War to the Knife, or, Tangata Maori
The hour before dawn, when "deep sleep falls upon men," found the whole household wrapped in that slumber which was the natural outcome of an anxious and exciting day. But the quick loud bark of an angry dog, subsiding into a sustained suspicious growl, and joined to a woman's scream from the camp of their native adherents, told Cyril Summers that the enemy was at hand. A confused murmur of voices, the trampling of feet, with the ordinary indefinable accompaniments of a body of men, aroused the sleepers with startling suddenness.
Mrs. Summers and Hypatia, like women on a sinking ship, displayed unwonted courage. Dressing themselves and the wondering children in haste, they joined Mr. Summers in the living-room of the cottage at the same moment that it was filled by an excited crowd of the wildest natives which any of the party had ever seen.
The leader, a ferocious-looking Maori, whom Mr. Summers had no difficulty in recognizing as Kereopa, advanced with threatening air towards him; but, seeing that the missionary had no weapon, nor apparently the wish or means to defend himself, he halted abruptly. Behind him stood a crowd of natives, the page 377greater part of whom had advanced into the room, while others could be seen through the open door between the cottage and the outbuildings. Looking more closely in order to discover if by chance there were among them any of his former servants, Mr. Summers saw, to his horror and disgust, a white man. This renegade, dead to every feeling of manhood, a deserter from his regiment, was one of those abandoned wretches to be found in all new countries, who, associating with savages, encourage them in outrage and rapine. Outcasts from their race, aware that a speedy death by bullet or halter awaits them on capture, they have always been noted as the most remorseless foes of their own people.
Feeling, however, that by interrogating the man he might procure more accurate information than from the dangerously excited chief and his followers, he addressed him.
"What is the meaning of this intrusion at this hour? Ask Kereopa if he has not made some mistake."
The renegade, apparently pleased at being civilly addressed, translated the question, and repeated it to the chief, who in a loud and threatening voice replied—
"Tell the Mikonaree that I, a prophet of the Pai Marire, have received authority from the angel Gabriel to kill or take into captivity all the pakehas, with their wives and daughters, as did the Israelites with the Amalekites."
"Have I ever done you harm? Have I not taught your people to grow the bread-grain, the potato, the vegetables on which they grow strong and healthy?"
"What have you done—what have the white men done? "shouted the wild-eyed chief, now working page 378himself into an insane fury. "You have taught us your prayers and stolen our lands. You have given us the grain and taken the fields. Where are our brothers, our sons, our chiefs? Slain by your soldiers, after robbing them of their lands—even Waitara and Tatarai-maka. They are cold in the ground on which they planted and feasted, but which now only serves them for graves."
"Surely you would not kill people with no arms in their hands. Which of our missionaries has ever fired a gun even in defence of his life?"
"The priests of your people do not fight, but they act as spies; they have betrayed our plans to the pakeha general. They will all be killed, like Volkner, to show the world that we shall have no spies, no false prophets, no priests of Baal, amongst us. Prepare to die, even as Volkner died, whose head, with that of the pakeha Boyd, is with us. Let their hands be tied."
At once several eager warriors sprang forward, by whom the women and the missionary were seized. Their hands were bound behind them with strips of the native flax, which effectively rendered them helpless captives.
"You will die when the sun goes down," he said, indicating Cyril Summers. "Call on your God to help you. The rope is ready, and the tree on which you will hang, as did Volkner. But all are not here. Where is the wounded pakeha, and the Ngapuhi girl Erena?"
"They have gone; they went yesterday."
"Which path was theirs? If you deceive me, great suffering will be yours before you die."page 379
"They went into the forest; that is all I can say. The God in whom I trust will save me from cruelty at your hands."
A native at this time said some words in the Maori tongue which seemed for the time to allay the wrath of the raging wild beast into which Kereopa was transformed.
"It is well. Their tracks will be found; Ngarara is a keen hunter when the prey is near. He is pursuing the Ngapuhi girl Erena. whose heart the pakeha soldier has stolen from him. He will cut his heart out of his breast and eat it before her eyes. I will give her to him for a slave. All the pakeha women shall be slaves to the men of the Pai Marire when the day of deliverance shall come. Hau-Hau, Hau-Hau, Hau-Hau!"
Here the countenance of the half-insane savage became changed into the likeness of a ferocious beast, as he yelled out the war-cry of the sect, which was immediately caught up and re-echoed, dog-like, by every individual in the maniacal crowd. With eyes almost reversed in their sockets, with tongue protruding, with the foam flying from his lips, and every human feature lost in the bestial transformation, he resembled less a human being than a monstrous demon from the lowest pit of Acheron.
Mrs. Summers fainted, the children screamed piteously, and Cyril made one step forward, as if, even with his fettered hands, he essayed to do battle with the destroying fiend. He was immediately seized by two powerful natives, who had been standing near him, and forced back to his former position. Realizing his utter helplessness, he groaned aloud as he page 380saw Hypatia bending over his wife's drooping form, while she adjured her to preserve her presence of mind for the sake of the terrified children and her unhappy husband.
"We shall need all our strength to carry us through this ordeal," she said. "We need it for prayer and faith, which, even in this dark hour, will save us."
As she spoke, the brave spirit of the devoted wife and mother recalled her to life and consciousness. She gazed on the strange surroundings of their once peaceful home, and after giving vent to her emotions in one wild burst of tears, resumed her efforts at composure.
Fortunately for the overwrought feelings of the captives, a diversion at this critical moment was effected through an unusual noise beginning among the natives clustered beyond and around the open door. A cry, whether of warning or triumph, came from the forest path; gradually it swelled into greater distinctness, until it resolved itself into the well-known shout of triumph which proclaimed the capture of an enemy of note. It was then seen, by the full dawn light now breaking through the masses of gloom, to proceed from a body of men emerging from the forest. The leaders of the party were dancing and singing with an exuberance which betokened victory and triumph. When the whole body debouched from the wood, it was seen to have in its midst a litter borne by four men, beside whom walked a girl with haughty and defiant mien. She looked more like a barbaric queen than a captive taken in war, as her fettered wrists showed her to be. Her attendants had been similarly treated, with the exception of the bearers, who were so closely surrounded that their page 381escape had been considered improbable. By the time they had reached the open space behind the cottage, the whole party, including Kereopa, had quitted the room, and joined in the tremendous volume of triumphant yells and cries which rent the air.
"Let the pakeha wahine come forth and look upon their friends," said Kereopa, with devilish malice. "They will see how the prophets of the Pai Marire obey the message of the angels, how the sword of the Lord and Gideon is made sharp for the evil-doer, and how the convert from the Ngapuhi is rewarded in the hour of victory."
Fearful of further violence, Cyril Summers had partially supported his wife, followed by the shuddering children, to the porch, around which in happier days he had pleased himself with training a clematis. Hypatia stepped forward with wide eyes, as expectant of instant tragedy. Almost unheeding of her own danger, and the fearful position in which all were placed, she could not repress her interest in Massinger, as with almost equal eagerness she looked at Erena. He lay back on the rude pillow which had been placed below his head, deathly pale, and only exhibiting consciousness through his heaving breast and the movements of his eyes. But when she turned her gaze upon the dauntless form of Erena Mannering, all womanly jealousy was obliterated by the glow of admiration which the girl's regal bearing and fearless spirit evoked in her. She moved among the fierce crowd of half-doubtful, half-bloodthirsty Hau-Haus with the air of a princess among pariahs. Upon those who pressed closely to her side she from time to time bestowed a glance of scorn and menace, accompanied page 382by a few words in their own tongue, from which they shrank as from a missile. Her eyes blazed as they were turned upon Kereopa, who with sneering smile approached her, pointing to the half-inanimate form of Massinger.
"The pakeha is sick; the pakeha is tired," he said with affected regret. "It is wrong that he was carried so far. His wound must be unhealed. The Pai Marire grieve. He will not stand the fire well, to-morrow. There will be a haka too, in honour of Ngarara's marriage, which he must first witness."
"Dog of the Hau-Haus!" said the indignant maiden, with all the scorn and wrath of a line of chiefs shining from her storm-litten eyes. "Speak you to a war-chiefs daughter of the Ngapuhi as to a slave-woman? What false tohunga have ye, that thy doom and that of thy herd of swine is concealed from thee? See thy future fate, as in that darkening cloud, coming nearer and yet nearer!" As she spoke, she pointed to a thunder-cloud which, after the mists of the morning, had gathered size and volume, and was now moving with the course of the dawn-wind towards them. Such was the majesty of her mien, such the tragic earnestness of her tones, as she stood, like a priestess of old, denouncing wrong and oppression, that the crowd, deeply superstitious as is the race, turned instinctively towards the approaching phenomenon; and when the thunder rolled, and the jagged fire-stream issued from the ebon, a shuddering sound was audible, which showed how deeply fear of the supernatural was rooted in the native mind. "Behold!" said the fearless, inspired maiden, as she raised her hand and pointed to the sky, "the Atua page 383of the Storm has spoken! Beware how you touch a hair of our heads. Shed the blood of these pakehas, who have never done your nation aught but good, who are now helpless in your hands—torture this sick soldier—and not a man here will be alive when the moon is dark!"
As Erena uttered the words of doom, she paused for a moment, while the audience gazed around, as if waiting for some physical manifestation in answer to her words. Kereopa preserved his expression of malicious unbelief, as though willing to torment his captives with all the dreadful uncertainty which might comport with a treacherous delay. Glancing at him for a moment with unutterable scorn, she left her position, and, moving to the side of the litter, gazed into the face of the sick man with anxious tenderness.
But it was evident that the natives generally had attached more meaning to her words than could have been expected. She had stirred their blood and aroused their superstitious fears. This killing of pakehas, except in fair fight, had always been regarded as unlucky. Terrible penalties had been exacted, even when the offence in war-time had seemed to them trifling and unimportant. Then, this Erena Mannering was the daughter of a man more fierce and implacable even than their own warriors—a war-chief of the Ngapuhi, and as such likely to exact a memorable revenge. The Pai Marire was only of recent date. There were even now rival seers and prophets, as in the case of Parata, who withstood Kereopa, and had bitterly reproached him for the barbarous murder of the missionary Volkner. There was a movement of doubt and opposition afoot, which page 384was evidently strengthened, as an aged warrior came forward and addressed the natives,
"Men of the Pai Marire," he said, "let us beware of going too far in this matter, lest we offend a more powerful Atua than those of the Hau-Haus, whom we knew of but a short while since. If we kill the soldiers of the pakehas, who have killed our sons and brothers"—here the old man's features worked convulsively—"taken our lands, and burned our kaingas, that is just, that is utu. But to kill the Mikonaree, who fights not with guns or swords, who teaches the children the booka-booka, who heals the sick and feeds the hungry, that is not tika. The Atua of the Storm has spoken." Here another volley of heaven's artillery shook the air, as the lightning played in menacing proximity to the disturbed and upturned faces of his hearers. "Beware lest worse things than the slaughter of chiefs at Te Ranga happen to us."
A strong feeling of indecision was now apparent in the excited crowd, who but an hour since were eager for blood and flames, the death of the men, the leading into captivity of the women and children. It is possible that the mass vote of the Hau-Haus would have gone against Kereopa, who was not an hereditary chief of importance, only an obscure individual, lifted by superior cunning and energy to power in disturbed times. But at that moment the malignant face of Ngarara was seen to emerge from among the last arrivals, and his voice was heard.
"Men of the Pai Marire, listen not to the words of age and fear! He speaks the words of the pakehas and their lying priests. The prophets of the Pai Marire have foretold that the Hau-Haus are to rule the land, page 385to drive the pakeha into the sea, whence in an evil hour they came, to inhabit their towns, and to take their wives and daughters as slaves. Even now, the Ngatitoa are marching to Omata, whence they will capture Taranaki with all the pakeha's treasure. It has been foretold that the Pai Marire shall increase as the sands of the sea, that all the tribes shall join from the Hokianga to Korararika. I have left the Ngapuhi to follow the Pai Marire, and I know that the tribe, except a few old men, have resolved to abandon Waka Nene and his pakeha friends, and to give the young chiefs authority to lead. You have but to join the march to Waikato, and the land of Maui is yours again."
"You have well spoken," shouted Kereopa, whose fierce visage was now aflame with wrath, and the halfinsane gleam of whose eyes told of that fanatical ecstasy which is akin to demoniacal possession. "The land will be ours, the pakeha's treasures shall be ours; his women shall work in our fields and carry burdens, even as the women of the South were wont to do after our raids. Place the head on the niu, and let the war-dance begin. The angel has again spoken to me, and I am commanded to cause the sword of the Lord and Gideon to be reddened with the blood of the Amorites."
Then commenced a scene of savage triumph, appalling, revolting, almost beyond the power of words to describe. The fury of the excited natives appeared to have transformed them into the brutish presentments of the herd of animals which surrounded the fabled enchantress. The head of the unfortunate Captain Boyd, raised on a pole planted in the ground, was surrounded by a yelling mass dancing around it, page 386with fiendish gestures of rage and derision. All likeness of manhood seemed obliterated, and the ancient world would seem to have been reproduced, with a company of anthropoids devoid of human speech, and capable only of the purely animal expression of the baser passions.
What the feelings of the forlorn captives were, thus delivered into the hands of the most remorseless foes of their race, can scarcely be imagined or described. They deemed themselves at that moment to be abandoned by man, forgotten of God. A dreadful death, horrors unspeakable, degradation irrevocable, awaited them. Like a fated crew awaiting their doom upon a sinking ship, all sensation was perhaps deadened, absorbed in despairing expectation of the last agony immediately preceding death.
The Christians summoned from their cells to the arena in the reign of Nero must have had like experiences. Alike the agony of despair, the doubt of Eternal Justice, the shrinking of the frail flesh about to be delivered to the hungry beasts of prey, the torturing flame, the gloating regard of the pitiless populace. All these were apparently to be their portion in this so-called civilized century, this boasted age of light, of freedom, of art, and intellectual environment.
Similar thoughts may have passed through the mind of Hypatia Tollemache, as she recalled her classical studies, and saw the blood-soaked arena of the Roman amphitheatre before her, of which the essential features were now in rude and grotesque presentment.
And had it all come to this? Was all the labour, the self-denial, the toilsome day, the weary night, the exile, the home-sickness, but to end thus? Not for page 387herself did she mourn, perhaps, so much; not for the warrior maid, whose high courage and inherited traditions enabled her to defy insult and brave death. They had courted the danger and must now pay the price. With Massinger, too, his chief regret would be that he could not stand in the ranks as at Rangariri and Orakau, dealing death around, and fighting breast to breast with the ruthless foe. And though death by tortures, dreadful and protracted, such as all had heard of in old Maori wars (and it was whispered around camp-fires was not wholly obsolete), was gruesome and unnatural, still it was, in a rude sense, the payment lawfully exacted by the victors. But for these mild and gentle teachers of the Word, who had, for nearly a decade, wearied every faculty of mind and body in the service of their heathen destroyers, it was indeed a hard and cruel fate. She saw, in imagination, Cyril Summers dragged to the fatal tree, with the rope around his neck, as was that steadfast servant of the Lord, Carl Volkner. She saw the ashen face and stricken limbs of Mary Summers, as, all-expectant of her own and her children's fate, she would witness the death and mutilation of her beloved partner. What was the mercy, the justice, of that Supreme Being to whom they had bowed the knee in prayer since infancy, where was an overruling Providence, if this tragedy was permitted to be played out to the last dreadful scene? Where, alas! could one turn for aid or consolation?
Such thoughts went coursing through her brain, mingled with such curious and even trifling observation, unconsciously made, as during the fast-fleeting moments of life have often been noted to occupy the mind. She looked mechanically at the war-dance page 388still being performed by the exulting savages, varied by the devilish rites, if such they could be called, performed around the dead officer's head, which with awful eyes appeared to stare down upon the unholy crew. Cyril Summers and his wife were kneeling in prayer; the children, having exhausted themselves in weeping, were examining the débris of their household gods. Hypatia herself, with her masses of bright hair thrown back from her face, and carelessly tied in a knot behind her head, was leaning against the doorsill, in position not unlike the Christian maiden in a great picture, where each martyr is bound to a pillar in the amphitheatre, when she saw Erena move more closely to Massinger's couch and whisper in his ear. The Maori guard was temporarily occupied, as an expert, in noting the evolutions of the war-dance, and had relaxed his watch. The sick man lay motionless, but the languid eyes opened; a gleam of hope—or was it the fire of despair?—was visible, with a slight change of expression.
"She knows something; she has told him," thought Hypatia, as she moved cautiously but slowly, and very warily, within hearing.
At this time the supreme saltatory expression of triumph was being enacted. The noise was deafening, so that the clear tones of Erena's rich voice were audible.
"This is nearly the end of the war-dance; then the murders and the torture will commence. The torture will last all night; they will take out Roland and tie him to a stake, cutting pieces of flesh from his body. Poor fellow! there is not much on his bones. As for us, we shall be carried away to the Uriwera country."
"You want to frighten me to death," said Hypatia.page 389
"What dreadful things even to speak of! Can we not kill ourselves? I never thought I should wish to do that. I can now feel for others who have done so."
"They have prevented it. Our hands are tied. There is no river here; no precipice, or we could throw ourselves over, as our women have often done."
"You seem strangely indifferent, Erena. I cannot think you heartless; but on the verge of death, or a captivity infinitely worse, surely you cannot jest about our position?"
"Far from it. My whole heart is quivering with excitement and anxiety; for his life, which I value a thousand times more than my own, is trembling in the balance. But, after all, I do not really think these dreadful things will come to pass."
"Why? What reason have you?"
"You remember that I came in late, the day after our arrival—on the day when I wished to go on with our journey?"
"Now I do remember. You looked as though you had been a long way."
"I had indeed. I went back on our tracks very nearly as far as the cave where Roland lay concealed. when we brought him away from the Gate Pah. I thought I might meet some of my father's people, who would have made short work of these bloodthirsty Hau-Haus, But he had gone off towards Opotiki, as a report had come of another rising. But luckily I met some one, and it will go far to save our lives."
"Who was it?" asked Hypatia, breathlessly.
"It was Winiata. He had heard of these Hau-Haus being on the march, and that Ngarara had persuaded Kereopa to follow us up."page 390
"And what aid did he give you?"
"Merely this—that a body of Ngatiporu were following up this taua, led by the most dreaded warrior in all New Zealand, Ropata Waha Waha."
At the mention of this name, so well known throughout the length and breadth of New Zealand—
"In close fight a champion grim,
In camps a leader sage"—
Hypatia could hardly repress a cry of joy.
"Then perhaps we may be saved, after all."
"If he comes in time; and God grant he may. He should be very close now. And I know Winiata will travel without rest or food till he strikes his trail. And yet I have a foreboding that one of us will die. So said the tohunga, whose words never failed yet. I cannot shake off the feeling."
"You have overworked yourself," said Hypatia, "You can have had little rest, food, or sleep since you left yesterday. It is the result of fatigue and anxiety."
"Anxiety has too often been my lot," said the girl, with a deep accent of sadness. "But fatigue I never felt yet. These wretches are spinning out their dance. They had better make the most of it. If all goes well, it is the last some of them will ever join in. Now, listen! Do you hear nothing?"
Hypatia bent her ear towards the forest, and listened with all the eagerness which the situation demanded. A faint murmur once, and once only, made itself audible.
"It is the sound of the breeze among the pines," said she at length.
"Listen again! Do you hear nothing?"page 391
"Only a far-off sound like the rippling of the river. Once I thought I heard the trampling of feet; but it must be a mistake."
"It is no mistake," said Erena. "I hear the steady tramp of a large body of men; and so would these fools, if they were not too much occupied with their absurd dance, which they intend to finish up with blood. And so it will; but not as they think."
The war-dance, with its stamps and roars, its shuddering hisses and accurate evolutions as if of one man, was drawing to a close. Already one of the foremost warriors, at a sign from Kereopa, had placed a rope round the neck of Cyril Summers, who had commenced in a final prayer to commend his soul and his loved ones to the protection of their Maker, when a shout from a number of unknown voices made the forest ring, and caused the crowd of Hau-Haus to turn their faces in that direction. At the same moment a close and well-directed volley was poured in, which laid fully one-half of them low, and wounded a much larger number. Then a man stalked calmly forward, sword in hand, whose sudden apparition created as much consternation among the Hau-Haus as if he had been a Destroying Angel specially commissioned for their extirpation. One look at the stern features and martial form of him who stood calm and unmoved amid the pattering hail of bullets, with which the Hau-Haus strove to return the fire, was sufficient for most of the Pai Marire. With a wild cry of "Ropata Waha Waha!" which came tremulously from their lips, they fled in all directions in a state of the most abject terror. And well might they or other rebels take panic at the sight of him who page 392stood exposed to danger, both from friends and foes, as though the thick-flying bullets were thistledown.
The hostile tribes were fully of opinion that he bore a charmed life, that no shot had power to harm him, probably in consequence of Satanic influence. Hence his sobriquet of Waha Waha was strangely suggestive of an unholy alliance between the Prince of Darkness and the cool strategist and remorseless warrior, to whom fear and mercy were alike unknown. A target for the best marksmen in a hundred fights, himself chiefly unarmed, he had never received a wound or spared an enemy. As he stood there, with an expression of scorn and concentrated rage upon his expressive features, with dripping sword and blazing eyes, he might well have stood for a portrait of an avenging angel, or indeed Azrael, the minister of Death, in all his lurid majesty.
Kereopa and his principal followers, who had fled at the first onset, probably thought that they had a fair chance of escape. But Ropata, with his usual astuteness, had formed a cordon around the Hau-Hau band, into which the surprised natives ran, only to find themselves shot down or captured. Among the latter were eleven members of his own tribe, the Aowera. Of these he proceeded to make an example upon the spot. Calling them out of the group of captives by name, he thus addressed them—
"You are about to die. I do not kill you because you are found in arms against the pakehas. But I forbade you to join the Hau-Haus. You have disobeyed me; you must now pay the penalty."
Having revolvers handed to him, he then shot every man with his own hand.page 393
"Bring forward the deserter."
The soldier, a man of the 57th, bound and helpless, was then led up.
"You," he said, addressing the renegade, "are a disgrace to your regiment and to your country. You are said to have shot two of your own officers in battle. You have helped these natives to commit crimes which are a thousand times worse than open war. You will kill no pakehas or natives after to-day."
With the instinct of a born leader, Ropata had taken in the various points of the situation at a glance, and issued his orders with the promptitude which the crucial moment demanded.
"Release the pakehas. Kill that Hau-Hau dog holding the rope, and hang up the deserter with it; he is not worthy of a soldier's death. Bind that Ngapuhi; he shall answer to his own chief."
These orders, coming from a man who rarely had occasion to speak twice, were obeyed on the instant. The amateur executioner was tomahawked before his surprise permitted him to drop the rope. Cyril Summers was freed, and the deserter was run up to the branch of the willow tree destined for his martyrdom. The cords which bound Erena and her attendants were loosed by willing hands, the men and even the women promptly possessing themselves of weapons from their dead captors.
Ngarara's countenance, when he saw himself at once baulked of his revenge and cheated of his prey, was a study of all the evil passions which degrade the human race to the level of the brute. Such is the phrase, unfair indeed to the animal creation, which, however unsparing in its allotted course of action, is page 394never guilty of the calculated cruelty of la bête humaine. For one moment he stood indifferent to his coming fate as Ropata himself; then, drawing his revolver, fired point-blank at Massinger, who had raised himself to a sitting posture with Erena's assistance, and was watching the conflict with an eagerness which betokened a partial renewal of strength. As he raised the weapon Erena flung herself before her lover, with an instinctive movement of protection. Passing her right arm around his neck, she lowered him to his pillow, with all the heroic tenderness which from time immemorial has characterized the woman as nurse and ministering angel. With a grin of fiendish malice Ngarara parried the tomahawk blow aimed at him by a blood-bespattered Aowera, and, eluding his clutch, dashed into the forest and disappeared.
The fray was over. The Hau-Hau prisoners were securely bound. Sullen and despairing, they stood in a circle on the spot where their war-dance and the Pai Marire rites had been performed. The derision of their captors was openly expressed. The bodies of their comrades and relations lay around in all the hideous abandon of the death-agony. From the tall pole the head of the ill-fated soldier still stared with eyeless sockets and bared teeth on the ghastly scene—it might have been fancied with grim triumph and exultation; while from the willow tree dangled the corpse of the deserter, an unconscious witness, where he had so lately posed as an actor.
As if the dreadful spectacle had a fascination which they could not resist, or that their miraculous deliverance had rendered them incapable of connected page 395thought, the destined victims had remained almost in their positions taken up previous to the arrival of Ropata and his contingent.
Mrs. Summers had sunk down on a sofa which had been dislodged from its position, with her children, wondering and tearful, beside her. The female attendants of Erena were clustered around their mistress. Cyril Summers, over whom the bitterness of death had passed, stood by his wife, gazing with awe-struck eyes into the distance, while his moving lips from time to time gave token that he was returning thanks to that Almighty Being to whom he had appealed in his darkest hour. While Hypatia, wrapped in a world of strange and awful phantasy, still stood by the outer entrance of the porch, looking straight in front of her, at this weird melodrama of human life, in which the reality so often transcends the unrealities of the "fantastic realm."
Erena and Roland Massinger had preserved their position unaltered, except that, from one of support, the girl gradually sank forward, until her head rested on her lover's breast. A cry from one of the Maori girls arrested the attention of all. Hypatia, roused from her trance, rushed over to find two of them raising Erena from her reclining position, with looks of alarm, while the arterial blood which welled up from her bosom told of a mortal wound. Massinger's death-pale countenance, stained with blood, as were the coverings of his couch, seemed to denote that these lovers, thrown together by such fortuitous circumstances in life, were fated to be undivided in death.
Though Massinger was unwounded by the bullet which, aimed with fatal accuracy, had pierced the page 396bosom of Erena, his situation was most critical. For her there was no hope. The lung had been perforated; the laboured breathing showed but too truly that death was imminent. In Massinger's case the appearances were hardly more promising. The rude treatment to which he had been subjected after his capture had caused the partly healed wound to break out afresh. He was rapidly approaching the state of mortal weakness to which Erena was succumbing. Such was only too probable; but Cyril Summers, who had gone through a course of instruction in surgery, was enabled to stop his bleeding, and to afford temporary relief to Erena.
Massinger at first resented the proffered aid. "Why trouble me? "he said resentfully. "She has given her life to save mine; it were base of me to survive her at such a cost. Let us die together. My life belongs to her, who has now saved it for the third time,"
"Then it is mine to dispose of," came the answer, in her low rich tones. "I die happy, since you are saved. If the bullet of Ngarara had found your breast instead of mine, I would have followed you to the spirit-land. You do not doubt that—oh, my darling—my own beloved! The sun would not have gone down before I should have commenced my journey to the reinga."
"Erena," said Massinger, "have I ever doubted your love, true alike in life and the dark realm, to which we are hastening?"
"Raise me," she said, "that I may see his face once more. My eyes are darkening. Oh, my beloved!" —and her soft voice faltered, and became hollow and inexpressibly mournful—"I have loved you with every page 397fibre of my being, with every motion of my heart! The pakeha girl loves you also, though she cared not to own it, in her own land. She will live for you in the days that are to come—days of peace and happiness, now that the war is over. Would she die for you as I have done? Yes; for she is noble, she is true. She would have scorned to take your love from poor Erena, even had you offered it. Her soul lay open to me—and yours. You were true to your word. She was too proud to steal your heart from the poor Maori girl. And now, farewell—farewell for ever—oh, my loved one! I die happy. I have given my life for yours —what does a daughter of the Ngapuhi wish more?" She leaned forward and hid her head on the breast of her lover, while her long black tresses flowed over his pillow, as her arms strained him to that faithful bosom, still warm with the heart's purest feelings. Reverently the little group of spectators gazed on the dying girl. Sobs and lamentations came from the women of her own race, while tears flowed fast from the eyes of Mary Summers and Hypatia.
Raising herself for a moment, she motioned to Hypatia to come nearer. Her dark eyes glowed with transient light as she kissed her hand; then laying it in that of Massinger, she whispered—
"He is yours now. May all happiness befall you! Yet forget not—oh! forget not—poor Erena."
A deep sigh followed the last words. Her head fell back; the hand which Massinger and Hypatia held was pulseless. The faithful spirit of the nymph of the wood and stream, the fabled Oread of the oldworld poets, had passed away.page 398
The tragedy at Oropi, so nearly completed, might have been averted, but for an unlucky accidental circumstance, the occurrence of which embittered the remainder of Allister Mannering's life. And yet he could not wholly abandon himself to self-accusation and ceaseless regrets, inasmuch as he had quitted the trail on which, as the avenger of blood, he was pursuing the Hau-Hau band, in order to save the lives of innocent and helpless people.
He, indeed, with his contingent, would have arrived at Oropi on the same day as Ropata, or, perhaps, earlier. He would then have been able to prevent the preliminary sufferings of the missionary household, and could have ensured the safety of his beloved daughter and only child. The cause of his leaving the direct track to the mission station of Cyril Summers was sufficiently imperative—such as, indeed, no man of ordinary humanity could disregard.
A panting messenger, speeding along the track from Whaka-tane, arrived with the news that another band of Hau-Haus had killed the crew of the Jane schooner at Opotiki, had murdered Mr. Fulloon, and captured the Reverend Mr. Grace, whom there was every reason to believe they intended to murder.
It was not known to Mannering at this time that there was any likelihood of Kereopa's band being in near proximity to Erena and her wounded charge. By ordinary computation she should have reached Tauranga several days before that bloodthirsty fanatic could have overtaken her party. Cyril Summers and his household, having been warned by the bishop, would probably have moved into one of the coast settlements.
Thus one danger was contingent, the other was a page 399pressing and instant summons. Life and death were in the decision. Murder and outrage, perhaps, even now, had taken place. The full complement of horrors could only be averted by a forced march and the sudden appearance of his hapu upon the scene. "Angel of God was there none" to whisper that loved daughter's name, darling of his heart, apple of his eye, that she was? Was there no mysterious spirit-warning such as, if tales be true, has often, through invisible sympathetic chords, eliminated time and space? Did not the traditional second sight, inherited from Highland ancestors, and of which he and Erena claimed their portion, prove faithful in that dread hour? Long afterwards—in years when he could talk calmly of his loss, dwell upon her courage, her beauty, and extol her intellectual range—he confessed to his closest friend and comrade that he had felt, from the time he turned aside to Opotiki, an overshadowing, inexplicable gloom and despondency. He was convinced in his own mind that (as he said) some dreadful deed had taken place, or was even then about to happen. Therefore he was hardly surprised, after hours of feverishly fast travelling, to find Mr. Volkner's mutilated corse beneath the willow tree which he had himself planted. Mr. Grace, after being in hourly expectation of a violent death, had been rescued by Captain Levy, one of the survivors of the crew of the Jane, and put on board H.M.S. Eclipse, Captain Fremantle.
Burning with wrath, and maddened with the doubt as to whether Erena and Massinger might not even yet be within the region traversed by the Hau-Hau scouts, Mannering made a forced march, halting neither by day nor night, rendered still more furious page 400and despairing by the freshness of the trail, leading straight for the Oropi mission station. Kereopa had sworn, as rumour had it, that he would kill the third Mikonaree pakeha and carry off his wife and children as a prey, before proceeding to join the Kingites in the sack and plunder of Auckland.
It was midnight when the mission was reached. An unwonted stillness reigned; no dog barked, no voice was heard from the native camp—an unusual state of things within his experience, the wakeful Maori being always ready for converse at any hour of the night. The mission house itself was partially closed only, but silent and deserted. The trim garden was trampled over. The shrubs and fruit trees had been broken down. The keen eyes of the Maoris discerned a spot where the ground had been disturbed. A short search exhumed more than one body, on which bullet and tomahawk had written the history of the engagement. The furniture in some rooms was intact, in others recklessly broken up. A handkerchief, a shoe, a neck-ribbon, told of recent occupation. One article of female Maori headgear, a plume of the beautiful huia, the distracted parent recognized as an ornament of Erena's.
Meanwhile, like questing hounds, the Ngapuhi warriors traversed the surrounding thickets with all the keenness of a savage race. Imprints and signs, so faint as to be almost invisible to the white man, told all too plainly to them the history of the occupation of the Hau-Haus, the arrival of Ropata and his men, the fight (if such it could be called) and finally the departure of the whole party, including the family, the victorious contingent, and the prisoners, in full march for Tauranga.page 401
Hoping against hope, yet with a cruel doubt eating at his heart, Mannering sat with his head between his hands for a stricken hour, before he gave orders for his troop to be in readiness to march, when the Southern Cross pointed towards dawn. Long before the stars had paled, he strode fast and eagerly at the head of his faithful band, on the well-marked Tauranga track.
It was past midday when they arrived. The place was astir, the streets were filled. There was murmur of voices, and that indescribable feeling in the air as of woe, or death imminent. Such was the conviction which smote the strong soul of Allister Mannering as, with his warriors ranked in battle line, he joined the throng, evidently converging towards a lofty cliff, which reared itself above the harbour.
An enclosure in which shrubs were in luxuriant growth now came into view, and marble columns showed themselves amid the dark green foliage. It was the cemetery.
The truth flashed across him. He had been afraid to ask. Was it, could it be, the funeral procession of his darling daughter—of Erena, the bright, beautiful, fearless maiden, whom he had so lately seen in the pride of her stately maidenhood and joyous youth? Lovely and beloved, was it possible that she could be now, even now, before his haggard eyes, borne to her tomb? He gazed on the little band of mourning girls who carried the flower-decked coffin. The native attendants of the missionary family walked behind with Mrs. Summers and Hypatia, while Cyril Summers, in full canonicals, with another clergyman, the army chaplain, preceded the cortége.page 402
Behind them, again, came a company of the 43rd with their officers, another of the 68th, and the Forest Rangers, with Von Tempsky at their head. Also Messrs. Slyde and Warwick, who had been granted special leave for that day only by the army surgeon, looking weak and pale after their enforced seclusion.
Then came the native allies, the Arawa, the Ngapuhi, the Ngatiporu, all stern and warlike of appearance, proud to do honour to the maiden whose mother was of their race, with the blood of chiefs in her veins, whose descent could be traced back to the migration from Hawaiki.
Those who knew of the love, so deep, so passionate, which subsisted between the daughter and the sire, could partly realize the dull despair, the agonizing grief, which filled his heart at the moment. But none of the ordinary signs of sorrow betrayed the storm of anguish, the volcanic wrath and stifled fury, which raged within. His stern countenance preserved a rigid and awful calm. His voice faltered not as, walking forward when the cortége halted, he respectfully made request that the coffin-lid should be raised.
"Let me look upon the face once more," he said, "even in death, that I shall never see again on earth."
His request was granted. He stooped, and raising the cerecloth, gazed long and fixedly on the face of the dead girl. Then moving forward, he signed to the clergyman to proceed with the service, remaining uncovered until the last sad words were, with deepest feeling, solemnly pronounced.
As the irrevocable words were spoken, and the clay-cold form, which had held the fiery yet tender soul of Erena Mannering, was lowered into the grave, page 403a tempest of sobs, cries, and wailing lamentation, until then repressed, burst forth from the Maoris in the great gathering. Then Mannering slowly turned away, and after dismissing his following, accompanied Mr. Summers. From him he learned the full particulars of the Hau-Hau invasion—of their captivity, their fearful anticipation of death by torture, the sudden appearance of Ropata and his warriors, their miraculous escape, and the death of Erena in the very moment of deliverance.
"She gave her life to save that of the man she loved," said Mannering. "Her mother, long years since, did the same in my case. She is her true daughter. It was her fate, and could not be evaded. She had the foreknowledge, of which she spoke to me more than once."
Roland Massinger, on the way to recovery, but too weak for independent action, still lay in the military hospital.
Mannering, as he stood beside his couch, and gazed on his wasted features, looked, with his vast form and foreign air, like some fabled genie of the Arabian tale.
"She is gone," said the sick man, as he raised himself and held out the trembling fingers, which feebly grasped the iron hand of his visitor—"she is gone; she died in shielding me. I feel ashamed to be alive. I cannot ask your pardon. I was the cause of her death."
The rigid features of the father relaxed, as he watched the grief-worn countenance of the younger man, and noted the sincerity and depth of his despairing words.
"My boy," he said, "you have played your part nobly, as did she; and you have, by a hair's breadth, page 404escaped being buried beside her this day. She died for the man she loved, as only a daughter of her race can love. There must be no feeling but affection and respect between us. I mourned her mother as do you her daughter. Poor darling Erena! Oh, my child—my child!"
Mannering's freedom from ordinary human weakness deserted him here. He threw himself on his knees by the side of Massinger's bed, who then witnessed a sight unseen before by living eyes—the strong man's tears as he abandoned himself to unrestrained grief. Sobs and muffled cries, groans and lamentations of terrible intensity, shook his powerful frame. Weakened by his wound, and compelled to thus relieve his intolerable anguish, Roland Massinger's tears flowed fast in unison, as for a brief interval they mingled their sorrow. Then raising himself, and regaining the impassive expression which his features, save in familiar converse, ordinarily wore, the war-chief of the Ngapuhi bade adieu to the man whom he had looked forward to acknowledging with pride as the husband of the darling of his heart, the idol of his latter years.
"Fate has willed it otherwise," he said. "You may have happy years before you in your own land, with perhaps a wife and children to perpetuate your name and inherit your lands. I wish you such happiness as I know she would have done. Her generous heart would so will it, if she could speak its promptings from 'the undiscovered country.' In her name, and with her authority, knowing her inmost thoughts, I say—May God bless you and prosper you in the future path! In this life we shall meet no more."page 405
Kereopa and Ngarara had escaped; but Ropata, who had started as soon as he delivered up his Hau-Hau prisoners, was hot on their trail. Kereopa, in spite of his keen and eager pursuit, fled to the Uriwera country, where he found shelter for a time, but led the hunted life of the outcast until it suited his protectors to betray him. Forwarded to Auckland, he was duly tried, convicted, and hanged.
Ngarara had a shorter term of comparative freedom. One morning, shortly after the attack on the mission, a small party of the Aowera appeared at Whaka-rewarewa, the main body of the tribe being encamped on Lake Rotorua. A bound prisoner was in their midst, on whose movements they kept watchful guard. It was Ngarara! A sub-chief, having been apprised of the capture, arrived with leading warriors. One glance at his stern features assured the captive that he had no mercy to expect. Contrary to Maori usage, he did not disdain to beg for it.
"I tried to kill the pakeha," he said. "What harm was there in that? He stole the heart of the girl I loved; who, but for him and his cunning ways, might have loved me. I would have given my life for her. Other men have killed pakehas—Rewi, Rawiri, even Te Oriori; why should I be the sacrifice?"
The chief listened with an air of disgust, but did not deign to reply. Meanwhile an order had been given, and the party marched on, taking the prisoner with them, preserving a strict silence, which evidently impressed him more deeply than any other treatment. In about three hours they arrived at the mission station of Ngae. Here a feeling of misgiving appeared to arise in the captive's mind, and he muttered the page 406word "Tikitere" with an accent of inquiry. But no man answered or took notice of his speech.
But when they reached that desolate and awful valley, and saw the mud volcanoes and steaming springs in furious motion, his courage failed him. He saw the hissing, bubbling lakes separated by a narrow ridge, aptly named the Gate of Hell, standing on which the traveller shudders, while breathing sulphuretted hydrogen and beholding the turbid waves on either side—the while the tremulous soil suggests the enormous power of the central fires, which at any time might rend and ruin all around with earthquake shock and suddenness.
He knew also, none better, of the dread blackness of the inferno, in which the sombre billows of a tormented sea of boiling mud are heaving and seething continually.
As with careful steps his guards half dragged, half carried him across the treacherous flat, seamed with fissures, where death lay in wait for the heedless stranger, he appeared to comprehend fully the fate that awaited him. He yelled aloud and struggled so wildly, even despite his bonds, that, at a motion of Ropata's arm, two stalwart natives stepped forward to the aid of their comrades as he neared the fatal abyss.
"Dog of a murderer, coward and slave besides," said the chief, as, halting on the brink, the guards awaited his signal—"a disgrace to the tribe which never was known to flee! Did Erena show fear when the bullet pierced her breast? Did the pakeha soldier shriek like the night owl when thy traitor's bullet struck his back —his back, I say, and he with thee in the same battle against the Ngaiterangi at Peke-hina?" Did the page 407pakeha girl, the white Rangatira, or the Mikonaree cry for mercy when Kereopa was ready to commence the torture? It is not fitting for thee to die the death of a warrior or a soldier. A coward's death, a slave's, a cur's, is thy only fitting end. Such, and no other, shalt thou have." He motioned with his hand.
A yell which made the deeps and hollows resound came from the unhappy wretch, as his captors lifted him on high and raised him for a moment above the Dantean abyss. As the miserable traitor fell from their grasp, he seized in his teeth the mat (purere) of the nearest man, who, but for the prompt action of his comrade, might have been dragged with him into the inferno. But that wary warrior, with lightning quickness, struck such a blow on the nape of his neck with the back of the tomahawk hanging to his wrist with a leather thong, that he fell forward, nerveless and quivering, into the hell cauldron beneath. For one moment he emerged, with a face expressive of unutterable anguish, madness, and despair, then raising his fettered arms to the level of his head, fell backward into the depths of the raging and impure waves.
"Tutua-kuri-Mokai!" said the chief, as he gave the signal for return, and sauntered carelessly homeward. "He will cost nothing for burial. There are others that are fitting themselves for the same place."
Cyril Summers with his family returned to England, rightly judging that, in the present state of Maori feeling, it was unfair to expose his wife to the risk of a repetition of the horrors from which they had escaped.page 408
Hypatia accompanied them, unwilling to forsake her friend, whose state of health, weakened by their terrible experiences, rendered her companionship indispensable. On reaching England the Reverend Cyril was offered an incumbency in the diocese of his beloved bishop, now of Lichfield, in the peaceful performance of the duties of which he has found rest for his troubled spirit. His wife's health was completely re-established. Without in any way derogating from the importance of his work among the heathen, which, after having reached so encouraging a stage, had been ruthlessly arrested, he arrived at the conclusion that he had a worthy and hardly less difficult task to perform in the conversion of the heathen in the Black Country. His bishop acknowledged privately with regret that their savages, though not less truculent, were devoid of many of the redeeming qualities of the Maori heathen.
Roland Massinger remained in New Zealand until his health was thoroughly re-established, when, having received the welcome intelligence that Mr. Hamon de Massinger, an old bachelor and a distant relation, had left him a very large fortune, he so far modified his thirst for adventure and heroic colonization as to take his passage to England, where his lawyers advised that his presence was absolutely necessary.
Upon his arrival, he lost no time in visiting his county and looking up his friends, who made a tremendous hero of him, and would by no means allow him to deny astonishing feats of valour performed during the Maori war. He also discovered that his Australian successor, though most popular in the county, had become tired of the unrelieved comfort and too pronounced absence of adventure page 409in English country life. The sport, the society, the farming even, so restricted as to be minute in his eyes, all had become uninteresting to the ex-pioneer, not yet old enough to fall out of the ranks of England's empire-makers. These considerations, coupled with a fall in wool, and the rumour of a drought, widespread and unprecedented in severity, decided Mr. Lexington to return to the land of his birth.
His elder daughter had married satisfactorily, and settled in the county. "She had," she averred, "no ultra-patriotic longings. England, with an annual trip to the Continent, was good enough for her. She doubted whether George would care for Australia. Then there was the dear baby, who was too young to travel. She was truly sorry to part from her family, but as the voyage was now only a matter of five weeks by the P. and O. or the Messageries boats, she could come out and see them every other year, at any rate."
As for the younger girl, she began to pine for the plains and forests amid which her childhood had been passed. England was a sort of fairyland, no doubt. Climate lovely and cool, and the people kind and charming; but somehow the old country—that is, the new country—where they had been born and bred, seemed to have prior claims. She would not be sorry to see the South Head Lighthouse again and Sydney Harbour.
The eldest son had gone more than a year ago. He was very glad, he wrote, that he had done so. One manager had become extravagant; another had taken to drinking. Everybody seemed to think that they (the family) had left Australia for good. There was such a thing as the master's eye, without page 410doubt. Such had been his experience. He would tell them more when he saw them.
One of the reasons which actuated Mr. Lexington, a shrewd though liberal man in business matters, was a dislike to paying the income-tax in two countries at the same time. He could afford it, certainly, but it struck him as wasteful, and in a measure unfair, to make an Australian pay extravagantly for desiring to live in the mother-land. Then, after assisting to enlarge the empire abroad, the price of landed estates in England had gone down seriously—was, indeed, going down still. With a probability of a serious fall in values in both hemispheres, it was better to part with his English investment while he could get a purchaser for it, who, like himself, was not disposed to stand upon trifles.
So it came to pass that, after a conference between his own and the Massinger solicitors, Mr. Lexington accepted the proposal to sell Massinger Court, with the Hereford herd of high-bred cattle, hacks, hunters, carriage-horses, vehicles, saddlery—indeed, everything just as it stood. All these adjuncts to be taken at a valuation, and added to the price of the estate, the re-purchase of which by a member of the family was what most probably, though his solicitor declined to say, old Mr. Hamon de Massinger, the testator, had in view all along.
The county was ridiculously overjoyed, as some acidulated person said, that the rightful heir, so to speak, was come to his own again. Independently of such feeling, nowhere stronger than in English county society, few localities but would feel a certain satisfaction at the return of a county magnate—rich, unmarried, and distinguished, as a man must always page 411be who has fought England's battles abroad, and shed his blood in upholding her honour. Thus, although the free-handed and unaffected Australian family was heartily regretted, and "farewelled" with suitable honours, the sentimental corner in all hearts responded fervently to the news that the young squire had returned to the home of his ancestors, and would henceforth, as he declared at the tenants' enthusiastically joyous reception, live among his own people.
Of course, all sorts of exaggerated versions of his life in the far South prevailed. These comprised prowess in war, hair-breadth escapes, wounds, and captivity, the whole rounded off with a legend of a beautiful native princess, who had brought him as her dower a principality beneath the Southern Cross.
To these romantic rumours he paid no attention whatever, refusing to be drawn, and giving the most cursory answers to direct questions. But when, after spending a quiet year on his estate, in the management of which he took great interest, it was announced that he was about to be married to the beautiful, distinguished, fascinating, eccentric Hypatia Tollemache, all the county was wildly excited. When the event took place, the particulars of the quiet wedding were read and re-read by every one in his own and the adjacent counties.
Fresh tales and legends, however, continued to be circulated. His first wife—for he had married a beautiful Maori princess; at any rate, a chief's daughter—was killed fighting by his side in a tribal war. She was jealous of Miss Tollemache, and had committed suicide. Not at all. Her father, a great war-chief, disapproved of the union, and, page 412carrying her off, had immured her in his stronghold, surrounded by a lake, which her despairing husband could not cross. So she pined away and died. That was the reason for his occasional fits of depression, and his insensibility to the charms of the local belles.
He was obdurate with respect to giving information as to the truth or otherwise of these interesting narratives; indeed, so obviously unwilling to gratify even the most natural curiosity, that at length even the most hardened inquisitor gave up the task in despair.
The county had more reason for complaint when it was further announced that Sir Roland and his bride had left for the Continent immediately after the wedding, whence they did not propose returning until the near approach of Christmas-tide. Then such old-world festivities as were still remembered by the villagers in connection with former lords of the manor would be conscientiously kept up, while the largesse to the poor, which under the new régime had not by any means fallen into disuse, would be disbursed with exceptional profusion.
After the sale Mr. Lexington had been besought to consult his own convenience, absolutely and unreservedly, as to the time and manner of his departure. The purchase-money having been received, and all legal forms completed, he was to consider the house and all things appertaining thereto at his service. Messrs. Nourse and Lympett had instructions to take delivery of the estate whenever it suited him to vacate it. The Australian gentleman, having had much experience in the sale and taking over of "stations" in Australia—always regarded as a crucial test of liberality —was heard to declare that never in his life had he page 413purchased and resold so extensive a property with so little trouble, or concluded so considerable a transaction with less friction or misunderstanding on either side.
And so, when the leaves in the woods around the Chase had fallen, and the ancient oaks and elms were arrayed in all their frost and snow jewellery, word came that the squire with his bride were returning from their extended tour. They would arrive on a certain day, prepared to inhabit the old hall which had sheltered in pride and power so many generations of the race. Then the whole county went off its head, and prepared for his home-coming. Such a demonstration had not been heard of since Sir Hugo de Massinger, constable of Chester, came home from the wars in Wales after the death of Gwenwyn.
When the train drew up to the platform, such a crowd was there that Hypatia looked forth with amazement, wondering whether there was a contested election, with the chairing of the successful candidate imminent. Every man of note in the county was there, from the Duke of Dunstanburgh to the last created knight. Every tenant, every villager, with their wives and daughters, sons and visitors; every tradesman—in fact, every soul within walking, riding, or driving distance—had turned up to do honour to Sir Roland of the Court, who, after adventures by sea and land, through war and bloodshed, had been suffered, doubtless by the direct interposition of Providence, to come to his own again.
As Sir Roland and his fair dame passed through the crowd towards their chariot, it was quickly understood what was to be the order of the day. The horses were taken out, and a dozen willing hands page 414grasped the pole, preparatory to setting forth for the Court, some three miles distant. Waving his hand to request silence, the bridegroom said—
"My lord duke, ladies and gentlemen, and you my good friends, who have known me from childhood, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the welcome which you have given to me and my dear wife on our return to our native country and the home of my ancestors. My wife would thank you on her part, if her heart was not too full. We trust that in the future we may show by our lives, lived among you, how deeply, how intensely, we appreciate your generous welcome. At present I can say nothing more, than to invite you, one and all, to accompany us to the Court, to do us the honour to accept the first hospitality we have been in a position to offer since I left England."
Due notice had been given. Preparations had been made on a scale of unprecedented magnitude.
A partial surprise awaited the wedded pair as the carriage passed through the massive gates, above which the triumphal arch seemed to have levied contributions on half the evergreens in the park. The heraldic beasts, each "a demi-Pegasus quarterly or in gules," on the moss-grown pillars, were garlanded with hot-house flowers, as also with the holly-bush and berries appropriate to the season. Marquees had been erected on the lawns, where all manner of meats, from the lordly baron of beef to the humbler flitch of bacon, were exhibited in such profusion as might lead to the inference that a regiment had been billeted on the village. It would not have been for the first time. Cromwell's Ironsides had, indeed, tried demi-saker, page 415arblast, and culverin on the massive walls of the old hall, without, however, much decisive effect. Hogsheads of ale were there more than sufficient to wash down the solid fare, for which the keen bright atmosphere furnished suitable appetites.
The nobility and gentry were entertained in the great dining-hall, where a déjeuner had been prepared, thoroughly up to date, abounding in all modern requirements. Champagne and claret flowed in perennial abundance. The plate, both silver and gold, heirlooms of the ancient house, had been brought back from their resting-places. It was evident that the whole thing—the cuisinerie, the decorations, the waiters, the fruit, and flowers—had been sent down from London days before; and as Sir Roland and Hypatia took their places at the head of the table, mirth and joyous converse commenced to ripple and flow ceaselessly. Even the ancestral portraits seemed to have acquired a glow of gratification as the lovely and the brave, the gallant courtiers or the grim warriors, looked down upon their descendant and his bride; on those fortunate ones so lately restored to the pride and power of their position—so lately in peril of losing these historic possessions, and their lives at the same time.
Did Hypatia, as an expression of thoughtful retrospection shaded her countenance momentarily, recall another scene, scarcely two years since, when the bridegroom, now rejoicing in the pride of manhood, lay wounded, and a captive, helplessly awaiting an agonizing death; herself in the power of maddened savages, as was Cyril Summers with his wife and children? Then the miraculous interposition—the fierce Ropata sweeping away the rebel fanatics, with the fire of his page 416wrath! And she—alas! the faithful, the devoted Erena, but for whose sacrificial tenderness Sir Roland would not have been by her side to-day! What was she, Hypatia, more than others, that such things should have been done for her? The tears would rise to her eyes, in spite of her efforts to compose her countenance, as she looked on the joyous faces around. Mary Summers and her husband sat in calm enjoyment of the scene. Then, with a heartfelt inward prayer to Him who had so disposed their fortunes to this happy ending, she strove to mould her feelings to a mood more in accordance with her present surroundings.
A change in the proceedings was at hand. The Duke of Dunstanburgh, rising, besought his good friends and neighbours to charge their glasses, and to bear with him for a few moment, while he proposed a toast which doubtless they had all anticipated.
His young friend, as he was proud to call him, whose father he had known and loved, had this day been restored to the seat of his ancestors, to the ancient home of the De Massingers in their county. He would but touch lightly on his adventures, by flood and field, in that far land, to which he had elected to find—er—an—outlet for his energy. Danger had there been, as they all knew. Blood had been shed. The lives of himself and his lovely bride, who now shed lustre upon their gathering, had trembled in the balance, when by an almost miraculous interposition succour arrived. He would not pursue the subject, with which painful memories were interwoven. Enough to state that under all circumstances, even the most desperate, Sir Roland had maintained the honour of England, and had shed page 417his blood freely in defence of her time-honoured institutions. (Tremendous cheering.) He had returned, thank God! he would say in all sincerity, and was now, with his bride, a lady who in all respects would do honour to the county and the kingdom, placed in possession of the hall of his ancestors. He was come —they had his assurance—prepared to live and die among them; among the friends of his youth, and those older neighbours who. like the speaker, had hunted and fished and shot with his father before him. He was proud this day to give them the toast of Sir Roland and Lady de Massinger—to wish them long life and prosperity—and he was sure he might add, in the name of the whole county, to welcome them most heartily to their home.
When the cheering had subsided, taken up again and again, as it was from the outer hall and even from the lawn, by the tenants and villagers, who, if they could not see, could at least judge by the storm of voices as to the nature of the address which had called it forth, Sir Roland stood up and faced the crowd of guests, who cheered again and again as though they never intended to stop. He commenced with studied calmness, thanking them all. his good friends and neighbours, the old friends of the house, and those among whom he had lived so long in friendship, he might say affectionate intimacy, until circumstances, apparently, made it necessary for him to leave the home of his childhood. They would doubtless appreciate the greatness of the sacrifice, the bitterness of feeling, with which he quitted the home of his race. He resolved to go as far as was possible from home and its memories, and had, in fact, gone so far South page 418that the Pole only would have been the next abiding-place. It was a British outpost, however, well deserving the name of the Britain of the South; destined in years to come to be the home, the prosperous home, of millions of the men of our race, and one of the brightest jewels in the Imperial crown. Difficulties had arisen with the Maori nation, a proud, a brave, a highly intelligent people, who had made the best defence in war against British regulars by an aboriginal race since the days when the stubborn valour of the ancient Britons scarce yielded to the legionaries of Rome. (Tremendous cheering.) That war, fraught with disastrous losses in men and officers to Britain's bravest regiments, was now over, he was rejoiced to say. There might be irregular fighting from time to time, but the high chiefs had surrendered, and vast areas of the most fertile land in the world had now become the property of the Crown. He himself held what might be considered an incredibly large domain, which must prove of great value in time to come. He would not mention the number of acres. He was not going back there. (Redoubled cheering.) He could assure them of that fact, though in days to come another Massinger Court might arise beneath the Southern Cross. (Renewed cheering.) He was as fixed here, under Providence (he told them now), as the "King's Oak" in the Chase. (Loud and prolonged cheering.) He and his wife had experienced a sufficiency of adventure, by land and sea, to last them for their natural lives. They desired, in all humility, to return heartfelt thanks to Almighty God for their restoration to this pleasant home, and those dear friends whom at one page 419time they never thought to see again. They hoped to prove their gratitude, by lives of usefulness in their day and generation.
The adventures of Sir Roland de Massinger and Hypatia his wife, insomuch as regards peril and uncertainty of war or peace, travel by land and sea, or even the stormy politics of a new nation, must be said now to have lost much of their interest. Hence-forth Sir Roland was contented to pursue the ordinary course of the country gentleman of England, which, if not exciting or adventurous, is surely one of the happiest lives in the world. He was contented to manage his New Zealand property through an agent. Indeed, after Mr. Slyde's appearance in England—that gentleman having received a year's leave of absence, on account of his wound and eminent services in the war—he was pleased to place the whole management of Waikato Court and Chase, near the flourishing township of Chesterfield, in his hands. Mr. Slyde was about to relinquish his connection with the New Zealand Land Company, having, as he said with his customary cynicism, been fool enough to encumber himself with a picturesque and fertile block of land, on the same river, and also to commit the crowning folly of matrimony with a young lady to whom he had become engaged just after the war. New Zealand was bad enough, he averred, but for a man who had been born without the proverbial silver spoon, England was the worst country in the civilized world. Therefore if his comrade, Sir Roland, had sufficient faith in his intelligence and honesty—rather rare endowments in a colony—he supposed he could manage page 420both properties with much the same outlay of cash and industry as his own.
The arrangement was completed, and worked so satisfactorily, that for many a year Sir Roland had no duties connected with the antipodean estates beyond supervising the sale of wool, frozen mutton, butter, cheese, cocksfoot grass seed, and other annual products, which so excited the admiration of his neighbours and tenants that they could hardly be made to believe that such satisfactory samples could be produced out of England, his frozen lamb, equal to "prime Canterbury," notwithstanding.
Hypatia is truly happy in her home—blessed with a growing family, contented with her duties as the wife of a county member, and, above all, firmly convinced that Roland was the only man she had ever loved. She is almost convinced, as her out-spoken friend Mrs. Merivale (née Branksome) often assured her, that it served her right for her absurdly altruistic notions and general perversity that she so nearly lost him. The days are only too short for her employments and enjoyments. Nor did she abandon the philanthropical obligation, but as the kindly, generous, and capable Lady Bountiful of the estate, is "earthlier happy as the rose distilled" than in any imaginable state of "single blessedness," however advanced and politically eminent.
London: printed by William Clowes and Sons, Limited, Stamford Street and Charing Cross.