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Raromi, or, The Maori Chief's Heir

Chapter VI. Down at Last

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Chapter VI. Down at Last.

The young settlement at Port Nic was in danger, so the colonists thought, and every one was uneasy and fearful. The fierce, thoughtless blow given by Tommy Withers to the young chief had raised a whirlwind of passion in the native breast. Revenge to a Maori—complete revenge - is the dominant passion of his untutored heart. The proud, inflexible Maori bequeathed his feuds to his fellow-tribesmen, and utu, or payment for an insult—for blood—was exacted to the uttermost farthing.3

The scattered settlement, exposed as it was on all sides, filled by colonists unaccustomed to war, and by women and children for whom there was no real shelter, felt its dangerous position. And the cry arose for arms, shelter, organisation, and help.4

But the settlers were shut off from the rest of the world, and were bound to help themselves. So they roused up, as Englishmen do when they are face to page 38face with danger. They armed themselves, appointed rendezvous if attacked, chose officers accustomed to warfare, and waited ready-armed to see what the Maoris meant.

If Dog's-ear had been of the same character as the savage Rangihaeata, Port Nic. might have fared badly. It certainly would have had to fight for existence. But Dog's-ear, although pretending to humour his tribe in their wild outcry for revenge—revenge, which, when begun, could only stop by the Pakeha being killed and driven away, as Dog's-ear thought—determined not to allow them to proceed to extremities.

Dog's-ear could not prevent a few barbarous acts; but, under the guise of dealing out fair justice, he began to stop all aggression upon the Pakeha, whom, from some cause or other, he chose to protect as friends: and a chief's word in those days was law.

Besides, the chief had a real liking for Noble. For Noble, with simple good faith in the Maoris, had treated them as friends. And Dog's-ear, unknown to his tribe, had spent many an hour in Noble's cottage, the one talking of the new country and its various resources, the other of the old country and its wonderful civilisation.

They were friends. This friendship had saved Noble's life. And it probably saved Port Nic. in its hour of danger.

It is midnight, and dark. Scarcely a star can be seen. Under cover of this darkness various dark forms creep stealthily along the rough roadway leading from Kai-wara-wara, and so towards the town.

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Happily they meet no one. The town was asleep, and most of the outlying houses had been vacated during the scare, and their owners had taken shelter in town.

A short distance behind the Maori scouts—for such they were—came a body of Maoris. They were armed, and marched from very instinct stealthily and warily. In their midst was carried a kind of rough brancard, and in this lay Noble.

By his side walked Dog's-ear. And the cavalcade marched along in perfect silence.

The party soon left the roadway, and moved more inland, over broken ground and amidst wooded knolls, until the Maoris reached a deserted house. It was Mills' farm; but, though entirely deserted, not a thing had been touched inside the house since Dog's-ear had given orders not to touch Pakeha property.

The bearers now moved more rapidly, and the whole party soon reached Noble's cottage. Here, after close scouting, the door was opened, and once more Noble lay on his own bed—at home.

'Friend!' said Dog's-ear, 'rest in peace. Whoever touches you touches my head,'—which really implied death for so doing.

But Dog's-ear's friendship went further. He made his men put the place in order, light a fire, bring wood and water, and fill Noble's little store-room with kits of potatoes, onions, and kumeras.

'Now, O friend, stay!' exclaimed the great chief. 'I must go—'

'Go, O friend!' said Noble, languidly.

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'Remember it is not war between us; only your people are angry—if they find us here there will be fighting—I go!'

'The great Atua over all bless you, O friend!' said Noble, feebly; 'and do to you as you have done to me in my hour of need.'

The noble warrior bowed, although he did not understand the allusion; and drawing off his men he disappeared as silently as he had arrived on the scene of action.

Noble tried to get up. He could scarcely move. His strength seemed gone, and he was racked with sharp pains.

'Down at last!' he groaned, wearily.

'Dumps! Dumps! I tell you again, you silly old fellow. Hasn't God preserved your life from the Maoris—even given you friends amongst them—and brought you home like a prince, and filled your house with food—and now you grumble! I'm ashamed of you! Just a few twinges, and down you go.

'That's it! Now, again!' and with great effort Noble crawled out of bed, guiding himself by a chair, and reached the table. Here he found some cool water. 'Delicious! Almost better than Mr. Pekapeka's in the hut yonder,' he exclaimed.

He crawled into bed again.

This time he was really down—with a bad attack of rheumatic fever.

Tap! tap! sounded at the door, but there was no reply.

'Mr. Noble, may I come in?' The latch was lifted slowly, and the widow Norris put her head inside, to find Noble quite helpless and almost delirious.

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'Maoris or no Maoris, here I stay,' said she, putting her basket in one corner, and beginning to look round with the air of a woman who knows what to do and how to do it.

'God bless him!' said Mrs. Norris to herself. 'He's befriended a lone widow in her distress, and now I'll stand by him through it all.'

'I will save him!' cried Noble, speaking wildly. 'He's dearer to me than all, is he not—is he not? What do I not owe him? But I'll pay the debt—I will, I tell you! Why do you keep me here? let me get up!'

'Yes, yes,' replied the nurse, 'so you shall.'

Noble looked at Mrs. Norris for a moment, then he said, so piteously, 'Don't you know Clara? Poor dear, her heart is breaking! I must go to her—let me go!'

'So you shall—but drink this first.'

One day during the terrible fight with fever, pain, and weakness, the door opened, and in walked Scotty, who was perhaps the best of Falconer's friends in the town—at any rate the steadiest of them.

He stood just inside the door, staring with amazement at the pale, sunken features of the sick man, who for the moment was quiet.

Mrs. Norris made a signal—it meant, 'Be silent and creep out again.'

The two crept outside, and then Mrs. Norris told the young man all she knew of Noble's illness, and of his danger.

'But I must see him,' said Scotty, 'I must!' 'Impossible!' rejoined Mrs. Norris; 'it would kill him!'

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'What can I do?'

'Call again in a day or two, and then we'll see what can be done.'

'Poor Falconer!' murmured Scotty to himself as he went away—'he'll be lost for want of evidence!—not one in his favour!'

3 Maori terms such as utu (balance, repaying, avenging) are unfamiliar to non New Zealand readers. Fraser explains the term here, italicising it to emphasise the Maori origin of the word. However this is inconsistent throughout the novel as Maori words and terms are not always italicised or explained.

4 Invasion was a genuine concern for the settlement of Port Nicolson during 1844. Miller writes that “At Wellington four hundred volunteers mustered for inspection on Thorndon Flat, and worked from daylight till dark erecting batteries and drilling in the rain, until fifty-three grenadiers of the 96th arrived from Auckland and the townsmen, having been ordered in very peremptory terms to disband, confined their activities to rifle-shooting in their own gardens” (76-7).