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.
Brevis had long since determined to go very far. And as Jenny's wisdom kept him clear of trammels—she never inquired if he was sure yet of his love—he was coming to find enormous pleasure in hers, which seemed to grow stronger, more buoyantly trustful with each one of those long letters, crossed and recrossed in their fine Italian hand after the barbarous fashion of the hour.
And he was finding enormous pleasure in his popularity. Men crossed the Launceston streets to pass with him the time of day. Ladies everywhere bowed out of their carriages. His mantelshelf was important with neat rows of invitation cards. He turned them over in one of his few idle moments, smoking his after-dinner pipe. Every one who mattered was there, and especially, he noted, the mothers of unwedded daughters. Never do to acknowledge himself bound while there was so much climbing to do—for Jenny's sake as well as his own.
He dropped into his leather chair, thinking of Jenny. For two months he had not seen her, and the desire for her was growing fast. He wanted her acutely; wanted her soft lips, her slim little body with its delicate bones like a bird's; wanted her hot undaunted pagan love, her gay flashing spirit. He moved restlessly, thinking of her. That which he had felt for Frasquita had been no more than the rough lust of adolescence. This, he felt, was completely different. He had a chivalrous tenderness for Jenny, a shame that he was not doing quite the right thing. But how alter it? He had known the terrible hampering of shackles once. He had known what possession of Frasquita had done to his ambition. It must not happen again. Self-control, aloofness, the skilful building up of the reputation for cool-blooded fastidiousness which, he found, attracted these hearty colonials more than anything … that was what he must concentrate on now.
By and by, with a place won for her and himself, he could rest a moment on his oars; take his love, his Jenny, and receive Susan's slobbering kisses, Madam's bitter congratulations; they'd never get on, he and Madam. Meanwhile, he would run down to Clent to-morrow and see Jenny.
He got out a sheaf of papers and settled to his desk. But page 285concentration would not come. His longing for Jenny had evoked her, a bright enchantment coming between him and this sordid squabble of dock-side lumpers which the firm had turned over to him. He read the evidence twice without realizing a word…. Jenny, the lovely loving thing, not so much surrendering as offering in her gallant courage. How utterly she trusted him, and how he loved her! How he forgot ambition, everything, when their lips met! And that was a danger.
He thrust the dock-siders away, turning to Thompson & Comyn's New Zealand correspondence. That could not wait, for Mab would be in directly to see about it. Some confusion about payments which must be straightened out before Mab left. Digging his fingers into the mass of his dark hair, he read: "As we have before pointed out regarding the present conditions existing in the Island of New Zealand …"
He had been right, he knew, to begin his career in Launceston. It was as different from the dogmatic military South as from the bucolic Midlands, this commercial North butting hard-headed against its difficulties, getting things done to the clang of hammers, the stink of hides and beer, the scream of the river steamers. When he left Tasmania, a few years before, it had been still rather nervously experimental, with small settlements along the coasts and outlying rivers, tentative agriculture on the higher lands, and a wild abandonment to quarrelling between governments and the gentry who (having been, as it were, there before any government) might be damned but would never be ruled. Still there had been a forgotten remnant of natives at Oyster Bay, many gay officers in military posts, many fine ship-building yards where some of the world's finest clippers took shape from some of the world's hardest timber. Now all these things were rapidly changing except the quarrels, which he hoped would provide legal bread-and-butter and presently champagne. Before very long, thought Brevis, raising his head as Mab came in, he would be setting up for himself with young Frank Shone as partner.
Mab, flinging off cloak and hat, had come to talk business. But over a preliminary pipe and glass before the fire Brevis saw so much of Jenny in his buoyant vitality that he had to speak of her. And from that, before he knew it, he had told so much that even page 286Mab guessed most of the rest. Mab was glad. Brevis, perched on a chair arm and swinging a leg in his anxiety, was enormously relieved that Mab was glad, for if there was one person who could influence Jenny it was Mab Comyn.
"That fellow Paige, you know … I could have wrung his neck," said Mab. "Jenny knew her own mind there. She always has, God bless her. She'll go far. You'll go far between you," he said, feeling that he hadn't the slightest notion what happened to folk who went far. But undoubtedly it must be the right thing to do.
"I'll be Crown Prosecutor of Australasia some day. And that is not talking through my hat. It's just what I mean to do."
"Then you'll do it," said Mab, with a sigh. "I never do what I mean to do. But if you're not all the good in the world to my Jenny, Brevis, I'll break your neck. What … what does my mother think of it?"
"She doesn't know. We think it much better for no one to know until my position is more assured. I shouldn't have told you, but …" He smiled, and Brevis had a singularly sweet smile. "I was thinking of her and it came out. You must keep our secret."
"Oh!" Mab was dampened. He had seen himself taking Jenny by the arm and marching her off to crow over Charlotte. "But … Oh, well; I suppose you know best between you." He thought humbly how seldom he knew best, while this young man whose clear-headed advice people were beginning to swear by … "Gamaliel wants to know what you advise about those Poverty Bay people, Brevis. He would rather not send cash."
"If you hope to gain financial standing and put your business through in a hurry, I'm afraid you'll have to. Even if he banked in Melbourne, which he refuses to do, there is no argument like gold among the individual farmers with whom you'll be dealing. Later, when you have established a connection …"
They settled that Mab ought to take as much gold as the firm could conveniently spare. "You can bank the surplus there until you need it," said Brevis. "But pay on the nail when you can. Get yourself known as Golden Comyn or something. Focus attention. Advertisement goes a long way in opening up new page 287fields, and New Zealand is still a practically undiscovered country. You'll have to keep your eyes open, of course. And look out for Snow's Gang before you leave the country."
"I have never believed that it was Snow. There's no proof," said Mab, with sudden stiffness.
"Well, one must call him something," said Brevis, lightly. He got up and shook a little incense into the burner before the gilt icon. It was his way to do extravagant things or austere things to rouse the interest of his many callers. Already he had proved for himself that advertisement goes a long way, but he was very sardonic with himself the while. He could trick outsiders. Some day he might have to trick Jenny. But never, he knew, would he be able to trick himself. Just now, lighting the incense, watching the grey smoke spiral delicately through the dark warmth of the room, he was trying to trick Mab Comyn, who, without any doubt at all, held some secret in connection with Snow. But Mab, who had smelt too many Chinese burning joss-sticks on the Australian gold-fields, was suddenly irritated at Brevis and went off in a hurry.
I shall go to Ellen Merrick, thought Brevis, when Mab was gone. Jenny writes that her delusions are increasing and no one takes any notice of her. They grew out of something, those delusions. And although nothing has been heard of Snow for months, I've a notion he won't let Mab Comyn leave the country unharmed. I may be on the wrong track altogether, but we'll see. He went to Lovely Corners before seeing Jenny. Snarling curs snapped at him in the mud round the dingy high-windowed place, and Joe was duller than ever. Some years back Joe had seen the first mechanical harvester at work in Bob Beverley's paddocks, and had gone home silent and stared at his own crude models in the stable loft.
"Mine'd not shake the grain about so. Mine's better," he mumbled. But he knew that no one else would ever see it or say it. The Parents' Assistant had done its work too well. Something had gone out of Joe with the years and the sight of that triumphant harvester. He let the dust lie on his models now.
It was never easy to detach Ellen from her mother's shawls and hot bricks for the feet; but Brevis found her in the kitchen-page 288garden at last, her skirts and wild hair blowing in the spring wind as she gathered sage and borage for Mrs. Merrick's herb tea. Ellen, grey sister of the dark night, was Tragedy in crinoline and a plaid shawl and most terribly ready to talk. No one talked to her, she complained, and yet she knew so many interesting things. Several gentlemen walked in cloaks on the opposite hill when the wind blew, and Mamma was really a cat, for Ellen had seen her claws sometimes when putting her to bed. "But don't tell, Brevis. Dear Mamma is so sensitive."
Some one whistled at her window every night. But when she climbed on a chair to look there were only the ring-tail 'possums swinging by their tails from the weeping-gum tree and beating their pink little paws on the pane. "And they are not paws, Brevis, but hands like my own little boy's. Did you know I had a baby? Mamma and Susan won't let me say it, but I should know, shouldn't I? Such a love of a boy, but I've lost him somehow. I seem to lose everything."
Her hare eyes were piteous in the clear spring day. Her pallid skin was sunken below the high cheek-bones. She had been such a sturdy, rosy girl once, but Brevis was too young and impatient to give her pity. He wanted to know of Snow, who, it seemed probable, was at the bottom of this. But Ellen screamed at his name; then giggled. "Oh, naughty! I swore to Mab his name should never pass my lips."
"It hasn't. I said it. Do you want me to tell Snow you lost him?"
"Hush!" She looked this way and that through the blowing shrubs, then leaned close. "I've told him," she whispered.
"But that was long ago."
"No, no. I told him again when Mamma had her last attack of bronchitis."
This was last week, as Brevis had already heard from Mrs. Merrick. "Ah, yes. He came to see Mab, didn't he?"
"Don't be sly! He came to see me, of course." She struck at him with the grey sticks of sage, giggling. "Why should he want Mab? He knows Mab is going to New Zealand next week."
I wonder how much he has learned from you, thought Brevis. So Snow was not far off? Probably preparing for another of his page 289campaigns wherein respectable citizens were forced to sit with a stick under their knees and hands tied over them, to watch their houses burn. It was a legend that there were caves in those rough scrub hills behind Henny's, although they had never been found. If Snow were there, then Henny was backing him … had been all the time. Yet neither bribes nor bullying had ever got anything out of her, which suggested that Snow—a good-looking devil as Brevis remembered him—made love to Henny, as he undoubtedly did to Ellen. No woman at any age is proof against that. He asked if Snow was not a great friend of Mab's. But now Ellen began to be troubled about her herbs and would not talk.
"I wish you would remember how much I have to do," she said busily.
So Brevis left her, thinking that there was probably enough here to explain Mab's sending Snow to Port Arthur. But why let the fellow out again? All the Comyns were quixotic, yet even Mab might guess that Snow would make him pay for those wasted years…. And pretty soon if I'm not mistaken, Brevis thought, turning toward Clent.
In books, in poems Jenny read that women had loved before as she loved now. And yet it was hard to believe while love mounted like a lark in her and sang tempestuously against the skies. She was a lark, a song, the very sky, a diver flashing through clear water to bring up armfuls of pearls. She was any gay metaphor that flew into her head when she pulled her curtains on these spring mornings and leaned out with her breast on the warm stone to greet the sparkle of sun on the river and the galahs walking on the dewy lawn under the little white moss-roses shy in their rough calixes. Across the paddocks where sheep were beginning to feed, across the blue hill-distance she would stretch her arms in their long thick cotton nightgown sleeves to Brevis, calling him softly: "Brevis! Brevis!" His name was such music that she felt she could stop saying it.
What did the other woman matter … that poor woman who page 290was dead? She had not kept his love. It was all Jenny's now. He had said it. To the end of time it would be hers. "When we are old," she had said, "when we are old and all this hot burning over, we will still be together, Brevis."
It seemed a solemn thing then, this love, making her feel—not knowing why—the preciousness, the apartness of her womanhood, all womanhood. Secret citadels, all women, she thought, whereof the key is placed by God in one pair of hands alone, as hers in Brevis's hands. This citadel which was Jenny Comyn, with all its pettiness and foolishness, all its salty undercurrent of fears and hates and longings which are the inescapable heritage of all women—how humbly, how rejoicingly would she render it up to Brevis when the time came.
But even now, thought Jenny, happily pulling on white cotton stockings, twisting up the bronze ripples of her hair, I give him enough to shock Charlotte out of her senses…. She went weak all over with shivers of love…. I haven't enough guile, she thought, momentarily frightened…. I let him know that he means everything, everything. He might despise me if he were not Brevis…. Then she felt proudly: There is no need of guile between us two. I wouldn't dishonour him by even a shade of pretence. I wouldn't dishonour myself by it, either.
Two days later Brevis walked in just as morning prayers began and knelt down by Jenny in the yellow sunlight by the window. His hand sought and found hers; and she heard not a word while the Captain gabbled through a chapter and a sulphur-crested cockatoo tamed by Humphrey repeated "Amen" and "Damme" on the veranda until William could bear it no longer. He went out, to be met with such a screeching shower of "Dammes" that every one laughed except Susan, and the Captain shut his book in a hurry and told Brevis that he wanted to ask him a question. But, like all the Captain's questions, it was really an assertion.
"This imbecile notion of the Inspector of Police in Hobarton, Brevis. What d'you think of it, eh? Suggestion that municipalities should introduce local policing, indeed! Damme, I never page 291heard such nonsense. I've stopped it in Trienna District, I'm glad to say."
"I fear you'll be sorry, sir. The country is getting rather past State policing now; and all these small-holders coming in on the back blocks are hand-to-mouth, you know, and not likely to buy sheep and calves while they can steal them off the big runs which muster only at shearing-and branding-time. How many sheep do you think you lose in a year?"
"Well … well … damme, Humphrey says that on Latterdale … But I stick to the old ways, lad. They have been good enough for the colony these sixty years. They'll last my time, I hope. Brevis, did you see that the salmon and trout ova brought out by the Norfolk have acclimatized? Greatest triumph the colony has ever had. Beaten Melbourne and Sydney off the field, eh? The years and years we've been trying acclimatization! And now it's achieved. Not that our own blackfish isn't the best eating in the world, but we've wiped the eye of the other colonies handsomely."
Madam watched them a little sadly as they stood by the open window in the sunlight that showed the snuff on the Captain's tweed waistcoat, the neat slim lines of Brevis's riding-suit. There they stood, her white-haired sanguine young man who would never be old, and this cool rapier-like Brevis with his young disdainful mouth and smouldering reflective eyes. He was old from the beginning, this Brevis whom Jenny loved. If Madam had ever had any doubt of that love, she relinquished it now, seeing Jenny's eyes like radiant moons and the lines of her soft face quivering.
Jenny glanced round; saw Madam's look, and ran off, blushing…. Eh, my Jenny, thought Madam, reaching for the ebony cane she always used now, why won't you tell me? … She went up slowly to her room. Perhaps Brevis had not given Jenny anything to tell? Very possibly. Brevis was intent on a career as other men were intent on other toys. They must have their toys, their dreams, the dear men! But a woman's dreams are of her children's children; her toys are her own strange flesh and blood. Watching from the window Jenny and Brevis going presently down through the long grass of the lower orchard,page 292
Madam knew potently that the bluff, kindly mate with whom she had lain so many years had never roused in her the passion she had for that wild son she had borne—but Mab always would be a sorrow—or for Jenny dipping like a dandelion puff under the orchard bloom with close-knit Brevis behind her.
In the corner where the myrtles were thick with glossy green and frail white flowers, Brevis stopped and without a word took Jenny in his arms. He held her so long and so hard with his lips on hers that when he released her at last she was as white as he. Dizzily she felt that they could never be free from the passion of that kiss. It was a sacrament more complete than any marriage could be. They looked at each other, their eyes full of that sweet lust. And then they kissed again.
For some time they did not speak in more than broken incoherencies. Then they walked on, with grass pollen, with tiny pink-veined moths, with dusty gold rising about them. Earth's incense burned before her children, Jenny vaguely felt. Pan's music made palpable in showers of early gold. Jenny's spaniel came galloping back to her, looking up with adoring eyes. Then Brevis said unsteadily, "I've been living for this."
Jenny laughed because she must, or she would weep with joy. "You never think of me in town, until I make you."
"How make me?"
"I sit at my window in the night, and I think 'Brevis, Brevis' all across the sleepy paddocks and the hills and in through your door to the room where you sit over your papers. (I wish I could just once be in that room, Brevis.) And there you are with your dark head; and you feel me come, don't you, Brevis?"
"Perhaps I do. God knows I wish you could be there all the time. But listen, my sweet; it's rapture to know that I am working for you," intoxicated by her nearness, he really believed that he was working only for her, "but I must not ask for my reward yet. I have so far to go."
"I am content to wait. No, I'm not. I am very rebellious. Yet I will wait. But, dear heart, can't we tell Grandmamma? She deserves it of me."
"Now, Jenny, you know what would happen then. She'd either put it in all the papers or she would forbid me the house, and I page 293fear the last. But when I can come for you with a name and a position——"
"Oh, boom, boom!" cried Jenny. She marched a few steps, swinging her skirts, making gestures as though she beat a big drum. "Here comes the Conqueror, the Conqueror," she sang. "Make your curtsy, Madam. Captain Comyn, make your bow. Here comes——"
Brevis strode after her, taking her small mischievous face between his hands. "You wicked adorable witch! What am I to do with you!"
But presently he was talking theories at her as he always did. Jenny had few theories herself—only hot beliefs—but Brevis was fond of constructing theories and applying them to the individual and watching them work. If they wouldn't work he discarded them, for he had determined that he would never be weak, never overridden by his own conceit. They sat on the high roots of the weeping willows that the Captain had planted by the river long years before, and watched the fish rise in silver bubbles and the great bright dragon-flies shoot over, and there in the warm spring sunlight full of murmuring life they talked. And if Brevis thought once of wild, life-denied, grey Ellen he would not let her shadow fall upon Jenny's sun.
Jenny, talking very fast, persisted in seeing life so clean, so splendid that no sane man could have possibly borne it. In spite of glowing eyes and parted scarlet lips Brevis told her so. "Think of the dullness if people stopped cheating each other. And I'd have no more work, dear love. Let us be thankful that men are still as they claim God made 'em."
"Don't be cyncical with me, sir. Keep your poses for outsiders. Yes; I know it for a pose." Beside the singing river, under great lime trees full of flower, they walked in an enchanted land. "I thought," said Jenny, awed, "that adventure meant going to new countries. But it means this." She looked at him, her lips trembling and pouted as if she were going to cry. "I can't ever say what I want to, Brevis, but … we are going to make something real out of life, aren't we? You and I together. And in the joy we will forget the pain——"
"What have you to do with pain, you bright-white thing!"page 294
Again he took his kisses from those warm pouting lips, and in her glad surrender Jenny cried, "Heaven can't mean more, oh, Brevis, Brevis!"
But Brevis looked with strange hot eyes. "Earth will be more yet," he said.
And they walked back together under the blossoming cherry trees, with Brevis thinking of old Grecian lovers on the Carian hills and Jenny thinking of nothing whatever but Brevis.
A few nights later, sitting in his room, with Mab astride a heavy oak chair before him, Brevis was being very annoyed.
"I think you are taking a quite unnecessary risk, Mr. Comyn. You are asking my advice about carriage of bullion to New Zealand, but I never advised you to drive through the country with a thousand pounds in gold under the seat of the gig. Why not go by Launceston?"
"Because that damned little New Zealand hooker leaves Melbourne the day before the Launceston boat is due. I must leave from Hobarton, Brevis, if I want to catch it; which I frankly don't, very much. A fortnight or more in a leaky little schooner the size of your hat don't appeal much to me."
"Nor does your journey to Hobarton appeal to me. Suppose Snow is about."
"Now … damn it," said Mab, getting up, "one would think … Look here, Brevis. I have private reasons for knowing that if it is Snow he won't touch me. Anyway, nothing has been seen of the gang for months. And, anyway, I'm going. Gamaliel thinks it all right, and so do I. Who's to know about the money? I haven't gone round the streets talking of it."
Brevis looked at him, frowning. You could never convince a Comyn; not even Jenny. And this dark, vital, ruddy giant in his great grey coat with many capes certainly looked able to protect himself. Brevis hesitated. He knew that he himself was not particularly brave, but the questing, querying hound in him could not pass what he believed would be a hot scent. Ten to one Mab had told them at Clent that he was taking gold with him.page 295Ten to one Ellen had passed the word on to Snow. Why did the fellow visit her if not for information?
"D'you mind if I come with you?" he said. "Not as protector, I don't mean. But I really must go down."
"Glad to have you, of course. Five sharp to-morrow morning. I'll do it in the day, with relays."
Dawn was grey and chill as the tandem trotted through the sleeping town; pink as the rose the Sandhills; and a great gold glory flooding from blue Ben Lomond away to the southern hills when they bowled smoothly through scattered bush where tall heath stood in a million white and crimson spears. The strange cleansing fragrance of the bush stayed with them for many miles of hills, hollows, and levels; dark, damp, and chilly sometimes, but usually all quivering with sunlight and the flying and crying of bright parrots. Then young green of wheat behind grey post-and-rails, log huts by shining creeks, hayricks, feeding sheep in yellow paddocks of native grass, a shock-headed boy bringing in red cows for the milking.
Mab never missed a drink while the ostlers changed the horses at the baiting stables, but he handled each new team with perfect skill; swinging along the Main Road that was swarming still with beggars, with farmers driving flocks of sheep, with carts of hay and wool; swinging across bridges, clattering through small townships in the twilight. But he stopped for far too many nobblers, thought Brevis, and when night came, sudden, clear, and blue, and very musical with the throaty calling of birds, he said urgently: "You don't want to stop at old Harrigan's, do you, Mr. Comyn? We'll be very late as it is."
It was a legend in the colony that Mab Comyn never passed a pub; and he was hauling on the reins now when suddenly the leader snorted and reared as a masked man stood at its head in the red light from the tavern door. There was a man each side the gig, just as quickly and silently, and with a sinking at the pit of his stomach Brevis heard the warning click of a revolver. Lord! Why had he ever come? What a fool he was! What a fool! Someone spoke in croaking tones: "Now then, Mr. Comyn, hand over that gold; and keep your horses still if you don't want a bullet through your head."page 296
The voice was as disguised as the men, but it was a gentleman's. Brevis strained eyes and ears … the horses plunged … he saw Mab's face, black brows over flaming eyes, big nose jutting angrily. Mab said: "Can't you see I'm trying to steady 'em? Don't fool about with them, damn you!" Brevis saw his big hairy hands working the reins, punishing the horses' mouths. He'd have them bolting in a moment…. Oh, God! why don't they shoot and get it over! Jenny … she'll never …
Thoughts whirled round in his brain for what seemed like an eternity; but it could only have been a matter of moments before three shots rattled out and the team bolted, with Mab on his high seat rocking and yelling like a madman. Then the leader went down, riddled with bullets, and Mab pitched off his seat into the road as the bush-rangers came galloping, and the wheeler of the gig kicked the dashboard to splinters, and Brevis found himself on the ground also, being battered over the head.
He returned to life in a blaze of light on the tavern floor. Old Harrigan, moving stiffly, was loosing three frightened maids and a couple of ostlers from the chairs to which they had been tied, and Mrs. Harrigan, plump in black silk, strapped Mab's arm to his side as he sat on a bench with his black hair wet over his forehead. She was coaxing him: "Now, do'ee be sensible, my dear, an' kape quiet. If you go losin' more blood, it wull be the end o' ye——"
But Mab twitched away with a muttered word and came to Brevis, now sitting up holding his head.
"Can you sit a horse?" demanded Mab. "I'm going on now. They got the gold, Brevis."
He looked the most dangerous thing Brevis had ever seen. A black destroying vengeance; a wild discredited god. He cried to Harrigan: "Is that horse saddled yet? See to it, then. Are you coming, Brevis?"
"Why didn't Snow kill you?"
"He thought he had. I got his mask off. His bullet went through my hair. Gad! and I set him free!"
He ran out, and Brevis, dragging himself to the door, heard his great voice shouting at the ostlers. Mrs. Harrigan came up, her kind face puckered.page 297
"He'm likely bleed to death on the road, I'm fearin'. He coom in here on hands and knees wi' his arm swingin' an' a girt runnin' o' blood from his head. We was all trussed oop. He's had two-three brandies——"
A clatter of hoofs passed on the cobbles, roared off into the night. Mab was gone, breakneck and one-armed, to rouse up Hobarton and the police. Brevis said feebly: "He's ruined, you know. All that gold …" And then he slipped down feebly in the door and did not follow Mab.