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Poenamo
Book the Fourth - Chapter II.
Monarchs of all they Surveyed.—The Monarchs Turn Well-Sinkers


Morning dawned as calmly and serenely as the preceding evening, had sunk into night.

Daylight came struggling faintly and indistinctly into the tent when I awoke that morning from one long unbroken slumber.

I well remember—so vivid had been my dreams of home—that when I first awoke I could hardly realise that I lay on a bed of fern, but I thought that I must still be at home, and that my life since I left it was a dream from which I had not yet woke up.

But rub my eyes as I would I still saw the tented roof overhead, and the Maori language fell on my ear from without the tent, and the hound snuffing up the morning air stretched himself out with a yawning whine, and ended by giving a suppressed short bark, and putting his cold nose into my face, as if wishing me the most affectionate of greetings in my new home—which greeting he administered also to my still sleeping companion, and so awoke him.

"I suppose we are lying in a tent on a fern bed on the round—that that is the sea out there—that this is Motu Korea, our new home, though I have been dreaming my old one so vividly that it has taken me some time to realise the true position of my life and precise time of its existence."

It was thus I awoke, throwing off my blanket and jumping up.

And I also would most certainly have believed that I awoke in 'Auld Reekie,' only on such pure air as this is to be had there, and one is not in the habit of having the cold nose of a dog pushed into ones face in one's bed in a civilised land, so I suppose I must confess to being really where I am, however difficult that very simple problem may be. I had better follow your example and get up, and as I do not hear any waves breaking on the beach, it will be a splendid morning for us to paddle round the island and examine all its nooks and corners in our canoe.

On issuing from the tent we found the dawn fast chasing away all traces of night from the east, but to the west we still saw some lingering stars "with lessening rays" shining "to greet the early morn," ushering in the lovely day when Motu Korea to us was born—that is a little bit of a travesty of Burns's loveliest of poems, but it reads naturally enough if it does not smack of true poetry.

The sky was cloudless, not a breath of air stirred, the reflection of the little mountain glassed itself in the smooth surface of the surrounding water.

The dew-scent rose fresh on all sides, for the vegetation around glistened with the pearly drops and seemed struggling through a crystal bath, so heavily lay the dew.

We might have washed ourselves in dew, but we were not quite nymphs, and were not enacting the poetry of life, so a tin basin, on a lump of scoria rock for a washstand, if neither poetical nor romantic, was much more practical and appropriate for the work we had before us.

Whilst our open-air toilet was being performed, the Maories were launching the canoe for us into deep water, the tide having left it high and dry on the beach.

As we took our places in the canoe, Tartar—for the good old Kanini had given us the hound as a parting gift—scrambled in, and wished to make one of the party; but as he might, by jumping on the side, make the canoe rather unsteady for safe paddling, We dispensed with his company and made him jump out again. Seeing that the canoe skirted inshore, lie scampered along the beach in close attendance.

In the course of a couple of hours we had made the complete circuit of our little sea-girt possession, and had explored every little bay.

We sat down on a scoria stone with a keen relish for our breakfast. Pork and potatoes never tasted better—tea was hardly wanted to wash down the meal. A good wholesome appetite, whetted by our morning's paddle, had also a relish given to it by time knowledge of what our morning's excursion had disclosed to us, for we were enchanted with all we had seen along the shore of the island, and we were in full hope that our inland exploration would confirm our first impression that we had fallen on quite a little prize, and that our new and lonely home would excel our fondest hopes and expectations.

After breakfast we saw Pama start in the boat with his crew bound on a visit to Waipehmais station at the Manukau. This, mission from Waiomu, determined upon by Waipeha very soon after our arrival at Herekino, had been a very opportune one for us as it afforded us the opportunity of crossing the gulf in the good new boat of Pama's building, which was large enough to take our canoe in tow, and thus bring us comfortably to the island. But though we had arrived safely we had not done so without having encountered some risk of losing our canoe.

The fact was, the boat was much too deeply laden, and a strong breeze blowing up the gulf, with a strong tide flowing down it, had raised such a "jabble of a sea" that we ran some risk of being swamped, and we had to throw overboard some bags of salt, destined for Waipeha's station, to lighten the boat. We were very near being obliged to cast off the canoe, which, of course, became too heavy a drag in a sea-way.

Pama was to call again at the island in a day or two on his way back to Herekino, and I promised to be ready to accompany him part of the way. I was bound on a small voyage down the inlet to present certain credentials with which Kanini had armed us. They were addressed to a sub-tribe, who were commanded to go to the island and build his Pakehas a whare.

The letter was not an absolute command, but was in reality equivalent to one, so I knew I was not starting on a wild-goose chase, without a certainty of being able to get back to the island within a given time—always making due allowance for Maori taihoa-ism.

So we saw Pama pull away round the reef—the very reef which Waipelia had bumped us in the dark that night when a certain number of visionaries were township-site-hunting and came to grief, as it has been my task to tell you.

How little did "we twa" then think how well we should come to know that reef, and how many would be the dish of oysters we should gather off it.

Here, then, we were, with Tartar as company, all alone in our glory to lord it over each other in our own small dominion. In order to get a complete view of this in a coup d'hote we at once determined to ascend our little island's little mountain. A quarter of an hour's rough scramble from the base, and we stood on its summit. We were not a little surprised to discover, en route, signs that the island had once been inhabited. There were long lines of stone walls here and there, and the usual six-foot-high fern was replaced by a short dry-looking grass—a sure sign that the land had been cropped for many and many a year, so as to have completely eradicated the fern. The sides of the hill were so thickly covered with scoria that the fern was comparatively of stunted growth.

As we approached the very summit, the scoria became much smaller, redder, and burnt-looking, and on fairly gaining the top all doubt of the island's volcanic origin was set at rest, for we found an extinct crater at least a hundred feet deep, its sides all round as regular in shape as a punch-bowl. The upper rim had a radius of some hundreds of yards. On the outer slope of the hill which we had traversed in our ascent we had crossed several well-deflned terraces scooped out with great regularity, the lowest some fourteen feet in width, each higher one narrowing successively.

There was no doubt whatever that the island had been used as a stronghold and place of refuge in long- bygone days, and the terraces were the points of defence. In these later days, when the scrub and thick fern have given place to the bright green verdure of the grass which now covers the slopes of these volcanic hills, you can ride to the summits of many, and see extinct craters far surpassing in size that of little Motu Korea, but none of more perfect form.

I am afraid the next forty years will do as little as the past forty years have done in any light on past history of the aboriginal people who actually terraced all those volcanic hills. Traditions there are of battles fought by some great chief, and the spots are localised by the names of volcanic mountains, but no thrilling tale is ever told of how one terrace after another was lost or gained, and the pah on the summit stormed.

I believe the generations of a far earlier race, once thickly populating the land, and of whom we have no traditions whatever, were the artificers who scarped the vast works on many mountains. The only record is a stray skull or two, the cranial development of which, compared with that of the Maori skull of the present day, shows as great a difference as between that of the Briton of to-day and that of the Briton of the days of Julius Ceasar. And the Briton of that day would not compare with the Maori of our day; they had only one feature in common, I think—both used war-paint.

As we walked round the crater margin we could survey, lying at our feet, the whole of our little sea- girt possession, and we were as proud of it as if it had been a small kingdom instead of a speck of an island of some hundred and fifty acres, for such proved to be its area.

We were surprised and delighted to find that there was a good deal of level land, for when passing the island it looked as if there were little save the crater-hill arising from the water. We now saw, however, that fine rich land lay all around the base of the hill, and quite a long level flat stretched away from one end towards the mainland.

Altogether it was a lovely place—pretty little bays were inclosed by picturesque headlands, all having some distinctive peculiarity. Then there arose from the level land near the base of the crater several little sugarloaf hills covered with rich brushwood. These hills could only have been formed by some immense shower of ashes vomited forth by the volcano, which, coming down vertically, had concentrated on one spot, forming these small pyramids.

One thing afforded us immense satisfaction—we saw a small pool of water in the centre of the level land. Old Kanini had told us of a spring on the eastern shore, but had not said anything about water in the centre of the island. The landscape from all points of view appeared to us as lovely then as it does now, and when you return with me to that far-off land, my children, you shall one day stand on the same spot and feast your own eyes on the landscape.

We saw Orakei Bay, and remembered our "ragout the Incomparable," and behind the bay arose Mount Remuera, from which we had first seen and coveted Motu Korea, and now, behold! we stood on Mount Motu Korea the owners of the soil, and our hopes were realised that we should pitch our tent on its shore and abide the wished-for event—the foundation of the capital of the colony by the Crown of Britain.

Descending from our "high estate," we began exploring all the bays from the land point of inspection, having already done so by water, so as to determine the best locality in which to raise the roof-tree of our future home.

We finally fixed upon a spot with a snug little beach, protected on one side by a reef—very necessary, for our canoe, for it was the most valuable of all our worldly possessions. From this spot, too, the mainland could be soonest reached, so we determined that here we would have our whare built—provided we succeeded in procuring water, for which we should be obliged to sink a well.

Water close at hand was the one thing absolutely indispensable, for we should require to act the beast of burden role quite enough, without having to carry water to a distance from the spring, wherever we might find one. We should have to be our own "hewers of wood," so the nearer we could do the "drawing of water" the better.

Having in our mind's eye fixed on a spot for the house, we there and then cleared away the brushwood and fern where we intended to begin sinking a well the first thing next morning. As we had our hatchets with us, it did not take us much time to do the small piece of clearing required. We then turned homewards to the tent, collecting as we walked along the beach a back-load of drift-wood, which was in due time deposited at the tent-door.

Sunset saw two great landed proprietors, monarchs of all they surveyed—provided they did not look beyond the island itself--busy cooking their own dinner.

And that same day that Motu Korea was born to them, the day that they walked from sunrise to sunset over their own broad acres, that day saw those great lords of the soil for the first time in their lives acting as their own cooks and getting their own dinner.

And in after-life they actually boasted of having arrived at this menial degradation.

Yes, they lived to see the day when the well appointed coal-merchant's waggon deposited the black diamonds of the colony's own production at villa residences where then grew fern and nature reigned supreme—villa residences in the suburbs of the town they were then waiting to see founded, whose locality even had not then been fixed upon.

Yes, they lived to see this, and ever recalled with pride and pleasure that first day when they were their own cooks in the little island of Motu Korea!

Next morning we "twa" had risen before the sun, and shaking the dew from off the brushwood as we pushed our way through it in going towards the well-site, we soon had our coats off, and went at it with a will as well-sinkers. We thought it wise to make the best of the cool of the morning for our new occupation; so, spell and spell about, we went at it, digging through one foot after another of beautiful rich volcanic soil, so that we began to wish with all our hearts it was not so deeply rich and would but change to clay to give us some hope of success.

Towards midday that rich soil gave no indication of coming to an end, so we beat a retreat to the reef close at hand, and as it was low water it had bared an immense oyster-field. We went at that now for a change, and made an onslaught to the tale of a terrible number could it only have been totted up—in fact, until we were almost as tired of eating oysters as we had been in trying to get through the volcanic soil in the well—that was never to be for, alas ! we dug, and we dug, until we had both to take a spell—strolling through the brushwood and then another turn at the well, and then another turn at the oyster-bed; but the volcanic soil fairly got the best of us and drove us off discomfited.

At last the slanting rays of the setting sun, not down the well but aboveground, warned us we had certain culinary duties to undertake before sunset, and having gone through some twelve feet of soil with no indications of a change, we concluded that we must go farther and try to fare better by trying a new locality quite away from this rich flat and nearer the base of the hill.

If we had been disappointed in not getting water, certes we had not been so in finding a depth of rich soil, if that was any compensation.

And thus our second day was spent on the island.

The next morning we chose a much more beautiful spot for the house; it was charmingly picturesque, facing straight up the harbour, but there was no shelter on the beach in front for our canoe; but it would obviously be much better to have to go some distance when we wanted our canoe, which would be but seldom after all, than to have to fetch from a distance the ever-needed supply of water.

Good luck came to us on our second trial, for we found a break in the land quite a short distance behind the new site we had chosen for the house, and we had not sunk six feet before we came to a clay subsoil, and before the day was done we rejoiced in a well with water coming freely, and the next morning we awoke to find four feet of fine clear water—a supply which never gave out, and withstood all our household attempts to lessen the quantity.

On the afternoon of the following day Pama made his appearance from Orakei on way back to Waiou, fulfilling his promise to call for me and land me at the Ngatitais' settlement at Omapuhia.

So I had to leave Tartar to take care of his other master and the other master to take care of Tartar, and both of them to see that the island did not run away before I came back again.

This I promised to do with as much speed as was compatible with the take-it-easy and never-in-a-hurry character of Tongata Maori.


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