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A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand

Chapter II. Dolly's Story

page 20

Chapter II. Dolly's Story.

We were so happy during those first months in New Zealand. Happy, in spite of hard work, to which we were all utterly unaccustomed, and very often hard fare to match it.

We all tried our hands at cooking, and at teaching our inexperienced Lizzie to cook, one after the other. I succeeded the best, and was duly installed as housekeeper and head of the culinary department;11 with a plentiful store of holland aprons,12 with bibs in front, and Miss page 21 Acton's cookery book in solitary grandeur on a shelf conveniently near to ray hand.

Violet kept the sitting-room in order, and undertook the mending of stockings for the whole family, while Kate superintended everything, and made herself (as advertisements express it) “generally useful”—that is to say, for the first few months; after that little Fred was born, an event which caused a great excitement in every member of the household.

But I am going on to this time too fast. I must advance more slowly at first.

We had a wooden house, roofed with shingle; not large, yet sufficiently so for comfort. We had only one sitting-room, but that was a good-sized room; the very pride of our hearts in contrast with other rooms in other houses of our neighbours, and regarded by the majority of the page 22 bachelors in the district as an earthly paradise13.

Why, it had actually a piano14 .. —Violet's own piano, which had been my mother's; and it had a bay-window, with a flower-stand in it, soon filled with geraniums15 , fuchsias, and one lemon verbena. Then there were two recesses, holding shelves of books, mostly belonging to Dolly, who was the bookworm of the family; besides all this, did not a pretty work-table stand in one corner, whereon were deposited three dainty work-baskets16, lined respectively with pink, green, and purple satin?

We papered the room ourselves, and hung up some engravings after pictures by Landseer and Sant17, in plain but pretty frames. We made chintz curtains18 for the windows, and put down a carpet19 we had brought from England on the floor. page 23 Then, with a strong leather-covered sofa, and chairs to match, and an oval table in the centre adorned with a plain green cloth, we thought ourselves complete, and, meeting Harry in the hall, we dragged him in in triumph to admire our upholstery.

Lizzie was much “up-lifted” that night at the increased grandeur of the family who owned such a regal apartment. Living as she had done almost all her life “up-country”—for her parents had sailed from Glasgow20 when she was quite a child—she had small experience of household comforts21, and had even gone so far as to mistake our iron bedsteads when she first beheld them in a disjointed condition, for ornamental iron gates, designed for the garden and paddocks.

Lizzie was a good type of her class22 and as such, I may add a few more words about her page 24 here. Utterly inexperienced, ignorant of house work when she first came to us, she was yet quick, shrewd, and hard-working to a degree which would make many English maid-servants open, their eyes in amazement. The rapidity with which she learnt new branches of domestic economy23 was only to be equalled by her readiness of resource upon an emergency; a quality not to be estimated lightly by any one who has tried living in the country in New Zealand.

Lizzie, I may add, married of course before long; but that has nothing to do with my story.

Harry had men always working on his farm; but they lodged and boarded with a married couple, established for that purpose in a tiny wooden house about half a mile away. From this place our milk and cream were duly brought page 25 to us every day, our butter twice a week, and our meat whenever we wanted it. The creek ran between this house and ourselves, and was crossed by a rough bridge just opposite to our front windows.

Harry had been warned by several of his neighbours whilst his house was in course of erection that the site he had chosen for it was rather low. Heavy rains are apt to fall in New Zealand, and creeks24 will sometimes rise in a few hours in a manner startling and unexpected to those whose homes are near their banks.

However, on mature consideration, there seemed no occasion for any serious alarm in our case; our house was far above the highest watermark known for some years past. Only the Maoris25 (very few of whom ever came near us) could recollect a time when the water had flowed up as page 26 far as the little lawn of English grass in front of the house.

Harry talked too of building a new and very superior homestead on a considerably higher elevation, as soon as his affairs had begun really to prosper. The house we were now in, he assured us, was only a temporary residence, and, as such, to be made the best of for a time.

However, we were very well satisfied with it so far, and everything went on very smoothly indoors for a while.

From the windows of our sitting-room26, and from those of my bedroom, we commanded a lovely view. The country seen from them was, it is true, dull and monotonous looking, but it stretched away to a magnificent range of mountains27, clothed in the winter in raiment of dazzling snow.

The outline of these mountains, cut sharp with page 27 the crystallized clearness of outlines in the New Zealand climate against the bright blue morning sky, or the opal heavens of sunset, I soon knew by heart; they always assumed, to my imagination, the form of a dead giant maiden28 lying on her back, with arms folded on her icy breast, and billows of hair flowing backwards till lost in the softer outline of more distant hills.

These mountains became, at the time I write of, a part of my life. I never recall any of those days but once more they rise before me, and claim me as a friend. In all their countless aspects, lustrous and dazzling in the sunlight, lurid and menacing in cloudy gloom, they were dear to my heart, and have stamped themselves upon my memory for life.

It used to be a great pleasure to me at that time, when busy about my kitchen duties, to hear page 28 Violet's voice as she sang” in the next room. She was very fond of music, and had brought out a large portfolio of her favourite songs. I shut my eyes for a moment, and fancy I see her now seated before her piano as she used to look in those days. Oh, poor piano! destined, like your mistress, to a strange fate!

Let me pause a moment here to try to sketch this fairest of my sisters as she was in her beauty and her bloom. She had lovely yellow hair, thick and glossy as satin, eyes of bright turquoise blue, and beautiful pouting lips as innocent-looking as a baby's. She was the tallest of us all, and was to me ever my “queen rose29 of the rosebud garden of girls.”

Kate was not as tall as Violet, and inclined to be short; she had dark hair, and a pale face, with a sweet expression, which made every one page 29 love her at first sight. Harry was fair, rather thin, and very good-tempered.

For myself, I used to see then in the glass a quaint little colourless face; darker hair than Violet's, worn in curls arranged high on the top of the head; and a figure which Violet pronounced too plump for elegance.

With this our family portraits are complete. Violet and I rode a good deal, generally with Harry, but sometimes alone together. It was arranged that we should return the Ainsleighs' call, and leave Kate's card, as she was not feeling strong enough herself to undertake the visit.

“Don't stay too long, girls,” said Kate, coming into the room as we were dressing for our ride. “And don't get too intimate with Madame Ainsleigh. I didn't like her manners at all, and page 30 I thought she seemed disposed the other day to try to force her society on you more than, we should desire ourselves.”

Violet was hunting in her drawer for a pair of riding gloves. She said nothing in answer to this remark.

“We will be very good children, and come home early, Kate,” said I, as I hastily arranged my hat before the glass.

“Mr. Ainsleigh seems a thorough gentleman, but his sister is not a thorough lady,” went on Kate, musingly, and speaking more to herself than to us. “I wonder who the Ainsleighs are, and what part of England they come from. I never met any people of that name before.”

Violet turned round, flushed with a contest she was waging with an obstinate button on her gauntlet 31

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“I warn you, Kate,” she said, “that I do not intend to take up any absurd prejudices. In this country, as Harry observed the other day, it is far better to be neighbourly; and if Miss Ainsleigh invites me to take tea to-night, I dare say I shall stop.”

Kate said nothing in answer to this; perhaps she did not care to reply after the dexterous fashion in which her husband's opinion had been quoted against her; but she looked hurt at the manner in which Violet had received her suggestion. Ah, my poor Kate! it was not the last time by many that we were to grieve you!

But Harry called to us to make haste; and we ran out to the horses, and except a hasty “goodbye,” no more was said.

I think Violet scarcely looked as well on horseback as at other times. She did not sit page 32 quite straight in her saddle, and her figure was too slim to show to advantage in a riding-habit, even with the assistance of a London tailor's padding. Delicate muslins suited her best, or anything which set off the colour of her hair and eyes. Perhaps it was the consciousness of this which made her rather cross and huffy during our ride, for Violet was always extremely sensitive to anything at all unbecoming in her toilet.But when we reached Feringhurst, which was the name of Mr. Ainsleigh's place, she was quite herself again. Before we arrived at the house she pointed out to me, with her whip, a figure dressed in blue, pacing in the garden, which she said she was sure was Madelaine Ainsleigh.

11 See also references to the colonial domestic in advertisements in the North Otago Times, 1874. See: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.New Zealand.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

12 A 'holland apron' is associated with a form of apron which 'loops over the neck. OED definition for 'apron' states: 'An article of dress, originally of linene, but now also of stuff, leather, or other material, worn in front of the body, to protect the clothes from dirt or injury, or simply as a covering.['

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

13 See references to the pastoral ideal in Edward Gibbon Wakefield's emigration policies in New Zealand History section (NZETC collection). See: http://www.New Zealandetc.org/tm/scholarly/subject-000001.html.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

14 A middle class luxury in the colonial homestead suggesting gentility and privilege.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

15 A species of flower. OED definition states: 'A genus of herbaceous plants or undershrubs (family Geraniaceae, of which it is the type), growing wild in temperate regions, and bearing a fruit similar in shape to the bill of a crane; a plant of this genus or its flower'. Early settlers imported flora and fauna from what they termed 'home' creating a contrast to the native bush which often bordered the early colonial dwelling.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

16 A haberdashery container of cottons and needles for women working embroidery. Here the mention of 'dainty' also signifies needlework and embroidery as a 'gentille' occupation for ladies of refinement or leisure.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

17 Both popular Victorian landscape and portrait artists.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

18 Chintz is often mentioned as a popular fabric in early colonial furnishings. OED definition for 'chintz' fabric states: 'orig. A name for the painted or stained calicoes imported from India; now, a name for cotton cloths fast-printed with designs of flowers, etc., in a number of colours, generally not less than five, and usually glazed'.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

19 A luxury item in early colonial homes whose interior furnishings consisted more commonly of bare floors and matting.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

20 A city in Scotland situated near the border of Scotland with a strong working class population.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

21 See Papers Past Advertisements for 1874, http://paperspast.nhatlib.govt.New Zealand.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

22 Despite the egalitarian ideal of the colony, the subject of class still existed between settlers. See records of passenger ship arrivals in North Otago Times, 1874. See: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.New Zealand.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

23 The colonial domestic reflected shifting social patterns in the colony.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

24 New Zealand vernacular for the English 'stream'. OED definition for 'creek' states: 'As part of a river or river-system. a.An inlet or short arm of a river, such as runs up into the widened mouth of a ditch or small stream, or fills any short ravine or cutting that joins the river. A reference to use of term 'creek' circa 1889 goes as follows: 'What they call a brook or brooklet or a streamlet or a rill, I do only, I confess its, call a creek and always will'. See: Orsman, H. The Dictionary of New Zealand English: A Dictionary of New Zealandisms On Historical Principles. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1997.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

25 Indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

26 The most common living area in the colonial dwelling. See mention of furnishing and objects in text.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

27 New Zealand is a naturally mountainous contry the highest of which are Southern Alps located in the South Island. This story is realistically located in the Otago region of the lower South Island.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

28 Here Evans is uing a feminine metaphor with which to describe local landscape.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

29 One of the earliest flower species to be introduced by English settlers. See also Isabella Aylmer's 'Distant Homes: The Graham Family in New Zealand' in Literature section (NZETC collection): http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

31 A form of glove and traditional feature of riding attire.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]