The Web of the Spider
Chapter XV. Upon the Heels of Kaimoana
Chapter XV. Upon the Heels of Kaimoana.
The hut showed plainly in the falling light, and a dozen paces to the front lay a confused figure beneath the darker shadow of a stack of firewood.
"What hellish sounds!" said Foster. "Don't go near."
"It is the cry of the Hauhaus," said Matuku suddenly.
"Hauhaus!" he cried, and, striding up, bent over the obscure body.
It was the surveyor, crouched upon his knees and doubled upon the earth, the fragile humanity contorted moat horribly. Yet 'twas rather at the sounds than at the sight that he shrank away in horror. The poor creature appeared to foam at the mouth, grovelling as he uttered the inhuman noises Palliser now caught distinctly.
It was—"Hau, hau, hau, hau! Pai marire, hau, hau!" and "Hau, hau! Pai marire, hau, hau!" and again "Hau, hau!" infinitely repeated.page 226
Palliser lifted him from the ground, but he fell back stiffly, as the dog falls to its vomit, scrabbling in his beard and crying like a ghoul. Palliser stepped back to the others.
"It's the cry of the Hauhaus," said Matuku again.
"Hauhaus!" echoed Palliser. "Poor devil! they've driven him out of his mind."
"What are we to do?" asked Foster uneasily.
"What can we do but wait till he comes to his senses? The fit has not lasted long as a rule."
Doglike, the figure fawned upon the earth, uttering its horrid cries till the madness passed, and then got upon its feet and came rolling towards them. His gaze was lowered to the ground, and he would have gone by unheeding had not Palliser put a detaining hand upon him. The wretch swung round and brought up dizzily, facing Foster. For a moment he stared fearfully, and then burst out,
"What are you doing here, you, you? I know your plans. Turn him out. You have tracked me here. I will loose the devils upon you. You shall not find it. I have it hidden away. Go!—I will loose the devils upon you."
He ceased in exhaustion, and tottered into Palliser's arms.
"No," he whispered, directing his skeleton hand at Foster, "you shall find nothing, nothing. I have the maps carefully concealed. Ho, ho!" he chuckled, "I know their ways. On California, on Bendigo, on Otago, on Tauranga—I know them all. Forty years, gentle-page 227men, forty years about the world." He nodded his head, muttering and chuckling, and seemed to have forgotten their presence.
"We must put him in the hut," said Palliser; "for to-night, at any rate."
They left him babbling in his security, and retraced their way to their companions, whom they put in possession of the uncomfortable facts.
"This also is the doing of the spirits of the mountain," commented Matuku. "Friends, the fate has fallen on one already. Why shall it spare us?"
"Oh, foolish Matuku," said Palliser. "Have I not made a friend of this madman? And does the atua touch one without his senses? No; it is plain to a sensible man that atua spares the madman, and the friends of the madman. It is the doing of the Hauhaus, as you yourself have said."
"This is too horrible," said Ida, with a shudder. "Poor old man! What has made him mad, do you think?"
"Undoubtedly it was a shock received from the Hauhaus. They're hideous devils, if all be true. You noticed how terror-stricken he was at the name of the Ngatiawas; they're the bulk of the Hauhaus. And then there's this chief, Te Katipo. He seems to be a terrible creature according to Matuku."
"But do you think his daughter——?"
"Yes, I think it is only too probable. She has been killed by them in some massacre, and he escaped mad."page 228
"It is the cry of the Hauhaus," murmured Matuku to himself.
"Come," said Palliser; "we have lost three days wandering round the mountain, and now we have a madman on our hands. We seem to be cursed throughout. My luck has always been of the vilest. Miss Caryll, you might have done better with the Ngatiawas."
"Better?" she cried breathlessly, "better?" staring after him in wonder.
The night was spent uneasily, for the winds rose in the upper ravines and came sweeping down the mountain, howling at the crevices in the hut. Their fury was supremely dismal as they burst and shrieked and bellowed in the ears, and rushed round the building, tearing and crackling and rattling among the firewood. Now and then a branch snapped sharply in the bush behind, and when all these sounds subsided they could hear the unceasing mumblings of the poor wild-wit in his corner. He talked of many things coherently and incoherently, but chiefly of gold and gold-fields, till it became plain to them that the monomania of the solitary digger entered largely into his madness. Here was a human body long tenanted by an unbalanced soul, and now, by subsequent misfortune, the house of ravings, whereof the ghastly deeds of war, the horrors of the Hauhaus, and an irremediable lunacy of gold were chiefly constituent.
On the morrow they had their inscrutable destiny to face, which they did with sore misgivings and a little bitterness on Palliser's part. They were no better for-page 229tuned than on the day of their issue from the darker bush; worse even for their lack of hope. But the mastermind of the party had been busy in the night, and was prepared with some uncertain calculations which must serve for direction. There ran, he remembered, a southerly road from the jaws of Te Tauru, where he and the Maoris had turned off by the blazed track. As this must reach to some end, it seemed likely to pass in the neighbourhood. Assuredly, it lay not westward of Hine-te-ao, else they had struck it already in their cruel wanderings. Matuku, on being questioned, discovered a knowledge that this track (though he had never traveled it) was reputed to lead southwards into the fastnesses of the Hauhaus, and if so it could not be so very far to the east of the mountain. They must, therefore, work to that quarter in the hope of hitting upon it. Travel in the bush where birds abounded was not the dreadful affair it had been in the dead wilderness; so they looked to escape the evils of starvation. It was true the party was now encumbered with a sixth, and that a lunatic, but to leave him were an inhumanity, and one more mouth no great addition to their inconveniences. The wretched wild-wit had become mild and tractable by the morning; he offered no objections to their arrangements, but obeyed placidly and in silence, nor gave any occasion for concern; for though he still muttered, it was only at odd times, and in the most docile of humours. So they set out upon their march once more; and it was now the tenth day since Palliser left the hands of Kaimoana.page 230
There was nothing notable in their journey eastward. They marched all day in a drenching rain, which penetrated the open bush and wet them to the skin. The most part of their way was through luxuriant ferns of all kinds, rising like a dwarf forest of bracken half-way up their bodies. At the first this covering was protective to their lower parts, being dry and warm, but as they went on the rain sank through the ferns, and gathered in a heavy dew upon the fronds, so that even when the storm passed and the sun came out, they had no opportunity of drying, for they were soaked continuously to the hips, as though wading in water. Miss Caryll suffered perhaps more than the others, for she had only her long stockings clothing her to the knee, and the petticoats were at once too high and too low for commodious progress in the ferns. But at the end of the day they struck the track at right angles, and had the delight of turning their faces northwards and to home. They encamped but an hour's journey up the track, choosing a spot a little in the bush, where the trees had formed the amplest shelter from the rain.
Their night alarms had been so constant of late that Palliser fell asleep uneasily, and woke in the dusk of morning, hearing voices, with no feeling of surprise. He stole across the belt between them and the track, and found Matuku bent low over the earth.
"What is it now?" he asked.
"Maniapoto," said the Maori, holding up a warning hand.
The tramp of feet could be heard close by, and they page 231both slipped to the rear of a hush. Immediately afterwards a band of Maoris, fully armed, swept round a bend of the track, and went past at a quick rate. In their centre was a tall figure with nodding head-plumes, just visible in the growing light.
Palliser fell back a step as he passed.
"Good heavens," he muttered; "Kaimoana!"
"Kaimoana," said Matuku, with an air of concern. "The Maniapoto of Matapihi are on the war-path."
"Where are they going?" asked Palliser.
"How can I say? What enemies have the Maniapotos save the Pakeha? It is plain that Kaimoana should be going to fight the Pakehas, and swallow them up. But he is wise. Perhaps it is to a great council he is going."
"Parihera, southward lie the Hauhaus. Is not the Maniapoto going southward? But is Te Katipo to talk and not to fight? No, he will talk and fight too. How do I know the counsels of Te Katipo?"
"You have always Te Katipo in your mouth," said Palliser.
"Perhaps, after all, I do not like the taste of him," returned the Maori. "See, I spit him out. He is brave as the Maori and cunning as the Pakeha. But there is no mercy in him. He is a wise man and the rats he catches do not go home to tell their brothers."
Palliser in the deepest thought looked along the avenue down which the war-party had vanished. Till now he page 232had been bent only upon escaping out of the country with the girl and the old man. But this sudden passage of the Maniapoto chief had enlivened all his anterior prejudices; he remembered his distrust, his ancient resolve, his quest and his mission of vengeance. Where was this old knave speeding? To the Hauhaus, doubtless, to bruit new schemes for the outrage of the accursed Pakeha; perhaps to fight and ravage in the south. There revived in him the latent adventurousness which had given him the office of avenger; and quickly he hurled to the ground the tutu-berries he had been unconsciously gathering in his meditations, crying, "By the Lord, I'll do it."
The others had not been disturbed, nor did Palliser rouse them, but got into his blankets again for a couple of hours' sleep.
The secret of his expedition was known only to himself; hitherto he had been content that Foster and Miss Caryll, as well as the Maoris, should understand that he was searching for his old mate. The gold, and the strange mysteries connected with it, he had spoken of to neither. Since the rescue of the girl she had heard from him as much as he deemed it advisable to tell her; that Caryll had been a Pakeha-Maori (which, indeed, was in her own knowledge), that he had summoned his friend to his deathbed, that when Matapihi was reached, he had disappeared—gone, according to the tale of the chief, upon a journey to the south. Aotea's story was also known to Ida, who was therefore aware that the fates of Ihirua and of her father were page 233involved together in the same obscurity. She did not remember Caryll, unless a dim picture of a bearded man—whether fair or dark, tall or short, she could not say—may be called a remembrance. Of her mother, too, she had faint memories, but of an insensible charm. The father had been a name to her, the name of a mysterious outcast, to whom at first she had held affectionately through good and evil report as to a man misunderstood who loved her; but, as later, the hopeless vagabondage of this unseen and silent parent rose before her maturer mind, she had impulses of distaste, days of irritation and doubt, until finally he appeared in other proportions, of a husband who had betrayed his trust, a father who had forgotten. The news of his dying brought before her a sudden apparition of paternity, and the strangeness of it melted her, even heated her into a quick enthusiasm. The voice out of past time touched her curiously, calling back that bearded face with a hundred different expressions. It stooped to her at nights ere she fell asleep, stirring in her rash zeal for the material appearance of it. This it was, no less than the new filial duty, despatched her upon her wild adventure. But of his last thoughts for her, of his history and possessions, of the secret store of gold, she knew nothing, nor that Palliser had any further duty than to trace his helpless comrade to his end at the hand of some implacable Maori, or fell disease. To her mind this office of his made him a romantic figure; from the first moment of their acquaintance, when he pulled her from the horse and out page 234of the power of the Ngatiawas, she had been a little awed by his forcefulness, and his abruptness and remoteness intensified this feeling. She could measure Foster, her faithful henchman, who ran precipitately into all evils on her behalf; but Palliser stood apart from her, with his reserve, his downrightness, his over-mastery, and his knowledge. Being of an errant will herself, she had rebelled at first against his cynical indifference, had been piqued by his insensibility, but with her indignation was a pervading admiration of his superior manliness; and even in the few days she had grown to accept his word as the law of her actions, though resenting so chill a control.
But Palliser had decided that the hour was come for a complete confidence. He saw that Foster could be trusted to the death, and he saw, too, that it would be unreasonable to take further risks without a full revelation of his object. He put his plans before them at the morning meal.
"Foster," he said, "I have some facts I want you and Miss Caryll to understand. The Maniapotos know no English, and as for the poor lunatic, he is of no consequence. But this concerns both of you."
"Fire away," exclaimed Foster, lighting his pipe.
Ida drew closer, with her eyes fastened expectantly upon him. Somehow his confidential tone filled her with a pleasant sense of anticipation.
"Miss Caryll, you are aware that I was your father's 'chum' on the goldfields. That's a good many years ago. I lost sight of him for twelve years after we page 235parted. I've told you that before. But you don't quite know how I came to enter on this business."
"My father sent for you."
"Yes; but for a reason you know nothing of. It wasn't sentiment with Lance Caryll, nor a desire to see my pretty face, though naturally he did get a bit sick for the sight of a white man on his deathbed. But there was another reason. He'd got gold."
"Gold!" cried Foster.
"Yes, a fairish heap of gold, collected over many years in sundry odd 'pockets,' I imagine. This money was to go to you, Miss Caryll, and he didn't know how to manage it surrounded by niggers; so he sent for me. That's the long and short of it."
Foster whistled. "Where is it?" he asked.
"Ah, that's the question, and in that question your father's fate is really involved."
With that he gave a concise account of his discoveries and his suspicions, telling of Kaimoana, of the disappearance of Parekura, and his inferences from the night journey of Caryll and Ihirua as set forth by Aotea.
"So you see," he concluded, "this is a complicated job. Suspicion points to Kaimoana as being the assassin of Ihirua, and the robber of the gold. Your father's last letter hinted his fears of that. Now, my theory all along has been that Kaimoana instigated the attack, if he did not personally conduct it, and that the map of directions as to the hiding-place of the gold fell into his hands. Parekura, according to Caryll's letter and page 236Aotea's evidence, was a faithful friend of your father; and his disappearance just before the dispatch of the letter of directions (which, mind you, was to have come by his hand) would go to prove that Kaimoana, reckoning him dangerous, got him removed. Whether he is dead or whether he merely went back to his tribe, as Aotea thinks, is a mystery, as it is a mystery what has become of Ihirua and Caryll."
The girl had listened with the keenest attention, and her eyes sparkled as, breaking the pause which ensued, she said, "Why, then, do you tell us this, Mr. Palliser?"
"Because," said he, "I intend to solve the mysteries."
"What—when we get to Matapihi?" asked Foster.
"No; before then, I hope. When we get to Kaimoana."
"Passed us last night in the darkness."
"Taipo! Taniwha!" exclaimed Foster, pulling his pipe from his mouth.
"While you were sleeping peacefully, Miss Caryll, and Foster was snoring, I doubt not—Kaimoana and his men went by us some four hours ago."
"South?" said Foster, staring across the bush.
"Precisely, and there we must follow, if we want to solve the mystery."
"But—but—that's the Hauhau country, by thunder!" said Foster, looking doubtfully at Ida.
"So I understand."
"The little gel——"page 237
"The little girl," broke in Ida, with, a display of excitement, "will follow, too, if Mr. Palliser thinks fit. It isn't the gold—I don't care for that—but supposing he should not be dead, but a prisoner among the Maoris? I too will follow, if I may, and—and——"
"I told you she was a spirited little gel," whispered Foster, nudging Palliser, with a grin on his face; "but Lord, why should you run any fresh risks? This fit of devil-may-care got you into that mess with the Ngatiawas, Miss Caryll. You let us go on and do the business; don't you meddle in these nasty mix-ups."
"And what's to become of me, then?" asked Ida.
Foster hesitated. "Well," he said, "that's rather a snorter. I dunno' where we could put you."
"I must go too," she said decidedly.
"She must go too," assented Palliser.
When Matuku heard of the new plans he was indignant, and remonstrated freely. His cautious, gloomy nature discerned no hope for so fatuous a venture.
"You are mad," he said plainly to Palliser. "The madness of the old fool has come upon you, as I said. You are the second; and we shall all perish. This is because we scoffed at the Taniwha and the spirits of Hine-te-ao."
"The way is open to you," returned Palliser; "you may return."
"That is the advice of a coward. I do not return when my friends go forward. But, perhaps, you will believe yourself a fool some day. The Hauhaus are strong and well-armed; they are also many. Is it not page 238a fool who would go against them, when there are only three and the women, and a madman? The dogs jump into the darkness, but there is a shark waiting for them."
Palliser had grown tired of the croakings of this raven, so made no answer; but found a sudden adherent in Aotea. The Maoris had kept much to themselves since the additions to the party; but Aotea had throughout exhibited a taciturn temper. The Maori is by nature cheerful, but sombre in the graver crises of life; and the Maori woman is especially given to sorrow. She has ever an eye for a lamentation, and the underlying melancholy of the race comes oftenest to the surface in her. When she parts from a friend she weeps; and when she greets the long absent she celebrates the reunion with tears. Aotea possessed by a desire of vengeance—the dominant passion in barbarous races—was as gloomy and tenacious as her lover was of habit. Her affections, being set upon the duty of revenge, had scarcely room for Matuku, while the Pakehas were in her eyes mere instruments, though with one she had a common lot. If Palliser would consent to aid her pursuit of justice she was content to co-operate in his plans also.
"Peace, peace!" she said to Matuku. "You have no right to a word in this journey. It is mine and Pariha's. He is brave, and I am cunning. Between us we shall escape the Hauhaus. There is no match for the cunning of a woman."
This ended the controversy, and setting their faces page 239southward, they hastened upon the trail of Kaimoana.
A day's march at ease brought the motley company into a region of barren hills, through which they wound by defiles to a smaller forest beyond. The old man was still quiet, giving no trouble, nor paying the least attention to what went on around him. He took his food when it was given him, turned in to sleep when he was ordered, and set out when he was requested, with all the appearance of intelligence and rationality. On one occasion, when the talk had got excited, he caught up the word "Hauhau," bandied so freely about, and went on breathing it to himself, repeating a thin echo of the words he had gabbled on the mountain. It seemed almost that he had become too feeble to rave, and that senility, not insanity, prevailed with him; though his gait showed nothing of physical weakness, and he trotted on bravely, with a long staff in his hand.
The hunt thus renewed had turned Palliser from his old reticence; he grew vivacious, and showed traits he had never shown before, jesting idly upon any topic in his mind. Foster, whom nothing could depress from his even humour, displayed, nevertheless, a more sober spirit than his chief, for he was haunted by the perils in which this expedition might involve his charge. Palliser laughed as he walked side by side with the girl, saying,
"I'm afraid Foster thinks us very wild and foolish. He looks upon you as a daughter—usurping my privileges."page 240
"Yours," she said, with, a faint smile of surprise.
"Yes. Didn't your father leave me your guardian, young lady?"
"My father may not be dead," she said soberly.
"True," he returned, after a pause, unwilling to disturb the hope he knew she cherished. "Still, I am your guardian meanwhile, whom you must obey."
"I have obeyed you," she said gaily.
"On the whole, pretty well for a woman. Observe, I don't say girl any longer."
She looked at him as if in doubt whether to take him seriously, then laughed a little.
"You're not so very old, you know," she said.
"I am ancient beside you, my dear," he replied. "I've been on the world a long time, Miss Caryll—sixteen years; and my life's not been an easy one."
"It's curious to think of your being on the diggings with my father."
"He was eight years my senior. We had strange experiences, very strange." He looked at her meditatively. "I'm sometimes inclined to think this buffeting about the world doesn't do a man any good. But it's destiny. What else can one do if there's no money in the family? And there was precious little in mine. But I don't know that it's wholesome. Why bless you, I've lived as long as three years without seeing a woman—that is, I mean, a lady."
"No wonder you were afraid of being encumbered with one, then," she said slyly.page 241
"Oh, you have forgiven that phrase," he replied, smiling.
"When he smiles," reflected Ida, "he is perfectly charming. Then you don't think me a nuisance?" she asked.
He laughed. "I haven't said so," said he; and then, looking at her, he went on, "Do you know, there's something of Lance Caryll in your face. I can't quite identify it, but there's a trick in it reminds me of poor Lance."
"I'm glad of that," she said, but she did not know why, unless it was that her daughterhood was growing dearer to her.
At midday they were in a thick bush, going slowly, for the condition of the track informed them of the recent passage of men. They deemed themselves to be quite in the neighbourhood of the enemy, and so it was resolved to diverge a little from the track in order to rest and make observations. About two or three hundred paces inwards they found a spot among nikau palms, well shaded from the sun, where they halted for some time. The day was extremely hot, and the march had tired them to such an extent that both Foster and Miss Caryll nodded a little as they lay half covered in the long ferns. Even Palliser, who was anxious to be alert, felt somewhat drowsy, and could not hold his ears attentive, according to his custom. But presently, when they had been stationary an hour, he saw Matuku lift his head, and heard a whisper of warning. Turning slightly in the direction in which the Maniapoto was page 242gazing, he thought he detected the sound of footsteps. He put a hand on Foster, and murmured,
"Pull yourself together. There's something forward here."
At the same moment, from another part of the bush, came the crack of a snapped twig. Ida started, and opened her eyes.
"Hush!" Palliser. "Lie down close among the ferns, all of you;" and he repeated the command in Maori.
Old Mayhew was seated, gazing into the sky with the meaningless expression of the imbecile, and Palliser took him by the arm and pulled him back among the ferns. There was nothing now to be heard, and after a few anxious minutes, Palliser had almost come to the conclusion that the sounds had been due to the wind straying through the trees, or to the movements of some creature. But suddenly there was a sharp report, and in an instant the bush was loud with noise. Guns were discharged on all sides of them, and they could hear the bullets rattling through the branches, and striking against the tree-trunks.
What could they be firing at? Palliser wondered; and, twisting his head round, he was astounded to see the upper parts of a Maori peeping over a pepper-tree as he levelled his gun towards the underwood behind them. The smoke curled out of the barrel, but the report was lost in the mêlée of sounds. There was a gasp and a groan in the undergrowth, and a Maori fell through the bushes to the very edge of the ferns.page 243
Matuku wriggled forward by Palliser, and stared at the dead man.
"Arawa," he murmured in Palliser's ear.
"Arawa!" said the Englishman, with a start. "The Arawas are friendly natives."
"Can we get to them?" asked Foster, who had screwed himself round to communicate with his leader.
"No; if there's any movement we shall have the fire directed here from both quarters. We must wait and see what happens. For heaven's sake, see that Miss Caryll's all right."
"Leave her to me," said Foster, squirming back again.
All this time the firing went on over their heads. Sunk in the long fern, and sheltered by loose bushes, they were invisible to both the contending parties; yet their position was by no means without danger. A bullet passed just over Palliser's head, tearing through the fronds, and another flattened on the base of a pine, and dropped by Matuku. The combatants were shouting and firing from all parts of the bush, and the comparatively open space where the party had taken refuge was raked by the fusilade. Neither the Arawas nor their opponents ventured out of concealment; but now and then a man popped from behind a tree or a bush, and, having discharged his gun, fell back. Palliser could see, among the foes of the Arawas, a lithe man of middle height, with red head-plumes, dodging from tree to tree and bush to bush, and firing each time with the greatest coolness and deliberation. He and his companions gradually drew nearer, and it appeared page 244as if the Arawas were giving way. Indeed, the fire from the opposing party grew fiercer each moment, and their shouts louder and stronger.
While engaged in watching, with anxiety, the progress of the enemy, Palliser felt his elbows touched, and turning, found the old surveyor at his side.
"See," he cried, pointing his finger; "they are coming; oh, they are coming. Hau, hau, hau, hau! Pai marire! Hau, hau!"
"Silence," said Palliser sternly, pulling him down.
At that moment the Arawas turned and fled, and the noise of their retreat could be heard fading quickly into the bush. The others raised a cry of exultation, and dashed out from their hiding-places. Half a dozen were rushing direct towards the fern.
"We must run, we must run," said Palliser hoarsely. "It's the only chance. Up, and run!"
They were upon their feet simultaneously, Foster clutching Ida with his big arms. As they rose, a shout of astonishment went up from the Maoris at the sudden apparition out of the ground.
"Look, look!" cried Aotea excitedly. "Parekura! Parekura!"
A dozen guns were levelled at them; one shot had whipped by Foster's ear; when, turning swiftly at Aotea's voice, the lithe man, whom Palliser had noticed and who was in the foreground to the left, glanced hurriedly at them, and then, running forward, held up his hands to his party.
"Stop!" he cried.page 245
The Maoris lowered their guns. All had passed in a flash, and Palliser and the others faltered in the act of flight. The lithe man turned from his Maoris, and faced them. There was a hideous squeal in Palliser's ear, ringing like a death-cry—
"Te Katipo! Te Katipo!" shrieked the madman, and, breaking from the centre of them, he fled howling into the bush.