(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Three travelers have been caravanning for more than a month in a remote region of the North Island of New Zealand, a wild Maori country: Jim (a guide who knows the environs), the female narrator, and her dapper brother Jo. The heat has been awful, and one of their horses has developed an open belly-sore from carrying the pack. All have traveled in silence throughout the day. They anticipate reaching a “store” in this wild land, a “whare,” or home that houses a storehouse of goods to supply wayfarers and that includes a pasture for the horses. Jim has been teasing the two about this stopover; it is run, he promises, by a friend generous with his whiskey, and he also speaks of the man’s blue-eyed, blond wife, who is generous with her favors.

At sundown, they reach the whare, and all is not as cheerful as has been represented. The mistress of the store looks scarcely better than an ugly hag; she is skinny, with red, pulpy hands; her front teeth are missing, her yellow hair is wild and skimpy, and she is dressed in little better than rags. She carries a rifle and is accompanied by a scraggly, undersized, five-year-old daughter and a yellow, mangy dog. She claims that her husband has been gone for the past month “shearin’,” veers wildly in mood, and appears to the visitors to be “a bit off ’er dot,” somewhat unhinged from being too much alone in such a disreputable setting.

After some haggling, the travelers are permitted to stop over. She fetches some liniment for the horse and sends food down to the tent...

(The entire section is 633 words.)