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.Sometimes he could not make any semblance of keeping still, he rose and strode about the dining room with his port in his hand for some moments and then returned to his seat, never losing sight of his daughter.In the drawing room the ladies regarded the new arrival with interest and curiosity.She alone was not wearing the low-cut gown so necessary for such dinner engagements: she was in mourning and was excused.Polite inconsequences and local gossip were exchanged at first; Harriet nodded dumbly, politely.‘You came to New Zealand on your own, Miss Cooper?’ asked one finally.(Such was the odd story that was doing the rounds in the town about this new and rather mysterious arrival.)Harriet looked at them: smiling, curious, rustling ladies.What would happen if she told them the truth of the room in the Barratt’s Hotel, of the mark on her face; threw herself on their mercy? How would their faces react? What words can I use? Yet surely they were kind, had hearts like her own? She took a deep breath.‘I came,’ she said, ‘because—’ She looked again at the smooth faces.One of the ladies leaned forward very slightly in anticipation.And Harriet was at once struck by the absolute impossibility of saying aloud what she wanted to say.She had not even been able to talk about it openly to her own sister.What words would she use to describe what was happening to her in a locked room not a mile away? She had seen their faces smiling forwards as they listened to her father and they would not believe her.‘I came because I felt my cousin should know about my sister’s death from me.He was very fond of her.It was – it was such a terrible sadness.’ Her voice shook just a little.‘And your dear father came all the way to accompany you home again!’And from the rustle of the dresses and the nodding of their ringlets she saw that they admired this picture tremendously: what a wonderful father, they said, what a wonderful man.The lights gleamed on their white bosoms and they spoke at last of the difficulties of getting servants in the new colony, how they were paid outrageous wages.They observed the lights from the Seagull, which was anchoring below them in the harbour, the sails were furled, small boats worried around the bigger ship like children, lanterns flickered as night fell.The Lieutenant-Governor’s wife informed them that messages had already advised Government House that the Seagull was carrying not only spices, but shipwrecked passengers from the South Atlantic Ocean.And the well-bred ladies shivered slightly, and pulled their evening mantles about them, for all had made the long journey.The men entered the drawing room with much energy and intent, speaking of the settlers’ meeting that was now to be addressed by both the Lieutenant-Governor and Sir Charles.‘And then I must meet the Seagull,’ said the Lieutenant-Governor.‘We are not sure who is aboard after the terrible disaster of the Cloudlight of which we have had news.I expect they will not come ashore until first light but my men will row me out, it is my duty as Her Majesty’s representative here to hear their story most urgently.But first, Miss Cooper, to send us on our way, just one song.’Harriet dutifully rose and walked to the grand piano in the corner of the room.For a moment, as her hands lay still in her lap, the room was silent; they could hear the wind blowing through the trees outside and voices called somewhere from the muddy roads that were not London.Somewhere in the house a door banged.But I will not sing.Harriet played ‘Song Without Words’.The notes filled the big wooden room and drifted out into the night.Perhaps they were heard in the hills behind them, perhaps in the darkness soft-footed, sure-footed natives stopped, just for a moment, as they moved through the bush in total silence.As the last notes echoed into stillness the Lieutenant-Governor wiped a surreptitious tear from his eye.The music of Mendelssohn reminded him of how much he yearned for civilisation, and for Home, and of how he loved his wife.He cleared his throat.‘Thank you, my dear Miss Cooper.Captain Stark was not exaggerating your daughter’s gift, Sir Charles.You are indeed a fortunate man.’ His guest gave a slight bow.‘I am indeed fortunate,’ answered Sir Charles Cooper.And he smiled.‘And now,’ and the Lieutenant-Governor rose, ‘it is time for the gentlemen to attend to business.People have come from miles away.We shall address the settlers from a platform on the quay.’Harriet was to go back to the hotel, Sir Charles decreed.They were to be escorted down to the harbour by soldiers of Her Majesty’s 65th Regiment, and as they were leaving several of the ladies told Harriet about the Wednesday afternoon concerts that the regiment’s band performed, and how they hoped to see her there.‘We will be leaving the day after tomorrow,’ said Sir Charles, ‘on the White Princess for Sydney.I must return to London as soon as possible,’ and the ladies professed sadness at such a short acquaintance.Harriet looked back once from the uneven road where her father held her tightly by the arm, held up her black glove for a moment, as a last goodbye to the smiling, waving ladies.* * *The Lieutenant-Governor may have thought that the passengers aboard the Seagull would wait until morning to disembark but he was wrong.As the ship had dropped anchor, as the sails had been furled and the ladies from Government House had looked down, Ralph and Benjamin were huddled together on a far corner of the deck.The Wellington wind whipped their words away almost as soon as they had been spoken, as if to lose them before they did further damage.In shock and anger and horror Ralph imparted to Benjamin what Lucy had told him.Such was their faith in Lucy that neither of them at any point queried the truth of what she had said.‘This changes everything, Ben, everything.’ And Benjamin saw his brother’s closed and desolate face.For a moment the younger man said nothing at all.So this, this terrible story, was the message, beating at his heart.This was what he had seen on her face when he had so lightly informed her that perhaps a God did not exist to protect her.He stared across the choppy water at the little town of which they had had such high hopes, where small lights glittered and blew.He had not understood that the beautiful adventure would turn out this way.Then he turned to his brother, his face grave.‘Ralph.You cannot – you must not – desert her now.Her flight is at last explained and her need of you may be very great.We must find her and make sure she is safe [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]