New Zealand Now
6 — Questions Without Answers
Questions Without Answers
Children and fools ask more questions than old men and oracles can answer. But that is not always a reason why their mouths should be stopped. If enough fools had asked us fifty years ago why we were burning down our children's houses to make room for cows we might have had eight million acres more native forest, and not learnt yet how to spell erosion. For we can't plead the excuse of Bo-bo in Charles Lamb's dissertation on roast pig. Bo-bo burnt down the house every time the sow farrowed. But he did not start the first blaze to give himself a taste of crackling. He started it because he was a fool, a great lubberly boy who had not learnt the danger of playing with fire. And when his secret was discovered, and he was brought with his father to trial, he was acquitted because he had given his countrymen a new delight and delivered them from seventy thousand ages of eating their meat raw. We can perhaps plead ignorance for our first forest fire, and necessity for many of the fires that followed for page 76thirty or forty years, but what kind of a defence can we make for the millions of acres we have burnt or felled since 1890? Bo-bo went on burning because he had discovered that burning was good. We went on burning after it had been established that every fire was a theft from our children for countless generations, since some of the trees the flames destroyed had stood for a thousand years.
And who can tell us why we go on washing the ashes into the sea? Is it to prove that Britons never will be slaves—even to chemistry? It was reported recently from Russia that a famous agricultural chemist, with thirty of his colleagues, had been 'liquidated as a saboteur' because he insisted that the soil of Russia lacked nitrates although the politicians knew that what was missing was potash. But that is a story without a moral for us unless we are prepared to apply it. For the Russians at least take chemistry seriously. Do we? Has any New Zealander yet died in defence of the dung-cart? Is it not clear to anyone who looks down on the plains of Canterbury, say, that they will not go on forever producing lambs and wheat and wheat and lambs unless we put back what we are taking out? Do we require to be philosophers to know that if we ship away a hundredweight of frozen meat and bones every year it is just a confidence trick to pretend that we restore the balance if we give the soil two hundredweight of fertiliser in return which we have already stolen from it at some page 77other time? The Russian story may be a myth, although it is written in a book;* but it could never have been invented in a country that thinks Nature can be mocked. If a fool arose in our midst who insisted that excrement should be spelt with a capital E, would we laugh at him or listen to him?
Let us question the oracle a little further.
When Paul was about to be scourged in Jerusalem he resorted to magic. 'Civis Romanus sum,' he said to the centurion who stood by, and at once there was excitement and alarm. The centurion hurried to the captain, the captain hurried back to Paul, the scourgers disappeared, the captain hung about anxious and afraid. It was an outrage to bind a Roman citizen. To scourge him was an atrocious crime.
This was about 60 a.d., when Rome, though declining, was still strong. It is in fact clear that the privilege claimed by Paul would have been valueless if Rome at the time had been weak in Judaea; he had been scourged seven years earlier in Macedonia, and does not appear to have protested until afterwards, when he saw that the authorities were troubled. For Roman citizenship could be opportunist as well as devout. It could mean, and in Paul's day usually did mean, that he who invoked it did so for prudential page 78reasons. The Devil was sick, the Devil a saint would be. The citizen was in trouble, the citizen a Roman would be. It could have been in rare cases only that 'civis Romanus sunt' meant 'I am proud of Roman justice and of Roman virtue'. It would be rash to say that it meant as much as that to Paul. He remembered that he was a Roman when he was threatened, as a British, American, or German citizen remembers his nationality on foreign soil. And the value of the remembrance of course depends on the strength of the nation remembered. Nationals are as safe as their country is strong, as unsafe as it is weak. But there is a citizenship whose value is entirely independent of a nation's power to exact redress for injury, and that is the only kind that New Zealanders can possess in their own right; as, in present circumstances, it is the only kind remaining to Frenchmen, Danes, or Czecho-Slovakians. Citizenship is in fact not a good word for it, but it would be a good word if the thing itself were more real and more common. And we know what it means whatever we call it: love of country, with all that such a phrase implies—awareness of one's country, physically and spiritually; belief in it; pride in it; glad acceptance of it, though not necessarily of all it does or has done; loyalty to it; a desire to stand by and help it when calamity comes, even if it comes as a punishment for folly.
Before we ask how many citizens New Zealand has by that test we must consider what creates that page 79kind of citizenship. For although men are made to love as well as to mourn—and will love the strangest things, animate and inanimate—it is not at all clear that love for one's country has much to do with its beauty or ugliness, if there could be any standards by which such qualities could be measured. It has on the other hand a good deal to do with early and long association with some corner of that country as home, and in that respect our circumstances are far from favourable. To begin with, we are not old enough to have what are commonly called historical associations. Of those who have lived all their lives in New Zealand, as most of us now have, far fewer than half have lived here for fifty years. If there could be an average age of New Zealanders it might be about forty—certainly no higher than forty-five, and perhaps as low as thirty-five. But even if it were fifty-five there would be only one generation in most cases behind it, and it is very unlikely that there would be unbroken association with one place. We have no old homes, and relatively few homes that are even reasonably permanent. Wordsworth's observation on his dalesmen neighbours that many had 'a consciousness that the land they tilled had for more than five hundred years been possessed by men of the same name and blood' is almost incredible in New Zealand. Neither our land nor our houses nor our occupations nor our possessions pass normally from father to son. If we have homes of our own we page 80remember when we bought them, and if we possess land the chances are about one in three that it came to us by inheritance. Nor is the likelihood any greater that we shall retain it for the rest of our lives, even if we are not driven out by misfortune. For land in New Zealand is a commodity that we buy and sell as often as we see a chance of gain. We have no sense of perpetuity in the land itself or even in land tenure. What we call lease in perpetuity is in practice a lease that is perpetual only on one side. The land cannot be sold, but the right to occupy it can be, and almost invariably is. We are not so much farmers as dealers, producers who see a chance and move on. Not more than ten per cent of our farmers say 'Here I am, here I stay'; and some who do say it afterwards change their minds.
And just as there are few farms that have been in the possession of the same family since they were first occupied, so there are few buildings, public or private, that have been seen by three generations. A church here, a mission house there, a wattle-and-daub relic that has somehow escaped replacement, a school somewhere, a jail, an overlooked shop, an early stone barn. Not much more, and however romantic we are, not much more is yet possible. We built to begin with to keep out the weather, and we have not had the opportunity yet to build against time—if the human race will ever again attempt anything so futile. But although this leaves our consciences clear, it also page 81leaves our hearts and minds clear of all those emotions that long association usually implants. First Church in Dunedin perhaps, the Cathedral and old Provincial Chambers in Christchurch, Grafton Bridge in Auckland—these and a very few other things made by hands have mingled with our thoughts and become a part of our unconscious selves; but in general we have escaped contact with such ensnaring things and ended our first century heart-whole and mind-free.
Perhaps it is good, perhaps it is bad. The question here is: how far have we travelled yet towards nationhood, or to that emotion of nationhood that expresses itself in love of country? Do we know why Burns and Shakespeare and Scott and Wordsworth and Browning felt their hearts leap when they thought of England or Scotland? Or are we aliens still in the land that gave us birth, feeding our bodies from its soil, and preserving carefully disentangled minds? Is our citizenship opportunist or touched with emotion — landless, homeless, and rootless as we have so far been?
It follows, and must follow, from some of the facts glanced at in the preceding section that New Zealanders lack cohesion. If we are continually changing our homes—not only our houses but what Americans call our location—we are continually changing our neighbours. We come and we go, they come and page 82they go, whether we farm, or deal, or make boots, or teach, or preach, or help to run the railways or the post office. There is in fact an almost universal tendency in New Zealand to nod to every man we meet in a dining-room, or a tram, and every second man we meet in the street, in case we have once met him and forgotten him, or lived beside him, or travelled in the same bus or boat with him in some other town. Visitors to the Dominion have often remarked on our readiness to shake hands, the charitable among them attributing it to our kindness, the uppish to our lack of breeding. But they are both wrong. We just can't remember whom we know and whom we don't know, and like good bishops bless everybody. What they do in America to maintain the Revolution, and in Australia because the sun has entered their souls, we do in New Zealand because there is a limit to the number of sizes, shapes, colours, and contours the untutored mind can register accurately. Psychologists thought it remarkable during the last war — remarkable enough to get a place in their books—that a New Zealand soldier should have been able to repeat the number of every man in his platoon, the initials of every man in his company, and more regimental figures and facts than any head had ever carried before. It certainly was remarkable. But the psychologists did not know that he was only doing magnificently what every New Zealander has to be able to do fumblingly, or spend half his time writing page 83letters of apology. For we not only come and go. We go and return again, doubling on our tracks like foxes and hares, and half hoping and half fearing that when we go back from Greatdene to Littledene there will still be some familiar faces.
But none of this means that hospitality is growing warmer and richer. It means, on the contrary, that it is wearing thinner and becoming more casual. Hospitality is a flower that feels the wind. It flourishes among friends, and is most fragrant when cultivated by strangers, but the here-today-tomorrow-away heartiness of casual acquaintances soon kills it. Forty years ago it was an offence to pass a farm-house in an isolated locality without calling in. To-day you have to explain yourself—not merely because distance no longer means distress, or because you are within an hour's journey of a hotel, or look like a government inspector, or should know how many others have preceded you. There are many reasons why you should know better than to call, but one reason why your reception may be embarrassing if you do call is that the habit of hospitality is disappearing and being replaced by something more mechanical. Not so many months ago I was tramping with a companion on the East Coast of the North Island. The weather was bad, the road recently metalled, and by a miscalculation we found ourselves passing what our maps told us was the last house for fifteen miles, hungry and wet, and carrying heavy packs. With some hesitation we page 84decided both to ask for a meal and to offer to pay for it; but although payment was refused and the meal was provided it was a most embarrassing half-hour for everybody. What was given was given freely. There was no niggardliness, no stint. But why had we called? Surely we must have felt that it was an extraordinary thing to do? There were hotels these days, and if trampers chose to take these back roads, surely they carried tents and food? Yes, it was a long way to the next refreshment house, but still you came this way? Of course these things were not said. Almost nothing was said, and what did escape their lips was kind. They themselves were kind. They have probably given a bullock and two or three bales of wool recently to a patriotic society. But they had forgotten how to entertain strangers unawares. They were worried, almost alarmed, not because they suspected us, but because we had made such an extraordinary request in Hawke's Bay in 1939.
Or is it simply that we are retiring into ourselves with our decreasing need of one another? Two years ago you would travel from Land's End to John o' Groat's with an Englishman without discovering his name or his occupation or his tastes or his opinions or, if he had any, his needs. To-day you would be brothers. He needs you, or you need him, or may need him.. The great tribulation has come and the barriers are down. Fifty years ago we needed one another in New Zealand, or any day might. We were page 85hospitable. Have we lost the habit, or do we really mistrust strangers, being English after all?
Somewhere in his autobiography Sir William Orpen tells this story to illustrate the quality of Irish wit. Noticing that the horse drawing the cab he had hired was a bag of bones he remonstrated with the cabman:
'I am astonished to see an Irish cabman driving a horse like that. I thought the Irish prided themselves on their blood horses?'
'So we do,' the cabman said at once, 'and this is the bloodiest of the whole bloody lot.'
The real moral of the story of course is that an Irishman would sooner drive a crock of a horse than no horse at all. So, until twenty years ago, would a New Zealander. He would mount a horse to bring in the cows even if to catch it he had to walk farther than the paddock in which the cows were grazing. He felt that he lost caste if he drove sheep on a public road without at least leading a horse. He collected his mail by horse. He sat on a horse while he gossiped with a neighbour on the public highway or over the fence. Dr Johnson, it will be remembered, made very good use of a horse on his wedding day, teaching his Tetty a lesson which he had never again to repeat. But the cases are innumerable in our own brief history page 86of honeymoons spent on horses, of brides reduced to tears by the discomforts of the journey, and so thoroughly tamed by riding through flooded rivers that we never again hear of them. And now that the farmer and his wife have abandoned the horse, the flapper and her companion have hired it. In all our cities there are riding schools, not indeed for young ladies, but for sophisticated misses who want a new excitement. But among them there are many genuine lovers of animals. It may even be that they are driven back to the saddle by a deeper urge than they know—something as deep, however unconscious they may be of it, as the 'desire of the moth for the star'. It is certainly the case that man has been associated with, and generally deeply devoted to, the horse through thousands of years of history, and that even the Maori, though he had been separated from horses farther back in time than his legends carry him, no sooner met the horses brought to New Zealand by the pakeha than he became, and has remained, a centaur. It is difficult to believe that so sudden a passion followed a first encounter. And if we were turning back to horses before war again descended on us, may we not turn back afterwards with a deeper devotion as to 'something afar from the sphere of our sorrow'? For one of the few consolations of modern war, this madness of mechanics that is now on us, is that the only animal involved is homo sapiens. page 87We have thrown in our women and children but withdrawn our horses and dogs.
It is of course open to a cynic to ask if New Zealanders love horses or race-horses, and if they love the race as much as they love what happens before and afterwards. The answer is in the Dominion Museum. We have not yet put a horse into parliament, but we have brought* the bones of a horse from the other side of the world, jointed them again affectionately one by one, and set them up to speak to our children's children. It could in fact be argued that even our betting has been moralised—exalted into a kind of financial test of probability, and sometimes even of probity. It is certainly the case here, as Emerson just a hundred years ago found it to be in England, that we back our opinions with our money and accept the consequences without complaint. When we disagree violently enough about a fact, we challenge our opponent to put up his money. We seldom say simply 'You are wrong'. We say, 'I bet a pound you are wrong'; or ten pounds, or twenty. Members of the legislature challenge their critics to resign their seats and take a gamble on their chances of return. Philanthropists deposit cheques with referees, undertaking that the money will go to charity if they are proved to be foolish or ignorant or uncandid. If page 88betting has thus become a test of courage, of accuracy, of good intentions, and even of moral right and wrong, some credit must go to the horse.
But there are of course other animals. New Zealand feeds itself, clothes itself, shelters itself, and gives itself cakes and ale with animals. Five-sixths of our wealth comes from animals directly or indirectly, and the question is, can we say with the author of Proverbs that 'a righteous man regardeth the life of his beast', or must we cry in shame with Joel, 'How do the beasts groan'? We cannot conceal or deny the fact that we live, as farmers have lived from time immemorial, by murder and mutilation. If we thought that we would one day appear at the Judgment Seat (as the historian Froude dreamt that he did) to find it ringed about with the accusing faces of all the animals we had cut off in their prime, we would humble ourselves like Nebuchadnezzar and eat grass. But we do worse things to animals than cutting them off in their prime. We keep them alive just as long as we wish and for just as short a time as we wish, fattening some of them to kill them, holding others from slaughter to multiply as we, and not they, decide. We rob them of their young, drive them like slaves to work, or harry them ceaselessly from camp to camp, for as Professor Stapledon points out (in a book written after a visit to New Zealand), just as 'their resting-place has been trodden to familiar page 89design, just as homing becomes a delight and not a dread', we drive them out to some new terror.
Can we do all these things and go on doing them for generations without any mark on our characters? Is there something in the mind of an animal farmer that is not in the mind of a fruit farmer or a grower of grain; something in the New Zealand mind that is not in the mind of China, say, or of most of India? The answer is outside the scope of this survey, but if we were pursuing the subject further we should find a good deal in our surroundings to console us: the contentment of most of our farm animals most of the time; the fact that they fatten; the fact that if we did not use them as we do they would not exist at all; the fact that the worst things we do to them are modifications of what they do, or in a wild state would do, to one another; the enormous credit balance in human and animal happiness that our control of them so clearly leaves us. In other words, the biological compulsion on us to use them as we do brings a biological compensation that greatly outweighs its price. But it might be a useful research for our psychologists and students of education to consider what effects, if any, remain on country children's minds from experiences like these: the sale or slaughter of pet lambs; the forty-eight hours moaning of a cow for its stolen calf; the sight by day and sound by night, for three or four months on end, of truckload after truckload of lambs rolling on to the page 90freezing works; the sight and sound of pens of bobby calves waiting at a gateway for the butcher's lorry; dogs left for a week on the chain; dogs (very rarely now seen) doing boundary duty; lambs being tailed and unsexed; cattle being branded and dehorned; horses being docked.
Time, we know, heals most raw places. Use brings the necessary callosities. It has always been a little horrifying to English people that Amundsen reached the South Pole by eating his dogs; and not only by eating them, but by planning in advance to eat them. But Scott ate his ponies. So sheep-farming children who are horrified by the slaughter of a heifer look on calmly at the weekly killing of the sheep. What have they paid for that indifference? If sensitiveness dies, can sensitiveness also live? Or may we count on some such law of compensation as Nature has provided for the blind—an intensification of other sensibilities to balance those we have lost?
* I have discovered since this sentence was written that we did not send for the bones but had them sent to us by the American owner; which of course emphasises the point. He was so sure we would wish to possess them that he returned them as naturally and as spontaneously as the Duke of Portland returned the bones of Carbine to Melbourne.
Biologists know, and can sometimes say, how living things grow. They will even, occasionally, suggest why they grow—tell us about the 'life force' and 'biological urges' and the solemn mysteries of genes. But no biologist has yet told us why towns grow, though the reason is often hidden from economists and the consequences are often disastrous to politicians. page 91Was the biological urge of Palmerston North, for example, always stronger than the urge of Feilding, and would it have become the capital of the Manawatu even if the Gorge had not opened a way through to Hawke's Bay? The answer of Palmerston North itself to this question is not the answer you will get in Feilding, nor will Wanganui, if you go there, tell you the same story about New Plymouth as the people of New Plymouth will tell you. The case of Masterton is a little too obvious to justify questions, but they will not agree in Carterton and Greytown, Pahiatua, Woodville, or Dannevirke that there is nothing more to be said. Then we have the case of Hastings and Napier. Economics alone may explain the triumphs and tragedies of the Manawatu, Taranaki, and Wairarapa, but how is the challenge of Hastings to be explained economically, or Gisborne's continued non-belligerency in the presence of two fighting neighbours? Similar wakings and sleepings, retreats and sudden advances are as typical of the South Island as of the North Island and usually as difficult to explain. It is clear enough why Nelson and Blenheim have slept in beauty together without strife, but it is not wholly clear why Timaru has made a small town of Oamaru, Rangiora a township of Kaiapoi, Gore a village of Mataura. If biologists say that towns as such have no genes we must accept what they say, but without the aid of genetics it is a little difficult to fit economic theories to some of those very human facts.page 92
And if we could explain the biological mystery, we would still not know what lay back of the mystery. We know that the kauri towers above the beech, the beech above manuka, and manuka above tauhinu, and always will; but we don't know why. For the explanation biologists give us leaves everything unanswered. 'Dogs delight to bark and bite, for God hath made them so'. It is the nature of the kauri to soar, but when is it the nature of a town to wake up after a long sleep, or to pine and droop after a long advance? New Zealand clearly has too many towns. It is everywhere agreed that it would be more efficient and more economical to have fewer small areas under separate control. But even if some towns could join their neighbours and others disappear there would be one serious problem remaining: how to stop the towns, big and little alike, from stealing the brains of the country. For that theft goes steadily on. With a few exceptions every farmer's boy who does well at school leaves the country: every young man or young woman who takes a university degree; every bright boy who wants to 'see the world'; very many specially alert girls; nearly all first-class artisans, teachers, musicians, engineers, accountants. From the beginning of the year to the end the procession never stops; and the consequences are cumulative. The agricultural colleges are throwing some weight back into the scale. A little more is thrown at intervals by the rare individuals of high intelligence who turn back page 93home from the professions. Much is contributed by the boys and girls who are too intelligent ever to leave. But none of these groups, nor all of them combined, make up for the annual loss. The country is getting steadily squeezed. It is paying tribute to the towns under a pressure that it seems impotent to control. It is paying far more than it can afford—treating itself as it would never treat its machines or its animals or, knowingly, its soil. It demands, and gets, free or reduced freight for fertiliser. When will it demand its children back, its blood and its brains?
Public Servant.—If he had gone into politics he would have ended on the Treasury benches; perhaps in the centre seat. Instead he went into administration. He is a public servant, so capable that it is difficult to understand why business did not steal him, so loyal that you will never discover his party. Perhaps he has no party; perhaps the people are his party, the State, all parliaments that try to do what they were elected to do, all governments that govern and don't fumble. You will never know. He is a public servant, and public servants keep their mouths shut. They hear everything and say nothing—not through fear of the consequences, because in New Zealand to-day public servants are also citizens, but because discretion is their job and their tradition. In his case public service is not page 94merely his job but his vocation and his life. Although you wonder why he has been allowed to remain, you cannot imagine who could tempt him away or in what other world he could live. Because he does live. He does not just work and draw his salary. His salary is in fact not big. By commercial standards it is absurdly small. But if it were 50 per cent higher or 20 per cent lower you would still not think of it as a rod by which to measure him. Neither would he. He eats and drinks and wears out clothes and pays interest and rent like other people, but if you offered him the choice between riches and his job, he would retain the keys of his office. Idleness would be misery to him, independence meaningless. Independence of what, he would ask you, and go back to his work without waiting for your answer. But don't suppose that work for him means dictating letters and signing them, interviewing ministers or other high officials, directing a staff, thinking a little and planning a little and nothing else. It means all those things and nearly everything else that you can imagine an able, well-educated, and well-read New Zealand Irishman doing who lives near to the government and to all the other enterprising people, professional and lay, who hover about governments. He could do well in the courts as a barrister; he could edit a newspaper; he could represent New Zealand in a foreign capital; he could write a sensational book of personal and political memoirs; he could organise a health campaign, page 95conduct a race-meeting, pick a team for the Olympic Games. And because he is all these things and many more—a student of New Zealand literature, a cyclopaedia of New Zealand sport, an admirer of good printing, and the radiator of good-fellowship—his days are as full as days can usefully be if busy-ness is not to be muddle. There is no muddle and there is no irrelevance. Everything that he does, nearly everything that he reads, and most of the things he says and makes others say, are grist for the official mill, which is never forgotten, and can't be, since he and it are one. For we end where we began. He is a public servant. With his energy, ability, and bold imagination, he could have had half a dozen careers and made half a dozen reputations. But he entered the public service. He remained in the public service. He is the public service, in the sense that he is the perfect answer to those who fear bureaucracy and the dismay of those who love it.
To call him representative would be rash. To forget that he is here, that Westland bred him, Wellington educated him, the public service developed him, and government after government has used him, would be what shepherds call keeping a dog and doing our own barking. But if democracy gets the rulers it deserves, how did we qualify for him?
Teacher.—There is a legend that our schools seventy years ago were places of violence and terror, and that page 96the only teacher our grandparents knew was the rod. But it is doubtful if the rod was ever so potent, so feared, or so long remembered as the moral precept. Most of us have forgotten our floggings, but we do not forget our moral alarms. We wrote morality in our copy-books. We read it on school and bedroom walls. We got it in church and Sunday-school. We might even, if we were lucky, get it to eat. It is certainly the case that confectioners and pastry-cooks knew how to serve it up in sugar, so that the reward of virtue might be a 'conversation' lolly carrying a text, or a biscuit endorsed with the Lord's Prayer.* School was of course a place of terror when the two methods were combined, and automatic. The teacher who hit at sight and nagged without ceasing was emotionally and probably mentally deranged, but some apparently relentless task-drivers were just missionaries eaten up with zeal. There was never a more humble, devout, self-tormenting teacher in New Zealand than John Stenhouse of Lawrence, but when he entered a class room he looked so grim that frivolity went out like a candle. I like to think, however, that he yielded to one temptation—that what first interested him in New Zealand was gold, and that what brought him to his tremendous decision to emigrate was a page 97sudden attack of gold fever. No one will ever know. What we do know is that he arrived in Dunedin when the gold fever was at its height and was caught in the rush that was carrying everybody to Gabriel's Gully. There he stopped, and there he stayed, and there seventy-seven years later he stays still; but when the administrative history of New Zealand is written his shadow will lie heavy on the second half century.
Farmer.—I could not get him to agree that his position was unusual or unfortunate. If he was poor after fifty years of work and worry that was the fate of farmers; and had to be. Farming was a calling and not a job; a privileged calling. For obviously the farming population was always limited. You couldn't page 100increase the number of acres. You could only subdivide them further or make a further use of some that you now neglected. The number of farmers of all kinds was only one in ten of the total population, and it was his firm conviction that it would never be much more. For it was just madness to go about urging a return to the land. The land was not short of farmers: farmers were short of land. And as time went on science would intensify the problem. Two men would produce what three produced now, with less effort, and at a lower cost to the consumer. In the meantime farming was tough. Whether you kept cows or pigs, sheep, bees, or hens, whether you drove a tractor or swung a shovel and a hoe, you would not find it easy to increase your holding, to balance your budget, to bath and shave every day, read the newspaper regularly, get bankers to take off their hats to you, or go to bed with the birds. And if you were ever so cranky as to get mixed up in politics you would put your neck in a noose and the loose end of the rope into the hands of your enemies.
For every man was your enemy (he went on after a pause) who thought he understood you and didn't. The people in the towns thought that farmers lay awake at nights listening to the wheat falling out of the ears in a nor' wester. They did not realise that if farmers worried over the things God did to them they would go mad. They worried over the things they did to themselves, the things they should have done and page 101didn't—the broken gate when they heard the horses in the garden, the sheep they had not put into the shed when they heard rain on the roof during shearing, the stacks they had not weighted against the wind, the creeks they had not cleaned before the floods came, the cows they had not culled, the bulls they had used, and the rams they had felt too poor to feed to the dogs. Farming was like war or navigation—you did what you could, but if it ever happened that you had done all that you could your mind stayed above the battle.
And it was just preposterous nonsense to think that you could, or should, accumulate money. In fifty years (he smiled to think that this was his jubilee) he had made almost no progress at all. His graph had been horizontal for twenty years, risen sharply for three years, fallen again, risen once more and stayed high for five or six years, but now would stay flat to the end. Why should he worry? Farming had always been his choice as well as his fate. He had perhaps hoped when he began—he could hardly now remember—that he would make money quickly and retire; but if folly like that ever possessed him, it was as far away now as other adolescent absurdities we don't talk about. Every day of his life had been a happier day than if he had spent it in any other occupation. How could that be expressed in money?
And how (he threw out as a final challenge) would land ever be occupied and worked if his story was page 102not the common one? "Would his sons follow him unless they wanted to—to-day when they saw clerks and carpenters working five days a week and wandering off every week-end with girls? One of his sons probably would not follow him, or not follow him far, for wheels and cogs were his hobby, and this would never be a mechanised farm. The other had been so glad to leave school that the farm already had him; but to encourage him he had given him some stud ewes. The reward of farming was farming, interest in the crops and stock, and joy in the job. But where was the hardship? Only a certain number of farmers were required. Only a certain amount of land was available for profitable production. Only a certain amount could ever be paid by the consumer for his bread and milk and butter and meat and cheese. The farmer could not have it both ways. If he chose the joys of farming he had no right to the compensation paid to those sentenced by fate to unnatural lives.
I looked up to see if he was laughing. He was quite serious. But he laughed when I asked how many votes he would get if he stood for parliament. Then he asked me: How many eggs would a hen lay if she knew what was in an omelette?
Policeman.—Partly because he was big and strong, and partly because he was Irish; partly because his initials were P. C.; partly because he had always been respectable; partly because society in twenty-six page 103years had found nothing better for him to do than shearing, swagging, harvesting, and ditching, he wrote a letter one day asking to be taken into the Police Force. But that was forty years ago. They took him in, they kept him in, and now with something like real sorrow they were letting him out again. The mayor sat on one side of him, the old doctor on the other side. Half the town was packed in the hall in front of him. It was good-bye. But as one after another rose to praise him his face cried out for mercy. He had arrested them, he had prosecuted them, he had broken up their parties, spied on them, collected evidence against them, warned them, threatened them; once or twice, to save them from something worse, used physical violence against them—and there they all sat smiling and clapping and thumping their feet and shouting the most fervent 'hear-hears'. And then suddenly the last speaker sat down, the clapping was over, and he was himself on his feet—trembling, speechless, and all at once crying. The doctor, who was equal to most emergencies, was a moment too late with the 'jolly good fellow' chorus, and before we reached the cheering the Sergeant was back in his chair sobbing helplessly.
That was five years ago. To-day he is seventy-one—lonely because he has outlived his wife and his daughter, shy because it was only the official part of him that was ever confident, courteous because there was never any rudeness in him from birth, and compage 104pletely bewildered because people go on smiling at him, seeking his company, dragging him into their offices and homes, and running after him if they catch a glimpse of him in another town.
I think it was Thoreau who said that the occasional failures of rich men restored his faith in God. When I find it necessary to bolster up my faith in ordinary men I think of Sergeant C.— never smart enough, or pushing enough, or confident enough to rise, or wish to rise higher, but so kind, so sincere, so modest, so helpful that he became a kind of touchstone of decency for a whole community, and yet remained so efficient that the town for twenty years was under-policed. If he did not smile at you, you began to wonder what you had done. If he did smile it was such a shy smile, so humble, and yet so warm, that you wanted to run after him and shake his hand. But in place of the smile there could be a pained and anxious look, and then you knew that you were a transgressor—that you had been driving furiously, or cycling without a light, or emerging too often after hours, or working on Anzac Day to the scandal of your neighbours, or beating your wife, or neglecting to clean your chimney. And you wondered how he knew—as a boy wonders how his father knows about the stolen apples or the secret cigarette. Fathers do know, and Sergeant C. knew. Having no son of his own he had adopted the whole community, and through all the years of my acquaintance with him page 105our welfare was his first concern. I am sure that he was always a most punctilious filler-in of forms, an officer without black marks. It would follow from the simplicity of him, the modesty, and the loyalty. Who was he to disobey orders, any order, whoever gave it? But I am equally sure that he did none of those things to please his superiors or to gain promotion, although it was his nature to please everybody if he could. But duty came before pleasure, and the welfare of the two or three thousand people for whose public conduct he felt himself responsible came before any thought of the consequences to himself. For he was not one of those guardians of the law who think that they guard it best by exposing and punishing every breach. If you ended in Court you were incorrigible. You would have been warned. Long before you were warned you would have been advised. Long before that, probably, you would have been made to feel off-side. There must be scores of men, and even a few women, in that district to-day who never read the Court news without realising that they had kept out of the dock by the grace of God and Sergeant C. For it is the nature of man to err; especially in youth; especially in country towns. It is his nature to pass through stages of insolence, of rowdiness, of exhibitionism, of animalism; to mock at reproof, and to play the petty gangster. It is his nature as he grows older to contract debts, to incur and then neglect social obligations, to abuse privileges, page 106to lose his temper, develop dangerous appetites, quarrel with his neighbours, ill-use his animals, travel too fast, light unauthorised fires, let his dogs stray, or his sheep, or his cattle, or his affections, or his tongue; and so for a hundred possible reasons any year, and almost any week, he becomes a subject of private annoyance or public complaint. If the Sergeant had been quick to mark iniquity, which of us would have stood; but he was our father and our friend. He was paid to guard the law, and he conscientiously earned his money. But he knew that a foolish farmer sleeping off his excesses in his own bed was a better proof of police efficiency than ten foolish fellows in Court; that a youth hurrying away with a flea in his ear was better justice than a Borstal sentence; that runaway girls and prodigal boys can be brought safely home again; and that a secret but genuine fright may be a better teacher than a public fine. But if nothing would stop us short of arrest, if we were fools, louts, ingrates, or deliberate outlaws, too stupid to learn or too insolent to listen, the smile would fade and the face suddenly fill with thunder. It was not Sergeant C. we were challenging then, but the law and the State—the decencies of life and all those who valued them. But when the storm passed no wrack of malice or meanness remained behind—unless of course you resisted still. For then you were a bad one, and with all his charity he had none to spare for rogues. What good man has?page 107
Soldier.—If you had met him in the street you would not have looked back. If you had been picked up by his car or had picked him up in yours you might have thought afterwards, if he returned to your mind at all, that modesty is still a fragrant flower. He never wore a face of destiny, or of mystery, or of impending great events. His closest friends detected, once they began to realise what was going on inside, that he was becoming a little quieter and occasionally abstracted and abrupt; but the moody and obsessed are always with us, and they assumed that his devil would die. He was a small-town lawyer within big-town range, and clients therefore could not be neglected. He had a wife and a young family, and life for him began at home. It is in fact certain that his wife and children were always half his story. The other half was conscience and romance. War was madness and had some day to be ended, but marching feet were music. A patrol moving off at dusk or dawn tightened his muscles and took all his words away. So drill was never tedious, routine never meaningless. When war broke out in 1914 he was only seventeen. His brother went away, but he had to wait two years. The day he reached the trenches in 1916 his brother was killed. A year later he was severely wounded himself. It was the end of one war for him, and the beginning of another. He returned to New Zealand convinced that the struggle was not over, and felt sick inside when he saw us throwing away our page 108rifles and our uniforms. He joined a territorial regiment, and endured in silence the taunts of the ignorant and the defection of the careless. No one was so ridiculous in those days, so derided and so despised, as the man who ventured out in uniform. At last the strength of the battalion was about half the normal strength of a company. Nothing was possible but shadow drill, carried out by skeleton units. But he did not give up. He held on to the few men who still paraded, and countered his own depression by reading and hard study. They would be wanted some day, all of them, and if the call came suddenly and there was no foundation to build on there would be a catastrophe. Long before Munich he was an authority on all the campaigns that have changed the world since Napoleon, and more familiar with Alexander, Caesar, Hannibal, and Scipio Africanus than most readers of war books are with Foch, Haig, and Joffre. Military history was a passion, but it was also a preparation, and when the day came that he had so long brooded over, he just put on his uniform and walked into camp. It is the opinion of some who knew him well that he ate better, slept better, and worked better every day afterwards. The conflict inside was over. The awakening outside had begun. Three days before he left Egypt for Greece he sent a friend this message: 'We have not wasted our time. We are ready. My men will do their whole duty. I need no other inspiration.'
* When I was seven or eight years old I stayed for a few days with a German-Norwegian family working on the goldfields. At night I slept in a bed recessed in the wall, and on the opposite wall was a huge white lolly—it still seems to me that it was as big as a saucer—carrying the Lord's Prayer in pink letters. The temptation was strong, and about the third night too strong, but although I was sure that God would punish me, I cannot now remember that He did.