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Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge

Chapter XXV. Laughing Leaf's Trouble—Where Is She?—D'estrelles' Passion—Love or Madness?

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Chapter XXV. Laughing Leaf's Trouble—Where Is She?—D'estrelles' Passion—Love or Madness?

It might have been some ten days after the incidents related above that a youthful wahine stood by the sliding door of a whare of the better sort in the kainga of Takori, Hiko-o-te-rangi, and, through a narrow chink, watched the arrival of several pakeha visitors, whose appearance was, as usual, the signal for an uproarious hubbub of welcome. The girl, who was in the first blush of womanhood, evidently found the heat of the shut-up and fire-heated whare oppressive, for her upper garment had been cast aside, and save for the clinging folds of a soft mat wound about her middle, she was unclothed. Tall, strong, and finely developed, her limbs were firm and round, her skin like velvet, and her figure that of a youthful Hebe. Waist in the modern sense she had none, for her vital organs had never been ‘cabined, cribbed, confined,’ by a straight jacket. As Nature's God had designed her, so she had grown, without the aid of ‘spoon bill busk,’ or ‘patent corset115,’ for she was the daughter of a race of ignorant savages, who, believing in their simplicity that God made man, would have given their girls fits had they caught them trying to better the Almighty's work.

She was earnestly peering out through the chink she had made by drawing back the shutter a little, her soft lustrous eyes following the movements of the strangers, while her parted lips and the rosy glow of her russet cheek betrayed an interest of more than ordinary kind. The visitors were Messrs Du Fresne and D'Estrelles, Lieutenant Crozet, and the ship's surgeon, with the usual following, and as the girl eagerly watched their progress, she now and again drew back from her post of observation, and in soft accents, varying with every shade of feeling, expressed her thoughts in Maori, which would translate something like this:

‘Ah! He has come! He has come! And how handsome he is, the noble white stranger! How proudly he carries himself, like a chief of our people. His hair too, and eyes, are dusky as night. His skin even is unlike that of the others. Sun and wind would soon tan it brown as that of Naku-roa. Naku-roa? Hu! He is a rangatira, but to my eyes a tutua116 beside him Him, Him! whom I love. Konrat he bids me call him, but I may not. Ah! how handsome is the stranger! And see how his eyes page 123 rove hither and thither. He seeks the Maori maid, for he loves Laughing Leaf; he has said it. But, ah me! My father is stern, though his child is dear to his heart. Oh, that he had not seen us together, for now I am to marry Naku-roa, and Takori has sworn by the bones of the dead to slay me with his own hand if I show aught of favour to one of the strangers, for he loves them not, and mistrusts their purpose in coming hither. He says they will return with many of their great flying ships, and drive the Maori from the home of his fathers. And perchance he is right, for my father is wise, and can read the heart, and knows what is in men. But, ah me! my heart cries out for the love of this stranger who whispers sweet words in my ear, whose very glance sets my pulses throbbing, and I long, oh, I long to press his hand and bid him take me for his bride. But, oh, my heart! It can never be, never, never, never!’ and the lustrous eyes overflowing, Rau kata-mea sank upon the earthen floor in a paroxysm of grief.

* * * * * * * * *

‘What has the old Cholera Morbus (the sailors had irreverently bestowed this nickname upon the chief Takori after their first inopportune visit) done with his charming daughter, I wonder?’ said the captain aside to D'Estrelles when their visit had about half ended without the damsel appearing

‘Just what I was wondering myself,’ replied the other. ‘Could I see anything resembling convent walls. I should imagine the old devil had shut her up pending our departure.’

‘Oh, as to that, convent walls are not indispensable. She may be peeping at us from some shut-up whare at this moment for that matter. But why should the old savage object to our looking at the girl? She's not the only pretty one in the kainga, purblen!

‘True, But she's his only one, and I am told he wants to keep her unattached, very likely with a view to bartering her to some ancient mogul of his own people.’

‘Oh, if he thinks of barter, he could do better with ours, for the maid is certainly handsome.’

A flush overspread D'Estrelles dark face. ‘She is more than handsome,’ he said; ‘she is magnificent. A perfect Cleopatra, pa dieu! But as to barter, Du Fresne, if you happen to know any of our people holding such hopes in regard to her, tell them they'd better give a wide berth to Conrad D'Estrelles.’

‘Phew! Sets the mind so strongly, mon ami. I thought you a little touched, but parbleu! This looks like business.’

‘It means business to this extent, that the girl shall be mine, or no one's.’

‘You do not surely think of taking her back with you?’

‘That is just what I do think of, my friend.’

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Laughing Leaf

Laughing Leaf

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‘You are not infatuated enough to contemplate marriage. I suppose, D'Estrelles?’

‘Oh, as to that, we shall see. I might do worse, pardieu! She is a splendid creature, and young enough to civilize, but, for all she looks so melting, as coy and reserved as a cold-blooded English woman. I believe she is frightened. The old villain, her father, only half likes us, and has perhaps forbidden any flirting. Whatever be the reason, she keeps the curb on though one can she is naturally as impulsive as the rest of them.’

‘She has the rangatira blood in her veins you know, and their self restraint is, I consider astonishing.’

‘There may be something in that, but not all. Some deeper reason underlies her reserve: for that it requires an effort to keep it up is easily seen. But where can she be today? She has not been at Motu Arohia for days, and would hardly go today of her own accord.’

‘No: but if it be as you think, the old fellow may have packed her off willy nilly. But, by the way, what makes you suppose he dislikes us?’

‘It is self-evident in his manner, as you might see for yourself were you less confiding, Du Fresne. He is an out-and-out savage, looks on us as interlopers, and would pick a quarrel with us in a minute had we not already secured the good graces of the others. As it is he is harmless, but he owes us a grudge all the same.’

‘I think you misjudge him, D'Estrelles, although his looks are against him, I admit. But whether he likes the rest of us or not, there can be no doubt about his penchant for your inimitable valet.’

‘Aha! No; the rogue has “set eyes” on him to good purpose. I wish he would bewitch the daughter on my behalf.’

‘Take my advice and don't suggest it, mon ami, or he may do so on his own. But what shall you do if she says you nay?’

‘Wait till we're on the eye of sailing, and then carry her off by main force, for I swear to you. Du Fresne, though I've had many an affaire d'amour117 in my time. I never wanted any woman as want this dusky beauty. Whether it be her soft eyes or seductive form. I'm d——d if I know, but I'm set on her, and her self-restraint fairly maddens me. By hook or by crook, by fair means or foul, she shall be mine if I die for it. And that I swear by all that's holy!’ he added through his set teeth, his black eyes glinting fiercely, while Du Fresne looked at him in disapproving surprise.

* * * * * * * * *

‘Yes,’ he repeated that same midnight as he restlessly paced the beach at Wai-iti, ‘she shall be mine, I swear again. I've never failed yet with one of her sex, and I'm not going to be foiled now by an untaught savage, pardien! But, 'pon my soul. there's not much of the savage page 126 about her, after all. She carries herself like a queen, and is as gentle and soft as a baby. And yet, pardieu! as unyielding as flint. Yet I can see she would relent if she dared. She trembles sometimes, and flushes, too, when I talk to her; but repulses me all the same. D——n her! She's harder to woo than any civilized belle. How can I get round her? I must be growing imbecile or I'd soon find a way. I've cracked harder nuts, pardieu! But these broken mights are playing the deuce with me; and perhaps, as Du Fresne says, I drink too much cognac. Certainly I take more than I used, pardieu! yes, double. But what's a man to do if he can't sleep? And why the deuce can't I? I've always, till now, slept sound enough, even after—but stow that. And I've had the devil's own luck, too, lately with the pasteboard118. Du Fresne says I stake too high, but Du Fresne is as timid as a woman. He'll never set the world in a blaze, pardieu! no, and he'll never find the gold we came for if I don't prick him up. I'd have applied the goad before had I not been so piqued by this girl. But pardieu! if the luck does not change soon we must seek the yellow, and find it too, or I need not go back to civilization. Beggary in Europe wouldn't suit me at all, and my luck seems to have changed. Bah! Luck, what's luck? Luck comes to the man who has pluck. I'll drink more cognac, double my stakes, and play again. Damn luck! I must win if I play long enough. But this infernal sleeplessness! What the devil can it mean? And her voice, too, always in my ear. If I believed in spirits I'd think she was revisiting the earth, and had made a mistake in the latitude. But there are no such things as spirits. How often must I repeat to myself that truism? Bah! my brain is softening surely. If there were—pardieu! I wish there were, for then there might be a devil, and he would surely aid his own. I'd make a compact with the old boy—sell him my soul—ha! ha!—for this Maori Hebe, this untaught maid, who yet knows how to foil my every attempt. Pardieu! She drives me mad. I can think of naught else. Come devil—if there be a devil—give me thine aid, and I promise to serve thee as thou wilt. Bah! I might as well be in hell at once as here suffering the pangs of unsatisfied desire. God! how I want that Maori girl! Bah! I'm a fool! a double distilled fool! I'd sell myself to the devil, serve the Almighty, become a Maori even119, to win her. Pardieu! ‘Tis infatuation. 'Tis worse. 'Tis crass idiocy. 'Tis stark, staring madness! Conrad D'Estrelles, thou'rt mad! Get thee to thy whare, man, and drink cognac to calm thy brain.’

115 Types of corset used to shape the body to fit the ideal silhouette of the era.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

116 A person of low birth.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

117 Love affair.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

118 Old slang referring to a deck of playing cards.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

119 It was common in the early part of the nineteenth century for men and woman not of Māori descent to settle among Māori tribes. These people became known as Pakeha Māori. The strangers were usually seamen and convicts from New South Wales and Norfolk Island. They filled all manner of roles within the tribe and were treated by Māori as Māori. Some were slaves, some were used as go-betweens for trading purposes and some were tolerated as mere curiosities. A few became chiefs and priests (Bentley 9).

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]