Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter

Chapter LX. Retribution

page 264

Chapter LX. Retribution.

After lunch I kept Jessi company in her sad vigil, and we sat in a nook by the window conversing in low tones. "We must have been talking for nearly half an hour, when we were suddenly aroused by the door being opened stealthily, and I was astonished to see Hema glide into the room. She did not see us, but walked straight over to Zada's bed, which was in the shadow, and could only be indistinctly seen owing to the window blind being drown. Jessie put her hand on my arm as a sign to remain silent, and we breathlessly watched the next proceeding. After kissing her dead mistress on the face and hands. Hema then took a parcel very carefully from under her cloak, and put it on the bed, so that the hand of her mistress would rest on it. She then commenced to sing a tangi in a slow monotonous tone, which was peculiarly mournful, and had a very dispiriting effect on Jessie, who leant her face on my shoulder and wept silently. At length Hema finished her song of lamentation, and after kissing her mistress again, she got up and looked at the body for a minute in an attitude of inexpressible grief. Suddenly she seized the parcel and gave it a violent blow with her clenched hand, at the same time murmuring some words which I could not catch. Quickly resuming her habitual manner, after casting one more page 265last look on her mistress, she hurriedly left the room. We were both so astonished at the strange proceedings, that for a moment we could not speak, until at last Jessie said, while clinging to my hand:

"Lance dear, what can all this strange conduct mean? Why did Hema strike that blow? Surely she could not have intended it for Zada!"

"No, I think not,' I answered, though I was still bewildered, "but stay where you are dear, and I will see what the parcel contains."

I groped over to the bed and saw that the hand of the corpse was resting on something dark, which in leaning forward I must have displaced, as it fell to the floor with a dull thud. Jessie had crept to my side, before I was even aware of her presence she had pierced the room with a loud scream, which instantly brought Mr. Munroe, Dr. Preston, and the servants into the room in a great state of alarm.

"What is the matter lass," cried Mr. Munroe soothingly, as he took her hand.

"Look! look at that thing !" said Jessie, pointing excitedly to a round dark object on the carpet, with a look of horror on her face.

Doctor Preston pulled up the blind, and a ray of sunlight revealed to us the appalling spectacle of a human head, all bloody in its gore, lying on the floor in the middle of the room.

Mr. Munroe crossed over and put his arm round his daughter's waist.

"Come to your room for a while my dear," he said tenderly; "this sight is too much for you. The presence of that ghastly page 266head here requires an explanation, and I will see you directly with further particulars. I will be back in a minute gentleman," he added, as he led his daughter from the room.

I made a sign for the servants to retire, and we gazed in silence at the head until Mr. Munroe's return.

"Now, Douglas," he said, turning to me, "how came this thing here? You must know something about it."

I then related as clearly as I could how we had seen Hema come into the room with a parcel concealed under her cloak, and of her subsequent tangi over Zada's body, concluding with her hurried departure after first violently striking the head with her hand.

"Ah," returned the old gentleman thoughtfully, "that must account for her strange behaviour, which I noticed from a window upstairs. I saw her with a parcel, but little thought of its horrible contents. And now, my lad, can you tell me who was the owner of this?"

Dr. Preston lifted the head off the floor by its short black hair, but I had no need to examine it, as I was already perfectly certain to whom it once belonged.

"I have every reason to believe that it is Kiapo's, sir," I answered.

"Ha!" said Mr. Munroe with a sudden start, "are you quite sure of that? I also thought that it was Kiapo's, but was afraid I was mistaken. So that poor, harmless, and inoffensive creature has taken upon herself the task of avenging her poor mistress's death! She has succeeded where over a hundred able bodied men have signally failed, and how she accomplished the deed I cannot for the life of me imagine."

page 267

"She probably watched her opportunity after the fight and followed him, taking his life when he was perhaps wounded or asleep," remarked Dr. Preston.

"You have have no doubt that it is really Kiapo's head, Douglas," again repeated Mr. Munroe.

"Not the slightest," I answered; but there are many others who will identify it also. Te Tangemoana is at the barracks, and as I must now be returning I will send him to you. He will put the matter beyond dispute, and in the interval I would advise you to get the thing out of here at once, otherwise you will be subjected to a good deal of annoyance by the curious and inquisitive folk of the township.

"Oh, dear me!" answered the old gentleman, holding up his hands; "I don't want this horrible thing here longer than I can help."

Dr. Preston picked up the head, and after examining it critically, declared that it had been severed by some very sharp instrument, and that not more than six hours had elapsed since death had taken place.

I sent Te Tangemoana to Mr. Munroe's house as promised, and he soon afterwards returned with Kiapo's head in a bag, which Mr. Munroe had refused any longer to keep in the house. A large party of civilians who had been out since morning met Te Tangemoana, who proudly showed them his ghastly trophy, at sight of which there was great cheering, the noise and excitement attracting a large crowd, who escorted him in triumph to the barracks.

Captain Snell ordered the head to be placed in full view of the crowd outside, as many of them had never seen Kiapo, and page 268the cheering was deafening when it became generally known that the murderer of Zada had met with his just reward. Doctor Gill received permission from Captain Snell to preserve the head, and he instantly hurried away with his prize to soak in spirits, after which he intended to "mummify" it as he facetiously expressed it. In the afternoon Zada's remains were conveyed to their last resting place, followed by an enormous crowd, including a detachment under Captain Snell's personal supervision. Captain Wilson and Mr. Munroe attended as chief mourners, the former being very pale and outwardly calm, though traces of recent grief made his face look haggard in the bright sunlight. As the body was being lowered into the grave my attention was drawn to a figure some distance away standing on a hill, which after a long scrutiny, I recognised as the Maori girl Hema, who was intently watching us She was apparently quite unmoved, and after a few minutes she disappeared in a thick clump of ti-tree scrub. This was the last time I was destined to see Hema alive, and though I subsequently made every effort to find her all my inquiries were fruitless. After returning to barracks, I had just made up my mind to go around to Mr. Munroe's, when Andrews suddenly burst into the room with the information that Captain Snell wished to see me at once.

"Hurry up, Sergeant," he said, a little excitedly. "A messenger has just come from Auckland with despatches, and the Captain seems mighty pleased about something. I hope he has got some good news for you.

"Thank you, Andrews," I answered indifferently, "but I don't think he can have much of importance for me."

"Sit down, Douglas," said the Captain affably, after I had entered and saluted. "I have just received some news which I page 269am sure will interest you. A messenger has arrived with despatches from headquarters, and I am instructed to inform you that in consideration of your services, the Government wish you to accept a Commission of Lieutenant with six month's leave of absence—on account of your marriage probably. At the end of six months you can resign if so disposed, or get a further extension of leave, whichever suits best with your arrangements."

"I am extremely grateful for this recognition of my poor services, and to you I must express my warmest thanks, Captain Snell. I am sure you have been chiefly instrumental in obtaining such a reward for me."

"Well, Douglas," he answered smilingly, "I certainly did my best, but you have also other friends at headquarters who take an interest in you. I am extremely gratified at your promotion, and in offering my congratulations I must add that you have richly deserved it. The messenger returns at once with your reply, and your commission will arrive in about fourteen days. The despatch also stated that Mr. Lovelock was recalled to Auckland on important business matters, but that of course is now too late. And now, Douglas, you will excuse me, as I must get on with my report. Very likely you have other friends who are anxious to hear of your advancement, and in the meantime Andrews can do duty for the remainder of the day."

I thanked Captain Snell again, and with a light heart withdrew. Andrews was walking about outside, and directly he saw me he came running up, his face beaming with smiles.

"Hooray! I can tell by your face that you have heard somethin' that has pleased you," he said, grasping my hand warmly." "What is it?"

page 270

"Yes, I have heard some good news indeed Andrews, and you must congratulate me on my good fortune," I answered. "Come to the barracks and I will tell you all about it, I continued, drawing his arm through mine, as we sauntered leisurely back.

Andrew's joy was unbounded when I told him that I was shortly to receive a commission, but his face fell and he became suddenly silent when I told him that I was leaving for England immediately after my marriage.

"What is it, Andrews?" I inquired.

"I was thinkin', Lootenant—Sargeant—Major, sir. Oh, darn it, I'm a fool!" he said, drawing his sleeve across his eyes; "I was thinkin' of how I will get on here when you are gone. Take me with you, Sargeant; make me your servant or jaculorum, or factolum—I forget what the word is. I will act as your chamber maid, or anything—only take me with you. Never mind any wages; so long as I'm near you not a darned critter will harm you; they must walk over me first. We have been a long time together now, Sargeant, and if you——" Here the poor fellow broke down and could not proceed any further.

I felt greatly affected at the faithfulness of my old comrade, and determined without a moment's hesitation that he should go with me, Thrown together by the varying fortune of circumstance, companions in many a hair-breadth escape from the Maoris, and bound by those inexplicable ties of the soldier, cemented by dangers shared and difficulties overcome, I felt for him a friendship which not even the social distinctions of class could violate. Human nature is much the same all the world over. The instincts of a man is born with him; birth and education can only direct and polish, but cannot divert from its page 271true course or effectually smother them. The worthy scion of some noble house suddenly finds himself adrift in the world to battle with as he best may. He enlists and is sent to some foreign land. He cannot resist those impulses of nature which bind him to the private who fights bravely by his side, nor can he in spite of his lofty connections and aristocratic breeding, completely thrust aside the pure friendship of the common soldier. His heart instinctively goes out to a brave man, be he commoner or peer, and thus he finds himself on the same level as his rough-hearted comrades. Many of the younger sons of good English families took part in the New Zealand war, compelled by circumstances to seek their fortune in a new land and carve out for themselves a future which had little prospect of fulfilment in their own country. But despite all their adversities and successes, they were eventually found like those lines in Longfellow's "Seaweed":

Ever drifting, drifting, drifting
    On the shifting
Currents of the restless main;
Till in sheltered coves and reaches
    Of sandy beaches,
All have found repose again.

"Andrews, old fellow," I said with some little emotion as I laid my hand on his shoulder, "we will not part if I can help it. I am not a poor man now, and you can travel with me as my valet de chambre and factotum all in one. Miss Munroe thinks highly of you, and I am certain she will be glad to hear that you are going with us. As regards your discharge I will make all the necessary arrangements at once, so that you need not anticipate any difficulty on that point. Are you satisfied now?" I added, taking his hand.

page 272

"Thank you, Sargeant, I was never so happy in my life. Hooray!" he shouted, tossing his forage cap up to the ceiling. "I don't know the meaning of them hard words about 'valley' something or other, but I'll try and deserve your goodness to me."

"Very well, Andrews, that is settled, and now you are to take over my duties for the remainder of the day, as I'm going to Mr. Munroe's."

"Don't forget to tell the young lady of the latest addition to your family, sir," he called out as I was closing the door.

"No, I will not forget, Andrews," I answered laughing