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

Chapter IX. A Man With a Method in His Madness

Chapter IX. A Man With a Method in His Madness.

After, several weeks wore round, it began to be thought at Taupo pa, that the threat of Raniera was like a blown bladder—nothing else but wind. He had encamped at a place, of which I now forget the name, at about a day-and-a-half's journey from his formidable enemy, there Raniera made such a long stay, as to justify the doubt of his intention to come any nearer. This doubt was also further supported by no signs whatever of his having forwarded any scouts to take notes of the position which he had proposed to menace. Which was a precaution his more sly adversary did not neglect to embrace; inasmuch, as there was not a single movement in Raniera's camp, but what by Matomato was pretty well-known! Such you know to be in warfare, quite half the battle to obtain.

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Matters around the Taupo pa though went on as quietly and orderly as if that there was no serious disturbance at hand threatened. Without going a round-about of nearly twenty miles, there was but one place well-known, that from either east or north an ope of warriors could very well get in; and that was a place scarcely a stonethrow wide two miles from the pa, up a steep cliff leading on to the plain where the pa stood, right and left of this open it was impregnable even for a Maori, by reason of thickly matted scrub growing over precipitate broken ground. The top of this cliff stood nearly a hundred feet high, and almost as steep as the ratlines of a pakeha's ship, with a river runing over a bed of rough boulder—stones at the bottom. But such-like places are almost everywhere to be seen throughout the length and breadth of Maoriland, therefore, little or no notice seemed to be taken of this one in particular.

“Surely, surely, Matomato must be getting old and foolish,” was the thought of mostly all the people of his hapu, not to be going on—in the face of danger—such as digging fresh trenches and pits around his nui fighting pa! Why? guardedly spoke one to another, if that he is so far beside himself, as not to regard his own safety; that is no reason that so many as he has under him should totally be disregarded! Some one, surely ought to have pluck enough to tell him the truth!” “You go Hoi;” “no, you go Tahana;” “no, Tiara will go,” and on such-like appeals passed from man to man, but no one would take it upon himself to communicate words of remonstrance to their chief!

“Surely, surely! Matomato must be getting even worse than foolish—he must, by the loss of his kotero, fast be losing bis reason,” were the words which came to be bandied round as workmen began to fix the foundation for a large wahines' whare close to the opening which led from the top of the clift down to the river. Seeing all these things, they communed amongst themselves—saying, “that should the enemy appear, we may all just as well deliver ourselves into their hands at once, we have done nothing yet whatever for our protection! What can such things all mean?”

“Surely! surely! Matomato must not only have lost his reason, but he must be getting porangi, and wants to see all our wahines captured and slaughtered! Such was angrily uttered when they observed this wahines whare was finished, and neither ditch, hole, nor palisading any way near it to be seen! This time, one Pokeha took it upon himself to speak and acquaint Matomato with their alarm. All the satisfaction which poor Pokeha got was, “that he was told to go and mind his own business, as well as the present safe position of his head!”

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Maori whares are not usually built to any very great height, but this one herein mentioned looked a little lower than they usually are, also narrower; still much longer than the general run of them. Why! if all the accounts were true, in length, it could not have been very much short of fifty feet, Matomato went to inspect the construction after the workers had told him that it had been finished. Ka-pai, mo te wahines! Ka-pai, mo te wahines!” exclaimed he, when first it came under his observation, but soon after saying so, he commenced to find faults with the roof. The roof was much too low; it had not pitch enough; it was not sufficiently strong; it was not anything-like weather-proof; he would have it all taken down, and a new roof put on, and it might just as well be done soon as late.” “It is bad,” said he, “very! that I can never manage to get work done, as properly work ought to be done, unless I make a point of constantly attending to it myself. Men! men!” added he, “it is shameful, it is really disgraceful!”

Then after a little hugging at the back of the neck with his locked fingers, and with his eyes regarding his toes, Matomato concluded not on this occasion to take off the roof. but rather to place a good staunch one directly over the one which already was on. One you know, that shall require nothing to be done to it for as long as any of them lived! He himself should look over the work and see to it, that every stick was placed and fixed in the way which was especially required.—The rafters of the new roof were ever so many times stronger than the usual run of whares—they were fixed with poles every bit as much round them as a tangata's leg is round at the knee. Then at each of the gables up went an upright-pole, three times as thick around as were ev[gap — reason: unclear] those of the rafters! with a very little of a fork on each of the tops, and a very little of a grip too in the ground had each of the bottoms! The workmen at every opportunity whispered among themselves that their Rangatira knew a great deal more about directing a fight, than in giving directions about how to build a whare! whatever did a wahine's whare, as he was pleased to call it, want with such trunks of trees stuck up at each end? Again if Matomato wanted such a solid job, how was it that such a slim hold of the earth was given to the bottoms of these uprights at the gables? In short, they concluded, therefore, that Matomato had never directed any work of the kind before, and thence was incapable of doing anything of the kind now. But what gave a much greater surprise to these fault-finding Moari workmen, was the seeing afterwards a trunk, not far short of fifty feet, of the rewarewa tree—what l've heard the white page 38 call honeysuckle—dragged by a great crowd of men on the top of round log rollers close up against this whare! This Matomato meant for the ridge! Well, after a great amount of labour in hoisting, with the ends of which but loosely resting on the forks of the uprights of which have already been described, the whole afterwards was thatched over, and quite concealed with old raupo, which had covered-up other whares ere this one. So there on the edge of the cliff this whare-wahine stood, and anyone too, just after its being newly finished, could never well have supposed, but that it had been a whare which had stood on the same place for many years. To be sure it looked more buldged towards the top than is usual—but what of that? that was nothing!

Strange it was all thought that this whare, after such pains and care in being erected should after, continue for days, without being occupied! Had it not been given out that the aged pouarus who had lost their husbands in former wars, were to have it for a dwelling? Now when it was all quite ready to receive them, there was no one had been told to remove therein! Taking thought of all Matomato's lately odd conduct,—his careless indifference in making popular preparations for receiving an enemy, it was generally considered that the close of his great career was pretty nigh at hand, and a very heavy cloud, when pondering over these things, seemed to hang over every man, woman, and child belonging to the pa! Every eye seemed full of trouble; every throat seemed choked with sorrow! They were all afraid to awaken the wrath of their Great Ariki, by his either hearing their murmurs, or his looking at their faces of distress; so often, they stole away to the unobserving forest a short distance off, to ease their heavy hearts with a tangi! Tongamimi seemed the only one whose mind appeared at rest, nay, if anything to the contrary, Runa's old nurse appeared unusually cheerful, but, then Tongamimi was beyond any of their powers to comprehend. Why! she was the only wahine in the place who showed herself unmoved and quite unconcerned at Runa's departure. Yet this very Tongamimi had been known to weep for days at the death of a tame tuitui!

Aha! aha! what is the news now? which furrows every brow, and every eye-ball makes to wildly roll. Matomato must now be up and doing, or else Matomato must of a certainty be undone! Now, wont the Great Chief be sorry with himself for not looking after before this, some method of defence? instead of fooling away the valuable time which had been give him in building a stupid-like whare for old women! It is too late now! too late now! For what time page 39 is there to prepare anything, when Raniera and his warriors are on the march, bent on our destruction—numbering it is bruited seventeen hundred men!

Thus, while together they were communing, Matomato's voice like unto the roaring of an earthquake, called out the war cry, “Whakariki! Whakariki!!” Then spoke he, with a lower voice, “Come hither around me, all brave men! This way! this way! and leave all faint-hearts with the wahines!”