A Maori Maid
"But—but could you not tell me something about him?" asked Ngaia.
She was talking to John Anderson. They were together in a buggy, driving along towards Hastings. It was not the first occasion on which they had travelled this road. John delighted from time to time to slip down to Napier in order to spend a day with his child. He would take her for drives, and have her to dine with him at the hotel; and if it chanced that any place of amusement were open, they would there end their round of pleasure. Those brief hours were moments of exquisite happiness to them both. To him, because she was his child. To her, because she loved the tall, iron-grey gentleman, who had been her friend ever since she could remember, almost—she told him— almost as though he were her father.
"Not quite, you know," she had said to him on that very afternoon, "because—because you are not my father, and—and I can't help longing to know who he is."
"Are you unhappy then, Ngaia?"
"No; I—I suppose I am not unhappy," she said slowly. "How could I be?" she added impulsively. "It would be so ungrateful after all your kindness to me. But—but could you not tell me something about him?"
He was silent, looking straight out upon the horses. He drew his whip lightly across one. The action was mechanical, scarcely conscious.page 69
Her words, "I can't love you as my father, because you are not my father," rang in his ears. They seemed such a melancholy, absolute answer to all his hopes and desires. He loved her because she was his child. She could not return his love in the same degree because—irony of it all!—he was not her father. It was miserable; it was horrible.
A small, gloved hand stole on to his arm.
"Is—is he dead?" she asked softly, with a touch of awe in her voice.
He made no answer. How could he lie to her in words, even though he could in actions?
"No," he answered slowly.
There was a silence, and a dogcart passed them, containing two men, one of whom took off his hat.
"Who is that?" asked the other.
"Anderson, of Te Henga."
"No, but the girl? I never saw such a lovely face."
"Yes, she is pretty. She seems to grow more beautiful every time I see her. I don't know who she is, except that she is at rather a swell school here, and Anderson takes a great interest in her. She scarcely looks it, but she's a half-caste—a Maori mother. Eh? Oh no, I don't fancy anything of that sort. Anderson is rather a good sort of individual, with a wife and family. Rather a handsome woman, his wife; a little severe, perhaps, but like her husband a really good woman—a model pair, in fact. No, no. It's not what you were thinking. Mind you, it's not uncommon out here, but Anderson is the very last man to even suspect. I fancy the girl is the daughter of some harum-scarum fellow up amongst the Maories, and Anderson has practically rescued her from savagery.
"She's very beautiful, very beautiful, and apparently so unconscious of it."
"Come, come, don't lose your heart at the glimpse of a pretty face!"page 70
"I'm not likely to do that, only—"
"That's Russell's place," interrupted the other, as he pointed with his whip to a house over and amongst the trees. "Williams' is farther on. They're two of the best type of New Zealand run-holders. Fine fellows."
"Indeed," said his companion, and the girl passed from their thoughts, save only, perhaps, as a beautiful memory.
Neither Ngaia nor John had even noticed the occupants of the cart, one, at least, of whom had noticed them.
"Not dead," repeated Ngaia softly. "Not dead. Oh, I am so glad, so very glad! Mr. Anderson, please tell me something about him, something about myself. I'm happy, indeed I am; but—but I want to know about my father and my mother. I seem to remember a small house and the Maories, but it's like a dream that I've forgotten."
"Ngaia," said John, pressing her hand as it lay on his arm, "let the dream lie unremembered. I want you to be happy; but it wouldn't add to your happiness if I turned the dream into a reality—even if I could. It's surely not hard to do without parents whom you have never seen!"
"It seems easy, and yet I long, oh, so deeply, to know my father, to know my mother. I would love them if I could only see them. I'm sure I would; quite sure. Besides, I ought to be with my parents— unless they don't want me. Is it because my father is not able that he has never come to see me, Mr. Anderson?"
John was silent for a moment or two.
"Think it is so," he said, "Think it is that; for your father's sake, think so."
She looked wonderingly at him.
"I—I don't quite understand."
"Ngaia, don't try, don't try. It is a tangled skein. page 71Try to be happy with things as they are. For your sake, I can't say more. I may not."
"I sometimes think my father must know me and hate me."
"Hate you, Ngaia I You!"
"Or else, if he were alive, he would come to me, just as I would go to him. I want to love him, and he won't let me. Oh, Mr. Anderson, I'm hurting you by what I am saying! You think me ungrateful, but I'm not, indeed I'm not; and there is no one but you and Miss Spence, who's not a bit like a schoolmistress to me, who cares for me, whom I can love. I—I do love you, Mr. Anderson, because—because you have been so kind to me. Just as good to me as if you were my father."
John dared not trust himself to make reply. He was silent, and scarcely a word passed between them as they drove on towards home.
"Ngaia," he said, as they neared the school, "you must try and think as kindly of me as you can. I would tell you all I know about your parents if I could, and if I thought it would make you happier. But it wouldn't, and I so much want you to be happy, always happy, and your life to be easy and pleasant. You believe me, Ngaia, you believe me?" he asked, almost appealingly, as he helped her out of the buggy.
"Yes," she answered.
"I won't come in. I won't see you again for some time. I'm off to-morrow morning. Good-bye."
He held out his hand, and she slipped hers into it. For an instant he hesitated, in a desire to draw her to him and to kiss her. He had never done so since she was quite a child. She seemed to realise his thought, and in her heart she hoped he would. Then a stranger passed by them. The front door opened. The moment was gone. He dropped her hand, jumped into the buggy and drove away.page 72
In her tiny bedroom Ngaia buried her face in her pillow and sobbed.
"Oh, if I only could do as he said! But I cannot, I cannot!"
Presently the tea-bell rang. She bathed her eyes and went down; and in the companionship of her schoolmates the mood passed from her.