In the Shadow of the Bush
The fact was, Maurice was very much in love, and he knew it.
His was not one of those cases of which we read sometimes in novels where a man or woman, a young man or maiden, has been in love for a long time, and doesn't know it, only making the discovery at last, very much to his or her own surprise. Maurice was in love, and he knew it. Instances of the opposite form, in which the tender passion has made us its victims, while we remain all unconscious or the fact, are, to say the least, exceedingly rare. We are more likely, perhaps, to err in another direction, and imagine ourselves over head and ears in a sea of love, when we have only, as it were, wet our feet; to believe that a name, a form, has been stamped indelibly on our heart, when the impress is really of the most transitory kind; to deem that the disease which we suffer from will be mortal in its effects, while in reality it is only a slight and temporary indisposition.
If we are apt to be deceived as to the intensity of our own feelings, how much more likely are we to fail in making a correct estimate of those of the object of our amorous regard. Here, indeed, love may exist and remain undetected, so skilfully is it hidden from us under the cloak ot indifference or coldness. The chaste Belinda may have our manly form enshrined as her bosom's lord, while we, wretched with envy, see admirers more fortunate, as we suppose, bask page 45in the sunshine of her favour, we being left for the time, as we foolishly think, to shiver in the shade.
Yet, in judging of the feelings of the object of our own ardent desires, we are perhaps oftener given to take the opposite and more hopeful, though it may be, equally incorrect view. The fair Maria's welcoming smile and cordial deportment are joyfully seized upon as fuel for our hopes, while that hateful fellow Judkins is the lucky man after all.
Maurice was in love, and this was not to be wondered at, for, truth to tell, Mary Robinson's bright eyes and sunny face were attractive enough to bring under love's sway any young fellow whose heart was capable of being touched at all. Fair she was, of medium height, of well developed form, with an easy supple grace in walk and bearing where buoyant health was manifest in every movement; with honest, truthful eyes from which mirth and laughter were in the frequent habit of looking out. Her face and hands had been kissed by the sun oftener perhaps than a city miss would care to submit to.
She had been milking, for though latterly this necessary work fell to the other members of the family, yet occasionally she gave a helping hand if any of the others were too busy to attend to it or were away from home. A rough calico overall, or something of the kind, was thrown over her ordinary dress, but even this, embellished as it was with some little ornamentation which feminine taste ever finds room for, looked neat and becoming.
"It was very kind of you, Mr. M'Keown, to milk that cow for me. She is rather hard to milk," she said, as Maurice finished, and was preparing to carry the bucket to the dairy.
"It was far kinder of you to let me," he replied. "You know there couldn't be a greater pleasure in life for me than doing a service for you. I would think it kinder still, though, if you would call me 'Maurice'; I'm not used to be called 'Mr.,' and don't like it—especially from you. It sounds too page 46stand-off and distant like. I'd rather be on a more familiar footing with you, you see, Mary, my dear—I have known you long enough to call you that without offence, I hope?" he added.
"Perhaps I think you look bust at a distance, and mean to keep yon there. 'Distance lends enchantment to the view' sometimes, you know," replied Mary, laughing.
"Sure, that would be the death of me," Maurice answered; "dead through distance—killed at long range. I would rather be sun-struck than frozen to death—remember that, Mary. Kill me if you will, but let it be with kindness. But here we are at the dairy, and you must show me which pan to strain the milk into."
"You can strain it without shutting the door, though," said Mary, after they had entered; and then, almost immediately, she continued, "Don't be foolish, Maurice—Billy is outside there watching you! You'll upset the milk with your nonsense!"
"Foolish is it, and nonsense?" replied Maurice, after a few seconds, during which the reader can guess what he had been doing—"it's the wisest thing I have done to-day, or since I was here last. Blessings on the man who discovered kissing, and told the others about it. Bother Billy!" he added, "I'll soon make it all right with him."
Billy was Mary's youngest brother, a boy of ten or eleven, who attended school in the township, and who that afternoon had not long returned from it.
"I saw you!" said that youth, as they came out; "I know what you have been doing—Oh, Mary!"
"Look here, Billy!" said Maurice, in friendly tones, "I saw a beauty of a two-bladed knife in at Buncombe's store, the other day; and it will be yours the very next time I go in—that is, if you and I keep on good terms, which, of course, we can't possibly do if you go telling anyone what you thought you saw or heard in the dairy just now."
Mary, in the meantime, had fled rather precipitately into page 47the house, encountering Davie as he was coming out. He "glowered" at her, as if he had never seen a pretty girl before.
"Hallo, my noble Scot!" exclaimed M'Keown, as soon as he caught sight of him. "What luck? Have you found the job to suit your liking yet? Try and fix him up with a job, Mr. Robinson, and get your name up for doing what no one else could ever manage to do. If he could be dressed up as a Highlander, and set down at the door of a tobacconist's shop, with a long pipe in his mouth all day, that would be the sort of billet for him. You might think over that, Davie, and apply at some of the shops in Wellington."
"I'll mebbe apply this stick to the tap o' yer heid, if ye gie me ony mair o' yer imperence! Mind yer ain business, an' let ither folk mind theirs," said Davie, striding away.
"Just the way of the world," remarked Maurice; "the giver of good advice generally goes without thanks."
"He has been telling the missus he knew our boy down South," said Robinson, who had come out and joined M'Keown—"our boy that we haven't heard of for many a year—leastwise, somebody of the same name, that appeared to answer the description."
"After finding out all about him, I suppose," replied Maurice; "what he was like, and all that. I shouldn't believe a word of it—Davie's a notorious liar."
"Oh, I don't put any faith in what he says myself," Robinson said. "It's my belief he just made up the yarn to please her. As likely as not the boy is dead and buried long ago, or at the bottom of the sea; but his mother still believes she'll see him yet, and has got it into her head that he's somewhere in New Zealand. We shouldn't have been out here at all, I expect, if it hadn't been for him—not that I've ever had any reason to feel sorry for coming. It's a fine country for them that aren't afraid to work, and are blessed with health and strength, as we have been. It's pleasant to think one has got a bit of land of one's own, and not in the power of the land-page 48lords, as we used to be. You're getting some more bush down on that section of yours in the Aratahi Block, I believe, Maurice?"
"I have just let fifty acres to some chaps, and hope to get down another fifty or a hundred acres next season if all's well. The road is likely to be made by that time," Maurice answered, and then added, "Oh, while I think of it, those bushfallers of Mr. Ashwin's were asking where they could get a regular supply of good butter, and I told them I thought they might get it from you here. They are decent fellows, I think, and the money should be all right, but Mr. Frank will see that you're paid."
"No doubt that will be right enough," said Robinson, "but the mother looks after all that. You had better see if she can spare any. It's my belief she would make them welcome to as much as they could use for nothing if they would only spin her such a yarn as your friend the Scotchman did about having met her boy. Poor mother! He was our eldest, you know, and got into a bit of a scrape after he left school a while, and maybe I was a bit hard on him at the time. He was a fine, dashing boy, and got on well at his schooling too, and was always talking about seeing the world and making his way in it; and he went. Our second boy, who was a steady-going chap, died soon after the other left. Well, his mother got a letter from him from Melbourne, as you may have heard, telling her he was going to stay out there, and most likely go over to New Zealand, and not to think there was anything wrong if she didn't hear from him again for a while. He never wrote again—never, at any rate, as long as we stayed at home, and we left there seven or eight years ago. Poor mother, she was always asking about New Zealand, and finding out something good about it, and telling me what a fine country it must be for a man with a family, till at last I made up my mind to come out here, and that pleased her, I can tell you. It's my belief she thinks more of the boy that's page 49away from her than of the children she's got about her, and they're good children, every one of them. She doesn't fret or worry, as you know, but I can see he's seldom out of her thoughts. But," he added, "you'll stay and have some tea now that you're here, won't you?"
"Thank you, I will," said Maurice, gladly. "The track is not the best to follow after dark, but I'll manage to find it."
Maurice stayed, and, when he was going away, if Mary happened to be outside the door when he took leave of the others, who will blame him if he said good-bye to her all by herself there, and was rather a long time about it?