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

Chapter IV. — Two Encounters

page 29

Chapter IV.
Two Encounters.

Some cried, “hold back; a cavern deep of dark
And hideous danger stretches o'er thy path
Where fools and reckless madmen fall and die,
In spite of warning.” While some others said,
“Fear not, all ways are more or less beset
With risk. The coward faint of heart, dismayed,
Hides in his cave, when God calls ‘Sieze the prize!’”

At six o'clock on Monday morning Eric was once more following Archie Rabb, the itinerant shoe-maker and mender. The morning was bright and warm; the sun being already well risen in the glowing east, and the fragrance escaping in rich profusion from the flowers, and wafted on the gentle zephyrs, produced a sensation of pleasure, particularly to the young man; and inspired thoughts of the time when far across the ocean, he might be able to walk through his own flower garden in the early morning, and admire the opening flowers of his own planting and care.

As he passed along the dusty road, between two hedges, his mind ceased to observe his surroundings under the spell of his ambitious views of the future. Already he had selected a cosy corner where a gurgling stream ran merrily through his piece of ground, on either side of it were native trees among which the birds sported cheerily piping their happy notes. In the midst of all stood his own neat little cottage, a pretty flower garden in front, with fruit page 30 trees and vegetables at the back. He was contemplating the imaginary picture with a soul swelling with proud delight, when his reverie was suddenly, if not rudely, interrupted by the sharp voice of Archie Rabb, standing about a dozen steps in front or him.

“Come, Eric, walk beside me this morning, I want your company, I'm not very well, and I have something to tell you.”

By the time these words were spoken Eric was at his master's side.

“Lad, Eric, you're quite a man now. How old are you?” asked Archie, as the little man looked up into the face of his tall apprentice, whom he seemed to have looked upon until that moment, as still the boy he was seven years ago when first they set out on their walks together. Eric told him, he was just come of age a few days previously.

“For nearly seven years now you and I have been going the same roads together, lad, and working in the same houses, and eating at the same table. You've been a decent honourable lad to me, and though I would be sorry to make you prouder than you should be, and none of us should be proud, except of being friends to our betters, I still say this, you've done your work well, so that I was never ashamed of anything you put out of your hands. Now listen to me Eric, you're as well known in the houses we go to, almost as I am myself, and I'm sure you're looked on with respect for the way you have behaved yourself; my strength has failed me greatly these last two years, and I have made up my mind to stop these travels as soon as your time is out; that will be in two months from last page 31 Thursday. Eric. I am going to take a little shop, I'm not sure yet where, and with the small bit of money I have managed to put by, I will no doubt be able to eke out my few remaining years on earth. Now what I want to come to is just this, Eric lad, I want to introduce you to all our customers as my successor, and I am sure you will be well received, and if you like, you can make a fine living by just continuing the business, as I have done this forty-nine years back.”

Those were the first words of approval, or of commendation, Archie Rabb had ever spent on his apprentice: and they came upon the listener with strange astounding force. He could scarcely believe that the words he heard, had been actually spoken. Archie was to most men—his equals, or his betters—a man of free speech, but never was commander less communicative to his subordinates, than this man had been to the lad who had trudged with him over every road within twenty miles of Edinburgh. The sudden show of confidence, and the generous offer of his goodwill in such terms of esteem and commendation, made Eric stand still and look bewildered. He had occasion to know Archie as a man of his word. He had seen several remarkable instances of his unswerving honour: even at his own cost; but he never before knew him to perform any purely generous action. But when once Archie had given his word he would never withdraw from the obligations under which it placed him.

All this passed quickly through Eric's mind, and he made reply:

“Thank you Mr. Rabb, for what you have said, and the offer you have made to me. It is a kindness I never page 32 expected, and I hope I may be able to convince you of my deep gratitude for such generosity. Had you said it to me last Monday morning, though, instead of to-day you might have changed the whole course of my life, but if you will be so good as give me a week before I decide, your friendship will be greater still.”

“What! change the whole course of your life,” said Archie, thrown into nearly as great a surprise as his words had put Eric, “How can that be lad?”

“It's just this way,” he answered, “you remember this night last week we were called in to hear the minister, Mr. Burns, speaking about New Zealand.”

“Surely, in the name of common sense, you don't mean to say you have made up your mind to go from Bonnie Scotland33, the land of your ancestors and all their glorious deeds of heroism, to live in a land inhabited by savages,” said Archie with much energy.

“True enough,” replied the youth, “Scotland has a noble history. Our ancestors have left a glorious record, and I am proud to be one of such a race but humble because of my unworthiness of such a noble line, still I have almost made up my mind to leave it, and seek a home under the British flag and the banner of our Free Church far across the ocean.”

“A fine bit of speech, Eric,” said the old man, “but many a bright lad before you has made fine speeches like that, to be regretted all their lives after. Take my advice, Eric, and be not rash in your doings in this matter. Scotland has room for you, and all such as you, and much need of you, too. You'll not find a country nor a people like Scotland and Scotchmen away in New Zealand, I'll warrant. page 33 Be content to make your home among your friends, and find at last a grave by the side of your worthy forefathers.”

“But you see, Mr. Rabb, I'm not going alone. To-day my father intends calling at the office of the Free Church Association to get all particulars about the place, and such like, and we are all going if he and mother are satisfied that its a proper course to take for the sake of their family.”

“The whole of you going!” ejaculated the little man, as he stood still and looked his comrade straight in the face. “Well, I never! What next! Surely they have not taken leave of their senses. Its mad enough for young folk to think of such things, but when folk like Mr. and Mrs. Thomson with their big family entertain such notions, that beats all.”

This last idea seemed quite to upset Archie's mind, and he resumed his journey in silence. For fully 10 minutes not a word was spoken, then once more he stopped and faced Fric, with a countenance displaying as much anxiety as if the thoughts that were troubling him had reference to his own affairs.

“Your father has always been looked upon as a soberminded Christian. Why does he want to banish his wife and family away in a land of heathens? I am annoyed to think he has so far forgotten himself as to let such nonsense possess him. Could he not be stopped, think you, Eric? If you think he could I would go right back and use all my powers to keep him from falling into such a great error; aye, I should say a sin, in the sight of heaven.”

“Surely, Mr. Rabb, it can be no sin to go from one part of the world to another,” remonstrated Eric, “so long as in doing so the God of our fathers is not forgotten nor page 34 forsaken. In this case if we go we will go under the banner of the grandest kirk on the face of the earth: our own Free Church of Scotland, that has but recently burst the last fetters of ages of bondage by which our religion has been held by human laws and tyranny. It is to set up a standard of freedom to worship God in accordance with conscience and Scripture in a new free land of the south, that the Church Association is making this effort to colonise a part of New Zealand. That is surely not a thing to be called madness or a sin.”

“That's not my way of looking at it, lad,” answered Archie, who wanted now to tone down his expression a little, as he recognised he had been too severe. “For some people it would be perhaps quite the proper thing to do, but for a man like your father to throw up a good situation that would last him as long as he was able to draw his breath, to break up all the ties of friendly relations, and drag his family into an uncivilised country of barbarians and man-eating savages, is wrong, very wrong, and what is wrong is wicked.”

“Mr. Rabb,” said Eric, “my father has not yet said he is going. If he had known what a kind offer you were going to make to me, he might have been more difficult to persuade to leave Scotland.'

“Then, Eric, we will just turn back and tell him what I have told you, and that may keep him from committing the biggest mistake of his life.”

“Let me suggest,” said Eric, “what I think would be a wiser plan. We are expected, you were saying, at Mr. Johnston's house this morning, and we would get no further to-day. If we went back home now we would be too late page 35 to catch my father, and even if we did he would carry out his plan of going to see Mr. McGlashan. Let us finish what work there is to do at Mr. Johnston's, and then go back home, and you can have a talk with father and mother in the evening.”

Eric's desire in this move was to gain time and allow his father's plans to become as far matured as possible before any influence might be brought to bear on him by the force of Archie's offer and argument. Archie, on the other hand, was reluctant to lose a day's work out of pure philanthrophy, and readily consented to Erie's proposal, and the two pushed on their way to carry out their project.

While Archie Rabb and Eric were busy that day at Mr. Johnston's patching up partially-worn boots and shoes belonging to his extensive establishment, Mr. Thomson was the honoured guest of three officers of the Association in the secretary's office in Edinburgh. When he called, Mr. McGlashan was too busily engaged to grant him an interview.

“Indeed,” said a youth who occupied a desk in the more public department of the suite of rooms, “he is talking with Captain Cargill and the Rev. Mr. Burns on matters relating to New Zealand; it may be an hour before they are done with their business.”

“I have come to make inquiries on the same subject,” said the visitor; “perhaps you could give me something to read while I wait, for I have no other business in Edinburgh to-day, and I would rather stay than go out and come back, for I might miss him by doing that.”

“Have you seen the latest number of the “Otago Journal34'?” asked the lad; “if not, you might find in it page 36 some matters of interest, seeing your thoughts are in that direction.”

“Thank you,” said Thomson, and sat down to read this first newspaper advocate of the claims of Otago on the attention of the Scottish public. He had not been reading many minutes when the secretary, wishing to consult some book came into the room where he was, and recognising his fellow churchman, inquired the nature of his wishes, and immediately invited him to join them in the “Secretary's room.”

“Allow me, gentlemen,” said the genial officer on re-entering the room, “to introduce to you my friend Mr. Thomson, who has called to make inquiries about out settlement in Otago.”

The captain, with a happy smile rose and stretched out his hand, saying, “I am glad to meet you, Mr. Thomson, and hope this is only the beginning of a long and close friendship.”

Mr. Burns, who was not given to sudden demonstrations of pleasure, shook hands very cordially, saying he “would be glad to discover that Mr. Thomson was to make one of their number of pioneers.”

He then related to them his circumstances, and stated his desire for their opinion of his fitness for joining their party, and whether they considered he would be prudent to undertake the journey with his family.

“On that subject,” answered the captain, “there is only one answer I could possibly give. We want just such men as you, and you could not do a wiser thing in the interests of your family.”

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The other two confirmed that statement by saying together: “Nothing could agree better.”

“You must know,” resumed the captain, “it is a place without a house on it up to the present time. It is an unreclaimed country. There are surveyors there surveying the large block of land—some 400,000 acres—which the New Zealand Company has bought from the Natives, and paid for in solid cash35. But that is the full extent of the civilisation, unless we take into account a few whaling stations, and one or two missionary establishments.”

“The stories about savages are mere myths” here put in Mr. Burns. “Many people are making the mistake of representing Otago as the home of a sturdy race of cannibals who are ready to kill and eat any white man they find. But the truth is, all the Natives of Otago are already Christian people, and will be glad to welcome a colony of honest settlers in their country. There are only a few of them at most, occupying small villages near the sea coast. The rest of the country lies open for us to ‘go in and possess it,’ and that without fighting, as Joshua had to do, when he marched the Israelites into Palestine36.”

“Every family throwing in its lot with us will be able to secure an ample portion of land, one section of a quarteracre town allotment, a 10-acre suburban allotment, and 50 acres of country land,” said the secretary, whose mind was naturally on the business aspect of the question.

The full hour was devoted by the three to storing Mr. Thomson's mind with useful information specially selected to convince him that he had now the flood tide of prosperity before him, which if he should sail upon it would undoubtedly lead him on to fortune. He was willing to be convinced, page 38 and every favourable fact found a resting place in his memory; and served as a ready argument in subsequently justifying his actions, which from the frequent objections raised by friends who could see nothing good out of Scotland, he had many occasions to use.

On leaving the office he was loaded with papers and pamphlets bearing on Otago, and the duties, as well as the privileges, of colonists, more particularly dealing with the scheme then being agitated.

As he approached his own door, on returning from this memorable interview, his wife, who had for nearly an hour past been suffering from curiosity and eagerness to know the result of his visit to the secretary of the Association, met him at the garden gate.

“Here you come,” said she, looking at the parcel of papers, &c., he carried under his arm. “Here you come bringing with you the report of those sent to spy out the land.” She opened the gate for him, and turned to walk beside him, as he replied:

“Yes I have enough reading here to serve us for the week. The report is like the report of Caleb and Joshua, without the other to interfere with it37.”

“Well,” she returned, “if it is only as true as Caleb and Joshua's that will do.”

“For my part,” said he pleasantly, “I am going to be a bit critical, and yet I am inclined to believe there is no cause for deception.”

“Then I suppose you met Mr. McGlashan.”

“I met more than Mr. McGlashan, wife, I was fortunate enough to meet Captain Cargill and the Rev. Mr. Burns there as well.”

page 39

“You'll know all about it then?”

“For a whole hour those three gentlemen kept talking with me, allowing me to take up their time as if I had been the Duke of Argyle38.” And with that Mr. Thomson threw his bundle on the table. Selecting one paper to read himself, he handed another to his wife, and they were soon deep in the lore of prospective Otago.

33 Pleasing to the sight, beautiful, expressing homely beauty. Now in common use only in Scotland and north or midland counties of England.

34 The Otago Journal (printed from 1848 to 1852) was a periodical compiled and distributed by John McGlashan, with the intention of informing potential emigrants to New Zealand of current events at the Otago settlement, as well as providing information about the administrative aspects of the settlement.

35 Of this purchased land 150,000 acres was reserved for settlement, with the rest to serve as temporary pasturage for the settlers’ flocks.

36 Joshua, leader of the Israelites, was called on by God to reclaim the land of Canaan (The Bible: King James Version with Apocrypha, Josh. 1-12).

37 In Num 13-14 (The Bible: King James Version with Apocrypha), Caleb and Joshua were among 12 spies sent by Moses to determine the strength of the Indigenous Canaanite nations they sought to conquer; their honest reports about the possibility of success were undermined by the exaggerated warnings of the other 10 spies, whom God smote for their lack of faith.

38 Correctly the Duke of Argyll, a Scottish title created by Colin Campbell in 1457.