STATION LIFE IN NEW ZEALAND
By Lady Barker.
These letters, their writer is aware, justly incur the reproach of egotism and triviality; at the same time she did not see how this was to be avoided, without lessening their value as the exact account of a lady's experience of the brighter and less practical side of colonization. They are published as no guide or handbook for "the intending emigrant;" that person has already a literature to himself, and will scarcely find here so much as a single statistic. They simply record the expeditions, adventures, and emergencies diversifying the daily life of the wife of a New Zealand sheep-farmer; and, as each was written while the novelty and excitement of the scenes it describes were fresh upon her, they may succeed in giving here in England an adequate impression of the delight and freedom of an existence so far removed from our own highly-wrought civilization: not failing in this, the writer will gladly bear the burden of any critical rebuke the letters deserve. One thing she hopes will plainly appear,—that, however hard it was to part, by the width of the whole earth, from dear friends and spots scarcely less dear, yet she soon found in that new country new friends and a new home; costing her in their turn almost as many parting regrets as the old.
F. N. B.
Letter I: Two months at sea—Melbourne.
Port Phillip Hotel, Melbourne. September 22d, 1865. .... Now I must give you an account of our voyage: it has been a very quick one for the immense distance traversed, sometimes under canvas, but generally steaming. We saw no land between the Lizard and Cape Otway light—that is, for fifty-seven days: and oh, the monotony of that time!—the monotony of it! Our decks were so crowded that we divided our walking hours, in order that each set of passengers might have space to move about; for if every one had taken it into their heads to exercise themselves at the same time, we could hardly have exceeded the fisherman's definition of a walk, "two steps and overboard." I am ashamed to say I was more or less ill all the way, but, fortunately, F—— was not, and I rejoiced at this from the most selfish motives, as he was able to take care of me. I find that sea-sickness develops the worst part of one's character with startling rapidity, and, as far as I am concerned, I look back with self-abasement upon my callous indifference to the sufferings of others, and apathetic absorption in my individual misery.
Until we had fairly embarked, the well-meaning but ignorant among our friends constantly assured us, with an air of conviction as to the truth and wisdom of their words, that we were going at the very best season of the year; but as soon as we could gather the opinions of those in authority on board, it gradually leaked out that we really had fallen upon quite a wrong time for such a voyage, for we very soon found ourselves in the tropics during their hottest month (early in August), and after having been nearly roasted for three weeks, we plunged abruptly into mid-winter, or at all events very early spring, off the Cape of Good Hope, and went through a season of bitterly cold weather, with three heavy gales. I pitied the poor sailors from the bottom of my heart, at their work all night on decks slippery with ice, and pulling at ropes so frozen that it was almost impossible to bend them; but, thank God, there were no casualties among the men. The last gale was the most severe; they said it was the tail of a cyclone. One is apt on land to regard such phrases as the "shriek of the storm," or "the roar of the waves," as poetical hyperboles; whereas they are very literal and expressive renderings of the sounds of horror incessant throughout a gale at sea. Our cabin, though very nice and comfortable in other respects, possessed an extraordinary attraction for any stray wave which might be wandering about the saloon: once or twice I have been in the cuddy when a sea found its way down the companion, and I have watched with horrible anxiety a ton or so of water hesitating which cabin it should enter and deluge, and it always seemed to choose ours. All these miseries appear now, after even a few days of the blessed land, to belong to a distant past; but I feel inclined to lay my pen down and have a hearty laugh at the recollection of one cold night, when a heavy "thud" burst open our cabin door, and washed out all the stray parcels, boots, etc., from the corners in which the rolling of the ship had previously bestowed them. I was high and dry in the top berth, but poor F—— in the lower recess was awakened by the douche, and no words of mine can convey to you the utter absurdity of his appearance, as he nimbly mounted on the top of a chest of drawers close by, and crouched there, wet and shivering, handing me up a most miscellaneous assortment of goods to take care of in my little dry nest.
Some of our fellow-passengers were very good-natured, and devoted themselves to cheering and enlivening us by getting up concerts, little burlesques and other amusements; and very grateful we were for their efforts: they say that "anything is fun in the country," but on board ship a little wit goes a very long way indeed, for all are only too ready and anxious to be amused. The whole dramatic strength of the company was called into force for the performance of "The Rivals," which was given a week or so before the end of the voyage. It went off wonderfully well; but I confess I enjoyed the preparations more than the play itself: the ingenuity displayed was very amusing at the time. You on shore cannot imagine how difficult it was to find a snuff-box for "Sir Anthony Absolute," or with what joy and admiration we welcomed a clever substitute for it in the shape of a match-box covered with the lead out of a tea-chest most ingeniously modelled into an embossed wreath round the lid, with a bunch of leaves and buds in the centre, the whole being brightly burnished: at the performance the effect of this little "property" was really excellent. Then, at the last moment, poor "Bob Acres" had to give in, and acknowledge that he could not speak for coughing; he had been suffering from bronchitis for some days past, but had gallantly striven to make himself heard at rehearsals; so on the day of the play F—— had the part forced on him. There was no time to learn his "words," so he wrote out all of them in large letters on slips of paper and fastened them on the beams. This device was invisible to the audience, but he was obliged to go through his scenes with his head as high up as if he had on a martingale; however, we were all so indulgent that at any little contretemps, such as one of the actresses forgetting her part or being seized by stage-fright, the applause was much greater than when things went smoothly.
I can hardly believe that it is only two days since we steamed into Hobson's Bay, on a lovely bright spring morning. At dinner, the evening before, our dear old captain had said that we should see the revolving light on the nearest headland about eight o'clock that evening, and so we did. You will not think me childish, if I acknowledge that my eyes were so full of tears I could hardly see it after the first glimpse; it is impossible to express in a letter all the joy and thankfulness of such a moment. Feelings like these are forgotten only too quickly in the jar and bustle of daily life, and we are always ready to take as a matter of course those mercies which are new every morning; but when I realized that all the tosses and tumbles of so many weary days and nights were over, and that at last we had reached the haven where we would be, my first thought was one of deep gratitude. It was easy to see that it was a good moment with everyone; squabbles were made up with surprising quickness; shy people grew suddenly sociable; some who had comfortable homes to go to on landing gave kind and welcome invitations to others, who felt themselves sadly strange in a new country; and it was with really a lingering feeling of regret that we all separated at last, though a very short time before we should have thought it quite impossible to be anything but delighted to leave the ship.
We have not seen much of Melbourne yet, as there has been a great deal to do in looking after the luggage, and at first one is capable of nothing but a delightful idleness. The keenest enjoyment is a fresh-water bath, and next to that is the new and agreeable luxury of the ample space for dressing; and then it is so pleasant to suffer no anxiety as to the brushes and combs tumbling about. I should think that even the vainest woman in the world would find her toilet and its duties a daily trouble and a sorrow at sea, on account of the unsteadiness of all things. The next delight is standing at the window, and seeing horses, and trees, and dogs—in fact, all the "treasures of the land;" as for flowers—beautiful as they are at all times—you cannot learn to appreciate them enough until you have been deprived of them for two months.
You know that I have travelled a good deal in various parts of the world, but I have never seen anything at all like Melbourne. In other countries, it is generally the antiquity of the cities, and their historical reminiscences, which appeal to the imagination; but here, the interest is as great from exactly the opposite cause. It is most wonderful to walk through a splendid town, with magnificent public buildings, churches, shops, clubs, theatres, with the streets well paved and lighted, and to think that less than forty years ago it was a desolate swamp without even a hut upon it. How little an English country town progresses in forty years, and here is a splendid city created in that time! I have no hesitation in saying, that any fashionable novelty which comes out in either London or Paris finds its way to Melbourne by the next steamer; for instance, I broke my parasol on board ship, and the first thing I did on landing was to go to one of the best shops in Collins Street to replace it. On learning what I wanted, the shopman showed me some of those new parasols which had just come out in London before I sailed, and which I had vainly tried to procure in S——, only four hours from London.
The only public place we have yet visited is the Acclimatization Garden; which is very beautifully laid out, and full of aviaries, though it looks strange to see common English birds treated as distinguished visitors and sumptuously lodged and cared for. Naturally, the Australian ones interest me most, and they are certainly prettier than yours at home, though they do not sing. I have been already to a shop where they sell skins of birds, and have half ruined myself in purchases for hats. You are to have a "diamond sparrow," a dear little fellow with reddish brown plumage, and white spots over its body (in this respect a miniature copy of the Argus pheasant I brought from India), and a triangular patch of bright yellow under its throat. I saw some of them alive in a cage in the market with many other kinds of small birds, and several pairs of those pretty grass or zebra paroquets, which are called here by the very inharmonious name of "budgerighars." I admired the blue wren so much—a tiny birdeen with tail and body of dust-coloured feathers, and head and throat of a most lovely turquoise blue; it has also a little wattle of these blue feathers standing straight out on each side of its head, which gives it a very pert appearance. Then there is the emu-wren, all sad-coloured, but quaint, with the tail-feathers sticking up on end, and exactly like those of an emu; on the very smallest scale, even to the peculiarity of two feathers growing out of the same little quill. I was much amused by the varieties of cockatoos, parrots, and lories of every kind and colour, shrieking and jabbering in the part of the market devoted to them; but I am told that I have seen very few of the varieties of birds, as it is early in the spring, and the young ones have not yet been brought in: they appear to sell as fast as they can be procured. But before I end my letter I must tell you about the cockatoo belonging to this hotel. It is a famous bird in its way, having had its portrait taken several times, descriptions written for newspapers of its talents, and its owner boasts of enormous sums offered and refused for it. Knowing my fondness for pets, F—— took me downstairs to see it very soon after our arrival. I thought it hideous: it belongs to a kind not very well known in England, of a dirtyish white colour, a very ugly-shaped head and bill, and large bluish rings round the eyes; the beak is huge and curved. If it knew of this last objection on my part, it would probably answer, like the wolf in Red Riding Hood's story, "the better to talk with, my dear"—for it is a weird and knowing bird. At first it flatly refused to show off any of its accomplishments, but one of the hotel servants good-naturedly came forward, and Cocky condescended to go through his performances. I cannot possibly-tell you of all its antics: it pretended to have a violent toothache, and nursed its beak in its claw, rocking itself backwards and forwards as if in the greatest agony, and in answer to all the remedies which were proposed, croaking out, "Oh, it ain't a bit of good," and finally sidling up, to the edge of its perch, and saying in hoarse but confidential whisper, "Give us a drop of whisky, do." Its voice was extraordinarily distinct, and when it sang several snatches of songs the words were capitally given, with the most absurdly comic intonation, all the roulades being executed in perfect tune. I liked its sewing performance so much—to see it hold a little piece of stuff underneath the claw which rested on the perch, and pretend to sew with the other, getting into difficulties with its thread, and finally setting up a loud song in praise of sewing-machines just as if it were an advertisement.
By the next time I write I shall have seen more of Melbourne; there will, however, be no time for another letter by this mail; but I will leave one to be posted after we sail for New Zealand.
Letter II: Sight-seeing in Melbourne.
Melbourne, October 1st, 1865. I have left my letter to the last moment before starting for Lyttleton; everything is re-packed and ready, and we sail to-morrow morning in the Albion. She is a mail-steamer—very small after our large vessel, but she looks clean and tidy; at all events, we hope to be only on board her for ten days. In England one fancies that New Zealand is quite close to Australia, so I was rather disgusted to find we had another thousand miles of steaming to do before we could reach our new home; and one of the many Job's comforters who are scattered up and down the world assures me that the navigation is the most dangerous and difficult of the whole voyage.
We have seen a good deal of Melbourne this week; and not only of the town, for we have had many drives in the exceedingly pretty suburbs, owing to the kindness of the D——s, who have been most hospitable and made our visit here delightful. We drove out to their house at Toorak three or four times; and spent a long afternoon with them; and there I began to make acquaintance with the Antipodean trees and flowers. I hope you will not think it a very sweeping assertion if I say that all the leaves look as if they were made of leather, but it really is so; the hot winds appear to parch up everything, at all events, round Melbourne, till the greatest charm of foliage is more or less lost; the flowers also look withered and burnt up, as yours do at the end of a long, dry summer, only they assume this appearance after the first hot wind in spring. The suburb called Heidelberg is the prettiest, to my taste—an undulating country with vineyards, and a park-like appearance which, is very charming. All round Melbourne there are nice, comfortable, English-looking villas. At one of these we called to return a visit and found a very handsome house, luxuriously furnished, with beautiful garden and grounds. One afternoon we went by rail to St. Kilda's, a flourishing bathing-place on the sea-coast, about six miles from Melbourne. Everywhere building is going on with great rapidity, and you do not see any poor people in the streets. If I wanted to be critical and find fault, I might object to the deep gutters on each side of the road; after a shower of rain they are raging torrents for a short time, through which you are obliged to splash without regard to the muddy consequences; and even when they are dry, they entail sudden and prodigious jolts. There are plenty of Hansoms and all sorts of other conveyances, but I gave F—— no peace until he took me for a drive in a vehicle which was quite new to me—a sort of light car with a canopy and curtains, holding four, two on each seat, dos-a-dos, and called a "jingle,"—of American parentage, I fancy. One drive in this carriage was quite enough, however, and I contented myself with Hansoms afterwards; but walking is really more enjoyable than anything else, after having been so long cooped up on board ship.
We admired the fine statue, at the top of Collins Street, to the memory of the two most famous of Australian explorers, Burke and Wills, and made many visits to the Museum, and the glorious Free Library; we also went all over the Houses of Legislature—very new and grand. But you must not despise me if I confess to having enjoyed the shops exceedingly: it was so unlike a jeweller's shop in England to see on the counter gold in its raw state, in nuggets and dust and flakes; in this stage of its existence it certainly deserves its name of "filthy lucre," for it is often only half washed. There were quantities of emus' eggs in the silversmiths' shops, mounted in every conceivable way as cups and vases, and even as work-boxes: some designs consisted of three or five eggs grouped together as a centre-piece. I cannot honestly say I admired any of them; they were generally too elaborate, comprising often a native (spear in hand), a kangaroo, palms, ferns, cockatoos, and sometimes an emu or two in addition, as a pedestal—all this in frosted silver or gold. I was given a pair of these eggs before leaving England: they were mounted in London as little flower-vases in a setting consisting only of a few bulrushes and leaves, yet far better than any of these florid designs; but he emu-eggs are very popular in Sydney or Melbourne, and I am told sell rapidly to people going home, who take them as a memento of their Australian life, and probably think that the greater the number of reminiscences suggested by the ornament the more satisfactory it is as a purchase.
I must finish my letter by a description of a dinner-party which about a dozen of our fellow-passengers joined with us in giving our dear old captain before we all separated. Whilst we were on board, it very often happened that the food was not very choice or good: at all events we used sometimes to grumble at it, and we generally wound up our lamentations by agreeing that when we reached Melbourne we would have a good dinner together. Looking back on it, I must say I think we were all rather greedy, but we tried to give a better colouring to our gourmandism by inviting the captain, who was universally popular, and by making it as elegant and pretty a repast as possible. Three or four of the gentlemen formed themselves into a committee, and they must really have worked very hard; at all events they collected everything rare and strange in the way of fish, flesh, and fowl peculiar to Australia, the arrangement of the table was charming, and the delicacies were all cooked and served to perfection. The ladies' tastes were considered in the profusion of flowers, and we each found an exquisite bouquet by our plate. I cannot possibly give you a minute account of the whole menu; in fact, as it is, I feel rather like Froissart, who, after chronicling a long list of sumptuous dishes, is not ashamed to confess, "Of all which good things I, the chronicler of this narration, did partake!" The soups comprised kangaroo-tail—a clear soup not unlike ox-tail, but with a flavour of game. I wish I could recollect the names of the fish: the fresh-water ones came a long distance by rail from the river Murray, but were excellent nevertheless. The last thing which I can remember tasting (for one really could do little else) was a most exquisite morsel of pigeon—more like a quail than anything else in flavour. I am not a judge of wine, as you may imagine, therefore it is no unkindness to the owners of the beautiful vineyards which we saw the other day, to say that I do not like the Australian wines. Some of the gentlemen pronounced them to be excellent, especially the equivalent to Sauterne, which has a wonderful native name impossible to write down; but, as I said before, I do not like the rather rough flavour. We had not a great variety of fruit at dessert: indeed, Sydney oranges constituted its main feature, as it is too late for winter fruits, and too early for summer ones: but we were not inclined to be over-fastidious, and thought everything delicious.
Letter III: On to New Zealand.
Christchurch, Canterbury, N. Z. October 14th, 1865. As you so particularly desired me when we parted to tell you everything, I must resume my story where in my last letter I left it off. If I remember rightly, I ended with an attempt at describing our great feast. We embarked the next day, and as soon as we were out of the bay the little Albion plunged into heavy seas. The motion was much worse in her than on board the large vessel we had been so glad to leave, and all my previous sufferings seemed insignificant compared with what I endured in my small and wretchedly hard berth. I have a dim recollection of F—— helping me to dress, wrapping me up in various shawls, and half carrying me up the companion ladder; I crawled into a sunny corner among the boxes of oranges with which the deck was crowded, and there I lay helpless and utterly miserable. One well-meaning and good-natured fellow-passenger asked F—— if I was fond of birds, and on his saying "Yes," went off for a large wicker cage of hideous "laughing Jackasses," which he was taking as a great treasure to Canterbury. Why they should be called "Jackasses" I never could discover; but the creatures certainly do utter by fits and starts a sound which may fairly be described as laughter. These paroxysms arise from no cause that one can perceive; one bird begins, and all the others join in, and a more doleful and depressing chorus I never heard: early in the morning seemed the favourite time for this discordant mirth. Their owner also possessed a cockatoo with a great musical reputation, but I never heard it get beyond the first bar of "Come into the garden, Maud." Ill as I was, I remember being roused to something like a flicker of animation when I was shown an exceedingly seedy and shabby-looking blackbird with a broken leg in splints, which its master (the same bird-fancying gentleman) assured me he had bought in Melbourne as a great bargain for only 2 pounds 10 shillings!
After five days' steaming we arrived in the open roadstead of Hokitika, on the west coast of the middle island of New Zealand, and five minutes after the anchor was down a little tug came alongside to take away our steerage passengers—three hundred diggers. The gold-fields on this coast were only discovered eight months ago, and already several canvas towns have sprung up; there are thirty thousand diggers at work, and every vessel brings a fresh cargo of stalwart, sun-burnt men. It was rather late, and getting dark, but still I could distinctly see the picturesque tents in the deep mountain gorge, their white shapes dotted here and there as far back from the shore as my sight could follow, and the wreaths of smoke curling up in all directions from the evening fires: it is still bitterly cold at night, being very early spring. The river Hokitika washes down with every fresh such quantities of sand, that a bar is continually forming in this roadstead, and though only vessels of the least possible draught are engaged in the coasting-trade, still wrecks are of frequent occurrence. We ought to have landed our thousands of oranges here, but this work was necessarily deferred till the morning, for it was as much as they could do to get all the diggers and their belongings safely ashore before dark; in the middle of the night one of the sudden and furious gales common to these seas sprang up, and would soon have driven us on the rocks if we had not got our steam up quickly and struggled out to sea, oranges and all, and away to Nelson, on the north coast of the same island. Here we landed the seventh day after leaving Melbourne, and spent a few hours wandering about on shore. It is a lovely little town, as I saw it that spring morning, with hills running down almost to the water's edge, and small wooden houses with gables and verandahs, half buried in creepers, built up the sides of the steep slopes. It was a true New Zealand day, still and bright, a delicious invigorating freshness in the air, without the least chill, the sky of a more than Italian blue, the ranges of mountains in the distance covered with snow, and standing out, sharp and clear against this lovely glowing heaven. The town itself, I must say, seemed very dull and stagnant, with little sign of life or activity about it; but nothing can be prettier or more picturesque than its situation—not unlike that of a Swiss village. Our day came to an end all too soon, and we re-embarked for Wellington, the most southern town of the North Island. The seat of government is there, and it is supposed to be a very thriving place, but is not nearly so well situated as Nelson nor so attractive to strangers. We landed and walked about a good deal, and saw what little there was to see. At first I thought the shops very handsome, but I found, rather to my disgust, that generally the fine, imposing frontage was all a sham; the actual building was only a little but at the back, looking all the meaner for the contrast to the cornices and show windows in front. You cannot think how odd it was to turn a corner and see that the building was only one board in thickness, and scarcely more substantial than the scenes at a theatre. We lunched at the principal hotel, where F—— was much amused at my astonishment at colonial prices. We had two dozen very nice little oysters, and he had a glass of porter: for this modest repast we paid eleven shillings!
We slept on board, had another walk on shore after breakfast the following morning, and about twelve o'clock set off for Lyttleton, the final end of our voyaging, which we reached in about twenty hours.
The scenery is very beautiful all along the coast, but the navigation is both dangerous and difficult. It was exceedingly cold, and Lyttleton did not look very inviting; we could not get in at all near the landing-place, and had to pay 2 pounds to be rowed ashore in an open boat with our luggage. I assure you it was a very "bad quarter of an hour" we passed in that boat; getting into it was difficult enough. The spray dashed over us every minute, and by the time we landed we were quite drenched, but a good fire at the hotel and a capital lunch soon made us all right again; besides, in the delight of being actually at the end of our voyage no annoyance or discomfort was worth a moment's thought. F—— had a couple of hours' work rushing backwards and forwards to the Custom House, clearing our luggage, and arranging for some sort of conveyance to take us over the hills. The great tunnel through these "Port Hills" (which divide Lyttleton from Christchurch, the capital of Canterbury) is only half finished, but it seems wonderful that so expensive and difficult an engineering work could be undertaken by such an infant colony.
At last a sort of shabby waggonette was forthcoming, and about three o'clock we started from Lyttleton, and almost immediately began to ascend the zig-zag. It was a tremendous pull for the poor horses, who however never flinched; at the steepest pinch the gentlemen were requested to get out and walk, which they did, and at length we reached the top. It was worth all the bad road to look down on the land-locked bay, with the little patches of cultivation, a few houses nestling in pretty recesses. The town of Lyttleton seemed much more imposing and important as we rose above it: fifteen years ago a few sheds received the "Pilgrims," as the first comers are always called. I like the name; it is so pretty and suggestive. By the way, I am told that these four ships, sent out with the pilgrims by the Canterbury Association, sailed together from England, parted company almost directly, and arrived in Lyttleton (then called Port Cooper) four months afterwards, on the same day, having all experienced fine weather, but never having sighted each other once.
As soon as we reached the top of the hill the driver looked to the harness of his horses, put on a very powerful double break, and we began the descent, which, I must say, I thought we took much too quickly, especially as at every turn of the road some little anecdote was forthcoming of an upset or accident; however, I would not show the least alarm, and we were soon rattling along the Sumner Road, by the sea-shore, passing every now and then under tremendous overhanging crags. In half an hour we reached Sumner itself, where we stopped for a few moments to change horses. There is an inn and a village here, where people from Christchurch come in the warm weather for sea-air and bathing. It began to rain hard, and the rest of the journey, some seven or eight miles, was disagreeable enough; but it was the end, and that one thought was sufficient to keep us radiantly good-humoured, in spite of all little trials. When we reached Christchurch, we drove at once to a sort of boarding-house where we had engaged apartments, and thought of nothing but supper and bed.
The next day people began calling, and certainly I cannot complain of any coldness or want of welcome to my new home. I like what I have seen of my future acquaintances very much. Of course there is a very practical style and tone over everything, though outwardly the place is as civilized as if it were a hundred years old; well-paved streets, gas lamps, and even drinking fountains and pillar post-offices! I often find myself wondering whether the ladies here are at all like what our great grandmothers were. I suspect they are, for they appear to possess an amount of useful practical knowledge which is quite astonishing, and yet know how to surround themselves, according to their means and opportunities, with the refinements and elegancies of life. I feel quite ashamed of my own utter ignorance on every subject, and am determined to set to work directly and learn: at all events I shall have plenty of instructresses. Christchurch is a very pretty little town, still primitive enough to be picturesque, and yet very thriving: capital shops, where everything may be bought; churches, public buildings, a very handsome club-house, etc. Most of the houses are of wood, but when they are burned down (which is often the case) they are now rebuilt of brick or stone, so that the new ones are nearly all of these more solid materials. I am disappointed to find that, the cathedral, of which I had heard so much, has not progressed beyond the foundations, which cost 8,000 pounds: all the works have been stopped, and certainly there is not much to show for so large a sum, but labour is very dear. Christchurch is a great deal more lively and bustling than most English country towns, and I am much struck by the healthy appearance of the people. There are no paupers to be seen; every one seems well fed and well clothed; the children are really splendid. Of course, as might be expected, there is a great deal of independence in bearing and manner, especially among the servants, and I hear astounding stories concerning them on all sides. My next letter will be from the country, as we have accepted an invitation to pay a visit of six weeks or so to a station in the north of the province.
Letter IV: First introduction to "Station life."
Heathstock, Canterbury, November 13th, 1865. I have just had the happiness of receiving my first budget of English letters; and no one can imagine how a satisfactory home letter satisfies the hunger of the heart after its loved and left ones. Your letter was particularly pleasant, because I could perceive, as I held the paper in my hands, that you were writing as you really felt, and that you were indeed happy. May you long continue so, dearest.
F—— says that this beautiful place will give me a very erroneous impression of station life, and that I shall probably expect to find its comforts and luxuries the rule, whereas they are the exception; in the mean time, however, I am enjoying them thoroughly. The house is only sixty-five miles from Christchurch, nearly due north (which you must not forget answers to your south in point of warmth). Our kind friends and hosts, the L——s, called for us in their comfortable and large break, with four horses. Mr. L—— drove, F—— sat on the box, and inside were the ladies, children, and a nurse. Our first stage was to Kaiapoi, a little town on the river Waimakiriri, where we had a good luncheon of whitebait, and rested and fed the horses. From the window of the hotel I saw a few groups of Maories; they looked very ugly and peaceable, with a rude sort of basket made of flax fibres, or buckets filled with whitebait, which they wanted us to buy. There are some reserved lands near Kaiapoi where they have a very thriving settlement, living in perfect peace and good-will with their white neighbours. When we set off again on our journey, we passed a little school-house for their children.
We reached Leathfield that evening, only twenty-five miles from Christchurch; found a nice inn, or accommodation-house, as roadside inns are called here; had a capital supper and comfortable beds, and were up and off again at daylight the next morning. As far as the Weka Pass, where we stopped for dinner, the roads were very good, but after that we got more among the hills and off the usual track, and there were many sharp turns and steep pinches; but Mr. L—— is an excellent whip, and took great care of us. We all got very weary towards the end of this second day's journey, and the last two hours of it were in heavy rain; it was growing very dark when we reached the gate, and heard the welcome sound of gravel under the wheels. I could just perceive that we had entered a plantation, the first trees since we left Christchurch. Nothing seems so wonderful to me as the utter treelessness of the vast Canterbury plains; occasionally you pass a few Ti-ti palms (ordinarily called cabbage-trees), or a large prickly bush which goes by the name of "wild Irishman," but for miles and miles you see nothing but flat ground or slightly undulating downs of yellow tussocks, the tall native grass. It has the colour and appearance of hay, but serves as shelter for a delicious undergrowth of short sweet herbage, upon which the sheep live, and horses also do very well on it, keeping in good working condition, quite unlike their puffy, fat state on English pasture.
We drove through the plantation and another gate, and drew up at the door of a very large, handsome, brick house, with projecting gables and a verandah. The older I grow the more convinced I am that contrast is everything in this world; and nothing I can write can give you any idea of the delightful change from the bleak country we had been slowly travelling through in pouring rain, to the warmth and brightness of this charming house. There were blazing fires ready to welcome us, and I feel sure you will sufficiently appreciate this fact when I tell you that by the time the coal reaches this, it costs nine pounds per ton. It is possible to get Australian coal at about half the price, but it is not nearly as good.
We were so tired that we were only fit for the lowest phase of human enjoyment—warmth, food, and sleep; but the next morning was bright and lovely, and I was up and out in the verandah as early as possible. I found myself saying constantly, in a sort of ecstasy, "How I wish they could see this in England!" and not only see but feel it, for the very breath one draws on such a morning is a happiness; the air is so light and yet balmy, it seems to heal the lungs as you inhale it. The verandah is covered with honeysuckles and other creepers, and the gable end of the house where the bow-window of the drawing-room projects, is one mass of yellow Banksia roses in full blossom. A stream runs through the grounds, fringed with weeping willows, which are in their greatest beauty at this time of year, with their soft, feathery foliage of the tenderest green. The flower beds are dotted about the lawn, which surrounds the house and slopes away from it, and they are brilliant patches of colour, gay with verbenas, geraniums, and petunias. Here and there clumps of tall trees rise above the shrubs, and as a background there is a thick plantation of red and blue gums, to shelter the garden from the strong N.W. winds. Then, in front, the country stretches away in undulating downs to a chain of high hills in the distance: every now and then there is a deep gap in these, through which you see magnificent snow-covered mountains.
The inside of the house is as charming as the outside, and the perfection of comfort; but I am perpetually wondering how all the furniture—especially the fragile part of it—got here. When I remember the jolts, and ruts, and roughnesses of the road, I find myself looking at the pier-glass and glass shades, picture-frames, etc., with a sort of respect, due to them for having survived so many dangers.
The first two or three days we enjoyed ourselves in a thoroughly lazy manner; the garden was a never-ending source of delight, and there were all the animals to make friends with, "mobs" of horses to look at, rabbits, poultry, and pets of all sorts. About a week after our arrival, some more gentlemen came, and then we had a series of picnics. As these are quite unlike your highly civilized entertainments which go by the same name, I must describe one to you.
The first thing after breakfast was to collect all the provisions, and pack them in a sort of washing-basket, and then we started in an American waggon drawn by a pair of stout cobs. We drove for some miles till we came to the edge of one of the high terraces common to New Zealand scenery: here we all got out; the gentlemen unharnessed and tethered the horses, so that they could feed about comfortably, and then we scrambled down the deep slope, at the bottom of which ran a wide shallow creek. It was no easy matter to get the basket down here, I assure you; we ladies were only permitted to load ourselves, one with a little kettle, and the other with a tea-pot, but this was quite enough, as crossing the creek by a series of jumps from one wet stone to another is not easy for a beginner.
Mr. L—— brought a large dog with him, a kangaroo-hound (not unlike a lurcher in appearance), to hunt the wekas. I had heard at night the peculiar cry or call of these birds, but had not seen one until to-day. "Fly" put up several, one after another, and soon ran them down. At first I thought it very cruel to destroy such a tame and apparently harmless creature, but I am assured that they are most mischievous, and that it would be useless to turn out the pheasants and partridges which Mr. L—— has brought from England, until the numbers of the wekas are considerably reduced. They are very like a hen pheasant without the long tail feathers, and until you examine them you cannot tell they have no wings, though there is a sort of small pinion among the feathers, with a claw at the end of it. They run very swiftly, availing themselves cleverly of the least bit of cover; but when you hear a short sharp cry, it is a sign that the poor weka is nearly done, and the next thing you see is Fly shaking a bundle of brown feathers vehemently. All the dogs are trained to hunt these birds, as they are a great torment, sucking eggs and killing chickens; but still I could not help feeling sorry when Fly, having disposed of the mother, returned to the flax-bush out of which he had started her, and killed several baby-wekas by successive taps of his paw.
I have wandered away from my account of the picnic in the most unjustifiable manner. The gentlemen were toiling up the hill, after we had crossed the creek, carrying the big basket by turns between them; it was really hard work, and I must tell you in confidence, that I don't believe they liked it—at least I can answer for one. I laughed at them for not enjoying their task, and assured them that I was looking forward with pleasure to washing up the plates and dishes after our luncheon; but I found that they had all been obliged, in the early days of the colony, to work at domestic drudgery in grim and grimy earnest, so it had lost the charm of novelty which it still possessed for me.
As soon as we reached a pretty sheltered spot half-way up the hill among some trees and ferns, and by the side of the creek, we unpacked the basket, and began collecting dry wood for a fire: we soon had a splendid blaze under the lee of a fine rock, and there we boiled our kettle and our potatoes. The next thing was to find a deep hole in the creek, so over-shadowed by rocks and trees that the water would be icy cold: in this we put the champagne to cool. The result of all our preparations was a capital luncheon, eaten in a most romantic spot, with a lovely view before us, and the creek just like a Scotch burn, hurrying and tumbling down the hill-side to join the broader stream in the valley. After luncheon, the gentlemen considered themselves entitled to rest, lying lazily back among the fern and smoking, whilst we ladies sat a little apart and chatted: I was busy learning to knit. Then, about five, we had the most delicious cup of tea I ever tasted, and we repacked the basket (it was very light now, I assure you), and made our way back to the top of the terrace, put the horses in again, and so home. It was a long, bright, summer holiday, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. After a voyage, such an expedition as this is full of delight; every tree and bird is a source of pleasure.
Letter V: A pastoral letter.
Heathstock, December 1st, 1865. All I can find to tell you this month is that I have seen one of the finest and best wool-sheds in the country in full work. Anything about sheep is as new to you as it is to me, so I shall begin my story at the very beginning.
I am afraid you will think us a very greedy set of people in this part of the world, for eating seems to enter so largely into my letters; but the fact is—and I may as well confess it at once—I am in a chronic state of hunger; it is the fault of the fine air and the outdoor life: and then how one sleeps at night! I don't believe you really know in England what it is to be sleepy as we feel sleepy here; and it is delightful to wake up in the morning with the sort of joyous light-heartedness which only young children have. The expedition I am going to relate may fairly be said to have begun with eating, for although we started for our twelve miles' drive over the downs immediately after an excellent and somewhat late breakfast, yet by the time we reached the Home Station we were quite ready for luncheon. All the work connected with the sheep is carried on here. The manager has a nice house; and the wool-shed, men's huts, dip, etc., are near each other. It is the busiest season of the year, and no time could be spared to prepare for us; we therefore contented ourselves with what was described to me as ordinary station fare, and I must tell you what they gave us: first, a tureen of real mutton-broth, not hot water and chopped parsley, but excel-lent thick soup, with plenty of barley and meat in it; this had much the same effect on our appetites as the famous treacle and brimstone before breakfast in "Nicholas Nickleby," so that we were only able to manage a few little sheeps' tongues, slightly pickled; and very nice they were; then we finished with a Devonshire junket, with clotted cream a discretion. Do you think we were much to be pitied?
After this repast we were obliged to rest a little before we set out for the wool-shed, which has only been lately finished, and has all the newest improvements. At first I am "free to confess" that I did not like either its sounds or sights; the other two ladies turned very pale, but I was determined to make myself bear it, and after a moment or two I found it quite possible to proceed with Mr. L——round the "floor." There were about twenty-five shearers at work, and everything seemed to be very systematically and well arranged. Each shearer has a trap-door close to him, out of which he pushes his sheep as soon as the fleece is off, and there are little pens outside, so that the manager can notice whether the poor animal has been too much cut with the shears, or badly shorn in any other respect, and can tell exactly which shearer is to blame. Before this plan was adopted it was hopeless to try to find out who was the delinquent, for no one would acknowledge to the least snip. A good shearer can take off 120 fleeces in a day, but the average is about 80 to each man. They get one pound per hundred, and are found in everything, having as much tea and sugar, bread and mutton, as they can consume, and a cook entirely to themselves; they work at least fourteen hours out of the twenty-four, and with such a large flock as this—about 50,000—must make a good deal.
We next inspected the wool tables, to which two boys were incessantly bringing armfuls of rolled-up fleeces; these were laid on the tables before the wool-sorters, who opened them out, and pronounced in a moment to which bin they belonged; two or three men standing behind rolled them up again rapidly, and put them on a sort of shelf divided into compartments, which were each labelled, so that the quality and kind of wool could be told at a glance. There was a constant emptying of these bins into trucks to be carried off to the press, where we followed to see the bales packed. The fleeces are tumbled in, and a heavy screw-press forces them down till the bale—which is kept open in a large square frame—is as full as it can hold. The top of canvas is then put on, tightly sewn, four iron pins are removed and the sides of the frame fall away, disclosing a most symmetrical bale ready to be hoisted by a crane into the loft above, where it has the brand of the sheep painted on it, its weight, and to what class the wool belongs. Of course everything has to be done with great speed and system.
I was much impressed by the silence in the shed; not a sound was to be heard except the click of the shears, and the wool-sorter's decision as he flings the fleece behind him, given in one, or at most two words. I was reminded how touchingly true is that phrase, "Like as a sheep before her shearers is dumb." All the noise is outside; there the hubbub, and dust, and apparent confusion are great,—a constant succession of woolly sheep being brought up to fill the "skillions" (from whence the shearers take them as they want them), and the newly-shorn ones, white, clean, and bewildered-looking, being turned out after they have passed through a narrow passage, called a "race," where each sheep is branded, and has its mouth examined in order to tell its age, which is marked in a book. It was a comfort to think all their troubles were over, for a year. You can hear nothing but barking and bleating, and this goes on from early morning till dark. We peeped in at the men's huts—a long, low wooden building, with two rows of "bunks" (berths, I should call their) in one compartment, and a table with forms round it in the other, and piles of tin plates and pannikins all about. The kitchen was near, and we were just in time to see an enormous batch of bread withdrawn from a huge brick oven: the other commissariat arrangements were on the same scale. Cold tea is supplied all day long to the shearers, and they appear to consume great quantities of it.
Our last visit was to the Dip, and it was only a short one, for it seemed a cruel process; unfortunately, this fine station is in technical parlance "scabby," and although of course great precautions are taken, still some 10,000 sheep had an ominous large S on them. These poor sufferers are dragged down a plank into a great pit filled with hot water, tobacco, and sulphur, and soused over head and ears two or three times. This torture is repeated more than once.
I was very glad to get away from the Dip, and back to the manager's house, where we refreshed ourselves by a delicious cup of tea, and soon after started for a nice long drive home in the cool, clear evening air. The days are very hot, but never oppressive; and the mornings and evenings are deliciously fresh and invigorating. You can remain out late without the least danger. Malaria is unknown, and, in spite of the heavy rains, there is no such thing as damp. Our way lay through very pretty country—a series of terraces, with a range of mountains before us, with beautiful changing and softening evening tints creeping over the whole.
I am sorry to say, we leave this next week. I should like to explore a great deal more.
Letter VI: Society.—houses and servants.
Christchurch, January 1866. I am beginning to get tired of Christchurch already: but the truth is, I am not in a fair position to judge of it as a place of residence; for, living temporarily, as we do, in a sort of boarding-house, I miss the usual duties and occupations of home, and the town itself has no place of public amusement except a little theatre, to which it is much too hot to go. The last two weeks have been the gay ones of the whole year; the races have been going on for three days, and there have been a few balls; but as a general rule, the society may be said to be extremely stagnant. No dinner-parties are ever given—I imagine, on account of the smallness of the houses and the inefficiency of the servants; but every now and then there is an assembly ball arranged, in the same way, I believe, as at watering-places in England only, of course, on a much smaller scale. I have been at two or three of these, and noticed at each a most undue preponderance of black coats. Nearly all the ladies were married, there were very few young girls; and it would be a great improvement to the Christchurch parties if some of the pretty and partnerless groups of a London ball-room, in all their freshness of toilette, could be transferred to them. What a sensation they would make, and what terrible heart-aches among the young gentlemen would be the result of such an importation! There were the same knots of men standing together as at a London party, but I must say that, except so far as their tailor is concerned, I think we have the advantage of you, for the gentlemen lead such healthy lives that they all look more or less bronzed and stalwart—in splendid condition, not like your pale dwellers in cities; and then they come to a ball to dance, arriving early so as to secure good partners, and their great ambition appears to be to dance every dance from the first to the last. This makes it hard work for the few ladies, who are not allowed to sit down for a moment, and I have often seen a young and pretty partner obliged to divide her dances between two gentlemen.
Although it tells only against myself, I must make you laugh at an account of a snub I received at one of these balls. Early in the evening I had danced with a young gentleman whose station was a long way "up country," and who worked so hard on it that he very seldom found time for even the mild dissipations of Christchurch; he was good-looking and gentlemanly, and seemed clever and sensible, a little brusque, perhaps, but one soon gets used to that here. During our quadrille he confided to me that he hardly knew any ladies in the room, and that his prospects of getting any dancing were in consequence very blank. I did all I could to find partners for him, introducing him to every lady whom I knew, but it was in vain; they would have been delighted to dance with him, but their cards were filled. At the end of the evening, when I was feeling thoroughly done up, and could hardly stand up for fatigue, my poor friend came up and begged for another dance. I assured him I could scarcely stand, but when he said in a larmoyante voice, "I have only danced once this evening, that quadrille with you," my heart softened, and I thought I would make a great effort and try to get through one more set of Lancers; my partner seemed so grateful, that the demon of vanity, or coquetry, or whatever it is that prompts one to say absurd things induced me to fish for a compliment, and to observe, "It was not worth while taking all the trouble of riding such a distance to dance only with me, was it?" Whereupon my poor, doleful friend answered, with a deep sigh, and an accent of profound conviction, "No, indeed it was not!" I leave you to imagine my discomfiture; but luckily he never observed it, and I felt all the time that I richly deserved what I got, for asking such a stupid question.
The music at these balls is very bad, and though the principal room in which they are given, at the Town Hall, is large and handsome, it is poorly lighted, and the decorations are desolate in the extreme. I am afraid this is not a very inviting picture of what is almost our only opportunity of meeting together, but it is tolerably correct. Visiting appears to be the business of some people's lives, but the acquaintance does not seem to progress beyond incessant afternoon calls; we are never asked inside a house, nor, as far as I can make out, is there any private society whatever, and the public society consists, as I have said, of a ball every now and then.
My greatest interest and occupation consist in going to look at my house, which is being cut out in Christchurch, and will be drayed to our station next month, a journey of fifty miles. It is, of course, only of wood, and seems about as solid as a band-box; but I am assured by the builder that it will be a "most superior article" when it is all put together. F—— and I made the little plan of it ourselves, regulating the size of the drawing-room by the dimensions of the carpet we brought out, and I petitioned for a little bay-window, which is to be added; so on my last visit to his timber-yard, the builder said, with an air of great dignity, "Would you wish to see the horiel, mum?" The doors all come ready-made from America, and most of the wood used in building is the Kauri pine from the North Island. One advantage, at all events, in having wooden houses is the extreme rapidity with which they are run up, and there are no plastered walls to need drying. For a long time we were very uncertain where, and what, we should build on our station; but only six weeks after we made up our minds, a house is almost ready for us. The boards are sawn into the requisite lengths by machinery; and all the carpentering done down here; the frame will only require to be fitted together when it reaches its destination, and it is a very good time of year for building, as the wool drays are all going back empty, and we can get them to take the loads at reduced prices; but even with this help, it is enormously expensive to move a small house fifty miles, the last fifteen over bad roads; it is collar-work for the poor horses all the way, Christchurch being only nine feet above the sea-level, while our future home in the Malvern Hills is twelve hundred.
You know we brought all our furniture out with us, and even papers for the rooms, just because we happened to have everything; but I should not recommend any one to do so, for the expense of carriage, though moderate enough by sea (in a wool ship), is enormous as soon as it reaches Lyttleton, and goods have to be dragged up country by horses or bullocks. There are very good shops where you can buy everything, and besides these there are constant sales by auction where, I am told, furniture fetches a price sometimes under its English value. House rent about Christchurch is very high. We looked at some small houses in and about the suburbs of the town, when we were undecided about our plans, and were offered the most inconvenient little dwellings, with rooms which were scarcely bigger than cupboards, for 200 pounds a year; we saw nothing at a lower price than this, and any house of a better class, standing in a nicely arranged shrubbery, is at least 300 pounds per annum. Cab-hire is another thing which seems to me disproportionately dear, as horses are very cheap; there are no small fares, half-a-crown being the lowest "legal tender" to a cabman; and I soon gave up returning visits when I found that to make a call in a Hansom three or four miles out of the little town cost one pound or one pound ten shillings, even remaining only a few minutes at the house.
All food (except mutton) appears to be as nearly as possible at London prices; but yet every one looks perfectly well-fed, and actual want is unknown. Wages of all sorts are high, and employment, a certainty. The look and bearing of the immigrants appear to alter soon after they reach the colony. Some people object to the independence of their manner, but I do not; on the contrary, I like to see the upright gait, the well-fed, healthy look, the decent clothes (even if no one touches his hat to you), instead of the half-starved, depressed appearance, and too often cringing servility of the mass of our English population. Scotchmen do particularly well out here; frugal and thrifty, hard-working and sober, it is easy to predict the future of a man of this type in a new country. Naturally, the whole tone of thought and feeling is almost exclusively practical; even in a morning visit there is no small-talk. I find no difficulty in obtaining the useful information upon domestic subjects which I so much need; for it is sad to discover, after all my house-keeping experience, that I am still perfectly ignorant. Here it is necessary to know how everything should be done; it is not sufficient to give an order, you must also be in a position to explain how it is to be carried out I felt quite guilty when I saw the picture in Punch the other day, of a young and inexperienced matron requesting her cook "not to put any lumps into the melted butter," and reflected that I did not know how lumps should be kept out; so, as I am fortunate enough to number among my new friends a lady who is as clever in these culinary details as she is bright and charming in society, I immediately went to her for a lesson in the art of making melted butter without putting lumps into it.
The great complaint, the never-ending subject of comparison and lamentation among ladies, is the utter ignorance and inefficiency of their female servants. As soon as a ship comes in it is besieged with people who want servants, but it is very rare to get one who knows how to do anything as it ought to be done. Their lack of all knowledge of the commonest domestic duties is most surprising, and makes one wonder who in England did the necessary things of daily cottage life for them, for they appear to have done nothing for themselves hitherto. As for a woman knowing how to cook, that seems the very last accomplishment they acquire; a girl will come to you as a housemaid at 25 pounds per annum, and you will find that she literally does not know how to hold her broom, and has never handled a duster. When you ask a nurse her qualifications for the care of perhaps two or three young children, you may find, on close cross-examination, that she can recollect having once or twice "held mother's baby," and that she is very firm in her determination that "you'll keep baby yourself o' nights; mem!" A perfectly inexperienced girl of this sort will ask, and get, 30 pounds or 35 pounds per annum, a cook from 35 pounds to 40 pounds; and when they go "up country," they hint plainly they shall not stay long with you, and ask higher wages, stipulating with great exactness how they are to be conveyed free of all expense to and from their place.
Then, on the other hand, I must say they work desperately hard, and very cheerfully: I am amazed how few servants are kept even in the large and better class of houses. As a general rule, they, appear willing enough to learn, and I hear no complaints of dishonesty or immorality, though many moans are made of the rapidity with which a nice tidy young woman is snapped up as a wife; but that is a complaint no one can sympathise with. On most stations a married couple is kept; the man either to act as shepherd, or to work in the garden and look after the cows, and the woman is supposed to attend to the indoor comforts of the wretched bachelor-master: but she generally requires to be taught how to bake a loaf of bread, and boil a potato, as well as how to cook mutton in the simplest form. In her own cottage at home, who did all these things for her? These incapables are generally perfectly helpless and awkward at the wash-tub; no one seems to expect servants to know their business, and it is very fortunate if they show any capability of learning.
I must end my long letter by telling you a little story of my own personal experience in the odd ways of these girls. The housemaid at the boarding-house where we have stayed since we left Heathstock is a fat, sonsy, good-natured girl, perfectly ignorant and stupid, but she has not been long in the colony, and seems willing to learn. She came to me the other day, and, without the least circumlocution or hesitation, asked me if I would lend her my riding-habit as a pattern to give the tailor; adding that she wanted my best and newest. As soon as I could speak for amazement, I naturally asked why; she said she had been given a riding-horse, that she had loaned a saddle, and bought a hat, so now she had nothing on her mind except the habit; and further added, that she intended to leave her situation the day before the races, and that it was "her fixed intent" to appear on horseback each day, and all day long, at these said races. I inquired if she knew how to ride? No; she had never mounted any animal in her life. I suggested that she had better take some lessons before her appearance in public; but she said her mistress did not like to spare her to "practise," and she stuck steadily to her point of wanting my habit as a pattern. I could not lend it to her, fortunately, for it had been sent up to the station with my saddle, etc.; so had she been killed, as I thought not at all unlikely, at least my conscience would not have reproached me for aiding and abetting her equestrian freak. I inquired from every one who went to the races if they saw or heard of any accident to a woman on horseback, and I most anxiously watched the newspapers to see if they contained any notice of the sort, but as there has been no mention of any catastrophe, I suppose she has escaped safely. Her horse must have been quieter and better broken than they generally are. F—— says that probably it was a very old "station screw." I trust so, for her sake!
Letter VII: A young colonist.—the town and its neighbourhood.
Christchurch, March 1866. I must begin my letter this mail with a piece of domestic news, and tell you of the appearance of your small nephew, now three weeks old. The youth seems inclined to adapt himself to circumstances, and to be as sturdy and independent as colonial children generally are. All my new friends and neighbours proved most kind and friendly, and were full of good offices. Once I happened to say that I did not like the food as it was cooked at the boarding-house; and the next day, and for many days after, all sorts of dainties were sent to me, prepared by hands which were as skilful on the piano, or with a pencil, as they were in handling a saucepan. New books were lent to me, and I was never allowed to be without a beautiful bouquet. One young lady used constantly to walk in to town, some two or three miles along a hot and dusty road, laden with flowers for me, just because she saw how thoroughly I enjoyed her roses and carnations. Was it not good of her?
Christchurch has relapsed into the quietude, to call it by no harsher name. The shearing is finished all over the country, and the "squatters" (as owners of sheep-stations are called) have returned to their stations to vegetate, or work, as their tastes and circumstances may dictate. Very few people live in the town except the tradespeople; the professional men prefer little villas two or three miles off. These houses stand in grounds of their own, and form a very pretty approach to Christchurch, extending a few miles on all sides: There are large trees bordering most of the streets, which give a very necessary shade in summer; they are nearly all English sorts, and have only been planted within a few years. Poplars, willows, and the blue gum grow quickest, are least affected by the high winds, and are therefore the most popular. The banks of the pretty little river Avon, upon which Christchurch is built, are thickly fringed with weeping willows, interspersed with a few other trees, and with clumps of tohi, which is exactly like the Pampas grass you know so well in English shrubberies. I don't think I have ever told you that it has been found necessary here to legislate against water-cress. It was introduced a few years since, and has spread so rapidly as to become a perfect nuisance, choking every ditch in the neighbourhood of Christchurch, blocking up mill-streams, causing meadows to be flooded, and doing all kinds of mischief.
Towards Riccarton, about four miles out of town, the Avon shows like a slender stream a few inches wide, moving sluggishly between thick beds of water-cress, which at this time of year are a mass of white blossom. It looks so perfectly solid that whenever I am at Ilam, an insane desire to step on it comes over me, much to F——'s alarm, who says he is afraid to let me out of his sight, lest I should attempt to do so. I have only seen one native "bush" or forest yet, and that is at Riccarton. This patch of tall, gaunt pines serves as a landmark for miles. Riccarton is one of the oldest farms in the colony, and I am told it possesses a beautiful garden. I can only see the gable-end of a house peeping out from among the trees as I pass. This bush is most carefully preserved, but I believe that every high wind injures it.
Christchurch is very prettily situated; for although it stands on a perfectly flat plain, towards the sea there are the Port Hills, and the town itself is picturesque, owing to the quantities of trees and the irregular form of the wooden houses; and as a background we have the most magnificent chain of mountains—the back-bone of the island—running from north to south, the highest peaks nearly always covered with snow, even after such a hot summer as this has been. The climate is now delicious, answering in time of year to your September; but we have far more enjoyable weather than your autumns can boast of. If the atmosphere were no older than the date of the settlement of the colony, it could not feel more youthful, it is so light and bright, and exhilarating! The one drawback, and the only one, is the north-west wind; and the worst of it is, that it blows very often from this point. However, I am assured that I have not yet seen either a "howling nor'-wester," nor its exact antithesis, "a sutherly buster."
We have lately been deprived of the amusement of going to see our house during the process of cutting it out, as it has passed that stage, and has been packed on drays and sent to the station, with two or three men to put it up. It was preceded by two dray-loads of small rough-hewn stone piles, which are first let into the ground six or eight feet apart: the foundation joists rest on these, so as just to keep the flooring from touching the earth. I did not like this plan (which is the usual one) at all, as it seemed to me so insecure for the house to rest only on these stones. I told the builder that I feared a strong "nor'-wester" (and I hear they are particularly strong in the Malvern Hills) would blow the whole affair away. He did not scout the idea as much as I could have wished, but held out hopes to me that the roof would "kep it down." I shall never dare to trust the baby out of my sight, lest he should be blown away; and I have a plan for securing his cradle, by putting large heavy stones in it, somewhere out of his way, so that he need not be hurt by them. Some of the houses are built of "cob," especially those erected in the very early days, when sawn timber was rare and valuable: this material is simply wet clay with chopped tussocks stamped in. It makes very thick walls, and they possess the great advantage of being cool in summer and warm in winter. Whilst the house is new nothing can be nicer; but, in a few years, the hot winds dry up the clay so much, that it becomes quite pulverized; and a lady who lives in one of these houses told me, that during a high wind she had often seen the dust from the walls blowing in clouds about the rooms, despite of the canvas and paper, and with all the windows carefully closed.
Next week F—— is going up to the station, to unpack and arrange a little, and baby and I are going to be taken care of at Ilam, the most charming place I have yet seen. I am looking forward to my visit there with great pleasure.
Letter VIII: Pleasant days at Ilam.
Ilam, April 1866. We leave this to-morrow for the station in the most extraordinary conveyance you ever saw. Imagine a flat tray with two low seats in it, perched on four very high wheels, quite innocent of any step or means of clambering in and out, and drawn, tandem-fashion, by two stout mares; one of which has a little foal by her side. The advantage of this vehicle is that it is very light, and holds a good deal of luggage. We hope to accomplish the distance—fifty miles—in a day, easily.
Although this is not my first visit to Ilam, I don't think I have ever described it to you. The house is of wood, two storeys high, and came out from England! It is built on a brick foundation, which is quite unusual here. Inside, it is exactly like a most charming English house, and when I first stood in the drawing-room it was difficult to believe: that I was at the other end of the world. All the newest books, papers, and periodicals covered the tables, the newest music lay on the piano, whilst a profusion of English greenhouse flowers in Minton's loveliest vases added to the illusion. The Avon winds through the grounds, which are very pretty, and are laid out in the English fashion; but in spite of the lawn with its croquet-hoops and sticks, and the beds of flowers in all their late summer beauty, there is a certain absence of the stiffness and trimness of English pleasure-grounds, which shows that you have escaped from the region of conventionalities. There are thick clumps of plantations, which have grown luxuriantly, and look as if they had always been there. A curve of the opposite bank is a dense mass of native flax bushes, with their tall spikes of red blossom filling the air with a scent of honey, and attracting all the bees in the neighbourhood. Ti-ti palms are dotted here and there, and give a foreign and tropical appearance to the whole. There is a large kitchen garden and orchard, with none of the restrictions of high walls and locked gates which fence your English peaches and apricots.
The following is our receipt for killing time at Ilam:—After breakfast, take the last Cornhill or Macmillan, put on a shady hat, and sit or saunter by the river-side under the trees, gathering any very tempting peach or apricot or plum or pear, until luncheon; same thing until five o'clock tea; then cross the river by a rustic bridge, ascend some turf steps to a large terrace-like meadow, sheltered from the north-west winds by a thick belt of firs, blue gums, and poplars, and play croquet on turf as level as a billiard-table until dinner. At these games the cockatoo always assists, making himself very busy, waddling after his mistress all over the field, and climbing up her mallet whenever he has an opportunity. "Dr. Lindley"—so called from his taste for pulling flowers to pieces—apparently for botanical purposes—is the tamest and most affectionate of birds, and I do not believe he ever bit any one in his life; he will allow himself to be pulled about, turned upside down, scratched under his wings, all with the greatest indifference, or rather with the most positive enjoyment. One evening I could not play croquet for laughing at his antics. He took a sudden dislike to a little rough terrier, and hunted him fairly off the ground at last, chasing him all about, barking at him, and digging his beak into the poor dog's paw. But the "Doctor's" best performance is when he imitates a hawk. He reserves this fine piece of acting until his mistress is feeding her poultry; then, when all the hens and chickens, turkeys, and pigeons are in the quiet enjoyment of their breakfast or supper, the peculiar shrill cry of a hawk is heard overhead, and the Doctor is seen circling in the air, uttering a scream occasionally. The fowls never find out that it is a hoax, but run to shelter, cackling in the greatest alarm—hens clucking loudly for their chicks, turkeys crouching under the bushes, the pigeons taking refuge in their house; as soon as the ground is quite clear, Cocky changes his wild note for peals of laughter from a high tree, and finally alighting on the top of a hen-coop filled with trembling chickens, remarks in a suffocated voice, "You'll be the death of me."
I must reverse the proverb about the ridiculous and the sublime, and finish my letter by telling you of Ilam's chief outdoor charm: from all parts of the garden and grounds I can feast my eyes on the glorious chain of mountains which I have before told you of, and my bedroom window has a perfect panoramic view of them. I watch them under all their changes of tint, and find each new phase the most beautiful. In the very early morning I have often stood shivering at my window to see the noble outline gradually assuming shape, and finally standing out sharp and clear against a dazzling sky; then, as the sun rises, the softest rose-coloured and golden tints touch the highest peaks, the shadows deepening by the contrast. Before a "nor'-wester" the colours over these mountains and in the sky are quite indescribable; no one but Turner could venture upon such a mixture of pale sea-green with deep turquoise blue, purple with crimson and orange. One morning an arch-like appearance in the clouds over the furthest ranges was pointed out to me as the sure forerunner of a violent gale from the north-west, and the prognostic was fulfilled. It was formed of clouds of the deepest and richest colours; within its curve lay a bare expanse of a wonderful green tint, crossed by the snowy silhouette of the Southern Alps. A few hours afterwards the mountains were quite hidden by mist, and a furious gale of hot wind was shaking the house as if it must carry it off into the sky; it blew so continuously that the trees and shrubs never seemed to rise for a moment against it.
These hot winds affect infants and children a good deal, and my baby is not at all well. However, his doctor thinks the change to the station will set him all right again, so we are hurrying off much sooner than our kind friends here wish, and long before the little house in the hills can possibly be made comfortable, though F—— is working very hard to get things settled for us.
Letter IX: Death in our new home—New Zealand children.
Broomielaw, Malvern Hills, May 1866. I do not like to allow the first Panama steamer to go without a line from me: this is the only letter I shall attempt, and it will be but a short and sad one, for we are still in the first bitterness of grief for the loss of our dear little baby. After I last wrote to you he became very ill, but we hoped that his malady was only caused by the unhealthiness of Christchurch during the autumn, and that he would soon revive and get on well in this pure, beautiful mountain air. We consequently hurried here as soon as ever we could get into the house, and whilst the carpenters were still in it. Indeed, there was only one bedroom ready for us when I arrived. The poor little man rallied at first amazingly; the weather was exquisitely bright and sunny, and yet bracing. Baby was to be kept in the open air as much as possible, so F—— and I spent our days out on the downs near the house, carrying our little treasure by turns: but all our care was fruitless: he got another and more violent attack about a fortnight ago, and after a few hours of suffering he was taken to the land where pain is unknown. During the last twelve hours of his life, as I sat before the fire with him on my lap, poor F——kneeling in a perfect agony of grief by my side, my greatest comfort was in looking at that exquisite photograph from Kehren's picture of the "Good Shepherd," which hangs over my bedroom mantelpiece, and thinking that our sweet little lamb would soon be folded in those Divine, all-embracing Arms. It is not a common picture; and the expression of the Saviour's face is most beautiful, full of such immense feminine compassion and tenderness that it makes me feel more vividly, "In all our sorrows He is afflicted." In such a grief as this I find the conviction of the reality and depth of the Divine sympathy is my only true comfort; the tenderest human love falls short of the feeling that, without any words to express our sorrow, God knows all about it; that He would not willingly afflict or grieve us, and that therefore the anguish which wrings our hearts is absolutely necessary in some mysterious way for our highest good. I fear I have often thought lightly of others' trouble in the loss of so young a child; but now I know what it is. Does it not seem strange and sad, that this little house in a distant, lonely spot, no sooner becomes a home than it is baptized, as it were, with tears? No doubt there are bright and happy days in store for us yet, but these first ones here have been sadly darkened by this shadow of death. Inanimate things have such a terrible power to wound one: though everything which would remind me of Baby has been carefully removed and hidden away by F——'s orders, still now and then I come across some trifle belonging to him, and, as Miss Ingelow says—
"My old sorrow wakes and cries."
Our loss is one too common out here, I am told: infants born in Christchurch during the autumn very often die. Owing to the flatness of the site of the town, it is almost impossible to get a proper system of drainage; and the arrangements seem very bad, if you are to judge from the evil smells which are abroad in the evening. Children who are born on a station, or taken there as soon as possible, almost invariably thrive, but babies are very difficult to rear in the towns. If they get over the first year, they do well; and I cannot really call to mind a single sickly, or even delicate-looking child among the swarms which one sees everywhere.
I cannot say that I think colonial children prepossessing in either manners or appearance, in spite of their ruddy cheeks and sturdy limbs. Even quite little things are pert and independent, and give me the idea of being very much spoiled. When you reflect on the utter absence of any one who can really be called a nurse, this is not to be wondered at. The mothers are thoroughly domestic and devoted to their home duties, far more so than the generality of the same class at home. An English lady, with even an extremely moderate income, would look upon her colonial sister as very hard-worked indeed. The children cannot be entrusted entirely to the care of an ignorant girl, and the poor mother has them with her all day long; if she goes out to pay visits (the only recognized social duty here), she has to take the elder children with her, but this early introduction into society does not appear to polish the young visitors' manners in the least. There is not much rest at night for the mater-familias with the inevitable baby, and it is of course very difficult for her to be correcting small delinquents all day long; so they grow up with what manners nature gives them. There seems to me, however, to be a greater amount of real domestic happiness out here than at home: perhaps the want of places of public amusement may have something to do with this desirable state of affairs, but the homes seem to be thoroughly happy ones. A married man is an object of envy to his less fortunate brethren, and he appears anxious to show that he appreciates his good fortune. As for scandal, in the ordinary acceptation of the word, it is unknown; gossip there is in plenty, but it generally refers to each other's pecuniary arrangements or trifling peculiarities, and is all harmless enough. I really believe that the life most people lead here is as simple and innocent as can well be imagined. Each family is occupied in providing for its own little daily wants and cares, which supplies the mind and body with healthy and legitimate employment, and yet, as my experience tells me, they have plenty of leisure to do a kind turn for a neighbour. This is the bright side of colonial life, and there is more to be said in its praise; but the counterbalancing drawback is, that the people seem gradually to lose the sense of larger and wider interests; they have little time to keep pace with the general questions of the day, and anything like sympathy or intellectual appreciation is very rare. I meet accomplished people, but seldom well-read ones; there is also too much talk about money: "where the treasure is, there will the heart be also;" and the incessant financial discussions are wearisome, at least to me.
Letter X: Our station home.
Broomielaw, July 1866. We are now in mid-winter, and a more delicious season cannot well be imagined; the early mornings and evenings and the nights are very cold, but the hours from 10 A.M. till 5 P.M. are exquisitely bright, and quite warm. We are glad of a fire at breakfast, which is tolerably early, but we let it out and never think of relighting it until dark. Above all, it is calm: I congratulate myself daily on the stillness of the atmosphere, but F—— laughs and says, "Wait until the spring." I bask all day in the verandah, carrying my books and work there soon after breakfast; as soon as the sun goes down, however, it becomes very cold. In an English house you would hardly feel it, but with only one plank an inch thick, a lining-board and canvas and paper, between you and a hard frost, a good fire is wanted. We burn coal found twelve miles from this; it is not very good, being only what is called "lignite." I don't know if that conveys to you a distinct impression of what it really is. I should say it was a better sort of turf: it smoulders just in the same way, and if not disturbed will remain many hours alight; it requires a log of dry wood with it to make a really good blaze. Fuel is most difficult to get here, and very expensive, as we have no available "bush" on the Run; so we have first to take out a licence for cutting wood in the Government bush, then to employ men to cut it, and hire a drayman who possesses a team of bullocks and a dray of his own, to fetch it to us: he can only take two journeys a day, as he has four miles to travel each way, so that by the time the wood is stacked it costs us at least thirty shillings a cord, and then there is the labour of sawing and cutting it up. The coal costs us one pound a ton at the mouth of the pit, and the carriage exactly doubles its price; besides which it is impossible to get more, than a small quantity at a time, on account of the effect of the atmosphere on it. Exposure to the air causes it to crumble into dust, and although we keep our supply in a little shed for the purpose, it is wasted to the extent of at least a quarter of each load. We are unusually unfortunate in the matter of firing; most stations have a bush near to the homestead, or greater facilities for draying than we possess.
You tell me to describe my little house to you, so I must try to make you see it, only prefacing my attempt by warning you not to be disgusted or disappointed at any shortcomings. The house has not been built in a pretty situation, as many other things had to be considered before a picturesque site: first it was necessary to build on a flat (as the valleys here are called), not too far off the main track, on account of having to make the road to it ourselves; the next thing to be thought of was shelter from the north-west wind; then the soil must be fit for a garden, and a good creek, or brook, which would not go dry in the summer, close at hand. At present, everything out of doors is so unfinished that the place looks rather desolate, and it will be some years before our plantations can attain a respectable size, even allowing for the rapid growth in this climate. The first step is to obtain shelter from our enemy the "nor'-wester," and for this purpose we have planted quantities of broom in all directions; even the large beds for vegetables in the garden have a hedge of Cape broom on the exposed side; fortunately, the broom grows very quickly in spite of the wind, and attains to a luxuriant beauty rarely seen in England. We have put in many other trees, such as oaks, maples, etc., but not one is higher than this table, except a few poplars; the ground immediately outside the house has been dug up, and is awaiting the spring to be sown with English grass; we have no attempt at a flower-garden yet, but have devoted our energies to the vegetable one,—putting in fruit trees, preparing strawberry and asparagus beds, and other useful things. Out of doors matters would not even be as far advanced towards a garden and plantation as they are if we had commenced operations ourselves, but the ground has been worked since last year. I am glad we have chosen to build our house here instead of at the homestead two miles off; for I like to be removed from the immediate neighbourhood of all the work of the station, especially from that of the "gallows,"—a high wooden frame from which the carcases of the butchered sheep dangle; under the present arrangement the shepherd brings us over our mutton as we want it.
Inside the house everything is comfortable and pretty, and, above all things, looks thoroughly home-like. Out of the verandah you pass through a little hall hung with whips and sticks, spurs and hats, and with a bookcase full of novels at one end of it, into a dining-room, large enough for us, with more books in every available corner, the prints you know so well on the walls, and a trophy of Indian swords and hunting-spears over the fireplace: this leads into the drawing-room, a bright, cheery little room—more books and pictures, and a writing-table in the "horiel." In that tall, white, classical-shaped vase of Minton's which you helped me to choose is the most beautiful bouquet, made entirely of ferns; it is a constant object for my walks up the gullies, exploring little patches of bush to search for the ferns, which grow abundantly under their shelter by the creek. I have a small but comfortable bedroom, and there is a little dressing-room for F—— and the tiniest spare room you ever saw; it really is not bigger than the cabin of a ship. I think the kitchen is the chief glory of the house, boasting a "Leamington range" a luxury quite unknown in these parts, where all the cooking is done on an American stove,—a very good thing in its way, but requiring to be constantly attended to. There is a good-sized storeroom, in which F—— has just finished putting me up some cupboards, and a servants' room. It is not a palace is it? But it is quite large enough to hold a great deal of happiness. Outside, the premises are still more diminutive; a little wash-house stands near the kitchen door, and further up the enclosure is a stable, and a small room next it for saddles, and a fowl-house and pig-stye, and a coal-shed. Now you know everything about my surroundings; but—there is always a but in everything—I have one great grievance, and I hope you will appreciate its magnitude.
It was impossible for F—— to come up here when the house was first commenced, and the wretch of a builder deliberately put the drawing-and dining-room fireplaces in the corner, right up against the partition wall, of course utterly destroying the comfort as well as the symmetry of the rooms. I am convinced some economy of bricks is at the bottom of this arrangement, especially as the house was built by contract; but the builder pretends to be surprised that I don't admire it, and says, "Why, it's so oncommon, mum!" I assure you, when I first saw the ridiculous appearance of the drawing-room pier-glass in the corner, I should liked to have screamed out at the builder (like the Queen in "Alice in Wonderland"), "Cut off his head!"
When we were packing up the things to come here, our friends expressed their astonishment at our taking so many of the little elegancies of life, such as drawing-room ornaments, pictures, etc. Now it is a great mistake not to bring such things, at all events a few of them, for they are not to be bought here, and they give the new home a certain likeness to the old one which is always delightful. I do not advise people to make large purchases of elegancies for a colonial life, but a few pretty little trifles will greatly improve the look of even a New Zealand up-country drawing-room.
You have asked me also about our wardrobes. Gentlemen wear just what they would on a Scotch or English farm; in summer they require perhaps a lighter hat, and long rides are always taken in boots and breeches. A lady wears exactly what would be suitable in the country in England, except that I should advise her to eschew muslin; the country outside the home paddock is too rough for thin material; she also wants thick boots if she is a good walker, and I find nails or little screws in the soles a great help for hill-walking. A hat is my only difficulty: you really want a shady hat for a protection against the sun, but there are very few days in the year on which you can ride in anything but a close, small hat, with hardly any brim at all, and even this must have capabilities of being firmly fastened on the head. My nice, wide-brimmed Leghorn hangs idly in the hall: there is hardly a morning still enough to induce me to put it on even to go and feed my chickens or potter about the garden. This being winter, I live in a short linsey dress, which is just right as to warmth, and not heavy. It is a mistake to bring too much: a year's supply will be quite enough; fresh material can easily be procured in Christchurch or any of the large towns, or sent out by friends. I find my sewing-machine the greatest possible comfort, and as time passes on and my clothes need remodelling it will be still more use ful. Hitherto I have used it chiefly for my friends' benefit; whilst I was in town I constantly had little frocks brought to me to tuck, and here I employ it in making quilted cloth hats for my gentlemen neighbours.
Letter XI: Housekeeping, and other matters.
Broomielaw, September 1866. I am writing to you at the end of a fortnight of very hard work, for I have just gone through my first experience in changing servants; those I brought up with me four months ago were nice, tidy girls and as a natural consequence of these attractive qualities they have both left me to be married. I sent them down to Christchurch in the dray, and made arrangements for two more servants to return in the same conveyance at the end of a week. In the meantime we had to do everything for ourselves, and on the whole we found this picnic life great fun. The household consists, besides F—— and me, of a cadet, as they are called—he is a clergyman's son learning sheep-farming under our auspices—and a boy who milks the cows and does odd jobs out of doors. We were all equally ignorant of practical cookery, so the chief responsibility rested on my shoulders, and cost me some very anxious moments, I assure you, for a cookery-book is after all but a broken reed to lean on in a real emergency; it starts by assuming that its unhappy student possesses a knowledge of at least the rudiments of the art, whereas it ought not to disdain to tell you whether the water in which potatoes are to be boiled should be hot or cold. I must confess that some of my earliest efforts were both curious and nasty, but E ate my numerous failures with the greatest good-humour; the only thing at which he made a wry face was some soup into which a large lump of washing-soda had mysteriously conveyed itself; and I also had to undergo a good deal of "chaff" about my first omelette, which was of the size and consistency of a roly-poly pudding. Next to these failures I think the bread was my greatest misfortune; it went wrong from the first. One night I had prepared the tin dish full of flour, made a hole in the midst of the soft white heap, and was about to pour in a cupful of yeast to be mixed with warm water (you see I know all about it in theory), when a sudden panic seized me, and I was afraid to draw the cork of the large champagne bottle full of yeast, which appeared to be very much "up." In this dilemma I went for F——. You must know that he possesses such extraordinary and revolutionary theories on the subject of cooking, that I am obliged to banish him from the kitchen altogether, but on this occasion I thought I should be glad of his assistance. He came with the greatest alacrity; assured me he knew all about it, seized the big bottle, shook it violently, and twitched out the cork: there was a report like a pistol-shot, and all my beautiful yeast flew up to the ceiling of the kitchen, descending in a shower on my head; and F—— turned the bottle upside down over the flour, emptying the dregs of the hops and potatoes into my unfortunate bread. However, I did not despair, but mixed it up according to the directions given, and placed it on the stove; but, as it turned out, in too warm a situation, for when I went early the next morning to look at it, I found a very dry and crusty mass. Still, nothing daunted, I persevered in the attempt, added more flour and water, and finally made it up into loaves, which I deposited in the oven. That bread never baked! I tried it with a knife in the orthodox manner, always to find that it was raw inside. The crust gradually became several inches thick, but the inside remained damp, and turned quite black at last; I baked it until midnight, and then I gave it up and retired to bed in deep disgust. I had no more yeast and could not try again, so we lived on biscuits and potatoes till the dray returned at the end of the week, bringing, however, only one servant. Owing to some confusion in the drayman's arrangements, the cook had been left behind, and "Meary," the new arrival, professed her willingness to supply her place; but on trial being made of her abilities, she proved to be quite as inexperienced as I was; and to each dish I proposed she should attempt, the unvarying answer was, "The missis did all that where I come from." During the first few days after her arrival her chief employment was examining the various knick-knacks about the drawing-room; in her own department she was greatly taken with the little cottage mangle. She mangled her own apron about twenty times a day, and after each attempt I found her contemplating it with her head on one side, and saying to herself, "'Deed, thin, it's as smooth as smooth; how iver does it do it?" A few days later the cook arrived. She is not all I could wish, being also Irish, and having the most extraordinary notions of the use, or rather the abuse, of the various kitchen implements: for instance, she will poke the fire with the toasting fork, and disregards my gentle hints about the poker; but at all events she can both roast mutton and bake bread. "Meary" has been induced to wash her face and braid up her beautiful hair, and now shines forth as a very pretty good-humoured girl. She is as clever and quick as possible, and will in time be a capital housemaid. She has taken it into her head that she would like to be a "first-rater," as she calls it, and works desperately hard in the prosecution of her new fancy.