My First Eighty Years
Chapter 1 — High Country Childhood
High Country Childhood
My youngest grandson lately exhibited a passing interest in his ancestry. Enquiring into it he found that he was a true-born Englishman in that he seemed to be derived from all the races that ever touched British shores; he also found that he came from a long line of very respectable, law-abiding, often devout, but, on the whole, deadly uninteresting forebears, one of whom here presumes to offer the reader some experiences of her long life.
I suppose that the earliest memories of most of us concern our mothers. I have a mental picture of mine rapturously unwrapping the mail — monthly mail — and saying as she unfolded copies of Punch, The Illustrated London News, Cornhill and other magazines:
‘No one can possibly feel isolated or out-of-the-world with picture papers like this coming straight from the centre of things. Why, they take you right to the scene of action.’
This must have been in 1875, and my recollection is that the pictures were of the Paris Commune, but as that belonged to four or five years earlier I must conclude that only old numbers were given to six-year-old me. No doubt illustrations meant more in the days when films were undreamed of and photographs a rarity. At any rate I can still see those Punches representing Dizzy with his curls, Gladstone with his pomposity and even Palmerston with his flamboyant whiskers, his striped trousers and his straw or twig between his teeth. Those early impressions are not yet quite effaced.
We lived then at Ben Ohau, one of the more remote of the sheep-stations of the Mackenzie Country. We were 108 miles — three days' drive — from Timaru, our town.page 12
My father had brought my mother from Melbourne as a bride of eighteen, not, certainly, to Ben Ohau, but to Ben More, a somewhat less isolated station on the Otago side of the Waitaki River, which my father was then managing for Robert Campbell, an Englishman, who had bought large tracts of country in Canterbury and Otago. The Campbells lived at Otekaike, where they had built what was then said to be the finest, as well as the largest, house in the colony. It is now, like so many of the mansions of the past, a Government institution.
Life at Ben More, to a girl fresh from the gaieties of Melbourne, might have seemed a pioneer existence, but the stories that my mother used to tell of that time did not impress me with the hardships of pioneering, but with its fun.
There were stories of long rides to dances on neighbouring runs when evening finery hung in a band-box over the husband's saddle. Has it ever struck you that handy little leather suitcases are a modern invention? Our grandparents travelled with chests, large or not so large, or with cardboard boxes, unashamed. Remember the old lady who, anxious to lose none of her things, kept repeating the inventory throughout the journey: ‘Big box, little box, hand-box, bundle!’
When you rode sixty miles to a party, you didn't think it strange that it lasted three days or more. Sometimes these parties were at Otekaike, sometimes at homes less magnificent but quite as delightful — games, dances, charades, theatricals, picnics, sports. They seemed to know how to amuse themselves.
A gang of shearers went from shed to shed, and, wherever the gang happened to be at Christmas time, a race-meeting combined with sports was held. Shearers, owners and station-hands entered their horses and themselves for the events, and at night they all danced page 13 together in the woolshed where Christmas fare was served according to old English traditions.
These were New Zealand's times of roaring prosperity. I remember no such times. The stories were fairy tales of the Golden Age to me, glimpses of good times that had passed.
Once my father and mother took a six-weeks' drive over the Lindis Pass and down the Molyneux River, taking the nurse and baby (myself) with them. They pulled up, unannounced, at the various homsteads, and stayed the night — or longer. Apparently you did not have to know your hosts. Every squatter had heard of all the others, and welcomed a visit from any of them. Nobody asked, ‘Will you stay?’ That was taken for granted. If anything was asked, it was ‘How long can you spare us?’ This in order that the visitors might meet the neighbours. Imagine a waggonette containing four strangers rolling up at any homestead to-day to stay for an indefinite time.
When the next baby was expected, the family was taken to Melbourne, where a son was born and died some months later. We returned then, and took a house in Dunedin, where my sister was born. In the meantime, my father had bought Ben Ohau station, where he now took his family to live. This clumsy hybrid name was, by us, called and written ‘Ben Ohou’.* My father's initials were W.H.O., and his nickname among friends was ‘Who’. I imagined that there was some connection, but perhaps it was only the slipshod Maori that is usual in the South Island. When visitors, especially surveyors, would pronounce it correctly, we thought the name sounded ugly and vulgar.
* ‘Ohu’ is the phonetic spelling of the pronunciation, I think.
At the end of the verandah, a room had been recently built of timber with a corrugated iron roof. This was considered too cold in winter and too hot in summer to be used as a bedroom. It was called the bathroom, which meant that a round painted bath-tub was placed there and water was carried to it in pails. This was emptied by pouring the water back into pails. I think that my father was the only one who used that room. He had a cold bath carried in, and in the winter the water had to be left in the pail, because in the shallow bath it would have been frozen solid. We children had our baths in the same sort of tub placed before the nursery fire. There was no such thing as lying luxuriously submerged under warm water, as we expect. to do in bathing to-day. You squeezed water over you with a sponge. It was at least six years later that I first heard of a bath with a tap to fill it and a plug to let the water out. It sounded so wonderful that, when friends of ours in Timaru had such a bath installed, I walked two miles on purpose to look at it. It was a tin bath, with no hot tap, and the plug let the water out through a hole in the floor, out into the wide world. It was called ‘American plumbing’.
Looking back, I can see that my father was worse off, now he had his own station, than when he had managed Ben More. There was comfort enough in the home, and plenty of leisure, but absolutely no style and also no companionship. I often wonder what the servants did all day, for there was always a married couple and a nurse-maid. At one time, we had a man and his wife and their two daughters. They had just landed from Yorkshire, my father's county, and wanted to be together. My sister who was five acquired a broad Yorkshire dialect.page 15
Mackenzie Country is a vast upland plain surrounded by a ring of mountains which rob the air of most of its moisture. How it was discovered is one of New Zealand's oft-told romances that need not be retold. The soil is probably rich enough, but the perpetual drought and bleak winds from the snowfields are not helpful to vegetation. From the point of view of fertility, it is a God-forsaken tract of land, but those who lived there always spoke and acted as if belonging to the Mackenzie Country added cubits to their stature.
Ponies, pet lambs, puppies, an extraordinary profusion of small fruits, jam and cordial making, tramps with my mother, watching her sketch and trying to imitate her, snowballing in winter, sliding and trying to skate, lessons with my mother in the morning, and walks with the nurse and the younger brother and sister in the afternoon, a trip to Timaru once each year; this was life in Mackenzie Country. Nature wore a harsh visage there. The plant life that managed to exist proclaimed it. There was no shelter, no forest on the bleak plains, but, where streams cut banks, a few hardy shrubs maintained life in their protection. One, called ‘Wild Irishman’, was a gnarled shrub entirely composed of long, hard thorns. It had no visible leaves. Broom was represented by a dwarf native shrub on the long, tough, greenish streamers of which no leaves were apparent. The plains were dotted by a plant we called a Spaniard, which looked like a yellow porcupine and at its best grew as high as a chair-seat. Each leaf — if you can call them leaves — ended in a sharp point like a bayonet, strong and poisonous. Mr Edward Gifford, an artist from Oamaru, came to stay with us in order to paint the rare atmosphere of the Southern Alps. He spread his rug on one of these Spaniards and sat down to sketch. He was in bed, and in much pain, for ten days. There was, too, a harsh brown weed that dried in autumn and blew away in balls hanging on to the fences. We called it wire-weed, and it made splendid mattresses. There was also a grass we called hat-grass because my mother made hats page 16 and baskets of it. It really was most beautiful, silvery-cream colour hat-straw, and after we went to town we were very proud of the hats she had made. Crawling on an occasion under a clump of tough creeper that grew in patches on the hillside, I found flourishing in its shelter a fern — a real fern. I was so awed by the glory of my discovery that I could say nothing for some seconds. It seemed to me a wonderful tropical growth.
My niece quite recently motored through Mackenzie Country. She wrote that she had always been led to believe that the family fortunes had fallen irretrievably when we lost Ben Ohau. After seeing it, she thought a church-mouse would be well rid of it. Of all the poverty-stricken, desolate, lean and hungry places, give her Mackenzie Country, especially Ben Ohau. What heresy that would have seemed in our day! Fortunes were made (and lost) in those uplands.
Nature, especially animal life, plays a large part in the life of the country child. I grew devoted — absurdly so — to the denizens of the farm-yard and my special pets. A strange collection used to accompany us on our afternoon walks. A pigeon that had hurt its leg would fly to us, wait till we had gone on a spell, and catch us up, alighting, sometimes, on our shoulders. There was also a friendly piglet and a turkey hen that had been reared by hand, as well as the more usual dogs, cats, kittens, puppies and pet lambs.
Once a cook, plucking a fowl, pointed out to me that its wings ended in five digits (fingers, she called them) exactly like our own fingers and thumbs. I was vastly impressed. I followed up the thought and found the same in all my animal friends, which was as far as my limited observation went. All species seemed to begin with a head, fastened to a backbone from which were appended four limbs, each used for flying, walking or climbing, each ending in ten digits. Had God but one idea, one plan of creation? I was taken a step further.page 17
The making of jelly was one of the seasonal occupations. It was then actually made from the feet and shins of calves or beasts killed for beef. After days of boiling, the liquid was strained, clarified with egg-shell, sweetened, flavoured, and bottled for summer use. Poking among the long-boiled bones thrown out for the dogs, I discovered what I thought must be rudimentary fingers or toes curled inside the cloven hoofs. I called Mrs Kemsly, who had shown me the digits on a fowl-wing, and she confirmed my fancy. I was awestruck. I was filled with speculation almost to bursting, when suddenly I felt I had discovered the awful truth — these animals, so dear to me, were really people, human beings on whom a wicked witch had cast a spell, or, it might be, an avenging God (I saw little difference) who, for a crime, had doomed them to this voiceless shape: a worse fault, perhaps, than that of Adam and Eve. Oh! It was dreadful! It might happen to anybody. How could I, not conspicuous for virtue, be sure of remaining a little girl? Then, to account for the beauty and lovableness of those condemned people, I invented a good fairy — or a kind angel — who, moved by pity, had begged permission to bestow on each a gift — soft fur, wings, shining plumage, or, perhaps, usefulness by which they might appeal to humans, who could make their lives tolerably happy. All the same, they were for ever yearning to throw off the spell and regain human form and speech. Did we not hear, by the pathetic sounds they made, how hard they were trying to be understood? I looked into their eyes and knew that they were trying, in deadly secrecy, to tell me their hope that some day they would be freed. Something would happen, some heroic act, some enormous sacrifice, some lifting of the veil would suddenly transform them to their proper shape, and those who remember the egoism of childhood will know that the liberator was to be a certain little girl with no distant resemblance to myself, only she would be very beautiful and good beyond the dreams of men and angels. page 18 I knew exactly what sort of human being each of my animal friends would turn into. The hens would be fussy old ladies in shawls. The doves would be plebeian and rather stupid, the pet turkey would be an old beggar-woman I had met in a book, the lambs would be jolly, romping boys, the kittens — the most dearly beloved — would be darling, little golden-haired girls, my children or my friends, who sang pæans of grateful praise for their deliverance.
This does not mean that I had any universal love and sympathy with human beings. Contrariwise, my sister was a dear golden-haired little girl, but I had no desire to make her lot happier. In fact, I was an irritable, rebellious problem child. It was not till I was fifteen and my world was feeling the first tremors of Darwinism, that I entirely abandoned my fairy-tale.
Winter was a lean time everywhere, but especially on those cold uplands. Preserving of the kindly fruits of the summer was unknown, except as jams. No tinned goods, except sardines and, later, salmon, were available. Salt butter was universal, though occasionally a stall-fed cow enabled a farmer to make a few pounds of fresh butter. Usually we were lucky, as there was a meagre supply of milk. I remember once the snow was deep on the ground and some accident had happened to our winter cow. The privations must have been pretty real, but there seemed to be no fuss made about it, nor any complaints. I don't believe this was exceptional. It was the recognised duty of wives to take what was provided and make the best of it, and to see to it that the head of the house was incommoded as little as possible. On the other hand, complaints may have been carefully kept from the nursery.
The unbridged rivers were the true curse to us, and to all Canterbury. I believe that never did the monthly mail arrive at the station but it contained an account of at least one drowning accident. This did not include swaggers — sundowners, we called them — who would only be ‘body page 19 of a man unidentified, evidently tried to ford the Tekapo or Waitaki River’. Those rivers were a nightmare to the wives when their husbands rode to town. There was no road from Ben Ohau till one almost reached Burke's Pass. One simply drove across country, picking up, if possible, bullock-waggon tracks, which were often well chosen. At both of the larger rivers the Provincial Council stationed a man to look after the ford. When you reached the river, you waited till the ford-man came out of his cottage on the other side and with a flag showed by the signs where best to ford it. After a flood the banks were often washed away, and a steep drop of from four to ten feet might be cut in them. It was the ford-man's job to discover where the new ford was (it often changed) and to construct a cutting by which teams could drive into the river at a reasonable grade. Even with these precautions, fording the rivers was a terrifying experience. If you, reader, take a little trip to Mount Cook in a motor-car in this year of grace 1950, just take a look, as you roll across the bridge, over into the milky boiling water of the Tekapo or the Pukaki, and you will be amazed that any man ever had the courage to take his wife and family into such a cauldron.
My father drove what was then called a Galloway team — three horses abreast — in a waggonette. Two were considered not sufficient for the journey, and a four-in-hand was the team of the really wealthy. Often one horse was left behind as we neared the town and the roads improved. Once we had an accident on the way home. At a steep little pinch, pulling up out of a small river, my father injudiciously gave a spirited horse a sharp flick. Paddy promptly kicked the trap to pieces. We had seven miles to walk to the ford-man's cottage at the Tekapo River. There we had to stay the night, though there were only two very small rooms. All I remember of that night was hearing the crawing of fowls having their heads wrung for our supper, to the accompaniment of which I fell asleep, supperless. Next day, page 20 my father rode to the station and brought the dray. It was well after dark the following night when we reached home.
The ‘May storm’ is still remembered in the chronicles of Mackenzie Country. Usually snow did not fall heavily there till after June, and in April or May the squatters mustered the mountainous ridges and drove the sheep to the lower country that they might not be imprisoned on the heights by the snowdrifts. That year, 1878, Ben Ohau had mustered early, and most of the sheep were down on the flats. When an exceptional fall of snow came on the eighth of May, my father, no doubt, congratulated himself on his early muster, but the snowfall, about sixteen inches, as far as I can remember, was followed by six weeks' heavy frosts. Every night, the snow froze hard, every day the hot sunshine melted the surface, which froze again at night, till the paddocks were overlaid by clear, hard ice some two inches thick. The unfortunate sheep could see the grass through it, and died feebly tapping the hard surface. The Ben Ohau flock perished and had to be renewed. One of the young station-hands put sledge-runners on a box and we three children were pulled about over the hard snow, but I was old enough to be overwhelmed by the misery of it all and got no enjoyment from the sleighing.
In 1936, I met in Timaru the present owner of Ben Ohau, Mr Cameron. He told me that an even more disastrous storm had since then almost effaced the memory of the ‘May storm’ of 1878, but that the run was, nevertheless, quite a profitable concern. They grow more winter feed now. He offered, if I could have stayed, to take me out to lunch and back the same day! He also told me that the old cob-and-thatch house had then only just been demolished. How I wished that I could have accepted this offer to see it all again, but I was President of the Women's Division at the time, and a meeting had been arranged for me in Oamaru for the following day.
Though it is casting ahead, I do not want to leave station life without mentioning one feature that was beginning to page 21 appear on most stations in the 'seventies. These were boiling-down works. Fat wethers and other superfluous sheep were there slaughtered and skinned, and, after the fat had been extracted, the carcases were thrown out on the paddocks. This is significant, and is the key to a great many things that happened in New Zealand during the following years. Merino wether mutton is — or was — the best mutton known, quite equal to the famed hogget mutton of to-day. The sheep were slaughtered because there was no sale for the meat. The wool, skins and tallow were the sole profit.
Why were these animals ever bred? Because Sir Julius Vogel had, in 1870, conceived the brilliant idea of raising a Government loan with which to build railways, roads and bridges. Labour was required. Large numbers of immigrants were brought in and employed on these public works. Their wages, spent largely on food, raised the demand for produce. Prices of stock and prices of land rose to match. New Zealand was prosperous. Investors heard of the matter and hastened to buy land and farm it. Labourers flocked to enjoy the high wages, each adding his quota to the boom and to the inflation of prices. Then, the loan spent, what could there be but a slump? Refrigeration was unknown; therefore, exports were confined to those commodities that did not deteriorate on a long voyage — wool, hides, tallow, wheat, salt butter, honey — and, when the price of wool fell to zero, New Zealand was in a bad way indeed. Let the reader remember this digression. It explains things related hereafter.
In 1876, when my brother was born, we took and furnished a house in Timaru, and obviously intended to live there. This was before the ‘May storm’ and before the big drop in wool. Things probably looked bright. Edward Wakefield, nephew of the great E. G., was the editor of the Timaru Herald and Member of Parliament for the district. It seems that there was a Bill introduced into the House of Representatives for the revaluing of the squatters' leases. page 22 It was passed, and evidently made so much difference to the run's profits that my father had to take his family back to the country. Mr Wakefield said to my mother, ‘Now, why are you planning to go back to the station?’ She said, ‘Because you lost us our leases’. Then she was covered with confusion because, having meant by ‘you’ the Parliament, she remembered that, by an alcoholic accident, Edward Wakefield had wandered into the wrong lobby and the Bill had been carried by one vote. It could not have been till the end of 1877 that we went back, for I remember the opening of the State schools in that year, and I remember hearing Edward Wakefield read The Pied Piper at that opening function.
I do not agree with those who extol the advantages of being brought up entirely in the country. I am sure I was a backward, stupid child, but that year in Timaru I awoke to consciousness and began to understand how the world wags.
My first party should have taught me something, but I doubt if it did. A friend a little older than myself came with me. Her people lived nearby. Their nurse took us both and my father called for us and took us home. Returning, our house was first en route. I danced in, full of glee, saying, ‘There was a Christmas tree! See what they gave me!’ and displayed a bead necklace squeezed in a sticky hand because it had ‘got broke’.
‘Is that all you got?’ asked my companion. ‘Look at my things!’ She opened a neatly packed basket and exhibited a doll's washing-tub and board, a doll's bedstead with blankets, sheets and pillows, an orange velvet carrot pincushion (most desirable), a shell box, and a pen-wiper with a puppy to hold it by. In answer to enquiries as to why she was so lucky, she explained to the grown-ups, ‘Oh, you see, Nell doesn't know how to manage at a Christmas tree; she just hopped about shaking her beads, as if she didn't want anything else. I put mine by, and came and stood by page 23 the thing I liked next best, and by and by someone came and gave it to me. Then I put that by, and just stood looking.’ (She had large appealing brown eyes.) ‘I always stood where a different lady was giving out presents.’
I felt dreadfully humiliated, and hastened to explain that I had had a packet of sweets as well, only they got spilt. That made things worse, for they laughed, and I knew the laugh was at my expense. Later, when I was still awake pondering on how I ought to have behaved, I heard my father say, ‘Well! Anyway, I would rather have our Nell and her broken beads.’ I couldn't understand why he should say that, in face of such ignominious failure on my part, but it comforted me.
The companions of our early years are often lost in the moves and mists of life. It was otherwise with M —. I was in contact with her till her death.
She grew up beautiful, ‘faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly null,’ came out in style, spent several gay years in Timaru, with occasionally a flutter in Christchurch, and then, somewhat late in life for those days, married a man with fair prospects, but considered unlikeable by almost everybody. It was certainly not a love-match. Even during the engagement period, she sometimes used her sharp tongue to make him look small. They lived a cat-and-dog life. No! Dogs and cats are noisy, vulgar plebeians, without much venom — these were gilded snakes with poison under their tongues and cold hatred in their hearts. There were no children, not even a dog or a cat in the house on which a warm ray of feeling might have fallen. They hurt each other, at the same time immunising each his or her own skin against the darts of the other. Bitterness showed on his face, but hers was as sweet as an angel's. With a smile like rippling water on her thin, delicate lips she would launch the most poisonous barbs. Hers was the sharper tongue, but his ability to hurt was reinforced by the power of the purse, not a long one. Why did they live together? Well! She page 24 was an excellent housewife, and kept things smooth and correct for her own sake: he required refinement and a well-ordered home. Perhaps they enjoyed the contest of hate. Were they faithful to each other? Who knows. At least each managed to keep any indiscretion from the watchful eye of the other. He laughed last, because he died first and had the melancholy satisfaction of leaving her just as poorly provided-for as the law would sanction. He left the house, which she had cared for and adorned as a fitting setting for that beautiful cold diamond that was herself, to his sister. She spent her last days in a cheap boarding-house.
In 1879, our family's holiday was taken earlier. My father and mother and I went to Dunedin in April. We stayed with the John Connells at Port Chalmers. It was a wonderful holiday. He was a surveyor with a large family.* We went back to Timaru, and my father went on to the station to see the last of the wool clip on to the waggons, while my mother and I stayed at Woodlands, the home of Captain Cain and his two step-daughters, who were reputed to be heiresses. On the following Saturday, my father was to return in time for the Timaru sports, the event of the year that no squatter ever missed, and then he was to drive us home.
* If any of them still live please receive my greetings, for I have lost touch.
It seems that the wool was being shipped that year over the unfordable Ohau river to Oamaru. Across the river ran a wire rope on which hung a cage that held four bales of wool. On the Ben Ohau side, there was a high cliff of red slate on which was built a windlass. The bales were placed in the cage and then it was allowed to run with its own momentum to the lower side, where the bullock-waggons stood waiting. The rope was wound up again by the windlass, ready to receive the next load. My father was standing by the windlass, taking notes of the weights and markings of each bale, when one bale slipped and threatened to roll into the river below. He threw the bale hook in his hand into it and managed to save it — he was a man of great strength — but in the effort he evidently strained his heart. The men who were with him reported that he went down to the river and sat there for a long time drinking the water. They went home in the dray and he followed slowly, leading his horse. He went straight to bed, and in the morning was found dead there by my sister. The doctors said that he had bled internally.
What happened to his family is a story which grew even more familiar during the next decade. The mortgagees foreclosed and put Ben Ohau up to auction. The price failed to realise the amount of the mortgage, so that the widow got nothing at all out of it, not even the furniture or her own horse, Belfast, that seemed to us almost one of the family. My mother always considered the transaction fraudulent and the auction a hole-and-corner job. For years she kept the papers connected with it, in the hope that my brother, when he came to manhood, might contest the case and perhaps retrieve something.
A child of nine can hardly be said to know its parents, yet everything I can recall of my father was kindly and endearing. A huge, red-headed Yorkshireman of immense page 26 strength, with, I think, a sensitive and boyish nature. One letter, still extant, written from Ben More to my mother who was away on holiday, is so tender, loving, solicitous and generous, it leaves no doubt in my mind. He pointed out to me the ways of the wild things he loved and would tell us about the English birds and the Yorkshire wolds.
He shared the early settlers' wistful longing for the sights and sounds of Home. Once, when my parents were walking along a Timaru suburban road, children at feet, my father suddenly let out a joyful yell, seized his hat, and, pointing with it to the sky, shouted, ‘There! See! There it is! Hurrah!’ and, running a few steps forward, he turned a somersault. He had heard and seen the first English skylark.
I may make a guess that my father was a poor manager of money. Most of my family are.
My mother went back to the station leaving me, not at boarding-school as had been intended, but to live with a family called Granger, where there were six children, including two golden-haired, blue-eyed little girls, as pretty as cherubs and about my own age. With these I was to attend the new High School soon to be opened in Timaru, for my mother approved strongly of the new idea that girls should, like boys, be educated for a career.
Mrs Granger was a beautiful, stately, cultured woman with a gracious manner. Mr Granger was also handsome and benevolent-looking, and they both were truly religious — religious to a degree I have never known since. They seamed to live constant communion with Jesus. They spoke as if He were in the house and taking an active interest in all the family doings. Though there were seven children in the house, it was most perfectly ordered. ‘One must always behave and keep everything in the home in such a way that, if the Lord were to return to earth this day, He would find that we were awaiting Him.’ They — and all of us — lived in daily expectation of the Second Coming. So much so that, when Mr George Grey-Russell came to dinner page 27 and the best dinner-set was on the table, we girls asked each other ‘Has He come?’ If Mrs Granger mislaid her thimble, she retired to her room and prayed that she might find it. Sometimes, of course, she did find it. When she did not, she smiled sweetly and said, ‘Jesus must chasten me a little longer for my carelessness’. There was not a grain of pretence or hypocrisy in all this. Never did mortals better live up to their convictions. The household ran smoothly and sweetly. There was never any haste or bustle. Even the baby seemed to have found eternal peace. There were two boys of, say fourteen and twelve, and only once during the eleven months that I was with them did these — or any of the family — do anything that might merit correction. That once, a heinous crime was committed. One of the boys shoved the other at family prayers. There was an awed silence, Mr Granger held up his hand, and the delinquent slunk out of the room.
I think the only scriptural precept that was not in daily practice in that family was Solomon's injunction, ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’. This terrible offence gave Mr Granger a God-given opportunity to obey with much solemnity this commandment too. It was an epoch-making incident, the sensation of the nursery for the year. That was the only lapse from sanctity committed in the family.
After all, they were logical. If we really believed in the imminence of the Second Coming, how else should we behave? Even self-interest would prompt us to be ready and waiting for the good rather than the evil doom. But all we do is to sing fervently —
‘Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my life, my soul, my all.’
Once I committed the great wickedness of writing a story and reading it to the girls. Did I not know that inventing a story that was not true was just telling lies, a thing Jesus page 28 could never approve of. I had neither the wit nor the pluck to cite the parables.
Yet, for all this piety, the Grangers were not self-righteous. When revivalists, Amy McPherson sort of people, came round as they did frequently, the family was always re-converted. Their emotion would swell with the preacher's eloquence and they would go up to the penitent form, in company with reprobates and old drunkards, and declare that they had never known the real glory of the Lord Jesus till that minute. This happened with Father Chiniqui, a renegade Catholic priest, with Mrs Hamson, whose eloquence rocked the town and saved many souls, and, years later, when the Salvation Army arrived. They found it the climax, and Mr and Mrs Granger were afterwards to be seen walking the streets in Salvation Army uniform, singing and beating the drum. But at the time I was left in their charge they were Presbyterians.
The year I lived with the Grangers must have been a particularly tragic one for my mother. She stayed on at the station expecting that the final settlement would make some provision for her. The mortgagees put on a manager whom she disliked intensely —a young pup with swelled head, she called him — and she soon found that, in her own home, where her slightest whim had taken priority over everything else, the very servants were not under her jurisdiction. The manager took my father's splendid horse, rode it from Timaru in one day, and foundered it. He lent her horse Belfast, which had never carried anyone but herself, to the men as a station hack, and finally he determined to go to the Oamaru races and take the whole staff of household servants. These were the Yorkshire family of whom I spoke. They were leaving, and he proposed to bring back a married couple. To go to Oamaru, it was necessary to ford the Ohau River, always considered unfordable with a vehicle, but in his anxiety to get to the races he persuaded himself that the river had never been so low within the memory of man. page 29 Not content with that grave risk, he tried to ford before it became daylight and succeeded in drowning the mother and one of the daughters. The trap was of course smashed, but the horses were found some days afterwards two miles down the river.
After that, realising that there was nothing to salvage, the widow came to settle in town with her young children, full of hope and confidence that she would be able to make a home and a livelihood for us all. She was twenty-eight, and her youngest child was not quite three.