A Maori Maid
Two hundred yards from the woolshed, and near the site of the future homestead, was a large cottage commonly known on the run as the "Quarters." It was the abode and home of the three jackaroos.
A jackaroo is a cadet. A cadet is a young man, generally from England, who is paying a run-holder so much a year for the honour and privilege of working for him. The theory is that the run-holder teaches the cadet farming. It is theory from end to end. The run-holder leaves the youth to the care of the manager. The manager considers that his hands are already full and sets the cadet to work just as any other stationhand. When mustering is on he is up at daylight and away after sheep. When the docking, and dagging, and cutting comes he is worked as hard as any man, and sometimes harder, because he cannot, like an ordinary hand, give notice if he is having too much of it. Of course he acquires a deal of practical experience. Unless he is a fool he is soon pretty useful. Meanwhile the run-holder pockets the premiums and gets the benefit of the work. This perhaps, accounts for the fact that cadets are usually imported articles and not to be obtained in the colony; at least, not first-class, high-paying ones.
The theory of it—it is wonderful what an amount of theory there is in so practical a matter—is that the lad will during some portion of the day or week be instructed, just as a pupil would be by a master, in page 148the science and art of sheep and sheep-breeding, and of grasses and fencing and turnips. There is much to learn, and if it is only to be done by experience, Heaven knows that men have to pay heavily enough when purchasing that experience without also having to find premiums. This theory is also chiefly remarkable for scarcely ever being acted upon.
There are exceptions. Some men do instruct cadets for whom premiums are paid. Otherwise cadetting is, in plain English, a swindle, and the parent is a victim. The protest of the run-holder that he could do better without the bother of cadets is hypocrisy. Cadets are generally useful; they are always cheap; they are often good profit. Many a run-holder goes to and enjoys the races on his cadets' premiums.
John Anderson had ideas—some squatters called them eccentricities—on the subject of cadets. He liked young fellows upon the run. If they were steady he found them amongst his best workers. But he never accepted a premium. At first he paid them nothing; when they had learnt to be useful they commenced to earn something.
"If a man takes a premium he undertakes a duty. He is a master taking a pupil, and he must teach, and not merely leave the youngsters to learn," he used to say.
He was right—surely.
The Quarters consisted of three rooms. The door of the cottage opened directly into the centre and largest apartment. It served for the sitting, and dining, and general living room of the three young gentlemen. It was an apartment gloriously and deliriously untidy. In the middle was a table somewhat the worse for hard usage. There was an ill-treated couch near the window, with one spring and a quantity of padding sticking out at the end, and two somewhat stained and strained armchairs standing before the large open brick fire-page 149place. The carpet was an assortment of pieces, like a patchwork cushion muchly rented. The sloping ceiling was papered with pictures from illustrated papers of all sorts. Now and again the latest paper would provide a desirable work of alleged art and it would be pasted up, sometimes completely, sometimes only partially, covering one or more of its predecessors. The effect, if not always artistic, was frequently ludicrous. Fragments of people peeped round landscapes, and the legs of sundry pasted-over individuals protruded below pretty faces or sporting pictures. The walls were studded with hooks and nails; and every hook and every nail carried its assortment of articles. Coats of all sorts, hats, caps, stock-whips, spurs, leather satchels, gaiters, guns, old trousers, old coats, and oilskins and goodness knows what else comprised the varied collection. On either side of this room was a bedroom; the one occupied by Archie Deverell, the other by his two fellow-cadets.
One of them, Jack Stevens, was at the moment lying back in the larger of the two armchairs smoking. The day's work was over, and on the table was the remnant of the evening meal. On the couch, through a cloud of tobacco smoke, could be seen another recumbent form, clad in a grey flannel shirt and riding breeches untied at the knees. This individual's gaiters and dusty boots were lying where he had thrown them in the corner near the bedroom.
"Archie's devilish late!" ejaculated he of the armchair.
"He told me he probably would be," answered the smoker on the couch. "One of the Maories brought in word that some sheep had got out, over by the Hautapu. There's a hole in the fence, I suppose. Archie and old Tom went off with the dogs. They'll have to round the sheep in and mend the wires."
There was silence for a few moments. Jack broke it.page 150
"He's a rum sort; isn't he?"
"A deuced good sort."
"Rather, but—well, I never can quite make out what sort of chap he really is. He's game for anything. He's a madman for a lark sometimes down in the township, and yet you find him reading the sort of books he keeps in there. Bacon and Lamb are all very fine on a station when they mean Pigs and Sheep, but when they mean dusty sort of stuff like essays it's a queer taste. He got his blue too, didn't he? Devilish strange I call it."
"He's a deuced clever fellow. There's more in Archie than meets the eye."
"He's a terror for the women."
"Why, hang it, man, he's turned the heads of half the women in Marton; and he doesn't care a hang for one of them. It doesn't seem to strike him that when he's humbugging about with girls it's a one-sided sort of game, with the fun all on his side."
"I don't believe Archie's ever sent a woman wrong in his life."
"I don't think he has, not intentionally, though he isn't a saint."
"I'm jolly well sure he hasn't."
"I say, talking about girls, did you see Jake's girl at the yards this morning?"
"That brute Jake's. I can't make out why the boss doesn't sack him."
"Which girl of Jake's do you mean? Waina?"
"Waina? Great heavens, no! She's his eldest girl, I believe. Been at school in Napier. By gad! she's crumby; she's a perfect nailer! She's one of the prettiest girls I've ever—Hullo, Archie!"page 151
Jack broke off as a tall, handsome young fellow, tanned and sunburnt, entered. He was dressed as his companions were, or rather as they had been, in riding breeches, with gaiters and spurs.
"What ho, there!" he said in a strong, jolly voice. "Anything left to eat? I'm ravenous. And who's the prettiest girl you've ever—well, goodness knows what you've done to her. Who is she? I'm positively pining to see something in petticoats that's really pretty. Ah, that's the game, Sam," he continued, as Sam, the cook, brought in a plate of mutton and vegetables. "There," he added, as he threw his boots and gaiters over by the wall and drew up to the table. "Now then, Jack; fire away. Who is your beautiful find? Tell me her name; make her a present to me."
"Jake's girl," said Jack.
"Oh!" said Archie, in a tone of comical disappointment.
"I never did think much of your opinion of women, Jack," he continued, "and now— Goodness me! Jake's girl! Ha, ha! Which one is it? Don't, old fellow, tell me you've fallen in love with Waina. Or is it Airini?"
"No; another girl he's had at school down at Napier."
"The one the boss used to write to, I suppose."
"Probably. She was in the office with the boss and Jake this morning, and came out crying."
"I see. Been a naughty girl. Boss been talking of ingratitude for all he'd done for her. Thinks that schooling will turn a Maori into an English woman, and is surprised when he finds that it won't. It has done it, but—well, it won't with a Jake for a father."
"She's devilish pretty, I tell you."
"I can imagine it. I heard a lot about your beautiful page 152half-castes when I first came to New Zealand. They exist. I've found some. But I'm not going to waste any more of my precious time trying to see such rarities. They're generally all the same. If they're not fat they're going to be, not to mention being untidy and slovenly—worse than our friend Arthur here," he added, referring to the smoker on the couch.
"Well, you're wrong, Archie," said Jack. "She's not a bit like a half-caste, and she's sweetly pretty. If you don't want her, I'll take her myself."
"What would the fair Mare say down at the settlement? No, no, I'll sacrifice myself. I'll see her. She's really pretty, eh?" he said laughingly, as he rose from the table. He walked to the mantelpiece and commenced to cut up some tobacco.
"So I've heard you say of Lottie Temple at the Empire. By Jove! The Empire, eh, and old Saint Jimmy's! It doesn't seem five years ago since I was there. I must really go home and have a look at it all again."
"I'm your man," said Jack.
"The end of next year, eh? Anyhow, I must go and see this fair creature to-morrow. I wonder what sort she is."
"Fair game, old chap, and good goods; you take my tip for it. Go in and win, and Heaven prosper you."
"Eh," said Archie, knitting his eyebrows, "it's a noble errand to ask Heaven to prosper, isn't it?"
"Don't get huffy, Archie, and play the pious. I never saw such a fellow. You're all keenness one moment, and then you suddenly grow as serious as a judge."
"I'm not huffy, only—well, I can draw a line, old chap, with respect to women. If a girl's not virtuous, I'm sinner enough, and weak enough, to join in her journey to hell, and to enjoy it too. But I wouldn't lead page 153her on to the roadway, not for anything in the whole world. I don't altogether like assuming that a woman has joined the frowsy crowd upon that track until I have seen her, and learnt it myself, or learn it as a matter of common talk. It's my fault to-night. I started it, I daresay. Jake's girl may be as swift and as bad as any woman. I've little doubt, seeing the stock she comes of, that she is. Only let's make certain; and let's confess that it's the Devil, and not Heaven that we must look to for assistance in such ventures. D—d prosy, aren't I? Well, it's the nature of the beast Who's on for a game of euchre?"
They got out the cards and played for an hour; then they went off to bed, Jack and Arthur to sleep, Archie for a good read at some one or other of his poets or essayists.
Archie Deverell was the only son of a baronet. His mother died during his infancy, and he was left to the upbringing of a selfish father and an indulgent aunt. The result was not absolutely unsatisfactory. Whilst he developed into a by no means too sedate young man about town, he never became, in any sense of the words, a profligate or spendthrift. Whilst lightness of heart and spirits appeared on the surface they only served to conceal a strong, resolute nature. Archie was not brought up to any profession or business. His father was accounted wealthy, and there seemed every prospect of his being beyond the necessity of earning his livelihood. None the less an idle existence was scarcely to his taste. It worried him. He was fond of outdoor sports, and the life of the owner of a ranche or Australian run had an intense charm for him. He had travelled widely after leaving Oxford, and the result was that he selected New Zealand as the most preferable country in which to take up land. He was just of age when, after a somewhat heated debate with his father, he returned to the Colony with the intention of page 154first cadetting for two or three years and then, after another trip to the old country, of acquiring land of his own. A friend of Sir Christopher's knew John Anderson, and Archie ultimately found himself a cadet at Te Henga.
Sir Christopher was both a philosopher and a speculator. His philosophy led him to accept Archie's determination with equanimity. His spirit of speculation led him to his financial ruin. He then rather congratulated himself on Archie's absence. His philosophy also prompted him to keep his true position a secret even from his son. He continued a small allowance to him and likewise continued his speculating. It was no longer a crime in his opinion, inasmuch as he had nothing further to lose. It was in fact no longer speculating.
"When I die he'll get the title and the estates and the mortgages and the debts. He can drop the debts. Only I'll have to tell him how things stand when he wants to buy this run, or whatever it's called," the old gentleman remarked to himself.
It was late when Archie laid aside his book and blew the candle out. Curiously enough his last thought chanced to be of the half-caste girl Jack had spoken to him of.
"I must go down and see her. Jake's daughter! Um! she's bound to be more or less a bad lot, as women measure women. A child of nature, with thick lips. D—d thick lips! Of course. I—knew
—there—would—be—something. Thick lips—and a —pi-i-ipe—"
He was asleep.