Hine-Ra, or The Maori Scout: A Romance of the New Zealand War.
Chapter XXV. — Pursuit
It was a sorry sight which greeted the eyes of Frank Burnett and Jack Hall as they rapidly ran up the slope that led to the pah. It was a terrible sight that met them as they entered the enclosure. The bodies of old men and young children, of women and girls, lay thick in twos and threes in the open square, or at the entrances to the whares, proving conclusively that the attack had been sudden and unexpected. The burnt huts were still smouldering, and there was not a sound, not a sign of life. Neither age nor sex had been spared. It had been a work of fiendish cruelty, of barbarous butchery, and none were left to tell the tale. But who had done it? That they knew too well. Where were the men, the natural protectors of these helpless ones? That they could not even guess at.
Sad, and sick at heart, Frank Burnett slowly strode towards the whare occupied by Hine-Ra, which had been spared from the flames. He was afraid to enter, lest his eyes should be blasted with the sight of a new Gorgon.
What if she lay there a mangled corpse, bedabbled in her own rich blood? Could he endure the sight? No. And yet he must enter. Even were it so, it was only one pang more.
No; she was not there. On the floor lay her rifle, and near it the body of a Maori with a blue-margined bullet wound, from which a few drops of clotted blood had trickled, in his forehead. She had done that.
Near him another, with his brain crushed in. But no Hine-Ra. Could she have escaped, or had she been, as was more likely, carried off a captive by the relentless Hau-Haus? Surely not, surely not. That were a fate worse even than death. Oh! it was too terrible, and Frank, unable to bear the weight of his anguish, sank down on a fallen log, and, burying his face in his hands, sobbed aloud, “Too late, too late.”
“Come, lad, come,” said Jack Hall after a while, laying his hand kindly on the youth's shoulder; “it's a bad job, I don't deny, but maybe not so bad as it looks. At all events, we must be up and doing.”
“Ay, up and doing,” cried Frank, springing to his feet, and waving his rifle wildly in the air. “Let us follow, and at least be revenged on these murderous fiends—–”
“As I've said before, easy does it, and, after all, it's their way of fighting; and if we were them, why, I suppose we should do the page 116 same,” remarked the scout philosophically. “I don't quite understand this affair, but it's some Maori deviltry, and we've got to get to the bottom of it. But let's look round first, and then we can make a fair start.”
It did not take them long. There was not a sign of life, the mere and the spear had made sure work, and none were left to tell the tale.
The whare of Mr. Burnett had been forcibly broken open and plundered. There were no signs of his presence, and the two men came to the conclusion, either that he had accompanied the men of the tribe on their expedition, whatever and wherever it was, or, as was more likely, that he had gone to New Plymouth on the business delegated to him by the British authorities.
It was easy enough to follow the retreat of the Hau-Haus; they had left a wide and well marked trail, and along this the two men sped rapidly in pursuit.
They had not, however, gone very far before they met, hobbling painfully along with a sprained ankle, and bleeding from a gashed cheek, a pitiable object, a mere girl, one of the captives who had been left behind unmissed in the hurried flight, and who was toiling back to regain what shelter the ruined pah might afford. From her they soon learnt all they sought to know. The Hau-Haus had carried off a number of women, but Hine-Ra was not among them. She was quite sure of that. She had seen her in the pah at the time of the attack, but not after. She had seen her in her own whare, and also seen three or four Maoris go into it. One was very tall and big. She was not sure, because he was painted, but she thought it was Tainui.
“Tainui!” shouted Jack, smiting his forehead with his open palm; “why what a fool I was not to have thought of that. I see the whole thing now.”
“Tainui?” questioned Frank. “What of him?”
“Tainui, the Maori whose voice I heard in the Uriwera pah—Tainui, who struck you down with the mere that night by the Opunake stream—Tainui, whom old Matutira left for dead in the bush. Yes, it's clear as daylight.”
“But,” said Frank, amazed, and not a little puzzled, “I don't understand. Why should Tainui attack me? I never—–”
“The reason is not far to seek. You loved Hine-Ra, and she you. Tainui, too, loved her, and therefore he hated you, and where the Maori hates he kills. Do you not perceive?”
“Tainui loved Hine-Ra? Impossible.”
“Not at all impossible. It is even so. Oh! the deep designing scoundrel! I see the whole affair. On some pretext, the warriors of the tribe have been drawn away, Tainui has led this party on the unprotected pah, and he, while the others have been intent on slaughter and plunder, has carried her off. Now I understand that scene in the whare. She was attacked by the two Hau-Haus, one she shot, the other was slain by Tainui.”page 117
“Carried her off!” exclaimed Frank, in an agony of apprehension, “but how? where?”
“That we must find out. But come, we lose time. As we walk I will think.”
Swiftly retracing their footsteps, they soon regained the pah, scaring the hundreds of hawks and crows, and the packs of wild dogs, which had flocked thither, from their horrible feast.
Then came into play that wonderful power of observation and faculty of tracking which is to be gained only by years of experience in the bush, and which to the uninitiated seems little short of miraculous. A broken twig, a turned leaf, a bent blade of grass, the slightest, faintest indication suffices, and is as plain to the trained bushman as would be so many finger-posts to an ordinary traveller on the highway.
A rapid examination of Hine-Ra's room in the whare, a cast round it, and the trail was struck. The scout, with Frank close behind him, followed it as surely as the hound follows the scent.
“The marks here are of two persons. Yes, of the girl and Tainui,” said Jack, as he pursued his way, speaking more to himself than to his companion. “Yes, she has come willingly so far. Ha! what is this? Here has been a struggle. She has refused to go further. But there are other tracks here, all single. Which is the right one? Let me think. I have it. By thunder! if I didn't almost expect it. He has made for the mountains with her on his shoulder. Come!”
“But are you sure?” asked Frank, toiling almost breathlessly in the rear.
“Am I sure?” replied the scout, with a cry of joy. “What do you call this?” and he held up a tiny slipper of shark skin that lay in the path.
“It is her slipper, and she is in the power of that monstrous wretch,” exclaimed Frank, with a sinking at his heart. “Onward! onward!—quick! quick!”
But as they began to ascend, the country grew more open, stony, and devoid of vegetation, and the scout was obliged to moderate his pace, and ever and anon to stop to pick up the lost trail, for the wily savage had instinctively avoided as much as possible those places that would leave a mark. Still Jack went resolutely on with all the speed he might, with Frank following him closely, and chafing at the delay.
“Fairly and softly,” was the reply to the youth's exclamations of impatience. “If it be as I half suspect, we have him caged as safely as a rat in a trap. If not, he must stop to rest before long; anyway we must not lose the trail. Follow me, keep silence, don't interrupt, and all will be well, lad.”
The strength and power of endurance of the savage must have been marvellous, for, burdened as he was, the trail led steadily on, mile after mile, up the shoulder of the mountain, without a sign of page 118 his having paused in his flight. Up through the tangled scrub, the thick forestry, the tumbled masses of granite and basaltic rock—up, and still into loftier solitudes, he sped with his lovely burden, followed by the scout with the unerring certainty and pertinacity of a bloodhound.
Would he reach the hiding place he sought?
On, ever on, by dense overgrowth and thorny brake, over slippery rock and treacherous morass, until, topping a rise, he descended the opposite slope into a rugged gorge, and threading his way through a mass of piti-piti, plunged boldly into a gloomy cavern which led to pitchy darkness deep in the bowels of the earth.
“I thought as much,” said Jack Hall, wiping the perspiration off his brow, as, an hour later, he stood with Frank at the mouth of the yawning chasm. “I suspected he'd make for here. Well, it's been a long chase, but the fox is run to earth at last. I can read his plan as plainly as a book. Here he intends to remain for a time with his captive, until he thinks the coast is clear, when it will be safe for him to convey her to those blackguard vagabonds at the head of the Patea, who will welcome him or anybody, provided he is rascal enough.”
Frank groaned in spirit at the thought of his beloved Hine-Ra buried in that dismal abyss, and at the mercy of such a remorseless villain. “What is to be done?” he asked.
“We must prepare to descend,” was the reply. “He, beside myself, Matutira, and now yourself, alone knows the secret of this passage, and some of its intricacies. We may have to search them. Come, cut some flax.”
A bundle of flax leaves was soon cut, split and twisted into cords, which, tied together, formed an aho or thin rope of considerable length and strength.
But while they were at work on them, the scout suddenly raised his hand to command silence. For a few seconds he listened intently, and then whispered, “Quick! hide behind that bush; he is coming up the passage; I saw the rope move. Don't stir. Leave him to me.”
Noiselessly and rapidly the two men concealed themselves, and in a few minutes the hideous face of the savage peered out of the opening. Pausing for an instant, he emerged from the cave, glancing warily round as if looking whether the coast were clear.
As he stepped forward, Jack Hall stole silently from behind the bush to a spot between him and the entrance, at the same time bringing his rifle to the present and cocking it. The ominous click startled him, and, turning rapidly round, and seeing by whom he was confronted, he uttered a wild yell, and sprang back as if to fly.
“Stop a bit, Tainui,” said the scout quietly; “you and I must have a little talk.”
The diabolical grin which had overspread his features when he page 119 thought no one was about faded away, and his face became livid with mingled rage and terror, but he did not attempt to escape.
“Blow his brains out if he moves,” said Jack to his companion, who had also shown himself, “while I truss him up like a fowl.”
With a skill acquired by practice, the unhappy wretch was soon bound hand and foot, helpless, and totally unable to move. “And, now,” said Jack Hall, “tell us all about it.”
But Tainui obstinately refused to disclose anything. He denied, point blank, knowing anything of Hine-Ra, and said that he had sought the refuge of the cave to escape from the Hau-Haus, whose captive he had been, and whose vengeance he feared for having escaped from them.
“Very well,” said Jack, “since you say so, we're bound to believe you, of course, only we don't. But there's another little matter to explain. What about that patu on the head you gave to this young fellow by the Opunake stream, the day you were shot, you know?”
Tainui denied this also.
“No more lies, you dog,” said Jack, sternly. “It's your turn now, Frank, lad. There lies your would-be murderer at your feet; do as you will with him. Serve him as he would have served you, or, to be more merciful, blow his brains out at once.”
But this Frank was by no means prepared to do. To kill a man in fair fight was one thing, but to murder in cold blood—for it would be murder—one who was helplessly in his power was—well, it was cowardly and detestable. No, he would not, could not, commit such a deed of infamy.
“Good,” said Jack, “I expected as much from you. But we can't leave him here. He might catch cold. You must come with us, Tainui, and see us find this Hine-Ra whom you didn't bring hither.”
At first the savage was obstinate, but at length, yielding to certain practical arguments of the scout's, who had untied his feet, he accompanied them, sullenly enough, into the cavern.
They did not need to go far. Disclosed by the light of two lamps which Jack Hall had unearthed at the entrance, they came across the lovely maiden crouched in a recess in the rocky wall, her beautiful hair dishevelled, and her tender limbs bruised and torn by her rough journey through the bush.
With a shriek of delight she recognised Frank, and the lovers were in an instant locked in each other's arms in a transport of joy and thankfulness. Mutual questions and answers followed rapidly, and for a time they were oblivious of aught else, and even Jack Hall forgot himself in surveying their happiness.
But Tainui did not. While they were thus engaged, the cunning savage, who had by some means freed his hands from their bonds, had silently stepped back out of the circle of light, and when, a minute later, the scout turned round to speak to him, he found him—gone.