Chapter Sixty-Five: Part 3

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The next morning, Petros appeared to take Toad to the warehouses they had bought at his request, and the stretch of dock where Toad would soon dock the Dephinus flagship. The ship he had travelled in was smaller and cruder than the family frigate, and certainly smaller than the new Delphius steamship. It was worth far less as a favour to a powerful man; Toad's personal transport was currently in use by Grand Duke Leopold.

When he was ushered into his new offices on the second floor of one of the warehouses, he found Franks had already arranged for his trunks of papers and travelling library to be delivered but not unpacked, as Toad demanded, and was waiting to make himself useful during the workday, outside Toad's dressing room.

Franks had turned out to be an excellent impulsive hire. He had already become a secretary as much as a valet. He could not be considered a sophisticated man, but he wrote a good, clear hand, did not dissemble or equivocate, and took direction exceptionally well, without toadying.

After releasing his cousin from the duty of shadowing Toad until the afternoon, he also dismissed his factotum. "You can leave the unpacking here to me, Franks. I'd rather you arrange the house than the office today. Once I have settled things to my satisfaction and have a manager in place, we will revisit your role."

He needed to arrange his office to his own liking. He had done the same in Marseilles, in Livorno, in Paris and London; indeed, he had done the same when he arrived at school in Eton and Cambridge. He liked to arrange his life for himself and always had. It seemed somehow more important and more solemn to do so in his offices as the head of a company.

Franks left, and Toad was blessedly alone in an echoing, drafty, dusty warehouse. Breathing deep of the musty air, he set about moving into his new office. Starting tomorrow, he would evaluate the plans he had written with Piero and Bey and Zajac, addressing who they would need to hire in Greece, how quickly, and what Toad needed them to already know. That was when the cousins would start to come in handy.

But today, he would make himself comfortable and ensure his tools were close at hand, sort his books into alphabetical order and his papers and ledgers chronologically, and make sure he had enough pens and ink, paper, and sealing wax. He would relish the silence and time for contemplation, for he would assuredly have little enough of either soon enough.

Or, at least, he would enjoy it for a time.

***

The Victoria and Albert Islands, or Kawha'aiki as its original inhabitants called it, were an archipelago of dozens of inhabitable islands and hundreds of rocky outcrops flung across a hundred square miles of ocean.

The acting governor, Captain Hollister, was delighted to welcome his replacement, and pleased to hand over to him the squabbles between the different interests who hoped to exploit the riches of the land and sea. He agreed to stay on for a month to help the new governor, but his heart was already back at sea, continuing the naval mission that had been interrupted for nearly a year by the need to pacify the islands.

Papa launched into what Jonny would call a Haverford charm offensive; visiting everyone, neglecting no one, and putting off all demands for action with a pleasant smile and a plea for time to study the situation so his decisions could be fair and reasonable. Few were immune to the Haverford charm, and both of the Haverford women were recruited to assist, though Mama's health meant she could not make the long boat journeys to visit the outer islands in the group.

Papa called Aronui his secret weapon. Her own language was close enough to that of the native islanders that she could understand what they were saying. This meant she could let Papa know when the translators left things out, and — even more useful — pick up what was being said in the markets and on the beaches by the ordinary villagers.

Her understanding of a culture so similar to her own allowed her to warn Papa when his planned actions might give offence, or when well-meant behaviour by the islanders set British hackles up, as when every islander who visited immediately sat down without waiting to be asked. "The highest person must have the highest head," she explained. "If you are sitting, Your Grace, they must sit lower than you, so that your head is above theirs. Otherwise, they would be giving you a great insult."

It also helped that Aronui could talk to the people, who soon knew that the new Kawana, as they called the governor, was a chief among chiefs in his own land, and an actual cousin of Kawini Wikitoria, the other signatory of the treaty meant to save them from the lawlessness of passing ships and would-be settlers.

The Queen sent her cousin, Aronui explained to her fascinated audiences, to honour those who had honoured her when they bestowed her name and that of her consort upon their islands. And the Kawana had brought with him his wife and daughter, both wahine rangatira, women of high birth. Further, the daughter was a virgin of high rank and tapu, sacred, until she married the young chief who had been chosen for her.

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