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Henry Ancrum: A Tale of the Last War in New Zealand, Volume 1

Chapter V

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Chapter V.

We must now return to the group we left standing on the deck of the Hydaspes. Time with them has not stood still any more than with ourselves.

The gallant ship has passed the various islands at the mouth of the harbour, including the Great Barrier island with its lofty hill in the centre, covered with wood up to its summit; passed the signal station on the north shore, and run up the harbour, till it has anchored only a short distance from the Queen's Wharf. Mr. Mandeville has come on board and met his wife and daughter in their cabin; page 52after which, he has been introduced to Henry Ancrum, and the whole party have come on shore, and are now proceeding up Queen's Street, in which Mr. Mandeville resides.

Henry Ancrum, however, has to bid them good-bye a short way up the street, as his way lies to the left through Shortland Street and Prince's Street to the Albert Barracks, where he has to report his arrival; not, however, before a promise has been extracted from him that he will dine with his friends in the evening.

The ground on which the town or, as the inhabitants delight to call it, the City of Auckland is situated, may be taken as a fair specimen of a great portion of the land of the province of the same name. It is alternate hill and swamp; so it is all over the province. Up the Waikato, at Tauranga, on the east coast, everywhere, hill and swamp, page 53hill and swamp—hills often so narrow at top that there is only just room for the Maori path on their summit; and swamps so deep that you may get up to your neck in water by proceeding a few feet from their edge.

Of course in the town of Auckland the swamp has disappeared; but the ground on which the principal street (Queen's Street) is situated was originally a swamp; indeed, it is not many years ago since wild ducks were shot in the upper end of it. On each side of Queen's Street steep streets ascend the neighbouring hills, which are very disagreeable to walk up and down, particularly during the hot dusty summer months. And at the time of which we are writing there were no cabs or public vehicles to he obtained except at the most exorbitant rates. The town was principally composed of wooden houses, though there page 54were stone edifices here and there, and the population was about fourteen thousand.

Henry Ancrum's reflections as he ascended Shortland Street—one of the steepest of those we have mentioned—were of rather a sombre hue. He had grown to love Edith Mandeville during their long passage with an intensity which made him feel as if she were a part of himself. This feeling had come upon him as it were insensibly. They had been thrown together constantly during the voyage; their tastes and feelings were so much alike that they had naturally felt pleasure in one another's society, and had seen no harm in indulging in that pleasure, and it was only the rude shock of parting which had awakened Henry Ancrum to the true state of his heart.

And now what was he to do! A few short months ago, when he was the acknowledged heir of his uncle, he was a suitor page 55few would despise; but now that he had lost his uncle's favour, in a manner the injustice of which he could not but remember, he felt that he did not possess the means to even support a wife, much less to provide her with the comforts which her present home and position would entitle her to expect; indeed, it was this very poverty which had brought him to New Zealand; for when he found that all his hopes of being reconciled to his uncle had failed, and that the old gentleman in his indignation at his supposed wickedness had stopped the allowance he had previously given him, he felt that he could not live in England in the regiment to which he then belonged, which was rather an expensive one, and had therefore exchanged to one in New Zealand, where what are called colonial allowances, though paid by the home Government, would enable him to support page 56himself without being any unnecessary burden on his family. He wondered, as many a man has wondered before, why he had not thought of all this before matters, at any rate with himself, had gone so far. He turned the matter over in his mind in every way; he thought of it through all the livelong day, and the result he had arrived at when he reached Mr. Mandeville's door at dinner time, was that it was his duty to treat the fair Edith Mandeville merely as a friend, and to avoid any demonstration that might lead to the impression that he entertained any warmer feelings towards her. Dinner passed over as most dinners do—a little conversation, a good deal of feeding, recommendations on the part of the host to try this particular sherry, and anxiety on the part of the hostess that all should go right with the dishes.

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In addition to Henry Ancrum, there were only two very old friends of the family present, who had been asked to welcome back Mrs. Mandeville and her daughter to their adopted home. After dinner, however, when the ladies had retired, the conversation became more interesting, as it turned upon the war then going on in the colony; and one of the guests, a wiry little man whom we will call Mr. A., commenced that favourite subject amongst New Zealand colonists, an attack on the military, by complaining that the General had only advanced as far as Queen's Redoubt, and that the Maoris were still holding the heights of Koheroa.

"But, my dear A," said Mr. Mandeville, "you seem to forget that it was only the other day that the Maoris were almost (not at our gates, for we have none) but at our doors. They threatened Drury, which is page 58only about twenty miles from this; and I am decidedly of opinion, that had we not had the military to protect us, we civilians by taking up arms could only at the most have held Auckland itself; the surrounding country must have been given up; the out-settlers must have come into Auckland for safety; Drury and Papac kura must have been abandoned to the enemy, and perhaps even Otahuhu and Onehunga might have fallen into the hands of the savage foe."

"But," said the other guest, whom we will name Mr. B., "the General has eight regiments under his command, which we may consider as numbering eight thousand men, and two more are expected. Surely with such a force more might have been done."

"There," replied Mr. Mandeville, "is one of the great mistakes of the day; our newspapers are constantly dinning into our page 59ears that the General has eight thousand men, and the assertion is copied into the home prints. But what are the real facts of the case? In the first place the regiments in New Zealand do not number a thousand men each; again, a large number of men have been drafted from each regiment to form a Commissariat Transport Corps; and further, we must deduct the sick soldiers in hospital, and all the casualties so familiar to military men. Under these circumstances, if on an average six hundred men can be actually brought into action by each regiment, it is as much as they can do; this would give four thousand eight hundred men. But bow is this force employed? The way in which it is spoken of would give the idea that it was all with the General, but this is far from being the case. There is a point which is little known in England —namely, that the northern island of New page 60Zealand alone is larger than Ireland. In this island (exclusive of the military) we have a population of some sixty or seventy thousand souls, who are chiefly scattered in settlements all round its coasts; to protect these settlements troops are required; and at the present moment some are stationed at New Plymouth, Wanganui, Napier, Wellington, and other places. So that the force the General has actually in hand, cannot be nearly so strong in numbers as the public generally imagine; and of that force he has to leave a portion at every station as he advances to protect his convoys of provisions, military stores, &c., &c., coming up to head-quarters."

"How is it," said Henry Ancrum, "that the population to the north of Auckland, I hear about fourteen thousand souls, get on so well with the Maoris? I believe there are no disturbances there."

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"No," replied Mr. Mandeville, "there are not; but we old residents know (and you will see the fact often mentioned in the columns of our leading journal, the Daily Southern Cross,) that the settlers in the north live as it were chiefly upon sufferance. It has been the policy of Government to pamper the northern tribes, and give them all they desire; therefore, having nothing to wish for, they are quiet. If a settler commits a crime in those districts he will be punished; but if a Maori does so, he will probably get off unscathed. Our pretended system of government has been a curious one—there is a Chinese proverb which says, 'A lie has no feet; it cannot stand.' Now the lie we have committed is to have said that we governed the whole country; that we governed the interior of it, and places to which our troops had never penetrated—such, for instance, page 62as lake Taupo and the lakes of Rotarua, where magistrates have been stationed. In fact paid magistrates have been stationed all over the country, under whom there have been native assessors and native policemen, all paid by Government; indeed in some villages you will find Maoris paid as 'clerks of works,' or names to that effect, where there are no works to execute; besides which, tribes of so-called 'friendly natives' are constantly supported by supplies of flour and sugar—as, for instance, the Arawa tribes at Maketu and its neighbourhood, from which indeed the policy has been called the 'Flour and Sugar Policy.'

"To show how this system of government acted, I may mention a story, which I have read, and which I believe is well known in the colony, of a certain magistrate in the north, who fined a chief for page 63some offence committed by him. The chief declined to pay the fine. The magistrate was in a fix. What was to be done? He could not enforce the sentence. He was in the midst of Maoris; his very policemen were Maoris. Still he wished to appear well in the eyes of the Government as having a submissive district. So what do you suppose he did? Why, he privately saw the rebellious chieftain, and told him that if he only paid the fine into court, he (the magistrate) would return the money to him afterwards. The chief agreed to this. So justice was satisfied. The chief was none the worse; and the magistrate was a zealous officer, deserving reward from a thankful Government.

"In another instance, a chief who had been fighting against us returned to his village, which was situated near the station of one of our magistrates. The magistrate page 64sent him orders to leave the neighbourhood. The chief replied that he had been fighting against Te Hohia (the soldiers), and had come home to rest himself, and that when he had done so, he intended to go and fight them again. What could the magistrate do? He was far up in the country. He had only a few Maori policemen with him, and he could scarcely depend upon them, so he was obliged to put up with the insult.

"Comparisons have sometimes been made between the earlier settlers in North America and those in New Zealand; but the comparison does not hold good. In the former case we landed on the eastern seaboard of the continent and steadily pressed on as our forces increased, driving the Indians before us, and establishing our authority on a firmer basis as we advanced; in the latter we have assumed dominion in the interior of the country where we had page 65no power whatever, and the Maori seeing that the district magistrate had no force to back him, has despised both him and us accordingly. However, enough of the 'Noble Savage!'—let us join the ladies."

"What have you all been prosing about?" said Mrs. Mandeville, as they were entering the drawing-room. "We were just wondering when we should see you again."

"Oh," replied Mr. A., "the old subject. I have been attacking those idols of Mandeville's—the General and the army—and he has been defending them most ferociously."

"And quite right too," said Mrs. Mandeville. "Surely we might at least be thankful to those who have had to come so far to defend us, who have to endure hardships and privations, and to run the risk of wounds and death in our service, and page 66who can hope to obtain nothing in the contest."

"Ah," said Mr. A., gallantly, "if the ladies are against me I must indeed surrender."

"Yes," replied Mrs. Mandeville; "but I am afraid that it will be the old story, that—

"'He who's conduced against his will,
Is of the same opinion still.'

However, though you are my adversary, I will be merciful—in fact I will be more than merciful, for I will give you some tea first, and then Edith shall give us some music."

When Edith sat down to the piano it was of course incumbent on Henry Ancrum to turn over the leaves, and thus they became separated from the rest of the company, who sat down to play cards, and could only see them through the folding-doers of the drawing-room.

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"And so you leave us almost immediately," said Edith in a low voice.

"Yes," said Henry, "I do not know how soon, nor do I indeed know where my duty may call me, but as part of my regiment is at New Plymouth I suppose I shall proceed there."

There was a pause.—Edith like Henry had been questioning her own heart, and had been amazed to find how deeply, how fondly, how almost madly she loved.

When the time had glided on during their voyage it had been like some sweet dream. When she had listened to him in their long conversations she had felt happy, soothed, delighted, but she had not known that this was love. But now, ah, how changed was everything! To part with him, to live lonely hours, days, months, and he not near her. Never to see him, never to look up trustingly at that manly page 68face? Oh it was dreadful, and worse, far far worse, to know that he (the loved one) must endure extreme dangers, hardships and fatigues, and might suffer wounds, perhaps—oh, shuddering thought—even death itself;—but she could not think of this, she dared not, it would madden her.

"Oh," she cried to herself in her agony, "my beautiful, my brave! I would follow you over the whole world, I would be your slave, I would delight to wait on you, to tend you, and I would feel rewarded, oh how amply rewarded? by those dear bright smiles I have so often seen on your dear face as you gazed down upon me."

And with her there was no thought of money, she knew not its value; there was no thought of prudence. She would have taken him as her husband had he been the page 69poorest man on earth. Now that her eyes were open to her own feelings she longed to take him to her heart; she longed to cling to him like the ivy round the sturdy oak: she longed to nestle in his bosom and be his, his for ever—for ever.

It was thus she thought during the long hours of the morning when Henry had been away, and then she schooled herself to be calm,—she must be calm.

She thought he loved her. She knew he loved her! He had never said so; no, he had never said so, but then she remembered so many things—little words—but they showed he loved her. And then his looks!—those dear looks!—how she cherished them.

Yes, yes, he was too manly to deceive. He loved her, but would he say so? would he say so before he left her and went to that dreadful war? She hoped he would, page 70she hoped he would say so that night! But then she would be determined, oh so determined, that she would not show him she loved him first. No, he must speak himself, and then, and then she might tell him—there would be no harm then —a little, a little, just a little of all her love.

There was, as we have said, a pause, and then the voice which was to have been so determined, so brave, quivered, and trembled, and shook, and only these little words came forth—

"And Henry, Mr. Ancrum, I mean, you will take care of yourself—wont you, wont you—when you are at the war, for my — that is for the sake of — of your friends?"

And Henry, he too had made up his mind to be firm, to be determined, to tread only the path of duty, but then he had forgotten page 71her eyes, those large, liquid, truthful, hazel eyes! they looked up at him, there were tears in them, yes, actually there were tears in them, and for him, for his sake! He forgot everything,—a wild tumult raged in his breast.

"Oh, Edith!" he cried, "I love you beyond everything, beyond the whole world!"

"Hush!" she said, laying her hand gently on his arm—"Hush! or they will hear you."

And the music became very loud, very loud indeed, so loud that an old gentleman in the next room looked up from his cards and said, "What execution your daughter has, Mrs. Mandeville, and such a touch, Madam, such a touch."

But under cover of that music what blissful words were said? "What to them was the world beside?" Their souls went page 72out to one another: they met, they embraced, they entwined, they were one soul! Separation might come — death might come — but in mind, in spirit, they had been one. They had been blest!