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A Maori Maid


page 346

Chapter XXXVIII.

John was suffering. He was worried. He was in grief.

Cyril seemed incorrigible. He was plunging from bad to worse. Tale after tale reached the old man's ears of his son's misdoings, and of his vicious life and habits. More than once, in fact, he was obliged to save the young scoundrel from severe trouble by paying off his debts. And they seemed endless. No sooner were a number settled than others took their place.

John had, at the very outset, determined at least to be as honest as he could with respect to Ngaia's property. The money he had himself earned as a surveyor, and an annual salary charged upon the run for his work as manager, he destined for his wife and her children. It was likely to prove more than sufficient to keep them almost in luxury. The station and all its profit he considered belonged to Ruta formerly, and now to her child. It was more than enough to make Ngaia enormously wealthy.

Without having entered too deeply into his reasons, he had framed and drawn his will in such a manner that after his death Ngaia would succeed to her rightful interest, and his wife and her children to theirs. His reasons in full, written by him rather as a confession, were contained in a letter addressed to Ngaia, and placed in one of the pigeon-holes of his desk. So far, therefore, as Cyril's extravagance was concerned page 347John was none too wealthy. For his wife's and his daughters' sakes he could ill spare the constant drain of the ungrateful young spendthrift.

Argument, persuasion, anger were all thrown away. The lad seemed utterly callous and utterly heartless, and merely laughed at his father for a mean old miser.

Nor did John receive any comfort or sympathy from his wife. On the contrary. She railed at him and abused him for his stinginess. She even cast the young reprobate's evil habits in her husband's face.

"If you had not forced him into the town, and made him earn a paltry salary he would have soon settled down. Why couldn't you have sent him to England to college? It's perfect nonsense to say you couldn't afford it. You're abominably mean. What's the use of all your saving? If you're as ill as you say you are, it won't be of much use to you."

"No, no. Not to me. I'm not thinking of myself; nor am I stingy. Not really so; indeed I am not. I—— Ah, well—— As for Cyril, you are wrong. He is what he is, just because of his nature. You cannot blind yourself to it. He is bad. So bad that I dread to think of what he may do next. He's killing me, Ethel, killing me by inches."

She shrugged her shoulders.

Her sympathy was still with her son.

"I don't see the use of talking like that. He is our boy, and your duty is to help him."

"Help him! Heaven knows I've done that to the last possible degree. It must end some time and I've warned him to expect nothing more."

"You mean to say you would refuse to pay anything more for him! I believe you wouldn't care a rap if he were forced into jail."

"Ethel, Ethel. My boy in jail! Do you know, it's fear of such a thing that is haunting me, is killing me. I dread lest he should do some wild, thoughtless act, page 348and—— Oh, my God, I should die! I should be very glad to die then."

The fear was almost prophetic.

Cyril completed his career of wild recklessless and debauchery by committing a crime—a common felony.

The end commenced by heavy gambling. He was clever and he plucked more than one young pigeon. But there were others again cleverer than he was and he lost. Moreover, he denied himself nothing. He even bought a couple of race horses—in another man's name—and wagered heavily.

It was impossible that he could long survive

Those who knew him and his doings wondered at his lasting out as long as he did. Afterwards, when the crash came, people said that old Longman and his partner were fools. They should have known. Perhaps they should have. But he was the son of a dear old friend, and wild though they thought him they never for a moment suspected him of absolute evil.

He showed his gratitude by almost ruining them.

He had found in the managing clerk a weak man whose whole life had been one long toil from office boy to head of the staff. He was a mild, inoffensive old man, knowing little of the world outside his humble home. He had married when young, and his life was the old story of ceaseless, pleasureless drudgery. He took a fancy to Cyril; and, fascinated by the young fellow's wild, reckless ways, he became his slave. Cyril could if he wished be charming, and, seeing in old Clark a useful tool, he laid himself out to please and influence. He taught him the sweets of gambling, and to meet his own more pressing difficulties he induced the old man to borrow from the firm—without the firm's consent.

It was all to be paid back.

It never was—by them.

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They were detected, but not until they had swallowed thousands of the firm's hard-earned pounds.

Forgery and embezzlement, the police called it.

Clark was arrested in his own home quietly and unresistingly.

Wilson, the detective, was afterwards heard to say that of all scenes he had ever witnessed that in the old man's tiny parlour was the saddest. The home was broken, was ruined, was destroyed.

Cyril just previously had obtained leave of absence to visit his parents. He said his leg needed some rest. It was flight.

The bomb exploded. The firm was practically ruined; Clark was under arrest; Cyril was "wanted."

They soon found him. He was at Te Henga.

His idea was to wait until the 'Frisco mail was leaving, to ride up to the northern railway, to reach Auckland, and then, heigho for the Pacific Slope.

It was a wild idea. It was impossible. It was impracticable. It was, moreover, too late. The net had closed about him and he was arrested in his father's study.

A detective and a constable rode up from Hunterville. They inquired at the yards for Mr. Cyril Anderson and were told that he was at the house. Leaving their horses, they walked across through the side gate into the big drive.

Cyril was standing in the drawing-room when the two men came into view. In the dusk he at first failed to recognise them. Yet he started, and his face twitched with nervousness. He had since his arrival been living in an endless fear. As they mounted the steps to the front door Cyril recognised Wilson.

For a moment he stood transfixed with sheer fright. He heard the bell, and presently he heard the manservant coming down the hall. Another instant and the men would be inside!

page 350

A panic seized him. He was no longer the conceited young blade. He was a poltroon, a white-faced coward, a hunted thief. Turning from the window with a cry, he dashed across the room and along the hall to his father's study. Swinging the door open with a crash, he burst in. The startled cries of his mother and sister were echoing in his ears. Yet he seemed scarcely to hear. In the hour of his trouble one thought possessed him, one thought only. It was the fear of his guilt. And in his fear his sole hope seemed to lie in his father. It was as though he expected that his sheltering arm Would protect him, even from the consequence of crime.

John was seated at his table writing. The lamp was lit and the room was bright and cosy. Cyril's terrific entrance startled him.

He feared some accident; some mishap perhaps to his wife or to Daisy.

"What is it? What is it?" he asked.

"Save me, save me! For the love of God, save me!" the poor wretch shrieked, flinging himself into an armchair, and crouching with his face buried in his hands.

"Cyril, Cyril! What is it? What is it?"

A tap came at the door and, without waiting for a reply, the detective entered, a neat man in a dark suit. His companion stepped quietly in after him and shut the door.

John grew ashy white. A dim, miserable, horrible foreboding, a presentiment of disaster flashed upon him.

"Mr. Anderson?" the detective said.

"Yes, sir. What can I do for you? What do you want? I am very—I—I am very much engaged for the moment."

"I wish a few moments' conversation with your son."

"My son! You see him. Is—is it private?"

page 351

"Well, not exactly. You, at least, perhaps know."

"I! I know nothing."

"I'm a detective, sir. Detective Wilson of Wellington."

The old man, who had risen to his feet, tightened his grasp upon the chair. His nails almost dug into the wood. It was the sole sign of his agony.

"You want my son, to—to——"

"Yes, sir. It's unpleasant, but I've come here to fetch him. I have a warrant, sir, for his arrest."

The words seemed to drive life into the young man. Crouching back into his chair, his eyes gleaming and glistening, he shrieked with fear.

"No, no, no! Father! father! Save me, save me!"

John looked at him. Despite his love for his child, there was something that struck him as horribly despicable in his cowardice. It was, too, almost an admission of guilt.

"Silence!" he said, in a low, stern voice.

Then he turned to the detective.

"What is the charge?"

"Embezzlement, sir, and forgery. It is very serious, I'm afraid, sir. I hope," he continued, walking up towards Cyril, "you will come quietly and without trouble."

Cyril, for answer, struck out at the man.

"Trouble! Do you think I'm going to give in without an effort?" he cried, starting to his feet with a fierce, blasphemous oath.

With a quick push the detective toppled him back again into the armchair. He struggled to regain his feet, but the man pressed him back, trying to reason with him.

"Don't, sir, don't. It's no use, not a bit of use, and—well, if I must, I must."

There ensued a degrading struggle. It had no redeeming feature. The wretched youth kicked, and page 352writhed, and shrieked with fear, with rage, with mortification.

"In 'is own 'ome, too," muttered the constable, as he turned the key of the door, and came to the aid of his comrade.

The resistance was childish, was useless. In a moment or two it had ended.

Two soft clicks marked the finish.

Crying, weeping, sobbing, Cyril lay in the armchair, handcuffed.

As the detective rose and wiped the sweat from his forehead, he turned and caught a glimpse of John Anderson's face. It haunted him for days. He never forgot it. Pain, agony, horror were written on it.

The old man had stood motionless, watching the whole spectacle. His tongue seemed tied, his limbs incapable of motion. He was stunned. He was unable to move, unable to act.

"I'm sorry, sir, very sorry. I wouldn't have done it if he'd behaved," said the detective.

John made no answer. Only there broke from him a great sob. He sank into his chair and, throwing his arms upon the table, he hid his face.

He wept

At the door the wife, the mother, was beating, was knocking, was calling for an entrance. The constable opened it. Mrs. Anderson entered. She saw, and she realised.

She rushed to Cyril's side, and cried and caressed him. He took no heed of her, and thrust her from him.

Then she turned upon her husband, and remorse-lessly attacked and upbraided him.

It completed the horrible picture.