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Poenamo
Book the Fourth - Chapter I.
The Two Pioneer Pakehas of the Waitemata


It was on the evening of a lovely day in early spring that a small boat with two sprit-sails set, one on each side, could be seen towing a canoe over an expanse of water which more resembled a lake than what it really was—an inlet of the sea.

The breeze was fair but light, barely keeping the sails full - a tantalising breeze, which always promised to freshen up, yet never did—a breeze which you would fain believe made the boat go faster than it would if you took to the oars, and yet you did not feel quite at rest on that point. However, there was nothing to be done but either to furl the sails and unstop the masts and take to the oars, or to be content to keep creeping lazily along and make the best of the breeze, such as it was.

Two of the occupants of the boat were evidently much more interested in the scenery around them than in the rate at which the boat was sailing. Little wonder if they were so engrossed, for the landscape was one of surpassing beauty. The boat had just rounded a promontory, in doing which the travellers had opened up an entirely new view.

A sheet of water lay stretched before them about fourteen miles long by about six broad. From the travellers' point of view it was landlocked. Here and there openings could be seen, but more distant land filled up the background. These passages appeared to wander round little islands, creating a desire to be able to explore them all.

At the western extremity of the inlet one of these little islands lay in mid-channel. The most picturesque of little rounded mountains reared itself, as if guarding the passage, and, proud of its own beauty, was not in the least ashamed that it lay right in the "fairway," and blocked up the centre of the passage and the view beyond. It was quite evident, as the boat headed for the centre of the island, and not towards one of the passages on either side, that to the island the travellers were bound.

The right-hand shore of the inlet rose steeply from the water's edge, save here and there where little bays broke into the continuity of the coast-line.

In these indentations—hardly to be termed bays— there always could be seen a little plateau of level land stretching from the shore to the base of the hills, which then rose abruptly.

The eye rested with delight on the evergreen foliage of primeval forest, wonderfully rich in the varied contrast of its colours. Although the season was but early spring, winter had laid its hand so gently on all nature that it changed but little the aspect of the woods, which ever smiled, arrayed in a garment of richest verdure.

And to Nature alone was due all the beauty of the scenery our travellers, were revelling in, for as yet her reign here had been undisturbed and all but supreme.

As the boat skirted alongshore the eye was able to detect every few miles that one of these diminutive valleys nestling at the base of the hills was less rich and beautiful in the colour of its vegetation. It owed its change of appearance to the clearing hand of man, for there he dwelt in an uncivilised and primitive state. Canoes on the beach and low huts on the shore told our travellers that they were passing native villages, and they seemed to scrutinise more keenly those spots showing signs of life, as if they wished to impress the respective localities well on the memory.

The boat meanwhile had its head steadily steered for the still-distant island, and gradually drew towards mid-channel, and the opposite shore became more distinct.

It was not nearly so beautiful as that on the right hand it was destitute of forest, and was of an open, undulating character, resembling uplands. In the direction of. the island it opened into a deep bay, and at its head, the land being low, the eye failed to detect where the waters ended and land commenced. Fatigued with the search, the eye ran along the gradually-rising high land, which ended in a bold headland just opposite the little island. This promontory showed a face of yellow sandstone, and at its extremity it was crowned by a magnificent clump of trees, while smaller shrubs hung over the edge of the cliff, the green foliage thrown into startling relief by the yellow background.

As you gazed on this plumed headland of exquisite beauty you now and again laboured under the optical illusion that it was moving; you thought at one time it was nearer the island, and then again farther off. You imagined it was making obeisances to the little island, and endeavouring, with the most graceful and quiet movements, to attract attention towards its pretty plumed head and command admiration. It was in vain the eye wandered away from this plumed headland to the bare promontory behind to make certain of the perfect stability of the whole. You found yourself again looking at and believing in the nodding headland, and half feared, if you took your eye away, the next time you looked the headland—plume and all—would be found to have thrown itself into the arms of the little island's mountain, and hidden all its beauties in the shadow of that mountain's bosom.

The boat had now gained mid-channel, and had lessened the distance to the island by one-half since we saw it rounding the opening, now seven miles away. The travellers thought they had come at least two-thirds of the way, and that they were almost at the end of their voyage. The island looked close ahead of them, not more than a couple of miles off, for they had not yet become accustomed to calculate distance correctly in that clear Southern hemisphere, and their impatience was bridging over too quickly the yet intervening space.

And now, to add to the deception, the sun sank behind the little island's little mountain, throwing its shadow over the water and illumining the outline of the whole island so vividly that it seemed close at hand, and that a few oar-strokes would bring them to its shore.

There is still time, however, before the shore is reached to pay a visit on board the boat and see in what manner it is freighted.

There were seven persons on board—three Palcehas, and four of the crew, who were Maories; the Pakehas occupied the "stern sheets," one of them steering. Of the Maories two were in attendance watching the sails; but as this did not entail much attention, one of them was dreamily smoking a pipe, while the other was cutting up some tobacco ready for his turn at the said pipe, for they had only one between them. The other two of the crew were wrapped in sleep in the bottom of the boat, one of them having pillowed his head on a grindstone, the other having selected more wisely and chosen a bag of salt. In the bottom of the boat could be seen in strange confusion the poles of a tent and the tent itself rolled into a bundle—why this was not preferred to the grindstone Maori ideas alone can say. Then there was a sack of flour, which would have made a nice comfortable pillow; then the bag of salt, some large and small three-legged gipsy pots, a frying-pan, a spade and a grubbing-hoe, a hatchet, some kits of potatoes, kumeras and maize, and one of cold pork, as the head and jowl sufficiently demonstrated; a large and very capacious wooden chest, half a keg of negrohead tobacco, and a bundle, through the corners of which could be seen striped cotton shirts, blankets, &c., and there has now been summed up pretty nearly what constituted the ballast of the boat on that voyage.

And truly it was but a very primitive and scanty turn-out with which to make a "first settlement," as was evidently the intention of the occupants of the boat, because with no other could any one be wandering so far beyond the limits of civilisation with so large a stock of commodities. No huts on the shore or canoes on the beach had been seen by the travellers for some time. These seemed to have been all left behind; and the boat, slipping quietly through the water before the gentle but fair wind whilst nearing its haven, increased the solitude of the surrounding scene.

Hark to that sharp, quick bark! A noble dog, half bloodhound, half mastiff, which must have lain concealed till now, bounded from the bow of the boat, and, smelling land, thus proclaimed the boat's near approach to it, and rushed to the stern sheets to tell the news to his masters, and then away again to place his paws on the boat's gunwale at the bow and bark again.

The boat was now under the shadow of the little island's little mountain. The sun had nearly set, the breeze no longer filled the sails; they began to flap against the masts. The steersman summoned the crew to their oars, the two sleepers were aroused, the luxurious grindstone and bag of salt pillows can no longer be indulged in, the pipe of lazy peace must be put aside, and the four natives twisted their mats round their waists, and having first furled the sails and unstepped the masts, took their seats, and their naked bronze shoulders soon strained to the oars.

The canoe towing astern made it a heavy pull, but they gave way with a will. We had only to look at the hound in the bow of the boat to know that the island was all but reached; he no longer went jumping along to expend his impatience in barking visits to his masters; he only changed his paws from one side of the bow of the boat to the other; his whining had changed into shorter and quicker barking; and at last, unable to restrain himself, he jumped on gunwale, prepared himself for a spring, and plunged into the water, and by the time he had reached the shore the keel of the boat grazed on the beach—the island was gained.

The Maories adroitly slipped out of their mats, and puris naturalibus they were over the boat's side in a moment and dragged it up as far as they could, just sufficient to keep it on even keel. Three of them commenced at once to carry the things on shore, the fourth started off in search of fresh water and drift wood, and before his companions had finished their work of emptying the boat he had returned and and a brisk fire burning and pot of water nearly boiling.

The Pakehas meanwhile had chosen a spot on which to pitch their tent; they had not been over- fastidious in their selection, as the shades of evening were rapidly closing, for there twilight has but little more than a name, and but a short interval elapses after the sun sets ere night prevails. While stars were already shining brightly, telling the travellers to make the best of their time.

The tent was soon pitched, and whatever was wanted for the night, and anything that would have been damaged had a shower fallen, carried into it from the boat. It was only the elements that had to be feared, and the beauty of the young night forbade much apprehension in that direction.

From the intrusion of either man or beast everything was safe—of the latter the land was destitute, as has already been stated. Of the aborigines none were likely to intrude on that lonely spot, and if they did, what matter? they would not steal, and as to safety of life, why there was not a firearm amongst the whole party.

A lovely night succeeded what had been a lovely day. And such nights! Who can know their beauty and brilliancy but those who have seen them? The Southern Cross was brilliant in its beauty. There was no moon, but it was as light as it is at home when the moon is half at the full.

The Maories sat around a blazing fire, variously occupied in the preparation of supper. The Pakehas were arranging the tent, spreading their beds of fern, of which a sufficient supply had already been brought to carpet the whole surface, and nothing could look more comfortable. A little lamp burned on the top of the big sea-chest which came out of the boat, and which served as a table for the coming supper, which was very soon afterwards partaken of in a very primitive manner. On the top of the chest was placed the inevitable three-legged gipsy pot, with the inevitable pork and potatoes inside it, and not far off were the inevitable tin pannikins with tea. Some woefully brown-looking sugar, some equally brown-looking ship's biscuit, such as was used in those days, and which Jack would turn his nose up at now, comprised the evening's banquet. But the supper was discussed with no small relish; and over it the plan for the morrow decided. We were to make the circuit of the island in the canoe, and find out the best place to pitch the tent permanently, for on the morrow two of the three Pakehas were to be left to their own resources on the island, with the hound for company while the other Pakehia, with his boat and Maori crew, proceeded still farther on their journey.

All was darkness now within the tent, and its curtain doors were drawn together, but Maori curiosity peering between them saw at the farther end of the tent two of the Pakehas endeavouring to court sleep; at the foot of the tent the Pakeha steersman was already in the arms of Morpheus, which arms the peeping Maories wot not of.

The boats crew then settled down comfortably around a blazing fire to thoroughly enjoy their pipes. Occasionally they heard a low murmuring in the tent, but the voices grew fainter and fainter; and to the two courters of sleep in the tent it appeared that the Maori fire blazed less and less brightly, and the soft Maori language fell softer and softer on their ears.

But the fire still blazed as brightly as ever; the Maori korero was not in less loud voice.

It was the sweet oblivion of sleep stealing over the travellers in their fern bed.

The fire flickered more and more—it went out. The voices died away—they ceased.

In reality the fire still burned brightly. The korero was still in audible voice.

But the two Pakehia wanderers from their far-oft home now lie tranquilly sleeping in their new home in the land of their adoption.

But the spirit of their dreams on this night hovered not over their fern couch nor under their tented roof, but travelled afar to their fatherland.

There they trod the mountain heath and explored the rocky glen, they gathered afresh the wild flowers and berries with the companions of their youth, they mingled once more in the sports of the field with the friends of their riper years, they lived over again many bygone days, bright arid happy with the near and dear under the parental roof.

Ah! are there not as exquisite moments of happiness in our dreams as are ever enjoyed in our waking hours?

The Maories no longer fed the fire; one by one they drew their mats around them, stretched themselves on the ground with but scanty sprinkling of fern underneath, and dropped asleep.

The hound moved closer to the tent-door and lay down so that no one "could enter without stepping over him, and pillowed his head on his own body he too slept.

The night continued as serene as ever—not a breath of wind moved the leaves, now drinking the early clew-fall.

The stars shone down without a cloud to obscure their brilliancy, and were reflected from the smooth sea that girt the little island.

The ebbing waters receded from the gravelly shore without a ripple.

Not a sound, even the faintest, broke on the universal stillness.

All Nature slept.

And thus it was that the two Rangatera Pakehas of the good old Kanini took possession of their new home.

For had he not sold to them that lonely and faraway spot, the little island of Motu Korea?


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