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Poenamo
Book the Third - Chapter III.
We Secure Apartments for the Winter Season


The ceremony concluded of being taken by the hand and heartily shaken into the tribal fraternity of the Ngatitamateras, we at once set to to look about us for a pleasant spot upon which to pitch the comfortable little tent which, like its owner, was now going to see downright actual service.

As we were arranging our household gods, and before we had achieved much in this direction, we were waited upon by old Kanini, who came to present us with one of his—in the female form of one of his slave-wives—for I must here proclaim the fact that this new Maori king to whom we had transferred our allegiance was addicted to polygamy.

We did not quarrel with our Solomon of a chief, for in savage communities there be many reasons why a chief should have more than one helpmate, and on this occasion the transferring of one of them to us, set us up with a most respectable matronly attendant and cook. Her duties were solely connected with the culinary department of our establishment, and thus saved us the ignominious work of lighting fires and doing our own cooking! We could hardly have remained Rangatera Pakehas had we done so, so of course we should have had to engage a hewer of wood and drawer of water and lighter of cooking fires.

We were thus, comparatively speaking, in domestic clover, Maori clover though it was, but the time was not far off when we were to fall away from such pleasant pastures, and when we should have no chief's slave-wife, or any other wife or maid-of-all-work, or any one to do anything for us. We had commenced our downward course in the social scale of civilisation, and were gaining some knowledge of what was before us. We might dream about the past glories of the table d'hóte, but at Herekino it was never seen again, and many a year was to pass away before we were to see anything like it elsewhere.

Our first afternoon among the Ngatitamateras was spent, as I have said, in putting our new home in order. It was spent by our new friends in sitting in groups watching our proceedings and offering help, their bright, good-natured faces smiling approvingly upon us. A mountainous heap of freshly-gathered fern, half-filling the tent, was presented to us, so we were able to floor it comfortably and make up our softly luxurious beds a la Cook with a double allowance.

It was not until we fastened up the tent-door for the night, and prepared to court sleep on our springy fern mattresses, that the natives took themselves off to their own huts, having no longer the opportunity of sitting and looking at their new Pakehas.

i suppose you have not forgotten that I stated Waipena had a Pakeha here building a boat for him, and that we had come to get one built. This Pakeha, by name Pama, of course gave us a hearty welcome on our arrival, and it was arranged we were to have a grand consultation korero next morning, having enough on our hands that afternoon in getting the tent in order.

And so the following morning, after Mrs. Ekina Kanini had given us our breakfast, we settled down to our korero with Pama as to the best programme to be carried out. Our first eve-opener as to what was before its was the intimation from Pama that he had not enough of "sawn stuff" to finish the boat he had in hand, and that the pair of Pakeha sawyers who had been employed somewhere in the neighbourhood by Waipelm had bolted in his debt, and as to any chance of our getting a boat built—well, "How can a man build a boat unless he has the sawn stuff to make it of?" This was one of those knock-down arguments that admit of no debating. The boat to which Waipeha's good intentions were to help us was a boat of the future, and evidently so far into the future that it incited away into an intangible form. But here we were: the winter months were before us. We could not make a settlement on the island until spring, so we must just make the best of it where we were until then. Perhaps "saw stuff" could be got somehow or other, and we must risk it. But we did not wish to pass the winter in our tent, not but that it would make a very comfortable little habitation, but we had an eye to the future, and wished to save the canvas roof to put over our heads when we took possession of the island, and it might be wanted yet again when we removed from the island to settle wherever the Government might fix the. capital. So we propounded this plan to Pama—that we should get the natives to build us a small raupo whare, which they could run up easily in a week, and that we should hire a boy as a cook and boy-of-all-work.

For although we had Kanini's favourite slave-wife appointed to attend on us, we could only look upon this as the courtesy attendant upon our welcome to Waiomu, and it would not have been good form to have failed to relieve her at an early time from waiting upon us, and to permit her return to her legitimate polygamic duties in the Kanini harem.

Pama quickly put this plan of ours to the right- about by saying—"There is my house—twice too large for me. I shall divide off half of it for you, and Mrs. Pama" only he said "my ooman"—"will do cooking, and washing, and everything for you."

He there and then appealed to Mrs. Erangi Pama, squatting at that moment on the ground scraping potatoes with a peppy-shell for her Pakeha's dinner. And she responded to the appeal with good-natured alacrity in only one word, but given in such a tone that a free translation would have read, "Won't I just!"

It did not need one moment's consideration as to whether we should accept that offer or not; it at once solved the necessity of any house-building and servant-hiring. We knew we had before us in the future any quantity of work in the shape of foraging and cooking for ourselves without beginning it sooner than we could help, and, to tell the truth, we did not care how long it was postponed. The present arrangement was a very fitting one, and decidedly a step in the right direction, for it was making a gradual descent from the luxuries we had lately been revelling in at Herekino to the inevitable, primitive state of things which awaited us. For that such did await us there could be no manner of doubt, both when we took possession of our island home and when we became "the first settlers" at the capital—which was to be—and became citizens thereof.

We were now learning our lessons in the down- ward scale of civilisation, but still in a comfortable manner—at least we hoped that Mrs. Erangi Pama would make it so, and with this hope and belief we consigned ourselves to her tender care, and as she was superintended by Pama we did not fear the result.

So it was all settled, and that night, when we laid our heads down to rest on our fern pillows in the little tent, we were soothed to sleep by the murmuring voices of our new native friends, who sat in groups not far from our tents, some chanting, some discussing the great event of the day in the soft Maori language, Mrs. Erangi having told them of the new duties which had now devolved upon her.

We slept the sleep of the innocent with minds at ease that night, all the more soundly from having made so satisfactory an arrangement for our sojourn at Waiomu.

When we opened the tent-door next morning we looked out upon as lovely a day as ever shone out of the heavens; with the gulf of the Hauraki stretching away before us—away across to the islands where the Delhi had lain at anchor—truly a most lovely landscape. Nature seemed asking us to fall in love with our new home among the Maories, and Nature also invited us, through the medium of the rivulet close at hand, to a morning bath.

Fortunately the rivulet was at hand—it was more than Mrs. Pama was, with any other means of ablution for us. Her establishment did not boast of crockery—she did not possess one atom of it—a wash-hand-basin her eyes had never beheld, but she had an American ship's bucket, and that she offered us. But Nature's offering, in shape of the clear stream at hand, carried the day. it came down from the mountain range away at the back, emptying itself into the Hauraki, a stone's throw from the tent. Improvising a capacious basin in its pebbly channel was only the work of a few minutes; we turned on the tap, and the supply flowed to our hearts' content.

Our morning toilet was watched with infinite curiosity by a long line of figures of all ages squatting on the top of the bank, my own fair skin and complexion being commented upon in contrast with that of my dark and swarthy companion. I have no doubt, if one could only have heard and understood all the remarks that were made, many a good gastronomic joke was passed of what a dainty morsel my nice white legs would have made had they only been properly cooked.

But our ignorance of Maori kept us in blissful ignorance of after what manner we should have eaten best. I well remember the famous bath we had, and how often in after-years, when the capital was a fact, I have longed for the Waiomu "water supply"—the clear, cool, beautiful water. Delicious was the supply, nor did it matter how many thousand gallons you used, nor were you rated for it; the turncock away up in the mountains never turned off the supply, his reservoir never ran dry, was ever full and ever self-acting.

"Kua pan te buraguislie" came from Erangi's tattooed lips just as we had finished our toilet in the tent, and as she caught sight of us.

"Breakfast is ready," is it? And so am I, and won't I just walk into it, that's all; you see if I don't; hope the goahore is full to the top, for I think I'll play a good figure in seeing to the bottom of it." All which remarks were utterly thrown away upon Erangi, for she was as steeped in ignorance of the English language as I was of the Maori. I did know that "kuapau" meant ready, and also finished, and "buraguishe" was the nearest approach to the pronunciation of our word "breakfast" of which the native mouth was capable.

Of course our breakfast was the proverbial "pork and potatoes"—a fare which I can assure modern epicures was anything but to be despised. For the pork of those days was not as these days, for it was Maorifed—in other words, the pigs were free to roam and get fat how and where they could, or remain lean. In fact they were never too fat, and living for the most part on fern-root, and picking up some maize about the settlements, they were thus clean eaters, and their flesh was firm, not in the least highly flavoured, and therefore did not pall upon the appetite. Moreover, as our fare was almost always corned pork, in this state it had a certain zest which prevented our getting tired of it. Fresh pork, not only every day but three times a day, would soon have become intolerable.

Erangi's resources, however, extended beyond the mere potato accompaniment, for she managed to give a fair quantum of the delicious Maori kumera and tarro and cobs of maize, and always a pannikin of tea.

Our plates were made of "sawn stuff," a square of thin board; our knives were our own clasp-knives our forks were our own fingers, or the prong of a shrub, at discretion; our teacups, of course, were pannikins, obliging us to have the beverage which was put into them poured out at the commencement of each meal, which necessity any new chum will soon learn should he attempt to put the hot tin to his lips before the tea has cooled down.

That first Waiomu breakfast was despatched with as great a gusto as every other one which followed. We never pined for anything which we saw and could not get, for nothing else was to be had, and good health bringing good appetite and never-failing good digestion, we grew fat upon it. Of course it was a great descent from the recherce dishes of Herekino—e.g., boiled leg of mutton and caper-sauce; but, as I have stated, it was all training in the right direction—to that extreme simplicity of fare which hereafter awaited us. Yes, we lived to covet Erangi's modest dishes, and to look back upon them with quite a regretful remembrance.

Few preparations were requisite on Pama's part before he gave us over half his me/tare; a native was cutting the poles and another the raupo with which the dividing partition was to be constructed, and we also went to work with practical alacrity, for Pama's being a "unfuinished apartments" we had forthwith to commence converting them into furnished ones.

Naturally the first investment, took the shape of a couple of bedsteads and beds. Fresh fern, cut every night, two feet thick, and spread in springy, luxurious layers, was a luxury which was all very well when you struck your tent every morning and left these mountains of fern behind you, but such luxury was utterly incompatible with—"apartments." There was no help for it, we had to forego all such luxurious modes of sleeping, and just rough it like our neighbours in—four-post bedsteads!

The upholsterer's premises—wholesale ones—were close at hand, at which we could lay in everything that we required, and we started for them, not with purses but hatchets in hand. The wholesale supplies we found represented only the raw materials; it was left to us to manufacture them into fitting shape.

We improvised a most comfortable four-poster after this simple fashion. A few saplings, the thickness of one's wrist, the forest supplied us with almost on entering it; and with some forty or fifty feet of supple-jack. This creeper is of the thickness of your finger, and runs along the ground and goes up the trees and springs across from one tree to the other, Spanning great gaps in some mysterious manner of its own—a tough rascally creeper that won't break, that you can't twist in two, that you must cut, that trips you by the foot or the leg, and sometimes catches you by the neck, the most temper-provoking and the most anathema-producing thing that ever tried the temper of a bush traveller, but so useful withal in its proper places. Well, with our saplings, a coil of supple-jack, and when we got clear of the forest some leaves of the flax-bush, we were already armed with all the "raw materials" necessary. We took a liberty with Pama's "apartments," but one which would hardly give him a claim for damages when we left. Sharpening the saplings for the posts of our bed, we just drove them into the floor—mother earth—at the places we chose, each according to his fancy where his bed should be, then side and end pieces were notched and fitted into each other, and tied with strips of flax-leaf; then we interlaced the supple-jack with the flax-leaf for sacking, making the strong supple-jack go the long way of the bed, and the flax-leaf the cross way. In this simple manner we made a sort of hammock, resembling a net one—one in which, after rolling yourself in your blanket, horse-rug, on Maori mat, you could sleep most comfortably But we were in luxuries way, for we both had our little shipboard bunk-mattresses, and these were put on our four-posters, and I pity any one who could not sleep on such a bed, even without the help previously of a hard clay's work.

Our bedsteads finished we soon made a table— four posts again—down into the ground, a couple of cross-pieces and some boards on the top, and the thing was done.

Wonderful are the facilities for getting up "furnished apartments" on good substantial principles when the furniture is not required to stand on a wooden floor. Quickness of construction and a permanent solidity arise out of an earthen one, unattainable through any other means. No one ever furnished their apartments more "regardless of expense" than we did ours. Our chief did not even ask us for a single copper—i.e., as much tobacco as would fill his pipe, which would have represented a copper coin —for our raw materials, so no wonder we went ahead in the fur- rushing line.

Before the week was over we had positively elevated ourselves to three-legged stools; but I am bound to confess, in strict honesty, that as these were not fixtures, and consequently portable, they were most undoubtedly shaky! Our beds we jumped into in the most defiant and reckless manner, with the conscious feeling that they were equal to the occasion. But these three-legged stools were a caution, and created a habit of approaching them and putting them to their intended use in a wary manner, which stuck to us when the time came that we had chairs to sit upon, and suggested the idea to outsiders that we were afraid of concealed needles and pins, and consequently came to an anchor cautiously.


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