A Maori Maid
John had no idea of the financial difficulties of his son He suspected that the life he was leading was wild and dissolute, and more than once he endeavoured to reason with the young fellow.
It was useless. Cyril might yield to a certain extent. But it was mere appearance, done, probably, with a view to some end. Neither thought for his parents, nor consciousness of love or of duty swayed him. Self-gratification, self-pleasure dominated every act Self, in fact, in the largest, widest, baldest sense, was the one god he worshipped.
John made him a small allowance in addition to the salary he received. It would have enabled him to have enjoyed life beyond the possibility of most of his young companions. Yet he was discontented.
"It appears, Cyril," John said to him one day, "that you have an idea that I ought to keep you in idleness. I don't want to mislead you. I just wish you to understand this, that when I die you will find yourself by no means a wealthy man. If you become rich, it must be entirely by your own exertions."
"I thought the run was worth a pretty good deal."
"Well, remember what I have told you. I'm not going to argue with you. I think it is scarcely decent I simply repeat it. If you like to give up town life and come up-country, you could learn farming at Te Henga, and I could give you a start on some land of your own. But Te Henga will never be either yours, or your mother's, or your sisters'."page 261
Cyril took no heed of the warning, and refused the offer. He preferred life in a city to existence in the country. The dull monotony of a farmer's life was anything but to bis taste. His whole enjoyment was in living as fast and extravagantly as any man he knew. His pleasure lay in excesses. He was a profligate amongst women, a gambler amongst men, a drunkard amongst tipplers.
Cyril came more than once to Te Henga. As a result of his first visit he still maintained that station life was dull, monotonous, and horribly uninteresting. He hated the place, he said, and he seemed to mean it. Yet having once arrived he appeared loth to leave, and anxious to return. Riding, shooting, or outdoor work, all failed in any way to attract him. But a woman did. All the more so in that she was a beautiful, defenceless girl. He was a slave to women in his endeavour to enslave them.
He had heard of Ngaia before he saw her. His mother had written of her, and his sister had mentioned the fact of his father having brought her into the house. He had taken the women's part, and considered the half-caste a d—d interloper—and said so.
When he met her he modified his views. She might still be an interloper, but she was not "damned," unless it was d—d pretty.
At first Ngaia liked Cyril. He wished her to, and he laid himself out to please her. It was his means to an end.
Yet as the days went by it seemed all means and no end.
She treated him rather as a brother, simply because he was the son of her oldest and best friend. She allowed him a certain amount of familiarity, but it was the familiarity of a gentleman for a lady. It was his quickness in perceiving this that blinded her to her page 262danger. Nor did Archie realise what was imminent until it was almost too late. Cyril was far too cunning and crafty to talk much about the girl, or pay his attention too openly. He had no wish for any one to notice or question him.
Ngaia, happy in her love and her lover, and pleased, though she scarcely knew why, at the quiet, unceasing kindness of Cyril, laid herself out to be agreeable to him. She laughed, she joked, she jested with him; she charmed, she entranced, she misled him. He mistook her conduct towards him for Love, and smiled.
Frankly speaking, Cyril was by no means sure that he would be very greatly harming Ngaia. He saw that her life at the station was neither that of a daughter of the house, nor that of a menial, yet somewhat of both. As his mistress she would, so long as she remained with him, be independent; and if it did prove but a brief while before he tired of her, she possessed sufficient beauty and sense to be able to jog comfortably along life's dusty by-ways.
Cyril was essentially one of those, and, alas! there remain yet a few, who despised a Maori or a half-caste, for being, as he termed it, a "nigger," or "daubed with the tar-brush." The very girl whom men of infinitely higher social standing than Cyril had hoped to win as a wife, was, in his eyes, so far beneath him that to have scruples with respect to her was to be simply quixotic. He regarded her as amusing and extremely beautiful, but at the same time questioned his father's good taste in allowing her to sit at his table. Ignoring her white blood, and, despite her appearance and manners, regarding her as little more than a mere Maori, he scarcely stayed to consider whether any such proposal as he had in his mind would be taken as an insult. Marriage with her never occurred to him; he never for a moment thought it page 263would occur to her. His hinting at it in conversation with her was but a sop to deceive her, or, if she was alive to his real intentions, a more euphonious method of expressing them. That she should love him he regarded with no surprise; he had often been loved. It seemed to him merely to simplify matters, for he was a firm believer in the willingness of a Maori woman to disregard all conventionalities for the sake of her affection for a man.
There was, as has been remarked, somewhat of the flirt about Ngaia. In what light-hearted girl is there not? At the same time her attitude to Cyril was based upon another and very distinct consideration. She perceived, as she thought, the growth of her influence, and she endeavoured to use it. She had gathered from what she had heard, and even from Cyril's lips, a vague idea of his wild, unprofitable life. She took him to task for it, at first timidly, and fearing lest he resented her interference. She gathered courage when she saw that he at least listened to her. She spoke as a sister might to her brother.
He encouraged it. It amused him, and drew her more and more in the direction he wished. She was taking an interest in him; she was sympathising with him. It meant half the battle.
An accident delayed his return to town and helped him as he thought. He was bucked from a horse and kicked. His leg was broken and for weeks he lay helpless.
Ngaia in his convalescence was his chief nurse. She waited on him, she read to him, she spared herself in no way. Her constant companionship intensified and strengthened his determination.
One day to her surprise and dismay he told her of his love. He acted well. He was pathetic, he was impressive. His devotion from his fair-speaking tongue sounded supreme and real.page 264
Her answer was a refusal, gentle, as might be expected from her, but firm.
He was too wise and too crafty to show anger. He reproached her for having led him to believe that she cared for him and he told her that he would not accept her answer. Then the hard, selfish young profligate in his defeat and trading on the weakness of bis illness burst into tears.
The girl was shocked, was horrified. She made no effort to justify herself. She the rather condemned her blindness, her thoughtlessness.
"It's impossible, Cyril. Truly, truly. You must never, never speak about it again. I can't ever marry you."
"It's no use just saying that, Ngaia. It's no answer at all. It is possible, and I'm not going to give you up just because to-day you say it's impossible."
"But you must believe me. Oh, I'm so sorry! It has all been my fault, all my blindness. I never saw. I never thought."
Her grief seemed to appeal to him, and he made no answer, but lay back on the sofa as though exhausted and turned away his face.
"I'm so sorry, Cyril, so very sorry," Ngaia repeated, softly crying; and she stooped and, for very pity, she kissed his hand. Then she turned quickly and left the room.
Cyril was laughing, and he continued chuckling to himself for some time.