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

Chapter XIX. — The Pig Hunt

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Chapter XIX.
The Pig Hunt.

We raised the boar from his ferny lair;
Then he showed his tusks, and bade us dare
To approach his den and risk our lives;
And tore our dogs, and defied our knives;
But an unseen bullet struck him down,
And loaded we bore his flesh to town.
A savoury dish, we all agreed,
Was roasted flesh of the wild-pig breed.

Among those most energetic at the landing was the little man with the shrill voice who first expressed his desire to visit the ship—Johnnie Lockie, who was known as a generous hearted fellow that could keep his own counsel. He had not been long on board the ship when the reason of his anxiety was manifested, although he had never mentioned to a living soul what he expected.

He was the first man who went up the gangway after Captain Cargill, and was soon away among the new-comers. About two minutes later he was seen to rush to the presence of a woman past middle age, and the two with only a monosyllabic ejaculation embraced each other in the comely affection of mother and son. He had come out first to make a comfortable dwelling for the woman he loved best, and who loved him as no other ever would; and now that they had met after such a long parting their joy was full.

To have her home, as Johnnie called it, was the only page 248 object he had, and when he had put her into possession of the little house that “Jack” had built all by his own hands he was contented, and stood by her side as proudly as if she had been a queen.

There was another anxious in mind, but he was, owing to his circumstances, prevented from taking part in the general work of landing.

Despatches had arrived; there were several boxes of a mail to look after, and these claimed the attention of the Administrator's Private Secretary. He went with it up to the office, thinking less of the important despatches from headquarters than of some little missive of still greater importance to him. Would there be a letter for him? Of course, how could he doubt?

It was his duty to act as postmaster, and everybody else must be attended to before he could steal a moment to read a letter even if he should get it. But he would be satisfied to see the outside and crush it into his breast pocket until leisure should come.

He broke open one box after another and there were scores of letters and newspapers. He began to sort them, but often found that the one thing in his mind was, “Is this mine?”

But all others seemed to come first. There were letters of all sizes, and addressed in all sorts of writing—rude and refined. There were large ones and small ones, light ones and heavy ones, but none seemed to be for him.

He was now, after nearly an hour, on the tenter hooks of hope and expectation, emptying the last box, which seemed to contain nearly all documents for “the office” and official persons. His heart began to beat heavily; he was page 249 perspiring, but not because of the exertion called for by his work, but from the extent of his mental strain. It was fortunate for him that only two or three had called for letters, so that his excitement worked no mischief or irregularity in his duties.

There was at last but one handful of letters to be examined. His brow grew cold, and the face that two minutes ago was flushing was now growing quickly to a sheety whiteness. He lifted the last score of letters, and one by one looked at them as the little pile grew quickly smaller. At last, when not more than half a dozen remained in his hand, there turned up to his now almost incredulous eyes the address he had looked for—“Mr. Eric Thomson, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand; per ship Blundell.”

He was alone, and at once it was pressed to his lips, and in a trice the cover was removed. There were the words he was anxious to see, and the one signature that above all others brought gladness to his soul.

“Now to duty,” he said to himself; “I shall be able to attend to any who call.”

“Any letters for me, Eric?”

It was Mr. McKechnie, sen., who spoke.

Eric had none of the modern conveniences of lettered pigeon-holes and other facilitating furniture, but from a pile on the table, where he had arranged the various letters according to alphabetical order, he quickly handed over the letter, followed by a bundle of newspapers.

For a long time the people crowded into the open door, and almost everyone, in response to the question, “Have you anything for me?” received something to carry away page 250 to remind them of the folk left at Home, and to give them news of the busy world they had so completely shut themselves away from.

Nine o'clock had passed that night before Eric got time to read his letter. It was unlike the letters he had sent to her. There was a formality and a stiffness, a reserve and a caution that made him uneasy. He had looked for enthusiastic expressions of endearment, but did not find them. He had expected avowals of continued and undimmed affection, but was disappointed. It was, however, couched in straighforward style, and gave him a great budget of news about many folk, and just once gave expression to the hope that everything was going on with him as well as he had expected, and then told him that she was longing to get a letter from him “with all the news from the cannibal island of Otago; about the families who had left their homes to inhabit a wild country.”

That she was anxious for a letter from him gave him consolation; and when he called to mind what he had told her about his prospects, and the good fortune that he had already met with, he felt satisfied she would respond to his request. The mere possession of her letter was a comfort to him, and he resolved to proceed immediately with the preparation of a home for her, and meditating on plans to make it meet his own wishes and gratify her taste, he fell off into a pleasant sleep upon his pillow.

“We finished taking stock at the store, sir,” said Eric to Captain Cargill, “and the arrival of the ‘Blundell’ is none to soon. Here is the list of provisions still remaining, just enough for another fortnight.”

The Captain took the return, and after looking carefully through it, remarked:

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“A fortnight, you say. Well, by that time we can have abundance landed from the ship to keep us going, and Mr. Jones expects a brig from Sydney shortly with a supply of general goods, so that there is no danger.”

“On that score we may rest satisfied, I suppose,” returned Eric, but the last bullock will be killed this morning, and owing to the bad weather and the continued fog on the hills, it has been impossible to drive a mob from Waikouaiti, and there is no sign of improvement.”

“Then we shall have to manage without flesh meat,” replied the Captain in a philosopic manner.

“That is a pity, sir, when so many have just arrived from a long voyage.”

“But what can be done. Mr. Thomson have you any suggestion to make?”

“There are scores of wild pigs that might be caught.”

“Wild pigs! Very good. Can you make up a smart foraging party?”

“Not much difficulty in that, I should say.”

“I will leave it in your charge, Mr. Thomson. When will you start?”

“It would take to-day to make arrangements, and we would go out in the morning and be home in the evening loaded.”

That day was spent by Eric in organising a “pig hunt.” Ben Brooks' dogs were got from Port Chalmers, Ben himself coming to manage them; and next morning two companies of young fellows of seven men in each started out, one under command of Mr. Crawford, the storeman, and the other under the direction of Eric Thomson.

Crawford's party made for the Glen, and Eric's for the page 252 Kaikorai Hill224, Ben and his dogs being with the latter. They struck up through the Toitu Glen (Maclaggan Street), and in about an hour had got through its network of scrub and lawyers, having as they went startled two or three porkers, but were not able to approach them for the dense-ness of the thickets, but could hear them grunting and squeaking as they hastened deeper into their impenetrable hiding places; the dogs barked at but could not follow them.

On emerging from the scrub, they came upon a ferny hill-side with evidences of the recent presence of game, where they had been ploughing up the ground with their snouts to find worms and young fern roots.

They were soon on their tracks; the dogs, having picked up the scent, led the way at a quick pace, and in less than ten minutes one of the dogs gave the signal by a whiney yelp which Ben understood. Shortly after they heard the grunts of an old man pig, and Ben directed his men to various positions from which to close in upon the centre as speedly as possible.

This was done, and the dogs turned four beautiful animals from the underwood of a small gully, on the margin of which the fern stood four feet high.

This was the happy home of the porker; but a most inconvenient hunting ground for men and dogs. The men closed in, and the dogs, well trained to the commands of Ben, kept doing their best to herd the swine together. The big boar, however, smelled danger, and soon became frantic with rage. He charged the dogs furiously, tossing one of them over his back, leaving an ugly gash in the poor animal's shoulder where his great tusk had torn him; then page 253 the boar made for his nearest opponent, whose gun missed fire, and he with difficulty sprang out of the exasperated animal's way, and went rolling over several times in the high fern before he was able to check himself.

The pig dashed forward regardless of opposition, and presently Andrew Melville, standing on a height close by his line of flight, fired at him. The beast gave an angry scream, and then shook his head fiercely, but never halted his speed. The ball had struck him, but owing to the thickness of his hide had been almost harmless, and had glided off and sunk in the earth.

James Thomson and Ben Brooks, with the unhurt dog, were co-operating in pursuit of one of the other three pigs, and after a vigorous chase of about a quarter of an hour succeeded in bringing it to earth by a ball from James, which had struck it behind the shoulder and passed through the heart. A few minutes sufficed to bleed it and mark the spot, and then they joined their mates, who had lost all trace of the remaining fugitives.

They had reached nearly the top of Kaikorai Hill (Roslyn), when they again disturbed a grunter family. The ground was more open here, but the pigs got scent of their pursuers too soon to allow the latter to get within shot of them or to place themselves in advantageous positions, and consequently it was a matter of chasing.

The pigs headed for a scrubby hollow, and showed a power of movement which surprised the hunters, and even out-distanced them on the down-hill run. In the hollow there were others of the tribe, who, taking fright at the helter-skelter arrival of their friends, squeaked and grunted, making the little place appear to be alive with their kind, page 254 and immediately a score or so went scampering out on the opposite side, and stood on the ridge to learn the cause of all the trouble, resuming their flight when they observed the men coming full tear down the side of the gully.

The latter followed up the pursuit vigorously, and in a while came upon their prey. The dog had got in front of them by a cunning detour, and held them at bay in a ferny ravine until the men came upon them, and by selecting their shots dropped four animals that were in fine condition. But two boars enraged by the chase, as if by agreement, charged upon them as they came through the fern to secure their victims, and one of them, heading right at Tom Miller, ripped his leg, leaving a wound about four inches long and over one inch deep. His wound was carefully washed and bandaged as well as possible; and the prizes were bled and disembowelled. Then after a rest of half an hour the carcases were strapped on five stalwart backs, and faces were turned homeward, Ben Brooks being left to aid Miller and attend to his wounded dog.

Crawford's party had fought only at long distances, but had secured two fine carcases, and returned with nothing more unfortunate than a sprained ankle, which, however, prevented Crawford from attending to his duties for several days.

Such expeditions became a favourite pastime for young men, who seemed as eager for the sport and risks of a pig hunt as our modern youth are for the game of football.

Mrs. Thomson was working with a hoe in the garden in front of her house when she was startled by a voice at a little distance from her.

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“Have you taken to work in the garden?” called Mrs. McKechnie, as she emerged from the scrub-lined path which led to the former's residence.

“Just putting in my spare time,” answered the lady so abruptly accosted. “Is that you, Mrs. McKechnie? Come away in and sit down till ye give me yer news!”

“Its just me, Mrs. Thomson. Faith, but you'll soon make a bonnie place of this; it's beginning to look fine already. Have ye heard the latest?”

“No, I think I've heard nothing out of the way. What have ye to tell us now?”

“When I made the porridge this morning I found that I would have to send and get some salt. So an hour ago I sent Jessie round to the store for three pounds, and she came back with one and a message that there was not another half pound in the place.”

“Hoots225, young Crawford must be haverin' with ye! Surely there must be salt to season our food with. I'm nearly out of it myself; I'll send Jane round at once, too, for some.”

“Jane!” she called, and immediately her youngest daughter answered and made her appearance from another corner of the garden, where she had been grubbing, and was hidden by a heap of unremoved brushwood.

“Here Jane, tidy yourself, and go off at once to the store for two pounds of salt, and if Mr. Crawford says he has none go on to Jones', and get six pounds there. Here is the money to pay for it.”

The two women went into the house and related what bits of news were going the rounds, adding their comments as they went, and the time passed quickly as the items of page 256 gossip were retailed. In somewhat more than half an hour Jane came in, saying:

“Mr. Crawford had sold the last pound he had an hour ago, and Dick at Jones' could only let me have three pounds, and he doesn't know when he will have more.”

“What are folk to do without salt?” exclaimed Mrs. McKechnie. “It's not possible even to eat potatoes without it!”

“If it comes to the worst,” replied Mrs. Thomson in a cool sensible way, “we will have to do, I suppose, what others have done. We have the salt sea near enough to our doors, and we can make salt from it in the meantime.”

“Perhaps we might get some clever folk to set up a salt factory where Gallie is going to put up his ‘smithy’ on the beach near the creek, and then we would be saved the trouble of carrying up the sea water,” said Mrs. McKechnie by way of retort.

“Not a bad plan when you think of it,” answered her neighbour; but how long would the factory be in building, and what about a boiler big enough for that purpose?”

“I say it is nothing short of gross carelessness to allow such a thing to happen. Downright carelessness! It must be somebody's fault, and we should let Captain Cargill know about it,” said Mrs. McKechnie, becoming hysterical to a degree.

“Better short of salt than have a flour famine,” said Mrs. Thomson. The sea is full of salt, but flour has to grow.”

“But are ye sure now that we will have flour to last us out between the ships. Neglect in one thing makes cause for suspicion in many.”

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“I have not the least fear, my good friend, that we will be allowed to want our bread and other necessaries of life, and in any case we need not meet trouble half way. Trouble may come to me, but I will never chase after it or seek for it. We must remember the sermon of last Sabbath, ‘He careth for you226.’ I am going to be contented, to do with what I can get, and be as happy as the birds about the door.”

It was six weeks before a supply of salt arrived, and during that time many a ton of salt water was reduced to vapour for the sake of its salin residue by the undaunted settlers.

The want of this important commodity did not prevent the interchange of social compliments. Mr. and Mrs. McKechnie had been content to live in a whare all through the winter, while they constructed a good, comfortable, and roomy house, and now came the time for moving into it. Having determined to do the thing with some show, they issued invitations to a large number of friends to join them in a good Scotch “house-warming.”

The letters of invitation, carefully written out by Miss McKechnie in a style that showed her schooling had been no disgrace to her parents, contained these suggestive lines: “The tide will be out in the evening, so you can come round by the beach; and there will be a good moon later on to show the track when you go home.”

It was a joyous gathering. Tom Miller was there with his fiddle and played for the dancing, which was kept going with very short intermissions between country dances, reels227, polkas228, strathspeys229; and even a brave attempt was made by Roderic Duff, when the spirit of the “cordials” page 258 had excited him beyond his usual calm state of mind, to show off in a Highland fling230.

That evening Miss McKechnie had donned a dress that had been carefully preserved from the sight of strangers ever since she left Scotland, and she was the gayest as well as the liveliest of the company.

Every young man present desired to be her partner. Even Eric Thomson, who was compelled out of courtesy to request the privilege, could not refrain from showing his admiration in such a manner that the young lady quickly observed it, and by many little artifices succeeded in being very often close by him. But all her efforts failed to draw from him more than a gentlemanly polite attention, yet she was not to be turned off. If he was not in love with her she desired to entangle him if he had the heart to be wooed by a maiden, so with care she avoided any appearance of flirtation with the other young fellows, many of whom would have been delighted had she given them but an encouraging smile.

Towards midnight there was a group of half-a-dozen men with the full weight of paternal responsibility upon them together in one corner of the spacious kitchen, with Eric in their midst, to whom the subject of conversation was evidently directed.

“Just fancy to-night, for instance,” said one. “The tide is up now, and all who live on the south side of the hill must struggle over that slippery track to their homes.”

“Several of them will no doubt have a few involuntary seats in soft places as they try to go down the other side,” said another.

“What has made it worse is the last shower of rain; page 259 it will have made it like glass in same places, and when a good start is made sliding down that steep part, one may go to the bottom without stopping.”

“Well, it is time now some efforts were being made to cut a road round the point so that we could get to the store at any time,” said the first speaker.

“Besides that see the trouble the bairns have in getting along to the school. Then when the church is up, and that will not be long now, we must have means of coming and going.”

“But,” said Eric, who now felt himself loaded with some of the cares of the state, “that will be a heavy undertaking. It is a rocky bluff composed of solidly inset boulders.”

“Still a road must be made. Those boulders can be removed, and when thrown down they will make the very best foundation for a road where the sea washes up against the breastwork231,” answered the leading spokesman.

“Well the thing should be represented to the Captain, and perhaps he may see his way to suit your requirements,” Eric replied.

This led to a deputation waiting on the Chief Administrator, and the formation of a footpath round the base of Bell Hill to Stuart Street, which connected the north and south parts of the settlement.

224 i.e. Kaikorai Valley, now an industrial area in northern Dunedin.

225 An exclamation expressing dissatisfaction with, or dismissal of, a statement or notion.

226 The Bible: King James Version with Apocrypha, 1 Peter 5. 7.

227 A traditional Scottish dance, generally involving four or more dancers.

228 A dance for couples, which became particularly popular during the late nineteenth-century.

229 A lively dance meant for couples

230 A dance in which one’s arms and legs move vigorously.

231 A temporary barrier, usually a few feet high.