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The Counterfeit Seal: A Tale of Otago's First Settlers.

The Counterfeit Seal: A Tale of Otago's Pioneers — Chapter I. The Cobbler's Apprentice

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The Counterfeit Seal: A Tale of Otago's Pioneers
Chapter I. The Cobbler's Apprentice.

His spirit craved for bolder, nobler trusts.

It was on Saturday night in the month of —— 1847, that Eric Thomson, after having been a week away from home, returned to the house of his parents to spend the Sabbath1, to get a change of clothing, and start out again on Monday morning, in an opposite direction, for a succeeding week of toil. He was a strong young man of twenty-one, tall and broad of frame, very slightly bent forward, doubtless the result of years spent over the last and the leather seam, having almost completed an apprenticeship of seven years to an itinerant, lively, and energetic master of St. Crispin2.

Eric Thomson was fond of his home, and those at home were equally fond of him; he had a pleasant obliging disposition, and by his genial manners he had won a roomy corner in the hearts of all who sat around the same hearthstone, though for those seven years he had never spent more than one day in seven among them. Summer and winter; in the beauties of spring, or during the dreariness page 2 of winter's cold and stormy weather, he had followed his employer from house to house, from town to town, seldom knowing to-day where he should work to-morrow; but with a fidelity worthy of a nobler vocation, he left his fate implicitly in the hands of Archie Rabb, who for well nigh half a century, had been known as a trusty cobbler4, for many miles round the ancient city of Edinburgh, and was sure of work, where such skill as his was wanted.

This member of the Independent and Ununited Order of Waxends and Awls, had throughout his life dwelt in the famous city of Scottish kings and seat of learning—not that Archie had personally profited much by the special glories of the noted city's fame, but, the fact of being a native of the royal centre was to the humble cobbler, as well as to all others born within the walls which enclose the grand old town, a source of pride. Even a cobbler born in Edinburgh was entitled to some respect, superior to men of other towns of the country. And Archie, in his modest way, strove to live an honest, and consequently a respectable life, while making and mending shoes in the villages and small towns surrounding the proud capital of Scotland.

Many a weary mile had Archie Rabb been followed by Eric Thomson during those seven years—yes, followed—for Rabb knew how a hired lad should be kept in his place. He was not the man to make a companion of his boy, whose duty was to carry the little bag containing the necessary tools and other adjuncts of the trade, and keeping a few paces in the rear, walk in the path of his master.

On the Saturday with which our story commences Eric was not in his usual humour; he had come home without a smile on his face, his greeting to his mother was page 3 heartless, and when his sister Betty threw her arms round his neck to kiss him in her enthusiastic way, his response was so mechanical as to make her feel he was either ill or angry. She drew back and looked at him; many strange thoughts passing through her mind while she turned away to resume her domestic duties; and he threw himself down in an old arm chair, always his father's seat when he was at home, but claimed by Eric in his absence.

Little was said by any during the half hour in which Mrs. Thomson and her daughter were preparing the evening meal, the only one on a week night at which all the family met. By the time the repast was ready all were present. The father, who held the position of under gardener to Provost5 McAlister, and had two younger sons working with him, arrived about ten minutes after Eric, Mary and Jane, who were respectively learning the dressmaking and millinery6, had just come in, and all gathered round the table. The fond matron sat at her end of the family board, and with an expression of pleasure and pride, glanced from one to another of her fine-looking family of three sons and three daughters, who all were in the full enjoyment of energetic health.

At such times Eric generally had a free tongue, and told strange and humorous tales of his experiences during his week's perigrinations. He was always expected, on account of this, to lead off with something new immediately after the “blessing was asked,” but to-night he sat silently, and in consequence all were silent, until his mother, looking at her firstborn remarked:

“Have you nothing to tell us to-night, Eric?”

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“No, nothing to-night, mother,” he replied in a heavy far-away sort of voice and manner, and after a short pause continued—“Let somebody else do the talking.”

“Mercy! me,” exclaimed his mother, “what's the matter with you Eric?”

“Oh, nothing, Mother, only I have nothing to say.” This time he showed some crossness in his speech, and she remained quiet for a while considering what this strange turn could mean.

“Come, Eric,” said Jane, his youngest sister, whose coaxing voice seldom failed in effecting its purpose, “come, Eric, we haven't seen you for a week, and we're all wanting to hear you, it seems strange for you to be here and yet not to say something to make us laugh, has old Rabb had bad luck, or has he broken his leg?”

“Oh no, Archie Rabb's well enough,” was the only reply she got this time.

“It's not Rabb he's troubled about,” said Mary, looking mischievously about, “all that's wrong with him is that he missed having a word with Kirsty Knox7 as he came in. If Kirsty had got his first words there would have been fun for us,” and she giggled freely at her own pertness.

This was more than he counted on, but did not tend much to sweeten his humour. His answer was a retort:

“How long is it since ye saw braw8 James Carmichael with his buckled shoes, Mary?”

Mary flushed, but quietly replied, “Jimmy was in seeing mother last night, lad, but you need not be troubled, Kirsty's well, Eric, I said good-bye to her down the street a bit, she said she was late in getting home to-night, and gave an anxious look up this way when she turned the corner.”

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“Thank you,” said Eric, “for giving what was not asked from you. I am glad to know your pretty friend is well, be careful to do her no ill by what you say.”

This gave the conversation a start, and even Eric thawed from his icy condition slowly, and joined in a laugh subsequently over a joke perpetrated on his worthy master by James; still it was clear that some uncommon burthen oppressed his mind, while he hugged it selfishly to his own bosom.”

When they rose from table Eric lost no time in dressing himself in his best Sunday clothes, and without saying a word to one in the house, he bent his footsteps to the home of Kirsty Knox.

“Come away in,” said Mrs. Knox, who opened the door in answer to his signal, “you've managed to get across fine and early to-night, Eric, Kirsty will not be long;” with that she led him into a neat parlour, with a lamp already lit although daylight had not yet passed away. The furniture of the room bespoke more thrift than luxury, indeed, the inmates, although slightly above the grade of Eric's family, were still depending on work for their daily bread. Mrs. Knox did fancy sewing for good houses, her daughter had a situation behind a counter in a linen draper's shop, and Mr. Knox was clerk in a writer's office; while there were seven children to be fed, clothed, and educated.

Nobody seemed to think of Eric as a mere cobbler's lad. When dressed in his best suit, he had a good manly appearance, and had the manner of one who could not be a member of the “Waxend and Awl” order all his life. His countenance and his conversation both seemed to class him page 6 in quite another sphere, although his education was of an inferior standard, except for his love of reading and his faculty of observation; these enabled him to pass for what he really was not among strangers, while among friends he ereated the impression that he was able to command success in his efforts to surmount difficulties.

He had chatted with Mrs. Knox for a few minutes when the graceful form of Kirsty glided through the doorway with a very high colour glowing upon her cheeks. The greeting was that of lovers in the presence of one honoured and respected—cordial yet slightly bashful and constrained.

About five minutes later Mrs. Knox having, she said, something to do in the kitchen, left the young pair to the freedom of their own company. They drew their seats nearer to each other, and Eric took Kirsty's hand into his, and seemed for a while as if he were at a loss for anything to say, when Kirsty came to his relief by asking—

“What is the most uncommon event in your history this week, Eric?”

“That is what I want most of all to tell you, Kirsty,” was his energetic reply.

“Well, I will sit and listen, you begin at once,” said she, raising her large blue eyes to meet the glance of his pair of dark and sparkling orbs.

“Can you come out for a walk for half an hour with me, Kirsty? I want to be quite alone without fear of interruption.”

“Has anything befallen you, Eric?” she asked.

“Not that, but I want to tell you what I have heard, and ask your advice.”

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“Well, would you not rather see father and ask his opinion on the matter?” she suggested, as if supposing it to be something in which her father's legal knowledge might be of some advantage to the young man.

“I shall be glad of your father's advice once I have got yours, perhaps, but I would like yours first, so if you may, put on your bonnet and shawl, we will have a saunter round for half an hour.”

After consulting her mother Kirsty appeared before her lover ready to comply with his request, and the two went out in the gloaming, he to unfold the burden of his heart, she to receive a revelation and a surprise.

1 “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates” (Ex. 20. 9-10)

2 Saints Crispin and Crispinian are the patron saints of shoemakers.

4 One whose business it is to mend shoes.

5 The head of a Scottish municipal corporation or burgh (equivalent to mayor in England).

6 The profession of designing, making, or selling (usually) women's hats.

7 The surname Knox may be a possible reference to John Knox (1514 – 1572), who led the Scottish Reformation and developed the democratic form of government implemented by the Church of Scotland.

8 Finely-dressed; splendid, showy.