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Promenade

III

III

MrLovel was making matters clear to females next morning at prayers, reading from St Paul, who seemed to be the special advocate of the gentlemen. “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection,” read Mr Lovel sonorously, with sunlight on the back of Roddy's neck, of Brian's where they knelt hunched at their chairs, softly passing marbles back and forth; with shadow on Tiffany's clasped hands and eager little face composed into the puzzled reverence prayers always brought there. “But I suffer not a woman to teach,” read Mr Lovel loud above the faint click of the marbles, “nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence….”

So very definite, St Paul, thought Sally, trying to keep little Jerry quiet and watching Darien smiling at herself in the sideboard mirror. Such an excellent friend to the gentlemen. As for Sally and Darien and Tiffany, St Paul promised that they should be saved in childbirth if they behaved themselves….

“Amen,” pronounced Mr Lovel, rising with dignity.

“Oh, God, please don't let me hate Mr Lovel,” prayed Sally, running upstairs to dive into linen-closets and hurry the maids about their work. So difficult to remember the names of maids who, having arrived in New Zealand with the sole intention of making a speedy marriage, proved so speedy at it that one never knew where they were.

As for Tiffany, she had long ceased to pray “Our Father,” feeling that one was more than enough. In the bush-gully below the house which pioneers had somehow overlooked in their haste to destroy all that was New Zealand and make her another England as soon as might be, Tiffany prayed to the little Maori god that Hemi Fleete had hacked for her out of a rich red totara-heart, while page 114 Roddy played on a flute left behind at Lovel Hall by an officer returned to England.

Wonderful magic in the flute for Roddy, trampling about on the maidenhair, the soft green mosses; blowing heaven out in shining bubbles round him, hearing the blare of glorious trumpets, the far sweet singing of sirens on enchanted shores. If only he could play the death of Mark Antony. Conquering trumpets, sorrowful sirens in that. “I am dying, Egypt, dying …” played Roddy as best he could for the shivers running down his back.

On her knees by the bright thread of the stream that made drooping flax-blades whistle softly, Tiffany prayed to the stiff little god with its blank paua-shell eyes.

“Listen, Tane. I will try to be good. I will comb all my hair-tangles and try not to ask questions or despise Brian because he's a tell-tale. I'll try not to hate Sophia, for I s'pose she can't help it and damnation will get her anyway. I will try to love Our Father, for p'raps he's nicer than papa….”

She sighed, jerking her curls out of her eyes. Weighty promises, and hard to keep; especially the one about Our Father, who was a very whiskered gentleman sitting on a cloud in the big Family Bible. Tiffany always wondered what he did when there were no clouds, but one couldn't ask grown-ups—not even mamma, who knelt by her bed with tender good-night kisses. More than the generations separated well-brought-up children (who always stood up when parents came in and mustn't speak unless spoken to) from the fount of knowledge.

“Now, Tane, I've promised you all I'm going to to-day and you'll have to be content with that,” said Tiffany, feeling the refreshment that follows a satisfactory confessional and rising to see Roddy standing with his brown eyes strange.

“I nearly saw Mark Antony,” he whispered.

“Oh!” cried Tiffany who knew that Mark Antony was page 115 dead. “Did you get right into heaven? What does God sit on?”

“No. Oh, I wish you could understand,” cried Roddy, desperate with his inability to proclaim the terrible beauty of everything to an unseeing world. “Some day I shall go off by myself and … and have lovely things all round me.”

“Will papa let you?” asked Tiffany since papa let them do so little they liked.

The boy's radiance faded. Up his sleeve youngest Brian laughed at papa exacting continual ceremonies, but Roddy feared him. In spite of conquering trumpets, he knew that he could not conquer papa. “Well, you needn't have reminded me of him, Tiffy.”

“P'raps he'll be dead some day, and then you can,” said Tiffany, the consoler. “I wish mamma hadn't married him. It would be so much nicer without a papa at all.”

“You're always wishing,” said Roddy, aching with his own wishes. “Come home.”

Tiffany came. Brothers would some day be men and therefore must be obeyed. I wish I were my own brother, she thought, riding that sunny afternoon with Brian and Hew Garcia up past the creaking windmill that ground Auckland's corn on Karangahape Road and through the scrub beyond to sit outside a Maori whare. Brian, already one of the fastidious Lovels, would never go in a whaxe, although there was usually a pot of boiling water to pour on the floor to kill some of the fleas.

Hew had come for a little greenstone heitiki, and sat in the sun polishing it with a silk handkerchief. This form of Tiki, the first Maori god, should be polished by wearing next the skin for generations; but Hew, being English, couldn't wait for that. He looked very ruddy and English among the fat Maori women, easy in their one garment, plaiting little green-flax baskets for kai; among the fat brown men lazily slicing fragrant yellow page 116 shavings off half-made canoe-paddles, or carving the ceremonial tops.

Niggers, thought Brian, who was rapidly imbibing Auckland's opinions. He wanted to be gone, but Hew, who always liked to air his knowledge, would talk; and since he was twelve and much stronger than lean dark little Brian there didn't seem anything to do about it.

“Tiki made men out of red clay and women out of echoes,” said Hew. “So all women are only echoes. Do you hear, Tiffany? You are only my echo, so you must agree with everything I say.”

“I can't if it isn't true,” objected Tiffany, nursing two little pigs.

“It would be true of course. But you must agree anyway,” declared Hew, staring at her under his thick dark brows. She had somehow acquired a new interest since her aunt was the toast of the town, and he had even discussed with Brian what men found in women to want to provide for them. “They don't want to,” said Brian who, complained his teachers, knew so little that he should and so much that he should not. “Women hook them. They always do.”

On the edge of sentimental adolescence in a land where responsibilities came early (he had ridden alone after the goats before he was five) Hew wondered if Tiffany would ever hook anybody. More likely to take a deal of hooking, with her dignified ways and that straight little freckled nose. Hew felt that Tiffany's mouth would be nice to kiss—fresh and crisp like a salty wave stinging you…. He was rather ashamed of thinking like that about Tiffany who, though generous with her belongings, might be called ungenerous with herself. Virginal was the word, but Hew didn't know it. He knew that he couldn't maul Tiffany as he mauled Belinda when no one was about. Tiffany said:

“A po-pofessing Christian shouldn't believe in Maori gods.”

page 117

“I never said I believed.” Hew got up, pocketing the heitiki. He no longer wanted to kiss Tiffany. “You can't tell the truth….”

“I can,” shrieked Tiffany, flying at him. “Cursed be thy incomings and thy outgoings.”

“Good, my girl,” said Brian, sniggering. Tiffany at any rate found some value in morning prayers. Hew avoided her onrush, suddenly disconcerted.

“I don't fight girls. I'm going. Come, Brian.”

Brian, who specially disliked Tiffany tumultuous and nursing pigs, got his pony, and the two rode off into the tall manuka-trees, leaving Tiffany dumb with horror at herself, conscious that she had suddenly wanted to scratch Hew, bite bits out of him. Often in her rebellions against rules she bit her arms and the ends of her curls, but she had never before wanted to bite other people. And she had cursed … after telling Tane she would be good too. Our Father would surely come off his cloud and kill her. Hoping that he would get her before papa did, since Brian would certainly tell papa, she scrambled on her pony and pelted off to Corny Fleete's, feeling that if she couldn't soon see kindly understanding Hemi she'd die.

In Corny's big untidy house Haini Fleete sat all day, weaving glowing mats for her tribal relations, with her daughters sorting the bright piles of dyed flax and feathers on the floor. Haini would look so splendid in mats, said Tiffany, stroking their softness, and Haini's voice sounded mysterious and far off like the witch of Endor as she answered:

“One day I think all Maoris will wear the mat again. Do not wait for the dark, little Tihane. Rehu Pai is still unburied.”

All Maoris dread the dark, particularly when an unburied ghost is about. Tiffany said, hesitating: “Isn't Hemi anywhere?”

“He is flying the new kite … the manu aute. He wants a good omen.” Tiffany knew all about kites, just as she page 118 knew all about the spinning-tops as big as your head which the young men whipped over ditches and hedges to make themselves strong and deep-breathed in battle. Every Maori game was a preparation for battle. Hemi's new kite had a head like a man, with shells rattling inside, and to fly it over an enemy's pa was very bad for the mana of all the chiefs there. “Is Hemi going to fight?” Tiffany asked.

“Ana pea. Who knows? Go, Tihane. We have not seen the little green lizards, but they must have come for Rehu Pai.”

Tiffany rode hastily home through an equally hasty sunset, for the North does not dally on the confines of light and dark. The world seemed far and strange and very still. Against a saffron West night had already come to the long height of the Waitakeres. Shadows groped here and there with ghostly fingers. Mount Eden was disappearing. There was a mist on Mount Albert. They were going back into the dark to remember when they had been spouting volcanoes, tremendous Maori pas instead of only deserted butts too scrubby to climb. The distant dull clank of cattle-bells in the manuka sounded so lonely….

“Oh, go quick, Selim,” gasped Tiffany, who hadn't yet been able to rid herself of belief in Rienga, that mysterious cape in the far North where, escorted by the little green lizards, every Maori soul has to go after its body is buried in two halves of a canoe and stuck up in an outhouse or a tree. At Te Rienga the soul slings itself into the sea by a branch and enters Te Po … the Darkness. But what happened to it then not even Hemi could tell her.

Down the hill a few belated Maoris moved with torches, for there is no protection from a wandering ghost except poking a lighted torch in its eye. Tiffany had no torch as defence against the ghostly soul of Rehu Pai. For the first time she thought of the soul as separate from the body, and cold tremors ran over her. Would it be raw page 119 and red like a new baby, or would it grow to be a giant when it got out of bent old Rehu Pai? Was that the soul moaning in the bracken, turning up the white sides of the tussock in search of the little green lizards … ?

In Rehu Pai's house all the old women would be howling the tangi, crying: “Go! Travel the long road. Go to the majority lost in darkness;” cutting their wrinkled cheeks and breasts with the sharp pipi-shell; while men would be skinning animals for the feast, and Rehu Pai, sitting alone with all his best mats and weapons and plates and knives hung on the fence behind him, would be watching his poor soul hunting for the lizards….

There was the soul, big as a giant, waving its arms at her out of the dark…. The tall pale clump of toitoi grass turned its feathery fronds as she galloped by, screaming heartily with terror. Then the pony put his foot in a hole, and the one pommel in the pad-saddle was not enough to keep Tiffany there.

Hemi found her limping through the grey dusk with face set against the world. He had a torch, and in the wild blown light his tawny face with the thin English lips was lovelier to Tiffany than an angel's. She gripped him with frantic hands.

“Oh, Hemi, I've been so wicked, and the ghost upset Selim and he's gone home. Hemi, you won't let Rehu Pai have me, will you? I don't want to go to Te Po.”

At thirteen big Hemi was on the edge of Maori manhood and receiving private instruction from the priestly tohungas about the Books of Life and Death and his own exalted ancestry which went back and back like the Begats in the Bible. Soon (Haini had said, standing among her flowing hair like a prophetess) Hemi must run away to the great chief in the Waikato who was his grandfather and like the mighty rata-tree wherein a thousand birds nested and a thousand ferns and vines took root. There Hemi would go through the long and painful initiation into a warrior's status and have cut on his smooth young page 120 cheeks the special double-spiral which (like a duke's strawberry-leaves) would leave no doubt of his birth.

Hemi, conscious that he should want to go much more than he did, shyly offered Tiffany his arm, just as white men did their women, and felt somehow crowned when she clung to it, as though she had made him all white. Yet he didn't want to be white, and he despised his white father. Oh, where do I belong? thought Hemi, taking Tiffany past the mill heavy on Maori land as though it would bend and break it … and the Maoris down here didn't care. They were not like the warriors of Nene and Hone Heke. They tilled ground for the white man and pushed his barrows and drove his bullocks. They were learning to drink the white man's Stinking Water and shame their birth. And the English soldiers had proud stomachs and called the Maoris nigger, and the new kite would not fly….

“Nothing is the same now, Tihane,” said Hemi, dimly feeling the weight of a dying race on his young shoulders.

In the Domain, as they passed through it, two old Maori gentleman squatted outside a reed whare, cooking their supper in red embers. The one with the black pipe (whispered Hemi, pausing) was Te Rauparaha, once too great a chief for a Maori to name. But after the Nelson trouble the English made him a prisoner for a year on a man-of-war, and now it pleased him to attend Governor Grey at levees, wearing a naval uniform as a delicate suggestion that his sojourn afloat had not been at all what people imagined.

“He has lost his spiritual power, his mana,” said Hemi bitterly. “Now he is nothing. Once a chief is prisoner he can never again be a chief. He should have killed himself … for there were handcuffs! The one stirring the pot is Te Whero.”

Of the two, Hemi most despised Te Whero, that powerful Waikato chief who had become a Christian and sent little notes to Heke (still unregenerate in the North) page 121 explaining that if he wanted Auckland he must first fight all the Waikato. Heke did want Auckland, but not under those conditions. So, said Hemi scornfully, it was that old fellow, magnificently tattooed and wearing the huia feather of royalty beneath his bell-topper, who really protected everybody. The English only lived because Te Whero allowed it.

Te Whero, talking across the cooking-haangi to Te Rauparaha, was not very sure why he did allow it. Everywhere the Maori was discovering that the pakeha's politics were as muddled as their religion, which Heke once wrote to Queen Victoria about. “We are too confused with your religions,” wrote Heke. “We do not know which way to worship your God now.”

Truly enough they didn't. The early missionaries had been simple men, teaching the plain law of Christ with one hand and carpentry and black-smithing with the other. Then came the Roman Catholics, talking of Mary and Purgatory and Confession; and the High Church Anglicans, under Bishop Selwyn, telling that God could only be approached with genuflections and no end of paraphernalia; and the Baptists, who said you must get right under water before God would look at you; and the Methodists, who said that God did not like his priests to wear long gowns. Altogether, this pakeha God was very capricious and couldn't kill with a curse, as any good tohunga could. As for the law of tapu, the English had nothing to touch it.

“The old gods were best,” said Te Rauparaha, smoking thoughtfully in the shadows. Aue! True … true as dying, agreed Te Whero. And a missionary had once told him that if he disobeyed this contradictory God he would go for ever into outer darkness where the flames of hell would burn him. But when Te Whero asked how it could be dark if there were flames he had no answer. A Maori can always find an answer to anything. Yet it seemed that the pakeha were like sands of the sea for number and every page 122 tide piled them higher on Ao-tea-roa's shores. So peace was best, agreed the two old warriors, and this English tobacco was very good….

“Come,” said Hemi, dragging Tiffany roughly. But she knew that his anger was not for her, and went with him quietly, past the barracks and up to her own gate. Brian met her at the door.

“Well, miss, papa is looking for you,” said Brian, grinning. Tiffany went in, unsuspecting that Sally was also in disgrace for bravely objecting to Brian's tale-telling.

“I asked him why he had left her. Would you have him tell a lie?” cried Peregrine, who was so conscientiously bringing up his family that he cut from the papers any paragraphs unfit for them to see … a habit which gave Brian a deal of trouble because he had to go down to Hew's twice weekly in order to read those paragraphs.

Hemi tramped up the long rustling hill again with his torch burning low. There was fear abroad on the wind to-night, clashing the cabbage-tree blades, the sworded flax, whimpering in the tussock. Here and there in the distances torches moved stealthily. Hemi's anger had gone. He was frightened of the soul of Rehu Pai, frightened of the pakeha. He wanted to pray, but his own gods had no power now, and how could a Maori pray to the English God for release from the Englishman?

“Is there nothing left for the Maori? Is there not anything at all?” cried Hemi, his dark face with the thin English mouth upraised to the dark sky, his dying torch flaring in a red stream of sparks soon blown away.