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Pageant

I

page 363

I

Brevis was glad later that his first thought had been for Jenny. But hard on the heels of it came: It hasn't harmed me, anyhow. These good people still like a Don Juan…. Nothing can harm me now but for them to know of Frasquita…. He stood silent, trained at last to resist unguarded emotions, and saw very clearly how that would almost certainly harm him; almost certainly turn this foolish undirected force called the public mind full cry after him. He would be a blackguard, a deceiver of innocence, a monster of immorality posing as that which he was not. Oh, he knew it all; had often used those very expressions himself when pleading in court.

"Well?" shouted Mab, in a fury at his immobility. "What are you going to do?"

"What do you advise, Mr. Comyn?"

That was just like Brevis, Mab felt. Always driving the war into the other man's country with that cold legal mind of his. "Marry her," he said.

"I have not heard that Frasquita is dead."

"I should think she must be by now."

At the hopeful ingenuousness of this Brevis laughed curtly. "What you think or I think don't alter facts. I am not dead, and she was the younger."

"Heavens, man! you must do something! One would almost think …"

"What, then?"

"That it was true," said Mab, with a gulp. He did not feel so certain as Gamaliel did about Jenny. She was too like himself.

Brevis stood silent so long that Mab began to quake. This Brevis standing so motionless on the grey satiny stretch of mud, below the dark hills, under the white moon, seemed no more than the outline of a man; remote as a figure in an etching. It was impossible to get at his mind. He cried, almost imploringly, "Brevis?"

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" I wish to God it had been true," said Brevis, bitterly. "At least we would have had something out of all these years."

"It has been terrible for you both, I know," said Mab, always easily disarmed. "But now we must think of Jenny. Of course when it is known that you are married—and that must come out now—"

"It would only make it worse," cried Brevis, sharply.

A sudden terror chilled him. He must combat this with all his force or his career was finished. The Attorneyship of the Crown. The Judgeship. Judge of the Supreme Court. All that promised so clearly before him now was finished if this came out. He knew men's minds too surely not to be sure of that. Jenny would have to go. Until Mab spoke he had not known that he had made his choice, but now he knew that he never had been in doubt. It would be madness to sacrifice everything for what, at best, could not clear Jenny. Nothing could clear her. One couldn't stop talk, but only divert some of the venom … Jenny will have to go, he thought, with Mab stamping about in the little puddles and shouting: "It can't make it worse. It would help folks to understand."

"It would make it worse." How glad he was now of that power which had learned to argue from either side. "If the public knew that we couldn't marry they'd be the more certain that we did without it. If it doesn't know, it can't prove anything and the whole story will die out for want of fuel."

This sounded plausible. Mab said with an oath, "If I could only get hold of the fellow who began it!"

"A woman, Mr. Comyn. It's a woman's story, this."

"I'd wring the bitch's neck!"

Brevis shrugged. Mab was always setting off useless fireworks. He stooped and picked an evening primrose, smoothing the soft silky petals with his thin fingers. Inside he felt as hard as flint. By and by, he knew, there would be the reaction, but just now he was purely the cold calculating fighter.

"Does Jenny know?" he asked presently.

"She didn't. Here's the letter I had from her this morning. You can read it."

Obscurely he felt that Jenny's letter might do more for her page 365than he could do. He walked away, whistling to his retriever hunting duck in the brown bending sedges, and left Brevis reading the letter in the white light of the moon. Jenny's letter was more waywardly puckish than ever. Brevis could understand that. At Lovely Corners one must be gay or the dry rot would consume the soul. She wrote:

I am still blowing my trumpets and banging my drums for Mary, who writes that she is very happy. It only needs Phoebe to run off with Tom Belton, as I pray that she may, and the Comyn women will have done their duty. As for me, since I will not marry great­grandfathers and have not the wit to teach anything, my duty is to rub Grandma Merrick's legs when she gets her rheumatics, and sometimes to dress Aunt Ellen. It is a very great secret, but I am sure Aunt Ellen would like you to know that, to the delight of us both, she has a lover out in the bush. Not visible to my eyes (unfortunately), and named sometimes Sir Walter Raleigh or Boswell (who intends writing her Life) and sometimes merely My Snow. When Grandma is safe in bed of nights I help dress her for conquest, and this is the real rose-gold moment of the day, the almond icing on the cake, and Aunt Ellen is not one to skimp the icing.

Behold, then, Aunt Ellen drawing a blue tarlatan which she might have worn at Mamma's wedding low on her yellow shoulders (oh, so pitifully bony!) and clasping seed-pearls with a hair-clasp on her yellow neck. "I think I'm a little pale to-night, Jenny. I would be loath to have him think me ill." A few crushed geranium leaves, Aunt? He'd never know. "But that is deception, my love. Honesty and purity are so essential in a maid." She lets me rub them on, all the same, prinking in the mirror which has mould on it like all else here. "My white silk mittens, Jenny. My fan with the pink-and-white shepherdesses." I give them, and the Pamela bonnet such as Julia Berry wore when I first saw her, and the scarf with the metallic beetles' wings, and the laced handkerchief. "Do you think he'll like me to-night, my love?" so coy that I must break my heart or laugh. "He'll love you," says I, "but which is it to-night? So she taps me with her fan and giggles and vows I shock her. And down we creep to the side door, hushing the many dogs in the yard, and off she goes a-tiptoe to her tryst, while I run back to listen to Grandma's bell. Some day I shall go up with her and perhaps see what she sees—the dead bushranger Snow and all. Realities, I am coming to believe, are far less real than shadows, and this is a queer world that has us one moment in shallows and the next struggling out of our depths. Plato says a brave soul can find nutriment for itself. Oh, the smug old gentleman! I fear he lies. And then I go out and walk in the bush, and cry where only the 'possums and snakes can hear that cry of Cyrano de Bergerac when all the pageant of the world went by and left him lonely: "Wear your panache." That is it, "Wear your panache, Jenny Comyn."

"Well?" demanded Mab, tramping anxiously back.

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Brevis folded the letter and gave it to him. "I can't help her. I can't help her, Mr. Comyn."

His voice seemed to go by them like a grey wind, cold and cruel. Mab pocketed the letter and went off without a word. But on the edge of the dim-lit town he stopped and looked back. Brevis was still standing on the grey satiny mud under the moon, plaiting delicate primrose petals in his thin fingers.