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

Chapter XXX. Mary's Flight

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Chapter XXX. Mary's Flight.

Meanwhile Mary was slowly realizing the woful calamity that had come upon her, not with any resignation amongst the chaos of thoughts that swelled within her—she knew not of it; it had no meaning for her—but with a sullen, dull, heavy feeling that augured ill for Mrs. Morgan's hope that her niece would get over her sorrow in time.

Slowly she rose from her recumbent position on the floor, and with a heavy carriage so unlike her usual grace, moved to the window, and kneeling down, gazed drearily in front of her, as she had done nearly ten years before in the little village below St. Stephen's Church. The outward signs of grief were unchanged, but the acknowledgment of God's influence and presence in the questioning tone of the child was absent in the woman; her soul cried not to the Great One to help her, as Lenore's would have done; her whole being seemed concentrated on the one woful fact that her love was no more, thrown back upon itself for all the weary waste of years that spread before her. And the spark of the Divine essence in her soul burned too feebly—was obscured by the earthly, material nature she inherited from page 349 her mother—to throw a ray of light upon the darkness that had overtaken her.

Every now and again a quiver and sob shook her from head to foot, which were infinitely more pitiful than tears or cries; the crushing weight of her grief was too great to permit the relief of tears. As the form of her lover rose before her as she parted from him on the deck of the Sydney-bound steamer six months before, a wave of wild, passionate sorrow swept over her, and she flung herself on the ground in utter abandonment that was fearful to witness. No sound broke the stillness of the room except now and again that painful, smothered sob. Slowly she rose when the paroxysm had spent itself, and resumed her post at the window.

Mary had appeared a weird, unearthly form to Mrs. Morgan's eyes as she lay upon the floor, but there had been present a semblance of beauty; but now, with her long, straight, black hair falling carelessly about her shoulders, and a strange, half-wild expression on her face, she appeared precisely like a Maori wahine (woman) mourning for her dead husband.

She leaned listlessly against the window, gazing out with weary eyes and with bitterness of soul.

“Only a Maori!” she muttered, while an ironical smile crossed her mouth. “He was right, and at last I feel all that he said; I know now to whom I belong, it has been shown to me.”

Mary Balmain's love had been unreasoning, absorbing, concentrated, a love that was certain to end in sorrow from its very nature, not unlike a man who stakes his all in some speculation, finds himself ruined; so the half-caste, in giving unreservedly to the man lying in an Indian grave, saw the future as a barren waste as she had allowed nothing to fall back upon.

Suddenly her face hardened, as if she had come to some resolve; and turning from the window, she page 350 made preparations for going out walking—brushed and combed the tangled mass of hair, bathed her face in water, donned a plain street dress, and putting on a close-fitting hat, concealed her face with a thick veil. Carefully, Mary opened her room door, and seeing no one in the hall, ran swiftly and noiselessly down the staircase, opened the street door and closed it after her, scarcely fifteen minutes after Lady St. Clair's departure, and walked quickly away from the house.

Mrs. Morgan was in the drawing-room, and thinking about making another attempt to rouse her niece, by communicating to her her ladyship's more explicit information, when she was startled by hearing the sound of the hall-door closing; and, on looking out of the window, saw the half-caste some distance up the street. Where could she be going? thought Mrs. Morgan, helplessly. From her attire it was evident that she had no intention of visiting anyone; and yet what else could take her out on a day like this, and after the sorrowful tidings of the morning. Never before had the girl gone out in this independent, careless style; and it struck the elder lady very unpleasantly. Mr. Mordaunt's warnings returned upon her with renewed force, and weary herself with conjectures as she might, she could imagine no satisfactory reason for this walk. However, there was nothing to be done but to wait until Mary returned.

Half-hour after half-hour passed until two hours had gone, and still Mrs. Morgan kept her dreary watch by the window, and yet there was no sign of Mary's coming, until her nervousness grew so great that all kinds of dismal forebodings filled her mind.

Would she ever come? Not yet, however, would this loyal, loving heart wrong the half-caste even in thought; the girl who had come so many years before into her own and her husband's life, brightening page 351 their home with her presence, filling the void in their hearts, and upon whom they themselves had bestowed so much care and affection.

When she was about tired out with waiting and watching, to her relief Mr. Mordaunt came on his promised afternoon visit, and the first question he asked was regarding Miss Balmain.

“Mary has gone out—went out soon after Lady St. Clair,” answered Mrs. Morgan, with lips so dry that they could scarcely form the words, “and I have not seen her since. I can do nothing—think of nothing until she returns. What can be her object, do you suppose, in treating me so cruelly? Never before has such a thing happened. She said something this morning—was it this morning? it seems as if years had gone over my head since yesterday—about buying presents for Polly and the natives up at Waitoa; but surely something more pressing than that must have taken her out after the tidings of this morning.”

“Don't distress yourself, Mrs. Morgan, you will only make yourself ill, and that will not do under the circumstances. That young lady will turn up, never fear—this time,” he added, to himself. “Of course I don't pretend to tell what has taken her out; that can only be explained by Miss Balmain herself. Then Lady St. Clair did come?”

“Yes, and it comforted me to see her, she is so calm and so sympathetic,” said Mrs. Morgan. “But she did not see Mary—I thought it was better not for to-day as—Here is Mary at last—I know it is,” as the bell rang, and walking quickly towards the door, the elder and younger lady met on the threshold.

“Oh, Mary, where have you been so long, dear? I have been nearly out of my mind with anxiety since you left. It was not prudent for you to go out to-day, you know, and especially without telling me that you were going,” cried Mrs. Morgan.

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Mary bowed to Mr. Mordaunt without speaking, and he was surprised to note the change in her face already; her type does not stand the wear and tear of life very well.

Mrs. Morgan followed her niece from the room into the hall, where the half-caste paused.

“You must not be vexed with me, auntie,” said the soft voice with all its music returned, though with a hopeless ring in it that pained the elder lady. “I cannot say now exactly where I was, but you will trust me, will you not?”

“Yes; I will do that,” answered Mrs. Morgan, too relieved to have her niece under her roof once more to be very critical, “but indeed, Mary, I must request you not to go out again in this way without consulting me. It is for your own good, dear,” tears coming into her eyes, “that I wish you to do this, and to save me anxiety. I really dreaded that something had happened to you, and Leonard away.”

“I am sorry, auntie; I did not think,” said the half-caste. But somehow Mrs. Morgan felt that the walk of the morning had been of set purpose, and with an object. However, like a wise woman, she said no more.

“Well, well, it is all right now that you are here. Run upstairs and change your dress, there's a good child.”

“I don't think Mary meant to alarm me,” said Mrs. Morgan, by way of excuse, as she entered the room again, but the Colonial shook his head doubtfully.

“I don't say Miss Balmain meant to cause you any anxiety, but the fact remains the same. When your husband first told me he was going to adopt Balmain's child, I told him he would rue it sooner or later, but he laughed at me, putting all my warnings down to prejudice, you remember, Mrs. Morgan. The fact is, the child's beauty and pretty ways took his fancy, and he thought he would please himself, page 353 and do a kind action at the same time. If you take my advice—I would say precisely the same to your husband—you will guard your charge well, knowing that she has Maori blood in her veins. A deep sorrow like the present is the turning point of Miss Balmain's life. If she gets over it, her Saxon blood is the stronger; but I have noticed that grief unhinges those of her race, sweet and lovable as your niece's nature may have been. I don't wish to alarm you—you are suffering enough already—but I should advise you to exert your authority to prevent escapades like the one of this afternoon. Now I have told you the worst,” finished Mr. Mordaunt, smiling a little.

Mrs. Morgan gave an answering smile, though it was a sad one. As Mary was safe under her roof, she could afford, with a reasonable degree of complacency, to listen to the Colonial's by no means optimistic view of the situation.

“I will remember all you say, Mr. Mordaunt, and be very careful,” she said, as he rose to go. “I am grateful to you for your kindness to me in my need.”

“I am only sorry I could not do more;” and after a cordial invitation to come again soon, Mr. Mordaunt took his leave with his suspicions confirmed.

All that evening and the next day Mary was very quiet, and no allusion was made to her sorrow; nor did she make any reference to it herself. All the sullenness in her manner was gone. She appeared dressed in a black gown of some soft, clinging material that seemed to throw up with greater force the great dark eyes that burned with an almost feverish lustre.

A tender solicitude distinguished her manner to Mrs. Morgan, so different to the languor and almost indifference of olden times, a wistfulness in the way she performed little services, an affectionate concern in her speech, all of which allayed the fear that had disturbed the elder lady on the first day.

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It was as the lull in a storm, which only tends to lend fresh impetus to the wind and rain that so quickly overtake the traveller indulging in the belief that all is fair because there is a break in the clouds before him.

In the evening the two ladies sat alone in the drawing-room, Mrs. Morgan in a big arm-chair, Mary sitting on a small stool at the elder lady's feet with her head resting against her friend's knee.

Lovingly Mrs. Morgan stroked the half-caste's hair with her hand—it was her mute sympathy with the girl's sorrow.

“Auntie,” said Mary, suddenly, “the Bible says God is love, does it not?”

“Yes, dear,” assented the elder lady.

“Is it love, then, that has taken Leslie from me without a single word of farewell far away in a strange land? that left him to die with no one to comfort him or care for him but a soldier friend? Oh! I did not feel so when papa Wilson died. He was glad to die to join his two little children and his wife who were waiting for him—so he believed. But Leslie! he was so young, so good, so brave, and I loved him so,” and the sweet voice faltered and the brilliant eyes gazed steadily at the burning coals.

“These things are hard to understand, dear Mary. As we know nothing of our future, God's method of dealing with us seems cruel, but in the end sometimes the most bitter sorrows are a blessing in disguise,” said Mrs. Morgan, gently.

The half-caste did not seem to hear the words; or, if she heard them, they awoke no answering chord in her heart—a wall of straw and stakes will not stem the advance of rushing waters.

“What difference is there between God and the carved image with the long eyes that Werata” (a native servant) “worships?” she asked, and then went on without pausing: “He does not help us, or page 355 comfort us, or make us happy; He does nothing—no more than the carved image. When sorrows come, it is God's will; when the poor are starving, the little children and poor animals are being cruelly treated, the rich oppressing the poor, the strong the weak, it is all because God wills it; and we must submit patiently—because we can do no other. It is a good reason for patience, is it not, auntie?”

“Dear, dear Mary, don't talk so wildly. Indeed, dear, it is not right,” gently reproved the elder lady.

“I wish I could be as you are, auntie. I wish it—oh! I wish it. You are so good always—you believe you will go to heaven when you die, and be happy there. You are perfectly sure of your ground, and if sorrow came upon you you would not, like me, wickedly deny that there is a God. Or if I could only believe all that Uncle Leonard has tried to teach me, but I cannot—I am not pure enough—I am not strong enough. I have never thought much about these things, auntie, but I do now, and I cannot see anything distinctly; my mind is a chaos. Tell me, auntie, shall I see Leslie again?”

“Yes, dear, certainly!” cried Mrs. Morgan, in horror.

“As he is?” she asked again, with her brilliant eyes fixed on the elder lady's face, as if with her rested the decision. “Ah, no! you cannot tell,” she said, hopelessly. “I was foolish. I don't want to find him a pure spirit—he would not want me, nor understand me—that lives in the presence of the great Spirit of all things, as the Bible says. No! I want Leslie to be as I am, as he was when he died; no other. I think, and think, of these things, and not one single idea can I grasp. I do not believe in your hereafter, auntie, and I cannot realize Uncle Leonard's; so I believe nothing at all except that there is a great God who knows of our existence, but cares nothing for us. You know Uncle Leonard does not believe page 356 in a personal God—that is what he terms a God who takes interest in us.”

Mary had few ideas of her own. Her religion—if she had any—was filtered, so to speak, through Mr. Morgan's mind. There are many such—only they do not own it.

Poor Mrs. Morgan! She was utterly incapable of following the tortuous mazes of Mary's reasoning or of realizing the troubled chaos of the half-caste's soul. How was it possible for one so purely conventional as Mrs. Morgan was—tender and refined as she might be—to entirely sympathize with a stormy nature like Mary Balmain's? Mr. Morgan or Lenore from their own particular experience might sympathize to a certain extent with the girl's thoughts; but even they could but dimly imagine the workings and sorrow of her heart. Each and every soul suffers in its own peculiar way, just as the circumstances that cause the suffering are different in every individual case; and to that soul alone is the bitterness of its sorrow known.

“How is it that earthly fathers are so good, so anxious for our happiness?” she went on, following out the line of her own thoughts. “Uncle Leonard, for instance—how loving, how unselfish, how tender he is! Oh, it is hard!”

“But, Mary, God gave you your guardian in both cases, you must remember that,” said Mrs. Morgan.

A scornful smile lighted up the half-caste's face.

“He knew nothing of it,” she said, simply.

“Auntie,” she went on after a pause, still staring into the fire, “would you feel very sad if I died? If I went away into the nowhere”–hesitating curiously–“if you never saw me again in this life?”

“Dear Mary, you know it would almost break my heart, and as for Leonard—don't talk of such a dreadful possibility, my darling; God would not be so cruel,” answered Mrs. Morgan, quickly.

A sob shook the half-caste from head to foot, but she did not follow the question up.

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“Perhaps it would be better, you were always so gentle with me; but God made people with natures very dissimilar, it is not their fault, is it?–I mean the people with more faults than virtues,” she said, disconnectedly.

These remarks sounded ironical, so Mrs. Morgan was silent.

“I wonder if Œnone lived many years after her lament to Mother Ida? Tennyson does not say. I wonder why they do not tell us how Helen, Guinevere, and all the rest of them—Cleopatra, Elaine, Dido, were happy that they died, or knew how to die—I wish I did—bore their life to the end; but Œnone—I always loved her; I now know why—seems near to me because her sorrows were not caused by her own sins. I wonder did her days pass wearily, or did time dull the edge of her grief?”

“Mary, don't dwell on such sad subjects, my pet. It grieves me to see you so sorrowful. If I could bear it for you, I would,” said Mrs. Morgan.

“Oh, Leslie! Leslie! I am so young. Oh, Auntie, I may live until seventy. Let me die! Let me die!” and she burst into bitter, unrestrained weeping, the drops falling from her eyes in a shower, and her whole frame shaking like a leaf in the breeze.

But Mrs. Morgan drew the trembling form of the stricken girl into her arms, and soothed her like a child. She also remembered that Mary Balmain had never forgotten the old missionary, therefore she would never forget her soldier lover so long as memory lasted.

But of this scene Mrs. Morgan told no one, not even her husband; it was between her and Mary.

* * * * *

It was the afternoon of the third day after the announcement of Captain Deering's death. The two ladies had gone to the drawing-room after lunch, and as Mary complained of a headache Mrs. Morgan page 358 advised her to go to her room and lie down awhile. She herself was obliged to go to the city to do some necessary shopping for herself and Mary, a circumstance that the half-caste knew, for the subject had been discussed in the morning.

Mrs. Morgan was detained rather longer than she expected, and on coming down to the drawing-room was surprised to find Mary absent, although preparations for tea were already made. Rather than send a servant, who might, perhaps, awaken the girl should she be asleep, Mrs. Morgan went herself, and after knocking gently twice and getting no answer, she entered the room. A sudden chill struck her as she advanced in the dim light of a winter afternoon, for though everything was in perfect order, no Mary was to be seen; but on the dressing-table, in a conspicuous position, was placed, in the handwriting of the half-caste, a letter addressed to Mrs. Morgan.

With a calmness that surprised herself, but with an icy grip at her heart and a foreboding of its contents, she stood still with the letter in her hand.

Finally, with trembling fingers that almost refused to perform their office, she tore the envelope open, and spreading out the sheet of paper, read through a mist of tears the half-caste's farewell. The blow had come!

Dear Auntie,

“You must not think me ungrateful for all your goodness to me for so many years, but I have decided to go home to New Zealand—to my mother—by the out-going mail, which leaves this afternoon.

“I have left you in this cruel way because I could not bear to tell you of my resolve, or to say goodbye. It would be too hard. When you come to think it over you will agree with me that it is better so.

“I shall ever remember your tenderness and goodness to me, that can never be repaid, but the change page 359 that has come over me would unfit me to live as I do at present, it would be only a mockery.

“Give my best love to Uncle Leonard—dear, noble Uncle Leonard—who was always so tender with me, but he will understand, he will not blame me.

“With my love and gratitude,

“I remain,

“Your affectionate niece,

Mary Balmain.

With a groan Mrs. Morgan sank to the floor, and kneeling beside the bed, shed the bitterest tears of her life. All her thought was for her husband, who was so bound up in Mary that it would be like tearing his heart-strings to realize that his niece was his no more—that he had seen her for the last time.

“Oh, Leonard, Leonard! she is gone, and you do not know it! Oh, God, help me! I am a miserable woman!”

Suddenly she sprang up and looked at the time. Perhaps it was not yet too late to hinder Mary, to persuade her to give up her mad intention; but it was hopeless. The vessel had gone an hour, the half-caste had laid her plans too well.

Slowly it was forced upon her mind that the girl to whom she had given a mother's love had gone from her for ever—gone without a consideration for the devotion and kindness bestowed upon her. It was bitter—very bitter. The hopes of years were shattered at a blow. Only now she realized what a hold Mary Balmain had gained upon her heart; and now what availed it? Cast back upon her as valueless, and her home was desolate.