Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon




It was William who brought Jenny home that September of 1856, when she was just about seventeen.

"I had business near by and your trunks can come by coach," said this tightly frock-coated and white-trousered William who had no mind that Jenny should get above herself. And Jenny said a shy, "Yes, Papa," and kissed him on the edge of the sandy barbe-de-bouc which now gave a queer fringed dignity to the parrot nose and small mouth, and tucked herself into the hooded gig which William drove tandem at such a spanking pace, and waited docilely for developments.

Like most men, William was nervous with his young daughter and defended himself by hectoring. "I trust you have made good use of your time, my dear, for the golden days of youth will never return. Ah … what is the Latin for work? Take heed before you answer…. Your mother expects that you will now give her valuable assistance with the children, especially as little Fanny appears barred by constitutional timidity from advancing as far with her arithmetic as her governess hoped. Your mother expects you to aid her there. Ah … your mother expects …"

Poor Susan fully understood what both William and Madam expected her to expect of Jenny and, as usual, submitted herself as the battlefield upon which these two sets of expectations met. Meekly agreeing with William that it was now Jenny's duty to stay at home and help her mother, she was yet surprised into enthusiasm for Madam's determination that Jenny should make a good marriage next year.

"She shall begin a bottom drawer at once," cried, Susan, "and I will tuck her some petticoats. A young lady must have petticoats even if unmarried," she added with hasty loyalty to William.

Madam was grimly amused. "Even a woman so immolated on the conjugal altar as Susan is impassioned to fling her daughter page 157into the flames. And very well for you men that it is so," she told Mab, who said harshly:

"You'll surely let the child choose for herself, anyway."

"That, at times, costs dear," said Madam.

It had cost Julia dearer to have another choose for her. Mab was silenced; but when Jenny ran into the warm dim hall with the chill spring air behind her he barely waited for greetings to end before pulling her to stand before her portrait. "Let's see if the same stuff is in you still," he said with a queer roughness.

He held a candlestick close; but either the flicker or a shadow that fell from the tall roof made to his searching eyes the living Jenny appear the younger, the more innocently defenceless. That brave baby on the wall had heard the angels as she played. This Jenny heard only the call of life ahead, and her eagerness to fly to it was dashed with fear. For this home-coming carried a terror with it. Madam had made no bones about it. "Listen, child; the three-minute sands of an egg-glass do not run faster than the sands of a girl's time. To be beautiful and to marry well and soon, soon. That is the duty of a young lady of position. Well I know it!"

So Madam, worldly-wise and contemptuous of smaller matters, and hitherto Jenny had agreed as one agrees lightly about the certainty of death and old age, and had babbled sentiment with the girls at school, and listened to clever Lydia Quorn expounding the deliciousness of Don Juan (after lights were out in the bedroom) and found it quite as stupid and unintelligible as Lydia secretly did. A little of this Mab guessed, looking from the pretty agitated thing to Madam, gracious and eagle-eyed in her flowing silks and laces. Jenny, he suddenly realized, was destined to pay for his demerits. Somehow, somewhere, Madam would have her triumph. Indeed, she was experiencing a foretaste of it now.

Susan, seeing only the somewhat strained little pointed face with its dark eyes, the very slender body shrinking slightly in its ankle-length crinoline and tight-fitting jupe, was crying disapprovingly: "Gracious! How small you are, Jenny! Charlotte still lacks a month of eleven, but she could make two of you."

page 158

"Three," said Madam, with relish. "Jenny's waist in full skin is fourteen inches!"

To Jenny's lively imagination the words seemed suddenly to set her before them all "in full skin." Half wildly she stared from the genial Captain to pompous William and this big dark silent uncle, realizing them now not as childhood familiars but as members of that sex of which an assiduous training had taught her to be so very much aware. Then through the hall door walked Adam Sorley with bold eyes of approval, and Jenny, evading him in sudden panic, fled up the stair, her crinoline bobbing like the white scut of a rabbit. Madam laughed faintly, wrinkling her eyes. Mab frowned.

"Well, Adam, my boy," the Captain said, "your father's merino rams beat mine badly at the Melbourne sales. What do you get out of it?"

"A new hunter, I hope," said Adam, very debonair. "You're looking well, sir."

In his great beatitude at settlement of the convict question the Captain was certain that he could never again be anything but well. He had broken out a flag on the staff first raised at Clent in honour of the Queen's accession and kept it flying for a week. He had shamefacedly begged from Susan one of the Cessation of Transportation 1853 medals issued to children, saying "Little Lottie'd only lose hers, eh? A girl don't want such things," and now most proudly wore the misshapen leaden disc among the gold seals and keys upon his fob. Wherever in the district bells had rung and people cheered, there rode the Captain on his grey cob, jovial as the sun; and when the old name of the colony was jettisoned at last, it was the Captain who declared in an astonishing burst of oratory that Van Diemen's Land—discredited Cinderella for so long—had donned the glass slipper of Liberty and become Tasmania crowned and queen.

Denison, enraged at what he considered to be a forcing of England's hand by the colonists, had refused to allow government servants to participate in the rejoicings. But when, just after his departure, England very suddenly and splendidly established the Australasian Constitution Act which abrogated page 159to each young colony political powers more liberal than her own, the Captain almost wished Denison back.

"When I realize how the governor's wings will be clipped pro rata under this new regime I could enjoy seeing the fellow here to learn his place. The councillors'll have more power though, damn 'em."

Still nursing that old feud, thought William, although James came rarely to Bredon now, having built himself a fine house in Upper Davey Street, which was quite the most fashionable part of Hobart Town. There he gave wonderful dinners and believed himself to be a symbolic figure, a founder of the country.

In the golden 'fifties every man of standing was rich and many amazingly so, but the Captain seemed to go through it all, somehow.

William suggested that there was now a good bit to be made in tavern and brewery shares, and the Captain went so purple that William feared for a fit.

"Huckstering, sir! Before I'd descend to! peddling drinks I'd beg my bread along the road. Damme, sir I'm afraid you're a thought plebeian yet, for all my teaching."

So there was nothing for William to do but bully Humphrey. And perhaps, like many other men, he found in that his chief reward for parenthood. "No, you shall not have that draft of merinos on Latter dale, Humphrey," he said. "Don't be so ready to think that you know everything."

Already Humphrey had learned that he was never supposed to think that he knew anything unless a situation arose too sudden and severe to be adequately met by William, such as when the Bredon rams broke the fence and got in among the Clent stud ewes. Then William said helplessly to Humphrey, "Whatever can we do now?" And because Humphrey had no solution, William was ready with his acid: "There you are! When I ask your advice you are quite incapable of giving it, and yet you are always wanting me to let you run Latterdale. A pretty pickle we'd be in if I did."

When Governor Denison played his famous Crown Lands game whereby many thousands of acres fell into the hands of settlers at easy rates just before the laws were revised, William page 160had bought hill country across the river and set Humphrey there with a couple of convict woodsmen to live in a slab hut and put up miles of snake fencing.

There were only possum and platypus there, and at night the sound of waterfalls rushing down through the heavy timber high in the ranges. But Humphrey loved it, and would have liked to have Jenny there, warming her toes over the aromatic camp-fires and coming out at dawn to a sweet surprise of gay little flowers in the dewy grasses and stray wallabies hopping all around the hut. But this could not be. Jenny had to behave like a lady now, paying calls with Madam in tight kid gloves and the barouche, and entertaining that prime dandy Adam Sorley, who turned up at Cient with new verses and new waistcoats and new pimples every day. Humphrey, reading:

She likes a verse, but, cruel whim,
She still appears a-verse to him,

thought Adam smart until he discovered it in Punch. "So the mighty Adam cribs," he told Brevis. "When Jen has a sheaf of the stuff I'll make Adam own up before her. What a lark, eh?"

Brevis shrugged, muttering something about immaturity. Humphrey felt abashed. "Of course we can't all be clever like you," he said humbly.

Madam was not sure that Brevis was clever. Roger Keyes was going to make a judge of him, so he said. But Madam could not see what young gentlemen of position should need with professions. None of her sons had them. Nor the Sorley boys, although Martha declared that Adam would do something great. "Bah!" said Madam to Mab. "Adam with his little songs and his little verses and his little sketches of Jenny with enormous eyes and ridiculous waists! But he will do for la petite to try her prentice hand on."

Jenny always felt a little naughty with Adam. He was so serious and one always forgot him until he was hot at one's elbow. And so hot! And how Jenny disliked odours. Adam lifted the big loving-cup (Sorleys to Comyns) from the calf-bound volume of Josephus which always stood on the hall-table. He was dreadfully serious, imperious.

page 161

"Look! Leave me a message where we can meet, in a given page of this. A leaf of ivy if it's by the dove-cot. Or geranium if it's the parapet beyond the sundial——"

"Or cabbage if it's the kitchen-garden." La, la! this great calf Adam, trying to be dignified like his grandfather, telling her it was no laughing matter! She came near him, slow step by step. Adam, breathing thickly, saw her demure as grey silk and little frilled apron and white collar could make her. Saw her chestnut hair rebellious, her lips and cheeks roses, her eyes … through their long lashes her eyes. He threw his hands up. "You … oh, you wicked little nun!" he cried.

Poor Adam. So he might paint her, Jenny said, for he needed all possible practice. And when she desired no more of it she would leave a thorn in the book. "Which page shall we choose, Adam? I like these long s's, don't you?"

Adam, going in daily fear of the thorn, found many leaves; rose, carnation, oak, and sycamore, staining the yellowed pages of old Josephus. Then Charlotte discovered the game (as she discovered most things if you gave her time) and added a varied handful which set Adam distractedly roaming the place until he found Jenny by the river, shook her in fury, and then kissed her more furiously still. And that did for him for good and all; for Jenny ran home in a perfect anguish of shame and wrath. A thousand times Susan had told her that no man who respects a young lady would be so libertine as to kiss her; and although the girls at school had said otherwise, this was Jenny's first grown-up kiss and it startled her. She got out her diary and solemnly took a new quill pen. This was an Occasion. She wrote:

A.S. has behaved as no gentlemen should. Never shall I forgive him as long as I live. I shall practise those Italian dues with Maria until even she stops making mistakes, and I shall help Fanny with her sums, and Mamma with the linen-closet. A.S. is not my Fancy and never was. I still consider Uncle Mab the Greatest of men except Lord Byron, and sometimes he lets me exercise his horses.