Mangamaunu — Kaikoura — 25/6/97
Dear Mr Macallum,
The prevalent impression on the 23rd of May* was that next day was St Patricks day. I have thought it out and come to the conclusion that that impression can be traced to the fact that most of the Maoris here are Catholics. Some of the children thought it was their birthday (the church records are lost and mothers seem to depend, as does Department strictly-on such little matters as the ages of their children, on the school master-in event of any formal emergency) Well, the youngest picaniny in the school said it was our, (Mrs Lawson's and my birthday) Anyway, they knew there'd be no school, and thats all they wanted to know. But we are haunted just now by the eldest girl (16) a pure blooded aborigine-if there ever was one-of the heavy negro type, whose father killed her mother 11 years ago, (fit of jealousy) and on whose family (3 or 4 sisters) there seems to be a brooding cloud. This girl, they say, would take to the bush, if the last teacher punished her, and climb a tree and sit there and brood for hours-for days if they didn't find her and get her home. Poor girl-but I shouldnt care to punish her if there were knives handy. The father, by-the way, was "teased" (favourite Maori word for expressing it) by other Maoris concerning his wifes easy nature, and, coming home, he called her out to turn the grindstone while he sharpened a butcher's knife for "pighunting". She turned away mechanically or naturally like-a Maori wife, I suppose, and presently he felt the edge of the knife, and, being satisfied, he grabbed her suddenly and cut her throat-Well, he got 11 years, and is just out, (but not here); the girls were babies then, but it left an impression on them that anybody with a knack of observation could see today. I think I could tell a member of that family anywhere, in twenty years time, by the brooding cloud on their forheads and in their eyes.
* 24 May, the Queen's Birthday, was a school holiday.
* spirit] expression written above, MS.
Clifford says that he can't help it Mrs Lawson, If they call him and his sisters "white somethings" hes gone to call them black niggers!"
The "something" is probably a string of fierce and excited Maori, sounding savagely abusive and scandelous but to the effect that Clifford is a "remnant of the feast" and they wouldn't eat his head-an old Maori "oath" the literal meaning of which as little known to the children, as ours to us, or our children.
The book will be mostly N Z Character sketches, personal reflections some old debts paid to one or two unfair critics, literary and otherwise, and scenery-with the Native School as a peg to hang on. The chapters characters & seem to fall into place of their own accord and I feel happier over it and more enthusiastic than I ever did in my life before. Have written well on into the book but will have to write all the holidays and spare time to keep up with the chapters. Two Australian scenes, called the Cinematograph, with the darkening snowey peaks of the Kaikouras for a ground, and "Out on the Wastes of the NeverNever" and "Clancy" for accompaniments have dropped into the book, and read like a summary of all I have ever written or may write about Australia. I felt like writing to you, somehow, perhaps because of your kind reference to Mrs Lawson. I knew she was a gem, from the first. I was right in that as in most other things where drink did not madden my instinct. She is a favourite everywhere and worshipped here; which reminds that when a Maori woman opens her heart to a white woman, she loves that white woman and would trust her with her life, and might lay it down for her. It may be so with the men, but they are more like us now-mixing more with the whites.
I wan't to show some of my kind relatives (who never assisted me or thought of me except perhaps as a soft idiotic fool to get money and work out of) who advised Bertha against me from the first, and kindly told her all my worst points-whilst, on the other hand, and in common with one or two good but mistaken friends, they persuaded me against being "trapped" and ruining my prospects when I "ought marry money"-I want to show them, if they be worth showing, that I have made a success of my married life-and hers. I think I've married money too, as well as fame, but that will be seen. And I want to show the true friends, bushmen and others, who trusted and believed in me through it all-I want for their sake to write myself up to the top of the Australian gum But Bob Pohar[a]ma has come home with no wild pig-save the tusks of an old Captain Cook Boar that chased him a good part of the way before he could reload his rifle; and he hasn't succeeded in getting a "wild sheep" either-probably because mustering is going on on the hill station-So I must go down to old Mrs Hehii-who was a baby left over from Rapaurahah's (the Conqueror from North Island) last victorious and cannabalistic feast-and stretch out my neck and flap my wings and "quack" at her to make her understand that I have no meat and want to by one of her geese. And, like as not, she'll mistake the pantomine, or add another detail to it and send me up a dozen duck eggs. She did once, having, no doubt, taken my gestures and quacks for an exaggerated page 173representation of the pakeha's idea of a goose or duck laying eggs. By-the-way-old Hehii-and a very cannabel he looks-understands English, but doesn't "savey" "goose" only geese-geese a gander, and a goose are and is alike "geese" to them. They laughed so when I asked for goose that I got a suspicion it might "mean something" in maori (especially when I thought of the eggs) so I was at some pains to explain by the aid of a flock of geese with one solitary one at a distance; but don't think I succeeded for they only laughed more happily [Two lines of script torn from the bottom of the sheet]
With kindest regards from Mrs Lawson and myself.