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

Chapter XXI. — Diverted Courses

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Chapter XXI.
Diverted Courses.

How frail is finate man, To-day he boasts
His path straighforward, and his end due north:
To-morrow, 'ere the evening sun has set,
He turns right angles, and his goal is east.

“Here is another letter from New Zealand for you, Kirsty. I have got one too, so that I know most of what's in yours. Run off and read it by yourself while your mother reads this one. Then you can tell us anything there is in it for us to know,” said Mr. Knox, as he threw two letters down on the table one evening on his return from business, and seated himself in his big comfortable chair in the corner.

Kirsty picked up the letter eagerly and disappeared that she might peruse it in quietness alone.

“So he's not going to come for her!” exclaimed Mrs. Knox, after reading the letter. “That is mean. I always thought he would be glad to come back and take her out with him; and I am sure she is worth it.”

“But would it really be the wisest course?” interjected her husband. In the first place, you see, he would lose about a year in coming and going, then he would have to give up his appointment, and in addition to this there would be the expense of his passage both ways; that means a large loss to young people who are just beginning life.”

“But you know I said before how much I was against page 281 Kirsty going by herself, a single lassie among hundreds of strangers. It's not right; I'm sure it's not.”

“None of us would ever dream of sending her alone among strangers. For my part I would rather have her stay at home; but we have already suggested that she should go out to meet him, and she is ready for the venture whenever we find a suitable family for her to go with, and that, strange to say, has just come to my knowledge to-day.”

“What family is this you have so suddenly approved of?” asked Mrs. Knox, a little annoyed at the way in which her husband made the announcement.

“No other, dear wife, than your old friend Mrs. Campbell Collins!”

“You must be daft. The Collins' going out to New Zealand! Why we might as well think of going ourselves.”

“Well, since you suggest it, lass, we might think of it, and if you are really in earnest we might do worse.”

“Do you really tell me that the Collins' are going?”

“It is a simple fact. I saw Mr. Collins this very day; he asked if I had heard lately from Mr. Thomson, who went away last year to Otago, and I replied by telling him how well they had got on, and what Eric was doing, and then he said he had taken out his passage, and was going to sail in about three months.”

“What does he mean to do there? I'm sure he was never able to do hard work like the Thomson's have been compelled to do.”

“He means to take a farm, and grow crops and raise sheep for their wool, and cattle for sale.”

Whilst he was saying this, Kirsty opened the door and entered the room.

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“Who do you think is going out to Otago, Kirsty,” said Mrs. Knox, with more than usual excitement.

“Not you, mother, is it?” inquired she.

“Well, after Mrs. Campbell Collins it might as well be me, I am sure,” was her strange answer.

“Mrs. Collins! I am so glad; and then why not you, all of us, mother? What does father say?”

The result of this piece of excitement was a decision of the two women to call on Mrs. Collins to talk the matter over. This they did the next afternoon, when it was arranged that if Mr. Knox did not decide to go, Miss Knox would have the benefit of Mrs. Collins' companionship, together with that of her young daughters, on the voyage.

As a mail for New Zealand was to leave by direct sailing ship in a few days, letters were written to announce to Eric Thomson that Kirsty would follow by the next ship, to leave in about three months. The letters mentioned that other friends would likely accompany her, and in any case she was sure of being in the care of a very old friend of her mother during the voyage.

About a month later Mr. Knox informed his employers of his resolve to emigrate to the new Scotch colony in New Zealand, and gave notice that he would consequently leave their service at the end of six weeks.

“Have you decided as to your occupation when you arrive there, Mr. Knox?” asked the senior partner.

“Not exactly, but no doubt I shall find some opening in a new community.”

“Rather like a leap in the dark, is it not?”

“I know some who are already there, and it is in consequence of their success I have decided to go.”

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“Would you not be the better of having some sort of business to begin with—some agency, or the like.”

“To be sure; I should be glad to undertake an agency for any respectable house if I knew where to get it; but I have no idea what would be a good line to look for.”

“Well, Mr. Knox, I will see you again about this matter; I think I know of something likely to suit you.”

Three days subsequently Mr. Knox was called into Mr. Aikman's room, when he was introduced to a gentleman who was anxious to make investments in the colony, and all things being satisfactory, Mr. Knox was appointed to manage the business for him on most advantageous terms, and had everything made out in documentary form, so that there was no possibility of mistakes occurring concerning Mr. Knox's position in the affair.

Besides this, Mr Aikman, out of the high respect he entertained for his employee of twenty-five years, had so arranged matters that the latter had his passage paid by his principal, as if he had been induced to take the voyage entirely in the interests of the man who had entrusted so much to him.

When David Moir heard that Mr. Knox was going to emigrate he sought an opportunity for an interview. Of late there had been an absence of friendliness between them, owing to the mystery of the seal.

As the elder gentleman was leaving the office one evening shortly after the above occurrence, he was followed by Moir, who, overtaking him, said:

“Mr. Knox, if you are not otherwise engaged, I should be glad to walk up the street with you a little way.”

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“I am not engaged, David, and will be pleased to hear any good news you can impart.”

“What I want to say is not good news, yet I want to speak about a matter that has caused me some pain of late.”

“Nothing to put me off my tea, David, I hope.”

“No, you may blame me, you may despise me, as I now do myself, but personally you will be glad, I believe, to know what I have to tell you.”

“Then go on; I am curious now.”

“I have been foolish. I sometimes think I was mad,” he resumed. “You know I was accused of procuring a duplicate seal of one Miss Knox had got and given to Mr. Eric Thomson.

“Yes, I certainly do, and you denied it.”

“I did not admit it. And now I wish to tell you the whole history of the affair.”

“Then; it has a history to be revealed.”

“It has, sir. You remember that night when you invited us to say good-bye to Mr. Thomson and his family. I was the last to leave your house. When I had said good-bye to you at the door and turned toward the gate, I saw Miss Knox and Eric approaching, and out of pure mischief, I hid behind the large rose tree near the end of the house until they should pass in. Instead of going into the house they stopped in the porch, and I could not then get away unseen by them, and so remained in the concealment.”

“While there I heard all that was said about the seal, and something suggested to me that I could use this knowledge to my own advantage; and a few days afterwards I went and ordered the seal that I subsequently gave to Miss Knox. My object being to make her believe Thomson had page 285 unfaithfully parted with or carelessly lost what she had given to him with the strongest of injunctions to preserve it.”

“I am glad, David, that you have confessed to your fault; but I must say I never would have thought you capable of such a mean action.”

“I have confessed, Mr. Knox, for the purpose of letting you know the truth, to relieve myself of the pain it has been causing me, and to ask you to forgive me for the contemptible conduct of which I have been guilty.”

“While I hope you may never be able to forget this acknowledgement, and that it may remain before you as a beacon to direct you to better ways, at the same time I can freely grant your request; but the wrong was not against me, and you must do to those whom you sought to injure what you have done to me, before you can expect to have a clear conscience.”

“That will be more difficult to manage.”

“Having made a beginning, you have, I should say, cleared the way for the conclusion of what you have to do. Come up to the house to-morrow night and I will prepare the way for you.”

“I will, but I am ashamed.”

“We have often to walk the plain of humiliation before we can ascend the mount of triumph.”

“You will tell the object of my coming?”

“I shall.”

“Thank you! good night, Mr. Knox”; and without looking his friend in the face David turned off into another street, feeling relieved by his effort to put matters right.

At length the day arrived when all the passengers had page 286 to take their places on board the ship destined to be their floating dwelling for the following four months.

Among those who had gathered on deck was a group bidding good-bye to a much larger gathering of friends, and among them was David Moir, who, being reinstated in the good will of the Knox's, had resolved to accompany them to the new world of adventure and enterprise.

Beside him stood a lady and gentleman of middle age; the lady rested her hand on his shoulder, and showed by the moisture of her eyes the solicitude of a mother taking a long if not a last farewell of her first-born son, while he upon whose arm she leaned looked grave, with the anxiety of a father whose son is striking out into the wide world, far from the influences of home and the associations of his youth, to battle with adverse powers, and in the contest either rise a conqueror over them, or fall unequal to their forces.

Beside them was standing a gentleman upon whose head the power of years was triumphing over what once was a crown of golden locks, among which the fingers of a fond mother had many a time been drawn as she praised her bonnie bairnie. But now the gold has faded from the crown, which had become bleached as white as cleanest wool. While his purse had drawn to it the golden abundance of many years of diligence and toil.

David addressed him as “Uncle Malcom.” In Glasgow he was known as the head of the firm carrying on an extensive business as Malcolm Anstruthers and Co.

In parting from the young man he said:

“Now, David, your training in Edinburgh should by this time have given you a good knowledge of the legal side page 287 of business life, in which you must have observed that honour in its noblest sense is the first principle. You have now to enter into the actual practice of dealing with men, and my experience is that the same inflexible devotion to integrity, as well as to industry, is necessary to a prosperous career. The mail of the ship to follow this one will carry with it a draught on the New Zealand Company for you of a sum sufficient to give you a fair start in life. And when I have no more need of the money I have acquired, a portion of it will be left to you, provided the accounts I receive of your conduct are of a satisfactory nature. If, however, you prefer to return to your native land, Uncle Malcolm's business will be open to you, if then you feel disposed to enter into it. Good-bye, and may providence guide your footsteps.”

With a firm “shake hands,” he looked kindly in the young man's face and then with a nimble step made for the gangway, and thence to his carriage a little distance off, in which he drove away.