Young Jenny—playing tennis, bathing with young men, smoking cigarettes, or the like—had managed to contract measles; and when she was convalescent her father Leonard (son of Richard) sent her to Jenny at Clent because it was the habit of the family to send children recovering from sickness or incipient love-troubles to Jenny.
Young Jenny had an evanescent frailty about her still, and Adam kissed the blue shadows under her eyes more than once as they sat on the attic floor against an old brown hair trunk and talked cricket and business. They were both practical young people, and both going into business. Young Jenny meant to be a journalist, although, she complained, there were no such goings-on now as those Aunt Jenny talked of.
No thin-lipped James Sorley now, to flog people into bis way of thinking with the mere weight of words. No more Captains banging violent drums. No more bush-rangers or stage-coaches. Tasmania, said Adam, had got rid of its experimental megatheriums and pterodactyls and gone in very properly for the domestic animals. One might almost say, agreed Young Jenny—since most of the old homes descended through the generations along with the rat-tailed spoons and family names—that Tasmania rather specialized in domesticity. Gentlemen (how the word had gone out of fashion!) travelled now by rail instead of in their own carriages, paying for tickets and taxes like good citizens, and never resorting to shot-guns. And they played golf and tennis instead of politics, leaving these, quite in the new English fashion, to their inferiors.
Steamers also rushed out of Australasian ports almost daily, taking the young men away to something new. Adam hoped to go soon, to build bridges in China. Australasia, they agreed, was no longer a place where the English quality threw its chicken page 403bones. It had reared up like a giant, though still rather unsteady in the legs, and England had begun to look up surprisedly from shooting grouse in August stubbles or selling balloons in the Mile End Road, and listen to Australia calling herself a commonwealth, sailing out under her own flag, sending her regiments to the Boer War.
"Tasmania," said Adam, "is too small to ever have a pull in commonwealth matters. It will have to do as it is told. I'd advise Melbourne or Sydney for your journalism, Jenny."
"I suppose so. But I'll hate to leave dear little Tassy."
She got up and leaned out of the window. Larks sang in the sky and their song came in like a river. Flowers were abloom in the garden below and their scent came in like a song. A lovely old place, Clent, dreaming its dreams of the past, with all its out-buildings going to pieces because Uncle Mark meant to pull it down when Aunt Jenny died. Too expensive to keep up, he said, and of course all Clent belonged to him now. Young Jenny wished that Aunt Jenny need never die.
"Oh, Lord! Just look at this," said Adam. He had pulled from a heap of yellowed music in the old hair trunk a faded song with a crinolined lady, a languishing gallant holding a crush-hat like a soup-plate over his heart. "To Miss Jenny Comyn with the respectful admiration of Adam Sorley, 1857," was written neatly in the corner. "You and me," said Adam grinning. "And here's an old Confession Book … 'Maria Beverley.' … I say, old Great-aunt Maria loved 'a dark blue eye,' and her favourite colour was 'bridal white.' Frisky old thing! … Oh, here's Aunt Jenny."
They both bent close. Here might be some clue to Aunt Jenny at last. But there wasn't. Jenny Comyn's colour was "the green in your eye." Her favourite dish "food for reflection." Even in the simple inanities of a simple age it appeared that Aunt Jenny hadn't given herself away.
"I doubt," said Young Jenny, thoughtfully. "if anyone ever got to the bottom of her, excepting perhaps Judge Keyes."
"Look here, Jen," said Adam, seriously, "He should have married her, you know. It was simply rotten of him to get her talked about all her life. Aunt Lottie says that for years no one page 404would speak to her; and see the way she waits on him still as though she weren't ten million times too good for him, the sweet thing."
"He's a darling, though. I'm in love with him, myself. There's no one with such manners as Judge Keyes now…. Oh, Adam, here's a ripping duet with nothing but I love you, over and over. We can make a splendid sentimental catawauling over that."
Jenny, going to her window below to pick a rose to put in her gown, heard them at it. Young Jenny and Young Adam, and history repeating itself in the one-idea'd adorable way it always would. Oh, infantile quaint life, she thought, insisting on nests and dens and gentlemen thrushes still with their young-man slimness overtaken by the hasty necessity of feeding families. Jenny saw them at work on the lawn now, their elegant young whiskers all slimy with worm-juice, their movements half rebellious, half dismayed. And up in the attic were the human thrushes joyously preparing for the same business.
But once, forty … fifty years ago, she had sung that duet with Brevis. She went down to open the door to him now because Golly was making the horse-radish sauce.