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The Heart of the Bush

Chapter VII. Hine-Nui-Te-Po

page 208

Chapter VII. Hine-Nui-Te-Po.

Great moraines of loose stones are one of the extraordinary features of the New Zealand Alps. They sometimes cover the whole floor of the high vales between the snow ranges and the lower ranges of rock. The lateral moraine stretching the whole length of the glacier up to some frozen mountain is formed by loose shingle stones and fragments of rock on the surface, not level at the top, but forming irregular ridges and long hollows. In some of these the piled stones slightly project and conceal a deep pit or crevasse. So that for one unacquainted with this region, walking on the moraine is almost as dangerous as on the glacier, for without the slightest warning the footing may give way.

Adelaide had only the vaguest sensation of losing grasp of all things as one does in a nightmare. It seemed to her that she went on falling for an incalculable length of time, though in reality it could have been only a few minutes. The shock had almost paralysed her senses, and she made no struggle and was conscious of no physical pain. After a while she partially woke from this state into a twilight of page 209consciousness. She was lying against a rocky boulder that had broken her fall, and she realised that it was a ledge between her and death. Her predominant feeling was wonder at the strangeness of this chance. With an instinctive movement she arranged her dress, then seeing blood upon the sleeve, she wiped it carefully away with her handkerchief. She was surprised not to feel any of the agonies and terrors she had associated with the prospect of death. In the background of her mind was complete assurance that her husband would rescue her, and suggestions of doubt or fear passed only over the surface. Superficially she perceived that there was the chance of her remaining undiscovered, but the one question that really occupied her was the length of time during which she must wait for deliverance. An extraordinary resignation fell on her. The immensity of the forces in that waste of nature silenced all small fretfulness and made resistance futile. In the narrow limits of a sick room, with friends and attendants near, all occupied only with her, an approach of death less near than this might have been full of anxieties, fears, efforts. Here death itself meant mere cessation. Adelaide lifted her eyes questioningly upward, and so kept them fixed for some time. Above her she could see the awful divinities of snow and ice with her frail human life in their power, waiting to crush it out for ever. Yet it was deliverance she page 210expected, not death. What she felt was not despair, but "a faith on trial." And visiting of doubt did come, or else there would have been no trial. She gave one fleeting glance downward into the depths of darkness, then looked up again. On the edge of her stony tomb she saw Tane, sitting with his throat upturned and rigid, howling dismally. Superstitious fear chilled her for a moment. High overhead, a kea screeched, and Adelaide shuddered. The morning when they first reached their valley they had come upon the body of a lamb, its white fleeces stained with blood, while a kea with fierce beak pierced its flesh. Dennis had turned savage in an instant and had shot the kea, then flung it, still palpitating, to his dog to tear, while with a clean cut of his knife he put the dying little creature out of its pain. Adelaide, now watching the hovering bird, recalled this incident plainly. It seemed to her strange that at the time she, seeing it from a little distance off, had not felt anything but a slight thrill of pity and a desire to get away as soon as possible. It had not struck her more than a hunting episode used to do. Now she seemed to see Dennis more vividly than she had done then, standing over the lamb, an extraordinary mixture of savage anger and of kindness in his manner, "O Dennis, come quickly," she suddenly cried, as this image of him rose before her, and a sob escaped her.

Some stones fell rattling from above. page 211Adelaide felt a slight pricking sensation in her forehead, and putting up her hand, she found that she was cut there too, and tried to wipe the blood away, but her handkerchief was already too much spotted and dyed. A childish anxiety seized her lest Dennis should see her disfigured, and a childish sense of helplessness. Just for a few moments she trembled with suppressed sobs—the bride of a fortnight suddenly thrown out of the world and entombed in this grey pit. A passing shadow of fear came on her. Was this, perhaps, the fate foreshadowed by those anticipations that had visited even her bridal night? Then the mountains hushed her again, and she lay quite still waiting, questioning the sky. An utter faith grew on her as her body became weaker. Only the time seemed so long. The snow in the heights flushed, and the red glow crept even to the hollow. Then a cold light held all the atmosphere, and the hollow grew dimmer and more chilly. She heard the dog howling over her and closed her eyes. When would her husband come?