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  ― 119 ―

A Step Too High.

TE PAREHAO was a Maori chief, and Te Parehao had something on his mind. He made no sign, and worked away with spade and spear among the gum-diggers as if his thoughts were as tranquil as usual. Toward afternoon, though, when chance threw him alone with Herewini, the oldest, and therefore the most respected chief in Taiere, he made known his trouble quietly, and asked advice.

Herewini was grieved beyond measure when he heard; but he alone could not give counsel in a case like this, he must consult the other rangatiras of the settlement.

The meeting took place at dusk in Herewini's own whari [?]. Five chiefs, all of high rank, were present. They sat silently round a fire in the middle of the floor, spitting into the coals. Te Parehao, the sixth chief, and the one chiefly interested, was late in arriving; but he came at last and squatted quietly by the fire. Then Herewini's voice called on him to make known the cause of this meeting; and the listeners moved from the fire a little, and regarded Te Parehao expectantly.

He introduced himself warrior fashion, then reminded them that he had been husband four months to a woman who was very pleasing to the eye; that she went away only yesterday to see her friends, who lived some two miles past the pakeha's house; and that it was a moonlight night last night. Very well. He felt solitary, and went out He walked, he walked a long way, and at last the home of the only white man in Taiere was before his eyes. Then was he coming back, but he saw through the trees a man and woman going along to the house Ah! these chiefs of high blood before him would feel sick with shame, for the woman was she to whom he


  ― 120 ―
had been married four months: the man was that wicked pakeha! Well, they went in, and he waited and waited; and the moon had gone down, and it was near the rising of the sun when the woman came out of the house and went back to the home of her friends, two miles away. That was all his korero, and he would ask the wise men present what was to be done.

An old chief cleared his throat and spat impressively into the fire. He had a few observations to make. In the first place, the white man's punishment should be great, because he expected too much. Not only did they allow him two girls to keep house and wash, but he frequently came and spent hours in the society of other women, and wrong was not thought of it. And now—a chief's wife!—that was a step too high. Those were all his words.

The next gentleman agreed with all his learned friend had said. He suggested a form of punishment which, under similar circumstances, has suggested itself to many nations, and waited. An older chief did not think the mode severe enough. What did the others think? They left it in the hands of the chief whose honour had been injured. Would Te Parehao speak?

Yes; he wanted the life of the white man and his mistress that night. As for the kind of punishment proposed—no, Te Parehao would sooner butcher the white man outright. Plenty of supplejacks he would take to lash the two together; and he wanted help to drag them to the coast. The sea was big—the sea might wash out their stain. First he would go to the house of the white man, and tie him up; then away to where the woman was, and ask her to come home. The rest would be easy. Who would help him?

Two of the strongest offered their services at once.

It was moonlight, and nine o'clock; and the premises of Joseph Mackerrow, storekeeper, had been closed for two or three hours. The owner himself had been out in the moonlight half-an-hour ago, but he had gone in, and now there was no light in the place. No light, and no one about.

Hush! Was not that a woman who walked quickly up in the


  ― 121 ―
pale moonlight toward the door, and opened it, and went in? And what of three figures that lay in the shadow of a clump of blackishtrunked manuka trees huddled together near the house? It was hard to see them, no matter how you peered.

It must have been half-an-hour after the woman went in when these figures got up and approached the door noiselessly. It was unlocked, and in they went without a sound, each carrying a bundle of split supplejacks.

Then everything was inanimate again.

Time passed. The place was now in shadow, now lit up, and again in shadow, as a few clouds straggled across the moon. When at length all was clear, and she looked down, the three chiefs were out in front of the house once more; and on the ground near them a man and woman lay in each other's arms, lashed together in half-a-dozen places. They formed a picture that seemed to please Te Parehao's idea of revenge; for he regarded them often, and occasionally even spoke to the woman in Maori, to the man in broken English.

His wife of four months shed tears, only to be jeered at; and the gum-merchant was fast going into stupor—partly through fear, and partly because the tight binding was beginning to affect his circulation.

They made too heavy a load to drag, so their captors decided upon securing the services of a cart-horse. And then another delicate question took a few minutes' consideration. Te Parehao wished to hook the traces in some loops of the supplejack binding, and perform the journey without a sledge. His companions remonstrated; he would have no satisfaction when he reached the coast. The way was rough, and it would kill them. Te Parehao gave in reluctantly. When all was ready to start, he stated his intention of doing the rest of the work alone; rubbed noses with his two assistants; and started on his way merry as a chief should be who is enjoying a thoroughly satisfactory revenge.

The moon had done three-fourths of her night's journey when he reached the coast, and the strong salt air came pleasantly up over


  ― 122 ―
the cliffs into his nostrils. He estimated the number of capsizes on the way to be three. He never looked back; but he heard the thud when the sledge struck anything and turned over, and the groans mingling with the traces' rattle when the load possibly caught against a stump, or helped the sledge over a boulder. Then, when the horse became quieter, he guessed the sledge had got into its proper position again.

At the commencement of a steep incline, that led down to a steeper cliff, Te Parehao stopped. He walked to the very edge and looked coolly over.

“Good enough,” he said; and came back to relieve the sledge of its load.

Then he uttered an exclamation. Either the supplejacks binding the two necks had worked loose, or the man's neck was broken, for the head had slipped down and rested on the shoulder of the woman, whose eyes looked up now—not into her lover's, but into her husband's. There was still life in her.

“Spare me,” she pleaded weakly, in the native tongue. “The man you would kill with me is already dead. Let me go; and forget that you married me. I will go away; only let me live—let me live until my turn comes to die.”

For answer, Te Parehao lifted her partner's head and placed the face against hers.

“Kish!” he said; “one good long kish.”

She did not speak, but when the head slipped to the side again, her eyes turned on Te Parehao with reproach, and the lower part of her face was smeared with blood—blood not her own.

“Here! here!” said the chief. “Sure you no sham?” and he turned the pakeha's face up.

Sham or no sham, one eye was glassy; and where the other should have been there was a simple hole. Blood ran from the mouth, and clotted blood ran from the beard.

“Ha! Never mind!”—and Te Parehao proceeded to undo the fastenings that bound the man and woman to the sledge. It did not take long.




  ― 123 ―

“See!” and he pointed down the sloping bank, two hundred feet below the edge of which the sea lay, glistening invitingly under the moon. “Quick way you go hell, eh? Me gi' you good shtart”—and he began rolling them over. Five or six turns sufficed; then they kept on without assistance, and he stood and watched the result. Presently the pace became hot; and first the woman, then the man, was uppermost, whirling over and over and hurrying to the edge.

It was days afterwards, and the sea rolled in lazily. On the sand, a flock of birds of all sorts and conditions; in the water, sometimes out of sight, sometimes almost wholly to be seen, as each wave curled over, something which interested these birds greatly. A mermaid floating on her back with her lover in her arms? Perhaps so. At any rate, an old and dissipated-looking bird, watching with the crowd, turned to his better half and winked; at which she looked the other way, as a girl who blushes modestly. Yet, when the waves had done with the two bodies, she was among the first to waddle hungrily for a closer inspection.

MAX MERROLL.

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