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Poenamo
Book the Second - Chapter VII.
The Mess of Pottage which floored the King of Waiou's Grand Scheme


With the morning came a damper to our spirits, for when we rose we found a hard south-easter blowing, with the unpleasant accompaniment of rain.

The Maories consoled us, Job-fashion, by saying there would be three days of it, and as Waipcha rather agreed with them, we made up our minds to accept the situation and make the best of it. We commenced to do this by moving to the native village, where the largest and best whare was placed at our disposal, and we all respectively arranged our own lotment of space according to our ideas of what the occasion required. One great point was gained by the exchange from the little tent to the much larger hut: we had some room in which to move about without knocking each other's elbows at every turn. What we did not gain— an immunity which the tent did give us—was freedom from certain jumping insects. The tent, pitched on virgin soil and carpeted with fresh fern, was free from the disagreeable visitors, which were always too numerous in Maori whares. But there are other places besides the uncivilised Maori hut where it is impossible to be rid of that annoyance. In the most civilised spot on the earth—of ancient days, whatever it is now— in the Eternal City, in these modern days, those who have dwelt there know how futile is the attempt to be rid of these plagues. In church and galleries they swarm; in the very streets as you walk along they take possession of you, and ruthlessly attack you. If you wish to keep one little spot in your apartments clear of them—your bed—you must remember never to throw any of your clothes upon it when returning home from your day's sight-seeing, but to hang up everything in another room, and thus you may at all events mitigate the constant annoyance.

We found these gentry so lively in our new quarters, that they made our enforced imprisonment almost unbearable; however, we had to make the best of it. We had not a book among us. Waipeha, being able to talk Maori, had a resource we could not avail ourselves of, for he could set a chief on an old war-path story and listen to the stirring tale of how warriors had not only fought but eaten each other-1 mean, of course, the survivors ate the others! We could not even indulge in an innocent game of pitch-and-toss just because we had not one coin to jingle against another. Our small change, and large too, was represented by figs of tobacco. With these we paid our way. No pitch-and-toss no books—no cards—no anything—a Maori hut, a blowy, rainy day, and four stolid Scotchmen thrown on their own resources, for Waipeha was deep in the past history of Maoridom. Such was the state of the case, and what were we to do to kill time?

An inspiring Providence moved me thus to deliver myself, and unwittingly solve the problem:-

"I say, old King of the Cannibal Islands, can't you invent something better for our dinner than that everlasting pork and potatoes of yours?"

"Just thank your stars you ain't a Jew, my boy, and that as yet your teeth are about as long as your beard. No fear whether it is pork and potatoes or potatoes and pork, I'll warrant you'll play a pretty good knife and fork."

"No such articles in the whole civilised establishment, O king! but if you can't forage better I promise to be up to proper appreciating mark even in the consumption of the unclean beast. But really, can't you do something better for us?"

"That is all according to taste. If you fancy a pigeon cooked on a split stick before the fire, this is the season for them. I don't know whether there I any, though, in this bush."

To his inquiry the reply of the natives was that the cry of the kukupa had been heard.

"Then it is all right," said the king. "That the cook prepare, for pigeons you shall have just as sure as you are sitting there."

Waipeha was quite justified in thus asserting that pigeons we should have, for though they were at this moment in the bush still unshot, they would just as certainly be in our pot before an hour was over.

To Waitemata cockneys of to-day it ought to be explained that the kukupa, now no longer to be seen on those shores, was just the bird created expressly for the true cockney sportsman—the one after his own heart. What a rage poor kukupa would create could he be only imported within sound of Bow Bells with his own peculiar aboriginal habits! What safe and glorious sport he would make, to be sure! for if not brought down by the first shot, why he only shakes his feathers and calmly waits to be shot at again!

Little wonder that Waipeha declared "pigeons we should have," but a little hitch did crop up nevertheless, for all the tuperas, double-barrelled guns, were at Mangare, and there was only one old "brown-bess" forthcoming, and a few ball cartridges! But Tongata Maori was quite equal to the emergency. He walked down to the beach, searched for some stones as small as it was possible to pick out, and so primed with the munitions of an uncivilised sportsman he sallied forth, the rain notwithstanding, to bring us Waipehas promised supply of pigeons.

It may be all very well to say in a civilised cookery-book, "To make hare-soup, first catch your hare," but such a direction was not needed by those making kukupa-soup at Orakei Bay. Just as sure as there was the water already boiling, so sure was it kitkulms would go into it, for Waipeha had said they made capital soup, as well as a grill, if you had only plenty of them. Well, we had plenty, for the number the sea-beach small shot gave us was fifteen. Poor stolid kukupa, how we blessed the stupidity of your nature that rainy day! You killed the day for us, if the day killed you. I ought to have mentioned the one cautioning entreaty with which Waipeha had sent forth the emissary of death to the kukupas:- If he found them sitting on the low branch of a tree not to put the muzzle of the gun quite close to their breasts, or he would be sure to blow away all the fine fat, and this was wanted to be consigned to the pot as well as the rest of the bird, for this fat would be a prime clement in enriching the soup."

The truth of the old saying, "Too many cooks spoil the broth," was now to be tested, for we all went heart and soul into the great work which was to help us to kill time, and we were as amused as children with a new toy. It was not that the other old saying, "Small minds are easily amused," was about to be illustrated; we all had brains enough to set at naught the application of that adage to us, but we had nothing else to do, and when people have nothing to do they very often begin to think of what they will have for dinner more than befits intelligent beings. We were in that sad predicament.

The wind still blew, and the rain came-steadily down, so that there was no going outside the hut. Fortunately it was quite a large and a lofty one, and we could stand upright without sending our heads clean through the thatch, so we had reason to be thankful for some small mercies. We were. thus able to prowl round about the fire whereon boiled our three-legged gipsy pot, in which two brace of kukupas were cooking. But a brief time ago they had sat on a puriri-tree, cooing and eating the ripe red berries. We all had a turn at the soup-making; some put kurneras into the pot, some put tarro, a vegetable which is like a lump of flour, and if left long over the fire boils away by slow degrees, and thickens the soup. Waipeha had sent a boy to collect some young shoots of wild cabbages. These were put into the pot; then lie popped in just a tiny bit of the everlasting corned pork—just enough to salt and make more savoury the whole contents.

The pot boils briskly; the kukupas, which, if they were happily mated and in inciting mood, wooed each other in the leafy shade not long ago, give promise of being very tender—after another fashion.

The pot boils briskly no longer; the olla podrida has grown so thick that the kukupas toss and tumble no more, but are stewed up in a closer nest than ever they had before. The pot now simmers in faintest murmur, and seems sinking into an apoplectic slumber from very repletion. We all sniff the delicious aroma from afar, for we watch it close at hand no longer; Nye are lying at our ease oil flax mats, our mouths in watery expectation of that mess of pottage on which we are about to feast.

We little dreamt then what the debris of that mess of pottage was going to bring about after we had partaken of the bulk of it. Happy ignorance,

"It must be ready now," a voice was heard to exclaim suddenly and in an impatient tone, and the exclamation found a responsive echo from all the other cooks!

The chef-de-cuisine who had thus spoken was Cook, he was seen to walk with most dignified composure towards the one object of attraction, and the chef behaved like a man: he boldly tasted the concoction!

We remained in breathless suspense and anxiety, for the chef uttered not a word. What! had that savoury odour deceived us? After all our loving care was it going to be a failure—a mockery and a delusion? was our day to have been spent in vain? Saints of Maori-ism forbid!. The chef, true to his character of staid deliberation, exercised it on this grave occasion beyond his ordinary wont, and gave no visible sign of how his palate had been affected. At last in solemn accents he proclaimed, "It wants one thing more," and then suddenly turning round and betraying excitement by the quickness of his movements—for him—he went to one of his wonderful little boxes, and taking therefrom a bottle, poured half the contents into the steaming pottage, and solemnly exclaimed:-

"With this ruby wine I christen thee 'Orakei Ragout the Incomparable.'"

The dread spell under which we lay was broken, and we all jumped up with a hurrah!

Many, many years are gone since that Ragˇut was christened the Incomparable on the then silent shores of the Waitcinata, 'rears which brought to some of that party a bright and happy fulfilment of their youthful aspirations—a bright and beautiful summer to their hopes and expectations of the future, to others but a chilling spring, and to others but a dreary winter, for so "runs the world away," and we have to play our allotted parts.

But to us all there remained a remembrance of that ragout as if it had been the "Incomparable," a delicious feast over which we had all been so joyous and happy in the Maori village of Orakei.mess of pottage! but for thee man might have asked, "How are lots in Cooktown?"

Oh! amateur cooks, why ate ye not up that ragout to the last sop in the panty? and why left ye one for others to quarrel over?

Fatal mistake! When we could eat no more we stopped—at least when we thought we could not eat any more; but had we only known what was about to happen we would never have admitted such a supposition; we would have eaten that ragout to the very scrapings of the three-legged gipsy pot itself: Alas! it was thus it fell out:—Cook's native attendant, when we had finished our grand repast, appropriated the unconsumed remainder. But one of the young chiefs of the tribe, To him, who had come to be a party to the intended sale of land, considering he had the best right to the spoils of his own territory, made a grab at the ragout-pot, when Cook, standing up for his boy, interfered and asked Te Hira why he was taihai-ing the goahore. He meant "taking away the pot," but in his imperfect knowledge of the language he used the word stealing. So Hira retired to nurse his wrath, and we found on the following day he had nursed it to some purpose. The weather-prophets had made a miscalculation, and instead of our having three days' rain the next morning broke fine, so we pulled away up harbour, looking at all the bays and the pretty shores, and ever asking, Won't you sell this and that and the other?" and it was always "Kahore! ha/tore! Lahore!" and we pulled away almost to the headwaters of the harbour until we came to an island called Pahiki, with only a narrow boat channel to get at it, and this choice spot Te Hira would sell. But it was ourselves, and not the land, he was "selling" for Waipeha, getting hold of some of the other Orakei natives who had come with us, soon found out that Te Hira was in the sulks. He had been called "taihai", and he was only leading us a dance, and he would not consent that any land should be sold, and it would only be a fool's errand to go any farther.

And so there was nothing for it but to turn our boat's head the other way and just "gang back ag'in with what grace we could. In the afternoon we had landed the Orakci natives at their settlement, and the wind being fair we proceeded on our way, not exactly rejoicing, and after dark reached the Delhi, and there spent the night.

And the next day, after getting a thorough drenching in crossing the gulf from the heavy sea running, and just being able, running close-hauled, to reach Waiou, we township-site-hunters arrived at Herekino to the merry blast of Cook's bugle, for by this time we had all recovered our spirits, and had been laughing over our wild-goose chase.

And thus it fell out that men never did ask, "How are lots in Cooktown?" for that town never was!


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