Julia was back after four years in England, where she had left the prospective baronet at school. Discarding her other responsibility, her husband, in Hobart Town, she came to stay at Bredon; and Madam and Susan, going to call on Charlotte at Bredon Cottage, found her there, a little bewildered among Charlotte's brilliant bell-ropes, mantel-drapes, and knitted, netted, crocheted, and tatted antimacassars.
"Since gentlemen now wear their hair so long and use macassar oil so extensively, antimacassars are a necessity," said Charlotte, on whom gentlemen never came to call if they could help it.
Julia, much worn and very elegant in green satin with a black-lace mantle—Julia, obviously disillusioned with the world and weary of her husband—had become so outspoken that Madam found her almost racy. She told tales of English life, inquired when Charlotte expected her baby, and hoped she would not have thirteen as Susan had done. "Even your eight still living must be a great problem in these days, Mrs. Comyn, although I hear Fanny is so pretty that she may do very well. But marriage is a lottery, with very few prizes."
"It is what you make it," said Charlotte, placidly stitching lace on a baby's cap.
"My dear! I wonder how long you will think that! Berry has grown to such enormous size that the doctors say his life hangs by a thread. That is why I insisted on his taking this command (they made him colonel of the Second Division of the ——th) and bringing me home. If I am to be a widow I prefer it to happen among my own people."
"Julia! You mustn't even think of such a tragedy," cried Susan; but Julia looked at her with such an amused reflective air that Madam thought, She is planning to take Mab again, and sighed…. This world did seem to have an extraordinarily facile capacity for going wrong.page 282
"You need your tea, Grandmamma," said Charlotte, pouring from a great urn on a brightly lacquered tray. She wore violet velvet over a crinoline and four starched petticoats, and there were flowers as well as velvet bows in her cap. Susan's pale eyes worshipped her…. She is thinking, "Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace, for never shall I see anything more wonderful on this earth," thought Madam, sipping her tea and preparing to do battle with Julia.
"You will be delighted to hear that Mab is now in partnership with Gamaliel Thompson, Julia, and is shortly going to New Zealand to buy … commodities." Even now she could not bring herself to mention hides and tallow. There could be nothing heroic for Mab in this connection, although he insisted that there would be money in it; and that was a rare enough commodity for a Comyn, in any case. "He may be away a long time," said Madam, defiantly.
"Really? Poor Mab! Mr. Thompson deals in hides, don't he?" Julia lifted her thin shoulders. Her eyes met Madam's. Madam's said, You'll never get hold of him again, woman. And Julia's said, How do you know that? And the plague of it was that Madam didn't know. The Comyns, she felt, were so tenacious. She was. Jenny was.
Julia, quite understanding that this was another of Madam's sore spots, began asking about Jenny. Not married yet? Dear me!
"Oh, Julia," cried Susan, flinging back the red bonnet strings that had fallen into her tea, "we are so disappointed in Jenny!"
"Speak for yourself," said Madam, rudely. "She keeps Clent alive."
"She is in love with Brevis Keyes," said Charlotte, in her downright way. "And Brevis is in love with himself. Jenny is very foolish…. Can I give you another cup, Julia?"
"If you please. So that is what Jenny is about. You dear Comyns are all so romantic." Julia's eyes went sly and considering. "I must see this wonderful Brevis. Perhaps I can help him. Berry has influence."
For la petite's sake Madam had to take up the cudgels for Brevis, much as she hated him.
"I am sure that if Sir Almeric requires it Brevis will be pleased page 283to have you brief him. Mab says he has quite a name for adjusting difficult monetary affairs."
There was one for Julia, seeing that his creditors had virtually obliged Berry to flee the country four years before. She flushed. And then Charlotte was hiding her work away and trying to look unconscious, and Susan flurriedly whispering to Julia: "Don't mention Charlotte before Jenny. An unmarried girl, you know …"
Julia still had her mouth open with amazed laughter when Jenny ran in, looking in her lilac muslin as fresh and sweet as the flower. She kissed Julia warmly; for though she had once felt so bitter about her, how could one feel aught but pity for those who had missed happiness?
"Dear Julia, how well you look! And what a lovely frock! Did you bring it from England? I want to know about England."
In these days Jenny wanted to know about everything that could bring her education more nearly level with Brevis's. She sat on a low stool, eating cakes, chattering, enveloping them all in her radiance and her love for mankind…. Dear Julia, she thought. I might have grown like her if I had married Mr. Paige…. Dear Lottie, who had had to shoot her bird sitting; and poor little Mark was only a sparrow, too, not a soaring eagle like Brevis. Dear Mamma and Grandmamma, whose youth and hot love-time were forever gone…. Look at me, she thought, shining round on these much-to-be-pitied dear women. I have Brevis, so what can I do but love and be tender with you all!
Julia was interested. The whole atmosphere of the room had changed with Jenny's coming. Even those terrible antimacassars became a jest instead of a pain. So this was what love could do? She felt bitterly that she had never really seen love before, never guessed that it could actually make a light about it, like a star. Now, certainly, she must see Brevis.
"You sweet thing," she said, caressing Jenny. "You make me young again. I was feeling quite elderly among the matrons."
Jenny and Brevis must assuredly have an understanding, no matter what people said. And, they also said, Brevis would go very far.