Raromi, or, The Maori Chief's Heir
Chapter V. Hopes in the Dust
Chapter V. Hopes in the Dust.
Ge Aro Flat, Port Nic., at this period was loosely dotted over by rough weather-boarded huts or cottages. These mostly had two rooms and a covered-in outhouse at the back.
The outhouse, as we may call it, to one of these cottages had been converted into a sleeping-room. It had been partly papered with old newspapers, but having no chimney was ventilated by the window. This window was simply an opening without a frame, and was covered by a wooden shutter on hinges.
A low bed stood on one side, and a deal table in the middle of the room. There was one chair, and this was occupied by a young man, who leaned upon the table, and sat buried in thought.
This young man was Falconer, the sailor.
Falconer looked up at the bit of flickering candle—almost gone—and his thoughts seemed to oppress him.page 32
His was a manly face. His look was frank, and his features were pleasing.
He looks at his knuckles. As he does so, a fierce light comes into his eyes, but dies away as quickly as it came.
'Why should I get angry and despise them?' he says to himself. 'They are my companions—equals—friends. I'm only a sailor—a common sailor, living from hand to mouth. Why do I kick at my lot?'
Yet he did kick at it, and his thoughts evidently went in that direction.
'What can I do better?' he continued. 'And yet I ought to do something better, perhaps. It is true I was educated expensively, and lived at home in ease and comfort—as a gentleman. Then came the startling revelation, when fortune and home were swept away, that I was useless—that I am useless.
'Father! Mother! Clara! Where are they? Gone! Gone!' Falconer bent his head, and a convulsive sob shook him—'Gone! And I, the most useless, the most worthless of all, left—the companion of drunken beachcombers!'
Falconer got up and pushed the chair aside. He felt stifled. He wanted air. His reflections choked him. He threw open the shutter, and looked out into the darkness.
He fancied for a moment he saw some moving figures. But he smiled at the idea. He had nothing to lose but himself, he said bitterly, and there were few thieves at Port Nic.
'I'm a coward, a selfish brute!' he muttered again. When the whirlwind came down upon the house of John page 33M—, merchant, it was lost amidst the foaming breakers.
True. But who came up out of the wreck? An old man, sinking, dying, and a stalwart fellow who should have faced the world like a man.
'And what have I done to justify my manhood? Buried myself here among beach-combers and sawyers; drinking, quarrelling, and gambling my life away—and with it my manhood.
'And Clara? Dear, patient, noble Clara!' Falconer groaned, as if suffering great pain: he was smitten at heart.
'Yes,' he added, 'and to finish my shame, I have even cast Clara away; thinking because I could not hold up my head proudly in England, I had the right to break my word to her, and bury myself here, indifferent to her suffering—to her love—to my own honour—only thinking of myself.'
His punishment had come home to him. His soul now pined for the real, tender sympathy of a pure woman's affection—and it was lost to him!
'I've spurned the woman who could have given me a hope in life,' he continued; 'and now what would I not give for one kind word from her, bidding me to hope—to rise up and be a man—for her sake?'
Mechanically he pulled out a piece of paper on which Noble had asked him to make a calculation for him one evening. He looked at it, and he remembered Noble's words that evening. Now, when he thought of them, they seemed strange—his questions about Liverpool—whom he knew there—whether he had lived there: all centring round Liverpool.page 34
'Did he know my father?' asked Falconer of himself.
'He asked, too, if I knew Mr. M—, the merchant.
I remember now, how I longed to tell him my history—to tell him all. But I dared not—not even to my best friend—for he is the only friend I can really count upon.'
Falconer's eyes had been wandering dreamily over the bit of paper in his hand; then he threw it down on the table. It turned over, and—
He seized it, with flashing eyes; and, holding it near the candle, tried to spell out some old writing.
'Hers!' he said, jumping to his feet; 'her very signature, or I never saw it. There's no mistaking it; the name is so uncommon.'
This piece of paper was a piece of an old letter. On the folded part, which had been hidden, was the following signature: Clara Banttza.
Falconer—as we shall always call him—was powerfully agitated. His affection for Clara awoke again with renewed force. The thought of her love being his threw a flash of deep joy in upon his barren, lonely heart. Hope arose at once, and beckoned him forward. He would get seriously to work—would make a name—create a position—and then offer all to Clara.
But the next thought, alas, brought down his towering, wonderful castles, and laid them in the dust. The thought was this, 'Does she love me after the silence, the indifference, the insults of the past?'
Then, too, how was it Noble knew her? for her signature was evidently on a letter—was part of a letter—to Noble.
His mind was in a tumult. His agitation was so page 35great he could not rest. 'I'll run to Noble at once,' burst from him, 'and have the matter cleared up. I'll confess all to him—and he shall decide.'
This even he could not do then; it was not long past midnight.
'At any rate I must go out and have a turn in the air. I shall be stifled here, and sleep I cannot.'
As Falconer turned towards the door, the wooden shutter opened, and two men sprang into the room. As he faced round to meet them two others came in at the door—he was surrounded!
'What, Mr. Dawson! Is that the way you take possession of my room? What do you want?'
'You!' replied the head constable.
'Yes; you're my prisoner!'
'If so,' added Falconer, getting angry, 'there must be a charge—what am I charged with?'
For a moment Falconer was dazed; but instantly recovering himself he seized the chair in his powerful grasp, and placing his back against the wall stood—defiant!
'I'm no murderer,' said he. 'I never lifted a weapon to a man in foul play—never! I have never been in prison yet, and alive I never will go there. Do your worst!'
'Come, Falconer,' replied the chief constable, 'this is a sad business for us as for yourself. But we have our duty to do; and you know it must be done.'
'On what do you found your charge?' asked Falconer.page 36
'On this, they say—mind you, it is hearsay. You had a quarrel with some one at the Bar—you threatened each other—you went out and fought—he was found stabbed—and you're charged with doing it.'
'When was it done?'
'On Friday last.'
'I left the party at the door. It is true I had to defend myself, and got one or two knocks. But all the fellows went in again, I believe. I went and found Noble, and stayed with him; he can prove it.'
'I cannot argue the point,' said the chief constable. 'It is only out of consideration for yourself that I have explained what I know. I have simply a warrant to arrest you—here. Don't, however, trust too much to what Noble can do.'
'Because the Maoris have captured him; they say he's killed!'
Falconer put down his chair and sat down, his defiance gone, and his hope too.
Arraigned on such a charge, in the hands of those who were now enemies, his best friend gone, the one on whom all his hopes rested to prove his innocence—life itself was at stake!
'Lead on, Mr. Dawson,' said Falconer, 'but don't touch me. I'm afraid of myself just now. I shall be quiet enough if you let me walk as I am.'
Thus Falconer went to prison.