Julia had one wild interview with Mab, and then she left Bredon. There could be no half-measures between them now, but Mab did not follow her to town. He startled William by working early and late at Clent, sweating to exorcise the devil who seemed to grow with keeping, while Madam watched and thought: James Sorley would have destroyed me. Is it for his daughter to destroy my son?
Jenny was at this time going through a period of religious fervour conducted by Miss Bean; for her elders, being quite assured that the plastic mind is incapable of taking impressions until it ceases to become very plastic, took little interest in her, page 107and Miss Bean, unwholesome, sentimental, neither fish nor fowl in that great house, did her earnest best to make Jenny a prude. It was she led the prayers for "your poor Uncle Mab" every night; and Jenny followed rapturously, although she didn't understand what it was all about and could get little from Miss Bean but upturned eyes and groans. But it was Jenny's own idea to advance her new and glorious belief to Mab one noonday when he was fitting a new handle into a pitchfork.
"Uncle Mab, don't you think if you prayed more you'd be happier? Prayer is the heart's proper food, and you do often look so hungry."
Mab dropped his screwdriver and stared at her in the light from the dusty window as though he had not seen her for a long while. Indeed, at this time no one was seeing the real Jenny. She had shot up out of her round babyhood, although small and vivid still. But her innocent face was almost smug with her unnatural desire to better the world.
"Miss Bean told me to tell you this hymn, Uncle Mab. She says it helps her when she finds the world very evil."
In the shadowy workshop she looked a nymph, an elf. Her voice, though schooled to a nasal reverence, still had the quality of light. She intoned solemnly:
"Sleeping on the brink of sin,
Tophet gaped to take us in.
Mercy to our rescue flew,
Broke the snare and brought us through.
"Here as in a lion's den
Undevoured we still remain.
Pass secure the wat'ry flood
Leaning on the arm of God."
Jenny, always the mime, clasped her hands exactly as Miss Bean did. "How beautiful, dear Uncle Mab, to think we may remain undevoured——"
"You unspeakable little prig!" said Mab, finding his voice at last. "Get out of this!"
Then he went after her with long strides as she fled in a shock of tears, caught her by the high wall where the lilacs grew, and page 108found their bloom all mixed with her wet cheeks as he kissed her. "It's not you I'm angry with, dear maid. It's the teaching. Kiss me, darling."
Jenny kissed him freely. She could never be hard with those she loved. But she ran back to Miss Bean and they prayed together: the ardent glowing Jenny, expecting the concrete descent of fruition from those tall blue-and-white heavens, and the nursery-governess, pallid as a celery stick and weakly in love with Mab, who would not have recognized her if he had seen her detached from her surroundings.
With a desire to detach her from them as speedily as possible, Mab went that evening to Madam's room, where she sat writing at her escritoire with the Sèvres-china inlay. She smiled a little sadly, flicking a paper toward him with the feather of her pen. "All that … c'est de la peau, settlement. She has but now come to an age when that woman can harm her. And so … read, then."
Mab became assured in very small letters that Miss Martin's Establishment for Young Ladies in Hobart Town supplied in addition to Board and Tuition (fifty guineas) and numerous Extras at varied prices a coach in the backyard where the said Young Ladies might learn to ascend and descend gracefully en crinoline, and also a warming-pan warranted to heat beds every night.
"Undoubtedly the extras make an expense," explained Madam trying hard to be businesslike and succeeding about as well as Jenny herself. "It may not be necessary for her to have them all. I will teach her French and the harp in the holidays. And if William finds himself unable to afford quelque chose, I go to arrange it. I would strip this." She made a large gesture and in the candle-light she and her room seemed all rare dim jewels together: "I would strip myself so that la petite should advance. She must carry the torch, our little Jenny, since my sons find it too heavy."
Mab, not looking at her, muttered rebelliously, "You do expect so much from everyone, you know, maman."
"Eh, bien," said Madam, dauntlessly. "I shall continue to expect." She took up her pen. "And who knows but that my page 109expectations may at length bring something to pass? But you, mon cher … at present you are no more than un mouton qui reve."