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A Maori Maid

Chapter XXXV

page 310

Chapter XXXV.

A couple of hours' further travelling brought them to a steep incline. Working their way to the bottom they found themselves on another densely wooded flat, which for all they knew stretched for miles.

Archie kept somewhat more to the left until the compass showed that he was travelling in a northeasterly direction. It was an unfortunate error.

They crossed several small creeks all running from their left to their right—in other words, in a more or less south-westerly direction—and edged gradually away from the higher flat they had been traversing and pushed slowly along.

Nightfall brought them apparently no nearer the river up whose stream they intended to commence their prospecting. They made a virtue of necessity and pitched camp in a spot near a creek where there seemed some pickings for the horses. Archie as usual put up the tent, and Ngaia cooked a couple of pigeons and prepared tea. They both enjoyed their rough meal, and lighting his pipe Archie stretched himself out near the fire with a deep sigh of contentment. The swift twilight had almost come, and the stillness of night was creeping over the dense bush. The insect world was falling asleep, save countless mosquitoes flitting and buzzing and stinging with persistent malevolence. Suddenly Archie started up.

"Listen, Ngaia."

Wondering, she obeyed, and her quick ear caught a faint, distant murmur.

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"It's—it's water, Archie."

"The river. It's a rapid. The river's low and the waters are tumbling over the boulders. It's away down below over there."

"We've been travelling parallel with it all day and never known it!"

"I daresay the cliff's not sixty yards off. We're on a terrace, part of the ancient river-bed."

"Then there may be gold where we are," exclaimed the girl.

"Just so, sweetheart, if there's gold anywhere it'll be on this terrace along the old course of the river; but it's not here we're going to look for it."

"Down on the lower bed?"

"Exactly; if we can't find it there then we may try up here, or farther along."

"There may be gold in that creek, Archie."

He laughed.

"There may be; there probably is. But not enough for us—we're going to be greedy."

"You can't tell, you don't know," she said excitedly. "I'm going to pan out a dish," she added, jumping up.

"Indeed you're not," he exclaimed, scrambling to his feet and catching hold of her.

"Let me go, Archie. It won't take me long."

"What sleep do you think you'd have if you succeeded in finding good colour?"

"I'll sleep well. I won't stir a limb or move or disturb my lord if he will just let me have my way," she said, gently caressing him as he held her.

In the dusk he caught the gleam of her brown eyes. Through the stout cloth jacket he felt the slender, supple body. Her lips were parted in a smile, her breath came and went in short, quick sobs as the passion of the moment possessed them. The creek and its hidden gold were lost in the depths of their page 312mutual adoration. He drew her to him and, pressing her lips to his, kissed her passionately.

Like the dainty, impulsive being that she is, a woman loves, when God and man give sanction, to tease the clumsy hot-blooded creature who is at once her lord and master and the object of her love. It is a wild game when laughing eyes and flushed cheeks speak a confession the lips shyly deny. It is the hour of her supreme command, and, for all the man may care, the world may have ceased to spin so that she smiles and whispers her love.

Ngaia was but true to the instinct of her sex in choosing the instant of her husband's adoration and her own willing delight of it as the opportunity to gain her way.

"Come along," she said, disengaging herself and holding him by the arm. "You must come yourself now; there's just enough light to dig a shovelful of dirt for me."

He drew a shovel from the pack-saddle whilst she picked out the large flat tin dish, and together they went down to the creek. Choosing a spot under the bank of a quiet pool he plucked away the ferns. He threw aside the first shovelful. The water oozed quickly into the hole he had made, but plunging the shovel in he dug out a dripping mixture of gravel and fine sand. He emptied it into the pan which Ngaia held. Once more he dug into the hole he had made and stood with the full spade watching the girl

"Shall I do it?" he said.

"No, certainly not. I'm going to do it all myself."

Standing with one foot on the bank and another on a small boulder rising clear of the water, she held the pan in her two hands. She stooped and dipped it into the stream and commenced swilling the water round and round, flinging it over the edge together with the lighter dirt it carried with it Dipping and page 313redipping the pan she continued, until scarcely a quarter of the stuff she had commenced with remained. Then Archie put in the other shovelful and she recommenced her operations.

Occasionally she stopped whilst he lit a match, and she picked out the larger pebbles and threw them away. At length she had reduced the contents to a small layer of tiny pebbles and sand.

" Bring it back to the fire; we can see better there," he said. "Let me carry it."

She handed it to him.

"You're not to look before me, Archie," she stipulated.

They reached the camp and he gave back the pan and lit a candle. Then together they bent over and examined the contents.

The old forest, strangely alive in the dancing shadows cast by the fire, heard a quick cry of startled surprise and a gruffer exclamation of astonishment.

In the bottom of the pan, amidst the sand and glistening under the water, lay two flat pebbles, one the size of a pea, the other scarcely as large as a match-head. They were gold!

"There's more; see, look at that speck! And there, and there!"

"Yes. It's good colour. We'll be able to see better in the morning."

"We'll try again to-morrow, Archie?"

"Rather, although, unless we have some very extraordinary result, I vote we push on for the larger river."

"We'll stick to the original plan, but I'll go and prospect the creek whilst you make a track down to the river."

They were up in the early dawn; and, having breakfasted, Archie shouldered his slasher and plunged into the bush at right angles to the course they had been travelling in the previous day. A quarter of an hour page 314brought him to the edge of the cliff. He could now hear the river plainly, but it was completely hidden from him by the dense bush and scrub. Over beyond he could see the mountains towering and rolling over and above each other, a mass of dark vegetation and profound silence. Streaks of mist floated about them like miniature clouds, and caught and reflected the early morning sun. Facing him was the outline of a steep cliff, apparently the opposite bank of the river.

He spent no time in idle admiration, but vigorously set to work to find a way down. At length he succeeded, and half an hour later he stood on the edge of the rapid.

The stream in itself was not of great volume, although probably in flood time it carried a considerable mass of water. On either side, both up and down the river, were high cliffs, in places bare and precipitous, in others, where some landslip of past ages had broken the face, buried in thick bush. Between the cliffs extended a flat stretch of shingle, covered here and there with clumps of koromiko and tutu. Apparently the river had once extended the whole width; now it was content to run in a narrow winding channel and to leave its old bed dry and grass-grown.

The appearance of the river was much as Archie had anticipated. In the dry, deserted bed of the old river might lie limitless, fabulous wealth of pure gold.

Dreaming, however, was not part of his immediate business. Turning his back to the stream be inspected the towering mass of bush that stretched to the terrace from which he had descended. He chose a spot where the drop seemed most gradual, and he commenced an ascent. With his slasher he was able, after considerable toil, to clear a zig-zag path which, with a little assistance of pick and shovel, would suffice for the horses to descend by. Reaching the edge at the top he picked up his old track and was soon in the camp. He un-page 315strapped an axe and pick and spade and returned to his task of completing the path down to the river.

Meanwhile, Ngaia, armed with a shovel and her open tin dish and a pannikin, commenced prospecting the creek. She began at the spot selected by Archie. Her first pan out was a disappointment. There was the colour of gold, a number of tiny specks, and that was all. Her second effort was more successful, and she picked out several beads of about the size of a pin's head. She moved farther up the little creek, clambering over rough boulders and fallen logs until, above a miniature cascade, she came upon a small stretch of still, shallow water. It seemed a likely spot, and she washed out a couple of shovelfuls. Once more she had to be content with merely the colour. Again and again she tried with a like result until she was almost tired out. Presently stepping over to the other bank she recommenced her task. She emptied a quantity of dirt into the pan, and washed it down and filled up again until she had the residuum of several shovelfuls left in the form of a collection of pebbles and gravel and fine sand. She commenced throwing away the bigger stones. Suddenly with a gasp and a tiny cry of astonishment she stopped. She put the pan down on a flat boulder and picked out a small yellow pebble the size of a large marble.

It was gold, a nugget; water-worn and threaded with holes, but gold.

She examined it, she weighed it, she rolled it over and over in her hand and then put it into her pocket.

With infinite care she pitched away the rest of the stones. Then she carefully washed out and looked. Here and there over the bottom of the pan were flakes and tiny lumps of the precious metal.

It was no longer a mere question of colour! She had struck gold!

She carefully picked out the yellow pieces and put page 316them into the pannikin. Once again she shovelled the dirt into the pan and washed out, and once again she found the bottom studded with flakes of the shining yellow metal.

At length, tired with her exertions, she paused. She seated herself on a boulder and busied herself with a critical examination of the small nugget with the aid of her magnifying glass.

In the presence of the glittering yellow stuff no one perhaps would have stayed to notice what a charming picture the girl or the young lad, as she would at first sight have been taken for, presented. The slender waist testified to her sex and, though she was innocent of all bondage but the leather belt, on which hung her sheath knife and a leather watch-pouch, the grey flannel shirt betrayed the perfection and symmetry of her form and figure. She had laid aside her coat and rolled her sleeves to her elbows, and in the shapely arm, the slender wrist and the tiny hand a keen observer might have suspected the boy to be a woman. Her felt wideawake was pushed well back from her face, her trousers, with their cross pockets, were tucked into the high leather waders; the top button of her shirt was undone and showed the wondrous curves of her throat. All the gold the creek could contain was not worth so beautiful a being.

Presently, putting the pannikin carefully away into a place of safety, she looked at the scene of her operations. Some of the holes she had made had already become nearly half full of water, whilst others had fallen in and disappeared.

Suddenly her eye fell on a boulder or ridge of rock, and a thought seemed to occur to her. She jumped to her feet and commenced digging just above the boulder.

The stone, so far as it was exposed, was rounded and water-worn. It was three feet or so across in one direction, and a foot or eighteen inches thick in some page 317places, or more. The shingle around it was dry, but before the girl had dug many inches she came upon signs of water.

She threw away the first two shovelfuls, and then, digging with immense energy and without staying to examine the stuff, she stacked the dirt she removed into a heap at her side beyond reach of the stream. In a little while the water filled the bottom of the hole she had made. In spite of this she continued her task until she had cleared a space some three feet in diameter and of a like depth. Her intention was evidently to keep close to the big boulder, and she carefully cleared the gravel and sand lying against it.

Presently under the water at the bottom of the hole she struck something hard. Laying aside her shovel she plunged her hands in, and by dint of pulling and tugging she loosened the stone and lifted it out. Forcing her shovel in again she lifted it, running with water and full of gravel and sand and pebbles. She glanced at it. A gleam of yellow caught her eyes and another and yet another. She emptied the shovel carefully on to the heap and continued digging up the gravel and tossing out the water, which was steadily and persistently gaining on her.

Once again she struck a hard, resisting surface. Altering the direction of her efforts she cleared another three or four shovelfuls and then again struck the same unyielding surface. It was a ledge or cavity of the boulder against which she was working, or else bed rock.

She shovelled up the gravel as carefully as possible, but the task was almost beyond her strength. Yet she persevered. The gold fever had claimed her, and the sight of the golden nobs and pellets glittering in every shovelful she removed fired her to prodigious effort.

At length, however, she had to desist. The water had got the upper hand and the sides were falling in.

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She jumped out, and, scarcely sparing herself to take breath, she fell on her knees by the dripping heap and commenced turning it over with her hands.

She had struck a pocket of gold. How much more there was, caught through ages by the old rocky ledge and hugged to its bosom, she had no idea. Nor had she any adequate notion of the value of what she herself had dug out. But, without pausing to pick out the finer gold, she filled the pannikin with such pellets and nuggets as caught her eye, adding the first one she had found.

Her exertions had made her hungry. Her hands were blistered and sore; her back ached; her temples throbbed with the extreme exertion and the wild excitement.

"Besides, I've enough to show him what a discovery I've made. Oh, won't he be pleased!" she reflected, as she carefully bound the pannikin round and round with her big coloured handkerchief. She left the dish and shovel, and clambered down stream towards the camp.

She heard Archie coo-eeing as she got farther down and she answered him. Presently he met her.

"Hullo, sweetheart! I was getting anxious. Are you all right?"

"Yes," she said, coming up to him. "Have you found the river?"

"Yes, and made a track. We'll get down this afternoon."

"Will we?" she said mysteriously.

"Eh, what? Why not? Have you had any luck?"

"Little boys shouldn't ask questions—not until they've got into the camp, at any rate."

"What have you got tied up there?"


"A nugget, eh?" he said jestingly.

"No, you're not to touch; you're——"

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"Mind—mind, darling, you'll slip, you wild, excitable creature. I won't touch, honour bright. Come over this way; let me help you."

"I'm tired, Archie; just a wee bit."

"I thought you were. You look flushed and hot. I didn't like to say so. You'll just lie down this afternoon and have a real good sleep."

"I didn't sleep last night, hardly a bit."

"I knew you wouldn't—mind, look out, that's right —you shouldn't have gone off gold-prospecting just before going to bed. It's—it's indigestible."

"I never moved or tumbled or tossed a bit, I'm sure."

"I know you didn't You were lying in my arms as still as a mouse. Somehow I thought you weren't asleep, and yet I could have sworn you were."

"Weren't you?"

"Not all the while."

"You dear old darling! You wouldn't move just because you thought I was asleep. If you hadn't got your arms round me you'd have been able to twist about and turn about and gone right off. I shan't allow it any more," she said laughingly.

"I think I'll risk it," he answered, helping her up the bank on to the rough track they had already worn between the creek and the camp. "I don't fancy it was that, you know. We've slept pretty well before. I expect it was the gold. Anyhow, I don't think we'll alter—unless you'd rather," he added, glancing back at her as she followed him.

She looked at him with a twinkle in her brown eyes.

"Very much rather."

"Would you?" he said as he stepped into the tiny clearing he had made round the camp.

"Of course not, you silly boy. I wouldn't have you alter the way you treat me in the slightest little bit. page 320You're—you're just perfect Now sit down and see what I've got for you. Sit there. That's it. Stretch out your legs. Oh, how clumsy men are with their legs! I don't know what on earth you'd do if you had to wear petticoats. That's better. Now shut your eyes. Keep them shut until I tell you to open them."

"All right."


"Honour bright."

Kneeling on the floor beside him Ngaia untied the handkerchief round the pannikin. Then she spread it out before him.

"Open," she said, and as he opened his eyes she poured the golden, glittering contents into the handkerchief.


With one hand on his shoulder and resting her other hand on his knee she looked up into his face.

"Did you find this up the creek—this morning?"

She nodded.

"You've been digging in the water for it?"

"Yes. I sank about four feet, and then the water drove me out."

He caught her hand and looked at it before she could prevent him. It was torn and bleeding.

"By Jove, you are a plucky girl!" he exclaimed; and the tone of his voice, the look in his eyes were, beyond his words, more than a reward to her. Any woman could stoop to any dishonour or rise to any height of sublime self-sacrifice for such praise from a man she loves.

Ngaia's eyes swam with tears. She flung her arms round his neck and kissed him.

"You think that, Archie? You mean it? Oh, I know you mean it; and it's better than all the gold. You will always think it?"

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"Can you doubt it? Pure and beautiful and brave."

Then in her joy and her weariness and her excitement she cried.

"Oh, how silly!" she said presently, wiping away the tears. "Fancy a boy crying because—because——"

"He isn't a boy, but a sweet, brave girl who has been and stepped just outside her strength. She's going to have a pannikin of tea and something to eat, and then she's going to stay quiet all the afternoon and sleep; and her husband is going to alter his plans, and instead of moving down into the river he's going up the creek to see if he can find a better camping ground. You must get out of your wet clothes, sweetheart," he added, "and turn right into the blankets and have a good nap. I wish we'd got some of your own things up here. I'd rather cook and wash up everything myself always and have tea with a pretty girl in her own proper dress than have only a rough tom-boy for company."

"Would you—much rather? It doesn't make much difference, because I'm still Ngaia."

"It doesn't make any difference. It's only fancy or sentiment. My Ngaia with her hair coiled neatly, and in petticoats and skirt and a nice fitting bodice is much prettier than my Ngaia in boy's clothes, I can tell you—at any rate in my eyes."

"I thought that too," she answered shyly, "and——"

"Well, sweetheart?"

"Have you got the parcel, my mysterious parcel? Oh, can't you guess?" she said with a flush.

"Of course I can," he exclaimed. "It's one of your own proper suits. I'll get it now, and I'll leave it with you. Undress and get right into bed, and I'll come and fetch your wet things and put them by the fire to dry. And when you get up you'll be the real Ngaia, and I'll be scullery-maid. That's a bargain for page 322the future, sweetheart After dark and on Sundays your own proper clothes."



"Honour bright," she said, using his own favourite expression, and he sealed the promise with a kiss.