Raromi, or, The Maori Chief's Heir
Chapter XVI. Raromi of the Strong Grip
Chapter XVI. Raromi of the Strong Grip.
Falconer's thoughts were soon brought back to himself and his friend—to a keen perception of their danger. Their bitterest enemies were upon them. Scotty must be warned; and Falconer crept back amongst the trees, making a détour, so as to keep well hidden.
Passing a huge forest giant, he found himself in a small natural avenue, the top of which was open to the sky—a sylvan nook of great beauty.
As he stepped into the avenue from behind the tree, another man came into it from behind another tree; and the two stood face to face.
The other man was Black Charlie!
For a moment the two stared at each other in silence; the next moment, however, Charlie fired; and when the smoke had cleared away Falconer was lying on the ground.
'Ha! ha! got him at last!' shouted the ruffian, as he rushed forward, clutching his gun as a club.
Falconer—who had tried a ruse—sprang to his feet, and launched a stone with such force at his assailant page 103that he dropped his gun, and stood still, from sheer amazement.
'Ah! you think you've baulked me, do you?' cried Black Charlie, darting forward, and tugging away at a long hunting-knife in his belt.
In an instant, before the knife was drawn, Falconer was upon him, and a desperate struggle commenced.
Falconer's strength was immense, and he was young and fresh; while Black Charlie, although noted for pluck and muscle, had for years drawn largely upon his strength by debauchery and drink.
'Give up, man!' cried Falconer; 'and let us cry quits.'
'Yes—let go—and I'll—'
'But I must have this knife first;' and Falconer drew it out adroitly and threw it away.
The two men, panting and heated, stood apart and faced each other.
'Why are you banded with Maori assassins on purpose to kill me?' asked Falconer.
'Because I hate you!'
'You tried to swear my life away—surely that's enough for your hate!'
'I'll never rest till one or the other of us goes down!'
'But why do you hate me?'
'What a memory you've got. Don't you remember when we were whaling for a few months in Joe Gibson's boat?
'Well, that fight we had.'
'You struck me, Charlie, and insulted me; and it was a fair fight. Besides, you know the beach-comber's law, "A fair fight clears off old scores!"'page 104
'It don't—and I'll have your—'
Charlie had sidled toward the knife. Picking it up, he darted upon Falconer with renewed fury.
Falconer, unarmed, picked up the fallen gun, and swinging it round felled Charlie as he rushed upon him with his long, keen knife.
At this juncture, Scotty, hearing the noise, and close to, kept crying out, 'Falconer! Falconer!'
'Here, Scotty; what is it?'
'The Moa-pauks are upon us—in our rear!' cried Scotty, seizing Falconer. 'Back to the ravine again, before they get there—there's not a moment to lose.'
'But Black Charlie is lying there—I'm afraid I've—'
'Let him lie! Let us run—it's now or never!'
While the Maoris were working round to get at the Englishmen unobserved, the latter ran as for very life into the ravine once more—but this time by daylight.
The ravine was a beautiful spot. The path wound in and out along the face of a precipitous height—a weird, huge rampart of rock above, and an unknown, fearful deep below. In places the rock overhead seemed ready to fall and crush the intruder; in other places the path was covered in by creeping plants, which formed beautiful vegetable screens as seen by daylight, but causing utter darkness at night.
In the depths of the ravine gurgled a noisy stream, as if to give indication of its presence, and a warning to those who should tread the sylvan heights above carelessly.
'Here's where I slipped!' remarked Scotty, indicating the spot where he fell over. 'I really wonder, Falconer, how I could have got up again!'page 105
'I believe God helped us, Scotty; let us trust to His powerful arm still—and ask His protection.'
Scotty turned and looked at Falconer—the two looked at each other as men do who would read the innermost thoughts of each other's souls.
'You hardly think me sincere, Scotty?'
'You are not the man to be false,' was the reply; 'but are you not mistaken in taking up the religious tone? Religious people don't shew up well, in my estimation.'
'Scotty, God has called me in His way to turn from my evil ways. This is not talking, but doing. It's hard work for one whose companions were the worst characters on the beach; but I accept His word, and I'm trying to obey.'
'You surprise me, Falconer; but I respect you as I never did before—you at any rate are sincere.'
'I am surprised at myself, Scotty, but when God calls a man, He gives him light to see; and now I see that to follow those at the Bar means—ruin! Religion, for me, is not in talk, nor in profession exactly.'
'What is it, then?'
'It's a living principle, which, in practice, means being and doing.'
'What God wants us to be.'
'What He tells us in His Word we must do, to answer the supreme end of our being.'
The two at last cleared the glen. And now, on higher ground, and nearing the scene of their earlier exploits, both Scotty and Falconer hurried along the path leading towards home.page 106
'Hark!' said Scotty, suddenly, and he bent low and listened—' it's the cry of the Moa-pauks,' he remarked, 'calling to one another.'
They pushed on at their fastest. The Maoris, too, followed them through the glen; were there any more about?
'They're gaining on us, Falconer, and we're getting done up.' In fact, cries came from two opposite parts of the forest.
'Is your gun loaded, Falconer?'
'Now, off with your jacket, and give it me!'
Scotty hastily put the jacket round some dry sticks, and stuck Falconer's cap on top. 'That will stop them a few minutes,' said he.
On again ran the two, the fresher on account of their rest.
'Ah! listen, captain; they're rushing your jacket—'
'And they are fighting over it, if I'm not mistaken. Hark! do you hear those cries?'
These cries ceased suddenly; but imagine their dismay on looking ahead to see a dark foe bearing down upon them, and, on looking round, to see those behind closing in upon them.
They were hemmed in!
'That's Wetekina stopping our path,' said Scotty. 'Here, you face him, Falconer, but back to back. Cover the chief well, but don't fire—unless forced to do so.'
'What then, old fellow?'
'I'll play these others with my old pistol; perhaps the chief will work round and join the others.'page 107
'Our path is clear; and we must make a rush. It's clear they have no powder—or we should not be here!'
Wetekina bounded on towards Falconer. But the long gun in a line with his head stopped him. He swerved to the right—and the deadly aim followed him. Then he rushed towards the others, to join them for a final swoop.
'Now's the time!' cried Scotty; and, with a bound, the two sailors dashed along the track, the Maoris bounding after them, yelling with rage.
The Maoris gained; the sailors put forth all their powers to keep ahead. Scotty half turned his head, his foot caught in the root of a tree, and down he came with great force. 'Up, lad!' cried Falconer, facing round and aiming at the foremost Maori.
'I can't walk, Falconer; but I'll crawl up and help you.'
'Courage, my hearty! We must make sure of one each; and I'll tackle the third man—and God help the right!'
On rushed the Maoris. One of them was very near, and was just in the act of raising his tomahawk, when Falconer fired, and the native fell.
'Here, take the pistol,' said Scotty; 'I'm useless!'
Falconer now prepared for the final rush. The Maoris separated, and, tomahawk in hand, were creeping nearer step by step to make the fatal rush, feeling sure of their victims, one of whom was helpless.
A piercing whoop burst out behind them, which went to the brave men's hearts.page 108
Falconer fired, and down fell another Maori, badly wounded.
'Dog's-ear!' cried Scotty—'we're saved!'
Before Wetekina could spring on Falconer, Dog's-ear bounded upon the young chief; and now began a fearful struggle.
Dog's-ear was an oldish man, but his muscles were of steel. Wetekina was young, but powerful, and agile as a cat. Wetekina's axe having dropped, it became a struggle of sheer strength for the mastery. Still, let but one right hand get free, and Wetekina's knife or Dog's-ear's mere would settle the fight.
Gripping each other fiercely, now swinging forward and now backward, stumbling, falling, but rising and gripping each other anew, the struggle went on.
At length with a fierce yell Dog's-ear caught the young chief as he wished, and threw him so violently against the bole of a tree that he seemed to be lifeless. With a bound he rushed upon him and the fatal mere was uplifted.
His arm was caught firmly by Falconer.
'O chief!' he cried, 'he is mine! I claim his life!'
'Good! O Pakeha, was the reply. The old chief sank down, panting and exhausted.
'Father of brave hearts!' said Falconer, 'you have saved our lives; I'm your friend for ever!' and he gripped the chief's hands in token thereof.
'My son shall you be,' said Dog's-ear; 'Raromi, for your grip is tight, your word straight, and your heart is true.'page 109 page 110