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Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge

Chapter XXXII. A Thirsty Savage—A General Melee—Ka Kino—Taranui's Prayer

Chapter XXXII. A Thirsty Savage—A General Melee—Ka Kino—Taranui's Prayer.

Shortly before noon on the subsequent day, the chief of Wai-iti, having slept off the effects of his over-indulgence, awakened very thirsty, and with a fixed impression that only homœopathy would relieve the burning in his gills. A burnt child may dread the fire, but the lean chief had less wit, and so far from dreading the firewater, his scorched throat literally gaped for it. But unluckily for his immediate satisfaction, he had the day before lost the bottle with the remains of his brandy, and so he was in a sort of quandary, for the Commandant had more than once personally refused him the liquor he loved, and all his messengers had returned from the encampment empty-handed.

At last, in his desperate craving, he resolved to go aboard the Captain's ship and bluff the authorities into supplying his wants. He did not go empty handed, however; on the contrary, he took along with him a slave-paddled canoe laden with good things. But the Captain, who happened to be aboard, seeing by the old man's haggard aspect and page 154 reddened eyelids that he had quite recently imbibed more than enough, firmly refused his request, and neither cajolery nor bounce had any effect in shaking his determination. But the old fellow, squatting on the deck like an ugly fixture, after his dry throat refused to discharge any more abuse, looked so woebegone that ultimately the good-natured officer relented, and expressly stipulating that he should ask no more but immediately return to the island, permitted him one glass. After that there was ‘Auld Hornie to pay.’

Taranui doubtless meant to keep his promise when he gave it, for the Maori of the olden time generally respected his plighted word, but he reckoned without accurately gauging the effects of his drink. These, however, were almost immediately manifest. To save glassware, his quantum of liquor had been given him in a bottle, which he was not long in draining. But such a ‘wee drappie,’ whilst it quickened his-pulse, only increased his thirst, and protesting excitedly that it was not enough, he demanded more, more, More, accompanying his demands with mysterious and ugly threats. His ravings at first only induced laughter and good-humoured banter, but when, exasperated out of, bounds, he grasped the bottle by the neck, and like a demon on the rampage, began to ‘run a muck,’ the gaping bystanders gave way, and scudding in all directions, left him temporarily master of the deck, where a number of his own people and sundry others from various parts of the bay squatted in amused or stolid wonderment as to ultimate results.

Captain du Fresne, who had retired to his cabin, hearing of what was passing, soon reappeared upon the scene, and peremptorily ordered the chief and his people ashore. Re-animated by his presence, the seamen and others gathered round ready to enforce his commands, which none but a madman would have disputed, unless backed up more effectually than Taranui was like to be. But the old chief, naturally brave as a lion, was too excited to consider either the reasonableness of the order or his own means of resistance. He was, in fact, a temporary monomaniac, and shouting aloud for more waipiro, he struck out so wildly with his brandy bottle that the boldest drew back and began to look round for weapons of defence. In two minutes, despite the Captain's efforts to maintain order, a regular měěe was in progress, in which several broken heads attested the correctness of Takori's description of the brandy-loving Taranui as a ‘devil to fight,’ and as the other natives present felt in honour bound to back their own colour, there is no telling how the scrimmage would have ended had not petit Jean's ready wit brought matters to a somewhat hasty conclusion.

The little man, lithe as a cat and agile as a squirrel, was also possessed of some mother wit, and aware of the extreme danger to his pate of attacking the irate warrior in front, he managed in the confusion page 155 to sidle behind him, and vaulting; upwards as lightly as a kangaroo, he clutched the sacred topknot, and in an instant the chief lay sprawling on the broad of his back, and being pounced upon before he had time hardly to realise the situation, was pinioned and incontinently placed in irons, neither the Captain nor his subordinates realizing how horribly out of proportion to the offence the punishment would seem to Maori minds. A sort of gasp passed through the dusky throng as the chief was precipitated, and cries of dismay greeted the ensuing outrage. That the daring violators of his sanctity did not immediately fall dead struck them with surprise; but they suspended hostilities, and not daring or caring longer to remain inactive spectators of their chief's degradation. with one accord began to scramble into their canoes.

Just at this moment a small light canoe, propelled by a single pair of arms, came alongside, and the paddler making it fast, got on board, and then, astonished at the unusual aspect of affairs, stood still and looked around askance. The fine proportions and queenly bearing of the newcomer proclaimed their owner, although the thick draperies enveloping her whole figure and drawn over her head scarce left uncovered more than the soft, expressive, and now enquiring eyes. It was Takori's favourite daughter, and Captain du Fresne, suddenly becoming aware other arrival, moved towards her in obedience to a gallant impulse.

Meanwhile, the departing natives had in brief but forcible language acquainted her with what had occurred, and her eyes as she received the Captain's greeting showed both dismay and disapproval. He attempted to explain matters, but shaking her head gravely, she merely replied in serious tones; ‘Ka kino’ it is bad), and then enquired for ‘Konrat.’ as the natives called Monsieur d'Estrelles. The Captain could give her no information, not having seen his passenger for a day or two, but supposed him to be at one or other of the kaingas, and with stately seriousness the girl took her leave, refusing all entreaties to prolong her stay.

Meantime, the fallen and manacled chief had recovered his sobriety. Nothing could have restored it so effectually as the treatment to which he had been subjected, and which was an offence to his dignity as a high rangatira quite beyond the power of the victors to gauge. All his bluster suddenly ceased, but a dull menacing fire burned in his eyes as he sullenly brooded over the unpardonable outrage. He, a priest, a divine one, a descendant of Tiki the God-begotten, seized by his sacred hair, laid on his back, bound in chains! It was monstrous, incredible, inexpiable! No Utu could wipe out such a deed. Its memory would impair his mana forever. Every tutua in would point the finger and say. ‘There walks Taranui, whose topknot the pakeha pulled, whose limbs they fettered. Where was his mana, hu! that they did it with impunity?’

The Captain went to him after a time, but, staring straight before page 156 him, the insulted chief made as though he heard not the words addressed to him, and, smiling at his savage sulks, the gay Frenchman turned on his heel and went whistling aft.

Some two or three hours later Lieutenant Crozet came on board looking seriously disturbed. The Captain had meant to devote the whole day to writing up his log, but he seemed doomed to interruption. A native version of the morning's, fracas had reached the lieutenant, and something he had heard led him to look upon the affair more gravely than did the captain. Not a native save the ironed chief remained on the Captain's ship, and his own, he said, was equally deserted—a fact he considered as significant as it was unusual. Moreover, that afternoon his vessel had been visited by the beautiful Rau-kata-mea, who was seeking D'Estrelles, and who herself seemed sadly distraught by some unspoken trouble. He had been unable to give her any information, and she had left the ship weeping silently. It was the first time he had seen a Maori cry naturally, and he thought it most ominous. The girl told him she could find D'Estrelles nowhere. Did Du Fresne know his whereabouts?

The Captain had to confess his ignorance, but as Monsieur had come and gone in very irregular fashion since their advent, he presumed he was in one or other of the kaingas, and as they were numerous, it would be quite easy for the girl to miss him. One of the sailors had seen the valet Arnaud the night before with Naku-roa, and very likely they were both in that chief's pa. However, as Crozet seemed so anxious, and as it was a little odd that Monsieur should absent himself from the ships entirely, the Captain promised to send a party to seek him if he did not turn up by the next evening, when they should have returned from their day's fishing in Manawaoroa Bay.

Parbleu! my dear Captain, you surely will not think of going to Manawaoroa Bay after what has occurred here to-day?’

‘Most certainly I shall go. Wherefore not, my friend?’

‘Forget you then, Captain, how vindictive these people are? Depend upon it they will be incensed when they hear how that chief there has been treated, and parbleu! you may be made to pay a heavy penalty.’

Captain du Fresne laughed gaily.

Mou Dieu, Crozet, but you are growing suspicious. In the first place we go to the bay early in the morning—Takori and his people are there to-day preparing for us, getting the ovens ready to cook the fish, propitiating their deities, and what not—so they will know nothing of this trifle. In the second place, is it likely that after a month's cordial intercourse, the natives would turn sulky or vindictive, merely because I have been obliged to check the ungovernable rage of one of their number? I believe, myself, they are more likely to applaud me, for there are some really sensible good fellows among these people, and page 157 none of them approve Taranui's passion for stimulants. Why, my dear fellow, you are growing morbid. Come with us to-morrow. You want a change, I can see. A good days sport will drive all these fancies out of your head.’

‘Not I. parbleu! I share not your liking for these people, and I must say plainly, my dear Captain, I think you trust them too far.’

But the Captain, confident in his own judgment, and buoyant with health and good-humour, laughed at his lieutenant's warnings, and after indulging in a little further badinage the subject was changed.

Before sunset the prisoner138 was released, and as not a single canoe was within hail, he was rowed ashore, the Captain judging it wisest not to detain him on board all night. Refreshment had been offered him, and silently but emphatically declined. As the boat touched the beach he rose, and stepping ashore, stalked slowly away apparently deal to the sailors' cheery parting salute.

'Sulky brute! ‘A true savage!’ they commented as he disappeared, but he heard them not. Not to the kainga, but to a bare height on one side of it, he took his way with slow step and downcast eye, and, arrived upon its summit, sat him down upon a low stone, and drawing his mat over his head, spent a miserable half-hour. Then suddenly leaping to his feet, he glared with fiery eyes upon the two ships riding so calmly at anchor, and raising his right arm aloft, shook it threateningly, while lifting; his red eyes heavenwards he gasped:

‘“Oh, Thou who holds the power of life and death
Oh, give to me that power!
Of him who can
With unseen blow—
With sudden instant death
Sinite those he hates.”’

138 On one occasion when a group of Māoris visited Dufresne’s ship one of them attempted to steal a sabre. On the advice of Te Kuri Dufresne had the man arrested to scare him. When asked by his fellow tribesmen to release the prisoner Dufresne agreed (Duyker 146-7).

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

Wai piro means literally ‘stinking water.’