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Taranaki: A Tale of the War

Chapter XIV. — A Change

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Chapter XIV.
A Change.

“A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.”


The last event recorded in the preceding chapter was the death of Lieut. McNaughten, R.A., on the 17th of March. Little was then believed about the rumours of peace. The battery of Armstrong guns and a strong detachment of artillery under Captain Mercer, had arrived, and were being mounted at No. 7 redoubt, and now their effect was tried on the position held by the Maories, but without any visible advantage or damage done.

The sap progressed but slowly; still each day it was nearer and nearer advancing. A final struggle was inevitable, or, as was most likely to be the end, an evacuation of the Maori position. Suddenly it was rumoured that an armistice was demanded for two days, and then it came out when such was granted that it was but a subterfuge to gain time and ammunition.

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Thus, again, hostilities commenced with great vigour; and scarcely had they done so when H.M.S. “Fawn” appeared off Waitara with the Governor, Staff, some of his Ministers, and Waikato Chiefs on board, in order to adjust preliminaries for peace. A most unlooked-for change; all parties were tired of the war, progressing as it was by slow and painful degrees, for each day added to the casualties. The Maories were beginning to see the futility of a long resistance to the British arms.

The propositions from the Governor were received, and the peace conference established at Waitara, a truce pending which caused considerable gratification to the belligerents on both sides.

In the midst of all this anxiety, fear and hope, the mail steamer arrived on the 30th day of March, and the first news that greeted the expectant settlers was that General Pratt was ordered to Melbourne, and General Cameron and his suite were on board, though this news, without any previous notice of such a step being taken by the home authorities, was scarcely credited; yet the fact of General Cameron landing, calling for horses and being off to Waitara, not only confirmed the news, but shewed every one of what differnt metal was the new man composed of.

Let us precede General Cameron to the camp at Waitara. In the centre of the entrenchments, and facing the wharès occupied by General Pratt, a large marquee had been erected for the Governor. On the morning in question a government council was called page 117 to meet at ten in this marquee; and about ten minutes after that hour General Pratt was introduced to the Council as one of its members, and as such sworn in.

As this ceremony was proceeding, (an aide-de-camp stood before the tent;) several officers lounged around looking at or listening to, a group of chiefs, who waited to hear the talk of the great chief. Just then three horsemen cantered towards the entrenchment, and, alighting at the entrance, walked briskly towards the Governor's marquee. The gentlemen who led the way evidently seemed a man of station or authority, the snow of some fifty winters had embronzed his cheek, but the eagle eye and soldier-like bearing proclaimed a man full of life and energy; while the prominent face, with high cheek bones and firm-set mouth, told that he came “fra the hielands o' bonnie Scottisland.” Accosting the aide-de-camp, he said,

“I seek General Pratt.”

The young man entered the marquee at the demand, and beckoning to Mr. McLean, the Native Commissioner, repeated the stranger's demand, who, following from the marquee, enquired the stranger's business.

“I seek General Pratt,” repeated the gentleman, “I bear despatches from England.”

With a courteous salute, the Commissioner drew up the curtain, and allowed the General to pass, saying as he did so, to the Council.

“Allow me to introduce General Cameron, with despatches from England.”

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Had a shell burst on the council table this startling intelligence could not have caused a greater stir among the company, and to none greater than the veteran, who certainly with justice, felt that “Othello's occupation was gone.”

This interruption for a time clouded the council's proceedings; but his despatches given, and some preliminaries for his assuming command and the other General's departure, he was again seen hastily returning to New Plymouth, enquiring all information relative to the country and the progress of the war. The following day he visited Waireka and the neighbourhood, and proceeding on board the steamer that evening, left for Auckland, to arrange other matters there.

Though to most of the inhabitants the prospect of peace was cheering, and made hope return, still the fear that their interests would be neglected and their sad losses unindemnified, was prevalent; and great distrust arose in the minds of all when the propositions for the peace were declared, these being considered far too lenient towards the natives, and much discontent gained ground.

The reception of the Governor on his visit to New Plymouth was in silence and sadness; and though we are willing to go a great length in our fellow-feeling for the settlers, and most deeply commiserate their distress and the very gloomy prospect before them, yet we think they should have shown more trust in Her Majesty's representative, and continued to ex- page 119 hibit that patience and endurance which the trials and sufferings of the past year had taught them to display. And yet there must be much indulgence and allowance made for those who had lost their all by the war and the difficulties now before them. When deprived of the pittance their service in the Militia afforded them, if the return to their devastated farms were decreed, they would go without the means of subsistance from their produce for months, and without any capital to restore their homesteads, or even have a shelter for the coming winter.

We can not, therefore, be hard on those who had so bitterly suffered, and were still doomed to suffer; and if a feeling of irritation was common and apparent, we should call to mind their former happy condition, and the struggle now to regain it, when they saw no definite plan or hope for relief or indemnification. Nor are we to blame too severely those who, thus situated, felt that the authors of all their distress and loss were treated with leniency; or, in the first construction of the terms, they felt themselves as abandoned to their fate, hopeless, homeless, and without the means of livelihood, or of making once more a fair start in life.

Did those who condemn them or reprobate so severely this irritation and discontent but look into the sad events of their individual history; could they, as we have done, have gone from family to family, and read each tale of sorrow, and the little hope for the future, they would pity rather than condemn. page 120 Could they, with disinterested feelings, see into the real state of each family, and at the present time could they but see how sorrow had multiplied upon them, how scarce was one family, amongst the five hundred said to people this once smiling, happy district, without a separate and distinct cause of grief and individual sorrow, added to the hopeless view of the future; how sickness and death had visited them, and how few there were who had not to mourn and grieve for some near or dear relative snatched from them by the rude hand of War or the no less ruthless destroyer Pestilence, they would not, could not, condemn those expressions and feelings which overwrought endurance and bursting hearts at this moment dictated.

Let us rather, then, commiserate and soften such irritation by the balm of hope for a brighter day to dawn on them, and by our influence, and every means in our power, assist in cheering the sufferers of this much-afflicted colony.

A change had come, and still greater changes expected; nor were the individuals connected with our story exempt from feeling these changes. They had suffered much, and they felt their losses keenly, not only the deprivation and ruin of their homes, and devastation of their fair lands, which, after years of toil, labour, anxiety, and outlay, they had made so beautiful and so productive, but other and more melancholy circumstances had taken place.

Mrs. Wellman lived and taught her children by page 121 her precept and example, and true to that mother's guide had those two dear girls lived, and their brother, with his own deep care, had laboured—joined by their no less winsome cousin—in every act of kindness and love to those in equal distress around them; and still trials increased, but they lost not that confidence and trust that gave them greater riches and hope of a brighter home hereafter, that could not be taken from them. Thus it was, and so employed to toil and care hitherto unknown, they still devoted certain periods of their time, in turn, to the tending and care of many of the ill and dying around them—for now a dire sickness had visited the town, and many were laid low,—still they laboured on, still watched and nursed and tended; but it came at last amongst them and their friends, and the fairest flower of that circle was hurried, in the first bloom of youth and beauty, to an early grave. Louisa, ever gentle and kind in tending on her friends, had taken the fever. The fiat had gone forth. A mother's love and fond devotion, a sister's care, and all that skill and watchfulness could do, availed not,—her pure spirit had fled, and on earth our little angel friend we met no more.

Mr. St. Pierre's eldest son, a young man of warm temperament but of delicate health, had, in silence and in sorrow, pined away, and e'er his loving friends had known of his increasing illness, or could have him with them, he had fallen a victim to rapid decline at Hobarton, whither, by his father's urgent page 122 request he had gone to await their arrival and to recruit his strength.

Mary, once the cheerful, laughing Mary, had pined away, and was now the cause of intense anxiety to the careworn Aunt Dorothy, who had watched her brother's health, broken by these sad reverses, with deepest care. And now, as wanderers, they had arrived at Hobarton too late to receive the last smile and dying words of the much-loved one, the first born, and their pride.

It was shortly after Major St. Pierre's arrival, in the “Cordelia,” at Sydney, that he learned of these matters from Mary, and which, though careful to hide from him her own ailment and sadness, yet the general tenor of her letters were so sad, that though he had proposed again to visit India and realize some property, to join his uncle with it, he now resolved to turn his steps rather to them in Tasmania. But a change was now looming over all, and great as was the change from war to peace, a still more unexpected change awaited those whose history we write of.

It was while awaiting the departure of the steamer for Hobarton that the mail from England and India arrived, by which he received letters on two subjects, equally important as they were strange and unexpected. Of one we may now speak; the other must come in its place, referring to others more particularly, though he was the hero of the incident.

Of the first, then. He had received from his page 123 solicitor in London an extract copy of a will by which to him, from a source wholly unlooked for, was left five thousand pounds. Some of the events which led to this munificent bequest we have not space to insert, suffice it here to say that during the mutiny, and before the siege and capture of Lucknow, he had, at a great risk and with considerable gallantry, attacked and defeated a party of the insurgents who had carried away the family of one of the wealthiest men in India; having pillaged his house of all his plate and valuables to an enormous extent, the rebels had retired, with his wife and children, into the mountain fastnesses.

St. Pierre at this period was a Captain commanding an out-post, and hearing of this onslaught and spoliation, followed, with the troop of irregular horse he then commanded, hard after the spoilers, overtook them in a mountain defile, and though not half their number, and they being some of the mutineers of well-disciplined troops, he hesitated not immediately to attack them. A fierce encounter took place; and after a most hard and difficult affair of two hours duration, the mutineers fled with great slaughter, leaving their captives and all the booty in the hands of the victors. St. Pierre had received several wounds, and many of his force were slain, but he was still able to march back to a place of safety; and giving all his care and attention to the rescued family, though suffering from his wounds, he never stopped or stayed his march till he placed them in perfect safety, with all their property restored.

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St. Pierre, however, disabled by his wounds, gave up the charge of his troop, and returned to cantonments before Lucknow to his regiment, and being present at the siege and capture of the city, he was again wounded, and reported killed. Thus it was that all trace of him was lost, being again really laid up for a considerable time, during which the enquiries of his whereabouts by the President ceased, and he and his family returned to England. It was not until some years after, that one of his subalterns, seeing his name as commanding a wing of a regiment in India, mentioned it at this gentleman's house in London, whose daughter he had married; and then it came to light that every means to find St. Pierre had been for several months set on foot by him without success; even his first letters of thanks and promise of using all his influence for St. Pierre's advancement to General Wilson, were unanswered.

On enquiry into the circumstances of the case, it was found that he could only have got these letters just before his death at the capture of Lucknow; and so, as St. Pierre left on sick leave, and was reported as killed, all trace of of was lost. This was gleaned from the widow in London, whither Mrs. St. Pierre and Mrs. Langdon, the lady who was so interested in the enquiry, proceeded.

This lady also confirmed the account of St. Pierre, enlarging much on the heroic courage of our hero, and his skill and timely assistance in saving them from a fate worse than death. When, therefore, she page 125 was made acquainted with the facts of the case, nothing could exceed her grief and anxiety, and her desire to do all in her power to do away with a scandal so annoying to one to whom they owed so much.

She further described the deep anxiety, to the last hour of his life, of her husband and her own father, at whose instigation the legacy was devised, the moment they heard that Major St. Pierre was their deliverer, and still lived. And in the meantime letters were written to the Earl of Elgin, through the Minister, to be himself the bearer of the thanks and expressions of gratitude from them. The sudden departure of St. Pierre the second time from China and India, caused all these letters and instructions once again to fail; and thus it was that in Calcutta, when his subaltern, Hinton, was acknowledged as the hero of the rescue, and married the daughter, a scandal arose, when St. Pierre appeared on the scene, that he was a pretender to the heroship, and then that he had eloped with one of the ladies and afterwards deserted her, which gaining ground amongst some military men, was repeated in Hobarton as a fact by one or two officers who came there on leave in 1859.

It was at a party given by Lady Young that Mrs. Grantham heard some one speak of the arrival of a stranger there named St. Pierre. This was Mr. St. Pierre's eldest son from Sydney, who afterwards died there, as mentioned before. When enquiry was made of him, in the usual course of gossip, it was said that he came from Taranaki.

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Mrs. Grantham was asked if she knew any family of that name; and in reply said she did, intimately, and more particularly spoke of a Captain St. Pierre, who was paying addresses to her niece, Fanny Wellman.

It was then that those two officers said it must be the same man of whom there was a sad gossip about in Calcutta the year before; and then, without knowing the truth of their assertions or the injury they were doing, stated positively as to its existence and truth. This story, thus confirmed, was by the next mail forwarded to Mrs. Wellman, and so arose the coolness and avoidance towards Herbert St. Pierre which caused so much pain and sorrow, and tried to its utmost forbearance the true and faithful heart of Fanny Wellman.

A change indeed had come. The same steamer that brought the new General and a change of tactics, giving hope to the despairing settlers; and the same week that brought a change from a weary and harassing war to peace, brought a packet of letters to Mrs. Wellman, who still, herself much taken by the kind and noble-hearted St. Pierre, had most painfully, and with bitter grief, acted as she had done for her loved daughter's future weal; and in seeing how her heart was wounded, and how firm was still her love and truth for the wanderer, felt deeply for her child.

It was therefore with feelings more easily imagined than described that she read the enclosures. She was still in the act of reading them again, to fully convince herself of the happy truth, when Fanny page 127 entered the room. With a copious flood of joyful tears, she strained her darling child, still unconscious of the cause of her excitement, to her heart, and when at length she could speak, she said,

“Fanny, my own heart's darling, we have wronged him. Herbert is the soul of truth and honor. Oh! how could I, contrary to the dictates of my heart, have so cruelly wronged or believed aught ill of one I loved for your dear sake so well.”

And then, with mingled tears and happy feelings, they read again and yet again the thrilling tale; and soon was joy spread o'er the before sorrowing home, and both Aunt and Cousins joined in all their feelings.

Mrs. Grantham was indeed at first particularly grieved and much annoyed, blaming herself for listening to or repeating such a scandal. But all was now joy, and sorrow was forgotten; and a family council that evening held, how or what steps should be taken to bring back the ill-used Wanderer to them again.

Fanny, with kindred feeling for her dear friend Mary, proposed that her brother Walter was the best emissary to go himself and see St. Pierre, and bring them all back to begin the world anew and rebuild with renewed hope and vigour their ruined homesteads once more.

To this all agreed; and so it was settled that he was to proceed to Sydney and Hobarton, and explain all, and bring the Wanderer, to wander no more, to his sister's feet.

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Need we further proceed with the happy events that befell the happy brother and no less happy sister? Or need we state the success of this mission? how Walter was received, and the double joy his presence and his explanation gave. Soon the roses came back to Mary's cheek, and the first news Mrs. Wellman had was a note from him of Mr. St. Pierre's consent to their union, and their speedy return to Taranaki. There was also a bright flutter of joy on our heroine's face as we saw her on that evening and talked of all their plans and the prospect of a lasting peace. She must have had a letter too, we thought so, though dared not ask.

Our tale is now over. Tried in the harsh furnace of affliction, our friends have gained fresh hope and courage, and will again return to their lands with cheerfulness and hope; with grateful hearts to the all-wise Dispenser of all things; with renewed courage to begin the world anew; and by their example, courage, and assistance to those worse off than themselves, once more convert the desolated waste to the flowering glade, and the ruined and devastated sites of their former homes to new and still more happy abodes,—contented with their lot, and ever blessing the Heavenly Ruler for all the favours still in store for them.

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