Charlotte accepted without excitement her engagement to Mark Sorley, and with resignation her journey to town for presentation at the Governor's Ball. But Susan had such a long list of materials to buy for the trousseau that Madam suggested getting them for the layette at the same time.
"Now and then," said Susan to William, "I cannot but feel that your mother's remarks are not quite delicate. Especially as they are not to be married for a year, and there never may be any, either."
"There are sure to be," said William, gloomily. He felt how many things there were to be gloomy about now, what with taxes increasing, and scab in the sheep, and Humphrey having opinions, and the Captain taking up again with old James Sorley, which, in view of the mortgage, was a good thing, but one never knew what it might lead to.
"I've misjudged him all these years, Bill, my boy," said the Captain, but William knew better. Everything else the Captain did misjudge. But not that.
Jenny was not staying at the Sorley house in Upper Davey Street, but at Government House, where the governor—who had been Governor of St. Helena first and so understood that there were other places in the world besides England—was very appreciative of youth and beauty. And Jenny still had both, although Susan, bursting with pride over Charlotte, persisted in speaking of "poor Jenny" as if she were already quite out of the picture. Then Brevis Keyes, returned from England without warning, as people did in those days, came to pay his respects page 256to the governor's lady and found Jenny in the hall, waiting to go with the others to the regatta.
It was a curious meeting, although Jenny did not realize that until later. At the time it seemed inevitable that she should have sat there dumb, knowing with exultant fear what he was doing to her as he talked in this new manner, faintly bored, faintly Byronic, sardonic; she heard the girls squabbling over Brevis's manner afterward, disagreeing but all very much excited.
"The town tells me I have been away five years," said Brevis. "Sight of you tells me it can't be more than five months. Which am I to believe?"
"I don't know," said Jenny, stupidly. She was looking at this Brevis, who, in an age of whiskers and peg-top trousers emphatically checked, used his dignity of travel and "the professions" to be so different. The outward difference was marked enough: black clothes emphasizing his slim height, a velvet collar giving to his dark, thin shaven face an air; wavy locks clipped closer than the present shaggy fashion which made men look like eager Skye-terriers. (There was even a Skyeterrier coat on the market, and Adam Sorley had worn one yesterday, walking with Jenny in the park.)
Looking at Brevis, Jenny thought of a black greyhound, very wise, lithe, and assured, taking its silent way through the prickly gorse and sand stretches of life toward some secret goal…. But it nips up rabbits as it goes, she thought. A shiver ran suddenly through her…. Am I one of those rabbits? she wondered…. Mind what you are about, Jenny Comyn.
The governor came, very splendid and a little pompous in full regimentals, and Jenny watched the meeting between the men. She tried to see Brevis through the governor's tired, quizzical eyes. A personable young man; he would have to feel that. Slightly affected, and with no special prospects. Rather too fine-drawn for colonial life…. But it would not do. Too helpless even to be indignant, she felt the spell this easy young man had flung about her, and went with him, fluttered as a dairymaid, down through the gardens, past the naked foundations of the new Town Hall and into the governor's barge moored below the wheeling sea-birds.page 257
It was a dazzling day, with something wild in it. In the rush of broken clouds up in the high blue; the whip of impatient flags against the masts; the shouts of men in the booths, the sideshows, the betting-rings lining the shore, the mad laughter of gulls swooping down on the bright awnings.
"A proper day for the regatta," said every one. But Jenny knew better. This glorious, imperious day flinging white foam from the bows of the racing boats, stinging the lips with its salt savour, was not here because of the regatta. It had come because Jenny Comyn, sitting enthroned on the governor's barge with every one very eager to salute her, had for the first time looked upon a young man and found him good.
She did not look very often. The knowledge was yet too much pleasure and pain for that, like the scent of sweetbrier, which more than any other unlocks the heart to old mysteries, old rites in moonlit woods when Pan was young. Gliding over blue water on the governor's barge, Jenny dreamed that she smelled sweetbrier, heard little birds sing in the groves, saw dancing forms with white arms.
Brevis leaning over the rail with Mab, saw only the crews of the racing boats. To one just back from the effete Old World they were particularly interesting, he said, especially as they would help him to make his living. "Always trouble of some kind among seamen," he said. "Too many knives. Too many wives."
"Gad! Surely you won't handle that kind of thing?" asked Mab, amazed. This looked such an extremely genteel Brevis. "I wouldn't touch their dirty rows with a pair of tongs."
"More psychology there. They don't stifle their emotions. Look at those fellows, by Jove. All human!"
He watched the straining boats, his lower lip drawn in on his teeth. His dark eyes burned with a queer light. Dissecting 'em, Mab thought; and was so startled by this unexpected acuteness in himself that he walked across the deck to Jenny, rattling a pocketful of those merchants' tokens which still considerably helped out the shortage of English coin in the colony.
"I'll wager you all of Gamaliel's tokens you can find in this lot that his five-oar won't win the Ladies' Purse," he said. He page 258balanced one on his finger. It was stamped G. T. above a sheep and a barrel of tallow. Not unlike, this last, Gamaliel himself, broad as a house in his Quaker holiday clothes. But Jenny was not interested, and Mab went back to hear what Brevis had to say about the crews.
Those strong, sinewy young colonials like Gamaliel and Adam Sorley wasted their strength, said Brevis, and so did those ruddy blue-eyed sailormen out of Devon and Dorset. Too impatient. All Saxons are, said Brevis. The Maoris and South Sea Islanders were better: solid brown chunks of greasy flesh whose eyes could pick up the jet of a whale miles off in a dazzling sea, and who knew to the last inch what they could do. But best of all were the thin-lipped gaunt American whalers who lifted the boat with each stroke as gods might lift the world they stood on. Fine fellows, Brevis thought them, whose lives must not too closely be inquired into along the Japanese Banks, the ports of Scandinavia, the murmuring simmering ports of half the world. Brevis talked as though he knew these men who were wise with the eternal wisdom of the sea, brutal with the courage of their craft, sentimental with the long homesickness that comes in the uncharted places of the seas, under silver nights of stars where no land looms.
"They're great lovers," said Brevis, smiling his faint ironical smile. "Great lovers … for the time."
Jenny could bear it no longer. She did what she never had thought she could do. She came seeking a man, protesting—she would have said anything to have those quiet, considering eyes of Brevis's attentive on her—that the Americans were winning everything and it was unfair. These Americans, having beaten English and Australian whaling off its own ground, had no right to beat them in play also.
"They are the best men," said Brevis. His interest was still in the crews, his eyes going back to them. "Americans are the finest harpooners in the world and have the greatest number of ships on the various fisheries. We are not competing with that, though I think it a pity. Once when I was on a Yankee whaler off Spitzbergen——"
"You?" Suddenly Jenny felt so angry, so envious of all this page 259life he had lived without her that she had to pretend to be very superior. "How droll! Do tell us all about yourself, Brevis, now."
Looking down, Brevis remember that this actually was little Jenny Comyn, whom he had quite forgotten all these years.
Under her wide white-chip hat with its pink wreath of roses, under the absurd little pink parasol, this girl actually was the toast of all the clubs. Tell her? he thought. Good Lord! how much can … should a man tell a girl with that innocent mouth?
"There are many things I'd like to tell you," he said, slowly. "And some that I wouldn't tell you to save my life." And then, because her colour came so wonderfully, clear damask under the clear olive skin, he told her a few of them. And told her more, a little flattered by her interest, that night at the Governor's Ball.
A pretty thing, but not so quick of tongue as they said, he thought, steering her among crinolines. (Heavens! The size of crinolines now, making women above the waists look like dolls.) "Let us go out," he said; and they walked in the sloping garden languorous with magnolia fragrance and jasmine while he compared her in the moonlight to the flowers. But she would not flirt, as other young ladies did on such occasions, and so he ceased for a little while to be bored and really talked.
Delivering her over at last to an obsequious Mr. Paige, he found himself glad that she had not married that fool; and indeed in these days Mr. Paige was not at his best. Lydia stimulated him quite in the wrong way as a wife, and he attempted the "art of disrespectful attentions" and, being snubbed by very young ladies who were likely to think him drunk, retired on Ovid and Objectivity and Aristotle until Jenny felt quite kindly toward poor Lydia, who, very grandly attired, tried to patronize her.
Jenny began the next week by feeling kindly toward all the world, and then forgot that there was a world outside this strange new throbbing pain given by Destiny into her arms. Yet she hugged it; meeting Brevis everywhere since the season was at the full, and lying awake of nights trying to laugh herself sane again. But her sense of humour was gone. She only could think of Brevis. Brevis with his faintly smiling air of Is this then what men call life? Brevis with his suddenly roused panther-like page 260following of some strange story, revealing unexpected fierceness, dark hints of savagery. Brevis the genial comrade, the mysterious presence standing on the threshold of her life. Brevis the everything but lover as other men were with their loves.
Refusing Gamaliel Thompson for the fourth time, she almost cried to him, Oh, why aren't you Brevis! And then in pity for his honest sorrow, she gave him both her hands and a little bit of her soul. "Oh, please, please don't ask me again! I'm unhappy, too. And I can't even ask and find out as you can."
Gamaliel laid his broad face on her hands and she found them wet with his tears. "Pray God thee may find thy happiness, my dear," he said.
That afternoon Jenny rode with Brevis through the fields to New Town. They rode with the sea-wind in their faces, seeing beyond Queen's Yard the black bones of the wharves stretched out on the turquoise sea. A turquoise sky curved above the low hills of she-oak, fretted by delicate clouds. Beyond Hunter's Island lay the whaling ships, rusty red like tired eyes that had watched too long. In the buttercup fields an English lark was singing. Jenny let her horse out to a gallop. A hot wind seemed to come on her out of the wild past or the wilder future. She did not know which, but she felt the urge of it, restless, compelling, frightening. Something she must have to curb the impulses rising in her, and so she drew rein at St. David's graveyard.
"I want to go in," she said, and ran over the tufted dusty grass holding her long green habit high above her little green boots.
Brevis followed slowly. He liked the frank and simple legends on these old mossy stones; these records of hearty whaling men and of the little colonists who died in their dozens when the century was very young. He read aloud to Jenny, his ironic mouth twitching, of the man of eighty "cut off like a flower" and the mother who died "full of years" at the ripe age of twenty-one. He thought the friend of "Poor Cornelius" ungenerous for recording that he died of "poisoned potations," and applauded the spirit of the two small Kearly boys who, departing with no more than nine days of life to the pair of them, had made the best of it by demanding in very crooked letters on a rain-worn stone:page 261
Come, Lord, make ready our bride. "What an amount of puling emotion we waste on the dead, Jenny!"
"Oh, no! Their people must grieve, even though I suppose they know that they go to heaven."
"I don't suppose anything of the kind, but I hope they've done with hell."
Startled, Jenny looked at Brevis frowning down on the Kearly boys. She had an aching sense of the distance he was from her, this immaculate and smooth-faced young man with his secret life so shut up in him. Not hot and rough and passionate like Mab, was Brevis, but in some bitter-cold way the same rebel against life.
"But," she said, speaking her thought out, "don't they really go together—life and law?"
He looked at her quickly, his eyes suddenly warm. Across the Kearly boys he reached for her hand and held it. "You have extraordinary intuition sometimes, Jenny. Did you know it? I shall often come to Clent when I set up practice in Launceston," he said.