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

Chapter XXV. “Good-Bye, Sweetheart.”

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Chapter XXV. “Good-Bye, Sweetheart.”

The last day of Captain Deering's stay in Auckland came on a Tuesday, in the midst of the beautiful, cool, autumn season that is so mouch more pleasant than the heat, almost to sultriness, of the summer. It is the Indian summer of Australasia. The time had gone with him like a dream; so quickly, indeed, had it passed that he could scarcely believe that he had been engaged to Mary Balmain for over a month.

On this last morning he was allowed to have his betrothed all to himself, Mr. Morgan having business in town and Mrs. Morgan occupying herself in a distant part of the house.

“Put on your hat, Mary, and let us walk down by the shore. It is all so associated with you that I want to carry you in my memory standing in the sunshine of your own beautiful little bay,” said the Captain, as they stood in the hall doorway about eleven o'clock.

The half-caste smiled.

“We should have asked Lenore to put me in her painting of the bay, then you could see me any time you felt inclined,” answered she.

“Yes, that was an omission on Cousin Lenore's part; but she painted it before she saw me believe, so that we can scarcely blame her,” remarked the page 301 Captain, as Mary put on her large, white garden hat, with a bunch of crimson—Mary's colour—roses in it.

“I want to say good-bye to you in quietness,” he went on. “By-and-bye there will be so much stir and confusion, especially on the steamer, that our thoughts will not be so collected.”

They wandered down the old familiar, but none the less pleasant, path to the cove, bathed in the sunlight, that had now lost some of its brilliance and heat.

“I cannot really realize that you are going, Leslie. Oh, I wish you could stay here! India seems so far off,” said Mary, suddenly.

“I wish I could, but it is impossible, even for your sake. You don't regret our engagement, do you?” he cried, quickly. “You don't feel as if the giving up of the old home were too much?” drawing her arm tenderly within his own.

“No; a thousand times, no! You must think that I am weak,” burst out the half-caste, scornfully. “That I love my home dearly it would be useless to deny, but I love you a great deal more than a mere inanimate thing. You are very modest, Leslie. I think parting is always hard, and so much may happen before we meet again,” she ended, abruptly.

“You are fanciful, dear Mary. What can happen? Nothing, if we love one another,” he said, fondly.

Unconsciously they had walked onward until they now stood in St. Stephen's cemetery, near Mr. Wilson's last resting-place. Unhappy omen! But they thought not of it. Full of their own thoughts and plans, the place held for them no superstitious fancies—rather a charm from its silence and mysterious soothing influence. They stood hand in hand in the shadow of a great pine, leaning against the railing of a grave, the only sounds to be heard in that secluded spot being the lapping of the white-crested waves as they broke on the shore below, the singing of birds, the wind as it moved among the page 302 trees. In this silence and holy calm, an unusual, solemn feeling fell upon Captain Deering, a realization of the mightiness of the powers that be, and the shortness of man's life, and how impotent he is before the forces and environments of that life.

But Mary was utterly untouched by the voices of the Supreme Being around her—her whole passionate pagan nature was fixed upon one object, and that was her lover.

“Mary, you must write me long letters telling me about everything. It will be the only way in which I can talk to you. How I shall long for those letters! This will be an event in my daily life,” he said, caressingly. “When you go to England you will be able to tell me your impressions of those I know, and all about the gay life you will lead there.”

“Do you think your sisters will like me? I should be so sorry if they did not,” said Mary, with a humility born of her love, for want of pride was surely not a failing of Mary Balmain.

“Of course they will! How could they help it?” he cried, with all a lover's fondness. “Besides, want my sister, Lady St. Clair, to introduce you to her set.”

I shall only long for the time when you can come home for good. Letters are so poor to tell our thoughts and feelings. In five minutes, if I did not speak at all, I could show you more love than in a letter of twenty pages,” said the half-caste in her soft, musical voice, that seemed to fall into rhythm with the sound of the sea.

“I daresay you could, sweetheart,” patting her hand fondly, “but we shall not be able to see one another, even for five minutes, for a year at least, so that you must make your letters extra kind and conversational.”

“How hard it is to say good-bye to you, Mary. I did not think it would be so difficult,” went on Captain Deering, after a pause. “I know you love page 303 me, but I want to hear you say it this last time I see you for so long.”

“I love you, there is no need to say it,” she said, softly.

“Say after me, ‘I will be true till death,’ ” he commanded.

Death—I don't like the sound of the word—I am afraid of it. I will be true while I live,” she said, kissing his hand with a peculiar caressing tenderness.

“That will do—it is the same thing, dear.”

Seeing visitors off is a great institution in Auckland, and, in fact, all Colonial cities. Australasians enjoy life, perhaps to a greater degree than any other people, and do not regard as a waste of time that which is spent for their own pleasure. Another thing, as yet the wharves do not present dense lines of shipping and immense stretches of merchandise under a thick atmosphere caused by the smoke of factories around; and, therefore, it is a pleasure to walk down them under the pure air of heaven and with a fresh breeze blowing from the Pacific. However it may be, the fact remains the same, that any steamer leaving the city for any southern, Australian, or “home” port, is sure to be visited by a large assemblage of people, who collect to bid their friends “God-speed.”

Captain Deering was no exception to this rule. Nearly all the acquaintances he had made during his visit came on board to say farewell to the frank, good-natured soldier, who had won golden opinions from all, and whom they would never see again.

Mr. McCleod, to the astonishment of them all, honoured him with his presence, walking all the way from the “Mountain” for the purpose.

“We did not expect to see you, Mr. McCleod,” said Mr. Morgan. “Did you walk?”

“Certainly,” replied the Scotchman, with his broadest accent. “How else would I come? I want to say good-bye to the lad. I liked him because page 304 there was no nonsense about him. I brought him a protea—the very first of the season.”

“It is surely very early,” remarked Lenore, who had heard what was said; “very obliging to my cousin, I am sure. You did not bring any heather, I see,” she added, mischievously.

“No, I keep that for people who know a beautiful flower when they see it,” he retorted.

Proteas are large, waxy flowers, white inside, and pink on the outside of the cup, and will keep for a very great length of time. They are the blossom of a tree, and Mr. McCleod happened to possess two of very large size, of which he was extremely proud.

“Thank you very much, Mr. McCleod,” said Captain Deering, on receiving the flower, which was on a very long stem. “It was kind of you to walk all the way from the ‘Mountain’ to bring it to me, of which I have heard my cousin speak. Everyone seems to think of me in some way, so that I am bewildered.”

“It is a pity you could not stay with us altogether,” replied Mr. McCleod. “I suppose you will be taking my friend Morgan's niece after awhile?” with a twinkle in his eye.

“Not for some time yet. I am going to let her see what it is to have a cousin,” cried Bertie.

To Mr. Everard's eyes the scene possessed a peculiar interest, calling up the suggestion of his own case—when would he be in the same position, or one something like it, if he left Auckland with Lenore as his wife? The morning crowd of well-dressed people, the bright sunshine that was emitted by a sun declining in the west in all the splendour of amber and rose colour, the rich blue of the distant hills, and the more delicate hue of the sky and water, all contributed to a brilliant picture that lingered long in the minister's memory.

“You will miss your cousin sadly, Miss Dayton,” he observed to Lenore, who was standing near him.

“Indeed we shall, but not so much as if he had spent the last month at our house, as at first intended. page 305 His visit to Mr. Morgan's broke the sense of loss we should otherwise feel,” explained Lenore, “though of course we shall miss him very much. I presume you will be the next,” she went on bravely, deciding to face her position even to the minister himself, though her heart sank as she said the words.

“Yes,” assented Mr. Everard; “but I hope I shall not go in quite the same way,” emphasizing the last words meaningly. But Lenore did not notice, as he hoped she would.

“I suppose you will go by the San Francisco line, instead of this route?” she said, dully.

The minister bit his lip; she had misunderstood him entirely.

Meanwhile Mary and Captain Deering were standing together near Mr. and Mrs. Morgan, and a little apart from the throng.

“I don't know why it is, Mary, but I have felt such a weight over my spirits, a feeling that some misfortune is going to happen, ever since I put my foot on this steamer,” said he.

She shivered at the remark. She was always keenly alive to melancholy influences, they appealed to a large part of her nature.

“You are fanciful, Leslie, it is the prospect of parting that causes that feeling,” she said, gently.

“You are young, dear,” he went on without heeding her words, “and you will receive great attention in London. Don't let anyone come between you and me.”

He thought of no sorrow except the one that would take his beloved from him.

She smiled scornfully.

“My love will never change—it is for all time—for good or for evil,” and for the moment he was satisfied; the shadow of an early death lifted under Mary's spell, and in this last scene between the two he was himself again.

At last the whistle sounded, and friends began to page 306 say the good-bye that takes so long to say; Mrs. Dayton taking a tender farewell of this favourite nephew of hers, her dead sister's only son, and then came Lenore and Ellie, and all his acquaintances, the last to say good-bye being the Morgans.

And then they all collected on the wharf while the steamer slowly turned around and moved gracefully away, and on all the women's faces were tears, but none on Mary Balmain's. As the vessel slowly steamed down the harbour towards the North Head, and the figures on board grew indistinct, Mr. Morgan helped his niece into the carriage which had awaited them, then Mrs. Dayton and Mrs. Morgan, and jumping in himself, they drove off, the others walking home in the mellow sunshine and coolness of the evening.

Captain Deering had passed from the sight of his friends in the radiance of a southern sunset, and in the vigour of his manhood and youth into the untrodden regions of the future, and not one of those who had sped him on his way ever saw his face again—the beauty and brightness of the scene alone remained as a sweet memory in their hearts.

As the steamer slowly rounded the North Head and passed into Rangitoto Channel, Captain Deering stood against the bulwark and took a last farewell of Auckland, one of the fairest cities of the British Empire, rising up from the water's edge bathed in the glories of an almost tropical sunset. He could see the little cove in which he had said good-bye to Mary, and out in the bay the yacht riding at anchor, now in deep shadow, while higher up rose the cliff on which Mr. Morgan's house stood, and on the brow of which he had declared his love to Mary. Gradually it faded from his view, and he was in the broad waters of the Hauraki Gulf, leaving Mary's home far behind him.