Ausonia Stands By
A wayward sister, a Bolshevik father and a stuttering lover had Aussie—but she managed to manage them all—most of the time
BERNARD J. FARMER
IT WOULD seem cruel to saddle six and a half pounds of baby with a name like Leviathan; but that might easily happen, for it is the custom to give a baby born on board ship the name of the ship.
Ausonia Dill was fairly lucky; she might have been christened Berengaria Beryl or Aquitania May, instead of which she was let off with Ausonia Dorothy, and that, for reasons not unconnected with what the neighbors called swank, was soon shortened to Aussie, which made people think she was Australian. She was not. She was half English and half Canadian—bom half way across the Atlantic.
At the time when the good ship Ausonia was booming through the turbulent seas at seventeen knots or so, a magnificent man in gold lace smiled kindly down at weary Mrs. Dill, while Mr. Dill looked on red in the face and speechless with gratification.
Thus it happened that when the Ausonia docked at Quebec, she had an extra soul on board, which was marvellous in the extreme to Mr. and Mrs. Dill, but Canada took very little notice. She is used to the peculiarities of immigrants.
TWENTY years had made a big difference to the pathetic little scrap of humanity that had ooohed and gurgled and bit querulously at the captain’.s finger. Ausonia had grown to a slim, dark haired girl, with a pair of large, candid, gray eyes, and a charm and directness of character peculiarly her own. Once the first officer, a married man and therefore an authority, had been good enough to say she had father’s nose; then she had merely yawned indifferently, while Mr. Dill had looked indignant. If you told her so now, Mr. Dill would cough modestly, expand his chest, and squint surreptitiously in the pier glass, while Ausonia, in all probability, would give you an epitome of your character that would astonish you.
She believed in frankness. That was her chief characteristic—appalling frankness and a certain delightful freshness of manner. She exulted in life and was inter-
ested in herself and everybody else. She knew all about the ice-man and the ice-man’s baby’s teething troubles; she could have told you why little Mrs. O’Doole always turned white round the lips if anyone talked about prison reform and the shortening of sentences; and she could repeat to an adjective Police-Constable Stacey’s opinion of the Inspector—in short, she lent a ready and sympathetic ear to all the troubles of the neighborhood, and they were many and various.
Ten years after the Dills had settled in Toronto, Mrs. Dill had given up the struggle for existence, and it had fallen to Ausonia to bring up the family, ranging from Alice, now aged sixteen, to Johnny, aged eleven. Mr. Dill unreservedly cast everything unworthy of a man, such as housekeeping, education, and the problem of making two ends of a short income meet, on to his daughter’s slim shoulders, and he was always ready to grumble at the result. He was a bricklayer by trade, a mixture of the traditional British workman and the Canadian hustler, which meant that he would growl continually under his breath, while laying bricks with incredible speed and precision.
Ausonia managed him with a mixture of tact and firmness, as, indeed, she managed everything else. On Saturday noons, Mr. Dill, arriving home at No. 10 Panton street, would find a small pink hand outstretched and his daughter’s gray eyes fixed commandingly on his.
“Come across, little man,” she would say. “Make it snappy!”
Mr. Dill would shift uneasily from one foot to the other, hum and haw, and talk convincingly about Trade Unions and the privileges of the proletariat; but the result was always the same—his pay envelope would disappear into his daughter’s pocket, and he would get an approving pat on the shoulder and a hurried kiss.
IT WAS Sunday mid-day, and Ausonia was presiding over the Dill dinner table. Mr. Dill, very conscious of his collar and white tie and what he called his ‘Sunday
trousis,’ sat at the foot. All were present except Alice Ausonia noted her absence, but said nothing and commenced to carve.
“Wot we want,” said Mr. Dill loudly, “is a decent government and decent noosepapers. That yellow rag, the Tribune, is run by capitalist ’ogs.”
The government and the Tribune, the editor of which was in office especially to annoy Mr. Dill, were a source of never-ending inspiration.
“I’m sure you’re right, dear,” said Ausonia cheerfully, and mentally stored up a black against the missing Alice.
“Gimme a cup o’ tea,” growled Mr. Dill.
“Please!” prompted his daughter.
“Please,” he muttered, and then paused in the act of stirring it, the handle of his knife suspended in mid-air.
Ausonia, about to deliver a lecture on the use of spoons, followed his eyes.
Alice stood in the door-way, nay, she hid the door-way. One’s eyes could not get past her. She was arrayed in the best of her own and her sister’s wardrobes—that is to say, she had on Ausonia’s best dress, a new pair of silk stockings, and her own shoes; and her face was a miracle of misapplied art—it was literally plastered with powder and a vivid slash of crimson marked her mouth.
A furious bellow broke the silence. Mr. Dill had found his voice. “Wot—wot the stutterin’ primroses do you mean by cornin’ in like that,” he roared. “ ’ere am I, sweatin’ and toilin’ my ’art out to give you a good ’ome, and you goes and dresses like a chorus gal! Wha’ d’yer mean by it, hey?”
“Mean by what?” said Alice sullenly.
Mr. Dill drew a deep breath.
“Don’t try it, father,” warned Ausonia kindly, “you’ll burst!” She turned to Alice. “Now then,” she commanded, “out with it!”
“I’ve gotta date,” muttered Alice. “With a boy,” she added proudly.
“Nonsense,” said Ausonia briskly, “What do you want with a boy. You’re only sixteen—only a kid.”
“I’m not,” cried Alice stormily. “You’re always try-
ng to keep me down. Look at the boys you’ve had; and your steady’s always hanging round!”
Ausonia’s steady was one, Charlie Gunn by name. He was an electrician, and a veritable rock of Gibraltar as far as his affections were concerned. He had need to be. Ausonia’s love affairs were often tempestuous and always short. They usually terminated with a smack in the face or a trivial kiss. In justice to her it should be noted that the timorous lover was never smacked. His portion was the trivial kiss.
Perhaps Ausonia remembered some of this, for her manner became a trifle less didactory.
“Well,” she amended, “I’ll have a look at him and then we’ll see. Now march!”
She caught Alice by the shoulder and marched her out of the room and into the bathroom; then turned on the tap of the wash basin.
“Bend!” she commanded, and pressed the culprit’s head down until frantic gasps and splutterings warned her that suffocation was nigh.
“Aussie, you beast!” cried Alice, as soon as she had got her breath back.
Ausonia regarded her sister’s flushed face dispassionately. The powder was running down in thick, woeful streaks, and her beautiful cupid’s bow was but a hideous memory.
“That’ll teach you,” she remarked calmly. “Now wipe it all off and come in clean.”
Ausonia had no sympathy with paint and powder. She had no need of it. When other women were running frantically out of the rain to save their complexions from ruin, she would walk calmly on, wearing her ten dollars worth of clothes like a queen, serenely conscious that rain might rain and earthquakes quake, but her nose would never shine.
When Alice returned to table, cleaned but not subdued, Mr. Dill was again holding forth on his favorite subjects. He grunted recognition of Alice’s return to the narrow path and continued to disparage the beef.
“I’m quite sure you are right, dear,” said Ausonia sweetly.
“Henry, don’t eat like a steam-shovel!”
Henry turned his eyes to the ceiling.
“Aussie’s ir.ad,” he remarked.
“I’m not mad, little man, but I will be if you eat like that! Alice, it’s your turn to help with the washing up.”
“I’m going to wipe,” stipulated Alice, “I don’t want to muss my dress.”
“My dress,” corrected Ausonia, who always seemed to be lending her clothes; and you’re going to wash. How many plates did you break last week?”
To this there was no reply forthcoming, as the evidence of the crime was still unburied, and the meal proceeded in silence.
After dinner, Ausonia, following the in memorial code, piled up the crockery and carried it into the sink. Alice followed slowly and rebelliously.
“Why can’t Henry do it?” she complained,
“or Joan? I’m going out.”
“It’s your turn,” said Ausonia decidedly,
“and you won’t go out till they’re done.”
Alice replied by dropping in a plate with a splash that half drowned them both, and then banged it on the table. Ausonia calmly dried it.
Meanwhile Mr. Dill was claiming the privilege of a father—the right to criticize his daughter’s housekeeping accounts and doze at intervals in the best armchair; and he opened the modest little black book, which held the secrets of a woman’s genius, and ran his thick forefinger down the columns, growling discontentedly at each item.
Ausonia kept an eye on him, the clock, and Alice and the washing up, all at the same time. To each of her father’s remarks she invariably answered: “Yes, dear;” and always in the right place.
Mr. Dill was quite satisfied. It showed he was master in his own house—a thing the proletariat should always be. As he was fond of remarking to his mates, he ruled the household with an iron hand, and what was the result? An elder daughter any man might be proud of. Here his mates quite agreed, particularly those who had seen Ausonia, but they denied that he had anything to do with it.
At half past two Ausonia wiped the last plate and banged it energetically in the rack. The faithful Charlie was due at three.
“Where are you meeting this boy of yours?” she asked Alice, as she untied the strings of her apron, preparatory to going upstairs.
“Because I want to see him.”
“I won’t have you interfering,” said Alice angrily, “I can take care of myself.”
“Yes,” said Ausonia pointedly, “I remember the last time. Where are you meeting him?”
“Here!” Alice flew off in a temper and slammed the door.
Ausonia went upstairs.
"YYTHEN she came down again ten minutes later, there ' ’ was an ominous stillness in the house; only the heavy breathing of Mr. Dill, who was dozing, broke the silence. The younger children had gone to Sunday school, but Ausonia opened the parlor door fully expecting to find Alice waiting for her boy. She was gone.
Ausonia whistled softly. “So that’s it,” she murmured, and whistled again in a manner which boded a tempestuous welcome home later for Alice.
Mr. Dill stirred uneasily and opened his eyes. “Has that screw-driver fixer of yours come yet?” he demanded sourly.
Ausonia shook her head.
“Where’s Alice?” was the next question.
“Gone!” said Ausonia shortly.
“I thought her boy was coming ’ere. I want to ’ave a look at ’im.”
“Well, he didn’t and you won’t!”
“Wot!” Mr. Dill rose from his chair and settled his dinner with an indignant shake. “Rebellion!” he roared. “Rebellion in my own’ouse. ’Ere’s a nice state o’ things for a ’ard working man to find. And on Sunday, too, the ’ussy!”
Before he could give further vent to his feelings, the door bell rang.
“That’s Charlie,” said Ausonia, and hurried to the door.
WITH Charlie Gunn her feelings were principally maternal. She rather pitied him. His was the blind devotion that survived the turbulent affections of the other suitors. In appearance he was short and stocky, with a round, good-humored face, and he walked with a quiet smoothness peculiar to men who habitually clamber about on buildings. He was a good workman, but there
his advantages ended. He would not or could not take care of himself, and he talked with a nervous stutter.
Ausonia had first met him in a manner all her own. Walking down town one day, she had noticed an argument in progress at a street corner. One man was very red in the face and stuttering furiously; the other, a dark, Machiavellian looking gentleman, was regarding him with cool impudence.
“Gi-gi-gi-give it me,” sturtered the furious one.
“Nonsense,” said the other easily. ‘‘I haven’t got your darned dollar.”
Ausonia interposed “What’s the matter?” she inquired.
The Machiavellian one regarded her admiringly. “This bum says I have a dollar of his.”
“I d-d-d-dropped it and he p-p-p-picked it up,” got out the stutterer, after much agonised opening and shutting of his mouth.
Ausonia held out her hand. “Come across little man,” she said sweetly. “There’s a policeman standing at the corner—a big one. I know him,” she added after a long and painful pause.
The dark gentleman looked in her eyes, and then reluctantly surrendered a crumpled bill.
“I’ll give it to you, dearie,” he said with a twisted smile.
Ausonia smacked his face.
The report startled the stutterer out of his stutter. “Oh, well done!” he cried approvingly, then: “Take Continued on page 62
Continued from page 17
that!” And he landed a good left-hander j on the jaw.
The dark one, defeated on two points, and seeing that the policeman was beginning to stir from his monumental pose, felt he was getting unpopular, and he turned hurriedly and walked away.
Ausonia restored the dollar to its rightI ful owner. “Why didn’t you hit him at first?” she said severely. “It would have I saved me a lot of trouble.”
The stutterer blushed. “I d-d-d-don’t know.”
“You needn’t stutter. I can hear you quite well without. And don’t be so humble; what you want, my lad, is a little more confidence.”
There and then she had taken him in hand, and in three months worked wonders; the stutter she had reduced by half and cherished hopes of total elimination. No longer did he moon about the streets dressed in old clothes; he was now confronting Mr. Dill, a very creditable example of what young men should wear in the spring time, and regarding that j irascible parent with a lack of respect due to his proclivities. When he had first ! come to visit Ausonia he had been abject.
Mr. Dill half extended his hand, then withdrew it suddenly to pick at his teeth.
“The man as marries my Aussie ’as got to be good—mind that!” he said severely.
■ ‘‘Aussie could marry a duke or a Chicago millionaire, if she was minded that way. Rockyfeiler, ’imself, would be glad to ’ave her, I shouldn’t wonder.”
“When I want to marry, father, I’ll tell you,” said Ausonia. “Till then don’t talk about it. Now then, Charlie, let’s go.”
They had arranged to take the ferry across to Centre Island and picnic there a deux. On the way, Ausonia discussed the erring Alice, expressing opinions about her boy friend which must have made that gentleman’s ears burn; but here Charlie showed an unexpected fund of philosopy. It was a new thing for Ausonia to consult him about anything.
“I shouldn’t worry any,” he counselled. “If you stopped her g-g-going, she would be always m-m-moaning round; now she has gone he may make her so s-sick that she 1-lay off boys for a long time to come. B-b-besides, she can take care of herself; she has plenty of e-eommon sense.”
“When she wants to use it,” thought
Ausonia to herself, but turned to matters more intimate. She was conscious of the growing change in Charlie and prided herself on the accomplishment. She had all the enthusiasm for him that a baseball fan has for his favorite pitcher. She was determined to convert him into a red, full-blooded, he-man, or perish in the attempt.
Charlie objected, not to the conversion, but the reason for it.
“Pity’s not love,” he said rather discontentedly, as they were crossing back in the ferry after an afternoon unswervingly devoted to culture.
“No,” flashed Ausonia, “but half a loaf’s better than no bread.”
Charlie made no reply and pondered over this profound remark in silence until they were once more at the Dill’s house.
“I—I want ...” he began, nerving himself for a great effort.
“I know what you want, but don’t say it,‘ interposed Ausonia, who thought things were very well as they were. “You had better not come in to-night, for with father and Alice both talking at once you won’t be able to hear yourself speak. Come on Monday night. And remember, death to that stutter!”
She kissed him lightly, and opening the door, prepared once more to throw her weight into the scales of justice and peace.
A furious bellow greeted her. Mr. Dill was both at home and awake.
“Look at this,” he roared, indignantly shaking a scrap of paper. “While you go gadding about the city, my ‘ome’s gone to rack and ruin. The shameless ’ussy!” Ausonia calmly drew off her gloves and read the note. The signature was unnecessary. The words were unmistakably Alice. In the shortest possible way they stated she was fed up at home and going away with her boy.
“Why didn’t you tell me before she ’ad a boy,” demanded Mr. Dill in an aggrieved voice, as if Ausonia was in some way responsible.
Ausonia ignored the question. “When did this come?” she asked.
“She must ’ave sneaked in while I was ’aving a nap.”
“Did she take a bag?”
“ ’ow do I know?”
Ausonia went upstairs and confirmed her worst suspicions. Alice had taken a hag and she had shown a beautiful dis-
regard for the laws of meum et tuum. Ausonia found her best set of lingerie gone while Joan had contributed a brush and comb. Henry and Johnny, fortunately, had nothing to give.
Whistling softly, Ausonia came downstairs again and went into the tiny hallway. A few moments later Police Constable Stacey was listening over the ’phone to a concise account; and with his sympathies quickened by the memory of the way Ausonia had helped when his young wife was sick, he confidently predicted the return of the prodigal in a few hours.
’oo are you ’phoning?” shouted Mr. Dill through the door.
“Wot! ’im! I won’t ’ave that cop in my ’ouse!”
“You won’t have to,” explained Ausonia patiently; “as soon as they find them, I shall bring Alice home.”
“Now look ’ere,” he began, “I won’t ’ave ...”
“Be quiet, father,” said Ausonia wearily. “Just leave it to me. I shall do what’s right.”
She surveyed the hungry, expectant faces of the family and bustled into the kitchen and tied on her apron. Troubles might come and troubles would go, but man must eat forever, or so it seemed
“Get out the plates, Joan,” she called; “and Henry, come and watch the sausages.”
Joan was a grown up woman of twelve, with solemn gray eyes, graver and wider even than her sister’s; and she was noted ■—and feared—for the profoundness of her thoughts,
“I think Alice is a very wicked girl,” she said slowly and distinctly; and having given them the benefit of her considered opinion, she proceeded to lay out plates with great method and exactness. In all probability, unless addressed, she would be silent now for the rest of the evening.
Mr. Dill impatiently stamped about the room, then glaring defiantly at the back of Ausonia’s head, he brought out his pipe and stuffed it with coarse tobacco.
“What are we goin’ to do now?” he growled, after an inspirational puff.
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Ausonia turned a suspicious eye on the sausages and sniffed. “Do?” she said absently. “What can we do but wait? Henry, if that's a burnt one, you’re going to eat it!”
Just then Mr. Dill incautiously blew a cloud of smoke through the kitchen door, and she sniffed again. “Father,” she said in a voice which would have led most men to give up smoking forever, "must you smoke your pipe before supper? I'm sure it will stunt Johnny's growth. The paper said so.”
Mr. Dill threw his pipe on the floor and laughed—that hideous, martyred laugh of his. It was only one more thing the Tribune, had to answer for. It had helped the government into power expressly against his wishes; it supported a police force picked solely from his enemies; and now it had stopped him smoking his pipe before supper. The editor had better be careful!
Ausonia relieved the tension by rescuing the sausages from Henry’s lax guardianship, and supper began. Without Alice it was a silent meal.
Ausonia mechanically filled the plates before her, a frown puckering her usually serene brow. She knew only too well what Alice was capable of doing when she met with opposition.
Mr. Dill fixed his eyes on his daughter and waited hopefully for a miracle. Beneath the grouse and grumble he considered his right, he had unbounded faith in her judgment. If she had told him to burn the city down, he would have obeyed or tried until he was locked up. As for firemen and police, who were they to interfere if his daughter wanted a fire? So now-, with blind confidence he waited for orders.
Henry was in a world of his own—a world that only Ausonia had ever penetrated. The latest thing to take his fancy w-as the great new locomotive of the Canadian National. He could see himself at the throttle, roaring through station after station, while the fireman stoked himself to exhaustion at his behest.
Johnny was a man of one idea at a time. He was thinking of his supper—how much he could eat before Ausonia stopped him.
As for Joan, no one could ever tell what she was thinking. She sat solemnly still, her eyes fixed in a wide, unwinking stare. Later, perhaps to-morrow, perhaps next week, she would pronounce the verdict on the problem that was vexing her. Sudden, terrible, devastating, it would come—the last word on the subject, Joan’s opinion. Even that epitome of rectitude, the Rev. Aloysius Cholmondeley, D.D. had blenched when Joan had once delivered her considered opinion of his appearance. Ausonia alone knew the signs of eruption —a sudden narrowing of her eyes, the parting of her soft lips; and at difficult moments, such as in church, she had to w-atch ceaselessly to smother the volcano when it threatened to burst forth.
But her thoughts were far away from Joan now. Her imagination was vying with her common sense. At the back of her mind were all manner of terrible things that might have happened to Alice. And what could she do but wait? She sighed. It is sometimes hard for a head of twenty to assume the wisdom of one of forty. She roused herself as Johnny made a sweeping attack on the apple pie and sent him to bed.
At that moment Henry woke from his dreams to demand the last sausage. As it passed Joan on its way to him, she reached out with her fork and calmly abstracted it
“I’m still hungry,” she said in explanation.
For the moment Henry was speechless. Her audacity had taken his breath away.
Ausonia promptly quelled the threatened storm.
“Have some apple pie,” she offered soothingly. “Railroad men always eat apple pie. Ben told me so.”
Henry capitulated. He hadn’t much of
an opinion of sisters in general; but, if a marvellous man like Ben Jarvis, a real engineer on a freight train, could find time to admire Ausonia, well, she must have some sense in her.
Thus peace was restored and Ausonia returned to her thoughts.
“Shall I go out and ’unt?” said Mr. Dill at last.
Ausonia shook her head, and he sank back into a despondent silence.
The time dragged on and on, until at last there was a gentle thud. Joan’s forehead had hit the table. She was asleep. Henry gave vent to a weird, melancholy wail—he was passing the level crossing at Queen street—and prodded her vigorously in the ribs. She turned slowly and subjected him to a petrifying glare.
“Time you went to bed, loved one,” said Ausonia.
As Joan got.up, the telephone bell rang. She promptly sat down again.
Unconsciously Ausonia’s chin lifted. “I’ll answer it,” she said quickly, and left the room.
Presently she returned and Mr. Dill growled inquiringly.
“I’m going to fetch Alice home,” she said shortly, “and I’ve ’phoned Charlie to come with me,”
He opened his mouth to speak, but Ausonia cut him short. “You can do nothing,” she advised. “Better go to bed; and Joan, you go to bed too, there’s a dear, and take the National with you.”
'"PEN minutes later Ausonia, with
T Charlie by her side, was speeding through the city in a taxi.
“What’s Alice been doing?” asked Charlie curiously.
“Tried to make her boy run away with her.”
Charlie whistled under his breath and glanced covertly at Ausonia, but ventured nothing further till the taxi stopped outside a neat, unpretentious house situated in a row of such houses.
At once Constable Stacey appeared at the door and whispered to Ausonia :“I’ve tried to do the thing as quietly as possible. We found them at the station an hour ago. Where they were going they didn’t seem to know themselves. I thought it best to take them to the boy’s home: you don’t want to go to the police station, and your old man is, well ...”
“Jack, you’re a dear,” said Ausonia smiling.
“I’ll wait here,” promised the gratified constable, “in case I’m wanted. I’m afraid the mother’s pretty mad; she threatened to lay a charge against Alice for abduction!”
“Don’t bother to wait; I’ll manage her,” said Ausonia confidently, and rang the bell.
The door opened violently, and a tall, angular woman appeared, with her hair screwed up in paper curlers.
“So you’ve come, have you,” she cried harshly. “Who’s the man with you?”
“I’m her fiancé,” said Charlie quickly, with a temerity that surprised himself.
“More likely ...” began the woman, then stopped herself with an effort.
Ausonia went very white. “Suppose you keep to the business in hand,” she said with ominous quietness. “I’ve come to take my sister home, Mrs. ...”
“Bates is my name; and I’ve a good mind to lay a charge,” cried the angry mother; then becoming aware of a sus-
picious brightness in the windows of the house next door, she beckoned them in and threw open the door of the living room.
“There!” she cried fiercely, “there she is! Got herself into trouble, I dare say, and tried to make my son responsible.” Ausonia’s eyes blazed and she took a step forward. “How dare you say that,” she cried hotly, and turned to Alice sitting pale and frightened in a corner, with a long, gangling youth of nineteen or twenty beside her.
“Why did you try and run away, Alice?” she asked.
“She said you ill-treated her,” put in Mrs. Bates triumphantly. “You look the sort that would, I must say.”
Ausonia ignored her. “Have I ever ill-treated you, Alice?” she said quietly.
Alice avoided her sister’s eye. “We had a row,” she muttered.
“I’ve always tried to be fair with you.” Alice looked up. “I know you have,” she said quickly. . “I’m sorry, Aussie—I was a beast.”
“Shameless,” cried the mother.
Alice began to cry softly. “I’m so glad you’ve come, Aussie,” she sobbed; “this woman’s been saying the most horrible things.”
“They’re true,” said the mother, with a nod of her head. “She’s only known my son three days; and she told him that if he loved her as much as he said he did, he’d take her away and marry her. Marry her, indeed!”
The youth gazed fixedly at his mother. In her presence he seemed to have no mind of his own.
Ausonia eyed him with cold contempt. “Led away by a child of sixteen,” she observed scornfully. “Come, Alice, we’ll go!”
“Yes,” cried his mother violently,” and if she ever comes here again, I’ll have her locked up—mind that!”
Ausonia turned. “If your son is as weak as all that,” she said bitingly, “I should advise you to lock him up.”
“I’ll have you know my son’s a good mechanic,” shouted the other. “Mr. Goodridge said only the other day ...” Ausonia shut the door.
It was a silent journey home. Ausonia leaned back in the taxi; her head ached abominably and suddenly she felt very tired.
Alice put out a tentative hand. “You were a brick to me, Aussie,” she whispered softly; “you stuck up for me in there . . ” “You told that woman that I illtreated you,” said Ausonia in a strained voice.
“I never meant it.”
“You ought to be smacked,” said Charlie, with sudden and unlooked for violence.
Ausonia closed her eyes. Was she cruel and domineering, as that woman had suggested, she wondered dully. As long as she could remember she had tried to give. She had grown up with the burdens of the family on her shoulders. When the golden stream had seemed to dry up; when one of them had been sick; when one of them had been in trouble; she had battled, schemed, pitted herself valiantly against fate. Now she wanted desperately to take.
The taxi lurched round a corner, and she felt Charlie’s sleeve brush against her hand. The contact seemed sure and unimaginative, like himself.
From far away his voice came clear and stolid: “You heard what I told that woman?”
“Yes,” she murmured.
“About my being your fiancé?”
“It’s true, isn’t it?”
Ausonia put out her hand and his fingers closed over hers. The woman, Alice, and her troubles faded to a great distance. She felt she wanted to cry— she, who had never allowed herself such a weakness. Charlie seemed to understand, for he put his arm round her protectingly, and she hid her face in his shoulder.