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Nation Making, a story of New Zealand

The Station Manager's Story

The Station Manager's Story.

'When I was a new chum, I travelled about this country a good deal. One journey in the early days, I well remember.

'A shipmate and I tramped on foot through the Hot Lake country. In those times, there were no railways nor coaches, not many horses, no bridges and no roads but Maori tracks, here and there. We had been trudging along one hot day, nearly smothered by the heat, when happily, a thunder shower fell and cooled the air. We got a wetting, but as we kept moving we were none the worse for it

'As we tramped on, we crossed a patch of tall fern newly burnt. When we got through, my friend's white moleskin trousers were covered with black stains from the burnt fern stalks. Being a smart-looking fellow, and something of a dandy, Jack grumbled a good deal about his black and white trousers, but there was no help for it.

'Later in the day we came to a hot spring, situated at the foot of a hill. It was very hot, too hot, or you may be sure we would have had a warm bath. All at once, a bright idea got into Jack's head.

'"Hallo," said he, " if this spring is too hot to bathe page 133in, it is just the thing for a washerwoman, so here goes."

'The next instant he stripped off his black and white trousers, and dipped them in the boiling spring. With the help of a bit of soap we carried—the Interpreter's friends might have used soap for cooking, but the Maories of that time never used it for washing—for I don't believe there was a piece of soap in all that country, except the bit we carried. Jack worked hard, and, having washed his own clothes on shipboard, he didn't make a bad washerwoman. Whilst he was scrubbing away, two Maori girls came along with some kits of potatoes. On seeing what Jack was doing, they set up a howl, and ran back the way they came, as fleet as the wind.

'We couldn't make it out at all, but Jack wrung the water out of his pants and hung them on a bush to dry. We were having a quiet smoke, when we heard a loud yelling. The next minute, a mob of fifty Maories or more came running down the hill at top speed. We saw at once that something had gone wrong, and without waiting to find out what it was, we snatched up our swags and ran off at a racing pace, Jack seizing his damp trousers, for he could not wait to put them on.

'The Maories came on shouting and yelling in pursuit. I was in good running order, and could have beat the savages, but Jack's naked feet bothered him, and he was no match for the hard-hoofed Maories over the rough ground without his boots. I wouldn't leave him, so, after a long chase the Maories over-page 134hauled us, and laid hold of us and our belongings, including poor Jack's pants.

'They made us go back to their Pah on the top of the hill. Inside the Pah, they held a kind of court over us. As nearly as we could make out, it seemed that the hot spring where Jack had done his washing, was the place where the Maories cooked their potatoes. I did not know then, but found afterwards, that to wash clothes in a hot spring where food was cooked, was against all Maori notions. But Jack and I were innocents abroad, and knew nothing of their ways, or that they used the hot spring to cook their food in.

'Well, there was a great row in the Pah. Some of the Maories were very savage. First of all, they seized Jack's pants, and made me pull off mine. After a lot of talk, they confiscated them, and two of the savages put their legs into them. Next they grabbed our boots, and the two girls, who had seen us at the spring, put them on.

'This seemed to settle them a bit, for they jabbered away a long while, one at a time, one after another. They then confiscated our blankets. I was getting very angry, and knowing how to use my fists, I would have liked to have tackled half-a-dozen of the rascals, one after another; but the whole tribe and all at once, were rather more than I could manage.

'After no end of talk, they made another move. Jack had been stripped of everything but his blue shirt. I stood leaning against a post with nothing on but my shirt and monkey jacket. An old woman page 135then went up to Jack, and pointed to his blue shirt. The old witch wanted it. Jack strongly resisted, but it came to nothing, for two big savages came along, and pulled his blue shirt over his head, and there he stood for a minute, the old woman smoothing down his white skin, and the whole crowd roaring with yells and laughter. The old woman then put on Jack's shirt, and gave him an old rag of a blanket in exchange.

'It was my turn now. A big, brawny fellow came up to me, and made signs for me to pull off my pea jacket.

'I meant to fight for it, whatever happened, and, when he came on I was ready for him. Before he knew much about it, he lay sprawling on the ground.

'I have since found out that the Maories greatly admire pluck, and I suppose that was why they all yelled with laughter at the big Maori's downfall. He didn't laugh though, but picked himself up with a diabolical grin on his black face. I stood my ground, with my hands in my pockets. The ruffian I had floored began to make a speech. The way he ran from side to side, jumped off all fours, slapped his tatooed thighs, and put out his tongue was a sight to see. What he said, I didn't know, but the yells he let off, and the hideous faces he made, were enough to drive a wild animal mad.

'While he was going on at this game, I felt in my coat pocket, a toy I had brought from home with me. It was one of those flexible, green, wooden snakes, about two feet six inches long, which, if you grasp by page 136the tail, writhes about, and looks for all the world, as if the reptile would spring at you. I had had great fun with this snake toy in Auckland, and I thought I would now try its effect upon the savages.

'So I waited. The Maori I had floored suddenly stopped his dance, and came at me with the spear he held in his hand. Before he could touch me, I whipped out the snake, and made a dart at him with it.

'The effect on him was wonderful. I was never more surprised in my life. The big savage fell back as if he had been bitten. His face, where there was no tatoo, turned a greenish hue, and nothing of his eyes, but the whites, could be seen. He tumbled over the old woman who had Jack's shirt on, and they rolled in the dust mixed up together. Seeing the effect my snake had on my assailant, I lost no time in following up my advantage.

'Snake in hand, I advanced at the fellows who had on our clothes and blankets. They ran screeching in all directions. Then I tackled the rest of the crowd, my snake and I darting about like mad. You never saw such a scrimmage, or heard such a screeching. Some of them fell flat on the ground out of sheer fright, others rushed through the gateway, the rest clambered over the palisades of the Pah, without stopping to say "good-bye." Weren't we nearly dead with laughing?

'In less than three minutes, I had cleared every one of the Maories out of the Pah, and Jack and I were left masters of the field.

'The sun had just set, and we began to feel cold for want of our clothes, so I went outside to get the fellows page 137to bring them back. The savages were clustered in heaps on the slope of the hill, but directly I appeared, snake in hand, they ran off howling on all sides. I could not get near one of them, so I retired—as the soldiers say—within the entrenchments. It was great fun, but just a little too cool about the legs.

'Fortunately for us, the women had just taken the food from the ovens for the evening meal, and being very hungry after the scrimmage, Jack and I wrapped some Maori mats round us, and set to work on the pork and potatoes. After a hearty meal, we laughed and smoked till dark. Not a soul came near us, so we made ourselves as comfortable as we could till near midnight. We held the fort, sure enough, and thinking it better not to run the risk of being surprised, we slept and watched by turns.

'Early next morning we sallied out in quest of the runaways, but not a hoof was to be seen. But just outside the gateway, we found our clothes and boots, which pleased us better. To slip into them, and make a breakfast off the cold pork and potatoes, did not take us long. After that, we resumed our journey more comfortably than we expected, considering the row of the day before.'

'That's a good story,' said the Interpreter, 'and is another instance of the extraordinary fear the Maories have for reptiles.'