The Web of the Spider
Chapter XX. Dawn in Puketea
Chapter XX. Dawn in Puketea.
Palliser pushed through the smoke into the open marae, where the air was comparatively clear. Here the Hauhaus had made their last rally, and the courtyard was thick with bodies, but held no living soul. Moved by a sudden inspiration, he entered the whare, which he recognised as Te Katipo's, through a battered doorway. As he did so there was a slight cry, and the next moment Ida had rushed into his arms.
"Take me from here!" she cried; "take me from here! Thank God, you can take me away now. I was j waiting for you. Oh, the hideous sights I've seen. Let me get away, please. I knew you'd come."
"You're safe," said Palliser eagerly. "What! you've been through all that?" pointing to the slaughter-yard without. "Poor child!"
"Yes, yes," she said, burying her face in her hands as she leant against him. "My hut took fire, and I broke through the door and there was fighting everywhere, so I crept in here, and had to watch horrible things."
"Poor child!" said Palliser again. "It is over now, page 318and we've nothing to do but get away from this accursed place. Come, there is no danger now. Why, what are these?" he asked, as, lifting her towards the door, his arm pressed something hard in her bosom.
She drew two revolvers from her bodice. "I found them in the whare," she said, with a piteous little smile, "and I kept them to use if necessary."
"They're mine," he said; "God forbid you should have to use them, child. What guided me here, I wonder? Thank God! Come."
Seizing his arm Ida passed out into the marae, and they penetrated towards the eastern gate of Puketea. Here they were startled by a voice shouting to them in English, and, turning, saw Foster running down upon them, a most uncomely sight with dust and blood.
"Hullo, Pariha," he shouted at the top of his voice. "I reckoned you were in this job, and the little gel, too, safe and sound. This is a smart business all round, and the way you cut through those howling devils on the outworks was a sight."
"I'm glad you're all right," said Palliser. "Come, let us get out of this abominable graveyard."
"Hold on a bit! I've a message for you from the old traitor, Te Katipo. Here it is, but I don't know what it's all about." So saying, he extracted a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to Palliser.
The latter looked at it, started, stared at it again, and then turned to Foster who was jauntily knocking the dust from his shirt sleeves.page 319
"How did lie give you this?" he asked excitedly.
Foster stared. "Why, old chap, what's the row? Is it particular?"
"This, man, this—why, this is the paper of directions Caryll sent to me—the paper that was stolen from Ihirua."
"What!" cried Foster, "the plan of the gold-mine?"
"Even so. This is the paper for which we have been searching so long."
"My father!" cried Ida wonderingly.
"These are the instructions sent with the letter. See."
Ida bent over the fragment, upon which characters, now faint and blotchy, were obscurely visible.
"Three feet in the heart of the only hollow at the base of the south wall of the limestone strait, which lies midway between the first and the second cave beyond the fall going from the east upon the northern face of Hine-te-ao, twenty miles by the south road from Matapihi."
Foster whistled softly as Ida read, in tremulous tones, these the last lines penned by her dead father.
"Then the old Tartar was square after all," he cried, when she had finished.
"It looks like it," said Palliser. "But you have told me nothing yet. How came Te Katipo to give it to you?"
"Well, it was just before I broke out. I was in that whare with the white wig, trying to make out what all the row was, and I heard your guns thundering away, page 320and Hauhaus had been skedaddling past at a terrific rate ever since the first shot woke me up. It was mighty dark and I could see nothing, and I didn't know whether my guards were at the door or not. So I hammered away, shouting my hardest; and presently the door flung open and in came Te Katipo himself, with a smutch of blood on his face.
"'What the devil's this?' says I.
"'Friend,' he says, as far as I could make out his beastly lingo, 'we're in a tight hole; the Arawas have the bulge on us. My accursed Hauhaus have been playing pranks in the idea they're immortal. But they ain't, and the Arawas' lead's getting pretty thick. Look here,' he says, 'the ungrateful Pariha's bolted.'
"'Good man,' says I. 'He's a devil to tackle,' I says. 'I'd 'a done the same if I'd had his chances.'
"He took no notice of me, but went on in an injured kind of tone.
"'He wouldn't trust the faith of a Maori,' he says, 'but what was I bothering about but to help Kariri's friend. And I had to keep him fixed in because of my men. I'd have done him a good turn,' he says, and looks at me steady in the dark light.
"Says I, 'You went a funny way about it, but let me out of this rat-trap.'
"'Wait a bit,' he says. 'What was it Pariha said to me about Kaimoana? I told him he lied when he said bad things of Kaimoana, who was my friend and ally. But there are sad things to find out in life, and though I have done with Pariha, who ran away from me and page 321distrusted me, yet I'll do the daughter of Kariri, my old chum, a good turn.'
"'And that's letting her go,' said I smartly.
"'She shall go,' he answers, 'but Kariri is worth more than that. Though Kaimoana is on my side and I am against the Pakeha for to make New Zealand a nation, I'll tell the whole truth.'
"'Speak up,' says I.
"'When Pariha said hard things of Kaimoana, I shook my head and laughed. But Kaimoana is a strange man, and he did strange things in the camp, and he would not come out and face Pariha, though I told him what was being said of him. Kaimoana is my ally, but I thought him queer; so I watched him.'
"At this moment a hand-grenade came whizzing upon the roof of the whare, and the raupo flared up.
"'Friend,' he says,' things are getting had. Hear the end of my tale that you may know I was the friend of Kariri. I set a watch on the whare of Kaimoana, seeing that I found him so queer, and behold they brought me this.' And he outs with the scrap of paper. 'Now,' he says, 'judge you, Pakeha, whether this is the writing of Kariri. I have done a good turn to the daughter of Kariri, and I meet death with my blundering Hauhaus.'
"And without another word he turned and went out of the whare, and I heard him singing out down the lanes. The hut was getting too hot for me by this time, so I cleared pretty smart myself, and, seizing a gun, page 322mowed through 'em as best I could towards the Arawas, for I had a notion you were among 'em."
"This is a wonderful game," said Palliser; "but we seem to have the tricks at last. Come on."
"Where are you making for?" asked Foster.
"We're going to ram this tale down Kaimoana's throat, if he hasn't joined Te Katipo already in Reinga."
Taking hold of Ida's arm, Palliser picked his way among the black ruins of the whares, and between dead, unsightly bodies, towards the corner of the Maniapoto camp where he had last seen the old chief. He scarcely expected to find him alive, but was for the moment stirred by a great impulse of vengefulness towards this hoary ruffian. The fires in Puketea had now burnt low, and a dense smoke rising from the ashes filled the heaven. A silence brooded on the desolate scene, for the Arawas had broken across the plains in pursuit of the fugitive Hauhaus, and only the dead and the dying remained. Now and then the sight of a crawling, writhing wretch sent a shudder through Ida, or a dismal groan from out a pack of charred bodies made her breath catch with a gasp in her throat. They had not gone far when an old Maori woman wriggled out of a roofless hut in front, and spat savagely at them.
"What are you doing here, you accursed Pakehas?" she shrieked. "You have brought all this desolation upon us. We were happy till the white ships came, and the Pakeha devils. You have bought the Arawas with your gold. Curses on you! Where are my sons page 323and grandsons, who sustained me? Where are those of the hapu of Hainguturu? All dead, all dead!" And bursting into a fit of weeping, she covered her face with her mat.
"God help her!" whispered Ida, shivering.
At the corner of the camp, in the heart of the black desolation between the smoking whares, they came upon a figure squatting with bent head upon the earth.
"It is Kaimoana," said Palliser quickly. "See!"
"Is he alive?" asked Foster.
They went a few steps closer to the figure, which sat folded in its mantle with the huia plume singed and drooping, and the grey hair sprinkled with ashes fallen from the ruins.
Kaimoana lifted his face from the wrappings and stared at the ground.
"Curse the foul Maniapoto," growled Foster.
Then running from the right came suddenly upon the scene one whom, on the instant, turning at the sound, they did not recognise. It was Aotea, with widely-dilated eyes, sunken cheeks, and bare tumultuous bosom. She trailed a broken musket by the bayonet, and dashed straight to Palliser.
"Where is Ihirua's murderer?" she cried, and her eyes were as those of one distraught.
"There he sits," said Palliser, pointing to the Maniapoto.
Aotea turned her wild gaze upon the motionless chief, and her shrunken frame trembled violently, so that the gun rattled upon the stones. Kaimoana moved not.page 324
"Run him through!" said Foster angrily, to the Maori girl.
"For God's sake nothing before the child," cried Palliser hastily.
Aotea still stared at the chief, shaking like an aspen, and at last he looked up and his cavernous eyes rested upon her.
"What do you, daughter, among the enemies of our race?" he asked, in deep sepulchral tones.
Aotea made no sign.
"She is on a mission of vengeance," said Palliser, fixing a stern glance upon the Maniapoto. "She is come to slay the murderer of Ihirua, whom you slew with Kariri."
Kaimoana was silent for a time; then he said, "Is Ihirua dead and Kariri?"
"Why do you feign ignorance," said Palliser, "you who have slain them?"
Kaimoana turned his gaze upon the speaker.
"I have sat to see the end of my people and my hopes," he said, in a melancholy voice. "Why do you buzz about me like flies? I know nothing of Kariri and Ihirua."
"Salutations to you, O chief," said Palliser mockingly. "Listen. Many days ago you sent out and slew Ihirua for gold—for the gold of Kariri—to whom you pretended friendship. There was a message on the body of Ihirua, and you slew her and robbed her of the message which would give gold."
"The Pakeha, has a lying tongue. His words are page 325foolishness," said Kaimoana, without the vestige of emotion.
"Does he lie?" said Palliser, his voice ringing with scorn. "Behold what was found in the whare of the great chief! Behold the message of Kariri which was on the body of Ihirua!"
He flaunted the scrap of paper in the face of the Maori, who gazed at him without blinking.
"Who has bolstered your tale up with lies?" he asked quietly.
"We know the truth. It was Te Katipo who found this in your whare. Your villainy is proved."
Kaimoana started and, putting forth a hand, took the paper, examining it carefully.
"Was it Te Katipo told you this?" he asked, with a curious intonation.
Kaimoana sat a long while wrapt in thought, and then glancing up, he addressed Aotea, who had not taken her eyes from him.
"Where is Ihirua, my daughter?"
"She is dead," cried Aotea mournfully. "I desire to find her murderer. On the night of the day on which Kariri was sick, and I nursed him, someone killed her. I saw her go into the dark night. I am looking for the murderer, I and Pariha."
"Did Te Katipo read what was written on this paper?" asked the chief.
"Te Katipo knows no English," said Palliser.page 326
"Te Katipo knows the speech of the Pakeha," returned Kaimoana.
Palliser said nothing, but stared into the distance.
"Te Katipo told you a wonderful tale," continued the old man, "but it was wrong of him to tell you lies. He should not have said he found this paper in my whare. I know no English. What should I want with the paper? Te Katipo was unjust to me. He was a strong man and fought well, but he was a liar. He repaid me badly, for I befriended him when he fled from the Ngatiawas because of the woman Raurika. That was not good either. He came to me and they called him Parekura, which was a good name. He was a strong man, and he penetrated down into the Waikato when the war was there and the Kawana's soldiers were fighting the Waikatos. He came back to Matapihi with a band of Waikatos of a northern hapu. Their homes were broken up by the Pakehas at Patuka, and after Maungatautari they escaped to me; and they lived in Matapihi. I befriended them. When Te Katipo left, his Waikatos remained behind, but presently they, too, left. It was unjust of Te Katipo to spread this lying tale about me."
"Stay," said Palliser suddenly. "What is this about Waikatos? When did they leave Matapihi?"
"A moon ago, after the Pakeha himself came into Matapihi as a rat. On the same night they left."
Palliser fell to staring again at the horizon in the west, now bright with the sunlight.
"It was not good of Te Katipo," repeated the chief, page 327in his deep basal notes. "But a man does not know all that is another's heart. It is true, daughter," he went on, regarding Aotea fixedly, "it is true that it is the duty of a sister to avenge the death of a sister. It is also the duty of the hapu. I say the death of Ihirua must be avenged by the hapu on the head of the murderer. I, Kaimoana, have said it."
"The murderer is dead," said Palliser suddenly, bringing his eyes back to the group.
Kaimoana made no answer.
A slight cry sounded from Palliser's left, and turning quickly, he saw Ida totter. He jumped forward and caught her.
"She has fainted," said Foster anxiously. "This is too much for her."
"Let us leave this place," said Palliser shortly.
They carried the unconscious girl out of the smoke and savour of death to the green hillside beyond the pah, where the cool morning air revived her; and then slowly descended the hill to the creek. Here they rested, a heavy gloom upon the party.
"What do you make of it all?" asked Foster presently. "Why do you say the murderer is dead?"
"I've been the tool," said the other, "of as crafty a scoundrel as ever stepped God's world. Even now I don't pretend to understand it. But one thing is clear to me at last. Te Katipo is the man we have been looking for."
"Ay, the hundred-faced rascal; even he. Kaimoana's page 328innocence is written on his face. Idiot that I was, ever to have distrusted him and favoured the other."
"By gum this is a discovery."
With the pale girl beside them and Aotea motionless against a rock, the two pondered and considered the remarkable mystery that covered their task. Kaimoana's assertion that Te Katipo was acquainted with English had come as a first surprise to Palliser, wavering in his doubt of the ancient Maniapoto. Beholding the face and bearing of Kaimoana, by degrees he grew silent, his convictions fading, and a new suspicion tumescent in his soul. And slowly the truth uprose on him, not wholly clear, but suffused with dark obscurities; yet in the outline manifest and permanent. The mention of the Waikatos in Matapihi sent his thoughts back to the strange phenomenon of the Haunters, whose dead Matuku had recognised as of Waikato. What had these to do with Te Katipo, or with them whom they had fended to the death from evil assault? What did it all mean? Where was he to turn for the key of these mysteries inscrutable? Already he had convinced himself of Te Katipo's guilt; yet whence came a score of facts? Why had his Waikatos tracked them from the gates of Matapihi, warding them from innumerable ills, from perils in the bush, from death in a mountain dungeon, from certain annihilation in the swamp? Whither did this point? Why had the Hauhau himself preserved their lives and treated them with royal consideration? Why had he paraded the memory of Kariri as a buckler against their distrust? And why, finally, had page 329he discharged this latest message on their heads when all was in oblivion, and their own suspicions befogged them? To this last question there seemed but two answers, whereof the one only was plausible. It was just possible that the Hauhau, nigh his latter end, had repented of the crime done upon a faithful friend; and ere disengaging himself from life and the associates of Caryll, had given back to them the clue for which they sought. At a stretch this hypothesis would cover also the care taken of them in their wanderings, the mystery of the Waikatos and his tenderness to his prisoners in Puketea. All these experiences, inconsistent with so gross a reputation, might yet have devolved from a troubled conscience. But there was another explanation possible, one which would deform Te Katipo into the devil he was publicly held to be. Had he given them this paper but to rejoice over their discomfiture, thinking they would proceed to Hine-te-ao for gold which was already in his own hands? It were the last device of the diabolic mind, and yet (so had his disposition changed) Palliser inclined to hold this of the alternatives. "But he is dead," he said, at last; "why trouble ourselves about him? Let the mysteries be done with. We are now for the coast, with a look-in at Hine-te-ao. That too is necessary, and it must be the last step in our expedition. Miss Caryll, as far as things are ever going to be cleared up, they will be on Hine-te-ao; after which silence, for Te Katipo, the only man who could tell us all, is dead."
"Will you go to this place?" asked Ida.page 330
"Yes; I have my duty to perform. If the gold is there it is yours; if it is not, at least we may find something to tell us of your father's fate."
"I do not want the gold," she pleaded. "Let it alone. We have had enough misery and trouble. Poor Matuku is dead, and the pah is strewn with dead. I don't want the gold. Let us go back. My father, too, is dead."
"He is dead," answered Palliser. "Poor Caryll! There is no doubt of that, and therefore his last request is the more sacred to me. Miss Caryll, if the gold be there you shall have it to refuse or to accept. It is yours, and I will do all I promised by Lance Caryll's daughter."
"So help you God!" put in Foster earnestly.
"But you," went on Palliser, "have been overstrained. There is no need for you to come. You and Aotea can remain with the Arawas, who are the good friends of the English. Major Kotahi will take care of you, if he is alive; for it is impossible to say what has happened at present."
"I do not want you to go," murmured Ida.
"What's these coming over?" said Foster. "Arawas returning, I s'pose. Gosh, they look dished up."
"Hold on," said Palliser, "there's the Major himself."
He went forward to the point in the creek at which the Arawas were crossing, and greeted the victors.
"Salutations to you, Major. They will rejoice at this on the coast when I tell them of the valour shown at Puketea. You have cleared out a neat of spiders."page 331
Kotahi showed his white teeth in a large smile, and the Arawas threw themselves among the tussocks and refreshed themselves in the flowing water. Puketea had been so utterly destroyed, and the Hauhaus so completely routed, that there was no fear of a second garrison on the hill, and Kotahi, whose following had been greatly diminished, had resolved to fall back to the north, and await reinforcements before pursuing his success any further. Palliser, being asked if he would accompany the force, shook his head.
"I have had enough, of fighting," he explained; "my stomach is not like the Arawas'. Besides, I have a Pakeha girl in my charge. But this I am anxious to do. I desire to trust you, Major, in the matter of the girl. Yonder she sits, and she is worn and tired. But it is necessary for me and my companions to go on a journey for a couple of days. Therefore she must he left behind."
"I will take care of her," said Kotahi promptly. "All Pakehas may trust me."
Palliser went back to Ida and told her upon what course he had decided, assuring her she was in the safest conduct with the loyal Kotahi.
"If you think it would be better—" she said.
"I think the journey would be too much for you. Besides—" he too broke off in his sentence, having a half-formed thought that Hine-te-ao might prove the kind of sepulchre abhorrent to a daughter.
"I would not be a drag on you," said she timidly.
"You are overstrung with all this butchery," he said. "It will be best for you."page 332
She bowed her head a little, saying nothing.
"You are not afraid of the Arawas?" he asked.
"Oh, no," she answered, smiling. "I know they are friends. You will be back soon?"
"At the most in three days."
Foster all this time was chatting amiably with the Arawas as they came creeping back in detachments, exultant, though exhausted. Presently he came hurriedly back, while a party of Maoris including Kotahi began to ascend the hill.
"I've made a blunder, I suspect, old chap," he said contritely. "I let out about Kaimoana being in the pah. The poor old chap'll be stuck."
"Oh, save him!" cried Ida piteously.
Palliser darted over the tussocks after the Arawas, and disappeared from their view round a projecting buttress. In half an hour he rejoined them, and met Ida's entreating look with a smile.
"Kaimoana has gone," he said.