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Distant Homes; or the Graham Family in New Zealand

Chapter XVI

page 109

Chapter XVI.

Christmas Day—Arrival of the Clergyman—Walk after Breakfast—Who pulled the Child out of the Water—Church in the Bush—Another Accident—Dinner Time.

Just before dark, a waggon arrived, and in it the clergyman and his family, who received a hearty welcome; none the less from the young people, that sundry boxes and hampers seemed to betoken an addition to their store of surprises. The sons turned out to be young men; the youngest as old as George, and both intended for the church. One of them was very merry, and soon became great friends with Tom; while the other was grave and serious, and was set down by Tom as a muff at once.

It required some arrangement to give them all beds; but in New Zealand people soon learn to make the best of everything, and the children had already arranged to sleep in the dining-room, giving their rooms up.

Neither Captain nor Mrs. Graham opposed this arrangement, knowing very well they meant to be busy all night, and that this change of rooms was the very best thing that could have happened for them; so, after every one had retired, they stole to the outhouse, where they had hid their flowers, etc., and carried them into the dining room.

Then they put up bunches of evergreens at regular page 110 intervals all round, connecting them with festoons of berries, and long sprays of the fuchsia; then they made the window and fireplaces into perfect bowers; and had only finished clearing away the twigs and scraps when morning began to break. Bridget had been equally busy in her department; and, being in the secret as to the decorations, had provided a nice little breakfast, which she laid out in the kitchen, and called the children to partake of it when they had finished their work.

The kitchen looked so bright and cheerful, that they involuntarily exclaimed they would sit up any night to get such a breakfast; and Biddy, with a rosy face, stood looking on, the picture of delight, as they sat down, Lucy taking the head of the table, and pouring out the steaming coffee. Presently Biddy opened her oven, and took out a plate of white cakes, which she knew Tom was very fond of.

“There,” she exclaimed, putting them before him; “there, Acushla, that's for yer wetting. Ye desarve all we can do to plase ye.”

“How's the pie, Biddy?”

“Och! it's the beautifulest piece of pasthry ye iver seen; an’ what's more, it will ate as well as it looks. Whisper, Master Tom”—and she put her mouth close to his ear—“Mr. Wilson hasn't tasted a bite fur twenty-four hours, all fur love of the pie; he's keepin’ room fur it, Dick says.”

The children laughed; and Bridget having thus given them something to amuse them, went to lay the breakfast-table in the dining-room. Tom and Lucy stole on tiptoe after her, to watch the effect of their decorations, and page 111 found her standing in open-mouthed amazement, comparing them to fairies, and the room itself to the Groves of Blarney.

Scarcely less was the admiration expressed both by their parents and their friends, as they entered the room. Scarcely was breakfast begun, than another party arrived; then another and another, until the rooms were quite full, and every vestige of breakfast had disappeared from the plates.

The clergyman and Captain Graham had disappeared shortly after breakfast, although every one had been so busy welcoming old friends, or making new ones, that there had been no time to miss them. Presently Mrs. Graham came into the room, dressed for walking, and proposed they should join Captain Graham, saying she would lead the way. Glances passed between the children; the moment was coming when they were to know the surprise their Papa had been preparing for them. Eagerly, and with heightened colour, they followed with the party, obliged to curb their curiosity and impatience so far as to walk sedately with their companions.

Mrs. Graham led the way to the forest, which was now in its fullest beauty.

The path lay along the bank of the river, past Tom's boat-house, and of course led to a description of the accident of the preceding day; and Tom was soon blushing most painfully, as, one after another, the guests began to praise his courage.

None of them said anything to Lucy, whose share, although second to her brother's, was still important enough to deserve remembrance. At first she felt so proud of hearing Tom's praises, that she did not think of her own page 112 deserts, and perhaps would not have thought of it at all, had not some one said:—

“Who pulled the child out of the water?”

When her Mamma answered:—

“Oh Lucy was there, and pulled him out.”

The gentleman who had spoken, stopped, and looking at her, said:—

“Although your brother jumped in, I suspect neither he nor the little boy would have got out if you had not had your wits about you.”

“Yes,” exclaimed Tom, “it was Lucy did that; she lay down upon the bank, because she couldn't reach us any other way, and lifted Aps out just like a baby, and he was too heavy for me to hold.”

Lucy's cheeks burnt, and her eyes filled; she had suddenly begun to see that no one appreciated her share, except this stranger and Tom, and a sense of injustice stole over her.

“That's presence of mind,” said the gentleman. “I like presence of mind; it is the best sort of courage to have. Being very brave is no use if you are not cool with it. Young ladies have not often this virtue.”

Lucy blushed and held down her head, saying:—

“I never had presence of mind before; but Tom was so quiet, I couldn't be frightened, but thought what I had best do—that is all.”

Just at this point of the conversation, they entered a narrow pathway, obliging them to go two and two, so Tom and Lucy were together.

“Where are we going, Tom,” she asked, in a whisper; “can you guess?”

“Not a bit; unless Papa has got a picnic ready.”

page 113

“Oh Tom!” burst from Lucy's lips, as they emerged from the wood, and saw upon a high green bank, overhanging the river, a neat Raupo building, at the door of which the clergyman, standing in his white gown, clearly demonstrated its use.

Every one was surprised and touched. Few had been at church since they came to the colony, except when a chance visit found them at Christchurch on Sunday. As for Lucy, Tom, and Beatrice, they stood completely amazed, then, with one accord, went forward to their Mamma, and stood beside her, just as they had been accustomed to do in England. Then their Papa came up to her, and, taking his arm, they walked into the building.

Inside, forms were arranged, with a high table for the reading-desk. The altar was covered with a white cloth, with everything prepared for the administration of the Holy Sacrament.

With full and reverent hearts, the little congregation took their seats. Tears were in many eyes, emotion in every face, when the clergyman said:—

“‘I will arise and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.’”

More than one sob was heard, as the service went on, the voices of the congregation uniting and the praise of God rising, in this hut in the wilderness. No wonder that some of them were awe-struck.

The text chosen by the preacher was from the 6th chapter of Deuteronomy, 17th and 18th verses:—

“Ye shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and His testimonies, and His statutes, page 114 which He hath commanded thee; and thou shalt do that which is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest go in and possess the good land.”

And he took occasion to give them some little account of the progress of religion in the country, and the necessity of every one working together to effect the entire conversion of the natives.

“The very youngest of them,” he said, “could help—even a little child—by showing a good example of obedience, and letting the little natives see how happy it made them to obey their parents and live kindly with each other,”

His sermon was listened to with rapt attention. Then followed the Holy Sacrament; but, as none of the children had been confirmed, they left the church and proceeded home.

There were four children besides the Grahams, so our friends had to be hosts, and amuse their new companions. To do this, Tom proposed taking them in the boat; and his proposal met the approbation of the whole party, except Aps, who said, very quietly:—

“Aps had’ nuff of water, Tom. Aps go home to Bridget for dinner.”

Beatrice immediately offered to stay with him, and, taking his hand, led him home, while the rest made a merry party in the boat, Tom acting as master, Lucy steering.

Now Tom rowed very well, and could generally manage the boat in the most rapid parts of the stream; but to-day he forgot he had an extra load, and, venturing a little too near the middle, and, consequently strongest portion of the page 115 current, the boat became unmanageable. The oars were of no use, and she drifted helplessly along. The stream ran with great force against the rocky bank of a small island, and this Tom and Lucy knew well, as they had frequently landed upon it, and pretended to be children cast away upon a desert island. They had planted a little garden, and built a sort of hut on the bank, in which they pretended to live.

Lucy saw Tom's face grow very white as the boat flew on, but said nothing, in case of alarming the others, who thought it was great fun going so quick. Suddenly, with a terrible crash, the boat ran full upon the rock, and they were all thrown into the bottom, screaming and kicking. Tom sprang on shore and held the boat, while Lucy got them out. Luckily, the force with which the stream had been driving the boat had run her far up, so that she was not much damaged, though Tom felt the tears start as he saw his nice little oars had tumbled out and were floating away.

Just then, a shout from the bank drew away his attention, and there he saw the whole party standing. They had gone to the boat-house, to get across the river, and, finding it vacant, Captain Graham grew alarmed, lest Tom should really meet with an accident: in fact, the very one that had befallen them.

After shouting out to know what they were doing on the island, and receiving for answer a short account of the wreck, Tom offered to come across by paddling with a branch, which he eventually did. Then his Papa and one of the gentlemen got in, and paddling back, brought the children over. The next thing was to make an attempt page 116 to recover the oars, which, much to Tom's joy, was at length successful, and a nail or two having repaired the injury sustained by the boat, some of the party amused themselves by fishing, until dinner-time; while others, having crossed the river, went off to the forest to shoot pigeons and gather flowers and fruit.

At four o'clock, every one assembled at the house, and proceeded to the dining-room, the table of which might be said to groan under the abundance of good things prepared by Bridget, whose great triumph, the goose-pie, stood like a mountain in the middle, an enormous turkey at one end, and the good old English roast-beef at the other.

Several of the guests who, having been longer residents in the country than the Grahams, had good gardens, had brought fruit of different kinds; and the first things the delighted eyes of the children fell upon were the pyramids of beautiful strawberries; another lady had brought a bowl of gooseberry fool, another a basket of apples and peaches, while another brought a large pailful of the thickest and richest cream you can possibly imagine—by no means an unacceptable addition to the feast, and one which gained Bridget's admiration; the want of “crame” having been a great grievance—one which had almost caused a rebellion in the kitchen, as Bridget tried all sorts of stratagems to save the milk and cream; the men declaring that she went to the blue cow (meaning the pump) for it, while Mrs. Graham found Aps crying for more milk one day, and discovered his allowance, too, cut short; so she told Bridget that the party must do without cream.

Great, therefore, was her delight, when she saw the page 117 cream, and was relieved in her mind on the score of the feast being perfect.

The pie cut up beautifully, and was pronounced excellent; the mince pies, plum puddings, and jelly were equally good, in fact, nothing was wrong—nothing bad; and, to judge by the mirth that made its way from the kitchen, the good cheer found equal approval there. Bridget was called into the dining-room to hear her health drank, and very much alarmed by Tom, who volunteered to go for her, telling her she would have to make a speech and return thanks. Bridget knew of only one kind of returning thanks, so, when the ladies and gentlemen had all said “Good health, Bridget, and thanks for your beautiful dinner!” Bridget, who was very red and uncomfortable, took the glass of wine her master held out, and then, looking round, she began—

“For what we have received—–”

But Tom, who was at her elbow, whispered, “No, no, Biddy; say you cannot express your feelings.”

“Get out wid ye, Master Tom; ye've spilt me intirely. Didn't ye tell me to return thanks?”

Here Bridget's explanations were drowned by roars of laughter, in the midst of which she escaped to the kitchen.

We shall not linger any longer over the accounts of the Christmas party, which went off as well as could possibly be expected, and remained as a bright spot in the memory of all those present.