The Counterfeit Seal: A Tale of Otago's First Settlers.
Chapter V. — A Compromise
With zeal and hope he claimed the envied prize;
But fate repelled him with a compromise.
“Not yet bold youth, the prize so near thy grasp,
Demands one stronger to undo the clasp;
With this bright casket, soothe thy waiting hours
Till time shall prove maturity of powers.”
When evening came Archie and Eric had too much work before them to think of returning to Edinburgh that night. They were both fully occupied until they could see no longer by the light of day and yet had not finished the whole of the repairing set before them in the morning; the consequence was that they would have to resume work at the first peep of day next morning, to be able to take the road again in time to keep Archie's next appointment.
Indeed, Archie had very much cooled in his opposition to Mr. Thomson's movements, he had thought over the matter while going on with his work, and came to the conclusion that after all it was a business he had little or no personal interest in, then why should he put himself about for other folk? Of course he still felt that if he had the opportunity he would do his best to reason the man out of such a mad action, and he would do so when they met, but he was not sure that he would be justified in going to any special trouble about it. So he resolved to let things take page 41 their course until he might see his friend—perhaps next Sabbath. He would then make a point to have a talk with Mr. Thomson on the subject.
So the week went past in the usual way with Eric and his duties, though very differently in his mind. He worked as steadily as ever, but his actions were mechanical, for his thoughts were constantly on other things He was curious to know the results of his father's inquiries, but had to exercise his patience. He was anxious on account of the Knoxs' opposition, and feared trouble might arise from that direction; and his imagination was drawing pictures of various sorts of life in the new land. Never again during the whole week did Archie mention the subject of New Zealand to him, so that he was closed in to his own cogitations; and the day-dream from which Archie's sudden announcement had roused him was often dreamed over again, until it became to him like the memory of a reality. So that while he was building up a mere fancy, he grew so accustomed to the happy picture, that the idea of going to Otago was inseparable from his romantic conception of what his future home should be.
At length Saturday came. It was the last day of the longest week he had ever lived, and that day was the longest part of it, so strong had become his desire to get home to hear the news.
About six o'clock that evening he walked into his home. He was wearied looking, but the eager expression of his face hid the marks of the six days' anxiety. As he made for the “big chair,” his eye caught sight of the “Otago Journal,” as he lifted it with a nervous grasp his mother came in from the kitchen, where she had been busy preparing page 42 for the home-coming of her family. Her greeting had more than the common welcome in it. There was an additional buoyancy in her voice; a more elastic energy in her movements, which were more evident to her son than to herself.
“Father brought that home from the office last Monday along with a whole bundle of other things for us to read,” she said. Before he had time to speak a word in response she continued, “And we've been reading nothing else ever since.”
“Then he saw Mr. McGlashan,” said Eric.
“Oh, yes, and more than him; but you just read that paper while I get things ready before they all come in. You'll find more there than I could tell you in double the time.” And she returned to her maternal duties.
The first article he read was descriptive of Otago Harbour, commencing with its extrance from the ocean; of the safety of its anchorage, the beautiful natural features of the scenery from the Heads39 to the site chosen for the town. He was greatly interested and became, metaphorically, lost in the paper. He was now finding something he could grasp; something from which he could form a more correct opinion of the country he was so impatient to see. The description was so graphic that he was captivated with the mental picture it produced. So much was he immersed in the contents that he was unconscious of his mother's movements, as she entered and retired repeatedly from the room. Nor was it until his father's strong voice resounded from the door as he entered, that his attention was once diverted.
“You've got the ‘Otago Journal’ Eric,” were the first words bis father spoke on entering. “That's well. I've read it through and through, and through again.”page 43
Mr. Thomson was by this time too full of the subject to give Eric peace to read, but at once began to give him an interesting resumé of the occurrences of the week and the contents of the papers he had received from the office. Concluding with the very important and emphatically stated announcement, that he had made up his mind to go by the first ship; provided everything could be trot into order in time.
Having heard that point satisfactorily decided Eric told of the offer made to him by Mr. Rabb. It was as great a surprise to his parents as it had been to himself, and they all expressed their deep sense of Archie's kindness, but the future movements were settled, and all they could do was to assure Archie of their sincere gratitude, and decline to accept his liberal offer.
Eric had now to consult once more with Kirsty. She expected him according to previous appointment, and was ready to take a walk with him—waiting in the garden for his coming. She was not personally averse to leaving the land of her mother, for she loved her lad well enough to go with him if she had been permitted to exercise her own will.
During the week her father had learned that Mr. Thomson had determined to go, and having once more talked the matter over with his wife, they together had instructed Kirsty as to her behaviour, and the answer she was to give to Eric.
She had not long to wait. Eric was a punctual lover, and reached the gate just as the clock struck the minute of his promise.page 44
Her manner was more embarrassed than usual when they met, not from coldness of heart, but because of the restraint her recent directions had put upon her. She felt that a crisis had come. It might be that the fond hopes of more than two years' growth, and consequently now well rooted in her young heart, were that night to be torn up.
They by mutual consent turned their steps towards a pleasant avenue leading in front of some pretty villas, half hidden in the waving trees that overhung the high hedges.
“You have heard I suppose,” at length said Eric,” that father has resolved to become an emigrant. That is more than ever I expected, when I spoke to you of my own desire to go to Otago.”
“I have,” answered Kirsty, “and I am sorry.”
“I'm grieved to hear you say that,” returned Eric.
“But the best of friends must part,” she said in a dull mechanical sort of manner.
“What makes you say that, my love?” he asked, looking into her pretty fair face, as he spoke.
“It has been the common experience of men and women,” she replied, averting her countenance from him.
“You surely don't mean that we must part! That would break my heart, lass, whatever it might do to yours.” Part! No, that must never be said, much less done. Can you not manage to come with us?”
“Do you mean it, Eric?” she asked with a faint smile, as she looked at his serious features. “But that must not be.”
“I do mean it,” he said resolutely. “Why, my love, must it not be? My mother and three sisters are going, page 45 and you would have companions in them. Why not come?”
“My father and my mother are both against it, and refused to allow it,” she answered. “But don't you ever think of me, our courses must now be different.”
“No, Kirsty,” and he slipped his strong manly right arm round her waist. “That must not be taken as settled in such an off-hand fashion. I have given you my promise, and you have pledged your troth40 to me, and I will not give give way so easily. It was for you I first thought of seeking the new land, for you I have planned to live by hard and honest toil until I have gained what will make us comfortable in after years. With you out of my accounts, all would be worthless. I declare before Heaven, Kirsty, you are the central gem of all the setting, and it's either you and all the rest, or nothing at all.”
This speech—spoken with all the vigour of an ardent young heart, breathing truth in every syllable—caused the fountain of her tears to burst.
“You must not speak like that, Eric,” she murmured, almost in a whisper, for her heart was too full to allow her to articulate her words. “Mother and father say I must just let you go, if you want to, I can stay at home. You will soon forget me, and find some other one to speak your love to.” And as if she already imagined him walking with another lover, as he then walked with her, she made a half involuntary effort to free herself from his encircling hold.
“Do not wrong me so grievously, Kirsty. I swear before the pure light of you bright star shining now in the sky before us, that I never did make love to a lassie but page 46 you, and my love will be true to you until death shall come between us.”
“I believe you mean it, Eric, but if when you are far across the ocean, and know that I have set you free, and a bonnie girl comes across your path and smiles bewitchingly when you speak to her, are you sure, Eric, that then you would remember what you have said to me just now?”
“My father has the character of being a man who loves to speak the truth, Kirsty, and there is nothing my mother puts a higher value on than truthfulness. They have done their best to instil the same respect for that immortal principle in me, their son, and it is the highest ambition of my life to have others say the same of me. While you are living, and I have breath, I promise to keep my word to you. Wherever I may be, I can never forget saying that, my heart's love.”
The solemn tones in which he spoke those words made an indelible impression on the young girl's memory. They were sentences to be remembered by both of them, and she could but hear them and keep silent, for only one thought was now present to her as possible for her to utter, but parental commands forbade her to speak it.
Having waited for her answer as long as his nervous and impatient state of mind would permit, he spoke again, as from the depths of a yearning heart.
“Does that not convince you of my determination to be true and faithful? What more could I say to prove it to you? Now do give me a kind answer.”
“But, Eric, although I can no longer doubt your loyal heart, and your truthful words, it is impossible for me to consent to go with you to New Zealand. Father and mother both forbid it.”page 47
This was a terrible blow for Eric; for a minute or so he was stunned. She spoke now so firmly. It sounded like the resolution of despair. He knew her heart was his, and that she was fighting a battle more distressing than his own.
Without speaking they turned their faces homeward. They had each laid bare the secret burdens of their hearts; what more could they do? They were bound by the golden chains of love to each other, but cruel fate was exerting its strength to snap the links asunder. Still he was resolved not to surrender, even before the august fiat41 of her parents, if by any possible means he could overcome their prejudice. One word more he wanted from her before he should encounter their opposition.
“We have had a serious talk,” he said at length. “I have spoken openly to you; now, my dear, give me a short clear answer to this question: ‘Do you think you can still love and confide in me as truly as you have so often said you did in the past?”
“Eric,” she said, “I have not changed; the change is all on account of your change of prospects.”
“Then you would rather have me stay here; and prefer to accept a poor cobbler for your husband, than go to become mistress of a fine house, with comfort and prosperity in New Zealand?”
“It is my duty, Eric, to obey my parents at the present time. You must not blame me for keeping the Fourth Commandment42.”
“I do not blame you, my love. I honour you all the more for your fidelity to their wishes, and that only makes you the dearer in my eyes, if that were possible. But I will presently have a talk with that honoured pair.”page 48
“They are very positive,” she urged. “They declare solemnly that they will never consent to my going with you so long as they have a right to insist on their will being reverenced by me.”
“Well,” ejaculated the anxious youth, “there's one way of overcoming that difficulty, Kirsty: we might get married, and then you would be free from that filial bond of duty. But I was not going to propose that just now; still, if it is the only way out of the trouble, perhaps it would be from all points the best plan after all.”
“That's what they will not hear of, I'm sure,” she replied, in a sad tone of voice. “If you must go, Eric, go without me; make up your mind to that and be contented.”
“If I go without you, Kirsty, it will only be to come back for you, when I have made a home fit for you to live in, and that'll not be long.” In speaking these words, Eric threw a grave energy into them, and Kirsty felt how resolute he was in his determination that his part of the arrangement should not fall through, and she felt constrained to answer him in words approving of his proposal, but the commands of her parents forbade her to consent to any proposal short of his remaining in Scotland. To ask him to abandon all further designs for his departure seemed to her unwise, and only likely to end in disappointment to herself and distress to him. Yet had she known, that just at that moment, he was reconsidering the offer of Archie Rabb, and had she but pressed him by one direct appeal, he would have given way. As things were he felt he had her sympathy: that in her deeper soul she approved of his emigration, and would have done her best to aid him but for the opposition of her parents: an opposition he had not page 49 yet supposed was too firm to be overcome by a little quiet reason and a fuller explanation.
When they reached Kirsty's home they found a mutual acquaintance had called, and was then in the midst of a discussion on the folly of people leaving a country like Scotland for the purpose of living in wild, uncivilised, or uninhabited places.
David Moir43 was a junior clerk in the same office with Mr. Knox, to whom the latter had related the news of the Thomsons' intentions, and found in him a young man who was perfectly satisfied to remain where he was all his life, rather than risk a fate less happy. The dullness of a life cut off from city amusements and from social rank were enough to make him shudder at the thought of self-banishment among a few fanatics. He enjoyed society and all the diversification of social interchange, and what would interfere with the free realisation of these would, he considered, be as had as death to him.
He was therefore ready to have a wordy wrestle with Eric as soon as he entered, and provided his own opportunity.
“So you are bound for New Zealand, I am very credibly informed, Eric?” he began, as soon as the first civilities of meeting were over.
“It is my intention to go provided things turn out according to my hopes,” was the other's cautious reply.
“Just so. But I understand your father has made up his mind, and of course you are not going to stay behind.”
“I hope not.”
“Hope not! I was told the romantic idea was your own, and that you had the honour of influencing your father.”page 50
“A slight mistake, of little importance, however. My father has been contemplating such a step for years.”
“Oh, then it is of older formation than I thought. Has the home of your fathers, the land of Bruce44 and Wallace45, not room enough in it for you, Eric, that you seek to find a country better than what was good enough for them?”
“I will always love my native land, David, but there are still good reasons for what I wish to do. Bruce and Wallace and a host of others were compelled to rise in power against cruel evils prevailing in Scotland. Some they overcame, some were irresistible—even to their valour—and these continuing to live, have produced others of their brood, till Scotland, although a land of “heroes slain46”—although a land where the friends of Liberty have fought many victorious battles against Oppression, is still a land of much grief, of sore labour, with little joy and less reward for the toiler.”
“Well, for my part,” answered Moir, “I could find more pleasure in one week in Scotland than I believe it possible to see in your cannibal islands in a lifetime, and as to reward for toil, that remains to be tested. It seems to me no better than a literal leap in the dark. Does no one advise you to think again on the matter?”
“Why, I think on nothing else, and in my meditations I think I am careful to examine all the sides of the question; and still the more I review the facts the more am I confirmed in the wisdom of going.”
“In the wisdom of banishing yourself away from all friends, of throwing yourself in the companionship of wild whalers and wilder savages; of deporting yourself to a land of darkness and joyless mystery! The wisdom, depend page 51 upon it, is very difficult for minds free from prepossession and prejudice to discover.”
“That's what I say.” interjected Mr. Knox; “and in addition to the folly of men going themselves, it seems to me nothing less than heartless cruelty to take women and children to such outlandish places.”
“You speak wisely, Mr. Knox,” said Moir. “For my part, while I think it very brave of women to accompany their friends on such wild expeditions, it would be more considerate, more noble, indeed, more Christian, for the men to go, say, twelve months or two years in advance of the women—if they will go—and when they have reclaimed the desert, and built houses, come back for their women folk, so that these weaker vessels of the race might escape the unavoidable hardships inseparable from the conditions of those who first arrive in a new country.”
In speaking like this David Moir was not guiltless of having an object in view. He had for months past been anxious to win the gentle attention of Kirsty Knox, but had found in her only a polite friendliness, while she, with a scrupulous faithfulness to her affianced lover, gave no encouragement to David's advances. It now occurred to him that were Eric away in a far land, he might have some chance of gaining his purpose, that absence might weaken Kirsty's regard for Eric Thomson, and that perhaps even the conduct of his rival might be converted into arguments in his own favour.
Eric, on the other hand, who was simple and confiding in his nature, observed that the last proposal of David Moir was agreeable to Mr. and Mrs. Knox, and believing that by acknowledging the propriety of such a course he might page 52 secure the goodwill of Kirsty's parents, or at least break down their strong opposition, he said:
“When the women folk are prepared, with a full knowledge of the circumstances, to accompany their husbands, fathers, brothers, and friends generally, then I can see no possible reason for their staying behind, but where any of them prefer to wait until things have been prepared for them, then it would be quite proper for them to be left behind for that purpose.”
David's eye glanced eagerly at Kirsty to see its effect upon her, and he immediately observed a look of partial, yet wistful approval, and he determined to use his influence to secure the departure of Eric, without the object of his affection.
“Fancy,” he said, “a young woman who has never known what it is to be, even for a short week, away from her comfortable home, being dragged off to endure a life only fit for hill-men or seamen. I am sure no honest man could desire such a fate for the woman he loves.”
Kirsty would have spoken her mind on the subject, as she had attempted to do once before, but a glance of her father's forbidding eye fell upon her in time, and she kept enforced silence, while resenting the idea that women, in whose body coursed the blood of Scotland's women of historic fame, should be spoken of as unfit to face the world in the protection of those who would devote their lives to their welfare, but she knew it would be worse than useless for her to attempt to reason her parents into consenting to her accompanying the Thomsons, for the only result she could expect was a reprimand, and she was not prepared to risk such an affront in the presence of the young men.page 53
At length, after David Moir felt certain from the nature of the conversation that there was no risk of Kirsty being allowed to leave her father's house on, what was usually called “the mad expedition,” he took his leave; and Eric spoke plainly, with due respect to the wishes and prejudices of Mr. and Mrs. Knox.
He pointed out that so far as he could learn from Kirsty herself, she was not opposed to accompany his mother and sisters on the voyage. He admitted that he was not then in a position to marry, but a happy home would be made for their daughter in his father's house until he had got one of his own, if she would go with them. His father would assume the responsibility willingly, and his mother was prepared to receive Miss Knox as one of her own daughters.
This was stoutly resisted by the parents, who reminded him of the impropriety of such a plan. For the sake of both it was their duty to keep Kirsty in their own protection until he was ready to marry. If he stayed in Scotland they were quite agreeable for them to enter into that holy union as soon as they saw their way to do so, but what he had suggested was impossible.
After much consideration, Eric succeeded in obtaining a removal of their objections to his voyage provided the whole of their future were left to the sole will of Kirsty. She was to be free to hold him to his promise, or to set him free, but at present the understanding was that he was to proceed to Otago, and, if possible, make a suitable home, and either send for Kirsty, who might in the course of time find suitable companions who were emigrating thither, and go with them, to join him, or he might come himself to marry her, and take her to his colonial possession.
39 Taiaroa Head overlooks the mouth of Otago Harbour from the Otago Peninsula, and is named for Te Matenga Taiaroa, a 19th century Māori chief of the Ngai Tahu iwi.
40 A promise of marriage.
41 A respected decision or decree.
42 “Honour thy father and thy mother” (The Bible: King James Version with Apocrypha, Ex. 20. 12). Although Lutherans and Catholics consider this to be the Fourth Commandment, the majority of Protestant religions believe it to be about the sabbath (“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy,” Ex. 20. 8-11).
43 A possible allusion to the Rev. John Moir, who came to New Zealand in 1853 to act as minister of a second Presbytery in Wellington.
44 Robert VIII of Bruce (1274 – 1329) was the first king of Scotland (1306-1329), who freed the nation from English rule by winning the Battle of Bannockburn (1314).
45 Sir William Wallace (1270 – 1305) is one of Scotland’s greatest national heroes, who lead Scottish resistance forces against British rule during his time as guardian of the Scottish kingdom. He was succeeded by Robert VIII of Bruce.
46 A reference to the war-cry of the Harwick men who fought at the battle of Flodden (1513), which was turned into a song still sung at festive gatherings of Harwick; “Teribus ye teri odin/ Sons of heroes slain at Flodden/ Imitating Border bowmen/ Aye defend your rights and common.”