"Too dange-rous now … bush-rangin'."
"Not when it is done for pleasure."
Henny pushed back her great bonnet to peer through the twilight at the man sitting by the table. "Yer voice has changed sence yer uster come here tattooin' the boys, Robert Snow."
"Probably. I have changed."
"Well. Gimme a good safe job as shepherd 'n I'd stick to it."
She moved uneasily, rubbing her sinewy hands up her wrinkled face…. Somethin' about the feller, she thought. Settin' there with his little smile. "Well. What yer want to go bush-rangin' fur?"
"I have told you. Pleasure."
"'Tain't so pop'lar as it was. The tavern-keepers likely won't help a outlaw now. Too smug. Yer'll have every man's hand agin yer."
"As it should be. My hand is against every man."
From him it somehow did not sound ridiculous. It sounded almost like a fair deal.
"Want to git a bit o' yer own back?" she suggested.
"Your notion of pleasure too? Yes."
"Well. If yer git caught, whar do I come in?"
"You don't come in, any more than you ever did."
"Collins wouldn't of larsted so long wi'out me behind him. Or Rocky Wheelan. Or Wingy."
"All men have cause for gratitude to some woman." Snow laid a purse on the table. "There will be three of us. And horses. You can show me the caves?"
"That is why I am here."
"His voice is dif'runt," muttered Henny, uneasily. But she rose and took a lantern from a dirty shelf. Her witch face showed page 247in the gleam from the sputtering yellow lucifer; and then she swung the lantern up suddenly before him. "You're goin' killin', Robert Snow!"
"Do you really think so?"
The dark thin face with its small smile did not change. The narrowed eyes met hers steadily. She wavered; shot a glance at the purse on the table; gave a slight shiver. "Well, there's some likes a high death, apparently. Come."
He followed her into the night. Aromatic scents of the bush, its complete darkness rose about him in an instant. A broken ripple ran on the polished leaves as the lantern swung and the track climbed steadily. Burnt trees advanced in black masses among the grey rocks; retired; left only the rocks in a steep dried water-course. Snow followed Henny up it with cat steps under tall thick tree-ferns that met overhead and gleamed here and there with the pin-prick eyes of opossums. They left the stones and his feet rustled on fallen gum leaves with their acrid smell. Henny swept aside an armful of hanging creepers against the hillside. "'Ware snakes," she said mechanically, and vanished. Within, a stream ran down a narrow gut. They followed it up for perhaps ten minutes, stepped aside, and Henny swung the lantern round as Snow smelt sudden dryness and old horse dung.
"Here they kep' the horses," said Henny. "They lived beyond, A heap o' caves beyond." Her face showed sudden greed. "Collins left a heap o' stuff buried off there somewheres. I ain't never found it."
"Inconsiderate of Collins," said Snow. He glanced round, lifting his thin shoulders, drawing a long, contented breath. Here, below the earth where men trod, away from men's eyes, he felt himself once more a man. Outside he was an "old lag"; a man from the triple-sentence prison of Port Arthur. Give a dog a bad name … that was what it meant. Ostracism among the virtuous ticket-of-leavers, the still more virtuous freed men. An old lag. No getting over that. No use talking.
Get a bit of his own back? Ah, and so he would, on the world as well as on Mab Comyn who had destroyed him at his pleasure and put him back in an alien world at his pleasure. Yes, he would get a bit of his own back there.page 248
Accustomed to darkness—he had spent much time here and there in the Model Prison—he moved round the walls, feeling the rough mangers, the rusty piles of hay. His feet came among corn-husks. Rats, that, and 'possums. Here was the smell and feel of leather: saddles with the stuffing eaten out of them, gnawed bridles. Collins had gone off in a hurry, as bush-rangers always did go … as Snow would, in the end. As he would go, with every man's hand against him and every woman's. Yes, even that of the girl whose baby face he had painted. It had something of the baby look still: clear forehead, soft contours, the flush of youth. But her eyes and mouth were a woman's.
From the inner caves Henny returned, grumbling in her prison slang. The lantern-light struck a pointed gleam from a silver teaspoon in her hand. "Collins et well. Crested silver, eh? I carn't find no more."
Now the moon was up, turning the drooping fern fronds, the smooth white tree boles into splendour. The warm night drew the flavour of the bush, of some crushed plant poignantly sweet. There were delicate stirrings in the air; a peaceful sense of those great forests, untrod, untroubled, lying at rest along the hills. Near by, a magpie sent out one full-throated call, tucked his head under his wing with a sleepy chuckle. Moths like frail spirits bewitched out of nothingness by the night showed a delicate wing and were gone again. Snow stood, savouring the wonder, shaken by the beauty into an artist's passion. This only was life; this unearthly mystery pouring from the heavens; this utter calm whereby man attained communion with the unreachable gods.
Henny turned her witch face under the grotesque bonnet; beckoned with a horny finger.
With a faint sigh, Snow tramped on, his thin twisted lips smiling.
At the beginning of the 'sixties James Sorley came all the way from Hobart Town to call on the Captain for the first time in many years.
"I hear with … ah … horror that you contemplate page 249inaugurating a rifle club in this district," he began, before they were well into the library.
And the Captain—quite ready for old James with his pinched-in waist and stiff cravat—replied promptly: "Then you've heard wrong. It is inaugurated."
James went quite grey. He refused the offered chair and began at great length to assert that as Representative of the District (one always heard plenty of capitals when old James was about, thought the Captain) he had continually set his face against the degradation of military——
"Now, look here, James." The Captain decided to be tactful as long as he could. "You may as well stop this poppycock. If England can have volunteers, so can her colonies. And will, sir. And will."
"As Representative I warn you that I can exert powers … I … I warn you …" He ended vaguely, wishing the Captain wouldn't stare like a terrier about to bite: "I warn you of the very grave consequences which may overtake yourself and your dupes."
"I've already warned 'em that we're shootin' on the new Butts in Trienna Sandhills this afternoon. Now I warn you. If there are grave consequences attendant on any one's hangin' about the targets, I'm not responsible."
"Then," James grasped tighter the hat and stick which he had not laid down, "then I am to take it, Captain Comyn, that you defy me?"
"Take it how you like, James," said the Captain, enjoying himself hugely. "Take it how you like. Can I offer you a tot of Hollands with it?"
But when James stalked out like the crack of doom the Captain felt a discomfortable prick of alarm before he fortified himself with the tot James had rejected. For perhaps the first time he wished that mortgage had got itself paid off. But mortgages never did, somehow. Old James couldn't expect it, especially now that the Captain had made himself responsible for the general upkeep of the club. But each man provided his own uniform and the entrance fee was only half a crown. If that was not doing the thing cheaply, he would like to know what was. page 250Hypnotized into content by the consciousness of economy somewhere, he drove out with Madam to the Sandhills, very splendid in a frock-coat of olive-green, drab leggings, and a tall shako with cocks' feathers. Already there were two companies of artillery in the country, and soon there would be four of infantry. "Let Napoleon the Third bring his Frenchies when he likes," the Captain said to Madam. "We are ready for them."
Madam looked at the company drawn up against the yellow sand and the grey scrub wattle in the sun. If rifles had come in with the Crimea, whiskers had too, but she never liked them—particularly under shakos.
"Eh, mon vieux!" she cried. "Uniform is apparently as irresistible to a man as jewels are to a woman."
Very rosy and happy, the Captain kissed her hand, making the one epigram of his life: "With this difference, my love. With this difference. We wear uniform in order to prevent damage. The fair sex wear jewels in order to increase it."
"That's as may be," said Madam, rather tartly, remembering James Sorley's face as he left Clent. "There are occasions when the mere putting on of a uniform may provoke damage."
Had that been intuition? she wondered two days later, finding the Captain tossing into a great heap on the floor the papers from three large tin boxes in the library. He looked up, hot and dusty with snuff, and smiled when she asked him what he wanted.
"Nothing, my love. A mere nothing. If I can find the titles … I did have them."
"What do you want with titles?" asked Madam, a cold chill at her heart.
Still tossing papers, still on his fat little knees, her goodman answered her: "Nothing. Oh, merely an ultimatum, my love. Very civil, like one nation to another, but … but, damme, Jenny darling … not like one gentleman to another. If he was annoyed about something—and I certainly did gather as much the other day—he should have called me out and not ordered some pettifogging attorney to call in the mortgage. James never was a gentleman. We shall have to sell, Jenny … if I can find the titles."
Madam sat down. Her hands came together in her lap.page 251
"Guillaume, we have the spirit of the pioneer, and there we end. We could conquer, but we could not serve. And only those who do both can remain in the land."
"My dear girl," he said. "My darling girl." He put his arms round her, kissing her forehead. "It will all come right, Jenny—though, damme, I don't just see how, at the moment. But whatever happens, my love, I can only feel that we both have done our best."
He looked at her simply, trustfully, like a not too intelligent dog, and she took his face gently between her hands and kissed it thoughtfully. Guillaume, bless his dear soul, had certainly done his best with James; but Madam Comyn, the once-beloved of James, had not yet entered the lists.
Councillor James Sorley thought it best not to tell his family of the ultimatum. Uncomfortably he felt that, despite what he knew to be their very deep and natural respect for him, they might conceivably question it. In fact, the country might presently question it; for Comyn never could keep his mouth shut, and if he were as hard up as Henry declared and had to sell Clent … James withdrew his mind somewhat hastily from that thought; wished his family had not all gone out to dinner and left him to feel dull alone, and began industriously to recollect that he was a Member of the Upper House, complimented on his administrative qualities by the elusive Downing Street, and with a possible title in view. In any case Comyn was getting no more than his deserts. A noisy little chap whom he had never really liked, and if Madam … but, thank God, she hadn't. Thank God for a decorous and influential career with Louisa always faithful, so very faithful, beside him, instead of that mad and bad sweet dream——
"Madam Comun," announced the maid-servant, and slammed the door. James made a swift movement of flight, controlled it, said and did things as though the sky were not falling. Madam, looking through her ringlets, was completely at her ease. James's convulsive movement had put her there and, nom d'un nom, where was she not going to put him! With both hands out she advanced, shimmering silks and sandalwood scent quivering in the warm air.page 252
"At last," she said, "at last I have come to you, my friend."
The councillor grasped the back of Louisa's red-plush chair as though it were his faithful Louisa herself. He shot a glance round on her familiar things: flowers under glass shades, photographs on fretwork brackets, and ormolu clocks exposing their insides, and found his eyes drawn back to Madam, who stood smiling with downcast eyes.
"Ah, la douce ivresse of the years!" she said musically.
"Eh? Hum. Yes," said James. "Won't you … er … sit down?"
"You have not changed as others have changed. As Comyn has changed to me. When again he refused me my desire, I thought, 'There is still one who does not change to me.' And so … I have come."
"What did Comyn refuse you?" James found himself catching at the side issue with almost vulgar alacrity. With equally vulgar certainty he knew that he was suddenly sweating.
"De quoi, alors?" Madam sank into a chair, spread her fingers. "If I demand a new bonnet, a new barouche, it is equal. It is that I demand and he says, 'I cannot afford it.' Like that he says it. Figure you if a man ever so spoke before to the wife who under great provocation has been faithful to him all these years."
"Perhaps he really cannot?" James felt a little heady at being called a provocation, but that did not compensate for his terror.
"He used not to talk like this. I do not like it. I am annoyed. All the time he has no money. Then why not get it? I say. But he will not. James, he has changed. But I know that you have not. And so … I have come as so often you have implored me to."
"Do I understand … am I to understand …" Feeling desperately that he did not understand anything, he cried, "You can't love me now!"
"Oh, as for love, would you have me confess it? Ciel, James, it is for you to teach me as you have so many times offered to do."
"Hem. Not of late years," said the councillor, deprecatingly.
"Not of late years. At present I … ah …" He coughed. Ridiculously a long-forgotten injunction of his old nurse rattled into his brain: "Be a little gentleman, Master James. Be a little page 253gentleman." The councillor of thirty years' experience quailed under it. "Er," he said. "Ah. Er …"
"Comyn no longer loves me!" cried Madam, suddenly abandoning herself to grief in Louisa's red-plush chair. "I am sick of being good and having no money. I never was built for that. I have a gay soul. So I think I will fling my bonnet to the windmill and make one good man happy. And so … I am here."
The councillor wiped his forehead and his voice was unduly loud. "I am not a good man."
"So much the better. I never really liked them good," said Madam, reflectively.
"Madam Comyn, I … ah … beg you to listen. I am deeply …"
"Why not Jenny?" murmured Madam, her little hand groping. James took it. A man could do no less. It sent a thrill through him which warned him that he must be strong. For both their sakes he must be strong. He said so, and when Madam cried, "Why?" he said it again.
"I must consider you. Your standing in the country. I must realize for us both that we cannot now overset our lives with … ah … impunity. We owe so much to others."
"You too? Ah, these so horrible debts!"
"I … ah … did not speak of pecuniary obligations. I trust that I am able to discharge those without difficulty. But the country … our descendants … my old friend, who, I assure you, loves you devotedly. How," he cried, his fingers twitching above those soft glossy ringlets, "could he help it!" Terrified again at himself, he backed off. "You are undoubtedly under a serious misapprehension if you do not know that at present the whole country and, I may say, the …" He was finding his feet now, but Madam promptly jerked him off them. All the enjoyment of this interview was to be hers.
"If Comyn has no money, then it is clearly the will of God that I embarrass him no longer. And if I leave him, to whom should I turn but to one who has waited his reward these many years? Why should one man keep what he no longer values when another so desires it?"
"Good God!" said James. With trembling fingers he page 254rebuttoned his coat, as though the gesture shut her out; suddenly stooped over her where she sat with the firelight round her desirable little body like a nimbus. "My dear," he said with a real earnestness that abashed her, "there was a time when I would have given my soul for what you are now saying. But I … ah … have learned the world since then. I now know that it is my duty to protect you against yourself … myself. I … ah … yes," Madam heard him swallow the pill with an audible gulp, "I will see Captain Comyn and I make no doubt but that something can be arranged. No doubt at all. I am convinced that what you consider want of love is actually no more than want of cash."
"He has told me so. But how to believe … any man."
"You can believe him. I swear it. And you can believe me when I … ah … assure you that I shall never forget the … ah … inestimable honour which you have done me. May I hope," here he began to regain confidence and his hand went naturally into his coat-front, "that, once more reconciled to your husband and flowering in the position you have for so long adorned, you may in an idle moment cast a thought toward him who resigned the most glorious vision of his life in order that your name might may remain untarnished?"
"What a man!" said Madam, softly, into her handkerchief. "What sensibility! How can I but submit … and admire?" She thought swiftly that, this settled, it was a good time to put in a word for Charlotte, whose marriage might set la petite upon her mettle. She murmured: "It is rumoured that your Mark is amorous of our Charlotte, and had that come to pass it would not be right for me ever to think of you again. But since it will not come to pass …"
"Who says it won't?" cried the councillor, sharply, as though struck by a new idea. But Madam did not press the matter. She had the gift, so rare in women, of knowing when she had said enough. After one pressure of the hand, one backward look, she went off in her waiting carriage, and the councillor returned slowly to pour and drink the peg of which he felt so badly in need. And then, although informed that dinner had long been waiting, he stood before the pier-glass for an appreciable time.
With dear Louisa he often felt fully seventy. That siren just page 255departed had made him feel forty-five. Heigh-ho, hey nonny nonny! Well, there went the mortgage, for he would have to pay for this interview through the nose. But when did a man ever kick at paying for favours? He might even have had a kiss if … But no. That would have been dangerous, and besides … a gentleman … Youth is gay, and a maiden is bonny.
Still humming and switching his coat-tails like a young cock bird with new feathers, James Sorley stepped jauntily in to his dinner.
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.
Word came to town next morning that bush-rangers had been seen in the Midlands again. At this late day many would not believe, but the incoming coach brought details. Cattle had been driven and barns fired in several places. An empty house had been rifled of all its valuables, and a man coming home late down the Snakebanks road had seen riders pass with packhorses and heard speech that was unmistakably a gentleman's. Roger Keyes, who had come to town to meet Brevis, thought this "might be that Port Arthur fellow you got me to take on as shepherd, Mab. He disappeared a fortnight ago, and I can't trace him."
Brevis agreed. "Just what one would expect from a man with a grievance," he said, but Mab protested.
"Why, he'd be there now if I hadn't had him released!" he cried.
"Then look out he don't reserve a special bullet for you," said Brevis, dryly.page 262
What, he wondered, seeing Jenny and her family off by the stage with its four handsome horses and the red-coated coachman blowing his long horn, what personal interest had made careless Mab Comyn busy himself with an old P.A. lag? Some queer story there if one could get at it. He watched Mab riding alongside on an awkward young 'un as the coach disappeared in dust. But walking back to his lodgings he found himself thinking of Jenny.
Jenny was sitting very straight in her corner of the stage, looking out (she had secretly drawn her veil aside) on a world which had gained immeasurably in significance since she came to town. Rollicking calls of minahs through the clear crisp weather, tall wattle trees spraying their gold against blue sky, bright water running down between the lace of tree-ferns, sheep in tussock paddocks tawny with sun, violet loom of the distant ranges seen beyond the dark green of the nearer hills—all these vital pagan glorious things were recreated because Jenny the pagan had discovered the miracle of life.
Love. That is the miracle, thought Jenny, as proud as though a hundred men had not already told her so. That little blue wren on the weathered log fence was not hopping more gaily than her heart. "I shall often come to Clent. I shall often come to Clent." Brevis had said it.
Susan, who always felt sick in the stage, mourned that the bush-rangers would certainly come for their jewels when it got dark.
"Give the case to me," said Charlotte, and sat on it. "They will not get it from me," she said, looking almost matronly in her sherry-coloured silk with a magenta bonnet.
"Oh, dear! I do hate town," lamented Susan.
"I have told Mark I am not going to another ball before I'm married," said Charlotte. "It was nice of you to give me your spare partners, Jenny. Most of them were odious."
"Oh, Lottie darling! One was the governor's aide!"
"A vapid noodle, Mamma. I don't wonder Jenny wouldn't marry any of them. I wouldn't, myself."
"Dearest, you don't need to. Your hand is already bestowed," said Susan, piously. Then, in sudden alarm: "Mab! Mab!"page 263
She gesticulated a tightly gloved fat hand from the window. Mab rode near. Behind him poddy calves, very young and inquiring, stared through a barnyard fence with yellow hayricks beyond. Susan cried: "Mab, is the cart just behind? Is it safe? All Lottie's trousseau——"
"Ten paces behind," said Mab, who had not seen it for an hour. He trotted on past prosperous farmyard buildings, hissing geese round a pond, a field where men in smocks cut grain with sickles that dazzled in the sun. He put the young 'un to an awkward gallop on the grassy side of the road, popped him over a low rail into deep pasture where a young Hereford bull raised an annoyed head, and took him out over blossoming gorse at the paddock-end. Needed schooling, the colt did, but how good it was to feel the unaccustomed young mouth answer to his light touch on the rein, the unaccustomed young limbs gather for the leap. Yes, life was good, even sweet now that he could meet Julia without pain. No, not without pain. There was always the sense of something dead in him when he saw Julia now…. I may love again, he thought…. But I'll not be able to trust. She's put an end to that for me.
Arrived at Clent, Madam went to her bed and sent for Jenny, whose parting with Brevis, decorous although it was, had told her too much. Men said that Brevis would go far. Bien; let him do it. For her part, her mind, full of gay-coloured pasts and regimental pageantry, revolted against the dullness of "the "professions," and she had not carried off that unregretted and successful coup with old James in order to see Jenny marry an unfledged lawyer. If it came to more fights with la petite … Madam, defiantly conscious of her years, of the innate cruelty of life, girded her loins. Jenny should lead the colony yet; and be damned to her for a minx.
Jenny brought Madam a sweet negus of port and a biscuit, and made a soft radiance in the moonlit room where the light came through old-fashioned fan windows above the ordinary shuttered ones. Madam, who could calculate anything but money, knew well the insistence of inanimate things; the restlessness Jenny's ugly bedroom had unconsciously produced; the ravishment which the girl always felt in this dim sweet place, redolent page 264of pot-pourri and old silks and laces taken out of sandalwood. To-night Jenny would have liked to sit here thinking, and conscious of the faint celestial aroma from crystal bottles and silver pots and enamelled bright little patch-boxes; the faint celestial light from dim-gilt mirrors and the glasses on faded water-colours. A remote enchanted room where one might (very cautiously) take Love out of one's shielding bosom and hold it between the hands; turning it this and that way until it glowed to peacock brilliancy, and shone white as silver, and took the eternal fire of all the suns. Jenny, thinking this, smiled uncertainly at Grandmama whose eyes in the light from the one tall silver candlestick were so bright for all her age.
"Now," said Madam, who knew that atmosphere will break down barriers where words won't, "we will chat, my pigeon."
They talked. And said nothing. No barriers broke, wherefore Madam with the lucidity of her sex deduced that there were barriers. And she gave an angry admiration to this girl whom she had trained to so much more than the harp and petit point.
Peste! Madam must, then, use her wits with this child even as with Oliver. A little flattery; a little suggestion of secrecy, and there you were. When Jenny proffered ripe lips at last, Madam held her close, searching, almost tender.
"Tell me … you are happy?"
"And why not?" asked Jenny, laughing-sweet. "I've nearly everything."
"There's still something to look forward to, you see," cried Jenny. And kissed her again and ran out of the room, leaving Madam, a stately high-nosed little figure in cap and bed-gown, to settle back among the pillows in a grim silence.
Avoiding the salon where Charlotte would be gathered with the elders (already Charlotte behaved like an elder), Jenny flung a scarf about her shining shoulders and ran out into the night. For sheer joy in life she sang with little provocative steps and side-lookings:
"En passant par la Lorrainepage 265
Avec mes sabots,
Recontrai trois Captaines,
Avec mes sabots.
Le premier prends …"
Oh, la la! Who could make sounds on a still night like this, with the garden fragrant with bosses and banks and pools of pale bloom, the air heavy with Paradise? Jenny went up into the bush which still touched against the back of the stable-yard, and here she watched a bandicoot grubbing with slender pink paws and nose in the heaped leaves of centuries and thought back over all she knew of Brevis. It was not much. Oh, foolishness which had not known that the god would come in his shape! Brevis had good hands on a horse and took his wine well. And he and Sigurd had founded the League of Chivalry, although Sigurd believed that Brevis had forgotten it all long ago. "A cold fellow," Sigurd said. "Cold and chaste as ice."
Jenny, puzzled among her own ardencies, wondered if that were true. His last hand-clasp had not been cold. Nor his eyes. And as for chastity … Well, chastity appeared to mean never thinking the thought that every one thought sometimes; never doing the things that a certain proportion of earth's children insisted on doing. Oh, an unlovable lady, Chastity, knowing nothing of warm straining lips, the warm clasp of flesh to flesh!
Because Jenny did not know either, but knew in the bones of her that she was soon to know, she huddled down on her knees by the spring, seeing her pale face in the moonlit water. Her bare arms shimmered and she stooped her head and kissed them, softly, reverently kissed her young fragrant flesh like the pagan she was. Some day soon Brevis would kiss them. She closed her eyes and shuddered with the thrill running through her.
The air grew cooler. A hare loped out on the grass and stared with its soft prominent eyes, twitching its long ears. A night-bird called back in the bush. Jenny sprang up suddenly and fled back to the house, her hands squeezing her burning cheeks.
How gloriously, terribly easy it was to think unchastely!