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

Chapter XXXIV. The Maori Conquers

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Chapter XXXIV. The Maori Conquers.

Early on the following morning, so as to avoid the noonday heat, Lenore and Mr. Mordaunt started for the Maori settlement.

It was a day typical of the northern part of the province of Auckland, warm, and so far inland, without the fresh breeze of the coast districts, though the air was delightfully soft and light, and fragrant with the aroma of the ti-tree and fern, which covered whole stretches of land at intervals.

Not a cloud flecked the blue expanse of heaven, the sun shining down in his prodigal, southern fashion, that makes the earth smile at his presence with a thousand beauties.

As they left the open country they turned into a track that led through the cool, shadowy bush, melodious with the songs of British larks and blackbirds, with the suggestive sound of running water, with the incessant hum of insects. The green, shady, glossy-leaved forest trees, taking example by the prodigal soil from which they themselves derived sustenance, supported on their immense arms and trunks a bewildering variety of ferns and creeping plants that climbed even to the topmost branches.

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Following a path which led in a winding direction up a considerable elevation adorned with patches of ti-tree, now covered with small white blossoms that gave the effect of heather after a fall of snow, Mr. Mordaunt led Lenore until they came to a slip-rail gate, at which he paused. The farmhouse at which they were to rest nestled in a hollow on the slope of the hill.

“This is our destination, Miss Dayton,” he said, after lifting his companion from the saddle. “Follow this track, and it will lead you to the Maori settlement on the other side of the hill. Of course, you know then the best to be done. I presumed you wished to see Miss Balmain alone. Was I right?”

“Perfectly right, Mr. Mordaunt,” answered Lenore. “You are very thoughtful. I have nothing whatever to be afraid of.”

Slowly she turned up the track, which wound round to the summit and down on the other side of the hill.

It was decidedly warm, and she was thankful she had accepted Miss Mordaunt's offer of a holland habit, which was more suitable for country riding than her own cloth one, and which did not fit her at all badly, both women being slight. The walk under the shade of the trees was grateful after the heat of the sun—from which there was no relief—during the greater part of her ride, the appearance of the bush, too, slightly differing from that to which she had been accustomed to see.

In front of her, on the very summit of the hill, rose a giant kauri, or what had been one, which long years before had been smitten by a stroke of lightning, and now, mighty even in the slow process of decay, bare of leaves or fruit, it stood, a strange, unearthly, greyish phantom amongst the luxuriance and depth of tint of the surrounding foliage.

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The sight saddened Lenore—she scarcely knew why—and as she slowly and thoughtfully walked on the Maori huts came into view, with a quick throb at her heart. To her, however, they seemed deserted. Perhaps the natives had gone fishing. Lenore devoutly hoped they had, as long as Mary was left at home. Home! The very thought of the word sickened the girl. Surely her old friend could never call these wretched-looking places home!

Quickening her steps Lenore descended on to the triangle between the slopes of three hills, where the Maoris had fixed their settlement. Peering into the first hut she came to, she found it deserted.

Standing still for a moment, she looked around. The silence was oppressive. Not a sound broke the quietness of the summer's day except a slight rustle of the leaves now and again as the air played amongst them, the glad singing of a locust, and the never-ceasing murmur of a little stream that came from its home among the hills to join its friend the river.

Almost involuntarily Lenore turned her eyes towards the left; and, sitting in a doorway, was a figure that she recognized with a chill. It was Mary Balmain, who, however, showed no consciousness of the proximity of anyone from the outside world, and seemed lost in a profound reverie.

Lenore was fascinated at the sight. Was this indeed Mary—her friend, whom in her own simplicity she had often rallied on account of her luxurious ways, her rich, dainty dress? Where were now the laces, the silks, the soft mulls, and all the accessories that had once made the half-caste so fair to look upon? Where, indeed?

With a sobbing cry that was echoed sadly by the hills around, Lenore moved forward, and, at the sound, Mary turned. But she did not change her position until her visitor was close upon her, and page 388 then she rose with all her own dignity. Not yet had the contact with barbarians robbed her of that which she had acquired in the years of training under Mrs. Morgan's care, or of the graces of civilization.

The dainty dress of mull or silk was replaced with one of cotton, such as native women wear—a yellow ground covered with red spots—made with a full plain skirt, and with a loose body, which was not made to fit the figure. Her abundant, but coarse black hair was rough and uncared for, she had no hat on her head, and there was altogether a subtle difference that did not escape Lenore's keen eyes. Already the change had begun!

Silently Mary held out her hand.

“Is that all, Mary?” cried Lenore, with emotion. “Have you no word for me, dear?” pressing lovingly the hand so coldly extended; and seeing that silence met her greeting, went on, “Mrs. Morgan” (at last the girl moved) “wished me to come and see you, though I am only too glad to come on my own account.”

“Yes,” came the answer, slowly and gently. This was depressing, but Lenore's spirit was a brave one and not to be easily daunted.

“Mary, dear, did you not think when you left your home so hastily that Mrs. Morgan was grieved, that it was a blow to her as if you had died? Though a great sorrow come upon us it is well to remember that those to whom we owe a duty need not suffer as we do ourselves. I do not blame you, indeed, dear Mary, you must know that,” said Lenore, with a tenderness she would use to a suffering little child.

The great eyes flashed, and the whole face was convulsed with an emotion that made Lenore's heart ache to see.

“Spare me,” she cried, in a voice tremulous with repressed passion. “You do not understand—they page 389 understand better than you do. It was better for me to come here to my mother. I have no one else of my blood in the world that cares for me. The night that has fallen upon my race has fallen upon me, and it is well that I should share the darkness with my own people. Before long the Maori will cease to stand in the path of the white man, and that is also well. They are not adapted for that civilization which has taken the pakeha (white man) hundreds of years to attain, and can they at one bound leap from barbarism to those refinements of civilized life that have been evolved from the minds of a people whose watchword has been ‘Forward’ from time immemorial? It is impossible. I was pleased—child that I was—with all the luxuries I enjoyed as my father's daughter, and then—and then came my happiness; but it has all gone like a dream, and I remembered that such was not for one of my race.”

The half-caste spoke at last in that declamatory tone used by her ancestors in reciting their adventures, still retaining her old position in the doorway.

“Why should you not be happy, Mary? None that I know has had such a pleasant life as you. Your sorrow is great; but there is none so bitter that time will not heal; and where will you receive more affection and consideration than in your old home? You undervalue your own great gifts. Who has ever shown you the slightest difference on account of race?” cried Lenore, eagerly.

“You know nothing. Everyone is not generous like you. But don't think that I consider my people beneath me, or that I feel it a degradation to be as one of them, for I do not,” continued she, with a ring of pride.

Mrs. Morgan had known well the nature of the girl to whom she had entrusted her mission. None but Lenore, who had imbibed to some extent Mr. Morgan's tender patience with Mary's vagaries, could page 390 feel aught but indignation at her seeming indifference to the claims of her old guardians, her strange want of interest in not inquiring for them. But underneath the cold outer seeming Lenore felt that the girl's heart was sore, but that she did not dare to express herself as she would, for once the flood-gates of her sorrow were opened, she could not check herself. The old habit of repression stood her in good stead.

“Mary, will you not put away these thoughts from you, and be as of old? Mrs. Morgan will receive you with open arms, and you know with Mr. Morgan there is no change,” said Lenore, pleadingly.

“Did you come here to torture me?” cried Mary, with sudden passion. “But no, you were always my good friend. It is useless for you to entreat me; I loved them, and they were more than good to me. But all the training and education I received were but a gloss—I am in heart the same as my mother, a Maori. I felt the desire to come here, and, if I returned with you, probably I should feel it again; and I should only renew sorrow. The step I took was final, and I am sure Uncle Leonard felt it to be so.”

For the first time in the interview, the half-caste showed her emotion in her voice.

“I appreciate your kindness very much, Lenore, but our feelings and our desires are as far removed as the north pole is from the south, and the blood of the Maori and the pakeha will not mix. Where the one plants his foot, the other fades into nothingness.”

Lenore had never felt such admiration for Mary Balmain as at this moment. There was a dignity, a grandeur about her figure, and a power in her face and voice, even although her words breathed of the despair of her race, that impressed her listener with the conviction that her errand was hopeless.

“Mary, for Mr. Morgan's sake, will you not return, page 391 and give up this mode of life that is not suitable for one so delicately brought up as you have been?”

For a moment the girl struggled with her love and her instinct, and then slowly, and with an effort, she said—

“I cannot, Lenore; it would be a mockery that he would never desire. He would like me to return of my own free will; no other way.”

Lenore wrung her hands at this answer.

“You will not. Then I ask you for Christ's sake to return to your old friends, who are in the deepest sorrow on your account. You are to them dead, and yet not dead,” cried Lenore, raising an argument that was such a living reality to herself and Mr. Morgan on all occasions.

A slow, scornful smile lighted up the still beautiful face of the half-caste.

“I do not know Him—I do not feel Him. How do we know that He is aware of our actions, or takes any interest in them? If I will not do it for Mr. Morgan's sake, nor for yours, I will not for a mere name that means nothing to me,” said Mary, with a bitterness indescribable.

And Lenore saw that against this iron will, in this instance at least, her pleadings were powerless.

“I shall write, Mary, and say that you are well. Have you any message?” asked Lenore, with tears in her voice, and on her face; but the other woman's features were as if carved in stone. Can anyone say who of the two suffered the most?

Mary hesitated again, and then in a dull tone said—

“No, it is better not. They need no word to tell them that I love them. When we part to-day, Lenore, we part for ever; you must see that it is better so,” and she held out her hand as a sign that she wished the interview to end.

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“Good-bye, then, Mary, for ever,” said Lenore, tenderly and trembling.

“Good-bye, Lenore; and you will not forget Mr. Wilson's grave? I went to see it before I came up here, and it was as if I had done it. You were always faithful, Lenore.”

Still true to the past! And before her stretched a lifetime of utter emptiness and monotomy. Not yet twenty-one, and dead! Sadly Lenore retraced her steps, and Mary sank into her old position in the doorway with her hands clasped in front of her, and the sun shining on her whole figure.

On the summit of the hill Lenore paused and through a mist of tears took a last farewell of her half-caste friend—a voluntary Andromeda! Never did the sun shed its beams upon a sadder ending to a bright career! Amongst the brilliancy and beauty of the scene, she seemed a blot upon the face of nature—the one living thing that the sun had no power to brighten.

The little, unpainted whares (houses), with their wooden chimneys, lay low, while, in the rear, the land gradually swelled, covered with large peach trees loaded with fruit, and underneath one of them sat a Maori woman working the soil by hand, the usual method of her race. A hedge of New Zealand flax, with its large, red, coarse flowers and long, thick leaves, separated the ordinary land from that sacred to Tapu, on which grew an enormous weeping willow, that trailed its branches in the limpid waters of the creek, and appeared to Lenore's mind incongruous against the magnificent bush that covered the hills as far as the eye could see.

Through the masses of foliage, she caught glimpses of the silvery, dancing waters of the river, that threaded its way until lost in the dense grasses that raised their graceful crowns in the distance, while page 393 the murmur of miniature waterfalls, formed by boulders in the creek that passed the settlement, caught her ear.

But it was upon Mary herself that Lenore's eyes rested with unspeakable sadness at her own failure to turn again the current of that ruined life into its old channels. But she knew that she had said and done all she could, and that Mrs. Morgan would so feel, even though grieving at her niece's decision.

The author of that “brilliant Oriental story, “Vathek,” infers that despair seized upon the hearts of the impious visitors to the halls of Eblis when they lost that “most precious gift of heaven—hope.” But there is, with some natures, a stage between a state of mind that has neither the blackness of despair nor the comfort of hope, which can be rightly called stagnation, and this was the fate of Mary Balmain, an Œnone in a land that is fairer than “all the valleys of Ionian hills.”

* * * * *

And Lenore? As the wife of Mr. Everard, she has found her vocation. Her life is one long round of duties that satisfies even her restless energy. Her sweet, sympathetic face is as well known as her husband's, to the poverty-stricken of the East End of London, which this Colonial woman now—alas! knows only too well.

Mr. and Mrs. Morgan still live in the home that their beloved—living, yet dead—has left so empty, and Auckland will never see their faces again. To a certain extent Lenore and her husband fill the gap, Mr. Morgan helping the minister in his work with experience and money, with his wide, liberal plans for the amelioration of the condition of his kind, his want of ready sympathy unfitting him for actual contact with the human beings that his wife, Lenore, page 394 and the minister meet in their daily life, even were he so desired.

Truly, the whole creation groaneth and travaileth! Is it a sign that the time for the coming of the Son of Man is near? Or is it not rather that we are on probation, that through the apprenticeship of suffering and sorrows we shall attain to a more perfect comprehension and practice of the teachings of the Man, Christ Jesus, which is the realization of the Messiah in the individual.

The End.

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