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Ena, or, The Ancient Maori

Chapter XXXV. Flight From Taupo

page 254

Chapter XXXV. Flight From Taupo.

"Our steps are on the woody hill.
Heaven burns with all its stars."

After the events described in the foregoing chapter, Raukawa and Te Koturu found that, far from being suspected as spies, they were admired and praised for their individual bravery and kindliness of soul: profiting by the removal of the restraint in which they had prudently acquiesced, they had now long interviews with Ena and Mary, and agreed among themselves to escape at all hazards on the first opportunity.

The health of Poro, favourite wife of Te Tukino, was not improving since she returned to the pah; and at her request she was again accompanied to Motutaiko by the two captives and a retinue of slaves. A few days after the departure of the chieftainess and page 255her household, Te Tukino offered to take his two guests over to the island in his own war-canoe, a condescension gladly accepted by the young men. As the stately vessel shot over the calm water, Te Tukino pointed out to his friends the different localities of interest around the lake: with feelings of patriotic pride, he dwelt upon the lovely scenes that met the eye at every point, and described with a warrior's brevity the battles that had of old been fought on the lake and its shores between the neighbouring tribes. They made the circuit of the island before landing, and the chief directed the attention of his guests to the natural strength of the place; to the clumps of the scarlet-flowering polutukawa, which were the pride of the fortress; to the supply of delicious water, and the ease with which the place could be defended. The party landed in a very small bay, and were at once struck with the strength of the fortifications of the island stronghold: the place, indeed, was impregnable; every small promontory, headland, and lakeward sloping ravine were defended with strong palisading and deep-cut ditches. The air of the island was delicately sweet and invigorating; the whare accommodation was unlimited, though very few people resided there permanently, and these were the chieftain's own slaves. Their employments were to keep the whares page 256and the fences in repair, to attend to large patches of cultivation, and to gather the crops so raised and store them for winter use. Here the two friends spent a day or two most agreeably, and during that time had frequent opportunities of meeting with Ena and Mary: the former strove to forget her sorrows in the society of Te Kotoru, but to all the advances of Raukawa the latter was cold and reserved: this disheartened the young chieftain, but he still hoped that when her liberty could be gained, Mary would listen to his love. In the mean time, they learned that Te Tukino was to return to Pukawa, after a stay of four days on the island; so, arranging among themselves as to the best method of carrying out their determination to escape, they settled that at daybreak on the morrow they would steal out of their separate whares and meet at the little bay where the only canoe on the island was shored. The vessel in which Poro and her attendants came had returned to Pukawa before the chieftain left the pah. So far, the enterprise promised success; but still the utmost care and caution were necessary, as the slightest unusual noise might disturb the sleeping inmates of the whare where the girls slept. That night the two friends exerted themselves to the utmost in endeavouring to amuse and to keep Te Tukino awake until late in the night, so that he might page 257sleep long and heavily towards morning. In this they succeeded; the fire blazed brightly on the hearth in the centre of the whari, the story was again told of the successful career of the invader Waiki, all the remembered traditions of the Wairauki and of Kapiti (but veiled under other names) were rehearsed for the amusement of the chief: he, in return, told his genealogical traditions, and described his own battle-scenes, until at length, weary with his physical and mental exertions, he slept soundly, coiled up in his heavy flax mantle. The friends, fearing that they might sleep too long if they once gave way, remained awake and held a broken conversation with each other. As Te Tukino and themselves were the only occupants of the whari, their task to get away unheard was comparatively easy; but with the two girls the business was quite different. They slept in the same whari With Poro and her slave women; but Ena, true to her watchfulness, remained awake after the others had long since fallen asleep. Raukawa had prearranged with his sister that he would give her a signal when it was time for herself and Mary to leave the whari, by means of a slight scratching sound produced by his fingers on the small window shutter of the dwelling. The dawn was slowly approaching, and a faint streak of light was stealing up and over the eastern skies, as page 258the young men peeped out by the window: the moment had arrived, the chieftain slept soundly; the door was cautiously opened, and the two friends, when outside, firmly tied it, fastening so as to prevent, for a time at least, the egress of the chief. The preconcerted signal was next made on the window of the women's sleeping whari; and, after a few moments spent in an agony of suspense, the door slowly slid back, and the two girls emerged from the low doorway: the young men firmly closed this door also on the outside, and, taking the girls by the hand, hurried away down to the shore. The chieftain's dog Kiore followed them, and kept behind the party, expressing his approval of the proceedings by gravely wagging his long-haired tail. The fugitives found the canoe exactly as they had hoped, and without delay they embarked, taking the old dog with them. Applying themselves to the paddles, they were soon out of reach of all practicable pursuit: Ena and Mary had each a paddle which they used with no inconsiderable skill, and in this way assisted in gaining the shore. The distance between Motutaiko and Pukawa was only three miles, but the escaping party intended to reach a point on the western shore of the lake, south of the Karangahape promontory, and so to endeavour to find a place there in which to hide the canoe and page 259rest themselves after the first fatigues of their flight The sun rose above the distant mountain ranges, flooding peak, ridge, forest wilds, and plateau with his light and glory: the spirits of the captives and of their deliverers rose as they bade farewell to the shadow and horrors of death that so lately surrounded them, while their energies expanded as they scented the fresh air of the morning, for the light breezes seemed to come to them laden with the promises of liberty.

Mary turned involuntarily to take a look at the scenes she was leaving: the island lay behind, and in direct line with the white foaming track of the canoe; the brown rocks loomed softly in the morning haze, the lake birds were chattering and plaining to each other near the shores, the trees and shrubs growing on the island and on the picturesque promontories were grouped and reflected in singular loveliness on the silvery water, and the ringing tones of the countless bush birds floated far over the waters from the solemn forests that reposed on the landscape around. As Mary still looked, she saw that they were discovered from the island: immediately calling the attention of the chieftains to the fact, she was reassured of immunity in that direction; for, as a considerable distance lay between their canoe and the page 260island, they need apprehend no pursuit from that quarter, and, before the intelligence could be conveyed to Pukawa, the forest would afford them rest and shelter. However, as there was no time to loiter, they increased their exertions; and as the vessel shot over the water, the chiefs had the mortification to discover that the shores to which they flew were inaccessible, and, as it seemed to them at first sight, were really without a landing-place. The cliffs rose sheer up from the water to a height terrible in its barrenness. Whilst this unforeseen adjunct to their dilemma pressed sorely upon the fugitives, they saw with increased alarm a tall column of white smoke rise from the highest point of Motutaiko, opposite Pukawa: this they understood was a signal to the tribemen at the latter place to hasten to the island to learn the reason why the signal was made. Before, however, the affair could be understood and a pursuit party sent after them much time would elapse. After a considerable delay in coasting the south-westerly shore in their march for a landing-place, they at length discovered where the Wareroa creek falls into the lake, and here they effected a landing; disembarking, they moored the canoe as best they could to some large water-worn stones, and clambered up the creek course with much diffi-page 261culty: losing sight of the lake, they plunged with vigorous strides into the leafy wildernesses that lay before them, the faithful old dog following; and when the sun had half approached the zenith, the travellers halted to rest.

When the island signal was seen at Pukawa pah, a canoe was dispatched to learn the orders of the chieftain; and his rage had not subsided when his people arrived. The furious Te Tukino was half mad with rage and vexation: he flung himself into the canoe in which they came to the island, and ordered a sharp chase in the direction the fugitives had taken. It was some time ere he deigned to give an explanation of his intentions to his astonished crew. Then, in few and curt words, he told them of the treachery of the strangers, vowing that their flesh would boil sweetly in the puias (hot springs) of Pukawa. The enraged chieftain and his crew knew every nook and corner of the lake shores, and steering direct to where the Waireroa creek empties its limpid supply on the rugged strand, they found the canoe uninjured: this somewhat appeased the choleric pursuer, as he regarded his favourite vessel with an affection bordering on effeminacy.

"Let them go," said he; "they cannot escape with life, they must die in the forest." So saying, he page 262unmoored his canoe, and, making it fast to the stern of the other, towed it safely over to the island; whence they returned to Pukawa, little caring for the loss of the captives, and soon forgetting the indignities which the latter had cast on them when they secured the doors of the whari upon them while they slept.