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The Sunken Island. A Maori Legend: Occurring Ere the Time of Captain Cook.

Chapter XI. A Great Battle Won by a Great Sell

Chapter XI. A Great Battle Won by a Great Sell.

In the pa at Taupo, it was a profound secret, known by but a few, that two days preceding that in which Matomato loudly page 43 called for his staunch-hearted and good-fighting men, that two of Raniera's spies had been taken on the hop, stealthily prowling about in the neighbourhood. But on their detection—well, as in most of other matters, Matomato's behaviour was like to none other. For instead of there and then chopping off their upper stories, he kindly gave them the choicest of food, took them all round the place, and then told them to return to Raniera and plead with him not to be so heartlessly pitiless, as to make a murderous onslaught on an unprotected pa! But whether Matomato knew it or not—most likely he did—not a much better plan could have been adopted for hurrying an impetuous young chief like Raniera to profit, by taking advantage of such seemingly blameworthy lack of protection! So much thereby the easier would he then procure his triumph; so much thereby the surer then should he win his glory—The Great Chief Matomato, once under his foot! “NuiTu!” [Great War God], where was there another throughout the length and breadth of the land, who could say then to him, Raniera, “what mean you?” It was on the middle of the afternoon, that word came to Matomato that the enemy must then be within an hour and a half's march to the steep passage leading up to the plain. Upon this plain too, beneath a skirting and a screening scrub, most likely thereon, purposed to encamp Raniera's strong body of warriors to be ready as usually is, for this sort of thing to rush with surprise Matomato's pa a little before dawn, laying around them death, destruction, pillage, and captivity amongst the supposed unprepared, within the palisaded kianga!

It may still be in mind, what before has been spoken of, the particular position of the Great Chief's pa, being on a mound rising from a broad valley, or rather plain, and pretty well surrounded by hills. However, eastward of this valley or plain, in place of any hills, there was a descent for miles from the ridge down to another valley which again was skirted by distant low hills. The common-place-looking wahine whare, which had an old appearance, although but quite recently built, stood close to the edge of this descent just now mentioned, and in short as has before been hinted, stood right in the way of the only effective passage that there were for many miles, that is from an eastern direction to the plain whereon the pa stood. The dimensions of this seemingly-dilapidated whare must have been extensive, as there could not have been many short of one hundred and fifty chosen warriors packed inside its walls on this particular hour and day, by command of the Great Chief!—For what purpose too, it is page 44 not yet time to explain. Two warriors stood upright at each of the gables of the whare—their hands clasped around each of the single upright supports thereat fixed. Three hundred warriors, staunch and strong! were also stowed among the thick scrub at about two hundred yards on the left of the dip of the ridge from the whare! All the address which on this occasion was given by Matomato to either parttes was, “to act promptly together, when the word Hokai was given, and never to deliver a blow until such times as that they were sure that they had got inside of the point of whatever was their foe's weapons—Then, to let fly! and spare not!”

Hist! away now on the hill in the east, something like a grey cloud coming into view makes its appearance! By-and-by, this grey cloud is descried to be a deep-stretching broad-faced column of human life, apparently bent on hither approaching—although closely packed together, each moves as independently of each other as the upheaving spurts of water at the boil! Good, stout, dusky limbs though are carrying them briskly forward. Why? everyone in inches round, as thick as the bladder of the Tohora.

Scant, and but few are the garments worn amongst them, and those who even have a meagre belt around the fork, are those who have wahines—dainty-like distinguished feathers top some of their thick, black, crisp and tangled hair, each feather denoting a victim which their prowess had at some former time made to lick the dust! The weapons in their hands—meres, tomahawks, spears, and lances; some of wood and some of stone are carried at pleasure; one has his across his shoulder; another at the trail; and another across the breast—all intermixed without arrangement in the separate ranks! Ah! now the sun is beginning to get low down in the west, and before it sets this heavy column of braves want badly to push on, and take up their stealthy quarters for the night under the screen of scrub, which now they can observe on the right of the broad, steep track leading to the opposite high ground in front. Thereon to be ready to burst on Matomato's pa ere the stars with the coming morn depart from the spacious vault above; and ere the mocking owl ceases to haurarua! Then they should put their foot on the enemy! then they should make his wahines wait upon them! and then too, there should be no lack of toothsome morsels with which to provide a savoury and plentiful feast! Neither should there be any scarcity of shooting and fishing grounds for those who had shared with Raniera, the toils which had led to such a victory, as that of the page 45 defeating of the Great—the supposed to never-to-be beaten Matomato! Does not the moth aspire when consuming by the light of the torch? Aye! and does not the torch itself shoot up a bright flame the moment ere it darkens? And rarely ever are the ways of men less full of vain endeavours! of vain and idle conceits!

Raniera's fighting column is still advancing bravely onward. With bold front they are winding down the gentle slope that falls towards the brawling torrent! With heads proud and ercct, as if to say, “who is there who dare to oppose us?” and all the while their hands keep on fumbling with their weapons, as if in imagination adjusting them to strike down some foe! The head of this great living cloud, consisting of nearly two thousand fighting men at length have reached the stream; and are now threading their way—to the opposite bank which falls steep—amidst the rough sharp-edged boulders in the water. Apace! the bulk of the advancing column is now more than half way up the steep, but broad and smooth road, which leads to where they mean to have during the early darkness, a few hours welcome rest. They are still, still moving forward! But spirits of gods that dwelt in early fathers! At this instant, the word Hokai is shrilly uttered * * And! and! O! Ghosts of Tekotekos!! Down, down from the roof-ridge of the whare standing on the cliff, there came on the ground with a dull thud, like unto the voice of hurtling thunder, a ponderous thick beam of well nigh half a furlong in length, and in descending the precipice swept Raniera's advancing column back again headlong pell-mell into the river, as would a stupendous breaker sweep piles of driftsand back again to the shore! Instantly then, like to legions of Imps, newly from a thousand years' bondage released, out sallied from inside the whare, and from amidst the covering scrub Matomato's men, dealing out furious death-blows on their enemy, while yet they lay helplessly mangled by the pressure of the overwhelming beam! O! it was a most terrible bloody day! a most terrible revenge! Raniera, himself and one hundred and ninety were taken prisoners, seven hundred were slain, and the remnant fled to spread the tale of their humilating disaster in every nook and corner of Maoriland! The scourge was rapid and decisive; the carnage was heavy, but nearly all on the one side, only nineteen of the defending host bit the ground, and about fifty more were wounded. The noise, it is said of the combatants during the short half hour in which it lasted, could be heard all the way at Lake Roto! It was one of those battles which are never to be forgotten, nay, never to be forgotten, page 46 till the day that fate parches up the last drop of blood inherited from those who thereon had fought! Peace, peace, peace be to their shadows!

Soon there came to embrace the victorious heroes, long strings of wahines, dancing, leaping, and singing in turn, and shouting “haere mai toku tangata,” [come to me my husband], and thus intoxicating with their plenteous caresses. Then in the fullness of their joy, their frenzed delight, these wahines even went so far as to accost with their extravagancies the great Matomato himself, singing before him, “Lo! Nana ano tanui mahi,” meaning [this work is his own], and would have conveyed him in a litter, framed with their own plump round bodies from the field to the pa, had not Matomato gently waved them off with his hand, and unto them said these few words, with a mild, though searching countenance. “Wahines, know ye what ye are about? I am he, whom but yesterday was said by you—to be mad!”