Hine-Ra, or The Maori Scout: A Romance of the New Zealand War.
Chapter XXII. — “L'Homme Propose, Dieu Dispose.”
“L'Homme Propose, Dieu Dispose.”
So says the lively Gaul; and it is true.
Long ere the sun had shot up from behind the wood-crowned heights in the East, bathing the blue-grey firmament in a flood of delicate rosy light that betokened the coming day, Frank and Jack Hall had left the sleeping settlement behind them, and with rapid footsteps were brushing off the dewdrops that hung like diamonds on the thick carpet of fern growing in rank luxuriance underfoot. Both were well armed, and clad in Maori costume.
Leaving the regular track, they plunged into the bush so as to avoid the sinuosities of the road, intending, by a series of bee lines from point to point, to dispense with much unnecessary travelling.
Jack Hall had not uttered a vain boast when he said he knew all the short cuts. By a kind of instinct, bred of his intimate acquaintance with the New Zealand forest, he seemed to avoid the denser underbrush, to skirt the swamps and morasses which abounded in the neighborhood, and invariably to strike the rivers and creeks at passable fords.
Still it was very difficult travelling, and it needed a man to make the best use of his eyesight to prevent being caught round the neck or tripped up underfoot by the myriad supple-jacks that hung like tangled network from the trees, and lay wreathed and meandering along the ground, hidden under the closely-growing fern, or to avoid plunging leg deep into some concealed root hole, or being caught in the tenacious grip of an innocent-looking lawyer bush with its thousand fishhook-like thorns.
But both the adventurers were accustomed to the kind of work they had in hand; both had plenty of endurance, and plenty of wind; and, scarcely pausing on their forced march to snatch a mouthful of food or a draught of water, they made rapid progress on their way.
Generally speaking, their route lay in a line with the sea coast, sometimes on one side of the regular road, sometimes on the other, keeping, as much as possible, within the intricacies of the bush, so as not to be observed by any straggling parties of Maoris who might happen to be wandering about.
As they neared the Waitotara river, it became doubly necessary to exercise caution, for they were approaching the Patea territory, and if it were true that that turbulent tribe had declared for the Hau-Haus, it was more than probable that scouts or runners would frequently be passing, to keep up communication between Rehua and the Hau-Hau leaders, Hepanaia and Kereopa, and the allied Ngapuhi.
Therefore, although they abated but little of their speed, they moved through the bush in Indian file, flitting from covert to covert noiselessly as shadows, and, leaving the coast, struck into the bush in page 100 the direction of the numerous streams forming the head waters of the Waitotara and Wairoa rivers, so as to avoid the risk of being observed, and at the same time to gain the more open country of the upland as being easier to traverse at night.
As they neared the head of the Wairoa, the sun was rapidly declining in the west, and the evening began to fall. There was a dead, dull stillness in the air, not a breath of wind to rustle the boscage overhead, scarcely the flutter of a bird's wings, the shrill piping of a weka, or the cat-like mew of a kakapo, to break the silence.
The two companions sped on, ever cautious, ever watchful.
But other eyes were as watchful as theirs.
“My lad,” said Jack Hall, in a low-guarded tone, “I don't half like the look of things. It doesn't seem natural.”
“Why, what's the matter?” asked Frank simply.
“Don't you see, there are no birds about? They've been frightened away by somebody. I can't see any sign of a trail, and yet I feel certain that there are Maoris not far off, or have been not long since. I seem to smell danger in the very air.”
“Well, what's to be done?”
“I don't know. That's the worst of it. If I knew where the danger lay, I might—Ha! what was that?”
Even as he uttered the ejaculation, there stepped from behind a thick clump of veronica, and directly in the path, a tall, stalwart Maori, who stood with folded arms, and said, gravely—
“Tena Koe, Aitimai. Who are my friends, that they come without warning into the country of the Uriwera?”
With the rapidity of thought, Frank had brought his rifle to the present, but the scout, laying his hand upon his arm, replied quietly, “My friend is mistaken; this is not the country of the Uriwera, and the way is open to all.”
The Maori smiled and bowed with grim courtesy, as he said—
“It is my friends who are mistaken. The way is not open. It is closed by the Pai Marire. But no more. My friends are hungry; the road from Wanganui is long, and they have travelled quickly. But the hawk flies faster than the pigeon. My friends were expected, and the Kai-Kai awaits them in the Kainga. Come, let them eat and sleep, for they need rest after their journey.”
“We need neither food nor rest,” replied Frank; “we are peaceful travellers, and have far to go, therefore deem us not churlish if we decline your offer, and hinder us not.”
“Nay, that may hardly be. The Maori cannot suffer his friends to go empty. The Wharepuni of the Uriweras will be honored by the presence of two such guests as Haki Hori, the famous magician, and the young Pakeha follower of the ‘lame seagull.’”
Frank started, and played with his rifle irresolutely. They were known then, and perhaps their errand guessed at.
As the Maori had indicated, they were expected. Had their conversation been overheard? Had they been watched by Hau-Hau page 101 spies in Wanganui, and a swift runner sent forward before them to inform the rebels of their coming? It looked as if such were the case. The thought was maddening, and Frank spoke on the impulse of the moment—
“The Maori is not wise to stay us on our journey; our rifles shoot far and true, and—”
“Fairly and softly, lad,” interrupted the scout; “let me deal with this fellow. We seek no quarrel with you or your party. We are simply travellers bound on our own business. Why do you interfere with us?”
The Maori smiled sardonically as he replied—
“The young Pakeha is very brave; we all know that; but it is he who is not wise. The Maori scout is very clever; we know that too; but he is very blind and deaf. He has walked into the trap with his eyes open. Let him see what he has led his young friend into.”
As he spoke he emitted a shrill cry, which was answered by a blood-curdling yell, as a hundred or more savages sprang from behind the bushes and trees on every hand, all armed with muskets pointed at the two adventurers.
Resistance was hopeless, that was clear. They were fairly entrapped, and must perforce yield. Frank would probably have fought it out, but the scout counselled surrender.
“We are helplessly caged,” he whispered hurriedly; “be it so. We must meet cunning with cunning, and will outwit the beggars yet. Leave it to me.”
Then, assuming an appearance of chagrin at having been outwitted, he addressed the Maori leader—
“It is true,” he said; “the Uriwera is as cunning as he is brave. The Pakeha is clever, but he is a baby to the Maori. Enough; we are your prisoners. It is my word.”
“Not prisoners,” returned the savage, silkily, but with a half-concealed sneer; “but guests, to be honored and treated with all respect. But come, the day wanes, and the Kai-Kai waits. Forward to the Kainga. It is not far, and the chiefs are impatient to welcome their visitors.”
Somewhat to their surprise, the two luckless captives were neither asked to give up their arms nor were bound. In fact, but that they knew they were practically prisoners, they were treated with as much consideration as though they had been ambassadors from some powerful ally, and their captors were more like a guard of honor than one of prisoners of war.
It was quite dark when they arrived at the rebel encampment, which was situated on a headland running out into a wide reach, almost a lake, on one of the affluents of the Wanganui river. It was approached only by a narrow tongue of land, and was strongly entrenched by earthworks, palisades, and rifle pits. Inside the pah, or Kainga, for it was only fenced on the land side, no little preparation had been made for the reception of the guests, as the Maori leader insisted on calling them.page 102
Huge fires had been built in the open square, and the Wharepuni was ablaze with Maori lamps and furnished with piles of valuable mats. A gorgeous feast, from a Maori point of view, had been prepared, and they were invited to partake of it in company with the redoubtable chief Hepanaia himself and a number of the priests and other head men of the tribe; the other chiefs, Kereopa and Kawiti, being, as they supposed, at the principal stronghold further up the main stream.
Maori etiquette was strictly observed. The guests were pressed to partake of every delicacy the cuisine afforded, and were even offered beer and spirits, the spoil, doubtless, of some foray. Neither were they asked any questions as to where they were bound or what their business was, for the Hau-Hau chieftain could be as polite and gracious when policy required it, as he was ruthless and remorseless in war.
Neither Frank nor Jack Hall could understand this treatment. That it covered some deep design they were convinced, but what they could form no conception of. The most singular part of the whole was that they were not requested to lay aside their arms, and more singular still, they were indirectly but pointedly complimented on the skill they had displayed in making their rapid and difficult march from Tauranga to Wanganui.
The meal over, the Maoris withdrew with many effusive expressions of regard, and, the debris of the feast having been removed, the prisoners, or unwilling guests, were left to seek such repose as they might.
It need scarcely be said that neither of them felt much inclined for sleep. Of course they knew that escape was out of the question. They were too carefully and strongly guarded for that. Force was of no avail; they must employ finesse. But how? Even Jack Hall's repute as a wizard was of no avail here, for the Hau-Haus had discarded the traditions and superstitions of their forefathers, and had embraced the new religion of Pai Marire, which acknowledged neither Atua nor Irirangi, save through their own ruling spirit, the angel Gabriel.
Frank was sorely perplexed and troubled. The fate of the tribe amongst whom he had been brought up, and more than all, the fate of his beloved Hine-Ra, hung in his hands, and he was powerless to move. It was very bitter. The scout, less personally interested, and more, perhaps, of a philosopher, was less concerned, and sat calmly smoking, rather contentedly than otherwise.
After a long pause, Frank broke the silence by asking—
“Well, Jack, what do you think of it?”
“I think, my lad,” he replied, gracefully emitting a volume of smoke, “that we're in the two ends and the middle of about as queer a scrape as ever I found myself in, and at the present moment I'll be hanged if I can see my way out of it. What that blackguard Hepanaia means by it I can't imagine. Whether he intends to keep us page 103 here—though what good that'll do him I can't see; or whether he intends to murder us out of hand—though that's not likely, or he wouldn't have left us our arms; or whether he's funking on it, and intends to send us to make terms with the British forces for him—and that's very possible; or whether—but there, what's the use of whethering? I don't know what to think, and that's a fact.”
“Is there no way you can devise to get away from here?”
“None at present.”
“Couldn't you manage? Matariki told me of some wonderful power you had. I don't understand it—but couldn't you bring that to bear in some way?” asked Frank, anxiously.
The scout smiled grimly, as he replied—
“I've been thinking of that, lad, and if I had my materials here, my trained birds, and my chemicals, I might. But I haven't got 'em with me, and so it's no use talking of it. However, I'll see what's to be done to-morrow.”
“To-morrow,” groaned Frank, in agony of soul; “and in the meantime Hine-Ra may be in the power of—oh! I dare not think of it.”
“Ay, ay, poor lad, that's the trouble. But cheer up, keep a good heart, and, above all, a good face on it. What can't be cured must be endured, and we'll sleep on it.”
But they were not to sleep, or at least he was not to sleep just then, for at that moment Matene, one of the chief priests of the Pai-Marire was announced, and entered the Wharepuni. To this notable individual Frank took a dislike at sight. He was an elderly man, sleek and stout in physique, villainously cunning and treacherous-looking in feature, fawning and obsequious in manner, and oleaginous in speech.
After a few words of courtesy to Frank, he indicated that he wished to speak privately to the scout. The two went to the other side of the whare and entered into a conversation, which, as it was in a language or dialect unknown to Frank Burnett, was of course totally unintelligible to him, even if he could have heard it.
The conference lasted nearly an hour, the priest apparently coaxing and threatening by turns, and the scout listening stolidly and neither assenting to, nor dissenting from, what he said, further than to say he would think the matter over, and let him know next morning. With that he had to be contented, and at length took his departure.
“What's that old scoundrel been talking about?” queried Frank.
“That old scoundrel, as you call him, has been making proposals.”
“What proposals?—to let us go?”
“Well, hardly that, but, briefly, this: He wants us, you and me to join them, the Hau-Haus—you to drill and instruct the warriors in musketry and such like; me to act as scout and spy for them.”
“Join them! What! turn renegades?”
“Well, that's about the size of it.”page 104
“Why, the old—’
“If we accept we shall be liberally rewarded with wealth and power; if we don't, why we shall have our throats cut.”
“Our throats cut?” exclaimed Frank, jumping up.
“That's the pleasant alternative—but easy, dear boy, easy does it.”
“And what did you say?”
“Me? Oh, I didn't say anything in particular. I told him I'd have to consult you.”
“Consult me? Why you don't imagine I'd—”
“I say easy does it. Keep cool. You do just as I do, say just as I say, and you shall see ‘the engineer hoist with his own petard,’ as the man in the play says. And now, to sleep, lad, to sleep.”
“Not another word, to sleep; to sleep, to sleep.”