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

Chapter XIV. Mary's Faithfulness Revealed

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Chapter XIV. Mary's Faithfulness Revealed.

Captain Deering had been a visitor to Mr. Morgan's house for two days, and on this particular morning his host had left for town very early to attend to some business. He told his wife not to wait luncheon for him, as he might be delayed until late in the afternoon.

The sun peeped in upon the party through the closed venetian blinds as they sat in the cool, shady drawing-room, Mary languidly engaged upon a piece of embroidery; Mrs. Morgan, as usual, sewing; and Captain Deering leaning back luxuriously in a rocking chair, dreamily gazing at the half-caste, and at the same time weaving a thousand fancies, in which she played a most prominent part.

“It's too warm to work, auntie. How can you stitch, stitch, stitch, like the poor woman in the poem?” she cried, watching Mrs. Morgan's delicate fingers move backwards and forwards in the piece of fine muslin she was hemming.

The elder lady smiled indulgently.

“I never like to sit with my hands idle, and sewing comes natural to me; someone must do the prosy things of this life, dear.”

“Sewing does not come natural to me, then—I page 175 simply detest it—it is so monotonous. I pity the child who should wear a dress made by my hands.”

“Everyone to their own taste,” answered Mrs. Morgan, composedly. She was quite aware of Mary's dislike to sewing, and of her wonderful attempts in that direction.

“I think you had better take Captain Deering for a walk before lunch; it will be more pleasant than sitting in the house this fine day. Don't stay any longer in the sun than you can help. The near side of the avenue is shady at this time of the morning.”

“Won't you come with us, auntie? If it will do us good, it will do the same by you,” said Mary, in answer.

“Not to-day, dear. I have some things in the house to attend to,” folding up her work as she spoke.

Mary rose languidly—none of her emotions were aught but slow and graceful—and followed Mrs. Morgan from the room to put on her hat and gloves and to get a parasol, while the Captain made his way to the verandah, where he waited for her.

“Where shall we go?” she said, as she joined him at the door.

“You know better than I do; but let it be the coolest walk you can find, if you would perform a kind action,” he answered, smiling at her.

“I am not sure that you are in need of kindness, or that you deserve it,” she replied, turning the unfathomable dark eyes she inherited from her mother full upon him with amusement in their depths. “Let us go through St. Stephen's Cemetery and straight up the avenue. We must not stay very long, auntie says.”

They walked to the limit of Mr. Morgan's property towards a small gate placed for greater convenience to the yacht riding at anchor in the bay, and on passing through it found themselves at once in the cove, where on the Thursday evening before page 176 Captain Deering had kept his vigil. But now the landscape was bathed in the brilliant sunshine of the summer's day with a warm breeze blowing from the Pacific Ocean, and the thunder of the waves lulled into a gentle lapping as the water crept up the sandy beach.

“Do you know that I once lived in that little house?” Mary said, directing his attention to Mr. Wilson's old home, but little changed to all out-ward appearance, though nine years' sunshine and storms had passed over its head. The garden was brilliant with the various colours of the season's flowers; the trees in the background were little altered, though so much older; and the cottage itself was mellowed by time into a more sober hue—that was all.

“No. Did Mr. Morgan live there before he built the house on the cliff?”

“Oh, no! Uncle Leonard has lived on the Point ever since I can remember. But I have not always been under Mr. Morgan's care—I was entrusted to a missionary, Mr. Wilson, by my father, and he lived in that little cottage for two years before his death, when I was about nine years old,” said Mary, with the softest inflection in her voice.

“I remember hearing someone say that your first guardian was a missionary, but I was not aware that he lived in Parnell, or in that particular house.”

The man noticed the gentleness and reverence of her tone, whenever the old servant of God was mentioned, and it touched him in spite of himself.

“He is buried in this little cemetery,” she said, as they entered, “I'll show you his grave. I have not a great distance to go when I want to see it. Here it is,” pointing to a plain slab of marble with Mr. Wilson's name, the date of his birth and death, and a text: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Beside it was the grave of his wife, as carefully kept in order as was the husband's.

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Captain Deering leaned against the railing, and on looking down he noticed the garlands of flowers were quite fresh—roses and sprays of fine maidenhair. The missionary had loved the rose of all flowers in life, and with them his last resting-place was always kept decorated by Mary's loving hands.

He looked up at her, standing in the shadow of a great acacia, with a soft light on the dark, passionate face that he had never seen there before—all the pride, the careless ease, the languor were toned down by the mere recollection of her old guardian.

“Do you always keep the grave fresh with flowers?” he asked, gently.

“Always. It is all I can do now to show that I remember his goodness, his kindness—he was so loving and gentle at all times; and I must have been a trouble often—I was only nine years old.”

Nine years since the death of the missionary, and his memory was as fresh and green to this girl as on the last day she saw him. What constancy! what devotion! Could he ever evoke from her a tithe of the devotion she had bestowed upon a man that had been in his grave for nine years?”

“Do you not think this cemetery is in a most beautiful situation?” she said, dreamily. “So quiet—no one ever comes here except to attend to the graves—so shaded by these trees that were planted before I was born, and within sight and sound of the sea. I don't think there can be a more beautiful, picturesque spot in the whole world. They want to paint the church” (referring to a small edifice used for burial services), “but I think it would be a pity—like putting a coat of paint on a grey old ruin.”

They walked slowly away from the cemetery, which occupied the whole point, and from which a magnificent view could be obtained of the Waitamata. It was, as Mary said, a most peaceful spot, but a gentle melancholy seemed to pervade it—the brilliant, glad page 178 sunlight brought into relief the calmness, the neglected tangled undergrowth, the pathetic silent resting-place of those whose lives had been so active and useful, but who were now lulled into eternal rest by the sound of the waves as they beat against the hoary side of the cliff, festooned with trailing pohutukawas in full bloom.

“Parnell seems more than any other part of Auckland to speak of old missionary days, so many evidences are there of their labours. I suppose this district was their first settlement?” said the Captain, alluding to that portion of Parnell in which they now were.

“Yes; that is why Mr. Wilson wished to live in that little cottage in the bay, to be near his old friends, or at least those who were left. He outlived most of the pioneer missionaries, and had made few friendships with later ones. I don't think any worked so hard as Mr. Wilson in the forty years he laboured among the heathen. Mr. Willonghby endured hardship; but he came after the ground had been prepared to a great extent by others. But what good have they all done?” she burst out at last, her face losing the softness that had made it so beautiful.

“What good has what done?” he asked, a little bewildered. “You surely cannot mean, Miss Balmain, that missionary work has been productive of no good results?”

“I do mean it. How can you know anything of its effects? You pay—and many like you—so much money to forward a good cause, as it is termed, and there is an end of it so far as you are concerned. I often wonder that people in these days, when science has done so much to enlighten the world, have not put this question upon a better basis. Uncle Leonard was very intimate with Mr. Wilson, who first led him to seriously study religious matters; and I have heard him—Uncle Leonard—say that Mr. Wilson owned that after forty years of earnest labour the page 179 results were barren, not because his efforts were weak, but because the whole system was at fault.”

“I think Mr. Morgan wants to revolutionize religion and church matters generally, does he not?” said the Captain, trying to speak lightly, but in reality with inward impatience.

“I don't know. I never trouble myself about church matters” she replied, in no way detecting the irony. “But I know that he is right about missions, and that he can express himself and give learned arguments much better than I can.”

Captain Deering heard in these ideas, not the expression of Mary Balmain's thoughts and opinions, but, running through them Mr. Morgan's learned arguments and philosophy. No doubt she fully believed all she said, and probably felt their truth more keenly than her guardian, but their expression was, without a doubt, Mr. Morgan's.

He saw now where her interest lay, what had power to move her—her own people—their condition and their sorrows. And yet she seemed far removed from a barbarian race as she walked beside him; clad in a soft mull gown, that made her look more mature than ever, with a knot of scarlet at the throat, the daintily gloved hands, the white parasol, marks of civilization, combined with the free, graceful carriage and perfect neatness of attire, were the results of careful training and nineteenth century growth.

“What has taken the white races hundreds—nay, thousands of years to develop,” she went on, “is thrust upon native races all at once, or all that they can absorb; and what is the result?” turning the brilliant eyes upon him. “It can be summed up in a few words: they have adopted the white man's vices and not one of his virtues; the form of religion appeals to their fancy; the spirit they are utterly unable to comprehend.”

“Mr. Morgan,” again thought the Captain “has an apt pupil in one direction at any rate.” It amused page 180 him to see the fire in the splendid dark eyes; the passion in the plaintive, musical voice, that even in moments of intense emotion never lost its rhythm. She, however, was quite unaware of his attitude towards what to her was a reality. The very sound of his voice would have told Lenore's intuitive and observant nature that he was not in sympathy with her, but Mary in matters of this kind was not at all sensitive.

“But,” he replied, “you have told me what good work has been performed by Bishop Selwyn. Why, these orphan asylum buildings and this school for Maori boys” (indicating those institutions on either side of the road) “were all built by the missionaries, and without a doubt they were the pioneers in colonizing New Zealand, from what Mr. Everard says.”

“Will you tell me who has benefited by all that labour? Not the Maori, certainly. I don't say that it was done with the intention of the white man reaping the advantage; but the fact remains the same. I have never seen any great benefit to my people resulting from the preaching of the Gospel. Slowly but surely they are disappearing, and from being a brave, honourable people, they have become idle, sullen, and full of absurd superstitions.”

“I think you exaggerate it a little, do you not, Miss Balmain? I have seen very fine, intelligent Maori boys at the school up here. What of them?”

“A whole people sunk in apathy for the sake of a few boys!” she cried, with scorn; “besides, how do you know but that these very same boys may return to their tribe like so many have done? Then of what use is their education and training?”

He shrugged his shoulders, but made no reply—he had none ready that would be at all satisfactory to the earnestness and passion of the half-caste.

“It passes me to understand why missionaries and such large sums of money are sent to redeem page 181 strangers, that whatever they may be are not hungry and cold, and, according to Mr. Everard, hundreds of thousands in Europe and many in England itself are ignorant, wicked, and starving. When the heathen see that the Gospel preached to them does not make the ‘pakeha’ (white man) act righteously, you may be sure he takes it with many reservations. For instance, when missionaries make themselves rich by taking the land of the Maoris and wronging them very often, it is not likely that there will be much respect for a religion with such preachers. Neither Mr. Wilson nor Bishop Selwyn owned one scrap of land, and that is one reason why the Maoris always respected them, and listened to their advice.”

They walked on a little further in silence, until at last Mary said, half abruptly–

“Let us turn back now. I forgot you do not take interest in these matters.”

“From what you said some time ago, I imagined you thought that problems of this kind were not worth your while troubling about,” he answered, smiling at her. “You cannot blame Lenore now.”

“You mistake—I never blamed Lenore. She is interested in all that relates to the poor and miserable of the Saxon race, and I feel the same with regard to the Maoris. There is a difference, though; in a hundred years, at least, my people will be swept from the face of the earth; hers will be living and suffering then as now.” A soft, melancholy cadence crept into her voice, peculiarly noticeable in native women when describing anything sorrowful. It was quite new to Captain Deering, however, who had not as yet seen any of the Maoris, as they are not frequently met with in the cities.

The sun was now beating down upon them with his usual mid-day force, the breeze of the morning having died down to a mere breath; though the high ground on which they were received all the moving air there was. Scarcely a ripple stirred the page 182 surface of the Waitamata, in which was mirrored the delicious, delicate blue of the sky above it. The trees of the avenue cast no shade coming back, as the sun had now climbed high in the heavens; so that they were glad to find themselves in the silent, shadowy God's acre again.

“This is the kind of weather you like, is it not, Miss Balmain?” he said.

“Oh, yes; but I should like it better on the verandah, or in the cool house. The middle of the day in summer is rather warm.”

“I should think it was. I feel the heat almost as oppressive as in India.”

She laughed mockingly.

“Wait until you get there once more, and if you do not wish for a day like this, my name is not Mary Balmain.”

It wanted half-an-hour to luncheon; so they sat on the verandah out of the influence of the sun's searching rays, from where they could see the ferry boats and great “Union” steamers moving up and down the harbour in a never-ending stream.

As the Wairarapa slowly rounded the North Head, Mary spoke.

“That is a steamer bound for Melbourne. I heard Uncle Leonard say that Mr. Ellett was going in the Wairarapa to Melbourne, and that must be she.”

“Indeed,” he answered. “I suppose I shall soon be a passenger in a steamer of that line, as I intend to go home by way of Suez.” He wanted to see if his words affected her, but no; outwardly, the face was still unmoved. She sat perfectly still, and that, he argued, was well. “I was speaking to Mr. Morgan about his visit to England. He says he might go next year. I should like to be at home when you arrive. My sisters would be delighted to make your acquaintance.”

“Oh, yes,” she answered, slowly, “you have sisters. I remember Lenore speaking of them.”

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“Yes, but they are both married. I am the youngest of the family. My sisters know of you already,” he said, with eagerness in his voice.

“About me?” she said, vaguely.

“Yes; I write regularly, and could scarcely fail to tell them of my friends in Auckland—you will permit me to call you friend, surely?”

“Certainly,” and he saw she was pleased, though she said no more until Mrs. Morgan came out to join them, and to rest awhile before lunch.

In the evening they all sat in the library, which they often did when there were no visitors, so that Mr. Morgan could be near his beloved books. Mary was engaged upon the piece of embroidery upon which she had been working in the morning, and at which she was very clever. As a rule, half-castes are extremely quick in picking up any accomplishment requiring manual dexterity and an eye for colour—much more so than their English sisters—but subjects requiring sustained thought and great application seem beyond their powers.

Captain Deering and his host were holding a desultory conversation, when Mary looked up suddenly.

“Auntie, can we go to the little Mangare Church to-morrow? I know Captain Deering would be interested.”

“Certainly, if you wish it. What has put that into your head?” said Mrs. Morgan, who was more indulgent, if anything, than her husband to her half-caste ward.

“I was talking to Captain Deering this morning about the missionaries and the Maoris” (Mr. Morgan smiled. The more said about them and her connection with them the better; probably this “home”–bred man's pride of birth might assert itself. Vain delusion!), “and it struck me a moment or two ago that it might be interesting to a stranger to see a real Maori church.”

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“Where is the place of which you are speaking?” asked the Captain.

“I don't think you have been to Mangare yet, though you have seen it from this side of the Manukau Harbour. We cross the bridge to reach it. Can you go, Uncle Leonard?” she said, turning in his direction.

“No; I promised Mr. Everard that I would speak at the Young Men's Rooms to-morrow afternoon. But you all go just the same. Captain Deering's time is getting short now, and, of course, he would like to see all that is interesting in Auckland before he leaves. I have been many time,” he said, turning to his guest, “and I think the service at the Mangare Church the simplest I have ever seen. You will need to drive them, Captain Deering,” said Mr. Morgan.

The carriage was never taken out on Sunday on any pretence whatever, so that when the family wished to drive anywhere on that day they drove themselves in a small hooded buggy.

“It is settled, then,” said Mary.

“My niece always amuses me in relation to this missionary question,” exclaimed Mr. Morgan, “and the reference to the subject reminded me of it. She will not give any money in any form to the support of such societies, and every month—is it not, Mary?” he said, turning to her; but she only smiled–“the collection in St. Luke's is given in aid of the Melanesian Mission, but Mary sits perfectly straight, and though she has the money in her hand, permits the plate to pass her. The look on her face plainly shows that missions are not her favoured charities.”

Mary laughed musically, and leaned back in her chair, looking particularly handsome in the mellow light of the lamp. Mr. Morgan never lighted gas in the library at any time—the lamp, he considered, was the more suitable for reading, and this particular page 185 one he valued extremely, as it was the gift of an artist friend.

“Mary, I think you had better give us some music; you have not sung for two days now,” said Mrs. Morgan.

She rose at once, and Captain Deering followed her from the room, glad of an excuse for a tête-à-tête with the half-caste. Husband and wife were thus left alone.

“I think there is something wrong with Mr. Everard, Annie. I met him in town to-day, and to my eye he looked pale and spiritless. I think this climate is too warm for him; he wants a few walks within sight of the Southern Alps or else the breeze on the moors of Scotland.”

Mrs. Morgan looked at her husband from the height of her feminine knowledge with a sort of scornful pity at his obtuseness.

“My dear, you are not at all observant,” she said. “It does not take much observation, either, to see that Mr. Everard is in love—in love,” she repeated, “with Lenore.”

Mr. Morgan looked helpless at this piece of information. The idea had not occurred to him before.

“Mary, and now Lenore! You are not much given to match-making, Annie; but what is natural to a woman comes out sooner or later—the opportunity only is required. Now I come to think of it, it does not seem at all unlikely. How will Mrs. Dayton like it, do you think?”

He was amused as he thought of her strictures upon himself; and now her daughter was sought in marriage by a man by no means orthodox in opinion.

“Of course they will consent” (“they” consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Dayton), decided Mrs. Morgan. “It is an excellent match for Lenore—much better than Ellie has made.”

Mr. Morgan smiled ironically at his wife.

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“You are reckoning without your hostess. Perhaps Lenore will not regard it in the same light as you do. She has a mind of her own, and is not to be beguiled with excellent reasons, and all that played-out sophistry. But you are right; it is suitable, very suitable. Lenore has those qualities that will best balance Mr. Everard's—an inexhaustible fund of hopefulness, in which he is lacking; she is quick, bright. Oh! it is just the thing!” cried Mr. Morgan, delighted with the picture he had conjured up.

“Who is the matchmaker now, I should like to know?” laughed Mrs. Morgan.

“Oh! it is the usual thing—the woman led and I followed.”

Through the open door came the sound of Mary's beautiful voice–

“Why do summer roses fade,
If not to show how fleeting
All things bright and pure are made.”