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Poenamo
Book the Second - Chapter II.
We Start on the Exploring Expedition


THERE was an unusual bustle one morning on Herekino's now-deserted beach, and it was about a week subsequent to that dinner in which I had been initiated into the mysteries of how to make a leg of mutton with caper-sauce out of the unclean animal, and when Waipcha had fired our imaginations by his oracular enunciation of "Wait until you see the Wraiteinata."

Herekino beach seemed awakened from the sleepiness into which it had so sadly and permanently dropped, and as if it were reviving the bygone days when grand land-hunting expeditions used to start therefrom. To the land-sharks Waipeha gave a certain amount of line to play with, just as much, as suited his purpose and no more, for whenever they ran off in any wrong direction that interfered with himself he landed them safely on the bank of some native difficulty or other, which he had no difficulty in creating mentally and declaring as an existing one!

The bustle at Herekino on this occasion arose from a land-hunting expedition of Waipehas own originating, and we were starting to go and see the Waitemata.

It had all been discussed and settled. We were off on an expedition which was to result in the making of all our fortunes. Downright inheritances for our very children's children were to be forth-coming from it, not to mention handing all our own five names—the sapient originators'—down to posterity. Waipeha had fairly infected us with his enthusiasm for the Waitemata. In. the most glowing colours he had depicted the extent and magnificence of the harbour, the beauty of its sloping shores, the richness of the land on the isthmus—for there was still another harbour, but it opened on to the opposite or west coast. Waipeha. had not received an education which made him conversant with any more classic Corinth than the one he had heard of in his own Yankeeland; or no doubt he would have made his glowing descriptions still more glowing by telling us he was going to show us an isthmus more beautiful still and more grandly situated than even the Corinth of the ancients. If it had not a high rocky Acropolis it had its towering extinct volcanic crater, which commanded the two seas and looked down upon both.

But I must not anticipate. You will learn all about it in good time, but first we have to start, and then we have to cross the gulf, and by the time we have done that I shall be at the end of another chapter at least, but not at the end of our journey.

The native crew have launched the boat down the beach into the water. A fine stalwart crew they are, who can pull an oar and feather it just as well as they call paddle their own canoe." They are carrying the requisites for our expedition down to the boat in great glee and good-humour, for they always enjoyed going with Waipeha in any of his visitations to his trading stations, or on excursions such as we were about to make.

The day was a glorious one. Nature had robed herself in her brightest and sunniest of colours, and the gentle breeze just rippling the water gave promise of a fine and smooth passage across the gulf.

The reader of to-day may perhaps be wondering whether in our equipment we had provided ourselves with firearms. No, not with an arm of any kind, save plenty figs of tobacco! These constituted the arms with which we should be able to repel all attacks upon us. With plenty of that "shot in locker" we well knew we could both fight and pay our way through the length and breadth of the land.

These were the happy "piping times of peace," when the country was literally ruled by the power of pipes and tobacco. The Pakeha was much too valuable an animal in those days to be killed and eaten; that game did not pay at all. Cannibal feasts did come off now and again on the sly, but the Pakelia was too clear a morsel, and, moreover, was far too salt to be put into a Hangi (native oven) for epicurean Maories. The native grown and fed article was not only the cheapest but nicest; it was not too salt.

Alas! in later years it came about that the aborigines fell away from the good taste of their earlier bringing up, and then came the epoch when "cold missionary on the sideboard" did prevail.

I have already stated that we were a Scotch quartett headed by a Yankee, but whether the word cannie was applicable to any of us time will reveal; all I know is, we were all under the delusion we were wondrously smart clever fellows. As I was the youngest, I have no doubt I considered myself quite the cleverest of the lot! Of course I cannot paint my own portrait to you, nor is it necessary that I should do so with regard to two or my fellow-countrymen, but the fourth was in every way a man of such peculiar ways—a character— and as he has long ago taken that long excursion which we must all take once, he cannot look upon his own portrait, unless, indeed, he can through some spirit medium, and then he will see it has been painted by a kind and friendly hand.

Cook—for so I shall designate him—had numbered his thirty summers, and the outward form and manner of the man revealed a good deal of the inward nature. He was most particular in his dress, and on the beach at Herekino, where a free-and-easy style of costume prevailed, he always appeared in strong contrast, and looked as if he had just been kidnapped from Regent-street without having been allowed to alter his costume, so little did it or the wearer seem to belong to the general surroundings. The black cloth coat, the stiff and elaborately-tied neckcloth, and the black chimney-pot hat always made him look as if he had dressed himself for some particular occasion to pay or receive some visit of ceremony; and but for the fact that one knew quite well there was no one with whom any visits of ceremony could be interchanged, one could never have got over the inclination to say, "Hallo, what is Cook dressed for?" —it took some time to get accustomed to the fact that this was his natural state. his conversation and manner of speaking were after the same fashion as his dress—very set phrases, with grand and peculiarly expressive words, often, it is true, used for very trivial subjects. He had most indomitable perseverance and great energy of character in his own quiet, determined way, and once engaging in any undertaking he would go through fire and water rather than be beaten. If he ever espoused the cause of a party, or the quarrel of a friend, he would stand by them through good report and through evil—desert them never.

The boat is nearly ready, and we have all got our odds and ends on board save Cook. This morning our worthy friend is not the Regent-street swell of yesterday. He looks as if he were just starting for the moors on a 12th of August, but he is still the same precise, stiff-looking person. He is standing on the beach close beside the boat, and at his feet are arranged a row of ever so many small boxes and little bundles, and not until he has ticked them all off upon his list does he allow them to be put on board by the crew. Cook liked to "rough it" just with as many little comforts as it was possible under the circumstances to take with him. I had brought a nice little lined tent with me to the colony, and as we were taking this with us, Cook anticipated quite a pleasure excursion, for we should not be compelled to sleep in native huts, always disagreeably over-populated, making the Pakeha flee from them when he had the chance. If we got beyond the sheltering roof of native huts, no doubt we might have fallen back upon the resource—one not to be despised either—of a sail stretched over an oar for a ridge-pole, and so improvised a tent after a fashion, but with a nice comfortable lined tent Cook did not see why he should not take along with him comforts to match, so he had made his preparations accordingly.

We were all having a quiet joke at his expense and poking fun at him as we stood on the beach ready to start, declaring that so much baggage could only be accounted for by the hypothesis that he had a hidden supply of female attire, and that some hitherto unknown Mrs. Cook must be going to take us by surprise and make one of the party.

Cook entered into the fun and carried on the joke against himself, but he kept a wary eye to see that all his little treasures were duly and carefully stowed away in the boat.

We were quite a large party as we settled down into our places in the boat. There was the king, tiller in hand, and one of his Pakeha traders whom we were to leave at a station in passing, we had four Scotch "cannies," a young native boy (Cook's page!) and a crew of eight—no less than fifteen in a rather small boat. In fact, we were little more than a streak clear!

We push off from the shore and are in deep water. Look on shore. Do you see that funny-looking bundle of blankets on the beach with a black topknot? Scrutinise it more closely and you will discover it to be a head of black hair, a forehead, and a pair of eyes! That is Madame Waipeha seeing her lord and master pro tern. away. You can see a good many bundles of blankets and black topknots scattered over the beach, all immovable. That is the native fashion of bidding good-bye, and as we pull away from the shore many voices are heard to say, "Haere, haere," and from the boat is wafted back the response, "Encho, encho ne?" "Go, go," is the word of farewell. " Stay—stay there, won't you?" is the reply. Such is the native manner and custom. They do not shed tears when parting from each other; they do so when they meet after a long absence. You see, my children, this is because we are in the antipodes and everything is upside down. I may have an opportunity hereafter of explaining how this comes about according to Maori philosophy, and I can assure you their conduct is based on perfectly sound philosophical principles. But meanwhile we must "haere" along or we shall never get clear of Herekino.


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