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Distant Homes; or the Graham Family in New Zealand

Chapter XXII

page 154

Chapter XXII.

Sad Thoughts by Moonlight—An Alarming Visit—Insurrections among the Natives—Native Gratitude—The Rebel Chief—Captain Graham's Return.

When Captain Graham accompanied Tom to Lyttelton, in order to see him safe on board the homeward-bound ship, he fully intended returning home in a week; but a whole fortnight passed away, and still he was absent.

At first Mrs. Graham did not think much of it, as many things might have happened to delay him, but when the second week closed, she began to feel nervous, and caught herself imagining all sorts of perils and accidents. Night after night she lay awake, listening for his shout to announce his return.

Upon the third night she had gone to bed earlier than usual, and instead of remaining still as she had done before, she got up and went to the window, with a faint hope that she might see her husband coming down the hill, the whole of which was lighted clearly by a full moon. All was silent, not a breath of wind passed over the wide plains; and leaning her head against the window frame, Mrs. Graham thought sadly of those dear ones she had parted with; tears began to roll down her cheeks, and drop heavily upon the boards. The noise, slight as it was, roused her. She looked out again towards the hill, page 155 and after one long eager breathless glance, started up and hurried down stairs. She had seen figures moving on the hill, and never doubting it was her husband, she only stayed to throw on a slight covering, and eager to greet him, walked down to the end of the garden, through which he would most probably approach the house. The hill was now again within sight, and looking towards it, the objects she had seen were gone. At the same time, the bark of a dog convinced her she was right; and half hiding behind a bush, she waited her husband's approach. Presently the sound of footsteps met her ear, and then, much to her disappointment, instead of her husband a couple of natives walked cautiously up. They paused at the gate, and for some minutes stood perfectly silent gazing at the house; then they began to talk, gesticulating vehemently all the time, one evidently taking a different view of the subject in discussion from the others. Mrs. Graham did not understand all they said; but she heard quite enough to show her that an attack was meditated, and that one chief was in favour of it while the other was against it. Both were strangers to Mrs. Graham, and her blood ran cold as she thought of the fate of her children and herself should the attack be decided on.

For nearly half-an-hour the dispute lasted, and there is no saying how much louger the two men would have talked, had not a slight movement made by the listener attracted their attention. Without a word the man who advocated peace opened the gate and walked up to the bush. Just as he approached, Mrs. Graham, thinking her only chance of life was in flight, started up—the dark covering she had thrown over her white nightdress fell to page 156 the ground, and ere she could stoop to pick it up the native was beside her. Flight was impossible now; and with a courage she herself wondered at, she stood erect before him, waiting for her death-blow. But she was mistaken. The native stopped short, gazed reverently at her, and then called softly to his companion, who in his turn came up and stood silently before her.

Then Mrs. Graham saw her advantage, and understood that they supposed her to be a spirit, and that probably the fact of seeing her would avert the meditated war. So raising one arm, she pointed to the sky, and then away in the direction the natives had come, uttering the word “go” in the native tongue. Scarcely was the word spoken, when they turned and walked slowly away. Nerved by the success of her plan, she followed them to the gate, and walking up a mound of earth which enabled her to see the path for some distance, as well as be seen herself in case either of them looked back, she stood until they were out of sight, the whiteness of her dress gleaming in the moonlight, and showing itself to the sharp eyes of the natives, even from the hill itself. Once past that, she felt that for a time the house was safe.

Next morning, without mentioning her strange adventure to any one, she set off by herself to the native Pah, determined to tell the chief the whole story, and beg his protection. She found every one in a state of excitement, and soon discovered that news of an outbreak near Wellington had reached the natives. All were in the greatest consternation, and each one asked the other what was to be done. How could they fight against their own people, and how could they kill the kind English.

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Mrs. Graham Warned by the Friendly Natives.

Mrs. Graham Warned by the Friendly Natives.

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The chief himself burst into tears directly Mrs. Graham told her story, and did his best to assure her of his help, volunteering to go at once to the Pah of the insurgents, and arrange that nothing should be done against her family; and at the same time he offered to send a few of his warriors to the farm, to remain as a sort of guard, in order that, if any attack took place unexpectedly, they would secure Mrs. Graham's and the children's safety.

Mrs. Graham was deeply touched by the many expressions of gratitude used both by the chief and his warriors, all of whom said that they had never been happy or comfortable until they knew the English, and that the people who had risen and wished to fight were only a very small tribe, who had quarrelled with some settlers, and misrepresented the cause to several other tribes, who having always been allies, felt obliged to take their friends’ part. This looked very probable, from the dispute we have spoken of before; so, a good deal comforted by her visit to her native friends, Mrs. Graham returned home, and, to her great delight, found her husband had arrived.

The very sight of him seemed to dispel all fear, and bring back the confidence she had formerly felt; and after she had heard the particulars of Tom's departure, and cried over a photograph Captain Graham had been luckily able to have done of their sailor-boy, she gave a full account of her strange adventure and subsequent interview with their neighbours.

Her husband listened anxiously, then said—

“Well, thank God, we've made friends, for I fear there is really a very bad spirit getting abroad among the page 158 natives. Very bad accounts of risings near Taranakie reached Christchurch while I was there, and it is even said that the English have been beaten and a considerable victory gained. If such is the case, there is no saying where the mischief will end. If they have repulsed our men even only once, and by accident, they will lose that feeling of respect for our superiority that has so long kept them in check, and, once lost, it can never be regained. If the tribe are victorious, the insurrection will and must spread, and we may sleep with bayonets by our bedsides.”

“Poor misguided things,” exclaimed Mrs. Graham, “what can have induced them to rise against us. I thought everything had been so well managed by the Government in the appropriation of land and right of sale, that there could be no ground for a dispute, much less open war.”

“From what I heard,” said Captain Graham, “the cause of the insurrection is just what many settlers have feared might lead to such a misfortune, namely the disputes among the chiefs as to who is in reality the owner of certain tracts of land. Now, in this case, the original possessor, Wiremu Kingi, had been driven away from his own property by a stranger tribe called Woikatos; the conquerors sold the land to the Government. Then Wiremu Kingi came back when his old enemies were gone, and claimed the land as his by right. The Government objected. He took up arms, and finally the affair ended in war, or at all events the attitude of war, the farmers all volunteering as riflemen, and sending their wives and families to Nelson. Trade and page 159 work of all kinds, save fighting, is put a stop to, and what is worse, secret emissaries of the rebels are travelling the country, and spreading the infection every where. The Maories have long talked of a king, who was to be to the whole of New Zealand what our Queen is to us, and this same movement has been the forerunner of the land quarrels. I would have stayed for the next mail from Nelson; but I knew what a state of anxiety you would be in about me, and now I am thankful I came. I do not fear anything here, Lucy, so you need not look so anxiously at my face. If any disturbance takes place near, we shall have the whole Pah to live with us, and depend upon it we shall be safe enough.”

“Oh Papa! if Tom had been here, how he would have helped you,” said Lucy.

“Tom has much better work to do—he has to fight for the honour of his country and the Queen. Poor Tom, indeed; if you could only see him in his blue jacket, you would be quite content to part with him for a while.”

But the bright drops that welled over Lucy's cheeks showed her father the parting was too recent to appear anything but a great misery, and he said no more, knowing time heals such wounds better than any good advice, however kindly given.

Among other things, Captain Graham had found a large bundle of letters waiting for him at Christchurch, one of which was from George, written just after his first examination, for his “littlego” was over. It was full of bright hopes and good intentions, and gladdened Mr. Graham's heart more than words can tell. He spoke confidently of page 160 getting speedily through college, and was even then forming plans for his journey to New Zealand, and speaking of his joy when he should be with them again.

When George's letter had been fully discussed, another subject of equal interest, and of vital importance to the native population, was started, namely, when and how the money left in Captain Graham's trust by the old agent was to be made use of.

Great was the delight of both girls when their father took a piece of thin paper out of his pocket-book, and, unfolding it, displayed a drawing and plan of a neat chapel and school-house, the garden of the latter stretching down to a river, which, from a peculiarity in the shape of a small bay, both recognised instantly and shouted out with great delight that the chapel and school-house were to be just at Tom's boat-house.

“Oh Papa, dear, darling Papa !” exclaimed Lucy, “when will you build it? And who is to teach or who will preach till George comes? How are the children to be dressed? Who will build the house? May Beatrice and I have classes?”

“Stop, stop !” cried her father, putting his hands over his ears, and pretending to gasp for breath. “Oh have pity on my ears and lungs ! Who in the world ever asked so many questions in one breath?”

Lucy laughed; and, pulling his hands away, put her mouth to one ear and whispered—

“When is the school to be begun?”

“In a month, Miss Impatience,” announced her father. “Now off you go, look at the ground I have chosen, and tell me in the evening all you and Beatrice have settled, and then I shall have time to tell you my plans.”