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page 98


Even when a country declares itself on the verge of ruin, even when a young man calls moon and stars to witness that his heart is broken, things somehow continue to happen in steady revolution of days and months, and climaxes refuse to occur.

The Captain suffered a slight stroke on hearing of Governor Denison's advice to England that the colony was in favour of extended Transportation—with qualifications. ("That miscreant Jim Sorley is at the bottom of this.") Susan added Fanny to the Clent nursery and prepared to add others. Humphrey went to the Hutchens School, where he wore long trousers and short tight jackets and caps with a loose peak that sometimes slid over the ear; and Miss Bean still moved like a boneless ghost about passages, instructing Jenny in religion and producing marvellous pictures by moving white paper above the smoke of a tallow dip. The pictures, said Miss Bean, who in later days would have been called psychic, had to make themselves. "You and I, Jenny, are only used."

"Do you think we might get a picture of God or even Satan some day?" asked Jenny, glowing. But Miss Dean didn't like being asked for opinions, rarely having any, and went on striking those thick yellow-headed matches which each settler made in his own house and which took so long to light that they were called wait-awhiles.

Collins's Gang retreated with a few rear actions to the ranges, whence some of the weaker spirits presently crept down and gave themselves up. But Collins and Wingy hung on, as Robert Snow was hanging on, although he had not got as much from Ellen as he hoped. Ellen, submerged as she was in sentiment, had still some morals. She would not bring Snow into that grim fortress of Lovely Corners where Jasper Merrick kept his gold. "Never trusted banks," he would grunt. "But there's no bushranger in the world can get into my house." She would not steal page 99for him, herself. "How gladly and thankfully would I help you all!" she cried. "And the money belongs to all you who have worked without pay for so long. But I owe a duty to dear Papa, my Snow. I am his daughter."

Ellen talked always like the Keepsake and Ladies' Journal which were her only reading. Her diction gave her in the man's eyes an unreal delicate charm, and he still loved her with almost a fierce gratitude. This foolish creature could put out her hand and lift him momentarily into heaven. And standing so, her broad face upturned in the moonlight, he could see her as wife, as mother, as some soft peaceful thing like a good bed for a man to come home to of nights. But between that dream and the reality stood, as he knew well enough, every free settler in the country…. If William Comyn knew, he thought, kissing her … If young Mab knew … And he kissed her again.

His other dream obsessed his days and nights. The country, with all the gentlemen at loggerheads over Transportation and the Governor juggling with them both, was ripe for counter-revolution. He believed that with money he could do it. A sudden uprising: turn on the prison-guards everywhere; combine; march on Hobart Town and startle the Governor into compromise…. We don't want much, he thought. We only want to live and work like men instead of animals. God! That's all we want; and it could be done.

He believed that it could be done. With money. But how to get money from Ellen, who owed her first duty to dear Papa? … If I were her husband she'd owe it me, he thought…. And then he thought it again. Why not? Plenty of unfrocked priests along the Main Road, and Henny and her women would tire the bride. The ugliness of his thinking shamed him, and his cruelty to her shamed him. But he had given her the love and life she craved, and what consideration did he owe to any of her class?

"Ellen, will you marry me? Could you bring yourself to it?"

She wound her arms round him in sudden ecstasy. "Oh, my Snow! I have been praying for this moment. But a lady cannot suggest the most secret of her heart's desires," she said.