All through Clare's life, as often as the old, vague, but ever ready vision brought back its old feelings, with them came the old thoughts, the old forms of them, and the old words their attendant shadows; and then Clare talked like a child.
The stern, sorrowful man hid his face In his hands.
"Grace," he murmured—and Clare knew somehow that he spoke to his wife, "we have him again! We will never distrust him more!"
His frame heaved with the choking of his sobs.
Then Clare understood that the grand man was his father. The awe of a perfect gladness fell upon him. He knelt before him, and laid his hands together as in prayer.
"Why did you distrust me, father?" said the half-naked outcast.
"It was not my child, it was my father I distrusted. I am ashamed," said sir Harry, and clasped him in his arms.
The boy laid his blood-stained face against his father's bosom, and his soul was in a better home than a sky full of angels, a home better than the dome itself of all the angels, for his home was his father's heart.
How long they remained thus I cannot tell. It seemed to both as if so it had been from eternity, and so to eternity it would be. When a thing is as it should be, then we know it is from eternity to eternity. The true is.
The father relaxed at length the arms that strained his child to his heart. Clare looked up with white, luminous face. He gazed at his father, cried like little Ann, "You're come!" and slid to his feet. He clasped and kissed and clung to them—would hardly let them go.
All this time the officers on the quarter-deck were wondering what the captain could have to do with the beggarly stowaway. The panther stood on his feet, anxiously waiting, his ears starting at every sound. He was longing for the boy with whom he had played, panther cub with human infant, in the years long gone by. The sweet airs of his childhood were to the panther plainly recognizable through all the accretions that disfigured but could not defile him. The two were the same age. They had rolled on floor and deck together when neither could hurt—and now neither would. For the animal was perfectly harmless, and chained only because apt to be unseasonably frolicsome. When they let him loose, it was a season of high jinks and rare skylarking. Then the men had to look out! He had twice knocked a man overboard, and had once tumbled overboard himself. But he had never killed a creature, was always gentle with children, and might be trusted to look after any infant.
Sir Harry raised his son, kissed him, set him on his own chair, and retired into an inner cabin.
A knock came to the door. Clare said, "Come in." The quartermaster entered. Instead of sir Harry, he saw the miserable stowaway, seated in the captain's own chair. He swore at him, and ordered him out, prepared to give him a kick as he passed.
"Out with you!" he cried. "Go for'ard. Tell the bo's'n to look out a rope's end. I'll be after you."
"The captain told me to sit here," answered Clare, and sat.
The officer looked closer at him, begged his pardon, saluted, and withdrew.
The father heard, and said to himself, "The boy is a gentleman: he knows where to take his orders."
He called him into the inner cabin, and there washed him from head to foot, rejoicing to find under his rags a skin as clean as his own.
"Now what are we to do for clothes, Clare?" said sir Harry.
"Perhaps somebody would lend me some," answered Clare. "Mayn't I be your cabin-boy, father? You will let me be a sailor, won't you, and sail always with you?"
"You shall be a sailor, my boy," answered sir Harry, "and sail with me as long as God pleases. You know to obey orders!"
"I will obey the cook if you tell me, father."
"You shall obey nobody but myself," returned sir Harry; "—and the lord high admiral," he added, with a glance upward, and a smile like his son's.
For that day Clare kept to the captain's state-room; the next, he went on deck in a midshipman's uniform, which he wore like a gentleman that could obey orders.
The end of Clare Skymer's boyhood.
His father had a hammock slung for him in the state-room; he could not be parted from him even when they slept.
One night sir Harry, lying awake, heard a movement in the state-room, and got up. It was a still, star-lit night. The frigate was dreaming away northward with all sail set. Through the windows shone the level stars. From a beam above hung a dim lamp. He could see no one. He went to the hammock. There was no boy in it. Then he spied him, kneeling under the stern-windows, with his head down.
"Anything the matter, Clare?" he asked.
"What are you doing?"
"Trying to say Thank you for my father!"
"Oh, thank him, thank him, my boy!" returned sir Harry. "Thank him with all your heart. He will give us her some day!"
"Yes, father, he will!" responded Clare.
His father knelt beside him, but neither said word that the other heard.
The next night, Clare was on the quarter-deck with his father, and heard him give certain orders to the officers of the watch. He had never heard orders given in such a way: he spoke so quietly, so directly, so simply! The night was gusty and dark, threatening foul weather. The captain measured the quarter-deck as when first Clare saw him, but with a mien how different! He walked as slow and stately as before, but with a look almost of triumph in his eyes, glancing often at the clouds. The thought of having such a father made Clare tremble with delight from head to foot. His father was the power of the sea-planet that bore them! Him the great vessel, and all aboard of her, obeyed! He was the life of her motions, the soul of her! At his pleasure she bowed her obedient head, and swept over the seas! Clare's heart swelled within him.
But this father had, the night before, knelt with him in the presence of one unseen, worshipping and thanking a higher than himself! As the captain of the Panther sailed his frigate through the seas, so the great father, the father of his father, the father of all fathers, to whom the captain kneeled as a little child, sailed through the heaven of heavens the huge ship of the world, guided fleet upon fleet innumerable through trackless space! And over an infinitely grander sea than the measureless ocean of worlds, the Father was carrying navies of human souls, every soul a world whose affairs none but the Father could understand, through many a storm, and waterspout, and battle with the powers of evil, safe to the haven of the children, the Father's house! And Clare began to understand that so it was.
One day his father said to him—
"Clare, whatever you forget, whatever you remember, mind this—that you and I and your mother are the children of one father, and that we have all three to be good children to that father. If we do as he tells us, he will bring us all at length to the same port. Our admiral is Jesus Christ. We take our orders from him. But each has to sail his own ship."
The boatswain shook in his wide shoes, but Clare never showed him the least disfavour. He recognized at once the two officers he had seen at the menagerie, but beyond giving each a look he could hardly mistake, he showed no sign of having any knowledge of them.
He set himself to be a sailor, and learned fast. I need scarcely say he was as precise in obeying any superior officer as the best sailor on board. In a few weeks he felt and looked to the manner born—as indeed he was, for not only his father, but his grandfather, and his great-grandfather, and more yet of his ancestors,—how many I do not know, were sailors.
He had had a rough shaking. The earthquake had come and gone, and come again and gone a many times. But the shaking earth was his nurse, and she taught him to dwell in a world that cannot be shaken.