Hine-Ra, or The Maori Scout: A Romance of the New Zealand War.
Chapter XXI. — A Premonition of Evil
A Premonition of Evil.
The snake was scotched, not killed. Severe as had been the loss of the Hau-Haus at Moutoa, and decided as had been their defeat, they still kept up a kind of guerilla warfare on the outlying settlers and the friendly natives, swooping down on them at unexpected places, and carrying fire and sword wherever they could find an unguarded spot.
They had betaken themselves to their almost inaccessible fastnesses in the Kaimanawa ranges on the upper Wanganui, and there, safely entrenched, bade defiance to the British forces, which were powerless to reach them.
The advantage was all on their side. The country was overgrown with dense forest and thick scrub, with wide patches of deep treacherous swamp, and dangerous narrow gloomy gorges to pass and steep rocky cliffs to climb, and, posted as they were at every point of vantage, it would indeed have gone hard with any invading force which might have ventured to attack, even if they could have found them, which was very questionable.
Certainly there was the river, which might have been navigated in boats, but that was as dangerous as the land, as from the thickly brushed banks the soldiers could have been picked off as they passed, without the power of reprisal, for, even had they landed, the tantalizing foe would have disappeared in the trackless recesses of the bush, only to re-appear as soon as they re-embarked. Besides that, a strong force was not available owing to so many points having to be garrisoned, and the Wanganui friendlies, who had done such good service at Moutoa, although willing to fight in defence of their own settlement when it was threatened, were totally averse to entering on so perilous an undertaking as an attack.
Again, the Hau-Haus had been joined by a well-known chief and famous warrior named Kawiti, who, with his fighting men, had espoused the Pai-Marire cause.
Thus it was that, along the coast, at least, there was, for a time, a cessation of hostilities, the British holding the disaffected natives in page 96 check along the coast from Taranaki to Wanganui, and neither party venturing to attack the other, preferring to wait for the further development of events. Certainly there had been a few unimportant skirmishes, in which the Maoris had attacked the outposts of the troops, but had been driven back with less, and, as was their wont, had retreated into the recesses of the bush, out of reach of pursuit.
The time hung heavily on the hands of Frank Burnett, for, having received no orders either to rejoin his regiment or to move on to headquarters at Taranaki, he felt himself bound to remain in the settlement until relieved. The fact was that, in the absence of active duty and of the excitement of a camp life, he was suffering from what the French call maladie du pays—the doctors, Nostalgia—and common people, home sickness.
It was more than three months since he had seen his father, or, what was still more to the purpose, Hine-Ra, and his heart yearned to feel the pressure of her soft hand in his, to hear the music of her eloquent words, to receive her sweet kisses on his lips.
True, he had written to his father, and had received an answer congratulating him on his promotion and conveying welcome messages from Hine-Ra and Matariki, but, beyond that, giving him no information, as it was necessary to be cautious for fear the runners who bore the messages should be captured, and the letters afford any intelligence to the rebels.
Frank had also written to head-quarters asking permission to join the forces at Taranaki, and to call at Opunake on his way thither, and he now waited impatiently the tardy answer to his request.
Jack Hall, who was equally impatient of the enforced inactivity, had taken to making long incursions into the bush, for no special reason that could be divined, unless it were through sheer lassitude and ennui.
One evening, after he had been absent from the settlement three days, he returned looking unusually thoughtful and pre-occupied. He at once sought Frank out, and, saying that he had something important to tell him, proposed a walk on the beach, where they could talk in private.
“Frank, lad,” he begun, “I'm afraid there is something serious in the wind.”
“Indeed,” was the reply; “what is it?”
“That I don't rightly know. Can't rightly guess. But that there's something I'll be sworn.”
“Yes. I've been up the river, and I'm sure there's mischief afoot. The Pateas have declared for Hepanaia, and Te Namas, as I fancy, although I'm not quite sure, for the whites, and that means trouble. Besides that—”
“Yes, besides that?”
“Besides that, the Hau-Haus have been reinforced by Kawiti page 97 and his villainous crew. The tribe is an offshoot of the Ngapuhi of the north, and they're a bad, bad lot, bad as bad can be. The Hau-Haus are bad enough in all conscience, but they can't hold a candle to the Ngapuhi for treachery, cunning, and general deviltry. Did you ever hear about Hongi, the Ngapuhi chief, and the Ngatimaru, in the olden days?”
No, I dont't think so. What was it?”
“Well, it was this way. It must be over forty years since it happened, but it'll show you what the Ngapuhi were then, ay, and what they are to this day. The Ngatimaru were one of the most powerful tribes in the Pohutukawa and Karaka country ot the Thames, and had a strong pah on a steep terrace at Totara. One day they saw many canoes of warriors in their war-paint paddling up the estuary of the Waihou. This was a war party of the Ngapuhi, led by old Hongi, who had sworn vengeance on the Ngatimaru for some affront they had put on him, or that he said that they had, which was much the same thing. When they reached the pah at Totara, they found it so strongly defended that they did not dare to attack it, but professed friendship and peace. They were admitted into the pah, and the day was passed in the korero and friendly trade. But at night, Hongi and his warriors attacked the pah and slew a thousand of his enemies; not only slew, but ate them, and to this day their bones may be found in the valley of the Waihou. Rauroha, the Ngatimaru chief, was killed amongst the others, and his daughter, Urimahia, and many other women of the tribe, were carried off as slaves to the Bay of Islands. And what the Ngapuhi did then the Ngapuhi would do now if they got the chance, for what says the Maori proverb?—‘The spirit of his ancestors must descend to the Maori.’ And so far it is true enough. The Ngapuhi of today inherits the treachery and bloodthirstiness of his forefathers: the treachery which caused Hongi to go to England professing himself a devout Christian, and to exchange the Bibles and other presents which he had received from King George for muskets wherewith to arm his tribe; and the bloodthirstiness which led him to slaughter the populous Ngatimaru and Ngatiwhatua tribes, leaving behind him when he went nothing of the inhabitants but their bones, which may be found, whitening in the soil where their pahs once stood, to this day.”
“Then what is it you fear?” asked Frank.
“Why this. If it be true that the Pateas have joined the Hau-Haus, and Te Nama the whites, there is bound to be war. Te Nama is powerful and brave, doubtless, but what could they do against the Hau-Hau Uriweras, the Ngapuhi, and the Pateas combined? Nothing. They would be slaughtered or driven into the sea to a man, ay, and to a woman and a child, for none would be spared.”
“What is to be done then?”
“Hine-Ra is there, the woman you love. Matariki is there, your friend. Your father is there. They must be warned, and quickly.”
“But surely the British protection—”page 98
“Could do nothing against such an enemy in force. The British are scattered along the line. The attack, if one be intended, would be without warning, and the mischief would have been done. I may be wrong, but I believe the united tribes are preparing for some one grand movement, and all I can learn makes me think that it will be in the way I have indicated. If they succeed in destroying Te Nama, they will be in a position to force the Waimates to join them, and will then be stronger than ever.”
Frank strode to and fro perturbedly. “What is to be done?” he asked in an agony of doubt and dread. “Hine-Ra in danger, my father in danger, and I wasting my time here. What is to be done? What can be done? Oh, Jack, my friend, what do you propose to do?”
“Rather what do you propose to do?”
“To go. Leave or no leave, to go. To warn them, to fight for and with them, if need be. Oh, my love! my love! in peril, and I not there to stand by thy side, to save, or die for thee!”
“Good lad! good lad! I expected this from you. But it may not be. No, leave this affair in my hands. To leave your post without permission—you know what that means? Death. Death, my lad, by the bullets of your own comrades. Death, and dishonor too, that's worse.”
“Say no more. I am ready, and will start before daylight. Come, let us return to the settlement. There will be plenty of time, plenty, I tell you. I know all the short cuts, and can make Opunake in a little over seventy miles. That, on a push, I can do in less than twenty hours, and it will take the Hau-Haus a good deal longer than that to travel from where they are, the way they must travel. Be of good heart, my lad. As I told you before, my life is in some way bound up in yours. I know not how as yet, but the stars have said so, and it is true.”
Frank was sorely perplexed and distressed. Again, it was a question between love and duty, and he knew not which to obey.
But fortune was more propitious than he had hoped. Arrived at the settlement, he found that a runner had just come in, bringing despatches. Amongst others was one ordering him to set out for head-quarters as soon as the next boat sailed, or sooner if practicable, and graciously acceding to his request to be permitted to call at Opunake for a few days on his way. He tossed the letter over to Jack Hall when he had read it, and jumped almost to the ceiling in sheer exuberance of delight.
He was for starting on the instant, but the scout calmed him down.
“No hurry, lad, no hurry. Get everything ready for an early start. Then a good night's rest, for you'll find a twenty hours' tramp through the bush, the way we shall go, will be no joke, even for your young limbs. To bed as soon as you can. I'll be here for you long before the sun is over the ranges. To bed, and get all the sleep you may. Good night.”