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Raromi, or, The Maori Chief's Heir

Chapter IV. Friends and Foes

page 24

Chapter IV. Friends and Foes.

Pakeha! Pakeha!' greeted Noble's ear as he came to and tried to collect his thoughts, feeling choked by a terrible thirst.

Noble looked up at his surroundings. He was inside an old raupo hut, still bound tightly, hungry, thirsty, and in great pain—altogether in an awkward plight.

'Water! water!' cried Noble, hoarsely. 'Oh, give me some water!'

In a minute an unknown hand had placed a gourd full of water to Noble's lips, and he drank on until the calabash was dry.

'Oh! how sweet it is, how sweet!

'But who are you, O friend? you are a friend indeed to the poor Pakeha!'

A voice whispered in his ear, 'Don't you remember old Pekapeka who—s-s-sh!'

Steps were heard. When all was quiet, the voice said again, 'Old Pekapeka who fell down ill amongst the Pakeha! and you, O friend, you had the white heart, and saved him—you saved the old Maori slave!'

page 25

'And he has saved me,' added Noble; 'so we are quits, Mr. Pekapeka. But tell me, what are they going to do with me?'

'Oh, my master, if I could only help you! but what can a poor old Maori slave do?'

'He can give a cup of cold water to those who thirst, and the great Atua e Rangi (God of heaven) will reward him some day.' The grateful old slave said Dog's-ear was not in camp. He was out somewhere with Rangihaeata. Dog's-ear did not want to injure the settlers. He said if there were bad men amongst them, so there were bad men amongst the Maoris, and both should be punished, but not those whose word was straight.

A slight kindness, a soft word, dropped like seed into a savage heart, had worked its way, it came back upon Noble fraught with pity and help.

This moment of calm was broken suddenly by cries, shouts, and firing of guns. Then followed that terrible, maddening rush—stamping, leaping, and wildest of all raging—the war-dance!

The hoarse, guttural respiration of rage, worse than a mere cry, was accompanied by so heavy a thud of naked feet on the dry ground that the very place trembled, as did Noble also, for it boded no good to him.

Soon afterwards a rush was made to Noble's hut. A blow from the end of a spear, given as to a dog, made Noble sit up. Facing him stood a chief of gigantic size, whose massive limbs betokened immense strength; he was the cruel, restless fighter, Rangihaeata.

'Dog of a Pakeha!' he shouted in a passion, 'we'll page 26soon clear the country of you all—all of you! We'll drive you into the sea; or, better still, into the oven! I have said it.'

Soon after, amidst shouts and jeers, accompanied by blows and ill-usage, another victim was dragged forward, and thrown into Noble's hut. The Maori heart was steeled against pity at that juncture.

'Bill, old man,' said the new-comer, speaking to himself, 'you've never been "trussed-up" like this afore. It's wus nor the "irons," and wusser than the bos'un's mates tricing a feller up to the triangles!'

'Bill Worsall!'

'Eh, old shipmate, that's me. But who's that?'

'It's only Noble, my lad.'

'What, Noble! And you here with these blacky-moor rascals?'

'I'm a prisoner, Bill, like yourself. I'm afraid we're in a fix, my bold sailor; but how did you come here?'

'Why, you see, I was out on a bit of a spree—'

'Always those "sprees," Bill, those terrible drinking-bouts, those—'

'Why, what fun would you give a sailor-man? Can't he have a bit of fun somehows? a pipe, a glass, a song, and a dance.'

'Yes, but what follows? What about the next day?'

'You're right, old man, arter all; only I can't keep to ginger-pop and water-creases, and they don't mix like. I wants some grog to keep 'em down, and make 'em digest.'

'As I wur going to say, Garry, and Nobbles, and a page 27lot of us, had a tall evening at the Bar, you see. The liquor flew about in any quantity. Falconer came in and "riled" the chaps, and then we all went out for a walk. The second time we went back did for us; there was quarrelling and fighting, and Bob's a-dyin' goin' on. Then Garry got an ugly prod; but I knows who did it—it wur foul work, and I'll tell all about it, if I gets a chance, I will.' 'But what about yourself?'

'I don't know how it wur, like. I found myself on my "beam-ends," and somebody whacking into me. Then I come to a-bit, and I saw it was Moories—and here I am, regularly "mittened."'

Bill's speech was cut short. Some Maoris came in, cut their bonds, and dragged them outside, making them sit down together under a tree.

'Bill Worsall!' said Noble, suddenly.

'Yes, old man, but be quick. If it's anything you've got to say, out with it—it will soon be all up with us; do—'

'Did Falconer drink? was he—was he—drunk, when you had that shindy?'

'Oh, no! Says he, "I won't touch a drop. I've guv my word, and I won't touch it," says he, just as we went out the first time. "Good-bye, Bill, I'm off home!" I wish I'd ha' gone off home too—that I do, old man.'

'Thank God!' burst from Noble; ' he's stood the test!'

The prisoners sat waiting for death. A group of scowling natives sat on their heels near them—in silence.

page 28

Up jumped the young chief who had captured Noble. 'Men of the Ngatiana, allies, listen to my words,' said he, as he walked to and fro. 'Are we not Maoris? Have we not marched down here in recent times under the great Te Rauparaha? Is not the land ours, conquered by our arms, by our bravery? Who can stand before us?

'But now these miserable Pakeha cross our path. Who are they? Slaves cast out of their own land, and lo, they come here to fasten on us. They cheat, and lie, and steal—yes, they try to steal-our land and drive us away.

'Death to the Pakeha!' he shouted, brandishing his terrible club ferociously in high air.

The rest were greatly excited, but dared not move—they remained silent, as was the custom.

'They are nothing but women,' said another, in impassioned tones; 'they are only fit to drive the Apokororo into the net. Shew a bold face to these Pakeha—they run! Pursue them—they cry for mercy! Mercy! to the invaders of our land? Never! They came only to eat up the land; let them find the mere, and eat that!'

The mere being a club, the allusion greatly pleased the assembled warriors.

'Noble,' said Bill Worsall, 'it's "two-blocks" with us this time. Before we gits a crack with one of those clubs, I should like—'

'What troubles you, Bill?'

'It's the old dad, Noble. If you're saved, and ever page 29see anybody as is going to Rotherhithe, tell 'em to ask for old Worsall, lighterman; tell him, his son Bill, as he's a dyin' man, axes his pardon, which he would on his bended knees if he could—my poor old dad, God bless him, and forgive me! for I didn't do right by him when I ran away—

'Ah, they're comin'—shake hands, good-bye, Noble!'

A warrior crept toward them—his stone mere firmly grasped, ready to give the fatal blow!

But now a chief of noble and commanding mien walked proudly into the ring; and a murmur of respect and awe swept through the rude Maori throng, as he challenged and claimed each warrior's attention.

'What! who dares speak of war when Dog's-ear is not present?' he asked. 'Who dares go on the war-party against the Pakeha without Dog's-ear's permission—without his will, not led by his strong arm? Why are these Pakeha doomed to die?'

'They are slaves,' said the young chief, 'who have insulted us. I was beaten by these Pakeha; I, a chief of your tribe. And I demand revenge!'

'Good. But justice first—revenge afterwards. Stand up, Pakeha, and answer for yourselves. You are accused; speak out, and fear not!'

Noble tottered forward towards the chief. As he did so, Dog's-ear gave a piercing glance at the little man, now sinking from hunger and ill-usage.

'Oh, Dog's-ear,' he cried, 'did you not eat my bread—did you not call me your friend—did you not—'

With a bound the chief was by his side, ere he fell, page 30overcome by weakness. He caught Noble in his arms as if he were a child.

'He's my friend!' said Dog's-ear, in a tone that admitted of no reply.

The abashed warriors hastened away, and the great chief carried his friend into his own hut, and waited on him like a servant.

'I never see the likes of that,' said Bill to himself. 'Just as that blackymoor wur going to do it, old Dog's-ear walks off with Noble as if he wur his own son. Go it, sonny. I'd walk off too if I could git anybody to be a parient like to me.'

Looking round, Bill Worsall saw a chief making signs to him, and as they were evidently friendly—referring to eating and drinking—Bill knew it was all right, and he crept into the chief's hut.

'Landed agin, old beauty!' he exclaimed, with a sailor's happy indifference, 'and in for a good feed too.

'I shall see the dear old dad arter all!'