Before leaving Clent, Mr. Paige approached William in quite the proper manner, but Madam had been ahead of him. William, perforce, had to convey to the suitor his willingness to open the matter "at a later date, when my daughter shall have recovered from the excitement under which she will undoubtedly labour on the occasion of her presentation to society," and leave it there. It was all but a pledge on Jenny's account, as he meant it to be, circumstances having forced him to the conclusion that a man who has his quiverful of parents in addition to children may be happy but can scarcely be prosperous, while a docile married daughter well able to take younger sisters under her wing was most decidedly not to be sneezed at—although William couched the thought in finer language.
So down in Hobart Town, Lieutenant Valentine Paige awaited Jenny's coming with what after careful inquiry into himself he gladly perceived to be excitement. He had managed to transfer himself temporarily to the Government House staff instead of going off to the Maori wars. "I hear that D'Aubeny and Potter have married Maori wives, natives, down in New Zealand," he told Oliver in disgust.
"Maori wives are not irrevocable," said Oliver, "and I presume that they offer practice. It is inconceivable to me that a man would be expected to qualify for the greatest game of skill in the world without practice."
"But … aw … for the ladies … aw …" objected Mr. Paige.
"It is they have raised marriage to the status of a game of skill. They're all right," said Oliver, who was anxious to get Mr. Paige out of the army and into his house before foreign service twitched him away to the West or South Australias.page 182
"That's why it's wise for a man to marry them young. By the way, my mother is bringing my niece down next week. They will stay with the Sorleys in Upper Davey Street."
"I had thought she would stay with Lady Berry," said Mr. Paige, much disappointed. Madam's dragonage would be so much more intensive than Julia's, and Oliver, who felt the same, judged that the time had come to speak plainly.
"I have some influence with my mother, if you would care for me to use it on your behalf."
Mr. Paige looked up from The Illustrated London News, which had a woodcut of the Ninety-ninth Regiment leaving Hobart Town per transport Windsor in the January of 1856. They were bound for the Crimea, and he was very glad not to be with them.
"If you are able to assist me," he said solemnly. "I protest that I shall owe you more than I can ever repay."
Don't you worry about that, my buck. You'll repay, all right, thought Oliver, and felt a revival of his cheerful assurance, which had somewhat faded of late. Indeed, the cheerful assurance of a country that had overreached itself in extravagance was fading, Oliver considered critically. The New North-East Coalmines which had promised so buoyantly had closed down for lack of roads, and he had been among the shareholders to be hard hit. Timber (William had hoped much from the Latterdale timber that Humphrey cut with such reluctance) was almost unsaleable since the Australian colonies had opened up and were drawing intending settlers across the strait. Victoria, which Tasmania had mothered, was the greatest sinner and going ahead like the devil.
Gold still flowed through the colony; but it was slippery, and in the Captain's hands it shot toward infinity like a pinched apple pip. Latterdale, what with clearing, fencing, stocking, was costing too much, and Clent wool never brought top prices. (And indeed, with all the experiments tried by the Captain it was a marvel, said his friends, that he didn't produce goats or even those long-necked Spanish animals … llamas, were they?) The Midlands had great breeders, but the Comyns would never be among them. Henry Sorley was a great breeder, and Julia was one who reaped a harvest thereby. Julia, Oliver felt gratefully, was a good friend.
Mab took Jenny and Madam to town because the Captain refused to enter the house of Councillor Sorley until Councillor Sorley had entered his. "Mais que les homines sont enfants!" cried Madam in despair. For it seemed that James was saying just the same to his Louisa. But the Captain assured Madam that James must have got the notion from him in the first place. "I must have said it first, my love. Nor has Sorley any reason for his pig-headedness," said the Captain, very dignified.
So Jenny (said Susan, almost impressive and stuck all over with pins) was to have her chance and it was to be hoped she was properly careful. And if she were careful with these fine clothes and didn't go rushing about in her usual way, so unbecoming in a young lady, they would do for the bottom drawer later on.
Undoubtedly they were fine clothes. Madam believed more in art than in that Destiny which is the refuge of the inefficient. She sent to Launceston, Melbourne, everywhere for mousseline de laines (Jenny loved their soft sprigging of pinks and greens), Victoria silks, jaconets, silk gauzes, and satins superbe in all the strong unsubtle colours of the time. Jenny's richly tinted youth could bear anything, thought Madam, who proceeded to make her bear it, being minded to present Jenny as a challenge, while Mrs. Beverley, artistic without being artful, decided to garb an also budding Maria always and only in white.
The Main Road spread itself good-naturedly for a small Jenny going to conquest by means of the mail-coach. Passed away were the pony-post riders who had dared black and bushranger in the 'twenties. Passed the tandem mail-cart driven by Cox of Launceston during the 'thirties. And passed the famous Cobb & Co. with whose high green wheels America conquered Australia and bid fair to conquer Tasmania until Page's Royal Mail Coaches were doing the hundred and twenty miles for five shillings, with a good breakfast thrown in. No American could stomach so unlucrative a business for long. Cobb retired, and the horns of Page and his red-coated successors blew triumphant to the bush hills and long valleys every night and day.page 184
Jenny drove by settlers' timbered huts with their lichened roofs, and pigs grunting about the bare feet of their bearded owners; by great houses gleaming out of their rough gum-tree parks, and humble taverns overtopped by splendid stables where ostlers came running in bright waistcoats to change the smoking teams. Wrapped in the heavy dark garments without which no lady could travel abroad, she walked for a while on the trampled grass with Mab, who was worried because she was not so bubbling-bright in these last days. Perhaps it was the huge trunks of clothes which had gone on in a chaise with the Beverley trunks, and perhaps it was the shadow of that society which, adventurous although she was, must loom rather high and strange. But he feared much that it was the thought of Paige, that prig to whom his dear maid was evidently to be given as a Christian to the lions.
Paige, Mab felt, hadn't even the manhood to dispose of her in one snap. He would mumble her stupidly, wearing her gay youth down. And all this because, by Madam's relentless code, Jenny must be sacrificed since he himself had failed. For the first time he wished that he were now a big man in the colony; something of a shape to deny them all, snatch up Jenny, and put her where she should be. "What have I not endured in this bitter land that my blood may rule here?" Madam had cried. And, since he had so disappointed her, she was backing little Jenny now.
And little Jenny, ill mated, might grow to be like Julia, hard against the world and himself, yet taking all she wanted from both…. But at least there's no one else with Jenny, yet, please God, thought Mab, taking no pleasure from the crisp sweet air and the rolling distance gold with wattle and gorse. And then he was ashamed for having judged even momentarily poor unhappy, bewildered Julia who needed him so much. Didn't she always tell him how she needed him!
A posse of military police trotted by, their long white-trousered legs in the short English stirrup that Mab found so impossible, and their glossy horses a sheer joy to the eye. Fine horses, too, in the gigs, four-in-hands, and other vehicles crowding the road, for the gentlefolk were proud of their blood stock; page 185and if many the farmers rode had been illegally bred by the bush-rangers, they were none the worse for that. Some of the best mares in the colony had been stolen and taken to the hills.
On the coach-top Mab talked a little with a stout old gaitered fellow who wore his long upper lip clean-shaven and a grey fringe under the chin. He had come out "with a free passage" as the business was called now, and was at last time-expired with a rich little farm of his own.
"An' I can putt my name to my own cheque noo," he said, with simple pride. "I made oot to work wi' a stick i' the muck at the back door till I could do it good as the next man. An' them lads o' mine, they'll get eddication. No thart aboot that. Aye …"
Mab thought that there was much of Madam's spirit in the old chap. He had broken the thing which had tried to break him. He had held on just as Madam was holding on. But Mab had never found that easy to do.
There were others who had not found it easy. These old men and women with pipes and swags and with "convict" written all over them had not found it easy. They sat in the sun by the roadside, and doddered on from town to township, never getting anywhere, never knowing where they wanted to get. Like Mab, this, he thought, driving by Oatlands Gaol where many navy-and-yellow figures worked, harnessed to the little carts of dressed stone.
The coach flung at a gallop over the bridge and Celeste groaned. She was one of those great soft Frenchwomen whom Madam likened to human Percherons, and no longer young.
"Mon Dieu! I am in purgatory!" cried Celeste.
"Confess your sins, then," retorted Madam, upright in her uneasy corner. "But not aloud."
Jenny looked wistfully. How wonderful Grandmamma was! Never tired, never complaining, never uncertain or pitiful. Consistently always the great lady. Jenny, conscious of many confusions within, hoped she was not going to disappoint Grandmamma. But how was a girl to know who was liable to be snatched at suddenly by a poignant sense of approaching and hidden futures which left her trembling? Or visited slowly and page 186intensely in the night by the shadow of dim mysteries, passions, and denials from that unquenchable past built up by the weak hands of women with unfathomable grave faces? Or, in the midst of life and laughter, feel the spinning world pause a moment to listen to some uninterpreted cry and then creak on again, leaving her like one who has listened in a strange land to an alien tongue?
Because she had never confessed all this to anyone, there was none to tell Jenny that in the 'fifties such notions were bad form. But undoubtedly Mr. Paige would tell her if a honeymoon intimacy ever moved her to confide in him.
The coach clattered down Bagdad Valley, soon to blossom richly with orchards from end to end. Beyond pale paddocks of grazing sheep and ripening grain a large brownstone house—Georgian in design like most of the early houses—stood on the hillside with its feet in green lawns. "Twickenham Park. Now Mr. Paige's residence," said Madam, with empressement. "I stayed there just after the Austins built it."
Jenny was angry at her blushes. She did not want to think of Mr. Paige. But with the Bridgewater estuary bringing scarlet sunset and the first salt tang of the sea; with the advancing of that high-shouldered blackness which was Mount Wellington; with the beckoning lights of the village of New Town reeling up, reeling past, it was impossible to forget him. Undoubtedly she would soon have to see a great deal of Mr. Paige; and sleeping that night in a room of chintz and elegance, with a fat frilled nosegay of pink roses under the bed because Mr. Paige had sent it to her, she was suddenly seized with terrors and would have flung the hateful thing from the window but that she feared Madam's questioning in the morning. And yet by morning (so inexplicable is a maid) she was smoothing out its ruffled petals and showing it with much satisfaction to Maria, who had run down with a servant in attendance to see her darling Jenny.
"Oh, my sweetest, how he must admire you!" cried generous Maria. "And the ball is on the eve of St. Valentine. Do you suppose that any of our partners will send us valentines next day?"page 187
"I hope they all will," said Jenny, who was realizing that there is sometimes safety in numbers.
Madam, feeling that the years subdued her very little expanded gaily even in this so ridiculous town of wooden buildings with straddling verandas and unpaved sidewalks and dim fish-oil lamps on gum poles at the street corners. Government House with its low mean windows, the rickety bridge across the Rivulet St. David's spire like a three-tiered wedding-cake—to one whose very tissues still ached for Paris, for Brussels and Madrid they were all better than country. And the town was still splendid with military and naval uniforms, although these were sadly depleted since the Cessation and would soon disappear entirely so Louisa Sorley said.
"There are but a very few of the Twelfth and some other mixed drafts here at present," said kind Louisa. "And two British men-of-war and one French one. I have arranged some dinners for Jenny as you asked me, dear."
Very many regiments of foot had passed through Australasia since 1804. And young ensigns and captains had carried some of the brightest buds of the old colonial families away with them So it was Mrs. Beverley had lost all her daughters excepting Maria, whom she was now presenting under protest. Une situation presque comique, Madam thought.
"I could not let any man have her. She is my sole consolation," said Mrs. Beverley, weakly proud of Maria, who looked in her plain white gown as much like a schoolgirl as her generous young limbs would permit.
Ah, bah! thought Madam. How she will bore her partners! And she went off with great content to watch Celeste unpack Jenny's gowns.
Jenny loved her gowns of organdie and gauze and tulle, with their rose-pinks and their lemons and burning golds. But she was nearly sick with nervousness when, on the night of the ball, Celeste hooked her into the biggest Bluebell crinoline in the colony, and then slipped over her head the shining skirt. There page 188were twenty-two yards of ivory silk gauze in the skirt, and Heaven only knew how many festooned yards of Madam's frail and frosty point de Venise. In the big mirror and the light of a dozen candles in tall sticks on the floor she looked like a frightened puffball; but when the bodice was on and laced she was much more frightened still. "There's nothing of it!" she cried, agonized by so much gleaming nakedness.
"Put on the wreath," said Madam, floating about delightedly in lavender satin. This, she thought, returning to the French slang of other days, is going to knock the young bucks endways.
Jenny made a step to the door, the gauze streamers floating out from her white rosebud wreath; her hands filled with a Chinese fan of worked ivory and—here showed Madam's daring—a huge bouquet of crimson roses. But she could not pass that naked shameless thing in the mirror. "Give me a scarf, Celeste," she said faintly.
Madam snatched the scarf from her and picked up a hairbrush. "Goose! Would you like a stuff shawl of your Grandmamma Merrick's?" She applied the brush bristles sharply to Jenny's cheeks. "Stand still! That will rouge you until wine and excitement do it. Now, chérie, come."
Madam, Oliver considered, was the shrewdest diplomat at Sorley's table to-night. Unlike Mrs. Beverley, she had brought no bread-and-butter miss to town, although the little Jenny was modest and blushing, as men liked 'em; as Paige was liking this one. The rogue never took his eyes off her from his place on the far side of the table, and De Joyeuse (it was clever of Madam to send Jenny in with the commander of the French battleship in the bay) was making her sparkle more quickly than an Englishman would have done. "You have intelligence," Madam was fond of saying, as though intelligence were inevitable as a handkerchief. "Bien. Use it." Gad! she used her own!
Out of the hurly-burly of uniforms, shoulders, diamond-page 189studded shirt-fronts, and enormous white ties Jenny's scared eyes at first saw only Adam languishing at her with his tie out to his ears. Great owl, she thought, and recovered sufficiently to make a face at him. But Grandma saw! Past all the welter of flowers, epergnes, lights, and the big silver elephant candelabrum presented to Major Sorley in India, Grandma saw, she who saw everything. Jenny turned hurriedly to chatter in French to De Joyeuse, who burst out into thanksgivings:
"By all the graces! So it is a fleur-de-lis and not an English rose. And I with no English of sufficient eloquence for the occasion was triste comme un chien sans la queue. May I, then, have one of those so perfect bud roses from your bouquet, mademoiselle, to remind me of the felicity of my mistake?"
"They are merely heads on wire; puppets, monsieur. Will they then serve to remind you of me."
Jenny had got her first public applause. De Joyeuse flung back his head with a great laugh that made every one turn. Madam saw Jenny crimson to that smooth candid forehead with its thin arched brows; but she was ready for De Joyeuse again, la petite cocotte adorée, Madam thought fondly…. A nymph, this Jenny, but one who has played late with Puck in the woods and caught through green twilights the flash of a satyr dancing, and rather hopes to see him soon again. Mori Dieu, thought Madam, suddenly concerned, will she perhaps be wasted on this Paige after all?
"I cannot conceive," said James Sorley, sonorously, at his table-end, "that this new company calling itself the Peninsular and Oriental can ever vie favourably with the clipper-ships. Most certainly not with those which Tasmania herself has built. There is nothing in the China tea trade much better, although the Australian Steamship Navigation Company, whose boats, I regret to say, are called boomerangs by the light-minded because they unfortunately have had so often to return to port …"
There was James at it again, like an elderly cuttlefish, thought Madam, protecting himself in a thick black soup of the dullest information.
"It is perhaps not realized by many that Hobart Town as a refitting station for whalers, from as far afield as the Japanese page 190and American grounds, has no equal. Nor has its harder timber for shipbuilding any equal. What Aloysius Carmichael wrote the last last Mercury of——"
"Fi done!" cried Madam, who did not mean to have this delicious vol-au-vent thus spoiled. "Not that shocking man with his so shocking old hat and coat?"
"Don't abuse them, ma'am," said Noll, peering at her round that detestable elephant and more than ever the good-looking vaurien. "Carmichael's hat, like its owner, was good once. As for his coat, old it may be, but it covers a multitude of sins."
"By Jove, sir," said a stout colonel. "That wit of yours must be dangerous to your enemies."
"It is more dangerous to my friends, perhaps," said Noll, lightly. "I know so much more about them, you see." He went on talking, and Julia, opposite Mab, suddenly saw by Mab's face that Noll was being dangerous still. She strained her ears. He was talking about tattooing: "Sailors tell me that the Fijians consider it a necessary preliminary to love-making; but I fear we have not that excuse, as it is, I believe, forbidden by the Bible. Yet some of us … a few of us … do other things which the Bible forbids."
So Noll knew; and how long would it be before others knew, depended entirely upon his humour. Involuntarily Julia shut her eyes, seeing in the light on the lids first Mab's set face, and behind it a score of grinning faces, and behind all cloudy clustering wild things, shapeless things peering here and there with shifting eyes. She roused herself with an effort when Mrs. Sorley made the signal; but she was scared still when, half through the evening, she walked on Mab's arm out of the ball-room at Government House and into an anteroom where he found her a seat behind a bower of tree-ferns, saying: "It is only once in a thousand times that Noll loses his sense of decency. I'll swear we hear no more from him."
"So … you've told him."
"You know I have not. I'm tired of being accused of all kinds of absurd things, Julia."
She pushed her hair back nervously. Ever since she saw Jenny's luminous youth she had been conscious that she was not looking page 191her best, and Mab's eyes were confirming it. Perhaps her white cashmere wrap embroidered with gold and cherry-colour was too hard, and even her maid had hinted that the elaborate head-dress of gauze and lace and big cherry bows was set too far back on her fair puffed hair. She thought of Jenny's wreath of roses and a wild tide of jealousy and despair rushed up and out.
"It's your fault. It's all your fault if I do look time-worn and shop-soiled. You did it. Why didn't you let me alone? I was so young, and you … Oh, men are brutes … animals!"
He did not move his eyes from her. She railed on hysterically:
"You know how hard it is for me. You know what life with Berry means … and all the public position to keep up. And you never letting me go. It is you, not Berry, who's destroying me. You! You!" She flung the words at him like stones. "And now when I look old and tired you compare me with Jenny. I used to be like Jenny before you …"
She went on and on, unable to stop. And he stood looking as though in a minute he'd smile; looking in the fullness of his manhood a hundred times more splendid than he had been as a boy. Age had ripened him, but already she … Suddenly she began to sob. "Mab, Mab! I'm not thirty yet. I am very young to be so unhappy."
"Why should you be unhappy? I have told you I will call him out when you choose."
"And do you imagine that would end it?" She believed that he did. Men always thought that you could settle any matter by violence. It would not be ended so easily as that. The laws of the universe, always falling more heavily upon women, would see to that. "Mab, I'm too frightened." No, men were not like women. He put being frightened—and what is worse?—aside as trifling.
"The question is, Julia, what do you want me to do?"
As though it were as simple as that! How did she know what she wanted him to do?
In the dim light behind the tree-ferns Mab stood quite still. Julia was always making scenes. Some women—and unluckily Julia was one—luxuriated in scenes. They loved to drag out to the light instincts, delicacies which he felt should be veiled, page 192cherished. He was never very clever with words, but he knew dimly that there were some things to be silently and sacredly held within the mysterious ego of the soul. And Julia was always trying to turn them into melodrama. Quite suddenly he was sick of it. Sick of it. Sick of her.
She lifted her blue eyes that still were lovely; put out her gloved hands to him, saying piteously, "How I wish I could forget you … let you go."
"But you can't. I understand." It startled him to know how intensely he understood, how intensely he could say, "Nor can I let you go."
"It isn't as though I were not a good wife to him now," said Julia, recovering. "There's surely no harm in our seeing each other sometimes."
His smile was bitter. No harm for her who would have her cake and eat it. But what about him? Beyond the screen people were streaming past: ribbons, laces, and ringlets of laughing girls streaming past. The loud rollicking of music through opened doors. Mab gave Julia his arm, and they went out into the stream.
Jenny was comparing programmes with Maria when Mab came presently asking for a dance. Jenny, lively as a cricket, glowing as the dawn, laughed at him. "Not one left, Uncle Mab. We both haven't, and Grandmamma won't let me dance more than once with anyone, either."
"But I was granted the supreme favour of 'The Blue Danube'," remarked Mr. Paige from behind Madam. He had propped the wall there ever since, with crush-hat elegant on his hip, as though requesting the world to understand that after consorting with angels one did not descend to the common herd. There he remained, drinking Jenny like wine as she floated by and becoming so much stimulated that he actually called a toast at the buffet later while the ladies were cloaking: "Gentlemen! I give you … aw … the brightest eyes here to-night."
"They're toasting Jenny," said Oliver, arriving to give Madam his arm; and Jenny, with wide eyes, stricken into terror by the power of her own womanhood, heard them cheering. Then she page 193turned and dived into the carriage, and Madam followed to find her sobbing.
"There, there," said Madam, patting her and thinking of Julia as she had seen her a moment before, standing in the doorway listening to the cheers. "La reine est morte. Vive la reine. Such things will go to arrive, ma petite."
Brevis and Adam appeared early next morning with their valentines and found Jenny half abashed in the middle of bouquets, verses, gifts of all kinds, according to the fashion of the day. Madam was very much pleased. She had expected it. She had expected this sudden bright thing, full of the passion of living, to be a new sensation. And Jenny was; and yet, Madam hoped, sufficiently Madam Comyn's granddaughter to command respectful handling.
"A nice wench," said Oliver, teasing her. "And twenty pink cupids with silver darts to tell her so…. Can you do as well as this one, Brevis?" He read aloud:
"Acrostic in admiration of Miss J—— C——
"Just one hair could bind my heart in chains,
Enchanting creature, so it was thine own.
Not roseate dawn excels the rose which stains
Naiad-like thy maiden cheek. Long Beauty's throne
Yawned desolate, waiting for thee alone!"
With all of them looking at her Jenny felt desperately shy and tried to hide it.
"Ma foi!" she cried. "Where would the gentleman be with Genevieve Elizabeth if his grammar and feet go astray over Jenny? 'Miles Comybeare, Lieutenant Second Battery.' Was he the one with no chin, Maria, or the one who trod on all our toes?"
"So that's the tone you're taking with your slaves?" said Brevis, laying his bouquet among the heap on the table.
"I never asked them to send me things," retorted Jenny, feeling herself going red.page 194
"Ask?" He came near with keen eyes half shut. "Didn't all you were and wore ask us last night? I think so."
Jenny's face burned. She was not at all sure that she liked Brevis. "If anyone thought so, c'est tant pis pour lui. Oh, Adam!" Adam's bouquet was in a holder of silver arabesque. Reluctantly Jenny took it out and gave the holder back. "It's lovely, but Grandma says I mustn't. There have been several things … I'm very grateful and apologetic, Adam."
Jenny being these things was delicious. Adam protested hotly, "Between old friends …" But Jenny took fright again: "Voilà pour l'histoire ancienne! … What are you laughing at, Uncle Noll?"
"Egad, he's a solemn noodle!" said Oliver. He read with mock heroics some verses which Adam privately considered very fine. "Who d'you think sent them, Jenny?"
"Mr. Paige," said Jenny, prompt and wicked.
Oliver opened his eyes. So little Miss was setting up to quiz Paige? This would never do. "Ah, yes. Where is Mr. Paige's acrostic?" he said.
"Did you think an acrostic would be learned enough for him? He sent a sonnet, no less, so full of dark erudition that I can't make head or tail of it."
"Humph!" said Oliver. And Madam, a little sharp, although amused, told her, "You let your tongue run away with you, petit oiseau."
"Yes, Grandmamma." Jenny felt suddenly meek. She gathered the bouquets, and stood with both arms spilling colour and fragrance and rosy cupids dangling at the ends of narrow bright ribbons. Above them her face glowed. "You see, this kind of thing don't happen to me every day," she appealed, abashed and laughing. Then she was gone like a sprite up the stair, with the faithful Maria after her.
"Youth triumphant," said Madam, with a sigh. And Oliver said, "Come down to the club, boys." Mahomet advises that the labourer be given his wage before his perspiration be dry, and Oliver very strongly felt the justice of that. For some months now Mr. Paige had exuded some elegant substitute for perspiration, and that the wage might be given to one of these dapper page 195and hessianed young bucks who were but yesterday in the cradle was unthinkable.
Oliver wished he knew the extent of Jenny's feelings. But Jenny herself did not know. Up in the chintz room smelling of roses Maria was accusing her: "Jenny, you sly wretch, I believe you don't care for Mr. Paige at all."
Excited Jenny began a flippant reply, felt her whole body protest in a sudden crimson flush, laughed uncertainly, and ran to the window.
"Do you?" asked Maria, following and putting both arms round her.
"I don't know," whispered Jenny, honest and humble. She turned and hid her face in Maria's ample breast. "Darling, how can one tell?"
They hugged each other, innocently in love with Love, whatever his name or form.
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."
With Celeste's help Jenny dressed for the dance, feeling somehow as though her hands and feet did not belong to her. She actually stumbled once, going with Oliver along the magic bridge of boats on the dark water and up the gangway to the blaze of light on the Hirondelle. There were tree-ferns and wattle branches hiding the gun-carriages; streamers of pink-and-crimson ribbons looped into canopies, and maids down in the cabin with pins. De Joyeuse had insisted on plenty of pins, knowing how the ladies would see themselves everywhere in the three hundred little mirrors set along the tarpaulin walls. De Joyeuse would barter the mirrors for copra later on in the islands, but they made a gorgeous pageant of the decks now, reflecting to infinity the uniforms and bright dresses. They caught Jenny at every angle, showing her up—oh, cruel of them!—as rather pale and lost-looking and very slender. Men, seeing so many Jennys, felt that they were all too pale.
The band had fifes and drums, cymbals and clarinets. It played sweet and unfamiliar French music, and even the wattle scent seemed unfamiliar to Jenny to-night … I am dying with the sweetness and the music, she thought, dancing and promenading with one partner after another…. There were nooks with two chairs each, discreet up on the boat-deck; but Jenny knew she must occupy one with Mr. Paige only, while for Lydia page 199and Maria there would be no nooks at all…. I am dying with the sweetness, she thought, not knowing that she was already beginning to die of Mr. Paige. For she had been so thoroughly trained that she must not know anything, except what her elders had already masticated for her after the fashion of the pelican with its young.
If only I were a man and could go off as Raleigh and the other adventurers went, she thought…. This little shore town with its red and green gleams on Battery Point was adventure's very own spirit. Riding-lights from rusty whalers in the bay, from the swift and slender wool-clippers were all adventure, and so were those dim taverns scattered along the beach. There were sailors in those taverns: far-eyed rollicking men, voyaging to distant lands. There would be whalers, and what had they not seen and done? There would be soldiers, bearded, hot, inscrutable, with wild memories behind them of India and the Crimea.
And here she was with fan and bouquet, smiling at compliments; while all the time at the foot of Hunter Street was a glow, a yellow jovial glow from the Steam Packet Inn. Every one knew that the sailors still smuggled barrels of rum ashore up the creek behind the inn.
"It would be very nice," said Jenny wistfully to her partner, "to be a smuggler."
"My dance, I think," said Mr. Paige behind her. He solemnly offered a black sleeve and a white-gloved hand. Jenny as solemnly placed her hand on the sleeve and was led away to the boat-deck. There was not any use, it seemed, in wishing to be a smuggler.