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
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
"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
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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