‘Georgie! Georgie! George Henry!’ Mrs Tumanaako's full voice rolled down the hill from her own rakish verandah to other verandahs, through the shabby meeting house, and on to the freshly-painted school; but no one noticed, for this was a mother's regular lunch-time halloo to her youngest and best-beloved.
‘George Henry, you tor-toyse! Soup's boiling away. Fried bread's cold. You'll be late back for school…. What d'you say, Lily?’ This last was directed to one of the three behind the table.
‘I saw him, Mum. He went to the lake.’ ‘… with Nuku.’ added Joe.
‘They took Uncle's old boat,’ said Mary Anne.
Mrs Tumanaako's soup ladle froze midway to the pot. Her black eyes needled twelve-year-old Mary Anne. ‘And you didn't tell me? You didn't cuff your little brother home? You, his sister? Go, fetch him.’
Mary Anne slithered from her chair, muttering, ‘He's not so little. He's eight. He's with Nuku, and Nuku's his uncle, and he's thirteen.’
However, she took the verandah steps at a jump as her mother wheeled round with, ‘Nuku! That scamp.’
As, five minutes later, Mrs Tumanaako hustled the remaining two through the gate to afternoon school, her worry deepened to alarm. No sign of Mary Anne, and the torpor of morning had given way to a breeze. No! to a wind. The still lake was bestirring itself, its muscles rippling. Soon there would be angry dabs at the raupo fringes.
‘You,’ she scolded herself, ‘this is no time to be standing.’ As she turned, her troubled eyes met those of her husband. He had been dipping, and his bare torso shone with weariness and sweat.
‘Hi, Mere. What's the matter?’
‘The little fellow. George Henry. He's out on the lake, and look at it.’
Ted gazed lakewards. Mrs Tumanaako had a great affection for her husband, but in this moment of anxiety his slowness exasperated her.
‘See here! He and Nuku took Uncle's old boat. I sent Mereana to fetch him. She hasn't come and the lake's getting up. Must get some folks out to look.’ Cupping her strong hands, she sent a rousing yell over the lethargic village.
‘Come here — haere mai katoa.’
They came, but it was only a small village, and shearing gangs and the high school twelve miles away had drained it of its man-power. At the foot of the hill were gathered mainly old people and toddlers. Mrs Tumanaako's heart sank.
And George Henry and Nuku? Almost wordlessly, after clearly indicating their physical needs to their teacher, they had gravitated to the lake.
‘Where you going, Nuku?’
‘On the lake. Coming, little feller?’
Silently George Henry climbed over the bow, and the other poled the old punt through the rushes. All was quiet save for the odd whirr of a duck's wing, or the asthmatic croak of a frog. George Henry leaned over, peering into the brown murkiness.
‘Hey! What you doing, feller? Want to capsize this boat?’
Startled, George Henry shuffled back to the middle of his seat, his thin arms clasping his knees. Was it nervousness, or that cool breath from the south that made him shiver?
‘Better now, eh?’ chattered Nuku. ‘We're out. Going faster.’ He sat down because he could no longer stand up, and anyway, the pole was no use. The gentle waves had become vicious buffs.
‘Pole us back, Nuku. Pole us back.’ George Henry, wide-eyed, knees knocking, feet splayed, couldn't believe that Nuku was no longer in control. But Mrs
Tumanaako was right. Her very young brother-in-law was an irresponsible scamp.
‘C-can't,’ his teeth chattered. ‘The wind blows us.’
Given his wild lurch for the pole, George Henry's duck in the face of a monster wave, and the sodden clumsiness of the old punt, the result was obvious. Down! Up! Over! An aeon while arms thrashed and clawed and lungs burst; Nuku struck out instinctively for the shore not more than a hundred yards distant; but something made him turn. Conscience? Family responsibility? Plain humanity? Whatever you will. George Henry was clinging to the upturned boat.
‘Stay there, Georgie. Hold on! I get help,’ The little fellow's big eyes were to haunt Nuku for years to come. ‘No use staying,’ he reasoned, flailing his awkward spashy overarm. ‘Must get help. Ooh!’ He quaked at the thought of facing Uncle, George Henry's mother and Mr Montague at school. Soon, however, all effort was bent on survival. Ah! friendly raupo heads. Not there yet though. ‘Get out of the way, you ol’ water-weeds! Want to strangle me now?”
Feet touched the brown mud, hands fumbled for the sunken branches, and Nuku was ashore, choking up weed and green water and drawing great gulps of clean air.
No rest yet though, for conscience, family responsibility or plain humanity were at him again. He screwed up his red eyes. Could he see the punt? Could George Henry hold on? Fear galvanised him.
Nuku floundered two miles through the swamp to the nearest farm. In years to come he would exclaim, ‘That swamp…’ and turn incoherent. At 2 p.m. the Whaangas rushed to the aid of a desperate figure fumbling at their back gate. Nuku babbled his story and collapsed. Bill Whaanga rattled furiously at the manual telephone, his basic English vividly painting to the police the plight of a small boy. Constable Brogan was despatched to roar over thirty miles of hill and twisty road.
Bill shouted to his wife, ‘Got to go. Scarce a man left in that kainga.’ Then he ran to the Chev., turned the key, and thrust his foot at the starter with, ‘Start this time, will you!’ She did. Bill enjoyed that ride. It gave him three things he loved — speed, power and a purpose. Shrieking to a stop at the meeting house, he flung himself out and set up such a jangle on the
bell that all within earshot raced or tottered thither.
No good news.
Bill spoke to the men. ‘You fellers with boats, get 'em afloat by the ol' jetty. Constable Brogan'll be here soon. We've got to look for Uncle's ol' punt — most likely to the north. Wind's blowing that way. Mrs Tumanaako, you organise the women,’
At any other time they would have muttered, ‘Whakahihi — stuck up!’ resenting his bossiness. But not now. Mrs Tumanaako, her big firm body not made for all this wading through swamp and puffing up hills, forebore to point out that they had already been searching for hours. Instead, she snatched the gauntlet flung down.
‘We women will do the shore. Maybe we'll see better than the men. Mereana, fix George Henry's bed and have hot soup.’ Her eye, sweeping over her small force, lit on her aged parents. ‘And you,’ she said gently, but emphatically, ‘you pray — on your knees. We go.’
The mother and father, who shared the cottage with the Tumanaakos, and indeed had much to do with rearing the children, climbed slowly back. In their bedroom they knelt, never doubting that a mighty and merciful Father would hear them.
‘Our Father… E to matou Matua i te rangi, kia tapu tou ingoa…’ Brown hands clasped on white counterpane, voices rising and falling.
‘My old knees!’ croaked Grandfather, and his wife thrust under them an embroidered pillow.
‘E te Matua atawhai, kaha rawa, kua he matau; kua marara he i ou ara me te hipi ngaro — O most merciful Father, we have sinned; we have strayed from Thy ways like lost sheep… O Lord, watch over the mokopuna.’
Mrs Tumanaako was praying too as she climbed rise after rise to peer over the water. ‘O Lord, he's only a little boy, sometimes naughty, but You wouldn't hold that against him. Lord!… Lily, go tell your father to fetch the car round the point. They might wash up there… and I've not always been a good woman, but I love my children, Lord. You wouldn't take this youngest one!’
She shaded her eyes, straining desperately for some sign. ‘And, Lord, we are poor miserable people. We swear and quarrel and drink, but You wouldn't hold that against George Henry, Lord!’
And George Henry out on the lake? By some miracle, he had righted the punt, and was now squatting precariously amidships. Great shivers of fear racked his body. Nuku MUST come. As time passed his hopes fastened on his mother, grandmother, Mr Montague — anyone.
‘Mum, come quick. You must know I'm here. Gran, Mr Montague, save me!’
No one came. What had the old minister said?
‘When you are in trouble, go to your mum. When there's no mum, and you're in awful trouble, then pray to the Lord.’
‘Lord, Lord,’ whispered George Henry, ‘bring me safe to land. Bring my mum.’
No one came. But the wind sank to a huff, huff, and the wild monster in the lake crept back into his cave. George Henry's weary eyes closed. Blessed oblivion!
Down by the jetty, Consable Brogan reflected that Bill Whaanga had done all the organising possible with half-a-dozen waterlogged dinghies. Perhaps the police uniform and a swiftly assumed confidence would comfort them.
‘Very good, Whaanga. I'll catch the boat round the point.’
The afternoon wore on. Boats came and went. Gallons of tea were brewed.
But the wind dropped, the waves subsided, and the lake was almost oily. At the top of the Tumanaako hill old Uncle could for the first time make effective use of his binoculars. At his elbow, Ted Tumanaako fidgetted, wishing he could put his eye to the old man's toy.
‘Ha. I see…’
‘The boat… (fumbling). Put your eye there, young Ted.’
Ted seized and focused, and with a shout of ‘Georgie!’ flung away the instrument and leapt down the path. From the jetty his hurtling figure and waving arms were seen. Winged messenger!
‘George Henry, out there!’
Exhaustion melted away. Bill Whaanga and Ted seized the best boat. Mrs Tumanaako ordered thermos and rugs to the water's edge and prayed again, ‘O Lord,
bring him home safe. If You do this, I'll remember all my life.’
How hard it was to wair, with the summer dusk falling, the frogs croaking and the morepork honking!
‘You could wash out the last hundred years,’ mused Constable Brogan, sensing the mood of the kainga. ‘Hope this doesn't end in a tangi.’
There was a surge in the little group, for the boat had appeared round the point. All fell back for Mrs Tumanaako who stood, square and ready for what might come, ‘Make me strong, Lord.’
But the waiting was over. A grin split Bill's face. As they pulled in, Mrs Tumanaako strode out and gathered to her full embrace a bundle of ears, eyes and rug. ‘My baby, the Lord be thanked.’
Almost gaily she turned up the hill. ‘Thank you all. Thank you. E tika hoki koutou katoa. Haere mai ki te kai.’ She laughed at her Maori talk which was not very good.
‘Georgie,’ she said later as she fed him soup, ‘the Lord's been good. We prayed… Oh, we prayed….’
‘And I did too,’ said Georgie Henry earnestly. ‘Never prayed so hard in my life.’
The morning was fresh and the lake innocent in the sun. As Mrs Tumanaako led the two boys down the hill they were greeted with small jokes —
‘Have a long korero with the taniwha. Georgie?’
‘The Devil pull your toes, Nuku?’
Now, however, at the school gate was the time for penitence. Mrs Tumanaako's exhortation was interrupted by the put-put of a motor bike and a young man in a crash helmet.
‘Then this is George Henry, the hero. I'm from the press.’ Up with the camera.
Down on the knee.
‘No mister. No photos. These are not heroes. They are just naughty boys. They caused a lot of trouble. But they are sorry and will do better.’ Her level brown eyes declared, ‘This is a kainga affair’, then, seeing his discomfiture, softened suddenly. ‘No photos, but tea and kai!’ He was very young, all his professional assurance gone. ‘Just wait till George Henry and Nuku go to Mr Montague….’
Mrs Tumanaako bent once again to her own peculiar mixture of admonition and persuasion.
New Maori Stamps
A further three stamps of the 1971 definitive issue were placed on sale earlier this year. They feature Maori artifacts, the 15c featuring a Maori fish hook—designed by Mr M. Cleverly of Auckland. The 18c Maori club and 20c Maori tattoo pattern were designed by Miss E. Hunter of Wellington. All these stamps were printed by photogravure by Harrison and Sons Ltd., London.