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Ena, or, The Ancient Maori

Chapter XXX. Return to Kapiti

page 209

Chapter XXX. Return to Kapiti.

"Who comes so dark from ocean's roar,
Like autumn's shadowy cloud?
Death is trembling in his hand!"

The sun of that eventful day was sinking in the west as the islanders approached the southern cliffs of their isolated home; nor was their coming unnoticed: crowds of young and old, men, women, and children, were there to welcome them, on crag, cliff, pinnacle, scaur, and knoll that overlooked the entrance to their rock-guarded landing-place the people stood with garlands of green leaves and ferns on their heads, and holding green boughs in their hands which they waved in slow time, calling aloud on the returning warriors to hasten with the tidings of the dreaded invaders. The spectacle presented by the moving masses of green boughs, the rising and falling of the page 210hands and arms of the assemblage, was unusually impressive; but when the truth was made known to them by their surviving and returned friends, the loud, sharp cries of disappointment, intermingled with pain and anguish of spirit, rang loud and woefully over the re-echoing shores, startling the sea-fowl as they were settling themselves on their brown rock shelves and roosting-places for the night, scaring them to take wing and add to the agony of the scene by a series of rapid gyrations and piercing screams of distress uttered in their helplessness to obtain their customary quiet and repose.

Moodily the young chieftain answered the questions of his importunate tribemen: from comparative happiness and security, the peaceful island hapus were plunged into the vortex of grief and bereavement, almost without a single ray of hope or of kindly assurance. The irreparable loss of nearly one-half of the number of men who had left their homes so short a time before, to which must be added the accounts of the butcheries and the bloodthirstiness of the enemy, left but little chance of happiness in the future for them, and completely darkened their recent sanguine speculations. During the night the wailings were intense and the grief was unabated. Te Koturu, depressed by the weight of page 211his misfortunes, resolved to return to Wairauki, and there die with his friend Raukawa, or, taking the uncertainties of war into calculation, hoped they might yet drive away the intruders, and so leave himself and friend free to follow the captives to Taupo. The night was almost passed when he made known his resolve to the remnant of his tribemen: desiring them to listen calmly, he told them he would return alone to the mainland, and leave them in charge to a member of his own family. To this many were averse, some applauded, and many volunteered to accompany him; but, selecting four men only, with this small band he bade a tearful farewell to the scenes of his youth—scenes of the only happy days the youthful warrior was fated to experience in his sad and too early acquaintance with the horrors and miseries of civil warfare.

The early dawn was gliding upwards from behind the eastern horizon, when, in the silence of inexpressible and unfathomable woe, Te Koturu and his comrades took their seats in the war-canoe. The old and the young clung to their beloved chieftain as long as they could; and with a chorus of heartrending cries and sobs they parted: the paddlemen in the canoe hung their heads on their bosoms as, with slow and measured dip, their paddles clave the waters page 212which might never again be visited by these heart-broken islanders: when out of earshot, the five men in the canoe struck out with bold and rapid strokes. To gain the mainland unobserved was their aim; but, if seen, they intended to keep out to sea, or else land on some sequestered spot to hide in, and make the attempt of landing below Wairauki during the night or at dawn of the next succeeding morning. With terrible energy they rowed onwards, with amazing swiftness the vessel flew on the water: silent the chieftain sat in the stern, and, with piercing gaze, searched along the dim coast for signs of life, but none could he discover. As the distance shortened between the vessel and her destination, the anxiety of Te Koturu increased: the superhuman efforts of the paddlers reached the point of cracking every sinew, and of rending into shreds every muscle that twanged and quivered in their overstrung frames. The sun had risen, and the mists of night were slowly rolling up the hill flanks as the small party of islanders neared the shore; but the chief could not discern a human being near or in sight, so, steering his canoe into the well-known anchorage, they disembarked, and hiding the vessel as best they might, they seized their arms and rushed up the hill-paths: in a few minutes they were beyond the page 213reach of pursuit, though long before they landed they had been seen by the Wairauki sentinels, and when near the shore were recognized: as soon therefore as they were on the summit of the hill, they were warmly welcomed by Raukawa in person, whose admiration was as unbounded as his joy was sincere in again possessing his faithful friend and brave ally.

The feast and the wailing for the dead occupied the mind and the stomach of the Ngatiraukawa far into the night, and their usual precautions were relaxed, no doubt from the belief that their enemies had quite enough to do in repairs to their pah and in bewailing the losses which they had sustained; in fact, it was owing to these circumstances that the islanders reached the shore unobserved.

When the nature and extent of the late disasters of his friends were seen by Te Koturu, his heart sank within him. To repair the outer fence was a work involving considerable labour, and necessitated a direct and unopposed communication with the forest; but how this was to be maintained none could devise. In this dilemma Hahaki ordered the demolition of several of the interior dividing fences of the fortress, so as to obtain a supply of posts and other material necessary to the reconstruction of the outer palisades: with these the fences were put in a tolerable state of page 214repair, a work in which all engaged with alacrity and good-will, and the whole was completed by noon. Another and greater calamity disturbed the entire community: food was becoming scarce, water was difficult to procure; the terrors of want stared them in the face. Their entire stores of food would, with the greatest economy, only suffice at most for three or four days: when these failed they must die of starvation, or surrender to the enemy; but while many were in favour of the former, few advocated the latter alternative. The canoes, moreover, were not at their disposal; but, with strategetic good fortune, they might seize them and send away some of their women and children to Kapiti.

In Waiki's camp inaction still reigned, and the wailing was maintained; indeed, it did not altogether cease on either side during the day and night that followed the conflict.

Soon as night fell, a small party left the Wairauki pah under cover of the darkness, and descended the hill to the sea-shore: these were the forlorn hope of the besieged, and were charged to secure possession of one or more canoes—if successful, to signal to their companions in the fort that the way was open. Thus commissioned, the party descended, creeping from stone to stone in silence and terror: having page 215reached the shore, they were not long before they discovered where two of the largest war-canoes were moored, and the signal was promptly given: a small flame from a few light materials which one carried was allowed to lighten the surrounding darkness for a few seconds, and was then suddenly covered by a flax mantle, so that those in the pah above them could not see it: this was repeated a few times, as the mode of signalling agreed on, and then the forlorn-hope seated themselves in the canoes, awaiting the course of events with breathless anxiety.