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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 9 (December 1, 1937.)



It was a descent rough beyond the imagination of those who do not know the New Zealand bush. The dip from the ridge-top to the bottom of the valley must have been seven or eight hundred feet. Sometimes the ground fell away in precipitous faces, over which the trees leaned, and sometimes Cannell had to search for aka vines by which to lower himself to the jungle-matted slants. Trickles of water came from cliff faces and oozed through the drapings of moss, grey and green and golden; down these slippery faces Cannell lowered himself with care. Some of the trees were very old, and bore the marks of centuries of storm and lightning.

As the explorer descended the sound of the water grew nearer and louder, and presently he came breathlessly down by the run, with one end of a parted aka liane in his hands, in a bed of moss by the side of a little river, tearing over a stony bed. It was a solemn kind of twilight down there. Cannell followed this creek of the fairy mountain through its windings. Night came down in, a strange, wild place, where the river was narrowed in between high cliffs. He made his camp on a platform of rock where there was just room to build his fire with dead branches and make a bed of ponga fern tree fronds between the precipice and the river. He hungrily ate a camp ration, smoked a peaceful pipe and turned in.

The prospector was up as soon as daylight broke into the canyon. He had not travelled more than a hundred yards when a twist in the gulch revealed a sight that filled him with wonder. The stream had widened out into a small lake. Trees grew in a cloud of green all about it. Breaths of mist went softly up from the waters, now waking to the morning sun, and blue mountain duck swam on it, uttering their thin whistling call, “whio, whio.”

Cannell, pot-hunter that he was, could not resist a shot at the nearest swimmers. The discharge of his gun almost startled him, it raised such crashing echoes among the ranges. Retrieving his game with a long sapling, he tied the birds to his swag and steered his course to the left, skirting the shore of the tarn.

Suddenly he stopped. His eyes were fixed in a stare on the mossy ground, his hand tightly gripped his gun. Crusoe on his island could not have been more mystified when he discovered the footprint on the sand than the bushman was as he bent down to examine more closely the telltale sign retained by the soft damp moss—the print of a bare foot. That was the only trace.

There was a jumble of rocks about the mossy edge of the forest. As Cannell peered about in an effort to pierce the secret glooms, he saw a thin hewn pole suspending from a rata tree above him. It hung down alongside the rough-barked trunk, its end reaching to about his shoulder. Cannell hauled on it, and it came away with a jerk. As he drew it from the branch he saw it was a bird-spear, one of the long thin limber weapons that the Maoris used on their pot-hunting expeditions.

Pushing the spear up into the branches, Cannell again examined the mysterious footprint. It was so fresh that he decided it could have been made only a little while previously. The bird-hunter had stepped from rock to rock, and it was by accident that one betraying foot had-rested on the moss.

Keeping under cover of the trees, Cannell scouted anxiously along the lake. Presently he saw what he expected to find—a canoe. It was a very small dug-out, not quite ten feet long, to hold a single paddler. Its ends and sides were green with moss. It had been used perhaps by the bird-hunter, Cannell surmised, for year after year, and he wondered what manner of lone mountaineer it could be who had gone to the trouble of hewing out a canoe in the heart of the ranges for such a trifling purpose.

Listening awhile, and hearing no 1 sound but the occasional screech of the kaka in the branches and the piping whistle of the whio as they sailed about in little blue-winged squadrons, he stepped down to the waterside and bent over the canoe. A roughly made paddle lay in the bottom, and the explorer stretched out his hand to take it up for further examination.

But his hand did not reach the paddle.

There was a quick breath behind him, and something leaped upon him, clutching him round the neck and bearing him down.

Cannell struggled with all his might to rid himself of his terrifying burden. His gun had fallen from his hand in the first shock. He snatched it up and swung it round, butt first, against his assailant. There was a grunt of anger, and next moment retaliation. He received a sickening blow on the back of the head. He felt the warm blood running down his neck, and he heard faintly, as if at a far distance, the voice of his captor.

“Come up! Come quickly!” his assailant cried, m Maori. Cannell's dazed brain heard nothing more for several minutes. The crushing weight on his back was released, he was jerked to his feet, and now he saw his captors; One, the man who had borne him to the ground, and dealt him such a blow, was a giant of a fellow with a huge bushy black beard. In his hand was a short-handled tomahawk, the weapon that had so nearly ended Cannell's bush-roving. His companions were two young men, similarly armed.