On the day Fanny was married, in the salon at Clent, Jenny wore a saffron lutestring with frills—the frills were particularly irritating to Charlotte—and no cap. No cap on a woman of nearly thirty showed a wanton mind, and Charlotte wished she had thought to buy her one of those cheap lace things from Morten & Brown in Trienna. Jenny, who of course had no money and rarely got presents from Madam now, would have been so pleased.
Charlotte felt very majestic in her crimson satin with plenty of white lace. Very important, marshalling the guests, consoling Susan, who had been crying since dawn, lining Ellen, Jenny, and Maria up together on the left side of the great bell of white roses. "And the young ones and married relations over here. Brevis … oh, the bridesmaids will look after you…. Mary … Phœbe …" Because Jenny had let him slip through her fingers was no reason why Brevis should go out of the family. He was making a name, people said. It would be criminal not to do one's best for Mary or Phœbe.
"How extremely good of such a busy man to come all the way from Melbourne just for this, Brevis! Fanny is immensely flattered."
"A pleasure," murmured Brevis, looking from Jenny to Fanny's soft radiance and sheaf of Christmas lilies. It was six months since he had seen Jenny, and it gave him rather a shock to see her standing apart from all this young gay flutter of laughing girls and youths, with dowdy Maria beside her and wild-eyed mincing Ellen. She looked older, too. Graver, his poor Jenny, although the letters she wrote him were always gay, if less intimate than they once had been. It was something in those letters which had made him unable to resist the invitation, but already he was wishing that he had resisted. No use in opening the whole thing up now that he was beginning to get settled.page 345
Jenny, Brevis saw, was much busier than fussy Charlotte. She had not had time to speak to him yet. She played the wedding-march; led the singing of the hymn while Sigurd bent like an amorous cock of yellow hay over pretty Fanny; ran here and there with glasses and biscuits; brought the rice and rose petals for everybody to throw as bride and groom drove away in the new Sorley barouche which was so much smarter than Madam's. Brevis hated to see her there, waiting on them all like a servant while that egregious Charlotte made herself hostess. Yet that was what marriage meant to a woman. That was what Jenny had chosen to miss, for his sake. He went rather nervously to talk to Madam, all wrinkles and frosty laces in her high-backed chair.
"My compliments, Brevis. You have become celebrated, and so we shall not see much more of you."
Don't you wish it! he thought. "I have a long way to go yet, Madam Comyn," he said.
"Get a wife to help you, then,"
"That is the advice all women give to all men. From you I had expected something more characteristic, Madam."
Marry Jenny, damn you, Madam nearly shot at him. Dieu! that might rouse him. But even she dared not. She looked after him forlornly as he moved away, imperturbable, assured; a man hardly yet in his prime, with (they said) a great career before him. She called Susan. "Tell Jenny to sing, my dear. The company is growing dull. And ask James Sorley to come here." James could still amuse her, she felt, never knowing when he was made a fool of. But neither she nor anyone else could make a fool of Brevis.
Charlotte was feeling a little sentimental. Dear Fanny had now become Sigurd's spare rib, just as she was Mark's, and Madam was the Captain's, and Maria … That operation to be performed on Humphrey with regard to Maria was still postponed, seeing that Mrs. Beverley refused to die. Humphrey stood by Maria as usual, but they seldom talked now. Poor Maria had no ideas, and Humphrey worked like a labourer on Latterdale, and yet it never paid.
"How is the Scab Act affecting you, Humphrey?" Charlotte asked, and Humphrey's deep-set eyes lost their moodiness. He page 346would gladly have sacrificed half the sheep in the country so that the other half might be clean. "For if we spoil our world-market we may never get it again," he said. "Yet sheep-owners won't recognize a simple …"
Charlotte moved on, having made Maria a present of the Scab Act. But Maria did not use it. She sat silent, her eyes fixed on the bell of roses which had crowned Fanny's nuptials, and Charlotte felt annoyed with her, because, of course, self-sacrifice never got you anywhere, and Humphrey (who had always wanted a family) must resent her devotion to her mother. Yet, equally of course, Maria must do her duty. Finding psychology somewhat complicated, Charlotte stopped to speak to Brevis, wondering for the hundredth time what scandal about Jenny Brevis could have discovered. There must have been something to end that affair, and naturally Brevis must have a wife above reproach. Brevis, with his graceful detached air and clean-shaven face among all these whiskers and Dundrearies, was perhaps the only person who ever daunted Charlotte.
"Congratulations on your last case, Brevis. We read the papers with much interest. What a very great deal you know."
"And so much of it evil," said Brevis, silkily. "Naturally you gathered that at the same time."
"Really, Brevis …" Charlotte went red, trying to remember if his last case had been the adultery one and not the forgery, after all. She went away hurriedly. Being a hostess was very difficult; and there was Jenny at the harp, singing quite passionately. So very unladylike to be passionate, but one could never depend on Jenny.
Brevis, leaning against the wall, watched Jenny. She looked young again, her slender arms and body against the tall gilt harp, she sang:
"Ne'er tell me of beauties serenely adorning
The close of our day, the still eve of our night.
Give me back, give me back the wild freshness of morning,
For her smiles and her tears are worth evening's calm light."
There were more tears than smiles in that beautiful voice now. Brevis could not bear it. He went out and smoked a pipe page 347and looked at the apple tree beneath Jenny's window. When all of Clent was asleep he went out again and climbed it.