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Taranaki: A Tale of the War

Chapter X

page 72

Chapter X.

“With fire and sword the country round
Was wasted far and wide.”


It was about twelve months after that fěte recounted in the preceding pages, given at the Retreat by Mr. St. Pierre, that a few of the same guests assembled at his table; but, alas! in what altered circumstances. The comfortable house and home of the Retreat was changed into the roughly-built unsightly rooms of a common store, a small narrow apartment, composed of unplaned boards badly and imperfectly closed, through which the wind came in gusts and the dust freely circulated. To give even this place some air of comfort, canvas was nailed along the walls, and a few articles of the recovered furniture of the old house made it, in the attempt to make it habitable, a melancholy reminder of the luxury of the place where they were rescued from. A narrow dark passage led from the street door to this room, which even, small as was its dimensions, page 73 was partitioned off by a canvas curtain to separate it from a sleeping apartment. Still, the table and its furnishing as of old was there, though it made the contrast and the change the greater and the more heartfelt to those who were now assembled, and who had sat around it under sunnier times. The host, indeed, with his wonted courtesy and cheerful manner, endeavoured to dispel this gloom,—aided by the rich wine still at his command,—though still a shade of gloom would flit across his face as he thought of the happy fětes he so often presided at but a few short months before. The progress of the war was the topic of conversation, and, as the ladies retired, the host called for a bumper, giving as the toast “a speedy termination of the war and a return to their homes.” The toast was drunk in silence; but Mr. Wellman, addressing St. Pierre, said,

“Alas! I fear our hopes and wishes are vain, for still month after month goes by, and little is done save what gives fresh courage to the foe and less hope to us, of peace.”

“Come, come, my old friend,” exclaimed St. Pierre, “do not despair; affairs, 'tis true, look gloomy, but a brighter day will dawn upon us, when all those plans we hear of are matured.”

“Plans, indeed!” replied Mr. Wellman. “What line of operation can justify this caution and inaction? or can the most brilliant battle, after the whole country is devastated, restore to us our firesides, our cattle, or our farms, once so blooming and fertile, now overrun page 74 with furze and thistles? I speak bitterly, but I speak truly. Why have not our successes been followed up? Why do we withdraw, invariably, our forces the moment we have a chance of giving the Maori a lesson of our power? Why return from Kahihi when a further advance even on the pahs then in our sight would have completely checked their advance? It is not true that our sudden return now encourages them to follow on our heels, burning with revenge, and dreading us no more.”

“But why was the return so remarkable?” asked a stranger.

“Because,” replied Mr. St. Pierre, “intelligence arrived that the Northern natives were about to advance on the town, and which now appears to have been a ruse to bring the forces back thus hastily to protect it. I am not, however, disposed to view these mischances so warmly as my friend, though still I am of opinion that the success should have been followed up, and that a more severe chastisment would have prevented the Southerns molesting us again.”

Such were the constant remarks amongst the settlers; and the lack of courtesy shown towards them by no means tended to check them. Some allowances, indeed, should be granted to men who had lost their all, and, in place of being sympathized with, were treated with contempt and coldness; and even, it was publicly stated, that they had with design fomented the war: that, being bankrupts before its commence- page 75 ment, they hailed its outbreak; as if, indeed, even were such a statement true,—which was not,—one ruin could avert the other,—a specious kind of argument most contradictory and improbable.