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Raromi, or, The Maori Chief's Heir

Chapter XX. The Fire-Demon at Work

page 135

Chapter XX. The Fire-Demon at Work.

The two adventurers were free of their bonds; but of what use was this freedom to them? What could they do? They were all but unarmed; there were but two of them; while their foes outnumbered them three to one at least, and were well-armed.14

They felt doomed to inaction and this inactivity, this sensation of helplessness in utter darkness, unnerved them.

But it did not last long.

'Ki uta! Ki uta!' shouted the young chief; and an answering shout of joy came from each Maori throat on, board.

'The cabin is empty,' whispered Scotty;' everybody is on deck.'

'Now's our time,' replied Falconer.' Look about you, Scotty, and pick up all the food you can get, while I keep a look out.'

Falconer pushed the panel back gently and crept page 136into the cabin. He looked up from under the scuttle. The schooner was running into a small river; and everyone's attention was directed to the shore.

Scotty quickly visited every nook and corner of the cabin, picking up fragments of food which the Maoris had pulled out of various lockers, but had not time to eat. This food he took into the hold.

With joyful shouts the Maoris on shore replied to their friends on board, rejoicing in the capture Tuimoa had made, but utterly indifferent to the conditions under which it was made.

The schooner ran into the small river with the rising tide, and soon after, bumping against a fish-stage, was moored there, and her sails dropped. One of the hatches was now dragged off by some natives from the shore; but the dark, scowling faces and muttered threats they heard were not pleasant to the two below.

Scotty and Falconer looked up—their mouths filled by cold potatoes—and their enquiring look was met by a yell of savage triumph.

The next moment the hatch was pulled over, and the friends were in darkness once more.

'We're in a fix, Scotty,' said Falconer, preparing to open the panel.

'Wait, Falconer! Let us think; it will soon get dark.'

'Yes, but delay is dangerous here, I can see. We had better strike a blow for liberty before we're stung to death in a wasps' nest, as this is!'

Falconer slipped the tomahawk Scotty had found in his belt, and peeped up on deck. A Maori sat by the page 137fore-mast eating fern-root and potatoes; and two others sat on their heels, covered to their face by flax dresses, their faces turned ashore.

'Scotty! Scotty!' cried Falconer, hurriedly; but there was no response.

Falconer, however, stood there spell-bound, for as he gazed landward he saw Wetekina, surrounded by a mob of Maoris, evidently the riff-raff of the tribe, all armed, and all hurrying down to the schooner.

Looking again, to his great consternation, he saw Dog's-ear rush out from a hiding-place and place himself in front of Wetekina.

Wetekina raged and danced to and fro, jerking out angry words; and Dog's-ear followed suit, as became one chief haranguing another.

What did it mean?

Alas! Dog's-ear's suit had failed—a suit which Falconer guessed referred to them, pleaded by Dog's-ear in danger of his life—and some armed ruffians dragged him away violently.

Then arose a shout, loud and fierce, the chorus of a band of infuriated savages led by Wetekina, and the shout was—Death to the Pakeha!'

'May God have mercy on us!' exclaimed Falconer; 'for we shall get none from these savages!

'Scotty! Scotty! Come up—and—and die!' burst from him.

'No! no!' replied Scotty; 'come down instantly!'

'They're coming, Scotty, with Wetekina, to kill us!'

'Let them come. I've a pill for them they won't like—but come at once!'

page 138

Scotty's words inspired hope.

'We'll leave the panel wide open,' said Scotty,' and a corner of this hatch off, for a little light Now, follow me and don't speak. It's life or death, I know—I mustn't fail!'

The hold was clear. A flooring of beach-ballast was spread fore and aft. The fore end of the hold was dark. Scotty led Falconer there, and through the open panel into the fore-peak.

'What is it?' gasped Falconer, as the yelling fiends jumped on board.

Scotty whispered in his ear,' Rockets!'

Then Falconer's eyes were opened; and he gave a terrible grip to Scotty's disengaged hand.

Seeing the panel wide open in the cabin, the Maoris, worked up to fever heat, rushed into the hold after their victims; those in front groping about as those behind followed.

'Fire away!' said Falconer, and away flew a big rocket into the hold with great force. It struck one, then another, rebounded and returned, hissing, darting and striking on all sides with great force, with great noise, until it finished with a fearful explosion!

The screeches and yells of the astounded and wounded warriors were frightful They fought one another desperately to get out of the hold, out of the way of the terrible Fire-demon of the Pakeha.

Those somewhat burnt jumped overboard to cool themselves, and the rest jumped ashore and ran off as fast as their legs could carry them.

'Keep the other two ready, Scotty!' shouted Fal-page 139coner, jumping on deck; 'and now let's cut and run! Up foresail, lad, while I cut all clear!'

Falconer gave one or two chops with the tomahawk, cutting the ropes which held the Kahawai alongside, and the schooner was adrift.

As the two hoisted the foresail, it caught a strong breeze off the land; and, heeling over, the Kahawai darted down the river.

'Raromi! Raromi!' came up from the river—alongside.

It was Dog's-ear, who had, in the confusion, escaped, and, jumping into the river, had swum off to intercept the schooner.

'Look! look, Raromi!' was Dog's-ear's first cry on getting on deck. A big canoe had put off to intercept them, filled by armed Maoris.

'Send the "bang-bang" after them,' cried Dog's-ear. 'Quick! Maori not like the "bang-bang."'

Scotty launched another 'bang-bang' at the canoe, which sent the crew ashore, howling with fear and rage.

The Kahawai was free!

The two friends hugged each other for joy; then dashing to work, they sent the schooner bowling along with all the canvas they could set.

'The wind shall be strong when the sun goes to sleep,' said Dog's-ear; 'and great must be your care in the night. But they say your Atua (God) is above the wind, and stronger than the sun; is it so?'

'"He is a great King above all gods,"' said Falconer; '"in His hand are all the corners of the earth. The sea is His, and He made it: and His hands prepared the dry land. He is the Lord our God."'

page 140

'Make korakia to Him for yourselves, and for me, the old warrior of the Nga-ti-tama; but say, I'm tired of war. Is He God of peace?'

'He is. And do you not want to live in peace? Do you not want love for hatred, peace instead of war, friends instead of enemies? If so, let us obey the great Atua who is God of all.'15

'We will, Raromi; we will,' said Dog's-ear, lifting his right hand. 'Your God shall be mine—the God of peace.'1

The wind increased fast. Falconer, fearing it was going to blow, dared not run into the Straits in the dark, so he reduced sail, and laid the schooner's head to the north-west.

The great ocean lay before them, and they were drifting away from the land.

14 One of the most action packed scenes in the novel follows, involving conflict with rockets, as discussed in the introduction. Here Fraser is intentionally creating dramatic tension, making the arbitrary discovery of rockets more plausible by highlighting the fact that Falconer, Scotty and Dog’s-Ear are unarmed.

15 Atua is both specifically a Maori concept, and also a more general Polynesian concept for a supernatural being, deity, ghost, object of superstitious regard or ancestor with continuing influence. However it is often translated as God, the Christian God, which is a misconception of the real meaning https://www.maoridictionary.co.nz/word/494

1 Fraser’s novel is heavily didactic throughout, with this example being one of the most blatant passages championing the virtues of Christianity. This is unsurprising, as the novel was published by the Religious Tract Society. Fraser’s decision to ignore the traditional meaning of Atua (discussed in the above note) was probably a conscious choice to help promote the underlying Christian values of the novel, rather than an unconscious one, as he clearly had in-depth knowledge of Maori terms, exemplified by his knowledge of the term utu throughout the novel (notably pages 37 and 217).