The Counterfeit Seal: A Tale of Otago's First Settlers.
Chapter III. — The Call to go Forth
The Call to go Forth.
“He heard the call, and, willing to obey,
Rent every tie that barred the unknown way.”
That night, when Eric re-entered his own door, all the family but his father had gone to bed.
“Dear me! Eric lad, you're out late to-night; what's been the matter that you were not in by 10 o'clock? You know our rule is that all must be indoors by that time. Now, although you're risen to man's estate, you must remember that although you are twenty-one years of age and like to spend a while with other folk's daughters, while you live in my house you must observe the rules established.”
“I was discussing about New Zealand with Mr. Knox, father, and I did not think of the time. I am sorry for the trespass, but it was not as you have hinted; I was conversing with the Knoxs about the settlement of Otago, in New Zealand.”
And having said that, he moved away towards his own bedroom, but his father called him back.
“What did you say? Talking about Otago, in New Zealand? Why, what put that into your heads? Is Mr. Knox thinking of going out?”
“Oh, no; he has no intention to do that, but he knows a lot about what is being done to get up a band of emigrants under the Free Church Association.”
“But how came you to talk on such a queer subject?” further inquired Mr Thomson.page 19
“It came up through me telling them of what the Rev. Mr. Burns had been saying out at the big Hall, where Archie and I were last Monday night.”
“And what did Mr. Burns say that made you take so much interest in that out-of-the-world place?”
Here Eric drew a chair up to the side of the hearth, on which were the remains of an expiring fire, while his father sat in the big chair with his feet on the hob.
“Yes, you may as well sit down comfortably and tell me all you can remember of what he said. I suppose you were all wanting to hear about the cannibals eating the missionaries, and the like.”
“He did not say much about cannibals eating missionaries. If I mind rightly, he said the natives were very few and were all quite civilised.”
“Very well, Eric, give me your story; I would like to hear what the minister had to say.”
Then Eric related what he had heard in a manner that showed how deeply it had impressed him. And, judging by the style in which his son spoke, Mr Thomson concluded that he was strongly inclined to look favourably on the advice of the agent of the Association, and asked:
“And would you like to be one of the first company to sail on such a pleasure trip, Eric?”
“It has been a good deal on my mind,” replied Eric, “and it does seem to have a charm about it; but I would like to know what you think.”
“Well, Eric, this thing has been running through my head for a good while now. I am not young, nor am I very old—not too old yet for a hard day's work. When I was your age I was anxious to go to America, but something page 20 prevented me. Then I soon got married, and ever since it has been never ceasing toil to find food and clothes for the family the Lord has blessed me with, and I am very thankful to Him for his merciful providence in granting me strength to keep all things together to the present time. Now you are all growing up, and that not without being able to read and write and count as well. I think for a working man's family you have no reason to be ashamed of your education; you have all had more of the school than either your father or your mother got. Now, I would like to see you all with some better prospects in life than I can think lies before you if we stay here, and if we can get away to Otago I think in my own heart that is the step we should take.”
“Do you really consider Otago would be better than America?” asked Eric, remembering what Mr. Knox had said, and wishing to know his father's opinion on the point to get from it, if possible, an answer to meet the objection he had raised.
“My preference for Otago,” said his father, “lies in the fact that the church and nationality of those who go will keep them still ‘one people.’ In America things are just as mixed as they can be, for there men of all creeds and from all countries are found, with no common ancestry, no union of interest in the past. History to them is a source of division rather than of cohesion, and so far as churches and schools are concerned, they are at variance. On the other hand, in Otago all will hail from Scotland; Scotland's history will be theirs, Scotland's heroes their heroes. Whatever has been Scotland's will be theirs; even Scotland's Free Church will be the church of Otago's sons, and page 21 all the liberty won by those whose blood has dyed the heather22 of Scottish hills in the long and bitter struggle for freedom, will be the heritage of those who go from this nation, now reaping the fruit of those brave deeds of bye-gone years.”
“Have you spoken of this to mother?; questioned Eric, anxious to know how far this sentiment, now realised for the first time to be common to both his father and himself, was spread through the family.
“No, not yet,” said Mr. Thomson, “I have kept it all to myself, nor would I now probably have spoken, had you not awakened my hopes and feelings by telling me what you had been talking about at the Knoxs. But I think she would not be hard to persuade, if I draw a correct inference from things she has said during the last year.”
“My thoughts have been for a while past,” said Eric, “taking a very similar line to yours; but perhaps more selfish. I have no complaint to make about the trade I have been set to learn, but still I would not like to settle down to earn my living at it. I would like something more free, more active, and independent. My spirit rebels against it, and I could never be contented without some more bustling occupation, and when I heard Mr. Burns speak at the hall, I felt that if I could manage it without being ungenerous and unkind, I would be one of his band to start for New Zealand.”
“Since you are of that mind, Eric, and if your mother will consent, I shall at once see Mr. McGlashan, and get from him all the details of what must be done; and then we will consider the possibility of joining in the scheme.”page 22
With that the two parted company for the night.
After breakfast was over next morning, and Mr. Thomson with his wife and eldest son Eric were sitting, the matron asked her husband what he had been talking about so long with Eric the night before, for she had fallen asleep while listening to their voices.
He then told her the nature of their conversation, and to their surprise, she was at once favourable to the “scheme,” and so nothing now remained to be done until particulars were obtained from the office of the Free Church Association. Mary was the only one of the others who was not pleased with the prospect of a long sail in a big ship to a new country, on the other side of the world. To the young people there was something of romance in the bare idea. They had read stories of many kinds of adventure, but now had come their own turn. The two boys were naturally delighted, for to all boys changes are more or less enjoyable, and to many, enterprising ventures are the very soul of pleasure.
There were eight people in church that Sabbath who remembered very little of the sermon; two who only remembered it was tiresomely long, for they wanted to get free so that they might think, and talk together, of what they would experience and what they would perform as colonists in a new and fertile country—they were “drawing castle plans,” or “building castles in the air.”23
They had got “the read” of a book some time before which purported to describe “life among the Maoris of New Zealand24.” They remembered now some of the dreadful experiences of a crew of castaways, some of whom had been cooked in a great pit, and a grand feast made over the page 23 human joints! They called to mind the fate of some missionaries, as well as the heroic conduct of some young men who had succeeded in escaping from their captors.
Such events gave zest to the thought of actually coming to the scenes of the same, or similar circumstances. Had it not been Sabbath, James and Tom would have produced between them a mimic show of their intended valour, once they got their feet on the land of the savage perpetrators of the outrages they had read about. As it was, they got away from the notice of their elders, and went through many pantomimic antics, greatly to their own satisfaction. The romance of actually going to New Zealand took overpowering possession of their minds to such a degree that when their father discovered them performing one of their more innocent capers, performed, in their opinion, in imitation of savage customs, they narrowly escaped a sound hiding, Sabbath day as it was, and were only saved by the generous interference of Eric, who pleaded their cause so eloquently that they were pardoned, nevertheless, very reluctantly.
On their way home from the church in the afternoon, the two families met—that is, Mr. and Mrs. Thomson, Mr. and Mrs. Knox, and all their young people. The two women had known each other since they were quite young girls, and their mothers had been friends before that for many years, and the men were intimate through their common interest in the “Disruption25,” which was still at that time creating much commotion in religious circles in Scotland, and had four years previously divided the Presbyterian Church of Scotland into two distinct bodies. These two men had formed a close friendship while the contest was page 24 proceeding, and after its climax they had been fellow members and officers of the same church, Mr. Thomson as a deacon26, and Mr. Knox as an elder27, and both were men who by consistency adorned their offices. Although like all other men in similar positions, they had their characteristic weaknesses, one of which made its appearance on this occasion.
They had not gone many paces side by side when they stepped on in advance of the women and young folk, who each had their own affairs to talk about. When there were about a dozen yards between them and their following companions, a new subject was introduced by Mr. Thomson.
“You know something about this Lay Association of the Free Church, Eric was telling me when he came home last night? You and he had been speaking about this scheme of sending emigrants to Otago, in New Zealand.”
“Yes, I know ‘something’ about it,” he answered, putting special stress of voice on the “something,” so as to carry the impression that there were particulars of which he knew little, or nothing.
“Ever since it was mentioned in the papers I have been thinking, off and on, of the plan of the Association, but I never bothered myself to get a hold of the right way of things; and I thought you could perhaps give me a little information.”
“The proper place to get reliable information would be from Mr. John McGlashan. I'm sure you know him well enough. You call at his office, and you will get from him everything that can be got in Scotland, so far as that subject is concerned.” Mr. Knox delivered these words in a tone which seemed to tell that he was disinclined to aid page 25 his friend in his inquiries. Not appearing to notice this state of feeling, or, at least, not paying any attention to it—perhaps because his own mind was so full of the subject—Mr. Thomson resumed:
“You see, I was inclined to go abroad when a lad, and the desire to do so has never entirely left me, but while the children were young I had other work to do than consider plans of going off to America, which was my first notion; but now things are better: all the boys are fit to work, and whether I stay here or leave for other parts of the world, they will have to work. Do you not think that for a family like mine, there might be better prospects, in a worldly sense, in a new country than can be found here?”
“Indeed Mr. Thomson,” said his friend, “it is probable that your own opinion on that matter might be worth a vast deal more than mine. You have an advantage over me there, for you can look at it from your own point of view. It would never suit me to go, that I am sure of; for the man that goes to Otago will have to be competent to work at any hard job that turns up. You could do that, I could not, or if I did I should have a poor chance of being successful.”
“It may be,” said Mr. Thomson, “that even a man of your profession would be wanted.”
“True enough, I suppose, any community would be the better of the presence of a legal adviser, still I do not feel disposed to offer my useful services, to folk who can be so easily enticed to break up comfortable homes, to sail in a ship for four or five months, and then live among savages. I'm not prepared to offer myself a sacrifice to a Maori god yet, Mr Thomson.”page 26
“Quite so, Mr. Knox,” rejoined Mr. Thomson, “you perhaps have better hopes of finding good positions for your children, you have you see only one boy to care for, the lasses being well brought up and educated, will doubtless find good and happy homes, presented to them by other men's sons.”
This was an unhappy statement, and Mr. Knox's brow clouded when it was spoken, and for a time he said nothing, wondering whether there underlay it a suggestion that Eric and Kirsty should break off their engagement. He had always entertained a high respect for Eric, in spite of his work, feeling confident that he had a generous, honest, and industrious spirit in him; well controlled or guided by a shrewd mind; and he was not afraid of Kirsty's well-being in his keeping. He had encouraged the courtship, for those reasons; and now he was vexed to hear, what he considered, an insinuation that Kirsty might be thrown over for this emigrating caprice.
“Mr. Thomson,” said he somewhat stiffly, “what you have just said is not just so clear to my mind as I would like it to be; you must remember Eric and Kirsty have been keeping company for a while now, and I don't quite see the drift of your words, unless they mean that he might under the circumstances just go off and leave her, as some other lasses have been treated.”
“My dear friend, my words may perhaps have justified you in that notion: but I had no such meaning in my head, much less in my heart. I would be very sorry to think of that taking place; but perhaps any difficulty on that score could be overcome. All I wished to be understood to page 27 mean,” continued Mr. Thomson, “was that your eares for the future of your family were lighter than mine.”
“But even if they are,” said Mr. Knox, “that is no reason why even you with your burden of cares should do more than your duty to your offspring: and that I am sure you have performed faithfully, as far as either Church or State, could desire. Why should you now when your best days are fast slipping from you, rush away from the midst of friends, among whom neither you nor yours, will ever want, to make a new start in life, in a strange world; where all around you will be strangers, who can have no care for you more than for men of another nation?”
“There is sense in what you say, I must confess,” admitted Thomson. “But it can't be so bad as the case of Abraham28.”
“But I suppose you'll admit you're not Abraham,” retorted Knox.
“No, I'm not Abraham, nor Jacob29, either; still I feel that I have a call to go forth, Mr. Knox.”
“In that case obey the call, or make shipwreck of your faith. But I doubt the existence of the call. At least as a call from the One who called the patriarch30. Take my advice and be like Samuel31, take counsel of some proved friends until you hear the call thrice.”
“That in a certain way is just what I am doing. You see I heard the call when I was a young man: but I refused. I heard it again a year ago when there was a lot of newspaper writing about New Zealand as a scene for a Free Church or Scotch Colony, and I heard it again last night when Eric came home from talking with you. Now I am seeking to discover whether the way is open before me: and as the light leads I intend to follow.”page 28
“Then, Mr. Thomson, I have known you too long, and always had too high a respect for you, to suffer myself to be the means of casting any light on a path, that I believe will terminate in dullness, if not in darkness,” said his companion who at once stood to await those following up behind him. And addressing himself to Mrs. Thomson he began with an attempt to induce her to dissuade her husband from “such a mad freak.” He had not spoken many sentences before he discovered that she too was prepared to take the voyage in the confidence that it was a providential opening for the better prospects of her family.
One thing Mrs. Thomson was quite well satisfied about was, that as the whole affair was under the direction of some of the wisest men of the Free Church of Scotland, she could not be led far wrong in submitting to their guidance, for she knew well in her own mind, that it would be a moral and a godly colony, and that was a guarantee of safety and prosperity. And they would be free from all the bondage against which good men and women had striven even unto blood, since the days of the Reformation32.
22 The Scottish name - now in general use - for the Erica plant.
23 An English proverb used to describe the formation of plans which have very little chance of occurring.
24 Māori (or the tangata whenua: people of the land) are the Indigenous population of New Zealand.
25 The division of Scotland’s Kirk in 1843 (precipitated by tensions within the church reaching back to the early 18th century) which resulted in the creation of two national churches - the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland.
26 Presbyterian deacons are the emotional “caregivers” of the congregation, and carry out their duties by attending to those who are “sick, in need, friendless or in distress”.
27 Presbyterian Elders are charged with overseeing “spiritual life” within the congregation; they lead, govern and, if necessary, discipline members of their church.
28 In Gen. 12. 1-6 (The Bible: King James Version with Apocrypha) Abram (renamed Abraham in Gen. 17. 5.) is told by God to move himself and his kinsfolk from their home in Haran to found Canaan, for which the Lord promises “I will bless thee, and make thy name great” (Gen. 12. 2.)
29 Most probably referencing the biblical figure Jacob’s flight from Haran back to Canaan with his wives - Leah and Rachel - children, and livestock in order to escape his uncle, Laban. (The Bible: King James Version with Apocrypha, Gen. 31. 1-55).
30 i.e. God; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are considered the three biblical patriarchs, chosen by God to fulfill specific roles or quests.
31 In 1 Sam 3. 1-9 (The Bible: King James Version with Apocrypha), Samuel, son of Eli, seeks his father’s advice after hearing a voice in his sleep; on the third time, Eli realizes the voice is God’s and instructs his child on how to respond to the call.
32 A religious revolution which began within the Western Church during 1517 as people began railing against the Roman Catholic Church’s increasing power and wealth. It served as the basis for the founding of Protestantism and Presbyterianism, by individuals such as Martin Luther, John Calvin and (specifically in Scotland) John Knox.