But Brevis was too busy to go at once to Clent. Never could there have been a better time for a clever and ambitious young lawyer than now, with the income tax, the carriage tax, the road tax and all being stoutly resisted by these stiff-necked old military pioneers who had been in the country before taxes. Captain Comyn refused to have the carriage tax collected in Trienna, and so many J.P.'s were with him there that the Government could enforce it only where the police came directly under their hand. But men went to prison over the income tax, and deputed Keyes Shone to get them out, and the Captain wrote such violent letters about everything that one editor was arrested for printing them.
In this atmosphere of battle and clang, with the Old Guard flaunting their banner of independence in the face of the world, Brevis felt his powers growing luxuriantly. He found loopholes for prosecution or escape where elder men had missed them. He gave advice to red-faced white-whiskered old colonels and majors, and sometimes they took it. "You're very young, sir, but presumably you know what all this damned mess is about. I don't." His firm was snowed under with demands from settlers when the Torrens Act (already adopted in the other colonies) tried its best to simplify titles and the transfer of real estate.
"But in a country where there was no registration of births until the second generation began to think about it for their own progeny, I suppose we can't expect the registration of lands to be anything but the maddest confusion," said young Frank Shone disconsolately, after he and Brevis had spent three fruitless days going through masses of yellowed papers in crabbed writings page 326concerning Chesterfield vs. The Crown. "These old fellows … all Grand Moguls, confound them … apparently they just took what they wanted and held on."
"We're all liable to do that," said Brevis, with Jenny always in the back of his mind. But only in the back of it just now; for with so much Crown Land coming on the market settlers were speculating wildly in all directions, and then finding their own land involved in the Crown claims and with no titles to prove against it. Dragon's teeth of discord they had sown, surely enough, these stout children of the dragon's blood who had never considered future generations. But Brevis and his like were there to pull those teeth.
William at this time was very much depressed. On Latterdale, Humphrey was always wanting improvements that couldn't be made. At Clent, the Captain was always making improvements that shouldn't be made, and some hill country on which Clent had always run cattle was now claimed by the Crown. The Captain swore that he had the titles; daily frothed papers out of his old tin boxes and frothed them in again. Meanwhile the cattle had gone to Latterdale and Humphrey complained of overstocking. "What shall we do if there is a hard winter?" he said.
William did not know that they should do if there was a hard winter. He sat cracking his nuts and staring gloomily across the table at young Brevis Keyes, who had come down at the Captain's request to "put this damned matter right. They can't take away land that I pre-empted near forty years back, can they, Brevis?" Brevis (the caution of these smooth young men!) wouldn't say until he had seen the papers, which of course he never would. William was certain they had never existed. Clent had no luck. Bredon, where Mark had turned out as good a farmer as Henry, was not losing any land. Those Sorleys had management and manure in the brain, although the Captain insisted that it was old James pulling wires. Old James who, according to the Queen's last decree, would retain the title of "Honourable" for life, in common with other cabinet ministers who had served three years. No such honours came to Clent, thought William, while the Captain declared loudly that he didn't care if the Sorleys were buying up Herefords everywhere. page 327He had brought Jerseys out with him, and nothing but Jersey cattle should ever run on his land. "Who wants beef," he cried, "while we can have merino mutton?"
"Herefords fetch higher prices," said Humphrey. Brevis watching him thought that the resiliency had gone out of Humphrey's voice and his stocky figure. Humphrey would never run off with Maria now; would never do anything but grub along fourteen hours a day on Latterdale. Jenny was the true adventurer of this family. He had had time for only a look, a word with her since he came, but at the far end of the crowded table—Clent table was always crowded—she sat as gay and buoyant as a woodelf in her white muslin frock slipping off her shining shoulders and her leafy garland of green.
Madam had put Jenny next old Sir Stuart Somebody who was hunting his third wife, and Madam was looking all the daggers of her bright eyes at Brevis, whose pulses were hammering too hard for his comfort. In Launceston, steeped to the ears in litigation, it had been comparatively easy to keep things in their proper place, and he had not come to Clent until he had persuaded himself that they would stay there. He knew, of course, that Jenny's idea was madness; but some women have a way of making madness seem the only sanity, when they set their minds to it, and watching Jenny he found himself again revolving possibilities. Yet there were none. Short of stealing, there were none; and though Jenny in her deep trust and innocence—how damnably innocent women of her class were kept by the system of the day!—might allow herself to be stolen, he would not do it.
"Never, so God help me," he thought, sipping his port and listening to the Captain, who was asserting that 1867 would go down to history in a blaze of fame because the first reputed salmon had just been seen in the Derwent. He could not have been prouder, thought Brevis, if he had spawned the salmon, himself.
Then some one was asking Brevis about the new Immigration Act which offered Land Orders up to eighteen pounds a head for an adult and nine pounds for each child. Land, it was well known, had been set apart for them, after the happy practice of governments, in places where they could not reach it without roads or railways.page 328
"We don't want immigrants," said the Captain. "Except the swallows, bless their little hearts. Let us grow our own flesh and blood."
Brevis found himself arguing that; explaining that immigration would stimulate roads and railways; explaining how in the North plans for railways were very active and entirely on paper.
"Immigration will put them where they belong—on the earth. And railways will bring more enterprise." He heard his voice rising, going on as people turned to listen. "Expansion, consolidation instead of speculation, money flowing in from Australia, new development of interest in England …" He was going to the Bar as soon as he could get there, and already he found that he could sway people. He had personality and he was cultivating a smooth flow of words. Dialectic was not so necessary now, but the old chaps liked it, and there was always an intoxication in a listening silence. He was carried away now; earnest; convincing; and the knowledge that Jenny was for the first time hearing him speak with authority among his elders gave him the fire he sometimes missed, put an added polish to his periods. When he stopped at last, with a few words of apology to the ladies, old Sir Stuart clapped his hands.
"Young sir, that's the first time I've heard the Government's policy explained so I could understand it … and respect it. Allow me to congratulate you. I see in you one of our coming men."
Pompous old ass! Yet it was a small triumph in its way, and Jenny, squeezing his hand as she passed out with the ladies, made it a larger one. But when he caught her later in the wide hall where old Josephus lay still on the little table under the portrait of the child Robert Snow had painted, and drew her into the dark corner behind the grandfather's clock to kiss her, all his heady pride and satisfaction fled. He so loved her and longed for her that the very touch of her soft cool flesh made him physically weak, but he did not mean to be stampeded by his senses. Suicide for them both, that would be.
Yet passion was stronger than it had been before he touched her. His voice was unsteady as he murmured words … more words.page 329
"By and by, beloved. When we hear from Italy. I've set detectives to work. Perhaps in a year … two years …"
"Supposing you never hear?"
The whiteness of her face had an unearthly beauty in the dimness, and the touch of her light hands about his neck filled him with fire.
"God knows," he said, with sudden fierceness. "Jenny, Jenny, you mustn't tempt me. I can't marry you, and I won't …" He could not pursue that before her listening face with its soft parted lips. He shut them with his own. "When I start for myself, perhaps; when I'm established," he whispered, drunken again with her nearness, not knowing what he was meaning; "perhaps in a few years …"
"Oh, years, years," she said dully. Then: "I know my own mind, Brevis, and I will not change. We Comyns don't. What you want of me you can have, and I'll wait for the rest, if that is what you prefer."
"Prefer! That's cruel of you."
"Is it? Perhaps you're a little cruel too." Then she suddenly laughed. "How nice! We're squabbling as if we were really married. My dear, my dear, I wouldn't be cruel to you, and so long as we can have this sometimes and our letters we can get along…. I must go."
She disappeared, and he walked out to the veranda and round by the dreaming garden to her window. He had not said what he meant to say. He had not told her that he must no longer take her kisses and all the sweet trust and passion that she gave him. He looked up at the window with its broad stone sill. Swallows were chirring in their nests under the eaves. Little round heads peered out with a flash of white throats. A tall apple tree, its strong branches bare, reached almost to the eaves. He thought, "I could easily climb that …"—then shook his head and went indoors again.