A Sketch of the New Zealand War
Beguiling the Ngatipukeka XVI
Beguiling the Ngatipukekapage 154page 155 XVI
It became necessary for me to reach Tauranga, in order to return to Wellington. I informed Colonel McDonnell of this fact, and asked him for a horse and a guide. He explained to me the journey had its dangers, because the hostile Maori occupied the country between Opotiki and Maketu. He promised to send out spies and let me know when the track might be reasonably considered safe. I noticed that his spies were all women.
At one time he would say, "If you start at once, the road will be found comparatively safe." In a quarter of an hour he would send word, "Emma has just come in, and reports an ambush at the river mouth." Then in ten minutes, "Martha informs me that the Hau-haus have retired to the forest."
My reply was always the same: "My dear McDonnell, give the word, and I am off. I will take whatever risk you consider reasonable."
At length a Maori boy appeared, leading a page 156starved-looking wild horse. The horse had on a halter-bridle and an old saddle with a stirrup on one side and a piece of rope, as a substitute, on the other. The boy was mounted bareback, with a loop of rope round his horse's nose.
McDonnell said, "Now, start at once, and gallop along the sea beach! Once you have crossed the river, which is only five or six miles distant, you may strike inland, and will be comparatively safe."
Maori horses always travel with their heads up in the air, and gallop recklessly as long as they have a leg under them. Away we went, the Maori boy leading. We very soon arrived at the river, which at the mouth looked about 150 yards wide, and was in flood. The boy dismounted and hunted up and down the river for a canoe. After a time he returned and said, "The canoe has been washed away. The river is too high and broad for these horses to carry us over. We must either return or travel inland in search of a ford."
We travelled up the bank of the river for miles. At length we saw a practical ford. We were half-way across when Maori in numbers came running towards us.
I cried out in a loud voice, according to Maori custom,—page 157
"How are you? How are you all? It is a great pleasure to see you!"
This rather staggered the Ngatipukeka. I had just dropped into their power. They had not spoken "to a white man since the death of Volckner. I rode straight up, and shook hands with many of them, then dismounted and handed the halter of my horse to a youth who stood near. The Maori looked much surprised, and immediately assembled in numbers to gratify their curiosity, and hear the news. I wore a sword over my waterproof coat, and had on a forage cap with V.R. on it in large gold letters. As they evidently expected me to say something, I looked wise and solemn, and told them to collect all their people for a talk in the afternoon. This quite satisfied them. I then moved about amongst the people and made friends. In particular, I sought to ingratiate myself with the women, so as to extract from their talk some inkling of the public feeling.
Whilst walking about and chatting, I studied with minute attention the facial expression of each male adult Maori I came in'contact with. At length I picked out a man I considered trustworthy, and secretly handed him a flask of spirits I carried in my breast pocket. page 158This was a propitiatory offering, and he took it as such.
About four o'clock in the afternoon a large wood fire was lit. An old marquee tent, evidently carried off from our men as the result of some sudden surprise, was pitched to the leeward of the fire. My place was allotted in front of the tent door. The most important chiefs were seated to my right and left, and the tribe generally—men, women and children— completed the circle. Dead silence prevailed. It was clear I was expected to speak. I knew better than that. I had often seen Donald McLean at these runangas, and I knew that a great chief must cultivate silence and imperturbability. It is the custom at these meetings for the least important people to speak first. My object was to gain time, study the attitude and temper of the Ngatipukeka, and frame my address to suit it.
Speeches were delivered for about an hour and a half. The chief men both on my right and left had spoken, and the temper of the tribe had been played upon, according to the varying humour of the orators.
I rose, and said,—
"Salutations to you, O Ngatipukeka! I have come from Wellington. Governor Grey page 159is sad at the slaughter of his children of both races. There has been enough fighting. Let us have peace, and live in brotherly contentment. It has not been the custom of great tribes to fight for ever. You have had satisfaction; we have had satisfaction. Let the dead on each side rise up, and attest this truth. I have spoken."
Complete silence followed. Then up rose a chief, whose bitter hostility I had noted from the beginning.
"What the Queen's officer says may be well. But what about the Arawa? They are now all armed with rifles, well-fed and equipped. The Europeans are their friends. The sea is open to them for supplies. Once peace is made, the soldiers will be withdrawn to England. The Arawas will fall upon us, and our fate will be hard indeed. Already they have driven off all our cattle. The soldiers guard the Maketu River; we cannot recover them. What does the Pakeha say?"
I arose, and, gazing around with sneering lip and distended nostril, said,—
"Ah, great is the wisdom of the council-chief; far-reaching his guile; deep as the ocean his love for his people. Has he forgotten that the Arawas, even with the assist-page 160ance of the soldiers, could not conquer the Ngatipukeka? Is he not aware that, in order to steal cattle, the Arawa had to come like thieves in the night—not like warriors in the morning? Once peace with the Europeans is made, ask your war-chiefs whether the Arawa will not fade away before your valour, as their ancestors did. I have spoken. Yet great is the Pakeha's admiration for the courage of your tribe. Write now a letter challenging the Arawa to meet you in combat. I will deliver it in person. Send a detachment of your men with me. Once landed on the opposite bank of the river, I shall hurl defiance at the Arawa in your name. Kati—enough."
I had outflanked the wily old devil, and he knew it. Food was served; wild pig, potatoes, and tea, made of the leaf of the ti-tree. At length numbers of us crowded into the tent, and slept like herrings in a tin case.
About two o'clock there was an alarm. First I felt my revolver, thinking my last hour had come. Soon I perceived the tent was on fire. The fire was extinguished, but the tent was destroyed. We all lay down on the ground. Soon it began to rain, and soaked us to the bone. We arose in the morning, and I was summoned by a council of chiefs to consider the terms of page 161the challenge to the Arawa. My enemy was there. I knew by instinct he had drafted the challenge. The pen used was a sharpened stick. The ink had been made of moistened powder.
I read the challenge with an air of much scorn, laid it down, took it up again, carefully studied every word of it, altering the expression of my countenance from scorn to deep, unimpassioned thought. I knew I had my antagonist in an agony of solicitude. I had destroyed his wisdom last night. What might I not do this morning? After much anxious thought I said, "It is good." I had secured the friendship of the writer. My life was safe.
I folded up the challenge, which was written on a piece of cartridge-paper, in my pocket case. The council broke up, and I retired alone. On my way I met the Maori to whom I had given my spirit-flask the day before. He made a sign to me, and I accompanied him into the scrub. Once there, he took from under his mat my spirit-flask, and handed it back to me. I said,—
"Keep it: it is for you."
He said, "Unscrew the top."
I did so. The liquor had not been touched page 162I was amazed. Here was a man who had not tasted liquor for years, and yet, out of delicacy for my position, had resisted the temptation during such a night. I said,—
He replied: "No. You are a stranger and a guest. No man would do such a thing."
I said: "It is yours, not mine. Drink."
He said: "Drink first, then."
I did so, merely tasting it, then handed him the flask. He emptied it at a draught.
"Keep the flask in memory of me."
He did so, and we parted.
Accompanied by an escort, I rode to the Maketu River. There dismounting, I approached the bank, and taking out a white handkerchief waved it for some time. My escort stood back under cover of some scrub. Soon the Arawa sent over a canoe. On arrival at the opposite shore, I handed the Arawa the Ngatipukeka challenge. My escort came forth and danced defiance on their bank. The Arawa responded in kind. The incident was over: I was safe.page break