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.
In Hobart Town, James Sorley was gathering up all kinds of information through Oliver and applying it where he thought it would do him the most good. On the morning Mab rode in with Robert Snow on the tired young 'un behind him—they had pushed the pace—and met Oliver at the foot of Hunter Street, Oliver had been abroad quite early for him. James had sent him out to the convict hulk, Neptune, which had just come up the bright blue waters of the Derwent, and Oliver, very much disgusted, was hastening home to change his clothes.
The Neptune, he told Mab as they walked up together, had no right to be furling her tired sails out there. Apparently she had no right to be anywhere. Much as one sympathized with the dear old Motherland's problems, said Noll, one must rejoice that she was at last lending an ear to that volume of protest which had been coming for so long from Van Diemen's Land. Actually she had served out circulars around the Empire, begging any kindly disposed country to take her criminal overflow, and to South Africa she had sent the Neptune along with the circular. But South Africa had refused them both with no uncertain sound; and so here she was, storm-battered and rusty with nearly a year's travelling, come up past low wooded shores steeped in sunshine, to deposit her burden in a deeply resentful land. And here without doubt, said Noll, all other convict ships would follow her.
The colony, said Noll, was now receiving convicts at the rate of two shipments a month, and for himself he could see no end to it. Earl Grey, in the House of Lords, was asking why not send them. He had made a great speech, telling how millions had been expended in preparing the country for them, asserting that "the free inhabitants cannot expect that simply because they choose to call for Cessation the imperial policy will be altered at their demand!"
"In short, the country is in a damned muddle," said Noll, tapping his cane in his finicky way, "and this League of Remembrance which some parson—West, isn't it?—has started in Launceston will stir up more muddle. For it will spread. Beverley page 124spoke at the first meeting, I hear, saying that England must use her common sense and cease transporting for peccadilloes."
"How do we know they are peccadilloes?" said Mab, fiercely.
"All these brutes are as bad as can be, I'll dare wager; and given time they prove it."
They considered Robert Snow riding behind with the horses no more than if he had been an animal, and he knew it, watching with his brooding eyes the two young dandies. They were merely the product of their times, he told himself, and rarely brutal. But they had not learned to look with the inner eye as Conrad Beverley and other great souls were doing. He dreamed of getting Beverley and this Parson West on his side, and there was a big chance for him now in the many little taverns up side streets where, Henny and others had said, one might find many sympathizers, and even a few with money. When Ellen got over her present hysterical fear and married him … then, thought the man, with the long ache in him throbbing into hope, something might … would be done.
At the street corner they stood aside while the draft off the Neptune passed. "Egad!" said Oliver, whipping out his scented handkerchief, "if you could have smelled 'em down in the hold!" Mab looked at them with an eye too hostile for pity. The man behind him had dried pity up for the time, and Mab was glad that Snow should hear these clanking chains and the barked-out commands of the guards while the draft, bleared, blinking, and barely human in the gay sunlight, were right-about-faced and marched off up Macquarie Street to the prison.
Refresh his memory a bit, since he's forgotten what he is, thought Mab, and was in haste to send Snow off to the stables while Oliver unlocked the door to his fastidiously furnished rooms and indicated decanters and long cigars.
"Must send this coat to be fumigated," said Oliver, pulling off yellow dogskin gloves. But with Mab's burst of confidence he forgot about it. "Ellen?" he echoed, with arched brows. "Ellen? Egad!"
There was much of Madam's wicked humour in Oliver, and he began to laugh. The more Mab raved through the room the more he laughed, lying spread in the saddleback chair with his elegant page 125legs outstretched. "Curse me," he said, wiping his eyes, "if the fair Ellen isn't deeper than I guessed. Oh, la, la! Ellen!"
"Can't you see that it's iniquitous?" cried Mab.
"Oh, assuredly, I see that. But it's deuced funny. And so you have brought the fellow to me? What d'you expect me to do with him?"
"Can't you have him sent to Port Arthur?"
"Well … I don't know. That's only for the trebly condemned now. It's full up. But," he leaned forward, pouring out two whiskies, "we must put our prospective relation away somewhere, eh?"
"It makes me sick," said Mab, who had never a large command of words. Oliver sipped reflectively. Man's organism is a complex thing, he thought. Always heights in it somewhere. He said:
"Snow has blood, y'know. Possibly as well born as we are, and certainly better born than old Sorley. A hundred years hence his progeny—though, perhaps unfortunately, not Ellen's—may be members of the Executive as Sorley is now. A damned select little parlour party that, Mab, all holding one another's hands and ruling the roost."
"You talk as though it didn't matter."
"Oh, it matters. Don't mistake me. It matters infernally under present conditions. In the future … We'll have Cessation and general pardons before long, Mab, and then it will be each for himself and the devil take the hindmost. And the hindmost are likely to be you and me, my boy. We have never learned to use our wits."
"What are you going to with Snow?"
"Oh, we'll send him to Port Arthur somehow. I'll ask Julia. She will want some frescoes painted on her walls immediately, I dare swear. And once he's there, Berry will keep him. Berry owes me something."
"Is Julia … in town?"
"Until to-morrow. The fellow can go down on the boat with her. You've timed it nicely, Mab. And now go away, there's a good lad, and let me make out my report for Sorley."
He wrote it in the jargon required by the councillor, who, in page 126common with the governor, was actively engaged in whitewashing the whole affair:
The shipment by the Neptune appears in excellent shape, and will undoubtedly be of vast value to the colony. The Irish State prisoner, John Mitchell, is said to be anxious to receive his T. of L., when he will be at once removed to Bothwell, there to occupy his own cottage. Other prisoners will go to the very vital work of pushing roads into the outlying districts, thereby opening up not only agricultural land but also the large coal concessions which only await their opportunity.
He pushed away the paper and sat thinking. Ellen and her convict. Mab and Julia. That way went the world. Always a greediness, a lusting, a sense of denials, of incomprehension of the whole damned business. Julia and Berry were cat-and-dog already, and Berry, that dull soul, would never know why, but Noll knew. Poor mortals that we are, we must still have concourse with the good, still seek the quality of beauty, the forbidden raptures…. Though deuce knows if they satisfied the gods, thought Noll, and went out, the perfect secretary, to find James Sorley, who was beginning to believe himself a second Earl of Chatham, just like every other rising politician of the day.
In the water-side taverns Robert Snow found the whaling men, jovial numbers of the big lean, brown fellows from Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, with the pipe in the mouth, the girl on the knee, and the pannikin of rum close at hand in the red lamplight. They talked love and whales with a salty tang on the tongue; and Van Diemen's Land meant no more to them than a good harbour for trying-out and a good place to drink and kiss in. There was a time, they said regretfully, when all the harbour was full of whales and every gentleman had his private whale-boat. But those good days were gone, and now sailormen were a long time at sea. …"And give us a kiss, lass, for soon we have to leave you."
Snow borrowed a lantern and went along the dark front by page 127the sucking water, seeking a place that Henny had spoken of. The harbour was full of the red and green riding-lights, but the rough streets were in darkness. In Davey Street a naphtha-lamp flared in the butcher's shop, and Snow wondered for the twentieth time why all through the country butchers' shops were the only beacons. A crudity almost ugly in its implications. He found the tavern at last, a low wooden place crusted with rime and canting drunkenly. Such, it seemed, was where the likes of Robert Snow must meet his kind while young Mab Comyn went up the hill to the great houses in their glowing gardens. He would be at the Sorley mansion to-night, perhaps take Julia Berry in to dinner. Robert Snow stooped his dark head to enter the dark little room and thought: If ever my time comes I'll settle with Mab Comyn.
The tap-room had wooden benches and men spat in the sawdust on the floor. Time-expired men, as Henny had said, with their smug talk and their long hair. Decent fellows, enough: small carpenters, grocers, gardeners, watermen, with little before them but that little their own. In a year Snow could be one of them; marry a daughter, and live an obscure hand-to-mouth life for the rest of his days. "But no one can interfere with us. At least we're free," they said.
They chilled Snow's hot blood with their cramped content. In a little he was on his feet in the sawdust, talking while they leaned against the dingy wall in the dim light, sucking their pipes.
"Aye?" said a greybeard. "Come from Clent, do 'ee? A proper old fam'ly theer. I worked for Cap'n once. He choosed me roight off the boat. He did so. Aye; ye're none so bad off if ye come from Clent."
"I want to be better off. Surely we all do. Why are we pariahs in this land which we have made? Why are not the clubs, the big houses, the hotels open to those of us who are free men? We have as good a right there as anyone."
"The quality don't think so," said a young carpenter with keen eyes and long hands that he clasped and unclasped. He was caught, and Snow turned on him. He was a recruit.
"We could make them think it if we chose. We are the majority. Soon we'll be more so, with the military being with-page 128drawn all the time. This country should be ours. It was meant in the first place for us, and the settlers have only got rich through our labour."
"Aye, rich. There's the rock we split on, sir," said a thin old fellow, craning a long neck. "It takes a mort o' money to teach folk to see aught."
"We could get the money. A little to start with and the rest would come." Robert Snow saw his Elysium as he talked. Almost he made the others see it. A land that was their own, with no chained and hunted man in the whole length of it. A land where they would walk with the gentry and not behind. Where understanding would be between them all, and a large mercy.
"And those who won't bow to the new idea can get out," said Snow, thinking of Mab Comyn. Mab, he thought, would starve sooner than sit at meat with him. But Mab did not know about Ellen. There was the trump card which Snow would play when he chose. A new kind of gratitude mixed with his affection for Ellen.
When again he went out into the windy night, he felt excitedly that he had done a little, paved an inch of the way. It would be slow, but he was inured to patience. Probably he would be a freed man long before the crisis came. But it would come, since down a myriad underground ways men would soon be talking, thinking. He had put a new idea in their dull heads, and it would go on … go on … He knew how messages, information could go through the most closely watched chaingang, despite the guards. "They can't chain our souls," he said.
In Davey Street two men stood together outside the office of Stock & Son, shippers and timber merchants. The younger carried a candle shaded with his hand, and in the flickering light Snow saw that the other was James Sorley—the great Councillor Sorley—the governor's right hand. Snow stopped on the edge of the dark when young George Stock cried out: "We're ruined, sir! Clean ruined."
"Kindly elucidate," said James Sorley, in his dry tones; and then Snow, now listening keenly, heard something which he would not have missed for worlds.
Stock & Son, it appeared, would not be the only folk ruined page 129in this great speculation of the Californian goldfields where men had been clamouring for food, food at any price so that it came soon. Most of this year's wheat had gone from the colony to San Francisco. Blackwood and swamp gum for shorings had followed, and now at the American end organization had utterly broken down. Wharves and streets, said young George, were piled with valuable Australian cargo delivered over to the rats, the rain, and thieves. There were no agents available to distribute or control.
"I assure you, sir, that it is quite impossible to get invoice returns or payments. Nothing can cope with such a tremendous influx of men. My brother Alec returned yesterday by the Pardon. His health is completely destroyed by the hardships…. I apologize for troubling you with personal matters …"
His voice died in the fitful wind. James Sorley stood, his thin rigid body like a post. He said at last: "Then you can get me no payments whatever? For neither timber nor grain?"
"Not you nor anyone, sir; and you'll find every shipper in the country say the same. What can we do? No organization, and rapid deterioration all the time."
"Very well. This, of course, is in confidence. We can keep our heads above water if no one knows we are hit. Good night."
James Sorley passed on with his slow, pompous step, and the young man went back with the guttering candle into the store. But Robert Snow, going up the street to the shanty where he was lodged, found his head whirling. Scarcely a settler in the land but would suffer more or less, and times were hard anyway. Some would be walking off their runs before long; and then the freed men would walk on. And once they had the land … I must make Ellen see reason now, he thought. When I get back, to-morrow.
To-morrow Mab Comyn sent for him early. He was in Oliver's room at the fashionable Albion, frowning from a heap of bouquets in paper frills to some boxes of fancy sweets. He said, not looking round: "Take this, and this. No; not that. Only roses, I want them carried at once to Mrs. Berry's cabin on the Tribunna."
"Any message, sir?"page 130
"No. I'll be down myself."
Snow went out with the things. Who would pay for them, with all the Captain's grain rotting on the wharf at San Francisco? This gay young buck would be looking a shade less debonair and genteel before long.
On the Tribunna he waited for Julia, who came with Mab just before the gangway was drawn. She was veiled and went straight down to her cabin while Mab turned to Snow. But he was hardly thinking of the man, for Julia had cried last night, saying that she would never see him again. "Or you must never see Berry again," said Mab. But that had frightened her, and she sent him away, to find him at her door again the next morning. And now she was going, back to the man and her two round-eyed babies; and Mab told himself he was better dead, and was keen enough to feel that the world had never known a tragedy like it. He said to Snow, abruptly: "I have lent you to Mrs. Berry. You will go down to Port Arthur with her to do some painting."
To the man who had already been there it was as though the word made some profound chemical change in him. He seemed to shrink, and sudden sweat stood on his face. He stammered: "Oh, no! Oh, please, sir! Oh, won't the Captain——"
"I'll arrange with the Captain. You hear? You are under Mrs. Berry's orders."
And then he was gone and the gangway up, and the Tribunna leaning to the light wind as she drew out into the river. But Robert Snow stood by the rail, staring. Everything had collapsed in him under the old fear. He saw nothing but the Dumb Cell at Port Arthur.
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.
If there had not been the long phalanx of black swan sweeping over to the green west. If their clarion crying had not come down like a challenge to the two walking by the old hut in the bush. If there had not been a wild apple tree blooming there, shedding its bridal petals on Julia's drooping head, all might have been different.
Yet how could it be different? Destiny assuredly had planned this from the beginning and only Life had made the mistake. Mab stopped, laying his hand on her arm. And she stopped, smiling faintly like a woman obedient to the call of her man. A magpie carolled, full of joy, on the mossy old boundary fence. Crickets chirped in the long grass. Mab flung an arm suddenly about Julia and carried her into the hut, shutting the door behind.
Now the great gold discovery of Australia raised its head in a night, startling the world and promising staggering things. It promised new heavens and earths to the destitute in England, who set instantly about small sinnings so that the hulks should carry them by way of Van Diemen's Land to the new mountains of gold. In accordance with unassailable system the hulks took them, swamping the colony's prisons beyond hope of recovery. The free male population had moved almost in a body across the strait, and there were few left to control or employ the swarming convicts, so that down in Hobart Town the distracted councillors had to go hurriedly about the making of new laws.
"Unless we can remove them at once," said James Sorley, Member of the Legislature, "these fellows will destroy the country."
And so clerks and scriveners got to work, with a stroke of the pen turning all ranks into ticket-of-leavers, and handing out free passes on the little sloops and luggers; and hollow-faced men flung Gff the yellow jackets and pulled on the corduroy and went off to dig their salvation out of Bendigo and Ballarat.
When poorest England heard this she redoubled her efforts, sinning and surrendering in shoals until the Government cried: "This is no longer punishment. They have forced our hand."
Forced it was, although for some time they pretended to sit in council, considering this, considering that, considering the League and Solemn Engagement of the Australian Colonies which regularly sent them ultimatums and was influencing even the very governors themselves. The Captain played Rule Britannia on his accordion with the silver stops, after signing a document pledging him to employ no more convicts admitted after a certain date. But James Sorley tore his copy with lean dry hands, and would have had Oliver put it on the fire but that Oliver was over the strait with Mab, at the goldfields.
To Mab the cry of gold came like a terrible light, wakening him and Julia, drunk on dreams. These months they had moved in an unreal world; with people about them like unsure mists in the distance, and with neither to-morrow nor yesterday at page 135their gate. Sometimes Mab thought inertly, "I must go to Berry." But his young drugged limbs carried him to Julia instead. It was a golden season, bright with bright waters, and drowsy with the murmurings of many bees and wandering fragrances. Moonlit nights and a warm magic; and when they two went hand-in-hand down the bush-gullies at dusk they saw fauns and elves. For, protested Julia, brown shadows with prick-ears, too friendly for possums or rabbits, could not be but Pan's children, any more than those white tossing arms could be wild apple trees.
And then they kissed, and after each kiss they were not quite the same.
But the feet of those tramping myriads beat into the dream, and Mab's lusty young life roused suddenly and ached to follow.
"First I will see Berry and then I will go to the gold-fields," he said. Julia was terrified. Never, never. Mab could not leave her at Berry's mercy like that. Where should she go? What do?
"You must stay with me or you must say nothing until you return," said Julia, firm through fear. And in the end they left it so, and Mab rode south for Oliver, with the scent of sweet-briar in his nostrils and words clattering with the horse-hoofs through his head. Thus have I had thee …? How did it go?
"Thus have I had thee as a dream does flatter.
In sleep a king, but waking no such matter."
Aha, but he was a king, and he had her, awake or asleep. And by and by there would be the gold and he'd settle with Berry. He came riding with the dawn into Hobart Town and thrust handfuls of the Sydney Morning Herald on Oliver trying to sleep off the result of a bad night at roulette. "Read that! And that! And that!" cried Mab, standing over him glowing and splendid in a long cinnamon-coloured riding-coat and tilted hat. "Vision it, Noll. All that gold … children scratching the earth with a stick and picking up a bagful. A native digs in the clay with a penknife and pulls out a lump of sixty pounds. It's El Dorado, Noll. It's liberty." … It's Julia, he thought, but page 136could not say so to Noll sitting sulky with bedclothes to his chin. "At Launceston they're packing four hundred apiece into those cockleshell Melbourne boats. Everyone's going, Noll. I'm going. You're going …"
Until he got to Bathurst among all these tents, all these bearded men damning the proprieties, gambling, stealing, loving, he did not, he felt, recover his sense of proportion. Love was ecstasy, heaven. But this was a man's game. Even those women with their bold eyes and flaunting shawls walking the streets of the canvas town knew it was a man's game. His body had never ached so much in all his life, and his hands were raw with the blasted pick. But he was getting gold. Gold for Julia.
Soon he found the gambler in him working up, working out like a nail in a shoe. It was a psychological necessity, a letting off of steam after these drugged months, but he did not know that. He only knew that everywhere he gambled with his luck and wealth flooded into his hands. He bought horses, houses, shares in everything; sold them and bought again. He was mad with the game. Monstrous joke, this, sitting cold at a table and making a fortune in a night. Better fun than grubbin' in the clay. Another drink an' he'd go over and clean up the boys on Lone Water, be damned if he didn't. There, who wanted shares in Rosalie? He'd sell at a hundred per cent profit? Done. As a dream … as a dream does flatter. In sleep a king … and waking too, by Heaven! And waking, too.
Oliver, with a few driblets of gold, was back at Clent before they knew. In a tent on the high cold plateau of Ballarat he had pneumonia and was cupped within an inch of his life.
"A devil of a business," he could assure Julia. "A man really needs the physique of a bull—or of Mab. I vow that Mab is mad. Luck follows a madman ever." Julia trembled, asked why (since he was now rich) Mab did not return. Didn't she know that no gambler ever had enough!Never could return until he had lost all he'd made? There were endless stories about Mab page 137already, but Oliver protested he would not tell them to a lady. Mab (naturally, since he was a Comyn) was not vulgar with his wealth. He did not light pipes with five-pound notes, nor eat them between bread-slices as the canaille did. Oliver had seen them munching away. And Mab did not buy for scullery-maids costly Paris dresses, nor deck some gold-field wench in raw nuggets and then want to marry her, as Bob Beverley would have done but that Mab prevented him. Oliver was there at the time. "Have your fun, my dear fellow," he had told Bob. "All you can, for this won't last. But God forbid that you should marry it," Mab had said. "Anything you like, except that." Oh, 'pon honour, Mab was growing shrewd. All this racketing around with men …
At last Mab was sated; sane again. He was rich, and he came back for Julia like a king returning to his kingdom. He felt just like that, interviewing his bankers in Launceston, leaving the coach at Trienna, and walking over the paddocks to Clent. The sharp clean wine of autumn was in the still air. Grass was crisp underfoot, and beyond the naked hawthorn fence he heard sheep nibbling the turnips, coughing their short grating coughs. Love of these well-established things of home came over him with a rush of passion and tenderness. He was tender still when he came into Madam's boudoir and stooped to kiss her.
With the appreciation of an epicure Madam felt the new atmosphere he brought. He filled the little place up with more than his size, his radiant good looks. It was the complete masculinity of him that so pleased her. She moved her little hands as though bathing them in its essence. Surely, surely he had now gone beyond pretty, uncertain Julia, who had returned to Berry when he became Sir Almeric and took a town house and yet, people said, still squabbled with him helplessly. How much did Mab know of this Julia? "You have come to stay with us, mon cher?" she asked wistfully.
"Later. I'm riding on to town to-night if Bill can lend me a horse."
So it was still Julia. Madam said: "But there are many horses. Have you not sent us much money?"page 138
"That was to pay off Sorley's mortgage." He frowned. That mortgage had always galled him. "Hasn't it been done?"
"Oh, I think your father would not occupy himself with that. He has built a river-wall where the paddocks used to flood, Mab. You must see it."
"I'll give him a cheque for the mortgage." Mab stood up. His brown hands with the hair on backs and wrists had never been still. Madam recognized the power of that other woman who was pulling him.
"You have been away a year, Mabille. There are great changes."
"Not in the things that really matter," he said, and went out with his big laugh and his big swinging shoulders.
Along the Main Road were many little farms where had been bush-land, for under this new shower of gold the colony was burgeoning like a spring pasture. Women in checked aprons were feeding pigs, scattering grain to noisy poultry. Old men with smocks and shaven lips above the chin-whiskers raked manure out of the stone barns. He saw few young men, but they would come. They would come, when their gold-lust was slaked, for the buxom girls pressing against the post-and-rails to stare after him with hands shading their eyes in the bright sun. They would come even as he was come for Julia.
Hobart Town had grown. On the hill were a number of new "gentlemen's residences," and Mab rode up the stiff driveway of Berry's new house with his own backbone stiffening. Julia should not be here. She belonged to him just as he belonged to her. Not once through this hot and stormy year had he forgotten that he belonged to Julia…. Ours is the real marriage. It began before we were born, he thought. She should not be here.
In Berry's large chill drawing-room where the footman left him while he went to seek Julia, Mab found himself growing hot. All the signs of domesticity were about him. Photographs of Berry, of Julia, of the boy. A tangle of embroidery silks in a plush-lined work-basket…. I should never have gone away, he thought. But what else could I do? I had no money…. And then there was a small sound and he turned to find her page 139standing behind him. He put out his hands with a cry, but she shrank back. In her eyes, blue and shining as her gown, was an expression he did not know. Her golden hair was rolled back from the delicate blue-veined temples, giving her an older look. She had her knuckle pressed to her full red lips as though to stop its trembling.
"Why did you come like this, Mab? You should have sent me word."
"I came as soon as I could," he said blankly. "What's the matter? Is Berry …?"
She made a gesture with her hand under its hanging sleeve of lace. "Please sit down. You overwhelm me. You've grown so … large."
He sat where she indicated, at a little distance from her. Bewildered, he kept thinking: I've startled her. What a goat I am. And how lovely she is! How lovely!…"I must seem rough to you," he said humbly. "I've been so much with men, over there."
"Yes. I know."
He saw her trying to control herself and waited, gripping his hands together between his knees. A blank chill was creeping across his confidence, but he thought: Give her time. I must give her time.
His stillness, the overpowering uncouth masculinity of him invading the barriers she was trying to raise made him terrible to Julia. She had loved him. At Bredon she had exulted when he came on her like an avalanche and bore her away. He had filled her up with his own immensities of love, of assurance, and it was not until he had withdrawn them and gone over the strait that she discovered how little had been of her own making. That which she had done, that which Mab had made the most natural and holy of fulfilments now seemed to her unnatural, a horror from which she woke in the night crying with fear…. The scandal! The scandal! I must have been mad, she thought.
Then came the town life again, with its conventions and pleasures; with Berry's accession and the thrill of ascribing her visiting-cards "Lady Berry." She was young enough and, being James Sorley's daughter, snob enough to relish going into page 140dinner before the elder ladies—who would draw their skirts aside from her if they knew.
"Oh, Mab! We must have been mad," she said at last.
"If love can make one mad I suppose we were. And now, now, my own beloved, we can be mad forever. I've come for you, Julia. I'll see Berry and send him a challenge to-day." He began to glow. He would not kill Berry, any more than he would let Berry kill him. He would just make the matter clear as between gentlemen, and then he would take her away, across the strait. And after the divorce … He felt a sudden sharp stab of remorse. "I hadn't thought … My darling, I'm afraid we'll have some unpleasantness to go through. I didn't think of that. But——"
"Mab, Mab, you must understand I We can't go through it."
"Dearest, listen. Of course I shall always love you, and I'm breaking my heart. But it's ended. You must see that."
"How 'ended'? "He came over, stooping to lean a hand on her chair. "How 'ended'? What do you mean? I look on you as my wife. I look on myself as your husband. All the time I've been away I've never forgot that. You wouldn't let me write to you, and it wasn't necessary. We belong to each other. How ended?"
She felt his personality swamping her again and began to sob in sheer terror lest he should take her in spite of her. And he did take her. He put his arms round her and lifted her up, and she cried: "Oh, Mab, go away! Oh, don't break my heart!"
Unused to subtleties, he brushed them aside as he brushed the lace sleeve with which she tried to hide her face: "I don't understand. Won't it break your heart if I go? If you loved me it should. Or perhaps you don't love me? Is that what you mean? Good God!" he cried, sharply. "Can't you speak?"
She wept on his shoulder. It was all so hard. Of course she loved him. But her duty. Her little boy. Her duty. And her father. Scandal would ruin them all. Mab must wait. She must wait. She was used to sacrifice. "Mab, Mab, you must help me to be brave!" She was weeping for her lost springtime, her young page 141lover, her position, her title, a thousand things. Like a woman, she wanted them all. "Oh, Mab! Help me!" she cried, so very sorry for herself.
In the end he agreed to wait, hearing the words as though they did not come from his own mouth. He looked round dazedly on the pretty prim chintzes and water-colours of Julia's room. What was he to do now? Where go? He said, unconscious of heroics in his suffering: "I feel myself as much your husband as though we'd been married in church, Julia. Berry is only a … a something that should never have come into our lives. There will be no other woman for me while you live, because I count on us belonging to each other. And I'll come back again. I'll keep on coming back."
"Oh, yes, yes! Come back. Oh, poor Mab, why should we be so unhappy …"
She let him take one kiss which she returned so passionately that he could scarcely go. But he went, a defeated warrior with drooping plumes. Surely enough, life was hard for women, the female sex being so at the mercy of the world's tongue. He must remember that, be chivalrous. He felt his muscles twitching as though they longed to grip something, shake it, throttle it…. Think I'd best get across the strait again, he thought, walking fast down between the stiff rhododendrons.
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.
The battle for Cessation continued, with James Sorley in town trying to agree with everyone, and the Captain agreeing with no one and writing daily letters to the papers, in the library which long association had taught him was a better place to sleep in. On a May morning of 1853, Madam came in through the glass door open to the spring warmth, bringing to him the last Hobart Town Gazette.
"Perhaps a letter of yours will be in it, mon vieux," she said, not very hopefully. So few papers dared print the Captain's letters now.
He flirted over the pages; spread them out. Then he sprang page 144up with a great oath and a crumple of paper; snatched her about the waist. "It's come! It's come!" he shouted. "Glory to God! It's come!" He held the sheets out before her with a shaking hand. "Read, Jenny … See … 'Her Gracious Majesty's Government … irrevocably decided … cessation of transportation … Fourteenth December, 'fifty-three.' Cessation! By …" Here he became so unprintable that Madam was glad to be there. The robustness had gone out of life of late.
"God save the Queen!" she cried, rolling her lace handkerchief in a ball and tossing it up.
"God save her and damn Jim Sorley!" amended the Captain, hurrying off for his accordion. And a few moments later the maids gaping from the windows saw Madam and the Captain marching arm-in-arm round the great carriage-sweep, with a dozen glad dogs at their heels and the Captain making noises on the accordion which someone presently guessed to be the National Anthem.page 145page 146