"WHO WAS that woman?" asked Mrs Colquhoun, a rich lady who had come recently to live at Sarsaparilla.
"Ah," Mrs Sugden said, and laughed, "that was Miss Hare."
"She appears an unusual sort of person." Mrs Colquhoun ventured to hope.
"Well," replied Mrs Sugden, "I cannot deny that Miss Hare is different."
But the postmistress would not add to that. She started poking at a dry sponge. Even at her most communicative, talking with authority of the weather, which was her subject, she favoured the objective approach.
Mrs Colquhoun was able to see for herself that Miss Hare was a small, freckled thing, whose stockings, at that moment, could have been coming down. To tell the truth, Mrs Colquhoun was somewhat put out by the postmistress's discretion, but could not remain so indefinitely, for the war was over, and the peace had not yet set hard.
Miss Hare continued to walk away from the post office, through a smell of moist nettles, under the pale disc of the sun. An early pearliness of light, a lamb's-wool of morning promised the millennium, yet, between the road and the shed in which the Godbolds lived, the burnt-out blackberry bushes, lolling and waiting in rusty coils, suggested that the enemy might not have withdrawn. As Miss Hare passed, several barbs of several strands attached themselves to the folds of her skirt, pulling on it, tight, tight, tighter, until she was all spread out behind, part woman, part umbrella.
"You could get torn," Mrs Godbold warned, who had come up to the edge of the road, in search of something, whether child, goat, or perhaps just the daily paper.
"Oh, I could get torn," Miss Hare answered. "But what is a little tear?"
It did not matter.
Mrs Godbold was rather large. She smiled at the ground, incredulous, but glad.
"I saw a wombat," Miss Hare called.
"Not a wombat! In these parts? I do not believe you!" Mrs Godbold answered back.
Miss Hare laughed.
"What did it look like?" Mrs Godbold called, and laughed.
Still looking in the grass.
"I will tell you," Miss Hare declared, laughing, but always walking away.
It did not matter to either that much would remain unexplained. It did not matter that neither had looked at the other's face, for each was aware that the moment could yield no more than they already knew. Somewhere in the past, that particular relationship had been fully ratified.
Miss Hare went on, together with her emancipated skirt. With the back of her hand she hit a fence-post, to hear her father's bloodstone ring. She would knock thus on objects, to punctuate periods which, otherwise, might never have had an end. Now she heard the redeeming knock. She heard the wings of a bird suddenly break free from silence. She sang a little, or made sounds. All along the road--or track, the older people still called it--which rambled down from Sarsaparilla to Xanadu, the earth was black and oozy in the early morning of early spring. In all that dreamy landscape it seemed that each particle, not least Miss Hare herself, contributed towards some perfection. Nothing could be added to improve the whole.
Yet, was she not about to attempt?
Once or twice in the far past she had attempted to play with the ring on her father's hand.
"It is not a toy," he had warned. "You must learn to respect property."
So she had begun to.
The mother, also, had worn rings, amethysts for preference. She favoured the twilight colours. Her clothes were in no way memorable, except perhaps her collection of woolly wraps, of such lightness they could not possibly have weighed upon her. The little girl was allowed to touch the clothes and rings her mother wore, even to grow rough with them. Too delicate to protest much, unless an issue exceeded the bounds of taste, Eleanor Hare wished most earnestly to do what was right, as wife and mother.
"I am so afraid, Norbert, we shall not love our child enough. With my health. And your interests."
"Oh, love!" the father replied, and laughed fit to shatter it forever.
"I had no intention of causing you pain," his wife complained, before withdrawing into herself, under a big woolly shawl, a sage-green, and a hot-water bottle which she would hold to her neuralgia.
"If only you would prevent her knocking over coffee cups," he requested, "especially into the laps of guests, and snapping off dahlias, and stamping up and down the landing while I am reading. I need a certain amount of silence while I am thinking something out."
"It is only reasonable," she agreed, "that a child should learn to respect other people's needs."
Anybody's reasonableness, and particularly his wife's, was what infuriated him most.
So the child learned, as far as her natural clumsiness would allow, to move softly, like a leaf, and certain words she avoided, because they were breakable. The word LOVE, for instance, brittle as glass, and far more precious. Oh, she could go carefully enough in the end, in little, starched movements. And had learnt to love, even, but after her secret fashion, the labyrinths of corridors, the big, cool, greenish rooms, the golden walls of stone, the tunnels through the shrubberies.
- Patrick White
Riders in the Chariot