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

Chapter XV. Behold the End of it

Chapter XV. Behold the End of it.

At this special festival from the summit of Maungaroa and from the pa of Ngamutu, right down to the beach by the Sugar Loaves in Taranaki, for the distance of half-a-mile, people everywhere were scattered around. Besides Matomato's people from the borders of lake Taupo, tribes as far down the coast as Petone had come all the way, hitherward to do honor to Matomato's daughter and her Tane. All the bad blood which the past had fostered among them by cruel slaughter on the part of one and another was now about for all time to be allayed. Noses squeezed against noses belonging to those who formerly tried their dead-best to squeeze the existence out of each other. Tena-koes go from lips in friendly salutations one to another, which years previously had saluted, but with hard blows of stone, or of bone, or of wooden clubs. Now, all old evils had vanished away, and the new state of things were to be that of peace and harmony. It was not altogether for mere feasting that those old fashioned folks delighted in meetings, neither was it altogether for dancing, sports, and jests; they had in addition the predilection, which I have now learned, is common to all mankind of being seen and wishing to be seen to the very best advantage, quite as much, perhaps, as you pakehas do in those days love to flaunt bedizened at balls or races. Here during this great affair they might have been observed gadding about from place to place with deftly wrought, gaudy feathered, kokus thrown jauntily over their shoulders, and also elegant maros around their plump haunches, fixed to the waist with a tatua, gleaming with inwrought, dazzling, shells. The only distinction in garments between men and women then was that of the wahines wearing theirs generally much deeper than that of the tangatas, and they, the wahines, also too, at that period ornamented their head with curious fantastic plaits of amber tinted grasses, and likewise the choicest flowers of the passing season. A rare vision of pleasing beauty was Runa at this season, with her dark, sparkling eyes, pursed red lips, and great wealth of wavy, sheeny, locks, falling underneath her girdle. Then there was Nanahu, her shadow, page 59 imaged from the most perfect mould, and now, too, the newly proclaimed chief of the Ngatarinuis; who, even yet, uxorious fellow as he was, could not for very long at a time keep from dallying with his former mate at canoe building; but lo, could such be wondered at? The charms presented fully excused the application. Ah! after all, there were none at the many repeated treats on this particular occasion could hold place for real grandeur of forms and winningness of graces with that of these two, Nanahu and Runa!

Matomato with his followers have now been fully nine days in this southern region, and as yet there are no signs whatever of the expected canoes which he had given instructions to leave by way of the Mokau River on the third day following his own departure overland. The wind had all this time been blowing steadily from the west, but in this quarter not apparently blowing very strong; surely one should have thought they could not have been kept back all this while by a high sandbank-bar at the mouth of the river? Why! even though such were the case, there would be quite sufficient men in the six canoes as to have enabled them to man-handle a canoe, one at a time, across whatever might happen to be the obstruction.

As a rule the great chief lacks not for patience, but clearly now he has become unusually uneasy, or else he should not be almost every other minute shadowing his eyes with his hands, as looking away northward. There are few things which tries the patience as much and produces such an anxious frame of mind as that of repeatedly looking out for what ought to come; but still does not come after many trial-peeps within the horizon of view directed upon the waste of waters.

Matomato's directions before his departure hitherward were clear and also well considered. Allowing himself and his party which were going by land five complete days for the journey, it was reasonably thought that the canoes proceeding by water could do it in about half the time; so as to have both parties arriving at the appointed place nearly at the same period, the party going overland was to have two clear days start; those in charge of the canoes received likewise instructions that under no pretence whatever were they to separate, and further, to at once call at Motupora, be their arrival thither either by day or by night. Then, should any resistance be offered to those in the canoe who first attempted landing, they were all in that case to steer right for the neighbouring beach, so as to redouble their strength by the men who had by land himself accompanied. The thoughtful chief had also on his arrival communicated his page 60 intentions to Toto, so as to give Toto an opportunity of making whatever preparations he might deem necessary for this proposed change of abode. Toto's reply to these representations was anything but courteous; nay, it was worse than uncourteous; it was gruff! Toto sent back word to say, “Tell your master that if any men from any of his canoes dares to land at Motupora, I'll set both him and the whole place around instantly aflame!” This illnatured answer-obviously drew a quiet chuckle and a sort of wait-a-bit you'll-see wink from he to whom it was meant to be conveyed.

As time still went onward and still the canoe fleet did not put in appearance, the circumstance began to engage the deep interest of everybody, and there came to be scarcley an hour of either night or day but what each favourable eminence around about was in a manner crowded—and curiosity, it is well known, is something akin to thirst or hunger, the longer it goes ungratified the worse it gets to endure. Not only that, but almost in any case when cumbers are endeavouring to descry a particular object there are certain to be some who can conjure by fancy that which is desired to be seen, and thus thereby tantalizing by raising nought but delusions. On this occasion, the proof of such misleading and mischievious reports was verified, for one afternoon these expected canoes had been sighted at least a dozen times from different points, and in every instance what really after all had been sighted dissolved itself gradually after amidst the low-lying vapours.

The following afternoon though, the fleet actually did appear, steadily, all together approaching, and too distinct to cause this time any apprehension of disapointment. The only question now was would they get in before being overtaken by darkness? No, that could not well possibly be, seeing that the sun was already far down in the blue firmament, and still the boats were yet two good hours rowing, by all calculations, from Motupora. Notwithstanding all this though, neither hunger, thirst, nor sleep, nor ought else could induce the people to withdraw themselves for ever so brief a time, off from the banks where they squatted greedily gazing on the now steadily advancing canoes. Darkness in due course overshadowed them, but still, under the lurid light of the twinkling stars, the large crowd stuck like grim-death itself to their obtained position upon the edges of the cliff overhanging the black, sandy beach, however, by and by it was not the canoes that they had their eyes particularly fixed upon so much as the unsearchable tongues of fire that were constantly shooting up in forms of page 61 flaming spears all around the margin of this wonderously weird and irksome-like island! Shewing for a great distance the quietly moving waters, with a glow of unsurpassable impressive. ness, and sending a column of light up into space like that, in a calm, of a burning wilderness, or Tongariro when her bowels are consuming: yet strange, meanwhile, in this peculiar spot itself, all was perfectly quiet, no voice or sound of any kind fell upon the ear, no reverberation of any convinssion whatever came therefrom! It was such an inconceivably ghastly perception; so allusive of pent-up implacable fury that no wonder if it did put these spectators into an uncomfortable trouble. Strong men amongst them would for an instant turn aside their gaze, then, despite themselves would revert their heads to the former direction; women strained their eyes with rivetted and impassioned attention, and from the wells of which rolled down their saddened faces, great tears, and children looked paralyzed with sheer amazement. Now and then, too, the whispered query would pass from lip to lip: “What is going to be the end of all this?” or, “What shall this wild spectacle lead to?” Amongst the many hundreds here at this particular time contemplating this mysterious prospect, the only soul apparently unmoved was Matomato himself; a wahine at his side, beside herself with fear—the chief tapped on the shoulder, saying, “Good woman listen; there are those who can never glance at a firefly nor hear the flap of a swan's wing but are frightend that the ground is going from under them; bear up, don't be alarmed!”

Acting in strict compliance with the Great Chief's instructions the half-dozen canoes, keeping well together, are making their way direct to the novely illuminated shore. Ho! now they are close alongside, ay! and Toto too must be of a certainty bristling defiant opposition; for lo, take heed, there is seen numbers of flaring torches, brandishing, whirling, and flitting to and fro, as well as is heard too, for the first time, the sound of deep and wrathful voices at each lull of the restlessly noisy surges. Ah! it is so too, for yonder! see the canoes are all making swiftly for the beach. Accordling to preceding arrangements the landsmen belonging to Matomato are rushing to reinforce the crews in a renewed struggle with whatever force Toto can bring to bear against them. Take notice, look! look! their numbers nearly swamp the canoes, now pitching and tossing amongst the low swirling white breakers. O, that is good! The boats are once more off again; watch now! and afloat in deep water. The lookers-da perched on every page 62 surrounding height during these terrible moments are everyone of them struck perfectly speechless! A cloud of dismal, inkyblackness, as of some augury of desolation's woe! overhead, now sweeps across the sullen sky, and locks for the moment in total obscurity the progress of the six canoes! White at this very instant it shows manifoldly more glaringly, more grimly, more overawingly, the cavernous flares ascending from the still strangely irradeated island. Ho! there, look still! as the boats come into view again. Ah! and scarcely bearing either, quite as much as three furlongs from the low water-girded shore. “Hist! O! look! now, see! What means that billow of fire? What is it, mark! that mountaineous blaze? Whoo-owe-whoong, whoo-owe-whoong, whoo-owe-whoo-oong!!! Atua! Atua!! O! look down! look down!! Pity, us, us in mercy do preserve! Motupora is for ever, aye! for ever * * * and for ever—Gone!!!

There, when everything is still,
When the breath of night is chill,
When the moon is straight o'erhead,
When its lustrous beams are shed
On the surging billows tread;
Then, 'tis said the Kai-his* can a
Pile of flag-stones neath explore,
Wan hobgoblins pacing o'er,
Such in weird sepulchral tones,
Intermingled with deep groans,
Motuporo's hap bemoans,
Deep down in the moana!
These Kai-his, they Toto spy,
With a ring-flame round each eye,
With a mien of hideous cast,
Hair like loose-yarn in a blast!
Ever dwelling with the past.
His wails have always ran a
Monologue of dolesome croak
'Gainst Fates dealings equivoque;
He whimpers, couldn't justice see
'Tis Matomato here should be,
With all his horde instead of me,
Deep down in this moana!

page 63

But the universal law,
Motory force marks sea-saw,
Atoms fall as atoms rise,
Hence to abyss, hence to skies;
Ringing joys, else wringing cries—
From Toto's plunge began a
Soaring flight of Nanahu,
From Utea, all right through
To Wapawa none there were
To his status might compare,
And Runa long his fame did share
High up off the moana!


* Fishermen sounds kai-hees.