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A Maori Maid

Chapter XXIX

page 249

Chapter XXIX.

"She's come, and I suppose she must stop," said Mrs. Anderson, "but as for regarding her as one of the family I simply won't agree to it. I don't want her. Daisy doesn't want her either."

"Surely, Ethel, you can be kind to her. She is a beautiful girl, and she is a lady."

"A lady! Indeed! A lady! The daughter of a dirty Maori woman and a low, drunken fellow like Jake. Their cottage is a disgrace to the place, I'm told; and I can't understand why you allow him to remain here."

"He was a good, hard-working fellow in the old days. Jake's not what he was—but—well, he does me no harm; and—and it's not the girl's fault that she is his daughter."

"It's her misfortune then; and one is as bad as the other for the individual concerned. She may be educated. More's the pity. Her proper place is in the kitchen, and you want to try and force her into the drawing-room."

"And in the drawing-room she is going to stay," said John firmly.

"There, there I" he continued, stooping and kissing his wife, "we won't quarrel over it, Ethel. You will learn to love her and forget all about Jake. She is pure and good, and I want you to be kind to her. She will be a help to you, I'm sure she will."

"So am I," reflected Mrs. Anderson, as her husband walked away;" she will be an admirable lady's maid."

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And she was.

Unnoticed by John, his wife treated Ngaia as a servant rather than as a lady. Her days were marred by all kinds of menial duties. No friendship sprang up between the girls. Daisy, prompted by her mother, neither gave nor permitted any opportunity. Had Ngaia's home, however humble, been a happy one, she would assuredly have succumbed to the thousand and one slights and insults these two women showered upon her, and would have left. But her home was not a happy one. Miserable as they might make her life, it was nevertheless a paradise as compared to her existence at the cottage.

There, life was a horrible drudgery. Where she was now she at least could eat, could sleep, could dress as a lady. She was able, too, every evening to see her lover, although their friendship was made to appear most formal and even frigid. Moreover, she was near her old friend, at whose hands she seemed destined to experience nothing but kindness. He was proud of her, and she seemed to know it. Her beauty was his pleasure, and he appeared never to tire of following with his eyes her slim, graceful figure. He gave her presents and dresses as costly and as beautiful as Daisy ever had. Of an evening he would make her sing and play to him. Daisy's playing was mere strumming in comparison with Ngaia's. John never said as much. Rather the contrary. Yet nevertheless it was obvious. Even Daisy perceived it and, perceiving it, in countless ways showed her resentment.

Ngaia was in fact the greatest pleasure of John's old age. He idolised her, he worshipped her—and she loved him. In his eyes she was his daughter, his own flesh and blood, the offspring of a woman he had loved passionately and deeply. She was his child, separated from him by a gulf of secrecy, but nevertheless his child. He would have given half his fortune page 251to clasp her in his arms and kiss and kiss her; to read in her eyes the love of a child for its father; to feel her pure, gentle caresses. But he dared not. A warm handshake was the utmost he would trust himself to permit.

Ngaia in return loved John Anderson. It was the love of a daughter for her parent. He was her benefactor. Everything in life she owed to him. His kindness seemed limitless. He had educated her, he had raised her from the level of a mere Maori. He had enabled her to win Archie, and lastly he had once again stepped in and rescued her from the misery of her father's home.

To Mrs. Anderson Ngaia was an enigma. Once a faint suspicion arose in her mind at her husband's championship of the girl. Why had he educated her? Why did he insist on bringing her to his home? Because in years gone by Jake had placed her husband under some debt of gratitude! Had saved his life or something!

She only half believed.

Her inquiries, however, almost completely allayed her suspicions. Ngaia seemed universally known as Jake's daughter. Morever, surely, unless John was under some deep obligation to the man, he would long since have dismissed him.

She was satisfied. John was merely bearing out her opinion of him as being a thorough fool.

The one thing that did cause her real uneasiness was the effect Ngaia's presence might have on Daisy's future. Like a good mother, Mrs. Anderson wanted to see Daisy well married, and not least amongst her schemes to this end was that of keeping open house at the homestead during the summer. Daisy was good-looking and a by no means unattractive girl. But by the side of her half-sister her looks sank into sheer plainness, and her accomplishments dwindled into page 252insignificance. Her music, her singing, her education generally might have cost considerably more than Ngaia's, but they had never reached as high a standard of excellence. The one was highly trained, the other highly gifted.

Daisy was just the usual talkative, conceited girl who, as a girl, is an amusement to men in general until as a wife she becomes a responsibility for some man in particular. Ngaia, on the other hand, whilst sensitive and high-minded to a fault, was not only full of life and spirits but was unquestionably clever. The time during which she had lived at Jake's cottage had but slightly dimmed the excellence of her attainments. It was not therefore to be wondered at that of the two girls Ngaia attracted chief attention and that men paid their respects to her rather than to her companion. Even the Governor of the Colony, when on a three or four days' visit to the big run, found the young girl to be, quite apart from her unusual beauty, an exceedingly interesting companion. No small portion of his visit was spent in her company. What happened in his case happened almost invariably with other men and even also with women.

It was, of course, so far as it went, the girl's first experience of social life and entertaining. It seemed to develop her; and, without losing her natural gentleness of disposition, she became a past mistress in the art of conversing and a companion as brilliant as she was sweetly pretty. Her beauty in truth passed far beyond the limits of the run, and Ngaia Carlyle was more talked of than she ever for an instant imagined.

Literally revelling in the change that had come over her life, she erred, perhaps, in her undisguised delight of congenial companionship. Unconscious of her power of fascinating, and quite innocent of any desire to create an impression, she experienced genuine surprise at being the recipient of more than one fine though entirely page 253unexpected offer of marriage. Harsh critics might almost have termed her a flirt. Yet the accusation would not have been justifiable. She could scarcely help what happened. Barely a week passed during the summer but what several guests were staying in the house with whom she was inevitably thrown into close contact. Rich young men give a pretty girl who has attracted their attention small chance to escape a proposal.

Daisy, born and bred to a town life, was essentially an afternoon-tea young lady. She disliked driving, was quite unable to ride, and had achieved no out-door accomplishment beyond the most meagre skill at lawn-tennis or croquet. She could dance well and was always dressed to perfection. She liked rich people and hated poor ones and—detested snobs. She added Ngaia to her list of detestations, not the less because she realised that the half-caste girl was not only in appearance and accomplishments her superior, but was by nature a good horsewoman and a lover of all out-door pursuits. With points Ngaia was sufficiently good at lawn-tennis to give most of the young men a fair game; and under John's tuition, not to mention the readily volunteered services of various gentlemen visitors, she had learnt to play a tolerable game of billiards.

Hence gradually it came to pass that more frequently than not there devolved upon Ngaia the task—a most delightful one as a rule to her—of entertaining John Anderson's gentlemen visitors. During the daytime the men on the run from John downwards were more or less occupied. Hence there was no one else but Ngaia to ride round the station with the guest and explain to him the various matters of interest, matters none the less interesting to a young man for being explained by an exceptionally pretty girl. A game of tennis in the afternoon with Ngaia as an page 254opponent or, if there were several guests, as a fourth, or if the weather was bad an afternoon in the billiard-room, too often tended to complete the stranding of a susceptible young man's heart on the shoals of Ngaia's mere friendship.

Archie noticed all this, and he realised the value of the prize he had unearthed and had recognised in the rough. She was fit to be the wife of any man. She was capable of filling any position in the high, exclusive world of Society. She was in fact beyond him, and he was fain to confess that a more prosperous marriage than ever his could be was open to her. Yet nevertheless he knew her loyalty and affection, and that he was to her what no other human being in the world could be.

Not but what at times he felt somewhat jealous.

She half guessed it, and she laughed at him and teased him for it. Then suddenly she became earnest.

"You must never be jealous of me, Archie. Never, never. I'm only a girl and I suppose that is simply another way of saying that I like being paid attention to and being with all you men. But—but there's only one man amongst them all for me. And—and you know who that is," she added, putting her hands on his shoulders and pressing her lips to his. With his arms round her waist he drew her to him and kissed her again and again. After all, his jealousy was swallowed in his love for her and in his knowledge of her love for him. He was in truth infinitely proud of her success.

Then they would make a secret arrangement, and on some excuse Ngaia would be off on her mare with Archie working throughout the day on one of the boundary paddocks.

What, however, did annoy Deverell was the manner of Mrs. Anderson's treatment of the girl. It angered him intensely.

"I tell you what it is, Ngaia, 1 shall just inform her page 255of what I think of her one of these fine days. She's jealous of you because every one has the sense to prefer you to Daisy. For mere spite, she treats you as if you were a servant; and I'll tell her so."

"No you won't, you silly boy. You will do just what I tell you,"

"Why should I?"

"Why indeed! Because I tell you. Oh, Archie, it doesn't matter a bit what Mrs. Anderson says or does to me; it doesn't really."

"Doesn't matter! Great heavens! She makes your life a perfect misery. Mr. Anderson hasn't an idea how she treats you."

"Perhaps not. I hope not. I don't want him to. Oh, Archie, he is a good man. Sometimes I think that Mr. Anderson is perfect—perfectly good, you know."

"Like me."

She looked at him.

"You!" she said scornfully.

The twinkle in her eyes betrayed her. Before she could say another word he had caught her to him and kissed her.

Laughing and happy, with flushed face and tumbled hair, she ceased to struggle, and he kissed her unrestrained.

"Oh, Archie, take care. Some one will see us."

"I don't mind. I wish they would. I'm more than half inclined to speak straight out all about the whole affair."

"You mustn't. You promised you wouldn't. You have to wait six months, just in case—you know."

"In case I change my mind I It's nonsense, Ngaia: you know it is. There's as much chance of my changing my mind as—as there is of you."

"I might," she said, and the love in her eyes told him how she was lying and teasing.

page 256

They were absolutely happy these two. They were completely enwrapped in each other. They were affinities, they were kindred spirits, they were made for each other. Their love had ripened so gradually, it was based on such perfect respect, such complete admiration each for the other, that the inevitable, the necessary tinge of passion was almost lost.

Ngaia had influenced Archie immensely. He realised that. He was by nature impulsive, restless, and a wanderer. His love for the girl was perhaps his first taste of responsibility. He had, as it seemed to him, deliberately taken from her all she had in the world to give—her love. She had merged her existence into his; she had yielded her whole future into his keeping. It was a trust, and therefore sacred.

The fallacy of it was, that he might have applied the same reasoning to more than one other girl who had been led from a mere flirtation to a deep love for the careless, attractive young fellow. The sole difference between the case of Ngaia and any other was that in the former he had himself fallen hopelessly in love.

More than once Ngaia felt a doubt as to the honesty of her position. It seemed in so many ways a wrong that she was doing to her lover by marrying him. It was not lack of confidence in her manners or of her up-bringing. She was fitted to be mistress of any man's home, to take her stand in the most refined society. She was a gentlewoman by nature, as well as by education. She knew that instinctively. The attention she received from all men simply confirmed it. But her parentage was low. Her father, despite her efforts to combat so wrong a feeling, she utterly despised. What right then had she to bring such people into contact with one of Archie's station in life?

The discovery of Mrs. Anderson's scheme for a match between Archie Deverell and Daisy intensified page 257Ngaia's feeling of doubt as to the justification of her engagement. Curiously enough, too, it was Archie himself who first opened her eyes to Mrs. Anderson's project.

He was, as usual, railing against her tyranny and injustice to the girl.

"I hate the old cat. What do you think she's up to now? I half suspected it some time ago, and now I'm morally certain of it. She wants me for a son-in-law." "Archie!"

"It's a fact, upon my word it is; though it sounds conceited to say so. She wants me to marry that dear, delightful daughter of hers." "She's pretty, Archie."

"Um! Well, she's not ugly. However, I'm going to let the old lady plainly know that it is perfectly useless. If she won't take a hint, I'll make her, that's all. I've made my choice, and I wouldn't alter it for fifty Daisies, plus fifty Mrs. Andersons. You can scarcely believe it, eh?"

She made no reply, nor even smiled at his little joke. She raised her face quickly towards his, and snatched a kiss from him. Then she turned away and left him wondering at her strange mood.

She wanted to think. A new trouble, a greater doubt was upon her; and it involved the loss of her love, the ruin of her life.

In the balance, against her pleasure, was the possible blighting of his future. His future or hers, she had to weigh and judge between.

"I'd rather be unhappy, always unhappy, than make him so. He's so good to me, and—Oh! I hate her. I can't help it, I hate her. She has always been unkind to me, and now she is trying to take him from me. She knows, I'm sure she knows; and it's all because she dislikes me. There are other men for page 258Daisy. I see now why she will scarcely be even civil to them. She wants Archie. I won't give him up, I won't," she cried to herself in a round of contradictions.

Then she compared herself with Daisy. She, an ill-bred half-caste. The other, a rich run-holder's daughter, who would bring her husband a social standing of her own, in addition to his. She was pretty, too. Not ugly even, but pretty. She herself had nothing but her looks. She would bring no social standing; only, at best, a silence upon her origin, only a blur upon his rank and position. It would be a skeleton that would haunt and spoil his home, just as it was a grim reality that seemed every day to press more closely on her, to more surely shut her present life off from anything beyond it. It was a bar to her even listening to any offer of marriage from a high-born gentleman. She had refused men because she loved Archie. Yet for that very same reason it seemed to her that she ought to refuse him too, to give him back his promise. She had no right to hold him to a marriage that could only work him harm.

Her effort was honest, and in the struggle with herself she was so far victorious that she was willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of the man she imagined she was thus serving. It was girlishly romantic, perhaps; but it was terribly real. Daisy, she decided, should marry Archie. She herself would go away from Te Henga. Quite away, and try and forget—and be forgotten.

She was brave by herself. But she told Archie. That was her cowardice, because deep in her heart she knew there lay a hope that he would prevent her.

He did; but his success was not easily gained. She strove bravely, but she failed entirely—or almost so.

"Do you know, Ngaia, I'm glad now that it's all over, that we have had this talk. I don't believe that even page 259being married would make you belong to me more than you do."

It was probably true without saying much.

Marriage is growing so elastic now-a-days; such a convenience, in fact

It even does not necessarily imply ownership.

Certainly not. Only the cost of it.