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Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter

Chapter XXV. To the Rescue of Arline Hirch

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Chapter XXV. To the Rescue of Arline Hirch.

Next morning at daybreak the men were mustered and prepared for the march. The volunteers from the township had turned up early, and they proved to be a fine body of men, well equipped, and capable of bearing a good deal of rough work. At eight o'clock everything was ready for a start, and we marched out of the township with Hoani, Ngahoia, and Randwick in front—seventy-five all told.

It was a beautiful morning, and as we neared the forest the landscape seemed to unfold itself in all its native beauty. The air was pure and fresh, and the spirits of the men rose higher as they tramped cheerfully along the roadway. The sides of the hill, volcanic in origin, lately bare of all vegetation, were now beautifully clothed in a mantle of green; while the tall broad leaves of the valuable flax plant flashed brightly in the sun, relieved here and there by the delicate fronds of the tree-fern, which waved gracefully to and fro in the breeze. In the damp and gloomy ravines could be heard the melodious notes of the tui, and occasionally the dark-plumaged kereru (wild pigeon) could be seen winging its silent flight through the intervening trees. The lovely clematis with its white star-like blooms, clinging from the topmost bough of the knotty pohutukaua, presented page 105a gorgeous appearance, and by the margin of the stream could be seen the yellow kowhai, and the crimson flowers of the clianthus. From under foot even the crushed plants gave out refreshing odours, and on either side the ti-tree was gay in its coating of snowy blossoms. There was no danger from snakes or venemous animals, even the deadly *katipo being far removed from such uncongenial surroundings. Nature indeed was clothed in her best garments, and the most callous was compelled to admire the picturesque scenery which at every step disclosed itself.

Our guides, assisted by Randwick, soon struck the trail of the rebels. Their tracks were plainly discernible in the soft earth, and no difficulty whatever was experienced in following them. About midday Hoani discovered a piece of torn ribbon, which was quickly recognised as belonging to Miss Hirch, and some distance further on another bit way found, then some more.

"That girl no fool, she know we come after her," said Ngahoia with a. knowing shake of his head. "No loose our way if she keeps this up."

We followed the trial all that day, and at evening camped under a group of puriri trees. No fires were kindled, and every precaution was taken to keep our presence from becoming known to the enemy. We had our tea in silence, after which the men quietly rolled themselves up in their blankets. It must have been about ten o'clock when I felt someone tugging gently at my leg. I was on the alert in a moment, and was just in the act of grasping my sword when I recognised Hoani's honest face peering at me through the gloom.

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"What is it, Hoani?" I asked hurriedly, as I felt sure he had some important communication to make. "Has anything fresh turned up?"

"No, not exactly; but I must see the Captain at once. We have just made a slight discovery, and further delay would perhaps be dangerous."

The Captain was soon aroused and paid the greatest attention to Hoani's report.

"Ngahoia and me," he said, "have been looking about, and we are sure from the signs that the enemy is not far away. If you could get your men to surround them while it is yet dark they would wake to find themselves in a complete trap."

"Yes, that is all very well; but how are we to find them in the dark?"

"Captain," said Ngahoia, coming forward. "I know this place well; no trouble for the soldiers to surround them if you trust us to lead."

"Oh, I trust you fully," was the reply, "but I would like to hear further of your plans. Is it your intention to take us there at once?"

"No, not just yet," answered Ngahoia. "We have had a long korero (talk), and decided that if you will permit us we will go together and try and find out the exact situation of the Maoris' camp. We will not be gone more than two hours."

"Very good, my boys; you can start at once, and good luck go with you. The girl must not only be rescued, but a severe lesson must he taught these scoundrels for their dastardly out-rage. Give them a stiff glass of rum, sergeant, and let them go.

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See that the men are kept in readiness to start at a moment's notice, and be very careful about the placing of the sentries."

The scouts disappeared silently in the darkness, while the men were quietly got under arms, the contingent of civilians having to be well shaken before they could thoroughly realise their position. After a long and silent wait Hoani and Ngahoia emerged cautiously from the gloom of the trees, and the Captain eagerly advanced to meet them.

* The Katipo is a poisonous spider, the bite of which produces a great swelling, and is frequently fatal. With this solitary exception the New Zealand bush is free from anything that is venomous, and a man may go to sleep on the bare ground in perfect security even in the most isolated and wildest parts.