Chapter 34 – The Timber Merchants Daughter

That morning the couple drove on through the Waipoua Kauri Forest where they stopped to pay their respects to Tane Mahuta, to Opononi, a small village in the Hokianga Harbour, and on to Rawene to catch the car ferry across the harbour on their journey North. Rawene had undergone a revival, the shops were all occupied and the old buildings which house them had been rejuvenated, small businesses flourished. As they explored the tiny village whilst waiting for the next ferry, Will discovered a boardwalk through the mangroves along the waters edge. As Molly followed him, quietly listening to the birds and frogs, she heard a voice….

“Pst, pst, excuse me Miss! I know you can hear me. I know where to find you, can I come in now?” 

“Soon,” Molly whispered. Now was not the time as they had more driving to do before reaching their accommodation just north of Kaitaia. 

Later that day, after dinner, Molly settled into the armchair in the motel room and Will laid on the bed reading a book. Breathing into meditation, Molly quickly found herself at the bottom of the stairs to The Attic. Standing at the top of the stairs was an older girl of about 14 years of age, waiting for her on the landing by the closed door. Molly walked up the stairs to meet her, opened the door and indicated for her to enter. Grace was busy making a pot of tea for them all. She knew they were coming and had set the table with a beautiful bone china tea set. The girl’s eyes grew large at the sight of these beautiful almost translucent tea cups, delicately painted with spring cherry blossoms. Molly suggested for her to sit at the table and she politely introduced herself. “My name is Anahera, this is what my family  know me as, or Isabella as I am known as at school. I am, well was, 14 years of age. I was born in 1888 and grew up in the town of Rawene and died when I was thrown from my horse in 1902. My father was Irish and my mother Maori. Father came to New Zealand with his family, mother and father and six siblings. He had married my mother at a young age, because, well.. she was in the family way with me! He doted on her and she took great care of him and me, and my brothers and sisters who followed on quickly, all ten of us, one for each year. Mother loved being a mother, she thrived on it. She was always happy, patient and contented with her growing family. Father started work as a labourer with the tree fellers, and because of his diligence, he was promoted to the saw mill and worked his way up to manager, he was very popular with the staff. Smart and a quick learner, he built us a beautiful house and took loving care of Mother and us all. But together with the high ranking of his work came the responsibilities and the long, long hours and days, sometimes seven days a week, to keep the business running smoothly, or as he would say, ‘like clock work’. And they did it, his workers respected him and he was much liked within the community. The long hours caused an over tiredness and sleeplessness, stressing and worrying he quietly kept it to himself. He would often have a drink when he came in late, just before mother would serve him the dinner she had kept warm. These drinks began to increase and at first it made him happy and relaxed. Then one night something changed in him. One of my brothers had gotten into trouble at school and Father had been called up to the school to meet with the teacher. Rawiri, or Henry as he was also known, had been caned severely for something he felt he was not responsible for and because he had rebelled by standing up for his truth, he had been caned some more and father had been summonsed. Rawiri received another belting when father got home because he was still adamant that he had not done what he had been accused of. Feeling disgraced and embarrassed, that night Father got very drunk and very angry. After listening to their son’s story earlier, Mother had agreed with Rawiri. Father would not have it and slapped her across the face. Shocked by his behaviour she went upstairs to their bedroom and locked the door, making him sleep on the sofa. He was furious! And so was she! I remember falling asleep hearing her sobbing. She would not allow any of us into her room that night.

However, in the morning, Father woke subdued and unwell. He was so apologetic to Mother, who did not speak a word to him, serving him breakfast in a  deadly silence. Sulking, he left for work and Mother’s mood changed the moment he left the house. It was the first time Father had raised his hand to any of us and Mother would not stand for it. She said that that would be the last of it, she would not allow that kind of behaviour in our house! Father never came home that night and we never saw him again. They found his body washed up by the tide amongst the mangroves two days later. The doctor claimed he had drowned. But I never saw him again, even when it was my time to pass into the Spirit World. I have never been able to find him, neither had Mother. I know she is about here somewhere, I was with her before I came here to visit you…..” Isabella looked around, tilted her head and listened for her outside of the door.

Anahera continued her story, “Thankfully, Mother was able to raise us on her own with the help of her family the community who had high respect for our family. Most of Father’s investments in the timber mill were sold to help keep us in the house, fed and educated. Some of the monies had been kept very wisely by Mother, some were invested in the Kauri Gum workers. Mother was a keen business woman and a fair employer. We even had a nanny to help out. Most of us went on to boarding school and some of us stayed home to help, as the farm had several cattle, sheep, a horse, a house cow, goats, chickens and a substantial vegetable garden and orchard. We had enough to share with the family, neighbours and to be sold at market once a week creating a little cash for us children. Our childhood was good and Mother did a fine job on her own, she never married again, despite much interest in her. She had loved Father but her heart had been heavy with grief at not knowing what had happened to him, and felt somewhat responsible. The last we had heard was that he had had only a couple of ale’s at  the local hotel on his way home from work. 

Can you help us find him?” Molly was silent, listening, not knowing what to say and turned to Grace. The silence was broken by a quiet, almost polite knock at the door. Grace opened it to find Anaher’s’s Mother and all of her siblings keen to come inside. Grace welcomed them in and sitting around the table and on the floor, there was much chatter, as there would have been for any such family gathering. ‘Surely with the directed intention of this many people, they could attract the presence of their Father?’ Molly thought. “You bet!” Grace replied out aloud, “Watch this….” She whispered in Molly’s ear, and addressed the small crowd packed into The Attic room.

“If I may have all of your attention now, please…” the chatter quietened and then ceased, all of them looking to Grace expectantly, as she continued, “ I understand from Anahera that you all loved your Father dearly, so this should be easy!” Grace exclaimed confidently. With growing curiosity on their faces, Grace guided them into a meditative visualisation. “I want you all to recall the last time you had a happy dinner with your Father. Anahera, what was an occasion that stands out for you?”

“Oh Benjamin’s  (Ropata) 5th Birthday! We had a delightful time in the garden. Mother had prepared a picnic feast under the trees in the orchard and family and cousins had come to join us, they loved an excuse for a party. We had created a pinyata out of paper mache, filled it with small toys and sweets. We each took it in turns to be blind-folded and handed a stick. Of course we had to let Ropata have the breaking hit, him being the birthday boy. He was the youngest and had bright red hair, green eyes and a sprinkling of freckles across his nose. This was the first birthday father was able to take a photograph of. I remember the year as 1901, it was the year I became a woman!” Anahera blushed slightly, looked up at Molly and said, “You know what I mean.” Molly nodded in agreement. “Mother made me a special dress with my first bone corset.”

“Can you all recall this day?” Grace asked the family, to which they all replied with an excited nod of their heads. “Now, I want you to close your eyes and imagine this day, remember it with great detail, the laughter, the playfulness, the bright colours of the pinyata, the clothing you were all wearing, the colourful table crammed with delicious food and the beautifully decorated cake Mother had made especially for the day.” Molly watched on, spellbound, as the faces of this loving family glowed with fond memories. “I want you all to focus on Father, see him standing behind the camera, see the joy on his face as he watches his beloved family. He enjoyed taking random photos, didn’t he?”

“Oh yes!” Mother replied. “He never wanted us to pose all stiff and formal, he loved to capture the moment and he did it so well!” Her face flushed and tears roll down her cheeks, as she smiled at the memory of that wonderful day. Quietly, the door opened and with silent steps Father walked into The Attic. He stood behind Mother and placed his hands over her eyes, something he used to do often whilst she was cooking in the kitchen. Mother’s hands reached up to meet his and she gasped! “At last, you rascal! You have got a lot of explaining to do!” The children leap to their feet to greet him, so eager, so eager and keen to be embraced by him again. As they gathered around their parents, the bright light that signals their return Home surrounded them and in a brilliant flash they were gone.

The room was so quiet, the Grace sighed contentedly, ‘“Nothing beats a happy ending, or is it a happy beginning?” she said, swinging back on her chair. Molly scowled at her for treating the old Bentwood chairs in such a way! “Well…the kids have gone!” She pouted playfully.

The vision faded and Molly felt the heaviness of her body sitting in the chair in the Motel. She looked around the room to see Will asleep in the bed, stretch her body a little and slipped quietly under the covers and snuggled up to Will’s warm body. He stirred a little, automatically wrapping his arms around Molly. Her head on his chest she quickly fell asleep to the sound of his heartbeat.

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