Entry from the Urewera notebook of Katherine Mansfield, dated November, 1907
Kaingaroa (Uriwera) Plain. “November, 1907.
“On the journey, the sea was most beautiful, a silver point etching and a pale sun breaking through pearl clouds.page 286
“There is something inexpressibly charming to me in railway travelling. I lean out of the window, the breeze blows, buffeting and friendly against my face, and the child spirit, hidden away under a hundred and one grey city wrappings, bursts its bonds and exults within me. I watch the long succession of brown paddocks, beautiful, with here a thick spreading of buttercups, there a white sweetness of arum lilies, And there are valleys lit with the swaying light of broom blossom. In the distance, grey whares, two eyes and a mouth, with a bright petticoat frill of a garden creeping around them.
“On a white road once a procession of patient cattle wended their way, funeral wise—and behind them a boy rode on a brown horse. Something in the poise of his figure, in the strong sunburnt colour of his naked legs reminded me of Walt Whitman.
“Everywhere on the hills, great masses of charred logs, looking for all the world like strange, fantastic beasts: a yawning crocodile, a headless horse, a gigantic gosling, a watch dog—to be smiled at and scorned in the daylight—but a veritable nightmare in the darkness. And now and again the silver tree trunks, like a skeleton army, invade the hills.
“At Kaitoke the train stopped for “morning lunch,” the inevitable tea of the New Zealander. The F.T. and I paced the platform, peered into the long wooden saloon where a great counter was piled with ham sandwiches and cups and saucers, soda cake, and great billys of milk. We didn't want to eat, and walked to the end of the platform, and looked into the valley. Below us lay a shivering mass of white native blossom—a little tree touched with scarlet—a clump of toi-toi waving in the wind, and looking for all the world like a family of little girls drying their hair.
“Late in the afternoon we stopped at Jakesville. How we play inside the house while Life sits on the front door step and Death mounts guard at the back.
“After brief snatches of terribly unrefreshing sleep, I woke, and found the grey dawn slipping into the tent. page 287 I was hot and tired and full of discomfort—the frightful buzzing of mosquitos—the slow breathing of the others seemed to weigh upon my brain for a moment; and then I found that the air was alive with birds' song. From far and near they called and cried to each other. I got up and slipped through the little tent opening on to the wet grass. All around me the willow still full of gloomy shades—the caravan in the glade a ghost of itself—but across the clouded grey sky, the vivid streak of rose colour blazoned on the day. The grass was full of clover bloom. I caught up my dressing gown with both hands and ran down to the river—and the water flowed on, musically laughing, and the green willows suddenly stirred by the breathings of the dawning day, swung softly together. Then I forgot the tent and was happy….
“So we crept again through that frightful wire fence—which every time seemed to grow tighter and tighter, and walked along the white soft road. On one side the sky was filled with the sunset, vivid, clear yellow, and bronze green, and that incredible cloud shade of thick mauve.
“Round us in the darkness, the horses were moving softly, with a most eery sound. Visions of long dead Maoris, of forgotten battles and vanished feuds stirred in me, till I ran through the dark glade on to a bare hill. The track was very narrow and steep, and at the summit a little Maori whare was painted black against the wide sky. Before it two cabbage-trees stretched out phantom fingers, and a dog watching me coming up the hill barked madly. Then I saw the first star, very sweet and faint in the yellow sky, and then another and another, like little lilies—like primroses. And all around me in the gathering gloom the wood-hens called to each other with monotonous persistence—they seemed to be lost and suffering. I reached the whare, and a little Maori girl and three boys sprang from nowhere, and waved and beckoned. At the door a beautiful old Maori woman sat cuddling a cat. She wore a white handkerchief around her page 288 white hair, and a vivid green-and-black check rug wrapped around her body. Under the rug I caught a glimpse of a very full blue-print dress, worn native fashion, the skirt over the bodice.”