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Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge

Chapter XXXVI. Taken Prisoner—A Loathsome Banquet—The Fugitives—Intercepted

Chapter XXXVI. Taken Prisoner—A Loathsome Banquet—The Fugitives—Intercepted

Keeping close under the cliff the valet glided rapidly back towards the inlet where he had left Rau-kata-mea, but just as he came in view of it he caught sight of two natives engaged in conversation with her. Their dress, appearance, and loud coarse voices proclaimed their order. They were slaves, probably bent on some errand to the harbour, these must be the individuals who had passed the cave causing him such needless alarm. He drew back and waited until they resumed their journey. Rau-kata-mea watching for his reappearance met him halfway, showing, however, no surprise at his coming alone. She looked at him with serious eyes; all the warm glow usually characterising her page 170 face had died out, even her lips were grey. He saw she had heard evil news, and waited for her to speak.

‘Konrat is a prisoner,’ she articulated mechanically, ‘at Manawaoroa Bay.’

Aruaud started. ‘Ha! How know you, Rau-kata-mea?’

‘Two of my father's slaves have just passed by, and they said he was found wandering along the beach this morning.’

‘Perdition!’ He must have found the way out of his prison, and in his confusion of mind have turned in the wrong direction. Arnaud, gnawed his lip. Were his plans doomed to miscarriage? Who could have foreseen this? But now, what was to be done?

‘He is a prisoner, you say?’

‘Yes, It was not worth while clubbing him to-day. The ovens were closed. They will be open to-morrow.’

Arnaud shuddered. What a world of awful meaning lay in the girl's simple words.

‘What can we do, Rau-kata-mea?’

‘I am going to Manawaoroa bay,’ she replied calmly.

‘You think——’

‘He still lives. I will save him.’

‘But how?’

‘I am Takori's daughter,’ and the girl drew herself up proudly as one unaccustomed to questioning.

‘I will go with you.’

Already she had taken a forward step. ‘You had better remain here beside the canoe. For you there is danger.’

‘And for you?’

‘I am Takori's daughter.’ she replied again.

But Arnaud was resolved to accompany her, although perceiving fully the force of her words. Whatever might happen the prisoner she was bent on releasing, as a great chief's daughter she was personally safe, but if he were found aiding in such an attempt nothing could save him, in the present state of native feeling. Still, he would go. To remain quietly there, was, under the circumstances, impossible, and—the thought flashed suddenly—perhaps equally dangerous.

Without further speech Rau-kata-mea led the way, not round by the beach but through the dense underwood of the deep gorges running inland from where they stood, away up over the bluffs, down into sombre gullies, over bogs, through brambles, until at length, heated and panting, they stood together over the fateful shore upon which the fishing party had gathered. The sound of many voices mingling confusedly reached their ears, but as yet they saw nothing for the dense foliage. Silently, softly, they wriggled down through the tangled undergrowth to a better vantage ground, and as they went the light breeze bore to their nostrils page 171 a savoury odour of baked flesh. Still they kept silence, though the same dread thought was in the mind of each.

Presently they reached a rounded knoll, sparsely wooded, from whence they could plainly see the beach, and the whole body of natives. And what a sight met their revolted eyes! The wahines were of course aware of the war custom of their taugutas but women rarely assisted at the cannibal orgies with which hostilities always terminated. To the youthful daughter of Takori, therefore, the scene she now looked upon was as novel as revolting, while Arnaud's blood, self-engrossed though he was, ran cold in his veins.

Above high water mark lay the canoes and the captain's boat, and at some distance over a hundred naked warriors with attendant slaves were encamped. Their tattooed faces and bodies were smeared all over with red ochre and charcoal, giving them a grotesquely horrible appearance. Most of them at the moment of observation were squatted on the ground in irregular rings, and slaves were hurrying to and fro, bearing reeking baskets of white looking flesh, the odour from which tainted the air. At a short distance from these groups three large ovens all open, sent up savoury clouds of vapour, and the flesh, last as it could be extracted and divided, was carried off by the loud-voiced servile crew, who joked coarsely, and laughed loudly, as though excited by drink. They were drunk indeed, but not with wine. The sight of blood had inflamed them, and their masters, most of whom had resumed a proportion of their wonted gravity, would soon, as their horrid banquet proceeded, outrival in their wild excitement the most despised of the tau-reka-reka. Some of them, even now, were acting much like maniacs, and all in their bloodshot eyes and scowling mien presented a picture of savage ferocity compared with which the jungle tiger's smile was heavenly.

In full view of the whole camp a row of stout strong takes had been driven in the ground, and each of these was surmounted by a human head yet dripping gore, which, even at that distance, the two shrinking spectators saw were those of Europeans. Stalking up and down in front of these, shaking their clubs, shooting out their tongues, haranguing fiercely, even striking them at times, were half a dozen of Takori's principal rangatiras. The chief himself, silent and stern, sat on the ground, a basket of meat yet untasted before him. His brow was black as night, and he looked as if his lust for Utu were but half-sated. Suddenly he bounded to his feet, and darting up to the middle stake, as though seized with frenzy, brandished his club, and poured out a torrent of invective which left but a limited vocabulary to his followers. Indeed, these all fell back as though abashed by superior eloquence. He embellished his oration with the usual antics, rolling his eyes till only the white appeared, lolling his tongue, slapping his thighs, with the page 172 execution of an adept and the malignity of a demon, and finally, having worked himself up to the highest pitch of fury, he swung his club over his head, and brought it down with crushing force upon the voiceless object of his rage, the act being greeted with hoarse murmurs of applause. Then, returning to his place, he beckoned a slave, and began his loathly repast.

A shuddering awe had fallen upon the unseen spectators, as, with abhorrent eyes, they took in all these dreadful details. Presently Rau-kata-mea lightly touched her neighbour's arm.

‘Ah!’ she said, in an agonised whisper. ‘There is Konrat.’

‘Where?’ queried Arnaud. ‘I see him not.’

‘Over there. See! Not near the warriors. Back among the trees, See! he is bound to one, and ah, how ill he looks, the poor Konrat!’

Arnaud's eyes followed her directions, and there, sure enough, some distance from the savage revellers, just at the edge of the bush, he espied the unhappy being, an object for commiseration to any heart not seared with a sense of its own wrongs. Hatless, hollow-eyed, grimy, wan, and dazed looking, sinking with weakness and pain, he was bent almost double, being upheld apparently only by the twisted flax ropes which bound him to the tree, and his deplorable aspect was enhanced by his muffled wrists, to bandage which, Arnaud had been obliged to cut away his coat sleeves. Whatever had been the motive for sparing him he seemed no longer an object of attention. The warriors were getting every moment more absorbed in their inhuman feast, and all the slaves were fully employed. Now was the time to rescue him. If he was to be saved not a moment must be lost.

‘Lend me your knife, Arnaud,’ said the girl, ‘I will set him free.’

‘Have you the courage?’ Arnaud inquired doubtingly.

Steadily meeting his eye: ‘Come,’ she said, deigning no further words.

C'est bien,’ muttered the valet, following her. He knew that if anyone could inspire the woe-begone creature with sufficient energy to seize the chance of escape it was she alone.

With much circumspection they threaded their way round the bay to where the prisoner was secured, for an unwary movement, a crackling of twigs, a shaking of the branches, a cough or a sneeze, might have betrayed them. At last they stood immediately behind him, and peering between the tree trunks they could see the actors in the late awful tragedy. Fortunately no one was very near at hand, and the rescuers were both in dark clothing, for Rau-kata-mea, with commendable forethought, had left her soft light wrappers in the canoe, and only wore a dark kilt, and a heavy soft fringe, which, fastened round the throat fell over back and bust, leaving the round arms free, and—though she was fairer than most of her country women—these had not the ivory gleam of European limbs.

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The girl paused as she drew near her lover, and looked warily about, then seeing that they were unobserved, she stepped quickly behind the tree to which he was bound, and called softly:


‘He started as if he had been struck, and again, with a premonitory Hist.’ she whispered:


‘Who speaks?’ he queried, hoarsely, vainly trying, to see round the tree.

‘It is I, Rau-kata-mea. I am about to cut your bonds. Hasten after me as soon as you are free, but speak not.’

‘Alas!’ He replied, dejectedly, ‘my ankles are bound.’

This redoubled the risk he ran. She could stand behind the tree trunk and cut the rope which held him to it, but to sever his ankle bounds she must expose at least a portion of her finure, and should one pair of eyes detect the movement all was lost. But she did not flinch. Five seconds later his limbs were free, and then passing the knife through the green ropes:

‘Now,’ she said, ‘Follow fast, but silently.’ She led the way inland through the dense bush, and the others followed as she had directed in silence. Arnaud from time to time supporting his master when he appeared to be succumbing to exhaustion. As soon as their guide thought it safe to halt a moment, he produced a flask, which with a gasp of delight the wounded sufferer caught at, and carried to his lips. The effect was magical. For days he had not tasted food. His torpor and subsequent sufferings had left no room for appetite, even had sustenance been procurable, but his long fast necessarily weakened him, and he was altogether unnerved by want of his accustomed stimulant. Now, like new blood coursing through his veins, the strong spirit warmed and heartened him, and by its aid he was able with a more hopeful step to follow his courageous rescuer.

With very few pauses they pressed on their difficult way, their heroic guide panting with anxiety lest the fugitive should be missed and sought for ere beyond the reach of his enemies. Their progress was distressingly slow, for his injured hands and wrists made him as helpless as a baby, and spite of frequent recourse to the brandy flask he was just about as steady on his legs.

But at last they reached the ravine opening upon the spot where Rau-kata-mea had heard of his capture. And here she and he sat down for a few minutes to recruit, while Arnaud sought the mouth of the stream to reconnoitre. Once aboard the canoe they would be in comparative safety, but it was necessary to see if the little craft were still undisturbed, as also whether any natives were in sight. The girl's large eyes were full of sadness, and she trembled as her companion, taking her hand pressed it to his lips.

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‘Brave girl,’ he whispered. ‘How can I ever repay your devotion?’

‘Hush!’ she said, gently drawing her hand away. 'Soon you will be with your own people, and the poor wahine will be forgotten.’

‘Forgotten, Rau-kata-mea? Never! But you shall go with me, my own—my beautiful!’ he added, passionately.

‘With you? To the ships? To the land of the pakeha?

‘Yes, little one. Why not?’

‘Ah!’ she answered, with a deep-drawn sign. ‘It can never be.’

‘But why not then, Rau-kata-mea? Is it that you love me not?’

‘I love you, Konrat; yes, I love you,’ and her tears fell fast. ‘But also I love my father, and his heart would break if he lost his child, his little “Laughing Leaf.”’

With difficulty he suppressed an oath as she named her father, but he curbed himself, fearing to turn her from him, for he wildly longed to prevail upon her to share his fortunes. Speaking low, he tried his hardest, painting in glowing colours the life she would lead in a civilized land. But in vain. She still wept, not with loud sobbing, but in quiet sorrow.

‘I love you, Konrat,’ she said again. ‘I would go with you over the wide sea, to the end of the world; but how can I turn my back upon my own people, and the father who fondled my childhood, and who never denied me aught till the coming of the pakeha made his heart sad?’

Arnaud returning reported the coast clear, and everything in readiness, and without further delay they hastened down to the beach. And here ensued a painful scene. Directing Arnaud to row his master to the captain's ship and place him safely aboard, Rau-kata-mea spoke a few broken words of farewell, and then, drawing her wrappings over head and shoulders, darted away, and before her late companions had recovered their astonishment, was halfway up the ravine.

An objurgation broke from her admirer, and he turned to follow, calling to her as he went in his bitter chagrin quite regardless of Arnaud's expostulations. She turned in alarm, and motioning silence, waved him off; but still he followed with stumbling steps frantically calling on her.

Arnaud, beside himself, cursed his own fate and his master's folly, and in sheer helplessness sat down to await the upshot.

The girl, alarmed at the turn of affairs, and dreading the consequences of her lover's desperate action, after a little hesitation resolved to return, and retracing her steps, implored him to hasten back to the canoe. Arrived at the beach, he this time insisted on her embarking first, and in her excessive anxiety for him she yielded and took her place. But just as he, with Arnaud's help, was stepping aboard after her, a wild whoop rent the air, and before they could draw breath, the canoe was surrounded by a score of natives, headed by Rau-kata-mea's betrothed, the young chief Naku-roa.