her mind, when it came to the point, to follow Richard’s advice and treat him coldly. She did, however, tell him that his help would be worth a great deal more to her if he talked less and did not always look for an answer to what he said. But Purdy was not to be quashed. He had taken it into his head that she was badly treated, in being left “to slave” alone, within the oven’s radius; and he was very hard on Jinny, whom he had espied comfortably dandling her child on the front verandah. “I’d like to wring the bloomin’ kid’s neck!”

“Purdy, for shame!” cried Mary outraged. “It’s easy to see you’re still a bachelor. Just wait, sir, till you have children of your own!”

Under her guidance he bore stacks of plates across the yard to the dining-room — where the blinds were lowered to keep the room cool — and strewed these, and corresponding knives and forks, up and down the tables. He also carried over the heavy soup-tureen in which was the claret-cup. But he had a man’s slippery fingers, and, between these and his limp, Mary trembled for the fate of her crockery. He made her laugh, too, and distracted her attention; and she was glad when it was time for him to return to barracks.

“Now come early to-night,” she admonished him. “And mind you bring your music. Miss Amelia’s been practising up that duet all the week. She’ll be most disappointed if you don’t ask her to sing with you.”

On the threshold of the kitchen Purdy set his fingers to his nose in the probable direction of Miss Amelia; then performed some skittish female twists and turns about the yard. “So hoarse, love . . . a bad cold . . . not in voice!” Mary laughed afresh, and ordered him off.

But when he had gone she looked grave, and out of an oddly disquieting feeling said to herself: “I do hope he’ll be on his best behaviour to-night, and not tread on Richard’s toes.”

As it was, she had to inform her husband of something that she knew would displease him. John had come back in the course of the afternoon and announced, without ceremony, that he had extended an invitation to the Devines for the evening.

“It’s quite true what’s being said, dear,” Mary strove to soothe Richard, as she helped him make a hasty toilet in the bathroom. “Mr. Devine is going to stand for Parliament; and he has promised his support, if he gets in, to some measure John has at heart. John wants to have a long talk with him to-night.”

But Richard was exceedingly put out. “Well, I hope, my dear, that as it’s your brother who has taken such a liberty, YOU’LL explain the situation to your guests. I certainly shall not. But I do know there was no need to exclude Ned and Polly from such an omnium-gatherum as this party of yours will be.”

Even while he spoke there came a rat-a-tat at the front door, and Mary had to hurry off. And now knock succeeded knock with the briefest of intervals, the noise carrying far in the quiet street. Mysteriously bunched-up figures, their heads veiled in the fleeciest of clouds, were piloted along the passage; and: “I HOPE we are not the first!” was murmured by each new-comer in turn. The gentlemen went to change their boots on the back verandah; the ladies to lay off their wraps in Mary’s bedroom. And soon this room was filled to overflowing with the large soft abundance of crinoline; hoops swaying from this side to that, as the guests gave place to one another before the looking-glass, where bands of hair were smoothed and the catches of bracelets snapped. Music-cases lay strewn over the counterpane; the husbands who lined up in the passage, to wait for their wives, also bearing rolls of music. Mary, in black silk with a large cameo brooch at her throat, and only a delicate pink on her cheeks to tell of all her labours, moved helpfully to and fro, offering a shoe-horn, a hand-mirror, pins and hairpins. She was caught, as she passed Mrs. Henry Ocock, a modishly late arrival, by that lady’s plump white hand, and a whispered request to be allowed to retain her mantle. “Henry was really against my coming, dearest. So anxious . . . so absurdly anxious!”

“And pray where’s the Honourable Mrs. T. to-night?” inquired “old Mrs. Ocock,” rustling up to them: Tilly was the biggest and most handsomely dressed woman in the room. “On her knees worshipping, I bet you, up to the last minute! Or else not allowed to show her nose till the Honourable John’s got his studs in. — Now then, girls, how much longer are you going to stand preening and prinking?”

The “girls” were Zara, at this present a trifle PASSEE, and Miss Amelia, who was still further from her prime; and gathering the two into her train, as a hen does its chickens, Tilly swept them off to face the ordeal of the gentlemen and the drawing-room.

Mary and Agnes brought up the rear. Mr. Henry was on the watch, and directly his wife appeared wheeled forward the best armchair and placed her in it, with a footstool under her feet. Mary planted Jinny next her and left them to their talk of nurseries: for Richard’s sake she wished to screen Agnes from the vulgarities of Mrs. Devine. Herself she saw with dismay, on entering, that Richard had already been pounced on by the husband: there he stood, listening to his ex-greengrocer’s words — they were interlarded with many an awkward and familiar gesture — on his face an expression his wife knew well, while one small, impatient hand tugged at his whiskers.

But “old Mrs. Ocock” came to his rescue, bearing down upon him with an outstretched hand, and a howdee-do that could be heard all over the room: Tilly had long forgotten that she had ever borne him a grudge; she it was who could now afford to patronise. “I hope I see you well, doctor? — Oh, not a bit of it. . . . I left him at ‘ome. Mr. O. has something wrong, if you please, with his leg or his big toe — gout or rheumatiz or something of that sort — and ‘e’s been so crabby with it for the last day or so that to-night I said to ’im: ‘No, my dear, you’ll just take a glass of hot toddy, and go early and comfortable to your bed.’ Musical parties aren’t in his line anyhow.”

A lively clatter of tongues filled the room, the space of which was taxed to its utmost: there were present, besides the friends and intimates of the house, several of Mahony’s colleagues, a couple of Bank Managers, the Police Magistrate, the Postmaster, the Town Clerk, all with their ladies. Before long, however, ominous pauses began to break up the conversation, and Mary was accomplished hostess enough to know what these meant. At a sign from her, Jerry lighted the candles on the piano, and thereupon a fugue-like chorus went up: “Mrs. Mahony, won’t you play something? — Oh, do! — Yes, please, do. . . . I should enjoy it so much.”

Mary did not wait to be pressed; it was her business to set the ball rolling; and she stood up and went to the piano as unconcernedly as she would have gone to sweep a room or make a bed.

Placing a piece of music on the rack, she turned down the corners of the leaves. But here Archdeacon Long’s handsome, weatherbeaten face looked over her shoulder. “I hope you’re going to give us the cannons, Mrs. Mahony?” he said genially. And so Mary obliged him by laying aside the MORCEAU she had chosen, and setting up instead a “battle-piece,” that was a general favourite.

“Aha! that’s the ticket,” said Henry Ocock, and rubbed his hands as Mary struck up, pianissimo, the march that told of the enemy’s approach.

And: “Boompity-boomp-boomp-boomp!” Archdeacon Long could not refrain from underlining each fresh salvo of artillery; while: “That’s a breach in their walls for ’em!” was Chinnery of the London Chartered’s contribution to the stock of fun.

Mahony stood on the hearthrug and surveyed the assembly. His eyes fled Mrs. Devine, most unfortunately perched on an ottoman in the middle of the room, where she sat, purple, shiny and beaming, two hot, fat, red hands clasped over her stomach (“Like a heathen idol! Confound the woman! I shall have to go and do the polite to her”), and sought Mary at the piano, hanging with pleasure on the slim form in the rich silk dress. This caught numberless lights from the candles, as did also the wings of her glossy hair. He watched, with a kind of amused tenderness, how at each forte passage head and shoulders took their share of lending force to the tones. He never greatly enjoyed Mary’s playing. She did well enough at it, God bless her! — it would not have been Mary if she hadn’t — but he came of a musical family; his mother had sung Handel faultlessly in her day, besides having a mastery of several instruments: and he was apt to be critical. Mary’s firm, capable hands looked out of place on a piano; seemed to stand in a sheerly business relation to the keys. Nor was it otherwise with her singing: she had a fair contralto, but her ear was at fault; and he sometimes found himself swallowing nervously when she attacked high notes.

“Oh, doctor! your wife DO play the pianner lovely,” said Mrs. Devine, and her fat front rose and fell in an ecstatic sigh.

“Richard dear, will you come?” Mary laid her hands on his shoulder: their guests were clamouring for a DUO. Her touch was a caress: here he was, making himself as pleasant as he knew how, to this old woman. When it came to doing a kindness, you could rely on Richard; he was all bark and no bite.

Husband and wife blended their voices — Mary had been at considerable pains to get up her part — and then Richard went on to a solo. He had a clear, true tenor that was very agreeable to hear; and Mary felt quite proud of his attainments. Later in the evening he might be persuaded to give them a reading from Boz, or a recitation. At that kind of thing, he had not his equal.

But first there was a cry for his flute; and in vain did Mahony protest that weeks had elapsed since he last screwed the instrument together. He got no quarter, even from Mary — but then Mary was one of those inconvenient people to whom it mattered not a jot what a fool you made of yourself, as long as you did what was asked of you. And so, from memory and unaccompanied, he played them the old familiar air of THE MINSTREL BOY. The theme, in his rendering, was overlaid by florid variations and cumbered with senseless repetitions; but, none the less, the wild, wistful melody went home, touching even those who were not musical to thoughtfulness and retrospect. The most obstinate chatterers, whom neither sham battles nor Balfe and Blockley had silenced, held their tongues; and Mrs. Devine openly wiped her eyes.


While it was proceeding, Mary found herself seated next John. John tapped his foot in time to the tune; and under cover of the applause at its close remarked abruptly: “You should fatten Richard up a bit, Mary. He could stand it.”

From where they sat they had Richard in profile, and Mary studied her husband critically, her head a little on one side. “Yes, he IS rather thin. But I don’t think he was ever meant to be fat.”

“Ah well! we are none of us as young as we used to be,” was John’s tribute to the power of music. And throwing out his stomach, he leaned back in his chair and plugged the armholes of his vest with his thumbs.

And now, after due pressing on the part of host and hostess, the other members of the company advanced upon the piano, either singly or in couples, to bear a hand in the burden of entertainment. Their seeming reluctance had no basis in fact; for it was an unwritten law that every one who could must add his mite; and only those who literally had “not a note of music in them” were exempt. Tilly took a mischievous pleasure in announcing bluntly: “So sorry, my dear, not to be able to do you a tool-de-rool! But when the Honourable Mrs. T. and I were nippers we’d no time to loll round pianos, nor any pianos to loll round!”— this, just to see her brother-in-law’s dark scowl; for no love — not even a liking — was lost between her and John. But with this handful of exceptions all nobly toed the line. Ladies with the tiniest reeds of voices, which shook like reeds, warbled of Last Roses and Prairie Flowers; others, with more force but due decorum, cried to Willie that they had Missed Him, or coyly confessed to the presence of Silver Threads Among the Gold; and Mrs. Chinnery, an old-young woman with a long, lean neck, which she twisted this way and that in the exertion of producing her notes, declared her love for an Old Armchair. The gentlemen, in baritones and profundos, told the amorous adventures of Ben Bolt; or desired to know what Home would be Without a Mother. Purdy spiced the hour with a comic song, and in the character of an outraged wife tickled the risibility of the ladies.


Zara and Mrs. Long both produced HOME THEY BROUGHT HER WARRIOR DEAD! from their portfolios; so Zara good-naturedly gave way and struck up ROBERT, TOI QUE J’AIME! which she had added to her repertory while in England. No one could understand a word of what she sang; but the mere fitting of the foreign syllables to the appropriate notes was considered a feat in itself, and corroborative of the high gifts Zara possessed.

Strenuous efforts were needed to get Miss Amelia to her feet. She was dying, as Mary knew, to perform her duet with Purdy; but when the moment came she put forward so many reasons for not complying that most people retired in despair. It took Mary to persevere. And finally the little woman was persuaded to the piano, where, red with gratification, she sat down, spread her skirts and unclasped her bracelets.

“Poor little Amelia!” said Mary to herself, as she listened to a romantic ballad in which Purdy, in the character of a high-minded nobleman, sought the hand of a virtuous gipsy-maid. “And he doesn’t give her a second thought. If one could just tell her not to be so silly!”

Not only had Purdy never once looked near Amelia — for the most part he had sat rather mum-chance, half-way in and out of a French window, even Zara’s attempts to enliven him falling flat — but, during an extra loud performance, Tilly had confided to Mary the family’s plans for their spinster relative. And: “The poor little woman!” thought Mary again as she listened. For, after having been tied for years to the sick bed of a querulous mother; after braving the long sea-voyage, which for such a timid soul was full of ambushes and terrors, Miss Amelia had reached her journey’s end only to find both father and brother comfortably wived, and with no use for her. Neither of them wanted her. She had been given house-room first by her father, then by the Henrys, and once more had had to go back to the paternal roof.

“It was nothing for Mossieu Henry in the long run,” was his stepmother’s comment. But she laughed good-humouredly as she said it; for, his first wrath at her intrusion over, Henry had more or less become her friend; and now maintained that it was not a bad thing for his old father to have a sensible, managing woman behind him. Tilly had developed in many ways since her marriage; and Henry and she mutually respected each other’s practical qualities.

The upshot of the affair was, she now told Mary, that Miss Amelia’s male relatives had subscribed a dowry for her. “It was me that insisted Henry should pay his share — him getting all the money ‘e did with Agnes.” And Amelia was to be married off to —“Well, if you turn your head, my dear, you’ll see who. Back there, helping to hold up the doorpost.”

Under cover of Zara’s roulades Mary cautiously looked round. It was Henry’s partner — young Grindle, now on the threshold of the thirties. His side-whiskers a shade less flamboyant than of old, a heavy watch-chain draped across his front, Grindle stood and lounged with his hands in his pockets.

Mary made round eyes. “Oh, but Tilly! . . . isn’t it very risky? He’s so much younger than she is. Suppose she shouldn’t be happy?”

“That’ll be all right, Mary, trust me. Only give ‘er a handle to ‘er name, and Amelia ‘ud be happy with any one. She hasn’t THAT much backbone in ‘er. Besides, my dear, you think, she’s over forty! Let her take ‘er chance and be thankful. It isn’t every old maid ‘ud get such an offer.”

“And is . . . is HE agreeable?” asked Mary, still unconvinced.

Tilly half closed her right eye and protruded the tip of her tongue. “You could stake your last fiver on it, he is!”

But now that portion of the entertainment devoted to art was at an end, and the serious business of the evening began. Card-tables had been set out — for loo, as for less hazardous games. In principle, Mahony objected to the high play that was the order of the day; but if you invited people to your house you could not ask them to screw their points down from crowns to halfpence. They would have thanked you kindly and have stayed at home. Here, at the loo-table places were eagerly snapped up, Henry Ocock and his stepmother being among the first to secure seats: both were keen, hard players, who invariably re-lined their well-filled pockets.

It would not have been the thing for either Mahony or his wife to take a hand; several of the guests held aloof. John had buttonholed old Devine; Jinny and Agnes were still lost in domesticities. Dear little Agnes had grown so retiring of late, thought Mary; she quite avoided the society of gentlemen, in which she had formerly taken such pleasure. Richard and Archdeacon Long sat on the verandah, and in moving to and fro, Mary caught a fragment of their talk: they were at the debatable question of table-turning, and her mental comment was a motherly and amused: “That Richard, who is so clever, can interest himself in such nonsense!” Further on, Zara was giving Grindle an account of her voyage “home,” and ticking off the reasons that had led to her return. She sat across a hammock, and daintily exposed a very neat ankle. “It was much too sleepy and dull for ME! No, I’ve QUITE decided to spend the rest of my days in the colony.”

Mrs. Devine was still perched on her ottoman. She beamed at her hostess. “No, I dunno one card from another, dearie, and don’ want to. Oh, my dear, what a LOVELY party it ‘as been, and ‘ow well you’ve carried it h’off!”

Mary nodded and smiled; but with an air of abstraction. The climax of her evening was fast approaching. Excusing herself, she slipped away and went to cast a last eye over her supper-tables, up and down which benches were ranged, borrowed from the Sunday School. To her surprise she found herself followed by Mrs. Devine.

“DO let me ‘elp you, my dear, do, now! I feel that stiff and silly sittin’ stuck up there with me ‘ands before me. And jes’ send that young feller about ‘is business.”

So Purdy and his offers of assistance were returned with thanks to the card-room, and Mrs. Devine pinned up her black silk front. But not till she had freely vented her astonishment at the profusion of Mary’s good things. “‘Ow DO you git ’em to rise so? — No, I never did! Fit for Buckin’am Palace and Queen Victoria! And all by your little self, too. — My dear, I must give you a good ‘UG!”

Hence, when at twelve o’clock the company began to stream in, they found Mrs. Devine installed behind the barricade of cups, saucers and glasses; and she it was who dispensed tea and coffee and ladled out the claret-cup; thus leaving Mary free to keep an argus eye on her visitors’ plates. At his entry Richard had raised expostulating eyebrows; but his tongue of course was tied. And Mary made a lifelong friend.

And now for the best part of an hour Mary’s sandwiches, sausage-rolls and meat-pies; her jam-rolls, pastries and lemon-sponges; her jellies, custards and creams; her blanc and jaunemanges and whipped syllabubs; her trifles, tipsy-cakes and charlotte-russes formed the theme of talk and objects of attention. And though the ladies picked with becoming daintiness, the gentlemen made up for their partners’ deficiencies; and there was none present who did not, in the shape of a hearty and well-turned compliment, add yet another laurel to Mary’s crown.

Chapter 3

It had struck two before the party began to break up. The first move made, however, the guests left in batches, escorting one another to their respective house-doors. The Henry Ococks’ buggy had been in waiting for some time, and Mrs. Henry’s pretty head was drooping with fatigue before Henry, who was in the vein, could tear himself from the card-table. Mahony went to the front gate with them; then strolled with the Longs to the corner of the road.

He was in no hurry to retrace his steps. The air was balmy, after that of the overcrowded rooms, and it was a fabulously beautiful night. The earth lay steeped in moonshine, as in the light of a silver sun. Trees and shrubs were patterned to their last leaf on the ground before them. What odd mental twist made mortals choose rather to huddle indoors, by puny candle-light, than to be abroad laving themselves in a splendour such as this?

Leaning his arms on the top rail of a fence, he looked across the slope at the Flat, now hushed and still as the encampment of a sleeping army. Beyond, the bush shimmered palely grey — in his younger years he had been used, on a night like this when the moon sailed full and free, to take his gun and go opossuming. Those two old woody gods, Warrenheip and Buninyong, stood out more imposingly than by day; but the ranges seemed to have retreated. The light lay upon them like a visible burden, flattening their contours, filling up clefts and fissures with a milky haze.

“Good evening, doctor!”

Spoken in his very ear, the words made him jump. He had been lost in contemplation; and the address had a ghostly suddenness. But it was no ghost that stood beside him — nor indeed was it a night for those presences to be abroad whose element is the dark.

Ill-pleased at the intrusion, he returned but a stiff nod: then, since he could not in decency greet and leave-take in a breath, feigned to go on for a minute with his study of the landscape. After which he said: “Well, I must be moving. Good night to you.”

“So you’re off your sleep, too, are you?” As often happens, the impulse to speak was a joint one. The words collided.

Instinctively Mahony shrank into himself; this familiar bracketing of his person with another’s was distasteful to him. Besides, the man who had sprung up at his elbow bore a reputation that was none of the best. The owner of a small chemist’s shop on the Flat, he contrived to give offence in sundry ways: he was irreligious — an infidel, his neighbours had it — and of a Sabbath would scour his premises or hoe potatoes rather than attend church or chapel. Though not a confirmed drunkard, he had been seen to stagger in the street, and be unable to answer when spoken to. Also, the woman with whom he lived was not generally believed to be his lawful wife. Hence the public fought shy of his nostrums; and it was a standing riddle how he managed to avoid putting up his shutters. More nefarious practices no doubt, said the relentless VOX POPULI. — Seen near at hand, he was a tall, haggard-looking fellow of some forty years of age, the muscles on his neck standing out like those of a skinny old horse.

Here, his gratuitous assumption of a common bond drew a cold: “Pray, what reason have you to think that?” from Mahony. And without waiting for a reply he again said good night and turned to go.

The man accepted the rebuff with a meekness that was painful to see. “Thought, comin’ on you like this, you were a case like my own. No offence, I’m sure,” he said humbly. It was evident he was well used to getting the cold shoulder. Mahony stayed his steps. “What’s the matter with you?” he asked. “Aren’t you well? There’s a remedy to be found for most ills under the sun.”

“Not for mine! The doctor isn’t born or the drug discovered that could cure me.”

The tone of bragging bitterness grated anew. Himself given to the vice of overstatement, Mahony had small mercy on it in others. “Tut, tut!” he deprecated.

There was a brief silence before the speaker went on more quietly: “You’re a young man, doctor, I’m an old one.” And he looked old as he spoke; Mahony saw that he had erred in putting him down as merely elderly. He was old and grey and down-at-heel — fifty, if a day — and his clothes hung loose on his bony frame. “You’ll excuse me if I say I know better’n you. When a man’s done, he’s done. And that’s me. Yes,”— he grew inflated again in reciting his woes —“I’m one o’ your hopeless cases, just as surely as if I was being eaten up by a cancer or a consumption. To mend me, you doctors ‘ud need to start me afresh — from the mother-egg.”

“You exaggerate, I’m sure.”

“It’s that — knowin’ one’s played out, with by rights still a good third of one’s life to run — that’s what puts the sleep away. In the daylight it’s none so hard to keep the black thoughts under; themselves they’re not so daresome; and there’s one’s pipe, and the haver o’ the young fry. But night’s the time! Then they come tramplin’ along, a whole army of ’em, carryin’ banners with letters a dozen feet high, so’s you shan’t miss rememberin’ what you’d give your soul to forget. And so it’ll go on, et cetera and ad lib., till it pleases the old Joker who sits grinnin’ up aloft to put His heel down — as you or me would squash a bull-ant or a scorpion.”

“You speak bitterly, Mr. Tangye. Does a night like this not bring you calmer, clearer thoughts?” and Mahony waved his arm in a large, loose gesture at the sky.

His words passed unheeded. The man he addressed spun round and faced him, with a rusty laugh. “Hark at that!” he cried. “Just hark at it! Why, in all the years I’ve been in this God-forsaken place — long as I’ve been here — I’ve never yet heard my own name properly spoken. You’re the first, doctor. You shall have the medal.”

“But, man alive, you surely don’t let that worry you? Why, I’ve the same thing to put up with every day of my life. I smile at it.” And Mahony believed what he said, forgetting, in the antagonism such spleen roused in him, the annoyance the false stressing of his own name could sometimes cause him.

“So did I, once,” said Tangye, and wagged his head. “But the day came when it seemed the last straw; a bit o’ mean spite on the part o’ this hell of a country itself.”

“You dislike the colony, it appears, intensely?”

“You like it?” The counter question came tip for tap.

“I can be fair to it, I hope, and appreciate its good sides.” As always, the mere hint of an injustice made Mahony passionately just.

“Came ’ere of your own free will, did you? Weren’t crowded out at home? Or bamboozled by a pack o’ lying tales?” Tangye’s voice was husky with eagerness.

“That I won’t say either. But it is entirely my own choice that I remain here.”

“Well, I say to you, think twice of it! If you have the chance of gettin’ away, take it. It’s no place this, doctor, for the likes of you and me. Haven’t you never turned and asked yourself what the devil you were doin’ here? And that reminds me. . . . There was a line we used to have drummed into us at school — it’s often come back to me since. COELUM, NON ANIMUM, MUTANT, QUI TRANS MARE CURRUNT. In our green days we gabbled that off by rote; then, it seemed just one more o’ the eel-sleek phrases the classics are full of. Now, I take off my hat to the man who wrote it. He knew what he was talkin’ about — by the Lord Harry, he did!”

The Latin had come out tentatively, with an odd, unused intonation. Mahony’s retort: “How on earth do you know what suits me and what doesn’t?” died on his lips. He was surprised into silence. There had been nothing in the other’s speech to show that he was a man of any education — rather the reverse.

Meanwhile Tangye went on: “I grant you it’s an antiquated point o’ view; but doesn’t that go to prove what I’ve been sayin’; that you and me are old-fashioned, too — out-o’-place here, out-o’-date? The modern sort, the sort that gets on in this country, is a prime hand at cuttin’ his coat to suit his cloth; for all that the stop-at-homes, like the writer o’ that line and other ancients, prate about the Ethiopian’s hide or the leopard and his spots. They didn’t buy their experience dear, like we did; didn’t guess that if a man DON’T learn to fit himself in, when he gets set down in such a land as this, he’s a goner; any more’n they knew that most o’ those who hold out here — all of ’em at any rate who’ve climbed the ladder, nabbed the plunder — have found no more difficulty in changin’ their spots than they have their trousers. Yes, doctor, there’s only one breed that flourishes, and you don’t need me to tell you which it is. Here they lie”— and he nodded to right and left of him —“dreamin’ o’ their money-bags, and their dividends, and their profits, and how they’ll diddle and swindle one another afresh, soon as the sun gets up to-morrow. Harder ‘n nails they are, and sharp as needles. You ask me why I do my walkin’ out in the night-time? It’s so’s to avoid the sight o’ their mean little eyes, and their greedy, graspin’ faces.”

Mahony’s murmured disclaimer fell on deaf ears. Like one who had been bottled up for months, Tangye flowed on. “What a life! What a set! What a place to end one’s days in! Remember, if you can, the yarns that were spun round it for our benefit, from twenty thousand safe miles away. It was the Land o’ Promise and Plenty, topful o’ gold, strewn over with nuggets that only waited for hands to pick ’em up. — Lies! — lies from beginnin’ to end! I say to you this is the hardest and cruellest country ever created, and a man like me’s no more good here than the muck — the parin’s and stale fishguts and other leavin’s — that knocks about a harbour and washes against the walls. I’ll tell you the only use I’ll have been here, doctor, when my end comes: I’ll dung some bit o’ land for ’em with my moulder and rot. That’s all. They’d do better with my sort if they knocked us on the head betimes, and boiled us down for our fat and marrow.”

Not much in that line to be got from YOUR carcase, my friend, thought Mahony, with an inward smile.

But Tangye had paused merely to draw breath. “What I say is, instead o’ layin’ snares for us, it ought to be forbid by law to give men o’ my make ship room. At home in the old country we’d find our little nook, and jog along decently to the end of our days. But just the staid, respectable, orderly sort I belonged to’s neither needed nor wanted here. I fall to thinkin’ sometimes on the fates of the hundreds of honest, steady-goin’ lads, who at one time or another have chucked up their jobs over there — for this. The drink no doubt’s took most: they never knew before that one COULD sweat as you sweat here. And the rest? Well, just accident . . . or the sun . . . or dysentery . . . or the bloody toil that goes by the name o’ work in these parts — you know the list, doctor, better’n me. They say the waste o’ life in a new country can’t be helped; doesn’t matter; has to be. But that’s cold comfort to the wasted. No! I say to you, there ought to be an Act of Parliament to prevent young fellows squanderin’ themselves, throwin’ away their lives as I did mine. For when we’re young, we’re not sane. Youth’s a fever o’ the brain. And I WAS young once, though you mightn’t believe it; I had straight joints, and no pouch under my chin, and my full share o’ windy hopes. Senseless truck these! To be spilled overboard bit by bit — like on a hundred-mile tramp a new-chum finishes by pitchin’ from his swag all the needless rubbish he’s started with. What’s wanted to get on here’s somethin’ quite else. Horny palms and costive bowels; more’n a dash o’ the sharper; and no sickly squeamishness about knockin’ out other men and steppin’ into their shoes. And I was only an ordinary young chap; not over-strong nor over-shrewd, but honest — honest, by God I was! That didn’t count. It even stood in my way. For I was too good for this and too mealy-mouthed for that; and while I stuck, considerin’ the fairness of a job, some one who didn’t care a damn whether it was fair or not, walked in over my head and took it from me. There isn’t anything I haven’t tried my luck at, and with everything it’s been the same. Nothin’s prospered; the money wouldn’t come — or stick if it did. And so here I am — all that’s left of me. It isn’t much; and by and by a few rank weeds ‘ull spring from it, and old Joey there, who’s paid to grub round the graves, old Joey ‘ull curse and say: a weedy fellow that, a rotten, weedy blackguard; and spit on his hands and hoe, till the weeds lie bleedin’ their juices — the last heirs of me . . . the last issue of my loins!”

“Pray, does it never occur to you, you fool, that FLOWERS may spring from you?”

He had listened to Tangye’s diatribe in a white heat of impatience. But when he spoke he struck an easy tone — nor was he in any hesitation how to reply: for that, he had played devil’s advocate all too often with himself in private. An unlovely country, yes, as Englishmen understood beauty; and yet not without a charm of its own. An arduous life, certainly, and one full of pitfalls for the weak or the unwary; yet he believed it was no more impossible to win through here, and with clean hands, than anywhere else. To generalise as his companion had done was absurd. Preposterous, too, the notion that those of their fellow-townsmen who had carried off the prizes owed their success to some superiority in bodily strength . . . or sharp dealing . . . or thickness of skin. With Mr. Tangye’s permission he would cite himself as an example. He was neither a very robust man, nor, he ventured to say, one of any marked ability in the other two directions. Yet he had managed to succeed without, in the process, sacrificing jot or tittle of his principles; and to-day he held a position that any member of his profession across the seas might envy him.

“Yes, but till you got there!” cried Tangye. “Hasn’t every superfluous bit of you — every thought of interest that wasn’t essential to the daily grind — been pared off?”

“If,” said Mahony stiffening, “if what you mean by that is, have I allowed my mind to grow narrow and sluggish, I can honestly answer no.”

In his heart he denied the charge even more warmly; for, as he spoke, he saw the great cork-slabs on which hundreds of moths and butterflies made dazzling spots of colour; saw the sheets of pink blotting-paper between which his collection of native plants lay pressed; the glass case filled with geological specimens; his Bible, the margins of which round Genesis were black with his handwriting; a pile of books on the new marvel Spiritualism; Colenso’s PENTATEUCH; the big black volumes of the ARCANA COELESTIA; Locke on Miracles: he saw all these things and more. “No, I’m glad to say I have retained many interests outside my work.”

Tangye had taken off his spectacles and was polishing them on a crumpled handkerchief. He seemed about to reply, even made a quick half-turn towards Mahony; then thought better of it, and went on rubbing. A smile played round his lips.

“And in conclusion let me say this,” went on Mahony, not unnettled by his companion’s expression. “It’s sheer folly to talk about what life makes of us. Life is not an active force. It’s we who make what we will, of life. And in order to shape it to the best of our powers, Mr. Tangye, to put our brief span to the best possible use, we must never lose faith in God or our fellow-men; never forget that, whatever happens, there is a sky, with stars in it, above us.”

“Ah, there’s a lot of bunkum talked about life,” returned Tangye dryly, and settled his glasses on his nose. “And as man gets near the end of it, he sees just WHAT bunkum it is. Life’s only got one meanin’, doctor; seen plain, there’s only one object in everything we do; and that’s to keep a sound roof over our heads and a bite in our mouths — and in those of the helpless creatures who depend on us. The rest has no more sense or significance than a nigger’s hammerin’ on the tam-tam. The lucky one o’ this world don’t grasp it; but we others do; and after all p’raps, it’s worth while havin’ gone through it to have got at ONE bit of the truth, however, small. Good night.”

He turned on his heel, and before his words were cold on the air had vanished, leaving Mahony blankly staring.

The moonshine still bathed the earth, gloriously untroubled by the bitterness of human words and thoughts. But the night seemed to have grown chilly; and Mahony gave an involuntary shiver. “Some one walking over my . . . now what would that specimen have called it? Over the four by eight my remains will one day manure!”

“An odd, abusive, wrong-headed fellow,” he mused, as he made his way home. “Who would ever have thought, though, that the queer little chemist had so much in him? A failure? . . . yes, he was right there; and as unlovely as failures always are — at close quarters.” But as he laid his hands on the gate, he jerked up his head and exclaimed half aloud: “God bless my soul! What he wanted was not argument or reason but a little human sympathy.” As usual, however, the flash of intuition came too late. “For such a touchy nature I’m certainly extraordinarily obtuse where the feelings of others are concerned,” he told himself as he hooked in the latch.

“Why, Richard, where HAVE you been?” came Mary’s clear voice — muted so as not to disturb John and Jinny, who had retired to rest. Purdy and she sat waiting on the verandah. “Were you called out? We’ve had time to clear everything away. Here, dear, I saved you some sandwiches and a glass of claret. I’m sure you didn’t get any supper yourself, with looking after other people.”

Long after Mary had fallen asleep he lay wakeful. His foolish blunder in response to Tangye’s appeal rankled in his mind. He could not get over his insensitiveness. How he had boasted of his prosperity, his moral nicety, his saving pursuits — he to boast! — when all that was asked of him was a kindly: “My poor fellow soul, you have indeed fought a hard fight; but there IS a God above us who will recompense you at His own time, take the word for it of one who has also been through the Slough of Despond.” And then just these . . . these hobbies of his, of which he had made so much. Now that he was alone with himself he saw them in a very different light. Lepidoptera collected years since were still unregistered, plants and stones unclassified; his poor efforts at elucidating the Bible waited to be brought into line with the Higher Criticism; Home’s levitations and fire-tests called for investigation; while the leaves of some of the books he had cited had never even been cut. The mere thought of these things was provocative, rest-destroying. To induce drowsiness he went methodically through the list of his acquaintances, and sought to range them under one or other of Tangye’s headings. And over this there came moments when he lapsed into depths . . . fetched himself up again — but with an effort . . . only to fall back . . . .

But he seemed barely to have closed his eyes when the night-bell rang. In an instant he was on his feet in the middle of the room, applying force to his sleep-cogged wits.

He threw open the sash. “Who’s there? What is it?”

Henry Ocock’s groom. “I was to fetch you out to our place at once, governor.”

“But — Is Mrs. Henry taken ill?”

“Not as I know of,” said the man dryly. “But her and the boss had a bit of a tiff on the way home, and Madam’s excited-like.”

“And am I to pay for their tiffs?” muttered Mahony hotly.

“Hush, Richard! He’ll hear you,” warned Mary, and sat up.

“I shall decline to go. Henry’s a regular old woman.”

Mary shook her head. “You can’t afford to offend the Henrys. And you know what he is so hasty. He’d call in some one else on the spot, and you’d never get back. If only you hadn’t stayed out so long, dear, looking at the moon!”

“Good God! Mary, is one never to have a moment to oneself? Never a particle of pleasure or relaxation?”

“Why, Richard!” expostulated his wife, and even felt a trifle ashamed of his petulance. “What would you call to-night, I wonder? Wasn’t the whole evening one of pleasure and relaxation?”

And Mahony, struggling into shirt and trousers, had to admit that he would be hard put to it to give it another name.

Chapter 4

Hush, dolly! Mustn’t cry, and make a noise. Uncle Richard’s cross.

Trotty sat on a hassock and rocked a china babe, with all the appurtenant mother-fuss she had picked up from the tending of her tiny stepsister. The present Trotty was a demure little maid of some seven summers, who gave the impression of having been rather rudely elongated. Her flaxen hair was stiffly imprisoned behind a round black comb; and her big blue eyes alone remained to her from a lovely infancy. (“Poor Emma’s eyes,” said Mary.)

Imitative as a monkey she went on — with a child’s perfect knowledge that it is all make-believe, yet with an entire credence in the power of make-believe: “Naughty child — WILL you be quiet? There! You’ve frown your counterpane off now. Wonder what next you’ll do. I declare I’ll slap you soon — you make me so cross.”

Through the surgery-window the words floated out: “For goodness’ sake, don’t bother me now with such trifles, Mary! It’s not the moment — with a whole string of people waiting in the other room.”

“Well, if only you’ll be satisfied with what I do, dear, and not blame me afterwards.”

“Get Purdy to give you a hand with Ned’s affair. He has time and to spare.” And wetting his finger-tip Mahony nervously flipped over a dozen pages of the book that lay open before him.

“Well . . . if you think I should,” said Mary, with a spice of doubt.

“I do. And now go, wife, and remember to shut the door after you. Oh, and tell that woman in the kitchen to stop singing. Her false notes drive me crazy. — How many are there, this morning?”

“Eight — no, nine, if that’s another,” replied Mary, with an ear to the front door.

“Tch! I’ll have to stop then,” and Mahony clapped to the work he had been consulting. “Never a minute to keep abreast of the times.” But: “That’s a good, helpful wife,” as Mary stooped to kiss him. “Do the best you can, mavourneen, and never mind me.”

“Take me with you, Auntie!” Trotty sprang up from her stool, overturning babe and cradle.

“Not to-day, darling. Besides, why are you here? You know I’ve forbidden you to be on the front verandah when the patients come. Run away to the back, and play there.”

Mary donned hat and shawl, opened her parasol and went out into the sun. With the years she had developed into rather a stately young woman: she held her head high and walked with a firm, free step.

Her first visit was to the stable to find Long Jim — or Old Jim as they now called him; for he was nearing the sixties. The notice to leave, which he had given the day before, was one of the “trifles” it fell to her to consider. Personally Mary thought his going would be no great loss: he knew nothing about a garden, yet resented instruction; and it had always been necessary to get outside help in for the horses. If he went they could engage some one who would combine the posts. But Richard had taken umbrage at the old man’s tone; had even been nervously upset over it. It behoved her to find out what the matter was.

“I want a change,” said Old Jim dourly in response to her inquiry; and went on polishing wheel-spokes, and making the wheel fly. “I’ve bin ’ere too long. An’ now I’ve got a bit o’ brass together, an’ am thinkin’ I’d like to be me own master for a spell.”

“But at your age, Jim, is it wise? — to throw up a comfortable home, just because you’ve laid a little past?”

“It’s enough to keep me. I turned over between four and five ‘undred last week in ‘Piecrusts.’”

“Oh!” said Mary, taken by surprise. “Then that — that’s your only reason for wishing to leave?” And as he did not reply, but went on swishing: “Come, Jim, if you’ve anything on your mind, say it out. The doctor didn’t like the way you spoke to him last night.”

At this the old man straightened his back, took a straw from between his teeth, spat and said: “Well, if you must know, Mrs. Mahony, the doctor’s not the boss it pleases me to be h’under any more — and that’s the trewth. I’m tired of it — dog-tired. You can slave yer ‘ead off for ’im, and ‘e never notices a thing you do, h’or if ‘e does, it’s on’y to find fault. It h’ain’t ‘uman, I say, and I’ll be danged if I stand it h’any longer.”

But people who came to Mary with criticism of Richard got no mercy. “You’re far too touchy, Jim. YOU know, if any one does, how rushed and busy the doctor is, and you ought to be the first to make allowance for him — after all he’s done for you. You wouldn’t be here now, if it hadn’t been for him. And then to expect him to notice and praise you for every little job you do!”

But Jim was stubborn. ‘E didn’t want to deny anything. But ‘e’d rather go. An’ this day a week if it suited her.

“ It’s really dreadful how uppish the lower classes get as soon as they have a little money in their pocket,” she said to herself, as she walked the shadeless, sandy road. But this thought was like a shadow cast by her husband’s mind on hers, and was ousted by the more indigenous: “But after all who can blame him, poor old fellow, for wanting to take life easy if he has the chance.” She even added: “He might have gone off, as most of them do, without a word.”

Then her mind reverted to what he had said of Richard, and she pondered the antagonism that had shown through his words. It was not the first time she had run up against this spirit, but, as usual, she was at a loss to explain it. Why should people of Old Jim’s class dislike Richard as they did? — find him so hard to get on with? He was invariably considerate of them, and treated them very generously with regard to money. And yet . . . for some reason or other they felt injured by him; and thought and spoke of him with a kind of churlish resentment. She was not clever enough to find the key to the riddle — it was no such simple explanation as that he felt himself too good for them. That was not the case: he was proud, certainly, but she had never known any one who — under, it was true, a rather sarcastic manner — was more broadly tolerant of his fellow-men. And she wound up her soliloquy with the lame admission: “Yes, in spite of all his kindness, I suppose he IS queer . . . decidedly queer,” and then she heaved a sigh. What a pity it was! When you knew him to be, at heart, such a dear, good, well-meaning man.

A short walk brought her to the four-roomed cottage where Ned lived with wife and children. Or had lived, till lately. He had been missing from his home now for over a week. On the last occasion of his being in Melbourne with the carrying-van, he had decamped, leaving the boy who was with him to make the return journey alone. Since then, nothing could be heard of him; and his billet in the Agency had been snapped up.

“Or so they say!” said his wife, with an angry sniff. “I don’t believe a word of it, Mary. Since the railway’s come, biz has gone to the dogs; and they’re only too glad to get the chance of sacking another man.”

Polly looked untidier than ever; she wore a slatternly wrapper, and her hair was thrust unbrushed into its net. But she suffered, no doubt, in her own way; she was red-eyed, and very hasty-handed with her nestful of babes. Sitting in the cheerless parlour, Ned’s dark-eyed eldest on her knee, Mary strove to soothe and encourage. But: it has never been much of a home for the poor boy was her private opinion; and she pressed her cheek affectionately against the little black curly head that was a replica of Ned’s own.

“What’s goin’ to become of us all, the Lord only knows,” said Polly, after having had the good cry the sympathetic presence of her sister-in-law justified. “I’m not a brown cent troubled about Ned — only boiling with ’im. ‘E’s off on the booze, sure enough — and ‘e’ll turn up again, safe and sound, like loose fish always do. Wait till I catch ’im though! He’ll get it hot.”

“We never ought to have come here,” she went on drying her eyes. “Drat the place and all that’s in it, that’s what I say! He did better’n this in Castlemaine; and I’d pa behind me there. But once Richard had sent ’im that twenty quid, he’d no rest till he got away. And I thought, when he was so set on it, may be it’d have a good effect on ’im, to be near you both. But that was just another shoot into the brown. You’ve been A1, Mary; you’ve done your level best. But Richard’s never treated Ned fair. I don’t want to take Ned’s part; he’s nothing in the world but a pretty-faced noodle. But Richard’s treated ’im as if he was the dirt under ‘is feet. And Ned’s felt it. Oh, I know whose doing it was, we were never asked up to the house when you’d company. It wasn’t YOURS, my dear! But we can’t all have hyphens to our names, and go driving round with kid gloves on our hands and our noses in the air.”

Mary felt quite depressed by this fresh attack on her husband. Reminding herself, however, that Polly was excited and over-wrought, she did not speak out the defence that leapt to her tongue. She said staunchly: “As you put it, Polly, it does seem as if we haven’t acted rightly towards Ned. But it wasn’t Richard’s doing alone. I’ve been just as much to blame as he has.”

She sat on, petting the fractious children and giving kindly assurances: as long as she and Richard had anything themselves, Ned’s wife and Ned’s children should not want: and as she spoke, she slipped a substantial proof of her words into Polly’s unproud hand. Besides, she believed there was every chance now of Ned soon being restored to them; and she told how they were going, that very morning, to invoke Mr. Smith’s aid. Mr. Smith was in the Police, as Polly knew, and had influential friends among the Force in Melbourne. By to-morrow there might be good news to bring her.

Almost an hour had passed when she rose to leave. Mrs. Ned was so grateful for the visit and the help that, out in the narrow little passage, she threw her arms round Mary’s neck and drew her to her bosom. Holding her thus, after several hearty kisses, she said in a mysterious whisper, with her lips close to Mary’s ear: “Mary, love, may I say something to you?” and the permission granted, went on: “That is, give you a bit of a hint, dearie?”

“Why, of course you may, Polly.”

“Sure you won’t feel hurt, dear?”

“Quite sure. What is it?” and Mary disengaged herself, that she might look the speaker in the face.

“Well, it’s just this — you mentioned the name yourself, or I wouldn’t have dared. It’s young Mr. Smith, Mary. My dear, in future don’t you have ’im quite so much about the house as you do at present. It ain’t the thing. People WILL talk, you know, if you give ’em a handle.”(“Oh, but Polly!” in a blank voice from Mary.) “Now, now, I’m not blaming you — not the least tiddly-wink. But there’s no harm in being careful, is there, love, if you don’t want your name in people’s mouths? I’m that fond of you, Mary — you don’t mind me speaking, dearie?”

“No, Polly, I don’t. But it’s the greatest nonsense — I never heard such a thing!” said Mary hotly. “Why, Purdy is Richard’s oldest friend. They were schoolboys together.”

“May be they were. But I hear ‘e’s mostly up at your place when Richard’s out. And you’re a young and pretty woman, my dear; it’s Richard who ought to think of it, and he so much older than you. Well, just take the hint, love. It comes best, don’t it, from one of the family?”

But Mary left the house in a sad flurry; and even forgot for a street length to open her parasol.

Her first impulse was to go straight to Richard. But she had not covered half a dozen yards before she saw that this would never do. At the best of times Richard abominated gossip; and the fact of it having, in the present case, dared to fasten its fangs in some one belonging to him would make him doubly wroth. He might even try to find out who had started the talk; and get himself into hot water over it. Or he might want to lay all the blame on his own shoulders — make himself the reproaches Ned’s Polly had not spared him. Worse still, he would perhaps accuse Purdy of inconsiderateness towards her, and fly into a rage with him; and then the two of them would quarrel, which would be a thousand pities. For though he often railed at Purdy, yet that was only Richard’s way: he was genuinely fond of him, and unbent to him as to nobody else.

But these were just so many pretexts put forward to herself by Mary for keeping silence; the real reason lay deeper. Eight years of married life had left her, where certain subjects were concerned, with all the modesty of her girlhood intact. There were things, indelicate things, which COULD not be spoken out, even between husband and wife. For her to have to step before Richard and say: some one else feels for me in the same way as you, my husband, do, would make her ever after unable frankly to meet his eyes. Besides giving the vague, cobwebby stuff a body it did not deserve.

But yet again this was not the whole truth: she had another, more uncomfortable side of it to face; and the flies buzzed unheeded round her head. The astonishment she had shown at her sister-in-law’s warning had not been altogether sincere. Far down in her heart Mary found a faint, faint trace of complicity. For months past — she could admit it now — she had not felt easy about Purdy. Something disagreeable, disturbing, had crept into their relations. The jolly, brotherly manner she liked so well had deserted him; besides short-tempered he had grown deadly serious, and not the stupidest woman could fail altogether to see what the matter was. But she had wilfully bandaged her eyes. And if, now and then, some word or look had pierced her guard and disquieted her in spite of herself, she had left it at an incredulous: “Oh, but then . . . But even if . . . In that case . . . .” She now saw her fervent hope had been that the affair would blow over without coming to anything; prove to be just another passing fancy on the part of the unstable Purdy. How many had she not assisted at! This very summer, for instance, a charming young lady from Sydney had stayed with the Urquharts; and, as long as her visit lasted, they had seen little or nothing of Purdy. Whenever he got off duty he was at Yarangobilly. As it happened, however, Mr. Urquhart himself had been so assiduous in taking his guest about that Purdy had had small chance of making an impression. And, in looking back on the incident, what now rose most clearly before Mary’s mind was the way in which Mrs. Urquhart — poor thing, she was never able to go anywhere with her husband: either she had a child in arms or another coming; the row of toddlers mounted up in steps — the way in which she had said, with her pathetic smile: “Ah, my dear! Willie needs some one gayer and stronger than I am, for company.” Mary’s heart had been full of pity at the time, for her friend’s lot; and it swelled again now at the remembrance.

But oh dear! this was straying from the point. Impatiently she jerked her thoughts back to herself and her own dilemma. What ought she to do? She was not a person who could sit still with folded hands and await events. How would it be if she spoke to Purdy herself? . . . talked seriously to him about his work? . . . tried to persuade him to leave Ballarat. Did he mean to hang on here for ever, she would say — never intend to seek promotion? But then again, the mere questioning would cause a certain awkwardness. While, at the slightest trip or blunder on her part, what was unsaid might suddenly find itself said; and the whole thing cease to be the vague, cloudy affair it was at present. And though she would actually rather this happened with regard to Purdy than Richard, yet . . . yet . . . .

Worried and perplexed, unable to see before her the straight plain path she loved, Mary once more sighed from the bottom of her heart.

“Oh if ONLY men wouldn’t be so foolish!”

Left to himself Mahony put away his books, washed his hands and summoned one by one to his presence the people who waited in the adjoining room. He drew a tooth, dressed a wounded wrist, prescribed for divers internal disorders — all told, a baker’s dozen of odd jobs.

When the last patient had gone he propped open the door, wiped his forehead and read the thermometer that hung on the wall: it marked 102 degrees. Dejectedly he drove, in fancy, along the glaring, treeless roads, inches deep in cinnamon-coloured dust. How one learnt to hate the sun out here. What wouldn’t he give for a cool, grey-green Irish day, with a wet wind blowing in from the sea? — a day such as he had heedlessly squandered hundreds of, in his youth. Now it made his mouth water only to think of them.

It still wanted ten minutes to ten o’clock and the buggy had not yet come round. He would lie down and have five minutes’ rest before starting: he had been up most of the night, and on getting home had been kept awake by neuralgia.

When an hour later Mary reached home, she was amazed to find groom and buggy still drawn up in front of the house.

“Why, Molyneux, what’s the matter? Where’s the doctor?”

“I’m sure I don’t know, Mrs. Mahony. I’ve hollered to Biddy half a dozen times, but she doesn’t take any notice. And the mare’s that restless. . . . There, there, steady old girl, steady now! It’s these damn flies.”

Mary hurried indoors. “Why, Biddy . . . .”

“Sure and it’s yourself,” said the big Irishwoman who now filled the kitchen-billet. “Faith and though you scold me, Mrs. Mahony, I couldn’t bring it over me heart to wake him. The pore man’s sleeping like a saint.”

“Biddy, you ought to know better!” cried Mary peeling off her gloves.

“It’s pale as the dead he is.”

“Rubbish. It’s only the reflection of the green blind. RICHARD! Do you know what the time is?”

But the first syllable of his name was enough. “Good Lord, Mary, I must have dropped off. What the dickens. . . . Come, help me, wife. Why on earth didn’t those fools wake me?”

Mary held his driving-coat, fetched hat and gloves, while he flung the necessaries into his bag. “Have you much to do this morning? Oh, that post-mortem’s at twelve, isn’t it?”

“Yes; and a consultation with Munce at eleven — I’ll just manage it and no more,” muttered Mahony with an eye on his watch. “I can’t let the mare take it easy this morning. Yes, a full day. And Henry Ocock’s fidgeting for a second opinion; thinks his wife’s not making enough progress. Well, ta-ta, sweetheart! Don’t expect me back to lunch.” And taking a short cut across the lawn, he jumped into the buggy and off they flew.

Mary’s thoughts were all for him in this moment. “How proud we ought to feel!” she said to herself. “That makes the second time in a week old Munce has sent for him. But how like Henry Ocock,” she went on with puckered brow. “It’s quite insulting — after the trouble Richard has put himself to. If Agnes’s case puzzles him, I should like to know who will understand it better. I think I’ll go and see her myself this afternoon. It can’t be HER wish to call in a stranger.”

Not till some time after did she remember her own private embarrassment. And, by then, the incident had taken its proper place in her mind — had sunk to the level of insignificance to which it belonged.

“Such a piece of nonsense!” was her final verdict. “As if I could worry Richard with it, when he has so many really important things to occupy him.”

Chapter 5

Yes, those were palmy days; the rate at which the practice spread astonished even himself. No slack seasons for him now; winter saw him as busy as summer; and his chief ground for complaint was that he was unable to devote the meticulous attention he would have wished to each individual case. “It would need the strength of an elephant to do that.” But it was impossible not to feel gratified by the many marks of confidence he received. And if his work had but left him some leisure for study and an occasional holiday, he would have been content. But in these years he was never able to get his neck out of the yoke; and Mary took her annual jaunts to Melbourne and sea-breezes alone.

In a long talk they had with each other, it was agreed that, except in an emergency, he was to be chary of entering into fresh engagements — this referred in the first place to confinements, of which his book was always full; and secondly, to outlying bush-cases, the journey to and from which wasted many a precious hour. And where it would have been impolitic to refuse a new and influential patient, some one on his list — a doubtful payer or a valetudinarian — was gently to be let drop. And it was Mary who arranged who this should be. Some umbrage was bound to be given in the process; but with her help it was reduced to a minimum. For Mary knew by heart all the links and ramifications of the houses at which he visited; knew precisely who was related to whom, by blood or marriage or business; knew where offence might with safety be risked, and where it would do him harm. She had also a woman’s tact in smoothing things over. A born doctor’s wife, declared Mahony in grateful acknowledgment. For himself he could not keep such fiddling details in his head for two minutes on end.

But though he thus succeeded in setting bounds to his activity, he still had a great deal too much to do; and, in tired moments, or when tic plagued him, thought the sole way out of the impasse would be to associate some one with him as partner or assistant. And once he was within an ace of doing so, chance throwing what he considered a likely person across his path. In attending a coroner’s inquest, he made the acquaintance of a member of the profession who was on his way from the Ovens district — a coach journey of well over two hundred miles — to a place called Walwala, a day’s ride to the west of Ballarat. And since this was a pleasant-spoken man and intelligent — though with a somewhat down-at-heel look — besides being a stranger to the town, Mahony impulsively took him home to dinner. In the evening they sat and talked. The visitor, whose name was Wakefield, was considerably Mahony’s senior. By his own account he had had but a rough time of it for the past couple of years. A good practice which he had worked up in the seaport of Warrnambool had come to an untimely end. He did not enter into the reasons for this. “I was unfortunate . . . had a piece of ill-luck,” was how he referred to it. And knowing how fatally easy was a trip in diagnosis, a slip of the scalpel, Mahony tactfully helped him over the allusion. From Warrnambool Wakefield had gone to the extreme north of the colony; but the eighteen months spent there had nearly been his undoing. Money had not come in badly; but his wife and family had suffered from the great heat, and the scattered nature of the work had worn him to skin and bone. He was now casting about him for a more suitable place. He could not afford to buy a practice, must just creep in where he found a vacancy. And Walwala, where he understood there had never been a resident practitioner, seemed to offer an opening.

Mahony felt genuinely sorry for the man; and after he had gone sat and revolved the idea, in the event of Walwala proving unsuitable, of taking Wakefield on as his assistant. He went to bed full of the scheme and broached it to Mary before they slept. Mary made big eyes to herself as she listened. Like a wise wife, however, she did not press her own views that night, while the idea bubbled hot in him; for, at such times, when some new project seemed to promise the millennium, he stood opposition badly. But she lay awake telling off the reasons she would put before him in the morning; and in the dark allowed herself a tender, tickled little smile at his expense.

“What a man he is for loading himself up with the wrong sort of people!” she reflected. “And then afterwards, he gets tired of them, and impatient with them — as is only natural.”

At breakfast she came back on the subject herself. In her opinion, he ought to think the matter over very carefully. Not another doctor on Ballarat had an assistant; and his patients would be sure to resent the novelty. Those who sent for Dr. Mahony would not thank you to be handed over to “goodness knows who.”

“Besides, Richard, as things are now, the money wouldn’t really be enough, would it? And just as we have begun to be a little easy ourselves — I’m afraid you’d miss many comforts you have got used to again, dear,” she wound up, with a mental glance at the fine linen and smooth service Richard loved.

Yes, that was true, admitted Mahony with a sigh; and being this morning in a stale mood, he forthwith knocked flat the card-house it had amused him to build. Himself he had only half believed in it; or believed so long as he refrained from going into prosaic details. There was work for two and money for one — that was the crux of the matter. Successful as the practice was, it still did not throw off a thousand a year. Bad debts ran to a couple of hundred annually; and their improved style of living — the expenses of house and garden, of horses and vehicles, the men-servants, the open house they had to keep — swallowed every penny of the rest. Saving was actually harder than when his income had been but a third of what it was at present. New obligations beset him. For one thing, he had to keep pace with his colleagues; make a show of being just as well-to-do as they. Retrenching was out of the question. His patients would at once imagine that something was wrong — the practice on the downgrade, his skill deserting him — and take their ailments and their fees elsewhere. No, the more one had, the more one was forced to spend; and the few odd hundreds for which Henry Ocock could yearly be counted on came in very handy. As a rule he laid these by for Mary’s benefit; for her visits to Melbourne, her bonnets and gowns. It also let her satisfy the needs of her generous little heart in matters of hospitality — well, it was perhaps not fair to lay the whole blame of their incessant and lavish entertaining at her door. He himself knew that it would not do for them to lag a foot behind other people.

Hence the day on which he would be free to dismiss the subject of money from his mind seemed as far off as ever. He might indulge wild schemes of taking assistant or partner; the plain truth was, he could not afford even the sum needed to settle in a LOCUM TENENS for three months, while he recuperated. — Another and equally valid reason was that the right man for a LOCUM was far to seek. As time went on, he found himself pushed more and more into a single branch of medicine — one, too, he had never meant to let grow over his head in this fashion. For it was common medical knowledge out here that, given the distances and the general lack of conveniences, thirty to forty maternity cases per year were as much as a practitioner could with comfort take in hand. HIS books for the past year stood at over a hundred! The nightwork this meant was unbearable, infants showing a perverse disinclination to enter the world except under cover of the dark.

His popularity — if such it could be called — with the other sex was something of a mystery to him. For he had not one manner for the bedside and another for daily life. He never sought to ingratiate himself with people, or to wheedle them; still less would he stoop to bully or intimidate; was always by preference the adviser rather than the dictator. And men did not greatly care for this arm’s-length attitude; they wrote him down haughty and indifferent, and pinned their faith to a blunter, homelier manner. But with women it was otherwise; and these also appreciated the fact that, no matter what their rank in life, their age or their looks, he met them with the deference he believed due to their sex. Exceptions there were, of course. Affectation or insincerity angered him — with the “Zaras” of this world he had scant patience — while among the women themselves, some few — Ned’s wife, for example — felt resentment at his very appearance, his gestures, his tricks of speech. But the majority were his staunch partisans; and it was becoming more and more the custom to engage Dr. Mahony months ahead, thus binding him fast. And though he would sometimes give Mary a fright by vowing that he was going to “throw up mid. and be done with it,” yet her ambition — and what an ambitious wife she was, no one but himself knew — that he should some day become one of the leading specialists on Ballarat, seemed not unlikely of fulfilment. If his health kept good. And . . . and if he could possibly hold out!

For there still came times when he believed that to turn his back for ever, on place and people, would make him the happiest of mortals. For a time this idea had left him in peace. Now it haunted him again. Perhaps, because he had at last grasped the unpalatable truth that it would never be his luck to save: if saving were the only key to freedom, he would still be there, still chained fast, and though he lived to be a hundred. Certain it was, he did not become a better colonist as the years went on. He had learnt to hate the famous climate — the dust and drought and brazen skies; the drenching rains and bottomless mud — to rebel against the interminable hours he was doomed to spend in his buggy. By nature he was a recluse — not an outdoor-man at all. He was tired, too, of the general rampage, the promiscuous connexions and slap-dash familiarity of colonial life; sick to death of the all-absorbing struggle to grow richer than his neighbours. He didn’t give a straw for money in itself — only for what it brought him. And what was the good of that, if he had no leisure to enjoy it? Or was it the truth that he feared being dragged into the vortex? . . . of learning to care, he, too, whether or no his name topped subscription-lists; whether his entertainments were the most sumptuous, his wife the best-dressed woman in her set? Perish the thought!

He did not disquiet Mary by speaking of these things. Still less did he try to explain to her another, more elusive side of the matter. It was this. Did he dig into himself, he saw that his uncongenial surroundings were not alone to blame for his restless state of mind. There was in him a gnawing desire for change as change; a distinct fear of being pinned for too long to the same spot; or, to put it another way, a conviction that to live on without change meant decay. For him, at least. Of course, it was absurd to yield to feelings of this kind; at his age, in his position, with a wife dependent on him. And so he fought them — even while he indulged them. For this was the year in which, casting the question of expense to the winds, he pulled down and rebuilt his house. It came over him one morning on waking that he could not go on in the old one for another day, so cramped was he, so tortured by its lath-and-plaster thinness. He had difficulty in winning Mary over; she was against the outlay, the trouble and confusion involved; and was only reconciled by the more solid comforts and greater conveniences offered her. For the new house was of brick, the first brick house to be built on Ballarat (and oh the joy! said Richard, of walls so thick that you could not hear through them), had an extra-wide verandah which might be curtained in for parties and dances, and a side-entrance for patients, such as Mary had often sighed for.

As a result of the new grandeur, more and more flocked to his door. The present promised to be a record year even in the annals of the Golden City. The completion of the railway-line to Melbourne was the outstanding event. Virtually halving the distance to the metropolis in count of time, it brought a host of fresh people capitalists, speculators, politicians — about the town, and money grew perceptibly easier. Letters came more quickly, too; Melbourne newspapers could be handled almost moist from the press. One no longer had the sense of lying shut off from the world, behind the wall of a tedious coach journey. And the merry Ballaratians, who had never feared or shrunk from the discomforts of this journey, now travelled constantly up and down: attending the Melbourne race-meetings; the Government House balls and lawn-parties; bringing back the gossip of Melbourne, together with its fashions in dress, music and social life.

Mary, in particular, profited by the change; for in one of those “general posts” so frequently played by the colonial cabinet, John Turnham had come out Minister of Railways; and she could have a “free pass” for the asking. John paid numerous visits to his constituency; but he was now such an important personage that his relatives hardly saw him. As likely as not he was the guest of the Henry Ococks in their new mansion, or of the mayor of the borough. In the past two years Mahony had only twice exchanged a word with his brother-in-law.

And then they met again.

In Melbourne, at six o’clock one January morning, the Honourable John, about to enter a saloon-compartment of the Ballarat train, paused, with one foot on the step, and disregarding the polite remarks of the station-master at his heels, screwed up his prominent black eyes against the sun. At the farther end of the train, a tall, thin, fair-whiskered man was peering disconsolately along a row of crowded carriages. “God bless me! isn’t that . . . Why, so it is!” And leaving the official standing, John walked smartly down the platform.

“My dear Mahony! — this is indeed a surprise. I had no idea you were in town.”

“Why not have let me know you proposed coming?” he inquired as they made their way, the train meanwhile held up on their account, towards John’s spacious, reserved saloon.

(“What he means is, why I didn’t beg a pass of him.”) And Mahony, who detested asking favours, laid exaggerated emphasis on his want of knowledge. He had not contemplated the journey till an hour beforehand. Then, the proposed delegate having been suddenly taken ill, he had been urgently requested to represent the Masonic Lodge to which he belonged, at the Installation of a new Grand Master.

“Ah, so you found it possible to get out of harness for once?” said John affably, as they took their seats.

“Yes, by a lucky chance I had no case on hand that could not do without me for twenty-four hours. And my engagement-book I can leave with perfect confidence to my wife.”

“Mary is no doubt a very capable woman; I noticed that afresh, when last she was with us,” returned John; and went on to tick off Mary’s qualities like a connoisseur appraising the points of a horse. “A misfortune that she is not blessed with any family,” he added.

Mahony stiffened; and responded dryly: “I’m not sure that I agree with you. With all her energy and spirit Mary is none too strong.”

“Well, well! these things are in the hands of Providence; we must take what is sent us.” And caressing his bare chin John gave a hearty yawn.

The words flicked Mahony’s memory: John had had an addition to his family that winter, in the shape — to the disappointment of all concerned — of a second daughter. He offered belated congratulations. “A regular Turnham this time, according to Mary. But I am sorry to hear Jane has not recovered her strength.”

“Oh, Jane is doing very well. But it has been a real disadvantage that she could not nurse. The infant is . . . well, ah . . . perfectly formed, of course, but small — small.”

“You must send them both to Mary, to be looked after.”

The talk then passed to John’s son, now a schoolboy in Geelong; and John admitted that the reports he received of the lad continued as unsatisfactory as ever. “The young rascal has ability, they tell me, but no application.” John propounded various theories to account for the boy having turned out poorly, chief among which was that he had been left too long in the hands of women. They had overindulged him. “Mary no more than the rest, my dear fellow,” he hastened to smooth Mahony’s rising plumes. “It began with his mother in the first place. Yes, poor Emma was weak with the boy — lamentably weak!”

Here, with a disconcerting abruptness, he drew to him a blue linen bag that lay on the seat, and loosening its string took out a sheaf of official papers, in which he was soon engrossed. He had had enough of Mahony’s conversation in the meantime, or so it seemed; had thought of something better to do, and did it.

His brother-in-law eyed him as he read. “He’s a bad colour. Been living too high, no doubt.”

A couple of new books were on the seat by Mahony; but he did not open them. He had a tiring day behind him, and the briefest of nights. Besides attending the masonic ceremony, which had lasted into the small hours, he had undertaken to make various purchases, not the least difficult of which was the buying of a present for Mary — all the little fal-lals that went to finish a lady’s ball-dress. Railway-travelling was, too, something of a novelty to him nowadays; and he sat idly watching the landscape unroll, and thinking of nothing in particular. The train was running through mile after mile of flat, treeless country, liberally sprinkled with trapstones and clumps of tussock grass, which at a distance could be mistaken for couched sheep. Here and there stood a solitary she-oak, most doleful of trees, its scraggy, pine-needle foliage bleached to grey. From the several little stations along the line: mere three-sided sheds, which bore a printed invitation to intending passengers to wave a flag or light a lamp, did they wish to board the train: from these shelters long, bare, red roads, straight as ruled lines, ran back into the heart of the burnt-up, faded country. Now and then a moving ruddy cloud on one of them told of some vehicle crawling its laborious way.

When John, his memoranda digested, looked up ready to resume their talk, he found that Mahony was fast asleep; and, since his first words, loudly uttered, did not rouse him, he took out his case, chose a cigar, beheaded it and puffed it alight.

While he smoked, he studied his insensible relative. Mahony was sitting uncomfortably hunched up; his head had fallen forward and to the side, his mouth was open, his gloved hands lay limp on his knee.

“H’m!” said John to himself as he gazed. And: “H’m,” he repeated after an interval. — Then pulling down his waistcoat and generally giving himself a shake to rights, he reflected that, for his own two-and-forty years, he was a very well preserved man indeed.

Chapter 6

“Oh, Richard! . . . and my dress is blue,” said Mary distractedly, and sitting back on her heels let her arms fall to her sides. She was on her knees, and before her lay a cardboard box from which she had withdrawn a pink fan, pink satin boots with stockings to match, and a pink head-dress.

“Well, why the dickens didn’t you say so?” burst out the giver.

“I did, dear. As plainly as I could speak.”

“Never heard a word!”

“Because you weren’t listening. I told you so at the time. Now what am I to do?” and, in her worry over the contretemps, Mary quite forgot to thank her husband for the trouble he had been to on her behalf.

“Get another gown to go with them.”

“Oh, Richard . . . how like a man! After all the time and money this one has cost me. No, I couldn’t do that. Besides, Agnes Ocock is wearing pink and wouldn’t like it.” And with a forehead full of wrinkles she slowly began to replace the articles in their sheaths. “Of course they’re very nice,” she added, as her fingers touched the delicate textures.

“They would need to be, considering what I paid for them. I wish now I’d kept my money in my pocket.”

“Well, your mistake is hardly my fault, is it, dear?” But Richard had gone off in a mood midway between self-annoyance and the huff.

Mary’s first thought was to send the articles to Jinny with a request to exchange them for their counterparts in the proper colour. Then she dismissed the idea. Blind slave to her nursery that Jinny was, she would hardly be likely to give the matter her personal supervision: the box would just be returned to the shop, and the transfer left to the shop-people’s discretion. They might even want to charge more. No, another plan now occurred to Mary. Agnes Ocock might not yet have secured the various small extras to go with her ball-dress; and, if not, how nice it would be to make her a present of these. They were finer, in better taste, than anything to be had on Ballarat; and she had long owed Agnes some return for her many kindnesses. Herself she would just make do with the simpler things she could buy in town. And so, without saying anything to Richard, who would probably have objected that Henry Ocock was well able to afford to pay for his own wife’s finery, Mary tied up the box and drove to Plevna House, on the outer edge of Yuille’s Swamp.

“Oh, no, I could never have got myself such beautiful things as these, Mary,” and Mrs. Henry let her hands play lovingly with the silk stockings, her pretty face a-glow with pleasure. “Henry has no understanding, dear, for the etceteras of a costume. He thinks, if he pays for a dress or a mantle, that that is enough; and when the LITTLE bills come in, he grumbles at what he calls my extravagance. I sometimes wish, Mary, I had kept back just a teeny-weeny bit of my own money. Henry would never have missed it, and I should have been able to settle a small bill for myself now and then. But you know how it is at first, love. Our one idea is to hand over all we possess to our lord and master.” She tried on the satin boots; they were a little long, but she would stuff the toes with wadding. “If I am REALLY not robbing you, Mary?”

Mary reassured her, and thereupon a visit was paid to the nursery, where Mr. Henry’s son and heir lay sprawling in his cradle. Afterwards they sat and chatted on the verandah, while a basket was being filled with peaches for Mary to take home.

Not even the kindly drapery of a morning-wrapper could conceal the fact that Agnes was growing stout — quite losing her fine figure. That came of her having given up riding-exercise. And all to please Mr. Henry. He did not ride himself, and felt nervous or perhaps a little jealous when his wife was on horseback.

She was still very pretty of course — though by daylight the fine bloom of her cheeks began to break up into a network of tiny veins — and her fair, smooth brow bore no trace of the tragedy she has gone through. The double tragedy; for, soon after the master of Dandaloo’s death in a Melbourne lunatic asylum, the little son of the house had died, not yet fourteen years of age, in an Inebriate’s Home. Far was it from Mary to wish her friend to brood or repine; but to have ceased to remember as utterly as Agnes had done had something callous about it; and, in her own heart, Mary devoted a fresh regret to the memory of the poor little stepchild of fate.

The ball for which all these silken niceties were destined had been organised to raise funds for a public monument to the two explorers, Burke and Wills, and was to be one of the grandest ever given in Ballarat. His Excellency the Governor would, it was hoped, be present in person; the ladies had taken extraordinary pains with their toilettes. and there had been the usual grumblings at expense on the part of the husbands — though not a man but wished and privately expected HIS wife “to take the shine out of all the rest.”

Mary had besought Richard to keep that evening free — it was her lot always to go out to entertainments under some one else’s wing — and he had promised to do his utmost. But, a burnt child in this respect, Mary said she would believe it when she saw it; and the trend of events justified her scepticism. The night arrived; she was on the point of adjusting her wreath of forget-me-nots before her candle-lit mirror, when the dreaded summons came. Mahony had to change and hurry off, without a moment’s delay.

“Send for Purdy. He’ll see you across,” he said as he banged the front door.

But Mary despatched the gardener at a run with a note to Tilly Ocock, who, she knew, would make room for her in her double-seated buggy.

Grindle got out, and Mary, her bunchy skirts held to her, took his place at the back beside Mrs. Amelia. Tilly sat next the driver, and talked to them over her shoulder — a great big jolly rattle of a woman, who ruled her surroundings autocratically.

“Lor, no — we left ’im counting eggs,” she answered an inquiry on Mary’s part. “Pa’s got a brood of Cochin Chinas that’s the pride and glory of ‘is heart. And ‘e’s built ‘imself the neatest little place for ’em you could meet on a summer’s day: you MUST come over and admire it, my dear — that’ll please ’im, no end. It was a condition I made for ‘is going on keeping fowls. They were a perfect nuisance, all over the garden and round the kitchen and the back, till it wasn’t safe to put your foot down anywhere — fowls ARE such messy things! At last I up and said I wouldn’t have it any longer. So then ‘e and Tom set to work and built themselves a fowl-house and a run. And there they spend their days thinking out improvements.”

Here Tilly gave the driver a cautionary dig with her elbow; as she did this, an under-pocket chinked ominously. “Look out now, Davy, what you’re doing with us! — Yes, that’s splosh, Mary. I always bring a bag of change with me, my dear, so that those who lose shan’t have an excuse for not paying up.” Tilly was going to pass her evening, as usual, at the card-table. “Well, I hope you two’ll enjoy yourselves. Remember now, Mrs. Grindle, if you please, that you’re a married woman and must behave yourself, and not go in for any high jinks,” she teased her prim little stepdaughter, as they dismounted from the conveyance and stood straightening their petticoats at the entrance to the hall.

“You know, Matilda, I do not intend to dance to-night,” said Mrs Amelia in her sedate fashion: it was as if she sampled each word before parting with it.

“Oh, I know, bless you! and know why, too. If only it’s not another false alarm! Poor old pa’ so like to have a grandchild ‘e was allowed to carry round. ‘E mustn’n go near Henry’s, of course, for fear the kid ‘ud swallow one of ‘is dropped aitches and choke over it.” And Tilly threw back her head and laughed. “But you must hurry up, Mely, you know, if you want to oblige ’im.”

“Really, Tilly!” expostulated Mary. (“She sometimes DOES go too far,” she thought to herself. “The poor little woman!”) “Let us two keep together,” she said as she took Amelia’s arm. “I don’t intend to dance much either, as my husband isn’t here.”

But once inside the gaily decorated hall, she found it impossible to keep her word. Even on her way to a seat beside Agnes Ocock she was repeatedly stopped, and, when she sat down, up came first one, then another, to “request the pleasure.” She could not go on refusing everybody: if she did, it would look as if she deliberately set out to be peculiar — a horrible thought to Mary. Besides, many of those who made their bow were important, influential gentlemen; for Richard’s sake she must treat them politely.

For his sake, again, she felt pleased; rightly or wrongly she put the many attentions shown her down to the fact of her being his wife. So she turned and offered apologies to Agnes and Amelia, feeling at the same time thankful that Richard had not Mr. Henry’s jealous disposition. There sat Agnes, looking as pretty as a picture, and was afraid to dance with any one but her own husband. And he preferred to play at cards!

“I think, dear, you might have ventured to accept the Archdeacon for a quadrille,” she whispered behind her fan, as Agnes regretfully declined Mr. Long.

But Agnes shook her head. “It’s better not, Mary. It saves trouble afterwards. Henry DOESN’T care to see it.” Perhaps Agnes herself, once a passionate dancer, was growing a little too comfortable, thought Mary, as her own programme wandered from hand to hand.

Among the last to arrive was Purdy, red with haste, and making a great thump with his lame leg as he crossed the floor.

“I’m beastly late, Polly. What have you got left for me?”

“Why, really nothing, Purdy. I thought you weren’t coming. But you may put your name down here if you like,” and Mary handed him her programme with her thumb on an empty space: she generally made a point of sitting out a dance with Purdy that he might not feel neglected; and of late she had been especially careful not to let him notice any difference in her treatment of him. But when he gave back the card she found that he had scribbled his initials in all three blank lines. “Oh, you mustn’t do that. I’m saving those for Richard.”

“Our dance, I believe, Mrs. Mahony?” said a deep voice as the band struck up “The Rat Quadrilles.” And, swaying this way and that in her flounced blue tarletan, Mary rose, put her hand within the proffered crook, and went off with the Police Magistrate, an elderly greybeard; went to walk or be teetotumed through the figures of the dance, with the supremely sane unconcern that she displayed towards all the arts.

“What odd behaviour!” murmured Mrs. Henry, following Purdy’s retreating form with her eyes. “He took no notice of us whatever. And did you see, Amelia, how he stood and stared after Mary? Quite rudely, I thought.”

Here Mrs. Grindle was forced to express an opinion of her own — always a trial for the nervous little woman. “I think it’s because dear Mary looks so charming to-night, Agnes,” she ventured in her mouselike way. Then moved up to make room for Archdeacon Long, who laid himself out to entertain the ladies.

* * * * *

It was after midnight when Mahony reached home. He would rather have gone to bed, but having promised Mary to put in an appearance, he changed and walked down to the town.

The ball was at its height. He skirted the rotating couples, seeking Mary. Friends hailed him.

“Ah, well done, doctor!”

“Still in time for a spin, sir.”

“Have you seen my wife?”

“Indeed and I have. Mrs. Mahony’s the belle o’ the ball.”

“Pleased to hear it. Where is she now?”

“Look here, Mahony, we’ve had a reg’lar dispute,” cried Willie Urquhart pressing up; he was flushed and decidedly garrulous. “Almost came to blows we did, over whose was the finest pair o’ shoulders — your wife’s or Henry O.‘s. I plumped for Mrs. M., and I b’lieve she topped the poll. By Jove! that blue gown makes ’em look just like . . . what shall I say? . . . like marble.”

“Does fortune smile?” asked Mahony of Henry Ocock as he passed the card-players: he had cut Urquhart short with a nod. “So his Excellency didn’t turn up, after all?”

“Sent a telegraphic communication at the last moment. No, I haven’t seen her. But stay, there’s Matilda wanting to speak to you, I believe.”

Tilly was making all manner of signs to attract his attention.

“Good evening, doctor. Yes, I’ve a message. You’ll find ‘er in the cloakroom. She’s been in there for the last half-‘our or so. I think she’s got the headache or something of that sort, and is waiting for you to take ‘er home.”

“Oh, thank goodness, there you are, Richard!” cried Mary as he opened the door of the cloakroom; and she rose from the bench on which she had been sitting with her shawl wrapped round her. “I thought you’d never come.” She was pale, and looked distressed.

“Why, what’s wrong, my dear? . . . feeling faint?” asked Mahony incredulously. “If so, you had better wait for the buggy. It won’t be long now; you ordered it for two o’clock.”

“No, no, I’m not ill, I’d rather walk,” said Mary breathlessly. “Only please let us get away. And without making a fuss.”

“But what’s the matter?”

“I’ll tell you as we go. No, these boots won’t hurt. And I can walk in them quite well. Fetch your own things, Richard.” Her one wish was to get her husband out of the building.

They stepped into the street; it was a hot night and very dark. In her thin satin dancing-boots, Mary leaned heavily on Richard’s arm, as they turned off the street-pavements into the unpaved roads.

Mahony let the lights of the main street go past; then said: “And now, Madam Wife, you’ll perhaps be good enough to enlighten me as to what all this means?”

“Yes, dear, I will,” answered Mary obediently. But her voice trembled; and Mahony was sharp of hearing.

“Why, Polly sweetheart . . . surely nothing serious?”

“Yes, it is. I’ve had a very unpleasant experience this evening, Richard — very unpleasant indeed. I hardly know how to tell you. I feel so upset.”

“Come — out with it!”

In a low voice, with downcast eyes, Mary told her story. All had gone well till about twelve o’clock: she had danced with this partner and that, and thoroughly enjoyed herself. Then came Purdy’s turn. She was with Mrs. Long when he claimed her, and she at once suggested that they should sit out the dance on one of the settees placed round the hall, where they could amuse themselves by watching the dancers. But Purdy took no notice —“He was strange in his manner from the very beginning” — and led her into one of the little rooms that opened off the main body of the hall.

“And I didn’t like to object. We were conspicuous enough as it was, his foot made such a bumping noise; it was worse than ever to-night, I thought.”

For the same reason, though she had felt uncomfortable at being hidden away in there, she had not cared to refuse to stay: it seemed to make too much of the thing. Besides, she hoped some other couple would join them. But

“But, Mary. . .!” broke from Mahony; he was blank and bewildered.

Purdy, however, had got up after a moment or two and shut the door. And then —“Oh, it’s no use, Richard, I can’t tell you!” said poor Mary. “I don’t know how to get the words over my lips. I think I’ve never felt so ashamed in all my life.” And, worn out by the worry and excitement she had gone through, and afraid, in advance, of what she had still to face, Mary began to cry.

Mahony stood still; let her arm drop. “Do you mean me to understand,” he demanded, as if unable to believe his ears: “to understand that Purdy . . . dared to . . . that he dared to behave to you in any but a —” And since Mary was using her pocket-handkerchief and could not reply: “Good God! Has the fellow taken leave of his senses? Is he mad? Was he drunk? Answer me! What does it all mean?” And Mary still continuing silent, he threw off the hand she had replaced on his arm. “Then you must walk home alone. I’m going back to get at the truth of this.”

But Mary clung to him. “No, no, you must hear the whole story first.” Anything rather than let him return to the hall. Yes, at first she thought he really had gone mad. “I can’t tell you what I felt, Richard . . . knowing it was Purdy — just Purdy. To see him like that — looking so horrible — and to have to listen to the dreadful things he said! Yes, I’m sure he had had too too much to drink. His breath smelt so.” She had tried to pull away her hands; but he had held her, had put his arms round her.

At the anger she felt racing through her husband she tightened her grip, stringing meanwhile phrase to phrase with the sole idea of getting him safely indoors. Not till they were shut in the bedroom did she give the most humiliating detail of any: how, while she was still struggling to free herself from Purdy’s embrace, the door had opened and Mr. Grindle looked in. “He drew back at once, of course. But it was awful, Richard! I turned cold. It seemed to give me more strength, though. I pulled myself away and got out of the room, I don’t know how. My wreath was falling off. My dress was crumpled. Nothing would have made me go back to the ballroom. I couldn’t have faced Amelia’s husband — I think I shall never be able to face him again,” and Mary’s tears flowed anew.

Richard was stamping about the room, aimlessly moving things from their places. “God Almighty! he shall answer to me for this. I’ll go back and take a horsewhip with me.”

“For my sake, don’t have a scene with him. It would only make matters worse,” she pleaded.

But Richard strode up and down, treading heedlessly on the flouncings of her dress. “What? — and let him believe such behaviour can go unpunished? That whenever it pleases him, he can insult my wife — insult my wife? Make her the talk of the place? Brand her before the whole town as a light woman?”

“Oh, not the whole town, Richard. I shall have to explain to Amelia . . . and Tilly . . . and Agnes — that’s all,” sobbed Mary in parenthesis.

“Yes, and I ask if it’s a dignified or decent thing for you to have to do? — to go running round assuring your friends of your virtue!” cried Richard furiously. “Let me tell you this, my dear: at whatever door you knock, you’ll be met by disbelief. Fate played you a shabby trick when it allowed just that low cad to put his head in. What do you think would be left of any woman’s reputation after Grindle Esquire had pawed it over? No, Mary, you’ve been rendered impossible; and you’ll be made to feel it for the rest of your days. People will point to you as the wife who takes advantage of her husband’s absence to throw herself into another man’s arms; and to me as the convenient husband who provides the opportunity”— and Mahony groaned. In an impetuous flight of fancy he saw his good name smirched, his practice laid waste.

Mary lifted her head at this, and wiped her eyes. “Oh, you always paint everything so black. People know me — know I would never, never do such a thing.”

“Unfortunately we live among human beings, my dear, not in a community of saints! But what does a good woman know of how a slander of this kind clings?”

“But if I have a perfectly clear conscience?” Mary’s tone was incredulous, even a trifle aggrieved.

“It spells ruin all the same in a hole like this, if it once gets about.”

“But it shan’t. I’ll put my pride in my pocket and go to Amelia the first thing in the morning. I’ll make it right somehow. — But I must say, Richard, in the whole affair I don’t think you feel a bit sorry for me. Or at least only for me as your wife. The horridest part of what happened was mine, not yours — and I think you might show a little sympathy.”

“I’m too furious to feel sorry,” replied Richard with gaunt truthfulness, still marching up and down.

“Well, I do,” said Mary with a spice of defiance. “In spite of everything, I feel sorry that any one could so far forget himself as Purdy did to-night.”

“You’ll be telling me next you have warmer feelings still for him!” burst out Mahony. “Sorry for the crazy lunatic who, after all these years, after all I’ve done for him and the trust I’ve put in him, suddenly falls to making love to the woman who bears my name? Why, a madhouse is the only place he’s fit for.”

“There you’re unjust. And wrong, too. It . . . it wasn’t as sudden as you think. Purdy has been queer in his behaviour for quite a long time now.”

“What in Heaven’s name do you mean by that?”

“I mean what I say,” said Mary staunchly, though she turned a still deeper red. “Oh, you might just as well be angry with yourself for being so blind and stupid.”

“Do you mean to tell me you were aware of something?” Mahony stopped short in his perambulations and fixed her, open-mouthed.

“I couldn’t help it. — Not that there was much to know, Richard. And I thought of coming to you about it — indeed I did. I tried to, more than once. But you were always so busy; I hadn’t the heart to worry you. For I knew very well how upset you would be.”

“So it comes to this, does it?” said Mahony with biting emphasis. “My wife consents to another man paying her illicit attentions behind her husband’s back!”

“Oh, no, no, no! But I knew how fond you were of Purdy. And I always hoped it would blow over without . . . without coming to anything.”

“God forgive me!” cried Mahony passionately. “It takes a woman’s brain to house such a preposterous idea.”

“Oh, I’m not quite the fool you make me out to be, Richard. I’ve got some sense in me. But it’s always the same. I think of you, and you think of no one but yourself. I only wanted to spare you. And this is the thanks I get for it.” And sitting down on the side of the bed she wept bitterly.

“Will you assure me, madam, that till to-night nothing I could have objected to has ever passed between you?”

“No, Richard, I won’t! I won’t tell you anything else. You get so angry you don’t know what you’re saying. And if you can’t trust me better than that — Purdy said to-night you didn’t understand me . . . and never had.”

“Oh, he did, did he? There we have it! Now I’ll know every word the scoundrel has ever said to you — and if I have to drag it from you by force.”

But Mary set her lips, with an obstinacy that was something quite new in her. It first amazed Mahony, then made him doubly angry. One word gave another; for the first time in their married lives they quarrelled — quarrelled hotly. And, as always at such times, many a covert criticism a secret disapproval which neither had ever meant to breathe to the other, slipped out and added fuel to the fire. It was appalling to both to find on how many points they stood at variance.

Some half hour later, leaving Mary still on the edge of the bed, still crying, Mahony stalked grimly into the surgery and taking pen and paper scrawled, without even sitting down to do it:


Then he stepped on to the verandah and crossed the lawn, carrying the letter in his hand.

But already his mood was on the turn: it seemed as if, in the physical effort of putting the words to paper, his rage had spent itself. He was conscious now of a certain limpness, both of mind and body; his fit of passion over, he felt dulled, almost indifferent to what had happened. Now, too, another feeling was taking possession of him, opening up vistas of a desert emptiness that he hardly dared to face.

But stay! . . . was that not a movement in the patch of blackness under the fig-tree? Had not something stirred there? He stopped, and strained his eyes. No, it was only a bough that swayed in the night air. He went out of the garden to the corner of the road and came back empty handed. But at the same spot he hesitated, and peered. “Who’s there?” he asked sharply. And again: “Is there any one there?” But the silence remained unbroken; and once more he saw that the shifting of a branch had misled him.

Mary was moving about the bedroom. He ought to go to her and ask pardon for his violence. But he was not yet come to a stage when he felt equal to a reconciliation; he would rest for a while, let his troubled balance right itself. And so he lay down on the surgery sofa, and drew a rug over him.

He closed his eyes, but could not sleep. His thoughts raced and flew; his brain hunted clues and connections. He found himself trying to piece things together; to fit them in, to recollect. And every now and then some sound outside would make him start up and listen . . . and listen. Was that not a footstep? . . . the step of one who might come feeling his way . . . dim-eyed with regret? There were such things in life as momentary lapses, as ungovernable impulses — as fiery contrition . . . the anguish of remorse. And yet, once more, he sat up and listened till his ears rang.

Then, not the ghostly footsteps of a delusive hope, but a hard, human crunching that made the boards of the verandah shake. Tossing off the opossum-rug, which had grown unbearably heavy, he sprang to his feet; was wide awake and at the window, staring sleep-charged into the dawn, before a human hand had found the night-bell and a distracted voice cried:

“Does a doctor live here? A doctor, I say . . .?”

Chapter 7

The hot airless night had become the hot airless day: in the garden the leaves on trees and shrubs drooped as under an invisible weight. All the stale smells of the day before persisted — that of the medicaments on the shelves, of the unwetted dust on the roads, the sickly odour of malt from a neighbouring brewery. The blowflies buzzed about the ceiling; on the table under the lamp a dozen or more moths lay singed and dead. Now it was nearing six o’clock; clad in his thinnest driving-coat, Mahony sat and watched the man who had come to fetch him beat his horse to a lather.

“Mercy! . . . have a little mercy on the poor brute,” he said more than once.

He had stood out for some time against obeying the summons, which meant, at lowest, a ten-mile drive. Not if he were offered a hundred pounds down, was his first impetuous refusal; for he had not seen the inside of a bed that night. But at this he trapped an odd look in the other’s eyes, and suddenly became aware that he was still dressed as for the ball. Besides, an equally impetuous answer was flung back at him: he promised no hundred pounds, said the man — hadn’t got it to offer. He appealed solely to the doctor’s humanity: it was a question of saving a life — that of his only son. So here they were.

“We doctors have no business with troubles of our own,” thought Mahony, as he listened to the detailed account of an ugly accident. On the roof of a shed the boy had missed his footing, slipped and fallen some twenty feet, landing astride a piece of quartering. Picking himself up, he had managed to crawl home, and at first they thought he would be able to get through the night without medical aid. But towards two o’clock his sufferings had grown unbearable. God only knew if, by this time, he had not succumbed to them.

“My good man, one does not die of pain alone.”

They followed a flat, treeless road, the grass on either side of which was burnt to hay. Buggy and harness — the latter eked out with bits of string and an old bootlace — were coated with the dust of months; and the gaunt, long-backed horse shuffled through a reddish flour, which accompanied them as a choking cloud. A swarm of small black flies kept pace with the vehicle, settling on nose, eyes, neck and hands of its occupants, crawling over the horse’s belly and in and out of its nostrils. The animal made no effort to shake itself free, seemed indifferent to the pests: they were only to be disturbed by the hail of blows which the driver occasionally stood up to deliver. At such moments Mahony, too, started out of the light doze he was continually dropping into.

Arrived at their destination — a miserable wooden shanty on a sheep-run at the foot of the ranges — he found his patient tossing on a dirty bed, with a small pulse of 120, while the right thigh was darkly bruised and swollen. The symptoms pointed to serious internal injuries. He performed the necessary operation.

There was evidently no woman about the place; the coffee the father brought him was thick as mud. On leaving, he promised to return next day and to bring some one with him to attend to the lad.

For the home-journey, he got a mount on a young and fidgety mare, whom he suspected of not long having worn the saddle. In the beginning he had his hands full with her. Then, however, she ceased her antics and consented to advance at an easy trot.

HOW tired he felt! He would have liked to go to bed and sleep for a week on end. As it was, he could not reckon on even an hour’s rest. By the time he reached home the usual string of patients would await him; and these disposed of, and a bite of breakfast snatched, out he must set anew on his morning round. He did not feel well either: the coffee seemed to have disagreed with him. He had a slight sense of nausea and was giddy; the road swam before his eyes. Possibly the weather had something to do with it; though a dull, sunless morning it was hot as he had never known it. He took out a stud, letting the ends of his collar fly.

Poor little Mary, he thought inconsequently: he had hurt and frightened her by his violence. He felt ashamed of himself now. By daylight he could see her point of view. Mary was so tactful and resourceful that she might safely be trusted to hush up the affair, to explain away the equivocal position in which she had been found. After all, both of them were known to be decent, God-fearing people. And one had only to look at Mary to see that here was no light woman. Nobody in his senses — not even Grindle — could think evil of that broad, transparent brow, of those straight, kind, merry eyes.

No, this morning his hurt was a purely personal one. That it should just be Purdy who did him this wrong! Purdy, playmate and henchman, ally in how many a boyish enterprise, in the hardships and adventures of later life. “Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread!” Never had he turned a deaf ear to Purdy’s needs; he had fed him and clothed him, caring for him as for a well-loved brother. Surely few things were harder to bear than a blow in the dark from one who stood thus deeply in your debt, on whose gratitude you would have staked your head. It was, of course, conceivable that he had been swept off his feet by Mary’s vivid young beauty, by over-indulgence, by the glamour of the moment. But if a man could not restrain his impulses where the wife of his most intimate friend was concerned . . . Another thing: as long as Mary had remained an immature slip of a girl, Purdy had not given her a thought. When, however, under her husband’s wing she had blossomed out into a lovely womanhood, of which any man might be proud, then she had found favour in his eyes. And the slight this put on Mary’s sterling moral qualities, on all but her physical charms, left the worst taste of any in the mouth.

Then, not content with trying to steal her love, Purdy had also sought to poison her mind against him. How that rankled! For until now he had hugged the belief that Purdy’s opinion of him was coloured by affection and respect, by the tradition of years. Whereas, from what Mary had let fall, he saw that the boy must have been sitting in judgment on him, regarding his peculiarities with an unloving eye, picking his motives to pieces: it was like seeing the child of your loins, of your hopes, your unsleeping care, turn and rend you with black ingratitude. Yes, everything went to prove Purdy’s unworthiness. Only HE had not seen it, only he had been blind to the truth. And wrapped in this smug blindness he had given his false friend the run of his home, setting, after the custom of the country, no veto on his eternal presence. Disloyalty was certainly abetted by just the extravagant, exaggerated hospitality of colonial life. Never must the doors of your house be shut; all you had you were expected to share with any sundowner of fortune who chanced to stop at your gate.

The mare shied with a suddenness that almost unseated him: the next moment she had the bit between her teeth and was galloping down the road. Clomp-clomp-clomp went her hoofs on the baked clay; the dust smothered and stung, and he was holding for all he was worth to reins spanned stiff as iron. On they flew; his body hammered the saddle; his breath came sobbingly. But he kept his seat; and a couple of miles farther on he was down, soothing the wild-eyed, quivering, sweating beast, whose nostrils worked like a pair of bellows. There he stood, glancing now back along the road, now up at the sky. His hat had gone flying at the first unexpected plunge; he ought to return and look for it. But he shrank from the additional fatigue, the delay in reaching home this would mean. The sky was still overcast: he decided to risk it. Knotting his handkerchief he spread it cap-wise over his head and got back into the saddle.

Mine own familiar friend! And more than that: he could add to David’s plaint and say, my only friend. In Purdy the one person he had been intimate with passed out of his life. There was nobody to take the vacant place. He had been far too busy of late years to form new friendships: what was left of him after the day’s work was done was but a kind of shell: the work was the meaty contents. As you neared the forties, too, it grew ever harder to fit yourself to other people: your outlook had become too set, your ideas too unfluid. Hence you clung the faster to ties formed in the old, golden days, worn though these might be to the thinness of a hair. And then, there was one’s wife, of course — one’s dear, good wife. But just her very dearness and goodness served to hold possible intimates at arm’s length. The knowledge that you had such a confidante, that all your thoughts were shared with her, struck disastrously at a free exchange of privacies. No, he was alone. He had not so much as a dog now, to follow at heel and look up at him with the melancholy eyes of its race. Old Pompey had come at poison, and Mary had not wished to have a strange dog in the new house. She did not care for animals, and the main charge of it would have fallen on her. He had no time — no time even for a dog!

Better it would assuredly be to have some one to fall back on: it was not good for a man to stand so alone. Did troubles come, they would strike doubly hard because of it; then was the time to rejoice in a warm, human handclasp. And moodily pondering the reasons for his solitariness, he was once more inclined to lay a share of the blame on the conditions of the life. The population of the place was still in a state of flux: he and a mere handful of others would soon, he believed, be the oldest residents in Ballarat. People came and went, tried their luck, failed, and flitted off again, much as in the early days. What was the use of troubling to become better acquainted with a person, when, just as you began really to know him, he was up and away? At home, in the old country, a man as often as not died in the place where he was born; and the slow, eventless years, spent shoulder to shoulder, automatically brought about a kind of intimacy. But this was only a surface reason: there was another that went deeper. He had no talent for friendship, and he knew it; indeed, he would even invert the thing, and say bluntly that his nature had a twist in it which directly hindered friendship; and this, though there came moments when he longed, as your popular mortal never did, for close companionship. Sometimes he felt like a hungry man looking on at a banquet, of which no one invited him to partake, because he had already given it to be understood that he would decline. But such lapses were few. On nine days out of ten, he did not feel the need of either making or receiving confidences; he shrank rather, with a peculiar shy dread, from personal unbosomings. Some imp housed in him — some wayward, wilful, mocking Irish devil — bidding him hold back, remain cool, dry-eyed, in face of others’ joys and pains. Hence the break with Purdy was a real calamity. The associations of some five-and-twenty years were bound up in it; measured by it, one’s marriage seemed a thing of yesterday. And even more than the friend, he would miss the friendship and all it stood for: this solid base of joint experience; this past of common memories into which one could dip as into a well; this handle of “Do you remember?” which opened the door to such a wealth of anecdote. From now on, the better part of his life would be a closed book to any but himself; there were allusions, jests without number, homely turns of speech, which not a soul but himself would understand. The thought of it made him feel old and empty; affected him like the news of a death. — But MUST it be? Was there no other way out? Slow to take hold, he was a hundred times slower to let go. Before now he had seen himself sticking by a person through misunderstandings, ingratitude, deception, to the blank wonder of the onlookers. Would he not be ready here, too, to forgive . . . to forget?

But he felt hot, hot to suffocation, and his heart was pounding in uncomfortable fashion. The idea of stripping and plunging into ice-cold water began to make a delicious appeal to him. Nothing surpassed such a plunge after a broken night. But of late he had had to be wary of indulging: a bath of this kind, taken when he was over-tired, was apt to set the accursed tic a-going; and then he could pace the floor in agony. And yet . . . Good God, how hot it was! His head ached distractedly; an iron band of pain seemed to encircle it. With a sudden start of alarm he noticed that he had ceased to perspire — now he came to think of it, not even the wild gallop had induced perspiration. Pulling up short, he fingered his pulse. It was abnormal, even for him . . . and feeble. Was it fancy, or did he really find a difficulty in breathing? He tore off his collar, threw open the neck of his shirt. He had a sensation as if all the blood in his body was flying to his head: his face must certainly be crimson. He put both hands to this top-heavy head, to support it; and in a blind fit of vertigo all but lost his balance in the saddle: the trees spun round, the distance went black. For a second still he kept upright; then he flopped to the ground, falling face downwards, his arms huddled under him.

The mare, all her spirit gone, stood lamb-like and waited. As he did not stir she turned and sniffed at him, curiously. Still he lay prone, and, having stretched her tired jaws, she raised her head and uttered a whinny — an almost human cry of distress. This, too, failing in its effect, she nosed the ground for a few yards, then set out at a gentle, mane-shaking trot for home.

* * * * *

Found, a dark conspicuous heap on the long bare road, and carted back to town by a passing bullock-waggon, Mahony lay, once the death-like coma had yielded, and tossed in fever and delirium. By piecing his broken utterances together Mary learned all she needed to know about the case he had gone out to attend, and his desperate ride home. But it was Purdy’s name that was oftenest on his lips; it was Purdy he reviled and implored; and when he sprang up with the idea of calling his false friend to account, it was as much as she could do to restrain him.

She had the best of advice. Old Dr. Munce himself came two and three times a day. Mary had always thought him a dear old man; and she felt surer than ever of it when he stood patting her hand and bidding her keep a good heart; for they would certainly pull her husband through.

“There aren’t so many of his kind here, Mrs. Mahony, that we can afford to lose him.”

But altogether she had never known till now how many and how faithful their friends were. Hardly, for instance, had Richard been carried in, stiff as a log and grey as death, when good Mrs. Devine was fumbling with the latch of the gate, an old sunbonnet perched crooked on her head: she had run down just as she was, in the midst of shelling peas for dinner. She begged to be allowed to help with the nursing. But Mary felt bound to refuse. She knew how the thought of what he might have said in his delirium would worry Richard, when he recovered his senses: few men laid such weight as he on keeping their private thoughts private.

Not to be done, Mrs. Devine installed herself in the kitchen to superintend the cooking. Less for the patient, into whom at first only liquid nourishment could be injected, than: “To see as your own strength is kep’ up, dearie.” Tilly swooped down and bore off Trotty. Delicate fruits, new-laid eggs, jellies and wines came from Agnes Ocock; while Amelia Grindle, who had no such dainties to offer arrived every day at three o’clock, to mind the house while Mary slept. Archdeacon Long was also a frequent visitor, bringing not so much spiritual as physical aid; for, as the frenzy reached its height and Richard was maddened by the idea that a plot was brewing against his life, a pair of strong arms were needed to hold him down. Over and above this, letters of sympathy flowed in; grateful patients called to ask with tears in their eyes how the doctor did; virtual strangers stopped the servant in the street with the same query. Mary was sometimes quite overwhelmed by the kindness people showed her.

The days that preceded the crisis were days of keenest anxiety. But Mary never allowed her heart to fail her. For if, in the small things of life, she was given to building on a mortal’s good sense, how much more could she rely at such a pass on the sense of the One above all others. What she said to herself as she moved tirelessly about the sick room, damping cloths, filling the ice-bag, infiltering drops of nourishment, was: “God is good!” and these words, far from breathing a pious resignation, voiced a confidence so bold that it bordered on irreverence. Their real meaning was: Richard has still ever so much work to do in the world, curing sick people and saving their lives. God must know this, and cannot now mean to be so foolish as to WASTE him, by letting him die.

And her reliance on the Almighty’s far-sighted wisdom was justified. Richard weathered the crisis, slowly revived to life and health; and the day came when, laying a thin white hand on hers, he could whisper: “My poor little wife, what a fright I must have given you!” And added: “I think an illness of some kind was due — overdue — with me.”

When he was well enough to bear the journey they left home for a watering-place on the Bay. There, on an open beach facing the Heads, Mahony lay with his hat pulled forward to shade his eyes, and with nothing to do but to scoop up handfuls of the fine coral sand and let it flow again, like liquid silk, through his fingers. From beneath the brim he watched the water churn and froth on the brown reefs; followed the sailing-ships which, beginning as mere dots on the horizon, swelled to stately white waterbirds, and shrivelled again to dots; drank in, with greedy nostrils, the mixed spice of warm sea, hot seaweed and aromatic tea-scrub.

And his strength came back as rapidly as usual. He soon felt well enough, leaning on Mary’s arm, to stroll up and down the sandy roads of the township; to open book and newspaper; and finally to descend the cliffs for a dip in the transparent, turquoise sea. At the end of a month he was at home again, sunburnt and hearty, eager to pick up the threads he had let fall. And soon Mary was able to make the comfortable reflection that everything was going on just as before.

In this, however, she was wrong; never, in their united lives, would things be quite the same again. Outwardly, the changes might pass unnoticed — though even here, it was true, a certain name had now to be avoided, with which they had formerly made free. But this was not exactly hard to do, Purdy having promptly disappeared: they heard at second-hand that he had at last accepted promotion and gone to Melbourne. And since Mary had suffered no inconvenience from his thoughtless conduct, they tacitly agreed to let the matter rest. That was on the surface. Inwardly, the differences were more marked. Even in the mental attitude they adopted towards what had happened, husband and wife were thoroughly dissimilar. Mary did not refer to it because she thought it would be foolish to re-open so disagreeable a subject. In her own mind, however, she faced it frankly, dating back to it as the night when Purdy had been so odious and Richard so angry. Mahony, on the other hand, gave the affair a wide berth even in thought. For him it was a kind of Pandora’s box, of which, having once caught a glimpse of the contents, he did not again dare to raise the lid. Things might escape from it that would alter his whole life. But he, too, dated from it in the sense of suddenly becoming aware, with a throb of regret, that he had left his youth behind him. And such phrases as: “When I was young,” “In my younger days,” now fell instinctively from his lips.

Nor was this all. Deep down in Mary’s soul there slumbered a slight embarrassment; one she could not get the better of: it spread and grew. This was a faint, ever so faint a doubt of Richard’s wisdom. Odd she had long known him to be, different in many small and some great ways from those they lived amongst; but hitherto this very oddness of his had seemed to her an outgrowth on the side of superiority — fairer judgment, higher motives. Just as she had always looked up to him as rectitude in person, so she had thought him the embodiment of a fine, though somewhat unworldly wisdom. Now her faith in his discernment was shaken. His treatment of her on the night of the ball had shocked, confused her. She was ready to make allowance for him: she had told her story clumsily, and had afterwards been both cross and obstinate; while part of his violence was certainly to be ascribed to his coming breakdown. But this did not cover everything; and the ungenerous spirit in which he had met her frankness, his doubt of her word, of her good faith — his utter unreasonableness in short — had left a cold patch of astonishment in her, which would not yield. She lit on it at unexpected moments. Meanwhile, she groped for an epithet that would fit his behaviour. Beginning with some rather vague and high-flown terms she gradually came down, until with the sense of having found the right thing at last, she fixed on the adjective “silly”— a word which, for the rest, was in common use with Mary, had she to describe anything that struck her as queer or extravagant. And sitting over her fancywork, into which, being what Richard called “safe as the grave,” she sewed more thoughts than most women: sitting thus, she would say to herself with a half smile and an incredulous shake of the head: “SO silly!”

But hers was one of those inconvenient natures which trust blindly or not at all: once worked on by a doubt or a suspicion, they are never able to shake themselves free of it again. As time went on, she suffered strange uncertainties where some of Richard’s decisions were concerned. In his good intentions she retained an implicit belief; but she was not always satisfied that he acted in the wisest way. Occasionally it struck her that he did not see as clearly as she did; at other times, that he let a passing whim run away with him and override his common sense. And, her eyes thus opened, it was not in Mary to stand dumbly by and watch him make what she held to be mistakes. Openly to interfere, however, would also have gone against the grain in her; she had bowed for too long to his greater age and experience. So, seeing no other way out, she fell back on indirect methods. To her regret. For, in watching other women “manage” their husbands, she had felt proud to think that nothing of this kind was necessary between Richard and her. Now she, too, began to lay little schemes by which, without his being aware of it, she might influence his judgment, divert or modify his plans.

Her enforced use of such tactics did not lessen the admiring affection she bore him: that was framed to withstand harder tests. Indeed, she was even aware of an added tenderness towards him, now she saw that it behoved her to have forethought for them both. But into the wife’s love for her husband there crept something of a mother’s love for her child; for a wayward and impulsive, yet gifted creature, whose welfare and happiness depended on her alone. And it is open to question whether the mother dormant in Mary did not fall with a kind of hungry joy on this late-found task. The work of her hands done, she had known empty hours. That was over now. With quickened faculties, all her senses on the alert, she watched, guided, hindered, foresaw.

Chapter 8

Old Ocock failed in health that winter. He was really old now, was two or three and sixty; and, with the oncoming of the rains and cold, gusty winds, various infirmities began to plague him.

“He’s done himself rather too well since his marriage,” said Mahony in private. “After being a worker for the greater part of his life, it would have been better for him to work on to the end.”

Yes, that, Mary could understand and agree with. But Richard continued: “All it means, of course, is that the poor fellow is beginning to prepare for his last long journey. These aches and pains of his represent the packing and the strapping without which not even a short earthly journey can be undertaken. And his is into eternity.”

Mary, making lace over a pillow, looked up at this, a trifle apprehensively. “What things you do say! If any one heard you, they’d think you weren’t very . . . very religious.” Her fear lest Richard’s outspokenness should be mistaken for impiety never left her.

Tilly was plain and to the point. “Like a bear with a sore back that’s what ‘e is, since ‘e can’t get down among his blessed birds. He leads Tom the life of the condemned, over the feeding of those bantams. As if the boy could help ’em not laying when they ought!”

At thirty-six Tilly was the image of her mother. Entirely gone was the slight crust of acerbity that had threatened her in her maiden days, when, thanks to her misplaced affections, it had seemed for a time as if the purple prizes of life — love, offers of marriage, a home of her own — were going to pass her by. She was now a stout, high-coloured woman with a roar of a laugh, full, yet firm lips, and the whitest of teeth. Mary thought her decidedly toned down and improved since her marriage; but Mahony put it that the means Tilly now had at her disposal were such as to make people shut an eye to her want of refinement. However that might be, “old Mrs. Ocock” was welcomed everywhere — even by those on whom her bouncing manners grated. She was invariably clad in a thick and handsome black silk gown, over which she wore all the jewellery she could crowd on her person — huge cameo brooches, ear-drops, rings and bracelets, lockets and chains. Her name topped subscription-lists, and, having early weaned her old husband of his dissenting habits, she was a real prop to Archdeacon Long and his church, taking the chief and most expensive table at tea-meetings, the most thankless stall at bazaars. She kept open house, too, and gave delightful parties, where, while some sat at loo, others were free to turn the rooms upside-down for a dance, or to ransack wardrobes and presses for costumes for charades. She drove herself and her friends about in various vehicles, briskly and well, and indulged besides in many secret charities. Her husband thought no such woman had ever trodden the earth, and publicly blessed the day on which he first set eyes on her.

“After the dose I’d ‘ad with me first, ’twas a bit of a risk, that I knew. And it put me off me sleep for a night or two before’and. But my Tilly’s the queen o’ women — I say the queen, sir! I’ve never ‘ad a wrong word from ‘er, an’ when I go she gits every penny I’ve got. Why, I’m jiggered if she didn’t stop at ‘ome from the Races t’other day, an’ all on my account!”

“Now then, pa, drop it. Or the doctor’ll think you’ve been mixing your liquors. Give your old pin here and let me poultice it.”

He had another sound reason for gratitude. Somewhere in the background of his house dwelt his two ne’er-do-well sons; Tilly had accepted their presence uncomplainingly. Indeed she sometimes stood up for Tom, against his father. “Now, pa, stop nagging at the boy, will you? You’ll never get anything out of ’im that way. Tom’s right enough if you know how to take him. He’ll never set the Thames on fire, if that’s what you mean. But I’m thankful, I can tell you, to have a handy chap like him at my back. If I ‘ad to depend on your silly old paws, I’d never get anything done at all.”

And so Tom, a flaxen-haired, sheepish-looking man of something over thirty, led a kind of go-as-you-please existence about the place, a jack-of-all-trades — in turn carpenter, whitewasher, paper-hanger — an expert fetcher and carrier, bullied by his father, sheltered under his stepmother’s capacious wing. “It isn’t his fault ‘e’s never come to anything. ‘E hadn’t half a chance. The truth is, Mary, for all they say to the opposite, men are harder than women — so unforgiving-like. Just because Tom made a slip once, they’ve never let ’im forget it, but tied it to ‘is coat-tails for ’im to drag with ’im through life. Littleminded I call it. — Besides, if you ask me, my dear, it must have been a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other. Tom as sedoocer! — can you picture it, Mary? It’s enough to make one split.” And with a meaning glance at her friend, Tilly broke out in a contagious peal of laughter.

As for Johnny — well . . . and she shrugged her shoulders. “A bad egg’s bad, Mary, and no amount o’ cooking and doctoring ‘ll sweeten it. But he didn’t make ‘imself, did ‘e? — and my opinion is, parents should look to themselves a bit more than they do.”

As she spoke, she threw open the door of the little room where Johnny housed. It was an odd place. The walls were plastered over with newspaper-cuttings, with old prints from illustrated journals, with snippets torn off valentines and keepsakes. Stuck one on another, these formed a kind of loose wallpaper, which stirred in the draught. Tilly went on: “I see myself to it being kept cleanish; ‘e hates the girl to come bothering round. Oh, just Johnny’s rubbish!” For Mary had stooped curiously to the table which was littered with a queer collection of objects: matchboxes on wheels; empty reels of cotton threaded on strings; bits of wood shaped in rounds and squares; boxes made of paper; dried seaweed glued in patterns on strips of cardboard. “He’s for ever pottering about with ’em. What amusement ‘e gets out of it, only the Lord can tell.”

She did not mention the fact, known to Mary, that when Johnny had a drinking-bout it was she who looked after him, got him comfortably to bed, and made shift to keep the noise from his father’s ears. Yes, Tilly’s charity seemed sheerly inexhaustible.

Again, there was the case of Jinny’s children.

For in this particular winter Tilly had exchanged her black silk for a stuff gown, heavily trimmed with crepe. She was in mourning for poor Jinny, who had died not long after giving birth to a third daughter.

“Died OF the daughter, in more senses than one,” was Tilly’s verdict.

John had certainly been extremely put out at the advent of yet another girl; and the probability was that Jinny had taken his reproaches too much to heart. However it was, she could not rally; and one day Mary received a telegram saying that if she wished to see Jinny alive, she must come at once. No mention was made of Tilly, but Mary ran to her with the news, and Tilly declared her intention of going, too. “I suppose I may be allowed to say good-bye to my own sister, even though I’m not a Honourable?”

“Not that Jinn and I ever really drew together,” she continued as the train bore them over the ranges. “She’d too much of poor pa in ‘er. And I was all ma. Hard luck that it must just be her who managed to get such a domineering brute for a husband. You’ll excuse me, Mary, won’t you? — a domineering brute!”

“And to think I once envied her the match!” she went on meditatively, removing her bonnet and substituting a kind of nightcap intended to keep her hair free from dust. “Lauks, Mary, it’s a good thing fate doesn’t always take us at our word. We don’t know which side our bread’s buttered on, and that’s the truth. Why, my dear, I wouldn’t exchange my old boy for all the Honourables in creation!”

They were in time to take leave of Jinny lying white as her pillows behind the red rep hangings of the bed. The bony parts of her face had sprung into prominence, her large soft eyes fallen in. John, stalking solemnly and noiselessly in a long black coat, himself led the two women to the bedroom, where he left them; they sat down one on each side of the great fourposter. Jinny hardly glanced at her sister: it was Mary she wanted, Mary’s hand she fumbled for while she told her trouble. “It’s the children, Mary,” she whispered. “I can’t die happy because of the children. John doesn’t understand them.” Jinny’s whole existence was bound up in the three little ones she had brought into the world.

“Dearest Jinny, don’t fret. I’ll look after them for you, and take care of them,” promised Mary wiping away her tears.

“I thought so,” said the dying woman, relieved, but without gratitude: it seemed but natural to her, who was called upon to give up everything, that those remaining should make sacrifices. Her fingers plucked at the sheet. “John’s been good to me,” she went on, with closed eyes. “But . . . if it ‘adn’t been for the children . . . yes, the children. . . . I think I’d ‘a’ done better —” her speech lapsed oddly, after her years of patient practice —“to ‘ave taken . . . to ‘a’ taken”— the name remained unspoken.

Tilly raised astonished eyebrows at Mary. “Wandering!” she telegraphed in lip-language, forming the word very largely and distinctly; for neither knew of Jinny having had any but her one glorious chance.

Tilly’s big heart yearned over her sister’s forlorn little ones; they could be heard bleating like lambs for the mother to whom till now they had never cried in vain. Her instant idea was to gather all three up in her arms and carry them off to her own roomy, childless home, where she would have given them a delightful, though not maybe a particularly discriminating upbringing. But the funeral over, the blinds raised, the two ladies and the elder babes clad in the stiff, expensive mourning that befitted the widower’s social position, John put his foot down: and to Mary was extremely explicit: “Under no circumstances will I permit Matilda to have anything to do with the rearing of my children excellent creature though she be!”

On the other hand, he would not have been unwilling for Mary to mother them. This, of course, was out of the question: Richard had accustomed himself to Trotty, but would thank you, she knew, for any fresh encroachment on his privacy. Before leaving, however, she promised to sound him on the plan of placing Trotty as a weekly boarder at a Young Ladies’ Seminary, and taking the infant in her place. For it came out that John intended to set Zara — Zara, but newly returned from a second voyage to England and still sipping like a bee at the sweets of various situations — at the head of his house once more. And Mary could not imagine Zara rearing a baby.

Equally hard was it to understand John not having learnt wisdom from his two previous failures to live with his sister. But, in seeking tactfully to revive his memory, she ran up against such an ingrained belief in the superiority of his own kith and kin that she was baffled, and could only fold her hands and hope for the best.

“Besides, Jane’s children are infinitely more tractable than poor Emma’s,” was John’s parting shot. — Strange, thought Mary, how attached John was to his second family.

He had still another request to make of her. The reports he received of the boy Johnny, now a pupil at the Geelong Grammar School, grew worse from term to term. It had become clear to him that he was unfortunate enough to possess an out-and-out dullard for a son. Regretfully giving up, therefore, the design he had cherished of educating Johnny for the law, he had resolved to waste no more good money on the boy, but to take him, once he was turned fifteen, into his own business. Young John, however, had proved refractory, expressing a violent antipathy to the idea of office-life. “It is here that I should be glad of another opinion — and I turn to you, Mary, my dear. Jane was of no use whatever in such matters, none whatever, being, and very properly so, entirely wrapped up in her own children.” So Mary arranged to break her homeward journey at Geelong, for the purpose of seeing and summing up her nephew.

Johnny — he was Jack at school, but that, of course, his tomfools of relations couldn’t be expected to remember — Johnny was waiting on the platform when the train steamed in. “Oh, what a bonny boy!” said Mary to herself. “All poor Emma’s good looks.”

Johnny had been kicking his heels disconsolately: another of these wretched old women coming down to jaw him! He wished every one of them at the bottom of the sea. However he pulled himself together and went forward to greet his aunt: he was not in the least bashful. And as they left the station he took stock of her, out of the tail of his eye. With a growing approval: this one at any rate he needn’t feel ashamed of; and she was not so dreadfully old after all. Perhaps she mightn’t turn out quite such a wet blanket as the rest; though, from experience, he couldn’t connect any pleasure with relatives’ visits: they were nasty pills that had to be swallowed. He feared and disliked his father; Aunt Zara had been sheerly ridiculous, with her frills and simpers — the boys had imitated her for weeks after — and once, most shameful of all, his stepmother had come down and publicly wept over him. His cheeks still burnt at the remembrance; and he had been glad to hear that she was dead: served her jolly well right! But this Aunt Mary seemed a horse of another colour; and he did not sneak her into town by a back way, as he had planned to do before seeing her.

Greatly as Mary might admire the tall fair lad by her side, she found herself at a loss how to deal with him, the mind of a schoolboy of thirteen being a closed book to her. Johnny looked demure and answered “Yes, Aunt Mary,” to everything she said; but this was of small assistance in getting at the real boy inside.

Johnny had no intention, in the beginning, of taking her into his often-betrayed and badly bruised confidence. However a happy instinct led her to suggest a visit to a shop that sold brandy-snaps and gingerbeer; and this was too much for his strength of mind. Golly, didn’t he have a tuck-in! And a whole pound of bull’s-eyes to take back with him to school!

It was over the snaps, with an earth-brown moustache drawn round his fresh young mouth, the underlip of which swelled like a ripe cherry, that he blurted out: “I say, Aunt Mary, DON’T let the pater stick me in that beastly old office of his. I . . . I want to go to sea.”

“Oh, but Johnny! Your father would never consent to that, I’m sure.”

“I don’t see why not,” returned the boy in an aggrieved voice. “I hate figures and father knows it. I tell you I mean to go to sea.” And as he said it his lip shot out, and suddenly, for all his limpid blue eyes and flaxen hair, it was his father’s face that confronted Mary.

“He wouldn’t think it respectable enough, dear. He wants you to rise higher in the world, and to make money. You must remember who he is.”

“Bosh!” said Johnny. “Look at Uncle Ned . . . and Uncle Jerry . . . and the governor himself. He didn’t have to sit in a beastly old hole of an office when he was my age.”

“That was quite different,” said Mary weakly. “And as for your Uncle Jerry, Johnny — why, afterwards he was as glad as could be to get into an office at all.”

“Well, I’d sooner be hanged!” retorted young John. But the next minute flinging away dull care, he inquired briskly: “Can you play tipcat, Aunt Mary?” And vanquished by her air of kindly interest, he gave her his supreme confidence. “I say, don’t peach, will you, but I’ve got a white rat. I keep it in a locker under my bed.”


“Stuff and nonsense!” said John the father, and threw the letter from him. “I didn’t send Mary there to let the young devil get round her like that.” And thereupon he wrote to the Headmaster that the screw was to be applied to Johnny as never before. This was his last chance. If it failed, and his next report showed no improvement, he would be taken away without further ado and planked down under his father’s nose. No son of his should go to sea, he was damned if they should! For, like many another who has yielded to the wandering passion in his youth, John had small mercy on it when it reared its head in his descendants.

Chapter 9

Henry Ocock was pressing for a second opinion; his wife had been in poor health since the birth of her last child. Mahony drove to Plevna House one morning between nine and ten o’clock.

A thankless task lay before him. Mrs. Henry’s case had been a fruitful source of worry to him; and he now saw nothing for it but a straight talk with Henry himself.

He drove past what had once been the Great Swamp. From a bed of cattle-ploughed mud interspersed with reedy water-holes; in summer a dry and dust-swept hollow: from this, the vast natural depression had been transformed into a graceful lake, some three hundred acres in extent. On its surface pleasure boats lay at their moorings by jetties and boatsheds; groups of stiff-necked swans sailed or ducked and straddled; while shady walks followed the banks, where the whiplike branches of the willows, showing shoots of tenderest green, trailed in the water or swayed like loose harp-strings to the breeze.

All the houses that had sprung up round Lake Wendouree had well-stocked spreading grounds; but Ocock’s outdid the rest. The groom opening a pair of decorative iron gates which were the showpiece of the neighbourhood, Mahony turned in and drove past exotic firs, Moreton Bay fig-trees and araucarias; past cherished English hollies growing side by side with giant cacti. In one corner stood a rockery, where a fountain played and goldfish swam in a basin. The house itself, of brick and two-storeyed, with massive bay-windows, had an ornamental verandah on one side. The drawing-room was a medley of gilt and lustres, mirrors and glass shades; the finest objects from Dandaloo had been brought here, only to be outdone by Henry’s own additions. Yes, Ocock lived in grand style nowadays, as befitted one of the most important men in the town. His old father once gone — and Mahony alone knew why the latter’s existence acted as a drag — he would no doubt stand for Parliament.

Invited to walk into the breakfast-room, Mahony there found the family seated at table. It was a charming scene. Behind the urn Mrs. Henry, in be-ribboned cap and morning wrapper, dandled her infant; while Henry, in oriental gown and Turkish fez, had laid his newspaper by to ride his young son on his foot. Mahony refused tea or coffee; but could not avoid drawing up a chair, touching the peachy cheeks of the children held aloft for his inspection, and meeting a fire of playful sallies and kindly inquiries. As he did so, he was sensitively aware that it fell to him to break up the peace of this household. Only he knew the canker that had begun to eat at its roots.

The children borne off, Mrs. Henry interrogated her husband’s pleasure with a pretty: “May I?” or “Should I?” lift of the brows; and gathering that he wished her to retire, laid her small, plump hand in Mahony’s, sent a graceful message to “dearest Mary,” and swept the folds of her gown from the room. Henry followed her with a well-pleased eye — his opinion was no secret that, in figure and bearing, his wife bore a marked resemblance to her Majesty the Queen — and admonished her not to fail to partake of some light refreshment during the morning, in the shape of a glass of sherry and a biscuit. “Unless, my love, you prefer me to order cook to whip you up an egg-nog. — Mrs. Ocock is, I regret to say, entirely without appetite again,” he went on, as the door closed behind his wife. “What she eats is not enough to keep a sparrow going. You must prove your skill, doctor, and oblige us by prescribing a still more powerful tonic or appetiser. The last had no effect whatever.” He spoke from the hearthrug, where he had gone to warm his skirts at the wood fire, audibly fingering the while a nest of sovereigns in a waistcoat pocket.

“I feared as much,” said Mahony gravely; and therewith took the plunge.

When some twenty minutes later he emerged from the house, he was unaccompanied, and himself pulled the front door to behind him. He stood frowning heavily as he snapped the catches of his gloves, and fell foul of the groom over a buckle of the harness, in a fashion that left the man open-mouthed. “Blow me, if I don’t believe he’s got the sack!” thought the man in driving townwards.

The abrupt stoppage of Richard’s visits to Plevna House staggered Mary. And since she could get nothing out of her husband, she tied on her bonnet and went off hotfoot to question her friend. But Mrs. Henry tearfully declared her ignorance she had listened in fear and trembling to the sound of the two angry voices — and Henry was adamant. They had already called in another doctor.

Mary came home greatly distressed, and, Richard still wearing his obstinate front, she ended by losing her temper. He knew well enough, said she, it was not her way to interfere or to be inquisitive about his patients; but this was different; this had to do with one of her dearest friends; she must know. In her ears rang Agnes’s words: “Henry told me, love, he wouldn’t insult me by repeating what your husband said of me. Oh, Mary, isn’t it dreadful? And when I liked him so as a doctor!”— She now repeated them aloud.

This was too much for Mahony. He blazed up. “The confounded mischiefmonger — the backbiter! Well, if you will have it, wife, here you are . . . here’s the truth. What I said to Ocock was: I said, my good man, if you want your wife to get over her next confinement more quickly, keep the sherry-decanter out of her reach.”

Mary gasped and sank on a chair, letting her arms flop to her side. “Richard!” she ejaculated. “Oh, Richard, you never did!”

“I did indeed, my dear. — Oh well, not in just those words, of course; we doctors must always wrap the truth up in silver paper. — And I should feel it my duty to do the same again to-morrow; though there are pleasanter things in life, Mary, I can assure you, than informing a low mongrel like Ocock that his wife is drinking on the sly. You can have no notion, my dear, of the compliments one calls down on one’s head by so doing. The case is beyond my grasp, of course, and I am cloaking my own shortcomings by making scandalous insinuations against a delicate lady, who ‘takes no more than her position entitles her to’— his very words, Mary! —‘for the purpose of keeping up her strength.’” And Mahony laughed hotly.

“Yes, but was it — I mean . . . was it really necessary to say it?” stammered Mary still at sea. And as her husband only shrugged his shoulders: “Then I can’t pretend to be surprised at what has happened, Richard. Mr. Henry will NEVER forgive you. He thinks so much of everything and every one belonging to him.”

“Pray, can I help that? . . . help his infernal pride? And, good God, Mary, can’t you see that, far more terrible than my having had to tell him the truth, is the fact of there being such a truth to tell?”

“Oh yes, indeed I can,” and the warm tears rushed to Mary’s eyes. “Poor, poor little Agnes! — Richard, it comes of her having once been married to that dreadful man. And though she doesn’t say so, yet I don’t believe she’s really happy in her second marriage either. There are so many things she’s not allowed to do — and she’s afraid of Mr. Henry, I know she is. You see he’s displeased when she’s dull or unwell; she must always be bright and look pretty; and I expect the truth is, since her illness she has taken to taking things, just to keep her spirits up.” Here Mary saw a ray of light, and snatched at it. “But in that case mightn’t the need for them pass, as she grows stronger?”

“I lay no claim to be a prophet, my dear.”

“For it does seem strange that I never noticed anything,” went on Mary, more to herself than to him. “I’ve seen Agnes at all hours of the day . . . when she wasn’t in the least expecting visitors. — Yes, Richard, I do know people sometimes eat things to take the smell away. But the idea of Agnes doing anything so . . . so low — oh, isn’t it JUST possible there might be some mistake?”

“Oh, well, if you’re going to imitate Ocock and try to teach me my business!” gave back Mahony with an angry gesture, and sitting down at the table, he pulled books and papers to him.

“As if such a thing would ever occur to me! It’s only that . . . that somehow my brain won’t take it in. Agnes has always been such a dear good little soul, all kindness. She’s never done anybody any harm or said a hard word about any one, all the years I’ve known her. I simply CAN’T believe it of her, and that’s the truth. As for what people will say when it gets about that you’ve been shown the door in a house like Mr. Henry’s — why, I’m afraid even to think of it!” and powerless any longer to keep back her tears, Mary hastened from the room.

But she also thought it wiser to get away before Richard had time to frame the request that she should break off all intercourse with Plevna House. This, she could never promise to do; and the result might be a quarrel. Whereas if she avoided giving her word, she would be free to slip out now and then to see poor Agnes, when Richard was on his rounds and Mr. Henry at business. But this was the only point clear to her. In standing up for her friend she had been perfectly sincere: to think ill of a person she cared for, cost Mary an inward struggle. Against this, however, she had an antipathy to set that was almost stronger than herself. Of all forms of vice, intemperance was the one she hated most. She lived in a country where it was, alas! only too common; but she had never learnt to tolerate it, or to look with a lenient eye on those who succumbed: and whether these were but slaves of the nipping habit; or the eternal dram-drinkers who felt fit for nothing if they had not a peg inside them; or those seasoned topers who drank their companions under the table without themselves turning a hair; or yet again those who, sober for three parts of the year, spent the fourth in secret debauches. Herself she had remained as rigidly abstemious as in the days of her girlhood. And she often mused, with a glow at her heart, on her great good fortune in having found in Richard one whose views on this subject were no less strict than her own. Hence her distress at his disclosure was caused not alone by the threatened loss of a friendship: she wept for the horror with which the knowledge filled her.

Little by little, though, her mind worked round to what was, after all, the chief consideration: Richard’s action and its probable consequences. And here once more she was divided against herself. For a moment she had hoped her husband would own the chance of him being in error. But she soon saw that this would never do. A mistake on his part would be a blow to his reputation. Besides making enemies of people like the Henrys for nothing. If he had to lose them as patients, it might as well be for a good solid reason, she told herself with a dash of his own asperity. No, it was a case of either husband or friend. And though she pitied Agnes from the bottom of her heart, yet there were literally no lengths she would have shrunk from going to, to spare Richard pain or even anxiety. And this led her on to wonder whether, granted things were as he said, he had approached Mr. Henry in the most discreet way. Could he not have avoided a complete break? She sat and pondered this question till her head ached, finding herself up against the irreconcilability of the practical with the ideal which complicates a man’s working life. What she belatedly tried to think out for her husband was some little common-sense stratagem by means of which he could have salved his conscience, without giving offence. He might have said that the drugs he was prescribing would be nullified by the use of wine or spirits; even better, have warned Agnes in private. Somehow, it might surely have been managed. Mr. Henry had no doubt been extremely rude and overbearing; but in earlier years Richard had known how to behave towards ill-breeding. She couldn’t tell why, but he was finding it more and more difficult to get on with people nowadays. He certainly had a very great deal to do, and was often tired out. Again, he did not need to care so much as formerly whether he offended people or not — ordinary patients, that was; the Henrys, of course, were of the utmost consequence. Still, once on a time he had been noted for his tact; it was sad to see it leaving him in the lurch. Several times of late she had been forced to step in and smooth out awkwardnesses. But a week ago he had had poor little Amelia Grindle up in arms, by telling her that her sickly first-born would mentally never be quite like other children. To every one else this had been plain from the outset; but Amelia had suspected nothing, having, poor thing, no idea when a babe ought to begin to take notice or cut its teeth. Richard said it was better for her to face the truth betimes than to spend her life vainly hoping and fretting; indeed, it would not be right of him to allow it. Poor dear Richard! He set such store by truth and principle — and she, Mary, would not have had him otherwise. All the same, she thought that in both cases a small compromise would not have hurt him. But compromise he would not . . . or could not. And as, recalled to reality by the sight of the week’s washing, which strained, ballooned, collapsed, on its lines in the yard — Biddy was again letting the clothes get much too dry! — as Mary rose to her feet, she manfully squared her shoulders to meet the weight of the new burden that was being laid on them.

With regard to Mahony, it might be supposed that having faithfully done what he believed to be his duty, he would enjoy the fruits of a quiet mind. This was not so. Before many hours had passed he was wrestling with the incident anew; and a true son of that nation which, for all its level-headedness, spends its best strength in fighting shadows, he felt a great deal angrier in retrospect than he had done at the moment. It was not alone the fact of him having got his conge — no medico was safe from THAT punch below the belt. His bitterness was aimed at himself. Once more he had let himself be hoodwinked; had written down the smooth civility it pleased Ocock to adopt towards him to respect and esteem. Now that the veil was torn, he saw how poor the lawyer’s opinion of him actually was. And always had been. For a memory was struggling to emerge in him, setting strings in vibration. And suddenly there rose before him a picture of Ocock that time had dimmed. He saw the latter standing in the dark, crowded lobby of the court-house, cursing at him for letting their witness escape. There it was! There, in these two scenes, far apart as they lay, you had the whole man. The unctuous blandness, the sleek courtesy was but a mask, which he wore for you just so long as you did not hinder him by getting in his way. That was the unpardonable sin. For Ocock was out to succeed — to succeed at any price and by any means. In tracing his course, no goal but this had ever stood before him. The obligations that bore on your ordinary mortal — a sense of honesty, of responsibility to one’s fellows, the soft pull of domestic ties — did not trouble Ocock. He laughed them down, or wrung their necks like so many pullets. And should the poor little woman who bore his name become a drag on him, she would be tossed on to the rubbish-heap with the rest. In a way, so complete a freedom from altruistic motives had something grandiose about it. But those who ran up against it, and could not fight it with its own weapons, had not an earthly chance.

Thus Mahony sat in judgment, giving rein for once to his ingrained dislike for the man of whom he had now made an enemy. In whose debt, for the rest, he stood deep. And had done, ever since the day he had been fool enough, like the fly in the nursery rhyme, to seek out Ocock and his familiars in their grimy little “parlour” in Chancery Lane.

But his first heat spent he soon cooled down, and was able to laugh at the stagy explosiveness of his attitude. So much for the personal side of the matter. Looked at from a business angle it was more serious. The fact of him having been shown the door by a patient of Ocock’s standing was bound, as Mary saw, to react unfavourably on the rest of the practice. The news would run like wildfire through the place; never were such hotbeds of gossip as these colonial towns. Besides, the colleague who had been called in to Mrs. Agnes in his stead, was none too well disposed towards him.

His fears were justified. It quickly got about that he had made a blunder: all Mrs. Henry needed, said the new-comer, was change of air and scene; and forthwith the lady was packed off on a trial trip to Sydney. Mahony held his head high, and refused to notice looks and hints. But he knew all about what went on behind his back: he was morbidly sensitive to atmosphere; could tell how a house was charged as soon as he crossed the threshold. People were saying: a mistake there, why not here, too? Slow recoveries asked themselves if a fresh treatment might not benefit them; lovers of blue pills hungered for more drastic remedies. The disaffection would blow over, of course; but it was painful while it lasted; and things were not bettered by one of his patients choosing just this inconvenient moment to die — an elderly man, down with the Russian influenza, who disobeyed orders, got up too early and was carried off by double pneumonia inside a week. — Worry over the mishap robbed his poor medical attendant of sleep for several nights on end.

Not that this was surprising; he found it much harder than of old to keep his mind from running on his patients outside working-hours. In his younger days he had laid down fixed rules on this score. Every brainworker, he held, must in his spare time be able to detach his thoughts from his chief business, pin them to something of quite another kind, no matter how trivial: keep fowls or root round gardens, play the flute or go in for carpentry. Now, he might have dug till his palms blistered, it would not help. Those he prescribed for teased him like a pack of spirit-presences, which clamour to be heard. And if a serious case took a turn for the worse, he would find himself rising in a sweat of uncertainty, and going lamp in hand into the surgery, to con over a prescription he had written during the day. And one knew where THAT kind of thing led!

Now, as if all this were not enough, there was added to it the old, evergreen botheration about money.

Chapter 10

Thus far, Ocock had nursed his mining investments for him with a fatherly care. He himself had been free as a bird from responsibility. Every now and again he would drop in at the office, just to make sure the lawyer was on the alert; and each time he came home cheerful with confidence. That was over now. As a first result of the breach, he missed — or so he believed — clearing four hundred pounds. Among the shares he held was one lot which till now had proved a sorry bargain. Soon after purchase something had gone wrong with the management of the claim; there had been a lawsuit, followed by calls unending and never a dividend. Now, when these shares unexpectedly swung up to a high level — only to drop the week after to their standing figure — Ocock failed to sell out in the nick of time. Called to account, he replied that it was customary in these matters for his clients to advise him; thus deepening Mahony’s sense of obligation. Stabbed in his touchiness, he wrote for all his scrip to be handed over to him; and thereafter loss and gain depended on himself alone. It certainly brought a new element of variety into his life. The mischief was, he could get to his study of the money-market only with a fagged brain. And the fear lest he should do something rash or let a lucky chance slip kept him on tenter-hooks.

It was about this time that Mary, seated one evening in face of her husband, found herself reflecting: “When one comes to think of it, how seldom Richard ever smiles nowadays.”

For a wonder they were at a soiree together, at the house of one of Mahony’s colleagues. The company consisted of the inner circle of friends and acquaintances: “Always the same people — the old job lot! One knows before they open their mouths what they’ll say and how they’ll say it,” Richard had grumbled as he dressed. The Henry Ococks were not there though, it being common knowledge that the two men declined to meet; and a dash of fresh blood was present in the shape of a lady and gentleman just “out from home.” Richard got into talk with this couple, and Mary, watching him fondly, could not but be struck by his animation. His eyes lit up, he laughed and chatted, made merry repartee: she was carried back to the time when she had known him first. In those days his natural gravity was often cut through by a mood of high spirits, of boyish jollity, which, if only by way of contrast, rendered him a delightful companion. She grew a little wistful, as she sat comparing present with past. And loath though she was to dig deep, for fear of stirring up uncomfortable things, she could not escape the discovery that, in spite of all his success — and his career there had surpassed their dearest hopes — in spite of the natural gifts fortune had showered on him, Richard was not what you would call a happy man. No, nor even moderately happy. Why this should be, it went beyond her to say. He had everything he could wish for: yes, everything, except perhaps a little more time to himself, and better health. He was not as strong as she would have liked to see him. Nothing radically wrong, of course, but enough to fidget him. Might not this . . . this — he himself called it “want of tone”— be a reason for the scant pleasure he got out of life? And: “I think I’ll pop down and see Dr. Munce about him one morning, without a word to him,” was how she eased her mind and wound up her reverie.

But daylight, and the most prosaic hours of the twenty-four, made the plan look absurd.

Once alive though to his condition, she felt deeply sorry for him in his patent inability ever to be content. It was a thousand pities. Things might have run so smoothly for him, he have got so much satisfaction out of them, if only he could have braced himself to regard life in cheerier fashion. But at this Mary stopped . . . and wondered . . . and wondered. Was that really true? Positively her experiences of late led her to believe that Richard would be less happy still if he had nothing to be unhappy about. — But dear me! this was getting out of her depth altogether. She shook her head and rebuked herself for growing fanciful.

All the same, her new glimpse of his inmost nature made her doubly tender of thwarting him; hence, she did not set her face as firmly as she might otherwise have done, against a wild plan he now formed of again altering, or indeed rebuilding the house; although she could scarcely think of it with patience. She liked her house so well as it stood; and it was amply big enough: there was only the pair of them . . . and John’s child. It had the name, she knew, of being one of the most comfortable and best-kept in Ballarat. Brick for solidity, where wood prevailed, with a wide snowy verandah up the posts of which rare creepers ran, twining their tendrils one with another to form a screen against the sun. Now, what must Richard do but uproot the creepers and pull down the verandah, thus baring the walls to the fierce summer heat; plaster over the brick; and, more outlandish still, add a top storey. When she came back from Melbourne, where she had gone a-visiting to escape the upset — Richard, ordinarily so sensitive, had managed to endure it quite well, thus proving that he COULD put up with discomfort if he wanted to — when she saw it again, Mary hardly recognised her home. Personally she thought it ugly, for all its grandeur; changed wholly for the worse. Nor did time ever reconcile her to the upper storey. Domestic worries bred from it: the servant went off in a huff because of the stairs; they were at once obliged to double their staff. To cap it all, with its flat front unbroken by bay or porch, the house looked like no other in the town. Now, instead of passing admiring remarks, people stood stock-still before the gate to laugh at its droll appearance.

Yet, she would gladly have made the best of this, had Richard been the happier for it. He was not — or only for the briefest of intervals. Then his restlessness broke out afresh.

There came days when nothing suited him; not his fine consulting room, or the improved furnishings of the house, or even her cookery of which he had once been so fond. He grew dainty to a degree; she searched her cookery-book for piquant recipes. Next he fell to imagining it was unhealthy to sleep on feathers, and went to the expense of having a hard horsehair mattress made to fit the bed. Accustomed to the softest down, he naturally tossed and turned all night long, and rose in the morning declaring he felt as though he had been beaten with sticks. The mattress was stowed away in a lean-to behind the kitchen, and there it remained. It was not alone. Mary sometimes stood and considered, with a rueful eye, the many discarded objects that bore it company. Richard — oddly enough he was ever able to poke fun at himself — had christened this outhouse “the cemetery of dead fads.” Here was a set of Indian clubs he had been going to harden his muscles with every morning, and had used for a week; together with an india-rubber gymnastic apparatus bought for the same purpose. Here stood a patent shower-bath, that was to have dashed energy over him after a bad night, and had only succeeded in giving him acute neuralgia; a standing-desk he had broken his back at for a couple of days; a homoeopathic medicine-chest and a phrenological head — both subjects he had meant to satisfy his curiosity by looking into, had time not failed him. Mary sighed, when she thought of the waste of good money these and similar articles stood for. (Some day he would just have them privately carted away to auction!) But if Richard set his heart on a thing he wanted it so badly, so much more than other people did, that he knew no peace till he had it.

Mahony read in his wife’s eyes the disapproval she was too wise to utter. At any other time her silent criticism would have galled him; in this case, he took shelter behind it. Let her only go on setting him down for lax and spendthrift, incapable of knowing his own mind. He would be sorry, indeed, for her to guess how matters really stood with him. The truth was, he had fallen a prey to utter despondency, was become so spiritless that it puzzled even himself. He thought he could trace some of the mischief back to the professional knocks and jars Ocock’s action had brought down on him: to hear one’s opinion doubted, one’s skill questioned, was the tyro’s portion; he was too old to treat such insolence with the scorn it deserved. Of course he had lived the affair down; but the result of it would seem to be a bottomless ENNUI, a TEDIUM VITAE that had something pathological about it. Under its influence the homeliest trifles swelled to feats beyond his strength. There was, for instance, the putting on and off one’s clothing: this infinite boredom of straps and buttons — and all for what? For a day that would be an exact copy of the one that had gone before, a night as unrefreshing as the last. Did any one suspect that there were moments when he quailed before this job, suspect that more than once he had even reckoned the number of times he would be called on to perform it, day in, day out, till that garment was put on him that came off no more; or that he could understand and feel sympathy with those faint souls — and there were such — who laid hands on themselves rather than go on doing it: did this get abroad, he would be considered ripe for Bedlam.

Physician, heal thyself! He swallowed doses of a tonic preparation, and put himself on a fatty diet.

Thereafter he tried to take a philosophic view of his case. He had now, he told himself, reached an age when such a state of mind gave cause neither for astonishment nor alarm. How often had it not fallen to him, in his role of medical adviser, to reassure a patient on this score. The arrival of middle age brought about a certain lowness of spirits in even the most robust: along with a more or less marked bodily languor went an uneasy sense of coming loss: the time was at hand to bid farewell to much that had hitherto made life agreeable; and for most this was a bitter pill. Meanwhile, one held a kind of mental stocktaking. As often as not by the light of a complete disillusionment. Of the many glorious things one had hoped to do — or to be — nothing was accomplished: the great realisation, in youth breathlessly chased but never grasped, was now seen to be a mist-wraith, which could wear a thousand forms, but invariably turned to air as one came up with it. In nine instances out of ten there was nothing to put in its place; and you began to ask yourself in a kind of horrific amaze: “Can this be all? . . . THIS? For this the pother of growth, the struggles, and the sufferings?” The soul’s climacteric, if you would, from which a mortal came forth dulled to resignation; or greedy for the few physical pleasures left him; or prone to that tragic clinging to youth’s skirts, which made the later years of many women and not a few men ridiculous. In each case the motive power was the same: the haunting fear that one had squeezed life dry; worse still, that it had not been worth the squeezing.

Thus his reason. But, like a tongue of flame, his instinct leapt up to give combat. By the gods, this cap did NOT fit him! Squeezed life try? . . . found it not worth while? Why, he had never got within measurable distance of what he called life, at all! There could be no question of him resigning himself: deep down in him, he knew, was an enormous residue of vitality, of untouched mental energy that only waited to be drawn on. It was like a buried treasure, jealously kept for the event of his one day catching up with life: not the bare scramble for a living that here went by that name, but Life with a capital L, the existence he had once confidently counted on as his — a tourney of spiritual adventuring, of intellectual excitement, in which the prize striven for was not money or anything to do with money. Far away, thousands of miles off, luckier men than he were in the thick of it. He, of his own free will, had cut himself adrift, and now it was too late.

But was it? Had the time irretrievably gone by? The ancient idea of escape, long dormant, suddenly reawoke in him with a new force. And, once stirring, it was not to be silenced, but went on sounding like a ground-tone through all he did. At first he shut his ears to it, to dally with side issues. For example, he worried the question why the breaking-point should only now have been reached and not six months, a year ago. It was quibbling to lay the whole blame on Ocock’s shoulders. The real cause went deeper, was of older growth. And driving his mind back over the past, he believed he could pin his present loss of grip to that fatal day on which he learnt that his best friend had betrayed him. Things like that gave you a crack that would not mend. He had been rendered suspicious where he had once been credulous; prone to see evil where no evil was. For, deceived by Purdy, in whom could he trust? Of a surety not in the pushful set of jobbers and tricksters he was condemned to live amongst. No discoveries he might make about them would surprise him. — And once more the old impotent anger with himself broke forth, that he should ever have let himself take root in such detestable surroundings.

Why not shake the dust of the country off his feet? — From this direct attack he recoiled, casting up his hands as if against the evil eye. What next? But exclaim as he might, now that the idea had put on words, it was by no means so simple to fend it off as when it had been a mere vague humming at the back of his mind. It seized him; swept his brain bare of other thoughts. He began to look worn. And never more so than when he imagined himself taking the bull by the horns and asking Mary’s approval of his wild-goose scheme. He could picture her face, when she heard that he planned throwing up his fine position and decamping on nothing a year. The vision was a cold douche to his folly. No, no! it would not do. You could not accustom a woman to ease and luxury and then, when you felt YOU had had enough and would welcome a return to Spartan simplicity, to an austere clarity of living, expect her to be prepared, at the word, to step back into poverty. One was bound . . . bound . . . and by just those silken threads which, in premarital days, had seemed sheerly desirable. He wondered now what it would be like to stand free as the wind, answerable only to himself. The bare thought of it filled him as with the rushing of wings.

Once he had been within an ace of cutting and running. That was in the early days, soon after his marriage. Trade had petered out; and there would have been as little to leave behind as to carry with him. But, even so, circumstances had proved too strong for him: what with Mary’s persuasions and John’s intermeddling, his scheme had come to nothing. And if, with so much in his favour, he had not managed to carry it out, how in all the world could he hope to now, when every thing conspired against him. It was, besides, excusable in youth to challenge fortune; a very different matter for one of his age.

Of his age! . . . the words gave him pause. By their light he saw why he had knuckled under so meekly, at the time of his first attempt. It was because then a few years one way or another did not signify; he had them to spare. Now, each individual year was precious to him; he parted with it lingeringly, unwillingly. Time had taken to flashing past, too; Christmas was hardly celebrated before it was again at the door. Another ten years or so and he would be an old man, and it would in very truth be too late. The tempter voice — in this case also the voice of reason — said: now or never!

But when he came to look the facts in the face his heart failed him anew, so heavily did the arguments against his taking such a step — and, true to his race, it was these he began by marshalling — weigh down the scales. He should have done it, if done it was to be, five . . . three . . . even a couple of years ago. Each day that dawned added to the tangle, made the idea seem more preposterous. Local dignities had been showered on him: he sat on the Committees of the District Hospital and the Benevolent Asylum; was Honorary Medical Officer to this Society and that; a trustee of the church; one of the original founders of the Mechanics’ Institute; vice-president of the Botanical Society; and so on, AD INFINITUM. His practice was second to none; his visiting-book rarely shewed a blank space; people drove in from miles round to consult him. In addition, he had an extremely popular wife, a good house and garden, horses and traps, and a sure yearly income of some twelve or thirteen hundred. Of what stuff was he made, that he could lightly contemplate turning his back on prizes such as these?

Even as he told them off, however, the old sense of hollowness was upon him again. His life there reminded him of a gaudy drop-scene, let down before an empty stage; a painted sham, with darkness and vacuity behind. At bottom, none of these distinctions and successes meant anything to him; not a scrap of mental pabulum could be got from them: rather would he have chosen to be poor and a nobody among people whose thoughts flew to meet his half-way. And there was also another side to it. Stingy though the years had been of intellectual grist, they had not scrupled to rob him of many an essential by which he set store. His old faculty — for good or evil — of swift decision, for instance. It was lost to him now; as witness his present miserable vacillation. It had gone off arm-in-arm with his health; physically he was but a ghost of the man he had once been. But the bitterest grudge he bore the life was for the shipwreck it had made of his early ideals. He remembered the pure joy, the lofty sentiments with which he had returned to medicine. Bah! — there had been no room for any sentimental nonsense of that kind here. He had long since ceased to follow his profession disinterestedly; the years had made a hack of him — a skilled hack, of course — but just a hack. He had had no time for study; all his strength had gone in keeping his income up to a certain figure; lest the wife should be less well dressed and equipped than her neighbours; or patients fight shy of him; or his confreres wag their tongues. — Oh! he had adapted himself supremely well to the standards of this Australia, so-called Felix. And he must not complain if, in so doing, he had been stripped, not only of his rosy dreams, but also of that spiritual force on which he could once have drawn at will. Like a fool he had believed it possible to serve mammon with impunity, and for as long as it suited him. He knew better now. At this moment he was undergoing the sensations of one who, having taken shelter in what he thinks a light and flimsy structure, finds that it is built of the solidest stone. Worse still: that he has been walled up inside.

And even suppose he COULD pull himself together for the effort required, how justify his action in the eyes of the world? His motives would be double-dutch to the hard-headed crew around him; nor would any go to the trouble of trying to understand. There was John. All John would see was an elderly and not over-robust man deliberately throwing away the fruits of year-long toil — and for what? For the privilege of, in some remote spot, as a stranger and unknown, having his way to make all over again; of being free to shoulder once more the risks and hazards the undertaking involved. And little though he cared for John or any one else’s opinion, Mahony could not help feeling a trifle sore, in advance, at the ridicule of which he might be the object, at the zanyish figure he was going to be obliged to cut.

But a fig for what people thought of him! Once away from here he would, he thanked God, never see any of them again. No, it was Mary who was the real stumbling-block, the opponent he most feared. Had he been less attached to her, the thing would have been easier; as it was, he shrank from hurting her. And hurt and confuse her he must. He knew Mary as well — nay, better than he knew his own unreckonable self. For Mary was not a creature of moods, did not change her mental envelope a dozen times a day. And just his precise knowledge of her told him that he would never get her to see eye to eye with him. Her clear, serene outlook was attuned to the plain and the practical; she would discover a thousand drawbacks to his scheme, but nary a one of the incorporeal benefits he dreamed of reaping from it. There was his handling of money for one thing: she had come, he was aware, to regard him as incurably extravagant; and it would be no easy task to convince her that he could learn again to fit his expenses to a light purse. She had a woman’s instinctive distrust, too, of leaving the beaten track. Another point made him still more dubious. Mary’s whole heart and happiness were bound up in this place where she had spent the flower-years of her life: who knew if she would thrive as well on other soil? He found it intolerable to think that she might have to pay for his want of stability. — Yes, reduced to its essentials, it came to mean the pitting of one soul’s welfare against that of another; was a toss-up between his happiness and hers. One of them would have to yield. Who would suffer more by doing so — he or she? He believed that a sacrifice on his part would make the wreck of his life complete. On hers — well, thanks to her doughty habit of finding good everywhere, there was a chance of her coming out unscathed.

Here was his case in a nutshell.

Still he did not tackle Mary. For sometimes, after all, a disturbed doubt crept upon him whether it would not be possible to go on as he was; instead of, as she would drastically word it, cutting his throat with his own hand. And to be perfectly honest, he believed it would. He could now afford to pay for help in his work; to buy what books he needed or fancied; to take holidays while putting in a LOCUM; even to keep on the LOCUM, at a good salary, while he journeyed overseas to visit the land of his birth. But at this another side of him — what he thought of as spirit, in contradistinction to soul — cried out in alarm, fearful lest it was again to be betrayed. Thus far, though by rights coequal in the house of the body, it had been rigidly kept down. Nevertheless it had persisted, like a bright cold little spark at dead of night: his restlessness, the spiritual malaise that encumbered him had been its mute form of protest. Did he go on turning a deaf ear to its warnings, he might do himself irreparable harm. For time was flying, the sum of his years mounting, shrinking that roomy future to which he had thus far always postponed what seemed too difficult for the moment. Now he saw that he dared delay no longer in setting free the imprisoned elements in him, was he ever to grow to that complete whole which each mortal aspires to be. — That a change of environment would work this miracle he did not doubt; a congenial environment was meat and drink to him, was light and air. Here in this country, he had remained as utterly alien as any Jew of old who wept by the rivers of Babylon. And like a half-remembered tune there came floating into his mind words he had lit on somewhere, or learnt on the school-bench — Horace, he thought, but, whatever their source, words that fitted his case to a nicety. COELUM, NON ANIMUM, MUTANT, QUI TRANS MARE CURRUNT. “Non animum”? Ah! could he but have foreseen this — foreknown it. If not before he set sail on what was to have been but a swift adventure, then at least on that fateful day long past when, foiled by Mary’s pleadings and his own inertia, he had let himself be bound anew.

Thus the summer dragged by; a summer to try the toughest. Mahony thought he had never gone through its like for heat and discomfort. The drought would not break, and on the great squatting-stations round Ballarat and to the north, the sheep dropped like flies at an early frost. The forest reservoirs dried up, displaying the red mud of their bottoms, and a bath became a luxury — or a penance — the scanty water running thick and red. Then the bush caught fire and burnt for three days, painting the sky a rusty brown, and making the air hard to breathe. Of a morning his first act on going into his surgery was to pick up the thermometer that stood on the table. Sure as fate, though the clock had not long struck nine, the mercury marked something between a hundred and a hundred and five degrees. He let it fall with a nerveless gesture. Since his sunstroke he not only hated, he feared the sun. But out into it he must, to drive through dust-clouds so opaque that one could only draw rein till they subsided, meanwhile holloaing off collisions. Under the close leather hood he sat and stifled; or, removing his green goggles for the fiftieth time, climbed down to enter yet another baked wooden house, where he handled prostrate bodies rank with sweat, or prescribed for pallid or fever-speckled children. Then home, to toy with the food set before him, his mind already running on the discomforts of the afternoon. — Two bits of ill-luck came his way this summer. Old Ocock fell, in dismounting from a vehicle, and sustained a compound fracture of the femur. Owing to his advanced age there was for a time fear of malunion of the parts, and this kept Mahony on the rack. Secondly, a near neighbour, a common little fellow who kept a jeweller’s shop in Bridge Street, actually took the plunge: sold off one fine day and sailed for home. And this seemed the unkindest cut of all.

But the accident that gave the death-blow to his scruples was another. On the advice of a wealthy publican he was treating, whose judgment he trusted, Mahony had invested — heavily for him, selling off other stock to do it — in a company known as the Hodderburn Estate. This was a government affair and ought to have been beyond reproach. One day, however, it was found that the official reports of the work done by the diamond drill-bore were cooked documents; and instantly every one connected with the mine — directors, managers, engineers — lay under the suspicion of fraudulent dealings. Shares had risen as high as ten pounds odd; but when the drive reached the bore and, in place of the deep gutter-ground the public had been led to expect, hard rock was found overhead, there was a panic; shares dropped to twenty-five shillings and did not rally. Mahony was a loser by six hundred pounds, and got, besides, a moral shaking from which he could not recover. He sat and bit his little-finger nail to the quick. Was he, he savagely asked himself, going to linger on until the little he had managed to save was snatched from him?

He dashed off a letter to John, asking his brother-in-law to recommend a reliable broker. And this done, he got up to look for Mary, determined to come to grips with her at last.

Chapter 11

How to begin, how reduce to a few plain words his subtle tangle of thought and feeling, was the problem.

He did not find his wife on her usual seat in the arbour. In searching for her, upstairs and down, he came to a rapid decision. He would lay chief stress on his poor state of health.

“I feel I’m killing myself. I can’t go on.”

“But Richard dear!” ejaculated Mary, and paused in her sewing, her needle uplifted, a bead balanced on its tip. Richard had run her to earth in the spare bedroom, to which at this time she often repaired. For he objected to the piece of work she had on hand — that of covering yards of black cashmere with minute jet beads — vowing that she would ruin her eyesight over it. So, having set her heart on a fashionable polonaise, she was careful to keep out of his way.

“I’m not a young man any longer, wife. When one’s past forty . . .”

“Poor mother used to say forty-five was a man’s prime of life.”

“Not for me. And not here in this God-forsaken hole!”

“Oh dear me! I do wonder why you have such a down on Ballarat. I’m sure there must be many worse places in the world to live in”, and lowering her needle, Mary brought the bead to its appointed spot. “Of course you have a lot to do, I know, and being such a poor sleeper doesn’t improve matters.” But she was considering her pattern sideways as she spoke, thinking more of it than of what she said. Every one had to work hard out here; compared with some she could name, Richard’s job of driving round in a springy buggy seemed ease itself. “Besides I told you at the time you were wrong not to take a holiday in winter, when you had the chance. You need a thorough change every year to set you up. You came back from the last as fresh as a daisy.”

“The only change that will benefit me is one for good and all,” said Mahony with extreme gloom. He had thrown up the bed-curtain and stretched himself on the bed, where he lay with his hands clasped under his neck.

Tutored by experience, Mary did not contradict him.

“And it’s the kind I’ve finally made up my mind to take.”

“Richard! How you do run on!” and Mary, still gently incredulous but a thought wider awake, let her work sink to her lap. “What is the use of talking like that?”

“Believe it or not, my dear, as you choose. You’ll see — that’s all.”

At her further exclamations of doubt and amazement, Mahony’s patience slipped its leash. “Surely to goodness my health comes first . . . before any confounded practice?”

“Ssh! Baby’s asleep. — And don’t get cross, Richard. You can hardly expect me not to be surprised when you spring a thing of this sort on me. You’ve never even dropped a hint of it before.”

“Because I knew very well what it would be. You dead against it, of course!”

“Now I call that unjust. You’ve barely let me get a word in edgeways.”

“Oh, I know by heart everything you’re going to say. It’s nonsense . . . folly . . . madness . . . and so on: all the phrases you women fish up from your vocabulary when you want to stave off a change — hinder any alteration of the STATUS QUO. But I’ll tell you this, wife. You’ll bury me here, if I don’t get away soon. I’m not much more than skin and bone as it is. And I confess, if I’ve got to be buried I’d rather lie elsewhere — have good English earth atop of me.”

Had Mary been a man, she might have retorted that this was a very woman’s way of shifting ground. She bit her lip and did not answer immediately. Then: “You know I can’t bear to hear you talk like that, even in fun. Besides, you always say much more than you mean, dear.”

“Very well then, if you prefer it, wait and see! You’ll be sorry some day.”

“Do you mean to tell me, Richard, you’re in earnest, when you talk of selling off your practice and going to England?”

“I can buy another there, can’t I?”

With these words he leapt to his feet, afire with animation. And while Mary, now thoroughly uneasy, was folding up her work, he dilated upon the benefits that would accrue to them from the change. Good-bye to dust, and sun, and drought, to blistering hot winds and PAPIER MACHE walls! They would make their new home in some substantial old stone house that had weathered half a century or more, tangled over with creepers, folded away in its own privacy as only an English house could be. In the flower-garden roses would trail over arch and pergola; there would be a lawn with shaped yews on it; while in the orchard old apple-trees would flaunt their red abundance above grey, lichened walls.

(“As if there weren’t apples enough here!” thought Mary.)

He got a frog in his throat as he went on to paint in greater detail for her, who had left it so young, the intimate charm of the home country — the rich, green, dimpled countryside. And not till now did he grasp how sorely he had missed it. “Oh, believe me, to talk of ‘going home’ is no mere figure of speech, Mary!” In fancy he trod winding lanes that ran between giant hedges: hedges in tender bud, with dew on them; or snowed over with white mayflowers; or behung with the fairy webs and gossamer of early autumn, thick as twine beneath their load of moisture. He followed white roads that were banked with primroses and ran headlong down to the sea; he climbed the shoulder of a down on a spring morning, when the air was alive with larks carolling. But chiefly it was the greenness that called to him — the greenness of the greenest country in the world. Viewed from this distance, the homeland looked to him like one vast meadow. Oh, to tread its grass again! — not what one knew as grass here, a poor annual, that lasted for a few brief weeks; but lush meadow-grass, a foot high; or shaven emerald lawns on which ancient trees spread their shade; or the rank growth in old orchards, starry with wild flowers, on which fruit-blossoms fluttered down. He longed, too, for the exquisite finishedness of the mother country, the soft tints of cloud-veiled northern skies. His eyes ached, his brows had grown wrinkled from gazing on iron roofs set against the hard blue overhead; on dirty weatherboards innocent of paint; on higgledy-piggledy backyards and ramshackle fences; on the straggling landscape with its untidy trees — all the unrelieved ugliness, in short, of the colonial scene.

He stopped only for want of breath. Mary was silent. He waited. Still she did not speak.

He fell to earth with a bump, and was angry. “Come . . . out with it! I suppose all this seems to you just the raving of a lunatic?”

“Oh, Richard, no. But a little . . . well, a little unpractical. I never heard before of any one throwing up a good income because he didn’t like the scenery. It’s a step that needs the greatest consideration.”

“Good God! Do you think I haven’t considered it? — and from every angle? There isn’t an argument for or against, that I haven’t gone over a thousand and one times.”

“And with never a word to me, Richard?” Mary was hurt; and showed it. “It really is hardly fair. For this is my home as well as yours. — But now listen. You’re tired out, run down with the heat and that last attack of dysentery. Take a good holiday — stay away for three months if you like. Sail over to Hobart Town, or up to Sydney, you who’er so fond of the water. And when you come back strong and well we’ll talk about all this again. I’m sure by then you’ll see things with other eyes.”

“And who’s to look after the practice, pray?”

“Why, a LOCUM TENENS, of course. Or engage an assistant.”

“Aha! you’d agree to that now, would you? I remember how opposed you were once to the idea.”

“Well, if I have to choose between it and you giving up altogether . . . Now, for your own sake, Richard, don’t go and do anything rash. If once you sell off and leave Ballarat, you can never come back. And then, if you regret it, where will you be? That’s why I say don’t hurry to decide. Sleep over it. Or let us consult somebody — John perhaps —”

“No you don’t, madam, no you don’t!” cried Richard with a grim dash of humour. “You had me once . . . crippled me . . . handcuffed me — you and your John between you! It shan’t happen again.”

“I crippled you? I, Richard! Why, never in my life have I done anything but what I thought was for your good. I’ve always put you first.” And Mary’s eyes filled with tears.

“Yes, where it’s a question of one’s material welfare you haven’t your equal — I admit that. But the other side of me needs coddling too — yes, and sympathy. But it can whistle for such a thing as far as you’re concerned.”

Mary sighed. “I think you don’t realise, dear, how difficult it sometimes is to understand you . . . or to make out what you really do want,” she said slowly.

Her tone struck at his heart. “Indeed and I do!” he cried contritely. “I’m a born old grumbler, mavourneen, I know — contrariness in person! But in this case . . . come, love, do try to grasp what I’m after; it means so much to me.” And he held out his hand to her, to beseech her.

Unhesitatingly she laid hers in it. “I am trying, Richard, though you mayn’t believe it. I always do. And even if I sometimes can’t manage it — well, you know, dear, you generally get your own way in the end. Think of the house. I’m still not clear why you altered it. I liked it much better as it was. But I didn’t make any fuss, did I? — though I should have, if I’d thought we were only to occupy it for a single year after. — Still, that was a trifle compared with what you want to do now. Though I lived to a hundred I should never be able to approve of this. And you don’t know how hard it is to consent to a thing one disapproves of. You couldn’t do it yourself. Oh, what WAS the use, Richard, of toiling as you have, if now, just when you can afford to charge higher fees and the practice is beginning to bring in money —”

Mahony let her hand drop, even giving it a slight push from him, and turned to pace the floor anew. “Oh, money, money, money! I’m sick of the very sound of the word. But you talk as if nothing else mattered. Can’t you for once, wife, see through the letter of the thing to the spirit behind? I admit the practice HAS brought in a tidy income of late; but as for the rest of the splendours, they exist, my dear, only in your imagination. If you ask me, I say I lead a dog’s life — why, even a navvy works only for a fixed number of hours per diem! My days have neither beginning nor end. Look at yesterday! Out in the blazing sun from morning till night — I didn’t get back from the second round till nine. At ten a confinement that keeps me up till three. From three till dawn I toss and turn, far too weary to sleep. By the time six o’clock struck — you of course were slumbering sweetly — I was in hell with tic. At seven I could stand it no longer and got up for the chloroform bottle: an hour’s rest at any price — else how face the crowd in the waiting-room? And you call that splendour? — luxurious ease? If so, my dear, words have not the same meaning any more for you and me.”

Mary did not point out that she had said nothing of the kind, or that he had set up an extreme case as typical. She tightened her lips; her big eyes were very solemn.

“And it’s not the work alone,” Richard was declaring, “it’s the place, wife — the people. I’m done with ’em, Mary — utterly done! Upon my word, if I thought I had to go on living among them even for another twelvemonth . . .”

“But PEOPLE are the same all the world over!” The protest broke from her in spite of herself.

“No, by God, they’re not!” And here Richard launched out into a diatribe against his fellow-colonists: “This sordid riff-raff! These hard, mean, grasping money-grubbers!” that made Mary stand aghast. What could be the matter with him? What was he thinking of, he who was ordinarily so generous? Had he forgotten the many kindnesses shown him, the warm gratitude of his patients, people’s sympathy, at the time of his illness? But he went on: “My demands are most modest. All I ask is to live among human beings with whom I have half an idea in common — men who sometimes raise their noses from the ground, instead of eternally scheming how to line their pockets, reckoning human progress solely in terms of l.s.d. No, I’ve sacrificed enough of my life to this country. I mean to have the rest for myself. And there’s another thing, my dear — another bad habit this precious place breeds in us. It begins by making us indifferent to those who belong to us but are out of our sight, and ends by cutting our closest ties. I don’t mean by distance alone. I have an old mother still living, Mary, whose chief prayer is that she may see me once again before she dies. I was her last-born — the child her arms kept the shape of. What am I to her now? . . . what does she know of me, of the hard, tired, middle-aged man I have become? And you are in much the same box, my dear; unless you’ve forgotten by now that you ever had a mother.”

Mary was scandalised. “Forget one’s mother? . . . Richard! I think you’re trying what dreadful things you can find to say . . . when I write home every three months!” And provoked by this fresh piece of unreason she opened fire in earnest, in defence of what she believed to be their true welfare. Richard listened to her without interrupting; even seemed to grant the truth of what she said. But none the less, even as she pleaded with him, a numbing sense of futility crept over her. She stuttered, halted, and finally fell silent. Her words were like so many lassos thrown after his vagrant soul; and this was out of reach. It had sniffed freedom — it WAS free; ran wild already on the boundless plains of liberty.

After he had gone from the room she sat with idle hands. She was all in a daze. Richard was about to commit an out-and-out folly, and she was powerless to hinder it. If only she had had some one she could have talked things over with, taken advice of! But no — it went against the grain in her to discuss her husband’s actions with a third person. Purdy had been the sole exception, and Purdy had become impossible.

Looking back, she marvelled at her own dullness in not fore-seeing that something like this might happen. What more natural than that the multitude of little whims and fads Richard had indulged should culminate in a big whim of this kind? But the acknowledgment caused her fresh anxiety. She had watched him tire, like a fickle child, of first one thing, then another; was it likely that he would now suddenly prove more stable? She did not think so. For she attributed his present mood of pettish aversion wholly to the fact of his being run down in health. It was quite true: he had not been himself of late. But, here again, he was so fanciful that you never knew how literally to take his ailments: half the time she believed he just imagined their existence; and the long holiday she had urged on him would have been enough to sweep the cobwebs from his brain. Oh, if only he could have held on in patience! Four or five years hence, at most, he might have considered retiring from general practice. She almost wept as she remembered how they had once planned to live for that day. Now it was all to end in smoke.

Then her mind reverted to herself and to what the break would mean to her; and her little world rocked to its foundations. For no clear call went out to Mary from her native land. She docilely said “home” with the rest, and kept her family ties intact; but she had never expected to go back, except on a flying visit. She thought of England rather vaguely as a country where it was always raining, and where — according to John — an assemblage of old fogies, known as the House of Commons, persistently intermeddled in the affairs of the colony. For more than half her life — and the half that truly counted — Australia had been her home.

Her home! In fancy she made a round of the house, viewing each cosy room, lingering fondly over the contents of cupboards and presses, recollecting how she had added this piece of furniture for convenience’ sake, that for ornament, till the whole was as perfect as she knew how to make it. Now, everything she loved and valued — the piano, the wax-candle chandelier, the gilt cornices, the dining-room horsehair — would fall under the auctioneer’s hammer, go to deck out the houses of other people. Richard said she could buy better and handsomer things in England; but Mary allowed herself no illusions on this score. Where was the money to come from? She had learnt by personal experience what slow work building up a practice was. It would be years and years before they could hope for another such home. And sore and sorry as SHE might feel at having to relinquish her pretty things, in Richard’s case it would mean a good deal more than that. To him the loss of them would be a real misfortune, so used had he grown to luxury and comfort, so strongly did the need of it run in his blood.

Worse still was the prospect of parting from relatives and friends. The tears came at this, freely. John’s children! — who would watch over them when she was gone? How could she, from so far away, keep the promise she had made to poor Jinny on her death-bed? She would have to give up the baby of which she had grown so fond — give it back into Zara’s unmotherly hands. And never again of a Saturday would she fetch poor little long-legged Trotty from school. She must say good-bye to one and to all — to John, and Zara, and Jerry — and would know no more, at close quarters, how they fared. When Jerry married there would be no one to see to it that he chose the right girl. Then Ned and Polly — poor souls, poor souls! What with the rapid increase of their family and Ned’s unsteadiness — he could not keep any job long because of it — they only just contrived to make ends meet. How they would do it when she was not there to lend a helping hand, she could not imagine. And outside her brothers and sisters there was good Mrs. Devine. Mary had engaged to guide her friend’s tottery steps on the slippery path of Melbourne society, did Mr. Devine enter the ministry. And poor little Agnes with her terrible weakness . . . and Amelia and her sickly babes . . . and Tilly, dear, good, warm-hearted Tilly! Never again would the pair of them enjoy one of their jolly laughs; or cook for a picnic; or drive out to a mushroom hunt. No, the children would grow up anyhow; her brothers forget her in carving out their own lives; her friends find other friends.

For some time, however, she kept her own counsel. But when she had tried by hook and by crook to bring Richard to reason, and failed; when she saw that he was actually beginning, on the quiet, to make ready for departure, and that the day was coming on which every one would have to know: then she threw off her reserve. She was spending the afternoon with Tilly. They sat on the verandah together, John’s child, black-eyed, fat, self-willed, playing, after the manner of two short years, at their feet. At the news that was broken to her Tilly began by laughing immoderately, believing that Mary was “taking a rise out of her.” But having studied her friend’s face she let her work fall, slowly opened mouth and eyes, and was at first unequal to uttering a word.

Thereafter she bombarded Mary with questions.

“Wants to leave Ballarat? To go home to England?” she echoed, with an emphasis such as Tilly alone could lay. “Well! of all the . . . What for? What on earth for? ‘As somebody gone and left ’im a fortune? Or ‘as ‘e been appointed pillmonger-in-ordinary to the Queen ‘erself? What is it, Mary? What’s up?”

What indeed! This was the question Mary dreaded, and one that would leap to every tongue: why was he going? She sat on the horns of a dilemma. It was not in her to wound people’s feelings by blurting out the truth — this would also put Richard in a bad light — and, did she give no reason at all, many would think he had taken leave of his senses. Weakly, in a very un-Maryish fashion, she mumbled that his health was not what it should be, and he had got it into his head that for this the climate of the colony was to blame. Nothing would do him but to return to England.

“I never! No, never in my born days did I hear tell of such a thing!” and Tilly, exploding, brought her closed fist heavily down on her knee. “Mary! . . . for a mere maggot like that, to chuck up a practice such as ‘e’s got. Upon my word, my dear, it looks as if ‘e was touched ’ere,”— and she significantly tapped her forehead. “Ha! Now I understand. You know I’ve seen quite well, love, you’ve been looking a bit down in the mouth of late. And so ‘as pa noticed it, too. After you’d gone the other day, ‘e said to me: ‘Looks reflexive-like does the little lady nowadays; as if she’d got something on ‘er mind.’ And I to him: ‘Pooh! Isn’t it enough that she’s got to put up with the cranks and crotchets of one o’ YOUR sect?’— Oh Mary, my dear, there’s many a true word said in jest. Though little did I think what the crotchet would be.” And slowly the rims of Tilly’s eyes and the tip of her nose reddened and swelled.

“No, I can’t picture it, Mary — what it’ull be like ’ere without you,” she said; and pulling out her handkerchief blew snort after snort, which was Tilly’s way nowadays of having a good cry. “There, there, Baby, Auntie’s only got the sniffles. — For just think of it, Mary: except that first year or so after you were married, we’ve been together, you and me, pretty much ever since you came to us that time at the ‘otel — a little black midget of a thing in short frocks. I can still remember ‘ow Jinn and I laughed at the idea of you teaching us; and ‘ow poor ma said to wait and make sure we weren’t laughing on the wrong side of our mouths. And ma was right as usual. For if ever a clever little kid trod the earth, it was you.”

Mary pooh-poohed the cleverness. “I knew very little more than you yourselves. No, it was you who were all so kind to me. I had been feeling so lonely — as if nobody wanted me — and I shall never forget how mother put her arms round me and cuddled me, and how safe and comfortable I felt. It was always just like home there to me.”

“And why not, I’d like to know! — Look ’ere, Mary, I’m going to ask you something, plump and plain. ‘Ave you really been happy in your marriage, my dear, or ‘ave you not? You’re such a loyal little soul, I know you’d never show it if you weren’t; and sometimes I’ve ‘ad my doubts about you, Mary. For you and the doctor are just as different as chalk and cheese.”

“Of course I have — as happy as the day’s long!” cried Mary, sensitive as ever to a reflection on her husband. “You mustn’t think anything like that, Tilly. I couldn’t imagine myself married to anyone but Richard.”

“Then that only makes it harder for you now, poor thing, pulled two ways like, as you are,” said Tilly, and trumpeted afresh. “All the same, there isn’t anything I’d stick at, Mary, to keep you here. Don’t be offended, my dear, but it doesn’t matter half so much about the doctor going as you. There’s none cleverer than ’im, of course, in ‘is own line. But ‘e’s never fitted in properly here — I don’t want to exactly say ‘e thinks ‘imself too good for us; but there is something, Mary love, and I’m not the only one who’s felt it. I’ve known people go on like anything about ’im behind ‘is back: nothing would induce them to have ’im and ‘is haughty airs inside their doors again, etcetera.”

Mary flushed. “Yes, I know, people do sometimes judge Richard very unkindly. For at heart he’s the most modest of men. It’s only his manner. And he can’t help that, can he?”

“There are those who say a doctor ought to be able to, my dear. — But never mind him. Oh, it’s you I feel for, Mary, being dragged off like this. Can’t you DO anything, dear? Put your foot down?”

Mary shook her head. “It’s no use. Richard is so . . . well, so queer in some ways, Tilly. Besides, you know, I don’t think it would be right of me to really pit my will against his.”

“Poor little you! — Oh! men are queer fish, Mary, aren’t they? Not that I can complain; I drew a prize in the lucky-bag when I took that old Jawkins in there. But when I look round me, or think back, and see what we women put up with! There was poor old ma; she ‘ad to be man for both. And Jinn, Mary, who didn’t dare to call ‘er soul ‘er own. And milady Agnes is travelling the selfsame road — why, she ‘as to cock ‘er eye at Henry nowadays before she trusts ‘erself to say whether it’s beef or mutton she’s eating! And now ’ere’s you, love, carted off with never a with-your-leave or by-your-leave, just because the doctor’s tired of it and thinks ‘e’d like a change. There’s no question of whether you’re tired or not — oh, my, no!”

“But he has to earn the money, Tilly. It isn’t quite fair to put it that way,” protested her friend.

“Well! I don’t know, Mary, I’m sure,” and Tilly’s plump person rose and sank in a prodigious sigh. “But if I was ‘is wife ‘e wouldn’t get off so easy — I know that! It makes me just boil.”

Mary answered with a rueful smile. She could never be angry with Richard in cold blood, or for long together.

As time went on, though, and the break-up of her home began — by the auctioneer’s man appearing to paw over and appraise the furniture — a certain dull resentment did sometimes come uppermost. Under its sway she had forcibly to remind herself what a good husband Richard had always been; had to tell off his qualities one by one, instead of taking them as hitherto for granted. No, her quarrel, she began to see, was not so much with him as with the Powers above. Why should HER husband alone not be as robust and hardy as all the other husbands in the place? None of THEIR healths threatened to fail, nor did any of them find the conditions of the life intolerable. That was another shabby trick Fate had played Richard in not endowing him with worldly wisdom, and a healthy itch to succeed. Instead of that, he had been blessed with ideas and impulses that stood directly in his way. — And it was here that Mary bore more than one of her private ambitions for him to its grave. A new expression came into her eyes, too — an unsure, baffled look. Life was not, after all, going to be the simple, straightforward affair she had believed. Thus far, save for the one unhappy business with Purdy, wrongs and complications had passed her by. Now she saw that no more than anyone else could she hope to escape them.

Out of this frame of mind she wrote a long, confidential letter to John: John must not be left in ignorance of what hung over her; it was also a relief to unbosom herself to one of her own family. And John was good enough to travel up expressly to talk things over with her, and, as he put it, to “call Richard to order.” Like every one else he showed the whites of his eyes at the latter’s flimsy reasons for seeking a change. But when, in spite of her warning, he bearded his brother-in-law with a jocose and hearty: “Come, come, my dear Mahony! what’s all this? You’re actually thinking of giving us the slip?” Richard took his interference so badly, became so agitated over the head of the harmless question that John’s airy remonstrance died in his throat.

“Mad as a March hare!” was his private verdict, as he shook down his ruffled plumes. To Mary he said ponderously: “Well, upon my soul, my dear girl, I don’t know — I am frankly at a loss what to say. Measured by every practical standard, the step he contemplates is little short of suicidal. I fear he will live to regret it.”

And Mary, who had not expected anything from John’s intervention, and also knew the grounds for Richard’s heat — Mary now resigned herself, with the best grace she could muster, to the inevitable.

Chapter 12

House and practice sold for a good round sum; the brass plates were removed from gate and door, leaving dirty squares flanked by screw-holes; carpets came up and curtains down; and, like rats from a doomed ship, men and women servants fled to other situations. One fine day the auctioneer’s bell was rung through the main streets of the town; and both on this and the next, when the red flag flew in front of the house, a troop of intending purchasers, together with an even larger number of the merely curious, streamed in at the gate and overran the premises. At noon the auctioneer mounted his perch, gathered the crowd round him, and soon had the sale in full swing, catching head-bobs, or wheedling and insisting with, when persuasion could do no more, his monotonous parrot-cry of: “Going . . . going . . . gone!”

It would have been in bad taste for either husband or wife to be visible while the auction was in progress; and, the night before, Mary and the child had moved to Tilly’s, where they would stay for the rest of the time. But Mahony was still hard at work. The job of winding up and getting in the money owed him was no light one. For the report had somehow got abroad that he was retiring from practice because he had made his fortune; and only too many people took this as a tacit permission to leave their bills unpaid.

He had locked himself and his account-books into a small back room, where stood the few articles they had picked out to carry with them: Mary’s sewing-table, his first gift to her after marriage; their modest stock of silver; his medical library. But he had been forced to lower the blind, to hinder impertinent noses flattening themselves against the window, and thus could scarcely see to put pen to paper; while the auctioneer’s grating voice was a constant source of distraction — not to mention the rude comments made by the crowd on house and furniture, the ceaseless trying of the handle of the locked door.

When it came to the point, this tearing up of one’s roots was a murderous business — nothing for a man of his temperament. Mary was a good deal better able to stand it than he. Violently as she had opposed the move in the beginning, she was now, dear soul, putting a cheery face on it. But then Mary belonged to that happy class of mortals who could set up their Lares and Penates inside any four walls. Whereas he was a very slave to associations. Did she regret parting with a pretty table and a comfortable chair, it was soley because of the prettiness and convenience: as long as she could replace them by other articles of the same kind, she was content. But to him each familiar object was bound by a thousand memories. And it was the loss of these which could never be replaced that cut him to the quick.

Meanwhile this was the kind of thing he had to listen to.

“‘Ere now, ladies and gents, we ‘ave a very fine pier glass — a very chaste and tasty pier glass indeed — a red addition to any lady’s drawin’room. — Mrs. Rupp? Do I understand you aright, Mrs. Rupp? Mrs. Rupp offers twelve bob for this very ‘andsome article. Twelve bob . . . going twelve. . . . Fifteen? Thank you, Mrs. Bromby! Going fifteen . . . going — going — Eighteen? Right you are, my dear!” and so on.

It had a history had that pier glass; its purchase dated from a time in their lives when they had been forced to turn each shilling in the palm. Mary had espied it one day in Plaistows’ Stores, and had set her heart on buying it. How she had schemed to scrape the money together! — saving so much on a new gown, so much on bonnet and mantle. He remembered, as if it were yesterday, the morning on which she had burst in, eyes and cheeks aglow, to tell him that she had managed it at last, and how they had gone off arm in arm to secure the prize. Yes, for all their poverty, those had been happy days. Little extravagances such as this, or the trifling gifts they had contrived to make each other had given far more pleasure than the costlier presents of later years.

“The next article I draw your attention to is a sofer,” went on the voice, sounding suddenly closer; and with a great trampling and shuffling the crowd trooped after it to the adjoining room. “And a very easy and comfortable piece o’ furniture it is, too. A bit shabby and worn ’ere and there, but not any the worse of that. You don’t need to worry if the kids play puff-puffs on it; and it fits the shape o’ the body all the better. — Any one like to try it? Jest the very thing for a tired gent ‘ome from biz, or ‘andy to pop your lady on when she faints — as the best of ladies will! Any h’offers? Mr. de la Plastrier”— he said “Deelay plastreer”—“a guinea? Thank you, mister. One guinea! Going a guinea! — Now, COME on, ladies and gen’elmen! D’ye think I’ve got a notion to make you a present of it? What’s that? Two-and-twenty? Gawd! Is this a tiddlin’ match?”

How proud he had been of that sofa! In his first surgery he had had nowhere to lay an aching head. Well worn? Small wonder! He would like to know how many hundreds of times he had flung himself down on it, utterly played out. He had been used to lie there of an evening, too, when Mary came in to chat about household affairs, or report on her day’s doings. And he remembered another time, when he had spent the last hours of a distracted night on it . . . and how, between sleeping and waking, he had strained his ears for footsteps that never came.

The sofa was knocked down to his butcher for a couple of pounds, and the crying — or decrying — of his bookcases began. He could stand no more of it. Sweeping his papers into a bag, he guiltily unlocked the door and stole out by way of kitchen and back gate.

But once outside he did not know where to go or what to do. Leaving the town behind him he made for the Lake, and roved aimlessly and disconsolately about, choosing sheltered paths and remote roads where he would be unlikely to run the gauntlet of acquaintances. For he shrank from recognition on this particular day, when all his domestic privacies were being bared to the public view. But altogether of late he had fought shy of meeting people. Their hard, matter-of-fact faces showed him only too plainly what they thought of him. At first he had been fool enough to scan them eagerly, in the hope of finding one saving touch of sympathy or comprehension. But he might as well have looked for grief in the eyes of an undertaker’s mute. And so he had shrunk back into himself, wearing his stiffest air as a shield and leaving it to Mary to parry colonial inquisitiveness.

When he reckoned that he had allowed time enough for the disposal of the last pots and pans, he rose and made his way — well, the word “home” was by now become a mere figure of speech. He entered a scene of the wildest confusion. The actual sale was over, but the work of stripping the house only begun, and successful bidders were dragging off their spoils. His glass-fronted bookcase had been got as far as the surgery-door. There it had stuck fast; and an angry altercation was going on, how best to set it free. A woman passed him bearing Mary’s girandoles; another had the dining-room clock under her arm; a third trailed a whatnot after her. To the palings of the fence several carts and buggies had been hitched, and the horses were eating down his neatly clipped hedge — it was all he could do not to rush out and call their owners to account. The level sunrays flooded the rooms, showing up hitherto unnoticed smudges and scratches on the wall-papers; showing the prints of hundreds of dusty feet on the carpetless floors. Voices echoed in hollow fashion through the naked rooms; men shouted and spat as they tugged heavy articles along the hall, or bumped them down the stairs. It was pandemonium. The death of a loved human being could not, he thought, have been more painful to witness. Thus a home went to pieces; thus was a page of one’s life turned. — He hastened away to rejoin Mary.

There followed a week of Mrs. Tilly’s somewhat stifling hospitality, when one was forced three times a day to over-eat oneself for fear of giving offence; followed formal presentations of silver and plate from Masonic Lodge and District Hospital, as well as a couple of public testimonials got up by his medical brethren. But at length all was over: the last visit had been paid and received, the last evening party in their honour sat through; and Mahony breathed again. He had felt stiff and unnatural under this overdose of demonstrativeness. Now — as always on sighting relief from a state of things that irked him — he underwent a sudden change, turned hearty and spontaneous, thus innocently succeeding in leaving a good impression behind him. He kept his temper, too, in all the fuss and ado of departure: the running to and fro after missing articles, the sitting on the lids of overflowing trunks, the strapping of carpet-bags, affixing of labels. Their luggage hoisted into a spring-cart, they themselves took their seats in the buggy and were driven to the railway station; and to himself Mahony murmured an all’s-well — that-ends-well. On alighting, however, he found that his greatcoat had been forgotten. He had to re-seat himself in the buggy and gallop back to the house, arriving at the station only just in time to leap into the train.

“A close shave that!” he ejaculated as he sank on the cushions and wiped his face. “And in more senses than one, my dear. In tearing round a corner we nearly had a nasty spill. Had I pitched out and broken my neck, this hole would have got my bones after all. — Not that I was sorry to miss that cock-and-hen-show, Mary. It was really too much of a good thing altogether.”

For a large and noisy crowd had gathered round the door of the carriage to wish the travellers god-speed, among them people to whom Mahony could not even put a name, whose very existence he had forgotten. And it had fairly snowed last gifts and keepsakes. Drying her eyes, Mary now set to collecting and arranging these. “Just fancy so many turning up, dear. The railway people must have wondered what was the matter. — Oh, by the way, did you notice — I don’t think you did, you were in such a rush — who I was speaking to as you ran up? It was Jim, Old Jim, but so changed I hardly knew him. As spruce as could be, in a black coat and a belltopper. He’s married again, he told me, and has one of the best-paying hotels in Smythesdale. Yes, and he was at the sale, too — he came over specially for it — to buy the piano.”

“He did, confound him!” cried Mahony hotly.

“Oh, you can’t look at it that way, Richard. As long as he has the money to pay for it. Fancy, he told me had always admired the ‘tune’ of it so much, when I played and sang. My dear little piano!”

“You shall have another and a better one, I promise you, old girl — don’t fret. Well, that slice of our life’s over and done with,” he added, and laid his hand on hers. “But we’ll hold together, won’t we, wife, whatever happens?”

They had passed Black Hill and its multicoloured clay and gravel heaps, and the train was puffing uphill. The last scattered huts and weatherboards fell behind, the worked-out holes grew fewer, wooded rises appeared. Gradually, too, the white roads round Mount Buninyong came into view, and the trees became denser. And having climbed the shoulder, they began to fly smoothly and rapidly down the other side.

Mahony bent forward in his seat. “There goes the last of old Warrenheip. Thank the Lord, I shall never set eyes on it again. Upon my word, I believe I came to think that hill the most tiresome feature of the place. Whatever street one turned into, up it bobbed at the foot. Like a peep-show . . . or a bad dream . . . or a prison wall.”

In Melbourne they were the guests of John — Mahony had reluctantly resigned himself to being beholden to Mary’s relatives and Mary’s friends to the end of the chapter. At best, living in other people’s houses was for him more of a punishment than a pleasure; but for sheer discomfort this stay capped the climax. Under Zara’s incompetent rule John’s home had degenerated into a lawless and slovenly abode: the meals were unpalatable, the servants pert and lazy, while the children ran wild — you could hardly hear yourself speak for the racket. Whenever possible, Mahony fled the house. He lunched in town, looked up his handful of acquaintances, bought necessaries — and unnecessaries — for the voyage. He also hired a boat and had himself rowed out to the ship, where he clambered on board amid the mess of scouring and painting, and made himself known to the chief mate. Or he sat on the pier and gazed at the vessel lying straining at her anchor, while quick rain-squalls swept up and blotted out the Bay.

Of Mary he caught but passing glimpses; her family seemed determined to make unblushing use of her as long as she was within reach. A couple of days prior to their arrival, John and Zara had quarrelled violently; and for the dozenth time Zara had packed her trunks and departed for one of those miraculous situations, the doors of which always stood open to her.

John was for Mary going after her and forcing her to admit the error of her ways. Mary held it wiser to let well alone.

“DO be guided by me this time, John,” she urged, when she had heard her brother out: “You and Zara will never hit it off, however often you try.”

But the belief was ingrained in John that the most suitable head for his establishment was one of his own blood. He answered indignantly. “And why not pray, may I ask? Who IS to hit it off, as you put it, if not two of a family?”

“Oh, John . . . “— Mary felt quite apologetic for her brother. “Clever as Zara is, she’s not at all fitted for a post of this kind. She’s no hand with the servants, and children don’t seem to take to her — young children, I mean.”

“Not fitted? Bah!” said John. “Every woman is fitted by nature to rear children and manage a house.”

“They should be, I know,” yielded Mary in conciliatory fashion. “But with Zara it doesn’t seem to be the case.”

“Then she ought to be ashamed of herself, my dear Mary — ashamed of herself — and that’s all about it!”

Zara wept into a dainty handkerchief and was delivered of a rigmarole of complaints against her brother, the servants, the children. According to her, the last were naturally perverse, and John indulged them so shockingly that she had been powerless to carry out reforms. Did she punish them, he cancelled the punishments; if she left their naughtiness unchecked, he accused her of indifference. Then her housekeeping had not suited him: he reproached her with extravagance, with mismanagement, even with lining her own purse. “While the truth is, John is mean as dirt! I had literally to drag each penny out of him.”

“But what ever induced you to undertake it again, Zara?”

“Yes, what indeed!” echoed Zara bitterly. “However, once bitten, Mary, twice shy. NEVER again!”

But remembering the bites Zara had already received, Mary was silent.

Even Zara’s amateurish hand thus finally withdrawn, it became Mary’s task to find some worthy and capable person to act as mistress. Taking her obligations seriously, she devoted her last days in Australia to conning and penning advertisements, and interviewing applicants.

“Now no one too attractive, if you please, Mrs. Mahony! — if you don’t want him to fall a victim,” teased Richard. “Remember our good John’s inflammability. He’s a very Leyden jar again at present.”

“No, indeed I don’t,” said Mary with emphasis. “But the children are the first consideration. Oh, dear! it does seem a shame that Tilly shouldn’t have them to look after. And it would relieve John of so much responsibility. As it is, he’s even asked me to make it plain to Tilly that he wishes Trotty to spend her holidays at school.”

The forsaking of the poor little motherless flock cut Mary to the heart. Trotty had dung to her, inconsolable. “Oh, Auntie, TAKE me with you! Oh, what shall I do without you?”

“It’s not possible, darling. Your papa would never agree. But I tell you what, Trotty: you must be a good girl and make haste and learn all you can. For soon, I’m sure, he’ll want you to come and be his little housekeeper, and look after the other children.”

Sounded on this subject, however, John said dryly: “Emma’s influence would be undesirable for the little ones.” His prejudice in favour of his second wife’s children was an eternal riddle to his sister. He dandled even the youngest, whom he had not seen since its birth, with visible pleasure.

“It must be the black eyes,” said Mary to herself; and shook her head at men’s irrationality. For Jinny’s offspring had none of the grace and beauty that marked the two elder children.

And now the last night had come; and they were gathered, a family party, round John’s mahogany. The cloth had been removed; nuts and port were passing. As it was a unique occasion the ladies had been excused from withdrawing, and the gentlemen left their cigars unlighted. Mary’s eyes roved fondly from one face to another. There was Tilly, come over from her hotel —(“Nothing would induce me to spend a night under his roof, Mary”)— Tilly sat hugging one of the children, who had run in for the almonds and raisins of dessert. “What a mother lost in her!” sighed Mary once more. There was Zara, so far reconciled to her brother as to consent to be present; but only speaking at him, not to him. And dear Jerry, eager and alert, taking so intelligent a share in what was said. Poor Ned alone was wanting, neither Richard nor John having offered to pay his fare to town. Young Johnny’s seat was vacant, too, for the boy had vanished directly dinner was over.

In the harmony of the evening there was just one jarring note for Mary; and at moments she grew very thoughtful. For the first time Mrs. Kelly, the motherly widow on whom her choice had fallen, sat opposite John at the head of the table; and already Mary was the prey of a nagging doubt. For this person had doffed the neat mourning-garb she had worn when being engaged, and come forth in a cap trimmed with cherry coloured ribbons. Not only this, she smiled in sugary fashion and far too readily; while the extreme humility with which she deferred to John’s opinion, and hung on his lips, made another bad impression on Mary. Nor was she alone in her observations. After a particularly glaring example of the widow’s complaisance, Tilly looked across and shut one eye, in an unmistakable wink.

Meanwhile the men’s talk had gradually petered out: there came long pauses in which they twiddled and twirled their wine-glasses, unable to think of anything to say. At heart, both John and Mahony hailed with a certain relief the coming break. “After all I dare say such a queer faddy fellow IS out of his element here. He’ll go down better over there,” was John’s mental verdict. Mahony’s, a characteristic: “Thank God, I shall not have to put up much longer with his confounded self-importance, or suffer under his matrimonial muddles!”

When at a question from Mary John began animatedly to discuss the tuition of the younger children, Mahony seized the chance to slip away. He would not be missed. He never was — here or anywhere.

On the verandah a dark form stirred and made a hasty movement. It was the boy Johnny — now grown tall as Mahony himself — and, to judge from the smell, what he tried to smuggle into his pocket was a briar.

“Oh well, yes, I’m smoking,” he said sullenly, after a feeble attempt at evasion. “Go in and blab on me, if you feel you must, Uncle Richard.”

“Nonsense. But telling fibs about a thing does no good.”

“Oh yes, it does; it saves a hiding,” retorted the boy. And added with a youthful vehemence: “I’m hanged if I let the governor take a stick to me nowadays! I’m turned sixteen; and if he dares to touch me —”

“Come, come. You know, you’ve been something of a disappointment to your father, Johnny — that’s the root of the trouble.”

“Glad if I have! He hates me anyway. He never cared for my mother’s children,” answered Johnny with a quaint dignity. “I think he couldn’t have cared for her either.”

“There you’re wrong. He was devoted to her. Her death nearly broke his heart. — She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, my boy.”

“Was she?” said Johnny civilly, but with meagre interest. This long dead mother had bequeathed him not even a memory of herself — was as unreal to him as a dream at second hand. From the chilly contemplation of her he turned back impatiently to his own affairs, which were burning, insistent. And scenting a vague sympathy in this stranger uncle who, like himself, had drifted out from the intimacy of the candle-lit room, he made a clean breast of his troubles.

“I can’t stand the life here, Uncle Richard, and I’m not going to — not if father cuts me off with a shilling! I mean to see the world. THIS isn’t the world — this dead-and-alive old country! . . . though it’s got to seem like it to the governor, he’s been here so long. And HE cleared out from his before he was even as old as I am. Of course there isn’t another blessed old Australia for me to decamp to; he might be a bit sweeter about it, if there was. But America’s good enough for me, and I’m off there — yes, even if I have to work my passage out!”

Early next morning, fully equipped for their journey, the Mahonys stood on the William’s Town pier, the centre of the usual crowd of relatives and friends. This had been further swelled by the advent of Mrs. Devine, who came panting up followed by her husband, and by Agnes Ocock and Amelia Grindle, who had contrived to reach Melbourne the previous evening. Even John’s children were tacked on, clad in their Sunday best. Everybody talked at once and laughed or wept; while the children played hide-and-seek round the ladies’ crinolines. Strange eyes were bent on their party, strange ears cocked in their direction; and yet once again Mahony’s dislike to a commotion in public choked off his gratitude towards these good and kindly people. But his star was rising: tears and farewells and vows of constancy had to be cut short, a jaunt planned by the whole company to the ship itself abandoned; for a favourable wind had sprung up and the captain was impatient to weigh anchor. And so the very last kisses and handclasps exchanged, the travellers climbed down into a boat already deep in the water with other cuddy-passengers and their luggage, and were rowed out to where lay that good clipper-ship, the RED JACKET. Sitting side by side husband and wife watched, with feelings that had little in common, the receding quay, Mary fluttering her damp handkerchief till the separate figures had merged in one dark mass, and even Tilly, planted in front, her handkerchief tied flagwise to the top of Jerry’s cane, could no longer be distinguished from the rest.

Mahony’s foot met the ribbed teak of the deck with the liveliest satisfaction; his nostrils drank in the smell of tarred ropes and oiled brass. Having escorted Mary below, seen to the stowing away of their belongings and changed his town clothes for a set of comfortable baggy garments, he returned to the deck, where he passed the greater part of the day tirelessly pacing. They made good headway, and soon the ports and towns at the water’s edge were become mere whitey smudges. The hills in the background lasted longer. But first the Macedon group faded from sight; then the Dandenong Ranges, grown bluer and bluer, were also lost in the sky. The vessel crept round the outside of the great Bay, to clear shoals and sandbanks, and, by afternoon, with the sails close rigged in the freshening wind, they were running parallel with the Cliff —“THE Cliff!” thought Mahony with a curl of the lip. And indeed there was no other; nothing but low scrub-grown sandhills which flattened out till they were almost level with the sea.

The passage through the Heads was at hand. Impulsively he went down to fetch Mary. Threading his way through the saloon, in the middle of which grew up one of the masts, he opened a door leading off it.

“Come on deck, my dear, and take your last look at the old place. It’s not likely you’ll ever see it again.”

But Mary was already encoffined in her narrow berth.

“Don’t ask me even to lift my head from the pillow, Richard. Besides, I’ve seen it so often before.”

He lingered to make some arrangements for her comfort, fidgeted to know where she had put his books; then mounted a locker and craned his neck at the porthole. “Now for the Rip, wife! By God, Mary, I little thought this time last year, that I should be crossing it to-day.”

But the cabin was too dark and small to hold him. Climbing the steep companion-way he went on deck again, and resumed his flittings to and fro. He was no more able to be still than was the good ship under him; he felt himself one with her, and gloried in her growing unrest. She was now come to the narrow channel between two converging headlands, where the waters of Hobson’s Bay met those of the open sea. They boiled and churned, in an eternal commotion, over treacherous reefs which thrust far out below the surface and were betrayed by straight, white lines of foam. Once safely out, the vessel hove to to drop the pilot. Leaning over the gunwale Mahony watched a boat come alongside, the man of oilskins climb down the rope-ladder and row away.

Here, in the open, a heavy swell was running, but he kept his foot on the swaying boards long after the last of his fellow-passengers had vanished — a tall, thin figure, with an eager, pointed face, and hair just greying at the temples. Contrary to habit, he had a word for every one who passed, from mate to cabin-boy, and he drank a glass of wine with the Captain in his cabin. Their start had been auspicious, said the latter; seldom had he had such a fair wind to come out with.

Then the sun fell into the sea and it was night — a fine, starry night, clear with the hard, cold radiance of the south. Mahony looked up at the familiar constellations and thought of those others, long missed, that he was soon to see again. — Over! This page of his history was turned and done with; and he had every reason to feel thankful. For many and many a man, though escaping with his life, had left youth and health and hope on these difficult shores. He had got off scot-free. Still in his prime, his faculties green, his zest for living unimpaired, he was heading for the dear old mother country — for home. Alone and unaided he could never have accomplished it. Strength to will the enterprise, steadfastness in the face of obstacles had been lent him from above. And as he stood gazing down into the black and fathomless deep, which sent crafty, licking tongues up the vessel’s side, he freely acknowledged his debt, gave honour where honour was due. — FROM THEE COMETH VICTORY, FROM THEE COMETH WISDOM, AND THINE IS THE GLORY AND I AM THY SERVANT.

The last spark of a coast-light went out. Buffeted by the rising wind, the good ship began to pitch and roll. Her canvas rattled, her joints creaked and groaned as, lunging forward, she cut her way through the troubled seas that break on the reef-bound coasts of this old, new world.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33