Amongst the Maoris: A Book of Adventure
For the First Time Jack Wishes to be Alone.
Stanley laid down the book, and leant his head upon his hands and thought, and his thoughts took the following course:
“This, then, accounts for all which has seemed so strange in Hope Bernard's conduct. It must have been a hard struggle for him throughout. Why, I remember, even before we left England, when first I told him of my intention of coming here in pursuit of—of that man, and later, on board the ship, I thought his manner was odd. No wonder he found when at Wellington that his way and mine were the same; and again at Mr. Tudor's house at Auckland: that was why he followed me. But the missionary could give me no information as to Maitland, and yet Hope heard of his father's movements from him. Bernard must have made a confidant of the missionary, and told him his difficulty. I think I should have done the same. I suspected at the time that the old gentleman knew something he would not tell. And I followed him, poor fellow! to this place, after he had striven to shake page 306 himself clear of me at Auckland. How he must have hated the sight of me when I burst into his tent that morning! Why, I have been Hope's evil genius from the time of our coming out! Positively I believe he only came out here when he found out my motive for coming. I can see it all now: he has kept me in sight in order to defend his father from me.”
Jack Stanley paused even from thought for a time, then he rose and walked to Bernard's bed-side, and looked at him.
“Why did he not leave me to drown when I fell into the river?” resumed he. “He saved me, as he supposed, to continue being a curse to him. How can I go on in pursuit of this man, when his son has saved my life? Must I give up what I have looked on as the object of my existence? Oh, Hope, I would you were any one but whom you are. Why did we learn to love each other?”
He ended almost fiercely; and kneeling down by the bed-side of his friend, he said half aloud,
“How could you care for me, as I believe you do, knowing the purpose I had in my heart? Had I been in your place, and you had been John Stanley, I think I should have hated you!”
Perhaps it was the contrast to himself which Hope Bernard seemed to present which roused in Jack's mind a greater admiration and regard for his friend than he had ever felt before.
After a few days Bernard shook off the attack of fever, page 307 for he had youth and a good constitution in his favour; and although he was for the time being unable to pursue his way through the Waikato country, he was capable of getting about again.
One day, at this time, Bernard sat alone by the entrance of the missionary's house. He was idly lounging in a chair, with a book, which Mr. Grant had lent him, in his hand. Jack Stanley had wandered off into the forest with his sketching-book and colours. But Bernard was not reading, though he held the book in his hand; and when Mr. Grant drew near to where he sat, he put it down and said,
“Have you a few minutes to spare, sir, in which you could speak to me? I want very much to ask you a question or two.”
“As many minutes as you like, my young friend,” answered the missionary, kindly. “Is there anything in which I can help you?” And he seated himself by the side of Bernard, in order to listen to what he might have to say.
Hope Bernard paused before speaking, as if he scarcely knew how to begin the subject, or to word the questions he desired to ask. At length he began:
“I suppose that you come in contact with every one who passes this way? There is a person whom I am very anxious to meet with. I was told, when we were in Auckland lately, that he had come into this part of the country, and I am here in consequence.”page 308
“An European, I suppose?” said Mr. Grant.
“Yes,” said Bernard, slowly; then presently he added, “I am aware that my inquiries must sound very vague, for I can give no description of—of the man, excepting that he is somewhere about five and forty years of age, and that his name is William Maitland.”
“I seldom hear the names of those whom I come in contact with,” said Mr. Grant, “unless they remain with us for some time. Many people just pass through on their way up the country, and stop for a few hours; and we are rejoiced to see a countryman at any time. I know your name is Bernard, because your friend sometimes calls you so; but whether it is Hope Bernard or Bernard Hope I cannot guess; and your friend with the great dark eyes I have heard you call Jack; still, I should have known no further had I not asked him his name. There is something very attractive in the youth, and I feel a special interest in him.”
“Then,” said Bernard, reverting to the subject in his mind always uppermost, “you do not recollect the name I mentioned?”
“William Maitland? No; I can recall no such name. There was a gentleman passed here and remained for a night not many weeks ago; but he must have been considerably older than the age you mentioned—five and forty. He was a very silent man, unlikely to let us know anything of his intended movements, and I asked no questions—I never do so; neither did he look like a man page 309 who would bear anything like inquisitiveness. But he must, as I said, he considerably older than you suppose. This gentleman had very white hair, and was bent somewhat. Stay,” exclaimed Mr. Grant, as a sudden thought occurred to him: “I remember that after this traveller left us my wife found a small book which he had accidentally left behind him. I put it on one side, in case he should pass again this way.”
The missionary rose, and called to his wife to bring him the book in question, and returning presently he placed it in Bernard's hands. It was an ordinary pocket-book and almanack of the year, and upon the fly-leaf was the name of the owner. Bernard had attained his wish, and had come upon a tangible track of his father.
“And you do not know, sir, where the owner of this book was bound for when he left you?” he asked of Mr. Grant.
“He was very silent and uncommunicative,” answered the missionary; “very unlike our friend Jack there,” and as he spoke he nodded and smiled at Stanley, who just then emerged from amongst the trees. “That boy would take any one by storm,” he added.
“He is the most lovable fellow that ever lived,” said Bernard, warmly; then he followed the remark with a deep sigh.
“I think,” said Mr. Grant, “that I can tell you thus much: your friend, or I should say rather the person you are inquiring for, started towards the interior. There was page 310 this peculiarity about him: that he was unaccompanied by a guide or attendant. He must either have a very good knowledge of the country, or must be rather careless of his way.”
Just as he finished speaking, Jack Stanley came up to them, and Mr. Grant, after looking at the sketch Jack had been taking, rose and went into the house. Then, as soon as they were alone, Bernard said,
“Jack, I have learnt from Mr. Grant some clue as to my father. I know, at least, in which direction he is gone. He has been for a night in this village.”
Jack started, and coloured crimson.
“What do you think of doing?” he asked, after a few minutes.
“I shall continue my way to-morrow morning.”
Jack walked to the back of Bernard's chair, so that the latter could not see his face, and putting both arms round the neck of Hope, said,
“You are not strong enough yet, dear old fellow.”
“I shall grow stronger doing my duty than idling my time here, Jack,” answered Bernard.
“Then,” said Jack, presently, speaking very rapidly, “if you are determined to go on, Hope, I will remain here for a little while longer—that is, if Mrs. Grant will allow me. I have seen several sketches I must take, which I must absolutely take—they are so lovely: you can have no idea of their beauty, Hope. I must take them; and, of course, you will have to return by this way, page 311 so that you can return here and pick me up—cannot you? Only don't go and give me the slip, Hope, whatever you do.”
Bernard turned round quickly upon the speaker. There was an earnestness in his manner and something unusual in his voice. Jack's eyes were full of tears.
“Why, Jack!” said Bernard.
“There, if you must start and make yourself disagreeable to all your friends before you are fit to travel, I suppose you must; but I do not see why you need drag me off too,” returned Jack, carrying it off with a laugh—“so, Master Hope, you may go alone, and leave me here Hopeless. I should like to stay a little longer with Mr. and Mrs. Grant, I think they are such remarkably nice kind people—don't you?”—then, without waiting for any answer from Bernard: “I have really a great deal of sketching to do; and if I am, as the Colonel advised me, to make painting my profession, I must learn to work hard at it.”
So Jack continued all the evening—sometimes talking most dreadful nonsense as if in extravagant spirits; at others, indulging in long fits of silence—neither of which moods Bernard could understand.
But he was steadfast in his determination to remain at the settlement, and let Bernard continue his journey alone; so that, two days after his resolution, the latter started with the Maoris and the baggage, being accompanied some distance by Jack and a considerable proportion of the page 312 inhabitants of the settlement. Then, when Jack turned back upon his steps, he seemed to breathe more freely than he had done before; and as he regained the presence of Mrs. Grant, he said to her,
“I hope, while I am here, that you will employ me in every way you can, and make me useful. I am sure I could work in the garden, or cook the dinner, or do something to save you trouble. It is so very, very kind of you to take me in.”
“Is it?” asked she, with wide-open eyes. Then she asked presently, in a lower tone of voice, “Have you a mother, Jack?—I must call you ‘Jack,’ for I do not know your other name.”
“My name is Stanley; but do call me ‘Jack.’ No, I never knew my mother, Mrs. Grant. I cannot remember her.”
“Jack Stanley had never been treated with kindness by any woman excepting old Mrs. Bennett, and it was something quite new to him to listen to the kind gentle voice of a lady. He was ready to be her slave immediately.
That evening, when she went into his bed-room to see that he had everything necessary for his comfort, she took from a drawer a Bible, and laid it on the table.
“If you have not unpacked your own Bible,” she said, “you will want one to read before you go to bed.”
She said it as if it was a matter of course that Jack should wish to read the Bible, and he blushed to think he did not even possess such a book; but because Mrs. page 313 Grant had given him credit for wishing to read it, he could not let her deceive herself, but opened the book and read a few verses when she had left the room. Mrs. Grant would not have allowed Jack to suppose she thought so, but she was much too observant a woman not to see before long that her guest cared very little for eternal things, and she was the more anxious to influence him or good. It was something quite new for Jack to find himself amongst people who read the Bible aloud of a morning, and had family prayers. At first he set himself against it all, and went through the service without, as he thought, paying any attention to it; but he was not to be allowed to escape. Meanwhile, his daily occupation was chiefly painting. Since the time when Colonel Bradshaw had suggested to him taking his art as a profession, Jack had drawn with greater assiduity and desire to excel. These painting excursions led him at times some distance from the settlement; and, as he constantly discovered fresh beauties in the neighbourhood, he formed the idea of bivouacking at some little distance for a few days; and, on his return home that evening, he communicated his intention to Mrs. Grant.
She immediately set about making preparations for his comfort, and would have laden him with a host of things and sent with him a trustworthy man to help him; but Jack persisted that he would prefer being by himself, and that he wanted nothing more than a kettle, a packet of tea, some lucifer matches, and a loaf of bread.page 314
“And drink your tea out of the spout of the kettle?” asked Mrs. Grant.
“Well, perhaps a cup,” submitted Jack.
“And no sugar and no milk?”
“A little sugar, perhaps.”
“Go along, you silly boy,” said Mrs. Grant, laughing. “How are you to eat your dinner without a knife and fork? and do you expect to sleep on the tea-kettle? Leave me alone. I will get things ready for you.”
“You are very kind indeed; but I did not want to give trouble, or indeed to carry more things than necessary. You see, there will be my painting things.”
“Give me your travelling-bag, and I will put the things in for you,” said Mrs. Grant.
And the next morning when Jack started he found she had been as good as her word, and that there was very little for him to carry after all.
“God bless you and bring you back safely,” said Mr. Grant, as he shook hands with Jack. “We shall not forget you while you are away.”
They were the last words that Stanley heard when he left the kind-hearted missionary and his wife, and they sounded in his ears many times during the day. There had been very few in his life who had followed him with kind wishes.
“Robert,” said Mrs. Grant to her husband when they were alone, “I feel an unusual interest in that boy. He page 315 cannot remember his mother, and do you know that he does not say his prayers?”
“What makes you think so, Mary?” asked Mr. Grant.
“He never gives himself the time, dear. He is in bed five minutes after he goes to his room, and asleep almost immediately; and in the morning he is out of bed and in the open air down by the river almost as soon as I call him.”
“Then, Mary,” said the missionary, “if the poor boy has forgotten the God of his fathers so far, it is our duty to pray for him. God can and will, depend upon it, bring him back again. We told him we would not forget him while he is away,” he continued, smiling; “let us daily remind God of him.”
“He is such a dear kind fellow, I cannot help loving him,” said Mrs. Grant.
“And the Lord loves him infinitely more than you can, my dear, be sure of that. But there is the bell for morning service. Get your hat,” said Mr. Grant.
And the two walked to the little wooden chapel of the settlement.