Darkness came on thick and black. The wind howled hideously around smoke-stack and rigging. The rain came in storms, then ceased only to gather more strength for the next squall. How well the ship was standing the rough weather, Chester did not know, and certainly the other passengers had no fears, as most of them were asleep. Chester went down the companion-way, glanced into the vacant saloon and hallways, and paused at Lucy's door All was quiet, so she was no doubt asleep. His father was also resting easily. He went on deck again.
As he mounted the steps to the tipper deck, he saw a brilliant light shine from the bridge. It flashed for an instant, flooding the ship with light, then went out. "The captain is signalling," thought Chester. In five minutes the light flashed again, thus at regular intervals. The few passengers who saw this, becoming alarmed, rushed to the bridge with anxious questions. The captain met them at the foot of the stairs.
"My friends," he said in wonderfully calm tones "there is no occasion for alarm. The weather is very thick, and as we are in the path of steamers, these lights are set off as a warning." This explanation, as Chester knew, was not all the truth, but the captain did not want a panic so early in the trouble. The passengers seemed satisfied, but they lingered for some time watching the lights and the remarkable effects they had on the ship and the heaving sea. The captain touched Chester who was still standing near the steps.
"You go to bed and get some rest," he said. "You may need all your strength later. There is no danger tonight. Go to bed."
Chester took the captain's advice. He went to bed, but it was not easy to go to sleep, so he did not do this until well towards morning.
The storm was still on next morning when Chester awoke. He dressed hurriedly, listened again at Lucy's and his father's doors, but hearing nothing went on deck. The day was well advanced. The wind seemed not so strong as the night before, and the waves were not so high. However, the sea was rough enough to add to the danger of a sinking ship. Chester noticed the "list to larboard," and the "settling at the head," and found both of these dangerous conditions worse. The most careless observer would not now fail to see that something was the matter. And, in fact, as the passengers came on deck that morning, most of them late and looking bad from threatened attacks of sea-sickness, they immediately remarked on the slanting deck. Anxious enquiries from officers and seamen brought no satisfactory reply. Had there been a large number of passengers, there would likely have been an unpleasant panic that morning.
The breakfast was late, and very few of the passengers were there to partake of it. Captain Brown was in his place, greeting the few who slipped carefully into their seats. As the meal progressed and not over half of the usual company put in an appearance, the captain consulted with the second officer and the steward. Then at the close of the meal, the captain arose and said:
"My friends, I wish you to remain until we can get all who are able to join us here. I have something to say which I want all of you to hear. So please remain seated. The steward will see that no one leaves the room."
One by one the absent passengers were brought in. Thomas Strong was among them, but not Lucy, for which Chester was thankful. The steward reported that all who were able were present, and then amid a tense silence, emphasized only by the creaking of the ship and the subdued noise of the sea without, the captain said:
"I am sorry to have to tell you that the ship is in a sinking condition. There is a leak which we have been unable to stop. Two of our boilers are already useless and it is only a matter of time when the water will reach the others. I have not said anything about this until now, for I have been hoping to meet with some vessel that could take us off. So far, none has appeared. However, we are in the steamer zone, and we have many chances yet. Today sometime or tonight we must take to the boats, and what I want to impress upon you especially is that you, all of you, must control yourselves. Do not give way to excitement or fear which might hinder you from doing what is best. I tell you plainly, that the worst we have to fear on that score is the crew. They are already near to mutiny. The first officer and others are guarding their exits and keeping the stokers at their posts. They are a rough lot of men, and it will not do to let them get beyond our control. I shall, therefore, ask the help of every man present. When it comes to launching the boats, it must be done in order. There are boats enough, but there must not be any crowding. With the present rough water it will be difficult to get the boats off. It is necessary, therefore, that the greatest care be taken. Now, then, that is all. Go about quietly. Each man and woman get a life belt ready, but you need not put them on until you are told. The steward will give the order."
He ceased, turned, and hurried up the companionway. There was silence for a moment, then a woman screamed, which signaled a general uproar of cries and talk. Out of the confusion came quiet, assuring commands, and in time the little company had scattered. Chester and his father went out together, along the hallway to Lucy's room. They looked mutely at each other, not knowing what best to say.
When they stopped at Lucy's door, Chester asked of his father if she was up.
"Yes," he replied; "but she is not well. How shall we tell her the evil news?"
"We must manage it somehow, for she must know—poor little girl!"
Between them, they managed to tell Lucy of the situation they were in. During the telling, she looked at one and then at the other in a dazed way, as if she could not believe there were any actual danger. They repeated to her the assurances the captain had given.
"Can we go on deck?" asked Lucy at last. "I want to get into the air where the sky is above me."
They found a protected corner in the smoking-room where Lucy was content to sit and look out of the open door to see what was going on about the deck. Officers were inspecting the boats to see that all were ready in case of need. The work of the crew and the movements of the passengers were accompanied by a certain nervousness. That the ship was slowly settling could plainly be seen by all on board.
Towards noon, the forward hatch was opened, and soon there was a rattle of chains and clang of machinery. Then up from the hold come bales, boxes, and barrels which were unceremoniously dropped into the sea. The cargo must go. No help had yet been sighted, and if they were to remain afloat much longer, the ship would have to be lightened. "What a pity to waste so much," said some, forgetting their own peril for the moment; but human life is worth more than ships or cargos.
Very few cared to respond to the call for luncheon which the stewards bravely kept up. The women who were too frightened to go below were served on deck, being urged to eat by solicitous friends.
All afternoon the unloading went on. The ship moved slowly leaving a train of floating merchandise in its wake. On the bridge the captain or one of the officers paced back and forth with glass in hand eager to catch the call of the man in the crow's nest if he should catch sight of other vessels. But none were seen. The afternoon closed; darkness came on. Then the light burned again from the bridge and the fog-horn added its din to the dreariness.
Lucy kept to her position near the open deck. She would not go below, so wraps and pillows were brought her and she was made as comfortable as possible. Chester remained with her most of the time, the father came and went in nervous uncertainty. Captain Brown stopped long enough to tell Chester that since most of the cargo was overboard, they would float a little longer, but they were to be ready at any time now to leave the ship. The boats were provisioned, it was explained, and the passengers would be allowed to take with them only what could be carried in a small bundle. Very likely, they would not need to desert the ship before morning, so they had better rest.
But there was neither rest nor sleep that night. Chester tucked his father into a seat, placed a pillow for his head, then, seeing that Lucy was comfortable, sat down by her. She lifted the cover from her shoulders, and extended it to his. It dropped to his lap also, so thus they sat in the dim glow of the electric light. Life belts were within easy reach.
It was well past midnight when the lights went out. Then the beat, beat of the engines grew less, became fainter, and then like a great heart, ceased. The ship was dead, and lifeless it must float at the mercy of wind and wave. Then from below came the cries of men, and there were hurried steps and sharp commands on deck. Chester stepped out to see what it was. Captain Brown and the first officer stood by the entrance to the boiler rooms with gleaming revolvers in their hands, holding back an excited crowd of stokers.
"Back, every one of you!" shouted the captain. "I shall kill the first man who comes out until he is given permission."
The mass of half-naked, grimy men slunk back with curses and protestations. "The ship is sinking," they cried, "let us get out."
"Steady there now." commanded Captain Brown. "There is plenty of time. We shall let you out, but it must be done orderly. One at a time now, and go get your clothes. Then stand by, ready for orders from the engineer. Do you agree?"
"Yes, yes." They filed out one and two at a time, disappearing in the darkness. Lanterns, prepared for this emergency, flashed here and there. Chester obtained one and placed it on the table of the smoking room.
Presently the stewards could be heard running about the ship saying: "Ready for the boats, ready for the boats—Everybody on the boat deck!" The frightened passengers crowded up the steps in the half-darkness, the gleam of lanterns showing the way. Men were clearing the davits, and presently the first boat was ready to be filled.
Captain Brown was in command. He now looked out into the night, then down to the rough sea, hesitating for a moment whether or not the time had come. He did not wish to set these men and women afloat in small boats on such a sea if he could possibly help it; but a settling movement of the ship, which perhaps he only felt, decided him. He detailed six sailors to the boat that was ready, then said:
"The women first—no crowding, please—stand back you!"—this to a man whom panic had seized and who was crowding forward.
Sharp, clear, came the orders, and everyone understood. Some husbands were permitted to go with their hysterical wives. Presently, "That will do," ordered the captain. "There are plenty of boats, and there need be no overloading. Lower away."
The first boat went down and was safely floated and rowed away from the sinking ship. The sailors were busy with the second boat. Captain Brown caught sight of Chester. "Where is Mr. Strong and Lucy. This is your boat. Bring them along."
"When do you go, Captain?"
"I? On the last boat. Hurry them along, my boy."
Just as Chester turned, there came from the other side of the ship the noise of shouting, rushing men. The commands of officers were drowned in the confusion. The frantic stokers had got beyond the control of the officer, and they rushed for the boats. Davits creaked, as the boats were swung out. The crazed men pushed pell mell into them. One boat was lowered when only half full, and by the time Captain Brown reached the scene, the second boat was full, ready to be loosened.
"Hold," he commanded, as he held aloft his lantern and his revolver pointed directly at the man who held one of the ropes.
"Out of there, every one of you—out I say—you first," to a man just climbing in.
The stokers were not sailors—the riff-raff of many ports they were; and now with them it was every man for himself. This feeling without proper knowledge worked their undoing. The ropes were released, one before the other, and the loaded boat bumped down the side of the vessel, one end dropping before the other, spilling the screaming, cursing men into the water. Down the boat slid until one end touched the waves, the rope ends flying loosely so that they could not be reached by those on the deck. A wave hit the boat as it hung and swamped it.
"My God," exclaimed the captain, "two of our boats are lost. There is only one more left."
Chester Lawrence stood still and watched by the lantern's light what was going on. He pressed forward in time to hear Captain Brown's remark about the boats. Then together they crossed to the other side where that last boat hung ready to be filled. And there was need for hurry now. Slowly, but surely, the ship was sinking, and any moment might bring the final plunge.
"Load the boat," shouted the Captain, "women first." The half dozen women found places.
"Where's Lucy?" he enquired, looking around for Chester who had disappeared. Lucy was not in the boat. The Captain was sure she had not gotten away with the first boat. Chester would bring her.
"Now, fill in," was the order. "Mr. Strong, where are you? Is Mr. Strong here?" But he was not to be found.
One by one the few remaining passengers took their places, then the crew.
"Is there room for more?" asked the Captain of the officer in the boat.
"I fear not, sir," came the reply.
"Some of the men get under the seats," ordered the Captain. "Now, then in with you men. Don't go yet. There is yet a woman aboard. Hold fast there, officer, until I find her." He rushed down the stairs with his lantern, calling for Chester. "Where are you—for God's sake come quick!"
"Here I am sir," replied Chester as he came nearly carrying his father.
"Where is Lucy?"
"Lucy is not coming, sir. She does not need to—she has gone already—she—"
"What? What is it? We need to hurry, my boy!"
"Lucy is dead!"
"Dead!—Bring Mr. Strong along. The boat is waiting."
The boat hung by its davits, ready for lowering.
"We are full," said the officer, "and the deck is cleared. There is need for hurry, sir."
"There is," replied Captain Brown. "Make room for two more."
"We can't do it sir—not in this sea—we are overcrowded now."
"You must—close up, lie down, make room."
One of the officers offered to get out, then another did the same, but the captain would not hear. "No," he said, "you men have families."
Still the boat hung there in the darkness. What could be done? The waves rolled beneath, the wind moaned in the rigging.
"We might risk one more, sir," came from the boat.
The captain looked at Chester, big, strong, full of youth, and then at the slender, gray-haired man. What a pity, and yet he knew the younger man would have to remain. That is the law of the sea.
"I'll not go," said the father. "You go, Chester."
"No, no; we'll manage somehow; but you must take the chance. Here, help him in."
Captain Brown stood by with lifted lantern. He did not dictate which of the two should go. He had no need of that. He saw Chester lift the old man in his arms, hold him for an instant close to him, kiss him and murmur, "Goodby father, and God bless and preserve you"—then he handed him over to outstretched hands in the boat.
Captain Brown and Chester Lawrence stood by the railing and watched the boat lowered. Then when they knew it was safely riding the waves, they turned to each other.
"Where is your life-belt?" asked the Captain. "Get it, and put it on."
"Is there a chance?"
"There is always a chance. Come. We shall go together, one way or another—the way God wills."
They walked along the slanting deck down to where Lucy lay on the couch in the smoking room. Chester did not notice the life-belt on the table, but he lifted a lantern to Lucy's face, kneeled by it, and kissed it tenderly. "Lucy," he said, "my sweetheart, where are you? Don't you want me to come too?" He stroked the still face, and smoothed back the hair as he was wont. "Aren't you afraid in that new world to which you have gone—aren't you as lonesome as—I am? O Lucy, Lucy!"
"Come put on this belt," said the captain, touching him on the shoulder.
"I'm coming with you, Lucy," continued the young man. "Nothing shall part us—as I have told you—we two,—O, my God, what can I do?"
The captain led Chester away from the dead, out to the open deck, and buckled around him a life-belt. "Wait here" said the officer. "There is a chance—I'm going to see. I'll be back in a minute."
Chester was alone, and in those few minutes the wonderful panorama of life passed before him. He lived in periods, each period ending with Lucy Strong. His boyhood, and his awakening to the world about him—then Lucy; his schooldays, with boys and girls—out from them came Lucy; his early manhood, his forming ideals—completed in Lucy; his experiences in the West, and at Piney Ridge Cottage, and then came, not Julia, but Lucy; then the gospel with its new light and assurance of salvation; and this coupled with Lucy, her faith and love, burned as a sweet incense in the soul of Chester Lawrence. Fear left him now. He heard sounds as if they were songs from distant angel-choirs. Words of comfort and strength were whispered to his heart: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art near me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me...." Eternity! Why, an immortal soul is always in eternity; and God is always at hand in life or in death.... Death! what is it but the passing to the other side of a curtain, where our loved ones are waiting to meet and greet us!
Chester stepped back to Lucy. It was dark where she lay, but he passed his hand over her form to her face, touching tenderly her cheek and closed eyes. The flesh was not yet cold, but he felt that the soul whom he had come to know as Lucy Strong was not there.
Captain Brown called through the darkness. Chester groped into the open again. Was that the captain's figure on the bridge, looming black against the faint light in the eastern sky? If it was, Chester was in no condition to know, for just then there came a great sinking. A roar of waters sounded in his ears, there was a struggle, a moment of agony, and then the darkness of oblivion.
When he awoke again, he had passed over the storm-whipped bar into still waters. There Lucy met him, and together they sailed, guided by the unerring Light of God into the Harbor of Eternal Peace and Rest.
Thomas Strong was a guest at Piney Ridge Cottage. It had taken him a full year to get over the effects of that dreadful sea disaster wherein a son, a daughter, and a dear friend had been lost, and to finally make his way westward to the people to whom both son and daughter had belonged. He had arrived during apple-blossom time, and the white-haired, sad-faced man who seemed to have had all mortality burned from him by fiery trials, was kindly received by Mr. Elston, his daughter Julia and her husband, Bishop Glen Curtis. These listened to his strange story, and were profoundly moved by its tragic ending. They urged him to remain with them, Julia giving him the room on the attic floor which previously was hers. He was grateful for all these kindnesses, saying he would be pleased to visit with them for a time.
Out under the apple trees in the growing orchard Hugh Elston made for their guest a seat, where during the day he would sit as one alone, listening and waiting here in this spot away from the noise and traffic of the world for a final message which the God of the Universe might send him. As far as his strength would allow, he liked to walk along the country roads, which now extended for many miles from Piney Ridge, and chat with the neighbors about the country and its prospects. He also made some minor excursions up the hillsides, but in this direction he could not go far. Frequently he stopped to rest by the enclosed graves, where he sat on the grass, and with hands on cane, looked wonderingly at the two graves, side by side.
But whispered messages from out the blue or storms of heaven did not come to this man. Neither were there angels sent to tell him what to do; but the Lord had one more thing—simple indeed—to bear upon the reluctant heart of Thomas Strong.
In the little attic room which Julia had turned over to her guest were many books, papers, and magazines. She had told him that everything in the room was at his service, and so the visitor made good use of the kind offer. One day he found a small book which had the name Anna Lawrence—Chester's mother—written on the fly-leaf. Curiously turning over the pages of the volume, which was simply a school book of the kind he remembered in his youth, he found between the leaves an old letter. He unfolded the deeply creased sheets, looked at the strange handwriting, saw that it was dated thirty years ago, and addressed to "Miss Anna Lawrence" and signed by a name unknown to him. There could no harm come from reading this message from the past, so he drew his chair up to the window, and read:
"Dear Friend Anna:
"It is three months now since I left home for this mission, and not having heard anything yet from you, I thought a few lines from me might help you get started in the letter-writing direction. I am enjoying my mission very much, which perhaps you cannot understand, but it is true, nevertheless. I came to this place yesterday and have already delivered some tracts. Most of the people are against us, specially is this the case with preachers. They get after us roughly. My companion isn't as old as I am, and goodness knows, I'm young and green enough; but we're both studying hard, and the Lord is with us, which, after all, is our chief concern.
"I hope you are getting along at school. Do you remember the fun we had last vacation? I heard that our friend Sue is about to be married, but I suppose you know all about that.
"But I must tell you about something that happened to us before coming here. It was in a place not far from Chicago, and my companion and I were tracting as usual. I took one side of the street and he took the other. Well, along about noon when it was time we should quit, my companion didn't make his appearance. I waited a long time, then crossed the street to look for him. The weather was warm and people were mostly out of doors in the shade. I heard what sounded like a big discussion on a porch behind some vines. I went up, and sure enough, there was my companion and another young fellow having it out in great shape. The young man sat in his shirt sleeves on a table, and the way he was giving it to that poor friend of mine was a caution. I learned that the young fellow was studying for the ministry, and because of that, he considered himself just the person to give it good and hard to a 'Mormon' missionary.
"Well, the fellow sat there on the table, his legs swinging as if he didn't care a—rap. There was a Bible and some other books on the table, but they had got beyond the use of books. The young fellow ridiculed the Prophet, poked fun at his revelations, and said the 'Mormons' were a bad lot altogether. Said they deserved to be driven from decent society into the desert as they had been. He kept it up like that, and then he said something odd. 'I wouldn't have your religion at any price,' he said. 'Get out with you.'
"My companion sat there, not saying a word. I saw the tears come into his eyes. He wiped them away hurriedly. Then his face became pale, and it seemed to me that a light actually shone from it. As I told you, he is just a boy, and as I looked on him then, I thought of the boy prophet, and what my father has told me so often about him. Well, when the fellow got through with his abuse, and jumped from the table as if we were dismissed, my companion arose and in a voice wonderfully gentle yet vibrant with power, said:
"'Yes, we will go, but not before I tell you this: You know not what you say, therefore, you are forgiven, as far as I am concerned. My parents were driven from this state. All they had was destroyed by mobs. My mother died on the plains and her body lies there to this day. All that mortal man can suffer and live my people have suffered, and all for the sake of the truth, the gospel that I have brought to you this day, and which you so scornfully reject. And now I tell you in the name of the Lord, some day you will receive this gospel—but not until you have paid for it, and paid for it dearly. Like the merchantman in the parable, all that you have will you pay for this Pearl of Great Price! Good day, sir.'
"We both left him standing somewhat dazed, but I tell you—"
The letter dropped to Thomas Strong's knee, as he looked up and out at the closing day. He arose, went to the glass door which opened on to the little porch, stepped out into the air that he might breathe easier. What he saw was not Old Thunder Mountain, or the wide extent of the Flat, dim now in the twilight, but a vine-enclosed porch and the pale, peculiar face of a boy telling him the words he had just read. * * * * There had been other boy prophets besides the first great one; and yes, oh Great God, one old, broken man had paid the price.
The vines on the upper porch of Piney Ridge Cottage now also formed a cover, and in their shadow Thomas Strong kneeled and prayed as he had never prayed before.
An hour later, Julia, wondering what their guest was doing in his room so long without a light, called to him softly at the foot of the stairs.
"Yes," he replied, as if he did not realize for the moment who was calling, "I'm coming—I'm coming now."
The first Sunday in the month was Fast Day at Piney Ridge the same as in all wards of the Church. The Bishop had some visiting to do that morning so he did not get to Sunday School; but he returned about eleven o'clock and found the horses hitched to the white-top buggy ready to take all the household to meeting.
"Are we all ready?" he asked as he came into the house.
"Just about," replied his wife who was putting the finishing touches to the baby's bonnet. "Here, hold him." She placed the baby in Glen's arms. The father somewhat awkwardly tossed him up and down.
"Now be careful," admonished the mother, "don't muss his clothes up like that. Today is his first public appearance, you know."
"Your coming out, eh?" he asked of the baby. "Well, we'll have to be good, won't we."
This was in the front room. Thomas Strong sat, hat in hand, ready, while he smiled at the bear-like antics of the happy father with his first baby. Then when the mother came in with hat on, the old man arose slowly, went to the organ and looked at a photograph of Chester Lawrence, which had recently been framed and now held the place of honor on the organ. The Bishop, seeing the movement, lifted the baby to the picture.
"I believe there is a resemblance," he remarked. The old man only smiled.
Hugh Elston now drove up to the door. The young mother climbed into the front seat, and then was given the baby. Grandpa Elston took a back seat by Thomas Strong, while the Bishop sat by his wife to drive. Then they were off.
"Did I tell you," said Mr. Strong to his companion, "that I got a letter from my brother last evening?"
"No; you did not."
"Well, he's been recently to London and visiting with Elder Malby. It seems he can't keep away from that man, and I must say Elder Malby is a wonder. Such a spirit he has with him—"
"The missionary spirit, Brother Strong—the spirit of the Lord."
"Yes, yes," mused the man—"strange—and he but a hard-working farmer—I wouldn't be surprised if Brother Gilbert came to America and out west here. He intimated as much in his letter. Poor brother, he also has suffered."
"If he comes, give him our invitation to visit with us."
"Thank you, that I shall."
"Perhaps he will accompany Elder Malby when he is released."
"Invite them both," said the other. "We shall all like to see them very much."
There was a brief silence, as the horses trotted along. Thomas Strong's gaze roved across the Flat to the mountains, then rested again on his companion. Presently, he said:
"Brother Elston, the other day you were speaking of vicarious work for the dead, 'temple work' you called it. I understand the doctrine of baptism for the dead, but some other things are not quite plain—for instance, having the dead married, made husband and wife, which they would have been had they lived and had the chance—well, you understand."
Yes; Hugh Elston understood, and made his explanations to his companion, who listened attentively and exclaimed at its close:
"I am so glad—for Chester's and Lucy's sake—so glad!"
In good time they arrived at the meeting house. The Bishop busied himself with the business before him. The good people of the ward came in, exchanged the usual greetings, then found seats. There were flowers on the sacrament table as usual, and the meeting house looked sweet and clean—a fit place in which to worship the Lord.
The opening hymn in which the congregation joined was:
"God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform; He plants his footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm."
At the close of the song, Thomas Strong nodded his head and whispered, "Amen."
Then after prayer and the sacrament, the Bishop announced, "All mothers who have babies to be blessed will please bring them forward, and all who were baptized yesterday will kindly take their places on the front seat."
Julia, with rosy face, bore her baby to the front, followed by another mother with less timidity. A little girl tip-toed along the aisle, and a boy, "just turned eight" trod heavily forward. Then Thomas Strong also arose, and silently took his place on the front seat alongside the mothers with the babies and the children.
The sun shone through the uncurtained window and lay as a broad strip of light along the front seat. The little boy was nervously twitching his feet, the little girl's hands were folded serenely, the babies cooed. The white-haired man sat with the children, now one with them and of them in very deed. His face was as a child's, as was indeed his heart. The meeting was still, silenced by the strange, solemn occasion. Then the Bishop, assisted by his counselors and Patriarch Hugh Elston laid their hands on the three who had been baptized in water for the remission of sins and now bestowed on them the Holy Ghost. Then the officiating Elders came to the mothers.
"Brother Elston," said the Bishop, "bless the baby."
Hugh Elston took Julia's baby into his arms, where he lay cooing into the men's faces as they gathered around. The Patriarch, in slow, carefully chosen words, gave the babe its name and a blessing:
"Chester Lawrence—for this is the name by which you shall be known among the children of men—"
There was a moment's pause in the blessing. Thomas Strong glanced up to the men, then looked at Julia in surprise.
"Oh," said he softly, "my boy's name shall live—Thank God."