The life of another, it seems, is most like to a band of musick marching past us on the high road. At first faint, uncertain, inarticulate this distant music; merely such light sweet separate notes as might come from a child at Play. Then, with harsh Sweeping crescendo the band is upon us, and for a little at its high tide we discern a something of its Composition. It may be that we note only the drum-major, proud of his whirling Gavel, strongly leading his troupe. Or the leopard-skin, the motions fantastic and Wild of he who strains his limbs as he thunders the big Drum. Or one marching with rapt face, calm and inwardly listening to the haunting shrilling tenderness from his fife. Or one who has fallen silent for the time, to wipe an exhausted face, to yawn, or to Leer aside. It may be that we see but the one and yet are they all there; all in the one body, all the one Marvel that is man, marching by to the drum-beat, the Fife-crying of his own Heart.
Now that great Hammering struggling volume of sound which for the moment has been human Life at its zenith is past. Gradually, inevitably it is retreating into a purple dimness, over the wet dropped autumn leaves, under the stooping trees….
Now it is gone; vanished. And because gone for us we think that it is silenced. By what Right? Are we, pausing for an instant in our own march, the only Listeners on that high road through eternity? Did that band make Musick only for our careless ear? Is it not even now Whistling with some gay blackbird in other flowery meadows; swinging, sweetened and mellowed by use and time, past other listeners on the sunny highway, retreating undismayed and Deathless towards other stars …?
In one of the attics at old Clent another Jenny lately found this paper; yellowed and rat-eaten along with the crumpled page 148French cap ribbons, the dancing-sandals with frayed cross-ties, the little white-satin bodices folded in blue tissue papers of near eighty years ago.
Heaped on the Captain's old hair trunk containing them was a brittle pile of half-cured tobacco leaves such as William had grown and used in the 'seventies to combat scab in sheep. Those, falling to dust when moved, and a broken fencing-foil of Mab's … and memories.
Who wrote the paper we do not know. Jenny, perhaps. Or Sigurd Beverley, born a poet and bred a farmer. Or Humphrey, who never got what he wanted; or his younger brother Richard, who got too much. Perhaps the night wind knows, blowing through the old grey trees the Captain planted, now grown tall to tap the attic window-panes. Perhaps they know, those young fragrant ghosts with hooped and lace-plumed petticoats, with gauzy scarfs on immature white shoulders and nosegays in soft ringless hands as they scurry unafraid and drawn together by hushed laughter and whisperings over the rotting attic floor o' nights, along the dim corridor where Humphrey, Jenny, and the whole tottering tribe that followed them learned to walk, and down the shallow stairs that now creak woefully where no foot treads. But they have no time to tell, the young ghosts, pausing with drooped ringleted heads and dewy demure mouths at the bottom step: for there in the square hall, under the blossomed boughs of Christmas gum and the tall white Christmas lilies their eager and pomatumed beaux are waiting. And they must curtsy, and the gallants, hand to heart, must bow. For this is the Romantic Age, with Victoria unwidowed on her throne, and what was a man to swear by then except a maid's bright eyes? And what was a maid to think of then except a man?
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.
On the rare occasions when there was no company at Clent the evenings were frankly dull. Madam ceased to play the harp when her voice ceased to please her critical ear. She played bezique with the Captain, or fashioned flower bunches on her embroidery frame while he netted curtains in thick white cotton for the whole of Clent. So far Madam had saved the austere elegance of her salon, but she knew that she would hang all the walls with that atrocious netting sooner than rendre triste her good man…. The brutality of age! It softens one, she thought.
Susan stitched unendingly on petticoats and frills. In her sewing-room was a long shelf which she hoped to fill with empty reels before she died. What le bon Dieu had been about, to fashion such as Susan, was more than Madam would ever be able to guess. And the swarm of children she and William page 154produced between them. Looking with dislike on fat, pale Susan, Madam felt she could have borne it better had William alone been responsible. William sat at the small buhl table, reading the Mercury and making notes regarding sales. Humphrey wandered in and out, and Mab had a book and an easy-chair by the big bright fireplace. Mab had nearly gone to the Crimea, to the New Zealand wars, to the gold-fields again. Madam, whose hopes had lessened sadly with the years, had prayed him almost on her knees to go to the Crimea. "I would buy you a commission," she said. "And the army is a proper enough career for a du Nesle Comyn. To return as a general would also give you an entrée into the Government."
Once she thought she had him persuaded, eager, the hunger gone out of his eyes before a new light. But it had all come to nothing, and very well she knew why and would have gladly slain Julia Berry had it been possible…. Dieu! she thought. And all this because I was virtuous. To have encouraged un peu plus the good James and there had been no Julia…. Profoundly considering the results of virtue, she looked again at Mab. He had ceased to read, but he did not feel her look. He stared into the glowing caverns of the fire. Seeing Julia, sans doute.
Everywhere Mab's troubled heart saw Julia. Julia with fair tragic face and too yielding body wrapped as he had just now wrapped her in hood and cloak of darkest fur. Julia in town, slaying a troop of curled young bucks with the bright hard shining of her eyes. Julia, that soft innocent child-thing of that long-ago Christmas Day. Julia, who once had sent him a rhyme:
Since all that thou can'st ever do for me
Is to do nothing, let me never see
How all-endured that nothing is to thee,
and, woman-like, had ever since expected him to let her see it.
Berry was Sir Almeric Berry now. Or "A.B." Or "All Brandy." He answered amiably to any name his endless associates gave him, and (being always hard up) had the constant excitement of being refused money by Julia and returning to the lenders with a puzzled look in his bemused black eyes. "My Lady page 155says I spend too much," he told them in his thick loitering voice. "So I do. She's quite right. Mons'rous fine woman, Lady Berry. Tell y'what," with sudden energy, "money's root of all evil. Comes between man and wife, y'know. Bad thing, that. I wonder …"
He seemed to be always wondering in the interludes of his "little amusements," which were the perennial scandal of the town. The latest, having recently consoled a hard-shell whaling-captain, had offended even the military's generous canons of gallantry. "So I've left him again," said Julia, still lovely in her twenties. "But if you left me, Mab, I should die."
Old Jerrold brought wine and plum-cake. Susan went to the feather bed she so closely resembled. The others drifted out. Mab sat alone over the fire; seeing ghosts, broken forms that once stood upright, incomprehensible pitiful forms that led him nowhere, promised nothing. Then he looked up and saw Humphrey stock against the tall white mantel.
Hours of preparation had convinced Humphrey of the difficulty of his mission, but they had not deterred him. He opened at once: "Jenny comes home for good next month, you know."
"Lucky you! I wish I had a sister."
Mab was feeling that one has to begin very young if one hopes to understand women. He lay back smiling up at the boy, with quizzical tired eyes. Experience, poise, a man's dark knowledge—Humphrey read them all and, badly frightened, he turned his head and blurted out, "I shouldn't care for her to see what I saw in the old hut to-night."
The utter silence following that frightened him more. He had a new and desolate sense that right is not always might, that this errant uncle was somehow stronger than righteous anger, mysteriously proof. Some sternly held youthful beliefs tumbled into ruin, bewildered him. He breathed hard.
"No gentleman ever sees what he is not meant to see," Mab said evenly, "or hears what he is not meant to hear. Haven't you learned that yet! Good night."
"Good night, sir," said Humphrey, and went out with his head down. In the corridor he stood a minute, brushing his hand over his face. But he could not clear his vision. Life, it seemed, page 156was not the direct, uncomplex, practical thing he had been used to think it. Life was … well what the devil was it?
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.
Into the confusion of shearing and Christmas preparations at Clent, Oliver brought Lieutenant Valentine Paige who he intended should prove Jenny's "Fancy." Or the fancy of those controlling her, which was much more important. Oliver, now managing Berry's racing stud at New Town, often regretted that he had not been born a gallant of the French Court at a time when parasites were at their zenith. He knew himself designed, like the native cherry on the hills, to feed on the roots of others, and what better way to do it than by providing himself with a number of rich relatives? To marry a rich wife was one way. But to marry Jenny to young Paige who greatly admired him and had lately bought a fine property on the Hobart Town side of the Bagdad Valley, was a better one. He had already mentally chosen a couple of sunny rooms for himself in Paige's house when Jenny should be mistress.
And then, later, there would be Charlotte.
Oliver, planning Charlotte all the way from town, found himself moved to indignation at sight of the big, plain, heavy girl. It was indecent that an exquisite such as he should have a niece like Charlotte. Possibly he might find some brewer or tobacco-and-spirit merchant who liked them fat. Fanny, at eight, was fair and delicious, and in time there would be the twins. Oliver foresaw endless consolations for his much dreaded old age and was pleased with Mr. Paige's comments on Jenny, who really did combine the fresh sweetness of the English rose with the delicacy of the French fleur-de-lis. Nothing takes like sweetness nowadays, thought Oliver, who preferred 'em with a flavour, himself.
"And Paige is really struck with her, by God," he protested to Madam, who caught him next morning with his hands full of sun-warmed apricots on the lawn. Jenny, Maria, and Lydia Quorn from Hobart Town played shuttlecock down the green slopes, and Mr. Paige leaned on the sundial in an attitude more suggestive of inviting admiration than conveying it. Madam had no objection to that. She liked a man who knew his worth; and this Paige was worth a great deal, even without his exterior, page 163which, by reason of a little moustache and beard, contrived to look quite foreign and excessively elegant. And his flowered waistcoats undoubtedly came from Paris, even if he did not. Madam's brown eyes questioned Oliver. There was much understanding between the two.
"Oh, a prig, ma'am; I grant you that," admitted Oliver. "But upright on his legs. The best catch in town."
"Jenny will not need to catch her husband. She will be caught," returned Madam crisply. But she floated off with her wide shimmering skirts to watch white shuttlecocks fly against blue sky. Bim-bim went the battledore of tall flaxen Maria in her tartan silks. "Ow!" screeched Lydia Quorn, dark and sharp-nosed in white muslin. Jenny said nothing. Like blown blossom of pink may she paused and darted…. The dainty bouquetière, thought Madam, fondly. Dieu send a good husband to pick her, I wonder much if this is he.
Mr. Paige was certainly attracted. With quizzing-glass he followed Jenny's movements.
"'Pon honour, ma'am, a fairy, I declare. Upon what cobweb did she descend to gladden our eyes?" His drawl was as exclusive as the rest of him. Even to Madam's jealous eyes he seemed a very proper fellow. "I have just seen the 'The Mountain Sylph' on the stage in Hobarton. I prefer her off it, by Jove," said Mr. Paige.
"My granddaughter is very young," assented Madam with the airy indifference of the creator. But she was well pleased. Jenny, it appeared, was going to do what was expected of her.