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A real railway-train to take Tiffany all the way to Lyttelton, a real steamer to take her up the coast to Wellington raised her to such heights of exultation that when she saw Roddy on the Wellington wharf there was nothing left to do but cry in his arms.

page 452

“Oh, dearest … I don't often. But I did think you were in the Mountains of the Moon or somewhere.”

“I was. Came down last night on a moonbeam. Pray don't apologize…. I enjoy having lovely females cry in my arms and provide a little romance for the bystanders. Tiffy, why did you never wear a little wine-red bonnet with velvet strings before? It's adorable. And please tell me that I am too. I like to hear it, though I am not allowed velvet bonnets.”

So Roddy was still whimsical Don Rodrigo, keeping his troubles (and behind his smiling eyes one could see that he had them) in their proper place, conducting her courteously to a hansom.

“An elopement. I saw those two nice old ladies whispering it. Now, if you could contrive to scream just loud enough to send them to the police, my Tiffany, it would add such a spice of excitement to what I fear must be rather dull lives….”

“If you could contrive to be sensible just long enough to tell me how mamma is,” said Tiffany.

“Oh, you'll soon see that. Between us we have pulled the wool over the eyes of His Omnipotence in the most approved manner … and how we are enjoying the joke. My dear, it's so long since I ran away with a girl that I really don't know how to behave. Should I hold your hand….”

“In a hansom! You dare! Roddy, isn't she ill at all?”

“Just effectively.” (Whatever Tiffy might learn later, there was no need to sadden her now.) “Here's our bijou residence, and … well, hang it all, you really are Sally, you know,” said Roddy, standing by to see this shining flushing little creature disappearing under Tiffany's dark cloak.

Sally never had adequate words for occasions, and it seemed that Tiffany hadn't either; so Roddy drove them page 453 in from the gusty wind; tucking Sally up on a sofa with gay rugs and cushions, straightening her cap.

“The meeting of the waters. Why must females cry so much? I had hoped that tears went out with crinolines,” complained Roddy, a little anxious for Sally, while Tiffany sat back on the floor and declared that they were only laughing…. “Oh, I can't believe I haven't seen you for over twenty years, mamma darling.”

“You'll believe it when you see His Omnipotence,” said Roddy, bringing Sally's medicine. “He's gone to get his hair cut in order to persuade himself that he still has some. An excellent beginning; we may presently be able to persuade him that he still has a daughter.”

Any kind of talk would do while these dear women controlled themselves; drying each other's eyes, with Sally saying shakily: “So wonderful … to have you both together….” What, she felt, had she ever done that so much happiness should be hers, that the trampling years should have passed these two by so lightly, leaving laughter and beauty with them both….

Peregrine pushed open the half-closed door, seeing a most merry and charming family group in the red firelight, and felt a surprised twinge of pride in the consciousness that it was his own. That it stilled and separated as he came forward was (he acknowledged) a tribute to his domination, and Tiffany on her knees by the sofa was quite in the proper position to offer the supplications of an erring child.

But Tiffany had always been a disappointment. Now she stood up, smoothing back the thick bronze hair that still would run into curls, smoothing down the dark serge of her gown with hands grown suddenly cold. Here he was, the man who had denied her love and home for half a lifetime. Here he was, this foolish old man whom you had to laugh at or you'd hate him.

“Oh,” said Sally, looking up from her blue cushions with blue imploring eyes.

page 454

“Ah …” said Peregrine, scuttled for once under what looked suspiciously like amusement in Tiffany's bright brown gaze. Roddy did what he could, drawing Tiffany forward.

“Mrs Hutton of Peak Hills, Canterbury, sir. I believe you met her first at Kororareka. A handsome woman. I recognized her on the wharf by her likeness to yourself.”

“I hope I see you well, papa,” said Tiffany, dropping a demure little curtsy, while Roddy wanted to box her ears. This proud jade with the damask flush hot in her smooth cheeks would never learn to dissemble.

“Quite, I thank you.” Peregrine bowed stiffly. “I trust you may not have overexcited your mother. My dear … I think you had better rest….”

“Oh, please … if I can just lie quiet and hear you talk,” pleaded Sally, still hoping prayerfully for the melting of these two unmalleable metals.

Peregrine sat down and embarked on conversation with his family, while Tiffany, feeling as though she were dragging a springless cart over heavy shingle, wondered why people who had learned to keep safe from the laws they made so seldom learned to keep safe from each other … or themselves. Papa was still a little afraid of her, just as she was afraid of herself … so let us talk of law, since New Zealand was still getting so much of it … poor dear little country whom men never would leave alone.

Vogel's public works policy, said Peregrine, had on the whole been beneficial, but it should have been consolidated by a board of works in control. He and Vogel had fought hard for that, but the Opposition (a menace to all common sense) had thrown it out; and the resultant waste and confusion, with every member fighting tooth and nail for his own district, was quite beyond words, said Peregrine, proceeding to put it into words, walking page 455 about with hand under his coat-tails quite in the old musical-box manner.

Sally shut her eyes with a sigh. They had been so happy without him, and she had heard the sins of the parliament members so often.

“From 'seventy-one to 'eighty we imported one hundred thousand immigrants from England and Europe,” Peregrine buzzed on. “In that time our debt has risen from eight million to twenty-nine million pounds. Does that convey nothing to you? Since brains are apparently not required here, such gentlefolk as arrived have chiefly gone to manual labour, demanding high wages and constant concessions like the rest. We have become a vulgar country, ruled by the mob instead of class.”

Well, of course, thought Roddy, the old die-hards would always talk like that; and to gentlemen who had visions of establishing county families, of being barons or even kings in the land, all this must be particularly unpleasing.

Tiffany, suddenly awakening to pride in the South, offered papa the through railway from Dunedin to Christchurch (hadn't she travelled on part of it herself?), reaping-machines, water-races spreading all over the Plains so that it was no longer needful to drive sheep weekly to the rivers, frozen mutton…. “We must thank Sir Francis Bacon for the frozen mutton. He kept a fowl stuffed with snow for ever so long,” said Tiffany, feeling it quite time that papa thanked somebody for something.

But Peregrine preferred to thank Sir George Grey for rabbits which (he understood) had become such a plague throughout the country that we should soon have to discontinue sheep-breeding, exporting rabbit-skins instead of fleeces. “And even that don't teach the labour party what the man is like,” said Peregrine bitterly.

“Oh, here's tea,” said Sally with a sigh of relief. Nothing, she felt, being so wickedly stimulated by Roddy page 456 and Tiffany, ever taught a man what he was like himself.