A Maori Maid
It was Christmas Day, a hot, baking, broiling Christmas Day. There was not a breath of wind to temper the heat, nor a cloud to dim the fierce sun. By the edge of a small clump of bush, on the crest of a gentle slope, stood a fine, large, newly-built house. It was the homestead of Te Henga.
The site had been most happily chosen. The bush, and the hill rising up behind, broke in winter the keen force of the cold south-easterly winds. Standing, too, as it did on the hill-side, it commanded a splendid view of the country to the north and west. The rolling hills of the run lay spread like a huge panorama at the feet of the homestead; whilst beyond and beyond in the distance were the great rugged Kaimanawa Mountains on one side, and the Ruahine on the other. Paths, and lawns, and plantations had been laid out around and about the house. To the right, some three hundred yards or so away, but bidden by the trees, were new cottages and offices, whilst beyond them again were a new woolshed and sheepyards. The house itself was perhaps a luxury, but these other buildings were not. The station had grown, and John realised that he would in the coming year be shearing over a hundred and eighty thousand sheep. Fortune, in fact, seemed bent on favouring him. He was a wealthy man, worth anything up to half a million.
He was also owner of Te Henga—in name.
On the verandah, this Christmas Day, stood a tall, page 241slim, girlish figure. It was Ngaia, the true owner of the whole of the magnificent property over which her eyes from time to time wandered. Not that her mind was following her gaze. She was thinking—letting her thoughts run riot over the past twelve months.
It was almost to a day one year since she had arrived at the Maori settlement.
How it all came back to her! Jake's nauseous greeting of her, and the welcome of the Maories. With a shudder she recalled her experience in the native sleeping house, and her struggle with her father. Then came the drive to the cottage, and her meeting with her mother, and her brothers and sisters. After that was the misery of her home-life, so black and so hopeless, until her friendship with Archie. And, as the girl stood dreaming upon her lover, a sweet, tender smile flickered about the beautiful mouth, like to the brightness upon a sleeper's face in the midst of some lovely vision.
Small wonder that her mind lingered delightfully on the exquisite pleasure of the friendship that had so gradually and so perfectly turned to love. The afternoon by the little clump of bush, when he had drawn the truth from her and she had learnt his confession from him, and the hours they had since passed in each other's company, floated like a delicious vision about her. She recalled, too, how, when the great house had been finished, and Mrs. Anderson had taken up her abode, there had come suddenly a summons through Jake to go up to the office to see Mr. Anderson.
"The boss wants ye ter-morrer," Jake had said to her as she made ready the evening meal.
"Didn't I say it plain enough? Who else d'ye think 'e wants, if it ain't you? 'E's fool enough to 'ave a liking for ye. 'E wants ye to live at the big 'ouse."
The girl paused for a moment in her work, in a daze page 242of delight. Of all things that could possibly have happened this was perhaps the best. To be once more in a civilised home, away from the piggery and dirt of the cottage, to be able more frequently to see her lover, to be near Mr. Anderson! It was a prospect too good surely to be real!
"I shall only be a servant, of course; but I shall be happy," was the thought that flashed across her mind.
Lifting her eyes, she saw that her father had been watching the effect of his words upon her, and, remembering his previous refusal, the fear came upon her that he was only tantalising her with an offer he had no intention of permitting her to accept
"Well, ye seem d—d pleased at the thought of getting away from yer 'ome."
"Did Mr. Anderson say that—that that was the reason of his wishing to see me?"
"'Ow else d'ye think I'd know?" I'd know?"
"What did you say to him?" she asked, vainly trying to hide her anxiety.
"Wal, I nearly said 'no.' Then I said I'd see. I'm seeing now; and I ain't made up my mind. I've a good mind to say ye shan't go, jist 'cause ye're so blooming keen."
"No, no, no!" cried the girl, unable to conceal her dismay.
"What d'ye mean? Ye ain't keen, eh?"
"Let me go, father; please let me go."
Jake was far too hard to take much heed of the bitterness and fervour of the girl's pleading. It amused him, it delighted him. The one pleasure of his coarse, ignorant heart was to humble and humiliate the girl whom he knew to be his superior in birth, station and education. The very fact of its being a lady that was in his power gave a zest to his cruelty.
A vulgar word, a lewd jest makes slight impression page 243on women that the world call "women." They are born to it, and bred to the sound of such talk, nor need they of necessity be the less virtuous. They are merely less refined. English folks, for lack of other words, call those more gently reared, however humble their station in life, by the name of "ladies." Some few silly females decry the term, and yet demand the benefit of it The man who talks epigram to an ignorant yokel misunderstands his companion as greatly as the man who talks refined sentiment to a "woman," or broad truths to a "lady." Let a "lady" remember that the value of the term lies in the manner of her treatment, and that if a man failed to treat her as a "lady" she would be the first to complain. When females of refinement are willing to be treated by men merely as "women," without need of that courtliness that is the gentleness of a "gentleman," then the term "lady" will die a natural death. So, too, will politeness and virtue. If "lady" be merely a term, why trouble to quarrel with it? If it be more, why despise it? Every lady is a woman; every woman is not a lady.
Jake's answer to Ngaia's plea was a burst of laughter.
"He, he, he! By 'eavens! ' Please let me go,' eh! He, he, he! Ye don't mean to say as ye ain't 'appy in yer 'ome."
The girl drew herself up. The mockery of the man had cut her fully as deeply as he had meant it to.
"Happy!" she said scornfully. "Happy! You've done much to make me happy, have you not? Happy! I tell you I hate my home, just as I hate you. Oh, you needn't look like that. You don't expect that I should love you, do you?"
"Well, I ain't thought much about it, whether ye do or whether ye don't; but I reckon that if ye don't ye've got to do as if ye did."
Ngaia was too weak, too frightened of the brute to fight him.page 244
"You will let me go, father, won't you?"
"Ah! So ye're coming down off that 'igh 'orse ye tries to ride and can't. Now I tells ye what, I'll let ye go if ye asks real nice."
Jake crossed his legs and leant his elbow on the table. He puffed out a cloud of rank tobacco smoke and smiled a broad leer.
Ngaia looked at him.
"I did ask you."
"Well, ask again."
"Please will you let me go to the big house, if Mr. Anderson asks me?"
"I—I can't say more."
"Then ye can't go. That's all," said. Jake, thumping his fist on the table; and the smile became a chuckle.
"No, no. Don't say that Please don't say that. I'll ask in any manner you wish, if you'll only tell me. Please let me go, father; oh, please do!"
In her eagerness the girl came to his side, clasping her hands in front of her, whilst Ka and the two half-caste girls sat looking on, only half understanding and wholly amused.
"Why should I tell ye? Why don't ye know 'ow to ask yer father for what ye wants? Put yer arms round my neck, and kiss me, and pat me, and persuade me like a lovin' gal should. Then perhaps I'll say yes. Perhaps, mind ye. Ye needn't stand starin' like that. It ain't much for a gal to do, is it?"
"I said I should never let you kiss me again."
Jake shrugged his shoulders.
"You was cross. A daughter ain't got no right to say sich things. And if ye don't do it, why, ye don't go to the 'ouse. Ye can do as ye like, only I ain't likely to forget."
"You're a coward; a horrible, low coward!" the girl cried.page 245
Jake grinned, and, laying aside his pipe, he wiped his lips with the back of his hand.
"Come along," he said, opening his arms as though ready to embrace her," come to yer father's arms and kiss 'im like a good little girl. 'Ere," he added, drawing a stool to the side of his chair, "sit down on this and put yer arms round yer old father's neck and ask 'im properly to let ye leave 'im. I ought ter kiss ye every night, and I ain't done it once a month. What's the good of a pretty daughter if she ain't lovin' and nice? Come along, dearie."
Distraught by her eagerness to gain the man's consent, and fearful of his anger, the girl sank on to the stool like a criminal on to the death-chair. He slipped his arm round her waist and turned her face to face with him.
"Put yer arms round my neck and kiss me," said Jake.
Mechanically, her whole spirit, in spite of her belief that he was her father, revolting against it, she did as she was bidden. She touched his cheeks with her lips.
"That ain't a proper kiss."
There was no help for it and she put her lips to his. With a loud smack Jake kissed her. Struggling to restrain her tears she once again asked him for the desired consent. He gave it.
" But," he added, as she straightway tried to disengage herself, "ye must give me another. Jist to say ' Thanks,' ye know."
A few minutes later she had freed herself and fled out into the dusk. She neither paused nor stayed until she sank down and burst into tears hard by the little creek in the clump of bush near the new sheepyards, where she and Archie had met almost every evening since their engagement.
Her face was burning. An impulse seized her and, running to the edge of the water, she bent down and page 246bathed her lips and face. Still stooping she buried her face in her apron. Suddenly and gently an arm stole round her waist. She gave a quick, startled cry and looking up she saw Archie. She sprang to her feet and was clasped in his arms.
"What's the matter, Ngaia? What's the matter, sweetheart? You've been crying."
"Kiss me, Archie, kiss me. On the lips, on the lips. Kiss me. Oh, Archie, Archie!" she cried, clinging to him.
He drew from her a portion of what had happened. Not all. She still kept much of the full horror of her home life a secret from him.
"But it won't happen any more. It's finished now, for I'm going up to the big house, Archie. Isn't that splendid?"
"What are you going to do up there, Ngaia?"
"I don't know. I'm going to see Mr. Anderson tomorrow. Of course I shall be one of the servants."
Archie knit his eyebrows.
"Nonsense. I won't have it. It's no use. I won't allow it. If he wants you to go as a servant you're to refuse."
"Oh no, no, no. What right have I to expect more? I'd rather be a servant there than stay at home. My home is so unhappy, Archie."
"You'd be far more miserable at the big house, although—"
"Well, Archie?" she asked as he paused.
"I—I don't know that I've much right to dictate. I was forgetting my own trouble and its consequences."
The girl, seeking and needing sympathy herself, turned like a flash, at the mere suggestion of her lover being in trouble, into a sympathetic, anxious woman.
"Trouble, Archie. What is it? What is it?"page 247
"I've had a letter from my father, Ngaia, and it's bad news"
"Is he very ill or—or—?" she asked in a whisper.
"No, no, not that, darling; but—but he's lost his money; at least he has none for me. I wrote to him about you, and told him I wanted to decide about taking up some land, and this is his answer."
"Archie, is—is he angry about—about me?"
"He doesn't like your marrying a half-caste, and— and that's why it is, perhaps."
"Not a bit, Ngaia. The governor's not like that. I told you he wasn't. He says he's glad I am engaged and that if am satisfied with you he is; only that I ought to make sure that I have enough to keep a wife upon. That's the trouble, Ngaia. I haven't enough, and I won't have, now, for a long time to come; and I want to let you off your promise; because it's not fair."
"Oh, Archie, don't speak like that. It's not right of me perhaps to keep you bound to me. You might meet some girl with lots of money. But—but you mustn't say it's for my sake; because I've no one else in the world but you, and I never will have."
"Do you know what it means? It means years and years of waiting. I'll work and work, sweetheart, if you will wait; but it's scarcely fair for all that."
"Then I'll wait, Archie; and you're never to talk again about its being unfair, because it isn't. Unless it's unfair to make me happy. And I'm going to the big house. I'll learn how to be useful. You're not to say I mustn't You're not to, you're not to. In fact, you're to say I may go. Say it this minute, sir."
Archie's consent was easily gained. As it turned out, there was little need for him to have hesitated in giving itpage 248
Ngaia was not to be in any sense a servant—at least John had no such idea
"You're to come up to the homestead to live," he said to her in his office on the following morning. "You're to come at once. Indeed, you're to stay here from now. You're to sleep here to-night. This is to be your future home and I want you and Daisy to be great friends."
There was no mention of work, and now as she stood on the verandah looking back over the six weeks she had spent in the big house she knew that it was not John Anderson's intention that she should do menial service or be other than, as it were, a child of his.