"Walter, he's asleep, or—oh! is he dead, Walter?" asked Charlie, in horror.
"No, no, Charlie; there, put your hand upon his heart. You see it beats; he is only exhausted, and in a sort of swoon."
"But he will be pitched over, Walter."
"Then I'll show you what we'll do, Charlie. We must make the best of everything." Walter lifted up the useless rudder, pulled out the string of it to lash Kenrick safely to the stern bench by which he lay, and took off his own coat in order to cover him up that he might sleep; and then, anxious above all things to relieve Charlie's terror, the unselfish boy, thinking only of others, sat beside him on the centre bench, and encircled him with a protecting arm. And, as though to increase their misery, the cold rain began to fall in torrents.
"O Walter, it's so cold, and wet, and stormy, and pitch dark. I'm frightened, Walter. I try not to be, but I can't help it. Take me on your knees and pray for us again."
Walter took him on his knees, and laid his head against his own breast, and folded him in his arms, and wiped his tears; and the little boy's sobs ceased as Walter's voice rose once more in a strain of intense prayer.
"Walter, God must grant that prayer; I'm sure He must; He can't reject it," said Charlie simply.
"He will answer it in the way best for us, Charlie; whatever that is."
"But shall we die?" asked his brother again, with a cold shudder at the word.
"Remember what you said just now, Charlie, and be brave. But even if we were to die, could we die better, little brother, than in doing our duty, and trying to save dear Ken's life? It isn't such a terrible thing, Charlie, after all. We must all die some time, you know, and boys have died as young and younger than you or me."
"Ay, but not like this, Walter: out in these icy, black, horrid waters."
"Yes, they have indeed, Charlie; little friendless sailor-boys dashed on far-away rocks that splintered their ships to atoms, or swallowed up when their vessel foundered in great typhoons, thousands of miles away from home and England, in unknown seas; little boys like you, Charlie; and they have died bravely, too, though no living soul was near them to hear their cries, and nothing to mark their graves but the bubble for one minute while they sank."
"Have they, Walter?"
"Ay, many and many a time they have; and the same God Who called for their lives gave them courage and strength to die, as He will give us if there is need."
There was a pause, and then Charlie said, "Talk to me, Walter; it prevents my listening to the flapping and plunging of the boat, and all the other noises. Walter, I think... I think we shall die."
"Courage, brother, I have hope yet; and if we die we will die like this together—I will not let you go. Our bodies shall be washed ashore together—not separated, Charlie, even in death."
"You have been a dear, dear good brother to me. How I love you, Walter!" and as he pressed yet closer to him, he said more bravely, "What hope have you then, Walter?"
"Look up, Charlie; you see that light?"
"Yes; what is it?"
"Sharksfin Lighthouse; don't you remember seeing it sometimes at night from Saint Win's? Yes; and those lights twinkling far-off are Saint Win's. Those must be the school lights; and those long windows you can just see are the chapel windows. They are in chapel now, or the lights wouldn't be there. Perhaps some of our friends—Power, perhaps, and Eden—are praying for us; they must have missed us since tea-time."
"How I wish we were with them!"
"Perhaps we may be again; and all the wiser and better in heart and life for this solemn time, Charlie. If we are but carried by this wind and current within hearing of the lighthouse!"
The Sharksfin Lighthouse is built on a sharp high rock two miles out at sea. I have watched it from Bleak Point on a bright, warm summer's day, when the promontory around me was all ablaze with purple heather and golden gorse, and there was not breeze enough to shake the wing of the butterfly as it rested on the blue-bell, or disturb the honey-laden bee as it murmured in the thyme. Yet even then the waters were seething and boiling in never-ended tumult about those hideous sunken rocks; and the ocean all around was hoary as with the neesings of a thousand leviathans floundering in its monstrous depths. You may guess what they are on a wild February night—how, in the mighty rush of the Atlantic, the torn breakers beat about them with tremendous rage, till the whole sea is in angry motion like some demon caldron that seethes over roaring flame.
Drifting along, or rather flung and battered about on the current, they passed within near sight of the lighthouse, and they might have thanked God that they passed no nearer, for to have passed nearer would have been certain death. The white waves dashed over it, enveloped its tall strong pillar that buffeted them back, like a noble will in the midst of calumny and persecution; they fell back hissing and discomfited, and could not dim its silver or quench its flame but it glowed on with steady lustre in the midst of them—flung its victorious path of splendour over their raging motion, warned from the sunken reef the weary mariner, and looked forth untroubled with its broad, calm eye into the madness and fury of the tempest-haunted night.
Through this broad track of light the boat was driven, and Walter shouted at the top of his voice with all his remaining strength. The three men in the lighthouse fancied indeed, as they acknowledged afterwards, that they had heard some shouts; but strange, mysterious, inarticulate voices are often borne upon the wind, and haunt always the lonely wastes of foamy sea. The lighthouse men had often heard these unexplained wailings and weird screams. Many a time they had looked out, and been so continually deceived, that unless human accents were unmistakable and well-defined, they attribute these sounds to other agencies, or to the secret phenomena of the worst storms. And even if they had heard, what could they have done, or how have launched their boat when the billows were running mountain-high about their perilous rock?
Charlie had been quiet for a long time, his face hidden on Walter's shoulder; but he had seen the glare which the light threw across the waves, and had observed that they had gradually been driven through it into the blackness again, and he asked, "Have we passed the lighthouse, Walter?"
"Oh, I am so hungry and burning with thirst! Oh! what shall we do?"
"Try not to think about it, Charlie; a little fasting won't hurt us much."
Another long pause, during which they clung more closely to each other, and their hearts beat side by side, and then Charlie said, in a barely articulate whisper—
"I know what you are going to say, Charlie."
"The water in the boat is nearly up to my knees."
"We have shipped a great deal, you know."
"Yes; and besides that—"
"Yes, it is true; there is a leak. Do you mind my putting you down and trying what I can do to bail the water out?"
"O Walter, don't put me off your knee—don't let go of me."
"Very well, Charlie; it wouldn't be of much use."
"Good God!" cried the little boy in a paroxysm of agony, "we are sinking—we are foundering!"
They wound their arms round each other, and Walter said, "It is even so, my darling brother. Death is near, but God is with us; and if it is death, then death means rest and heaven. Good-bye, Charlie, good-bye; we will be close together till the end."
WHAT THE SEA GAVE UP.
The sands and yeasty surges mix At midnight in a dreary bay;— And on thy ribs the limpet sticks, And o'er thy bones the scrawl shall play.
Anxiety reigned at Saint Winifred's, succeeded by consternation and intense grief. Little was thought of the absence of the three boys at tea-time, but when it came to chapel-time and bed-time, and they had not yet appeared, and when next morning it was found that they had not been heard of during the night, everyone became seriously alarmed, and all the neighbouring country was searched for intelligence.
The place on the cliff where Kenrick had descended was observed, but as the traces showed that only one boy had gone down there, the discovery, so far from explaining matters, only rendered them more inexplicable. Additional light was thrown on the subject by the disappearance of Bryce's boat, and the worst fears seemed to be confirmed by his information that it was a ricketty old concern, only intended to paddle in smooth weather close to the shore. But what earthly reason could have induced three boys to venture out in such a tub on so wild a night? That they did it for pleasure was inconceivable, the more so as rowing was strictly forbidden; and as no other reason could be suggested, all conjecture was at fault.
The fishermen went out in their smacks, but found no traces, and gained no tidings of the missing boys; and all through that weary and anxious day the belief that they had been lost at sea gained ground. Almost all day Power, and Eden, and Henderson, had been gazing out to sea, or wandering on the shore, in the vain hope of seeing them come rowing across the bay; but all the sailors on the shore affirmed that if they had gone out in an open boat, and particularly in Bryce's boat, it was an utter impossibility that they could have outlived the tempest of the preceding night.
At last, towards the evening, the sea gave up, not indeed her dead, but what was accepted as a positive proof of their wretched fate. Henderson, who was in a fever of excitement, which Power vainly strove to allay, was walking with him and Eden, who was hardly less troubled, along the beach, when he caught sight of something floating along, rising and falling on the dumb sullen swell of the advancing tide. He thought and declared at first, with a start of horror, that it was the light hair of a drowned boy; but they very soon saw that it could not be that, and dashing in waist-deep after it, Henderson brought out the torn and battered fragments of a straw hat. The ribbon, of dark blue and white, though soaked and discoloured, still served to identify it as having belonged to a Saint Winifred's boy; and, carefully examining the flannel lining, they saw on a piece of linen sewn upon it—only too legible still—the name "H. Kenrick." Nor was this all they found. The discovery had quickened their search, and soon afterwards Power, with a sudden suppressed cry, pointed to something black, lying, with a dreadful look about it, at a far part of the sand. Again their hearts grew cold, and running up to it they all recognised, with fresh horror and despair, the coat which Walter had last worn. They recognised it, but besides this, to place the matter beyond a doubt, his name was marked on the inside of the sleeve. In one of the pockets was his school notebook, with all the notes he had taken, and the playful caricatures which here and there he had scribbled over the pages; and in the other, stained with the salt water, and tearing at every touch, were the letters he had last received.
All the next day the doubt was growing into certainty. Mr and Mrs Evson were summoned from Semlyn, and came with feelings that cannot be depicted. Power gave to Mrs Evson the coat he had picked up, and he and Henderson hardly ever left the parents of their friend, doing all they could to cheer their spirits and support in them the hopes they could hardly feel themselves. To this day Mrs Evson cherishes that coat as a dear and sacred relic, which reminds her of the mercy which sustained her during the first great agony which she had endured in her happy life. Power kept poor Kenrick's hat, for no relation of his was there to claim it.
Another day dawned, and settled grief and gloom fell on all alike at Saint Winifred's—the boys, the masters, the inhabitants. The sight of Mr and Mrs Evson's speechless anguish impressed all hearts, and by this time hope seemed quenched for ever. For now one boy only,—though young hearts are slow to give up hope—had refused to believe the worst. It was Eden. He persisted that the three boys must have been picked up. The belief had come upon him suddenly, and grown upon him he knew not how, but he was sure of it; and therefore his society brought most relief and comfort to the torn heart of the mother. "What made him so confident?" she asked. He did not know; he had seen it, or dreamt it, or felt it somehow, only he felt unalterably convinced that so it was. "They will come back, dear Mrs Evson, they will come back, you will see," was his repeated asseveration; and oppressed as her heart was with doubt and fear, she was never weary of those words.
And on the fourth day, while Mr Evson was absent, having gone to make enquiries in London of all the ships which had passed by Saint Winifred's on that day, Eden, radiant with joy, rushed into Dr Lane's drawing-room, where Mrs Evson was sitting, and utterly regardless of les convenances, burst out with the exclamation, "O Mrs Evson, it is true, it is true what I always told you. Didn't I say that I knew it? They have been picked up."
"Hush, my boy; steady," whispered Mrs Lane; "you should have delivered the message less suddenly. The revulsion of feeling from sorrow to joy will be too much for her."
"O Eden, tell me," said the mother faintly, recalling her senses bewildered by the shock of intelligence; "are you certain? Oh, where are my boys?"
"You will see them soon," he said very gently; and the next moment, to confirm his words, the door again new open, and Charlie Evson was wrapped in his mother's arms, and strained to her heart, and covered with her kisses, and his bright young face bathed in her tears of gratitude and joy.
"Charlie, darling Charlie, where is Walter?" were her first words.
"What, don't you know me then, mother; and have you no kiss to spare for me?" said the playful voice of a boy enveloped in a sailor's blue shell-jacket; and then it was Walter's turn to feel in that long embrace what is the agonising fondness of a mother's love.
Kenrick was looking on a little sadly—not envious, but made sorrowful by memory. But the next moment Walter, taking him by the hand, had introduced him to his mother and she kissed him too on the cheek. "Your name is so familiar to me, Kenrick," she said; "and you have shared their dangers."
"Walter has twice saved my life, Mrs Evson," he answered, "and this time, I trust, he has saved it in more senses than one."
The boys' story was soon told. Just as their boat was beginning to sink, and the bitterness of death seemed over, Walter caught sight of the lights of a ship, and saw her huge dark outline looming not far from them, and towering above the waves. Instantly he and Charlie had shouted with all the frantic energy of reviving hope. By God's mercy their shouts had been heard; in spite of the risk and difficulty caused by the turbulence of the night, the ship hove to, the long-boat was manned, and the amazed sailors had rescued them not ten minutes before their wretched boat swirled round and sank to the bottom.
Nothing could exceed the care and tenderness with which the sailors and the good captain of the Morning Star had treated them. The genial warmth of the captain's cabin, the food and wine of which they stood so much in need, the rest and quiet, and a long, long sleep, continued for nearly twenty-four hours, had recruited their failing strength, and restored them to perfect health. Past Saint Winifred's Bay extends for miles and miles a long range of iron-bound coast, and this circumstance, together with the violence of the breeze blowing away from land, had prevented the captain from having any opportunity of putting them ashore until the morning of this day, when, with kind-hearted liberality, he had also supplied them with the money requisite to pay their way to Saint Winifred's.
"You can't think how jolly it was on board, mother," said Charlie. "I've learnt all about ships, and it was such fun; and they were all as kind to us as possible."
"You mustn't suppose we didn't think of you, mother dearest," said Walter, "and how anxious you would be; but we felt sure you would believe that some ship had picked us up."
"Yes, Walter; and to taste this joy is worth any past sorrow," said his mother. "You must thank your friend Eden for mainly keeping up my spirits, for he was almost the only person who maintained that you were still alive."
"And now, Mrs Evson," said Power, "you must spar them for ten minutes, for the masters and all the school are impatient to see and congratulate them."
The whole story had spread among the boys in ten minutes, and they were again proud to recognise Walter's chivalrous daring. When he appeared in the blue jacket with which Captain Peters had replaced the loss of his coat, with Kenrick's arm in his, and holding Charlie's hand, cheer after cheer broke from the assembled boys; and finally, unable to repress their joy and enthusiasm, they lifted the three on their shoulders and chaired them all round the court.
You may suppose that it was a joyful dinner party that evening at Dr Lane's. Mr Evson, as they had conjectured, had heard of his son's safety in London from the captain of the Morning Star, to whom he had tendered his warmest and most grateful thanks, and to whom, before leaving London, he had presented, in testimony of his gratitude, an exquisite chronometer. Returning to Saint Winifred's he found his two boys seated happily in the drawing-room awaiting him, each with their mother's hand in theirs, and in the company of their best boy-friends. Walter was still in the blue shell-jacket, which became him well, and which neither Mrs Lane nor the boys would suffer him to change. It was indeed an evening never to be forgotten, and hardly less joyous and memorable was the grand breakfast which the Sixth gave to Walter and Kenrick in memory of the event, and to which, by special exception, little Charlie was also invited.
Rejoicings are good, but they were saved for greater and better things. These three young boys had stood face to face with sudden death. Death, as it were, had laid his hand on their shoulders, had taken them by the hair and looked upon them, and bade them commune with themselves; and, when he released them from that stern cold grasp, it gave to their lives an awful reality. It did not quench, indeed, their natural mirthfulness, but it filled them with strong purposes and high thoughts. Kenrick returned to Saint Winifred's a changed boy; long-continued terror had quite altered the expression of his countenance, but, while this effect soon wore off, the moral effects produced in him were happily permanent. He began a life in earnest; for him there was no more listlessness, or moody fits of sorrow, or bursts of wayward self-indulgence. He became strenuous, diligent, modest, earnest, kind; he too, like Walter and Charlie, began his career "from strength to strength." Under him, and Power, and Walter, and others, whom their influence had formed or who had been moulded by the tradition they had left behind them, Saint Winifred's flourished more and more, and added new honours and benefits to its old and famous name. At the end of that half-year Power left, but not until he had won the Balliol Scholarship and carried off nearly all the prizes in the school. Walter succeeded him as head of the school; and he and Kenrick (who was restored to his old place on the list) worked heart and soul together for the good of it. In those days it was indeed in a happy and prosperous state— renowned and honoured without, well governed and high toned within. Dr Lane felt and acknowledged that much of this success was due to the example and to the vigour of these head boys. Power, when he left, was beloved and distinguished; Walter and Kenrick trod in his steps. To the boundless delight of the school they too carried off in one year the highest open scholarship at each University; and when they also left, they had been as successful as Power, and were, if possible, even more universally beloved. Whalley carried on for another year the high tradition, and, in due time, little Charlie also attained the head place in the school, and so behaved as to identify his name and Walter's with some of its happiest and wisest institutions for many years.
CHAPTER FORTY ONE.
Is not to-day enough? why do I peer Into the darkness of the day to come? Is not to-morrow e'en as yesterday?
Relics of Shelley.
May I not leave them here? Where could I leave them better than on this marble threshold of a promising boyhood; still happy and noble in the freshness of their feelings, the brightness of their hopes, the enthusiasm of their thoughts? Need I say a word of after-life, with the fading of its earlier visions, and the coldness and hardness of its ways? I should like to linger with them here; to shake hands here in farewell, and leave them as the boys I knew. They are living still, and are happy and highly honoured in the world. In their case "the boy has been father to the man;" and the reader who has understood and sympathised with them in their early life will not ask me to draw aside the curtain, even for a moment, to show them as they appeared when a few more summers had seen them grow to the full stature of their manhood.
I said that they were living still; but it is not so with all of them.
Charlie Evson alone, of the little band who have been amongst the number of our friends at Saint Winifred's—alone, though the youngest of them all—is now dead. He died a violent death. Filled with a missionary spirit, and desirous, like Edward Irving, of "something more high and heroical in religion than this age affecteth," he joined a mission to one of the great groups of Pacific Islands. And there, many a time, in the evening, after a day spent in teaching the natives how to plant their fields and build their houses, he would gather them round him in the twilight, and, while the cool wind wandered over his hair and brow, and shook overhead the graceful plumes of the cocoa-palm, he would talk to them in low sweet tones, until the fireflies were twinkling in the thicket and the stars stole out one after another in their silent myriads, of One Who came from the highest Heaven to redeem them from savagery and degradation, and to make them holy as He was holy, and pure as He was pure. He was eminently successful; but when he had planted in some islands the first seeds of a fruitful Christianity, he sailed to other reefs, still carrying the everlasting gospel in his hands. One evening as the little missionary ship, which Charlie himself had built, drew near the land, they saw that the natives were drawn up in a threatening attitude on the beach. Trusting to conciliate them by kindness and by presents, the young missionary, taking with him a few glittering trifles to attract their notice, proceeded with a small band of followers towards the shore. At first the natives seemed inclined to receive them well, but suddenly, by the wild impulse to which barbarians are so liable, one of the savages pierced a sailor with his spear. Evson, by an effort of strength, wrenched the weapon out of his hand and told his men to take up the wounded sailor and retreat. This they effected in safety, for the islanders were struck and awed by the young Englishman's high bearing and firm attitude; and his eye fixed quietly upon them kept them back. He was himself the last to step into the boat, and, as he turned to do so, one of the wretches struck him on the head with his accursed club. He fell stunned and bleeding upon the beach, and in an instant was dispatched by the spears and clubs of a hundred savages, while the boat's crew barely escaped with their lives, and the little mission vessel, spreading all her sails, could with difficulty elude the pursuit of the canoes, which swarmed out of the creeks to give her chase. The corpse lay bleeding upon a nameless strand, and the soft fair hair that a mother's hand had fondled and a mother's lips had kissed, dangled as a trophy at the girdle of a cannibal. Thus it was that Charlie died; and a marble tablet in Semlyn Church, ornamented with the most delicate and exquisite sculpture, records his tragic fate, and stands as a monument of his parents' tender love. As a boy he had shown a martyr's dauntless spirit; as a man he was suffered to win the rare and high glory of a martyr's crown.
Of Walter, and Henderson, and Sir Reginald Power—for Power has succeeded only too early to his father's title and estates—I need say no more. Their days from youth to maturity were linked together by a natural progress in all things charitable, and great, and good. They did not belie their early promise. The breeze of a happy life bore them gently onward, and they cast no anchor in its widening stream. They were brave and manly and honourable boys, and they grew up into high-minded and honourable men.
I do not wish you to suppose that they had not their own bitter trials to suffer, or that they were exempt in any degree from our common sorrows. In that turbulent and restless period of life when the passions are strong and the heart wild and wilful and full of pride, while, at the same time, the judgment is often weak and the thoughts are immature and crude, they had (as we all have) to purchase wholesome experience at the price of suffering; to remember with shame some follies, and mourn over some mistakes. In saying this, I only say that they were not faultless; which of us is? But, at the same time, I may fairly say that we do not often meet with nobler or manlier boys and youths than these; that the errors which they committed they humbly endeavoured by patience and carefulness to amend; that they used their talents well and wisely, striving to live in love and charity with all around them; that above all they kept the fear of God before their eyes and never lost the freshness and geniality of early years, but kept "The young lamb's heart amid the fall grown flocks;"—kept the heart of boyhood taken up and purified in the powers of manhood. And this is the reason why the eye that sees them loves them, and the tongue that speaks of them blesses them. And when the end comes to them which comes to all; when—as though a child should trample out the sparks from a piece of paper—death comes upon them and tramples out for ever their joys and sorrows, their hopes and fears—then, sure I am, that those who mourn for them, that those who cherish their memory and regret their loss, will neither be insincere nor few, and that they themselves will meet calmly and gladly that Great Shadow, waiting and looking with sure though humble hope to a better and less transient life; to a sinless and unstained world; to the meeting with long lost friends; to the rest which remaineth for the People of God.
And here, gentle reader, let us bid them all farewell.