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Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter

Chapter XXVII. Arline Hirch in Danger

page 111

Chapter XXVII. Arline Hirch in Danger.

I Had previously noticed a fine young fellow named Frantz Otto, belonging to the civilian volunteers, casting anxious glances towards the corner where the captive girl lay bound. As there was no grass near that side, she was in no danger from the fire, and Captain Snell supposed she was safe for the present Suddenly Otto cried out:

"They are trying to get at the girl! for heaven's sake, come quick, or she will be murdered!"

"I looked over and saw a group of Maoris creeping through a cloud of smoke to the corner where the girl lay, and I quickly followed Otto, who had already dashed through some burning grass. Before he was halfway across, however, a shot came from somewhere, and the poor fellow fell with a cry of despair. At the same moment one of the enemy cried out in a voice of triumph, "mate rawa."

I was quickly by my comrade's side. "Help me—on—my legs, quick, I can run—yet," he said, gasping for breath. I lifted him up and he staggered forward, though suffering much page 112from pain. The delay nearly proved fatal, as the Maoris had reached the little screened corner before us. When we came up we found a Maori holding Arline Hirch by the hair with his left hand, and was bending her head back to enable him to plunge a knife into her throat. Before could accomplish his purpose, Frantz Otto rushed at him with a kind of choking cry, and with a terrific blow dashed out the savage's brains with the butt end of his rifle. Immediately after, as if the effort had been too much for him, a gush of blood came from his mouth, and Otto fell dead.

In the meantime I stood before the girl and kept the others at bay, and in a few minutes a number of our men arrived on the scene and soon ended the conflict. Captain Snell shortly after came from the other end of the open space and was glad to find that the girl was safe.

"Those devils," he said, "were nearly doing a lot of mischief under cover of the smoke. I thought the fight was all over when I suddenly heard a row on this side. Not knowing what was up I told a few of the men near me to run over. I could not go with them, as I had hurt my foot. A Maori in his death struggle seized my toe in his mouth, and nearly bit it off through my boot. As my boots are light, he might have succeeded, only that I strangled him with the other foot."

When the bodies of the slain Maoris were collected, they presented the appearance of a particularly powerful set of men, gigantic even is their proportions. Sad indeed is the contemplations of war, with all its horrors and attendant miseries. Looking on these fine specimens of manhood—stretched out in the still silence and sublimity of death—those splendidly formed limbs and broad chests that, but a short time before had heaved page 113with all the fiery passions of an active and free life—one could not refrain from dwelling for a little while on the terrible responsibility that is attached to a declaration of war. Melancholy in the extreme is the reflection. These inanimate forms that were so recently possessed of all the strength and activity of vigorous manhood, were now but mere clods of the earth, whose spirits perhaps—who knows?—were even at that moment gazing down from some other world in pitiful commiseration on their soulless bodies and relentless slayers. Martial grandeur and victory certainly has its glories, but on the morning of a battle a brave man should consider—

What shall he be ere night? perchance a thing,
O'er which the raven flaps her funeral wing;
By his c'osed eye unheeded and unfelt,
While sets that sun, and dews of evening melt;
Chill, wet, and misty round each stiffened limb,

Refreshing earth—reviving all but him!

Many of the dead Maoris had ornaments of great value, consisting principally of greenstones, ear-rings, and massive clubs made of whalebone. On a chief was found a valuable greenstone club, elaborately carved on the handle, and an expensive dress sword was buckled to his waist with the monogram "A.B.B." engraved on the scabbard. It's original owner had no doubt been an officer who had either been killed or murdered in some previous engagement with the natives.

The girl Arline Hirch was sitting by herself in the corner staring vacantly before her. The dead body of Otto was lying almost at her feet beside the remains of his Maori victim.

"I am glad to say, Miss Hirch, that all danger is now over," said I gently. "Come with me, and I will try and make you a little more comfortable until we return to Wairuara."

page 114

She made no answer, but looked in a dazed sort of way at the dead body of her countryman.

"Come," I repeated, offering my arm, "this scene must be very painful, and sitting here will do no good."

After a little more persuasion she reluctantly got up and walked with me, still keeping her eyes fixed on the body of her dead friend as if fascinated. We had not proceeded far when she suddenly wrenched herself free, and with a wild cry of anguish ran back and threw herself prostrate on the body of Otto.

"Let her alone for a while. A good cry will do her good, a woman's brain is always relieved by tears, and it often prevents them from going into hysterics."

"She seems to have been very fond of him," I remarked, as we watched her sobbing bitterly and kissing the dead face.

"Yes, indeed," answered the Captain, "I believe young Otto was engaged to her dead sister Gretchen, whose murderers we have just punished. By some means Gretchen found that her sister loved Otto, and that the feeling was reciprocated. Consequently things became rather strained between the girls, and Gretchen made it rather uncomfortable for her sister. Although Gretchen was rather good-looking, most people liked Arline the best, and probably Otto had reproached himself for unwittingly being the cause of the estrangement between the two sisters. I noticed that he was about the first civilian that volunteered to come with us, and as he appeared greatly agitated by some suppressed excitement, I guessed how matters stood. I was rather interested in the romance, so I soon found out the particulars."

A cry announcing the death of an enemy.