Out at John's farm Roddy was far from happy; for the burden of the valley of vision was heavy on him, and young lambs with their tails freshly cut off were not to be page 223 borne. While shearing hoggets Roddy's mind went so often palely loitering after “La Belle Dame sans Merci” that placid John once threw the tar-pot at him, rousing a quite shocking blaze of fury. As reverent host of this unattainable creature, Roddy naturally felt her desecrated, although he couldn't say so, any more than he could explain the torment of hearing Uncle John washing in a tin basin of mornings while under a red sunrise Roddy mixed the unleavened flour-and-water bread called damper, feeling holy all over since he had so lately arisen from dreams of Thee—Thee being the sunrise, the birdsong, the bright dew on the grasses, the new-made fragrance of the bush coming round him like a river. Thee was everything and anything dim and chaste and lovely. She was Beauty and that strange troubling ecstasy which is perhaps the culminating memory of all past loveliness and which never quite fades out on the hearts of men.
In short Roddy, now nearing seventeen, was, like other colonial youths of that age, almost a man and ripe for love. He did not know it; though Eriti Fleete did, riding over with Hemi or Hori along tracks which no white man would face. But to a Maori a horse is merely the means to get him somewhere in a hurry, and the Fleete horses always did that.
To-night Jermyn, returned from far rovings, had brought out to the farm Tiffany and a guitar, and Roddy's face as he took the gleaming thing tenderly in his arms rather startled him. Gad, could anyone be so hungry for music as that? In his own hunger for a woman, music seemed to Jermyn a slight thing.
“Now I can sing too. That's the worst of a flute, you can't play it and sing too,” said Roddy, picking out an accompaniment on the guitar, beginning to hum, leaning against the wall. With the red firelight on his strong young body and fair skin he looked like a god, thought Tiffany who (in common with the Maoris) was having a deal of trouble with gods just now.page 224
There were for Tiffany Norse gods and Maori gods. Indian, Chinese, and Our Father. I wonder which I'll choose in the end, she thought, feeling luxuriously free to-night, sitting on the bullock-hide before the open fire-place in the close-fitting habit which was so much more comfortable than these horrible new crinolines. She watched Roddy with adoring eyes. If only she could have him always not even papa could stop life sparkling and bubbling.
“‘The harp that once through Tara's halls,’” sang Roddy, his voice as fresh and sweet and innocent as a bird's.
From out his man's heavy knowledge Jermyn looked at them pityingly. Tiffany, with the firelight in her snooded bronze hair and her big brown warm eyes, was more than ever the nut-brown maid, stepping a little disdainfully, guarding her hot heart. She'd never be bullied as Sally was, though life and Peregrine would do their damnedest…. In an age when boys went to sea at ten and managed their own dirks and oaths at fourteen Roddy seemed quite mature. This life had lengthened and broadened him considerably, and his heart was beginning to claim him. A certain passion in the thrum of the strings, the quality of his voice suggested that.
Still singing, Roddy walked out into the night, as though summoned by a voice the others could not hear, and Tiffany got up and followed him, never looking at the men.
With a strange sense of chill Jermyn felt the room suddenly desolate. It seemed that two dreaming immortals had passed, young with the innocence of youth's bright morning, strong with the consciousness of withers yet unwrung. This land belonged to those young colonials as it could never belong to the original English settlers whose youth had been lived elsewhere, thought Jermyn, asking John how Roddy was coming on.
John said Roddy wasn't coming on at all. “He does page 225 what he's told, but he hardly knows a Hereford from a shorthorn.” John plunged into a long story of how Roddy, told to cut out some steers for the monthly sale, had gone to the wrong mob. “Don't seem to take any interest in animals somehow,” said John, quite unable to understand it.
“His mental sinews are still unset,” said Jermyn. But John didn't understand that either. He'd had to use six bullocks in a single-furrow plough to turn up that last bit of cleared land, he said, and Roddy had made no end of a fuss about tying the tails of two bullocks together when John yoked them for the breaking-in. “Quoted poetry at me and called it cruel, but what other way can you break in bullocks? I really don't know what to say to Peregrine,” lamented John, pulling at his great beard….
The two young things came back presently, bringing the rich dank smell of the bush with them, the strange quiet of those who have sojourned with the mysteries. Roddy got his flute now—blowing bubbles like a baby, thought John, still upset about Roddy—and Tiffany sat on the bullock-hide against his knees, feeling how she liked Uncle John's room with its cut-down casks for chairs, shelves for plates, and wooden pegs for coats and hats. Now and then they talked, throwing thick logs on the fire, watching the great black kettle boil up for tea, that would be sweetened with lumps hacked from the twenty-pound block of black sugar in a tub.
Aunt Darien, said Tiffany, was lovelier and funnier than ever, and officers simply haunted her musicales and stood ten deep for her hand at a dance. What that impish personality was doing to Aunt Caroline Tiffany mustn't tell, but she found herself giggling to think of it. Poor Aunt Caroline always got so very much the worst of it when she tackled Darien; but she would keep on doing it, thought Tiffany, getting rid of her secret laughter over telling how she had seamed a pair of trousers for Brian page 226 on the new hired machine and forgot to tie the threadends. “So they all came undone and he couldn't get home till dark. But he would hold on to his dignity, though he was flapping like a scarecrow,” chuckled Tiffany, rocking with delight.
“You shan't make my clothes when you live with me,” said Roddy, pulling her hair. “Otherwise I'll let you do just what you want, my girl.”
“Salaams, my lord,” retorted Tiffany, pinching him and then turning up her face for a long glowing look.
Young noodles, thought Jermyn, suddenly disgusted. Some day they'll learn that no human being can do what he wants if he lives a thousand years.
The thousand years seemed suddenly too brief a day, he thought later, lying on his narrow iron bedstead beside the unglassed window, conscious almost with fear of this secret ancient bush pressing up out of the dark. But there was one who didn't feel fear. There was Roddy out under the stars again, crooning to his guitar. “Londonderry” now, that old old music full of love and trouble, sung by youth who as yet had not known either….
Through these days Caroline felt her cup over-full of both. Mr Andrew Greer disappeared as suddenly as he had come, and Linda was moping like a sick cat for that Silk creature and beginning to take to religion with Sophia. So Caroline made a cast at Hew Garcia, whose father had been lucky enough to get his titles cleared by a chief long ago, and now had Hew managing a fine little property, some twenty miles away. Hew was at first attracted by plump pink Linda; but it seemed that making love to her was like trying to take fire from a glowworm, so when in town he attached himself to Darien's train. Here, he thought, swaggering in the omniscience of twenty-one, was a woman one could die for—her eyes, her hair, her friendly laughing ways.
Many men told Darien that; but now it seemed that before long there would be a sterner lady to die for, since page 227 Gore Browne had seen fit to lift the strict and long-established embargo against the sale of ammunition to the Maoris, who, declared the whole town in a tornado of disgust, would now go hell-for-leather after guns.
Even Sir Winston, asserting that where there is no vision the people perish, had not the vision to guess that in less than three years the Maoris would spend $P$55,000 on munitions of war. Nick Flower knew something about it, going here and there, selling no end of spades and axes and knives and shovels to chiefs as the great pas grew laboriously greater with trenches and palisades and underground passages, and the women brought filled baskets of kumeras and maize and onions up the cultivated slopes to fill the patakas against the time of war.
Nearly as naughty a besom as Darien (thought Flower), this New Zealand, cursed in turn by each English Prime Minister who found he couldn't get rid of her that way. There she was, persistently putting new and unpronounceable names on the map, dropping crimson blossoms between bluest sea and sky, grabbing endless troops, so badly needed elsewhere, to use for her own nefarious silly ends, giving up sweet vagrant scents to her great lover the sea, dreaming of those many lovers who had wooed her through centuries.
Indeed, New Zealand's lovers had been more than falls to the lot of many virgins since Abel Tasman first found her, since Captain Cook left the English flag and a number of pigs there in 1769. But England had not been interested then. Holland had come with its broad-beamed mercantile sailors who (being greeted by lusty warriors with greenstone axes) had not inquired further. Russian scientists had come, making friends in a gentlemanly manner and somewhat attracted by seal-pelts. Yet they too had shown no desire to put the Maori warrior in their pocket. France came, painstakingly charting headlands and christening channels, to be tomahawked and eaten in reward. The Spanish came, plumed and prudent, and page 228 swiftly sailed away. England skirmished, made sporadic entries, went home piecemeal. None was eager for closer relationship with those fierce upstanding brown tribes who came from the devil knew where and brought him with them to help wipe out the gentle earlier race dwelling there and make the much-desired land their own.
The Maoris won her through fight and they'll try it again, thought Flower. Some of the chiefs upheld England because they had set their mark to the Waitangi Treaty, others were for wiping the floor with her, and all of them were now wiping the floor with each other as a prelude, while the women cried “Riria, riria …fight on” in their passionate melodious voices, driving their men into frenzy, the reckless jades.