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page 121


Inclosed for months with the great ladies of literature, the great dream of poets, the mellow memories secured to him by generations of gentlefolk in gentle English homes, Roger Keyes would suddenly emerge from his Russia-leather library, kiss his wife, and take Brevis travelling to see other great ladies.

"Here," he would say to Brevis when they came to Clent and found Madam amid sun and roses and canaries singing their hearts out in gilt pagodas, "here, my son, is a great lady," And Madam would let the boy kiss her little cool hand, talk with him graciously, and dismiss him, saying to Roger Keyes:

"Some day he may be Cæsar, but never, I fear, Antony."

"Let us hope there will not be Cleopatra," said Mr. Keyes, thinking hopefully of the little Genevieve whom he could never help regarding as a direct product of Madam—Mrs. William, poor lady, always seeming so very much out of the picture. But when he hinted at his interest in Jenny with her "charming little flexibilities, her daring," Madam would say musically: "Ah, mon ami; man proposes, but le bon Dieu disposes." Yet she hoped to help le bon Dieu in the disposing of Jenny. The Keyes connection was well enough, but not to mate with her Jenny. None in the colony was fit to do that, although Madam expected le bon Dieu to send him.

Mab came in, bringing Jenny back from Lovely Corners, and Madam saw in a minute that he was agitated and a little bumptious as a young man is when he assumes responsibilities new to him. Coming home through a dewy morning of bush scents and magpie carolling, Mab had been stimulated into a decision. He would take one of the young horses down for sale to the Hobart Town Yards and Robert Snow should ride him. Once Snow was in town, Oliver could be trusted to arrange matters. And possibly Mab might sell the young 'un. He badly needed the money. page 122To Madam, elegant and shining at her tambour frame in the sunny window, he was blunt and a little red-faced as he asked if she had any commissions for town. He was riding to town that night, he said, and Madam drew a long thread of lilac silk right through before she answered: "You will see Noll. I have a small packet for him."

More of those jewels from Madam's secret cabinet were being negotiated by Noll to equip Jenny for school, and that Madam was prepared for. But she was not prepared for Mab's journey to town.

He will see Julia. He knows that she had come up from Port Arthur because of Louisa's indisposition, she thought with a terrible sinking of the heart, and went on lightly talking to Roger Keyes of Mr. Disraeli, the third Napoleon, and those refreshing scandals which crop up endlessly when one has the wit to find them.

Dark-faced Brevis with his large remote brown eyes was essentially a recluse and prig at this age. He detested Clent in the holidays; when Jenny and Humphrey together tumbled down straw-stacks with loud shoutings, and together rode bareback on rough ponies, and together hung over fences to try who could hold longest to the curly horns of the merino rams shuffling by down the race to the dipping-pen. Brevis was being instructed in the Persian and Greek literatures, and his head was full of strange musics and soft colours and drooping women. Jenny with the huge green sunbonnet, on which Madam insisted, hanging down her back, was a trial to all his sensibilities when, her arms full of red apples, she climbed the straight ladder to the loft which always made Brevis giddy, and there ate the apples with Humphrey, among the pigeons, throwing the cores down to Brevis elaborately indifferent below.

Jenny, thought Brevis, tried to be a boy when she wasn't one. Even at that age he was very fastidious about the proper position of women in a world that by all the laws of nature belongs to men. Brevis, returning to the salon where his father and Madam were still talking, had a sense of exaltation and relief. He was quite sure that the wine of womanhood is a harsh vintage until matured.