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The Adventures of Kimble Bent

Chapter XXVII — Hiroki: the Story of a Fugitive

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Chapter XXVII
Hiroki: the Story of a Fugitive

Hiroki, the slayer of McLean—Strange faces at Rukumoana —A forest chase—A meeting and a warning—Hiroki's wild bush life and his end.

More than one outlaw from the white country out- side took refuge in the Taranaki bush even in those post-bellum days. One of these was Hiroki, the Maori who killed McLean. Hiroki (“The Lean One”) had quarrelled with a survey-party who had camped on his land away out near the coast in the year 1878; the cause of the trouble, as he said, was the killing of his pigs by McLean, who was the sur- veyor's cook. Hiroki remonstrated with the pakehas, but they jeered at him; and when his last pig had disappeared he sat down and wept, then loaded his gun, went to the survey camp, and shot McLean dead. Wherefore he was a hunted man, with a price on his head.

One day, as the pakeha-Maori (Kimble Bent) and his Maori companions were sitting smoking in their lonely little bush-village at Rukumoana, far up the Patea River, they heard a loud hail across the river. page 312 They looked at each other in astonishment and a little alarm, for they imagined that no one knew their hiding-place. Bent went to his hut, and loading a revolver, put it in his belt, then walked over to the river-bank. On the other side of the stream there were six natives standing. They called to Bent to bring a canoe over and ferry them across.

Bent, always on the qui vive for danger, was dubious about the wisdom of trusting himself alone with a party of strangers, who, for all he knew, might be after his head, for he was still an outlaw. But he dropped into his canoe, and with a few strong strokes sent the dugout across the river. He knelt in his canoe, holding her nose into the bank, and interrogated the strange Maoris. The leader was a tall young half-caste. They were all armed with revolvers, and one or two had tomahawks stuck in their belts.

“Where do you come from, and what do you want here?” asked the white man.

“We have come seeking a man who has committed a crime,” replied the half-caste, speaking, as Bent had done, in Maori.

Bent shoved the canoe a stroke off from the bank and said determinedly, with a hand on his revolver:

“If you have come to capture me I will not be taken; I will spill the blood of the first man who attempts it. I will kill my enemy first and then kill myself.” (“Ka maringi i ahau te toto a te tangata page 313 tuatahi. Ka mate taku hoariri nei, maku e u'hakamate toku tinana.”)

“It's all right, friend, we don't want you,” said the half-caste; “we are looking for a Maori called Hiroki, who has murdered a surveyor's cook, named McLean, out yonder on the plains. We have traced him up here, and we want to know where he is, because there is a price on his head, and we are Government Maoris.”

“Come along, then; I'll take you across,” said Bent. The strangers stepped into the canoe, and the white man paddled them over the Patea; then took them up to the village and into Hakopa's house.

To the old chief and his Maori companions the half-caste explained the mission that had brought his party to lonely Rukumoana.

“We have not seen your man Hiroki,” said Hakopa. “He may have swum the river and passed through here by night. Who knows? If he has passed this way he has no doubt gone to Te Ngaere, which is a very difficult place to reach and a good refuge-place for men like Hiroki.”

“We do not know the trail to Te Ngaere,” said the half-caste. “Will any of you guide us there?”

Bent offered to go as guide, saying he knew the track to Ngaere very well and had frequently been there in the war-days. “But,” he asked, “will page 314 you guarantee my safety if I trust myself with you? How do I know that you will not cut my head off when you get me out alone in the bush, and take it out to get the Government reward?”

The half-caste laughed. “You're quite safe, pakeha. Not a man of us will touch you. I tell you we only want Hiroki.”

A young man named Pakanga, of the Ngati-Maniapoto tribe from the King Country, happened to be in the village on a visit to the forest-dwellers. He was sitting alongside Bent. “Friend,” he said quietly, “I will go with you, and see that they don't attack you treacherously.”

So Bent agreed to go as guide, and, after a meal of pork and potatoes, set before them by the women of the kainga, the armed party of man-hunters set out along the bush-track leading in the direction of the swamp-defended Ngaere, the place where Colonel Whitmore and his force of Colonial soldiers just failed in surprising and capturing Titokowaru in the last days of the war in 1869.

Bent leading, the party filed along the narrow overgrown trail until they were close to the banks of a small stream, the Mangamingi. A little distance back from the creek the white man asked his companions to halt, saying that he and Pakanga would go on to reconnoitre.

The half-caste and his five men sat down and lit their pipes, and Bent and the King Country Maori page 315 went off cautiously, saying one of them would come back at once if they caught sight of the fugitive.

The white man and his friend had gone only a short distance when they came upon a fire burning just alongside the track, in an old camping-place beneath the shade of a giant totara-tree, whose great branches overhung the little dark river that flowed close by. A few roasted potatoes, still warm, lay alongside the fire. Evidently it had been deserted only a few minutes.

“Now,” said Bent to his companion, “let us settle quickly how we shall act. Hiroki—for it can be no one else—must be close by; he must have only just left this spot. Shall we betray him to the Government, or shall we let him escape? He had a just grievance against the man whom he shot. We have heard all about it, and we know that he was a peaceable man, who was provoked into a fit of passion. He is a lonely and a hunted man, and for me my sympathies are with him, for is he not a fugitive like myself?”

E tika ana,” said the young King Country Maori. “That's right. We won't give him up to the Government head-hunters.”

“Let me tell you now, friend,” said Bent, “that I have had suspicions for some days that Hiroki has been in hiding near our village. One morning lately, when I went to look in my pataka (store- page 316 house) across the river, where I keep my seedpotatoes for the new season's planting, I found that some of them had been taken. Then half a mile up the river the next day I saw a place where some stranger had been fishing for eels, for there were heads of the eels lying there where he had cut them off. There was a fire there, and some of my seed-potatoes had been roasted in it. I told old Hakopa and no one else about it.”

The two men descended the bank to the river. Just where the track entered the slow-moving, muddy stream they saw the fresh prints of naked feet. Wading across, they quickly mounted the opposite bank and set out at a noiseless, easy lope, their bare feet making hardly a sound, along the trail that wound into the glooms of the bush.

Suddenly, at a turn in the track, they came upon Hiroki.

The fugitive was standing there, waiting, for the low growling of his dog, a white, savage-looking animal, had given him warning of pursuit. The hunted man menacingly presented a short-barrelled gun at the pakeha and his companion. He was a fellow of middle stature, lean, as his name implied, but strong and hard-limbed, with a dark determined face and a short black beard.

“Where are you going?” cried Hiroki.

“Oh, nowhere in particular,” Bent replied; “just strolling along” (“ki te haereere”).

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The Maori looked puzzled and suspicious, and kept his gun at the ready.

“Listen to me, friend,” said Bent quickly; “you are in danger. There are six Government Maoris close behind you, and they want you dead or alive. Now, go on, and go quickly. And don't venture back, lest you die!”

Ka pai koe!” (“You are good!”) was all Hiroki said. Turning, he went quickly at a halftrot along the path, with his gun at the trail, and his wild-looking, mongrel dog close on his bare heels, and in a few moments both disappeared in the dark forest.

Bent and Pakanga returned to the pursuing party, who were becoming impatient at the long absence of their guide and were hot with questions.

The white man and his companions managed to quiet the suspicions of the man-hunters. They declared that there were no signs of any one having passed that way, and that it would not be much use going on to the Ngaere, which was a long and very toilsome journey. Fortunately for them, the half-caste and his men had not troubled to go on as far as the big totara on the river-bank, where the tell-tale fire was not yet cold.

After some debate the whole party returned to Rukumoana, and the hunters, giving up the chase in that direction, made out to the open country, and that was the last Bent heard of them.

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Three years later Bent met Hiroki in Parihaka, the village of the prophet Te Whiti. The slayer of McLean had had a wild and anxious life of it after his escape from Rukumoana. He told Bent of his lonely existence in the great forests of the back-country, living on eels, wild honey, the young shoots of fern-trees, and such-like rough fare of the bush. After he came out into the open country and was making his way across the Waimate Plains in the direction of Parihaka he was chased by several Government men (one of whom was Mr. William Williams, a Plains settler), and was fired at and wounded, but escaped. Te Whiti sheltered him and condoned his crime, which, being a semi-agrarian one, was counted a patriotic deed by the people of Parihaka. He spoke gratefully of what Bent had done for him, in giving him timely warning that day in the Mangamingi bush, and offered him a money gift as some measure of utu. This Bent promptly refused, saying, “Keep your money, and thank the Atua for your escape, not me.”

Hiroki was a wild figure in Parihaka those lawless days of 1878–81. On meeting-days and feast-days, when the faithful of the Maori tribes gathered to hear the prophet expound the Scriptures after his fashion and prophesy many strange happenings, the Lean One used to head the procession of the tuku-kai, the bringing of the food for ceremonious presentation to the visitors. A double line of gaily page 319 dressed girls, bearing baskets of potatoes and pork and fish hot from the hangi, marched in time to a lively song into the marae, and in front of them paraded Hiroki, stripped to a loin-mat, a loaded and cocked double-barrelled gun in his hands, white feathers stuck in his hair, red war-paint on his cheeks and forehead, leaping from side to side, eyes rolling, tongue defiantly protruded, the embodiment of Maori savagery and ferocity. But when John Bryce, as native minister, invaded Parihaka in 1881 with his force of 1,700 Armed Constabulary and Volunteers, and arrested the two prophets Te Whiti and Tohu, Hiroki was also captured, and shortly thereafter he was tried for McLean's murder and was hanged.

To this day the Maoris of the Patea tell stories of Hiroki's solitary and savage life in the bush. One place in particular—at Orangimura, between three and four miles above Rukumoana—is pointed out as a hiding-place of the refugee. Here a large, hollow rata-tree grew near the top of a high bank; the Patea River flowed below. Hiroki had camped here in order to get wild honey from a hive in the hollow tree, and after he had filled a couple of calabashes with the honey he lit his nightly fire and went to sleep close to the cliff-top, first tying his dog up to a bush with a flax rope. In the night the dog bit through the flax that held him, and jumping on his master so startled him that he forgot he was so page 320 near the verge of the cliff, over which he promptly rolled in the darkness; he fell with a mighty splash in the river below, together with his astonished dog. The spot where this night adventure occurred is called by the Maoris Te Pari-o-Hiroki, which means “Hiroki's Precipice.”