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Ena, or, The Ancient Maori

Chapter XXIV. Hahaki in Danger

page 162

Chapter XXIV. Hahaki in Danger.

"Silence darkened every face.
Each turned his back and wept."

Morning had broke, its light and beauty was on the hills as the captured Te Ori and his followers entered the hill fortress of Wairauki under their guard; the scene then enacted was wild in the extreme. Joy savagely intense impelled the actors and the spectators in this prelude to blood and agony; they were eagerly and impatiently champing the bit of ferocity, and were scarcely to be restrained by the orders given to the chieftain who had the captives in charge. This chief deposited the men in a place of treble security, under the care of Mahora, and returned to the camp before the swamp pah, whither we must now accompany them.

page 163

The dawn of the same morning saw Raukawa return to his war-huts. His sorrow was unbounded and his dejection profound when he experienced the want of the counsels of the aged priest. Raukawa could not doubt but that the tohunga was numbered with the dead, and that his sacred body was in the hands of the enemy, to be desecrated, defiled, and held up to the scorn and taunting derision of the common people. Thus grieving, he asked Te Kotum if it were advisable to return to the pah and endeavour to recover the body of the priest by force; but his friend would not hear of the proposal: in the present state of their affairs the enterprise would not, he foresaw, be attended with success, as the men were still smarting from their late repulse, and were, moreover, apprehensive of impending danger, as all knew that Hahaki had fallen, and that in him their cause had lost its best bulwark.

The tohunga lay all this time in the flax, its tall green blades affording an inhospitable shelter to the poor old creature, who, in extreme suffering, feebly tried to extract a few drops of the sweet gum that exudes from the base of the flax leaves: he thus succeeded in obtaining a scant supply of nourishment, and with a little brown mould moistened with water he contrived to soothe the agonies he suffered in his wounded head and scalpless skull. Fearing page 164that his hiding-place might be observed from the pah, his motions were slow and gliding as those of the lizard. Several times throughout that long and weary day the wretched tohunga swooned; these temporary releases from his misery were the only alleviations he experienced, for hope had almost deserted his bosom, as the morning gave place to noon, and as evening, followed by night, still found him lying in pain and feebleness on his uneven and blood-stained couch. Mustering his remaining strength, and making a determined though feeble effort to escape, the tohunga crept on his hands and knees away from his hiding-place: the sentries were on their beat, he could catch the sound of their footfall as they slowly paced their limited marching ground: the moon shone as he crawled through the morass, occasional clouds obscured her light and impeded the slow progress of the poor priest through the intricacies of the flax bushes. Resting often, and for a considerable length of time at each halt, the progress he made was necessarily insignificant, yet he contrived to get away from close proximity to the pah; and even that was a relief, as his movements were no longer in danger of being overlooked, and his resting-place might possibly afford a little more ease and comfort. The remainder of the short night passed, and the next day saw the old man page 165creeping onwards at times when his strength would permit; but faintness and pain compelled him to rest often and long. So he passed the following night, and at dawn of the next morning he crept out to the border of the morass.

Raukawa was walking alone on the edge of the swamp, and silently mourning the fate of Hahaki. Scarcely believing his vision, the young chief saw an object emerge from the flax; pausing, and intently watching his movements, he saw that it was a man crawling onwards, sometimes on hands and knees, and often dragging himself forward on his belly: on his head was a rude covering of brown clay, and his only garment was a coarse, short mat. Advancing toward the strange being, Raukawa asked whence he came: at the sound of the young man's voice, the aged priest sat upright on his haunches, and raising his withered and trembling fingers, motioned to his head: at the same time uttering, in a voice weak and tremulous, the name "Hahaki." The chief stooped down to the sufferer and pressed his nose, at the same time shedding tears of sorrow and joy, as he recognized in the mutilated and decrepit man his father's, his own, and his people's tried and faithful councillor. Summoning to his aid a few who were within call, he bade them take up Hahaki in their arms, page 166and he was thus carefully borne to a place of shelter, where the utmost attention and kindness was bestowed on him. Raukawa had been particularly careful not to allow any to convey to Mahora the distressing intelligence of her husband's supposed death; but now that he was alive and in the camp, a messenger was hastily despatched to Wairauki with instructions to relate to Mahora exactly how matters were, and to ask her to come to nurse the old man in his affliction. The courier sent was brother to Atapo, a man of tact and cunning, and a brave warrior: he was charged to take the command of the fortress, and keep it until the return of Raukawa.

Mahora arrived at the camp on the same evening, and entered on her task of affection with a meekness that was at seeming variance with her character, as generally believed in by the tribe.

For several days the life of the priest hung by the frailest cord, liable to snap at any instant: Mahora's watch, was unceasing, and her attention never wearied.

Throughout this time inaction was observable in every part of the encampment, and to procure supplies of food and its preparation was the only business attended to; but when night fell, the camp was astir, sentinels were doubled all along the edge of the morass, and the chieftains scarcely rested; for the warriors page 167slept during the day, and spent the night in wakeful apprehensions of danger.

At length the tohunga gave signs of returning strength, and asked to see Raukawa, with others of the chieftains. When they were gathered before him, the priest sat up on his humble couch, and patriarch-like exhorted them to be watchful, and to trust in their own good cause, adding that very soon he would be able to advise as to the best course to take in order to recover the captives, and to drive out the invaders. After a short time the tohunga was able to leave his bed, and totter about amongst the men: on his head he wore a cap ingeniously made of the tail and wing feathers of the tui, and thus hid the terrible deformity he had so lately suffered. He now presided at the war-councils of the camp, but was at a loss how to advise or how to act For the dilemma was no common one—the issues were life or death to all of them.

One evening, at this crisis in the affairs of the belligerents, while their principal men were sitting in a group round the tohunga, a few warriors approached, bringing with them a prisoner whom they delivered to the chieftain Raukawa. The young warrior immediately recognized the captive's countenance; but, lowering his eyes, he seemed not to page 168notice the presence of the man who cowered before him. Raukawa motioned to Hahaki, who slowly bent upon the man a searching look, at the same time asking him his name, and to what people he belonged: all eyes were now upon the prisoner, who stood erect, having his arms firmly pinioned behind his back, his gaze fixed, his features composed, his air and manner resigned: to the queries of Hahaki the prisoner laconically gave the required information, adding that he came to voluntarily cast himself upon the mercy of his own people, that he had been deceived by Hinema, and treated as a dog by Waiki, the commander of the swamp pah, and, in the desperation of remorse, had thrown his life into the hands of his own people.

"Where," asked Hahaki," are the prisoners, Ena, Atapo, and their companions?"

"They are not in yonder pah," answered the man.

"Are they alive? or have the dogs dared to cook for food the unfortunate beings whom treachery has given to their custody?" asked the priest.

"More than seven days since," said the captive, "they were all sent, under a strong guard, far back into the country, away to Te Tukino, a chief of Taupo."

At this intelligence there arose from the hitherto page 169silent, statue-like group a bitter cry of anguish; when this was spent, the warriors gnashed their teeth in the excruciating struggle to stifle their savage passions.

"Enough," said the tohunga; "die, traitor, die as you deserve! The birds of the air shall feast on your heart; you are no longer worthy of life."

Raukawa rose, and calling aloud to a tall, powerful slave, who stood near, he placed in the hands of the degraded creature a spear, ordering him to kill the prisoner. None of the chieftains moved; all eyes, save those of the executioner and his victim, were cast toward the ground; and thus the wretched Hori met his fate with a bravery worthy of a better cause.