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The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, 1939


page 9


Jenny wouldn't cry but her throat ached and her hands clenched round the broom. When she stooped and jerked the sack mat away from the hearth she pitched it viciously out onto the porch and knocked the row of gumboots sprawling.

She wished her father would get mad at the boys too but there was small enough comfort even then. Because though he pushed the boys about and sometimes kicked them he rarely shouted and he never called them "Maori slut." That could sting Jenny to horrible shame. She had to walk miles along the beach, and lie for hot hours in the harsh sand grasses and cling hard to the secret of her knowledge that she could draw better pictures than any she had seen, before she felt ready to go home again.

Usually it was when she was feeling really happy that her father sneered most bitterly at her.

If she just when on sitting woodenly on the back step and looked at the sea and said nothing he would shout at her, swear and stamp and lurch over as if to strike her. She couldn't stand that. She always had to run. The words he shouted seemed to press down on her. Sometimes, swimming alone, naked at night, feeling relaxed and exulted, delighting in the lovely sensation of the water smoothly wrapping around her body, she would be started into furious activity of splashing and swimming and swimming by the remembered sound of his voice. He could beat her with that

This morning it had been worse than usual. It began when Roy had said at breakfast that Dick Wilson was skiting down at the Post Office yesterday because he had got Jenny to say she would go to the dance with him. Dick was the first person she had ever accepted as a friend. She knew Roy wasn't being spiteful but fear made her suddenly hate him. She dropped her fork and looked at her father. His neck was stringy. The red in his face was mottled. She pressed back in her chair and waited. Roy shuffled his feet and spread his hands flat on the table. He didn't look up, but he was scarlet.

The man's vocabulary was limited but his festering bitterness made it savage. He sneered at her mother, raged about Dick Wilson, stamped up and down the kitchen, in blaspheming fury. Phrases struck at her like physical blows and Jenny cowered.

Tripe like that! Bloody sissy cow-boy! Child of a fat bitch! his harsh voice was fiercely shrill and ugly with his anger. Suddenly he stopped and went outside, without any climax. His children sat in limp silence. Roy touched his half-sister's hand and, looking absurd in his clumsy sorrow for her, went outside too. Jack scraped back his chair, crossed to the stove and put in two hunks of wood then turned to look at Jenny.

"I'd clear out," he said, "you could get a job."

Jenny looked at him helplessly.

"Scrubbing," she said. Without meaning to, she raised her hands and looked at them. She could draw, strongly and beautifully, and whenever she had material she painted too. Only Jack knew of this. He admired it but the knowledge made him uneasy. Jenny's life was bound to be hard. Her intelligence was too fine for the surroundings she was born into.

"Better clear out, anyway. I'm going to feed the calves. I'll be in again. Dick Wilson is a fool," he added, making it easier for her.

So the girl washed the dishes and swept, and made herself go into her mother's room to wash her. She hated being remained that she had been born of that coarse, loose body whose dark blood had given her at once a rare beauty and a shamed pride. Being a half-caste she was already a target for the neighbouring youths in their pitiful lust, and her fierce scorn was her only defence.

page 10

Jack came back to the shack in an hour, but the calves were not fed. He came out of the warm morning sun into the stale air, and called to Jenny. They went outside together.

"I rang Wellington," he said. Jenny looked up quickly. She caught his arm.

"You rang your friend? What did he say?"

Jack answered indirectly.

"I've got enough money for the train. Roy will take you into town in the truck. Keith thinks he can get you a job in a milk-bar, he says. You'll have to find board somewhere."

Jack's eyes were sad but he smiled with Jenny in her new excitement. He was a man and passively accepted his life but Jenny was different. Moreover he was secure in knowing that his own mother had been a white woman and his father had once been a man of intelligence and taste, whose bitter self-disgust found no release. Now Jenny was to be set free her young beauty would no longer torment his father with memories of his early infatuation for her mother. Jack's sadness faded and he laughed as he helped Jenny to get ready. It was some years since they had met but Keith used to be a good sort. He would look after her. He was married now, too. Maybe his wife would tell her what clothes to get, Jenny would be all right.

All the way down to Wellington Jenny looked out of the train window and saw trees she wanted to draw, hills she wanted to paint, and houses she wanted to live in and her excitement grew.

When the train drew in she leaped on to the platform and waited eagerly for her brother's friend. Through the thinning crowd came a man in a navy suit and tan shoes. He wore a bowler and had a bustling manner. Jenny, standing alone by her case, was easy to see and he made directly towards her. She felt no dismay. She was pleased that he called her Miss, that he insisted on taking her home with him. She saw the light in his eyes and thought how kind he was.

Keith McKendrick had never been kind in his life and Jenny was a beautiful half-caste.