Drawing by Judith Wolfe
She was fanning out photographic portraits … no, post cards … on my
constituency office table. I glanced at her face, admiring again how
handsome a woman she was even at her possibly fifty years.
- I ran my gaze swiftly across the glossy rectangles, let a reaching hand
fall, felt cheeks tinge. Each image was of a girl, Maori or Polynesian,
naked or wearing some stark native garment suggestive of youthful flesh
beneath. I pushed back my chair. "What is it you're asking of me?" I
- Mrs Clapshaw smiled. "As a man, nothing I'm sure you have no interest in
such as these." Ah. My heart raced the less. "And as a politician,
nothing, not even when you may become a minister of Prime Minister
again. Laws cannot uproot those desires!"
- "Indeed." I was wary still.
- "But, Sir George, I think that you will perfectly understand when I say
that these," tapping with sturdy forefinger, "are the saddest victims of
- "Mere children," I agreed, eying without touching, "among the too many
whom our pernicious laws allow unprincipled greed to …. "
- She was smiling directly at me. I silenced that rhetorical vehemence
which an unwary moment might encourage.
- She said, "I must interest myself only in girls. The mothers of none of
these may lift a voice among legislators."
- I wondered if any of these youngsters' fathers even might be entitled to
do so. In the same instant I was chastening myself for such literalism
whilst resigning myself to castigation for my Parliamentary fumblings on
the female franchise.
- She merely said, "I am newly back from a visit to America. I see arising
a great movement among women to safeguard themselves and their children
from the evil effects of too liberal a capitalism. But also to remedy
the powerlessness of my sex to change that."
- "Ah, an advocacy of votes for women," I said.
- "And much else."
- "And I shall support female franchise, Mrs -
- "Miss Clapshaw."
- She studied me shrewdly "I have no doubt of it." Apparently satisfied,
she gathered up the cards, looked at the little stack in her hands,
hesitated before dropping it into her bag. "Thank you for listening."
- And after a tiny pause in a more sociable tone, "Sir George, you have a
house I gather, located on an island."
- "Kawau," I responded, a little surprised.
- "I wondered … I would so value your judgment. I know it is very forward
of me to ask, but you see, I have leased a property close to the beach
not so very far from North Head -"
- "On the Waitemata Harbour?"
- "Facing towards the Gulf. I am utterly unsure whether I would be wise to
buy it outright."
- "You wish me to view it?" Was that the purpose of this intriguing woman
here - to sound my practical judgement out? Oddly enough, I discovered
- "If you at all could find the time."
- "A pleasure," I felt able to respond.
- The house was but a cottage though upon quite spacious grounds, sited
well back from the narrow width of sand. It stood by itself, though
other houses could be seen through trees at a modest distance.
- "It is sound enough in construction," I reported.
- "And with space enough for me. I have few possessions. I have been
something of a traveller, and shall put my zeal into making a garden
rather than acquiring objects to take up space."
- "But the isolation?"
- "Surely an attraction?"
- A fortnight later a note arrive inviting me to an intimate house warming
to celebrate the attaining of her own New Zealand residence at last.
- It was a splendid Autumn day, the sun positively at Spring warmth. I
tied my horse to a bough beside the lane on a length of rope and strode
to the cottage, to find it was to be only Louisa Clapshaw and me in a
room looking out upon a light flecked sea, a commodious species of divan
beside us. She looked fine indeed in a deep green gown.
- This was a quite gratifyingly easy social encounter. It was only
gradually that I became aware that our eyes had grown watchful, our
conversation sprinkling with pauses, the panorama less enticing. Hands
stealthily approached, contacted. In some extraordinary way moment by
moment seemed with an intricate power to be drawing us towards something
I thought unguessable. And then with astonishing abruptness a helter-skelter of
appal, delight, trepidation and we were at a disposing of garments, and
bodies were thriving together in a sun lit brilliancy. Vividly an
impression of riffling through the shameful postcards startled into my
mind … and I was beyond troublings about span of years, so long
abstinence from the interrogation of the flesh. Silently she afterwards
ran a gentle finger across the scar of my youth's hip wound.
- "Have you crossed anew your Mangatawhiri, Sir George?" she murmured into
- "A Rubicon," I lightly rejoined, unwilling to ask what she meant.
- Only as we sat to the high tea did it occur to me that someone might by
chance have passed by the window or come knocking at the door or in some
neighbour residence eyes this moment be noting the length of my stay. I
hid sharp unease behind the cream sponge and sugar tongs.
"I depend upon your returning soon, Sir George," was her farewell.
- "If I can."
- Sat in my office I knew the sense and decency of keeping a distance from
this astonishing woman. Yet her next note spoke of storms assailing the
cottage and turbulence of fears and loneliness.
The seascape window was curtained against brisk wind. There was no chill
in the room. Yet even as we gripped each other, I shivered … and for all
that was pout-breast proud.
- I could perceive in meeting others no eye deprecating nor hectoring, no
whisperings nor eyebrows peaking derision.
- Yet on an afternoon I had to say it aloud, "I cannot take you with me to
visit Kawau, Louisa,"
- "I am contented here."
- On another occasion, "I have a wife, Louisa, she lives in England.
- "Quite so." She did not shift from me.
- In my office and about my work among no matter how many people I was
solitary, bereft. The sea beyond the windows and the elegance of
Rangitoto and the sea current curves between blazed within my vision.
- On a day cloudy but fit for the beach, we dressed each other carefully
and went out to the gravel path. Within a few paces I was almost
thumping into a young man at a trimming of shrubbery.
- I dropped her arm, stepped back.
- "My son, Alex."
- A son? And this day so nearby? But … ?
- A huge wheeling distress of rage staggered me, drove me in gasping
strides down towards the sand.
- "You are shocked?" or some such drawing room quizzing she may have
called after me.
- Every thought was fragmenting. I knew no more than that I must keep on,
on, on, on, whilst exacerbated senses persisted in noting how greenish
waves pleated, red billed gulls screeched, sand glistened in
cloud-breaking shafts of brilliance - yes yes postcard scenes sans
solemn rock perch bare limb girls.