FULLSIZE
page 238  (12 pages)
246to next section

Ko Meri; or, a Cycle of Cathay: A Story of New Zealand Life. By Jessie Weston. (Eden Remington and Co.) —The domestic and social life of English colonists in New Zealand, as well as in Australia, affords interesting themes for novel-writing at the hands of skilful lady-authors who have lived in those colonies ; and this one-volume story, the scene of which is laid mainly at the fair city of Auckland, is an acceptable example of its kind. We only regret that its title has been encumbered with a couple of Maori words, and a phrase equally obscure cited from Tennyson's "Locksley Hall," which can give no idea of the subject to the majority of readers. A feminine character of some originality, that of Mary Balmain, called a "half-caste," being the child of a British officer by his marriage with the daughter of a Maori Chief, is the heroine of the tale. Left an orphan heiress in the charge of a venerable retired missionary at Auckland, this girl has been educated by Mr. and Mrs. Morgan, a wealthy childless couple, receiving the usual instruction of an accomplished English young lady. One has heard of swarthy beauties, of such mixed race, who could figure to advantage in any European ball-room or drawing-room. In her black lace dress or her cream-coloured satin, with a diamond star in her hair, the "liberal curves" of her graceful form, the warm brown of the oval face "and the wondrous depths of the large dark eyes seemed fascinating to Captain Deering, who also heard her rich singing and speaking voice, and walked or rode with her, again and again, in morning costume equally becoming, on the delightful shores of the Waitemata. He was an officer, on leave from the army in India, spending the holiday with his cousins the Daytons, near neighbours of the Morgans ; and we are entertained with pleasing descriptions of the friendly intercourse between colonial families of the richer class dwelling in the suburban villas of Parnell. Their habits and manners remind us of the assured intimacy of many households of similar rank, in the last generation, in English country towns, among people who met frequently, and who had been acquainted all their lives. It rather surprises us, however, to learn that colonists enjoy so much leisure—that a profound scholar like Mr. Morgan is able there to spend his days in his library, stored with all the best works of classical and philosophical literature, and Mr. McCleod, the amateur horticulturist, in the cultivation of his costly garden. The scenery of that beautiful district, the volcanic hills, the native trees, ferns, and flowers, the harbour, the mountains, the islands of the Bay, and the features of the western seacoast across the narrow isthmus, are very well depicted. Church affairs, including the floral decoration of sacred interiors by the tasteful hands of zealous ladies at Christmas and Easter, occupy a share of attention. There is an English clergyman of independent views, Mr. Everard, who has declined preferment on account of his dissent from creeds and articles, but is preaching and labouring, nevertheless, in the service of Christ. He finds a congenial helpmeet in Miss Lenore Dayton, a high-souled, thoughtful young woman of cultured intelligence ; but the superb half-caste maiden, dreamy, passionate, and fiercely proud of her Maori maternal ancestry, declines to be a Christian on any terms. When Mary, with this gipsy-like taint of wildness in her blood, accepts the love of the frank young English gentleman, and is taken by Mr. and Mrs. Morgan to England, with the purpose of marrying him on his return from India, there are many fears and warnings of a mystic change in her disposition. She grows impatient of the artificial civilisation in which her girlhood has been reared ; she grieves, like many of the patriotic Maoris, at the decline of their once noble race, and the contemptuous tone in which they are spoken of provokes her fury. In London, received by some of her intended husband's family, taken to the opera and treated with other amusements of the fashionable world, she pines for her native land and for her mother's people. The terrible news that Captain Deering, the man whom she loved, has died in India, thus leaving her free, in spite of her great debt of gratitude to the Morgans, she gives way to an innate impulse, escapes from her kind English friends, returns alone to New Zealand, and joins her mother, Tapera, formerly the wife of General Balmain, now living with her savage tribe at Waitoa. There is no hope of recovering this strayed “half-caste" offspring of two incongruous races of mankind ; Lenore Dayton goes to plead with her in vain. Good Mr. and Mrs. Morgan, after many years of loving care, have to mourn the loss of their darling ; and the destiny of "Ko Meri" is fulfilled. 23.8.1890