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

Chapter XXII. — How it all Ended

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Chapter XXII.
How it all Ended.

The purer love, more sore the parting;
More keen the pain when hope grows faint.
But all the brighter is the greeting,
When love no longer knows restraint.

Many and diverse were the opinions expressed among the people of young Dunedin when it was observed that Eric Thomson's new house was not only finished, but that it was being furnished by him; as Mrs. McKechnie said to her husband, when he told her of some of the articles he had seen being carried in as he passed:

“It's not for a lone bachelor things like that are being put in there. You may be sure he means to get married, and that very soon, for he's not the lad to spend his money on things he has no use for.

“But I have been thinking,” interjected he, “that perhaps Eric may see his plans for ‘letting’ the house furnished to some new arrival; you see he would get a fine rent that way.”

“He has always his eye open to catch a penny,” replied the scheming and puzzled matron; “but I think you are wrong in that. Something tells me he means to catch some lass.”

“Your head—like all the women—is ever thinking on folk getting married; but I'm sure you never came across a lad that gave you less reason to think that about him. For page 289 all the time we have known him we never saw or heard of him setting his cap to any lassie. His mind, it seems to me, is taken up with other things than love-making.”

“Why, man, you know very well some men are up to their ears in love and are too bashful to tell it, and dread even to show it in case they might be laughed at. These men go on doing everything but the one thing to indicate their state of mind, and unless some happy chance or wisely laid plan forces them to propose they fail and become miserable old bachelors.”

“That may be true of some, but I am mistaken if it is of Eric Thomson. He is not a coward, he is not bashful, and he has great ease in expressing his mind. He is never afraid to say what he means. But what if he left a lass behind him?”

“Nonsense, we would have heard of that from his mother or his sisters; but they have never said a whisper about it.”

Notwithstanding this opinion, Mrs. McKechnic in her heart thought that might be the solution of the whole thing; and that afternoon she put on her bonnet and Paisley shawl238 and, leaving instructions with Isabel to have the tea ready at the usual hour, she walked away through the bush to see Mrs. Thomson, just to repay a friendly visit, owing for nearly a month.

“Come away in, Mrs. McKechnie, ‘a sight of you is good for sore eyes’ these days; come away in and have a cup of tea.”

“Indeed Mrs. Thomson, I am quite ashamed for not coming sooner, but between hoeing potatoes and weeding turnips, and other little jobs in the garden in addition to page 290 our housework, Isabel and I find the days slip by so quickly that the weeks are gone before we know it.”

“Never mind that since you're here at last, and I'm glad to see you; the kettle's just boiling, and we'll have a drink of tea in a minute.”

“Oh, you must not make tea for me. It's not long since I had dinner. How fine those cabbages are growing. Your garden reflects credit on somebody. One might think it was ten years old; you have it looking so beautiful.”

“Come away in and throw off your things and rest while we have a talk together,” said Mrs. Thomson, pretending to ignore the compliment.

Over the tea cups, all the small affairs of the neighbours, male and female, were carefully rehearsed, and some hearty laughing was enjoyed over certain characteristic eccentricities; for Mrs. McKechnie possessed considerable power of mimicry, the exhibition of which gave to herself more pleasure than anyone else derived from it. She had, however, got Mrs. Thomson worked into a mood nearly as humorous as her own, when she raised the question of Eric's new house, and what was going to be done with it.

“Oh, Eric always says he might sell it at a good profit some day, or even let it if he has no better use for it,” said his mother, careful to avoid anything definite.

“No doubt it would be worth a sum of money to any man who wanted such a place, but not many come here who have money to spare that would buy it. But I have heard that there is a little bird whistling among the trees about ‘The girl I left behind me.’”

Mrs. Thomson only looked at her friend and gave an innocent sort of smile, which the latter chose to interpret as a sign that she had not been understood, and resumed:

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“I suppose it could scarcely be possible for fifty or sixty young lads to leave their homes to cross the seas and none of them leave their first loves behind them.”

“Perhaps not,” was all the answer given.

“Now, among all the lads that came out with us, or that I have met since we came here, Eric stands highest in my opinion; but what has always puzzled me has been his reluctance to be seen alone with any lassie but his sisters. And when I was told that his love was still in the old land, I thought that might make it all quite reasonable.”

“It is surely not unreasonable, Mrs. McKechnie, for a young man to avoid the risk of being called a flirt, or of raising hopes in any lassie's mind that he does not mean should come to more,” said Mrs. Thomson, with a very kindly smile, and in an earnest tone of voice.

As, however, Mrs. Thomson had not denied the suggestion, Mrs. McKechnie went home more convinced than she went that Eric was already engaged, and was expecting the young lady to arrive by some early vessel; but in case she might be wrong, and as she had pretended to disbelieve when her husband suggested it, she said nothing about it to anyone, except by way of inuendo, until one day when Isabel mentioned having met and spoken to Eric, she said:

“I am sure Eric will be married before long, but I fear the lassie is not in the country that will become his bride.”

“What makes you think that, mother?”

“His manner and his preparations,” she simply answered.

Isabel's head ached badly that night, and she retired immediately after tea.

Just before sunset, some boys who were playing on the page 292 ridge above Bell Hill (Dowling Street) had their attention attracted to the unusual sight of a ship in full sail off “The Cliffs239” above St. Clair. It was a pretty sight as the sun was shining against her sails, which shone as white as snow.

The boys spread the news quickly, and as the vessel approached Lawyer's Head more than a score of men had climbed the summit of the hill to see her passing along. Among them were Mr. McKechnie and Eric Thomson.

“It must be a Home ship,” said Mr. McKechnie to Eric.

“I expect it is,” he replied. “According to last advices one must be due about now.”

“Did you hear the name?”

“Well, no, I did not. “You see it was to be three months after the last one, and the name would not likely be known.”

With that Eric darted away from the company, and in less than half-an-hour he was sailing before a gentle breeze towards Port Chalmers.

The first thing next morning he and Ben Brooks started for the Pilot Station, where they arrived before the ship had put in an appearance, and he arranged with the pilot to take him off with him.

The three hours he had to wait before the sail was descried standing in from the east were to Eric the most tardy hours of his life. And when at length she was sighted, his impatience for the boat to start was almost as painful as the suspense of watching had been.

At last the boat was manned and launched, and under the pressure of six strong rowers she was sending the foamy water from the bows as wave after wave came page 293 against her. But Eric took little notice of his immediate affairs.

In spirit he was already on board the ship, and his eyes were fixed upon the approaching vessel too intently to give more than monosyllabic replys to the frequent remarks of Dick Driver, near whom he sat in the whaleboat.

They had gone about two miles out, when the ship stood up in the wind, and Driver neatly laid his boat alongside the ship and passed up the ladder in a truly seamanlike fashion, closely followed by Eric, who formally saluted the captain, and was stepping forward to address him, when he felt a hand laid on his shoulder and heard the words:

“Eric Thomson!”

Turning hastily, he stood as if confounded for an instant before he could believe the reality of what stood before him. He had come with only one human face of his acquaintance in prospect, but this one was unexpected. At last he exclaimed:

“Mr. Knox! Have you come too?”

“I have, Eric, and I am right pleased to see you. Here are the others.”

Just close by, but somewhat mingled with the crowd of eager persons who were pressing round the stranger, glad to rest their eyes on such an uncommon sight, were all the members of Mr. Knox's family.

What followed is better left to the reader's imagination. The pen is incapable of justly portraying the scene which convinced David Moir that the love of those young hearts had not waned by their two years' separation, and he felt glad now that his conduct had resulted in failure, his better being assuring him that he had been tampering with page 294 a thing too sacred for such interference. And yet he felt pained because his had not been the good fortune to be the first who sought the affection of such a heart as Kirsty Knox evidently possessed.

“And so, Mr. Moir,” said Eric, when he had leisure enough to be civil to other people, “you have really made up your mind to banish yourself from the social joys of Edinburgh in this land of heathen savages.”

“Here I am, Eric, none more surprised than myself; but by this time you must have civilised the country.”

“If I were to speak my mind it would be very like this,” replied Eric, “The uncivilised in New Zealand are less barbarous than thousands in our Scottish cities. As for savages, I have seen none here. I do not think, honestly speaking, we could say we left none behind us.”

“You must have discovered the land of Eden!” answered David, with a satirical contortion of his features.

“Indeed, so far as the innocence of the natives met with in my experience is concerned, they are less unworthy of being spoken of as descendants of those who lived on that happy spot than any I have ever seen. Still, they are benighted, ignorant, and perhaps dirty; but not criminal.”

“Then our tomahawks will be useless; what a pity we spent money on purchasing them.”

“You will find a much more civilised use for your tomahawks than what you indicate they were intended for,” retorted Eric. “The country is full of obstacles which must be cut away, and tomahawks come in handy for that kind of work. I can assure you this is no place for soldiers, social magnates, or idlers; but you will soon know all this from experience. I am glad you have got over your very page 295 pronounced scruples, and pleased to welcome you to our new home.”

“I expect to have a charming life in this land of innocense and peace; and, really, after so many monotonous months on board this ship, almost any kind of life on land will be enjoyable.”

“You will find the conditions of life here utterly unlike anything at home,” said Eric; yet there seems to be so much to fill up the time, as well as to keep both mind and muscle busy, that on the whole life is thoroughly enjoyable; for one ceases to think about mere enjoyments, there seems to be so little to intercept the stream of pleasure which flows from virtuous company and congenial occupation.”

Here their conversation was suddenly interrupted by the ship standing in for the entrance; and every mind was from that time engaged in watching the numerous interesting sights as they passed into the harbour. Their experiences of “crossing the bar,” sailing past the Maori Kaik, and winding their way to the anchorage off Port Chalmers, were very similar to what had occurred to others.

As the ship swung round to her anchor, Ben Brooks brought his large boat alongside according to arrangements with Eric, who had prepared his friends for an immediate transfer from the ship to Dunedin, and ere long they had got a large quantity of their luggage into Ben's barge, and then they took farewell of the ship.

The tide was high when they reached the landing place, already full of Maori boats, which, being drawn up on the sand, almost covered the beach, where, turned keel uppermost, they served as sleeping places for their owners, page 296 who spread their mats beneath them; and men and women, married and single, slept the sleep of those who know nothing of the refined modesty which their European neighbours were careful to observe.

When, however, the boat with its load of passengers was run up on the beach as far as possible, several of the kind hearted copper-skinned natives at once came to their assistance, volunteering to carry the pakehas ashore.

The women, however, objected to be handled in that manner, and even Mr. Knox shrank from trusting his valuable body to the tender mercies of a Maori. A feeling of horror crept over them all as they looked on the faces, which were made more strange by the fantastic tatooed figures than by the mere brownness of the skin, for the old notion of Savage cruelty had not disappeared from the minds of the new arrivals.

“We have got accustomed to being carried ashore from the boats by the Maoris, although at first we were quite as reluctant as any of you. They don't mind wetting their legs to serve their pakeha friends, and, indeed, look on it as an honour to be permitted to perform such a service,” said Eric.

“Is there no small boat?” asked Mr. Knox.

“Oh, we never think of such a thing when there are Maoris about. I will go first and show you how it is done; and while saying so Eric got on the back of one of the Maoris, and in a minute more was standing comfortably on the sand. In the same manner he returned to encourage and help the women.

The usual large crowd had gathered to welcome whatever strangers might arrive. Among those who had come page 297 to the beach were Mr. and Mrs. Thomson and their two girls, Betty and Jane.

“I declare, if that's not Mrs. Knox!” cried Mrs. Thomson.

“And Mr. Knox too, and the whole of them, if I can believe my eyes!” replied her husband.

“It is so! “called the two girls, and pulling out their handkerchiefs they waved them franticly as a salute.

Kirsty was the first of the family to set foot on solid ground, and as she did so she was taken possession of by the three women, whose welcome was as enthusiastic as the heart of any human being could wish. When the elder ones landed Mr. and Mrs. Thomson at once received them with every mark of friendship, and led them off to their home, leaving instructions with Ben to send the luggage round by the bullock sledge to the house, where everything arrived safely before dark.

That night was spent in unflagging talk of how things had worked round to induce Mr. Knox to come away to New Zealand, and in discussing the news regarding events of the last two years as experienced by both families.

Three months later many changes had taken place; a mere mention of which brings our story to its close. Perhaps the chief event was the wedding of our two young friends, and their happy settlement in their new home, where Christina Knox was afterwards known as Mrs. Eric Thomson, and became an important member of Dunedin society. Mr. Knox had purchased a pleasant section, and had recently entered into occupation of his new house, and was now travelling away in the north in the interests of his principal.

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David Moir had soon become acquainted with Miss Isabel McKechnie, who now, as Mrs. Moir, had taken up housekeeping in a neat cottage, while David had purchased a farm in the Taieri, and was arranging for working it in a thorough manner, with the prospect of shortly building his homestead on it, where he and Isabel would personally supervise its management.

Mr. Thomson and his two sons had been very successful as working gardeners, never having been without employment, and now they too had turned their attention to the larger sphere of agriculture, in which they hoped to secure larger returns for their labour, and in a season or two add the keeping of sheep to their pursuits.

Having now, with many failings, pointed out how our Pioneers took possessson of the Province of Otago fifty years ago, the Author must take farewell of his indulgent readers in the hope that he has been of some service in pointing out to them something of the real life-character of our Early Days.

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238 A shawl with a distinctive ornate tear-drop or feather-shaped design.

239 A possible reference to the 21-room mansion built for Edward Bowes Cargill (Captain Cargill’s seventh son) in 1876, above St Clair. It is also known as Cargill’s Castle.