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Waitaruna: A Story of New Zealand Life

Chapter XV. — A Speedy Repentance

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Chapter XV.
A Speedy Repentance .

"And he alone is blessed who ne'er was born."

Prior .

Hawera Station looks a lonely place, as indeed it is. The house stands on the shore of the lake of that name, on a flat formed of shingle brought down from the mountains, which raise their rough and precipitous sides at no great distance. The lake is surrounded by mountains, which in many places go sheer down into the water, while at others there are a few acres of comparatively level land between their base and the lake; the largest of these tracts is that on which the homestead stands. Behind the house are frowning mountains, across the lake there are mountains partially clothed with bush, and though in reality they are a couple of miles away, they appear to be close at hand. Although a view of some extent is obtained down the lake, as well as up the valley of the river flowing into it at the upper end, one has a feeling of being hemmed in on every side.

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The station and the few adjacent outbuildings are the only indications of the presence of man; and on a dull day with the clouds resting on the mountain tops, Hawera Station looks lonely in the extreme. And yet the scenery is beautiful, nay, grand; and any one who could derive enjoyment from the contemplation of Nature in her varied aspects would find in the landscape a never-failing source of pleasure. Were it nothing but the changeful moods of the water, which would one day be lashed into fury, and break upon the stony beach in front of the house with waves resembling in miniature the ocean's billows, and another the lake's surface would resemble a polished mirror of the bluest steel, or broken by some gentle breeze into tiny wavelets, it would glance and sparkle in the sunlight as though studded with a thousand gems. To a lover of Nature the lake is always beautiful, and the protean play of light and shade on the mountain sides affords an enjoyment that never palls.

Unfortunately for Nellie Ewart, she cared for none of those things, and she found herself very dull in her new home, where she had resided now for nearly three months. Yet she was influenced by her surroundings without her knowing it, and must have derived some unperceived pleasure from the smile on Nature's face; but she saw no beauty in her frown, and on a dull morning Nellie's own page 208frowns were more readily induced than when the skies were more propitious.

Harry Ewart had been out for a couple of hours, and, with an appetite whetted by the keen morning air, he came in expecting Nellie to be waiting for him in the breakfast parlour, but as she had not appeared, he called out, "Come, Nell, are you nearly ready? It is past breakfast-time."

Receiving no reply, he proceeded to the bedroom, where he found his wife still in bed.

"Not up yet, Nellie?" he exclaimed. "Why, I thought I was rather late, and that you would be getting tired waiting for me. Shall I order in the breakfast and give you yours in bed?"

"No, I'll get up. I hate breakfast in bed," was Nellie's ungracious reply. "And I wish you would not bawl through the house in that way; you quite startled me just now."

"Did I, dear? I'm sorry for that. I used to think it was one of the advantages of a house like this that one could carry on a conversation with a person in any part of it without the bother of going to them."

"Don't talk rubbish, Harry," said Nellie. And Harry by way of reply stooped over the bed and kissed his wife lovingly.

"You won't be long, dear, will you?" he asked as he left the room; "for I want to go up the valley to the Hut before dinner."

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But he had a good half-hour to wait before Nellie made her appearance, and as he was hungry, he took the edge off his appetite by eating a piece of bread and butter, as he read a book by the window.

"At last, wife!" he said, when Nellie made her appearance, looking very fresh and pretty, notwithstanding a somewhat unamiable look in her eyes.

"You might have ordered in breakfast, if you thought I was so very long," said Nellie.

"No, Nellie; I enjoy my breakfast all the more, when I have my pretty wife as a vis-a-vis."

"That the compliment is an unmeaning one is evidenced by your having apparently already begun your breakfast."

"Oh! that was only a snack, I was so hungry; but come, let us begin breakfast, for I require all my time before dinner. I don't suppose you would care to ride up to the Hut, would you?"

"I suppose that's a polite way of saying you don't want me," replied Nellie.

"Nell! Nell! you must be joking. I got your horse in, in case you should want to go, and I thought you would not, as it looks like rain. Are you well enough, dear? for you do not seem like yourself this morning," he said with some concern.

"Oh yes, I am perfectly well; but I should say I could scarcely be expected to be pleased with the page 210prospect of a dreary forenoon all by myself in this lonely house."

"Well, Nellie, I'll be delighted if you will come with me. I daresay we shall get back before the rain; and, in case we should not, I'll strap your waterproof up with mine."

"Your proposal comes rather late, Harry. I see you don't want me, so I won't thrust myself on you."

"Now, Nellie, my dear, I know you don't mean what you say," said poor Harry; "do come, there's a dear girl. I can't well avoid going, or I should have put off doing so, in the hope that it might be better weather to-morrow."

"It does not matter, Harry, so there is no use saying any more about it. I have no desire to get wet, and sha'n't go with you; besides, I suppose, I must get used to being alone."

"I am sorry you should feel so lonely, Nellie, but, of course, I can't be always at home."

"Oh! of course not, nor should I wish it. But buried alive as I am here, and never having a soul to speak to but you, it is only natural that I should feel lonely."

"It is a lonely place, I know, dear," replied Harry; "but I thought we should have been company enough for one another. I want no one else when I have you, Nell."

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"You can't enter into a woman's feelings, Harry, or you would never have brought a wife to such a place as this."

Harry Ewart could hardly believe his ears, and he gazed at his wife, with his cup half raised to his lips, for a moment, and then replacing it untasted in his saucer, said in an astonished tone, "You surely don't regret having married me, Nellie?"

Nellie thought that perhaps she had carried matters a little too far, for she had merely given way to a passing feeling of irritation; which, if she had loved her husband, she would have suppressed, or, at least, have prevented its ebullition in such a disagreeable manner, and she accordingly changed her tactics. Bursting into tears, she said, "I wonder, Harry, you can think, far less say such an unkind thing. You must remember that it is a great change of life to me, to leave all my friends and bury myself alive among these dismal mountains even with you, and one can't help feeling mopish a bit."

"I daresay, Nellie, you are right, and I have not been sufficiently considerate of your feelings, but, my darling, what can I do to make you happier? Shall we get up Ottalie or any of your friends from Dunedin for a visit? And after a time I hope to be able to take you down to Pakeloa for a week or two, and we might then manage to make a run down to town. I have no doubt but that Rams-page 212horn , or Langton, or some of your friends will look us up before long."

"I shall be glad to see a new face," replied Nellie, "but I am afraid it would hardly be worth while asking any one up from Dunedin, if we are going down there, but I daresay Ottalie would like to come up here for a short time. Shall I write and ask her?"

"Yes, if you would like it, dear," said Harry, as he kissed his wife before setting out for his ride. "I shall be back as soon as possible," continued he, "and hope to find you have recovered your spirits."

As Harry Ewart rode away from his home that morning, he could not but think of what had passed between him and his wife. On two or three occasions previously the idea had suggested itself that his wife did not love him; but he had at once, and resolutely, banished the thought, for he was of too loyal and loving a nature to be easily betrayed into a suspicion of one he loved. But now it was too apparent that his wife was tired of his society after three short months; and though he struggled to do so, he could not repel the thought that if her feeling towards him was love, it was love so weak as to be hardly worthy of the name. And he? Yes, he loved her, for if he had yielded to what was even at the time of his proposal to her no very deep or permanent passion, yet it had grown stronger and deeper during the page 213few months of their engagement; and more so since his marriage. But still his love was but a tender plant, which under the hand of a careful gardener would have grown to a vigorous and healthy tree, but one which heedless, injudicious pruning might cause to wither utterly. Harry wondered within himself if he was to blame for the disagreement of the morning, and though he made every possible excuse for his wife, his heart answered, in spite of himself, that she, and she only, was to blame for it all, and that it was through lack of love on her part that it was so. In spite of himself this conviction thrust itself upon him; and, next, the thought arose unbidden, "Why, then, did she marry me?"

It must have been, he thought, because she supposed he was, or would be wealthy, and he cursed the foul lucre which had made Nellie accept him, and caused him most probably to lose that better wealth, a true woman's love. Now that these ideas had taken possession of his mind, he saw that he had really been caught by Nellie, without his knowing it; and his feelings towards her became almost bitter.

His path led him along the lake side, and thence up the spacious valley which ran from the head of the lake, where fed the few cattle belonging to the station; and though Harry was dispirited and appalled at the prospect of a life without love, yet page 214he drew rein, and looked through the mob of cattle as attentively as though he did not feel that a shadow had fallen upon him.

The valley was a beautiful one, watered by a clear and rapid river, bounded by rugged mountains, with now and again a stream leaping impetuously down their sides, while along the courses of the streams were clumps of birch trees, and away in the distance the hills were covered with bush; but all this was lost on Harry.

He had seen and admired it often, and would have done so again, had not a feeling as of a dull, inward, aching pain distracted him, and it was only when he roused himself to what were matters of business that he was able to find relief.

Before he turned his face homewards Harry Ewart had made up his mind philosophically to accept the inevitable; and he had still enough love left towards his wife, to resolve that she should not know the discovery he had made, and that his manner towards her should be the same, even though it would often entail on him the acting of a part.

About a week after the discovery by Harry Ewart of the real feelings entertained by his wife towards him, his father and sister arrived at the station. During the past week things had gone on very much as they had before, so far as outward appearances went, for Harry had been as kind, page 215attentive, and even tender to Nellie as ever he had been in the days when he blindly adored her and fancied that she loved him truly; while Nellie, after her ebullition, had been more amiable and pleasant than she had been since her marriage. The expectation that Mr. Ramshorn might, as Harry said, pay them a visit, had undoubtedly something to do with Nellie's improved spirits.

"What a truly lovely place this is, Nellie!" exclaimed Ottalie the morning after her arrival. "The view is so much more varied and impressive than that we have at Pakeloa. Water, trees, and mountains are, I think, the three elements of scenery, and here you have them beautifully united, while at Pakeloa we only have the mountains."

"Yes," replied Nellie; "it is no doubt very pretty; but I must confess I find it a little dull at times. When Harry is out all day, as of course he often is, I would give a good deal to have a nice gossip with some of my old friends. Do you know that before you came, I was the only woman, besides Bella, the servant, within a day's ride from here? Have you had many visitors at Pakeloa lately, Ottalie?" she asked, without waiting for a reply to her former query; but before Ottalie had time to answer, Harry entered the room, and said—

"Would you girls like to cross the lake to the birch wood? I want to go over and see the sawyers page 216about some timber I require, and I can show you the beauties of the birch bush at the same time. It is quite safe, for there is not a breath of wind, and we shall have to pull all the way. I know you have a dread of sailing, Nell."

"Yes, I have, Ottalie," said Nellie; "for it blows so tremendously here at times, and seems to come on so suddenly, that I am in terror lest the boat should be capsized; but I think it will be rather nice to cross the lake to-day."

"Then get ready at once," said Harry, "and let us be off. Father has gone down to the boat already."

In a few minutes they were all on board, including one of the men who came to assist Harry in rowing. The lake, like the rest of the large lakes in Otago, is of an immense depth, and the ground goes down well-nigh precipitously from the beach, which extends merely a few yards into the water with a gentle slope, and then drops into almost unfathomable depths, while in some places the hills seemingly rise with a steep unbroken slope from the bottom of the lake. At the point where the Ewarts embarked the slope of the terrace was more gradual, owing, no doubt, to the deposit of shingle brought down by the creek near whose banks the station stood, and as the water was beautifully clear, they page 217were able to distinguish every pebble on the face of the terrace at a great depth.

The row was a most enjoyable one, and it gave a new view of her home to Nellie, who remarked that it seemed a very pretty, snug-looking place from that point of view. Their landing-place was a rude jetty, from which the sawyers launched the logs to be floated down the lake and river to the diggings towns. A short distance from the jetty stood a hut built of logs and slabs, which was the dwelling of the sawyers. The hut was, however, deserted, so the whole party struck into a path leading apparently into the inmost recesses of the bush, which was different from the ordinary New Zealand bush, as it was wholly composed of birch trees, and, except a few sapling birches, undergrowth there was none. Some of the trees were of considerable girth and looked quite patriarchal, especially when they were broken at the top, and gave indications of the trunk being hollow and decaying.

The track led to the saw-pit, and while Harry bargained about the timber he required, the others amused themselves by wandering about; so that they were all somewhat tired by the time they returned to the station.