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Hine-Ra, or The Maori Scout: A Romance of the New Zealand War.

Chapter VII. — The Secret of the Cave

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Chapter VII.
The Secret of the Cave.

We left Frank Burnett lying in an exhausted sleep in the cavern of the sorceress, Matutira, watched by the malignant dwarf, Katipo, who, crouched near the entrance, but waited a sign from his mistress to strangle the young man with his claw-like fingers.

When he woke he was alone. The witch Matutira, and the hideous dwarf, where were they? Were they merely creatures of his imagination, or was this all sorcery? Was it all a dream? No: it was real, or how could he be where he was? And where was he? In a cave, opening on the sea, he saw that; but where or how?

He went to the mouth of the cavity. There was nothing to be seen except the wide expanse of ocean before him, and a long way distant to the North the bold outlines of the Nga-motu group of rocky islands standing off Cape Egmont. The little shingle beach opposite the entrance to the cave extended only a few yards on either side, and was then shut in by perpendicular cliffs, so that escape in that direction was hopeless. He turned back into the cavern, and examined that. Nothing to be found there, beyond rugged granite walls. No hope of escape that way. He sat down to think. No: yet stay; might there not be some hidden doorway, some secret outlet? He would examine carefully. There was a rude lamp on the floor; and with the aid of his flint and steel, which he never went without, he soon had a light. There were numerous clefts, crevices, and niches in the walls; but all were closed with solid rock. There was no way of escape. Absolutely none.

What did it mean? Was it that he was left imprisoned in this unescapable cave to die of starvation? No: most certainly not: for there, around him on every hand, was food; such as it was, of course; but abundance of it. Kumera, Taro, the pith of the Mamuka fern tree—all, everything that sustains life among the Maoris; and, more, the dried Mutton Bird, which, with its wealth of oil, is far more nutritious than the ordinary steak or chop of Europeans. All this was stored there in plenty; and it was, therefore, clear that the youth who had been decoyed or brought into the toils of Matutira, the witch, was not doomed to die of lack of food. There were his and other mats, a heap of firewood, and, leaning against the wall, near the entrance, his rifle.

But he was a prisoner, that was also clear. He did not know where the cave was located; for that was a secret jealously guarded by the tribe, nor had even Matariki or Hine-Ra ever spoken to him of its existence, although they must have known. Yes: he was a prisoner. He sat down and thought. Could he swim along by the cliffs? He knew not how far they extended. It might be miles; and then there was the terrible risk of sharks, which abounded near the coast.

As he mused, his face buried in his hands, he suddenly heard page 34 the faint plash of oars at a distance. Looking out he out he saw approaching him a small canoe, containing a single rower, and perceived at once that it was not Matutira te Taipo. Was it friend or foe? Hastily loading his rifle, he concealed himself behind the pile of firewood, and stood prepared for either fortune.

Presently the canoe grated on the beach, and a vooice called “Matutira! Matutira te Taipo!—Katipo!” There was no response, and after a short pause the new comer dragged his canoe up the sand, and entered the cave.

“Not here,” he muttered. “Where the deuce is she? This is confoundedly unlucky. How have I managed to miss her, and at this particular time of all others? Confound it all, I must search further,” and he turned, somewhat irresolutely, as if to go.

But Frank had recognised the visitor, and, stepping from his hiding place, called his name—

“Jack—Jack Hall!”

The one addressed sprang rapidly round, and the two men stood gazing into each other's faces, as if each in doubt of the other's intentions.

Jack Hall spoke first. “Why, what in the name of Heaven—or the other place—brings you here? I thought—but there, no matter what I thought — how did you get here, any how?”

“I hardly know myself, but here I am, and likely to remain here, unless—”

“Yes, unless?”

“Unless you help me to get away.”

“To get away? But—but—I must know more of this matter before I do that. What are you doing in this accursed place at all?”

“Matutira te Taipo brought me here last night, or so she said, at least.”

“Matutira te Taipo brought you here last night?”

So she told me.”

“And where is she now?”

“That's more than I know. She must have gone away while I slept. I only know when I woke, half an hour since, she had left.”

“This is a rum start, young fellow, a very rum start,” said Jack Hall musingly. “Blow me if I can understand it.”

“Perhaps.” responded Frank, “I'd better tell you the whole story, as far as I know, for I feel awfully confused about it. Seems to me like a dream.”

“Well, perhaps you had,” replied the other drily.

While Frank Burnett is relating his adventure, or as much of it as he knew, we may as well describe Jack Hall, the Maori scout, as he was called, especially as he will occupy a somewhat prominent part in these pages.

Jack Hall, or to give him the benefit of his full appellation, the Maori scout, was no Maori at all, unless he may be called a naturalised page 35 one, inasmuch as he had submitted, or perhaps been compelled to submit, his face to the Moko, wore the Maori costume and ear pendants, and, in short, lived among the Maoris and in Maori fashion. He did not ally himself to any particular tribe, but dwelt indifferently, now with one, now with another. He was a tall, round-shouldered, grizzled veteran of the bush, who might have been anything from forty to fifty years of age. He was partly sailor, partly beach-comber, partly settler, and at present wholly scout, runner, or, as some people preferred to call it, spy, in the service of the British forces.

He was a true pakeha Maori, had a thorough knowledge of bushcraft, and of every part of the country; spoke the language, even to the various dialects, of which there are seven, and was well known to the whites as Jack Hall, and to the Maoris as Hake Hori. He was celebrated throughout the country, not less for his skill with the rifle than for the rapidity and secrecy of his movements, and his thorough acquaintance with the tactics of Maori bush warfare, and was, therefore, looked upon as no small acquisition to the British.

Amongst the Maoris, especially the friendlies and the neutrals, he possessed very great influence, even to the extent of being permitted, and frequently invited, to take part in their Koreros and most sacred rites, while to the disaffected tribes he was an object of dread, for had he not been declared tapu by the great Atua himself, the Atua of Atuas, who dwelt in the crater of Ruapehua? Had he not been invested with the Pounamu tapu, the sacred clouded greenstone drop, taken from the ear of the Supreme Deity, which it was sacrilege for even an Ariki to touch? Was he not a wizard, endowed with the most powerful functions of the Makutu, and able, were he injured or offended, to call down fire from heaven, to dry up rivers, to drive away the fish, and to blight the crops?

The simple fact was that he was a gipsy by birth, and had at one time been a conjuror,—a professor of legerdemain,—and his marvellous tricks of sleight-of-hand, manipulation of the cards, and knowledge of chemistry enabled him so to befool and mystify the, in such respects, simple-minded children of Nature, amongst whom he dwelt, as to impress them with the belief that he was a being of supernatural powers. Certainly some of the priests—the wise men of the tribes—doubted this; but, as they were equally interested in gulling the common people, it suited them very well to keep up the deception, and to play into his hands so long as he played into theirs.

Jack Hall listened attentively to Frank's recital with a slight smile of contempt when he mentioned the magic cauldron and the mesmeric passes.

“And who was the Maori who, you say, struck you down with his mere?”

“That I know not. Matutira would not tell me his name.”

“And she shot him with your rifle, and left him dead in the bush by the Opunake stream?”

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“So she said.”

Jack Hall paced the cavern uneasily, muttering to himself, “So this is Tainui's work. I thought the fellow was lying when he told me his cock-and-bull story of having been fired at as he was quietly passing through the bush in search of me. All the better, as it gives me a still greater hold on him. “And now,” he said aloud, suddenly stopping in front of Frank, “what is it you want me to do?”

“Help me to escape from this horrible den.”

“Young fellow,” was the reply, “I know who gave the patu on the Opunake—”

“And who was it?” interrupted Frank eagerly.

“Perhaps you will know some day. At present it is my secret, and hers. Enough, you want me to help you to get away from here ?”

“If you will.”

“I both will and can. I know more of you than you think for, and I—I—like you. More than that, you can be of service to me; therefore, I can and will aid you. But you must do something for me in return. I do nothing for nothing.”

“Anything I can—”

“Just so—make no rash promises until you hear. I will help you to quit this place, and—I will help you in another direction, when it is needed. Now listen. First of all, you must promise me not to say one word to anyone—anyone—mark me—either about last night's attack, or about this cave, or even its existence, until I give you leave.”

“Not even to—?”

“Not even to any living soul,” was the stern reply.

“Very well, you have my word, my oath if you will. I promise.”

“Enough! your word will do. The man who will break his word will break his oath, at least I think so. Then, again, you must promise to meet me, alone, at such time and place as I shall appoint.”

“Yes, but when?”

“That I will find means to let you know.”

“I promise.”

“Very well; now watch. I am about to show you the secret of this cave, a secret known only to myself, to Matutira, and to—another. Light the lamp.”

Frank did so with a beating heart. What wonderful revelation was about to be made to him?

Jack Hall went on—“Observe these rocky walls; not a chink, not a crevice that a mouse could penetrate. Here you might stay until the day of doom, unless, ah, unless—now look.”

As he spoke, he crossed the cavern, and, removing some of the firewood, gave a strong push with his shoulder against the apparently solid granite-wall. Wonder of wonders! it swung noiselessly back, page 37 revealing a deep, dark chasm, from which came a puff of fresh but moist air.

“There,” he said, “there lies the way to freedom. The road is long and tortuous, but it leads you to an opening in one of the spurs of Mount Taranaki. Once there, you will easily find your way to Te Nama pah, which lies south-east of where you will come out. You will have two guides, one the lamp, which will serve to guard you against the rocks and stalactites, the other a rope, which you must never once let go. If you do, you will be lost, for there are thousands of tunnels, openings, and blind galleries running off in every direction. If you enter one of those, you are doomed. Remember; now go.”

Frank peered into the chasm with a shudder. It was dark as Erebus, cold and smelling of damp.

“Must I go alone?” he asked.

“Alone. I have other work to do, which must be done quickly. That is the only way. My canoe is too small for two, will barely carry me. But fear nothing,” he added more kindly, “there is nothing to hurt you. A few bats perhaps, and lizards, but they are harmless. Go.”

Plucking up heart of grace, Frank, expressing his gratitude, entered the passage. The dim lamp showed nothing save a gloomy vault, so vast that its rays could not penetrate to the sides.

“Have you got the rope?”


“Then good day. Remember my caution. Go.”

As he spoke, the rocking stone which closed the entrance—for it was one of those wonderful natural phenomena—shut to with a loud and sudden clang, which nearly made Frank drop the lamp, and which reverberated along the dismal chasm with a sound like long-continued thunder.

On, on, on, over the rugged floor, now along a narrow passage of black basalt, which glittered in the lamp-light as if powdered with diamonds, and which was barely wide enough to allow him to squeeze himself through, then across a vast hall the dimensions of which he could not see, and anon amid a very fairyland of shining white, blue, and pink columns of stalagmite and stalactite.

There was a silence as if of the grave, broken only by his resounding footfalls, the drip, drip, of water from overhead, and the occasional flutter of wings, as some bat or other nocturnal bird, startled by the glimmer of the lamp, flew to deeper solitudes.

As he progressed, and as his eyes became more accustomed to the faint light, he strode forward with more confidence, until, at arriving at a place where the water had formed a deep pool of evil smelling mud, he suddenly came to the end of his guiding rope. The sludge had rottened the rope, and it had broken. At the same moment, and while he was trying to find the end of the other broken part, a huge vampire bat came fluttering past, and with the sweep of its wings page 38 knocked the lamp out of his hand into the fœtid water, which was nearly knee deep, and the faint light was extinguished, leaving him in pitchy darkness.