“Eliza, where are the children?”
“I told them to play outside, near the house. They will be alright, Charles.”
An exasperated sigh rumbled across the bungalow from Charles Worthington. It reverberated around the room and landed squarely in Eliza’s face.
“Eliza, look out this window. There’s jungle everywhere we look. They could easily get lost or worse. We still have many enemies in this land. Would you have them exert their wrath upon our innocent children?”
“Charles, we are called to trust in our Lord, yes? They were accompanied by Chief Taiwhanga’s son, Kaiwhakaora. Surely he will offer them protection.”
Charles’ dark eyes blazed. “He’s just a boy, barely older than our children.” The dangers were there. Inter-tribal battles were frequent among the Maori and the missionaries were vulnerable.
Somewhere nestled among the lush greenery of the forest, Sarah Jane and her older brother Thomas, were exploring with Kaiwhakaora, their Maori friend who, at twelve, was well versed in the ways of his people. Slivers of light shot darts through the canopy. The magical quality of the musky earth combined with the towering wooden ancients captivated their imaginations.
Kaiwhakaora gestured to the overhanging branches. Curious sounds erupted as the children saw flashes of colorful feathers. “Kokako.”
“Look Tom Tom. It’s boo.” Sarah Jane pointed heavenward, watching the bright blue feathers of two large birds skirting the branches high above her head.
A strange flute-like sound wafted down through the ferns as Sarah Jane clapped her hands in delight.
Kaiwhakaora smiled knowingly. “Beeutiful music, yes?”
Sarah Jane plopped down in a moist bed of palm fronds, oblivious to her muddy petticoat and boots. A snail had captured her attention. She giggled with delight as her chubby finger prodded it along.
“You’re gonna catch it Sarah Jane when Mother sees you.” Thomas rocked back on his heels and laughed.
The little girl pouted, but continued an investigation of her surroundings. Just over her shoulder, a bloom of spindly blue mushrooms floated from the mossy earth like tethered jellyfish.
Tom grew distracted by a gray armored lizard that examined him closely and then scurried off to tell others of the strange forest visitors. Following the creature around the base of a tree, Tom discovered a large hole. It reminded him of a rabbit hole from his countryside adventures back home in England.
Kaiwhakaora stood at his shoulder, pointing to the hole. “Kiwi bird sleep today. Hunt tonight. Good food.”
A heady fragrance drew Tom to a spray of delicate white and pink blooms.
“Sarah. Sarah Jane. Come see the pretty flowers.”
Reluctantly, Sarah Jane stood up, giving up her snail and rounding the tree where Tom stood waiting. Her round face, streaked with dirt, broke out in joy.
“Tom Tom. They look like stars. Pretty. Pretty stars.” She danced around the tree, among the ferns, and, clutching her brother’s hands, she twirled and twirled, sweeping him into her dance. Her blue eyes shone like faceted sapphires. “Can we take some back to Mother? Please, oh please.”
“I don’t see why not. I’ll make a bouquet.”
Kaiwhakaora’s eyes darted around the forest. Some distant sound captured his attention. In a sweeping action, he scooped the two younger children up in his arms and dove under a dense stand of vegetation near Thomas’ “rabbit” hole.
Sarah Jane cried, hitting the ground hard. Kaiwhakaora cupped a firm hand over her mouth to quiet her and looked in her eyes with brotherly concern. “Ssshhh Sarah. Ssshh.”
The three children watched from their hiding place as three Maori warriors approached the clearing and came into view. Their faces bore the tattoos of a neighboring tribe, one which had not embraced the Church Missionary Society’s teachings.
Kaiwhakaora sprung from the hiding place and confronted the men in a stance worthy of his father. Two of them men laughed, while the one who appeared to be in charge barked at the others, then spat at the boy’s feet. Two sets of widened eyes watched in terror as Kaiwhakaora was beaten. His blood spilt, mixing with the mossy earth of his ancestors. The Kauri trees drank of it. The forest would never be the same again.
Tom would never be the same again. A guttural whisper emerged from his lips. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 KJV)
A single white orchid fell to the forest floor.
Kaiwhakaora – savior (Maori)
For more information about New Zealand, its climate, topography, history, missionaries, and people, the following websites are invaluable:
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