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

V

V.

The day came at last when the old chief consented to the pakeha's departure. Cannell had given his solemn promise not to reveal the refuge-place to the white people. Kahu told Cannell, moreover, that it was time he went, he-cause Potango, his captor, could not be restrained much longer from tomahawking the trespasser. “Beware of Potango,” he said, as he bade farewell to his guest, with nose-pressing and shedding of tears, Potango, Cannell had gathered, desired the girl Raukura, but she detested him. He suspected also that the while man was a gold-hunter; that would be sufficient excuse for killing him.

Cannell stood ready to go with his swag and gun. Raukura, for all her tranquil dignity, could not restrain her tears as she pressed her nose to her white friend's. “Will he ever return?” was her unspoken thought as she sadly watched him disappear at the first turn of the lakeside track.

Cannell had looked around for Potango, but the big Maori was not to be seen.

“He's gone ahead, to ambush me!” was his instant thought. He stepped behind a tree and loaded his gun. No bird shot; he put a bullet in each barrel this time.

For all his caution the white man was nearly caught. When he reached the place where the stream first widened out, and where he had been startled by the mysterious footprint, he stopped to look round at the lake valley he was leaving, A bullet's zip and a terrific bang came simultaneously from the shadows on his right. He jumped for a tree-trunk shelter, for fear of the second barrel, and fired a shot Into the little cloud of smoke. Next moment he regretted that return shot, for the Maori, of course, would have dodged off to another position. He crouched under cover, waiting. Presently a slight movement of the high ferns on his right hand brought his gun to his shoulder in a flash. He waited a moment, then fired into the shaking ferns. He quickly changed cover nearer to the cliff, and reloaded both barrels. Not another sound came. Very carefully and slowly he scouted around until he was able to approach the spot from the rear. He parted the ferns with his gun barrel. There lay Potango stretched out, face downward, his gun dropped beside him.

Cannell, with conflicting emotions, shock, regret, and relief, hastily examined the victim of his. lucky shot. The bullet had passed through the Maori's chest. He grieved to think he had killed a man—but it was one or the other of them.

There was no time now for explanations to the people, who must have heard the thundering shots. He slang his gun by its strap, and attacked the difficult mountain climb.

* * *

It was nearly a year later that Cannell, driven by feelings that had long oppressed him, dropped all his work, and returned to the Waipa country. He must explore Pirongia again for Raukura's hidden valley. On his second day in the ranges he descended to the canyon lagoon, and scouted along the shore.

No life was there; not a sound came from the huts, asleep in the westering sun. He called out a greeting.

No sound but a tui's gurgle from the bush, and the low gabble of the ducks feeding on the lake.

Cannell walked through the deserted village. The cultivations were full of rank weeds, and the once neat little fences were broken and weed-grown. The thatched houses were still as the grave. From one the door had fallen, and as Cannell was about to enter there was a grunt, and a wild pig came rushing out and tore into the bushes.

Cannell knew now that the shedding of blood had made the valley tapu. He wondered in what new sanctuary the fires of the fugitive tribe were kindled. It might have been that they dispersed themselves among the Kingites of the open lands beyond the border.

As the white man stood there, sadly observant of all the signs of ruin and decay, he knew that the forest would soon reclaim its own.

Dark Roto-kohu exhaled a thin haze. The weka cried its sudden wailing call from the brushwood slopes, the voice of the spirit of solitude. A cold waft of air came from the water, and the white man. with a shudder, turned again into the bush that clothed the mountain side.