The Web of the Spider
Chapter XXII. At Sunset
Chapter XXII. At Sunset.
"See," continued Palliser, "the words are English, but most of the letters are Greek. Set into English sounds it reads, 'Crevice under third cabbage-tree-past red face rock; westward.' And then there is what was evidently an after-thought, cut less distinctly, but in larger letters."
"What is it?" asked the girl.
"'Remember Ida,'" replied Palliser gravely, looking her full in the face. "It is Caryll's last whisper in my ear."
The colour started into her cheeks, and then her eyes grew misty.
"You have done that," she said, "both of you."
"We will finish our duty, then," he answered.
"Here are the directions we have to go by, and they sound clear enough. Come, it's getting late; in little more than an hour the sun will be down."
Foster, who had scarcely taken his eyes from the letters, now turned to Palliser.
"This," said he, laying his hand upon them, and page 351nodding with emphatic confidence, "this is Miss Caryll's fortune—that's what this is."
"Oh, fortune!" cried Ida reproachfully.
"But your friend Caryll," he went on, "must ha' been a precious smart chap, by gum, to think o' this trick. How the old hypocrite must ha' sworn when he came here and found the loot gone. Smart he was, but he had a smarter man against him."
"Yes," said Palliser; "smart he was, but you don't yet realise how smart. He wasn't cornered by this, not he. By the Lord, I've never come across a 'cuter nigger, nor a white man neither, for the matter of that. Miss Caryll," he said, turning to her, "you never heard what happened at Puketea. Gad, the brute was a mighty fine actor. I can find it in my heart to pity him that his plans were frustrated by a misadventure."
With that he related to them the story of the figures upon the white wall in the pass, astonishing them with the subtlety of Te Katipo. For, at a glance, the moment that the nature of Caryll's sculptured message was apparent to him, the Greek letters in the pass had flashed back upon his mind, and the design of the Hauhau was revealed. Finding himself frustrated in the matter of the gold, and unable to decipher the message which he realised would convey him the secret, he had copied the markings with the intention of obtaining an interpretation from some Paheka. But now the craft of this arch-schemer was manifest in all its details, and looking back upon the intricate system upon which he had worked, Palliser page 352could not marvel too much at his terrible ingenuity. It seemed now to him that, from the outset of his expedition, he had been at the service and mercy of this Hauhau; all along he had but been playing into the diabolical hands by the means of as gross a plot as man could devise. As he reflected upon the mysteries and surprises, the many strange experiences of their journey, it became clear they had their origin in the brain of Te Katipo. The Maori's plan in its naked essentials had been simple. To be put in possession of the gold, he desired a translation of the inscription. Now this, as was well known to him, was set out for the instruction of Caryll's friend from the coast, who had responded to the desperate appeal, and was on his way to Matapihi. His object, then, should be to obtain possession of this Pakeha, and from him learn the meaning of the letters. Accordingly, as Palliser now saw with ever-growing clearness, all his plans were laid to bring the body of the Pakeha within his power, and that by no violence which would destroy confidence, but gently and seductively, as to an intimate of the dead man. At Matapihi his devilish cunning had first begun to work. Palliser could not doubt, after all the revelations, that he had instructed the Waikatos, of whom Kaimoana had spoken, to shepherd the wanderer's footsteps to the Hauhau country. All those strange occurrences, those sensations of being followed, that rescue from the pit, that bloody fight in the slough, resulted from the desire of Te Katipo to secure his person unharmed, and his consequent order that the Waikatos should protect him. It page 353was possible, too, that the fragment of Caryll's letter pinned to the tree was of Te Katipo's contrivance; nay, it was only too probable. The Waikatos might have forcibly seized him and dragged him to their master's presence, but this would have aroused his suspicions, and have prohibited that friendliness upon which the Hauhau relied for his base purpose. And his manœuvres had succeeded, though his instruments had failed, and the white bones of the Waikatos were bleaching in the swamp. The party had unwittingly fallen into the hands of the evil Hauhau; they had come under his power, and in the most serviceable of fashions, suspecting him to be the faithful friend of Caryll. Palliser could not but admire the craft with which he had set about reading this riddle; posing for the nonce as one bitten with the hunger of knowledge, not betraying too keen, an appetite, nor embracing all demands in a day, but gently insinuating himself toward his object. And what a trifle had stepped between him and it! Had it not been for the accidents which induced them to withdraw their parole, Te Katipo would have learnt all he required, and his captives, if all were true of him, had been brushed from his web as useless carrion. Contemplating this past possibility, from which but a caprice had turned them, Palliser shuddered, with his eyes upon the fair face of the English girl. But all the malignant plans had failed, and the schemer, inert and formless, was himself carrion upon the crags of Puketea, or the sport of a roaring creek.
"Come," he said, once more. "Let us do what we page 354have to do, and begone from here. I shall not be sorry to turn my face northwards."
"Nor I," said Ida. "Let us go—let us go directly—directly we have seen——"
She left her sentence incomplete, but they knew upon what her mind was running, for she no longer repudiated her inheritance, but went tremblingly forward in obedience to the message which, had conveyed so tender a thought of her. Aotea, hanging her head in silence, answered to Palliser's motion, and followed with a firm and steady tread. She had wept till she could draw tears no longer from her eyes, and, having accomplished the faithful duty, was mute and mechanical.
"We have plain words for this direction," said Palliser. "We are to find the third cabbage-tree past the red face of the rock on the west, and in a crevice below it—there is the gold. Now, it's fairly probable that this is no distance away, for Caryll wouldn't have troubled to do more than shift it away to some other hole; distance would make no difference in security."
"I'm thinking," said Foster, in lower tones, "that he was mighty anxious for you to strike this Greek business."
"Hush! You see, I ain't over particular myself; but, good gummy, I wouldn't like the cold-blood job of sticking a corpse's fingers at the writing, specially if the corpse was as good as my wife. Don't say anything to her."page 355
"It, was desperation," said Palliser.
"Maybe, but—gosh, the red rock!"
He broke off abruptly, and the others followed the direction of his eyes. There could be no doubt of it: yonder was the red rock.
They were walking upon a slight, incline above the base of the mountain, and a hundred yards beyond the verge of the dark bush. A good deal of scrub surrounded them, and the soil was covered thickly with loose stones, which rattled under their feet. Otherwise there was quietude over all.
"The cabbage-trees are quite close together," said Palliser to Foster. "I can see four at least."
He glanced at Ida, and observing her colour paling, drew her arm within his. When they came to the tree he felt her shrink away and stopped.
"Sit down," he said. "You need go no further. Foster and I will do the rest. Sit, Aotea. Miss Caryll——"
"H'st!" called Foster, in excitement." There is a cave here."
Palliser held up his hand as though for silence, and disposed the two girls in a little bush-grown gully.
"Wait!" he said to Ida. "Don't stir. We will be back shortly. Courage, child. It is nothing."
With these words he left her, and went quickly forward to Foster, who stood by the bare column of the ti-tree.
"There's what looks like the entrance to a tidyish page 356cave down there," said the ranger mysteriously. "Had you better keep the little gel away?"
"Yes; that is done," replied the other, and jumping down the rocks, made at once for the spot which. Foster had indicated with his finger.
Some twelve feet below the tree was a fissure in the mountain side, about six feet long and two or three feet in width. Pushing through the gap Palliser and his companion disappeared into the darkness. The passage was some twelve feet through, and was so narrow at points that a man entering scraped upon either wall; but beyond, the cave opened out into more spacious dimensions, though at first the supreme darkness prevented them from perceiving its size.
"Have you a match?" whispered Palliser, as the ranger struggled to his side. Insensibly the darkness caused him to lower his voice, and Foster answered on the same pitch.
He struck it upon his breeches, and the flare illumined the cavern, dazzling their eyes for a moment. They were in a small vault of square formation, and low in the roof, jagged and uneven upon all the walls. A projecting ledge, rising out of the floor to the height of three feet, excluded a view of the parts beyond.
"There's nothing here," said Palliser. "Let us go over."
The match went out, and, groping in the blackness, they scrambled over the rough ledge to the further side.page 357
"Now, another match," said Palliser.
Foster lighted a second, and the light streamed feebly upon the walls.
"Look!" he cried, the next moment. "The girl was right."
Palliser looked, and saw in one corner a fragmentary skeleton covered with patches of old cloth. He went forward and examined it, Foster leaning over his shoulder.
"Yes," he said presently, his Voice ringing sepulchrally in that hollow place; "it is all that is left of poor Lance Caryll. It is well she didn't come. Here are the tattered remains of European clothing; he must have died shortly after he reached this spot."
"The gold?" said Foster.
"There is none here; nothing but the skeleton."
"That's strange," returned Foster, "since he actually did get here. What do you make of it?"
Palliser shook his head, still regarding the skeleton sadly.
"I don't know," he said, "unless it has been stolen."
Palliser did not reply. The sight of those bones, now fallen into disorder, but once the fabric of a man, and that man his friend, touched him nearly, accustomed as he was to gross sights. It was lying in a recumbent attitude, the skull against a peak of the wall, one hand stretched out upon the ground with spread fingers, as though guarding a treasure.page 358
"Do you see that?" whispered Foster. "The gold has been here."
The match, burning to its end, scorched his fingers and dropped to the floor. Lighting another, he turned and threw a glance round the chamber.
"Who, in Heaven's name, is that?" he cried, suddenly seizing Palliser's arm.
Crouched, with bent head, in the opposite corner from the grim skeleton, Palliser saw the figure of a man, with his arms clutching his knees and a burden upon them. As the light glimmered on the object he uttered an exclamation,
Foster bounded forward. "It is the madman!" he said; "and, by the Lord! with the gold."
Palliser joined him, and stooped forward.
"Dead!" he said. "Dead, I should fancy, a full day." He paused and straightened himself. "Poor devil!" he said, "poor devil!"
"It's the gold, sure enough, in kits," said Foster, after further silence. "What are we to do?"
"It's brought no good, this accursed gold," said Palliser. "Perhaps Miss Caryll was right; it should have been left in the heart of the mountain. Anyhow, we have it now, and——" He broke off. "Pah! how unearthly and sickly this pace smells. Let us get into the fresh air a moment."
He stumbled over the rocks toward the entrance, which showed as a thin line of light upon the side of the vault, and entering the narrow passage groped his page 359way outwards. As he did so the light suddenly faded, us though the sun were overcast. Immediately afterwards he struck his head against a peak of rock, and reeling from the pain of the blow, staggered forward into the mouth of the fissure and came face to face with a human figure!
A cry broke from him. Was it indeed Te Katipo? In the horror of the recognition Palliser started back involuntarily into the passage, and, as he did so, the figure raised its arm and a report echoed among the rocks. A bullet whistled by his head, and instinctively falling to the ground, ho crept in on hands and knees. This impulse was most fortunate, for shot followed after shot, and he heard the bullets striking upon the rocky walls, and the reports swelling into continuous reverberations in the cavern beyond. Reaching the vault he crawled up against Foster, running forward in alarm at the noise.
"Man! man!" he cried, "the devil's out of hell again. Draw, draw, for God's sake. Te Katipo!"
"What?" yelled Foster.
"Te Katipo alive, and with all the fiends behind him, I've no doubt! Fire! fire! It will show we can speak in his own tongue."
Foster levelled his revolver down the passage and fired, and a cry went up.
"Stopped someone," he said. "Pray the Lord it be Satan himself."
"No such luck, I'm afraid," returned Palliser. "I begin to believe in the Hauhau superstition that he is invulnerable."page 360
"He must have escaped that fall from Puketea," said Foster. "But how does he come here?"
"Hush! be ready. I see it all now; but be ready. Beelzebub was a fool to him. Fire!"
Again Foster's revolver rang out, and once more there was a cry and a thud in the passage.
"This is famous," said Palliser; "we can hold this till—till they smoke us or starve us out."
"But the little gel——?" said Foster suddenly.
"They're hidden in the gully," answered the other slowly. "They may not find them, unless they saw us arrive. Well, it's the treasure Te Katipo wants, not the women."
"How did he get here?"
"Why, don't you see, this is his very last move in the game? What do you think made him hand you over the paper he stole from Ihirua? It was not pure love of us, you may bet. Nor was it a surrender on his part; that is equally evident, now. Why, then?"
"Simply, that having failed to get me to interpret the writing, he thought, if I had Caryll's directions, I would go to the limestone strait, and there read it for myself."
"Well, if he followed he would be able to track us to the place to which Caryll had removed the gold."
"That man's a devil," he said. "There ain't no page 361miss there; and now he's got his Hauhaus outside waiting on us."
"Precisely; and we've got at most an hour or so to live, for that he means no mercy may be reckoned from that volley turned on me. No; the game's up for us, and as for the women——"
Palliser shuddered, and ground his teeth.
"By heaven!" swore Foster, "he shan't have them."
At this moment the silence was broken by a sudden volley, and a shower of bullets rattled down the passage.
"That's your answer," said Palliser quietly.
Immediately the line of light upon the wall was darkened, and bending forward, he tired through, the fissure, A body fell half-way into their retreat, and stirred not.
"That will teach him wisdom," said he, spurning it with his foot. "Let us kill while we can—curse them."
Thereafter was silence for the space of five minutes, and then Foster spoke. "I see, now, the business about the corpse's finger."
Palliser nodded. "Yes; it was the Hauhau."
Foster swore profusely, and sent another shot at random down the passage.
"Be careful," said Palliser. "Don't lose a shot. Watch the light, and that will guide us."
At that instant arose a faint and distant cry. Both started.
"This is the worst," cried Palliser fiercely; and stepping into the fissure, ran recklessly to the end. At page 362the verge he stayed a short second. "This is the finish," he muttered, "Come!"
Foster's eyes were rolling, but he made no answer, only, putting his teeth together, tightened his belt at a movement, and then both men swept out upon the slant. There were no Maoris visible in the open, but turning in the direction of certain noises, they saw to the right a hundred paces a group of twelve or fifteen Hauhaus standing about the English girl. A big Maori had seized her skirt in one hand, holding her tightly, while two others were advancing their bayonets toward her breast in a menacing manner. Te Katipo himself leant peacefully against a rock, regarding the proceedings impassively.
Foster and Palliser ran at top speed along the declivity, lined on the upper side by rocks, and on the lower by the thick brushwood. Seeing the Hauhaus to all appearance upon the point of thrusting their bayonets into the girl, they shouted wildly, hoping to create a diversion, and dashed on together almost abreast. All this happened in a few seconds. At their cry Te Katipo glanced round and whistled, and at once a discharge of guns came out of the bushes below. Without a sound Palliser fell forward upon his face. Foster ran on shouting. Immediately there rose a woman's shriek, and Foster, as he fired barrel after barrel of his revolver into the astounded Hauhaus, upon whom he ran foaming, was vaguely conscious through the smoke of skirts flashing past him. His one clear thought was to seize Ida, and make for the page 363bush, and as the smoke cleared, and his axe was swung backward for the onslaught, he glanced across his shoulder, and saw to his astonishment the girl bent beside the fallen Palliser. At the sight he hesitated, so unprepared was he for this sudden change; and at that moment Te Katipo ran up, and grinning in his face, levelled a gun at him. There was a loud shout in the distance, from beyond the bodies of Palliser and Ida; the Hauhau started and fell back, staring over Foster's head. The ranger turned also, and looked toward the sound. Round an angle in the cliff was pouring a thin stream of Maoris.
"Trapped on all sides!" he cried.
Meanwhile Ida—who, on seeing Palliser fall to the fire of the ambush, had wrenched herself free of the retaining Hauhau, and dashed across to him—was leaning over his prostrate body, wringing her hands, and clasping his face to hers, in alternate spasms of despair and tendernesa. She had no thought of the surrounding dangers, but was chafing the clenched hands distractedly; when suddenly the firing ceased, and he she took for dead raised himself upon one arm and faced down the slope toward the new-comers, who were rushing up with hoarse, excited cries.
"Maniapotos," he murmured. "Faithful old Kaimoana. "We're not under yet."
"Thank God!" said Ida, bursting into tears, as she drew him back upon her bosom. "Thank God! thank God!"
Palliser turned his face a little, and his eyes glistened.page 364
"Is it you?" he whispered. "Then your sweet face was no dream—no dream."
She bent her lips to his ears. "Are you hurt?" she whispered tremulously.
He smiled. "Not while you are with me, little girl."
"By this the Maniapotos had passed them, and were halted upon the ridge that faced the Hauhaus. Foster, standing between the lines, bewildered and uncertain, at last recognised Kaimoana. In a Second he had sprung to him, and, waving his arm, shouted vehemently, in rude Maori,
"Maniapotos, here is the man. See! see! Take him. Fire, you fools! This is the murderer of Ihirua of your hapu."
He caught Kaimoana by the arm, gesticulating wildly, and pointing at the Hauhaus, who remained silent, grouping together in amazement.
Kaimoana leaned upon his gun.
"I hear, Pakeha," he said.
"Man!" cried Foster, "you swore to kill this dog! You swore to avenge the death of the daughter of your tribe, There he stands. Shoot!"
"I hear, Pakeha," said the chief again.
Te Katipo came out from among his retainers, and advanced to them, with an ugly smile on his face.
"Greetings, friend," said he. "I thought you were dead in Puketea, which the Arawas overran. Why would you not escape with me? "
Kaimoana stared him steadily in the face.
"Who are you that talks to me of friendship?" he page 365replied stonily. "Why have you slain the daughter of my tribe, and destroyed my mana by robbing my Pakeha? Why have you lied to the Pakehas about me, telling shameful tales?"
Te Katipo waved his hand.
"Why do you listen to the babble of miserable Pakehas?" said he. "It is enough that a Maori should deal with a Maori, without any Pakeha's interference. I am a wise man, and will not talk of such, things while there are such lying rats about. Kill the rats, and then we will talk," and he pointed his gun significantly at Foster.
"Peace!" said Kaimoana sternly. "Justice shall be done. If justice is not done, how shall the Maori say, 'I am able to become a nation'? Where there is no justice there is no nation. Peace, I say. You shall render me a return for the evil you have done in killing one of my hapu, and destroying my manu."
A frown gathered on. Te Katipo's face. He glanced over his shoulder towards his men, and then ran his eyes along the Maniapoto ranks, as though measuring the forces.
"This is nonsense," he said, at length. "I am willing to talk sense, but not nonsense. What is it you want?"
"I desire vengeance for what I have said."
"I am innocent of these things," returned Te Katipo lightly. "If a Maori takes the word of a Pakeha rather than that of a Maori, it is absurd. There is no nation when the Maoris do not trust one another."page 366
"I have come for vengeance," said. Kaimoana. "I have tracked you hither from Puketea for vengeance."
"It is ridiculous," said Te Katipo again. "I will prove to you my innocence. I know nothing of these charges. My men will prove my innocence. See; I will bring witnesses, after the fashion of the Pakehas. I will show you how foolish you have been to believe this."
He turned, and went slowly back to the Hauhaus.
"Shoot the dog," said Foster excitedly. "Don't trust, him; he is a devil."
Kaimoana said nothing, but was watching the retreating figure. Te Katipo, upon joining his men, called loudly upon someone, and immediately a big Maori stepped from the herd, and fell into conversation with him.
"He is bringing a witness," said one of the Maniapotos.
"Don't trust him; he is a devil," cried Foster.
Meanwhile Te Katipo and the big Maori were moving very slowly in advance of their fellows, as though toward the Maniapotos, halting now and then in close conversation. When they were nigh half-way between the two forces, a soft voice struck on Foster's ear, calling—
"Beware! beware! Look, Mr. Foster, look!"
On the instant turning with the Maniapoto towards the sound, he beheld Ida, risen from beside Palliser, pointing down the slant, where could be seen a number of Maoris creeping up the hillside toward the bushes overhanging the cavern. These were obviously the page 367ambushed party of Hauhaus who had shot Palliser, and their intention was at once clear: they were endeavouring to effect a surprise in the rear of the Maniapotos.
"I told you so," shouted Foster. "He is a devil."
But his voice was drowned in a volley, for Te Katipo, seeing that his plan was discovered, threw himself flat upon the ground with his companion, signalling at the instant to his men; who, discharging upon the Maniapotos, rushed with fierce cries toward them. Te Katipo, springing to his feet, joined the band as it swept over him, and the Maniapotos, hurriedly levelling their guns, shot somewhat aimlessly at their assailants.
Then ensued a furious conflict, hand to hand, to the most horrible sounds and discords. The Hauhaus in the rear, coming up with a rush, flung themselves upon the foe, and the battle surged now one way, now the other.
Ida, crouching once more in the rocky way, with Palliser's head upon her breast, watched the fierce fight with a beating heart. The fallen man, whose wound she had tended with her best skill, lay feebly conscious, opening his eyes and closing them drowsily.
"How does the fight go?" he murmured.
"I can make out nothing clearly," she answered softly. "There is nothing but smoke and men struggling, and axes—ah! and men down. Nothing but a terrible mêlée. But I can see Mr. Foster," she went on, with a start. "He is fighting. I don't care to look." He seemed to murmur something, and bending her ear to listen, she faintly caught her name repeated time after time.page 368
"Ida!" he whispered. "Ida! Ida!"
She bowed over him, weeping, and her tears falling on his face seemed to rouse him, for his eyes opened and fixed upon the scrub below.
"What's that?" he asked, in a louder whisper.
She followed his gaze, and started as the bushes moved, but the next second she exclaimed,
"It is Aotea."
"Poor Aotea," murmured Palliser.
The bushes closed again, and Aotea vanished.
Then there was a long silence for the two, and only the hideous din of the fight reached Ida's ears.
"How is it going?" he asked again.
Ida looked and gave a little cry.
"They are beating them—the Maniapotos are driving them down into the scrub. But—" she paused, and put her arm round him. "They are coming this way," she whispered." They are driving them towards us. Hush!" she said tremulously; "do not move—do not move. I will protect you."
"Dearest," he murmured, "dearest!"
She drew the revolver from his belt, and putting her left arm about him, half turned to the battling Maoris.
Step by step the Hauhaus were being thrust from the open ground towards the scrub, and Ida could see the familiar forms of Foster and Kaimoana towering in the forefront of the fight. Near fifty paces from them the Kgatiawas rallied, and Te Eatipo, fighting like a fiend, threw himself upon the enemy.
The Maniapotos, massing round their chief, raised page 369their war-cry, and bore down upon the few remaining Hauhaus, Foster's voice ringing high above all. Axe met axe, and spear met spear—then the Hauhaua turned and scattered towards the lower slopes.
"They fly! they fly!" cried Palliser, raising himself on Ida's knee.
She made no answer but, holding her revolver firmly, waited till the retreating Maoris came abreast of them. The foremost Ngatiawas took no notice of the recumbent figures, but slipped hastily into the bushes. Ida drew a deep breath of relief. Then out of the flying column stalked a form she knew too well. Involuntarily she cried,
"Te Katipo!" echoed Palliser, as he closed his eyes in weariness.
Te Katipo, swerving a little in his flight, made straight for them, a long spear glittering in his hands. It seemed to Ida that an evil smile lighted his face, and that his teeth gleamed white as he ran. She rose to her knees as he approached, levelling her weapon with a hand that trembled not.
"We will not die within an ace of victory," cried her heart, nerving her poor woman's arm.
Te Katipo raised his spear, but she only saw his ugly smile and the straight weapon in her hand. Then suddenly there was a cry in the bushes to her left, and someone dashed swiftly out—there was a sharp crack, and the Hauhau reeled and staggered. Glancing mechanically aside, Ida saw Aotea—for a moment erect and page 370triumphant, a pistol reeking in her hand; then prone beneath the axe of a flying Hauhau.
Te Katipo's spear fell from his grasp; he stumbled and rolled from foot to foot, opened his mouth as if to speak, but only gaped; and then the horrid grin struggling with a look of pain, he fell upon the stones motionless, within three feet of Ida, the disfigured face leering at the darkening sky.
Ida put her hands over her eyes and shuddered, heaving a sigh from her very heart. Palliser stirred a little, and once again opened his eyes.
"What is it, sweetheart?" he said.
The Hauhaus had scampered past, and were rushing through the bushes; the Maniapotos were charging after them. For answer, she put her face to his and burst into tears.
"Courage," he said. "Courage, my darling. I have no pain now that you are with me. Little girl," he whispered, "what of the fight?"
"It is over," she said, through the tears. "It is over, and we have won."
A smile flickered across his features, and he made a movement to raise himself. "After this," he said weakly, "I shall be all right in an hour or two." He stopped, and drew in his breath. Then—"Heaven! why have you mocked me with these hopes?" he cried. "My child, why have you cheated me?"
She bent her lips to his, her whole body quivering. "I have loved you since you took me from the Ngatia-page 371was," she said, half weeping, "and now you know it, at last."
"My darling," he said, "my darling."
Foster fell out of the pursuing Maniapotos, and ran up toward the cave, looking anxiously for Palliser and the girl. None now but the wounded and the dead possessed the open slope, but the sounds of a conflict rose from the scrub. At last he came upon the two, lying between the bodies of Aotea and Te Katipo.
"Are you hurt?" asked Ida, starting.
"I ain't felt anything," replied the ranger, brushing the perspiration from his forehead. "Luck's been with me this time. And you're safe, thank the Lord. And him—?" he concluded, looking with concern at Palliser.
"I think—I don't know—but—" Ida broke off, for the ranger went down on his knees, and was examining the wound.
"He's all right," he said at length. "A pretty near thing, though, and he's lost a power of blood. I ain't dressed wounds in the north for nothing."
Palliser opened an eye and blinked it at him. "All right, old chap," he said faintly.
"That's just what we are," said the ranger briskly. "And we're going down to Waikato post-haste, I tell you. We can't stand any more killing. There's Aotea—poor girl—gone, and a whole bang lot more. Now we've got to quit. There's your gold in there, Miss Caryll, and I fancy we'll cut."page 372
"Kaimoana will take us back," said Palliser.
"Here he is," said Ida; and at that moment the Maniapoto, supported by two of his warriors, drew out of the scrub towards them.
"He's dying," whispered Foster. "Struck badly near me just now."
The Maniapotos brought their chief full into the open, and set him down upon a large rock. The old man, breathing hard, lifted his head and looked upon the remnant of his following gathered round.
"All this evil comes of the Pakehas," he said at length, in his sepulchral voice. "Friends, set me with my face to the west."
"Is it near sunset, dearest?" whispered Palliser.
"Quite close," she answered, caressing his face.
"Our troubles are all over," he said. "We shall sleep peacefully to-night."
"Friends," said the dying Maori, "I have seen the end of all. Give me my spear."
He turned his eyes full and unflinchingly upon the golden disc, now dipping into the western forests, and flooding the dark pines with a lane of light.
"I think," whispered Palliser, "I could sleep a little," and he closed his eyes.
"Sleep, my love," she murmured softly. "Sleep till the new day, and all things are bright."
Kaimoana faced the sinking sun with darkening eyes. "I desire, O friends," he said, "to speak wisdom ere I die. There is treachery among the Maoris; they are divided. But the Pakeha is at one. The Maori must page 373perish because of his divisions. My nation has been long in this land, and the Pakeha is but of yesterday. I have fought that we should not be robbed of our country, but the Pakeha are stronger than I. There is no division among them. Hear my word, O friends. The sea cannot be swallowed. My name was a false name. The Pakeha are the sea. Behold, friends, the sun sets into the sea, and the sea swallows it. Let me see my sun go down, and the sun of the hopes of my nation. Enough—I have spoken."
And wrapping his mantle about him with the old familiar gesture, he bowed his head, and the sun went down.