Raromi, or, The Maori Chief's Heir
Chapter XIII. Rain—But no Water
Chapter XIII. Rain—But no Water.
Falconer and Scotty, well-armed, their legs protected by heavy gaiters, being, moreover, well provided with food, in case of accident or delay, started by a short cut to explore the country over the hills towards Makara—a part rich in trees of all kinds, but wild, little known, and difficult of access.
Pushing along small tracks at the back of Falconer's cottage, they penetrated the woods easily at first, as the Maoris had evidently used these paths constantly to climb the hills.
'There is no good timber for us here,' exclaimed Scotty; 'but we shall find plenty over the hills. Those ti trees are pretty; and look—'
'Where?' asked Falconer.
Scotty had pushed through some underwood and stood under a graceful tree, which was covered with white, sweet-smelling blossoms.
'Don't you smell the blossoms, Falconer? It's a bouquet—delightful!'
'What is it? I don't know trees,'
'I forget the Maori name, but it's no use to us. We page 84are after that which is useful. But tell me, captain, what shall we call our good ship when she's built?'
'Don't talk nonsense, Scotty. Let us build her first. You are the first Scot I ever knew whose head was turned by a nosegay in the pursuit of—'
'Fortune, eh, old man? Well, be it so. I am sentimental, I can't help it, in these beautiful woods.'
They soon reached the high ground forming the western heights, overlooking the harbour.
'Look, Falconer! That magnificent harbour, as yet unknown, will one day hold brave ships, charged with the "wealth of Ormus and of Ind," or I'm no prophet And Te Aro Flat, now dotted over with wooden shanties, will one day be a noble mart for the commerce of the nations. And amongst the names of its merchant princes, Falconer, Scott, and Co. shall be pre-eminent!'
'I thought I had caught a hard-headed Scot,' was the rejoinder; 'keen, 'cute, and up to bawbees and such things; and here you are spouting nonsense, and the day slipping away from us,'
The two came suddenly upon a piece of rough-made road.
'This must be a bit of the Karori road, Falconer,'
'I never heard of it. Where does it go to?'
'I don't want to go there, Scotty; I'm after timber, and birds,'
'Most sapient Englisher, perhaps you know on the other side of this savage peninsula lies Porirua; and some wiseacres began to run a road straight across to it,'
'And here it is?'page 85
'No. Here it isn't! This is only a bit of the wiseacres' folly. It was given up. Some day, a fellow with a head on will make a good road, I daresay, through this region of hills and dales, woods and glens, inhabited by silence, kakas, and—'
'Yes; perhaps so; but we are under Dog's-ear's protection, remember. It is only that band of wild young savages sometimes called "Moa-pauks" we need fear—but they are dangerous.'
'I'm hungry,' cried Scotty; 'let's dive into our larder. I'm keen set, and that settles it.'
They encamped under some lofty miro trees, thick enough to shelter them from the sun, and explored the recesses of their haversacks.
'Here's long life to Mrs. Norris! 'cried Scotty, gaily; 'two meat pies for a beginning is not bad.'
'No—only one, lad; keep a reserve.'
'Just what I was going to observe—now for a snack and off.'
'I fancy I can see some ratas yonder, Falconer; just what we want.'
'Ratas; false-hearted parasites.'
'Who ever heard of a false-hearted tree?'
'Ratas at first are creepers. Growing stronger, they at length envelope the original tree in their fatal embraces. The original tree perishes, and the monster becomes a huge, lofty tree in its place. That's what I mean when I call them false-hearted. Gnarled, tough, and hard, we must use the rata for the frame of our ship.'page 86
Off ran Scotty to one near them.
'Here's a beauty!' cried he. 'You see that hollow stem and the crooked arms. What splendid "knees" we shall get out of that fellow, and just the size we want—mark him!'
Not long afterwards a cry from Scotty brought Falconer to his side.
'Here's the kind of wood we want for the outer planking of our craft. The tawai is tough and hard to cut, but strong and durable; this one is too big for us.'
'Yes; we could never cut that fellow.'
'Here's another, Falconer; a young one. We'll mark him, and take bearings.'
'What's that? Listen!' said Falconer.
The two were standing under masses of thick, towering trees, and Falconer was trying to find the sky.
'What do you see—or hear?'
'I thought I heard rain, but I can't see the sky.'
'Rain!' exclaimed Scotty, laughing heartily; 'that's no more rain than I am.'
'But don't you hear the pattering of the drops?'
'Something is falling, it is true,' added Scotty; 'but that something is miro berries, that the birds—kakas, I expect—are gathering, and letting fall on the dead leaves.'
'Let's have a shot, Scotty. But how can we see the birds?'
'You can't see them. They stick at the top of the trees, and you may crane your neck a long time before you see one.'
'What shall we do, then?'page 87
'The Maori dodge, or—'
'What is that? '
'A Maori going to catch kakas alive mounts a suitable tree, with simply a good stick and a wounded kaka. When amongst the foliage the Maori makes the wounded bird cry out; the other birds near flock round their wounded mate, and watch it in mute despair, when whack! whack! goes the stick, and down fall the birds.'
'You were going to speak of another mode?'
'Which is simply to find a good clearing, where the trees are thinned out, and one can see the birds flitting about Then we may get pot shots, but sitting; you'll hardly shoot a bird on the wing.
'Do you see where the sun is?' asked Scotty.
'No, but I guess it's getting late. We must find our path and get back.'
'Come along, then; this is the way.'
The two were soon plodding along as fast as possible, winding in and out amongst totaras, ratas, and miro trees, and were getting tired, when—
Bang! went Falconer's gun; the charge cutting twigs and leaves near Scotty, who cried out, 'Halloa, Falconer, what's up?' But looking around, he burst into laughter.
This laughter was caused by a sight of Falconer's doleful appearance as he picked himself up from the ground, and limped away towards his companion.
'Have you been shot, Falconer?'
'Yes; "over the bows," as sailors say. My foot caught in a sort of a trap, and over I went, head first.'page 88
'You ought to know kareaos—supple-jacks—abound here; forming loops for the unwary.'
'I do know it, Scotty; I've just found it out.'
For some time they tramped on in silence; but at last Scotty stopped, and, facing Falconer, said, 'Do you know, old fellow, I believe we're lost.'
'Let's steer due east by the compass, and we must strike the harbour.'
'I've lost it, Falconer. I must have left it when we sat down to eat.'
No sun was visible. But the day was evidently falling fast. No opening through the woods could they find, no pathway. Scotty had been too busy marking two or three trees to cut, to notice how they bore from each other, or from their old path. Both were, in fact, too inexperienced in bush life to find their way unaided.
They reached the side of a deep, dark ravine; and very far down in its hidden depths they heard the distant noise of a gurgling stream. It was dangerous to wander more. In truth, they were too tired—they were beaten.
'We must camp here,' said Scotty.
'I'm not a good hand at wood-ranging,' added Falconer, 'so I've let you have full swing. But now we must both keep our wits alive. We are close to the ravine, and no one can take us on that side. This clump of trees will hide us in front. Whoever comes, I fancy will come by that bit of path we have just discovered.'
'Bravo, captain! You're right again; that bit of path goes into the ravine, or along it, I'm sure; and all invaders will come along it from one part or the other.'page 89
Scotty made a screen of big fern fronds; and behind this screen, bundles of fronds of the beautiful tree-fern made capital beds.
'Turn in and sleep, captain,' said Scotty.
'No, Scotty; I'll take the first watch, but sleep with one eye open.' As soon as Scotty's head was down, he slept; and Falconer, lifting his heart in prayer, watched over his sleeping companion.
But Falconer was really too fatigued to watch. He could not pace to and fro, as a sailor would do at sea. Forced to stand still, he made every effort possible to throw off the numbing influence of sleep, which was gradually overpowering him. At length he nodded, his head fell back, and he reclined against the bole of a huge tree—fast asleep.
He slept as a sailor learns to sleep; and happily for him, without movement—but his waking must be given in another chapter.