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

Chapter III. Asking Liberty to Pop The Question!

Chapter III. Asking Liberty to Pop The Question!

I may not say; but, considering that Runa had not come quite to fulness from the bud, when first by me now mentioned; many moons may possibly have swelled and lessened after this; until, what I am about to speak of took place. The same as is customary with most of the others of the chiefs, Matomato lived within the pa, in a whare by himself, wherein none were admitted excepting that they were invited; and, those that were so mostly consited of great Rangitaras, with whom he desired to take into his council, in matters such as making laws for all the different hapus to be guided by—with meet punishments for any infractions. The Maori then, as he is now, delighted more in making laws, perhaps, than in keeping them. Runa and her old hiki, were all that were tolerated to have a free-run of the place. This old hiki, Tongamimi by name, was always as full of cunning, as the koki of a shark is full of small fish—“get the better of Tongamimi, and dare the Rewera,” became at that time among them a common saying. It has been said, that on one occasion Matomato, owed the safety of his pa, to this artful wahine, by her levelling up a hole near to the palisading of the fighting pa, which Matomato occupied, where the enemy were bound to pass on the way to attack—with parched air-blown bladders! For, as one after another of these exploded with their tread, making a terrific sounding whoh! whoh! whoh! The bold tau, turned sharply round with fright, took to their heels like hunted Kiores! Often, often enough Matomato's best friends itched to tell him that, Tongamimi was not anything like a fit and proper person to be in charge of his much beloved daughter; the incomparable and elegant Runa! But, to do so, one and all felt it to be rather delicate ground to venture on, and therefore backed-out of the undertaking, rather than risk bringing upon themselves the awful wrath of this unrivalled chief. It is no slight matter you may know to give offence to any one an all-powerful; one may almost just as well be dead, as to live under the constant frown of one to whom there is no saying—nay to.

However, what men want heart to do for those sort of things; they usually show plenty of confidence, when the object besought is a beautiful Rangatira-wahine! Amongst those who were afraid to breathe to the great Chief, against Tongamimi, were likewise those who had courage enough to entreat him to grant them private communion with his daughter. Of course page 13 with a view of trying their utmost to win her much coveted hand. The first, to whom this begged-for privilege was granted, was Horo Ngatimanipoto, whose unexpected presence one day in the whare all alone, gratified as much as it surprised Runa. Runa looked up at Horo's tall stalwart stature, with a seductive smile—Horo looked down at Runa's easy, graceful posture, with bewildering amazement. His tongue having lost the gift of sounding any words; which circumstance was very aggravating to Horo; for, had not he many hundred times in his mind went over the words which he should repeat, if ever it was given him to have the good-hap to have such a priceless opportunity? He waited so long for that rehearsed speech of his to re-enter his head; that, at last it was driven entirely away, by a hidden smirk which he incidentally detected on the face, which he then almost gloatingly regarded. By and by though, the words which he had purposed to come in at the tail-end of the speech, struck his memory, and forthwith, this is what he uttered:

“O, image of the brighest star! What shall I present to qualify me, to ask you for your hand?”

Runa, pretended to be much confused, at this quite unlooked-for solicitation—recovering herself, however, slowly, she gave this reply, “Horo Ngatimanipoto, listen! Present a bowl of warm milk to me, newly strained from the breast of a whale! then, you are at liberty whenever you will to ask for my hand!”

At these words, Horo, grew dark, turned around and thus spoke—“Tamahine of the Great Matomato thou has asked me to do that which no man can perform; therefore, thou rejects my proposal.”—With these few words Horo disappeared; shaking his head, and murmuring words of unkind resentment.

The nextchief who stole in upon Runa s privacy, was Tirua Ngatitamaho, and was perhaps on account of his youthful good looks, apparently well received. He endeavoured also, to make a brave speech; but, as he proceeded, he so frequently stammered, that Runa was obliged to apply a corner of her garment over her mouth, to muffle the sound of her uncontrollable laughter. Consequently Tirua, observing this, bethought himself, that, it would be much more prudent to cut the korero short, and at once come to the point. Which he did; and in the words which I am going to speak addressed Runa, “O, Shadow of the Sun! What do you desire to be presented with by me, before that, I may open my mouth, to ask, to have your hand?”

Runa said, “O handsome Tirua, these words which you page 14 have now spoken, makes the heart within me burn and quiver with pleasure. But yet this very same heart is faultily capricious, and difficult to satisfy, and ere your wish can be conceded to, know this, that you must present me with a chipped egg of the Moa, with the young bird within, struggling to get released!”

At these words of Runa's, wrath shut out every pleasant expression of Tirua's face, as the passage of a dark cloud shuts out the light. He turned his back from where, a little before his eyes had feasted, saying: “O, Tamahine of the Great Matomato! Had you asked me to slay a hundred men to feast upon, I might have done that; but, to ask for the impossible is one way you have thought fit to make me a refusal!”

Afterwards Hongi Waikato, in elegant trim, entered the sacred whare to confer upon the same subject with Runa—dazzling was Hongi from head to waist with spoils of the brightest plumage, and dyes of the gaudiest hue. His reception from Runa was cordial, yet marked by a calm dignified bearing—Runa fixed her dark and beautiful open eyes languishingly upon her visitor, and made them make answer to his hurried spoken observations, in the place of her tongue. Hongi, told of as many fights and adventures which he had distinguished himself in, as one should suppose could not well have been crowded into three or four life-times. Then, artfully he drew for Runa's imagination to brood over, plans he should stick to; whatever Wahine-rangatira knitted herself with him; for her glory, her comfort, and her delight.” The daintiest flesh—he proceeded—of beast, bird, fish, root, or fruit; the hoa of his sleep, would have spread before her; the brightest shells that could be extracted from the ocean, would gleam like the large sparks of rangi on the rafters of their whare; fresh plucked flowers of every form and colour, should continually garnish the frames of the raupo; he would be as pure from the allurements of other soft voices as the rivers are pure which take a rocky bottom for their course. “Then, brightest beam of day-dawn!” addressed he, “what is that which is deemed desirable, that, I should present, ere permission is bestowed, to ask for thy hand?”

“Clever and brave as I know thee to be,” spoke Runa, “the doing of what I desire—though seemingly simple—may distress a little thy acknowledged skill—my wish is, that thou should present to me a crab, that will, as far as a man can leap, move from point to point, in a straight direction?”

At these embarrassing words, Hongi gave three short upward leaps, then, violently drummed on his forehead with page 15 his knuckles—stood for an instant transfixed; his eyes stead fastly rivetted on the lips which had made such a singularly suppressing answer; quietly then, withdrew, with a visage writhing ghastly from the pangs of bitter disappointment; whilst Runa kept seated, listlessly nursing with her hands her two knees! It is in moments such as these, that sometimes the wahine will act as if quite passionless!

Runa's mysterious conduct to those several suitors; by what followed, soon must have been made known to her doting father; for in a day or two succeeding, for the first time in his life, he looked upon her with displeasure; which was towards herself so new a thing for Runa to see, on the countenance of her father, as to make her quail, and in words chokingly uttered, she enquired the cause of his much dreaded indignation?

“Child of mine! and seed alone of my flesh,” Matomato made answer. “Is it thy purpose, to end for ever on this pleasant earth, the blood which has made me overthrow all resistance?”

Runa, with downward-drawn head, paused for a while as if puzzled with his meaning, then, burying her face in her hands, she uttered, “O, Father! It's a famished ill-conditioned fish, which snaps at the first bait thrown towards it!”

“Child of mine!” answered Matomato, “thou hast spoken words which are wise, and well; now let us try to learn the hidden action of each other's hearts by the means which Atua, in his mighty wisdom, has directed, which is through the pressure of the nostrils?” And the tange of Matomato with his child, it has been said, sounded for hours like to a swarm of slies newly lit on a fat carcase!