Immediately upon his engagement Mr. Paige became so fall of archness, so tenderly considerate of Jenny's youth and Madam's age that Madam could not bear it and returned to Clent, leaving Jenny for a while with Julia because Mr. Paige protested that he could not part with her so soon and could not at once leave his regiment.
Jenny would rather have gone home with Madam instead of riding, driving, dancing and walking with none but Mr. Paige; reading Milton and Cowper illuminated by the explanations of Mr. Paige, and trying to remember that life is real, life is earnest, and marriage not only its goal but its dedication. Yet, having dutifully accepted him, she found him quite nice so long as one kept him off, innocently forgetful that the time would come when she must dutifully cease to keep him off. Town society, being chiefly military, was full of punctilio, shining Napoleon and Wellington boots and wonderful waistcoats; but Mr. Paige was most shining and punctilious of all when Jenny and Lydia met him by the Guard House in Macquarie Street where the town crier in cocked hat and tail coat to his heels was crying lost valuables. With an arch smile, Mr. Paige swept off his curly beaver.
"We won't have that fellow cry the valuable you have lost, my Sweetness," he said. Lydia thought he looked so exceedingly handsome and foreign with his quizzing-glass and imperial that, having lately felt that she could never feel the same to Jenny again, she sighed into her bonnet. "I have found it. Your heart, you know."
"Where did you find it?" inquired Jenny, who really did wonder.
"Ah," said Mr. Paige, gaily, "I won't tell." He glanced at Lydia (who had pointedly turned to speak to the aide coming out of Government House where the latticed front was golden page 201with the little Banksia rose) and then stepped close, seizing his opportunity. He was an adept at seizing things, Jenny found: hands and gloves and opportunities. "Enchantress! My Pretty Virginities!" he murmured, becoming poetic. "Last night you said something which has desolated me. Let me assure you that I have never loved before, although with a man who has … aw … such knowledge of the world it is but natural that you might suspect …"
"I?" Jenny, who had never suspected anything, turned crimson.
"Aw … Well, from Voltaire downward, every man has leanings."
"Leanings?" said bewildered Jenny.
"Did I say I had leaned? … that was purely rhetoric. No." The most raffish of characters prepared to lay suspicion could not have put a bolder face on it. "I must request you to believe that you are … aw … my sole love. I … need you." Vaguely conscious that he had said this to other young ladies who had afterward abandoned their responsibilities, he looked hard at Jenny. Certainly she was handsome. And stimulating. And came of good stock. His voice quickened. "The resignation of my commission has already been forwarded to England. I doubt if I could … could have abandoned my career for a lesser reason than yourself, Jenny. Surely I have gained the right to expect—"
"Shall we stroll on, Jenny darling?" asked Lydia, and Jenny went eagerly. She would have strolled, even run, anywhere to stave off that early marriage which Mr. Paige was so constantly having the right to expect. At the town pump brown barrels on little carts received the shining flow and a man in a yellow shirt stood on the well kerb. Jenny never guessed that Lydia would have gladly seen her down the well, or at least under the pump.
On Wellington Bridge passing workmen paused to eject their quids into the Rivulet which, already providing the whole system of drainage for the city, had no right to expect … or was it object? Jenny, feeling Mr. Paige pervading the whole universe, grew confused.
"There's your Uncle Mab, Jenny," said Lydia. "How well page 202he rides! And' All Brandy' with him, looking like sour milk. They say the medicos have him on a strict diet of syrup of squills, the naughty wretch."
Lydia loved to sound a little fast, dress a little fast. Mab, riding by, noticed that her tartan skirts assaulted more legs than Jenny's flowered muslin. Her jacket had bigger buttons and her jaunty hat bigger bows. Mr. Paige uncovered with a satisfied flourish, and Mab had never more keenly desired to ride the fellow down. Berry scowled. Enforced sobriety was making him dangerous in a way drink had never done, and twice Mab had raged at him for sawing his young mare's mouth. In Macquarie Street were a knot of sailors examining a double-saw-edge cutlass. Light from it and from their round flat glazed hats and coloured china pipes frightened the mare; and Mab followed as Berry went at a hand-gallop past New Market Place with its flaring cupolas; past the Royal Engineer Offices and up the ride among the English trees in the Domain.
"Come on, can't you?" shouted Berry. "Ain't we here to see if this mare can gallop? Or … why are you here, anyway?"