Indirections: A Memoir 1909-1947
Chapter Nineteen — Return to New Zealand
Return to New Zealand
The long sea voyage between England and New Zealand lies like a great gulf between lives, a kind of purgatory that one must pass through from one life to the other. This is how it acts upon everyone. Yet memory of it soon fades and the voyage comes to seem unreal, a gap or suspension in time, even a suspension of life.
This voyage was slow, lengthened by ten days while we sat in Durban waiting for the ship's engines to be repaired. After eight weeks I woke with a start one morning from a dream that I was arriving at Manono, and going on deck found the sun just above the waters directly ahead. To south-east lay a long promontory which I soon saw was D'Urville Island. Then I made out Egmont in the haze due north by a white gleam of snow on the south-east rim of its sharp peak; in the soft shining morning a light southerly blew. Towards noon when we had altered course it changed to a strongish cold westerly, and again to north when we entered Port Nicholson.
Both islands looked steep, many-folded, the coasts of the sounds often sheer, and bare and scored. Fires of bush or grass smouldered on both coasts, their smoke rising straight and then spreading far in a thin horizontal cloud. Once near the land we smelt it, unbelievably sweet and soft, like incense. Haze softened the air and turned the mountains blue. The Kaikouras were distinct only in outline, streaks of snow marking Tapuaenuku. The hills that shut Wellington from the sea were as bare, yellow and dry as I remembered, so were the harbour slopes as we steamed in, arid and steep and as strange as foreign soil. Drab reddish and grey little houses spotted the dry diseased-yellow of the steep-backed ridges between the bays and round the shore; page 407more houses crawled up the hills above the town proper; dead lumps of pine and macrocarpa were glued grey-black to the steep slopes.
The magnificence of the approach to the country set me soaring. And then everything shrank. This happened again and again. A sudden sweeping view and I saw the country in the grandeur of its proportions, set in its frame of sea and cloud and endless air. Then I was brought to earth, and saw that most people's view hardly strayed beyond their own street and that they had forgotten the sea and mountains almost at the end of the street. But all at once some note of quiet imaginative compassion from the simplest, plainest housewife or clerk, or a breath of generous interest in the voice of a prosy comfortable teacher, and I felt the prevailing winds of the world blowing steadily here too.
Within a few weeks I had met or met again half of the most active and fertile minds in the country, and began to have an inkling of what was stirring in this tiny community and how it thought and felt. Fred Page had been appointed head of a new music department at Victoria University College; he was in Wellington staying with George Gabites in Pipitea Street and house-hunting. George was expecting to be released soon from the Army Education Service, which had been one of the good by-products of the war and had drawn in a number of able people including Blackwood Paul. GeorgeK was very quiet in manner, assured and civilized and giving the impression of wide knowledge and fastidiousness. His brother Paul had recently come back from Italy bringing a Sienese wife, another cultivated young man of quiet strength and assurance; he was going into the Department of Internal Affairs but with an eye to foreign affairs. Miss Bethell's friend Leicester Webb, who had been a leader-writer with the Christchurch Press, was now at the Economic Stabilization Commission, which had been set up to control the country's economy.
Wellington on clear still days had extraordinary brilliance, which stimulated seeing and speculation; hills, houses, the few trees, all stood out against the sky and each other with stereoscopic sharpness. When the wind blew, as it usually did, and there was no shelter from it, it kept everyone braced and stimu-page 408lated, seeming to sharpen both thought and ambition. A flimsy small town perched on unsteady hills at the water's edge — as the most insubstantial of the four towns it made a hardly credible capital, with its few modest stone buildings set amongst a jumble of wooden shacks and tin sheds and the masts and funnels of ships. Rumour flared and died in streets and rooms like fire in tussock; the government would do this tomorrow, next day it would be doing the opposite. It seemed fitting that on Lambton Quay at the foot of Bowen Street, between the large imposing Departmental Buildings (four storeys high, a wooden palazzo with pillared portico and sloping roof of corrugated iron) and the disjointed blocks of Parliament Buildings, stood the high marble pedestal of the war memorial with a rearing bronze horse on top, known as Phar Lap's Tomb. A little news-agent's window on Plimmer Steps, which climbed steeply from the Quay to The Terrace, bore the same message in its oracular pronouncement that We Communicate Weekly with Hobart.
On the packed ferry going south I found Derek Freeman, now a sub-lieutenant; we had last met in London about a year before. He was on his way to see Dr Skinner in Dunedin, hoping to do anthropology under Raymond Firth at the London School of Economics, and then to take part in surveys of island life in the Pacific for the Colonial Office. He brought me farther up to date. The Progressive Publishing Society had collapsed (the last of its four numbers of New Zealand New Writing came out a year earlier) but its co-operative bookshop was to continue. A Labour daily was about to start in Wellington with a literary page or section to which it was hoped many of the country's writers would contribute. James had gone to Japan with a New Zealand commission. A pre-Maori Polynesian culture had been discovered in Marlborough. And Derek spoke of the plenty and ease and relative calm of New Zealand.
The plenty and ease — for some at least — were astonishing. At Kate's in Amberley they seemed to live on eggs, butter and cream — I could hardly believe my eyes and palate; and I encountered for the first time that luxurious national dish the pavlova, a kind of quiche, a pasty meringue with fruit and whipped cream. Once during the war I had met such plenty, on a farm in Norfolk only a few months earlier where there was page 409unlimited farm butter, fresh eggs, milk and cream; but that was altogether exceptional; here it was a matter of course. At the Caxton Press I found Denis full of work and plans, and Lawrence Baigent, Leo Bensemann, and - this was our first meeting — Allen Curnow. He looked more set and mature than I expected, robust in build, very much the type of an English intellectual and man of the world, wearing glasses and tweed jacket, smoking a pipe; I was reminded of Priestley, of Day Lewis. We eyed each other closely, warily.
At Manono, where they lived well but rather more plainly, little was changed. But Grandfather, although less altered than I expected, at nearly eighty-eight had become an old man; he had shrunk physically; when his heart started to play up a few weeks before, he was told not to walk uphill from the office. He often sat silent letting other people talk; he and Emily were habitually rather silent together. He had lost none of his interests, if now less active in pursuing them. He continued to read the daily newspapers and the English weeklies and was as much concerned with European and world affairs as ever. But to me it was as if I had left the world behind; when I read the international news in the morning paper it seemed that a veil or distorting glass robbed it of half its significance.
I saw Grandfather every day, although my father had taken me to stay at his club, much against my will. Hardly a week later, equally unwillingly, I allowed him to take me off to Roxburgh. It was the first time since the war he had driven his car out of Dunedin — for him therefore an occasion, and he never wanted excuse to go to Central Otago, especially when stone fruit was ripe. In grey afternoon the hilly country beyond Milton was dark, empty, desolate. Then at Beaumont we met the Clutha, dull milky blue and small in its narrow bed. At Roxburgh however it seemed very full, creased with swirling, circling, sucking eddies and flowing at great speed almost silently except where it broke past a rocky bluff or over a half-submerged rock. We sat in a grove of Lombardy poplars growing out of a small sandy bank just above water level. The trees pushed into the water droves of tiny whitish and reddish roots, and bathed us with that page 410strange sweet smell which I had caught faintly at Lawn Road every autumn — here it must be perpetual because the leaves were in their full green. This tall grove on the white sand in clear still late light beside the noiseless swirling river whose surface changed from moment to moment — this was the most beautiful sight I had seen since landing, this was the country I remembered and loved.
My father loved it too, I am sure, but he took it as a matter of course. I should have liked to sit quietly and gaze, but he, smoking his cigar (he had given up a pipe and allowed himself three cigars a day), talked about shares and wanted to move on. Every morning we went to orchards to eat apricots and peaches, a rather childish passion with him. The mountains above were starred near the skyline with surprising points of snow. The dark-grey rocks growing everywhere out of their flanks gave them a look of the desert, of those barren hills Colin and I had seen outlined in the west and sharply pointed with rocks from the mound of Karanis. But these were glossy with tussock, polished-ochre or dark-brass or tawny. Afternoon light turned them rich blue and brown and trenched them with deep shadow; against the sun, shades of various green showed among or beneath the tussock; it had been a rainy year and the growth of grass was lush.
One afternoon we drove a few miles north on the east bank of the Clutha, then walked into a small grassless wilderness of exquisite raoulias and crouching lichened rocks, a world at once delicately sterile and wild with a life of its own. The raoulias grew in irregular circles, slightly mounded, dew-green, milk-green, fresh light jade-green, silver, palest turquoise. The layers of the rock lay horizontal, but many had been split vertically, although long enough ago to have darkened or been filmed with lichens in shades similar to those of the raoulias. It was as if these stiffened patined rocks had constructed about them a world that reflected their own nature.
Six days, five nights. At times I felt buried alive, especially in the evening, when we sat with strangers in the not very comfortable pub. Was my father trying not quite consciously to draw me to him, draw me away from Grandfather? The expedition was a test of my ability to get on with him. Failure. I was con-page 411tinually turning cold when I should feel warm, and so hurting him. My father's attitude towards me had not changed; it still robbed me of my status as a person in my own right, keeping me dependent, his son who existed to do him credit and usually did not succeed. He did not know he conveyed this every moment: he was the helpless victim of his own long-settled attitude. I heard the old disapproval in his tone of voice when he asked about my friends or my work, to which I reacted involuntarily, instinctively, by closing all doors against him and finding nothing to say; his 'You must do exactly as you please' meant that nothing I might do could please him. It was folly to expect him to change now — he was over seventy — and I felt sad for him even as I revolted, rearing and shying away. He clung to me, trying not to show it: he had pride enough.
At least everyone was being very circumspect; nobody (my Uncle Alfred was now dead) questioned me about the future. Fred Page had told me there should be no difficulty in getting adult education work, or even part-time university lecturing. James wrote, back from Japan, and I was eager to see him as soon as I could. My cousin Elespie got married to Ian Prior, a forbiddingly large wedding, at which Grandfather gave her away correct and severe in morning coat and black topper. Emily too was alone now.
As I steeped myself in the country again I felt it take possession of me. I was in time to stay with the Pages once more before they left Waitahuna for Wellington. The Port Hills and the hills round Lyttelton Harbour, uniformly dry hot tawny-yellow, had a parched, breathless look in great contrast to Otago. The harbour water at Governor's Bay was pale, milky, also with a curiously dry, unwatery look. The hot days were rich with warm full winy smells, from the grass, from the great wellingtonia in front of the house. Enormous peace enveloped us, many small sounds carved out of it — water washing on the rocks below, tuis singing clearly in the trees about the gully and the dense chatter of small birds, the occasional dropping of ripe mulberries from the tree beside the house as we lunched near it in the open air, page 412the babble of Eve's two sturdy children, a dog, a motor car, gulls. The whole air felt thoroughly warm and dry, as though every particle of cold and damp in the world had been converted. I loved that dryness, hungry to bask all day and feeling that the sun itself loved me; the wartime dread of cold and winter was still strong in me. The rocks on the hill above — the rim of the ancient crater, toppling nearly above our heads — were menacingly savage and near. It took me almost by violence, that rich rough breathless world of wild unpolished beauty, so strong that to live by and for it seemed life enough.
And people, it seemed to me, treated each other rather like features of the landscape. They were still so few that friendship, as I observed it, seemed a low-grade familiarity which had hardly reached the distinctively human level; it had neither depth nor form, it seemed not to be discriminate at all. Men clung together for mere animal warmth in this empty country where the landscape did not speak. But friendship (I thought) is not a fact of nature, and it has nothing to do with democracy. It is an art of the spirit, it requires cultivation, it is defined by, and contains, silences which express its human finiteness and are at the same time an acknowledgment of the more than human. Miss Bethell had that art. My friends had it. But now, with England closed behind me, should I find such friends again?
Reading just then the early cantos of the Inferno, suddenly for the first time I felt I understood what inspired the Commedia and what it is all about. It is a vision of the terrible reality of good and evil, and of the inescapable consequences of human action, which is the exercise of free will. The vision begins significantly in that dark wood between youth and middle age, where Dante implies that he had lost all sense of purpose and of right and wrong and that the life he was living was an unworthy one — unworthy of him. All at once he saw what he was in danger of becoming, and by contrast what he could become if he willed. The vision was a warning to him: unless he mended his life he would end up as one of the damned, bound for ever in the torment of a spiritual state, the inward being of those physical states the Inferno shows; for right and wrong, good and evil, his own sin and the truth and beauty which he had first seen or imagined in Beatrice were real, overwhelmingly real. To make the torment page 413worse, he would be self-condemned, for it was in his power to live ill or well, as he chose.
Dante's account of states of the soul which may be said to be true for all men in all ages is given in terms of the theology and cosmology of his own age; but what he is essentially concerned to say is plain enough, and simple enough: men are, spiritually, what they wish to be; they judge themselves by what they think and say and do, and judgement is now and all the time, for they are all the time faced by choices between right and wrong, or better and worse. Purgation there may be, if sin has not bitten too deep, but annulment never: what is done is done for all time. So, for those who are damned, Nulla speranza li conforta mai; for the good, there is the Oh sanza brama sicura richezza! of Paradise. To speak of Dante's cruelty is thus to miss the point. He does not condemn men to the punishments of the Inferno, on the contrary he is urgently warning them by showing the degradation and torment they condemn themselves to by evil living, by not caring, by indifference.
It was with eagerness and misgiving that I went to meet James in Auckland. What would the war have done to him — long imprisonment and back-breaking labour at the Tokyo docks on meagre rations? Although tall and strongly built, he had been down to eight stone at one stage in Hong Kong, he told me. But now to outward appearance he was astonishingly the old James; except that his hair was more markedly greying he seemed his unchanged self, with the same light quick springy step, vigorous speech and gesture, and hearty laugh. When he spoke about the Far East at a meeting one evening it was clear that his intellectual powers had not suffered. He spoke easily, forcibly, point following point in a logical sequence beautiful to observe. Towards the Japanese he was cool and objective, betraying no bitterness.
His capacities were such that a number of careers seemed open to him. He still thought of returning to China. There was a life of scholarship and university teaching in English, to which he was strongly drawn, or perhaps in Far Eastern studies; there was a civil service career in External Affairs and possibly the diplomatic service — if of course that was still open in timid New page 414Zealand to someone of first-hand experience, independent outlook and opinions already strongly expressed. James's views about China and Japan were already unwelcome to the government, it was being made clear. It was exactly people with his experience and knowledge and his intellectual powers who would have been most valuable in public life and at the head of affairs. Yet politicians feared and distrusted such people just because of their gifts, which they felt to be a threat to their own mediocrity. In a narrow jealous society it is generally those who shout loudest and are least scrupulous about their language who get to the top. The ablest and best can usually exert influence, if at all, only indirectly.
The Auckland surgeon Douglas Robb, whose instinct was always to be open-minded and liberal, lent James his cottage at Stanmore Bay. The dark broken country north of Auckland showed poor clay soil with thin grazing, low manuka scrub, gorse, pines, macrocarpa, a little bush in the valleys, mangroves filling swampy inlets, all very unexpected in this warm climate; it reminded me a little of Maine. Stanmore Bay faced east of north, the long low Whangaparaoa peninsula to our right; in the other direction rose the headlands towards Waiwera and beyond, covered with dark scrub, then Kawau Island, and far out to sea and thin as a cloud the high rounded nearly symmetrical Little Barrier. On hot days Kawau faded with it into the haze of noon. Sometimes Rangitoto was clear to the south, its wonderfully pure sweeping outline very soft above the waters. In blue air under that wide sky the waters and islands had a classical calm and glow; it was the Aegean again. Small waves hardly more than large ripples washed the beach a few feet below us; at night they fell sharply, sounding like the report of a gun. We rowed round a nearby headland in the Robbs' dinghy to take our bearings, and settled in, James to work on a book about his war experience, I to prepare poems for a book.
We swam, soaked our bodies in the sun, worked, and at first did not talk much. I expanded, and began to feel and think again, and feel about among ideas and symbols. James had Auden's Collected Poems with him, the Random House edition of 1945, and then W. B. Honey's long introduction to his Broadway Book set us talking about poetry. James's feeling for it had grown deeper and stronger; his perceptiveness about literature gener-page 415ally, his critical understanding, struck me with renewed force. He read Mason, Fairburn, Curnow, with keener appreciation than anyone else. He was my best reader and critic too. I wanted to show him every poem I wrote once I had taken it as far as I could and began to go blind to it.
I had met Ron Mason after James's lecture in town. He came up and talked as if he had always been waiting to know me, with a friendly simplicity and directness that warmed me to him at once. Willis Airey the historian, so long a well-known name, had been at the same meeting with his wife. John Mulgan's sister Dorothea Turner came out to see us at Whangaparaoa and talked about books and music; James had known her for years and I found myself talking to her as if we too were old friends. Our generation, spread throughout New Zealand and across the world, formed a group who would always find again when they met the attitudes and interests they had in common; loosely knit yet close in sympathy. Dorothea brought me a message from her father, Alan Mulgan, who was Director of Talks in the Broadcasting Service, inviting me to give a talk on dramatic criticism in a series of winter talks from the Auckland station 1ya; I guessed that Douglas Robb had suggested it, having heard of my play.
One evening Rex Fairburn came to stay with us, arriving after dark on his motorbicycle. A tall imposing figure with high bald forehead, prominent nose, and light-blue eyes, who should have been strikingly handsome but was just not — perhaps he had been when rather younger. Instead he had wonderful vitality and a ceaselessly active mind; he talked well and amusingly. We traversed the world — Russia, America, China, England, New Zealand. He and James were disgusted with the corruption of the New Zealand Labour Party and agreed that defeat would be the best thing that could happen to it. James toyed with the idea of standing as an independent candidate for Rotorua, where his family was well-known; but he expected to return eventually to China.
A telegram called me back to Dunedin in haste. Grandfather had had a series of heart-attacks from which he did not seem to be rallying. By the time I arrived he was a little better. Since he page 416found it a strain to hold up a book, Emily and I took turns to read to him from one of his bedside books, an old pocket edition of translations from the Greek Anthology. For the most part he hardly spoke, but when Dr Skinner came in he talked to him at length, perfectly lucidly, and with evident pleasure, showing an astonishing memory. He told Skinner to take certain objects for the Museum from the house now; and said to Emily and Kate that we too were to take things we might want, as gifts before he died.
Grandfather lay in bed in the large light bedroom which I first remembered when he led us there, Lel and me, to say good-bye to Granny shortly before she died. The wall-paper represented a rose arbour; on a white ground stems and green leaves climbed in widely-spaced columns, arching over to form a roof of red roses; I found it still fresh and charming. The cupboards and dressing table were of white-painted wood. On the walls hung reproductions of Italian paintings of angels, madonnas, sibyls (Melozzo, Michelangelo, Fra Angelico); Italian china trays and decorated wooden boxes stood on the dressing table. The front window looked down the lawns between the twin oak-trees, Signal Hill showing above them, and a glimpse of the harbour. Clocks struck the hour out of an astonishing depth of quiet, noises from the town sounded in the room as reminders of the surrounding peacefulness.
Grandfather lay ill in his room for nearly three months. I was with him all the time, sleeping either in the house or at Emily's, a few minutes' walk away. Kate too stayed in the house most of the time, returning to Amberley for one or two brief visits; Emily came up every day. The course of an illness, like a long voyage, carries one through constantly changing seas and weathers, now sailing quietly on, now becalmed, now even being blown back, passing through all the climates of the seasons, and touching at lands known and unknown.
At first, and intermittently, Grandfather was quite clear that he was near death; he made his dispositions accordingly, calmly and rationally, giving early printed books and first editions to the University Library, disposing of all the papers in his desk, deciding what was to be done with his clothes, opening a savings bank account for Tim's first child, a daughter ('You have to page 417make the best of it', he remarked when asked if he would not have preferred a great-grandson) born just before his eighty-eighth birthday, planning presents of books for friends and of china, pictures and books to members of the family, even settling the details of his funeral, as if that too were his affair.
After a month, he seemed to be in the position of having said goodbye to the world yet being unable either to leave it or return to it, while continually reminded of its life, its interests and sweetness. We continued to read the morning paper to him, at least the headlines, and the New Statesman. On good days he would look through the Illustrated London News himself — what interested him in it were its reports of archaeological finds. We read a variety of books to him, always at his choice. I read passages from the Phaedo about the death of Socrates — but left out the part describing his final dispositions, which I could hardly have borne to read, just managing to keep a steady voice through those in which after his sentence he discusses whether death is good or evil.* Grandfather listened closely, without comment. A little later I read him part of Theocritus's dialogue between Gorgo and Praxinoe, which he seemed to enjoy.
Gertie and Kitty Geisow came from Queenstown for their Dunedin season; two aged countrywomen as I saw them now, in whose slow quiet kindly voices, patient and humorous, I heard half my own past, and knew again the rock and tussock, the gums and pines and matagouri, the shining pebbles of the lake shore and Queenstown's old limestone schist houses — all Wakatipu almost except the lake water. They loved to talk of the past and especially of our family; they recalled my great-grandparents, dead forty years earlier, as old familiar respected friends who might be living still — 'Mr and Mrs Hallenstein'. Since I had not known them, I thought of them rather as familiar historical characters, Bendix Hallenstein and Mary Mountain.
They were much in all our minds, I think; so many places and episodes, so many objects round us at Manono, brought them back to us. As I heard them spoken of and thought of their lives they came to seem almost figures out of mythology, the ancient founders of a line, Abraham and Sarah, or Pelops and Hippo-dameia.
And yet many people now living still remembered them. In them English and German married, and Jewish and Christian were fused; a marriage of two strong characters that seems to have been notably good and happy. In Bendix and Mary the piety of their time was strong; they were close to the hazards and chances of life in a young country subject to flood, fire, earthquake, hold-ups, bankruptcies, shortages of goods and even food, dangerously dependent on communications by sea page 419with the rest of New Zealand, with Australia and England, at a time when shipwreck was common. The Mountains had been a conventionally pious family of the provincial middle class; this is clearer from her sister's letters than from Mary's, because energy and enterprise took Mary far from her origins, but she too betrays the anxiety and the piety that seemed to belong together. When she and Bendix were leaving England for Australia after their marriage she writes to Tom, 'if we are spared to make the voyage in safety'; and a few years later, telling him of their mother's death, 'Goodbye my dear Tom, may we all meet our dear Parents in heaven is the daily prayer of your loving Sister.' Bendix is more regular in expressions of piety; phrases such as 'I hope this will reach you all well which thank God I can also assure you of ourselves', occur repeatedly in his letters to relatives and friends; although seeming conventional, it is clear that they were really meant.
By what long tortuous path did the Brasches and the Hallen-steins come to settle in those obscure northern regions so far from their origin, centuries before, in Palestine? When did they leave Palestine? After Titus captured Jerusalem in a.d. 70, when so many Jews were sold as slaves throughout the Roman Empire? The very old Jewish community in Cologne is said to have been founded when a Roman legion with its camp-followers and slaves was transferred at that time from Jerusalem to the garrison of the Rhine. No record of all that past remains, but I try at times to imagine it; and when travelling I feel some unaccountable sense of having seen a place before, I wonder if it had sunk deeply into the eyes and mind of some ancestor whom I shall never know of.
Grandfather, I knew, was anxiously concerned about what I was going to do and what I would become. But he asked nothing; he did not question my staying with him all that time, often almost as a nurse. When someone asked Denis what I was doing, he answered that I was preparing a book of poems for him to publish, and that that was a full-time job. And I was indeed working on it whenever I found time.
This second book was going to be much better than my first, page 420I felt certain; I hoped it was going to be very good indeed.* I told Grandfather I was working on poems. Whether I told him I was preparing a book I cannot remember — perhaps not, because since Denis had not seen and accepted the collection I could not be sure that there would be a book. I longed to tell him, not simply that I would be publishing another book but that it would be a good one and would — as I hoped — bring me some reputation. I wanted to give him a little comfort and reassurance about myself, to show him I was not wasting my time. Yet I was never able to tell him.
Nor could I tell him about the quarterly we planned, which might have pleased him still more. James had been talking about it in Auckland with Fairburn and others, as I was now discussing it with John and Rita Harris. They took up our proposal for a quarterly with enthusiasm. They argued that it must have a single editor, and that this pointed to me. I should have liked to edit it, but doubted my capacity — because of insufficient knowledge, because I knew I was lazy and impatient and wanting in energy and ideas; I could however give all the time needed, I had some critical sense, if far from enough, and (I thought) conscientiousness. The ideal editor would be James, but he would not be able to afford the time without a salary. If only Jack Bennett were here to help me I would undertake it gladly. The Harrises would stand by me, that was certain; they knew a large number of possible contributors all over the country; they had heard that M. H. Holcroft was coming to Dunedin to edit the Otago Daily Times, and thought he might help. I was reading his book Encircling Seas; it would make me a little wary of him. I was not committed, except to the conviction that a periodical was needed. Denis would signal when the Caxton Press was ready and we would review the position then. It was all far too indefinite to tell Grandfather about.
* Finally published as Disputed Ground, The Caxton Press, 1948
Rodney told me about the young poet James Baxter, whom I soon met. The Caxton Press had published his first book of poems two years earlier, when he was only eighteen. He looked less than that now with his fresh round face and very clear eyes, and the frankness and warmth of his smile were quite unself-conscious. He stooped, or slouched rather, holding his head forward between his shoulders, but kept his heavy overcoat on even over lunch at the Savoy so that I could only make out that he was fairly thickly built. He left the university, he told me, because he was not interested; he seemed content to take casual labouring jobs which he said left his mind free, and to lead his own inner life. He wrote a lot, showing me a fat notebook from which he gave me a couple of poems to read. He seemed to have an untroubled, quite unassertive assurance that he was a poet and was accepted as one. He asked me with what I took to be unusually eager interest whether Dylan Thomas did not drink a lot? Rodney had told me that he drank a lot himself, and I heard him give a talk at the university at which to my dismay he declared that Thomas was a poet and genius because of his drunkenness. And yet outwardly he appeared to be untouched by the world, by the impossible choices, incompatibilities and guilt that are forced on us; he seemed to live and write out of the original freshness of his perceptions and emotions. How incongruous a pair we made, I thought as we walked along the quays, he with his clear-eyed directness, I in the complicated mesh of my guilts.
Manono still gave me a sense of the security I had known there for so long. In its shelter I was able to breathe and, I found, to work; it was my rock and my fortress. The garden secured my peace, holding the town at bay — although at Manono I felt content enough to be in Dunedin; and in the house everything was done for me. Now, I was Grandfather's grandson. Afterwards, I should have no security and no place of my own; I would be nobody, that is, myself. Meanwhile the old family friends among whom I grew up were there still, although not page 422all living in their old houses, and I felt towards them as they apparently still did towards me: the Todds, Agnes Hill-Jack, Mrs Gilkison, and a few others. It was not likely that I should see as much of them as formerly; growing up, I had formed my own interests, which were not theirs. Yet I loved them still, for their own sakes and because of the past, and knew I belonged among them as of old, in the time before question; largely because of them I wanted to go on living in Dunedin.
That period of Grandfather's illness seemed so long that I lost the sense of time, found days melting one into the next. Winter laid a drift of snow on the Peninsula and Signal Hill, and more thickly on Mt Cargill. It was drier than usual, the cold bracing; sharp wind and straw-pale sunlight. The wind in the trees seemed to rise among them and not to come from outside. On softer days the air was sweet with wood-smoke from a bonfire on the bottom lawn.
Sometimes Grandfather grew drowsy before evening, had to be roused for his supper, turned to sleep again at once after, and asked to be prepared early for the night; he seemed to be asleep even before Sister had filled his hot bottle. That fierce hunger for the oblivion of sleep made me wonder if he would wake again. But for weeks yet he was up and down. Calm lucid days when he asked for the news, wanted to discuss Museum finance and talked seemingly without effort followed days when he lay tired and breathing heavily, from time to time groaning so deeply and continuously that I heard him clearly through the wall when I sat in my dark room next door.
When he had lucid intervals, it was as if thoughts kept rising to the surface of his mind like bubbles, trembling there for a moment and then breaking, to be at once forgotten. He would speak of something that was plainly troubling him; if we were able to relieve him he would sink back apparently content. Or he woke in the night and talked to me for hours, not knowing who I was, all he said coherent and with a logic of its own but far, far away. He kept seeing people or objects in the room and on the bed. His body by then was only a pitiful ruin; to move him at all was pain and violence, until it was over and he lay more page 423easily. The pauses in his breathing grew longer, ten breaths and then a pause, sometimes eleven, the first breath often strong, the last usually only a sigh. Once, shaking his head slightly and with eyes closed or half-closed he said, not I think aware of me, 'Bin so müde; müde'. Another evening he asked me, 'Am I Charles's grandfather?' When I tried to assure him that he was in his own house and did not have to go anywhere he asked if he might then stay in bed and keep warm. I heard myself speak to him as to a child, 'What is it, little Grandfather?'; but he did not answer.
One day after that Grandfather recovered complete lucidity, and asking me what shock had caused him to lose his memory, was convinced he had been travelling. When I told him he had not been away since his journey to Greymouth late the previous year he gave me the date of his return home. He seemed to regain a grip on life, although he did not want to hear much news, or to have us read him anything except his letters. He smiled most delightedly at Colin Nicolson's small boy and spoke to him, talked of business with Colin, and remembered astonishingly all current affairs and people. It was the shortest day, very cold after a night of black frost, but fine and clear. Several days later he was again perfectly clear in mind, listening closely to a long report from the chairman of the Museum Committee, who came to tell him that the proposed extension to the museum was likely to be adopted as a memorial for the anniversary of Otago's first hundred years in 1948, and showed him plans for it. Fully alert, Grandfather took it all in and was clearly very pleased.
A few hours later he had a severe, prolonged, painful heart-attack which left him limp and exhausted, and after a restless day he slept and did not wake. He moaned as he breathed, now and then gave a great cry without waking or even stirring. Sometimes his arms reached out convulsively, but he did not hear when I spoke or notice when I rubbed gently his stone-cold hands, though it seemed to calm him a little, or I imagined so. It was a restless night, trees heaving with wind and stars blurred in a blotting-paper sky.
In the cold pale sunny morning, Grandfather had a few hours of choking breath, as if a dreadful phlegm were boiling in his throat, and then his eyes quietly closed and he was gone. Emily and Kate and I and his faithful nurse were with him.page 424
Two days later a bellbird in the trees sang him out of the garden, through clear light and shadow.
At last it was time for something new to begin.
I found myself waiting for the promised signal from Denis Glover, that the Caxton Press was at last able to print the periodical we had talked of for so many years. It turned out that I did not have very long to wait. *