It seems that about this time there began in the colony a great urge of liveliness and youth, an impatience of old methods and tradition, among the new generation born and bred there and looking on this new world as their own special oyster. "Our grandfathers, our fathers, Englishmen all. What say they? Let page 149them say," cried the young men of the later golden 'fifties, glancing round with confident eyes. "Wait till we take our coats off and turn our sleeves up. We'll show them what we're going to do with our country."
Undoubtedly many of them made a shocking mess of the exhibition, having too much of the pioneer temperament and too few anchors. The first and fiercest struggle of occupation was over, the blackest cloud of penal settlement lifted. The elders, it seemed to the young men, as it always does, were rather stupid, unlawfully taking their ease, unlawfully muddling the issues which youth could manage much better. Discussions begun in the school dormitories of Hobart Town bubbled up later into private clubs designed by their authors to improve the country. And as nobody much had any professions or any especial work to do, the clubs flourished.
There were the Young Bucks, very nice about their waistcoats and their oaths; the Thrusters, out to improve the breed of riding-horses, which (it now appeared) their fathers had shockingly neglected; the Æsthetes, a small body and very precious; and the League of Chivalry founded at Trienna by that delicate-minded young knight Sigurd Beverley, who never would learn any better. The Sorley boys, having much more money than anything else, belonged to everything, although Adam broke most of the rules within a month and the head of the president of the Æsthetes shortly after. Adam, with all the instincts of his grandfather except determination, was a handful for any young country and was slightly more popular in the whaling grog-shops of the Hobart Town water-front than in a lady's drawing-room. But Sigurd still had hopes of him. Sigurd who, while the town rang bells and flew flags and ate buns in honour of Liberty and the end of Transportation, was up on Mount Wellington with his face in the wet fern and mosses, quaking and sobbing with the strong glory of his visions.
Just now he was trying to tighten up the strings of his League, and Adam, aware of having loosened most of them, protested. "'Ton my soul, I can't see why one should want to be good. Good men never have time for anything else. Damned dull, I call it."page 150
"But what a crass notion!" cried Sigurd. Some half-dozen of them (including black-browed, steady Humphrey Comyn and Brevis Keyes from Tane Hall) were tramping through a red, cold winter sunset after shooting duck over the Bredon marshes, and Sigurd paused on a little brownstone bridge to shift his burden of duck and toss back his hair. Sigurd, who wore fair hair and flowing tie rather longer and looser than other youths, had at times a fleet, sweet look of the young Shelley, which would have deeply distressed him had he known. Adam considered Sigurd a prig, and perhaps he was. At any rate he spelled Ideals with a capital I, and even wrote of them in young ladies' albums. "You have no imagination, Adam," he said now. "You're thinking of monks who deny themselves the natural laws and attempt to fight God and nature and——"
"Women," said Brevis Keyes, his thin high-bred face youthfully cynical under the round hunting-cap.
"Ain't they both God and nature?" cried Sigurd, kindling. "And ain't we pledged to see that we never dissociate the three?"
"Good Lord!" said Adam, round-eyed. "Does any sane man ever try to associate 'em?"
The others laughed, beating their chilled hands and relighting the blunt little pipes which had lately taken the place of the old churchwardens.
"There you go!" Sigurd cried hotly. "Grinning through horse-collars at the verities! I say there's nothing we can't do, we of a new land, a new tradition. No other country ever had such a chance … never stunted by poverty or ignorance … our fathers and grandfathers English gentlemen …"
"And our mothers, Sigs. Don't forget them."
"Oh, jeer away! I tell you there's nothing we couldn't compass if——"
"Adam has already compassed a new way of slipping a billet-doux," said Brevis. "That should surely count for something."
Laughter comes easily to jovial youth. They went on through the frosty stillness, arguing, swinging their strings of duck and teal. By stiff clumps of wattle and tea-tree their well-bred dogs ranged and came again. Sigurd was at it still, terribly earnest:page 151
"Yes, your father, my father … they say, 'We'll do this and that because it was always done so in England.' But we must say: 'Exactly. And therefore you had to leave England. She couldn't support you. We will do this and that because it was never done so in England, and because we think it the better way.' We can surely rise to heights——"
"That's it," said practical Humphrey. "There's lots we could do differently. This land can't be farmed like English land, you know. We'll never grow clover hay on Clent, but we try it every year. I'd like a greater freedom of outlook and experiment."
"I'm with you there!" cried Adam. "I'm all for greater freedom. Why, one mayn't dance twice with a gal but you have her mamma after you—unless she's the kind who ain't got mammas, and I'll grant you they're the most amusin'."
"Those old traditions are indecent," declared Sigurd. He dragged out a note-book. Sigurd's pockets brimmed with notebooks. "Here's a lovely extract from the English Ladies' Book of Etiquette that I found Maria reading the other day. Listen to this: 'Ask the father, before the movings of ambition have calcined his heart and directed his eyes only to the graces it displays, ask him if he could commit the innocence of his daughter to the pollution of the waltz. Ask the mother——'"
Shouts of laughter drowned him. Brevis said, grinning, "Don't be ribald, Sigs." Sigurd glared. He nurtured himself on Swedenborg, Malory as interpreted by Mr. Tennyson, and Aucassin and Nicolette.
"The infernal immorality of that suggestion! What notions it's likely to give Maria! We've got to get rid of all that. In this new land we must make all things lovely and of good repute."
"Convict settlement, for instance," said Brevis.
"That's done with. It's for us to wipe out the stain. No nation ever had such a chance as we have. Wealth, peace, education, a perfect climate, youth of body and soul. If we don't go far——"
"You've gone far enough." Brevis flung an arm round Sigurd, gaping with the cold. "Come home, you old madman. Good night, you fellows. Be good, but never as good as Sigs an' you love life."page 152
Brevis was staying at Tingvalley and the ways parted here. Humphrey tramped a little farther with the Sorley boys until the dark line of the path to Bredon turned off through the frosty grass.
"Comin' in?" asked Adam, hospitably. "My Aunt Julia's here again, and at her most entrancin'. I'd like to see the pretty miss who'll oust my Lady Berry from her place as belle of the country."
Humphrey refused. He disliked Julia. Her bold blue eyes had a greed, to his mind, as though they searched him for what he had no desire to give. He whistled up his dogs and went on, abandoning himself in staid ecstasy to the wooing of this wild earth scent of fallen leaves and frozen grass and ploughland. Far on his right the ranges rose dark on a daffodil sky, and all the world was hushed into quiet clean-cut as a cameo. In the home paddock each tree stood like a burnt-out torch, each block of wool-sheds, grain-sheds, cart-sheds had its blunt individuality, each line of post-and-rail fence lay white and stoutly complete. Still Clent was Humphrey's chiefest Lady, although Maria Beverley was now running a close second.
Queer thing, this need to love something in particular, he thought. Old Sigs, now, with his love of humankind; Oliver with his passion for comfort at any price; Councillor Sorley, mad on power; those far-eyed, loose-tongued whalers and sailors and sealers who drank and gambled and loved in Hobart Town and yet must leave their lesser loves at call of their greater lover, the sea. Even the merchants, the grain, wool, and timber merchants, touched with the high emprise of commerce, taking chances for love of the hazard. An uncanny jade, Love, flicking at men here and there, thought Humphrey, uncynical and a little wondering. Then he winced as he passed the knot of tree honeysuckle and scrub wattle where the old Clent hut was falling to pieces. Long ago the Sorleys had cleaned up their side, but the Captain had a sentiment, an untidy mind. Damned shame to waste good land like this, considered Humphrey; stopped short at hearing voices; peered through the broken window and went on in a great hurry.
Incredible that Lady Berry, wrapped in furs, should be crying page 153in a broken chair, that Mab Comyn, speaking rather loud' should be stooped over her. Incredible as what he said. But there it was; and Humphrey, burning slowly into anger as numberless slight circumstances fell into line within his mind, knew that there it had been for several years.
The sun had set and silence was absolute in a frosty world. The clatter of hoofs on the highroad over a mile off passed through it like thunder. A duck quacking in the marshes seemed to splinter it like glass. Seeing the lights of Clent on its hill, the dogs barked suddenly, and Humphrey had a queer shocked impulse to silence them. It seemed that they proclaimed aloud the shame of Clent. For shame it would be if Mab did … if Lady Berry did …
Shame it was already, anyway; and youthfully determined that there must be no more of it, Humphrey became certain that he must speak to Mab, bludgeon the truth into him that, no matter who sighed or sorrowed, the fair name of Clent must not suffer. It would be a simple thing. Mab would see it when another man put it to him straight. Humphrey in the humourless wisdom of eighteen years marched home to make Mab see it.