Other formats

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


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Web of the Spider

Chapter XIX. The Storming of the White Pah

page 299

Chapter XIX. The Storming of the White Pah.

"We are Arawas," *responded the Maori with dignity.

"Why, then, does the Pakeha ill-treat a friend?"

"There was a mistake," replied Palliser. "I am a fool, who deserves no consideration; but I am in pain now I have discovered it is a friend."

The Maori grunted, and there was a murmur of anger from the throng around. The hapless man whom Palliser had hulf-strangled had risen from the ground, and, holding by a branch, was now gasping his breath in short sobs.

"This is a strange tale," answered some one in the crowd. "I cannot see the Pakeha, or I would make it stranger."

"The Pakeha has a hard hand," panted Palliser's victim. "He would make a good cannon-ball to fire at Te Katipo."

A laugh went round at this, and, finding their comrade sound enough to jest, the Arawas' indignation relaxed.

page 300

"At all events, we will put him in a sling and fire him," said another.

"Is it against Puketea you are going?" asked Palliser quickly.


"Then I can help you. I, too, am against Te Katipo, and I have escaped from the White Pah."

"If this is true, we shall fire you, after all."

"Good," said Palliser. "What chief have you here going against the Hauhaus, O friends?"

"Kotahi, from the Taupo."

"Good. Let me see him; I will help him to destroy this spider. Friend," he said, to the gasping Maori, "I ask your forgiveness; but you have a fine weapon, and you walked like a Ngatiawa. Moreover, you take long to die. I regret, all these things; my blunder was foolish."

"The twist on the throat was very good," chuckled the Maori. "If I had hands like yours I would storm the White Pah myself. As it is, you shall choke off my enemies; that is only fair."

"My hands," said Palliser courteously, "are yours."

The commotion on the flank had checked the general advance of the force, and in a short time the crowd of Maoris assumed considerable proportions. Palliser was taken at once to the chief, a sharp, soldierly man, to whom the rank of major had been given for his services in the Taupo district. He saluted Palliser in the English style.

"Good evening," he said. "You have taken us by surprise."

page 301

"Salutations," said Palliser, in Maori. "I have committed a deed of which I am ashamed, but I am now come to wipe it off. I have been many days in Puketea, and having escaped, I desire to worry Te Katipo."

Major Kotahi was all ears on the instant.

"Through the pass," he said, "it is half a mile to the north face of the hill. Is it from the south or the north an enemy should attack?"

"On the north the hill is steep," replied Palliser.

"On the west, towards the creek, is the cliff. East and south Puketea is smooth and level, with earthworks outside the stockade."

"Ah," said Kotahi reflectively; "we must approach from the south. But," he went on, "how is it, friend, you escaped Te Katipo? The fly cannot escape the spider."

"Perhaps the rat can. I have friends in the pah, and would take them out of the web of the spider."

Kotahi glanced at the sky. "We must hurry," he said. "There is little left of the night; we must be at Puketea before the dawn."

The force at once resumed its march, and presently emerging from the bush, struck into the pass cautiously. There was no alarm raised, and plainly the Hauhaus had withdrawn their rigid precautions against surprise.

"There was a picket in the pass when the Arawas came last," explained Kotahi, "and Te Katipo drove them into the bush. It was a bad skirmish; many of my friends were killed."

page 302

"Yes; I saw it," said Palliser. "But you were not here."

The Maori was pleased at the hidden compliment.

"No, my friend. The rash young men of my tribe fell back to the east. They came and told me their sad fate. I was naturally annoyed, and resolved to be revenged. It is not pleasant to hear one's friends are killed."

"Te Katipo thinks you are beaten."

"We shall catch him in a trap," said Kotahi confidently.

The march across the tussock land to the hill was in the profoundest silence. When they reached the foot of Puketea they could hear no sound but the bubbling of the creek and the shrieking of distant Wekas. From the south side the Arawas began the ascent, so stilly that though Palliser was in the very centre he could not be sure he had other company than his immediate neighbours. Bit by bit, crawling and creeping, now resting, now advancing, now making slight detours to avoid the more precipitous faces, the host advanced steadily upon Puketea. When they had gained the summit they lay flat, invisible, upon the black earth, at the distance of six hundred feet from the stockade. They were disposed in an arc which was close upon a semicircle, nigh five hundred strong, reaching from the cliff upon the west to the extreme eastern limit of the hill. Palliser himself was upon the southern face, in the neighbourhood of Kotahi, who was distributing his last directions to his captains. It was still quite dark, but the dawn was near, and no page 303time must be lost did they reckon upon a surprise. Suddenly an intense silence fell upon all things; the roaring of the creek was inaudible at such a height, and no man could bear even tbe breathing of his fellow. Then there rose the dismal cry of the weka from behind Palliser, and he became conscious, though he could see nothing, of a gentle rustling on all sides of him. The advance had commenced.

Now, on the level sides of Puketea, where the pah was unprotected by the steep cliff—that is, to the south and to the east, the Hauhau position was amply fortified. All round the stockade lay a deep trench eight feet wide, and from the top of the palisading to the bottom of the ditch was a drop of fifteen feet. Fifty yards in advance of the inner bastions was an environment of strong earthworks, trenched deeply, and between the two lines was a double tier of rifle-pits, while without the breastworks was an exterior row of pits. It was scarcely likely that so cunning a fighter as Te Katipo would neglect at any time to man the outworks, yet the Arawas hoped to find the first line of pits deserted. But in the darkness they could be sure of nothing, and they crept nearer to the outer lines in the momentary expectation of hearing the Hauhaus open fire. Palliser crawled upon hands and feet, trailing the musket with which be had been furnished. Suddenly there was a slight noise to his right, and then upon the night arose the howling of a native dog within the pah; yet there was no movement on the part of the army, and after a short pause the Arawas resumed their way. Presently, when page 304they were but a yard or two from the rifle-pits, Palliser thought he heard a murmuring in front. Kotahi, too, must have heard it, for he rose quickly, and raising a hideous yell rushed towards the earthworks. In a second a blast of fire swept out of these upon the screaming Arawas, as, struggling to their feet, they rushed to the assault. Te Katipo was not unprepared.

The Arawas hurled themselves upon the works, leaping into and across the trench, firing their guns as they went. It was Kotahi's desire to take the outer defences at the point of the bayonet, and his men gallantly obeyed his order, following him, thick as bees, and discharging their guns across the mounds. But the Hauhaus from their superior position, poured a deadly fire into the black masses, shouting and yelling like devils made free of hell. After a short sharp fight, the stormers, fell back, and the volleys died down into desultory firing at random. But again they advanced, and again they were driven back, leaving many of their comrades in the trenches. They lay for a short space beyond the rifle-pits, while the Hauhaus kept up the most ferocious yelling Palliser had ever heard.

"Kohoro! Kohoro!" ("They are beaten! they are beaten!") they cried.

"This can't go on long," he thought; "we're losing terribly." But Kotahi had made up his mind to the assault, and in a little ordered another advance. It was now that dim and misty darkness that heralds the rising of the sun, and as they ran up the works they could see the outlines of the defenders, breast-high page 305above them. Palliser, taking his gun by the barrel, swept over the trench at the head of several Arawas, and clambered up the mound in a drenching fire. Streams of flame seemed to flash out on all sides of him, but he inserted his feet between the sods and vaulted up, till the horrid faces of the Ngatiawas grinned into his. Raising the butt of his gun, he was just in time to ward off the heavy stroke of an axe, the force of which, falling on his weapon, all but tumbled him into the pit. Recovering his equilibrium, he brought his bayonet to the point of delivery, and charged over the rampart, followed by several others. All this time the firing was dinning in his ears remorselessly, accompanied by harsh cries and shrieks in pain and ululation. A knot of Hauhaus opposed him, coming down at a run to crush the small party to the earth. A bullet whistled across his sight, making him blink, but he fought on blindly with his bayonet, and was faintly aware that the earth beneath was cumbered with dead bodies. Some of hia Arawas fell, and the Hauhaus were gradually forcing them back, when at this moment a discordant uproar came from the right, and he heard Kotahi's voice thundering behind him.

"Kokiritia!" ("Charge!") cried many voices.

The Hauhaus wavered, and a body of Arawas, who had made a breach on the right, came charging down upon them.

"Whakawaria!" ("Close in!") shouted a Hauhau.

But the bulk of them, borne back by the sudden page 306inrush, turned and fled towards the pah. Palliser, pulling a fallen Arawa from the ground, looked up and saw dim figures flitting from the inner pits in the direction of the palisading.

"Kokiritia!" shouted Kotahi, lifting his broken gun over his head.

"Kokiritia!" shouted Palliser, running at the double towards the stockade.

But here a great force of Hauhaus were massed upon the ramparts, and their fire sent the attackers faltering back towards the earthworks.

"Hold!" said Kotahi.

Palliser, retreating, felt the ground give way, and in another moment was at the bottom of a rifle-pit, where he rested, panting from his exertions in the field. The outer works were won at a terrible cost, but there yet remained the more difficult part of their task—the stockade must be stormed.

The Hauhaus lining the stockade maintained a drizzling fire, which the Arawas answered now and then, but in reality there was an interlude in the fight, and the shots on both sides for the most part flew wide, and only a man now and then was hit. Instead the Maoris on the walls took to shouting taunts and curses, as the day broke slowly. Palliser having recovered breath, stole out of his refuge and crept back in safety to the main body, where Kotahi was eagerly consulting for a new advance. But a quarter of an hour elapsed, and no action had been taken, and by this the Hauhaus had grown tired of their gibes, and only a few of their page 307women continued them. Kotahi had planned an ingenious scheme upon which to assault the pah. He despatched a large body of men to make a circuit of the hill, and endeavour to effect an entrance from the northern steeps, from which he judged the larger part of the garrison had been withdrawn to meet the attack in the south. Should they break through the stockade, they were to push through to the south, and fall upon the defenders in the rear. Another body he deployed as sharpshooters to worry the enemy, while he concentrated the remnants of his force upon a particular spot in the southern ramparts. He hoped, by hurling these against the stockade, to gradually make a breach, through which he might force his remaining forces. It was a heroic plan; but in lieu of sapping, for which the Maoris had no facilities, was the only course possible if they were not to abandon the siege.

By the time these dispositions were made, the blood of the Arawas had cooled in the cold air of the morning, and though they had been so far successful, their heavy loss had now its effect, and they displayed a reluctance to advance. Kotahi urged them with abundant vigour and biting sarcasm; but though they prepared for the attack, they were plainly out of heart. At this juncture, one Hone Kerei, lighting a torch, ran out from the ranks, and rushed along tho deep trench, shouting derision at the Hauhaus. His flambeau flared upon the white stockade, and guns cracked after him as he ran; but for some time he went unharmed, till reaching a point just level with Palliser, he fell, shot through the page 308heart, and rolled into the ditch. A Hauhau leapt over the stockade, and disappeared after him, scrambling the next moment into sight, with a bloody head in his hand, which he held mockingly towards the Arawas. A dozen shots were fired at him, hut, unscathed, he leapt up the palisading, and was dragged by his companions into the pah.

"See!" said Kotahi; "the dogs have slain a brave man. You shall fight for his head. Look!"

The Hauhaus had stuck the head upon the end of a spear protruding above the ramparts, and were at the hideous rites, with which they had inaugurated their fanaticism, and which had given them their name.

Several torches were now flaming on the redoubt against the grey dawn, and round these a group of Hauhaus was gathered, displaying the most remarkable excitement. As they stood in the red light they were conspicuous marks for the enemy; but at the moment no shot was fired. The fanatics threw their arms about and danced wildly upon the battlement, chanting together a horrible grotesque prayer. They cried—

"God the Father, hau; God the Son, hau, hau; God the Holy Ghost, hau, hau, hau! Attention, save us; attention, instruct us; attention, Jehovah, avenge us, hau; Jehovah, stand at ease, hau; fall out, hau, hau; pai marire, hau; big rivers, long rivers, big mountains and seas, attention, hau, hau, hau!"*

page 309

At first they chanted in a monotone, raising their voices wildly at each hau; but subsequently, their frenzy growing, they shrieked and yelled, gnashing upon the hideous refrain, as though possessed of a legion of fiends; and the madness spread, till at last the walls were covered with capering creatures, yelling snatches of their prayer, gibing at the assembled host beyond; mocking at the bleeding head, and drowning all else with a sounding confusion of "Hau, hau, hau!"

A furious murmur went through the Arawas, and in the midst of the deafening uproar a voice cried, "Shoot." Instantly fifty guns blazed out, and the line behind the stockade thinned visibly.

"Shoot!" cried the voice again, and once more the Arawas' fire raked the fanatics, who had not ceased to make appalling noises.

Then a voice was heard calling angrily to the Hauhaus in the pah, which Palliser recognised at once as Te Katipo's. He was evidently savage with his men for their folly, for they began to disappear into safer positions behind the palisading, where the fire of the assailants could not touch them.

"That is Te Katipo," said Palliser to Kotahi. "They will fight more warily now."

"Te Katipo!" cried the Arawa, leaping in the air.

"Te Katipo will be food for dogs. Let us slay them all as they slew Hone Kerei. Let us fight for the head of Hone Kerei," and rushing out from behind the earthworks, he flung himself upon the stockade, with a hundred roaring fellows at his heels.

page 310

From the ramparts a deadly fire spluttered into the trench, in which fivescore of men were struggling, and, in a little, back through the rifle-pits poured a broken column, chased by long and continuous volleys.

"Again!" said Kotahi, holding up his right hand, from which two fingers had been shot away, and again the party dashed against that pitiless fire. Palliser, discarding his gun, had seized an axe, and when, carried by the main rush, he was literally hurled across the wide ditch in a mêlée of heads, bodies, and legs, he clung hard to the pine-logs at the base of the palisading, and raising his axe high, struck at the tough wood with all the force in his body. He heard, through all, the crash of other axes near, but saw nothing, not even his neighbours falling into the bottom below: there was but the white wood before him and the silver axe. From the earthworks the sharpshooters kept up a steady fire upon the defenders, and it was now light enough for them to be sure of their aim, so that they did much damage to the enemy. Under cover of this fire the storming party made better progress than they would otherwise have done, though the fierce discharges from above created a terrible havoc among them.

At this point a great shouting was heard in the pah, and it became evident that the hundred men on the north end had made a breach through the stockade. Encouraged by this discovery the Arawas hurled themselves freshly to the attack, and the Hauhaus, being alarmed at the enemy's success on the one side, and page 311having no certain knowledge of what had happened, were so dispirited that some left their posts and fled through the whares. At this point Kotahi managed to effect a breach in the stockade, and rushed through the gap with the shreds of his gallant party and his reserves.

But the day was not yet won, for inside the pah the Hauhaus offered a most desperate resistance, and the fight broke up into a series of desultory hand-to-hand conflicts. The inpouring column struck the mass of Ngatiawas barring its way, like a wedge, cleft it in two and passed on, leaving the rear to annihilate it. Hand-grenades thrown by the Arawas from without had set on fire several of the outer whares, and the antic flames were dancing in the thatch. Long, shadows from the east mingled with the dark red phantoms flickering along the huts, and the soft morning air burned in the faces of the combatants.

Palliser had gone through with the stream of howling Arawas, axe in hand, and being precipitated upon the Hauhau centre clove his way, as best he might, till he had broken through it. Some of his companions, finding the road clear, turned and attacked the enemy from behind; others at once set to firing the whares, and soon the sky was full of darting flames. Palliser rushed on in the company of half a dozen, but a number of Hauhaus, sweeping round a burning whare, dashed them back towards the main body. At this instant a familiar sound came to his ears—the notes of Foster's old English ditty, "Down among the dead men," borne to page 312him from the unbroken heart of the Hauhaus massing in the marae.

"Foster!" he yelled, driving his axe through an adversary.

Above the flames and the black herd in front he could now see the figure of the ranger, hatless, his hairy arms bared to the shoulder, wielding a heavy rifle by the muzzle as a club.

"Down! down! down!" he shouted, sweeping the ground with his weapon, and, crashing a way from out the environing foe, he drew down a lane between the whares, fighting as he went.

So Foster at least was safe, but what of Ida? Palliser had seen no sign of Te Katipo, nor indeed had he done aught but fight blindly since he had broken into the pah. Being out of breath, he fell at the back of a hut, whence a wounded Hauhau was crawling towards the thick of the battle, and lay still for a time, watching how the day went. As he rested, several Arawas stood aside from the fight, leaning over their guns in the extreme pains of exhaustion, he crouching at their feet and gulping back his life and breath. Presently a solitary Hauhau ran up from the interior of the pah, where the northern column of the Arawas was being hard pressed.

"Where is Kotahi?" he asked, grinning into the faces of his enemies, one of whom, aiming a blow which missed him, staggered and fell.

Palliser looked up and recognised the young chief Tutanga, who had had charge of him in Puketea.

page 313

"Where is Kotahi?" he repeated.

"He is in the darkness, devil," said an Arawa, pushing forward his crumpled bayonet.

"Whether he be in the darkness, or in the light, I will find him," said the Hauhau. "But I shall know when he lies at my feet, you dogs of Arawas," with which he delivered two terrible blows, right and left, with his axe, and yelling the Ngatiawa war-cry, rushed into the thick of the fight.

But Tutanga's accession made no difference to the struggle in this part of Puketea, and soon the Arawas bore down the opposing Hauhaus, and beat them back towards the cliff. At the same time the central fight went for the invaders, and Te Katipo's men, scattered on all sides, spread themselves out towards the northern gates, which they were to use as a back-door in their extremity. By this they rushed out in batches and, jumping the trenches, slid down the heights into the plain, pursued by the infuriated Arawas. The fight was to all purposes at an end, yet knots of men fought on. Most of the whares were now in flames, and the whole of Puketea seemed one vast conflagration.

Palliser rushed from point to point in this desolate scene, looking for Ida. He had no knowledge of the place in which she had been imprisoned, nor could he see a sign of Foster, who might have assisted him. For aught he knew, either or both might be dead. This feeling was moving his heart as he ran almost aimlessly round the pah, when suddenly on the cliff side, where the Maniapoto camp had been, he came upon a des-page 314perate encounter. Old Kaimoana, with the huia feathers waving on the crest of his tall figure, stood out against the sky; and by him, as though whispering in his ear, was a lithe form, with nodding plumes of red. Surely that presence was unmistakable—it was Te Katipo. As Palliser came up, the Maniapoto threw off the Hauhau with a stern dignity, and leapt forward against the Arawas, with whom his men were fiercely engaged. Te Katipo turned and, bounding lightly out of the way of an assailant, smote him to the ground, and disappeared in the smoke and confusion. Palliser rushed after him (for he, if anyone, would know of Ida's fate), and diving through the belt of whares on the cliff side, strewn thickly with the Maniapoto dead, he came upon the margin of the precipice, which fell down to the creek some six hundred feet. Te Katipo was limping along the cliff, but hearing Palliser shouting behind him, turned at bay and levelled his gun. Palliser stopped undecidedly, for he had no weapon in his hand, and Te Katipo lowered his.

"No," he said; "my war is not against the friend of Kariri, though he is found among my enemies. I will not shoot. Greetings to you, my friend."

"Where is the Pakeha girl, Kariri's daughter?" asked Palliser, disconcerted by this unexpected withdrawal.

"She is in safety," responded the Hauhau. "You and I are the colour of blood, but she is still white, unless the flames have reached her. But how is a poor Hauhau to stop the Arawa from setting fire to the Pakeha girl?"

page 315

"The evil will be on you," said Palliser sternly.

"My friend Pariha," answered the Hauhau easily, "why did you not trust me? There is no evil I have done to you. But now it is all too late. I only give you your life to prove my friendship. Friend, you shall know this: I have sent a message by the black Pakeha. This is an end of our acquaintance."

He moved away with dignity, and disappeared over the cliff, and Palliser, following to the edge, looked down. The Hauhau was descending swiftly by a flax-ladder across the rooky faces. As he stood watching the perilous escape with interest, some Arawas came out of the smoke and conflagration, and dashed along the cliff.

"What is this?" asked one, stopping by the Englishman.

Palliser looked him in the face for a moment. "This is nothing," said he.

"Then let nothing perish," said another, and with a blow of his axe he cut through the flax. The taut rope shot away into space.

"He is going down to Reinga; he will go quicker now," said a third; and with a laugh they rushed back into the pah.

Palliser looked from the cliff; behind him were roaring flames. Westward the land was still dark, and in the foreground bodies of men were running across the tussock plains towards the hills.

Left suddenly spent and nerveless, he turned inwards from the cliff, but had not got down a dozen yards when a figure he saw with surprise to be Aotea's rushed out of page 316the ruins upon him. She stopped, all haggard and wild, her cheeks hollow, as from suffering, and thrust out a hand at him.

"Is Matuku here, O Pariha?" she asked excitedly.

"No, my sister," said he sadly. "Behold they have slain him—the Hauhaus."

"They have slain him—the Hauhaus," she repeated mechanically. "I said there was death in the camp. Give me a weapon," and, picking up a musket from the ground, she rushed off ere Palliser could stay her.