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Over the Sliprails
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A Daughter of Maoriland
A sketch of poor-class Maoris
The new native-school teacher, who was "green", "soft", and poetical, and had a literary
ambition, called her "August", and fondly hoped to build a romance on her character. She
was down in the school registers as Sarah Moses, Maori, 16 years and three months. She
looked twenty; but this was nothing, insomuch as the mother of the youngest child in the
school -- a dear little half-caste lady of two or three summers -- had not herself the
vaguest idea of the child's age, nor anybody else's, nor of ages in the abstract. The church
register was lost some six years before, when "Granny", who was a hundred, if a day, was
supposed to be about twenty-five. The teacher had to guess the ages of all the new pupils.
August was apparently the oldest in the school -- a big, ungainly, awkward girl, with a
heavy negro type of Maori countenance, and about as much animation, mentally or
physically, as a cow. She was given to brooding; in fact, she brooded all the time. She
brooded all day over her school work, but did it fairly well. How the previous teachers
had taught her all she knew was a mystery to the new one. There had been a tragedy in
August's family when she was a child, and the affair seemed to have cast a gloom over
the lives of the entire family, for the lowering brooding cloud was on all their faces.
August would take to the bush when things went wrong at home, and climb a tree and
brood till she was found and coaxed home. Things, according to pa gossip, had gone
wrong with her from the date of the tragedy, when she, a bright little girl, was taken -- a
homeless orphan -- to live with a sister, and, afterwards, with an aunt-by-marriage. They
treated her, 'twas said, with a brutality which must have been greatly exaggerated by pa-
gossip, seeing that unkindness of this description is, according to all the best authorities,
altogether foreign to Maori nature.
Pa-gossip -- which is less reliable than the ordinary washerwoman kind, because of a
deeper and more vicious ignorance -- had it that one time when August was punished by
a teacher (or beaten by her sister or aunt-by-marriage) she "took to the bush" for three
days, at the expiration of which time she was found on the ground in an exhausted
condition. She was evidently a true Maori or savage, and this was one of the reasons why
the teacher with the literary ambition took an interest in her. She had a print of a portrait
of a man in soldier's uniform, taken from a copy of the `Illustrated London News', pasted
over the fireplace in the whare where she lived, and neatly bordered by vandyked strips
of silvered tea-paper. She had pasted it in the place of honour, or as near as she could get
to it. The place of honour was sacred to framed representations of the Nativity and
Catholic subjects, half-modelled, half-pictured. The print was a portrait of the last Czar of
Russia, of all the men in the world; and August was reported to have said that she loved
that man. His father had been murdered, so had her mother. This was one of the reasons
why the teacher with the literary ambition thought he could get a romance out of her.
After the first week she hung round the new schoolmistress, dog-like -- with "dog-like
affection", thought the teacher. She came down often during the holidays, and hung about