Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge
Chapter XXXV. Where is Konrat?—Takori's Daughter—An Awkward Predicament
Chapter XXXV. Where is Konrat?—Takori's Daughter—An Awkward Predicament.
Later in the day, the canoe which crossed the Captain's boat in the morning landed at Wai-iti, and the paddlers, leaving their mistress—for the wrapped-up passenger was the chief Takori's daughter—to rest on the beach, went their way to the French encampment for the purpose of making further enquiries for one in whom the damsel was interested. They returned in about an hour. ‘Konrat’ had not yet come back, but ‘Arno’ had been there the night before, and, very likely, was now up there at Konrat's whare, and the handmaids, who had heard uncanny stories about that small domicile, shrugged as they named it.
‘At Konrat's whare? Wait here then.’ said Rau-kata-mea. ‘I will go to him.’
A shuddering protest broke from both damsels. Surely she would not venture. Did she not know there was a taipo (devil) there? But their mistress put them aside. If the taipo left Arno unmolested she need not fear him.
A few minutes later the handsome young chieftainess stood beside the page 166 whare, and drawing back the slide, peered in. Disturbed by the sound, the solitary occupant looked up, and as she softly whispered ‘Konrat!’ Arnaud's eyes met hers. He rose at once from the couch on which he had been lying fully dressed, and came to the window.
‘Where is Konrat?’ the girl queried, abruptly, ignoring his greeting.
‘Konrat is not here,’ he answered, begging the question.
‘Where is he, Arno?’ she reiterated, imperiously, yet with evident anxiety.
‘Konrat is away, paying a visit. I cannot tell you where.’
‘Is he with Naku-roa?’
‘No, he is not.’
‘Why are you not with him.’
‘Naku-roa bade me remain here to-day until he came.’
‘Did Naku-roa tell you what was to happen to-day?’
‘To happen? Where?’
‘To Manawaoroa Bay.’
‘There is to be some fishing there.’
‘What mean you, Rau-kata-mea?’
‘Will Konrat be at Manawaoroa Bay to-day?’
‘No.’ But at the word the valet's face turned a shade paler. The cache was within half a mile of the bay. What if some tohunga should discover its temporary occupant! The girl, watching him narrowly, noted his hesitation.
‘Arno,’ she said, desperately. ‘If Konrat goes to Manawaoroa Bay to-day he will he eaten.’
‘Eaten?’ exclaimed the horrified valet. ‘Mean you to say——’
‘The fish are already in the ovens.’ replied the girl enigmatically.
‘What have you done with Konrat?’ she added, wringing her hands.
Greatly perplexed Arnaud replied: ‘Konrat went not with the fishing party. But your words are dark, Rau-kata-mea. I understand them not.’
‘See!’ replied the maiden feverishly. ‘Some of your people have broken the tapu, and the guilty must perish. But Konrat—he is innocent —and—I would save him. If you know where he is, tell me, that I may warn him, for my father loves him not, and should he meet him in his wrath, will drink his blood.’ She shivered as she uttered the dreadful words, and some pearly drops fell from her eyes.
Arnaud looked grave, realizing instantly the whole situation. The tapu had been broken—well, it was only what he had been expecting—but whoever were the real culprits, the captain and party were to be the scapegoats. They would fall to a man. ‘The fish were already page 167 in the ovens,’ the girl had said. He knew the war custom of devouring the flesh of the slain, and the thought of the orgy possibly now going on turned him sick. His duty to the rest of his comrades required him to warn them, but he cared nothing for any of them. Besides he had already committed himself. He had arranged with Naku-roa to remain in New Zealand in any case; assured of the latter's powerful protection and friendship, as well as that of several other chiefs of note. Naku-roa, moreover, had engaged to assist him in carrying out his scheme of vengeance against D'Estrelles, to whom the young chief owed a jealous grudge on account of Rau-kata-mea, whose heart might have been entirely his had it not been for the white interloper. Should he semi word to the ships? Bah! Such a course would only compromise himself. It was too late to save the fishing party, and their late would soon be noised abroad. The crews would then at once fly to arms and avenge it, and Arnaud was well assured they would concern themselves little about him should he fail to appear ere they weighed anchor, which they would hasten to do, so soon as they had inflicted, chastisement upon the natives. Meanwhile there was D'Estrelles to think of. Should he be found in the cave, speedy death would end his miseries and baulk his tormentor. And anyhow the sooner he was removed to a safer lodging the better, for he might prove more troublesome as he recovered strength. In Rau-kata-mea's hands he would be as wax. Better engage the help of the girl to conceal him in a more suitable place until native wrath had subsided. She would be a valuable ally. He would trust her, and leave after events to shape themselves. These and similar thoughts passed through Arnaud's brain in much less time than it takes to write them. As he decided on his course of action he fixed his penetrating eyes upon the girls soft dark orbs.
‘You would save Konrat?’
‘Yes,’ she replied simply, her tears silently dropping. ‘Where is he.’
‘He met with an accident some days ago, half a mile this side of Manawaoroa Bay, and I have hidden him, for he was too much hurt to be removed. I of you can think of a safer hiding place you and I shall go_ and fetch him away.’ ‘Where have you hidden him?’ she inquired tremulously, but not daring to tell her the truth, he evaded the question by another:
‘Can von provide a safe retreat?’
‘I will save him at any cost.’
‘To-day I would save him. To-morrow those who hate him must settle with Takori's daughter.’
She was not very explicit, but Arnaud rightly gauged her feelings for his master, and felt he could trust her to effect his rescue, if that were still practicable.page 168
In her impatient anxiety she allowed the valet to take the direction of affairs. Not desiring other help than her own he left her slave girls ashore, and paddled silently to a little inlet, where he requested her to wait while he went to fetch the captive, for he reckoned on finding the latter conscious and eager to escape from his prison, and he preferred the risk of having to drag him the whole distance, to letting the girl know where he had been concealed, as that would effectually debar her from aiding him.
With hasty steps he sought the cave, access to which was now perfectly easy, as it was about half-tide. He entered, and obtaining a light, proceeded cautiously to the spot where his patient had hitherto remained quiescent, but he was no longer there. His wraps were lying as he had cast them off in his terror on the preceding night, but nowhere was he himself to be seen. Arnaud had entered cautiously for two reasons, firstly, because, not yet wanting his employer to suspect his own part in recent events, he desired to appear on the scene as an accidental explorer, and, secondly, lest any stray priests should have found their way in and discovered the sacrilege. No other native dare cross the sacred threshold, but this was an actual danger. Hitherto his visits had been made in safety, because paid in the dead of night. But to enter such a sanctuary in daylight was to run a fearful risk, and now that the object of his search was missing, he realized this more acutely. He dared not call, nor indeed speak ever so softly, for should any of the priesthood be lurking in the cave's recesses, the echoes would at once proclaim the presence of a stranger. So he searched about silently, feeling all the while intensely that the light he carried might be revealing his identity to some tattooed tiger redy for the spring. His search was vain. The person he sought was not in the cave, and now two questions made the searcher's heart palpitate—the first. Where had he gone? and the second, Had he found the way, or been dragged out by infuriate tohungus? The first question, though it had an importance of its own, sank into insignificance beside the second, for if Monsieur had been discovered in his disabled state it would be patent that he had been assisted, and probably the cave had ever since been watched with a view to discover his assistant. In that case the present visit was probably already reported, and it was very likely a toss-up whether he—Arnaud—should be taken inside the sepulchre, or intercepted at the door. These thoughts hurried through his mind as he stumbled disappointedly back to the entrance, when his light failed, and, arrived there, he remained a few minutes irresolute. What if, in his hasty search, he had overlooked its object, perhaps still lying unconscious in some dark corner? He had half a mind to strike another light and renew the search. But was it expedient to spend more time just now, when be himself might be in such imminent peril. Would, it not be wiser to page 169 hurry away from the spot ere his discovery made escape impossible? He would—but hist! Was that the wind or the sound of human voices? Listen! Voices certainly—voices approaching the entrance! It was all over with him then, and for a moment he cowered back, telling to himself his doom. But the next he rallied. Nowhere within the precincts of the cave could he hide from those who sought him. He could not escape his fate by shrinking from it. He would face it then. He would meet the eyes of those about to enter—they were close at hand. Perhaps he could mesmerize them, he had been taught the art. Removing his eyeshade, he waited, looking down into the outer cave, as D'Estrelles had done in the morning, only now its floor was dry, and the wash of the tide more distant. Nearer and nearer the voices approached, and the heart of the expectant valet went pit-a-pat, as, from his perch, he caught a glimpse of a tawny leg. But the feet passed the opening, the voices died gradually away, and he was left wondering whether after all he might not yet escape the consequences of his temerity. But it would not yet be safe to emerge. The passers by must be allowed time to get clear away, and then there might be others. Certainly his predicament was an awkward one; to remain or go was equally hazardous, and withal there was such need for haste. Anxiously he waited, counting the moments, until he imagined the pedestrians had had sufficient time to round the next bluff, and then creeping down he peered cautiously out. No one was in sight. Neither up nor down, nor on the sea was there sign of humanity. If spies there were, they must be overhead, on the edge of the precipice. No, So far as he could see, there was no one there. He breathed freely again. ‘Thank God!—no—thank—thank—Bah! Haste thee, haste. Arnaud, thou fool! Get thee gone, ere thy luck changes.’