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  ― 232 ―

The Man Who Saw A Moa.

IT had rained steadily for three days, and all hands were gathered round the cook-house fire—the only decently-dry place in camp. Dead sick we were of loafing and playing euchre for matches. Talk turned upon a recent discovery of moa-bones down south, and, of course, old Dick took the lead. There wasn't a mortal thing on earth that he didn't know something about. He had been sailor, miner, soldier, bushman, and the Lord knows what else; and, though he was past sixty, he could handle a hook or a flail with the best of us.

“Yes, mates, it can't have been very long since the last moa turned up its toes. In fact, I could spin a yarn 'bout that very same bird, only I don't care to be thought a liar by any man.”

“Let her go, Gallagher! let her go!” was the chorus all round.

“We'd believe you, Dick,” added a Taranaki man, “if you told us you had shorn Esau, the hairy man, and sold his fleece to St. Peter for a door-mat.”

——“Came out here,” went on Dick without more ado, “in the early days, when the West Coast was just beginning to boom. Self and mate cleared out from the barque we were on at Lyttleton, and made 'cross country to the Coast. We had a pretty rough time at first, and went back past all the other diggers, after a bit, and camped in the bottom of a big gorge. Here we made very fair money, even for those days, although we were pretty lonesome all by ourselves. First night or two we got devilish well scared. Just about dark there would come a wild, wailin' sort o' noise, something like a steam-siren in a fog. But, as nothin' happened, we soon got used to that; in fact, we used it as a kind o' tea-bell.

“However, one day we was workin' on a bit of terrace at the


  ― 233 ―
bottom of the gorge, when a boulder, the size of a man's head, came out of the bush above us as if it had been fired from a cannon; then came two or three more, and then a six-foot log, and we reckoned it wasn't healthy where little things like that were flyin' round, so we knocked off and went up to see what the trouble was. We climbed up to a little terrace 'bout fifty yards above us, and there was the chap that had done it!—a thunderin' big bird, 'bout twice the size of an ostrich. He was scratching for dear life, just like a rooster, an' every now an' again he would pick up a worm or a grub. ‘Poor beggar!’ says Jack; ‘if he has to load-up with that sort o' tack he'll be a long time gettin' his full cargo on board.’

“We looked at him and he looked at us, and just went on scratching again; so we concluded to let well alone.

“After that we often used to meet the beggar stalking about the river-bed or in the bush; in fact, he seemed to like to see us. S'pose he felt a bit lonely with none of his mates about. What was he like? Well, not unlike one of them wood-hens you see running about, only about a thousand times as big. He had little bits of wings, an' a funny little tail that he stuck up in a comical way, every step he took. Run!—by the hokey, he could run! Saw him chasing a Maori-rat one day, and the rat hadn't a show. Our friend just put down his head and went through the scrub and supple-jacks like greased lightnin'.

“At last one night the beggar paid us a visit in camp, just as we were sitting down to tea. S'pose the grubs and worms had been a bit scarce that day, for he seemed pretty sharp set. Jack threw him half a roast pigeon; he swallowed it like a pea, and then the fun began. He walked right up to the tent-door, and began to tackle the rest of the grub. Jack up and hit him with a pick-handle, but the bloomin' dicky-bird just planted his foot in Jack's chest, and Jack sat down mighty quick. Then I chimed in with a tomahawk, but he just let me have one-two in such short order that I thought I might as well have a spell, too. He was a good doer, and no mistake! Scoffed our pigeons whole, choked over the damper, swallowed a knife, an' then he put his beak in the hot tea.


  ― 234 ―
Pulls it back pretty sudden, you bet! but when Jack gives a chuckle and raises his head a bit where he is lyin', the old fowl just steps over to him and dances all the grinnin' out of him in two jiffs. Back he goes, then, and starts to turn out the whole bloomin' caboose. Finding the tent a bit awkward for a bird of his size, he just kicks it to Jericho an' starts scratchin' like a steam-engine. My word! the way those things did fly! He found my watch and swallowed it, leavin' the chain hangin' out of his beak. Then he got on to some tinned stuff, an' down went the two-pound tins like pills. But drink was his ruin—like many another's!

“We had some rum in the bottom of a long tin-can, and when he shoved his beak into this I suppose he found it pretty good; at all events he wasn't in a hurry to take his beak out again. When he did try to get out, the handle of the tin stuck round his neck, and there he was blindfolded. Things began to fly worse than ever then; he went dancing round into the fire and up again' the trees till he found it wouldn't come off that way, so he quietened down—put the tin on the ground, and started working it off gradually. This was our chance! I ups with the tomahawk and takes the can fairly off for him; of course it wasn't my fault that his head came with it!

“Well, boys, we lived on that bird for nearly a month; he was something like turkey, with a dash of shag. Yes; we got the tinned-meat and the watch out all right; likewise about fifty quid worth of rough gold that the beggar had stowed away. Why didn't we take the carcase into town? Because we were new-chums, my lad, an' didn't know but moas was as common as cock-a-doodles.”

WEKA.

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