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Raromi, or, The Maori Chief's Heir

Chapter XXXII. Dog's-ear confronts the war-party

page 216

Chapter XXXII. Dog's-ear confronts the war-party.

Rangihaeata had broken faith with Dog's-ear; indeed, scarcely a chief on the Port Nic. side of the Tararua Range now regarded their allegiance to Te Rauparaha's lieutenant. This, as was most natural, inflamed his anger and turned it to hatred, and he meditated revenge.

This outburst of anger on Rangihaeata's part suited Te Rauparaha's vindictive spirit for the moment. He determined to keep in the background, and launch the horrors of war against the settlers by means of servile and cruel tribesmen brought from a distance.

Pakihure, the conquered chief of the Rangitane, was seduced from his hiding-place at Ohiere, and was led to visit Te Rauparaha at Kapiti. The great chief at Kapiti pretended to weep over the wrongs of the Rangitane. He raised Pakihure's fallen hopes, and gave him the command of a war-party to act against page 217 the settlers at Port Nic. The wily savage could by this means strike blows which could not, he believed, be brought home to him.

Dog's-ear's apprehensions were strengthened when one of his men was found clubbed in the upper part of Kai-wara-wara glen, followed by the disappearance of another.

'Speak straight! 'said Dog's-ear to one of a party of scouts.

'It is a taua (war-party).'

'But we are not at war!'

'Know you not Pakihure, O chief?'

'Pakihure!' exclaimed the chief, 'leader of the despised Rangitane?'

'Even so; the Rangitane have crossed over, and have gained the peaks and passes of the Tararua Mountains. They have slain Whenua; and they rage with the fierceness of Maru.'

'Against whom, think you?'

'The Pakeha, some say; but we heard that Pakihure speaks big words, and demands utu for—'

'The blood of his relative, slain by me in the days gone by,' said Dog's-ear. 'Yes,' he added, to himself, 'I must pay for the wrongs of the past!'

'Go,' he added to one of his men, 'tell Raromi, my son, the Rangitane are out on a war-party. Say I am going to them; and my going shall be the sign of peace.'

But Raromi questioned the messenger. He found put that Dog's-ear was going to give himself up to almost certain death, that war might be avoided, and page 218 the war-party appeased in Maori fashion; i. e. life for life, arising out of an ancient feud.

In a short time, Harold Morpeth and a strong party of well-armed settlers set out for the front. Harold's party was detailed to protect the settlement, but he hurried forward, hoping to catch Dog's-ear and save him from certain death.

He was too late; the chief had departed.

It is early morn. A small party of Maoris are pursuing the narrow road which at length touched the noisy, bubbling Eritonga, and then turned towards the forest, leading amongst the spurs of the Tararua Range on their eastern flank.

Behind this party came other Maoris, evidently keeping their scouts well in view. And far behind all these came Harold Morpeth's party, pushing forward to overtake Dog's-ear.

Dog's-ear and his scouts had entered the forest, where huge trees, covered by huge lianes, and matted together by creepers, often entirely stopped progress.

The old chief gave a signal, and he and his party crouched down, silent and motionless.

A whoop, wild and sharp, rang through the forest; and two Maoris darted away to cover from Dog's-ear's very side, after aiming a fearful blow at one of the prostrate warriors!

The party dashed after them as well as they could, not, apparently, to strike a blow—for not a shot was fired—but simply to follow them up.

Huge fallen trees blocked the way. In many places page 219 masses of creepers had so grown up and become interlaced as to be impenetrable, except to axe and cutlass. When a clear spot was reached in which to breathe, the difficulty was how to get out of it—how to go forward again—how find the way; and finding it, keep the right direction.

Dog's-ear called a halt. Panting and fairly exhausted, they had kept the flying Maoris in view, and had reached open ground again.

Keeping well under cover, the chief and his scouts looked out upon the enemy. Before them rose a spur of one of the outliers of the Tararua Range. On this spur stood an incomplete pah; the war-party working hard to finish it before being discovered and attacked.

'There is the enemy!' said Dog's-ear—'it is a taua. Your word to me was true.'

'But why haere ki patiarero?' asked one (why run into danger, expressly); 'if we are caught—'

'We shall die!' added Dog's-ear.

'Oh! if our father will—'

'I have not come to fight—I've done too much in the past.'

'But why, then, O chief—'

'I have come to know what the Rangitane mean. They mean war. I see it. Now I know it. You will go back to Raromi and tell him. Tell him to wait two whole days—for me! If I do not come back, to fortify the town—and wait!

'Here, take my arms—all. Give this mere pounamu to Raromi; it is his. To his care I commit my few brave Nga-ti-tama!'

page 220

His warriors took the things one by one, and stood there, speechless—heart-broken in their grief.

'Return, brave Nga-ti-tama; the great God, the Atua over all, go with you.'

His warriors did not move.

'Go you not? Shall I command you?'

'We cannot go,' they said, sadly; 'we will stay and die!'

'No,' said Dog's-ear, firmly. 'I have a mission of peace, and alone I go to seek Pakihure. The great God over all is God of peace. I go to make peace between Pakeha and Maori—perhaps to die!'

The aged chief drew himself up, for the lofty ambition of serving the God of peace fired his soul, nerved his heart, and made him look really noble.

His attendant warriors, speechless with sorrow, turned away and disappeared. Dog's-ear was alone!