Tikera; or, Children of the Queen of Oceania
Chapter XI Friends may meet: but mountains never greet
Chapter XI Friends may meet: but mountains never greet
To judge by his appearance, our new acquaintance was no ordinary settler. To begin with, Nature had made him conspicuous by marking him with smallpox and depriving him of one eye. Then he had an orange thatch of hair, and a thick beard of the same brilliant colour which he shaved only on his upper lip. The rusty bristles, framing his purple nose and weatherbeaten cheeks, stuck straight out, as if some mysterious force was driving them away from his pock-marked countenance. Each time he doffed his hat, Mr Williams's head resembled the pictures of the beaming sun which are commonly found in farmers' almanacs. Let me complete his portrait by saying that he was bandylegged, that his right shoulder was considerably higher than his left, and that he was extraordinarily tall. Nature had not been a generous mother to him. She even begrudged the poor fellow a passable set of teeth and had allowed him only a few blackened stumps. To compensate for all these shortcomings, she had conferred on him a nose and chin longer than is usual among the Anglo-Saxons, which converged as though they longed to embrace.
As for his attire, I shall mention only that he sported a red handkerchief below his unshaven chin, that leather gaiters encompassed his long legs to well above the knees as if to accentuate their striking resemblance to bean-poles, and that his shoes were broader than those usually worn by his narrow-headed countrymen.
The unpleasant first impression which the newcomer made on me was not moderated by a few hours spent in his company. As he rode along with us he treated the whole company to ambiguous remarks about the young couple, unkind allusions to the missionary's adventures that morning, and jokes at my expense as a tyro driver. Yet when we stopped for a midday rest he slapped me heartily on the back and admitted that for a recent settler I had done quite well in my novel capacity. I concluded from further conversation that this gentleman and all the other local farmers whose homesteads were now beginning to speckle the countryside badly needed farmhands. He himself lived near the upper Wanganui River, where he farmed page 128 pigs. He had more land, on which he grew only wheat, close to the Wanganui township, in a region inhabited exclusively by pakehas.
The growing discontent caused by the new law of confiscation amongst their Maori neighbours, who were so excited by the news of the war that they openly displayed their sympathies, was encouraging the more isolated farmers to be ready to leave their land at the first rumours of armed attacks. It was no new experience for them to abandon their homesteads and arable land, and find on their return a heap of ashes, broken fences, and ruined crops. This happened regularly, every few years. They accepted it phlegmatically, like the inhabitants of desert countries who resign themselves to the inevitable plagues of locusts. Their losses were restored easily enough, for their hastily constructed houses could be quickly rebuilt. The first task of the threatened settlers was to harvest their crops and save them from being burned by the invaders.
With that thought in mind Mr Williams had hurried to the settlement. He was looking for men to bring in his crops, and also to help him transfer his pigs from the more distant farm to somewhere near the sea where they could remain safely until the war was over. He offered us the choice of these jobs. My companion, never over enthusiastic about manual labour, preferred to assist Mr Williams transfer his swine. But I was afraid of meeting Tikera, and opted to work on the wheat farm.
My parting with the missionary convinced me that my shortcomings as a driver, which might well have had tragic consequences for him, had not turned this thoroughly good man against me. Such accidents frequently occur in the colonies, and if we remember them at all it is to glory in the skill which averted threatening danger.
Mr Williams's farm was quite a small one. He left it in the charge of an overseer and some dozen locally recruited harvesters. Gathering the crop did not occupy us long, although, as often happens in New Zealand, not one worker at the outset had any notion of how to set about the work. They were tradesmen, seamen, even petty shopkeepers, loafers who found themselves with nothing to do and were pleased to earn a bit of money while learning about the colonial way of life. They all made rapid progress and soon acquired the necessary skill in their work—that is, with the sole exception of my friend. He was ashamed and afraid of manual work. His attitude made him a laughing stock to the other workers. Moreover, since our wages depended on our output of work and not on the number of working days, his eight days' earnings amounted to practically nothing. Finally a mobile threshing machine appeared, followed by carts which carried away page 129 the threshed grain. The overseer paid us in cheques drawn on a bank in New Plymouth. These are locally in circulation instead of hard cash, which no one likes to keep in the house for fear of robbers. Schaeffer came back on pay-day in the best of spirits. I did not ask the cause of his merriment, or if he had seen Tikera, and he did not volunteer any information. Counting up the money he had received from Williams, he was glad to find that he had enough to pay his travelling expenses to New Plymouth.
‘I'm sure to receive my funds there,’ he added, ‘and then I'll be able to pay my debt to you. What's more, I'll no longer be dependent on you. You won't be able to make me imitate your absurd attempts to work at tasks which are quite unsuitable for a well-born man.’
‘How will you support yourself without a trade?’ I asked. ‘You have no knowledge of making money in business, and no capital.’ I was somewhat hurt by the ungrateful tone of his reproaches.
‘If all else failed, I'd prefer sly-grogging to the Maoris, even at the risk of being arrested, to your way of life. Besides, there are plenty of ways to make a fortune here … perhaps through marrying the daughter of a wealthy Maori or … an ex-criminal.’
I knew him too well to argue about the nobility of toil. I had already learnt that notwithstanding the volumes produced by economists to prove this nobility, the majority of people who are forced to work physically, however diligent they may be, are always hoping that one day they will earn their living at a trade or with their brains. The labourer dreams that he will eventually save up enough to own a market stall; the farmer envies the civil servant his light duties no less fervently than the civil servant envies the millionaire his fine carriages and other luxuries. Although my happy disposition allowed me to support the hardships of a rustic life in order to see as many new countries as I could, I was not surprised that those who worked hard complained hard. How sad and stale this world would be if all its inhabitants stayed patiently in their tight little villages, living on potatoes and salt! I will not deny, however, that the people who do live in such isolation and never dream of a better world, may well be happier than wealthy people who want to end up as millionaires, and a hundred times better off than well-paid workers in the colonies, who constantly meditate how they can retire early on a good income.
A few hours' steamer voyage along the magnificent littoral of the southern part of the North Island brought us to the cape of Egmont, its south-west tip. Mount Egmont broods grandly over the country-side, its head perpetually in cloud, which hangs about it even when page 130 the sky is otherwise spotlessly blue. The waves of the South Pacific pound ceaselessly against its steep slopes. These shores, and the mighty mountain which acts as a backdrop to the eastern landscape, reminded me of Etna. Mount Egmont in its height, greenness, and symmetry greatly resembles the Titanic dungeon of Sicily.
At long last we observed the grey-shingled or shiny tin roofs of New Plymouth and entered its crescent bay, which is too open for comfort on the ocean side. Dunes of black sand backed by grey-green treeless hills, groups of red and white houses and several factory chimneys scattered between the hills and the water—this was the landscape edging the rippling half-circle of dark-green waves which mounted the rocks and tiny islands speckling the surface of the bay. Boats cuddled against this ocean dam, each held fast by two anchors. These boats had frequently to cut their moorings and adjust their positions as the changing wind sent them looking for shelter in the lee of the rocks and in calm places protected from gale and surge. Such a port makes a mournful picture, particularly when the waves by-pass the groups of little islands and roll on to the beach. As they touch hard bottom, they boil over into the dangerous water which in English is called ‘surf’, and in German ‘Brandung’, but for which there is as yet no proper Polish term.
As soon as we had landed safely through the surf we set off for the post office. A letter dotted with armorial seals was waiting for my friend. He seized it, his hand shaking with excitement. It contained the draft of a London bank on a well-known bank in Auckland. The postmaster, who was both a merchant and a kind of banker, measuring cloth in one part of his shop, weighing butter and pepper in another, and in the third exchanging currencies and attending to other more official functions, accepted the draft without hesitation. He poured out one hundred pounds in gold on to the counter. Schaeffer collected it all except for what he owed me, and began to read the letter.
What he read did not give him much satisfaction. He crumpled the letter up and pushed it into his pocket. Then he said to me: ‘They tell me that my European affairs are going so badly that I must either return or forgo my income.’
‘Use what they've sent you for your homeward journey and straighten up your affairs for yourself,’ I advised.
‘God knows whether my long absence has not got them into such a state that even my personal attention won't be able to disentangle them. I'll have to think it over. I can't return by the January boat, page 131 because it has already sailed. I'll have to stay here till the end of February. Travelling via Ceylon and Suez, I should reach Europe in six weeks.’ He fell silent, and after glancing round, began again: ‘Notice the unusual crowd in the post office and outside?’
Indeed, a large crowd was gathered in the street. I asked the reason for it. The postmaster replied: ‘The Maoris throughout the province have taken up arms. All the settlers who can have come into town to adopt common defensive measures. They've taken up quarters in any empty house, they're living in tents, even camping on verandahs. Huge herds of beasts fill the meadows on the southern side of the town. On the northern side the native raiding parties come as close as the outskirts. God knows whether we shall have the same trouble as four years ago when the whole population had to flee to the Middle Island and the deserted town was razed to the ground by the natives.’
Leaving the post office we found accommodation in a miserable little hotel where, for a very steep price, we were allowed to sleep in the hay above the stable. After dinner we climbed to the flat roof of the building to survey the town and the surrounding countryside.
A strange sight met our eyes. The outlying meadows, seen through the interlacing leaves of fern trees, were densely covered with the white tents of refugees and dotted with numerous smoking fires. Herds of sheep and cattle, tents, patrols of soldiers, carts, were scattered in a confusion which betrayed a sense of emergency. On the horizon above the hills hung heavy dark strands of smoke from burning farms. The fruit of many years' work under the harshest conditions was thus destroyed in the very first days of the war.
Volunteers were being recruited in the overcrowded parlour of our hotel, as in every other inn in the town. A Polish name (ending in -ski) was repeated by the recruiting sergeants. Major Tempski had organized an independent armed force to punish the rebellious natives. Regular troops from Auckland were also expected. The Provincial Council had been summoned by the Superintendent and was deliberating whether to increase the armed forces by conscription. In the meantime volunteers were being enlisted under similar terms to those described in my chapter about the war in the Waikato.
The existing law of compulsory military service had not so far affected foreigners or the residents of other provinces, many of whom had come to New Plymouth in the hope of escaping this onerous duty. Many people not anxious to make heroes of themselves moved from Auckland to Taranaki, or in the reverse direction, to escape being drafted. Thanks to their prudence the colonial army was under strength. Although the Taranaki and Ngatiruani tribes which inhabited page 132 the region between New Plymouth and Wanganui did not exceed some three thousand people, and were unable to put more than six hundred warriors in the field, they could not be met effectively without reinforcements of regular detachments. The residents of Taranaki relied on the loyal Maoris who were in the pay of the province.
A day later General Cameron, Commander-in-Chief of all the armed forces in New Zealand, disembarked from a warship. He was met by a few detachments of regular troops. Their scarlet tunics, their stature, their martial expressions, their plentiful rifles and cannon, all in good condition, did not augur well for the enemy. There were also some five hundred militiamen on parade. It was difficult to believe that a paltry handful of half-naked and poorly armed savages had the courage to rise in rebellion against such a superior force, which was also supported by skirmishers recruited from their own kinsmen, who knew every corner of the Island.
Nevertheless, the rebels held a countryside of thick forests, deep, wide rivers, and mountains and passes which were inaccessible to the ponderous Europeans. The Maoris were masters at choosing and fortifying strategic points, and as brave as the Montenegran high-landers; and they were sustained by their new religion known as ‘Pai Marire’. I should add that cutting roads through these forests was a hard task, and that all the reinforcements and supplies for the British army were transferred from ships to shore without any port installations. This catalogue of difficulties will help to explain why the Maori defence was so long, and often so spectacular.
The New Plymouth newspapers maintained that while the troops of the line operated inland the militia would secure the main force from the danger of being outflanked by raiding parties from the Waikato tribe to the north, and would also guard the town from invasion and fire. General Cameron moved his forces into the forests, and the news of his successes increased the confidence of the newly enlisted militiamen. Parliament managed to pass a law compelling all men between eighteen and thirty-six years of age to join the colours. Foreigners were also liable under this law. They had to leave the province if they wished to escape its provisions. Those who did not want to fight could join the pioneers and cut roads. We were unable to leave New Plymouth. There was no ship sailing from the cursed place to Australia or even to the Middle Island. Conscription was already in force throughout the North Island. We had perforce to become soldiers. I chose to serve with the pioneers, where I would have to fight the natives only in a last resort. Schaeffer unhesitatingly page 133 settled for a fighting unit, preferring the bayonet to the axe. Within a week of our arrival in New Plymouth we had to report before the draft board.
In a large room where we underwent a medical examination we saw the whole staff of the provincial militia. Each captain was determined to select the best men for his company. In all their arguments the decision rested with a tall greying man whom I knew to be Major Tempski, and because they argued even about me, as if I was a piece of furniture which could not be divided and which every captain wanted to have, I was presented to the major. On hearing my surname he jerked up his head and asked in heavily accented English: ‘Are you a Pole, sir?’
‘What attracts you to the pioneers and sappers? Are you afraid of fighting? If you're looking for a safe place in the pioneers you're making a great mistake. They run the greatest risks. We have just received a dispatch reporting that a whole troop which was clearing a road for General Cameron has fallen into a Maori ambush and been wiped out, to the last man.’
‘I am delighted to hear that it was not the Maoris who were exterminated.’
The major looked at me with a half-astonished and half-anxious expression on his face. Then he leant towards me and warned me in German: ‘I understand you, sir, but am a little surprised. You must learn to voice your opinions more softly. Prudence never hurt anyone.’
Then he said loudly: ‘Register this gentleman into the pioneer company, under the letter B.’
My companion was allotted to an infantry battalion. We were equipped with grey hats, ornamented with green cock's feathers, and rifles. Then we were sent to the camp. Uniforms were not yet in general supply. The militia resembled Falstaff's immortal troop. Its members sported flannel jackets, seamen's blouses, and even well-cut frock coats. Some of them were stalwart fellows, but more than a few were rickety or pot-bellied. In short, like every home guard, this one collected, along with many tough characters, a sizeable number of runts and misfits, who brought ridicule to the whole organization.
There were as many different nationalities represented as there were occupations. Each European country and each calling had contributed to the motley contingent. The officers were on extremely easy terms with the humble privates. I shall never forget the sight of a small gathering of men of all complexions, languages, and ranks when I once paid a fleeting visit to a camp canteen. It was pandemonium. page 134 I hastened away when I recognized in the host Mr Williams, and in the hostess his daughter. I did not inquire into the circumstances which had driven them here and given them their new roles. I ran off in too great a hurry. From that day on I avoided the part of the camp where I had discovered my old acquaintances—which was also where Schaeffer served.
He did not often come to see me, either, and thanks to this mutual neglect our acquaintance petered out, killing our friendship, such as it was, in the process. His drill and other military exercises kept him busy in the camp, while I spent a lot of time in the town, working on the magazines which the Government had hurriedly erected to store war supplies for its own militia and the regulars. From a number of my mates I heard that he spent all his free afternoons at the gambling table, where he enjoyed extraordinary luck at cards. Gambling thrived in the camp. So did heavy drinking, thanks to the many canteens. I knew him too well to be surprised that he had already found the shortest way to lay out his money on something which might make him rich—but might equally make him poor. Va banque! This short exclamation defined most aptly his favourite dream of striking really big money at last.
In hard work I soon forgot about him and other short-lived friendships. Physical occupation is the best remedy for sorrow. While working with axe or plane, or tottering under a load of rafters, beams, or frames, I did my best to ignore the fact that I lived in the same camp as a Maori girl with burning eyes and that my idle, pedantic travelling companion had turned into a card-sharper. After ten hours of steady physical toil I happily rested beside the fire of an evening, lying outside my white tent and dreaming of a small country manor house in a far-away land.
One day—it was late afternoon on a Thursday—I drove the last nail into a hut for which I was at the time almost solely responsible. Having carefully wiped my tools free of damp and stored them away in my box, I unfastened my apron and gazed absent-mindedly at the sea which was rippling gently under the evening breeze from the land. Seeing that the setting sun, the seagulls, and even the waves were ready for a night's rest, and that my mates were also now stopping work, I lifted the heavy box on to my head, more than ready myself to go back to the camp. As I strained to lift the box I gave one or two grunts of exertion.
My complaint roused a long echo.
‘A poor, poor pakeha!’ said a familiar voice just behind me.
I turned towards the speaker, the box on my head. Good Lord! It page 135 was Tikera! She was neatly dressed according to the prevailing fashion in New Plymouth, and looked at me with angry irony.
‘A poor pakeha,’ she repeated mockingly, ‘that box of yours will squash you. Put it down. Better still, give it to me. I'll help you carry it.’
I was not a little worried by her teasing words. They were an unmistakeable sign of fury. No wonder that instead of honest perspiration, caused by solid work and hardly wiped from my forehead, I was suddenly covered with the cold sweat of humiliation. Though I had several possible excuses I stood silent before the girl who had every right to accuse me of dishonest conduct. My tongue refused to obey me. I could only say: ‘Thank you for your offer, miss, but I'll carry my tools myself.’
Then I took a step or two forward, quite determined to leave her. But I reckoned without her. The powerful lady of fashion barred my way, and with her hands resting defiantly on her hips, looked at me with raised brows and compressed lips—a genuine brown Bellona laden with thunderbolts.
At last her expression relaxed a little, though her lips trembled with anger as she asked: ‘Are you in such a hurry for your supper that you have no time to put down your box for a moment and greet an old friend?’
‘Yes, I am in a hurry,’ I muttered, trying to cover my confusion as best I could. ‘Tell me where I can meet you tonight, and I'll welcome you and thank you for all your past favours.’
‘Can't you wait a few moments now?’
‘Really, I can't….’
My denial was cut short by the explosive Miss Jenny, who with one energetic and unexpected movement knocked the box off my head and my hat with it, so firmly that I almost fell myself.
‘A mean, mean man …’ she shouted. ‘Your friend has told me how mean you are … but I didn't know you could lie so brazenly. I live in the camp, too, and I know well enough that after work you can do what you like. You aren't a soldier, only a carpenter in Government employ.’
This served to show me that dodging would do me little good against my savage aggressor. The word ‘mean’ touched me on the raw. At the same time it made me realize that I would have to face this pestering person squarely if I was to rid myself of her. The only way to do it was to remind her of my racial superiority.
‘Jenny,’ I said to her firmly, ‘remember that my patience has its limits. Even my realization that I deserve your anger and punishment page 136 does not oblige me to endure such vulgar behaviour, fit only for savages. Remember too that our origins and the local customs build a wall between us which I can't cross without lowering myself. I admit I crossed it once. I deliberately acted a role to obtain your help. But let's be frank. Didn't you act a little yourself?’
‘I don't understand what you mean.’
‘Didn't you play me along, and perhaps yourself too, in the hope of pleasing your father's ambition, and your own? Doesn't your stupid ambition tell you that the love of a white man will raise you to his level? Obsessed with this delusion, didn't you wrong a Maori chieftain who had long begged for your favours, to whom you apparently promised love and fidelity, and who left you in despair?’
‘Who are you talking about?’ exclaimed the girl, in evident confusion.
‘About the man who is just back from the sea. The man who is entirely worthy of you, a far more suitable match than a European like me who does not intend to stay in this country or to look for ties with the local population. I owe you a debt of gratitude, which I'll repay with a piece of advice. Don't let that chief slip from your grasp. Even though his name is only Te Ti, don't reject him for the promises of white-skinned men.’
Jenny eyed me angrily.
‘You have no right to talk to me about Te Ti,’ she said. ‘You have no right to tell me what to do. My father will never let me live in a raupo hut, dig kumara, catch fish, weave mats, and become the wife of a kainga chief. I am the daughter of a white farmer who has plenty of cattle and plenty of money. I won't forget that. I don't want to be just a Maori girl.’
Once I had forced her on to the defensive I was free of her attacks. Taking my advantage further I interrupted her: ‘And I mustn't forget that I am a traveller who has not come here to bury himself in a farmer's homestead. I have neither time nor inclination for light love affairs. I shall be more open with you than you were with your Maori suitor. I'll tell you straight out that what happened between us cast no slur on your reputation, and it didn't bind me to anything either. You're free to look for another pakeha, less fastidious or less honest than I. I don't want to be a farmer. Look for someone who does.’
My words hurt her pride. She blurted out naively: ‘Do you really think it's so difficult to find one? More than one redcoat pakeha comes to my father's canteen and begs for a kind word from me. page 137 Your friend who stayed with us and helped to save our pigs from the Maoris constantly nags at me because I met a bad man like you. He would willingly settle down as a farmer. In fact, he just won't leave me alone.’
My suspicions were confirmed. While I was toiling on the wheat farm Charles had been entertaining Miss Jenny. He had not limited himself to fomenting the girl's anger against me, to describing my perfiduousness in the blackest colours. Taking advantage of her sense of grievance he competed for the place which I had vacated. ‘If what I think is true I am sorry for you, my poor Maori maiden,’ I thought.
‘I am glad you have an embarrassment of candidates for your hand, and that even my refined friend would like to take my place,’ I said to her ironically. Then I added seriously: ‘I warn you, though, not to trust everybody. The pakehas who drink daily in your father's canteen to be close to you are not just interested in your words and your smiles. And Mr Schaeffer, who, as you know, is not very particular about the objects of his affection, never acts without a plan and a purpose. His love of farming is a recent discovery, and his sympathy towards you may be caused by something other than sorrow at my bad behaviour.’
‘He is so good to me … and he knows such a lot about farming,’ said Jenny, ignoring what I had said.
‘Is that so?’
‘Since we've been here, he never misses a day without calling on us—while you haven't been near us.’
‘Why are you laughing at me?’
‘My friend's complaisance amuses me.’
‘What's so amusing in it?’
‘A great deal. You won't credit it, but he has never even told me that he has seen you in New Plymouth—let alone visited you daily. He did not even tell me about his doings on your farm.’
‘With only his help we cleared my father's farm and rounded up all the livestock scattered in the, forest.’
‘Just you two?’
‘Who else was there?’
‘Charles has never talked to me about your charming partnership, or told me that you were here, or about his regular visits to you.’
‘And I specially asked him to let you know we were here, and that I wanted to see you.’
‘What for?’page 138
‘I had to ask whether you felt tied by your promises to me, or whether you wanted me to release you.’
‘He never said a word.’
Jenny was silent for a moment, then she said: ‘Do you white people ever speak the truth? I never know which of you I can trust. He says he met you and begged you to come to us, but that you sneered at him. I was very angry with you for that. I thought you were a coward, that if you wanted to break with me you should have told me so yourself…. But you say he did not tell you a thing. No, I can't believe you.’
‘Well, never mind. Here you are, and I can ask your intentions. That's what I came for.’
‘There was no point in your coming, for though I never spurned an invitation through Charles, I knew you were here. I avoided you. Isn't that enough to show you that I don't want to renew our relationship?’
‘So he spoke the truth! I don't care whether he gave you my message or not. You admit yourself that you wanted to be rid of me, and that you hadn't the courage to tell me plainly that I was free.’
‘Do you want to be free?’
‘Well, you are free. Does that satisfy you?’
‘No!’ exclaimed the capricious girl.
‘What else do you want?’
‘I want to tell you what I think of you,’ she shouted loudly, her face as flushed as it had been on that occasion when she had reminded me of a bronze statue lit by red lights. ‘I want to tell you once again that you are a villain and that you should have come to me to free me from my word.’
‘You exaggerate. I was only trying to be gentle with you. I avoided you, counting on your womanly intuition. I thought you would understand my behaviour and go your own way.’
‘How could I possibly understand? You vowed and you lied. You promised to stay with me for ever, and then, although you knew we were here, you pretended you did not. You can explain everything away with your fine talk, but I shall always say that you have behaved like a villain. If I told Father how you have treated me, who knows what….’
‘And what would he do?’
‘My father has no sense of humour. It's not my way to run to him with complaints. Anyway, I don't care a pin for you.’page 139
‘I doubt whether you ever did. I stood for all white men in your eyes. You had not met many others, and so you clung to me…. And now,’ I added after a longer pause, ‘let's finish this scene. We understand one another, don't we?’
‘I can't and don't wish to renew our friendship. I demand to be released from my obligations, and I release you from yours. This suits you as well as me. Isn't that what you wanted me to do?’
‘No, no,’ protested Jenny, ‘not only that.’
‘Only in part?’
‘Yes, only in part.’
My masculine vanity whispered that the girl spoke truly. She had not engineered our meeting simply to break with me. Some vestiges of sympathy still lingered in her heart, and if she had a choice I might be able to win her hand in competition with her latest admirer. I had no desire to compete with him, however. I left her hint unanswered.
Although I did not envy Charles his gain, I felt sorry that she should be his victim. I had no doubt about that. Even if he did marry her, I knew his principles too well to avoid seeing why this petty European aristocrat had stooped so low as to become the lover of the dark-skinned daughter of a wealthy local boor.
When after a prolonged conversation she had finally freed me from all my previous obligations, I began to talk again about Te Ti and her attitude towards him. Her passing reference to his presence in the camp enabled me to find out that he remained loyal to the English simply to be close to her in New Plymouth, and that he led a detachment of skirmishers picked from the youth of his kainga. He had enlisted with them in the service of the Colonial Government.
I made her confess that Te Ti had met her several times since his arrival and had insisted that she keep her promises to him, to which she would not agree on any condition. Yet she spoke about her Maori admirer with an unintentional tenderness. Clearly she must have loved him a long time ago, and that love was still alive somewhere in her heart. Her preposterous dominant ambition would not let her respond to this genuine sentiment. Besides, her heart could not feel or react in the same way that Caucasian hearts do. This I discovered when I accused her of behaving badly in disowning her first lover.
‘Particularly when you loved him—and even love him now!’ I added.
‘No, no,’ she denied. ‘I was only fond of him. I felt happy when he turned up on our farm after a hard walk through the mountains. page 140 Father had forbidden him to come, so I used to see him in the bush. Often he would meet me there as I rode bareback while I drove our herds. Yes, we were happy together. We could not tear ourselves away until the white smoke over old Tongariro turned red—often not until its bright plume had changed into a cloud and was lost among the stars of night. Then, in the dark, he would lead the horse and support me with his arm as we walked together until the farm dogs began to snarl. They quickly recognized us and let him take me to the door. Father used to go to bed early. When he woke up in the night and heard voices he wondered why the labourers and I were not asleep. Only then would my friend leave me. In the end Father guessed who it was I went out with and spoke to me sharply. He chased Te Ti from the house for ever. I did not see him for a long time. Recently we met again, but nothing will come of it. I told him not to love me any more.’
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘I was bound to you.’
‘Now that that is all over, go back to him.’
‘Never! I would even prefer….’
Jenny dropped her eyelids and did not answer my question. I did not need her reply.
There was a moment of silence.
‘It's time to go home,’ said the Maori girl at last. ‘What will Father and he think when they find me out so late?’
‘Has he already the right to ask you that question? Jenny, Jenny,’ I said playfully, ‘it seems to me that even before our meeting tonight you had wiped me out of your life.’
‘I had not,’ protested the naive girl. ‘But he comes so often, and tells Father he loves me very much. Father is pleased to hear him say so. Although he's poor, Father says, he's reliable. Not being an Englishman, he cares less about my background. Father thinks that Charles would like to stay on the Island and settle down as a farmer if he had a fair chance of success. Charles himself says so. Father also says that I should pay attention to Charles in everything and give him no excuse to stop his visits. He doesn't come to amuse himself but because he loves me … so he says.’
‘Do you believe him?’
‘Why not? He is a white man and can choose. Why should he lie?’ asked poor Jenny in her simplicity.
‘Do you like him enough to keep him here as a farmer?’page 141
‘I like it when he speaks to me. He is so frail, with such a white face, and such lovely yellow hair … I want to take care of him like a mother … I think I like him.’
‘Could you forget all your past for him?’
‘I think so,’ said the truthful Maori girl.
‘And your Maori lover too?’
‘Him? I can easily forget him. Don't you ever mention him again!’
‘And me?’ I asked treacherously.
The girl was silent.
Why should I inquire further? Afraid that any further interrogation would turn her away from looking for consolation with Charles, I remarked: ‘If you really think that by sharing Charles's life you will forget Te Ti, you must tell him so. Why shouldn't you be his sweetheart, his affianced wife, even his wife in the end? But remember that you can't trust everyone the way you trusted me or the Maori chief. Beware the rustle of the cabbage trees, the darkness of a starry night, a parting under a verandah, a walk with a young man or a friend…. Jenny, it's time to return to the camp!’
Indeed, it was high time we parted. The night spread its dark-blue canopy above us, the moon bathed her face in the waters of the bay, painting the sandy beach with silver. The song of evening filled the air with the sound of rippling oars, the buzzing of insects, the laughter of young couples in boats on the sea or walking on the dunes. It was a night for dreams, and made it impossible for me to play the part of a quarrelsome lover, or even an indifferent friend.
We set off arm-in-arm. Apparently delighted with the outcome of her talk with me she chatted animatedly about Charles's prospects and high hopes. Her voice sounded in my ears like the barely audible hum of insects. I heard her but I did not catch the meaning of what she said. I was preoccupied by my anxiety for the future of this changeable woman, who could not love anyone—this woman unchecked by common sense, entirely controlled by her passionate nature.
Obedient to my words she marched to the camp beside me without a single halt. As we reached the first tents I said: ‘I am going to the left … and you?’
‘Our canteen is in the right wing.’
‘Good night then. I can carry my tools to my tent myself. It's not far from here. Listen! the town clock's striking midnight.’
‘And nothing else?’
‘What else do you want?’page 142
‘Give me a last kiss. Let's make it a friendly farewell.’
‘No, no, you're playing with me. Your kisses are a game. You don't know how I feel when you hold my hand. Oh, my poor head!’
Why did she complain about her head? She seemed quite happy with its position. She could not tear it away from my shoulder, where it had rested even while she talked about Charles. Who can understand Maori women!
I could not understand this one myself. After our argument and our final parting, Tikera not only gave me a kiss but went weeping away.
For three whole days after this episode I meditated about this curious female phenomenon. I tried to reconcile the persistent drive with which she resolved to achieve her ambition and the complete lack of caution in her conduct towards me, her lack of control over her passionate outbursts. It was hard for me to understand this woman (very likely, the gentle reader will find it no less difficult) who scorned real love to contract a union which would elevate her to a world which her origins and the colour of her skin had hitherto closed to her; yet who, despite this overriding desire, had no defences against a temptation which promised only ephemeral tributes or caresses.
Years since then of rubbing shoulders with peoples of different colours have taught me a thing or two about this paradox, which I found quite impenetrable during my brief acquaintance with Tikera. She was not unique among her dusky sisters; indeed, she was typical of them. If destiny had allowed her to live her whole life without meeting a European, she would have passed from her father's hands to those of any local warrior, like a piece of merchandise bartered for another piece of merchandise. She would have endured her husband's brutality with an almost dog-like devotion, and, like a dog, she would have adored the punishing hand which, when her master felt like eschewing his other wives to amuse himself momentarily with her beauty, would occasionally have stroked her affectionately. And she would have thought herself happy, for these women do not conceive or desire the sacred feeling which in our world firmly unites a lover to his beloved, a husband to his wife; that precious element which turns an earthly passion into a gift from Heaven. Apart from maternal love, which with them approaches idolatry, they know only a respect tainted with fear, the feeling which they bestow on the fathers of their children. They are sold by their parents, and they do not complain against their lords' cruelty, for they see in them the benefactors of their offspring. Thus they become the docile slaves of their lords and masters.page 143
But if one of these women is thrown by chance into a civilized community, where she sees examples of that real love in which two partners have the same rights, envy of her white sisters' happiness wakes in her a strong desire to have a European for a husband. In him she expects to find love, chivalry, and equality. She will strive for privileges which the men of her own race will not grant her, because they cannot. Tikera had been taught since childhood that she was fully entitled to enter the white world from which only cruel prejudice, disregarding her beauty and her father's fortune, kept her forcibly away. The jealousy so nurtured endowed the passionate creature with a damnable will, and gave birth to an ambition which now and then curbed her instinct but could not change her lusty nature, or present her with the control of momentary impulses, a faculty her people do not possess. The European example taught her nothing, except to whet her appetite for the gay and refined life of white women. Her only feeling towards her past life was a deep contempt for her dark-skinned sisters who had no choice but to live in dirty huts. She still remained a naive savage girl, governed by irrepressible outbursts of passion. Poor creature, torn from her natural surroundings where circumstances would have shaped her into the docile plaything of a savage and a loving mother to her children, she was set among people who flattered her vanity and deceived her.
What fate could be in store for her? Cut off from the sympathy of the world she yearned for; attractive and passionate; credulously blinded by the hope of recognition; unstable, from an upbringing which had taught her that earthly love had no sweeter or higher purpose than the satisfaction of physical desire; tempted by white scum and an astute adventurer; in short, a creature exposed to internal and external temptations and deprived of friendly counsel; she must become the victim of the first white man who, overcoming the inborn abhorrence of Caucasian men towards coloured women, condescended to pick up such easy prey.
Fortunately the changeable and permissive nature of these women endures and forgets more easily than their hot-tempered words would suggest. A tear shed after the departure of the first lover will be dried by a caressing phrase from the second. Though they delude themselves, search continuously for the elusive, pass from hand to hand, they never, despite all their disappointments, lose a certain freshness of mind and speech. Such women are beyond the comprehension of European stay-at-homes, but are often found in Oceania, Australia, the Rocky Mountains, or the flamboyant cities of the North American south. I have heard countless incredible tales of desperate quadroons page 144 or octaroons, as blue-eyed and pale-faced as any northern beauty, who toiled long hours to satisfy the lightest whim of their successive white lovers, and treated with disdain their honest suitors of mixed blood, even though they were almost as white as the Caucasian tyrants! Should you learn to know such a woman intimately you will see in her an apparently proud European lady, prudish in speech and manners. Pretend that you love her, promise her marriage, and she will believe you. Should you protest passion, your protestation will rouse all the instincts passed on to her by her ignorant and even primitive great-grandmother. Should you persist in your pretended or real love you will find a slave who suffers even your brutality without a word of complaint and is ready to do all things for you. Should you abandon her, she will think in the first moment of taking poison, of stabbing herself; but after a week, will have a new lover whom she will adore to distraction.
At first sight Tikera had much in common with other such women—origin, lack of sound moral sense, a passionate nature, ambition. Perhaps the germs of the instincts which make our women the equal of angels lay concealed deep in her heart. No one had so far brought them to life. Perhaps the influence of a noble man might make these seeds grow.
And yet, who would undertake such a task? Who would dare to defy the mores of colonial society by taking care of this child of Nature, so eager to attach herself to someone worthy of her? Who would be prepared to repay her devotion by rousing and cultivating her generous instincts, by sharing her passions? Colonial society did not offer one example of a similar union. At that time I neither knew nor had heard of a European who, having married a half-caste, treated her as his equal. Either such examples do not exist at all in English colonial society or they are extremely rare. Even I, an undoubted radical, would never think that one could love, respect, and marry a primitive coloured woman! At least my convictions made me realize my duty as a member of a superior race towards the inferior races. I held it beneath a man of honour to take advantage of these simple-minded, passionate daughters of Nature. Nevertheless, like all the settlers, I would never deign to look on them as my equals.
Although I did not think that the Maori girl was worthy of a white man's love, and would never have treated her as my equal, my view of the matter was essentially different from the settlers' prejudices. I would have rejected even the wealthiest Maori woman with as much pride as if I had been a sovereign prince and she a commoner. I would never stoop to marrying her; nor would I ever spoil her reputa- page 145 tion by satisfying a passing fancy. This small but vital difference distinguished me from them. They agreed with me in my reluctance to marry a Maori woman, but mocked me when I insisted on leaving her alone. I advised Tikera to look for a husband among her own people; they would have told her she was worthy to be a white man's mistress.
Years later when adversity, travel, and habits of thought had obliterated the Anglo-Saxon prejudices I had adopted, I stood before her and met the out-stretched, friendly hand of the Maori woman I had once spurned—my equal in education, ennobled by learning patiently inculcated by a loving teacher—and understood the real value of this superb diamond, whom I, and others, had treated so negligently on that remote island. From that day I have learnt that if coloured women do not possess the prudence of our women, and shock us by their absence of refinement and their excess of passion, the fault lies not in their temperament but in their upbringing. Even half-wild Tikera, with her fiery eyes and her head turned by the flattery of a European libertine, became equal in love and discretion with a modest matron of our world. But whose eyes can pierce the mysteries of the future?