The Counterfeit Seal: A Tale of Otago's First Settlers.
Chapter II. — The Pioneer Spirit Aroused
The Pioneer Spirit Aroused.
“The world was large, with boundless fertile plains,
Untilled, unpeopled, uncontrolled by man.”
As the lovers had entered a park after a walk of about ten minutes duration, they wended their way along a path leading to a beautiful grove, Kirsty all the while expecting to hear Eric begin his important speech, and he, quite as anxious to do so, was all the time trying to commence, but his very anxiety produced a nervous hesitancy, which caused him to indulge in commonplace remarks to fill in the time.
Now, however, they were comparatively alone, and the circumstances seemed suitable for the most timerous nature to unburden itself into the heart of one who had always a sweet and sympathetic word for any trouble he had ever confided to her. His trouble was to find a soft and gentle way of broaching a great subject; while the only form in which it presented itself to his mind, was abrupt and stiff.
He was battling vigorously with this difficulty, and revolving the thought in all the ways he could command, but in the midst of his reflections he became silent, and walked on for a while as if no one were in his company. When Kirsty “nudged” his arm, and looking up into his rather perplexed face with a smile that the fading light just made visible, said—
“A penny for your thoughts, Eric.”
“Will you pay in advance,” he replied, his self command coming back to him with the probe of her remark.page 9
“Well, mother's advice is ‘never buy a pig in a poke,’ but if you insist on my promise, I'll give you the price before I am sure of the value.”
“No, I'll not hold you to that, but I was just wanting to tell you what I have to say, and was doubting how to start, but it's not easy to begin speaking on foreign things.”
“Foreign things!” ejaculated Kirsty; “what foreign things are you troubled about? Are you going to 'list?”
“To 'list!” broke from Eric spontaneously. “No, indeed, I never dreamed of that. My thoughts are not away in that road, Kirsty.”
Kirsty was looking anxiously at him now, for she feared there was some dark story about to be related; and tales of deserting lovers, of years of hopes and fears, and of ultimate despair flashed through her memory. These were interrupted after a short pause by Eric resuming:
“For these two years past, Kirsty, nothing has given me more joy than the hope of some day, not far hence, being able to see you the mistress of a home in which we would be happy in wedlock's sacred bands. But when I have tried to look into the future, and picture you and me as happy in each other's love as two turtle doves, I have at the same time seen a dark side to the picture, and that has made my heart sore. I am only a working cobbler, but as my name is Eric Thomson I am resolved to be something else for your sake, Kirsty. I couldna' make you a poor cobbler's wife, but I will make a home worthy of you if you are willing to wait a while for me.”
He had broken the bands of his difficulty, but in doing so he had plunged poor Kirsty into amazement. She held her head down and replied:page 10
“Eric Thomson, if I am in the way of your progress, if you have purposes of life in view, and I stand in your path, you have only to tell me so and I will free you at once from our long and often made promises to each other.”
“Kirsty, Kirsty!” he burst out in a piteous tone of voice, “that's not it; far from that is the truth of my heart. For myself I could cobble away all my life, but for the lass that is the star of my nights, and the sunshine of my days, I will be something better; and if you will come over and rest on this seat, I'll tell you of a plan that came into my head the other night.”
With this he led her to a comfortable seat, over which hung the branches of trees, forming a delightful shelter from the wind, and shut them from the view of any who might chance to be passing.
There he told how on the previous Monday night, after he and Archie Rabb had finished their work of mending the shoes, &c., in a big farm house, they were invited into the hall, where the Rev. Thomas Burns, who was well known to Archie as the minister of Portobello, was telling them all about a place called New Zealand. It was away on the other side of the world; but a good ship could sail to it in about four months, and that was very little more than it took them to reach the East Indies. Mr Burns said he was forming a band of emigrants to go and take possession of a most fertile country, and advised any able-bodied young man who wanted to improve his position in life, and was not afraid of hard work, to join his band and become one of the founders of a new nation.
His companion listened with patience to Eric's animated relation of what had started these new hopes and page 11 desires in his mind, but she kept her head down, while her neat little feet were constantly, though unconsciously, pushing about into various shapes a few handfuls of fallen leaves the wind had blown into the shelter of the arbour. When at length he paused she let a little sigh escape her, and her head sank still lower on her bosom, but she remained silent.
“Kirsty,” he resumed, “in other two months I'll be ‘out of my time’ with Mr. Archie Rabb. I shall then be free to take what course I consider best, provided you agree with me. I will do nothing that will not meet with your approval, but this seems to me to be a chance to start in life and reach comfort before old age, should providence bless us with length of days, that should not be carelessly set aside.”
This little speech was more pleasing to the young woman's heart. He had put her first; she was to have the power to help or to hinder him. He had actually submitted the whole thing to her wisdom. She felt the honour, she recognised the underlying love, and she duly considered the dignity of the position her faithful lover had placed her in.
Eric's guileless confidence in the girl who held his heart strings had won for him a victory, and Kirsty's features relaxed a large portion of their stiffness; but now the shades of evening were too dull for him to observe the change. Her head, however, rose, and she turned her face partly to his and said:
“Other folk have lived in peace and happiness on the earnings of a cobbler, Eric; could we not also?”
“If that's your answer, Kirsty, then so be it; but my page 12 opinion is that the new land would be a ‘better land,’ and in that better land we would find a happier home than we could get together here.”
“It's not my answer, Eric,” she said. “The matter is too serious to be answered right off. But you know ‘home is home.’”
“That's true,” replied the young man on whom the “emigrating fever” had already taken a firm grasp. “But fancy the difference between me sitting all day chap-chapping with my hammer, or boring with my awl, and stitching with waxends year after year until my head turned grey; and you, as fine a lass as any man may ever hope to give a wedding ring to—you, my fresh, slim, straight, rosy, and fair Kirsty, think of you fighting year in and year out in a little bit of a house in some humble street of this great town, until those lovely golden locks are like snow, and compare it with what we may be in the new land, where ‘honesty and industry,’ as Mr. Burns said, are the high road to comfort and perhaps to wealth.”
“You said before we came out, Eric, that you would ask my father's opinion as well as mine. Suppose we both go and consult him about this new scheme of yours. He will likely know something about the outlandish place you speak about and would like to live in until your head turns grey. Some very pretty pictures have been painted of things that never took place; many castle-plans have been drawn in the minds of enthusiastic men, but the stones are not yet cut out of the quarries to build them with.”
Kirsty chose this way of trying to make Eric believe that she was still quite against his proposal to emigrate to New Zealand. She was of much less impulsive temperament page 13 than he; besides, he had been revolving the subject in his mind for days past, but to her the idea was new.
When they returned to Kirsty's house Mr. Knox was sitting in the cosy little parlour, and his two youngest children were standing before him rehearsing their lessons for Monday's school, and the young couple seated themselves on chairs at the most distant part of the room without interrupting the proceedings.
After various corrections, kind advice, and wise counsel the paternal duties in that direction came to an end, and the little ones dismissed to the kitchen, where their mother had an abundant supply of water to prepare them for a sound and refreshing Saturday-night sleep.
Mr. Knox did happen to know something about New Zealand; in fact, he could enlighten young Thomson in many points. He knew Mr McGlashan, the Edinburgh secretary of the Free Church Lay Association; indeed, he had read the draft of the Association's Constitution before it was engrossed, his employers having had something to do with its preparation. Beyond this he had been in Glasgow on some important business, and there attended a public meeting which had just been held for the purpose of laying the scheme of the Association before the people, and there he heard the Hon. Fox Maule (Lord Panmure) and the Earl of Dalhousie speak in favour of the objects for which the Association had been organised.
It was quite a relief for young Thomson to find in his sweetheart's father a man so well versed in the topic page 14 now absorbing all his thoughts. It sustained and increased his ardour in the effort to accomplish his plan—if so far, that could be called a plan which was little more than a strong desire prompted by the spirit of enterprise, a motive of which he was still innocently unconscious, but whose embryo force was urging him forward out of his life of dull monotony and almost irresistible cramp.
Although neither of the young people had suggested the idea of emigration, yet from the fact that they both seemed interested in the subject Mr. Knox could not avoid observing the drift of their thoughts, so he gave them little encouragement by anything he said: while with the wileness of his profession he refrained from drawing them to the point by any question proposed or implied, and would willingly have allowed the subject to pass off in a general way, as a mere reference to some important project not of personal interest, had not the impulsive and inquiring temperament of Eric Thomson forced a direct opinion.
“You have now for several months,” said he, “had these facts in your mind, and you have spoken to the men who are promoting the scheme for peopling that new country, tell us, please, what is your opinion of it as an opening for young people?”
“Do you think of going, Eric?” asked Mr. Knox in feigned amazement.
“If I am convinced it is a wise thing to do, and friends I would not grieve are agreeable, I believe I would like to go,” was his candid reply.
“But there will be little call in a small community for your special line of business. The people there make their own shoes, I am told, out of a plant that grows on the hills.”page 15
“If I go it will not be to set up in the making and mending of shoes, unless I see that as a good ‘line of business,’ I want to get a piece of land and farm it.”
“But lad you were never a ‘farmer's boy,’” said the old man tauntingly.
“Still I could learn.”
“You never held a plough.”
“My arms are strong; I am willing to try.”
“Then if you are resolved to seek your fortune in a new country you may succeed, but don't suppose there are neither hardships nor dangers to be encountered. There are both. America is not so far away. It is a big world itself, with abundance of free land for willing toilers, why not consider its greater advantages?”
“I must confess,” answered the young man, “that I have never thought of America. The matter of distance, however, is not so much when once one has made up his mind to move. One charm the New Zealand scheme has for me is that it is to be a Scotch settlement where church and school will be amply provided for. After people have been there a few months it will be just like living in one of our own Scotch villages, only the surrounding country will be open for anyone to select from and occupy.”
“Such Scotch villages would have little charm for me, lad, and I am sure it will be no place to take delicate women. You will require to build your house before you have one to live in after leaving the ship.”
“Yes, in that you are right, sir,” said Eric respectfully, “but if our ancestors in Scotland had thought and spoken that way, there never would have been a race of Scotchmen.”page 16
“Very sentimental and somewhat heroic too,” retorted Mr. Knox, who disliked to be opposed by a youth in such a manner, “still I object to making heroines of women who were never accustomed to anything but a quiet city life.”
“Still, father,” interposed Kirsty, “women are made of the same flesh and bone as men, why should they not be fit for the same endurance?”
“Now, Kirsty,” answered her father, “women must be in subjection, and its ill becoming of you to interfere just now. I am arguing the women's part, and you are so silly as to put in a word against me. That is neither wise, nor respectful to your father.”
Before Kirsty had recovered from this severe rebuke her mother entered, having heard just the last part of the speech, and being surprised by the tone of it she inquired the cause. Her husband related in brief, for her special benefit, the substance of the past conversation, and concluded by stating—
“And Eric wants to go to New Zealand to look for a fortune.”
“Well, is he going by himself?” was her brief question.
“We have not come to that yet, but Kirsty seems to think she would not be against going. That's what vexes me. She might wait till we have all talked that part of it over.”
“It's certainly not modest for her to speak so glibly about such a journey. It'll not be with my free will she'll ever go so far from home; to a country where white folk are killed and eaten by blackamores,” said her mother, page 17 evidently becoming excited over the idea of her daughter being served up at a savage gathering of wild cannibals as a savoury dish.
There was a division of interests, and a strong conflict of views. Kirsty's tongue was silenced by the stern attitude of her parents, while her ambition was to encourage Eric's wishes, yet her affection constrained her to be agreeable to her parents. She had already begun to draw the plans for one of the castles whose stones were yet in the solid fabric of the quarry. But Eric considered it prudent to say that, “having spoken of the matter, it could now rest for a while for further thought. He was not so mad on the adventure as to rush off against the good wishes of his best friends.” And he rose to bid them goodnight.
“Quite so, Eric,” said Mrs. Knox; “there is no hurry, and we will all be the better of a night's sleep before we say yes or no. We'll see you at the church to-morrow as usual, I suppose?”
“I hope so,” answered Eric in a hearty way, and took his leave, Kirsty accompanying him to the gate, where they parted after a few expressions of goodwill and ardent love.