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Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter

Chapter XXXVIII. Jessie Relates Zada's History

page 156

Chapter XXXVIII. Jessie Relates Zada's History.

Captain Wilson'S face was a study while Miss Munroe was speaking. His eyes brightened, and his pale face glowed with a bright hue like the old days.

"Have you seen our new Lieutenant, Miss Munroe?"

I interfered to enable Captain Wilson to recover his composer.

"No; but from what I have heard, I do not desire the honour of his acquaintance, I shall probably be introduced to him, but I suppose I must bear the infliction, if only for the honour of Wairuara."

"He asked me to——"

I stopped suddenly on hearing a slight rustle behind me, and turning quickly saw Zada quietly entering the room. For a moment I hardly recognised her, so complete was the change of attire which she had undergone. Her splendid figure and full bust were set off to advantage by a tight fitting dress, which was neat and in the best of taste, while her bearing was composed and dignified. She greeted me with a smile, but when she page 157observed Captain Wilson, her composure entirely forsook her, and she turned hastily as if to leave the room. Before she could do so Miss Munroe had interposed.

"Stay a moment, Zada," Captain Wilson has just called on purpose to see you."

"Zada stood quite still in the centre of the room with one hand pressed tightly to her bosom. Her face flushed painfully, and it was obvious that she was greatly embarassed. As she made no offer to speak, Miss Munroe continued—

"He desires to express his gratitude for your goodness to him in his illness. I have told him about your wonderful medicine, and we all believe including Dr. Gill, that he would now be in his grave but for you,"

Zada still remained silent with her eyes fixed steadily on the floor. Her quick breathing alone betrayed how deeply she was moved, and for an instant she nervously looked round as if seeking to escape from the room. At this juncture Captain Wilson rose from his chair and walked across the room to where she was standing. Leading her gently to a seat beside Miss Munroe, he reverently raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. The effect on Zada was instantaneous. With a swift glance of her large dark eyes, which had suddenly become strangely tender in expression, she almost compelled Captain Wilson to meet her gaze, and for an instant the two stood as if transfixed. Hastily letting her eyes fall, she caught his hand, and after passionately kissing it fled from the room with an articulate sob.

It had all occurred so rapidly that for a moment we were mute with astonishment. Captain Wilson looked around him page 158with a vacant look in his eyes, and after taking a few steps as if to follow Zada, sank helplessly into a chair. Miss Munroe, to break a silence which was becoming extremely painful, said with ill-concealed emotion—

"You will, I am sure, Captain Wilson, forgive my protegé's strange conduct. She has not been very well lately, and has suffered a good deal from nervousness and depressed spirits. Her unexpected meeting with you, added to the tender respect which you paid her, no doubt proved too much for her feelings, which I could see she was vainly endeavouring to suppress, and resulted in her complete breakdown."

"Indeed I have nothing to forgive," said the Captain with a quiver in his voice. "She is a noble girl; and nothing that I can do will ever requite the debt of gratitude I owe her." Here he paused while a shade of softness passed over his handsome face, and his head sunk on his breast as if in a deep reverie.

"Zada well deserves the good opinion of any man," Miss Munroe continued. "Her early life was passed in the midst of bloodshed and war, when murder and cannibalism were regarded rather as virtues than crimes. The only daughter of a powerful and warlike chief—her slightest wish was law, and while her people were engaged in those fearful feasts on human flesh, common at the time, she kept herself free from the ghastly custom, retaining through all the temptations and vices which surrounded her on all sides, the fine and truer instincts of a pure woman. For these very qualities she was at the same moment disliked and feared by her father's people. You must know, Captain, that Zada has had some education. When she was quite a child a vessel was wrecked on the coast near her father's village. Several of the men managed to reach the shore, but the greater page 159number were drowned. The survivors met a cruel fate at the hands of the hostile Maoris, with the exception of one who was saved by the intervention of little Zada, who in her innocence asked that the captive pakeha be given her for a playmate. Owing to the status which her father's hapu occupied in the great lighting tribe of the Ngatiwhenuanui, her request met with no opposition. The man whom she had thus unwittingly rescued from certain death was a Clergyman of the Presbyterian Church who was going out to one of the Islands as a Missionary. He became much attached to his little mistress, and as several chests containing books and papers were cast on the rocks, he was enabled to teach her to read and write English. He also inculcated the first principles of religion, and gave her character a good foundation. Her original Maori name was Ngamihi, but her tutor baptised her under the name of Zada, with her father's permission."

"How long did her tutor remain with the tribe?" I asked, a good deal interested at the strange story.

"He was with them about five years, when he was killed through a terrible fall off a high cliff. He tried at different times to preach the Gospel publicly to the people, among whom he was thus so strangely placed, but his efforts met with poor success.

"I wonder that the good teachings of her captive tutor did not have a better influence over Zada, with regard to the feelings for the Europeans," remarked the Captain. "Don't you remember, Douglas," he continued, turning to me, "when we met her on the road to Wairuara, how proudly she told us 'that she was the daughter of the great chief Te Pehi, who would make the cursed pakehas tremble.' She certainly betrayed a bitter hatred for the white people."