Raromi, or, The Maori Chief's Heir
Chapter XI. Wallaby Farm
Chapter XI. Wallaby Farm.
Falconer was not seriously injured; his scalp was broken, but the wound had not penetrated to any depth, and nursed by Mrs. Norris he soon grew better.
The mournful, tearful widow served the young sailor well in his trouble; and he, by his buoyant, cheerful manner, was a source of great joy to her.
One evening, the following important conversation took place between nurse and patient. Falconer had been talking of Noble's connection with his own family, and Mrs. Norris had followed the narrative with much sympathetic interest.
'And were you really strangers?' she asked, as the sailor finished his story.
'He knew my father, it appears, and my family, but not myself. I never remember seeing him.'
'And yet he clung to you so tenderly.'
'How little I understood him when he used to beg of page 70me to sit down and talk to him! The last evening we spent together will always be fixed in my mind,' said Falconer.
'Tell me about it, lad.'
'I went home with him that Friday evening when Garry lost his life, and directly we arrived he laid the cloth and put out a delicious stew. I, fool that I was, jumped up to run off.'
'Run off! why?' asked Mrs. Norris.
'I had promised the wild crew at the Bar to have some fun with them that evening. You know what that means.'
'You may well say that. However, Noble looked at me so wistfully, and begged me so earnestly to stop with him, that I could not refuse. I had supper with him, and we laughed and chatted together right merrily, for I liked to make him laugh. Ah me! if I had only stayed with him all the evening—well, perhaps he would be here now. Still, I've just this consolation, I did make him happy before I went.'
'Eh, lad, I'm glad of that for your sake.'
'I was so touched by his distress and alarm on my account, that I vowed to drink no more at the Bar; and it was refusing to drink any more with the gang at the Bar which turned all my drinking companions into enemies. And you know what danger I was in, Black Charlie trying to swear my life away.'
'At any rate, Noble's advice still lives and finds a place in your heart, I hope,' said Mrs. Norris.page 71
'His words, Mrs. Norris, come back to my mind constantly, charged with light.'
'Thank God for that, my lad; make them yours, and they will be charged with blessing too.'
'They are already. I begin to see light where all was darkness, and hope where all was blank despair.'
'I'm so glad of that When did this light and hope break in upon the darkness you spoke about?'
'When does the day dawn? It first makes itself felt in the darkness. It really first came to me in prison yonder.'
'That seems strange,' said Mrs. Norris.
'I did not think so then, but now I can see it. God was bringing my lofty, proud looks down. When I looked humbly at the path I was following, I found out the narrow path that led up to the light—to Him. The difficulty was to get into it and follow it.'
'That's the path, lad; it leads home, home! Oh! if I could only guide my poor boy into it. Where is he? O God! save him, and bring us home together!' cried Mrs. Norris, much excited.
'How is that?' said Falconer. 'I didn't know you had a son.'
'Yonder in Australia I had husband, son, and a tidy home, and was, as I thought, happy and comfortable for life.'
'And now—but there, don't speak about it, Mrs. Norris; it hurts you, I'm sure.'
'It's like this, lad. When I see a big, brave lad like yourself, my poor heart begins to beat quick. It won't keep quiet. I think of my Will, my own big lad; for, page 72you know, there's a yearning, craving desire always there, night and day, to see him once more, to hold him once more to my poor weary heart, that he might take the sting away—yes, the sting!'
'The—where is he?' jerked out Falconer.
'Where is he?' echoed Mrs. Norris, looking at Falconer, as tears welled up and stopped utterance.
'I'll tell you all,' she continued; 'and before I do so, let me beg this favour,—if ever you meet my Will, tell him I forgive him all! And bring him back to me, that I may die in peace!'
'I will, Mrs. Norris; I give you my solemn word.'
Mrs. Norris laid her right hand in that of the giant, and smiled through all, saying,' Oh, if you would but lead him into that narrow path that leads up, up, to the Light!'
'If God will only use me, I will; weak and unworthy as I am,' was the reply.
'We had a nice farm near Liverpool,' said the widow, 'on the road running from Sydney towards Goulburn. We weren't too far from Sydney, so my husband run in his farm produce, and took ready money, and brought out what stores we wanted. Ah me! we were so happy. But the clouds worked up; the storm came on me unawares. Our happiness fell; alas, it was not founded on the rock. My husband had too much money. Being generous, he often treated others, and was often treated to drink himself. He took to drink. He was ashamed of himself at first, and vowed he would give it up. But the habit had become too strong for him—it was master.
'Calamity came at last. But before that, Will, my page 73son, a big strapping fellow of seventeen, who used to go to town with his father, got into bad company. All this came out afterwards. At the time I didn't know it, for an awful accident, which carried off my poor husband, swept all other troubles out of my mind.
'I can't tell you the details, they're too painful. My husband was brought home dead, and laid on the bed he had left in the morning in good health and spirits. That was the first blow. Then came the other, which was almost too much for me—and has left a sting in my heart.
'Will became dissatisfied and restless, often leaving me and the farm for days together. Then followed disobedience, and, at last, defiance. He left me; I hardly dare say how, but the manner of leaving me carries a sting with it which will ever remain until he comes and takes it away.'
'What was the name of your farm?'
'Didn't that part suffer in a great fire in—'
'Fire! In a fire!' cried Mrs. Norris, covering her face with both hands, as if to shut out some terrible scene.
'Has my question brought up painful recollections?' he asked.
'Yes,' was the reply. Mrs. Norris looked at Falconer with a troubled expression. 'It was fired!' she gasped, 'fired by him! He burnt out his own mother!'
Falconer started; but Mrs. Norris did not observe it.
The thought that flashed through his mind was this:
'The man who had burnt out his own mother was Black Charlie!'
Falconer started, as we have said, for here was a man page 74shut out from society, and lost to every sense of right, truth, and honour.
If Black Charlie was Mrs. Norris's son, how could Falconer dare keep his word, and introduce a ruffian who would finish the work he had begun—break his mother's heart!
This man, Falconer remembered, when half-drunk one day, had boasted of the very deed which had filled his mother's heart with such a terrible unrest that life often seemed too heavy a burden.
Yes; there was little doubt of it. He did not mention his mother, but he let fall the name of the farm, and Falconer remembered it. And this man, Mrs. Norris's son, his sworn enemy, he had promised solemnly to seek and save by all means in his power.
'You are silent, lad,' said Mrs. Norris.
'I am thinking of your great sorrow, Mrs. Norris; and whether we cannot find out some means to help you.'
'May God in His infinite mercy bless you!' cried Mrs. Norris; and then she wept in silence.
'Come, this won't do,' said Mrs. Norris, getting to work in the cottage. 'The Lord has laid a heavy load upon me; but, in my weakness, I always forget He promises to bear it for me. He gives me the cross to carry—His strength must bear me and the cross together.'
'Just one question, Mrs. Norris; how long ago was this?'
'Eight years. Will ought to be twenty-five—just entering his twenty-sixth year.'
'How should you—I—recognize him?' asked Falconer.page 75
'That's what troubles me, lad. I'm afraid he's so grown, so changed, I shouldn't know him. He was so dark too—a big beard would alter his face altogether.'
'Let me see. Yes; he has a scar across the palm of his left hand.'
'That's the mark for me, 'said Falconer to himself. 'When I see that, I shall have proof positive—but he's the man, and I dare not at present bring him here, even if I could find him.'
Where was Black Charlie at this time?
Various crimes had been brought home to him; and to these were added murder and perjury. He had, however, escaped from prison, and had joined a band of Maori desperadoes, men whose deeds of blood were equalled by his own. Some of their doings will be revealed as we proceed.