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Ko Méri, or, A Cycle of Cathay: A Story of New Zealand Life

Chapter XXXII. The Daytons are Surprised

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Chapter XXXII. The Daytons are Surprised.

It was again the glorious summer time in Auckland, the season when all nature does homage to the the gracious, generous presiding deity of the land under the Southern Cross. The trees were bending beneath their load of fruit, already beginning to turn into the warm, mellow tints of ripeness with the progress of the season, whose empire extends so far into the year, that summer and autumn are as one; the fields were golden masses of colour with a bountiful harvest yielded by the rich, virgin soil; the gardens were brilliant with all the colours of the prism, and all nature and life were pervaded with an intoxicating gladness.

To all outward seeming Mr. Dayton's home was the same as a year before—the garden was as scrupulously kept as ever, there was the same absence of bright colouring, the same variety of rare shrubs and plants. As usual at this time of day, the venetian blinds were all down to keep out the creeping sunshine, now at its full splendour, and every window was open to get all the benefit from the sea breeze that came only at long intervals.

It was about two o'clock, and, from the open door of the darkened hall, emerged Lenore into the golden sunlight that flooded the verandah. She was little page 369 altered—the same lithe, graceful figure, the same quick, eager movements, though there was now a slight gravity in the truthful, earnest eyes and about the tender mouth, and she seemed fairer in the sombre gown she wore in memory of her cousin's death. Lenore was one of those women who are said to “wear well”–one whose charms rather increase than decrease with advancing years. She was now her mother's right hand, as well the delight of her father's eyes, for Ellie had been married in the early spring and had gone to her Sydney home.

“Lenore, will you take a walk with me down town?” said Mr. Dayton, joining his daughter on the verandah. “The mail came in this morning, you know, and I should like to get my letters.”

“To the Post Office do you wish to go?” she asked.

“Yes, is it too far?” he said, quizzically.

“No, indeed! The idea! I'll get ready at once,” and she ran into the house, presently returning with a long silk ulster over her black dress, a wide-brimmed hat, and the inevitable—at least, in Auckland—parasol.

Past Mr. Morgan's home, now deserted with its closed doors and blinds, through St. George's Bay and away on to the Parnell Road they went, in sight of the Waitamata all the way. It is one of the beauties of both Sydney and Auckland Harbours that they can be seen from all parts of the towns built upon them—a great advantage considering their beauty, and the purity and clearness of the air above them.

“It is strange, papa,” said Lenore, after a long silence, “that I have not received a letter from Mary since Leslie died; nor, indeed, did I get one the mail before, and she used to write so regularly. I wonder what is the matter.”

“Perhaps she is ill, and not able to write,” hazarded Mr. Dayton.

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“No, I don't think so, because mamma received a letter from Mrs. Morgan some time ago, though, of course, Mary may be ill now; but, if that were so, some of them would write. Marion (Lady St. Clair) has not written since she sent the account of the death of Cousin Leslie,” said Lenore, thoughtfully.

“Well, we shall see what we can do this time,” said Mr. Dayton, cheerfully. “We must remember that she has suffered lately,” he added, gravely. “Leslie's sudden end must have been a terrible shock.”

When the father and daughter arrived at the General Post Office, Mr. Dayton, leaving Lenore outside, proceeded to the private boxes, and from his own took all the letters that were there, amongst which was one for Lenore, which he kept separate.

“Here is one at last,” he cried, as he joined her again, and handed the letter to her.

“No, it is not from Mary,” said Lenore, a little disappointed. “It is from Mrs. Morgan. I wonder why she does not write. However, perhaps this letter will tell,” putting it in her pocket as she spoke. And then they turned homeward in the silence and calm of an Australasian Sabbath.

Mr. Dayton and his wife were sitting in the drawing-room after the former's return from the Post Office, when Lenore, who had gone upstairs to take her things off and read her letter, entered the room with a pale face, and with the traces of tears in her eyes.

“Papa, Mary has come home” she said, quietly.

“She has! Whatever induced Mr. Morgan to allow her to come alone? Go and bring her over here. Has she come to the house? It is strange we did not hear she was expected. It is a peculiar arrangement,” said Mr. Dayton, with slight incoherence.

“Where is Mary staying, Lenore, if she has come home?” asked Mrs. Dayton. “I should have page 371 thought Mrs. Morgan would have sent her here, rather than to that big empty house or to a stranger.”

“Not that kind of home-coming,” said the girl, with a strange, pitiful gentleness. “It is something quite different. I'll read you Mrs. Morgan's letter, and then you will understand,” while a puzzled expression showed itself on Mrs. Dayton's face.

Lenore's hand trembled slightly as she opened the letter, and there were tears in her voice as she read Mrs. Morgan's sorrowful story of Mary's flight and her own desire for Lenore's help.

Dear Lenore,

“I suppose by this time you have heard the calamity that has fallen upon us. Mr. Mordaunt, who is going out by this ‘mail,’ will tell you all the particulars. I feel that I cannot—not yet.

“Mary left London three months ago—that is three days after the tidings came of Captain Deering's sad end, merely leaving a letter to announce her resolution and departure, and that she had left us for her mother's people.

“You can imagine, Lenore, our grief, knowing how dear Mary was to us all. Leonard has been a changed man since, but he will not allow himself to think that she will ever return to us; I hope for better things. It is so hard to know that she is living, and yet that she is dead, with those dreadful Maoris.

“Next to Leonard, dear Lenore, you have more influence over Mary than anyone else, and, for the sake of our long friendship with your family, will you not seek her, and use your power over her to induce her to give up her barbarous mother, who left her when she was a mere baby, and return to us? I know it is a great thing to ask, but I am certain you will do it with your mother and father's full consent. None can avail with Mary if you cannot.

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“Mr. Mordaunt will take you up to Russell, and as your father and he are old friends, he will only be too pleased to have you visit his house, and from there you can ride to Waitoa.

“Leonard knows I am making this effort, but he says it will end in disappointment; but, for my sake, Lenore, make the trial, and we shall feel that all has been done that can be done.

“Give my love to all your family, and ask your mother to write to me in my trouble.

“In great sorrow,

“I remain,

“Yours sincerely,

Annie Morgan.”

There were tears in Mrs. Dayton's and Lenore's eyes when the soft, sympathetic voice had ceased, while Mr. Dayton appeared as if paralyzed, so surprised was he at the intelligence.

“Gone back to the tribe! “he at last articulated, with a gasp. “I don't wonder Morgan is changed, he was so bound up in his niece. It is a great misfortune,” shaking his head sadly.

“I can scarcely believe it,” said Mrs. Dayton, “so gifted, so refined. Poor Mrs. Morgan! it is as if she had lost a daughter—indeed, worse.”

“How very strange!” commented Lenore. “Mary must have come to Auckland, and gone to Russell, and no one saw her, or knew of her arrival or intentions.”

“She must have staid at an hotel then. How very peculiar that a striking and well-known face like Mary Balmain's should have passed without recognition!” said Mrs. Dayton.

“It is still more strange that she should have come to New Zealand in a vessel—especially a mail steamer—in which there were no Aucklanders, who, of course, would recognize her at once,” remarked Mr. Dayton, with whom poor Mary had always been a page 373 favourite since she had been a small girl, though always bigger than Lenore.

“Of course you will let me go, mamma?” asked Lenore. “Mrs. Morgan says that Mr. Mordaunt will tell us the particulars, and what to do. I almost forget him, it is so long since I saw him.”

“Certainly!” answered Mrs. Dayton, readily. “It would be cruel to refuse such an old friend, and especially when so much is at stake. But, like Mr. Morgan, I am afraid it will be hopeless. However, you can only try. Mary always looked up to you in a sort of way.”

“You must be mistaken, Lenore,” said her father. “Mr. Mordaunt went ‘home’ for good. He told me himself he was going to settle with an elder brother and his family.”

“No; that is the name—Mordaunt,” persisted Lenore. “He may have altered his mind, and come out again.”

Late in the afternoon, when the sun had begun to cast long shadows, and the air was cool, Mr. Mordaunt came, as happy, as jolly as ever, and was heartily received by the whole family, though his advent caused some surprise to Mr. Dayton.

“To tell the truth, I was driven out by the fogs and winds,” he explained. “Of course I knew such things were not unknown to the mother country, but my memory was so indistinct that it never struck me that I should feel them so acutely. I am not sorry to get back to New Zealand again. England is something akin to some people's notions of heaven, very fine to dream about, but all the same they are not very anxious to leave this mundane sphere for the delights of the beyond.”

“When did you come?” asked Mr. Dayton.

“By the mail this morning,” he answered, briefly.

“Why did you not come here at once?” said Mrs. Dayton, with true Australasian hospitality. “You will stay here until you start for Russell. I won't page 374 take any denial. You can have your valise sent here.”

“Thank you—you are too good,” answered the Colonial, at the same time accepting a cup of tea from Lenore's hands.

“How about this sad business that Mrs. Morgan has written to Lenore about Miss Balmain?” burst out Mr. Dayton, unable to keep silence any longer on a subject that possessed so much interest for him.

“You have heard about it then?” answered the Colonial, sipping his tea leisurely. He had been waiting for the question.

“Only from Mrs. Morgan's letter. We had no idea of such a thing; and how she came through here without being recognized is a mystery to me. I never was so shocked in my life,” said Mr. Dayton.

“I was afraid of it from the beginning, and warned Mrs. Morgan—you know Mr. Morgan was away in the south of France” (no, they knew nothing). “He was on a visit to some sick friend, I believe,” said Mr. Mordaunt. “But it would have been all the same if he had been present. No power on this earth could restrain the girl once she got that idea into her head. I warned Morgan to have nothing to do with her from the first.”

“But she has been a real blessing to them all these yeers—no daughter could have been more loving,” objected Lenore, still defending her absent friend.

Mr. Mordaunt turned admiring eyes on the slight, bronze-haired figure sitting at the tea-table opposite him.

“You were Miss Balmain's friend; I remember she said so. She would have been a fine woman, only that she was a half-caste.”

“How did it happen?” asked Mrs. Dayton. “There must have been some deep reason for her action.”

“I know of no reason, nor do I think there is any, page 375 other than the tidings of Captain Deering's death. Surely you understood that she was to have married your nephew? The blow seemed to bring the Maori in her to the surface,” said Mr. Mordaunt.

“How did Mr. Morgan bear it?” asked Lenore. “How sad that she should go in his absence!”

“Very badly. There is no doubt that there was great affection between the two, and he is the one that feels the loss. Mrs. Morgan will get over it more easily, though I felt sorry for her the first few days. You are to make an effort to induce this escaped young lady to try again the benefits of civilization,” began Mr. Mordaunt, smiling, but seeing Lenore's grave face, he went on in a quieter tone: “Mrs. Morgan wishes you to come up with me to Waitoa, and I shall be only too delighted to have you spend a few weeks at my house. It is about ten miles from Waitoa to where Miss Balmain has gone.”

“Then did you leave Miss Mordaunt in charge of your house when you left Auckland?” said Mrs. Dayton.

“Yes, I was canny, as the Scotch say. I left my cousin in possession, so that if I did make up my mind to return, I should have a roof over my head,” answered the old Colonial.

“When do you start, Mr. Mordaunt?” asked Lenore.

“Next Tuesday, by one of the ‘Union’ boats. There is none going that way before. I suppose you can ride?”

“I should think she could,” said Mr. Dayton, with some pride; “my daughter is a fine rider.”

“So much the better. We have a long ride from Russell to Waitoa, and of course when you get that far, you make your own arrangements,” he said.

“You are very kind,” answered Lenore.

“This is all Mrs. Morgan's idea. Her husband, wise man in all but adopting John Balmain's child, would have none of it.”