A Maori Maid
As a girl, the wife of John Anderson was one of the acknowledged beauties of New Zealand. She was fair of hair, fair of face, and wonderfully fair of form. She was tall and slim, with an exquisite figure and an excellent opinion of herself. Naturally, she was admired; and, being of the disposition that she was, she became selfish and charmingly conceited. She was ambitious, though her ambitions were possibly somewhat worldly and decidedly feminine. Despising religion, she appeared religious, partly because her parents insisted and partly because it was fashionable—and useful. She could flirt—and did. A proposal, like an invitation to a dance, was an experience—and she loved experiences.
She regarded men as fools—not unnaturally. It was the light in which her male friends generally placed themselves with respect to her. Being fools, she considered they were created largely for the purpose—with the rest of the world, for that matter—of catering for her amusement. If a man wished to carry her parcels, and if it was convenient to her—why not? If he wished to join her in her morning ride, to talk to her, to be near her, even in the seclusion of a conservatory page 2 to slip his arm round her waist, to perhaps kiss her, and if it was pleasant to her—why not? The man was amusing himself. So was she. There was nothing more in it. They were simply amusing themselves.
Why, then, should she be expected to pity him when she refused to become his wife? It was ridiculous as well as horribly annoying. After all, if a man deliberately butts a brick wall and damages his head, surely the man, and not the wall, is the cause. She, by a process of like reasoning, considered herself quite innocent of such cruelty as the breaking of a man's heart They might break; in fact, she had been told as much. But she was, as it were, the innocent brick wall Unquestionably the simile was applicable to her in the light of her complete lack of feeling.
Yet withal she was passionate, hot-blooded, and sensuous. Fortune had in truth been wonderfully kind to her, for it gave her strict parents. She sneered at them, but they saved her. She escaped scathless; and, although fast, was, as a girl, virtuous. Probably, if she had not been a lady, she would have succumbed; for women who never consider any one else's little weaknesses are generally blind to their own.
Not that she was wildly in love. Men who had fallen victims to the fascination of her beauty had severally told her of the intoxicating fact, each one in his own peculiar fashion. An analysis of their various accounts and of the sentiments they expressed and of the sufferings they declared themselves to be harassed by, proved conclusively to her mind that she herself was not in love—and never had been. She concluded that she never would be. Which was a rash conclusion and a sandy foundation on which to marry, more especially for a woman.
Ethel regarded marriage as a necessity. It was the only excuse for her sex—a phase of her existence she page 3frequently railed at. Being a girl, she decidedly had no wish to die an old maid, and she was sufficiently far-seeing to realise that if a girl continues to refuse offers of marriage until she becomes a woman she may find herself without a lover to accept. A woman must be a widow to win a husband.
The idea of perpetual spinsterhood was as hideous as it was impossible. Therefore she married.
If love of the man played no great part in her decision, love of his money emphatically did. Her marriage was after the manner of most worldly unions. It was fashionable, it was brilliant, it was a social event.
It was also somewhat of a mistake.
John Anderson, her husband, was both young and wealthy. He proposed to her but once. She gauged his sensitiveness sufficiently accurately to understand that she would probably have no second chance and she seized the one that offered. For the purposes of mere flirtation she realised that there were men and men. John Anderson was one of the latter.
Whilst she was sensible of no overwhelming affection for him, he literally worshipped her. He believed her to be a woman as womanly as she was beautiful. It was on that account he loved her. It was on that account he married her. She, on the other hand, believed that, by becoming his wife, she would always be rich. It was on that account she pretended to love him. Therefore she married him. And they were both throwing away the substance of livable life for the shadow of ideal happiness, inasmuch as neither of them was destined to realise their respective beliefs.
They very soon discovered that.
When it was too late, when she was married, and was, moreover, a mother with two little fair-haired daughters, he lost his money, and was obliged to return to surveying and work for a mere living. She, the page 4belle of Wellington, educated in poverty to dream of perpetual wealth, was nothing more nor less than a poor man's wife! That was all she could realise.
When it was too late and they had been married scarcely a month, he knew she was beautiful, but not womanly—to him. That was all he cared to realise; it was all he ever did realise, for he thought her pure beyond all suspicion.
She was in fact but not at heart He never knew that, and throughout all his life he thanked God for her holiness. For he set an ideal value on virtue in a woman, and his admiration of his wife's goodness gradually became the sole consolation, the sole substitute for his lost love. Like many men, he could forgive and excuse in himself what he considered unpardonable in others.
Their home was in Wellington. He shared it with her in the winter. During the summer he had to spend months at a stretch away and away up-country, surveying great blocks of Maori land, she being alone with her children and the servants.
She had at the outset become a mother as a matter of course. She was without any intense desire to have children, but so far she had accepted the fact with a careless indifference. It deepened into regret as the birth of the second child drew near, and she tried to school herself to a belief that the two children were the limit of her bondage. The realisation that she was yet again to become a mother filled her with contempt for herself and intensified her dislike for her husband. Every evil instinct in the woman seemed to awaken. She persuaded herself into a fierce hate of the child before it was born and she allowed the poison of such hate to rankle in her mind. It permeated her, it saturated her.
And nature turned the weapon the woman had forged against herself. The spirit of hate and evil page 5passed into the new life and left her as callous and cynical as ever, but consumed with a blind devotion to the child.
The baby, a boy, was brought out to him. He held it in his arms, with the awe a strong man always feels at the first sight of a tiny new life for which he is responsible. He kissed it, and the prickle of his moustache made the squdgy little face go into a ripple of blinks and dimples.
"Take it back, nurse," he whispered to the waiting woman.
She took the child from him, wondering at the hush in his voice. He opened the door for her and shut it as she left. Then he walked across to the open window, and stood looking out into the dusk. He pulled out his pipe and pouch and stuffed thoughtfully into the empty bowl until the tobacco was too tight to smoke properly.
"My child! My wife; and yet —My God! how she has changed! I loved her so once; and now—I try. Heaven knows I try! Fancy trying to love one's wife—trying to love the mother of one's children! What a mockery it seems! Poor little mites. May their mother care for them more than she cares for their father! I think she does."
"Curse it," he added, and it might have been because of the tobacco or it might not
Anderson was quite right in one thing—his wife did care for her children. In spite of herself, perhaps, she liked them. She almost loved them. Probably she would have, had she loved her husband.
Not that she had any complaint against him. If he had made her jealous she might have adored him. If he had made her rich she undoubtedly would—at least she thought so. He was kind, generous and exceedingly forbearing. Nothing appeared too much for him to do, if he thought it would contribute to her page 6pleasure. He idolised his children, and no living soul knew, not even perhaps did he himself realise how bitter a disappointment his wife was to him. If he did, he endeavoured to strangle the thought in a fierce determination to do his duty by her and to ensure her a life as pleasant as his humble means would permit. She had borne him his two little daughters. For that she was sacred to him in the light of one whom it was his trust to protect and tend.
It was sweet and nice of him. She admitted that much. If married life had continued one long honeymoon, with its money and its novelty, she might have felt some gratitude for his kindness and perhaps have learnt to care for him, for a sort of love is a sort of habit. As it was, he unconsciously bored her, until he jarred upon her nerves, and she tried to fancy that she hated him.
And to a large extent she succeeded