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Ena, or, The Ancient Maori

Chapter XIV. Atapo's Defeat

page 83

Chapter XIV. Atapo's Defeat.

"Pale, silent, low on bloody beds,
Are they who were my friends."

From the summit of a peak whereon Atapo stood the view was magnificent in the extreme, and this circumstance had a powerful effect upon the mind of the uncivilized warrior, who, although of a harsh and suspicious nature, was not wholly devoid of generous feelings.

The ocean's pale blue line faded into a hazy indistinctness on the arch of the morning sky, as far in a southerly direction the waters bounded many a picturesque brown hill, many a cold-fronted cliff, and many rolling downs, where the fern afforded covert to the brown weka, that now cackled to its fellows as the day broke. Atapo heard the hollow murmur of page 84the deep roll over the land; its mysterious voices sank into his heart and awoke old memories, and called into action present forebodings, mingled with depressing omens for the future. Turning his look northward in the direction of his native home, he scanned the face of the country with a scrutinizing gaze; but disappointed, by thick clouds hanging in white masses over the tops of the distant sierras, he, with a bitterly mournful sigh, looked right in front of his position on the ranges. He did not look long, as almost immediately that his attention was given toward the direction whence the war-songs of the preceding night had emanated, there emerged a small party of natives from a patch of manuka scrub not more than one hundred paces distant. Slowly and with caution these men approached the entrance to the pass, almost counting their steps, and taking careful note of the appearance of the surrounding locality, guarding against a sudden surprise, they stealthily crept onward in single file and at several paces distant from each other. Atapo was equal to the occasion, and had divided his forces; fifty men on one side of the defile under his own command, and the remaining thirty he placed under the command of his brother Tana, and stationed them on the opposite cliffs of the defile. The men were completely hidden behind the project-page 85ing masses of rock, and were in readiness to act at a signal from their leaders.

By this time the sun had risen, and floods of light and warmth were flowing fast and invigoratingly over the scene. The advancing party had entered the pass, and, thinking that no ambuscade was near, the whole body, numbering twenty men, had incautiously hurried into the intricacies of the tortuous path. Waiting a few moments, Atapo saw that the main body of the contingent, numbering about one hundred men, was coming up the slope of the ranges, and following in the track of the advanced guard. He could now discern some chiefs of celebrity in the front rank as they marched onwards. As the enemy proceeded in single file, it would be difficult to inflict serious punishment on him whilst in the defile, so Atapo had recourse to a stratagem, which was to cut off the return of the advanced guard, and also to preclude all chances of giving the alarm of danger too soon. He despatched twenty men under a chosen warrior, with orders to make short work of those who were below them in the labyrinths of the path. These orders were carried out to the letter, and no sooner did the agonizing cries of the astonished foemen rise clear and shrill on the morning air, as they found themselves doomed to annihilation, than their com page 86rades yelled a responsive and assuring war-whoop that help and vengeance were near. Simultaneously, the dark line moved up in admirable order, until the entire troop were four abreast, and so flew on to the relief of their comrades in peril. This was Atapo's moment for action. Hurling a stone high in air as a signal to begin the attack, large angular fragments of rock and polygonal boulders were heaved down from either side of the defile upon the dark body of the still orderly, but ferocious enemy beneath. Shouts and screams, cries and shrieks, orders and imprecations, rose in wild tumultuousness above the din and the dust. The wail of battle was distinctly audible between the strange hurrying sounds of falling rocks, crashing stones, and the heavy thuds of the splintering masses of rock, as they embedded themselves and their victims in the sterile bosom of the blood-stained mountain defile. The entire annihilation of the Waikatos seemed inevitable. To go on was death; to retreat was equally fatal; resistance was impracticable. To stand still and be slaughtered was the terrible alternative. Confusion spread amongst the mass of human beings that struggled and swayed to and fro in the arena of death below the relentless Mauopoko: the weak were trodden under foot by the strong; the panic was complete. Emboldened beyond page 87the most sanguine hope, Atapo concentrated his men on the front of his helpless enemy, where the principal men and the chieftains were, thus leaving the rear of his foe comparatively free to act. A youthful warrior, named Te Ori, brought up the rearguard of the Waikatos. When the opportunity offered, the young Waikato chief drew off as many men as he could without exciting the notice of the Mauopoko, and so succeeded in retracing his steps, and gained the entrance by which they passed into the defile. Bounding up the hill-side, and followed by his small party, they became in a few seconds the infuriate retaliators on the almost victorious Atapo. The sudden change in the fortunes of the day paralyzed the Mauopoko. Atapo thought that he was betrayed by some of his own people; and as a whale under the harpoon of the fisher plunges madly down into the depths of ocean, into caverns beyond the reach of the pigmy inhabitants of the water, so Atapo, with fell swoop and fierce war-cries, followed by a few warriors, dashed down the cliffs, and sought to glut their blind rage in the blood of the enemy ere they crossed over in their attempt to join Tana on the opposite cliffs. As only a few followed Atapo, his remaining men were virtually left without a leader, and from being the victors, they became the van-page 88quished. Te Ori now hurled the rocky missiles with the steadiness of a courage on which everything depended. Making a perceptible impression on the fainting followers of Atapo, these last turned to fly from the scene of their bloody momentary successes; but these gave place to a defeat decisive and overwhelming. Wearied with their exertions, and having the steep face of the cliff to climb, the Mauopoko became an easy prey to the handful of warriors above them. These, by order of the young chief, reserved their strength; no stone was launched until its mark was sure. By these precautions, death came on certain wing to shroud the spirit in its flight from earth. The reassuring cries of the victors inspired the pent-up Waikatos with indomitable courage, and gave the Mauopoko on the opposite crags the warning to seek safety in flight. Nor was the determination taken too soon, nor the suggestion delayed a moment too long, for, with a hoarse cry burdened with revengeful cadences, the Waikatos rushed back by the way they entered, and, turning to the right, furiously ascended the hill in pursuit of the retreating Mauopoko, who, from their knowledge of the country, soon left behind their baffled pursuers. These, on returning to the scene of their disaster, were joined by their victorious companions under Te Ori, who page 89pointed with savage pride and exultation to the mangled remains that lay scattered in the silent wildernesses around. To inter their own dead, numbering over fifty men, and to strip the bodies of the fallen enemy of arms and scalps, were the busy employments of the Waikato. These done, the order of march was resumed. Atapo, and four only of his hasty followers, were spared their lives, and were compelled to act as guides. These five men were all that remained alive of the fifty who were but a few hours before under his own immediate command. It was with extreme difficulty that the chieftains restrained their men from tearing Atapo and his comrades into pieces. The captives were securely lashed with green flax withers arm to arm with a stalwart Waikato, and were compelled, on pain of death, to act as guides through the forest until they reached the pah of the Ngatiraukawa.