Hine-Ra, or The Maori Scout: A Romance of the New Zealand War.
Chapter VIII. — Love and War
Love and War.
It need hardly be said that, as the night waned, the prolonged absence of Frank and Matariki both, from Te Nama pah, created no little surprise and consternation, both in the whare of the chief and of Richard Burnett. Where could they be? The night brought no sign. Morning dawned, and still no news.
The old Maori pretended to think little or nothing of the event, but it was evident that he was anxious.
Hine-Ra was in deep distress, and conjured up to her imagination all kinds of evil bodings. Had they fallen victims to wicked Atuas? Had they been torn by some terrible wild boar? Had the Taipo, that fearful being that prowls in the bush at night in the form of a gigantic lizard, devoured them? Had they been captured by the Pateas? These and a hundred other questions she tortured herself with, unable to answer any of them.
Richard Burnett, although disinclined to visit the chief's whare after what had transpired the previous evening, hovered about the place, evidently ill at ease, and unable to rest in one place.
Scouts had been sent out in all directions to search the bush far and near. Some had returned, others had not. Nothing had been discovered. There were so many paths, leading in all directions from the pah, that it was impossible to track them. And so the weary day passed, and night drew on apace. Could nothing be done? Nothing but watch and wait.
Tainui, too, was missing, but that was nothing. He was an ill-conditioned sort of fellow, whom nobody cared much about, and who came and went pretty much as he chose, so that nobody thought much of his absence. Still it was strange. But ere yet the declining sun had kissed the Western Wave, one of the lost ones was found. Arawa, a young Maori who had been sent out to search, and struck into the bush in the direction of the ranges, had met, in a deep gorge between the southern spurs of Maunga Taranaki, miles from the pah, Frank Burnett—quite lost in the strange country in which he had found himself, and weary, footsore and hungry—and had conducted him home.
Many were the questions with which he was plied; but he seemed confused, and either unable or unwilling to give a clear account of himself. He had been out on a shooting expedition, had wandered he knew not whither—lost himself, in fact. He had seen nothing of Matariki since the preceding day, when he himself had started to go north along the beach; and he believed Matariki had gone page 39 south. At all events, they had parted promising to meet again at night.
Both the chief and his father seemed to suspect that there was something more—something he was concealing; but, as he appeared to be ill, and troubled, they forebore to press him further at the time.
Later came other news pointing at Matariki. Hepi, one of the searchers, had found a newly-made trail leading beyond the Kaipo-kouni river, and then turning back. This he had tracked back to the stream, when he had come on signs of a recent struggle, and the trampling of many feet. Further down the river, near the mouth, he had found the mark of where a large canoe had been drawn up on the beach.
That was all, but it was amply sufficient to indicate what had occurred. Matariki had been surprised by a party of marauding Pateas, and carried off. Oh! there should be a deep and bitter reckoning for this outrage.
But what had occurred to Frank Burnett, and how had he contrived to extricate himself from the perilous position into which he was plunged by the breaking of the guide rope, and the sudden extinction of his light? He had his flint, steel, and tinder-box, it was true; but the coarse wick of his rude bush lamp was saturated with water, so that that was useless. He did not dare to turn round for fear of missing the direction in which he had been travelling when the accident occurred; and, worse still, he was in a wide part of the chasm, so that he could not guide himself by means of the walls.
He was lost, bewildered, and as helpless as though he had been stricken blind. There was but one chance, namely that he might regain the rope. Without that he was indeed doomed. Nothing could save him from a long and lingering death by starvation—most terrible fate of all—unless he should cut the matter short by blowing his brains out by a shot from his rifle.
But no, life, dear life is sweet, and specially to the young. He would not despair, he would not give up hope. The other part of the cord could not be far distant, and he would make a supreme effort to find it. The lamp, which had fallen at his feet, he easily found, but the rope, the precious, precious rope? He groped in the cold fœtid water and mud until his hands were benumbed, still the cord on which his sole hope of life hung eluded his grasp.
Then another idea struck him: was there no further rope? Was this a deep laid and diabolical plot on the part of Jack Hall and Matutira te Taipo to destroy him, and thus hide the secret of the cave! No, no, a thousand times no.
What if he should find the part of the rope which had fallen from his hand, and retrace his footsteps to the cave? Better die there if need be, in the light of day, than here in this terrible darkness. But if he did, could he roll back the stone that closed the entrance? Alas! he knew not how, and to move that huge rock by mere brute strength were impossible.page 40
Rendered desperate by numerous failures to find the rope, he stepped forward a couple of paces at a venture, sweeping the muddy pool on both sides, and, just as hope was fading out of his heart and brain, he touched something of greater consistency than the thin mud.
Great Heavens! if it should be the rope?
It was, but so rotten, so thoroughly decayed, that it fell into shreds and mingled with the sludge beneath his touch. No matter, it was there. How carefully, inch by inch he followed up that frail guide, until, after half an hour of incessant labor, now losing it, now finding it, and now losing it again, it led him out of the slough of despond in which he had been lost, and upon dry ground, where it once more became firm.
What a revulsion was that from the bitterness of despair to hope again. Let those who have experienced aught similar say; no one else can.
But now, bereft of light, his progress was necessarily slow, for there were unknown dangers and obstructions at every step. The road became more broken and tortuous, now wide, now narrow, now nearly blocked up with broken basalt, now with stalactites, he could only tell the difference by the touch, for although kept on the right track by the rope, he had to grope every foot of the way. It seemed as if he would never reach the end of the labyrinth.
But at length, gleaming dimly before him, at a vast distance, he saw what looked like a small star. Brighter and larger it grew. A blue, then a yellow, then a white light stole in, and, at last, almost blinded by the dazzling rays of the afternoon sun reflected from the white cone of Taranaki above, he emerged from the outlet into the full glare of daylight.
For awhile he was dazed. He wandered hither and thither, he knew not, cared not, whither. It was enough that he had escaped from that horrible den in the bowels of the earth, that he had come back from death to life.
Wandering without object as it were, he had, as has been said, been found by the young searcher, Arawa, and thence conducted to the pah.
The Witch's Cave.
Frank Burnett slept soundly that night in his father's whare, and was up be-times in the morning to join the war party, while his father prepared to accompany the more political deputation, to be called on, if necessary, as a kind of amicus curæ. Frank judged rightly that Hine-Ra would be up in time to see them start, as indeed, were all the women and children of the tribe. He had not an opportunity of speaking much with his father, who, in fact, was glad to avoid the subject, and therefore he knew nothing of the conversation between Richard Burnett and the girl in relation to himself.
Therefore was it that, when he sought her out, and proposed that they should walk apart and converse, he was greatly surprised to find that she met him with cold reserve, and treated him distantly and indifferently.
“What is the matter, Hine-Ra?” he asked.
“Nothing is the matter,” she replied.
“Something is the matter. You are unlike yourself. What have I done to offend you?”
“You have done nothing to offend me.”
“But you are offended at something, I am sure. What is it?”
“Hine-Ra, dear Hine-Ra, let us not part thus. I go to rescue our brother. I may not return. Who knows?”
A quick flush glowed in the girl's dusky cheek, but she replied calmly, “Matariki is not your brother.”
“Not my brother!—What do you mean?”
“I mean that he is not your brother. You are a Pakeha, he is only a Maori.”
“What is that you say?”
“I say to you what your father said to me two nights since.”
“My father said!—What mean you?”
“I mean what your father meant. He told me that you were a Pakeha, and that we were but Maoris, and that therefore between us there could be nothing in common.”
“My father told you that? I do not understand.”
Hine-Ra had not a particle of dissimulation in her composition, and she answered him straightforwardly, and to the point. “Yes, your father spoke to me of you. I told him that I loved you, Paranaki Puraneti, and he said that was wrong, that you were a Pakeha and I a Maori, and that you must not love me, I must not love you.”
“But, Hine-Ra, I do love you.”
“Then you do wrong. Your father is right. You are white, I am page 42 black, The sea-gull must not consort with the Tui. Yes, your father is wise, and he speaks the truth.”
“Listen to me, Hine-Ra. I loved you, as I thought, with the love a brother should bear a sister: I thought so, But my eyes are opened; I look into my heart, and I find I love you with a fonder, dearer, holier affection. I love you, Hine-Ra, as the flower loves the sunshine, as the bird loves its mate. My heart goes out to you as the river flows to the sea. I love you, and would fain make you my wife.”
“It cannot be; your father has said so.”
“It shall be if—if—you, too, love me.”
“If I love you?—if I love—oh! Paranaki, why did you come here? Why did you come?”
“Then you do love me a little bit, after all?”
“The Rangitira Wahine cannot lie. I do love you, Paranaki, and you alone! And yet I must not. Go; you have made me say too much.”
“Yes, in saying that you must not love me. I say you must, and shall. Let me but bring back your brother, our brother, in safety, and then see who shall say me nay.”
A hurried kiss, a whispered vow, and he was gone, leaving Hine-Ra to weep alone, but whether with joy or sorrow she scarcely could tell. Perhaps a little of both.
When Frank Burnett arrived at the Wharekura where the two parties, those of war and peace, were assembling, there was a strange commotion. Jack Hall, the Maori scout, whom he had left the previous day in the cave in the cliffs, had arrived in hot haste on horseback, bringing important news. The Hau-Haus under Hepanaia and Kereopa had broken out in open war, and Te Kooti, another rebel leader, was also in arms devastating the country, murdering the whites and the friendlies, and carrying fire and sword throughout the land.
He was mounting his horse even as Frank came up, and had only just time to call him on one side, and whisper to him, “Ah! you here. You have said nothing about yonder?”
“Not a word.”
“Good. I will see you later. I have given a letter from the English commander to your father. You will know what it contains soon. I have only now heard of this affair with the Pateas. I will see what Jack Hall can do in the matter, if not too late. I must ride like the wind to the Waimate pah. Good bye,” and, so saying he mounted his reeking horse, and gallopped off.