― 214 ―

The Dispersion of Mrs. Black.

“I KNOW,” said old Bill, meditatively, “that it takes more'n one to get up a proper dispersion, but you will find that old woman Black were dispersed pretty wide, for all that.

“Yer see, it were this way. Old Sol Black were a whaler down at Maketu, and like all sich, he got a Maori wife and a lot o'kids. Well, his old 'ooman met with a haccident one day in war-time. Old Sol used to help the tribe in battle, and on this hoccasion they got well licked, and Sol's wife got eat. Sol thought he would get a white woman to look after the kids, and he goes to Auckland in the Flying Fish and brings one back.

“She were a widder wot never had no kids of her own, which was just into Sol's hand. She were a big, fat heifer, and it took a tidy plarster to make her a frock, so she seldom wore one. She minded the kids all right till they got spliced or went off on their own hook.

“Arter that the old 'ooman used to go about the pah jabbering and chiacking with one and another. She were generally barefooted, just like a Maori woman. She kep' pretty straight, 'cept when there was any rum or square-face about; then she'd get her whack anyhow.

“They'd shifted to Rotorua by this time, and their whare [?] was on the lake shore; but most of the natives lived on the hill. Old Sol was away ketching crawfish in the lake when one on'em on the hill got up a five-gallon keg o'rum. The old 'ooman smelt it, and was up there on the tear quick. It were dark when she tacked for home, pretty well boozed. There was a lot of hot-springs and cooking-holes and biling-pools o'all sorts just off the track; but, Lord! she'd been along that track all hours.

  ― 215 ―

“Well, there wasn't no one at home, so nobody missed her, anyhow. The old go-ashore which was their bell was a-sounding for morning prayers, for they prays twice a day, do them natives, quite public in the church, and when the first lot got a bit on the track they saw a blanket which had caught by a corner on a old tea-tree stump, right acrost the track, and the further corner was just on the edge of the bilingest of all them biling springs.

“When they looked in there was a lot of hile on the top, and as the water heaved and rolled with the heat of hell a lot of whitish, yallerish, flaky and ropy-looking stuff was a-rolling round with the hile and water. There was some o'them fresh green ferns on the further edge a-hanging over, and by-an'-by a bigger bile-up than common fetched some white rag out from hunder the ferns all lapped and twisted round summut hard. The niggers'd got to know afore this what was the matter from the blanket, and when they saw the white rag they was certint, 'cos them was all her togs the night afore.

“They fished out the rag and found it were lapped and twisted round the neck and breast of pore Mrs. Black. The head was biled off and likewise the arms and backbone was broke through the middle, what with the rousting about it got when the bile was most wiolent, and I allus heard say she were a tender critter.

“They didn't know what to do all to wonst. They thought if they got her out and put her in a soap-box she'd run through the jints. A'larst one on'em who'd been to school said the Rumuns used to put their dead 'uns into jars arter burning on 'em to ashes, and stick 'em on the mantel where they was allus handy to cry over. He thought a callybash, such as they put birds and pork in when they are biled down in their own fat, would about fill the bill, and it would comfort old Sol to have his wife in a funeral hurn, as he called it. He was a rare schollard for a native, that chap.

“They agreed to that, and got some old bent tin and pumpkin shells, and a canoe baler and a long-handle shovel, and ladled the old girl out. The bones was mostly low down fooling around in the heddy where the bottom of the hole ought to be.

  ― 216 ―

“They kep' the bones separate, and when the head came out from hunder the ferns it were quite white and nothin' on it to speak on. Some of the red hairs was a-twisted round the other pieces, and some was in locks of hair by themselves among the hile. Bein' as she were a copper-topped 'un, the hairs weren't as heasy to see as black 'uns, but they was very careful.

“They got a good large gourd a couple of foot high, open at the top, and they put all the small goods in; but the worst job was skimming off the hile, for they said they would like her to be all there. But she weren't, for I see a good-looking Maori wench a-fishing out the finger and toe-nails with a pawa shell, and she wore 'em for a necklace the next day.

“The shovel came in werry handy for skimming the hile. The worst was keeping the water out; and they said if that was scooped up and put in the hipu, it might be unpleasant for various reasons to Sol when he went to weep beside the hurn.

“A'larst they got her fixed and a flat bit of tin on the openin', and they said they'd stand the jimmy on top of that to give it a proper finish like. It were a melancholy business.—some o'the women was a-crying and a-howling all the time. The bones they tied together wery neat and put 'em in a case o'titara bark what had had smoked heels in. Then they concluded to put it in the store out of the way of the kids, who might think she were pork if left in the whare [?].

“When Sol came back he was quite pleased with the pains they'd took, and he had a good look at her and gave her a nod when he left, but he didn't go and weep beside the hurn, and the schollard said that was because he wasn't a Rumun which they thought he were.

“Well, she stood on that shelf for years and nobody took no liberties with her, and the sight of her bony face kept the kids away, till one day a tourist came along who wanted to get the skull of a cannybul for a skyantific society, and one o'the young men sold Mrs. Black's skull for half-a-crown and a long beer.

  ― 217 ―

“That was the beginning on it. Yer see, there was no brand on when the head was was gone, same as all on us, and no telling what was inside the hipu. Old Sol never went there, and the tomb of Mrs. Black was neglected by him as ought to have decked it with flowers as is common.

“By-an'-by the kids got to shovin' their fingers in when they got a chance, but they seemed to want henthoosiasm, and she didn't get scattered much that way; but there was an old tohunga priest there as carved things out o'human bone, and he came acrost the bark case o'bones one day when he was a-skirmishing around for dried heels. He looted 'em, and made two flutes and some hornaments they call aurei and a search-warrant for the hair and a whole biling o'fish-hooks out of Mrs. Black's bones, and, bein' a noted tohunga, he sold 'em to all the tribes of both islands.

“Then they was going pigeon-shooting one day and one of the young fellows dropped on the hipu with Mrs. Black in it. Yer see, she looked summut like mutton-bird hile. Well, they hiled their guns with her and their bridles and saddles, and them as 'ad boots hiled them; and the thick part of her at the bottom of the hipu they threw into the lake, and the gold and silver fishes scoffed her, and that just about spread out poor Mrs. Black.

“Well, she worn't missed for a long time, till at larst one of Sol's daughters came and asked after her foster-mother, and they went to look and couldn't find her. It all came out though when they came to ask, and them as had took pains to ladle her out and bottle her was pretty wild, but Sol said it didn't matter as he knowed on, she always was a terror to wander, but it might be orkard at the last trump, but then agen he thought the longer she kep' away from the Judgment the better for her, and perhaps it were all for the best Amen.

“Thanks, boss; I don't mind if I do.”

And Bill did.