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Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter

Chapter VIII. A Narrow Escape

page 38

Chapter VIII. A Narrow Escape.

Our first days march was through very rough country, with mountains, chasms, and brawling streams in every direction. Crossing the streams was a great trial to us, as the water, coming from the snowy ranges was icy cold. In some cases the beds were covered with large round stones, all loose and rolling over, and knocking against each other with a sound like thunder. The rush of water is so great on some occasions, that to ford in safety it is necessary to join hands, and in this peculiar manner the opposite shore is reached with very little danger. When the Maoris have to ford a swift torrent they enter the water close together in a line parallel with the banks. The first one thus breaks the force of the current while the others support him. To gain greater steadiness they usually carry a log, or large stone on their shoulders, which gives them greater weight and helps to keep them in line.

Towards sunset we came to a small level valley well covered with the rimu, or black pine (dacrydium cupressinum) very much esteemed by furniture makers, also some splended totara trees. This tree ranks next to the kauri in value, and is in great demand among the settlers.

page 39

Our Captain decided to camp here for the night, and all the following day. Next morning a few of us were ordered to search for traces of the rebels within a couple of miles round the camp. On the way back by another track we came upon the remains of a large Maori pah, apparently only recently deserted, but no traces whatever could be discovered of its inhabitants. We returned to camp without meeting any other signs of the rebels.

On the following evening eight of us were ordered to do scout duty for the night, but we received strict orders not to fire a shot if we could help it. Our plan was to make our way singly some distance apart towards a small mountain, called the Spirit Rock by the Maoris, in consequence of some legend connected with it. Hoani was to go direct to the rock so as to guide us back after the moon went down. But circumstances slightly altered our programme. Soon after we started the moon became obscured, and a heavy thunderstorm came on. The darkness was so intense that I became completely bewildered, and I was alarmed to find that I was entirely out of my bearings. However, I kept on, when suddenly a very vivid flash of lightning revealed the dreadful danger I was in. Three feet in front of me yawned a deep chasm; an instant later and I would have been hurled nearly three hundred feet below into the rocky bed of a stream, which was rushing with great velocity from the snowy mountain. I was so startled that I staggered and fell back, and lay there for a few minutes, when the cold rain roused me. My rifle must have fallen over the chasm in my fright, as I could not find it. After looking round for a few minutes I saw, with the aid of a vivid flash of lightning, the outline of the Spirit Rock on my left about half a mile away.