|Newspaper Title||Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Dunmore. A Christmas Story|
A CHRISTMAS STORY. IN FOUE CHAPTERS.
. CHAPTER HI.
mt by one's "aia" fireside" with tragrant cigar between our lips, and our slippered feet upon the fender" reading of perfflby flood and field, is one thing; to be a partaker in the matter ia quite another. - ° n 1h,s Christmas Eve the great chandelier if iV/ Vi!t nd ? a broad silVery stream of Uiilit out at the doorway and in amongst the wees m the orchard, giving to the green trait on the branches a ripe mellow hue. flfH- revelr y ^ begun. Fair forms are tutting to and fro in tbe dance to the strains o t . liywy music, with merry voices intermingling. One would image the scene was a masquerade in one of the public halls of populous Adelaide instead of a settler's wedding in the heart of wild New Zealand. " Set to corners, Mr. Donmore. Dear me, what can you possibly be thinking about ?" It was the voice of my fair partner, Lacy Mildred, that thus admonished me as we whirled away in a quadrille. " Miss Mildred will pardon my awkwardness, I am sure, when I say that I am more need to ths saddle than the ballroom." " fie, sir 1 Miss Mildred is not so stupid as to mistake ignorance for inattention. You danced splendidly with Miss Turner," she replied archly. " Thank you for the compliment, but, pray, who is Mian Turner?" "Tour former partner, the lady about who you were so anxious at dinner, you know," she answered, with just a shadow of a pout upon her rosy lips. " I beg your pardon, Miss Mildred." '•Oh, you were, Bir," she interrupted. "Ton can't deny it. Other ladies in your vicinity had to be contented with what they could get, so far as your gallantry was concerned." " Does Miss Mildred include herself in this complaint?" "Certainly." "I fear von are jesting with me." "1 fear I am seriouB, Mr. Dunmore," she replied, with heightened colour. *' You place me at a disadvantage by rendering me a great service, wherein the obligation cannot be returned, and now, when I am djing to prove my gratitude, you seem to shun me like a pestilence." I felt the small hand which rested on my -arm trembling as she uttered the word?. I led her to a retired seat, and bending over bee said— " Do not judge me harshly, Miss ML'dred. I esteem tbe service rendered tge you as nothing in comparison to your friendship, if your obligation will reach so far. I am but a plain gentleman, and plain of speech. If opportunity offered to-morrow — now — I would again willingly risk my poor life on your behalf." I raised the soft white hand to my lips and retired. My plan of defence had been formed and completed, and every precaution taken to ensure its fulfilment. Yet my task was a very difficult one; not because of the oids against me, bat for another and a very important reason. At the time of which I write a strong feeling in favour of peace with the Maories pervaded the whole country, and any unfortunate commander who might - chance to engage a band of murdering savages and defeat them was sure to draw down upon his head the strongest denunciations from certain high places. Although Hull's warriors might be six to one against us, I could have easily formed an ambush in the scrub and crushed them with little loss of my own men; but I knew that the order of the day was—"Take the Maori prisoner if you can, and we will deal with him; but slay him at your peril." - Fully conversant with the taitics of the Maories in plundering the stations of unarmed pakehas, or where resistance was unexpected, I had arranged to meet them accordingly. On one point I was firmly decided—to slay every Maori who came against us rather than one hair of those innocent people should be injured. I went out into the cool air down the slope of the bill towards the creek. The sentries were on the alert and challenged me as I approached. The night was very fine and still, and sound could be heard at a great distance. As I stood talking to the Corporal I became cognizant of a low rambling sound in the distance. Accompanied by Joss Pindar we crossed the creek and ascended a high • ridge in the direction of the wind. Again we listened. Yes, we could plainly hear the sound of many voices; ?and the tramp, tramp of feet and the crackling noise of dry twigs beneath them. "Here comes the darned niggers at last, Captain." Yes; Hurl had kept his word. I withdrew the scouts and returned to the barn._ 1 placed half a dozen men around the outside of the building in charge of the Yankee Corporal with a reinforcement of half a dozen more volunteers from the ballroom. The time had arrived when the evil tidings could not be withheld from the guests. I turned my attention to the Rev. Talbot Binks, who was horrorstruck at my brief communication. However, the good gentleman quickly recovered himsdf, and enquired what steps should be taken in the emergency. " Make some excuse, sir," said I to him, "and get all these people safe within the bouse without delay; lock all the doors and fasten the windows. Mr. Mildred and his son will guide you how to act." Five or six musicians perched on a sort of • long shelf were rasping away during our hurried conversation, while a party were edng through tbe " Lancers." I put up my f and as a signal to the musicians, who ceased playing, awl turning to the clergyman, whispered eagerly, "Qaick, Mr. Bulks, every moment is precious." The minister walked into the centre of the room, and standing on a chair, said," My good friends, I regret to state that you muBt cease dancing and accompany me into the house." " Can't we finish the quadrille, sir ? there is only another figure," enquired a voice. " Dear Friends—It is imperative that you come have with something this of very moment. great importance Believe me, to 1 Come then at once, 1 entreat of dancers crowding after him. The musi ciacs were about to descend from their perch to join the crush, but I waved th9m back again, saying, " Come, come, sirs; this is not fair. What the parson has to say does not concern you, my Mends, iu the least. Many of my men have not had a dance to-night. Be kind enough, therefore, to give us an opportunity of displaying our agility, while the good folks are listening to the worthy clergyman, and mind you, III shout a bottle of champagne for you afterwards. What dy yon say ?" "Go ahead, my hearty," answered the " Trombone," in a husky tone, and he placed the instrument to his lips and gave a loud preliminary bray. I lifted the whistle attached to niy pouchbelt, and gave forth a low shrill note. The echo bad scarcely died away ere my comrades leaped into the place with their naked sabres in their hands, and their revolvers ready in their belts. " Hallo, I say, what .game d'ye call that ?" -enquired the leader of the orchestra, starting from his seat, his face as white as a sheet. "Only going to try a new sort of sword dance, that's all, my boy. Flay up." ''Well, here's a eo" said he with a bewildered stare. " What the dickens are we to play, Ely ?' "The Maories are coming up the hill, Captain," cried Joss Pindar, at this moment thrusting his gaunt person in at the open doorway. . The poor musicians on hearing this startling intelligence leaped down from their seats with one accord, but I needed their services for a short time to further my plan of operations. "Back, men; back to your places," I shouted, interposing my sabre between them and the door. "By all that's sacred, the first man that disobeys me I'll cleave his skull for him. Come, quick to your places, and play up." My men instantly closed the doors to prevent their escape. "Oh, Lord? oh. Lord! we're all done for. What shall we do?" groaned the first fiddle. "Go back again to your perch," was my remonstrance, "and play us a time, that's all; I rive you my word no harm ishall befall you. Up with you." The music struck up. Had Wagner, the great musician of the future, been present he would have been delighted witn the discordant sounds which greeted us. The French horn appeared to have taken a sudden turn of lunacy in company with the trombone, while the fiddlers screeched themselves into a fit, and the sympathetic | flageolet rose high in wails of agony. My men, twenty in number, formed [up and began their dance. There was no look of mirth on their faces, however. One calm, stern, resolute aspect pervaded the whole. The Maoris, creeping silently towards the farm, saw the lights, and heard the sounds of many feet and voices, and imagined that their prey was secure. At a given signal my little band divided and hid behind the arras of foliage on each side of_ the room, while the orchestra made a precipitate retreat into the refresh ment-room adjoining. Amid the sudden silence we could hear the law murmur of our swarthy foes close at hand. A pause of some minutes elapsed, when the folding doors were suddenly dashed open and a thick-set muscular savage, almost naked, founded into the room, his gleaming tomahawk grasped firmly in his right hand. For 3 moment he stood gazing round him, his
fierce^ bloodshot eyes rolling about with utoniBbment and rage at the empty barn. But the cunning Maori was not to bo deceived by appearances, he had heard the music and the noise. His victims could not have had time to take the alarm and flee; no, not even to the house, which was iu darkness. Huri knew, or thought he knew, that the poor trembling pakehas were hid behind the foliage, and huddled together like sheep for the slaughter in the room there at the end. Waving his bright hatchet above his head as a signal, his warriors troop into the place in a great irregular mob, their painted skins glistening in the light of the chandelier. From my hidingplace I try to count them, but getting as far as a hundred I became confuEed Oy their moving to and fro. However, there are more than a hundred, nearer a hnndred and fifty. Bat I notice with satisfaction there are not a dozen muBkete among the whole band. Nevertheless they are all armed with tomahaws, spears, metis, and tihis. When the last Maori has entered the chief closes the doors again and ruses his tomahawk. The warriors gather round him six and eight deep to receive his commands. The wily Huri knows his victims are looking on in fear and trembling. There is no hurry, he thinks, his scouts are around the building; the pakehas cannot escape. Outside and close to where I am standing watching through the leaves, I hear a low smothered gasp, then a heavy, dull thud as of men silently throttling each other. JOBS Findar has served in Mexico and knows the Indian trick well. Again and again the gasping noise fails upon my listening ears, yet Huri hears it not; he is too busy haranguing his men within. twenty armed men caused a panic among our enemies. As we threw ourselves upon them with our heavy swords they gave way. But the chief rallied them instantly, and then commenced a most determined handto-hand encounter with cold steel. Overmatched by the superior numbers of our assailants we were quickly borne backwards against the wall, which proved an advantage to us, inasmuch as it was impossible to outflank us. With cur back to the wall we stood at bay until our sabres were hacked in twain by the keen tomahawks of the Maoris, and it became necessary to use our revolvers. In less time than it takes me to write these words half of my gallant men were lying dead or wounded on the floor—butchered by sheer force of numbers—the remainder still holding resolutely to their work. At this critical moment the folding-doors were thrown open on either side, and a volley poured into the Maories point-blank. The savages, fancying the place surrounded with troops, threw down their arms and attempted flight. With one ponderous stroke of his tomakawk Huri cleared a passage to the door, but ere he reached it £ was upon him I felt that in point of strength I was no match for the Maori, but I was active and supple, and understood a thing or two at wrestling. Allowing the savage ta exert his strength twisting, pulling, and lifting me here and there, I made a sudden and final effort, and threw my_ antagonist heavily to the floor, and he clinging tenaciously to me we rolled over and over out at the open doorway. The rebel leader, with glaring eyeballs and a hoarse, exultant laugh, turned me under him after a powerfol effort, then fixing his knees firmly upon my panting breast he felt in his kito for his knife. I felt utterly powerless, and unable to move him. I saw the gleaming blade flash athwart my eyes ; then felt it buried in my side. For a moment I thought my hour had come; a sudden faintness seized me; the barn and the dark outline of the hills seemed to reel and dance before my eyes: a light which dispelled the gloom for an instant, a report, and my assailant rolled from my prostrate body—dead. I was lifted up and borne through the scene of our struggle in a state of semi-nnconecionsness. I heard tbe cheers of my companions, and saw a crowd of Maoris huddled together — prisoners who were being tied together with ropes; then darkness and the cool night air for a short time, and again lights and strange faces peeping at me over the shoulders of those who were carrying me. Then stillness that seemed terrible iu its intensity, relieved ever and anon by a pale dark face which bent over me and spoke words to me I did not comprehend. Oh the long dark Bleepless hours of mortal agony that seemed wrenching my frame asunder, and the constant devouring tiirat drying my life blcod! Strange thoughts—if thoughts of mine were capable of action—and fantasies gathered fast and stack within my aching brain. The figures on the wallpaper assumed the heads and features of people I had known when a boy at school. The curtains on the bed were no longer curtains but quaint shadow forms that nodded, grinned, and jabbered at me in mockery. Then a sudden change to painlesB ease and bliss, and a soft voice on mine ears— " Dear mamma, will he live ?'' G