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Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter

Chapter XI. An Ambuscade

page 50

Chapter XI. An Ambuscade.

"Now," said the Captain turning to Ngahoia, "I want you and Hoani to guide us to the nearest cover at the back of Brodson's buildings. If I am not in time for the opening of the ball, I shall at least be able to take the rebels in the rear. I know a surprise like that goes a long way. Hoani and Ngahoia, you understand? I want you to settle between yourselves as to the nearest way. There are some nasty places in the direct line, I know, but I must get there as soon as possible."

The two natives commenced a hurried conversation in their own language, when suddenly Hoani seemed amazed at something Ngahoia was saying, and clapped his hands in the wildest joy, and said:

"Captain, Ngahoia knows good way, we get to Wairuara pretty quick now—grand short cut by torere."

Hoani then took the saddle and bridle off his horse and concealed them in the bushes. The horse was then let go and we started off on foot at once, Ngahoia leading the way. The route proved a rough one, and we experienced much difficulty in making progress. We discovered a path, evidently often used by someone, and from the nature of it, by Maoris only. After travelling for some time through burrows in the suple-jacks we came to a deep page 51wide chasm, which seemed an insurmountable obstacle to our further progress. The two natives, however, with all possible speed, made some torches out of splinters from a dead resinous tree, and led the way down to the bottom by a narrow path that only those in the secret could have discovered. We walked in single file picking our way out with great care, as a false step meant certain destruction. The ravine was almost dark, and seemed about five hundred feet deep. Our nerves were so highly strung by the awful dangers of the path, that a sigh of relief was uttered by all when the bottom was reached. After a little search Ngahoia found the opening to a small cave, and some of the torches were lit.

"Now, every man follow me," said Ngahoia with a grin, as he entered the cave, Hoani being ordered to walk in the rear with his torch to equalize the light.

As the cave was extremely narrow, we had to march in single file, but got along with little difficulty. All at once something flew against Ngahoia's torch which extinguished it, instantly followed by a loud flapping of wings.

Ngahoia called out "Every man lie down."

The order was obeyed with alacrity, as we were somewhat tired, after the difficulties of our walk. For fully three or four minutes the loud rushing noise continued, and at last ceased. When we stood up the torches were relit, from the light of which we discovered a large bat on the ground, probably the one that came into collislon with Ngahoia's torch.

About fifty yards further on the floor of the cave became level, and then gradually began to ascend and widen. After what seemed an interminable distance the floor again became level and we beheld a most beautiful sight. Imagine one of the jewel caves in page 52the Arabian Nights—nothing better could describe it. Beautiful stalactites hung from the roof and glistened in the light of the torches with all the colours of the rainbow. Pillars and arches of the most fantastic shapes appeared everywhere, some of them so true in proportion that it was difficult to believe it was only Natures handiwork. Truly God has built his most beautiful temples in the bowels of the earth.

Our guide gave us very little time to admire our surroundings, but hurried us on to the further end, where the path was so steep and narrow that we had great difficulty in proceeding.

After toiling upwards for some time we caught a glimpse of daylight, and very soon stood in the open air. We passed quickly through the forest, and saw from several signs that we were near our destination

Suddenly we were startled by hearing a volley of rifle shots in front of us, about half a mile away, followed by another straggling volley and a number of dull reports which we recognised at once as coming from the "tupara," or double-barrelled gun of the rebels.

Captain Wilson halted the men, and passed an order round not to make any noise, and that the chief Te Pehi was to go unmolested.

"We crept forward very quietly through some high flax, and soon came in range of about two hundred Maoris. Our men were distributed so as to appear double the number. Each of us was to select a man, and orders were given not to waste a shot. We waited impatiently for the word of command to fire, and when it came every rifle sent forth its message of destruction. The rebels were completely taken by surprise, thinking that a large reinforcement had arrived, and fled panic stricken in every direction.

page 53

The force from the township under Sergeant McCormack soon joined us, and the savages were quickly dispersed. The towns-people reported having found seventy dead rebels, while the losses on our side were only two killed and one wounded.

Wairuara was en fête that evening, and it was freely admitted that the sudden surprise whioh our men gave the rebels by attacking them in the rear was more effective than if we had been fighting inside the township.

One dying Maori informed one of our soldiers that Te Pehi had no idea that such a large party of 'fresh' troops were coming to the township's assistance, otherwise the attack would never have been made. Our trusty guide, Ngahoia, came in for a share of the honours, as we would have arrived at Brodson's two hours later if we had gone by the ordinary road. The short cut through the cave was known to none of the whites, and by very few Maoris.

In reference to the native woman who gave the information of the intended attack by the rebels, and her request that Te Pehi's life should be spared. Of course those who had met Zada guessed that it was she, though her reason for helping us was not apparent until afterwards.