Tikera; or, Children of the Queen of Oceania
Chapter XII Mr Schaeffer hopes to become a New Zealand farmer
Chapter XII Mr Schaeffer hopes to become a New Zealand farmer
It was Sunday. New Plymouth celebrated the Lord's Day by hoisting flags on lofty flagstaffs outside all the more important buildings. Hundreds of pennants fluttered on the masts of the naval vessels moored in the bay. The shops were all closed, the churches were all open. Silence reigned in the streets and even in the camp, save for the few moments when black-garbed folk paraded to or from church with a solemn ostentation. It is possible that here or there, behind a drawn blind or the flap of a tent, some hardened sinner laughed, had a solitary drink, read a light romance, or even played cards. But if so, it was hidden from passers-by or the neighbours. No one was outraged by such violations of the sanctity of the Sabbath.
Personally I like the atmosphere of genuinely puritanical towns—so different from London, where crowds waiting for the public houses to open are kept in order by policemen's batons, while other crowds thread their way to church. Sunday in the colonies is a very different story. There, everybody dresses neatly, behaves decently (at least in front of others), and honours the divinely prescribed break unsupervized by the police.
A newcomer from Europe is bewildered by this apparent death. Silence, tinged with hypocrisy and enforced by rigid custom rather than by any written law, proscribes any noise or enjoyment. Yet he soon comes to welcome it. Though he may condemn it, he would soon find himself longing for it again if he were suddenly transported to a place where the seventh day, after a week of labour during which he could not escape from the din of the factory and the crazy race for pounds and dollars, blared with clamorous music and resounded to the clinking of glass. To yearn for a day of silence which can only be compared to the stillness of oriental graveyards or empty deserts, one has to live a full six working days in the pandemonium of a typical small colonial town, where one trades, labours, and drinks all at once.
For me that Sunday's peace was particularly attractive. The next day our troop would be on the march to a place where, a little earlier, page 147 a platoon of pioneers, left behind by Cameron's advancing army, had been trapped by the Maoris and exterminated to a man. We had been allotted an escort of Maori mercenaries chosen from the tribes who remained friendly to the English, whose loyalty had been rewarded by expulsion from their villages by the rebels. These men acted as skirmishers with the main body of the army. Because they were more successful than our men at avoiding ambush they also guarded military convoys and working parties on the road.
Late in the afternoon, although it was Sunday, the escort arrived at our quarters. We were to leave the camp at dawn. The warriors, many of them half-naked and daubed with war paint, lit their fires alongside ours. Among them I noticed a man who wore half Maori and half European dress, and the hat of an officer in the white militia. I rushed to greet him with open arms.
We embraced one another heartily, disregarding our racial differences.
‘So you've turned into a soldier instead of a seaman!’ cried Sunray, my Auckland saviour.
‘I am only a pioneer, and even that against my own wishes. But what made you put on that hat … take up arms against your brothers?’
‘Our tribe has always been on the pakeha side—and there are other reasons too, which I won't go into. We'll talk better over a glass in the canteen. Let's go!’
‘We can't. They won't sell us anything on Sunday.’
‘Old Williams serves his customers regardless of the day. At this very moment there's a big game going on there.’
Camp regulations do not forbid you to amuse yourself on Sunday, but custom is so strong that everybody sleeps or makes merry on the quiet. I was not worried by the thought of having a drink. If I had to perform my duties, I was entitled to my relaxations.
‘Old Williams—do you know him well?’ I asked. Several ideas were beginning to buzz about in my mind.
‘I've known him for years—too well.’
‘What brought him here?’
‘The same circumstances which have brought others. His farm was burnt down. He was barely able to save his stock, and his own life. Now he sells liquor here. The pakehas like his establishment.’
Here he cut his story short with a firm gesture.
As we walked along, I examined my companion more closely. He walked vigorously. Though he was not very tall, he was impressively broad across the shoulders. His bulging muscles were clearly visible page 148 under the thin cloth of his coat. His open, proud face, so characteristic of a Maori nobleman, showed him to be the worthy descendant of a long line of chiefs, the head of a brave yet peaceable tribe, a well educated young man who had been through a colonial college and was the equal of the best of his white neighbours. I could detect nothing in his manner or speech which would disgrace a well-brought-up European. He spoke with a certain refinement, and for all the colossal size of his chest and shoulders he moved more gracefully than I did. This type is occasionally found among the Maori chiefs, as has been demonstrated several times at the English Royal court. The Maori guests, draped in their tribal cloaks, behave with greater dignity and decorum than more than one dress-coated powdered dandy.
William's canteen did not enjoy the best of reputations. It was widely known as a gambling den always open to the gilded youth of the town, who were only playing at soldiers and found it impossible to pass their time without cards, dice, or cricket. The company also included well-to-do shopkeepers, naval officers, younger civil servants, and nearly all the uniformed men with money to spare.
As we drew aside the curtain across the canteen doorway we saw several officers playing dice. They were gambling for high stakes, judging by the heap of gold coins won by the only man in the group who wore a private's uniform—obviously provided by himself, for it was made of fine cloth. A lamp hanging above the table, attached by a chain to the ridge-pole which supported the roof of the tent, illuminated the players. Capricious beams from the gently swaying lamp threw light on the little pyramid of gold, and on the face, bosom, and hand of the host's beautiful daughter, who was pouring liquor from a Maori vessel into the gamblers' glasses. She too was intent on the outcome of the game. Her right hand was arrested. Golden drops trickled from the jug into a pool on the table which reflected the lamplight. The private, my erstwhile companion, tossed the dice in a cup. In a moment he would throw them. A large sum of money must have been at stake, for everyone was watching the movements of his hand. Apparently he was less concerned about the outcome of the throw. Beneath the table his left hand fondled the girl's free hand.
At length the dice fell. The throw was greeted with loud laughter and shouts of ‘Bad luck!’ The German added several more gold coins to his little pile, and pocketed his winnings. Then with no further ado he put his arm round the waist of the delightful girl and embraced her: a lucky man in games of love or chance demanding a kiss as a reward for his boldness and success.page 149
At that moment I glanced at the Maori chief. He reached mechanically for his belt, as though feeling for a weapon hidden there.
I took his arm and led him outside.
‘Where are you taking me?’ he asked, reluctant to leave the canteen.
‘I'm taking you away. I don't want you to do anything foolish.’
‘How do you know what I wanted to do?’
‘It's easy to guess. Doesn't Sunray mean the same as Te Ti?’
‘Who told you that?’
‘Don't ask any questions. Just answer mine. Aren't you Te Ti, whom that girl there,’ I pointed to the tent, ‘encouraged for some years until, because of caprice or her father's wish, she forbade you to see her any more?’
He was thunderstruck.
‘Where did you learn all this?’ he asked again.
‘From Tikera. Call her Jenny Williams, if you'd rather.’
‘Do you know her well? How did she, who deceived me and her conscience by breaking her solemn vow, come to tell you things which only she and I have known?
‘We are not strangers. I first met her in the kainga of her mother's people, and later here. She told me all about her past. What amazes me is that she never mentioned your English surname.’
‘I only took the name when I went to sea. It's the common custom among Maori seamen. She came to hear it only recently. But how on earth did you win her confidence?’
I gave him a summary of my chequered career since I had last seen him, and Miss Williams's share in rescuing me from the wretched half-savage preacher. Naturally I omitted certain details. I did not however conceal my subterfuge of promising her marriage.
‘It serves her right,’ muttered Te Ti, clearly pleased with the lesson a white teacher had given his capricious tormentor. ‘But I doubt whether all men would behave as well. This one who fondles her so brazenly before a crowd of drunken gamblers will treat her very differently when he abandons her—as he will.’
‘How do you know she's nothing to him?’
‘Do you think I have no eyes or ears? I am a rejected lover, still concerned about my beloved. I have been spying on them for a whole week. I've heard him bragging round the fire to his drunken friends about the kisses of the most beautiful black girl on the Island, whose father will let her have plenty of money just for the asking. A Maori walks softly and has sharp hearing. He can move safely past pickets and sentries.’page 150
‘All you've heard shows him to be no good, and suggests she will come to a bad end. Is that it?’
‘I can't expect anything else. I know pakehas. All of them are scoundrels. I'm not even sure if you are an exception. I remember how her father tricked me. The old fox pretended he had no objection to my marrying his daughter provided she wanted me. That was years ago, when he needed the help and protection of my people. He acted like all the pakehas. They make us generous promises, as if we were little children. Later, when my help was no longer required, he threatened his daughter that he would send her away to her mother if she did not give me up. So I yielded, and did not see her for a long time. When I first came to New Plymouth I avoided her. Then one day I had to go to the canteen. The old man was busy fixing the tent and she was frolicking behind the carts with that puny little pakeha. Since it was no business of mine I pretended not to notice them. Last Friday her father met me, all pride and joy. As though there was nothing between us he shook my hand and told me about his daughter's good luck. “Jenny has a suitor,” he said. “A real gentleman, with farms and houses in his foreign country.” I pretended indifference and even accepted his invitation to go to his canteen to toast the betrothal and meet the young man.’
‘How did you like him?’
‘I didn't like him at all. A real pumpkin head.’
This is the name Australian colonists of English extraction give to German settlers, on account of their round features. Now that even the natives have learnt to despise the miserly Teuton land grabbers, the name pumpkin head is often used by people who speak only pidgin English. The savages are amazingly accurate in distinguishing the less flattering characteristics of their various oppressors: English, French, German, and Chinese. In no time at all they pick up the nicknames which lower the prestige of the foreigners, laughing at different nationalities in different ways.
‘So you've kept an eye on him because you dislike him?’ I asked.
‘Yes I have. Although she has scorned me and deceived me I can't forget how good she used to be, and how happy I was. Just to see her I used to hasten over the mountains and through the sacred groves, where even a Christian Maori doesn't like to go alone for fear of the spirits of our ancestors who live there, according to our chants. It seemed that these same spirits bore me with the speed of an arrow when I journeyed to her.’
‘You're getting off the track. Tell me what you've observed as you've watched him.’page 151
‘What? Only that he is a villain and a braggart like practically every other pakeha. Yesterday morning he kissed her and drank her father's liquor, and in the evening he made mock of her in front of his friends, imitating how she had listened to his false promises. They all laughed at her, and at his clever imitations. He told them that her father's beasts would make up for her awkward manners, and that the old man would not live for ever.’
‘Did you tell that to old Williams?’
‘Yes, I did.’
‘What did he say?’
‘He wouldn't listen to me. The old man has quite lost his senses.’
‘In that case leave them alone, forget they exist.’
‘I decided to do that this morning. But I can't take it calmly when he's lying to her with his kisses.’
‘Keep right away from them.’
‘I can't keep away from her. For so long, I saw her every day. Then I didn't see her at all. And she is so beautiful, more than all the daughters of my tribe … than my dreams. The paintings in the French church in Auckland are not more beautiful than she. How can I avoid her?’
‘My poor, poor chief,’ I murmured to myself, for I know of no remedy for his disease.
‘She looked on me kindly for so long, and I adored her for that, The parents in my kainga, the chiefs of the neighbouring villages, all pressed their daughters on me. My own father begged me to take a wife, for I was the last of a long line of chiefs who had come to Te Ika-a-Maui from Hawaiki. I was deaf to them all, running after her, even though I sometimes had to risk the hail of fiery stones shooting out of the mouth of Tongariro: it seemed then that even the heavens wanted to stop me. And now you tell me to forget it all.’
‘It's not fitting for a great chief to show childish weakness. What would your tribe say if they saw you moaning over the loss of a girl?’
‘I don't care. She's not like their girls. Fair and slim, pakeha blood runs in her veins. She is lost to me … to herself.’
The chief fell silent and, with an amazing gesture for a Maori, grasped his forehead in despair. Then he added, as awkwardly as a child, ‘Do you know what I should do?’
‘Alas, no. The only advice I can give you is to leave the camp and concentrate on the war—anything, so long as you don't see her.’
‘And leave her unprotected? You wouldn't say that if you knew our women better. Many a time I could have broken her like this,’ and here he knocked over a fern tree stump, ‘to make her mine for good page 152 and all. I didn't do that because I respected her fair skin. How could I do as the other warriors did in choosing their wives? I thought I would take a white man's daughter to my hut, where so many brave leaders had been born. I should increase my fame by being the first man in my family to bring home a fair-skinned woman.’
Quite inadvertently the Maori chief had revealed the secret of his despair and ambition. He was afflicted with the common desire of the lower races, to move upward in the racial hierarchy. Her ambition prompted her to enter the household of a pure European: his, to find a wife with a lighter complexion than his own, even if she was of mixed blood. That perhaps was the origin of his love. It was probably this rather than love which sent him to meet the girl under the windswept pine trees, shrouded in the smoke of Tongariro. Love came in time, but it was the fruit of their meetings rather than the cause of them. How strange the meeting of those two children of Nature must have been. He, poised as a European, but naturally passionate; she, not so hot-blooded, but rough and ignorant, brought up solely on the primitive love stories (very likely embroidered by the teller) in which her mother recalled herself and her white lover. They were indeed an exceptional pair. Their self control must have been out of the ordinary. Could I blame the lover for regretting that he had taken no advantage of the love he almost had? I could only remind him that tomorrow we would be marching, and that in the end not to see one another was the best solution for them both.
‘You just leave her with him.’ I finished.
‘I shan't go unless he does!’ exclaimed Te Ti. ‘His company will be off somewhere else tomorrow. I know that for certain.’
‘For how long?’
‘Just a few days. We shall return before he does, and then I'll look after her. I have no objection to their marriage, but I won't allow him to treat her as a toy.’
A crowd of uniformed men coming out of the canteen interrupted our conversation. Despite the clouds covering the sky we could see their inflamed faces and their eyes glistening with alcohol. The glow from the tent was bright enough to light up the officers' epaulettes and side-arms, and the tender embraces of the young couple who were bidding one another farewell behind them. I seized the Maori's hand and felt how he trembled at the sight of his beloved. Somehow I controlled him.
The billing and cooing of the amorous pair ended when the drunken officers began to chuckle and her father shouted from behind the page 153 bar that she was to come and clear up. The merry gamblers poured out towards us. They were all quite unsteady on their feet. One stumbled against another, who stumbled against the Maori. Before I had time to turn round an argument had broken out between a pakeha officer and the Maori chief. As usually happens the English sided with their comrade. My services as a peacemaker were curtly rejected by one of them with a ‘Go to blazes, Chips’ (an allusion to my trade). I warned the chief to get away from these drunken men, all of whom were armed.
Advice also came from a man who had been standing to one side.
‘Why don't you arrest the Maori dog?’ shouted Schaeffer, siding with the stronger party like a true bully.
‘You cur!’ roared his rival. He freed himself with a superhuman effort from his assailants and leapt at the wretched adviser, shaking him as a cat shakes a mouse.
None of the Englishmen present drew his sword, though they were all armed. The Maori used only his fists. These people never think to use steel or bullets in an ordinary brawl. A blow of the fist is no dishonour in that country, and is always repaid in kind. Even if they had not been drunk, none of those present would have interfered in the fight between the German and the chief. Indeed, they formed a circle round the combatants, egging them on for their own amusement as became real colonial gentlemen. Nonetheless, drunk as they were, they presently exclaimed ‘Shame! Shame!’ when something resembling the blade of a knife gleamed through the air.
‘So you want to sting me, you damned pumpkin head!’ yelled the Maori, tearing the knife from Charles's hand and, if his groans and the sound of cracking joints were anything to go by, almost breaking the German's treacherous arm. The knife shot up, glinted once or twice over our heads, and fell with a swish into some nearby fern trees. Then came the sounds of a quick exchange of blows, curses, a woman's cry. Finally the two bodies reeled to the ground. A third massive body launched itself at them.
Charles had found an ally. The darkness would not allow us to see the gir's face but her white form glimmered in the shadows, resting heavily over the fallen man and sheltering the European's head with her strong arms from the Maori's powerful punches. Her help came in the nick of time. One of those blows might have killed a bullock.
The clang of the officers' swords, the old man's shouts for help, feminine curses and prayers, the loud groans of the vanquished German, the imprecations of the chief, mingled together in utter confusion. Groups of soldiers and armed Maoris gathered quickly.page 154
I do not know how the episode might have ended. The whites were insisting on the arrest of the chief; the Maoris had quite other views. At last, Tempski's strong, well-known voice dominated the hubbub. Even the Maoris were silent at the command of the ‘pale eagle’, as they called him.
Tempski understood that the brawl had originated in an argument between a drunken European and a touchy Maori. He was evidently more concerned to appease the commander of the skirmishers. He inveighed less against him than against the militiamen.
‘I would arrest you all if I didn't need you in the field. If I let you off for abusing the sanctity of the Sabbath and breaching camp discipline,’ he had become sufficiently Anglicized in his thinking to put Sunday before military matters, ‘I do so in the hope that you will redeem this scene by deeds worthy of gentlemen. Back to your quarters, all of you.’
Patrols escorted the Maoris and the pakehas to their separate encampments. I too had turned to go when the major, recognizing me, ordered me to stay. Charles, beaten unconscious by his adversary, lay in the tent attended by a surgeon and the Maori girl. From the moment the major had intervened neither I nor Te Ti had paid much attention to the couple.
When the last brawler had departed Tempski called me to enter the tent. ‘Were you present when the argument started?’ he asked.
‘I am usually sober, sir.’
‘Tell me the whole story.’
I obeyed, describing the origin of the incident.
‘That's not good enough,’ said the major. ‘I heard more than that from the victim. He's lucky the Maori didn't break his skull. Mr Schaeffer interests me as a European. He told me that through a paltry intrigue he had made an enemy of the Maori. They had a sharp exchange of words yesterday, which fortunately came to nothing.’
‘That's news to me.’
‘Tell me more about their enmity,’ ordered the major.
Very briefly and quietly, taking care not to be heard by the others in the tent, I told him all I knew about the love of Tikera and Te Ti, about the Maori's rejection, my acquaintance with the girl, her relations with Charles. I also predicted that, given the chief's violent disposition, Mr Schaeffer's neck would sooner or later pay for his romantic proclivities.
‘If only I knew that he really was in love with the girl.…’page 155
The major gesticulated, as if astonished at the naivete of my remark. ‘All these intrigues are of no consequence,’ he said. ‘I can't permit brawls over a camp follower.’
‘A camp follower?’
‘What else? Whether her father sells one barrel of brandy or a thousand, he still keeps a canteen. His daughter is a camp follower, and as such a cause of trouble. One day the soldiers are squabbling over her, and on the next we just avoid bloodshed between the militiamen and the skirmishers. We can't do without Sunray: that in itself is good enough reason to keep him calm. We'll have to send him out of camp, so that he can forget his worries.’
‘And his rival?’
‘I imagine that after the treatment he's received he will be in bed with a headache for a week. His kicks are probably gentler than the Maori's punches.’
‘If Te Ti finds out that his rival is staying here, he won't go.’
‘Then he mustn't know. Make certain he doesn't. Do you understand?’
‘Kindly obey my orders. The moment Mr Schaeffer is capable of resuming his duties I'll send him away, partly because I want to save him from committing the silly indiscretions to which young men are prey. In view of our past relationship I should not like to see him waste himself on a coloured camp follower.’
Unfortunately, because he forgot or because Charles won him over, Major Tempski did not fulfil his promise—as my story will show.
Being assured by the surgeon that the German's life was in no danger, the major left. There remained in the tent only the victim—the half-flayed, loudly complaining German—the surgeon, the girl, and her tipsy father. I stood by the door ready to depart.
Then the old man noticed me.
‘Look who's here!’ he exclaimed. ‘Our bullock driver—the friend Jenny told me about. Don't go away. Though we don't see eye to eye, we can still have a drink. Come on, take it up.’
The wretched toper needed a drinking companion. Like other drunkards he could not drink by himself. Company justified further drinking. I could not refuse him and followed him to the bar.
‘Isn't he a tough fellow?’ he asked loudly. It was his habit to start each conversation with a question. ‘The overseer who supervized the harvesters told me you worked well. Have another drink. I like good workers. At one time I worked like an ox myself. That's when I earned my fortune gold-digging. You're not like him,’ he pointed at page 156 Charles; ‘but that's a different story. He's a gentleman, a European nobleman. The major himself is said to know his family. Even the postmaster said he receives letters with armorial bearings on the outside and money inside.’
Clearly Mr Williams had not devoted his entire attention to his trade. He had found time to gather this information about his daughter's friend. Jenny's readiness to release me from my obligations was undoubtedly influenced by his findings.
Having exhausted this conversation, I said goodbye to him and the remaining company, which was still occupied with the patient. I did not walk very steadily, for the night was cloudy. Indeed it was as black as pitch. I tried to pick my way to my tent, guided only by the noise of the sea, which came to my ears like the sound of a million bees. Since my quarters were in that part of the camp most distant from the bay I walked away from the murmuring waves, which in the nocturnal silence reminisced about the shores and wonders they had encountered in their travels round the world.
Then I thought I could distinguish another soft rustle mingling with the sea's song. I stopped, and clearly heard the light patter of running feet. In a moment I saw a pale, womanly form dimly outlined in the darkness. We stood by my platoon's dying fire. A few logs were still aglow and sprayed out posies of sparks from time to time. The short-lived rubies traced whimsical mobile zig-zags in the pitch black night. Before they died away with a light crackle they threw a scarlet aura round the Maori camp follower.
‘For heaven's sake, Jenny, what brings you here at this unearthly hour? If my mates discover you here the camp will be full of gossip by the morning.’
She endured my rebuke silently, and then came straight to the point.
‘I have to speak to you, and to him. You know where to find him. Take me there. I'll beg him to forget … to forgive, and to stop teasing the other one. What satisfaction does he get from punishing the innocent? Why doesn't he punish me? The responsibility is all mine.’
‘And your father's,’ I added.
‘Yes, and my father's. What are these constant arguments about? Besides,’ she added furiously, ‘I can sting, like the bees which father brought to our farm for their honey. I won't allow the weak to suffer.’
‘Will you defend your lover with your own hands?’
‘Our mothers did that. If Te Ti thinks I injured him, he can fight it out with me. I'm not afraid of him.’page 157
And she stamped her feet with rage, hissing and threatening the empty darkness.
It turned out that the darkness was not empty. On the other side of the fire stood her former lover, as tall as she but more powerful still, surrounded by an aureole of scarlet sparks. How he got there I could not say. I discovered later that when he returned from the fight he lay in the bushes near the fire, waiting for me. He had heard every threat the girl had uttered.
‘Do not be afraid,’ he said. ‘My shadow will not cross your path, unless ….’
‘Unless what?’ she asked.
‘Unless you need a brother, an avenger, or a friend.’
‘Who asked you to be my avenger and my brother? I can do without your protection.’
Here she stopped speaking in English and let out a veritable torrent of words in her native tongue—I know not whether of threat or of imprecation. She came up to the fire, kicking the logs to its heart to warm herself and so illuminating her formidable figure.
The two specimens of a mighty race made a magnificent spectacle. They resembled one another even in their aquiline features. The fire so coloured them that her swarthy face and his bronze one seemed to be of the same frightful hue. Both spoke of passion.
Silently I listened to her adjurations and his monosyllabic replies, which became increasingly soft and humble. She pierced him with her burning eyes as if with daggers: he gazed evasively into the fire. A lioness and an eagle met—and the eagle surrendered.
The eagle begged—and her voice softened. She seemed to be imploring him. Their words sounded like a caress to my straining ears. He softened still further under the flood of her entreaties. Slowly they moved round the fire until they met. She rested her hands on his shoulders. The poor wretch dared not take advantage of this to hold to his heart for the last time the girl he loved with an ungovernable passion learnt in the wilds, which had nothing to do with his fine missionary college.
Then they talked for a very long time. The fire died out to the last spark. I could scarcely see its grey ashes, which curled and moved very lightly, like the coils of a sleeping snake.
I saw their dim contours magnified by the night's witchery. They seemed to vanish. Even her white dress dissolved into the dense blackness, which foretold a shower.
Once, twice, I felt a warm, soft drop on my forehead. Then a flash page 158 of lightning revealed them standing as close to one another as before, still talking in low voices. After a long pause I heard a distant growl of thunder and a hollow clap, and again felt the drops on my face. Was it their splash or the sound of a kiss which accompanied the thunder's crash?
The darkness fell silent again. Then came another flash of lightning, by which I momentarily saw them standing like two gigantic bronze monuments, taking leave for ever in a final embrace. At the sound of a second clap of thunder a dress rustled past me. The fiery fall of a third flash lit up the hem of her dress as it disappeared behind the tents. He stood alone, his arms crossed on his chest, gazing intently after her—in vain.
‘What have you agreed?’ I asked, somewhat sheepishly.
He did not answer at once.
‘Is it a secret?’ I insisted.
‘A secret even from me.’
‘Didn't you promise her anything?’
‘I don't remember what I promised her. Oh, my head is bursting!’
‘What will you do tomorrow?’
‘I'll go with you.’
‘Will you come back to her?’
‘Unless she sends me another sign like this.’
With these words he pressed into my hand a hard cold object. It felt like a Maori amulet of magic greenstone.
‘Do you believe she will ever send you this sign?’
‘I do. When she is angry, as she was tonight. When she curses her mother for giving her life, and her father for his teachings. When she is bold enough to suppress all her other desires and return to her first lover. That will certainly happen, after all the others have betrayed her.’
‘And will you take her, even after that?’
‘If I am alive I shall.’
A multitude of dense drops fell on us without further warning. Ferns and grasses bent to the ground, swishing and hissing. Glowing ashes, blown from the fire and tossed round the tents, faintly lit the reawakened scene. A violent rainstorm struck with tropical intensity, scattering the fires all over the camp and even tearing down some of the tents. Mine withstood the squall gallantly.
‘Let's go inside,’ said Te Ti in a subdued voice, quite different now from what it had been so short a time ago. ‘Even a Maori must look page 159 for shelter in a real storm, such as this will soon become. Look at the lightning! Come in, come in.’
We entered the tent, which was lit up by constant flashes. The chief lay down silently on my bedding, and said before he went to sleep, ‘Not all this light is caused by the storm: some is the distant glare of Tongariro. Only a mountain glows like that. An old chant of our kainga says that the fiery mountain opens its blazing eye when a tragic fate awaits the chief of the eagles, my tribe the Kawhai, which in Maori is the name of the eagle. The volcano rages when the head of our family is about to die. The whole Island can see its evil reflection. Before my grandfather died a stream of fire erupted from beneath the ground and swallowed the Kawhai's former dwelling place. To this day you can see our old pits beside the rock into which the liquid fire has set. The mountain flared when my father died also. Why does its red eye glare again at my village? However, all those stories belong to fancy. They are simply pagan superstitions unworthy of Christian belief, as Mr MacCulloch says.’
He covered his head and fell silent.