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Distant Homes; or the Graham Family in New Zealand

Chapter XX

page 142

Chapter XX.

The Natives build Houses—Arrival of the Chief—Tom is sent for— The Agent's Advice to Tom—Death of the Agent.

There was a great deal of discussion among the natives as to where they should build their Pah, or village; and at last they fixed upon a small hill, about a mile from Captain Graham's house, and then a part of them returned to their old Pah, to take the good news to their friends, and bring them back with them. It was wonderful how quickly the few men left built up their houses or huts, which were just the same kind as Tom saw on his way from Nelson to Christchurch.

When they had completed twelve houses, some of them proposed building the fence, or fortifications, round the group; but the chief would not hear of it, saying that their English brother had no fence to guard him, and that they were in no greater danger than he was; so, they contented themselves with a railing, like that round Tom's garden.

At last, the whole preparation being completed, a messenger was despatched to the tribe; and, in a few days, three canoes arrived, crammed with men, women, children, pigs, poultry, etc., etc. The Grahams were all down at the river, to see them disembark.

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A strange sight it was, and one that none of them will ever forget. First came the chief's canoe, a very large one, decorated with an imposing figure-head, which was covered with gay feathers, beads, and carving, and had a very magnificent effect. In this canoe were the chief's six wives, his children, and all his property. Besides this, were several warriors, and their wives and families.

This canoe touched the shore first, and, as usual, every one wept and howled, while the little children, those, at least who were too young to know their proper behaviour, according to New Zealand fashion, ran about like wild goats, then gathered round our friends, staring in utter amazement at their dress.

Aps was very sorry for their having no clothes on, and wanted his Mamma very much to let him go home for some of his, nor could he at all understand her when she told him they preferred going without clothes, and had never worn any. I believe Aps, after this, thought, in his own mind, they were some kind of monkeys, and actually asked Tom, that night, “If all monkeys had tails.”

The ladies of the tribe soon made friends with Mrs. Graham, and crowded round her, examining her dress, with many exclamations of wonder and admiration. Having satisfied this part of their curiosity, they set off for the village, leaving the canoes upon the bank of the river.

It did not take many days to settle the New Zealanders in their new abode, or to open a regular trade between them and Captain Graham; and, very soon, other settlers near began to deal with them too, thus establishing something very like a regular weekly market, by the gains of which the natives soon began to grow quite rich.

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You must not be astonished to hear of these ignorant people understanding the art of buying and selling; for the fact is, they are by nature first-rate traders, and the most uncivilized among them will display the greatest caution before he settles upon the article he is in search of. For instance, if he wants a blanket, he will go from one shop to another, asking the price, and then, finding the cheapest, he will begin again at the highest, and go on examining each blanket in succession, until he fixes upon the thickest, and, even then, he frequently consults several friend before he ventures upon purchasing. Indeed, it seems that the natives of New Zealand are capital traders, and are very seldom deceired into getting a bad article for their money; and it so followed that the little village became quite rich. Yet, still they were not Christians, and Lucy and Beatrice talked over plan after plan to teach them; but, unfortunately, when they told their father and mother, there were strong objections to each.

Autumn, or, as it would have been called, in England, spring, was now nearly passed, and winter beginning, which, although not cold enough to kill the flowers and green leaves, is a season. The ground was being dug up for a fresh supply of seeds. A few crocuses and snowdrops, which the children insisted upon planting, to try and look like winter, were begining to show their points above the ground; the birds had ceased to sing in the early morning, and, altogether, there was just change enough to show that winter was truly coming, at least, all the winter there ever is in New Zealand; but, with it, many changes were coming too. A messenger arrived, post-haste, with a letter from Christchurch, begging Captain Graham to take page 145 Tom down to see his old friend the agent again. The letter was not written by the old man himself, and it added that he was so very ill that he could not use his hands at all. It was rather an inconvenient thing, leaving home at that particular season; and, besides, there was a degree of risk in leaving his family and property so completely at the mercy of the natives, who, though they appeared to be perfectly amicable, were still only unconverted savages, and the slightest offence or indignity offered by any of the servants, might, if the “master” was not there to keep order, end in a serious and perhaps fatal disturbance. Thus, it was decided that Mrs. Graham should go with Tom, and explain to their old friend the reason her husband could not leave home.

Lucy and Beatrice both begged to go too, but that Captain Graham would not hear of, so they each wrote down a list of commissions, which was not to be examined until their mother reached her destination. Aps only asked for one thing, and that was a horse that would not kick or gallop, while Bridget, who had assured her mistress there was nothing wanted, rushed after the wagon, just as they were starting, and begged Mr. Tom to bring her a Jew's-harp, as she “could not keep up her heart widout a bit of music.” Her request was met with a shout of laughter from Tom.

“Sure, Biddy, we'll bring you a Jew himself to cheer you up,” said Tom.

“Faix, Masther Tom, ye might do worse,” answered Biddy: “but ye'll think better ov yer fun beyant. Och! there's the poor childer crying. Oh Misthress, av the savidges ate us win ye're away, what'll we say to ye win ye are coming agin?”

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With this parting speech, Bridget put her apron to her eyes, and ran back to quiet Appy's grief; that young gentleman, having escaped from the back room in which he had been shut up, to prevent him seeing his mother's departure, was making his way along the garden, roaring with the full force of a strong will and pair of lungs. Bridget snatched him in her arms, shedding torrents of tears over the poor deserted child, as she chose to designate him.

The journey to Christchurch was performed in much less time than had been occupied by the first journey up the country; but this may be easily accounted for, by the fact, that in going up they had the waggon heavily laden; now Mrs. Graham and Tom were the sole occupants, excepting the driver, and a boy to help him in whipping the horses, or hold their heads when they came to broken and dangerous ground. The weather was splendid, and, by borrowing a fresh team at two stations, with the owners of whom the Grahams, in passing, had made acquaintance, they lost no time in reaching Christch urch, as they did not even stop for the night, but slept in the waggon.

The poor old agent was greatly altered, and evidently near the end of his earthly pilgrimage. He thanked Mrs. Graham affectionately, for coming to him, apologizing for asking one, who was till lately a stranger, to do so much; then, taking Tom's hand in his, he said—

“You, my boy, want to be a sailor. Think well of it, first; for, once a fellow takes to a profession, he ought to stick to it; there's no good in a man when he tries half-a-dozen things before he finds the one he ought to have begun with. I took to it from the cradle, and I stuck to it; but it left me, Tom. I had no interest, and a hot page 147 temper, and, when I didn't get what I ought to, I threw up my commission; but the present Lord stood my friend; and, if he'd been then what he is now, I'd not be here, that's all. Well, Mrs. Graham, I've written that letter lying on the table there, and told my Lord the old story over again, asking him to give Tom the help he would willingly have given me. I've called him my adopted son; and, in my will, you'll find enough to keep him going, till, if he's lucky, he gets his promotion. The rest, and there's not much, I've left to your good husband's discretion, to apply as he sees will help the poor natives best on the way to God. I hope he will not be angry with me, giving him so much trouble; I've not tied him down, he can use it as he likes. And now, Tom, my boy, I'll give you a bit of parting advice—for I'm not going to make a sick nurse of your dear mother; she has much more important duties to perform at home; so, as soon as I've said my say, you and she shall start for the plains again. I've lived alone, and would rather die alone; and it won't be long to wait. God is with me, I know; and no one can help me through the last, but He. Now, what I was going to say to you, Tom, is this: when I went to sea the last words my father said to me, were— ‘Fear nobody but God; and remember that He will call you to account for every word and action.’ I never forgot the words, and I never saw my father again; he was dead before I got back from my first cruise; but, upon his tombstone, he had ordered the same words to be engraved. So, his voice seemed to remind me from the grave; they've carried me through a troubled life, and made me patient under disappointments of every kind. Make these words your maxim, my boy; write them on the fly-leaf of your page 148 Bible, and look at them once every day; and never forget what I tell you—that an honest heart and clear conscience will make us carry our heads over the storms of the world.”

The old man was too much exhausted to say more, and, when Mrs. Graham proposed remaining, exerted himself so much to speak, and repeat his wish that she should bid him farewell at once, and take Tom home, that she dare not disobey him. Stooping down, she kissed his forehead, and bade Tom do so also. They then left the house, but with no intention of going home, as, although Mrs. Graham thought it better to appear to humour the wish of their friend she could not leave the place; and she remained to watch over his comfort in any way she could, without letting him know she was there. She had not long to remain, as the nurse came down-stairs in a great hurry on the second day, to beg Mrs. Graham to go up, as her master was dying.

Mrs. Graham, however, did not wish to disturb him at last, and sent the nurse back. In a few seconds she returned, to say he was dead.

When his will was found, it was discovered that he had been a much richer man than any one imagined; and, besides leaving Tom a large sum of money, he had left nearly £2,000 in the hands of Captain Graham, to be devoted to the conversion and education of the natives. Among other things was a diary of his life, which was addressed to Tom, and enclosed in a packet with his watch and Bible. Upon the fly-leaf of the latter were written, the words—

“Fear no one but God; and remember that you must account to Him for every word and action.”