Raromi, or, The Maori Chief's Heir
Chapter IX. 'He's Dead!'
Chapter IX. 'He's Dead!'
Noble's return home was a kind of triumphal march. The crowds cheered him as he passed. He was the hero of the hour. Yet he replied to no one; indeed, so muffled up was he his face could not be seen.
'He fears the wind; he is so weak, so tender!' said the people, as he passed homewards with his body-guard of sailors.
Falconer walked behind, and in silence. His was a strong, deep nature, and Noble's heroism had stirred it to its depths—he could not trust himself to speak.
The cortege reached Noble's cottage. The bearers entered with their burden, and Falconer and one or two personal friends followed.
'Stand back, lads!' said Falconer; 'I'm the one to help him now.'
He bent over the muffled form, and lifted Noble in page 58his powerful arms with more than a woman's tenderness.
'How do you feel, Noble?' asked Falconer, in an anxious tone.
Noble was silent.
'Are you ill? What is the matter? Oh, do speak!' he continued, bending over the silent form now lying on the bed—motionless, speechless.
'What's the matter?' burst from Falconer. 'Oh! lads, do tell me, what is it?' He was so agitated he trembled with suppressed emotion, and could not undo Noble's wraps.
'Oh, Falconer, don't you see what it is?' exclaimed Mrs. Norris.
'No! Tell me!' he cried fiercely, clutching the widow's arm.
'It's death!—he's dead!'
"Dead!' cried Falconer,' he can't be dead! Oh, tell me, lads, is he dead?' He looked round on the mute faces of his friends—he read the truth.
'Dead! Oh, why not me!' burst from him in loud agonizing tones, as cries a soul in its utter despair. He threw himself into a chair and covered his face. He would wrestle with his grief alone.
The sailors left him.
At length Mrs. Norris left her corner, gathered her few things together, and went and stood over Falconer, whom she touched gently on the shoulder.
'Leave him with God, my lad,' said she; 'for He has taken him from us; and come you out with me, for I must prepare him for his long rest.'page 59
Falconer, without a word, walked out with Mrs. Norris into the bright sunshine—the sunshine which seemed to mock him just then.
He walked as in a dream. He was unnerved. He could not realize the momentous events of the last few hours in all their bearings, yet a crushing sense of guilt hung over him, and somehow he felt Noble's death was the result of his guilt.
He did not feel guilty on Garry's account. No. He was innocent there. He was guilty of throwing away God's greatest gifts to man—his life, hope, manliness, and honour. How could he answer this?
A few days later, Falconer sat reading a letter, just found: a letter addressed to Falconer by Noble; which affected him beyond expression.
This letter, after requesting Falconer to read it with attention, and begging his forgiveness for the wrong which, he had done him in the past,—at which Falconer stared with astonishment,—went on:—
'I found out some time ago you were the son of Mr. M—, the great Liverpool merchant. This discovery, however, troubled me much, until I could reach your affection; for your own proud silence as to the past barred me from speaking of it, as I ought to have done, and makes me leave this confession.
'I have done you, through your father, a great wrong. My debt to you is great. I hope that in some measure, however imperfectly, I have repaid some of it.
'I was eager to be rich; I was ambitious, and I led your father into my wild speculations. I involved him page 60in my own ruin. He trusted me too implicitly, and I took advantage of him too readily. My ruin brought ruin upon him—and upon you.
'When I came to myself out here, a solitary, unknown settler, trying to live honestly, trying to make life useful and honourable once more, I came upon you. Then it was that a sense of what I owed you, a wanderer and disinherited, as it seemed, through my folly, struck me in all its force. Since then I have worked for you.
'I have left you two plots of land—the one here with my cottage on it, and the other a town lot. I believe these will be valuable in the future. It is all I can leave you. On no account sell them for years to come—but they are yours, and yours for ever. I have done my best to make these plots of some value hoping and praying they might enable you to make a fresh start in the colony, and gain a useful and honourable position.
'Just before I was ruined I became trustee for Clara Banitza, the only daughter of a noble refugee, whose mother was English. Her father died suddenly in my house. Clara visited me one day, after ruin had fallen upon me; she was then a teacher of music and languages. During this visit I learnt her secret—and yours.
'May I not speak to you now as to my own son? You won her love honourably—honourably it was given, and given for ever. Do not be false, Falconer. If ever a noble-hearted woman was worthy of a true man's love, that woman is Clara.
'Clara bound me to secrecy. Never until you came page 61forward and avowed your love was I to divulge her secret—should I ever meet you—and put you in communication if you wished it.
'If your heart is faithful and true, let it speak out. Oh, Falconer, do rise from the dust and be a man. Break all ties of friendship with those who lure you to ruin. Take up life earnestly and seriously. Ask God to give you the heart, the will, to obey Him and do the right. Only be a man—true to God—to yourself—to Clara.'
Falconer's emotion on reading this letter cannot be described.
He now saw Noble's life in the colony had been one of self-sacrifice to repair an error; an error for which the world generally would not have held itself responsible.
To make restitution for the past, and save him from ruin—from his evil courses—at the same time opening out a brighter future for him, Noble had, it was now clear, sacrificed his own life.
Then that last scene, how could he ever forget that?
Knowing the fierce hatred of the desperate men led by Black Charlie, he shuddered to think what the result of the trial might have been, had not Noble, against all advice and all warning, boldly ventured into court to stay proceedings until witnesses could arrive, by which his innocence could be established—doing this, too, with the conviction that it would probably cost him his life!
'Oh, that I had Noble here for one short hour!' cried page 62Falconer;' that I might grasp his hand, might beg his pardon, might pour into his ear some of the gratitude which overpowers me; now, alas, for ever locked up in my own heart!
'Then, too, would I tell him my determination to take up life seriously and earnestly, not for my own selfish ends, but as held from God, in which to do my duty, and play a man's part to the best of my ability.
'Alas! It is too late.'
Repentance is never too late—reparation often is.