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Everything is Possible to Will

Chapter IX. The Glad New World

page 108

Chapter IX. The Glad New World.

Never surely did a more cloudless sky welcome emigrants to shores more picturesque, though rugged and barren. Early on Saturday morning the anchor was paid out, and Zee hastened on deck to make the acquaintance of the land of her adoption. Accosting her as she stood rapt in admiration, the captain asked: “Well, how do you like it?” She said: “I love it already, it is so pretty and peaceful-looking.” Yes, she took it into her heart that day, and longed to make one of its joyous children.

There, in all its unpretending simplicity, lay the slowly-growing city, built on rising ground, dotted with primitive irregularity by neatly painted wooden cots, whose diminutiveness invested them with a friendliness which made the probable occupation of one delightfully inviting. The aspect of everything was foreign, even to its trees and its want of trees, pioneer clearing having swept them almost all away. The “city,” by courtesy, was such, perchance, as Noah inhabited before the flood. It certainly had a baptised air about it that struck Zee as new and very young.

Wrax being among the many men who hastened on shore to secure vacant domiciles, Zee asked of herself anxiously: Will he come back a man? He had consorted with the loosest on board; nevertheless, among men almost all of whom were drinkers more or less, Wrax had been sufficiently moderate to have preserved his reputation Zee hoped. He was one of the last to return to the ship, and not himself. Zee looked sad, possibly—how could she help it? Still she felt more disposed to excuse his condition than to expostulate; but he was so perversely irate as to make a humiliating page 109 exhibition of himself before Zee could get him to his cabin. Once there, however, he snarled aloud without the slightest provocation: “You think you've had many a bitter pill to swallow, but they shall be nothing to what I'll make you swallow yet, my lady.” What! will he ill-use her now that she is at his mercy?

When other men drew from their pockets small love-tokens brought from shore, of no intrinsic value, for wife and children, Wrax looked mean by contrast; not an article had he brought for wife or child, it was not his habit to think of others. On shore again early next day, he returned at night in a worse condition, if possible, than on the previous evening; and a heavy bag of sovereigns, that had been taken from him for safety, sovereigns which he had probably drawn the day before, was placed in Zee's hand by a fellow-passenger.

All clouds were, however, dispelled by active preparations for leaving the ship early on the Monday morning, when Zee landed her “five men” safely and well. Never did stranger set foot on foreign soil with a brighter, happier heart than did she—a heart which nothing could long daunt or depress, notwithstanding painful misgivings as to any permanent change for the better in Wrax. If the grim skeleton still followed her, she would beat it down, and yet be a proud and happy wife. With youth and health on her side, what could she not do and dare if peace of mind might but take the place of the old ease of body? Having, indeed, put away all thought of comfort, joy-laden buoyancy kissed her into forgetfulness of the past and into love with the present; she cared not how rough her home, how hard her duties, if Wrax were but a man.

In such a spirit she consecrated their humble dwelling, a quite new three-roomed cottage—papered and painted; rents, 12s. per week! Having been kept in a vice so long, and ruled by a stern: “Do as you're told,” Rex rioted in leave to run about and shout, while Piri, a baby still, looked around with a satistion charming to witness. Zee's “five men” and herself made one family, so she had her work to do. page 110 Their first dinner on land was served in English style at an eating-house, but the meat tea taken in their own nest was pre-Adamite60 in its rude simplicity. A huge case served as table, and lesser cases as seats. Wrax was purveyor-general, and his first marketings were—41b. loaf, 10d.; fresh butter, 2s. 6d. a lb.; milk, 6d. a quart; mutton chops, loin, 4d. a lb.; groceries, about English prices; fruit and vegetables, very dear, but potatoes excellent in quality. But, oh! those mutton chops (they had forgotten the taste of mutton), toasted on rudely improvised wooden forks, were pronounced unanimously “the best ever eaten.”

Meat being cheap and good, it formed the staple article of diet; and eager to be initiated in the mysteries of camp-oven lore and other arts, Zee sat patiently at the feet of experience, fellow-passengers and their friends forming a sufficiently wide visiting-circle for her purpose; and one would laugh in a friendly way at the ingenious contrivances of another, as they laid their heads together, delighted to suggest a remedy in an emergency—make-shifts being the order of the day.

To have her household dependent upon herself, raised Zee pleasantly in her own esteem. She had no bell to ring, no good Emma at her beck henceforth (by the way, Emma had much wished to accompany her mistress to New Zealand, but her friends objected); Zee, therefore, cheerfully whipped up her burden, and found it a light and easy load. A queen might have envied her her active, merry life; she could but sing in her heart from morning till night, as she flitted hither and thither, guided by the bright spirits which hover over and around the earnest-hearted. There are self-made pleasures in every path; to youth, to age, the costly toy is of small value compared to the block of our own carving. Shall we ever see the wisdom of making our wants few, our pleasures simple?

The family soon moved into a cottage, which could be dignified by the name of home—a home in itself, the mirror of cleanliness, pleading in silent eloquence with the estranged one. So deftly Zee's fingers flew page 111 over her work, that she broke the back of her task by dinner-time; and yet, as she had no carpet, she must have clean boards. What work it was, the first going down on her knees to scrub! How could she go all the way down there and scrub the dirty floor? However, the scrubbing had to be done, and she had to do it; and as she never hung long on the horns of a dilemma, she went to work with energy, and as the boards grew white, how prettily grateful they looked!

An uncle of Wrax having made Zee a present of a few pounds at parting, she spent it in furniture, an easy-chair61 for Wrax being the first article purchased. He had grown accustomed to an easy-chair; so, indeed, had she, but she could do without it, and nothing pleased her better than to see Wrax sitting in his chair; he only did not use it half enough.

A rich glow of inward satisfaction in having accomplished something worth the doing, presiding at her afternoon toilette, made Zee feel beautiful within and without. The luxuriously rich, who toil not, cannot appreciate the pleasure of dressing after a busy morning's work; it was a new, gladsome experience even to Zee, who was then at liberty to take her boys, pretty with the “new pin's” neatness, out for a walk. Strolling but a short distance from home, they were lost to view, amid the rank profusion of the unkempt wilderness. Rex was developing fast and well; and though Piri was two years old before he could walk or talk, he was becoming a sturdy little chap, whose dear face beamed the enjoyment his lips failed to utter, as the three madcaps frolicked in the grass, where not so much as a tale-telling bird was to be seen or heard. They would have been painfully conscious of the absence of birds, but that their pet canary (such a warbler!) had travelled with them; and for him, whose song commanded rapt audiences, they were offered a fabulous price, but gold could not buy him.62

Good spirits seemed part and parcel of the climate, which was exhilarating beyond all known elixirs; the very atmosphere, with its merry invisible sprites skipping about, was too joyous to permit the dumps to gain and hold the ascendency in any mind. There never page 112 was a bluer sea, a brighter sky; Nature tried her prentice-hand on all climes, and made this New Zealand North the praise of the whole earth. With her strong sense of duty and so beautiful a world around her, life, for its own sake, must have been unutterably sweet to Zee. Any spot, indeed, that the child-like heart calls home, is heaven; nor need it wait till it drops this mortal coil for heaven's meed of appreciation. The “golden city” is not afar off; its gates are ever open to willing feet. The bridegroom's voice and smile are the flowers, which shed fragrance o'er the trackless Alps of life's chequered experience.

In all the plenitude of good health and appetites, mother and chicks returned to tea—most enjoyable meal if Wrax shared it with them, since they could chat leisurely over scraps of news gleaned through the day. Zee feared she might grow weary of toil as its novelty wore off, but she never did; new every morning were her duties and delights, and rest is as sweet to woman as to man. But for being fully employed her transportation might have become insupportable. The ship had been a good school, weaning her from home-sickness by a healthful counter-irritation. And with a feeling akin to sadness, she watched their late ocean-home sail gracefully out of port; its going severed the last link which bound them to the old world. Mid-winter though it was when they landed, they half regretted not having thrown warm clothing overboard; but successive winters proved warm clothing to be a necessity.

Many of Zee's happiest and most profitable hours were spent over the wash-tub. How unladylike! Yes, and the freedom from the restraints and hateful conventionalities of the old-world life was to her delightful. More musical than the peal of wedding-bells was the flapping of the linen of her own washing, as it bleached in the purer, may be, than Italian sky, and sweeter than the rose as she folded it. She had been charged four shillings per dozen (an imposition by the way) for clothes rough dried, therefore resolved to do the washing herself by degrees. And she declared, moreover, that the sun shone more benignly on her page 113 washing day than on her neighbor's, if it were later in the week than Tuesday. All work is noble, nobly done, and no true woman will shrink from a fair share of labor. Character, the outward expression of more or less of inward refinement, dignifies all labor and makes the cleaning of pots and pans look like fancy work, till inanimate objects become vocal with praise; character is the soul's matins and vesper-hymn, it gives the knack of hiding a blemish by adding a charm which the love of the beautiful instinctively imparts. And character, in demanding consistency of itself, unconsciously demands it of others, and its exactions are just. The sensitive spirit distinguishes between interest and indifference; and coveting Wrax's appreciation, Zee clung to the hope that his home would be sacred to him as to her, since her hands consecrated everything. It would have been so pleasant to have known that kind eyes followed her movements, that one being was sensible of, and the happier for, her care. She ought perhaps to have been above such considerations, but she was not; she had nevertheless to go without kind looks and words too, and no whine told the want.

All too late “the exiles” found that in turning everything save silver and a portion of house-linen into money, on giving up housekeeping, they had made a great mistake. It would have paid well and given a home-look to their snuggery to have brought a carpet with them, and all necessaries easily portable, from the want of which too many become carelessly indifferent to home-comfort. For these, however, our friends had not long to wait; no sooner had the news-spirit announced their arrival than a large case was despatched to them by English hearts and hands, the unpacking of which case was a bright-letter day to Zee and the boys, love having conjectured that toys would be as dear to the wee mannikins at the antipodes as in Britain.

It will scarcely break the thread of the narrative to mention that Zee's brother and cousin, having to make their way in the world, were prepared to go to the root of the matter at once, and entered into a contract page 114 to fell bush, of all things, at so much an acre. Hinting with youthful bravado at what they would do if the wild man of the woods should cross their track, they tossed their caps into the air by way of farewell, as shouldering gun and “swag,” a heavy load over corduroy roads, they trudged off to the bush with high hopes.

Their destination reached, they muttered something very like “sold” on seeing what New Zealand bush is, and their heads fell perceptibly. A whare (hut), with earth for its floor, awaited their occupancy; so, after having reinvigorated their spent energies, they rolled themselves in their blankets and snored with imperturbable persistency till day-break. When, the lion being strong within them, they determined to pit it to some purpose against those giant trees, and singling out a forest king, vowed that it should kiss the dust presently. But, possessing more pluck than skill, so hard is the wood puriri63 that the axe, to their intense disgust, bounded off the tree without so much as cracking its bark. Still they persevered.

An exciting incident signalised their second night in the bush. Darkness reigned around, when a shrill cry of “More pork! more pork” was heard, and feeling certain the Maories were down upon them, the youths sprang to their feet, and each seizing his gun crept stealthily out into the open air. They were on cannibal territory, miles from a human habitation, and the Maories, the aboriginal inhabitants of New Zealand, were none too friendly; of their love of “poaka” (pork), too, the lads had heard, and trembled lest they should be mistaken for pigs. It was too dark to distinguish anything, even their fear-blanched faces, as they listened breathlessly for the dread challenge, come when it would.

And it came — came from the tree-tops! to their inexpressible relief, and the forest re-echoed with their roars of laughter, for they had heard of a harmless bird named “more pork,” from its distinct utterance of the word.64 They did well to be wary, however; they would have been but delicate morsels for the “copper Maori.” To roost they went again, and page 115 still speaking of the scare with a lucky-escape exultation. Without hurting the forest much, their camping out afforded them an unbroken round of adventure; but they finally returned to Auckland footsore and weary, wiser though poorer men.

60 A member of a race supposed to have existed before the time of the biblical Adam. Specific to New Zealand History, a pre-adamite was a settler who arrived in Canterbury Province before the settlement of 1850.

61 An easy-chair in the nineteenth-century was a fully upholstered chair designed for comfort, with wings projecting out from either side of the top of the back, providing headrests for sleeping, and protection from cold drafts or the heat of an open fire.

62 The Ellis’ pet canary, named Dick, was brought over from England, sharing their cabin in the Whirlwind. He was highly prized not only by his family, but by other settlers who would come to listen to his song. Ellis wrote in 1859: “If it was not for our own little Dick, I should painfully miss the birds; people are anxious to rid us of our treasure, he is much coveted; we have had several applications for him” [Ellis, “‘I Must Make My Letters Shorter’: A Letter by Ellen Ellis, Auckland, 1859.” Auckland-Waikato Historical Journal 59.1 (1991): 26.]

63 The wood puriri is a northern North Island evergreen tree with hand-shaped glossy leaves and pinkish-red flowers produced throughout the year. The tree is known for its hard, durable timber.

64 The morepork is a native New Zealand small dark forest owl, with at least four distinct subspecies. It has a distinctive ‘more-pork’ call.