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Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter

Chapter LIII. The Story Continued

page 222

Chapter LIII. The Story Continued.

As soon as they had landed, the natives came in great numbers to meet them—men, women and children, in fact the whole village. They were received with every mark of respect and kindness, and there was much joy and feasting in honour of their visit When Captain Marion expressed a desire for some timber for new masts, many of the natives volunteered to assist the crew in felling the trees, and insisted on helping to level the paths on the hills, so as to facilitate their removal to the sea shore.

A temporary workshop was established for the squaring and sawing of the timber, two-thirds of the boat's crew being retained for this work, while they were assisted by more than twenty stalwart Maoris, who made splendid workmen. The ships dispatched provisions for the use of the men, so that they were not altogether placed at the bounty of their friends. The intercourse with the savages had now become so friendly that many of the men daily traversed their kaingas, with the greatest freedom, and frequently shooting parties went inland in quest of wild ducks, accompanied by the natives, who bore them on their shoulders like children, across the marshes and rivers. At first they were always on their guard against treachery, and their page 223boats never went ashore without being well armed, while the Maoris were never permitted to come on board the ships until they had first put aside their weapons. But after a long interval of tranquillity their caution relaxed, and the boats went to and from the shore unarmed. They had not learned that Captain Cook discovered these natives to be cannibals, and nearly lost his life in the bay where they rested in fancied security.

Captain Marion completely trusted the natives, and at times stayed on shore with them in perfect security. When on his vessel his state cabin was always at the disposal of his intimate friends, with whom he could now converse with some degree of fluency. It was well known that he was the chief commander of the two vessels, and every day the natives brought him a splendid turbot, as he was very fond of fish. Whenever he went ashore all the savages accompanied him with a festal air; the women, the maidens, even the children doing him homage.

Takouri, the leading chief of the kainga, one day brought his son on board the vessel, a youth of about fourteen years of age, whom he appeared to love very warmly. The boy shared Captain Marion's cabin, and was treated with all the respect due to his rank. Takouri gave many other proofs of his friendship, and after so many marks of hospitableness and personal kindness who can wonder that the blindest confidence was reposed in the Maoris. Most of the officers had private friends among them, and some very sincere attachments existed between some of the sailors and the native women.

A month had elapsed during which the two vessels had undergone a thourough overhaul, when Captain Marion went ashore, accompanied as usual by a troop of savages. He was welcomed with demonstrations of the liveliest friendship, even page 224more noisy and ostentatious than on any previous occasion. The native chiefs all assembled together and unanimously agreed to recognise him as the sovereign of their country, and they stuck in his hair four white plumes, the distinctive sign of his lofty rank. That afternoon, Lieutenant Crozet on board of the "Castries" was visited by a young Maori for whom he had conceived a great affection, and who usually came to see him daily. He was a fine specimen of young manhood. Handsome, well made, of agreeable features, and without those obnoxious marks of tattoo to conceal an unusually intelligent face. There was a great restraint in his manner, and his face wore an expression of sorrow and gravity, which the Lieutenant had never seen there before. He brought as presents some beautiful ornaments made of greenstone or jade, which the Lieutenant had previously admired when in the young man's uhare. He would accept of no utu for the gifts, which he gently rejected with a sad and melancholy shake of his head. On taking his leave he displayed some little emotion, and casting on the Lieutenant a glance of inexpressible grief, muttering repeatedly the words, "tala koa te aha" (it cannot be helped), he abruptly withdrew, leaving his pakeha friend a good deal puzzled at his strange behaviour. Many other native friends of the officers, who came in the same canoe, made similiar demonstrations of farewell and disappeared in a like manner. The very next day Captain Marion went ashore in his gig with twelve men, accompanied by two young officers, a volunteer, and the Captain of Arms—in all seventeen persons. Takouri, with a large body of his follower happened to be on board at the time and accompanied the commandant, who intended to partake of a grand hahunga (feast) of fish and oysters, arrangements having been completed some days previously for his reception. In the evening Captain Marion did not return to the ship, but as the crew had every confidence in page 225the natives they were not at all disquieted by his absence, as they supposed that he and his followers had slept ashore in the tents, or had been prevailed on by Takouri and his chiefs to spend the evening in their kainga.

The next morning the "Castries" sent her shallop to procure some water and wood for the day's consumption, and when about half a mile from the shore they descried a man swimming towards them. The boat was instantly turned in his direction and the poor fellow who proved to be one of Captain Marion's crew, was dragged on board more dead than alive. He was in the last stages of exhaustion, and his head bore the marks of several cuts, while in his side he had two severe lance wounds. After he had been revived by a drop of brandy and had eaten of some refreshment he recounted the events that had taken place since he had left the "Castries."

The savages, he said, were drawn up on the shore without their arms, and went through their ordinary demonstrations of joy and friendship. We naturally did not expect any treachery, as in fact we were wholly unarmed. Proceeding along a narrow footpath that led into the nearest kainga, without the least suspicion of danger, we were suddenly confronted by a large body of Maoris, with Takouri at their head, armed in all their war gear, who threw themselves with terrible fury upon our small party. What became of Captain Marion I cannot say for I instantly hid myself in some brushwood near the seashore, but not before I had received two of these wounds. From my place of concealment, I saw some of my unfortunate companions slain, and as they were utterly defenceless, they were quite incapable of making any resistance. While the natives were absorbed in their treacherous work, I plunged into the sea and resolved to swim to one of our vessels, when you fortunately came to my rescue."