Ignoring fleas, mud, smells, pigs, the papers, its little scattered houses peering hopefully out of scrub, and the dirty streets of rough black scoria, Auckland still contrived to feel itself the very pink and pearl of civilization. Caroline wrote Home reams about Linda's marriage to “one of our millionaires” when she had been in such excellent bravura voice that she had never sung
Come unto these yellow sands
And then take hands….
better, and ignored how sulky Andrew had been over singing:
The breath of morn bids hence the night;
Unveil those beauteous eyes, my fair,
For till the dawn of love is there I feel no day, I own no light,
although Linda (placed there by Caroline on purpose) had stood by with her eyes unveiled, helping him to feel anything.
But she's married anyway, and that's the chief thing, thought Caroline, going on to impress England with the festivals held by dear Sir John Logan Campbell in his fine house (which you might almost call a palace), and the afternoons for young ladies provided by dear Mr Swainson (our gay bachelor Attorney-General); and how, because Auckland was the headquarters of the bishopric, the military, the Roman Catholics, and the banking gentry, there was such a whirl of amusement that dear Sophy and Maria, who had come out together at the last ball, were nearly run off their feet….page 261
Tiffany had come out at the ball too, but there was no need to mention her, thought Caroline, who, having just sent Tiffany a blue-and-red silk handkerchief for her eighteenth birthday, felt that she had done her part by Tiffany.
Others had also done their part, so that the breakfast table at Lovel Hall was heaped with cards and bouquets from appreciative partners, and Sally was still gathering up parcel wrappings from the floor.
“More than your share of scalps, Tiffy,” cried Darien, pretending to be jealous and wondering whose card Tiffany had blushed so red over. When Tiffany did love (and she seemed slow at it) she'd ride her passion as she rode a horse at a fence. But here was Peregrine, preening himself in Tiffany's popularity but pragmatic as ever.
“I beg you not to put foolish thoughts into Tiffany's head. Let us leave her to her maiden dreams.”
“You probably wouldn't if you knew what they were,” retorted Darien. And at that Tiffany fairly ran out of the room, glowing like a damask rose.
“Really,” said Peregrine, much annoyed, “I regret that you so let your tongue run away with you, Lady Calthorpe.”
You'll regret it much more when somebody runs away with Tiffany, Darien nearly said, but she had no mind to warn that stiff black rig. When she had time she'd make a little candle-wax image of him, and stick it full of pins and melt it away before a slow fire. Then Sally would be free—poor Sally, still so meekly at her virtuous' promenade.
And Tiffany would be free too. Tiffany whom Peregrine would certainly marry off to the highest bidder unless she kicked … which I hope and pray she will, thought Darien, walking down to the gate with Sally and cursing crinolines which grew bigger every year and picked up such a mort of flies and daddy-long-legs to buzz in one's page 262 petticoats. “Just like these tester beds. So trying in a hot country, and far too intimate,” said Darien.
In her attic room Tiffany sat on the bed, afraid to pull out the card she had hid in her pocket downstairs, her heart was thumping so. Now she knew that she had really come to the end of her childhood at last. This great hot tide of life rushing along so swiftly, rushing her with it, half-drowned in doubts, compliments, new gowns, nosegays and dance-music … never would it let her scramble out to the flowery banks of her childhood again. For weeks now she had felt life clutching her with imperious hands, pressing her against the mould into which all women have to go. Softly she pulled out the card, feeling her fingers cold, her cheeks burning….
Such a plain bit of pasteboard, which couldn't have guessed how infinitely glorious it was to be made by the lettering. Tiffany drew long breaths. “Capt. Richard R. Sackville, 58th Reg.” Nothing those old leather books could offer held the miracle of this.
And down in a corner in a black careless scrawl: “With comps. R. S.” R. S., oh, wonderful initials, conjuring up Captain Sackville with forage-cap over his ear, with brown face full of laughter, with his whole well-set-up self so breezy with devil-may-care gaiety that there had never been anything like him. Tiffany, turning her gaze from old yellow-skinned Buddha and Confucius, had known them drop to dust at one roving glance from a pair of laughing grey eyes.
He had not known. She would die if he ever knew. And perhaps die if he didn't. Cradling the little card on tender hands she told herself severely that his roses had not been very good, and began to cry because perhaps mamma hadn't put them in water and she herself hadn't dared. Then, having until now been unaware of what love can do to you, she cast herself face down on the pillow, the card pressed to her cheek.
“No. I won't be silly. I don't care. I don't,” she page 263 whispered, fiercely fighting off Captain Sackville, who so far had shown no intention of advancing. It was correct to send flowers to young ladies whose parents had offered entertainment. “I know he doesn't remember that he's ever been in the house,” said Tiffany, being very stern with herself.
Sophia knocked and hurried in. She was always in a hurry and always late.
“Your present, Tiffy,” she gasped. “I couldn't get it done before. Maria had toothache and I had to finish mamma's petticoat. But I did every stitch with horsehair out of horses' tails and I do hope you'll join our order now.”
Not being able to get rid of her spots, Sophia had “gone in for” religion in the company of several other unappreciated young ladies. They called themselves the Vestal Virgins (which gentlemen seemed to find monstrous funny), went to church fasting, and had a vast number of cabalistic signs among themselves, in addition to wearing jute sacking next their skins to remind them of the saints. The shapeless garment Tiffany unfolded was of jute and —whichever end you held up—equally repulsive.
“Once in Royal David's city I expect they wore them,” cried Sophia, the red spots glowing in her pallid face. “I wouldn't be without mine for all the conquering kings of the world. You can't realize the peace a hair-shirt gives, Tiffy.”
“I'd scratch so,” said Tiffany, doubtfully. One couldn't laugh at poor silly Sophy, but it was as well Aunt Darien wasn't there. “You don't like it. Oh, I'm so disappointed.” As usual Sophia dissolved into tears and hymns. “While others throng the House of Mirth and haunt the gaudy show,” she sobbed, “remember that your p-poor cousin is praying for you, T-Tiffy.”
“I'm monstrous grateful to you, Sophy dear,” said Tiffany, feeling that she had never needed prayers more, page 264 though Sophy's kind were not likely to be useful at present. “But even in flannel I can't stop wriggling. I'd scare the town in a hair-shirt.”
“Well, remember that the meek shall inherit the earth. Though I'm sure I'm meek enough,” cried Sophia, bursting out again, “and I don't seem to inherit anything except spots.”
“Poor dear,” Tiffany hugged her, bravely kissed the marred cheek with her fresh young lips. “Don't you think you might be better if you didn't take medicines all the time, Sophy?”
“Mamma orders it. Oh, Tiffany, you don't suggest that I should disobey mamma? A thankless child … ‘sharper than a serpent's tooth’….”
“But it's your insides, Sophy. Not hers.”
“All I have is hers. I wouldn't wish it otherwise,” cried Sophia in a perfect torrent of immolations. “My life, my soul … only she'd have to arrange that with the saints…. Oh, yes, if you hang it in your cupboard where you can see it every day I know you'll soon want to wear it.”
While Tiffany had her head in the cupboard there could be no harm peeking to see what she had pushed under the pillow in such a hurry…. Sophia went away much more composed. This must be an intrigue, and who knew that Captain Sackville hadn't a wife already? Far too many officers had. Woe, woe unto man whose days are few and evil—and Aunt Darien would probably be able to tell her how evil they were.
But when Sophia, very earnest under a white chip bonnet that made her look like a poached egg, inquired even Darien was shaken for a minute. This damned little town, so full of that spiritual blood-letting which seems necessary to some natures, and Sophy just the kind of idiot to set a scandal going. If Tiffany got in Darien's way she'd be trampled without compunction, but she was page 265 welcome to Dick Sackville if she could get him. Darien put on a mysterious air.
“Hush,” she whispered. “I mustn't tell secrets but … did you look at the other side of the card? No? There you are, then Have you never heard of a go-between?”
“Oh, b-but isn't that even more sinful? Two gentlemen.”
“And not even one for you, eh? But why not two ladies? Why mightn't Tiffany be helping a friend? Miss Leta Baizey, for instance,” said Darien, sacrificing Leta with some relish.
“Oh!” said Sophia, turning the talk again to Maria's toothache and mamma's merino petticoat, while Darien tried to remember what she knew of Captain Sackville.
Good-looking enough in a brown muscular way, Captain Sackville. Rather standing off the women as though aware that those laughing eyes of his did more havoc than he wished, but monstrous popular with the men. Often Calthorpe brought her from the barracks fire the last racy story of Dick Sackville's. “Don't respect anything,” said Calthorpe, who worshipped the British Army with all its capitals, “but such doosed good company.”
That, it seemed, was all. Darien was disappointed in Tiffany. Probably Sophia imagined it, she thought, going off to dance with one and another on Mrs Pinshon's carpet and asking where was Captain Sackville to-night? Her shy subaltern was too enchanted by Lady Calthorpe's hair, her eyes, her whole glorious intoxicating self to be very coherent, but Darien gathered that Sackville had gone with choice company to climb Jacob's Ladder— three dizzy flights of a hundred steps each, without handrail, that went up by Graham's Bond to Britomart Point.
“A regular moonraker, Sackville. Nothing that fellow won't do,” said the subaltern. Darien reflected that there was still one thing left for Sackville to do. He might break his neck, and she rather hoped he would, going herself to the buffet for a glass of wine.page 266
Jermyn was there and Sir Winston and others, all being, as usual, very wise about England. “What did England want this wretched country for?” demanded a captain who wished to go home to his wife.
“She don't want it,” explained Sir Winston. “But ‘Rule Britannia,’ y'know—Dibden … I think. She always has to kill out the savages. Can't leave any country to them. A crime in these days, egad.”
“There you have the whole ethics of civilization,” said Jermyn. “There's no enemy left to kill in England now … except the Government's ministers, and they would probably legislate against it.” Unpleasantly bitter, the Jermyn of these days, thought Darien. She didn't want him now. After a time, falling in love becomes merely an incident, and no man is worth a grande Dassion. Tiffy would probably have one, though. She was that sort.
Corny had persuaded Peregrine out into the garden. “Somethin' to tell you … damned important,” muttered Corny in his husky voice. So under the stars, from which Roddy had so often called down benediction on his love, Peregrine learned of it and, although much surprised, was less annoyed than Corny had expected.
“Her fault entirely, the little wanton,” said Corny handsomely. “Always ridin' out to the farm. I packed her straight off to the Waikato with her mother. She'll be married before the child comes, Lovel. Maoris think none the worse of a wife who's had an affair with a white man.”
“I am much obliged to you.” Peregrine was still some-what dazed. “Does Roddy know … about the child?”
“Eriti says not. Scared of losing him. But all half-castes are born liars. Don't seem English at all, some-how,” said Corny grimly. Twice Hemi had refused to return home. “I think the Maori cause is a lost one and so I must help it,” Hemi had written in his careful English. But if war came Corny would go down into the Waikato and fetch him.page 267
“'Pon my soul, Lovel, I feel I owe you an apology….”
“Not at all, my dear fellow. Quite the other way,” said Peregrine, recovering. Corny had been very decent about Eriti, and it was pleasant to find Roddy was not the milksop he seemed. A thwarted love affair, even a Maori one, would stave off desire for a too-early marriage, thought Peregrine, quite ready to trample on all young hearts that needed it. He was really grateful to Corny's Eriti, and showed it by requesting that she have her lips tattooed at once.
“Eh? D'you think so? A half-caste, y'know. It's damned painful and ugly. I wouldn't let Haini be done,” protested Corny, who was really soft-hearted.
But Peregrine's assertion that nothing would quicker cool Roddy's ardour than thought of the thick blubber lips of the respectable married Maori women overruled him. “All right. I'll send Rupe down at once,” promised Corny, going back for the drink which he felt he richly deserved, while Peregrine went to watch Roddy and Tiffany dancing together.
“Look at 'em. You've given something to a new country there, Peregrine. Fresh an' sweet as a May mornin', egad,” declared Major Henry, who was becoming shocking sentimental in his old age.
Peregrine contemplated his son with new interest. So Roddy was a man now and would have to be shipped down to Canterbury before one of these young women caught him on the rebound. The best of John's merino rams must go with him before young Greer got them too, thought Peregrine, who had put Andrew down as a worthy enemy since he went off with the Hereford bull. But Andrew could advise and help Roddy, since their stations would not be far apart as distance went in that country.
I shall arrange everything before I speak to the boy, thought Peregrine, always a little uncomfortable before page 268 that strange bright bloom of innocence which seemed still to persist in Roddy, and going up to sit by Sally. Since the young Lovels seemed to have become the cynosure of all eyes it was only right that their parents should be where they too could be observed.