Raromi, or, The Maori Chief's Heir
Chapter XXVII. Our Hero's Chase, and How he won
Chapter XXVII. Our Hero's Chase, and How he won.
What are you going to surprise us with now?' asked Harold of Mr. Crips's chief—one of Daddy's young men.
'We give an entertainment this evening.'
'Yes; we all play something, or sing. A lady comes with Mr. Morgan on each occasion, and Daddy gives the direction of it to her.'
'Who comes to it?'
'It is open to all. Those who can give, give what they like for our general fund; the rest come free.'
Harold Morpeth, Scotty, and Williams, Mr. Crips's chief, stood chatting at one end of the long room—a warehouse—where the concert was held. As they stood near the door, settlers and their families, a few officers, and farm-labourers—mostly old convicts—came flocking in, chatting freely right and left to their various friends and acquaintances.page 183
'You seem to give the entry free to all classes,' said Harold.
'We do,' was the reply, 'on such evenings. It is Daddy's express wish; we make no distinction.'
'But look at those rough fellows to the right; they hardly look fit for society!'
'Perhaps not. You know we are a mixture of good and bad in this colony. We get a good number of " old lags," unsafe men; but Daddy says we must try and humanize them—put them on their best behaviour.'
Just then a piano of antiquated type was opened at the upper end, and Mrs. Linton sat down to play and sing.
Daddy Crips—everybody called him this, or Daddy, and we do the same—stepped forward, saying, 'I am glad to meet so many friends to-night; some of my friends are all ready to give us a musical treat; unfortunately, our chief—a young lady known to most of you—and Mr. Morgan have not arrived. However, we shall commence. Those who leave whilst singing or playing is going on will please do so as quietly as possible.'
Harold Morpeth on looking round caught the eye of a wild-looking fellow, who appeared to be scanning him' closely. Harold thought he had seen him before; he was sure he had.
This man rose quietly, walked close by Harold, and went out. As he passed he whispered: 'Meet me outside!'
'It's Whippy!' exclaimed Harold, as he joined the man, out of earshot.page 184
'It is, sir.' Then the man whispered in Harold's ear something which took immediate effect.
'Let us not lose a moment!' cried Harold; 'I—'
'Hush! No! We are watched. If you make a noise—if you call others—all will be lost. Can you trust yourself with me?'
'If I play false, eh?'
'Come along, Whippy, I'm a match for most men—and I should like to give you another chance—come on!'
'Go to the lower corner of the orange plantation. I'll join you there. Those are watching who would kill us at once if they saw us go away together. Stand by the horses and wait. I'll join you!'
Harold found the horses—powerful ones—at the spot indicated. The plot thickened. 'One is for Whippy, I suppose,' said he, 'and the other for whom? Me?'
Harold listened and waited. He became excited and nervous; each minute now seemed to be an hour. The position soon became unsupportable. Was he the victim after all? Whippy was an old convict, he knew, and now an informer—but such could rarely be trusted.
'Let me think out the position,' said he; 'as far as I can make it out. Mr. Morgan and a lady are on the road here. Whippy says the notorious bushranger Foxwell, almost alone, is on the look out for them. He urges me to go with him—against his old chief—to the rescue, when he can escape the spies in the concert room.
'What is Foxwel's object? Robbery. What else? He is often " sticking-up" people on this road, and he knows Mr. Morgan is a rich man. But while we are page 185waiting here the deed will be done. And, if done, of what use shall I be afterwards, when robbers and victims have disappeared? This fellow, too, may be kept back, being closely watched, as he told me.'
Harold chose the better horse—as far as he could judge—and led him away. He made a détour, and, to his great joy, struck the main road a good distance below the house.
Jumping on the horse, he galloped off at once. The horse was fresh and powerful, and soon covered the ground at a great pace.
Something was coming. He drew up and listened. He heard the sound of wheels. 'There they are!' he exclaimed. 'But if so, where are the robbers?' The night was dark, yet clear. As yet he could see nothing.
All at once a tall, light buggy shot out of the gloom upon him. There was only one person in it—and that person a lady.
On the spur of the moment he shouted,' Mr. Morgan, stop!' The only effect of this was, the lady gave a shriek, and the buggy flew on faster than ever.
'This is odd,' muttered Harold; 'has the horse run away with her, but escaping from foes? At any rate, I must go to her rescue;' then, giving a shout, and digging' his heels against the horse's ribs, away he flew in pursuit.
Harold ranged up alongside the buggy, where sat the lady rigid and determined, but she could not govern her horse. She turned her head aside for a moment, and caught sight of her would-be rescuer. This unnerved her—she gave a faint cry, and dropping the reins, sank down at the bottom of the buggy.page 186
To get alongside the maddened horse, and catch the reins, was a work of great difficulty. But what then? What next? Something must be done—and at once. Harold gave a good tug, in the desperate hope of stopping the horse at once; then another violent tug. The animal snorted, tossed its head up, swerved, and went off at an angle.
Unfortunately it is dangerous for a horse to fly off at an angle, acute or otherwise, when it is a question of keeping straight along the main road. In this case, horse and buggy went straight for a fallen tree. But a bough intervened, and down came the horse with a heavy groan—and smash went the buggy.
In an instant Harold was down, and only a few instants elapsed before he had fished the lady out of the wreck, and had her seated on a log, holding her up—for she was insensible.
The lady had only fainted. She murmured, 'Save me! After us again! Oh, dear—help!'
Then Harold knew, from these half-muttered phrases, the lady had been—perhaps was still—in danger. Chased, too! but by whom? For what reason? Was this the lady coming out to Daddy's with Mr. Morgan? if so, where was he?
His thoughts were interrupted. He heard horses galloping towards them at great speed.
'It's folly to hesitate,' he said to himself. He lifted the lady to the saddle, mounted with much difficulty, and choosing an opening in the forest, pushed in, and, being in darkness, waited and listened.page 187
The clearness of the night enabled the pursuers—as page 188 page 189they appeared to be—to see the wounded, dying horse and the smashed vehicle. Their rage found vent in words, and in those angry words, mixed with many an oath, Harold found a clue to the mystery which oppressed him.
What puzzled the bushrangers beyond measure was the disappearance of the lady.
Mr. Morgan had been captured. It was not clear how the lady escaped, but she had done so. The point for him to consider was how to escape them, loaded as he was.
'She must be secured!' said a hoarse voice; 'if not, the alarm will be given; and then—'
'What's that? She must be here, somewheres. After her, lads, quick!'
Harold hesitated no longer. Grasping the lady as firmly as he could, he pushed the horse into the forest wherever he could see an opening, at the same time steering his course by the stars when he could see them, so as to double back towards the road again.
He halted for a rest.
'Are you better?' asked Harold. 'Do, please, answer me; for I'm doing my best to save you.' Oh, where am I?' said the lady, faintly.
'Here, in the forest, with one who has vowed to save you. Cheer up, please, and we shall soon join Mr. Morgan again.'
'Thank God!' said the same faint voice. This was followed by tears. 'I shall be better now,' said she; but who are you, may I ask? I thought you were—'
'One of the robbers, eh? Oh, no, I'm a friend of Mr. Morgan's, and just now of yours. You see I am trying to—Ah! there they are again!'page 190
Shouts, menaces, oaths floated through the forest; the pursuers had caught sight of Harold and his charge. A shot or two flew about. The poor girl in Harold's charge clung to him tightly, but was silent.
The day was breaking; and Harold's courage almost failed at the thought of having a band in chase of him—and in full daylight.
He had come to a clearing; and his horse had bounded across it with unflagging speed. He was about to plunge into the woods again, when a welcome voice shouted, 'Hello, mate! What's up? What's the matter?'
'Help! Quick, my good fellow!' cried Harold. Bushrangers after us—Foxwell's gang, I believe—'
'Bill!' shouted the rail-splitter to a mate in the hut close to, 'bring out the rifles, sharp! Take the lady inside,' he continued to Harold, 'and then come and jine us—we shall want help, I guess!'
'Keep off!' shouted the man from behind a pile of wood forming a breastwork; 'keep off! Come another rod, and you're dead men!'
'Ha! ha!' was the reply. 'So you think to stop Foxwell, do ye? Give in, or I'll—'
Two shots were fired, and two robbers were hit.
The robbers—after hurling fearful imprecations at the rail-splitters—rode off.
Exhausted, both mentally and physically, the young lady had fallen asleep. Harold, too, quite overcome, sat in one corner on the floor and slept soundly.
Harold awoke at last with a start; and no wonder. Who could sleep with a man digging a piece of wood into one's ribs? The rail-splitter wanted to call him, page 191and finding a hole in the old shantie just where Harold leaned sleeping, he gave him sundry prods.
'Can you come and keep a look-out and help us?' said the man through the hole. 'Bring your rifle.'
The young lady slept soundly. Her face was turned to the light. Harold turned to see the 'unknown'—to scan her face.
A cry escaped him. This awoke the fair sleeper. He threw himself down on his knees, and looked into the eyes just opening to the light, just looking with a startled gaze into his.
'Clara! Clara!' he cried, seizing her hand, and clinging to it
'Harold! Oh, Harold!' cried she, jumping up and kneeling by his side; 'at last! Thank God—at last!'
Yes; at last I after years of suffering and forgetfulness; clinging to broken vows, to vows which had fed her young heart with false hopes; true, yet deceived, hoping against hope, she had struggled on, and had kept her secret locked up in her own heart. None but Noble knew it, and he was now dead.
And now, Harold, her own Harold, by his daring and bravery had saved her, had saved her at the risk of his own life. And, best of all, that clear, frank look of his—the outlook of a true, brave inner life—told Clara what she wanted to know—that after all his heart was hers; he was true, but chastened, sad, and repentant for the wrong he had thoughtlessly done.