The Revenge of Her Race by Mary Beaumont
The low hedge, where the creepers climbed, divided the lawn and its
magnificent Wellingtonias from the meadow. There was little grass to be
seen, for it was at this time one vast profusion of delicate ixias of
every bright and tender shade.
The evening was still, and the air heavy with scent. In a room opening
upon the veranda wreathed with white-and-scarlet passion-flowers, where
she could see the garden and the meadow, and, beyond all, the Mountain
Beautiful, lay a sick woman. Her dark face was lovely as an autumn leaf is
lovely—hectic with the passing life. Her eyes wandered to the upper
snows of the mountain, from time to time resting upon the brown-haired
English girl who sat on a low stool by her side, holding the frail hand in
her cool, firm clasp.
The invalid was speaking; her voice was curiously sweet, and there was a
peculiarity about the "s," and an occasional turn of the sentence, which
told the listener that her English was an acquired language.
"I am glad he is not here," she said slowly. "I do not want him to have
"But perhaps, Mrs. Denison, you will be much better in a day or two, and
able to welcome him when he comes back."
"No, I shall not be here when he comes back, and it is just as it should
be. I asked him to turn round as he left the garden, and I could see him,
oh, so well! He looked kind and so beautiful, and he waved to me his hand.
Now he will come back, and he will be sad. He did not want to leave me,
but the governor sent for him. He will be sad, and he will remember that I
loved him, and some day he will be glad again." She smiled into the
troubled face near her.
The girl stroked the thick dark hair lovingly.
"Don't," she implored; "it hurts me. You are better to-night, and the
children are coming in." Mrs. Denison closed her eyes, and with her left
hand she covered her face.
"No, not the children," she whispered, "not my darlings. I cannot bear it.
I must see them no more." She pressed her companion's hand with a sudden
close pressure. "But you will help them, Alice; you will make them English
like you—like him. We will not pretend to-night; it is not long that
I shall speak to you. I ask you to promise me to help them to be English."
"Dear," the girl urged, "they are such a delicious mixture of England and
New Zealand—prettier, sweeter than any mere English child could ever
be. They are enchanting."
But into the dying woman's eyes leaped an eager flame.
"They must all be English, no Maori!" she cried. A violent fit of coughing
interrupted her, and when the paroxysm was over she was too exhausted to
speak. The English nurse, Mrs. Bentley, an elderly Yorkshire woman, who
had been with Mrs. Denison since her first baby came six years ago, and
who had, in fact, been Horace Denison's own nurse-maid, came in and sent
the agitated girl into the garden. "For you haven't had a breath of fresh
air to-day," she said.
At the door Alice turned. The large eyes were resting upon her with an
intent and solemn regard, in which lay a message. "What was it?" she
thought, as she passed through the wide hall sweet with flowers. "She
wanted to say something; I am sure she did. To-morrow I will ask her." But
before the morrow came she knew. Mrs. Dennison had said good-bye.
The funeral was over. Mr. Denison, who had looked unaccountably ill and
weary for months, had been sent home by Mr. Danby for at least a year's
change and rest, and the doctor's young sister had yielded to various
pressure, and promised to stay with the children until he returned. There
was every reason for it. She had loved and been loved by the gentle Maori
mother; she delighted in the dark beauty and sweetness of the children.
And they, on their side, clung to her as to an adorable fairy relative,
dowered with love and the fruits of love—tales and new games and
tender ways. Best reason of all, in a sense, Mrs. Bentley, that kind
autocrat, entreated her to stay, "as the happiest thing for the children,
and to please that poor lamb we laid yonder, who fair longed that you
should! She was mightily taken up with you, Miss Danby, and you've your
brother and his wife near, so that you won't be lonesome, and if there's
aught I can do to make you comfortable, you've only to speak, miss." As
for Mr. Denison, he was pathetically grateful and relieved when Alice
promised to remain.
After the evening romp and the last good-night, when the two elder
children, Ben and Marie, called after her mother, Maritana, had given her
their last injunctions to be sure and come for them "her very own self" on
her way down to breakfast in the morning, she usually rode down between
the cabbage-trees, down by the old rata, fired last autumn, away through
the grasslands to the doctor's house, a few miles nearer Rochester; or he
and his wife would ride out to chat with her. But there were many evenings
when she preferred the quiet of the airy house and the garden. The
colonial life was new to her, everything had its charm, and in the
colonies there is always a letter to write to those at home—the
mail-bag is never satisfied. On such evenings it was her custom to cross
the meadow to the copse of feathery trees beyond, where, sung to by the
brook and the Tui, the children's mother slept. And from the high presence
of the Mountain Beautiful there fell a dew of peace.
She would often ask Mrs. Bentley to sit with her until bedtime, and revel
in the shrewd north-country woman's experiences, and her impressions of
the new land to which love had brought her. Both women grew to have a
sincere and trustful affection for each other, and one night, seven or
eight months after Mrs. Denison's death, Mrs. Bentley told a story which
explained what had frequently puzzled Alice—the patient sorrow in
Mrs. Denison's eyes, and Mr. Denison's harassed and dejected manner. "But
for your goodness to the children," said the old woman, "and the way that
precious baby takes to you, I don't think I should be willing to say what
I am going to do, miss. Though my dear mistress wished it, and said, the
very last night, 'You must tell her all about it, some day, Nana,'—and
I promised, to quiet her,—I don't think I could bring myself to it
if I hadn't lived with you and known you." And then the good nurse told
her strange and moving tale.
She described how her master had come out young and careless-hearted to
New Zealand in the service of the government, and how scandalised and
angry his father and mother, the old Tory squire and his wife, had been to
receive from him, after a year or two, letters brimming with a boyish love
for his "beautiful Maori princess," whom he described as having "the
sweetest heart and the loveliest eyes in the world." It gave them little
comfort to hear that her father was one of the wealthiest Maoris in the
island, and that, though but half civilised himself, he had had his
daughter well educated in the "bishop's" and other English schools. To
them she was a savage. There was no threat of disinheritance, for there
was nothing for him to inherit. There was little money, and the estate was
entailed on the elder brother. But all that could be done to intimidate
him was done, and in vain. Then silence fell between the parents and the
But one spring day came the news of a grandson, called Benjamin after his
grandfather, and an urgent letter from their boy himself, enclosing a
prettily and humbly worded note from the new strange daughter, begging for
an English nurse. She told them that she had now no father and no mother,
for they had died before the baby came, and if she might love her
husband's parents a little she would be glad.
"My lady read the letters to me herself," Mrs. Bentley said; "I'd taken
the housekeeper's place a bit before, and she asked me to find her a
sensible young woman. Well, I tried, but there wasn't a girl in the place
that was fit to nurse Master Horace's child. And the end of it was, I came
myself, for Master Horace had been like my own when he was a little lad.
My lady pretended to be vexed with me, but the day I sailed she thanked me
in words I never thought to hear from her, for she was a bit proud
always." The faithful servant's voice trembled. She leaned back in her
chair, and forgot for the moment the new house and the new duties. She was
back again in the old nursery with the fair-haired child playing about her
knees. But Alice's face recalled her, and she continued the story. She
had, she said, dreaded the meeting with her new mistress, and was prepared
to find her "a sort of a heathen woman, who'd pull down Master Horace till
he couldn't call himself a gentleman."
But when she saw the graceful creature who received her with gentle words
and gestures of kindliness, and when she found her young master not only
content, but happy, and when she took in her arms the laughing healthy
baby, she felt—though she regretted its dark eyes and hair—more
at home than she could have believed possible. The nurseries were so large
and comfortable, and so much consideration was shown to her, that she
confessed, "I should have been more ungrateful than a cat if I hadn't
Then came nearly five happy years, during which time her young mistress
had found a warm and secure place in the good Yorkshire heart. "She was
that loving and that kind that Dick Burdas, the groom, used to say that he
believed she was an angel as had took up with them dark folks, to show 'em
what an angel was like." Mrs. Bentley went on:
"She wasn't always quite happy, and I wondered what brought the shadow
into her face, and why she would at times sigh that deep that I could have
cried. After a bit I knew what it was. It was the Maori in her. She told
me one night that she was a wicked woman, and ought never to have married
Master Horace, for she got tired sometimes of the English house and its
ways, and longed for her father's whare; (that's a native hut,
miss). She grieved something awful one day when she had been to see old
Tim, the Maori who lives behind the stables. She called herself a bad and
ungrateful woman, and thought there must be some evil spirit in her
tempting her into the old ways, because, when she saw Tim eating, and you
know what bad stuff they eat, she had fair longed to join him. She gave me
a fright I didn't get over for nigh a week. She leaned her bonny head
against my knee, and I stroked her cheek and hummed some silly nursery
tune,—for she was all of a tremble and like a child,—and she
fell asleep just where she was."
"Poor thing!" said Alice, softly.
"Eh, but it's what's coming that upsets me, ma'am. Eh, what suffering for
my pretty lamb, and her that wouldn't have hurt a worm! Baby would be
about six months old when she came in one day with him in her arms, and
they were a picture. His little hand was fast in her hair. She
always walked as if she'd wheels on her feet, that gliding and graceful.
She had on a sort of sheeny yellow silk, and her cheeks were like them
damask roses at home, and her eyes fair shone like stars. 'Isn't he a
beauty, Nana?' she asked me. 'If only he had blue eyes, and that hair of
gold like my husband's, and not these ugly eyes of mine!' And as she spoke
she sighed as I dreaded to hear. Then she told me to help her to unpack
her new dress from Paris, which she was to wear at the Rochester races the
next day. Master Horace always chose her dresses, and he was right proud
of her in them. And next morning he came into the nursery with her, and
she was all in pale red, and that beautiful! 'Isn't she scrumptious,
Nana?' he said, in his boyish way. 'Don't spoil her dress, children. How
like her Marie grows!' Those two little ones they had got her on her knees
on the ground, and were hugging her as if they couldn't let her go. But
when he said that, she got up very still and white.
"'I am sorry,' she said; 'they must never be like me.'
"'They can't be any one better, can they, baby?' he answered her, and he
tossed the child nearly up to the ceiling. But he looked worried as he
went out. I saw them drive away, and they looked happy enough. And oh,
miss, I saw them come back. We were in the porch, me and the children.
Master Horace lifted her down, and I heard him say, 'Never mind, Marie.'
But she never looked his way nor ours; she walked straight in and upstairs
to her room, past my bonny darling with his arm stretched out to her, and
past Miss Marie, who was jumping up and down, and shouting 'Muvver'; and I
heard her door shut. Then Master Horace took baby from me.
"'Go up to her,' he said, and I could scarce hear him. His face was all
drawn like, but I felt that silly and stupid that I could say nothing, and
just went upstairs." Mrs. Bentley put her knitting down, and throwing her
apron over her head sobbed aloud.
"O nurse, what was it?" cried Alice, and the colour left her cheeks. "Do
tell me. I am so sorry for them. What was it?" It was several minutes
before the good woman could recover herself; then she began:
"She told me, and Dick Burdas he told me, and it was like this. When they
got to the race-course,—it was the first races they'd had in
Rochester,—all the gentry was there, and those that knew her always
made a deal of her, she had such half-shy, winning ways. And she seemed
very bright, Dick said, talking with the governor's lady, who is full of
fun and sparkle. The carriages were all together, and Major Beaumont, a
kind old gentleman who's always been a good friend to Master Horace, would
have them in his carriage for luncheon, or whatever it was. Dick says he
was thinking that she was the prettiest lady there, when his eye was
caught by two or three parties of Maoris setting themselves right in front
of the carriages. There were four or five in each lot, and they were
mostly old. They got out their sharks' flesh and that bad corn they eat,
and began to make their meal of them. Near Mrs. Denison there was one old
man with a better sort of face, and Dick heard her say to master, 'Isn't
he like my father?' What Master Horace answered he didn't hear; he says he
never saw anything like her face, so sad and wild, and working for all the
world as if something were fighting her within. Then all in a minute she
ran out and slipped down in her beautiful dress close by the old Maori in
his dirty rags, and was rubbing her face against his, as them folks do
when they meet. She had just taken a mouthful of the raw fish when Master
Horace missed her. He hadn't noticed her slip away. But in a moment he
seemed to understand what it meant. He saw the Maori come out strong in
her face, and he knew the Maori had got the better of everything, husband
and friends and all. He gave a little cry, and in a minute he had her on
her feet and was bringing her back to the carriage. Some folks thought
Dick Burdas a rough hard man, and I know he was a shocker of a lad (he was
fra Whitby), but that night he cried like a baby when he tell 't me," and
Mrs. Bentley fell for a moment into the dialect of her youth.
"He said," she continued, "that she looked like a poor stricken thing
condemned, and let herself be led back as submissive as a child, and
Master Horace's face was like the dead. He didn't think any one but the
major and Dr. Danby saw her go, all was done in a minute. But it was done,
and some few had seen, and it got out, and things were said that wasn't
true. Not the doctor! No, miss, you needn't tell me that; he's told none,
that I'll warrant. He's faithful and he's close."
"O Mrs. Bentley, how dreadful for her, how dreadful!" and the girl went
down on her knees by the old woman, her tears flowing fast.
"That's it, miss, you understand. I feel like that. It was bad enough for
Master Horace with the future before him, and his children to think of,
but for her it was desperate cruel. Eh, ma'am, what she went through! She
loved more than you'd have thought us poor human beings could. And, after
all, the nature was in her; she didn't put it there. I've had a deal to do
to keep down sinful thoughts since then; there's a lot of things that's
wrong in this world, ma'am."
"What did she do?" Alice whispered.
"She! She was for going away and leaving everything; she felt herself the
worst woman in the world. It was only by begging and praying of her on my
knees that I got her to stay in the house that night, for she was so far
English, and had such a fancy, that she saw everything blacker than any
Englishwoman would, even the partick'lerest. Afterward Master Horace was
that good and gentle, and she loved him so much, that he persuaded her to
say nothing more about it, and to try to live as if it hadn't been. And so
she seemed to do, outward like, to other people. But it wasn't ever the
same again. Something had broken in them both; with him it was his trust
and his pride, but in her it was her heart."
"But the children—surely they comforted her."
"Eh, miss, that was the worst. Poor lamb, poor lamb! Never after that day,
though they were more to her nor children ever were to a mother before,
would she have them with her. Just a morning and a good-night kiss, and a
quarter of an hour at most, and I must take them away. She watched them
play in the garden from her window or the little hill there, and when they
were asleep she would sit by them for hours, saying how bonny they were
and how good they were growing. And she looked after their clothes and
their food and every little toy and pleasure, but never came in for a romp
and a chat any more."
"Dear, brave heart!" murmured the girl.
"Yes, ma'am, you feel for her, I know. She was fair terrified of them
turning Maori and shaming their father. That was it. You didn't notice?
No; after you came she was too ill to bear them about, and it seemed
natural, I dare say. The Maoris are a fearful delicate set of folks. A bad
cold takes them off into consumption directly. And with her there was the
sorrow as well as the cold. It was wonderful that she lived so long."
Alice threw her arms round Mrs. Bentley's neck.
"O nurse, it is all so dreadful and sad. Couldn't we have somehow kept her
with us and made her happy?"
The old woman held her close. "Nay, my dear bairn, never after that
happened. It, or worse, might have come again. It's something stronger in
them than we know; it's the very blood, I'm thinking. But she's gone to be
the angel that Dick always said she was."
Alice looked away over the starlit garden to where the plumy trees stirred
in the night wind. "No," she said, fervently, "not 'gone to be,' nurse
dear; she was an angel always. Dick was right."