Raromi, or, The Maori Chief's Heir
Chapter XXVIII. How the Bushranger was ' Stuck-up.'
Chapter XXVIII. How the Bushranger was ' Stuck-up.'
It was an alarm. One of the bushrangers suddenly galloped towards the hut, and as suddenly galloped away again.
'You're tired—done up,' said the rail-splitters to Harold Morpeth. 'Double yourself up in a corner and snooze—we'll keep a look out.'
Those stolid, matter-of-fact rail-splitters little dreamt of the life-issues at stake, of the momentous act in the wonderful drama of two young lives, upon which their future weal so largely depended.
'I am utterly unworthy of your love, Clara,' burst out Harold. 'Not content with leaving you without a word of explanation—after our vows had been made—wrapped up in my own selfish ideas of vanity and pride, I ran off and hid myself in New Zealand, where with the drunken and dissolute I squandered my life away!'
Two large eyes looked ineffable pity and tenderness at the young man who so humbly and tenderly pleaded for pardon, yet acknowledging himself unworthy of it.page 193
Harold! I look up frankly into your eyes,' said Clara,' and what do I see? Truth, honour, and devotion to one for whom you have risked your life.'
What could he say after that? He could only reply to such love and confidence by what equalled them in depth and intensity. And in this he was honest, straightforward, and true.
The two understood each other. And the love that had passed through so many trials and dangers now proclaimed itself bright, clear, and strong. Each had had peculiar trials, and each had found out their peculiar weaknesses. This had led them to search their own hearts, know the truth about themselves, and rouse themselves to be faithful and true in every thought and act of life.
'But, Clara!' ejaculated Harold Morpeth suddenly, as he awoke from his dream of love; 'what about Mr. Morgan? I am forgetting him. Tell me his fate—where is he?'
'Oh, Harold!' cried Clara, starting up with real alarm. 'I so selfish as to forget him! Oh, save him, Harold! save him!'
'Tell me in a few words,' said he, 'how the matter stands.'
'We were driving out to Daddy's place to assist at the concert, when suddenly as we were passing Home-bush Forest a shot was fired, and three men sprang out to the horse's head. One was left at the horse's head, and the other two dragged Mr. Morgan down, and threatened to kill him if he did not give up his money.
'The horse, suddenly alarmed, gave a bound, and knocking over the man at its head darted off like an arrow. It flew along like a mad creature; I holding page 194 on to the reins, and expecting every minute to be dashed to pieces.
'You know the rest Oh, to think you were there! riding after me to save me, and I fancying all the while you were—'
'Yes, Clara; but do you know any of the men?'
'No; only the leader was a big fellow, with a peculiar voice—that voice would never deceive me.'
Harold Morpeth called the rail-splitters. 'We ought to communicate with Mr. Linton, somehow,' said he. 'Perhaps Mr. Morgan is "stuck-up," and we hold his life in our hands.'
'What you say is true, sir,' replied the head rail-splitter; 'but just weigh this 'ere; this gang is strong—'
'It is,' said the other man; 'I knows it well, and more 'an most men, for I—'
'Is strong, I say,' continued the first man, 'and they knows if any one informs about 'em at Parramatta, there'll be such a rumpus as 'ill make the country too hot for 'em.' 'In any case,' objected Harold, 'it must be brought home to them; so why should they hang about here any longer?'
'Ay, but you see we've drawn blood. Foxwell is that 'ere windictive that he'll a'most put his neck in the 'alter to git his revenge, he will! Still, I thinks one on us might slip out and see if the coast is clear.'
'Hello! here's Mitey a-comin'.'
'Who is he?' asked Harold.
Mitey answered for himself, and rushed into the hut in great glee. He had been to visit another party of rail-splitters, and had spent part of the day with them.page 195
That there may be no mistake, let us say at once, Mitey was so named from his diminutive proportions—not because he was mighty.
'Seen any "rangers," loafers about, Mitey?'
'Not a bit of a one, Bill.'
'You've come back straight?'
'Straight as a chalked line—when it ain't crooked.'
After some discussion Harold, with Mitey for guide, both well-armed, set out to reconnoitre amongst the scrub thickets which formed clumps here and there amongst the trees, and gave good shelter for their purpose. They saw nobody, and Harold at length gave the order to turn back.
Mitey, however, advanced, and suddenly slipped down on the ground, making signs to Harold to do the same.
'What is it, Mitey?'
'Follow me carefully, and see;' and Mitey grinned.
The two crawled into a thicket, and stopped, and stared.
Two horses were tied to trees. But close under the bush, a man, fierce-looking enough for any bandit, ancient or modern, was lying on the ground, his head propped up on an old coat, and his companion was bending over him, giving him something to drink.
'It's Foxwell!' whispered Mitey.
'The wounded man?' 'No; the other!'
'If I could only git this wretched plug out of my side, old boss,' said the wounded man, 'I'd be at 'em agin.' Then he coughed and groaned as if in great agony.
'Shoot me, boss! Shoot, I say!' burst from him.page 196
'No! no! Jerry; a little patience—perhaps I could cut it out!'
Fox well bent over him again, his back to the two watching him with beating hearts—close to them.
'Fire at him!' breathed Mitey.
Harold shook his head. 'Will you follow me, Mitey?' he whispered back.
'Ay, master, I'm good for a tussle.'
Harold with a bound rushed at Foxwell. But he was heard. Foxwell jumped up and faced round, to receive a heavy blow on the jaw, which sent him spinning over on his back; and before he had well recovered himself Harold was upon him again.
'Shoot, Jerry! Shoot!' cried Foxwell.
But Jerry's time was past. Besides, Mitey had seized his pistols, and he ran to Harold's assistance.
After all, Harold and Foxwell had a sharp struggle, and unless Harold had been the powerful man he was he would have failed. With Mitey's assistance, Foxwell was well secured, and tied up to a tree, after the fashion in which he had served so many poor victims.
'Now then, let's look at the wounded man,' said Harold.
The poor fellow had made a desperate effort to get up and go to his leader's help. He had drawn a long dagger, and had staggered to his feet. But the effort had killed him. He had fallen forward on his face—dead! His right arm was extended, and the dagger in the clenched hand stuck in the ground!
Harold and Mitey had just picked up the dead man, and had laid him down, when they were startled by page 197 shouts—horsemen seemed to circle them in,—and shots were fired in the air.
Down went the two men flat—to reconnoitre.
Mitey thought his comrade was mad; for he jumped up, and pulling off his cap waved it high, shouting, 'Scotty! Scotty!'
'Falconer? Hurrah! Hurrah!' burst from a party of horsemen, who dashed up to the two beside the dead robber with loud manifestations of joy.
'Come, Falconer,' said Scotty, reining up sharp,' how on earth did you get here?—doing the bushranger, too, and—Why, here's a poor fellow dead!'
'I ran off to help Mr. Morgan,' explained Harold, after a pause.
'I know you did.'
'Has he been found? Tell me that.'
'No; not when we started, nor the lady either. In fact, we are all mystified. You run off and disappear. Then the informer and I go after you. We reach the road too late. Some natives, tell us a struggle has taken place; that one of the occupants of the buggy has been dragged away, and that the other has started off—'
'Quite true—as regards the lady.'
'Well, we divide our forces. Mr. Linton and others go after Mr. Morgan, and I come after you with another party. We tear along the road; find the buggy smashed up—the lady gone. Aided by other natives, we track you here—with strangers—standing beside a dead body!'
'Do explain something,' he added; 'my head is overcharged with mystery.'page 198
'Know then, first of all,' replied Harold Morpeth,' Miss Clara Banitza is quite safe.'
'Safe!' echoed the rescuing party.
'Yes; in the rail-splitters' hut yonder; I brought her there in safety, I'm glad to say; and now—'
'But how? How?' cried Scotty; 'do go on.'
Harold was now obliged to give the details of his adventure on the road—the race—the capture—the smash up—and the chase, and deliverance in the forest.
'And this poor fellow, dead?'
'Not so fast, Scotty. Leaving Miss Banitza in the hut, Mitey and myself came out to reconnoitre—we wanted to see if the coast was clear.'
'We came on this man—now dead; and Foxwell.'
'Foxwell!' exclaimed the party.
'Yes; there he is—look!'
Scotty and the rest stared at the bandit in quiet amazement. To think that Foxwell, the terror of the country, should be captured, should be in their power, harmless for ever—Harold was a hero.
'Really, Falconer—well, if you go on at this rate,' exclaimed Scotty, 'I must get a slower partner—it's too much for my weak nerves.'
The mounted party now took every precaution to secure Foxwell and lead him off. Then one of them took down Harold's depositions respecting the dead man; and all of them moved off to the rail-splitters' hut, where Clara in great anxiety waited for Harold's return.