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Sally, who hadn't expected anything of the kind, tried to hide her dismay when Caroline arrived at Peregrine's new house on the next section and proceeded to “settle in”; hanging numberless stuff curtains confined by heavy woollen cords and tassels, putting up gilt brackets everywhere; arranging books of engravings and “Keepsakes,” bound in olive-green velvet, on the one-legged round table in the middle of the sitting-room, and otherwise being ornately vulgar in the best Victorian manner, while the girls crocheted feverishly at bright woollen mats to put under everything.

“I never waste time,” said Caroline, bustling about with a great swishing of many petticoats. Nor did she, thought Sally, coming to call and feeling as though she had somehow got into a rag-bag. Caroline never wasted anything, except life, and now her whole mind was full of climbing to the pinnacle of Auckland Society.

“Everything is possible now,” Caroline cried with whole orchestras of thanksgiving in her voice, “though of course most people would pay one for looking after their houses for them. But I've learned not to expect gratitude … Sophia! How long do you mean to take over hemming that frill?”

Sophia, who always tried so hard to be good that no one could bear her, jumped, upsetting a vase of red geraniums over the purple merino. And then she cried so much that Caroline had to box her ears and send her for the brimstone-and-treacle.

“Oh, no. Oh, please, mamma. I know that's what makes my spots so bad.”

page 124

“Wicked ungrateful child! If you have spots with brimstone I'd like to know what you'd have without it. Leprosy, probably,” said Caroline, administering a large dose and dabbing the merino with her handkerchief. “I do think you ought to make Darien drench herself, Sally. She is getting far too lively. I hear all sorts of stories about her.”

Caroline would soon be adding to them, thought Sally, going away; wondering why Mr Lovel had given Caroline the house, and never guessing how he had desired to put poor John under an obligation with a view to annexing the finest of his flocks and herds when the time came for the Peregrine Lovels to settle on the land. I don't want to be selfish, but I do wish they were not so near, thought Sally, who had had so much of Caroline at Kororareka.

Meanwhile Auckland erected another equally hideous barracks behind those on Britomart Hill, called them Albert after England's Prince Consort and proceeded to house the increasing number of regiments so grudgingly sent by England.

In fact, what with the land-trouble and too many tupara-guns, Queen Victoria's Maori nurslings were having the time of their lives; pot-shotting each other out of sheer delight and keeping their nursemaids continually on the trot trying to prevent it, while taxes went up and revenue went down and Governor Grey still refused to execute the Charter.

Peregrine, working so diligently that one had a constant impression of flying coat-tails, scented disaster in the wind and thrust out more tentacles. When the steamer H.M.S. Driver came up the Waitemata some years back colonists sternly refused to believe in her, referring to her distantly as to some vulgar feat of legerdemain. But Peregrine believed. Steam would come; and as New Zealand had no iron for machinery-making, ship-building must fail. The land … the land which no one could have was the only real stability, decided Peregrine, wondering how page 125 he could get it, pulling here and there at interminable strings, and mounting an eyeglass—which was difficult to see through but gained him much added respect.

“Our Peregrine goes through life as he will go through eternity, always expecting it to touch its hat to him. And it usually does,” said Jermyn. “Lord, how the British stock loves an autocratic aristocrat.”

Major Henry was looking anxiously at Jermyn in these days. Peregrine, always as impressive as the Parliamentary Black Rod, was bound to get along; but this dear Jermyn, with his bounteous powers that should raise him to the skies, was getting nowhere. A silent haggard Jermyn, shot with strange fires and coming home drunk much too often, thought the Major, who liked a night on the tiles as well as any man. Love, of course, that betrayer of youth and plaything of old age. But who was the damnable fair? The Major's mind stoutly refused to suspect Sally. Fate, huzzy though she was, could not do such an awful thing to Lovels.

Night had fallen as suddenly as it always does in the North. Jermyn, leaning from the window, was lost in it. Lost, felt the Major frantically, to him.

“Jermyn?” he said. But when Jermyn turned, no more than an outline graceful as a cat against the window, the Major knew that he was as secret as a cat, with neither jest nor confidence to offer an old uncle. The boy never tells me anything now, he thought, bewildered and savage. Yet why should he? I never told old men, he thought, going back sadly to his thumbed copies of Swift and Voltaire.

Like a wounded scorpion, Jermyn was now stinging himself and his Lovel pride so brilliantly in the Chronicle that it decided to send him down to report on that upstart town Wellington, which had actually given a ball in its own Government House and set up its own legislation, being so neglected by Auckland. “Trounce 'em well, the blaggards,” said the Chronicle; so Jermyn went up page 126 the hill to hurt Sally with his information—if she cared, but who knew what women would do, thought Jermyn, once so certain that he knew all about them.

Peregrine was there, stuffed as full of importance as a Strasbourg goose and bristling with demands.

“Then, Jermyn, I can utilize you in my new enterprise,” Peregrine said, walking up and down a carpet as flowery as his periods, while Sally sat like some dim enchantment in a corner, stitching wristbands, weaving spells. “Corny Fleete and I have been considering these increasing little settlements along the east coast,” said Peregrine, “and we believe that a regular service might prove lucrative since they now have to depend for necessities on whaling-ships or an occasional lugger. So we are sending the Nestor with a large consignment of agricultural implements, hardware and so forth, and I offer you a free passage on her if you will report results at each settlement. Captain Bone, though an honest man, is no scribe. You understand?” asked Peregrine, pausing at last before Jermyn and peering through his eyeglass.

“I desire to discover,” Peregrine went on, “if a regular service—possibly as far as Wellington—is likely to be satisfactory. It must come some day since water is naturally the only means of traffic this country can ever have.” Peregrine was quite unable to visualize roads through these hundreds of miles of relentless ranges and still more relentless Maoris, and was determined to make some hay before the rain of steamers spoiled it.

“You might discover Nick Flower and his smugglers,” suggested Darien from the rocking-chair where she was humming like a tawny bee—with a waspish waist and sting, thought Peregrine, asserting acidly that Jermyn would not need to occupy himself with chimeras.

“I wouldn't call Nick Flower a chimera. Much more like a mastiff,” declared Darien. And Jermyn is a greyhound, she thought. With those long slender limbs and his cinnamon-colour coat he was very like a greyhound; page 127 though he had never kissed her again, nor called her a parterre of roses, nor written anything in the album, now so full of burning verses that it was a wonder the cover didn't shrivel. She dropped him a curtsy as he went away.

“Adieu, fair sir. I may be engaged when you return.”

“Congratulations to the happy man … or men, for I can't think you'll be content with one,” said Jermyn, going out with Peregrine.

“A shocking quiz, I vow,” cried Darien, shrugging. Jermyn—her brilliant Lord Nelson—should come to Lady Hamilton some day even if she had to find a husband first to make him jealous. She ran up to her room to write in her diary: “Jermyn is a Brown Fawn and a Don Juan, and perhaps I shall marry some fool to Floute him and make him so jealous he will run off with me and do some great Deed to make him notorious. Till then I will be a notorious Bell myself for it is vastly entertaining.”

Downstairs Sally was putting Tiffany and Belinda through “The Battle of Prague” on the piano. Poor Salvolatile, who could have had no lover after all, since she had been so grave lately. They've all come to me, thought Darien, trying to dance in a whirl of sea-green skirts to “The Battle of Prague,” and giving it up to lie on her bed and count adorers on her slim fingers. It takes both hands now, she thought triumphantly.

Jermyn did not come to Lovel Hall again, and Sally found Eternity further off than ever since it seemed that Jermyn did not mean to speak to her until they got there. But Jermyn, tossing southward on the Nestor, knew that when he came again he would not be content with speaking. And then the Lord help us both, he thought, conscious that he hoped the Lord wouldn't.