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Ena, or, The Ancient Maori

Chapter II. The Shipwreck

page 7

Chapter II. The Shipwreck.

"The sea darkly tumbled beneath the blast
The roaring waves climbed against the rocks.
The lightning came often and showed the blasted fern."

The third morning of a storm long memorable had dawned with unaltered signs of its continuing for at least another day: the wind still blew a heavy gale, making a very plaything of the sea, ploughing the water into furrows of tremendous depth, and mantling the summits of the dark green ridges with a crisp white foam: the thundering billows lashed each other with a magnificent action, which once seen is never forgotten.

On the summit of steep piled crags and frowning precipices stood, many years ago, a Maori war-pah; its site overlooked the sea, and toward the land its defences presented a series of earthworks and palisades constructed with skill, and evincing military tactics of page 8a high order: on either hand, deep ravines cut off from the adjacent ridge all communication with the pah; thus isolated, the inmates felt no common degree of security and safety from surprise, or attack, by their hostile neighbours. Primitive forest clothed the landscape toward every point, and on the morning on which our tale opens many of the trees crashed and broke beneath the might of the gale: no signs of forest life were visible; occasional glimpses of an island lying to the north-west of the pah could be seen as the sunbeams struggled through fissures in the dark brown clouds: below, upon the white beach, the war-canoes of the pah were dragged above high-water line, so as to secure them from the fury of the waves.

As the morning wore on, eager and observant glances were cast on the awful scene from the low-built whari doors of the pah. From a commanding position above the sea, a wide sweep of the horizon came under the ken of the sentinel who, posted on a stage which was above the palisades, there kept his constant watch: the varying phases of the seascape engrossed his attention:—well he knew that seaward no danger threatened from mortal foe; but superstitions vague and terrifying were ever presenting complex disasters to his fancy: at times he thought page 9he saw a war-canoe far out at sea, riding on the billows; but it would disappear. Closely and patiently he watched; again he thought that he saw it more clearly than before, but, owing to the tumultuous state of the elements, long intervals of time elapsed ere he could identify the strange appearance with the form of any vessel with which he was acquainted. After a considerable length of time, the object hove in sight; immediately the sentinel gave warning to the inhabitants of the pah that a strange vessel was approaching. Terrified at the intelligence, dusky warriors, spear in hand and clad in mats, swarmed to the palisades that overhung the sea; women, whose glossy black hair fell in folds on their shoulders, ran up to the front to look out for the much dreaded invaders, followed by strings of clamorous children: the unexpected alarm caused the warriors to omit all order, so carefully attended to on other and similar occasions.

As the sun approached the meridian the gale increased in strength, thunder pealed along the sky and re-echoed among the gulleys around; the lightning flashed with awe-inspiring rapidity, momentarily depriving the warriors of the power of sight, and increasing their terror of the supernatural: the pah palisades were lined with human faces all intent on the spectacle that was spread below. A long, narrow page 10reef of black rock ran out seaward for a mile and a half at right angles with the pah's sea-front, and at a like distance from the reef could be seen what once was a large and stately full-rigged ship, helplessly driven before the unpitying gale: she was dismasted and under no control; thus she drifted and plunged in a direct line for the outer edge of the reef; enveloped in spray, or, buried for an instant in the trough of the sea, the hull would occasionally be lost to view: over the black reef the surging waves crashed terribly, white foam in an unbroken wall thundered along its whole length; the fated ship was seen for a few moments carried with electric speed on the crest of a wave toward the stubborn rock; a dense bank of cloud and scud drove over the space between the pah and the reef, the spectators losing sight of the vessel; in a few moments the obstruction passed, but no ship was to be seen—an involuntary shriek of mingled joy and terror rang out from the people; none moved from the point of observation, while in painful suspense every breast throbbed, every eye was strained towards the reef, all fearing that the great canoe would emerge from the water between the reef and the shore, and again imperil their fancied security; but no ship appeared. The gale had now abated a little, the wind blew with pauses between its flight: page 11these increased in duration as the gale moderated; still the eager on-lookers from the hill-fort kept their position. An object was now distinctly seen on the water, borne towards the beach by the partly favourable wind; waiting till the exact nature of the visitant was clearly discernible from the pah, a party hastily descended the cliff to the sea-shore: arrived there, with astonishment they saw the bodies of two human beings, a man and a woman, lashed to a beam of timber, which floated towards the place whereon they stood; to wade out a short distance, seize the boom and guide it to shore, to undo the lashing which confined the bodies to the buoyant timber, and to carry them up to the pah, was the humane task of the Maori warriors: to the native women was confided the task of resuscitation, and for this purpose the bodies were taken into a hut, where, laying them on mats before the fire, the women chafed the cold limbs of the unfortunates; wood smoke was also tried with the intention of inflating the lungs, or of titillating the nose in order to cause the apparently drowned to sneeze: with the woman their efforts were successful, she slowly regained consciousness; but her companion's spirit had fled for ever.

Eighteen summers had passed over the once joyous maiden, Mary Morven, who now, sheltered in a native page 12war-pah in New Zealand and surrounded by gentle native girls and aged women, came to a sad comprehension of her present state and her late disasters. Kindly hands offered her food, the best their simple stores contained; and she, to please her benefactors, tasted the various viands with a cheerfulness that at once won her the sympathy of her newly-found friends. One by one the elder women left the hut; these were followed by the young, until three girls only remained with Mary, who was allowed to rest in undisturbed silence: as she reclined on the matting that covered the floor of the hut, her recent escape and consequent exhaustion weighed down her spirits, and she sank into a deep and quiet sleep. One of the three girls that remained in the whare was a half-caste named Hinema, daughter to a whaler by a native woman: this girl was of the same age with Mary, and as she possessed some knowledge of English, she was on that account selected for the office of attending on Mary, and to interpret between her and the natives.

By this time the gale had died away, and a drizzling rain began to fall; while from the opposite point of the compass a light wind sprang up, which, blowing off the land, carried out to sea whatever portions of the wreck might have been floating toward the shore.