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

Chapter V. Odd Honeymoon Quarters

Chapter V. Odd Honeymoon Quarters.

Tongaporutu is the most eastern of the seventy small rivers which are said to have their source from the snow on the top of the mountain—Taranaki—which, you Pakehas name Egmont. It is a stream like the good wahine of the Maori, not much spoken of, because, but very little seen. I don't know myself in what way Tongaporutu flows near to its source, but, near to the sea, it curls like to the fishing-line when cast from the coil; with the spaces between each curl, gleaming with green matted patches of what the natives call whakapai whenua. Seldom indeed—which is all the more puzzling to understand—does ever the shadow of man fall on the quiet waters of this remote river; as for myself, I have wandered much, and many lands truly have received my footmarks. But, for a quiet settled life where everywhere around is good, very good! give me the balmy shoals of Tongaporutu.

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It was on one of these patches at the hour following a certain midnight, that, by the light of a bright moon could have been perceived two young people; only, but at that time preparing for a night's rest; and these two young people, stiff, tired, and foot-sore, after several weeks of nights' journeying to escape notice, were Nanahu and Runa! Nanahu and Runa, jaded and wearied as they both were; even then, were something much to marvel at, for acceptable forms of our species! Already something has been said of Runa's renowned attractions, let something also be told of Nanahu's:—Slave as Nanahu had been from an infant on the back, as he waxed in years he received the name he went by, from a particular trait about him, as mostly all the natives such derive; and, this trait, was Nanahu—signifying the beautiful. Spite, it may be truthfully said of it, is not an evil rooted alone in women, as it takes ground oft quite as readily in men. It was a thing much to be ashamed of, the contrivances which the free men of the several hapus in Matoma to's pa, made, so as to fashion this slave Nanahu as hideous and ridiculous as they possibly could manage! There were not a dye by tree or clay furnished, but their effect was tested on poor Nanahu's skin. There was not a shabby dust grained, old ragged garment, but what it delighted them to see it by Nanahu worn. Yea, more than that, when waited upon by him, in some mean and frequently filthy service, then, he whom they secretly knew held, what all of them most craved to possess, that is good looks, became the butt of their low contemptable jests! How was it then by all that is perplexing, did the gorgeous and much pampered fine wahine, the queen-like Runa, get first drawn towards this sorry-seeming torch! which surely must have had but very faintly dazzled within such a vile-looking socket? What concealed spell were there, which Runa's eyes could reach beyond Nanahu's true features, and beyond the dirt and ochre stains too, which disguised them? The daughter, the only child; yea! the only relative of one, whom she was to, as the beating of the heart, and that one, a chief above any other chief! What power was it, which had lead her to turn her back upon a place, wherein she was by all extolled; wherein the very lifting of the eyelids was watched by idolizers and menials, waiting to be asked, and often without asking to do her service?—To leave all these desirable good things which, I am quite sure, most of wahines nowadays would tolerate the cutting off, of three parts of their life to enjoy, and to voluntarily fly to an existence, beset on all sides with insecurity, toil, desitution and anxiety! O, wahine! wahine! to try to trace out what, at times are brought upon thy page 21 sex to bear, is as seeking for what puts breath into one's nostrils! Labour is as unavailing in the one thing every bit, as it is in the other!

Nanahu, although late of lying down, is up betime this morning. Look at the brown-skinned, tall, straight, well-curved form, standing with nothing, but a maro girding his loins on the side of the stream; beetling with the points of the forefingers his ear-holes! Nanahu is now doing what many before him have done, are doing, and ever, I suppose must, and shall do. Puzzling himself about how he is going to procure food for breakfast! What a wayward sort of thing that item called appetite must be? Whenever there is a scarcity of food it becomes sharp, and whenever there is a plentiful supply, then, at once it gets dull, sick, and heavy.

“I must first rub up a kindling for a fire,” spoke Nanahu, and throw in, when the fire blazes up, a few punga-roots to roast during the time that I am away looking around the pools for lampreys; and I also may have the good luck—Atua only knows—to pick up a handful or two of Ngatas. These three things together when carefully cooked and spread on pakawhanui, would be sure to coax Runa delightfully to smile, as she starts up from her moa! she may sleep for hours though, and I'll be all the better pleased for it; but, I fear that by and by, when the heat strengthens, those nasty torturing flies will come about and break her slumber. Certainly, I might contrive some kind of pahoka to fix over her, but the seeking for something to eat must be now my first thought. Yes, that assuredly must be my first duty!”

It looked as if on this morning, Nanahu was about to have his wishes, every one of them gratified. He had succeeded in collecting all that he had mentioned as desirable for the early meal; and there he was standing—but this time over burning embers instead of over the stream—with his fingers again beetling in his ears! It was not now, however, any uneasiness about how to get food which he was pondering over. For of that he had had already himself partaken, and had plenty left too, keeping it nice and warm in the hollow of a stone, close by the fire, for the comfort of his still asleep partner. The truth was, that he was at this time, thinking if he could press the jutting feature of Runa's face against his own, without in the least interrupting her deeply drawn-out breathing. It was a risky thing, certainly, for one to do, who wished the sleeper to in a regular way, sleep her sleep out; but, men are usually weak when temptation is strong, and when or where were there ever a temptation put in page 22 the way of man, since in the world there were such a thing, which could half come up to that of Runa's, at that particular moment, as her sweet figure lay in a bosky recess on a rough bed of green fern?

Ia e pangia ana ahau.” “It was I who touched you,”—I poor Nanahu, tremulously confessed; as quietly Runa's eyes wide-opened, by Nanahu's unwittingly immoderate pressure.

“All right,” spake Runa, “I have had one of the nicest sleeps that I have had since we two commenced to wander together, aye! and such a dream too, Nanahu, mark! such a dream! as never I think before has been dreamed by any sleeper! I was on the beach looking out for pupus; and once while I straightened myself up to have a look around.—O! I away, away, far, far upon the sea, towards the sky in the west, methought, plainly I saw, what at first I imagined to be a remarkably shaped drifting cloud. Then apace! I discovered it not to be a cloud at all, but such, as I afterwards made it out to be, a wonderfully huge canoe! which upon my eyes for a time steadily regarding—well, nearly took my breath away. Nanahu! would you believe it? the body of the Moa, seemed as if but little in comparison to this canoe's monstrous-like hull! Then! Nanahu! its sails were white, as are white the snow on Tongariri; high and wide, fixed to cross kurupaes, and these then, to rakaus, quite as tall as the tallest of totoras. I went to get on the rock near by, thinking to view more distinctly this most amazing sight, for Nanahu! now, would you believe it, I really was not one least bit frightened! Then, O! shall I ever forget my very great disappointment! when I reached the top of the rock, behold! it was gone! Nanahu, just think! clean, clean, gone! Then, I came down from this rock, and made my way to where I formerly had been, and proceeded with my former labour; and hark! curiously, aye! most curiously again, I beheld further to the north, another great canoe; but not quite so large, I considered, as the one which had preceded it, but made swifter way, by ever so much, through the distant billows. The odd thing, Nanahu, which I observed and could not understand about this latter one, was this, that in its centre—for I could see well—the sails being almost down, stood up, something which might have very well been likened to a standing stump of burnt rakau, and from its top continuously arose a great train of clouds, which appeared to me, to be gradually filling up space! This canoe, even whilst my gaze was still upon it, melted imperceptibly into, into—well, nothing * * * Next, in this mysterious dream Nanahu, methought, I was on a page 23 visit to Waipare, and one day thereto, near to where I stood, there rushed bounding like unto an avalanche past me, a long continnation of what one might have readily taken for large square-frames, and they were borne on wheels; I tried my utmost to perceive what sort of animals were they which pulled them along but failed entirely to find that out. Now, lo, Nanahu, I have quite forget to tell, that there were looking over the sides of these frames, as I have named them, hundreds of human beings, I supposed like ourselves but with pale and less full countenances. Indeed! the countenances—peer as I would—were all that I could make out, belonging to them, their other parts were so thickly muffled up in what I considered the most absurdly coloured and arranged garments. I could hear them, low like the lapping of waters holding conversation, but their voices were as incomprehensible to me as are the voices of the winds. Then Nanahu! now don't you smile will you? the queerest thing, aye much the queerest, I have thought of any was that you yourself suddenly started by my side, and with your lips close against mine car—whispered, futurity! futurity! futurity! But indeed! Nanahu! that was not yet all” * * * “O, the rest,” impatiently interrupted Nanahu, “will do to tell Runa after you have had something to eat! You know the saying, don't you, of the swan to its mate?—‘A full gizard, gives a sprightly plume.”’

“Nanahu! your metaphor is indelicate,” quoth Runa.

“I know it,” confessed Nanahu, “therefore I am confused!”

“Nanahu! these words are good, showing contrition!”

Runa! and this likewise is good, showing attrition! and as the scamp of an impertinent fellow, Nanahu, uttered this pert jest; sharply the respective ridges which divided their cheeks were brought into contact * * * Then, gradually all sound died away to a hum.