Up on Latterdale, bullock teams—eighteen bullocks to a big stick on this country—were hauling out timber for the new mill Bob Beverley had opened at Trienna, and Humphrey, whose heart ached as royal blackwood and stringy-bark gave their lovely lives up, rode slowly out of the dark gully rich with its scents of bleeding sap and torn leafy earth and straining animals, toward another sacrilege. The stretch of black wattle along the hill was to be barked for Gamaliel Thompson's tannery in Launceston; and to Humphrey, measuring, assessing, figuring out the amount to be contracted for, this killing of the native bush was like the murder of children.
"Civilization! Lord, why can't we work with Nature instead of against her?" he said aloud, thrusting his battered felt hat back from his hot face and bared throat. He looked down the hill where tall wattle groves and close scrub wattle that had once been scarfs of gold now stood already barked and naked in the clear twilight. Fire was at work there, sending up thin tongues ruddy against the coming night, smouldering in the dying hearts, spiralling away in soft grey feathers to the quiet sky. "Destruction, I call it," said Humphrey bitterly, thinking of the last argument he had had with William, which like all the others, had ended in defeat. William was going to plough that murdered hill and lay it down in rye. Humphrey would merely have thinned the groves and let ewes lamb there in the warm shadows.
"There's no disease on this virgin country, and lambs dropped here would stand the climate perfectly," he had said. "Only such a little of the run is above the winter line."
"Do you dare imagine that you know better than your father?" William had retorted, pulling his sandy whiskers. "I won't allow any but dry sheep on Latterdale."
So he sent up merino hoggets with foot-rot, and old rams with scab to infect the clean soil. Gloomily Humphrey watched the page 267dark shapes moving on their knees down the slope…. If only I had money to buy the place and marry Maria! he thought. But that was one of the dreams which would never come true, it seemed. He finished his figures and next day took them in to Launceston to set them before Gamaliel, whose big loose body was to be seen all day at the desk, where, every one said, he was making money hand over fist. Mab worked for him now, when he worked anywhere. Mab, said Gamaliel, was going for him to New Zealand to see about hides. "There is no scab in New Zealand," he said.
"There needn't be so much in Tasmania if people had sense," returned Humphrey, with a sigh, and went off to spend the night with Brevis, who, now in the office of Shone, Mathews & Shone, was already feeling his way.
"I shall set up for myself soon," said Brevis, and Humphrey believed him. Brevis gave people the feeling that nothing, except himself, would ever deny him anything. He moved about in a velvet smoking-jacket which somehow seemed just as appropriate as his rooms did. They were not rooms like Mab's, all whips and spurs and hunting pictures and pretty girls tacked up anyhow. Nor like Humphrey's, with the wattle-and-daub walls painstakingly papered with London Graphics and a little daguerreotype of Maria over the bed. Nor like Noll Comyn's, with no pictures at all, but wonderful china and heaps of cushions.
Brevis's rooms were like himself, restrained, yet curiously emphatic. There was a small gilt icon on the mantel; a Dutch sabot for cigar butts; a youth's head in discoloured marble lying on a black cushion; a few grave landscapes; a lively bronze faun in the corner where the firelight caught it, and a large Mona Lisa. Humphrey had not seen her before. He called her wicked, with Brevis smoking at his elbow.
"No two men ever see her the same, any more than they do other women. Talking of women, are you going to let Mrs. Beverley devour Maria entirely, Humphs?"
"God! I don't want to!" Humphrey talked about this to every one, and never got any satisfaction. "But what can I do? Since Beverley died Maria has felt that she must stay and comfort her mother."page 268
"He's been dead some years, hasn't he?"
"Nearly three. But Mrs. Beverley——"
"I know. I've heard it. People say her devotion to his memory is so beautiful. So like our dear Queen," mimicked Brevis. "That's what keeps the old lady going. That's what keeps her shut up with the old chap's picture and Maria and herself all wound up together in the same black crêpe. Force of suggestion. The finest and most damnable power on earth. She's a sociable woman naturally, and fond of bright colours."
Humphrey was staggered. He had been brought up to an almost Chinese veneration for his elders.
"B-but what can I do?" he repeated helplessly.
"Marry Maria out of hand and take her to Latterdale. That would bring your father to heel and make him treat you like a human being. And it would do Mrs. Beverley the greatest possible service. You'd have her in colours for the christening of your first child."
Humphrey's legs weakened. A faintness of desire, of longing came over him. He sat on a stool with his head in his hands, and from the sofa where he lay full length Brevis watched him curiously. Psychological reactions! Lord! how men gave themselves away! Poor old Humphs, the too decent fool!
"If we don't make life for ourselves, the gods won't do it for us, Humphs."
"B-but I … but Maria wouldn't."
"I think," said Brevis deliberately, "a man can persuade a woman to anything if he gives his mind to it. That's what we're for."
"You might. I couldn't. I … I've tried."
"Well, think it over. Think it over. I hate waste, and you two were born to give solidity to the somewhat erratic colonial tradition. Keep step, carry the torch, all that sort of thing."
Humphrey saw his bright eyes, his lazy smile in the flickering firelight, and turned suddenly shy. So very wise, Brevis sounded. Bland, passionless, experienced. He wondered if Brevis had ever loved a woman, ever persuaded her. He said hastily: "I hear that Snow's Gang tied up old Tolmie, down the Tamar, last night. Wonder if we'll ever catch him."page 269
Brevis's smile deepened at the clumsy transition. He watched the light dancing on the prick-ears, the sharp grin of the faun. "Snow—if it is Snow, which apparently no one is certain about—is something rather special in the way of bush-rangers, I think."
"Is he? How do you mean?"
"Well, he has a policy, as I figure it. The definite mocking of man. He don't hamstring horses or leave cattle and sheep slaughtered all over the place, as many of the others did. And he don't kill men … yet. He just catches 'em where he can, trusses 'em up in undignified attitudes, and sets 'em where they can see their belongings burn. A destructive devil with a fine sense of humour. I wonder how many good old buildings have gone up in smoke since he got tired of being a shepherd at Tane Hall."
"We lost Clent wool-shed about a month ago, you know. And they tied old James Sorley up to watch Bredon coach-house burn. Gad! I'll never forget finding him squatted against the piggery with his nose to his knees! I never heard old James curse before," said Humphrey, beginning to chuckle. "His feelings were really hurt, and he was almost afraid to go back to town. Our most eminent councillor! He has offered a huge reward, but the police don't seem able to do anything."
"They're not dealing with an ordinary man and they think they are. That's the trouble. And usually the gangs grew too unwieldly and one of them would peach for the reward. This man has the sense to keep to his original three. And the person sheltering him—probably only one—apparently can't be bought."
"They came to Lovely Corners one night," said Humphrey. "Joe heard the dogs bark and went out with a lantern. And Aunt Ellen ran after him and flung it over the fence. Then she had hysterics in the barnyard and the fellows made off."
"Miss Merrick threw the lantern away?" Brevis sat up, staring through his pipe smoke. "Why did she do that?"
"Oh, no one knows why she does anything." Humphrey was not interested in Ellen. He talked of the difficulty of getting the new wool-shed finished before shearing, but Brevis did not listen. His mind, always avid for ideas, was hard at work. Mab Comyn was so interested in Snow that he got him out of Port Arthur. Ellen Merrick was so interested that she had made a public page 270spectacle of herself in order to give him warning. If Brevis could discover their reasons he would know, probably, what Snow was aiming at; for that the fellow would stop at burning outbuildings and making men laughing-stocks Brevis did not believe. The vanity of man does not work that way. Having attracted the attention of the whole colony and even Australia, Snow would undoubtedly proceed to heroics, demoniacs of some kind.
Brevis stood up, yawning, stretching until Humphrey thought of a graceful black cat. "Bed, Humphs. I'm bathing at dawn in the Cataract Basin with Mab and Gamaliel. You coming?"
The straggled town of Launceston, almost as old but not so large as Hobart Town, was sunk in river fog when the four young men climbed through rough scrub and tall timber up the Cataract Hill. In the east the sky was flushing in delicate pinks and saffrons and a chill dawn wind blew down to the marshes below, sending the mist driving like thick giant figures, shredding it thin until little streets and houses blinked out in warm reds and faded blues. Deep down on Brevis's right the wild gorge of the cataract thundered with its dark waters, and he stopped more than once to listen while the others tramped on. It had a tremendous attraction for him, that sinister voice trumpeting defiance out of the shadows.
The sun was up when they came over the hill; warm on the grey rocks smooth with age, warm in the clear, calm water of the basins. Tea-tree was in flower here, long wreaths of starry-white blossom above them while they stripped. Parrots, robins, and song-sparrows were at their morning orisons; all the clean, sharp scents of the bush loosened in the growing warmth of the air. A virgin place, given over to the wild rocks and ancient timber and the passing of small bright birds.
Like school-boys they bathed, shouting, splashing the silver spray, then spread naked on the warm rocks to dry. Brevis, chin on hands, considered how much a man's naked body could tell of him. Gamaliel's curves were large and kindly as his tallow butts, very soft. Stocky Humphrey had the deep chest, broad shoulders page 271and hips of a man meant for domesticity and agriculture. But Mab Comyn's lean flanks and long muscular legs belonged to the rover, the rider born. Mab was dark as mahogany, with curious livid scars here and there. Brevis beside him felt too bright-white and slender in the waist, but was fortified by the strong hairs of his body, thicker even than Mab's upon the chest. Strange terrible things, these bodies of hot and aspiring dust; so soon destroyed, so beautiful, so potent with unconscious life to be.
Humphrey plaited grass, whistling plaintively "Annie Laurie"; but Gamaliel, on his broad back with wide-awake over his eyes, was talking to Mab of tallow. "Now the Maori wars are over, those big New Zealand sheep-stations will go ahead. Hides … and I'm confident we could build up a good market in tallow."
Tallow…. Good Lord! thought Brevis, watching a blue wren weave its turquoise skein of flight through the tea-tree…. Some day I shall be Crown Prosecutor for Australasia, if I live. And they are content with tallow!
"Are you coming to Clent for Charlotte's wedding, you fellows?" asked Humphrey, suddenly, and Mab sat up and began to laugh.
"Poor little Mark is trying so hard to do the right thing. He wrote Lottie a poem beginning: 'Hail to thee, blithe maiden. Bird thou never wert.' I don't think he got any farther."
"He didn't," said Brevis, who heard often from Jenny in these days. "Charlotte thought it very true, but rather obvious. She and Mark will get on splendidly."
He rose and began to dress, feeling suddenly very hot. He could not think of Jenny without a clamour of the blood; a kind of fierce humbleness. There was so much he ought to tell her and never would. Nor had he meant to tie himself before he was well established, considering all self-imposed chains suicide for a climbing man. But each trip to Clent left him less able to resist the attack of Jenny's bright spirit. He knew that he had won unasking what so many men had prayed for, and he knew that he would not have been human if that knowledge had not mixed a faint ichor of disdain with his pleasure and pride.
Mab, plunging into his clothes, was shouting in his rich tenor:page 272
"I would I were in Manchester,
A-sitting on the grass,
And by my side a bottle of wine,
And on my lap a lass."
If all accounts were true, Mab Comyn didn't have to go to Manchester for them. As for Brevis, he didn't want them at all. He knew that what he really wanted, what he meant to have, was the position of Crown Prosecutor for all Australasia.
At Charlotte's wedding Susan cried as much as even she thought necessary, and Charlotte wore a bonnet with white lace strings instead of a veil. Her crinoline was enormous and, with bows, ruchings, and bunches of orange-blossom, almost extenguished Mark, who was a gentle edition of wizened Henry and watched her with a dog-like devotion. There were many speeches and toasts, with the Captain and Oliver and Brevis to propose and reply, and even Humphrey found one in the last Graphic and brought it out with pride.
"May courtship be ever in fashion and kissing the pink of the mode," he cried, splashing champagne on a blushing Maria gone into white muslin for the occasion. Ellen giggled, hiding her gaunt face in gaunt fingers.
"Oh, la! Ain't you ashamed, Humphrey!" she shrilled, and then made confidences to Brevis in a corner. "I might have been standing there, you know, just like Lottie. Only I'd have a veil. I think it quite shocking she don't have a veil. There was a gentleman, but I would not have him. Naughty of me, wasn't it? Oh, la! We women are naughty. But don't tell."
She put her finger to her lip, peeping with sly glances. Brevis looked at her steadily. He knew, although apparently these careless people did not, that her life or some more definite tragedy had touched old Ellen's brain. The clue was here if he could find it. He said, secure behind the noise and laughter, "Perhaps the gentleman will come back."
"Hush!" Ellen bent closer. "He did, just lately. But I could not have him now, of course. Mab said … But don't tell." She moved off with mincing steps; came back to whisper: "I page 273really was married to him, you know. But Mab said … Don't tell."
Now she was gone, and Brevis, suppressing a whistle, went to pay his respects to the bride, who, to Madam's content, looked older than Jenny, radiant Jenny who was sparkling everywhere.
"Why didn't your father come?" asked Charlotte. "Is it true that he has grown afraid of our sex, Brevis? Tell him to come and see us at Bredon Cottage. It is really a huge house on the estate, but we call it a cottage. Like the dear Queen's York Cottage, you know. And the furniture is all new, is it not, Uncle Noll?"
"Oh, quite new and, let us hope, unique," said Oliver, inspecting Brevis with dislike. If it were to be Jenny and Brevis—and he feared so—there would be few pickings for him. Brevis was no fool; and, Oliver was cynically aware, any one who tried to keep a male Comyn afloat must have more money than sense. Paige certainly clung to him still; but Lydia made scenes and the aristocrat in Oliver could not abide scenes. He moved here and there, courteous, witty, carefully preserved, and watching his boisterous father with a new bitterness. Money pouring out like water to-day, and there was nothing the Captain liked better. What heritage had he given his sons but a similar desire to spend? If he, Oliver, had had a profession such as Brevis, he might have gone as far as Brevis seemed likely to go.
Profoundly pitying himself, he watched his mother while old James got off one of his prosy speeches. Madam, in lavender silks and laces yellowed by time, listened with her head cocked wickedly like a bird, hearing herself called the flower of womanhood and the Captain a long-respected friend, before James went on to give a résumé of his own services to the country. People were repressing yawns by the time the Captain rose to return thanks, and Madam had her eyes shut. A dull dog, James, she was thinking, although—God be thanked—she once had tied a tin can to his tail. And this wedding was the result, even if——
"For the love of God, maman," said Mab in her ear, "can you stop him?"
Madam's mind returned sharply to the long sunflooded room with its loaded tables, its groups of well-dressed startled people. She saw William with cockatoo crest up and pale eyes glaring; page 274Charlotte angrily red inside her white bonnet; Louisa ready to cry; Brevis with his fine cynical smile; Sigurd, Joe Merrick … and before them all her bonhomme, thick white hair on end, blue eyes popping under the bristling brows, red fist thumping the table until the glasses danced.
"And again I say it before the face of any man that the carriage-tax is an iniquitous proceeding which I utterly refuse to countenance. It shall never be collected in my district, and only an utterly contemptible and inefficient parliament would dare to offer …"
Madam sat aghast. It was Jenny who ran to put an arm about his neck. "Dear, we're not a public meeting. And this is Lottie's day," she said.
"Mean fellows!" shouted the Captain at the end of his breath. Then he kissed Jenny and looked round with smiling courtesy. "Ladies, pray forgive me. I fear I was slightly excited for the moment. Lottie dear, I apologize. But when I think of the infernal——"
"Sigurd," said Madam, "please fill the Captain's glass. He is going to toast the Queen."
A military man could say nothing about the Queen but "God bless her." So that was safe, and Jenny had saved their bacon when Madam failed. Jenny, looking like a bubbling champagne glass in her wide-spread champagne-colour brocade: Jenny with her bronze hair swept sternly back from the delicate temples to show to the full the piquancy of her pointed face with its arched brows and ripe scarlet lips. Jenny with her wit, her burning life, her laughter. If that dark chilly Brevis should take her, Madam would bear it ill. She hated Brevis leaning on a chair listening to Sigurd being eloquent over the poems of Mr. Shelley.
"But he could inspire a clod," cried Sigurd. "Pure, clear, sparkling like cut glass. Keats has only a soft rich sensuousness."
"In fact," said Brevis, "if you dropped Shelley he'd break, but if you dropped Keats he would squash. Isn't that what you wanted to say, Sigs?"
He moved away after Jenny. Madam saw her laugh back at him as she fled off on some errand. Ah, youth! Youth "the rose-light, the one light that never shall plague us again."page 275
Charlotte came down, very self-possessed in mulberry satin with a blue bonnet veiled in white lace and orange-blossoms, and her three younger sisters—slim fair Fanny promised to be a beauty, while the twins were stoutly bucolic—flung rose-leaves over her, with little piping cries and shy laughter at finding themselves so prominent. When she was gone and the tears and toasts were done, old Jerrold, going in to clear the broken meats, found young Master Richard sick-drunk under the table and called Oliver and Mab. Richard, tall and lusty at fifteen, resented being carried to his room, where Mab would have thrashed him, but Oliver said: "He has your looks, Mab, and possibly more, but apparently he has my stomach. Leave him to me."
Mab walked through the house full of wedding aftermath and hurrying maids and Susan with inflamed nose and cap awry hurrying them still more. Queer that folk should rejoice because two more humans were caught and forced into the mould which implacable Nature runs for us all. He looked out on the long gay curves of the garden beds where the English trees, planted by the Captain forty years since, were grown tall and broad and full of rustling leaves. So did the English race, planted in a new soil, develop faster than in England. Some said they did not weather so well. Too much sap.
Always there had been too much sap in Mab. There was still. And it seemed there was too much in young Richard. History beginning over again in the blind, persistent, senseless way she had. Where were they all going, these Comyns who had lived through the birth-throes of a nation and the birth-throes of their own souls?
In the salon, Madam, who rarely sang now, was singing low to her harp:
"Jours de tendresse comme un beau songe on fui;
Jours de tristesse, de chagrins et d'ennui …"
Mab heard William portentous behind him and fled as though he had been the beautiful thought of Madam's song. From the parapet he looked down into the paddocks below. There went page 276two more whom Nature was catching to run into her damned mould: Brevis, elegant and intent, and Mab's dear maid, her skirts dipping over the English grass, and shoals of little blue butterflies and gauzy beetles rising about her like incense. They were on the trodden way that led to Bredon, that passed by the old Comyn hut. Mab made a hasty movement as though to follow, to forbid the plighting of Jenny's love in that haunted place.
Then Susan called from the veranda, and he walked slowly back through the sun and the heavy scents. Susan was tearful again, although one would marvel that she could have any moisture left.
"Mab, I must send off the lists of guests and presents to the papers," cried Susan, fussing into the library where the big walnut table was covered with white slips. "And I can't find Jenny, who really ought to know better, and if you would kindly check them for me …"
Mab complied. A hair bracelet with turquoise clasps had got among the guests in company with a cornelian necklace and Mr. Dickens's works. But as Ellen and Joseph Merrick were in with the gifts, there were no gaps, although even as gifts they were rather rough on Charlotte.
"Poor Ellen," said Susan, crossing her out of the gifts. "It was so very generous of dear Mamma to let her come for a whole hour. Oh, dear! I wonder where my darling Lottie is at the moment, and I told her to make sure that the sheets were aired at St. Mary's. It's sure to be damp, being so near the sea."
The old Comyn hut had always been dear to Jenny. Next to the bush clearing beyond the ram-paddock … how that little girl Jenny had loved to play, to read, to dream here where the 'possums had torn the paper from the walls and birds nested in the rafters! It was hoary with the memories of her race; ancient history as history went in a colony not sixty years old and already preparing its fourth generation. Brevis and Jenny (brave flowers in a soil which to them had never been alien) looked round the rotting place with a due reverence.page 277
"Some of these logs in the walls must be two feet thick," said Brevis. "I'm glad they haven't been taken for gate-posts, but I should have thought your father——"
"It's Grandpapa won't have anything touched. Voilà le beau sentiment!" Jenny cried. "See, Brevis. He and Grandmamma used to sleep up in that loft. There was a ladder; I can well remember the ladder. Can you imagine stately Grandmamma climbing ladders?"
Jenny's wide flop hat had fallen back on her shoulders. Her face with its drawn and netted hair had an elfish, ethereal fantasy in the gold light falling through the broken pane. Brevis took her suddenly in his arms. "You witch! Jenny, you know … you know how I love you…."
"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.'"