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

Chapter X. — Hocus Pocus

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Chapter X.
Hocus Pocus.

The Korero of the Waimate and Te Nama tribes was attended by the head men of both, and long and loud were the speeches made for and against an instant declaration of war by both against the Pateas. The Waimates were naturally indignant at the breach of the Autaki, and many of their leaders clamoured for speedy vengeance.

But Tamaiti, the Rangitira, was no less astute and far-seeing in policy than he was brave in action. Jack Hall, the Maori scout, had been with him early that morning, and from him he had learnt how matters stood. The Hau-Haus, aided by the numerous tribes under Te Kooti, were in open revolt, and had commenced active war, and the Pateas had declared for the insurgents. Were he to take arms against the latter, he would embroil himself with the former; and situated as he was, on the very border-line of the territory they infested, it might, and probably would, go hard with him. True, he might possibly have the protection of the British, but even that was not certain; for Te Namas themselves had not, as yet, cast in their lot with the whites: and, besides that, there was no telling how the fortune of war might go, and whether the rebel forces might not drive the Pakehas into the sea, as they had sworn to do.

No, it was too hazardous, and he must temporize.

He professed himself as deeply grieved and indignant at the conduct of the Pateas, but he very politely yet very firmly declined to interfere. His territory was open to either tribe to pass through, so long as they did not fight on it, but he would neither make nor meddle in the affair. And in this he showed no little far-seeing cunning. If it came to a war of extermination between the two tribes, as it probably would, he must benefit either way, for, weakened as the winning party must necessarily be, there would be nothing to prevent his claiming and taking the territory of the loser.

And herein, like some rulers of a more advanced state of civilisation, did he display the harmlessness of the dove, with the wisdom of the serpent. Let Te Nama and Patea fight out their quarrel if they saw fit; he would stand by, and, like the fox in the fable of Old Æsop, would come in at the finish, and carry off the carcase of the fawn about which the lion and the bear had fought until both were exhausted.

No, he would sympathise with his neighbor; but, as for fighting for him, he must really beg to be excused. And so the matter ended.

The Korero of the Pateas, to which the runner sent by Rehua to the Hau-Hau leaders was expected to bring a reply, was summoned for the forenoon of the day following that on which Matariki had so narrowly escaped torture. The captive—for captive he was as page 48 though he had been bound hand and foot with withes of flax—had spent the night in the Wharekura, and had been treated with as much urbanity and consideration as though he had been an honored guest, although he was as closely guarded as a state prisoner, which latter indeed he was.

The ferocious Titokiti—a man who would gladly have slain him as he sat, with a stroke of his mere, but did not dare for two reasons, first, on account of state policy, and then because the Wharekura was tapu from blood—was studiously polite, behaving more like his host than his goaler, and endeavouring in the course of conversation to elicit from him his sentiments, and those of his father, in relation to the war which had been proclaimed.

But Matariki was reticent, and was not to be entrapped into making any admissions. He simply declared that he knew nothing about the subject, nor desired to know anything.

The night passed, and the day which was to decide his fate—for he well knew that he would not be permitted to escape without some compensating advantage to his captors—came, and the long weary hours dragged their slow length along. At two hours before noon the chief men of the tribe assembled for the Korero, and he was removed to a whare a little way distant to abide the issue, unbound, but strictly guarded as before.

A feeling of doubt and uneasiness pervaded the assembly, nor did any of those present venture to advise any decided step, as they knew that one false move might be a very serious matter indeed to them. It was therefore with unfeigned relief and gratification that the coming of the messenger with a reply from the Hau-Haus was hailed. He was nearly naked, and his brown skin shone with profuse perspiration as he entered the building only a few minutes late, for he had been carefully timed for the double journey.

He stepped quietly forward, and remained silent, waiting to be questioned.

“Thou hast seen Hepanaia and his brother Kereopa, the chiefs of the Hau Haus, O Heke of the fleet-foot?” questioned Rehua, after a short pause.

“I have seen them, O Rehua no Patea,” was the reply.

“And thou hast delivered our message?”

“Faithfully, even as thou gavest it me.”

“And the reply, what is it?”

“This is the word of Hepanaia the Rangitira of the Urieweras, and of Kereopa the Ariki. Let the ears of Rehua no Patea be open, even his and all assembled for the Korero. Matariki o Te Nama is thy captive; it is well; do with him as thou wilt; in thy hands we leave him. Te Namas are dogs, they are not with us, and those who are not with us are against us. Te Namas harbor the Pakehas, and Pakehas are our foes. Death and the torture to the Pakehas, and to all those who consort with them. Fear not the words of the Ruawahine; she is mad and dotes; doubt not, delay not. The Atuas are eager for the sacrifice. This is our word.”

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There was a deep silence in the place while this message was being delivered, and a loud sigh of relief at its termination. There was no mistaking its import, nor its importance: death and the torture. That was the ultimatum, and preparations were made to carry it into immediate effect, and the assembly adjourned to the open square, heralds being sent round to summon the rest of the tribe to the sacrifice.

But while the proceedings were going on in the Wharekura, a stranger had quietly entered the village, moving about freely, and yet attracting no little attention. A stranger he was in the light of not belonging to the tribe, and yet no stranger to those who saw him, for, as has been said before, Jack Hall, the Maori scout, was well known to all the tribes, and no more known than feared, as being a powerful magician, and as having been declared Tapu by the great Atua of Atuas himself, the spirit who rode on the whirlwind, whose voice was the thunder, and who dwelt in the bowels of the volcano Ruapehu.

The prisoner was brought forth and conducted to the place of torture amid the derisive yells of the multitude, and placed face to face with his judges.

“Matariki o Te Nama,” said Rehua, “not I, but the Atuas, have spoken. Their word is death by the torture, therefore prepare.”

The youth bowed slightly, and said simply, “I am ready.”

But as the torturers laid their hands on him to bind him as before, Jack Hall stepped forward into the enclosure, and in a loud voice called out “Wait a moment!”

There was a hurried and surprised consultation in the group surrounding the chief; this, then, was the messenger from the Atuas whose coming had been prognosticated by the witch Matutira. What new complication was this?

Rehua spoke: “I see before me a stranger. He bears the Moko of the Maori, he is clad as the Maori, he speaks with the tongue of the Maori, and yet it is false, all false, for he is not a Maori, but a Pakeha. What does he here? What would he have? Does he not know that his life is forfeit, for he is a traitor and an enemy to the Maori, and therefore to the Patea? Let him speak, and go his way while he is yet safe.”

“Pshaw!” was the reply. “Let not Rehua no Patea speak such big words to Hake Hori no Te Makutu, at whose name the Rangitiras, priests, and sorcerers of the tribes may tremble. Well thou knowest, E Rehua, that, did I but will it, I need but speak the word to bring down fire from the sky that should destroy thee and thy tribe in an instant. Well is it that I am not an enemy to the Maori, but a friend; but threaten me not, nor tempt me too far.”

“I know thou sayest thou canst do this, but I doubt thy vaunted power,” said Rehua with an assumption of boldness he was far from feeling.

“Indeed,” replied the scout; “thou would'st have proof? Well, thou shalt. Bring me hither a bowl of water.”

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At a signal from the chief a large hake of water was brought and placed at the magician's feet.

A profound silence reigned, and the multitude held their breath in awed curiosity as, for an instant, he raised his eyes heavenward, then, with a deft movement of his hands over the bowl, he, unperceived, flung from a small phial, hidden in his palm, a few drops of some liquid into the water, which in an instant burst into a bright volume of flame.

The effect was electric. With a yell of terror, the whole multitude, including Rehua himself and his company, fled as if for their lives. The denouement had been so unexpected, so terrible in its aspect, to them, that, with the wild instinct of self-preservation, they sought safety in flight, regardless of all else.

“Matariki,” said the scout hurriedly, “now is thy chance; take it, fly. Cross the river at the Karakamea ford. There thou wilt find friends. Begone, and quickly.”

“And thou?”

“I shall remain. Fear not for me. Go.”

The young man needed no second bidding. With a bound like that of a deer, he fled across the Kainga, and in a few seconds was lost to sight in the scrub.

The scout stood perfectly still, his arms crossed on his breast, and his features calm and unmoved as though nothing had occurred.

But presently the Maoris, recovering from their unreasoning terror, began to emerge from their places of shelter, and cautiously to approach the square. Among the foremost was Rehua, who, with a wild cry of rage at seeing that his victim was gone, rushed forward, and demanded of the scout where he was.

Quietly, and without moving a muscle, he replied: “The Atua had need of him. I changed Matariki into a hawk, and he flew away.”

“It is a lie!” exclaimed the chief savagely.

“Beware, E Ruhua. Beware, I say. Thou hast seen my power once. Take heed that I do not exercise it on thee. Again thou doubtest my power. Thou shalt see. Summon thy people hither; I will not harm them.”

Slowly and somewhat reluctantly the crowd gathered round, keeping, however, at a respectful distance, yet anxious to witness another manifestation of the power of the sorcerer.

“E Pateas,” he said in a calm voice, “I changed your prisoner into a hawk, and he flew away. I told your chief so, and he said I lied. What, then, is it so great a thing to turn a man into a bird? No. It is nothing to the great Atua, whose servant I am, and whose behest I do but obey. I will show you a greater thing. Rehua no Patea, give me something, a pendant from thine ear, a feather from thy mat, a hair from thy head, a cutting from thy nail, anything.”

As he spoke he threw down his mat, revealing himself naked to page 51 the waist, and displaying the sacred moko of an Ariki of the highest rank on his breast and shoulders.

“But,” said Rehua, in alarm, “thou wilt not pronounce the Apiti on me?”

“Fear not, Ehoa, I will not harm thee. Give me what I ask.”

Reluctantly enough, Rehua plucked a feather from his mat, and handed it to him. He would rather not have done so, for he was terribly frightened; but it would never do to let his people think that, and therefore he gave it with an assumption of boldness, and the best grace he could.

“Now bring me hither a calabash,” said the magician. A calabash was brought. “See,” he continued, “I place the feather on the ground, and I cover it with the calabash; so. Now, behold!” He stepped back from the vessel, and made one or two passes with his hands.

“Now,” he said, “thou, Rehua, or thou, Titokiti, or any other of the tribe, come forward and raise the calabash.” There was a slight pause of hesitation, and Titokiti stepped forward and lifted the calabash. As he did so, he stood stupefied with astonishment, for from under it flew out, and upwards to the sky, a beautiful kuku or wood pigeon.

A long-drawn sigh of awe and amazement rose as if by common consent from the dumb-founded circle of spectators.

“That is something,” he said. “I will show you more.”

He emitted a loud, strange cry, and the bird, pausing in its flight, turned, and flew back to him, alighting on his shoulder, and pluming its wing with its bill.

Then the magician placed the bird under the calabash, and invited someone to lift the vessel again. Rehua did so this time, and the bird was gone, and in its place the feather. “There is the feather from thy mat, E Rehua; take it, and when next thou doubtest the power of Haki Hori, remember what thou hast seen.”

It was sufficient. There was no more to be said. Haki Hori, the scout magician, replaced his mat on his shoulders, and the crowd melted silently and wonderingly away.

“And now, E Rehua, I would hold converse with thee.”

Rehua, without a word, led the way to his own whare, and the consultation, whatever it were, lasted until evening.