Madam, lunching with dignity behind glass doors in the coach, made room for Jenny when Mab brought her.
"God, what sights!" she cried. "Never before have I seen so many silk purses made of sows' ears. Dairy-and scullery-maids gold-encrusted as the high priests of Solomon's Temple, and ploughmen more jewelled than the Queen of Sheba. Alas, for poor humanity! The less there is below, the more, apparently, we put on the surface."
"But it's magnificent to have brought all that from the goldfields," said Oliver. "I have nothing to wear on the surface except my skin."
"Obviously," agreed Madam, briefly. More than the emerald earrings had gone to Oliver, and now she was calling a halt. "Remember that already I have given you a dot like a daughter, my son," she had told him. "With it you must marry good-luck … or even laborious days."
Oliver had been so gracious, so charming that she had to turn him out in a hurry or she would have forgiven him and begged him to rape where he would. With an asset like that, what need page 178had he of her? And now he would marry this jejune Paige to Jenny and select the best rooms in their mansion for himself. She doffed her chapeau in admiration to Oliver, but she took off her coat at the same time. Paige did not passion her, but he had not the low vices of so many men, and assuredly he was dignified and would give the child a position. But not until Jenny had made her curtsy to the governor did Madam intend to make her choice.
Julia came, languid and coldly handsome. She had had luncheon, thank you, but the Sorley coach was so full of Henry's children; one never remembered how many nor knew what they were all for. And was Madam really taking Jenny down for the ball in that shocking old Government House? Although certainly the ballroom was improved.
Mr. Paige leaned with bared head through Jenny's window. "Fair charmer, I may have the first valse?" he murmured.
"I … I can't say."
"You … surely you will not break hearts by refusing to gladden us with round dances?"
"I … I don't know."
She could have bitten herself for her sudden shyness. Apparently he liked it.
"Aw … you're behavin' like the sex. 'Pon honour, I prefer a woman to behave like her sex," vowed Mr. Paige. And Jenny, who had never been called a woman before, was so intoxicated that she sat up straight, flung back her veil to cast a careless glance at Lydia Quorn walking by with the Beverleys, and promised Mr. Paige the first dance, "if Grandma allows …"
"Again the sun shines," said Mr. Paige, who really was more than usually conscious of life and colour when with Jenny. That vitality which is the very genius of living shone in her small body to stir his sluggish blood. He had a sudden insane longing to frolic, woo her with pigeonwings and whistles as maids were wooed on Hampstead Heath, quip and pun as airily as Oliver was doing. But he could only transfix her with his quizzing-glass and tell her that Plato's proper name was Aristocles. "Plato means Broady. I suppose he was fat," simpered Mr. Paige, archly. And although Jenny listened in all politeness, he felt page 179dismally that his persiflage lacked dash. Assuredly he must marry Jenny and cultivate Oliver. And then … He saw himself lifted upon their wings, witching the world.
"Here's a fortune-teller," said Oliver. "Come, my good woman. Are fortunes hot or cold to-day?"
"Hot for you, young sir," said Henny, ogling. "Cold for the yaller-haired genelmun wherever he goes."
"Aw, no! I protest!" cried Mr. Paige. But Julia (always superstitious) was holding out a delicate palm and Henny began her patter. What she knew of the Berry household along underground ways would have staggered Julia.
"Friends. Everywhere you has friends, m'Lady." Then Oliver cried: "In both places? Is she like the dying duchess who didn't care a fig where she went, for she had so many friends in both places?"
"Noll, you are too bad," said Julia, and Henny gabbled: "I see blood. I see a harnsome young genelmun wi' breast bared and the little needles a-workin'. They're writin' 'Julia' on his heart."
Oliver had never cause to quarrel with his wits. Mab! That was just what Mab would do, the lunatic. And at Henny's of all places. Madam was looking keen, Julia scared. He burlesqued it boldly. "Good Heavens! How did the old hag guess! But, forgive me, it was never intended for your name, Lady Berry. The fellow started to write me 'Jubilate' and misspelled it."
Julia's smile was too wan to be appreciative. "I think I'm cold and the woman stupid. I shall walk on the hill."
"Many are cold, but few frozen," agreed Oliver, gaily. He helped her out and stepped after Henny. "Watch your tongue, woman," he said sternly. "Even the time-expired may find their way to the House of Correction."
He went down to the saddling paddock, considering. Was this escapade of late date and leading sharply up to something more? There were not wanting people who hinted at something more. Undoubtedly Julia knew of the tattooing. Had probably seen it. Oliver, with a tolerant knowledge of human frailty, was assured that Julia had seen it. And now, what to do? Any scandal in the family would scare off that prig Paige quicker than page 180anything. Feeling himself on the dangerous edge of things, he sought Mr. Paige, who inquired languidly: "Aw, shall we go and make our bets? I vow I would love to make a bet."
An extraordinarily unsullied Paige, this, for Jenny to write her virgin experiences upon. She ought to be grateful to Oliver.