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Distant Homes; or the Graham Family in New Zealand

Chapter V

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Chapter V.

A Sinking Ship—Leaving Nelson—A Volcano and Earthquake—Lucy's Alarm—Appearance of the Sea.

Although Mrs. Graham had avoided saying anything she thought might depress her husband, or add to the anxiety he already felt in leaving her and the children, when she was left alone, she could not altogether cast aside a sad apprehension as if some evil was about to happen; but this feeling was natural enough, when you remember that she was alone in a new country, surrounded by perfect strangers, who, although very hospitable and kind, were all so much occupied in their own affairs, that they had not time to devote to strangers. Another and perfectly unexpected cause for anxiety arose the very day of her husband's departure. A merchant vessel, heavily laden, and under an engagement to deliver her cargo at Lyttelton upon a certain day, was seen off the mouth of the bay, labouring against the wind, which was blowing a perfect gale. A pilot boat was sent out, and came back for a tug, with the intelligence that the ship had run upon a sandbank, broken both paddles, and sustained such damage, that if she was not in harbour in a few hours, she would be lost.

The little town was in a great state of excitement, and a page 29 couple of steamers were speedily sent out to the assistance of the unfortunate ship, and, in about two hours, they were in sight again with her in tow; the aid had come just in time. Although the whole strength of the crew had been working at the pumps, the water was gaining upon them.

The captain was in despair; he had staked a large sum of money as security that he would fulfil his engagement as to time; and now it seemed perfectly impossible, and the hard-earned savings of many years must all go as forfeit. One hope only remained, and that was to re-ship the cargo into another vessel, and proceed immediately. This would have been easy enough, if another ship had been there, but the only one that could be got ready was that in which the Grahams had just arrived. After a good deal of persuasion the captain consented to load his ship with the cargo, which consisted of various inflammable articles, such as candles, cottons, silks, &c., and a number of barrels containing whiskey.

By dint of hiring all the labour they could command, and working all through the night, they succeeded in clearing the sinking ship, and transferring the goods to the other; and about two o'clock the following day, Mrs. Graham, who had been anxiously watching the busy scene, received information that she must be on board in an hour, to be ready to catch the tide and afternoon breeze.

When she had settled the children in their cabin, she proceeded on deck to take a last glimpse of Nelson. The day had changed very much, the atmosphere being hot and oppressive; and although the sky looked as clear and bright as before, the horizon had a pale pinkish haze page 30 hanging round it, such as she had never remarked before. But there was little time for such thoughts; the tide was turning, and in a few minutes, with a parting cheer, the anchor was shipped, and the sails spread to catch the expected breeze.

Blind Bay is one of the most picturesque in New Zealand, and almost shut in by a long sand-bank, which, covering its mouth, obtained for it its name. The shores rise to a great height, and on three sides join the mountain-range; so that it is completely secure from high winds, and however violent a storm may be in the straits, inside the bay all is peace and safety.

The ebb tide was running very strong, and as the breeze gradually and quickly freshened, no time was lost in making their way down the bay, so that just as the sky grew red with the sunset, they ran through the narrow spit of water between the mainland and the sandbank, and entered Cook's Straits.

Here a brisk breeze was blowing; and, crowding on all the sail he could, the captain took advantage of it. Nothing could be more beautiful than the picture on which the last light of day was lingering; the snowy mountains upon the North Island were all tinged with pink, the woods near the shore looking almost black, while, just on the horizon, a faint white pillar of smoke rose from the volcano of Mount Egmont. Twilight does not last so long in New Zealand as in England, and the last streak of light soon faded out, leaving a dark cloudy night, the moon, which was almost full, being completely hidden. The breeze suddenly fell, and the sails flapped lazily against the rigging. Lucy and her Mamma were on the deck at the page 31 moment, and were equally startled at the sudden clap of the canvas, more resembling the shutting of a door than anything else. When the wind fell, the heaving of the ship became very unpleasant, and Lucy, although not actually sea-sick, felt very uncomfortable, and would have liked to have gone to bed, only she saw her Mamma looked pale and anxious, and as poor Beatrice had a bad headache, she would not leave her mother alone, so sat still, resting her head against the side of the ship.

Presently, an exclamation from one of the crew, who stood near, made them look round, and a sight that one who has once seen never forgets, burst upon them—the volcano in action.

The pillar of smoke had become a crown of fire, above which, hung a thick and dreadfully dark cloud. The sides of the mountain, though at such a great distance, were distinctly visible, and looked as sharp as if cut with a knife.

Both Lucy and her mother had sprung to their feet, and stood silent and awe struck. They were still gazing, and neither had spoken, when a low, rumbling sound crept along the water; it only lasted a minute, and might have been the echo of distant thunder, or the firing of cannon; Lucy thought so, and whispered an enquiry to her mother.

“No, Lucy,” replied Mrs. Graham; “it is an earthquake. Let us pray to God to protect your father and all of us.”

The blood rushed to Lucy's heart; a cold shiver shook her limbs.

“Oh, Mamma!” was all she could say, and trembling, crept up to her side, trying not to look at the volcano, page 32 but still gazing with fascinated eyes. Just then Beatrice stole up, and put her arms round her mother.

“I heard it, dear, and could not stay below; my head is better now.”

“Is it, dear,” said Mrs. Graham, absently.

“I am afraid we are going to have rough work, madam,” said the captain, passing with the pilot.

“Yes, sir, that we shall,” said the pilot; “the old mountain never gives us warning in vain.”

Mrs. Graham drew her children closer to her, for an instant, and then told them to stand still, while she went to look at Aps.

He was lying sound asleep in his berth, his curls all tossed, and his pretty, white, fat legs thrown over the coverlet.

Mrs. Graham knelt down by his side, and prayed God to guard them through the perils and dangers of the night; then kissing her child, she went on deck again.

A couple of hours passed very slowly away, the ship lying like a log upon the heaving ocean; the pillar of fire growing sometimes brighter, sometimes almost disappearing; not a sound broke the stillness, except the straining and groaning of the labouring vessel; and Lucy, who would have borne up very well if a storm had come, got terribly frightened and nervous in the strange calm, and kept tormenting her Mamma by a thousand foolish questions, until at last she began to cry, and would have cried herself to sleep, if a tremendous clap of thunder had not made her start to her feet with a loud shriek, which she was heartily ashamed of giving way to the next minute, when she met her mother's eye.

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“Go down below, Lucy, if you cannot behave more sensibly, here,” she said.

“Oh, Mamma, it is so dreadful; it came so suddenly. Did you see the lightning? If I had, I don't think I should have got in such a fright.” But Lucy was wrong, for while she was uttering the last word, a vivid flash darted across the sky, and putting her hands up to her eyes, she gave a louder shriek than before, and then, throwing herself into her mother's arms, began crying and sobbing.

“You are very silly, Lucy,” said her Mamma, “and very ungrateful to God. He has taken care of you all your life, and will never desert any one who trusts in His care.” But Lucy only sobbed the more, thinking her Mamma was unkind not to pity her.

“Oh, if Papa was here,” she sighed, “I should not be frightened.”

“Papa could not help you, dear; but your heavenly Father can. Why would you trust and be happy if Papa was here, who could do nothing more than those with you now?”

“Because I love him, and I know he would do anything for me, and save me.”

“And would not God do so?”

Lucy could not answer, and held down her head, with a burning blush.

“Now,” said her Mamma,” go below, and lie down beside Aps; I will call you, if I want you; but first, Lucy, ask God to give you faith in Him.”

Lucy would have liked to have staid; but when Mrs. Graham said a thing she always meant it, and saw that it was done; so the little girl kissed her Mamma, and did as she was told.

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All through the night the thunder rattled, coming with deafening peals, such as are never heard in England. Still there was no wind, and the ship made no progress. Morning broke at last, the thunder-clouds dispersed, and the pilot began to talk of the danger having past; it was, however, only beginning. Far away, to the east, a white cloud seemed to lie on the bosom of the sea; it came nearer, and passed within a mile of the ship, running along the top of the waves.

Mrs. Graham saw the captain's expression change, as he watched it, and heard him exclaim, “Thank God!” as it passed by.

“What is it, captain?” she asked, in a breathless whisper.

“A squall, madam; if it had struck us, there would have been no cause to ask that question.”

“Do they occur often in these parts, captain?”

“No, madam; but when Nature is in the mood she is in to-day, anything may occur: ‘They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep; for He commandeth and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof; they mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths; their soul is melted because of trouble; they reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses.'”

As the captain repeated these beautiful words, he uncovered his head.

“Thank you,” said Mrs. Graham, holding out her hand. “You have comforted me more than I can tell you.”

The captain grasped her hand warmly and passed on.

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As the morning advanced, the heat became almost unhearable, and once or twice the same low, grumbling sound broke the stillness.

Presently the great pillar of smoke rushing up from the volcano disappeared, the air grew heavy and tremulous, and the waves as quiet as a millpond. Every one rushed on deck, and stood waiting, pale and awe-stricken.

The silence lasted for nearly three minutes; then a faint roll, like thunder, was heard; it grew louder, and the vessel seemed to tremble, just as you have heard a window do when cannon are firing near; then one or two sharp cracks, and the water became agitated; a wave rose up here and there, as if trying to escape from something, and immediately to the leeward, a jet of water, like that from a fountain, rose about thirty feet in the air; three or four more broke out in different directions, and, almost at the same moment, the volcano began to smoke again. The ship now commenced rocking with a short, sharp motion, which gradually increased, until it was difficult to remain on deck, even when holding on by different things. This continued about ten minutes, though it seemed much longer to the frightened passengers; then a gentle breeze came singing through the rigging, and with a cheerful voice, the captain gave orders to hoist sail. The danger was past, and the earthquake over.

What they had felt so mildly at this distance, had caused great alarm and destruction at Wellington, where a number of houses had been thrown down, and a great many people injured, while many more were drowned by the sudden ebb and flow of the tide, which rushed up from above high-water mark, and carried away several men, women and children in its recoil. 1855?