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Old Roses
by [?]

It was a barren country, and Wadgery was generally shrivelled with heat, but he always had roses in his garden, on his window-sill, or in his button-hole. Growing flowers under difficulties was his recreation. That was why he was called Old Roses. It was not otherwise inapt, for there was something antique about him, though he wasn’t old; a flavour, an old-fashioned repose and self-possession. He was Inspector of Tanks for this God-forsaken country. Apart from his duties he kept mostly to himself, though when not travelling he always went down to O’Fallen’s Hotel once a day for a glass of whisky and water–whisky kept especially for him; and as he drank this slowly he talked to Victoria Lindley the barmaid, or to any chance visitors whom he knew. He never drank with any one, nor asked any one to drink; and, strange to say, no one resented this. As Vic said: “He was different.” Dicky Merritt, the solicitor, who was hail-fellow with squatter, homestead lessee, cockatoo-farmer, and shearer, called him “a lively old buffer.” It was he, indeed, who gave him the name of Old Roses. Dicky sometimes went over to Long Neck Billabong, where Old Roses lived, for a reel, as he put it, and he always carried away a deep impression of the Inspector’s qualities.

“Had his day,” said Dicky in O’Fallen’s sitting-room one night, “in marble halls, or I’m a Jack. Run neck and neck with almighty swells once. Might live here for a thousand years and he’d still be the nonesuch of the back-blocks. I’d patent him–file my caveat for him to-morrow, if I could, bully Old Roses!”

Victoria Lindley, the barmaid, lifted her chin slightly from her hands, as she leaned through the opening between the bar and the sitting-room, and said: “Mr. Merritt, Old Roses is a gentleman; and a gentleman is a gentleman till he–“

“Till he humps his bluey into the Never Never Land, Vic? But what do you know about gentlemen, anyway? You were born only five miles from the jumping-off place, my dear.”

“Oh,” was the quiet reply, “a woman–the commonest woman–knows a gentleman by instinct. It isn’t what they do, it’s what they don’t do; and Old Roses doesn’t do lots of things.”

“Right you are, Victoria, right you are again! You do Tibbooburra credit. Old Roses has the root of the matter in him–and there you have it.”

Dicky had a profound admiration for Vic. She had brains, was perfectly fearless, no man had ever taken a liberty with her, and every one in the Wadgery country who visited O’Fallen’s had a wholesome respect for her opinion.

About this time news came that the Governor, Lord Malice, would pass through Wadgery on his tour up the back-blocks. A great function was necessary. It was arranged. Then came the question of the address of welcome to be delivered at the banquet. Dicky Merritt and the local doctor were named for the task, but they both declared they’d only “make rot of it,” and suggested Old Roses.

They went to lay the thing before him. They found him in his garden. He greeted them, smiling in his quiet, enigmatical way, and listened. While Dicky spoke, a flush slowly passed over him, and then immediately left him pale; but he stood perfectly still, his hand leaning against a sandal tree, and the coldness of his face warmed up again slowly. His head having been bent attentively as he listened, they did not see anything unusual.

After a moment of inscrutable deliberation, he answered that he would do as they wished. Dicky hinted that he would require some information about Lord Malice’s past career and his family’s history, but he assured them that he did not need it; and his eyes idled ironically with Dicky’s face.

When the two had gone, Old Roses sat in his room, a handful of letters, a photograph, and a couple of decorations spread out before him, his fingers resting on them, his look engaged with a far horizon.