Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 10 (January 1, 1936)

Christopher and the Gods

page 25

Christopher and the Gods

Christopher was sad. The world was a dull place, full of aunts who wanted to kiss little boys, of mothers and fathers who arranged to be away for the time when the swimming pool in the Ruawai River was really warm, and his one decent relation, Mollie-ofthe-Wise-Eyes had, for some reason, changed into a person with a cold, hard voice. Christopher was seated on the edge of the creek, and the experiment of joining the back half of a grasshopper to the front of a praying mantis, was a complete failure. What the insects thought about it is not on record; but the unconscious cruelty of small boys, has, after all, its counterpart in larger affairs; and grasshoppers cannot write letters to the papers complaining about the habits of modern children and their ignorance of entomology.

Christopher dozed a little and a riroriro flickered down and perched on his bare toe. It was a tiny jewel of New Zealand birth, a feathered object small enough to appear and disappear like a little microscope slide in a bad light. It dwelt a while, watching Christopher with an eye that was wise and bright, and then, with a flirt of little wings, it vanished into the shadowy bush.

The sun rays slanted, and a coolness came slowly. Christopher woke and remembered that it was always teatime when the sun over the Long Hill turned into that soft rosy roundness. There was a stillness everywhere and the only sound was the tinkle of the water over the creek stones.

Christopher faced a disconsolate outlook. There were certainly raspberry jam and scones for tea, but Mollie-ofthe-Wise-Eyes was so different. She was so lovely to look at, and understood boys, only giving a rough hug when times were extra exciting. Te Maire, the station pride, who had won three hurdle races, was a lamb when Mollie mounted him, and the two heifer calves by the imported Jersey bull, would follow her when she called. What could be bothering her? The tall blue-eyed Hewitt who plaited such marvellous flax whiplashes seemed to have something to do with it. Christopher had seen them standing by the dipping pens, and heard him say: “But can't you tell me? “—and Mollie had said: “Shoes are getting a habit with you, aren't they?” and walked away.

Christopher saw him jolt into the saddle and winced at the cut he gave old lady Frimp, a very washy chestnut, but the best tempered hack for miles around.

Mollie had tears in her eyes, Christopher saw, but they were hard and bright at afternoon tea, and then there came the difference in her voice.

He pondered all this as he stretched before getting up. The riro-riro fluttered back, flicked into the air, made two or three ecstatic circles, and Christopher gasped.

Its elfin form sat on the shoulder of a tall, handsome Maori. He was slender and graceful, but lithe and muscular. In the thick black hair was perched a black and white feather, and in one hand flashed a greenstone mere which in some magical way lightened and darkened in tint, as a leaf does, swaying from shadow to shine.

There was a quality of luminousness in the exquisitely tatooed body, naked save for a sumptuous whiteish skin cloak, and a plaited maro. In the eyes, wide apart and glowing, there was a light of celestial reckless mischief, a supernal disregard of consequences and a hint of the mirth that is part of gay skies, sparkling streams, and green growing things.

Christopher could not have put all this into words as he stared at this age-old Polynesian demi-god, nor had he any thoughts so complex. He simply recognised another boy like himself, and felt thoroughly at ease.

To his eternal delight, more birds arrived from the nearby konini clump, robins, thrushes and tuis which seemed, for some strange reason, to remain friendly with the others.

Christopher sat bolt upright and opened the conversation. He did not smile, but spoke in the grave fashion of boyhood.

“My name's Christopher,” he said.

“Mine is Maui,” said the other. “I heard of you many miles away, and I think I can help.”

Christopher sat bolt upright and opened the conversation.”

Christopher sat bolt upright and opened the conversation.”

Christopher gasped again. He had heard about Maui from Crooked Mick who helped old Bismark, the station cook. Mick was so old that he remembered the first fences on Wainui; he claimed to have helped dig the first strainer post holes, and he remembered the Waikare Stream when it ran through the racecourse, before the big earthquake.

Mick had come from the Speewah River which ran through the middle of Australia, where everything was gigantic. Shearers there were so tremendous that one of them that Mick knew used a half wheel tyre for the spring of his shears; eels barked like dogs and lived on barbed-wire and lambs; the shearing sheds were so huge that if the boss sacked a man at one end he could walk for half a day and start at the other end and no one would know about it. Mick knew the Maoris, and had learned from them how this Maui had fished New Zealand up from the sea.

Here was a glorious chance of confirmation; some of the younger shearers had started to laugh at Mick and said “that the old cow's yarns were getting stale.”

Christopher stood and said: “I know about you—have you ever been to Speewah? Mick told me the billy there was so 'normous they had to send a steamer like the Rotomahana out to see if the tea was drawing?”

There was a ring of melodious page 26 page 27 laughter and Maui took Christopher's hand. “Come lad,” he said, “we'll see things more wonderful than Speewah.”

They walked along the creek-bed till they reached the great rata stump that stood on the cliff side facing the Ratanui Bend, that no one had explored.

The papa cliffs round it were a thousand feet sheer, and a reef of cruel rocks was only pierced by the wandering Rekanui River where it met the pounding Pacific between mighty headlands. Mick said that the Maoris had a story that in the flats at the back of the Bend there were places where mysterious folk had dwelt safely from the beginning of time.

“Steady now,” said Maui, as he swung Christopher to his shoulder and entered the huge hollow trunk. Christopher had the sinking feeling that he remembered going down in the lift when his father had been seeing the lawyer in Wellington, and Maui took his hand again. It was a pleasant place—a dream place with rich green grass, odd clumps of bush and little second growth totaras dotted about like Noah's Ark trees. Birds were about in thousands, and Christopher heard the melodious din of apparently millions of little golden gongs, made by countless bellbirds. As Maui tapped the trunk of a tree with his mere, two ungainly creatures with long thin beaks stood blinking with beady eyes, and vanished into the undergrowth.

“Kiwis,” said Maui, “like some women, they hate the sunlight. We will meet my friends soon and discuss all the trouble of your much loved relation. She is a noble lady. I have seen her often.”

It is shameful but true that Christopher had forgotten all about Mollie. There was too much to see.

They stopped at a small green clearing where several men were seated round a Maori oven. One was just taking the earth from the top of the stones and there was a luscious smell. Christopher knew it well, remembering the time Mick had taken him to the pa at Tauwhata. He was introduced to all the men, but remembered only two; Joe Burroughs who kept the billiard saloon at Tauwhata and was always in trouble with the Police—Mick said he was an “omadhaun but a gay-hearted scamp”; and there was a very old blue-eyed man who had the queer name of “Official Assignee.”

“I knew your grandfather,” he said. “He had a great fight, and was one of the few in the Long Valley who was never through my hands.”

“Well you've had most of 'em,” said Joe. “They've all been broke once, some of 'em twice.”

Christopher had his mouth full for the next half hour and did not pay attention to the conversation.

“Here is the cause of all the trouble,” said Maui, producing a pair of red shoes. “It is the story of the senseless, mischief-working tongue of a sly and idle woman. Hewitt, who is in every way a proper man, is helpless with love for Mollie. This visitor from Canterbury, pretty and cajoling, has no real love for him, but she is one of those women who, when they see a man, must capture him. At the dance
(H.C peart photo)A scene on the Greymouth-Westport Road, South Island, New Zealand.

(H.C peart photo)A scene on the Greymouth-Westport Road, South Island, New Zealand.

at the Monanui Homestead, across the Waikare Stream from ‘Wainui,’ she pretended the greatest intimacy, till the lady Mollie was astonished and hurt. The Waikare ford was high, and all stayed as guests for the night. The Canterbury woman gave Hewitt these red shoes, saying that they were her mother's and that she had ruined them in the walk with him to the sheepyards. She had asked him to take her there as it was so interesting for a city dweller.

“Her mother prized them, she said, and would he get them repaired and remain silent. Hewitt gave the foolish pledge about secrecy and put them in his saddle bag. He arose early in the morning, taking the short cut across the stream for this reason; he wanted to see his loved one go by at the ford crossing. He who is in love has lost his senses; and it is clear that in dismounting to get a clearer view of the lady Mollie as she passed, he dropped the shoes.”

“And I found them, the scarlet useless troublemakers.”

“Now, mark you, the Canterbury woman, days before in the privacy of the sleeping apartments of Wainui, had learned of Hewitt from the other women and that he was treasuring a discarded gold shoe of the lady Mollie. Hewitt made a blundering explanation of the disappearance of the shoes, and so the Canterbury woman made a quiet jest ensùring that it reached Mollie. Hewitt must be treasuring her shoes also, proving that his affections were unstable. It was done, in the manner of women, by whisper and blush and hinted underhand things.”

“Sheilahs don't change much,” said Joe Burroughs, “yet I knew a poor cow once that went up for bigamy.”

There was a silence, and the Official Assignee spoke: “You have a plan, O Maui,” he said.

“I have,” said Maui, “but I want to see if in your pakeha knowledge of customs, there is a flaw in the stratagem.

“I propose to take the lad back to the place where the shoes lay. Let, him sleep. It is drawing late and there will be an outcry and a searching. It will also be necessary to ensure that Hewitt learns of the search, so that there is a chance that he will encounter his beloved . at the ford, and I will place the shoes so that'he must see them. If I know him aright he will say, ‘Why, there are the damthings,’ and all will be well.”

The light danced in Maul's eyes. The Assignee nodded approval, and Joe Burroughs said “Bonser! I'll do me corner.”

Christopher woke in the morning. Mollie with shining eyes and flushed cheeks stood arm in arm with Hewitt at the foot of the bed.

Hewitt said: “You gave us a proper fright, young shaver,” and Mollie gave him one of her really rough hugs. Mick says the 'ole thing was a dream, but the red shoes were there, and Joe Burroughs always gives Chistopher a tremendous wink when they go past the billiard saloon door in Tauwhata.

page 28