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The Web of the Spider

Chapter III. The Tale of Eat-the-Sea

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Chapter III. The Tale of Eat-the-Sea.

Palliser turned sharply in the direction of the voice, and beheld the crowd melt to give passage to a tall commanding figure, upon which, as it approached, the rich torchlight gleamed. What he saw was a white-haired Maori, wrapped in a long winter-mat, which, gathered as a loose poncho about his shoulders, was an impressive addition to his massiveness. His face, bare of hair, was scored deeply with tattoo marks from brow to chin, and his dark sunken eyes lurked beneath large matted eyebrows, as beasts in a lair. His white hair was crowned with heavy plumes of white huia feathers, which waved antic in the light. Advancing a few paces to the prisoner this formidable creature surveyed him quietly, and then turned and addressed his Maoris.

"Since when have you slain without Kaimoana's bidding? Hearken, O my people, for I am your father. Who has dared to set up his spear against mine? If a spy come to Matapihi, what does it matter? He will be slain, and the grubs shall have his body. But who is this that cries, 'I am Kaimoana; Kaimoana is dead'?

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Are those that are asleep dead? But behold, darkness is a cover to your deceit, and you mock me."

The silence upon this speech was at last broken by the Maori who had seemed the ruler of the others.

"We know that Kaimoana is alive, and the father of his tribe," he said. "But why should we tell him there is a dog in his gates? Let him sleep, and we will beat it away."

Kaimoana made a movement with his hand as though brushing away such an argument.

"Kaimoana has a care even for small things," he replied. "Let Takuna remember to fight. There is but one to govern."

With this he turned again to Palliser, and said with dignity, "Are not the daughters of the Pakeha sufficient that you crawl into Matapihi like a rat?"

But Palliser had grown weary of the pretence a whim had thrust on him, and seeing his fate none the better for a small delay, made answer impatiently:

"I am tired of skulking in ambush. What is the girl to me? I have no love for her."

"She has repulsed him," cried a voice from the crowd.

"Nay," said Palliser, with a smile, "for she has taken my kiss. But my words were a screen. I have nothing to do with the woman."

"He is lying," said Takuna. "W£ found him in the whare of the girl."

"May not a man covet gold?" responded Palliser sharply.

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"Not in the house of a woman," murmured Takuna, and there arose a confusion of talk.

The old chief stretched out his hand, and the babble of strong warriors died away.

"Why do you come as a spy in the night?" he asked.

Then Palliser took a sudden resolution to declare his purpose, not hoping it would avail him, but to be rid of this parley.

"I am the friend of the Pakeha Kariri," * he said. "What have you done with him? You, O Kaimoana, who were once his friend—where have you hidden him?"

The chief regarded him fixedly.

"Kariri is gone," he said briefly.

"So I imagined," muttered Palliser in English. Then in Maori: "This is a fine deed for the great Kaimoana, to slay a man nigh death. He was at peace with you, and under your protection, yet you suffered him to be slain."

Kaimoana's face darkened.

"The Pakeha has given me hard words," he answered. "Yet must I tell him he lies? Do I tell a dog there is no food for him or kick him from the whare? The Pakeha has no claim upon me, though he is Kariri's friend. There is no faith in him. I will not say to him, 'Sit down and be friends,' lest he rise and stab me in the back. It is the way of the Pakeha. He has come upon us and stolen our lands from us, and he laughs at us, and pokes out his tongue at us, saying, 'The Maori is a

* Kariri would be the Maori version of Caryll.

page 32fool.' There is nothing but deceit in the Pakeha. It is not well for us." Here, his voice swollen into a deeper note, he pointed his cloaked arm across the singing river. "It is not well for us, I say, and the Pakeha must go. War in the west wind, and war in the north, and lo, there will be war in the east and in the south! The Maori will rise up and drive him from our doors; not one shall be left. They are faithless; they are full of deceit. We will slay them like dogs, and drive them into the sea, and I, Kaimoana,* will swallow the sea that contains them. They shall be swallowed up; there is no room for them under our sun. Enough. We have seen the day of evil."

The old chief's eyes flashed in their deep recesses as he waved his hand westwards, to the sea beyond the mountains; then, drawing his mat closer to him, he was silent. Palliser had but stirred the war fury of the veteran by his words, and was now looking for his end each moment. He had no mind to endure these indignant speeches at his death, and standing moodily with his arms folded, he said, with scorn:

"Be silent. The Pakeha will break you in pieces. But why do I speak with a child? Let me die."

Suddenly the Kaimoana addressed his people.

"Go," said he; "leave me the Pakeha."

With an uneasy reluctance the crowd scattered slowly, and the night embraced all but Palliser, Kaimoana, and Takuna with the flaring torch. From him the chief took Palliser's revolvers, and holding them in his hands,

* Kaimoana in the Maori tongue signifies "Eat-the-Sea."

page 33he marched up to the prisoner, who gazed at him unflinchingly.

"There is nothing but deceit in the Pakeha," he said sternly. "Therefore they must all die. In the Maori there is passion, but no deceit. We are brave men. Should one die, lo, there is another. Take what is yours and follow me."

He handed Palliser his weapons, and, turning without another word, strode among the whares. Palliser, in the greatest bewilderment, obeyed mechanically, and Takuna, betraying no surprise, followed with the torch. They filed silently through the houses till they were come to the marae, or open courtyard, which was occupied by several groups of natives, talking together. But leaving them Kaimoana passed on without a word, nor did he halt until he had reached the gate in the stockade, which opened upon the kumara-grounds. Here, pausing, he took the light from Takuna.

"Wait," he said; "I will return."

As he was issuing out by the gate a number of the younger men by the stockade came running up, and cried, 'Why does our father go out into the night alone? One should not trust the Pakeha. We will go with him." But the chief motioned them back.

"Is there fear in my hapu?" he said. "There should be no fear. A man must die. Let him die, then. I will return again. I have said."

The young men, drawing back, suffered him to depart, and he passed through the gate into the night, his torch blazing above his head, and Palliser at his heels page 34in wonder and doubt. Fifty paces from the gate a deep trench lay about the pah in a crescent, and upon the earthworks of this Kaimoana halted, and stuck his pine-knot in the ground.

"It is enough—I am not afraid. Sit," he said.

Palliser sat, and for some minutes only the river murmured in the gorge and the winds sang in the forest. At last the chief spoke.

"If a man give his word he must not go back from it. If a man be lost a friend will seek for him; if he be dead he shall bury him. It is a joy to perform the offices of death for a friend. Kaimoana does not fight with mourners; therefore he will answer your questions if you be the friend of Kariri."

"Why do you talk of mourners?" asked Palliser. "Is Kariri dead?"

"Kariri was my Pakeha," replied the chief, "the Pakeha of my tribe. He came amongst us and took a wife. The young men of Matapihi were angry, but the elders said, 'Let us have our Pakeha. We shall be honoured. Has Torouka or Arutara a Pakeha? Let us have honour in the eyes of Torouka and Arutara.' I could have driven him forth, I could have slain him; but I did not, though my young men said, 'Who is this Pakeha that steals the love of a Maori wahine?' But I held my peace, for the Pakeha is crafty, and it is something to be honoured by the hapus of the Waikato. Therefore I held my peace. And Kariri grew fat, and the Pakeha Kawana" (Governor) "was unjust to the Maori, and strove to cheat him of his land, and war came.

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Still I held my peace, for had I not given my word? And the war ceased, but Kariri would not go away. He loved the Maori. I was sorry for this; I did not wish to have any Pakeha in the land. They are a deceitful and crafty race, and I wanted Te Ika a Maui* for the Maori. But I had sworn; therefore I said nothing. But the ways of God are strange. Kariri fell sick."

"Why do you tell me a tale of no account?" broke in Palliser impatiently. "Is Kariri dead?"

"I have told my tale," responded the chief, with dignity. "I am not a dog, to be hurried. Kariri fell sick. I had sworn to him, therefore I came to him with food. My young men said, 'Why do you trouble about a Pakeha? He is pleasant, but he is also a Pakeha. But I paid no heed to them. I took him food, and would have given him medicine, but he refused. He lay sick a long time, and Ihirua, the daughter of Takamaiterangi, tended him. He was sick and near death, yet in the night he went away, and Ihirua with him."

Ere the chief was through his statement Palliser had become fairly puzzled. This tale of Caryll's journey, upon the point of death, now repeated, sounded to him so fabulous that he had no choice but to believe it false. To heighten his incredulity came also that distrust of Kaimoana of which Caryll himself had written; it was plain their relations had been never cordial, and yet he was perplexed to account for this handsome behaviour. Why had the chief interposed between him and death,

* The Maori name for New Zealand; literally "the fish of Maui."

page 36and why had he come out for this private conference with one whom he might have delivered into the hands of his young men? Palliser had been sufficiently among the natives to know of their capacity for sudden generosity, but if he were right in supposing Kaimoana to have taken possession of Caryll's goods and Caryll's secret, it was impossible to refer to him an extravagant chivalry. Some motive must be at the bottom of this conduct, but he was at a loss to conceive what that might be.

"If this story be true, am I to say Kariri is dead?" he asked, presently.

Kaimoana shook his head. "Am I a spirit that I should follow his wanderings? He went in the night; Ihirua fled also. Together they fled southward. I know nothing more."

Palliser was convinced from his doggedness that he was lying, but he said, "You have a man in your tribe named Parekura. Where is he?"

Looking attentively at Kaimoana, Palliser saw him start at the name, and immediately springing to his feet he said angrily, "You have lied to me! Why do you give me a dish of lies for food? Kariri is dead. You have robbed him, if you have not slain him. Do dying men go upon journeys?"

Kaimoana moved not from his seat, but when he spoke his voice, too, was loud and passionate, like the deep baying of a hoarse-throated hound.

"Have I lied to the Pakeha, who brought him from the midst of my warriors? Lo, here is one who shall page 37say, 'You have kept me from death; therefore you are a liar.' But I talk to a screamer, to a shrieker of falsehoods. Why does the friend of Kariri call me a liar? But I do not answer: I am dumb; it is foolishness to talk with a babbler. They are all alike, these Pakehas. They are worthless—what are they but thistles covering the land? They shall be cut down."

Palliser restrained himself for, though he had no faith in the story, he had other questions to ask.

"Why, then, do you start at the name of Parekura? Why should the word send terror through you? It is the guilt of a conscience. You have slain Parekura, perhaps?"

"The Pakeha is babbling again," returned the chief more quietly. "It is foolish always to babble. Parekura also has gone. He was not of Maniapoto, but of the Ngatiawas.* He has gone back to his home."

"Southward too," said Palliser sarcastically.

"He also has gone southward," said the other calmly.

"And behold, O Kaimoana, it is strange, but on the same day he departed, Kariri and Ihirua fled in the night, and, lo, also Parekura was gone."

"I cannot remember the movements of Parekura," returned the chief, darting a quick glance at him.

Palliser laughed, and continued, "Kariri and Ihirua and Parekura are gone, and the wise Maniapoto knows not whither. But what of the Pakeha girl, who sought her father?"

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The Maori was silent.

"Come," said Palliser derisively. "She, too, has gone, and in the same night, O you who have eyes in the darkness?"

"Why should I answer? The Maori has no honour in the mind of the Pakeha. If I say, 'Who is this girl? We have seen none,' he will laugh again."

Palliser hesitated, for it seemed to him that here, at least, was the ring of truth.

"Listen," he said. "Kariri had a daughter among the Pakehas, a child whom he had not seen for years. I looked for her in Akirana and found she had gone. They told me Kariri had written to her that he was dying, and she had set out to go to him. I could learn nothing more. In the Waikato plains, at Ngaruawahia, and at Te Awamutu, they had seen nothing of her. I said, 'Perhaps she has gone by the sea, to escape the war, and come inland. I shall find her at Matapihi, where she is gone to see her father die.' But you say, 'The girl is not here.' Where, then, is she?"

"There are many hills between Matapihi and the sea," said the Maori. "There are many fighting men. Who can say what has become of a weak girl? She set out to close her father's eyes. It is well. This is the duty of a daughter. But Kariri has gone; and the girl has not come. Why does the crawling rat trouble me further?"

"Kaimoana," said Palliser quietly, "your tale is a tale of lies. You are a rotten flax-stick. Men trust page 39in you and lean upon you, and you crack. Yours is a tale to smile at. You know what has become of Parekura. Perhaps you slew him—I cannot say. Perhaps you robbed him of his message. You know what has become of Kariri and Ihirua also. Enough, I will learn the truth some day, and be avenged."

"You have killed the honour of a rangatira" (chief), said Kaimoana haughtily; "yet I have spared you. Go, lest I leave you for the wekas to peck. I have one mind to-day, but when I have slept it may change. Go, therefore. Let the river be a boundary to us. To-morrow my young men will search the bush. What they find they will kill. I will be silent and nod my head. Why should I not? On this side of the river will be my mana" (authority). Here he raised his voice, and his eyes gleamed in the red light. "Yet how can I say you will be safe yonder." He stretched to the river. "I care nothing for your safety. The fighting men are about, and who can stand against the Maori spear? Yes, the Pakeha is as the thistle. In a little he will be cut down. Lo, there is war in the north and in the west, and there will be war in the south and in the east. I tell you, O Pakeha rat, there is war in the land, and how shall you escape? The down of the thistle shall blow through the land."

"And I warn you, shutter of both eyes," cried Palliser, leaping to his feet, "that the dog who has picked the bones of Kariri shall die as a dog should. He shall disgorge as he lies fat in the sun. He shall crawl to my feet, and whine like a whining girl. I will page 40put a bit in his mouth and drive him over the cliff. He shall be shot, and his body cast in the river. The Maori is a fool; the Pakeha only is wise. He shall teach the Maori that to lie to him is to tremble, and to rob the dying is even as to die. I have done. I will go."

"Haere ra" (go truly), said Kaimoana quietly, using the Maori form of salutation to a departing friend. He rose without another word, and taking his torch, gathered his mantle closer; then, turning with deliberation, he stalked off toward the pah, leaving Palliser staring after him.

The Pakeha watched till the dwindling figure vanished through the gateway, and the stump of the flaming torch was tossed into the air; then, facing the darkness, he plunged into the lower bush. Surprising as his course of adventure had been, he could congratulate himself on nothing but that he had so unexpectedly come off with his life. As he strode through the forest he reviewed his failures, and thought upon future plans, though with fallen hope. Baffled as he had been in his search of a clue to the mysterious silence of Caryll, he was yet resolved to continue the forlorn task. Caryll's first letter had reached him on December 28th, in Hawkes Bay, after a career of three months in Australia and the south. His own letter, informing Caryll that he would come to him, must have arrived in Matapihi early in January, after Caryll's second letter had been despatched. By that time the Pakeha-Maori might have been dead; for Kaimoana's tale seemed too gross and extravagant to entertain. If Caryll were dead upon page 41the arrival of the letter, Ihirua had the secret of the gold, according to the instructions of the second letter; therefore, it was incumbent upon him to find Ihirua. If, on the other hand, Caryll had received and read his answer, there were two alternatives. Were he near death, he would have despatched his last directions to his friend; or, at least, he would have written to acknowledge the arrival of the letter. In either case he would have made some sign, and yet no sign had come. No word beyond the two despairing cries had reached Palliser—and Caryll was gone from his mountain eyrie, rapt away strangely, none knew whither. Upon these facts there was no other hypothesis than in some treachery to his lost friend. Either Ihirua had turned traitor and hid herself within the knowledge of her tribe, or someone had intercepted a letter between Caryll and himself. Upon this latter view he thought darkly of Kaimoana, to whom Caryll's letters had significantly pointed. Palliser's objects, then, must be to find Ihirua, who might deliver to him Caryll's secret; to find also Parekura, if so be a letter had been entrusted to his hands; and to find Caryll, were he on this side of the grave, which was something more than doubtful. And, indeed, he could have no certainty that any of the three was living. If Ihirua had, in Kaimoana's words, fled with Caryll, what could it mean, save that she, too, were dead? And if Parekura had been robbed of his trust, it was of reason to conjecture this had been a deed of blood. While of Caryll's life there had been but a brief part left on Christmas Day.

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In the mists of these doubts Palliser wandered despairingly, as he went silently along the narrow bush - track toward his hiding-place. The stars enkindled heaven, as though 'twere moonlit, suffusing a still and mystic glow throughout the night. The winds had gathered, and the karaka-leaves were flapping heavily. A few noises had got up in the bush; wekas wailed disstantly; the river, now closer, ran in shallows with a vacant roar. Suddenly Palliser took the notion that he had someone behind him. It came upon him, in one moment, upon the snapping of a twig to his right. He stopped, his face to the sound, but heard nothing save the accustomed noises of the wind and the river, and, half convinced, resumed his way. Still an uneasy suspicion of danger clung to him, though the high wind might have served to account for all the alarms of his passage. Presently he stopped again quickly, and listened. Then he thought he heard a footfall patter and die away behind, and darting back he rushed round the bend he had just turned, revolver in hand. In the dim light nothing was visible, nor when he halted sharply could he catch so much as the scuffling of a wood-hen through the undergrowth. With a laugh he put away his revolver, saying to himself, "I have too full a fancy to-night."

The track, hitherto but a thin lane hewed through the dense bush by the felling of large trees, the trunks of which lay here and there across the path, now turned aside and swept out upon the cliff above the river, where the wind blew shrilly. The banks had fallen to a height of fifty page 43feet or so, and the gusts flying out of the upper gorges struck the bush fiercely, and died away in the recesses. Once or twice, even with all the uproar, Palliser paused, still possessed of his fancy, but almost immediately resumed his journey. When he was come to the spot at which he must leave the track to go inwards to his hollow, a sound as of a falling body came to him. Swiftly dropping behind a bush, he waited. The wekas were calling briskly between the claps of wind, the river was moaning in the shallows, and the pines bent to the storm. Not another sound was audible. Palliser crouched without a movement, his hand upon the trigger of his weapon, his face set to the bush.

He had been thus for fully a quarter of an hour, when suddenly in a lull a parakeet shrieked as though in alarm, and emergent from the broad leaves of the karaka-tree before him, he saw a dark face peep slowly. His finger quivered on the trigger, but as the eyes peered through, the starlight glimmered on them, and Palliser lowered his weapon. They were the eyes of Aotea.