In Launceston Mab was very bitter with himself to Gamaliel. "You should kick me out," he said, banging about the neat office where Gamaliel sat all day with his hat on and the brain under it working full time. "I'm a Jonah. I spoil everything I put my hands on. Did you know I had a block in Collins Street when Melbourne began? I'd be a millionaire now, only I sold it for a song. I can never hold on to anything, not even what better men intrust me with."page 311
"I beg thee do not talk nonsense," said Gamaliel, thinking that anyone with the looks and vitality of Mab Comyn had enough for which to thank the gods. "Next year may be better for New Zealand, in any case. Will thee give me thy opinion on these samples of raw hides?"
While Gamaliel sat late in his office Mab went home to the rooms they shared out on the Elphin Road. But the stuffed parrots and shell frames with which their landlady had so urgently furnished the sitting-room drove Mab mad to-night. All his bulwarks seemed to have gone down in this last smash. Was a man not to have pity on his fellows, try to undo his earlier wrongs? Bury them, young Brevis had said. Bury your mistakes. By hell! that was what Brevis would do, and he would always get on. He had taken Jenny from Mab, just as he would take any and everything he had a mind to. And now that Mab had sunk a thousand pounds in debt, with no hope of repaying Gamaliel, he longed for Jenny's comforting arms; for Julia, who would never comfort him any more. And then, sullenly, came the old suggestion: there were always other women.
With a fierce gesture he clapped on his hat and went out, going fast through the dark streets to a place he once had known. It was perhaps the most notorious house along that water-front so frequented by sailors and men from the ends of the earth; and the long sanded room was full when he went into it. Full with smoke and the fumes of spirits and men sitting at the little tables, with girls upon their knees. To the girl who came with bold eyes and immature shoulders that stuck out of her tawdry gown he submitted himself indifferently. They found a table and two brandies were brought. "Or wine?" said Mab. "Would you sooner have port?"
"Not yet," she said, sipping her brandy, talking in little phrases. But he did not hear a word she said. Already he wished that he had not come; knew that these stale pleasures had no more hold on him.
Back in the steamy smoke a rough voice was singing the catch of a sea-chanty:
"So, fare ye well, my bonny young girl,
We're bound for the Rio Grande …"
The girl smiled at Mab half wistfully. Her lips were young and full. He felt stupidly that he was not doing his share in the entertaining, and pulled his chair nearer. Now he could see, at the next table but one, a face that he knew and yet surely did not know. It could not be Brevis sitting there, drunken and dishevelled, his arm round the neck of a giggling girl who was playing with his hair? It could not be Brevis hiccuping out fragments of some little Italian song and beating time with a dark, delicate hand in a puddle of wine on the table?
Mab pushed back his chair so abruptly that it fell over. He went down the room and caught Brevis by the arm. "What in hell are you doing here, Brevis?"
Brevis looked up. His eyes were reddened and wild. His face was red. It had a loosened look, as though the moral disintegration which brought him here had extended already to his features.
"Hello, dear love!" he croaked, and burst again into song:
"Good-night, dear love. Goo-night, dear love.
H-Heav'n's fairest angels wash o'er thee …"
"You're drunk," said Mab. He was too bewildered to know how to meet this. To drink anywhere was sufficiently unlike Brevis. To be drunk here and under these conditions was unbelievable. "Anything wrong?" he said helplessly.
"Why, yes, dear love." Brevis waggled his head. "The world's wrong. You're wrong. We're all wrong. God's wrong——"
"Stop it!" said Mab, sternly. He felt the battery of wolfish eyes on them now from all corners of the room. "Get up and come out of this at once." It did not seem to him that he could bear to see the man whom Jenny loved sit there another moment.
"You're mad," he said.
"Exactly," said Brevis, with profound gravity. He looked it, this cool, self-contained, cynical Brevis so suddenly gone to pieces. "Rebuke me not, dear sir, for I am kinsman to Despair." He lifted the girl away from him as though she had been a scarf or a coat, Mab thought, and began confidentially: "Not being able to have Jenny and not 'tending any more Frasquita, wha'd you do? I s-say … wh' you do, eh?"page 313
Mab was terrified. What was this about Jenny? Not dead? She couldn't be dead. To the proprietor, who came up a little hectoring, he said abruptly: "Get me a cab at once and help me put this gentleman into it. He's a friend of mine. At once! Do you hear!"
The man did not wait to protest. He fled before this black imperious giant who looked as if he could have wiped the floor with him; and in a very few minutes Brevis was bundled into a four-wheeler with his hat over his eyes and Mab had jumped in beside him, slamming the door. Only then did he trust himself to speak. "Now then; what is this about Jenny?"
"Be gentleman … please." Brevis leaned against him "Do' m'shun ladies … public place."
"My God, man!" cried Mab, in anguish. "Tell me. Is she dead?"
"No," said Brevis, suddenly high and clear. "And neither is Frasquita. I've g-got 'em both. Mormon." And he suddenly began to weep.