Sudden setbacks and advances are natural sequence in the game of colonizing; and so that the sun still shines and the wind rolls the brown tussock over in silver and wheeling gulls and rooks follow the ploughing along the hillsides man rarely consents to defeat.
When the Californian debacle swept the country, settlers page 131bowed under it like trees, and, like trees, rose again. A few were ruined; a few put down their four-in-hands and reduced their cellars. The Captain sold two paddocks, and James Sorley let his town house for a year, going into lodgings when the country, in the person of the governor, required his presence. Everywhere was a gradual watering down of luxuries, a gradual getting to work of the leisured class. Only Susan, undeterred, continued her increase, so that Jenny, now consuming knowledge with some success among the country's "premier young ladies" found the nursery fuller almost every holiday. At Lovely Corners Ellen read Paley and Robertson's Sermons to her mother, mispronouncing a great many words, and waited for Robert Snow who never came. Once she drew on her courage sufficiently to speak to Mab, but he was finding life too hard at present to spare her kindness. "Since you can't take care of yourself, we must do it for you," he said. "Put the fellow out of your mind."
So Ellen went about the yard in the chill blue twilights, feeding the poultry, looking over the river, and Joe ceased to regard her with hope and envy. When it came to essentials it seemed that she couldn't fight any better than he could.
Jenny sent Mab valentines, all pink hearts and frilled edges, but Julia sent him letters. Once she wrote of Robert Snow who had "done something foolish, tried to escape, I fancy. But he had no pass, and so they put him into the gangs. So your mind may be relieved on Ellen's score, dear Mab; but as for me I am dying in this place, dying …"
She really was thinner, she thought, looking at the slender wrist lying on the paper. And then Berry came in and stared with his blank black eyes.
"Hang me if you're not always writing to someone," he said jealously.
"Would you deny me that also?"
Berry, black-whiskered, brushed and uniformed, had a puzzled look in these days, as though this marriage business which for one bright moment had lighted his dull soul was fizzling out like all the other affairs—and not so easily ended, by Jove. He put a heavy hand on his wife's slim shoulder, moved it across the white skin uxoriously. "Now, Julie! I've got to earn my page 132livin'. And with the old uncle alive and kickin' and money as tight as a drum I must go where I'm sent. You know that."
"I know," said Julia, her soft lip suddenly quivering like a child's, "that you never understand how I feel."
In his various experiments with love Berry had heard before that universal complaint of women, but from Julia it always drove him frantic, because he cared too much for her still. "Why don't you tell me, then? Damn it! You know I'll do all I can."
"Oh … tell!" murmured Julia, lifting her shoulders. His hand was hot and sticky on them. Its weight, his weight bore her down. She wanted to cry: "I'm too young for all this. Too young for child-bearing and housekeeping and living with one man all my days. I want to play. It was cruel of you to marry me at sixteen and stop my play."
Her heart was bursting with it, but she dared not say it. She was always a little afraid of this man before whose heavy voice those yellow clumps of convicts ran and stopped and laboured in silent terror. She had seen them in the stone-quarries with her husband standing above in the sun and the white tea-tree flowers. He had only to raise a hand, snap out a word, and the straining wretches harnessed to the little carts hauled until their sweat ran in rivers.
"Sulky, eh?" He gripped her suddenly, shook her, and then pressed his over-red lips to hers in a long kiss that tasted of smoke and whisky. "Eh, you little devil," he said with rough passion, "I'll teach you yet."
She heard the clank of his sword as he went out, and she laid her yellow head on Mab's letter and cried for a long while. "Oh Mamma!" she wept. "Oh Mab! Oh Mamma!"
Emotions were still all confused in her young soul. She wanted the dear home at Bredon and Louisa's kind plump breast. She wanted town, where she was still the toast, still so pretty in her gay silk muslins and her white-satin bonnets with lace veils to sparkle a blue eye through. And she wanted Mab, that strange god of the wilderness who could frighten her more than Berry did, although that fear was an exquisite thing, a sensation sending a shuddering joy through all her body. "Oh, dear Mab; how page 133I desire to see you again!" she wrote, blind with her tears.
She saw him sooner than she had dared hope; for in the spring a prison-fever ran through Port Arthur, reaping away, among others, Julia's younger pledge of an affection she never had felt for Berry. Dry-eyed she saw him in the tiny convict-made coffin and then she went back to Bredon with her other son. Julia in black set all the English macaronis of the regiments raving while she stayed in town to buy her mourning, and innocently she very much enjoyed the macaronis. But at Bredon she would see Mab. Mab could not compose an acrostic nor turn a verse for a lady's album, and in a ballroom he seemed always too large. But how that hot dark personality of his got inside a woman's guard! Trembling, smiling, and eager, Julia walked over the paddock path among the tall white daisies to see Mab again. He was coming down the Clent garden between the rosemary, borage, and lavender, and the good clean scent of the herbs was round them in the warm air as he stopped and took her hands. She had meant to say something light and friendly. He was all ready with sympathy for her loss. But the touch of their linked hands stampeded them. They gazed and gazed and could not speak at all.