The Knot Tied
Early in the morning of Monday, April 13, 1896, we were married, my bride being eighteen and I five-and-twenty. I was, of course, unconscionably proud of her. I have never ceased to admire her courage in leaving her village home in England at such an age in order to sail, quite unattended, to earth's remotest bound and to live a life every tiniest detail of which was entirely unfamiliar to her.
Relationship of Permanence?
When I left London on that bleak January afternoon, I intended to maintain a decorous and friendly correspondence with my sweetheart, making no faintest reference to my fondest hopes until I had firmly entrenched myself in my New Zealand pastorate. By that time, I argued, I should be in a position to judge as to whether it was the kind of land and the kind of life to which to invite her. This plausible project satisfied me less and less each day.
During the six long weeks at sea, the haunting theme monopolized my mind sleeping and waking. In the process, the most delicate problems presented themselves. I realized that, since she was absolutely uncommitted, and perhaps sublimely unaware of the tumult that she had awakened in my breast, it would be the easiest thing in the world for her to become involved in some other entanglement. Indeed, thinking of her as I naturally thought of her, such a tragedy appeared almost inevitable. Who, seeing her, could be insensible of her attractions? Then, surveying the matter from her standpoint, I was forced to recognize that, by deferring all action until after my arrival in New Zealand, I was laying myself open to the suspicion that I desired to exploit the femininity of that far field before deciding on the importation of a bride.
Impressed by the cogency of this shipboard reasoning, I therefore resolved upon an immediate overture. When, a few days before reaching my destination, the Tainui called at Hobart in Tasmania—destined to be our future home—I posted a private and confidential letter to her father, apprising him of my sentiments and intentions and leaving it to his own discretion as to whether or not he unfolded my secret to the young lady herself.
Popping the Question
Having posted that fateful letter and again put out to sea, my tortured mind swung to its normal poise and I was able to concentrate on the preparation of my opening sermons in New Zealand. Those sermons—the manuscripts of which I still possess—were preached on March 17, 1895—St. Patrick's Day. In view of the warmth of the welcome that had been accorded me, and the enthusiasm that had marked those opening services, I felt that any delay in the development of my love affair would be absurd. I therefore wrote the very next day begging my lady-love to join me and entreating her to wire her reply. On the third of May that cable reached me and I was the happiest man in either hemisphere.
How, I wondered, could I break this glorious news to my people? But old Wullie, my senior deacon, took the matter entirely out of my hands. It chanced that, at about this time, the church found itself in financial difficulties. I do not mean that they had insufficient money: I mean that they had too much. The one paralysing dread of these cautious Scots folk had been lest they should lure a young minister from the distant Homeland and then find themselves unable to support him. This terrifying apprehension, and this alone, had constrained them, through several years, to postpone the realization of old Wullie's darling dream—the calling of a minister.
Flush with Funds
And now that the minister was actually in residence, the fear became still more acute, with the result that the members contributed with frenzied munificence. The money poured in: the exchequer literally overflowed: and poor Tammas, the treasurer, was at his wit's end.
`If the church gets to know that we have all this money,' he exclaimed, aghast, to his fellow-officers in the privacy of the vestry, `the collections will drop off to nothing!' It was generally agreed that, in some way or other, the money must be spent, and each man undertook to think out some means of disposing of it.
But murder will out! At the church meeting held a day or two later, a private member, little dreaming that he was precipitating a crisis of the first magnitude, asked for a financial statement. Tammas rose ponderously, the picture of abject misery. Anguish was stamped upon his face. He could scarcely have looked more forlorn or woebegone had he stood convicted of misappropriating the church funds. He confessed, with the countenance of a culprit, that he had fifty pounds in hand! The position was appalling.
But, at that crucial moment, Wullie, as his custom was, sprang into the breach and saved the situation. He rose deliberately, a sly twinkle in his eye, and quietly asked:
`Would the meenister tell us if he has a lassie?'
I was covered with confusion: the cablegram was in my pocket: and I hid my face to conceal my blushes. I confess that, for a few seconds, I lost control of that meeting. But, happily, my very confusion saved me the necessity of a reply. My secret was out. Wullie was on his feet again.
`Then, Mr. Chairman,' he said, with the gravity of a statesman, `I move that we buy a block of land with that fifty pounds and proceed to build the meenister a manse!'
The motion was carried with enthusiasm. The treasurer looked like a man who had been saved from the very brink of destruction.
Building a Home
The house was built and was for many years my home. It had but one discomfort, and that was the sorrowful reflection that poor Wullie never lived to see either the manse or its mistress. One Saturday afternoon, shortly after his adroit move at the meeting, without a sickness or a struggle, he suddenly passed from us. It seemed incredible. The entire township was in tears. I have seldom seen grief so universal and sincere.
Financée on High Seas
By this time I was absorbed in a whirl of rainbow-tinted plans. On November 14, I received a cablegram telling me that my bride-elect would sail by the Ruapehu in February. And on March 25 she landed at Wellington, the New Zealand capital. Wellington is nearly five hundred miles from Mosgiel; but I was determined to meet her. As to whether or not I did actually meet her has always been a moot point between us. Here are the facts.
Taking a Cold Shower
The Ruapehu was due on March 24. In those days ships had no means of advising ports of their approach. The only way of meeting a vessel was by haunting the wharves till she appeared. At dawn on March 24, I took up my vigil on the pier. It rained—a steady, misty drizzle—all through the day. I was chilled to the bone and soaked to the skin. When, late at night, I was assured that the boat would not venture in until daylight, I returned to the home of the Rev. C. and Mrs. Dallaston—my host and hostess—for a few hours' sleep. At daylight I was again on the rain-swept pier. In the early afternoon, visibility having become poorer than ever, the harbour officials advised me to go home. `No captain in his senses would bring his ship through the heads in this weather!' they said. And, as I was again saturated, I acted accordingly.
On reaching the house, Mrs. Dallaston, good motherly soul, insisted on my changing my clothes. Having no other garments with me, she considerately produced a suit of Mr. Dallaston's. Now my good host was of a distinctly petite build, whilst I was of clumsier proportions. Recognizing the wisdom of Mrs. Dallaston's kindly counsel, however, I contrived with a struggle to encase myself in the diminutive attire placed at my disposal. My own wet clothes were put to dry.
Late for a Date
This transformation had scarcely been completed when, looking from the window, I descried the tops of two tall masts moving above the roofs of the city buildings. I cried to my good hostess to bring me my dripping suit, and, making no attempt to wrestle with the skin-tight clothes I was wearing, I pulled the wet garments over the dry ones and dashed frantically from the house. A city-bound tram was just passing the door, and, catching the driver's eye, I boarded it. At the very first curve, that hideous tram left the rails and shot across the pavement. How I eventually reached the wharf I cannot now remember. I only know that, by the time I hurried breathlessly on to the pier, the Ruapehu had already berthed, and the fond embraces of which I had dreamed a thousand dreams had to be punctuated by laborious explanations and humiliating apologies.
Cooling Off Period
All's well that ends well, however. The laws of New Zealand required that, my lady-love being under age and having no relatives in the Dominion capable of giving legal assent, a delay of three weeks must intervene between her arrival and her wedding. But even three weeks come to an end at last; and, as soon as their tardy course was fully run, we were married. That early morning ceremony, at which exactly half a dozen people, including ourselves, were present, was conducted by the Rev. J. J. Doke.
F W Boreham, My Pilgrimage (London: The Epworth Press, 1940), 123-128.
Image: The Ruapehu on which Stella arrived in NZ.