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 XIII. — Young Heroes

Chapter XIII.
Young Heroes.

The savage and fanatieal hordes led by the detestable butcher, Te Kooti—hordes formed of parties from the tribes inhabiting the Kaimanawa country, and the district about the numerous heads of the Rangitikia river, amongst whom, to their eternal disgrace of their nationality and their manhood, were said to be not a few renegade Europeans and Americans, Pakeha Maoris, escaped convicts for the most part, supplemented by a number of beach combers and deserted sailors from whalers and trading vessels, who, regardless of the claims of country or humanity, had joined the bloody standard of that ruthless chief—had declared a war of extermination not only against the Europeans, but also against the more peaceful and friendly Maoris who had not joined in the revolt. This blood-thirsty host, their minds influenced with what has well been called “the drunkenness of blood,” occupied a vast stretch of mountain and forest country, extending from the head of the Wanganui river and Taupo Moana on the north to the Ruahine ranges on the south, and lying inland from the sea, and practically inaccessible to the British troops and their allies.

A country indeed beautiful, with its fine rivers, its stupendous page 61 mountains, and its noble forests, its deep gorges, its spreading lakes, and its shining glaciers and snow peaks piereing the heavens, was this, the home of numerous, powerful, and almost totally uncivilized, if not wholly savage tribes; a country whose woods were alive with game, from the gorgeous-hued kaka to the sombre little totoara, whose rivers teemed with aquatic birds of every kind, whose fern-covered wastes were the haunts of vast droves of wild pigs, and whose cultivation grounds yielded in ample profusion the kumera, the mamuka, the taro, and the other fruits and roots used in the Maori cuisine.

Ferocious beyond compare were most of these tribes, and more especially the immediate followers of their pre-eminently ruthless, restless, and treacherous leader, whose name had become a synonym of all that was blood-thirsty and implacable, the name detestable and execrable of a man utterly diabolic and vile.

In a great measure, except when actually engaged in warfare, the Maori is peaceful enough, and instances have been known, and those not a few, where he has shown a nobility and magnanimity, a chivalrous spirit even, that would do honor to a far higher civilization; but this unprincipled man, devilish in his cunning and cruelty, knew neither pity nor remorse, and was as much dreaded by the outlying tribes with whom he was not immediately associated as he was by the whites and the friendlies themselves.

Scarcely a day passed when news was not brought into camp, by one or other of the runners or scouts employed by the British, of some outrage, either on the encampments of white settlers, or friendly Maoris, which served to keep the various outposts in a continual ferment of excitement and alarm.

As related in the preceding chapter, the quiet of head-quarters was rudely disturbed by the abrupt entrance into the camp of Jack Hall, the well-known scout, who, in breathless haste, demanded at once to be shown into the presence of the commander-in-chief, as he had most important news to deliver.

The entire encampment was at once alive with wonder and anxiety, especially as the scout, without giving a hint of his intelligence, had at once put off in a canoe for the flagship, where the authorities were in conclave.

Rumor and speculation were rife, and the wildest theories were advanced, and surmises made, as to what the nature of his information might be, some supposing that the Maories had quitted their stronghold at Wereroa, others that they were advancing in force, and others, again, that a large body of friendlies had joined the rebel hordes.

The news came soon enough, for, ten minutes after the scout had reached the ship, General Champion and his staff were seen taking to the boats and being rapidly rowed to land.

The bugle rang out the “Fall in !” and an ambulance and strong guard was ordered out and hastily despatched from the camp. Then page 62 the scout's intelligence rapidly spread. An outpost some twelve miles up the river, consisting of eight men lodged in a strongly-constructed blockhouse, had been surprised, it was supposed, by the savage Te Kooti, attacked, and everyone brutally murdered.

The sad news was soon confirmed, for at dawn the following morning the ambulance returned, bearing the bodies of the unfortunate eight wrapped in blankets. The detail had found them, some shot, some brained with the murderous mere, but all disfigured and dishonored.

How it had occurred it was impossible to say. The men were all old campaigners, and had always been prepared against sudden attack, and the blockhouse was looked upon as next to impregnable to any force of Maoris. It was supposed that the attack must have been made while they slept.

Following close on this intelligence, a Maori scout came into camp with a rebel's head dangling from his hand by the hair. He brought the news that a hot fight had occurred between Te Kooti's followers and a large party of friendlies at the settlement of Ngaurahoe, on the Manganui a Te Ao river, a tributary of the Upper Wanganui, about thirty miles distant. The rebels had descended from the hill country between Tongariro and Ruapehu, and there had been a hard fight, in which at least ten of the rebels had been killed. The loss of the friendlies he could not tell. Out of this fight he had escaped, bringing away the head as a trophy.

Once more the camp was astir with sounds of martial preparation, and strong detachments were sent off to the assistance of such of the friendlies as might have escaped slaughter.

When asked for particulars, the Maori said that no warning had been given of attack on the peaceful friendlies. They were totally unprepared, when suddenly, like the bursting of a thunder-cloud, the ferocious hordes of Te Kooti swarmed in upon them, and commenced an indiscriminate slaughter. Men, women, and children were ruthlessly shot down. There was no merey shown nor expected, nor until the entire settlement was exterminated or had fled into the bush, did the rebels pause in their devilish work. He could not tell how many had been slain, but, before he escaped, certainly not less than twenty women and children, and double as many men, weltered in their blood, and did any of them show the faintest symptom of life they were hacked with the maripi, and hewed with the mere till death took them out of the power of their tormentors.

The day but one following brought ample corroboration of the truth of the Maori's story. As the rebels turned to depart from their work of devastation, their attention had been attracted to three children who had escaped the general massacre. Their ages were ten, four, and two years. What should be done with them was the question that arose. It was their first impulse to kill them, but they finally determined to take them as slaves for sacrifice, or to be eaten. They were fairly well treated at first, but the brutal instincts of the Maoris were only for a time dormant.

page 63

Soon murmurs were heard as to the foolishness of carrying about children, and impeding the rapidity of travel with such encumbrances. Again weapons were pointed at them, and again turned aside by kindlier interposition.

“Abandon them!” cried the brutal Te Kooti, “and let them find their way home, or where they wish to go. They will not live long. They will soon become the prey of the kuri and the wild pig, of the hawk and of the crow.”

And in the midst of the lone wilderness these three young children were left to, perhaps, a worse fate than even death at the hands of a rebel Maori. Night was approaching when the resolve was taken, and so; without food or clothing, these three unfortunates were left in the desert to be preyed upon by wild beasts, or to die of hunger.

Cowering with fright and cold, the three children huddled together—too young to know the danger to which they were exposed—too little to realise the fiendish nature of the crime that had been committed against them.

But one thought was in their minds, and that was to reach the post where the white man dwelt, which they knew was far away down the river from their own home, in the direction where the sun sank at night.

Ere they had dried their tears and looked about them, their captors had disappeared. Before them, in the direction of their home, arose a rampart of mountains with its bleak and dismal gorges and caverns, the haunt of packs of savage kuris, and droves of wild pigs. Through these, past countless dangers, lay the track which would lead them home, and thence to the camp of the merciful white man.

Then all the bravery and instinctive bush knowledge of the eldest boy came to his aid. He cheered his younger brothers with soothing words, told them that there, beyond the bleak mountains, were the men who would give them to eat and drink, and let them play and be merry. The younger ones cried for their mother, but his noble example fortified them, and, giving him their confidence, they started for the mountains.

For four or five miles the two trotted beside him, till, at last, hungry, weary, and footsore, the two-year-old-child threw himself on the earth, and said he could walk no more. Entreaties were in vain. He showed his blistered feet—an answer which admitted of no reply. Then, with the aid of his brother, the elder boy managed to drag the tired little one on his back, and pursued for a few hundred yards his wearisome journey. He could walk but a few yards at a time. He, too, was hungry, weak, and footsore, and the rests he had to make were many. Still he would not hesitate. Shelter was before him—shelter with all its comforts and safety. He would not let his courage flag, nor permit that of his younger brothers to fail.

page 64

When the mountains were reached the three took refuge in a rugged cavern or crevice in the rocks, and there passed the night, to await the dawn of day.

Again the journey was undertaken under yet more distressful circumstances. They reached what had been their home, and found nothing—nothing save the sickening sight of festering corpses, a prey to the wild beasts and foul birds of the region, and the blackened ruins of a few raupo huts, for the marauders had fired the village ere they left.

No food, no shelter, no clothing; for what had not been destroyed had been carried off. There was nothing for it but to face the wilderness again. And they did it. They ate of the wild berries and fern-pith that they found, and, breaking off the tender twigs of the hine-hine and veronica, and the succulent leaves of the pig-face (mesembryanthemum), chewed them to procure some nourishment.

But not once did determination desert the little hero. He persuaded, and threatened, alternately carried, and made his little charges walk, until, after fifty hours of almost superhuman exertion, and forty-five miles of travel, the encampment was reached.

Everything was done to make the little ones forget the dangers through which they had passed; their wounds were dressed, and they were supplied with food.

There was but one feeling in the camp respecting these children, shared by everyone, from the commander down to the youngest drummer-boy, namely, that the Colonial Government should take them for its wards, educate and train them; for the heroism which they had already shown gave the promise that, if turned in the right direction, there was in all these three Maori children the stuff of whicch heroes are made.