Now that Jenny was the toast in clubs and smoking-rooms, now that it was Down Julia, Up Jenny, Madam could, she felt, afford to wait awhile before any decisions were made. Jenny, of course, would not be required to make them, which was as well; for in all this swirl and glow and excitement of bouquets, compliments, and lovers pumped and pomatumed to the nines there could be no room in her young head for anything else. Mr. Paige must take his chance with the rest, decided Madam during jolly evenings at Secheron or the other big houses, when young gentlemen were sometimes persuaded into "doing a little conjuring," and Maria and some other equally protesting young lady were at last shepherded up to the piano for a duet.
Neither Brevis nor Mr. Paige ever "did anything" at these parties; but while Brevis, to Madam's annoyance, managed by not doing anything to make himself the most distinguished person in the room, Mr. Paige was merely effaced. Undoubtedly Brevis had qualities. But not much else, and Madam thought it a good thing that Roger Keyes was sending him off to study law page 196in England, although "the professions" were a vulgar ending for any young man.
"You'll be married and settled long before I come back, Jenny," said Brevis, looking down with her on the blue harbour and the tall barque-rigged Nourmahal where he had secured the last of the five cabins just as the captain had decided to fill it with wool.
"I suppose so," said Jenny, sighing. "But I wish I were going too."
"Do you?" asked Brevis, flushing with surprise. Jenny's hands attracted him, and her sweet, husky, singing voice; but he had never made love to her.
"Yes. You'll be seeing places instead of people. I'm getting rather tired of people, Brevis."
No wonder, thought Brevis. Anyone would be tired of that Paige fellow. But Madam means him to have her, although she doesn't quite know it yet.
A few weeks later Madam discovered that she did know. There are many points, when she counted them up, in favour of Mr. Paige. A wealthy man with his investments in England and not to be upset by the colony's vagaries did not often wish to settle out here. This man did. He had no vices, which, though dull in a lover, was quite estimable in a husband. He had learning at a time when the colony's young men were, most of them, half educated, and Jenny liked him. Madam added this as an afterthought, but she added it. Never should it be said that she forced Jenny as Julia had been forced. Moreover, Paige would resign from the army at marriage, and so Jenny would do as Madam had planned and make herself, and possibly him, famous in the colony.
The door opened and she turned, very comfortable in her Trafalgar chair by Louisa's big fire.
"And here she comes, ma mignonne!" she cried. "Trés charmante en tenue d'amazone. Tell me, petit oiseau, where have you been?"
Jenny had a sprig of wattle in the breast of her royal-blue riding-habit and a rose tucked under the sweeping feather of her hat. She sat glowing on a stool at Madam's feet and told how page 197that droll Quaker, Gamaliel Thompson, gave the wattle and Mr. Degrasse the rose.
"For we came home past the Cascades, Grandma, and went into the brewery. Mr. Degrasse gave us an impromptu régal of cakes and wine, with ale for the gentlemen, and picked such a bouquet of roses. But I left that at the female House of Correction."
"Did Julia take you there? She should have known better."
"The females seem very content. And they have a musical box to dance to, and lots of babies to play with. What gown shall I wear to-night, do you think?"
"Bien," said Madam, as though she had not already decided, "you wore orange to the military ball in Webbs's Rooms last Friday, and white-and-silver to the Fergusons'——"
"Scarlet. The white-and-silver was at the rout in Del Sarte's Academy. Perhaps …" Jenny laughed; felt suddenly shy. "Mr. Thompson picked me a monstrous bouquet of violets … but De Joyeuse has composed a nocturne in pink and crimson roses—he calls it a nocturne—and perhaps as the dance is on his ship …"
"H'm," said Madam. This Quaker man was very proper for a merchant, with fine brick warehouses down by the wharves and excellent trade in hides, wool, and tallow. But Jenny could not marry tallow any more than she could marry De Joyeuse, who, with a Frenchman's adaptability, had probably several wives already. She said briskly: "You shall wear the pale-pink faille with mother-of-pearl ornaments. Mr. Paige has sent you small mauve iris in a holder of mother-of-pearl, and this you may accept, for your papa and I also wish you to accept the giver."
Madam talked on for a few decisive minutes while Jenny sat nervously clutching her hands together. So it had come at last. Often through these gay and whirling weeks she had stopped for a breath to wonder where it was all leading her. Now she knew. It had been leading her to that bourne from which no decent woman could ever return, and it was Mr. Paige who was to go with her.
"Think well, petite," said Madam, feeling that she did her duty. "Once you marry you will never get rid of him." page 198 "I … I suppose I must marry?" Jenny was almost suffocated with the beating alarm of her heart.
"Mon Dieu! A thousand times yes! You must marry and you must be disillusioned with some man, unless you wish to coiffer Saint Catherine, which is unthinkable. Courage, chérie. Man is as the good God made him; and since He did not choose to make better, it ill becomes us women to complain. Nor is there need to love before marriage. Indeed, men prefer it that way. The stimulation of the chase. So," said Madam, having got rid of her duty and solemnly kissing Jenny on the forehead, "deck yourself for your husband, my dear. To-night he will ask you for your hand."