A Maori Maid
Ngaia found that her threat of speaking to Mr. Anderson had been in one respect a fortunate one. There was no more kissing and caressing. Harshness and ill-temper took their place. She found no fault with the alteration. Jake's hate was more bearable than bis affection. She rejoiced the more, too, because her threat was, in reality, a perfectly empty one. She would have suffered to any extent rather than have sought protection from her father at Mr. Anderson's hands.
"He has been kind to me beyond all measure," she argued with herself. "He educated me, and when the time came, he gave me back to my father. That was what I always wanted, what I asked him to do. How could I go to him now and ask him to take me away again? Besides, his letter said that my father had a right to take me and to keep me. I've got my home, and my father and mother, and I must make the best of it all."
Hence John Anderson never suspected the life bis child was forced to lead. Jake lied unhesitatingly when he protested his kindness to the girl. Ngaia lied from an idea that she had no manner of right to complain of her own father, even to so good a friend as Mr. Anderson. She faced unflinchingly what seemed to be her duty; and that duty very rapidly resolved itself into being the drudge of the house.
"Ye can't dig like yer sisters, and there ain't no page 135visitors to receive and to show off yer toff dresses to, so ye can just clean up the 'ouse and keep it clean," said Jake. "And ye can wait on us, and we'll live like toffs. He, he!"
It was truly a Herculean task, and much after the labour of the Augean stables. The cottage was filthy. The more Ngaia attempted to clean it, the more she realised its dirt. The flooring-boards were rough, and had gathered the mess of years. Grease and mud had been grimed to an immovable coating. Every day brought its fresh contribution of filth. The girls and the boys, and even Ka, tramped in and out, utterly regardless of the mud about their feet. At meals the dogs entered unchecked. Pieces of greasy meat were flung on to the floor to them, over which they snarled and growled and occasionally fought. Despite her efforts, the fowls, from long habit, and even the pigs, came in and went out at their own sweet will. Ka seemed to appreciate her efforts, and often helped her. An hour later the old woman would herself litter the floor with grease and dirt
Jake saw and appreciated Ngaia's work, but it was from his own selfish sense of comfort, without any thought of gratitude. He never pleased to be pleased. Yet, nevertheless, finding her willing and useful, he overworked her. He soon showed, too, that he had no intention of letting her go back to Napier.
"You've 'ad enough schoolin', not to say a darned sight too much. Ye can just stop where ye are. There ain't no place like We, more especially for' a young gal with a figure and a face like you've got," and he chuckled at the deep flush that his coarse words and still coarser look brought to her cheeks.
She made no effort to dispute his determination. On the contrary, it was what she herself would have proposed. She had been nearly four weeks a member of Jake's family. Gradually she had confirmed in her page 136mind the difficulty if not impossibility which she had already felt of returning to Miss Spence's seminary. The knowledge of her new-found parentage, and her future, all rendered life at the school hard and useless. She had been a young lady once, now she—was not. She was Jake's daughter; a shepherd's daughter—and such a shepherd! A wide gulf yawned between the days before and the days since her meeting with her father. She realised that.
By way of compensation for the disappointment of her resolve she tried to fancy that she was slowly growing accustomed to her uncongenial surroundings. She strove to fortify herself with the thought—a mad dreaming—that the horror and the darkness of the abyss into which she had fallen would lessen.
Lying awake on the dingy mattress with her snoring sisters on either side of her, Ngaia chased her future and chased, as it seemed, in vain. She could never even catch a glimpse of it. She could only discern a faint, shadowy outline lost in the depth of hopeless misery. She was dropping, dropping down the ladder of life. She might clutch with frantic despair at every possibility—but to no purpose. She had once had bright, sweet hopes. From time to time, at entertainments and at occasional parties, given by the parents of one or other of her schoolmates, she had talked and laughed with gentlemen, some but a little and some a great deal older than she was. Her programme had always been quickly filled. Her beauty attracted men; the charm of her manner held them fast A girl who can look well, and dance well, and talk well, has a great start amongst women in life's handicap. Ngaia, unlike her unfortunate society sisters, had not been taught to regard marriage as the first law of womanhood. At the same time, she was woman enough to regard it as a more than possible phase in her future. And what more natural than that the young girl should picture page 137to herself the lover who—an educated and refined gentleman—would one day give her a home of her own, full of happiness and love and comfort, just as other ladies had? Truly, what could have been more natural —in those days? Now, peered at from out the low, squalid surroundings of Jake's hut, from out the contamination of her parentage and origin, what could be more miserable, more hopeless, more awful than her future?
From that dingy mattress, tuning to the snorts of the sleeping Maori Women, a soft, broken cry of agony floated up. Not moving to her knees lest she aroused her sisters, the girl clasped her hands and prayed, piteously, fervently, beseechingly to the Lord her God. And praying, the angel Sleep kissed down the burning eyelids and wiped the gathering tears away. She was in the Land of Peace and Dreams until, in the grey dawn, the Maori girls awoke, and, chattering, roused her.
"The boss is likely to be at the station to-day. I'll tell 'im you've no intention of going back to that 'ere school; eh? May be 'e'll ask ye. What'U ye tell 'im?" Jake inquired, as she gave him his breakfast.
"I'll stay," she answered. "Only," she added, "you must not make it too hard for me, not at first, not till I'm stronger; because I—I——"
"What?" asked Jake with a sneer. "Because what? Because you wouldn't stop? Because you'd run away?"
"Run away! Where could I go to? But——"
"Yes," he said. "He, he! I was wondering if you'd thought about where you'd get to, if ye cleared out. I reckon I knows what ye'd get to; and it wouldn't be no credit to the family. If you want to find a real bad 'un amongst women, you've only got to get a edicated one. Them fine clothes is edication; but fine clothes ain't morals. It's 'cause they ain't moral page 38that yer fine lady wears 'em. You take the straight tip from me, and don't you go thinking about runnin' away. You'd find you'd gone from 'eaven to 'ell like a new chum from a buck-jumper."
Ngaia drew herself up and looked at Jake.
"I don't quite understand what you mean, but I know you're bad enough to think something horrible. I suppose you can't help it."
"What do ye mean?" asked Jake, turning fiercely on her. "Ye suppose I can't 'elp it, do ye? My fine lady's a-coming out in a new light! Ye think to 'ave the laugh over me 'cause I ain't 'ad the schoolin' you've 'ad! No, I 'aven' 'ad it; I 'aven't had no charity schoolin'; charity, d'ye 'ear, charity! By 'eavens, though you are taller 'an me, I'll give ye a 'iding if I 'ave any of yer cheek; the realest, darndest 'iding ye've ever 'ad, or are likely to 'ave! I'll spoil that pretty face. And then," he added, "ye can 'ave yer fine dresses. Anyway, I ain't a-going to 'ave any of them grand airs."
Ngaia turned away without answering him.
"Why the—don't ye answer me?" he cried.
She still made no effort to reply. He stepped forward and grasped her arm.
"D'ye 'ear me? Ye've got to work; work and earn yer tucker."
She turned on him quickly.
"Work! I know I must work; it's not likely I could forget it! I'm willing to work; that's all that there is left for me to do now. But—"
"But what?" interrupted Jake.
"I—I am not quite as strong as Waina or Airini, and—and I do try to work at the house; but it will kill me to do as I have been doing. I almost wish it would!" she added bitterly.
"Bosh! You've loafed all your life. You're a gal what's edicated above yerself. Ye've thought your-page 139self a fine lady what was going to cut a devil of a dash one day, and marry some swagger young cove, instead of being a shepherd's gal. You were mistook. That's all. Now you've got to work, until some of the station chaps takes you off my 'ands. And you'll be d—d lucky if you get one of them. Or it may be some Maori. Some of 'em are asking about ye already." And he walked off chuckling at the look of horror on the girl's face.
"Hakopa can 'ave 'er ter-morrer if he likes; though she is useful in the 'ouse. I'd lose the money for 'er keep perhaps; but it would be worth it; by 'eavens it would! Fancy 'er the wife of a Maori! That'd knock the swell airs out of 'er. That'd be a bit of a pill for you, too, Mr. Anderson, I reckon. Ye'd like to 'ear that yer own flesh and blood 'ad married a Maori with a lot of Maori brats soon sprawling about 'er. By 'eavens, I'll make 'er marry one on 'em if I can. It'd kill 'im, d— 'im!"
Half an hour later Jake had met John.
"How's Ngaia?" he asked.
"She's fust rate, sir. She ain't a-going back to 'er schoolin'."
"Eh! what?" said John. "Not going back! Why not?"
"'Cause she likes 'er 'orae best, I suppose."
"Umph! I'll see her myself. She's not to arrange anything until I see her. Do you understand? I'll see her to-day."
"Which means as 'ow ye don't believe me," muttered Jake.
"It means that I intend to hear her resolution from her own lips," answered John shortly. "I suppose she is down at the cottage?"
"She was when I left."
"Well, tell her I want to see her, and to come across to my office."page 140
"Yes, sir," said Jake, and the moment John had left him he proceeded to despatch Punch with a message to Ngaia to bring up a billy of tea for him, and that Mr. Anderson wanted to see her.
"It's jist as well that 'e didn't go poking 'is nose down at 'ome. She'll rig 'erself out now she knows 'e wants to see 'er."
To a certain extent he was right Ngaia had seen very little of John during the time she had been at Te Henga. He had asked her how she was getting on in her home, and she had studiously refrained from enlightening him as to her true position.
"Why should I?" she had asked herself over and over again. "He can't help me. I have no right to expect it. Jake is my father and Mr. Anderson himself gave me over to him."
None the less, the message of his wishing to see her was the brightest gleam of pleasure that she had seen for weeks. She brushed her dress, and coiled her hair afresh, and altogether looked more like the Ngaia of old than she had done since she stepped from off the coach on the day of her arrival. She carried up the billy of tea and gave it to her father.
"Mr. Anderson wants to see ye. It's about ye not going back to Napier. What are ye going to say to 'im?"
"I don't know what it is he wishes to ask me." "He don't believe as ye really wants to stay up 'ere."
"I shall tell him just what I told you; that I would rather stay here, now I am here."
"Yes, but 'e'll want to know 'ow ye like the life up 'ere. What are ye going to say to that, eh?"
"Oh, I see, you're frightened I might tell him the whole truth, and that he might not approve of the way you have behaved to me. You needn't be afraid. I'll not say anything. Though it's not because I like you that I don't. It's because it could do no good.page 141
Only you mustn't think you can do just what you like and treat me as—as you did before. I'd tell him then, because I'm sure you could be punished. You distinctly understand that?"
Jake made no answer. So long as the girl said nothing to John, he did not care. Not but what he made mental note of her threat, and he determined that she should pay for it,
"The boss is over in the office; down there by the far end of the wool shed."
Ngaia walked to the little cottage where John kept his books and did his writing. The door was shut. She knocked.
"Come in," cried the well-known voice, and she entered.
"Ngaia!" he said, springing from his chair and taking her hand.
"You wanted to see me?"
"Wanted to see you! Why, of course I did, Ngaia. I always do. You don't come over to have a talk with me half as often as you ought, and I—I—well, it doesn't do to go too often to—to Jake's cottage. How have, you been getting on? Come, sit down and tell me. No, no; this chair," he said, pointing to the comfortable cushioned chair at his desk, "Take the place of honour, Ngaia; just as if you were the mistress of the whole establishment. You know it's not often these uncomfortable quarters are honoured with a lady's presence."
He was too lost in the delight of seeing and talking to her to notice the look of pain that his last words brought to her face. A "lady's" presence! She a lady! It was like a fragment of her other life dropped suddenly in front of her. She almost burst into tears, and dared not speak to refuse the better chair for the one he took.
"Ngaia," said John, leaning across the desk and page 142looking at her intently, "Jake has told me that you wish to remain up here instead of returning to Miss Spence. Is that so?"
She was silent for a moment, and then she raised her eyes so that they met his.
"Yes, I would rather stay here now."
"What do you mean by ' now,' Ngaia?"
"I think," she answered slowly, "that it would be better for me to stay."
"It's scarcely an answer, scarcely an answer."
Ngaia remained silent.
"Are you happy, Ngaia? You can't be! You can't be in such a home, and after what you have been used to. And it seems as though it were my fault. Yes, yes! It must seem so. It does. Yet I couldn't help what happened, Ngaia; indeed, I could not. Does Jake treat you well?"
"He is my father."
"Your father! Yes, yes, of course. But is he kind to you? Does he try to make you happy? I have a right to know, Ngaia, after all I've done for you and for him. He's rough and uncouth, but he has promised always to treat you more than well, because I—I have always looked after you especially. You're almost my property, you know, almost my property. Tell me, how do you get on in your home?"
"I have no right to complain about my own father, Mr. Anderson; and, besides, he doesn't mean to be unkind to me. He isn't. If I'm not very happy it is my own fault. It's all so different and so strange. In a little while I shall have grown accustomed to it. I have no right to be at school when my father and mother and brothers and sisters are not rich and are working. Their life ought to be mine."
"You are staying because you think it is your duty to your—to Jake? Ngaia, your duty does not go that far. Believe me, it does not!"page 143
"I don't think you quite believe that, Mr. Anderson. Surely I should be the same as my parents. Besides, I have no right to be at school and pretend that I am a lady, and all the while I'm a—I'm poor, and—and not a lady."
"But it's true. It was all different before. I understand now why you told me not to try and find out about my father. You remember when we drove that afternoon? I ought to have trusted you, but I didn't I prayed that my father might come to me. God must have heard my prayer, and my father came. I have no right now to desert him. God made me what I am, and I must stay in my home; indeed I must, Mr. Anderson."
A deep silence fell upon them. John had risen and stood by the little window, apparently looking out over the view. Little of it he saw through the mist of tears across his eyes.
He heard the rustle of her dress and felt her hand upon his arm.
"Oh, Mr. Anderson, I've caused you pain by something I've said. I seem always to bring you pain when I would, if it lay in my power, work all my life to make you happy. You have been so good to me. But I'm right to stay, Mr. Anderson, I'm sure I am. I'm not very, very happy; not yet. But neither could I be at school, because everything has changed. I've changed, perhaps. I feel I must have, and ladies would not like me to be with their daughters if they knew. I almost realised that before I left. Besides," she added, as though to turn the discussion into a lighter vein, "I know quite enough for a girl. I'm really very learned, and you wouldn't want me to become a blue-stocking."
"Ngaia," said John, turning suddenly to her, "would you like to travel? Anywhere over the world you page 144may wish to go. I'll arrange for some lady to go with you; and you may choose your own journey—England, Europe, America, through any one of them you please, or all of them."
Ngaia shook her head.
"Isn't it just the same as the other? Why should I do all that when my father would wish me here, and my home is here? Besides, it would come to an end and the coming home would———"
"But you'd enjoy it, Ngaia; you could stay as long as you liked; and when you came home it might all be different—or you might never come home. You might live abroad or—marry."
Ngaia shook her head again.
"I would like to go. No one could understand how much. But that doesn't alter it. No, no, Mr. Anderson, don't tempt me, please not."
"Suppose Jake gives his consent?"
She looked up at him, and he could see that she was hesitating.
"Come," he said.
"If he consented, perhaps. Oh, but he wouldn't."
"I'll see him; I'll ask him."
"No, no, let me ask him."
"We shall both ask him," said John, and he called a boy working near by and told him to send Jake Carlyle quickly to the cottage.
Jake came, and stood in the centre of the room, twirling his old wide-awake.
"Jake," said John, "Ngaia has told me about her leaving the school. She's right, perhaps; she's been there long enough. Now I've offered her a trip round the world. I'll arrange for some lady to go with her. She wants your consent. You agree, of course?"
Jake was silent, and John, expectant of an immediate consent, knitted his brows. Ngaia's heart was beating with excitement. Surely he would consent; surely page 145he could not be so cruel as to refuse. Yet she felt no regret at having left the decision to him. She watched him piteously, anxiously.
"Come, come," exclaimed John sharply.
"Ye asks me if I agrees?"
"Yes, yes, and—"
"Well, I ain't agreeable for 'er goin'," said Jake sulkily.
"Eh, what! Why not?"
"'Cause she ought to be at 'ome, and not agallavanting round the world. Ain't 'er 'ome good enough for 'er?"
John strode up to Jake's side.
"Do you mean that you refuse to allow Ngaia to go? I tell you I wish it; I wish it. No, no, Ngaia, I'll have my own way in this! Sit down; sit down, I say."
"Ye asks me if I consent and I says 'No.' I says it agin. If she goes, it ain't with ray leave. It ain't no good losing yer temper. If ye didn't want me to say ' No' ye shouldn't 'ave asked me."
"You selfish, ill-conditioned—"
"No, no, Mr. Anderson. Don't say things like that; not with me here! It wouldn't alter it. It wouldn't alter it! Father doesn't want me to go, and I—I will stay. Please don't ask me any more—"
"Go out of here! said John to Jake, interrupting Ngaia.
The sullen, ugly-looking wretch slunk off.
"Ngaia," continued John, "you are not to refuse my offer. I want you to go; I tell you to. Surely you won't refuse me I It's the first favour I have ever asked of you. If it's only for the sake of gratitude, though I hate to put it in that light, do as I ask!"
Ngaia shook her head. She had no strength at that moment to speak.
"Ngaia," continued John, going up to her and page 146clasping her hand, "please give in this once to me. See, I beseech you to ignore his refusal. For the sake of all I have done for you, I ask you to leave this man!"
"Mr. Anderson, he is my father! You can forget that; I can't. He wants me to stay, and what right have I to disobey him? Oh, Mr. Anderson, have mercy on me; don't tempt me. I'm not strong enough to resist long. I would so dearly like to go, and I would like to please you. I'm not ungrateful; indeed, indeed, I'm not. I hate to pain you, and I always do. Mr. Anderson, let me go; let me say good-bye, and please try and think well of me. It hurts me to disobey you, more than I can ever tell you. You've been so kind to me, without any reason for it, and I seem only to be ungrateful and thankless. You've done everything you could for me and now I must merely live as I have been meant to live. I'll never forget your goodness to me, though it's my misfortune to seem as though I do. And—and I think it would be better, it would be really kinder—to me—now—to put me out of your mind, and leave me to my life. I'll grow to like it perhaps. Good-bye, Mr. Anderson, please, good-bye," she said.
She stooped over his hand and gently pressed it to her lips and then stole quickly from the room.
John followed her with his eyes as she passed out through the door, and from the window he saw her walk slowly away, her face hidden in her hands, weeping sorely. His love and distress for the moment overpowered him, and he staggered to the doorway and would have called her back. Before the cry could frame itself upon his lips he remembered.
Like a blind man he groped his way to his chair and, flinging his arms upon the desk, he bent forward and wept.