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Legends of the Maori

Chapter I

page 202

Chapter I.

IT was down in Otago, in the era of the great gold rushes, when tons of treasure were obtained from the alluvial gravels by the most primitive means. It was in the days of wonderful runs of luck, and some of the Maoris of Otago, as well as thousands of pakehas, hunted for the yellow god. Hartley and Riley had lifted, actually from the surface, one hundred and eight pounds weight of coarse gold. The rush in consequence to the bleak valleys of the Dunstan was simply enormous, and every man a sturdy digger.

Richard Broughton was one of those who came with the first rush, and he had been very fortunate. His claim worked out, he had gone to Dunedin for a spell, which meant perennial jollity whilst the coin held out. He was a fine stalwart man, and one most likely to prove very attractive to women. In one of his excursions he had visited the Maori Kaika out near Otago Heads, the headquarters of the southern clans of Ngai-Tahu. There he became acquainted with a half-caste girl, Erana, bright with the bloom of early womanhood, and he became, as he phrased it, “dead shook on the girl.” The girl liked him, but was unapproachable by the dissolute; marriage, and marriage with a pakeha, was her aim, but love or liking must also be a factor. The girl’s mother was the widow of a whaler—one of the variety which stands on the quarter-deck and withers the crew with blasphemy, the only remonstrance it understands. And, prompted by her late husband, old Karo had taught their daughter the virtues of restraint and discretion by means of a careful education. And so with knowledge and virtue clad, the girl was a very rich prize indeed.

The face and figure of Broughton, and his apparent wealth, some of which he was throwing about, attracted the girl. Finally they were married.

The couple had a gay time in Dunedin, in Dunedin’s gayest time, and then when the once plethoric chamois bag was much attenuated, Broughton took his wife to the Dunstan diggings, where he probably expected to refill the bag as easily as before. But thousands then toiled where hundreds had worked before, and after prospecting and fossicking about for a time Broughton determined to go to the Lake Wakatipu district, leaving Erana, page 203 or Nelly as he called her, in a hut he had acquired close to the township. In this hut Broughton was now shouldering his swag in the early morning previous to his departure. He kissed Erana and said:

“Well, so long, old woman; take care of yourself.”

“But, Dick, you are not going to leave me without money surely?”

“Oh, you can stick up what you want at the store, and if you need any stuff write to old Karo. I daresay she has something left in the stocking; she managed to turn you out pretty smart, anyhow.”

“How do I know the store will give me credit, Dick?”

“Oh, I’ll make that all right as I go through, and if I strike it rich we’ll have another good time in Dunedin. But as for cash, I’m short.”

“My God! Dick, you don’t intend leaving me like this, surely? Think of the baby that’s coming!”

Broughton looked down his handsome nose for a moment, and then unshipped his horse-collar swag, and took a roll of notes from some inner pocket of his shirt. It was not a very bulky roll, certainly; but that said nothing of its aggregate value. One of the notes he handed to Erana, and said:

“Well, here’s a fiver for you; take it, and give us a kiss, old girl.”

Erana did not give the kiss, but she accepted kiss and note. She was deeply offended, and her heart was full of foreboding for the future.

“What shall I do when this is done?”

“Oh, confound you, wash clothes for the boys!”

Broughton, the stalwart scoundrel, opened the door and started along the track, and as he went, an observer would have thought him a fine, sturdy honest digger. The eyes of Erana were now open. She’d had her doubts when Broughton left her night after night alone, and only returned with the perfume of the “Irish” still on his lips, after the strains of the band at the dance-house had ceased to desecrate the stillness of early morn. Now she knew she was no longer cared for. But she was no faint-hearted girl. The self-reliance of her parents of both races was strong within her, for her maternal grandfather had been a warrior among those who had slain the less vigorous Ngati-Mamoe and Waitaha, the original people of Otago.

Erana’s money was soon exhausted, for provisions were fearfully dear in consequence of the high freight, owing to the terrible roads. The storekeeper refused her further credit after a time—a long time; in fact, what he had given was a gift to the girl out of pure kindness of heart, though he never told her so. Broughton had made no arrangement with him—had not been near him on the morning of his departure. But Erana was not without friends. All the boys were her warm, respectful and silent admirers, and they stuck to her the more because they knew what Broughton was, and page 204 distrusted him utterly; and Erana was good to all of them impartially, in a way which never fails to call forth the effusive gratitude of the digger. Did one meet with an accident, no distance, no foul weather or muddy roads had prevented Erana from attendance at the bedside of the sufferer, with gentle care to soothe his pain. Hence it would not be conducive to the health of any to insult Mrs. Broughton, for she was always Mrs. Broughton to the boys, though they thought it a shameful waste that she was so.

In her time of trouble, when the baby came, an exuberant lady from one of the calico and scantling pubs, a day or two before the event, bustled into the hut, and removed a flaming hat from above a little less flaming face, remarking, “It’s very ’ot, my dear.”

Erana had seen her before, but never spoken to Mrs. Carry Peters, of the Old Gold Hotel.

“It’s all right, little ’un. I’m come to stay for a week or two; and if the doc. is wanted, you bet he’ll come; but I think you and me’ll worry through between us.”

“It’s very good of you, Mrs. Peters.”

“Good be blowed! Do you think I’m a town-bred lady as ’ud leave a woman to fight it out alone. Mine’s gone, lovey. Shot at the Eureka stockade, over in Victoria. ’Sides I want a spell, and Peters’ll look after the pub— after a fashion,” she added to herself.

And they did worry through without the doctor, and Carry Peters hugged and kissed the boy and cried over him, and re-established her dignity and self-respect by cursing the first man who came along to inquire.

“Mrs. B. is as well as can be expected, and a darned sight better! Ain’t I here, yer fool? Here, you chunk, go and tell Peters to shout for all hands, for the sake of the kid and his mother.”

But there was a little circumstance which took place a couple of days after Broughton left which should be recorded. One morning a couple of diggers, strangers to Erana, knocked at the door, and when it was opened each lifted an enormous Yankee hat from over a bronzed face, exposing strangely white brows in the process. Said the elder, Sam Ross, to Kit Carroll, “Now, then, youngster, wade in, and choose the talk proper.”

Said Kit Carroll, blonde of hair, blue of eye, with nearly 6 ft. of sturdy youth below that eye: “We hopes we are not disturbing you, Mrs. Broughton, but Mr. Broughton asked us to keep you supplied with firewood whilst he was away, and we thought you might want some now.”

“It’s very kind of you; I’m quite out of wood.”

“Kind, marm?” put in Sam. “It’s kind of you to give us the order. We’ve only got a poor claim, and it pays better to get firewood from the gullies than wash poor dirt.”

page 205

“But I don’t think I shall be able to pay you for very much. It is dreadfully dear here.”

Sam had to do all the talking now. He explained afterwards that “Kit was struck silly, and couldn’t look the donah in the face.” So Sam replied, “Lor’ love you, Mrs. Broughton, it’s all paid for in a lump sum for as long as he’s away—in money, and a ‘lay on’ when he strikes it.”

“I didn’t know Dick was so rich when he left,” said Erana.

“In course you didn’t. He’s too good to let on. It was paying us made him short when he took the track. We’ll bring it this afternoon. So long, marm.”

Said Kit as they walked away, “Did yer drop to that, Sam? ‘Didn’t know he was so rich!’ Bet he’s left her no stuff, the blooming bounder.”

And they went and cut the wood, leaving their mates to wash only 20 oz. out of the poor claim, poorer that day on account of their absence. And Nelly never went short of firewood.

When the baby got big and strong, Mrs. Carry Peters came to the hut one day, as hot as usual, and with an affectation of extreme weakness. She sat down on the bed immediately on arrival, and placing her hand on her ample bosom appeared to experience a great difficulty in finding sufficient air in the Dunstan Valley to fill the lungs that bosom contained.

“Oh, my dear, I’m so bad. We’ve been that beastly busy, what with reg’lar callers, and the boys passing through to the new rush at the Cardrona, that I’m fairly knocked up. I know I am himposing on your good nature, but would you mind coming up and ’elp in the bar. It’s lined with drugget, and nice and warm to the feet, and I’ve got old Slocum’s girl to mind the kid in the kitchen. I knows I’m taking a liberty, but I am so bad.”

And Erana went, and it was astonishing how that walk improved the health of Mrs. Carry Peters, for ten minutes after she got home she was threatening to punch a rowdy digger and swearing at Mr. Peters for not keeping the decanters filled, and failing to “take them blooming marines to the bottle heap.”

When Erana left for the hut a couple of weeks later she carried more money than would keep her for three months: “The usual wages, my dear, and you’ve got to take ’em.” And doubtless Mrs. Carry could well afford to pay, for the crowd in the bar whilst Nelly was there was always great, and when one shouted, he shouted for the crush, and each seemed to think that it was necessary to call for the most expensive drinks, and get outside them in quite a perfunctory manner, as who should say, “This is the tack I was reared on.” One day, whilst the boys were black in the face in their efforts to convert involuntary oaths into genteel words ere they had quite escaped from their lips, a casual rowdy made use of a filthy word to the page 206 barmaid, and he was never properly accounted for afterwards. What he left in the bar it took a long time to wash out. This was by no means her last visit to the Old Gold, and the calls upon her always came before her money was all gone.