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

Chapter III. The Daytons

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Chapter III. The Daytons.

At the end of the road that led to the point on which Mr. Morgan's residence was built, and on slightly higher ground, stood a large, roomy house, evidently built for comfort and a family. In the rear, as a protection from southerly winds, rose a wall of tall pines, with rather sombre effect in the bright sun-shine of the summer's day—the natives of northern regions are as distinctly foreign to the eye in the warm, sunny southlands, as a bank of English primroses in the depths of the virgin forest. A hedge of holly shut in the garden from the road, and was kept clipped on a level with the fence to admit of a free view of the loveliness of the harbour.

On a rustic seat placed in the shade of a clump of pines, now covered with berries just beginning to turn red, sat a young girl sewing.

An air of restfulness and peace seemed to linger about the quiet, graceful figure that was perfectly in keeping with the stillness and languor of the afternoon. She was decidedly pretty, of a type frequently to be met with throughout Australasia, the skin exquisitely fair and perfectly colourless, but with a fineness and firmness of texture that showed it was not caused by ill-health. The features were page 28 good, the hair light brown and fluffy, the curves of the neck and body perfection, and the eyes, though not large, were of a deep greyish tint rather than blue.

From the wide verandah came another young girl, so like the other that there was no mistaking the fact that they were sisters, but as she came nearer the resemblance sank into what is termed a family likeness. If Ellie represented peace, Lenore was the personification of energy. Though lacking to a great extent the elder sister's prettiness—she had not regular features, her figure, though graceful, was spare, but by no means angular; she had colour, but her skin was not so satiny and fine as her sister's—she yet possessed qualities of a far higher order. There was force and intellect in the broad, open brow, the determined mouth, the full eye, and even in the erect poise of the small head and slender figure. After the large, blue, expressive eyes, however, Lenore's chief beauty was her hair, a deep bronze red, that seemed sometimes almost living, so curly was it, and so varying in its tints.

“Ellie,” cried the new-comer, gaily, “what have you been doing since lunch time for the benefit of the family? I left the drawing-room with a good conscience, because I thought Cousin Leslie would have you to entertain him. Where is he?”

There was a quickness, an eager, vibrating note in her voice which harmonized well with her general make-up.

“He has gone for a walk. I suppose it will take some days to get over the sensation of being on shipboard. What have you been doing?” said Ellie.

“Painting,” returned the other briefly, and poking the bark of the tree next her with a paint brush she still held in her hand. “I wonder if you ever feel like doing something rash, as I do,” cried Lenore suddenly, and flinging herself on a seat beside her sister. “However, I know you never do.”

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Ellie looked a little surprised at this outburst, but made no comment.

What a contrast the two sisters were, like yet so unlike! The one tranquil, sweet to see, and one over whom the troubled waters of life will glide quietly—vexed questions, difficult problems, strange new theories, will never perplex her mind—and she will be a happy woman.

But Lenore. Ah! Lenore is of different mould. The one will exert her influence over a few, the other over many. As yet, however, she is undeveloped, her ideas are crude, she is unconscious of her own power—a power potent for good or evil.

“What a long pause, and giving expression to her thoughts, Lenore said thoughtfully–

“What do you think of him, Ellie?”

“I suppose by him you mean Cousin Leslie—this new cousin of ours. I like him very much indeed as yet, and think him a pleasant addition to the family. I'll tell you more in a week,” smiled Ellie in answer.

“Like is an extremely safe, but slightly ambiguous term, my dear. I think very highly of him,” cried Lenore, scornfully. “Did you notice how patiently he answered all mamma's questions—though she repeated some twice—about her relations at ‘home,’ some of whom he had never seen?” she added.

“I did not notice, and even if he did, it was no more than his duty. He is mamma's nephew, and of course could not be anything else than a gentleman,” cried Ellie, more sharply than her wont.

“Don't make me laugh, sister mine, I am not in the mood. I fail to see that because he is the son of my aunt he must be a paragon of perfection. I am not aware that the gentlemen of our acquaintance always do their duty, in which Cousin Leslie is a decided example to some of the selfish, idealess, male sex of our set,” said Lenore, savagely; and page 30 putting her arms behind her head, she looked at her sister with amusement in her eyes.

“What has come to you lately, dear? you seem so restless and dissatisfied. What have those who belong to the masculine portion of the community done now?” asked Ellie, with elder sister in her tones.

“Nothing particularly startling, of that you make a note, as did the immortal Captain Cuttle, nor anything particularly silly of which I am aware,” answered Lenore, ignoring the first part of her sister's question.

“Pray be sensible, Lenore.”

“I believe that is usually a failing of mine. I am tired to death of being called a sensible girl. My observations are leading me seriously to believe that sensible people are often very disagreeable and interfering.”

These revolutionary sentiments were scarcely ones with which the elder sister could have much sympathy. She changed the subject.

“Has Mary come back yet?”

“Yes; she waved her handkerchief out of the window this morning as a signal that they had come back.”

“I wonder what Cousin Leslie will think of her?” said Ellie reflectively.

“I—don't—know,” answered Lenore, slowly. “You are very well,” looking at her sister, and speaking with sisterly frankness, “but he has seen dozens of women like you, perhaps with warmer colouring, but of the same type. But Mary—Mary is unique. He has never in all his life seen a girl like her, I am positive.”

Lenore and Mary Balmain were about the same age, and despite the great differences in their characters—maybe there lay the attraction—they were the best of friends. This friendship pleased Mr. Morgan extremely, he having a high opinion of page 31 Mr. Dayton's second daughter, and with the idea that Lenore's energy and originality might be a spur-to Mary's slower nature, he encouraged the acquaintance by every means in his power.

“Here is Leslie coming now—I must run. Look at my hair and this paint-bedaubed apron!” cried Lenore, whose quick eyes saw everything; and she was away up the path before Ellie had time to look round.

Coming up from the gate, swinging a cane in his hand, the young man's eye caught the blue of his cousin's dress, and he immediately made towards it instead of keeping on towards the house.

“You have a cool spot to sit in this afternoon, Ellie. What a pleasant little nook!” he cried, in a clear, ringing voice, and leaning against the back of the seat.

“Yes; you will find that we spend a great part of our time out of doors in Auckland. But I think it is time for tea,” she said, rising as she spoke.

“I shall be glad of a cup of tea. I see you hold fast to old country fashions, even although it is so much warmer here,” remarked the young man, as he walked by her side up the path that led to the house.

In the drawing-room they found Mrs. Dayton and her youngest child—a lad of about fourteen years old—for whom she was mending a cricket cap. Very comely and matronly was this lady—more like Lenore than the elder sister—and with that restful happiness on her face so often observed in those wives and mothers with little to trouble them in their own family or in the outside world. She had married her husband in defiance of the wishes of her family, but had never regretted it, though Mr. Dayton was a man in merely comfortable circumstances. However, as they were people that cared little for luxuries it was a matter of small consideration.

“I was just beginning to wonder if we were to have any tea to-day, Ellie. Where is Lenore? I page 32 have not seen her this afternoon,” said the mother, as her daughter and Captain Deering entered the room.

“She will be here presently. She has been painting,” answered Ellie, as she went to fill her teapot with water.

“How did you enjoy your walk, Leslie?” said Mrs. Dayton, turning to her nephew.

“Hugely. I don't know whether it is because I have been confined to a steamer so long, but I never enjoyed a walk so much. I did not go far; no further than that little old-fashioned church on the point. There seems to be something exhilarating—maybe it is my fancy—about the air of this country.”

“No, it is not imagination,” said Ellie, coming in again. “We are very proud of the light air and clearness of atmosphere of New Zealand. I suppose you did not walk far, as you are not yet acquainted with the lie of the country.”

“No; I kept on a line with the shore,” answered he.

“Why don't you say, Ellie, that you were seriously thinking of sending the town crier after Cousin Leslie?” laughed Lenore, advancing into the room. “‘New chum’ would answer for a description accurately.”

“That is the Colonial term for new-comer, is it not? It has a good-natured, friendly ring about it,” said the Captain.

“It is an expression that has come from the gold-field day. I am surprised that you should use it, Lenore,” cried Ellie.

“Are you acquainted with the owner of the house on that point below here?” indicating Mr. Morgan's beautiful home, which they could see from where they sat. “What a fine position! What a view! He seems, too, to be a man of taste; the grounds are page 33 finely laid out, and I see he has several glass houses,” said the Captain after a pause.

“Yes,” answered Mrs. Dayton. “Mr. Morgan and his wife are our special friends; indeed, I may say they are our most intimate friends. He is very wealthy, and can afford to indulge his taste to the fullest extent.”

“It will not be long before you will have an opportunity of enjoying the view, and judging the merits of the position and gardens for yourself. I think Mr. Morgan is one of the most hospitable men in Auckland, and that is saying a great deal,” cried Lenore.

“I think I met a gentleman of that name in Queen Street this morning. I think that is the name Bertie said. He is tall, and gives you the impression of power both mentally and physically,” said the Captain.

“You have not described him at all badly, cousin mine,” cried Lenore, appreciatively, “for such a short interview. He is like a column of granite—hard, unchangeable, and yet polished, so that the rough points are all smoothed and toned down, leaving only the graceful. Oh!” drawing herself together with a jerk, and, after a pause, going on again in a slower tone of voice, “he has one possession that he values above all others, and one that, much as you have seen, you have never met before, and never again will find its equal.”

“What is it? It must be very valuable,” he cried, mockingly.

“I suppose you mean Mary Balmain,” broke in Mrs. Dayton. “She is Mr. Morgan's niece, and is a half-caste. She will be to you what is called a new type in your world. She and Ellie often sing duets together, Mary taking contralto and Ellie soprano.”

“Then I suppose Mrs. Morgan is a Maori?” remarked the Captain, who had not noticed the word niece.

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Lenore's face was brimful of mirth.

“Mrs. Morgan would hardly be flattered, Leslie. Mary is a niece, and adopted at that.”

“You seem to be an adept in the art of hero-worship, Lenore,” laughed her cousin. “You really arouse my curiosity in anticipation of a sight of this native beauty. I hope she is equal to your praises of her. She seems to be a nightingale and Cleopatra combined.”

All smiled but Lenore.

“No, not like Cleopatra,” she said, gravely; “there is little of the ‘serpent of old Nile’ about Mary Balmain.”

“You will have a chance to form an opinion tonight, Cousin Leslie. Mary and I go to the Choral Hall practice together, and she will call here for me,” remarked Ellie.

“Here comes papa and Bert,” cried Will, and there was a general movement to the verandah.

Captain Deering was the only son of Mrs. Dayton's favourite sister, who had died many years before. At his father's death he had come in for a considerable estate, but he had resolved to continue in the army for some time longer. When on leave from India he had contracted a sort of low fever, and, during his convalescence, a letter happened to arrive from his New Zealand aunt, who, after her relatives had got over their anger at her marriage, corresponded pretty regularly, at least, with Captain Deering's mother, and at her death with her two daughters.

All at once he resolved to visit these far-off cousins of his, and at the same time see something of the world, thus spending his extended leave with pleasure and profit to himself.

What a tangled web fate weaves! and yet how simply and naturally the current of our lives moves on. One single action may affect the whole of our future, involving that of many others, spreading out page 35 into a whole network of complications, as the seed of an oak thrown into the ground in time may develop into a great tree.

When he was well on his way to the Antipodes, Captain Deering half regretted his quixotic step, for, after all, what did he know of these unknown relations? They might be very objectionable people for aught he knew to the contrary, but no, that kindly, urgent invitation, the photographs of his cousins, the hand-painted cards sent “home” by Lenore, were not the expressions of people he should despise. At all events he expected to be more or less bored outside of the magnificent scenery he expected to see.

But he was agreeably disappointed. He had hardly spoken half-a-dozen words to Mr. Dayton and Bertie, who met him at the steamer, before he knew he should pass a month or two very comfortably; and he was not two hours in the house before he knew he should enjoy his whole visit thoroughly. There was a breeziness, a freshness, and withal an air of good breeding about the different members of the family that pleased even his refined critical sense.

A description of this moderate hero might answer for thousands of the male sex all over Great Britain; tall and with a military carriage, well made, blue eyes, and a light brown moustache, constituted his outward appearance. For the rest he was by no means brilliant; but, as Lenore said, he was a gentleman, frank, honourable, and with a pleasant genial manner, that made him friends everywhere.

After dinner the three gentlemen repaired to the drawing-room, while the ladies distributed themselves over the house as their various duties led them. Mr. Dayton, with fatherly pride, showed Captain Deering Lenore's pictures, describing the scenery which they represented, and as he was tolerably familiar with New Zealand scenery, he made his remarks interesting.

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In particular he gave an account of a visit he had, in company with Mr. Morgan, paid to the Lake District after the eruption of Tarawera.

“You must not leave here without paying the Waikato a visit, Leslie. I shall not be able to go, but Mr. Morgan is always ready for anything of that kind. Though the Terraces are gone, there are wonders enough to reward the journey,” said Mr. Dayton.

“I made up my mind before I left home to pay a visit to the Hot Lakes of New Zealand, but if Mr. Morgan will come with me it will be much pleasanter.”

Suddenly Bertie, who was sitting at the window occupied with the newspaper, called out, “Here's Mary!” but on seeing his sisters were not present, he relapsed to the columns of the Star again.

Captain Deering felt a thrill of curiosity run through him to see this girl, of whom he had heard so much in the afternoon.

From where he sat, through the open door, he could hear the sound of her voice speaking to Will in the hall, or rather on the verandah. What a musical, clear, bell-like voice it was, full of sweet cadences, and a peculiar rhythm that, low as she spoke, seemed to spread through the waves of sound to the extreme end of the drawing-room, lingering as if loth to die into silence.

The Maori tongue, consisting as it does of only fourteen letters, is extremely soft, vowel sounds predominating; the plaintive, pathetic voices of the native women being most noticeable to settlers in the early days of the colony. “If she be as beautiful as her voice,” thought the Captain, “she will be decidedly interesting.”

“Ellie is going to send you to smithereens for being so late,” Will informed her in his schoolboy phraseology.

“I am afraid that they teach you at the Grammar page 37 School some other things besides the Queen's English,” laughed Mary. “I shall make it my business to inform Mr. Gardner of your shortcomings, Will.”

“You don't like him well enough to bother yourself—think I don't know?” retorted Will. “Pray don't remind a fellow of school when he is inclined to forget it. Hurrah for the holidays!” and he rushed down the path.

“Why, Mary, what has made you so late?” cried Lenore, coming downstairs. “Ellie was just about going over to see what was the matter, or if you were coming at all.”

“Mabel Ellett came with a song I lent her, and stayed so long that I really was afraid that I should have to give up practice for to-night altogether,” answered Mary.

“That girl has not a grain of sense. She talks and talks about nothing in the world that anyone is interested about in the slightest degree. She knows as well as I do that you are engaged on a Tuesday evening for the choral practice,” said Lenore, impatiently. “But come in and see my cousin, Captain Deering; Ellie will be down in a moment.”

And then entered the room, with a grace of carriage in keeping with the voice, a girl, the like of whom he had never seen before. They had spoken truly; but, in spite of Lenore's assertion, he compared her in his mind to the great Egyptian, as the “sweet queen,” not as “cunning past man's thought,” or the “foul Egyptian.”

Mary possessed a subtle influence, a magnetism that was undefinable, but none the less a reality to those who came in contact with her, and over whom she exerted her spell, that placed her own individuality on a plane peculiarly its own. It was, however, merely an adjunct to her great personal beauty, and never rose beyond the power to charm: never became a controlling force.

Captain Deering admired the gliding, airy motion, page 38 and, in the peculiar attitude of his mind towards her, he felt her witchery; but it was the dusky, unfathomable depths of the glorious dark eyes, the warm brown of the oval face, the liberal curves of the graceful figure—the whole a study in browns and blacks, but marvellously rich in effect—that appealed to all that was artistic in the man. These two fair sweet cousins of his were pleasant to look upon, but they had the air of aliens, of being the natives of a land ruled by a more parsimonious nature; but this girl was the very embodiment of the opulence, the exuberance, the superabundance of her native land. She was the product of the glad, bright sun, the fresh breeze that alternated with a languorous air, the weird and beautiful scenery, the incarnation of the forces that clothed the landscape with a vegetation, tropical in its wild luxuriance, and yet with the features of a colder clime; even the repose of her manner was the result of cloudless skies and soft, balmy days for weeks together. Unique as the half-caste was in appearance, she gave the impression of possessing no ordinary qualities—not after those of Lenore Dayton, but the outcome of her birth and the circumstances of her life.

Mary still wore the crimson gown that she had worn in the afternoon, and the white roses were still at her throat; but, on her head, concealing the straight, black hair, she now had a large white hat trimmed with white lace and crimson roses.

She murmured a few words of acknowledgment to Lenore's introduction, and then turned to shake hands with Bertie, who had forsaken his paper at her entrance.

“We had better start at once, Mary,” said Ellie, coming in ready dressed. “It is late.”

“Are you not going, Lenore?” asked Captain Deering, as he saw she had made no preparations for walking.

“No, I don't sing, and, therefore, do not belong to page 39 the society. I merely go when they have something new on hand,” she said.

“This family goes in for a variety of accomplishments,” remarked Bertie in a majestic tone. “The mater does not believe in a smattering of everything, and a knowledge of nothing; so Lenore paints and plays the piano, and Ellie sings.”

“And what may be your contribution to the family genius, old fellow?” laughed the Captain.

“Mine—Oh! I am the humourist!” replied Bertie, coolly.

“Humourist!” cried Lenore, in huge disdain, and with half-a-dozen notes of exclamation in her voice. “Pray don't be bashful, Bertie!”

“If you will allow me, I shall be delighted to walk down with you as far as this hall—is it not a hall? I suppose there will be no difficulty in getting back again in a small place like this?” said the Captain.

“Certainly, we shall be only too pleased to have your company, if you will come, but you don't need to come back until we do—you can wait in the body of the hall until we are finished. I did not like to ask you before, because I thought you would not care to listen to what is merely practice,” said Ellie, kindly.

“Take my advice, dear boy, and eschew all such snares as choral society's practices and the like. Let me give you the opinion of an old man—a pioneer, in fact—with great experience in these parts, who observed when the old Choral Hall was burnt down some years ago, that he was ‘very glad, because it would stop the ladies squawking,’” cried Bertie.

“I am afraid, Captain Deering,” said Mary in her slow, musical voice, “that if you allow Mr. Dayton, junior, to be your guide in Auckland, you will be sadly led astray.”

“Bertie does not mean half he says,” remarked Lenore. “I think we had better all go. You can start, and I will catch you up on the road.”

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“Have you not gone yet, girls? How do you do, Mary?” said Mrs. Dayton, entering the room.

“No, mamma, it is as well to be fifteen minutes' late as five, and besides, we are all going,” said Ellie.

“I don't admire your reasoning, my dear. However, you know better about it yourselves, I suppose,” answered Mrs. Dayton.

They all emerged upon the verandah, as Lenore came flying downstairs, Bertie slowly putting on his hat.

“You don't really mean to say that you will condescend to walk such a distance to hear squawkers?” demanded Lenore.

“No, sister mine. I'll leave you all safely at the door.”

“Oh, do come, Lenore, we shall be dreadfully late,” cried Ellie at the door.

After practice, Captain Deering found himself walking homewards with Miss Balmain.

“It would scarcely be fair to our society to ask you what you thought of to-night's performance. You must come to the concert on the Friday night before Christmas, when we give The Messiah. Both Ellie and I sing solos, and as we know it nearly as well as our alphabet, it will be worth while to have your opinion,” said Mary, as they walked on.

“Indeed,” he answered, “I was not aware that my cousins sang in public. Does Mr. Morgan permit you to do it often?”

“No, not often. But it can scarcely be called singing in public in your sense of the word. The greater part of the audience are my friends, or at least acquaintances, and all are members. How would such societies be kept up if we did not help? You will find that all musical and artistic societies in this city are formed of amateurs like Ellie, Lenore, and I.”

He liked to hear her talk, and about something page 41 in which she was interested—her voice was so expressive.

“I fail to understand, Miss Balmain. Do I understand that the audience consists of your friends and the members of the society? I think I must be dense, but surely it must be very slim,” said Captain Deering, with a laugh in his voice.

“Let me explain, please. A certain number—I forget just how many hundred, but the number does not matter—can join the Choral Society by paying a subscription, which admits them to all concerts throughout the season, and in no other way will people be admitted. There are a few performers, a great number of members,” explained Mary.

“I understand now. Are you fond of music?” He knew she was, but he wanted to hear her talk.

“Oh, yes! ‘like’ is scarcely the word. I have loved music ever since I was a little child. Do you sing?” she asked.

“Well, no; that branch of my education has been sadly neglected, if ever I possessed an organ capable of sweet sounds.”

They both laughed.

“I don't think you have lost a great deal by missing a musical education. We have a great many fine singers amongst the male sex in Auckland, and—perhaps it may be prejudice acquired from Uncle Leonard—they are good for little else. Please don't think I mean all, but some are as I say,” remarked Mary.

“What does Mr. Morgan say about them?” he asked, curiously. “I should say singing was not in his line.”

“I shall not tell you any of his by no means flattering remarks. You will hear them yourself when the subject comes up,” she answered.

They walked on for awhile in silence, which was broken by the half-caste.

“I will not ask you, Captain Deering, how you like page 42 Auckland. You will be asked that question so often in the next few weeks, that I will spare a tax on your veracity until another time,” said Mary, with a ring of mockery in her tone.

“That is hardly fair, Miss Balmain, or complimentary to your native city, of which I think very highly since my arrival—yesterday,” he answered, with a laugh.

“Not a long time in which to form an opinion; but I am glad you like it, and had you sailed up the Gulf as we did this morning, you would admire it more.”

By the tone of her voice he knew she was pleased at his approval, and it surprised him a little. He found out afterwards that love of her native land was almost a passion with the half-caste—a heritage from her brave, warrior ancestors, whose defiance to the white invader has, with few exceptions, sunk into apathy or smouldering discontent—engendered by the awe-inspiring and magnificent scenery of their birth-place.

“Ah! I saw the yacht at anchor under the cliff this afternoon. It is named after you, is it not? You see I know something already,” he said.

She laughed, and hurried a little to overtake their companions, who were waiting at the head of the road leading to the water's edge. After good-nights had been exchanged the cousins and Mary continued on their way, keeping together until they reached Mr. Dayton's gate, when Ellie immediately left them for the house, saying she was tired, Lenore and Captain Deering walking on with Mary.

From the shadows round the wide carriage entrance emerged a tall figure; it was Mr. Morgan.

“How are you?” he said, in his deep, almost harsh voice to Lenore, and at the same time drawing his niece's arm lovingly into his own in a manner that showed the half-caste was the light of this massive, impenetrable man's eyes.

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He bowed slightly but courteously to the Captain, remarking that he had met him before that day.

“I see that you have already begun to initiate your cousin into the mysteries of the city,” said Mr. Morgan, again addressing Lenore, “even although a mild one. You never let the grass grow under your feet.”

“In this case, Mr. Morgan, I am not responsible. Captain Deering accompanied us to-night from his own will and pleasure, and has himself to thank if he were bored—which I don't think he was,” she added, mischievously.

“We shall be pleased to see you at any time, Captain Deering,” said Mr. Morgan, kindly. “Don't stand upon ceremony. Suppose you come over tomorrow morning, say about ten or eleven o'clock. Of course I mean if you have no other engagement.”

“Thank you, sir, I shall be delighted. I have no other engagement for to-morrow,” replied the Captain.

“It is agreed then,” and after saying good-night, uncle and niece turned in at their gate, Lenore and her cousin retracing their steps homewards, the latter pondering many things in his mind, chief among which were large dark eyes and a soft musical voice.