The Counterfeit Seal: A Tale of Otago's First Settlers.
Chapter XVII. — Disturbing Influences
“Answer me thou mysterious future…. Tell me, shall things be according to my desires.”
And the mysterious future, interpreted by those desires, replied—“Soon thou shall know all. It shall be well with thee.”
“If I had not promised to write by the first ship sailing for New Zealand, I am sure I would not do it. It was so very careless of him to lose that ‘keepsake’ I gave him; it was most ungrateful.”
In such thoughts as these Kirsty Knox sat with her little desk before her one evening after she had been told that the ‘Blundell209’ would leave in a few days for the Free Church Settlement in Otago.
“I am quite angry with him. It would be what he deserves if I were now to just write a line or two and tell him not to trouble himself about me any more. He should never have gone away if he meant to keep up our engagement, and David Moir says the same.”
Then she put her elbows on the table and rested her head between her hands, her mind for some time becoming a confusion of incoherent thoughts.
“New Zealand!” at last she said, raising herself with a very bitter expression for her, “New Zealand! as father says, a wild island in the ocean, inhabited by wilder men, whose greatest pleasure is in murder and cannibalism! What a place for me to think of going to! How absurd page 217 ever to have dreamed of it! No, I can't write! But I promised, and I must keep my promise for the sake of my own conscience, if for nothing else.”
Then she composed herself a little, selected a sheet of paper, and took up her pen. The point was in bad order, so she chose a new nib and dipped it in the ink. She wrote the name of the street and the word Edinburgh, followed by the date, in a beautiful light angular hand, and then she hesitated. No, she could not address him in the stiff, formal, “Mr. Eric Thomson, Dear Sir.” Her pen was for some time waved about in graceful curves over the line at the spot where the words should have begun, but a mark was avoided.
“But how can I write ‘My Dear Eric’ when I don't mean it? I must be honest; I must write just as I feel, and I do not feel those words would be”—here her mind would not allow her to say ‘true.’ “But would it be true?” she suggested to herself. “Can I really say now that I could truthfully write those words at the top of my letter?”
While in this way examining her inner consciousness she began to realise that she could not write a letter to him under any other heading. He was not plain “Mr Eric Thomson” to her. Whatever sentiments she had been permitting to possess her heart, it was still a fact that he had done nothing, actually, so disgraceful as to forfeit all right to her kind thoughts, so she almost settled that she would use the words which seemed to come welling up from her heart.
Again the pen was dipped in the ink, and once more it waved over the paper in graceful flourishes, when she page 218 paused, and for a period returned to the conflict of doubt and resentment. “I shan't write that. I am not going to act the hypocrite. I feel hurt, and I must let him know it. If he had loved me as he pretended, he would never have lost what I gave him as a token of my love, to have it given back to me in such a manner.”
At this point her heart filled and her eyes overflowed, and as she bent over her desk a big tear fell on the sheet of paper she had begun to write upon. Confusion was again supreme in her mind, but in the midst of it all there was one permanent figure. The manly frame and the genial features of Eric Thomson seemed to confront her, and she closed her eyes, pressing them with her handkerchief as if to drive his image from her. This only served to concentrate her thoughts upon him, and the scenes of the past in which he had been the chief actor.
She remained for some minutes travelling with all the speed of imagination through the many events that formed specially pleasant way-marks in her life, and in each one of them the same masculine figure was present.
At length she raised herself, and brushing away the tear-marks on her heated cheeks, she laid her pen back on the desk, remarking aloud:
“I must leave off writing for this night, anyway. I will do it to-morrow night,” and she destroyed the piece of paper, then closed the desk, sponged her face, and reappeared among the other members of the family with a seam in her hands, at which she worked the rest of the night.
After tea next evening, Mrs. Knox asked, when she and Kirsty were by themselves for a moment:page 219
“Have you written your letter yet, Kirsty?”
“No, mother, I was going to do it last night, but left it until to-night, as I did not feel very well disposed for writing then.”
“Kirsty!” said her mother, “there's something the matter, or you would not put it off that way; I never thought that it would be ‘Absence makes the heart grow colder’ with you.”
“But I'm going to do it to-night, mother.”
“Would you mind telling me just the true reason why you did not write last night, Kirsty?”
“I just could not decide what to begin with, and I thought better to leave it alone, for there is plenty of time to-night.”
“If he was here would you be much troubled about how to begin speaking to him?”
“No, mother; but writing's different.”
“Don't be fickle, Kirsty; your own happiness depends on how you manage your own mind, my daughter. You just go and write your letter, and, if you like, you may let me see it before you close it up.”
Then she told her mother the story of the seal.
“You have made two mistakes, my dear — two mistakes, Kirsty;—first, in imposing any condition about your keepsake, and, second, in concluding that he lost it carelessly. If he lost it, depend upon it he was not to blame, and his having lost it—if that be the case—is no reason why you should say his letters will be unwelcome without your seal on them. How do you know the seal you now have is the one you gave him?”
“Oh, mother, I could not be deceived in that, for the page 220 jeweller said he would never make another with that mark on it.”
“If I were you, Kirsty, I would wait to see whether his letter comes to hand in a satisfactory manner or not, and then you will be more able to make certain on the matter. You go away and write as if nothing had occurred to vex you.”
And so Kirsty's first letter to her absent lover was written and posted five months after his departure. Commencing in the orthodox style of all such missives— “My own dear Eric,” &c.—and its fair author felt very much more peaceful in mind after the effort was over.
The head of the firm in whose employment were both Mr. Knox and David Moir had suffered a painful family bereavement, and in consequence the office was closed for two days out of respect.
The event was taken advantage of by those two employees to have a day in the country, along with a few friends who were able to join them. They had selected a spot where there were to be found glade and grove, stream, hillsides, where pleasures of the sylvan210 order could be thoroughly enjoyed.
Arriving at the place a little after mid-day, no time was lost in spreading their lunch under the overhanging branches of an old oak tree, with a small tributary of the Leith running quietly over its pebbly bed a few yards off.
During the afternoon the company broke up into small detachments of two, three, four, and so on. From the outset David Moir had assumed charge of Miss Knox, not in any officious manner, but as a sort of “matter of course. He had become so familiar with the family that he seemed page 221 more to fill the place of a brother with the young folk than anything else, sometimes with one and sometimes with another of them.
This day, however, he seemed to devote all his attentions to the elder sister, and somehow they found themselves taking a leisurly stroll with no one else near them. Miss Knox had a strong passion for plants and flowers. Nothing gave her more real pleasure than walking among them and gathering specimens of rare sorts. It was this passion that had drawn them in the direction they had wandered; she, completely enwrapped with her botanic pursuit, had thought of nothing else, and was only reminded of the circumstances by the remark of her companion:
“I declare, this is a spot fit for a poet's song.”
“Then suppose,” she replied, “you constitute yourself the poet and recite your song, provided your audience is august enough211.”
“I wish I could now in this charming place command the muse, I would indeed recite to my audience. I often think that the man who has a sympathetic company of one to address, where nature on every hand, beneath and overhead, is joyous, has more to feel satisfied with than any other orator.”
“Well come, summon your muse, I will try to fulfil the conditions of the company, and I am sure nature is thoroughly encouraging.”
“Then when I speak you will be sympathetic?”
“I will try to be, if your poem has the power of the genuine muse I suppose it will be irresistible.”page 222
“You will not be critical or intentionally hard to please, for I feel nervous.”
“No, I will not be ill to please. Proceed, or I will become impatient and resume gathering specimens; my basket is not full yet.”
He then began thus:
“When wild flowers bloom around your feet,
And perfume floats on zephyrs sweet;
While love-notes from the trees descend,
And crystal brooks through meadows wend,
The mind goes back to Eden's grove,
Where human hearts first learned to love.”
“I am afraid, David, I failed to reach that due position of sympathy which your lines deserved. I went with you right up to the last line and then I felt you were too sentimental.”
“You promised not to be critical, Kirsty, and that is the first thing you are. And for my part I consider the last line the cope stone212 of the arch.”
“That is where you fall into error, young man. When you have learned to love' you will know more about that sentimental line of poetry.”
“The fact is, Kirsty, I have been studying, and, indeed, practising the art of love for some time, and I thought I had struck a key-note in that line.”
Kirsty was not too simple to understand that speech, and she resumed her search for specimens in silence. While he, either too obtuse or resolved to press his advances further, again spoke:
“You have never heard from New Zealand yet, Kirsty; a wonder if you ever will! The only thing I ever thought mad in the Thomsons was their flight to that page 223 heathenish place. It will be no easy matter for them to convert a rocky hillside on that island into a happy homestead. Have you not got sick of the notion yet, Kirsty?”
“Oh, I may be lady of some large estate there yet,” she replied, with a perplexing toss of the head and curving of the features.
“I think it is a great shame for a young lady of your personal attractions and accomplishments to dream of banishing yourself in such a country, when by staying where all your friends are you might be one of the most happy women of all Edinburgh.”
“I think I remember hearing something very like those words being said to me once before. You might try to make a new speech, David. How do you know but if sufficient attraction were presented Edinburgh might be able to retain the special accomplishments you speak so much about.”
“So far as things have gone up to the present, everyone has supposed you were resolved, at all costs, to find your way to New Zealand. Would it really be possible to put that out of your head, and to prevail on you to remain here?” As David spoke the hope of succeeding cast a beam of joy over his whole face.
“You see up to the present no person has presented sufficient attraction. I am not sure whether it is possible for anyone to do so. You know women have the privilege of changing their minds.”
“Tell me what would be a sufficient attraction,” he uttered with considerable energy. “If I knew any way to prevent you going to that barbarous country I would attempt it.”page 224
“Dear me, David,” she replied, feigning astonishment. “Why? For what reason would you do so much to keep me from that journey?”
He looked at her for a moment in surprise, as if he considered that by this time she could not misunderstand his meaning.
“I will be plainer with you,” he said; “but if my actions have failed to interpret themselves I have reason to fear the power of spoken words will be futile to help me in this matter. However, I will own openly my reason for hoping you may be induced to give up your romantic notions: it is simply that then I might be at liberty to tell you all the deepest feelings of my heart.”
“Now, David,” she said, “I think we had better be stepping back to the oak tree to join our neighbours; you have grown so serious I should be afraid to keep you any longer from more lively company”; and taking up her basket, now well filled with a promiscuous collection, she illustrated her speech by her movements.
“Will you not give me any hope, Kirsty, that you will look favourably on what I have said?”
“I have listened to you, David; I have tried to be a sympathetic audience for you, and I have not resented anything you have said; how much more do you want?”
“One thing more, and I will feel satisfied,” he exclaimed passionately, and grasping her disengaged hand he bent his knee to the turf and broke out:
“For months, for years, you have appeared to me as the only girl I could ever love; that feeling is now stronger than ever. Tell me may I hope to win your love in return. page 225 Oh, Kirsty, do not resent my appeal! My life is yours if you will but grant me the privilege of devoting it to you.”
Before he had finished speaking she was in a state of severe agitation. She had not the heart to be rude to him; nor had she just then the will to be firm in a refusal, but in face of her mother's recent advice she would not show any encouragement for such a violent avowal of affection.
“David Moir!” she cried, “play the man213. You know what I am, and what I have promised. Come, let us step on; we have been away too long.”
He rose abashed, but not defeated. He saw that she might some day yield provided means could be employed to weaken her confidence in her absent lover.
“I must apologise, Miss Knox,” he said stiffly. “But now that you know what I am, and what I have declared. I will hope that the time may come when you will remember it. I can bide my time!”
“I am sorry, David,” she answered in a modest and kind voice, “for what has happened. Had I known before what I now know, your feelings would have been spared. I am grateful for the regard you have shown me, but we must not be together again without some friend along with us.”
“For my part, Kirsty, I am glad I have spoken. You will know that whatever may happen abroad there is at least one heart that beats more freely in your presence than out of it. And if you ever need a friend you know where there is one to be depended on to any extent in human power.”
As they approached the far-spreading branches of the old oak tree they found the party assembled, and making preparation for their return home.page 226
“See here, Mrs. Moir,” said Mrs. Murray, “this looks as if New Zealand was going to be disappointed about one of the expected emigrants; what do you say?”
This raised a laugh among the young folk that were old enough to appreciate the meaning.
“Well, suppose it is!” replied Mrs. Moir. “No place has a better right to folk than their native country.”
“That's what I hold,” said Mr. Knox, still opposed to his daughter's emigration; “but young folk are growing up to be dissatisfied with what is better than their forebears enjoyed.”
“But if their forebears had been quite contented with leaving things as they found them their descendants would not have had anything better than the old state of affairs,” said Kirsty as a reply to her father's argument.
“Well spoken, Miss Knox,” said Mr. Murray. “It is part of our nature to seek improvements in our surroundings. Yet I would not care about going round the world in search of them when things are improving so fast at Home.”
“No one knows yet what may happen,” chimed in David Moir. “As Mrs. Murray says, New Zealand may yet be cheated out of a fine young Scotch lady.”
“New Zealand will more probably set its bells aringing at the arrival of the young lady so much talked about,” retorted Kirsty: while the company gazed in astonishment at the speaker, and the topic was allowed to drop.
About a month later Mrs. Knox and her daughter had occasion to call at the shop of Messrs Duncan and Douglas, jewellers, where Mrs. Knox had left her gold brooch to have a new pin put in it.page 227
“By the way, Miss Knox,” said Mr. Douglas, after he had attended to the wants of the elder lady, “I hope you found the duplicate of your seal a true representation of the first. I have not had a chance to ask you about it since.
What a pity you lost the other.”
“I don't quite understand.” said Miss Knox, showing an incomprehensible perplexity as she spoke.
“You remember the pebble seal I engraved for you some months ago.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“Well, you lost it, and had a duplicate made.”
“Did you make a second one like it?”
“Yes, but to your order, Miss Knox.”
“I have never been here since I got it from you. You must be mistaken.”
“There, Kirsty,” said her mother, “is the mystery of the seal you have now. I see it all.”
“What do you mean?” asked the jeweller.
“Some person has played a trick on her. A very unkind trick. Who brought the order to you for the second seal, please?”
“He gave no name, but said it was for Miss Knox, because she had lost the first, and I was to make it in every respect the same as the lost one.”
“Then who did you give it to, and has it been paid for?”
“The same person who ordered it called for it and paid the money, saying he would deliver it.”
“You did not know him?”
“No, I do not know him. He was a young man.”
“Have you seen him since?”page 228
“No; I doubt if even I would recognise him again now. It is some months past, you see. I am very sorry, but from the way it was done I had no suspicion of anything wrong.”
“But, mother,” said Kirsty, “nobody knew anything about my having the seal. I never told anyone, and certainly never mentioned having got it made here. When I gave it to Eric we were quite alone, and nothing was spoken about the making or buying of it.”
With a few more remarks they left the shop on their way home. Neither spoke for some time; both were, however, full of very confused thoughts as to how anyone could have come to know anything whatever about the seal. At length, feeling there might be some key to the mystery, Mrs. Knox asked:
“Tell me some more of this affair, Kirsty. Where were you when you gave it to Eric?”
“It was the last night before he went away, mother; he gave me this locket, as I told you when I went in, and I gave him the seal just as we were saying good-bye. We were standing in the porch at our own door.”
“Did you never speak to him about it anywhere else when it was possible for anyone else to hear?”
“He knew nothing of it until I put it into his hand that night.”
“It is mysterious. Whoever got the second one knew all about the first, but what object could anyone have in getting another. And how came David. Moir to get it? You say the first time you learned of it was by the seal being on David's invitation to his party. He will be able to tell us about it.”page 229
“It is strange that he should get it,” said Kirsty, putting stress on the personal pronoun.
“And stranger still that he should use it as he did unless he had some purpose for doing so.”
“What purpose could he have, think you, mother?”
“Well, I have been thinking for a while back he would not be sorry to hear that Eric and you had broken off.”
Here Kirsty's mind went back to the event on the day of the outing, and she merely asked:
“What makes you think that, mother?”
“We will say no more about it now, but we must find out how David came by it.”
“I don't mind so much now as I did. Since I know there has been a second one made I feel quite careless how it was got.”
“Unwise, Kirsty, to treat it that way, I think. Someone has, it seems to me, discovered your secret, and has acted either the deceiver or the traitor, and you should find out who it is. Whoever did it has a dishonest heart as well as a cruel one. If it is an acquaintance he should be known and avoided.”
Just as Mrs. Knox had finished the last sentence David Moir made his appearance, coming round a corner and meeting them. As he came up the ladies halted, and he at once saluted them and stood. After a few words common to such occasions, Mrs. Knox, determined to probe the mystery to the root, began her attack upon the unsuspecting youth.
“By the way, Mr. Moir, a while back you left a seal with my daughter, pretending she had taken a fancy to it. Now, I have become very much interested in the thing, as page 230 I believe it has a history. You, I presume, have no objection to tell us how you came to have it in your possession.”
“Oh, not the least, Mrs. Knox; I simply bought it.” And while he spoke a crimson flush spread over his face, which both the women observed.
“Let me frankly tell you why I am anxious to know the history of this pebble. The fact is—and I only came by the knowledge of it all to-day—Kirsty gave either that one, or one just like it, to Eric Thomson when he went away to New Zealand. She had it made with a special mark, so that she might be able to recognise its impression. Now, either Eric lost it that night or next morning before he went to Glasgow, and it has been found and sold to you, or another the exact likeness of it has been made and has come into your possession, and from you to Kirsty. The thing is strange, for she told nobody of what she did, and its coming back to her is somewhat puzzling, you see.”
“A very curious circumstance, indeed,” said Moir; “very curious. It is enough to make you try to find out the story if it can be got at.”
“Can you help us then, David? If you could give us the name of the person you got it from we might manage to trace it out, for we are resolved to do so if we can.”
“I am hurrying back to the office, Mrs. Knox; at the moment I cannot give the name of the person, but I will ask his name from one of the clerks, and, if you will permit, come up in the evening to let you know.”
With a stronger conviction than before that she was on the right line of discovery, Mrs. Knox agreed, and they parted; but just as they said good-bye Mr. Douglas came page 231 along, and, passing Moir, he looked carefully at him, and in a few paces more he was at the side of Mrs. Knox.
“Please excuse me, madam,” he said; “you were speaking to a young man I met just now. You know him, I presume, and I believe it was he who ordered the seal, but I cannot at present be certain about it. If you wish to know I will call upon you in the morning after I have refreshed my memory.”
“Thank you, thank you; we also have reason for suspecting him, for it was from him my daughter got the counterfeit.”
“Then it must either be that he knows all or some part of the story of this singular affair. I will call in the morning; good-bye,” and, raising his hat, he passed on.
208 Kavanagh, Henry Longfellow; the character Kavanagh is being reassured of his future after hearing people singing hymns welcoming the apocalypse.
209 The Blundell was the fourth Free Church ship to arrive in Otago, making land in September, 1848.
210 A deity or spirit though to inhabit the woods.
211 i.e. Provided that the audience inspires reverence and imagination aiding in the creation of a poem.
212 Correctly cope-stone; the finishing touch on a piece of work.
213 Act in a manly fashion, implying Moir’s behavior is substandard to his sex.