A November Spring

JUDGING by what I hear, the Three Fates are very imperturbable old ladies. But perhaps they are feeling a little huffy at present: I have worked into the years of my life one more spring than they intended. ‘ What impudence!’ I can hear them cry, slamming down the shears among the snippets and frazzles of wrecked lives on which their grim old feet are planted. And one adds sourly, ‘The young whippersnapper has stolen a March on us, my sisters!’

But it is no March, but a May that I have stolen from under their wrinkled noses. South of ‘the Line,’ November is May. Nor were my intentions impudent. When the Mariposa lay tugging at her hawsers in Suva Harbor, ready to sail, not back to bleak November, but ahead still southward to a November spring, it was only common sense to climb aboard, and resign myself to the bliss of an American bed and the rapture of American grapefruit at breakfast again, on that short voyage. Nor can I be blamed, I think, for disembarking when she touched at a springtime land where the brooks wind among banks of calla lilies, black swans ride on lakes of silver, and caves are lit obligingly by glowworms.

A snap of the thumb for the Fates, and here’s another for their arbitrary plan of destiny. The primroses of March, the daffodils of April, have withered and gone, the last of the apple blossoms drop from the bough; it is May and rose time in New Zealand, even if the calendar does read November.

Yes, it is spring. Here at Manapouri, where clipped lawns and hedges and orderly gardens in the style of Twickenham have been established in the bush fifty miles from the nearest town, and the sheep roam some thousands of unmapped acres, the old spring urge to dig has seized me. My hostess, ready to humor so innocent a whim, put a fork in my hand and set me to work in the marrow patch. The worms I have turned up there are of the true spring fatness. Spring it is, the spring of 19 — Blink it! What is the year anyhow, on these far-away islands?

The question is more baffling than you would guess.


Obviously the place is Great Britain. The beefsteak-and-kidney pies, the skylarks, the policemen’s helmets, are unmistakable. The rivers, it is true, are rather unruly, the mountains are very peremptory, but it is Britain all the same. The date, however, is a study.

In some ways it seems to be the Britain of the future, where inequalities have been ironed out by long adjustment and sacrifice. The only department of life in which excitement is permitted is sport. There are no ultra-rich, offensively living in palaces; there is no one too poor to risk something on the horses. Nobody ever is killed in a railway accident. The newspapers are handsome in looks, gentlemanly in policy, most perfect in morality: oh, happy land, nourished on such blameless journalism! The school children are in uniform, strictly; no thought need be squandered on little Marjory’s wardrobe — it has long been established, as has also the menu for each of every day’s six meals. There is no agony of creative endeavor; nature and the Botanical Gardens are full of wonder, and the past has heaped up more masterpieces already than the longest life can enjoy. Among the violent ups and downs of their terrain, and the tortuous ins and outs of their coast line, the New Zealanders have achieved a society as level and as safely circular as a pancake.

But wait. There is unemployment in this Utopia. Woolgrowers, disgusted at what the buyers of Germany, France, Bradford, and Japan will give them for their wool, withdraw it from the sluggish market. After all, this is something like our own bright age. A visit to the Civic Theatre, Auckland, strengthens the impression: the organ, with a wee blond man to play it, pops ostentatiously out of a hole in the floor; a jazz band rises and sinks in the same fashion. The plaster glories of the place are beyond description. And very soon some Hollywood star, vastly enlarged on the screen, will sing a song which undeniably is of this year of grace. It is at such times that the visiting American’s patriotism grows most intense: for the honor of the Stars and Stripes how ardently he wishes she would stop singing! However, there is the street to flee to, or, on the hill, the Albert Gardens, where Albert’s queen, plump and regal in bronze, watches quietly over her city.

The pink-and-white stock, drowsing in great flower beds in those springtime gardens, has the rich scent of history in it. Certainly there is an abundance of evidence about that Victoria yet reigns. There is a Dickensian quality in the hotels that is delightful; the ‘hot joints,’ the ‘cold viands,’ the waitresses’ rattling aprons, and the big oil paintings that lean from the walls, all are a part of the spell. The plumbing, too, is Victorian: the careful decorum of the notice ‘Gentlemen’s Cloak Room’ is matched by ‘conveniences’ equally historic.

At the same time a Britain without manufactures, a land of woolgrowers, cheese makers, and sailors, suggests an age prior to the Industrial Revolution. Again there is supporting evidence. Certainly it is a day prior to the invention of clothes closets or coat hangers; one hook, for the visitor’s periwig presumably, is found on the back of his bedroom door. Nor are the fishing and shooting like anything seen in old Britain for two hundred years; the plentifulness of the deer, the largeness of the fish, suggest the times of the Baron Munchausen.

It is all very perplexing. When you call for a sedan chair, up drives a motor bus. And in the bus, as you ride briskly along, are heard the voices of nothing less mediæval than the fairies. The little creatures are not seen, but their voices come in by radio, reminding young So-and-so, who has been balky about his porridge, that he will never grow to be a big strong man if he acts like that. What can be made of such a chronological puzzle? I think the Fates have put a snarl in the thread, to tease me. But the thing for a traveler to do anywhere is to enjoy things as he finds them. In New Zealand this is easy.


Professor Shepard, editing Thoreau’s Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, dedicated it ‘to Bliss Perry, connoisseur in letters, rivers, and little towns,’ I am not a very ambitious fellow, but I should dearly love to merit a reputation of that kind. My study toward it, however, is my pleasure — I deserve no praise for it, any more than for eating coconut cake; my bent is to follow it wherever I go. And since there is no little town in New Zealand to compare with Pieton in its associations both literary and historic, one very bright day I found myself unpacking my bags there; when I pulled out the mouth organ I blew a loud happy chord on it before I went on, because the place was even more delightful than I had hoped to find it.

No great glaciers overhang Pieton. No geysers squirt there. The Maoris who live in a near-by pah do not do a war dance thrice weekly for the benefit of visitors: they wear worsted suits even as you and I, and lead equally private lives. Yet a good many New Zealanders go to Pieton for their holidays; the Sounds bring them — as intricate a maze of blue waterways and green-and-tawny mountain as can be found in any geography. However, it has never become a ‘resort,’ bold and brassy; it retains the charm of a bashful little town, retired to the end of its own snug bay. In November, the season scarcely having begun, I found only one other tripper at my hotel. He was a young chap who (thank heaven) knew the names of things, the trees and song birds, and was so chock-full of Maori legends that, on the Domain hilltop at night, he could tell one after another while we waited for the Southern Cross to show in the darkening sky. Nor was the schoolmistress without subtlety who sat at our table. She had the freedom of the kitchen, and impetuously would fry whitebait fritters at odd hours and appear in the parlor with them for a treat.

Picton has a view. My window looked squarely at it. Down the long arm of the bay, with smooth grassy hills toppling out of the blue water on either side, the vista ended at a pyramidal mountain. In the foreground was a strip of turf, and some children brandishing their sand spades on the beach. Beyond, white sailboats at anchor — just a few. And in the middle distance an island like an oldfashioned bonnet, green with a burst of blossoming gorse on it in a knot of gold. The picture was arranged with almost comic neatness and symmetry. In the morning sun the waves danced gayly; in the evening the sculls were lifted out of their sheds under the Domain pines and went skimming down the bay — I could hear the coxswains call; and the blue shadow that had slept all morning on the eastern bank gathered itself on the western one, hollow by hollow, and resumed its slumber.

‘Where were you when the riroriro was singing?’ the Maoris gently say when they want to remind a man of his improvidence: in the old days the mandolin music of that tiny warbler was the signal to plant the spring fields. I, improvident, loitered on the Domain paths to hear him. The manukas were in flower in spikes and spires of white, each blossom with a moist red centre like a bit of jam. Through the lace-leafed boughs of the beech and the black shags of the pines I could see the bay’s sun-smitten far bank, where the gorse tumbled down in torrents of vivid yellow; or, turning, I could look down to the flat mirror of the river behind the hill, where the red of a cottage roof and the flame of the azaleas swam reflected.

Even into such a calm the bomb of terrific adventure can drop.

Here comes a launch and ties up at the wharf; a man is lifted out groaning. What has happened? The story is all ragtags of blurted rumor. His leg, gone absolutely! But how? A whale! What, is it Captain Ahab? Was the leg ‘devoured, chewed up, crunched by the monstrousest parmacetty that ever chipped a boat’?

Now Ahab’s two great meetings with Moby Dick were in the equatorial Pacific; New Zealand has no part in that story. But in Marlborough Sounds whaling has been carried on uninterruptedly since before Melville’s time; here was the newest and not least heroic chapter in all that long history.

From the whaling launch a rightwhale cow and her calf had been sighted; the pursuit began. The cow presently was harpooned, and into her was fired the torpedo that should have ended the struggle. Something ailed the wiring, however. The torpedo failed to explode.

Maddened, the whale charged the launch, and stove in some of its timbers with her tail. Stung by a dozen new wounds, she then turned and did an extraordinary thing: she swam abruptly to her calf, and under him. and tossed him full into the air. Obviously it was a warning to clear out.

No more was seen of the calf. But the enraged cow was by no means finished with the launch. Again she charged, dived under it, and raised herself, so flinging it at an angle that loosed the torpedoes on the deck and threw them against the down gunwale. There was a detonation, the captain’s leg was finished, a great hole was blown in the deck. At the same moment more planks in the hull were stove in by a final blow of that great tail. The whale then swam off.

Without pausing to take a vote on it, the crew postponed further pursuit of this indeed vigorous heroine. They made for shore. Before they reached the shore, however, the launch sank. The poor maimed captain was wellnigh drowned, too, before he could be rescued and brought to Picton Hospital.

The story quite made my hair stand on end. News of such violence I am more used to derive from the morning paper, where all the punctuation is in order, than first-hand, in rumor-twisted gasps. Yet here were the azaleas, in pools of calm bright color on the river’s mirror. The riroriro still piped his small spring music in the shadowy Domain. But their world, and Picton’s, and mine, was somehow changed by that story; and one day since, when I heard the choir boys in a clear passionless treble bid the whales to praise the Lord and magnify him forever, the word gave me a new thrill. I knew a whale whose praise must be uncommonly fit to magnify the Great Lord.


The whale in New Zealand history is Captain Cook. On all three of his voyages he made Marlborough Sounds a headquarters. One of the sounds he named in honor of Queen Charlotte; two bays of this sound were named in honor of his ships, the Endeavour and the Resolution; on one of its islands he planted the Union Jack, on another cabbages, and took the land in the King’s name. No brine in the South Pacific, thus, is more historic than that which washes up around Picton’s wharf, and no postman’s route is more a pilgrimage than that prosaically followed by Picton’s ‘Scotty,’ in his launch, the Rio Rita.

Queen Charlotte Sound has very greatly changed since Cook’s day. Then, the mountains were covered with forest, rata, tree fern, and the thousand strange shrubs of a botanically isolated wonderland. But the forests of the new Britain, like those of old Britain in Tudor times, have largely been sacrificed to the wool trade: where Cook saw endless forest now is endless grass, with English foxglove running up the steep slopes in crowds of pink and blue; where he and his hard sailor crews heard the bellbirds in incredible numbers at night singing ‘like small bells, most exquisitely tuned,’ the English skylark now twitters. All New Zealand is a monument to the British passion for making things homelike, but no part more so than Queen Charlotte Sound.

Despite these introduced amenities, the Sound is desperately lonesome. Not a natural grazing country, a halfdozen acres on the tawny slopes feed but a single sheep, and two thousand sheep support but a single homesteader and his family: there are not many stops along Scotty’s mail route. Now and again there would be a cluster of gum trees and pines and a weeping willow in a small cove, a glimpse of a red roof; some man, grizzled by wind and weather even if he were still a young one, would row out for a very limp mail sack. I had been shoving a box about that contained a few marigold seedlings, to keep it in the awning’s shade: it went off at one such stop, the embryo of a flower garden in the great waste. At another stop a sheep rancher disembarked, a young and friendly man who had made good company. But there was a well of mystery in him, something he did not unseal. I asked him if loneliness bothered him ever. ‘No,’ he said, and smiled quietly, and then he got off; his wife met him, two horses were waiting tethered among the manukas, on which they slowly rode up the steep trail over the mountain saddle into a hidden valley beyond.

New Zealand’s most famous sheep herder did not stay long. This was young Samuel Butler, who found the spaciousness and activity of life on the ranges perhaps not very fit for his task, which was to nurse his grievances and spin upsettingly perverse theories. Small, painfully neat bachelor quarters back in England were more suitable. His New Zealand adventures, in fact, he narrates in a quite cheerful tone. ‘The men are shaggy, clear-complexioned, brown, and healthy-looking, and wear exceedingly rowdy hats,’ he wrote home to his family; ‘I was rather startled at hearing one gentleman ask another whether he meant to wash this year, and to receive the answer “No.”’ But young grinning Samuel soon perceived that the shaggy gentlemen were speaking of sheep washing, and then he listened harder than ever, because he was going to be a sheep herder himself.

Butler, however, never saw Picton, so far as I know. His station was in Canterbury Province. But a remark of his was tragically illustrated in the Picton region, in the battle of Tuamarina.


In Erewhon Butler paints a very ugly portrait of a Maori in the person of Chowbok, his mountain guide. His own rule, as a sheep man, in dealing with the Maoris was to ‘show a bold front, and, at the same time, do them a good turn whenever you can be quite certain that your kindness will not be misunderstood as a symptom of fear.’ How astringent a policy! I feel my pores close as I read it. Yet the battle of Tuamarina proved its soundness.

Of all the Polynesians the Maoris were the most advanced. Their arts, wonderfully displayed in Auckland’s Museum, are at once an inspiration and a discouragement: when will the new New Zealand achieve such an art again? The remnant of that admirable people — one twenty-fifth part of New Zealand’s present population — occupies a unique position in the Empire: it is the one ‘ native race ’ that has been taken to the British bosom as a social equal. But the history of that friendship has been very rocky.

Such was bound to be the case where one intelligent and moral people took possession of land belonging to another people of the same kind. The colonists had come a very long way to better themselves, they had been very seasick, and did not want to go back. I he Maoris meanwhile, in amazement, saw their forests come tumbling down. The situation was complicated by the fact that the Maoris had been Christianized before the colonists came: they judged the newcomers by the standards of a fresh and primitive Christianity, and were shocked. The newcomers, at the same time, judged the natives by the standards of ‘practical Christianity, and were driven beyond all patience. The Maoris could not understand that it was rascals and not the average Briton who shot those among them most picturesquely tattooed, and sent their heads, pickled, to Sydney to be sold as souvenirs. To the Maori, too, the British notion that religion requires a man to make the earth fruitful in certain prescribed ways, such as in growing cabbages, was quite foreign. His own familiar kauri tree, towering into the air, or the graceful tree fern, seemed to do honor to the Creator quite as effectively as the cabbage patch that took its place. The honest colonist, on the other hand (I shall omit the head-pickler, who was an extreme and transitory phenomenon), having acquired title to the site for a city for so many dozens of red nightcaps, so many kegs of gunpowder, and so forth, could not understand why the Maoris in time began to be disgruntled. Was n’t a Christian bargain a bargain? Was n’t the land better for being used more strenuously? Was n’t there a chance for everyone to grow richer, Maori and colonist alike? And (triumphant crescendo) was n’t the Lord’s work thus being done on earth as it is in heaven?

The colonists’ surveyors, unauthorized, were surveying the rich plains of Blenheim. The natives protested: they had sold the land to nobody. This just protest was upheld by the government. All the same, the plain was surveyed. If you could see it now, — green paddocks, orchards, poplar-lined roads, rose-bowered cottages, — you would know what dream it was drove the colonists to their lawlessness. It was land too good to let lie in barbarian hands.

At Tuamarina a mob of indignant Maoris expostulated with an equally indignant mob of settlers. One of the latter was so indignant that he tried a little shooting. He paid dearly for it. His party was vanquished in as handsome a bit of military slaughter as these green islands ever saw. And the government, deeply perplexed, but acting on the highest principles, could only uphold the victorious Maori party, which had been defending its rights.

Now, the Maoris very reasonably thought of the white settlers and the white settlers’ government as identical. The magnanimity of the latter they interpreted as ‘a symptom of fear,’ and, having tasted blood, they were ready to spill more of it in an attempt to regain what they had given up in exchange for the red nightcaps and the gunpowder. With the Forty-sixth Psalm for their battle chant, they embarked on the ‘Maori Wars.’

The ‘Wars,’ however, were a poor show. The colonial troops, which knew how to cope with native guerrilla tactics, scorned the British regulars as parlor theorists bent on executing squadsright no matter what the terrain. The regulars scorned the colonials as landgrabbers whining for military aid. But the Maoris were vanquished all the same, not by military genius, but insidiously by white-man diseases, the disintegrating effect on communal life of the white man’s gifts, and that lassitude which afflicts Polynesians faced by the new strange world that pushes in about them. They dwindled in numbers and spirit, and were overwhelmed.


New Zealand has been a little unlucky in its famous men. None of them have stayed there. Captain Cook, Samuel Butler, came and went again. Rutherford, the physicist, has done his work elsewhere, though as a true New Zealander he took the name of his birthplace when he was raised to the peerage, and became Lord Rutherford of Nelson. As for Katherine Mansfield, the bliss and wretchedness of her short life had distant England and the Continent for their setting. Yet she too was true to her birthplace. Her New Zealand childhood became more and more precious to her, and out of it she made her finest stories, the stories of Kezia: ‘Prelude,’ ‘At the Bay,’ ‘The Doll’s House,’ and ‘Voyage,’

It is curious how little of the obvious New Zealand is in these stories. Only here and there an aloe or a passionfruit ice or a tree fern betrays the fact that it is the new rather than the old Britain she is telling of. The geysers and waterfalls are all left out. It seems almost unpatriotic. Even the beautiful Maori place names are suppressed: ‘The Doll’s House’ originally was entitled ‘At lvarori.’ Only one story, ‘How Pearl Button Was Kidnapped,’ even mentions the Maoris, and this was a story withdrawn from her wastebasket when she was no longer by to protest. But I am glad it was salvaged, and the New Zealanders are too, because in it the bright-colored clothes, gentle manners, and easy-going jolly ways of their much-loved Maoris are described with inimitable freshness.

In pioneer days a gold prospector and auctioneer named Arthur Beauchamp settled in Picton — that is, if so very roving a man can be said to have settled anywhere. His hens slept on their backs, with their feet up ready to be tied for the next remove, people said, but one part or another of the Sounds was his home to the end of his life. He represented Picton in the provincial legislature, and almost saved the capital from being moved from that port to inland Blenheim by a heroic filibuster. In fact he was an important man, and a character, but the really remarkable fact about him is that he was Katherine Mansfield’s grandfather.

His son Harold, later knighted for public services, settled across the Straits in Wellington, where Katherine was born. But after the birth of another daughter the mother sank into a strange tiredness, the care of the children fell to the grandmother, old Arthur’s wife, which in a measure tied the family back to Picton again. Do me a favor: reread the story of the renewal of that tie in ‘ Voyage.’ If ever the clear eye of truth and tenderness shone in a bit of writing, it is in that story.

Before embarking, myself, on the voyage across the Straits to Picton, I had gone into a Wellington bookshop and asked, ‘ Can you direct me to ’ — here my voice grew very pippy, because I was not going to buy anything and the proprietor knew it — ‘to any Katherine Mansfield . . . shrine ? ’

The question had evidently been asked once too often.

‘They’ve put up a damned gate in her memory,’ he barked. ‘You’ll find it at the top of Molesworth Street.’

I skipped out before he could smash me with a writing pad, and sure enough found the ‘damned gate.’ It led into the spring gardens of Fitzherbert Terrace, where Katherine went to school. The ‘they’ who had built it was no troop of grateful New Zealanders with my friend the bookseller as chairman, but her father, Sir Harold so I learned from a bronze plate on the brickwork. From the plate I learned also that the daughter had lived in the Terrace, at number 47. This was a roomy, solid old mansion with a bunion of a conservatory, now headquarters for the dominion’s Forest Service. Luckily enough I had an introduction to a man in that service, so pushed in briskly. But the old house was quite deserted. I had come at noon.

‘Inquiries,5 said a sign on the drawing-room door. I peered in, and found the makeshift comfort, unhandiness, and disorder characteristic of a British office. What a wilderness of things not quite put away! An American office must seem very cold and machine-like to a Britisher. Tea, no doubt, was still served by the fire punctually, where Katherine, just come to young ladyhood, had sometimes had the responsibility of the teapot. But the piano on which she had practised, and her cello, — it was the days of her music lessons, — of course were gone; the conservatory, whose panes must have rattled in the gale she described there in ‘The Wind Blows,’ had not flowers in it, but scientifically ticketed specimens. Despite its files and typewriters and specimens, the room was still a homelike one, however — human beings still enjoyed it, I could see that; and for this reason the great Katherine’s spirit, if she comes and peers in as I did, probably does not find it wholly changed, nor alien.


The threads of association that run into and out of Picton, and the charm of the place itself, are enough to make a New Zealand visit memorable. But in fairness the visitor should also take a look at a place so ordinary that no tourist ever haunts it, and at still another so famous and fine that the guest book there is crowded with the names of Danes, Chinamen, visitors of all nations.

Lumsden, so far as I was concerned, was a matter of chance. When I climbed down from the train there, I was doomed to spend the night. I had not planned the journey very well: no bus went on until the morrow. The little town lay sprawled out in the lap of brown treeless hills, dark was falling, rain threatened. However, a night in even the smallest of British hotels is nothing to dread; when I saw one before me named the Elbow, I made a bee line toward it, feeling rather jolly.

In Dunedin I had stopped at the Provincial, the oldest and I have no doubt the most labyrinthine hotel in that friendly city: it was the coach terminus in the days of the gold rush in those southern provinces, and in it the memory of cracking whips and very boisterous New Year’s Eves yet lingers. One of the distant coaching stops in the hills was at a bend in the Oreti River; horses were changed at ‘the elbow’; the tavern and hotel that were built there were known by the same name, and have retained it to the present, though the town, meanwhile, with the pompousness of a small place, has risen to the dignity of ‘Lumsden.’

Now a person like myself, born a Smith, is always glad to see a not very grand name carried boldly, and made something of; this the Elbow seemed to do. I had a kindly feeling toward it from the beginning.

Since I had come late, I ate supper all alone in front of the dining-room fireplace. The rain had made up its mind to begin, meanwhile; twilight was fast creeping out from the hollows of the bracken-covered hills.

In the commercial room the rain touched the tall windows with a melancholy sound; fortunately there was a fire cracking between the old black hobs. A sign of the November spring was not wanting, however: yellow columbines in a cloud of spring loveliness stood on the table, where, having called for paper, I was dutybound to write a letter. The young schoolmaster by the fire was exploring a packet of gladiolus bulbs that had just come in, with the spring impatience to be planting something; I wonder he was not out in the rain by lantern light doing it. On the other side of the fire sat his friend, a draper’s salesman, long-legged and jolly. A middle-aged gentleman was reading the news, his glasses balanced on a big red nose like two blobs of dew.

Now and again I caught snatches of the talk. In Lumsden you are bound to hear something about rugby: that little town maintains two teams, and has had as many as three players at a time in the All-New Zealand fifteens sent back to compete in England. Basketball is played in Lumsden, I heard, nine men to a side, as a practice game merely; ‘Rugby is our religion,’ the bus driver told me next clay. He had more than once been led off the field, blind, to have the mud washed out of his eyes. But presently I heard the young schoolmaster saying, ‘A caning now and then does no boy harm,’ and he nodded his head, looking cheerful as if he’d not hurt a fly. The draper’s salesman here stretched out his hand, grinned reminiscently, and worked the thumb knuckle, crying, ‘That s where I caught it many a time; by Jove, I did catch it, too!’ Upon hearing which the middle-aged man put down his paper to remark: ‘You must have got in with a fine crowd down there, eh? As for my brother,’ he went on, for he had a brother who was a schoolmaster, ‘he never caned a boy in his life!‘ Having imparted this improbable news, he squared himself; we received it respectfully, however, without argument.

Here Mrs. Welsh came in, who ran the hotel; it was soon discovered that both she and the middle-aged man had come from ‘down Timaru way.’ There were reminiscences. Then a card table was fetched for a game of good-humored ‘five hundred.’

Meanwhile my letter was not getting on very fast. I kept looking up and about at the old brown room, with its flowers and fire and friendly people. The world about Lumsden is very large and lonely, yet here in the middle of it was a core of warmth and comfort that I, a stranger, was free to share. Thoreau once said that a man’s pants don’t fit him until he has worn them three or four years. Chairs take longer: how humane the acquired curvature of these commercial-room chairs! The pictures on walls were equally pleasing: ‘Lovers’ Lane’ in rich color; the big dog and the little dog, ‘Dignity and Impudence,’ respectively, and a framed Masonic document with its columns, seal, and staring eye. ‘Why,’ the eye seemed to ask, ‘do your American hotels fail to grow old gracefully, like this one?’

On my return from the mountains I made a point of stopping at the Elbow again. It had n’t changed. ‘We’re a great sporting people,’ said Mr. Welsh, slipping me five shillings to invest for him in Tattersall’s Sweepstakes when I got to Australia. And very promptly, but as if just hunting for his glasses, he would appear from his post in the bar whenever the commercial-room ‘wireless’ was bringing in news of the trotting events at Dunedin. The Masonic eye, perfect and inscrutable, continued to stare down upon me. But I smiled. In Lumsden, with its rugby and its big solemn hills, but especially in its old friendly hotel, I had the feeling, ‘Here, now, I am in New Zealand.’


As for Manapouri, the southernmost and most beautiful of New Zealand’s great mountain lakes, here I am, by it. There was brown trout for luncheon, venison for dinner; what will breakfast be? In the lace-leafed beeches the bellbird rings his crystalline double notes over and over again, quietly. In the manukas the riroriro plays his soft mandolin music. Little owds, last night, flew down unafraid to discuss matrimonial matters sitting on the gate, for it is springtime and the mating season, when all talk is of love. Other times they call ‘More pork!’ very plainly — this is after the wedding, when life is more practical.

Below is the lake. It is deep enough to swallow the Eiffel Tower, and from its glassy waters rise islands shaggy with bush, cliffs, and the sleek gradual slopes of crescent sands. Beyond are the mountains, topped with snow. New Zealand’s secret may lie locked in the deeps of all this grandly heaped-up masonry, but how shall I fetch it out?

Excuse me if I do not bother. But I can guarantee that New Zealand’s wonders exist, and very wonderful they are. Even the peevish soul of Samuel Butler was taken aback by them: there was something genuinely humble about it when, despite the affected understatement, he wrote in wonder of Mount Cook: ‘I saw ... a single snow-clad peak, many miles away, and I should think about as high as any mountain in the world.’ It is almost the voice of a boy in knickerbockers, his head tipped back, looking.

Here, much nearer and much more my size, are blue lilies starring the russet moss. Each one is no bigger than a nickel. I wish that I had a dishpan to kneel in, to smell them; the ground is moist, and I must not spoil the crease in my trousers: I am going away today, to leave New Zealand. The domine, careful of a fluttery heart, who yesterday distinguished our hall by hanging his hat and cane in it, would be delighted with them; now I remember him bent up and crowing like a bird over an orchid our host took us to see in the thick of the manukas. The thing to do would be to take him one, at breakfast.

It is an easy kindness. I cut out an inch cube of the moss, with a lily nestled in it as fresh as the mountain sky, and put it at his place at table. When he sees it, just as I knew he would, he presses his dainty old hands together, and leaning over me exclaims something in the Maori tongue. ‘Which means,’ he adds, beaming, ‘“this is a good place.”’

The secret hid in New Zealand’s mountains is perhaps too strong for them after all. Perhaps in a November spring it can sprout up quite easily through the russet moss. It is very easy sometimes to read a mystery: heaven keep me from bragging, but I think I have done so now, in that lily. And suddenly the gorse of Picton, the roses of the Elbow’s wallpaper, bloom fresh and significant in my brain. The domine is right. This is a good place.