War to the Knife, or, Tangata Maori
The campaign dragged on till June, the antipodean mid-winter, was reached. Dark were the long cold nights, ceaseless the rain, as the troops and volunteers struggled through forests knee-deep in mud, with creeks to ford and flax swamps to wade through.
An insufficient commissariat tried the constitution of the hardiest. Massinger was now in a position to comprehend thoroughly the fearful odds against which the British regulars fought in the American revolutionary war. There they confronted an enemy whose very children, as soon as they were strong enough to lift the long rifle of the period, were the deadliest of marksmen.
Behind the forest pillars or beneath the fallen logs, what perfect cover had the backwoodsmen, trained to all woodcraft and inured to a hunter's life, where subsistence often depended upon patient stalking and accuracy of aim!
Almost similar conditions prevailed in this guerilla warfare to which England's armaments stood committed. The "mute Maori" glided through the underbrush or amid the fern, himself invisible, until he arose in open order before the astonished troops.page 258
"At times a warning trumpet note,
At times a stifled hum,"
he had winded from afar. Reckless in assault as elusive in retreat, the desperate Maori seemed a demoniac foe. Living on fern-root, shell-fish, or kumera, he needed no baggage. The women of the tribe, mingling with the warriors, cooked the necessary food, carried off the wounded, and were not averse to occasional fighting. With ten thousand regular troops, as well as levies of militia and volunteers against them, with powerful tribes of their own race, rusés and daring as themselves, who fought for the pakeha with a ferocity not exceeded in the bloodiest tribal wars, their position appeared hopeless. Still the stubborn Maori held his own. In staying power, as in other respects, the aboriginal, the Briton of the South, displayed his similarity to his Northern prototype. No such conflict had been waged by an aboriginal race against the arms of civilization since the Iceni and the Brigantes confronted Cæsar's legions, fought the world's masters for generation after generation, century after century, till, wearied with the profitless strife and barren occupation, they withdrew, and left the savage inhabitants to a climate of such rigour and gloom that they alone seemed to be its fitting inhabitants. Such for a time appeared to be no improbable finale to the Waikato war. Months, even years, passed without tangible result, without solid advantage to the invaders.
So the seasons wore on, until Massinger began to look upon himself less as a colonist than a soldier. "The reveillé," the bugle-call, became familiar to him and his companions; for neither Slyde nor Warwick, page 259more than himself, dreamed of quitting service until the war was over, the play played out.
Both Englishmen had been wounded at different times, but so far not severely. They were commencing to feel the true fatalism of the soldier, convinced that they were invulnerable until their predestined hour. They came to be well known among the forces, with their guide, from whom they were rarely separated. With no personal interest in the matter, with no land to defend, no interest to conserve, they remained simply because they happened to be on the spot, and, coming of fighting blood, had no power to withdraw themselves from the fascination of battle, murder, and sudden death.
Strange as it seemed to Massinger, they had never happened to meet Erena. They heard of her from time to time, but Mannering and his hapu, though always at the front, were either in another direction when they fell across the Ngapuhi contingent, or the Forest Rangers were on outpost duty.
Nor was intelligence wanting of traits of heroism on her part in the numerous skirmishes and sorties of which her father was the leader. Dressed like his Maori allies, with a plume of feathers in his hair, with cartridge-pouch and waistbelt accoutred proper, wherever the fight was fiercest, high above friend and foe rose the tall form of Allister Mannering.
And ever as the battle-waves surged forward, or were rolled back by superior forces, the eager, fearless face, the huntress form of Erena was seen, disdainful of danger as the fabled goddess in the Trojan war. Her chosen band of dusky maidens—relatives or near friends—accepted her guidance, and page 260surrounded her in every engagement; many a wounded soldier or native ally had they borne from the fray, or succoured when wounded and helpless on the field. Often had they warned outlying settlers when the prowling taua was approaching the unsuspecting family, Nay, it was asserted that had Erena's counsel been taken, her letter regarded, the murder of the missionary, with wife and babes, might have been averted. Sometimes near, sometimes afar, but never absolutely within speech or vision, the situation to Massinger's aroused imagination became tantalizing to such a painful degree that he felt resolved to terminate it without further delay.
It is not to be supposed that he was without occasional tidings from that land of his fathers, from which, as he sometimes considered, he had hastily exiled himself.
For was it not exile, in the fullest sense of the word? Œdipus in Colona was a joke to it. Was this travel-stained, over-wearied, haggard man, who trudged day by day, and often from night to dawn, through darksome woods and endless marshes, in daily risk of being "shot like a rabbit in a ride," the same Massinger of the Court, who was wont to turn out so spick and span at covert and copse?
He could hardly believe it, any more than that the sardonic soldier at his side, whose unsparing comments included the Government, the New Zealand Company, the soldiers, and the sailors, the general, the governor, the colonists, the natives, by no means excepting himself, as the champion idiots of the century, was the erstwhile debonair Dudley Slyde, faultless in costume as unapproachable in languid elegance.page 261
It has been observed that a campaign brings out the best or worst points of a man's character. This struck Massinger as a proposition proved to demonstration when he saw the cheerful acquiescence of Mr. Slyde in the drudgeries and dangers of their harassing expeditions. He it was who volunteered for "fatigue" duty by night or day; ready at any hour to help to bury the dead, to forage for provisions, to cover retreat, to attend the wounded, at the same time keeping up the cheerfulness of the rank and file by his withering execrations, which, from their very incongruousness, always provoked the laughter of his comrades.
The simple privates voted him the "rummest chap as ever they see," at the same time fully appreciating his coolness under fire and many-sided utility.
Nor was Warwick unmindful of the necessity of keeping up the reputation of les trois mousguetaires, as they were occasionally called. He exhibited in his personal traits certain distinct tendencies derived from an admixture of the races. Grave, steadfast, and trustworthy, obedient to orders, as became his Anglo-Saxon descent, he was occasionally affected with the Berserker frenzy of his mother's people. At such moments he would rush to the front, heedless of friends or foes, and indulge himself in the blood-fury of her reckless race. When mixed up with friendly natives he would stalk through the hottest of the fire with those younger chiefs, who desired to have some daring achievement to boast of when the war was over. It more than once happened that his companions returned no more, having fallen to a man in the breach, or when they had surmounted the page 262lofty palisades which engirdled the fortress, behind which lay trench and fascine, gallery and bastion. So far Warwick had always returned, blood-stained and powder-blackened, with torn uniform and dimmed accoutrements, dropping with fatigue, and half dead with thirst, but safe and unharmed, ready—and more than ready—for the next day's exploits. When in this mood he had been seen side by side with the famous Winiata, standing on the parapet of a beleaguered redoubt, having guns handed to them, with which they kept up a ceaseless fusilade, they themselves the centre of a close and deadly volley.
Even in the midst of war's alarms the English soldier finds time for recreative pastime and the omnipresent national sports.
Football and cricket, polo and other matches flourish, in which distinction is enjoyed with a pathetic disregard of the morrow. When it chances that the "demon bowler" of the regiment, who has taken five wickets in four "overs," is himself bowled next day with a smaller ball and yet more deadly delivery, short shrift and brief requiem suffice. The batsman's stumps are scattered, and no L.B.W. affords an appeal to the umpire.
In polo the fortune of war, indeed, dwarfs the untoward accidents of the game. Who can object to a "crumpler" of a fall, when horse and rider may so soon form part of the sad company "in one red burial blent"? No! the bugle-call sounds to arms, and his comrades form in line, all unheeding of the gap in the ranks.
There is a superficial appearance of callousness about our British customs in this respect. But none page 263the less is deep and sincere mourning made for the dead; none the less among Britons in action all over the world is care for the wounded, self-sacrificing heroism in the field, so common as to be inconspicuous.
Hurdle-racing, not to say steeplechasing, was in abeyance, owing to the low condition of the cavalry arm, and the extreme difficulty in procuring fodder. The climate and the native pasture forbade the grassfeeding, which in Australia would have been all-sufficing. But polo, owing to the exertions of those officers who had served in India, and to the occasional capture of Maori ponies, became most popular. Football, again, was eminently suited to the damp and cold region in which their lines were cast, and supplied the means of warmth and exercise at small cost.
These sports kept up the spirits of the variously gathered forces. The Maori allies took to the game of football with zest and enthusiasm, their astonishing activity and strength making them almost an over-match for their British instructors. Their shouts and war-cries, when there was no particular need for caution, made the camp lively and animated, tending to produce, as similar sports peculiar to England and her colonies always do, a feeling of harmony and good fellowship between the different orders and races, invaluable for the morale of the heterogeneous force gathered on the banks of the Waikato.
But all other interests and expectations were dulled in comparison with those which prevailed on the day when the somewhat irregular arrival of the mails took place.
Often by water would the messenger appear. A canoe would steal up to river-bank or lake-shore page 264at midnight, freighted with the hopes and fears of a thousand lives; or a solitary native would come tearing through the mazes of the forest, bleeding from briars, panting audibly, like an Indian runner in the old French war of the Canadas, and, casting down the precious wallet with a "hugh!" expressive of deep relief, saunter off to the Maori camp, where a sufficiency of pork and kumera awaited him, or at the worst, dried shark, pippi, and fern-root.
Then, as the priceless missives were handed to the feverishly expectant possessors, what sudden revulsions of feeling were apparent! Few had sufficient self-control to await the moment when the contents could be devoured in secrecy. But, standing about in all directions, could the recipients be descried with open letter and expressive features, relaxed, fixed, satisfied, overjoyed, relieved, despairing, according as the Fates had dealt the measure of weal or woe.
At such a momentous ordeal, when his letters were given to Massinger, one came in the well-known hand of Mrs. Merivale, née Branksome.
Putting the collection into his pocket without trace of excitement, he wended his way to his tent, where, seating himself, he opened the envelope, and read as follows:—
"My dear Sir Roland,
"As Harry sees all your letters, and occasionally criticizes mine from a man's point of view (terribly wrong, as I always tell him), I may without indiscretion supply the possessive prefix. Sounds quite learned, doesn't it? Besides, ten—or is it not twelve?—thousand miles' distance prevents a hint of page 265impropriety in our correspondence. After all this explanation, I proceed to say 'How do you do?' How are you getting on in that most unpleasant war, which would be ludicrous if it were not so dangerous, and into which you seem to have rushed for no conceivable reason, but because you disapprove and have no earthly interest connected with it? Talk of man being a rational being, indeed!
"He often argues like one, but how rarely—almost never, indeed—does he act in accordance with his theories!
"However, like all decent Englishmen embarked in a quarrel, you are bound in honour to go through with it. The question which perplexes your friends—and you have a few, rather more than the average, indeed—is why you should have gone into it at all. I am not going to say 'Que le diable, etc.'—by the way, I ought to have stopped at the 'Que'—but we all think so!
"One exhausts one's self in trying to find a cause (reason, of course, there is none) for this effect; that is, for your migration to the 'other side of the world,' as Jean Ingelow has it in that dear song of hers. I have been reading German philosophy lately, and now know that you must go much further back than is generally thought necessary for people's tastes and dispositions, principles, and actions.
"This, then, would be the formula. First, Hypatia's parents, or one of them, having, on account of some accidental family trait, bestowed upon her an abnormally altruistic nature.
"Then they proceed to furnish her with a shamefully superior and unnecessary education, developing page 266her intellect at the expense of her common sense, so that she feels herself vowed to the social advancement of the masses (as if they are not even now unpleasantly close to the classes). This by the way.
"Cause No. 2: Strenuous attempts to move the social fabric, with the usual effect—loss of health and failure of 'mission,' self-dedicated.
"Cause No. 3: Her refusal of the 'plain duty of womanhood,' and so on, which wrecks your career, as far as we can see, without improving her own. However, she will doubtless plead that 'her intentions were good.' Harry, who has been looking over my shoulder (most improperly, I tell him), comes out with, 'D—n her intentions!' (or words to that effect). 'Women always say so when they've made a more destructive muddle of things than usual!' He has now been chased out of the room, so I proceed to finish my letter in peace.
"As it is nearing the end, I may treat you to a bit of news which you may regard as more important than the whole of the preceding despatch. Our mutual friend has a dearest chum in New Zealand, to whom she is devoted—the wife of a missionary clergyman. They live in your shockingly disturbed district, where for some years they have been converting the heathen with gratifying results. This Mary Summers is the best of young women, and, when she is not making 'moral pocket 'ankerchers,' writes to our Hypatia. I don't want to be irreverent (Harry says—well, never mind; but he doesn't like that kind of thing—says it's bad form), only the temptation was irresistible. Well, where was I? Oh! she says 'the field' is most interesting; the Maoris page 267are a noble race—ten times more worthy of a life's devotion than our slum savages, and so on. Well, Hypatia, being discouraged about them, appears to me to incline to a Maori crusade. So that it is possible—mind, I go no further—that one of these days you might see 'the—er—one loved name,' or 'once loved,' as the case might be, in a passenger list.
"More wonderful things have happened before now, and I certainly did find her reading 'Ranulf and Amohia' the other day.
"It is really dreadful the length of this letter of mine. However, I must tell you a little news. Your successor at Massinger Court has got on very well with the county. Just at first, of course, people, after the manner of our cautious country-folk, fought shy of them. After a while, however, they were voted 'nice,' especially after Lord Lake, an ex-Governor, and his wife, Lady Maud, came down to stay with them, and it leaked out that they were related to the Lexingtons of Saxmundham. Not that they mentioned the fact, Harry says the son is a capital fellow —rides, shoots, hunts, in most proper style, quiet in manner, but amusing, and plays polo and cricket better than most men.
"The girls, too, are pretty and pleasant, great at tennis and archery, besides being musical. The father subscribes liberally to the county charities, and is hand-and-glove with the parson, who says he is unusually well read. So you are in danger of being forgotten —do you hear, sir?—and serve you right, by all but a very few, who still think occasionally of the rightful owner of Massinger Court and Chase; among whom page 268I am proud to enrol myself, and (this is the last sheet) remain
"Always yours very sincerely,
The dawn was breaking on the morning of a cold and gusty day, as the shivering men of the No. 2 Company of the Forest Rangers were drying themselves at an indifferent fire, when Warwick held up a warning hand.
"Some one coming."
Mr. Slyde lifted his rifle carelessly, and remarked, "A morning call. One of our scouts, or a toa. bent on death or glory. He should have come last night, when we were too tired to cook supper; now I feel as if a brush with the 'hostiles' would revive me."
"It's no native," affirmed Warwick. "He has boots on, and is walking too fast for a surprise party. Here he comes."
As he spoke, the bush parted, and a plainly dressed man in dark clothes walked rapidly across the open ground in front of the camp.
"By Jove, it's the bishop!" said Mr, Slyde. Then advancing, he bowed, and in deeply respectful tones greeted the apostolic prelate who departed so seriously from the modern manner of bishops of the Established Church.
"I am afraid, my lord, that you have had an uncomfortable journey; you must have started early if you came from Pukerimu,"
"Comfort and I have long been at odds," said the stranger—for it was indeed George Augustus Selwyn. the famous Bishop of New Zealand, who page 269stood there drenched to the skin, with the water dripping from his garments—"and will be until this unhappy war is over. The fact is, that I heard through a native convert that the missionaries at Ohaupo were in danger, so I started at midnight to warn them. The creek was flooded, or I should not have looked so much like a drowned rat."
Massinger, who had been gazing intently at the devoted Churchman of whom he had heard such wondrous stories—tales of his courage, his athletic feats, his influence among the natives, his eloquence, his tender treatment of the wounded on both sides—was lost in admiration as he gazed at the expressive countenance, so noble in its simplicity. He now came forward with an offer of a change of garments.
"My friend, Lieutenant Massinger," said Mr. Slyde, introducing him. "He has only joined recently, and, indeed, is but lately from England."
"Massinger of the Court? Surely not!" said the bishop, with an air of much interest. "How strange that we should meet thus! I knew your people well before I left England. I will not ask you how you came to be thus engaged, but must content myself with declining your courteous offer. We are all in one boat as to discomfort. I am only bearing my share of the common burden; and, indeed, I believe that were I to trouble my head about these trifling privations, I should lose my robust health, and, like some of my poor native parishioners, become a prey to ordinary ailments."
At this stage of the interview an orderly arrived with a pressing invitation from the senior officer of the Forest Rangers, who trusted that his lordship page 270would not delay joining their mess at breakfast; so, with a hearty expression of thanks and adieu, this devoted soldier of the Church Militant departed with the orderly, every soldier within sight saluting as he passed.
"That's a man, if you like!" said Mr. Slyde. "If there were more like him, no other religion would have a chance with ours. Travelled on foot from coast to coast—in all weathers, too. Night or day, high water or low, hot or cold, all alike to him. Opposed to the war, too, back and edge. Government taken his advice, never have broken out."
"And now, what is his work?"
"Peace and good will on earth. Can't be hoped for just yet, of course. Making the best of it now, until the end comes. Risked his life over and over again. Worst of it, natives beginning to doubt him —fired at him, indeed. Feels it bitterly, they say. Been advised to keep out of the way. Scorns prudence. Says it's his duty to go to the front. Careful only about other men's lives."
"I've often heard of him," said Massinger; "I'm thankful now that I've seen him. It does one good to meet an apostle in the flesh."
"Not an extra religious man myself," said Mr. Slyde; "but deep respect for the man, apart from his cloth. Black his boots any day, and feel proud to do it, by Jove!"
Breakfast concluded, there were certain military duties to be observed, at the conclusion of which the lieutenant made his way to headquarters, hoping for an interview with this heroic personage. To his regret, he found that, with characteristic rapidity of action, he had already departed, but had found time page 271to write hastily the note which was now handed to him. It ran as follows:—
"My dear Young Friend (if I may so address you),
"You can hardly imagine the mingled feelings which your presence in this camp called up. Your county adjoins mine, and I have heard of your family ever since I can remember. Knowing its position, I can hardly imagine what could have brought about your departure from the land we all hold so dear.
"Mine was a call, imperative and irresistible. I could not refuse to perform my Master's work. I should have, perhaps, been unduly puffed up by the success of my previous efforts, had not this disastrous war come to lower my pride. I have been chastened, God only knows how severely. May it be for my soul's good! You are in the ranks of those who are fighting—some in defence of a policy of injustice; others, like yourself, I feel certain, merely as a protest against the domination of a savage race—in defence of the hearths and homes which a victorious foe would desecrate. Of the inception of the war you and your friend, Mr. Slyde, I know, are innocent.
"Among our native allies, the Ngapuhi and the Rarawa tribes have ever been true and faithful. The chiefs Waka Nene and Patuone, in their steadfast adherence to the Christian faith and unswerving loyalty to our Queen, may well serve as examples to men in high position. Farewell! and may He who is able to save both body and soul, preserve you through all dangers, now and evermore.
"Believe me to be
"Most truly yours,
"G. A. New Zealand."
"We shall meet again," thought the recipient of the apostolic epistle—"we must do so, with leisure to hear his opinion on this most vexed question of the war. I wish with all my heart that it was over. But a peace would be worse than nothing unless we fully proved our superiority. These Waikatos and Ngatihaua must not be suffered to think that they have repulsed the whole British army. The country would be impossible to live in. And we can't afford to lose such a brace of islands as these, the nearest approach, in climate, soil, and adaptation to the British race, of any land yet occupied. Not to be thought of."
And here he began to hum a song in which the glories of Britain on land and sea were set forth, and for the moment forgot his virtuous indignation against the occupation of Taharaimaka and the injustice of the Waitara business.
And so the war progressed, sometimes with passages of toilsome marching, daring attack of pah or redoubt, hairbreadth escapes, wounds, and inevitable incidents of warfare. Ever and anon a brilliant surprise, a masterly manœuvre on the part of the troops or allies, followed by an ambuscade planned by the natives with consummate skill, or a desperate stand in their entrenchments, where the loss of officers was unduly great, and the rank and file suffered severely. When it was considered that nearly three years had elapsed in a campaign where ten thousand British regulars, and nearly as many volunteers and native allies, were arrayed against the Maoris, who at no time could have had five thousand men in the field, it seemed amazing that no decisive victory should have been obtained.page 273
"Talk of its being 'one of Britain's little wars,' as the newspapers call it!" grumbled Mr. Slyde. "My belief is that it is going to last as long as that confounded Carthaginian business. How they used to bore us with it at school! Beginning bad enough—end probably worse. Fellows die of old age, unless we hurry up."
"It does drag fearfully; it's only bearable when we're in action. This lagging guerilla business, with such a commissariat—all the privations of war, and none of the excitement—is simply unendurable. However, when Warwick comes in from his scouting prowl we may hear something."
"Wonder he doesn't get 'chopped' some of these fine days. Certainly manages to pick up information in a wonderful way. Von Tempsky says he's thrown away upon us two. Wants to get him for scout business pure and simple."
"For some inscrutable reason he has attached himself to me," said Massinger. "I suggested that he might do good service by acting in that capacity —alone. He didn't take kindly to it at all—seemed hurt; so I let him alone."
"Best thing you could do. Not a bad thing to have a fidus Achates born a Trojan. Put you up to their wiles. Shouldn't wonder if he'd given you a hand as it is?"
"Now I come to think of it, he did once. We were having some brisk work that day at Katikara, where we couldn't dislodge the natives from the redoubt. The firing was sharp, when he motioned me to change position. The next minute a bullet struck the tree just where I had been standing, and page 274a fellow put his head over the parapet to see if he had bagged me. Warwick was waiting for him, and as he fired I saw my friend fling up his arms and fall backward."
" 'Close call!' as the backwoodsmen say; but that sort of thing's all luck. Look at Ropata! You'd think he stood up on purpose to be shot at—shilling a shot kind of business. Never been touched yet. No wonder they call him 'Waha Waha.' 'The devil or some untoward saint' has an eye to him, the Tohungas say."
"He's a grand soldier. It's lucky for us that he's on our side. Reckless and ruthless, a true Ngatiporou.—Hallo! what tribe do you belong to?" continued he, as he pointed to a tall Maori standing within a few paces of them. "Why, it's Warwick! How in the world did you get so close to us without our hearing you?"
"Only in the way some Waikato will sneak you, lieutenant, if you are not more careful—when you'll be shot before you have time to lift your hand. My native relatives taught me that and other things when I was young."
"And what news have you? Anything important?"
"That's as it may be. Large bodies of the Ngaiterangi have commenced to move forward towards the Orakau. We shall have a big affair soon. I fell in with a scout of the Arawa named Taranui, and he was of the same way of thinking. Said the Ngaiterangi were closing up. But I must deliver my report at headquarters first."
Whereupon Warwick departed. He had divested page 275himself of his European garments, and was attired chiefly in a flax mat (pureke), a tapona (war-cloak), and other strictly Maori habiliments, with a heitiki suspended from his neck; his muscular arms and lower leg were bare. He looked so like a native that only by close inspection could he be detected.
"The gods be praised!" said Mr. Slyde, fervently. "Men getting mouldy here. Another month or two like this would demoralize them. Out of hand a trifle already. Look at Warwick! Doesn't he glide along, at that half run, half walk of the natives? At this distance no one would take him for a white man. Have all the news when he comes to supper."
With this hope before them, the friends addressed themselves to such occupations as were available, and awaited the evening meal, when Warwick would have an opportunity of unloading his budget. When the bugle-call sounded the welcome invitation, they descried him lounging down from the other end of the camp in undress uniform, having taken the opportunity to remove every trace of his recent experiences.
"And now for your adventures, Warwick," said Massinger, as, having settled to the after-supper pipe, the little party seated themselves on a rude bench constructed of fern stems some ten feet in length, and supported on blocks of the pahautea. "It doesn't happen to rain now, wonderful to relate, and the moon, taking heart and encouragement, 'diffuses her mild rays,' as the poets say, through this ancient and darksome woodland. Did you see any of the Ngaiterangi?"
"I did indeed, nearer than I liked," answered Warwick; "and but for a lucky chance they would page 276have seen me, in which case you would never have seen me again—alive that is."
"Thrilling in the extreme," assented Mr. Slyde. "What was it—a taua?"
"More than that; a whole hapu—a strong one too, women and all. They were travelling fast, and heading straight for Kihi-kihi."
"How far off were you?"
"Barely sixty yards. What saved me was that I was in the bed of a creek, among the ferns on the edge of the water. I had just been going to climb to the top. when I heard a girl laugh. I could scarcely believe my ears. However, I crawled up and peeped through the manuka. Sure enough, there they were, three hundred strong, besides women and children—marching in close order, too. If they had straggled at all I was a gone man."
"So they didn't see you?"
"No. What saved me was a bend in the creek, which they had crossed higher up; so they steered for the other point which they could see—there are some rocks on the bank—and left me in the loop of the circle. If they had struck the creek nearer to me, I must have been seen. But they had camped at the other point, and having had their kai, were marching to recover the time. I was very glad when I saw their backs."
"How long would they be in reaching Kihi-kihi?" "Not before to-morrow night, Their intention is, of course, to get into Orakau and strengthen the defences. There's only a sufficient number there now to hold the earthworks against a moderate force."
"What do you think the general will do?"page 277
"Move to intercept them before they can get into the pah."
"And is there time for the march?"
"Barely. Don't be surprised if we have the order to start at daylight. I went back on their trail for the rest of that day, and found that they had only made one halt, having come right through from Maunga-tautari. Just at nightfall I picked up the tracks of Taranui, and got to his camp, in a cave that I knew all about."
"Then you compared notes?"
"Yes. He says it will be the biggest fight of the war; that Waka Nene and Patuone were on the march, with every warrior of the Ngapuhi and the Rarawa. Mannering and Waterton were with them, also Erena. Taranui said she never leaves her father. There were many other women, which makes me think that it is a more serious affair than usual."
"Why should that be?" asked Massinger, heroically concealing his personal interest in this phase of the expedition.
"Because they do not care to leave them at home. They have a notion that in case of defeat the Waikatos might double back and raid their villages."
"What an absurd idea! Surely they can't imagine that, with the forces at our command, such a thing could be possible!"
"Such things have happened in old days," said Slyde. "Defeated tribe suffered horrors unspeakable. Ngapuhis felt no hesitation in inflicting when they were uppermost. Tribal custom. No grounds of complaint if they receive same in turn."
"Fortunately, there's no slavery now; otherwise," page 278said Warwick, "one could hardly describe the condition of a conquered tribe. The missionaries may be thanked for that. I have heard tales that would make your hair stand on end."
"Much worse than could happen now?" asked Massinger.
"Worse—worse a hundredfold. First of all, the old and helpless would be killed and eaten—yes, eaten before their blood was cold. Any particular family among the captors that had lost relatives would have men or women handed over to them to torture at their pleasure; and great pleasure it seemed to be to prolong the agony and refine the cruelty. All the able-bodied men and women would be carried off as slaves—not only to be used as beasts of burden, but to be held degraded for life as having been slaves. Their lot was a hard one, though occasionally some lived through it, and were now and then freed. Others became distinguished, like Te Waharoa."
"I have heard his history," said Massinger."What a remarkable man he must have been!"
"He was indeed. Found crying, a small child, among the ruins of his pah at Wanganui, and carried away to Rotorua by Pango, a chief of the Ngatiwhakane, who in after-years piously repented (in 1836) that he had not there and then ended the life of one fated to become the destroyer of his tribe. It did seem ungrateful when he, forty years afterwards, declared war against the tribe that had liberated him, and slaughtered them wholesale at Ohinemutu.
Sleep did not appear to be likely to visit Massinger after what he had heard from Warwick. Long after page 279his comrades had retired he remained on watch, gazing into the forest, as if he expected the Ngapuhi to debouch thence, with Mannering and Waterton at the head of their warriors, and Erena beside her father, a warrior-maid too proud to remain behind when the great Ngapuhi tribe was on the war-path.
What would be the fate of this strange girl, so subtly compounded of diverse elements, the twin natures within her—the forest life and the civilized —each struggling for the mastery?
And what were his feelings now with respect to her? Could he deny that her image was constantly in his thoughts; that the recollection of her haughty, graceful bearing, her superb form, her lustrous eyes, her radiant smile, combined to form a picture dangerously enthralling? From one fateful syren, so destructive to his peace, his every aim and prospect in life, he had been removed. And now, must a newer "phantom of delight" reappear to disturb his faculties and assail his reason? Whatever might be the result, one thing was certain—his heart swelled with unwonted emotion at the thought of seeing her again.
And under what circumstances were they once more to meet? Not under the fern-arched glades of that enchanted forest, wherein they had wandered side by side so many a mile, carelessly gay as the bird that called above them, looking forward but to the halt by rushing stream or fire-lit camp, amid the silent splendours of the antarctic night. He had thought to regard this fantastic friendship as one of the inevitable episodes of a roving life, productive, doubtless, of a transient series of pleasurable emotions and interesting experiences, but to be disengaged from page 280his career when serious action was demanded, like the drifting weeds and flowers that for a time impede the flowing tide.
How many men have so judged! How many have discovered that the fragile bonds, to be cast aside as pleasure or interest might dictate, have changed mysteriously into shackles and fetters that hold with inflexible tenacity a long life through?
But who thus argues in the halycon days of youthful dalliance, when reason is stilled, and every natural feeling exults in joyous possession of the magical hours? The sky is blue and golden, the birds sing, strains of unearthly melody float through the charmed air—immortal, enthralling. Care is defied, sorrow banished. The "vengeance due for all our wrongs" is immeasurably distant. Yet Nemesis —slow-footed sleuth-hound of Fate—is rarely evaded.
A train of depressing reflections may probably have arisen in his midnight musings, not wholly to be disregarded, sanguine as was his nature. But he comforted himself as a last resource with the idea that there was a chance of his being knocked over in the coming engagement, which promised to be of a yet more bloody and obstinate nature than those in which he had already taken part. Having thus arrived at some sort of a conclusion, if not wholly satisfactory, he disposed himself to a slumber from which the bugle-notes of the reveillé only aroused him.
The march had been arranged on the calculation that they would reach Orakau, where the enemy would in all probability join the hostile forces in sufficient time to intercept them, and so destroy the strength of the combination. The order of the day, therefore, page 281required a continuous march until sundown, after which a halt for refreshment would take place.
The troops would then continue the advance until daylight under the guidance of trusted scouts, of whom Warwick was the leader and interpreter. They would then, it was hoped, be enabled to fall upon the Ngaiterangi unprepared, and deal one of the most decisive blows of the war, besides capturing the Orakau pah, a stronghold of great strength in itself, and the key to a most important position. Artillery, too, would be brought to bear on the pah for breaching purposes. The full strength of the Ngapuhi and Rarawa would also be available. All things looked like an assured victory.