Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon


Margaret, Peter and Jean:

page 53

Margaret, Peter and Jean:

Politics—so-called—introduced me to Mrs. Jean Devanny, New Zealand author of “The Butcher Shop” and other novels. The first, a graphic novel-rendering of a cause celebre among murder trials, is of course banned here in her own country, but as Mrs. Devanny, when last heard of, was in Turkestan, “she should worry.” She is, I think, probably the only woman who has ever given Christchurch lectures on Free Love (I went to one and considered the attendance remarkably poor). At our first meeting she was, however, advocating not Free Love but the pre-eminently respectable “Peter” Fraser, Member for Wellington Central.

Mr. Fraser always vigorously disclaimed any hankering after the “unofficial” supporters who backed him up so staunchly (and so noisily) at the election when Mrs. Margaret Young stood against him as an unofficial Labour candidate. It is only fair to say, too, that the pawky Scot is one who appears to need singularly little advocacy. An erstwhile Cabinet Minister told me a tale, libellous or otherwise, in re Mr. Fraser's first dramatic appearance in Auckland. Men, working under somewhat trying conditions at the bottom of a sewer, had been receiving special rates of pay. To the amazement of the Minister (who hadn't yet received that dignity, but was in charge of much construction work) they came swinging up to the surface, grim determination written all over their faces. An investigation of the bowels of the earth proved that Mr. Fraser, down there for a quiet chat, had absolutely convinced them that it was grotesquely unfair for their fellow construction workers not to receive similar high rates of pay. Hence one of the few strikes of the prosperous ever engineered in New Zealand.

I'm certain, if Mr. Fraser didn't actually perform this feat, that he could if he wanted to.

Mrs. Young, whose husband was “Tom” Young, page 54 deposed Secretary of the Seamen's Union, stood against Mr. Fraser in a kind of Holy War. Her husband had been ousted from the position he had reigned in for many years—and the Union secretaries, little Czars in their own way, look upon their positions with no small pride. Mrs. Young swore that there had been “dirty work at the crossroads.” The principal culprits, to her mind, were Mr. Fraser and the late Mr. Harry Holland. “Tom” dethroned .… . all right; all that Mrs. Young was simply dying to say in re the official Labour candidates should be said, and from an election platform.

The quaint part of it was that her injured lord and master either detested or pretended to detest the whole situation. Not for worlds would he have opposed the overlords — still less carried out his wife's never-realised threat, and produced documentary evidence of their much less urbane politics during the old days of the 1913 strike. Interviewing Mrs. Young on behalf of a Wellington paper, I was informed by her that since she had announced her decision of standing her husband would not speak to her.

Mrs. Devanny would, though: so also several other “hecklers,” who bade fair to break up a meeting intended to be composed only of Mrs. Young's prospective election committee, and of the Press. It was held in the Oriental Bay Tea Kiosk. Interruptions were so frequent and so embittered that I couldn't refrain from starting something of a cross-fire. No referee being present, there's no saying who won.

Mrs. Young's first campaign meeting was at a little hall in Kent Terrace, and was dated, appropriately enough, for Guy Fawkes' night. She couldn't complain of having no audience. The hall was so crowded, so much more than crowded, that a way for her had to be forced through the mass to a side entrance. I don't remember how I got in (all page 55 the Wellington papers had sent reporters along, looking for fun). Probably it was by telling lies: they must have been good lies, too.

An overflow of the audience waited sullenly outside on the pavement. Some more overflow was perched in window niches, and, if I remember rightly, more than one window gave the mob best. Mrs. Young (it must be true that courage goes with red hair) made an attempt to speak. They threw crackers and other things… “Remember, remember, the 5th of November.”

It wasn't Mrs. Young's politics, which were apparently non-existent (she was far too mysterious and tentative about her “documentary evidence” for any rational person to take that seriously), but the sheer bad manners of the crowd which lured the youngest scribe present into doing something no person seated at a press table is ever justified in contemplating… . to wit, making a rapid ascent of the stage, beginning a speech. Moreover, for quite ten minutes it was allowed to proceed on its way untouched; I think owing to a certain amount of nervous prostration among those present, because no other young woman from nowhere had ever yet addressed them passionately as “Men, women and puppies of New Zealand.”

As for the speech, I believe it was otherwise so exemplary in tone that Miss Ellen Melville might have made it. All about the right of women to sit in Parliament, and damned be he who first cries, “Hold, enough.” Let nobody say that the wolf-pack doesn't sport a sense of humour. I was discoursing with some fluency on “our homes—our babies—”

Loud voice from the pit: “Thought yer weren't married, Miss.”

Second loud voice (encouragingly): “I don't mind marrying yer, Miss.”

Protest from a drunken gentleman, whom I tried to fix with a basilisk glare: “Shay, Missh, you trying to hypnotishe me?”

page 56

My impromptu speech got into the dailies, but somehow or other I wasn't sacked from my own paper, as would have been but justice.

There was a Town Hall meeting next… Mrs. Young, wise in her generation, took the absolutely unprecedented course of charging for seats at an election meeting. I am certain that this has never been done before or since. She did it, she said, to keep the wild ones out — but they paid up their shillings like little ladies and gentlemen. It was a more orderly meeting, though Mrs. Young forgot her lines—if she had many.

Like his late leader, Mr. Holland, Mr. Fraser is a lover of poetry. Mr. Holland, of course, wrote his own little book of poems, “Red Roses on Life's Highway.” I hope that unlike every other book of New Zealand verse I have ever heard about that one sold, because somehow one couldn't withhold respect from the leader who suffered so greatly in his youthful Australian days, who fought so bitterly here, who was deep-learned in history and in books old and new, who was never to see the cause he upheld come into its own. I can remember him, crippled and shabby, limping along Lambton Quay in the small hours, whilst Cabinet cars slid grandiloquently past.