The Greenstone Door
Chapter XII I Learn my Origin
Chapter XII I Learn my Origin
Mr. Brompart was detained late in town, looking after his emigrants. He told me, I remember, that cholera was raging in the City of London, two or three thousand persons dying from this dread scourge every week. A suspicious death had occurred on the Esmeralda, and though this was the solitary case of sickness among the emigrants, I understood that it was in part responsible for the delay which had occurred in their landing. None of the men had returned when I reached home. Mrs. Brompart, to my surprise and pleasure, smiled pleasantly at me as I entered the drawing-room, and Janet, who was seated at the piano, running her white fingers lightly over the treble keys, asked me if I liked music. I do not know if her playing was good or bad: I do know that it filled me with delight, and when Sarah burst into the room and came eagerly towards me, I was lost in such a dream-world that what she said failed to reach my consciousness.
"To be sure," said Mrs. Brompart brightly, as Janet closed the piano. "How did I come to forget it?" And rising, she took a small sealed envelope from the mantelpiece and handed it to me. "The Governor's aide-decamp brought it," she explained, "Lieutenant Wylde."
"He was disappointed that you were not at home," added Sarah, looking with curiosity at the unopened note in my hand.page 160
"Lieutenant Wylde is brother to that child Helenora," said Janet.
"Cedric must have made a great impression," added Mrs. Brompart, gaily. Mr. Brompart had related the circumstances of my first ride. "It is quite evidently the writing of a very young lady."
The same thought had already occurred to me, and, to conceal my embarrassment at her banter, I hastened to occupy myself in opening and reading the letter.
It is yellow with age now, but the childish writing remains as legible as ever. Here it is, word for word:
"My Dear Cedric,
"My mother wishes me to write to you. She would be very pleased to see you here, and will be at home all to-day and to-morrow. Please come, because it is important. It you have any letters or mementos" (there had apparently been a difficulty with this word) "of your family, she would like you to bring them. I suppose you have seen a great many wonderful things by this time.
"I remain, yours truly,
To describe the effect of this missive upon me is almost impossible. For years I had pondered over the mystery that enveloped my origin. No ray of light had ever come to pierce the darkness which descended that fatal night on the Te Kuma pa. Who were my father and mother? Was the latter, perhaps, still living? How came it that my father emigrated to New Zealand; and from what part of the old land did he come? It was well-nigh a certainty that people nearly related to me by blood must be living in some part of England: then, where were they to be looked for? And, if discovered, with what feelings would they regard me?page 161
These questions and a hundred like them were constantly in my mind. I could never read works of fiction in which the origin of the principal character was unknown, without the deepest interest and sympathy; yet the motives of these heroes in their search differed from mine. I desired not wealth, but ancestors. Among the natives—except occasionally in war-time, when a great strategist might force his way up from among the common people—rank counted for everything. To have no knowledge of your forefathers was a state almost inconceivably ignominious; only my white blood saved me from suffering the full effects of my disability. The very children could patter backwards into the generations, making their way, surefooted, for hundreds of years. I alone was compelled to remain silent.
Now, however, and at last, the long night showed signs of breaking, for how else could I construe Lady Wylde's desire to see me, coupled with the surprise shown by Helenora on first learning my name? If to this cause for excitement be added the fact that I was again to meet—and meet perhaps on terms of acknowledged friendship—the girl whose beautiful face and winning manners had remained ever since I first saw her constantly present to my mental vision, the reader can form some idea of the state of expectancy into which I was thrown.
Mrs. Brompart continued to take notice of me all that evening, plying me with questions, which I answered freely to the best of my ability. I was extraordinarily innocent in some ways, and probably I found nothing to wonder at in her suddenly developed interest in my affairs. I should not have been less frank with her if I had. My first white girl had not only established herself as the most perfect of created beings, she had lifted her whole sex up to a height which criticism could reach only with difficulty.
My importance was enhanced the following morning page 162when, shortly before the time I had appointed to myself for visiting Government House, Lieutenant Wylde again appeared. I was summoned from the cow-shed to find him in gay conversation with Miss Brompart, who, with a bright colour in her cheeks and no trace of the hauteur which usually characterised her, seemed quite a different creature. "This is Cedric Tregarthen, Mr. Wylde," she said. "He proposed waiting on Lady Wylde in any case this morning."
The young soldier rose to his feet and, making a swift military salute, stood looking steadily at me for some moments. "Glad to meet you, Mr. Tregarthen," he said at last. "My stepmother was looking for you with such anxiety yesterday that I thought I would drop in on my way from parade and see if you could manage to come back with me."
To this I readily agreed, and, hastening to the stable, I saddled and bridled the horse I had already twice ridden. Lieutenant Wylde was on the veranda when I returned. Though I looked hastily away, I did not fail to observe that he held Miss Brompart's hand for a length of time which seemed to me to exceed the usual courtesies of leave-taking. However, he swung into his seat as I came up and led the way to the slip-rail, as dazzling a vision, in his uniform of an officer of cavalry, as my eye had ever rested upon. Without any clear reason, I was aware of a feeling of uneasiness in the thought that this splendid personage was Helenora's half-brother.
"You are making a long stay in Auckland, Mr. Tregarthen?" the lieutenant asked as we reached the highway.
I was admiring the action of his horse, which, in contrast to the heavy lurch of the animal I bestrode, seemed a creature of air and fire; distending its red nostrils and lifting its feet daintily from the mud of the road, as if in page 163disdain of its surroundings. A similar daintiness and disdain appeared to characterise the rider. Even when he addressed me he had an absent air, as though his thoughts were elsewhere. He had a habit of humming musically to himself, which, however pleasant to listen to in the intervals of speech, was apt to prove disconcerting when it traversed speech itself.
"I shall probably be here a year," I replied. My foster-father desires me to see a good deal of the white people."
He nodded, still humming, and then, as though the sense of my words had only just reached him, turned suddenly and looked at me. "What white people?" he asked.
"The people of Auckland—the white settlers."
He continued to regard me for some moments, but at length the puzzled look vanished from his face. "Of course," he observed; "I had forgotten. You are Helenora's New Zealander," and he resumed his humming.
In such desultory and broken conversation we traversed the short distance that separated us from the residence of the Governor. I think the young soldier's interest in me was only of the mildest description, and that in what he did say he was influenced almost entirely by politeness. My admiration for him knew no bounds, and though I was aware that for the most part my replies to his questions fell on deaf ears, I attributed this lack of attention to the cares and responsibilities of his high position. Absorbed in matters which affected the destiny of the young Colony, my petty affairs must seem to him trivial indeed.
Since the disastrous fire which had swept away the original Government House, Sir George and Lady Grey had established themselves in a mansion recently completed for one of Auckland's leading merchants. For those days it was a fine building, constructed, I think, of page 164the lava rock which covers the country round the base of Mount Eden, and standing on the ridge above Queen Street which is now known as Karangahape Road.
Wylde gave me into the charge of a man in livery, who conducted me to the drawing-room, where I sat distracted by the splendour of my surroundings until Lady Wylde appeared.
I had been impressed by Mrs. Brompart, but she sank into the commonplace in comparison with this chieftainess of the best blood of England. Tall and slender, fair-skinned, her hair only lightly touched with grey, she might have been twenty years younger than her actual age, which I suppose at that time was about forty years. Closing the door, she came forward soundlessly but for the soft swish of her skirts, and, pausing directly in front of me, without any form of greeting, scanned me with a breathless eagerness that was full of the suggestion of pain.
"Your father is dead, Cedric?" she said at last.
"He was killed by Te Waharoa, Lady Wylde; at the sack of the Te Kuma pa."
"Te Waharoa! A savage!" Her tremulous lips closed in a sharp line.
"There were many killed there—men and women and children. My father was the last to die." I was proud of the heroic story, and spared her, I fear, but few of the terrible details.
She had sunk into a seat, and her face was white before I became aware of the depth of her emotion. "But he is there?" she said in a whisper. "They didn't …?" A shudder shook her frame.
"No. Te Waharoa did not wish to kill him. It was his own fury that brought him his death-wounds. And when he was dead, they gave up his body. They gave up most of his property too, and his was the only whare that was not burnt." I was reminded of her desire for page 165something that would establish my relationship with the dead, and pulled from my pocket the only thing I had with me in Auckland, a copy of the Poems of William Wordsworth, with my father's name in the fly-leaf.
She waved it away at first, but subsequently stretched out her hand and took it. "There is no need," she said. "I am reminded of your father with every word you speak. There is a likeness in your face, but it is strongest in your voice and the way you lift your head."
"Who was my father, Lady Wylde?" I asked eagerly.
"He was the younger son of the present Lord Tregarthen of Pentreath."
"Yes, your grandfather."
"A peer of England?"
"Of a very ancient and noble English family."
"Shall I become a peer of England?"
"You might," she said slowly. "It is not impossible."
A wave of exultation flushed my veins, Even my boldest imaginings had hardly transported me so far as I was carried by these few words. To have a grandfather living was something; to know that he was a rangitira1 of the proud aristocracy of England was, to one brought up as I had been, vastly more. Probably also I had many other relations; even now I might be in the presence of one, for how else could I account for the deep interest Lady Wylde took in my affairs?
"No," she replied, when I had ventured on the question. "Our families have been on terms of intimate friendship for many years, but we are not connected by blood."
"And my mother?" I asked.
1 Rangitira = a chief.
"I can trace no likeness to her," she said. "It will please your grandfather to find that you are wholly Tregarthen."
"She is dead, Lady Wylde?"
"She died soon after you were born."
I had been fancying what it might be to discover a mother such as the lady before me, and her reply fell cold on my heart. "You knew her?" I asked.
"I knew her, yes. Yet in a sense I never knew her." There was a suppressed vehemence in the words, and she rose as she spoke, as though to put an end to the interview. I followed her example, dimly associating the mention of my mother with the blight that had fallen on her original friendliness.
"No, no," she said, with a quick return of her first manner, as I made a motion to take my leave. "You must not go yet. I wish to speak with you, but not immediately. Can you amuse yourself here? Go where you please. Or stay; I will send Helenora to you. You have already made the acquaintance of my little girl."
"Yes," I said; and no doubt the pleasure her words gave me was plainly visible in my face.
She smiled graciously, a very tender, womanly smile, but still with that look of suffering beneath it, and, with my book still in her hand, left the room.
I was absorbed in a great war picture—I think it represented the closing scene in the battle of Waterloo—when a page 167slight sound caused me to turn suddenly, and there, almost within reach, was Helenora.
I could take delight in describing her to you again, as she appeared on the occasion of our second meeting. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to accompany her every entrance on the stage with pages of description; but what use? I could never penetrate to the heart of the mystery and lay bare to your gaze the source of her perennial, ever-changing charm. Humble and proud, tender and callous, reasonable and utterly illogical, earnest and flippant, her moods and actions never to be foreseen—I can give her to you best thus, in negations and antitheses.
But I am keeping the young lady waiting. "Good morning, Miss Wylde."
"Good morning. My mother says that you may call me Heienora."
"It is a beautiful name. It might almost be a Maori name. Change the 1 into an r—Herenora, and there it is."
"I suppose it would be much improved by that," she said, with a pout and a laugh.
"I love the Maori language, but it would not be possible to improve on Heienora."
She eyed me sharply, and suggested abruptly that we should go into the open air. "This room is stuffy," she declared.
I had not noticed it, and could have spent a very pleasant hour learning the names and uses of the various strange objects which surrounded me; but the room became stuffy as soon as she said so, and I followed her out into the grounds. As I expressed an interest in the flowers and plants—nearly all of them new to me—she led me round the beds, deriving much amusement from my ignorance and occasional astonishment, when the flower named was not in accord with my preconceived idea of it,
"And this one?"page 168
"The boy that died of love of his image in the water?"
"No. That is the Poet's Narcissus. Fancy any boy being so stupid."
"And so conceited."
"That's not so wonderful—in a boy."
"There could have been no Helenoras in those days," I said.
"Or he would have died sooner.—This is the English daffodil."
"Yes. Mr. Wordsworth is dead—did you know? The news came through by the Esmeralda. I heard Sir George Grey telling Mr. Swainson. That doesn't interest you."
"Oh, but it does. I know hardly anything from personal experience. Books have been everything to me."
"How funny! "she said. "I keep on forgetting what the world must be like to you, after being buried so long in that Maori village. What is it like?"
"There are so many things … it is hard to describe. It seems pettier than I had imagined, more feverish; aimless; not so intelligent. I thought the white men were immensely superior to the Maoris. Mr. Purcell—my foster-father—is a giant in knowledge beside the natives, but I did not really see how great he is till I came to Auckland."
"Oh, but Auckland is a very small and a very new place," she said. "You mustn't take it as an example of a great city."
"No. Of course the fault is in me. If I could see clearly into things, no doubt my opinion would be different. I had exaggerated expectations of everything…. However, some things have not disappointed me."
Helenora turned her clear eyes away, but curiosity finally overcame her. "What things?" she asked.page 169
"A great ship on the water, a galloping horse, and a white girl."
"Both the Misses Brompart are pretty girls."
"Yes, but I was not thinking of more than one."
She laughed merrily, but her cheeks were brighter. "Who taught you how to pay compliments? I hope you are not like my brother."
"Your brother! I hope I may be. I cannot express how much I admire him. He completely fills my ideas of the hero of romance."
"He is nice to look at," she agreed.
"But it is not merely his looks; it is his—what shall I call it?—his intellectuality and courtesy. His mind, absorbed in matters of—state, he can still interest himself in the little affairs of the casual stranger."
"You are the casual stranger?" Helenora's pretty mouth had been gradually opening.
"He might have left a message and ridden away, but he waited for me, and, though it was plain that he had other matters to think of, he gave me his attention."
"He did! Well!—But you believe he had other matters to think of?"
I was puzzled at the note of mockery in her tones. "In his position——" I began.
"He is one of the Governor's aides," she broke in. "He has to do what he is told. The reason why is nothing to him; nor has he any responsibility for the consequences. Yet, you are right, he was probably thinking of something else. I think I must tell him of this conversation. He will pull his moustache and look annoyed."
"Please don't make him annoyed with me."
She laughed wickedly. "Shall I tell you of what he was thinking?"page 170
"You can't possibly know."
"I can tell you in one word."
"But shall I?"
"Yes. You have excited my curiosity."
"What girls?—You mean …?"
"How do you know?"
"Because he used to make me his messenger, till I got sense. He thinks only of three things—his clothes, his appearance, and girls. Somebody would be bound to tell you, so I have shattered your hero before he grows bigger."
"I am not sure that you have shattered him. The hero of romance is not unlike that."
"Oh, set him up again if you can! I admire him as much as you do. He is so splendid. I can't help thrilling when he comes into a room in all his war-paint, and I see the flutter he causes, but I want to laugh too. You see he carries on so many flirtations that he is always in a dreadful fix when he has to meet more than one or two of them together. He was very annoyed with me one day because, when I found him studying a book on strategy, I told him he was wasting his time, for he was already a born strategist. He told me that I was too sharp for my years, and that nobody liked sharp girls."
"Then he does take an interest in his profession?"
"Oh, yes. He loves soldiering as much as I hate it."
"Why do you hate it?"
"Because it has already cost me one brother and a father.—There is Sir George. Would you like to speak to him?"
The Governor stood with his back towards us, looking downwards in the direction of the town and the harbour. page 171He was alone. His figure, for all its suggestion of youth and activity, had a droop to one side, and I noticed that the hand pressed to his hip moved as though he were endeavouring to still some physical pain.
"He is suffering from his wounds, poor dear," said Helenora, in a voice of tender concern. "He ought not to stand on the damp grass."
Perhaps the sound of her voice reached him, for he turned at that moment and came towards us.
Though I was to meet the Governor many times after that, to become, indeed, on terms of intimacy with him, I think I remember him best as he appeared then; with none of the cold dignity, the reserve, the absoluteness that so frequently characterised his manner, but completely his attractive and natural self, kindly, good-humoured, brimming over with boyish roguery and playfulness.
He listened to Helenora's stately introduction of myself with a whimsical smile. "Then it was a case of love at first sight," he said to her, as he gave me his hand. "I hope you are conscious of the honour this young lady has done you, Master Tregarthen, in summoning you so promptly."
"I am, sir," I said, mistaking his meaning, until I caught sight of Helenora's rosy face, and then, I doubt not, I blushed as deeply as she.
"Tut, tut!" said His Excellency. "What is a Governor in comparison? Until your appearance I can assure you she has evinced interest in no man."
"Your Excellency is facetious," said Helenora, with great dignity. "And you have no business to stand on the damp grass."
"Well, well," said he, laughing at this conjunction of reproofs. "We will sit on a wooden seat in the sunshine and be as grave as owls. But," he added, stopping short, "three is reputed to be an unlucky number."page 172
"There is no owl-like gravity about that," remarked Helenora, resigning herself to his teasing humour.
But when we had seated ourselves he remained for some time silent, looking down at the little township, as he had been doing when we first caught sight of him. His arm was round Helenora's waist, and presently, as though to draw me into their companionship, he laid a hand on my shoulder.
"What will it be like in fifty years, Cedric?" he said.
"A great city, Your Excellency."
"These hills and vales covered with buildings, spires and domes, villas and parks and gardens. Never was a spot better situated for the establishing of a City Beautiful. They must take advantage of the hills, crown them with splendid edifices; construct noble viaducts and spacious streets. What should you say to streets so wide that there is room for a footpath and lofty trees in the centre of them?"
"Beautiful," said Helenora. "Why don't you make them do it?"
"I?" he said lightly. "I am the man who is to make grass grow in the streets, not trees."
"It is a lie," she said, and drew his arm closer around her. "I wish I could burn all the Southern Crosses1 before they are printed."
He laughed gaily at her bull, and presently resumed his musings on the city to be. "They must reserve the foreshores. The Waitemata must run through the streets and through no man's back garden. Here must be the great pleasure way, tree-planted, fronted by noble buildings, open parks, reserves. The citizen should drive for miles along the banks of the island-studded waters. Yes, if its men are great enough, Auckland may become the Wonder City of the world."
1 See note, p. 400.
"Why Auckland?" said Helenora. "What have the Edens done that this place should be called after them? Some day, perhaps, when there are no more Southern Crosses, the citizens of Auckland will rename it Grey City, or Grey town."
"Beware of her flattery, Cedric," he said, with mock gravity. "Yet they may give me a public-house, or even a street."
I was encouraged by his kindly manner and good-nature to put a question suggested by his imaginings of the white man's city in days to come. Was there any place in the City Beautiful for the dark-skinned natives of the soil?
"For them also," he said, turning eagerly towards me. "God forbid that there should be more than one road for the inhabitants of these islands. God forbid that they should not travel it together. You are interested in the Maoris? But, of course; you have lived amongst them. You are from that benighted spot where there are no horses and cattle. Who is the head chief?"
I told him.
"Ah!" he said, knitting his brows. "I have heard of him. A stubborn fellow."
"His mana is declining, sir," 1 said hastily, unwilling that my tribe should be prejudiced in the eyes of the Governor by the misdeeds of Te Huata. "Besides, he does not live at the pa I come from, where we have a chief of the very highest intelligence, Te Moanaroa. He has always protected my foster-father, sometimes at great risk to himself. He is a loyal subject of the Queen." I spoke eagerly, for I was anxious to clear the frown from his face, and I succeeded. He was looking at me attentively and with some curiosity as I finished.
"You have attended a mission school?" he asked.
"No, sir. The nearest school is many miles away. My page 174foster-father is a great scholar, and he has taught me himself."
The Governor smiled indulgently at my use of the word scholar. "What has he taught you?" he asked.
His indulgence had turned into astonishment, however, before I had come to the end of my items. Helenora laughed gleefully at his expression of bewilderment.
"If your life has known misfortune, Cedric," he said, "it has known good fortune too. I hope you appreciate that. As for you, miss, I suppose you were aware of all this?"
"No. I only guessed it," said Helenora.
"I should like to meet your foster-father," the Governor said. "Is he often in town?"
"He has never been here, sir, but I believe he will come now on my account."
"Do not fail to let me know when he does. As for your chief, he shall have horses and cattle, a present from the Queen's Government."
"May I write and tell them so, Your Excellency?" I asked eagerly.
"You may, Cedric," he said, pressing my arm. "You may tell them also that you have made a friend who hopes to see a good deal of you; one who appreciates highly your loyalty to themselves. You speak the native language, of course?"
"Yes, sir," I replied, blushing hotly at his kind words.
"Have you taken any interest in the tribal songs, folklore, and traditions?"
"Yes, sir. I know more than a hundred waiata,"1 I replied.
His face lit up with enthusiasm. "We must go through them," he said, rubbing his hands. "Some time soon—if they will let me. Ah, dear! How much ado about so little, and the really great things—the waiata—must wait."
1 Waiata = songs.
An aide—not Helenora's brother—appeared, conducting a gentleman towards us over the grass. His Excellency rose to his feet, and we both followed his example. The expression of his face had altered. The kindly, simple gentleman was gone; in his place stood the Governor of New Zealand, the representative of the Queen, grave, dignified, reserved. I stood with bared head, while Helenora bent her knee in a curtsy. The Governor lifted his hat and turned to the approaching couple.