Before leaving Clent, Mr. Paige approached William in quite the proper manner, but Madam had been ahead of him. William, perforce, had to convey to the suitor his willingness to open the matter "at a later date, when my daughter shall have recovered from the excitement under which she will undoubtedly labour on the occasion of her presentation to society," and leave it there. It was all but a pledge on Jenny's account, as he meant it to be, circumstances having forced him to the conclusion that a man who has his quiverful of parents in addition to children may be happy but can scarcely be prosperous, while a docile married daughter well able to take younger sisters under her wing was most decidedly not to be sneezed at—although William couched the thought in finer language.
So down in Hobart Town, Lieutenant Valentine Paige awaited Jenny's coming with what after careful inquiry into himself he gladly perceived to be excitement. He had managed to transfer himself temporarily to the Government House staff instead of going off to the Maori wars. "I hear that D'Aubeny and Potter have married Maori wives, natives, down in New Zealand," he told Oliver in disgust.
"Maori wives are not irrevocable," said Oliver, "and I presume that they offer practice. It is inconceivable to me that a man would be expected to qualify for the greatest game of skill in the world without practice."
"But … aw … for the ladies … aw …" objected Mr. Paige.
"It is they have raised marriage to the status of a game of skill. They're all right," said Oliver, who was anxious to get Mr. Paige out of the army and into his house before foreign service twitched him away to the West or South Australias.page 182
"That's why it's wise for a man to marry them young. By the way, my mother is bringing my niece down next week. They will stay with the Sorleys in Upper Davey Street."
"I had thought she would stay with Lady Berry," said Mr. Paige, much disappointed. Madam's dragonage would be so much more intensive than Julia's, and Oliver, who felt the same, judged that the time had come to speak plainly.
"I have some influence with my mother, if you would care for me to use it on your behalf."
Mr. Paige looked up from The Illustrated London News, which had a woodcut of the Ninety-ninth Regiment leaving Hobart Town per transport Windsor in the January of 1856. They were bound for the Crimea, and he was very glad not to be with them.
"If you are able to assist me," he said solemnly. "I protest that I shall owe you more than I can ever repay."
Don't you worry about that, my buck. You'll repay, all right, thought Oliver, and felt a revival of his cheerful assurance, which had somewhat faded of late. Indeed, the cheerful assurance of a country that had overreached itself in extravagance was fading, Oliver considered critically. The New North-East Coalmines which had promised so buoyantly had closed down for lack of roads, and he had been among the shareholders to be hard hit. Timber (William had hoped much from the Latterdale timber that Humphrey cut with such reluctance) was almost unsaleable since the Australian colonies had opened up and were drawing intending settlers across the strait. Victoria, which Tasmania had mothered, was the greatest sinner and going ahead like the devil.
Gold still flowed through the colony; but it was slippery, and in the Captain's hands it shot toward infinity like a pinched apple pip. Latterdale, what with clearing, fencing, stocking, was costing too much, and Clent wool never brought top prices. (And indeed, with all the experiments tried by the Captain it was a marvel, said his friends, that he didn't produce goats or even those long-necked Spanish animals … llamas, were they?) The Midlands had great breeders, but the Comyns would never be among them. Henry Sorley was a great breeder, and Julia was one who reaped a harvest thereby. Julia, Oliver felt gratefully, was a good friend.