Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

A Maori Maid

Chapter XXII

page 174

Chapter XXII.

Archie rode slowly back to the Quarters. His afternoon's experience had been a strange surprise, and he seemed to see the sweet face of the young girl floating in every shadow and to catch the low music of her voice even in the soft footfall of the horse cantering along the grass.

She was an enigma and one that interested and fascinated him. It seemed well-nigh incredible that she could be Jake's daughter. In appearance she was without any marked characteristic of her Maori blood. No one but would have taken her for an English girl, and beyond all shadow of doubt a refined and educated lady.

Her manners and tiny mannerisms had charmed him. She had a habit of dropping her voice to a whisper and almost completing her sentence by the smile on her face and the glance of her brown eyes. She stepped lightly in dainty shyness of obtruding herself, and yet withal she was frank and fearless and open.

Archie unsaddled his horse and turned it into the home paddock, and then walked across to the Quarters.

The room was empty and he dropped into an armchair and commenced to smoke heavily as men will when they are thinking new thoughts or solving some quaint riddle. Suddenly he started up, and passing into his room he began a careful selection of his books. He had satisfied himself as to the preference of some three or four by the time his companions had arrived.

page 175

"Hullo, Archie, arc you in there?" called Jack.

"Yes," said Archie, coming out of his bedroom with a vague feeling that he had no wish for either of the two young fellows to question him on the task he had just completed.

"Been over to Wainui?" asked Jack, seating himself on the edge of the table.

"Yes, the country looks pretty well—a bit dry."

"Back long?"

"No—a quarter of an hour or so."

"That culvert over by No. 16 wants patching up a bit, doesn't it?"

"I didn't come that way; I came up the gully."

"By Jake's! Oh, I see—well?"


"You saw her?"

"You mean Miss—er—Jake's daughter?"

"Urn, well, not exactly Miss—Jake's daughter, old fellow, but Jake's girl."

"Yes, I saw her."

"Isn't she a ripper?"

"She's very pretty."

"Nothing more?"

Archie was silent for a moment. Arthur was busy twisting the frayed end of his flax cracker. The heavy butt of the stock-whip slid slowly to the ground with a thud.

"Look here, you fellows, I know what you mean, but—she's not that sort."

"Oh!" said Jack from his seat on the corner of the table, where he sat swinging his foot and lightly digging the leg with his spurred heel.

Archie was standing in front of the empty fireplace cutting up some tobacco slowly and thoughtfully. Something in his voice, something in his manner seemed to have surprised his two companions.

There was a silence. Archie glanced up and he page 176and Jack found themselves looking into each other's eyes.

"I don't understand," said the latter.

"Nor I," answered Archie.

"How do you mean?" chimed in Arthur, glancing up from his task.

"Have you ever spoken to the girl, either of you two fellows?" asked Archie.

"I haven't," answered Arthur.

"Nor I; I saw her the other day for the first time," said Jack. "Wherefore question us thus, dear boy? We made her a present to you, weeks ago."

"She's not what I thought she was; she is not what you think she is. She's a lady, as much a lady as the sister of any one of us three might be. What I can't understand is how on earth she can be Jake's daughter."

"She's been educated."

"So have other half-castes; and—I don't believe she is a half-caste."

"She's pretty," said Jack; "perhaps she's the one pretty half-caste you've been looking for."

"It strikes me very forcibly," said Arthur from his seat on the arm of the big chair, "that my dear friend here is either going to add one more scalp to his belt or lose his own. Oh, I understand, Archie, old chap. There's nothing wrong in what I mean—a mere flirtation; but I'm not ass enough to be blind to the fact that a shepherd's daughter, who is an educated lady and a lovely and virtuous girl into the bargain, is a dangerous acquaintance. You're not blackguard enough for her to be in danger; but you're not strong enough to be out of it yourself."

"Fall in love with a daughter of Jake Carlyle!"

"No, dear boy, but fall in love with a devilish pretty girl. The Jake Carlyle's daughter element will diminish as the—well—regard increases."

page 177



"Well, I'm able to look after myself. I'll take the risk anyhow. I'm going to be friends with the girl; she's lonely. But I want you chaps to understand that —that she's not to be talked of as we talked about her the other night, that's all."

"All right, Archie," said Jack, jumping from the table, "as you will. Miss Carlyle's name is henceforth enrolled on the scroll of other men's sisters."

When Archie left the stockyard on the following morning he had four books strapped to the front of his saddle. "They'll be a godsend to her," he reflected. "Poor little woman, she must be having a horrible time of it down in that cottage with Jake for her—ugh 1 Fancy such a father and such a child!"

It was barely three o'clock when, returning from the scene of his morning's work, he drew up at Jake's cottage. He unstrapped his parcel and walked up to the door. Ngaia, secretly alert throughout the day for the promised visitor, met him. She was shy and painfully conscious of it. It delighted him.

She was looking charmingly beautiful. Her blouse, fresh from recent washing and ironing, was spotless. Her skirt, if stained here and there by reason of her daily toiling, was a relic of Napier, and fitted and set to perfection. In her leather belt was a small bunch of wild flowers.

The neatness and nicety of her simple attire only sharpened the contrast between her and her surroundings. She might have been a princess doing penance in a pigsty, or indulging in the caprice of temporary self-effacement. It was, indeed, wonderful, that she managed to dress herself so becomingly, when her father stole most of, if not all, Mr. Anderson's allowance to her, and her sisters periodically raided her boxes. Her height and slim, beautiful figure were in this page 178respect her salvation; they precluded Waina or Airini from wearing many of her clothes.

As she stood in the doorway the sunlight weaved ripples of gold through her hair just as it might over the shimmering sea. Her cheeks, of perfect complexion, with just the soft warmth that toned the whiteness of a fair English girl to the richness of a more Southern type, were conscious of a flush that betokened her pleasure at Archie's arrival.

He raised his hat and shook hands.

"I've brought some books."

"Have you, really! How good of you! It—oh, I am so grateful," the girl exclaimed, her eyes almost swimming in tears. "Won't you come in—or perhaps you haven't time?"

"Heaps of time. Let me open them for you."

"No, no, I will. Indeed, yes; please let me."

Ngaia untied the parcel and glanced at the titles.

"I haven't read one of them. Now I'll put them away whilst I get you some tea. I'll take the greatest possible care of them."

"Oh, you needn't worry about that, Miss Carlyle; you are welcome to keep them as long as ever you like."

"Thank you very much," said Ngaia, picking up the books. She turned to place them in the cupboard and half turned back again. Her cheeks were aflush and it seemed as though some further remark was in her mind to be spoken. It remained unsaid, for she walked across the room and placed the books in a corner of the cupboard.

A few small logs were burning on the hearth and over them a kettle was quietly simmering. A blow or two from the bellows kindled a flame, and in a few minutes the water was boiling and Ngaia had made the tea. She filled Jake's cup for Archie, keeping a mug for herself. He protested.

page 179

"You're to take the cup and saucer," he insisted, as she handed them to him.

"No, no."

"But I say yes."

The girl put down the cup and took a sip from the mug exactly as he had done on the previous afternoon.

"Now there can be no question," she said, glancing shyly across to him.

Archie reached over and quietly took the mug.

"Exactly; no question," he said, sipping the tea. "The cup and saucer are for you, Miss Carlyle, the mug's for me."

"You're a visitor and—"

"You're a lady and I'm a man and the mug's mine. The cup and saucer are for you in future. You agree?"

She looked across at him with a smile.

"And if I refuse?"

"Well, I shan't play. I shan't take tea."

"That would only be punishing yourself, would it not?"

"Would it?" he asked with an air of earnestness.

"Yes. At any rate I choose to say so," she answered quietly.

"Perhaps it would; but—well, a man must sacrifice himself sometimes to—er—instruct the weaker sex."

"Indeed," she said laughingly.

"Of course; don't you think so?"

"I don't know, I don't fancy they ever do."

"Well, they ought to, unless it is that they have more to learn from than they can possibly teach women. But really, joking apart, why shouldn't you take the cup and saucer?"

"It's—it's my father's."

"You mean he wouldn't let you use it?"

Ngaia nodded an affirmative.

"We'll both use mugs in future."

page 180

"He'd be angry if he thought I had allowed you to do that."

"Then I'll use the cup and saucer."

"Thank you and—and, Mr. Deverell, I—er—you mustn't call me ' Miss Carlyle.' I'm 'Ngaia' up here. Oh, please understand it's not what I want, but—"

"Your father?"



"There is no 'but.' There mustn't be. My sisters are called by their Christian names and there is no reason why there should be any difference."

"No reason! Why, good gracious me, you're—"

"Have some more tea, Mr. Deverell," said the girl, drawing his cup across.

Archie flushed.

"I beg your pardon; I'm very sorry."

"No, no, you have nothing to be sorry about. In a sense I understand what you feel. I would have been 'Miss Carlyle' to you before I came here. Now—it's different. But it needn't matter. Every one calls me 'Ngaia.'"

"Yes; only—"

"It must be," said Ngaia, handing him back his cup and saucer. She rose from the table and stood by the fireplace absently playing with her foot amongst the grey ashes on the edge of the hearth. Her face was hidden from Archie, but he saw and noted her beautifully arched instep and neat ankle. Her whole individuality and, more probably, the strangeness of such a girl in such surroundings were fascinating him and drawing him towards her.

"Oh yes, it must be," she repeated, "you understand. It's not possible to explain. I would rather be 'Miss Carlyle' but—it's out of the question, and—and out of place."

"1 understand," he said gently. "I think I under-page 181stand just exactly how you feel, and I will help. 'Ngaia' is not more out of place than you yourself are."

"Sh-sh! It's my home," she said softly,

"But not the home you were taught to expect."

She was silent for a minute.

"It's obvious," he said.

She lifted her head and drew a deep breath.

"Is it? Yes, I suppose so. How can I help it? It's— Oh no, no, Mr. Deverell, you mustn't encourage me to speak like this. If it's obvious that I'm out of my proper element, it's wrong; for—-a girl's home cannot be anything but her fit and proper place."

"It may depend. Let's be candid. You're a lady, and—"

"Sh-sh! Have you been long with Mr. Anderson? Let's talk like that. It's better talk than—than things, impossible things."

The young fellow made no answer to her question.

"Will you let me come and see you often, Ngaia?" he said presently. He was sitting bending slightly forward with his elbows on his knees. The girl, half turned from him with one hand shading her eyes, the other hanging listlessly at her side, was leaning against the rough mantelpiece.

"Will you?" he repeated.

Ngaia suddenly faced him. Her hands were behind her back, her fingers—though he could not see it— were lacing and interlacing in her extreme nervousness.

"I want you to understand, Mr. Deverell; I want you to really understand. It's four months ago now since I came up here from school. I—I didn't know who my father was through all the years I was being educated, I was brought up as though my life was to be one such as my schoolmates had before them. It —it was a disappointment when all that came to an end—in this. It ought not to have been. It was page 182unnatural, perhaps, and yet it was inevitable; My surroundings are uncongenial. My tastes, my inclinations, my habits are different from those of my parents or my brothers and sisters. I can't help feeling that, though I've no right to give way to such a feeling. My life lies here and—and I must reconcile myself to it. I must adapt myself to it. It probably sounds as though I were preaching you a sermon, but cannot you see what I mean?"

Archie made no answer for the moment. His eyes were on the floor, whilst his mind was endeavouring to be persuaded that his duty and his inclination ran in identical lines.

"I may become unwelcome," he said at length. "You mean that?" he asked as she remained silent.

"Unwelcome! Oh, you have misunderstood me."

Archie rose to his feet.

"No I haven't, Ngaia. I shall not be unwelcome. I know you didn't mean that, and I know what you do mean. It's that you are trying to reconcile yourself to your home and that—that I mustn't make it more difficult for you. I understand and I'll not forget. I'll try and make your life here pleasanter if I can. I'll bring you books and come across to see you as often as you'll let me. We'll just be real friends, you and I. You'll trust me?"

"Trust you?" she repeated, innocently questioning him.

"I mean that you'll not let any imaginary shadow rise up between us. It's so easy to happen," he vaguely explained.

"You may be sure of that. I haven't so many friends that I should wish to lose one for a reason that's merely imaginary."

"Promise," said Archie, holding out his hand.

"I promise, though I hardly know what I'm promising," answered the girl, laying her hands in his. She page 183glanced up at him and her eyes looked into his. They were soft and beautiful. A smile passed across her face like the dance of a tiny breeze on a still pool and he realised her loveliness.

"I must be off now," he said. "I shall be back again quite soon, so it's only au revoir."

"It's very, very kind of you, Mr. Deverell," she said softly.

"Kind! Not a bit. I've had a real jolly afternoon and we're just learning to know each other properly. Good-bye for the present, Ngaia."

"Just learning to know each other," he repeated as he cantered along, "but—Arthur's right, I think; only—"

Arthur undoubtedly was right.

It was a dangerous acquaintanceship.

The "only" testified to the recklessness of his fascination and to the self-confidence of a man who had flirted much and never yet fallen a victim.