Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Ena, or, The Ancient Maori

Chapter XVI. The Forest

page 97

Chapter XVI. The Forest.

"The wind of spring is abroad.
The flowers shake their heads on the green hills.
The woods wave their growing leaves."

On the afternoon of the third day of Atapo's absence from the pah with the men under his command, Ena, with Mary and a few slave girls, left the hill-fort to spend a few hours in the neighbouring forest. Going out by a postern door in an angle of the flanking earthworks and palisading, the girls descended the hill toward a steep ravine that quite encircled the base of the hill on which the pah stood, running out on either hand to the rugged and broken beaches of the sea-shore. To Ena and her girls this was a well-known locality, but to Mary it was new; and as it abounded with botanic novelties it was page 98an agreeable and refreshing change from the parallel fences, quaint roofs, and rude, rough carvings of the pah.

The track leading down into the gully was of loose shingle. The mawhitiwhiti, or grasshopper, was in myriad numbers on the pathway, flying about with the click, click of their short, stout winglets: these restless insects gave a drear harshness to the sterility of the stunted herbage, which is at this season of the year of a wiry texture, and of a greyish green appearance. As the girls approached the bottom of the ravine, the coolness of the immense masses of foliage imparted a stimulating aroma to the warm atmosphere. The sweet smell of the wild flowers, particularly that of the Earina autumnalis, an exquisite epiphyte which scents the air to a great distance; the sweet clematis festooning the tree-shrubs with robes of white bloom; the rata-pika, with her profusion of scarlet plumose tresses, clinging to the loftiest trees;—these, and very many more, were new to Mary, and, as such, were a source of pleasure to her. These simple enjoyments were to Ena more than passing toys wherewith to while away time: they formed a part of the business of her existence. She would sit beneath the shadow of the great trees, and listen to the low winds whispering in the topmost page 99branches. To weave garlands of the beauteous ferns, to gather the many edible berries that hung on the trees and shrubs in their season, were for Ena and her slaves an agreeable and useful employment. The period of childhood was passed in such scenes and occupations; and none may wonder that the forest and its associations were intensely loved by these unsophisticated children of nature.

Ena assiduously endeavoured to instil into Mary's heart a like feeling and affection to that which existed in her own for the natural treasures of the bush; nor did she labour in vain, for, although Mary was brought up in a large city, she had, as many like her have, a keen love for the beautiful objects of the floral world. She now engaged in the study of native botanic nomenclature and pharmacopœia with zealous diligence. She also studied the homely art practised by the natives of distilling the many sweet perfumes contained in the various plants, and also the method of extracting their useful oils.

A small stream of pure water ran through the ravine, the banks of which were clothed with ferns; and these, from the minutely delicate fair-fronded specimen, to the tall tree-fern often rising to a height of forty feet, presented an array unparalleled in any page 100other clime. Bright and soft mosses, curious lichens, liverworts, and fungi of various kinds crept over bank, rock, and tree—a perfect dream of enchantment for a botanist. The queenly Rata threw a deep shade on the ground; the thick and almost impenetrable network of underbush, consisting of vines and parasitic plants of various growth and foliage, gave shelter to the birds; the stately honeysuckle, the light and gracefully-branched Tawa, the black green foliage of the aristocratic Karaka, with its clusters of bright orange berries; the edible drupe of the straggling and procumbent fuchsia; the black masses of shadow, the bright glare of the sunlight, the ceaseless humming of the water, the crisp swirling; of the current when intercepted by stones;—these adjuncts of rural loveliness gave to this favourite haunt of Ena an indescribable charm, which exerted a powerful influence over the mind of the girl. To watch the summer cloud sail past over the rich, warm blue sky that spanned the spaces overhead in as mysterious a manner as its sister wonder, the ocean, does its measureless immensities of matter. On these Ena would dream and ponder, and vainly endeavour to peer into the future. Here, with Te Koturu by her side, many were the hours passed in tender and warmly reciprocated affection.

page 101

A melancholy had settled down on the spirit of Ena since the near approach of the hostile Ngatiraukawa: her gaiety seemed to have almost forsaken her, and she lived, seemingly, for no other purpose than to get rid of the dreaded enemy of her people. She believed, in common with the hapu, or tribe, that Mary's presence was an omen portending good, and she set her abilities to encompass the union of Mary with her brother. She watched her charge closely, day after day, in the hope of detecting any symptom of reciprocating the love of the youth who loved Mary tenderly and truly. Already her quiet bearing had a perceptible influence on the wild, but gracefully mannered chieftain.

Whenever Mary could forget, for even a short time, her loss of home and friends, she felt a warm liking springing up in her bosom toward the dark-skinned youth; indeed, he was formed to inspire a woman's heart with love, and his own was in every respect fitted to nurture the passion in its truest and most lasting phases.

Seated in one of the recesses of a pukatea tree, whose buttressed trunk forms large intervening spaces, the girls were conversing through their interpreter. Ena commenced by telling Mary how happy they all would be when the war between the tribes was ended, page 102as then they could return to their lands by the Taranaki mountain.

"You," said Ena, addressing Mary, "will accompany us; ere the winter comes we will be at liberty to visit our old homes, and, with Raukawa as guide, we will visit caves formed by the deities for the ancient people that inhabited the mountains, and in his canoe we will renew our acquaintance with the pahs along those beautiful shores. Thus will the by-past and its memories return to us, and Raukawa will be happy to convince you how deeply and how fondly he loves you."

Mary had expected this indirect avowal of Raukawa's attachment, nor did it strike her as presumptuous. She was most delicately attended on by Ena; she was completely in the hands of a people whose language she did not understand, of whose customs she was ignorant; yet she knew that her benefactors exerted themselves to the utmost in order to smooth their manner toward her, and endeavoured to make her forget her painful position amongst them; nor is it too much to say that in this last they succeeded in no trifling degree.

To Ena's sisterly solicitude Mary responded with an ingenuousness full of endearing unreservedness, which completely won the heart of the melancholy Ena. Mary told her that she was not, page 103nor indeed could she be, insensible to the attentions of Raukawa, nor could she mistake the motive that prompted them; yet she begged of Ena a little longer delay before an avowal of mutual affection took place between them, pleading the late sudden loss of her father and her lover, also her own inability to speak the language of her associates.

Ena's joy at hearing these confessions and sisterly requests seemed to admit of no bounds. Throwing her finely-moulded arms around Mary's slender form, she strained her in an ecstasy of delight to her bosom, and, with a touch that would scarcely have displaced the feathery plumes from the wing of a butterfly, she pressed her nose against Mary's. The exquisitely cut nostrils fluttered with the intensity of her feelings, and at the same time she uttered a low, fond, plaintive, yet scarcely audible murmur, whilst the profoundly absorbing embrace continued.

The slave girls cast themselves on their faces, and humbly and affectionately caressing Mary's feet, they sobbed aloud for joy; at the same time chanting an avowal of their devotedness to the pakeha maiden, and predicting at the same time that happiness and competence would be hers throughout her life.

But what language can describe the state of Hinema's feelings throughout the entire scene? To page 104be compelled to convey an offer of love from the man whom she herself adored to the woman whom she detested, taxed her powers of dissimulation to the uttermost.

Whilst the group was thus engaged, one of the girls uttered a loud scream of terror and surprise, exclaiming, "The Ngatiraukawa! the Ngatiraukawa!" and running off, followed by her fellow slaves, leaving Ena, Mary, and Hinema behind, they fled up by the pathway toward the pah. On the alarm being given, a party of men sprang out of their lurking-places, which were behind some large fragments of rock overgrown by moss that lay on the bank overhanging the stream. The party, eight in number, had evidently been there for some hours past, and, having overheard the conversation of the girls, they became possessed of the important nature of their errand: that here, almost within their grasp, were the pakeha girl and the old chieftain's daughter. They seized the three girls, and, tying a hand of each together, they led them into the deep labyrinths of the bush.

The party was fully armed, and was prepared to carry off any prey met with in the vicinity of the hill-pah.

Ena's grief was intense, but silent: to the taunts of her captors she deigned no reply. It was unfortunate page 105for her that her late heroic defence of her father's home was well known to her pitiless kidnappers.

To Mary was shown a deference amounting to a superstitious observance of the most trifling circumstance that, accidentally or otherwise, bore any reference to her thoughts, or directed her actions.

The evening was drawing to a close: the trees cast long shadows over the rich brown-coloured ground that is often met with among the large trees of the bush, the ferns were gilt with the golden light of the sun, and the owl began to hoot from his hiding-place in holes in decayed trees, when the party was joined by the traitor Horo, who, after he had placed the ambush, had removed from the scene a little way, so as not to be observed by Ena, in case of the failure of the stratagem. His presence was now scarcely noticed by the Ngatiraukawa tribemen. He immediately joined Hinema, and saw, with ill-concealed surprise and anger, that her hands were tied as well as those of her companions. In vain he requested the leader of the escort to untie her; so he was fain to content himself by walking in sullen mood by her side. When Ena saw Horo, she at once suspected that all was not right; a few glances and some reflection confirmed her suspicions, and bitterly agonizing were her feelings when she partially understood page 106the traitorous means employed to compass this her latest misfortune.

Onward the captors and the captured hurried: they entered the deep and tangled network of undergrowth, where the vestiges of an old but seldom trodden path were barely visible, and with difficulty pursued by the party. The rock cropped up among the thick mantle of ferns that overspread the ground, rendering walking exceedingly wearisome and painful: often the bed of a stream had to be followed for a time in order to avoid overhanging cliffs or huge loosely-piled cairns of rock, or an occasional talus that, having left its place on the face of a precipice, had carried down with it in its flight acres of forest trees with their roots deeply embedded in the yellow soil forming one of those diminutive plateaux so often met with at the bases of the hills. After a toilsome scramble through the forest, the party came to a densely timbered ravine, from which the twilight was almost excluded by thick foliage; but, the moon being at the full, her light illumined the solitudes of the leafy wildernesses, which were passed through by the captives in silence and sorrow. The uncertain light gave every object a weirdish character; the lights were so fine, yet so vaguely defined, and the shadows were so impenetrably black and so mysteriously deep, that page 107the entire party evinced signs of latent terror and ill-concealed anxiety. When the outlet of the ravine was reached, the ocean burst upon their sight: far off on the moaning wastes of water lay the quiet moon-shadows, the abode of elf-beings who have existence in the imagination of the native. Ere reaching the beaches, great tussocks of the cyperus and the toi-toi grasses must be struggled through; these, growing in swampy grounds, are at all times difficult to pass. The forest trees sighed like things of life on the hill fronts in rear of the travellers; the ocean was in still quietude before them; a creeping wind was piping among the tall blades of the swamp grasses, the wekas were plaining among the scrub;—the scene harmonized the feelings to love and pity. The Ngatiraukawa warriors hurried onwards their feeble prisoners; and, as the evening gave place to the night, the superstitions observed from childhood, and their concomitant terrors, vague but not the less real, now oppressed every bosom. When they were emerging from the swamp, and had gained the sandy beach with its irregular band of sand-dunes, the atmosphere suddenly became perceptibly condensed. The murmurings of nature, so plainly observable an instant before, ceased as if by magic; and the travellers involuntarily halted. From afar off, beyond the hoary ranges, be-page 108yond the land, beyond the ocean, beyond the sky, beyond the bounds and limits of space, from remotest depths of illimitable universes came a sound. It fell upon the paralyzed senses of the listeners—a deep, a hollow, an awful sound indeed; a rumbling as if the myriads of human feet that have ever trod the globe from its birth to the present moment were all set in motion, and were marching in time, at the command of the Eons of eternity, to the mystic anthems of the spheres. The cadences of this impressive thunder-chorus lapsed into a silence that might be felt: this was instantly succeeded by a gentle tremor of the solid earth beneath the feet of the night travellers, who, casting themselves on their faces upon the sand, remained in speechless terror, whilst tremor succeeded tremor. The forest trees were heard to crash against each other on the hills. The ocean was agitated in an uncommon manner; the waves rolled up on the land beyond the centuried footprints of their ceaseless wanderings. In slow heavings the waters advanced and receded; their motion was singularly majestic, sublimely terrible in their disturbance: no sound proceeded from the deep, which ebbed and flowed without effort, without noise. At times a shock rolled onwards beneath the ground; again the earth would heave as if its crust were about to part page 109asunder and burst into cyclopean fragments; and again a slight local trembling was perceptible. Jets of white steam issued from the ground through rents in the parting rock, accompanied by a smell like that of burning sulphur, which hung in suffocating vapours near the surface of the ground. The warriors breathed thick and hard, while the captives bore the terror with the fortitude that ever springs from despair. A soft wind sprang up, and, caressing the bosom of the landscape, swept away the noxious vapours, replacing a scarcely respirable state of the atmosphere by one sweet and exhilarating; the earthquake was over, as Ruamoko, the demon of the disturbance, reluctantly retired to his cavernous domains.

The escort and its charge resumed their journey. A thick bank of cloud overcast the western heavens; the sighings of a distant wind on the fields of earth's atmosphere became audible at long intervals. The warriors looked at each other in silence. The tops of the tauhena scrub glowed with a phosphoric light The clouds slowly travelled up toward the zenith, and enveloped the moon; the piping winds assumed an unearthly similitude to the human voice, and fell in weird strains on the startled ears of the travellers, who thought of the freakish nature of the patupa-harihe, or hill-fairies.

page 110

The sounds of the approach of the rising tempest became more distinct, and the pauses between its echoes shorter; nearer the tempest came, muttering like an imprisoned demon. Hoarse winds clambered up the aerial walls of the sky; over the ocean, over the land, stalked the dreaded powers of air; a few large and heavy drops of rain fell as the vapour curtain completely obscured the radiance of the moon. Thick darkness enshrouded everything in its mourning robes, the rain fell heavily and fast; sheeted lightning flitted past vast abysses in the cloudscape, lighting up for an instant evanescent panoramic views of cloud-seas, oceans, rivers, and continents with a grandeur and sublimity beyond the reach of word-painting.

Many long sandy beaches were yet to be traversed, many a sand-dune toiled over, many a treacherous swamp must be passed ere the war-pah of the Ngatiraukawa can be reached; yet on through the pouring rain-torrent, bearing up as best they may under the high wind that swept in pitiless mastery over the desert wastes of night, on they went, until Mary fainted from exhaustion. The grief of Ena was loud and piteous; clasping her to her bosom, she called on her to return to life, nor leave her thus a prey to despair in her slavery. The flax withes were now re-page 111moved from the hands of the captives, leaving Ena and Hinema at liberty to attend to Mary: a little water having been procured, they sprinkled her face, bathed her brow and her hands; and Ena was overjoyed to find Mary return to consciousness, but remaining so weak as not to be able to walk. The escort in turn carried her in their arms, and so they plodded onwards under the storm of wind and rain until the day broke, the rain still heavily falling as they arrived at the pah, completely worn out with the fatigue of the preceding night.