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Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge

Chapter XVII. Snatched from the Jaws of Death—‘Kapai Te Wai Piro! Homai Te Kai.'

Chapter XVII. Snatched from the Jaws of Death—‘Kapai Te Wai Piro! Homai Te Kai.'

Meantime one at least of the good doctor's patients was showing signs of recovery. He was apparently the elder of the two brought on board, and had probably reached middle life, though his condition made his age difficult to guess. He was considerably above the average French height, and his leanness made him appear quite preternaturally tall. The leathery skin seemed all that held his fleshless frame together, but he had never been very fat, as one of his names—learned later on—implied. It was Whanau-tu-oi (born lean), though he was commonly called Taranui. His scalp locks, drawn up to the crown and fastened with a tuft of feathers, were of a rusty black, but not a vestige of hair appeared on his coppery phiz, every inch of which was covered with dark blue lines forming symmetrical figures, those on one side of the face exactly corresponding to those on the other. These lines, the Frenchmen afterwards learned, were produced by a painful process page break
‘Kapai te wai piro! Homai!’ (Very good is the stinking water! Give me some!)

Kapai te wai piro! Homai!’ (Very good is the stinking water! Give me some!)

page 81 known among the New Zealanders as moko74. His visage was long, the cheek bones rather prominent, forehead high and narrow, nose aquiline somewhat flattened, and the lips thin. About his loins was a woven cloth with handsome fringe of dried straw pipes which rattled at the least movement75 , and about his shoulders a large wrapper with a wide coloured border76. Pendant from his bony wrist, attached by a wisp of flax, was a weapon of hard grey stone somewhat over a foot long, and heavy enough to smash something much harder than a human skull.* A shark's tooth dangling from an enormous slit in the lobe of his right ear completed his get up. Despite his woebegone and helpless condition he was an ugly-looking customer, and when at length his eyelids lifted, and two fiery eyes peered out, at first vacantly, and then in puzzled wonder upon the vivacious Frenchies, who would cluster round. malyr prohibition, a shulder passed through them, as simultaneously they thought how unpleasant it would be to fall into the power of a tribe of such as he, in full vigour, on the war path. Just now. however, Taranui Whanau-tu-oi was quite harmless, and opened and shut his eyes many times with long rests between ere he regained strength enough to wag his tongue, let alone his mere. He had, however, absorbed a good deal of nutriment in the shape of warm soup, which le docteur had perseveringly dribbled into his stomach, not to mention repeated doses of that superlative revivifier, brandy, and he continued to improve until on the following day he astounded those about him by suddenly sitting bolt upright, and, pointing a skinny finger at the liquor stand, exclaiming in grating tones

.‘Kapai te wai piro! Homai!’ (Very good is the stinking water! Give me some!)

Of course his lingo was much less comprehensible than Dutch to the Frenchmen, but his gestures were intelligible enough, and a fellow-feeling sharpening their perceptions, they at once jumped to the right conclusion, and pleased to find in a savage evidence of such susceptibility to civilizing influences, hastened to give him enough cognac to have choked an ordinary Christian. The doctor reprimanded them sharply when he next examined the patient's pulse, but neither he nor they foresaw (how could they?) the ultimate consequences of thus carly implanting Christian tastes in a heathen breast. The heathen, however, continued to make rapid strides towards convalescence, and soon showed himself possessed of a most capacious maw to which very little in the shape of food came amiss.

But though Taranui thus repaid the doctor's efforts on his behalf, his companion, known among his people, as subsequently appeared, by the name of Naku-roa (long scratch), seemed to defy every endeayour to page 82 resuscitate him, and the shades of evening found him still unconscious of the indefatigable médecin's devotion.

‘If Monsieur le docteur will permit me,’ spoke a voice in that gentleman's ear, as with incredible patience he was for the ninety-ninth time feeling for a pulse, ‘I have a remedy which I believe would restore Monsieur's patient.’

The voice was low and insinuating, and the speaker was Arnaud, Monsieur d'Estrelles' valet.

‘Indeed my friend! And what may that be?’ queried the doctor, incredulously.

‘I have it here, Monsieur,’ and Arnaud handed him a small metal case containing a phial.

The doctor look it, removed the stopper, looked at the contents, smelt it, and then handing it back, exclaimed impatiently:

‘Rubbish! as I might have known. Begone, sir; you are too officious.’

‘Nay, then, Monsieur, believe me, it will surely restore him if he be not already dead.’

‘He is not dead, rascal. But since you are so pertinacious, where got you the stuff?’

‘It was given me, Monsieur, by one skilled in medicaments, and it will restore life even at the last gasp, unless, indeed, the system be quite worn out.’

‘H—m. Well, my friend, if it be not “warranted to kill” you may administer it, forpardieu! I can do no more. But have a care, villain, for should it fail, pardieu! I shall give you a dose out of the same bottle for your presumption.

A gleam shot from behind the valet's eyeshades, but he only answered quietly; ‘C'est bien, Monsieur.’

Then mixing a few drops of the tincture in a little water, he gently raised the prostrate Maori's head, and carefully administered it. Whatever it was it proved a very elixir vitæ, at once quickening the almost imperceptible pulsations of the dying savage. In a few minutes a movement of the limbs was followed by a quivering of the eyelids and parched lips, and before long a pair of dark languid eyes opened wonderingly upon the strange figures clustering round in the gathering gloom.

‘He'll do,’ cried the doctor, joyfully. ‘But, pardieu! Arnaud, you must give me that phial.’

‘It desolates me to disoblige you, Monsieur,’ replied Arnaud, softly.

‘What, you refuse me? Come, my good Arnaud, I will reward you handsomely.’

Cest bien, Monsieur. But it is impossible.’

Further negotiation was abruptly ended by Naku-roa, who, though 100 weak to uplift himself, had all at once become very much alive, and prompted by the cray ngs of a flat stomach, had found tongue.

page 83

‘‘Homai te kai77,’ he articulated in guttural accents rolling his hungry eyes round upon the inquisitive bystanders. ‘Te kai, homai78.’

‘He wants food,’ cried petit Jean. ‘Kai is the Maori name for food.’

‘Ha!’ laughed the doctor, rubbing his hands. ‘He'll do. Now, my friend Arnaud, I'll leave him in your hands. You recalled him to life. he shall be your patient, and we shall see how you get on. But mind you, not too much food: he'll gorge if you let him—and—perhaps eat yourself if you don't. Ha! ha! I wish you joy of your task. mon bon garcon79. He's a huge monster, a real giant. and hungry as a shark. 'Tis said the Maori is a man-eater. Ha! ha! You have called back to life a wolf: let us hope he will devour you. But I am tired. I must have a promenade and a cigar. Au revoir, mon ami80.’

And laughing pleasantly to himself at his very cheerful suggestions. Monsieur le docteur skipped away to join the groups see-sawing on the quarter deck.

74 Tattoo applied to the face. The operation would be performed with a small bone chisel and a bluish pigment would be rubbed into the wound (Phillipps 133).

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

75 This was known as a rāpaki. The rāpaki was thickly woven and covered with fringes of raw flax which created the rattling noise (Phillipps 58).

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

76 The Māori term for cloak is kahu. There were many types decorated with birds feathers or made from sealskin (Phillipps 58).

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

77 Give me food.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

78 Give me food.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

79 Dear lad.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

80 Good-bye, my friend.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

* This weapon, more often formed of greenstone; was known among the natives as a mere, pronounced mary.