Raromi, or, The Maori Chief's Heir
Chapter XIV. 'I Can'T Hold Out!
Chapter XIV. 'I Can'T Hold Out!
Falconer awoke in a great fright. His head slipped, he gave a start; and, opening his eyes to a sense of great danger, he fell flat on the ground behind the big tree, and remained motionless.
He lifted his head cautiously and peered through the fern screen—to which he had crawled—and this met his view. Right in front of him, some hundred yards distant, was a big fire, which threw a weird, ruddy glare on everything around. Behind the fire, sitting sideways to Falconer's view, their figures thrown out in bold relief by the ruddy glare of the fire, sat two Maoris and a European. The Maoris, painted, nearly naked, and of ferocious mien, were laughing and chatting; and from time to time they drank out of a bottle handed to them by the European.
While watching this party, one of them—the European—turned his head and listened. His face was turned page 91towards Falconer, and the fire revealed the well-known features of his greatest enemy.
'It's Black Charlie, and two of those terrible "Moapauks,"' muttered Falconer to himself; adding, 'If I can't get away from them—here ends my life.
'Shall I wake Scotty?' asked Falconer of himself. 'No. He'll make a noise, and we shall be found out at once. The Maoris are drinking spirits. After a time there will be a scene, and then they'll fall hard and fast asleep.'
He watched Scotty, and he watched the drinkers.
The liquor soon began to tell upon the Maoris. They jumped up and began to whoop and dance as if they were mad. Their features were distorted, their tongues thrust out—they acted like demons.
'Shut up, you noisy critters!' shouted Charlie, in English; 'you're beginning your hanky-panky tricks agin; I'll stop your grog, so 'vast heaving and come to a anchor agin.'
The Maoris began to cry out for wai-pero.
'Not a drop more, you black, cantankerous swabs—not half-a-drop,' said Black Charlie. 'I wants all I've got to keep the cold out.'
Speaking in Maori, he made them understand when they had caught him, and had taken utu out of him, they should have as much wai-pero as they liked.
The Maoris slipped down and fell asleep.
Black Charlie still sat before the fire. He talked aloud to himself, and certain dark hints he threw out opened Falconer's eyes, and made him very wide awake.
Falconer now roused Scotty and told him all.
'Listen, Scotty,' said he, 'I'm going to reconnoitre page 92that path; and I must go behind their camp, to make sure of our retreat, and see if we have any more enemies.'
'It is; but the danger's mine.'
'This is my plan,' replied Scotty; 'we'll go together. I am convinced that path winds through the ravine, and leads out of the hills into the woods at Makara.'
'I'll get into the path, and wait for you. If you are found out, run along the path to me, and we will both go into the ravine. If I'm right—and I believe I am, for I've been through it once—it's the Pass of Thermopylæ for us; we could hold it against any number of enemies.'
'But no firing, Scotty! it is useless with small shot, and we're not loaded with ball. Remember, my boy, we stand or fall together.'
They shook hands in silence and started.
They worked in concentric circles towards the path on reaching which their hopes were fixed. Scotty kept the outer circle, and Falconer the inner one, leading him close behind Black Charlie's camp.
Both walked warily; the glare of the fire even helping them to pick their way, to find shelter, and avoid dry underwood. Scotty breathed more fully when he reached the path, and saw it was the well-beaten track leading into the glen, as he had predicted.
But Falconer did not come.
He was behind Black Charlie, watching him, his camp, and his sleeping companions.
If Black Charlie refused spirits to his dark companions he indulged himself. The drink took effect. From page 93talking he took to singing. He broke out suddenly with:—
'"Then up jumped a whale,
With his 'normous great tail,
And sang out, Boys, let us make sail;
Windy weather, stormy weather,
When it blows we're all together."'
The song having ended, Black Charlie began to dance wildly before the fire. His dancing became wilder; he leaped in the air, shouted, and yelled, and at last fell headlong over the sleeping Maoris. As he got up he caught sight of Falconer slipping away.
Catching up a gun, he fired, and the ball whistled over Falconer's head. The two friends, being sure of their path, ran along it into the ravine—and into utter darkness.
'Let us go easy now,' said Scotty. 'The Maoris won't follow us in the darkness. Besides which, the path, to tell you the truth, is becoming dangerous.'
'It's safe enough if you keep in it; but it winds along the face of the steep, rugged hill facing the ravine on this side; and to slip means certain death, deep down on the stones below.'
The night seemed long, and the narrow, tortuous path interminable, as the weary travellers plodded on, keeping constant touch with the wall of rock on their left hand.
'Let us stop and rest, Scotty.'
'We must go on, Falconer, until we reach an open space. If we stop we shall sleep, and if we sleep we shall roll over into the ravine.'
Scotty, who was walking ahead, gave a cry. He slipped—rolled—and over he went.page 94
'Scotty! Scotty! where are you? Speak!' cried Falconer.
'I've slipped—am hanging to a narrow ledge!' came up from below.
'I can't tell you—I'll try and hold on—but I'm so tired—I shall fall!'
'I'll come and help you.'
'No! Whatever you do, don't move; if you slip, we're both lost.'
Falconer, strong and powerful, seemed condemned to inaction. What could he do on that narrow ledge, and in darkness?—and his friend to perish!
'I can't hold out—I must go!'
'Hold on a moment!' shouted Falconer, tearing off his jacket; 'here's my jacket sleeve, can you feel it?'
'Yes; thank God—hold fast above there!'
'Then I'll try to crawl up again.'
Falconer lay flat along the narrow path, one arm hanging over the ravine, and holding his jacket sleeve—to which Scotty clung by the other arm with desperation—the other hand was thrust into a cleft of the rock by which to hold on.
It was a dreadful moment of suspense.
If either slipped, or if anything gave way, one at least would perish.
With quickened breath, his strength almost gone, page 95Scotty worked his way up, until Falconer felt his grasp on his wrist.
'Come on, lad,' whispered Falconer; 'walk over me, and sit down.'
Scotty just managed to crawl up over Falconer, and then he sank down with a gasp.
Falconer slowly drew his lacerated fingers out of the cleft in the rock, and sat down beside Scotty, holding him to his heart with a joyful hug.
These two brave men sat there in silence, and forgot all their pain, loss, and weariness; Scotty was safe, and Falconer had saved him!
'God bless you, Falconer! I was all but gone.'
'Let us always stand shoulder to shoulder, Scotty—as you did to me yonder, when the world seemed to be against me.'
The two sat there, leaning against each other, and propped against the wall of rock behind them. There they passed the weary time, nodding, sleeping, yet often starting out of sleep to clutch each other in alarm, until dawn appeared.
'Now let us decide, Scotty.
'Shall we go forward to Makara, and rest for a bit, or return, and risk meeting our terrible enemies?—for such they are, at Black Charlie's instigation. Can you go forward, and put up with but little food? or must we fight our way back at all hazards?'
'No, Falconer; we must go forward and rest. I have lost my gun. You only have yours. If we get into the page 96Makara forest we can hide; and Charlie and the Maoris will watch for us at the other end of the ravine.'
'Agreed on, then. Besides, if we are held prisoners for a day or so, some of the settlers, or perhaps Dog's-ear, will search the woods for us.'
'True, O captain.'
'It's food and shelter—warmth—we want just now—you're done up, Scotty.'
'A quiet nook, a wood fire, and some roast kakas will set us up at once; so now for Makara's forest glades.'