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Mihawhenua: The Adventures of a Party of Tourists Amongst a Tribe of Maoris Discovered in Western Otago, New Zealand

Chapter III. Delayed by a Storm

page 30

Chapter III. Delayed by a Storm.

We intended to leave Queenstown the day after our arrival there, but my first moments of wakefulness on that morning told me this would not be possible. The first sound that fell upon my ears was the fierce beating of the wind and rain upon the window of my bedroom. The building fairly shook with the force of the gale. I got up and looked out. The lake lay in front of me. But how different from yesterday!

"Where all was still and quiet as we passed over it, the waters of the lake were now tossed and thrown with the force of the wind so that it seemed as if the angry sea were before me instead of an inland lake. The sky overhead was dark and lowering, and as the wind raged and the rain beat upon the roof, I knew that all hope of starting that day had vanished.

A vivid lightning flash illumined the surface of the water, and a peal of thunder rent the air and rolled far away, re-echoing along the mountain tops, appearing to leap from hill to hill as it finally faded away in the distance. The heavy rain clouds rolled on the wind over the rugged peaks that bound the lake, and almost touched the highest points as they stood majestically up defying the force of the elements. Standing at the window of that page 31comfortable hotel, I saw the fierce force of the wind and waters spent against the high mountains that stood forth as if they laughed to scorn these puny efforts to ruffle their strong calm faces. One peak higher than the others caught the fleeting clouds, and like the rock which breaks the even flow of the tide, parted the misty wave until it curled slowly by on each side, as if baffled in its attempt to envelop the hills in an avalanche of vapour.

Close under the window where I stood the waters of the lake were tossed and beaten upon the beach until their rush resembled the flow of the ocean breaking upon the rugged rock-bound shore.

Further rest being now impossible, I left my room and passed out into the embrace of the storm. From the shelter of an adjoining verandah I watched the raging of the gale, saw it spend its fury upon the towering hills, and far in the distance beheld the landscape covered by a sheet of fleeting mist, which cast a pall over all the face of Nature.

What a contrast from the night before! When we lay down to rest all was still and peaceful, with the calm and comfort of a summer's eve—now the elements were at war with all creation, and the atmosphere was that of winter's fiercest blast. A change of a few brief hours, but how complete! Nature, that could work with such wonderful results, must have some secrets hidden in her bosom for the diligent and daring explorer well worth the highest ambition of man to bring to light.

It the midst of a storm such as this, we see how feeble is the power of man, and what a pigmy he is in the vastness of the universe!

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With all his boastful wisdom, how little he knows of Nature and Nature's workings!

In the great ocean of knowledge he has but scanned across the surface, leaving the vast treasures of the deep hidden from his view.

While pacing up and down the verandah viewing the turbulence of the elements, Macdonald joined me.

"Certies!" he began, "it's a bit raw this mornin', is it no? It's gey lucky we're no on the road the day! I'm sayin' we'd get a dookin' no very nice if we'd startit suiner!"

"You're right there, Macdonald," I replied, shortly.

"Jist ca' me 'Mac,' sir. It's easier an' mair namely like, an' as we've tae be thegither a lang time, I'm sayin', it'll save ye a bit breeth for better wark."

The confidential and practical air of the Scotchman amused me. He saw the smile cross my face, and continued—

"'Deed, sir, ye'll want a' the win' ye can comman', sclimin' some o' thae hills. I'm sayin' ye've maybe had some wark o' this kin' afore. Maybe ye've been i' thae pairts an' ken what's comin'?"

"No, Mac, I've never been farther than where we are now."

"An' are ye no feered o' gettin' lost ower thae hills?"

"Oh! no, there is no danger of that. We can always find out where we are, and what direction to travel to get back to our starting point."

"An' hoo can ye be suir o' that? Hoo can ye tell what waey tae gang?"

"By the compass."

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"The compass!" and Mac's face wore a troubled expression; "why! hoo can that twa-leggit thing tell ye what'n waey tae gang?"

Then, producing a pocket compass, I explained to my perplexed companion the difference between the compass he meant and that which I carried. He was thoroughly interested in the movements of the needle, and after turning it round and round, he looked at me with a face of wonder and amazement, and exclaimed—

"Certies! but that's a queer bit thing. An' daes that dancin' preen tell ye what waey tae gang?"

Taking another turn at the compass, he jerked it round quickly, first one way then the other; then he turned it half round and quickly jerked it back, seemingly bent on preventing the needle from following his movements. Presently he fairly broke out into a laugh.

"Weel, weel, that fair beats a'. That trem'lin' wee bit thing'll no be pit aff his perch, dae what ye like! It's aye pintin' tae the same place, an' turns tae't, nae matter what ye dae!"

I then pointed out to Macdonald that this constancy was the merit of the instrument, and quite astounded him with the wisdom of my observations and the depth of my knowledge. With true native shrewdness he quickly grasped the principles of the science on the subject we had been discussing. He doubtless felt himself a more worthy companion of the exploring party for the knowledge he had gained.

A fresh outburst in the storm diverted our attention, and we stood together in mute wonderment watching the lightning flash, and listening to the loud rolling thunder page 34echoing amongst the hills and valleys around. The earth trembled at the shock, and the rush of water lent a solemn chorus to the heart-stirring noise of the gale.

"Certies!" exclaimed my companion, when the first lull of the disturbed elements made talking possible, "I'm thinkin' thae puir bodies o' diggers 'll be gettin' awfu' times on sic a day. I'm sayin' I'd no like tae be leevin' in a clout hoose the noo."

The last decided expression of the storm roused the rest of our party, and Gordon joined us a few minutes later.

He and I then paced up and down the verandah discussing the plans necessary for our starting. He appeared to chafe at the delay occasioned by this weather; but on my repeating his servant's practical view of the position, he admitted that we were fortunate in not meeting the storm some days later. When the neighbourhood began to assume the appearance of wakefulness the storm had somewhat abated, and after breakfast we were able to get about with a moderate degree of comfort, and see to the preparations for continuing our journey at the earliest possible moment.

About midday a telegram was received from Chapman stating that he was compelled to abandon the idea of joining us. He wished us success, and hoped to be the first to hear of our return.

That evening we had everything completed for an immediate start on the return of favourable weather.

Discussing what was best to be done with the extra horse and accoutrements rendered unnecessary by Chapman's detention, Richards said that he knew of a suitable man in Queenstown who might be engaged to accompany us, and so give assistance to Macdonald. Gordon also page 35suggested that as we could not expect to take our horses far inland, it might he wise to have another servant who could he sent hack with the animals or left in charge of our extra stores, if such a course were thought desirable, when we found we could not proceed further with the horses.

This suggestion was therefore adopted, and Gordon and Richards set out at once to try and discover their man. They shortly returned to say that they had secured his services.

The following morning we were early astir. The only addition made to our baggage was a couple of carrier pigeons, which we procured from the landlord of the hotel so that we might send an occasional message to him during our progress.

Our new assistant turned up in due time, and proved to be a very desirable acquisition to the party. He had been a bushman in America, and had some experience of exploring in different countries, so that he was able to make some valuable suggestions.

With light hearts and filled with hope we set out on our journey, and ere daylight faded had covered a considerable distance. We pitched our camp on the first night in a spot which gave us abundance of fodder for the horses, and over the fire that evening sat listening to such stories of peril and adventure as could be drawn from the experience or memory of the different members of the party. Lode, our new companion, proved invaluable in the camping and cooking arrangements, and showed how much a little experience can teach an observant and intelligent man.