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

Chapter VIII. A Lofty Dry Dock for Shipbuilding

Chapter VIII. A Lofty Dry Dock for Shipbuilding.

Most certainly Nanahu must be put down, as having possessed at this time, uncommon good judgment; for causing the removal of his first temporary settlement by Tongaporutu, from a hollow to a height. If any one wishing to avoid being suddenly sprung upon; never, never, should they take to a hollow piece of ground, but rather to that of a height although, ever so slightly screened, where a good look-out can always be obtained of whatever is approaching, In this particular instance the good resulting from such a choice selection was agreeably attested. For had that Nanahu and Runa kept to their first position, close down by the river, there is not the slightest question, no, not any, but that, ere this they would have been returning to meet whatever chastisement was in store for them—and no doubt would have been strictly guarded front, rear, and sides. As it was, in short, once their prosecutors passed within a running-leap of where they had actually hid. The place which was selected for their greatest page 32 safety was in rear of some light scrub in a hole which they had scooped out right under a lofty ridge, where it was almost impossible for such a calamity to occur, as that of being taken short. It would seem, however, on this far-stretching Earth which upholds us, that whenever a good is obtained an evil in almost every instance comes along with it to reduce its palatableness! Nanahu and Runa's personal safety so far, was good close under this high ridge; but Nanahu and Runa's sufferings up in this towering quarter, were as might be expected abominably bad. Dearly, dearly had they to pay for their escape from seizure—by hunger, thirst, cold, damp, and other discomforts during the frightsome time that those who were burning to lay hands upon them were prowling about. Then, what must have been their great exaltation when, at weary length, it was discovered beyond all doubt, that they were gone! They made for the beach as fast as their sorely cramped limbs would allow them to proceed. The beach was the place where soonest thought they, that craving hunger should get satisfied or torturing thirst should get appeased! Luckily for them at the time, the tide was out, and they found the huge boulders which were bedded in the sand, abounding with a choice variety of well-filled shells. All that need be said of the good produced by such a ready meal, is only this much. That each hitherward came reeling and hobbling with stiffness and weakness, and went away leaping and bounding with renewed spirits and strength!

“Not for myself, but for you, Runa,” spoke Nanahu, at night, as they lay down to rest on a soft couch of fern. “I bleed within, to see the uncomplaining way you suffer!—all too, to satisfy a mean outcast like unto myself. I have no tools to make a strong canoe, neither if I had, is their time, but one of some sort may be hurriedly put together, which with fair wind and weather may take us safely to Kaiapoa on the other island.”

“Not for myself, but for you Nanahu,” answered softly Runa. “I trouble much to behold the ceaseless care and labour, that one, who in my sight is altogether unequalled, bestows on a wayward kotero like me. Let the stout and tough rods of the kohe be got to form a frame. Then, outside and inside of which, you will soon find out that I can cunningly line, with barks so closely plaited as to resist sufficiently the penetration of the waters around it—Once at Kaiapoa, once again without dread! O! Nanahu, should not that be most delightful!”

“Delightful, Runa, aye! delightful it would be my kotero! page 33 even surpassing all thought. To have you safely with me there, at yonder place, and free, and free!—prouder it should make me feel, than if that I held a power not under any, over all this broad-spread earth! The very thought of such a possible end, which now keeps lurking over my temples, tickles with pleasant, glowing-warmth my flesh. O, Runa, Runa! I would gladly venture ten thousand times the risk if only for but a little while to call such sweets my own. Free! safe! and with you! If that such happiness would not drive me mad!”

“Nanahu,” returned Runa, “do you know, whenever you begin to korero seriously like that, it almost brings on me a fit of laughter? seeing that you can't look very far in front of you, or before your nose!—Won't I become in time, well consider you, like all of the rest of Maori wahines? my face wrinkled, my eyes inflamed, my hair crisp and shoked, and my back nearly doubled with carrying heavy burdens long distances? but never mind Nanahu, for all that I'll do my best to help you on with your boat! And saying that, says more than what before I have said!”

At this touch of woman's seductive wile, on the part of Runa, Nanahu stretched over the arm which was not at the time under her back, and playfully tipped Runa with the tips of his fingers on the tip of her luscious chin, saying, “you droll, droll wahine! But you can nip me as hard as you like, as long as mere words are the only implements used. If you wound—why then? the pain is so sweet, that such I never wish again to be cured!”

“Nanahu! Nanahu!!” musically trilled out Runa, with an imperfectly repressed smirk— “who, pray taught you to such excellence in the art of—what shall I call it—Bamboozling! Why, Nanahu! the words you utter, draw a gentle drowsiness over my eyelids—giving delight which I have no power to express, as if that I had sipped deeply of the kava.” * * *

Betime next morning, the work of canoe-building had begun. It was wonderful indeed to see how many stout flexible rods Nanahu had got cut down, with a simple tool of sharpedged flint; strapped firmly with thin strippings of tough bark into a loop of wattle! I don't think that there were ever before a boat put on stocks at such an elevation. For Nanahu insisted on still retaining their position just under the high ridge. “The prize which was in view,” said he, “was much too valuable, was much too precious to run the smallest risk of any upsetting on the way to lay hold of its possession. Atua, if He wills, it is true can frustrate it by raising suddenly from the black clouds page 34 overpowering gusts of wind, but in that, it is no blame of mine, for who can with the Wairua contend?” * * * The long-line rods of the contemplated canoe were easily set to the wished-for curve, and more easily still were those for the ribs. The bottom of the begun-frame was balanced on the top of two stones, then stakes were driven the best way they could to steady and to keep the skeleton frame firm. This was all that the light permitted for the first day to be done, still after all it was not a bad day's work, taking into account that it was close on to midday before that the materials could be got together. The beginning of any job too, seems always the most tedious. The next day, or to be more exact, a little before the day began, Nanahu and Runa were tramping around the forest depths, selecting for their first lining the most suitable barks for holding out water. Then, when what they had obtained were brought alongside of the fixture, it was found out that the canoe would have to be taken out of the cradle, and placed bottom upward, so as to fix on as you pakchas do shingles, square fladges of this bark, but in this case—done by tight lacing in place of with nails. This work occupied those quaint boat-builders the greater part of five days; and very little time either they gave themselves to stretch their back a bit— you bet!

The most tedious work of any came next, that was the inside lining, which took much more labour than what the lining on the outside required. A web of thin strips of flax had to be woven, cut up, and closely patched and tightly laced to rods inside the frame. Then gum had to be obtained to lacquer over the whole of the lining. The wonder really is, with so much to do, that they could afford themselves time to go and search for food; but punga roots are never very far away, nor hard to seek, and birds of many kinds were readily trapped. In rather less than the duration of a moon, this canoe built on the top of a hill was ready to be conveyed to where it could be launched. Aye! and did not Nanahu and Runa regard the work of their hands with glowing ecstacies of pride?

It was interesting to behold Nanahu with his well-formed and strongly knit frame—nude, save an old flax-rags waithed around his haunches, preparing the way between the trees, by cutting and clearing away runners with his stone implement for a passage through which the canoe could slide. It was likewise interesting to behold Runa with a weather-worn tippet slung over her broad shoulders, and a short kilt of laced-palm leaves sheathing her upper limbs;—whilst Nanahu was thus engaged splitting into fine fibres the flax leaves, so as to make a make-shift sail for page 35 their frailly-constructed vessel. Ay! and it was much more interesting, it may be remarked than either, to see Nanahu pushing and guiding on one side of the stern as they were fetching her down the hill, and Runa pushing and guiding on the opposite side of the stern; each of their looks were so brimfull of zeal, all of their muscles were so strained, yet lithesome withal. At length the canoe floated quite accustomed-like on the river. What a victory? when after a while, not the vestige of a leakage was at all discernible! There and then the oars were placed, and several strings of birds which they had caught were quickly pitched into the bottom, also several strings of lampreys and eels, together with a large kitful of the most toothsome roots, by way of provisions for the voyage. Then each faced eastward, standing erect—bringing the palms of their hands turned outward in front of their bodies, extending them upwards the full stretch of the arms; sinking them again to the line of the shoulder, again slowly raising and lowering them thrice three times, and whilst thus doing they asked Atua's protection. * * * Soon they were rapidly gliding down the river in the fragile canoe! soon with a light land-wind blowing, they were seen fearlessly breasting steep breaker after breaker, and soon too, but just like a mere speck, they could be only distinguishable near to where sky and sea meet, and in another instant, they were gone! gone! O, yes, clean gone!

Were there ever a riskier craft put to sea, than this one of Nanahu's and Runa's?