In a land ruled crazily by an experimental Colonial Office; by the military whose only function seemed to be to destroy; by a Governor who coddled the Maoris (Governor Grey's Native Schools and Hostels, forsooth!) and by newspapers which, without the curb of libel laws and with invective an honoured exercise, were positively dangerous—in this land sober gentlemen endeavouring to provide some kind of stability for their increasing families so definitely ceased to be sober that dinner-parties became impossible for ladies' ears.
As for the dark little Mechanic's Institute in Auckland's Chancery Lane (called The Dustbin by the Chronicle), so many chairs were broken at the nightly meetings that it was quite unsafe to stand on one, and Major Henry did it at his peril when he rose to shout that somebody ought to be hung. “Why should we all go bankrupt in the effort to please everybody?” he demanded.
Gentlemen demurred strenuously at this, explaining that their last desire was to please everybody … certainly not to please Grey, whose continued refusal to execute England's Imperial Seal and Charter for self-government, granted more than a year ago, had the country fiercely by the ears. The Settlers' Constitutional Association should do something. Why didn't it, they demanded, forgetting that they were part of it themselves. Very bewildered were the gentlemen who had been trained in English public schools, where learning how to be settlers had not been on the curriculum.
Jermyn gave them electric shocks twice weekly in the page 100 Chronicle, but it was Peregrine's business to apply soporifics, and now he got up to do it.
“Gentlemen, we must have a little patience.…”
“Patience, sir! With that bloody Grey treating us like rebellious infants wanting spanking?” protested old Barnes, his eyes popping out of his crimson face.
“We really must consider the obligations, sir,” said Peregrine, always disliking interruptions. “The Charter gives voting powers to all who can read and write and therefore disfranchises the bulk of the Maoris. This is certainly not in accord with the Waitangi Treaty….”
“Bunkum!” shouted Major Henry, his loyalty to Lovels suddenly exploding; “you know England wishes the Treaty to hell. So do you and everyone else….”
He was drowned in a yell of “Hear, Hear!” For robust colonists, building houses, building roads, importing blooded stock and producing families, were in no mind to remain in leading-strings for ever, while the midlands were still in an uproar because no one could get on the land there.
“Perish dictatorship. Let's shoot the hound,” proposed Sir Winston Chard, his yellow wig over his ear.
“We'll write to England about it,” said Corny who (though growing very bloated now) still seemed to believe in England.
Never any sense from them, thought Peregrine, begging gentlemen to remember that Grey had at least procured for them the military force denied to other governors….
Jermyn went out into the windy night. This continual useless bulling and baiting over the fair body of New Zealand was nothing to him now. He had a nearer and dearer body to think of, and the consciousness of that was chaos in his soul. Red lanterns outside the dingy taverns mocked at his darkness. Are you, they asked, the honourable man who had no pity on poachers? Are you the page 101 jester who mocked at colonels climbing through back-windows? Where are you going yourself now?
Jermyn didn't know. In desperate disorderly fashion his mind went round and round. There were things no decent man could do … yet so many did them. A gentleman should have strength to master his illicit passions … yet how many didn't.
“Oh God!” cried Jermyn to this God who gave no answers. So burgeoning sweet his love could be but for Peregrine, that impeccable angel with the fiery sword barring the way.
Struggle as he might to fly temptation, naughty Fate thrust it against him next day when he saw Sally promenading with Peregrine in the Government House Gardens where the regimental band played on Thursdays. Very gay, the Gardens; very turquoise and saffron and violet and rosy-pink with bonnets and rustling gowns and long fringed shawls. Very full of charming young ladies demure under floating veils and dragooned by tightly and brightly upholstered mammas whose tortoiseshell lorgnettes missed so many billets-doux slipped from an experienced dog-skin glove to a fluttering one of white kid. Top-hatted gentlemen in black or grey frocks were being domestic with each a wife upon his arm; swaggering whiskered officers were ogling; “pompa-pompa” went the scarlet band under the wide puriris and karakas. Old Sir Winston Chard in an orange waistcoat and with the green cotton umbrella which he carried even with yachting-clothes flitted like a butterfly from one blushing fair to another.
Not the place, thought Jermyn, bitter under a puriri-tree, to encounter Sally floating in dove-colour and a white bonnet with a little pink rose-wreath inside it; but Major Henry, pecking at delight like a red-beaked parrot, was charmed. The Quality, he told Peregrine, was clearly designed by Providence to be the glass of fashion, the mould of form even in earth's remotest places. Qua- page 102 lity alone is the natural promenader, the natural example to the baser-born.
“What, cried the Major, becoming quite lyrical, could be finer than the contemplation of Lovels strolling just like this down the evolution of New Zealand; doing what must be done with an elegance, a grace that redeemed it from its raw vulgarity; engrafting a tradition of the Old English Aristocracy on this crude land which, having gaped upon Lovels to the full, would hereafter move with more gentility about its business.
“Dear me,” said Sally, a little dry over this trumpeting of Lovels, since half Auckland was peopled by the old English aristocracy…. And there was Jermyn, looking like Lucifer fallen from heaven, in a high-collared mulberry coat and curly beaver and the kisses that Tiffany said Were always in his eyes. (Oh, Jermyn, don't come and speak to me. I can't bear it just now, Jermyn.) “Yes, Mr Holland, it is indeed a sad pity that Government House has burned down. I hear the Governor's ball will be in a barn.”
“A confounded pity Grey didn't burn in it,” declared Major Henry, ogling the ladies. Once the heavy dragoon, the Major still occasionally stamped a foot to make his spurs ring which (when he wore them) had much ravished the ladies. He walked on with Sally, helping collect the verbal bouquets offered her. Oh, essential promenaders, the Lovels! Always in the news. Here came Jermyn, very elegant and remote between Miss Martha Pinshon and her scraggy mamma. Surely the boy had more wit than to marry there. No money, no breedin'. “Hallo, what have you been up to, Jermyn?”
“Reviving my memory of Biblical quotations,” said Jermyn, keeping his eyes off Sally, though knowing well how the laces were rising and falling on her breast, how white she had gone to the very lips. For God's sake, he almost cried to Peregrine, give her to me, man! Can't you see how it is between us? Jermyn, having never page 103 been disciplined like Sally, was quite certain that he couldn't bear much of this.
For all her disciplined life Sally suddenly found that Jermyn's voice with its deep warm shadows was shaking Eternity to pieces. It was too long to wait. Too long without the sunrise and the bird-song and the jubilant sweep of great waters. Too long before she could pluck a flower for a buttonhole and pin it in his coat. And there might not be buttonhole bouquets in Eternity. Nor coats….
“Come, my dear,” said Mr Lovel, walking on, walking Sally back into the proper place for wives. But her feet would not stay there. They were running with her heart after Jermyn who would not look at her. “My dear,” said Mr Lovel, irritably, “pray do keep step.”
“Yes, Mr Lovel,” said Sally, trying….