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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 9 (December 1, 1937.)



The Maoris took their prisoner along a rough track which turned abruptly to the left. Now an oval valley cup lay before him. From side to side of the valley rim the airline was perhaps half a mile. The wooded sides fell steeply, The river-lagoon had widened out into a mirror of a tarn, perhaps a hundred and fifty yards in length and thirty in width. One would have judged it to be very deep by the general configuration of the, basin in which it lay, like a bloc eye upturned to the sun, from penthouse brows of huge shagginess.

On the nearer shore of the lake in & clearing (was a group of Maori huts, low-eaved nikau-thatched whares. Most of the dwellings faced north, the direction of the greatest sunshine. There were patches of maize and potatoes, pumpkins and melons, and a little grove of peach trees. Women were at work in the sunshine. It made a pretty picture of primitive life, a sanctuary of restfulness, a bush hermitage.

But its peace was quickly disturbed. Men, women and children ran from garden and hut and sun-warmed mat and gathered by the lakeside, gazing at the white man and his guard as they came down into the clearing.

Cannell had managed to bind up his head with a handkerchief but he still felt dizzy and sick. His clothes had been torn in the encounter with the big Maori, and his head and neck were covered with blood. His swag and gun were in the hands of his captors.

Cannell was motioned to sit down on a mat. An old man seated himself opposite him. The Maori might have served as model for a picture of a rangatira warrior of the pre-pakeha age. His broad, high forehead, his powerful nose and firm commanding lip and chin were thickly and deeply lined with blue-black tattoo. From his white hair, of a combatant shortness and wiriness to his chisel-trenched chin, and from ear to ear, scarcely an inch of skin had escaped the bone chisel and the pigment of the tohunga-ta-moko. His nose was bold, and high of bridge, and curved in the strong Hebraic mould that the Maori calls the ihu-kaka or parrot's beak. The page 13 tattoo gave to his face a commanding aspect of ferocity, but the benevolence of the fine eyes, the eyes of a mystic, softened and informed the expression with wisdom. It was the face of a man who had seen more than enough of battle and sudden death and who contemplated the times that were and are with calm introspective mood.

A young woman had taken her seat on the mats near the old man. She was, the pakeha judged, of eighteen or twenty years, a girl whose large dark eyes reflected something of the tranquil nobility of the chief. Her skin was fairer than that of most Maoris; her features of the mildly Jewish cast that is seen in some of the beautiful women of the Maori people, were framed in the most splendid hair that Cannell had ever seen. It was a glorious black, with a bluish sheen, glossy as a pigeon's wing; it fell to her waist.

“Have you the Maori tongue?” was the, old man's first question.

“Ae,” replied Cannell.

“Whence came you, and who are you?”

“First tell me,” said Cannell sternly, “why do you people make me prisoner, and why did that murderer”—he pointed to his scowling captor—“attack me with an axe and shed my blood?” and Cannell touched his bandaged head. Adopting a Maori figure of speech, he said angrily, “That man has murdered me. I am slain by treachery, not in open fight; face to face.”

“No hea koe?” the old man asked again, with unruffled calmness. (“Whence came you”?)

The prospector answered that he came from Alexandra, that as the Maoris could see he was on a shooting expedition into the hills that he had camped on the range top the night before, and that seeing the mysterious valley he had resolved to explore it, and so found himself on the shores of the little lake. His gold-hunting he thought it was not expedient to mention.

“Do you not know that death awaits the man of booted foot who crosses the Aakati?”

“Ae,” said Cannell, “I have heard so, and have heard how the Maoris killed an unarmed surveyor on Pirongia, But, as you see, I am no kai-ruri. Where is my glass on three legs, where is my chain? Also, I am no soldier, for as you see I have my tupara and bird-shot only.”

“It is true,” the Ariki said, “but you are a pakeha, and on Maori land. Is not that enough?”

“Then let it be enough,” said Cannell, “Here I am, you have taken my gun, I am naked of weapons”—and he stretched out his arms. “Kill me if you wish to! I am in your hands.”

The big Maori rose and drew out his tomahawk. But the Ariki raised his hand and spoke with the first trace of anger he had yet shown.

“Sit down, Potango,” he said, “and withhold your axe. It is too ready to leap from your belt. Are you the one to say what shall be done with the pakeha?”

Potango sat down, making no reply and no further move, but his eyes glittered with sullen malevolence.

Turning to the girl at his side, the old man said, “Let food and drink be given to the pakeha.”

Cannell meanwhile walked down to the lake edge and bathed his head and face, and dipping his handkerchief in the water, tied the cool bandage about his wound. With his brain cleared by the dash of cold water he returned refreshed and set to upon the meal.

(Photo by Mavis Scott). Stony Creek in the Fairy Mountain.

(Photo by Mavis Scott).
Stony Creek in the Fairy Mountain.

When the pakeha had satisfied his hunger the chief said quietly to the others, “Now, we two, the pakeha and I, shall talk,” and rising, he beckoned the white man to go with him. They entered one of the thatched whares and the Ariki motioned the pakeha to a seat near the window. He levelled upon the white man a gaze of the utmost intentness, an eyesearch so clear and steady that Cannell felt as if it pierced his brain. Was the old man a thought reader? he wondered.

“Friend,” said the old man, leaning forward and tapping Cannell lightly on the knee, “did you find any gold in the streams of Pirongia?”

Cannell quickly decided that it was best to be frank with the old man, so he told his name and the story of his search.

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“Pakeha,” he said at last, “you have clone well to tell me all. It is well for you also, that you did not tell the people on the marae. for I might not have been able to hold back the tomahawks of our. young men. I see the time fast approaching when booted feet shall tread all our valleys. The march of the pakeha cannot be stayed. Yet I would possess this home a little while longer in peace. I ask you but this: Do not reveal our valley to the pakeha while we live. This you must promise. You must not leave this kainga until I say you may return to your Ao-marama.”

Cannell gave the promise asked, all the more readily because this strange valley and its people challenged his curiosity, and sharpened his wish to learn something of the clan remnant who had buried themselves from the world in this cup of the ranges.

The girl who had sat by the old man on the marae entered the house. She carried a wooden bowl holding a quantity of steamed and, pounded leaves, diffusing an aromatic fragrance. She unfastened the handkerchief about Cannell's head and with quick fingers set the healing leaves on the tomahawk wound. She tied the bandage again with the gentleness of a nurse, and saying to the pakeha, “Keep that in place until to-morrow,” sat down by the Ariki's side. The chief briefly repeated Cannell's story to her,. and turning to the white man said:

“Pakeha, this is my daughter, Raukura. When I am gone she will be head of all that is left of my hapu. All that I know of ancient wisdom I am teaching her, that it may not be lost to the Maori. She is an Ariki-tapairu, and she is to be the priestess of the old religion. It may be that the pakeha ways are wise, but we shall cling, to our ancient gods. Now we are hut a remnant, of all my hapu there are but left these few whom you see in this kainga. There are not ten men left us to swing a tomahawk,” and the old man's wandering lament drifted off into a tangi for lost comrades.

Cannell regarded the girl with growing admiration. He wondered at the dignity and beauty of this-child of the bush, her beauty heightened by the rough and savage appearance of the tribespeople and the wilderness in which she lived.