Indirections: A Memoir 1909-1947
Chapter Fifteen — New Zealand Interlude
New Zealand Interlude
I had not lived in New Zealand before as an adult; in 1931 I was still, with my student friends, half a student. Very quickly I was made to feel that it would not be easy to live in New Zealand going one's own way, as in London.
A few days after we reached Dunedin, I took a stroll one hot morning of high summer, late in February 1938. Lel and her nurse were at Manono, I was staying with Emily in Constitution Street, which climbs steeply from lower London Street to Heriot Row. I walked up the hill and past Olveston, the Theomins' huge over-furnished house in which Dorothy was now living in solitary splendour, round the Town Belt with the glimpses of Bankton it gave through the trees, past the Boys' High School, along Arthur Street, through the English beeches of Jubilee Park to High Street, and down to meet Lel and my father in town — a walk which took the best part of an hour. Most of the way until I reached town I met very few people, and only women; even the dogs seemed to be bitches, every one of them. The women looked at me so curiously and disapprovingly that I wondered what was wrong, yet I was conventionally enough dressed. Even in town, walking with Lel and my father, who took us to open bank accounts, we — or was it only I? — attracted surprised unfriendly stares. And this happened whenever I went walking about the town or the suburbs on week days.
I soon realized that I was the only male creature in Dunedin who was not working, who hadn't a job — for the unemployed were clearly marked as such. And no honest respectable man goes about without a job; if for some obscure reason he hasn't one, he does not show himself. It is not only an offence against society to be seen in the streets flaunting the fact that one does page 295not work like everyone else; it challenges the settled order of things, a threat that no right thinking New Zealander could tolerate. It makes one an object of suspicion, and more, an enemy.
In Dunedin after six years the family had shrunk. My father was at the Fernhill Club; how he could bear to live there I did not know — the thought of semi-public life in such a place appalled me. Hatty was now living in Auckland, where we had seen her when we arrived. A few relations had died and their houses been sold, not that they had ever meant much to me. The de Beers' house, and their life in Dunedin, which still seemed close in 1931, were now a far-off memory. Manono was no longer, as it had seemed once, the centre of a whole circle of relations and old friends. The Todds had given up Bendix Hallenstein's house across Victoria Street and moved to Grendon Street, out of my ken, although I visited them as a matter of course and loved them as of old; Bruce now had a sheep station on the river terraces below Dansey's Pass, Glenshee, Roland was farming at Gore; while Ione moved about the world as a painter. But she was a disappointing one, she painted what convention had taught us all to see, without translating it into terms of her own. Only Elespie was settled with her parents.
Grandfather had changed hardly at all; it was little more than fifteen months since I had said goodbye to him in London. If he had grown a shade more morose, short and impatient, he was still unalterably himself, still with me, still mine. His clasp lingered as he drew my hand through his when saying goodnight. When he was tired he dragged his feet and shuffled over the carpet, and walked stiffly, as if weighed down with a weariness not to be slept off. He supported me as before in all I did, kept discreet silence without being asked, while he must have been wishing an altogether different life for me, as I knew well.
Emily had settled with Elespie in a house only a few minutes' walk away. It was the garden rather than the house which attracted her, a narrow longish garden of flat lawn between flower-beds with an urn on a pedestal (copied from some Romanesque original) in the middle, a small shady pool to one side, a small brick shrine overhung by a big rambling rose-bush separating off the strip of vegetable garden beyond, and at the end of that a page 296row of seven lombardy poplars rather close together, through which showed Mt Cargill and Signal Hill.
The view had changed, in six years. The harbour waterfront, before you reached the wharves, was now decorated with groups of huge light-silver oil drums announcing in giant letters europa, plume, shell. At first sight I thought: Hideous! but then began to like them, although they gave the waterfront the air of a Near Eastern port. Two tall wireless masts had been set up on the highest near point of the Peninsula, beyond Highcliff. The quarry that defaced the foot of Signal Hill behind Logan Park was spreading. I thought the town ugly and yet interesting to look at. The Peninsula beyond, its background across the narrow harbour, showed drab shades of pale straw-brown and green, black lines and lumps of pine and macrocarpa giving it heaviness, solid unchanging identity, although the fields framed by those black lines changed colour with the light. How different from the prevailing green of England, so much lighter and more delicate; strong oil as against subtle water-colour.
I stayed with Emily most of the time I was in Dunedin, but also at Manono. She was glad to have a man in the house, although I was far from being a practical one. She had a habit of pouncing on any young man as soon as he arrived on the doorstep and exclaiming that she had a job just waiting for him: it was a measure of her need in living alone with Elespie, so that I sympathized. Most young men did not mind, responding to her welcoming hospitality; and they flocked to Elespie, who Was about nineteen, exuberant and lovely, with blue eyes, a head of waving fair hair, and a smile that seldom left her and made a warm light in which she seemed to float.
Neither Emily nor Elespie lacked company, younger and older. Dunedin allowed a few distinct individuals, most of them within the orbit of the university, which was the oldest in the country, still in name the only one, and the one most like a university, partly because Dunedin was small and compact like university towns in older countries. The city fathers in recent times have not much liked the university, yet it is Dunedin's chief if not sole distinction. They wanted to be big men of affairs running a page 297raw booming business town; they foolishly envied and vainly yearned to ape the run-away sprawling growth of Auckland and Christchurch; pretended realists with little sense of reality. Some of them would have pulled down the few buildings that give the town character; the dramatic Scottish baronial railway station, whose expansiveness and richness of detail seem a final gesture of the nineteenth century's confident exuberance; the well-designed dignified Town Hall in the Octagon (which a later city council vulgarly defaced by pulling down its tower — quite unnecessarily as the Dunedin architects pointed out — and replacing it with a low shoddy makeshift, as if in hatred of good architecture). Timid petty-minded conformists most of them, they wanted only timid conformity and would have liked a conventional tasteless railway station such as those that disgrace Wellington and Christchurch, out of date as soon as put up because lacking any style whatever — ah, but modern, modern.
A few older notabilities were still active. Miss Kelsey rang up one day to say she liked a poem of mine in Tomorrow; she was nearly eighty-three and I doubted that she could have made much of it, simple though it was, but she seemed at least ten years younger in her vigorous interest in the world, and quavered as enthusiastically as ever about Dante and Blake, Wordsworth and William Allingham (who wrote 'Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen'). She treasured her acquaintance with Mrs Allingham, who had given her some pages of her husband's diary, which I recall being allowed to see. Her dark rooms crowded with books and pictures on the ground floor of a house at the corner of Scotland Street and Cargill Street belonged unchangeably to the late nineteenth century; it was that time she still lived in, that time's taste she breathed. The eldest girl of a large family, too self-willed to get on easily with her stepmother, she came to New Zealand with — or to join — two brothers, one of whom was an organist in Wellington and later perhaps in Melbourne. Being very well-educated and well-read in English literature, she became governess to the elder Allen girls, Ina and Dolly, and then started a school to which I think Mother and Emily went for a time. Noticing me once being taken for a walk by Miss Darling when I was four or so, she bore down on page 298us at high speed down the street, tapped my forehead twice saying 'Brains, brains', and was gone without stopping.
Her close friends were now the Rosses and Aliens, and the Downie Stewarts, who lived only three minutes up the hill. Theirs was a comfortable old house of one storey in front and two behind which nestled on a ledge of the steep spur between Heriot Row and Constitution Street (its lower garden gate opened on to the latter, a little below Emily's house across the road); through sheltering trees it looked south and east over the town, well placed to catch the sweet smells from Irvine and Stevenson's jam factory below London Street, which blew up as far as Manono too. Miss Kelsey sent me to visit Willie (Mr Downie Stewart) and his sister May. He was a lawyer who had been m.p. for Dunedin West, our constituency, for the twenty years of his political life, and one of the country's ablest politicians. He was now about sixty and very crippled with arthritis, bound to a chair by the fire, a rug over his knees; he could hardly turn his head as he held out to you a weak limp hand. He was a well-educated well-read man of alert mind, who still followed public affairs keenly and was equally ready to talk about books and writers. He talked cheerfully, showing no regret, although if he had been a less drably conventional minister of finance, and less crippled, he might (historians say) have become prime minister instead of Coates in 1925. J. C. Beaglehole had written of him that he was Vise with all the wisdom of a world that had ended', and 'saw with terrible distinctness the disadvantages of everything'. He spoke kindly of Beaglehole — who had indeed written of him with respect although critically; and of Katherine Mansfield, of Eileen Duggan, whom I think he knew in Wellington, of Robin Hyde, whom he had befriended not long before in Dunedin, of D'Arcy Cresswell. He had met Ian last year, whom he thought too wholly radical, as he found Beaglehole too anti-English, too New-Zealand-for-itself.
The Aliens too were a political family. Sir James Allen, another very able lawyer, had sat for the Otago constituency of Bruce and was Minister of Defence under Massey during the first world war; as such, he was responsible for the regulations under which Archibald Baxter suffered so cruelly as a conscientious objector. Unhappily, his wife was unstable in mind and page 299only one of his five children married, Ina, Mrs Montgomery of Little River. The eldest son had been killed in the first war; Dolly was blind and lived in Christchurch; Rona was unstable and looked after (and was looked after by) her parents and her blind brother Charles in Dunedin.
Charles Allen had been ordained an Anglican clergyman, but early failing sight forced him to give up. He had literary ambitions, wrote and published verse, novels and plays, and later edited a very poor would-be literary magazine. His mind and emotions seemed not to have developed, remaining fixed in the pre-war time of his growth; his work was pallid and trivial. Always cheerful when I visited him, he liked being read to for a little but then preferred to talk; he needed an audience, he did not want to listen much, he scarcely asked questions. He was remarkably self-sufficient, shut up in the cosy bookish world of thirty years before; commonplace literary chat and gossip were what interested him most. He was a tall handsome man, very erect, head held high and white hair swept back, with unseeing whitish eyes and some indicative narrowness in the structure of his head; usually he wore light grey herringbone tweeds. He felt his way about his parents' big old house, Arana, with great speed and even precipitancy, and later about the smaller house which he and Rona built for themselves in one corner of its large garden, on St David's Street. Outside he walked with a white stick, quite fast. He often took long walks after dark; one met him all over the hilly parts of the town, striding out confidently, led by a big dog that strained at the leash.
I felt nothing in common with either him or Downie Stewart. They had worlds that sufficed them; I was the prey of a world they seemed unaware of. Among the most responsive and vigorous people in Dunedin were two young librarians, John Harris, the University Librarian, and A. G. W. Dunningham, City Librarian. The first I had known at Oxford, not well; his long lean face and strong nose had grown more sharply defined since then. He had suffered criticism, suspicion and hardship too for his radical views — suspicion which even his great unquestioned ability as a librarian did not silence. His wife Rita, equally radical, very fair and trim and most articulate, who dressed well and made an excellent hostess, was to show organizing ability page 300that matched John's. Both were involved in left-wing affairs. Ida Lawson took me one evening to a Left Book Club meeting at which John presided easily over some thirty people; he and Rita had a large part in running one of the small co-operative bookshops which sprang up about then in the four chief towns. Rita had been brought up a Roman Catholic, and had made the not uncommon plunge from one extreme to the other; at that time she was perhaps a little more conventionally progressive than John. They made a gay, serious, formidably determined pair. John was virtually refounding the university library as a modern professional institution, just in time to meet the great expansion of the university. Only ten years later, when the foundations were well laid, he went to Ibadan as first librarian of the new University College of Nigeria, with the declared intention of creating the finest library in Africa.
While John suggested drive and purpose and great reserves of power, Archie Dunningham looked all finesse and discretion. Black-haired, smoothly rounded and sleek as an otter, with flawless pale olive complexion, talking rapidly in a low voice which he raised whenever necessary to silence objection, and slowing down at times to linger on and repeat a word or phrase, with quick soothing gestures of his hands and slightly frowning concentrated face, he span a cocoon of propositions and schemes which admitted no possibility of your disagreeing. He was in fact as purposeful and determined as John, a strong restless intelligence concerned both to make a first-rate library in Dunedin, so far as that was possible, and to define the principles and reorganize the practice of librarianship in New Zealand. He was thorough, and thoroughly diplomatic. Politically, he was as alert as John, but his enemies were nonsense and inefficiency rather than this or that system. American librarianship had his approval; he mocked at old-fashioned English methods, at England generally; in effect, he was more of a root-and-branch man than John.
Some people are independent and self-sufficient always, partly because the stimulus they need does not mean that they must keep in touch with intellectual and artistic life abroad. The page 301Colliers, who were of that kind, had now left Dunedin and gone to live near Blenheim, where Hilary had started a seed farm. Mr Collier was retired and in poor health, Hilary seemed to be less strong than he looked, so that Mrs Collier worried about both and about Pruie, who was expecting her first child. She had married A. W. Anderson, an able witty Scottish botanist, who had worked with David Tannock in the Public Gardens in Dunedin and was to become curator of the Botanical Gardens in Timaru and to write several good popular books on plants. In frosty sunny midwinter I drove with the Colliers and their friends about the Marlborough countryside. One still clear day we picnicked at Rarangi, at the north end of Cloudy Bay, then climbed up to an old pa site on a bluff above White's Bay. Across Cook Strait, blue air softened the bare North Island hills. Through glasses we made out Pencarrow Light at the entrance to Port Nicholson, and the light on Cape Campbell at the north-eastern point of the South Island.
The plain of the Wairau looked rough and scrubby with pines, macrocarpas, willows, and houses. South of Blenheim, the myriad folds and little ridges of the low smooth denuded hills grew intensely clear and hard, climbing up to the high white Kaikouras. In summer those hills glowed with fanatical heat in the burning air; there was something extreme in the climate and topography of the lower Wairau, which the gentle Colliers did not seem suited to. Hilary died there young and unmarried only a few years later, when his farm was just beginning to show the result of his determined hard work. It was to be Bettina's children, and Pruie's, who must carry on the rare precious Collier gift, the eccentric anomalous seed of love.
I forget when I first heard of Ursula Bethell; Fred and Eve had often spoken of her in England. I doubt if I had read any of her poems until I bought a copy of Time and Place in Christ-church, March 1938, two years after its publication by the Caxton Press in an edition of 250 copies. It Was Fred and Eve who insisted that I meet her; but I had begun to hear of her from other people too; one of them being that genial learned man Archdeacon Whitehead, Warden of Selwyn College in page 302Dunedin and a friend of Grandfather's and of Alfred and Dora. He showed me his extensive library — a library in the true sense of a coherent organized collection, which he was to bequeath to the college; I heard him lecture in a w.e.a. or Adult Education course; he was a well-read, well-informed lecturer who spoke a surprisingly flat broad New Zealand speech. He and Ursula Bethell were fellow intellectuals and fellow Anglicans, but it was not only her fellows who spoke of her.
She seemed to be the centre of an astonishingly diverse circle of interesting people, many of the younger of whom were so close to her that she almost directed their lives — with them I believe she saw herself as a spiritual director of a traditional kind. She looked the part. I could imagine her hearing confessions, a tall gaunt severe woman a little bent as if with listening, with a fine aquiline nose for direction, a penetrating gaze when she turned it on you and a rare warming smile. Very English. Very Anglican. But somewhat modified by New Zealand, and by being a poet.
About Ursula Bethell there was nothing enclosed. She looked weary and nervous and I thought her without hope the first time Fred took me to see her. She lived in a few small rooms and a balcony 'almost with a view' (she was thinking of her view from Cashmere), part of a house in Webb Street off Papanui Road, which she had given to the church — St Faith's House. She was alone. The great friend with whom she had lived at Rise Cottage on Cashmere, Effie Pollen, had died four years earlier, a loss she never recovered from. Her rooms were crowded with books and magazines on every subject imaginable, literature and religion above all. She was very well-read, and talked well about what she had read and thought. She had worked at boys' clubs in the East End of London, and had helped run such a club in Christchurch, so that she was practical and experienced; but intellectual and religious above all.* She gave us what she called a New Zealand morning tea, then we sat on her little balcony talking and hearing the warm norwester blow softly in the trees.
* See 'The Estate', section xviii, 'I think of one who stood, our world's apprentice', in The Estate
Further meetings reinforced my first sense that she was outwardly rather gaunt and forbidding: the large romanish nose, large long ears rather pink and usually visible, dark noticeable eyebrows, and grey thinning untidy hair, straight and lifeless, brushed back from the centre of her forehead and cut short. Her eyes were somewhat sunk, blue and direct when they looked at you; thin mouth, strong slightly pointed chin. Only the last time we met she gave me a long searching absorbing look, in place of her usual swift piercing momentary glances; she smiled infrequently, and spoke as though out of some abyss of remoteness and sorrow, into which she sank again when silent.
Even in many hours together we did not exhaust all we found to talk about, and her letters were often long. Her beautiful elegant handwriting reminded me of Joy Scovell's, but was closer, tighter perhaps, more self-aware; no one I knew in New Zealand before James Baxter wrote more beautifully. She was not simply interested in a great many things, in Emily's way, but she had to know, to relate, to understand. Her Christianity was thorough, based on knowledge and reason as well as on intuition, feeling, faith. For my dear gay devout Ethel Englefield in Rome, her Catholic faith was instinctive and perfectly natural even when difficult, it was of the marrow of her being. Ursula Bethell's Anglican faith, although a long, probably lifelong habit, was reasoned as well as felt, an intellectual faith which troubled her, shook her, which she struggled with; she quoted an English page 304mystic to me — 'Faith is a desolate thing.' In her poems it is now serene, now troubled, now desolate, always present, the ballast and keel of her life.
She spoke a great deal about her friends, most of them then young and many to become well-known. I met a number of them with or through her; Leicester Webb, who was then leader-writing for the Christchurch Press, and his wife Carol; John Schroder, assistant editor of the Press, who ran its Saturday literary page; John Summers, who became a book-seller, the philosopher Arthur Prior, M. H. Holcroft, leader-writer for the Southland Times, whose first New Zealand essays were to be published only a few years later; Rodney Kennedy, a painter and friend of painters, George Gabites, who worked in the General Assembly Library in Wellington and later at School Publications, and his brother Paul, who became a diplomat, R. N. Field, a painter and sculptor who taught at the School of Art in Dunedin, H. C. D. Somerset, author of Littledene, a study of a small country community which was something new in New Zealand and seemed of great importance. Other friends of hers I came to know at different times — Ngaio Marsh, Valmai Moffett the cellist, D'Arcy Cresswell, the writer B. E. Baughan.
The last she sent me to visit at Akaroa, the scene of her own poem 'The Long Harbour'. I was prepared to see it through her eyes, but having to drive through fog in Christchurch and mist at Lake Ellesmere washed my eyes clear of presupposition. The quiet hill slopes round the harbour lay winter-green that would be all dry grass and clay colour in summer), spotted over with wiry manukas, anchored here and there by the dead darkness of macrocarpa and pine. Dense white cloud rested softly on the ridge of hills and brimmed over in little tongues. Ngaio trees grew out of the land rather than weighting it down, and walnuts, fabrics of air with pale light trunks like those of fig-trees in Greece and yellowing leaves. The water was just unsteady, lit— leaden, gulls and swans floating on it. Among the rocks where little ripples broke people were gathering oysters and cockles. In the town, ngaios and Norfolk Island pines grew along the curving line of little old wooden shops, white and red, with veranda roofs over the pavement. Miss Baughan lived in an isolated house high up the hill, a handsome woman with grey-page 305white thick hair cut short that she pushed her hands through in impatience. She was full of vigour and humour, happy to be old although she did not seem old, and with no regret for failing senses. She did not want to travel again, nor to write, only to sink deep within; but she still did a great deal of work for prison reform and was active in Akaroa affairs. I did not know her poems and stories then, only her popular pamphlets about Milford Sound and other places, by which, I saw at once, it would be misleading to judge her.
There were few of the gifted young and middle-aged, it seemed, whom Ursula Bethell did not know; but it was the young for whom she felt especially and who were drawn by her sympathy, understanding and interest. One of those she talked of most was a painter, Toss Woollaston, who had chosen to live for painting, to live very poorly, supporting himself and his wife and young child by seasonal work in Nelson orchards. She thought him very gifted. She wanted me to visit him and see his work.
from blenheim I took Newman's bus to Nelson, and then the Tasman bus. The sea shone in clear serene moonlight under mild stars. Near Mapua a flashing torch held up the bus. It was the painter. He led me across fields to his house and his quiet dark-haired wife Edith. He was a little polite and nervous. We drank tea by a hot fire and went to bed in the wide still night. Then for three full days we talked, walked, looked — looking at his paintings and drawings and at the postcard reproductions of paintings I had brought with me, and bicycled about the country looking too. It was country clearly made for a painter — but other painters have found their subjects in country which might seem to offer nothing: Lowry's Lancashire, McCahon's North Otago. The house stood on bare ground sloping east and north to the broad gulf of Tasman Bay and the long line of hills stretching far north beyond it and ending in D'Urville Island. To either side lay slopes covered with orchards, bracken and manuka filled the hollows; a few houses marked the flat land ahead, and strong dark pine-trees stood out here and there against the blue moun-page 306tains behind Nelson, which was just ten miles across the bay as the crow flies. The orchards showed a warm blush colour, sometimes a faint blue, their trees changing with the light; the scene was a little Provencal, even Italian.
As for the house, it was all Toss's own work. He had built it of big sun-dried bricks of yellow clay made by himself and roofed it with water-proof asbestos; the floor was bare stamped clay, there was a fireplace under an iron-pipe chimney. The fire end of the single biggish room was curtained off for warmth; it held a double bed, a rough fixed desk and bookshelves. At the other end, a window-space stood open, unglassed, a door led outside and to the walled roofed-over kitchen recess, with another fireplace, and behind the kitchen was a lean-to built into the hill slope, where I slept very well. In summer and in still sunny weather the house would have given adequate protection, but in wind and rain and in winter it must have been bleakly uncomfortable, draughty, cold, probably leaky. Toss and Edith looked strong and well when I was with them, and the nine-months-old Joe glowed with well-being, his big round eyes dark and his eyebrows and long lashes black against apple-red cheeks.
I soon got to know the scene in the drawings and paintings pinned up on the clay walls of the house: the house itself, the bare slope falling to low ground, the groups of dark pines, the hills, Horo-i-rangi and others, D'Urville over the water. Toss was content to master this one landscape, which offered enough for a lifetime, he remarked. It was a rich landscape, different every hour, every few yards. In a small oil which I bought from Toss on a warm wave of excitement — pine-trees on ochreish hills, a glimpse of Tasman Bay, and the Nelson hills blue-grey and reddish-ochre beyond - I was reminded of some Canadian paintings, which distinguished it from any other painting of his I had seen. Only once before had I bought work direct from a painter, an abstract by John Crockett which we all liked and wanted to keep at the Abbey. The landscape dictated the warm earth colours Toss used, dull-reds, muddy-yellows, blue-greys, shitty-greens (Rodney Kennedy's phrase), with dense-blacks for pines and macrocarpas; a subdued rich palette by which one knew his work at once. *
* Among references to Toss Woollaston in the poems, see especially 'Huinga September' in Home Ground
Yet although he had a number of paintings to show, and many drawings, he got little enough time for painting. It took him and Edith most of their days merely to live. Edith looked after the baby, cooked, made excellent unleavened bread, did the washing, fed their three hens, sewed, darned, mended. Toss had built the house, which was not yet finished; he fetched and chopped wood and kept the fires in (Nelson winters were cold, with severe frosts), carried water, which was of course not laid on, kept the kerosene lamps in order (they had no electricity), dug the ground to plant vegetables and herbs and was draining further ground to try and make a garden. For two or three months in autumn he picked apples in order to make a little money. He often had no more than one whole day a week for painting, but he drew in spare moments; his time seemed well organised. He was free to think about painting while he worked at other things. If it was a hard and circumscribed life it was of his choosing and within it he was his own master.
Toss was drawing some government sustenance; there was talk of his being given a Carnegie scholarship, but he did not much want to leave New Zealand — perhaps rightly, I thought. George Gabites foresaw no prospect for him in New Zealand, however, as he told me a little later. Yet George had had the chance that very evening of talking about Toss to a Labour member of Parliament whom he liked and thought honest (Dr McMillan of Dunedin), telling him that Toss was giving his life to his art, living in poverty in order to paint, and had asked whether he could not be granted some kind of help. McMillan was sufficiently interested to promise he would mention it in Cabinet; the matter would then be referred to a committee, George said — and he speculated about the composition of the committee, saying who ought to be on it and who not; he was quietly excited at the prospect. From his position in the General Assembly Library George knew or knew about most people of importance in Wellington, and picked up a good deal about the work of parliament and government.
Toss sold a painting or a drawing now and then, but could not count on sales nor hope to live by them. Leicester Webb had bought two of his oils, one of them a view of Dunedin through a window, in gay light blues and greens, airier than much of his page 308work. An English Mrs Cochrane in Wellington, who had run a small gallery in London (her husband was now in command of the New Zealand air force), was doing her best to help Toss by showing his work and interesting people in it. When I visited her, at his instance, he had just sent her a few oils and more than fifty drawings; there was a good new oil of his house with beehives in front near the road and pines along the hill-top behind, fully worked out and especially rich in colour; and I was moved again by the beauty of some of the drawings. Mrs Cochrane's belief in Toss's gift, strong confirmation of my own feeling, was wonderful support to him and to his friends at a time when no one in any official position took the least interest in his work.
Toss drew and painted figures as well as landscapes. Edith was his constant model and the subject of some of his best work; he got anyone who would to sit for him. Other frequent models were the Wells boys — it was the Wellses in whose orchard he had worked for several years and who had allowed him to build his house on their land. He used to go to their house to telephone, he took me to meet them, showed me their apple sheds and explained how the apples were graded; when he and Edith spoke of them I was reminded of a set of characters out of a book by T. F. Powys. The Wellses clearly liked Toss, but they were simple people who had no interest in painting and no appreciation of his work. The only neighbours with whom he had anything in common were a gentle elderly Mr and Mrs Scott a few miles away at Ruby Bay; we bicycled over to see them. They lived in a crib under high yellow cliffs near a stretch of cold bush, looking directly across the quiet sea bay to Nelson. Mr Scott, a well-taught painter himself, had once given Toss lessons there; he and his wife lived very frugally, meagrely; she was still handsome although sallow and worn bone-thin. After tea with them we looked for stones on the beach; Toss, but Edith still more, shared my love for stones; those which they chose to keep they laid on the window ledge of their house.
Toss and Edith were as quiet as the landscape, quiet in their ways and in speech, with complete understanding for each other, although the difficulties of their rough exigent life in which everything took so long harassed Edith at times. By nature she was calm and restful, her clear skin high-coloured, her speech page 309softly Scottish. Toss spoke well, having little or nothing of raw country New Zealand in his pronunciation. His short-cut fairish beard somehow camouflaged his features — the chin pointed and prominent, a very thin-lipped, slightly twisted and set-looking mouth, short nose above a very straight upper lip, and light-blue eyes. I felt I hardly knew what he was like, either in looks or in himself, greatly as I warmed to him, and to Edith too. Miss Bethell had known him for nearly ten years and thought him a Franciscan poverello, made to be a saint, yet without any great driving force, so that she wondered if he was a true-born artist: he was not very strong-willed (she said), his simplicity and spiritual urge were his charm and beauty. But who would choose to live so poorly, flouting convention, without strong conviction? and it was not poverty he had chosen, but painting.
I had already met a Dunedin friend of his, Rodney Kennedy, who always had paintings and drawings by Toss which he showed to everyone interested. He believed in Toss without reserve, generously, selflessly; his enthusiasm was catching. He gave his friendship to other artists too, having abandoned painting himself as if to serve his friends. He was very short, strongly built, with a big head and broken nose, and when happy he bubbled oyer with high spirits and humour and kept firing off verbal cracks like a repeater rifle, sparing no one.* He and Toss had been together at the School of Art in Dunedin — Toss had gone there only briefly, not wanting formal teaching. Rodney lived, very poorly and precariously, by doing anatomical drawings for the Medical School, where he had a room and kept Toss's work. There were several paintings I had not seen at Mapua; one of a youthful Edith sewing, in palest-greyish pink and blue, seemed to me especially lovely. Rodney was equally interested in drama; he was then busy with the sets and costumes and staging of Capek's The Insect Play, which John Findlay, the Professor of Philosophy, was producing for the Left Book Club, and was himself doing two short pieces by Chekhov for the Drama League or some other body.
* See 'The Estate', section xv, 'Watch him, this Puck of ours', in The Estate
Field, as an Englishman, was not concerned in the same way with New Zealand. But Toss was not alone in repudiating standard views. I had been excited and moved to sympathy by D'Arcy Cresswell's Poet's Progress: here was a man determined to live as the poet he believed himself to be. He had utter conviction, unflagging courage and persistence. No hardships daunted him. No rebuffs shook his belief in himself. But his book describes his life in England; only at the end of it he sets off for New Zealand again. How had he fared? Was he, like Toss, determined to live in New Zealand, and by living here to change the country slowly? His repudiation of prevailing views and attitudes, if instinctive, was reasoned too; he had set it out plainly. Now I found that he was still here, and before we met he sent me a copy of his sonnets, Lyttelton Harbour.
Cresswell was staying in the house in Wellington where George Gabites lived, 18 Eccleston Hill, close to Parliament Buildings. I had expected a rather tall gaunt man and he was page 311small, dark-skinned, with dark hair and eyes and a musical voice, in an inconspicuous way the slightly countrified literary man. I liked him, his fine features and his manliness, his well-chosen clothes, his quiet composed friendly manner, but was surprised to find on reflection that I had been talking to him as to someone younger than myself, not ten years older. Did he appear so active and youthful because he was detached from New Zealand, whereas Toss (who might have been far his senior) was rooted in it, part of it — yes, he was New Zealand, I saw now, the New Zealand that was coming to be. Cresswell by comparison appeared almost a butterfly figure; for all his theorizing, for all the hardships he had suffered, the pain and compassion he had known (who can forget his picture of the Rat House in Poet's Progress?), a man who seemed not quite to belong anywhere. His poetry was disappointing; its flashes were not enough to sustain his claims. Not that I wished to refute those claims, which were, essentially, claims for the autonomy of the poet rather than for himself alone.
Someone else, as it happened, was already doing that in part, without asserting himself. In March, Denis Glover had sent me his latest publication from the Caxton Press, a book of poems called Dominion, by A. R. D. Fairburn. I read them with excitement and recognition. Here for the first time, more directly and clearly than in Ursula Bethell, the physical New Zealand I loved had been brought to life in poetry. The poems were uneven, in part too flatly theorizing, treatise not recreated in imagination; and Fairburn had not always worked quite hard enough, too soon satisfied with what he had put down. Yet when he wrote of what he knew and loved he wrote of the country as no one else had yet written:
In the summer we rode in the clay country,
the road before us trembling in the heat
and on the warm wind the scent of tea-tree,
grey and wind-bitten in winter, odorous under summer noon,
with spurts of dust under the hoofs
and a crackle of gorse on the wayside farms.
At dusk the sun fell down in violet hills
and evening came and we turned our horses
homeward through dewy air.
That was unforgettable; and I kicked myself later that I had not written to tell Fairburn so on my first delighted reading. I did not know fully then what it means to a writer to be told you have enjoyed his work — especially in New Zealand where the writer's audience is so small.
Dominion, said a note with the book, 'is probably the most important work issued for the Caxton Club'; but Denis Glover printed any good work he could find, when he had the time and money. He and his partner John Drew lived by commercial printing. The Caxton Press in Victoria Street was a bare shed with a partition dividing what was politely called office in front from works behind. The little books printed there just paid for themselves and no more. To have the press and to experiment was Denis's pleasure; he wanted to go to England for two things only, to see the Clarendon Press 'and learn to print', and to meet Eric Gill. He proposed printing some of my poems, setting them in Gill's Perpetua, of which he had a font coming; he would print an edition of one hundred copies and give me twenty-five. At this I was amazed and almost overwhelmed, and grateful to Denis, and yet also quite matter-of-fact. 'How easy is it then.' The book came out about a year after I had given Denis the final revisions.
I spent a good part of the winter in Christchurch, staying with Kate and Tim at Amberley, with Fred and Eve at Governor's Bay, and in a gloomy room in a rather decayed house near Latimer Square. Its seediness was the other face of the brittle brightness of Christchurch, which was trying to forget that it was built on a low boggy plain, and in its combination of raffertyness and pretentiousness always gave me a sense of unreality. Its claim to be English was ludicrous; a dignified stone cathedral modelled on a French church, a narrow stream shaded with weeping willows and called the Avon, streets named after English cathedral towns, and pretty gardens, conventionally gay with flowers in season: on the strength of these it pretended not to be common New Zealand, but something a cut above. True, Christchurch men and women often wore better-cut clothes than other New Zealanders, and they spoke better, if sometimes too consciously and affectedly. The Press was the best newspaper in the country, priding itself on a literary tradition which went back page 313to Samuel Butler in the sixties. It was the most reliable and generally fair-minded paper, even sometimes liberal, it gave more and better-presented overseas news, its reports and leading articles were better-written than those of other papers. That was one good reason for living in Christchurch. And yet the town was the shallowest of the four. My friends there gave me the impression of belonging to a different Christchurch from the one I saw and felt, but as if they alone made up that different town, which I could not quite believe in.
Was it in part the very pretentiousness of Christchurch which provoked the radicalism that kept breaking out there? Ursula Bethell, Denis Glover and the Caxton Press, the fortnightly Tomorrow, all three were signs of it — not to mention the orthodox political radicalism which has been strong in the town for so long.
Kennaway Henderson, who ran Tomorrow single-handed as a labour of love, was not at all what I had expected from his cartoons. They did the journal harm, I thought, being so wretchedly ugly in line and politically so juvenile in their naive abstract-ness — if one had judged by them one would have dismissed Tomorrow as worthlessly doctrinaire, whereas it was far more down-to-earth than they suggested. Much of its comment was able and pertinent, most of the good New Zealand writers of the time wrote for it. In not quite seven years it printed more than thirty of the early stories of Frank Sargeson, stories by Roderick Finlayson and many others, as well as poems and other work by R. A. K. Mason, A. R. D. Fairburn, Allen Curnow, Denis Glover, reports from China by James Bertram (the only ones appearing in the country from a New Zealander on the spot and as such of quite exceptional value), and many sound thoughtful book reviews by Winston Rhodes, Frank Gadd, Frank Sargeson, F. Sinclaire (Professor of English at Canterbury), W. B. Sutch and others. J. C. Beaglehole, Ormond Wilson, Ian Milner, Arthur Sewell (Professor of English at Auckland), J. A. W. Bennett, H. N. Parton, Walter Nash, Alexander Miller, John A. Lee, Robin Hyde, Willis Airey, all wrote for it at times — a remarkable list.
As a journal of opinion, Tomorrow was probably more influential than any New Zealand periodical before or since. Ironically, page 314typically, it was to be suppressed in the following year by the country's first Labour government, which it had so strongly but critically supported; its contributor Walter Nash was a leading member of that government. Kennaway Henderson was small, oldish, mild-looking, kindly-spoken. Round his office walls, a little top room at 81 Hereford Street, were hung his wishy, fairylike water-colours, which I dared not look at openly for fear he should ask me what I thought of them. I went to a meeting with him and two of his informal advisers, Glover and Rhodes, and to another to help with proof-reading. Tomorrow had so many good contributors that one could no longer think of New Zealand as being socially and politically unconscious, without a mind and voice of its own. And yet how precariously that voice made itself heard, how easily it might be smothered and fall silent. It depended entirely on this one ageing man of small means, with his good will, his kind heart, and his perhaps rather limited outlook.
A number of both writers and readers who should have been Tomorrow's natural supporters were put off by what was narrow and doctrinaire — Henderson's repulsive cartoons, and some of its political comment. Fred Page, George Gabites, and articulate younger people whom I met in Christchurch such as the painter Leo Bensemann (who joined Denis Glover soon after at the Caxton Press) and the writer Lawrence Baigent, Douglas Lilburn, the composer, and no doubt others, should have been drawn into it and were not, although all had shown or were to show before long how well they could write — Gabites and Lilburn wrote for it, I think, once only each. It drew on too small and narrow a circle; but since it could not afford to pay contributors (Henderson was of course unpaid), inducements to write for it were not very strong. Probably Henderson's interests were not quite wide enough, and he did not go out of his way to bring new people in. He had his hands full, indeed, to keep Tomorrow going at all, and he was no longer young.
Both Amberley and Governor's Bay seemed worlds away from Christchurch. Tim Thompson had grown from a lovable child into a no less lovable young man, remarkably like his father in page 315looks, very tall (he was six foot four), with big bony hands and feet and rough red skin that chapped easily, reddish hair, and a disarming smile which expressed his love of the world, his delight in life, and his interest in and sympathy for everyone he met. He found school work hard, and although eighteen had not yet passed matriculation. He too hoped to be a doctor, and believed he could help to make people happy by sharing their interests — and there was almost nothing that did not interest him. He was living at home, to keep his mother company after his father's death, but going into town three times a week for coaching (because he had been so ill-grounded at Christ's College) with an excellent tutor, Norman Bell, well-known for his independent radical views (he wrote for Tomorrow occasionally). Tim was so impressionable and responsive, so intoxicated with the world, that he seemed a poet by nature. He wanted to write poetry, but said he needed to be in a lackadaisical mood to do so — a relaxed but by no means passive mood, he elaborated. The poetry he liked best was that of Masefield, Newbolt, and other such poets, and his own seemed to echo theirs in an undisciplined way; unfortunately he had little gift with words. He was in short a model for poets — the romantic idea of a poet, a subject for poetry, but no poet himself. He was a lover of mountains, birds, yellow poplars, river-beds, manuka, all natural beauty, disliking the town.
He used to get up early and drive down to Amberley Beach to see the dawn, and in winter to find frost fish on the stones before the gulls found them. We walked there together, on the wide low flats between the dark grey shingle beach and the terrace of the plain.
We watched another such day some miles north, driving by the main road across the Waipara River, where the plain of Canterbury ends, and through the winding Weka Pass. Its big limestone bluffs and free-standing rock figures, shell-grey and a grey almost violet in shadow, broke unexpectedly out of the worn rounded smooth hills; yet these bluffs and figures themselves had been worn into soft contours, old now and no longer violent. The yellow poplar leaves showed grey-white underneath, the bare willows rust-pink. Beyond Waikari we stood among ploughed fields, looking and talking, watching a tractor page 316ploughing, a hawk being attacked by magpies. It was quiet country, gentle with age and calm, no bright colour, no broken shapes; any object not quite close in the soft air was rain-pale and gauzy although clear. Compared with this openness and space England, or at least Buckinghamshire, seemed very constricted.
Tim was the best of companions, knowing and loving the country so well, feeling it so intensely that I asked if he painted, but no. The air of innocence that he still wore, his beautiful smile, his way of tossing his head unguardedly, his continual laughter, the close observation he showed when comparing Somerset's Littledene with Amberley — all made me love him, but fear for him too. Yet he was not easily vulnerable; his openness and complete want of guile gave him surprising strength. If there was nothing he feared, there was also nothing he asked for himself, unless to drink the world; he was wholly unself-seeking. To be with him was to see, momentarily, through the eyes of a poet as we commonly imagine poets; which is not, surprisingly, a common experience.
Eve Page was in her own way as enraptured by the world as Tim, but more purposefully or selectively, with a painter's eye. Form and colour, colour in itself and as it composed form, it was these her eye found and sought. She was not a draughtsman; making a rough pencil outline, she then worked direct on the canvas in colour. It was a joy to be with her too, she had such keen delight in the beauty of the world, and ready appreciation of people as well, their good qualities and their idiosyncrasies. She bubbled over with generous laughter, which was sometimes rueful and directed at herself. Fred had a very lively interest in painting and a good eye for it; he was also beginning to write with point and style when he reviewed shows of painting for the Press. Since Eve loved music only less than painting, they complemented each other unusually well. They got married in April at the small church in Governor's Bay. Oliver Duff, an old family friend who had been editor of the Press and was soon to be first editor of the New Zealand Listener, gave Eve away, the painter Margaret Anderson was her bridesmaid, I was Fred's best man; there was Otto Frankel, an Austrian refugee scientist who worked at the Wheat Research Institute and was soon to marry Margaret, and no one else except the Page and Poison families.page 317
Fred and Eve moved at once into a neglected old house nearby, Waitahuna. We had all fallen in love with it, a small dark red wooden house of two storeys with a high pointed roof of unpainted corrugated iron, solid board floors, and French windows. A long approach from the road that ran round the bay, between bluegums and then fruit trees, brought you down to a small promontory terrace above the shallow harbour. The house stood on the upper part of the terrace, beyond it was a rounded lawn edged with laurustinus bushes, wattles, and a big wellingtonia, where the high steep bushy bank fell to the shore. Windows on the south side looked through bushes to the water and along the shore of the bay, between the trees in front there were views towards Lyttelton. On the other side, the terrace was bounded by a deep gully filled with bush, a stream at the bottom. There too was the biggest mulberry tree I had ever seen, from which the voluptuous dark berries dropped thickly; it gave cool shade in the middle of the day. Behind rose the tall bluegums, and then, towering above, the skyline of sharp-cut hills which form the rim of the crater-harbour. Almost overhead, cows and sheep were feeding on a little alp of green fields nearly among the gorse and just below the soft grey of the rock rim. Because of these hills, the bay lost the sun early and suffered hard frosts; the days might be hot, but already in early April the air after sunset had an autumn chill. The house was cradled in sound — that of ripples breaking gently below, of wind in the gum-trees, where tuis called throatily. Fred and Eve were as excited about it as children, and with reason; it was an idyllic place, which seemed designed just for them. Yet they could scarcely afford the rent of twenty-five shillings a week; Fred went into town four times a week to teach music, very rarely still Eve sold a painting for a few pounds. As so often before and after I felt ashamed — humiliated — that my friends were hard up while I was comfortably provided for and yet unable to help them; it was part of the injustice of the world. But they did not seem poor; Eve was a gardener as well as a splendid cook, so that they were able to live well if usually simply.
I stayed with them often and they made me feel wonderfully at home. Eve painted, Fred played, there were friends who brought fresh good talk and laughter. It was New Zealand; and what more could I have looked for in Europe? the Europe that page 318threatened every day now to destroy itself and us. Walking over the hill to Christchurch and back (that is, to the tram terminus at Cashmere), or driving with friends, or going by bus, I grew to know that country by day and night, in many weathers. Above the town and the plain, the easy flanks of the Port Hills seemed to rest like the limbs of some huge animal carelessly flung down to sleep against a wall, rounded smooth limbs, their tussock always the same pale corduroy glow that was always changing as the wind shivered it and the light moved.
The Port Hills are forbiddingly bleak in winter, swept by every wind, often in fog or cloud; the Dyer's Pass road is a constant hazard then. It is their summer nature that lives uppermost in my mind, seen from out on the plain or from among the dusty banalities of a Christchurch suburb; at one time shadowy, at another formidably hard, their grass burnt to a thin sand-shade, they rise silt-coloured or washed mauve like hot granite above desert plains, arid and lifeless, their fanatic outline of rock teeth tearing the sky. Seeing them, I am transported to the fierce hills behind Aden, and wonder what violent threat lies over or beneath the shallow conventions of Christchurch.
All this time the Abbey was never far from my mind, and often uppermost in it. I looked at New Zealand, and saw at the same time a green Buckinghamshire valley. Amid talk with my family or with friends I heard the voices of the Abbey children, of Lissie, John, Robert. I Was more closely tied to them at present than to anyone else. My family were roots, home, background, starting point, but I was not going to live out my life with them although I wanted to be near them, and if I had any future it must be found by going forward and in some sense leaving them behind. My ties with the Abbey seemed to grow stronger as the world darkened with every item of bad news (and 'news' at that time meant only bad news). I dreamed about them after hearing that the Nazis had marched into Austria, early in March. The next day, driving up the Waipori Gorge and round Lake Mahinerangi in the wide free tussock country behind Maungatua, I thought of them, of Colin, the Zuntzes, and all day felt myself a deserter from Europe, one who has deserted in vain.page 319
At Easter there was a family gathering in Queenstown, for Grandfather's eightieth birthday; 17 April happened to fall on Easter Sunday that year. Grandfather looked far less than eighty, being full of interest and energy. He still worked as he had worked always, still managed the family business, although he was induced at last to allow himself a slightly shorter working day than formerly, still took a leading part in the affairs of the Otago Museum. He was deeply anxious about the future of the world. As a strong supporter of the League of Nations, he was bewildered and saddened by its evident powerlessness. He was able to help his remaining close relatives to leave Germany and come to New Zealand, but saving individual lives did not affect the situation. That it was not a new state of affairs made it no easier to bear. It was some relief to me, though, that poets had described it before now and were able now to describe it again, even in their own despair:
The good want power, but to weep barren tears.
The powerful goodness want: worse need for them.
History to the defeated
May say alas, but cannot help nor pardon.
Grandfather and I were still very close to each other, but tacitly. He was not communicative, keeping his thoughts to himself. Only sometimes, if we were alone, he was able to be a little open with me.
Including Gertie and Kitty we were a party of fourteen, staying at different places in the town. For Easter Sunday we hired the old launch Thelma to take us to Bob's Cove, and persuaded Jock Edgar to skipper it, although he was now retired and the launch belonged to the Mt Cook Motor Company. It was a warm lovely day, big white clouds resting on the mountain tops. We skirted the bushy shore, thickly grown with beech, rata, broadleaf, fuchsia, manuka, lancewood (I counted them as familiar as old friends); the slopes above were deep in bracken, everywhere broken by outcrops of rock, and higher up only tussock. The water at the Cove was glassy still, overhung on one side by a high sheer cliff with beeches at its foot crowding to the lake's edge. From the pebble beach at the head of the Cove page 320We faced, as we boiled the billy and picnicked, the smooth rounded hump of Nicholas and sharp-ridged Turnbull. Peter and I swam briefly, then Grandfather and some others of us walked back nearly to Closeburn Station, where the Thèlma picked us up again. Peter steered both ways, regaling us with his big repertoire of funny songs — which his staid parents did not altogether approve of. He and Elespie Were in irrepressible high spirits all Easter, singing, dancing about, making horse-noises, repeating syncopated tags of whatever nonsense came into their heads — you could no more stop them than stop the tides or the seasons, and this was their spring and their holiday time. It was likely to be short enough.
Wakatipu had lost none of its hold on my senses and imagination. I was struck now by the grand simplicity of the landscape, disposed in the vast masses which are its elements — Cecil, Walter, Bayonet, the Remarkables, huge initial letters of an alphabet of countless signs, or the thunderous opening notes of a symphony in which every leaf, grass and stone had its own distinct vibration. Detail was secondary, subdued in the splendour of those ample forms: in England by contrast detail is everything, because the landscape offers few large forms.
I did not look for work, because I was incapable of working, because I did not know what I wanted to do, writing apart, because no one offered me work or suggested what I should do, and because, with my thoughts and emotions centred on the Abbey, work meant to me only what I could do there. In Queenstown I came to know that I would go back. A week later, at Manono again, as I sat on the sunny side veranda early one afternoon, alone, stranded, useless and desperate, the decision to go rose up in me. I rushed out to walk the cliffs beyond Cargill's Castle, Bettina's cliffs, in a strong north-easterly, then cabled asking Lissie if she would have me back in September if there was no one else for the job that Gordon Stern was giving up. It was four days before her reply came: yes, but it was a risk, because the Abbey's finances were strained.
The day after that, I took the train to Christchurch and Lel was baptized and confirmed at St Hilda's. She must have been thinking for a long time of becoming an Anglican. She had been happy at St Hilda's, where she had all her schooling until we page 321went to England, she had kept in touch with it since, and now had another link with it through the Girl Guides with whom she had taken up work again. I cannot explain her conversion, which she did not explain to me. She had never been religious, nor shown interest in religion. To all appearances, she lived very much from day to day, enjoying what came, nursing no unusual hope, floating along on the stream of life. She had no overmastering interests, she was not intellectual, she had no special feeling for any of the arts or for literature. A nice normal sensible girl most people thought her, only perhaps a little unenterprising, not quite enough interested in conventional social life.
I regretted her conversion a little, but did not try to influence her, because temperamentally we were too different and did not talk about our inward thoughts and beliefs. I felt sympathetic — I wished that I were single-minded enough to be able to accept a body of religious doctrine and become a member of a church. But I would have been happier if Lel had become an Anglican in England. I was a little sorry to see her break from the family in that way — not break with them, because it would make no difference to her relations with my father, Grandfather, Emily; sorry that it was an implicit repudiation, not of Judaism, which Lel and I knew nothing of, but of our family distinctiveness in not being orthodox in any way.
Lel's improvement in health continued. However uneasy her relationship with my father, she was not living with him but at Manono, with Grandfather, near to Emily and Elespie, and she had the protection — a wooden, neutral protection, it is true — of her nurse. She began driving a car again. She saw old friends. She had the Guides, the church. She was herself, living her own life. Her wound had healed, and shortly after becoming an Anglican she was able to dispense with her nurse.
When the time came for me to leave Dunedin I set off with Lel in her car. That afternoon I spent with the Milners at Waitaki. I was going to see Ian at Berkeley, and James too, who was heading for England through America. The Man was very proud of Ian and very fond of him, but also very worried that, being so single-minded in his radicalism, he would always be poor. He himself was to retire in two years' time, and may have felt that, once retired, he would be able to do little to help Ian.page 322
Frank Milner had reason to be proud. After taking a first in Modern Greats at New College, as a Rhodes Scholar, Ian had been awarded a Commonwealth Fellowship, and gone to work at Berkeley. So already he had made a name for himself, bringing honour to the family and to Waitaki, and much was to be expected of him. Mrs Milner, very quiet and meek, agreed with all that The Man said; she was only longing for Ian to come back.
Miss Bethell had persuaded me to visit a friend of hers in a part of the country I did not know, the upper Rangitata, near Samuel Butler's Erewhon. Beyond Peel Forest, climbing over river terraces, we ran into snow and ice and had to put chains on the wheels, then crossing a pass which avoided the river gorge came down into the snow world of the broad upper Rangitata, between tall mountains white to the foot. A few miles along the south side of the valley floor we found Mt Harper Hostel, a compact comfortable small house of unpainted corrugated iron, which was run by Miss Bethell's friend, a Miss Woolley, sister of Leonard Woolley of Ur. We walked on, out into the middle of the wide valley; punts held by wire ropes took us across the two arms of the big river — snow to the water's edge, delicate frost-flowers hanging from the tussocks. There in the cold shade of Mt Harper, on ground bare in every direction except for one big green mountain rata, lay two fields of ice, crowded with hundreds of people in gaily coloured clothes skating, chattering, laughing, in constant movement.
They had flocked here like birds to a feast, bright-feathered, eager, omnivorous for pleasure, and now were circling, darting, floating and skimming, sketching complex figures on the ice, meeting and breaking up, red-cheeked, eyes sparkling, breath steaming in the ice-cold air; and soon like quick birds they would be off again, chattering as they dispersed, racing for home as the early dark began — in fact dozens of cars stuck on the road that night, we heard. The brilliantly coloured clothes were a novelty to me in New Zealand and a welcome change from the prevailing drabness; it seemed a continental scene, until one heard the nasal slovenly spiritless New Zealand voices.
We spent a night with Kate and Tim in Amberley, I delivered the typescript of my book to Denis Glover, said goodbye to Miss page 323Bethell and the Pages. Going-away fever spoiled my last wet cold day — tiredness, nerves, a sick feeling. From Wellington Lel set off north, driving by easy stages and visiting friends, to stay with Hatty in Auckland. It was hard to tell how well she was, but her cure seemed to me precarious.