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Everything is Possible to Will

Chapter X. “Too Much the Broke.”

page 116

Chapter X. “Too Much the Broke.”

The “noble savages,” the early inhabitants of New Zealand, were a curiosity to Zee. When she said: “tenakohi” (how do you do?), to her dark-skinned brother, he strode about with a blanket guiltless of tie or tag, folded lengthways round his brawny shoulders, of which shoulders one chanced occasionally to see more than one wished, notwithstanding that, on the whole, he managed his full-dress toggery very adroitly. And the natives being stealthy in their movements, Zee was often startled to find a grim, hobgoblin face flattened against her window-pane, taking stock of all within. Entering the house without any form of “by your leave,” they raked an ember from the fire, and dropping it into their horrid pipes (both sexes smoke), puffed away clouds of dirty tobacco-smoke. Then, but not till then, to business, bartering their wares for old clothing, may be, at which they snapped eagerly, first looking the garment over and over; and if they spied a hole, they would thrust a finger through, with “Too much the broke, too much the broke,” and Zee had to run it up. Her conjuring art served its turn at last, for she converted many well-worn shirts, coats, trousers, dresses, etc., into kits of delicious peaches.

Wahine (female) is a guy, dress her how you will. She not infrequently became enamored of the shapely dress which adorned the compressed figure of her white sister; and if an old dress were offered her, she put it on, hoping it might envelope her ample charms, but on finding it too small grunted her protest in unmeasured disdain either against madam's elfin or her own elephantine proportions. A Maori beauty, seeing herself in a glass for the first time, possibly, burst into page 117 a very uncivilised sort of a laugh as she made signs to Zee for brush and comb; but no, not for all Maoridom would Zee have understood those signs; but to have seen the weird face as reflected in the glass would have moved the risibilities of the gravest.

They regarded it as childish to give, and rarely betrayed the weakness, yet were they importunate beggars. Beating their breasts and making a wry face, they would point to the cupboard saying, with a well-assumed whine: “Too much the hungry, too much the hungry,” but brightened wonderfully if kai, kai (food), “very dood,” “kapai,” were given them. If Zee wished them to go, they became as dense as their primeval forests, or else, shrinking to half their size, they would cry, with a lugubrious65 expression of countenance: “Too much the cold,” or “Too much the rain.” But “clear out” or “hook it” from the pakeha (man—foreigner) was magical in effect; hence their visits were made in his probable absence. They were scrupulously honest, or their liberties would have been abridged. Still, amusing though they were, it was not always pleasant to have them prying round.

They courted and were flattered by the notice of Europeans, and locating near the beach, Zee passed their rookery in taking her boys for sea-bathing. One tent entertained a bridal party, some of whom were at their early morning toilette outside their tent when Zee passed. “The brave” wore a shirt, coat, pants and boots, and the ladies' style was of the flashiest “pure red and bright yallar,” predominating over a monster crinoline. The dusky belle must have had her own conceptions of beauty, for she consulted the small glass she held in her hand as complacently as the cream of Belgravia consult their cheval.66

Wahine wears her sex's badge of disgrace—she is schooled, as is her fairer sister who ought to know better, in all the arts of coquetry, coaxing, ogling, wheedling, giggling. Will woman ever dare to be true–true in thought, true in word, true in deed, with that perfect truthfulness which makes coquetry impossible? If it be objected it is natural for woman to please, even to the sacrifice of honor, yes, natural page 118 to uncultured savage nature, but eighteen centuries of Christianity should have produced other results in English women. What human nature is, is seen in the noblest, purest type of man, of woman; elsewhere only savage nature, ever affirming its baser self, not its divine nature, is seen in various degrees of coarseness. To call the life commonly lived human nature is a libel on God and man.

When Maori friend meets friend, they demonstrate affection by “rubbing noses;” the men thus greet each other in public, and appear to enjoy it; wahine never—never at least to the writer's knowledge. Whether she is less affectionate, less demonstrative, or beneath such superlative distinction is unknown. She is not permitted to eat with “the braves,” except at a respectful distance. Again extremes meet; by sharing in the good things provided, she triumphs over the grand dames of Belgravia, who are only permitted to see the lions feed at public banquets, etc.

Cannibalism is of the past; civilisation has deteriorated human flesh in the Maori's estimation: “White man too salt.” A favorite Maori being offered a choice between roast pork and roast mutton from Wrax's table one day, did not puzzle the carver by saying: “I have no choice,” as mock-modest young ladies are prone to do, but answered instantly: “Poaka, sheep no good,” politely intimating that “sheep” disagreed with his delicate stomach, whereas his love of “poaka” was excessive; and taking his plate, he seated himself at a respectful distance from the table, using his knife and fork like a Christian, and to as good purpose.

The Maori devil (tipo) is white! the color of his skin is favored probably by the conceit which makes the white man's devil black, that each may repudiate all kindred with his black-white majesty with a show of consistency. If “tipo” is understood to be intimately related to the press, the Maori is less witless than some would make believe. But as there may be farther talk (koreru) about him, he is for the present dismissed.

A striking contrast presents itself in turning from the child of nature to the sophisticated colonist, whose page 119 life appeared so fast, so unlike the old-world jog-trot that Zee longed to creep into a corner and let it pass. But given time to penetrate beneath the surface, Zee found repose. The cautious old colonist locked shop and its cares up in his counting-house, and revelling in his well-earned relaxation, he could be seen of an evening in his pleasant suburban residence as fresh as if accustomed to kill time among soft cushions—more so, indeed; soft cushions enervate and take the edge off all rational enjoyment. The very baby talked and crowed as if it knew that happiness and papa came in together. And in the house-sphere, the wives of such men fully equalled their husbands, though in a different way.

Queenly natures are found in every walk of life—women, so far proof against the vulgarity hard-work and hard - fare are said to engender, that nothing seems to stain or harden even the native delicacy of their hands. Zee was surprised to observe how cheerfully and well the women of the upper circles worked, making poetry of their daily cares, nor dreamed of apologising for being busy. Contempt was the portion of those only who pretended to be above work. When a visitor called, if mamma happened to be engaged, she was represented by a small, grave man or woman, of seven years perhaps, with an entertaining simplicity quite fascinating.

Not that the young folk are of the Goody-Two-Shoes order, by any means; but so much is expected of them, and put upon them, that the old head on young shoulders is not unfrequently seen.

There are quite too many sprigs of over-bearing insolence in the “uppercrust” families, and there is juvenile depravity, alas, poor children! down among the grounds of society. Large families are the rule in this land of the sun, and infants appear to be six weeks' old at birth, giving almost no trouble, as they develop with hot-house rapidity, without its forcing and frailty. A rug is spread in the shade for the short-coated dot, and a step-above baby is set to mind it.

Try how Zee would to make home attractive, Wrax page 120 could not have appeared less willing to have entered it, had it been one of the filthiest of dens, and Zee an old hag ready to tear his hair and talk him to death. The crossing of his own threshold soured him; she had known him turn with a smile from a male friend to hiss darkling speech at her, that scorched her; he was mixing up those “bitter pills” she was to swallow. Loving punctuality, its practice was easy to Zee, but to Wrax the word had no meaning; yet come when he would, all things must be ready on the instant. How she trembled at his step! She ought to have been in possession of the veritable Aladdin's Lamp.67 She, nevertheless, resolutely cherished secret anticipations of brighter days, nor swerved from her high purpose of bracing him to manly effort.

And those, indeed, were happy days that saw Wrax usefully employed; he did at last give to business such energy as remained to him; and having made a start, it was never so wholly neglected as in England, from whence he had brought letters of introduction to men of position in Auckland. But scorning—wisely if consistently carried out—to owe an obligation to any one, he threw the letters behind the fire. Quite as good treatment as they deserved, doubtless. In point of education and business capacity, Wrax was the equal of the first men in the city, and as able as they to make an honorable position for himself. They might have formed a desirable circle of acquaintance, too; but husband and wife were still as wide apart as right and wrong could make them, and differed in tastes and habits so widely that Zee's friends would have been an aversion to Wrax; besides which his uniformly contemptuous treatment of herself, together with doubt as to the condition in which he might return home, precluded the hope of enjoyment. So she made no friends.

As time rolled on, he spurned all appeals to right principle: “only fools and idiots were concerned about such rot.” And except that they knew no want of food, his wife and children were left utterly uncared for; Zee feared lest his little chicks, good children though they were, should be a disturbing page 121 element; but no, the man himself was wrong, and made all else wrong; the old blight still resting on his life, public and private, could never lead to honor and usefulness. The ill-assorted pair were average man and woman; neither the best nor the worst by any means, but it is to be hoped that the Wraxes may never outnumber the Zees. If Wrax had but performed his part as well as Zee, with all her short-comings, did hers, they would never have crossed England's borderland, but have gone quietly down to the valley, leaving a numerous progeny to carry on their life work.

But now cold, cold was the home. Wrax gave his smiles to the world, and reserved only the frowns for his own hearthstone. Ah, how proud he was of that smile of his, and of his absolute control of every muscle of his face when he purposed to mislead! Resenting the slightest allusion to his habits, he flung defiance at his wife in the loudest and coarsest manner. Reproaching her with tiresome iteration as the cause of his wrong-doing, he has flung her Bible (to which alone he owed his leave to live) on the fire, calling her “a damned hypocrite,” careful though she was to parade neither faith nor Bible before him, vowing, too, as he never tired of doing, that “he would leave them altogether, and that they should never hear of him again.” Zee tried the harder, under a bondage of fear and torment, to do her best, but with no better results. She had long ceased her pretensions to the angelic, and failing by her own unaided efforts to discover in what way she had disappointed Wrax, she implored him in his best moments to tell her, but in vain; so she asked of herself, with an agony of intensity words fail to convey: Am I wrong just where I think myself most right? Still she dared not accept Wrax's definition of right, although she lived in the hourly expectation of his putting his oft-repeated threat of “leaving them” into execution. He could not blame her in his heart, whatever his lips might utter.

His wife ought to have been made to order, no ready-made article ever would have suited him. Such noble women as the late Mrs. J. S. Mill68 and the Baroness page 122 Beaconsfield are said to have been, would not have been worth two pins to Wrax as wives. It is believed he would have murdered Zee had she thwarted and irritated him as some wives do thwart and irritate their really good husbands; there was guilt enough on his conscience without that. Of one woman and another who fell short of his standard of wife in perfection, he has said: “If she were my wife I'd kick her out of doors,” and he would have been as good as his word. Nothing, however, could have been farther from Wrax's mind than an implied compliment to Zee. If she had revelled in such frightful excesses as did her lord, would he have endured it, think you? It would not have been “un-English” to have locked her up. It is passing strange that the proposition to treat drunkenness as a criminal offence should have to combat deep-rooted prejudices. “Lock a man up for getting drunk! it's un-English!” exclaim men, excitedly. Alas, that it should be so! English to turn a man into something less than a brute: “un-English” to turn him back into a man. English to lock up the scum of the earth for getting drunk; but they are paupers whom nobody owns.

Zee was low enough on the social ladder to realise fully that, as a rule, woman is looked upon and treated as the merest drudge—a necessary evil, possessing no recognised power in the household when deficient in that force of character which rises superior to the servility of legal bondage. A long-suffering woman is a phænomenon men cannot understand; they like to contemplate her, so she is impaled on the horns of society's altar, a pretty spectacle for men to gape at. And even admitting that her innate purity is never more divine than when she is down in the depths with her besotted husband, the world is surfeited with such pretty spectacles. Nevertheless her right to consideration will be disavowed so long as it is believed that her social degradation is her moral elevation, that her finer qualities can ripen only in her humiliation, that the lower she lies the more lustrous are her virtues. How fares man's moral nature? Meanwhile, were the tables of stone given to women only? Possessing page 123 remedial elements within themselves, the circumstances that are the whetstone of many virtues must sound the death-knell of many vices. Much needless torture of body and mind is endured by women for Christ's sake, they fancy; but he has taught that no wrong which can be righted, come whence it may, is to be tamely submitted to.

Bloody steps will mark woman's way to freedom. Come when it may, as come it must, she'll walk over corduroy roads formed by the drink-tyrant's victims. Think of the scenes our police and criminal courts present—think of the poor battered women—wives and mothers “too much the broke,” pleading for their embruted husbands: “Forgive them, they know not what they do,” “they might have been worse.” My God, what must this world look like to thee, when it looks so black to me? black with a devilishness all of man, not of devil. Will nothing move good men to pity? Must God's garden still be sown thick with broken hearts before trees of righteousness will grow in it? Yes, if men are devils. All power is in their hands, and they love themselves, love the drink, and are not one-half so faithful to their convictions as bad men are to theirs, or the world would not be what it is. The devils in hell must stand aghast at the cruelty of the drunkard, to whom the intelligence of the man and much social distinction are added to the fiendishness of the fiend. Never until the veil is taken off all hearts will it be known how much the world owes to woman, how much of evil she has concealed with ill-judged clemency and disastrous consequences—concealment precious at any price to cowardly conventionalism.

When Christ fainted under his cross, Simon was permitted to carry it. Woman is fainting under a too heavy cross; is there no Simon anywhere to carry it for her? Christ had the power to lay down his life and to take it up again; woman has power to do neither, yet her Judas-husband is allowed to betray her, now with a kiss, now with a kick, until it becomes doubtful whether there is one drop of human blood in his veins, or in the veins of those page 124 who look on with callous indifference. Could infinite love have borne with a drunken Judas—so foul a blot?

So filthy is the drunkard that man would not lodge him with his horses and dogs: no, not even with his pigs; yet, grateful only if he does not kick and curse her, his wife must take him in and wash him from head to foot like an infant, or he will roll as he is into his bed, and—oh, dreadful thought!—his wife's bed also. It is too much to bear! If men are men, not devils, suffering's hallowed shrine will have its votaries as well as its victims—victims eloquent in their very helplessness.

With a lofty brow, immaculate England has flung her flag in the face of all nations, seeking to convict them of their sins, while she hugs to her bosom the belief that she is less guilty than are other nations; no one has a stone to cast at her. She says of herself, in many ways: “The white-robed lily is not more chaste than am I. I am guileless and innocent as the sportive lamb. My flag is spotless, it never floats over a slave.” Strange that no one has dared to give England the lie; to fling back the taunt, Physician heal thyself!

England owns no slaves? The drunkard's wife and little ones are the slaves, legally, of the vilest slave-holder that ever owned human cattle, or disgraced his kind. They are his, body and soul; there is no limit to his power, so long as he spares life—bare life. If he could sell them, they would escape much of his brutality, possibly, lest their money value should be endangered thereby.

Never did a blacker Legree disgrace American soil than nestles in the bosom of saintly England, gold-crazed England! What cares she, though her best and bravest daughters, the pride of her own land, the admiration of other lands, be slain in cold blood? What cares she for the speechless agony of the helpless ever ringing in God's ears? What can be said that will make her look at home at her own sins? It is all for gold—gold, sweet gold!—and heedless of the death-throes of her children, she shows them page 125 a face like a flint, though she knows her gold-dust will one day prove lighter than vanity. Be as saintly as she may, slave-blood is on her snow-drift skirts, and in a demoralised people she reaps the reward of her hypocrisy.

Believing that the drink brings only gold to her coffers, she holds out the fatal glass as she cries: “List not to the babblers who talk of shrieks and groans; but for these bacchanalian scenes,69 an Englishman's right to do as he likes would be imperilled. Here's the Bible for the other world (we think a deal of the Bible), and here's the glass to drown dull care in this world. Take your fill of both; but the more you drink the better it pays. See the gold—see the gold!”

65 To be mournful or sorrowful.

66 From the French cheval, meaning horse. Used to generally mean ‘on horseback.’

67 A magic lamp (from the middle-eastern folk tale “Aladdin”) which, when rubbed, releases a genie sworn to obey the lamp’s holder.

68 Harriet Taylor married John Stuart Mill (who published The Subjection of Women in 1869). Harriet Taylor Mill was an English philosopher and women’s rights advocate. The couple fought together for women’s rights throughout the late 19th century, and collaborated on many works published under his name.

69 In reference to Bacchus, the Roman god of agriculture and wine. To be drunk, or engaged in drunken revelry.