War to the Knife, or, Tangata Maori
Fully convinced that it behoved him to walk warily, and to consider well before he committed himself to a purchase involving the investment of his capital and the necessity of residence in a district which might be exposed to the horrors of war, Massinger determined to consult all available friends and acquaintances, as well as to examine for himself. He wished to make sure not only of the validity of title, but of all collateral conditions likely to affect his occupation. Still, an estate of some sort he was determined to acquire.
He had taken daily walks in every direction from his headquarters, and the more he saw of this wonderful country, the more favourably he was disposed to think of its fertility, salubrity, and general adaptation to the needs of an Anglo-Saxon race.
"What an astonishing thing it seems," he told himself, musingly, "that these marvellous islands should have remained unknown, unoccupied wastes, and, but for a few tribes of splendid barbarians, un-peopled, until the early years of the present century! Providence has marked them out for another home of our restless race. Another England, beneath the Cross of the South! An outlet, how gracious and timely, for the 'hardly entreated brother' who so often page 92languishes in older lands for lack of free scope for his energies! Such soil, such rivers, such scenery, such a climate! What should we think at home if tens of thousands of acres of land of this quality were offered to our farmers at peppercorn rents or nominal purchase-money?"
Then, not intending to confine himself entirely to one set of advisers, he decided to look up Mr. Dudley Slyde. He found that gentleman in an upper chamber of a large building, writing letters which looked like despatches, with an industry in strong contrast to his dolce far niente attitude during the voyage. However, he promptly relinquished his task, and, taking a chair near a press marked "Native Titles," drew forth a box of cigars, and, lighting one, exhorted his guest to do the same.
"Writing home," he said apologetically; "last day of the mail—have to send all sorts of beastly Reports. Just told my directors country's going to the devil; wrapped it up decently, of course. Bad business, this Waitara block—shockingly managed; don't half like the look of things. Heard of it, I suppose?"
"Yes, indeed. I witnessed a passage of arms also between one of the Maori deputation and a drunken white man. It appeared to me significant of the temper of the native population."
"D——d bad temper generally. Touchy first, and dangerous, not to say bloodthirsty, afterwards. Queer people."
"In some respects, certainly. But is there no way of persuading them to sell their land? It would be better for them and everybody else not to lock up this fertile country."page 93
"Of course there is, if you go the right way about it. But can't be done by main force. Wants brains and straight going. That's what we're short of. Governor right enough, if it comes to that, but been 'had' in this last affair."
"The Waitara block?"
"Precisely. I see you're getting colonized. Remember what Bailey junior said about Mrs. Todgers' fish?"
"'Don't eat none of it?' I remember. But how does that apply?"
"Just this much. Don't you touch an acre of that rich and well-watered area, if you get it for nothing. There'll be bloodshed over it, take my word. And carrying on Master Bailey's warning, any eating done on the premises is more likely than not to be at the expense, literally and personally, of the incautious purchaser."
"In my—I was going to say, in my opinion—but I refrain, being unable to form one. But perhaps I may go so far as to quote old colonists—that there is certain to be trouble if this so-called purchase is attempted to be carried out. At this stage could it not be prevented?"
"Most certainly it could; but when a policy has been weak up to a certain point, the responsible head is apt to square the account by being obstinate in the wrong place. That's the matter now."
"And the end?"
"God only knows. If the Government persists in pushing through this bogus sale, against the warnings of Te Rangitake—who, in addition to his being a high chief, and the largest holder in this said block, is a page 94deuced ugly customer—I'll lay twenty to one that there'll be the devil to pay."
"But the Government surely won't call out the troops in the face of the reports of Busby and McLean, and the opinion of Maning, anent native titles?"
"People of ordinary sense would think so, but they're 'running amok' just now, and what between the Company, the Provincial Council, the Ministry, and the Governor, who has been over-persuaded or duped in the matter, I believe that war, and nothing else, will be the outcome. The British Government has acquired much territory in different parts of the world, but this is going to be one of the biggest land-bills in men and money that Old England ever drew cheque for. That's what I'm telling my directors at home, and I hope they'll like the news."
Here Mr. Slyde resumed his pen, and with a brief adieu the chance friends separated.
Discovering from reliable sources that nothing in the way of battle, murder, and sudden death was likely to take place for a few weeks, Mr. Massinger decided that he would pay a visit to those wondrous lakes of which he had heard and read. He had pictured in his mind, how often, the strange aspect of a country where snow-crowned mountains or active volcanoes looked down upon Nature's daring colour-effects dashed off in her most fantastic moods; where the central fires of the globe sent up their steam in jets, and the angry gnome, "the mid-earth's swarthy child," still murmured audibly; where boiling fountains hissed and gurgled, unchilled by the wintry blast; where fairy terraces, lustrous in lace-like tracery, lay shining, page 95translucent, under summer moon or winter dawn; where the unsophisticated inhabitants of this weird and magical region, all ignorant of the clothes philosophy, revelled from morn to eve in the luxurious warmth of medicated baths, curative of all the ills that flesh is heir to.
When he communicated his intentions as to visiting the far-famed land of the geyser and the fumarole to his friends, they all advised him to make the journey without delay.
"It is one of the wonders of the world, and by no means the least," said Mr. Lochiel. "I thank God that I have seen it; and though I have travelled much in other lands, I have never beheld the place that equals that strange and grand landscape, terrible even in its beauty. The delicate loveliness of the pink and white terraces 'beggars all description.' I shall not attempt it. They alone are well worth coming from the other end of the world to see."
"And I wouldn't delay either," said Captain Macdonald. "This Waitara business may bring on war at any time, and then no white man, except a missionary, is safe—hardly he, indeed."
"I will start next week," said Massinger, "if I can get a horse and guide. I should never forgive myself if I lost the chance by delay."
"Horses of any kind you can pick up at the bazaar within an hour," said Mr. Lochiel; "and I will send you a guide who could find his way to Taupo in the dark. It is scarcely a road to travel alone just now, and the forest tracks are neither easy to keep nor to find again when lost. The rivers, too, are of a violent nature, and dangerous unless you know the fords."page 96
Acting upon this information and the advice so freely tendered, Mr. Massinger at once bought himself a horse. The roads being rough—indeed, mostly in a state of nature, as he was informed—and a certain amount of wearing apparel and provisions being absolutely necessary, he looked less to the paces and appearance of the animal than to its strength and substance. A guide, too, was essential, as in a country where the primeval forest was almost impracticable in places, where the ice-cold rivers were without fords often, without bridges always, local knowledge was indispensable. He was fortunate in one respect, as he fell across a stout half-bred grey mare at a moderate price.
Something was said to him about the danger of travelling among the wilder tribes of the north without protection, or even a comrade of his own race; to which he made answer that he had not come all that way to lead a feather-bed life. Whatever risk other men encountered, he felt equal to. So, with the good wishes of all whom he had met since his landing, he prepared to depart.
Mr. Slyde's parting injunction was, "Stand up to these Maori beggars, and talk as if you owned the island. They know a gentleman when they see one, and they hate anything like distrust or double-dealing. Unless war is declared while you are away, you will be as safe as in town here; in some respects perhaps safer. Au revoir."
In New Zealand at that time, and, indeed, long afterwards, people were so accustomed to the sight of the emigrant Briton, with his thick boots, his rough tweeds, Crimean shirt, and brand-new valise or saddle-page 97bags, that such an apparition hardly excited more surprise than in the Australian colonies. There, a hundred years of colonization have settled the race in personal habitudes descriptive of every shade of road travel, town dwelling, ordinary wayfaring or desert exploration. One glance there is sufficient to determine, not only the station in life, but the immediate business or occupation of the stranger. And so full and continuous had been the stream of emigration poured into New Zealand of late years, that the ultra-British rig excited no more remark than that of the tweed-clad tourist in the Highlands. Even the "garb of old Gaul," which the clansmen from Aberfoil or Glengarry not infrequently sported, as useful, dignified, and ornamental, only received a passing glance, or gave rise to a transient observation from a native as to the peculiar description of lunacy to which the pakehas were subject.
When, therefore, Roland Massinger left Auckland one fine morning, riding his gallant grey, with the trusty double-barrel on his shoulder, a navy revolver in his belt, and a miscellaneous assortment of useful articles dispersed about himself and his charger, no one seemed disposed to remark unnecessarily, or to make jeering remarks upon his outfit.
A day or two before starting, Massinger receive a note in a strange handwriting, which ran as follows:—
"Auckland, 14, Shortland Street, "Wednesday.
"My old friend Dr. Lochiel has, I believe, recommended me to you as a guide for the trip to Rotorua and Rotomahana.page 98
"I know the country well, and shall be glad to act, if we can arrange. I don't say that it is too safe in the present state of native feeling, but that is for you to judge. I shall have the pleasure of calling upon you to-morrow morning.
"R. Massinger, Esq."
"Why, I thought Dr. Lochiel told me that the guide was a half-caste," said he to himself. "Very well written and expressed. Some men I know, from English public schools, too, could not have written such a note to save their lives. However, I suppose he got some one to write it for him."
He had finished his breakfast, and was digesting it and the contents of the New Zealand Herald, besides trying to reconcile conflicting statements as to the Native Lands Policy, when a visitor was announced.
"Mr. Massinger, I believe," said the stranger, bowing. "My name is Warwick; I presume you received my note yesterday?"
For one moment that gentleman's self-possession almost failed him, but he recovered himself in time to murmur an assent and ask the stranger to take a chair. There was some reason for his surprise.
He saw before him a very good-looking, well-dressed man of about his own age, turned out much as he had often been himself for a day's shooting. A Norfolk jacket, with knickerbockers and worsted stockings, these last exhibiting a volume of muscular calf, above laced-up shooting-boots of great strength and thickness of sole. A wide-brimmed felt hat, and page 99a Crimean shirt, completed attire which was eminently appropriate and serviceable.
"You know the people and the country, as well as the route to these far-famed lakes?" he inquired.
"From my boyhood," answered this perplexing personage, with a perfectly correct, even finished accent, "I have been familiar with both. We have relatives in the Ngapuhi tribe, and I am always glad of an excuse to see some wild life among them. I have occasionally acted as guide to parties of tourists, and not so long ago to His Excellency the Governor and his staff."
"And your remuneration?" queried the tourist, thinking it wise to settle that important question off-hand.
"Oh, say a guinea a day and expenses paid," replied the stranger, in airy, off-hand fashion, as if the trifling amount was hardly worth mentioning. "That is my usual fee. I am fond of these expeditions myself, and in pleasant company; but that one must live, I should be quite willing to go with you for nothing."
"That, of course, is not to be thought of. But it will be an added pleasure to have a companion from whom I can gain information and share a novel experience."
"Thanks very much," said Mr. Warwick, bowing; "and for the baggage, if I might advise, the least possible quantity that you can do with. All beyond will encumber you in the sort of trail before us. I should like to superintend the packing."
"Very grateful, if you will," said Massinger. "Perhaps you would not mind breakfasting with me to-morrow; we could start directly afterwards."page 100
"Most happy. In that case, I shall be here at sunrise, which will give time to arrange the pack, and we need lose none of the best part of the day."
So much being understood, Mr. Warwick bowed himself out, leaving his employer in a state of suppressed astonishment.
"The land of wonders, indeed!" he soliloquized. "The people, as well as the land, seem mysteries and enigmas. Only to look at this man is a revelation. What a handsome fellow he is!—no darker than a Spaniard, with regular features and a splendid figure. He would throw into the shade many of the curled darlings of the old land. One of his descendants, having taken high honours at Christ Church University, is obviously the man Macaulay had in his mind when he created the immortal New Zealander on London Bridge. His accent, his manner, his whole bearing, quiet, dignified, easy. Why, he has quite English club form! And where can he have got it? At any rate, there will be some one to talk to on the way, and as he is a master of Maori as well as English, he will be invaluable as an interpreter."
Preliminaries are hateful things at best, but after the usual hindrances a start was made tolerably early in the day, and ere long our hero was inducted into the peculiarities of forest wayfaring, as at that time practised in New Zealand.
He had scorned the idea of performing any part of it by sea or coach, having heard that all the pioneers, aristocratic or otherwise, had been noted for their pedestrian prowess.
So, with Warwick leading the way with the packhorse, and he himself doughtily surmounting rock or page 101log, or thrusting between brambles and climbers, he realized that he was at length actively engaged in the adventurous experiences he had come so far to seek.
They did not always keep to the rude highways, or accepted tracks of ordinary travellers; Warwick seemed, without bestowing thought or care upon the matter, to journey upon a line of his own. It invariably turned out to be the correct one, as it cut off angles and shortened the distances, always striking points on the main trail which he had previously described. All the available stopping-places on the road were thoroughly well known to him, and between the more desirable inns and accommodation houses, at all of which Warwick was evidently the bienvenu, and the historical localities near which Massinger was prone to linger, no great progress was made. However, time being no object, they wandered along in a leisurely and satisfactory way, Massinger congratulating himself again and again on his good fortune in having secured such a guide and companion.
At Mercer, on their third day out, Mr. Massinger was gladdened with his first sight of the Waikato, that noble river around which so many legends have been woven, on whose banks so much blood has been shed, on whose broad bosom the whale-boat has succeeded the canoe, the steamer the whaleboat. His spirits rose to enthusiasm as they traversed the country between the river and the lakes of Waikare and Rangarui. While at Taupiri, he marked the groves—actual groves, as he exclaimed—of peach and cherry trees planted by the missionaries in past days. Then leaving the river, they entered on the great Waikato plain.page 102
"All this is very pleasant," he said one morning; "though, but for the absence of red-tiled farmhouses and smock-wearing yokels, I might as well be back in Herefordshire. What I am dying to see, is a decent-sized village—kainga, don't you call it?—where I may see the noble Maori with his mere-mere, his pah, and his whare-puni, in all his pristine glory unsullied by pakeha companionship."
"I think I can manage that for you," replied Warwick, with an amused smile, "between here and Oxford."
"What, more England?" said Massinger. "Why not Clapham and Paddington at once?"
"Well, you must bear with Lichfield," continued Warwick. "We can turn off there and make for Taupo. Before we get there, I can promise you one real Maori settlement, as well as another rather more important, at Taupo on the lake."
"And a chief?" queried the wayfarer. "I must have chiefs. A real Rangatira."
"I believe Waka Nene, warrior, high chief, and ally of England, is on a visit at the first one we come to," said the guide, "and he should satisfy your taste for Maori life."
Their pathway was narrow, chiefly bordered by high ferns, various kinds of low-growing bushes, and when the forest was reached, occasionally blocked by fallen timber, which necessitated a considerable detour, not always accomplished without difficulty, and obstacles which seemed to multiply the fatigues of the journey. Still, the wondrous beauty of the primeval forest had fully repaid him for all difficulties which nature placed in their way. Hundreds page 103of feet overhead, almost hiding the rays of the autumnal sun, and causing Massinger to throw back his head to gaze at their lofty coronets of foliage, rose the royal ranks of the Kauri, the Totara, the Rimu, and the Kahi-kalea. Unlike the less o'er-shadowed forests in Australia described in his pre-migratory course of reading, there was but little herbage to be seen between the giants of that unconquered woodland. Ferns, trailers, thorn bushes, often breast-high, more or less aggressive, climbers and parasites, filled up all space beneath the columnar trunks which stretched so far and wide.
It could easily be imagined how great an advantage the native warrior, but little encumbered with clothes, and active as the panther, had over the heavily armed, heavily clothed soldier of the regular forces. A fair, though not accurate shot at short range, practically almost invisible, the native is trained to take advantage of every description of covert. What chance, then, Massinger thought, would British regulars have against the guerilla tactics of this stubborn, fearless, yet crafty race?
As happened to many a gallant British soldier in the American revolutionary war, it might be a brave man's lot to be shot by a boy of fourteen, safely bestowed behind a fallen tree, or protected by a thicket whence he could empty his rifle at the fully exposed ranks of the pakeha. Though active, and fond of strong exercise of all kinds, Massinger was by no means sorry when his guide halted by the side of a gurgling stream, and intimated that they would here halt for refreshment. Rows of that magnificent fern, Dicksonia, fully thirty feet in height, towered page 104over the banks of the rushing streamlet; a level patch of verdure near the bank provided a tempting lounge, as well as a table on which to arrange their humble meal. There reclining, the wayfarer from a far land reflected approvingly on the first stages of a journey which already promised a world of novel and mysterious experiences. And now a new experience awaited him.
Rested and refreshed, they moved on till towards evening, when Warwick, after following the path which led to the brow of a steep hill, stopped and invited his companion to look around. Far in the distance loomed the curved shoulder of a snow-crowned mountain. The ocean again rose to view. A winding river threaded the fields and pastures of a broad meadow. Tiny columns of smoke ascended from a collection of reed-constructed cabins. And with a distinct relaxation of feature, the guide pronounced the word Kainga—"Here is our stage for the night."
It was, indeed, a native village, or more strictly speaking, a "township." For there were, besides a considerable population, distinctive and representative features which in ancient Britain would have entitled it to the appellation of a castrum—witness Doncaster, Colchester, Winchester, and the like.
Above the alluvial flat, on the scarped and terraced hill, rose the pah, or fortress proper—now in good working, that is, warlike order.
"Why, it's a castle!" exclaimed Massinger. "I had no idea that the natives did things in this style. I doubt whether the ancient Britons had one like this to check the Roman advance. Certainly they had page 105no rifle-pits. Fancy climbing up these precipices to find a double line of desperate warriors at the top!"
"All the same, it was taken once, after a fairly long siege; and a fine, bloodthirsty affair it was, by all accounts," said Warwick. "But the garrison had been weakened."
"In what way?"
"The water gave out; food was short also. That they could have borne, but they had nothing to drink for days before they gave in."
"This great fortress, for such it was" (wrote an eye-witness), "was constructed by this singular people with due attention to the canons of strategic fortification. It stood on a peak two thousand feet high, on the summit of a tortuous forest range, girt on each side by precipitous gorges and rugged intervening eminences.
"Triple lines of palisading guarded the front, while the crest of the ridge was narrowed in wedge-like form to the rear of the pah. The outer parapet, seven feet high, extended on each side to the edge of the range, but was formed with angles near its junction with the cliff, in order to cover completely an attacking party. The inner parapet, more than twelve feet high, was guarded by sandbag loopholes to enable the garrison to fire in safety. Covered ways, from parapet to parapet, and pit to pit, protected the garrison in their movements."
This was one of the sights which he had "come out into the wilderness for to see"—specially and in spite of its being a tolerably large and important hapu, or section of the great Ngatiawa tribe, with page 106whom relations were certainly strained. His adventurous soul was stirred within him, as he marked the position of the whare-puni, or council-hall, imposing in size and ornamentation, elaborate though rude; the clustering whares or wigwams, each containing the family unit complete; with men, women, and children, dogs and ponies, straying about in careless intermixture; the warriors of the tribe holding aloof in haughty independence, the "grave and reverend seigneurs" sitting in a circle, indulging in converse—doubtless as to matters of state. It became increasingly apparent to his mind that the affairs of such a race deserved all the consideration which the most experienced, just, and intelligent legislators could bestow.
As they approached, the stranger could observe that a certain degree of excitement had already commenced to make itself visible. The men who had been sitting arose, and those who were already standing, relinquished their attitudes of dignified ease for those of watchful attention, not unmingled with suspicion. The women left their work or play (for among the younger ones several games of skill or address were evidently in progress) and joined the expectant crowd.
Male and female, young and old, there could hardly have been less than three hundred people gathered together on the comparatively small plateau. From their point of view it had exceptional advantages, and had doubtless been selected with foresight and judgment. Overlooking the river, winding through a fertile meadow, which showed by its careful and intense cultivation how the principal food-supply of the tribe was furnished, it was protected by the almost page 107perpendicular river-bank, of great height, from sudden assault. An undulating stretch of open or timbered country filled in the foreground, while in the dim distance rose the giant form of Tongariro, cloud-capped, menacing, in dread majesty and sublimity, and but a few miles to the eastward, calm in the fading light, lay the placid waters of a lake. Strangely beautiful as was the whole landscape, wanting no element which in other lands excites wonder or arouses admiration, there was yet a feeling of undefined doubt, amounting to suspicion of evil, as his eye roved over the unfamiliar scene. This was confirmed, even deepened, as a geyser between them and the lake suddenly shot to a height of fifty or sixty feet in the air, while a hitherto unsuspected fumarole sent its smoke-columns towards the firmament. Yet not a head was turned, not a movement made by the group, "native and to the manner born." Geysers and fumaroles were part of their daily life, it would appear.
"There may be differences of opinion as to the advantages of their proximity," thought the white stranger, as he scanned the grand and majestic features of the wide landscape before him, "but none can deny their sublimity." He could scarce refrain from exclaiming aloud—
"Lives there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said," etc.
If he had carried out the unspoken thought he would have raised himself in the estimation of his newly found acquaintances, as no nation has had a higher appreciation of elocutionary effort; and a free translation by his guide would have doubtless confirmed page 108the entente cordiale. As it was, however, the few sentences uttered by his companion, in which, among others, he recognized the words Pakeha, Rangatira, and Mata Kawana, were sufficiently satisfactory. This was, of course, after the formal greeting of "Haere mai!" had been pronounced by the elders and principal personages of the assembly, as well as by all the women, and the rank and file.
A venerable and imposing-looking personage, apparently of great age, approached to greet the strangers, and, after exchanging a few sentences of an interrogatory nature, pointed the way to an unoccupied whare of larger dimensions than the others. In this, Mr. Massinger was told, through the interpreter, to place his possessions, and to consider himself at home for the present. An adjoining tenement was indicated, in a less formal way, as provided for his companion, the difference of their positions being accurately understood. Indeed, the socialists of the day would be rather scandalized at the gulf which separates the Maori aristocrat, or rangatira, from the "common people" (if one may use such an expression) of the tribe.
The rangatira was, indeed, a personage of no ordinary distinction. Served from his childhood by his "inferiors," in the most true and literal sense of the word; waited upon with deference, mingled with apprehension, by the women, the slaves and the rank and file of the tribal section, or hapu, to which he was born, no wonder that he grew up with the traditional qualities imputed to the mediæval aristocrat.
He was the robber-baron of the Rhine; he was the untrammelled seigneur of the time of Louis page 109Quatorze; he was the piratical Viking of the Norse legends.
He raided his weaker neighbours; he descended upon defenceless coast settlements; he organized carefully thought-out plans of invasion, alliance, or reprisal. He was comprehensively merciless in war, slaying and enslaving at will. But he possessed, by the strongest contemporary evidence, the corresponding virtues. He was brave to recklessness, chivalrous to a degree unknown in modern warfare, sending notice of attack, in ordinary cases, before the commencement of hostilities; and, in well-authenticated instances, even forwarding ammunition to the enemy who had run short of powder, invariably choosing death before dishonour. And he was religious after his own fashion, recognizing superior as well as inferior deities and supernatural personages, whom it was important to honour and conciliate. He was at all times ready to die for his principles, or in vindication of his dignity and hereditary position.
Roland Massinger, when he found himself in full possession of the whare, which had been floored with clean fern, and even adorned with several bunches of the beautiful crimson rata and pohutukana blossoms, began to revolve the strange chain of circumstances which had led to his finding himself the honoured guest of this sub-section of a more or less ferocious tribe. Nothing imaginable could be more romantic; at the same time, the situation was, at the best, only comparatively satisfactory. The smouldering blood-feud between the races, already dangerously fanned by the mistaken action already referred to, might blaze up at any moment. Then, the war-spirit once page 110aroused, and the boding scream of the Hokioi thrilling all hearts, the position of an isolated European would be doubtful, if not desperate.
Of the risks and chances thus involved, however, our adventurer made but little account. He had not come so far to abstain from exploration of this wonderful country. It was not worse than Africa, whence many an Englishman had returned rich and distinguished. Whatever happened, he was embarked in the enterprise; would go through with it at all hazards.
With the addition of a small contribution from his store of provisions to the kumera, pork and potatoes, together with a great dish of peppis, or cockles, supplied in clean flat baskets, he made a satisfactory meal, concluding, of course, with a pannikin of tea. He had arranged his rug and blankets at one side of his rude chamber, and, being reasonably tired with the day's journey, looked forward to a night's rest of a superior description.
He walked a few steps from the door, and, lighting his pipe, gazed upon the scene before him. The moon, nearly full, lighted up the river, the meadow, the distant mountain, the dark-hued forest. No civilized habitation was visible. No sound broke the stillness of the night, save the murmuring voices of the dwellers in this strange settlement of primitive humanity. Habitudes common to all societies, rude or civilized, were not wanting. Women talked and laughed, children prattled or lamented, as the case might be. There was the narrator of events, the wandering minstrel, the troubadour or "jongleur" of this later Arcadia, with his circle of interested listeners. The boys and page 111girls played at games, or walked in friendly converse, much as those of their age do in all countries. The men were grave or gay, earnest or indifferent, as elsewhere. Occasionally he caught the word pakeha strongly accented, from which he gathered that his appearance and movements had aroused curiosity, perhaps suspicion.
After a while he observed a small party or group of mixed sexes, which, breaking up, moved in the direction of his abode. As they came closer, he observed the guide walking among them. Coming to the front, as he advanced to meet them, he inquired of him what it meant.
"They want you to go to-morrow and see the famous lakes and terraces. I told them you were in a hurry, and must go back to the Governor at Auckland." Upon this, the leaders of the party, among whom were several young girls, raised a cry of dissent, making angry gestures and sportively threatening the guide, while they pointed towards the east, intimating that the proposed expedition was kapai ("very good").
By the time the explanation had reached that stage, Roland found himself encircled by these dusky maidens, who, with flashing eyes, animated gestures, and caressing tones, sought to make the pakeha rangatira understand that the arrangement would be much to his advantage.
The guide spoke to them in the native tongue, extolling the importance and wealth of his patron, and rather deprecating the expedition, as inconsistent with the responsible duties which were his peculiar province. However, such was the persistency with which they urged their argument, that, after asking page 112for a literal translation of the several inducements held out, Roland pretended to waver.
"How long will it take," he inquired of his guide, "to go and return?"
"Not more than two or three weeks," he returned answer.
"And are the natives much the same as these?"
"No great difference, except that they are more expert in getting money out of travellers."
"Will any of these young people go with us?"
"Oh yes, if you ask them, and give them a small keepsake, or something in the way of pay, for their services."
"Then, I think I will——"
How the pakeha was about to end this speech may never be accurately known, for at that moment a loud cry of "Erena, Erena!" arose from the rear, and a girl, differing in several important respects from the young women around him, moved quietly through the crowd and stood among the foremost speakers.
Roland at once recognized in the new-comer a personality altogether different from any which he had previously encountered in New Zealand. It was not alone that she was fairer than her dusky sisters; such complexions had he seen before, due to the intermixture of the races, by no means uncommon in the coast towns. Many of the young people of that blood were distinctly handsome in face and striking in figure. But there was something regal and statuesque in the bearing of this damsel which he had scarcely realized as of possibility in a Maori tribe.
Her dress consisted of a more ornate and elaborate upper garment than the ordinary flax mat, or puriri, page 113worn by the other women of the tribe. Later on, Massinger learned to know it as a kaitaka, or shawl, made of the finest flax, laboriously prepared, till it almost resembled silk in texture and appearance; a portion of it was dyed black, and worked in small diamond-shaped patterns, surmounted by long white fringes.
It might almost have been woven in a loom, such was the precision with which the fine twisted flax threads crossed each other at intervals. The making of such a garment, chiefly worn by women of rank or distinction, required both skill and patience; a whole winter was not considered an unreasonable time to devote to its manufacture. Gracefully draped over one rounded shoulder, it fell in folds over a striped woollen undergarment reaching below the knees, permitting the free, graceful, and unstudied movements so characteristic of the untrammelled races of the earth.
As this girl walked slowly forward, the Englishman thought she might have stood for a sculptor's model of a woodland nymph, as yet unconscious of the admiring glances of Phæbus Apollo.
"Who is this young woman?" said Roland to the guide. "What is her name, and how does she come to be with the natives?"
"Her name is Erena Mannering," said he. "She belongs to the tribe, though she is a half-caste. Her father was a sea-captain, and her mother a chief's daughter. I have told her about you, and she wishes to speak."
"But I cannot talk Maori. You will have to interpret what she says and what I say."page 114
The guide smiled. "She can speak English as well as we can. She was educated at a college in Wanganui, endowed for the teaching of Maoris and half-castes."
Thus emboldened, Roland advanced, and begged to be favoured with her advice as to his making the journey to Rotomahana.
"I hear," he said, "that there are difficulties in the way. My good friend Warwick thinks that if the country is not in a disturbed state now, it soon may be, in which case there might be risks. They tell me, however, that it is a charming place, and well worth a trial."
"It is the most beautiful place I ever saw or dreamed of," answered the strange maiden, in a low rich voice, and with perfect intonation. "For the danger, I cannot speak. There may be, if war breaks out; but Maoris do not kill white strangers unless they have a motive. Do you care very much to go?"
The expedition was now, in Roland's chivalrous mind, rapidly assuming the form of an adventure. War, danger, and a belle sauvage! He thought of "The Burial of Atala" which he had seen in the gallery of the Louvre, and answered with decision—
"Always with your permission, I have made up my mind to see Rotomahana or die."
The girl smiled, as she looked fixedly at the white stranger with half-compassionate eyes.
"You are like all your countrymen. Only say there is a chance of being killed, and you cannot stop them. I will speak to the chief. He may write you a pass, and then none can harm you."
Whereupon she glided forward, and, threading page 115the group, stood before the chief, with whom she conversed earnestly for some minutes, after which she reappeared.
"The chief says that you must go at your own peril. There might be danger if war is declared. But he does not think you will be interfered with. He will send people with you."
"Wonders will never cease," thought Roland. "Fancy this majestic chief writing a note, 'Please don't eat the bearer till I come,' or something to that effect!" But he only said that he was astonished at his kindness, and would gratefully accept his written passport.
"I dare say you are surprised at a Maori chief writing at all; but Waka Nene is a baptized Christian. He was converted by one of the early missionaries, and taught to read and write. He has been a firm friend of the English ever since. He fought for them in Honii Heke's war, and will fight for them in this one, if your people are foolish enough to bring it on."
"My eyes are being opened; by-and-by I shall be enlightened as to Maori matters. At present I know little. But my friends in England will never believe me if I tell them of a Maori chief writing notes, and a Maori young lady talking excellent English."
"I am not a young lady—I am only a half-caste Maori girl; but I can help your people now and then. Is there anything else that I can do for you?"
"There is one thing more which would add so much to my pleasure in this journey," said Roland, emboldened by the strange, unreal aspect of all things—the flowing river, murmuring in the stillness of the page 116night; the savage people in groups, lying or standing around; the dramatic scene with this half-wild maiden, with flashing eyes and mobile face, a figure like the huntress Diana, and a rich low-toned voice that was like the murmur of a love-song. "There is one thing which would make the journey perfect."
"What is that?" asked the damsel, looking him full in the face with the clear unabashed eyes of youth and innocence.
"That you would accompany us."
He felt, as he uttered the words, that he had presumed too far on such a slight acquaintance, and that she might resent the proposal.
Much to his relief, however, she smiled like a pleased child, and looking at him with much earnestness, said—
"Would you really like me to go?"
"Like you to go! Why, I should be charmed. Think of the advantage to me of a companion familiar with all the points of the landscape, as well as every legend and historic locality. But it is too great a favour to ask."
The girl's eyes glowed, as with animated countenance Roland proceeded to detail the amazing benefits of this arrangement. But, true to her sex, she appeared to hesitate, and finally said she must consult the chief; if he offered no objection, they would start early on the following morning.
Nothing could be more promising or more in accordance with Roland's feelings. His guide, who had contented himself with putting in a word or two now and then, had a short conversation in Maori with the new-found goddess. Then bidding him good-night, page 117she passed on with swift steps towards the group of elders, where the chief still stood. There she apparently entered upon the affair of the expedition, for question and answer were quickly interchanged, and the earnest tones of the speakers—several of the surrounding elders having joined in—showed that the question was being fully debated. Lastly, at a few sentences uttered by the youngest man of the party, she laughingly shook her hand threateningly at him, and ran lightly back to the part of the kainga from which she had first emerged.
"It is all right," said Warwick; "the chief has consented. Erena will go with us to-morrow. She is better than any man on a journey, and knows every step of the way. We had better make an early start."
This Mr. Massinger had every inclination to do; so, after smoking a couple of pipes in front of their temporary castle, producing tobacco, and distributing largesse of the same in free fashion, which conduced to his instant popularity, he lay down in his whare enveloped in rugs and coverings, where the rippling river lulled him into sleep so sound that the chatter of the village gossips, and even the baying of the dogs, which occasionally broke into chorus, had no power to disturb it.