A Maori Maid
Ethel Anderson had to thank herself and some dead blackguard for the taint of evil which, in her son, transformed passable virtue into inordinate vice. Her hate and heredity supplied the material; her misguided adoration moulded it to a perfection of viciousness. Perhaps it was part of nature's jest that the mother worshipped the child. She was kind to her two little girls, as a woman must be who, although she lacks sympathy, has yet a heart; but the boy stood foremost in her affections. He was her favourite child; and he learnt in time to know that, and to trespass upon it.
He was spoilt, some folks said. Others declared that his disposition was naturally cruel and deceitful. He was a mass of faults, not one of which the mother made any serious effort to correct. John perceived them and the danger of them, and he endeavoured to combat the evil. As a consequence the child hated him, a fact which John fully realised. It distressed him more than he ever chose to suggest even to his wife, for he worshipped the boy. His dream was to see him grow into an upright and honourable man; and it was solely in that hope that he inflicted even such punishment as he did. Yet his strictness, if such it could be termed, was at best but mild. Occasionally, though very rarely—too rarely indeed—his severity reached the point of a whipping. Even then, despite the punishment having been thoroughly deserved, the mother would intervene.page 36
"Ethel, I won't have you interfering! It can do no good. You don't imagine I like beating the child! It's for his own sake," John would exclaim.
She would have argued with him but she dared not She could only kiss and pet the boy when his father's back was turned.
"I hate punishing him," he said; "yet what am I to do? Kindness and reasoning are simply thrown away on him. Besides, I never hurt him though he does kick and scream. Indeed," he added, "I wish he would take his punishment more manfully. I—I don't like to think him a coward."
"He is sensitive."
"Poor little chap! Well, I hope he won't drive me to it again."
The "poor little chap" was seven years old, and at the moment was standing in the nursery, his face white and drawn. John's sternness had for once in a way reached its climax. Cyril had been whipped.
"I hate him, I hate him!" he was crying, and he hissed the words.
"Oh, Cyril!" exclaimed Topsy, "you shouldn't say that. You don't mean it; you know you don't!"
"I do! I hate him! I'd—I'd kill him if I were strong enough. I will one day!" he added, and the little girl shrank back from the fierce, sullen face. She was frightened.
"Kill father! Cyril!"
"I don't care. I would, 'cause he hit me!"
"It was your own fault. He said he would if you told him a fib."
"He wouldn't have found out if you hadn't told him."
"I couldn't help it He asked me."
"You needn't have said."
"I had to. Besides, it was a fib all the same, even if he hadn't found out"page 37
"He wouldn't have hit me."
"It doesn't make it wronger to be found out. It's wrong before."
"You don't know. He never hits you."
"I'm a girl."
"Girls can do just what they like, and nothing happens."
"I don't think so. Mother said the other day that it's men that can do just what they like and nothing happens; and it always happens to girls."
"She ought to know."
Undoubtedly she ought—if any woman. But the child's reasoning was wrong.
The boy was silent for a moment. Then he turned fiercely upon his sister.
"If you tell again I'll kill you! I'll hide a knife, and when you don't know I'll kill you! And if you tell father what I say, I'll do it quicklier I"
Then he slunk off to a corner, where he sat brooding and sulking for hours.
Cyril at his day school was invariably in trouble or near it. Generally he was only near it. The boys said that all the mischief arose through him, although he was the one who, as a rule, managed to escape unpunished. He could sham and could lie to perfection; indeed, many a soft falsehood saved his body a hard blow. His glib tongue stood between his actions and their just consequences, until he gradually grew to despise consequences.
His master considered him a promising pupil. His reports were excellent. Sometimes he added, "requiring care and great attention and not without faults that I hope and believe he will grow out of."
Like many another, the good gentleman fell into the error of considering all faults to be mere impulses, instead of the result of nature and heredity. All faults page 38cannot be overcome in all men, even though they one and all make every effort.
Cyril was at Gardner's for some time and gave tolerable satisfaction. Thence he went to Whanganui College and, it being a boarding school, he developed, and his idiosyncrasies became more apparent. They eventually became too apparent. He would have been expelled had he not been taken away.
"I can't understand it, Ethel, Where on earth does Cyril get his character from? You and I are such a steady-going pair, and he is such a wild young scapegrace. Well, well, boys will be boys; but it's time Cyril remembered that he's almost a man. This last affair is serious."
It was, but the mother had a thousand excuses, and John's lecture was not, perhaps, one half as severe as it should have been.
Cyril was seventeen when he left College. He was a fine, handsome-looking lad, tall and well set up. His hair was quite black, his eyes a dark brown. His mouth was, perhaps, too feminine in its beauty. His smile was at once pleasant and displeasing. He was inclined to be mincing in his manner and foppish in his style. He disliked athletics and all the more manly sports. He expressed, moreover, a strong distaste for country life, and his father had to arrange for his entry into a merchant's office.
There he was merely a junior clerk, but still he had at least fairly entered the race of life. Having once started, he was not slow in making pretty swift running.
Naturally, for the going was down-hill.
Not but what all this is somewhat anticipating the course of events.