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

Chapter IX

page 130

Chapter IX.

Shortly after the action above narrated, the head-quarters, and the greater portion of the troops, were removed to Auckland, in consequence of the very disturbed state of the Waikato district, and the apprehension that war must certainly break out on that frontier; and Henry Ancrum went with them. How delighted he was to do so, I need not tell. As Scott says—

"I do not write for that dull elf
Who cannot picture to himself"

the joy, the happiness he felt at the prospect of seeing his beloved Edith once more.

The distance from Taranaki to One-page 131hunga, and thence to Auckland, is not great; and on the day after leaving the first place, Ancrum was walking up the street towards the Mandevilles' house in the latter.

And now, as he walked up the hill, what sweet feelings filled his breast!—how he loved her!—what a delicious feeling it was, the thought of meeting her again! Would she be alone?—would she let him embrace her?—would she let him kiss her? She had never done so yet; but perhaps, now, meeting him again after all the dangers he had gone through, perhaps now she would let him!

What a noble girl she was! He had told her all before he left: his former prospects, his uncle's change of manner to him, his present poverty—yes, he had told her all, but she had merely laughed and said—

"What were riches? They must wait. page 132It was true, perhaps, papa would not consent now, and she could not marry without papa's consent; but they rwere young, they could wait, and all would be well yet."

And now he is near the door, and sees a figure through the drawing-room window. Yes, it is she. She sees him—she is coming out to open the door for him—in a moment more she is in his arms, yes, she is tight locked in those loving arms!

She did struggle a little, just a very little, and then resigned herself to her fate. How could she help it? she loved him so—oh, so much! and he had come back to her safe from that horrid war.

"Oh, Henry," she said, at length, "how can you be so naughty? Let me go, sir. How fortunate it was mamma was not at home; but she is gone to call on some of the officers' wives, who have just arrived. Oh, I am so glad; so happy to see you safe page 133back. I was so frightened all the time that you were away; and we used to hear such dreadful reports, most of them untrue, about settlers having been murdered, and their cattle and sheep driven away by these wretches. And one day a steamer came in with a red ensign, but it hung down as there was no wind, and people, when the vessel was at a distance, said it was a black flag, because once before when there was a great action, and a number of our people were killed, the steamer that brought the news had up a black flag; and then I did not know what to do, for I thought you might be wounded, or—or—perhaps killed, and I could not rest, in the house, but put on my bonnet and shawl and went out to see the steamer myself, and by that time it had been found out that it was not a black flag, and that the steamer did not bring any bad news—and I was so happy—and came page 134home, and ran up to my room and locked the door, and then—and then I cried so for joy, and went on my knees and thanked God that you were safe—and there—and—don't, Henry. You must not sit so close to me—no, you must not. If you do, I'll go away. Mamma will be in immediately—and you really must sit on the other side of the table. Oh, you dear, silly old boy; you've gone yourself and left your chair alongside of mine—as if any one would not guess. There—take your chair, and sit there, sir—just there. Now I can talk seriously to you. Do you know, Henry, I have been thinking I ought to tell papa and mamma about our engagement. You know I would trust you—you know I would trust you with my life—but is it right to keep them in ignorance? When you went away we had not settled anything about it, and whilst you were away page 135I did not like to tell them without your leave; but now I think we ought to do so."

"Yes," said Henry, "we must tell them, it Would be right and proper to do so; but not now, dearest; I am certain at present your father would refuse his consent, and that I should be denied the house, and oh, my love, what should we do then? how dreadful it would be to be living in the same town, and never to meet, never to speak to one another; how miserable for me to pass your house and not be able to enter it, to see you at a distance and not to be able to join you. No, we cannot tell them now. You know, in a short time it is considered certain that the army must advance into the Waikato district, and then, darling, we must be parted for a time; and I will tell them before I leave; in the mean time, let us be happy whilst we can.

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If you think my coming here so often would make them suspect the truth, I will come here less frequently, but——"

"Oh, no, Henry, they know we were so much together on board of ship, and mamma likes you so much. They will not suspect anything. It must be so. Let us be happy while we can;" and so it was settled.

Auckland, at the time of which we are writing (early in the year 1863), was in a state of great bustle and preparation; it was known that the Waikato district was in a most disturbed state, and that the Maories of that part of the country were fully determined to attack the Pakehas, or foreigners; and, indeed, hoped to be able to drive them out of New Zealand altogether.

An army was being collected to resist this attack and drive back the enemy. The page 137militia were called out. Reinforcements and commissariat supplies were arriving every day, and the town was so crowded that it was difficult to obtain house-room, or even sometimes a bed at an hotel. In the midst of all this turmoil there was no lack of gaiety.

In addition to an occasional "at home" at Government House, the military stationed in the town gave one or two balls; and there was no end of evening parties. At one of the former—namely, the balls at Government House, Henry Ancrum to his great astonishment met his cousin, Malcolm Butler.

It will be remembered, that although Henry knew the unfounded cause of his uncle's anger towards him, he had not the slightest idea that his cousin was in any way connected with it. He therefore received him with the greatest cordiality, page 138and heard from him that he had been appointed to a regiment now stationed at Queen's Redoubt. Government House at Auckland is situated on a hill, the summit of which is crowned by Fort Britomart. ? The approaches to it on all sides are very steep, particularly on that of Shortland Street.

Now it happened that both Henry Ancrum and his cousin had arrived rather early, so they strolled out to see the guests approach by the light of a brilliant moon. The scene was most amusing; at the period of which we speak there were no regular cabs in Auckland, and the vehicles that could be hired were of the most extraordinary description. Here on one side came a rattletrap phaeton, toiling up Short-land Street, drawn by an old horse, with scarcely sufficient strength to drug it up; then from the bay side came a primitive-page 139looking gig, containing an old parson and his fat wife.

Now briskly along the Otahuhu road we see an Irish jaunting-car approaching, followed by a cart, yes, actually a common cart, filled with laughing, blushing girls, whose appearance is in striking contrast with the vehicle which conveys them, and of which they are a little, just a little, ashamed when they see the two officers observing their descent from it.

But, heavenly powers! what comes here? What is this? As the venerable fathers on the stage always say when they recognise their long lost, ah — child. It is — and yet it cannot be—and yet it is—an ambulance cart. Yes, positively a Military Train Ambulance cart, whose proper use is the conveyance of the sick and wounded. Yes, facts are stranger than fiction.

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That ambulance cart which conveyed Tommy Atkins and Bill Jones, wounded and groaning, sometimes shrieking in their agony as they jolted down the steep sides of Razorback, after that skirmish in the bush, near Pokeuo, now bears lovely women rustling in silks and satins to the halls of dazzling light.

Have a care, madam, have a care; let us hope that Jopling, the military-train man washed the cart well, and put in plenty of fresh straw, or even that lovely silk might not escape without a stain.

"Good gracious," said Malcolm Butler, "here is another ambulance, and whom have we in it? why, I declare, some people that went out with me in the same ship to India. I must positively introduce you to them, they are the most extraordinary people you ever met. First, there is Major Brennan. He is an old Company's officer, page 141now retired on his pension, and come out here to look after some land he commissioned a brother of his to purchase for him; his peculiarity is that he laughs at everything he says, however serious it may be. His wife, Mrs. Brennan, is a rather excitable Irish lady, with a rich Cork brogue. The other man was the doctor on board the ship, but afterwards, though rather old for the berth, became a staff-assistant-surgeon, which is the position he now holds. He is a very pompous individual, but his strong point is his French, which I am sorry to say he does not pronounce quite as well as could be wished. After I met him he married a Dutch lady, who appears to me to pride herself especially on her gentility. Yes, gentility is the word. Don't squeeze her hand, if you should shake hands with her, or she will look upon you as a species of gorilla; but page 142I cannot tell you anything more, as here they come."

"Hullo, Major! how are you? Don't you know me, Malcolm Butler?"

"Malcolm Butler!" said the Major. "Ah, of course. Janfishan Horse. Ha, ha, ha! great despatch. Ho, ho, ho! Imposing appearance on the left of the line. Ha, ha, ha! He, he, he! Don't I know you? — to be sure I do — glad to see you."

"Let me introduce you to my cousin," said Malcolm.

"Happy to make your acquaintance, sir. How de do, sir? Ha, ha, ha!"

Mrs. Brennan was now introduced, and then the Smiths came up. Mrs. Smith, a lady, fat, fair, and about five-and-thirty, who appeared to have a decided antipathy to wearing stays, drew herself up in her most queenly attitude, and advanced two fingers, which page 143Ancrum, mindful of the caution he had received, barely touched, whereby he rose immensely in her favour; and she remarked afterwards to a friend that he was a "most genteel young man—none of your vulgar persons, who squeeze your hand so."

Dr. Smith, who was a portly gentleman, very pompous, very bald, and with his hat poised on the very back of his head, after being introduced to Henry Ancrum, turned to Butler, and said—

"Well, Major, anything on the taypis?"

"No," said Butler, for a wonder understanding his French. "I don't think there is anything going on to-day, nor is there any news from the front."

"Ah!" said the Doctor—"ah, Auckland is a very gay place now, sir—a very gay place. Eh? very gay! We were at a page 144dejewnée this morning, and here we are at what I may call a sorry dansent."

This was rather too much. The two gentlemen had some difficulty in not laughing outright, but after a moment or two Ancrum said—

"So you don't consider this a ball, Doctor Smith, only a soirée dansant?"

"Yes, sir, that's my idea. It ain't called a ball in the invitations, only an at 'ome. Now I ain't a cronnyshure in such matters. No, sir, I ain't a cronnyshure; but I am certain our French friends would call it only a sorry dansent."

At this moment the Mandevilles drove up, and with them a Miss Adelaide Brown, with whom, Edith whispered to Henry, he must dance during the evening, as she was called the "colonial young lady of the period," and in fact had never been out of the colony, and was great fun; and then after page 145shaking of hands and numerous "how-de-do's" (for the Mandevilles were previously more or less acquainted with all the party present), they all proceeded to the ball-room.

There was no want of society in Auckland at the time of which we are writing. In addition to the society of the town itself, there was that of the large garrison stationed in it, and in the neighbouring camps of Otahuhu and Drury; and besides, there was a very large number of ladies, the wives of officers, whose husbands were at the front, or stationed at places where they could not accompany them, many of whom seemed determined, in the absence of dear Jack or dear Tom, as the case might be, to enjoy as much gaiety as they possibly could, as they "knew, poor dear fellow, nothing would please him so much as to hear that they were amusing themselves."

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And what is Jack doing whilst the ball-room lights glitter, and the music plays louder and louder, and the dancers whirl faster and faster? Jack is on piquet on the banks of the sluggish Maungatawhiri creek near the Queen's Redoubt. He is sitting in an improvised tent in his wet clothes, for he has none others to change with. He has just been trying to eat, by way of dinner, a piece of commissariat beef, cooked by a soldier servant, and therefore of course boiled to the consistency of a stone. He is sitting on his bed of damp fern, and he is blinding his eyes trying to read by the light of a commissariat candle Mary's last letter, in which she tells him she is so lonely—oh, so lonely! and he is saying softly to himself, "Poor thing — poor thing!"

"Phiss whiss!—ping whing! that was a bullet. Those cursed devils are firing from page 147the other side of the creek again. Turn out the piquet."

Let us let the curtain fall! Why did we raise it? Why did we look out into the night? Why did we leave the brilliantly-lighted ball-room, and let our imagination fly over the dark Aldershotic huts (to coin a new word) of Otahuhu, over the white tents of the camp at Drury shimmering in the bright moonlight, away by Shepherd's Bush, and Dickenson's clearing, till we climb the steep sides of Razorback, and look down on the lovely valley below, with the Maungatawhiri creek and the broad Waikato river glistening like silver in the far distance. That noble river, which will be one of the main arteries of New Zealand when that country becomes the thickly inhabited and prosperous one which it will some day, when the savage Maori has disappeared—as disappear he must.

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Yes, he has been weighed in the balance and found wanting—he must go. "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin." He must depart, and his place must know him no more.

But as we gaze, a dark cloud comes over the moon, all is hid. Let us go back. Hark! there is a polka being played. What, say my fair readers, a polka? Quite impossible! There is no such thing. It is gone—it is vanished—it is among the things that were. There is no such thing now.

No, my fair friends, but there was then.

Oh, dear old polka, friend of my middle age, why hast thou deserted me when I am old? You were so calm, so gentle, so pleasant for elderly gentlemen, not like that furious, rushing, dashing deux temps. You were like some graceful yacht gliding smoothly o'er a land-locked sea; sometimes checking your progress and almost "laying-page 149to," then dancing merrily on again with the freshening breeze. Your rival deux temps is like the same yacht exposed to all the storms of the fierce Atlantic, rushing violently hither and thither, bending to the furious gale, sometimes tearing her sails to ribbons, anon rushing against other craft, and finally, if not capsized, reaching port very much the worse for wear.

The polka was half over when our party entered, and Edith and Adelaide sat down on a sofa together to wait for the next quadrille, for which they were both engaged.

"Oh, Edith," said Adelaide, "who do you think I am engaged to dance with? that horrid young Babington. Oh, he is so spooney, and he says such things, and don't I snub him. Mind, you must be our vis-à-vis, it will be such fun. By-the-bye, do you know Algernon Neville? What a page 150different man he is; I never saw such a man; he is like a statue; I cannot move him; I can do nothing with him; I have tried everything. I have tried (counting off on her fingers) the sentimental dodge, and the religious dodge, and the aggravating dodge. As to the sentimental dodge, my dear, you know I am very well up in the languor, and the glances, and the moonlight, and the music on the waters, and all that sort of thing; but you know you must have poetry for the sentimental dodge, and I am not well posted up there, so I took to 'Scott,' because he is easy, and I could say—

"'Day set on Norham's castled steep,
And Tweed's fair river broad and deep,'

And — and — and somebody's mountains somewhere; and I know there were 'warders on the turrets high,' though I never could get as far as that; and to tell you page 151the truth, I cannot make out how the warders got there either, because I always used to think that warders were fellows that run about in gaols with large bunches of keys in their hands, at least I know they do at Mount Eden. And then Algernon used to laugh so—the great big blundering animal—as if I was not twice as sharp as he is; and then he would tell me the next line, for although he does not talk much he appears to have read a good deal; and one day he regularly insulted me, for I had actually tried a bit of Shakspeare, and had inquired pensively, 'Oh, where is fancy bred?' when he went off in his great stupid 'Haw, haw, haw!'

"'Oh,' he said, 'fancy bread! well, I suppose at Mr. Simpson's, in Queen Street, the best baker in Auckland.'

"So you see I was obliged to abandon the sentimental dodge, at least partly, for a page 152woman should never abandon it altogether, as a little of it will always blend advantageously with the other dodges. And so I took to the religious dodge, and in this I got on very well for a time, because Algernon was devotedly attached to his mother, who was a very religious person, and who died a short time ago; and you know my mamma goes about visiting the sick and all that sort of thing, and so I could tell him no end of stories and little anecdotes about them, until I believe he thought that I visited every old woman in Auckland; and then I suggested that I might go and see the soldiers' sick wives in the hospital; but as I expected, he did not wish me to do that; and at last, as a great and crowning effort, I proposed to pay a real visit, I proposed that he should actually come with me the next time I went to see my poor people, and so took him with me to see my page 153old nurse, who had been laid up in bed for a long time, and what do you think the old wretch said when we entered the room? 'Oh, Miss, I am so glad to see you, I am; why the sight of you is good for sore eyes. I han't a seen you for this six months come next Monday.'

"You should have seen Algernon's face, it grew so long, oh, so long! He saw through the visiting idea at once. I was afraid to say anything, but I think he guessed the whole truth, and so I was obliged to take to the aggravating dodge, and have not I pitched into him there! What are you laughing at? Oh, you do not think 'pitched into' a lady-like phrase? oh, that's all nonsense, everybody says those things now, as the French say, Nous avons changé tout cela. There, I declare I am speaking French; I think I must go in for the learned dodge some of these days, page 154but I am afraid that will be some time to come, although by-the-bye I astonished the old Indian Major—who always laughs at everything he says—the other day. He was telling me no end of stories, and I kept saying yes, yes, until at last I thought of something Algernon had told me, and I said, Durreen see shuck, which is the Persian for 'there is no doubt about it.' You never saw a man so delighted—he nearly went into convulsions; and he said if I had been at Shadeeabad twenty years ago, when he was there, I would have set all the young fellows raging mad, quite forgetting that I was not born at the time.—But what was I talking about? Oh, the aggravating dodge! Well, as I said before, did not I pitch into him there? You know my father and brothers are very fond of him, and he is constantly at our house, and I had great opportunities, so I took to con-page 155tradicting all he said, and abusing all his friends. But the strong point was his regiment. Didn't I abuse his regiment, and his mess, and his band, and his brother officers, and his colonel, and his colonel's wife, and everything that he had? You must know that his regiment is a 'royal regiment,' and they are very fond of being 'royals,' so I used to tell him that I considered one regiment was as good as another, and that as to the officers, why they were not half so talkative or amusing as those of other regiments, and why did they not give more balls? And as to the band! oh, it was so loud, and it was all drums and fifes and tambourines and cymbals. Well, and as to the colonel, oh, he was a perfect nincom——! no, I wont say that, that would be too strong. No, that he was a goosey goosey gander sort of man, and let his wife command the regi-page 156ment, and that she read all the courts martial, and (which is true, dear) that one day a court martial came late in the evening, and she had not time to read it, so she put it in her pocket, and forgot it, and went to a ball with it there, and as she was dancing away out tumbled the court martial on the floor to the extreme delight of every one. I know it is true, because Captain Danvers told me he picked it up himself.

"Well, when I told this story, Algernon got into such a rage—oh, such a rage—you never saw such a rage—and he said, 'I did not think, Miss Brown'—yes, he actually called me Miss Brown—'I did not think, Miss Brown, that you could say such unkind things;' and the way he said 'you!' all the italics in the world could not show the way he said you. It sounded as big as a house—and he looks so page 157handsome when he is in a rage—and—and I think I have done something with him—just a little. Oh, why is it, Edith, that we women like these big, honest, blundering sort of men, for you know they are not so sharp as we are, and have not half the tact? I suppose it is because they are honest and straightforward, and do not tell little white lies—as you know we do sometimes, dear—and all that sort of thing. Not that I would marry Algernon, you know. Oh no; I would not think of such a thing. I like my independence too much for that. Oh! the horrid idea of putting oneself in the power of a man!—of any man, and being ordered to do this, and do that. What are you laughing at? I declare it is true; I would not. But, oh! how I have been running on. Well, Edith, now promise me that you will not tell any person what I have been saying——"

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"Oh! here comes young Babinton."

"Miss Brown, this is my quadrille, I believe," said Babinton.

"Well, I believe it is; but you have been so long coming that I was very near standing up with Captain Danvers. However, I'll forgive you this time; only you must be a better boy in future."

And so they stood up, and Edith and Ancrum were their vis-à-vis, and Babington, who had taken a little more champagne than usual at mess—"just to get oneself up, you know"—was more ardent in his attentions to the fair Adelaide even than usual.

"Oh," he said, in one of the pauses of the dance, "Miss Brown, do you remember that charming pic-nic we were at, to the north shore? And, Adelaide—I may call you Adelaide, may I not?"

"Adelaide? of course. Call me Jones, or Jackson, if you like."

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"Well, Adelaide, was it not a delightful pic-nic?"

"Well, pretty bobbish."

"And—and—Adelaide, you were—that is, you were kinder to me than—than you sometimes are."

"Ah! yes; I know. But that was the fiz—the best champagne I ever tasted. And that horrid wretch, Danvers, would fill my glass. Yes, that was all the fiz."

"And, oh, Adelaide, that delicious walk we had by the sea-side. And when you were gone, I thought of those words of Byron: 'And is she gone?' and then, you know, he says something about 'Sudden solitude'—and—I—and then I thought the pic-nic, and the world, and everything, was all a desert and a blank, you know, and, turning from the wintry sky, I said, 'It is no dream, and I am desolate.'"

"Desolate! fiddlesticks! How far can you throw a stone with your left hand?"

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"Adelaide!—Miss Brown! I leave that sort of thing to boys."

"Boys! nonsense! Do you all the good in the world; improve your (what do you call it?) biceps. There now, don't be tiresome; I detest angry people. It is your turn to dance. See, you have to turn Miss Mandeville; and don't squeeze her hand, sir. I wont allow it."

"Adelaide! I never did."

"Pooh! Go on; she's waiting."