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Ena, or, The Ancient Maori

Chapter XXXI. Abandonment of Wairauki

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Chapter XXXI. Abandonment of Wairauki.

"Their fires were decayed on the plains;
The lonely steps of their scouts were distant far."

on the same night the wily Waika, during the continued relaxation of that discipline and precaution so generally enforced amongst his tribemen, sallied out attended by a favourite slave: both went down by a gully on the north-west side of Wairauki, and reached the sea-shore as the night fell: for a few moments both stopped to hearken, as the sea-birds were calling to each other in what the listeners considered an unusual way: soon they discovered that there were some causes of disturbance near, and creeping along the rocks with stealthy step, they saw, between them and the sky, figure after figure of men cautiously descending the hill-slope toward the shore.

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Getting nearer, Waiki discovered whose these were, and, quietly waiting, saw the repeated signal, and overheard the conversation of the party. In low whispers he then instructed his slave to remain where he stood, in order to watch the enemy and to guide him on his return if need were. He then as rapidly as possible returned to his camp, where hastily gathering a band of chosen warriors, and placing himself at their head, he led them into the gully before mentioned, and rapidly, but silently, moved on in the direction of his watching slave: here he dispersed his men so that only a few of them were together in a body, but all were within view or whisper of each other. The slave soon perceived his master, and told him exactly what had passed during his absence: immediately they were in possession of the intentions of the Mauopoko, and understood, without being told, what it was that was expected of them in the business now on hand—namely, to spear, slay, and spare not. Group after group now came down the hill-side, and were deposited in the two canoes: when these were filled to overcrowding, a message was sent up to the pah that no more space remained: the fugitives were principally old men and women, also the young of both sexes; these and a few paddlemen to each canoe were just on the point of taking their page 218seats, when, with a dash in the water and a firm hold on the gunwales of the canoes, the inhuman Waiki and his warriors speared and slew their astonished and almost unresisting victims. For several moments the wretched runaways imagined that the taniwhas of the sea were upon them and drinking up their warm blood; while many jumped out of the canoes and endeavoured to reach the shore, but were struck down in the attempt. None of the old escaped death, but the paddlemen fought with coolness and determination: the noise and uproar, the shrieks of the old, the screams of the young rose in terrible shrillness on the night; the warriors in Wairauki heard, and rushing madly down the hill to the rescue, found that Waiki had withdrawn his men, leaving few of his victims alive to tell the doleful tale. When the Mauopokos arrived on the scene of slaughter, they found the canoes unharmed; but their late occupants were gone: many dead bodies floated in the water, many dead lay on the shore, and a few survivors told them the harrowing truth; but their fears not alone of the foe, but also of the supernatural beings in whose presence they superstitiously believed as not far off, compelled them to retire to their pah, bearing with them all of their wounded people that they could possibly discover, and these were but few.

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Sleep visited none of the humble couches of the dwellers in Wairauki on that sad night, while the warriors held a long consultation on what course it were best to pursue; whether to surrender themselves and pah to the enemy, or to attempt escape to a distant settlement belonging to near relatives of their own, the ever friendly and hospitable Titai Bay people. The latter choice was selected, principally on the recommendation of Te Koturu, who had so recently experienced the kindness of that hapu: when this determination was agreed to, the preparations for departing were begun: many of their dogs were shut up in the wharis, so as to deceive the enemy, who would be sure to come prowling about. Several of the old of both sexes refused to accompany the fugitives; life, said they, had no further claims on them: to stay and die in the hope of allowing their friends time to escape was enough for them, and death they did not dread. There was no time to spare in which to try to dissuade these old creatures from their melancholy choice: they sat apart, and looked on in tearful silence, as their own relatives were busily employed in carefully packing the available stock of provisions in flax kits: these were strapped on the backs of the stalwart women, the children accompanied their mothers, and while the warriors page 220took away all their arms, every prized relic that could not conveniently be removed was carefully buried a few feet deep in the ground, in the presence of all, so that in case of the escape of even a few, these might, when future opportunity served, return and recover the heirlooms of their ancestors.

The night wore swiftly on, and the unhappy people were ready to depart on their long and perilous journey: as the premonitory signs of daybreak were announcing that event, the kiwi's note was heard in the depths of the forest; a cold stream of thin air flowed down the bosom of the forest-clothed ranges, and roused the unfortunate tribemen to a keen appreciation of the formidable business before them, and many a stout heart quailed when the moment to depart had arrived: the thoughts of many were to stay and die upon their beloved hearths, thinking that perchance it were a better course than to tempt the uncertainties of flight. But the commands and the example of their chieftain and tohunga silenced every murmur: a strong party, armed, went first, as an advanced guard, down the southern slope of the mountain; the women and children went next, those of their old and feeble who did not choose to remain behind tottered next in the order of march, their few wounded and their bearers followed, and the war-page 221riors brought up the rear: in painful silence their last farewells were taken; the sobs of the people alone broke the horrid stillness, and as tears rolled down their faces, the copious showers watered the dust beneath the feet of the fugitives, leaving for evermore their hearts more withered, their affections more seared, and their once gentle natures a blasted wreck and ash-strewn ruin, incapable of ever again feeling the resuscitating influences of love; for they were now forlorn and homeless outcasts. Keen as were their mental sufferings, with astonishing temerity they ventured forth, and with the tenacity of desperation clung to their only chance of life that seemed so frail, so full of disaster. Their onward progress was necessarily slow, and the dawn and the sunrise had passed ere they left the view of Wairauki behind them. To keep the sea-beaches for all the distance would have been the easiest road by which to travel; but, as they feared being observed, so soon as they reached a convenient opening in the cliffs, they left the beaches, and struck into the forest. Nevertheless, their rearguard was seen from Waiki's outpost; for the Ngatiraukawa had only just arrived on the hill-top to attend to their usual duties, when the sentries were again posted, the usual precautions were taken, and the siege was renewed: hurriedly the report was sent in to page 222the camp that a large body of men were seen to enter the forest at a distance southwards. Waiki, guessing the exact nature of the movement, led a strong force up the hill, where he soon discovered that the pah was undefended. Entering unopposed, they took possession; and when they found the poor old creatures who remained, they allowed them partial liberty, destining them for future use. No time was to be lost, and Waiki, with his entire available force, immediately started in hot pursuit. Meanwhile, the fugitives slowly passed on into the recesses of the forest, with the intention of pushing on as far as possible ere the daylight failed them, hoping, on the second day of their flight, to enter the territories of Titai: accordingly Hahaki instructed Raukawa to despatch couriers to announce his coming.

In fancied security the hapu moved onward: midday had arrived, and the wanderers sat down by the margin of a small stream. Whilst eating a frugal meal, suddenly roused by the barking of the dogs that accompanied them, the warriors leaped to their feet, and listening for some moments, could not detect any signs or cause for fear: the bush was dense and almost impassable, owing to the interfacings of the supple-jack, the rata-vine, and various other smaller creepers, adding their stems to the thick page 223foliage of the trees, shrubs, and tall ferns, which grew in every available spot: the paths which ran through this leafy wilderness were only sufficiently wide for one man to walk in, without room for two.

The Mauopoko moved on after their meal and short rest, but they had not gone far when the alarm was again raised; and this time the cause was but too clearly ascertained: at a short distance from the long line of their march were seen bodies of armed men, passing in a line parallel with their own, and evidently watching their movements, only waiting for a favourable moment to commence the attack.

Waiki, when he entered the forest in his pursuit, followed the paths by which his prey had passed, and when he came near the rear-guard it was at the moment when the fugitives were snatching their midday meal: when the dogs gave a transient alarm, he ordered his men to lie down on the paths and remain so until the Mauopokos resumed their march; then Waiko, sure of his aim, sent a strong party under a Waikato chief to the left, with instructions to march onward until he came in line with the advanced guard of the runaways: himself with his own warriors would effect a simultaneous movement, but on the right, or opposite side to that given to his companion in command: when this manœuvre was complete, page 224Waiki and his ally allowed themselves to come into view. Hahaki called on the chieftains to fall back and form as best they might around the centre where their women and children were: the intention and its corresponding movements were seen and comprehended by Waiki; so, giving the signal to his ally, whom he supposed within hearing, he impetuously burst on his brave enemy. The war-whoop ran along the ranks as the women and children were hurriedly driven in and formed a compact mass of humanity: the rear-guard then rushed up to the scene, and formed a bulwark round their feeble charge. When Waiki saw the promptitude and ability with which his despised enemy carried out the manœuvre, he halted and awaited the arrival of his ally; but it was some time ere he came up to the ground, and, when he arrived, the Mauopoko were prepared: Waiki immediately drew off his men, and this was the signal for the Waikato to do the same: the forest affording ample shelter, at a very short distance they secreted themselves, and eagerly watched the movements of the fugitives.