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Waitaruna: A Story of New Zealand Life

Chapter VII. — Ottalie Ewart

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Chapter VII.
Ottalie Ewart .

"Eyes of deep soft lucent hue,
Eyes too expressive to be blue,
Too lovely to be grey."

—M. Arnold .

"Look, Nellie! what a sweet little bunch of violets I have got! I shall put them on papa's plate before he comes in to breakfast. I had no idea there were so many to be gathered, for when I last looked at the bed I could only find one or two. I suppose the warmth of the last few fine days has brought them out."

"Let me smell them," replied Nellie. "Oh! they are sweet, Ottalie," she added as her companion raised her purple treasures to Miss Nellie's nose.

It was a delicious September morning, and the two girls had stepped into the garden before breakfast to inhale the invigorating freshness of the spring air. The sun was bright and warm, though there was a tinge of sharpness in the atmosphere, such as is never experienced in summer, but which lends to page 98a calm day in spring such a charm and power of exhilaration.

"Now, ma belle Nellie," said the first speaker, "do you ever have such a morning as this down in rainy Dunedin? Confess honestly that you do not, and that Pakeloa has some things to commend it."

"Pakeloa will always have a great many things to commend it so long as the Ewarts live there," said Nellie. "But why do you always abuse Dunedin, and think that this is the most favoured spot on the face of the earth? You know you might have to live in Dunedin some day, if a certain gentleman who shall be nameless is not allowed to break his heart."

"I don't in the least know who you mean, Nellie, and it is not kind of you to speak in that way when you know I don't like it."

"Come now, Tots, don't get angry; there's a good child! I shan't vex you by alluding to the subject again, but I had no idea it was so serious."

"There you are again, though," said Ottalie, looking almost ready to weep. "It is very nasty of you, Nellie, indeed it is, when you know I hate the very sight of the man. I am not to blame if an odious little wretch like Mr. Robinson presumes to become spooney."

"What are you girls falling out about?" asked a man's cherry voice from within; and the speaker, page 99who immediately stepped out on the verandah, was none other than our old friend Harry Ewart.

"By the way, Ottalie," said Harry, as they stood chatting on the verandah, "I expect we may have visitors to-day. I forgot to mention it before, but I met Ramshorn when I was over at Muttontown last week, and he spoke of coming up. But come along and see if you can hurry on the breakfast, for the fresh air has made me unusually hungry."

"While the Ewart family and their visitor Miss Nellie Cameron are breakfasting, we may take the liberty of strolling round the premises. The house is a long, rambling, one-storied building of stone or cob plastered, with a wide verandah in front, on which the rooms open by French windows.

It stands facing the morning sun, and looking over a plain some four or five miles wide, which is bounded in that direction by a lofty range of rugged mountains. A similar range rises almost immediately behind the house, though there is space enough to the rear to allow the station huts and other outbuildings to stand at a convenient distance from the house. To the right a rocky spur runs from the mountain out into the plain a little way beyond where the house stands, shutting out any further view in that direction. A stream of pure water flows close by the foot of this spur towards the river which waters the plain, but which is not visible from Pakeloa.

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The house itself stands in a trimly kept garden divided by numerous close-clipped hedges, and over the tops of some of these the young fruit-trees are beginning to appear. Along the bed of the creek a plantation of young trees has been made for some distance; none of them, however, have attained any size as yet, except at the back of the house, where grow a number of weeping willows, whose pendant branches are always tinged with the soft green of the half-opened leaves.

The view across the plain can hardly be called a pleasing one, for one only sees a wide stretch of yellowish withered-looking grass. The opposite mountain range is of the same hue, save where the bare rocks or the shadow of a deep gully imparts a darker shade.

Not a tree is to be seen, while only one human habitation is visible, and that so far off as to be hardly distinguishable without the aid of a glass. Nearer at hand, and away to the left, there stands the woolshed, but as that is a large sprawling building of corrugated iron, whose only redeeming feature is a turret which rises from the roof at one end to allow for working the screw of the wool-press, it does not add much to the picturesque in the scene, any more than does the funnel of the boiler for the sheep-dip, which rises to view from a hollow a little way down the creek. A greater contrast could hardly page 101be imagined than the two prospects to be had from the garden gate. Looking from the house, the view is desolate and barren; but on turning towards it, the trees, the green hedges, the plants and shrubs in the garden, even now, when many of them are still leafless, are pleasing and refreshing to the eye, and acquire an additional charm and beauty from the contrast with their surroundings. Pakeloa was indeed an oasis in the desert, at least so thought Gilbert Langton, as he, in company with Mr. Ramshorn, dismounted there an hour or two later.

Harry Ewart met the visitors at the garden gate, and after seeing the horses to the stables, they all proceeded indoors, Gilbert wondering the while if the young lady who had caught his eye in Dunedin would really prove to be Miss Ewart. As he bowed on being introduced, he thought she was the same; but when he came to inspect her a little more closely, he did not recognise in her the fair equestrian of his fancy. Not that she was not fair enough in every respect, for Gilbert could not but admire the trim lithe figure dressed in a plain morning dress of dark blue, relieved by a small bow of ribbon of deep cardinal red, as well as the beautiful little head with its golden hair poised gracefully on her shoulders, to say nothing of her bright honest-looking eyes, merry smiling mouth, and complexion like a peach blossom.

Ottalie's was not by any means a faultless face; page 102indeed, on the contrary, had a critic been disposed to find fault, he would not have lacked opportunity. Her mouth was perhaps a little too large, and her chin somewhat too heavy. Her nose was neatly and beautifully formed, but her brow was rather higher than is strictly in accordance with the ideal of female beauty. These defects, however, were lost in the charm of expression which lurked about the corners of her mouth and slyly peeped from out her violet eyes.

The ruddy golden shimmer of her hair was of itself almost enough to entitle her to the epithet of a "very pretty girl," which was universally bestowed upon her.

Her manner was frank and pleasant, and Gilbert, though inclined to be a little shy, soon found himself at his ease, and was chatting to her as though they had been old acquaintances.

If Ottalie was fair, so was Nellie Cameron, for the latter had a more legitimate claim to be described as beautiful than had the former. A painter would undoubtedly have chosen Nellie for a model rather than her companion. She was the taller of the two, yet not too tall, and her features were much less faulty and more regular than Ottalie's; but they were expressionless, and would have seemed as beautiful in the still stone of a statue as they did while forming the well-nigh equally immobile face of a woman. Miss Cameron was dark, and her dark brown eyes page 103were, as eyes of that hue often are, slightly beady. Fortunately for the possessors of them, some people admire dark brown, or, as they are frequently called, black eyes, and their praises are often sung in verse; but notwithstanding they are not to be compared with the liquid beauty of speaking eyes of a deep true blue, or the intelligent brightness of eyes of a clear grey.

"We propose going out for a ride this afternoon, Mr. Ramshorn," said Ottalie.

"Then don't let our arrival make any difference to your plans," he replied; "I am sure we shall both be most happy to join the party."

"Our party would only have consisted of Miss Cameron and Harry, and we shall be delighted to have the addition you will make to our squadron. I thought perhaps papa would have carried you off to see some of his sheep or something. By the way, do you know mamma has made a rule that no one must talk 'sheep' in the evening in the drawing-room, and you may be sure I never forget to remind either papa or Harry if they transgress, which is very often at present, though I hope they will improve in time."

"The rule is a capital one, Miss Ewart," replied Mr. Ramshorn; "for of all men for talking what is commonly called 'shop,' runholders are the worst."

Before the horses were brought round a message page 104was brought to Harry Ewart which necessitated his going out with one of the men to look after something on the run, the management of which mainly rested on his shoulders, and the riding party was thus reduced to four. When they were ready to start, and Ottalie, dressed in a dark blue habit, mounted on a spirited bay, led the way at a smart canter, Gilbert had no difficulty in recognising her as the girl he had seen in Dunedin. Ramshorn joined her, leaving Miss Cameron and Gilbert to follow. The ladies evidently enjoyed their ride, and made the pace decidedly rapid, especially Miss Cameron, who, passing the pair, who at first were leading, kept on at a rate which precluded any attempt at conversation on Gilbert's part, except a word or two when she drew rein for a few minutes now and again.

"Why, Nellie, what a girl you are to ride!" said Ottalie, as she and Mr. Ramshorn came up to the others, who had halted by a curious collection of lagoons or water-holes, which were irregularly scattered over the plain, not far from the base of the range. The first arrivals had raised several paradise ducks, which were still flying round at no great distance from the intruders.

"Have I been going too fast?" asked Nellie innocently. "I do like to feel I am moving. I like a good canter, or gallop perhaps you would call it, page 105almost as well as I do a good dance; but I think flying would perhaps be preferable to either. Mr. Langton and I have just been envying those birds. What are they, Mr. Ramshorn?"

"Paradise duck," he answered; "are they not handsome birds? They seem to be remarkably tame here," he added.

"That is because we are on horseback," said Ottalie. "I have often heard Harry say he could not get within shot of them on foot, but that if he was on horseback they did not seem to mind him. The diggers from Muttontown come down here a good deal to shoot them, I believe, that is why they are usually so shy; but let us turn homeward again," she continued, and then immediately addressing Gilbert, told him that he should come and have some shooting in the season.

They rode on quietly chatting together for some distance, without taking any notice of their companions, till Miss Ewart exclaimed, "Look how far they are ahead! Nellie rides like a female Gilpin."

"She seems to prefer a Gilpin pace certainly, but it is a matter of choice, not necessity, in her case, I think."

"Oh! undoubtedly," replied Ottalie, "for she rides well; but she is the kind of girl from whom many gentlemen take their ideas of ladies' horsemanship, when they say that all women look upon horses as page 106machines. But, like most generalities, it is not true; is it, Rocket?" she asked, as she stooped to stroke the neck of her steed.

Gilbert was about to make a complimentary reply, but he hesitated, as shy men will, and lost his opportunity.

How often men afflicted with shyness will do this! They think of some pretty speech to a lady, a well-merited compliment to a friend, or a smart repartee in general conversation. Before, however, the thought finds utterance in words the spirit of shyness whispers, "She will think yon flatter her," "He will doubt your sincerity," or "They will, perchance, misunderstand you, and think you rude;" and before this ill-omened sprite can be reasoned with, the "ladye faire" has turned and listened to undoubted flattery from another. The friend has said "Adieu," the conversation has flowed on, and the number of lost opportunities has been added to, while the shy man, poor soul, is deemed "Not a bad fellow, but very quiet," or even dull.

The cause of Gilbert's losing his opportunity of paying a compliment to Miss Ewart was a loud "cooee" from the direction of the hills, which caused them both to pull up and turn their heads in that direction. At first they saw no one, and were about to move on, when they perceived a man emerge from behind a rock and come towards them.

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"I thought it might be Harry," said Ottalie, "for I know he was coming in this direction, but apparently it is some swagsman or digger."

"Why, I really believe that it is the old hatter that I saw working among the hills near Big Creek some time since. I wonder what has brought him here?" said Gilbert, adding "Good-day" to the man, who was now close to them.

"Hae ye ony baccy?" was the reply to Gilbert's salutation; but without waiting for an answer he stepped up to Miss Ewart's horse and laid his hand on the bridle, while he stared at her with a wild look.

"Leave Miss Ewart's bridle alone. How dare you touch her horse?" called Gilbert, riding round to the side where the man stood. Instead of replying to Gilbert, the fellow grinned at Ottalie with an idiotic leer, and said, "Miss Stewart! then it is my ain Maggie Stewart come back to me, though she dee'd lang syne."

"Oh! Mr. Langton," exclaimed Ottalie, "the man's mad."

"Mad! did ye say, ma hinney? Come, ma ain" —— Before he could finish his sentence Gilbert had struck the madman a blow with the butt of his whip which caused him to let go his hold of Miss Ewart's bridle; but he sprang at Gilbert, and catching hold of his coat, tried to pull him from his horse. page 108Blanche, unused to such, treatment, began to rear and plunge violently. Langton shook off his antagonist, but in doing so must have lost his balance, for a moment afterwards he was thrown from his horse and fell with violence on the road.

With a yell of delight the madman ran towards Gilbert as he lay seemingly helpless on the ground, while Blanche, with her ears erect and tail flying, galloped away across the plain. Ottalie, whose horse when freed from the grasp of the lunatic had started forward, finding Gilbert did not follow, and hearing the yell, looked round and saw the man standing over Gilbert's prostrate figure; and as the latter did not move when the madman kicked him, she was horror-stricken, thinking he was killed. She could not, however, leave even his body to be the sport of an infuriated maniac, and returned towards them, but she trembled again when she heard him say, "Get up, wull ye, and fecht it oot, or, if ye dinna, I'll cut yer thrapple;" and saw him produce a large knife, which he proceeded to open.

"Oh! don't, don't!" she exclaimed, and with a sudden inspiration she cried, "for your Maggie's sake, don't!"

"Oh! ma Maggie, lass! are ye there again? Bide a wee till I settle this chap."

"No, I can't; come with me at once, or I'll page 109never see you more," said Ottalie, beginning to move off, and feeling utterly bewildered and at her wit's end.

"Aweel," said the madman, "I'll come wi' ye, ma bonnie lassie," and putting up his knife, he stepped towards her.

Ottalie continued to move homewards, followed by the madman, and ever and anon, as he got almost alongside, a touch of her whip made Rocket spring forward.

"Let me win till ye," expostulated her follower.

"My horse won't stand, you see; wait till we get further along, and I'll stop him and dismount," she replied.

Poor Ottalie never was so much afraid in her life, for once or twice the maniac made an attempt to spring forward and catch hold of her or her horse, so that She had to be careful to keep out of his reach, and yet keep near enough to speak to him from time to time, and so induce him to continue to follow. The road to the station seemed to be interminable, but she felt that Gilbert's only chance of life, if he was yet alive, rested on her efforts, and she resolutely continued her self-imposed and somewhat dangerous task. Ottalie's feeling of thankfulness can be better imagined than described when she saw her brother and one of the shepherds coming rapidly towards her, driv-page 110ing Gilbert's horse before them. She soon explained the situation to them, and jumping from their horses, they succeeded, after a short struggle, in securing the madman, whom they bound hand and foot with the leathern straps which were luckily on Ewart's saddle.

Harry Ewart sent the shepherd back to the station for a dray, while he proceeded with his sister to where lay poor Gilbert Langton.

"Oh! Harry," she said, as she rode along, "I am afraid to go with you, and yet I feel I must know the worst."

"You had better go home, Ottalie," said her brother. "You are a brave girl, and you have, I expect, saved poor Langton's life by enticing the madman away."

"Nay, I am sure he is dead, he lay so still, and, oh! Harry, it was while he was protecting me that the accident happened. Oh! what shall I do?"

As they approached the scene of the disaster they saw Gilbert lying motionless on the road. "Ah! me," exclaimed Ottalie, "he is really dead."

Harry Ewart made no reply, but rode on; and when he saw Gilbert's white face lying in a pool of blood, he too exclaimed to himself, "He is really dead."

He jumped from his horse, and, stooping over poor Gilbert's lifeless form, found, to his infinite page 111relief, that he still breathed. He raised him gently, and found the blood came from a ghastly wound in his forehead. This he bound up with his own and Ottalie's handkerchief, then taking his coat off, he folded it up to form a pillow, which he placed under Gilbert's head.

"Thank Heaven, he still lives," he said; then turning to Ottalie he added, "You had better stay here, if you are not too nervous, and I shall start at once for Muttontown for the doctor. I can do nothing here, and if I start at once it will save time."

"Yes, go—go at once," she replied; but, as the sound of Harry's horse died away, poor Ottalie repented that she had acquiesced so readily. She would rather, she thought, have ridden herself fifty times for the doctor than have remained there alone in her excited state. For was she not alone, or worse than alone, with a dead or dying man, whom she was powerless to aid, lying close by her, and with a dangerous maniac lying on the road between her and her home? He, it was true, was bound hand and foot, but he might burst his bonds and come to her. She had read of the strength of a madman, and what was more likely than that he should break the weak straps which held him? If he did so, he would be sure to look for his Maggie.

"What! is that he coming?" Poor girl! she felt utterly helpless and despairing, as, when she page 112looked again, she saw most unmistakably the figure of a man seemingly reconnoitring the situation from behind a rock at a little distance from the road. She felt spell-bound by terror, and gazed with fixed eyes at the rock, which now completely hid her enemy. Every moment seemed an age to her in her suspense.

Oh! the relief she experienced when, instead of the madman, Gilbert's horse emerged from behind the rock, leisurely cropping the sweet grass which grew round it. Almost immediately afterwards, too, she descried a horseman riding rapidly towards her, and in a few minutes Mr. Ramshorn, with his horse foaming, pulled up alongside.

"I am so glad yon are come, Mr. Ramshorn. I was getting so afraid," said Ottalie.

"Poor fellow!" said Mr. Ramshorn; "he must have got a nasty cut, and is stunned to boot. I hope it will prove nothing serious. Where has your brother gone, Miss Ewart?"

"To Muttontown for a doctor, and I got such a fright with Mr. Langton's horse after he left," said Ottalie, beginning to cry. "I saw a bit of it behind the rock, which I made sure was that awful madman again."

"Dear Miss Ewart." said Mr. Ramshorn, "don't cry."

It was a stupid remark to make, no doubt, but page 113what else could he say? He, at least, knew of nothing else.

The truth was, Mr. Ramshorn loved Ottalie Ewart, and longed to take her in his arms and try to comfort his darling, but he dared not do so. It was a maxim of his, which he used to repeat if ever he heard of one of his acquaintances marrying beneath him, as he sometimes did, "I shall never marry till I can marry a lady;" and he would add that his then income did not justify his doing so. In this perhaps he was mistaken, but it is a mistake that only true-hearted men make. They do not like to ask a girl who has been brought up amid luxury and refinement to take what might appear a step downward on the social ladder, as though marrying a good and true man were not promotion to any loving girl, and a great addition to her happiness, even though she may want some luxuries to which she has been accustomed, and suffer some discomforts to which she has been a stranger in her father's house. There is little doubt but that a feeling of this kind has a good deal to do with many of the mésalliances which are not uncommon in the colonies; and though it makes some men remain in a state of celibacy, others take the course of marrying women who, though they may prove good and faithful wives, yet lack that inexpressible something, call it refinement or culture, or what you will, which is page 114one of the great charms which mark a lady, and one which many of those very men keenly appreciate in their mothers or sisters, but which they make up their minds not to expect from the mothers of their children.

But though Mr. Ramshorn's principles were such as we have indicated, Miss Ewart's tears proved too much for his caution, which had hitherto held his love under control. He tried to soothe her, but she continued to weep almost hysterically.

"Oh! Ottalie!" he exclaimed at last, "would that I could comfort you! I have admired your beauty of feature and character since first I knew you, and your courageous conduct to-day has, if possible, added to my admiration."

This speech had the effect of rousing Ottalie, so that she was enabled to control herself and stay her tears.

"Mr. Ramshorn," she said, "you surely forget yourself. I cannot think you are in earnest in giving expression to such feelings at such a time, and yet it would be a cruel, wicked jest, made in the presence of that poor senseless youth," she added, pointing to where Gilbert lay.

"I do not jest, Miss Ottalie. Pardon me if I have offended you by giving expression to the feelings your tears evoked; but tell me, surely you do not love that boy?"

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"Mr. Ramshorn," said Ottalie stiffly, "you astonish me by your rudeness. I was introduced to that gentleman this morning. Though it seems an age since then," she added, as if speaking to herself.

"I ask your forgiveness, Miss Ewart," replied Mr. Ramshorn. "I have been excited by the strange occurrences of the day."

"Thank goodness, here comes the dray!" was Ottalie's only answer.

Mr. Ewart, senior, and a couple of the men accompanied the dray, in which a mattress and some pillows had been placed. Upon these they carefully deposited Gilbert, and returned slowly homewards, followed by Ottalie.

Mr. Ramsborn rode on to bear the intelligence to Pakeloa that Mr. Langton was still alive, though insensible.