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A Sailor's Lass By Emma Leslie Characters: 15610

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

"Why, mother, are you here?" Coomber spoke in a stern, reproachful tone, for he had found his wife and the cowering children huddled together in the corner of the old shed where the family washing and various fish-cleaning operations were usually carried on; and the sight did not please him.

"Are yer all gone mad that yer sitting out there wi' the rain drippin' on yer, when yer might be dry an' comfortable, and have a bit o' breakfast ready for a feller when he comes home after a tough job such as I've had?"

"I-I didn't know when you was coming to breakfast," said Mrs. Coomber, timidly, and still keeping close in the corner of the shed for fear her husband should knock her down; while the children stopped their mutual grumblings and complaints, and crept closer to each other behind their mother's skirts.

"Couldn't you ha' got it ready and waited wi' a bit o' fire to dry these duds?" exclaimed her husband.

"But the boat, Coomber, it wasn't safe," pleaded the poor woman. "We might ha' been adrift any minute."

"Didn't I tell yer she was safe, and didn't I ought to know when a boat's safe better nor you-a poor tool of a woman? Come out of it," he added, impatiently, turning away.

The children wondered that nothing worse than hard words fell to their share, and were somewhat relieved that the next question referred to Bob, and not to their doings.

"You say he ain't come home?" said Coomber.

"I ain't seen him since he went with you to Fellness. Ain't you just come from there?" said his wife, timidly.

"Of course I have, but Bob ought to have been back an hour or so ago, for I had something to do in the village. Come to the boat, and I'll tell you all about it," he added, in a less severe tone; for the thought of the child he had rescued softened him a little, and he led the way out of the washing-shed.

The storm had abated now, and the boat no longer rocked and swayed, so that the children waded back through the mud without fear, while their father talked of the little girl he had left with Dame Peters at Fellness. They listened to his proposal to bring her home and share their scanty meals with very little pleasure, and they wished their mother would say she could not have another baby; but instead of this Mrs. Coomber assented at once to her husband's plan of fetching the child from Fellness that afternoon.

The Coombers were not a happy family, for the fisherman was a stern, hard man by nature, and since he had lost his little girl he had become harder, his neighbours said. At all events, his wife and children grew more afraid of him-afraid of provoking his stern displeasure by any of those little playful raids children so delight in; and every one of them looked forward to the day when they could run away from home and go to sea, as their grown-up brother had done. Bob, the eldest now at home, was already contemplating taking this step very soon, and had promised to help Dick and Tom when they were old enough. It had been a startling revelation to Bob to hear his father speak as he had done on the beach at Fellness about his brother, for he had long ago decided that his father did not care a pin for any of them, unless it was for the baby sister who had died, and even of that he was not quite sure. He had made up his mind, as he walked through the storm that morning, that he would not go back again, but make his way to Grimsby, or some other seaport town, after his business at Fellness was done. But what he had heard on the beach from his father somewhat shook his purpose, and when he learned from Dame Peters afterwards, that the child they had rescued was to share their home, he thought he would go back again, and try to bear the hard life a little longer, if it was only to help his mother, and tell her his father did care for them a bit in spite of his stern, hard ways.

Perhaps Mrs. Coomber did not need to be told that her husband loved her and his children; at all events, she received Bob's information with a nod and a smile, and a whispered word. "Yer father's all right, and a rare good fisherman," she said; for in spite of the frequent unkindness she experienced, Mrs. Coomber was very fond of her husband.

"Ah, he's a good fisherman, but he'd be all the better if he didn't have so much of that bottle," grumbled Bob; "he thinks a deal more about that than he does about us."

It was true enough what Bob said. If his father could not by any chance get his bottle replenished, wife and children had a little respite from their usual hard, driving life, and he was more civil to their only neighbours, who were at the farm about half a mile off; but once the bottle got filled again, he grew sullen and morose, or quarrelsome. He had recently made himself very disagreeable to Farmer Hayes in one of his irritable fits, a fact which suddenly recurred to his wife when she heard of the sick child being brought home to her to nurse, but she dared not mention it to her husband. When Coomber brought the child that afternoon, he said, gaily: "Here's a present for yer from the sea, mother; maybe she'll bring us good luck coming as she did."

"It 'ud be better luck if we'd picked up a boat," muttered Bob, who was standing near.

"Why, she ain't such a baby as you said," exclaimed Mrs. Coomber, as she unpinned the shawl in which she was wrapped; "she is about five."

"Five years old," repeated Coomber; "but she'd talk if she was as old as that, and Dame Peters told me she'd just laid like a dead thing ever since she'd been there."

"She's ill, that's what it is, poor little mite-ill and frightened out of her senses;" and Mrs. Coomber gathered her in her arms, and kissed the little white lips, and pressed her to her bosom, as only a tender mother can, while the boys stood round in wondering silence, and Coomber dashed a tear from his eye as he thought of the little daughter lying in Fellness churchyard. But he was ashamed of the love that prompted this feeling, and said hastily: "Now, mother, we mustn't begin by spoiling her;" but then he turned away, and called Bob to go with him and look after the boat.

For several days the child continued very ill-too ill to notice anything, or to attempt to talk; but one day, when she was lying on Mrs. Coomber's lap before the fire, the boys mutely looking at her as she lay, she suddenly put up her little hands, and said in a feeble whisper, "Dear faver Dod, tate tare o' daddy and mammy, and Tiny;" and then she seemed to drop off into a doze.

The boys were startled, and Mrs. Coomber looked down hastily at the little form on her lap, for this was the first intimation they had had that the child could talk, although Mrs. Coomber fancied that she had showed some signs of recognising her during the previous day.

"I say, did you hear that?" whispered Dick. "Was she saying her prayers, mother, like Harry Hayes does?"

Mrs. Coomber nodded, while she looked down into the child's face and moved her gently to and fro to soothe her to sleep.

"But, mother, ought she to say that? Did you hear her? She said 'dear God,'" said Dick, creeping round to his mother's side.

Mrs. Coomber was puzzled herself at the child's words. They had awakened in her a far-off memory of days when she was a girl, and knelt at her mother's knee, and said, "Our Father," before she went to bed. But that was long before she had heard of Bermuda Point, or thought of having boys and girls of her own. When they came she had forgotten all about those early days; and so they had never been taught to say their prayers, or anything else, in fact, except to help their father with the boat, shoot wild-fowl in the winter, and gather samphire on the shore during the summer.

She thought of this now, and half wished she had tho

ught of it before. Perhaps if she had tried to teach her children to pray, they would have been more of a comfort to her. Perhaps Jack, her eldest, would not have run away from home as he did, leaving them for years to wonder whether he was alive or dead, but sending no word to comfort them.

The boys were almost as perplexed as their mother. The little they had heard of God filled them with terror, and so to hear such a prayer as this was something so startling that they could think and talk of nothing else until their father came in, when, as usual, silence fell on the whole family, for Coomber was in a sullen mood now.

The next day Tiny, as she had called herself, was decidedly better. A little bed had been made up for her in the family living-room, and she lay there, quiet but observant, while Mrs. Coomber went about her work-cooking and cleaning and mending, and occasionally stopping to kiss the little wistful face that watched her with such quiet curiosity.

"Am I in a s'ip now?" the child asked at length, when Mrs. Coomber had kissed her several times.

"You're in a boat, deary; but you needn't be afraid; our boat is safe enough."

"I ain't afraid; Dod is tatin' tare of me," said the child, with a little sigh.

Mrs. Coomber wondered whether she was thinking of the storm; whether she could tell them who she was, and where her friends might be found; and she ventured to ask her several questions about this, but failed to elicit any satisfactory answer. The child was sleepy, or had forgotten what Mrs. Coomber thought she would be sure to remember; but it was evident she had taken notice of her surroundings during the last few days, for after a little while she said, "Where's der boys-dat Dick and Tom?"

Mrs. Coomber was amused. "They're out in the boat looking after the nets," she said.

"When they toming home?" asked the little girl; "home to dis boat, I mean," she added.

"Oh, they'll come soon," replied Mrs. Coomber. "But, now, can't you tell me something about your mother and father, and where you lived, my deary?" she asked again.

"I tomed in a s'ip, and 'ou my mammy now," said the child, looking round the cosy room with perfect content.

"But where is your own mammy, who taught you to say your prayers?" asked Mrs. Coomber.

The tears came into the sweet blue eyes for a minute as she said, "See dorn up dere, to tay in Dod's house, and Tiny do too if see a dood dal."

Mrs. Coomber laid down the jacket she was patching, and kissed the serious little face. "Is your mother dead, my deary?" she asked, while the tears shone in her own eyes.

"See done to see daddy, and tell him about Tiny," answered the child; from which Mrs. Coomber gathered that mother and father were both dead; and when her husband came home she told him what she had heard, which seemed to afford the old fisherman a good deal of satisfaction.

"Then she's ours safe enough, mother," he said, rubbing his hands, "and when she gets well she'll toddle about the old boat like our own little Polly did."

"But I thought you said Peters was going to see the newspaper man to tell him to put something in the Stamford Mercury about finding her, so that her friends should know she was saved, and come and fetch her."

"I said her mother or father," interrupted Coomber, sharply; "but if they're dead, there ain't anybody else likely to want such a little 'un, and so we may keep her, I take it. But Peters shall go to the newspaper man, never fear," added Coomber; "I don't want to rob anybody of the little 'un; but if nobody don't come in a week, why then, Mary--" and Coomber paused, and looked at his wife.

"Well, then, I'll get out little Polly's things; they'll just about fit her," said Mrs. Coomber, hastily wiping her eyes with her apron for fear her husband should reproach her again for her tears.

When the boys came in, the little girl said, shyly, "Tome and tell me about the nets."

Dick looked at her, and then at his mother.

"What does she mean?" he asked, drawing near the little bed where Tiny lay.

"She wants to know about the fishing," said Mrs. Coomber. "Have you had a good take, Dick?" asked his mother, rather anxiously, for she wanted some more milk for Tiny, and her little secret store of halfpence was gone now.

"Oh, it ain't much," said Dick; "Bob has taken a few plaice to Fellness, and I dessay he'll bring back some bread or some flour."

"But I want some milk for the child; she can't eat bread and fish and potatoes now she's ill. Couldn't you run up to the farm, Dick, and ask Mrs. Hayes if she wants a bit o' fish, and I'll be thankful for a drop o' milk for it."

But Dick looked dubious. "I'd like to go," he said, "if it was only to have a word with Harry Hayes, and ask him about his rabbits; but father don't like the farm people now, and he said I was never to speak to them. You know they've had a quarrel."

"Well, what are we to do? They are our only neighbours, and they ain't a bad sort either, Mrs. Hayes is a kind soul, who has children of her own, and would let me have milk in a minute if she knew I wanted it for this poor little mite," said Mrs. Coomber, in perplexity as to the best thing to do.

"I'll go, mother, if you can find any fish worth taking," at last said Dick.

Mrs. Coomber went and turned over what the boys had brought. The best had been picked out and sent to Fellness, and what was left was not more than sufficient for themselves; but she carefully looked out the largest she could find and washed it. While she was doing this her husband came in.

"It's a poor take to-day, mother," he said.

"Yes, and I wanted a bit extra, to get some milk for the child," said Mrs. Coomber; "but I think I can manage with this," she said, still busying herself with the fish, and not turning to look at her husband.

"What are yer goin' to do wi' it?" he inquired.

"I want to send Dick up to the farm; Mrs. Hayes will give me some milk for it, I know," replied his wife, trying to speak in a matter-of-fact tone.

"'ME LIKES 'OU,' SHE SAID." [See page 40.

"And you'd send Dick to that place when I said they shouldn't go near the house," said her husband, angrily. "Take the fish and cook it for supper. Not a bit o' my fish shall they have."

"But the milk. What am I to do for the milk for the child now she's ill?"

"What have yer done afore?" demanded her husband; and the poor woman was obliged to confess that she had taken milk from the man as he went past in his cart to the village each day since the child had been there. "She couldn't do wi'out milk," protested Mrs. Coomber.

"How do you know she couldn't?" said her husband. "What business have you to spend money for milk-what business have you wi' money at all?" he inquired, suspiciously; for he saw in this wastefulness a cause for the recent strange scarcity of whisky; and he felt he had been deeply wronged. His quarrel with Hayes had also been disregarded, and this made him further angry with his wife, and he strictly charged her never to have any more dealings with any of the farm people.

"We can live very well without milk," he said. "I will feed the little 'un, and you'll see she can eat fish and bread as well as the rest of us."

It was useless for Mrs. Coomber to protest against this; she knew if her husband made up his mind to do anything he would do it; but she almost dreaded supper-time coming, for she could not tell how Tiny would like the proposed change in her nurse and diet.

But as it happened the little girl was very pleased to be lifted out of bed and seated on Coomber's knee at the table.

"Me likes 'ou," she said, patting his cheek with her little white hand; and she ate the fish and bread as though she was quite used to such food.

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