Part 2 out of 3
"Of course I do. I am going to die. O dear! O dear!"
"Then that is just what I want to help you in. You must confess, or the
weight of it will stick there."
"But, if I confess, I shall be expected to pay it back?"
"Of course. That is only reasonable."
"But I haven't got it, I tell you. I have lost it."
"Have you not a sovereign in your possession?"
"No, not one."
"Can't you ask your husband to let you have one?"
"There! I knew it was no use. I knew you would only make matters worse. I
do wish I had never seen that wicked money."
"You ought not to abuse the money; it was not wicked. You ought to wish
that you had returned it. But that is no use; the thing is to return it
now. Has your husband got a sovereign?"
"No. He may ha' got one since I be laid up. But I never can tell him about
it; and I should be main sorry to spend one of his hard earning in that
way, poor man."
"Well, I'll tell him, and we'll manage it somehow."
I thought for a few moments she would break out in opposition; but she hid
her face with the sheet instead, and burst into a great weeping.
I took this as a permission to do as I had said, and went to the room-door
and called her husband. He came, looking scared. His wife did not look up,
but lay weeping. I hoped much for her and him too from this humiliation
before him, for I had little doubt she needed it.
"Your wife, poor woman," I said, "is in great distress because--I do not
know when or how--she picked up a sovereign that did not belong to her,
and, instead of returning, put it away somewhere and lost it. This is what
is making her so miserable."
"Deary me!" said Stokes, in the tone with which he would have spoken to a
sick child; and going up to his wife, he sought to draw down the sheet from
her face, apparently that he might kiss her; but she kept tight hold of
it, and he could not. "Deary me!" he went on; "we'll soon put that all to
rights. When was it, Jane, that you found it?"
"When we wanted so to have a pig of our own; and I thought I could soon
return it," she sobbed from under the sheet.
"Deary me! Ten years ago! Where did you find it, old woman?"
"I saw Squire Tresham drop it, as he paid me for some ginger-beer he got
for some ladies that was with him. I do believe I should ha' given it back
at the time; but he made faces at the ginger-beer, and said it was very
nasty; and I thought, well, I would punish him for it."
"You see it was your temper that made a thief of you, then," I said.
"My old man won't be so hard on me as you, sir. I wish I had told him
"I would wish that too," I said, "were it not that I am afraid you might
have persuaded him to be silent about it, and so have made him miserable
and wicked too. But now, Stokes, what is to be done? This money must be
paid. Have you got it?"
The poor man looked blank.
"She will never be at ease till this money is paid," I insisted.
"Well, sir, I ain't got it, but I'll borrow it of someone; I'll go to
master, and ask him."
"No, my good fellow, that won't do. Your master would want to know what
you were going to do with it, perhaps; and we mustn't let more people know
about it than just ourselves and Squire Tresham. There is no occasion for
that. I'll tell you what: I'll give you the money, and you must take it;
or, if you like, I will take it to the squire, and tell him all about it.
Do you authorise me to do this, Mrs. Stokes?"
"Please, sir. It's very kind of you. I will work hard to pay you again, if
it please God to spare me. I am very sorry I was so cross-tempered to you,
sir; but I couldn't bear the disgrace of it."
She said all this from under the bed-clothes.
"Well, I'll go," I said; "and as soon as I've had my dinner I'll get a
horse and ride over to Squire Tresham's. I'll come back to-night and tell
you about it. And now I hope you will be able to thank God for forgiving
you this sin; but you must not hide and cover it up, but confess it clean
out to him, you know."
She made me no answer, but went on sobbing.
I hastened home, and as I entered sent Walter to ask the loan of a horse
which a gentleman, a neighbour, had placed at my disposal.
When I went into the dining-room, I found that they had not sat down to
dinner. I expostulated: it was against the rule of the house, when my
return was uncertain.
"But, my love," said my wife, "why should you not let us please ourselves
sometimes?" Dinner is so much nicer when you are with us."
"I am very glad you think so," I answered. "But there are the children: it
is not good for growing creatures to be kept waiting for their meals."
"You see there are no children; they have had their dinner."
"Always in the right, wife; but there's Mr. Percivale."
"I never dine till seven o'clock, to save daylight," he said.
"Then I am beaten on all points. Let us dine."
During dinner I could scarcely help observing how Percivale's eyes followed
Wynnie, or, rather, every now and then settled down upon her face. That she
was aware, almost conscious of this, I could not doubt. One glance at her
satisfied me of that. But certain words of the apostle kept coming again
and again into my mind; for they were winged words those, and even when
they did not enter they fluttered their wings at my window: "Whatsoever is
not of faith is sin." And I kept reminding myself that I must heave the
load of sin off me, as I had been urging poor Mrs. Stokes to do; for God
was ever seeking to lift it, only he could not without my help, for that
would be to do me more harm than good by taking the one thing in which I
was like him away from me--my action. Therefore I must have faith in
him, and not be afraid; for surely all fear is sin, and one of the most
oppressive sins from which the Lord came to save us.
Before dinner was over the horse was at the door. I mounted, and set out
for Squire Tresham's.
I found him a rough but kind-hearted elderly man. When I told him the story
of the poor woman's misery, he was quite concerned at her suffering. When I
produced the sovereign he would not receive it at first, but requested me
to take it back to her and say she must keep it by way of an apology for
his rudeness about her ginger-beer; for I took care to tell him the whole
story, thinking it might be a lesson to him too. But I begged him to take
it; for it would, I thought, not only relieve her mind more thoroughly, but
help to keep her from coming to think lightly of the affair afterwards. Of
course I could not tell him that I had advanced the money, for that would
have quite prevented him from receiving it. I then got on my horse again,
and rode straight to the cottage.
"Well, Mrs. Stokes," I said, "it's all over now. That's one good thing
done. How do you feel yourself now?"
"I feel better now, sir. I hope God will forgive me."
"God does forgive you. But there are more things you need forgiveness for.
It is not enough to get rid of one sin. We must get rid of all our sins,
you know. They're not nice things, are they, to keep in our hearts? It is
just like shutting up nasty corrupting things, dead carcasses, under lock
and key, in our most secret drawers, as if they were precious jewels."
"I wish I could be good, like some people, but I wasn't made so. There's my
husband now. I do believe he never do anything wrong in his life. But then,
you see, he would let a child take him in."
"And far better too. Infinitely better to be taken in. Indeed there is no
harm in being taken in; but there is awful harm in taking in."
She did not reply, and I went on:
"I think you would feel a good deal better yet, if you would send for your
daughter and her husband now, and make it up with them, especially seeing
you are so ill."
"I will, sir. I will directly. I'm tired of having my own way. But I was
"You weren't made to continue so, at all events. God gives us the necessary
strength to resist what is bad in us. He is making at you now; only you
must give in, else he cannot get on with the making of you. I think very
likely he made you ill now, just that you might bethink yourself, and feel
that you had done wrong."
"I have been feeling that for many a year."
"That made it the more needful to make you ill; for you had been feeling
your duty, and yet not doing it; and that was worst of all. You know Jesus
came to lift the weight of our sins, our very sins themselves, off our
hearts, by forgiving them and helping us to cast them away from us.
Everything that makes you uncomfortable must have sin in it somewhere, and
he came to save you from it. Send for your daughter and her husband, and
when you have done that you will think of something else to set right
"But there would be no end to that way of it, sir."
"Certainly not, till everything was put right."
"But a body might have nothing else to do, that way."
"Well, that's the very first thing that has to be done. It is our business
in this world. We were not sent here to have our own way and try to enjoy
"That is hard on a poor woman that has to work for her bread."
"To work for your bread is not to take your own way, for it is God's way.
But you have wanted many things your own way. Now, if you would just take
his way, you would find that he would take care you should enjoy your
"I'm sure I haven't had much enjoyment in mine."
"That was just because you would not trust him with his own business, but
must take it into your hands. If you will but do his will, he will take
care that you have a life to be very glad of and very thankful for. And the
longer you live, the more blessed you will find it. But I must leave you
now, for I have talked to you long enough. You must try and get a sleep. I
will come and see you again to-morrow, if you like."
"Please do, sir; I shall be very grateful."
As I rode home I thought, if the lifting of one sin off the human heart was
like a resurrection, what would it be when every sin was lifted from every
heart! Every sin, then, discovered in one's own soul must be a pledge of
renewed bliss in its removing. And when the thought came again of what St.
Paul had said somewhere, "whatsoever is not of faith is sin," I thought
what a weight of sin had to be lifted from the earth, and how blessed it
might be. But what could I do for it? I could just begin with myself, and
pray God for that inward light which is his Spirit, that so I might see him
in everything and rejoice in everything as his gift, and then all things
would be holy, for whatsoever is of faith must be the opposite of sin; and
that was my part towards heaving the weight of sin, which, like myriads
of gravestones, was pressing the life out of us men, off the whole world.
Faith in God is life and righteousness--the faith that trusts so that it
will obey--none other. Lord, lift the people thou hast made into holy
obedience and thanksgiving, that they may be glad in this thy world.
THE GATHERING STORM.
The weather cleared up again the next day, and for a fortnight it was
lovely. In this region we saw less of the sadness of the dying year than in
our own parish, for there being so few trees in the vicinity of the ocean,
the autumn had nowhere to hang out her mourning flags. But there, indeed,
so mild is the air, and so equable the temperature all the winter through,
compared with the inland counties, that the bitterness of the season is
almost unknown. This, however, is no guarantee against furious storms of
wind and rain.
Not long after the occurrence last recorded, Turner paid us another visit.
I confess I was a little surprised at his being able to get away so soon
again; for of all men a country surgeon can least easily find time for a
holiday; but he had managed it, and I had no doubt, from what I knew of
him, had made thorough provision for his cure in his absence.
He brought us good news from home. Everything was going on well. Weir was
working as hard as usual; and everybody agreed that I could not have got a
man to take my place better.
He said he found Connie much improved; and, from my own observations, I was
sure he was right. She was now able to turn a good way from one side to the
other, and finding her health so steady besides, Turner encouraged her in
making gentle and frequent use of her strength, impressing it upon her,
however, that everything depended on avoiding everything like a jerk or
twist of any sort. I was with them when he said this. She looked up at him
with a happy smile.
"I will do all I can, Mr. Turner," she said, "to get out of people's way as
soon as possible."
Perhaps she saw something in our faces that made her add--
"I know you don't mind the bother I am; but I do. I want to help, and not
be helped--more than other people--as soon as possible. I will therefore be
as gentle as mamma and as brave as papa, and see if we don't get well, Mr.
Turner. I mean to have a ride on old Spry next summer.--I do," she added,
nodding her pretty head up from the pillow, when she saw the glance the
doctor and I exchanged. "Look here," she went on, poking the eider-down
quilt up with her foot.
"Magnificent!" said Turner; "but mind, you must do nothing out of bravado.
That won't do at all."
"I have done," said Connie, putting on a face of mock submission.
That day we carried her out for a few minutes, but hardly laid her down,
for we were afraid of the damp from the earth. A few feet nearer or farther
from the soil will make a difference. It was the last time for many weeks.
Anyone interested in my Connie need not be alarmed: it was only because of
the weather, not because of her health.
One day I was walking home from a visit I had been paying to Mrs. Stokes.
She was much better, in a fair way to recover indeed, and her mental health
was improved as well. Her manner to me was certainly very different, and
the tone of her voice, when she spoke to her husband especially, was
changed: a certain roughness in it was much modified, and I had good
hopes that she had begun to climb up instead of sliding down the hill of
difficulty, as she had been doing hitherto.
It was a cold and gusty afternoon. The sky eastward and overhead was
tolerably clear when I set out from home; but when I left the cottage to
return, I could see that some change was at hand. Shaggy vapours of light
gray were blowing rapidly across the sky from the west. A wind was blowing
fiercely up there, although the gusts down below came from the east.
The clouds it swept along with it were formless, with loose
fringes--disreputable, troubled, hasty clouds they were, looking like
mischief. They reminded me of Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind," in which
he compares the "loose clouds" to hair, and calls them "the locks of the
approaching storm." Away to the west, a great thick curtain of fog, of a
luminous yellow, covered all the sea-horizon, extending north and south as
far as the eye could reach. It looked ominous. A surly secret seemed to
lie in its bosom. Now and then I could discern the dim ghost of a vessel
through it, as tacking for north or south it came near enough to the edge
of the fog to show itself for a few moments, ere it retreated again
into its bosom. There was exhaustion, it seemed to me, in the air,
notwithstanding the coolness of the wind, and I was glad when I found
myself comfortably seated by the drawing-room fire, and saw Wynnie
bestirring herself to make the tea.
"It looks stormy, I think, Wynnie," I said.
Her eye lightened, as she looked out to sea from the window.
"You seem to like the idea of it," I added.
"You told me I was like you, papa; and you look as if you liked the idea of
"_Per se_, certainly, a storm is pleasant to me. I should not like a world
without storms any more than I should like that Frenchman's idea of the
perfection of the earth, when all was to be smooth as a trim-shaven lawn,
rocks and mountains banished, and the sea breaking on the shore only in
wavelets of ginger-beer or lemonade, I forget which. But the older
you grow, the more sides of a thing will present themselves to your
contemplation. The storm may be grand and exciting in itself, but you
cannot help thinking of the people that are in it. Think for a moment of
the multitude of vessels, great and small, which are gathered within the
skirts of that angry vapour out there. I fear the toils of the storm are
around them. Look at the barometer in the hall, my dear, and tell me what
She went and returned.
"It was not very low, papa--only at rain; but the moment I touched it, the
hand dropped an inch."
"Yes, I thought so. All things look stormy. It may not be very bad here,
"That doesn't make much difference though, does it, papa?"
"No further than that being creatures in time and space, we must think of
things from our own standpoint."
"But I remember very well how, when we were children, you would not let
nurse teach us Dr. Watts's hymns for children, because you said they tended
to encourage selfishness."
"Yes; I remember it very well. Some of them make the contrast between the
misery of others and our own comforts so immediately the apparent--mind,
I only say apparent--ground of thankfulness, that they are not fit for
teaching. I do think that if you could put Dr. Watts to the question, he
would abjure any such intention, saying that only he meant to heighten
the sense of our obligation. But it does tend to selfishness and, what is
worse, self-righteousness, and is very dangerous therefore. What right have
I to thank God that I am not as other men are in anything? I have to thank
God for the good things he has given to me; but how dare I suppose that he
is not doing the same for other people in proportion to their capacity? I
don't like to appear to condemn Dr. Watts's hymns. Certainly he has written
the very worst hymns I know; but he has likewise written the best--for
public worship, I mean."
"Well, but, papa, I have heard you say that any simple feeling that comes
of itself cannot be wrong in itself. If I feel a delight in the idea of a
storm, I cannot help it coming."
"I never said you could, my dear. I only said that as we get older, other
things we did not feel at first come to show themselves more to us, and
impress us more."
Thus my child and I went on, like two pendulums crossing each other in
their swing, trying to reach the same dead beat of mutual intelligence.
"But," said Wynnie, "you say everybody is in God's hands as well as we."
"Yes, surely, my dear; as much out in yon stormy haze as here beside the
"Then we ought not to be miserable about them, even if there comes a storm,
"No, surely. And, besides, I think if we could help any of them, the very
persons that enjoyed the storm the most would be the busiest to rescue them
from it. At least, I fancy so. But isn't the tea ready?"
"Yes, papa. I'll just go and tell mamma."
When she returned with her mother, and the children had joined us, Wynnie
resumed the talk.
"I know what I am going to say is absurd, papa, and yet I don't see my
way out of it--logically, I suppose you would call it. What is the use of
taking any trouble about them if they are in God's hands? Why should we try
to take them out of God's hands?"
"Ah, Wynnie! at least you do not seek to hide your bad logic, or whatever
you call it. Take them out of God's hands! If you could do that, it would
be perdition indeed. God's hands is the only safe place in the universe;
and the universe is in his hands. Are we not in God's hands on the shore
because we say they are in his hands who go down to the sea in ships? If we
draw them on shore, surely they are not out of God's hands."
"I see--I see. But God could save them without us."
"Yes; but what would become of us then? God is so good to us, that we must
work our little salvation in the earth with him. Just as a father lets his
little child help him a little, that the child may learn to be and to do,
so God puts it in our hearts to save this life to our fellows, because we
would instinctively save it to ourselves, if we could. He requires us to do
"But God may not mean to save them."
"He may mean them to be drowned--we do not know. But we know that we must
try our little salvation, for it will never interfere with God's great and
good and perfect will. Ours will be foiled if he sees that best."
"But people always say, when anyone escapes unhurt from an accident, 'by
the mercy of God.' They don't say it is by the mercy of God when he is
"But _people_ cannot be expected, ought not, to say what they do not feel.
Their own first sensation of deliverance from impending death would break
out in a 'thank God,' and therefore they say it is God's mercy when another
is saved. If they go farther, and refuse to consider it God's mercy when a
man is drowned, that is just the sin of the world--the want of faith. But
the man who creeps out of the drowning, choking billows into the glory of
the new heavens and the new earth--do you think his thanksgiving for the
mercy of God which has delivered him is less than that of the man who
creeps, exhausted and worn, out of the waves on to the dreary, surf-beaten
shore? In nothing do we show less faith than the way in which we think and
speak about death. 'O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy
victory?' says the apostle. 'Here, here, here,' cry the Christian people,
'everywhere. It is an awful sting, a fearful victory. But God keeps it away
from us many a time when we ask him--to let it pierce us to the heart, at
last, to be sure; but that can't be helped.' I mean this is how they feel
in their hearts who do not believe that God is as merciful when he sends
death as when he sends life; who, Christian people as they are, yet look
upon death as an evil thing which cannot be avoided, and would, if they
might live always, be content to live always. Death or Life--each is God's;
for he is not the God of the dead, but of the living: there are no dead,
for all live to him."
"But don't you think we naturally shrink from death, Harry?" said my wife.
"There can be no doubt about that, my dear."
"Then, if it be natural, God must have meant that it should be so."
"Doubtless, to begin with, but not to continue or end with. A child's sole
desire is for food--the very best possible to begin with. But how would it
be if the child should reach, say, two years of age, and refuse to share
this same food with his little brother? Or what comes of the man who never
so far rises above the desire for food that _nothing_ could make him forget
his dinner-hour? Just so the life of Christians should be strong enough to
overcome the fear of death. We ought to love and believe him so much, that
when he says we shall not die, we should at least believe that death must
be something very different from what it looks to us to be--so different,
that what we mean by the word does not apply to the reality at all; and so
Jesus cannot use the word, because it would seem to us that he meant what
we mean by it, which he, seeing it all round, cannot mean."
"That does seem quite reasonable," said Ethelwyn.
Turner had taken no part in the conversation. He, too, had just come in
from a walk over the hills. He was now standing looking out at the sea.
"She looks uneasy, does she not?" I said.
"You mean the Atlantic?" he returned, looking round. "Yes, I think so. I am
glad she is not a patient of mine. I fear she is going to be very feverish,
probably delirious before morning. She won't sleep much, and will talk
rather loud when the tide comes in."
"Disease has often an ebb and flow like the tide, has it not?"
"Often. Some diseases are like a plant that has its time to grow and
blossom, then dies; others, as you say, ebb and flow again and again before
"It seems to me, however, that the ebb and flow does not belong to the
disease, but to Nature, which works through the disease. It seems to
me that my life has its tides, just like the ocean, only a little more
regularly. It is high water with me always in the morning and the evening;
in the afternoon life is at its lowest; and I believe it is lowest again
while we sleep, and hence it comes that to work the brain at night has such
an injurious effect on the system. But this is perhaps all a fancy."
"There may be some truth in it. But I was just thinking when you spoke to
me what a happy thing it is that the tide does not vary by an even six
hours, but has the odd minutes; whence we see endless changes in the
relation of the water to the times of the day. And then the spring-tides
and the neap-tides! What a provision there is in the world for change!"
"Yes. Change is one of the forms that infinitude takes for the use of us
human immortals. But come and have some tea, Turner. You will not care to
go out again. What shall we do this evening? Shall we all go to Connie's
room and have some Shakspere?"
"I could wish nothing better. What play shall we have?"
"Let us have the _Midsummer Night's Dream,"_ said Ethelwyn.
"You like to go by contraries, apparently, Ethel. But you're quite right.
It is in the winter of the year that art must give us its summer. I suspect
that most of the poetry about spring and summer is written in the winter.
It is generally when we do not possess that we lay full value upon what we
"There is one reason," said Wynnie with a roguish look, "why I like that
"I should think there might be more than one," Wynnie."
"But one reason is enough for a woman at once; isn't it, papa?"
"I'm not sure of that. But what is your reason?"
"That the fairies are not allowed to play any tricks with the women. _They_
are true throughout."
"I might choose to say that was because they were not tried."
"And I might venture to answer that Shakspere--being true to nature always,
as you say, papa--knew very well how absurd it would be to represent a
woman's feelings as under the influence of the juice of a paltry flower."
"Capital, Wynnie!" said her mother; and Turner and I chimed in with our
"Shall I tell you what I like best in the play?" said Turner. "It is the
common sense of Theseus in accounting for all the bewilderments of the
"But," said Ethelwyn, "he was wrong after all. What is the use of common
sense if it leads you wrong? The common sense of Theseus simply amounted to
this, that he would only believe his own eyes."
"I think Mrs. Walton is right, Turner," I said. "For my part, I have more
admired the open-mindedness of Hippolyta, who would yield more weight
to the consistency of the various testimony than could be altogether
counterbalanced by the negation of her own experience. Now I will tell you
what I most admire in the play: it is the reconciling power of the poet. He
brings together such marvellous contrasts, without a single shock or jar
to your feeling of the artistic harmony of the conjunction. Think for a
moment--the ordinary commonplace courtiers; the lovers, men and women in
the condition of all conditions in which fairy-powers might get a hold of
them; the quarrelling king and queen of Fairyland, with their courtiers,
Blossom, Cobweb, and the rest, and the court-jester, Puck; the ignorant,
clownish artisans, rehearsing their play,--fairies and clowns, lovers and
courtiers, are all mingled in one exquisite harmony, clothed with a night
of early summer, rounded in by the wedding of the king and queen. But I
have talked enough about it. Let us get our books."
As we sat in Connie's room, delighting ourselves with the reflex of
the poet's fancy, the sound of the rising tide kept mingling with the
fairy-talk and the foolish rehearsal. "Musk roses," said Titania; and the
first of the blast, going round by south to west, rattled the window. "Good
hay, sweet hay, hath no fellow," said Bottom; and the roar of the waters
was in our ears. "So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle Gently
entwist," said Titania; and the blast poured the rain in a spout against
the window. "Slow in pursuit, but matched in mouth like bells," said
Theseus; and the wind whistled shrill through the chinks of the bark-house
opening from the room. We drew the curtains closer, made up the fire
higher, and read on. It was time for supper ere we had done; and when
we left Connie to have hers and go to sleep, it was with the hope that,
through all the rising storm, she would dream of breeze-haunted summer
THE GATHERED STORM.
I woke in the middle of the night and the darkness to hear the wind
howling. It was wide awake now, and up with intent. It seized the house,
and shook it furiously; and the rain kept pouring, only I could not hear it
save in the _rallentondo_ passages of the wind; but through all the wind
I could hear the roaring of the big waves on the shore. I did not wake my
wife; but I got up, put on my dressing-gown, and went softly to Connie's
room, to see whether she was awake; for I feared, if she were, she would be
frightened. Wynnie always slept in a little bed in the same room. I opened
the door very gently, and peeped in. The fire was burning, for Wynnie was
an admirable stoker, and could generally keep the fire in all night. I
crept to the bedside: there was just light enough to see that Connie was
fast asleep, and that her dreams were not of storms. It was a marvel how
well the child always slept. But, as I turned to leave the room, Wynnie's
voice called me in a whisper. Approaching her bed, I saw her wide eyes,
like the eyes of the darkness, for I could scarcely see anything of her
"Awake, darling?" I said.
"Yes, papa. I have been awake a long time; but isn't Connie sleeping
delightfully? She does sleep so well! Sleep is surely very good for her."
"It is the best thing for us all, next to God's spirit, I sometimes think,
my dear. But are you frightened by the storm? Is that what keeps you
"I don't think that is what keeps me awake; but sometimes the house shakes
so that I do feel a little nervous. I don't know how it is. I never felt
afraid of anything natural before."
"What our Lord said about not being afraid of anything that could only hurt
the body applies here, and in all the terrors of the night. Think about
"I do try, papa. Don't you stop; you will get cold. It is a dreadful storm,
is it not? Suppose there should be people drowning out there now!"
"There may be, my love. People are dying almost every other moment, I
suppose, on the face of the earth. Drowning is only an easy way of dying.
Mind, they are all in God's hands."
"Yes, papa. I will turn round and shut my eyes, and fancy that his hand is
over them, making them dark with his care."
"And it will not be fancy, my darling, if you do. You remember those
odd but no less devout lines of George Herbert? Just after he says, so
beautifully, 'And now with darkness closest weary eyes,' he adds:
Thus in thy ebony box
Thou dost enclose us, till the day
Put our amendment in our way,
And give new wheels to our disordered clocks."
"He is very fond of boxes, by the way. So go to sleep, dear. You are a good
clock of God's making; but you want new wheels, according to our beloved
brother George Herbert. Therefore sleep. Good-night."
This was tiresome talk--was it--in the middle of the night, reader? Well,
but my child did not think so, I know.
Dark, dank, weeping, the morning dawned. All dreary was the earth and sky.
The wind was still hunting the clouds across the heavens. It lulled a
little while we sat at breakfast, but soon the storm was up again, and
the wind raved. I went out. The wind caught me as if with invisible human
hands, and shook me. I fought with it, and made my way into the village.
The streets were deserted. I peeped up the inn-yard as I passed: not a man
or horse was to be seen. The little shops looked as if nobody had crossed
their thresholds for a week. Not a door was open. One child came out of the
baker's with a big loaf in her apron. The wind threatened to blow the hair
off her head, if not herself first into the canal. I took her by the hand
and led her, or rather, let her lead me home, while I kept her from being
carried away by the wind. Having landed her safely inside her mother's
door, I went on, climbed the heights above the village, and looked abroad
over the Atlantic. What a waste of aimless tossing to and fro! Gray mist
above, full of falling rain; gray, wrathful waters underneath, foaming and
bursting as billow broke upon billow. The tide was ebbing now, but almost
every other wave swept the breakwater. They burst on the rocks at the end
of it, and rushed in shattered spouts and clouds of spray far into the air
over their heads. "Will the time ever come," I thought, "when man shall
be able to store up even this force for his own ends? Who can tell?" The
solitary form of a man stood at some distance gazing, as I was gazing, out
on the ocean. I walked towards him, thinking with myself who it could be
that loved Nature so well that he did not shrink from her even in her most
uncompanionable moods. I suspected, and soon found I was right; it was
"What a clashing of water-drops!" I said, thinking of a line somewhere in
Coleridge's Remorse. They are but water-drops, after all, that make this
great noise upon the rocks; only there is a great many of them."
"Yes," said Percivale. "But look out yonder. You see a single sail,
close-reefed--that is all I can see--away in the mist there? As soon as you
think of the human struggle with the elements, as soon as you know that
hearts are in the midst of it, it is a clashing of water-drops no more. It
is an awful power, with which the will and all that it rules have to fight
for the mastery, or at least for freedom."
"Surely you are right. It is the presence of thought, feeling, effort that
gives the majesty to everything. It is even a dim attribution of human
feelings to this tormented, passionate sea that gives it much of its awe;
although, as we were saying the other day, it is only _a picture_ of the
troubled mind. But as I have now seen how matters are with the elements,
and have had a good pluvial bath as well, I think I will go home and change
"I have hardly had enough of it yet," returned Percivale. "I shall have a
stroll along the heights here, and when the tide has fallen a little way
from the foot of the cliffs I shall go down on the sands and watch awhile
"Well, you're a younger man than I am; but I've seen the day, as Lear says.
What an odd tendency we old men have to boast of the past: we would be
judged by the past, not by the present. We always speak of the strength
that is withered and gone, as if we had some claim upon it still. But I am
not going to talk in this storm. I am always talking."
"I will go with you as far as the village, and then I will turn and take my
way along the downs for a mile or two; I don't mind being wet."
"I didn't once."
"Don't you think," resumed Percivale, "that in some sense the old man--not
that I can allow _you that dignity yet, Mr. Walton--has a right to regard
the past as his own?"
"That would be scanned," I answered, as we walked towards the village.
"Surely the results of the past are the man's own. Any action of the man's,
upon which the life in him reposes, remains his. But suppose a man had done
a good deed once, and instead of making that a foundation upon which to
build more good, grew so vain of it that he became incapable of doing
anything more of the same sort, you could not say that the action belonged
to him still. Therein he has severed his connection with the past. Again,
what has never in any deep sense been a man's own, cannot surely continue
to be his afterwards. Thus the things that a man has merely possessed once,
the very people who most admired him for their sakes when he had them,
give him no credit for after he has lost them. Riches that have taken
to themselves wings leave with the poor man only a surpassing poverty.
Strength, likewise, which can so little depend on any exercise of the will
in man, passes from him with the years. It was not his all the time; it was
but lent him, and had nothing to do with his inward force. A bodily feeble
man may put forth a mighty life-strength in effort, and show nothing to the
eyes of his neighbour; while the strong man gains endless admiration for
what he could hardly help. But the effort of the one remains, for it was
his own; the strength of the other passes from him, for it was never his
own. So with beauty, which the commonest woman acknowledges never to have
been hers in seeking to restore it by deception. So, likewise, in a great
measure with intellect."
"But if you take away intellect as well, what do you leave a man that can
in any way be called his own?"
"Certainly his intellect is not his own. One thing only is his own--to will
the truth. This, too, is as much God's gift as everything else: I ought to
say is more God's gift than anything else, for he gives it to be the man's
own more than anything else can be. And when he wills the truth, he has
God himself. Man _can_ possess God: all other things follow as necessary
results. What poor creatures we should have been if God had not made us to
do something--to look heavenwards--to lift up the hands that hang down, and
strengthen the feeble knees! Something like this was in the mind of the
prophet Jeremiah when he said, 'Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man
glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not
the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this,
that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise
loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth: for in these
things I delight, saith the Lord.' My own conviction is, that a vague sense
of a far higher life in ourselves than we yet know anything about is at the
root of all our false efforts to be able to think something of ourselves.
We cannot commend ourselves, and therefore we set about priding ourselves.
We have little or no strength of mind, faculty of operation, or worth of
will, and therefore we talk of our strength of body, worship the riches
we have, or have not, it is all one, and boast of our paltry intellectual
successes. The man most ambitious of being considered a universal genius
must at last confess himself a conceited dabbler, and be ready to part with
all he knows for one glimpse more of that understanding of God which the
wise men of old held to be essential to every man, but which the growing
luminaries of the present day will not allow to be even possible for any
We had reached the brow of the heights, and here we parted. A fierce blast
of wind rushed at me, and I hastened down the hill. How dreary the streets
did look!--how much more dreary than the stormy down! I saw no living
creature as I returned but a terribly draggled dog, a cat that seemed to
have a bad conscience, and a lovely little girl-face, which, forgetful of
its own rights, would flatten the tip of the nose belonging to it against a
window-pane. Every rain-pool was a mimic sea, and had a mimic storm within
its own narrow bounds. The water went hurrying down the kennels like a long
brown snake anxious to get to its hole and hide from the tormenting wind,
and every now and then the rain came in full rout before the conquering
When I got home, I peeped in at Connie's door the first thing, and saw that
she was raised a little more than usual; that is, the end of the conch
against which she leaned was at a more acute angle. She was sitting
staring, rather than gazing, out at the wild tumult which she could see
over the shoulder of the down on which her window immediately looked. Her
face was paler and keener than usual.
"Why, Connie, who set you up so straight?"
"Mr. Turner, papa. I wanted to see out, and he raised me himself. He says I
am so much better, I may have it in the seventh notch as often as I like."
"But you look too tired for it. Hadn't you better lie down again?"
"It's only the storm, papa."
"The more reason you should not see it if it tires you so."
"It does not tire me, papa. Only I keep constantly wondering what is going
to come out of it. It looks so as if something must follow."
"You didn't hear me come into your room last night, Connie. The storm was
raging then as loud as it is now, but you were out of its reach--fast
asleep. Now it is too much for you. You must lie down."
"Very well, papa."
I lowered the support, and when I returned from changing my wet garments
she was already looking much better.
After dinner I went to my study, but when evening began to fall I went out
again. I wanted to see how our next neighbours, the sexton and his wife,
were faring. The wind had already increased in violence. It threatened to
blow a hurricane. The tide was again rising, and was coming in with great
rapidity. The old mill shook to the foundation as I passed through it to
reach the lower part where they lived. When I peeped in from the bottom
of the stair, I saw no one; but, hearing the steps of someone overhead, I
Agnes's voice made answer, as she descended an inner stair which led to the
"Mother's gone to church, sir."
"Gone to church!" I said, a vague pang darting through me as I thought
whether I had forgotten any service; but the next moment I recalled what
the old woman had herself told me of her preference for the church during a
"O yes, Agnes, I remember!" I said; "your mother thinks the weather bad
enough to take to the church, does she? How do you come to be here now?
Where is your husband?"
"He'll be here in an hour or so, sir. He don't mind the wet. You see, we
don't like the old people to be left alone when it blows what the sailors
call 'great guns.'"
"And what becomes of his mother then?"
"There don't be any sea out there, sir. Leastways," she added with a quiet
smile, and stopped.
"You mean, I suppose, Agnes, that there is never any perturbation of the
elements out there?"
She laughed; for she understood me well enough. The temper of Joe's mother
"But really, sir," she said, "she don't mind the weather a bit; and though
we don't live in the same cottage with her, for Joe wouldn't hear of that,
we see her far oftener than we see my mother, you know."
"I'm sure it's quite fair, Agnes. Is Joe very sorry that he married you,
She hung her head, and blushed so deeply through all her sallow complexion,
that I was sorry I had teased her, and said so. This brought a reply.
"I don't think he be, sir. I do think he gets better. He's been working
very hard the last week or two, and he says it agrees with him."
"And how are you?"
"Quite well, thank you, sir."
I had never seen her look half so well. Life was evidently a very different
thing to both of them now. I left her, and took my way to the church.
When I reached the churchyard, there, in the middle of the rain and the
gathering darkness, was the old man busy with the duties of his calling. A
certain headstone stood right under a drip from the roof of the southern
transept; and this drip had caused the mould at the foot of the stone, on
the side next the wall, to sink, so that there was a considerable crack
between the stone and the soil. The old man had cut some sod from another
part of the churchyard, and was now standing, with the rain pouring on him
from the roof, beating this sod down in the crack. He was sheltered from
the wind by the church, but he was as wet as he could be. I may mention
that he never appeared in the least disconcerted when I came upon him in
the discharge of his functions: he was so content with his own feeling in
the matter, that no difference of opinion could disturb him.
"This will never do, Coombes," I said. "You will get your death of cold.
You must be as full of water as a sponge. Old man, there's rheumatism in
"It be only my work, sir. But I believe I ha' done now for a night. I think
he'll be a bit more comfortable now. The very wind could get at him through
"Do go home, then," I said, "and change your clothes. Is your wife in the
"She be, sir. This door, sir--this door," he added, as he saw me going
round to the usual entrance. "You'll find her in there."
I lifted the great latch and entered. I could not see her at first, for it
was much darker inside the church. It felt very quiet in there somehow,
although the place was full of the noise of winds and waters. Mrs. Coombes
was not sitting on the bell-keys, where I looked for her first, for the
wind blew down the tower in many currents and draughts--how it did roar up
there--as if the louvres had been a windsail to catch the wind and send
it down to ventilate the church!--she was sitting at the foot of the
chancel-rail, with her stocking as usual.
The sight of her sweet old face, lighted up by a moonlike smile as I drew
near her, in the middle of the ancient dusk filled with sounds, but only
sounds of tempest, gave me a sense of one dwelling in the secret place of
the Most High, such as I shall never forget. It was no time to say much,
"How long do you mean to stay here, Mrs. Coombes?" I asked. "Not all
"No, not all night, surely, sir. But I hadn't thought o' going yet for a
"Why there's Coombes out there, wet to the skin; and I'm afraid he'll go on
pottering at the churchyard bed-clothes till he gets his bones as full of
rheumatism as they can hold."
"Deary me! I didn't know as my old man was there. He tould me he had them
all comforble for the winter a week ago. But to be sure there's always some
mendin' to do."
I heard the voice of Joe outside, and the next moment he came into the
church. After speaking to me, he turned to Mrs. Coombes.
"You be comin' home with me, mother. This will never do. Father's as wet as
a mop. I ha' brought something for your supper, and Aggy's a-cookin' of it;
and we're going to be comfortable over the fire, and have a chapter or two
of the New Testament to keep down the noise of the sea. There! Come along."
The old woman drew her cloak over her head, put her knitting carefully in
her pocket, and stood aside for me to lead the way.
"No, no," I said; "I'm the shepherd and you're the sheep, so I'll drive you
before me--at least, you and Coombes. Joe here will be offended if I take
on me to say I am _his_ shepherd."
"Nay, nay, don't say that, sir. You've been a good shepherd to me when I
was a very sulky sheep. But if you'll please to go, sir, I'll lock the door
behind; for you know in them parts the shepherd goes first and the sheep
follow the shepherd. And I'll follow like a good sheep," he added,
"You're right, Joe," I said, and took the lead without more ado.
I was struck by his saying _them parts_, which seemed to indicate a habit
of pondering on the places as well as circumstances of the gospel-story.
The sexton joined us at the door, and we all walked to his cottage, Joe
taking care of his mother-in-law and I taking what care I could of Coombes
by carrying his tools for him. But as we went I feared I had done ill in
that, for the wind blew so fiercely that I thought the thin feeble little
man would have got on better if he had been more heavily weighted against
it. But I made him take a hold of my arm, and so we got in. The old man
took his tools from me and set them down in the mill, for the roof of which
I felt some anxiety as we passed through, so full of wind was the whole
space. But when we opened the inner door the welcome of a glowing fire
burst up the stair as if that had been a well of warmth and light below. I
went down with them. Coombes departed to change his clothes, and the rest
of us stood round the fire, where Agnes was busy cooking something like
white puddings for their supper.
"Did you hear, sir," said Joe, "that the coastguard is off to the
Goose-pot? There's a vessel ashore there, they say. I met them on the road
with the rocket-cart."
"How far off is that, Joe?"
"Some five or six miles, I suppose, along the coast nor'ards."
"What sort of a vessel is she?"
"That I don't know. Some say she be a schooner, others a brigantine. The
coast-guard didn't know themselves."
"Poor things!" said Mrs. Coombes. "If any of them comes ashore, they'll be
sadly knocked to pieces on the rocks in a night like this."
She had caught a little infection of her husband's mode of thought.
"It's not likely to clear up before morning, I fear; is it, Joe?"
"I don't think so, sir. There's no likelihood."
"Will you condescend to sit down and take a share with us, sir?" said the
"There would be no condescension in that, Mrs. Coombes. I will another time
with all my heart; but in such a night I ought to be at home with my own
people. They will be more uneasy if I am away."
"Of coorse, of coorse, sir."
"So I'll bid you good-night. I wish this storm were well over."
I buttoned my great-coat, pulled my hat down on my head, and set out. It
was getting on for high water. The night was growing very dark. There would
be a moon some time, but the clouds were so dense she could not do much
while they came between. The roaring of the waves on the shore was
terrible; all I could see of them now was the whiteness of their breaking,
but they filled the earth and the air with their furious noises. The wind
roared from the sea; two oceans were breaking on the land, only to the one
had been set a hitherto--to the other none. Ere the night was far gone,
however, I had begun to doubt whether the ocean itself had not broken its
I found the whole household full of the storm. The children kept pressing
their faces to the windows, trying to pierce, as by force of will, through
the darkness, and discover what the wild thing out there was doing. They
could see nothing: all was one mass of blackness and dismay, with a soul in
it of ceaseless roaring. I ran up to Connie's room, and found that she was
left alone. She looked restless, pale, and frightened. The house quivered,
and still the wind howled and whistled through the adjoining bark-hut.
"Connie, darling, have they left you alone?" I said.
"Only for a few minutes, papa. I don't mind it."
"Don't he frightened at the storm, my dear. He who could walk on the sea
of Galilee, and still the storm of that little pool, can rule the Atlantic
just as well. Jeremiah says he 'divideth the sea when the waves thereof
The same moment Dora came running into the room.
"Papa," she cried, "the spray--such a lot of it--came dashing on the
windows in the dining-room. Will it break them?"
"I hope not, my dear. Just stay with Connie while I run down."
"O, papa! I do want to see."
"What do you want to see, Dora?"
"The storm, papa."
"It is as black as pitch. You can't see anything."
"O, but I want to--to--be beside it."
"Well, you sha'n't stay with Connie, if you are not willing. Go along. Ask
Wynnie to come here."
The child was so possessed by the commotion without that she did not
seem even to see my rebuke, not to say feel it. She ran off, and Wynnie
presently came. I left her with Connie, put on a long waterproof cloak,
and went down to the dining-room. A door led from it immediately on to the
little green in front of the house, between it and the sea. The dining-room
was dark, for they had put out the lights that they might see better from
the windows. The children and some of the servants were there looking out.
I opened the door cautiously. It needed the strength of two of the women
to shut it behind me. The moment I opened it a great sheet of spray rushed
over me. I went down the little grassy slope. The rain had ceased, and it
was not quite so dark as I had expected. I could see the gleaming whiteness
all before me. The next moment a wave rolled over the low wall in front of
me, breaking on it and wrapping me round in a sheet of water. Something
hurt me sharply on the leg; and I found, on searching, that one of the
large flat stones that lay for coping on the top of the wall was on the
grass beside me. If it had struck me straight, it must have broken my leg.
There came a little lull in the wind, and just as I turned to go into the
house again, I thought I heard a gun. I stood and listened, but heard
nothing more, and fancied I must have been mistaken. I returned and tapped
at the door; but I had to knock loudly before they heard me within. When I
went up to the drawing-room, I found that Percivale had joined our party.
He and Turner were talking together at one of the windows.
"Did you hear a gun?" I asked them.
"No. Was there one?"
"I'm not sure. I half-fancied I heard one, but no other followed. There
will be a good many fired to-night, though, along this awful coast."
"I suppose they keep the life-boat always ready," said Turner.
"No life-boat even, I fear, would live in such a sea," I said, remembering
what the officer of the coast-guard had told me.
"They would try, though, I suppose," said Turner.
"I do not know," said Percivale. "I don't know the people. But I have seen
a life-boat out in as bad a night--whether in as bad a sea, I cannot tell:
that depends on the coast, I suppose."
We went on chatting for some time, wondering how the coast-guard had fared
with the vessel ashore at the Goose-pot. Wynnie joined us.
"How is Connie, now, my dear?"
"Very restless and excited, papa. I came down to say, that if Mr. Turner
didn't mind, I wish he would go up and see her."
"Of course--instantly," said Turner, and moved to follow Winnie.
But the same moment, as if it had been beside us in the room, so clear, so
shrill was it, we heard Connie's voice shrieking, "Papa, papa! There's a
great ship ashore down there. Come, come!"
Turner and I rushed from the room in fear and dismay. "How? What? Where
could the voice come from?" was the unformed movement of our thoughts. But
the moment we left the drawing-room the thing was clear, though not the
less marvellous and alarming. We forgot all about the ship, and thought
only of our Connie. So much does the near hide the greater that is afar!
Connie kept on calling, and her voice guided our eyes.
A, little stair led immediately from this floor up to the bark-hut, so that
it might be reached without passing through the bedroom. The door at the
top of it was open. The door that led from Connie's room into the bark-hut
was likewise open, and light shone through it into the place--enough to
show a figure standing by the furthest window with face pressed against the
glass. And from this figure came the cry, "Papa, papa! Quick, quick! The
waves will knock her to pieces!"
In very truth it was Connie standing there.
Things that happen altogether have to be told one after the other. Turner
and I both rushed at the narrow stair. There was not room for more than one
upon it. I was first, but stumbled on the lowest step and fell. Turner
put his foot on my back, jumped over me, sprang up the stair, and when I
reached the top of it after him, he was meeting me with Connie in his arms,
carrying her back to her room. But the girl kept crying--"Papa, papa, the
ship, the ship!"
My duty woke in me. Turner could attend to Connie far better than I could.
I made one spring to the window. The moon was not to be seen, but the
clouds were thinner, and light enough was soaking through them to show a
wave-tormented mass some little way out in the bay; and in that one moment
in which I stood looking, a shriek pierced the howling of the wind, cutting
through it like a knife. I rushed bare-headed from the house. When or
how the resolve was born in me I do not know, but I flew straight to the
sexton's, snatched the key from the wall, crying only "ship ashore!" and
rushed to the church.
I remember my hand trembled so that I could hardly get the key into the
lock. I made myself quieter, opened the door, and feeling my way to the
tower, knelt before the keys of the bell-hammers, opened the chest, and
struck them wildly, fiercely. An awful jangling, out of tune and harsh,
burst into monstrous being in the storm-vexed air. Music itself was
untuned, corrupted, and returning to chaos. I struck and struck at the
keys. I knew nothing of their normal use. Noise, outcry, _reveille_ was all
In a few minutes I heard voices and footsteps. From some parts of the
village, out of sight of the shore, men and women gathered to the summons.
Through the door of the church, which I had left open, came voices in
hurried question. "Ship ashore!" was all I could answer, for what was to be
done I was helpless to think.
I wondered that so few appeared at the cry of the bells. After those first
nobody came for what seemed a long time. I believe, however, I was beating
the alarum for only a few minutes altogether, though when I look back upon
the time in the dark church, it looks like half-an-hour at least. But
indeed I feel so confused about all the doings of that night that in
attempting to describe them in order, I feel as if I were walking in a
dream. Still, from comparing mine with the recollected impressions of
others, I think I am able to give a tolerably correct result. Most of the
incidents seem burnt into my memory so that nothing could destroy the depth
of the impression; but the order in which they took place is none the less
A hand was laid on my shoulder.
"Who is there?" I said; for it was far too dark to know anyone.
"Percivale. What is to be done? The coastguard is away. Nobody seems to
know about anything. It is of no use to go on ringing more. Everybody is
out, even to the maid-servants. Come down to the shore, and you will see."
"But is there not the life-boat?"
"Nobody seems to know anything about it, except 'it's no manner of use to
go trying of that with such a sea on.'"
"But there must be someone in command of it," I said.
"Yes," returned Percivale; "but there doesn't seem to be one of the crew
amongst the crowd. All the sailor-like fellows are going about with their
hands in their pockets."
"Let us make haste, then," I said; "perhaps we can find out. Are you sure
the coastguard have nothing to do with the life-boat?"
"I believe not. They have enough to do with their rockets."
"I remember now that Roxton told me he had far more confidence in his
rockets than in anything a life-boat could do, upon this coast at least."
While we spoke we came to the bank of the canal. This we had to cross, in
order to reach that part of the shore opposite which the wreck lay. To my
surprise the canal itself was in a storm, heaving and tossing and dashing
over its banks.
"Percivale," I exclaimed, "the gates are gone; the sea has torn them away."
"Yes, I suppose so. Would God I could get half-a-dozen men to help me. I
have been doing what I could; but I have no influence amongst them."
"What do you mean?" I asked. "What could you do if you had a thousand men
at your command?"
He made me no answer for a few moments, during which we were hurrying on
for the bridge over the canal. Then he said:
"They regard me only as a meddling stranger, I suppose; for I have been
able to get no useful answer. They are all excited; but nobody is doing
"They must know about it a great deal better than we," I returned; "and we
must take care not to do them the injustice of supposing they are not ready
to do all that can be done."
Percivale was silent yet again.
The record of our conversation looks as quiet on the paper as if we had
been talking in a curtained room; but all the time the ocean was raving in
my very ear, and the awful tragedy was going on in the dark behind us. The
wind was almost as loud as ever, but the rain had quite ceased, and when we
reached the bridge the moon shone out white, as if aghast at what she had
at length succeeded in pushing the clouds aside that she might see. Awe
and helplessness oppressed us. Having crossed the canal, we turned to the
shore. There was little of it left; for the waves had rushed up almost to
the village. The sand and the roads, every garden wall, every window that
looked seaward was crowded with gazers. But it was a wonderfully quiet
crowd, or seemed so at least; for the noise of the wind and the waves
filled the whole vault, and what was spoken was heard only in the ear to
which it was spoken. When we came amongst them we heard only a murmur as of
more articulated confusion. One turn, and we saw the centre of strife and
anxiety--the heart of the storm that filled heaven and earth, upon which
all the blasts and the billows broke and raved.
Out there in the moonlight lay a mass of something whose place was
discernible by the flashing of the waves as they burst over it. She was far
above low-water mark--lay nearer the village by a furlong than the spot
where we had taken our last dinner on the shore. It was strange to think
that yesterday the spot lay bare to human feet, where now so many men and
women were isolated in a howling waste of angry waters; for the cry of
women came plainly to our ears, and we were helpless to save them. It was
terrible to have to do nothing. Percivale went about hurriedly, talking to
this one and that one, as if he still thought something might be done. He
turned to me.
"Do try, Mr. Walton, and find out for me where the captain of the life-boat
I turned to a sailor-like man who stood at my elbow and asked him.
"It's no use, I assure you, sir," he answered; "no boat could live in such
a sea. It would be throwing away the men's lives."
"Do you know where the captain lives?" Percivale asked.
"If I did, I tell you it is of no use."
"Are you the captain yourself?" returned Percivale.
"What is that to you?" he answered, surly now. "I know my own business."
The same moment several of the crowd nearest the edge of the water made a
simultaneous rush into the surf, and laid hold of something, which, as they
returned drawing it to the shore, I saw to be a human form. It was the body
of a woman--alive or dead I could not tell. I could just see the long hair
hanging from the head, which itself hung backward helplessly as they bore
her up the bank. I saw, too, a white face, and I can recall no more.
"Run, Percivale," I said, "and fetch Turner. She may not be dead yet."
"I can't," answered Percivale. "You had better go yourself, Mr. Walton."
He spoke hurriedly. I saw he must have some reason for answering me so
abruptly. He was talking to a young fellow whom I recognised as one of the
most dissolute in the village; and just as I turned to go they walked away
I sped home as fast as I could. It was easier to get along now that the
moon shone. I found that Turner had given Connie a composing draught, and
that he had good hopes she would at least be nothing the worse for the
marvellous result of her excitement. She was asleep exhausted, and her
mother was watching by her side. It, seemed strange that she could sleep;
but Turner said it was the safest reaction, partly, however, occasioned by
what he had given her. In her sleep she kept on talking about the ship.
We hurried back to see if anything could be done for the woman. As we went
up the side of the canal we perceived a dark body meeting us. The clouds
had again obscured, though not quite hidden the moon, and we could not at
first make out what it was. When we came nearer it showed itself a body
of men hauling something along. Yes, it was the life-boat, afloat on the
troubled waves of the canal, each man seated in his own place, his hands
quiet upon his oar, his cork-jacket braced about him, his feet out before
him, ready to pull the moment they should pass beyond the broken gates of
the lock out on the awful tossing of the waves. They sat very silent, and
the men on the path towed them swiftly along. The moon uncovered her face
for a moment, and shone upon the faces of two of the rowers.
"Percivale! Joe!" I cried.
"All right, sir!" said Joe.
"Does your wife know of it, Joe?" I almost gasped.
"To be sure," answered Joe. "It's the first chance I've had of returning
thanks for her. Please God, I shall see her again to-night."
"That's good, Joe. Trust in God, my men, whether you sink or swim."
"Ay, ay, sir!" they answered as one man.
"This is your doing, Percivale," I said, turning and walking alongside of
the boat for a little way.
"It's more Jim Allen's," said Percivale. "If I hadn't got a hold of him I
couldn't have done anything."
"God bless you, Jim Allen!" I said. "You'll be a better man after this, I
"Donnow, sir," returned Jim cheerily. "It's harder work than pulling an
The captain himself was on board. Percivale having persuaded Jim Allen, the
two had gone about in the crowd seeking proselytes. In a wonderfully short
space they had found almost all the crew, each fresh one picking up another
or more; till at length the captain, protesting against the folly of it,
gave in, and once having yielded, was, like a true Englishman, as much in
earnest as any of them. The places of two who were missing were supplied by
Percivale and Joe, the latter of whom would listen to no remonstrance.
"I've nothing to lose," Percivale had said. "You have a young wife, Joe."
"I've everything to win," Joe had returned. "The only thing that makes me
feel a bit faint-hearted over it, is that I'm afraid it's not my duty that
drives me to it, but the praise of men, leastways of a woman. What would
Aggy think of me if I was to let them drown out there and go to my bed and
sleep? I must go."
"Very well, Joe," returned Percivale, "I daresay you are right. You can
row, of course?"
"I can row hard, and do as I'm told," said Joe.
"All right," said Percivale; "come along."
This I heard afterwards. We were now hurrying against the wind towards the
mouth of the canal, some twenty men hauling on the tow-rope. The critical
moment would be in the clearing of the gates, I thought, some parts of
which might remain swinging; but they encountered no difficulty there, as
I heard afterwards. For I remembered that this was not my post, and turned
again to follow the doctor.
"God bless you, my men!" I said, and left them.
They gave a great hurrah, and sped on to meet their fate. I found Turner in
the little public-house, whither they had carried the body. The woman was
"I fear it is an emigrant vessel," he said.
"Why do you think so?" I asked, in some consternation.
"Come and look at the body," he said.
It was that of a woman about twenty, tall, and finely formed. The face was
very handsome, but it did not need the evidence of the hands to prove that
she was one of our sisters who have to labour for their bread.
"What should such a girl be doing on board ship but going out to America or
Australia--to her lover, perhaps," said Turner. "You see she has a locket
on her neck; I hope nobody will dare to take it off. Some of these people
are not far derived from those who thought a wreck a Godsend."
A sound of many feet was at the door just as we turned to leave the house.
They were bringing another body--that of an elderly woman--dead, quite
dead. Turner had ceased examining her, and we were going out together,
when, through all the tumult of the wind and waves, a fierce hiss,
vindictive, wrathful, tore the air over our heads. Far up, seawards,
something like a fiery snake shot from the high ground on the right side of
the bay, over the vessel, and into the water beyond it.
"Thank God! that's the coastguard," I cried.
We rushed through the village, and up on the heights, where they had
planted their apparatus. A little crowd surrounded them. How dismal the sea
looked in the struggling moonlight! I felt as if I were wandering in the
mazes of an evil dream. But when I approached the cliff, and saw down below
the great mass, of the vessel's hulk, with the waves breaking every moment
upon her side, I felt the reality awful indeed. Now and then there would
come a kind of lull in the wild sequence of rolling waters, and then I
fancied for a moment that I saw how she rocked on the bottom. Her masts had
all gone by the board, and a perfect chaos of cordage floated and swung in
the waves that broke over her. But her bowsprit remained entire, and shot
out into the foamy dark, crowded with human beings. The first rocket
had missed. They were preparing to fire another. Roxton stood with his
telescope in his hand, ready to watch the result.
"This is a terrible job, sir," he said when I approached him; "I doubt if
we shall save one of them."
"There's the life-boat!" I cried, as a dark spot appeared on the waters
approaching the vessel from the other side.
"The life-boat!" he returned with contempt. "You don't mean to say they've
got _her_ out! She'll only add to the mischief. We'll have to save her
She was still some way from the vessel, and in comparatively smooth water.
But between her and the hull the sea raved in madness; the billows rode
over each other, in pursuit, as it seemed, of some invisible prey. Another
hiss, as of concentrated hatred, and the second rocket was shooting its
parabola through the dusky air. Roxton raised his telescope to his eye the
"Over her starn!" he cried. "There's a fellow getting down from the
cat-head to run aft.--Stop, stop!" he shouted involuntarily. "There's an
awful wave on your quarter."
His voice was swallowed in the roaring of the storm. I fancied I could
distinguish a dark something shoot from the bows towards the stern. But the
huge wave fell upon the wreck. The same moment Roxton exclaimed--so coolly
as to amaze me, forgetting how men must come to regard familiar things
"He's gone! I said so. The next'll have better luck, I hope."
That man came ashore alive, though.
All were forward of the foremast. The bowsprit, when I looked through
Roxton's telescope, was shapeless as with a swarm of bees. Now and then a
single shriek rose upon the wild air. But now my attention was fixed on the
life-boat. She had got into the wildest of the broken water; at one
moment she was down in a huge cleft, the next balanced like a beam on the
knife-edge of a wave, tossed about hither and thither, as if the waves
delighted in mocking the rudder; but hitherto she had shipped no water. I
am here drawing upon the information I have since received; but I did
see how a huge wave, following close upon the back of that on which she
floated, rushed, towered up over her, toppled, and fell upon the life-boat
with tons of water: the moon was shining brightly enough to show this with
tolerable distinctness. The boat vanished. The next moment, there she was,
floating helplessly about, like a living thing stunned by the blow of the
falling wave. The struggle was over. As far as I could see, every man was
in his place; but the boat drifted away before the storm shore-wards, and
the men let her drift. Were they all killed as they sat? I thought of my
Wynnie, and turned to Roxton.
"That wave has done for them," he said. "I told you it was no use. There
"But what is the matter?" I asked. "The men are sitting every man in his
"I think so," he answered. "Two were swept overboard, but they caught the
ropes and got in again. But don't you see they have no oars?"
That wave had broken every one of them off at the rowlocks, and now they
were as helpless as a sponge.
I turned and ran. Before I reached the brow of the hill another rocket was
fired and fell wide shorewards, partly because the wind blew with fresh
fury at the very moment. I heard Roxton say--"She's breaking up. It's no
use. That last did for her;" but I hurried off for the other side of the
bay, to see what became of the life-boat. I heard a great cry from the
vessel as I reached the brow of the hill, and turned for a parting glance.
The dark mass had vanished, and the waves were rushing at will over the
space. When I got to the shore the crowd was less. Many were running, like
myself, towards the other side, anxious about the life-boat. I hastened
after them; for Percivale and Joe filled my heart.
They led the way to the little beach in front of the parsonage. It would
be well for the crew if they were driven ashore there, for it was the only
spot where they could escape being dashed on rocks.
There was a crowd before the garden-wall, a bustle, and great confusion of
speech. The people, men and women, boys and girls, were all gathered about
the crew of the life-boat,--which already lay, as if it knew of nothing but
repose, on the grass within.
"Percivale!" I cried, making my way through the crowd.
There was no answer.
"Joe Harper!" I cried again, searching with eager eyes amongst the crew, to
whom everybody was talking.
Still there was no answer; and from the disjointed phrases I heard, I could
gather nothing. All at once I saw Wynnie looking over the wall, despair in
her face, her wide eyes searching wildly through the crowd. I could not
look at her till I knew the worst. The captain was talking to old Coombes.
I went up to him. As soon as he saw me, he gave me his attention.
"Where is Mr. Percivale?" I asked, with all the calmness I could assume.
He took me by the arm, and drew me out of the crowd, nearer to the waves,
and a little nearer to the mouth of the canal. The tide had fallen
considerably, else there would not have been standing-room, narrow as it
was, which the people now occupied. He pointed in the direction of the
"If you mean the stranger gentleman--"
"And Joe Harper, the blacksmith," I interposed.
"They're there, sir."
"You don't mean those two--just those two--are drowned?" I said.
"No, sir; I don't say that; but God knows they have little chance."
I could not help thinking that God might know they were not in the smallest
danger. But I only begged him to tell me where they were.
"Do you see that schooner there, just between you and the Castle-rock?"
"No," I answered; "I can see nothing. Stay. I fancy I can. But I am always
ready to fancy I see a thing when I am told it is there. I can't say I see
"I can, though. The gentleman you mean, and Joe Harper too, are, I believe,
on board of that schooner."
"Is she aground?"
"O dear no, sir. She's a light craft, and can swim there well enough. If
she'd been aground, she'd ha' been ashore in pieces hours ago. But whether
she'll ride it out, God only knows, as I said afore."
"How ever did they get aboard of her? I never saw her from the heights
"You were all taken up by the ship ashore, you see, sir. And she don't make
much show in this light. But there she is, and they're aboard of her. And
this is how it was."
He went on to give me his part of the story; but I will now give the whole
of it myself, as I have gathered and pieced it together.
Two men had been swept overboard, as Roxton said--one of them was
Percivale--but they had both got on board again, to drift, oarless, with
the rest--now in a windless valley--now aloft on a tempest-swept hill of
water--away towards a goal they knew not, neither had chosen, and which yet
they could by no means avoid.
A little out of the full force of the current, and not far from the channel
of the small stream, which, when the tide was out, flowed across the sands
nearly from the canal gates to the Castle-rock, lay a little schooner,
belonging to a neighbouring port, Boscastle, I think, which, caught in
the storm, had been driven into the bay when it was almost dark, some
considerable time before the great ship. The master, however, knew the
ground well. The current carried him a little out of the wind, and would
have thrown him upon the rocks next, but he managed to drop anchor just in
time, and the cable held; and there the little schooner hung in the skirts
of the storm, with the jagged teeth of the rocks within an arrow flight. In
the excitement of the great wreck, no one had observed the danger of the
little coasting bird. If the cable held till the tide went down, and the
anchor did not drag, she would be safe; if not, she must be dashed to
In the schooner were two men and a boy: two men had been washed overboard
an hour or so before they reached the bay. When they had dropped their
anchor, they lay down exhausted on the deck. Indeed they were so worn out
that they had been unable to drop their sheet anchor, and were holding on
only by their best bower. Had they not been a good deal out of the wind,
this would have been useless. Even if it held she was in danger of having
her bottom stove in by bumping against the sands as the tide went out. But
that they had not to think of yet. The moment they lay down they fell
fast asleep in the middle of the storm. While they slept it increased in
Suddenly one of them awoke, and thought he saw a vision of angels. For over
his head faces looked down upon him from the air--that is, from the top of
a great wave. The same moment he heard a voice, two of the angels dropped
on the deck beside him, and the rest vanished. Those angels were Percivale
and Joe. And angels they were, for they came just in time, as all angels
do--never a moment too soon or a moment too late: the schooner _was_
dragging her anchor. This was soon plain even to the less experienced eyes
of the said angels.
But it did not take them many minutes now to drop their strongest anchor,
and they were soon riding in perfect safety for some time to come.
One of the two men was the son of old Coombes, the sexton, who was engaged
to marry the girl I have spoken of in the end of the fourth chapter in the
Percivale's account of the matter, as far as he was concerned, was, that as
they drifted helplessly along, he suddenly saw from the top of a huge wave
the little vessel below him. They were, in fact, almost upon the rigging.
The wave on which they rode swept the quarter-deck of the schooner.
Percivale says the captain of the lifeboat called out "Aboard!" The captain
said he remembered nothing of the sort. If he did, he must have meant
it for the men on the schooner to get on board the lifeboat. Percivale,
however, who had a most chivalrous (ought I not to say Christian?) notion
of obedience, fancying the captain meant them to board the schooner, sprang
at her fore-shrouds. Thereupon the wave sweeping them along the schooner's
side, Joe sprang at the main-shrouds, and they dropped on the deck
But although my reader is at ease about their fate, we who were in the
affair were anything but easy at the time corresponding to this point of
the narrative. It was a terrible night we passed through.
When I returned, which was almost instantly, for I could do nothing by
staring out in the direction of the schooner, I found that the crowd was
nearly gone. One little group alone remained behind, the centre of which
was a woman. Wynnie had disappeared. The woman who remained behind was
The moon shone out clear as I approached the group; indeed, the clouds were
breaking-up and drifting away off the heavens. The storm had raved out its
business, and was departing into the past.
"Agnes," I said.
"Yes, sir," she answered, and looked up as if waiting for a command. There
was no colour in her cheeks or in her lips--at least it seemed so in the
moonlight--only in her eyes. But she was perfectly calm. She was leaning
against the low wall, with her hands clasped, but hanging quietly down
"The storm is breaking-up, Agnes," I said.
"Yes, sir," she answered in the same still tone. Then, after just a
moment's pause, she spoke out of her heart.
"Joe's at his duty, sir?"
I have given the utterance a point of interrogation; whether she meant that
point I am not quite sure.
"Indubitably," I returned. "I have such faith in Joe, that I should be sure
of that in any case. At all events, he's not taking care of his own life.
And if one is to go wrong, I would ten thousand times rather err on that
side. But I am sure Joe has been doing right, and nothing else."
"Then there's nothing to be said, sir, is there?" she returned, with a sigh
that sounded as of relief.
I presume some of the surrounding condolers had been giving her Job's
comfort by blaming her husband.
"Do you remember, Agnes, what the Lord said to his mother when she
reproached him with having left her and his father?"
"I can't remember anything at this moment, sir," was her touching answer.
"Then I will tell you. He said, 'Why did you look for me? Didn't you know
that I must be about something my Father had given me to do?' Now, Joe was
and is about his Father's business, and you must not be anxious about him.
There could be no better reason for not being anxious."
Agnes was a very quiet woman. When without a word she took my hand and
kissed it, I felt what a depth there was in the feeling she could not
utter. I did not withdraw my hand, for I knew that would be to rebuke her
love for Joe.
"Will you come in and wait?" I said indefinitely.
"No, thank you, sir. I must go to my mother. God will look after Joe, won't
"As sure as there is a God, Agnes," I said; and she went away without
I put my hand on the top of the wall and jumped over. I started back with
terror, for I had almost alighted on the body of a woman lying there. The
first insane suggestion was that it had been cast ashore; but the next
moment I knew that it was my own Wynnie.
She had not even fainted. She was lying with her handkerchief stuffed into
her mouth to keep her from screaming. When I uttered her name she rose,
and, without looking at me, walked away towards the house. I followed. She
went straight to her own room and shut the door. I went to find her mother.
She was with Connie, who was now awake, lying pale and frightened. I told
Ethelwyn that Percivale and Joe were on board the little schooner, which
was holding on by her anchor, that Wynnie was in terror about Percivale,
that I had found her lying on the wet grass, and that she must get her into
a warm bath and to bed. We went together to her room.
She was standing in the middle of the floor, with her hands pressed against
"Wynnie," I said, "our friends are not drowned. I think you will see them
quite safe in the morning. Pray to God for them."
She did not hear a word.
"Leave her with me," said Ethelwyn, proceeding to undress her; "and tell
nurse to bring up the large bath. There is plenty of hot water in the
boiler. I gave orders to that effect, not knowing what might happen."
Wynnie shuddered as her mother said this; but I waited no longer, for when
Ethelwyn spoke everyone felt her authority. I obeyed her, and then went to
"Do you mind being left alone a little while?" I asked her.
"No, papa; only--are they all drowned?" she said with a shudder.
"I hope not, my dear; but be sure of the mercy of God, whatever you fear.
You must rest in him, my love; for he is life, and will conquer death both
in the soul and in the body."
"I was not thinking of myself, papa."
"I know that, my dear. But God is thinking of you and every creature that
he has made. And for our sakes you must be quiet in heart, that you may get
better, and be able to help us."
"I will try, papa," she said; and, turning slowly on her side, she lay
Dora and the boys were all fast asleep, for it was very late. I cannot,
however, say what hour it was.
Telling nurse to be on the watch because Connie was alone, I went again to
the beach. I called first, however, to inquire after Agnes. I found her
quite composed, sitting with her parents by the fire, none of them doing
anything, scarcely speaking, only listening intently to the sounds of the
storm now beginning to die away.
I next went to the place where I had left Turner. Five bodies lay there,
and he was busy with a sixth. The surgeon of the place was with him, and
they quite expected to recover this man.
I then went down to the sands. An officer of the revenue was taking charge
of all that came ashore--chests, and bales, and everything. For a week the
sea went on casting out the fragments of that which she had destroyed. I
have heard that, for years after, the shifting of the sands would now and
then discover things buried that night by the waves.
All the next day the bodies kept coming ashore, some peaceful as in sleep,
others broken and mutilated. Many were cast upon other parts of the coast.
Some four or five only, all men, were recovered. It was strange to me how
I got used to it. The first horror over, the cry that yet another body had
come awoke only a gentle pity--no more dismay or shuddering. But, finding
I could be of no use, I did not wait longer than just till the morning
began to dawn with a pale ghastly light over the seething raging sea; for
the sea raged on, although the wind had gone down. There were many strong
men about, with two surgeons and all the coastguard, who were well
accustomed to similar though not such extensive destruction. The houses
along the shore were at the disposal of any who wanted aid; the Parsonage
was at some distance; and I confess that when I thought of the state of my
daughters, as well as remembered former influences upon my wife, I was very
glad to think there was no necessity for carrying thither any of those whom
the waves cast on the shore.
When I reached home, and found Wynnie quieter and Connie again asleep, I
walked out along our own downs till I came whence I could see the little
schooner still safe at anchor. From her position I concluded--correctly as
I found afterwards--that they had let out her cable far enough to allow her
to reach the bed of the little stream, where the tide would leave her more
gently. She was clearly out of all danger now; and if Percivale and Joe had
got safe on board of her, we might confidently expect to see them before
many hours were passed. I went home with the good news.
For a few moments I doubted whether I should tell Wynnie, for I could not
know with any certainty that Percivale was in the schooner. But presently I
recalled former conclusions to the effect that we have no right to modify
God's facts for fear of what may be to come. A little hope founded on a
present appearance, even if that hope should never be realised, may be the
very means of enabling a soul to bear the weight of a sorrow past the point
at which it would otherwise break down. I would therefore tell Wynnie, and
let her share my expectation of deliverance.
I think she had been half-asleep, for when I entered her room she started
up in a sitting posture, looking wild, and putting her hands to her head.
"I have brought you good news, Wynnie," I said. "I have been out on the
downs, and there is light enough now to see that the little schooner is
"What schooner?" she asked listlessly, and lay down again, her eyes still
staring, awfully unappeased.
"Why the schooner they say Percivale got on board."
"He isn't drowned then!" she cried with a choking voice, and put her hands
to her face and burst into tears and sobs.
"Wynnie," I said, "look what your faithlessness brings upon you. Everybody
but you has known all night that Percivale and Joe Harper are probably
quite safe. They may be ashore in a couple of hours."
"But you don't know it. He may be drowned yet."
"Of course there is room for doubt, but none for despair. See what a poor
helpless creature hopelessness makes you."
"But how can I help it, papa?" she asked piteously. "I am made so."
But as she spoke the dawn was clear upon the height of her forehead.
"You are not made yet, as I am always telling you; and God has ordained
that you shall have a hand in your own making. You have to consent, to
desire that what you know for a fault shall be set right by his loving will
"I don't know God, papa."
"Ah, my dear, that is where it all lies. You do not know him, or you would
never be without hope."
"But what am I to do to know him!" she asked, rising on her elbow.
The saving power of hope was already working in her. She was once more
turning her face towards the Life.
"Read as you have never read before about Christ Jesus, my love. Read with
the express object of finding out what God is like, that you may know him
and may trust him. And now give yourself to him, and he will give you
"What are we to do," I said to my wife, "if Percivale continue silent? For
even if he be in love with her, I doubt if he will speak."
"We must leave all that, Harry," she answered.
She was turning on myself the counsel I had been giving Wynnie. It is
strange how easily we can tell our brother what he ought to do, and yet,
when the case comes to be our own, do precisely as we had rebuked him for
doing. I lay down and fell fast asleep.
It was a lovely morning when I woke once more. The sun was flashing back
from the sea, which was still tossing, but no longer furiously, only as if
it wanted to turn itself every way to flash the sunlight about. The madness
of the night was over and gone; the light was abroad, and the world was
rejoicing. When I reached the drawing-room, which afforded the best outlook
over the shore, there was the schooner lying dry on the sands, her two
cables and anchors stretching out yards behind her; but half way between
the two sides of the bay rose a mass of something shapeless, drifted over
with sand. It was all that remained together of the great ship that had the
day before swept over the waters like a live thing with wings--of all the
works of man's hands the nearest to the shape and sign of life. The wind
had ceased altogether, only now and then a little breeze arose which
murmured "I am very sorry," and lay down again. And I knew that in the
houses on the shore dead men and women were lying.
I went down to the dining-room. The three children were busy at their
breakfast, but neither wife, daughter, nor visitor had yet appeared. I made
a hurried meal, and was just rising to go and inquire further into the
events of the night, when the door opened, and in walked Percivale, looking
very solemn, but in perfect health and well-being. I grasped his hand
"Thank God," I said, "that you are returned to us, Percivale."
"I doubt if that is much to give thanks for," he said.
"We are the judges of that," I rejoined. "Tell me all about it."
While he was narrating the events I have already communicated, Wynnie
entered. She started, turned pale and then very red, and for a moment
hesitated in the doorway.
"Here is another to rejoice at your safety, Percivale," I said.
Thereupon he stepped forward to meet her, and she gave him her hand with an
emotion so evident that I felt a little distressed--why, I could not easily
have told, for she looked most charming in the act,--more lovely than I had
ever seen her. Her beauty was unconsciously praising God, and her heart
would soon praise him too. But Percivale was a modest man, and I think
attributed her emotion to the fact that he had been in danger in the way of
duty,--a fact sufficient to move the heart of any good woman.
She sat down and began to busy herself with the teapot. Her hand trembled.
I requested Percivale to begin his story once more; and he evidently
enjoyed recounting to her the adventures of the night.
I asked him to sit down and have a second breakfast while I went into the
village, whereto he seemed nothing loth.
As I crossed the floor of the old mill to see how Joe was, the head of
the sexton appeared emerging from it. He looked full of weighty solemn
business. Bidding me good-morning, he turned to the corner where his tools
lay, and proceeded to shoulder spade and pickaxe.
"Ah, Coombes! you'll want them," I said.
"A good many o' my people be come all at once, you see, sir," he returned.
"I shall have enough ado to make 'em all comfortable like."
"But you must get help, you know; you can never make them all comfortable
"We'll see what I can do," he returned. "I ben't a bit willin' to let no
one do my work for me, I do assure you, sir."
"How many are there wanting your services?" I asked.
"There be fifteen of them now, and there be more, I don't doubt, on the
"But you won't think of making separate graves for them all," I said. "They
died together: let them lie together."
The old man set down his tools, and looked me in the face with indignation.
The face was so honest and old, that, without feeling I had deserved it, I
yet felt the rebuke.
"How would you like, sir," he said, at length, "to be put in the same bed
with a lot of people you didn't know nothing about?"
I knew the old man's way, and that any argument which denied the premiss
of his peculiar fancy was worse than thrown away upon him. I therefore
ventured no farther than to say that I had heard death was a leveller.
"That be very true; and, mayhap, they mightn't think of it after they'd
been down awhile--six weeks, mayhap, or so. But anyhow, it can't be
comfortable for 'em, poor things. One on 'em be a baby: I daresay he'd
rather lie with his mother. The doctor he say one o' the women be a mother.
I don't know," he went on reflectively, "whether she be the baby's own
mother, but I daresay neither o' them 'll mind it if I take it for granted,
and lay 'em down together. So that's one bed less."
One thing was clear, that the old man could not dig fourteen graves within
the needful time. But I would not interfere with his office in the church,
having no reason to doubt that he would perform its duties to perfection.
He shouldered his tools again and walked out. I descended the stair,
thinking to see Joe; but there was no one there but the old woman.
"Where are Joe and Agnes?" I asked.
"You see, sir, Joe had promised a little job of work to be ready to-day,
and so he couldn't stop. He did say Agnes needn't go with him; but she
thought she couldn't part with him so soon, you see, sir."
"She had received him from the dead--raised to life again," I said; "it was
most natural. But what a fine fellow Joe is; nothing will make him neglect
"I tried to get him to stop, sir, saying he had done quite enough last
night for all next day; but he told me it was his business to get the tire
put on Farmer Wheatstone's cart-wheel to-day just as much as it was his
business to go in the life-boat yesterday. So he would go, and Aggy
wouldn't stay behind."
"Fine fellow, Joe!" I said, and took my leave.
As I drew near the village, I heard the sound of hammering and sawing, and
apparently everything at once in the way of joinery; they were making the
coffins in the joiners' shops, of which there were two in the place.
I do not like coffins. They seem to me relics of barbarism. If I had my
way, I would have the old thing decently wound in a fair linen cloth, and
so laid in the bosom of the earth, whence it was taken. I would have it
vanish, not merely from the world of vision, but from the world of form, as
soon as may be. The embrace of the fine life-hoarding, life-giving mould,
seems to me comforting, in the vague, foolish fancy that will sometimes
emerge from the froth of reverie--I mean, of subdued consciousness
remaining in the outworn frame. But the coffin is altogether and vilely
repellent. Of this, however, enough, I hate even the shadow of sentiment,
though some of my readers, who may not yet have learned to distinguish
between sentiment and feeling, may wonder how I dare to utter such a
I went to the house of the county magistrate hard by, for I thought
something might have to be done in which I had a share. I found that he had
sent a notice of the loss of the vessel to the Liverpool papers, requesting
those who might wish to identify or claim any of the bodies to appear
within four days at Kilkhaven.