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Ena, or, The Ancient Maori

Chapter XXV. The Retreat

page 170

Chapter XXV. The Retreat.

"When the tumult of battle is past,
The soul in silence melts away for the dead."

On the night of the same day as that on which the ill-fated Hori met his death, the tohunga and the chieftains held a war-council, at which it was agreed to return home without further delay. The order to retreat to Wairauki was conveyed to the tribemen; and as their sentries were in view of the enemy's pah. when morning came and their absence might be observed, involving risk of chase, resort was had to the stratagem of dressing up a few posts with flax mats, so as to resemble the figure of a man; and this, for a short time, succeeded in deceiving the foe.

The Mauopokos, breaking up their encampment, crept quietly away among the sand-dunes in small companies, until, arriving at a tall rock that stood page 171among the heaps, they waited in its shade to form compact order, and then marched hurriedly along the beaches toward their home.

The morning revealed to the Ngatiraukawa the deception that had been practised on them: despatching a band of men to reconnoitre the camp, these found it deserted, nothing living being left behind; but in the centre of the position they saw the body of Hori, with the fatal spear transfixing the victim to the ground: they dug a grave in the sand and laid the remains in it, then setting fire to the raupo whares, the smoke of the conflagration rolled upward in dense columns, which were seen by the retreating tribe, as they looked back in fear lest they should be pursued and overtaken whilst unprepared. To give chase was the order of Waiki: with enthusiastic alacrity, and burning with a desire to avenge themselves on their enemies for the losses which they had sustained, the Ngatiraukawas and their allies poured out of their pah.

Three hours passed since the Mauopokos had retreated, and, as they marched at a quick pace, a considerable distance lay between them and their pursuers: however, the latter pushed on with vigour, heightened by anger, and inflamed with the cruel thirst of revenge; running almost as fast as they page 172could, the entire force pressed madly on. The pursued soon discovered that they were the object of pursuit, and were, moreover, in extreme danger of being overtaken. Raukawa wished to halt and prepare for battle; but Hahaki would not agree: "Are you mad?" asked the old man, "to lose time, when by hurrying onwards we can easily gain our pah, and there, if the enemy dares, we may safely bid him defiance: speak no more of stopping, run with all your might; there is not a moment to be lost." Nor were the priest's words without foundation: nearer every instant the pursuers came, so that easily their advancing rate might be measured, as they slowly, but surely, gained ground on the hunted Mauopoko. Four of the strongest men were ordered by Raukawa to take up the feeble old priest and bear him in a litter upon their shoulders, he being the weakest person in their ranks: their wounded were already so conveyed, and these latter, impeding their progress, were left in the rear in charge of a strong guard that impatiently hurried on the litter-bearers. Raukawa walked by those who carried Hahaki, and occasionally took part in bearing the precious weight. On they pressed in silence, not a word was spoken save in low whispers; the fall of so many flax-moccassined feet resounded with muffled noise page 173from the sandy beaches and shell-beds with a strange murmuring note. Never hesitating, never choosing whereon to place the foot, the retreating tana thundered onward: the rear-guard had much difficulty in goading on the litter-bearers, and these saw with increasing anxiety that they were gradually falling behind in the race. Two hours were thus passed in an exciting contest of speed: in another hour the enemy must come up, but in that time the fort might be gained: with failing strength, with increasing fears, the Mauopokos saw that the enemy were gaining upon them at every step. Relay after relay of litter-bearers bore their living burdens onward, while the women took part in the toil: the baskets containing provisions were cast aside, everything that could encumber the bearer or the wearer was left behind: fear was in every heart, and, as the pursuers came nearer, terror was plainly visible on every countenance. The struggle to escape now became a panic; the tribemen broke through all control, and many threw away their arms: the chiefs saw that to attempt restraining the men was useless; and the scene, but lately one of comparative order, was now one of wild dismay and confusion. With ever-increasing difficulty, Raukawa held together a band of bearers for Hahaki's safety; and now the page 174shouts of the pursuers were plainly distinguishable as they gained on the runaways. The base of the range on which the fortress stood was at last very near: a few of the fleetest runners of the Mauopokos are already clambering up the steep paths in the face of the cliffs; the greater number of their fellows are also toiling upwards, leaving their feeble and less swift comrade some distance in the rear; while, still farther behind, their wounded men, with their failing bearers, still struggled onwards: but the warriors composing the rear-guard were no longer to be seen there, as they had long since deserted their post, and, abandoning their charge, mingled with the panic-stricken crowd.

The occupants of Wairauki were not idle spectators of the contest that was taking place in their sight. Early in the morning, the chase had been descried by the dwellers in the hill-fort; and as time wore on, the exact nature of the proceedings came to be plainly understood. Every preparation was made; Te Moana, who had command of the pah during the absence of Raukawa, ordered a band of thirty men to descend the cliffs and post themselves on a rugged ridge that overhung the principal path leading up to the fort; and from their position on the torn summit they were to hurl down on the page 175daring enemy fragments of rock, and so keep them at bay, whilst their wearied friends would have time to gain a secure footing on the faces of the cliff.

By this time the Ngatiraukawas were on the prey; the wounded of the Mauopokos fell into their hands, for the men who bore the litters had every one of them deserted their charge, leaving their unfortunates to the care of the women, and even of these latter none remained behind, excepting those who were wives, sisters, or daughters to the wounded. Whilst there was hope remaining to them of escaping, these heroines exhorted each other to persevere, and even encouraged the few brave fellows who would have stood by the litters to run and gain the fortress in order to save their homes and their little ones from the fury of the enemy. With a cry of terror and piercing agony the women laid down their burdens, and, casting themselves upon the helpless objects of their love and devotion, vainly endeavoured to hide them from the eyes of the foe. Ruthlessly tearing the women aside, the pursuers, with a murderous tap of the heavy meri, settled the terrible fluctuations between life and death for ever: all occupants of the litters were killed, and the heroic bearers and defenders were made slaves.

While this scene in the blood-tragedy was enact-page 176ing, the main body of the pursuers rushed on, and overtaking a few of the stragglers and weakly ones, disposed of them likewise; but those bodies were set aside for the revolting and disgusting use of food: pressing onwards, they must have struck down many, very many more of the Mauopokos but for the timely precaution taken by Te Moana. His picked band on the rocks quietly watched and waited until a considerable number of the foremost of the enemy were well beneath them; then lifting by means of levers huge masses of rock, they hurled the ponderous fragments down the rugged declivity, sending consternation and death into the ranks of the warriors below. Turning round, the pursuers retraced their blood-strewn steps, but bringing with them their wounded and fallen comrades: halting out of reach of the missiles of rock, they deliberated on what was next to be done.

The Mauopokos entered their pah with weary limbs and sinking hearts; Raukawa and the chieftains felt the indignities of their defeat and losses with keen remorse: Te Koturu shared the general sorrow, and all looked forward to the future with sore forebodings of evil. Hahaki alone seemed unmoved by their misfortunes, but his heart sank within him as he saw, from the pah, the fate of his tribe; the wounded page 177coldly butchered, the women made prisoners, and the remnant of his people only saved by the miserable, but sole alternative between life and death left, a cowardly and ill-omened flight.