Now from a penal settlement Tasmania suddenly reached the glory of a society hostess giving her Queen's son to eat and drink and—if he had time, which seemed improbable—to sleep. The colony for the first time saw royalty, although only in the shape of the Duke of Edinburgh, and waved flags and made triumphal arches for him, while shopkeepers were pasting transparencies of all the royal family in their windows and lighting them behind with kerosene lamps.
Tasmania was delirious with loyalty and royalty. At last the hated stigma of convict was erased, although it seemed likely that England would not discover this for another half-century. At last her glassy slippers were put on and she danced with the Prince. To secure a bit of bread bitten by royal teeth (as Lydia Paige did) was triumph. To have one's toes trodden on by royalty (as happened to many) was a swooning ecstasy. A lad who loved Fanny at the moment secured for her a small silken flag stamped in pink with the royal arms, and this was to honour the birthday cakes of all Fanny's children and grandchildren, and do duty for several generations more. Children asked in awe, "Did God send the prince straight down from heaven, Mamma?" and men who had worn the broad arrow forebore to curse him. Were they not now citizens of a free country? For a little, Tasmanians strutted, conscious of the limelight of the world. Then it faded as such lights fade; the theatre fell empty, and in Downing Street ministers said: "I hope the Duke comes home safe from the Cannibal Islands. It really was rather a risky thing …"
Providence, if responsible for the safe carriage of the duke aboard H.M.S. Galatea, apparently concerned itself no further, for the weather was persistently bad. Wrapped in a cloak, Jenny saw the bonfires on Mount Wellington like bleared eyes through the mist. Under dripping umbrellas she and Charlotte watched a dauntless torch-light procession of boats struggle up the harbour to the foot of Government House. Through the rain she watched the Captain and Councillor Sorley go off to the levee, and through intermittent showers waved her kerchief while the foundation-stone of St. David's new cathedral was being laid. Very damp page 337and bored at the regatta, Julia Berry shook the drops from her veil. "It really might be England," she said. "The dear prince must feel himself quite at home."
Fat, fair, and almost forty, Julia was very beautifully resigned over her trouble and went daily to church in a long crêpe veil carrying a black-velvet prayer-book embossed with an ivory cross. Jenny (coming across it years later) found a tiny mirror and powder-puff in the money-pocket; but there was, she felt, no reason to doubt that Julia got as much good from the sermon as most people and prayed very earnestly for the new Sir Almeric still at Oxford. "I warn Almeric continually of life's dangers," she said. "Warnings intended to be preventive are usually incentive, of course, but our weak human nature will give them, all the same."
She was full of cheap philosophy, read a little wider than her fellows, and advanced the theory that all gentlemen were naturally evil and could be reformed only by ladies' prayers. "And so I feel it my duty to go regularly to church," she told Jenny one fine Sunday when Jenny longed to be out by the sea; only, on Sundays, no lady could possibly leave the house except for church. "I pray on Wednesdays for your Uncle Mab, and on Fridays for the Captain and your poor father."
Jenny found Julia—very comfortable in a white merino negligee with her stays off—quite refreshing. She said demurely: "Grandpapa's gout was terrible last Friday. You could hear it right out in the kitchens."
"One cannot expect answers immediately," said Julia, as though prayers went through the post and took time. "Your poor Uncle Mab! I wonder if I would be violating confidence if I said that he was still in love with me, Jenny."
Being assured that she would not (since Jenny didn't believe her), she proceeded to violate other confidences, bolstering them up with airy references to Darwin, Hegel, and physical urges…. Julia's Biblical reading has evidently extended freely to the Old Testament, thought Jenny…. What a Dean Swift she would be if she had the genius…. She was repelled, and yet pitying. All Julia's experiences—and she appeared to have had many—had not taken her to those heights and depths which Jenny page 338and Brevis reached in their talks, their long letters. There had been one especial afternoon last summer when they stayed on a sunny hill for hours, his black head in her lap, and talked of such wonderful things.
"You really must marry, Jenny, if it is not already too late," said Julia. "The female sex is only half alive, let alone half educated, before marriage. You can know nothing, my dear, not having lived with a man as I have done."
Suddenly Jenny was tired of this and her mischievous spirit asserted itself. "How do you know I haven't?" she retorted, and went to the window, hoping to silence Julia.
She had. Half raised on the sofa, Julia stared at her with mouth open. Then dropped back, nodding to herself several times. So that was it! She had always mistrusted suave Brevis. Well! Jenny was a fool! But she had sinned through ignorance. Julia would insist to every one that it was through ignorance and pray for her on Fridays—no, that day was full up. Mondays, perhaps.
A maid came with a message for Julia, and Jenny, unconscious of what she had done, went to her room to put funny shocking old Julia into a letter for Brevis.
In the North, Brevis watched the duke turn the first sod of Tasmania's first railway, heard him say the things dukes do say about progress and the Anglo-Saxon race, and saw him sail away where dukes do sail to. Brevis had lately decided to sail, too—at least as far as the mainland. In Melbourne, matters were going furiously ahead, and to take silk there would give him better status. Tasmania, he believe, could never be more than a hanger-on at the skirts of this enormous undeveloped wealthy continent just rising from its sleep of oblivion and beginning to rub its eyes, tuck its sleeves up. A little old impoverished parent it was already, with its national debt well over a million pounds to a population of one hundred thousand, and Lady Berry and other philanthropic ladies helping the governor's wife with Ragged Schools, Benevolent Societies, and what not. A good place to get out for some years, at any rate, although he would keep in touch with it. Most valuable it was to keep in touch with every one who might have influence.
Of Jenny he thought with a pain that was almost physical. page 339This would be cruel to her. All that he had ever done to her had been cruel; but now it was only right that they should separate finally. Probably he would never be able to marry, and in a year or so Jenny would have lost her last chance. An unmarried woman is completely on the shelf at thirty, he thought, and wrote to Jenny, asking if he might come to see her.
Because he was seldom so formal, Jenny went to meet him down the orchard where the English trees were veiling themselves again after the winter. Because she knew that if Brevis were to come to tell her that Frasquita was really alive she would probably become mentally unveiled, herself, she hoped for great support from them. There was green gloaming under the cherry boughs with their delicate canopies of blossom stretching down the slope to the dark pines. The air was sharp with pine scent and odours from the herb garden, and here came Brevis riding up the drive beyond the low stone wall.
Jenny, holding to the broken wall, tried to hold on to herself. Every one had taught her that it was better not to meet the unpleasant facts of life. If pushed up to them, shut your eyes, swear that they are not there. All round her she saw women and men doing it, but Brevis had taught her otherwise. How can you get anything straight if you don't know both sides of it? he said. And that was the only way with life. Meet it…. Now Brevis was over the wall, holding her close, with Gyp going mad about them both among the little daffodils, and she didn't believe it. With eyes shut against his cheek, her heart prayed: "Don't hurt me too much. I have borne such a lot. You don't know …"
But it was not Frasquita, and so the world broke into a dazzling glow, and in the pines an English thrush was singing.
Brevis had a long explanation to make, and then he spoke of liberty. "I have been unjust to you so long, Jenny. Now you must be free to marry where you choose."
Under the green boughs Brevis's face looked greenish. Flat like a dead face. Something was dead, Jenny felt. She began to laugh. "Thank you, kind sir. My heart has been married to you for so long that I refuse to commit bigamy, which is what you mean with your talk of liberty, isn't it?"
"And I," said Brevis, "also refuse to commit bigamy. It seems page 340that I shall never find Frasquita. Advertisement has yielded nothing. She … she can't read or write. She'll never hear of it, probably, especially as I don't know what name she goes by now."
Brevis always spoke of Frasquita as though she lived. Apparently he felt now that she did. This woman who had had the first of life with him was still nearer, realler than Jenny, who, it seemed, was never to be more than a little greedy ghost with big eyes. A weak ghost, she felt herself, shrinking into the shadows: one who couldn't hold Brevis against the vision of Frasquita, bold-breasted, confident in her wisdom of the ways of men. Jenny cried out to her, drowning in terror and grief, and Frasquita laughed, saying with Julia's voice, You! What do you know?
"And so," said Brevis (who had been speaking all the time, apparently), "you must be free to think of some other fellow. I have my work, but you have nothing unless you marry, my poor Jenny. That's the cruel part of a woman's life. That's why I feel so strongly …"
So Brevis really was like Mamma; like the rest of the world. Any kind of a man, said Julia, does for a woman, but she ought to have some man. And any kind of a woman, said Julia, does for a man; only, it needn't be only one woman. So she thanked Brevis, standing there. "Can you suggest any special fellow, Brevis? I'm what Uncle Mab calls a bit long in the tooth."
"Jenny! Don't look like that! Jenny … what have I said, dear?"
"Nothing. Only classed me with … all the other wantons, I think."
"My dear!" Funny Brevis. It was her use of the word shocked him most. Now he was very tender, very troubled. Did Jenny think he didn't feel it—this parting? (So they were to part?) Wasn't it misery beyond words for him to think of her wasting her life for nothing?
This (she could have said as he went on talking), this is what I want to say to you, Brevis: Is our love, then, nothing? Is this great dedication of ourselves to sorrow nothing? We are immortal, and what does one life matter, so that we do not break the bond? What were you and I made for, Brevis? To perform the page 341common cycle of multiplication with any mate that offers? Or to suffer? To grow nearer and nearer through that suffering until even all the lives ahead will not be able to force us apart? That was what she wanted to say to Brevis protesting: "I only want what is best for you, always, always, darling heart. Don't you know it?"
The little bewildered boy that is in all men peered out of Brevis and the mother that is in all women came out of Jenny to meet it. She must think clearly. (God, Miss Bean's omnipotent God, help me to think clearly!) Brevis had already loved twice. Possibly more. He thought that she could do the same. When his lips and hers had pronounced the word "liberty" he would be at peace. He would feel that he had done for her the best he could. This was what he wanted; to take from her the one glory that remained. Did he really think that she could give her lips, her straining breast to Gamaliel Thompson, to old Sir Stuart, as she had given them to Brevis? … Oh, what are they made of, these men whom we so love? her wild heart cried.
"It is breaking both our lives," said Brevis. And suddenly he had her in his arms, her feet right off the ground. "Come with me. Come with me, Jenny."
But now she understood too well for that. "And spoil your career, Brevis?"
"Never mind. We'll go somewhere … do something …"
With Brevis weak, she could be brave. So brave that she even promised him that she would think of Sir Stuart; but it was heartening to see how he winced at that. Then she called herself free and at liberty, since Brevis seemed to like the words, and sent him to the stables with his horse while she walked back to the house through the daffodils.