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Waitaruna: A Story of New Zealand Life

Chapter XXI. — Mr. Ramshorn's Wooing

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Chapter XXI.
Mr. Ramshorn's Wooing .

"Was ever woman in this humour woo'd,
Was ever woman in this humour won?"

Shakespeare .

Mr. Ramshorn had been in great spirits for some time. The news from the Halcyon Quartz Mine was most encouraging. The shares had risen steadily in value, and were now at an extravagant premium, although Mr. Ramshorn would not have used that adjective. On the contrary, he thought that the shares must be well worth the money which had been in a few instances paid for them. If, reasoned he, it pays any one to buy at these prices, how much better will it pay me to hold, and he refused tempting offers which were made to him to sell out. The trial crushing had commenced, and the result would be known in a day or two. When they were to "clean up" he did not exactly know, but he was positively excited while expecting the news. While in this state of mind he proposed to Gilbert that they should ride over to Pakeloa, where neither of them had been since Harry's death.

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On their arrival at the Ewarts, they were received by Ottalie in the dining-room, and Gilbert thought he had never seen her look so beautiful as she did in her plain black dress, with a sadness in her sweet face, and a pensive expression in her soft eyes.

Mr. Ramshorn greeted her heartily, as though he was very glad to see her, while she returned his salutations but coldly. Thinking that the presence of Gilbert had awakened unpleasant memories, and remembering that he had not seen Ottalie since the sad event, Mr. Ramshorn murmured a few platitudes about Harry's death, in a voice which contrasted strangely with the jollity of his previous tone.

The evening was rather a dull one. Old Mr. Ewart was suffering from a severe cold, and both the ladies were inclined to be sad and silent. They were, however, as hospitable as ever, and pressed their guests to stay at least over the Sunday, which was next day. This they readily agreed to do, as it had been their original intention,—Mr. Ramshorn having only been induced to speak of returning home on the Sunday morning by the evident dulness of his entertainers. Next morning Ottalie was much brighter, and proposed that they should go to a neighbouring station a few miles off, where a passing clergyman was to hold service.

"I suppose you won't care to leave papa, mother," she said; "but if Mr. Ramshorn and Mr. Langton page 285will ride over, I don't suppose you would mind my leaving you." But Mrs. Ewart wished to ask Gilbert some questions relating to the death of her son, and she also wished to embrace the first opportunity of attending divine service which had occurred since the happening of the sad accident; so she replied, to Ottalie's surprise, "I think I shall go too, dear, and if Mr. Langton will be kind enough to drive me over in the buggy, you and Mr. Ramshorn can go on horseback."

Ottalie would fain have rebelled against this arrangement, for she did not fancy the idea of riding with Mr. Ramshorn; but she saw no way of getting out of it without making a fuss, and that was one of the things she detested.

Accordingly the party shortly afterwards set out, in the manner arranged by Mrs. Ewart. The day was fine and bright, with a keen air which was most enjoyable and exhilarating; and Ottalie, who had not ridden since her return from Hawera, felt tempted to allow her steed to go off, as he was eager to do, at a smart gallop, but she feared a tête-à-tête with Mr. Ramshorn, and so rode alongside the buggy all the way.

After service, which was held in the wool-shed, they had luncheon at the station, and then set out for Pakeloa in the same travelling order, but they had not proceeded far on the homeward way before Ottalie was compelled to fall to the rear, as her page 286horse became lame through having cast a shoe. She felt terribly annoyed, for she knew by Mr. Ramshorn's manner and remarks that this was just what he had been wishing for, and she naturally concluded that he could have only one reason. Now that she was forced to let the buggy go on ahead, she became much more talkative than she had been during the earlier part of their ride, and she became in fact quite lively, so that Mr. Ramshorn supposed she was really glad that she had an excuse for leaving the buggy, and that her reluctance to do so previously had only arisen from her modesty, while in reality Ottalie's additional sprightliness was occasioned by her desire to keep Mr. Ramshorn from talking on the subject which she feared he was bent on speaking about, and was also the result in a great degree of nervousness. They had ridden for some distance, and had discussed an immense variety of topics, before Mr. Ramshorn got an opportunity of speaking of what had been on his lips during the whole ride, and even then he only took advantage of a slight pause in the conversation to say—

"I can hardly suppose, Miss Ottalie, that you are ignorant of my feelings towards you."

Ottalie, when she heard these words, knew that there was no escape from what she dreaded, and yet she affected not to understand what Mr. Ramshorn meant, and replied—

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"I know that you are a very good friend, Mr. Ramshorn."

"Only a friend?" said he; and then not knowing what to say, he plunged at once in medias res, and continued: "Something more, much more than a friend. Ottalie dearest, I love you. I have long loved you, and would have told you so long ago, only I shrank from asking you to leave a comfortable home for such an one as I could offer you. Had I been as well off as I once was, I should have spoken thus to you long ago. But now I think I shall be able to offer you such a home as you should have; will you share it?"

"I am very sorry, Mr. Ramshorn," was all that Ottalie replied. He rode quietly by her side for a few yards, and then laying his hand on her rein, and staying both of their horses, he looked in her face with an eager gaze, and said—

"Yes, Ottalie! I have great hopes of making a rapid fortune, for I am a shareholder in the Halcyon Mine, which every one who knows anything about it says will prove a fortune, and all that I have and may acquire shall be yours."

"Mr. Ramshorn, I thought you knew that a woman's heart could only be exchanged for something of greater value than gold or silver. Do you think that if you had the wealth of Crœsus, it could make any difference to my feelings for you?"

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"That is all very true, Ottalie. Love is of course the first thing, but don't you think that money is a not unimportant, though secondary consideration? Romantic ideas are very nice in their way, but in real life one must also look at the pounds, shillings, and pence."

"I don't know why we should discuss such a subject; and I have a great objection to your calling me by my Christian name."

"Pardon me, Miss Ewart. I know I have been talking nonsense, but I only meant to explain why it was I had not spoken to you before, though I have loved you for so long. I shall not press for an immediate answer, for I can understand that you would be sorry to leave your parents, especially after their recent bereavement. But, O Ottalie! I trust that you will, in your own time, give me a favourable answer."

"Mr. Ramshorn," said Ottalie, stopping her horse, "you have misunderstood me, and on such a matter as this there should be no misunderstanding. I do not love you. I could never marry without love."

Oh! how she longed to be able to end this interview, but she could not escape. Had her horse not been lame, a cut from her whip would have terminated the scene, but even that resource was not available.

"Nay! say not so, Miss Ewart. The proposal no doubt startled you—you had better think over it. I page 289shall never know happiness again if you do not accept me."

"Then," said Ottalie, irritated by his persistence, "you will have to remain miserable, for I can't help you. I am sorry that it should have come to this, but I am in no way to blame for it: I shall thank you never to mention the subject to me again. If we are to remain friends, you must never do so, and I should not like it to be otherwise, for my poor brother's sake, for I know he liked you."

Mr. Ramshorn felt he was completely and finally rejected. It was no use saying more, and he rode on in silence. He was bitterly disappointed, for he had felt certain he should be successful in his suit. He was one of those men who are always either elated and sanguine, or else sunk in the depths of hopelessness, and of late he had been exceedingly sanguine regarding everything. Ottalie was not to blame, he thought. No, she could not help being beautiful, and fascinating, and lovable, she could not have prevented his falling in love with her. It was after all only his usual luck. He looked most woe-begone and dejected, and wore at the same time such a comical expression, that Ottalie felt equally inclined to burst into tears or laughter. She had sufficient self-control to prevent herself doing either, and after a short time, to end their mutual embarrassment, she asked Mr. Rams-page 290horn to be so good as ride on and explain that she was delayed by her horse having fallen lame.

That afternoon Mr. Ramshorn suddenly remembered that it was necessary he should see the shepherd M'Lean, who was to start from Waitaruna the following morning to take delivery of a lot of sheep, and he was therefore obliged to return home that night. Gilbert was loath to leave his comfortable quarters, and pointed out that the weather was threatening, and that it would be dark long before they could reach the station; but Mr. Ramshorn was not to be dissuaded from setting out. A cold wind sprang up from the south-west, bringing with it dark, black clouds which obscured the sky.

"I fear we shall catch it before we get home," said Gilbert, after they had bid adieu to Pakeloa, and had ridden for some time without speaking.

"Very likely!" was the curt reply.

Gilbert saw plainly that Mr. Ramshorn was a very different man from what he had been when they rode up the day before, and he asked if he were well.

"I'm well enough," laconically replied the manager; and Gilbert, finding his efforts to converse evoked no response, desisted from the attempt and gave himself up to day-dreams, in all of which Ottalie Ewart was a prominent figure.

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As they had been so late of starting, they determined not to go round by Muttontown as usual, but to take the shorter though much rougher way across the range, which Gilbert had never before taken and which Mr. Ramshorn himself had seldom traversed. But as he asserted it was a much shorter route, they determined to try it.

Darkness came on when they were still many miles from the station; and, no doubt owing to each of them having his attention engrossed by his own thoughts, neither Mr. Ramshorn nor Gilbert noticed that they had wandered from the track. It was not till all landmarks had been lost and they found themselves on the verge of a steep gully, barely discernible through the thick darkness, that they knew they had made a mistake.

The sky was without a star, except now and again when one peeped for an instant through a rift in the fast flying clouds. The wind was bitterly cold, and everything indicated an approaching snowstorm. The two horsemen rode along the edge of the gully for a short distance, in the hope of ascertaining where they were; but they were unable to do so, although Mr. Ramshorn dismounted and, stooping down, tried to discern the outline of some known peak or hill against the sky. Presently the snow began to fall, at first only a few straggling flakes, which became page 292more and more numerous till they fell thick and fast around them.

"We are in for it!" said Gilbert. "What are we to do now?"

"Do nothing, I suppose," replied Mr. Ramshorn surlily; "for if we try to get out of this we are bound to break our necks. Not that that would matter much to any one, so far as I am concerned."

"Can't we manage to make the station somehow?" asked Gilbert.

"I would not advise you to risk it; I won't, I know. I'd rather be frozen to death quietly here, than wander about the snowy ridges till I dropped exhausted," growled the manager.

"Well, I suppose you know best; but can't we get into a more sheltered place than this?"

"Yes; we might descend into the gully, and so get out of the blast. Even if we are buried in the drifting snow it will be more comfortable than being cut in two by the wind."

So saying Mr. Ramshorn dismounted and proceeded to lead his horse down the slope, followed by Langton. In the gully they were fortunate enough to find a few bushes of taumatakoura, on the sheltered side of which they sat down, drew their coats over their heads, and longed for daylight. With some difficulty they succeeded in starting their page 293pipes, but by the time they had emptied their brier-root bowls, they were both so cold that neither was able to cut tobacco enough to fill them again. For the sake of warmth they sat huddled together as closely as possible, and shivered miserably till dawn. When day at last broke they were able to discern where they were, notwithstanding that the whole country was covered by a fleecy mantle of the purest white.

Benumbed with cold, they could scarcely scramble into their saddles, and their cold, dispirited horses seemed hardly able to carry them home. When they arrived at Waitaruna, Gilbert thought that he had never felt so wretchedly miserable in his life. Mr. Ramshorn made for the whisky bottle, and was annoyed when he found that there was nothing more than the smell left in it, and that it was the last of the case.

A roaring fire and a steaming breakfast, to which they shortly sat down, thoroughly warmed them, and they then both retired to bed to endeavour to make up for their lost repose.