Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge
Chapter XIX. Monsieur D'estrelles has Visions—An Earthly Paradise—Holding a Tangi
Chapter XIX. Monsieur D'estrelles has Visions—An Earthly Paradise—Holding a Tangi.
‘Have you slept better lately, mon ami.’
The speaker was Captain du Fresne. and the question was addressed to Monsieur d'Estrelles, who lounged over the taffrail88 moodily contemplating the varying features of the irregular coastline. Suppressing a curse, he replied in the negative, adding:
‘There must be something amiss with this cursed ship, Du Fresne. I never was so affected in my life until I came aboard. Never had a dream since I was born, and now such infernal visions that I might as well be in hell at once, pardieu!’
‘Tis passing strange. And removing your valet has made no difference?’
‘Not an iota. I told you it it was not Arnaud. He never looks at me; 'tis more than he dare; and he sleeps like a stone. I used to lean over the bunk sometimes hoping to catch him at some diablerie, but page 88 he was invariably fast asleep. No, it is not Arnaud. And I miss the fellow; he was so easily roused, and ready to wait on me at a moment's notice.’
‘Have you had any repetition of the voices?’
‘Hear them every night. That is what puzzles me most. If I only heard them when asleep it would not be so infernally odd. But I hear them when awake, often.’
‘And they are familiar voices, you say?’
‘Voices of people I know to be dead, damn them! If I believed in spirits I should say the cursed ship was haunted, but as I don't, and don't intend to. pardien; I suppose my liver is disordered, or maybe the sea and I are incompatible. I shall sleep better ashore, doubtless. By the way, I wonder if the wahines (native women) are such houris89 as Jacques paints them?’
‘We shall soon see, mon ami. Petit Jean also says they are fine women, with large dark eyes and velvet skin. Ha! ha! Who would have imagined the little man was a chevalier aux dames90? But you, mon ami, you are a great lady-killer, D'Arblay tells me. Yet let me beg of you to be careful. These savages may be a jealous race, and coquetting with their women might end disastrously. But I am sure I can trust in your discretion, D'Estrelles. By the way, that valet of yours is proving his capacity. He already knows more of the lingo, and seems to understand the brown skins better than Jean and Jacques put together. And what a fancy that young chief seems to have for him. Those eyes of his must have bewitched the copperskin. Well, D'Estrelles, we shall soon step on dry land now, and I hope the change will improve your looks, for you are certainly thinner, and decidedly paler, and infinitely more taciturn than when we left la patric I fear you take your dreams too much to heart.’
A shade of annoyance passed over D'Estrelles' countenance, but suppressing the imprecation which rose to his lips at the captain's banter, he replied jauntily:
‘Not at all, mon ami, but pardien, want of sleep plays the devil with one's comfort. I'll try the shore to-night, and then, nous [gap — reason: unclear].’
Great was the excitement on board both ships, as, sailing up the broad isle-dotted bay, the weary seafarers, hungering for a sight of dry land, feasted their eyes upon the lovely scenery and luxuriant vegetation which everywhere met their delighted gaze. On all sides of the splendid harbour they saw spacious inlets affording safe anchorage; winding streams opening up ravishing vistas; verdant valleys flanked by wooded ridges; and away in the background, far as the eye could reach, the everlasting hills, rising tier above tier, the emerald green of their distant foliage toned into tender blues by intervening vapours.
And, as they approached nearer and caught sight of the villages nest- page 89 ling at the bases of fortified hills: and detected gathering upon the shores, groups and then troops of astonished human beings, some in picturesque garb, others minus any save maybe a fringe round the middle, but all clustering together in wonder-struck silence; their pulses beat still faster, their eyes shone, their faces glowed, a very fever oo mingled hope, and dread, and indefinable expectation, burned in their veins. This this was the land of their dreams, the promised land, the new Eidorado! Nay more. 'Twas a panorama, 'twas fairyland, 'twas paradise! And those brown figures there, yet too far off to be plainly distinguishable? Possibly they were houris, wooing them in perehance they were devils barring them out
The ships cast anchor, and barely had they done so when several canoes from various points shot into sight. The islanders were evidently not panic-stricken, though astonished. They came round the ships gazing enquiringly, keeping, however, at a safe distance, untill a ery from Taranui—‘Tena koulou,’* startled them almost out of their senses. To say they were amazed is nothing. They were astounded, thunderstruck! But the old warrior continued his encouragements, and growing bolder, they slowly brought their canoes nearer, and yet more near, until they arrived within talking distance. And then, when they saw that the salutation indeed proceeded from their missing friend Taranui, beside whom stood the younger warrior, they simultaneously set up such an outcry as might have woke the dead. In a brace of shakes they were scrambling aboard pell-mell, and then ensued a scene illustrative of Maori manners for which no previous experience could have prepared the voyagers. The first Maori on board, apparently oblivious of the vicinity of strangers, advanced to the old warrior, and the two failling upon each other's necks, laid their noses together, and with united voices gave vent to the most melancholy whining imaginable. This rubbing of noses and accompanying whine was, Jean and Jacques explained, the customary mode of greeting, and was called by the natives hongi91. The second arrival was treating Naku-roa in the same fashion. But to the amusement and subsequent dismay of the cheerful Gauls, the greeting did not end here. Indeed, this was but the beginning, and the beginning, as it turned out, of a most infernal concert; for noses had no sooner been properly rubbed than the four friends—still embracing, and with nose yet pressed lovingly against nose—squatted on the deck, and surrounded by the whole body of their retainers, gave way to the most lugubrious lamentations. The rescued chiefs, in tones whose dole-fulness cannot be described, seemed to be narrating the harrowing tale of their late companions' fate, for every melancholy sentence was received by all around with heartrending wails—not to say howls—while down every cheek coursed copious floods of tears.page 90
They were ‘holding a tangi (mourning) for the dead,’ so Jacques said.
In ungovernable curiosity the Frenchmen at first drew near the savages, taking stock of their appearance and dress, the latter in most cases little more than a figleaf, but instinctive respect for such overwhelming grief soon made even the most inquisitive retire to a decent distance, many of them with their fingers in their ears, and before the tale of sorrow ended they were pretty full up of it, for it lasted over an hour—almost double the usual period of the tangi, Jacques explained—a spinning out due doubtless to the terrible nature of the calamity afflicting them. During the whole time their tears ceased not for one instant to roll piteously down, affording the lively strangers ample subject for wonder as to the source of these abundant streams.
But human nature was human nature even in old Maoriland, and long before the principal actors in this doleful scene had wiped away the last pearly drop, the outside squatters, particularly the more youthful of them, found their natural curiosity regarding the strangers besting their sturdiest endeavours to sit out the affair decorously. It was natural to desire an account of the actual fate of their warrior friends. It was a relief to bewail their loss and recite in high-flown dirges their virtues and prowess. It was tika (the correct thing) to squat with body bent and eyes cast down, with wailing lips and streaming tears, until the chiefs should signify that the tale of woe was ended, and not being wahines, the young warriors stoically braced themselves to do the ‘correct thing’ spite of all counter attractions. But it would not do. To eyes unused to nobler seacraft than the buoyant war canoes, to imaginations whose highest flight was this same canoe decked, the tall-masted, white-winged ships, gliding like things of life into their beautiful bay were a revelation. They had doubtlesss heard of De Surville's disastrous visit to Mongonui92, and perhaps listened in credulously to exaggerated descriptions of his vessels. Some of them had probably gazed in awed surprise at the unpretentious collier in which the illustrious Cook first circumnavigated the globe. But ships like these their loftiest imaginings had never soared to. Small wonder then that crouching there on the snowy deck of the Marquis de Castries, with the wonderful strangers clustering round them, the more youthful found their eyes attracted by the fair-skinned, oddly dressed beings who could design, and build, and manœuvre, such a vessel; or that even the seasoned warriors found it difficult to keep up the briny flow from eyes that would rove if they relaxed their self-watch for a moment.
The blue-blooded Maori, the great rangatira of ‘Ye Olden Time,’ had too much self-respect to stare in gaping wonder, however much he might be impressed. It was due to his dignity not to be taken by surprise. To exhibit such at the doings or belongings of strangers would be to proclaim his own lack of knowledge, to write himself down a tutua. there- page 91 fore, though he might be gasping with curiosity, or ready to expire of amazement, he usually contrived to maintain an impassive countenance and phlegmatic demeanour. The operation of this feeling had enabled the two rescued chiefs to restrain the expressions of surprise which must often have risen to their lips when they were sufficiently recovered to wander about the frigate and exchange courtesies with their deliverers. The latter had been somewhat amused at their sang froid, which presented such a contrast to their own impulsive vivacity. They had now still further reason to wonder—sorrow so deep as to render its subject utterly oblivious of external things; self-command strong enough to hold curiosity in check were alike unintelligible to their volatile minds. But despite the sorrow, in defiance of the self-control, many a sidelong glance shot from under bent brows; many an abbreviated wail, many an interrupted tearflow, indicated the mental conflict of the rank and file; and the tangi was no sooner fairly ended than, buzzing like bees, they swarmed over the ship, carried out of themselves by the novelty of everything they saw.
Taranui's account of the services rendered to himself and comrade at once won his countrymen's goodwill, and all the chiefs of note, particularly Te Whatu Moana (eye of the ocean), head of a large settlement on Motu-Arohia93, a considerable island in the bay, and Takori Hiko-o-te-rangi (lightning of heaven), chief of a powerful hapu on the mainland. gave the captain and officers a pressing invitation to visit them at their villages. The first-named, indeed, insisted on their visiting his island that day before landing the sick at Wai-iti, where Taranui promised to have accommodation provided ere nightfall.
The company, having had a peep round the ship, then took their de-parture loaded with presents and greatly prepossessed with the foreigners, whose use of a few of their own words, and apparent acquaintance with some of their customs, surprised and delighted them.
[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]
93 Motuarohia Island southwest of Moturua Island where Dufresne set up the hospital camp.
[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]
* Maori Good day to you.