The Counterfeit Seal: A Tale of Otago's First Settlers.
Chapter VII. — Visions of The night
Visions of The night.
“Dreams in their development have breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy;
They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
They take a weight from off our waking toils,
They do divide our being.”
“Good evening, Miss Knox; I am walking your way, and, with your permission, will be obliged for the privilege of your company as far as your own gate.”
The speaker was David Moir, who had overtaken Kirsty Knox on her way home a week or so after the “Philip Laing” had sailed from Glasgow.
“How are you, Mr. Moir?” she replied; “I shall be pleased for your company along the street. How are all at home?”
“Thanks for your kind inquiries and cordial consent; we are all quite well. So your friends the Thomsons are fairly off at last; I was sorry I did not get along to bid them good-bye at the station the morning they left.
“There was quite a crowd present; I never before thought they had so many friends.”
“Well, you know, there are more who will come to say good-bye to people they never expect to see again than would gather to welcome the same people back.”
“Do you think, Mr. Moir, that people are better pleased to part with friends than to meet them?”page 72
“Of course circumstances must be taken into consideration, Miss Knox; you observe I said ‘to say goodbye to people they expect never to meet again.’ That qualifying sentence was required.”
“Then supposing they had only been going for, say two or three years, you suppose very few would have been there to wish them a safe and pleasant voyage?”
“My opinion is just about this, Miss Knox,” he said hastily, “that no person saying good-bye to anyone sailing for a country like New Zealand could ever reasonably expect to meet again.”
Kirsty could not for a moment suppress evidence of the shock of his reckless speech, and he resumed:
“You see, in the first place, it is such a fearfully long voyage, over such a wide expanse of a little known ocean, there are ten chances to one if ever the ship will reach its port; and, second, even if the ship overcomes all the dangers of the sea—as, of course, we hope it may in this case particularly,—then there is the nature of the country to be remembered. If I were going there I should regard myself as for ever dead to the friends left behind, for it is a land overrun with savage cannibals.”
These were thoughts that Kirsty had already been brooding over more constantly than wisely, since her lover had gone, and now that she heard them presented in this plain manner, she saw two pictures flash across her imagination with vivid force, that made her face to grow pale and her heart to palpitate. She, however, made a strong effort to control herself, and succeeded enough to be able to speak.page 73
“But they were told that there was nothing unusually dangerous in the sea voyage, and that all the natives were now Christian people. If that is true they cannot be cannibals.”
“Well, I shall be very glad for one to learn that they are not cannibals, and that navigation of those seas is quite safe; but I have read in a recent copy of the Scotsman63 of some terrible doings by New Zealand natives. Their treachery is there described as of the lowest and most cunning nature. While they pretend to be friends of the missionaries and of whalers who have gone to live among them, they do so merely from policy, and when it suits themselves they fall on them in cold blood in the most ferocious manner, and massacre men, women, and children, and then eat their bodies after roasting them in a great oven dug out of the earth.
“Then, as to navigation, the coast is wild and rocky, where in time of storms the waves of the great Pacific Ocean roll in with tremendous force, dashing on the shore with a roar like continual thunder; and there are no lighthouses or beacons to warn ships off at night.”
“I hope it is not so bad as that. I will try to believe you have been reading some made-up story,” she said; but it cost her a strong effort to do so.
“I would be pleased to believe with you, for the sake of our friends who have gone to brave all those dangers; but what I read was from the report of a British officer, who had been sent to punish some of those natives who have eaten three or four families of English people. I feel very sorry, indeed, that so many respectable Scotch people have been deluded into going to such a country.”page 74
“It is fearfully cruel, as you say—fearfully cruel! to induce people in the name of the Free Church to lead their families into what seems to be nothing less than certain destruction. May the Lord have mercy on them.”
“I am sorry, now, I spoke to you about it, but I have been thinking of our friends every day since I saw it. However, we must hope for the best. It may indeed fare better with a company of about 400, if they form a settlement, keep close together, and watch the actions of the natives carefully, which I have no doubt they will do.”
“Let us hope they will adopt the wisest plans for their safety when they get there, if they ever do. Oh, what a terrible thing it would be if the ship went down in a storm, or was driven in the night on that wild coast with all those people in it!” uttered Miss Knox in a voice little louder than a whisper, and at the same time a slight shudder ran through her as if she had a premonition of such a fate awaiting them.
“It would be dreadful, but you know such things have happened before, and when people go down to the sea in ships they of course take that risk. At best a ship is only a plank between what it carries and a watery grave.”
“But ships are built very strongly, are they not, Mr. Moir?”
“Certainly they are built as strongly as the shipwright64's art can make them, but that is merely bolting one plank to another plank through transverse beams. The strongest of ships is not much better than a bandbox65 when once it is thrown on the rocks with the waves beating on it.”
Again Miss Knox shuddered at the thought of the fate of her lover, and all that were with him, should they come page 75 to grief on an angry shore. By this time they had reached her mother's door, and bidding Mr. Moir good-bye, she went in trying to appear as hearty as usual.
Her mother, as was her custom at that time of the evening, was fully engaged preparing for the return of her family after their day's employment at their various occupations, and merely said, “Is that you, Kirsty?” who replied in the monosyllable “Yes,” and at once went to her own room.
She pulled off her bonnet, and threw herself into a chair, burying her face in her hands, and grave away to the deep emotion of her soul.
Tears seemed to bring a partial relief, but the fears formerly existing only in the vaguest form, were now confirmed by words she could not forget. The fears of which she was before scarcely conscious, now assumed the shape and importance of stern realities to her sympathetic mind, and when subsequently she thought of Eric, it was either in peril by sea, or danger from the savage hands of dark skinned natives of New Zealand. But she thought not unkindly of David Moir for having conjured up this ghastly nightmare.
When all the family had gathered round the table, and Mrs. Knox was contemplating the objects of her maternal love and pride, after having served out to each one an evening portion of wholesome food, she exclaimed:
“Are you ill, Kirsty?”
“What makes you ask that, mother?” answered Kirsty, assuming a smile, which she found it difficult to preserve for more than three or four seconds.
“Your face is pale, as white as a sheet, lassie; is your head sore?”page 76
“No, mother, my head is not sore, I have no pains.”
“There must be something wrong with you, Kirsty.
Have you had a sore day at the shop?” asked her father, looking steadily in his daughter's face.
“No, nothing uncommon, father. I have felt a little weary; it will soon pass off, I suppose.”
“You must lie down after tea and rest you; perhaps it is rest and quiet you want.”
“Better,” said her mother, “to go into the air in the garden for half an hour; she has been too much confined indoors. She and Annie can go out for a while, and then a sleep will do all the rest for her.”
Next morning her cheeks were less white, but her manner was devoid of its usual vivacity, yet she prepared for, and went to her employment, where the excitement of attending to orders, waiting upon customers, and other duties largely contributed to drive the melancholy thoughts from her mind. But during any moments of freedom mental views of shipwrecks and cannibal feasts were ever passing before her.
A week passed away, and Miss Knox showed no signs of returning strength and liveliness, but still kept going about attending to her duties in a brave and resolute manner, and doing her best to look happy. She felt her weakness, but attributed it to anything but the real cause. Her mother's eye saw it, and at once divined that something in reference to her absent lover was at the root of it all.
One evening, when Kirsty was looking at the flowers in their pretty garden, Mrs. Knox joined her, and, after falking of various items of interest, and discussing the progress of the plants, and pointing out some new ones she had page 77 recently purchased in the hope of having a richer supply of early spring flowers, &c., she said:
“The winter is hard on some of these, and I must shelter them from the frost and snow until they begin to sprout again. I am beginning to be afraid that I will have more than flower plants to nurse this winter.”
“What do you mean, mother?” asked Kirsty.
“I mean that if things do not improve soon you will be my chief care in the cold weather of the next two months, my lassie.”
“Nonsense, mother; but really I do not feel strong lately, still it is nothing, I'll soon get over that.”
“If you take my advice, I believe you will.”
“What is that good advice, mother; I generally obey you, do I not?”
“You are brooding on some matter,” said the cautious mother, evading the question, and coming to the point, “and that brooding is upsetting your health.”
Kirsty remained silent.
“You miss Eric, Kirsty. I am not going to blame you. I sympathise more than I blame, for it's natural, but if you would talk to me about the thoughts that trouble you, I think we could confide in each other.”
The young heart was not quite prepared to burst out just then in girlish gratitude for the kind speech and assurance of sympathy. Under such circumstances, unless a mother has previously by her common conduct secured her daughter's affections, it is impossible for one little speech to open the spring of the casket66 which holds the heart.
“I know what it is to be in love, lass; I learned that as young as you, and, although you never heard me say it page 78 before, I learned the pain of doubt in love; and now, when I see you with the bonnie bloom faded from your rosy checks and the glittering sparkle vanished from your eyes, I just ask myself, Can the poor lassie be in the same trouble that made my young days so dark? and I think I must be nearly right.”
When this speech was ended Kirsty's cheeks were wet with tears. Her mother had never showed such a gentle sympathetic nature to her before. To find one so dear to her who could appear to enter right into the same state of mind with herself broke up all the stiffness of her nature, and she was now a little girl in her mother's hands. They walked together in silence to a neatly-trimmed arbour67, and there sat down, and for a while each merely toyed with the twigs of the clematis68 and the rose as they intertwined beside them and over their heads.
“Tell me what your trouble was, mother,” at last said Kirsty, as she took her mother's hand in hers, and, raising it to her lips, gave it a sweet, loving kiss.
The mother saw her point was almost gained, and, to complete her conquest, she told a story of her youth.
“Your father was not my first lover, Kirsty. He was a tall, fair lad, with big strong shoulders. I met him in the house of my Auntie Ramsay, over in Ayr69, where I had been sent to enjoy a holiday.
“His father had a large farm close by my aunt's place, and he was one of her favourites; and often I have thought she sent for me, for the purpose of making a match between us.
“He was often in the house; I grew fond of his company, and he seemed to pay me a flattering attention. page 79 I could sing then, and he both sang and played the fiddle, and that had something to do with our youthful fancies.
“When I returned home he asked if he might write to me; I consented to that, and promised to answer his letters. My parents were agreeable, and our correspondence was continued. Next year my holiday was spent in the same place, and we often had walks together, and considered ourselves lovers. He was gentle and kind to me, and I believe he loved me. He told me so one evening as we were walking down by the burnside, and asked me if I could wait two years for him.
“I made him no promise then further than that before anything could be settled he must call on my father and mother and ask their consent.
“He followed to Edinburgh shortly after my return home, was courteously received by my parents, and our engagement was made in their presence.
“Two months afterwards he was sent on business to India, and then my fears began. I had a suspicion that he would fall in with some rich and beautiful girl on his travels, and perhaps forget me, and if I ever heard of him again it would be as some great personage, who was by marriage related to an aristocratic family.
“Night and day this fear haunted me, and I could do nothing to shake it off. I could imagine him in no other state than standing talking to some proud woman who was stealing his heart from me, or as in company with her relations, with whom I seemed to realise he had become quite a favourite.
“The worst of it was, I never received a letter from him. Months passed by, and my grief grew more acute, page 80 and I became very ill. I had brain fever, and lay raving about him for days. At last the fever left me; I recovered, weak and feeble; but no word had come, nor did come until the time at which our marriage was to have taken place; then news came that he had been very ill, but was coming home. He came home, but I was never allowed to see him. He was too feeble, and so he faded and passed away to the everlasting rest.”
“My poor dear mother!” exclaimed Kirsty, “who would ever dream that you had come through such a sea of trouble? Oh, I am so sorry for you!”
“Well, my dear girl, that is all past years ago, and now I have all you to care for and to cheer me.”
“We must do more to cheer you, mother. Do you not often look back on that sad time and feel your grief return, mother?”
“The blackest storms blow over, lass; some of them leave their marks that can never be removed. I think my whole life has been marked by that event; but, still, all people have their troubles—some less, some more. It made me think move of the world to come and less of the present passing affairs, Kirsty. It was a sore storm, that nearly broke the slender thread on which my life was hung; but I survived, to have my family to love me and my God to serve for the years of my life.”
“He didn't forget you, then, mother?”
“No, my dear; I have no reason to suppose that there was ever a more faithful lover, but that did not prevent my sorrow and doubt during the terrible silence of the time he was away.”page 81
“Now what advice were you going to give to me, or what lesson am I to take from this very, very sad story?”
“The lesson and the advice are the same my daughter. Despise a doubtful state of mind.”
“Good mother, I'm afraid your prescription will not cure the patient. I have never had a moment of doubt about Eric since the day he left.”
An incredulous smile crept over her mother's face as she looked in Kirsty's eyes, and questioned:
“Then what is it makes you so pale, my dear?”
“I have had shocking dreams, mother, and they have been repeated night after night, and have haunted me every day, until they seem to have become realities of my life.”
“I never took much notice of dreams, as you very well know, my dear; but tell me something of yours, and then I may understand your state of mind better.”
“You remember that first night you said I was not looking well, and sent me out for a walk in the fresh air? That was the night I had the first dream.”
“Do you mean the night before I said you were ill, or that same night?”
“That same night, mother, after you spoke to me.”
“Then you were ill before your dreams came on?”
“Oh, just wearied out, I suppose, but now I will tell you what it was.”
“I was away somewhere. I never saw a place like it, and I did not know how I got there, but I was standing on a prominence overlooking the sea, and in front of me there were great rugged rocks standing in the water, over which the waves were breaking with tremendous fury. I looked for a long time at the terrible commotion of the water, as it page 82 was dashed against the rocks, and rose high in the air in beautiful wreaths of spray, while all around was a sea of heaving foam. It was lovely to look at, but awful to contemplate.
“Presently I looked out beyond the breaking waves to where the great billows were coming rolling towards the shore, when I beheld a splendid ship labouring heavily, and each minute coming nearer to where I stood. I could see the men handling the sails, and it seemed to me that I could hear voices coming across the roar of the thundering breakers. As it came nearer I could see a great many persons were on it, all with their faces looking to the shore. I cried aloud as if to warn them off, and waved my hands that they might see me, but it was no use; the ship came on, and it began to grow dark, so that I could just discern the vessel as it came closer to the edge of the foam.
“Suddenly I was standing at the place where the waves came up among rough stones and gnarled rocks, and my eyes were fixed on the ship, now in the midst of the tumultuous waters, and I could see her roll from side to side as the furious breakers dashed over her. After a little while I could hear as if blows were being struck, and then a terrible scream of anguish and fear came through the noise and the ship sank out of sight. I could not move from the spot. I tried to walk, but could not lift my feet. I made hopeless efforts to come away, but my feet appeared to be glued to the stones on which I stood, and even my joints were stiff. I could not even scream.
“As I stood in this wretched condition staring at the unabated wildness of the water, I saw some objects appearing among the foam. As they approached I page 83 recognised they were human bodies; then I became interested in their fate, and hoped I might be able to be of use, as some might be alive. As the first one was thrown up close by me my power to move returned, and I sprang to seize it. It was a woman, but stiff in death. Then came another—a little child; I dragged it out above the water; and then a third came floating in. I caught it, and was trying to drag it up also, when the moon just at the moment the face turned upward shone through a rift in the clouds. I screamed, for in that face I recognised Eric Thomson, and I knew no more.”
“A terrible dream, my dear; but only a dream for all that,” said her mother. “We must never be upset by a dream, especially dreams experienced during times of physical weakness.”
“It was not so much the dream that upset me as the dreadful continuation of the impression it made on my mind. The last sight recurs to me at short intervals all day, and night too. I see his white face as if it were really lying before me; and I can do nothing to cover it over or banish it from me, for the more I try to do so the more persistently it clings to me.” Then she buried her face in her mother's bosom as if to seek shelter there from the phantom that haunted her, while her young frame shivered as if pierced by a blast of cold wind.
“Now, my dear child,” said Mrs. Knox, pressing the troubled head to her breast as she had not done since she nursed her in her infantile afflictions; “you see I know it all, and have felt nearly the same as you feel. But you must avoid the foolish state of things that I allowed myself to get into. For your own sake, you must remember you page 84 have no cause for all this but a mere dream, and wise folk tell us dreams are nothing more than a reflex of our waking thoughts and previous experiences.”
“Have you never had dreams come true, mother dear, or known others who have?” inquired Kirsty with a hopeless tone in her voice.
“But you said you had another dream, Kirsty; tell me about it before I answer your question.”
Thus called to exertion, the girl raised her head from the pillow where she found a mother's love was dwelling, and with eyes now startled at the recollection of her other dream, she said, “Would you like me to tell you all, mother?”
“Certainly, my dear; it can be no worse than the other, surely.”
“Oh yes, it is worse!” and she hesitated to begin.
“If it is disagreeable for you to relate it I will not press for it now, my dear; some other time when you feel that you would like to tell me I will be glad to hear it.”
“I may as well tell you now; better while we are like this, to say all I have to say on such a painful subject.”
She once more reclined her head on her mother's bosom and began to relate her second dream, of which a mere outline will satisfy the reader.
She was in a strange forest gathering flowers, and was at the same time listening to the songs of the birds that made the woodland vocal with their sweet music. As she travelled onward she saw beyond the edge of the forest a groupe of little houses; children were playing on the open ground between them, and women were occupying their page 85 time—some talking with one another, others sitting by their doors sewing, or busy with other domestic duties. Everything seemed so still and peaceful. She stood for some time contemplating the scene, which seemed to fade from her sight; and when it had done so she saw in its place a large company of men and women with dark faces and feathers in their hair performing some strange ceremony. She drew nearer to them, but was unconscious of any movement. As she did so she could observe in the midst of the cannibals—for she was now sure they were savages—five men lying bound with ropes, and a great fire was burning near them. At length one of the five was lifted by three of the savages and carried to the edge of the fire. While this was being done she had moved close up among the natives, and felt sure the man they were carrying was going to be roasted, and she was anxious to see him, when, to her horror, the man called her name and made a violent struggle to free himself. It was Eric, and those with him were his father, brothers, and James Carmichael; but as soon as she had recognised them she saw them no more, for she awoke in a state of great excitement, to realise she was lying in her own bed at home.
“A mysterious dream, Kirsty,” said Mrs. Knox; “but I think the one dream destroys the other. Those two certainly cannot possibly both come true, and I think they are both false alarms You have been reading, Kirsty, or you have heard of things like those, and they have just been conjured up by your own mind into those fantastic forms. Eric can't both be drowned in the sea, and killed by the cannibals. Come, we must go indoors now; it is too cold to stay here.”page 86
Kirsty at once saw the logical force of her mother's argument, and, although she was silent, her reasoning faculties had been aroused, and being set in motion in the manner they were, they continued until the hideous phantom gradually faded into oblivion under her mother's judicious guidance.
62 “The Dream,” Lord George Gordon Byron.
63 Founded in 1817, the Scotsman newspaper was printed weekly until 1855, when it began running daily publications following the abolition of the newspaper stamp duty.
64 An individual employed in the construction of ships.
65 A fragile or flimsy structure, or one in which the accommodation is restricted.
66 Commonly understood as a term for a coffin, but in this case referring to “a small box or chest for jewels, letters, or other things of value, itself often of valuable material and richly ornamented”.
67 A plot of ground covered with grass or turf; a garden lawn, or ‘green.’
68 A species of twining shrubs... with small white sweet-scented flowers. Various species with large showy blue, purple, or red flowers, are cultivated in British gardens.
69 A former royal burgh and port town, which now serves as the principal administrative centre of the South Ayrshire council area. It is at the centre of an area with which Scottish poet Robert Burns is associated.