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A FINAL SURRENDER.
James Grey waited at home in anxious suspense to hear from Hugh Trimble. He felt that it would not be prudent to seek him out, lest suspicion attach to himself, in case his nephew had been murdered. From time to time he realized the risk he had run, and wished he had never entered into a conspiracy against Gilbert's life.
Twenty-four hours passed, and still Hugh Trimble did not appear to claim the thousand dollars promised him for the crime he had consented to perpetrate. James Grey began to grow nervous. His nervousness increased when another day passed and still no tidings.
On the third day he was about to set out for the woods, in defiance of prudence, bent on terminating his suspense, when he received a letter post-marked St. Louis. It was addressed in a strange hand. He opened it curiously, but, as he read it, he turned pallid, and, when he had mastered its contents, he sank into a chair, overcome.
This was the letter:
"St. Louis, October —, 185—.
"Mr. James Grey: I write you as the attorney of Gilbert Grey, claiming to be the son of your deceased elder brother, and as such entitled to the large property of which you took possession at your brother's death, and which you still hold, to his prejudice. He is prepared to prove his identity by the written death-bed confession of the clerk whom you employed to abduct him, the genuineness of which document he is also in a condition to prove. It will not be necessary to go into further particulars, since he tells me that he has already conferred with you freely on the subject, and put you in possession of all that he is able to prove.
"He is also prepared to show that you so far recognized the strength of his claim, that in Cincinnati you endeavored to destroy the written confession alluded to, and that on a later occasion you entered into a conspiracy with one Hugh Trimble to murder him, promising the said Trimble one thousand dollars for so doing. To this Hugh Trimble is ready to swear, having repented his wicked compact, and enlisted himself on the side of my client. Though we feel that exposure and punishment for this wicked plot should justly be visited upon you, we agree to keep it secret provided you interpose no obstacle to the immediate surrender to my client of the property at present unjustly withheld from him. It is desirable that you come to St. Louis at once, and settle this matter.
When James Grey reached the conclusion of this letter he realized that his plot had completely failed. His tool had turned against him, and he was in the power of his nephew. There was but one answer to make to this proposition. He dared not refuse it!
He started immediately for St. Louis, and wended his way to the lawyer's office. He feared he should find his nephew there, but was relieved to find himself alone with Mr. Bates.
"To what decision have you come, Mr. Grey?" asked the lawyer.
"What terms do you offer?"
"Silence, provided you surrender the estate at once."
"It will render me penniless."
"At what do you estimate the value of the estate?"
"One hundred and fifty thousand dollars."
"This is about the figure at which my client estimated it. I am authorized by him to offer you ten thousand dollars in hand, and an annual income of two thousand dollars upon the acknowledgment without delay of the rightfulness of his claim."
It was more than Mr. Grey hoped for. He judged his nephew by himself, and doubted, especially after his attempt upon his life, whether he would not leave him to the bitterness of utter poverty.
"I accept the terms," he said, briefly.
"Then the proper papers shall be made out at once."
Now that Mr. Grey offered no further opposition, there was no further cause of delay. An hour later, Gilbert had in his possession the legal document which restored him to his rights, and made him a rich man.
His uncle received in exchange a paper, assuring to him the provision which Gilbert had generously made. Armed with this, he went home without seeing his nephew.
He was ashamed to face the lad whom he had so basely defrauded, and still more basely sought to slay.
When Jasper, to whom he had said nothing of the motive of his journey, met him, he at once detected the trouble in his father's manner.
"What is the matter, father?" he inquired.
"All is lost, Jasper," said his father.
"What do you mean?"
"Gilbert has triumphed, and I am a comparative beggar."
"Then what is to become of me?" demanded Jasper, thunder-struck.
"Always yourself!" repeated his father, bitterly. "You have no feeling for me. All your anxiety is for yourself."
"I never pretended to be an affectionate son," said Jasper, coolly. "It's my belief that you've mismanaged this matter somewhat. You'd better have left it in my hands."
"I did the best I could, but Gilbert is sharp and no baby. You might know that from the way in which he tamed Bucephalus."
"I wish the brute had broken his neck."
"I don't know," said James Grey, slowly. "I believe Heaven is on his side, and we can't fight against Heaven."
"Perhaps you are content to be a beggar. I am not."
"We are not beggars. Your cousin leaves us ten thousand dollars, and assures us an annual income of two thousand dollars."
"That is not bad," said Jasper, with a sigh of relief. "I hope you don't mean to stay in this dull hole."
"No, it would be disagreeable. When money matters are fairly settled, I propose that we shall leave the country, and settle in Europe."
Jasper's eyes sparkled.
"The most sensible thing you could decide upon, father. It isn't so bad after all. We can live comfortably on our income abroad."
"Not as we have done."
"I don't care. I shall get out of this hole, and this life."
A month later Jasper and his father sailed for Europe. They are still living there—not happily, for Jasper is not a model son, and his ingratitude and want of ordinary feeling, affect his father the more that he is thrown upon his society chiefly for companionship.
When Gilbert had settled his affairs he removed to Cincinnati. He was received with a warm welcome by Mr. Ferguson, who heartily rejoiced in his success. Maurice Walton was filled with envy and disappointment. His rival had been lifted so far above him that there could be no longer rivalry. Gilbert was a young man of fortune, while he was a poor clerk on a small salary. The worst of it was, that there was no hope now of winning Bessie Benton. But, had Maurice been wiser, he might have seen long ago that he had no hope there. Bessie knew him too well, and though she felt a friendly interest in his welfare there was no chance of any warmer feeling. She had a partiality for Gilbert, while he was still poor. As years passed it became further developed, and I am sure my readers will not be surprised to learn that she now writes her name Bessie Grey.
But I have not yet done with my hero. As may be supposed he resigned his clerkship in Mr. Ferguson's establishment, generously asking that Maurice be appointed his successor, and privately agreeing that if Mr. Ferguson would pay him the same salary he had himself received, he would make up any part that he might not earn. But I am glad to say that Maurice turned over a new leaf, and stimulated by the double pay now received, became so much more efficient that Gilbert was not called upon to make good any deficiency. As for Gilbert himself, at the suggestion of Mordaunt, his roommate, he decided to study law, entering the office of the latter, now in successful practice. In due time he was admitted to the bar. He spent a year in Cincinnati, but was led then to remove to Wisconsin, Bessie Benton accompanying him as his wife. Here he soon began to win reputation, and at this moment he holds a position of high official trust in his adopted State.
We take leave of "Tom, the Bootblack," trusting that the record of his struggles and final success may inspire all boys who read it to emulate him in bold and manly effort.
THE BURIED TREASURE.
Davie Cameron was only a poor peasant, and the cottage or sheiling where he dwelt was a humble one, even for that wild Scottish valley; but though he had a small habitation, and was poor in worldly goods, he had a large heart, and was rich in that contentment which is better than gold. He often averred that he envied not the king on his throne, though, considering what very poor luck the Scottish monarchs have had, you may think that wasn't saying much.
Davie was gardener to the Laird of Lanarkville, just as his father had been gardener to a former Laird of Lanarkville, and his grandfather to one still more remote.
If the testimony of Davie's old grandmother was to be trusted, the ancient glories of the house of Lanark had dwindled away from generation to generation, so that nowadays there was nothing to be compared with the splendors she had seen when she was a lassie. She was greatly scandalized because the present laird not only superintended the affairs of his estate, but had even been known to labor with his own hands.
"His forbears wad hae scorned to do the like," she would exclaim, adding, with a mysterious shake of the head, "but gin the young laird had a' that belanged to him, he wad na need to dicker and delve like ane o' his ain sarvants, forsooth!"
The story which lay concealed in these words was this:
In the year 1745, when the then existing laird forsook his home to follow the fortunes of Prince Charles Edward—for he was a staunch Jacobite—he enclosed his treasure in an iron box and buried it in the earth. The sole witness and aid to this transaction was his faithful follower, Hugh Cameron.
At the battle of Culloden Lanark was killed, and Hugh received a wound which proved mortal. Before he died he confided the secret of the buried treasure to his younger brother, Archie, and would fain have directed him to its hiding-place, but when he had uttered the words "under the Rowan tree in" ——, his spirit departed, and the sentence was left forever unfinished.
Years passed before Archie returned again to his home, and when he did return there Lanark estate had been partially laid waste by English soldiers. Rowan trees there were in plenty, but some had newly sprung up, and many old ones had been laid low, so that where in all those broad lands the iron box lay concealed, it was impossible to determine.
Diligent search was made for it, from time to time, but without success; and when that generation had passed away the tradition came to be regarded as doubtful, if not fabulous.
But old Mrs. Cameron, who, although not born at the time of the battle of Culloden, had heard the story in her childhood from her grandfather, who was no other than Archie himself, believed it as she believed the truths of Holy Writ.
But then the "auld gudewife" believed in many other things which her posterity had grown wise enough to reject,—such as wraiths, witches, spunkies, and the like; and if rallied on the subject she would reply, indignantly, "And did na I my ain sel', see the fairies dancing in the briken-shaw, one Halloween?"
Moreover, Mrs. Cameron held fast to the Jacobite principles of her ancestors, for one of whom she claimed the honor of having once sheltered the young chevalier in the days of his perilous and weary wanderings. In acknowledgment of the act the prince had given him a gold buckle from his hat, and promised to bestow upon him the order of knighthood, whenever he should come to the throne. The order, of course, was never received, but the buckle was still carefully preserved.
So Davie gave no more heed to her family traditions and wild border tales than to her stories of witches and fairies, but just classed them all together, and when she said to him, as he was going to his daily labor on the laird's land,—
"Ah, Davie, but there's a mickle treasure hid there, and wha kens but you'll be the lucky finder?" he replied, with a laugh,—
"Nae doubt, nae doubt, a mickle treasure o' kale and potatoes, and who so likely to find it as the laird's gardener?" and then he shouldered his spade and went off whistling:
"Contented wi' little, and canty wi' mair."
But one day, long to be remembered, as he was hard at work, without a thought of grandmother and her legends, his spade struck against something hard, which proved to be the root of a tree.
"You're an auld tenant, but ye'll have to quit," quoth Davie, tugging away manfully at the offender.
It obstinately refused to yield, and, laying open the earth with his spade, he discovered that it had twined itself again and again round some object which he at first supposed to be a stone. A closer examination, however, showed that it was not a stone, but a rusty iron box!
Then the dying words of Hugh Cameron rushed to Davie's mind, and he had no difficulty in completing the sentence which death had cut short, "Under the Rowan tree in—the garden!"
That it had stood there—the only tree of its kind—in the days of the rebellion, was afterwards shown by consulting an old plan of the estate.
Davie's first impulse was to summon a witness to the spot, but remembering that the laird had gone to Edinburgh for a few days, he changed his mind, and decided to impart the secret to no one till he came back. To leave the box where it was, or anywhere else on the premises, would be the same thing as to proclaim his discovery, as the servants would be sure to find it; so he concluded to take it home and conceal it in his own barn.
Now Davie was an honest man—at least he had always supposed himself to be—and if you, or I, or another, had insinuated aught to the contrary, he would have been highly indignant. And yet it is a fact that as he went out of the garden with the chest on his wheelbarrow along with the garden tools, the whole carefully concealed with oat straw, he felt like a thief!
Meeting some of his cronies, with whom at ordinary times he would have held a jolly crack, he now hurried by with a mere "Gude-e'en, neebor," and when he saw the minister coming that way he crossed the road rather than speak to the godly man.
As he turned into the lane which led to his own cottage, little Jamie, who had been on the watch for him, came running out to beg for a ride on the wheelbarrow; and instead of catching him in his arms for a kiss, as was his wont, he angrily bade him "gang hame to his mither."
The disappointed child looked up in his father's face, and then, without saying a word, but sobbing bitterly, trotted back to the house.
There was in the barn a closet where Davie kept his garden tools, and which was seldom entered by any one save himself. There he deposited the chest, which had already begun to exercise a baleful influence, and which was destined to work him still further woe.
He had intended—or he had made himself believe that he intended—to restore the box to its owner without opening it; but now that it was in his own possession, he felt an almost irresistible desire to see what it contained.
"Belike it's nae treasure, after a'," said he to himself; "but only some auld trash not worth a groat."
With that he placed his hand on the lid and shook it gently, scarcely dreaming that it would yield without hammer and chisel; but both the rust-eaten lock and hinges gave way at once, and the cover fell to the floor with a startling crash.
Enclosed within the box were the gold and silver plate of the Lanark family.
Forth from their long burial they came to glitter once more in the sunlight, though the eyes that looked upon them last were years since closed upon all earthly scenes, and the soul of him who placed them there had gone, let us trust, to find a better treasure, where neither moth nor rust corrupts, nor thieves break through and steal.
From the time that Davie Cameron found the buried treasure he was a changed man. He who was once so genial and light-hearted was now moody and sullen. Once home had been to him the pleasantest spot in all the world; but burdened with a consciousness of guilt, he could not bear to look in the faces of his unsuspecting family, and by degrees he fell into the habit of passing his evenings at the ale-house.
At first he took no part in the carousals of the place; but in the nature of things this could not last, and in the end he became as reckless and as riotous as any of his companions.
It was thus he formed an intimacy with Andy Ferguson. That he was a wild and dissipated young man was well known, and much was darkly hinted, which never came to light.
This man soon discovered that Davie had something on his mind, and taking advantage of the confiding mood produced by liberal libations of Scotch whiskey and strong beer, he succeeded in drawing the secret from him. He at once proposed that they should dispose of the treasure and divide the proceeds, ridiculing the scruples and laughing at the fears of his more timid companion. He avowed his readiness to take all the risk, and threatened, if he were thwarted in his plans, to make the matter public.
So Davie, feeling that he was fairly caught within the toils, yielded. But though tempted, weak and erring, he was not hardened, and the thought of the crime he was about to commit weighed heavily on his spirits. He became more irritable than ever, and when his wife asked, in her cheery way:
"What ails ye, Davie? Prithee, why sae doure, gude man?" he answered, fretfully:
"Whisht, woman, and dinna fash me wi' questions."
But one there was whose presence and whose playful ways never seemed to vex him, and that was his pet bairn, Nannie, his wee lammie, as he often called her.
Nannie had been well taught in books, as the Scottish peasantry, unlike the same class in Ireland, usually are. She was regularly seen in her place at kirk, and knew the Assembly's Catechism by heart. She could repeat whole chapters from the Bible, and, better still, had ever ordered her simple life according to its precepts. In addition to all these merits, she had a sweet, innocent face, a guileless, loving heart, and was named by the youth of the neighborhood the Bonnie Shepherdess.
It is needless to say that Nannie had many admirers. Among others, Andy Ferguson had not failed to notice her beauty and winning ways.
He had sometimes given her a bunch of flowers, or assisted her in finding a stray lamb, attentions which she had received with sweetness and modesty, as she would have accepted the same from any other of the shepherd lads. But of love he never spoke or hinted, until one summer evening he joined her as she was driving home her sheep to the fold.
After addressing to her all the pretty, flattering things, which, I am told, are common on such occasions, he plainly asked her to be his wife.
"I'm but a wee lassie, ower young to think o' wedding this mony a day," she replied.
"And so ye might be, gin I were a feckless laddie, like Rob Ainslee, or Tam o' the Glen; but I hae riches, ye ken. Ye'll never need to fash yoursel' wi' wark, but just sing like the lane-rock, fra morn till e'en."
"Little care I for your riches," said Nannie, who, for reasons of her own, was vexed at this allusion to Rob Ainslee. "Does na the Scripture say a gude name is better to be chosen than gold?"
"And wha says aught against my gude name?" exclaimed he, with lowering brow.
"Andy Ferguson," said Nannie, pausing and looking him in the face, "it grieves me to gi' you or ony creature pain; but ye maun speak to me nae mair o' love or marriage—no, never. Ye maun gang your ain gait an' leave me to gae mine. As to your gude name, does na everybody ken—an' sorry I am to say it—where your evenings are spent, and what sort o' company ye keep?"
At this Andy laughed a loud, scornful laugh. "Nae doubt everybody kens that for the maist part my evenings are spent at the 'Twa Dogs'; and as to the company there, there is nae sae frequent guest as your honored father."
"And wha led him into sic ways but your ain sel'? Weel does the Bible say a man canna touch pitch and not be defiled therewith."
"Just to hear her quote Scripture! Ane wad tak her for the minister, or a holy elder, at least. But leuk you here, lassie, say it was I that put the cup to my neebor's lips, for you see I can quote Scripture, too. Wha was it taught him to be a thief?"
"Gang awa, Andy Ferguson, awa, for I will na listen to sic words anent my ain dear father. Awa, I say," she repeated, waving her little hand, as he seemed inclined to follow her.
"Sin' ye will na believe me, gae ask him what he has done wi' the laird's siller and gowd. Just speir him that," called Andy after her, and then he strode away down the glen.
She hastened on, and leaving her few sheep to wander at their will, she sought her father. She found him sitting on a knoll behind the byre, leaning his head on his hands. Throwing herself on the grass beside him, she told him of her interview with Andy, his offer of marriage and her refusal.
"I hope ye did na anger him," said he, hastily.
"Why, father, what ill can his anger do us? Ye wad na ha'e me marry a ne'er-do-weel, like Andy. And, father, I ha'e na told ye all. He called ye a thief, father, a thief. I knew it was a lee, a wicked lee. Dinna think your little Nannie believed it. And then he bade me speir what ye had done wi' the laird's siller and gowd."
To her great grief and surprise, her father sunk his face in his hands again with a low groan, but answered not a word.
"Winna ye speak to me and tell me what it a' means?" said she, twining her arms over his shoulder.
"Sin' ye maun know, then, it is true; a' true that he tauld ye. O, my bonnie bairn!" said he, in a tone of ineffable sadness. And then he told her how he had found the treasure, and of the sinful compact he had made with Andy.
"But ye ha'e kept it a' safe, dear father?" cried Nannie, joyfully.
"A' safe. I ha'e not sae much as ta'en it frae the box."
"Then there is naught to do but take it back to the laird and tell him here is his treasure, safe and sound."
"And then he'll speir me how I came by it, and wherefore I kept it sae lang, and a' about it. And then, belike, he'll shut me up in prison. O, lassie, ye dinna think what ye're saying. Could ye bear to see your puir father shut up in a prison? Could ye ever hold up your head again for the shame o't?"
"Better, far better be innocent and in prison, than guilty and go free. O, for my sake, for your wee lammie's sake, take back the laird's siller and gowd."
"Or, if he should na imprison me," he continued, "he will take frae me the place that has been mine, and my father's, and my grandfather's afore me. I shall na ha'e where to lay my head, na shelter for you, my bairn, an' Davie Cameron's name will be cast out as evil. Ha'e ye weel considered a' that, Nannie?"
"The future nane can foresee," replied she; "but this I know, that it is always safe to do the thing that is right. Then will the gude God care for us as He cares for the wee birdie that is lilting sae sweetly on yonder thorn. And of this be certain, dear father, that come honor or shame, come weal, come woe, your little Nannie will cleave to you as long as life shall last."
"Then, my blessed bairn, it shall be as you say." And even as Davie uttered these words, the clouds lifted. All the misery and uncertainty were gone, to be succeeded by calmness and resolution.
Rising up from the ground, he paused only for a kiss from Nannie, and went without delay to restore the chest to its rightful owner.
Simply and truthfully he told his story from first to last; adding, "And now I ha'e brought back wi' me the treasure I wrangfully took. Do wi' me as ye list."
The laird was overjoyed to recover this ancient and valuable family relic, and instead of greeting Davie with anger and threats of punishment, as he had expected, came near overwhelming him with gratitude, addressing him as "my good man."
"But ye dinna understand," said the bewildered Davie. "I ha'e na been gude. I e'en had it in my heart to be a thief, a wicked, pawkie thief."
"What you intended to do matters less to me than what you have really done," answered the good-natured laird.
"Are ye na going to put me in prison, or turn me out o' my place?"
"On the contrary, I am going to reward you for the service you have rendered."
"That maun na be," cried Davie, drawing back. "Dinna ask me. I seek na reward but to feel that I can once mair look my fellow-creatures in the face, an honest man. An' the story o' what I ha'e suffered shall aye be a warning to me, and to my bairns after me, to flee frae temptation."
A happy circle was that which gathered round Davie's ingle that night, the ingle from which the ale-house never again had power to allure him.
Jean, the gudewife, with her sewing in her hand, and the old gray cat at her feet, shall be the central figure. Grandmother sits on one side of the fireplace, spinning flax—ever and anon bursting out into some old Jacobite song—and Davie himself in the arm-chair, on the other side, with Jamie on his knee. On a low seat close by him is Nannie—now looking into her father's face, and now glancing beyond—for there sits Robbie Ainslee.
And so we drop the curtain.
LLOYD'S FIRE ON THE BEACH.
Lloyd and Jem were squatted up among the rocks, watching a vessel out to sea.
It was a cold evening,—Christmas eve,—the night coming on fast. No vessel had any business to be out there among the breakers, running in straight on the bar; that is, if any man aboard of her knew what he was about.
So Lloyd and Jem said, at least, and they had a right to know, as they had been born and bred on that bit of rocky island, and knew every foot of the sea within a mile, as well as they knew their own crab-boats and drag-nets.
The vessel was a small schooner, such as ran down to the island from town in summer with flour, and took back crabs and fish.
"But what can she want now?" said Jem.
"She don't know the coast," said Lloyd. "She'll be on the rocks in an hour, if she don't tack."
Jem went to school over on the mainland in winter. There was no need for him to work so hard, either. The money he made by gunning or fishing he spent for tops and kites. But Lloyd's mother, Mrs. Wells, who lived in a little brown cottage back of the rocks, was not able to keep him and herself without his help. For two or three years he had worked as hard as any man on the island. There had been another son of Mrs. Wells, older than Lloyd, a young man called John. But he had been mate on the Swallow, that was wrecked on the Irish coast four years ago, when all the crew were lost—never heard of again.
So there was nobody left but Lloyd. In winter, when there was no fishing, he whittled crosses and paper-knives out of the cedars, trimming them with lichen, and sent them over to town for sale.
In the evenings he would go out for a run and whiff of fresh air. He and Jem were cruising about when they spied the schooner.
They sat quite still a good while, watching her beating about, going out to the open sea, and then turning as often, and heading toward the coast on which they sat.
"It's plain that she's trying to make this island," said Jem.
"Yes, sir. She'll go to pieces if she tries it," answered Lloyd, taking off his cap and putting it on again, emphatically. "Yes, sir; she'll go to pieces."
"If there was anybody aboard that knew of Cook's Crack!"
"How could anybody aboard that schooner know of Cook's Crack?" said Lloyd, contemptuously.
"That's so. How could they? Sure enough."
Then the boys blew on their fingers to keep them warm, and hustled in closer under the rocks, clasping their hands about their knees.
Now, to make you town boys understand, I must tell you that the schooners in summer landed at the village, which was a couple of miles from the point where the boys were. The shore off from where they sat was full of hidden rocks and sand bars running out under the froth and swirl of the waves, against which no ship could run without having her bottom ripped up.
But through these rocks there was one narrow opening, through which the sea ran clear and deep, making a safe channel to the shore. This was Cook's Crack. Very few of the fishermen knew of it. It was not likely, therefore, that anybody on board of the schooner would be able to pilot her through it.
"She's bound to run ashore," said Jem. "What'll we do, Lloyd?"
All the boys asked Lloyd what to do whenever there was any trouble. He did not answer at once, being busy considering.
"Go down to the village, Jem, and let some of the men go out with a boat to them!"
"That will be too late to do any good. It will be dark before I reach the village, and there's no moon. Nobody could go out after night in that sea. Besides, she's putting in so fast, she'll be on the rocks in half an hour."
"Do you go to the village, Jem!" said Lloyd, quietly. He was in dreadful doubt himself as to whether he was right. But a captain, he knew, never should let his crew see that he was in doubt; and Lloyd knew he must be captain in this case. Jem had legs to run and a tongue to give a message, but he had no head to plan or execute.
"All right!" said Jem, good-naturedly. "I'm off."
When he was gone on the full run, Lloyd stood thinking. There were no men nearer than the village. Whatever he did, he must do alone. He was tired of acting a man's part and doing a man's work, though the other boys often envied him. His head and bones ached most of the time, and he was getting a sober, old, wizened face.
He wished often that he could have a month of downright play and idleness; and no doubt it would have been the very best thing for him. However, now he had to manage all alone.
"I'll go up to supper, or mother will be uneasy," he said at last. He would be back in half an hour, and before that he could do nothing. The wind drove the schooner back, so that she could not reach the rocks under an hour. Lloyd's eyes were sharper than Jem's.
He did not tell his mother about the schooner. She was a little woman, not strong, and she was easily frightened.
Lloyd tried to keep all trouble from her, as he knew his brother John had done when he was living.
She was waiting for him. "Come, sonny, boy. Here's fish for supper, and good corn bread."
Lloyd laughed, and washed his hands. He joked and talked all the time he was eating, though he was terribly anxious about the schooner. He would have liked, too, to have some nourishing tea for his mother, or a warmer dress than the thin one she wore. But John had been a hearty, cheerful fellow, keeping up everybody's heart.
"There's no use shoving trouble on to mother," thought Lloyd.
After supper he heaped up the fire, put her chair in the warmest corner, and brought her knitting all ready. She had a great basket full of socks and stockings, big and little, ready to send for sale down to the town.
"Are you going out again, Lloyd?" when he kissed her. "It's a bitter night."
"Down on the beach a bit, mother. You go to bed early. I'll be in all right and safe."
He seemed to have forgotten that it was Christmas eve. His mother had not. She looked after him sorrowfully. In old times, when his father was alive, Christmas had been a great holiday for his boys. Afterward, John had made it so for Lloyd. Now, she had not a penny to spare to buy him a book or a toy, such as other boys had down in the village, even the poorest. Even the new shoes which she had hoped to be able to buy, to take the place of his broken boots, she had to give up.
She thought it was but a dull, poor life coming for Lloyd. He was too young to be put to hard, hard work with neither chance for learning nor play. But, as she sat looking in the fire, she suddenly remembered how God, who held the great, moaning sea and the starless night in the hollow of His hand, held her, too, and her boy.
In the meantime, Lloyd was down on the beach. It was growing dark fast. The schooner was beating about uncertainly, yet evidently determined to reach the island.
Lloyd had made up his mind. There was no way to give her warning. All he could do was to guide her, if possible, into the safe channel.
He went down to the landing opposite Cook's Crack, and began making a half-circle of bits of rock and sand, to keep off the wind from the fire he meant to make.
Then he began collecting sticks, dried grass, and bits of old wrecks, with which the beach was strewed.
Now, making a bonfire no doubt appears to you, boys, to be only fine fun, and you think Lloyd a very lucky fellow to have the chance. But a bonfire in the street, on a summer night, or down in a vacant lot, is a very different matter from Lloyd's work, alone, on a December night, with the salt water plashing about his legs, and his breath freezing about his mouth. Besides, he knew that the lives of the ship's crew depended on what he did, or left undone. And he was not a man, to be sure he was right, but a boy, only thirteen years old.
He heaped up the wood on the light pile of drift, struck a match and put it to it, and in a minute the big flames flashed out all over the dark rocks, and the black, seething plane of the sea, and the wedges of ice that lay along shore. It was very cheery at first. Lloyd gave a grand hurrah! and capered about it. But one does not care to hurrah and caper alone. He thought the schooner would be in, now, in half an hour.
"They'll make straight for the fire," he said.
But half an hour, an hour passed, and, strain his eyes as he would, he could see nothing but inky darkness, and hear nothing but the dull swash, swash of the tide upon the sand. The fire was dying down. He went groping up and down the beach for wood, and built it up again.
Two hours. Three.
It was terribly cold. Overhead there was neither moon nor star, only a flat of black fog descending lower and lower. Surely the schooner had gone. Suddenly he heard a cry.
It was Jem.
"Why, Lloyd! Are you crazy? Do you know this is the coldest night this year on the island? My father says so."
"It's not so very cold," said Lloyd, beginning to hop about the fire, and sing. "That schooner's due now, I should say." It heartened him so to hear anybody's voice.
"The schooner's gone hours ago, I dare say. You'd have heard from her before now if she meant to run in."
"Did the men go out?"
"No. It was dark when I reached the village. Too late. I say, Lloyd," clapping his hands to keep warm, "come home. This is nonsense. I am going."
Now Jem was older than Lloyd, and though Lloyd was always captain of the two, still he was half frozen, and very willing to be tempted.
"Do you think it's nonsense?" pushing the logs with his foot, doubtfully.
"Of course I do. I'm going."
"Don't go yet, Jem," Lloyd begged. It was horribly lonely here in the cold, and dark, and storm.
"I'll wait while I count ten," standing first on one leg and then the other.
Lloyd looked out to sea. Nothing there but blackness and the dreadful, incessant moaning. The fire was nearly out. What was the use of working all night for people who were away out on their homeward journey, knowing and caring nothing for him? Up at the cottage his mother had a nice fire for him; a warm bed.
He began kicking the embers apart. "It does seem like folly," he said.
But on the other hand, what if the schooner were there still, with nothing but his fire to guide her to safety? There was a chance of that; the merest chance. But there was one.
"I'll stay, Jem. You can go home."
Jem hesitated a moment, and then started at a quick run for home. His steps sounded very dreary, beating along the shore.
Lloyd went to work to collect more wood. He had to grope among the icy mass along shore to find his way. The tide was rising and the frozen spray half blinded him. Besides, he was not warmly clothed.
Now I am not going to tell you a painful story, so I will not dwell on this long night; the longest in Lloyd Wells' life, perhaps, though he lived to be an old man.
No sound came to him from the sea to show that the schooner was there or that his work was of use. But still he did not once give it up.
All night he groped and tugged at the scattered bits of wood, piled them up, keeping himself in motion, not daring to close his eyes, knowing that if he did he would never waken. All night long.
But at last he stumbled and sank, and did not rise again. The cold and weariness were too much for the lad, if his heart was that of a man.
As he fell he heard a grating sound on the beach—voices—shouts. Was it the schooner? Had he saved them?
He woke in his mother's bed. She was leaning over him, crying, laughing at once. There was a man beside her with his arm about her waist, stooping over Lloyd, patting his pale little face; a tall, bronzed man; but the eyes and mouth were those of the little photograph framed in black that hung over his mother's bed.
Lloyd tried to raise his head. "John," he cried, "O, John."
John took him in his strong arms and cried over him, big man as he was.
"Yes, I've got back, Lloyd. I've had a rough time of it these three years. But I'm home now, with plenty of money in my pocket, thank God! And I'll take the load off of your shoulders, my boy, and mother's. You're going to have time to live like other boys, Lloyd. And we'll begin to-morrow, by keeping such a Christmas as was never known. We'll buy out half the stores in the village."
It was his old way of rattling on, but he could not keep the choking from his throat. Lloyd's mother sat down and held her two boys' hands in hers, and said nothing.
"Were you in the schooner?" asked Lloyd, when he found strength to speak.
"Yes, your fire saved us, Lloyd."
"I am glad of that. I wonder what Jem will say now," laughed Lloyd.
But his mother was thinking how God had held both her boys in the hollow of His hand that night.
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