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The Adventures of Kimble Bent

Chapter XXIII — A Battle in the Fog

page 270

Chapter XXIII
A Battle in the Fog

The surprise of Otautu—An early morning attack—Kimble Bent's dream—“Kia tupato!”—A gallant defence—Brave old Hakopa—Flight of the Hauhaus.

A misty morning in the forest. A little Maori hamlet, just a collection of thatched huts, in a small clearing enclosed on all sides by the dense woods. In the rear a deep ravine, jungly with thick undergrowth, then the winding snag-strewn Patea River. This was Otautu, Titokowaru's refuge-camp. It stood on a plateau—now a richly grassed farm; scattered over the clearing were potato-gardens. There was a frail stockade of stakes, but there were no trenches or rifle pits; it was an ordinary residential kainga; the fugitive Hauhaus trusted to the tangled forest as their best defence.

Grey dawn. The raw morning fog hung low on the sleeping village—a mist so thick that it shrouded from the view objects even a few yards distant. It lay like the winding bank of smoky mist that marks the course of a forest stream early on a page 271 summer morning; the black tree-tops stood out clear above the white pall of damp, cold vapour.

Not a sound from the slumbering kainga, where some three or four hundred Hauhaus—Kimble Bent amongst them—lay packed in their nikau-roofed huts.

At the edge of the clearing a solitary Maori sentry, a man armed with a revolver, sat, keeping a semi-somnolent guard.

Suddenly, out of the dark forest, appeared a body of armed men. They came in Indian file; they broke into a stealthy run as they left the shadow of the trees; their bodies were bent eagerly forward; they carried their rifles at the trail; they uttered not a sound.

They were the Maori advance-guard of Colonel Whitmore's expeditionary force of four hundred A.C.'s and Kupapas. After weeks of bush-scouting a Government column had at last happened on the Hauhau hiding-place.

The Maori sentinel—he was a man of the Puketapu tribe named Te Wareo—was all in an instant wideawake. The moment he jumped up he was fired on by the advance-guard. Leaping into cover he raced for the village, firing his revolver as he ran.

The discharge of the rifles rolled crashing through the forest. Startled kaka parrots flew from their tree-perches, screaming discordantly at their rude awakening. The clear notes of a bugle rang out page 272 —it was the “Advance” and “Double!” The active little colonel rushed his men up at top speed, extended them, and advanced on the hidden camp, and a strange combat began.

At the first crack of the firearms the kainga was awake; and what a scurry there was! The Maoris poured out of their wharés just as they leaped from their sleeping-mats—some wearing only a shawl or ragged mat; others entirely naked. Some of the women rushed out of their huts without a shred of clothing on, screaming and shouting, and running for their lives. The men snatched up their guns and tomahawks, and their cartouche-belts; and quickly took post to defend their position, and give time for their women and children to retreat in safety.

According to Kimble Bent the attack was not entirely unexpected. At any rate, it had been foreshadowed in Maori fashion by one of the Hauhau “medicine-men.”

“The day before this attack,” says Bent, “I had a strange dream, which Titokowaru's priest and reader of dreams interpreted as an omen of misfortune. I dreamt that I saw a strange Maori village in which each house was cut in two lengthways, leaving only half the dwelling standing, in the shape of a shed or lean-to, such as we called tiheré. I described this vision to the Hauhau seer. He gathered the people in the meeting-house that night, and after speaking of the dream I had had, page 273 he cried in a loud voice to them these words of caution and warning:

Kia tupato! He po kino te po; he ra kino te ra!” (“Be on your guard! This is a night of evil and danger, and the morrow also will be a day of evil!”)

“The prophet then said to me: ‘Be ready for flight in the morning! Get your belongings ready packed in your kit, and, if you hear a suspicious sound, fly from the pa at once.’

“So, when the first shots were heard in the early morning, I was ready to make a bolt for it. The moment the alarm was given I jumped up from my sleeping-place in one of the huts, grabbed my kit, and barefooted and with nothing on but my shirt and an old piece of a tent-fly girt round my middle, I ran to the bank at our rear, and jumped down the cliff. I went tumbling and scrambling down to the river, and then travelled up along the banks for a considerable distance as fast as I could go. All I had saved from Otautu was what I had in my kit—some papers, a little money, needles and thread, and so forth. As I ran up along the river banks I fell in with some of our people. We went on until we found a canoe tied up on the bank, and we crossed the Patea in her, ferrying four across at a time until all were safely over. Those who were with me were non-combatants, like myself, mostly women.

While the unarmed people of the camp were mak- page 274 ing good their escape, the Otautu clearing was the scene of severe fighting. The Hauhau warriors took post just at the edge of the little plateau where the thickly timbered ground suddenly fell away to the ravine at the rear. Sheltered by the fall of the ground, they swept the clearing with their rifles and smooth-bores. Some of them climbed into the branches of the rata-trees and delivered their fire; some extended in bush-skirmishing order on either flank; and both sides— pakeha and Maori—peppered away briskly at each other for half an hour or more.

It was a singular skirmish, for the dense fog still shrouded the hill-top; and the Government men, who were being punished severely by the Hauhau fire, could for a long time see nothing of their enemies. Many A.C.'s dropped, some shot dead.

The Government Maoris, the Kupapas, under the celebrated Kepa, advancing from tree to tree round the edge of the clearing, came to close quarters with the Hauhaus. One of Titokowaru's veteran warriors performed a deed here which is still told and retold with loving admiration by the old Taranaki Hauhaus.

He was the old man Hakopa (Jacob) te Matauawa, the Maori who had taken a friendly interest in Kimble Bent at Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu, and saved the white man from the two savages who stalked him there, as narrated in a previous chapter. Hakopa page 275 was a tall, athletic man, of spare frame, and well tattooed. He was about seventy years of age, a true type of the olden Maori toa—the hero of the war-trail, the brave. He was a curious figure, in his military cap, tunic, and trousers—stripped from a dead Constabulary man after the fight at Papatihakehake.

Hakopa dodged from tree to tree out on the flanks of the clearing, making good use of a recently captured carbine. In the uncertain light it was difficult for the Government men to tell friend from foe, and Hakopa's pakeha uniform seems to have completely deceived some of the Kupapas. As he leaped from tree to tree and stump to stump, he shouted “Raunatia! Raunatia!” (“Surround it!”) to induce the belief that he was one of the Government force.

At last all Hakopa's cartridges but two were gone. A prudent warrior would have retired at this stage—but not Hakopa. He did not like the idea of retreat while he had a shot in his locker, and he determined to bag something in the way of a Kupapa or a pakeha with his last charges. He waited until the leading men of Kepa's party were within close “potting” distance, and, as one of them unsuspectingly approached him, he quickly threw up his gun and put a bullet into his enemy, then turned and bounded into cover, and rejoined his comrades in the defile, unhurt, hugely delighted with his exploit.

page 276

“You young men waste your cartridges,” he said reprovingly, after the fight, to some of the youthful braves of Ngati-Ruanui. “Look at me! I know the worth of good powder and lead too well to fire them away for nothing. For every cartridge I used I hit a man!”

It was a determined, plucky stand, that defence of the Otautu clearing by Titokowaru's warriors. Every minute they held out, they knew, was giving their women and children and old people a better chance of safety.

At last the fog lifted, swept away from the clearing by the morning breeze, and the sun shone out.

Now for the first time the Government soldiers saw the village. The bugle sounded the “Advance” again, and at the double the A.C.'s swarmed into the empty kainga, to find, to their astonishment, that it was neither rifle-pitted nor parapeted.

The Hauhaus, their resistance broken, took to the forest, racing down the steep gully in rear of the village and up along the banks of the Patea. Kepa's Maoris went in hot pursuit, and shot two or three of the fugitives. The main body crossed the Patea safely, and rejoined their womenfolk and children, camping, hungry, weaiy, and with limbs and body torn and bruised in their flight, in a wellhidden nook deep in the forest on the north bank of the river.