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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 10 (February 1, 1934)

A Dog's Day

page 15

A Dog's Day

The old man considered me at length. There was more than a suspicion of distrust in his penetrating gaze.

“You will believe the story, pakeha, strange though it may seem?”

“Of course, Tamati; why not?” I replied.

“It is well; I am sensible to insult. The last white man to whom I told the tale was a surveyor who camped in this whare. After hearing it, he presented me with a bag of very old biscuits, saying that I took ‘the whole issue’ as he termed it, as my lawful right. And I did not see the low joke till long afterwards, and even my dog there refused the biscuits. You are sure you have no biscuits with you?”

“Not even a crumb, Tamati.”

“Very well, then. Now, the dog is a good dog, a real dog, as many a wild pig has found to his undoing. I have reared him from puppyhood, and he is not for sale.”

“But I don't want a dog,” I said.

“No? Yet every man of red blood should have a dog. My father owned the great grandfather of his father—was it his great grandfather that was such a splendid animal? My memory is not good.”

While the old man paused to make a further calculation as to the real relationship, the tawny mongrel at our feet demonstrated his claim to a certain ancestral pride by a successful snap at a persistent fly that buzzed about him.

“Well, let me speak of the first dog, which was the constant companion of my family when, many years ago, we lived in the Poverty Bay district. You have heard and read of Te Kooti, the rebel chieftain, and of his massacre of the innocent pakeha settlers that forms such a dark blot upon our Maori history. That famous raid had not then commenced, but big trouble had threatened for some time, and we friendly Maoris had done much to warn the white people of the danger. In consequence, we had incurred the bitter enmity of Te Kooti, and in his philosophy our lives were forfeit. Prominent among the supporters of the white queen was my father, for whom Te Kooti had promised a nameless death should he ever fall into the rebel hands. But my father was a brave man, and took no heed of the many warnings he received. And it was thus that the well-planned raid from the rebels’ stronghold in the fastnesses of the Urewera country caught us wholly unprepared.

“At the time, my parent had been spearing eels for some days, and was living alone in an outlying whare frequently used by the tribe for this purpose. With him was the dog I speak of. In the grey daylight he was awakened by the dog's furious barking. Running outside, his attention was immediately drawn to a hill in front of the habitation. It was crowded with fighting men, who were palpably hostile. Another party was approaching from the rear, while a still further band of raiders was moving along the rough track that lead to the coast, and was the only avenue of escape in that direction. My father's appearance was greeted with fierce yells and, seeing that he was unarmed, the rebels commenced to converge rapidly upon the whare.

“Luckily for my father, Te Kooti had not thought of the river which, in flood, cut through the flats a hundred yards away. It was a desperate chance, and he took it. Calling to his dog, he rushed across the flats towards the swirling waters. Thinking to make an easy capture, his enemies at first followed slowly, shouting loudly their fierce war cries.

“At ordinary times, there was a ford of sorts at each end of the big bend. My father made for the top crossing, to find that the yelling pursuers had forestalled him. He turned, and ran to the lower ford, only to find his escape cut off there also. And, while he hestitated, Te Kooti's men made a sudden encircling movement to draw in closer, and the bullets commenced to fly about.

“It was with fear of death strong within him that he searched feverishly for a convenient log that might help in the dangerous crossing he now contemplated. Suddenly his gaze lighted upon a discarded camp oven lying on the sand near by. He seized this, placed it upon his head, and entered the water, swimming what you would term breast stroke. The strong current tossed him about, but he was a powerful swimmer. The oven protected his head. Bullets hit it everywhere, but screamed off into space without doing the least harm.

“Suddenly, however, he faintly heard a splashing and blowing behind him. It could only mean, he thought, that one of the yelling crowd at the back was following him across the river. Harder and more desperately he swum, but the noise persistently continued. Every moment he expected to feel the death-dealing tomahawk between his shoulders. Almost exhausted, he reached the shallow water, struggled up to the bank, and quickly discarded his head covering. Then he turned to find—what do you think? It was his dog, the progenitor of the fine animal you see before you, with the lid of the camp oven in his mouth!

“Yes, pakeha, as I have said, he is indeed a good dog, and he is not for sale. Yet, you are my very good friend, and you may have him for five shillings ….”

page 16