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Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter

Chapter XII. The Earthquake

page 54

Chapter XII. The Earthquake.

The usual quiet routine of duty went on for a few days, when Captain Wilson sent for me. I found him sitting in his little orderly room with Mr. Munroe and a few of the leading gentlemen of the township. When I had saluted and stood to "Attention," the Captain said with a smile.

"Corporal Douglas, I am happy to inform you that Mr. Munroe and some other gentlemen, have recommended you to headquarters for promotion. You are now sergeant, and will take Mr. McCormack's place, as he is transfered to Auckland. If you remain in New Zealand and the war continues for a little time, I have no doubt you will get a commission."

Mr. Munroe stepped forward and shook hands with me and congratulated me on my promotion. I then saluted and retired, feeling not a little proud of my a vancement.

My fidus achates, Andrews, was also promoted to the rank of corporal on the same day. Captain Wilson knew that Andrews and I were firm friends, and he always allowed us to "hunt in couples" if possible. Although Andrews was rather rough in his manner, he was a brave man, and I had the greatest trust in him.

page 55

The day after my promotion the Captain ordered me to take four men and do patrol duty for the day. The weather was excessively sultry for New Zealand. The earth, parched and hard, was cracking on the surface into fantastic shapes; seemed charged with condensed heat, and difficult to breathe. A suffocating oppressiveness lurked in the atmosphere, undisturbed by the faintest breath of air. Nothing stirred, not even a blade of grass, as we marched through the forest.

"Somethin' is goin' to happen in the shape of a storm, I fancy," said Andrews, wiping his face.

"Don't you think," I observed after looking about me closely, "that we are somewhere near the site of Ngahoia's cave. I wonder if we could find it."

"It is near here, sergeant," said Ryan, "I remember that rock distinctly."

"If we want to find it, we will get no assistance from Ngahoia, I asked the cuss to show it to me, but darn him, he won't do it, and said that the great spirit would not show it to us critters," said Andrews.

We searched for some time but could find no traces of the cave. Andrews was greatly disappointed, as he prided himself on his woodcraft.

About midday we camped for lunch in a defile between two rocky hills that seemed at one time to have formed one huge mountain, judging from the marks on both sides, which was like a loaf of bread cut in two with a blunt knife. Some great convulsion of nature had evidently separated them ages ago. Nature has played some queer pranks in this Wonderland of the South.

page 56

After lunch we lit our pipes, and prepared to make ourselves comfortable for half an hour. In a few minutes, however, we heard a slight rumble like distant thunder, and then felt three sudden jolts. I jumped up and looked round. Andrews who was half asleep, roared out.

"Earthquake, by Jingo."

We were on the alert in a moment, and hearing a loud crashing noise over our heads, looked up to see that the rocky point above us had given way, and was rolling down in two great pieces.

I called out, "Don't run boys, until we see which way it is coming." One large rock rolled sideways, and met the other that was coming in our direction, with a loud crash. The collision probably saved our lives as both of the rocks altered their course and rolled down about a hundred yards away from us. During this time other portions of the rocky hills became detached, but we fortunately escaped without any injury.

I thought it best to return to the township as soon as possible under the circumstances, and we lost no time in getting away, for we were in fear of the performance being repeated. Rumbling noises underground could still be distinctly heard, and a slight shock of earthquake was experienced on our way home.

When we arrived at Wairuara, we found the inhabitants in a great state of excitement, but I was suprised to hear that beyond a few fallen chimneys and some minor casualties no serious damage had been done. Next morning I heard that one of the principal wells in Wairuara, from which was drawn the chief supply of water for the town, had dried up as a result of the convulsion. Also that the bed of a small stream at the back of page 57our quarters had been rent asunder, the waters disappearing through a large crack into the bowels of the earth. This was one of the strangest freaks of the earthquake, the water pouring down into the rent with a noise like distant thunder.

Aprôpos of earthquakes I was one night in a hotel talking to some gentlemen when we felt a very heavy shock which almost threw us off our feet, immediately followed by a noise like the discharge of artillery. We ran out to the open space in front greatly alarmed followed quickly by most of the inmates, many of whom were in their nightdresses. One wing of the building collapsed, burying in its ruins two old ladies and three children, their bodies being recovered next morning terribly crushed and mutilated. Several other slighter shocks were felt, but did not equal the first in severity. As a rule, however, earthquakes of recent years have not been productive of fatal results. The shocks are of less duration, and, if sufficiently severe to stop clocks or throw down erockery, the greatest alarm is felt by the inhabitants, who at one time perhaps, would have allowed the occurrence to pass unnoticed.