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Distant Homes; or the Graham Family in New Zealand

Chapter XII

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Chapter XII.

The Journey Home—Akaroa—Sleeping in the Open Air—Arrive at the Estate-Making a Bed—The Native Welcome.

Twice during the three winter months of June, July, and August, Captain Graham and Tom took holidays, and crossed the plains to Christchurch, once passing considerably out of their tray to visit an old friend, who had settled at Akaroa, with his family. Akaroa is one of the prettiest and most thriving little settlements in Canterbury; the church and parsonage, built by the Rev. W. Aylmer, one of the best out here. Captain Graham was delighted with all he saw, and particularly with the beautifully-cultivated gardens, in which every English flower, fruit, and vegetable, flourished side by side with tropical plants. There are a number of the first French settlers still here, the same who came just too late to get possession for the French Government; but, unwilling to risk or endure the troubles or dangers of a sea voyage any longer, persuaded the gentleman who had charge of the expedition to make such an arrangement with Captain Hobson as would enable them to settle at Akaroa, and there either they or their descendants still live, happy and content, in their pretty little whitewashed, vine-covered cottages, teaching their children to love la belle France, and keep up, as a duty, their native language.

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From Akaroa the monthly steamer, which was just starting, took the Grahams as far as Lyttelton, where Tom's old friend, the agent, had removed, and who always expected Tom to have a sail in his little yacht, and talk about his favourite subject, the sea. This time he insisted upon taking them to Christchurch, and the old gentleman, after making Tom promise to come and see him again very soon, put up his little sail, and gave three cheers for his friend Tom; these, you may be sure, were re-echoed heartily from the shore.

Mrs. Graham and the children were all delighted to think that in a very few days they would be in their own house, and at home in every sense of the word; many were the lamentations spoken by their friends at Christchurch, particularly among Lucy's and Beatrice's school-children, half of whom begged to be taken as servants. At last the day arrived, the eventful first of September, and Tom laughingly promised his mother a New Zealand partridge for dinner, the day of her arrival at home; by a partridge Tom really meant a quail, numbers of which are found on the Canterbury plains. The journey was performed in a waggon drawn by four bullocks; two more waggons carried the first instalment of furniture, baggage, etc., a great part being left in store in Christchurch till the family were settled, and really knew what they required. At night a pretty little tent was pitched, in which Captain Graham, Tom, and Aps slept, while Mrs, Graham and the girls preferred the waggon, not yet having got over the idea that if they slept so near the ground, “creeping things,” as they called them, would be sure to get upon them. The first night all went page 78 well, but the second they were very nearly in a worse scrape than if earwigs, snails, or caterpillars had got into their clothes, as the wind rose so suddenly, and to a perfect hurricane, that Mrs. Graham had just got the girls out when over went the great lumbering waggon, regularly blown down; at the same time the tent pegs gave way, and up flew the canvas. Captain Graham, and Tom seized the pole, and held on until the squall was over, then laid it quietly down. Captain Graham told them it put him in mind of some of the nights in the Crimea, except only that here the air was so mild that it was no inconvenience sitting in the open air, while there it almost froze your fingers off. This comparison with the Crimea set the children off upon a never-failing source of interest, stories of the Crimea, and all their Papa had seen or done there; to sleep again was out of the question, and it even required a good deal of persuasion to make them mount the waggon, and consent to sit inside, and listen to Papa's stories. The first story, they were all awake; in the middle of the second, Aps's head fell back on his mother's shoulder (he was sitting on her knee); then Lucy, after trying to keep her eyes open, nodded off, starting up when her father, having finished the adventure, ceased speaking, and Tom mischievously said, “Do you always snore so loud, Lucy?”

Lucy felt she had slept, so could only deny snoring, and earnestly begged for another story, determined this time to keep awake; but Captain Graham chose a very long dull one, and presently Tom even fell asleep. When the father and mother saw the children were all sleeping, they stole quietly out of the waggon, and sat down upon page 79 the grass outside, glad of such a quiet opportunity to talk of their affairs, and plans for the future. Next day they were to reach the settlement, and just after midday, Captain Graham announced they were on his ground. Everything now was of ten times as great interest; the views were pronounced beautiful; and at last, when, after ascending a slight hill, they saw a pretty valley, watered by a broad silvery river, and bounded by a magnificent forest, extending to the beautiful mountain-range now very near, they all exclaimed they had never seen anything so lovely. A rough sort of track led into the valley, and presently a turn gave them a full view of the house their father had been so busy building for them; it was a low cottage, made of wood, roofed with “cob,” or “shingle,” as it is often called; namely, little pieces of wood in the shape of slates. Round the cottage was a verandah, and beyond a neat fence; while on one side were the enclosures for sheep, and sheds for the oxen, and the two Raupo huts erected as residences for Captain Graham and the workmen during the time they were putting up the house.

Looking down, as they now did, upon the fresh, clean-looking cottage nestling amidst green trees, and just within sight of a bend of the river, Mrs. Graham thought she had never seen anything prettier; and her emotion was too deep for words as her husband took her hand, and, opening the door, led her in.

Then, calling the children together, Captain Graham told them to kneel down and pray to God to bless them in their new home; this they all did willingly, for they all knew, even to little Aps, that it is God who gives all:—

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“’Tis God that lifts our comforts high,
Or sinks them in the grave.
He gave, and if He takes away,
He takes but what He gave.”

When they rose from their knees, each of the children went and kissed their parents, and having thus dedicated their home, and themselves to God, and consecrated their cottage by prayer, Captain Graham led them through the rooms; there were only four to begin with, two in front and two behind, the kitchen being detached, and having a room on one side of it, to accommodate their servant Bridget, who immediately walked into her home, and sitting down on a block of wood, untied her bonnet, folded up her shawl, and began looking about for the means of cooking a dinner. Captain Graham knew the comfort and economy of having his food well cooked, so had taken up a very nice little range, with a boiler on one side, and an oven on the other. Some of his neighbours, who had come over to see him, and good-naturedly give him a helping hand in the building, laughed at him very much for bringing such a fine thing to the bush. But Captain Graham very soon convinced them how wisely he had acted, as not only did he use fewer logs, but his wife or daughters could cook a large dinner with scarcely any trouble at all; a fact which displayed itself, much to their satisfaction, in the shape of what in the north of England is called “a house-warming,” and to which all the settlers within fifteen miles came, amounting to twenty in all. For these Lucy and her Mamma cooked nearly everything, Bridget having cut her hand severely, and Beatrice having caught a bad cold. But I forgot that I had not described any- page 81 thing else; in fact, only got to the kitchen. Well, the two front rooms were to be at present a sitting and dining-room; the first to he exclusively Mamma's and Papa's, the other for a sort of general working, cooking, and teaching-room, and, by the help of a chair-bed, forming a sleeping apartment for Tom. At the back were two bedrooms. At present, there was absolutely nothing but bare walls, not even a log to sit upon; but then they were all as clean and fresh as the inside of a new box, and the waggons were outside, containing abundance for present wants. The first thing to be thought of was something in the shape of beds for the night; a good night's sleep being the first essential thing to begin what would really be a hard day's work; namely, unpacking and arranging the furniture they had brought, and which, Captain Graham said, was not to be commenced that evening. Two large mattresses, which had been brought in the first waggon, were carried in, and laid upon the floor; then a bundle of blankets, shawls, and rugs; these being piled up formed a couple of very comfortable sort of large sofas, and looked particularly tempting when night came on.

Just as they had arranged the accommodation for the night, and were planning a Wall round the house, Bridget rushed into the room, as white as a sheet, and almost unable to speak from fear.

“Och, yer honour! we'll be kill intirely; there's a howl company o’ Rid Ingins in the kitchen, screeching and swearing like anything.

Captain Graham and Tom began laughing.

“Why these are my greatest friends, Bridget; they're come to welcome us here, Come, children, we'll go and see them” page 82 sang Tom, capering along backwards before Lucy, whose cheeks were glowing with excitement at the idea of seeing the real New Zealanders.

“Are they tattoed, Tom?” she asked.

“Oh, yes, and don't wear anything but three feathers stuck in the crown of their heads.”

“Tick a feather in him ‘at, and call him maccaroni,” lisped Aps, who was always anxious to put in his word whenever he heard anything he thought he knew.

“Bravo, Aps!” shouted Tom, in ecstasies, and thinking Aps the cleverest child in the world. “Bravo, Aps! just say that to Old Totakee.”

“Toto, Aps gog-toto!” exclaimed he, holding up a fat leg, and trying to look at his toes, “Aps gog-toto, dis ping went to the market, dis ping stay at home.”

Here the poetical effusion of Master Aps was interrupted by the appearance of three of the natives, dressed in the full and most fashionable native costume. The words died on Aps's lips, as, with a shriek of horror, he threw himself into his Mamma's arms, and, catching her round the neck, sobbed out he would be a good boy if they would send the men away.

The poor natives were rather disconcerted by Aps's uproarious conduct, and stood, looking puzzled, while Mrs. Graham, after trying to quiet him in vain, had to carry him back to Bridget, who could not be persuaded to show her face out of the cottage, being quite convinced that the “Ingins,” as she would insist upon calling the natives, would immediately kill her master and mistress, and probably cook them upon the very fire she had lighted to prepare dinner.

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“God bless ye, Mam, for fetchen me the baby; he'd go first otherwise; he'd be such a tender morsel, just like a young chicken.”

So saying, she cuddled Aps in her arms, and carried him off to the front room, closing the door, and bolting it carefully.

The natives, who had travelled a long way to welcome Mrs. Graham, belonged to the tribe from whom the Government had purchased the land Captain Graham had taken, and, in the first instance, had come to see him alone, helping him, in their own way, with goodwill and kindness, and taking a great interest in the building of the house; it was the natives who built the two huts called Raupo cottages, for the temporary shelter of Captain Graham, Tom, and the men. When everything was ready for the arrival of the “good Captain's” (as they called Captain Graham) family, they retired to their Pah, many miles away; and, after preparing their handsomest dresses, returned to welcome the “lady.”

“Wife of the good Captain, we welcome you to our country; we shall call you Mother, and be unto you as sons. Bid us serve you, and we will do it, even as a child obeys his parent. Our wives shall be your daughters, good mother, and we shall tabu you and yours, to preserve you from hurt. We salute you, Oh, Mother and bid you farewell!”

Having made this speech, and before Mrs. Graham could make any answer, the chiefs bowed their heads, gathered their mantles closely round, them, and marched quickly and silently away. This was their custom, and the fashionable way of welcoming one they respected; page 84 and when Bridget got courage to go into the kitchen again, she found the natives had left several large baskets; one containing fish, another sweet potatoes, a third fowls, and a fourth something that sent the poor woman shrieking back to the house, to inform her master the “Indians” had brought them babies to eat; but which, upon examination, proved to be nothing more than young pigs, already prepared for roasting, and which, at last, quite convinced Bridget that the New Zealanders were not “Ingins at all, at all; but good, dacent people, if they were not Christians intirely.”

But night was drawing in, and even in summer the nights are cool enough for a fire in New Zealand; so Lucy and Beatrice set to work lighting a fire in what they had already christened the drawing-room; and, sitting on all sorts of boxes and packages, here they ate their supper, using two boxes as a table, and an old shawl of Mrs. Graham's as a table-cover. The dinner, or supper, consisted of chickens, pork, and sweet potatoes, tea, and bread; not a bad supper, considering the circumstances; but Bridget was one of those sort of people who can manage with anything, and I really believe could have given you a capital dinner upon the top of Mont Blanc; at any rate, a better one than eleven out of twelve of the fine-lady description of cooks could do; and that, too, with such good humour and fun, that even if the dinner was not quite so good as you could wish, her merry face and funny remarks made you hungry.