This Man and This Woman

Guy Boothby

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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

This Man and This Woman

“What matters Life, what matters Death,

What boots of vain remorse?

When days are dead, wherein we lived,

Our hearts should die —of course!”

Song of the Vain Regret.

First and foremost it must be understood that when men and women cross the Borderland of Discretion into that Never-never Country where wedding-rings are forgotten and family correspondence abruptly ceases, they do so, believing it to be unlikely that they will ever meet any one out of the old life again.

This fallacy may be attributed to one of two things: either to an insufficient knowledge of their world, or to an exaggerated idea of their own exclusiveness. The first is the more common, but the one is as fatal as the other.

It is quite possible, after such a lapse of time, that no one will remember the “Clitheroe, Gwynne-Harden” episode. Yet it made a great stir at the time. Clitheroe, I fancy, was in the army; while the woman was the wife of Gwynne-Harden, the banker. She came of good family, was intensely proud, and, among other things, of more or less account, had the reputation of being the acknowledged beauty of that season.

Clitheroe and The Other Man’s Wife were unwise to the borders of madness. For had they been content to worship each other according to society’s certificated code — surely sufficiently elastic — no trouble would have ensued. But, for some reason or other, they were not satisfied to jog along in the ordinary way; but must needs meet in all sorts of hole-and-corner places, correspond in cipher, and send letters by hand, rather than by post. Naturally, people talked, and the scandal, by its obtrusiveness, became proverbial. All through the season they were in each other’s pockets, and during Goodwood week, after a period of sentimental shilly-shallying, they disappeared for ever and a day.

Gwynne-Harden, though it was said he loved his wife with an exceeding great love, was a philosopher in his own way. After the first shock he made no attempt to find her; on the other hand, he put the money the search would have cost him into Bolivian Rails, a doubtful, but still a better, investment, he said. Having done this, he placed all the belongings she had left behind her in an attic under lock and key, bought a new brand of cigars, and endeavoured to forget all about her.

Four years later he went into the House, where he managed to interest himself in Colonial affairs. Moreover, he had the sense to stick to his work, and leave female society alone. He was a shrewd, cynical man, with taste for epigram, and said to himself, “I am matrimonial Mahomet, for the reason that, because I refuse to apply for a divorce, I hover between a possible heaven and an accomplished hell.” Which was a bitter, but, under the circumstances, perhaps excusable speech.

Now, here comes the part of the story I am anxious to dwell upon. Three years after the exodus just narrated, being desirous of extending his political information, Gwynne-Harden set out for Australia with a sheaf of introductions in his despatch-box. Downing Street busied herself on his behalf, and, in consequence, Her Majesty’s representatives were politely instructed to yield him all the assistance in their power. It is well to be a Somebody in the land, and, as any globe-trotter will inform you, a Vice-Regal introduction is a lever by no means to be despised.

When the Governor of a certain Colony had banqueted, fêted, and endeavoured to turn his guest inside out for his own purposes, he handed him over to the tender mercies of his Colonial Secretary, or whatever you call the leader of the gang then in power.

This gentleman had his own opinions on the subject of globe-trotters, and argued that the majority were shown too much in order that they might absorb too little. Therefore, he said he would take Gwynne-Harden under his protection, and enact Gamaliel in his own way.

To this end he lured his victim into a lengthy driving tour through the squatting districts, in order that he might see the backbone of the country for himself and form his own conclusions. The idea was ingenuous in the main, but because he had left all consideration of the past out of his calculations it failed entirely in its purpose. Even Colonial Secretaries are powerless against Fate.

As they proceeded from station to station on their route, they were received with that hospitality for which the Australian Bush is so justly famous. And, like the proverbial owl, Gwynne-Harden said little, but thought the more.

Between three and four o’clock one roasting afternoon, the travellers saw, on the rise before them, the charming homestead of Woodnooro Station. The Colonial Secretary looked forward to a pleasant visit, for he had stayed there before.

They resigned their buggy to the care of a black boy in the horse-paddock, and as they approached the house, the Secretary explained to Gwynne-Harden all the good things he knew of the owner and his wife. He devoted considerable space to his description of the latter, and in answer the banker smiled grimly.

Leaving the small flower-garden behind them, they enter a cool stone verandah, where a lady rises from a long cane chair to greet them. The Colonial Secretary dashes forward to take her hand. . . .

Colonial Secretary . . . “Mr. Gwynne-Harden — Mrs. Chichester.”

Mrs. Chichester (as white as a ghost, vainly feeling for the wall behind her with her left hand, while she fumbles at her collar with her right): “Mr. Gwynne-Harden!” (Then slowly and with prodigious exertion): “I— I— I’m — I hope you are very well.”

Mr. Gwynne-Harden (with a curious expression in his face, which the Colonial Secretary attributes to nervousness): “Extremely well, I thank you!”

Colonial Secretary: “I am looking forward to having the pleasure of introducing Mr. Gwynne-Harden to your husband, Mrs. Chichester.”

Mrs. Chichester (with a supreme effort): “I’m sorry to say my husband is camped on the run at present.”

Mr. Gwynne-Harden: “Then I must await his return with proper patience. I shall be delighted to meet him, I am sure. Mrs. Chichester, is anything the matter?”

Mrs. Chichester (still fumbling at her neck): “No, no — r — r — really nothing. I feel the heat very much, that is all. Won’t you come inside?” (Rises and leads the way into the dining-room, where she unlocks a sideboard, and puts whisky on the table.) “I’m sure you must need some refreshment after your long and hot drive.”

Colonial Secretary (enthusiastically, pointing to a creeper through the door). . . . “By Jove! look here, Harden; isn’t this perfect? I challenge you to find its equal anywhere — the Buginvillea Speciosa in all its glory. Ah! I beg your pardon, Mrs. Chichester.”

Mrs. Chichester (passing him): “Thank you. If you will excuse me, I think I will go and see about your rooms.” [Exits across verandah.]

The Colonial Secretary solemnly takes to himself a whisky-peg, while Gwynne-Harden, turning his back, fixes his eye-glass and critically examines two photos on the mantelpiece.

Colonial Secretary (warmly, referring to their hostess): “Egad, Harden, what would many men give for a wife like that?”

Mr. Gwynne-Harden (dropping his eye-glass, and facing round): “What, indeed!”

They adjourn to the verandah, where enter to them a small and very dirty child, presumably a boy, who scrutinizes both men carefully before venturing near.

Mr. Gwynne-Harden: “Ah, my little man, and pray what may your name be?”

Child: “Jack ‘Ister.”

Colonial Secretary: “Anglisé— Jack Chichester. He is a fine boy, and typical of the country. Come here, Jack. How old are you?”

Child: “I’se free — Baby’s one.”

Mr. Gwynne-Harden: “So there’s a baby, too, eh?”

Mrs. Chichester (appearing at the end of the verandah): “Jack, it’s your bed-time. Say good-night, and come along at once.”

Jack goes to Gwynne-Harden, and holds up his face to be kissed; but the honour is declined. The Colonial Secretary accepts it effusively. Then mother and child disappear together.

Colonial Secretary (laughingly): “You don’t seem fond of kissing children!”

Mr. Gwynne-Harden: “Not other people’s children, thank you!”

Colonial Secretary (who has never heard the scandal, to himself): “I wonder if there’s a Mrs. Gwynne-Harden?”

The quarter of an hour preceding dinner. Gwynne-Harden is standing with his hands on the chimney-piece, looking into the empty fireplace. To him enter Mrs. Chichester.

Mrs. Chichester (advancing): “George! George — for myself I ask nothing; but for my children’s sakes. Oh, George, be merciful!”

Mr. Gwynne-Harden (turning): “Mrs. Chichester, I beg your pardon ten thousand times for not seeing you enter. This light is so deceptive, perhaps you thought I was your husband!”

Mrs. Chichester: “George, have you forgotten me?”

Mr. Gwynne-Harden: “My dear Mrs. Chichester, pray let me turn up the lamp, then you will see whom you are addressing. I am Mr. Gwynne-Harden, and if you will pardon my saying so, I don’t remember ever having seen your face before. If I have, I have been rude enough to forget the circumstance. Your husband’s acquaintance I shall ——”

Mrs. Chichester: “What of my husband?”

Mr. Gwynne-Harden: “Only that I shall hope to meet him face to face very soon.”

Enter the Colonial Secretary simultaneously with dinner.

10 p.m., the same evening. Scene — Gwynne-Harden’s bedroom. He divests himself of his coat and waistcoat, and having done so, discovers a note addressed to himself upon the table. He reads it, and then looks long and fixedly at his own reflection in the glass.

Mr. Gwynne-Harden (tearing the note into a hundred pieces): “Humph! This is certainly the Nineteenth Century — well, I’ll sleep on it.”

Next morning the Colonial Secretary and his companion, without any apparent reason, changed their plans and continued their journey. When the buggy was at the door and the latter came to bid his hostess farewell, he said —

“I am very sorry that we are compelled to go, for I shall not have an opportunity now of meeting your husband, Mrs. Chichester. And as I leave for England in a month, it is improbable that we shall ever meet!”

To this speech Mrs. Chichester, so the Colonial Secretary thought, rather illogically said —

“God bless you!”

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005