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The Angel Isafrel: A Story of Prohibition in New Zealand

Chapter X. — The Night

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Chapter X.
The Night.

Over in Auckland the streets were full of life; the church bells pealed out their merry chimes, crowds thronged the path and roadway, but the police had made ample arrangements and there was no disorder. The drunken men had been promptly run in, and the friends of the traffic had shrunk before the burst of enthusiasm that the victory had called forth, so that the vast tide of human life that surged through the streets was moved by but one impulse. From time to time, as if by an epidemic of sympathy, the whole crowd burst into a storm of hurrahs, and it was this that rolling over the water had first fallen on the quickened ear of Isafrel, before the guns in the park had shaken the welkin with their roar.

But the Albert Park was nearly as crowded as the streets with the multitude that had gone up there to see the signal lights that had spoken from hill to hill and from peak to peak. Over fifty bonfires were counted from the park. Every headland stretching out into the bay had its light. The heights away beyond the North Shore were dotted with fires: the grim outline of the Waitakerei ranges was in several places capped with flame. On the distant range that ran out to the south, forming the entrance to the Manukau Harbour, tiny jets of fire could be detected with glasses. Mount Hobson, Mount Wellington, Mount St. John, and all the volcanic cones that may be counted in the glorious panoramic sweep of country around Auckland were peaked with fire. Mount Victoria and the North Head had their huge bonfires, around which the glasses turned in that direction could detect the masses of people moving and piling on the faggots and other combustibles. But from all this every eye turned away to Mount Eden with its glorious garland of fire. In the centre of the huge ring of light the dark hollow crater was conspicuously seen, while the heavy clouds overhanging the mountain reflecting back the light seemed to form a canopy of fire under which the dark pines resting on the precipitous sides of the mountain stood out in contrast to the general illumination.

Nobody seemed to think of going to bed that night; and as the complete returns came in from Wellington, showing that not merely three-fifths but three-fourths of the voters of the colony had voted Prohibition, the whole night seemed one for revelry.

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It was not everybody, however, that was carried away by this intoxication of success. There was many a sore heart among those tumultuous crowds that turned away in chastened thought to the little cottage at Northcote, where the one that had done so much to bring it all to pass was lying with the tiny flame of life flickering in the socket. It had been heard, and the information had rapidly circulated among those who were the most deeply concerned, that Isafrel had heard the glad tidings, but the same messengers had brought the word that she was quietly but surely sinking, and that in all probability she would not see the dawn.

As the steamers were plying in the harbour all that night, it was determined that a number of the women should go over, and in the name of the others bear a last tribute of love and gratitude to the dying girl. The tearful pleadings of some of the children that they might be allowed to accompany them to say farewell to their Angel Isafrel, could not be resisted, and far on in the morning, but while it was still dark, the little company, consisting of eight or ten of the women and about as many children, crossed over to the other side.

The sick girl had passed an easier night, so far as pain was concerned, than any she had recently had, but her strength was ebbing fast, and she knew quite well that the end was approaching. After she had recovered from the happy shock of the good news, her couch was carefully lifted again into her own room. George sat beside her, and in the subdued light of the lamp turned low they talked together of many a thing of touching interest to both in the past as in the future.

He tried at first to induce her to take a sleep, but “No,” she said, “this is not a night to sleep. I shall sleep by-and-bye. But I have much to say to you, dear George, and I shall not have another opportunity to talk with you till many, many years have rolled away.

“Do you remember that day, George—the sweetest hour I ever passed—when we stood together on the top of Mount Eden, by that big, grey stone on the further side of the crater, and you first told me of your love? And do you remember when I told you mine, and our lips were pressed together in the first sweet kiss of an affection that will never pass away, and you folded me in your arms, George, and promised you would make me happy as long as you lived; and do you remember, George, how I looked away, and saw that great, dark shadow coming from the Manukau—on, on, on, nearer and nearer, over the water, and the green hills, and the houses—and I told you to watch its coming? And as it crept up the mountain side, do you remember, George, how I laid my head on your shoulder and nestled closer to you, and with your arm round my waist you pressed me to your heart? And do you remember, George, how I shivered in your arms, and told page 89 you I was frightened of the shadow; and you told me I was superstitious, and that it was nothing but a passing cloud? But, George, there are mystical things in life we may not understand, yet they whisper to the soul sometimes; and as you brushed the hair away from my face with your hand, George, and laid your cheek to mine, I knew that a dark shadow would come some time and blot out the sunshine from our lives.

“Don't weep, George. It was only a passing cloud, and I was foolish to be frightened of it; and do you remember how the shadow rolled down the side of the mountain and passed away over Ponsonby, and darkened the waters of the harbour and skimmed over the wild waste of ti trees beyond, till it rolled away over the distant horizon. And do you remember, George, how you told me I was a little goose, and made me look around and see the whole scenery bathed in sunshine.

“There was the reach of waters stretching away down to the island of Waiheke, the little wavelets sparkling in the sunlight, with Motuihi, and Motutapu, and the headlands of Orakei and the Tamaki, and far away the heights of the Coromandel range suffused in the blue of distance, but all enveloped in the golden rays of the summer time. And then, George, you made me look away down the Rangitoto Channel, with the grim heights of Rangitoto here, and the green foliage of Lake Takapuna there, and the long tongue of the Whangaparoa running out into the sea, with the Kawau, and Little Barrier and Great Barrier, and Tiri Tiri, and the Cuvier Island, rising from the sea, and all clothed in sunshine. And then, George, with your arm gently resting round my waist, and my hand in yours, you turned me round to look down at the Manakau Harbour on the other side of the isthmus, with its great tongues of sparkling water almost touching through to the waters of the Waitemata Harbour. And you waved your hand over the lovely sylvan scenery at our feet—the farms, and gardens, and greeneries, stretching around on every side below us, with the villas and cottages of Parnell peeping through the trees, and Auckland nestling away below on the water's edge—and you said, ‘See, there, Isafrel, how beautiful God's world is, and how He crowns it all in sunshine.’ And I thought it very beautiful, for I was looking at it through the sunshine of your love, George, that had just come into my eyes, and I forgot to think about that great shadow that had passed.

“And many a time since then, dear George, when, in the tragedy of life, I have seen the big black shadow coming towards me, I have thought of that sweet hour I had with you on the summit of Mount Eden, and that, perhaps, the shadow would pass me by, as it did then. But it has come, George. Yet, even now, I can see the sunshine breaking through, and the edges of the cloud are fringed with silver. It is passing away, George, it is passing away; and with the mists of earth dispersing and the page 90 love-light of Heaven in my eyes, I can see away to the place where you will be beside me again, George, and we will stand together on the Mount of God, as we were that sweet summer morning on the summit of Mount Eden, and the shadows will for ever flee away, George, and the days of mourning will be ended.

“But come, George, and lay your head close to mine; my voice is growing weak, and I want to speak to you of things to come. Do not weep, dear George; let me wipe the tears from your cheeks, and while my strength is left me let me finish what I have to say. The tragedy of life is over with me, George, and you do not know, nor will you ever know till the resurrection morn, the full extent of what that tragedy has been to me.

Do you remember, George, the story in the Bible about the man that was possessed of devils, and how when the Saviour ordered them to come out of him they turned on the man and rent him so that he lay on the ground as dead. George, I had done too much to drive the demon out to be left scatheless when he saw he had to go. He turned on me and rent me, leaving me as I am now. As you love me, George, I want you to know that that demon has been my murderer, as he has been the slayer of thousands before. When I am gone, George, I want you to keep firm by the service to which you were first drawn by your love for me. Believe me, that work is but begun. Everything that money, everything that greed of gain, everything that cunning, everything that the device of the enemy of the human race can do to undo what has been done, will be tried. But it will be in vain. My vision, cleared of the mists of earth, sees far away, and the sunset of life gives me mystical lore. And my vision sees my own dear, native land, after many days, the wonder, the admiration, the exemplar of the world. The glory of its women will be yet the theme of song; and what they have done yesterday will uplift the women of every land, and give a stimulus for good that will make our sex the regenerators of the world.

“Do you know, George, that I think I will be of interest to the angels when I get to heaven—a woman of the women of New Zealand fresh from the field of battle. They will look at me as the first messenger of victory, fallen fighting in the breach, but conveying the first palm of victory from the women of New Zealand to lay it at the foot of the throne. Give my farewells to the women of New Zealand. Tell them from my heart, and with my dying breath, I thank and bless them for the work they have done; and if spirits are allowed to come away from that far-off land to minister on earth, it will enhance the happiness of heaven to me if I can come sometimes and mingle, though unseen, among my fellow workers in this noble cause, and rejoice with them in their future efforts for God, and home, and humanity.”

She paused; the effort seemed to have exhausted her, and in a few minutes she had fallen off into a deep and placid sleep. page 91 George arose from beside her, and other watchers having taken his place he retired for a little rest after the exhausting labours of the previous day. Father and mother took their turns in sitting by the sleeping girl, and for several hours she enjoyed undisturbed repose.

As it neared daybreak she awoke, and seeing her father by her she laid her hand fondly on his arm, and in a faint whisper thanked him for all his kindness and love to her. Stung by the memory of one sad incident, of which he and she alone of all in the world were conscious, he was beginning to upbraid himself.

“No, no, father,” she said passionately; “it was not you that did it. You would have died before injuring a hair of my head. It was not you, it was not you; but the enemy of you, the enemy of me, that turned to rend me. No, dear father, you loved me as the apple of your eye, and now that I am going away I want to say that I loved and love you just as tenderly. I am sorry leaving you, dear father, till I had seen you safe, but I hope you will soon be safe. But, oh! father, I wish I could take you home with me now. Then you would be safe, and safe forever. Oh! father, try to come home to Isafrel,” and in a feeble whisper, she added, “Father, dear father, come home.” Just then, as from the far away, there floated up to the open window, softened and mellowed by distance, the sweet but hardly audible sound of voices singing,

Hear the sweet voice of the child,
Which the night winds repeat as they roam;
Oh! who could resist the most plaintive of prayers?
Please, father, dear father, come home.

“Listen!” said Isafrel faintly, as she raised her eyes to heaven, “listen! 'Tis the angels!”

Again the voices sounded the refrain—

Hear the sweet voice of the child,
Which the night winds repeat as they roam;
Oh! who could resist the most plaintive of prayers?
Please, father, dear father, come home.

The girl's eyes were closed; her hands lay listless by her side; the gentle heart was still; the Angel Isafrel had gone.

* * * * * *

The grey dawn was stealing through the windows of the room when George and Mrs. Chalmers came in to take their turn in watching. Everything was still. The girl was as if in slumber; the old man kneeling by the side of the bed lay with his face resting on the bedclothes, his grey hairs covering her hand. George laid his hand on her brow, then pressed his lips to hers, and found that all was over. They tried to rouse Mr. Chalmers, but he, too, was still. He had gone home with Isafrel.

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The tidings of the death of the young girl, who had been such a conspicuous leader in the great reform, fell like a pall over the rejoicings that had everywhere broken out throughout the colony over the result of the Referendum, and touching were the many tokens of affectionate regard that were tendered for her obsequies, not only from Auckland, but from every part of the colony.

The funeral was held on the second following day, and Dr. Wilmott, at his own personal and earnest request, conducted the funeral service. Father and daughter were laid side by side in the sequestered and picturesque little cemetery that nestles on the slope of Mount Victoria, at the North Shore, and many a tear of heartfelt affection fell in tribute to the memory of “the Angel Isafrel.”