The Counterfeit Seal: A Tale of Otago's First Settlers.
Chapter X. — In Port
Ocean's billows, raging wind,
Trackless waters left behind:
Now succeeds the harbour's rest.
Hearts are calm, and voices jest.
As Eric stood alone by the bulwark quietly contemplating the view by which he was surrounded, he felt a hand touch him on the shoulder, and at the same moment a voice said:
“Permit me to join you in your thoughts, Eric.”
It was Mr Blackie, who had early in the voyage taken a fancy to young Thomson, and spent many an hour, when both had spare time, in his company, each enjoying the other's conversation, Eric gaining by far the greater advantage by the mutual intercourse.
Mr Blackie was an intellectual man, who had been selected by Mr Burns as the first schoolmaster of the settlement, and to act in the capacity of teacher to the children on the voyage out.
“No one could be more welcome,” replied Eric.
“Now that we are here at last, what do you think of what you have seen so far?” queried Mr Blackie.
“As you possess the greater experience, kindly let me have your opinion, for I confess to some bewilderment.”
“Not what you expected to find. Is that it?”
“My expectation was certainly not to see a place like this. It is wild and confusing.”page 117
“We must postpone conclusions until we have seen something more. I always understood the entrance to be somewhat rough. But there is something better to follow,”
“There is one thing very striking about what we have been able to look at. I mean the heavy forests that cling to the sides of these hills, and in some places seem to grow even on the face of rocks and precipices.”
And as he spoke he pointed to the summit of the hill directly overlooking the few houses already built and forming the neucleus of Port Chalmers.
“Look at those splendid trees raising their great branches heavenward, and yet you can see from the rugged parts that every little space projects above the undergrowth, that the face of the hill on which they grow is little else than a bare rock.”
“And on top of the hill there you can see a fine tree is growing on the top of a rock that stands higher even than the trees around it.”
On looking up, Eric could see fully 600ft. above them, rising over the trees like a great fortress, the rock Mr. Blackie referred to, and growing from its surface, like a flag-staff, was a tall, but thin, tree, whose top was a thick cluster of branches resembling a gigantic broom.
During the time they were engaged surveying the boldness of their immediate surroundings, permission had been given for the fleet of Maori boats that had followed them from the Kaik to come alongside, and now appeared on deck the manly figure of the great chief Taiaroa, his face literally covered with the finest art of tattoo. He came specially to give his personal welcome to the new arrivals, page 118 and declare to them his sincere friendship and his best wishes for their common welfare.
He was introduced by Dick Driver, the Pilot, to Mr Burns, to whom he gave a most cordial greeting, and after the European fashion shook hands, but felt much inclined to present his beautifully-marked nose that the reverend gentleman and he might confirm their friendship after the manner most significant to the Native mind, but as his new acquaintance seemed to make no advance in that direction. the old chief, a little disappointed, accepted the new manner of greeting as one of the improvements of the coming civilisation.
At a signal from the chief other men and some women soon found their way up the gangway ladder, much to the amusement of the immigrants. In the boats were abundance of fresh potatoes in flax kits, freshly-caught fish of two or three varieties, and several bundles of smoke-dried barracouta, with which the Maoris hoped to be able to do some trade. Taiaroa's boatload was almost all disposed of before the others had a chance. The women had brought a few beautiful mats of various colours made from dyed flax fibre, and a number of neat baskets made from the same material, and finished in a manner reflecting credit on the makers. So nice were they in appearance that although not many of the passengers cared to part with any of their little stock of cash, yet only the poorest samples remained unpurchased. Among those who invested in the curiosities was Eric Thomson. He secured both a mat and a pretty little basket, with the intention of sending them to Kirsty, to whom his thoughts were ever turning with a strong desire to reach the time when he could satisfy himself that he page 119 was now ready to claim the fulfilment of her promise to join him in his new home, and aid him in prosecuting the duties of life.
Having seen and carefully examined the large gathering of pakehas, particularly the pakeha wahines and the fan pekanenis, the Maoris began to leave for their home with the ebb tide, and in the quiet that followed Eric again stood by the bulwark, but this time not in the contemplation of the surrounding scenery, but in minutely reviewing incidents of the past. The mat and bag were still in his hand, and before him, figuratively, stood the image of the dear one for whom he had bought them, and he was in his heart revisiting the scenes of their love-day rambles. The moments thus occupied, oblivious to the things that were present and passing, were sweet, happy moments; for although his countenance was solemn his soul was joyous. He was then reliving that half-hour in which their little “keepsakes” had been exchanged. Yes, she would wear her locket, and he had never been a moment without his seal, and often had he made an impression with it when by himself alone. He had again begun to build his “castles in the air,” when a strong voice cried his name. His reverie was broken.
It was one of his party of young men. As is the common custom where a number of young fellows are for several months thrown into each other's company they separate into two or more parties. In this case the split took place early, and two parties were formed, each with a mutually chosen leader, and Eric was the chief man of his number.page 120
“Eric, cried one of his companions, “come this way, the boys want to speak about something.”
In a second Eric was in the midst of his chums, and was listening to the scheme which they wanted him to approve and join in.
“Yes; very good. The captain has consented! A splendid plan. I will be with you in two seconds.”
He made haste to his bunk and carefully put away the novelties he had bought, made a slight change in his clothes, and rejoined his companions.
They were already, to the number of eight, in the captain's gig, and he stepped in beside them, and as first of the party he took charge, and letting go they steered for the shore.
They were made welcome by a score of people who were loitering away their Saturday evening for want of better employment.
Among them was a woman, fresh and hale, who came forward beside a man—apparently her husband; and after a few words of congratulation, and some questions as to the voyage, the weather encountered, &c., she gave a general invitation to follow her into the house, which stood with the door open just a little way back from the beach, under the shade of a giant black pine tree.
To the surprise of the young fellows the table was set with dishes, and a great kettle was hanging over a rousing wood fire, boiling furiously.
“Sit in, lads,” said the husband, “and let us have the honour of giving you your first meal on New Zealand soil.”
“No, thank you,” said Eric, “we are not hungry.”
“We takes no refusals from newcomers. They is always able to eat, just conn' off ship. Sit in, boys.”page 121
“But thanks, we had supper,” Eric replied.
“Well, suppose you had; I know ye have room for another. Sit in and taste what we can have in this blessed country. It ain't nothink much how-some-ever, but we want your news. This is a joint of wild pig we caught 'tother day back in the bush—a fine young beast, as tender as a chicken. Ye never seed anythink like that aboard ship, I warrant. Our bread is Sally's own; there ain't no bakers here to get it from; but no baker ever made better duff than Sally Brooks provides. So come, boys, make yourselves at 'ome.”
As he was making this speech, the lads, seeing it was all the freewill offering of generous natures, obeyed the master of the house, and in less than two minutes they were sitting before a table steaming with well-cooked food, which had been got ready in hope of someone coming ashore, that the host and hostess might have an opportunity of showing their hospitality.
As they ate they were plied with all sorts of questions, to which they gave such answers as they could. The whole population of primitive Port Chalmers had crowded into that little room, which seemed to be the public hall of the embryo town, to hear what was to be heard.
By the time the questions were nearly finished the seafaring inquisitors knew nearly all that was worth knowing of the ship's passage from Glasgow to the Heads. This was their reward for providing the “first meal” on shore for the first boat's crew that landed.
“When do you go up to the top of the harbour, I suppose to-morrow, first tide?” asked Brooks.
“No, not to-morrow,” said several of them at once. page 122 “We are going to have service on board each of the ships to-morrow, on the ‘John Wickliffe’ at 11 o'clock, and on our ship at 3 o'clock; you may as well come off. We expect we shall go up the harbour on Monday,” answered Eric, who was regarded as general spokesman.
The invitation to come off to the services was accepted by all, not so much for the services, as for an opportunity to visit the “Philip Laing,” with an eye to a possible engagement on the work of lightering the ship, Brooks being part owner of one of the largest boats on the harbour.
“Will you go up harbour by boat or overland?” asked Brooks.
“Can we get overland?” asked Peter McKechnie, as if he would prefer a walk to a sail.
“Oh yes, ye's can walk through the bush, over the hill. Far better for young 'uns like ye's to go a-foot. Tough bit of a climb, but if ye's decides to walk I'll go meself and pilot ye's over.”
The idea commended itself to the boys, who were now weary of the water, and were delighted with the notion of a good ramble, and it was there resolved that Brooks should be at the ship at daybreak on Monday with his boat and fetch them ashore, where breakfast would be prepared for them by Sally, and then they should start over the hills.
This little business over, they were presented with a side of a wild pig to let their friends on board have a share, and then they made their way back to the ship, where their return was watched for by many who felt an interest in the event, and were desirous of hearing what news they might bring off. The opposite company of young men page 123 asked for a second boat to follow the example of the fortunate first applicants, but were refused, as the captain was not satisfied that any of them could be trusted with a boat. These from envy pretended unconcern, but yet could not leave the deck until the happy fellows were alongside.
As Eric came walking up the gangway ladder with his side of fresh pork over his shoulder, he was cheered by a hundred voices as a returning hero. Everyone, however, was anxious to share in a taste of the delicate morsel, which, owing to the impossibility of such a thing, became the cause of a widespread jealousy among those who were not fortunate enough to have a friend among the noted eight who first were permitted to set foot on the “land of their adoption.” Still the piece of pork was divided into as many parts as possible, and was shared with as many as could reasonably get a decent little bit.
The first united act of the passengers by the two ships now safely at anchor, after all the perils of the long voyage were behind them, was to meet on the deck of the “John Wickliffe” at 11 o'clock on Sabbath morning (they had not learned to call the first day of the week Sunday), and there mingle their voices in the return of praise and thanks giving to Him who had so signally watched over them, and by His powerful hand delivered them from all the dangers of the deep. The men belonging to the “John Wickliffe,” who had been busy on the site of the future city of Dunedin, had come to Port Chalmers to greet their comrades, the women being still living on the vessel.
For the first time the voice of sacred song, raised by a large and devout congregation of Europeans within the page 124 Otago Harbour, was wafted through the air into illimitable space, and penetrated the mansions of Heaven. The serious and solemn voice of Mr. Burns led the hearts of the people in thoughts and expressions, which all could feel were the mature offering and desires of each one. His grateful thanks for past providence called forth a sincere, if not an audible, response from all, and his eloquent plea for divine guidance in their future actions, under circumstances so strange to them all, were admitted to be the sentiment of each devout soul then standing with head uncovered before the great Lord of all.
The sermon, too, was appropriate and forcible, containing practical lessons on the sacred obligations of everyday life, and more particularly on the duties expected from every one of them, who had been, in divine wisdom and mercy, permitted to arrive safely at the end of their weary journey; and having before them a virgin country, on the soil of which they were to plant the seed of a young nation. The sentiment of the preacher was: “Go ye in and possess the land,” with wise admonition respecting the manner in which they should discharge the weighty responsibilities of their position.
After service those belonging to the “Philip Laing” returned to their quarters for dinner, and at 3 o'clock the spacious deck was thronged with men, women, and children, having brought out their Bibles with the psalms in metre, then the only songs of praise used in worship by Presbyterians, and all arranged themselves in suitable and more or less comfortable positions, to enjoy and take part in the worship of the most High, whose care is over all His works.
The several families were observable in groups, as if in page 125 an ordinary church, the parents being the charge of their own households. Conspicuous among them sat the Thomson family, all strong and in the possession of excellent health; the father sat at the head of his sons, with James Carmichael at the farther end. Mrs. Thomson sat by her three handsome daughters, proud to be the mother of such a bonnie lot of bairns, bairnies now no longer, but muscular and well developed, well fit for the life just opening before them. In like manner were others placed, when Mr. Burns rose in patriarchal form, and in his remarkable style called upon them to “begin the public worship of God.” Instantly books were opened, and the psalm announced was before them all, and there as they sat, in the sweet melody of an old-fashioned tune, they gave voice to the soul-stirring and aspiring words of the great Hebrew singer. How the same old psalm and tune, so often sung in their Scottish churches, the same old chapters from the grand old Bible, and the same sentiments of devotion, all combined to drive away the thoughts of distance from friends on the other side of the globe. And, above all, how great was the calming influence of the realisation of the Divine Presence here, as well as in their old land, upon their spirits. These two diets of worship brought into their souls all the hallowed memories of those grand names that stud the pages of Scotland's marvellous history, as the stars bedeck the southern sky. The God of Scotland's heroes was also the God of Otago's Pioneers, and they now bowed before Him in humble acknowledgment of His right to govern and power to protect.
The day had passed with beautiful sunshine and a gentle breeze from the eastward, which in the evening gave page 126 place to a delightful calm with a cloudless sky, and friends were about on the decks of the vessels, some in happy conversation, some were pacing about in twos and threes, discussing the proceedings of the day, and in some cases reviewing the sermons. But once more Eric was alone. He had been apparently looking over the rail, watching the water flowing past the vessel for about ten minutes, when Mrs. McKechnie came up to him.
“Thinking deeply as usual, Eric?” she said jocularly.
“It is a lovely evening, Mrs. KcKechnie,” he replied.
“Too fine an evening for a young man to be spending it in lonely brooding.”
“You mistake me greatly. I do not brood; that is if brooding means thinking on melancholy subjects.”
“I am glad to hear you say so; but I was afraid we should have to do something to cheer you up.”
“Very kind of you, indeed, to even think of me.”
“Think of you! why, Eric, I am surprised. I only think of yon as a young man for whom I have been compelled to entertain a high opinion, and consequently wish for his well-being.”
“Thank you for your flattering compliment. I hope I may never behave so as to remove your good opinion, but do not consider me melancholy.”
“Won't you join our little circle? There is room for you. There are just ourselves, and we want your opinion on one or two things we have been talking about.”
It would have been rude had he not consented, so he accompanied her back to her seat. But Eric felt himself under restraint when he joined the McKechnie circle. He was very fond of the eldest son, Peter, but the eldest page 127 daughter was a good looking girl of about twenty, for whom several lads had a strong fancy, but she, strange to notice, had a brighter smile and a livelier word for the one who least of all showed a preference for her. And her mother seemed anxious to encourage her, by making frequent opportunities for her meeting with Eric.
Eric was not quick in observing this piece of manœuvring on the part of Mrs. KcKeehnie, and innocently fell into the net she spread for him. In the same manner, and for the same purpose, she had laid her plans to win the good graces of his mother and sister Betty. She considered that with these two allies her object would be gained. Those in the circle to which Eric had been brought from his lonely reverie, were discussing whether the Maori woman, who on the previous evening wore the finest flax mat over her shoulders, was likely to be the wife of the chief, Taiaroa. When the question was submitted to him Eric was able to settle it.
“That lady Maori,” said he, “was pointed out to me as a relation of the chief, but not his wife. Her name is Annie, and she is married to a chief whose name is quite English also—Jacky White. I suppose they have their proper Maori names, and that these have been given them by Europeans; but I forgot to ask.”
“I saw you speaking to her,” said Miss McKechnie, “could you understand her?”
“I was merely asking the price of the little bag she was offering for sale.”
“She could tell you that, of course. I have been told that the names of coins are among the first things these natives pick up. What surprised me was to see you, above page 128 all, who are so bashful as scarcely to be able to speak half-a-dozen words to a countrywoman of your own, talking so pleasantly with the Maori lass.”
“Did you suppose he was likely to be captivated by her complexion,” mischievously asked Peter.
“Oh, there's no knowing what notions might come into the head of some men. I have been told the pilot has a Maori wife.”
“It's not uncommon for whalers to marry native women when they come to live among them, but surely you do not insinuate that any of our lads are likely to look that way?” interjected her mother.
Willing, however, to continue the fun, Eric said:
“Now that you speak of it, I did think that woman was not a bad specimen of a generous hearted, though dark skinned, human being. There was something in her manner, and in the expression of her eyes, that made me observe her carefully. But there, she is already married.”
“How fearfully and wonderfully dressed! What did you think of her bonnet?” said Jennet McKechnie, a girl of about sixteen.
“Oh, that bonnet!” exclaimed Mrs. McKechnie, bringing her hands together in her lap and then extending them level with her eyes, “your sister Mary could have made three out of that one, and then have had them all distinctly different colours.”
“I envied her those two blue and green ostrich feathers,” said Jennet. “Not that I could have endured them stuck together as she had them, but one on each bonnet. They were fine feathers, but, oh! the poor bird. She must have trimmed that bonnet herself.”page 129
“Well, you cannot complain of the colours of her cloak as being unharmonious” put in Eric, who seemed to consider himself to some extent her proper defender.
“A straw-coloured cloak, with stripes of black running through it suited her own colour much better than green and blue feathers set among yellow and red ribbons with bows of brown and purple,” returned Jennet.
“My attention was more taken up with her skirt,” said Mrs. McKechnie. It was a black material with red bands running round. That would have been well enough, but when she had introduced diagonal stripes of all the colours of the rainbow, the result was simply ridiculous.”
“Then her great ear-rings,” interjected Miss McKechnie. “Such things! just bits of stone of a dark, dirty, green colour tied with a greasy red ribbon into holes in her ears as large as if they had been made with a penknife!”
“That greenstone is very valuable, being rare. To display two such perfect pieces as Annie wore I have no doubt will be looked upon as a sign of high rank,” remarked Eric, again coming to the defence.
“Did you notice her shoes, Eric,” said Peter, who felt sure that was a point on which his friend would be specially observant.
“Yes, Peter,” he answered, “Annie has learned the noble art of shoemaking for private convenience. There will be little danger of pet corns or distorted toes on the feet protected by shoes of her manufacture.”
“I declare!” ejaculated Isabel, “if Eric has not a good word for his heroine, no matter what you say about her.”
“She is not in any sense my heroine, Miss McKechnie,” Eric replied very calmly. “But we should, I think, remember page 130 that we are now speaking of one who has but yesterday risen from the grossness of barbarism. She is in the very early dawn of civilisation, and has only learned to imitate some of the more conspicuous habits of those from whom she is learning. Taste in colours, like peculiarities in language, take a long time to acquire.”
“I must admit your philosophy carries conviction. I was only looking at the amusing side of the affair,” said Isabel, and the subject was changed to the prospects of next day.