It had been taken for granted that Wiki would marry the playmate of her childhood days, merry-hearted Te Kaha. Indeed, it had all been arranged by their shrewdly scheming fathers while Wiki and Te Kaha were little more than babies, so that they had grown up to think of their marriage as the most natural of events. Everyone felt sure that no more agreeable pair could be found anywhere. Least of all did the young people themselves dream that anything could upset the eminent suitability of the arrangement. Wiki was vivacious and pretty; Te Kaha strong and as pleasing of feature as of manner; always they seemed to find pleasure in each other’s company. And the lands of the two families adjoined. Now they would become united in the ownership of one family; that also was good. Why, then, risk trouble by looking elsewhere? Yet it was not given to them to decide.
It was just about the time that the marriage arrangements were being finally settled that Rua came from Taupo to the coastal district to work on the farm of a Pakeha, where he did well and earned good wages. Te Kaha and this attractive young fellow soon became good friends, and during the holidays at Christmas-time Rua rode over to join his friend in a day’s shark-fishing.
He found Te Kaha’s place deserted, so he went over the road to the house of Wiki’s father, who was also away at the fishing. But Wiki was there in a big blue apron busy washing the floors, and she left her work and came out to see what the stranger wanted. Then, by the mysterious intuition that governs such affairs, as soon as his gaze met Wiki’s eyes, Rua knew that he wanted this girl; and in her eyes he read a sudden response. It was as inevitable as if the affair had been settled since time began.
But all he asked her then was: Had Te Kaha gone to the fishing, and which way should he go to find him? The girl smiled and pointed out the track to him, and he soon found Te Kaha and the others. And now Rua forgot all about Wiki in the blue apron, so much he loved fishing as well as fair women. But when the fishing was over he thought of Wiki again.
Taking the very next opportunity that came, Rua rode again in the direction of Te Kaha’s place but he waited out of sight in the wild peach grove beyond the village till Wiki came, as was her habit, toward the little store at the crossroads. As she was passing the grove Rua stepped out and called to her, and again he was rewarded by her smile. For a while they sat in the shade of the trees chatting and joking as if there was not a care in all the world; but when Wiki protested that she must hurry on to buy bread and not keep her father waiting, then Rua held her there and told the girl of his love for her. And Wiki, who a week earlier would have laughed at the idea of such a happening, now confessed that she had been looking and longing for Rua’s return every day since that first brief meeting. But sorrowfully she told him, alas! how matters stood between Te Kaha and herself.
“If that is so, then we must run away, you and I together,” replied Rua undaunted.
Although Wiki knew how terribly she was treating poor Te Kaha, and how unforgiving her parents would be, she answered without hesitation as if bound by a force far stronger than any cold reasoning, “Alright, I’ll go with you anywhere you like to take me, Rua.”
“Indeed, I am sorry for Te Kaha as he is my good friend,” said Rua, “but my love for you is greater than his friendship. I must lose the one or the other.”
So they planned to go to Taupo.
“When we get there all will be well,” Rua assured the girl, “for I have many friends there and I have been offered work driving a tractor on the forestry lands. Only let us go soon before they suspect us.”
At last it was all settled and Wiki arrived home late with the bread.
Suspected they were, however. Te Kaha had an uncle, a lean, grim, silent old man who had, by common repute, the power of makutu. Perhaps it was but his dourness that earned him the fear of his more open-hearted neighbours, yet he seemed to find a perverse satisfaction in their opinion of him. Little indeed escaped his beady eyes, and the most trivial incidents were important to his quick imagination. If others were blind to Wiki’s infatuation with Rua, not so Uncle Kapi. The wild peach grove, he noticed, had become strangely attractive to the girl these quiet summer evenings, and often she forgot the very things she went to the store to buy. Uncle Kapi sought and found the reason for these things.
In his vaguely mysterious fashion, by hints and cryptic sayings, he tried to arouse in Te Kaha a mistrust of Rua. But Te Kaha only made jokes of his uncle’s most sinister prophecies. It was impossible for Te Kaha to suspect his friend, much less his loved one, the adorable Wiki. However, by carefully cultivating doubts in the more receptive minds of the parents, Uncle Kapi spread much uneasiness, to banish which the wedding was suddenly announced for the very next Saturday, and until then Wiki was sent away to the house of her old grandmother to be out of Rua’s sight.
This arrangement seemed to work splendidly. Rua’s schemes for running away with Wiki were quite upset, and he was unable to find out where her people had hidden her. On the other hand, all the friends and relatives of both families were jubilant at the announcement of the long-awaited wedding and flung themselves into preparation for a worthy festival with whole-hearted enthusiasm. The time was opportune for another feast-day. Christmas and New Year were long past; there had not been a marriage of any importance in the district for months now; and among the long-lived little community, neither had the occasion for a tangi arisen, although it was evident that poor old Honi Tawa was not far now from the road to the Reinga. Well, all the more reason why he should enjoy one more wedding before his time came to go.
As the end of the week drew near, visitors were arriving at the village by the score. In cars and trucks they came, on horses and on foot—men, women and children, all in their best and gayest clothes, as befitted their happy mood, and long before Saturday the spirit of carnival was abroad. Smiling with satisfaction upon all the joyous activity, and joking with his companions, Te Kaha was there to receive the congratulations and good wishes of the newcomers; but it was said that Wiki would not arrive till her father drove her to the ceremony in the big car he had bought in honour of the occasion, at eleven o’clock on Saturday morning.
In order that nothing might be lacking, fish, fowl and beast were killed in large numbers; and never had there been such activity as on Friday in preparing food, and digging haangis for its cooking, and building long cool shelters of palm leaves, and setting up trestle tables for the feasting, and decorating the meeting-house with flags, and chasing away dogs and troublesome children, and re-erecting the big tent for the accommodation of the visitors, it having collapsed the previous night amid much laughter and confusion. It was rumoured that Uncle Kapi had declared it to be an omen of misfortune; but it really could not mean bad luck, for everyone agreed that it had been put up only temporarily and very hurriedly, and they said they had expected it to fall down.
Also on Friday the two ministers arrived; the Methodist one desired by Wiki’s family and the Ratana preacher insisted on by Uncle Kapi, who took no trouble to hide his dislike of Methodists; but Uncle Kapi was obstinate in all things. Anyway, it was laughingly agreed that Wiki and Te Kaha would be well married with the two ministers.
By Friday night, too, many presents had been brought to Wiki’s house, where they were all set out on tables, and they were loudly admired and quietly criticised and secretly envied by all the guests. But Uncle Kapi took his wedding gift straight to Te Kaha that night as the young man sat with his friends before the meeting-house.
“Here is my gift to you,” said Uncle Kapi, holding out to Te Kaha a queer old gun of obsolete pattern.
The young men laughed out aloud, thinking it some sort of joke, and Te Kaha laughed also as he took the weapon and turned it over wonderingly in his hands.
“Do not laugh so,” reproved Uncle Kapi. “That gun brings good fortune to its owner. I had it in the old fighting days. It served me well. See those notches – seven of them.”
True, Uncle Kapi as a very young man had used the old gun in the later Maori wars, although some ungenerous souls sneeringly hinted that he had added the notches only in his second childhood. Again, it was said of him by others, half in admiration, that he had fought sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other, whichever was revealed as victorious in his dreams. It was quite easy to believe such things of Uncle Kapi.
Even in those distant warrior days the gun must have been an antiquated weapon. Now, battered and rusty as it was, its appearance could only provoke laughter. But Uncle Kapi was quite serious.
“Take it,” he insisted, “and take also this powder and shot. It is enough for one charge at least. I foresee the need to guard the honour of your home in the days to come. When the plundering hawk with jealous and greedy eyes hovers over the house of Te Kaha, then shoot,” said Uncle Kapi with more intensity than usual. “Shoot and kill!”
And before they could question him he was gone.
They were all quite used to Uncle Kapi and his crazy mysterious ways, so the incident was soon forgotten; and Te Kaha, wishing to be rid of the cumbersome old gun, took it over the road to his house and put it and the powder and shot behind the door.
“Stay there, old gun,” he addressed it half humorously, “I do not think you could claim any victims, hawk or human, these days. So rest your old bones there and dream of the past.”
The sun shone brightly from a cloudless sky on Saturday morning. With the approach of eleven o’clock an eager multitude gathered in front of the flag-decorated meeting-house awaiting the arrival of Wiki and her father in the big car. The two ministers were there by the doorway, one in a white robe and one in black, with their Bibles and prayer books in hand. Te Kaha, looking very proud and handsome, and his father, full of pleasant satisfaction, were near by. Uncle Kapi remained silent and aloof in the background. Friends, relatives, visitors – all were there. All except young Rua; he was nowhere to be seen now, although he had entered whole-heartedly into the gaiety of the last week, much to the annoyance of Uncle Kapi.
Everything was ready – all eyes were upon the road.
But it was Wiki’s father alone on an old white horse who came galloping down the road to the waiting group. Obviously something was wrong, and a murmuring of wondering voices arose. As soon as the excited man had dismounted and made his way to where the ministers were standing he gasped out his story.
“They’ve gone,” he cried. “They’ve run away – Wiki and Rua. They took my car this morning while I was over the hill talking about the wedding with Tamahana, and drove away – Heaven knows where! And that old woman who was supposed to watch Wiki – she let them get away. She wants to know why she should be worried with the doings of children at her time of life. She told me to go away and leave her in peace. I think myself that Rua had seen to it that there was a good supply of tobacco for her pipe. So I had to leave her squatting on the veranda with her pipe between her lips and her eyes on the horizon and her mind contemplating heavenly glories, while Wiki and Rua sped away. Old woman! Pah!”
“What, then, shall be done now?” inquired the Methodist preacher hesitantly.
Indeed, that question was in all minds. Suggestions of all kinds were given, no one regarding his neighbour’s advice. Some wished to pursue the runaways. Others thought the case hopeless. All was confusion and indecision. Then they remembered Te Kaha. After all, it was Te Kaha’s wedding. What would he do about it?
“Ae, ask Te Kaha,” cried his father. Then turning about he queried, “Eh now, where is Te Kaha?”
But Te Kaha was not there. Old Uncle Kapi was just starting to speak, but no one heard what he had to say, for suddenly the hills echoed and re-echoed to the crash of a loud explosion – over the road.
Taken from A Roderick Finlayson Reader edited by Roger Hickin (Cold Hub Press, $42.40), available in bookstores nationwide or direct from the publisher.