Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Heart of the Bush

Chapter IV. The White Tohunga

page 176

Chapter IV. The White Tohunga.

In this spot Adelaide might have been content to spend all the honeymoon if it had not been for the river. It kept calling her to go farther on and further up to its source in the Alps. It was the first sound she heard in the morning when she woke, and the last sound she heard at night before she slept, and in her dreams it went on calling her to a field of frozen snow and caves of coloured crystal. The snow peaks beckoned her to them. So she told Dennis she greatly longed to follow the Wainoni up to its source. He mused for some time and said nothing.

One night Adelaide sat in the light of the camp fire and sang to Dennis. In the mountain air her voice was so clear it could be heard far off. Just as the moon touched the top of the hill opposite, she broke off and said, "Dennis! Look up. There is a shadow against the moon. It is alive. It moves."

"Well," said he. "I suppose it is a sheep."

"No, it is a man. Look. He must have got into our world by mistake."

"Well, shall I ask him to move on into Mars or Mercury? Or shall I shoot him for trespass-page 177ing? Or shall I take him prisoner and give him some supper?"

"Do nothing," said Adelaide imperatively. "Let us wait and see if he reveals himself."

"This is your fairy tale we are in," Dennis answered. "So fix up everything your own way."

Adelaide began to sing "Over the sea to Skye" very pathetically, but yet she looked up for the shadow and saw it. The moonlight brimmed over the edge of the mountain and ran down the side, and the shadow moved slowly closer and closer. She was singing "Dead on Culloden's field," and the notes were stirring Dennis's soul, when she exclaimed, "We must go and find that man."

"What man?" He was just about to swear when he stopped and presently grew mild. Then he bethought himself of his former pilgrimage.

"I had forgotten. There was a crazy old fellow who lived somewhere up those mountains. I met him when I was exploring the bush. I shouldn't wonder if he could guide us up to the head of the river.

"Of course," said Adelaide. "He is the Tohunga of the Glacier. Please, Dennis, do conjure him."

But when Dennis rose and coeyed, the shadow retreated and soon disappeared in the blackness of the rocky fissure.

"I expect we can follow him," said Dennis, page 178"unless he fell out of some planet and has gone back into it. Come up the hill with me, Aidie."

"Suppose he doesn't want us?" inquired Adelaide hesitating.

"Then he shouldn't come haunting us."

They climbed upwards, and presently the shape emerged into the moonlight and turned to give one look backward. They caught only a momentary glimpse of a grey figure still retreating. Soon afterwards their feet were on a narrow track of trodden grass and fern, and at the end of it was a clearing made in amongst bracken. Here the old man turned, run to earth. His long thin figure was trembling, his unkempt beard and hair were as white as glacial ice, and they wavered in the wind, his eyes were dark and hollow and he could not speak a word. "Oh, let us go, Dennis," said Adelaide in pity and terror.

"No, no, that's all right," MacDiarmid replied. "You've always got to catch your wizard before he tells you anything." And he said cheerfully to the spectre, "Hulloa, mate. Is this your camp here?"

There was a whare, tent-shaped and thatched with flax and raupo, built against a rock. The old man without a word went towards it, looking back to see if they followed, and when Adelaide drew a little away he motioned her in. Quite automatically he kindled a fire and made tea in his billy, because it is an unwritten page 179law in the bush that anyone who sits down near any man's habitation shall drink that man's tea and eat and talk with him. Dennis began talking in his matter-of-fact manner, and the old man looked vaguely at him, and at last began muttering in an incoherent manner. Though he would not look at Adelaide, she began to think that he must be a benevolent old wizard, and that she would like to make a friend of him. Wouldn't he come down to their camp, she asked prettily, and she would sing to him if he liked. While she was speaking his eyes were fixed on her face, as if it were an unknown thing and belonged to a visitant from another planet. She rose, still with question and invitation in her manner, and without a word he followed, more like a stray dog than a human being. Yet there was a sort of tattered grandeur about him. Suddenly on the way he began to talk, not answering nor inquiring, but turning the words over in his mind first, and when they were spoken, listening to the sound of his own voice. A forgotten length of years he had lived in these mountains. Many years he had not seen the face of any woman, and lately very rarely the face of any man. His stores came by the coach. He had nailed a box to a tree by the coach road some miles away, and there the driver left what he thought necessary. He camped out anywhere in wild places where no other man went, often sleeping in caves and the hollows of trees page 180or in the open. The more he talked the lighter his mind seemed to rise, as if a weight were lifted from it, and indeed it became difficult to stop him a moment. At last Adelaide ventured to say they wished much to go up to the Wainoni glacier, and she wondered if he would guide them. It took him some time to comprehend this, then he said, "Yes, he went up to the glaciers." He told them the river came out of a cave, high up in a moraine of grey stones, and he pointed out the way that they must go after leaving their valley. It was through a stony gorge, and they would go over an old native battle-field strewn with bones and with stone clubs and axes. The tribes that had fought there had vanished utterly. They would come to a stream full of reflections and then to a lake, and on the lake the Tohunga had a house with many rooms. There they could stay and sleep with him, and he would show them everything in his house. In the morning he would take them through the bush, then on three miles over the stones of an old moraine. Adelaide was enraptured at the prospect of these adventures; it would be much better than a fairy pantomime; it would be playing a part in an original and living legend of Maoriland, she said very prettily to the Tohunga, but Dennis interrupted almost angrily, "It won't do. My little lady here is very delicate, and she isn't fit for that sort of a tramp."

page 181

"You are quite mistaken, dear," said Adelaide very politely but decisively. "You have no idea how much travelling I have done," and she turned again to the old man, "I shall love to go."

"Don't be so foolish," Dennis said heavily, then sat pondering. It disturbed him if there were anything Adelaide desired and she could not have it.

Adelaide quivered beneath his tone but she laughed lightly, like the brave little lady that she was sometimes, and then went on talking to the Tohunga, while Dennis sat silent until the moon held the centre of the sky and he knew that it was late. The night wind blew sharply and cold, and Adelaide's eyes longed for sleep, but she denied it, because her guest did not know how to go.

"Oh nonsense," said Dennis impatiently, "you can hardly sit up. Go to bed, Aidie." Then he said calmly to the old man, "It's getting late. I'll walk a piece of the way with you."

Adelaide went into the woodland bower and lay on the couch of manuka and bracken, heaped with fur rugs. She had a pillow of dry moss spread with fine white linen for her cheek. The tent was lit by a lamp wreathed with lycopodium and hanging from the ridge pole. It shone upon her and upon the ground of the tent, strewn thick with moss and the little white manuka stars. The tree ferns at the corners page 182nodded and bowed in the wind as if they were sylvan vassals. The moon shone in at the entrance and there Tane crouched, two guardians, dog and shadow. But Adelaide lay and grieved because her husband had shown her discourtesy, and that before a stranger.

Dennis bethought himself of a way to let Adelaide have her wish, and he came back running and leaping across the water, glad of life and vigour, the breath of the mountains and of his love. He stooped to enter the tent, and as he entered, he thought she was more of a miraculous fairy than ever, she in her bower in this wild solitude of shaggy banks and Alpine water and rocks. She wore a thin robe of Eastern silk, blue as summer air, and under it a gown of the finest white wool; the sleeves fell back from her wrists; her cheek was touched with mountain air, but her eyes were misty. As he came to her, his heart was quickened. He put his arm under her head, but, though she would not quite resist him, she would not allow him more; with one small hand and the look of her eyes, she lightly kept him a little distance off. But whatever she did just then, it would have been lovely to him. The memory of his words did not stay in his mind. He called her his delight and his sweetheart, and was so warm and glad she could not keep her own heart still. "Aren't you sorry for being unkind to me, Dennis?" she asked, pretending it was in play. He tried to be page 183serious, and began to laugh. "No," said he, in a fine Hibernian hash, "I really can't be sorry about anything just now, but I'm sorry I can't. What does a word matter, sweetheart, when you are the joy of the earth to me? Shall I tell you a Maori legend, Aidie? There was once a warlike chief named Tawhaki, who, without any sufficient cause, was loved by a heavenly maid. She descended from the skies to gaze upon him, and she visited him every night in his sleep, then vanished every morning, until at last her love was so great that she revealed herself, and lived with him, deserting, for his sake, all the other gods and goddesses. One day something put him out, and he made a disrespectful remark. Immediately the heavenly Tango-Tango wept—I'm sure I don't see why —then she took her flight towards the sky, but paused just a moment with one foot on the carving of the ridge-pole. Tawhaki, in a desperate state of mind, rushed forward, sprang up and tried to clasp his young wife, but she was too far away. So he called aloud and entreated her to stay. Tango-Tango was obdurate and only called down, 'I shall never return to you again.' The unfortunate man was torn up into shreds of emotion at such a superhuman punishment, and it was sometime before he recovered his common sense sufficiently to think of starting off for heaven himself. It was just about all he could manage to get there, on a tram line of enchanted supple-jacks. page 184Then he had to disguise himself and pretend to be the humblest of Tango's slaves, and to be aged and worn out with grief before he was even permitted to sit near her fire—although, by the way, he had to bring in the firewood himself, and quite right too. In the end he was made to live always in the sky himself, and to behave properly to his heavenly wife. And that's what it is to have a goddess for a wife in Maoriland."

Adelaide put out the other hand and played with the button of his coat, and half caressed, half kept him off. "Now I will tell you a true story," she began. "There was a mortal maid, who loved a wood-god, disguised as a herdsman. But fate wafted her away to the underworld— the Elysian Fields part. After a time she wafted herself back into her native vale. There the wood-god found her and made her his bride. He was strong and could do anything; he built her a bridal palace and a whole bridal world of blue crystal, and she was happy. But sometimes the bridegroom stole the thunderbolts of Jove and threw them about anywhere. Then the whole palace shook, and the crystal world was cracked, and the poor bride fled into the mists for a refuge."

"Very mild thunder," said Dennis. "I know a much truer story than that. There was a poor herdsman, who kept a prince's flocks and herds; he loved the fairy princess, and won her for his wife. But there was a page 185spell over the princess that no one should use common speech to her, but only fairy language. Sometimes the poor herdsman forgot and used mortal words, and, whenever he forgot, the bride began to vanish into the clouds."

After that there was a silence full of half-thoughts and glances, and still Dennis looked down on Adelaide, full of love and laughter. "Well?" he said at last, "What will you do to me, Aidie?"

Then she let the light grief go with a breath, and lifted her face slowly.