Mab stayed one night at Clent, and Madam, with unaccustomed tears blurring her eyes, watched him go. Julia, that hussy with the snub nose and no antecedents, had been too much for her. To-day, with the colony in a state of prosperity and penury beyond credence, with servants flaunting it in embossed satins and gentlemen walking the roads in the rags which were all they had brought back from the gold-fields, a man with money and character could do anything, arrive anywhere. Essentially a woman of action, herself, she saw Mab's chance awaiting him—such a chance as did not arrive twice in this so triste universe. And he would not take it. He was riding down the avenue page 142between the naked trees with William. At the bend by the river he turned and waved his hat. Now he was gone.
The Captain came in, very rosy and happy. He kissed her forehead. "Damme, my love, I've made a good deal!" he cried, rubbing his hands. "Sold a draft of fat lambs right off the turnips for more than we made out of all our sheep last year. Cash in hand now, eh?"
"And yet there are beggars at your door," said Madam, meaning herself.
"Hundreds of 'em. Hundreds of 'em. We'll see to that. I told Bill to bring a new cheque-book from Trienna."
"And that assuredly will assuage many a broken heart," said Madam, getting out her embroidery frame.
Susan brought in the Beverley girls and a piece of gossip. "William says some rich Australian has brought Dykema and put Tom Jerrold in as manager. He saw Lucy in Trienna, just covered with watches and rings. Tom must have made a fortune at Ballarat."
"Doubtless Lucy will soon be paying calls in her own equipage," returned Madam. "But not, I think, upon me."
Dykema lay just below Clent and was constantly changing hands. The Beverley girls chorused: "Oh, who do you think has bought it? Will he come there to live?"
They had the eager pointed look of women who see their hopes passing. Les pauvres, thought Madam, and no wonder, with all the young men out of the country, making fortunes and losing them. "I hear that your brother has returned full of gold and whiskers," she said aloud.
"Oh, yes!" cried Letitia Beverley. "He is so rich that we vow he must take us to England at once."
"England!" cried Susan, dropping her work in horror. "That dreadful country where all the convicts come from! You must be mad."
Madam looked at her with attention. It was so seldom Susan said anything worth hearing.
"I don't want to go there," Jane Beverley said. "How is Jenny, Madam Comyn? Maria wrote that she had had the toothache."
"Lady Berry kindly had her for a night when she went to page 143the dentist last week, and desires to have her again. She says," added Madam, unable to repress her pride, "that la petite will make a succès fou."
"I don't think Jenny ought to stay with anyone so gay as Julia," protested Susan, unpicking tucks at a great rate. "A young lady's reputation is monstrous soon blown up."
"Be easy, my Susan. Because you never had cause to fear for your own, you must not grudge la petite her diversions. Julia has the entrée everywhere, and James the Good to back her."
Susan never got over her dread of Madam's tongue. She murmured: "I fear this frock will be too short for Fanny," and Letitia sighed: "Oh, dear! I wish Lady Berry would invite me."
She won't invite Jenny again if I know her, thought Madam, grimly. Yet would I let la petite go, every time. It would be good for my Lady Berry to play the second fiddle.
"Dear Mamma is so distressed about Ellen," said Susan, immersed in her own troubles. "She is not nearly so considerate as she might be, considering dear Mamma's sensibility. And she goes out walking in the evening. So immodest in a girl."
"I was a woman at half her age," said Madam. "And a mother, too."
"Oh, I could not possibly think of Ellen as a mother!" cried Susan, confused. Really, Madam managed to make every topic immodest.