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Ena, or, The Ancient Maori

Chapter XXVII. The Storm

page 185

Chapter XXVII. The Storm.

"Why do ye rustic on your dark wings,
Ye whistling storms of the sky?"

The hardy islanders were put to their utmost skill in the management of their vessels: the large war-canoe of the native was at best but frail, yet when properly handled it sat upon the water like a bird; and few were more daring on the sea, none more expert at the paddle, than Te Koturu. The canoes soon parted company, the darkness of the night increased, the sea was marked with phosphoric ridges, the crests of the rising waves gleamed with a greenish white tint. As the long canoes propelled by the stalwart arms of the paddlemen lay on the tops of the wave ridges, which offered no hold in the intervening furrows but the treacherous air, more deceptive and infinitely more page 186dangerous than the tossing abysses of the sea itself, thus increasing the danger of upsetting to a fearful degree of certainty, the wind was dead against their onward progress, and the roaring of the tempest prevented the orders of Te Koturu from being heard save by those who were in his own canoe: the single mast with its lateen sail was with danger and difficulty taken down and deposited in the bottom of the vessel: to keep its prow to the wind was the only chance of the mariners to escape with their lives, for they well knew that onward progress was impossible; so, determining like brave men to meet the worst, they patiently toiled to keep their canoe fair to the wind, and drift wherever they might. The tempest increased in fury; the sheeted lightning flew round the horizon, lighting up for an instant the terrors of the troubled deep, and revealing to the courageous islanders the magnitude of the dangers that surrounded them: many a quailing warrior thought of the angry Tauhirimatea, the storm-god, and mentally besought that terrible deity to pity those who were in his power, and experiencing the weight of his wrath. An occasional glimpse showed the weary stragglers that their canoes were still living, but widely separated from each other. As the short night wore away, the early dawn slowly lit up the clouded east; the winds page 187were still blowing in dreadful force and fury; but at intervals the islanders could catch glimpses of land to the leeward, and toward it they resolved to persevere, but with extreme caution and care. It was whilst endeavouring to effect this purpose that one of the five canoes, in the eager struggle to escape from the dangers that beset it, made the attempt of turning the prow to the shore, and when in the act, a wave overwhelmed her and she sank for a few seconds: when she rose again to the surface she was bottom upwards, a few of the unfortunate warriors still clunging to her; but the rest were rolled away in the embraces of the angry element, and consigned to premature graves among the barren rocks that stretched out their stony bosoms to receive the mangled remains. One by one, the poor fellows, who clung to their capsized canoe, were seen to relax their hold and disappear, without any possibility of their comrades rendering the least assistance. Four canoes still kept their courses widely apart, but with the same steady adherence to front the tempest and take their chance of the shore to the leeward. Unceasingly they paddled in order to keep out in the open sea as long as possible; for they could plainly discern that the land was exceedingly rugged, and, if driven upon it, death must be their doom. The page 188wholesome fear of being driven upon an inhospitable coast had, during the darkness, nerved the warriors to exert themselves to the utmost in plying their paddles: if they had not done so, they must have been lost; and since the morning revealed to them the outlines of the land, they knew that Titai Bay was near, and, moreover, it was owned by a tribe with whom they were on friendly terms. Steadily they guided the vessels before the wind, and nearing the shore at every stroke, they at last made a slight shelter from some headlands that ran out seaward; and the warriors in the different canoes made an attempt to turn their vessels' heads to the shore, and finally succeeded. The danger was now almost past, the task to fly before the wind and at a rate almost as swift as that of the tempest was an easy one, as the frail vessels ran their richly-carved prows, carrying their living freight, far up on the yellow sands that fringe the picturesque Titai Bay.