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Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter

Chapter XIII. Zada's Information

page 58

Chapter XIII. Zada's Information.

After dinner I got a few hours leave and paid a visit to Mr. Munroe. We had a long talk about recent events, and I asked him if he had seen the person who had brought in the information about Te Pehi's intended attack.

"Yes," he said, "I saw a very handsome Maori girl keenly watching the progress of the rebels attack. I know the men got instructions from Sergeant McCormack not to shoot the chief at her request, but I firmly believe her greatest solicitude was for the safety of your Captain. The fact of it is, Douglas, the girl has formed some attachment for him. Only for that fortunate fact, the rebels might have murdered everyone in the township. Neither Sergeant McCormack, nor anyone else, had the slightest idea of an attack, and heaven only knows what would happen if we were taken unprepared. When the Maori girl, Zada, I think they call her, saw that Captain Wilson was safe, she must have left the township, as no one saw her afterwards. But come into the garden and see the wife. She has been busy all the morning transplanting some camellia plants which arrived yesterday from Auckland. Jessie is supposed to be assisting her, but I fancy she is more in the road:"

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The genial old gentleman conducted me through some neatly laid out paths to a spot at the further end of the garden where I discovered Mrs. Munroe and her daughter. They were busily engaged amongst a lot of pot plants, but she stepped forward on seeing me, and greeted me kindly, while Jessie rewarded me with a pleasant smile.

After ten Mr. Munroe settled himself comfortably by the fire, and a few minutes later Jessie went over to the piano and began carelessly to run her fingers over its keys. After a little persuasion I prevailed on her to sing "Robin Adair," an old favourite song of mine, and one which never failed to recall the boyish scenes of my youth in a certain secluded hamlet in distant England. She had a well-trained voice, not powerful, but strangely sweet, and she rendered that beautiful old ballad with a tenderness and feeling that almost brought tears to my eyes. Strange how the most hardened of human kind is susceptible to the refining influence of music; frequently it is not the actual words nor yet the excellence of the rendering which creates the charm. The first chord of some old familiar air is no sooner struck than the mind unaccountably drifts back to the dear and sacred memories of the past. Old scenes are suddenly conjured up in all their native freshness; for a brief moment we are transported to those days of innocent youth, far from the maddening crowd indeed, and undistracted by the worries and anxieties of the fleeting present. Gladly do we take a short respite on the road and look back, wilfully blinding ourselves to the impenetrable gulf of time which irrevocably separates us from those tender associations. Truly the human mind is a marvellous piece of mechanicism. Cast down in the deepest depths of despair, overwhelmed by a sorrow under whose weight we are ready to sink, the most trifling incident will serve to divert the thoughts and bring up a page 60smile. As long as Nature commands us to cling so passionately to what we yet must lose so certainly, and may lose no suddenly and so soon; as long as love continues the most imperious passion, and death the surest fact of our mingled humanity, so long will the sweetest and truest music upon earth be always in the minor key.

We look before and after, and pine for what is not,
E'en our sincerest laughter with some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those which tell of saddest thought.

"I hear, Mr. Douglas," said Miss Munroe, closing the piano, "that several of your men have got into trouble, and one is at present in the guard-room. I hope it is nothing serious."

"Oh no," I answered laughing, "I daresay they will be liberated in the morning. Owing to the hospitality of some of your good people about here they took more liquor than was good for them, with the result that they were taken into custody on the charge of drunkenness."

"What was done to Connor?" queried the old gentleman.

"His sentence was close confinement to barracks for one week."

"Poor fellow," said Jessie, "he will sadly miss his usual ramble of an evening."

"The sentence is not at all severe," returned her father. "The officers, so far as my observation goes, have set a good example to their men since their arrival in Wairuara, and it is only right that they should be made to suffer if they offend against the rules. On the other hand I have known officers to punish their men severely for what they themselves were guilty of privately."

"But, father, don't you think their conscience would prick them for being so unjust."

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"Some men have none," was the grim reply.

"That reminds me," I said, "of something that occurred at a court-martial in the West Indies. My father was a captain in the ——th Regiment, and was one of the officers who tried the prisoners. But as it is getting late I will retire now, and perhaps if you will permit me I will relate the story on my next visit."

"No, no, Mr. Douglas," said Miss Munroe coaxingly "please tell it now. If you refuse I will take other measures to compel you," she added with playful authority as she walked over to the drawing-room door and locking it, put the key in her pocket. "So there!"

"'Pon my soul, Douglas," said the old gentlemen laughing heartily, "the little minx is getting excessively bold, and I don't know what you will think of her. However you had better give in this once, my boy.