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Tikera; or, Children of the Queen of Oceania

Chapter XIV Charles von Schaeffer amazes the world with his knowledge

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Chapter XIV Charles von Schaeffer amazes the world with his knowledge

We took a whole week to cut a track through to the settlement we had recovered from the Maoris, and to restore the farmsteads and make them ready for the returning settlers. Two small cannon and a solid abatis fortified the conquered Maori stronghold. The settlers then came back, accompanied by a troop of militia which was to remain there as a garrison. Life on the recovered land did not promise much, if the omens of the second day following their return were anything to go by. A patrol was sent to the east and came back all flustered with the news that a big Maori war party was on its way. I saw then an incredible display of courage from the women of the frontier. The men hurried to the abatis, calling on their wives to follow; but many refused and stayed in their houses, blocking up the doors and windows, determined to defend their children and property against the savage invaders. They shouted that they and their children would not again face misery as refugees. Others donned ammunition belts, and with guns in their hands went out to the palisade, more than ready for action.

The news proved to be false. It was caused by the cowardice of the militia who seeing a large party of friendly Maoris did not wait to check their identity and rushed home with their frightful tidings.

The duties of our detachment were not confined to labouring. We had also to guard the Maori prisoners, whom we would eventually escort to New Plymouth. The ‘old sack girt with a string’ was a special problem. We suspected that for religious reasons some of our Maori allies would willingly help him to escape. He was therefore put in irons. I and many others were sorry for the old man, and often released him from his fetters when it was our turn to guard the prisoners. This meant that we had to watch him all the more carefully during his exercise period in the abatis. We would never allow any native to approach him. They were either dead against him, or equally strongly for him. Some of the Kawhai warriors would have killed him page 173 if they could; others would have been more than happy to set him free.

Several events soon showed us that the group of half-converts to Pai Marire among the friendly Maoris was quite a large one. Firstly, they remained entirely inactive after the death of their young chief. As far as they were concerned, the war was over. And secondly, they abandoned themselves to amusing ceremonies which occupied much of their time. Some would spend hours every day on conjurations which were supposed to make them immortal. Others would gather round a Jew in our troop, since one of their dogmas promised them that by renouncing Christianity they would become like the devotees of the Old Testament. Yet others listened enthralled to stories of the miracles accomplished by the prophet Te Ua. As old Pehi was also a prophet, although a minor one, the adherents of the faith claimed that he should not be left in the hands of the pakehas.

One day a party of Arawa tribesmen, who had previously joined General Cameron's advancing column and were quite unknown to us, arrived at our settlement. They were to drive a large herd of cattle from the settlement to the main military camp. Despite their loyalty to the Europeans this tribe had a particularly awful obligation to old Pehi. Though we watched him carefully the newcomers had removed him from the abatis scarcely two hours after their arrival, broken his fetters, and set him free.

I was on guard on top of the west palisade when the old Maori ran past me, no more than six paces away. I instantly fired my revolver at him. The foresight of my weapon danced on his scraggy chest. The old man saw me and stopped dead. In front of him rose a wall of logs, some six feet high—a kind of second defence round the stronghold, provided with a row of loopholes and encircled on the far side with a ditch. Even a young warrior could not overcome that hurdle without losing time. The Maori stared at me defiantly, although he must have been waiting for me to fire at him. Uproar from within the abatis clearly showed that the pioneers were taking action against the Arawas. Military discipline ordered me to shoot: pity counselled me to miss. For a moment I forgot all the trouble the old prophet had fomented. I fired several shots into the air and gestured to him that he should scamper off.

The old Maori clambered up the wall with an extraordinary agility for a man of bis age. Before he disappeared on the other side he turned and gave me a sign which I interpreted as a gesture of gratitude.

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A few minutes later a European patrol marched down the path between the palisades and the wall. They asked whether I had seen the fugitive. I said that I had, but that I had missed him. When the patrol commander heard that Pehi had escaped because of my negligence he threatened me with a court martial, but because of the lax discipline prevailing in the militia his threat never materialized.

Our work came to an end at last and we returned to New Plymouth. There we found a number of changes. For while one part of the militia had marched off to the bush, the rest, constituting the permanent town garrison, had played at soldiers every morning and in the afternoons occupied their time profitably speculating in oil.

Before our departure we had constantly complained about the unpleasant smell of the stream which supplied water to the camp. During our absence my former travelling companion suggested that the smell might be caused by the presence of oil beneath the ground. With real colonial sharpness he persuaded several New Plymouth merchants and militia officers to undertake a search. The first drills were sunk outside the camp, close to the stream. After a few days of drilling the workers encountered layers of oil-soaked rock. The work continued day and night in an effort to reach the sandy bed in which oil trickling from the rock normally gathers. Once they reached the bed they intended to insert a pipe into the bore and make an artesian well to eject the precious fuel.

The first news of the discovery of oil deposits temporarily emptied the whole camp, sentries and orders notwithstanding. The officers, in fact, were the first to leave and stake their claims for exploiting these mineral resources. Military discipline was not restored until every member of this great colonial army had entered his name in a hastily drawn up register of owners of potential oil fortunes. The duty of these claim owners meanwhile consisted simply of making daily visits to the original bore site where the prospectors lowered and raised their steel drills, estimating by the samples brought to the surface how soon the workers would reach the source of the oil. A kind of open-air stock market in mining shares took place here each day. Shares rose higher with every foot of greasy soil, or dropped when the drill brought up oil free samples. During a whole month of idleness I watched the work progressing and the feverish demonstrations which greeted its finding.

One of the most active speculators was Mr Schaeffer. I bumped into him one afternoon and he almost fell into my arms, greeting me heartily and exclaiming, ‘My fortune is made! There's oil deep in the page 175 claim, and half of it belongs to me. I had five partners, but I've already bought out two of them. I would buy out the others if I had more money. Can you lend me some? I don't need very much.’

‘Judging by the present signs, the whole thing is a flop. The oil isn't flowing.’

‘But it will! We have people from Pennsylvania here, experienced miners. They all say it will flow. We even have a professional committee to examine each layer as it comes up. Come and talk to them. You'll see for yourself how good my prospects are.’

I did talk to the committee. Its first member was a shoemaker, the second a blacksmith, the third a ne'er do well who had joined the colours during the American Civil War, collected six hundred dollars, embezzled it, and come to New Zealand. The fourth and fifth were English seamen who had once seen the port of Philadelphia. They all knew all there was to know about oil. Each of them drew a regular salary of a pound for sniffing at the stinking mud which the drill pressed out like grey butter. They referred constantly to their American experiences, telling ridiculous stories about the daily incomes of their personal friends who had managed to secure a few Pennsylvanian oil shares. Mr X had an oilfield that produced one hundred barrels a day and gave him a net daily profit of three hundred dollars. Mr Z, in two brief years, was transformed from a young pauper into an oilman, and from an oilman into a millionaire who prudently converted his fortune into three percent English gilt-edged securities. All the inhabitants of New Plymouth and every member of the militia could expect the same good luck. Providence had sent the war to enable the settlers to learn about the wealth of their own country, and to make them all happy.

The low price of the shares warned me against buying. It was hard to reconcile the enthusiasm of these gentlemen with their readiness to sell their own claims for less than a hundred pounds each. Their own explanation was that, thanks to their experience, they could afford to dispose of their lots, which would undoubtedly earn their owners millions of pounds, and to move a hundred paces to another site through which an underground stream of inestimable value was sure to flow. With their facility for finding new fortunes they could afford to sell their present property cheap and become the benefactors of clients who did not have the same skill.

I explained to Mr Schaeffer that I was almost out of cash because I had squandered it away in the camp canteens—a story he was reluctant to believe—and then accompanied him to Mr Williams's page 176 establishment. The tent had undergone a radical metamorphosis into what is called a shanty. But there was a greater change still in Miss Jenny. A sky-blue shawl and a posy of artificial flowers were much at odds with her dusky beauty.

‘I can see that your future father-in-law is settling here for good,’ I said to my friend, gazing with admiration at the architectural charms of the inn.

‘The Government intends to keep a large detachment of militia here until the end of the war for the defence of the town. The further the English army advances inland, the more land it conquers, and the more likely it is that the rebels may attack the town.’

‘I don't follow you.’

‘The rebels will let the regulars fight against the bush and the mountains, and molest their main supply centre.’

‘Is that why Mr Williams counts on a permanent trade and has built this expensive building.’

‘He wasn't born yesterday. He has a real flair for making money.’

‘What does he think of this oil business?’

‘Not very much. He invested a little money in it on my advice for his daughter. If the speculation comes off we'll certainly live in comfort—luxury even.’

Mine host and his daughter greeted me like an old friend. I immediately saw that my friend had employed the last few weeks in completely winning over these two simple souls. Mr Williams trusted him blindly in everything except money matters. In these he confided more in his own sure instinct than in the persuasive power of his future son-in-law. When he was invited to put more money into the oilfields he replied that he had no desire to make millions and was satisfied with the promise of profits from the claim he already held, together with what he was making from his flourishing trade in liquor.

‘According to your calculations,’ he expostulated to the German, ‘tens of thousands should fall into our laps in a few months. Isn't that enough? Why should we be greedy? Let's stop this talk and have a drink.’

And here his sad remaining eye would rest lovingly on the long row of bottles in the cupboard behind the counter.

‘What can I give you? Gin, brandy, porter? We have the lot—even champagne. A bottle of champagne,’ he added for my benefit, ‘costs two pounds. The militia officers toasted their commanding officer's birthday in it. Ask them how it tasted.’

I settled for porter, accepted his ‘shout’, and at once called for page 177 further bottles, as ritual demanded. The conversation went briskly. The Amazon sat close to her fiancé, playing with him as though he were a precious and fragile toy, and looking at me from time to time with an expression in which I could read a silent reproach: ‘You shared such happiness with me once, and could do so still. But you scorned it, and I have found a new man, so you must watch us and suffer.’

Indeed, I had lost a very great deal, for as well as the sky-blue chiffon which adorned her dusky complexion she wore a full-blown crinoline, and she had also learnt from the local damsels how to walk prettily.

The young couple went outside. Her one-eyed father and I were alone in the room. For half an hour I listened to his account of the happiness his daughter had found. ‘We'll have the wedding as soon as the militia is disbanded, and then the whole family will go back to the farm near Wanganui,’ he told me.

‘And your oil claim?’ I asked. ‘You won't leave that in the hands of strangers will you?’

Williams shrugged his shoulders, looked at me slyly with his solitary eye, and whispered, ‘Do you really think that anything will come of that? I doubt if they will fill as many barrels with oil as they empty of my liquor.’

‘Don't you believe in this future wealth? Your own prospective son-in-law has put all he possesses into oil, and is recommending other people to do likewise.’

‘What's wrong with that? Haven't I given him my own money for the venture?’ asked the old fellow, who never answered a question except with another question.

‘If you don't believe in its success you have given your money away. Isn't that a foolish thing to have done?’

‘Why not? I can't lose. Everyone says there must be something in this oil business because old Williams's son-in-law is in it, and Williams himself has bought some shares. Everyone knows that Williams used to be a miner, and a prosperous one too, so he can't be a fool in these matters.’

‘I can't see how you profit by idle talk. Will it repay your lost pounds?’

‘Other people buy and sell on Charles's example. He's my future son-in-law isn't he? Every time they conclude a deal for five pounds they come here to spend a pound on toasting the venture. If you came to my place between three and four o'clock any afternoon you'd page 178 see a real stock exchange in action. Money flows like water across my bar, and I make a percentage on the gambling too.’

‘You've got a real gold-mine here.’

‘Yes, yes. But keep it quiet. I told you all this business because you're a friend, and so that you won't lend Charles any money. He's invested enough to keep up the family's reputation and to help with business. I'm warning you not to be tempted into this oil speculation. You're not a drinker, so I wouldn't get much out of you, and you would lose too much.’

He passed on to the subject of his daughter and her gentleman friend.

‘They'll all envy us when we get back to the farm.’

‘Who's “all”?’

‘The neighbours. A rabble, the whole lot of them. All of them Popish Irishmen. But their daughters despised my Jenny though the sun burns them darker than she is—Jenny never likes to stay in the sun. They looked so proud, but all their dresses put together didn't cost as much as the silk one I brought Jenny from Melbourne. Their boys thought they were too good for her. They called her a nigger girl. Soon they'll see that the wealthy nigger girl is not too black for a foreign gentleman. It's true that he's a German—but a white man, sir—a white man.’

‘Yes, of pure Indo-Germanic stock …’

‘Indo-Germanic? Don't talk about India—that's where the black people come from. I know that, because we transported workers to Demerara from there. That was a long time ago when I was a cabin boy. But I remember them, black as devils. Don't you compare them with my Jenny.’

I promised never to mention India again, and left the loquacious old man with his favourite companions—bottles full of liquor. As I went he set about lighting the lamp, for the hour was late. It was so dark outside that I almost stumbled over the loving couple who were seated near the stream, deep in conversation. They did not suspect my presence. His head rested in her lap, while he lectured her about oil. She encircled him with her arms. She was all passion, and he calmly went on talking, like a man determined to make a big scoop. What I saw that evening, and what I later heard in the tent, induced me to visit old Williams's canteen more often, to investigate Charles's relationship with this odd pair. His role as Jenny's lover was obvious and generally known. It was doubtful whether he could withdraw as easily as everyone whispered he would. Everyone who was in the page 179 know laughed heartily at this romance between the German and the nigger girl, but nobody dared to mock them to their faces. For one thing, Mr Williams's books already contained the names of all the camp inhabitants. The thirst of the military, both officers and other ranks, was greater than their means. Moreover, everyone knew that Miss Jenny was not a person to laugh at. Once a young lieutenant—a former shop assistant—had allowed himself to stroke her neck, and she slapped him so gently that the poor man carried the mark of the encounter for the next week.

I knew enough of her ambition and her character to doubt whether she really loved Charles. And yet she would scarcely let him out of her sight. As for him, I could see boredom and even hostility on his face. She followed him like a shadow and was quite tireless in her demonstrations of affection. She walked along proudly and daintily dragging him behind her when the military band played and the belles of the town promenaded.

Only once did I manage to see her alone. It was early in the morning. Her apparel was somewhat disarranged. Her father was still asleep after the previous night's orgy. She was cleaning the canteen. I realized then that although the constant company of white people had taught her to be more modest in her dress when strangers entered the room, she still preferred the Maori carelessness when no outsiders were present. It was only when I crossed the threshold that she grabbed a shawl from the table and draped it round her shoulders, adjusting it now and then during our conversation when it slipped a little.

I wanted to tell her about the death of her childhood friend and watch her reactions to my story. Like a true native she could control her lesser emotions, but her natural violence would not allow her to conceal strong anxiety and passion.

As she listened to my description of her sweetheart's last moments she could not hold back her tears. When I told her that I would fulfil the dying man's request and would guard her as he had meant to do himself she gave me her hand as though thanking me. But almost at once she withdrew it, saying arrogantly:

‘I can look after myself. I don't need to be protected. Charles says he loves me. Not everyone is like you, professing love in order to achieve your own ends. As I've asked you before, why should he lie to me?’

It was difficult to enlighten her as to Charles's real motives. I only added, ‘All the same, it won't do you any harm to have a friend who page 180 watches your interests impartially. You can't accuse me of jealousy because I freely surrendered you to Charles. My only reason for wanting to help you is my memory of the man to whom I owe my life and who loved you so much that he left you in my care with his dying breath.’

The girl pondered this for a long while, her shapely head hidden in her powerful hands. Her loose black hair fell on her neck and shoulders. Like a glimmering silky veil it partially obscured her blossoming charms, from which her shawl was slipping further and further. In this posture she spoke softly and slowly, more to herself than to me.

‘Doesn't your law protect me? Why shouldn't it take care of the daughter of a Black Kumara when it guards the golden-haired daughter of the Governor? If she was betrayed by her fiancé or abandoned by her husband, a pakeha judge would send the wretch to prison. Are there different laws for a golden head and for a raven one?’

Then she gathered up her tresses and revealed the charms they had covered with the same sweet unconcern that reminded me of my time of imprisonment. Gazing at their rich gloss she asked again in her half dreamy way, ‘Has a golden-haired girl different rights from one with black hair?’

‘They have the same rights,’ I answered. ‘But different judges interpret them differently. Besides, flaxen-haired girls know themselves and their men well enough to manage without the protection of the law. They think before they fall in love. Before they give their trust they make sure that they won't be disappointed. They are born in a different world—cold as the blood flowing in their veins, misty as their eyes, with a climate as unyielding as their principles. Child of a country where heat follows cold, where storms come without warning, and a blue sky after a thunderstorm, don't rely on the law—rely on your own modesty.’

‘We rely on our strength. We don't need your protection or your law. I can defend myself and take vengeance if I am deceived.’

‘Indeed, you can protect yourself easily, for until now you have never loved anyone but yourself. But take care, or your overriding desire to marry a white man may blind you. Don't permit your ambition to convince you that a white man can love you with an emotion which you don't even know yourself. A sham love will be repaid in like coin. Accept his courting cautiously, and don't trust his promises until after the wedding ceremony.’

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‘Do you want to turn me against Charles and make me suspicious of him? You won't manage that. He is so good to me. Didn't you see how we walked together among the fine ladies and gentlemen as though I was already his wedded wife? Why shouldn't I trust him?’

‘Why, yes! Trust him! Aren't you his fiancée? But don't carry your trust so far as to allow late strolls together by the stream and nightly meetings. People in the camp gossip about you. They watch you, and they don't believe that such a vain white man will marry you. They suspect that he will change his mind at the last minute. You apparently suspect nothing. You trust him as blindly as you trusted me. I don't think I abused your trust, while he ….’

The girl glanced at me suddenly. Her burning eyes looked at me, and having met mine turned away. I bent my head until I caught her wandering glance, and forced it to stay still beneath my scrutiny.

‘What do you see in my face?’ she asked.

‘I am trying to find that Tikera from whom I parted at sunrise one day. You resemble her in your face, in your dress that reveals more than it covers; but somehow you're different.’

The girl shook her head violently till her beautiful hair covered her face and bosom. Even the little sunbeams straying about the room could scarcely penetrate this thick, jealous veil. In a half playful, half offended voice she reprimanded me: ‘You know I don't like to be called Tikera, or to be reminded of my visit to my black mother and those days of wildness. Why do you tease me?’

She supported her words by wrapping her shoulders in the shawl and pinning it for safety. Shuffling feet were heard in the next room. Anticipating the arrival of her one-eyed father I moved towards the door.

‘Why are you going without having a drink?’ called his voice from the bedroom.

‘It's time for morning drill.’

‘Can't you wait a minute? Jenny, fetch a glass of rum. Hurry, my child. Don't let him go on parade with an empty stomach. He's a good fellow. Here, give him ….’

Jenny handed me a drink with a trembling hand. We went outside. Before I gulped the drink down I found her eyes and whispered, ‘Don't look for judges or think about revenge when you have a judge and avenger in yourself. Fall in love, behave like a fool: but when you wake up come to me and tell me your troubles.’

The girl stared at me aghast. The glass slipped from my hand. She page 182 made no effort to catch it. It fell and shattered on a stone by the threshold.

‘What are you breaking out there?’ called the hoarse voice from behind the bar.

‘I dropped the glass and broke it,’ I replied. ‘But I'll pay for it. Here's a shilling for your father, Jenny.’ Taking hold of her hand and pressing a coin into it. I said softly, ‘Will you come to me before you go to anyone else? Will you take my advice?’

She did not answer, but her silence was more eloquent than any promise. Her face showed a complete surrender to my will. I felt that having discovered her secret I had become her master. The demonstration of my astuteness had so impressed the poor naive creature that from that time on I could mould her like soft wax.

‘Jenny!’ the old man shouted angrily. ‘When will breakfast be ready?’

I freed her hand and pushed her towards the canteen. She seemed almost as though she were in a stupor.

The bugles called from the parade ground. Their peremptory echoes rebounded from hill to hill, from tent to tent. The memory of my promise to the dying man was louder even than they. So was a reproach that I was not fulfilling my promise.

‘It's not my fault!’ I said to myself. ‘I was forced to put on this uniform, to work with an axe in the bush, to be away on duty when Satan tempted her. Now it is too late ….’