Very satisfied, Oliver took Jenny home. Mab had gone to Melbourne, where it was to be hoped that he would stay. All Brandy would be the better for his bloodletting, and Mr. Paige pressed for an immediate wedding. "It might be as well," said Madam, rather alarmed by what Oliver had to tell. But here Susan cried out at Oliver that no trousseau was ready and she had ordered six dozen (or was it six hundred?) reels of white cotton, and she and Lottie had whipped Valenciennes on fifty yards of batiste for frills.
"Forty-eight and a quarter, Mamma," said Charlotte. (Dear Lord, thought Oliver, whom would he ever find to marry Charlotte?)
"Indeed, my love," cried Susan, "I never intended to exaggerate, only I'm so harried with this and that, and jam-making and new bed-gowns for Baby …"
"Dear Mamma," said Jenny, kissing her, "I don't mind about a trousseau."
Susan burst into tears. That was the most ungracious thing a notoriously unsympathetic daughter could say to a loving mother. "After the yards and yards of calico and red flannel I've bought!" she wept, nursing the baby violently.
Charlotte, hanging round with the fingering curiosity Jenny page 210had noticed of late, asked suddenly, "Do you love Mr. Paige more than Uncle Mab, Jenny?"
"Certainly," said Susan, promptly. "More even than Papa."
But here the essential Jenny rebelled. Mab's wandering feet going down the avenue away from Julia; Mr. Paige, elegant and arid, saluting her cheek with moist lips. No, no! she cried. Mamma might know she didn't. She … she had not known him long enough.
"There, Lottie dear," said Susan. "I told you you could not comprehend. A young lady don't love a young gentleman until she is married to him. It would be indelicate."
Jenny found consolation in this. It was easy, almost too easy, to believe that Mamma had not loved Papa before she married him. Marriage, she supposed, must be like death, making people quite different all in a minute. As for illicit love—which no one imagined her to know about—that was the love men died for as Uncle Mab had nearly died.
A splendid bird with broken wing, that love. Jenny was glad it was in the world, although there could be none for her. Mr. Paige, she felt, would see to that. In the 'fifties the opinion of one's elders was law, and Jenny did not rebel. Sitting on the fence of the old kangaroo grazing-ground, Jenny tried to evoke that wonderful moment in which she had first felt herself Me, but it did not return …
Reluctantly Jenny wrote letters weekly, beginning "Dear Mr. Paige," and ending "Yours V. sincerely, G. E. Comyn." And if Mr. Paige began "Adored Rosebud" or "Enchantress of my Soul," it didn't matter, although Charlotte said, "How silly it must make you feel!" Charlotte could not be a fool if she tried, though she often presented sense foolishly. Jenny, feeling that Maria would have cried, "Oh, darling, how he must adore you," and Lydia shrugged her thin shoulders and looked catty, felt somehow grateful to Charlotte, although of course she must not say so.
But now came an invitation from Mrs. Carr-Becket, whose husband was relieving the commandant at Port Arthur, and Jenny was to go, said Madam. Jenny was too excited to sleep despite—she knew very well it should be because of—the fact page 211that Mr. Paige was quartered there. Mr. Paige, it appeared by letter, was desolate without his inamorata, and quoted Greek (which William didn't understand) and scraps from the Euphues (winch he hoped he didn't) to prove it. And he desired to confer about the wedding.
"He … ah … probably wishes to speak of a dowry," said William, torn between the natural instincts of a gentleman and a father and the increasing emptiness of Clent coffers. "You will be … be very tactful, Noll? I shall be unable to settle anything on Jenny, I fear."
So long as you don't settle yourself or Susan on her, I don't imagine he'll mind, thought Oliver, promising to say the right thing and whistling complacently as he walked the deck of the clumsy little paddle-steamer a few days later. Quaker quiet in the dark voluminous garments proper for travelling ladies, Jenny sat on a bench, and Oliver found himself regarding her almost with affection. A really charming and docile little creature, for all her high spirits, who would allow him to furnish those two rooms in the tower at Twickenham Park exactly as he liked, with Paige's money, naturally. He smiled down at her, and (Jenny thought) Oliver with his dark-blue lazy eyes and fair unlined skin was still a very pretty fellow when he smiled.
"Feeling all right, Jenny?" he asked. Jenny came out of Paradise to answer politely, drifted back into it again.
Better even than smuggling, life must be on that four-masted barque drawing deep with wool and hides; setting sail by sail as she stood farther out on the blue silk of the bay; now catching the soft and magic airs compact of bush scent, brine, and wattle-bloom sweetness, and coming past like a sheering gull dazzling with silver wings. A deserted whaler rocked to her ripple, showing scarred rusty sides. What ports she had hailed, the squat old whaler; far and far from this glowing gipsy of a town lying along the feet of shaggy satyr hills that shouldered together, high and higher, until they were all one dark monster of a mountain veiled with a bloom like that of grapes. Jenny dreamed of the barque, the whaler, bringing their offerings to this riotous secret gipsy of which the big world knew so little. There they lay: necklaces and brooches of buildings with shining windows, stray page 212coloured garden-beads, flung along the lower slopes where gum-tips were pink like roses; flung along the golden beaches. Across the harbour at Bellerive were the gipsy's neglected sisters, pale floating-haired she-oaks to whom men gave no gifts. Almost harder than having nothing it must be to see others have so much. Jenny, thinking of Mr. Paige, tried not to feel that this rule might work both ways.
The barque, leaning to the wind like a young girl running, fled away past Bruni Island, past the long green bluffs and ebony hollows toward the outward road where men went adventuring. Her sails gleamed, tossing a gay farewell. She was gone.
Here was the Huon River, where incoming ships shot their ballast: red rubble and stones from England, China, France. Strange unwilling colonists, the rubble and stones; lying forever in alien waters to be stared at by alien trees, swamp gums, black-woods, peppermints old and grim as Viking warriors, guarding the way to the Big Timber where a few mills were at work, nibbling into the vastness like little mice. Beyond them a dark mysterious silence led into uncharted ranges. Only the bushrangers knew them, or the convicts escaped from Macquarie. And usually the bush kept their secret … and them.
Bruni turned wine-colour with sunset; trees on distant hills flared gold, sank into shadow; beaches of tawny orange paled into drab and vanished. Night came with a keen wind fretting the water and Jenny went below, hoping to dream of Columbus instead of Mr. Paige.