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page 399


White hair should look like watered silk, and not like a bunch of thistledown," complained Charlotte, stooping—at sixty-odd it was quite an effort—to pick up Jenny's gardening scissors off the hall floor.

"Brevis prefers it this way," said Jenny, carelessly, continuing to arrange branches of pink may and lilac in the brass floor pots which Charlotte had never taken away because she thought her own bamboo stands so much prettier.

"Ah, yes." Charlotte plumped down on the carved hall stair; loosed the strings of her print sunbonnet, and threw back her silk dolman with an air of determination. It was precisely because someone must speak to Jenny about Brevis that Charlotte had walked out in all this heat with so many daddy-long-legs rising in the grass that she had to keep her mouth shut for fear of swallowing them. "Yes. I hear that Judge Keyes is travelling north next week on his way to Melbourne. I have written asking him to stay a night at Bredon."

"He'll be here to-night. I've just been making up his bed," said Jenny. She whistled a few bars of a music-hall song that her great-niece (another Jenny who was convalescing here after measles) had been singing, dropped the scissors again, and moved off to another pot. Charlotte turned red.

"Really, this is becoming scandalous!" she burst out.

"Why?" Jenny turned with an expression of innocent surprise." I didn't say our bed."

"I don't know what to make of you," cried Charlotte, nearly in tears with heat and vexation. "I think you might consider your relations a little."

"I thought I did. Dick's Leonard always sends his family here when they've been ill. So does Phœbe's Flo and … well, you all do, don't you?"

"They have probably been unwise …" Charlotte stopped. It page 400would never do to have all the family connections convalescing at Bredon, which was what would happen if she prevented their coming to Clent." You must know how people talk about you and Brevis, Jenny."

"Still?" murmured Jenny, her head on one side as she settled the lilac. Brevis loved lilac as she loved everything that to him meant youth. "re they talking still, Lottie? I though that search in all the orphan asylums for little Keyes to the mystery had been abandoned long ago."

"I won't listen. You are indecent," said Charlotte, upset at rinding that Jenny knew of the part she had taken in that." I certainly think you should either marry him or send him away."

"Oh, so do I!" cried Jenny, warmly. "It's so nice to have you agree with me."

Charlotte fanned herself with her gloves. This must stop, she thought, although not quite sure what she wanted to stop. The Keyes-Comyn connections which had grown so extraordinarily close again in these last eighteen or nineteen years certainly did lend distinction to the family, although if they could be persuaded to marry even now …

"Of course I realize that anyone who has such control of the morals of society as he has could hardly be expected to condone your behaviour. But …"

Jenny began to laugh. Then said solemnly: "Well, there you are. Nobody could expect him to condone my behaviour, particularly since he is the only person who knows what it was. Isn't this pink may a joy? I climbed up on the kitchen wall to pick it."

"Well, I think at least you might get me a glass of cider," said Charlotte, giving it up as she always had to in the end.

Mab was filling up the bottle-rack in the cellar when Jenny went down the worn stone steps into the shadowy coolness. New Zealand and hides and tallow were too much for an old man, he had decided, when Jenny was left alone at Clent by the death of William six years before. Perhaps the suspicion that Lottie would have turned Jenny out and put in her widowed Patty had something to do with it, for he was a very energetic man still, a huge gaunt, powerful framework of a man pottering about among the bottles with his hands stained with wine.

page 401

"Lottie wants to drink my health and Brevis's, Uncle Mab," said Jenny, her green-cotton gown making a ray of cool light in the rich browns of the cellar.

"Give her that bottle. It's corked," said Mab.

He enjoyed making cider, although there was no longer the old trace-horse turning in a circle endless as time, nor labourers in corduroys and bo-yangs pouring in apples out of tip-drays—gleaming, glowing scarlet rivers of apples. But cider made in a hand-press was very good. "You get the world in it," he used to tell Jenny. "Sharpness, sweetness, spurts of acid, and plenty of warm sun. You are God pounding people out in essence when you make cider and pour it into great barrels to ferment and then draw it off into separate bottles to mature."

Jenny understood that. She and Mab and Brevis had been maturing in separate bottles so long. Mab, she felt, had matured the most; for Brevis still fermented for that which had gone by him, and she for what she had never had. Mab took a swig from a pannikin under a spigot.

"Prime stuff! We'll keep that for Brevis. Give Lottie the corked bottle. How long does Brevis stay this time, dear maid?"

"A week," she said. "He needs a rest, he's been so dreadfully busy."

Mab nodded. Brevis always came to Jenny for rest—and always got it just as he got the best sheets and the best of everything else, including Jenny. But since she chose to have it so, it was not Mab who would deny her, although he would never understand what there was in the chap to have held a woman like Jenny so long.

Jenny poured the corked wine for Charlotte without a quiver. She knew that Lottie had no palate. Not like Brevis, whose fastidiousness seemed to refine with age, so that it was worth while making Clent beautiful for him. With Chrissy's help she set the dinner-table; laburnum, lilac in the tall crystal vases, early strawberries and clotted yellow cream in the worn old silver bowls. "And the judge will sit here, Chrissy, because he likes to look out on the gardens, and the hyacinths and narcissi are so very lovely just now."

She ran up to dress, a little cynical with herself because the page 402coming of Brevis still made her heart beat as though she were still a girl. Up in the attic above her head she heard a girl's laughter where Young Jenny was talking to Comyn Sorley's youngest boy, Adam.