"The wedding-ring shall have a posy," said Brevis later, when the gold light had gone and the big pink, hairy tarantulas were busy in the rafters and Jenny did not heed them at all. "What shall it be?"
Jenny, in her pale brocade on a heap of dusty sacks once used for chaff, said softly: "'First love and last love.' We'll defy the Fates, Brevis. And the ring in two pieces with the posy between, like Grandmamma's."
Brevis felt his face burn. He hesitated, took her hand. Whatever came, he had resolved to be honest with Jenny, in so far as he could. "Last love is the only one that really matters, isn't it?"
"Is it? Sais pas. I suppose there can be more than one love for some people. Not for me." Her voice sank away reflectively in the shadows. "Not for me, my dear."
The music of her voice! he thought. The fineness, sweetness of her! While women can speak and look like Jenny, what is ambition! Along the path of his desire his passion rushed out to her. Again he held her close, kissing her ready lips, her hair, her forehead. "You witch," he said almost fiercely. "You perfect thing."
But even across those kisses trouble cast its shadow. In the back of his hot brain something moved, reminding him that he had page 278not meant to do this. He had not meant … He kissed her throbbing throat, drunken with its softness.
Dusk brought the fragrance of the forest through the broken window and back in the tall trees the little owls called softly. Jenny pulled herself away, trembling and laughing brokenly. Reticent with others, she could proudly give up her reticence to him.
"Before you there was no one, and since you came there has been no one … except you. There! You see I am quite shameless, my lover. Look … it is as though I were a child with its armful of toys, bringing them all to you. I give you all my toys, Brevis. Every one."
"That's wrong of you." He looked at her queerly. She had no right to surrender in this way, making him feel how complete was his power. Man-like, he had to try that power further. "I can't give you all my toys, Jenny."
"What does that mean, please, Brevis?"
He saw her face white as apple blossom in the faint light. There was a frightened fibre in her tone…. I could be cruel to her, he thought exultantly, and she'd give me everything just the same.
"Some of my toys are broken. Other women have broken them. You didn't think me a saint, Jenny?"
"I never thought about it," she answered slowly. "You are you. I know that a man is not like a woman. Please tell me just what you mean, Brevis."
"So long as you know that!" He turned his head. If she looked at him like this he couldn't go on, for now he knew how much he was going to hurt her. "Men are amorous beasts … and there was one woman … I married her … and she left me. When I heard she was dead I was glad."
Jenny sat perfectly still. He saw her hands, white as her apple-bloom face, perfectly still. Out in the bush a small bird was twittering fretfully. A puny sound beside Jenny's great silence. Suddenly he was afraid. He could not lose her now.
"I never loved her as I love you, dearest of women." He would have put his arm round her, but she drew back.
"Please … I'm trying to understand. One does not marry page 279without a very great love. I understand that. I learned with Mr. Paige."
"There are different kinds of love." His alarm grew. Why had he been fool enough to say anything? How could he explain to a girl who talked like that the wide distinction between the different kinds of love? Frasquita had satisfied his hot youth and in the end disgusted him, as was inevitable. His real mistake had been the marriage which he thought so noble. Frasquita would have done without it, didn't want it. "Can't you understand, dear, that it was just a brief fascination? She had the Italian sensuousness …"
He stopped, for she was quivering at the word. Good Lord! These idiotic restrictions which wrap a girl in cotton-wool! Yet she couldn't be so innocent, either, with all the men she'd had after her. "Are you jealous, Jenny?"
"Is that it?" He saw her big eyes in the gloom. "No, I think not, Brevis. Not jealous. It's … I can't say it."
"Yes, you can. Say it!"
"It's … I thought we'd set out together … the greatest adventure in the world. And for you … it's spoiled already."
He had to bend his head to catch the last words, her head drooped so. Good Heavens! These ideals! Madam was to blame for this, and Susan, and old goody-goody Gamaliel; the whole crew who had conspired to keep her eyes shut, her mind shut.
"Not spoiled. No. Once a man has experienced …" She winced away again. Then she was jealous, after all. "There are different kinds of love, I tell you. I never gave her the respect …" He hesitated. He would never give any woman much of that. They were all too easy. Jenny had been too easy. He could have made her understand, perhaps, that wild desire for Frasquita looking impudent over her shoulder with hands on her broad hips. And he could make her understand, perhaps, how the very essence of her own lovely self had intoxicated him like a perfume, was tearing at his heart now.
"Jenny!" This was the way; holding her so close she couldn't struggle, laying his cheek to hers. "That's over. My salad days. She forgot me before she died, and I forgot her. I was a boy. Now I'm a man. Don't these …" Had any other man ever kissed page 280Jenny's lips? He didn't believe it. "Don't these tell you that, dear heart?"
"Then you never kissed her … like this?"
Damn it! She was jealous. He let her go. "Yes, I did. Of course I did. I kissed her the best I knew how. Now … are you done with me just because I've been honest with you?"
But here she was, smiling wistfully, asking wistfully, "But we couldn't ever be less than honest with each other, could we?"
Couldn't they? He didn't know about that. He knew that it was a pity he'd ever been honest at all. Instead of feeling the Grand Mogul he had expected to, he felt a brute, a despicable cur. Then—oh, these sudden impulses would be the death of him yet!—he was down on his knees in the dirt, hiding his face in her gown. "Jenny … for God's sake … I'm not worthy, hound than I am."
Her arms came cradling round his head. Her voice was rich and strong again. "It's I am not worthy. I was so selfish I'd forgotten how you must have grieved. I'll try to make it up to you, my dear."
Grieved? In those past passages of arms he had enjoyed himself fully as much as Frasquita, even when there had been crockery thrown. Some escape he had always had to have from the quiet, decorous, superior Brevis whom every one knew. Frasquita had been good fun. Jenny, he suspected, wouldn't be quite such good fun. Love upset a woman's sense of humour. He would never be able to tell Jenny about the crockery … or other things. He stood up, drawing her with him. The unearthly glimmer of her lifted face, the slenderness of her, even the silken slide of her dress under his hands … all were an intoxication. He began to tremble now, holding her closely. She whispered:
"Brevis, I'm thinking that I would rather we didn't tell any one yet. You see, I mightn't be all you think me, just as she was not. It would be better to wait until … you know."
"I do know. You're ingenious with torture, love, like all your sex." But he was relieved. He did not want to tell. Much better not to tell until he saw his way more clear. Besides, why should they tell when in secret he could kiss her … and kiss her?
She was murmuring so low he could scarcely hear, "'Life, oh life, I kept on saying, and the very sound was sweet.'"