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A Maori Maid

Chapter XVII

page 122

Chapter XVII.

Jake's condition of partial sobriety developed rapidly into a state of absolute drunkenness. Consequently Ngaia had to stay at the kainga and undergo her first experience of a native sleeping house.

The prospect, accustomed as she was to a bedroom of her own, tiny, perhaps, but bright and clean, with its cosy bed and spotless linen, shocked and appalled her. This bed-chamber, if bed-chamber it were, was a long, dark, low-roofed hut, without partitions or screens of any sort. Down the centre ran a kind of pathway, marked off by long pieces of timber two to four inches in height. "Wharikis," or cabbage-tree mats, covered the brown earth on either hand. Here, side by side, with their heads towards the walls and their feet towards the pathway, lay the sleepers, each rolled in a blanket or perhaps blankets. Some of them indulged in the luxury of pillows.

The occupants were old and young, male and female, without any pretence of being sorted or separated. The atmosphere was rank and fetid. The sole light was a candle that flickered and guttered in the centre and cast streaks of light upon the clouds of tobacco smoke.

There is, of course, vice amongst the Maories, both male and female. There is also virtue. But there is no prudishness; neither is there an overwhelming amount of modesty.

Maori men and Maori women bathe naked together page 123in the same "puia," or hot spring, and think nothing of it. Thinking nothing wrong, possibly there is nothing wrong in it. Habit deprives the practice of its apparent dangers, just as a modest English girl sees nothing wrong in wearing a low-necked dress.

Maories all sleep indiscriminately in the one apartment. The men unconcernedly strip themselves of all save their shirts, and then roll themselves in their blankets. The women equally unconcernedly take off their bodices and skirts and, retaining their singlets and petticoats—a singlet and a petticoat being the sum total of a Maori woman's underclothing—likewise roll themselves in their blankets and are in bed.

A Maori woman does not in the least mind thus disrobing amongst a number of other Maories. She not only believes that they look upon it with perfect indifference, but habit has taught her to know it as a fact. Such manner of domesticity was naturally revolting to a young girl such as Ngaia. She was educated, refined and modest; a girl, too, who was exquisitely beautiful and, without being in the least degree vain, fully conscious of it. She would have died rather than have undressed before the men in the whare. The mere thought of having to sleep there at all was sufficiently horrible. She took off her hat and shoes, and, without even loosening her hair, she lay down and pulled the blanket over her.

Unfortunately Jake, horribly drunk, stumbled into the whare just at that very moment. He caught sight of her.

"'Ere you, Ngaia," he shouted, "ye ain't going to sleep without saying good-night to ye father? Come 'ere and kiss me."

The girl cowered down in horror.

"D'ye hear me?" he called. "By 'eavens! if ye don't come to me I'll come to you. I'll teach ye who's master. Are ye comin'?"

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Ngaia, too terrified to move, remained silent, and fearfully drew the blanket closer around her. The Maories, somewhat amused, sat and watched.

"Ye won't come, won't ye?" spluttered Jake, and he lurched down the hut towards her. She gave a cry of terror as she saw him approach and endeavoured to spring to her feet. Drunk though the man was, he was too quick for her. He caught her by the arm and threw her down, and, stumbling, fell beside her. She was on her back, and putting his arms about her, he kissed her.

She shrieked as he pressed her to the floor.

The Maories sat up. A couple of men moved down to where the drunkard and the girl were struggling. They made no effort to interfere, regarding the affair in the light of some quarrel between Jake and his daughter.

Ngaia fiercely endeavoured to prevent him kissing her a second time, and in the struggle her blouse was torn. Then the Maories stepped in.

"Let me go!" yelled Jake, as one of them pulled him away. "She's my daughter and she's got to do what I tell 'er. Let go, I say."

A scuffle ensued with the two natives, and Jake was thrown out of the hut, bruised and bleeding, amidst a roar of laughter from the other Maories. Half stunned and wholly drunk, he lay where he rolled, until he passed off into a heavy slumber. Daylight and a pig—chiefly the pig—awoke him.

Ngaia, shaking and trembling with fright and exhaustion, drew the blanket around her once more. She buried her face in her hands and sobbed. At length she fell asleep.

It was a broken, miserable sleep, crowded with ugly dreams and premonitions. Several times she awoke with a sudden fear, born of her recollection of the struggle with her father. Towards morning she fell page 125into her only sound slumber. It was not for long. By five o'clock the natives were astir, and sleep was then impossible.

Jake made an early start. Ngaia's small portmanteau was tied on to the back seat of the buggy, and father and daughter drove off side by side. Father and daughter in apparent fact; servant and lady in all appearance.

When Ngaia had awakened in the morning, the recollection of her overnight experience was still fresh in her mind. Her first resolve was to return to Napier and to refuse further to accompany her father. Gradually she was forced to abandon the idea. She was the man's daughter, and she imagined that, if the worst came to the worst, he could by law compel her to go with him. She was even able to find excuses for him.

"He was tipsy or he would not have done it. I ought to have gone to him. I ought to have let him kiss me. After all he is my father, although I shall never care for him as if he were."

Finally she determined to try and forget the incident. Jake's drunken bout had not improved his temper. He had very little remembrance of what had occurred. The only thing he thoroughly knew was that he had received a black eye. It did not tend to make him agreeable. He was surly and uncouth and spoke very little to his companion during the drive. It was an unconscious kindness on his part.

It was a hot, breathless day. The pony—its off shoulder was sore, with a piece of dirty towel under the collar to ease it—jogged steadily along, its hoofs falling with dull thuds on the dust-covered road. A grey coating enveloped the grass along the ditch on either side, whilst over the rolling hills the burning sun had turned the green pasture to a varied brown. Here and there patches of fern betokened the fact of the land still belonging to the natives and being left page 126uncared for. High overhead sailed a hawk eagerly intent on any stray chicken or wandering pigeon. There was no bush nor any tree other than an occasional cabbage-tree with its topknot of stiff rattling foliage and its straight ringed trunk. Within a couple of miles of the kainga the native land ended and the Te Henga property commenced, the ill-set wire fencing giving way to tight, well-stretched barbed wire. Everywhere sheep were grazing, heavy in wool, with lambs fast growing out of lambhood into sedateness.

"This 'ere's the beginning of the run. When the boss builds the 'omestead, it'll be away over them 'ills. The woolshed and yards is over there, too. Our place is agin that clump of bush," Jake added, pointing with his whip. "The boss's been pretty lucky. 'E's got about the pick of the land 'twixt 'ere and Napier, and a long way the biggest run. Not that 'e's marvellous 'appy for it. He, he! Nor 'e ain't likely to be 'appier neither. He, he! 'Cause why? 'Cause—well, you ask 'im. But it's a fine place, and no mistake."

And the true owner of the huge property was sitting beside him driving on to it, a helpless girl with apparently no prospect before her but misery and humiliation! If only Jake had known it! He never even suspected it.

Presently the buggy stopped and turned off from the main road. Passing through a gate, Jake drove along a worn cart-track across some four or five large paddocks. He made Ngaia jump down and open and shut each gate for him.

"Nothing like making ye useful Ye won't do no loafing up 'ere, I can tell ye," he said.

"I'm sure I don't wish to be idle. I'll help if I can. I would like to," answered Ngaia.

"Whether ye like it or whether ye don't, ye'll 'ave to. So it's jist as well ye do like," snarled Jake.

The rough, deep-rutted track wound for a couple of page 127miles or so up a valley with low, gently sloping hills on either side. Presently, on rounding one, the valley opened out into a small flat, in one corner of which stood an old weather-beaten cottage. A Maori hut and a pataka, or native larder, stood near it. At the back was a plot of cultivated land, devoted almost entirely to potatoes and Indian corn. Pigs, and fowls, and ducks, and a few geese wandered about, even in and out of the dwelling. The sound of the approaching buggy aroused the dogs of the establishment, and, leaping the low gate, they rushed for the vehicle, snapping, snarling, and yelping. Jake cursed and swore at them, and slashed at them with his whip.

The barking brought a dirty, untidy-looking Maori woman to the door of the cottage. She paused for a moment and then, recognising her husband, she squatted down by the wall of the building, uttering loud wails of welcome.

"There's yer mother," said Jake. "She's expecting ye. That d——d noise is for you. You're a Maori to 'er and don't ye forget it."

It was an unnecessary remark, and the tone, not less than the meaning, made the girl wince. She said nothing, but, amidst the old woman's cries, she jumped lightly out of the buggy and approached her. She placed her hand in Ka's. It was caught as in a vice, and the girl felt herself drawn down until, forced to stoop, her face was brought nearer to that of the Maori. She knew what was expected of her, and she gently pressed her nose against the soft, greasy one of the old woman. It was not possible to withdraw it, and, concealing her disgust, she submitted. Once, twice, and even a third time did Ka repeat the operation, weeping and snuffling, and holding Ngaia in the strange, unsavoury attitude three or four minutes at a time.

Thus mother and daughter met.

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By the time the old lady's welcome was over, Ngaia's two brothers and two sisters had appeared upon the scene, and were also constrained, by pressing noses, to show their pleasure at her arrival.

The two boys were about fourteen and sixteen years old respectively. One of them was inclined to be good-looking, but both of them were dirty and ill-dressed. Their clothes were torn and smelly. The younger one had on a pair of old indiarubber tennis shoes; the other was barefooted.

The greetings over, the whole family adjourned into the hut, with the exception of Punch, the younger boy, who was unharnessing the pony. The cottage was a degree better in its construction than the average Maori whare and perhaps a degree dirtier. It could boast a boarded floor and a partition unplaned and un-papered dividing it into two unequal divisions. The larger was the kitchen, dining-room, and drawing-room; the smaller was the sleeping apartment of Jake and his wife. In it stood some new furniture consisting of a bed and some bedding, a chest of drawers, a washhand-stand, and some chairs. John had sent them for Ngaia, and Jake had appropriated them, at any rate until the new room which John had ordered to be built at once for Ngaia's use was completed.

At the back, butting up against the wall of the cottage, was a small "lean-to," containing two rooms. One was used by the two boys, the other served as a bedroom for the two girls. Ngaia, until her room was finished, had also to sleep there, sharing with the Maories a bed that consisted of an old double mattress stretched on the floor with a few not over-clean blankets. There was no furniture in the room, only a battered tin basin and a broken chair. A piece of looking-glass lay on the floor beside an ancient guttered candlestick. A couple of smelly pipes and a new pair of gaudy patent leather Oxford shoes, much mud-page 129stained, kept the candlestick close company. There was no window, and no communication between the shed and the cottage. On the walls, from sundry nails, hung some dirty cotton skirts and a mixed collection of female frippery.

"Is this where you sleep?" asked Ngaia when the two girls showed her the apartment on the afternoon of her arrival.

"Yes," answered Waina, the elder, "this our room. This where you sleep. You, me, Airini. What you tink?"

"It's—not very big, is it? And oh!" she added to herself, "how dirty it is!"

She sat down on the broken chair and took off her hat.

Airini picked it up and tried it on.

"How much that dress?" asked Waina.

Ngaia told the girl, who examined the stuff of the skirt, and then proceeded to inspect the embroidery of her petticoat.

By this time Punch and Tamati had arrived, and had unconcernedly entered their sisters' bedroom. The latter installed himself on the mattress and proceeded to light his pipe and smoke and spit.

These five made a strange group. The brilliant but soiled cotton skirts of the girls, the worn, dusty and mud-stained clothes of the boys, the rough, ill-kept, squalid room all contrasted curiously with the smartly-dressed, stylish-looking young lady. Who could possibly have believed them to be brothers and sisters?

It may be readily imagined that Ngaia was an object of intense curiosity and even amusement to her sisters. They perhaps rather despised her for having forgotten Maori and for her European ways and manners, though they envied her her smart clothing. They were astonished at her virtue and they laughed immensely at her innocence.

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A Maori has very little regard for dates, and consequently no Maori is very sure of his or her age. Waina was about a year younger than Ngaia, and Airini a twelvemonth younger than Waina. They were both typical half-castes of the lower class, lazy and fat They were emphatically dirty, not as to their underclothes, for a Maori woman is particular in this respect, but in their ways and manners and habits. They possessed few of the virtues of true Maories and practically all their vices. They were not calculated to be congenial companions to the new comer. They and Ngaia had, in fact, absolutely nothing in common —except Ngaia's clothes. They opened her box and ransacked it, coolly taking such things as pleased them. To her dismay Ngaia saw her pretty dainty clothes stretched on the corpulent, ungainly figures of her sisters and soiled and spoilt. She endeavoured to prevent it. For a time she kept her box locked. But it was useless. They broke it open and abused her for her selfishness. She appealed to her father.

"Why the——shouldn't you let 'em'ave the things? Ain't they yer sisters? 'Aven't ye 'ad enough good things that ye can't let them 'ave a taste of 'em? Besides, what d'ye want with all them fal-lals and finery? It ain't no use ye dressing as a lady. 'Cause why? 'Cause ye ain't one."

Then she yielded, and bartering her trinkets effected a compromise with her sisters by which she retained for herself such clothes as enabled her to dress decently and neatly. It meant a great deal for her. Dirty, untidy clothes will gradually sap the self-respect of a gently-nurtured girl. They shock, they revolt.

Ngaia grew to like Ka. The Maori could scarcely speak a word of English, and it was only very slowly that the girl picked up Maori. But the old woman more than once stood between Ngaia and the ungovernable temper of the stockman. Not but what page 131Jake discovered that the girl possessed some spirit, if too hardly pressed.

One wet evening, ten days or so after Ngaia's arrival, this fact was revealed to him. He happened to have returned home more than usually out of temper. He cursed at the dogs; and swore and blasphemed at the boys for not being there to take his horse.

"'Ere you, Ngaia, come and put this 'orse away.

Turn 'im out into the small paddock. What? D——yer eyes, ye don't think I'm going to stand 'ere whilst ye're putting on yer boots? A bit of mud'll do yer shoes good. 'Ere yer are, take the reins and lead the mare down; and put that slasher into the shed. Never mind yer dress," he added, as she gathered up her skirt and petticoat to keep them out of the mud and dirt of the yard. "By 'eavens, I'll 'ave them dresses of yours cut short like any other Maori woman's. What's good enough for yer mother is good enough for you,"

Presently she returned. Ka had taken the horse from her and sent her back.

"Well, ye 'aven't been long putting the mare away. I'll be bound ye ain't done as I told ye." "Mother is seeing to it," answered Ngaia, walking across the room and sitting down on an old candle-box near the fire in an attitude of weary, hopeless abandon. She was growing to hate the man.

His harsh voice aroused her from her thoughts.

"Ain't ye a-going to say good evening to yer father after he's been out all day, and kiss 'im?"

His question remained unanswered. He repeated it.

Ngaia turned her face slightly towards him, and said, "Good evening."

Jake, who had sat down on a stool on the opposite side of the fire, was not satisfied.

"Come and kiss me,"

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Ngaia remained motionless. She was, in truth, in an agony of fear. To kiss or to be kissed by him was absolutely revolting. To refuse was to anger him. That was almost the worse of two evils.

Unfortunately, however, she had aroused the devil in him.

"Ye won't, won't ye?" he thundered, and he strode across to where the girl was sitting. She half rose, and found herself locked in his vile embrace.

"Ye won't kiss yer father, won't ye? Then 'e'll kiss you."

Grasping her round the waist with one arm, and holding back her head with his free hand, he bent down and pressed his greasy, tobacco-smelling, bearded mouth to her lips and kissed her. Time after time he did it, smothering her cries in his caresses.

Suddenly he stumbled, and for an instant his hold loosened. Ngaia wrenched herself free, and, panting and dishevelled, stood at the other end of the room, with the table between her and the brute she was forced to believe was her father.

"What do you mean by it? What do you mean by it, you cruel, horrid wretch? Because I'm your child you've no right to kiss me like that; no right, you know you haven't! You're never to touch me again, never. I don't care if you are my father. It's your own fault, it's because—because—oh, I hate you, I hate you. And if ever it happens again, I'll—I'll tell Mr. Anderson. Ah, you're frightened now. You're a coward, a horrid coward; and it's only because I'm a girl and your daughter, and because you think I can't help myself, that you do it You remember it; I'll tell Mr, Anderson. You can kill me if you like, and then I couldn't tell. You wouldn't do that, because it would be like being kind to me. You're never to kiss me again, as long as you live, or I'll do what I say," she added, and she left the crestfallen, sobered Jake to himself.

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"By 'eavens, if she did!" he muttered. "I never thought as she 'ad it in 'er to go on like that. Only I'm a fool, a —— fool. She oughtn't to be so pretty, with 'er fine lady airs. I ain't used to it, I ain't. She ain't a-going to say anythink this time; only if I does it again. I misdoubt it, but I sha'n't give 'er no cause. I ain't anxshus to chuck a gold mine after all these years' waiting. But I'll take it out of 'er I I'll show 'er who's father and who's boss of this 'ere place. There's other ways, I reckon. I 'ated 'er from the time I first set eyes on 'er. I 'ate 'er, too, 'cause I 'ate 'im. By 'eavens, I'll take it out of 'er I By ——I" he muttered as he punched the table in his temper, "I'll take it out of 'er!"

And he did.