Nation Making, a story of New Zealand
Chapter XIII. — The Surveyor's Story
The Surveyor's Story.
The Runanga Club:—The Surveyor's lot not a happy one.—Compensations.—A silent world.—Nature's Temple.—Scarlet Blossoms.—Orange Blossoms. Trees:—The Aka, the Houhere, the Titoki, the Nikau Palm.—The Puriri, its massive strength and beauty.—The auger Borer.—The King of the Forest.—The Kauri Tree.—Nature's Masterpiece.—An all-round tree.—Kami Gum Varnish.—The Rata.—A Cathedral pillar.—Crimson flowers.—A real Christmas Tree.—The Taniwha.—A Terror.—A little Lizard and a big Chief.—The Chief escapes.—In a Taniwha's Cave.—A Native boy.—Gobbling fears.—O Will where art thou?'—Stalactites.—Beauty and Vastness.—A dip in a Pool.—'Ah.'—Tui escapes from the Taniwha.—Draws up the Rope.—Alone.—Out of the water.—Bones in the Cave.—A whispering Echo.—All hope gone.—In a fever.—A goblin War dance.—Going mad.—'Hallo down there.—Rescued.
The Surveyor's lot in New Zealand is not always a happy one. In wet winter weather, cutting lines through swamps is a good many shades worse than living in a comfortable prison, like that kept by the Magistrate's friend Tonald Mac Tonald, if it were not for the disgrace of it. The only jolly thing about winter surveying, is the getting to a snug camp at page 108night after the day's work is done, and finding a smoking hot dinner ready. That makes up for all.
'Cutting lines through a grand old forest, entangled with supplejacks though it be, has many compensations. It is like working in Nature's grandest temple. In a silent world—for in the depths of the forest, no bird sings, no sound is heard. One moment as you cut your way along, you are attracted by the graceful Aka climbing over some dead tree, hiding its decay by a glorious display of scarlet blossoms. None can help admiring the elegant Houhere, with its white flowers—the orange blossom of the New Zealand forest—blushing amongst their leafy setting of leaves of delicate green.
'Right in the line you are cutting, stands a Titoki, elegant in its stately beauty, crowded with round jetblack seeds in their setting of brilliant scarlet. But there is no help for it, down it must go. These seeds yield a fine oil. The wood is very white and tough, and though a little heavy, made us many an axe handle, not much inferior to hickory. I never cut down a Rewarezva without regretting that its very remarkable and beautifully figured wood should be left to decay, instead of being used for furniture. What can be more elegant than that ornament of the forest—the Nikau palm—with its spreading fronds and white-ringed trunk?
'Sometimes, in a forest opening we would meet with a noble Puriri six feet in diameter, rising with all the massive strength and spreading beauty of the grandest English oak, and in the shining splendour of its dark green foliage, unapproached by any New page 109Zealand tree. The wood is similar in many respects to teak. It is of amazing strength and durability, and were it not for the curious cylindrical holes in it, made by a queer pith-like grub with a head like a shell auger, it would make most handsome furniture. The strange thing about these holes—usually about half an inch in diameter—is, that the boring grubs never come near the bark, having apparently been deposited in the heart of the growing tree as larvae, then in some unknown way, developing into a grub, which bores its hole about six inches in length, and after filling it with its pith body, dies in its tomb.'
'The wood is something like black walnut, is it not?' asked the Magistrate.
'Very similar to it, but far stronger; but,' continued the Surveyor, 'after all, the real "King of the Forest" is the Kauri. You fellows that have never seen one of these grandest of all trees, have a new sensation in store. Just fancy standing at the base of a smooth, round, giant trunk thirty feet in circumference, towering aloft without a branch for a hundred and fifty feet or more, then breaking into a spreading leafy crown such as no monarch ever wore. Truly this noble tree is one of Nature's grandest masterpieces.'
'I understand the timber is of great value for various purposes,' said the Magistrate, who seemed interested in trees.
'Of great value, I should think so,' replied the man of the theodolite,' Why, it is used for almost every purpose you can name. Do you require a durable wood? Use the heart of Kauri. Do you want timber with lightness, strength and symmetry for ships, page 110masts and spars, then take Kauri; or flooring for houses, or beams with a high breaking strain, or bridges, or planking; for all these and for many other uses, I believe there is not in all the world, such a generally useful, all-round tree as the Kauri, if it is only cuts down in the winter months, which, unfortunately it is not. I have said nothing of its uses for furniture, but as a wood for strikingly handsome furniture the mottled Kauri would be hard to beat'.
'It yields a valuable gum I think,' observed the Magistrate.
'You are right. Kauri gum now supplies the world with a varnish, which for hardness, lustre, durability, polish and cheapness is not surpassed by Copal or by any other varnish. Indeed much of the highly prized Copal varnish is mainly made from Kauri gum. Kauri gum employs thousands of gum-diggers to obtain it in North New Zealand, and its annual export value is about 400,000l'
'What do you think of the Rata?' the Interpreter asked.
'The Rata', replied the Surveyor, 'why I think it one of the handsomest, and certainly the most remarkable tree in the New Zealand forest. I have seen it one hundred and twenty feet high, and I measured one thirty-three feet round at six feet from the base. It towers up like a vast clustered column in a cathedral, with rib-like buttresses stretching from its base on every side. The curious thing about this forest giant is, that it began life as a climber covered with rich crimson blossoms. Clinging to a small tree page 111nearest it—usually a Puketea—it goes on climbing, clinging, and growing, until it covers up the supporting tree, kills it, and becomes the tree itself.'
'You said the Rata had handsome crimson flowers as a climber, does it lose them when it becomes a tree?' enquired the Magistrate.
'You seem very anxious to get to know all about New Zealand trees,' impatiently interrupted the Station Manager.
'Well you see,' said the Magistrate, 'when I was a young fellow, I spent two years in New Zealand, and was so charmed with its forests, that nearly thirty years subsequent residence in India, has not made me forget my old fancy.'
'No,' replied the Surveyor, after this little interruption, it retains the flowers in great profusion.'
'Is it a rare tree?' asked the inquisitive Magistrate.
'Rare? No. Do you know I was once surveying on a plain, bounded by a forest-clothed precipitous mountain chain, which was covered with them. It was Christmas time, and the whole mountain side was brilliant with a blaze of crimson flowers.'
'That must have been a grand sight,' said the matter-of-fact Station Manager, 'but I thought you were going to tell us a story.'
'I ask pardon,' hastily replied the Surveyor, 'but whenever I get into a Northern New Zealand forest, I forget everything else. Now for the story.
'Many years ago, I was surveying in a limestone page 112district. During my survey, I heard of several caves. One especially—known amongst the Maories as "the Cave of the Taniwha"—excited my curiosity amazingly. Perhaps I ought to tell you, that the Taniwha is believed by the Maories to be a fierce monster of the reptile kind. They tell you he is like a lizard, but of enormous size, that he is found in lakes, swamps and caves. If you ask more about his appearance, they will take a piece of charcoal, and sketch a creature like a crocodile. The Taniwha, fable or not, is a real terror to them.'
'You are right,' said the Interpreter,' I have often seen them paralysed with fear at so small a Taniwha as a lizard.'
'Do you think they really exist in any form to give colour to the Maori belief?' enquired the Major.
'Ask the Maori Chief,' replied the Surveyor.
'Do you think, Mangawhero (red branch) that there are any real Taniwhas?' asked the Interpreter.
'Yes,' promptly replied the Chief,' long ago a Taniwha devoured one of my ancestors.'
'Have the Maories seen any Taniwhas?'
'Hearken,' said Mangawhero. 'When the reeds shake in a particular way, we know the Taniwha is in the swamp. When there is a swelling of the waters in Lake Taupo with a rumbling sound, we know that the Taniwha is there. (Lake Taupo being in the volcanic belt of New Zealand, is itself an ancient crater, and being still subject to volcanic influences, may have given rise to the superstition.)
'When we hear a strange noise in a cave, we know page 113that to be the voice of the Taniwha. Enough. I am afraid.'
At that moment, a small lizard ran quickly out of some firewood near the Chief. With a mischievous grin, the Interpreter suddenly asked,
'What is that?'
Without a moment's delay, the Chief, a fine powerful fellow, sprung to his feet, with a face of terror, rushed out of the Runanga house, through the pouring rain to his own Whare (house), where he remained the rest of the day.
We were all of course greatly surprised that so big a man should have been so alarmed by a little lizard. But so it was. I have never met with a Maori who had really seen a Taniwha bigger than a lizard, but nevertheless they most religiously believe in their existence. So strongly is this belief embedded in their very nature, that I think it must be an ancient survival of a Land which the Maori branch of the Aryan race visited on their march of ages in the long ago-Egypt possibly. In any case—whether a fable, or an unforgotten tradition, the Taniwha is a very real terror to every Maori with whom I have conversed on the subject*page 114
'Well,' continued the Surveyor, after the Chief's flight,' I was determined to visit the cave which a Taniwha was said to occupy. But no Maori would consent to act as guide to it. At last however, I bribed Tui, a Maori boy. Like most Maori guides, when danger is supposed to be ahead, Tui followed, instead of leading, all the while in a perfect state of fright. He kept on begging me to return, saying the Taniwha would certainly eat us both. Once he came to a dead stop, and declared he would go no farther. By promising another half-pound of tobacco, [at length induced him to come on.
'At last we came to the mouth of the cave. It was a pretty spot. A dark rent in the masses of limestone revealed a deep black vertical chasm, half hidden by the hanging branches of the Kowhai laden with clusters of bright yellow bell-like flowers, and by the Ngutukaka (beak of the parrot)—by far the handsomest flowering tree in the New Zealand forest—gorgeous with a profusion of bunches of splendid scarlet flowers, each flower like a parrot's beak. Right over the chasm inclined a lofty Silver tree-fern, perfect in shape and beauty.' …page 115
'Now,' saucily interrupted the Station Manager, 'don't get into the forest again.'
Without noticing the interruption, the Surveyor continued,
'I led the way, my native boy Tui, trembling behind. Dropping a stone down the dark chasm brought up a hollow sound from below. Tui rushed backwards, stopped and implored me to fly before the Taniwha made his appearance. I then dropped the rope down and found bottom at thirty feet. I told Tui he might leave me and return if he wished. However, he gallantly refused, saying, that if I had fully resolved to be gobbled up by the Taniwha, he would have to share my fate and be gobbled up also.
'Making fast the rope to the overhanging silver tree-fern, I slowly lowered myself into the darkness below. Touching bottom, I looked up, and saw the agonized face of Tui, straining his eyes to see what had become of me.
'Presently he called out,
'"E Wi kei hea koe?" (O Will where art thou?) ' I replied, I was all right, and told him to come down, which he did, exclaiming,
'"Aue! Ka mate au i te mataku" (Alas! I shall die of fright), and indeed he was trembling in every limb when he touched bottom. After our eyes had become accustomed to the gloom, we moved forward, and found the floor descending at an angle of forty-five degrees. Lighting candles, I found at the bottom of the slope, that we were in a large cavern, hung with white stalactites sparkling from a thousand points.page 116
Threading my way through the stalagmites on the floor, closely followed by Tui, I explored the wonders of a noble chamber adorned with fretwork of wonderful beauty.
' I had been peering into the lofty dome, vainly endeavouring to estimate its vastness, when stepping backwards a couple of paces, I fell overhead into a pool or stream of icy cold water. Happily, it was not deeper than my waist, and recovering myself on the instant, I found I was in perfect darkness. The sudden immersion had forced from me a lusty "Ah!" which was answered from behind by a yell, diabolical enough to have come from a Taniwha, but which came from the startled Tui, who had seen me disappear, and hearing my gasp, concluded I was grabbed by the Taniwha.
'So with this hideous yell he disappeared, and I was alone. No, not quite alone, for Tui's yell had disturbed a couple of birds, which screeched and flapped about in a horrible manner. I crawled out of the icy water, and after the toughest piece of work I ever had, I reached the base of the perpendicular rock, down the face of which I had descended by the rope, only to find that Tui had drawn up the rope after him. I instantly shouted to the runaway boy, but in vain, for, probably thinking, after the Tanwha had devoured me, that he would pursue him, he had pulled up the rope, and I was left to my fate.
'I was soaking wet, cold and hungry. In vain I shouted to the boy again and again, but no answer came. I commenced groping about the cave; unfortunately my candle was lost and my matches, like page 117myself, were soaking wet. It was very dark at first, but after a while, I could dimly make out objects not far from the mouth of the cave. I found bones of animals, probably those of pigs and cows, which I concluded had fallen into the cavern, (though now I come to think of it, they may have been bones of animals which lived in New Zealand long ages ago, and were now extinct.) Hours passed away. I tried to climb the face of the rock till my hands were skinned, but all in vain.
'For a long time I could not bring myself to believe that I was to die in this horrible hole. Shivering in my wet clothing, my teeth chattered with fear or cold, or both; I shouted till my voice sunk to a hoarse whisper, but only a whispering echo came back from the walls of the cavern to mock me. I now fully understood that the wretched boy, fearing I was devoured by the Taniwha, had fled to his village, miles away; and as my Native chainmen and line-cutters had gone to their homes two days' journey distant, I felt I was probably doomed to a horrible death in the cave. Casting about for any possible help from Europeans, I remembered sadly, that there were (in those days) not more than half a dozen white men within a circuit of many miles of the cave where I lay.
'As the hours wore wearily on, my heart died within me. I gave up all hope of ever seeing the blessed sunlight again. I was growing feverish; one moment burning, the next shivering. I thought I was going mad. Though the cave was dark as pitch, all manner page 118of horrid, luminous figures seemed to fill the frightful cavern, which first I feared, but now hoped, would be my grave.
'Days and weeks seemed to have passed since I had entered this black, horrible pit. I began to think I was in Hell. My tongue was parched with thirst; I understood then, why the rich man would have given so much for a drop of water in the place of torment. I had seen many a Maori war dance in the upper world. I saw them again, with fiery tongues hanging from horrible faces, and I shivered with terror at the horrid scene.
'Wearied out with hunger, thirst, cold and terror, I suppose I must have fallen asleep. If so, I must have slept soundly, for the hideous figures had disappeared, and I dreamt of dainty dishes on a well-furnished table.
'How long I lay, I know not. Strange sounds seemed to echo through my ears, and I awoke. I heard a voice.
'"Hallo down there" was the welcome call.
'"Dead or alive?" came next.
'I sprang up instantly, and shouted" Hallo" at the top of my voice.
'In a minute, the rope was lowered, and my deliverer, a Pakeha Maori, descended as I had done. I was very weak and half dazed, but a mouthful of rum from the flask of my friend, revived me greatly, and a few mouthfuls of biscuit enabled me to climb up the rope, which my rescuer had knotted, to render my climb more easy.page 119
'Happily for me, my deliverer had met with Tui in his flight, who told him I had been devoured by the Taniwha which dwelt in the cave, and that he himself had only just escaped being devoured by the monster. My friend formed his own conclusions from the boy's story, and came to my rescue.
'To my surprise, I found I had not been more than twenty hours in the cave.'
'How fortunate the Taniwha did not really get hold of you,' said the Major, who was as fond of a yarn as he was of a joke,' or we should never have heard your story.'
* Early in 1889, a friend of mine had a party of Maories sowing grass seed in a forest clearing. Suddenly, one of them shouted' Here is a green lizard.'
Instantly every Maori stopped work, each man seizing the first piece of wood at hand, rushed after the lizard, and beat the pretty little creature to pieces. My friend remonstrated with them for their useless cruelty, when they replied,
'It was Tika (quite correct) for a Pakeha (white man) who could[unclear: az] not be injured by a lizard, to allow it to live, but with us it is a different matter.'
I enquired,' what harm had the lizard done you?'
'You will see,' they replied, 'before the sun rises over the trees Apopo (to-morrow) we shall hear of the death of one of our nearest kindred.'
Strangely enough, within two hours, a Maori rode into camp leading a saddled horse, with the information that a young girl had died suddenly the night before.
She was the daughter of the Maori who first saw the lizard.