THE PILOT'S DAUGHTERS
By Sarah Doudney
On a January day in the year 1838 a weather-beaten man was tramping along the desolate road which leads to Fort Cumberland, on the island of Portsea. The sun had just gone down, a few pink clouds relieved the dull grey of the wintry sky, and a southeasterly wind was churning up the waters of the English Channel. But Jonah Marbeck, in his rough pilot coat, was well protected against the cold, and cared nothing for the sharp breeze that whistled its familiar tune in his ears. He was an able, strongly-built man of fifty, with black hair and piercing grey eyes, bright as a hawk's. Good service had those same eyes done their owner on gloomy nights when home-bound ships were making their way through the Channel, and on chill November mornings when the white fog hung like a curtain over the coast. Many a captain had relied on Jonah Marbeck's keen sight and long experience, and had never trusted in vain.
On his right hand as he walked was old Fort Cumberland, its old parapets rising above the smooth slope that swelled around it; and on the left lay Eastney Lake, all mud and little shimmering pools, for the tide had gone out. A solitary boy in a small boat was guiding himself along the narrow salt stream that still flowed through the creek. In the background, beyond the green plats which are half marsh and half meadow, arose the soft outlines of Portsdown hills, almost meeting the dim woody heights of Sussex. But Jonah knew all the details of the scene by heart, and plodded steadily on, keeping his eyes upon the ground.
If any one had told Marbeck that his walk along that well-known road would lead up to a most unexpected event, he would doubtless have laughed at the prophecy. Yet we often meet our greatest adventure on the common path of life, and it comes upon us sometimes in the garb of a mere everyday incident. So it was with Jonah; his musings — matter-of-fact enough — were suddenly interrupted by the cry of a child.
He looked up. A woman was advancing slowly, her shawl and skirt fluttering in the wind. She carried something which appeared like a large bundle, and a little girl clung to her dress, crying with the cold. As she drew nearer, Marbeck could see that she had a fair meek face, which kept a girlish look upon it still, although it was pinched and pale. Her clothes were scanty, but perfectly neat; and the bundle that she bore in her arms was a sleeping baby.
The child at her side was better clad than its mother, and had a woollen comforter tied closely round its neck. Its soft round face was fair, like hers, and it had the same widely-opened blue eyes. It glanced up shyly at the dark seafaring man, as he looked down upon the poor little chubby hands, turned almost purple by the bleak wind. He had seen scores of weary women and wailing children in the course of his life; yet the sight of these moved him to a new and strange pity.
"It's a bitter day, missus;" he said, stopping short. "Have you got far to go?"
"Pretty nearly three miles," she answered in a quiet patient voice. "It's a bitter day, indeed!"
"I'll carry the little maid for you; " said Jonah, still acting on his strange impulse. "She seems well-nigh perished with the cold."
"Thank you kindly," the woman replied; and he gently lifted the child from the ground. She left off crying at once, partly from sheer surprise, and partly because it was pleasant to feel her little chilled body brought into contact with that warm thick coat. The strong arms enfolded her closely, and protected her from the cutting "southeaster;" the small limbs might rest in peace, and very soon the tired, childish head dropped sleepily upon the man's broad shoulder.
"Twas foolish of me to bring the children out of their way," remarked the mother, after a pause. "I've been doing a day's cleaning at the farm yonder, and I had the little ones with me, just because there's nobody else to mind them. And then, when my work was done, I must needs come here to have a look at the old fort, where my husband used to be."
"Maybe your husband is a soldier? " said Jonah.
"He was; but he's been dead a year and six months. His regiment was at Chatham, and when it was ordered to Portsmouth we came too. My little Lucy here is nearly five, and my baby was only a year old when I lost my husband. He was struck with fever nine weeks after he got here, and died in the hospital."
The voice never varied in its patient tone; but she looked back once at the grassy bulwarks rising darkly against the grey sky.
"Was he good to you, missus?" Jonah could not have told why he asked the question.
"Yes, poor fellow; he never spoke a harsh word to me when he wasn't in liquor."
It was a common answer, with a whole world of mournful meaning in it. Jonah glanced around at the dull green slopes and flats, at the solitary houses standing here and there in the distance, at the fading pink clouds in the west; and then his eyes rested on the fair meek face by his side.
"You seem to be a lone woman," he said suddenly.
"Indeed I am," she responded, with a sigh, as she drew the folds of her shabby shawl more closely around her sleeping child.
"And I'm a lone man;" continued Jonah, "I've neither chick nor child, nor ever have had. I'm a fisherman by trade, missus, but I'm better known as a pilot; and if you'll take me for a husband, I'll do my best for you and the little ones."
It was a strange wooing; and yet such wooings are not of infrequent occurrence among the class of whom I write. The story of Ruth Newburn's brief courtship is strictly true, and many women in her condition of life could tell a similar tale.
Having left his betrothed wife at the door of her poor lodging, Jonah took his way back along Fort Cumberland road. It was dusk now, dreary and dim; as he passed the fort and pressed onward, he saw the red lights gleaming in Langston Harbor, and heard the roar of the breakers on the shoaling sands of Hayling Island. His cabin stood on that narrow strip of land which forms the eastern extremity of the isle of Portsea, and which was more extensive in those days than in the present time. For the sea is gradually stealing it away, bit by bit; in a few years it may possibly be entirely covered by the encroaching tides.
The windows of the cottage occupied by the coastguard were illumined by the cheerful glow within; even the old ferryman's habitation sent forth a ruddy gleam from its casement; but Marbeck's dwelling was dark and silent as the grave. Opening the door, he shut himself in, drew a box of matches from his pocket, and lit the candle which stood in a tin candlestick upon a small round table. Fuel was laid within the rusty bars of the grate, and another match soon set it blazing. Stepping out into a back apartment which served him as kitchen, scullery, and pantry, he filled his kettle from a large water-pail, and returned to set it on the fire. Then, going to a cupboard in the corner of his parlor, he brought forth a little black teapot, a battered tin canister, a basin containing moist sugar, and a cracked cup and saucer. His larder furnished him with a loaf and salt butter; and thus the preparations for his lonely meal were soon completed.
The fire crackled merrily, throwing out a brighter light than the solitary candle, and casting a fitful glow over the walls and furniture of the little room. There were a couple of rush-bottomed chairs in addition to the one on which Jonah was seated; there were also a huge pair of waterman's boots and a tarpaulin hat. Over the rough chimney-piece hung a good telescope and a much discolored Admiralty chart of Spithead. A threadbare drugget partially covered the floor, the casement was uncurtained; and although the pilot's parlor was tidy and clean, it was destitute of many of those small comforts which are generally found in the dwellings of seafaring men.
He had exchanged his thick coat for a lighter garment, and having made the tea, he drew the round table close to the fire. But as his eyes wandered about the room, spying out all the deficiencies that had so long remained unnoticed, he set down his empty cup with a sigh.
"It isn't the sort of place to bring a woman into," he said, speaking his thoughts aloud, as those who live alone so often do. "It must be furbished up before she comes. Poor thing! I promised to do my best for her, and I'll stand to my word. Well, well, I'd made sure of ending my days as a single man; but maybe I shall be no worse off if I take a mate, and it's likely that she'll comfort me in my old age."
He gazed steadily into the fire, and a smile crept over his rugged face, as if he saw a pleasant picture in the glowing embers. Perhaps at that moment he had a vision of a fair, meek woman watching tenderly over a white-haired man, whose sea-going days were done. Perhaps he could see also the figures of two young girls, flitting to and fro like sunbeams in the old cabin. Anyway there was a softened expression on his features, which made him look as he might have done in his earlier manhood; and his smile was like one of those sweet sunshiny days that will sometimes steal back upon us when the summer is over and gone.
To some, God gives a fair spring and a golden harvest, followed by a stormy autumn. To others, He sends snow and frost, with bitter winds to blight their young flowers, and perhaps their sheaves are scanty and few. But in their latter days He often blesses such as these with sunshine; peaceful lights to stretch over their barren lands and touch their naked trees with glory. Jonah Marbeck had passed a troubled youth, and had known little of the warmth of human affection. His nature had been soured by the falseness of those whom he had trusted when he was young and impulsive. He had given love and confidence, freely and frankly, and had received deceitfulness and scorn in return.
There had been 'a, time when he had shunned the faces of old companions and had walked his own gloomy way with a proud look and a sore heart. And now that way was to be dark no longer; but he did not realize the blessing that had come to him in the person of Ruth Newburn. Naturally enough he began to ask himself, as he sat by his lonely hearth, if he had not been guilty of an act of mad folly. He little guessed that Ruth, sitting by her sleeping children in a dreary garret, was asking herself the same question at that moment. He little knew what earnest prayers to God were arising from the poor widow's heart.
"Oh, Father in Heaven!" she sobbed again and again, "if I have been rash, forgive me! It was for their sakes, — for their sakes."
As days passed on, Jonah carried out his intention of making the cottage comfortable for its new occupants. It consisted of four small rooms, one of which had been used for all sorts of lumber; but now the rubbish was cleared away, and it was neatly furnished. The sitting-room, too, was provided with a new carpet and chairs, and an eight-day clock took its place near the corner-cupboard. But when all was done, Jonah shook his head doubtfully, saying to himself that "it needed a woman's hands to make it look like a home."
On a bitter day in February, the new Mrs. Ruth Marbeck and her children came to their new abode. There was snow upon the ground; Jonah's dwelling, with its freshly-tarred walls, looked black and ugly outside. Ruth's quiet blue eyes took note of the scene — of the stormy grey sea, of the sandy bank of Hayling Island across the ferry; of the coastguard's cottage and the old ferryman's small cabin. Two or three wild ducks flew rapidly overhead, stretching out their long necks; a flock of sandpipers rose from the shore, and several gulls came flying inland — an omen of foul weather. The wondering children clung to her closely, while Jonah unlocked his door and the sea roared a wild welcome to the pilot's wife as she entered the little house.
But little Lucy and baby Esther soon found that there was a change for the better in their lot. They were warmed by a blazing fire and were supplied with an abundance of good food. When evening came, Lucy allowed herself to be coaxed to Jonah's knee, and even lifted her rosy mouth to kiss him when she said good-night.
RUTH MARBECK's HOME
The pilot had not passed an examination and received a license from Trinity House. He was, as he had said, a fisherman by calling, and had a well-built cutter of his own. But his thorough acquaintance with the coast was well-known, and many a good ship had come safely into harbor under his guidance. For such services he was always paid liberally, and being a steady, sober man, he had laid by a considerable portion of his earnings. Now, however, there were three extra mouths to be filled, and Jonah's hoard began to melt like snow before the sun.
The money that he had saved had been dear to him for its own sake; for he loved the glitter of yellow gold, and it grieved him to part with it for goods and possessions, food and clothing. But he soon found that Ruth was a thrifty housewife, who could do more with a shilling than some women can do with a sovereign, and for the first time in his life he was realizing the blessings of a true home. She made a home as naturally as a bird makes its nest. She was full of lowly, precious gifts and quiet graces; her very touch seemed to create comfort; "in her lips was the law of kindness." To her, as to all women, there came daily crosses, but she carried them so patiently and uncomplainingly, that her husband never suspected how heavy they were. For him there was always the placid smile and peaceful word, even when she had been harassed by the children, or had found some task too much for her strength. Thus the pilot's cottage became a home in the best and fullest sense of the word; not merely "a part of the outer world, which he had roofed over and lighted a fire in."
The Marbecks' neighbors were very few in number. There were the coastguard and his wife; and there was the ferryman, old Sam Hatchard, whose sister kept his house. A grim hard-featured woman was Susan Hatchard, who shook her head at Jonah, and prophesied that no good would come of his marriage. She made a gruff response to Ruth's gentle overtures, and seemed inclined to regard her in the light of a personal enemy. But before many weeks, had gone by, Mrs. Marbeck had succeeded in overcoming Susan's prejudice.
"I mistrusted you at first when you came among us," Susan acknowledged bluntly. "You seemed a mealy-mouthed one, and that's a sort I can't abide. But I'm one who'll speak my mind, and I will say that you're not what I thought you."
Meanwhile, the snow had melted away, and the narrow, sea-washed tract of land began to assume a more cheerful aspect. Blue skies, high and purely clear as spring-tides skies so often are, smiled over the blue water; the waves rolled in upon the shingle with a languid splash, as if they were weary of foaming and roaring, and desired to be at peace. The distant hills looked fair and green in the sweet spring sunshine; the bleating of young lambs might be heard faintly from the scattered farms on the other side of Eastney Lake. The grass around old Fort Cumberland was dotted with clumps of golden flowered shrubs, and gnats swarmed there on calm bright evenings. The coastguard's cottage had its black wooden walls and dark red shutters freshened up by its inhabitants; one could see the clean white curtains through its windows. There was a long piece of garden attached to this little house, and the ground was enclosed by a green bank, higher than an ordinary fence. The bank soon became a source of delight to little Lucy Newburn, who found thereon sometimes a stray daisy or two; and occasionally a pale blue butterfly, tinted like a harebell, would come and flutter over the sod. Somewhere in the garden, under the shelter of the bank, grew a few tufts of white violets; their sweet breath used to wander across the child's face as she played there, filling her with a strange unutterable joy. A quaint little child she was, very quiet and peaceful in her ways, and fond of amusing herself in her own fashion. She had her mother's placid face and fair smooth hair; her eyes were pale azure, like the wings of her favorite butterfly.
Lucy liked the sea, but she was half-afraid of it. When a strong wind was blowing from the southeast, she used to stand under the lee of the boat-house, watching the white foam-crests on the breakers as they roared on the dangerous sands of Hayling. These sands, known as the Woolsners, are situated at the east entrance to Spithead, and here it was that H.M.S. Impregnable was wrecked in 1779. The noise of the waves rushing over this perilous shoal may be heard far along Southsea beach. Lucy had often listened while Jonah Marbeck talked about the Woolsners. When he told of vessels that had been stranded there, she dimly comprehended something of the great risk which attends a seaman's life. But when the wind was hushed and the sun shone over the dimpling blue water, she loved it well. Then she would venture out quite to the extreme point of the neck of land and sit down upon the mingled sand and pebbles, while the tide crept up, gurgling and swirling over the glistening shingle, leaving, now and again, a huge fragment of brown seaweed as a plaything for the little girl. On fair days the ferryman often had many passengers; sometimes his clumsy-looking boat was quite full. Lucy used to watch the strong old man laboring at his oars, and think how pleasant it would be if the narrow ferry were bridged over, so that she could run across to Hayling Island.
There was very good shooting to be had around Eastney Lake, for the wild-birds congregated there in great numbers. At early morn, when the first golden rays were shining over the level swamps, one might hear the plaintive wail of the large wading birds and the harsh note of the short billed crake, as they rose into the cool air after feeding in the marshes all night. The monotonous cry of the lapwing, calling "pee-wit, pee-wit," soon grew familiar to Lucy, for it could be heard all through the spring-days from sunrise until sunset. These birds would revolve in graceful airy circles, uttering their melancholy call; and once Jonah brought home four olive-colored eggs, spotted with black, lying in a rude nest of dry stubble and grass. Often he would enter the cottage, bringing wild-duck and pidgeon for Ruth to cook, but Lucy would stroke their soft plumage with tender fingers, always grieved for the poor feathered victims of his gun.
Ruth's younger child was growing into a stronglimbed little maiden, who bore little resemblance to her sister, for she was as headstrong as Lucy was docile. Susan Hatchard prophesied that Esther would possess uncommon beauty, and every month seemed to verify the prediction. The child's head was covered with thick curls of a deep golden hue, but her eyes were large and dark, and her skin was faintly tinged with brown. She was a fearless creature, always bent upon mischief; requiring constant watchfulness on the part of those who had the care of her. But as time wore on, Lucy showed herself quite capable of taking charge of her sister, and managed her with such gentle skill that Esther's wilfulness was usually kept in check.
If these two had been his own children, Jonah could scarcely have loved them more. They were his playthings when he came home at eventide; he would have spoiled them if Ruth had not been near to keep his indulgence within bounds. They gave him love for love, as children always do, understanding quite well that, next to their mother, he was their best and dearest friend. They might have been seen standing on the shore to watch for his boat on summer evenings, or pressing their rosy faces against the casement on winter afternoons, striving to discern his figure through the twilight. Their shrill, glad cry of "Here comes father!" sounded sweetly in his ears; their small soft fingers clasping his rough hands, gave him unspeakable delight. He never wearied of their prattle, nor grew impatient of the pattering of their restless feet; and at night when they were in bed and asleep, he would sit and talk of them to their mother as she sat at her needlework.
His love for his wife was deep and quiet, strengthening as the years went on, as all love must do, if it is worthy of its sacred name. Although she never for a moment forgot her wifely subjection, he was conscious that no counsel was so wise as hers, no judgment so certain to be right. And therefore he suffered himself to be led by the gentle hands which were striving to draw him into the narrow path of righteousness. If they had been one whit less gentle, he would have resisted with all the force of a man's nature; but Ruth was herself following an unerring Guide, and knew that she was only God's instrument.
Somewhere in an obscure corner of his cottage she had found an old Bible, printed in large type. She did not ask him why it had been neglected so long, but she dusted the dingy covers and brought it forth into the light. And then, one evening when the children were in bed and the day's work was done, she took the volume and set it on the round table before her husband.
"I should like to hear a bit of Scripture, Jonah," she said. "Father used to read aloud to me and my sisters when we were girls at home."
It pleased him to do her this small favor, so softly asked. He began with the Old Testament, and read how Eden was blighted; while Ruth listened and sewed in silence.
"You're a better wife to me than Eve was to Adam," he remarked, looking up from the sacred page, and letting his eyes rest on her calm face.
''Maybe the old Serpent isn't so busy with me as he was with poor Eve," she responded. "And maybe God doesn't leave me with only my own strength to fight against him."
"Eve was a fool, — wasn't she?" he continued thoughtfully. "A fine place that garden must have been, eh, Ruth? And she might have stayed there forever and ever, as happy as a queen, if she'd stuck to her duty, as one may say."
Perhaps the quiet woman at her sewing was conscious that the old story of Paradise Lost is repeated in every human life. There are few who do not turn regretfully towards some garden where the flaming sword is set, remembering that their own madness cast them forth from their region of delight. Well is it for us, if the barring of that earthly paradise has sent us with quicker footsteps towards the brighter resting-place where the gates are never shut!
Evening after evening Jonah continued to plod through the Bible histories, walking as it were under the shadow of Judea's palm-trees and following the patriarchs through their wonderful lives. To him, these narratives seemed as fresh as if he had never read them before; so long had the Divine Book remained unopened, that he had forgotten its contents. To his wife, these sacred stories were familiar as household words; the Scripture was God's speech to her, and she never wearied of His voice. So together they stood with Abraham at his tent-door on the plains of Mamre and climbed with him that awful "hill of sacrifice," whereon he afterwards built an altar unto the Lord. They went out with Isaac into the fields, and saw the camels coming in the cool of the day, bringing him the bride that God had chosen. They watched beside Jacob's stony pillow, and viewed the ladder that rose between earth and Heaven. And while the waves washed the shore outside their cottage walls, their fancy beheld the Red Sea waters part before the rod of Israel's mighty lawgiver and the chosen people pass over dry-shod.
These Bible-readings, and the talks that arose out of them, drew the husband and wife closer to each other and taught them to sympathize. And when Jonah read of that fair woman who gleaned in the fields of Boaz, he thought of another woman, like her a widow, whom he had taken under his protection when she was friendless and poor; for, like the other Ruth, she had brought a blessing with her.
It has been written that "happy nations have no history," and perhaps the same thing may be said of happy families. With these simple people one day was very like another, but there was a growth and development in the innermost lives of both. Jonah became conscious that he had a soul, and grew anxious about it; Ruth's clear mind learned more and more of "the knowledge and love of God." He stood at the foot of the golden ladder, and looked up wondering and trembling; she had already begun the ascent among the angels.
As to the children, they were still enjoying life's holidays, although Lucy's character already showed signs of forethought and gravity. "She would be her mother over again," Jonah often declared. But Esther was as mad as a March hare; a creature full of good and bad impulses; a tricksy sprite, capricious and fascinating as Undine.
With greater zest than ever, Jonah Marbeck now pursued his double calling. He was often away from home for several days, beating about Beachy Head to fall in with some vessel that needed his aid. Ruth used to think of him as she sat by her fire at night; and when a glance through the casement showed her no moon nor stars — nothing but the broad, blank darkness — she would kneel and pray for him who was in peril on the sea. Often when the winds and waves were roaring, she grew too unquiet to go on with her needlework, and would open the old Bible to read of One "who holds the waters in the hollow of His hand." She read, too, of a certain ship against which there arose "a tempestuous wind" that drifted her upon the island of Claudia; and lifted her eyes from the book, to think of the bold pilot who might at that very hour be guiding a goodly vessel past the dangerous coast of the Isle of Wight. What if a stormy wind should drive him upon the terrible rocks of Chale Bay, whereon many a gallant craft had gone to pieces?
Was there an angel with him, standing beside him in the night, and saying, "Lo, God has given you all them that sail with you"? Ruth was a woman of strong faith, and she believed that a great change had gradually been wrought in her husband. Thinking thus, and knowing what that change was, she was often able to calm herself after an hour of quiet musing and reading.
Jonah also contrived to earn a good deal of money by fishing. Fine lobsters were caught in Chichester harbor, and various kinds of fish were taken at Selsey. Early in spring there was always a little fleet of boats going out for mackerel; a light gale which gently ripples the surface of the water is called "a mackerel gale," and mackerel fishing is frequently carried on at night.
On an April afternoon Jonah and a young lad set sail together, when the sea was dimpling under the sweep of a fresh breeze. It was a "mackerel gale;" and they expected, to return on the following morning, laden with spoil. Lucy and Esther stood on the shore, watching the boat scudding away before the wind — watching, too, the restless line of white foam that marked the Woolsners. At this time Esther was seven years old, a tall, well-made child, who had already risen above Lucy's shoulder. Jonah had turned back to give her a second kiss before stepping into the boat, and had said tenderly, —
"Now be a good girl to mother and Lucy, and let father hear how well you have been behaving, when he comes home tomorrow."
There was no small need for this parting admonition. Susan Hatchard called Esther "a limb;" and it must be confessed that her naughtiness appeared to grow with her stature. She was a child who seemed capable of being in forty places at the same time, flying here and there like a meteor, and putting her body in jeopardy in diverse ways. Jonah used to say that she had somehow got her own share of faults and Lucy's too, for Lucy was singularly free from youthful follies. Yet notwithstanding her wilfulness, the younger sister contrived to win a great deal of love from those with whom she came in contact. Susan Hatchard scolded and half-worshiped her; the old ferryman would humbly plead for a kiss on the cheek; even the people who came down to the ferry would pause to admire her beauty and ask her name.
Although she seemed to live in a state of perpetual motion, the child had a curiously tranquil countenance. Hers was a delicate, egg-shaped face; her large dark eyes were soft and languid. Her thick wavy golden hair, always worn short, encompassed her little head like the halo of a saint, and she had that composed look which painters have usually given to angels. She was not shy, as children in her condition of life generally are; her manner with strangers was gentle, but easy; her answers to their questions were lisped out readily, in a sweet childish voice. Her aspect and her nature were oddly at variance.
Jonah's farewell injunction did not linger in her mind for a moment. She danced back to the cottage by Lucy's side, as light of heart as if she were the most easygoing child in the universe. It was this insensibility which grieved and perplexed her mother; Esther's feelings seemed to be hidden away in some undiscovered corner, and she could rarely be moved to penitence.
On this day, Ruth had gone into the neighboring town to make a few purchases, and Lucy was left to take care of the house and of her sister. The first charge was likely to give her little trouble; the last was a far more difficult matter, as the sequel proved. As Esther grew older, she showed less inclination to yield to Lucy's gentle authority; sometimes it was impossible to coax or force her into obedience.
It was three o'clock; the April day was fresh and balmy; there was a bright sky overhead, dappled with little white clouds, the distant hills were robed in a soft purple bloom. Out on the rippling sea, a few small vessels, like silver-winged birds, were moving gracefully along, and the lapping of the waves was the only sound that could be heard. Even Lucy regretted that she must stay indoors to keep up the fire and put on the kettle for tea. It was no marvel that Esther was unwilling to remain in the cottage when all things looked so fair outside.
"Let me play upon the beach, Lucy," she said, as her sister shut the door.
"Not now, dear," answered the elder. "Mother doesn't like you to be there without me, you know."
Ruth had a good reason for not suffering the child to be left to her own devices. Only a few days had passed since Esther had been allowed to roam on the shore at will, and had returned to the house without her shoes. When questioned, she admitted that she had taken them off "to make boats of them," and that they had been carried away out of her reach by the tide, which happened just then to be ebbing fast.
"But I want to go out," persisted the little girl, watching sharply for any signs of yielding in the other's face.
"So do I," returned Lucy, cheerily; "but I know I must stay at home, so I won't make a fuss about it. See now, I'm going to put the room in order and set the tea-things on the table. Mother will be glad for a cup of nice tea when she comes in, for she'll be tired. It's a long walk to Portsea, and she'll have to carry a parcel."
"What's in the parcel?" asked Esther.
"Stuff to make frocks for you and me. She's gone to the draper's shop today."
"Pretty stuff?" inquired the little maid, with more animation.
"I daresay it will be pretty," replied Lucy, bustling about with a quaint, housewifely air. Esther sat down on a wooden stool, and watched her proceedings in silence.
When the room was as tidy as hands could make it, and when the kettle was filled and set on the fire, the elder sister felt that her time was her own. On the shelf beside the old Bible was a new book, into which she had only peeped as yet. Jonah had bought it for her on the preceding day, when he had gone into the town, for he knew how dearly Lucy loved books. Few women in Ruth Marbeck's position could boast of an education as good as hers; and she had carefully and patiently instructed her daughter. Before her first marriage she had been, while still very young, a nursery-maid in a clergyman's family, and her master and mistress had encouraged her desire to get knowledge. She had made the most of her advantages, and might have been eventually raised to a higher sphere in life but for her acquaintance with Luke Newburn. She had married the soldier hastily and rashly, as girls too often do; and then came sorrow, and hardship, and widowhood. Yet in her poverty and distress she had never parted with the lesson-books which had been given her when she lived in the peaceful parsonage; and she had brought them to the pilot's cabin.
Esther still sat on the wooden stool, with her back to the whitewashed wall and her face turned towards the window. Her hands were demurely folded in her lap, her whole attitude seemed to express the utmost tranquility. Lucy gave a sigh of relief to see her so quiet, and taking the new book from the shelf, settled herself in her father's fireside chair to read in peace. But, unfortunately, it happened that Esther's perch was behind her.
Lucy read on, and soon became absorbed in her book. The room was very still; the fire crackled, the clock ticked, and the kettle sang its drowsy song. Looking up at last from the pages, and wondering at Esther's continued quietness, she saw that her sister was gone.
With patient cunning, Esther had waited until Lucy's attention was enchained; and then had crept noiselessly from her seat. The door leading into the little pantry was ajar; in the pantry there was another door which opened out upon the beach. Finding this door unbolted, she contrived to make her escape, and sped off, as fast as her legs would carry her, to the shore of Eastney Lake.
She had a purpose in her mind, and was resolved to have her own way. Often at low tide she had seen men and boys wading in the mud and picking up cockles, which she knew were taken into the town and sold. She meant to get some cockles for herself, to prove to her mother that Lucy was not the only person who could do useful things. No one was watching her: she gained the lake side without being pursued, and paused to take breath.
She had purposely run away from the neck of land whereon her home was standing, and had come to that part of the lake which is bordered by the Fort Cumberland road. Not a human being was in sight; the great waste of green mud looked dreary and desolate, although the little tide-pools were shining here and there and the afternoon sky had lost none of its brightness. She looked doubtfully at her shoes and socks, but came to the conclusion not to remove them. And then, running down the sloping roadside, strewn with fragments of seaweed, she made her way bravely into the slime.
At first, as the firm pebbles ran out for some distance, she managed to get a foothold, and struggled onward, looking eagerly for cockles. It was not, after all, so pleasant as she expected; yet it was delightful to be unwatched and unchidden. With one hand she was gathering up her pinafore to make a receptacle for the cockles when they should be found, when suddenly she felt herself sinking into the cold, wet mud. Oh, how chill it was, as it covered her feet and legs! A deadly fear seized her; she shrieked aloud, her shrill childish voice mingling with the murmur of the sea.
Would no one come to her aid? She looked at the parapets of the old fort, cutting sharply against the blue sky, and then at the black walls of the coastguard's cottage; but her own home was hidden from view. Should she ever see it again? She was slowly sliding down, deeper and deeper; her next cry was wilder and more piercing than the first.
There is Lucy, — Lucy standing in the road and flinging up her arms as if in despair! And there is another figure, tall and gaunt, which appears for a moment and then rushes away. It returns, and Esther knows it to be Susan Hatchard.
Yes, it is Susan indeed. With a pair of mud-pattens on her feet, she makes her way towards the sinking child, and pulls her out of that horrible bed of slime. Muttering incoherent words she tenderly carries her to the dry land, and sets her down, all wet and muddy, beside poor pale Lucy, who instantly bursts out crying.
"There, don't cry now that the danger's over," said Susan, gruffly. "Mercy on us, Esther, what a bad child you are! And you'll grow up a bad one — mark my words! — if you don't mend your ways."
Esther was crying a little, but not so bitterly as Lucy. She looked up into Susan's face, and said nothing.
"Well, I may as well carry you home," continued her preserver; "for my gown's so messed up already, that it can't be made much worse."
So saying, she again took the little girl up in her strong arms, and a close observer might have seen that her eyes were glistening. Naughty and willful as Esther was, she had secured a place in that honest heart, and it may have been that Susan was thinking of the child's future. Was she forecasting a time when Esther's headstrong nature might lead her into some Slough of Despond from which no kindly hand should help her to escape?
Ruth returned from her walk to find her little household in a state of commotion. But peace was restored before nightfall; Esther was cleansed and put to bed, not much the worse for her misadventure.
FROM CHILDHOOD TO GIRLHOOD
Ruth did not fail to talk in her quiet, serious way to her younger child, setting her naughtiness plainly before her. Esther heard her in silence, but the mother could not feel sure that she was really listening. The lovely little face was untroubled; not a shade of feeling flitted over it for a moment.
"Are you not sorry, Esther, for all the trouble you gave us yesterday?" asked Ruth anxiously. "Yes, mother," was the placid answer. "You will never think of doing such a thing again?" To this there was a very decided "no." There was small fear that Esther would repeat an experiment which she had found to be unpleasant.
Ruth dismissed her, following the active little figure with her eyes, and sighing. Esther was skipping away with careless grace, glad that the lecture was done. There are some individuals who seem destined to go through life shaking other people's nerves and keeping their own quite free from the slightest shock. They knock down a fellow creature as carelessly as if he were a ninepin, and never stop to pick him up, nor examine his injuries. They get themselves entangled in a web of difficulties, and are extricated by their friends at the cost of infinite trouble; but they suffer far less than those who have labored to set them free. Did not Esther give promise of becoming one of these selfish beings? Ruth sighed again, and hoped for the best.
A little later the sisters were together on the shore, breathing the fresh sea air before the real business of the day began; for they were always provided with suitable occupation. They were standing at the utmost extremity of the strip of land, and the waves came leaping up to their feet, sprinkling their faces with spray. Beautiful waves; some rising slowly, curving into a hollow of green crystal and crashing on the pebbles with a glorious foam-burst; others rearing their crests in lowlier fashion, and then breaking softly over the beach. Even the pebbles had been shaped into pretty things by the ceaseless motion of the tides. The sand seemed to be strewn with bits of agate and smokey quartz, onyx, and reddish cornelian, all cut and polished as if they were ornaments ready to be worn. Esther was playing the old seaside game, running to meet the breakers and receding just in time to escape a wetting.
"Esther," said Lucy, after a pause, "you haven't forgotten all about yesterday, have you?"
"It vexes me to think that I didn't look after you better. But you were very, very naughty; God will be angry if you are naughty, you know."
"Oh, no, He won't," answered Esther, with an air of perfect confidence.
"Why do you say He won't?" asked her sister, in astonishment.
"Because I'm so pretty," rejoined the child, stepping forward gleefully to dare an advancing wave.
"Oh, Esther! God doesn't love people for being pretty."
"Yes, He does. I heard old Sam say, 'Lord love that pretty little maid!' And I heard him tell another man that nobody could look at me and not love me."
"Old Sam's very kind, but he is silly sometimes," said Lucy, gravely. "And mother knows best; she says that God is angry with naughty people."
But it was evident that Esther retained her own opinion.
Ruth's old lesson-books were carefully used by Lucy, who studied them with unfailing diligence. It was not a difficult task to teach Esther; she was a quick child; and as Ruth wisely appealed to the pride of that haughty little heart, by telling her that folks would laugh at her if she grew up a dunce, she soon made rapid progress. The books — an abridged History of England, a geography, a dictionary, and a spelling-book — were all in excellent condition, and the name of Ruth Denison was legibly written in each. There were also a Bible and Prayer Book, which their owner seemed to regard as her most precious possessions. Both these volumes were plainly but handsomely bound.
The fly-leaf of the Bible bore these words: "Ruth Denison, with the best wishes of Aubrey Sutherland,'' and the text, "In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." In the Prayer Book was inscribed, "Ruth Denison, with Helen Sutherland's kind regards." They were gifts from the good clergyman and his wife, and Ruth had shed many a tear over them in secret. She could not look upon them without recalling all the wise and gentle counsels of those who had given them to her. She remembered how they had begged her to pause and reflect before she accepted the soldier's offer, — how they had striven for her sake to find out what manner of man he was. And then, when they found that she was not to be turned from her purpose, how earnestly they had entreated her not to forget the Guide of her youth. She had set out on that path which bears the Savior's footprints, and they feared lest she should forsake His way.
Poor Ruth! She soon found that it is easy to tread the narrow road of righteousness when we have human companions who help us onward. The path may be rough, yet if our comrades are strong and brave, then aid is ready in the time of need; their voices cheer us when we are faint of heart. But when we are left to struggle on alone, while thorns pierce our weary feet, and the cross that we bear presses us down to the dust, we are sorely tempted to sink by the wayside, or seek some more pleasant trail. There is One who has said, "Lo, I am with you always;" but there are times when we cannot realize His presence. He is often nearest when He seems very far off; often close at hand, when we deem that He has forgotten to be gracious. Yet our weak sight fails to perceive Him; our deaf ears do not catch His words, and we grow heart-sick and well-near hopeless. Thus it was with Ruth. Her husband hindered, instead of assisting her. He did not live a godly life himself, and he wanted his wife to think and act as he did. He made her pilgrimage a thousand times harder than it was before her marriage; and although she would not turn aside from the highway of the Great King, she was lonely and sorrowful, stumbling on with weary limbs and an aching heart.
But God had not deserted her, and by and by she saw Who was walking by her side.
"Mother," said Lucy, one day when she was putting the lessons away, "what has become of the good lady and gentleman who gave you all your books?"
"I heard that they went abroad," answered Ruth, sadly. "But I can never forget them, Lucy."
"Haven't you any brothers and sisters, mother? Are they all dead?"
"I never had a brother, and both my sisters died before I was married. If it hadn't been for your second father, Lucy, I don't know what would have become of you little ones and me. I wasn't strong enough to work very hard, and my strength was beginning to give way when he brought us here and gave us a home."
"Father is a very good man," said Lucy, thoughtfully.
"He is one of the kindest men in the world, Lucy. I want you to care for him always, and to study how to make him comfortable — just as I do. He is very easily pleased, and you must learn to take my place when —"
"When what, mother?" Lucy looked up in surprise, for Ruth had stopped abruptly in her speech.
"I mean that you must be the best of daughters to him," she continued. "I am sometimes afraid, my child, that Esther won't be as dutiful as I could wish. She's always bent on having her own way, let it cost what it may. She is only a little girl at present, but if she is just as wayward and headstrong when she grows up to be a woman, it will be a sad thing for you and her father; and a sadder thing still for herself."
It did not strike Lucy that her mother spoke only of her husband and daughter as those who might suffer from Esther's wilfulness. Ruth said nothing of herself; she seemed to be speaking of a possible future in which she had no part.
"I think," she went on, "that the worst thing in the world for any person is to do just what he chooses and never be thwarted. We all need to be crossed sometimes, Lucy, — remember that. I have heard my master say that sorrows are God's love-tokens, not His judgments, as some people suppose. And he used to say too, that when a man was very impatient of control, and would not hear counsel, but would take his own course and seek his own pleasure before anything else, God would often let him alone. In the sight of his fellow-men he might seem to be prospering; but God knew well enough that he was having his good things in this world, and not laying up any treasure in the world to come."
When Ruth talked thus, her pale cheeks would flush and her eyes would look strangely clear and bright. There was in her (as in many gentle, quiet women) a great deal of suppressed feeling, which only flashed out at times. She could speak more unreservedly to Lucy than to any one else, for Lucy was the counterpart of herself. The girl seemed to be growing more and more like her mother every day; and as time passed on she began to take many of Ruth's duties into her own hands.
It was evident to Susan Hatchard that the pilot's wife was gradually losing the little strength that she possessed. But those of her own household failed to see this slow decline of her health. In winter they said that the bleak winds were too rough for her, and that the summer days would make her well and strong; and in the summer they imagined that the warm weather was the cause of her weakness and languor. So it came to pass that Lucy spared her as much as possible, not suffering her to do anything but the lightest kind of work; and Jonah purchased a small couch for her daily use. Here she would lie, darning, sewing, or knitting, and often her fingers would be still for a while, for in these days she was much given to musing.
Her couch stood close to the window, from which she could see the ferry and the sandy shore of Hayling. She could see Langston Harbor too, and frequently followed her husband's cutter with her eyes when he was going a-fishing. She liked to watch the light shining on his white sail and mark how taut and trim his little vessel always looked. Sometimes when he was at the mouth of the harbor the rough waves tossed him up and down, and her heart throbbed fast as the small craft rose and fell. But the harbor is as smooth as a lagoon, and when it is gained any boat may be at peace there while squalls are making wild work in the channel.
She never grew tired of that sea view, albeit to some it would have seemed wearisome. She knew every phase of the scene by heart, — knew the forms of the sea-bird as they came flying inland, — knew the snipe and ox-birds that fed in the salt marshes. And she knew also the signs and tokens of fair weather or foul. When the clouds were ragged and dark, driven wildly across the sky by a fierce "south-easter," and when the breakers on the Woolsners thundered and roared as if they were hungering for prey, she trembled for seafaring men.
But while tides ebbed and flowed and days went and came, Lucy and Esther left childhood behind.
The younger sister was lovelier in the blossom than in the bud. At sixteen she was a woman, with a certain haughty grace of movement and a dignity of carriage which seemed scarcely in accordance with her surroundings. Her hair was no longer golden as in her childish days, but had darkened into the color of bronze, with gleams of light upon its ripples; but her face was little changed, and still kept all its old serenity. Nor had her nature altered one whit.
She was steadily set upon self-indulgence. The best share of daily food, the warmest seat in winter, the lightest tasks, were always hers; although no one knew exactly how they fell to her lot. Perhaps it was unfortunate for Esther that Lucy was so utterly unselfish. Perhaps if the elder girl had asserted her own rights, and had insisted on a fair division of labor, the younger might have become less absorbed in her own gratification.
Ruth had said "we all need to be crossed sometimes;" and there was little doubt that Esther's path was too smooth. Her mother saw this, but she was growing too feeble to cope with that strong will. And if Jonah sometimes felt conscious that Esther was quietly domineering over them all, he was not disposed to resent it. They were at peace, he argued, and why should he disturb the family concord by setting matters to rights.
Moreover he had a secret conviction that a battle between Esther and himself would certainly end in his defeat. He could hold his own against his fellow men, but not against a woman.
Then came a severe winter, when Jonah had much ado to keep the house watertight. Snow lay in great masses on the roof for many days, and then there was a sudden thaw. The snow-water made its way between the tiles and dripped through the ceilings, making little pools on the floors and causing much discomfort to the inhabitants. It was bad for Ruth to live in a damp atmosphere, and she caught cold. Very speedily the roof was repaired and the cottage was made as dry and comfortable as possible; but its mistress was no longer able to attend to her duties. She was as patient and cheerful as ever; but her husband and children could not now be blind to the real state of her health.
A doctor was called in, and Jonah hung upon his words. They were not hopeful words, although the hard truth was not plainly spoken. But the pilot took in their full meaning and strove to face the coming sorrow like a man. Something in his look and tone told his wife that he knew all which she had been concealing, and her manner towards him grew doubly tender and loving.
One April evening, when the girls had gone out, Ruth lay on her couch by the window. It had been a peaceful day — a day when the winds were hushed and all the green things of the earth had leisure to send forth shoots and buds without any check from nipping blasts. The blue sky was decked with a white cloud or two, and those that hung in the west were delicately touched with a pale gleam of gold. The eternal washing of the waves over the beach and the occasional cry of a sea-bird were the only sounds that Ruth could hear. Presently she saw her husband coming along the shore, and knew that he would soon be at her side.
He was walking heavily, with his head bent and his eyes fixed on the ground. His face was very sad; already he seemed to look older and greyer, and tears flowed silently down Ruth's cheeks as she watched him. She recalled that day when he had met her with her little ones — a weary widow — and had taken her under his strong protection. How many tranquil years had come and gone since then, and how faithful the pilot had been to his self-imposed trust!
A certain writer has said, "I have so poorly loved those I loved most:" and it was that thought which brought the tears into Ruth's eyes. Her love, like all human affection, had found limits it could not overflow, and had broken, as the waves break, against the bounds that God has set. She had longed to give her husband that peace which no mortal can bestow; she had desired to speak to him often of that Savior who had died for his salvation; but anxiety had frequently closed her lips. What if her feeble words should hinder, rather than help, her design? But now that they had only a few more days to spend together on earth, she could keep silence no longer.
Jonah opened the door, and a sweet breath drifted in with him — a perfume which sent Ruth's spirit wandering back into her childhood. Forms and faces that had vanished out of her world long ago were seen again in a moment; she was walking hand in hand with her father in a field bordered by a hedge. Blackbirds were piping sweet, shrill songs; larks were warbling overhead; the grass was sprinkled with cowslip-gold. The light came flickering and falling through the tangled green underwood, while above, the old trees were not yet fully in leaf; and the bold outlines of dark trunks and knotty boughs stood out grandly against the clear sky. Ruth was born in the country, and all those familiar sights and sounds were conjured up by the fragrance of the violets which Jonah was bringing to her side.
He watched her wistfully as she closed her eyes, and held the flowers close to her pale face.
"Ah," he said, drawing a long breath, "violets won't grow on the sand and pebbles yonder. The only flowers I ever saw there are those yellow ones which have the pale green leaves, covered with prickles; and I have often wondered how they came. I like salt water myself, and don't care much about a garden; but for your sake, Ruth, I wish we lived in the Isle of Wight. There the tops of the cliffs are covered with grass and flowers, and you may see trails of the dog-rose hanging right over the sea. As to violets, you may find them by thousands in the lanes of Bonchurch. I've picked them there many a time when I was a boy."
"I've been very happy here, Jonah," she answered softly, as she took the blossoms away from her face and looked at him. "But the violets made me think of my old home — the little farm where father lived. Father's in Heaven now, and my sisters are there too. It won't be long before I'm with them again, Jonah; but I shall want you to come to me."
"Maybe I'm not fit company for the saints, Ruth,'' he whispered, with a sob.
"The saints were sinners once, Jonah, and you know what made their garments white. The same blood that washed them can make you as clean and fair as they."
"I never thought anything about religion until you came," he whispered again. "I've been only a poor rough seafaring man all my days."
"I take it that there will be a good many seafaring men in Heaven," she said firmly. "But all those who get there must first pray the fisherman's prayer, 'Lord, save me, or I perish.' When Jesus Christ was on earth He was often to be found by the seaside — don't you think He comes to you now, Jonah, when you are casting your nets? Did you never hear Him say, 'Follow Me?'"
"I've thought so, Ruth, sometimes. But I couldn't tell whether the voice were His or yours."
"Well, He does often speak to us through some human voice that we love to hear," she replied in a thoughtful tone. "He spoke to me through my good master. But, Jonah, there have been times when I ought to have said a word in season, and yet I've kept silent."
"Ay, Ruth, your silence and that meek way of yours have done more than most people's words. Perhaps I shouldn't have listened if you'd been a talker, for a man doesn't care to hear too much of a woman's tongue. Often and often when I've had bad luck, I've stopped myself from cursing, because your face has seemed to say, 'Don't swear, Jonah.' But if your lips had said it, it's likely that I should have told you that I wouldn't be hectored over."
She put out her thin hand and laid it softly on that strong brown hand which had toiled for her so many years. She was glad of those last words of his. After all, God had known what was best. He understood Jonah's nature. And while Ruth had been deploring her inability to speak, He had been making use of her silence.
"I'm no scholar," Jonah went on, still almost in a whisper; "but it seems to me that a woman's life should speak louder than her lips. Many's the time when the thought of you, quietly working and praying at home, has come to me on the sea and made me pray too. Beating about Beachy Head in a stiff gale — piloting up or down channel in a fog — I've seen you plain enough in my mind. Do you know how I brought the Syren past the Needles last November, when you might have cut the mist with a knife? Do you know how the first mate swore I was bearing down straight upon the rocks, and how the captain knew no more where the coast lay than a babe unborn? Well, I saw your face then, Ruth; it came atwixt me and the fog, and it had a praying look. 'I'm all right,' I said; 'the Lord will listen to her; and maybe He'll listen to me too.' At nine in the morning — do you know? — the fog rolled away like a heavy bank, and we saw the Needles clear astern, and made a fine run to Pool harbor. Ay, ay, it's well for a sea-going man to have a good wife at home. It's the women that make us or mar us, Ruth."
Again the thin hand pressed his. He had been rambling on, almost forgetting that the face he loved so well would soon be visible only to his mental sight. But something in that light touch called his thoughts back to their starting-point. Ruth was going to Heaven, and she wanted him to follow her thither.
"I don't know how I am to get along without you," he said bitterly. "And as to heaven — it's a long way off."
"It won't seem so far off to you when I'm there," she answered. "And it's no strange land to me, but just my home, where Jesus is waiting to welcome me. Oh, it's a short voyage to that land, Jonah; for the stream of death is narrower than yonder ferry! I've seen wives weeping sore when the troop-ships had carried their husbands away, and a weary, weary waste of waters lay between them and those that they loved. And I've thought, 'Surely Heaven can't be so far off as India ! No; when your time comes, the Lord will bring us together in a moment, 'in the twinkling of an eye;' and if we believe in this, we shan't seem to be far apart."
His head sank, and tears began to fall fast from the keen eyes that had so seldom wept, while Ruth prayed very earnestly for him; but there was comfort in her words, and deeper consolation still in that knowledge of God's love which was slowly revealed to him. Ruth's God would be his God "forever and ever," his "Guide even unto death."
When the girls returned to the cottage, they found their father more cheerful than he had been for many days.
Lucy was a devoted nurse; and, like most women of her character, she had a genius for tending the sick. She put her own great sorrow out of sight, and waited on her mother with a quiet tenderness that never betrayed a touch of bodily fatigue. Esther was tearful sometimes and stoical at others; but never self-forgetting. She seemed willing that her sister should do all the nursing; and the task was so dear to Lucy that she needed no aid, saving such as Jonah afforded her.
But there came a day which both sisters would remember until their lives' end.
It was the first glimmer of May-day, and the light that glided into the east was pearly and pale; darkness still brooded over the face of the deep. The little chamber-casement had been set open, and the chill air of dawn came whispering through the room, and sighing over Ruth's white face as she lay in the stillness of her last sleep. The voice of the sea was heard in the silence, — the old, soft voice of waves washing the shore; and the cry of the sea-bird drifted in now and then: but the three mourners took no heed of anything beyond their great sorrow.
Afterwards, when all was over indeed, and they were slowly learning to go about the business of life without her, the words that she had spoken in her last days came back to Jonah's mind. At early morn, when the pink dawn spread a delicate flush over the east and the wild-bird rose clamoring from their feeding-grounds, he used to stand on the beach, with his back to Eastney Lake and his face toward Hayling Island, looking across the strip of water which separated him from the opposite shore, and thinking of the voice that said, "The stream of death is narrower than yonder ferry." And at sunset, when the last crimson light was reddening the sails of his returning boat and the day's toil was done, he would muse about that "haven" where he longed to be, praying in his humble fashion that the Lord who loved the fishermen of Galilee would be merciful to the poor seafaring man who was glad to follow Him.
Ruth had said that He was often to be found at the seaside when He was on earth; and Jonah, in his deep sorrow and loneliness, began to long for His presence as he had never longed before. Oh, if but for one moment he could have seen the face of the Son of God as James and Andrew saw it by the Galilean lake — if but for one moment he might have touched the hem of His garment — he felt that life would be sad for him no longer! He had to walk by faith; but his faith as yet was weak and new, and he yearned for the satisfaction of his mortal senses. Many a wiser and stronger Christian than poor Jonah has had the very same yearnings; but I believe that such desires are never wholly unfulfilled. In the place of visible manifestation there is often the peace of God shed abroad abundantly in the heart; instead of bodily contact, there is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
The two girls led a very quiet life within the black wooden walls of Jonah's cottage. Its monotony was only broken by visits from Susan Hatchard and by their walk to church on Sundays. Sometimes it was a long walk, and they had to start early in the morning, when Jonah took them to church in Portsmouth. This was not their parish church; but the pilot liked it, because he had at one time lived in its vicinity. Lucy loved it too, and was content to stand in one of the high pews, under the gallery and behind the pulpit, singing to God's praise with all her heart. It did not vex her that she was little seen of men in that shadowy corner; she worshiped "in spirit and in truth," while Esther fidgeted by her side and longed to be in the center of the nave.
Lucy had a reverence for that old church and all that it contained. It was the very grandest church that she had ever seen in all her simple life; and she used to wonder if the great cathedrals whereof Ruth had told her could be more imposing. At the west end was the organ gallery, and the organ was ever an object of mystery to her. Did the sweet solemn sounds really proceed from those huge gilded pipes? As a child she used to think that King David, perched on the summit with his harp, was producing all the music. Above the pulpit, too, was another large figure of an angel blowing a trumpet; the pulpit itself was regally furnished with a crimson velvet cushion, and a frontal of the same, broidered with burnished gold.
Sometimes, during the old vicar's sermon, it must be confessed that her thoughts wandered, and hovered around an old sepulchral monument which stood near the vestry door. She knew something of the history of him to whose memory it had been erected — knew also that the marble urn in its center was said to contain his heart. It was a foolish, haughty heart, that of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. Lucy had learned that he was the favorite of two Stuart kings, and had made a sorry use of his power, as many other royal favorites have done. And yet the tragical ending of that mis-spent career could not fail to make her pity the poor pampered young man who fell under John Felton's knife. Still in Portsmouth High Street stands the old house where he was stabbed to death; a gloomy house shrinking back from its neighbors, as if it were conscious of its own dark story.
But while Lucy spent many a calm and happy hour in the dim old church, Esther was neither calm nor happy. How could she be at ease when her ear caught the rustle of silk dresses and her eyes were always straying towards the lady-worshipers? She saw mirthful bonnets above the tops of the high dark pews, and bit her lip with mortification and envy. Why was she attired as plainly as the charity children, while they were flaunting their feathers and laces? There was Lucy, with her soft round face framed in her close bonnet and white cap, looking provokingly contented and serene. Esther thought, in the depths of her rebellious soul, that Lucy must have a mean spirit.
Then the girl's mood would change, and she would secretly exult over her own beauty. There might come a day — ay, it should come — when she would be poor and obscure no longer. Oh, what wild dreams and vain selfish aspirations used to fill her mind as she sat in the dark pew! She was young; the future lay before her clouded over with a sunny mist; by and by the mist would clear away, and then she should see the bright destiny which her fancy was always picturing. Meanwhile she kept her dreams to herself, never telling them to her sister, as most girls of her age would have done. Esther was no talker, nor was she of a frank nature. She was "close," as Susan Hatchard was accustomed to say. You could not get at her ideas; she locked them up securely in her own bosom.
As a rule the pilot accompanied his daughters to their parish church, and then their route did not lie through any part of the busy seaport town. They passed along a quiet road bordered by green fields; but few of those fields are in existence now. The population has overflowed the limits of the town; there are rows of brick houses where the blossoming beans used to be, and little shops and taverns stand where the wheat once bent to the sweep of the summer wind. Lucy loved that rural walk to church, for she was as fond of country sights and sounds as Ruth had been; and Jonah generally came home with a wildflower in his button-hole. He would whisper to Lucy that flowers always reminded him of her mother; and she would answer as tenderly as that mother could have done, —
"God is keeping her for us, father. He likes us to think of her, but not to fret. He knows that she is so happy and so sure of living with us again."
Nothing could be simpler or more steadfast than Lucy's faith. With Ruth, religion had been the golden thread woven into the woof of daily life, and her daughter went on weaving after the same fashion.
As to Esther, she ate, drank, slept, and worked when she chose. Of those things which gave Lucy such great delight, she said nothing. When Jonah read aloud from the old Bible on Sunday evenings, stopping from time to time to comment on the sacred words in his quaint way, Esther offered no remark, nor betrayed any sign of interest. Lucy would look up brightly into the pilot's face, and if he paused over a puzzling passage, her quick memory frequently came to his aid. "Mother believed it meant this" — "mother thought it might mean that." Once or twice she ventured to appeal to her sister, with, "Don't you remember what mother told us, Esther?" But Esther never did remember, and father and daughter soon saw that it was useless to expect any enlightenment from that quarter.
"I wonder," said Lucy, one night, "what has become of mother's good master and mistress."
She had brought out her mother's Bible to refer to a text marked by Ruth's own hand, and her eyes had rested upon the writing on the title-page. Strange to say, her remark drew forth another from Esther.
"I should like to know if they were grand people."
"Grand people!" echoed Lucy, in surprise.
"Yes. I should like to know if they were rich and kept a carriage, and gave balls and parties. Mother never said a word about that."
"I don't think they were very rich," Lucy answered, "and they didn't keep much company. Mr. Sutherland was a clergyman, and had a great deal to do."
"What makes you want to find out if they were grand people, my girl?" asked Jonah, looking up sharply from his large book.
"One might get acquainted with them if they are to be found," she answered.
"Mother heard that they were gone abroad," said Lucy.
"Ah, well; if they were not rich, one doesn't care so much about them," observed Esther, calmly.
Lucy's clear blue eyes dilated, and then suddenly filled with tears. The pilot pushed his chair a little farther away from the table, and brought his hand down heavily upon the open page before him.
"My girl," he said, "you never learned that lesson from your mother, nor from this blessed book. In here, there is a deal said about riches, and it's proved, plain enough, that wealth's a snare. I don't think our Lord was over fond of getting acquainted with rich people; and if poor folks were good enough for Him, they're good enough for us anyway."
"But it's miserable to be poor," — Esther spoke with a sudden energy that startled both her hearers, — "it's miserable to live in a very small house and wear lowly clothes!"
"Maybe you'd be miserable in a large house with fine clothes," returned the pilot, shortly. "Anyhow, you've got food and clothing, and you should be therewith content."
"Ah," said Esther, adroitly shifting her ground. "It's true that we have food and clothing now; but what would become of us if you were taken away? Mother used to say the Lord will provide; but suppose He doesn't provide? And how should we fare — we two girls — if we were left alone in the world? Perhaps we should be cold and wretched and hungry, as mother was when you first met her. Perhaps we should have to pinch and slave until our health was ruined by hard work and little food, as hers was. Oh, it's a miserable thing to be poor!"
"Esther," — Lucy's voice had seldom sounded so sternly, — "these trials of which you speak may never come to us. Jesus Christ said, 'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.' If we love Him we must trust Him too; for He is able to do more for us than we can ask or think."
Jonah was silent. He had removed his hand from the Bible and had spread it over his face. His elbow rested on the table, his grey head was bent, and his eyes were hidden by those strong brown fingers. But Lucy saw that his mouth quivered with pain, and knew that Esther's words had wounded him sorely.
She rose from her seat, and, going up to him, stole her arm around his neck, putting her soft young face close to his. Her heart was so full of love and sympathy that words did not come quickly to her lips, and she stood beside him for a few seconds without saying anything.
"Father," she whispered at last, "dear father! Mother said you were the best and kindest of men. You have done all that you could do for her and for us; if Esther is young and foolish, and speaks without thinking, you mustn't mind her. Mother told me to comfort you always, as she used to do!"
"I promised that I'd do my best for her and the little ones," he said in a husky tone. "Perhaps I've thought too much of the present, and not enough of the future. The girl's right — it would be a terrible thing for you both to be left without me to work for you."
"Dear father, you may be spared to us for many years longer. And we are strong, — Esther and I — we could go to service."
"No, no; she wouldn't do for service," rejoined Jonah, taking his hand from his face and pointing to his younger daughter. "I'd like to make a lady of her if I could; but somehow I'm afraid that wouldn't bring her much good. She's more like a queen to look at than a poor fisherman's daughter; and yet, Lucy, there's something that's lacking in her — something that her mother had, and that you have too."
While he was speaking, Esther sat apparently unmoved. She must have seen that her words had hurt him, yet she showed no regret. Only when he said she was " like a queen," a slight smile flitted rapidly over her face. But when he added that there was something lacking in her, she manifested no desire to know what that "something" was. He had acknowledged her beauty, and that was enough.
Jonah had not spoken in anger. His look and tone were full of sorrow, and there was a touching humility in his manner. He wanted to keep that old promise made to Ruth long ago, and he feared lest he was not doing the right thing after all. Yet what more could he do?
"Oh, Esther," he continued, after a pause, "if I could dress you like the Queen of Sheba, I'd do it, and be content to live in a hovel myself! But there's something I can never give you, and without it you'd still be a poor creature, if you were queen of all the world. You may get it, my girl, if you'll seek it in the right way. It's the 'ornament of a meek and quiet spirit;' and if you don't wear that ornament here, the Lord will never give you the white robe and the golden crown hereafter! It's the 'Spirit of Christ' that's lacking in you, Esther; you can never have it until you've gone on your knees before Him, and prayed His servant David's prayer, 'Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me!'"
When Jonah had finished speaking, he arose and left the room. He kept down a sob as he closed the cabin door, and stood alone in the April moonlight. It was nearly a year since his wife's death, and he was missing her on this night more bitterly than he had ever missed her before. "What shall I do, Ruth?" he murmured, as he walked slowly along the beach. "What shall I do for your girls?"
There was no answer save the rush of the rising tide. He went out to the extremity of the bit of land, and stood with folded arms gazing at the silvery water swirling all round him. The salt breeze sighed into his face, a seabird uttered its wail, a mass of black weed floated in on the rippling luster of the waves. He looked upward and saw the calm moon overhead, with a host of pale soft clouds around her.
"Ah," he said sadly, "what a poor blunderer I am! It's the Lord that gives light to them that sit in darkness."
On the Monday that followed that memorable Sunday evening, another seafaring man walked along the Fort Cumberland road; and found it as quiet and deserted as when Jonah and Ruth had met there in years gone by.
He was a man of seven or eight and twenty, straight and active and strong. He had a bronzed face, which had once been red and white as an apple-blossom: and his eyes were blue and clear, telling their own frank tale of an honest and sober life. His crisp, curly hair and whiskers were tinted like autumn leaves with brown and gold; and there was a quiet, sunshiny look about him which spoke of an even temper and a warm heart. The day was closing in; it was five o'clock, and the scattered clumps of shrubs were casting long shadows across the sward. The soft air swarmed with gnats; bees were humming about the shrubs and butterflies flitted to and fro. There were no mists over the distant hills; their outlines were sharply defined against the clear sky, and the sea lay blue and quiet, dotted with little craft. So bright and peaceful was the whole scene that the young man broke out into a fragment of a sailor's song.
"Oh, whistle for the wind, my boys,
To fill her flapping sails!
We'll leave the shore behind, my boys,
With hills and woods and vales.
Upon the sea, the open sea,
Our chosen home we find;
Then whistle for the wind, my lads,
Oh, whistle for the wind!"
He sang in a full, mellow voice — the very kind of voice which one would have expected from him. The place was so quiet that the sound of his own song seemed pleasant, and he was beginning another verse as he drew near the coastguard's dwelling, but stopped abruptly in the first line.
It has been said elsewhere that the coastguard's piece of ground was protected by a green bank, and against this bank a girl was leaning, the low sun shining on her golden-brown head. Her fingers were languidly moving a pair of knitting-needles, but as the sailor approached she paused in her work and looked at him for a moment. It was a very calm glance, neither shy nor bold; but it brought a deep flush into the young man's face. She dropped her eyes and continued her knitting; and he walked straight to the coastguard's door.
But little has been said of the coastguard and his wife, for they were new-comers; a quiet couple who held hardly any fellowship with their neighbors. Just after Ruth Marbeck's death they had lost their only child; and so sore had been this grief that Mrs. Berridge had become almost absorbed in her sorrow. So little interest did she take in her everyday life that William Berridge began to fear for her reason; and, in his perplexity and distress, he wrote to her sailor brother, John Garland.
After knocking about the world for many years, as a seaman in the merchant service, John had settled down as first mate of the brig Maura, trading between Portsmouth and the French ports. He was prospering now as he had never done before, and was saving money, for he had learned by the experience of his early youth that lavish expenditure brings little good to the spender. In answer to the inquiries of his companions he was accustomed to say that he was preparing for the day when he should be cast up on shore, like an old hulk. If he had any other ideas in his mind he did not communicate them; and Ann Berridge held the opinion that her brother would never marry.
When John heard of Ann's state of mind he agreed at once to William Berridge's proposal that he should take up his quarters in the coastguard's cottage when he was on shore. Just at this time he was likely to have a spell on land, for in her last voyage the Maura had encountered much rough weather, and was in dock at Gosport, undergoing repairs. Early on Monday morning, a light cart had brought a black sea-chest to Berridge's house, and poor Ann's sad face had brightened at the sight of it. Next to her husband and the child whom she had lost, she loved her sailor brother. His presence would break the oppressive silence of her house, and then, too, his coming would give her more work to do. She needed constant occupation, poor soul, for her little boy's death had deprived her of a world of small duties, such as true women delight in. There were no longer any childish garments to be made and mended; no longer was there a pair of little hands which required constant watching; and the sweet voice which was ever making such imperious demands was quiet now. Her husband was one of those discreet, sober men who give little trouble to their wives. He never tore his clothes like other people — never left muddy footprints on the floors, nor upset any of the domestic arrangements. He was no talker, and when he spoke it was always in a slow, measured way.
But John Garland was a man of another stamp. He rent his garments, or rubbed them into holes; he hated stillness and silence, and talked and sang in a loud cheery fashion. He was incapable of gliding into the house, as William did, but usually rushed in like a strong sea breeze, scattering things here and there and creating a bustle. And Ann, remembering all his old habits, felt comforted to think that the sorrowful monotony of her existence would be broken up when he appeared.
Tea was waiting for him in her parlor, and a bright little fire burned in the grate, although the weather was not cold. She heard his footsteps, and ran to open the door before he could knock, so eager was she to give him a welcome. There he stood, looking flushed and flustered, and a little unlike his old free-and-easy self.
"Why, John, what ails you ?" she asked. "Have you been hurrying? You're as red as a peony!"
"I'm all right, Ann; yes, I believe I've been walking a bit fast. But how's yourself? You look thin and pale, my woman!"
"Come in," she said eagerly, re-assured by the sound of his voice. "William won't be at home until supper-time. He's gone to see his captain; they're about making some new regulations, I think. Oh, John, my boy, I'm downright glad to get you here!"
He stooped down to give her a hearty kiss. She laid her face upon his broad shoulder, and burst into tears, for at that moment she was thinking how gladly the little fellow who was gone would have greeted his sailor uncle. Then John's honest blue eyes began to glisten in sympathy, and he gently stroked her head with his sunburnt hand.
"Willie's safe in port now," he said, lowering his voice. "He's sailed right into the haven, Ann, without beating about in open sea, as most of us have to do."
She looked up at him quickly, as if his words had surprised her.
"Yes, he's safe enough, I know that," she answered. "But it's hard — oh, you can't tell how I've suffered! There are some women who have large families and keep them all; I had but one, and he's taken."
"I know it's hard," John replied, and his tone grew strangely soft and sweet. "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; He knew what He was doing, Ann, and His love is at the bottom of it all! We can't see far ahead, as He does, my woman; maybe He saw that the little lad would make shipwreck if he wasn't brought straight into port at once, and so He did just the best thing for him that could be done. The boy's got clear of all the rocks and shoals of this troublesome world. Are you making for the same harbor, Ann?"
Her astonishment swept away her grief for the time, and she stood looking at her brother as if to satisfy herself of his identity.
"What's come to you, John?" she asked at last. "You never used to talk like this."
He smiled; and then she recollected that he had not yet seated himself, and that the tea was ready.
"It's a poor welcome that I've given you," she said, hastily bestirring herself. He took a chair by the fire, pulled off his heavy boots, and glanced round at the little parlor. It was as neat and compact as the cell of a bee; the walls were covered with a pretty paper, which gave it a summer look, for the pattern was a light green trellis, festooned with rosebuds. There were one or two small pictures, and over the mantelpiece was a mirror in an ancient and tarnished frame. Beneath it was a daguerreotype of his boyish self in a sailor's suit; and he could not help smiling at the bare-necked, golden-haired lad whose round face confronted him with a fixed stare. The furniture was plain and substantial; the window was tastefully draped with spotless cotton, and there was a dark green rug on the floor. The little house contained only four apartments; two bedrooms, the sitting-room, and a kitchen.
To John Garland, whose life had chiefly been spent on board ship, this cottage seemed a perfect little palace of comfort. He leaned back in his chair while Ann poured out his tea; and drew a long breath of satisfaction as a puff of fragrance from a bunch of violets on the window-sill came stealing across to him.
"Ann," he said after a long pause, "there was a girl leaning against your garden bank as I came in."
"One of the Newburns, I suppose," answered she.
"Who are the Newburns?"
"The pilot's daughters — his step-daughters, I mean. You've heard of Jonah Marbeck?"
"To be sure I have. He brought us safe to Spithead one rough morning; he knows what he's about as well as any man on these coasts, I can tell you."
"Well, some years ago, long before we came here to live, he married a widow with two little girls. Their mother died just before I lost my Willie, and the girls are young women now."
"Are they good girls?"
"I don't know anything against them. Lucy is a hard-working little creature, I fancy. Their mother was a good woman; but terribly sickly."
"Why haven't you made friends with them, Ann?"
"I'm not one to make friends, John; I never was. They only waste one's time, popping in and out at all hours, and gossiping."
"Ah, then they're the wrong sort of friends."
"But I don't want any sort of friends. I have my husband, and I had my child. They were enough for me."
"Perhaps, Ann, others may have need of you, even if you've no need of them. Haven't you thought of that?"
"No; I've done nothing lately but think about my loss."
"Maybe you'd have got comforted yourself if you'd tried to comfort others a bit. Those poor girls have had as heavy a loss as yours."
"As heavy as mine!" echoed Ann, incredulously.
"Ay; 'every heart knows its own bitterness,' my woman. And when a person shuts himself up, and lives alone with his grief, he finds it poor company. Perhaps if you knew more of the sorrows of other folks, you'd cease to think that you had more than your share of trouble."
"Well," said Ann, setting down her tea-cup, and looking hard at her brother; "I wonder who'll begin preaching next! William will be holding forth by and by, I s'pose! Or maybe old Sam Hatchard! Who has got hold of you, John, and changed you so?"
"There's only One who has power to change the heart," he replied gravely. And then, with a smile, he added, "But I haven't taken to preaching, Ann; I'm only a rough sailor, as you know well enough."
"I know what you used to be," she responded, with a puzzled air. "I'll confess I don't like changes, and I'm sure you were always as good a lad as ever breathed. You didn't need improving, John."
He knew it was useless to contradict her statement, and so let it pass with a shake of the head.
"Was it Lucy Newburn who was outside the garden just now?" he inquired after another pause.
"I don't know; it may have been Esther."
"Either Lucy or Esther, then, is the prettiest girl I have ever set eyes on," said John. And having made this outburst, he looked half-ashamed of it.
"It's Esther that you've seen," returned Ann without hesitation. "Folks do admire her a great deal, and in fine weather she's mostly out-of-doors. Lucy does all the work, and Esther all the play; that's the truth, I think."
"Well, to be sure such a pretty creature oughtn't to be hard-worked," remarked John.
"Oh, oh!" laughed his sister. "You'd have her kept to be looked at, like a china doll!"
"Everything isn't made for work," he retorted. "Flowers are kept to be looked at, aren't they?"
"Ay, but flowers haven't got brains, nor hands and feet, my lad; and women have. Why, John, you're not grown so mighty wise as I thought! It's my turn to preach a sermon now."
Esther's words could not be banished from the pilot's mind. Day and night they haunted him; day and night the question was ringing in his ears, "What will become of Ruth's girls when I am gone?"
His manner towards them both was unchanged; and he did his best to hide his secret trouble from Lucy. But she saw that he was harassed, and guessed the cause.
"Father," she said, when he came in one evening, and sat down in his chair with a heavy sigh; "father, you're fretting about those silly words of Esther's."
The younger girl was sauntering up and down the shore; for, as Ann Berridge had said, she was generally out-of-doors in fine weather. Lucy used to wonder what could be the subject of her musings, when she saw her standing with folded arms, looking dreamily over the sea. But she asked no questions; Esther dreamed on, and wasted her time without being called to account for it.
Jonah tried to smile in answer to his daughter's remark, but it was not easy to deceive such loving eyes as hers. He gave up the attempt, and sighed again.
"She's but a child," continued Lucy; "you mustn't pay any heed to her, dear father. By and by, if she has to work for herself, it will do her good. I'd work for her all my days, gladly enough; but mother used to say that self-help was better than any other. She'll improve as she grows older; and she'll see things clearer. And then she'll understand what a good, kind father you are to us."
"There was truth in her words," Jonah answered gloomily. ''If they'd been false words, Lucy, they wouldn't have stuck to me. It's true that I've nothing to leave you."
Lucy's arms were round his neck in a moment; her soft face was pressed to his rugged cheek.
"You'll leave us something that's better than silver or gold," she said, speaking just as Ruth was accustomed to speak when she was excited to strong emotion. "The memory of the just is blessed. Oh, isn't it so with mother's memory? Don't people's deeds live after them, for good or for evil? Ah, the work isn't all done when they lie down in their graves — in the thoughts of others they are living and acting still!"
"It's Ruth over again," he murmured, stroking her smooth hair. "What a comfort you are to me, Lucy!"
They were silent for some moments. Both were thinking of her who was gone, and whose sweet influence still lingered in their two lives. The clock ticked; the white ashes and charred fragments dropped softly from a half-burnt log in the grate; the tabby cat on the hearth kept up a drowsy purr of contentment. Father and daughter were so busy with their musings that they did not notice the darkness that had fallen on the outer world; but suddenly a furious blast shook the cottage walls, making the plates and dishes rattle loudly. The door opened with a burst, and Esther, with her hair blown wildly about her face, entered as if forcibly driven in by the wind.
"There's a gale coming," she said, closing the door with difficulty. "That gust was so strong that I could scarcely keep on my feet."
Jonah rose and went to the window. Nearly the whole sky was covered with leaden clouds, hurrying along in disorderly ranks like a retreating army. The darkness of the sea made the foam crests on the waves look white and threatening, and the well-known roar on the Woolsners began to thunder along the coast. Gulls, whose wings gleamed like snow against the deepening blackness of the sky, came flying inland; and a couple of fishing-boats were seen making for the shelter of Hayling Island.
"The wind's chopped round to the south-east." said the pilot, taking his tarpaulin hat from its peg and buttoning his coat over his broad chest. The gale met him as he opened the door, and made him stagger, strong man as he was. Flakes of foam flew hither and thither: a large flock of wild-bird rose into the dark air and took flight in the direction of Portsdown hills. Old Sam Hatchard was standing on the shore, and John Garland was by his side.
"Sudden squall, isn't it?" remarked Sam to the pilot. "We don't see nor hear nothing of it here, though! Well, I can't say as I likes rough weather myself. We're pretty free from wrecks on this part of the coast, as I've been saying to Garland."
"I haven't known much about this coast of yours until lately," said John. "That was a nasty morning when you brought the Maura to Spithead, Marbeck."
"So it was," rejoined Jonah. "And many a skipper will wish himself safe at Spithead tonight!"
"It don't look as if the gale will be over in a hurry," said old Samuel, "This wind won't do my rheumatiz much good," he added, abruptly quitting his companions, and entering his cabin.
"Will you come and smoke a pipe in my place?" asked Jonah of John; and the latter assented at once.
The pilot's sitting-room had never looked more inviting than it did on that stormy evening. Lucy had made up the fire, and had lit the candle. She had drawn her father's chair near the table, and placed her own seat next to his. Before her was her mother's work-basket and a pile of stockings ready to be mended. Esther was knitting in her slow, languid way. The firelight flickered over her bright head and beautiful features, and played around Lucy's fair peaceful face and pale satin-smooth hands. They both looked up as the two men entered, and John saluted them with a sort of bashful politeness. Lucy gave him her hand frankly, receiving him as her father's friend; but Esther's greeting was more distant. Her quiet haughtiness seemed to chill the honest sailor, and he sat down rather awkwardly in the chair that was set for him. If Ann Berridge had been present she would have resented the lofty manner of the younger girl; and might have asked, not unnaturally, what right had Esther Newburn to hold her head so high? But no thought of resentment arose in John's heart. He took his seat, poor fellow, with the vague feeling that he was somehow very coarse and common — a feeling which made him hot and red, and led him to swing his hat nervously between the tips of his two forefingers, until Lucy put an end to the performance by relieving him of the care of it.
But when the pipes were lit and the blue smokewreaths began to curl about the four heads, John grew more at ease. The talk turned on seafaring matters, Jonah entertaining his guest with a description of all those parts of the Hampshire coast which were to be avoided by seamen. At first John said little, putting in a question or two now and then, but letting the pilot take the lead in the conversation.
"Bring out the black bottle, Lucy," said Jonah, at last, when they came to a little pause; "and put the kettle on to boil, my girl."
"Begging your pardon, miss," exclaimed John, blushing anew, " I hope you won't trouble yourself on my account. I don't take spirits, Marbeck," he added, turning to his host; "I've done without 'em these three years. Thank ye kindly all the same."
"Well, I don't take much myself," Jonah responded. "Let the bottle stop in the cupboard, Lucy. Are you a teetotaler, Garland?"
"I've never signed any pledge," the other replied. "But I'll own that I made a vow in my mind, and I hope I'll never break it."
"Maybe you'd good cause to make a vow?" said the pilot in a tone of inquiry.
"Yes, I had. I made it after seeing the most fearsome thing that ever I saw in my life."
"Let's hear all about it, if you've no objection," said Jonah, putting another piece of drift-wood on the fire. "My girls are wonderful fond of a story."
Lucy backed up her father's request, and even Esther's dark eyes seemed to say "go on." John's diffidence was fast disappearing, and when he began his tale he was his natural manly self, speaking without hesitation or restraint.
"It'll be three years ago, come the second of next month, that I broke this right arm of mine, and did a deal of damage to myself besides that. I belonged to the Rosabella at that time; and, having just returned from China, she had unloaded, and was lying in Southampton dock under repairs. The skipper hoped to be afloat again in two months; a better man I never sailed with, and I'd made up my mind to stick to him and the Rosabella. Nobody was sharper at finding out a lad's weak points than Cap'n Darrell, and when I parted with him he had a word or two to say to me in private. 'Garland,' says he, 'when the liquor's in, the wit's out. Come back to the Rosabella with a whole skin and a clear conscience.'
"Now you'd think, natural enough, that I should keep those words of his in my mind and act up to them. That's just what I meant to do. I held my head high, and was as full as could be of good resolutions as I walked up old Southampton street, and passed under the Bar-gate. I looked up at the two great figures standing on the north front of the gate, and thought that I shouldn't have minded lending a hand to Sir Bevis when he slew the giant Ascapart. Ay, ay, I was mighty brave in my fancy; and yet when the great giant Temptation — ten times bigger than Ascapart — attacked me, what did I do but give in at once?
"I'm not going to offend your ears with an account of a tavern brawl. It's quite enough to say that before that day closed in, I'd got a broken arm, a lame leg, and a body covered with bruises. One of my mates was with me, and he took me away in a cart to the house of a sister of his. A doctor came to set my arm, and bade me lie still for a day or so; but lying still is hard work to me.
"My mate's sister was a good motherly soul; and as I was willing to pay what she asked for my board and lodgings, I stayed in her cottage. I liked the little house all the better because it was outside the town, and stood on a quiet country road. Being early in May, and lovely weather, I soon picked myself up, and went out-of-doors, for the sunshine and sweet air seemed to put new life into me. Still I felt weakish, and all my limbs were stiff and sore; but I knew that I had been rightly served. Why hadn't I taken the skipper's advice? I called myself a fool a dozen times an hour, and used to pace up and down that quiet road, wondering why I'd been so easily led astray.
"Well, one morning after breakfast I strolled out into the road as usual, and thought I'd never seen a fairer day. I remembered that there had been a shower in the night, and the hedges looked as if they were hung with diamonds. O how sweet the hawthorn was! It made me feel as if I were a boy again and was going a-maying. So I rambled on and on, until I'd left the cottage a long way behind; and at last, just as I was beginning to think of turning back, I found myself close to a little village. Being tired, I thought I'd buy a glass of milk, and sit down to rest on a door-step before I walked any more. But while I was looking about for a likely place to get what I wanted, I heard the sound of a brass band.
"I've often thought since that day how strange it was that I, who'd been to foreign parts and had led a roving sort of a life, should see the most fearsome sight I'd ever seen, in a little English village. Little enough did I think what was going to happen when I stepped round the corner of a barn and came out upon a small common where several country folks and children were standing. They were looking at the outside of a wild-beast show; the music sounded, and a man in green kept inviting them all to walk in. The first thing I did was to pick out two little chaps who seemed as if they particularly wanted to see the beasts; and we three went in together.
"I hadn't been into a wild-beast show since I was a little lad myself, and I was as pleased as the boys. To be sure it didn't smell as sweet as the hedges, but the creatures were worth looking at. Many a time I'd seen the monkeys and parrots on their native trees, and heard them screaming and chattering like mad things; so I turned away from them to stare at the lions and tigers. While I was going from cage to cage I noticed a gentleman in parson's clothes who seemed to look about him with a pleasant sort of smile, and gave some cakes and nuts to the boys who wanted to feed the monkeys. Well, by and by, the talking-man finished his lecture about the beasts, and then I heard somebody say 'Now, for the liontamer!'
"All in a moment a door at the back of one cage was opened and shut, and a man, in a red velvet dress shining with spangles, sprang in among the lions. He cracked his whip, and drove them, all growling and snarling, up into a corner. Then he seized the largest lion by the mane, set him up on his hind-legs, and stared straight into his eyes. Someone close by me said, 'I don't like this sort of thing;' it was the parson who spoke, and turned to go away.
"I don't know how it happened — I could never tell — but just after the man had flung the lion backwards, the creature was up and had leaped upon him. Down he went before that terrible paw, and the brute stood over him licking its wicked lips, and glaring at the people, who screamed and got as far away as they could. The other lions were but young ones, and they stood looking on, as if they didn't know what to make of it all. There lay the man; but no one would venture into the cage to save him. The show-people roared and yelled, and there was a call for firearms; but nothing was done.
"'I won't stand by and see the man killed! Come and help me, some of you!' It was the parson speaking, and he meant what he said. Oh, how I longed for my good right arm at that moment — how I hated the drink that had made me a poor bruised wretch! He jumped in at the back of the cage with an iron bar in his hand, and made straight at the lion.
"The beast was taken by surprise; and when he saw the gentleman look at him so boldly, and felt a heavy blow from the iron bar, he shrank back. The parson faced him, never taking his eyes off him for an instant until the poor beast-tamer was dragged away by some of the showmen; and then he stepped backwards out of the cage. They'd barely time to close the door before the lion made a spring after him; but he was safe.
"All this takes a long while to tell, but it was done in a few minutes. The beast-tamer had been bitten in the shoulder, and was faint from loss of blood. There was a great deal of talking and confusion; but the parson contrived to slip away; and when I looked round in search of him he was gone.
"I never rested until I'd found him. He was walking down a shady lane when I overtook him; I spoke, and he turned. His face was pale, but very calm, and his voice was quiet.
"'Do you want me?' he said.
"'Oh, yes, sir!' I felt like to sob just then as I answered him. I'm a poor sailor, sir, who's been in a drunken fight, and got his arm smashed. But I'll never touch spirits again — that I never will, God help me!'
"'I'm glad you added that,' said he in the same quiet voice. 'Without God's help you could not keep your vow.'
"' 'Twas a noble thing that you did, sir,' I went on. 'There isn't one man in a thousand who'd do what you did just now.'
"'My God has sent His angel, and shut the lion's mouth,' he said, looking at me gravely. 'If I had gone into the cage with only my own strength to aid me, I should never have come out alive. Don't you want to have that strength of His, too, my man?'
"Then I told him that I wanted it more than words could say; and he told me where I might find it. He spoke of the apostle Paul, who said, 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,' and he bid me search the Scriptures that I might know the way of salvation. But he said, too, that although Christ had promised to give His strength to those that asked for it, He did not mean His followers to be foolhardy. He didn't mean us to risk our lives without a plain cause for doing so; we must be quite certain that we saw our duty, dead sure, before we rushed into danger.
"I parted with him then, and never set eyes on him from that day to this. I questioned some of the village folk about him, but they could only say that he was a stranger; no one knew where he came from, nor where he had gone. But I never forgot him nor his sayings, and I wanted his God to be my God. It made a changed man of me, because I saw for the first time in my life that religion wasn't talk and sham, but a real thing — a something that the world couldn't give, and could never, never take away."
While John was telling his story, the candle had burnt down to the socket, and the fire had become a mass of red embers, but his hearers took no heed of candle or fire. They had listened intently; even Esther's eyes had scarcely moved from the speaker, and there were tears on Lucy's cheeks. Jonah had sat motionless, the working of his features showing how deeply he was interested in the sailor's tale.
Meanwhile the gale was raging fearfully, howling and shrieking around the house; and the roar of the sea was terrible to hear. When Jonah opened the door for his departing guest, he saw a wild starless night, and felt the dash of salt spray against his face. He heard the wrath of the winds and waves, and went back to his fireside thinking that there were many on the foaming waters who would need Christ's strength, and sighing when he remembered that some would seek it not.
ON THE WOOLSNERS
A glorious morning succeeded that fearful night. Silvery banks of cloud lay on the horizon, but overhead the sky was intensely blue and clear. The shore was strewn with ropey coils of green sea-grass and huge fragments of black, brown and yellow weeds, flung up by the wild dashing of the waves. But their fury was over now, although there was still a swelling and heaving of the water, as if it could not yet rest after last night's gale.
Lucy was washing up the breakfast things when Susan Hatchard's gaunt figure passed the window. In another moment the latch was lifted with a quick jerk, and she stood in the doorway, wearing a blue and white kerchief tied under her chin, and looking more grim than usual.
"Well," she said triumphantly, "Sam needn't be always braggin' and boastin' about our coast, as if it was his own private property, and he was bound to stand up for it! What do you think happened last night, Lucy?"
"I'm afraid that a great many sad things happened last night," replied the girl, gravely. "I lay awake for an hour or more listening to the shrieking of the wind and the roaring of the waves. It was a real tempest."
"Ay, so it was. Well, there's a French brig gone to pieces on the Woolsners."
"Any lives lost?" asked Lucy, earnestly.
"All hands saved, Sam says. It was the brig Angelique, bound for Havre; but there's no more of her left than will serve to light our fires."
A little later the pilot's daughters went out upon the shore together, and watched old Sam pulling across from Hayling, where he had landed an early passenger. They waited until his clumsy boat's keel rasped upon the shallows and he had lit his pipe, after looking round to satisfy himself that there was not another fare in sight. Then they stepped forward to question him about the wreck, and he answered their inquiries in his own slow fashion.
"The cap'n of the Angelique found that she was makin' leeway, and last night, about half-past ten, he gave orders to let down the anchors. There were no women aboard, which was a mercy," said Sam, with unusual animation, "for women, in my opinion, is meant to 'bide on shore, and keep house, as is all they're fit for. Well, she held on until near half-past eleven, and then the anchor chains parted. After that she just drifted to leeward and struck on the Woolsners, swinging broadside on. There she lay, with a most tremendous sea beatin' clean over her, and I can't scarcely tell how the crew got ashore; but some of the Hayling Island folk helped as well as they could. Before the skipper left her she snapped asunder amidships and tumbled all to pieces. The cap'n was washed up, clinging to a part of the mast, and they dragged him on land, more dead than alive. There, my girls, that's all I knows about the matter."
Lucy and Esther stood for a few minutes longer looking over the blue water towards that white line of tossing foam that marked the shoal where the unfortunate Angelique had met her fate. How many other vessels had gone down in last night's storm? How many women had been made widows while that tempest was raging? Lucy sighed as she turned back to the cottage, and thanked God for the old Bible words, so mysterious and yet so sweet: "And I saw a new Heaven and a new earth; and the first Heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea."
Would it really pass away — that broad blue ocean? The girl glanced thoughtfully over the glittering waves as she reached the house-door, and then found herself musing about that "sea of glass, mingled with fire," whereon the saints shall stand, "having the harps of God." Lucy was one of those women who have always a quiet interior world of their own. She was not less practical, nor less willing to do all the everyday work that fell to her share, because that interior world of hers was full of sacred thoughts and sweet fancies. Her mother had said that the mingling of the "wave and flame" was a type of the harmony of Heaven; and while Lucy's hands were busy with common duties, her heart was echoing the sweet verses which Ruth had loved to repeat to her child when they spoke together of the song of Moses and the Lamb.
"Hush! like the distant sound of billows roaring,
Or booming of the thunder far away,
I hear the strain that floats from saints adoring
Amid that perfect day!
"lt's the same song oft sung by faltering voices
Of pilgrims weary, with their bleeding feet,
That now the ransomed host for yes rejoices
Upon the golden street.
"Worthy the Lamb! we sing it in our sadness,
As to His cross we cling, that cross we love;
Worthy the Lamb! they chant with endless gladness
In the bright choir above.
"O song of songs, all others far exceeding,
Full of His love, unfathomed and unpriced,
That tells us of the suffering, dying, bleeding,
And ever-living Christ."
As the sun reached its height, the day grew as calm and bright as if it were midsummer, and Lucy set the cottage door wide open. She could hear the faint kiss of the tide upon the beach, and its soft murmur seemed whispering that sweet hymn over and over again. Esther had wandered out with her knitting; but the elder girl had no need, just then, of any human companionship. She sang in a low key, as she went about her work, blending her voice with the gentle rippling of the waves.
It was late in the afternoon when Jonah came home. He had a great deal to say about the Angelique, and corroborated old Sam Hatchard's statements. In those days there was no life-boat kept at Hayling Island, and Jonah was of the opinion that one was greatly needed.
"They'll have one, I s'pose, when some more mischief is done," said he. "It's a wonder to me that people take shipwrecks in such a cool way. 'These things will happen,' they say, settlin' themselves down quite comfortable by their parlor fires. And they don't think of the hearts that are wrecked, nor of the women and children on shore left without husbands and fathers to work for them. Ay, ay, it's a selfish world!"
"Don't be too hard upon the world, father," remarked Lucy, in her gentle way. "There's a great deal of good done, as mother used to say; and people would do more if they only knew that it was needed."
"Well, perhaps they would. The skipper of the Angelique has had a heavy loss, Lucy. He'd got three hundred pounds in gold in his cabin, and was trying to save it when the brig went to pieces. He'll never see it again, poor fellow!"
"Poor man," said Lucy. "He's a Frenchman, isn't he, father?"
"Yes, a chatterin', dancin' Frenchman. A good fellow, I daresay, and plucky in his way; but not solid enough to please me. However, that isn't his fault, it's his misfortune. The Lord doesn't favor us all alike, and everybody can't be English. His name's Levigne — Jean Levigne."
Jonah spoke as if it were an impossibility for any one who was not English to be anything but a poor creature. The old boast that an Englishman was a match for three Frenchmen, had been accepted by him in simple faith.
"But there have been very brave Frenchmen," said Lucy, with a smile. "There was Henry the Fourth, a great French king who won many battles — I've read about him."
"Ah, they can't turn out good sailors," responded the pilot, complacently. "'Britannia rules the waves,' as everybody knows."
It seemed quite natural for John Garland to look into the pilot's cottage when the day was closing, and say a word or two about the wreck. Lucy welcomed him cordially, as a fellow-traveler to that celestial city which was so often in her thoughts. Esther was still reserved, although she deigned to smile slightly when he ventured to address her. Jonah was heartily glad of his company, and already began to treat him as a familiar friend.
They talked over the fate of the Angelique seriously and critically, as sailors are accustomed to do; and then went on to speak of Captain Levigne and the loss which he had sustained. Three hundred pounds! It was a thousand pities that such a sum should have been swallowed up by the greedy waves.
"It's surprisin'," remarked John Garland, "to think of all the treasure that's hidden in the sea. And sometimes a little of it is given back, just as if old father Neptune liked to show us a sample of his riches. The other day I heard of some golden Spanish coins found on Portland beach; the water had washed them until they looked as clean and bright as if they had just come from the mint. They were coins that had gone down in the ships of the Spanish Armada; I'm no scholar, but I know the story of that, pretty well, and a glorious story it is."
'"He blew with His winds, and they were scattered,'" murmured Lucy.
"Ay, ay," chimed in Jonah, "the Lord was on England's side, then, sure enough."
"Perhaps," said Esther, suddenly, "some of Captain Levigne's lost money may turn up in the same way."
"Well, I wish it might," responded John. "But things seldom do turn up when you're thinking about them, somehow. Anyway I'd be glad to put it back into the poor fellow's hands."
"But if you found it washed up by the sea, it would be yours," said Esther.
"No, no, miss," returned honest John, uneasily. "I like fair play. I'm not one who'd care to grow rich on another man's loss. And unlawful gain seldom brings good luck; I've never yet seen that sort of money wear well."
"Ah," remarked Esther, with a slight toss of her beautiful head, "folks who are wealthy can afford to be very honest. But if that three hundred pounds came in my way — that is, if the sea cast it up at my feet — I should just take it, and quiet my conscience by thinking that perhaps God had sent it to keep me out of poverty."
An expression of pain flitted over John's face, and his frank blue eyes gave her a look that was half-puzzled and half-incredulous. Did she really mean what she had uttered? His glance asked this question so plainly that Lucy could not help answering it in words.
"We can't always understand Esther," she said gently. "She likes to mystify us sometimes; and I am sure that she is joking now. There's no sense in talking about Captain Levigne's money, however, for it's not likely ever to be found."
John appeared relieved. Esther smiled, and said nothing; but Lucy imagined that the smile was hardly satisfactory; and Jonah's cheerfulness seemed suddenly to have deserted him; his brows were knitted into a frown, his mouth drooped at the corners, and he sighed heavily once or twice. His elder daughter watched him with an anxious look, and read his thoughts, as her mother would have done. Lucy had that keen instinct which generally accompanies a refined and sensitive nature; she knew the sore places in other hearts, and would gladly have interposed a shield between them and the arrows of "bitter words." A shaft that pierced another, stung her also. It was not easy to guess whether Esther's shaft had been sent at random, or was aimed deliberately, but anyhow it had hit the mark.
John soon became aware of the shadow that had fallen upon Lucy and the pilot, but he did not know its cause. As yet he was quite unacquainted with the characters of these three persons, and he was looking at one of them with dazzled eyes. He saw Jonah as an upright, hardy sailor, just such a man as he was accustomed to meet every day; he saw Lucy as a pure, sweet-tempered little woman who was probably as good a housewife as his sister Ann; and he saw Esther, not by any means as Esther Newburn, but as a princess who had somehow got into that homely little household by mistake.
He was wrong about them all. The pilot's character was not what it seemed; it had depths that John never suspected. And he was utterly unable to comprehend all that lay under Lucy's calm manner and busy ways. As to Esther — the princess — she was decidedly the most ordinary mortal of the three.
But although John had a fair share of good sense, his very imperfect knowledge of womankind was likely to give him many a heartache.
The summer days crept on, and whenever the Maura was in Portsmouth harbor, her chief mate was to be found in Marbeck's cottage. As his intimacy with the two girls strengthened, John ventured to bring them little presents now and then. These gifts were French knick-nacks of diverse kinds, and he found to his surprise that it was Esther who received them with readiness, while Lucy accepted them reluctantly. The younger girl forgot all her reserve at the sight of these pretty trifles, and showed a childish pleasure which quite delighted the simple-hearted sailor.
"You mustn't spend your money upon us," Lucy would say gravely. "It is very good of you; but we don't need such fine things. They are fit for ladies, and we are only poor girls, you know."
But Esther's look and smile said just the reverse. It was towards luxuries of every sort that her spirit turned so eagerly. It was not for affection, not even for the highest kind of human bliss that she pined. She only wanted "fine things, fit for ladies," and her desires never took a higher flight.
A CERTAIN SUMMER DAY
July drew near its end, and the rich ripe summer was in all her glory still. Jonah was having one of his "lazy days," as he called it. He had spent the morning hours in mending nets, smoking a pipe or two over his work, and sitting in the shade of the boat-house. Sometimes Lucy came out of the cottage to say a word to him, tripping across the loose pebbles and sand, with her apron thrown over her head to shield it from the burning sun. Once she sat down on the duck-punt by the pilot's side, and enjoyed the light puffs of cool air that crept round the angle of the old boat-house. Then she talked in a tone as soft and low as the whispering of the waves around her — talked of Him who has made summer and winter, and of that "never-failing Providence which orders all things both in Heaven and on earth."
Once Esther came out to ask if he would like to have his dinner before twelve o'clock. Lucy was cooking it, and could not leave the fire; but the younger sister had evidently taken no share in the other's work. Her face was cool and composed as usual; her hands were unsoiled; her cotton dress was perfectly fresh and clean. She wore a dainty little collar of embroidered muslin, and a small brooch of bright red coral, carved, and set in a narrow circlet of gold. It was a tasteful, pretty ornament, and might have been worn on silk or satin, although it did not look too costly for Esther's calico gown.
Now Jonah did not know much about jewelry, but he could see that this brooch in nowise resembled the large brassy one with the green glass center, with which Susan Hatchard was accustomed to pin to her Sunday shawl. There was a delicacy in the workmanship of this ornament which told plainly that it was not inexpensive, and he felt that it was not exactly the kind of thing which girls in Esther's station usually possess.
"Did you buy that brooch, Esther?" he asked abruptly.
"No, indeed, father!" she answered, with a little laugh. "I haven't any money to spend on brooches."
"Then where did it come from?"
"John Garland gave it to me. He slipped it into my hand last night as he was going out of the door."
"He shouldn't have done it," said Jonah, in a vexed tone; "it must have cost a good bit of money."
"It was good-natured of him," returned Esther, coldly. "I daresay he guesses that it's miserable for a girl to be so poor that she can't buy herself a pretty thing when she wants it."
Again that bitter allusion to poverty. The pilot's face darkened; but he said no more about John's gift. When he spoke it was in a constrained voice.
"Tell Lucy to have dinner before twelve. I'm going out on the Woolsners at low water to pick up balls. I've told Tom Kirby to bring the boat out there when the tide's down. Old Sam'll row me across the ferry, and I shall walk along the sands."
He would have said far less if Lucy had been standing in Esther's place. It was not the first time that he had been to Hayling sands to pick up balls, and the girls knew all about his proceedings. They could even watch him from their own beach.
She turned and went back to the cottage, and he looked after her, while something very like a groan burst from his lips.
"Oh, Ruth" (it was the old cry), "what am I to do for your girls?"
It was strange that Jonah never realized all that he had already done for them. He had sat in darkness, and Ruth had brought him light; he had given her shelter and food, and she had repaid him with the rich blessings of wifely care and tenderness. In his whole life she had wrought that wondrous change which a loved and loving woman may always work in a man's existence, if God permits it. It was no miracle that she had done; and it is to the shame of women that they do not oftener do that which she did.
But in the pilot's judgment it was little less than a miracle. She was God's messenger, sent to lead him into the way of peace. She had walked by his side for many a mile, and had not left him until the truths that she loved were firmly implanted in his heart. How, then, could he do enough for those whom she had committed to his care? Should he not strive continually to make their lives as blessed as she had made his?
Thus he mused as he crossed the ferry in old Sam's boat on that afternoon. The day was still perfectly calm and clear; Portsdown hills, with the chalk-pits in their sides, and the beautiful coasts of Sussex, stood out softly yet brightly in the summer light. He looked down into the emerald deeps below, at the shadow of the slowly gliding boat, at the diamond drops flashing and dripping from the oars; but he saw nothing. Then, still sad and gloomy, he landed on Hayling, and walked heavily up the sloping shore, breaking up the smooth drab surface of the sand with unsightly footmarks.
He passed a battered old hull lying high and dry, and then strode recklessly into a sandy piece of waste soil, half-covered with tough couch-grass. He had shot rabbits there sometimes, but he was in no mood for sport on that day. The place was as wild and desolate as if no human foot had ever trodden there. The broken ground rising and falling into rugged outlines against the blue sky, the coarse grass growing harsh and tall, and the pale dry sand, made as dreary a scene as can well be imagined. Seaward, the view was bright enough. There was the opposite coast with its great forts; and to the left lay the lovely Isle of Wight; while countless sails, white and silvery as seabirds' wings, were moving between the shores.
He walked on, looking out straight before him at tracts of yellow beach and blue water, pale-blue in some places and indigo in others. On the farthest verge gleamed the tossing white of the breakers, and, although the tide was low, their hollow roar might be heard afar off. Jonah was quite alone; there was not a footprint near. Below him on the shore, but at a considerable distance, some men were getting ballast. They had anchored their odd, clumsy craft, and were busily loading her with gravel; but they took no notice of the pilot's solitary figure. It was not ballast that he was about to seek; he had come to search for the cannon-balls that had been fired from the fort-guns for practice. The gunners had been firing almost every day for a week past; while the cannonading was going on the opposite coast was of course left clear, but it was always over by noon.
The officials paid for all the spent balls brought back by the watermen, and Jonah had several times earned money in this way. He was more anxious to earn it now than he had ever been before.
On and on he walked, getting gradually nearer and nearer to the tossing foam and the mighty roar. The Woolsners shift with the tides, sometimes they are sand and sometimes pebbles, and the whole shore of Hayling is subject to the same process. On this day Jonah could see little but sand, strewn here and there with shining mother-o'-pearl shells, empty mussels, the brittle tenements of the razor-fish, and a few pale scallop-shells, each a marvel of delicate beauty. By and by he found a deeply-imbedded cannon-ball, and then another and another. He began to collect them and pile them up, to be readily conveyed to the boat.
The tide had turned now, and in a little while the waters would be stealthily creeping over the tract whereon he was standing. He stood still and listened to the somber sea-thunder, but his face continued to be dark and troubled; "the still small voice" that had so often soothed his sorrow and restlessness seemed to be silent now. Or perhaps he could not hear it because of the riot that was going on within his own heart.
It is frequently our own fault that we do not hear that voice. "Be still, and know that I am God," it says; but we will not be still. We weary our minds with thinking of things that have nothing to do with Him; we form a thousand wild plans that can never be carried out, and then wonder passionately at our own folly. That was just what Jonah was doing. He was racking his brain to find some way of getting rich, and when he had thought and thought to no purpose, he lifted his foot and drove his heavy boot deep into the sand in his mad impatience.
He freed it again with an angry kick which sent the wet sand flying about him. But that kick had turned up something else — something that made a clinking noise. What was it?
He stooped to examine it closely. It was a bag of coarse canvas, stained with salt water and green with slimy seaweed. He lifted it; how heavy it was, and how it rattled! There was money inside it; he was sure of that, even before he drew out his clasp-knife and cut the knotted strings which tied it up.
Gold, bright yellow gold, glittering in the sunlight. Jonah's strong hands trembled, and his heart throbbed fast at the sight. He had naturally a love of money, which might perhaps have grown into a passion in his old age if a greater love had not overpowered it. He had not grudged the spending of his earnings for Ruth's sake, because she was dearer to him than his hoard. But as he touched the shining coins he felt the old cravings stir within him. Few can look calmly upon the gleam of gold unless they have more of it than falls to the share of ordinary mortals, and it was no wonder that our poor pilot was agitated at finding such great spoil.
He inspected the canvas bag. There were two letters traced upon it, roughly but distinctly, in black ink. The letters were J. L. — the initials of Jean Levigne, captain of the unfortunate Angelique. Without doubt, this bag contained the three hundred pounds which he had nearly lost his life in attempting to save. When the brig went to pieces, the bag of gold had been cast upon the sand and buried there, until Jonah's foot had brought it once more to light.
He looked around him at the bright rippling sea, and the snowy foam of the breakers. And through all the thunder of the surf he could hear Esther's voice saying, —
"If that three hundred pounds came in my way — if the sea cast it up at my feet — I should just take it, and quiet my conscience by thinking that perhaps God had sent it to keep me out of poverty."
Do we ever rightly estimate the influence of words? Do we ever realize that a sentence may live on when the lips that uttered it are silent in the grave? Sometimes in the course of our lives, we find our words coming back to us at unexpected seasons and in strange places. "I was in sore trouble," says one, "and you said so-and-so, which heartened and strengthened me." And another, "Things might have gone differently, but for that remark of yours, which confirmed me in my folly." Words are like seeds; we know not how far the wind may carry them. They are germs of good or evil, although we may never mark the spot where they fall nor see the crop that they produce.
"Doubtless," thought the pilot, "Jean Levigne has become reconciled to his loss; he has never had any hope of getting his money again."
And then, after all, was it certain that this canvas bag did belong to the skipper of the Angelique? Other vessels had gone to pieces on the Woolsners before the French brig met her fate there: the initials J. L. might stand for some other name — perhaps they represented the name of one who would never more have any need of silver or gold. Now Jonah knew quite well that this was false reasoning, and yet he tried to believe that it was weighty and true.
Again he looked around him. There was Tom Kirby, the lad who always acted as his mate, pulling towards the island. He was making for a little creek where the water ran in smoothly, and in a short time his boat would touch the shore. Jonah drew a long breath, and dropped the canvas bag into the recesses of his deep pocket. How its weight seemed to drag him down; but he muttered, half-aloud, — "It's not for myself; it's for Ruth's girls. It's to keep them out of poverty."
Only the surges answered him, and a solitary gull flew over his head, uttering a wailing cry. Tom Kirby's voice sounded across the blue water, and the pilot's deeper tones replied. One by one the cannonballs were deposited in the bottom of the boat, and Jonah got in after them. Then each taking an oar, they pulled back towards the opposite coast, carefully avoiding the shoals, and landing safely just below the ferryman's cabin.
"Oh, oh!" said old Sam, as the balls were taken out and dropped upon the beach. "You've been in luck's way today, Master Jonah!"
Did old Sam suspect anything? Could he have seen — ? No; the idea was wild and improbable, but it was the first-fruits of a guilty conscience. The commonplace remark grated on the pilot's ears, and he answered in a surly tone, —
"I've never found out where luck walks, so I'm not likely to meet him."
Old Sam took his pipe from his lips and stared at his neighbor, who walked to his cottage without another word. The pilot was usually chatty and genial, and the ferryman was amazed at this change of manner. When people wish to escape suspicion they often take the very course most calculated to awaken it, and bring it upon them.
Tea was ready, and Lucy stood at the door waiting for her father. John Garland sat at the table, with a dish of periwinkles before him. He was picking them out of their shells and putting them into the plates, while Esther added pepper and vinegar. At another time Jonah would have sat down to the homely feast with a cheerful face and a good appetite, but now he took his place at the board with a heavy heart.
What was Jonah to do with the money? Where should he conceal it? He meant it to be his legacy to the girls; not one golden piece would he touch for his own use; it was to be unspent until he was dead and gone. But the cottage was very small, and Lucy had her mother's habit of keeping every corner free from dust and dirt. Not a single nook was left unvisited by her broom and house-cloth; not a spider dared to hang its flimsy curtain before a cranny: the little house was always as exquisitely neat and clean as Lucy herself.
Only one hiding-place suggested itself to his mind. He would take up a board under his bed, and put his treasure beneath it; and this purpose was planned out without delay.
He constructed a little box of rough wood, and carrying it into the house, remarked carelessly that Tom Kirby "wanted a box to hold odds and ends." And then he sat down to smoke his pipe and have his evening chat with his daughters, painfully conscious that he could not seem like his old self.
He smoked unremittingly, catching an earnest glance now and again from Lucy's blue eyes. The air was warm and still; through the open door and window came the red light, filling the little parlor with its rosy glow; and the three figures were bathed in the sunset glory. By and by it faded, leaving only a few faint tints on sea and sky; then the soft dusk crept over the waters, and a star or two began to twinkle. Never before had Jonah felt such a sense of relief when the clock struck nine sharp strokes, and he closed the shutters and barred the door.
At length the "good-nights" were exchanged, and he was alone in his own room. All day he had been carrying that heavy money-bag about with him, and now he laid it down upon the bed with a sigh. The chambers in the little house were only divided from each other by thin partitions, and he resolved not to begin his work until the two girls were fast asleep.
He listened to the low murmur of their voices as he sat waiting and wakeful. There was moonlight, broad and clear, out-of-doors; the frame-work of the small window-panes was defined sharply under the white blind which covered them. He counted the eight little squares over and over in a weary way, and traced their shadows on the floor at his feet. Presently the girls' soft tones were hushed, and he heard only their quiet breathing.
His hands trembled as he lit his candle and proceeded to raise the board. They trembled yet more when he poured out the gold as noiselessly as possible, and packed it into the box. He would not keep the bag; he intended to destroy it.
It was all done in a very little while. The box was safely hidden, and the board was put back into its place. Jonah notched a small cross over the spot to mark it, and then extinguished his candle. But his heart was disquieted within him, and he felt that he had buried his own peace of mind with Jean Levigne's gold.
There was a barrier between him and Heaven. He found it when he knelt down to pray. The "Friend that sticks closer than a brother," the wife whom he loved so truly, were put far from him. Only he who "has clean hands and a pure heart" can draw near to God, and worship Him in spirit and in truth.
Poor Jonah stretched himself upon the bed and fell into a troubled slumber. He dreamed that, like Jacob of old, he was lying in a desert place, when a glorious light seemed to overwhelm and awaken him. He saw the patriarch's vision; the wondrous ladder "set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to Heaven," and the angels of God ascended and descended on it.
One bright figure extended its arms towards him; it was Ruth. Her gentle face was little changed, but it shone with a marvelous beauty; her look was intensely earnest, and she beckoned him to mount the ladder. She stood on one of the higher rounds, bending downwards, her glistening white robes floating around her; her soft eyes fixed upon her husband. There were other forms coming and going; but he saw only hers.
He rose, and looked at the place where he had been sleeping. It was barren and gloomy, strewn with rocks and stones, and shrouded with darkness. He looked up again at the ladder, and saw that bright form still holding out its hands in mute entreaty. He would go to Ruth; she wanted him, and the time of reunion had come at last. His heart throbbed fast with excessive joy; full of hope and longing he began the ascent.
Alas, what was this? Some heavy burden was dragging him back to earth; it seemed as if a millstone were hanging round his neck. He lifted his eyes to Ruth; she was beckoning no longer, but watching him with a strange stillness in her face. Again he struggled upward; again the burden held him down; and then a great fear and anguish came upon him. What was this cruel load which kept him from entering Heaven?
It was Jean Levigne's bag of gold.
He flung up his arms with a cry of despair; and then awoke to find himself lying in his own bed. His limbs were trembling, a cold dew had broken out upon his forehead; he sat upright in a bewildered state, and looked about him to collect his senses. The moon was still shining broadly through the window, and the white lights and black shadows still lay upon the floor. The ladder and the bright figures were but images of a dream; the bed whereon he lay was real; so were the two rush-bottomed chairs standing against the wall; so were the blue jug and basin. Everybody had strange dreams at times; but nobody but a fool would vex himself about them.
There was another thing that was real — the French skipper's money that was lying hidden under the floor.
Jonah thought of this, and lay down to sleep again with a stifled groan. But slumber did not come readily; he tossed and turned until the moonlight faded and the little room was dark. Then at last came the longed-for rest. He did not wake until the sun had long been up, and a golden ray stole in to kiss his care-worn face.
He rose and opened the casement. The fresh sea air drifted in and the splash of the waves met his ears; the tide was coming in fast, rushing up the beach, and crunching the pebbles as it went swirling back. From the coastguard's garden came the sound of a sailor's song, sung in a rich cheery voice. You might have listened to that song in the very heart of a Midland valley and it would have made you hear the creaking of the capstan and the shouting of the crew — ay, and the washing of the sea against the good ship's side. John Garland was the singer, as Jonah well knew. But, somehow, he shrank from meeting John's honest eyes, and found himself wishing that the Maura was at Spithead, with her chief mate aboard.
A burdened heart shuns company. The pilot's burden was one that he was ashamed of, let him reason about it as he would. Even if it were not quite right to keep the gold from its lawful owner, was not his motive good? Was he not retaining it for the sake of Ruth's daughters; not for himself? Thus he tried to still his conscience; and again and again he muttered, half-aloud, — "I'll never spend a sixpence of it on myself; I'd rather fling it back into the sea, than do that. It's for them — all for them! It'll keep them out of poverty when I'm dead and gone."
Lucy saw few faces in the course of her quiet daily life. And because she had so few to study, she knew every change in those around her. Moreover, she had a loving heart, and love quickens the sight as nothing else can. When the pilot came into the parlor to breakfast, her first glance at him convinced her that something was wrong. He made a mighty effort to seem cheerful; talked louder than usual, and avoided meeting his daughter's gaze. "Something troubles him," she thought; "but he doesn't wish me to know what it is."
She would not ask what ailed him. A confidence should be given unasked, or not given at all. Lucy had that best kind of discretion which is born of refinement, and she refrained from asking questions. She watched him very quietly, cared for him in a hundred small ways, and tried not to show that she saw any change in him. But when he had gone out-of-doors, she turned anxiously to Esther.
"Father isn't just the same as usual," she said. "There's a difference in him; didn't you see it?"
"No, I didn't see it," responded Esther, who was putting some new ribbons on her bonnet. "Isn't this a pretty color, Lucy?"
"Very pretty," replied Lucy, with a sigh. And then seeing that several yards of the delicate lilac ribbon lay on her sister's lap, her thoughts were suddenly turned into a new channel.
"Esther, dear, why did you buy such a quantity?" she asked gently. "It's a tint that soon soils and fades."
"It didn't cost me anything, Lucy. John Garland gave it to me; he says it's a real French ribbon."
Lucy looked grave and troubled; but the other did not raise her eyes from her work. She made up a stylish bow, and held it out at arm's length to admire it.
That was the finishing touch to the bonnet. When it was done, she went into the little bed-chamber and put it on, standing before the small looking-glass. The frame of the mirror was curiously wreathed with dried seaweed and pretty shells; but that was Lucy's doing, for Esther never decorated anything save her own person.
She tied the lilac ribbons under her chin, smiled complacently at the reflection of her soft, oval face, and arrayed herself in a light summer shawl.
"I am going out walking," she said, returning to the sitting-room. "It's such a fine day that it seems a pity to stay at home; and I must buy some tape and some hooks and eyes."
"It's very hot this morning," replied Lucy. "If you'll wait until this evening, my work will be done, and I can go with you."
"Oh, I'm dressed now, you see! And I don't mind the heat at all."
Again Lucy looked grave. Of late Esther had shown a strange fancy for taking solitary walks.
"I get dreadfully tired of moping on this little strip of beach," she continued, putting on her gloves. "There's nothing to be seen but the sea and the stupid island over there. I'm sick of it all!"
She went forth into the hot morning sunshine, and her sister sat down and cried. The world seemed a very bleak place to Lucy just then: she did not regain her cheerfulness until she had taken her mother's Bible from its shelf and had read one or two of the old promises. She knew most of them by heart; she knew where to find them all; but she loved to see them written in the Book and to trace her mother's pencil-marks. While she read the sacred words she remembered that Ruth had been comforted by them in the days that were gone; for in the soul of each of Christ's followers there are the same needs, the same deep longings. And when she put the volume back into its nook, there was a peaceful look upon her face — just such a look as Ruth had often worn when those familiar verses had given her hope and strength.
Esther returned from her walk hot and tired. She was paler than usual; her features had lost their repose, her lips quivered when a question was asked her, and Lucy began to fear that she was ill. She had no appetite, and sat down listlessly to the simple food that was placed before her. Presently Susan Hatchard stepped in, and remarked upon her altered looks.
"What's ailing you, Esther?" said she.
The girl turned paler still, and suddenly burst into tears. Then, rising from her chair, she went into the little chamber, shutting the door behind her, and leaving Susan staring after her in dismay.
The long golden hours of that afternoon wore away; the sea made its sleepy murmur to the shore, and Lucy sat sewing by the open window. Esther was lying on her bed asleep. Her sister had stolen into the chamber to look at her, and had found her in a sound slumber. A stray sunbeam, slanting in, had cast a narrow bar of light across her forehead, and glittered on the bright hair that fell waving over the pillow. Her face had the sweet piteous look of a child that has fallen asleep with some trouble in its little heart; it was a beautiful picture, faintly tinted by the afternoon sunshine.
She awoke in a strangely gentle and softened mood. John Garland, when he came to smoke his pipe with Jonah, found her so meek and kind that he was dumb with amazement. The pilot almost forgot his own secret burden in wondering at the change in her; and Lucy's heart was lighter than it had been for many a day.
A QUESTION AND AN ANSWER
The Maura performed her usual voyage to the French coast, and returned in safety with her cargo. She had a fair wind in going and coming; her trading had been very successful, and all on board were in excellent spirits. John Garland dispatched his share of business without delay; and then, leaving the brig at her moorings, he set off to his quarters in William Berridge's cottage.
Ann Berridge was better and brighter for his company. She had almost regained her old cheerfulness, although there were times when she still fretted for her lost boy. But she was not well pleased at John's intimacy with the pilot's daughters. She had nothing to say against the girls; it was impossible to find fault with Lucy, when John praised her, as he did continually. Yet it vexed her to hear so much of Lucy's housewifely skill and of the order and comfort that made the pilot's cottage so perfect a home. Surely her rooms were as neat as Jonah Marbeck's! Her brother talked as if Lucy Newburn were the only notable housewife in the world!
She held herself aloof from Lucy, being civil, but distant, when they met. Gentle as the girl was, she had a spirit; and when she saw that Ann did not want her friendship, she would not force it upon her. It was not likely that Esther would make any advances to Mrs. Berridge: she knew that the coastguard's wife resented her lofty airs, and was, as she phrased it, "always trying to pick holes in her."
The sun was setting in a flood of amber light, the sea flashed back gold from every ripple, and Lucy stood leaning against Berridge's garden bank, looking thoughtfully at ocean and sky. The waves came running up the beach with a soft rush; just above them sloped the dark sides of an old boat which Jonah had been repairing, the white foam-fringes kissed its patched planks as if to claim kinship with the timber that knew the swell of the deep so well. Chance lights were scattered here and there, now touching a coil of rope, then resting on a bit of rusty chain, or flinging yellow bars across the sandy shingle. Close by the water-side sat old Sam, smoking peacefully, his broad-brimmed hat pushed back from his forehead, his freckled hands clasping his knee. Lucy thought, as she looked at him, that he was not unlike a battered hull, left high and dry upon the shore.
"While she gazed and mused, basking in the splendor of the sunset, John was drawing near; but he was not singing. He had caught sight of her figure — had known her by the smooth, fair head whereon the golden glow was resting softly; but he was thinking of another head, high and queenly, which had been turned towards him when he first came to that spot. He was recalling Esther's face and form, as she stood there with her knitting and looked calmly at him as he passed by.
"Lucy," he said eagerly, " I'm glad I've found you here. I wanted to speak to you. I'm very glad, Lucy."
His face was flushed, and his voice trembled. Looking at him, and hearing him speak so suddenly, she flushed and trembled too.
Why was he glad to have found her there? John was not a very ready speaker, and some minutes, passed before she knew the reason. When he had told her, she answered in her quietest tone:
"Yes, John, I will do what you ask. I'll speak to Esther this very night. And, John, may God bless you both, and make you very happy."
Never was a blessing uttered by truer lips. He tried to speak his thanks, but failed; and she turned to go back to the pilot's cottage.
She walked slowly to the door, looking far away over the waters to the bright clouds. They were like towers of alabaster crowned with gold; bulwarks, perhaps, of that "city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God." She thought of the new life in the heavenly city, where "there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying," and strove to realize all that is comprehended in the one word "rest." But she could not; the cares of this world were pressing too closely upon her just then, and she sighed as she laid her hand on the latch.
Jonah had not yet come home, and Esther was sitting in his old elbow-chair, leaning her head upon her hand. She looked up gloomily as her sister entered, but said nothing. Lucy wished to do her best for John, and for Esther too. She wanted to get the matter settled, — wanted to know, without unnecessary delay, what answer Esther would make to the most important question (save one) which can ever be asked. So she asked it, sitting by the girl's side and holding her hand; watching her face, meanwhile, as anxiously and tenderly as Ruth would have done.
"You must think it over, Esther, dear," she added. "Mother would have said, 'Don't be in a hurry.'"
And after a few minutes of reflection, Esther replied, very gently, that she would say "yes."
Then Lucy kissed her, and talked to her for a little while. She told her that John was a follower of the Savior, and she pleaded with Esther to follow Him too. Husband and wife, she said, should always tread one path, always feel that their union was not only for this life, but for the life everlasting. They must have one Lord, one faith, if they would possess true happiness.
"Esther," she continued gravely, "let it never be said that John is serving God and you are serving mammon. Let it never be said that he 'did run well,' and you hindered him. There are wives who plant thorns in their husbands' way to Heaven; you won't do that, dear? There are some who do as Eve did when she lured Adam to break God's laws; ah, such women seldom fail to draw punishment upon themselves, as well as upon the man who listens to them! But you will be true and patient and loving, just as mother was; won't you, Esther?"
For an instant a new and sweet look dawned on the younger girl's face and tears glistened in her eyes.
"I shall never be as good as mother and you," she said; "but I'll do my best, Lucy."
An hour or two later a happy little group had assembled in the pilot's sitting-room. Jonah had been told of John's offer by Lucy, and his rugged face brightened as he gave his consent. When John himself looked shyly in at the door, Marbeck's hearty tones bade him enter, and one glance at the father and daughters assured him that his question had been favorably answered.
But life was not destined to be all "plain sailing" for poor John. At nine o'clock he rose reluctantly, recollecting that Ann had prepared a hot supper and had made him promise to come and eat it. He tramped heavily across the path, while the warm, soft night-air fanned his face; and wondered how his sister would receive the news that he must tell.
He was not quite himself as he sat at supper. He was awkward and made blunders, conscious that Ann watched him with sharp eyes. Even quiet William looked inquiringly at him once or twice; but it was not until the meal was over and the pipes were brought out, that John opened his mind.
"Oh, yes," said Ann, interrupting him before he had half finished his speech, "I've seen it coming on for weeks. You've been making up to Lucy Newburn."
"She's a good girl," remarked Berridge in his grave way.
"He might have done worse," admitted Ann, as if she were trying to make the best of it.
"But it isn't Lucy," said poor John, desperately; "it's — it's Esther."
Mrs. Berridge clapped her hands together and gave a little shriek. William took his pipe from his lips, looked at his brother-in-law, and shook his head.
"It's the worst day's work you've ever done; you'll rue it to the end of your life! It's an awful mistake, John"
"Be quiet, Ann," said Berridge, laying his hand on his wife's arm. When he spoke in that tone she always obeyed him. She was silent at once, although it was by a great effort that she kept her mouth shut.
"John, old boy," continued her husband, stretching his hand across the table, "God bless you; and as for Ann and me, we'll hold our tongues. What's done, can't be undone. When a man's passed his word, he must stick to it; and men and women mustn't be interferin' with one another's hearts and consciences."
John took William's hand, and grasped it hard. Ann got up and kissed him with tearful eyes; and so the little scene ended.
Like the Berridges, Jonah was surprised at John's choice, but the surprise was agreeable to him. John was a good man, and well-to-do; there would therefore be no more need for Esther to dread poverty. A bright future lay before her; Ruth's youngest child would be saved from those sharp trials which Ruth herself had known.
Surely, said a "still small voice," the hidden money might now be restored to Jean Levigne. One daughter was provided for, and the other abundantly contented with her present lot; ay, and more than willing to trust God with the coming years. Hitherto He had helped Lucy; and that was enough for her. She did not vex herself with troubles that might never come to pass ; it was not for her to lose the sweetness of present blessings in imagining future sorrows.
So Jonah made up his mind to cast aside his self-imposed burden; but when he had really come to this decision, the gold seemed to be a thousand times more precious than it had ever been before. Now that he was on the eve of parting with it, he clung to it fondly; even if Levigne were to send a portion of it back to him, how small that portion would seem to one who had possessed the whole! His own weak heart, and Satan's suggestions, caused the pilot another sleepless night.
But on the morrow he awoke, fully determined to speak to John Garland about the matter. He would tell John that the skipper's money was in his hands, and would ask him to find out Jean Levigne's whereabouts. Even the canvas bag was still in his possession, for he could not bring himself to destroy it. It was lying folded up in the breast-pocket of his thick coat; Jonah felt that he should be a happy man when the bag and the money were out of his cabin.
His bad night had made him later than usual; the little room was hot with the rays of the morning sun as he dressed, and heard Lucy setting out the cups and saucers in the parlor. He was vexed to find that he had overslept.
"I'm gettin' old and lazy, Lucy," he said as he received her kiss. "Before I take a bit o' breakfast, my girl, I'll step over to Berridge's. I want to speak a word to John, and he'll soon be off; the Maura sails again today."
"John's been off an hour or more, father," Lucy replied. "Didn't you hear him say that he should be gone before six? I daresay he was up by halfpast four."
"Ay, that serves me right for being a sluggard," said Jonah, looking annoyed. "Well, well, it can't be helped now."
Just then the old ferryman's face appeared at the open window.
"Hallo, mate," cried the pilot, "have you seen John Garland this morning?"
"Seen him? Yes, of course I have," answered Samuel "He was away on the Fort Cumberland road by five o'clock, singin' like a lark. What a lie-a-bed you be!"
"That's true," admitted Jonah, accepting the rebuke.
"Susan aren't feelin' just right," continued the ferryman, addressing Lucy. "It's low water with her, somehow; she can't eat nothing', and seems gloomy-like. Perhaps you'll look in on her presently, my dear?"
"To be sure I will," answered Lucy, heartily. And Sam went his way.
How little they knew what was to come out of those two small circumstances — Jonah's late rising, and Susan Hatchard's illness! Are there any trifles in life? Surely every little incident, every moment wasted or saved, is a link in a great chain; and one unsound link may be the destruction of the whole.
When Esther made her appearance, Jonah forgot his brief vexation. He was no longer in any dread of those hints of hers which had frequently given him such pain. He could smile freely and joke merrily with her now. She had, as he thought, everything that heart could wish, and might be supposed to be in good-humor with all the world.
"John will soon be coming back again," he said. "Hadn't you better step in and see Mrs. Berridge, Esther? Maybe she'll expect it of you, my girl."
"She'd better not expect too much of me!" returned Esther, with her old toss of the head. "I'm not going to be hectored by her, just because she happens to be John's sister."
Lucy's lip quivered, and her sweet face clouded over.
"It would grieve John sadly to hear you talk so," she said. "And you promised me to do your best."
"I mean to do my best," Esther replied in a softer voice. "Only don't worry me. It's all new and strange just now, and you must let me alone."
There was little joy in her look or tone. Her father and sister felt the chill of a sudden misgiving stealing over them both; but they said nothing.
Ann Berridge sat sewing in her parlor on the day which followed John's departure. Her face was beginning to wear the old sad look; once a tear dropped upon the needlework and was hastily brushed away. The little room was as neat and pretty as ever; afternoon sunbeams were gilding the rosebuds on the wall-paper and drawing slender golden lines across the floor. Through the open window came the whirr of insect wings and the soft tune of the sea; but Ann's heart was heavy, and the day seemed gloomy to her. She was vexed at John's engagement; it was the heaviest cross that she had ever borne since the death of her child.
Ann had a narrow nature; all her love was spent on two people, and one of these had disappointed her. She knew that she was a foolish woman, and that she could not expect to keep her brother always to herself; but this did not stay her tears. She felt that Esther could never be a sister to her; John's marriage would put a greater distance between them than a thousand miles of salt water, and there was a more unselfish feeling blending with these other regrets — a conviction that John had not chosen wisely.
Even William Berridge, man of few words as he was, had frankly admitted that John had made a mistake. But he cautioned Ann to say no more about the matter to her brother, and charged her to be friendly to the Newburns for John's sake. As she sat sewing on that sunny afternoon, she was making up her mind to go to Marbeck's cottage, and say a few kind words to Esther.
It was warm weather. The house-door and the parlor-door were set wide open. Ann's black cat had seated herself in a spot where the yellow light came streaming in, and was purring in the fullness of her satisfaction. Suddenly the purr ceased; a black shadow blotted out the sunshine on the floor, and Mrs. Berridge raised her eyes from her work. At sight of the figure which stood on her threshold, she rose from her seat in surprise.
It was a showy figure, with delicate muslin draperies floating around it; the bonnet was all white lace and pink roses, and a shower of flaxen curls fell over the shoulders. Who was this beautiful lady who had so abruptly invaded Ann's solitude? A second glance showed that she was not beautiful, and her speech convinced Ann that she was not a lady.
"I'm come to see Miss Esther Newburn," said the stranger.
It was a harsh voice, and the manner was uncourteous. Ann's quick temper resented it.
"She doesn't live here," she replied.
"Well, where does she live, then? I've had a long walk to find this place, and I'm dead beat; that l am!"
Ann came to the door, and pointed to the pilot's house.
The stranger scarcely gave any thanks. Shaking out her muslin flounces and swinging her little parasol, she crossed the path; and Mrs. Berridge returned to her seat.
''If that's a friend of Esther Newborn's, so much the worse for my poor John," thought she.
Meanwhile Esther's visitor had entered the pilot's parlor, and had found his younger daughter there alone. Lucy had gone to sit with Susan Hatchard.
"Well, Esther," said the young woman, seating herself in the nearest chair. "I've had trouble enough to get here; and now that I'm come, you don't look very pleased to see me!"
In truth Esther looked more astonished than pleased. She had been making up her mind to drop the speaker's acquaintance.
"I didn't expect you, Charlotte," she replied in some embarrassment. "We were not on very good terms when we parted, you know."
"Oh, that was only a tiff. Come, Esther, don't look so black at me."
Charlotte Reeve was shopwoman in a drapery establishment in Portsea. She had struck up an acquaintance with Esther over the counter, and had well-near turned the girl's head with praises of her beauty. Bit by bit she had drawn out all the simple history of the Newburns' home life, and had done her utmost to make Esther dissatisfied with it. She was tired of her own situation, and wanted to set up in business for herself.
"If we could scrape together some money, Esther," she had often said, "we'd go to London and make our fortune. We'd be real stylish milliners — I could soon teach you all I know, for I see you're handy with your needle. Why, child, you're just wasting your youth and good looks! A face like yours might do wonders, and if we were in a London shop you'd be worth anything as a show-woman."
Esther had admitted that such a life would suit her well enough. She hated her simple clothing, and pined after fine things. If she were a show-woman she could wear a silk gown every day. She had said nothing to Lucy of her intimacy with Charlotte Reeve, and had gone out to meet her friend by stealth. She liked the acquaintance all the better because it was secret; Charlotte's flattery was very sweet to her ears, and when they had their first quarrel, Esther took it to heart more deeply than would have been supposed.
She had come home to the cottage and shed tears. Afterwards, when Lucy had asked her John's question, she had answered "yes ; " for she felt that she could no longer bear her dull life. But when the "yes" was spoken, and John was gone, she began to ask herself if life would not be just as dull with him as without him. John might indulge her fancy for finery to a certain extent, but she could not expect to do exactly as she pleased. She was tired of everything — tired of her father and sister, tired of the small cottage, the shore and the sea; and she wanted to get away from it all.
Lucy, returning from Susan's bedside, was astonished and dismayed to see Charlotte sitting in the pilot's chair. In her lively off-hand way, Charlotte told her the history of her acquaintance with Esther; yet Lucy could not feel at ease. She was kind and polite; gave the visitor tea and bread and butter, and hoped she was not over-tired; but she did not respond to Charlotte's efforts to be very friendly.
"I don't like her," said Charlotte to Esther, when they parted on the beach. "She wants to keep you tied to her apron-string."
Esther went indoors again in a bad temper; and found Lucy seriously displeased.
"Esther," she asked, "why couldn't you have trusted me? Why did you make a friend of that strange girl, and say nothing about it?"
"Am I never to do anything without begging your leave?" demanded the other haughtily.
"You know I don't mean that," Lucy continued. "But mother used to say that acquaintances are like burrs — easy to pick up, and hard to shake off. And there's something rather flighty about that friend of yours, Esther. I think John would not like her."
"I'm sick of John's name," said Esther, passionately. And with that she swept out of the room.
A few minutes later, as the pilot was coming home in the dusk, he caught sight of a tall slight figure pacing hastily up and down by the sea. He walked nearer to it, and saw that it was his youngest daughter.
"Come in, my girl," he said, going up and putting his arm round her waist. "The dew's fallin', and it gets chilly after sundown. What ails you, dearie, to be roamin' here alone? Can't you 'bide indoors with Lucy?"
She lifted up her face and kissed him. Her cheek was wet and cold.
"You've been lettin' the spray dash against you, Esther," he continued. "Maybe you've taken a chill."
He led her into the cottage, and Lucy busied herself about her sister in her quiet motherly fashion. Perhaps she had spoken too harshly about Charlotte Reeve; if she had, she would strive to atone for it by being doubly gentle with Esther. The girl was softened now, and kissing her father and sister, bade them good-night, saying that she would go to bed.
When the door of the little chamber had closed upon her, the pilot and Lucy looked at each other and sighed. They would have given much to have had the power of reading Esther's heart, and of finding out the true state of that inner self which she never revealed to them. They wanted to make her happy, but it seemed to them both at that moment as if they only succeeded in making her miserable.
Presently Lucy rose from her seat at the table, and went into the chamber. She bent over the pillow: Esther was breathing regularly and quietly; she had fallen asleep. The elder sister came back to the chair near her father, and sat mending and darning by the candle-light, while Jonah watched her busy fingers in grave silence.
"Lucy," he said at last, "I'm downright vexed that John should have gone off yesterday, before I'd spoke to him of somethin' that's on my mind."
"Something about Esther, father?"
"No; it's about Levigne's money; the money that was lost in the Angelique."
"Why, father, that'll never be seen again. It was a heavy loss for the poor skipper; but maybe he's got over it by this time."
There was a pause. And then Jonah, laying his hand upon his daughter's shoulder, spoke out the secret that had been such an intolerable burden.
"I never ought to have thought of keeping the gold, my girl," he said. "I've sinned, and done evil in the sight of the Lord. I can't sleep o' nights, Lucy, while it's hidden under my bed."
"Then don't keep it there any longer, dear father. It'll be safe enough in the box where I have put mother's things. Thank God, we've no thieves about us; and nobody would think it worth while to break into a little house like this."
"You're right, Lucy. You shall keep the gold until John comes back. While it stays in my room it takes away my rest, and the devil tempts me to cling to it. I was very fond of money before I knew your mother, my dear."
"Well, father, when God pulls up an evil weed, He often plants a sweet flower instead. And there'll be only one of mother's girls left to fight with poverty, if poverty comes. Esther will soon be married and provided for, and I'd rather starve than steal the Frenchman's money. Then, father, you must give up troubling about the future; you and I may have many a happy year together on earth in store for us; and we're all in all to each other, aren't we?"
Her sweet voice shook a little as she spoke the last words, putting her arm round his neck, and kissing his forehead. Jonah was very happy. It seemed to him as if Ruth were standing at his other side, breathing a blessing on his head. He thought of his dream; there would be no burden now to drag him down when the time came for him to mount the golden ladder.
"Bring the candle, Lucy," he said. "The board shall be taken up this very night. Some folk would laugh at me for saying that I can't sleep easy while the skipper's gold is buried under my bed; but I'm afeard of temptation."
"We mustn't make any noise," she replied. "Esther's fast asleep. I think, father, we'd better say nothing about this matter to her. She has other things in her mind just now, hasn't she?"
"Yes," answered the pilot, in a whisper. "I wouldn't have talked so tonight if she hadn't been a-bed. Esther — bless her heart! — doesn't see with our eyes."
The pair stole cautiously into Jonah's little room; the board was raised, and the hidden treasure brought to light. The money was again deposited in the seastained canvas bag, and given into Lucy's keeping.
So Jonah's struggle was over. The lust of gold no longer burned in his heart; his thoughts were sweet and peaceful as he laid his head upon the pillow. He had gained new strength in his fight with the evil one; he had proved the "armor of God," and had found it trustworthy. He had mourned his weakness and repented of his sin; and the great Captain of his salvation had been gracious to the tempted soldier.
JONAH GIVES CAPTAIN LEVIGNE'S
MONEY INTO LUCY'S KEEPING
Again in his dreams he saw that golden ladder which had so often haunted his waking hours. This time it seemed to be planted in the sea — a black seething sea, dashed with angry foam-streaks. There was a roaring as of breakers on the shoals; a midnight sky was overhead; but the summit of the ladder was lost in a cloud of brightness. Again he beheld Ruth in her white robes, standing with outstretched hands and radiant smile. And he heard a voice from Heaven saying, "When you walk through the waters I will be with you."
Meanwhile Lucy too was sleeping. She had entered her chamber with a noiseless step, and had laid the canvas bag at the very bottom of the little trunk which contained some of her mother's wearing apparel. She had folded the garments and placed them as usual, so that if the lid of the chest were raised nothing unusual could be seen. The lock was broken, but as no one ever opened that box, saving herself, she believed the gold to be as secure as if it were in an iron safe.
Once or twice, while she was kneeling beside the box, she glanced at the bed whereon her sister was lying. She could see Esther's face in the candle-light; the features were perfectly tranquil, the eyes were closed. She undressed speedily and silently, creeping into her place by the other's side. And Esther never stirred.
Morning came, and Jonah left the cottage with a light heart. Esther was up early; she seemed to have slept off last night's ill-temper.
"I must go to Susan," said Lucy, when she had set the house in order as usual. "She's too weak to wait upon herself, and Sam's a poor nurse, though he means well."
The younger girl was silent, but not sullen. She smiled at her sister as she went her way to the ferryman's cabin; and Lucy's mind was set at rest. Yet when Esther was left alone her face changed, she flung down her needlework, and began to pace the floor.
"Oh, what a life!" she muttered. "What a dull, miserable life! Charlotte says that if my face could only be seen in London my fortune would be made. Likely enough I might marry a rich gentleman and ride in my carriage; Charlotte says that such things have happened often — even very often. And she says I've got the looks and ways of a lady already. If I might but take the gold that's lying in the box yonder, I'd start off to London, and never see this place again!"
She sat down in the pilot's chair, panting with excitement. The cat still purring by her side, striving to win a caress, but she spurned it away with her foot. A wandering bee came humming in, and buzzed round her head. She started up with an impatient cry and drove it out into the sunlight. It was a sad sign of the passions which were at work in her rebellious heart, that she hated the sight of God's living creatures. Long afterwards she remembered that morning, and was accustomed to say that when she drove the stray bee out of the window her good angel went with it, fleeing forth into the golden air, and leaving her to herself.
The hands of the clock pointed to ten minutes to seven. It was probable that Lucy would remain with her sick neighbor until noon. Susan was an old woman; her strength had failed suddenly, she had broken down in that unexpected way in which strong people so often lose their hold of life. She was a lone woman too; old Sam was her only relative. It was pleasant to have a young face at her bedside, and gentle hands ministering to her wants. And it was pleasanter still to hear of One who "was touched with a feeling of our infirmities." Little did Susan know of Him until Ruth had come to the pilot's cottage; but the tidings of salvation were to her as "cold waters to a thirsty soul;" as "good news from a far country."
Esther looked at the clock, considered for a few moments, and then hastily put on her bonnet and shawl. She fastened the window, and went out; locking the house-door behind her, and dropping the key into her pocket. There was no reason to suppose that any one would come to the cottage in her absence: Lucy was fully occupied; Jonah was cruising about Spithead; old Sam rarely left the ferry; and Ann Berridge continued to hold herself aloof from the Newburns. As Esther hurried past the coastguard's dwelling, she cast an angry glance towards it, and a dark frown marred the beauty of her face.
"You'd be no sister-in-law of mine, if I could get my own way," she murmured, thinking of Ann. "I'd love to sweep by in my silk gown, and stare at you as if you were a beggar and I were a princess! Maybe the time'll come when you'll hang your head before me."
It was a long walk that lay before her, but Esther's strange state of excitement made her unconscious of fatigue. It was a dull season with the drapers, for the summer trade was over, and the fall had not set in; so that Charlotte Reeve, standing idle behind the counter, had leisure to gossip with her friend under pretext of selling her some goods.
A looker-on might have noticed that Esther was a long time in matching a piece of ribbon. Charlotte's cheeks were aflame as she bent over the drawers, and opened roll after roll, displaying all the colors of the rainbow to her customer. Half an hour was passed in this manner, and then Esther left the shop.
She sped homewards, regardless of heat and dust. A girl driving a pony-cart, laden with fruit, took pity upon her and helped her on her way. She was an honest country lass, who chatted freely about her personal concerns; but Esther scarcely heard a word that was uttered. She alighted near the Fort Cumberland road, and the girl drove on to Southsea to dispose of her plums. Then the familiar way was traversed, the shore and the black walls of the cottages came in sight. A few more paces and the key was in the lock; the door opened, and Esther sank half-breathless into the old elbow-chair.
It was eleven o'clock. At twelve Lucy had said that she would return; there was one whole hour for Esther to rest and think. Tired as she was, she would not allow herself to sit still until she had carefully removed all traces of that hasty walk; putting shawl and bonnet away, shaking the dust from her clothes, and washing her heated face in warm water. This done, she went back to the elbow-chair, and fell unawares into a sound sleep.
Thus Lucy found her when she came in. Lucy was full of concern for Susan Hatchard; the old woman was evidently worse, there appeared to be small hope of her recovery.
"She's so lonesome," said Ruth's elder daughter, with tearful eyes. "She's begged me to sit up tonight with her; I can't say 'no;' can I, Esther? Mother would have done it; wouldn't she? And Susan was good to mother in her last illness."
"Yes, she was very good to mother," Esther repeated slowly.
"You'll do well to sit with her, Lucy."
"I shall lie down awhile this afternoon," continued the other, glad to find that no opposition was offered. "That'll make me fresh when night comes, and maybe Mrs. Berridge will stay with Susan tomorrow night."
Tomorrow night! how little did Lucy know what would be on the morrow! She slept for two hours that afternoon, while Esther mused in silence and the clock ticked away the minutes with terrible distinctness. When Jonah came in, he gave his sanction to Lucy's night-watch. Then followed the homely cottage tea, the quiet evening, and finally the "goodnights." Lucy remembered afterwards that her sister had taken her in her arms, and kissed her with strange eagerness; but Esther was a creature of impulses.
A little later the pilot was fast asleep and dreaming; but a light was still burning in Esther's room. She was on her knees before the box that contained her dead mother's garments, feeling for something that lay hidden at the bottom. It was heavy, and clinked as she drew it forth and laid it on the floor.
The night wore on. A little wind crept round the cottage; it was the herald of dawn. Old Susan had fallen into an uneasy slumber, while Lucy sat by her bedside, looking through the casement with patient, weary eyes, and wondering when the pale lights would begin to break across the sea. Out of the pilot's house a woman stole cautiously, carrying a bundle on her arm. It was a large bundle, and heavy, too; but she fled away as if it had been as light as a feather, never looking back once at the black walls of the humble home which had sheltered her for so many years.
While Jonah rose and dressed, he marveled at the stillness of the cottage. When he left his room, he saw that the house-door was ajar, and yet he was certain that he had shut and locked it before going to bed. He glanced towards the door of his daughters' chamber; that, too, was unclosed. He called Esther, and there was no reply. Then it occurred to him that Esther had gone to Hatchard's cabin to relieve Lucy.
"I'll get my own breakfast today," thought he. "Lucy'll be tired-out when she comes home, poor soul!"
He lit the fire, set the kettle on, and brought out the cups and saucers. Then, while the water was heating, he mused about the old days when he had been accustomed to do all his own household work. Meanwhile the driftwood crackled and blazed, the kettle began to sing, and the morning sunbeams came stealing in, drawing slender lines of pale gold along the white-washed wall. He ate his meal alone, keeping his eyes fixed upon the door. Presently Lucy appeared, looking white and weary after her vigil.
"I thought you'd have come sooner, my girl," said Jonah. "Esther was off before daybreak to take your place."
"Esther!" echoed his daughter. "What do you mean, father?"
"You've left her with Susan, haven't you?" he asked, uneasily.
"I've not seen her since last night," answered Lucy, and her voice sounded strange to her own ears. A terrible fear had taken hold of her, even before she pushed open the door of the little bedroom and went in.
The bed had not been slept in, but there were marks on the bedspread as if someone had knelt by its side. A small chest of drawers stood near it. One drawer was half open, and Lucy mechanically looked inside. Esther usually kept her Sunday dress there. It was gone, and other articles belonging to her were left in disorder. Moved by a sudden impulse, Lucy bent down and raised the lid of that trunk in which she had placed Levigne's money. The clothes that lay there were not unfolded; but when she had lifted them out, the bottom of the box was empty; the canvas bag had disappeared!
She understood it all now; her charity, her sisterly love, could never veil the grim, black truth that stood up before her eyes with such fearful distinctness. Esther had feigned slumber when the gold was deposited in the box; she had overheard the pilot making his disclosure. For the first few minutes after this discovery, indignation held all Lucy's other feelings in check. She could remember only that the household darling, the beloved and pampered sister, had cruelly deceived and robbed those who would have laid down their lives for her sake. But where deep love exists, resentment is very short-lived. In a little while all her great affection burst forth like a flood, sweeping away her just anger, and carrying it out of sight. With an exceeding cry of agony, she rose from the rifled chest, and rushed into the other room.
"She's gone, father! She's gone, and taken the skipper's money with her! Oh, let's find her! — let's find her for mother's sake!"
A few minutes more, and father and daughter were hurrying along that well-known road, where those other feet had gone before them. They walked together until they came to houses and long irregular streets; and then they separated, Jonah going to the railway-station, Lucy to the draper's shop where Charlotte Reeve was employed.
The shopmen and shopwomen were just arriving to begin the day's business. Lucy inquired for Miss Reeve, and was told that she would be there presently.
"I want to go to her lodgings," said poor Lucy, feeling that she could not endure suspense. "Can any one tell me where she lives?"
"Yes," they replied, "Miss Reeve lived in a narrow street close by." Lucy was told that she might call on her if she liked, but she would probably meet her on her way to the shop. Having learned the number of the house, Lucy lost no time in reaching it.
"Is Miss Reeve here?" she asked of the woman who opened the door.
"No," was the reply. "She paid me all that she owed last night, and at daybreak she went away in a cab with every bit of her luggage."
"Did she say where she was going?" inquired Lucy, hopelessly.
"No; she only told me that she was called away suddenly, and might never come back to Portsea again."
Heartsick and faint, Lucy turned away, and began to walk towards the railway-station, where Jonah had agreed to meet her. Already the streets were thronged; soldiers, sailors, and artisans jostled her at every step. The great seaport town was full of life and business. Had any of these people ever known a sorrow like hers? She found herself vaguely murmuring the question as she went along, passing under the dark arch of the old Lion Gate, which in those days was still standing. Then on across the bridge that spanned the moat, where there were shady trees and smooth green grass on the other side of the strong iron railings. Moat and trees and grass have all vanished now. The pilot's daughter would scarcely recognize the place, if she could visit it at this present time.
She saw Jonah standing on the pavement outside the railway-station. One glance at his face extinguished her last faint spark of hope, and she came up to him in silence.
"Nobody can tell me anything," he said, with painful calmness. "A cheap train started for London at a quarter to six this morning. There was a crowd, and a rush for tickets."
There was nothing more to be done. They stood motionless on the causeway for a second or two, until the conviction had slowly forced itself into their minds. Then Lucy put her hand through Jonah's arm, and the pair plodded heavily home to the little cottage on the shore.
Autumn set in, but there was no news of Esther. The two whom she had forsaken went about their daily business. The articles that had belonged to her were put away with her dead mother's things; but the silence of the living is far sadder than the silence of the dead.
She had taken something that Lucy wept for often; it was Ruth's Bible. Yet while Lucy's tears fell, there was a dim light shining through her grief: a ray that grew brighter and brighter as her faith strengthened. That ancient promise was her sunbeam: "My word shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."
"Surely," she thought, "it was He who put it into her heart to take the Bible. And if He moved her to take it, He does not mean it to be only a dead letter."
How fared it with John Garland? He was an altered man. He never sang the old sea-songs now, nor laughed with his former cheerfulness. His very step was changed; he walked with bent head and downcast eyes, and there were silver threads scattered among his crisp brown curls. But he did not forget that he was not the only sufferer; in the presence of Lucy and her father he strove to put his own grief out of sight.
He did not come often to their cottage, and when he did, he would make some excuse for standing at the door or window. He had never crossed the threshold since she left the house; and they did not press him to enter. They knew that he could not bear to take his seat by the fireside with her empty chair standing by. They felt that their little parlor was sadder to him than a grave.
But now that John's life on earth had lost its one object of interest, he thought more and more about the life everlasting. He realized the mercy that had provided a Heaven in the place of a lost Eden. He remembered that God could make a crown out of a cross; and drew near unto Him who is willing to send His Comforter to His suffering children.
It might have been supposed that Ann Berridge would have exulted in Esther's fulfillment of her predictions. There are some people who rejoice in a calamity which enables them to say, "It is just as I said it would be;" but Ann was not one of these. All the best part of her nature came uppermost when she heard of Esther's flight. If she could have followed and found her, and brought her back to make John happy, she would have done it; no matter what it cost. In her anxiety to comfort him, she grew softer and gentler, until one would scarcely have recognized the sharp outspoken Ann of other days. So tenderly did she deal with his sore heart that his brotherly affection for her strengthened day by day. Only he who has made a great mistake can know how bitter it is to be reminded of the warnings he would not heed; and John was grateful to Ann for sparing him.
How often, as he sat by his winter fire, did the pilot lament over the weakness that had made him yield to temptation. He knew now that he had kept the skipper's gold at the suggestion of the great enemy. He had done evil, trying to persuade himself that good would come of it; but as the "corrupt tree brings forth corrupt fruit," so the sinful deed will produce sinful results. The money that he had hoped to make a blessing, had proved a curse. It could never be restored to its rightful owner; it was only too probable that it would work the ruin of her into whose hands it had passed.
"I meant to do what was best for Ruth's girls," he would say, leaning his grey head upon his hands. "The Lord knows that I meant to do what was best, although I did what was worst. O Lord, forgive me for being a blind old sinner! If I had but gone about my daily labor, and left the future to You, all would have been well."
Then Lucy would remind him that God's wisdom can always set right the blunders of men. It was all that she could say to give him comfort.
In the bleak, bitter weather, when the shore was covered with snow and the sea was dull and grey, old Susan Hatchard died. She passed away with Esther's name upon her lips; in the last moments of her life she prayed for the lost girl who had ever been so dear to her. But the days came and went; the wild-bird, driven inland by the severe cold, fell victims to Jonah's gun, and he sat in his elbow-chair in the dark evenings, stripping the dead birds of those soft feathers which always found such a ready sale. All night long the winter wind roared down the chimney, and the waves thundered on the beach, while Lucy lay dreaming of the sister who would never lie by her side again; and the pilot, often broad awake, listened to the stormy sea which is so true a type of this troublesome world, and longed for the haven of rest.
At last the spring came, treading with timid feet at first, but leaving green footprints, and sending a warm, scented breath along the shore. The days grew long and bright, the shrubs were in blossom around Fort Cumberland; its faint fragrance reached Lucy when she strolled out to breathe the quiet evening air. Oh, the yellow gorse, the pale blue butterflies, the lap-wing's melancholy cry, the endless splash of the surf! Lucy looked and listened until her heart-sickness was more then she could bear; and she was glad to go indoors to seek comfort from Jonah's old Bible.
So the days lengthened, and shortened again; the sultry weather went by, autumn winds wailed about the cottage once more, snows fell, and dreary grey skies hung low over sea and land. It was the second winter since Esther's departure, but there were no tidings of her. Nor had anything been heard of Charlotte Reeve; all traces of the two girls were entirely lost. No one seemed to know where they had gone, nor how they fared.
Then another spring, summer, autumn, and winter came round again, bringing few changes to the dwellers on the shore. Perhaps the wear and tear of time and trouble were more evident in Jonah Marbeck than in those around him. He was not equal now to the seafaring life that he once loved so well; Lucy had persuaded him not to go far from home; he had given up piloting, and went fishing about the coast. That winter was wild and long; the new year was born amid storms that strewed many a shore with wrecks. Through January and February the sea was lashed up into perpetual fury; the Maura, performing her voyage from the French port, had a rough time of it, and came into Portsmouth harbor in such a condition that it was a marvel she ever reached home at all. March set in; there was a lull of two or three days' duration; and then the tempest began again.
"I'm going across to Hayling this afternoon, Lucy," said Jonah, entering the cottage, after spending most of the morning in the boat-house. "There's to be a sale of poor Joe Budder's nets and tackle. Maybe I shall find something in that line that'll suit me. I'll have a cup o' tea before I go, my girl."
Lucy put away her sewing, to make the tea. It was a sunshiny day; ragged clouds scudded rapidly over a fresh blue sky; sudden puffs of wind shook the cottage walls, and died away as quickly as they came. Once or twice there had been a hasty shower, dashing against the window panes in large drops; yet the sun had continued to shine through all.
"Queer weather," said Jonah, stirring his tea. "It gets queerer and queerer, I do believe. Old Sam was saying' just now that he never knew squalls last so long; and John says that the damage done to the Maura will swallow up the profits of the voyage almost."
"Is John at home?" asked Lucy.
"Yes, I saw him a minute ago. He gets to look older, John does."
The last words were spoken in a sad tone; the tea was finished in silence. Then Jonah rose, put on his thickest coat, and bent down to kiss Lucy as she buttoned it over his chest.
"Lucy," he said, suddenly, "I remember the time when I carried you, a little cryin' child, along the old road yonder; and you got warm, nestlin' against my jacket. May the Lord fold you in His arms, Lucy, when mine can shelter you no more! May your mother's God bless you, for you've been a good daughter to me!"
Long afterwards, the words of that fervent blessing lingered in Lucy's heart, and gave her strength and peace. She stood at the door and looked after the pilot as he walked down to the water and took his seat in the ferry-boat. She still stood there watching, while old Sam pulled lustily across the heaving sea; nor did she turn away until she saw her father land on the opposite shore.
Jonah completed the business that had taken him to Hayling, and then tarried to smoke a pipe in the cottage of an old seafaring Mend. The twain had not met for many a long day. They talked, as sailors do, of old ships, old skippers, and old messmates, taking no heed of the lapse of time. When Jonah rose to go, the dusk had hung a thin veil across the coast, and a star or two twinkled faintly in a stormy sky.
"There's a gale coming up from the north'ard," said old Harley, looking at the clouds. "You won't find a man to pull you across the ferry in a northerly gale, Marbeck."
He was right, as Jonah knew well enough. No waterman can be found who will risk a passage across that ferry when a stormy north wind is blowing. The tide runs swift and strong at the entrance to Langston Harbor; the seafaring men of those parts know the fierce current too well to trust themselves to its violence.
"'Bide where you be for tonight," said old Harley. "Your daughter's a sensible girl, as will listen to what old Sam tells her; and he'll tell her that you can't cross. So turn into the berth where my boy lies when he's at home; and my old woman'll make you comfortable."
Jonah consented, knowing that Lucy would not be alarmed at his absence, nor afraid to sleep alone in the cottage. She was aware that there were times when the ferry could not be crossed with safety.
His quarters were clean and neat; Harley's wife was a tidy woman, and good-tempered withal. He was tired, and slept soundly and peacefully, although the window rattled in its frame, and the very walls trembled at the fury of the gale. Midnight was over; it was half-past two o'clock, when a light flashed across the sleeper's eyes, and a hand was laid upon his shoulder.
"Marbeck" — it was old Harley's voice that spoke — "there's a vessel on the Woolsners!"
Jonah started up, hardly awake. In his halfdreaming state he imagined that it was an old scene about to be acted over again. Long ago, when they were sailing over the Indian Ocean, Harley had come to the side of his hammock to tell him that there were breakers on the larboard bow, and his hurried words had been followed by an awful shock, which quivered through every timber of the doomed ship. But the candle-light showed him only the four walls of the neat little chamber and his old messmate's wrinkled face.
"The wind's chopped again," continued Harley. "It's a sou'-easterly gale, that's blowing now."
He left the candle on a chair near the bed, and went out. The flame swayed to and fro in the draft as Jonah rose and put on his garments. He could hear the roar of the breakers far above the shrieking of the wind.
"Thank God, there's moonlight," he said, as he took up the candlestick and left the room.
There was moonlight indeed, but it was frequently obscured by the wild clouds that went scudding over the sky. As the two old seamen hastened along Hayling beach, the foam-flakes were driven into their faces. Harley, half crippled by chronic rheumatism, was considerably in the rear. Jonah strode on with a firm tread, hearing the tramp of other footsteps crunching the sandy pebbles near him. Some of the islanders were turning out to see if anything could be done.
"There she is!" said the pilot, looking straight ahead.
The wild white light revealed a sheet of turbid water and glittering foam. Apparently lying between Hayling and Fort Cumberland was a dark object, over which the waves were washing with tremendous force. The deafening thunder of that terrible sea drowned the voices of those who were watching the luckless ship, but all were saying that there was nothing to be done.
"Mates," shouted Jonah, who had stood silent for some moments, "isn't there a man of you as'll launch a boat from the southerly side yonder?"
"No boat would survive in such a sea as that," answered a fisherman who stood by.
"Ay, but she might. Now, I'm going to ask some of you to help me launch a boat; but mind, I don't ask none of you to step into her with me."
There was no mistaking the determination in those words. They found their way straight to the hearts of those who heard them.
"I'm a single man," said the fisherman who had spoken just before," and if you'll go, Marbeck, I'll go too."
There was a hoarse shout of approval from the others; a sound that was mocked by the hollow roar of the surge. Was the sea deriding those who sought to deprive it of its prey? But the group of men, with Jonah at their head, rushed on the south side of the island.
THE GOLDEN LADDER
The boat was launched. Nat Spencer, the young fisherman, was true to his promise, and followed Marbeck without a moment's hesitation. Together they rowed off through the boiling flood, which drenched them in an instant, and nearly blinded them. The rest stood watching them with anxious eyes. Uncertain as the light was, it showed that the little boat contrived to live amidst those wrathful waves and was getting nearer and nearer to the wreck. Then the other men, who were nearly all husbands and fathers, determined that another boat should follow in the wake of the first; and carried their resolve into effect.
"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you." The words sounded sweetly and distinctly in Jonah's ears, just as if Ruth were reading them in the old Bible at home. Above him was the wild dark sky, from whence the moon looked down through rags of torn vapor; around him was a seething waste, roaring, and tossing up clouds of turbulent foam; within him was "the peace of God that passes all understanding," a peace that nerved his arm while it quieted his spirit, so that he "feared no evil."
They are close now to the black helpless mass, stranded on the shoal. They can even distinguish figures huddled together upon it, and can hear their cries for help, coming faintly at intervals through the terrible noise of the tempest. They pull round her cautiously, getting under her sheltered side away from the wind, and then the desperate struggle for life begins. Strong hands lower down a woman with a child clinging to her neck ; there is light enough to show her white, scared face, and the despairing clutch of her hands upon the rope. Breathless and speechless, she sinks into the boat; another woman follows, then a third. It is evident that discipline is still maintained among the crew: there is no crowding nor fighting. Nor is the vessel a large one; with care and courage all may be saved, unless she separates amidships. How long will she hold out against the fearful violence of the sea that dashes over her?
There is a cheer from the half-drowned men upon the wreck, for the second boat has made her way alongside. One after another they drop into the boats, the skipper last of all.
"My boy!" shrieks a woman's voice. "My Tommy! He's left behind. Oh, my poor, lame boy!"
Wild as the night is, the moon now shines forth brilliantly, and Jonah sees a childish figure clinging to the mast. He had been overlooked in the general struggle to escape; the seamen, believing that he had been placed in safety with his mother, had taken care of themselves. But the poor woman had her youngest child clinging to her, and looked for Tommy to follow. The boats have already put off. Jonah's resolution is taken in an instant. "Pull alongside again, Nat," he shouts. It is done, and he clambers on to the wreck with the white surf breaking over him. He seizes the forlorn little figure, and drops it gently into the boat below.
Ah, what is this? The timbers part under Jonah's feet, and he sinks down — down into the hissing water. He strikes out at once, brave swimmer as he is, hoping to gain the boat; but a heavy fragment from the wreck falls with cruel force upon his grey head, and drives him deep under the waves. He rises again; this time he feels that his strength is gone, and that the place which knew him once shall know him no more.
It is even so. He cannot reach the boat; the sea buffets the life out of him; his strong arms are well-nigh useless now. But there is a light streaming far across the troubled waters — a light that is brighter than the moonshine, for it comes from that golden ladder, the top whereof reaches to Heaven. He sees the angels of God ascending and descending, as the patriarch saw them of old. Among them is Ruth, turning towards him her bright face and with outstretched arms, and it is her voice that is heard above the strife of winds and waves. Clear and sweet as the chime of silver bells came her familiar words: "The Lord sits above the water-flood: the Lord remains a King for ever."
There was great sorrow in the hearts of the islanders that night. Old Harley covered his face and wept for the shipmate of his youth, and his wife thought of the lonely orphan on the other side of the ferry. The March morning was clear and fair, with "newly-swept and garnished skies;" the tired waves rolled sleepily upon the pebbled beach, seagulls gathered in flocks to their old haunts upon the sands. But never more would murmur of wave nor cry of sea-bird waken the pilot from his slumber. For him there was no longer any thunder of earth's stormy floods, but only "the sea of glass mingled with fire," and "the song of Moses and the Lamb."
Old Sam was the first to hear the sad tidings, and when he heard them, he, too, lifted up his voice and wept. Slowly he rowed back across the ferry, while the morning sunshine sparkled on the water, and the fresh air kissed his weather-beaten face, whispering to him of the friend he had lost.
"All gone," he muttered, looking up to the blue sky and pure white clouds. "Ruth, and Susan, and Jonah — I'd ha' been glad if the Lord'd let 'em wait for me. But maybe He knew that they were ready for His call, and I wasn't. Ay, ay, He's leavin' me here until my hard old heart gets softer, and I know more of Him and His ways. But it'll be lonesome for me, and the poor girl yonder."
Later in the day, Ann Berridge entered the pilot's cottage, and found Lucy sitting there alone. She sat in his elbow-chair, with his well-worn Bible on the table before her; nor had she moved from the place since old Sam had told her the news. She held out her hand to Ann, and looked at her without speaking.
"Lucy," Ann spoke out suddenly, and then burst into tears. "Let me be a sister to you, Lucy! I've been hard and cold, and I've never done you justice; but I am altered now. John says that it's the storms that prove a ship, and show if she's seaworthy or not. They've proved you, Lucy."
Lucy's pale lips smiled faintly, and her fingers softly returned Ann's pressure. She sat still awhile, while Ann went to and fro about the house, bolting doors and windows, and then came back to her side.
"You'll come home with me?" she said, laying her hand gently on the girl's arm. "You'll have John's room. He'll be at home tonight, but he'll sleep in old Sam's cabin. I'm glad he's coming, because he'll know how to comfort you."
So Lucy rose, and found herself weak and tottering, as one who has had a long illness. The two women went out together, arm in arm, carrying the old Bible with them.
It was evening when John returned. Lucy sat by the fire in Ann's pretty parlor, with her eyes fixed on the boyish portrait that hung above the chimneypiece. She was thinking and weeping quietly now and again, when she heard the sound of his footstep outside the door. She looked round as he came in, and saw that Ann was not in the room.
At that moment, as she glanced up at his face, her thoughts went back to the bygone evening, when he had asked her to plead his cause with Esther. It seemed very long ago — almost as if it had happened in another lifetime. She did not know why that remembrance should come sweeping across her memory now, bringing an old pain to add to the great new sorrow. It took away her power of speech, and made her turn back to the fire without giving a second look at John's face.
But in the next instant he was kneeling at her side, praying her to speak to him.
"Oh, Lucy!" he said, "now that you are left lonesome, won't you let me take care of you? If he who's gone was standing by, he'd say, 'Be John's wife, if you care enough for him to marry him!' Maybe I've spoken out too suddenly; but you'll forgive me, Lucy, even if..." But Lucy's face, pale enough before, was white as marble now. Unable to answer him, unable to collect her ideas, she leant her head against the chimney-piece, and closed her eyes. There was a murmuring in her ears, as loud as the rushing of the tide on the shore, and then came a dead pause; everything seemed to stand still.
When she recovered consciousness, it was like awakening into a strange new life. She was in Mrs. Berridge's parlor, with the pretty trellis-paper on the walls. Ann was bending over her, bathing her face; John was holding her in his strong arms, and watching her with anxious eyes. That clasp made her think of another embrace that she should never feel again; and she recalled the last words which the pilot had uttered in her hearing: "May the Lord fold you in His arms, Lucy, when mine can shelter you no more! May your mother's God bless you, for you've been a good daughter to me!"
It is sometimes the case that a great joy treads so close upon the heels of a great sorrow that the heart wails and rejoices at the same time. As the evening hours wore on, and Lucy, lying on a couch constructed out of chairs and pillows, listened to all that John had to say, she felt that she was living in a little world of her own. It was a world where the rain fell heavily, but dazzling sunlights slanted through the showers.
He had grieved at first, he told her, bitterly enough over Esther's strange desertion. But gradually another grief had taken the place of that, and he mourned more for his own unreasonable blindness than for his lost love. He saw too late that he had mistaken passionate admiration for real affection, and marveled at his folly. How could he ever hope to set right his mistake? When he would gladly have told Lucy all that was in his heart, he remembered that he had once asked her to plead for him with Esther. What would she think of a man who could lightly turn from one sister to another? Thus John mused and fretted day by day, while the grey hairs thickened on his brown head and the lines deepened on his face. Then, when he saw Lucy sitting alone with her great anguish, he could hold himself in check no longer; and so the whole story came out at once.
The body of Jonah Marbeck was cast up on the Woolsners, and was found at low water, not far from the spot where he had discovered the canvas bag. It was lifted up reverently and tenderly, and carried to old Harley's cottage. And from thence it was borne to Hayling churchyard, followed by a long train of real mourners.
The day of that burial was calm and fair; scarcely a breath of wind was astir, and the blue waves murmured a low, sweet song. The little lame boy, for whose life he had given his own, stood by the open grave, and wept silently, clinging to his mother's gown. Birds twittered softly on the budding boughs, butterflies fluttered in the clear sunshine, larks went singing up to the clouds, while the fresh morning light shone on the rugged faces of that group of seamen who had gathered there to see him laid in his last resting-place.
To many of them it seemed as if they heard, indeed, "a voice from Heaven, saying, From henceforth, blessed are the dead that die in the Lord; even so, says the Spirit, for they rest from their labors." Long, long afterwards, when they, too, faced the perils of the sea, and "did their business in great waters," the influence of that brave man's example lived in their memories. The remembrance of his simple, honest life, and his steady trust in God, made some of them ashamed of their own lives. There was not one there present who did not feel assured that the pilot's soul was safe with Him who had redeemed it from all evil; and from many a heart the voiceless cry went up that day, "We meekly beseech You, O Father! to raise us from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness!"
On the morning of John's wedding-day he received a letter, which was the means of bringing about a great change in his life. It was from a younger brother of John's father, known to Ann and John as Uncle Reuben. When he was little more than a lad, Uncle Reuben had started off to Australia, with the full intention of making his fortune there. He had stated his purpose so boldly and decidedly, that everybody had laughed at him. But while John's father stayed in England and lost the little money that he had, Reuben was realizing his hopes in Queensland.
Yet the realization of hopes does not always bring contentment, and Reuben, now an old man, began to pine for the faces of his own kith and kin. His brother was dead; there were but two relatives left to him in all the wide world, and they were Ann Berridge and John Garland. He had kept up a correspondence with them, and was acquainted with all the leading events of their lives; but they were wholly unprepared for the proposal which reached them on John's wedding-day.
Uncle Reuben invited them to come out and share his home and fortune. He did not know why a sailor should not become a sheep-farmer with proper training, such as he was prepared to give John. As for Ann's husband, he might turn sheep-farmer too. There was work for another pair of hands and a clear head. The proposal was made in Uncle Reuben's queer, off-hand fashion; but it was made in all heartiness and sincerity. Ann and William were ready to accede to it at once, nor was John slow in seeing its vast advantages; but now there was Lucy to be consulted.
"I'd go willingly enough," she answered, when the question was put to her, "if it wasn't for Esther."
Ann's old quick temper very nearly blazed out again at hearing those words. It must be confessed that she had come to regard Esther's disappearance as a good thing for all parties. When she had found that her brother no longer grieved for her, she permitted herself to think that matters were going on very pleasantly without the girl, and that her return was not desirable. A look from her husband kept her silent; but she listened with suppressed impatience to his calm tones.
"It'll be a good plan to put an advertisement in the newspapers," he said. "You'll have done your best then, Lucy; and you'll feel better for having done it, even if you don't get an answer."
The quiet wedding took place: John Garland and Lucy Newburn were made man and wife. They were to live in the coastguard's cottage until all their plans were formed, and meanwhile the pilot's old home would be dismantled, and the furniture sold. It was better that this should be done quickly, if it were to be done at all, for Lucy felt persuaded in her own mind that she should never end her days in England. John only waited for her sanction to accept Uncle Reuben's proposal. His face was turned towards Australia, and she would not say how closely her heart still clung to her native land, nor how reluctantly she should leave it. The evening of the wedding-day was spent in preparing the advertisement. It consisted only of a few simple words, but they were words which few could have read unmoved. "To Esther Newburn. — Dearest Esther, — Please write to 'Lucy,' at the post-office, Portsmouth. Father is dead, and Lucy is going away."
This was put into all the principal daily papers, and John went anxiously to the post-office to know if there were any result. On his third visit there, a letter, addressed to "Lucy," was put into his hand, and he came away with a flushed face and a throbbing heart.
The envelope was directed in a firm, manly handwriting, and bore a crest. Perhaps, after all, Esther had no longer any need of her humble friends; perhaps she would hold no farther communication with them. Walking slowly along the High Street in the April sunshine, John opened the letter, and read its contents. It was dated from a London parsonage, and was signed, "Aubrey Sutherland."
Where had John seen that name before? Some moments passed before he could remember, and then he called to mind the Bible with the purple covers, and the name that was written on the fly-leaf. He had seen the book in Jonah's cottage before Esther's disappearance. He had heard Lucy grieving for its loss.
It was Ruth's old master, who wrote kindly and tenderly to Ruth's elder child. He told her how he had found a young girl, lying sick unto death, in a wretched lodging in Westminster; how he had learned her name and part of her history, and how he had seen her mother's Bible in her hands. Then he had of course recognized the book which he had given to Ruth Denison long ago, and had told Esther who he was.
She had refused to give him the address of her friends, alleging that they would never forgive her wicked flight. While still perplexed, and unable to overcome her obstinate reluctance, he caught sight of the advertisement in the second column of the Times. Thus the way was made plain for Lucy and her sister to meet again. "But what a meeting that would be," thought John, as he turned his steps homeward.
It was like a dream to Lucy, that hurried journey to London. By return of post she had sent a letter to Mr. Sutherland, telling him the train by which she should arrive in town, and imploring him to send someone to meet her, and conduct her to her sister without delay. Poor Lucy was utterly ignorant of the great city to which she was going, nor was John any wiser than herself; and although he was by her side, ready and able to protect her, she felt a vague fear lest they should both be lost in the vast Babylon, and trembled as they drew near their destination.
Oh, the hubbub and tumult of that great railway station! The sailor and his wife stood for a second or two on the crowded platform, looking about for Mr. Sutherland's messenger in rather a forlorn and helpless way. Lucy was nervous and weak after her recent trouble. Her face looked white and thin in her little black bonnet; her hand clung closely to John's arm. What made John give a start and a jump, which sent her breath quivering up to her throat? What was he saying so wildly?
"Lucy, there he is! Yes, there he is! the parson who went in among the lions!"
Poor bewildered Lucy could not think what he meant. She was far too agitated to remember her husband's story at that moment. She could only be conscious that she was in a strange place, where hundreds of strange people were coming and going in a way that made her brain whirl. The thunder boom of the breakers on the Woolsners was not half so terrible to her as the roar and clamor and clatter all around her. She pressed John's arm again, and put her hand up to her forehead.
"You are Ruth Denison's daughter, I am sure?"
It was a deep, calm voice that spoke to her, and suddenly quieted all her fears. She looked at the speaker, saying, in her natural tone and manner, "Yes, sir; I'm Lucy Garland, and this is my husband."
"Oh, sir," broke out John, very red and confused, "I'm the poor sailor who's been a changed man ever since he saw you go into the lions' cage. Oh, sir, you first pointed out to me the right way; Lord bless you!"
Mr. Sutherland held out his hand to John, and smiled. It had all come back to his mind in an instant, that scene in the little village. But what a vast number of other scenes had passed before him since that day! While he looked into the sailor's honest face, he was thinking of the hopes that had blossomed and faded, of the children who had lived and died, of the friends who had come and gone, since this man had crossed his path. How little he realized what an influence his brave deed and his few wise words had exerted over John Garland's life. Ay, how little he knew how other words of his, spoken yet longer ago, had lived in Ruth's heart, and in the hearts of her husband and children.
But Lucy's mind had only room for Esther just then, and she began to ask eager questions concerning her condition.
"She has been very ill," Mr. Sutherland replied; "but I think her strength is slowly coming back. It was typhoid fever which attacked her, and took away her senses."
"She had money with her when she left home," faltered Lucy.
"It was taken from her, under false pretenses, by the girl who tempted her to leave Portsmouth."
"That was Charlotte Reeve," said Lucy; "I mistrusted her always. Where is she now, sir?"
"I do not know. Your sister tells me that Charlotte Reeve engaged lodgings when they first came to town, and the pair lived together for some days. Then Charlotte professed to be uneasy about the large sum in gold which Esther had in her possession, and proposed to change it into notes. Esther assented; and Charlotte set out for the bank, taking the money with her, but she never returned."
"Oh, sir, — my poor sister!"
"She was left with two pounds and a few shillings, and was obliged to leave the lodgings. It was a terrible time for her indeed; but God had compassion on the poor misguided girl. In her utter distress and perplexity she approached an elderly woman whose face had a kindly look, and that woman became her friend. She took Esther to her poor home, and helped her to get employment. Her name was Russell; she was a widow, who had seen better days."
"Is she living now, sir?"
"No; she died twelve months ago. After her death Esther continued to support herself by her needle until her health failed. Then I found her in the garret in Westminster, where she still lies."
They were on their way thither while Mr. Sutherland was speaking. He had called a cab, and had entered it with the young couple. They looked about them, bewildered by the ceaseless rattle of vehicles, and the great tide of human life that flowed along the streets. He watched their two faces, so simple, so unworldly, and wondered how Esther could have found it in her heart to leave them.
At length the cab stopped in a narrow street, where the tall gloomy houses seemed to lean towards each other across the road. At the end of the street was the river, its waters flushed by the red light of sunset, for the day was closing in. Black masts stood up against the crimson sky, reminding Lucy for a moment of the old harbor at home. But there was nothing else to lead her thoughts back to her dwelling on the shore. Here there were no fresh breezes, no murmuring waves, no cries of sea-birds. She shuddered as she followed Mr. Sutherland through a dark doorway, and into a close-smelling passage, with stained and broken walls. Then up a rickety flight of stairs, so steep and dim that she took careful heed of her steps; hearing John panting behind her, and turning her head now and then to assure herself of his safety. There was another flight, and then another. She was breathless and spent when the clergyman stopped on the third landing, and paused before a closed door. Lucy's heart was beating tumultuously. Behind her was the staircase with its broken hand-rail, looking like a black gulf; on the left was a small window, its panes obscured by dust and cobwebs, and on the right was that closed door. She had last seen Esther in the full bloom of health and girlish beauty — and now?
"I'll stay here until you call me," whispered John, turning towards the dusty window. Then the door was opened in answer to Mr. Sutherland's knock; a pleasant face in a white cap looked out; and he spoke a few words in a low tone.
The door was left ajar; the white cap disappeared; there was a sound of hushed talking within. Presently the pleasant face returned, and a voice said gently, —
"I think she can bear it now; come in."
A bare attic with discolored walls, showing patches where the plaster had broken away; one old rushbottomed chair, and a new one of wicker-work; a small bed, with coarse, but clean sheets and quilt; a thin white face on the pillow, lying in the full glow of the red sunset light that streamed through the window. A low cry burst unawares from Lucy's lips, for at the sight of that face, all the old home-love came back upon her heart like a great flood.
"Oh, Esther, my darling, my darling!"
The thin arms clung to her neck, the wasted cheek was laid close to hers, while Esther's trembling whisper was heard by her ear alone.
"Lucy, I've been poor and wretched; but God has kept me from shame. Oh, thank Him for that, Lucy."
"I do thank Him for all His mercies," Lucy answered solemnly.
"Is father well? Will he ever see me again? Oh, Lucy, you are in black!"
"Hush, dear. Yes, father is well, and he will see you again, but — not yet."
"Ah, he hasn't forgiven me ; he never can! I don't deserve his pardon," said Esther, sinking back upon the pillow.
"Esther, he forgave you long ago."
"He is dead," moaned the girl; "I see it in your face! Oh that he had lived to have seen me kneeling at his feet! Oh, father, father!"
"Esther, it is well with him; and he would rather have you kneeling at Christ's feet. Don't sob so, dear; we are not left friendless in the world, — God is so good. When you get well, darling, we are going away to a new country, with those who will love us dearly, and never let us want. Now you must not speak again, and I will sit by your side."
And Esther did get well; but her recovery was slow. John wrote to Uncle Reuben, and told him that he had a wife and a sick sister depending on him now; would Uncle Reuben still say "come?" And the old man answered, "Come, and tarry not, for I am weary of being alone in a foreign land. There is enough and to spare for you all."
One day a great ship steamed out of London docks, and Mr. Sutherland and his wife stood waving a last farewell to Ruth's daughters. Lucy and Esther were going away to the other side of the world, but there are ties that cannot be broken by distance ; and there are friendships which put forth their buds here, and blossom in eternity.
"When we see them again, Helen," said the clergyman, as they walked back through the busy streets to their parsonage, "we shall see Ruth also, and our children who have gone before us into the better country."
"That country is no land of strangers," answered his wife, thinking of all the unfamiliar faces which would greet the sisters on Australian soil. "It takes a long while to make a home in this world, but in the brighter world it is already prepared for us."
So the pair went back to their work in the crowded London parish; and the great ship made her way through the waters of the Atlantic, bearing her vast freight of human beings. Many of the passengers took notice of the beautiful pale girl who was tenderly cared for by her companions, and many a little kindness was shown to her on that long voyage. Even Ann Berridge was her friend now; it was a changed world, thought poor Esther; but the real change was in herself.
And it was a lasting change. "A broken and a contrite heart" had taken the place of the haughty heart of other days. God's angels had come to her as they have come to many, in the guise of sorrow and sickness; and they had passed away, leaving behind them richer gifts than words can describe.
"She's far more beautiful than she used to be;" said Ann Berridge to her husband. Ann was right; Esther had gained that subtle charm that only comes with unconsciousness ; she had ceased to think constantly about herself and her beauty, ceased to watch eagerly for signs of admiration. Never did the former look of pride and arrogance return to her face; the remembrance of the wrong she had done, and the sorrow she had caused, was ever present with her, giving a subdued tone to her voice, and a gentle, humble expression to her features.
She was shy with John at first; but, strange to say, John was now perfectly at ease with her, treating her with a frank, brotherly kindness that soon set them both on their right footing. It was evident to Esther that all the love of John's honest heart was given entirely to his wife. He had no regrets; he never once alluded to the past state of things. But it was no small part of Esther's punishment to witness Lucy's happiness. With all her gratitude and love to Lucy, she could not help feeling the contrast which their two lives now presented. John and his wife were walking in their garden of Eden, while she stood outside, and watched them with tearful eyes and a sore heart.
Then, too, she could never forget Jean Levigne's three hundred pounds. Just as the canvas bag haunted Jonah in his dream, and dragged him down to earth, so it haunted Esther in those days.
"I shall never have peace of mind," she said to Lucy, "until I can restore the money to its owner."
And Lucy sighed; for it seemed impossible that Esther could ever raise such a sum. But God is merciful, and He often permits us to have the comfort of undoing a wrong that we have done.
It was two years after their arrival in Queensland that Esther was sought in marriage by a young sheepfarmer, well-near as rich as Uncle Reuben. But although his goodness and gentleness had fairly won her heart, she would not give him her hand until she had told him the whole history of her life. She could show no surer sign of repentance than this. She feared that Ralph Linden would cease to love her when that avowal was made; yet she was steadfastly determined to make it.
"Will he take me for his wife when he knows that I have been a thief?" she asked of Lucy and John. They tried to give her fault a softer name, but she would not have it so.
"It was a theft," she insisted resolutely. "God knows that it was, and Ralph shall know it too."
So the confession was made, but it did not change Ralph's mind. He only said, "l am glad you have told me of this, Esther; for the Bible says, 'Owe no man anything;' and we will find a way to send the money back to Jean Levigne."
Early on a December morning, Lucy stands at her garden fence, looking far off to the waters of Moreton Bay. The air is scented with odors from the gumforest; a soft south wind is blowing, cooling the hot earth and whispering to the dark cedars. But as Lucy stands there, with a little girl clinging to her skirt, her thoughts have winged their way over bush and plain, mountain and sea, and are resting on that lonely shore where her old home used to be. She knows that the whiter skies are hanging with grey clouds over that spot, while the broad sunshine is lying all around her Australian dwelling. She sees the cold white surf beating on the beach, sees also the parapets of Fort Cumberland, and hears the whirr of wings and the cries of wild-bird as they rise from Eastney lake.
The old cottage is there no longer, it was pulled down long ago. But the black timber house of the coastguard is still remaining, and the green bank where she used to watch the butterflies in spring. And there are Portsdown hills (such mole-hills when compared with her Australian heights), standing up blue and dim, and meeting the rich woodlands of Sussex. There too is the sandy bank of Hayling, the far-reaching beach, and the roar of the breakers sounding day and night.
When one has lived by the sea from childhood, its voice seems to blend afterwards with all the other voices of life. That tone, solemn and deep, lingers in the human heart, just as it lurks in the chambers of a shell. But to many of us, as to Lucy, there is another sound mingling with the vague sea-thunder; a sound that is like "the voice of many waters," although it comes from that future world where there shall be "no more sea." "In all time of our tribulation, in all time of our wealth," we catch some faint notes of that New Song as it drifts through the clamor of this transitory life. And it reminds us that we may one day sing it before the Lamb with that "great multitude" who have gone before us into everlasting life!