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Hine-Ra, or The Maori Scout: A Romance of the New Zealand War.

Chapter XVII. — Father and Son

page 76

Chapter XVII.
Father and Son.

“I am glad that you have come, Frank,” said the elder Burnett, “for I have much to say to you. On your decision to-night, or at all events to-morrow, will greatly depend your future. This is the turning point, and it remains with you to say which way it shall be. So far as I am concerned, I shall interfere neither one way nor the other, but shall put the facts plainly before you and leave you to make up your own mind.”

“Very well, father,” said Frank, in no very complaisant mood, for he, too, had something to say; “very well, what is it?”

“If Frank had anticipated that his father was going to speak about his late conversation with the Maori girl, he was mistaken, as he soon discovered.

“You are aware,” said Richard Burnett, “at least I suppose you have heard by this time, that war has broken out between the whites and some of the tribes?”

“I have heard something of it, but nothing very definite.”

“I can give you some particulars; but, first of all, read that. It is a letter given me by the Maori scout, Hall, early yester-morning, before we started on our fruitless expedition to the Waimates, and comes, as you will see, from the British head-quarters at Taranaki Read it.”

Frank took the official-looking document, and read it in silence. Let us take the liberty of looking over his shoulder, and seeing what it contained.

Head-Quarters, New Plymouth.


I have the honor, by order of the officer commanding the Imperial and Colonial forces, to call your attention to the very serious aspect of affairs in relation to the outbreak of hostilities by various disaffected tribes of natives against Her Majesty's Government and the peace and well-being of the colony. In doing so, I feel no doubt that you, as a British subject, will at once declare yourself for the side of law and order; in fact, I might, did I so desire, claim your allegiance as such subject, and desire you to report yourself here by a given time. But I have no wish to enter upon any such arbitrary measure, the more as I believe that you can be of vast service to your Queen and country in another direction.

You will observe, sir, that I speak in the plainest possible terms, and in such a way as cannot be misconstrued. In fine, then, I am not unaware of the influence you possess and can bring to bear on the Chief Marutuahua, of Te Nama tribe, and of his priests and other leading men; neither am I ignorant of the fact that you have hitherto, although for what reason I know not, to a very great extent identified yourself with the Maoris, and repelled all advances on the part of your fellow-countrymen and the whites generally.

But I am confident I need not point out to you that this is a crisis when every Englishman's duty calls on him to set aside his personal feelings—grievances, it may be—and rally round the flag of his country. As I have already said, I wish to make myself clearly understood. You can be of great service, situated as you are, by inducing the tribe amongst whom you are located to declare for us, not merely as neutral friendlies, but as active auxiliaries to page 77 our forces, It is not, of course, to be expected that they will do so without some compensating advantages. On that point you are fully empowered, first of all to assure them of British protection in its widest sense, and then to sound them as to the character and extent of compensating advantages they may require, and the direction they may take, whether in money, territory or otherwise. Having done this, you will be appointed on a board of arbitration, with a view of arriving at a clear understanding between the tribe and Her Majesty's Government. I need not say that, should you succeed in bringing this matter to a successful issue, you will find the Government not ungrateful for your services. Your views on the subject, in reply to this letter, as early as possible, will be esteemed a favor by

Your most obedient servant,

Rowland B. Kerr.

Richard Burnett, Esq.
Te Nama Pah, Opunake.

P.S.—I had forgotten to state that I understand you have a son, who, if I am rightly informed, is also English born, and who, as well as being expert in the use of fire-arms, has an intimate knowledge of the Maori tongue and acquaintance with Maori habits, modes of fighting, &c. Such an one would be invaluable to us, and, if desirable, we will gladly make room for him in a cadet corps, in view of a speedy commission being granted, which I can and do promise. And further, that the military authorities, should you fall in with our views, will be directed to regard him favorably for promotion as rapidly as possible.
E. B. K.

Frank read the letter to the end, and then looking up to his father said, “Well, father?”

“Well, what do you think of it?”

“Nay, father, what do you think of it?”

“I think—but there, like a wasp, it carries the sting in its tail. The most important thing for you to consider is contained in the postscript.”

“That's true. But then you see the letter is not to me, but to you.”

“I know; I know.” Richard Burnett rose from his seat, and strode to and fro a few minutes wrapped in thought. At length he stopped opposite Frank, and said abruptly, “Frank, would you like to leave this half-savage life?—to leave me here to my misanthropy and hatred of my kind, and to go back to civilisation—?”

“Nay, father—”

“Boy, hear me out. Sometimes I think I have done you grievous wrong in dooming you to this wild, semi-barbarous life—in robbing you of the joys, the comforts, the sweets of civilization, and in bringing you up amidst the ignorant, untutored, pitiful surroundings of a Maori kainga. You do not know, you cannot understand what you have lost. Because I have chosen, in my selfishness and blind egotism, to embitter my own cup, surely there was no reason why I should pour gall and wormwood into yours. You have read the offer. It is a fair one, a good one, I admit. Accept it, and it will place you at once on the plane you ought to occupy amongst your fellows. You are fairly well educated, you are a crack shot, you have the special knowledge urgently required. You will rise, page 78 my boy, and hold your head as high, or higher among your fellow men, as—as—your father once did. What do you say?”

“Father, do you wish it?”

“Do I? I have said I shall interfere neither one way nor the other.”

“Then let me ask you what you have to say to the proposition relating to yourself.”

“If it affected me alone, I should refuse to meddle or make in the matter. They talk to me of allegiance, of loyalty, of a duty I owe to my country and kind. Bah! Words, words, words. I have no country, I have no kind; none, save you, lad. They make promises. Of course they do. Again words, and words are wind. But even if they kept them, what can they do for me? Make me a magistrate, or a warden, perhaps. Or let me go back to live the civilised life which I loathe and despise, and which I have cast off for ever. A fine reward for me, ha! ha! ha!” The man spoke so bitterly and sardonically that even Frank, who was most of all used to his humors, felt anxious.

“Father,” he said, “I fancy you think too deeply about these things. Pray be calm.”

“I'm calm enough, lad, but what could they give me? Could they give me back my happiness, my peace of mind, my honor, my faith in human nature, the lost love of an unfaithful wife, the sullied truth of a treacherous friend? Could they repair the dishonor on my name? Could they make whole a broken heart, or fill up the desolate void of empty and joyless years? And if none of these, what then could they do? Nothing, nothing, nothing. But why do I speak thus? Why should I, like the mad Prince of Denmark, ‘unpack my heart with words, and fall a-cursing like a very drab, a scullion?’ No, Frank, boy, let me rather forget my sorrows if I can, and think more of your welfare.”

“Father, I have listened to you. I will not say that the offer made to you for me is not a tempting one, nor that I do not sometimes long to see that town life of which I know so little and think so much. But let it rest. It may not be. I am content with my lot. You have no wish to leave these scenes, nor have I. They suit me well enough, and I dare say, if I were cooped up in narrow streets, amid glare and glitter, and noise, and hurry, and push, I should, like a caged bird, pine for the pure air, and the freedom of bush, and mountain, and river and sea to which I am accustomed.”

“You have chosen,” said Richard Burnett with a sigh; “heaven grant you have chosen wisely, and heaven forgive me if any words of mine have caused you to choose wrongly.”

“I choose of my own free will,” replied Frank; “and yet I could wish you would accept their offer as regards yourself. Perhaps I do not see it with the same eyes as you, but we are English after all, and I suppose a fellow can't help liking his own country best. I should like—I hardly know how to express it—to do something page 79 for her; and much as I like these people with whom we dwell, but of whom we are not, I know that were they to declare against the British, I, for one, should never join them.”

“Why, so be it then, lad. I will even do as they wish if I can, and I think I can. Not for my own sake, but for yours, and the country's that gave you birth. Mayhap they may find out some way to reward me that will not part us. I will set about it at once. But are you sure your decision is of your own free will, and not on my account?”

“Of my own free will and on my own account. And now I have something to say to you that affects myself and—and—and another, if you will listen.”

“Say on, Frank, although I think I can partly guess what it is,” replied the elder man gravely.

“I am not used to beating about the bush, as you call it, and will come to the point at once. Father, I love Hine-Ra.”

“So I almost thought. And if there were one reason above another why I should wish you to leave here, that is it.”

“But why should I not love her?”

“She asked me the same question, why she should not love you? I can only give you the answer I gave her—Because she is a Maori, you are a Pakeha.”

“But is that a sufficient reason?”

“I think so.”

“I do not think so. I am, if Pakeha born, in almost all things Maori bred. She is good, amiable, beautiful. She is of far higher birth than I, taking her race into account. She loves me. Why should I not, if I can, marry her?”

“And be taunted by those of your own blood as the husband of a semi-savage woman; as the father, it may be, of a half-caste brood.”

“Who is there here to taunt me? I have no desire to leave this place.”

“But if you should?—if, as you may, you should one day revisit your native land, could you take her with you? Could you endure the pitying sneers of those cold-hearted people whom you met—the covert insults levelled at her and your dusky children?”

“And even if I did visit England, the taunts levelled at me I should treat with scorn. As for those who dared to insult her, I should know how to deal with them.”

“But, my boy, reflect—”

“I have reflected. Father, pardon me for saying that I do not think you are quite true to your own principles.”

“As how?”

“As thus: you profess a hatred and contempt for your own people. You profess it, I say, and yet you cannot feel it, for you would build up in me the very pride of race which you condemn.”

“But, my son, by marrying her you would become one of them—”

page 80

“Not so; by marrying me she would rather become one of us. I have not forgotten what you have taught me, nor what I have read. King Cophetua married the beggar girl, Penelophon, yet was she not the less a queen. The nobleman may marry his black cook, yet is she not the less ‘My lady.’”

“Your argument is subtle, but hardly logical. The black cook would be, although ‘My lady,’ a black woman still. It is not to degree I object, but to race.”

“I have, then, another argument stronger than all, and to me an all-sufficient one—I love her, and she loves me.”

“Well, well, I cannot say that I am altogether convinced of the wisdom of this step, but I suppose I must yield. But what says her father to all this?”

“I do not know what he will say, for I have not asked him yet. But I have her love, her brother's good-will, your permission, and my own ardent wish to aid me; and if all those will not overcome the pride of Marutuahua and the exigencies of Maori state policy, I shall be mistaken.”

“We shall see, Frank, we shall see. Much depends on the course events take in another direction. However, leave the matter in my hands. Let the Rangitira and myself be the high contracting powers, and I dare say I shall succeed in gaining you the hand of your princess. I shall have to pay for it, I know; for the chief, although a good fellow in the main, and friendly enough, is not likely to do anything without what the military authorities call compensating advantages. But see, the clock points nearly at four; 'tis time we were in bed. Good night, or rather, good morning.”