Although Madam carried a gallant air—for who would show weakness before one's family?—she was unhappy. In this world was too much food, too much drinking, too much lovemaking, too much politics. Breathings, babblings, odours. A world of nakedness and buckram shapes, with Susan effectually damning the new baby by calling it Charlotte Merrick after her mother, and her canaries in their new gilt pagodas refusing to sing, and Mab riding in races from Campbell Town away to Burnie, sending his horses at all the large fences with that ferocity of impatience which had been his ever since he learned Julia was to be married.
Because Madam had not wanted Julia to marry Mab she would never forgive James Sorley for denying her the luxury of saying so. But Mab was so wild, so désolé, and, William complained, so drunken. It was understandable. Lucy, the minx, had whetted in him the new appetites; Julia had allowed him to taste, had promised a full feast and abruptly withdrawn it. Now he knew that he was hungry. He was hankering. Had a sense of injury, of loss. In a young man love amounted to little more than that, but Madam would be glad if he would satisfy himself elsewhere and be done with it. A foolish half-animal creature, civilized man, but one must make the best of him, since there is no other.
It was almost harder to make the best of the Captain, who was full of indignation meetings and would not keep politics off the dinner-table or convict servants out of the wine. When a convict servant absconded he had turned out the country-side and actually had the police bloodhounds up from Oatlands. But nothing came of it. Nothing ever did come of anything now, thought Madam, while the Captain cut roast meat with energy and used the names of the colony's strongest men—Richard Dry, William Kermode, Anthony Fenn Kemp—like flails.page 82
"They'll save us yet, damme," he said.
Roger Keyes, who had come up for the latest indignation meeting, hoped much from the new governor, but the Captain, his blue eyes all distress and fire, refused to hope. Life, no doubt, had moments of compensation, even of rapture. But not, he asserted, in Van Diemen's Land.
"This new man … Denison, do they call him? Damme, they're all Gladstone or Stanley under fancy names. Every consummate rascal of 'em trying to curry favour with his employers by screwin' a bit more out of us. Taxation and ad valorem duties on foreign goods, toll-gates at so much a wheel for vehicles and so much a leg for a horse."
"A little exaggeration clears the air," said Mr. Keyes, genially.
"And Gladstone has now vacated the Colonial Secretaryship in favour of Earl Grey, you remember."
"They can call their cursed solemn puppies what they choose.
Collins, Arthur, Gladstone, Denison … or Towser. All the same pack, yapping at our heels for what they can get."
"They won't get much. But I certainly think it a mistake to reduce the regiments. The convict element is so unwieldy; and though trouble among them is likely to be sporadic, one never knows what might happen if they could get together."
Susan tried a diversion, with her usual unhappy results: "Martha Sorley says Captain Berry is to relieve the commandant at Port Arthur so soon as he is married. I think Julia will find that very painful."
Mab laughed with the air of some wild thing who sees in every one a possible foe. "Why should she? She will be well shielded."
"Berry is an ardent lover," pursued Susan. "Martha says that though he might do much better, once he came into his title, he never thinks of that."
What are the garters of a peer to the garters of the woman one loves?" said Madam, blandly, thereby silencing that bête Susan, who would never consent to having legs at all.
But it was all a weariness; and when a few nights later Oliver, who had come up to Bredon on the councillor's business, strolled into her boudoir for a little chat on finance she could scarcely page 83bear him. Dame, but he was devastating with his little chats, le beau Noll!
The Captain had long ago sworn that he would not pay the young rip's bills forever. But what can a gentleman do? asked Noll. He must live like a gentleman, and so few professions are open to him, especially when he has not been trained for them—or for anything, if it came to that. Madam agreed. A gentleman was naturally not trained for anything, and yet he must live. It seemed an impasse.
"It was you who provided the oaf Berry for Julia," she suggested. "Has not James Sorley shown his gratitude?"
"Does he know the meaning of the word? But I must go with the ladies everywhere. That means …" He talked of embroidered waistcoats, perfumery, the latest in pantaloons and satin stocks, while Madam's hands tangled the silks on her tambour frame.
"You could sell jewels in town?" she asked suddenly.
"Of course." Oliver was startled. He had not imagined it would come to that. There was no ready money left, then?
"Naturally, one would cushion the business, but it is easily done," he said.
With a gold key Madam unlocked the old cabinet set intricately with ivory figures on ebony that his childhood remembered; pulled out noiseless drawers and uncovered from layers of cotton-wool jewels that had come to her from her French ancestors. They lay there: diamonds in a sharp ripple, the calm moss-green of emeralds, opals, sapphires in dull-gold chasings, the moony gleam of pearls.
"And Collins required me to throw these from the windows," she said, and held her hands out royally. "Take these. Jenny cannot wear emeralds. I shall dress her in opals and pearls. But these were given your grandmother by the Due de Chaumay and must have value."
Oliver felt this room in which Madam lived so keenly become suddenly accusing. Familiar miniatures of his ancestors deep-set in dim gold frames on the grey walls; stiff Frenchy chairs with their gilt and their hand-worked tapestry long-mellowed by years; desirable nude nymphs on crystal goblets; tall Cloisonné page 84vases in incomparable blues and crimsons stiff on the high white mantel between tight bunches of yellow tea-roses—coldly they accused the despoiler who could not earn his own bread.
He hated taking these things, just as he hated Madam for giving them. One should not relinquish what is one's own, and by doing it she became less just in the same degree as she made him less. Here was Madam the autocrat letting an adventurer fleece her.
By God! he almost cried. Why don't you kick me out, help me to stand on my own feet? But he did not say it. He kissed her fingers, bowed with a leg.
"Jet' adore" he said gracefully. He could see himself coming to this well again, always the perfect courtier, the perfect beggar. And he rode back to town, despising himself, despising her, but realizing with an acute sense of relief that he need no longer fear the intervention of duns when accompanying Mrs. Sorley and Julia to buy those flummeries of laces, satins, and "super-fine French stays" (coloured) which the best of Sydney, Melbourne, and Hobart Town could provide.
During the days before his wedding, the blank-eyed Berry clung to Oliver, seeming to feel himself setting out rudderless on new seas. "I have never been married before," he said solemnly, sitting astride a chair and sucking his cane.
"Well, I suppose we must all come to it," said Oliver. "How about a night at the Fancy?"
He took Berry to all the fashionable haunts, allowing him to pay the bills, and they rode home hanging to a handkerchief tied in the head-stall, It was incredible for a young blood to return sober, and the horses knew their way back if they were not interfered with. Berry, having few ideas of his own, came to Oliver for entertainment, and liked best an evening in dressing-gown and smoking-cap over a fire in the rooms they were just now sharing. Oliver, who could talk of women with the best, respected Berry's present emotional condition—he really did adore Julia—and spiced his talk with the milder wine of Hobart Town twenty years back.
"Full of redcoats drunk or dry, but chiefly most amazin' drunk," he said. "And bullockies with hairy legs and chests, like page 85satyrs in yellow moleskins. Females went about with bodices torn and hair loose and arms round any one's neck, rolling along, singing. You can imagine the stuff they sang. Women convicts were just chucked ashore then for Chance to look after. It generally didn't have to look long."
Berry pulled black whiskers doubtfully. Nature had formed him to be the devil of a fellow, but had given up too soon. Oliver said idly:
"It's all in the records, though now we've grown chaste we forget it. Hunter's Island was an island then, with commissariat stores and a guard, and the sand-spit was covered at high tide. The women used to go along and cozen the guards to feed 'em while the tide was up. Wellington Street was all marsh, and stumps stood in Macquarie and Elizabeth. Folk used to fix placards on some of 'em. I was about six then, but I remember tryin' to spell some out while my nurse flirted with a redcoat. Such language, cursing everything up and down. Any one with a spite against the ruling administration put it on a stump. There were brothels and taverns at every corner then, with overproof brandy at eight shillings the gallon."
"The devil you say!" ejaculated Berry. He fixed Oliver with the inquiring eye of a puppy demanding more biscuits. He had not a touch of imagination, not a spark of that which in some way kept Oliver fine even in his cups, but he could savour brandy at eight shillings the gallon.
"Men could drink then," said Oliver ruminating. "Six men … once they drank seven bottles of sherry and forty-one of porter at a sitting. It's on record. I'll swear we have degenerated. Not even my father could come near it. The standard of intoxication is to-day exceedingly low, but even the clergy then …" He waved their memories an admiring salute. "It was said of some that although they had taken orders, they did not take them seriously. Eheu! We take everything seriously now. Even our debts."
"You don't," said Berry. Oliver laughed. He could not afford, anyway, to take insults seriously.
"Well hit. But I shall, some day. When I was seven a colonel in Hobart Town gave me a Spanish guinea. They called him page 86Bolting Bill, and it was said that he wanted to bolt with my mother. Even a little ruffian like myself saw how men admired my mother … had reason to. Egad! the money I collected in those days from one and another!"
For Jenny a governess appeared about this time. A feeble, remote creature who knew as little as any grown woman could, even in those days, and who was supposed to prepare Humphrey for the Hutchens School, just opened for gentlemen's sons in Hobart Town. Humphrey and Jenny, whom Nurse had already brought up to three-syllable words in the New Testament, now embarked with Miss Bean and Peter Parley on strange seas where they encountered The Child's Guide to Knowledge, which told them among other things that a hiccough was a spasmodic twitching of the diaphragm, and "Mrs. Markham" with her obnoxious brood who fattened on dates and aphorisms.
They took their frequent whippings cheerfully, in the knowledge that even grown-ups like Aunt Ellen and Uncle Joe Merrick did not escape when Grandpa Merrick was cross; and in between they pressed wild flowers, played with the baby, and rode out under windy skies when Mab brought in a mob of cattle from the ranges.
The pageantry of the day passed before the children's careless eyes. Ladies in wide gleaming skirts and absurd little parasols, come to pay calls in four-in-hand coaches. Government men with the sun pouring on their half-clad bodies as they sat in the stocks outside Trienna court-house. Julia Sorley and the Beverley girls riding together like a flock of bright parrots. Soldiers on the march down the Main Road, with throbbing drums and crying fifes and the long-tailed red coats swinging above the tight white trousers. A number of grave gentlemen in black frock-coats and tall hats standing against the violet of bare hills to greet the governor who was to stay that night at Bredon. Mab putting Vanity at the stock-yard fence on the day Julia was married, so that Madam ran through the frightened house with hands over her eyes, crying "Does he, then, desire to kill me?"page 87
Miss Bean took Jenny away after that, and talked about the soul. "Let us pray for the soul of your poor uncle, Jenny" said Miss Bean, and down they both dropped on their knees on the school-room floor.
Mab was now in a black world of his own making, and occupied with it to the exclusion of everything else. He had galloped off once to Hobart Town, haggard and sleepless, and so clamoured to see Julia that James Sorley had brought her in, half crying and half in a pet. With the easy adjustment of sixteen she had soon been taught to believe that Mab's behaviour had been nearly criminal and that Berry was the best of prospective husbands. Louisa tried to soothe her conscience—for she really loved all the Comyns—by immersing her daughter in gewgaws and then talking of extravagance. "Mab could never have kept her," she said, while James Sorley, who knew well when to be persuasive, spoke of a title and "all society at your feet, my dear."
But when Julia saw Mab's ravaged face she just ran to him, fragrant and lovely with curls, and crying, and the outraged James had much ado to part them. Mab defied him, but his heroics only did him harm. The Sorley door was shut on him; James sat down to get his breath back while the good Louisa pulled Julia out of hysterics, and Mab walked straight off to that dark part of the town where he had only seen others go before, and stayed there for two days. His devil, it seemed, was but a secondhand one, after all, with no new paths on which to lead him.
On the night Julia was married he went to Henny's Road-house. He had been shaken when Vanity fell with him at the stock-yard fence, but he had had no pity for her gallant effort. "Why didn't you kill us both, you bitch!" he said, and led her back to the stable, limping. His head ached terribly. Julia, the diminished Venus who had turned Circe, would not keep off his horizons. The reeling heavens were overfull with her soft pink fingers, her ringlets, her shining shoulders. "Circe," said Mab page 88with profound conviction. "And I'm the hog. I'll go and get drunk like a hog." So he went to Henny's.
Gentlemen went to Henny's when they wanted a well-bred dog or some information and nothing said. The station hands had ways about dogs and no one ever asked for pedigrees. Mab sat in a corner while a man from Tingvalley tried to sell him a lean wide-chester kangaroo hound of the undeniable Beverley strain, but he never bought it, although his purse was empty when he went home. He drank gin and rum out of a pannikin, yet could not be drunk, for he had never felt so clear-headed in all his life. He began to wonder if he could be God. It did not seem likely, but he was experiencing that intense remoteness from humanity which he had always associated with God.
Perhaps he was in hell. Yet hell had no right to look so familiar and he had seen these great blocks of red light and harsh wavering shadows before, when a similar fire of logs went blazing up the open chimney and similar dark figures wove mysterious lines over the trampled earth floor with its queer drenched look that came of twenty years' dregs of liquor, chewed quids, and other things.
Henny with her pink faded bed-jacket and rakish beaver bonnet moved with strident tones in and out of the weaving shadows. She was much more like a horse's shin-bone than a woman, but legend—encouraged by herself—told how once she had been a woman and beautiful when some long-past governor had her in Hobart Town. To this, then, must all women come. Even Julia. Even Circe. Even that red-cloaked woman now singing a song. She was coarse and vital as the earth. Stimulating. Yet to that she, too, must come. Mab sighed in profound sorrow.
To the government men Henny's was the Land of Promise. The time-expired, the probationer, the ticket-of-leaver there found a chance of adding to their meagre pay by the selling of something or some one. Perhaps an absconder at two pounds apiece, or even a bush-ranger with fifty pounds on his head and a pardon. Who among that scum, said Justice down in town, wouldn't sell his brother for a pardon? But it is not on record that many did. They sold dogs, though. And little trinkets fashioned by the more skilled among them from semi-precious page 89stones found in the ranges and much in demand as gifts to women. One man had constructed a foot-long model of London Bridge. That cost too much, but horny hands passed it round to be stared at by famished Cockney eyes.
Robert Snow often came to Henny's, as Hogarth would have loved to come. He sketched by the door now, his crayons beside him on the rough plank set on sunk gum poles such as made all the benches, all the tables. These squatting shadows in dark, in light, used the dialects of England, enriched by prison slang. They talked of love and women with a strange wistfulness that lent grace even to the ugliest stories. There was one Sal Newton, it appeared, who for gain had split on her own cove who had snavelled a prad. The Beak had sent him to the model prison at Port Arthur, where he would take exercise in a cage with a mask over his face and never see more than hands when his meals were given him. But Sal was a reg'lar plummy one … eh, a darlin' maid. Who could not but forgive the Sals of this world, the men said, and sang a song about her which one of them had composed.
On the wail there was a print of Queen Victoria in coronation robes. The men threw knives at it, betting hotly in pennies. Several had the cramped movements and straddled gait that results from the chain-and-ball and the trousers made in two pieces so that the irons do not come off at night. Crouched round the flames, they sang in tuneless chorus:
"And now they yokes us up like hor-ses
For to plough Van Diemen's Land."
One had ploughed that way on Maria Island. Ten to a plough, and one as was a genman had chucked hisself over the cliff inter the sea. So then they was only nine to the plough, and if they coulda got hold o' that genman they'd have given him what for. Nine to a plough in hill country, they agreed, isn't enough.
A big red Irish bullocky was chasing one of the girls round the room. They fell over some one's legs and the bullocky gave her smacking kisses as she lay. Robert Snow saw her face. So it was there, the crude thing, the lovely thing that men call page 90love; and, wooing like animals, they would presently bow to the necessity of humans (His Excellency is pleased to allow….) and years hence would find them tramping the roads with their wild-haired brood.
Now Snow looked at Mab where he sat against the wall; his beaver tipped back, his dandy legs outstretched, the chin of his amazingly good-looking face uplifted by the frilled stock. His expression was that of a drunken bitterness, a profound self-pity. Snow watched him with an immense contempt, this spoiled child who couldn't take his whipping silently. He thought:
What would happen to you, my boy, if they put you in the Dumb Cell? If they locked you in, and locked you in behind three iron doors where you can tear your nails out, beat your brains out, scream your throat out, and no one will hear or know? What would happen to you then? What do you know, you baby, of the resistance of the will which you've got to provide for yourself or go mad?
Some one lit an oil-lamp, and in the flicker of red-and-yellow light the men began to strip, betting against one another the tattooing and the lash-ridges on their bodies. Man is a vain animal, and tattooing was the fashion, as though they defied the crisscross lines on their backs by doing what they would with their chests and bellies. In the flicker, designs stood out like writing on a palimpsest: ships in full sail, flower wreaths, clasped hands in a heart, obscene detail, a whole prayer. The tattoo-marks of prisoners were filed away at Headquarters for reference and those of every absconder given weekly in the Gazette. "Giles Brown. Mermaid and whale on buttocks. Dragon on chest." No escape for Giles Brown if he were here.
The men were jovial, excited. They had created beauty for themselves out of unlikely things and they pored over the tattooing like artists over a picture. Their gnarled bodies glistened with sweat. The side locks hung over their ears in proud assertion of their exemption from the prison cut. The women walked round through the smoke, the heat, the stench of unwashed flesh, tracing with a finger some outline that took their fancy. Hogarth could have used this. It was beyond Robert Snow, but he worked away with fingers that trembled. page 91Mab stood up suddenly, every inch a young buck with his fine clothes and flushed high-bred face. Out of his brooding had come to him an instant desire to have tattooed on himself the obscene design he had just seen on a man's chest. He cried out for some one who could use the needles and they pushed forward Robert Snow. Mab blinked.
"You, is it? You'll do. Come on."
"If I begin you will have to let me finish," said Snow.
This young buck had run himself near to the end of his tether. His nerves were all of a shiver and quiver. Snow, implacable in his own strength, thought: In a few minutes I'll have him yelping like a puppy. He'll never stand the first touch of the needles.
"Damn you! D'you think I can't stand it?" cried Mab.
Snow shrugged, going to fetch his tools. Now he would make Mab take punishment for all that he had and wasted, and all that Snow had not…. And you don't know what I know of Ellen Merrick whose sister married your brother, he thought…. He had not pitied foolish Ellen, who came down of nights to meet him at the landing-stage when he swam or rowed over the river sometimes. He had no pity for any one in the world, not even himself. Life had beaten him into iron too strong for pity. If a man could not stand up to things, they would crush him; and that, it seemed, was as far as God's plan of the universe went. Like most human feelings, his hate for Mab was of obscure origin, but it was very real.
Mab had torn open his frilled shirt. He cried, "Are you ready?" and Snow saw the women gaping at skin that was whiter, softer than theirs, by far…. By God! I'll make you howl, he thought, setting the little fine needle into its frame.
Mab had sunk back on the bench, for his shaking legs would not hold him. The reds, the blacks, the grinning faces had all receded again. Down some distance of the years he saw Julia, lost, lovely, and forlorn. "Here," he said, "cut me 'Julia' … here, over my heart."
With slow and cruel deliberation Snow did; driving in the needle until the springing blood followed each stroke. But not in such ways could he make a coward of Mab, although Mab's page 92sweat dropped down to mix with the blood. It needed a subtler touch, and presently he gave it. "And clasped hands below?" he asked with a sneer.
Mab fell on him then with a kind of scream. Among the blood and the spilt gunpowder which Snow was rubbing in they rolled on the foul floor; alike enough in birth and age and temper to have roused the very devil between them. The men rejoiced. This was better game than they could have hoped for; but Henny went clawing for Snow's throat with her talon hands.
"Don't ee hurt Comyn!" she cried. "And theer's Port Arthur again fur ye, my man."
She had them apart at last, with Mab gasping over a bench and dabbing a cut cheek and Robert Snow putting his tools together sullenly. He had been a fool and Mab Comyn would make him pay for it. One was always having to pay for something in this world.
The fight had relieved some black pressure on Mab's brain. He looked at Snow almost kindly. He held out his hand. Since he had fought with the fellow he must, of course, treat him like a gentleman. "I began it," he said, shook the reluctant hand, and went out, having emptied his purse on the table. "Pay yourself," he added carelessly, and forgot the other before he had climbed into the saddle.
But Robert Snow went back to Clent hut, leaving the money untouched.
Within the next few months the governor's new proclamation—known to many as "Denison's Damned Circular"—set the country in an uproar and shredded friendships out upon the wind, where, it seemed, that of the Captain and Councillor Sorley was already blowing. The Captain raged into the office in the New Wing where William was filing bills.
"Listen to this, will you?" He read aloud: "'First: Do you consider it desirable that transportation of convicts to this country should cease altogether?' Good God! I should think I did, and so does every right-feeling man! 'Second: If you consider it page 93desirable that convicts should still be transported to this country … what number would you consider adequate?' There you are! That's Sorley. I recognize his hand in that. Always steering a middle course and inviting the public to sit on the fence."
"Has he said so? Really, sir, I wouldn't be too ready to quarrel."
"Quarrel? Who wants to quarrel? I just tell a man what I think of him, and is it my fault if he resents the truth? Of course he hasn't said it is his policy; and that is his policy. Always yea-nay."
The Captain's policy was never yea-nay, and always dangerous. He took up William's remonstrance in a hurry:
"No sir. You're wrong. England had no right to grant land to gentlemen if she meant the colony to continue penal once those gentlemen were established. It's a personal insult to us. Until we get an influx of free settlers, who'll put money into the country?—who'll buy and sell and manufacture with us?—how the unnamable deuce d'you imagine it's possible for us to go ahead? And we'll never get free settlers until the convict element is scotched. They're afraid, and, gad! I don't blame 'em."
"Many convicts are very decent fellows, sir. And they make good servants."
"Servants? How long d'you think they'll be content to remain servants? Have you the foggiest notion of their number in the colony now?"
"No, sir. But——"
"Of course you haven't," triumphed the Captain, who happened to have heard that morning in Trienna. "Well, I have. Our present population is about forty-four thousand free people and twenty-four thousand convicts. And about thirteen thousand out of the forty-four are time-expired, which makes the criminal quantum outnumber us. To control them in a country almost as large as Scotland—twice the size of Belgium, anyway, and that was big enough to give Napoleon his Waterloo—what troops have we? About two thousand military and constabulary all told. The thing's a farce! Why, sir, if England directs upon us the whole of her convict importations, as she is always page 94threatening to do, are you so utterly imbecile that you can't see what will happen? They'll take charge. One bloody day we'll all be murdered in our beds and our women outraged. Don't talk to me!"
"But," said William, continuing to talk, "granted that the country would be better without them, I can still see that it might not be politic to get rid of them all at once."
"If you had a boil on your neck, wouldn't you consider it politic to get rid of that all at once? You never could argue, Bill. No, I've put my last penny into the country, and it's going bankrupt. I hear that the Government will soon be flying paper kites, and even you must see what that means. With no credit and no specie to foot our bills, we're done. Finished."
He felt his hand shake as he took the circular out to the veranda, crushed it, and dropped into one of his brown barrels. He felt his eyelids twitching as he looked through the glass on his hardly won paddocks where his sheep fed. Finished, by God! He was finished, he who had given to England his young manhood and to England's colony the young manhood of his sons. And she was repudiating the gift. This kind of thing (he sat on the edge of a barrel, his little legs just touching the floor) made a man old. The smart of this was worse than any he'd felt when the blacks speared whole teams of his bullocks, when bush-rangers carried off his sheep and horses and threatened his life, when privations and bad harvests and scab in the sheep and other damnations of colonization had dogged him. Those were understandable. But this, damme! this … They must get together, that was it. The country must get together. He would call a meeting at Trienna to-morrow and Mab should ride round the country at once. He'd give old Sorley some medicine to swallow!
Oliver, of course, read all about it in the local Trienna paper (a consumptive young Oxonian with a need for self-expression ground it out on a hand-press for nearly six months before Governor Denison squashed them both). The paper extolled the Captain's gallant stand against tyranny, hinted that "one Major——, to give him a title which honours him far beyond his merits," was indulging in personal rancours which would presently deluge the country in blood; became plaintive over page 95exquisite young females and gallant but discarded lovers, became portentous in its invitations to "a gentleman who shall be nameless" to bring "one of his so-called skilful and reasoned speeches on the subject of Transportation" to Trienna Town Hall and see what would happen to it. Oliver (but one must never let men see themselves for the puppets they were) for long prevented Sorley from answering the challenge. But answer it at last he would, the old fool, and Oliver (just by the skin of his teeth) got him packed off home in Henry's charge as the Captain leapt upon the platform. "Tell him he has pulverized the opposition. It's all over, bar shouting," he whispered. Henry nodded (he never wanted open warfare, either) and took the tandem through the grazing cows on Comyn Street at a gallop, while Oliver settled down in a back seat, supporting his chin with the gold knob of his stick and wondering what the deuce would be the outcome.
The hall was full of station-owners (mostly lazy-minded sporting fellows very much with the Captain) and tradesmen and cockatoo-farmers rather afraid to lift their voices as yet. The Captain, chipper as a tomtit, was bawling:
"Gentlemen, I do not intend to bore you more than you have been already bored, although I may regret that the limits of courtesy have been so far overstepped. I wish to say that I will fight for Cessation while breath is in my body. No friend of Transportation is any longer a friend of mine; and regarding the speech which we have just been forced to listen to, I think the last word is with the immortal Punch, which has just summed up the situation with:
'Then shout for the troupe of sublime Thimble-rigs.
Hurrah for the jolly old Downing Street pack!'"
Good God, thought Oliver (the old chap had delivered it like a slogan), the fat was in the fire right enough now. And here was everyone laughing, streaming out into the sunlight, patting the Captain on the back; the young Fremps, sons of the blacksmith, skylarking, shouting, 'Hurrah!' Going back to their bellows with more windy notions. Of course their class wanted page 96Cessation, though it would put prices up. The Captain was flinging a shilling to the grinning vagabond in the stocks by that little stone box Trienna police station.
"See him, Lascelles?" cried the Captain. "Keepin' the place warm for our friend, eh?"
Lascelles of Leigh, a very nice holding twenty miles down-river, was a comfortable old gentleman who let anyone do his thinking for him. You could see him ruminating, puzzled. He grunted, "Why … why, thought Sorley made a dashed good speech, didn't he?"
"Claptrap! claptrap! "(Heavens! would nothing teach his parent to hold his tongue? What was he saying?) Sorley could only line his pockets by keeping in with officialdom … knew which side his bread was buttered. Old Merrick, rolling up under the line of gums for his horse, got hold of that, looked pleased, "Ur … 'pon my soul … ur, bloody near libel that, ain't it?" he wheezed. And now he would drive about the country everywhere with his fat pony and gig, asking everyone if they didn't agree with him. "Are you ready to come home now, Father? You made 'em laugh, didn't you?"…"Ride si sapis," said the Captain, climbing into the dogcart.
Back in town, Oliver (with Mrs. Sorley's help) repressed that copy of The Trienna Clarion describing the meeting. Better temper the wind to the shorn lamb (for certainly the country appeared to be plumping strong for Cessation (you could taste it in the air), and Oliver, with Madam's earrings barely paying his gambling debts and a salary that did not pay for his clothes (certainly it was never asked to), had no mind to leave old Sorley. When one seasons one's meat too early, it is the deuce and all to have to return to plain fare; and now the battle was joined in Council and Governor Denison taking firm hold on a hundred thorny questions (a great fighter, this hard-faced Denison), surely there would be pickings for Oliver, even legitimate pickings. Few, he felt, could turn a neater compliment or pas in the dance than himself. And if many young ladies treasured in velvet-bound albums his elegant verses and acrostics, it was a fact that he never treasured one of the flowers, glossy curls, poems, and other bibelots which came his way. No page 97marriage for him, though Berry, grimacing with sentiment, urged him all the time.
Berry, who with that foreign air which a moustache gave among black whiskers and loose black locks was not nearly such a devil as he looked, spent whole nights smoking cheroots with Oliver. Pleasurable emotions, those experienced on the verge of matrimony, apparently. Oliver, lounging at the open summer window, hearing a woman singing on the pavement below, let him talk himself out. Rich in all but intellect, this Berry. A useful friend.
"I will wear no red sarafan,
So, mother, cease your sewing,"
sang the woman, with a vile twang. Julia would presently wear bridal satin, and lovely she'd look in it. Berry said in his soft hesitating voice:
"All the foolishness … that's done with. Candles, boot-jacks, and warming-pans … and presently pap-spoons and syrup of squills." He grinned; looked idiotic. "That's the way your old friend's headed, Noll, and I swear I don't care. She's as sweet, pretty a creature as ever was."
She is. But not the stuff to hold you, my buck. Oliver fancied himself saying it, fancied Berry's angry dismay. This youthful Julia cozened and flattered and excited by fine clothes; this gossamer Julia, pliant and pretty and palpitatingly nervous about the future … Lord, what a mess they'd make of it! But since marriage is the refuge of the poor and the escape of the rich and Love all my eye and Betty Martin, Julia might get some fun out of it, Oliver thought, reasonably. Berry, rising to go to his bedroom, said sheepishly:
"'Pon my soul, I wish I'd been a better fellow, Noll." Poor devil. And Julia … Julia blushing pink under her pink Pamela bonnet …