A Maori Maid
Ngaia was up at daylight on the following morning. Leaving a message to say that she would be out riding until the afternoon she slipped across to the Quarters.
They were at breakfast
"Hullo, Ngaia, good-morning, sweetheart," said Archie. He stepped up to her and, slipping his arm round her waist, kissed her.
"Good-morning. Good-morning, Jack, good-morning, Arthur. I want to go out with you, Archie; may I? When are you going?"
Ngaia and Archie's engagement, an unsuspected secret at the great house, had been imparted to Arthur and Jack and old Brown and had met their approval. The girl had grown in importance since the days when she was merely Jake's daughter and Archie's friend. She was his betrothed now, and not only that but the most sought after companion of the various visitors, many of them highly distinguished, who stayed at the homestead. Yet she had not in the least degree changed, except perhaps in having completely lost the frightened, hunted look Jake's brutality had begun to bring into her eyes.
"Come and sit down, sweetheart," said Archie, placing a chair for her next to him. "I don't exactly know where I'm going, except," he added, with a short, hard laugh, "to leave."
"Archie, will it mean that?" asked the girl, laying her hand on his arm.page 272
"Well, when a cadet, who's served his apprenticeship, thrashes the son of his master and has no intention of excusing himself he must go."
"I'll explain, Archie. I'll speak to Mr. Anderson."
"My God! you won't, Ngaia!" exclaimed Archie, almost fiercely."Not one word, not a syllable."
"You're thinking of me, Archie," said Ngaia softly.
"That's but thinking of myself! You're part of me now."
Her soft hand closed over his arm and the wild pride of a woman who knows that she is of more account to her man than he is to himself strengthened her and straightened her.
"It's well," she said simply. "I understand—I know. It's—oh, I'm so proud," she whispered, and she smiled through her tears as she saw the other two lads watching her in obvious admiration and sympathy, and not a little envy—of him.
"He's told us," said Jack.
"And I'm devilish glad. I wish Archie had broken every bone in his body; and—and I'd shove an epithet before every word if you weren't here, Ngaia," exclaimed Arthur.
"I'll warrant his bones are fairly sore this morning anyhow. D—n him!" muttered Archie. "I'm sorry, Ngaia," he added, as he realised the excessive zeal of his remark.
"Perhaps he won't say anything about it," said Arthur.
"Trust him," muttered Jack, "and he'll embellish it"
"He must have made you jolly wild, old chap. You don't often lose your temper," said Arthur, and Ngaia knew that even from him and Jack Archie had withheld the whole truth.
The memory of what had happened brought a rough look to the young fellow's eyes,
"There are things," he said slowly, "men may do orpage 273say sometimes—and remember. The chance of my having nothing to kill him with, and—and something higher and better," he added, laying his hand on Ngaia's shoulder, "saved him."
She realised what he meant and knew the truth of it It's easy sometimes to outstrip a man's endurance. It is then that one or other steps on to a swift trail that ends—beyond.
"I'll go and saddle up," he added. He was in no humour for much breakfasting. "Where's Mignon, Ngaia?"
"In her loose box, Archie. I'll wait," she said, crossing over to him as he turned to leave the room. She had never seen him in such a stern, set mood before, and yet she felt no fear of him. The light in his eyes was soft as they looked into hers. He was more gentle to her even than usual. He realised perhaps the yearning to soothe and sympathise.
"I'll cut some sandwiches. We needn't return until the afternoon," she said.
"All right, my pet," he answered; and then, oblivious of the presence of the other two, he caught her in his arms and kissed her passionately. He let her go and passed quickly out across to the stables.
She watched him until he disappeared from sight.
"I'll cut some sandwiches for you," said Jack as she turned towards the table.
"Thank you, Jack," she said with a soft, sweet smile, and she dropped wearily into the armchair.
"I'm sorry, Ngaia," murmured Arthur, looking down at her.
It seemed to lend sudden life to her.
"Sorry. So am I, so sorry; and yet—I'm not. I'm not a bit, Arthur. He's been so good to me, and —and now I may be some sort of help to him."
It was not long before Archie appeared leading the two horses.page 274
"We'll go over by the Hautapu. The slip panels want mending. We might have 'kai' at the Maungaiti bush," he added to her in a lower tone.
She nodded a shy approval. The Maungaiti clump was where he had proposed to her, and his choice of it now was not a chance.
For some while they rode side by side in silence, quietly walking their horses. In the thousand acre paddock over by the patch of ti-tree scrub they gave their horses their heads and travelled at a hand gallop through the crisp spring morning.
"Come on, Ngaia," cried Archie, leading the way by half a length; "away with dull care. I'm as solemn as if I'd committed a crime instead of having licked an infernal young scoundrel. Keep away down towards the hollow. We'll fix up the panels and then make the Maungaiti clump and boil the old billy and just talk it all over, you and I."
"That's it, Archie; it'll all come right, I know, I know."
"I believe you're glad, you young monkey."
"I believe I am. Oh, of course I am."
"Of course! Why of course?"
"Of course—oh, because I'm richer to-day than I've ever been. Heigho!" she sang, and in the wild excitement of her mood she lifted Mignon a clear length ahead of Archie before he realised it.
"Richer, sweetheart?" he asked as he drew level. "How so?"
"Because I've come in for my inheritance. Travelling down the trail of ages it's come to me. I was a girl yesterday. I'm a woman to-day."
"And I'm an ass. I don't understand."
"You're not an ass, Archie; you're—oh, you're just —never mind what you are. But it's not likely you could understand. You're not a woman; and—I am. Come on; let Jacko go, Archie. I can hardly hold Mignon."page 275
He caught the spirit of her gaiety and side by side they galloped along.
Oh, but it's glorious such a ride! The air is fresh and clear and sweet. High overhead the sky is a pale, unfathomable blue merging towards the hills and towards the valley into the grey haze of coming heat. Around a panorama of rolling country studded with specks that are mobs of sheep and patches that are clumps of bush. Away and away beyond is a gleam of the snowy crest of Ruapehu, and the outline of the Kaimanawas thrusts upwards sharp and distinct. The hill rising to the left shuts out the western view and hides the lonely Ruahine from sight.
The breeze, scarcely rustling the stiff cabbage-tree palms, chatters in their ears and dances golden dances through Ngaia's hair.
There is life, there is joy in every stride, and the breath comes deep and full. In the rhythm of tumbling hoofs, that barely create a sound, they race past sheep that slowly uplift a startled look or flee in a whirl of apparent alarm, past tufts of high grass brushed lightly aside. They laugh at the scramble and bolt of an occasional hare or are startled themselves by the whir of some bird as it soars in affright. The dust in the grass roots is flung in cascades from the hoofs, and the hum and the whistle of insects and birds are lost in the sweep and the rush of their pace. Up, up, without pause, but in slower career to the top of the slope, then down with a rush to the turn in the gully, and on past the gate at the creek. Then over the soft, springing turf by the swamp, to the drier and dustier track where the grass, like tiny artillery, crackles and snaps as the clattering hoofs play swift desolation. Each stride and each breath in curious recurrent refrain swings longer, draws deeper, and is lost in the wildest delight. The pace slackens, the wild scamper ends as the gateway sweeps closer andpage 276closer, until with sighs of content Ngaia and Archie draw rein.
One may ride day in and day out for months on a great run and have neither the inclination nor the opportunity for such a spin. With a long day's work in the saddle before one, galloping is generally the unwisdom of mere playing, and is not business.
"Oh, how exquisite!" sighed Ngaia. "That's swept the cobwebs away, Archie."
"Rather. Steady, Jacko, steady; no more to-day," he added as his horse displayed a strong desire to repeat the pace of the previous paddock.
They reached the slip panels overlooking the Hautapu, and after a little while the damage was repaired.
"There, I expect that's my last job on Te Henga. Oh, well, it's a poor heart that never rejoices. Up you get, Ngaia. We'll boil our billy and thrash things out, and see where the trail I've got to follow really lies; my trail and—"
"Yours! I wonder."
They walked their horses up the slope and cantered over the flat and down to the patch of bush by the Maungaiti. They unearthed the billy and lit a fire, and set to work on their sandwiches with the appetite of two healthy young creatures.
"There's no getting away from it, Ngaia, I shall have to leave. Even if Mr. Anderson gave me another chance I—I should be inclined to leave. He won't."
"He's very kind, Archie. He likes you."
"Yes, but—Well, I'll not ask him; but if he stops short of sending me off I'll stay—because of you, sweetheart. But suppose he doesn't?"
"I've still to be considered, Archie. I'm part of you now—you said so once."
"So you are, pet. It's just you I'm thinking about.page 277 I can't take you with me—especially as I have nowhere to go to."
The girl crept up to him. He was sitting with his hand clasped about his knees. She rested one arm on his and faced him. It was not an hour of idle caressing. They were talking the business of their future, choosing the pathway of their two lives from a network of blind tracks.
"Archie, I can't stay without you. Oh, it's no use. I couldn't face it all again."
"Things are better now you are at the big house."
"Only a little. If you go I must go too."
He was silent.
"She's unkind to you, I know, but the boss isn't."
"There's father. He could insist upon my going back to the cottage."
"Mr. Anderson wouldn't let you."
"I don't belong to him, I belong to my father. He couldn't take me from you if you'd married me. I should belong to you, wouldn't I, Archie?"
"Of course you would, my pet."
"It's all a question of belonging."
"I wish it were. It's much more. A man has no right to marry unless he can support his wife. I've a couple of hundred pounds in the bank—but that's nothing to start married life on. I haven't a home to give you, sweetheart. I've got to work, and it'll be as much as I can do to earn enough for one mouth, much less two."
"I can work. I'm strong, Archie."
"Oh yes, Archie, a woman when she's with the man she loves can endure all he is strong enough to endure— and more perhaps. I can't do without you now, Archie, and—and I'd rather live with you as a shepherd's wife than at Te Henga as a shepherd's daughter."page 278
"You don't realise, sweetheart. Our responsibility isn't limited just to us two. You don't understand, you can't."
"Yes I do, Archie. I can," she said earnestly, laying her hand on his arm. "I've the instinct of a woman and—and I'm ready to be your wife, Archie. I want to be if—if you want me."
"Want you, Ngaia! Oh, sweetheart, if you realised how my whole life, my whole happiness seems locked up in you!"
She moved forward and he slipped his arm round her waist and drew her to him and kissed her.
"It's settled, Archie, then?" she whispered.
"I belong," he answered softly. "It's what I wanted and what I've been fighting against as being pure selfishness."
"It wasn't. It had to be. It came when trouble came—my inheritance."
"Your—oh, I realise. It's true. A man's trouble leads him finally to the woman he loves and he belongs."
"I've got you all to myself now, Archie—and for always."
"Now then to business," he exclaimed presently in a tone of mock earnestness. "We've got to knock our plans for the future into shape. To begin with," he said, leaning back against the log, "we've got to get married."
The girl flushed, her brown eyes dropped, and then glanced up and looked into his.
"There's no getting out of that," he repeated.
"I don't want there to be," she said with a smile.
"Let me see. When I leave here I'll ride down to Napier and wait for you."
"I could go to Miss Spence."
"Do you think she'd help and keep the whole thing a secret?"page 279
"She'd do anything I asked her, I'm quite sure of that."
"You see you have to be a fortnight at a place before you can get married, or something of that sort."
"I'd rather tell Mr. Anderson first."
"So would I. Only he'd refuse, I expect. He'd he sure to make you ask Jake."
"I won't do that, I simply won't. It sounds horrid, but—oh, Archie, I sometimes think he can't be my father, that Ka can't be my mother. There's some mystery about my birth, Archie, I don't understand."
"I've often thought that."
"It's not much good thinking. Father could stop me if he wished. I'll ask Mr. Anderson this afternoon if I can go to Napier. I'll do it before I could possibly have heard about your going. It may prevent his suspecting."
"I can easily fill in the fortnight looking round for something to do. If I could get a managership it'd be just the thing, wouldn't it?"
"If I don't—" Archie broke off and there was silence.
"Archie," said Ngaia, "I've got an idea."
"Out with it then before it makes tracks."
"Do you remember telling me about the gold the natives told you of away back by the Ruahine?"
"At the foot of Aorangi?"
"Go and see if it's true."
"It wouldn't cost a great deal."
"It wouldn't cost much, but— It's an idea I've often thought of. I'm firmly convinced there's gold there."
"It might mean a fortune, Archie."page 280
"It might be worth trying. I could marry you then with a clear conscience of being able to afford the luxury of the sweetest wife in all the world."
"Archie, you—you don't think I meant you to go before we were married? I'm going too."
"But, my dear girl, it's—"
"My idea—and my expedition, and—and it'll be our honeymoon. I must have a honeymoon."
"It's dense bush and frightfully rough country."
"Where you can go I can—with you to give me a hand now and again."
"I'm a man. A woman'd have no chance with skirts; and—"
Ngaia glanced around, as though, even in so secluded a spot as they were in, some one might overhear her.
"I'm not going in skirts. Archie, listen; you must listen. When I'm married to you it won't matter a bit to you how I'm dressed. I want to share everything with you. I always have since you took me out riding, and I should have a right to as your wife. A woman can go anywhere her husband goes, with—with just a little help from him sometimes. I've been thinking and thinking as we rode along. You could buy all that was necessary to try and find the gold with, and we'd ride up from Napier. I'll wear my habit, and I can easily ride on a man's saddle with the stirrup iron thrown over. Then when we get into the bush I'll dress like a man in the clothes you'll have bought me; and we'll hunt for gold—and find it."
Archie remained silent.
"What do you think of the idea, Archie?"
"I think—well, I think you're the truest and pluckiest little woman on the face of God's earth. That's what I think," he answered, and she knew he was saying what he felt, and she smiled and drew a deep breath of in-page 281finite happiness. It is good for a woman to know she is appreciated.
"Archie, you agree?"
"Yes, sweetheart. We'll thrash out the details in Napier. Well have to take four or five pack-horses. The question will be how to get them through the bush."
"And me," she said with a smile.
"Oh, I'm not frightened of you, not really—with just a little bit of help, you know. I'm not frightened of any part of the plan. We'll see it through, Ngaia, you and I, if we have to cut a track clean through. We'll strike gold and, whoop la, we'll be as rich as African nabobs in no time.
"Upon my word," he continued, jumping to his feet, "I feel almost keen to start at once."
"Without me?" she said, standing beside him.
"Without you! No fear. Our marriage, sweetheart, is one great hope I have; to be worthy of you is my other."
"You'll be that, Archie. Oh, it's strange how I have been realising your religion of women. You've got to look after me all your life because I'm a woman, and I'm going to look after you, and—and lead you to all that is right because—because I'm a woman."
"A good woman. God bless you," he whispered, kissing her gently and almost reverently.
They saddled up the horses and Archie stamped out the remains of the fire.
"I'll take back the old billy, eh, Ngaia?"
"Yes, except—doesn't Jack or Arthur know of it?"
"Jack does. I'll leave it May it bring as much luck to others as it's brought to me!"
They rode back steadily. At the stables Archie took Mignon and handed the mare over to one of the grooms, whilst Ngaia walked through the plantation to the side entrance. As it happened, she met John.page 282
"Been for a long ride, Ngaia? How is Mignon behaving herself?"
"She's just perfect."
"I'm glad she's turned out such a success."
Ngaia commenced to unbutton her glove. Suddenly she looked up.
"Mr. Anderson, may I—do you think you could spare me for a fortnight or so to go and stay at Miss Spence's? I should like to see her again."
"Why, certainly, she'd be delighted. Of course you may go, Ngaia. Will you go by the coach or would you rather go by buggy? The coach is quicker, perhaps."
"It goes the day after to-morrow."
"Yes, you'd better tell my wife. You can say I have given you permission."
"Thank you very much."
"No need to thank me, no need to thank me," said John, continuing his walk. Presently the clerk came out to him and told him that Mr. Deverell had returned and was in the office.
The interview resulted, as Archie had anticipated, in his dismissal. John was kind in doing the only thing he could do under the circumstances. He was obviously intensely angry at the treatment his son had received, and yet admitted that he was prepared to hear some possible explanation of Cyril's highly coloured version. To have given one meant dragging Ngaia's name through a sea of mud. Archie understood Cyril well enough to know that he would strenuously deny the truth, and John would be more or less forced to take his son's part.
"I'm very sorry, Deverell. I had hoped to hear that you had some excuse to offer. However, since you refuse to say anything I must assume you have none or an inadequate one, and that my son's account is correct. Mr. Brown has confirmed in every waypage 283the high opinion I have always held of you. I don't say you have forfeited it, but I think it would be better if you went on to some other place."
Archie at least had the satisfaction of parting with John on good terms. Old Brown came across to the Quarters and presented him with a cheque which John had given instructions was to be handed to the young fellow. It included a substantial present
During the following day Archie was busy looking out his various belongings. He gave some away, sold his spare horse, and arranged for one of the waggons, on the eve of starting, to cart his goods to Napier.
He also, as the result of much thought, interviewed Jake.
"I'm leaving Te Henga," he said.
"So I've 'eard."
"Ngaia's going down to Napier, and I want to know if she has your permission to marry me, supposing I can persuade her. May I tell her she has?"
Jake looked up. Deverell appeared in earnest, but the stockman imagined that it was part of the game the young fellow was playing. It was not marriage but— well, he wanted to be able to tell the girl her father consented.
"Ye can just do what ye blooming well please with the gal. Marry ye! Oh yes, she's got my consent to marry ye."
"Thank you," said Archie.
"You needn't tell any one just yet," he added, turning away and leaving the stockman. It was enough for him that he could now make the necessary declaration, though he shrewdly suspected that Jake had small belief in the honesty of his purpose. There was no use, however, discussing the matter with him.
The day after Ngaia had started by coach Archie rode off on Jacko with his two dogs. Jack and Arthur saw him several miles on the road.page 284
"We'll be down for the Show."
"I don't expect I'll be there," said Archie. "I may be going off on a trip."
"Possibly, but not likely."
"We'll see you in these parts again before long. Ngaia'll want you."
Archie shook his head.
"Look here, you two fellows, you can tell old Brown but not another soul. D'ye agree?"
They both assented.
"Ngaia and I are going to get married."
"Fact?" exclaimed Arthur.
"I thought as much. It was a coincidence that smacked of considerable method her going to Napier just when you were."
"I don't fancy any one suspects," said Archie.
"No, but—well, heaps and heaps of good wishes."
"Ditto, Archie old man, and I hope you'll fall properly on your feet. You're starting off with as sweet a wife as a man could wish for, you lucky dog."
"You gave her to me," laughed Archie.
"I'm inclined to fancy she'd have taken you if we hadn't had the foresight to voluntarily surrender you. Well, fare thee well. Good luck!"
"Good-bye," said Archie, and he shook hands with his two friends, and, wheeling round, whistled off his dogs. With a wave of his hat he broke into a canter, and commenced his seventy-mile ride to Napier, or rather, the first half of it.
Three weeks later he and Ngaia were husband and wife; he so proud, she so shy, so full of happiness.
Ngaia wrote John a letter telling him of her marriage —a letter that never reached him. The news of her having left Napier in company with Archie did. Itpage 285 reached Jake also, and in neither report was there any actual mention of marriage.
It never occurred to John to doubt it. It never occurred to Jake to imagine it.
"He, he, he!" he chuckled to himself, "so she's been and done it. I knowed it. I'd 'a bet my last cent on it Now, my beauty, you'll soon wish as 'ow ye 'adn't left yer 'ome. It's just what I wanted; by 'eavens it is. What d'ye think of yer blooming daughter now, Mr. Anderson, eh? He, he, he!"
Every now and then, as he was cantering along towards the sheds, Jake would take his pipe from his mouth and indulge in a fresh chuckle of delight. He never chuckled with his pipe in his mouth—it bubbled the tobacco.
"I'll go and see 'im. 'E'll want a bit of cheering, I reckon. It's d—d foolish of me, but I can't 'elp it. I want to laugh."
Hanging up bis horse at the yards, he walked across to the office where John usually spent the morning. He spat, then knocked. The clerk was out, so he crossed to John's private door and entered. It was insolence, but—it was Jake.
John looked up, and bis brows grew knitted as he saw who it was.
"Well?" he said curtly.
"Wal," remarked Jake, coolly seating himself at the other side of the writing-table.
"Yes," answered Jake with a grin.
"She's married young Deverell."
John looked at him, evidently not comprehending the laugh.
"I've 'eard about 'er going off with 'im, but I ain't 'eard nuthink of marrying."page 286
John's face grew drawn and angry.
"'Ave you?" continued Jake, asking the question in the most innocently suggestive way.
"You don't mean to say that you—"
"Ain't 'eard of no marriage. 'Ave you?"
"Ye ain't likely to. 'Course ye ain't 'eard of no marriage, 'cause why? 'Cause there ain't no marriage to 'ear of. Ye don't think a young swell like that is a-going to marry my daughter, do ye? D'ye see? It all comes of being ashamed of yer youngster and passing her off as mine in the old days. Sarves ye right. D—d well right, and she ain't my daughter! D'ye see? She ain't fit to be my daughter, not now. It's all very well a-taking on, but what else was likely to 'appen? And I'm d—d glad, d'ye see, Mr. Anderson? I'm d—d glad! Yer daughter, yer beautiful, edicated daughter ain't as good as one of my gals now; she's—"
John, who had walked to the window whilst the man was speaking, strode up to him, and gripping him by the throat before he could complete his sentence, shook him.
"Don't you dare say it. You blackguard, you drunken hound! It's a lie you've brought to me; a lie. Ngaia's no more capable of doing wrong than you of doing right. Now you go, and, mark you, it will take very little more for me to put it out of your power to do me or her any harm. Then I'll turn you off the run, and you may starve for all I care. Do you hear me? Starve, I say, starve. Now go."
The old man's passion seemed to lend him strength. He shook the shrunken smelling wretch like a dog would shake a rat, and then flung him from the chair.
Jake got up from the floor.
He paused on the threshold.
"I'm a-goin', but that won't bring ye no peace. Yepage 287 can't undo what ye've done. It can't 'elp 'er, not now."
With that Jake walked out. John watched him as he passed down to the woolshed. He turned from the window and dropped into the big chair by the fireplace.
"It can't be true, it can't be. Oh, my God, it can't."
Three or four days later he knew that it was not true, and that Archie and Ngaia were married. A letter from Miss Spence confirmed it.
More than that John was unable to learn, except that Archie and Ngaia had disappeared.
"They told me that they would be gone at least three months, and that they would write to me or come and see me the moment they could," said Miss Spence, upon whom John, in his anxiety for his child, had called. That more or less satisfied him.
"You will communicate with me as soon as ever you hear, Miss Spence," said John. And with her promise to that effect he had to rest content.