Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Hine-Ra, or The Maori Scout: A Romance of the New Zealand War.

Chapter 1. — Treachery

Chapter 1.

The lingering beams of the declining sun danced merrily on the sparkling surface of Opunake Bay, a horseshoe-shaped roadstead a a third of a mile deep, about twenty miles south of the extensive kainga, or pah, of the powerful Taranaki tribe. The rapidly dying light glinted on the rocky cliffs which stretched from one head of the bay to the other, and which rendered access inland impossible save in one spot near the centre, where was a sandy beach about two hundred yards wide, over which flowed the translucent waters of the Opunake river, a rapidly running, shingle-bedded and boulder strewn stream having its rise in the snow-clad cone of the giant Maunga Taranaki, that glistened like an enormous sugar loaf of dazzling whiteness, fifteen miles or so away to the north east. Back from this opening into the land lay a dense bush of huge pine, birch, and totara, whose sombre foliage gradually became more and more darkened by the purple twilight, while farther inland, and belting the lower part of the distant ranges, shone the bright mass of red rata blossom, which imparts to the New Zealand mountain scenery so weird and lurid a glow.

page 12

Save for the lapping of the water on the sandy beach, the occasional break of a wave against the rocky cliffs, the rhythmic murmur of the stream, and the droning buz of the mosquitoes from the swamps, there was a profound silence, broken only by the rushing rustle of a night owl in search of his prey, or the distant querulous bark of the kuri (wild dog), a silence soon to be dispelled by the voices of the nocturnal fauna of the New Zealand forest.

Slowly the sun sank beneath the flashing waves of the Western Ocean, then suddenly the narrowing lines of light disappeared, and in a few minutes the scene was enveloped in a mantle of thick darkness, and then broke into full chorus the song of night.

The shrill piping of the kiwi.* and the weka , mingled with the booming call of the bittern on the swamps, the screech of the kakapo (night parrot), the rasping cry of the ka-ka, the discordant noise of innumerable ducks as they settled down in their night haunts of pool and reach and bend and reedy lagoon, and the soft plaintive coo of the ku-ku (wood pigeon). Occasionally, as if by common instinctive consent, the voices would cease, and then would occur a pause of profound silence, which was rendered more impressive by the almost palpable darkness which reigned around.

By and by the moon rose, tipping the tree tops with a strange weird light, and bathing the distant mountains in silver glory, although ever and anon a heavy cloud would flit across her face, and make the gloom denser than before. During one of these transient gleams of moonlight might have been heard a rustling in the undergrowth as if some person or animal were passing through the bush and approaching the sandy beach, and then, forcing his way through the thick fern and tutu (poison plant), appeared first the head and shoulders and then the entire figure of a young man. He emerged from the tangle, and stepped forward on the sand, stopping at the creek, and kneeling down to drink.

He was a tall and stalwart young fellow, clad half in European, half in Maori costume, that is to say, while his lower limbs were encased in stout serge trousers and seaman's boots, the upper part of his body was enveloped in a highly ornamented flax mat. On his head he wore a broad-brimmed felt hat, and over his arm he carried a rifle.

No Maori he, as his ruddy Saxon features, embrowned by exposure to the sun and air, but unseamed by the Moko, indicated. How came he there, so far from the haunts of the Pakeha?

But as he knelt and drank of the limpid water, a dark form stole noiselessly from behind a thick clump of hini-hini scrub, and, approaching the unsuspecting victim with uplifted meré, dealt him a savage page 13 blow on the back of the head which felled him, stunned and helpless, in the shallow brook. It was during one of the pauses in the nocturnal concert that the treacherous attack took place and as the victim fell the voice of his cowardly assailant rang through the forest in a loud yell of triumph. For a moment the aggressor stood with his meré upraised over the prostrate man as if to repeat the blow, but after an instant's thought he lowered his arm. “No,” he muttered, “the place is too near the track, and the blood would betray him to searchers. Matariki, his friend, has the cunning of the wild dog, the scent and eye of the hawk. Let me take this Pakeha swine deep into the bush, and there my meré shall make him food for the kari and the poaka. Ah, thief of a pakeha, thou would'st steal the heart of Hine-Ra, steal her from her tribe and from me, would'st thou? But she may dim the lustre of her beautiful eyes weeping for thee in vain, for she shall see thee no more. This is the word and the vengeance of Tainui Te Ngatiawa.”

Tainui Te Ngatiawa, as he called himself, was a Maori of gigantic proportions, strong as a bullock, yet lithe and slippery as an eel. Throwing the senseless body of his enemy over his shoulder as easily as he would have done that of a child, he struck into the bush with that peculiar intoed lope or trot characteristic of most savage nations, notably the American Indians and the Maoris. His first intention had been to kill him out of hand, and to leave him in a lonely part of the bush, to be devoured by wild dogs, pigs, and hawks. But as he proceeded the devilish instinct of cruelty inherent in the Maori breast filled his mind, and, not content with slaughtering his victim, he determined to torture him. The Maori is a firm friend, but a ruthless and relentless enemy. He is an adept at all the varieties of torture, and in the refinement of cruelty has made it a study, almost approaching the dignity of a science.

And Tainui was one of the most malignant of his race, and he chuckled with fiendish delight at the anticipated torments of his prisoner. He would carry him to the swamp, bind him with flax, tie him down, strip him, and then revive him if he could, and gloat over his agony as he lay helpless against the attacks of the thousands of mosquitoes that infested the morass. He would hack his joints with his maripi (knife) until nature would bear no more, and would then dash out his brains with his meré. Such was the revenge of this truculent savage on his hated rival.

But barely had Tainui quitted the bay with his hapless load, when another actor appeared on the scene. Grating lightly on the sandy bar, a small canoe, impelled by skilful hands, shot into the mouth of the stream, and there stepped from it to the beach a woman—a woman tall of stature, dark of skin, tattooed on the nether lip and clad in a frayed and tattered dog-skin mat and kilt. She stepped forward to the edge of the bush, standing perfectly still, her head thrust forward in an attitude of rapt attention, striving to pierce the dense pall of blackness that shut out everything from sight, for a heavy cloud had again obscured the moon. She gazed this way and page 14 that, with eyes that glittered even in the darkness, but could see nothing, hear nothing.

She had, while coasting along the bay, heard Tainui's triumphant yell, and had paddled to the spot whence it had appeared to come, but now all was dark, all silent.

But as she moved toward the creek her foot struck something which emitted a metallic sound, and stooping, she found the pakeha's rifle, which the Maori, in his excitement, had overlooked. At that moment there suddenly arose, and from a spot at no great distance from the shore, a short, sharp, agonised cry, the voice of a human being calling for assistance. It was not repeated, or, if it were, it was drowned in the discordant forest music which it instantly evoked.

Presently, rising above the confused medley of sound from the feathered denizens of the woods came another cry, this time a shout of dorision, followed by a faint groan, and a weak cry for help.

Guided by the sound, the woman dashed into the bush, trampling down the fern, forcing her way through the prickly and tenacious lawyer-bush, and threading the intricacies of the tangled supple-jacks with a comparative ease, even in the darkness, that indicated perfect familiarity with tin? peculiarities of the New Zealand forest.

After passing through the bush as rapidly and noiselessly as the nature of the ground would permit, for a couple of hundred yards, she came to the edge of a small swampy opening in the timber, overgrown with tussocks of grass, and there she again stopped to listen. As she did so, the moon suddenly broke from behind a thick cloud, and showed with terrible distinctness a strange scene.

On a small patch of open ground lay stretched, bound and helpless, a human form, while another stood near him mocking at the torments he was suffering from the ferocious attacks of a cloud of virulent mosquitoes. Well did she understand the meaning of that terrible sight. Well did she know the maddening torture inflicted by those diminutive pests when every spot on the body is covered by them, iust risen from a foul and foetid coast swamp and hungry for blood.

Twice she raised the rifle to her shoulder, twice she lowered it in indecision, until the sufferer with a low groan fainted, and his tormentor rushed forward at him with an angry cry. The sharp knife in his hand glittered above his head in the moonlight as he prepared to cleave his victim's heart—

There was a sharp crack, a flash of name, a puff of pungent smoke, and the assailant bounded forward, and fell prone on his face across the body of the senseless man.

Not a moment too soon. Another second and the keen maripi would have been plunged into the breast of the prostrate youth.

A rush and flutter of startled birds in the surrounding trees and the dim bush shrubbery, the howling of a score of wild dogs, the trump of a drove of wild pigs that were feeding in the neighborhood, and all was silent. Another heavy bank of cloud blotted out the moon, and all was once more darkness.

* —This singular bird, the apteryx, belongs to the ostrich family (Struthionidœ). Practically it is wingless, and therefore cannot fly. It is rarely seen except at night. Its feathers are long and narrow, almost filamentary, and are used by the Maoris for making their best mats. Its note is a peculiar shrill cry, not unlike its name in sound.

—Maori hen. A brown bird of the rail family, about as large as a pullet. It is very tame, and does not fly.