A Maori Maid
It seems a part of human nature most highly to appreciate that which is lost or has passed from us, and most deeply to desire that which we have not, or may not have. Is there one amongst us who, having lost some dear friend, has not experienced the cruel reflection that we never fully appreciated him or her, as the case may be? Thoughts of countless kindly acts we might have done, and never did, memories of harsh words spoken that we need never have spoken, bring with them impossible regret for the impossible. Repent howsoever we may, we can gain no comfort beyond repentance. Future kindness can never fully atone for past neglect when the earth has once sealed away the loved, familiar iace. The elaborate tomb, the tended flowers are no gratification to the heart un-kindness helped to break. Grief for the dead is merely the most respectable selfishness mankind can boast. It is admired just for what it is not.
Akin to regret for what is lost is honest envy—not so contradictory a phase as it may seem—for what others are fortunate enough to possess.
You with your home, be it humble or luxurious, do you really appreciate it as would the lonely individual whose sole home is the memory of a childhood? He will tell you "No," a thousand times "No." And he believes it. Or again, do you who, with the thought of a parent's restraint upon you, half envy the perfect freedom of your young friend, who has neither father page 74nor mother, ever pause to ascertain his envy of you for what you have and he has not? If it be thus with him who has known and lost his parents, how infinite must be the blank in the life of one whose knowledge of a father or mother is limited to the certainty of their having existed and the uncertainty of who they may have been, whence they came and whither gone!
Of such was Ngaia, and such the shadow across her life. It was not an overwhelming shadow of unbroken bitterness and despair, for she could be merry. But at times the trouble would appear more grievous to her. Her manner of life, with the absence of any substitute for either parent and the absence of anything approaching or resembling a home, tended to impress and possibly exaggerate a not unnatural desire to know more of her white parent—her father.
Holiday-time, the period of pleasure for her schoolmates, was as often as not the very opposite for the half-caste girl. Frequently she went off on visits with one or other of her young friends. Occasionally she travelled on some brief trip with the kind old schoolmistress. But sometimes she had to remain at the school-house, lonely and practically companionless. The long, empty form-room, the silent playground then seemed to intensify her solitude, just as the very pleasure of her visits seemed to heighten the bright fortunes of her schoolmates and emphasise her own solitary lot.
Many an evening did she softly cry herself to sleep. Many an hour did she sit alone at her window looking out over the wide, restless South Pacific. The huge ocean rollers, as they swept in, fell with their own deep roar upon the beach, breaking in a halo of rainbow spray and churning themselves amongst the pebbles into white foam. The great, tumbling waste of waters fascinated her. Whence did each billow come? And why?page 75
The school-book answers were upon her tongue. Yet they were but the science, and not the poetry, of it. The ocean seemed greater, and bigger, and grander to her. Each wave was something more than a mere fact.
It was a story of itself, a life, a death, a message, perhaps, from some of the strange, distant countries across and across the seas. She had read of them, but reading was not to realise. And, thus sitting and wondering, her thoughts passed on, and on, and back into the old train, on to the old grief, the great grief. She was lonely, miserably, wofully lonely. Other girls had their homes. A father, a mother, brothers or sisters—one or other at least for each of them. Not any one was so utterly alone as she. Never to have known her father, scarcely to have known her mother! Her only friend, the only being who seemed a substitute for a parent, was John Anderson, and he had refused to tell her that for which her heart was aching.
"He said it was for my sake, for my happiness, that he refused. I must trust; I must try and believe; only it's so hard," she whispered to herself.
It was one day, whilst at her window looking out over the waters, that Miss Spence came in upon her. The old schoolmistress loved her favourite pupil as a woman, herself single and lonely, would love one who had grown in her keeping from childhood to womanhood. She knew the world of youth too well not to recognise genuine grief.
"Ngaia!" she said softly, laying her hand on the girl's shoulder.
Ngaia turned with a start. She had heard no one. Her impulse was to resent the interruption. Her thoughts had been so utterly her own, her grief so secret to herself that the sound of another person's voice was inharmonious and unpleasing. But the kindly face of the older woman, Ngaia's knowledge of page 76her affection, the yearning, so irresistible at such a moment, for sympathy, mastered her. Bending under the kindly caress, she burst into tears. Then, as the fierce sultry air is calmed and soothed by the soft warm shower, so the outburst of weeping relaxed the intensity of the girl's sorrow. She gradually told her trouble.
How often is it not the saddest, and yet withal the sweetest sensation to dwell with some sympathetic friend upon the sorrow that is overwhelming us? Grief grows sometimes too great for one poor struggling heart to nurse in silence. Unconfessed and unspoken, it too often is unrealised and unsympathised with by others. No mere craving after empty compassion, no mere wish for lightly uttered words of pity, urge the weary soul to share its troubles with the understanding friend. It is nature, in her own mysterious way, insisting that man is not meant to live within himself alone, but that, being of mankind, in mankind he may find a solace for his trouble.
In the little timorous schoolmistress Ngaia found the sympathy she craved for.
"I'll be mother and father, all in one, to you, my pet. Then there's Mr. Anderson. And one day, darling, some one will come along, some one young and rich and handsome, who will take you from us, all to himself, and love you and care for you; and then your loneliness will go from you. If I judge aright, too, Mr. Anderson will soon take you down with him to Wellington and you will enter into the gay life there and the dances and be the belle of all the ballrooms. It is lonely now, alone with an old woman such as I; but you will be happy. There is a bright future before you. I'm sure, quite sure. Come, come, sweet, brush away your tears and laugh to me, and say I at least shall be mistress, and mother, and father, and everything all in one. More even, if I can, than page 77I have been, because I know now what I only suspected before."
"Oh, Miss Spence, it—it was wrong and ungrateful of me to seem so miserable. But I couldn't help it. I'm so glad I've told it all. Telling makes things easier, doesn't it? It—it seemed so hard before."
"Perhaps your parents are dead, my darling. Many another has to bear the burden of that sorrow."
"No," answered Ngaia. "Mr. Anderson has said not. I asked him once, but he would not tell me more than that my father was alive. I have never asked him again. He told me to try and believe that he refused for my sake. I have believed. I do believe. Only I cannot help feeling."
"Have you any recollection of your life before you came to me?" asked Miss Spence.
"It's all quite gone. I seem to remember that my mother was a Maori and my father a white man, But then, Mr. Anderson has told me that. What I want most of all is to know my father. I'm not ashamed of being a Maori, but—but—oh, Miss Spence, I'm not a Maori. I could not live like a Maori, I would love her of course, because she would be mother, and yet——"
And yet——! She was brave enough to confess no shame for her dark blood, but she was too refined, too delicate, too sensitive to be able to reconcile herself to the crude civilisation of an untutored Maori. Her father was the one thing she longed for. His coming she never forgot to pray for.
Poor Ngaia! Her prayer was destined to be answered and was to prove a cruel awakening. Better to have dead parents than some parents.
The half-caste girl had yet to learn from experience that to mourn a father is infinitely less sad than to despise one.