Hine-Ra, or The Maori Scout: A Romance of the New Zealand War.
Chapter II. — A Broken Life
A Broken Life.
About the same time as the incident occurred as related in the preceding chapter, the whare or hut of Marutuahua, chief of Te Nama tribe, was occupied by two persons in deep converse, the Rangatira himself and a stranger. The Rangatira, who sat or rather squatted on a rug in the centre of the apartment in dignified state, was a man of about fifty years of age, and of stern, almost forbidding, aspect, having his face seamed all over with the moko of his tribe and rank, his emblazonment of savage heraldry in fact. He was clad in a flax petticoat or kilt, and a kakapo mat, and wore on his head a fillet of kea feathers, and in his ears a long greenstone drop, and a shark's tooth. In his hand he held the meré, the dreaded greenstone weapon that had crushed the brain of so many of his enemies, and cloven the skulls of so many slaves led out for sacrifice.
His visitor was a man of about the same age, a hard-featured, weatherbeaten, austere, and sinister-looking man, with a grey beard and hair, and the unmistakeable look of a sailor. He was a pakeha, a white man, clad in coarse European fashion, and he sat on a low box smoking a short wooden pipe.
“I tell you I have no home, no country. I am an outcast and a fugitive, one who would not care to live, nay, who would not live another day, were it not for Frank.”
“Ah, Paranaki,” said the old chief, with an attempt at a smile, “I like Paranaki.”
“Everybody likes Frank; he's a good lad is Frank, far too good for a father like I am, far too good.”
“But why do you hate your own people as you do?” asked the chief.
“Because I have suffered wrong, nothing but wrong, at their hands. Listen, you. I was a rich man once, and I was a fool. I had money, plenty of money; I sailed my own ship, and was part owner in another, and I spent my money freeely, lavishly, recklessly. Spent? I gave it away, threw it away.” He paused, and then went on in a lower voice, “I had a wife too, a wife whom I loved, and who, as I thought, loved me. Poor fool, poor fool. Perhaps she did love me at first; I don't know. We had a child, this lad Frank. When he was nine years old I took him a voyage to sea with me, to South America and back, at his mother's request. She said he was delicate, and meeded a change of air. Ah, the false, deceitful Jezebel. When I returned I found her gone, and I heard a tale that turned my blood to ice. She had gone off, fled with my familiar, my trusted friend, my partner—fled—and left me almost a beggar. They had taken all they could, they had involved me in debt, and the law left me bare. My ship was sold; I was ruined! ruined! Had I met her then, or him, I would have killed either or both. But no, they had gone and left no trace. I travelled the world over for three years in page 16 the vain hope of finding them, but no. I became a misanthrope. I grew to detest civilization. I determined to find a spot away from the sight of those of my own race. I collected what little I had left together, bought what I thought I should require for a Crusoe life, took my son with me, and departed from England, shaking her dust from off my feet. Chance caused the little vessel I embarked in to call in at this port, I met with you, and I have been here ever since.”
The chief bowed his head in assent. “But Paranaki, is he content to remain here? Does he not wish to go back to his own people?” he asked.
“I think not. This free, wild life suits him well enough, I fancy. Besides, he's a good lad, and loves his father, and will never leave him while he lives. When I am dead, why—after all, why should he want to leave here? His experiences of civilization are not so pleasant as to make him anxious to return to it. And the specimens of white humanity he has met here, the few whalers and Sydney traders that call occasionally, manned mostly by escaped convicts and other scum, are not such as to give him a very exalted notion of the race. He's contented enough, and happy enough, he and that lad of yours—”
“Ha!” ejaculated the old man proudly, “toku tamaiti Matariki” (my son, the star of June).
“They are fast friends, and then again, I rather fancy—but that's what brings me here to-night; I'll explain.”
“My ears are open; speak.”
But what Richard Burnett was about to say was not said, for just then the mat that hung over the doorway was lifted and over the threshold stepped a girl.
Who shall describe her, that Maori maiden, that nymph of the wild New Zealand forest? She had none of the heavy flatness usual in Maori female features, she was tall and lithe, with a lovely face, a soft, light olive complexion, beautifully rounded limbs, and hands and feet unusually small. Straight as a dart, active as a deer, graceful as an antelope, she looked a princess, as indeed she was, Hine-Ra, the Rangatira Wahine.
She was clad in the usual dress of a Maori girl of high rank, a short petticoat of flax and dyed reeds, and a mat of kiwi feathers ornamented with tufts of the snow-white throat feathers of the tui-tui. Her feet and ankles were encased in slippers of dressed shark skin, round her neck and wrists were strings of tiny shining shells, and on her head was a fillet decorated with a plume of the wing feathers of the blue crane.
“Matua,” she said, addressing her father.
“Tamahine,” was the reply, “speak.”
“Where is my brother? Where is Matariki? I fear some evil has befallen him.”
“What need you fear? Matariki is no baby. He is the son of a Rangatira,” was the dignified reply.page 17
“I know, and yet I fear. He was to have been here long before sunset; he promised me he would, and I—”
“No need for fear, I say; but do you not see our guest?”
The girl blushed slightly, for politeness to strangers is the first rule of Maori social ethics, and extending her hands to him said, in her soft musical voice, “E hoa” (friend), the salutation due to his age and standing in their community.
“E ko,” was the reply, “but why this fear for your brother” it is not yet late, the Cross has not yet turned in the sky, and Matariki is a rangatira, and beyond the spells of wicked Atuas.”
“It is not wicked Atuas I fear,” she said simply; “it is wicked men. I have heard that some of the Pateas have been seen in a canoe off Otumutua Point—”
“Pateas are dogs, and dare not land on these shores. And if they did Matariki is the son of a chief, and fears them not,” was the rangatira's stately reply. “Girl, get you gone with your foolishness.”
“But will you not send out to find him? He promised me to be at the pah long ago, and I feel, I know not why, a strange presentiment of evil.”
“To calm thy fear, E Hine, be it so. Bid Arawa (Shark) and—stay, I will go myself. The pakeha will pardomme, but as he sees, my daughter is alarmed, and she is very dear to the koroheke” (old man), said the chief, turning courteously to his guest.
“Certainly, my all means,” was the reply; “another day will suit for our korero, better perhaps than now.”
Marutuahua lifted the mat that covered the doorway and passed out, leaving the pakeha and the Maori girl together.
“Why, E Hine, do you fear for your brother Matariki? True, the day is ended, but it is not yet night,” said the former in a reassuring voice.
“True, Ehoa, but I feel, I am sure, something has detained him Matariki promised me to be here long before sunset, and he never breaks his word. The Pateas—”
“The Pateas?” interrupted Richard Burnett, scornfully. “As your father has said, the Pateas are dogs, and are of no account. Be not afraid, Hine; all will be well, and he will be here anon. He and my son Frank—”
“And that reminds me, I had something to say with regard to him that might as well be said now. I had intended to speak to your father on the subject first, but perhaps it were better, as you are here, to talk to you. My boy Frank—”
“You know Frank, and you are very fond of him. Is that not so?”
“Yes, that is so. Paranaki is the friend of the Maoris. I love Paranaki,” she replied simply.
“But,” said Burnett, somewhat staggered by the naivale of the answer, “Frank is a pakeha.”page 18
“And what of that?” she said; “he is a pakeha Maori—he is my brother.”
“Ay, brother, that's all very well. But there is another kind of love which—”
“I do not understand,” she said, seeing that the other paused.
“The Maori knows but one kind of love, and I love Paranaki.”
“Yes, but then you see—I hardly know how to explain it—you love your father?”
“Assuredly I love my father.”
“And Matariki, your brother?”
“And Matariki, my brother.”
“That's quite right, but then you see Frank is not your brother.”
“To me he is as my brother.”
Mr. Burnett was puzzled. The girl was evidently so innocent, so guileless, so ignorant of wrong, that he was at a loss to make his meaning clear. She, however, opened a way to him by asking,
“Is it wrong to love Paranaki?”
“Well, not exactly, as you would say, wrong, but there is a difference. When a young girl loves a young man who is not her brother, and when he loves her, why it usually, unless there is some grave reason to the contrary, ends in—in—a different kind of relationship altogether.”
“It usually ends in—in—marriage.”
“And you couldn't marry Frank, you know.”
This was coming straight to the point with a vengeance, and he felt still more puzzled. However he went on:
“Oh, there are many reasons. You see Frank is a pakeha, a white man, and you are—”
“I see,” she replied, the rich blood suffusing her dusky cheek, “and I am only a Maori.”
“Well, that's one reason. Then, again, he's too young to think of marrying, and your father might object, and—”
“Enough, the first reason is sufficient. No more need be said. Paranaki is a pakeha, and the Rangitira Wahine o te Nama is but a Maori, after all. I did not think of that. It is enough,” and so saying, the haughty beauty turned away, lifted the hanging mat, and left the apartment.
The old man looked after her sorely perplexed, and, putting on his hat to go, muttered between his teeth, “Confound the women.”
Ay, just so, Richard Burnett; a sentiment that has been expressed a thousand times before and since: “Confound the women.”