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

Chapter XXIII. The Sail in the Yacht

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Chapter XXIII. The Sail in the Yacht.

Captain Deering's visit to New Zealand was drawing to a close. He had not gone back to Mrs. Dayton's house after his return from the Hot Lakes, as had at first been arranged, but, with the consent of all, had remained as Mr. Morgan's guest for the rest of his stay. A week was now the utmost limit of his time, and he was making the very best use of it.

The whole family were going down to Waiwera in Mr. Morgan's yacht for a few days, Mr. Everard being of the party, and were intending to return on the Saturday following, Captain Deering taking his final departure on the Tuesday.

Waiwera is a watering-place between thirty and forty miles down the Hauraki Gulf, and a favourite resort for excursionists on holidays. It is also convenient for business men to take a run down to from Saturday until Monday to enjoy the fresh, bracing air, and get the benefit of the baths, which have some fame for certain forms of disease. On account of the close proximity of these hot springs to the city, the beautiful scenery surrounding the hotel—the only building, with the exception of a few cottages, within miles—and the excellent facilities page 282 for boating and fishing, Waiwera is a boon to the citizens of Auckland, and is always well patronized by tourists.

As it happened, Captain Deering had not yet visited the Springs, although he had been several trips in Mr. Morgan's yacht, but as Mary had resolved that her lover should not leave Auckland without seeing all the points of interest, Mrs. Morgan had arranged the present excursion. Not that she intended to make one of the sailing party, for, as a matter of fact, she rarely put her foot on the yacht, preferring to join the others at the hotel on the arrival of the steamer, which left for Waiwera three times a week. Mrs. Morgan, as we have before noticed, was a poor sailor, while her niece and husband were as comfortable and happier on sea than on land.

The weather was all that could be desired, the Captain declared, on the appearance of the party ready to embark, laden with rugs, shawls, books, baskets, and other necessary and useful articles for the sail, the heavier luggage having been carried down before. There was a delightful breeze blowing in their favour, not too strong to be unpleasant, but sufficient to send the yacht at a good speed down the harbour.

“I thought you said Lenore was coming with us, Uncle Leonard,” cried Mary, who was busily engaged, with Captain Deering's help, in arranging the articles they had brought with them. “I had forgotten until it occurred to me a second or two ago.”

“I saw Miss Dayton this morning, but she told me she was not able to accept Mr. Morgan's invitation,” remarked the minister, who hoped she would be with them.

“I did ask Lenore,” answered the host, “but she said that she had neglected her painting lately—I suppose she meant the picture she is doing to compete for the medal of the Society—that she must page 283 not indulge herself so much as of late. They are good girls—your cousins,” he went on, turning to Captain Deering. “She knew that her mother would prefer her to stay at home, and, to please her, gave up what would have been a real pleasure to Lenore's artistic temperament. Your aunt never needs to make a command, her children know her desires, and do them without question. And yet people will bore one to death with talk about women's rights. What position in the world surpasses in dignity that held by mothers like Mrs. Dayton, whose children rise up and call them blessed?”

The happy home life of Mr. Dayton's household appealed most forcibly to the childlessness of a man like Mr. Morgan, though of late years Mary's advent had filled the aching void in the household to a large extent, but he felt something like the husband of Undine after he had discovered her strange parentage—as if his claim upon her love were very precarious. Though there was a certain coolness between Mrs. Dayton and Mr. Morgan, the latter never ceased to hold her in high esteem for her virtues as a wife and a mother.

“Then you do not believe in the modern movement for the highest education of women, their right to the suffrage, and all the other phases of the question that are agitating so many communities in the world?” remarked Mr. Everard, with a slight smile.

“Most certainly I believe in higher education and in holding out every inducement that will tend to the development of the female sex; but as for this striving for degrees, except as a means for keeping themselves independent, I have no patience with it. Men and women are not equal, and the more they become so the worse for the race,” cried Mr. Morgan, in his harshest tones.

“Why, Uncle Leonard?” said Mary, “no one page 284 could be more womanly and refined than Miss Holbrook, and she is already B.A. and preparing for M.A.”

“Miss Holbrook is a fool!” answered Mr. Morgan, irascibly. “The idea of a girl studying jurisprudence! You know her, don't you, Mr. Everard?”

The other nodded.

“She is simply wearing out her constitution from ambition.”

“We shall have a pleasant trip,” remarked Mr. Morgan to Captain Deering, by way of changing the conversation.

“Yes, the breeze is just about right. You will have to say good-bye to the yacht, Mary, when you leave Auckland. I cannot promise a harbour and gulf to sail in like the Waitamata Harbour and Hauraki Gulf in England,” said the Captain, smiling.

“I said something of that kind to Uncle Leonard this morning,” answered the girl. “I think we shall miss the yacht more than all else—we are so fond of it. Auntie will feel it the least, because she does not care for the sea—she is such a poor sailor”

“I think we know every nook and cove in the Hauraki Gulf,” remarked Mr. Morgan. “But the run to Waiwera is our favourite, and it is not too long.”

“It is so strange that we have not shown you our hot springs before this, Leslie,” said Mary. “You have almost missed seeing them—Mr. Everard has visited them several times.”

“One could almost fancy that we had been transported to the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea—among the Ionian Islands or Archipelago—from the general appearance of the landscape,” cried Captain Deering. “The almost total absence of man's handiwork is about the only difference—Oh! and the bush, of course, is quite peculiar to New Zealand scenery.”

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It was a scene that recurred in after years to two at least of those present on that day as a bright picture, rich in colouring and happy in its effects. Far away in the slums of the world's metropolis, amongst the miserable, the fallen, the starving, the luxury and delight of this sail, the beautiful, graceful figure of the half-caste so happy in her love, the massive, intellectual face of Mr. Morgan before the shadow of sorrow had fallen upon it, rose before the vision of the minister as an oasis in the path of his life—a sweet memory when the harmony and love that hallowed it had passed into oblivion.

There was, indeed, something of the repose and brilliant, yet subdued, effects we are accustomed to associate with the scenery of the Orient; and it required no great stretch of fancy to dream one's self into the regions of classic lore, on the deck of Mr. Morgan's yacht—the mysterious Nile of Cleopatra's Egypt, the canals of the city that lies in the sea, or the straits over which floats the crescent as the symbol of power. The dark, magnificent beauty of the half-caste, her languor and grace of manner, only served to heighten the illusion as she sat indolently fanning herself in a low deck-chair, and toying with a small plate of grapes in her lap. In such air, and under such a sky, for the time, it is comparatively simple to take on the dreamy delight of the Oriental.

The numerous islands of the gulf, with their blue, shadowy bush—the forest of New Zealand always appears blue in the distance—a deep, rich blue that is full of beautiful lights, and shades, and coves of pearly whiteness—passed before them in magnificent procession, until the breeze freshening, the open sea spread before them in the far distance, the lovely island home of an ex-governor of the Colony, and the islands at the entrance of the gulf.

A filmy veil of delicate grey lingered over the landscape as if to soften the burning rays of the sun, now about at the zenith, the great impenetrable vault page 286 of heaven unflecked by clouds, except near the verge of the horizon, where lingered acirrus like a delicate touch of pink on a tea rose. The monotonous lapping of the waves against the side of the yacht, and the balmy air, invited to a dreamy restfulness pleasant to the senses. All around and before lay the sea, a wonderful mingling of the pale golden and delicate blue, ever changing, ever bright, ever singing its inimitable dirge to the advance of its mighty contemporary—Time.

The party on the yacht had been silent some time, overpowered by the heat; but as the fresh, bracing air from the Pacific Ocean filled the sails, speeding them in a parallel with itself, Mr. Morgan turned to Mr. Everard with a smile.

“Pleasant once in a way, is it not? A taste of Eastern luxury.”

“It is. I don't think I have ever taken this trip to Waiwera on such a beautiful day as this—it is delightful; but too much of such weather, and the luxury of enjoying it in this way, is scarcely the thing to fit a man for the struggle of life,” said the minister, thoughtfully. Mary opened the half-closed eyes with a slow, half-scornful movement.

“Oh, Mr. Everard,” she said, in her slow, musical, mocking voice, “can you not enjoy these gifts of the Creator without feeling that you are indulging yourself? Your remark reminds me of the old Puritan idea that happiness and religion cannot be compatible. To me, the more one enjoys nature, the more one lives up to the ideal that God intended, else why has the world been made so beautiful and fair?”

“I am sorry you misunderstand me, Miss Balmain—I simply meant that to pass too much of one's time in this pleasant, dreamy fashion would be apt to enervate one's faculties,” said the minister, gravely. He could never understand the half-caste's moods. “I should, indeed, have gone back to an austerer age, page 287 if I believed that innocent enjoyment of God's beautiful world was a sign of weakness.”

“Can one innocently (that was the word you used, was it not?) enjoy nature's blessings to one's own hurt? Why are they given to us, if not for us to avail ourselves of their benefit? The crime, and a great deal of the misery of the world are to be seen at their worst in those places where nature is excluded by man's handiwork, viz., dense cities,” went on Mary, with a touch of malice. She had never cordially liked the minister; he was too rigid according to her lights.

“I do not say that it will lead to anyone's hurt, but I certainly think that a course strewn with rose leaves is not one to develop man's higher powers—rather to foster weakness, or else end in utter stagnation. I take it that we are not placed here merely to attain happiness,” answered the minister, a little sharply; but Mary only smiled and shrugged her shoulders gracefully.

“I think you are one of the exceptions that prove the rule, Queen Mary,” said Mr. Morgan, tenderly. “You require the rose-strewn path; and I fervently hope that it may be always yours.”

Mr. Everard marvelled at the words that seemed so at variance with his host's characteristics. Surely, he thought, this lovely, soulless half-caste had cast a spell over him.

“I often wonder if scenery and climatic influences really have a great effect upon a race—that is, whether they help to produce men famous in the world of letters, politics, and so on,” remarked the minister to Mr. Morgan, after a pause.

“I hardly know; but undoubtedly the physical aspect and position of a country determine to a very great degree the features of the national character. But as to whether men of transcendent powers are also partly the result of such influences it is hard to tell. No doubt the national character is reflected in page 288 their work—as, for instance, in Milton's case—probably no other country but England could produce such a man—and in this way, perhaps, great men are distinctive of the land they live in; but as for genius itself, that is not limited to time or place. You also notice that Great Britain has not given to the world a general that ranks with Cæsar and Napoleon—merely taking into account their military power—and why? Because military ardour is not a prominent national characteristic of Britons. But what country can show such a brilliant array of officers' names—men who fought for love of their country, and brought into play the finest qualities of the nation? Am I not right, Captain Deering?”

“I agree with you so far as the prestige of British officers and soldiers is concerned, but I fancy Marlborough is considered one of the great soldiers of the world,” commented the Captain.

“I have no doubt he is so regarded; but he scarcely ranks with Alexander the Great or Napoleon, I imagine,” said Mr. Morgan.

And silence again fell upon them; and the yacht moved gently on with the breeze, which had dropped very considerably.

“Have you seen–'s pamphlet?” asked Mr. Morgan of the minister, mentioning a treatise by an eminent thinker of the day.

“No; I don't agree with his views at all. He is what I term an iconoclast—one who can readily argue the fallacy of certain forms of belief to his own satisfaction, but who fails to substitute anything that lights up the dark places,” answered the minister.

“Oh, what he says is all very well—nothing very new about it, but his style is excellent.”

“The difference between your belief and mine, Mr. Morgan, lies in a nutshell—you argue that the Church in its present form has done its work—indeed, the Church as such does not find favour in your page 289 eyes. I believe that it has still a vast work before it. Your religion is pure, and on a high plane, suitable for men of high intellectual growth; but how about the mass of the people in the world? They are totally unfitted to conceive the purity of your ideal—the self-abnegation necessary for the brotherly love at which you aim—and will not for generations—if ever on exactly the same line,” cried the minister, eagerly.

“Why not? Stranger things have happened, but I acknowledge that of all lessons, the hardest to learn is that of brotherly love—or charity. Rather it is not to be learnt—it is a growth, the result of the quickening of the soul,” answered Mr. Morgan.

“I have thought over a remark you made one day in your library—that charity should be evolved from the soul more than it is at present. The words struck me most forcibly, though I have seen the same idea in many forms before. They are exactly in accordance with the whole of Christ's teaching, who attacked the cause of an evil, and not the evil itself. But when I remember the terrible fact of pauperism, it seems hard to believe that one must attack the hard hearts of the rich and not pauperism itself,” said the minister, sadly.

Mary was listening gravely, as was her wont when her uncle began a discussion, but Mr. Morgan noticed an impatient movement of the Captain's, and divined its cause with his accustomed keenness of perception.

“You do not take any interest in these matters, Captain Deering?” he said, gravely.

“No; I candidly own that I do not, Mr. Morgan. I have not the doubts that impel people to investigate these questions, nor have I any inclination to study the subject even superficially,” answered the young man.

“Mary and you are extremely well-met, then,” said Mr. Morgan, smiling half-ironically. “She is page 290 not in the least troubled as to her future, or her present either for that matter.”

“No, of course not, Uncle Leonard; you shall think enough for us both, and we can make the excuse that I was not capable of great thoughts; but that I always reverently enjoyed God's beautiful world, and did the best I could,” cried the half-caste, half-serious, half-mocking.

And Captain Deering was thankful. It would be decidedly inconvenient to a man of his easy nature to have a wife that would be constantly discussing such subjects—one like Lenore, for instance. He wanted a wife like himself, comfortably satisfied with the world as he found it, and in no way concerned as to its improvement, morally or otherwise, leaving, with a good conscience, such work to men of greater parts, as he himself expressed it.

How Mary had escaped the contagion—for so it might be called—he could not conceive; but as it was he was content.