The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 12 (March 1, 1940)
Von Tempsky on the Warpath — Part II. — Good-Bye To The Diggings
(All Rights Reserved).
The goldfields did not hold Von Tempsky long after his camp fire meeting with the miners at Coromandel (described in the last number). His staunch mate, Sam Nicholls, reported the general lack of enthusiasm for the warpath. The diggers had no quarrel with the Maoris; the only exception among them perhaps was Dutchy, whose fine doublebarrel gun had vanished simultaneously with the disappearance of the NgatiPaoa gold-fossickers. “He's madder'n an old Rocky Mountain grizzly on the rampage,” said Sam. “But he is not likely to chuck up his claim and go soldiering for all that.”
“I'm off, Sam,” said Von Tempsky. “I can't waste another day here. I must be in this dust-up, my friend. No, don't you think of it, Sam. It wouldn't be fair of me to drag you into it just because you think you should stick to your mate. I'm fifteen years younger than you, and tough as saddle-leather.”
After breakfast, the last meal with his digging mate, the veteran of many guerrilla campaigns packed his war-bag. He was never without his weapons. His mate watched him unsheath his sword and feel its edge with his thumb. He carefully polished the shining steel with a bit of soft cloth; he made a thrust, cut and parry with it, like flashes of light. Sam knew its story, that Mexican blade, forged by a Spanish swordmaker from famous Toledo. It was a semiscimitar in shape, fitting into a curving scabbard. A Spanish hidalgo's weapon, that sword. He had used it in expeditions against Indians on the Mosquito Coast and piratical Spanish and nondescript bands of Central American ruffians; he had carried it with a warrior's right on all his travels through Mexico and California and the wild western ranges. His habit on short expeditions was to leave the scabbard in camp and carry the sword naked, as if prepared–as he was—to cut his way through all obstacles.
Another weapon the old campaigner took out of his bundle was a long bowieknife in a leather sheath. This was on a belt, which he buckled around him in place of his sash of red silk, the one touch of flashiness in the goldfields dress. This frontier weapon had a blade nine inches long; Sam called it a young bayonet. Then there were two six-shot revolvers, with their cartridge pouches.
Von Tempski handled his war-gear lovingly. He packed sword and revolvers in his blanket-roll, and strapped up his spare clothes and other necessaries in a waterproof-covered pack.
“I'll give you a hand to the beach with your dunnage,” said Sam; “and take care of yourself, mate. I'll peg along here all right. Come on now. It's ‘Bundle and go,’ as the old pipetune says.”
The comrades carried the packs down to the shore, where several small craft, schooners and cutters, lay at a timber jetty. It was the top of high-water and nearly mid-day. The digging mates gripped hands in a cheery good-bye that disguised their heart-ache at parting. The Forty-niner felt with the intuition of one who had farewelled many a friend that he would not see his digging mate again.
Von Tempsky's craft was the mailsand-passenger cutter, Tamaki Packet, for Auckland. Presently the little craft was out in the gulf dancing along with boom well eased out, lifting along like a seabird, before a whistling easterly breeze.
Von Tempsky looked back awhile at the misty blue ranges and the square topped crag of Castle Rock, standing sentry over the forests and the land of the elusive treasure. He wondered if he would ever set foot on that strip of gold country again. Then he fell into talk with the skipper of the three-man cutter. He was an old Devon sailor, an ex-man-of-warsman. He wore gold rings in his ears, sou'-Spain fashion, that was as popular in the south of England as it was on the Mediterranean shores. The two talked of the war, the Maoris, the diggings. The skipper laughed when he heard that the Coromandel Maoris had unobtrusively taken to the fighting trail with Dutchy's gun and any other arms they could pick up.
“Why,” he said, “they're likely enough enjoying the joke across at the Piako with our Cabbage Bay lot at this very moment. You know, I have a contract to carry sawn kauri from the Cabbage page 46 page 47 Bay mill, up yonder near Cape Colville, and a fortnight ago at Auckland the Government shipped aboard me a dozen Enfield rifles and a lot of ammunition for the mill manager. It seemed he was afraid the Maoris would raid him some night and burn down the mill, so he applied to the Defence Minister for arms for his men to defend the place. He built a bit of a stockade of slabs round the mill and the rifles were stored there, but all hands slept in the quarters outside as usual; they thought the scare perhaps would blow over. The other morning me noble manager misses them rifles. They'd gone in the night, cartridge pouches, boxes of caps and all. Of course, what else could he have expected? Our little lot of Maoris at any rate goes on the warpath nice and comfortable with them Government guns.”
Von Tempsky's scant-fleshed features lightened in a grin. “It seems to me,” he said, “it's the old story. Holding the enemy too cheap. The Maori is a smarter fellow than the Englishman gives him credit for. I'll enjoy a setto with him, I will that, my friend.”
The cutter-man told his passenger he believed the Maoris had been laying in arms and ammunition for two or three years. They knew very well that the Government intended attacking them and conquering Maori land for white settlers. Why else was that military road being pushed on towards the Waikato? Why that big redoubt and camp at Pokeno? “Don't make any mistake,” he said, “it'll be a tough tussle, and the Maoris will fight like tigers to keep their independence—and why shouldn't they?”
But Von Tempsky was not disposed to argue the rights and wrongs of it. All that concerned him was soldiering; others could attend to causes, politics, and the ethics of inter-racial contacts. He was a fighting man, nothing else, and if there was a fight going he must be in it. That was the plain and simple code of the soldier of fortune. His blade was for royal service, like the warrior knights of old.
The War Correspondent.
There was a joyful reunion in the cottage in Auckland town in which the rover of the world's goldfields had settled his little family while he tried his luck on the Coromandel diggings. His wife scarcely needed his words to tell her that he was just as eager to take the fighting trail again as he had been to set off on the treasure-hunt. She sighed but she made no reproaches when she greeted him as lovingly as in their young wedded days. She knew that every able-bodied man must enter on military life for the duration of the war, unless he could procure a substitute. Every male over sixteen and under sixty was liable to service in the Militia if he were not already in the Volunteers.
But Von Tempsky had no intention of waiting to be drafted for the Militia. He must get into the fighting line long before the slow process of Militia duty would take him to the front, or somewhere near it, to build redoubts and escort munition carts. Next morning he went about the business of getting as close to the seat of war as he could without being hindered by officious authority. His first sagacious step towards this end was to call on the editor of the “Southern Cross.” It happened that that journal was in need of a man of some military experience who could find his way about and keep it supplied with the daily news from the front. Von Tempsky, in spite of his foreign looks and accent, impressed the editor as a man who had a good command of accurate English, and a man of forceful character and sound wisdom who could serve the paper intelligently. So without delay he found himself invested with the authority of a war-correspondent, approved —or at any rate tolerated—by the military heads, and instructed to make the army field base at Drury his headquarters.
Behold, then, our adventurer, booted, spurred, armed and equipped for a campaign, mounted on a hired horse–which, if not exactly a charger, could at any rate be described as a sturdy hack —riding lightheartedly out along the Great South Road, bound away for the Maori War. There were thousands of other adventurers crowding the road, Regulars, Volunteers, Militia, on the march along that muddy highway. The martial note of the bugle, the spiritquickening thump and rattle of drum and piping of fife, the sights and sounds of an army on the move, the march of the blue-uniformed troops (the British redcoats all changed to blue serge campaigning dress before they were despatched to the front), the scores of transport teams taking rations and munitions southward to Otahuhu, Drury and the Queen's Redoubt—all the familiar business of war set the soldier's heart dancing. He determined he could not be a non-combatant for long.
“La petite guerre once more,” he said aloud to himself. “How good! Out on the old warpath again!”
(To be continued.)