Sketches of Early Colonisation in New Zealand and its Phases of Contact with the Maori Race
A Northern Excursion. — A Hazardous Situation
A Northern Excursion.
A Hazardous Situation.
Having received a very kind and pressing invitation to spend some of my midsummer holidays with an old school companion who was a leading member of a large survey party then operating in the northern portion of the province, and accepting the same, I quickly made all the necessary arrangements for, as I anticipated, so enjoyable an outing.
I set out upon my journey to the survey camp laden with a haversack containing necessary changes of underclothing, also sundry acceptable small presents for my companion and his friends; but, at the same time, not omitting my trusty fowling-piece, with a plentiful supply of ammunition, in anticipation of the diversified sport there to be had.
After a day and a-half spent in uneventful traveling by saddle and water, I at last arrived at my destination, there to receive the warm and open-handed welcome of the camp, being immediately installed in the position of a most welcome guest.
When I arrived at the camp, the evening being far advanced, and all hands having returned from their day's arduous work, a smoking and savoury supper was quickly spread, to which I did ample justice, after my long enforced fast of the day, not having had an opportunity to partake of food since morning.
The savoury supper over (which all appreciated and did ample justice to), most of us assembled round a large log fire built upon a nice convenient grassy spot, where the time was whiled away pleasantly, and the page 167stillness of the early night and forest was made to resound with the joyful melody of popular and other songs, rendered tastefully in part or chorus by several good voices of those present.
Two members of our party being musicians, and possessed of their instruments, viz., a guitar and fiddle, which they played accompaniments upon, or else discoursed sweet music, to the evident pleasure of all.
Interspersed between song or music, many amusing and laughable tales were told of individual experiences of Maori or early colonist life, by several of the members.
In such manner did my first evening at the survey camp pass quickly and pleasantly away, but surprised indeed was I at the passage of time when my old chum rose up, whilst, at the same time, he kindly informed me that it was after ten o'clock, and quite time for bed and rest after my long and tiresome journey of the day. After retiring for the night, but before resigning ourselves to the arms of Morpheus, we discussed the procedure for the next and following day's amusement, deciding that as the next would be Saturday, and it being a half-holiday (the latter portion of which, with the whole of Sunday, being invariably devoted to providing the camp with its fleshmeat supplies for the rest of the week), we should start early next morning upon a pigeon shooting expedition, there being plenty of birds to be found in the extensive forests surrounding the camp, whilst Sunday would be given up to pig-hunting.
We now contentedly resigned ourselves to rest (if not of the just at least of the weary), and slept well and soundly until far into the morning, when upon awakening, we were greatly surprised to find that the sun had risen high in the heavens during our pleasant slumbers whilst we should have been up and preparing to start upon our expedition—the early morning being always found the best time of day to successfully shoot wild pigeons.
Nevertheless we made the best possible use of the time at our command, and after swallowing a hastily prepared breakfast, also packing up a plentiful supply of cold luncheon, we departed to try our luck amongst the feathered denizens of the forest.page 168
My companion told me that about half-an-hour's buffetting through the tangled and dense undergrowth of the forest would bring us to a spot where would be found a thick grove of Miro trees, upon the berries of which the wild pigeons feed with avidity, and it was there that he expected us to have some good shooting.
Upon approaching a New Zealand forest, the eye becomes irresistably fascinated by the beauty of the dark olive green of its massive giants; but it is, in reality, upon closer inspection that one is unconsciously carried away, as it were, by the bewitching loveliness of the varied and beautifully tinted foliage of both tree and shrub, forming a picture of unique and unsurpassing beauty.
There is also a peculiar and strangely fascinating charm about them, when within the thick of the forest, more felt than can be adequately described.
On every hand the eye is bewildered with the sight of massive columns of noble trees uplifting their lofty heads skywards, whilst there is also to be seen successive growths of lesser size, whose stems and limbs are everywhere entwined or interlaced by innumerable vines and creepers in great variety.
At the feet of these and over the surface of the ground between them and other timbers of lesser magnitude, the luxuriant undergrowth forms a tangled and almost impenetrable jungle.
Here were to be seen to perfection the giant Ratas and Kauris (kings of the forest), as well as Totaras, Rimus, and Kahikateas in all their different stages of growth from youth to maturity.
"Great oaks from little acorns grow," is a well known axiom, but I doubt not if a more curious illustration of this truth is to be found than that with respect to the first two of these gigantic forest timbers before mentioned, as neither are produced from either acorns or berries, but in reality from very small seeds indeed.
The Ratas in particular, whilst in their incipiency, are young creeping parasites, and, as such, attach themselves to some forest monster (something after the style of the well known ivy), whereon, in the fullness of time, and as they gain strength and size, they ultimately, octopus like, crush or smother out of existence the life of page 169the foster parent who nourished and sustained them so well when too young and tender to support themselves, ultimately taking the place where the foster parent had once flourished.
The extreme silence of the forest (except during the early mornings or evenings) and its solitude are greatly in evidence, whilst a feeling of loneliness pervades those not accustomed to it.
The sky in very many places being imperviously shut out from the eye, on account of the massive foliage of the timber overhead and the interlacing of numerous vines and creepers amongst the branches, accentuates this feeling.
The circle of vision also is limited to a few yards in extent by the rank growth of under-scrub packed close together, whilst the sombrous appearance of the vegetation around adds to the surrounding gloom, which fascinates the senses and peculiarly inspires either admiration or awe.
Here and there are to be found small openings, or glades, adorned with an infinite variety of ferns—tree or otherwise, nikau palms, and cabbage trees, whilst the heavy masses of floliage surrounding are adorned and enlivened by various shades and tints of forest flowers or berries.
But the most striking feature of these beautiful glades was in the number and variety of the parasitic creepers, plants, grasses, and ferns to be seen clinging to the limbs of the timbers overhead, forming in many places grotesque if not strange pictures amidst the gnarled or crooked limbs to which they were attached, lending a characteristically tropical appearance to the whole forest surroundings.
The light of the great orb of day shining into these beautiful glades refreshes and relieves the eye, causing the feeling of close confinement to pleasantly pass away.
The songs of the feathered denizens of the forest are once more heard with delight as they warble a sweet lullaby, happy in their unrestrained liberty.
Whilst we were advancing as rapidly as the obstacles in our path and the dense undergrowth permitted, we occasionally heard pigeons moving from bough to bough amongst the thick foliage of the tall timber overhead, the page 170peculiar soft whistling noise caused by their wings during flight proclaiming their presence; nevertheless they were totally unseen by us.
This my friend declared as an indication of birds being plentiful, but counselled our proceeding, and not to waste time upon a few single birds.
A few scattered Miro trees were now met with, which proved our Bear approach to the locality sought for amidst the branches of which several pigeons were to be seen fluttering, busily engaged in picking the berries which formed their morning's repast, the sight of which was a temptation too great for us to resist.
So we each selected a tree about thirty yards apart, and moved over thereto, where we were quickly engaged in the pleasing sport of bagging a few birds.
In a very short space of time we had secured a half-dozen brace, but the continuous noise caused by the discharge of our guns had the effect of frightening away most of the pigeons in the immediate neighbourhood to some other locality, thereby compelling us to move.
We now sought the Miro grove, which was only a few chains distant, indications of the proximity of which became more apparent as we progressed, the scattered trees of which being now very frequently met with.
As we approached closer to the locality we were gladdened by hearing the tell-tale noise produced by the pigeons' wings, although they were as yet unseen, which induced us to quicken our movements is anticipation of the exciting sport to be found so close at hand.
Upon arrival at the grove and entering well within it, we each selected a position where several trees were within range of our respective weapons, thus obviating the necessity of moving from tree to tree in pursuit, whilst, at the same time, the birds that were shot could remain upon the ground beneath the trees until the conclusion of the sport, and would offer no trouble whatever in gathering up afterwards.
Having selected our stations, we lost no unnecessary time in preparation, out commenced operations at once, pigeons being numerous and at that early hour of the morning intent on making their breakfast, and therefore paid little or no attention to the noise caused by our guns.page 171
A few might be frightened and take to the wing, but would only fly from one tree to another, yet still within range, thereby not necessitating us shifting our position.
So numerous were the birds and so intent on feeding, that we could now and then afford to wait a favourable opportunity of getting two or more of them within the line of fire before pulling trigger.
Several times that day whilst firing at single birds, a second one would be seen to fall to the ground, or else manage to escape, though badly wounded, the dense foliage of the trees having completely hidden it from our observation.
Soon the ground beneath the trees became thickly dotted with dead birds, their beautiful white breast feathers showing up conspicuously amidst the brown or withered debris covering it.
Several hours had thus fled, and the birds having by now become scattered and wild, whilst at the same time the promptings of nature demanded at our hands attention to the inner man, we now adjourned to the bank of a small creek close by, where, sitting down upon a fallen log, we commenced to do justice to the ample stock of provisions provided for the occasion, the bubbling streamlet affording us the sweetest and purest of "Adam' sale "to quench our thirst.
Having first satisfied the cravings of nature to its utmost, we stretched ourselves upon the thickly bestrewed leafy ground to rest, afterwards entering upon a discussion of the merits or otherwise of city v. bush life— the latter of course being voted the most invigorating, healthy, and exciting by far, as witness present experiences, and the extraordinary good luck which had followed us up to then.
Suddenly my friend sprang to his feet, whilst giving utterance to the expression of—"What's that? Listen!"
His face denoted extraordinary surprise, whilst his attitude, and the movement of his head, as his eyes wandered all over the surrounding thickets, proclaimed anxious suspense.
Not being satisfied with his scrutiny, he went down upon his knees, and placing his hand and ear to the ground he listened attentively.page 172
He remained in this attitude for the space of a minute, whereupon he rose suddenly and excitedly, saying as he did so—
"By Jove! there are pigs approaching from that direction!" and pointing to windward of our position.
"We must prepare for them, and that quickly Thank goodness they are a distance off as yet, which will give us ample time to make preparations. They have not scented us, nor are they likely to do so if they keep approaching from that quarter."
We now quickly set about our preparations, but, not having anticipated anything of this kind, we had not provided ourselves with bullets, so were compelled to find substitutes, and this we did by my taking one of the pigeons, and extracting its fat, whilst my friend tore up his cotton pocket handkerchief into eight pieces, then he thoroughly saturated the cotton in the pigeon fat, after which he poured into each piece of cotton a measureful of shot, rolling up each carefully, like a bullet.
After this we extracted the charges of pigeon shot from our guns, and inserted the cotton wrapper bullets instead.
The advantage of these over the ordinary charge of loose shot was that they would travel twice the distance before scattering.
A bullet properly formed after this manner will carry fifty yards before breaking up; but, should it strike before that happens, it will penetrate as a solid body, then burst like a shell, causing a most terrible and gaping wound, far more dangerous than a solid bullet would make.
Procuring an armful of tree-fern fronds, we placed them in an upright position by pushing their stems into the soft ground around the decayed log, which formed a most natural mask to our position, whilst it permitted us to look over or move with ease behind it, but, nevertheless, unseen by the approaching quarry.
After all these preparations had been completed, we took up our position within the ambush, and waited patiently their approach, hopeful of securing one or more from a well directed fire.page 173
We had not long to wait now, for that peculiar "champ-champ," which the pig makes whilst picking up and masticating the numerous forest berries to be found covering the surface of the ground, and which was distinctly to be heard as they approached our place of concealment.
Presently a sonorous but familiar pig's grunt, accompanied by squeaks and grunts of lesser power, was heard close by, then a minute afterwards, from out the leafy coverlet of the thicket in front was to be seen the tall and gaunt body of an old sow wild pig, feeding contentedly upon the forest berries as she approached, closely followed by a numerous litter of young piggies, about two months old, all intent on pestering the mother for their mid-day meal.
When within about twenty yards of our concealment she stopped, and after scanning her surroundings carefully, lay down upon the ground to afford her young that nourishment they so persistently demanded, yet quie unsuspicious of the deadly enemies lying concealed so near to her.
Of course this was proof positive that the steady breeze blowing through the forest was all in our favour, else, had it been otherwise, or had she observed our proximity, the maternal instincts of the animal must have prompted her to give us a wide berth.
It was rather disappointing after the hurried preparation we had made, seeing that the animal was too poor and emaciated for food purposes, and this was what we were seeking.
It would have been wanton and cruel mischief to have molested her then, whilst her death also meant the lingering death of all her young.
Any of the little ones we could bowl over at any moment, but pity for all was paramount with us just then.
Nevertheless we had to use great circumspection all this time, for, owing to our proximity to the animal, should she become alarmed or aware of our presence, she might become the assailant instead of the assailed.
With young at her side, a wild sow is often more to be dreaded than the lordly boar himself, and it was this knowledge which made us careful.page 174
A gentle pressure of my companion's hand admonished me to be prepared for action, at the same time pointing in the direction from where the first animals had appeared.
Again was heard the "champ-champ" of pigs feeding as they approached, and that from the same quarter as the others had come.
Presently one, two, and three animals appeared in sight, quickly followed by several others; but all moved forward, much quicker than the first lot had, and were rapidly drawing up to our ambush.
The sight of these pigs making straight for our hiding place, all unconscious of the presence of such deadly foes, was an experience seldom to be met with in the bush, for, owing to the pig's remarkably quick sight, acute hearing, and keen scent, it is off instantly on the slightest sign of danger.
Several animals were now to be seen directly in our front, the farthest not more than twenty yards away; but as all were face on, and that position not affording an advantageous mark, we were compelled to wait until some of them should turn and expose their shoulders, which act would enable us to deliver our fire with, much greater effect.
This soon happened when several of them moved obliquely across our position, affording us the opportunity we were waiting for.
Each now selected his mark, and at a preconcerted signal both fired, this being so well timed that both shots rang out as one, with the result that two animals made a bound upwards, and then fell forward to the ground, where their heavy gasping, accompanied by occasional kicks with front or back feet, denoted plainly that they were hit vitally and would soon be quiet enough.
The other animals, startled and surprised beyond measure, not knowing what to make of the unusual noise, but seeing nothing suspicious around, yet eyeing everything intently, and trying to see an enemy somewhere, stood their ground, but nevertheless ready to bolt at any instant; whilst the old sow herself, having sprung to her feet, was moving amidst her litter of young, watchful and wary, her little eyes gleaming like two diamonds, whilst her bristles stood on end like porcupine's quills, and page 175champing the while ferociously,—indeed the very personification of an enraged fury, which she most certainly would be if her young were in danger.
We were thus afforded another opportunity before the frightened animals should finally escape, so once more selecting our mark, we poured in a seond deadly volley, the result of which, this time, was that we brought down one animal, whilst another managed to escape, but so badly wounded that we felt easy on the matter of finding it not very far off when sought for.
The remainder made off now like greyhounds, but, unfortunately for us, the smoke from the discharged weapons disclosed our position to the old sow, who now faced, us fearlessly, and whose threatening appearance denoted the demonic passion she was in, her eyes being ablaze with fire, whilst continually giving utterance to short, savage, growl-like grunts, and all this time the foam was exhuding copiously from her mouth as she chapped in savage wrath and defiance.
This was a most critical and dagerous position to be placed in, our weapons being empty, not having time to re-load, with an exasperated animal right in front and only a few yards away ready to charge at any moment, the knowledge and sight of which caused a creepy indefinable sensation of dread to pass through us.
Well indeed was it for us that all her young had crept close to her side for maternal protection, and so long as they remained thus, there was very little likelihood of her making an attack.
Had any of them bolted, and it was as likely as not that some would have run in our direction, it must indeed have brought on the crisis that we both so dreaded.
With nervous haste we re-loaded our weapons, which was accomplished in an incredibly short space of time (necessity of course lending speed to our movements), and that in the face of this threatening danger, but upon the accomplishment of which we felt more at ease in being prepared for any emergency.
With guns levelled and finger on trigger we watched and waited anxiously, expecting every instant to see the maddened animal charge, but, after the expiration of a few minutes she gradually drew off sideways, nevertheless, still offering an undaunted front whilst watching us warily, page 176all the while giving utterance to low, short, quick grunts of caution and command to her young to keep close by her side, which they did as she moved slowly away out of danger, and was soon lost to view amidst the dense undergrowth.
Here was witnessed an example of maternal care, devotion, and protection, on the part of a poor brute creature for her offspring, worthy of deep reflection by reasoning humanity, which left a strong impression upon our memories long after.
We permitted several minutes to elapse so as to allow the animal time to place distance between us, before we emerged from our ambush.
Upon doing so, our first care was to look up those pigs we had shot, and which, upon examining, proved to be remarkably fine ones, all being found comparatively young, afterwards hauling them together for better convenience.
After accomplishing this task, we sought for traces of the wounded pig, and found no difficulty whatever in picking it up, for the surface of the ground here and there, where the poor brute had struggled or dragged itself away, was covered with clotted gore, forming a conspicuous trail easily to be followed.
Whilst following this through dense undergrowth and down a gentle incline to the flat below, evidence was frequently met with of the presence of wild pigs, as many of their wallows, and they were numerous, nearly all of which showed indications of having but lately been in occupation, as traces of where the animals had been rubbing themselves against the rough stems of the tree-ferns or pungas, as the settlers called them, whilst the mud upon the pig's body was not as yet quite dry, were everywhere apparent.
It may surprise the reader not a little were I to assert that the pig in its wild state was a remarkably clean living animal, and very different in its habits to the much reviled but exceedingly useful domestic one, in proof of which I may be permitted to illustrate the following facts:—page 177
The pig, in its forest home, lives almost entirely on fern root and forest berries, but should it have access to the sea shore, it will eat with avidity shell-fish, but it is only when such food it not plentiful that it will attempt to eat flesh.
Then again, to form its bed for the night, it will gather the driest and sweetest of litter, having beforehand selected a cosy place for that purpose.
The pig also being a social animal, and keeping in mobs, these night locations are seldom occupied for more than a week at a time, if at that, before another is made and occupied, by which means they keep themselves comparatively clean and free from vermin.
The cleanly instincts of the animal are again shown in the double purpose to which they put those wallows before referred to.
During the excessively hot days of summer, when the animal is panting from the effect of the intense heat, it betakes itself to one of these cool water-holes, or else to the shallow streamlets everywhere to be found amidst the low-lying flats or gullies of the forest.
There, lying down in the cool water, it moves itself about, now upon one side then upon the other, until the water, at last, becomes liquid mud, and when it does emerge from the pool, its body is often covered from one to two inches thick with mud from the wallow.
Here the instincts of the animal show out conspicuously, for within this cake of mud covering its body, the parasitic insects which irritate its skin are embedded, and when this hardens and cracks by the natural heat of the animal's body, it falls off, carrying with it all insect life, leaving the skin, if not white, at least wonderfully clean for the time being.
Having followed the trail for about one hundred and fifty yards, we at last came upon the wounded animal as it lay upon the ground, completely exhausted from its futile efforts to further escape, but with the hunting-knife we quickly and mercifully put an end to its further sufferings.page 178
After a cursory observation of the animal, it was found that the bullet had penetrated its body too low down to have been immediately fatal, nevertheless the wound was such as must have caused a lingering and painful death.
Tying its legs together securely with vines, then procuring a light but strong pole which we placed between the dead animal's legs, we raised it shoulder high, and in this manner was it carried to the spot where those first shot were lying, and this we did for the convenience of those who were afterwards to convey them to the survey camp.
After considerable labour, owing to the density of the undergrowth as well as numerous kareoas (supple-jack) everywhere obstructing our path, which necessitated the use of the knife only too frequently, we at last accomplished the task, and deposited our burden at the desired spot.
It was only now that we took time to observe how our peculiar and hastily formed bullets had acted, and what sort of wound they had made in the bodies of the dead animals.
It was easy to perceive that each bullet upon striking, had penetrated in solid form rom two to three inches into the animal's body before bursting, but when that did occur, it tore into fragments as many inches of the carcase surrounding, forming a most ghastly wound, and one that assuredly would kill whenever received.
The afternoon being now well advanced, it was considered expedient that we should be preparing for home; but, before doing so, the all important task of gathering and counting the birds shot had to be undertaken, and this operation we set about at once.
No great difficulty was experienced during this task as all the birds had fallen within a close area, their lovely rand conspicuous blue and white plumage appearing distinctly amidst the withered leaves and other debris covering the ground, revealing their presence and helping considerably to lessen that trouble.page 179
Seventy-two and a-half brace of pigeons were counted over and above those we had secured before arrival at this locality, or one hundred and fifty seven birds in all (the first lot included), being a remarkably good but certainly unusual forenoon's performance for two guns.
This being that season of the year when the wild pigeon is at its prime and very fat—averaging about two pounds and a quarter each—some slight idea may be bad of the weight of this mass of flesh and feathers when stating that it would easily have turned the scale at three hundred and fifty pounds.
For us to attempt to carry this enormous bulk of dead pigeons to the survey camp would be the height of folly, so picking up and tying together in convenient bundles about two dozen brace, we slung them across a sapling, and hoisting this upon our shoulders set out for camp.
To avoid the impediments of the forest under-growth as much as possible and to facilitate our progress, my companion suggested our making a detour for one of the survey lines, stating that, although it was much longer, it would be found easier travelling and ultimately bring us close to camp.
After arrival there and detailing our adventure as well as the remarkable success we had achieved it created no little surprise, much comment, and commendation from all present.
Four pairs of willing hands from amongst the linemen of the survey party were detailed (most of them being Maoris) to proceed to the locality and carry back to camp the proceeds of the day's operations, which duty they succeeded in accomplishing long before night-fall.
A jovial time we spent around the camp-fire that night, whilst discussing the procedure for the following day's recreation; the opinion being freely expressed that, as there was then in camp (thanks to our success that day) ample pork for the following week's consumption. that another pig-hunt would be superfluous, but suggested a wild cattle hunt instead, as fresh spoor of cattle had frequently been seen throughout the past week by many of the line cutters.
These cattle were the progeny of those introduced from New South Wales by the early Missionaries during their first advent into the country, a few of which had page 180escaped restraint, and having afterwards been joined and mixed with others of later importation, had multiplied and spread over a large area of the northern portion of the North Island of the Colony, where they were frequently to be met with, but only in remote or those districts unsettled by the rapidly spreading white colonists.
They are very wild and dangerous animals to hunt, or indeed to approach at all, for, should you get within a reasonable distance, and they become aware of that fact by scenting you, they might, however strange it may appear, immediately become the aggressor, and hunt you with all the persistency of a dog, until you escaped up a tree, and even then they may possibly remain to keep close watch upon you for hours.
Such were the characteristics of the dangerous animals that it was proposed we should stalk early the following morning, as that hour was by far the best portion of the day to successfully hunt this big game.
Early the following morning we were up and preparing for our adventurous expedition, for hazardous and exciting indeed it afterwards proved to be.
Having partaken heartily of a substantial breakfast, we afterwards packed up a plentiful supply for luncheon, as there was no knowing when we should be able to return when once we got upon the trail.
We left camp ere the sun began to fleck the horizon, and headed for the valley down by the river banks, for it was there that the grasses were richer and sweeter than anywhere else, and where wild cattle had often been seen during the early hours of the morning, before the sun had risen far in the heavens, the heat of which, with the insect life, often driving them to seek the quiet repose and shelter of the forest by day.
This locality was about two miles from the survey camp, and the time of morning at which we left there permitted us to arrive at the confluence of the valley with the forest clad hills just as the sun was tinting the horizon with his golden rays, allowing us ample time to make preparations to intercept any cattle that might be found returning to the hills after pasturing upon the sweet herbage of the valley.page 181
From the hills to this locality two very deep gorges debouched, the waters from which, as they flowed down to the river, but before they joined it, formed wide and dangerous swamps of some length on either side of the valley, nipping it in close where it connected with the hills, and it was this neck that we made for, hoping there to intercept the cattle when they would be returning to the forest for their mid-day siesta.
Upon arrival at our destination we sought for and selected a favourable position commanding a full view of the neck, and one whereby we were enabled to Intercept any cattle from the valley, whilst they were returning to the hills.
We carefully surveyed our surroundings, as far as our view permitted, to see if any cattle were about, but none could we see as yet; nevertheless, we were not discouraged, for several might be in the valley, although unseen by us, it being quite early, yet, for them to move up towards their sheltered retreat.
The gentle breeze that was wafted up from the ocean blew directly towards the hills, which, fortunately for us, was all in our favour, and by keeping close under shelter, so as to be unseen, some might come within range of our guns as they passed upwards.
For nearly an hour did we thus wait and watch, the sun having meanwhile gradually mounted far above the horison, when suddenly our attention was rivetted by observing the thick scrub towards the valley violently agitated, and distant about one hundred and fifty yards on our left front.
We were now all attention, and with guns ready, our blood tingling with pleasurable excitement, expecting every instant some of the leaders of the mob to make their appearance in one or other of the small openings or clear spots always to be found amidst scrub or fern lands and near to our ambush.
We had not long to wait now, for presently the burly form of an immense bull came full in view as he leisurely emerged from the heavy scrub into one of these clear spaces, contentedly browsing the while upon the sweet young shoots of the koromeka or wild veronica growing in abundance around, and of which all cattle are very fond and eat with avidity.page 182
Upon gaining this small opening, which was about one hundred and fifty yards from us, he stood for a minute or so and examined his surroundings carefully to see that no danger menaced, when he commenced to chew his cud quite contentedly and unsuspicious of the presence of enemies.
Outlined against this opening and upon its further edge, stood a small clump of Manukau trees, in the midst of which a large-flax bush luxuriated, against which the huge body of the bull stood out most conspicuously.
In this position he offered a spendid mark, but as my friend's weapon, a rifled carbine, was the only one that could be depended upon at such a distance, mine being a fowling piece, which would not carry a bullet as far with the same precision, I was compelled to reserve my fire for closer range.
My friend resting his rifle upon the fork of a sapling and taking deliberate aim, then fired, the result of which caused the animal to leap sideways and disappear behind the flax-bush as if he had fallen.
Most thoughtlessly and very foolishly we both ran up to the flax-bush, then threw ourselves upon the ground so as to carefully reconnoiter the other side for the bull; but hardly had we done so when my friend, by a powerful push, at the same time uttering a yell of dismay, sent me rolling for a couple of yards, whilst he did the same himself in the opposite direction, then crash through the bush came the enraged animal in full charge, with lowered head and cruel horns, ready to toss either of us high in the air or indeed to gore us to death if we had been in his way, but, thanks to my friend's quick sight and ready wit, we were not.
Before he could turn we were upon our feet and scrambling up amongst the branches of a Manuka tree, danger lending speed to our exertions, but indeed none too soon, for the exasperated brute had doubled quickly, and was just beneath, his long hoop horns being only a few inches from our perch as he shook his head threateningly.
During the rush for safety our guns were left behind, my own being knocked out of my hands when I was rolled over by my companion, and could be seen from our page 183high position lying a little beyond the flax-bush, whilst my chum's carbine also lay directly beneath us under the tree.
These were not the only losses that we had bitter cause to regret, for, unfortunately, whilst struggling up the tree in our haste to gain shelter, both our ammunition belts, to which were also attached our provisions, had by some unaccountable means caught against a rough projecting branch and torn from our shoulders, where they also could be seen lying upon the ground beneath the tree.
This was indeed a most serious dilemma to be placed in, with a savage animal beneath and almost touching our feet, watching every movement we made, intent upon one object, and that our destruction, should the frail support beneath us give way, our weapons, ammunition, and food out of reach and impossible to be secured owing to the watchfulnes of our enemy.
From appearances there was no doubt but that the enraged beast intended to keep us in the tree by watching for hours, if not the whole day, the opportunity to wreak his vengeance upon us.
The well known character these animals had acquired for persistent untiring pursuit of an enemy, as well as the numerous authenticated tales told about them by bushmen of encounters they had with, and of hairbreadth escapes from these savage brutes, in the forest of the North, coupled with other stirring tales of individual Maori experience of them, the knowledge of which had a most depressing effect upon both of us.
The how or when we were likely to be relieved was a problematical question, seeing that we should not be missed until far in the evening, if indeed then.
But, should a relief party be sent after us, the first question to be discussed would, no doubt, be where to look for us, seeing that we had not stated, before leaving camp, in what direction we should proceed to hunt.
It was quite evident, from the sprightliness of the animal, that he was not badly hurt from the bullet at all, for he kept persistently moving about our position, whilst now and then he would come beneath us in the tree, and by raising his head quite high, would try to knock us off our perch with the tips of his long horns.page 184
Occasionally he would move up to the tree, then by placing his shoulder against it whilst practically circling the stem with his neck then throwing his great weight forward would try by this means to up-root the tree and bring it down (a practice common to all the bovine species, both tame and wild, in forest county, so as to procure the sweet young sprouts of many bush shrubs), but all to no purpose, it, fortunately for us, being too large and firmly rooted to yield to his combined weight and strength.
Again and yet again would he repeat these tactics, and always with the same result; but he would not at any time move very far away, always keeping a sharp watch upon our movements and rush forward the moment he saw anything suspicious.
Whilst thus imprisoned a small mob of five wild cows drew up close to our tree, and, seeing the bull there, stood for a minute, but, quickly espying us amidst the branches, immediately became very excited, dashing about to and fro from our position, and evincing a most threatening demeanour, but each time they returned they approached much nearer than before.
Seeing the old bull remain, they did the same, but commenced to blow and snort loudly, whilst shaking their heads savagely, and stamping and pawing the ground excitedly with their hoofs, whilst now and then they would toss the fern high in the air with their long horns, showing plainly by their demeanour what one might expect if. so unfortunate as to come in their way.
After expending their wrath in this manner for a short time, they at last dashed away in mad gallop, and were soon lost to view, not being seen afterwards.
Several hours had now elapsed since we sought safety amidst the branches of the tree, but still the animal had not relaxed his careful guard, and our position was becoming very critical indeed, for stiffness and cramps had attacked our limbs, the effect of long confinement in one position; whilst, from appearances, it look as if the brute intended to keep watch upon us all night if not the following day as well.
Our desperate plight and the necessity for some prompt action to be taken so as to secure relief (not the least of our troubles being hunger and thirst), suggested page 185to us the necessity of trying to pick up the rifle lying beneath us, but the accomplishment of this task we soon found out to be a most difficult and dangerous matter to accomplish, for the exasperated animal continually watched our every movement, and was ever ready to rush forward to attack at the slightest provocation.
"Necessity," it is said, "is the mother of invention," for my companion was the first to solve the difficulty by commencing to tear up his blouse jumper into stripes, and to tie them together until he had formed a tape-line about four yards in length, then upon the end of this line he formed a running noose, which he kept open and weighted with a small piece of wood.
Casting this noose over the rifle we commenced to angle for the weapon, but, try as best we would, we could not get the loop to fasten, the rough nature of the surface of the ground being against success, whilst, as it were, to make matters worse, the bull again made his appearance on the scene, our suspicious movements and excitement amidst the branches having attracted his attention.
Immediately upon his arrival beneath us, the rough tape line, displayed so conspicuously, attracted his attention, whereupon he made a dash for it, and before we could withdraw it he had caught it upon the tips of his horns and tore it away.
This, situated as we were, was an unexpected disaster, which proved to us what we might expect if we were foolhardy enough to attempt to reach the ground; but otherwise it had a good effect, for it taught us circumspection in our movements, and to exercise care not to attract the animal's attention too much whilst endeavouring to secure the rifle.
Disappointed but not disheartened by our misadventure, we set about replacing our lost lasso, and introduced a few minor improvements in its construction suggested by past failures and experiences.
By this time we had accomplished our task, whilst the animal, tiring of his fruitless watch, had moved away for a distance of a hundred yards or so, where, he was to be seen browsing on the sweet young sprouts of the many bush shrubs around, nevertheless all this time he kept a wary watch upon our every action.page 186
Although we had for the second time, after renewing our lasso, been employed angling for upwards of an hour unsuccessfully, we did not in the least feel disheartened, for the bull whilst encircling our position had once or twice struck his hoofs against the rifle, which knocked it into a slight depression in the ground, muzzle downwards, which caused the butt to rise a few inches above the ground where it still remained.
This was a fortunate incident for us, as it enabled the loop more easily to catch, whilst at the same time with every cast we were becoming more and more expert in its use, causing us to feel quite confident that we should soon secure the weapon that was to release us from a most trying and critical dilemma.
This to us most desired result soon occurred, for my friend, by a well directed cast, dropped the noose over the butt of the weapon, whereupon first testing it to find whether the line would bear the strain, and being satisfied, he carefully drew it up to our retreat.
Carried away by his success, my companion gave utterance to a series of loud hurrahs, which attracted the attention of the bull, who, with lowered head and awful roar came charging down upon us, where he determinedly remained until the final close of the drama.
But, alas, our joy was of short life, for upon contemplating the state of our ammunition (with the exception of a little loose powder and plenty of percussion caps.) we could not produce a grain of lead between us—nor other metal for the matter of that, whilst all the buttons upon our clothes were either composed of bone or horn and therefore utterly useless.
Whilst considering our resources and what was best to be done under the circumstances, the bull kept a close and suspicious watch beneath, no doubt wondering, in his savage mind, the cause of contrast in our conduct with that of a few minutes before.
In this dilemma, as often happens, necessity sharpens the wits, for I suddenly thought of the steel ramrod of the rifle, whereupon I expressed myself thus:—
"What about the ramrod?"
"By jove, I never thought of that! but it means its destruction if we use it, but better that than our own," replied my friend.page 187
"And the bull's also," I continued.
"True, very true, and we must now prepare for the finale," replied he
It did not take long to accomplish this, for anxiety to stretch our legs once more upon terra firma hastened our movements.
It was an easy matter at any time to draw the bull's attention to us, and this we did by my taking off my blouse jumper and placing a short stick though both arms to represent a "bogus man," and to suspend this caricature beneath us.
Seeing this object within his reach, the infuriated animal lowered his head and charged upon it with awful roar, throwing his horns up rapidly with savage force and will, no doubt expecting to send an enemy high in the air, but, instead, it was caught upon the tips of his sharp horns, where it remained fastened and was torn out of our hands, and the moment he lowered his head again it fell over his eyes, completely blinding him for the time being.
Now was to be witnessed a most ludicrous spectacle. Although the seriousness of our position forbad mirth, it was utterly impossible to resist the temptation, for the animal finding itself blinded by the unusual mask covering its face, worked itself into a frenzy of rage, leaping from side to side or up and down, whilst stamping his feet and bellowing furiously like a mad bull, for mad just then he certainly was.
His ludicrous capers then with the endeavours he put forth to rid himself of his tormenting mask were most amusing to witness, causing us to break forth into side-spitting laughter.
It was surprising indeed to witness how active this great lumbering heavy animal could be under excitement, which proved conclusively to us that poor humanity would stand no show in a race for life with such an active animal.
It was only after the animal had rushed around furiously, and in and out the thick scrub, where it was torn into shreds by coming in contact with the rough obstructions there met with, that he was enabled to gain relief from his torment; but, nothing daunted from past experience, he again approached our position, and, taking up his stand a few yards off, began his watch once more.page 188
Here we had just witnessed a realistic display of a bovine savage drama of what might be expected should unfortunate humanity come whithin his power, but that risk we were now about to remove quickly.
As be thus stood beneath, and looking up, his large round eyes ablaze with unconquerable fury, occasionally shaking his head at the same time pawing the ground with his great hoofs, whilst now and then he would give utterance to low growl-like roars, under which circumstance he formed a picture of savage ferocity seldom to be met with.
My companion, now ready for action, was awaiting the moment when the animal should have his head steady and in fair line to pull trigger, and this opportunity occurred almost immediately, whereupon there was a loud explosion, a perceptible quiver for an instant pervaded the huge body of the bull, then all-of-a-heap it fell, and remained perfectly still.
We lost no time in descending from our cramped and confined position amidst the branches, heartily thankful to be able to move our limbs once more upon mother earth, after so many hours of aeriel imprisonment.
We examined the carcase for traces of the first shot that had been fired, but we were somewhat surprised upon finding that the wound was but a superficial affair after all, which would in no way have inconvenienced the animal afterwards; but the explanation of the reason why he jumped and then appeared to have fallen, we could in no way account for.
But this last shot was a very different affair, for the steel rod had penetrated the skull, traversing the muscles of the neck, then along a portion of the spinal chord, where it broke up into fragments, some of them being exposed, but all so embedded in muscle as to resist any attempt to withdraw them.
Not having partaken of any refreshment since early morning, and the gnawings of hunger demanding at our hands immediate attention to the wants of the inner man, we commenced to make search for our provisions, and also to pick up all those other articles which, we had lost during our haste to seek shelterpage 189
We experienced no difficulty in the accomplishment of this task, as most of the articles had been observed from our lofty perch beforehand, and all were found within a very small radius.
With much satisfaction we now sat down to a good solid repast, to which we did ample justice after such a long enforced fast, washing down the whole by a draught of pure crystal water.
Being refreshed and strengthened by our short rest, we prepared to make the journey to camp, the day having so far advanced that it was imperatively necessary we should be returning homewards.
We arrived there in due time, after a brisk walk, where, relating our strange adventure with the usual explanation of pros and cons thereto, all of which created much surprise and comment, with no little praise of our endurance, courage, and happy thought out of a most trying and critical ordeal.
A party was detailed to proceed to the locality and secure the best portions of the carcase before the semi-wild native dogs played havoc with it, which they successfully accomplished, returning again to camp a little after dusk.
Thus endeded, happily, what at one time promised to be a most disastrous adventure to one or both of us, but it had the good effect of making us more discreet afterwards when attempting to hunt wild cattle.