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Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge

Chapter XXXVIII. A Dauntless Leader—Retaliation—Carnage and Desolations

page 178

Chapter XXXVIII. A Dauntless Leader—Retaliation—Carnage and Desolations.

The direful tale unfo'ded by Henri, when, pallid and panting, he lay on the deck of the Marquis de Castries scarce crediting his own salvation, filled—as may well be imagined—every soul on board with consternation and wild anxiety on account of their comrades who had gone ashore. Although for some days intercourse with the natives had almost ceased, still there were stragglers here and there, and several of the seamen were known to be at Motu Arohia. But the chief anxiety was, of course, on account of the commandant and the large party headed by Lieutenant Crozet, which had gone some distance inland. A hurried consultation was held, and it was decided to despatch two boats with armed parties, the one to Manawaoroa Bay, and the other to carry the disastrous tidings to the lieutenant. The former, on Hearing the bay, saw no Europeans, but beside the captain's boat stood a group of natives clad in European garments, conspicuous among them the chief Takori with Captain du Fresne's short cloak over his shoulder. Waiting for no further evidence, the search party went back on their course in order to assist the lieutenant on his return, if necessary. That officer received the terrible news with more composure than was expected, but the flash of his eye, and the tight compression of his lips, betokened to the messengers a deadly resolve.

‘Keep it quiet till we get back,’ he said, ‘we must not risk a panic amongst our people here.’ Then calling to his party to gather up their tools, he formed them in marching order, and in a few minutes they were on their way back to the strand, the men speculating silently, or in undertones, upon their officer's motive. Resolute and pale, he marched at their head, but, though convinced that something was seriously amiss, no man dared question him.

They had met no natives in the morning, but now, as they made their way to the boats, groups, momentarily increasing, dotted the shore talking fiercely, or eyeing them darkly. The lieutenant had taken the precaution to make his people carry arms, so, although the natives greatly outnumbered them, he felt confident of repulsing hostile attack. But their steady silent progress seemed to irritate the gathering commonality, and some of the boldest of the crowd jostled them roughly, page 179 while one more ferocious than the rest called out exultantly, ‘Hu! Hu! pakeha tau reka-reka! Marion is cooked. Takori has eaten him!’

A common impulse arrested the men's advancing steps, and they turned horrified eyes enquiringly upon their leader.

‘I fear it is too true, men. But come on. Before the day is much older the deed shall be avenged. Pass on before me.’

They obeyed, and their dauntless leader coolly marked with his; musket a long line in the sand. Then levelling the weapon, he cried to the crowding savages: ‘The first Maori who crosses this line I shall shoot dead!’

His action was better understood than his words, for musket practice had been indulged in on several occasions for the amusement of the natives, who were never weary of admiring weapons so novel and destructive. Among a people so warlike any display of real courage evoked admiration, and though the mustering natives were chiefly commoners they recognised the quality. Spite of their enmity, therefore, a few faint cheers went up at lieutenant Crozet's exhibition of firmness, and one and all fell back some paces.

The crew embarked, and calling at Motu Arohia picked up the stragglers.

‘I fear we may give up D'Estrelles and his eccentric valet.’ said the lieutenant, ‘and that fellow Pierre has probably shared their fate. And now to the ships. It was from this same island that our commandant came so gaily four days ago with his head bedecked a la Maori. I always thought that Te Whatu an infernal hypocrite. But pardiea! he shall pay dearly for his double dealing.’

Another attempt was made to find if anyone of the captain's party had escaped. Two boats, strongly manned, again visited Manawaoroa Bay, and afterwards the village of Takori. The natives still lingering at the former place, misliking probably the sight of the muskets and the determined aspect of their bearers, retreated into the bush, followed by a volley which sent several of them into eternity. But not a vestige of the missing men was seen, save the clothes on the natives' backs. Takori's village was found deserted, and immediately set fire to, the searchers being roused to frenzy by finding several baskets packed with gory heads they knew too well.

Their report decided the lieutenant. No time was lost in getting the ships into position. The decks were cleared, and all preparations swiftly completed. The boats, manned with armed crews, once more approached the shore, where gaping multitudes were congregated waiting for what might happen. Takori's bloody deed was known all over the bay, and the news from Wai-iti had spread like wildfire. The late pleasant intercourse was, all knew, ended for ever. But now what would the pakeha do?

page 180

Suddenly, simultaneously, the boom of cannon and the rattle of musketry broke with their terrific thunder the afternoon stillness; the former directed to the villages on Motu Arohia and Wai-iti, and the latter into the midst of the gazing throngs lining the beach. From a hundred throats went up a chorus of agony, but, stupefied by terror, the wretched natives made no attempt to escape, but stood in solid masses like sheep waiting to be slaughtered. Volley succeeded volley, and at every agonised shriek which rent the air the assailants laughed harshly.

‘Ha! Brown devils! 'Tis our turn now.’

The fortified villages on the islands were utterly effaced, fire completing the work of destruction. The innocent suffered with the guilty, and to the of friendly and reasonable Te Whatu Moana was dealt out the same punishment as to the guilty Taranui. Hundreds of victims lay prostrate, their life blood dyeing the sand and mingling in common streams, ere the thought of flight occurred to any. But at last, with a united impulse, all who yet retained the rise of their limbs turned their faces inland, and a wild stampede ensued, in which it was truly ‘each man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost,’ for in the helter skelter race the weakest went down under the trampling feet, and those in the rear were shot down like cattle, a bloody trail marking the course of the fugitives until they got beyond range. Not till the last flying figure had escaped or fallen did the boat's crew cease firing, and then they proceeded to the islands to complete the butchery and set fire to the villages.

Finally, having fearfully avenged the murder of their commandant and comrades, the Frenchmen applied themselves to preparations for departure. The lovely harbour in which they had whiled away so many pleasant hours, had all at once become hateful; the people they had esteemed so hospitable were now denounced as double-dyed traitors; and they longed to be gone from a spot ever in their memories to be associated with soul-harrowing recollections, and which they themselves had now rendered so replete with horrors. The smoke from ruined homes darkened the atmosphere, and the reek of fizzling bodies within and about them offended the nostrils. The strand where so oft the races had mingled in gay diversions was piled with dead and dying, and the air was dismal with the groans of the wounded, and wails of such as had stolen back to weep over them. Here a mother screamed in frantic grief over her warrior son, so noble in mien, so forward in fight; there a wife caressed tenderly the head of her dying lord, or gashed her breast in anguish that he was no more. Mothers and fathers, lovers and friends, wept for those they had lost, ‘and would not be comforted, because they were not.’ The westering sun, which yesterday had set in glory upon as fair a scene as ever mortal eyes had looked upon, to-day page 181 veiled itself in dull grey clouds, and dropped invisibly below the horizon, as though offended at the sight of man's inhumanity.

All, all was changed, and when at the kaka's cry next morning the stricken survivors beheld the French ships, with sails unfurled, standing out to sea, they cursed in their own way the day which brought the foreigners amongst them.

But though sadder, they were wiser men. They had been taught the power of civilisation, and had learned that the spirit of revenge was by no means a monopoly of their own dark race; and when they sat themselves down calmly to compare the Utu of the white with the Utu of the copperskin, they sighed to possess weapons which gave their owners such indisputable advantages.