Waitaruna: A Story of New Zealand Life
Chapter VIII. — Nellie
"She played about with slight and sprightly talk and vivid smiles."
"I am so glad to see you up again, Mr. Langton," said Ottalie Ewart one day about a fortnight after the events recorded in the last chapter.
"Thanks!" he replied. "I am, as you may imagine, only too glad to get into the sitting-room once more, for I thought at one time that I should never do so."
"Indeed the doctor was afraid you would not get over it at one time, I think. But that was when you were in a high fever and delirious, and about that time you can remember nothing, I suppose."
"Oh! yes, I do," said Gilbert; "but the time when I thought I should never rise again was when I recovered consciousness, but felt so weak and miserable. If it had not been for Mrs. Ewart's kindness and excelleut nursing, I think I should have died of wretchedness."
"Mamma is a capital nurse," replied Ottalie; page 117"though it is a pity you learned that fact as you did."
"It is indeed, for I must have been a dreadful nuisance."
"You said, just now, that you remembered the days when you were delirious," said Ottalie. "I should think that was hardly possible, for mamma told us you spoke about your mother and sisters as though they were in the room."
"I don't remember that part of it, but I remember distinctly feeling as though I was floating on one of those lagoons we saw on the plain near where the accident happened. The strange part of it was, that although I had a conscious entity, yet I seemed to merge in and form part of the surface of the lagoon. I could not tell where I was nor where I was not, nor apparently could our enemy the lunatic, who stood on the bank with a kind of spear, which every now and again he thrust down into the water. He never seemed to succeed in striking me, for I felt nothing when his spear descended, but each time he raised it to strike I experienced a pang, feeling certain it would pierce my heart, and each time he struck I seemed to scream. It was a most agonising dream, as you may suppose, though no imagination can come near the horrid reality. How long this continued I don't know, but after a time an angel with large wings and golden hair, and page 118looking very like you, Miss Ewart—except as to the wings, that is—came and caught the spear from the lunatic's hand, and as he turned to see what had become of his weapon, the angel touched him with it, and he was at once changed into a paradise duck. The angel vanished, seeming to melt away in the air, but the duck remained and grinned at me in the most horribly grotesque manner. I tried to shut my eyes, but that was no use, for my eyelids had become transparent, and I still saw the wretched creature; but after a time it flew away and I was left alone, still in the lagoon. I was then troubled with a feeling that I did not know where I stopped and the water began, and was puzzled to know how it was that I had been so perfectly flattened; but this part of my dream was very confused, and I can hardly tell it so as to be intelligible."
"How very dreadful it must have been!" said Ottalie; "but yet there is something of the absurd about it too."
"Yes, there is," was Gilbert's answer. "The only part of the whole dream which was not so was that the angel who saved me from the madman resembled you, for there is no doubt but that for your happy and courageous stratagem, I should have 'gone over to the majority' before this."
"Ottalie," said Mrs. Ewart, who had come into the room, "I fear you are letting Mr. Langton talk too page 119much. We must take care of him. You know, Mr. Langton, the proverb says, 'Long ill, soon well;' so I think you have been up long enough for to-day."
"Do you think so, Mrs. Ewart?" asked Gilbert. "If you do I shall retire at once, for you have been so kind to me that I must obey you faithfully."
From this time Gilbert rapidy gained strength. He, however, stayed on at the Ewarts' hospitable house for some time, as Mrs. Ewart insisted on his remaining till he was quite recovered. When he got over the feeling of weakness, he enjoyed his stay at Pakeloa greatly; but we shall probably learn more about the Ewarts and their guests if we take the liberty of looking over Miss Cameron's shoulder while she writes to her dearest friend Caroline Walton.
"My dearest Carry,—Very many thanks for your nice gossipy letter, which has quite raised my drooping spirits again. I have been feeling so very doleful ever since that nasty accident that I wrote you about, for ever since it happened every one in the house has been going about with a face of twice the usual dimensions. This has been for me decidedly cheerful. Young Langton has, however, been really ill, and was feverish and delirious for some time after he was thrown. I was afraid at first that it might be something catching, and you know I am awfully afraid page 120of fever, and that sort of thing; and if the doctor had not assured me there was not the slightest danger of infection, I think you would have seen me back in Dunedin before now. I was tempted to leave this, at any rate, as it was so dreadfully slow, and I think I should have done so, had I not made an impression, which I think it is as well to deepen. Now of course this is in strict confidence, carissima mia, for I know you are to be trusted, and will understand the position of affairs exactly. So don't breathe a word of this to a soul, like a dear girl. There is not even an understanding arrived at yet, and I do not think it desirable that at present it should even be hinted that there is any engagement. The only son of a wealthy squatter must be handled warily. So soon as there is anything to tell, ma chère amie, you shall be the very first to hear of it.
"I don't remember whether you ever met the gentleman or not, but, from what I have already told you, you must see that he is an eligible parti. But, ah! my dear, I should infinitely prefer the other, I mean Mr. Ramshorn, the gentleman who came, as I told you, with young Langton, and who has been here again two or three times during Mr. Langton's illness. If only he and Mr. Ewart could change places, then everything would be perfect; for though at present he has no eyes for any one but Ottalie, yet I have no doubt I could, if I page 121made up my mind to it, capture him easily. It would be rather fun to try, only I do not think it would be politic at present. Perhaps, when I am engaged, I may get up a flirtation with Mr. Ramshorn, but as to that we shall see. There is one thing that would detract from the enjoyment of such an amusement, and that is that seemingly Ottalie does not care a bit about him. She, silly fool, has, I think, lost her heart to young Langton, but I should fancy he is as poor or poorer than Mr. Ramshorn, and then is only a fledgling, while the other is a man of the world. Oh! if I were Ottalie Ewart, I should not hesitate a moment between the two.
"I wonder what Mr. Ramshorn sees to admire in Ottalie. I am sure, although she will probably be my sister-in-law some day, I must confess that I think her a very ordinary sort of a girl, and any pretensions she has to good looks she derives wholly from her youth, and by the time she is thirty, she will be quite plain, if not ugly, positively ugly, my dear; don't you agree with me? As I say, if she were not a goose she would appreciate Mr. Ramshorn at his true merits. Do you know that I really think I should be afraid to flirt with Mr. Ramshorn in case I should make a sentimental fool of myself, notwithstanding all our philosophical resolutions. Now, dear Carry, be sure page 122you burn this as soon as you have read it. I had been so dying to have a good talk with you, that I have written whatever came uppermost in my mind. Things look so very different, however, written than they do when said in a nice quiet talk between two such friends as you and I. I do so long for a chat with you now and again, but now that Mr. Langton is about again, things are improving, and we have had several very enjoyable rides.
"By the way, Carry, I must tell you a small anecdote of a new domestic, who arrived here a short while ago straight from an emigrant ship, and before being put on board she must have been caught in the wilds of some outlandish country or other, I can't think where, for she is tolerably white, and speaks an almost intelligible dialect of either English, Scotch, or Irish, I should not like to say which. She pretended she knew everything, but you could not imagine that any grown woman could be so ignorant. When first she arrived, Mrs. Ewart told her that something or other was to be served with melted butter, and asked if she knew how to make it, to which the slavey replied, 'Oh! yes.' However, just as dinner was being put on the table, she sent for Mrs. Ewart and said, 'I have put the butter in a cup, and it's melting in the oven; what would you like it sent to the table in?' Of course this imbecile gets good page 123wages; but I think she must be turning her mind to matters matrimonial, for she will insist on calling the enamelled saucepan 'the enamoured saucepan.' When this was told to Mr. Ramshorn, he laughed, and said that the word seemed to be a regular fixer, for he knew of a man who always spoke of 'emanuelled' dishes. But I can't vouch for the truth of this, for he also told a story, and Mr. Ewart's comment on it was that he 'might have taken the chill off that one,' a sentiment in which I concurred in more elegant if less expressive language. His story was that he knew a lady who had a new servant to whom she gave general instructions about setting the table for dinner before going out, and on leaving she said, 'And be sure, Maggie, you remember to put the mats on the table, for I am very particular about not having my table spoiled by the hot dishes.' The abigail promised attention, but judge of the surprise of the mistress when she returned home and found the table laid in a somewhat original style, with two door-mats from the hall in the middle of the table! Mr. Ramshorn vouched for the truth of his story, but I thought it was a little too good.
"Oh! dear me! am I not reduced to a pretty pass when I have to betake myself to anecdotes to eke out a letter? But your last was such an enjoyable epistle, that I was bound to give you quantity if page 124not quality in reply. Do write such another long newsy letter soon, there's a dear creature! When is the projected Bachelors' Ball to take place? If I had a dress I could wear I think I should at all hazards come down to it. But I can't afford a new dress just now, and every dress I have I am tired of, or else my friends are, so that I could not go without a new one. When I am Mrs.—you know who, I shall not have to stay away from a ball for any such reason as that.
"Au revoir, mon amie. Ever your affectionate friend,
Miss Cameron had barely subscribed her autograph when Ottalie put her head in at the door and said, "Are you going to write there all day, Nellie? Come to the drawing-room, like a good soul, and give us some music. I can't think whatever you can get to say in these long letters you seem to write. Mr. Langton says he is going away to-morrow, and I know he would like to hear you sing that song again which he admires. You know which I mean, 'Tender and true.'"
"Yes, I know; but I am sure Mr. Langton would much rather hear you sing than me. Has your brother come in yet?"
"Yes; he came in some time since, shortly after Mr. Ramshorn arrived," replied Ottalie.page 125
"Has Mr. Ramshorn come here again so soon? There must be some attraction here, surely," said Nellie, unable to resist the opportunity to tease her companion. "I don't think that I am the loadstone, so it must be you, Tottie."
Miss Cameron always adopted the name by which Ottalie had styled herself in her very diminutive childhood, and which was still used at times by her father, whenever she was saying anything that she did not think Ottalie would relish. Ottalie did not relish Miss Nellie's remark on the present occasion, and showed that she did not by her reply.
"You are a disagreeable thing, Nellie, and if you won't come to the drawing-room I shall think it very unkind of you."
"There, now, was it vexed?" said Nellie. "I shall come with it at once, and make myself particularly agreeable to Mr. Ramshorn; but if I do, you must not accuse me of flirting with him, of which you say that at times I am guilty."
Shortly afterwards, when Nellie Cameron joined the party in the drawing-room, she overheard a conversation which removed any lurking doubts, if she had any, as to who was the attraction at Pakeloa for Mr. Ramshorn.
"Yes," he was saying, "I think Langton has been uncommonly lucky to be quartered here so long, even at the expense of a spill. I know, Miss Ewart, page 126that I would very gladly have changed places with him. I should only have been afraid that your society would have made me too quickly well."
"I hope you may never require to test such a remedy, Mr. Ramshorn," replied Ottalie, "for I fear you would find it not so efficacious as you imagine. And so you are going to take Mr. Langton back with you on Monday, he tells me."
"Oh! yes; he says he is quite well and strong again, and there is plenty for him to do just now down at Waitaruna. We shall only go on Monday as far as Muttontown, where I have a little business to do, and then home from there on Tuesday; so if Langton is still a little weak his strength won't be too severely tried."
"I must go then and look out some books I promised to lend him when he went. I have no doubt but that you will enjoy reading some of them too," said Ottalie, as she tripped away to ransack the well-filled book-shelves, in order to find some of her especial favourites, leaving Mr. Ramshorn to be entertained by Miss Nellie, who, if she did not flirt, certainly endeavoured to ingratiate herself with Mr. Ramshorn, perhaps all the more because Harry Ewart, who was talking to his father and Mr. Langton, did not seem to notice that she had come into the room.