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Kaipara, or, Experiences of a settler in north New Zealand

Chapter VIII. — "The Terror."

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Chapter VIII.
"The Terror."

House hunting is not usually exciting sport, no matter how plentiful the game may be, and Cambridge I found very badly stocked. I travelled, I believe, over every inch of the scattered town, which has a population of about sixteen hundred, saw some places for sale, the prices asked being far beyond my purse, and inquired in almost every shop for houses to let, but without success.

I had almost given up in despair, when I struck what I thought was a good scent, which landed me in a shoemaker's shop, where I found the proprietor, a mild-looking, bald-headed little man, spectacled, and leather aproned, hammering away at a boot.

"I believe you have a small house to let?" I commenced.

"Well, I has and I hasn't!" the old man responded. "You see, I has a place, but it's page 51got a tenant, and she's a queer ‘un to deal with!"

"Well, you can't let your house twice over," I interrupted rather shortly, thinking the old fellow was making fun of me; "so there is an end to the matter!"

"Hold on a bit!" returned the patriarch. "I've given this here widder notice to quit, for I can't get no rent out of her, but lor! she don't care no more for notices than nothing at all! "

"But has she a lease?" I demanded.

"Lease indeed!" quoth the ancient one indignantly. "Cock her up with a lease! Why, she's only a weekly tenant, but, my word, she's a terror!"

"If she won't pay, there should be no difficulty in getting rid of her," I remarked.

"May be not! may be not!" he answered slowly, and in unconvinced tones; "but you don't know her. She's a terror! my word! she is a terror! But I tell you what," he continued, brightening up; " you go and say you heard she was going away, and you would like to see the place. I'll show you the way."

"Don't you think it would be better for you to see her yourself and arrange matters?" I queried.

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"Me see her!—me arrange matters with her!" he screamed; "catch me at it Me and the widder don't hit it at all, and she's a regler terror, she is. But you're all right though; she will be civil enough to you."

"Very well then," I reluctantly consented; and off we set for the abode of the formidable widow, and soon arrived before a little cottage with a piece of waste ground in front, shut off from the road by a hedge and a gate.

The shoemaker concealed himself behind the hedge, while I entered the gate and knocked at the cottage door, which was opened almost instantaneously by a tall, hard-featured, middle-aged female in a widow's cap. The door opened direct into the sitting-room, without the intervention; of a hall or passage, and I was undoubtedly face to face with "the terror" herself. Fully sensible of my position, I raised my hat, and addressed her as follows:—

"I must ask pardon for my intrusion, but hearing that your were about to change your residence, I" —

"Change my ressidence! And may I make so bold as to hask who informed you I was going to change my res-si-dence?" she interrupted, tossing her head, and scornfully eyeing me.

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"I understood so from your landlord this morning," I meekly responded.

"Oh! you did, did yer! Well, you can tell that bald-headed, goggling, mean little humbug of a cobbler that he's labouring under a miscomprehension!" With that the awful female banged the door in my face, and thus brought to an end my house-hunting in Cambridge. No sign of the cobbler could I see — he had evidently overheard "the terror's" concluding words and bolted.

I went back to my hotel dejected and out of spirits. On entering the reading-room, I found two gentlemen installed there—evidently new arrivals—who were smoking cigarettes and perusing newspapers. The younger one, a man of about thirty-five years of age, with a full beard and moustache, shortly after my entrance handed me the paper he had been studying, saying, "Perhaps you would like to see the Auckland Star, just arrived by the evening train."

I thanked him, and ran my eye over its columns. I did not take much interest in the New Zealand papers at that time, so was easily satisfied, and passed the paper on to the other occupant of the room, an elderly gentleman page 54with a jovial countenance, whom the younger addressed as Doctor.

Acquaintances are soon made in New Zealand hotels, and in a very short time we were all three chatting as though we had known one another for months.

"Not long out from home?" questioned the bearded gentleman.

"Only landed in Auckland on the third of July," I responded.

"What do you think of the colony?" was the next question.

"Well, I hardly like to express an opinion yet, but I certainly am not favourably impressed with the part I have just come from," I rejoined, naming the locality, "and feel half inclined to go back to the old country."

"Your disappointment does not surprise me," returned my companion. "By Jove, sir, the way land companies and the banks have caused this part of the colony to be puffed up, has done more harm to New Zealand than anything else. I would not live here if they gave me a house. You can't go out without being choked with dust when the weather's dry, and there is positively nothing attractive in the whole place. Now, where I live, it is altogether different.

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Beautiful country! virgin forests! an inland sea alive with fish—nice society—fishing, shooting, pig hunting, sailing—everything a man can wish for. It's a grand country—a grand country, sir. Ah! that is a place worth living in; but this—bah!" Here he paused to relight his cigarette, which in his enthusiasm he had allowed to go out.

Seizing the opportunity, I exclaimed—" I have no doubt it is all you describe, but I am a civil engineer, possessing very limited means, and anxious to get work, so fear it would never do for me."

"Never do for you—why not?" resumed my hairy interlocutor. "Far better chance of getting occupation there than you'll ever have here. Just where your chance lies. County Council got no proper engineer—you on the spot—make your application—produce your testimonials, and the thing's done. Tell you what—I am going up there in about a fortnight; you come up with me. I'll put you up and show you the country. Know a property that will just suit you—lovely place—dirt cheap, sir! Good house—orchards —beautiful views—grand, sir—grand!"

"What is the district called, and how far is it from Auckland?" I questioned.

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"The Kaipara—the Eden of the north island, sir! and not more than ninety miles from Auckland—thirty by rail and sixty by steamer," replied my new acquaintance. "Delightful trip the water part. Don't think much of the rail-way part—never did like the railway—have too much of it perhaps—wretched accommodation —jerked and bumped nearly to death. Give me the water!" he proceeded enthusiastically. "Ah! when you've seen the Kaipara, you'll say it's lovely; I know you will. Take my advice, and come up with me!"

I thanked him for his kind offer, which I promised to take into serious consideration, and writing my Auckland address on my card, I asked him to call when he reached town, and I would then be prepared with an answer. He promised to do so, and at that moment the first bell ringing from the dining-room, warned us to. get ready for the evening meal.

Having no further business to transact in Cambridge, I took the first train on the following morning for Auckland, which I reached in due course, and spent the evening detailing my adventures to my wife, and in consultation with her as to the best course for us to pursue. It seemed evident we must give up, at any rate for page 57a time, the idea with which we left England, and it was equally clear that in order to live within my income I must buy a place with the few loose hundreds I had brought out, where I could keep a cow or two, and save rent, milk, and butter. I decided, therefore, to look at places that were for sale about Auckland so as to help me to come to a decision before my friend of the Cambridge hotel put in an appearance.

I had looked over one property at Cambridge, which comprised a six-roomed house, and eight acres of land. The house was in very bad condition—quite uninhabitable indeed; and for it and the eight acres I was asked one thousand pounds.

I saw several about Auckland, but could find nothing to suit me. My wife and I took a good many excursions together in this pursuit, but without avail. We also made some pleasure trips, one of which was to Mount Eden, lying directly behind the city. An easy ascent of between three and four hundred feet brought us to the lip of the crater, from which a magnificent view of the isthmus of Auckland and the surrounding country is to be obtained, the great number of volcanic cones visible forming a very page 58remarkable feature in the landscape. They are, I believe, over sixty in number, and range in height from three hundred to nine hundred feet. No tradition exists among the Maoris of any eruption in the neighbourhood, though the fact that the Maori name for the highest peak, Rangitoto, means sky of blood, seems to imply that it has been active within their time.

The inside of the crater of Mount Eden resembles a funnel or inverted cone covered with grass and plentifully strewn with lumps of scoria. It is very symmetrical in shape, and one would almost fancy it an artificial creation. There is indeed plenty of evidence of the work of human hands on Mount Eden in the shape of remains of Maori fortifications, though the natural and the artificial are so blended together and softened by time that it is difficult to say where the one ends and the other begins.

When we had satisfied our appetites for landscape scenery, we descended the Mount, and spent some time examining the neighbourhood in the vain hope of tumbling across a place to be sold that would suit us. We were much struck with the elegant timber villa residences, surrounded by spacious verandahs, about which page 59flowering creeping plants of various kinds, such as the yellow Banksian rose and the passion fruit with its splendid scarlet flower, climbed and hung in luxurious festoons. Some of the villas possessed gardens filled with beautiful flowers, including camelias, azaleas, spiræas, and many others only to be found in conservatories in England. Everywhere in the province of Auckland flowers of all kinds not only grow but flower most luxuriantly, and the lover of floriculture can indulge his hobby to the full.