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

Chapter XVI. — An Agreeable Surprise

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Chapter XVI.
An Agreeable Surprise.

“From the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell like a falling star—


The days of April and May had passed drearily enough to those who were fated to spend the first portion of colonial life on board the ships, but much quicker to those who were daily engaged in the rough work of pioneers.

But now in the short days of June all were finally landed and housed in their “adopted land,” and the good ships, having discharged their burthens, weighed anchor and put to sea, steering first to Australia and thence for the old land. They each bore letters from the colonists to friends at Home, to whom their minds were often turning with longing thoughts; and sometimes these were mingled with fleeting regrets for ever having parted from them. The glamour of life in a new colony had now been dissipated by the stern reality of all its actual operations, and occasionally the heart was conscious of disappointment, and was not without just a little irresolution and some amount of misgiving.

In spite of this there was already a great change made in the aspect of the place, as viewed from the bay. The day chosen to bring the families from Port Chalmers was unusually fine, and the event was accomplished with considerable effect.

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A fleet of boats and barges, indeed, all the available floatilla of the place was pressed into service, and early in the day on the flood tide, while a gentle breeze from the N.E. blew up the harbour, the whole of them hoisted sail and headed for the new settlement. In all, between twenty and thirty vessels, large and small, constituted a very imposing sight as they kept in good order and wended their way up the tortuous channel. There were ships' boats, boats belonging to whalers and other residents on the side of the harbour, and a few Maori whale-boats, followed by Ben Brooks' two flat-bottomed barges, built in anticipation of trade.

It was like a promiscuous regatta203 as the procession came up through between the islands, and thence onwards; and the happy words of joy and admiration, given expression to by the liberated immigrants as they came into view of the various points of beauty presented by the ever-changing scenery of the passage between Port Chalmers and Dunedin, as they were passed from boat to boat by the delighted voyagers, gave to the whole affair a pleasure-trip character.

The sights of the harbour in the glory of its native splendour was enough to arouse the most apathetic to a high sense of its charming nature, and none in that company could refrain from expressing words of gratification at the things which met the raptured gaze.

The bold outline of the steep hillsides, the deep intersecting glen piercing away into the heart of the solid mountain, twisting itself about as it stretched backward and upward, the water of the harbour laving the roots of the trees on the margin of the unbroken forest which spread from point to point, covering the hillside and clothing the page 206 glens and gullies with everlasting green of endless shades. Who could fail to be captivated by them?

Red, white, and black pine trees, sometimes in groups, sometimes standing alone in their towering majesty reared their great trunks and threw out their branches over the tops of their less aspiring neighbours, who contentedly filled up the lower space and seemed to cling round the noble stems of their superiors; while deep in the dark shades of the glens the fern trees shot up their umbrella-like heads and spread their radiating fronds triumphantly over the rippling broooks, claiming their part in adding beauty to the scene, while the totara and the bokaka204 vied with the pines in the struggle for greatness and surpassed them in beauty of form; and high on the ridges, where the soil would not bear the pine or the totara, like sleepless sentinels faithfully keeping watch night and day over the fastnesses beneath them, stood the fine-leafed, but ever-serviceable manuka205.

Over hill and dale, through glen and gully, the beauty of the forest was, so far as the eye could see on either side interminable, charged with untold wealth for years to come.

As the fleet gradually approached the landing place, the residents who had not gone to take part in the “landing of the women and children” all gathered on the shore—a sandy beach about a hundred yards from Princes Street, where Water Street joins it, and as the tide was not yet up to the flood, the boats wore run up on the sand as far as possible and their living freights were carried ashore amid the hearty congratulations of the bystanders.

And in this manner the last of the first batch of immigrants reached their destination, and in a short while page 207 found themselves housed in the commodious barracks, where the Civil Patriarch addressed them after the following manner:—

“My friends. I feel pleased to see you all at last together in the place we have selected as the centre of our future labours. We now begin in earnest the work of reclaiming this wilderness, and I am gratified to find that we see all the discomforts and dangers of the sea left in the past.

“The eyes of the English-speaking world are upon us. There is a deep interest taken in our career. We are the first of our people who have left our homes to effect the work of colonisation, on the new system which our rulers have struck out; and our small company will be watched for an answer to the question: ‘How will the scheme work out?’ The success, therefore, of a great national movement rests on the conduct of each individual composing this community.

“In your hearts, I have no doubt the great liberal and independent principles of the Free Church, under whose auspices we are here, will live and animate you, and the noble objects of that Church will be effected; while you will at the same time be inspired by the sentiment of our race: ‘England expects every man to do his duty206.’

“Our duties as pioneers will doubtless be severe; but compared with those who have not had our advantages, they will be light and passing. You stand on the soil of the new land with your implements in your hands. This is now to be your home. The plains and valleys are fertile, as you must see for yourselves, and they will repay industry and economy with comfort and abundance; so that page 208 every man will be able to provide in time against the feebleness of declining years.

“To our noble-minded women who have ventured to accompany us, and who to-day have come to complete our possession of the land, I express my warmest commendation, and trust they will reap a reward worthy of their heroism. The land is before us awaiting to pour its abundance into our store in proportion to our own zeal and industry. Where our labour is liberally bestowed, a liberal return will be reaped, and I have confidence you will reap that reward.”

“Three cheers for Captain Cargill!” called young Crawford, who swung his hat in the air and commenced the cheer, and was enthusiastically followed by all the men and lads present.

“The Rev. Mr Burns!” then called young Melville, who was again able to be about after his mishap.

And many voices responded, “Mr. Burns!”

But the minister on first hearing his name called had quietly stepped through a door close by where he was standing, and had disappeared. He had not, however, got away, for Eric was at once on his track, followed by James Carmichael, and he was prevailed on to return.

As he re-entered the large hall, accompanied by his escort, a generous shout arose, proving in what high esteem he was held by all the company. He was helped to step up on to a bench, from which he spoke in something after this fashion:

“My dear fellow-colonists,—By the goodness of Divine Providence we are at length all here on the scene of our future joys and troubles. I feel proud that we have accomplished page 209 so much, and I hope that before one year has passed over our heads we will have proved the wisdom of our decision to come to this country, which seems to me to be one full of good things for our use and also for our gratification. As the Lord has guided our way so far, He will continue with us so long as we live to his honour. May that be for ever. I shall have many opportunities of speaking to you, and will refrain from saying more now.”

In connection with the barracks a large store had been erected in which to place the supply of provisions specially sent out for their use, until other ships might arrive and other ways of procuring food were found. For three months at least they were certain of wholesome food, independent of the stock Mr. Jones had imported in hope of doing a large and profitable trade with the new arrivals. It was very much to his disappointment that the Association had sent such a quantity, and offered it at such a small cost to the purchasers that he was unable to compete in the same articles. But his time was to come.

He had anticipated the wants of the people in some things that they had not brought, and by these he succeeded in securing an early trade, which time ripened into a business of great magnitude and profit.

The establishment of the “store” necessitated that some one should be entrusted with its management. Of course the supreme control lay in the hands of Captain Cargill, and he caused a notice to be set up on the doorway, “Wanted, a Storeman.—Apply to Mr. Blackie, the schoolmaster.” The latter for the time being had accepted the responsibilities of the duties attached to the delivery of goods and the keeping of the store books.

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There were ten applicants—one of them being Mr. Crawford, and another was Eric Thomson.

When the Captain saw the two names he laid their applications side by side on the table of his office, which was a room in the Survey Office. The other eight he folded in a parcel and placed in a drawer. The two before him were both businesslike in style, but Crawford's was accompanied by a certificate of past service from his recent employer in Glasgow.

He was anxious to make the best appointment for the sake of the store. What he had in view was a man of civil speech and obliging manners, who could be depended on for accuracy. The testimonial was a special consideration in Crawford's favour, but he had seen more of Eric Thomson, and, besides, he had heard some of their shipmates comparing the two young men, and he was confident the balance of favour was generally on Thomson's side.

He would like an interview with the young men before making up his mind. Indeed, perhaps, he might require some person to act as his private clerk or secretary, and if Thomson had not served as a shop assistant he might suit for the confidential post of secretary. However, he would invite them both to call, that from personal intercourse he might form some opinion of the applicants.

As he left his office he observed Mr. Burns superintending some work in the erection of the manse, and crossing over to him he related to him the result of the notice. “One situation—ten applications,” he said.

“And what are you going to do?”

“Select the most approved, to be sure.”

“Have you then made your choice?”

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“No, not quite. I laid eight aside; held two over for further consideration.”

“How do you propose to proceed?”

“I have sent for them to call upon me. I want to have a talk with them before deciding.”

“Very wise! Hare they any testimonials?”

“Only one. It is a very good one, too, but I have not seen much of the candidate. Perhaps you could tell me of their conduct on the voyage; they are both of your number.”

“Then you will have to name them.”

“They are Mr. Crawford and Mr. Eric Thomson.”

“What I tell you, Captain Cargill, remember, is spoken in confidence. You throw a responsibility on me which acts two ways. I must speak faithfully to you, and fairly of them.”

“I intend and desire that both of us shall keep our counsel in this matter.”

“Then tell me who presents the testimonial.”

“It is one given to Crawford by his last employer in Glasgow, where he had been in a warehouse for three years, giving thorough satisfaction.”

“Well, that is greatly to his credit; Thomson, I know, has no experience in serving behind a counter. He is a working shoemaker.”

“Yes, I remember he is so classed, but he writes a good hand and composes a neat letter; that is what I fancy. But what of their conduct on the voyage?”

“I believe, they are both honourable young men; but I must confess that the behaviour of Thomson was more to my liking than Crawford's; yet both were on the whole well behaved.”

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“Remember, Mr. Burns, I want to do the best possible for the store, and a free utterance from you might help me very much. Say, for instance, which you would yourself select for this post from your knowledge of them personally, other things being equal?”

“That question I will avoid, by suggesting my own want of experience in business; but if I were wanting to choose one of the two as a personal friend, I would have no hesitation in preferring the shoemaker. He is by far the more intellectual and sociable of the two.”

“If, for instance, you wanted a private secretary he would be your choice?”

“Yes, you may put it that way very well.”

“That is enough, thank you. I shall, however, wait until I have a conversation with each of them.”

Eric was in the saw-pit, with James Carmichael above, running the slabs off a large log they had just recently fixed on the scaffolding. Both men were stripped to the fewest garments possible for them to work in, and were perspiring profusely as they lifted the great saw up and pulled it down through the tree trunk they had begun to convert into weather boards, when a messenger came forward with a letter in his hand addressed to “Mr. Eric Thomson,” sealed with the Captain's monogram on the back.

It was a request to be good enough, if possible, to accompany the messenger to Dunedin, to confer with Captain Cargill over his application for the post of storeman.

After a few minutes' consultation with his mates Eric went to the hut and, giving himself a good wash, dressed, and in less than half an hour he was afloat on his way to meet the Captain.

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The sun was setting when the boat ran its bow up on the sand at the common landing-place, and Eric was considering whether it would be prudent to go at that time to comply with the request of the Captain or leave it until the morning, when he saw the well-known Balmoral Bonnet which invariably covered the dignified head of the community, moving along behind the brushwood that grew on either side of the road to the beach, and in the course of a minute or so they were walking back to the office. The Captain had been watching for the boat's return and had gone down to meet it; so unconventional were the ways of the time and the manners of the man.

It was a surprise to the family when Eric opened the door and walked in upon them as they sat round the table in the largest room of their new house, his countenance being more than usually happy looking.

“Unlooked for, mother, I suppose?” were his first words.

“Unlooked for, but not unwelcome, Eric,” was her pleasing and prompt reply.

“Then I may hope you can spare me something to eat, as well as a seat to sit on.”

“Bring that stool over to the table and have your share of what's going. Make room Tom, let Eric sit here.” With that Betty and Tom drew their seats closer towards their father and left a space at their mother's right hand, into which Eric slipped and was served with a portion of the best before them.

“But how came ye to be here to-night, Eric?” questioned his mother.

“I have left the saw-pit.”

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“What do you mean by haverin207' like that?”

“No havers at all,” and he laughed quietly.

“You haven't quarrelled, have you?” asked his father with a rather reproachful look.

“Quarrelled! no, never a word of disagreement passed between us. We parted perfectly good friends.”

The father's face relaxed its severity, which was changed to an expression of perplexity.

“How did you come to leave the pit, then?” he inquired of Eric, whose face evinced how much he was enjoying the mystification he had caused.

“Well, can none of you guess?”

“Guess!” echoed Betty, “How could we guess?”

“I can!” called out Mary. “I know what it is, father,” and she clapped her hands, laughing while all sat waiting for her revelation of the mystery. Then pointing across the table in her brother's face, she said:

“‘Wanted, a storeman’!—that's the secret; he's got the job; that's what it is.”

“Not quite, Mary lass; I am not the storeman, nor do I know who is; I am not to be the storeman.”

“I thought you would not get that,” said his father; “you never served an hour in a store in your life, and it wants experience to be a storeman.”

“You forget my apprenticeship on the voyage, father; I was more in the store there than anyone else during the first part of the voyage.”

“But that was not like having charge of a store to sell out goods and keep books, Eric. But if you have not got it why are you not going back to the bush?”

“Because something better than storeman has come my way.”

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“Better than the storeman!” was ejaculated simultaneously by four or five of those around him.

“Do you think that impossible?” he queried with a merry twinkle in his eye.

“It may be, must be, possible, since you declare it is so, but what can it be. Have you been made a constable?” asked the puzzled parent, at which comical question the whole family burst into a hearty laugh.

“Not quite a constable—that would be too much, but I am as much surprised as any of you will be when I tell you. In fact, I can scarcely believe the truth, but Captain Cargill has engaged me as his secretary. I don't know quite what it means, but I am to begin to-morrow in his office.”

The announcement had a sudden and silent effect. None spoke for a few seconds; every hand was still, and every eye fixed upon Eric.

“My son!” at length said Mrs. Thomson, “may God's blessing abide with you, and His hand be your guide; I fear this is too high for you. Thank God for His goodness and walk humbly before Him, and He will order your steps in safety.”

202 “Excelsior,” Henry Longfellow.

203 In this sense meaning an unorganized boat race.

204 An older Māori term for Eleocarpus dentatus, now more commonly known as the hīnau plant.

205 A native New Zealand shrub, known for its hardiness and ability to thrive after fires. It was often regarded by early settlers as an invasive species, which undid their colonizing efforts.

206 The famous phrase uttered by Sir Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), as opposing fleets closed in on his men.

207 To talk foolishly.