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Ena, or, The Ancient Maori

Chapter XII. Bravery

page 68

Chapter XII. Bravery.

"The unsettled host moved on the hill;
Like the mountain cloud when the blast has entered its womb,
And scatters the curling gloom on every side."

Early on the morning of the second day after the departure of Te Rangitukaroa and party to the island to assist at the last obsequies to the remains of Je Kanohi, Hahaki and his wife came to Wairauki. Both were in great consternation and much excited. Loud and bitter were the tohunga's reproaches when he learned the carelessness shown by the chief in having left his home at a time of so much danger as the present. The priest that morning had descried from the mountain top a long train of men on the yellow beaches below, marching in single file toward the hill-fort. The truth flashed to the mind of the priest. "These," said he, "are the relentless Ngatiraukawa on the death-trail of the Mauopoki."

page 69

Pausing a few moments to watch the movements of the approaching enemy, his decision was at once taken, and he resolved to proceed to the hill-pah without further delay. As there was not a moment to be lost, Hahaki and his aged wife hurried through the forest by the shortest route, and arrived at the pah ere the people had left their sleeping whares.

When Ena learned the aspect of affairs, she gave orders that a double watch be set, and also sent out a small party of picked men to reconnoitre from an adjacent peak at some distance from the pah. Every man, woman, and youth capable of taking a share in the defence was summoned to the outworks. The pahu, or gong, was struck in haste, and a wild, tumultuous rush took place from the whares across the open spaces of the pah, until every one gained his well-known place in the works by the palisades. Ena, accompanied by Hahaki, went round the fortress giving orders and imparting courage to the people. These regarded her with feelings akin to a superstitious awe. She was on this occasion more than usually calm and collected; her commands were given in a firm voice, she asked no questions, evinced no sign of fear. She held in her hand her father's greenstone meri; her face was painted with a few delicate lines of red ochre; on her head she wore page 70a circle of rare black-and-white feathers, and, falling over her finely moulded shoulders, her lustrous black hair floated behind like a sable standard; a white flax mat hung from her neck, and reached the ankle; her right arm, round and superbly sculptured, was bare to the shoulder; on her bosom depended a green-stone ornament, the highly-valued and quaintly-cut Heiteiki; and, thus arrayed, she awaited, with the calmness and composure of determination, the return of the reconnoitring party.

The recognized leaders of the tribe were absent, and no experienced warrior or person of position remained, save Hahaki, to take command of the pah; so, bracing her mind to the emergency, Ena rose far superior to her usual character. From the parapet of the defences she eagerly and silently scanned the sea, the beaches, and the forest-covered ridges near; but no sign of friend or foe appeared on either. A short interval passed—a time of anxiety to others; but to Ena it was an age of acute mental suffering. Well she knew the fate that awaited her people and herself—slavery, terrible slaughter, and the soul-harrowing doom of the cannibalistic victims. These forebodings weighed heavily on the mind of the maiden: often during that summer morning did she wish for the return of her father and the warriors ere the foe page 71would stand before the pah gate. Addressing the groups of nervous women and terrified children, she desired the mothers to remove the babes to the large whare, and there to abide, whilst the rest should remain and bear a part in the defence, and be ready to attend to the wounded. Her mind experienced a slight relief when she saw a man running with all speed toward the pah along a winding path up from the beach. He proved to be one of the reconnoitrers, and brought her the unwelcome tidings of the advance of the enemy in large force, and in evident haste and despatch. The courier had hardly ended his brief story when Ena calmly said, "They're coming." Every eye was turned to the direction indicated, and at the distance of a few miles the head of the column was plainly discernible. On it came, slowly, like a long thin black ribbon endowed with life, flowing with an ever-swaying motion over low hill and shallow gully, occasionally swerving to right or left to avoid rough or swampy ground. Nearer every moment, nearer every instant it came, until the individual forms of the foe were easily distinguishable on the rough beaches below the pah. Terror flew among the defenders of the mountain fort, but it was soon and promptly met by Ena and Hahaki: both exhorted the people to stand to their posts to the page 72last, to fight for life and liberty. The tohunga cast his divining rods, and augured success; whilst Mahora took charge of the women, who, with their litters, were in readiness to remove the wounded from the scene of strife. Silence was strictly enjoined; not a man was allowed to show his head above the palisades. The reconnoitring party now came in with the report that a numerous body of the enemy had made a detour to the left, and had penetrated the forest, with the intention, as the scouts believed, of attacking the fort in rear.

Ena stood alone on the parapet, and there awaited the enemy's approach. On they came: they are at the foot of the isolated peak on which the Wairauki stand. Suddenly, on the bright morning air, a prolonged growl of defiance hurtles up the craggy cliffs from the deep-throated foeman to the startled ear of the crouching Mauopoko, who return no answer to the challenge: after a few moments' space, a hollow, rebellowing, angry murmur, indicative of chagrin and astonishment, is heard among the assailants, and this expression of savagery is even more terrible than their first challenge. Their leader now points toward the pah, and, meri in hand, dashes fiercely forward among the rugged grey rocks and over the loose débris that strew the flanks of the mountain, fol-page 73lowed by his tribemen in wildering eagerness. Up, still up, and higher still, and nearer every moment brings the now silent foe; the rattling of the loose shingle beneath their flax moccassined feet is heard. Quick as the lurid-sheeted flash, veiling for a moment the eastern horizon with a robe of fire when night is on the hills, is Ena in this her trying emergency; with all a woman's promptitude of action and readiness of resolve, she flies to the principal group of men near the large gateway, and issues a secret order. She returns to her station on the parapet; and then, like a tigress watching the prey, her body oscillates with the intensity of restrained heroism. The enemy's vanguard appear on the extremely scanty glacis, and is allowed to scan the works. Immediately the heads of the foremost men of the main column are seen. In an instant Ena is at the gate, twenty strong arms remove the barrier; one tap on the gong, and fifty of her bravest and best men are by her side; with a cry, terrible when uttered by a woman's shrill and pitiless voice, its wild echoes are taken up by the adjacent barren peak, and rolled back again down the deep gully sides; it rings out like the pibroch of an expiring people. Thus nerving herself to grapple with the enemy in a manner befitting the dignity and prestige of her race, she sprang upon the undaunted page 74foe; fast and furious the meri of her ancestors reeks with the warm blood of the death-quivering victims. Heedless of danger, her men follow and dash in among the spears poised to strike; but at sight of the white mantle of the heroine bespattered with the blood of their fallen comrades, the terrified Ngatiraukawa turn and fly in disastrous confusion down the mountain, scattering havoc and death amongst themselves; for many were still pressing forward, and with difficulty at last they understood the extent and nature of their repulse. From above, the work of death commenced in earnest; large fragments of rock were hurled down on the retiring enemy, and slaughter committed to a fearful extent spread a terrible panic among the retreating force. The shouts and demoniac laughter of the victors, the crashing of rocks, and the shrieks of the wounded commingling, swelled the murderous scene to a height of terrorism inhuman and appalling.

Hahaki had taken charge of the defence of the rear-works of the pah; but, as Ena repelled the attack in front so suddenly, the enemy had had no time in which to signal to his forces in the rear. Hahaki, acting on the knowledge he had already possessed himself of as before mentioned, led out as many men in search of the foe as he could collect, first apprising Ena of his intentions: silently descend-page 75ing the hill at the rear, he entered the forest, and creeping on from covert to covert, he awaited the arrival of the expected antagonists. More than ordinary care was observed by the chief who was in command of the second party of the Ngatiraukawa, as he used the precaution of sending on before a few scouts to see that the paths were open. The eagerness of a few of Hahaki's men spoilt his chance of inflicting punishment on the main body, as his own men sprang out of their hiding-places and struck down the few scouts who were in view. No sooner was the fate of these observed than the alarm was immediately given and the retreat became general, the enemy thinking that, as their intention was known, they must have been betrayed. Hahaki did not care to follow, fearing that the enemy might possibly be in force; so, returning to the pah, he would not allow the enemy's dead to be mutilated or interred, in order that the prophecy he had delivered to Te Raugitukaroa might be literally fulfilled. More than thirty slain and wounded attested the prescience of the famous seer.