When Madam in a brand-new brown-silk paletot went to Hobart Town for her Christmas shopping she called on the just-arrived governor's wife, marvelled what any man could have seen in her, and drove on among her maroon-velvet cushions to the Sorley house, where dear Lousia came running out with embracing arms and James Sorley followed, looking as self-conscious as a misbehaved dog. James was now Councillor Sorley, and standing so solid with the governor's party that any plain man—such as the country farmers—must both hate and fear him. But he was, unfortunately, never quite able to forget that he had once implored Madam to fly with him, and that naughty memory troubled his impeccable present. Councillor Sorley's narrow face was as bland now as neat little supporting side-whiskers could make it; but the moment he met Madam he realized that dear Louisa had grown fat, and Madam saw him do it. She regarded him gravely over her fan, for the day was hot.
"But how excellent that you should have the ear of this good governor, sir!" she said. "Together you will stamp out immorality all across this unhappy country."
"Eh? Oh, yes, certainly," assented James, nervously. Now that he had so much at stake he regarded Madam always as though she were about to throw a bomb. "Yes, there is much to be done for the country."
"Mr. Sorley does not approve of the movement to stop transportation. Do you, Mr. Sorley?" cried his wife.
"My love, we do not talk politics before such a fair visitor. And here is our Julia, returned but this week from England…. Come, my dear. Make your curtsy to one of the first ladies of the country, whom you, I trust, remember as Madam Comyn of Clent Hall."
James always would talk like a Sixth Reader, thought Madam; but she kissed young Julia warmly, for she ever loved pretty page 38things, and this thing was like a half-blown daffodil. "Bien. She should remember me…. It is not four years since I slapped both Mab and you for breaking my Doulton bowl."
"Oh, yes. And how is Mab?" said Julia, with a blush like dawn.
"Do you notice her English accent?" cried Louisa. "It is a little different from ours, I think. And she has finished her education now, Genevieve, and so she has got to come out and be married…. Haven't you, my love?"
Finished her education? thought Madam. Don't you believe it. With that face men have everything to teach her yet.
"We will have no talk of marriage, I beg," James said stiffly. "Noll goes home with you, I suppose, Madam? I should regret it but that we follow in a few days."
"And then you will all see Julia," cried the irrepressible Louisa. And although Julia very properly cast down her eyes and said, "Oh, Mamma!" like a pretty doll, she had a side glance for Oliver coming in which Madam appreciated…. Well, if he can get her, good luck to him, thought Madam. But our James will try for a title, if I know him.
Oliver, occupied with saddle-bags, pistols, tall glossy boots, and a tasselled cane or two, pulled from the breast of his buff riding-coat a small gold-chased English revolver, his latest toy. Drunk or sober, he was a fair shot, as a young man needed to be in these days of duels and bush-rangers, but he had not Mab's reckless genius with any weapon. James Sorley had ordered the revolver by Julia from England, and Oliver's pleasure and gratitude had that perfect touch which none other of Madam's family could reach. She savoured it luxuriously, just as she savoured the entrancing smell of town, the swagger of military officers in the crowded streets, the white shower of invitations which descended on her in the next few days.
"But how may I accept all!" she cried, clasping her eager hands at dear Louisa, immersed in good works. Louisa said ponderously:
"On Friday there is the guild meeting for the Girls' Home."
"That for your Girls' Home!" Madam flipped her fingers. "On Friday I drive with General Le Clerq to the rout at Brown's River."page 39
"How reckless you are, Jenny!" sighed Louisa.
"This cursed country has not yet made of me a cow or a sheep, thank God," said Madam, stoutly.
She said it again, but regretfully because the parting hurt, when a week later the Clent coach with its four well-matched bays dragged her off from her fleshpots; from the gentlemen bowing with gloved hands on hearts; from the blue harbour where the white ships commerced; full of good tarry smells and foreign shipping was Hobart Town Harbour in these rich days of gold and grain and wool and the American whaling fleet with its brown hard-eyed captains. Much of the wealth now pouring into Boston and Cape Cod came out of those smoking seas around Van Diemen's Land.
"Eh, the shops, the shops," she sighed, although the coach was full of cardboard boxes. But it was less of the shops she thought than of the pressed hands, the ardent glances and other trifles which she had collected along the way. Praise God she was not so old yet. Like a golden fan she spread her memories, furled them, smiled and looked across at Ellen Merrick, who had been down to the dentist and was glad of a lift home.
With that great bosom and those hips it was full time Ellen married, though Susan would never arrange it and the Merrick woman would naturally desire to keep her last daughter at home. Some amusement might be gained by thwarting the Merrick woman. Madam cast about in her mind among the young sons at the houses she knew. In later days she would do a like office for Jenny. And suddenly she knew that, all unknowing, it had been the urge to establish this seed of hers in high places that had driven her out across these endless wastes of wicked water, carried her through denials, desires, and privations, set her down in the wilderness as head of a name that already rang in the land. Her man with his fiery espousals of rights, his letters to the papers, had gone some of the way. Mab would go far. But little Jenny, with that flame which was Madam's bequest to her, would burn on the topmost beacon of this new land.
Men, left to themselves, went so far and no farther. It was the woman behind the man who lit the spark, the fire. Madam considered the mistresses of kings and regretted that such were page 40not convenable here. With herself as mistress of Louis Seize, she flattered herself, there would have been no revolution. One had but to keep one's finger on the public pulse.
And so the long litany of life would go on. The establishing of the name, the conquest of the land, the conception of the soul, the crucifixion of the individual will. This is the human instinct, even as the animal instinct is to sleep and eat and to beget and sleep again.
"I am the first note where Jenny will be the full chord and Jenny's children the diapason," thought Madam, sitting up straight and looking out on the Main Road made hard and smooth by the blood and labour of convicts, by the dragging feet of homeless families who passed up and down like blown leaves. The bush still came close to the road, with green bush parrots and bright galahs like strange flowers half hid in the greens. Here minahs swung in the gum trees, whistling. There a bandicoot, blinded by day, ran out with its slender snout and its fragile paws like a mouse. The dog of some bush-cutter leapt after it, and now came a frightened kangaroo, guarding the joey in her pouch and looking back with large, soft, lovely eyes.
The Main Road had been no more than a half-stumped bush track when Madam first passed up to it to her destiny. In a tapestry chair set on a feather bed with the whole lashed to the sides of a bullock-dray she had endured—ciel, but the endurance!—never lifting her feet in their green-morocco sandals from their silken cushions except at the halting-places. Celeste had held above her a green parasol with white ruchings, and James Sorley had ridden so near the wheel that his horse lost hair at the shoulder. And what had James lost while the Captain rebelled at having to use his own razors daily? "Among barbarians we set fashions, not follow them," she had said, ordering the hot water. But not even for bush-rangers would James appear before Madam unkempt. Ah, the wise James, now buttoning up his passions in a long black coat like a Nonconformist minister!
Over this bridged river the Comyn and Sorley cavalcade had once ferried on rafts, huddled together in a common misfortune, a common daring: with the white caps beneath the women's bonnets a grief to see and the smocked labourers handling their page 41muskets like pitchforks. But about the red camp-fires, through the dark nights terrible with curious odours and that awful silence of the bush, if they handled other matters who could blame them? Not Madam, who managed to marry off most of the maids and men before much harm was done.
Here they had come, the little handful of pioneers, as no pioneers had come in all the history of men. Not, like the Pilgrim Fathers, flung on a foreign shore with each acre to chop and wrest from the Indians and the wilderness, but as gentlemen with land already their own and a thousand convict slaves to run at their bidding. These settlers of the Two Services never needed to soil their hands, and they spent money like water, and always there was more, and almost the first houses they raised were mansions. To be sure, there were dangers when the blacks came down and the spears sang and camp-fires were hurriedly trodden out and the men stood round the women in the bullock-carts. There was danger yet from bush-rangers, who increased daily. But the greatest danger of all, agreed the gentlemen meeting in their clubs, was the Colonial Office in London, who insisted on running this least and farthest portion of England's empire like a county town with a smug mayor.
The Colonial Office, whether they pigeonholed the increasing tide of letters from colonists petitioning for their own government and forgot Van Diemen's Land unless a new convoy was sailing for the penal settlements, or whether they remembered too heartily, as when Mrs. Fry and other fools sent out the female sweepings of a dozen institutions to improve the morals of a land of males (and most of them had to go into the Girls' Home straight off the boat), was making a hopeless mess of it. Mr. Keyes, who had just returned from England to his run below Clent on the river, had gone to the Colonial Office and said so. And the Colonial Office had called them a hybrid. What the deuce can you do with a hybrid State governed politically out of London, theologically out of Calcutta, and practically out of the hotheads on the spot who are never content? asked the Colonial Office.
Then, for God's sake, give us our own government and stop transportation, said Mr. Keyes. The Colonial Office had put up page 42its eyeglass at that. My dear sir, you are a penal settlement. What on earth do you think we annexed that damn country for? asked the Colonial Office. So Mr. Keyes had gone away talking of how the United States had cast off England's hated yoke, for he was a scholar in his spare time. But that, thought Madam descending for the midday halt at a small stone inn with red geraniums and fan windows, had not in the least intimidated the Colonial Office, which continued to import governors who clapped on endless taxes and made ridiculous laws, and convicts who had to be kept according to England's standard and shot if they rebelled against it and took to the bush where they made life very uncomfortable for the settlers.