A Maori Maid
Cyril did not fall asleep so rapidly but that the possibility of profiting by Archie's good luck floated through his mind. He felt positive that the girl and her husband had been successful in their search for gold, and he shrewdly imagined the little tent held the secret of their treasure.
Gold was what he wanted and his conscientious scruples were not such as prevented gold-getting from being a fine art as distinct from an industry. A supply of gold under his present circumstances might mean, if Archie did not move his camp, a clear day's start through Rayton's place to liberty.
How could he dispose of the gold? The difficulty seemed insuperable. It would be useless to him. Yet it would be an injury, a terrible loss to Archie! Nothing could delight Cyril better than to be able to achieve that. Besides, even if he were arrested and brought down to Wellington he would get out of the trouble in some manner. His father had influence and it was on the cards that the charge against him might be dropped. There was old Clark for a scapegoat. Anyhow, he himself would get out of the mess in some way, he felt certain of that, and when the trouble had been settled he would be able to return to where he had hidden Archie's gold and, declaring he had found it up the river, make use of it. It would be much easier than digging for himself.
Ngaia and Archie were up when Cyril, restored by page 377his long sleep, awoke, and his first astonished glance revealed the presence of a third party in their expedition in the shape of a handsome, dark-eyed boy. Suddenly it dawned upon him who it was, and he recognised Ngaia in man's clothing. Then as the events of the previous evening came back to him he remembered the infamous treachery he had conceived against the two young people who had at least helped to save his life. His foul wish remained unchanged, and he set about to devise some scheme whereby he might obtain possession of the treasure, or what existed of it, and plant it in some spot to await his return. It seemed anything but easy.
He assumed that it would be necessary for him to gain access to the tent. Obviously therefore it was necessary to get rid of Archie in some way or another. But how? After turning over every possible plan it appeared as if there was nothing for it but to trust to chance or some happy inspiration.
Whilst Ngaia and Archie busied themselves preparing breakfast, Cyril remained tucked up in his rug endeavouring to see his way along the black trail he was travelling. At length he stretched himself, sat up and finally jumped to his feet and strolled off to the edge of the river.
"There'll be some breakfast in a few minutes," said Archie.
"All right," answered Cyril.
Standing by the river—it was broad and shallow just opposite the camp—he pondered. He was in a curious frame of mind. The impossibility of evading the police had become apparent to him. He had more than once cursed his idiocy in attempting to escape as he had. Yet it was an ill wind that blew no good and there were possibilities, golden possibilities in the air. Whatever might happen, even if—and he sweated with horror as the idea flashed across him—even if he were page 378sent to jail, the gold he might get and bury would be as good gold when he came out as it was now. It would be useful. Moreover, it would be a really magnificent revenge on Deverell and Ngaia. All their toil and trouble would be in vain or rather, and better still, for him. But how was it to be done? How was he to get rid of Archie?
As his eyes wandered from the stream back to the bush he saw the horses picking at the grass on the flat. One was tethered, a sufficient anchorage for the others.
An idea flashed upon him. He glanced towards the camp. They were busy, busy with the breakfast, busy with each other, busy, if he had known it, talking of Jake's death and the strangeness of it. He walked slowly up stream until hidden from the camp by some scrub. Then he crossed rapidly over and stooping untied the tether rope. He threw a stone or two and started the horses off up the river-bed.
"They'll wander a mile or two by the time he wants them," he muttered as he strolled back limping considerably. He had no intention of walking down the river to Rayton's if he could possibly avoid it.
They soon finished breakfast, a meagre enough repast so far as tea and bread were concerned. The former had now given out completely and the flour was practically finished.
"We'll start soon," said Archie. "We're late this morning."
"You were limping just now; are your feet bad?"
"I can hardly walk. Haven't you got any horses?"
"None to spare. You'll have to do the best you can, I'm afraid."
"Couldn't you lend me the one you ride?"
"I haven't one."
Cyril made no further remark.page 379
"I'll go and fetch in the horses," Archie said presently, jumping up. "Oh, bother, I've upset the billy."
"Never mind, Archie, plenty more in the river, and it'll soon warm," said Ngaia.
Archie walked out on to the shingle. He stopped suddenly.
"Jacko's got loose and they've wandered up the river-bed," he called out, "Where's my whip?" he said, coming back to the camp. He picked it up with a suspicious look at Cyril and walked off.
Ngaia, left alone, glanced uneasily at Cyril. He was seated on the log by the fire, gazing into the flames. He might have been without life, so still and motionless was he.
The billy wanted refilling and the girl picked it up and walked towards the river.
It was Cyril's opportunity. Springing from his seat he darted into the tent. Not so rapidly, however, but that Ngaia, chancing to turn her head, caught sight of him. Brave to a degree, she ran quickly back and raised the opening of the tent.
"Cyril, what are you doing?"
He was dragging aside the blankets and rugs heaped in the corner. He turned as he heard Ngaia's voice and uttered a fierce oath.
He sprang forward and gripped her by the arm.
She struggled to free herself.
"By God, if you don't keep quiet I'll kill you!" he hissed. "You've got a lot of gold in here, and I want some. I tell you I want it, and I'll have it Your husband won't be back here for half an hour or more. If you don't give me the gold or a fair share of it, and swear not to tell him of it until after I've left, I'll kill you, by heavens, I will—or worse. Where is the stuff? D'ye hear?" he said, shaking her.
Full of pluck and, after the life she had been leading, not without strength, the girl refused to answer and page 380fought with the man. It was at best one-sided. She knew that. He was stronger than she was, and she was at his mercy. His eyes were aflame with greed. It was the gold he hungered for. She realised that but she realised the danger to herself of struggling with him. A worse passion might possess him and she was alone and helpless.
Yet she wriggled from his grasp and gripped hold of him. He pressed her back and forced her out of the tent. He closed with her; and neither one nor other in the desperate struggle saw three men on foot dart down the opposite bank and wade into the river.
Cyril wrenched himself from Ngaia's grasp and made a fierce effort to take firmer hold of her. He forced his arms round her waist and tried to lift her from her feet. Her hand clutched him near his throat, and she endeavoured to strangle him off her by twisting his collar. His breath came in quick gasps.
"Let go; by God let go or it'll be worse for you," he whispered.
They swayed to and fro. Brief though it was, it was a desperate struggle and once, weakened by his privations, he thought she was overpowering him.
Suddenly she felt his hand close on the knife in her belt. There was murder in his eyes as he gripped the handle. She lost her hold of him and clutched his wrist. She stumbled. He turned and flung her from him and she fell with a thud. Her knife was ready in his hand but she made no move. She was unconscious.
He turned back into the tent and, pulling the rugs aside, came upon the stack of bags. He ripped one open with Ngaia's knife and flakes and dust and nuggets of gold ran out. He lifted another. It was monstrously heavy. It was gold! A cry of astonishment broke from him as he realised the fortune the dirty little canvas sacks contained. And it was within his grasp! Stooping, he picked up one and another and page 381yet another. They were as much as he could carry. If he had time he would return for more when he had planted these. He staggered to the entrance of the tent; he stooped and passed through; and, standing up, stood looking down the barrel of a revolver.
It was Detective Wilson's.
Before he could move or speak the constable had stepped forward and gripped him by the arms and the three bags fell heavily.
"I advise you not to resist in any way," said the detective, "and you will have to submit to the indignity of handcuffs."
Two gentle clicks testified to the rapid accomplishment of this, and Cyril was once more a prisoner of the law.
Sullen and desperate at his disappointment, he crossed over in obedience to the constable's curt orders and sat down on the log by the fire.
Ngaia still lay where she had been thrown. A man was bending over her. He had loosened the collar of her Crimean shirt and was holding a flask to her lips. Presently she stirred and awoke. As she saw from under the broad brim of her hat the strange face above her, she, for a moment, wondered. Then the memory of the fierce struggle returned to her, and lastly, and in her full consciousness, came an intense shyness. She saw the inquiring, puzzled look on the man. She grew scarlet and then once again pale and white.
"Is he hurt? Has the knife been used?" asked the detective anxiously.
"No, I don't think so. A bit stunned, that's all. He'll be all right in a minute."
"I'm inclined to think," said the detective, turning to Cyril, "that you've got yourself into further trouble unless you can explain matters a bit. It looks very much as if we've caught you in the act of robbing this tent. What's in these bags? They're uncommonly page 382heavy. Hullo, my lad," he added as Ngaia sat up, "we appear to have arrived just in the nick of time."
Ngaia was still too dazed to speak. She rose to her feet and on the face of the stout bearded man who had been bending over her she still saw a curious, puzzled look. She knew he suspected, and he knew she knew.
"Who—who are you?" she asked, and then as her eyes fell upon Cyril's manacled hands she started back.
"I'm a police detective. And you, my boy, who are you? Is this your camp?"
"Yes, but—police," murmured Ngaia, passing her hand across her eyes. Surely it was all some hideous dream. Where was Archie? Then she remembered. He had gone for the horses.
"A prisoner escaped from custody on his way to Hunterville," said the detective in answer to the question. "We've been in search of him and just found him. Are these yours?" he continued, tapping one of the bags with his foot.
"Yes, at least mine and—"
"You've got a mate? Where is he?"
"He's gone after the horses. He's not my mate. Yes he is—but—the fact is, he's my husband."
"Your what?" exclaimed the detective."
"I thought so," said the stout man softly, with a smile that told Ngaia he was, a good man.
"I'm a girl. I'm married, and I'm dressed like this during the day because of the bush and river. My name's Deverell, Ngaia Deverell; my husband is Archie Deverell."
"Of Te Henga?" exclaimed the stout man.
"Then—then—you're—you were Miss Carlyle," said the stout man.page 383
Ngaia smiled and blushed.
"And these bags?" asked the detective. "Are they worth stealing?"
"They're mine and my husband's."
"Yes, but what's inside them? It looked very much as if he"—indicating Cyril with a nod—"was trying to steal them."
The girl made no answer for the moment. She glanced round hoping every moment to hear Archie.
"They're precious weighty," said the detective, moving one with his foot. "What's inside them?"
" Gold," said Ngaia.
"Whew!" whistled the stout man.
"He knew?" asked the detective, nodding towards Cyril.
"I—I think so."
"You caught him in the act. We saw you run back as he got into the tent; and then we saw him— well, he had a knife."
"It was mine. He never touched me with it. It— it came out of my belt"
"He may thank his stars that he didn't touch you with it. Where did the gold come from?" asked the detective.
"My husband and I found it."
"Oh, here he is to answer for himself!" exclaimed the stout man. "Hullo, Deverell!"
"What, Rayton! Why—hullo, what's all this? What—"
He stopped as he saw the handcuffed Cyril with the constable standing guard over him.
"Why, Ngaia, what's the matter, little woman? You look as white as a sheet! What's— Quick, Rayton, there's a flask in that coat. She's fainted!" he exclaimed, as he caught her in his arms. She had page 384come close to him as he had joined the group, and then she became unconscious.
They restored her, and, holding her in his arms, Archie listened whilst Rayton told him the whole story, from Cyril's escape on the upper road to their sudden appearance when he emerged from the tent with the bags in his arms.
For the first time, and perhaps for the only time in her life, Ngaia saw her husband passionately angry.
She came between him and the object of his wrath.
"Never mind, Archie, what might have happened. Nothing did happen. No, no, we don't want to say anything about it. There's no need to mention anything about his taking the bags. He has enough to answer for already. Archie," she whispered, "settle it with them so that nothing is said, because—because of Mr. Anderson; please, Archie."
So it was arranged, and Ngaia sewed up the bag cut in the tent and collected, so far as she readily could, the contents that had been spilt.
The horses were saddled up and the treasure packed away, and the last stage in the descent of the river was commenced.
In the afternoon they arrived at Rayton's cottage and for the first time for three months Ngaia saw one of her own sex, a half-caste like herself, Rayton's wife Mari.
With exquisite hospitality she insisted on Ngaia and her husband taking her room.
"You have not slept in a bed for weeks. A mattress is good enough for Charlie and me. Now you must lie down for an hour or two. You look so dreadfully white and tired. I'll bring you a nice cup of tea."
Ngaia, once more dressed in her own proper clothes, heard the full details of Jake's death from the detective. As he described the wretched man's stumble and sudden disappearance he caught the curious look in page 385the eyes of both Ngaia and Archie—and he understood. They were wondering what further crime the miserable creature in the next room had yet to face.
"No, he may thank God he hasn't that to answer for. The man never reached him, or else—No, it was an accident, it was the man's own fault It was a foolish attempt. We called to him, but he either couldn't or wouldn't hear us."
"Is—is the trouble he is in very serious?" asked Ngaia?
"Yes, Mrs. Deverell, very serious, a matter of penal servitude if he is found guilty, and he can scarcely escape."
"Archie, how dreadful! Poor Mr. Anderson. Oh, I'm sorry, so sorry."
"So am I—for him," said Wilson. "But for him in the next room—ugh, he's a bad 'un—always has been."
Early the next morning a start was made for Hunterville, the extreme point on the line of railway that extended to Wellington.
Three weeks later Cyril Anderson stood committed to take his trial and, in view of his attempt to escape, bail was refused.
By then Archie and Ngaia had disposed of their gold at the bank and were installed in a furnished house rented by them for the session.
Ngaia was no longer Mrs. Deverell. A cablegram informed Archie of his father's death. He had inherited the baronetcy, and with it a magnificent property overloaded with debt.
The gold he had brought in represented a fortune, but as compared with what was wanted to clear the estates in England it was insignificant. Fifty thousand pounds, as their gold proved to be worth, is not much under such circumstances.
"We'll stay on here awhile, Ngaia, and let the old page 386place have a chance of clearing itself. The London house will let easily enough and so will most of the others, and the rents will work off the debt. We'll make another pile next spring and summer up the Kawatau, and then we'll go home and you'll go to Court and become the beauty of all London."
"And you the Prime Minister of England," she said, kissing him.
Little as they suspected it, their dream of riches was within a short space of realisation. Moreover, it was to be not merely a swift, romantic, unexpected realisation, but one that raised them to a height of wealth far beyond their most sanguine expectation. The vast, the magnificent inheritance of Ruta, fostered to supreme excellence by the skill and judgment of John Anderson, was soon to pass to the child of that bush marriage, the child who as a young girl had become famous for her wonderful beauty, who as a wife had stepped, as though to the position born, into the front rank of Wellington social life.
The Governor of the Colony had not forgotten the girl who had so fascinated him when he had visited Te Henga, and he had a soft place in his heart for her beyond that set aside for other female acquaintances. He treated her as he might have treated a daughter, and she impressed that relationship on him, and he enjoyed it. In time he became very proud of it.
That very often does happen with an old man and a beautiful girl—even after she is married, and even if he is a Governor.
It is the proper relationship of May and December, and the husband can stand by and be generous of the sunshine of his pretty wife on those drifting in the evening of life