War to the Knife, or, Tangata Maori
Strolling back to camp, his movements were quickened by observing that the rest of the party had finished the morning meal, and were only awaiting his arrival to commence the first day's sight-seeing. After a council of war, it was finally decided to remain in the valley for the rest of the day, making for Taupo and Rotomahana on the morrow.
"In this valley of Waiotapu," said Warwick, "you have a good idea, on a small scale, of Rotomahana and the terraces. The same sorts of pools are on view; you have also the feeling of being on the lid of a boiling cauldron, and can realize most of the sensations belonging to a place where you may be boiled alive or burnt to death at any moment."
"A romantic ending," replied Massinger; "but I don't wish to end my New Zealand career in such a strictly Maori fashion. What is one to do, to avoid incensing the Atua of this very queer region?"
"Be sure to follow me or Erena most carefully, and do not step away from the path, or into any water that you have not tried. One traveller did so, and, as it was at boiling heat, died next day, poor fellow! So now, let us begin. Do you see this yellow water-page 142basin? This is the champagne pool. For the champagne, watch this effect." Here a couple of handfuls of earth were thrown in. Thereupon the strange water commenced to effervesce angrily, the circles spreading until the outermost edges of the pool were reached. "The outlet, you see, is over that slope, and is known as the Primrose Falls. But we must not linger. Beyond that boiling lake, with the steam clouds hanging over it, lies a terrace, gradually sloping, with ripples in the siliceous deposit, finally ending in miniature marble cascades."
"All this is wonderful and astonishing, but it is only the beginning of the play. I shall reserve my applause until the last act. I have been in strange places abroad, but never saw so many different sorts of miracles in one collection. What are those cliffs, for instance, so white and glistening?"
"The Alum Cliffs, sparkling with incrustations of alum. You notice that they rise almost perpendicularly from the hot-water pools? In contrast, the colour of the surrounding earth varies from pale yellow to Indian red and crimson. Some of the crystals you see around are strongly acid. The pools are all sorts of colours: some like pots of red paint, others green, blue, pink, orange, and cream."
"Evidently Nature's laboratories. What she will evolve is as yet unknown to us. Let us hope it will be more or less beneficial."
"It is hard to say," replied Warwick, musingly.
"There is a legend among the Maoris that, many generations since, this valley, now so desolate, was covered with villages, the soil being very productive; that the inhabitants displeased the local Atua, upon page 143which he ordered a volcano in the neighbourhood to pour forth its fiery flood. An eruption followed, which covered the village many feet deep with the scoria and mud which, in a hardened state, you now see."
"Highly probable. I can believe anything of this sulphur-laden Valley of the Shadow. And did the mountain disappear also?"
"No! there he stands, three thousand feet high, quite ready, if one may judge from appearances, for another fiery shower. Let us hope he will not do it in our time. In the mean time, look at this Boiling Lake. Is not the water beautifully blue? And what clouds of steam! It is much the same, except in size, as the one above the Pink Terrace."
The day wore on as they rambled from one spot to another of the magical region.
"It is a city of the genii," said Massinger, as he watched the guide apply a match to one of a number of metallic-looking mounds, which promptly caught fire, and blazed until quenched. "Where in the world, except a naphtha lake, could one find such an inflammable rest for the sole of one's foot? I believe the place is one-half sulphur, and the other imprisoned fire, which will some day break forth and light up such a conflagration of earth, sky, and water, as the world has not seen for centuries. See here"—as, driving the end of his walking-stick into the crumbling earth, it began to smoke—"it is too hot to hold already."
The sun was low, as the little party, having lunched at a bungalow specially erected for tourists, took the homeward route.
"There is one more sight, and not the least of the page 144series," said Warwick, as they approached a curious soot-coloured cone, from which, of course, steam ascended, and strange sounds, with intermittent groanings, made themselves heard.
"The powers be merciful to us mortals, who can but believe and tremble!" ejaculated Massinger. "What demon's kitchen is this?"
"Only a mud volcano," answered Warwick. "Let us climb to the top and look in."
The mound, formed by the deposit of dried mud, some ten or twelve feet high, was easily ascended. Open at the top, it was filled with a boiling, opaque mass of seething, bubbling mud. Ever and anon were thrown up fountain-like spurts, which turned into grotesque shapes as they fell on the rim of the strange cauldron. A tiny dab fell upon Erena's kaitaka. She laughed.
"It will do this no harm; but it might have been my face. A mud scald is long of healing."
"What an awful place to fall into alive!" said Massinger, as he gazed at the steaming, impure liquid. "Is it known that any one ever slipped over the edge?"
"More than one, if old tales are true," said Warwick; "but they were thrown in, with bound hands, after battle. It was a choice way of disposing of a favourite enemy. He did not always sink at once; but none ever came out, dead or alive."
"Let us go on!" said Erena, impatiently. "I cannot bear to think of such horrors. I suppose all nations did dreadful things in war."
"And may again," interposed Warwick. "These people were not worse than others long ago. The Druids, with their wicker cages filled with roasting page 145victims, were as well up to date as my Maori ancestors. Luckily, such things have passed away for even."
"Let us trust so," said Massinger, feelingly.
Erena made no answer, but walked forward musingly on the track which led in the direction of the camp.
"Though narrow, it appears to have been much used," he remarked.
"It is an old war-path," replied the guide. "When the Ngapuhi came down from Maketu on their raids, they mostly used this route. I am not old enough to have seen anything of Heke's war in '45. It was the first real protest against the pakeha. The natives were beginning to be afraid, very reasonably, that the white man would take the whole country. If the tribes had been united, they could have defied any force then brought against them, and driven your people into the sea."
"And why did they not make common cause?"
"The old story. Blood-feuds had embittered one tribe against another. Chiefs of ability and forecast, like Waka Nene and Patuone, his brother, saw that they must be beaten in the long run. They allied themselves with the British. They had embraced Christianity, and remained faithful to the end, fighting against the men of their own blood without the least regard to their common origin."
"I need not ask you," said Massinger, "on which side your sympathies are enlisted."
"No! it goes without saying," answered the guide. "I have had a fair education; I have been about the world, and I cannot help recognizing the resistless power of England, against which it would be madness page 146to contend. I should never think of joining the natives in case of war. A war which is coming, from all I hear. At the same time, I cannot help feeling for them. Amid these woods, lakes, and through these mountains and valleys, their ancestors roamed for centuries. No people in the world are more deeply attached to their native land. Think how hard for them to be dispossessed."
"And have you an alternative to offer?"
"None whatever, if war breaks out. It is idle to expect that New Zealand, able to support millions of civilized people, should be abandoned to less than a hundred thousand savages; for such, with exceptions, I am afraid I must call them. As for justice and mercy in dealing with conquered races, these are mere words. Force is the only law, as it has ever been. What mercy did the Maoris show to their conquered enemies? They slew, enslaved, tortured—and worse! They exterminated weak tribes, and took their lands. They have little ground for complaint if a nation stronger in war applies the same measure to them."
"I congratulate you," said Massinger, "upon the logical view which you take of the question. But is there no way of reconciling the interests of the colonists and the children of the soil?"
"Certainly. If they are cool enough on both sides to adjourn this paltry dispute about the Waitara block until it can be settled by legal authority or arbitration, war might be avoided. No people are more obedient to law, when they properly understand it. They are naturally litigious, and enjoy a good long-winded lawsuit. If they were convinced that they were getting fair play in an arbitration, which I should recommend— page 147and there are available men, like Mannering or Waterton, who understand thoroughly the people and their customs, and are trusted by both sides—I believe they would cheerfully abide by an award."
"Then as to the sale of lands, disputed titles, upset price, and so on?"
"I believe that they are getting justice from the present land tribunals apart from political pressure, which would weaken in time; and if they do not get it from England, I do not know, speaking from experience and reading, from what other nation to expect it. There must be delay and litigation, but they will be satisfied in the end."
"And if not, and war breaks out?"
"Then there will be bloodshed to begin with, murder, outrage; all things which lead to unpardonable crimes on both sides; blood-feuds which will last for generations."
"A man like you might do much good in the legislature. Why do you not come forward, when inferior people of my own nation, from what I hear, degrade our parliamentary system?"
"The time is not yet," he answered. "We shall soon have other matters to think of. When we get back to Auckland there will be very little political business for some time to come."
Onward, and still onward. Fresh marvels of scenery seemed hourly opening before them. In pride of place, Tongariro, fire-breathing Titan, with volcanic cone, encircled by his stupendous mountain range. As they gazed, the ceaseless steam-clouds, now enveloping the summit, now wind-driven sportively, as if by a page 148giant's breath, exposed to view the darkened rim of the crater.
To the right of Tongariro, more than five thousand feet in height, they saw the heaven-piercing bulk of Ruapehu (eight thousand nine hundred feet), cloud-crowned, lava-built, but girdled with ice-fields at a lower altitude; and at the base, arising from gloomy forests, valleys seamed and fissured, precipices, ravines, and outlined terraces.
"What a land of contrasts!" said the Englishman. "The sublime, the dread and awful, the idyllic and peaceful rural, seem mingled together in the wildest profusion; fire and water conflicting furiously in the same landscape. Nature appears to have thrown her properties and elements about without plan or method."
"A strange country!—a strange people!" exclaimed Erena. "Is that what you are thinking of? Surely you cannot expect an ordinary population amid scenes like these. I fear that we resemble our country in being calm as the sleeping sea, until the storm of passion is aroused."
"And then?" queried he.
"Then, if we feel injured, cruel as the grave, merciless, remorseless. So beware of us! We make bad enemies, I confess; but, then, we are always ready to die for our friends."
"I am numbered, I trust, among that favoured class, am I not?" he continued, as he gazed at the girl's face, wearing as it did a sudden look of highsouled resolve.
So might have looked, so posed, the daughter of Jephthah; so, scorning fate and the dark death, stood Iphigenia as she awaited the blow of doom.page 149
The expression of her face changed; a wistful, half-pleading look came into her eyes.
"Why ask?" she said softly. "You know that you are; that you always will be."
And now, after a passage across the pumice-strewn levels, lo! Taupo the sacred, Taupo-Moana, the moaning sea.
There was no thought of unsatisfied expectation as Massinger gazed upon the glorious sheet of water, over which the eye wandered until the darksome shadows of Kaimandwa and Tankaru dimmed its azure surface—the vast mountain range, from which, on Tongariro, a mathematically correct cinder-cone sprang upwards, like the spire of a gigantic minster.
On the other side, the peak of Tauhara, 3600 feet in height, stood out in lone majesty. The twin Titan, Ruapehu, bared his enormous shoulder to the unclouded sky. The day was wonderfully fine, having the softened atmospheric tone peculiar to the later summer months of the northern island. Then gradually a delicate haze crept over the horizon, shading the stern outlines of the dark-browed Alp. The foot-hills seemed to have approached through the clear yet tinted lights of the fading day.
"When have I seen such a panorama before?" thought Massinger. "What vastness, what sublimity, in all its component parts! Then, as columns of steam rose in the far distance, completing the weird and abnormal effects of the unfamiliar vision, speech, even exclamation, appeared to fail him.page 150
"Yonder stands the pah of his Majesty, King Te Heu Heu, the head chief of all this district," interposed Warwick. "We must send forward a herald and pay our respects, or our visit may not be so successful. He has a queer temper, and is as proud as if he had been sent from heaven. There is his castle."
"Warwick is right," said Erena, coming up at this juncture and arousing herself from the reverie into which she, too, appeared to have fallen. "This is his kingdom, and we must do tika. We can rest for to-night, however, and give Te Heu Heu the second proper warning, so that he can receive us in state. I wish you could have seen the real Te Heu Heu, however."
"Why so? and what was his special distinction?"
"Something truly uncommon, personally. You would then have carried away an idea of a Maori Rangatira—one of the olden time. A giant in stature, he must have resembled old Archibald Douglas in 'Marmion'—'So stern of look, so huge of limb.' He lived in a valley some distance from here, among the hills you see yonder. But life in these regions has always been uncertain. One fine night—or perhaps it was a stormy one, for there had been a deluge of rain—the soil about here in the valley, even the rocks, they say, became loosened and came down in a kind of avalanche. It filled the whole valley, covering up Te Heu Heu, his people, his wives and children, numbering in all some seventy souls. They were never seen alive or heard of any more. There was a lament composed by his brother to his memory. I remember a verse or two.page 151
'Lament for Te Heu Heu.
'See o'er the heights of dark Tauhara's peak
The infant morning wakes. Perchance my friend
Returns to me clad in that lightsome cloud.
Alas! I toil alone in this cold world; for thou art gone.
'Go, thou mighty one! Go, thou hero!
Go, thou that wert a spreading tree to shelter
Thy people, when evil hovered round.
Ah! what strange god has caused so dread a death
To thee and thy companions?
'The mount of Tongariro rises lonely in the South,
While the rich feathers that adorned thy great canoe, Arawa,
Float on the wave. And women from the West look on and weep.
Why hast thou left behind the valued treasures
Of thy famed ancestor Rongo-maihua,
And wrapped thyself in night?'
There are as many more verses," said Erena, "but I have forgotten them. They all express the deepest feeling of grief—almost despair—as, indeed, do most of the Maori love-songs and laments. The grief was by no means simulated in the case of relations. I know myself of several suicides which took place immediately after funerals or disappointments in love."
"There is strong poetic feeling, with a high degree of imagination, in the native poems and orations," said Massinger. "It is a pity that these recitations should die out."
"The Te Heu Heu we refer to was a remarkable man," said Warwick. "Standing as near seven feet as six, he looked, I have heard people say, the complete embodiment of the Maori chief of old days—terrible in peace or war; and, arrayed in his cloak of ceremony, page 152with the huia feathers in his hair, and his mere-pounamou in his right hand, was enough to strike terror into the heart of the bravest."
"Didn't he refuse to sign the Treaty of Waitangi?" said Massinger.
"Of course he did. It was just like his pride and disdain of a superior. 'You may choose to be slaves to the pakeha,' he said scornfully to the assembled chiefs, as he turned away; 'I am Te Heu Heu!'"
The pah, or fortress, of the present chieftain was one of considerable strength and pretension, covering an area of nearly five acres. Reared upon a promontory which prevented assault, except by water, on three sides, it was well calculated to defy all manner of enemies in the good old days before breechloaders and artillery. The whole area was walled in, so to speak, with excessively strong palisades, the only entrance being by heavy sliding gates. This historic keep possessed all the natural advantages of the sites selected for the purpose, with the important addition of unlimited water-supply. Scarcity of the indispensable requisite, rarely possible to secure on the summit of a hill, often led to the surrender of the castle when besieged for sufficient time to exhaust the water-store. One of the ancient Maori romances, indeed, describes the dramatic incident of a beleaguered garrison, including the aged chief, at the point of death from thirst. The youthful leader of the besieging force, touched by the beauty of his daughter, the far-famed Ranmahora, relieves the veteran's suffering, and naturally receives the hand of the maiden, after which peace is ratified, amid general congratulations.page 153
Te Heu Heu's pah might be considered to be almost impregnable, having in addition to the trenches and galleries, double and treble lines of defence, which in other days proved so formidable to regular troops. Besides these were lines of pits, lightly covered over and thus used to entrap enemies. Also, another series used for storing provisions. When understood that these well-planned and scientific strongholds were constructed by a barbaric race with but stone and wooden implements, one can but wonder at the patient industry, joined to a high order of intelligence, displayed in their formation.
Sunrise all goldenly reluming a wonder-world! The calm waters of the lake stretching beyond the limit of vision as they gazed upon the sea-like expanse; the dread mountain kings crowned with eternal snow, girt with fire, ringed with ice-fields, based on primeval forests! Mortal man surely never looked upon so strange a scene—so crowded with all the elements of beauty, terror, and sublimity.
"Well worth the voyage," thought Massinger—"the dissevering of familiar ties and associations—but to have enjoyed this intoxicating experience!" How poor, how narrow the life which contented his compatriots!—which contented him before the Great Disaster, when his flight to this Ultima Thule appeared the welcome resort of a man careless of the future, if only relief might be gained from the intolerable anguish of the present.
Now how different were his feelings! The hard fare, the toilsome march, the hourly novelty, the certainty of adventure, and the approach of danger, page 154seemed to have changed not only his habits of thought, but his very nature. As he reflected upon the exhaustless field of enterprise which seemed opening around him, he almost shouted aloud with the joy of living and the anticipation of triumph.
Warwick had made an early visit to the potentate, who was, as he well knew, monarch of all he surveyed in the region of Taupo Moano. He had enlarged upon the rank and wealth of Massinger until a cloud was cleared from the mind of the chief, not unreasonably disposed to connect the arrival of an unknown pakeha with designs upon his hereditary lands.
When assured that his visitor was only moved by curiosity to behold the wonders of which all the world had heard, as well as to pay a visit of ceremony to the great chief Te Heu Heu, he became mollified, and expressed his desire to converse with the Rangatira Pakeha, who had come across the sea to behold the great lake Taupo and the wonder-mountains. Tongariro and Ruapehu.
At the hour of midday, therefore, Massinger, accompanied by Warwick and Erena, presented himself before the chief, who, standing in front of a wharepuni of unusual size, with elaborate carvings upon its massive doorposts, received him with perfect dignity and self-possession. The remainder of the party had been left with the camp-stores and belongings, it not having been thought necessary to include them in the interview.
The chief relaxed his stern features as Erena approached, and said a few words in his native tongue to her, which she answered with quiet composure. He then turned to Warwick, who appeared anxious page 155to explain their position, and mentioned the name of Waka Nene, which produced a distinct effect upon the chief's manner and demeanour.
"You are on the path to Rotomahana," said he. "It is a far journey to see the boiling fountain and the white steps of Te Tarata."
Massinger, through the guide: "I have heard much of these strange things. I have seen pictures of them. We have no hot lakes or burning mountains in my country."
"Then you will see them and go away; you are a strange people. You do not want to buy the land? No? I would sell you some if you would live here."
It was explained to the chief that the pakeha desired land that would grow corn. The land around Taupo was good to look at, but not for farmers. He thought he would buy land near Auckland.
"Does the pakeha know that there is much talk of war in the land? The Mata Kawana at Waitemata is deceived by bad men. He is paying Teira for land which is not his to sell. If the Mata Kawana takes it by force, there will be blood—much blood. Te Rangituke will not suffer the land of his people to be taken. Akore, akore!"
"This pakeha does not come to fight; he wishes to live on land near the Maoris. He will pay them money and buy the land."
"The pakeha is good; his word is strong. I should much like him to live here. Let him ask Erena in marriage from her father, and his days will be many."
"The pakeha does not desire to marry just at present, even if Erena would accept him. His heart page 156is in his own land. He wishes to see all the country before he settles down."
"That is well. The bird flies all round before he perches. But if the tribes dance the war-dance, on account of this trouble about the Waitara, what will he do then? The first taua of the Ngatiawa that he meets will kill him."
"The pakeha is brave. He can shoot a man afar off. He will go back to Waitemata or die. He has also a letter from Waka Nene."
"That is good for the Arawa and the Ngapuhi, but the Waikato will not regard it. It may be that the white man's Atua will keep him from harm."
With which sentiment the audience terminated.
With the exception of the world-famed terraces, no spot on earth was so rich in strange and wondrous surroundings as this great lake of unfathomable depth, a thousand feet above the sea, sleeping amidst its volcanic blocks of quartzose lava and huge masses of pumice-stone. To the north-west they gazed at the wooded ridges of Rangi-toto and Tuhua, and, three thousand feet above the sea, the bare turreted pyramids of Titerau, towering in pride, as might, on the castled Rhine, the ruined fortress of a forgotten robber-baron. White pumice-stone cliffs gleaming in the sun bordered the eastern shore. Behind the sombre forest ranges, pyramidal monoliths, piercing the heavens at yet greater altitudes, gave to this amazing landscape the fantastic aspect of a dream-world.
"When shall we awaken?" said Massinger, as he and Erena, lingering behind their guide as they strolled towards the camp, became conscious that the day was declining. "This is the newest land of page 157enchantment. I feel like a lotus-eater, removed from the world of everyday life. I could almost be tempted to cast in my lot with this careless-living race, wandering here till life grew dim, and the distinctions between what our fathers used to call right and wrong faded into uncertainty. I can imagine some men doing it."
"But not you. Oh! do not talk in that reckless fashion. Another might waste his life among these poor ignorant people; but you have a man's work yet to do in the world—a name to make, a family to remember. But"—as he smiled at her vehemence—"you are only joking; you are laughing at the poor Maori girl, who thought for a moment that you were in earnest. Let us walk faster; it will soon be dark, and we have some distance still to go."
A change seemed suddenly to have come over the spirit of the girl. From being carelessly playful in manner, as she had been in their rambles all the day, she became silent and reserved till they reached the camp. There she retired at once to where the other women had fixed their quarters, merely remarking that they would have to leave early if they hoped to reach the terraces.
The night was strangely, magically lovely. Massinger had no great desire to sleep. He felt, indeed, that one might easily watch till dawn amid this region of magic and sorcery. Brightly burned the stars in the dark blue heavens. There was no moon, but the constellations, to his excited fancy, seemed strangely lustrous and of intense, almost unreal, brilliancy. Warwick and he stood near their camp fire, only occasionally speaking, when all suddenly page 158there arose a wild shout, then a succession of cries, from the direction of Te Heu Heu's pah, which pointed to some unusual occurrence. A wailing cry came, too, from the natives of their own encampment, whom they observed to have left their whares and gathered in a group.
"What is the meaning of all this?" said Massinger, who had been gazing over the lake, and listening to the low calls and whispering notes of the water-fowl which sailed in flocks amid its sedges and reeds. "What do they mean by that long-drawn sound? And now there is a shout—a sort of herald's proclamation."
"You are right," said Warwick. "The Tohunga calls aloud, 'Behold the sacred fire on Tongariro! The Atua commands war. Listen, O men of the Arawa.
"'The pakeha desires to take the country of the nga iwi (the tribes). He will take the forests and the kumera plantations, the valleys and the mountains, the rivers and the shores of the sea. The Maori canoe will no longer be paddled on the broad bosom of the Waikato, on lakes which have been our fathers since they came from Hawaiki. The steamboat will drive away the Maori canoe; the sheep and cattle of the pakeha will feed on our plantations; the white magistrates will put our young men in prison; our old men will break stones for the pakeha roads. We shall all be slaves, working for a pakeha conqueror.
"'Shall we be slaves, or shall we unite and march against the pakeha?'"
A thousand voices shouted till the echoes by the lake shore rang again with cries as of one man—
"Akore, akore, akore!"
"If we are not willing to be slaves, shall the tribes, page 159the Waikato and the Ngatiawa, join together and drive the pakeha into the sea from whence he came?"
Then one more deep-drawn shout of assent resounded through the still night-air.
"You see what the feeling is," said Warwick, turning as he spoke. "Look yonder, and behold the fire on Tongariro!"
Massinger swung round, and, to his great surprise, saw amidst a cloud of steam, high up on the mountain, a red band of fire, which seemed to encircle the upper portion of the cinder-cone which formed so remarkable an addition to the summit. A fresh volume of steam rose pillar-like from the crater, while from time to time angry bursts of flame issued from the top and sides of the cone.
"A very grand sight," he said; "but what is there to create such a disturbance? It is surely not an unusual occurrence in this land of imprisoned fires? Is that the meaning of all this outcry?"
"That, and nothing else," replied the guide; "but it is by no means an ordinary occurrence. It is now many years since such a thing has taken place. But all the excitement arises out of an old superstition."
"And what may that be?"
"In olden times the appearance of fire upon Tongariro was regarded as a mandate from their Atua to wage war—which they invariably did. Occasions were not far to seek, as there was always a weaker tribe to attack or a strong one to measure forces with. But now it means more—much more. And that is why these natives are so excited."
"But why should it mean more now?"page 160
"For this reason. Every tribe in the North Island knows that this Waitara land trouble is likely to cause a break-out at any moment. They look upon this fire on Tongariro as a call to arms against the whites; and if there has been serious dispute at Waitara there will be a war, and a bloody one, as sure as we stand here."
"And with what result?"
"Of course, they will be beaten in the end. But it will be a longer business than people would think. The tribes are armed, and, having made money for some years past, these Waikato and Ngatihaua have invested in firearms. They have the advantage of knowing every foot of the country, and your troops will fight at a disadvantage. However, I see Te Heu Heu's people are quiet again, and our party have returned to their whares; so we may as well turn in."
Next morning Massinger was surprised at Erena's altered expression. Her usually bright and mirthful manner had given way to one of brooding depression; he in vain attempted to rally her.
"Surely you do not accept this natural occurrence as a command from Heaven? What possible connection can it have with the war, which I think unlikely to take place, in spite of Warwick's opinion."
"He knows more than you do," she answered—"possibly more than I myself, though of course the natives talk to me freely. But something tells me, in a manner that I cannot describe, that there will be war. And what the end of it may be for you, for me, for all of us, no mortal can tell."
"But surely it must be short," he answered. "Troops and ships will come from the other colonies page 161—from England, even—if war is once declared. Then what chance will these misguided natives have?"
"You will see—you will see," she said. "Pray God it may not be so; and, indeed, my father's daughter ought to fear nothing. It is not for myself. No!" she said, raising her head proudly, "if I could die, like the women of old, for my country, for my people, all would be easy. But I see worse things in the future—burning houses, women and children lying dead, the young and old; the settlers driven from their farms, after all their hard work and care; among our people the slaughter of warriors, the chiefs lying dead, the women and children starving! Oh, it is a terrible picture! I dreamed that blood had been shed, that more was to come."
"Why, you must be a prophetess!" said he, still striving to lead her from such dark forebodings. "You have been over-excited. I would not ridicule your ideas for a moment, but, as we can hear and do nothing till we get to Rotorua, suppose we agree to put off the mention of terrible things which may never come to pass, and enjoy what time we have among these lovely terraces."
"After all," she said, as a smile rippled over her expressive countenance, effacing for the moment every trace of depression, "perhaps it is the better way. Life is short at the best, and we need not cloud it more than we can help. We are now close to Tarawera, in some respects the most wonderful place of the whole collection. Isn't there a peculiar grandeur about it? The name means 'burnt cliffs.' Look at the rocky bluffs, shaded by those beautiful pohutus! That is Tarawera Mountain, with a crown of trees.page 162
And see, that is our path that leads to Rotomahana, by the south shore of the lake."
"We have now," said Warwick, "about ten miles to travel before we reach Rotomahana. The path is well marked but steep, and a fair climb."
The famous lake, when reached, was to Massinger somewhat disappointing. It owed nothing to mere extent or picturesque surroundings—a verdant-appearing sheet of water, with marshy shores, surrounded by treeless hills, covered with low-growing fern. But its marvels were strongly in evidence. Its title to distinction rests upon its high temperature and intense, incessant thermal activity. Boiling water on either shore issues from the soil. Pools of hot mud were frequent in the marshes; gas-bubbles in the open lake indicated a higher temperature near certain parts. There it was dangerous to bathe (according to Warwick), though at no great distance the water was merely lukewarm. Springs of various characters abounded, totally different from each other—alkaline, saline, arsenical, sulphurous. The feathered tribes of swimmers and waders, protected by the tribe until the appointed season, were in flocks innumerable, various of size, hue, and habit. The splendid pukeha (Porphyrio milanotus), the graceful torea, or oystereater (Hœmatopus piccatus), the beautiful white-necked "paradise" duck, with countless congeners, held high revel, after the manner of their kind.
Here might one fancy that one of great Nature's laboratories had been arrested until its beneficent purpose was fulfilled; that, until the missing cycle of centuries had rolled by, some high and glorious development of the Almighty Hand had been delayed; page 163that vain man had intruded upon the scene, with his accustomed assurance, before the creative scheme had been declared complete.
As the little group stood on Te Terata, or "tattooed rock," projecting with terraced marble steps into the lake, Massinger held his breath in wonder and admiration while the glories of this unequalled pageantry of the elements broke upon his senses. Earth and air, fire and water, were here represented in strange propinquity and hitherto unknown combinations.
A hundred feet above them, on the slope of the fern-clad hill, they came to a huge boiling caldron, enclosed in a crater with walls forty feet high, open only on the lake side. The basin, spring-fed, is nearly a hundred feet long, and more than half as wide. Brimful was it with translucent water, which, in that snow-white incrustated basin, was of an intense turquoise blue. Cloud-masses of steam, reflecting the lovely colour and confining the view, while enhancing the effect, were pierced with the ceaseless sounds, which are almost cries, of the tormented water. The silicious deposit presented the appearance of a cataract, which, dashing itself over a succession of gradually lowered platforms, has been suddenly turned into stone. The effect has been deliciously rendered by Mr. Domett in his glorious poem, "Ranulph and Amohia"—
"A cataract, carved in Parian stone,
Or any purer substance known,
Agate or milk-white chalcedon,
Its showering snow cascades appear.
Long ranges bright of stalactite,
And sparry frets and fringes white,
Thick falling plenteous, tier on tier,
Its crowding stairs."
The silicates deposited from the ever-flowing water had formed on the slope a succession of terraces of purest white imaginable, such as no Parian marble could surpass—delicate, pure, polished as of glass, the lines of tracery like the finest lace, the colouring of a lustre and variety unique and unparalleled.
The system of terraces and basins covered several acres. Centuries, nay æons, must have been required for the slow accumulation of these exquisite formations. Commencing at the lake with shallow basins, while farther up, the higher terraces, from three to six feet high, are formed by a number of semicircular stages varying in height. Each has a raised margin, from which the slender stalactites hang down upon the lower stage, encircling one or more basins, filled with water of the purest, most resplendent blue. The smaller cups represent so many natural baths, which connoisseurs of the most refined luxury could scarce have equalled—of different size and depth, too, with every degree of temperature.
On reaching the highest terrace, they arrived at an extensive platform, upon which were other basins of temperature equally high.
A rocky island, covered with ferns and lycopodiums, enabled them to view at ease the steaming water of the caldron, and to mark the varying colours and strong effects—the virgin white, the turquoise blue, the vivid green of the surrounding vegetation, the crude red of the bare walls of the crater, with the whirling clouds of steam, the delicate shapes of the pure marble-seeming stalactites, the incrustated branches, with every leaf and twig snow white, all combined in phantasmal, unearthly beauty.page 165
"What do you think of my country now?" said Erena, as they stood side by side, gazing at this enchanted scene.
"The most marvellous play of light and colour that my eyes ever rested on," said he. "I shall recall it to my dying day. It is a privilege to have lived through such an experience. Our old friend of the Arabian Nights uses the only forms of description that can approach it."
"I have been here more than once," said Erena, "but I never felt its charm so keenly as on this occasion. My father has a poetic soul and much scientific knowledge; he carefully explained to me its various beauties. But he was of opinion that some day a tremendous convulsion would take place and ruin all these glories for ever."
"What a dreadful idea! I am afraid you must have inherited a turn for prophesying evil. I must confess, however, that these imprisoned fire-spirits, whatever they are, must have very little of the Maori nature in them, if they let us off without a burst up. And now, I suppose, it is 'Hey for Rotorua!'"
"I fear so," said the girl, with a half-sigh. "This fairylike wayfaring is too pleasant to last. We may hear news at Rotorua which will alter your plans."
"My plans are quite unfixed at present; but if war breaks out it is hard to say what one may have to do. I dare say I shall be in the thick of it."
"We must not forget that the pink terrace is yet to be seen, and we may never have another opportunity of seeing it together."
"I feel as if my mind would not contain any more of wonder and admiration, but we dare not page 166leave any of the wonders of this unearthly region unexplored."
Together, then, leaving Warwick to arrange for an early morning departure, they watched the great fountain of "Otuka-puarangi," on the west side of the lake, discharge his azure overflow into a series of terraces and basins. The fountain sprang from a platform sixty feet above the lake and a hundred yards long. The flooring on the terraces was of a delicate pink hue; hence their name. In the background was the great hot spring, a caldron of forty to fifty feet in diameter, its naked walls, like the first seen, coloured red, white, and yellow. At the foot of the terraces they saw the great solfa-terra Te Whaka-tara-tara.
The three principal personages remained in converse long after the usual time of separation. The night was fine, and the surroundings were foreign to the idea of early repose. The sounds of the fire-breathing agencies, above and below, grew more distinct in the hush of night. An occasional steam jet shooting into the air appeared like an emissary sent to warn of approaching danger.
"I should like to have seen the terraces by night," said Massinger, "but it is not a country for late travelling."
"No, indeed," said Warwick; "a false step, a stumble into the wrong pool, has before now cost a man his life. I once saw a poor dog scalded to death in a moment. I think you will find Rotorua and the Valley of Geysers sufficiently interesting. If you care for Maori legends, you should ask Erena to tell you the tale of her ancestress, the beautiful Hinemoa."page 167
"What a pretty name! And was she an ancestress of yours? What did she do to acquire immortality?—for I have heard her name, as a heroine, without being told the legend."
"When we reach Rotorua, I will show you Mokoia, the island to which she swam," said Erena, with a smile. "Also the point Wai-rere-wai on the mainland, from which she started; besides the hot spring which she reached, close to her lover's village. It is a long swim, but I suppose the girls of her day were more accustomed to the water than we are now."
The third day was nearing its close when the little party, having skirted the three-cornered deep blue lake of Taka-tapu, threaded the tangled forests over the Waipa plain, and ascended the bare hills of the range which looks on Rotorua. The lake, gleaming in the sunlight, lay beneath them, with the fumaroles, steam-hammers, and geysers of Whaka-rewa-rewa in full blast.