The Counterfeit Seal: A Tale of Otago's First Settlers.
Chapter XX. — Building The Nest
Building The Nest.
When love has joined two hearts in one,
And hopes and joys are blooming;
As shines the genial spring-tide sun
All shades and damps consuming,
The citadel of faith is found
Where Nature's Monarch Love is crowned.
Much uneasiness had been felt for several days owing to the non-return of an expedition consisting of ten men who had gone to “spy out the land” as far as the Clutha232. Their object was to see where the best farming land was to be found, and bring back a report for the special benefit of their friends.
Ten or twelve days it was thought when they started would be all the time necessary for their journey, but now they had been twenty-one full days out, and their friends had become anxious about their safety. Their food supply was only enough for a fortnight at the most, and the fear that they had run out of provisions and were now starving and on that account unable to return was causing excitement.
It was noon on Monday, the twenty-second day since their departure, and a crowd of about forty had assembled near the barracks, where they were earnestly discussing the best means of sending help to the missing expedition. That no time should be lost was now admitted by all, but the division of opinion was concerning what shape it should take. Should they send out a small party, with instructions page 261 to make direct for the Clutha, or should they send a larger number that might break off into small companies and search a wide sweep of country as they went along.
The experience of Captain Cargill was always respected even if his advice was not always followed. So four of their number were chosen for the purpose of waiting upon that gentlemen, and were just stepping away from the crowd when a man was seen coming from the south of Princes Street waving his hat in the air frantically. He was also shouting, but at first no one could catch what he said. At last Mr. McKechnie, sen., said:
“He's calling something about the expedition!”
Then all were still for a moment.
“The expedition is safe!” was then heard distinctly, and a general rush was made in the direction of the messenger, who was still running towards them. Again he shouted:
“The expedition is coming!”
On meeting him he informed them that he had seen the men and their pack horses coming over the hills from the Taieri233, and he had run in as fast as he could from Look-out Point to give the news.
This set all minds at rest, and the information was quickly passed round the whole community. So that in the space of about half an hour every one knew about it, and many gathered to witness the arrival.
The expedition consisted of “Eric's Band,” which had come to be recognised as the most energetic set in the settlement. Together, they were prepared for all sorts of achievements, either of play or work, of daring or of kindness, and what was more, they were known to have been page 262 individually very fortunate in their earnings, some of them had, even in the young community, been successful in speculations and had money laid by in some safe corner. Among these last Eric Thomson stood first on the list.
About half-past two o'clock the expedition was observed coming past Hillside, and a little later it had actually arrived, bearing many evidences of the toil and fatigues of their tramp. The three horses that had carried their tent and provisions seemed to have suffered less than the men. Still all were in good health and spirits, and all the marks of weariness were removed after a day's rest at home.
They had been detained four days by rains and swollen creeks, besides having spent three days in making some private surveys and selections for themselves and friends.
Eric had chosen one block at the Taieri and another at the Clutha. Peter McKechnie had also fixed on the Taieri. Tom Wallace had been anxious not to go far from Dunedin for his rural land, and made choice of a section at Green Island234. James Carmichael had settled on the Tokomairiro Plain as his locality; Andrew Melville at the N. Taieri, and so on. They managed to scatter themselves well over the face of the available country; at least to select sections far apart from one another.
“But you do not intend to build a house at the Clutha, Mr. Thomson,” said Captain Cargill, when Eric told him of his choice.
“Not until there is some more convenient way of getting there, but the ground will not suffer from waiting a few years.
“Then you will begin on the Taieri farm?”page 263
“Most probably; but I have not decided yet. I will have a house built in Dunedin first.”
“Oh, yes, I forgot, a young lady is expected. Is that it?”
“Expected, certainly; but to tell the truth that is all I can say about that business.”
“But, of course, you have received letters?”
“Oh yes, I got a letter; but our first letters sent from here have not been answered yet.”
“Well, let us hope we shall get replies before long; we should be having another ship in soon now, I think. Then we shall know how things are moving. By the way, where is your town section, Mr. Thomson?”
Eric pointed it out on a large map of the town that hung over the Captain's desk.
“Yes,” said the latter, “I thought that was it. You can sell it to good advantage if you wish.”
“Some one has been inquiring after it?”
“Yes, I am authorised to offer you fifty pounds for it.”
“I shall let you know in the morning, Captain; but unless I can find another to please me I think I will not part with it.”
“It is a large price.”
“Indeed, the price is tempting; but it is one of the first situations in the whole town. Just my ideal of a snug corner. If the price is tempting the section is satisfactory.”
“Then you will give me an answer to-morrow?”
But when to-morrow came Eric was not prepared to sell; because he had not been able to make sure of another he considered as good as his own.
“If I make it sixty, will you take it?” asked the Captain, anxious to complete the transaction.page 264
“Can you wait until two o'clock?” asked Eric, in answer: “I must satisfy myself about being able to get another before I sell this one.”
“There are plenty others to be had for twelve pounds ten shillings,” replied the Captain.
“Yes, but it is not simply a question of so much ground within the town belt. Locality is a special consideration. There is one I know of, and if I can get it I will sell my own.”
At two o'clock Eric closed with the Captain, and pocketed forty pounds by the transaction; having purchased the site of his future home for twenty.
In the course of a few more days another ship was announced from the heads, and another contingent of immigrants was piloted up to Dunedin and lodged in the barracks until they could find more suitable places to live in.
To Eric the most important part of that ship's cargo lay in one of the mail boxes.
Kirsty had received his letters, and was greatly pleased with his presents, but most of all she congratulated him on his splendid appointment, and among many other things of a pleasing sort were these lines: “Father and mother wonder when you are likely to come Home now, or whether you will be able to spare the time.” All he wanted to know might be read between those lines.
Not only was she still true, but her parents were evidently now prepared to concede all they had formerly refused.
There was, however, a second letter. It was from the respected father of his affianced.page 265
It told how glad he was to learn of his speedy promotion to such an honourable position, and expressed confidence in his future good fortune. “In reference to your coming back to Scotland, we have been thinking,” the letter went on, “what a great loss of time and money it would be to you. It would be equal to about a year in which you could earn nothing, and in addition to that there would be your own expenses both ways. If you have not already made up your mind to come back—which, of course, we would all like most, only for the great expense it would put you to—we think that you might be saved all that through some friends who might be found going out who would take care of Kirsty on the voyage. But do just as you think will be most advantageous for your prospects.”
That was practical good sense, and gave great relief to Eric. It gave him the opportunity to continue in his employment, and to take advantage of whatever other chances came in his way, and in the end consummate his plans much quicker than he calculated upon.
He was much encouraged by the shape things had taken, and now his first care was to get his house built. It was not now possible for him to do the work himself. He certainly had his evenings and mornings in which to do anything he desired, but it paid him better to employ others to do any work of such an extensive character as the erection of his house. Besides he was not a carpenter. His friends Peter and James had a good stock of timber which had already been standing in loose stacks to dry. This he purchased, or at least as much of it as he required.
Mr. Hill gave a tender for the building, and Mr. Hair page 266 was employed to clear the ground, while Mr. Thomson, sen., laid off the garden.
Passing home one evening round by where the church was being erected—facing High Street where it ran into the water, at its junction with Rattray Street—Eric overtook Mrs. McKechnie, whom he relieved of some of her parcels, and walked round the beach with her.
“So you have started to build a fine house, Eric. What a lovely spot you have chosen! When is the wedding? But I have not heard yet who the bride is to be. You keep things very quiet, lad!”
“Do you not think I might do well if I were to sell it after the house is finished?” said he, avoiding an answer to her speech.
“You are not likely to sell that fine place.”
“Well, what could a bachelor do with such a house? He would be lost there.”
“Do just what I said—put a bride in it!” was her quick reply.
“I believe I could make some money out of that property, only there are few buyers.”
“Isabel was just saying only yesterday what a pretty spot it is; she had been over to look at it,” said she, ignoring his remarks.
“Oh, indeed, has Miss McKechnie taken a fancy to it already. I will sell it to her if she wishes; I am always open to trade.”
“She would like fine to be mistress of such a place, but when that occurs she must get it as a gift. You have not been to spend an evening with us for a while back. Come across any night you like and give us your news!”page 267
“I shall come along with Betty some night, soon, when the moon is a little stronger.”
“Come yourself, lad, and bring your lantern! Can you not spare to-night? Come right on with me, and have tea with us! Isabel will have it ready.
“Thank you, Mrs. McKechnie; I am sorry to refuse your kindness, but I require to write some letters to-night. We must keep up our correspondence with the folk in the Old Land, you know, and the schooner leaves for Wellington with the mail to-morrow.”
“Then say Friday night; come to tea.”
“Thank you. If Betty can come we will not disappoint you.”
“But you don't need her to see you home safely. Come yourself whether she can or no; and if you need a lassie to see you through the bush, I'll send Isabel to keep you company. At this she laughed heartily, and Eric, laughing also, bade her good-night where their ways diverged, and as he turned away he said to himself:
“I have no desire for the company of the dark Isabel. To-night I have to send my messages to Kirsty in answer to hers. She has both modesty and affection. With her to live will be bliss; but misery would lurk under the clouds of Isabel. Then stepping homeward he sung in a suppressed undertone:
Oh Aileen, dear Aileen, thine image doth rest
Like a star in the gloom of my destiny here;
And the moment when last you reclined on my breast,
As the unclouded hour of our meeting is dear:
And ever while life in my bosom is swelling,
Let suff'rings assail me, or dangers beset,
Thy love, dearest Aileen, all sadness dispelling,
The heart of your lover shall never forget235.
The children of the neighbourhood of school age had gathered round the new schoolhouse, which by the way, was the church as well, and were spending in noisy play the few remaining minutes before schooltime, and Eric and Mr. Blackie were inside discussing some matter of common interest, the latter having his supplejack cane in his hand ready to give the signal for the children to assemble for lessons, which signal he made usually by rattling vigorously with the cane on the wall for a second or two. As the two conversed, loud shouting of men and the fierce cracking of whips gave all too sudden warning of some approaching danger.
The bellowing of angry cattle and the barking of dogs not far off caused the little folk to fly for shelter to the school door. Only about half of them had got safely in, before an infuriated brute chased by two dogs came dashing across their playground, and the children, in despair of getting into the building, scattered about in all directions, screaming with fright and falling with terror. One little girl, in the struggle to follow her brother, tripped and fell with a frantic scream not more than half-a-dozen paces in front of the wild bullock. Nothing could be done to help her. The two men had been unable to get out of the building because of the number of children rushing in; and those who saw what had happened looked for the worst as the inevitable climax of the confusion.
But with barking, biting dogs at his heels the bullock was more intent on saving himself or punishing his pursuers than on other deeds of mischief, and when he reached the child, probably from sheer fright, instead of transfixing her with his spear-like horns, he gave a loud roar and page 269 sprang high over the prostrate form and tore onward. Eric had the child in his arms almost as the dogs had passed her, but nothing worse had happened than the shock of terror, from which the little girl soon recovered, and with the rest very shortly afterwards was in her seat in class.
The occasion of this commotion arose from the unwise site which had been chosen for the city slaughter yards. This important adjunct of civilised life was erected on a part of the ground now covered by the Colonial Bank buildings, and all the cattle destined for the table had to be driven through among the houses to reach it. This particular drove had been irritated from some cause, hence the trouble at the schoolhouse. It should, however, in justice, be noted that the slaughter yard was placed in that central position from a high sense of sanitary conditions entertained by the authorities; for as each tide rose to within a few inches of the floor level, and the spring tides washed over it, the place was twice daily cleared of any offensive matter that might have gathered.
“Mr. Blackie, will you kindly consent to become the first president of our cricket club236?” asked Andrew Melville one afternoon as the former gentleman was coming away from his daily duties. The questioner and Eric Thomson had been appointed a deputation to wait on the popular dominie for that purpose.
“My dear sir,” answered Mr. Blackie, smiling “I have not played a game of cricket for years past; someone else would suit you better.”
“The fact that you have not played recently need not stand in the way,” returned Andrew, “although we would page 270 be delighted if you felt inclined to join us as a playing member.”
“Well, besides that, you see I never had any great practical knowledge of cricket, and were I ever called on to take part in a discussion over a dispute you might probably find the schoolmaster abroad, and it would be fatal for him to show ignorance on any point where accurate knowledge should be displayed.”
We are prepared,” said Eric, “to save you from any such inconvenience. All disputes will be decided by a committee appointed for the purpose.”
“That, then, breaks the point off that objection. Then what would be expected of me if I accepted your flattering offer of honour.”
“The honour would be mutual, Mr. Blackie. If you regard it an honour to be asked to preside over our club, we think you will confer an honour on us by accepting the position. You would of course give us the honour of your name, and control us in our meetings,” replied Andrew.
“We shall also expect you to see us in the field as frequently as you can spare the time to come along, and of course you will open the season for us,” added Eric.
“How many members have you been able to enrol,” he furthered questioned, beginning to show that his interest in the club was increasing.
“We have a membership of fifteen,” answered Andrew.
“And are you likely to have any opponent club?”
“I believe Mr. Crawford is trying to organise another team, but I cannot tell how far he has succeeded,” replied Eric.
“That may help to put more life in the play. By the way, with whom did the idea of your club originate?”page 271
“Oh, a few of us got talking about getting up some sore of recreation, and we decided on cricket,” answered Eric, again avoiding an acknowledgment of the fact that he had been personally working it up for several weeks.
“Then probably I may assume that it is mainly composed of the old band of chums.”
“Very nearly,” replied Andrew. “We hang together pretty well still, but one or two recent arrivals have also joined us.”
“You will be the better for a little rivalry,” suggested the schoolmaster. “Occasional contests are the life of sports. I hope Mr. Crawford may succeed in getting a good club together, if for no other reason than the spirit of emulation the existence of two clubs will create.”
“I presume,” said Eric a little later, “that you will honour us by an acceptance of our presidentship?”
This was answered in the affirmative, accompanied with some remarks of scruples and expressions of thanks for the honour they had conferred.
One Saturday afternoon shortly after this conversation was fixed for the opening day, when a match was arranged between the two rival teams. The Southern Greys won the toss, and were under the orders of Captain Melville, whose knowledge of the game in the Old Country was understood to be creditable. The field was in the keeping of the True Blues, with Captain Crawford in command.
The ceremony of opening the wicket, however, lay between the two presidents—Mr. Strode representing the True Blues, had the ball, and Mr. Blackie the bat. The first ball came up slowly, but wide, and was not struck. It was bowled in again at a good speed, dead on the wicket, page 272 but was received on the bat with a beautiful stroke, and lifted clean over the boundary, amid the vociferous cheers of a crowd of bystanders, and the presidents, walking forward, met in the centre of the pitch, and there they shook hands and declared the wicket open.
Tom Wallace was the first batsman at the wicket and George Grahame the first bowler, who both dealt gently for a few minutes. Grahame was a powerful young man, who knew the art of bowling, and Wallace being warned, stood on his defence, at first merely saving his wicket. The first over was a maiden237. Then Frank Lang had to defend himself against the bowling of Crawford, who from the first gave evidence of his skill, but Lang took one run out of the over, thus putting the first mark on the score, and then he had to face Grahame, who drove in hard, but only to put the score up two more.
Wallace now was attacked by Crawford. The first ball was simply stopped, but the second was hit for four, the third was a bye, and the fourth ran the score up two, while the fifth raised the ball well over the heads of the fielders and landed in the scrub beyond the boundary.
When the score stood at twenty-five Wallace was caught by Young, and his bat was taken by Peter McKechnie. Lang went out at thirty-three, his wicket being taken by Grahame, and Melville went in. These two played a steady, even game, until McKechnie was stumped at fifty-three, when Eric took the bat. Melville and he raised the score by twos, threes, and fours until it reached eighty-two, and the bowlers were changed, Proudfoot and Anderson being sent to replace them. Then came a little bye-play, but at length the balls came in in a manner page 273 dangerous to the wickets, and the bats were on their mettle. Melville sent three to boundary in succession, and Eric, who was not confident in his position, played for safety rather than show, taking advantage of small scores only, but the playing of Andrew roused the enthusiasm of the spectators to an intense degree, until at last his wicket was struck, and he went off the field amid resounding cheers.
Carmichael next took his stand, and he and Eric playing with caution, were gradually increasing the score, when, to the surprise of all, he lifted a ball from Proudfoot just over the boundary, and then followed gentle touches, then again giving the strength of his arms he succeeded in drawing forth cheer after cheer for his masterly strokes, until at last he was caught by Grahame, and retired in the midst of echoing applause.
The game grew quickly to a close as J. Thomson, Miller, Stewart, Hair, and Robertson lost their wickets in quick succession, leaving Eric to walk from the field “not out” when the score stood at 187.
All the ladies of the settlement had taken an interest in the event, and the friends of the rival clubs had vied with one another in the provision of tea and cake, but the whole was manifested in the best of form; in fact, it was a matter of zealous co-operation and good will in the spreading of a generous lunch at which the respective members of the club were seen in happy intercourse discussing the relative merits of the players.
After lunch the True Blues went to the wickets, Russell and Lindsay batting first, to the bowling of Carmichael and McKechnie. Russell failed to hit a straight ball and was bowled. Massey took his place, and was page 274 caught for five. Lindsay played carefully, and occasionally made a good stroke, getting three to boundary before his wickets fell. Lowe played a rash game, and went out for two, when Fraser succeeded, and did fair work, putting on twenty before he found he had allowed his wickets to go. Lindsay's fell for twelve, and a slow game followed between Garvic and Hill, who were both retired for small numbers.
Proudfoot and Crawford were together at the wickets when the score stood at eighty-eight—four wickets to fall for ninety-nine runs. Melville now sent Eric Thomson to relieve Carmichael. Proudfoot struck well and was running up his score when he was caught by Wallace, and Grahame replaced him. The two individual rivals now stood facing each other. Crawford, resolved to take spinners off Eric, prepared for fight, and all spectators who knew the men were showing their sympathy with the one or the other. For some time Crawford was satisfied to hold his ground. Eric tempted him into freer play by easy balls bowled straight, and Crawford drove two of them for fours, but then came a swift one with a break, before which the stumps went flying, and Crawford was forced to leave the field.
Anderson carried in the last bat for the Blues, and with Grahame played a determined game, until the latter was caught by Melville; the score standing at 187—149. There was great excitement when the result was announced. Men and women hastened to the tent used as a pavilion to congratulate, or otherwise, as friends chanced to be on the winning or losing side.
Among the first who spoke to Eric Thomson on his coming in from the wicket was Miss McKechnie, who, of course, was waiting to meet her brother Peter, who also deserved a word of congratulation.page 275
“I am so pleased to be able to congratulate you, Mr. Thomson,” she said, extending her hand to him, while her face beamed with smiles of pleasure. “Your last ball was so splendid. Who would have believed you were such a cricketer. I have enjoyed the afternoon greatly.
“I am glad to hear the game has been worth coming out to witness, and that it has been a pleasant pastime,” he replied.
“Oh, pleasant, yes; I hope we shall have more of such afternoons, and at frequent intervals. I do so much like to see cricket, especially when it is so good as to-day's playing.”
“You are very complimentary, Miss McKechnie, but here is your big brother looking for me; I must go into the tent.”
And he disappeared beneath the canvas roof to join his comrades. Turning away from the tent, she met her mother, who had followed her from the other end of the ground at a much slower pace.
“You spoke to him, Isabel?”
“Yes, but he is always so coldly polite.”
“Did you congratulate him on his bowling?”
“That was the first thing I did.”
“He simply said I was very complimentary, and was glad I had enjoyed looking on.”
“He won't forget it; men are vain enough to think over generous compliments.”
“Men are vain enough to be provoking.”
“Take my advice, Isabel, and refuse to be provoked. Time works great changes. Patience brings its own reward. page 276 We must wait for him, for I want to see Peter, and perhaps we may all walk home together.”
“I feel more inclined to rush away home alone.”
“Nonsense, Isabel! He wasn't rude to you. You must remember he was in the height of his excitement, and his comrades were all about him.”
“He never has any enthusiasm when I speak to him. I can't understand how the boys all seem to like him so much.”
“Now, Isabel, your enthusiasm has just received a little unintended repulse, and you feel vexed. You are not brave enough.”
“I thought myself quite brave to run up and say what I did. He wasn't kind, and I have a right to feel it.”
“But you would not be wise to show you resent it. A good salmon is worth angling for, Isabel.”
“It takes a barbed spear to catch an eel, however.”
“Isabel,” said the elder lady seriously, “I never saw you in a mood like this before. Be-think yourself; yon fine new house is not going up for nothing. He has been more friendly with you than with any other lass, and there is no lad he is more or so much with than your brother. You may be sure you will get a surprise some of these days.
“There is Mrs. Thomson with Betty and Mary. They are coming over here.”
Looking in the direction indicated by Isabel, Mrs. McKechnie waved her hand in a familiar manner, which was immediately returned.
“Oh, mother, why did you wave to them? We shall have to speak now, and I wanted to get away.”page 277
“Speak, to be sure we will speak, my dear; I am surprised to hear you talk so. It is a good opportunity, and we must not be so foolish as to lose it.”
In a second or two more they were exchanging civilities, and Isabel had driven off her disappointed looks and was smiling as if nothing had crossed her.
“How have you enjoyed the match?” said Mrs. Thomson, without waiting to ask for her neighbour's state of health.
“I have enjoyed it better than anything else since we sailed from Glasgow. I did rejoice to see Crawford's wicket go flying before Eric's ball.”
“But Peter did well too,” replied Mrs. Thomson.
“Perhaps he did; but I was delighted to see the storeman brought down by his adversary. I thought more of Eric doing it than of anyone else. Crawford has always been against him, and has kept up the spite.”
“They were never bad friends, Mrs. McKechnie. They never had a fall out.”
“Thanks to your son's good judgment then, Mrs. Thomson. No one falls out with him. That's just what Crawford dislikes him for. If he could manage to pick a quarrel he could have his revenge.”
“I fear you are too severe on Mr. Crawford. I never heard Eric speak of him as bearing him any ill-will. But let that be; I have something else to speak about that will be more pleasant for us all.” And then she paused for a moment, when Mrs. McKechnie, impatient, excited, and curious, exclaimed:page 278
“Its seldom we hear things like that; go on, Mrs. Thomson, and give us the news.”
“Well, I was just going to say, as you had a party a while since in your house, we are thinking about having one too, but for a different purpose; and we're hoping to see you all with us to spend the night.”
“To spend the night!” cried Isabel, in a voice much louder than she intended, suspecting something that might prove even a greater disappointment than her recent one.
“Yes, we shall expect you to stay to the dancing, and that will not be over till three or four; we are going to have a wedding, you know!”
“A wedding!” cried Isabel, turning pale and laying her hand on her mother's shoulder to steady herself. Then rallying her fortitude she quickly continued, “Oh, how nice; tell us all about it Mrs. Thomson, but let us sit down over on that seat while we listen.”
Then the five women stepped to a stout form and sat in a row.
“Well, you see,” resumed Mrs. Thomson, “Mary here and James Carrmichael were going together before we left Edinburgh, and since he has got enough to put up a bit of a house, the two of them are just going to put their heads together and set up a home of their own.”
“Let me wish you joy, Mary,” said Isabel, to whom the news was indeed pleasant and a relief, which again remantled her cheeks with the hue of young and vigorous life.
“Let me do the same, Mary; you may be a proud lassie to get such an industrious, steady, and sensible lad. And is that fine big house folk have all been saying is Eric's the one you are going to live in?”page 279
“Oh, no,” answered her mother, “James has taken a house from Mr. Pain, who is coming to live in the shop he has put up in Princes Street; and he intends to build his own next Summer.”
“Then I suppose we may expect to hear of Eric's wedding coming off next,” said Mrs. McKechnie, just to try what she might learn on this point.
“As to Eric,” answered Mrs. Thomson, “we cannot say much about him, but I suppose his day is coming.”
“Well, when birds begin to build their nests it is not usually difficult to detect which are mates, if they are carefully watched. And the nest is never built to remain empty.”
“That must be left for time to tell, Mrs. McKechnie, in Eric's case. He tells very little on that point lately.”
“Here are the lads coming, mother,” said Betty.
And they rose, joined the young men, and turned themselves homeward.
232 The Clutha River (or the Mata-Au in Māori) is Otago’s main river, and the longest waterway in the South Island.
233 The Taieri River; during the Gold Rush, much alluvial gold was sourced from the waterway, though its stores are largely depleted now.
234 Historically distinct from Dunedin city, Green Island lies in the Kaikorai Valley, and was home to the Burnside meat-freezing works from 1883 to 2008.
235 “O Aileen, Dear Aileen – The Irishman’s Song,” James Reed.
236 Cricket was a firmly established English sport by the time settlers came to New Zealand; it was regarded not only as a game, but as a system of “manly ethics” which demonstrated English superiority.
237 An over in which no runs are scored off the bowler.