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Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge

Chapter XXXIV. The Fishing Party—Manawaoroa Bay—The War Dance

page 163

Chapter XXXIV. The Fishing Party—Manawaoroa Bay—The War Dance.

As indicated at the close of the last chapter, the sun rose gloriously on the morning of the eventful day appointed for the meeting at Manawaoroa. Bay of the fishing party invited by the chief Takori. The few filmy clouds which, glowing rosily, added grace to his advent, melted before his golden beams until not a solitary fleck remained upon the azure sky. The June air had a delightful crispness in it which brought a sparkle to the eye and a glow to the healthy cheek; otherwise the season might have been supposed summer, so warm the sunshine, so bright the foliage, so serene nature's every aspect.

The captain and party were in high spirits, as, about half an hour after sunrise, their boat glided past the Mascarin, and they merrily returned the grave salute of Lieutenant Crozet. He had taken care to be on deck in order once more to remonstrate against what he conceived to be misplaced confidence on the part of his superior officer. For himself, he had never been prepossessed with the natives, and viewed the free and easy intercourse between the races which had latterly prevailed with anything but approval, and, as prejudiced eyes can always detect the symptoms they seek, so recently the lientenant, although without actual grounds for his suspicions, had fancied he discerned signs of latent treachery in every move of his brown neighbours. As it turned out, for once his premonitions were justified and torribly, but he had cried ‘wolf’ so often, and with so little cause, that the sanguine commandant only laughed cheerily at his last warning.

‘Crozet becoming a veritable croaker. You must see to his liver, mon ami,’ he cried to the doctor, and all the party joined in the laugh as they sped lightly away to—their doom.

About the same time that the captain's boat left his ship's side, a light canoe containing three figures emerged from a distant inlet and shot forward as if to intercept it. The two paddlers, despite their lusty arms, were evidently females, but the third person, sitting motionless, completely enshrouded in flaxen wrappings, might have belonged to either sex for all that could be seen of face or form. Boat and canoe passed within a few feet of each other, exchanging salutations, the dark eyes of the shrouded figure swiftly scrutinising each occupant of the page 164 other craft. A gasp of relief escaped from the muffled lips as they fell astern, and the canoe skimmed away in the direction of Motu Arohia.

As Captain du Fresne's boat entered Manawaoroa Bay139 its appearance was greeted by loud cries of welcome, and on nearing the beach a crowd of officious gesticulating slaves darted waist deep into the water, contending with each other for the honour of hauling it ashore. Back from the beach on the sward a large number of warriors, bedecked with paint and feathers, sat motionless wrapped in their mats looking gravely on, and here and there small clusters of notables stood—with spears and clubs grasped tightly, and resting on the ground—in apparently stern confabulation. The gaiety of the pakeha party was a little flashed by the serious aspect of the warriors, but as the canaille140 were even more vociferous than usual, and seemed boiling over with glee, the absence of any welcome on the part of the masters was not supposed due to lack of hospitality. They were most likely, the captain suggested, still preoccupied by the religious exercises they had probably just gone through. He knew that fishing was in the eye of the Maori a sacred act, and as such preceded by religious observances, and he only regretted now that he had arrived on the scene too late to witness these.

Too polite to interrupt the proceedings, the Frenchmen stood at a short distance from their boat, waiting for their host's advance. Meanwhile the slaves, in exuberant spirits, chatting, laughing, grimacing, capered round them, jostling them rudely, remarking upon their individual peculiarities, handling their garments, and cracking enigmatical jokes evoking noisy mirth, until the captain, notwithstanding his good humour, had to rebuke their unwonted familiarity, remarking as he did so that the rascals must have been drinking. To escape their unpleasant proximity the visitors had gradually fallen back upon the sloping sward, and now stood at some distance from the waters' edge. The tide was about full, and their boat high and dry. Takori came to them at last followed by several rangutiras, and expressed his pleasure at seeing them. His people, he said, had all been busy making ready. The ovens were built, and soon the fishing would begin, after which would come feasting. They had been praying, he said, and consulting their oracles. The omens were favourable; God approved their actions. The baits would not fail; not a fish would escape. But he had promised his pakeha friends a war dance. Now was a very good time. The day was yet early. If the visitors approved the dance should precede the fishing. Of course the visitors ‘would be delighted,’ etc., etc., and at a given signal the body of warriors squatting on the ground sprang to their feet, tossed off their mats and fell into position, and, Takori leading, in a few minutes the whole dark company, lately so self-contained and serious, resembled fiends let loose from the nether pit more than human inhabitants of this beauteous earth. Their goggling eyes, page 165 fearful contortions, deep inspirations, horrid outcries, and maniacal gestures were truly appalling, and as with violent yet measured steps they steadily approached towards the white strangers, these involuntarily fell back, momentarily fluttered at their menacing aspect, which truly was enough to make the stoutest heart quail.

But the captain rallied his companions: ‘Keep your places, my friends,’ he said. ‘Recollect this is but play. Let not our dark friends think us faint-hearted.’

But even as he spoke the pakeha group was surrounded. Nearer pressed upon them those naked, wildly moving figures; nearer came those dreadful visages. The hot breath of a hundred savages blew like a sirocco in their white, scared faces, a hissing as of serpents sounded in their ears, rows of white teeth snapped together, fiery tongues shot out like darts, and finally with an awful whoop, whose blood-curdling echoes resounded through the bay, the furious savages launched themselves with club and spear upon their helpless unarmed visitors, and ere the last reverberation had died away the kind-hearted commandant and his gay companions were in another world.

139 Bay to the southeast of Motuarohia Island.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

140 Riff-raff.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]