"Before the door of a substantial farm-house in the north of Scotland, stands a vehicle of somewhat singular construction. When analysed, however, its composition proves to be simple enough. It is a common agricultural cart, over which, by means of a few iron rods bent across, a semi-cylindrical covering of white canvas has been stretched. It is thus transformed from a hay or harvest cart into a family carriage, of comfortable dimensions, though somewhat slow of progress. The lack of springs is supplied by thick layers of straw, while sacks stuffed with the same material are placed around for seats. Various articles are being stowed away under the bags, and in the corners among the straw, by children with bright expectant faces; the said articles having been in process of collection and arrangement for a month or six weeks previous, in anticipation of the journey which now lies, in all its length and brightness, the length and brightness of a long northern summer's day, before them.
"At last, all their private mysteries of provisions, playthings, and books, having found places of safety more or less accessible on demand, every motion of the horse, every shake and rattle of the covered cart, makes them only more impatient to proceed; which desire is at length gratified by their moving on at a funeral pace through the open gate. They are followed by another cart loaded with the luggage necessary for a six-week's sojourn at one of the fishing villages on the coast, about twenty miles distant from their home. Their father and mother are to follow in the gig, at a later hour in the day, expecting to overtake them about half-way on the road.--Through the neighbouring village they pass, out upon the lonely highway.
"Some seeds are borne to the place of their destiny by their own wings and the wings of the wind, some by the wings of birds, some by simple gravitation. The seed of my story, namely, the covered cart, sent forth to find the soil for its coming growth, is dragged by a stout horse to the sea-shore; and as it oscillates from side to side like a balloon trying to walk, I shall say something of its internal constitution, and principally of its germ; for, regarded as the seed of my story, a pale boy of thirteen is the germ of the cart. First, though he will be of little use to us afterwards, comes a great strong boy of sixteen, who considerably despises this mode of locomotion, believing himself quite capable of driving his mother in the gig, whereas he is only destined to occupy her place in the evening, and return with his father. Then comes the said germ, a boy whom repeated attacks of illness have blanched, and who looks as if the thinness of its earthly garment made his soul tremble with the proximity of the ungenial world. Then follows a pretty blonde, with smooth hair, and smooth cheeks, and bright blue eyes, the embodiment of home pleasures and love; whose chief enjoyment, and earthly destiny indeed, so far as yet revealed, consist in administering to the cupidities of her younger brother, a very ogre of gingerbread men, and Silenus of bottled milk. This milk, by the way, is expected, from former experience, to afford considerable pleasure at the close of the journey, in the shape of one or two pellets of butter in each bottle; the novelty of the phenomenon, and not any scarcity of the article, constituting the ground of interest. A baby on the lap of a rosy country-girl, and the servant in his blue Sunday coat, who sits outside the cover on the edge of the cart, but looks in occasionally to show some attention to the young woman, complete the contents of the vehicle.
"Herbert Netherby, though, as I have said, only thirteen years of age, had already attained a degree of mental development sufficient for characterization. Disease had favoured the almost unhealthy predominance of the mental over the bodily powers of the child; so that, although the constitution which at one time was supposed to have entirely given way, had for the last few years been gradually gaining strength, he was still to be seen far oftener walking about with his hands in his pockets, and his gaze bent on the ground, or turned up to the clouds, than joining in any of the boyish sports of those of his own age. A nervous dread of ridicule would deter him from taking his part, even when for a moment the fountain of youthfulness gushed forth, and impelled him to find rest in activity. So the impulse would pass away, and he would relapse into his former quiescence. But this partial isolation ministered to the growth of a love of Nature which, although its roots were coeval with his being, might not have so soon appeared above ground, but for this lack of human companionship. Thus the boy became one of Nature's favourites, and enjoyed more than a common share of her teaching.
"But he loved her most in her stranger moods. The gathering of a blue cloud, on a sultry summer afternoon, he watched with intense hope, in expectation of a thunder-storm; and a windy night, after harvest, when the trees moaned and tossed their arms about, and the wind ran hither and hither over the desolate fields of stubble, made the child's heart dance within him, and sent him out careering through the deepening darkness. To meet him then, you would not have known him for the sedate, actionless boy, whom you had seen in the morning looking listlessly on while his schoolfellows played. But of all his loves for the shows of Nature, none was so strong as his love for water--common to childhood, with its mills of rushes, its dams, its bridges, its aqueducts; only in Herbert, it was more a quiet, delighted contemplation. Weakness prevented his joining his companions in the river; but the sight of their motions in the mystery of the water, as they floated half-idealized in the clear depth, or glided along by graceful propulsion, gave him as much real enjoyment as they received themselves. For it was water itself that delighted him, whether in rest or motion; whether rippling over many stones, like the first half-articulate sounds of a child's speech, mingled with a strange musical tremble and cadence which the heart only, and not the ear, could detect; or lying in deep still pools, from the bottom of which gleamed up bright green stones, or yet brighter water-plants, cool in their little grotto, with water for an atmosphere and a firmament, through which the sun-rays came, washed of their burning heat, but undimmed of their splendour. He would lie for an hour by the side of a hill-streamlet; he would stand gazing into a muddy pool, left on the road by last night's rain. Once, in such a brown-yellow pool, he beheld a glory--the sun, encircled with a halo vast and wide, varied like the ring of opal colours seen about the moon when she floats through white clouds, only larger and brighter than that. Looking up, he could see nothing but a chaos of black clouds, brilliant towards the sun: the colours he could not see, except in the muddy water.
"In autumn the rains would come down for days, and the river grow stormy, forget its clearness, and spread out like a lake over the meadows; and that was delightful indeed. But greater yet was the delight when the foot-bridge was carried away; for then they had to cross the stream in a boat. He longed for water where it could not be; would fain have seen it running through the grass in front of his father's house; and had a waking vision of a stream with wooden shores that babbled through his bedroom. So it may be fancied with what delight he overheard the parental decision that they should spend some weeks by the shores of the great world--water, the father and the grave of rivers.
"After many vain outlooks, and fruitless inquiries of their driver, a sudden turn in the road brought them in sight of the sea between the hills; itself resembling a low blue hill, covered with white stones. Indeed, the little girl only doubted whether those were white stones or sheep scattered all over it. They lost sight of it; saw it again; and hailed it with greater rapture than at first.
"The sun was more than halfway down when they arrived. They had secured a little cottage, almost on the brow of the high shore, which in most places went down perpendicularly to the beach or sands, and in some right into deep water; but opposite the cottage, declined with a sloping, grassy descent. A winding track led down to the village, which nestled in a hollow, with steep footpaths radiating from it. In front of it, lower still, lay the narrow beach, narrow even at low water, for the steep, rocky shore went steep and rocky down into the abyss. A thousand fantastic rocks stood between land and water; amidst which, at half-tide, were many little rocky arbours, with floors of sunny sand, and three or four feet of water. Here you might bathe, or sit on the ledges with your feet in the water, medicated with the restless glitter and bewilderment of a half-dissolved sunbeam.
"A promontory, curving out into the sea, on the right, formed a bay and natural harbour, from which, towards the setting sun, many fishing-boats were diverging into the wide sea, as the children, stiff and weary, were getting out of the cart. Herbert's fatigue was soon forgotten in watching their brown-dyed sails, glowing almost red in the sunset, as they went out far into the dark, hunters of the deep, to spend the night on the waters.
"From the windows, the children could not see the shore, with all its burst of beauties struck out from the meeting of things unlike; for it lay far down, and the brow of the hill rose between it and them; only they knew that below the waves were breaking on the rocks, and they heard the gush and roar filling all the air. The room in which Herbert slept was a little attic, with a window towards the sea. After gazing with unutterable delight on the boundless water, which lay like a condensed sky in the grey light of the sleeping day (for there is no night at this season in the North), till he saw it even when his eyelids closed from weariness, he lay down, and the monotonous lullaby of the sea mingled with his dreams.
"Next morning he was wakened by the challenging and replying of the sentinel-cocks, whose crowing sounded to him more clear and musical than that of any of the cocks at home. He jumped out of bed. It was a sunny morning, and his soul felt like a flake of sunshine, as he looked out of his window on the radiant sea, green and flashing, its clear surface here and there torn by the wind into spots of opaque white. So happy did he feel, that he might have been one who had slept through death and the judgment, and had awaked, a child, still in the kingdom of God, under the new heavens and upon the new earth.
"After breakfast, they all went down with their mother to the sea-shore. As they went, the last of the boats which had gone out the night before, were returning laden, like bees. The sea had been bountiful. Everything shone with gladness. But as Herbert drew nearer, he felt a kind of dread at the recklessness of the waves. On they hurried, assailed the rocks, devoured the sands, cast themselves in wild abandonment on whatever opposed them. He feared at first to go near, for they were unsympathizing, caring not for his love or his joy, and would sweep him away like one of those floating sea-weeds. 'If they are such in their play,' thought he, 'what must they be in their anger!' But ere long he was playing with the sea as with a tame tiger, chasing the retreating waters till they rallied and he, in his turn, had to flee from their pursuit. Wearied at length, he left his brother and sister building castles of wet sand, and wandered along the shore.
"Everywhere about lay shallow lakes of salt water, so shallow that they were invisible, except when a puff of wind blew a thousand ripples into the sun; whereupon they flashed as if a precipitous rain of stormy light had rushed down upon them. Lifting his eyes from one of these films of water, Herbert saw on the opposite side, stooping to pick up some treasure of the sea, a little girl, apparently about nine years of age. When she raised herself and saw Herbert, she moved slowly away with a quiet grace, that strangely contrasted with her tattered garments. She was ragged like the sea-shore, or the bunch of dripping sea-weed that she carried in her hand; she was bare from foot to knee, and passed over the wet sand with a gleam; the wind had been at more trouble with her hair than any loving hand; it was black, lusterless, and tangled. The sight of rags was always enough to move Herbert's sympathies, and he wished to speak to the little girl, and give her something. But when he had followed her a short distance, all at once, and without having looked round, she began to glide away from him with a wave-like motion, dancing and leaping; till a clear pool in the hollow of a tabular rock imbedded in the sand, arrested her progress. Here she stood like a statue, gazing into its depth; then, with a dart like a kingfisher, plunged half into it, caught something at which her head and curved neck showed that she looked with satisfaction--and again, before Herbert could come near her, was skimming along the uneven shore. He followed, as a boy follows a lapwing; but she, like the lapwing, gradually increased the distance between them, till he gave up the pursuit with some disappointment, and returned to his brother and sister. More ambitious than they, he proceeded to construct--chiefly for the sake of the moat he intended to draw around it--a sand-castle of considerable pretensions; but the advancing tide drove him from his stronghold before he had begun to dig the projected fosse.
"As they returned home, they passed a group of fishermen in their long boots and flapped sou'-westers, looking somewhat anxiously seaward. Much to Herbert's delight, they predicted a stiff gale, and probably a storm. A low bank of cloud had gathered along the horizon, and the wind had already freshened; the white spots were thicker on the waves, and the sound of their trampling on the shore grew louder.
"After dinner, they sat at the window of their little parlour, looking out over the sea, which grew darker and more sullen, ever as the afternoon declined. The cloudy bank had risen and walled out the sun; but a narrow space of blue on the horizon looked like the rent whence the wind rushed forth on the sea, and with the feet of its stormy horses tore up the blue surface, and scattered the ocean-dust in clouds. As evening drew on, Herbert could keep in the house no longer. He wandered away on the heights, keeping from the brow of the cliffs; now and then stooping and struggling with a stormier eddy; till, descending into a little hollow, he sunk below the plane of the tempest, and stood in the glow of a sudden calm, hearing the tumult all round him, but himself in peace. Looking up, he could see nothing but the sides of the hollow with the sky resting on them, till, turning towards the sea, he saw, at some distance, a point of the cliff rising abruptly into the air. At the same moment, the sun looked out from a crack in the clouds, on the very horizon; and as Herbert could not see the sunset, the peculiar radiance illuminated the more strangely the dark vault of earth and cloudy sky. Suddenly, to his astonishment, it was concentrated on the form of the little ragged girl. She stood on the summit of the peak before him. The light was a crown, not to her head only, but to her whole person; as if she herself were the crown set on the brows of the majestic shore. Disappearing as suddenly, it left her standing on the peak, dark and stormy; every tress, if tresses they could be called, of her windy hair, every tatter of her scanty garments, seeming individually to protest, 'The wind is my playmate; let me go!' If Aphrodite was born of the sunny sea, this child was the offspring of the windy shore; as if the mind of the place had developed for itself a consciousness, and this was its embodiment. She bore a strange affinity to the rocks, and the sea-weed, and the pools, and the wide, wild ocean; and Herbert would scarcely have been shocked to see her cast herself from the cliff into the waves, which now dashed half-way up its height. By the time he had got out of the hollow, she had vanished, and where she had gone he could not conjecture. He half feared she had fallen over the precipice; and several times that night, as the vapour of dreams gathered around him, he started from his half-sleep in terror at seeing the little genius of the storm fall from her rock-pedestal into the thundering waves as its foot.
"Next day the wind continuing off the sea, with vapour and rain, the children were compelled to remain within doors, and betake themselves to books and playthings. But Herbert's chief resource lay in watching the sea and the low grey sky, between which was no distinguishable horizon. The wind still increased, and before the afternoon it blew a thorough storm, wind and waves raging together on the rocky shore. The fishermen had secured their boats, drawing them up high on the land; but what vessels might be labouring under the low misty pall no one could tell. Many anxious fears were expressed for some known to be at sea; and many tales of shipwreck were told that night in the storm-shaken cottages.
"The day was closing in, darkened the sooner by the mist, when Herbert, standing at the window, now rather weary, saw the little girl dart past like a petrel. He snatched up his cap and rushed from the house, buttoning his jacket to defend him from the weather. The little fellow, though so quiet among other boys, was a lover of the storm as much as the girl was, and would have preferred its buffeting, so long as his strength lasted, to the warmest nook by the fireside; and now he could not resist the temptation to follow her. As soon as he was clear of the garden, he saw her stopping to gaze down on the sea--starting again along the heights-- blown out of her course--and regaining it by struggling up in the teeth of the storm. He at once hastened in pursuit, trying as much as possible to keep out of her sight, and was gradually lessening the distance between them, when, on crossing the hollow already mentioned, he saw her on the edge of the cliff, close to the pinnacle on which she had stood the night before; where after standing for a moment, she sank downwards and vanished, but whether into earth or air, he could not tell. He approached the place. A blast of more than ordinary violence fought against him, as if determined to preserve the secret of its favourite's refuge. But he persisted, and gained the spot.
"He then found that the real edge of the precipice was several yards farther off, the ground sloping away from where he stood. At his feet, in the slope, was an almost perpendicular opening. He hesitated a little; but, sure that the child was a real human child and no phantom, he did not hesitate long. He entered and found it lead spirally downwards. Descending with some difficulty, for the passage was narrow, he arrived at a small chamber, into one corner of which the stone shaft, containing the stair, projected half its round. The chamber looked as if it had been hollowed out of the rock. A narrow window, little more than a loop-hole through the thick wall, admitted the roar of the waves and a dim grey light. This light was just sufficient to show him the child in the farthest corner of the chamber, bending forward with her hands between her knees, in a posture that indicated fear. The little playfellow of the winds was not sure of him. At the first word he spoke, a sea-bird, which had made its home in the apartment, startled by the sound of his voice, dashed through the window, with a sudden clang of wings, into the great misty void without; and Herbert looking out after it, almost forgot the presence of the little girl in the awe and delight of the spectacle before him. It was now much darker, and the fog had settled down more closely on the face of the deep; but just below him he could see the surface of the ocean, whose mad waves appeared to rush bellowing out of the unseen on to the shore of the visible. When, after some effort, he succeeded in leaning out of the window, he could see the shore beneath him; for he was on its extreme verge, and the spray now and then dashed through the loop-hole into the chamber. He was still gazing and absorbed, when a sweet timid voice, that yet partook undefinably of the wildness of a sea-breeze, startled him out of his contemplation.
"'Did my mother send you to me?' said the voice.
"He looked down. Close beside him stood the child, gazing earnestly up into his face through the twilight from the window.
"'Where does your mother live?' asked Herbert.
"'All out there,' the child answered, pointing to the window.
"While he was thinking what she could mean, she continued:
"'Mother is angry to-night; but when the sun comes out, and those nasty clouds are driven away, she will laugh again. Mother does not like black clouds and fogs; they spoil her house.'
"Still perplexed as to the child's meaning, Herbert asked,
"'Does your mother love you?'
"'Yes, except when she is angry. She does not love me to-night; but to-morrow, perhaps, she will be all over laughs to me; and that makes me run to her; and she will smile to me all day, till night comes and she goes to sleep, and leaves me alone; for I hear her sleeping, but I cannot go to sleep with her.'"
Here the curate interrupted his reading to remark, that he feared he had spoiled the pathos of the child's words, by translating them into English; but that they must gain more, for the occasion, by being made intelligible to his audience, than they could lose by the change from their original form.
"Herbert's sympathies had by this time made him suspect that the child must be talking of the sea, which somehow she had come to regard as her mother. He asked,
"'Where does your father live, then?'
"'I have not any father,' she answered. 'I had one, but mother took him.'
"Several other questions Herbert put; but still the child's notions ran in the same channel. They were wild notions, but uttered with confidence as if they were the most ordinary facts. It seemed that whatever her imagination suggested, bore to her the impress of self-evident truth; and that she knew no higher reality.
"By this time it was almost dark.
"'I must go home,' said Herbert.
"'I will go with you,' responded the girl.
"She ran along beside him, but in the discursive manner natural to her; till, coming to one of the paths descending towards the shore, she darted down, without saying good-night even.
"Next day, the storm having abated, and the sun shining out, they were standing on the beach, near a fisherman, who like them was gazing seawards, when the child went skimming past along the shore. Mrs. Netherby asked the fisherman about her, and learned the secret of the sea's motherhood. She had been washed ashore from the wreck of a vessel; and was found on the beach, tied to a spar. All besides had perished. From the fragment they judged it to have been a Dutch vessel. Some one had said in her hearing--'Poor child! the sea is her mother;' and her imagination had cherished the idea. A fisherman, who had no family, had taken her to his house and loved her dearly. But he lost his wife shortly after; and a year or two ago, the sea had taken him, the only father she knew. All, however, were kind to her. She was welcome wherever she chose to go and share with the family. But no one knew today where she would be to-morrow, where she would have her next meal, or where she would sleep. She was wild, impulsive, affectionate. The simple people of the village believed her to be of foreign birth and high descent, while reverence for her lonely conditions made them treat her with affection as well as deference; so that the forsaken child, regarded as subject to no law, was as happy in her freedom and confidence as any wild winged thing of the land or sea. The summer loved her; the winter strengthened her. Her first baptism in the salt waters had made her a free creature of the earth and skies; had fortified her, Achilles-like, against all hardship, cold, and nakedness to come; had delivered her from the bonds of habit and custom, and shown in her what earth and air of themselves can do, to make the lowest, most undeveloped life, a divine gift.
"The following morning, the sea was smooth and clear. So was the sky. Looking down from their cottage, the sea appeared to Herbert to slope steeply up to the horizon, so that the shore lay like a deep narrow valley between him and it. Far down, at the low pier, he saw a little boat belonging to a retired ship-captain. The oars were on board; and the owner and some one with him were walking towards the boat. Now the captain had promised to take him with him some day.
"He was half-way down the road a moment after the words of permission had left his mother's lips, and was waiting at the boat when the two men came up. They readily agreed to let him go with them. They were going to row to a village on the opposite side of the bay, and return in the evening. Herbert was speechless with delight. They got in, the boat heaving beneath them, unmoored and pushed off. This suspension between sea and sky was a new sensation to Herbert; for when he looked down, his eye did not repose on the surface, but penetrated far into a clear green abyss, where the power of vision seemed rather to vanish than be arrested. When he looked up, the shore was behind them; and he knew, for the first time, what it was to look at the land as he had looked at the sea; to regard the land, in its turn, as a phenomenon--observing it apart from himself.
"Running along the shore like a little bird, he saw the child of the sea; and, further to the right, the peak on which she had stood in the sunset, and into whose mysterious chamber she had led him. The captain here put a pocket-telescope into his hand; and with this annihilator of space he made new discoveries. He saw a little window in the cliff, doubtless the same from which he had looked out on the dim sea; and then perceived that the front of the cliff, in that part, was no rock, but a wall, regularly and strongly built. It was evidently the remains of an old fortress. The front foundation had been laid in the rocks of the shore; the cliff had then been faced up with masonry; and behind chambers had been cut in the rock; into one of which Herbert had descended a ruined spiral stair. The castle itself, which had stood on the top, had mouldered away, leaving only a rugged and broken surface.
"By this time they were near the opposite shore, and Herbert looked up with dread at the great cliffs that rose perpendicularly out of the water, which heaved slowly and heavily, with an appearance of immense depth, against them. Their black jagged sides had huge holes, into which the sea rushed--far into the dark--with a muffled roar; and large protuberances of rock, bare and threatening. Numberless shadows lay on their faces; and here and there from their tops trickled little steams, plashing into the waves at their feet. Passing through a natural arch in a rock, lofty and narrow, called the Devil's Bridge, and turning a little promontory, they were soon aground on the beach.
"When the captain had finished his business, they had some dinner at the inn; and while the two men drank their grog, Herbert was a delighted listener to many a sea story, old and new. How the boy longed to be a sailor, and live always on the great waters! The blocks and cordage of the fast-rooted flagstaff before the inn, assumed an almost magic interest to him, as the two sailors went on with their tales of winds and rocks, and narrow escapes and shipwrecks. And how proud he was of the friendship of these old seafarers!
"At length it was time to return home. As they rowed slowly along, the sun was going down in the west, and their shadows were flung far on the waves, which gleamed and glistened in the rich calm light. Land and sea were bathed in the blessing of heaven; its glory was on the rocks, and on the shore, and in the depth of the heaving sea. Under the boat, wherever it went, shone a paler green. The only sounds were of the oars in the row-locks, of the drip from their blades as they rose and made curves in the air, and the low plash with which they dipped again into the sea; while the water in the wake of the boat hastened to compose itself again to that sleep from which it had been unwillingly roused by the passing keel. The boy's heart was full. Often in after years he longed for the wings of a dove that he might fly to that boat (still floating in the calm sea of his memory), and there lie until his spirit had had rest enough.
"The next time that Herbert approached the little girl, she waited his coming; and while they talked, Mrs. Netherby joined them with her Effie. Presently the gaze of the sea-child was fixed upon little Effie, to the all but total neglect of the others. The result of this contemplation was visible the next day. Mrs. Netherby having invited her to come and see them, the following morning, as they were seated at breakfast, the door of the room opened, without any prefatory tap, and in peeped with wild confidence the smiling face of the untamed Undine. It was at once evident that civilization had laid a finger upon her, and that a new womanly impulse had been awakened. For there she stood, gazing at Effie, and with both hands smoothing down her own hair, which she had managed, after a fashion, to part in the middle, and had plentifully wetted with sea-water. In her run up the height, it had begun to dry, and little spangles of salt were visible all over it. She could not alter her dress, whose many slashes showed little lining except her skin; but she had done all she could to approximate her appearance to that of Effie, whom she seemed to regard as a little divinity.
"Mrs. Netherby's heart was drawn towards the motherless child, and she clothed her from head to foot; though how far this was a benefit as regarded cold and heat, is a question. Herbert began to teach her to read; in which her progress was just like her bodily movements over the earth's surface; now a dead pause, and now the flight of a bird. Now and then she would suddenly start up, heedless where her book might happen to fall, and rush out along the heights; returning next day, or the same afternoon, and, without any apology, resuming her studies.
"This holiday was to Herbert one of those seasons which tinge the whole of the future life. It was a storehouse of sights and sounds and images of thought; a tiring-room, wherein to clothe the ideas that came forth to act their parts upon the stage of reason. Often at night, just ere the sleep that wipes out the day from the overfilled and blotted tablets of the brain, enwrapped him in its cool, grave-like garments, a vision of the darkened sea, spotted and spangled with pools of unutterable light, would rise before him unbidden, in that infinite space for creation which lies dark and waiting under the closed eyelids. The darkened sea might be but the out-thrown image of his own overshadowed soul; and the spots of light the visual form of his hopes. So clearly would these be present to him sometimes, that when he opened his eyes and gazed into the darkness of his room, he would see the bright spaces shining before him still. Then he would fall asleep and dream on about the sea--watching a little cutter perhaps, as 'she leaned to the lee, and girdled the wave,' flinging the frolic-some waters from her bows, and parting a path for herself between. Or he would be seated with the helm in his hand, and all the force and the joy wherewith she dashed headlong on the rising waves, and half pierced them and half drove them under her triumphant keel, would be issuing from his will and his triumph.
"Surely even for the sad despairing waves there is some hope, out in that boundless room which borders on the sky, and upon which, even in the gloomiest hour of tempest, falls sometimes from heaven a glory intense.
"So when the time came that the lover of waters must return, he went back enriched with new visions of them in their great home and motherland, he had seen them still and silent as a soul in holy trance; he had seen them raving in a fury of livid green, swarming with 'white-mouthed waves;' he had seen them lying in one narrow ridge of unbroken blue, where the eye, finding no marks to measure the distance withal, saw miles as furlongs; and he had seen sweeps and shadows innumerable stretched along its calm expanse, so dividing it into regions, and graduating the distance, that the eye seemed to wander on and on from sea to sea, and the ships to float in oceans beyond oceans of infinite reach. O lonely space! awful indeed wert thou, did no one love us! But he had yet to receive one more vision of the waters, and that was to be in a dream. With this dream I will close the story of his holiday; for it went with him ever after, breaking forth from the dream-home, and encompassing his waking thoughts with an atmosphere of courage and hope, when his heart was ready to sink in a world which was not the world the boy had thought to enter, when he ran to welcome his fate.
"On their last Sunday, Herbert went with his mother to the evening service in a little chapel in the midst of the fishermen's cottages. It was a curious little place, with galleries round, that nearly met in the middle, and a high pulpit with a great sounding-board over it, from which came the voice of an earnest little Methodist, magnified by his position into a mighty prophet. The good man was preaching on the parable of the sheep and the goats; and, in his earnestness for his own theology and the souls of his hearers, was not content that the Lord should say these things in his own way, but he must say them in his too. And a terrible utterance it was! Looking about, unconsciously seeking some relief from the accumulation of horrors with which the preacher was threatening the goats of his congregation, Herbert spied, in the very front of one of the side galleries, his little pupil, white with terror, and staring with round unwinking eyes full in the face of the prophet of fear. Never after could he read the parable without seeing the blanched face of the child, and feeling a renewal of that evening's sadness over the fate of the poor goats which afterwards grew into the question--'Doth God care for oxen, and not for goats?' He never saw the child again; for they left the next day, and she did not come to bid them good-by.
"As he went home from the chapel, her face of terror haunted him.
"That night he fell asleep, as usual, with the sound of the waves in his soul. And as he slept he dreamed.--He stood, as he thought, upon the cliff, within which lay the remnants of the old castle. The sun was slowly sinking down the western sky, and a great glory lay upon the sea. Close to the shore beneath, by the side of some low rocks, floated a little boat. He thought how delightful it would be to lie in the boat in the sunlight, and let it die away upon his bosom. He scrambled down the rocks, stepped on board, and laid himself in the boat, with his face turned towards the sinking sun. Lower and lower the sun sank, seeming to draw the heavens after him, like a net. At length he plunged beneath the waves; but as his last rays disappeared on the horizon, lo! a new splendour burst upon the astonished boy. The whole waters were illuminated from beneath, with the permeating glories of the buried radiance. In rainbow circles, and intermingling, fluctuating sweeps of colours, the sea lay like an intense opal, molten with the fire of its own hues. The sky gave back the effulgence with a less deep but more heavenly loveliness.
"But betwixt the sea and the sky, just over the grave of the down-gone sun, a dark spot appeared, parting the earth and the heaven where they had mingled in embraces of light. And the dark spot grew and spread, and a cold breath came softly over the face of the shining waters; and the colours paled away; and as the blossom-sea withered and grew grey below, the clouds withered and darkened above. The sea began to swell and moan and look up, like the soul of a man whose joy is going down in darkness; and a horror came over the heart of the sleeper, and in his dream he lifted up his head, meaning to rise and hasten to his home. But, behold, the shore was far away, and the great castle-cliff had sunk to a low ridge! With a cry, he sank back on the bosom of the careless sea.
"The boat began to rise and fall on the waking waves. Then a great blast of wind laid hold of it, and whirled it about. Once more he looked up, and saw that the tops of the waves were torn away, and that 'the white water was coming out of the black.' Higher and higher rose the billows; louder and louder roared the wind across their jagged furrows, tearing awful descants from their bursting chords, and tossing the little boat like a leaf in the lone desert of storms; now holding it perched on the very crest of a wave, in the mad eye of the tempest, while the chaotic waters danced, raving about, in hopeless confusion; now letting it sink in the hollow of the waves, and lifting above it cold glittering walls of water, that becalmed it as in a sheltered vale, while the hurricane roaring above, flung arches of writhing waters across from billow to billow overhead, and threatened to close, as in a transparent tomb, boat and boy. At length, when the boat rose once more, unwilling, to the awful ridge, jagged and white, a yet fiercer blast tore it from the top of the wave. The dreamer found himself choking in the waters, and soon lost all consciousness of the buffeting waves or the shrieking winds.
"When the dreamer again awoke, he felt that he was carried along through the storm above the waves; for they reached him only in bursts of spray, though the wind raged around him more fiercely than ever. He opened his eyes and looked downwards. Beneath him seethed and boiled the tumultuous billows, their wreathy tops torn from them, and shot, in long vanishing sheets of spray, over the distracted wilderness. Such was the turmoil beneath, that he had to close his eyes again to feel that he was moving onwards.
"The next time he opened them, it was to look up. And lo! a shadowy face bent over him, whence love unutterable was falling in floods, from eyes deep, and dark, and still, as the heavens that are above the clouds, Great waves of hair streamed back from a noble head, and floated on the tides of the tempest. The face was like his mother's and like his father's, and like a face that he had seen somewhere in a picture, but far more beautiful and strong and loving than all. With a sudden glory of gladness, in which the spouting pinnacles of the fathomless pyramids of wandering waters dwindled into the confusion of a few troubled water-drops, he knew, he knew that the Lord was carrying his lamb in his bosom. Around him were the everlasting arms, and above him the lamps that light heaven and earth, the eyes that watch and are not weary. And now he felt the arms in which he lay, and he nestled close to that true, wise bosom, which has room in it for all, and where none will strive.
"Over the waters went the Master, now crossing the calm hollows, now climbing the rising wave, now shrouded in the upper ocean of drifting spray, that wrapped him around with whirling force, and anon calmly descending the gliding slope into the glassy trough below. Sometimes, when he looked up, the dreamer could see nothing but the clouds driving across the heavens, whence now and then a star, in a little well of blue, looked down upon him; but anon he knew that the driving clouds were his drifting hair, and that the stars in the blue wells of heaven were his love-lighted eyes. Over the sea he strode, and the floods lifted up their heads in vain. The billows would gather and burst around and over them; but a moment more, and the billows were beneath his feet, and on they were going, safe and sure.
"Long time the journey endured; and the dream faded and again revived. It was as if he had slept, and again awaked; for he lay in soft grass on a mountain-side, and the form of a mighty man lay outstretched beside him, who was weary with a great weariness.
"Below, the sea howled and beat against the base of the mountain; but it was far below. Again the Lord arose, and lifted him up, and bore him onwards. Up to the mountain-top they went, through the keen, cold air, and over the fields of snow and ice. On the peak the Master paused and looked down.
"In a vast amphitheatre below, was gathered a multitude that no man could number. They crowded on all sides beyond the reach of the sight, rising up the slopes of the surrounding mountains, till they could no longer be distinguished; grouped and massed upon height above height; filling the hollows, and plains, and platforms all about. But every eye looked towards the lowest centre of the mountain-amphitheatre, where a little vacant spot awaited the presence of some form, which should be the heart of all the throng. Down towards this centre the Lord bore him. Entering the holy circle, he set him gently down, and then looked all around, as if searching earnestly for some one he could not see.
"And not finding whom he sought, he walked across the open space. A path was instantly divided for him through the dense multitude surrounding it. Along this lane of men and women and children, he went; and Herbert ran, following close at his feet; for now all the universe seemed empty save where he was. And he was not rebuked, but suffered to follow. And although the Lord walked fast and far, the feet following him were not weary, but grew in speed and in power. Through the great crowd and beyond it, never looking back, up and over the brow of the mountain they went, and leaving behind them the gathered universe of men, descended into a pale night. Hither and hither went the Master, searching up and down the gloomy valley; now looking behind a great rock, and now through a thicket of brushwood; now entering a dark cave, and now ascending a height and gazing all around; till at last, on a bare plain, seated on a grey stone, with her hands in her lap, they found the little orphan child who had called the sea her mother.
"As he drew near to her, the Lord called out, 'My poor little lamb, I have found you at last!' But she did not seem to hear or understand what he said; for she fell on her knees, and held up her clasped hands, and cried, 'Do not be angry with me. I am a goat; and I ran away because I was afraid. Do not burn me.' But all the answer the Lord made was to stoop, and lift her, and hold her to his breast. And she was an orphan no more.
"So he turned and went back over hill and over dale, and Herbert followed, rejoicing that the lost lamb was found.
"As he followed, he spied in a crevice of a rock, close by his path, a lovely primrose. He stooped to pluck it. And ere he began again to follow, a cock crew shrill and loud; and he knew it was the cock that rebuked Peter; and he trembled and stood up. The Master had vanished. He, too, fell a-weeping bitterly. And again the cock crew; and he opened his eyes, and knew that he had dreamed. His mother stood by his bedside, comforting the weeper with kisses. And he cried to her--
"'O mother! surely he would not come over the sea to find me in the storm, and then leave me because I stopped to pluck a flower!'"
* * * * *
"Too long, I am afraid," said the curate, the moment he had finished his paper, looking at his watch.
"We have not thought so, I am sure," said Adela, courteously. The ladies rose to go.
"Who is to read next?" said the schoolmaster.
"Why, of course," said the curate, indignantly, "it ought to be my brother, but there is no depending on him."
"If this frost lasts, I will positively read next time," said the doctor. "But, you know, Ralph, it will be better for you to bring something else with you, lest I should fail again."
"Cool!" said the curate. "I think it is time we dropped it."
"No, please don't," said Harry, with a little anxiety in his tone. "I really want to read my story."
"It looks like it, doesn't it?"
"Now, Ralph, a clergyman should never be sarcastic. Be as indignant as you please--but--sarcastic--never. It is very easy for you, who know just what you have to do, and have besides whole volumes in that rickety old desk of yours, to keep such an appointment as this. Mine is produced for the occasion, bona fide; and I cannot tell what may be required of me from one hour to another."
He went up to Adela.
"I am very sorry to have failed again," he said.
"But you won't next time, will you?"
"I will not, if I can help it."