"There," she said, surveying the result with great satisfaction. "That begins to look folksy. What's sewed up in that old comforter? A rocking-cheer. Let's have it out!"
So the rocking-chair was unsewed, and papa's desk and the big table were unpacked; and as each familiar article came to view, Eyebright felt as though an old friend were restored to her. She patted the arm of her own little chair, and put the plaided cover from the old sitting-room over the table, with a sense of cheer and comfort. She and papa and Mrs. Downs dined on bread and cheese in the intervals of work, and by five o'clock they were very fairly in order, and Mrs. Downs made ready to go back to her own family. Eyebright walked with her as far as the causeway, and parted with a hearty kiss. Mrs. Downs seemed like a second Wealthy, almost, she had been so kind and thoughtful all that busy day.
Papa was sitting in the rocking-chair, by the stove, when she went back. She stopped to kiss him as she passed, and proceeded to set the table and get supper. Mrs. Downs had started them with a supply of bread, butter, and milk; but the tea and sugar came out of one of the Tunxet boxes, and so did the tumbler of currant-jam, opened in honor of the occasion. Wealthy had made it, and it seemed to taste of the pleasant old times. Eyebright did not care to think much about Wealthy just then. The tide was drawing over the causeway, cutting them off from everybody else in the world. She felt lonely and the least bit afraid, in spite of papa's being there; and only keeping very busy till bedtime saved her from homesickness, which she felt would be a bad beginning, indeed, for that first evening in her new home.
Next morning was fair. All the days had been good so far, which was fortunate, for a half-settled house is a dismal place enough in rainy weather. Eyebright opened her eyes, and after one bewildered stare began to laugh, for through the slats of her "coop," she could distinctly see papa, half-dressed, and brushing his hair in his, on the other side of the entry. This was not to be endured, so after breakfast, while he went to the village for some provisions, she set to work with great energy on her plan for reforming the bedroom walls. This was to cover them with "picture papers." There was an abundance of material for the purpose at hand, for her mother had taken Harper's Bazar and Frank Leslie's Illustrated for several years; and as she saved all the back numbers, a large pile had collected, which Wealthy had carefully packed. These Eyebright sorted over, setting aside all the pictures of cows, and statesmen, and steamboats, and railroad trains for papa's room, and keeping the kittens, and dogs, and boys, and girls, and babies for her own. She fastened the papers to the laths with tacks, and the ceilings were so low that she was able to do all but the very top row herself. That she was forced to leave for papa. So hard did she work that the whole of his room was done before he appeared, climbing the path, with a big bundle under one arm, a basket in his hand, and looking very warm and tired.
"It's a hard pull up the shore," he said, wiping his forehead. "I shall have to get a boat whether I can afford it or not, I'm afraid. It'll be worse when hot weather comes, and there'll always be the need of going over to the village for something or other."
"A boat," cried Eyebright, clapping her hands "Oh, papa, that would be splendid. I can learn to row it my own self, can't I? It'll be as nice as a carriage of our own,—nicer, for we shan't have to catch the horse, or feed him either. Now, papa, let me carry the basket, and oh, do come quick. I want to show you how beautifully I have done your bedroom."
Papa liked the bedroom very much. He was glad to be saved the expense and delay of plastering, only he said he was afraid he should always be late to breakfast, because he should want to lie in bed and study his picture-gallery, which joke delighted Eyebright highly.
It was several days before she had time to attend to her own papering, for there was a great deal else to do,—boxes to unpack, places to settle, and outside work to begin. Mr. Bright hired a man for one week to plow and plant and split wood. After that, he thought he could keep things in running order by himself. He had been brought up on a farm, but years of disuse had made him stiff and awkward at such labor, and he found the work harder than he had expected. Eyebright was glad to see the big woodpile grow. It had a cosey look to her, and gradually the house was beginning to look cosey too. The kitchen, with its strip of carpet and easy-chairs and desk, made quite a comfortable sitting-room. Eyebright kept a glass of wild roses or buttercups or white daisies always on the table. She set up a garden of her own, too, after a while, and raised some balsams and "Johnny-jump-ups" from seeds which Mr. Downs gave her, and some golden-brown coreopsis. As for the housekeeping, it fared better than could have been expected with only a little girl of thirteen to look after things. Once a week, a woman came from the village for the day (and half a dollar), did the washing and part of the ironing, roasted a joint of meat if there was one to roast, made a batch of pies, perhaps, or a pan of gingerbread, and scoured the pots and pans and the kitchen floor. This lightened the work for the next seven days, and left Eyebright only vegetables and little things to cook, and the ordinary cleaning, bed-making, and dusting to do, which she managed very well on the whole, though sometimes she got extremely tired, and wished for Wealthy's strong hands to help her. Milk and butter came from Mr. Downs's every other day, and papa was very good and considerate about his food, and quite contented with a dinner of potatoes or mush if nothing better was to be had, so the little housekeeper did not have any heavy burden on her mind so far as he was concerned.
The boat proved a great comfort when it came, which was not till more than a month after their settlement on Causey Island. Eyebright took regular rowing lessons and practised diligently, so that after a few weeks she became really expert, and papa could trust her to go alone as far as the village, when the weather was fair and the sea smooth. These rows to and fro were the greatest treats and refreshments after house-work. Sometimes it happened that her errands kept her till sunset, and she floated home on the incoming tide, just dipping the oars gently in now and then, and carried along by the current and a "singing" wind, which followed close behind and pushed the boat on its way. These were Eyebright's real "play" times. She kept a story going about a princess and a boat, and some water-fairies and a water-prince, and whenever the chance came for a solitary row, she "acted" it by herself in the old pleasant way, always wishing that Bessie or some other girl could be along to play it with her. Another girl,—some one to share work and fun, waking and sleeping, with her,—that was all which was wanted, she thought, to make Causey Island as pleasant as Tunxet.
SHUT UP IN THE OVEN.
You will probably think that it was a dish of pork-and-beans, or an Indian pudding of the good, old-fashioned kind, which was shut up in the Oven. Not at all. You are quite mistaken. The thing shut up in the Oven was Eyebright herself! And the Oven was quite different from any thing you are thinking of,—cold, not hot; wet, not dry; with a door made of green sea-water instead of black iron. This sounds like a conundrum; and, as that is hardly fair, I will proceed to unriddle it at once and tell you all about it.
The Oven was a sort of cave or grotto in the cliffs, four miles from Scrapplehead, but rather less than three from the causeway. Its real name was "The Devil's Oven." Country people, and Maine country people above all others, are very fond of calling all sorts of strange and striking places after the devil. If Eyebright had ever heard the whole name, perhaps she might not have ventured to go there alone as she did, in which case I should have no adventure to write about. But people usually spoke of it for shortness' sake as the "Oven," and she had no idea that Satan had any thing to do with the place, nor, for that matter, have I.
It was from Mrs. Downs that she first heard about the Oven. Mrs. Downs had been there once, years before. It was a "natteral curosity," she said, with all sorts of strange sea-creatures growing in pools, and the rocks were red and quite beautiful. It wasn't a dangerous place, either, and here Mr. Downs confirmed her. You couldn't get in after half-tide, but anybody could stay in for a week in ordinary weather, and not be drowned. There were plenty of places a-top of the cave, where you could sit and keep dry even at high water, though it would be "sort of poky," too. Eyebright's imagination was fired by this description, and she besought papa to take her there at once. He promised that he would "some day," but the day seemed long in coming, as holidays always do to busy people; and June passed, and July, and still the Oven was unvisited, though Eyebright did not forget her wish to go.
August came at last,—the delicious north-of-Maine August, with hot, brilliant noons, and cool, balmy nights, so different from the murky, steamy August of everywhere else,—and was half over, when one afternoon papa came in with a piece of news.
"What should you say, Eyebright, if I were to go off for the whole day to-morrow?" he asked.
"Why, papa Bright, what do you mean? You can't! There isn't anywhere to go to."
"Oh, papa, not in our little boat!"
"No, in a schooner belonging to Mr. Downs's brother. It has just put in with a load of lumber, and the captain has offered me a passage if I like to go. He expects to get back to-morrow evening about nine o'clock. Should you be lonesome, do you think, Eyebright, if I went?"
"Not a bit," cried Eyebright, delighted at the idea of papa's having a sail. "I'll do something or other that is pleasant. Perhaps I'll go and stay all day with Mrs. Downs. Anyhow, I'll not be lonely. I'm glad the captain asked you to go, papa. It'll be nice, I think."
But next morning, when she had given papa his early breakfast, watched him across the causeway, and seen the sails of the schooner diminish into two white specks in the distance, she was not sure that it was nice. She sang at her dish-washing and clattered her cups and spoons, to make as much noise as possible; but for all she could do, the house felt silent and empty, and she missed papa very much. Her plan had been to go to the village as soon as her work was done, and make Mrs. Downs a visit, but later another idea popped into her mind. She would go to the Oven instead.
"I know about where it is," she thought. "If I keep close to the shore I can't miss it, anyway. Mr. Downs said it wasn't more than two miles and three-quarters from the causeway. Two miles and three-quarters isn't a very long walk. It won't be half-tide till after ten. I can get there by a little after nine if I start at once. That'll give me an hour to see the cave, and when I come back I'll go down to the village and stay to dinner with Mrs. Downs. I'll take some bread and butter, though, because one does get so hungry up here if you take the least little walk. What a good idea it is to do this! I am glad papa went to Malachi, after all."
Her preparations were soon made, and in ten minutes she was speeding across the causeway, which was safe walking still, though the tide had turned,—her pocket full of bread and butter, and Genevieve in her arms. She had hesitated whether or not to take Genevieve, but it seemed too sad to leave her all alone on the island, so it ended in her going too, in her best bonnet and a little blanket shawl. The morning was most beautiful, dewy and fresh, and the path along the shore was scented with freshly cut hay from inland fields, and with spicy bayberry and sweet fern. A belated wild rose shone here and there in the hedges, pale and pink. Tangles of curly, green-brown fringe lay over the clustering Virgin's Bower. The blue lapping waves, as they rose and fell, were full of sea-weeds of a lovely red-brown tint, and a frolicsome wind played over the surface of the sea, and seemed to be whispering something funny to it, for the water trembled in the sun and dimpled as if with sudden laughter.
The way, as a general thing, lay close by the shore, winding over the tops of low cliffs covered with dry yellow grasses. Now and then it dipped down to strips of shingle beach, or skirted little coves with boundaries of bushes and brambles edging the sand. Miles are not easy to reckon when people are following the ins and outs of an irregular coast. Half a dozen times Eyebright clambered to the water's edge and peeped round the shoulder of a great rock, thinking that she must have got to the cave at last. Yet nothing met her eyes but more rocks, and surf, and fissures brown with rust and barnacles. At last, she came on a group of children, playing in the sand, and stopped to ask the way of them.
There were two thin, brown little girls in pink-and-gray gingham frocks, and pink-and-gray striped stockings appearing over the tops of high, laced boots. They were exactly the same size, and made Eyebright think of grasshoppers, they were so wiry and active, and sprang about so nimbly. Then there were three rosy, hearty-looking country children, and a pair of little boys, with sharp, delicately cut faces, who seemed to be brothers, for they looked like each other and quite unlike the rest. All seven were digging holes in the sand with sticks and shovels, and were as much absorbed in their work as a party of diligent beavers. When Eyebright appeared, with Genevieve in her arms, they stopped digging and looked at her curiously.
"Do you know how far the Oven is from here?" asked Eyebright.
"No," and "What's the Oven?" answered the children, and one of the gray-and-pink little girls added: "My, what a big doll!" Eyebright scarcely heeded these answers, she was so delighted to see some children after her long fast from childhood.
"What are you making?" she asked.
"A fort," replied one of the boys.
"Now, Fweddy, you said you'd call it a castle," put in one of the girls.
"Well, castles are just the same things as forts. My mother said so."
"Is that your mother sitting there?" asked Eyebright catching a glimpse of a woman and a baby under a tree not far off.
"Oh, dear, no! That's Mrs. Waurigan. She's Jenny's mother, you know, and 'Mandy's and Peter Paul Rubens's. She's not our mother at all. My mother's name is Mrs. Brown, and my papa is Dr. Azariah P. Brown. We live in New York city. Did you ever see New York city?"
"No, never. I wish I had," said Eyebright.
"It's a real nice place," went on the pink-and-gray midge. "You'd better make haste and come and see it quick, 'cause it's de-te-rotting every day; my papa said so. Don't you think Dr. Azariah P. Brown is a beau-tiful name? I do. When I'm mallied and have a little boy, I'm going to name him Dr. Azariah P. Brown, because it's the beautifulest name in the world."
"She's 'gaged already," said the other little sister. "She's 'gaged to Willy Prentiss. And she's got a 'gagement wing; only, she turns the stone round inside, so's to make people b'lieve it's a plain gold wing and she's mallied already. Isn't that cheating? It's just as bad as telling a weal story."
"No, it isn't either!" cried the other, twirling a small gilt ring round on a brown finger, and revealing a gem made, apparently, of second-rate sealing-wax, and about the color of a lobster's claw. "No, it isn't cheating, not one bit; 'cause sometimes the wing gets turned round all by itself, and then people can see that it isn't plain gold. And Nelly's 'gaged, too, just as much as I am, only she hasn't got any wing, because Harry Sin—"
"Now, Lotty!" screamed Nelly, flinging herself upon her, "you mustn't tell the name."
"So your name is Lotty, is it?" said Eyebright, who had abandoned Genevieve to the embraces of Jenny, and was digging in the sand with the rest.
"No, it isn't. My really name is Charlotte P., only Mamma calls me Lotty. I don't like it much. It's such a short name, just Lotty. Look here, you didn't ever see me till to-day, so it can't make much difference to you, so won't you please call me Charlotte P.? I'd like it so much if you would."
Eyebright hastened to assure Charlotte P. of her willingness to grant this slight favor.
"Are these little boys your brothers, Lot—Charlotte P., I mean?" she asked.
"Oh, no!" cried Nelly. "Our bwother is lots and lots bigger than they are. That's Sinclair and Fweddy. They ain't no 'lation at all, 'cept that they live next door."
"Their mamma's a widow," interposed Charlotte P. "She plays on the piano, and a real handsome gentleman comes to see her 'most every day. That's what being a widow means."
"Look here what I've found!" shouted Sinclair, who had gone farther down the beach. "I guess it's a shrimp. And if I had a match I'd make a fire and cook it, for I read in a book once that shrimps are delicious."
"Let me see him! Let me see him!" clamored the little ones. Then, in a tone of disgust: "Oh, my! ain't he horrid-looking and little. He isn't any bigger than the head of a pin."
"That's not true," asserted Sinclair: "he's bigger than the head of my mamma's shawl-pin, and that's ever so big."
"I don't believe he's good a bit," declared Lotty.
"Then you shan't have any of him when he's cooked," said Sinclair. "I've got a jelly-fish, too. He's in a hole with a little water in it, but he can't get out. I mean to eat him, too. Are jelly-fish good?" to Eyebright.
"I don't believe they are," she replied. "I never heard of anybody's eating them."
"I like fishes," went on Sinclair. "My mamma says she guesses I've got a taste for nat-nat-ural history. When I grow up I mean to read all the books about animals."
"And what do you like?" asked Eyebright of the other little boy, who had not spoken yet, and whose fair baby face had an odd, almost satirical expression.
"Fried hominy," was the unexpected reply, uttered in a sharp, distinct voice. The children shouted and Eyebright laughed, but Freddy only smiled faintly in a condescending way. And now Eyebright remembered that she was on her road to the cave,—a fact quite forgotten for the moment,—and she jumped up and said she must go.
"Perhaps Mrs. Waurigan will know where the Oven is," she added.
"I guess so," replied Lotty; "because she does know about a great many, many things. Good-by!—do come again to-morrow, and bring Dolly, won't you?" and she gave Genevieve one kiss and Eyebright another. "You're pretty big to play with dolls, I think. But then"—meditatively—"she's a pretty big doll too."
Mrs. Waurigan was knitting a blue-yarn stocking. She could tell Eyebright nothing about the Oven.
"I know it's not a great way off," she said. "But I've never been there. It can't be over a mile, if it's so much as that; that I'm sure of. Have you walked up all the way from Scrapplehead? I want to know? It's a long way for you to come."
"Not so far as New York city," said Eyebright, laughing. "Those little girls tell me they come from there."
"Yes; the twins and Sinclair and Freddy all come from New York. Their mother, Mis' Brown, who is a real nice lady, was up here last year. She took a desprit fancy to the place, and when the children had scarlet fever in the spring, and Lotty was so sick that the doctor didn't think she'd ever get over it, she just packed their trunk and sent them right off here just as soon as they was fit to travel. She said all she asked was that I'd feed 'em and do for 'em just as I do for my own; and you wouldn't believe how much they've improved since they came. They look peaked enough still, but for all that nobody'd think that they were the same children."
"And did the little boys come with them?"
"Yes. They're neighbors, Miss' Brown wrote, and their mother wanted to go to the Springs, or somewhere, so she asked mightn't they come, too. At first, I thought I couldn't hardly manage with so many, but they haven't been a bit of trouble. Just set them anywheres down on the shore, and they'll dig all day and be as happy as clams. The only bad things is boots. Miss' Brown, she sent seven pairs apiece in the trunk, and, you would hardly believe it, they're on the sixth pair already. Rocks is dreadful hard on leather, and so is sand. But I guess their Ma wont care so's they go back strong and healthy."
"I'm sure she won't," said Eyebright. "Now I must be going, or I shan't be able to get into the cave when I find it."
"You'd better come in and get a bite of something to eat as you come back," said Mrs. Waurigan. "That's the house just across that pasture. 'T ain't but a step out of your way."
"Oh, thank you. How kind you are!" replied Eyebright. Then she said good-by and hurried on, thinking to herself,—"Maine is full of good people, I do believe. I wish Wealthy could come up here and see how nice they are."
It seemed more than a mile to the Oven, but she made the distance longer than it was by continually going down to the water's edge to make sure that she was not passing the cave without knowing it. It was almost by accident that in the end she lighted upon it. Strolling a little out of her way to pick a particularly blue harebell which had caught her eye, she suddenly found herself on the edge of a hollow chasm, and, peeping over, perceived that it must be the place she was in search of. Scrambling down from her perch, which was about half-way up one side, she found herself in a deep recess, overhung by a large rock, which formed a low archway across its front. The floor ran back for a long distance, rising gradually, in irregular terraces, till it met the roof; and here and there along these terraces were basin-like holes full of gleaming water, which must be the pools Mrs. Downs had talked about.
Eyebright had never seen a cave before, though she had read and played about caves all her life, so you can imagine her ecstasy and astonishment at finding herself in a real one at last. It was as good as the "Arabian Nights," she thought, and a great deal better than the cave in the "Swiss Family Robinson." Indeed, it was a beautiful place. Cool green light filled it, like sunshine filtered through sea-water. The rocky shelves were red, or rather a deep rosy pink, and the water in the pools was of the color of emerald and beautifully clear. She climbed up to the nearest pool, and gave a loud scream of delight, for there, under her eye, was a miniature flower-garden, made by the fairies, it would seem, and filled with dahlia-shaped and hollyhock-shaped things, purple, crimson, and deep orange; which were flowers to all appearance, and yet must be animals; for they opened and shut their many-tinted petals, and moved and swayed when she dipped her fingers in and splashed the water about. There were green spiky things, too, exactly like freshly fallen chestnut burrs, lettuce-like leaves,—pale red ones, as fine as tissue-paper,—and delicate filmy foliage in soft brown and in white. Yellow snails clung to the sides of the pool, vivid in color as the blossom of a trumpet-creeper; and, as she lay with her face close to the surface of the water, a small, bright fish swam from under the leaves, and darted across the pool like a quick sun ray. Never, even in her dreams, had Eyebright imagined any thing like it, and in her delight she gave Genevieve a great hug, and cried:—
"Aren't you glad I brought you, dear, and oh, isn't it beautiful?"
There were several pools, one above another, and each higher one seemed more beautiful than the next below. The very biggest "dahlia" of all—Anemone was its real name, but Eyebright did not know that—was in the highest of these pools, and Eyebright lay so long looking at it and giving it an occasional tickle with her forefinger to make it open and shut, that she never noticed how fast the tide was beginning to pour in. At last, one great wave rolled up and broke almost at her feet, and she suddenly bethought herself that it might be time to go. Alas! the thought came too late, as in another minute she saw. The rocks at the side, down which she had climbed, were cut off by deep water. She hurried across to the other side to see if it were not possible to get out there; but it was even worse, and the tide ran after as she scrambled back, and wetted her ankles before she could gain the place where she had been sitting before she made this disagreeable discovery. That wasn't safe either, for pretty soon a splash reached her there, and she took Genevieve in her arms and climbed up higher still, feeling like a hunted thing, and as if the sea were chasing her and would catch her if it possibly could.
It was a great comfort just then to recollect what Mr. Downs had said about the cave being safe enough for people who were caught there by the tide, "in ordinary weather." Eyebright worried a little over that word "ordinary," but the sun was shining outside, and she could see its gleam through the lower waves; the water came in quietly, which proved that there wasn't much wind; and altogether she concluded that there couldn't be any thing extraordinary about this particular day. I think she proved herself a brave little thing, and sensible, too, to be able to reason this out as she did, and avoid useless fright; but, for all her bravery, she couldn't help crying a little as she sat there like a limpet among the rocks, and realized that the Oven door was fast shut, and she couldn't get out for ever so many hours. All of a sudden it came to her quite distinctly how foolish and rash it was to have come there all alone, without permission from papa, or letting anybody know of her intention. It was one comfort that papa at that moment was in Malachi, and couldn't be anxious about her; but, "Oh dear!" Eyebright thought, "how dreadfully he would feel if I never did get out, and he came back and found me gone, and nobody could tell him where I was. I'll never do such a bad, naughty thing again, never,—if I ever do get out, that is—" she reflected, as the water climbed higher and higher, and again she moved her seat to avoid it, still with the sense of being a hunted thing which the sea was trying to catch.
Her seat was now too far from the pools for her to note how the anemones and snails were enjoying their twice-a-day visit from the tide, how the petals quivered and widened, the weeds grew brighter, and the fish darted about with renewed life and vigor. I don't believe it would have been much comfort to her if she had seen them. Fishes are unfriendly creatures; they never seem to care any thing about human beings, or whether they are feeling glad or sorry. Genevieve, for all her being made of wax, was much more satisfactory. What was particularly nice, she lent Eyebright her blanket-shawl to wear, for the cave had begun to feel very chilly. The shawl was not large, but it was better than nothing; and with this round her shoulders, and Dolly cuddled in her arms, she sat on the very highest ledge of all and watched the water rise. She couldn't go any higher, so she hoped it couldn't, either; and as she sat, she sang all the songs and hymns she knew, to keep her spirits up,—"Out on an Ocean," "Shining Shore" (how she wished herself on one!), "Rosalie, the Prairie Flower," "Old Dog Tray," and ever so many others. It was a very miscellaneous concert, but did as well for Eyebright and the fishes as the most classical music could have done; better, perhaps, for Mozart and Beethoven might have sounded a little mournful, and "songs without words" would never have answered. Songs with words were what were wanted in that emergency.
The tide halted at last, after filling the cave about two-thirds full. Once sure that it had turned and was going down, Eyebright felt easier, and could even enjoy herself again. She ate the bread and butter with a good appetite, only wishing there was more of it, and then made up a delightful story about robbers and a cave and a princess, in which she herself played the part of the princess, who was shut in the cave of an enchanter till a prince should come and release her through a hole in the top. By the time that this happened and the princess was safely out, the uppermost pool was uncovered, and Eyebright clambered down the wet rocks and took another long look at it, "making believe" that it was a garden which a good fairy had planted to amuse the princess; and, indeed, no fairy could have invented a prettier one. So, little by little, and following the receding sea, she was able at last, with a jump and a long step, to reach the rocky pathway by which she had come down, and two minutes later she was on top of the cliff again, and in the sunshine, which felt particularly warm and pleasant. The sun was half-way down the sky; she had been in the cave almost six hours, and she knew it must be late in the afternoon.
Neither Mrs. Waurigan nor the party of children was visible as she passed the house. They had probably gone in for tea, and she did not stop to look them up, for a great longing for home had seized upon her. The tide delayed her a little while at the causeway, so that it was past six when she finally reached the island, and her boots were wet from the soaked sand; but she didn't mind that a bit, she was so very glad to be safely there again. She pulled them off, put on dry stockings and shoes, made the fire, filled the tea-kettle, set the table, and, after a light repast of bread and milk, curled herself up in the rocking-chair for a long nap, and did not wake till nearly nine, when papa came in, having been set ashore by the schooner's boat as it passed by. He had a large codfish in his hand, swung from a loop of string.
"Well, it has been a nice day," he said, cheerfully, rubbing his hands. "The wind was fair both ways. We did some fishing, and I caught this big fellow. I don't know when I have enjoyed any thing so much. What sort of a day have you had, little daughter?"
Eyebright began to tell him, but at the same time began to cry, which made her story rather difficult to understand. Mr. Bright looked very grave when at last he comprehended the danger she had been in.
"I shan't dare to go anywhere again," he said. "I thought I could trust you, Eyebright. I supposed you were too sensible and steady to do such a wild thing as this. I am very much surprised and very much disappointed."
These words were the heaviest punishment which Eyebright could have had, for she was proud of being trusted and trustworthy. Papa had sat down and was leaning his head on his hand in a dispirited way. All his bright look was overclouded,—the pleasant day seemed forgotten and almost spoiled. She felt that it was her fault, and reproached herself more than ever.
"Oh, please don't say that, papa," she pleaded, tearfully. "I can be trusted, really and truly I can. I won't ever go to any dangerous place alone again, really I won't. Just forgive me this time, and you'll see how good I'll be all the rest of my life."
So papa forgave her, and she kept her promise, and never did go off on any thoughtless expeditions again, as long as she lived on Causey Island.
A LONG YEAR IN A SHORT CHAPTER.
It was Christmas Eve, and Eyebright, alone in the kitchen, was hanging up the stockings before going to bed. Papa, who had a headache, had retired early, so there was no one to interrupt her. She only wished there had been. Half the fun of Christmas seems missing when there is nobody from whom to keep a secret, no mystery, no hiding of things in corners and bringing them out at just the right moment. Very carefully she tied papa's stocking to the corner of the chimney and proceeded to "fill" it; that is, to put in a pair of old fur gloves which she had discovered in one of the boxes, and had mended by way of a surprise, and a small silk bag full of hickory-nut meats, carefully picked from the shells. These were all the Christmas gifts she had been able to get for papa, and the long gray stocking-leg looked very empty to her eyes. She had wished much to knit him a comforter, but it was three weeks and more since either of them had been able to get to the village; besides which, she knew that papa felt very poor indeed, and she did not like to ask for money, even so little as would have carried out her wish. "This must do," she said, with a quick sigh. Then she hung up her own stocking, and went upstairs. Eyebright always had hung up her stocking on Christmas Eve ever since she could remember, and she did it now more from the force of habit than any thing else, forgetting that there was no Wealthy at hand to put things in, and that they were living on an island which, since winter began, seemed to have changed its place, and swung a great deal farther away from things and people and the rest of the world than it had been.
For winter comes early to the Maine coasts. Long before Thanksgiving, the ground was white with snow, and it stayed white from that time on till spring. After the first heavy storm, the farmers turned out with snow-ploughs to break paths through the village. As more snow fell, it was shovelled out and thrown on either side of the path, till the long double mounds half hid the people who walked between. But there was no one to break a path along the shore toward the causeway. The tide, rising and falling, kept a little strip of sand clear for part of the distance, and on this Eyebright now and then made her way to the village. But it was a hard and uncertain walk, and as rowing the boat was very cold work, it happened sometimes that for weeks together neither she nor papa left the island, or saw anybody except each other.
This would have seemed very lonely, indeed, had not the house-work filled up so much of her time. Papa had no such resource. After the wood was chopped, and the cow fed, and a little snow shovelled, perhaps,—that was all. He could not find pleasure, as Eyebright did, in reading over and over again a book which he already knew by heart; the climate did not brace and stimulate him as it did her; the cold affected him very much; he moped in the solitude, and time hung heavily upon his hands.
Eyebright often wondered how they could ever have got along—or, in fact, if it could have been possible to get along at all—without their cow. Papa had bought her in the autumn, when he began to realize how completely they were to be shut off from village supplies in bad weather. She was a good-natured, yellow beast, without any pedigree, or any name till Eyebright dubbed her "Golden Rod," partly because of her color, and partly because the field in which she grazed before she came to them was full of goldenrod, which the cow was supposed to eat, though I dare say she didn't. She gave a good deal of milk, not of the richest quality, for her diet was rather spare, but it was a great help and comfort to have it. With milk, potatoes, cabbages, and beets from their own garden; flour, Indian meal, and a barrel of salt beef in store, there was no danger of starvation on Causey Island, though Eyebright at times grew very tired of ringing the changes on these few articles of diet, and trying to invent new dishes with which to tempt papa's appetite, which had grown very poor since the winter set in.
Altogether, life on the island was a good deal harder and less pleasant now than it had been in summer-time, and the sea was a great deal less pleasant. Eyebright loved it still; but her love was mingled with fear, and she began to realize what a terrible thing the ocean can be. The great gray waves which leaped and roared and flung themselves madly on the rocks, were so different from the blue, rippling waves of the summer, that she could hardly believe it the same sea. And even when pleasant days came, and the waves grew calm, and the beautiful color returned to the water, still the other and frightful look of the ocean remained in her memory, and her bad dreams were always about storms and shipwrecks. Many more boats passed between Malachi and Scrapplehead in winter than in summer. Now that the inland roads were blocked with snow, and the Boston steamer had ceased to run, the mails came that way, being brought over every week in a sail-boat. Even row-boats passed to and fro in calm weather, and what with lumber vessels and fishing smacks, and an occasional traveller from out-of-the-way Canada, sails at sea, or the sound of clinking oars off the bathing-beach, became of frequent occurrence. These little boats out in the great fierce ocean weighed heavily on Eyebright's mind sometimes. Especially was this the case when heavy fogs wrapped the coast, as occasionally they did for days together, making all landmarks dangerously dim and indistinct. At such times it seemed as if Causey Island were a big rocky lump which had got in the way, and against which ships were almost certain to run. She wished very much for a light-house, and she coaxed papa to let her keep a kerosene lamp burning in the window of her bedroom on all foggy and very dark nights. "The little gal's lamp," the Malachi sailors called it, and they learned to look for it as a guide, though its reflective power was not enough to make it serviceable in a fog, which was the chief danger of all.
There was no fog, however, when she opened her eyes on Christmas morning, but a bright sun, just rising, which was a sort of Christmas present in itself. She made haste to dress, for she heard papa moving in his room, and she wished to get down first, but he was as quick as she, and they finally met at the stair-top, and went down together.
When he saw the stockings, he looked surprised and vexed.
"Dear me! did you hang up your stocking, Eyebright?" he asked, in a depressed tone. "I quite forgot it was Christmas. You'll have no presents, my child, I'm afraid."
"Never mind, papa, I don't care; I don't want any thing," said Eyebright.
She spoke bravely, but there was a lump in her throat, and she could hardly keep from tears. It seemed so strange and dreadful not to have any thing at all in her stocking,—not one single thing! She had not thought much about the matter, but with childish faith had taken it for granted that she must have something—some sort of a present, and for a moment the disappointment was hard to bear.
Papa looked very much troubled, especially when he spied his own stocking and perceived that his little daughter had remembered him while he had forgotten her. He spent the morning rummaging his desk and the trunks upstairs, as if in search of something, and after dinner announced that he was going to the village to get the mail. The mails came into Scrapplehead twice a week, but he seldom had any letters, and Eyebright never, so, as a general thing, they were not very particular about calling regularly at the post-office.
Eyebright wanted to go, too, but the day was so cold that papa thought she would better not. She wrapped him in every warm thing she could find, and drew the fur-gloves over his fingers with great satisfaction.
"They will keep you quite warm, won't they?" she said. "Your fingers would almost freeze without them, wouldn't they? You like them, don't you, papa?"
"Very much," said Mr. Bright, giving her a good-by kiss.
Then he stepped into the boat and took the oars, while she wrapped her arms in her shawl and watched him row away. Her breath froze on the air like a cloud of white steam. She felt her ears tingle, and presently ran back to the house, feeling as if Jack Frost were nipping her as she ran, but with glowing cheeks and spirits brightened by the splendid air.
Just before sunset papa came rowing back. He was almost stiff with cold, but when once he had thawed out in the warm kitchen, he seemed none the worse for that. It was quite exciting to hear from the village after such a long silence. Papa had seen Mrs. Downs and Mr. Downs and the children. Benny had had the mumps, but he was almost well again. Mrs. Downs sent her love to Eyebright, and a mince pie pinned up in a towel. This was very nice, but when Eyebright unpinned the towel and saw the pie, she gave a scream of dismay.
"Why, papa, it's all hard," she said, "and it's just like ice. Touch it, papa; did you ever feel any thing so cold?"
In fact, the pie was frozen hard, and had to be thawed for a long time in the oven before it was fit to eat. While this process was going on, papa produced a little parcel from his pocket. It was a Christmas present,—a pretty blue neck-tie. Eyebright was delighted, and showed her gratitude by kissing papa at least a dozen times, and dancing about the kitchen.
"Oh, and here's a letter for you, too," he said.
"A letter for me. How queer! I never had a letter before, that I remember. Why, it's from Wealthy! Papa, I wish you'd read it to me. It looks very hard to make out, Wealthy writes such a funny hand. Don't you recollect how she used to work over her copy-book, with her nose almost touching the paper, and how inky she used to get?"
It was the first time they had heard from Wealthy since they left Tunxet, more than eight months before. Wealthy wrote very few letters, and those few cost an amount of time, trouble, and ink-spots, which would have discouraged most people from writing at all.
This was the letter:—
DEAR EYEBRIGHT: I take my pen in hand to tell you that I am well, and hope you are the same. All the friends here is well, except Miss Bury. She's down with intermitting fever, and old Miss Beadles is dead and buried. Whether that's being well or not I can't say. Some folks think so, and some folks don't. I haint written before. I aint much of a scribe, as you know, so I judge you haven't been surprised at not hearing of me. I might have writ sooner, but along in the fall my arm was kind of lamed with rheumatism, and when I got over that, there was Mandy Harmon's weddin' things to do,—Pelatiah Harmon's daughter, down to the corners, you know. What girls want so many clothes for when they get married, I cant for the life of me tell. The shops don't shut up for good just afterward, so far as anybody knows, but you'd think they did from the fuss some of them make. Mandy had five new dresses. They was cut down to Worcester, but I made them, besides two calikus and ten of every thing, and a double gown and an Ulster and the Lord knows what not. I've had to stick to it to put 'em through, but they're all done at last, and she got married last week and went off, and she'll spend the next few years a-alterin' of them things over, or I miss my guess. That Mather girl keeps asking me about you, but I tell her you haint wrote but twice, and I don't know no more than she does. Mr. Bury got your Pa's letter. We was glad to hear you liked it up there, but most places is pleasant enough in summer. Winter is the tug. I suppose it's cold enough where you are, sometimes, judging from Probbabillities. Mr. Asher has took the house. Tell your Pa. It dont look much like old times. He has put wooden points on top of the barn and mended the back gate, and he's got a nasty Newfoundland which barks most all the time. Now I must conclude.—Yours truly,
WEALTHY A. JUDSON.
P. S.—My respects to your Pa and to all inquiring friends. I was thinking that that water-proof of your Ma's had better be cut over for you in the spring. What kind of help do you get up in Maine?
"Oh, how like dear, funny old Wealthy that is!" cried Eyebright, as between smiles and tears she listened to the reading of this letter. "Whom do you suppose she means by 'all inquiring friends'? And isn't it just like her to call Bessie 'that Mather girl'? Wealthy never could endure Bessie,—I can't imagine why. Well, this has been a real nice Christmas, after all. I'm glad you didn't go to the post-office last week, papa, for then we should have got the letter sooner, and shouldn't have had it for to-day. It was much nicer to have it now."
"Winter's the tug." Eyebright thought often of this sentence of Wealthy's as the long weeks went by, and still the cold continued and the spring delayed, till it seemed as though it were never coming at all, and papa grew thinner and more listless and discouraged all the time. The loneliness and want of occupation hurt him more than it did Eyebright, and when spring came, as at last it did, his spirits did not revive as she had hoped they would. Farming was trying and depressing work on Causey Island. The land was poor and rocky,—"out of heart," as the saying is,—and Mr. Bright had neither the spirit nor the money to bring it into condition. He missed his old occupation and his old neighbors more than he had expected; he missed newspapers; and a growing anxiety about the future, and about Eyebright,—who was getting no schooling of any kind,—combined to depress him and give him the feeling that he had dropped out of life, and there was no use in trying to make things better.
It was certainly a disadvantage to Eyebright, at her age, to be taken out of school; still life on the island was a schooling for all that, and schooling of a very useful kind. History and geography are excellent things, but no geography or history can take the place of the lessons which Eyebright was now learning,—lessons in patience, unselfishness, good-humor, and helpfulness. When she fought with her own little discontents and vexations, and kept her face bright and sunny for papa's sake, she was gaining more good than she could have done from the longest chapter in the best school-book ever printed. Not that the school-books are not desirable, too, or that Eyebright did not miss them. After the first novelty of their new life was over, she missed school very much,—not the fun of school only, but the actual study itself. Her mind felt as they say teething dogs do, as if it must have something to bite on. She tried the experiment of setting herself lessons, but it did not succeed very well. There was no one to explain the little difficulties that arose, and she grew puzzled and confused, and lost the desire to go on.
Another thing which she missed very much was going to church. There had never been either a church or a Sunday-school in Scrapplehead, and the people who made any difference for Sunday made it by idling about, which was almost worse than working. At first, Eyebright tried to observe the day after a fashion, by learning a hymn and studying a short Bible lesson, but such good habits drop off after a while, when there is nothing and nobody to remind or help us, and little by little she got out of the way of keeping it up, and sometimes quite forgot that it was Sunday till afterward. Days were much alike on the island, especially in winter, and it was not easy to remember, which must be her excuse; but it was a sad want in her week, and a want which was continually growing worse as she grew older.
Altogether, it was not a good or wholesome life for a child to lead, and only her high spirits and sweet, healthful temper kept her from being seriously hurt by it. It was just now that Mr. Joyce's words were proved true, and the quick power of imagination with which nature had gifted her became her best friend. It enabled her to take sights and sounds into the place of play-fellows and friends, mixing them with her life as it were, and half in fun, half in earnest, getting companionship out of them. Skies and sunsets, flowers, waves, birds,—all became a part of the fairy-world which lay always at hand, and to which her mind went for change and rest from work too hard and thoughts over-anxious for a child to bear. She was growing fast, but the only signs she gave of growing older were her womanly and thoughtful ways about papa and his comforts, and a slight, very slight, difference in her feeling toward Genevieve, whom she played with no longer, though she took her out now and then when she was quite alone, and set her in a chair opposite, as better than no company at all. Eyebright had no idea of being disloyal to this dear old friend, but her eyes had opened to the fact that Genevieve was only wax, and do what she could, it was impossible to make her seem alive any more.
Her rapid growth was another trouble, for she could not wear the clothes which she had brought with her to the island, and it was very hard to get others. Papa had no money to spare, she knew, and she could not bear to worry him with her difficulties, so she went to Mrs. Downs instead. Mrs. Downs had her hands full of sewing for "him" and her three boys; still she found time to advise and help, and between her fitting and Eyebright's sewing, a skirt and jacket were concocted out of the water-proof designated by Wealthy, which though rather queer in pattern, did nicely for cool days, and relieved Eyebright from the long-legged sensation which was growing over her. This, with a calico, some of Mrs. Bright's underclothing altered a little, and a sun-bonnet with a deep cape, made a tolerable summer outfit. Gloves, ruffles, ribbons, and such little niceties, she learned to do without; and when the sweet summer came again with long days and warm winds, when she could row, sit out-doors as much as she liked, and swing in the wild-grape hammocks which festooned the shore, she did not miss them. Girls on desert islands can dispense with finery.
But summers in Maine are very short, and, as lengthening days and chilly nights began to hint at coming winter, Eyebright caught herself shivering, and knew that she dreaded it very much indeed.
"How long it will seem!" she thought. "And how will poor papa bear it? And what am I to do when all mamma's old clothes are worn out? I don't suppose I ever shall have any new ones, and how I am to manage, I cannot imagine!"
A STORM ON THE COAST.
Summers are short in Maine; still the autumn that year seemed in no haste to begin its work. September came and went, bringing only trifling frosts, and the equinoctial week passed without a storm. In its place appeared an odd yellow mist, which wrapped the world in its folds and made the most familiar objects look strange and unnatural. Not a fog,—it was not dense enough for that. It seemed more like air made visible, thickened just a little, and tinted with color, but common air still, warm, thin, and quiet. The wind blew softly for many days; there was a general hush over land and sea, and the sun blinked through the golden haze like a bigger and hotter moon.
This strange atmosphere lasted so long that people grew accustomed and ceased to wonder at it. Some of the old sailors shook their heads and said it would end with a gale; but old sailors are fond of prophesying gales, and nobody was frightened by the prediction, or saw any reason for being so, as long as the weather remained thus warm and perfectly calm.
The little steamer from Malachi to Portland made her last trip for the season on the 30th of September; and the day before, Mr. Bright, who had some potatoes to ship to market, went over with them to Malachi, in a small sail-boat belonging to Captain Jim, Mr. Downs's brother's son. They were not to return till next day, so it was arranged that Eyebright should spend the night with Mrs. Downs, as papa did not like to leave her alone on the island. She went with him as far as the village, and kissed him for good-by on the dock, when the little cargo was all on board and Captain Jim just ready to push off.
"I shall go home early to-morrow, and make some egg-toast and some frizzled beef for your supper, papa, so mind you don't stop to tea with Mrs. Downs," were her last words.
"All right—I won't," said her father; and Captain Jim laughed and said:—
"You'd better not put the frying-pan on till you see us a-coming, for with this light wind there's no knowing when we'll get over, and the frizzle might be sp'iled."
Then the sail flapped and filled, and off they went over the yellow sea. Eyebright watched till the boat passed behind the island, and out of sight; then she walked up the road to the Downs's, saying to herself,—
"What funny weather! I never saw any thing like it. It isn't a bit like last September."
Next morning showed the same sultry mist, a little thicker if any thing. Eyebright stayed with Mrs. Downs till after dinner, helped in the weekly baking, hemmed two crash towels, told Benny a story, and set out for home a little after four, carrying a blueberry pie in a basket for papa's supper. As she toiled over the sand of the causeway and up the steep path, she was conscious of a singular heaviness in the air, and it struck her that the sea was making a sound such as she had never heard before,—a sort of odd shuddering moan, as if some great creature was in pain a long way out from shore. The water looked glassy calm, and there did not seem to be much wind, which made the sound even stranger and more startling. But she forgot about the sound when she reached the house, for there was a great deal to do and not much time to do it in, for Captain Jim expected to get back by six o'clock or soon after. What with sweeping and dusting and fire-making, an hour passed rapidly, when suddenly a dusky darkness settled over the house, and at the same moment a blast of wind blew the door open with a bang.
"Oh dear, there is going to be a thunder-storm," thought Eyebright. She was afraid of thunder and lightning and did not like the idea at all.
Going to the door to shut it, she stopped short, for she saw a strange sight. One side of the heavens was still thick with the yellow haze, but toward the sea a bank of black clouds was whirling rapidly up from the horizon. It had nearly reached the zenith, and had already hidden the sun and turned the afternoon into temporary twilight. The sea was glassy smooth near the shore—as smooth as oil; but farther out, the waves had begun to toss and tumble, and the moaning sound was become a deep hollow boom, which might easily be imagined the very voice of the approaching storm.
Filled with anxiety, Eyebright ran down to the cliff above the bathing-beach and looked toward the long cape at the end of which lay Malachi. The dots of houses showed plainer and whiter than usual against the cape, which had turned of a deep slate-gray, almost black. Two or three ships were in sight, but they were large ships far out at sea, and the strange darkness and the confusion and tumble of the waves, which every instant increased, made it difficult to detect any object so small as a boat. She was just turning away, when a sudden gleam of light showed what seemed to be a tiny sail far out in the bay, but it disappeared and, at the same moment, a sudden, violent wind swept in from the sea, and almost threw her down. She caught hold of a sapling-stem to steady herself, and held tightly till the gust passed. Next instant came a great roar of blinding rain, and she was forced to run as fast as she could to the house. It took but two minutes to reach it; but already she was drenched to the skin, and the water was running in streams from her dress and the braids of her hair.
She had to change all her clothes. As she sat before the fire, drying her hair with a rough towel, she could hear the rain pouring on the roof with a noise like thunder, and every few minutes great waves of wind surged against the house, making it shake and tremble till the rafters creaked. There were other sounds, too,—odd rattlings, deep hollow notes like groans, and a throbbing as of some mighty pulse,—but there was no thunder; indeed Eyebright doubted if she could have heard it had there been any, so loud was the tumult of noises.
She sat by the fire and dried her hair—what else was there to do?—but feeling all the time as if she ought to be out in the rain helping papa somehow. The tears ran down her cheeks; now and then she wrung her hands tightly, and said, "O papa! O papa!" Never had she felt so little and helpless and lost in all her life before. She tried to say a prayer, but it seemed to her just then that God could not hear a weak, small voice like hers through such a rage of storm. She could not realize what it would have been such a comfort to feel,—that God is never so near his children or so ready to listen, as when storms are wildest and they need him most. And so she sat, till by and by the clock struck six, and made her jump at the idea that papa might come in soon and find no supper ready for him.
"I mustn't let that happen," she thought, as, with shaking hands, she mended the fire, laid the table, and set the kettle on to boil. She would not allow herself to question the fact that papa would come—must come, though he might be a little late; and she shaved the dried beef, broke the eggs, and sliced bread for toasting, so as to be able to get supper as soon as possible after he should appear. This helped her through with another hour. Still no sign of papa, and still the storm raged, as it seemed, more furiously than ever.
Eight o'clock, nine o'clock, ten, half-past ten. I don't know how that evening passed. It seemed as long as two or three ordinary days. Many times, thinking she heard a sound, Eyebright flew to the door, but only to come back disappointed. At last the rain slackened, and, unable to sit still any longer, she put on her water-proof and India rubbers, tied a hood over her head, and, taking a lantern, went down to the cliff again. It would have been of no use to carry an umbrella in that wind, and the night was so dark that, even with the help of the lantern, and well as she knew the path, she continually wandered from it, and struck and bruised herself against stumps and branches which there was not light to avoid.
At last she gained the top of the bank over the beach. The sea was perfectly black; she could see nothing and hear nothing, except the roar of waves and the rattle of the shingle below. Suddenly came a flash of lightning. It lit the water for a minute, and revealed a dark spot which might be a boat borne on the waves a little way out from shore. Eyebright did not hesitate an instant, but tumbled and scrambled down the bank at once, waving the lantern, and crying, "Here I am, papa! this way, papa!" as loud as she could. She had scarcely reached the beach, when another flash showed the object much nearer. Next moment came a great tumbling wave, and out of the midst of it and of the darkness, something plunged on to the beach; and then came the lightning again. It was a boat—and a man in it.
Eyebright seized and held with all her might.
"Oh, hurry and get out, papa," she cried; for though she could not see, she felt another wave coming. "I can't keep hold but a minute."
And then—she hardly knew how it happened—the man did get out—tumble out rather—upon the sand; and, as she let go the boat and caught hold of him, in sped the wave she had dreaded, with a loud roar, splashed her from head to foot, and rolled back, carrying the boat with it. The man lay on the beach as if unable to move, but by the sense of touch, as well as the dim light of the lantern, Eyebright already knew that it was not papa, but a stranger, whose arm she clutched.
"Get up, oh, do get up!" she screamed. "You'll be drowned if you don't. Don't you see that you will? Oh, what shall I do?"
The man seemed to hear, for he slowly struggled up to his feet, but he did not speak. It was terrible work getting him up the cliff. The wind in furious moments seemed to seize and pin them down, and at such times there was nothing to be done but to stand still, flatten themselves against the bank, and wait till its force abated. Eyebright was most thankful when at last they reached the top. She hurried the stranger with what speed she could across the field to the house, keeping the path better than when she came down, because the light in the kitchen window now served her as a guide. The man stumbled continually, and more than once almost fell down. As they entered the kitchen he quite fell, and lay so long on the floor as to frighten Eyebright extremely. She had never seen any one faint, and she feared the man was dead. Not knowing in the least what she ought to do, she ran for a pillow to lay under his head, covered him with a blanket, and put some water on his forehead. This last was rather unnecessary, considering his wet condition, but Bessie had always "brought to" the Lady Jane in that way, so Eyebright thought it might be the right thing. After a long time, she had the comfort of seeing him open his eyes.
"Oh, you are better; I am so glad," she said, "Do try to get into the rocking-chair. The floor is so hard. Here, I will help you."
And she took hold of his arm for the purpose. He winced and shrank.
"Not that arm—don't touch that arm, please," he said. "I have hurt it in some way. It feels as if it were broken."
Then very slowly and painfully he got up from the floor and into the rocking-chair which Eyebright had covered with a thick comfortable to make it softer. She made haste to wet the tea, and presently brought him a cup.
"Thank you," he said, faintly. "You are very kind."
She could see his face now. He was not a young man, at all. His hair and beard were gray, and he seemed as old as papa; but he was so wet and pale and wild-looking just then, that it was not easy to judge what he was like. His voice was pleasant, and she did not feel at all afraid of him. The tea seemed to revive him a little, for, after lying quiet a while with his eyes closed, he sat up, and, fumbling with his left hand in an inner pocket, produced a flat parcel tied in stout paper, with a direction written upon it; and, beckoning Eyebright to him, said:—
"My dear, it is a bad night to ask such a favor in, and I don't know how far you may be from the village; but could you manage to send this over to the stage-office at once? It is of great consequence to me, or I would not ask it. Have you a hired man who could go? I will pay him handsomely for taking it. He must give it to the driver of the stage to put into the express-office at Gillsworth, and take a receipt for it. Please ask him to be particular about that, as the parcel has money in it."
"We haven't any hired man," said Eyebright. "I'm so sorry, sir. But even if we had, he couldn't get across for ever so long."
"Yes; this is an island. Didn't you know that? We can walk over to the other shore at low tide; but the tide won't be low till after five, even if we had a man. But there isn't anybody but just me."
"After five,—and the mail goes out at six," muttered the stranger. "Then I must manage to go myself."
He tried to get up, but his arm fell helplessly by his side, he groaned, and sank back again. Presently, to Eyebright's terror, he began to talk rapidly to himself, not to her at all, as it seemed.
"It must go," he said, in a quick, excited way. "I don't mind what I pay or what risk I run. Do you think I'm going to lose every thing?—lose every thing?—other people's money?—" A long pause; then, "What's a wetting?"—he went on, in a loud tone—"that's nothing. A wetting!—my good name is worth more than money to me."
He was silent after that for a long time. Eyebright hoped he had gone to sleep, when suddenly he opened his eyes, and said, imploringly: "Oh, if you knew how important it was, you would make haste. I am sure you would."
He did not say much more, but seemed asleep, or unconscious; only now and then, roused for a moment, he muttered some word which showed him to be still thinking about the parcel, and the necessity for sending it to the office immediately.
Eyebright put another blanket round him, and fetched a chair for his feet to rest upon. That seemed all she could do, except to sit and watch him, getting up occasionally to put wood on the fire, or going to the door to listen, in hopes of hearing papa's step in the path. The parcel lay on the table where the stranger had put it. She looked at it, and looked at it, and then at the clock. It was a quarter to five. Again the broken, dreamy voice muttered: "It must go,—it must go." A sudden, generous impulse seized her.
"I'll take it myself!" she cried. "Then it will be sure to be in time. And I can come back when papa does."
Poor child, so sure still that papa must come!
It lacked less than three-quarters of an hour to low water. At that state of the tide the causeway was usually pretty bare; but, as she descended the hill, Eyebright, even in the darkness, could see that it was not nearly bare now. She could hear the swish of the water on the pebbles, and, by the light of her lantern, caught sight of more than one long wave sweeping almost up to the crest of the ridge. She would not wait, however, but set bravely forward. The water must be shallow, she knew, and fast growing more so, and she dared not delay; for the walk down the shore, in the wind, was sure to be a long one, "I mustn't miss the stage," she kept saying, to encourage herself, and struck in, feeling the way with the point of her umbrella, and holding the lantern low, so as to see where she stepped. The water was only two or three inches deep,—less than that in some places; but every few minutes a wave would rush across and bury her feet above the ankles. At such times, the sand would seem to give way and let her down, and a sense of sinking and being carried off would seize upon her and take away all her strength. She dared not move at these moments, but stood still, dug her umbrella into the sand, and waited till the water ran back.
As she got farther from the island, a new danger assailed her. It was the wind, of which she now felt the full force. It bent and swayed her about till she felt like a plaything in its grasp. Once it caught her skirts and blew her over toward the deeper water. This was the most dangerous moment of all; but she struggled back, and the gust relaxed its grasp. More than once the fury of the blast was so great that she dared not stand upright, but crouched on the wet sand, and made herself as flat as possible, till it passed by. Oh, how she wished herself back at home again. But going back was as dangerous as going forward, and she kept on, firm in her purpose still, though drenched, terrified, and half crying, till, little by little, wet sand instead of water was under her feet, the waves sounded behind instead of immediately beside her, and at last, stumbling over a clump of blueberry bushes, she fell forward on her knees upon the other shore,—a soggy, soaked, disagreeable shore enough, but a most welcome sight just then.
So tired and spent was she, that for some minutes she lay under the blueberry clump before she could gather strength to pull herself up and go on. It was a very hard and painful walk, and the wind and the darkness did all they could to keep her back; but the gallant little heart did not fail, and, at last, just as the first dim dawn was breaking, she gained the village and Mr. Downs's door.
Mrs. Downs had been up nearly all night, so great was her anxiety for Captain Jim and Mr. Bright. She had just fallen asleep in her clothes, when she was roused by a knock.
"That's them at last," she cried, jumping up, and hurrying to the door.
Great was her surprise at the little soaked figure which met her eyes, and greater still when she recognized Eyebright.
"Why, what in the name of—why!" was all she could say at first. Then, regaining her wits, "Eyebright, my dear child, what has fetched you out at this hour of day; and massy's sake, how did you come?"
"I came on the causeway. Oh, Mrs. Downs, is papa here?"
"Over the causeway!" cried Mrs. Downs. "Good land alive! What possessed you to do such a fool hardy thing? I only wonder you were not drowned outright."
"So do I. I was almost. But, Mrs. Downs, is papa here? Oh, do tell me."
"No, they haven't got in yet," said Mrs. Downs, affecting an ease and security which she did not feel. "The storm has delayed them, or, what's more likely, they never started at all, and will be over to-day. I guess that'll turn out to be the way of it. Jim's got too good sense to put out in the teeth of a heavy squall like this has been. An' he must ha' seen it was a-comin'. But, my dear, how wet you are! And what did make you do such a crazy thing as to set out over the causeway in such weather?"
"I couldn't help it," with a sob. "There's a poor man up at our house, Mrs. Downs. He came in a boat, and was 'most drowned, and he's hurt his arm dreadfully, and I'm afraid he's very sick beside; and he wanted this parcel to go by the stage-driver. He said it must go, it was something very important. So I brought it. The stage hasn't gone yet, has it? I wanted so much to be in time."
"Well, I declare!" cried Mrs. Downs, furiously. "He must be a pretty man to send you across the bar in the night and such a storm, to fetch his mail. I'd like to throw it right straight in the water, that I would, and serve him right. The idea!"
"Oh, he didn't mean that I should go,—he didn't know any thing about it," protested Eyebright. "He asked me to send our hired man, and when I told him we hadn't any hired man, he said then he would come himself; but he was too sick. He said such queer things that I was frightened. And then he went to sleep, and I came. Please tell me what time it is; I must go to the office right away."
"Indeed you won't," said Mrs. Downs. "You'll come straight upstairs and go to bed. I'll wake him up. He'll take it. There's plenty of time. 'T isn't six yet, and the stage'll be late this morning, I'll bet."
"Oh, I can't go to bed; I must go back to the island," Eyebright pleaded. "The man who came is all alone there, and you can't think how sick he is."
"Poor man or not, you'll go to bed," said Mrs. Downs, inexorably, helping the tired child upstairs. "Me and Mr. Downs'll see to the poor man. You ain't needed to carry the hull world on your back as long as there's any grown folks left, you poor little mite. Go to bed and sleep, and we'll look after your man."
Eyebright was too tired to resist.
"Oh, please ask Mr. Downs to take a receipt, the man was so particular about that," was her only protest.
She fell asleep the moment her head touched the pillow, and knew nothing more till after noon, when she opened her eyes, feeling for a moment entirely bewildered as to where she was. Then, as it all came back to her mind, she jumped up in a hurry. Her clothes, nicely dried, lay on a chair beside the bed. She hurried them on, and ran downstairs.
Nobody was visible except little Benny, who told her that his mother had "gone along up to the island."
"She said you was to eat some breakfast," he added. "It's in the oven a-keepin' warm. Shall I show you where it is?"
"Oh, never mind," cried Eyebright. "Never mind about breakfast, Benny. I don't feel hungry."
"Ma said you must," declared Benny, opening the oven door and disclosing a plate full of something very dry and black. "Oh, dear, it's all got burned up."
"I'll drink some milk instead," said Eyebright. "Who's that coming up the road, Benny?"
"It's Pa. I guess he's come back to get you," said Benny, running out to meet him.
Mr. Downs had come to fetch Eyebright. He looked very grave, she thought.
When she asked eagerly, had papa come yet, Mr. Downs shook his head. Perhaps they had stayed over in Malachi, to avoid the storm, he said, and would get in later. He helped Eyebright into the boat, and rowed to the island without saying another word. The wind had abated, but the sea was still very rough, and long lines of white surf were breaking on the rocks and beaches.
The kitchen looked very queer and crowded, for Mr. Downs had brought down a mattress from upstairs, and made a bed on the floor, upon which Eyebright's "man" was now sleeping. His wet clothes had been changed for some dry ones belonging to Mr. Bright, and, altogether, he looked far less wild and forlorn than he had appeared to be the night before, though he evidently was seriously ill. Mrs. Downs didn't think his arm was broken; but she couldn't be sure, and "he" was sent up the shore to fetch Dr. Treat, the "natural bone-setter." There was no regular doctor at Scrapplehead.
The natural bone-setter pronounced the arm not broken, but badly cut and bruised, and the shoulder dislocated. He tied it up with a liniment of his own invention, but both fever and rheumatism followed, and for some days the stranger tossed in pain and delirium. Mrs. Downs stayed on the island to nurse him, and both she and Eyebright had their hands full, which was well, for it helped them to endure the suspense of the next week as nothing else could have done.
It was not for some time, even after that dreadful week, that they gave up the hope that Captain Jim had waited over in Malachi and would appear with the next fair wind. Then a sloop put in, bringing the certain news that he and Mr. Bright had sailed about two hours before the storm began. After that, the only chance—and that a vague one—was, that the boat might have landed on the coast farther below, or, blown out to sea, been picked up by some passing ship. Days passed in this hope. Whenever Eyebright could be spared for a moment, she always ran to the cliff on the sea-side, in the hope of seeing a ship sailing in with papa on board, or news of him. She never spoke as if there was any doubt that he would come in the end, and Mrs. Downs, dreading to cloud her hopefulness, replied always as confidently as she could, and tried to be hopeful, too.
So a fortnight passed over the busy, anxious household, and poor Eyebright—though her words were still courageous—was losing heart, and had begun to feel that a cold, dreadful wave of sorrow was poising itself a little way off, and might presently break all over her, when, one day, as she stood by the bedside of their patient,—much better now and quite in his senses,—he looked at her with a sudden start of recognition, and said:—
"Why, I know you. You are Mr. Bright's little girl,—are you not? You are Eyebright! Why did I not recognize you before? Don't you recollect me at all? Don't you know who I am?"
And, somehow, the words and the pleasant tone of voice, and the look which accompanied them made him look different, all at once, to the child, and natural, and Eyebright did know him.
It was Mr. Joyce!
"It is strange that I did not recognize you before," said Mr. Joyce next day; "and yet not so strange either, for you have grown and altered very much since we met, two years and a half ago."
He might well say so. Eyebright had altered very much. She was as tall as Mrs. Downs now, and the fatigue and anxiety of the last fortnight had robbed her of her childish look and made her seem older than she really was. Any one might have taken her for a girl of seventeen, instead of fourteen-and-a-half. She and Mr. Joyce had had several long talks, during which he learned all about their leaving Tunxet, about her anxiety for her father, and, for the first time, the full story of the eventful night which had brought him to Causey Island. He was greatly startled and shocked when he comprehended what danger Eyebright had run in doing his errand to the village. "My dear, dear child," he said; "you did me a service I shall never forget. I could never have forgiven myself had you lost your life in doing it. If I had had my senses about me I would not have let you go; pray believe that. That unlucky parcel came near to costing more than it's worth, for it was on its account that I set out to row over from Malachi that afternoon."
"To take the stage?" suggested Eyebright.
"Yes—to catch the stage. The parcel had money in it, and it was of great consequence that it should reach Atterbury—where I live—as soon as possible. You look curious, as if you wanted to hear more. You like stories still, I see. I remember how you begged me to tell you one that night in Tunxet."
"Yes, I like them dearly. But I hardly ever hear any now. There is no one up here to tell them."
"Well, this isn't much of a story, or rather it would be a long one enough if I gave the whole of it; but the part which I can tell isn't much. Once upon a time there was a thief, and he stole a quantity of money out of a bank. It was the Atterbury Bank, of which I am the president. The theft came at the worst possible time, and there was great danger, if the money could not be recovered, that the bank would have to stop payment. Fortunately, we got a clue to the thief's whereabouts, and I started in search of him, and caught him in a little village in Canada where he had hidden himself away, and was feeling quite safe—What makes you look so excited?"
"It is so interesting," said Eyebright. "Weren't you a bit afraid when you saw him? Did he have a pistol?"
"Pistol? No. Ah, you are thinking of the thieves in story-books, I see,—terrible villains with masks and blunderbusses. The kind we have nowadays are quite different,—pretty young men, with nice mustaches and curly hair, who are very particular about the fit of their gloves and what kind of cigars they smoke. That's the sort who make off with bank money. This thief of ours was a young fellow, only a few years older than my Charley, whom I had known all my life, and his father before him. I would a great deal rather have had it one of the old-fashioned kind with a blunderbuss. Well, I found him, and I got back the money—the bulk of it. A part he had spent. Having secured it, my first thought was how to get home quickest, for every day's delay made a great difference to the bank. I had just time to drive over and catch the Portland steamer, but my wagon broke down six miles from Malachi, and when I got in she had been gone an hour and a half. I made inquiries, and found that the Scrapplehead stage started next morning, so I hired a boat and undertook to row across. It was not storming then. The man who let the boat did say that the weather looked 'kind of unsartin,' but I could see no change; it was thick and murky, but it had been that for days back, and I was in such haste to get in, that I should probably have tried it had it looked worse than it did. The distance is not great, and I am used to rowing. Only God's mercy saved me from capsizing when the first squall struck the boat. After that, I have only confused memories. All I could do was to keep the boat head on to the waves, and it was so intensely dark that I could see nothing. I must have been rowing for hours in the blackness, without the least idea where I was or which way I was going, when I saw a light moving toward me. That, from what you say, must have been your lantern. I had just strength left to pull toward it, and the waves carried me on to the beach. My arm was all right then. I must have hurt it when I fell over the side of the boat. It was a miraculous escape, and I believe that I owe my life to the fact of your coming down as you did. I shall never forget that, Eyebright."
People often say such things in the warm-heartedness of a great deliverance from danger, or recovery from sickness, and when they get well again, or the danger fades from their minds, they cool off a little. But Mr. Joyce did not cool; he meant all he said. And very soon after came the opportunity of proving his sincerity, for the great wave of trouble, which Eyebright had dimly felt and dreaded, broke just then and fell upon her. The boat in which Captain Jim Downs and her father had sailed was picked up far down the coast, floating bottom upward, and no doubt remained that both had lost their lives in the storm of that dreadful night.
How the poor child could have borne this terrible news without Mr. Joyce at hand to help her, I cannot imagine. She was almost broken-hearted, and grew so thin and pale that it was pitiful to see. Her sorrow was all for papa; she did not realize as yet the loss which had fallen on herself; but it would have been hard to find in the world a little girl left in a more desolate position. In losing papa she lost every thing that she had—home, protection, support. Nobody wanted her; she belonged to nobody. She could not stay on the island; she could not go back to Tunxet; there was no one in the world—unless it was Wealthy—to whom she had the right to go for help or advice; and Wealthy herself was a poor woman, with little in her power to give except advice. Eyebright instinctively dreaded the idea of meeting Wealthy, for she knew that Wealthy would think if she did not say it, that it was all papa's fault; that he ought never to have taken her to Maine, and the thought of having papa blamed hurt her terribly. These anxieties as yet were all swallowed up in grief for papa, but whenever she happened to think about herself, her mind grew perfectly bewildered and she could not in the least see what she was to do.
And now what a comfort Mr. Joyce was to her! He was nearly well now, and in a great hurry to get back to his business; but nothing would have induced him to leave the poor child in such trouble, and he stayed on and on, devoting himself to her all day long, soothing her, telling her sweet things about heaven and God's goodness and love, letting her talk as much as she liked of papa, and not trying even to check the crying which such talks always brought on. Eyebright responded to this kindness with all her warm little heart. She learned to love Mr. Joyce dearly, and turned to him and clung to him as if he had been a friend always instead of for a few days only. But all this time her future remained unsettled, and she was at the same time too inexperienced and too much oppressed with sorrow to be able to think about it or make any plans.
Other people were thinking about it, however. Mrs. Downs talked the matter over with her husband, and told Mr. Joyce that "He" was willing she should take Eyebright, provided her folks, if she had any, would consent to have her "bound" to them till she was of age. They never had kept "help," and she didn't need any now; it wasn't for that she wanted the child, and as for the binding out, 'twasn't nothing but a formality, only Mr. Downs was made that way, and liked to have things done regular and legal. He set store by Eyebright, just as she did herself, and they'd see that she had a comfortable home and was well treated in every way. Mrs. Downs meant kindly, but Mr. Joyce had other schemes for Eyebright. As soon as the fact of her father's death became certain, he had written to his wife, and he only waited an answer to propose his plan. It came at last, and as soon as he had read it, he went in search of Eyebright, who was sitting, as she often did now, on the bank over the bathing-beach, looking sorrowfully off toward the sea.
"I have a letter from home," he said, sitting down beside her, "and I find that I must go back at once,—day after to-morrow at latest."
"Oh, must you?" said Eyebright, in a voice which sounded like a sob. She hid her face on his arm as she spoke, and he knew that she was crying.
"Yes; but don't cry, my dear child. I don't mean to leave you here alone. That is not my plan at all. I want you to come with me. Long ago, I wrote to my wife to propose this plan, and I only waited to hear from her before telling you about it. Will you come and live with us, Eyebright? I can't take your father's place to you,—nobody could do that, and it wouldn't be right they should; but we'll all do our best to make you happy and at home, and you shall be just like our own girl if you'll come. What do you say, my dear? Will you?"
"How kind—how kind you are!" replied Eyebright, in a dazed, wondering way. "I can't think what makes you so good to me, dear Mr. Joyce. But do you think I ought to come? I'm afraid I should be troublesome. Wealthy used to say 'that other folks's children always were troublesome,' and that it was mean to 'settle down' on people."
"Never mind Wealthy or her maxims," said Mr. Joyce, with a smile. "We'll risk your being troublesome, Eyebright. Will you come?"
"Do you think papa would have wished to have me?" asked Eyebright, wistfully. "There's nobody for me to ask now except you, you know. Papa always hated 'being under obligations' to people. If I stay with Mrs. Downs," she added, timidly, "I can work and help her, and then I shan't be a burden. I'm afraid there isn't any thing I can do to help if I go with you."
"Oh, Mrs. Downs has told you of her plan, has she," said Mr. Joyce, half vexed. "Now, listen, my child. I do really and seriously think that your father, were he here, would prefer that you should go with me. If you stay with Mrs. Downs, you must give up your education entirely. She is a kind woman and really fond of you, I think; but with her you can have no advantages of any sort, and no chance to fit yourself for any higher sort of work than house-work. With me you will have the opportunity of going to an excellent school, and, if you do your best, by the time you are twenty-one you will be able to teach, and support yourself in that way, if it becomes necessary. And, my dear, you are mistaken in thinking that there is nothing you can do to help us. We have never had a daughter, but we always have wished for one. My wife and I are getting on in life, and there are lots of ways in which a young girl will cheer and brighten us up, and help to make the house pleasant for Charley. It is dull for a boy with no sisters, and only an old father and mother. So, you see, we really are in need of a girl, and you are just the girl we need. So, will you come?"
"Oh, I'll come gladly!" cried Eyebright, yielding to the pleasantness of the thought. "I'd rather live with you than anybody else in the world, Mr. Joyce, if only you are sure it is right."
It was settled from that moment, though Eyebright still felt a little qualm of shyness and fear at the thought of the unknown Mrs. Joyce. "How horrible it would be if she didn't like me when I get there!" she said to herself.
Only one more day at Causey Island, and that a very busy and confused one. The little house, which it had taken so many days to get in order, was all pulled to pieces and dismantled in a few hours. Some things, such as papa's desk, and Eyebright's own special chair, Mr. Joyce ordered packed, and sent after them to Atterbury; the rest were left to be sold, or perhaps let with the cottage, if any one should hire it. Several articles, at his suggestion, Eyebright gave to Mrs. Downs, and she gratified Mr. Downs extremely by making him a present of the boat.
"You couldn't have done nothing to please me better," he said. "It'll come real handy to have another boat, and we shall think a heap of its being yours. And, I'll tell you what, we'll just change its name, and call it 'The Eyebright,' after you. The first spare day I get, I'll paint the name on the stern, so's we'll always be reminded of you whenever we see it."
This was quite a flight of fancy for Mr. Downs.
By sunset the house was cleared of all that was to be taken away, and Eyebright's trunk packed and locked. A very little trunk it was, and all it held very old and shabby. Even Mrs. Downs shook her head and said the things were hardly worth taking; but Eyebright didn't much mind. Her head was full of other thoughts, and, beside, she had learned to rely on Mr. Joyce as a helper out of all difficulties, and she was content to leave herself and her future wants to him.
So, at early dawning of the third day, they left the island, rowing down to the village in the newly christened "Eyebright," now the property of Mr. Downs. The good-byes had been taken the evening before, and Eyebright did not turn her head, as they glided away, to look at the green tufted shore or the blue sea, bluer than ever in the calm hush of a cloudless sunrise. Very steadily and carefully she rowed, dipping her oars, and "feathering," as papa had taught her, as if only intent on doing her task as well as possible for this the last time. But later, after they reached the village, when the farewells had all been spoken, the Downs family kissed, and herself and Mr. Joyce were in the stage-wagon ready to start, she turned again for one moment, and her eyes sought out the blue-green outline which they knew so well. There it lay, with the calm waters all about it, the home which had been at the same time so hard and so pleasant, and was now so sad. Tears rushed to her eyes as she gazed, and she whispered to herself so softly that no one else could hear, "Good-by. Good-by, papa."
How strange and yet how familiar, the road seemed!—the very road over which she and papa had passed less than two years before. It was the one journey of her life, and she recollected every thing perfectly. There was the nameless village, looking exactly the same, but no longer nameless; for a wooden board was suspended over the steamboat landing, with "Pocobasset" painted upon it in large letters. Pretty soon the steamboat came along, the same identical steamboat, and down the river they went, past all the tiny islands and wooded capes which she remembered so well; only the light was of sunset now instead of sun-rising, and the trees, which then were tinged with coming spring, now bore the red and yellow leaves of autumn. There was the good-natured stewardess and the captain,—nobody was changed,—nothing had happened, as it seemed, except to herself.
They left the boat, very early in the morning, at a point some fifty miles short of that from which she and papa had embarked, and, travelling all day, reached Atterbury late on the second afternoon. Eyebright had plenty of time to recall her dread of Mrs. Joyce as they drove up from the station. The town was large and thriving, and looked like a pleasant one. There were many white-painted, green-blinded houses, with neat court-yards, of the kind always to be found in New England villages; but among these appeared, here and there, a quaint, old-fashioned mansion; and the elm-shaded streets gave glimpses of pretty country beyond, woodlands, cultivated valley-lands, and an encircling line of hills with softly rounded outlines. Eyebright thought it a delightful-looking place. They drew up before a wide, ample house, whose garden blazed with late flowers, and Mr. Joyce, lifting her out, hurried up the gravel walk, she following timidly, threw open the front door, and called loudly: "Mother! Mother! where are you, Mother?"