Legends of the Maori
HE was a remittance man. It has come to be accepted as an axiom that a remittance man is a drunkard. If this is so, Steve Jacomb was no exception. His father had been a many-bottle-squire of a variety now extinct. His mother frequently went to church and during the week visited the poor with a basket on her arm containing calves-foot jelly, bottles of liniment, and tracts. Every night her husband returned full from hunting she gave him beans; if he crawled to his room after she had retired she gave him beans for breakfast, which spoiled his appetite for anything else. When he broke his neck in the hunting field she considered it a judgment, and determined to make a very different man of their son. The old squire had been a favourite in the neighbourhood; whilst his mother lived the son never had a chance to shine on the same lines. When a child his mother educated him. From youth to early manhood a Low Church reverend tutor coached him to holiness and bowdlerised his classics. The mother had a companion in her perfunctory visits to the poor; she was the daughter of the parson of the parish. When Steve came of age his mother secured her son’s future from the wiles of wicked women by marrying him to the parson’s daughter, and then she died quite happy.
Steve’s wife had sharp features, drab hair, a flat chest, a keen nose for village scandal, and the air of an icicle in welcoming her guests, when she presented a hand as cordial as a flat-fish. Roused to anger, she was a vixen, a termagant, a viper. There was no honeymoon.
The estate was a good one, and having sole control Steve began to feel himself. He went out hunting and occasionally to town. When at home he was miserable, when away jolly. On his return after each absence his wife began by upbraiding him, and Steve answered not a word. Then she would relapse into silent sulks; that suited Steve down to the ground. He probably felt he’d been had. After five years Steve was a first-class tippler. He’d drink outside to get gay, at home to get sober. The result in each case was the same. Soon he became a scandal to his friends and relations; he was on a perennial drunk.
His relatives persuaded him to go for a tour round the world. He consented and his wife rejoiced, but not at the prospect of his cure. He arranged for his wife’s income and his own remittances, and proceeded to stagger round the globe.page 215 page break page 217
After a year or two of gay and festive wanderings he reached Wellington, Maoriland. Whilst there he was invited up country by a squatter acquaintance for some shooting. On the station was a Maori pa, and Steve was attracted by the strange people. He received an invitation from the chief for an indefinite period. There was no drink in this pa and no pub within thirty miles. First Steve became sick and then perforce uniformly sober, but he stayed on and enjoyed himself. He was liberal in his contributions towards the larders of the pa, and lavish in his gifts of clothing to the youngsters.
Komahi was sixteen, which means twenty in the northern hemisphere. She had great black eyes with lashes like verandahs and brows like arches, a straight nose with moderate nostrils, a full ripe mouth with lips really red, and adolescence bursting on her round olive cheeks, bright as a rosy morn. She was a widow, having been married to a chief of fifty years’ warfare for tribal reasons akin to those which prompted Israel to give the virgins to the moribund David. The chief survived a month. She and Steve became great friends, and as she had a large house nearly empty Steve went to lodge with her, with the consent of the chief his host. Komahi ran the show and Steve paid for all. He now felt himself for the first time a man.
After some months a party of surveyors came to do some trigonometrical work on a hill a few miles from the pa. Steve had met the head man in Wellington and went on a visit to the camp. There was a case of grog there. He stayed all night and longer. On the second morning he woke with a thirst worth pounds to a publican, and not a drop of liquor to be had. He had read Paley and agreed with that philosopher that “the drunkard in his intervals of sobriety suffers a pain which is almost unbearable.” So he said that unless he had a hair off the dog which bit him he would die. He put in a day and night’s perish till a man could return from the pub with a keg of reviver. It was “forty-rod” tack. When that was drunk it was time for the surveyors to shift, and Steve went back to the pa.
Komahi received him with kindness; she made soups, boiled rauriki, and did everything she could to allay the insatiable thirst and reduce a burning bilious fever. On the fourth day he was able to rise and dress, and as he struggled to get outside some breakfast Komahi was attentive but rather solemn. When he had finished she said: “Tipene, Hone has saddled your horse and your bag is packed.”
“But what for, Mahi? I don’t want to go anywhere.”
“You can’t stop here any longer, friend. Before you went to the surveyors’ camp we lived so happily together, and I was proud of you and page 218 the envy of all the girls of the pa, for there was not one who did not say that Komahi’s pakeha was a rangatira. Now, I am laughed at by all; none miss the opportunity of saying something disdainful of Komahi’s tangata haurangi (drunken man).”
“But I am very fond of you, Mahi, and don’t you love me, my girl?”
“Yes, I love you, Tipene, but my people will not allow the daughter of a chief to mate with a drunkard.”
“Komahi, I will never sign what our people call ‘the pledge,’ but if I promise you to abstain for the future, shall we go on as before till we die?”
“Ana, e ta, for you never told me a lie.”
So Hone took the horse away and the drab-haired woman in England is content, whilst the Recording Angel probably plays the part of the shut-eye sentry.