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   Chapter 5 ON THE SANDS.

A Sailor's Lass By Emma Leslie Characters: 14767

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Tiny was somewhat disappointed as the days went on to find that her pupils, Tom and Dick, took less and less interest in learning the letters she marked in the sand, or pointed out on the paper. They teased her to know how to put the letters together and make them into words which they could understand. But, alas! labour as she would, Tiny could not get over this difficulty even for herself. She had a dim idea that G O D spelt God, but she could not be quite sure-not sure enough to tell Dick that it was so. It was enough, however, to quicken her own interest in what the lines of letters might be able to tell her if only she could solve the mystery of putting them into words, for doubtless they would clear up her anxiety as to whether God loved boys as well as girls.

She did not spend her whole time poring over her picture. She gathered samphire, helped to sort the fish when it was brought in, or mend the much-despised net; but every day she spent some time diligently tracing out the letters she knew and spelling over G O D.

She might have mastered the difficulty with very little trouble if the fisherman had been less obstinate in his quarrel with the farm people, for Harry Hayes and his sisters were often down on the sands, sometimes bringing their books with them, and Dick, who longed to join them in their play, tried to persuade Tiny to go and ask them to help her with the reading difficulty.

"Dad won't say anything to you, even if he should see you talking; but he won't see, and I won't tell," urged Dick, one day, when the children from the farm were at play among the sandhills, and occasionally casting sidelong glances towards Dick and Tiny.

But the little girl only shook her head. "I can't, Dick," she said; "God wouldn't like it; mother told me that long ago."

"But how is He to know if you don't tell Him?" said the boy, in an impatient tone.

"Don't you know that God can see us all the time; that He's taking care of us always?" said Tiny, slowly.

"Oh, come! what'll you tell us next?" said Dick, looking over his shoulder with a gesture of fear. "He ain't here now, you know," he added.

"Yes he is," said the little girl, confidently; "mother said God was a Spirit. I dunno what that is, but it's just as real as the wind. We can't see that you know, but it's real; and we can't see God, but He's close to us all the time."

The boy crept closer to her while she was speaking. "What makes you talk like that?" he said, in a half-frightened tone.

"What's a matter, Dick?" she asked, not understanding his fear. "Don't you like to think God is close to you, and all round you," she suddenly added, in surprise.

Dick shook his head. "Nobody never thinks about God at Bermuda Point, so p'r'aps He don't come here," he said, at last, in a tone of relief. "Oh, I say, Tiny, look! Harry Hayes has got a book! Let's go and see what it's about!"

"Well, we'll ask dad when he come home to-night, and p'r'aps he'll let us," said the little girl, turning resolutely to her own paper again.

"Oh, then, it's dad you're afraid of, and not God?" said Dick.

"Afraid! What do you mean?" asked Tiny. "God loves me, and takes care of me, and so does daddy; and if I was to talk to Harry Hayes, it would make him cross, and God doesn't like us to make people cross; and little gals has to do as they are told, you know."

"Oh yes; I know all about that," said Dick; "but what do you suppose God thinks of dad when he makes himself cross with the whisky?"

"Oh! He's dreadfully sorry, Dick, I know He is, for He makes me afraid of him sometimes, when he's had a big lot; and he's just the dearest daddy when he forgets to bring the bottle home from Fellness."

"Ah, but that ain't often," grunted Dick; "and if God wouldn't like you to talk to Harry Hayes, 'cos dad says you musn't, I'd like to know what He thinks of dad sometimes, that's all." And then Dick ran away, for if he could not speak to the farm children, he liked to be near them when they came to play on the sands.

A minute or two after Dick had left her, Tiny was startled by a sound close at hand, and, looking round, she saw Coomber coming from the other side of the sandhill.

"Oh, dad, I thought you was out in the boat," she said.

"'I WANT YOU TO SING A BIT, WHILE I RUB AWAY AT THIS OLD GUN.'" [See page 81.

"Bob and Tom have gone by themselves to-day, for I wanted to clean the gun ready for winter," said the fisherman, still rubbing at the lock with a piece of oiled rag.

Tiny looked up at him half shyly, half curiously, for if he had only been on the other side of the sand-ridge, he must have heard all she and Dick had been talking about.

But if he had heard the fisherman took no notice of what had passed.

"Come, I want you to sing a bit, while I rub away at this old gun," he said. "Sing 'Star of Peace'; it'll sound first-rate out here;" as though he had never heard it out there before, when, as a matter of fact, scarcely a day passed but she sang it to please him.

When she had finished, he said, quickly: "What do you think about that 'Star of Peace' deary? It's the sailor's star, you know, so I've got a sort of share in it like."

"I think it means God. I'm a'most sure mother said it meant God," added the little girl.

"Ah, then, I don't think there's much share of it for me," said Coomber, somewhat sadly; and he turned to rubbing his gun again, and began talking about it-how rusty he had found it, and how he would have to use it more than ever when winter came, for the boat was growing old, and would not stand much more knocking about by the rough wintry sea; so he and Bob must shoot more wild birds, and only go out in calm weather when winter came. Then half shyly, and with apparent effort, he brought the conversation round so as to include Farmer Hayes.

"He ain't a bad sort, you know, Tiny, if he could just remember that a fisherman is a bit proud and independent, though he may be poor; and if you could do one of them young 'uns a good turn any time, why, you're a sailor's lass, yer know, and a sailor is always ready to do a good turn to anybody."

"Yes, daddy," said Tiny, slowly and thoughtfully; and then, after a minute's pause, she said: "Daddy, I think Harry or Polly would just like to help me a bit with this reading."

For answer the fisherman burst into a loud laugh. "That's what you'd like, I s'pose?" he said, as he looked at her.

"Yes; I want to find out about this picture, and these letters tell all about it, I know-if I only could find out what they mean," said Tiny, eagerly.

"Oh, well, when I'm gone indoors you can go and ask 'em if they'd like to help you," he said, with another short laugh. "Maybe you'll be able to tell us all about it when winter comes, and it'll soon be here now," added the fisherman, with a sigh.

Never before had Coomber looked forward with such dread to the winter. Until lately he had always thought the fishing-boat would "last his time," as he used to say; but he had patched and repaired it so often lately, until at last the conviction had been forced upon him that it was worn out; and to be caught in a sudden squall on the open sea, would inevitably break her up, and all who were in her would meet with a watery grave. He was as brave as a lion; but to know that his boat was gradually going to pieces, and tha

t its timbers might part company at almost any moment, made even his courage quail; especially when he thought of his wife, and the boys, and this little helpless girl. Some hard things had been said at Fellness about his folly in taking her upon his hands when she could without difficulty have been sent to the poorhouse. A girl was such a useless burden, never likely to be helpful in managing a boat, as a boy might be; and it was clear that no reward would ever be obtained from her friends, even if they were found, for her clothing made it evident that she was only the child of poor parents.

This had been the reasoning among the Fellness busybodies ever since Coomber had announced his intention of taking the little girl home; but he was as obstinate in this as in most other things. He had followed his own will, or rather the God-like compassion of his own heart, in spite of the poverty that surrounded him, and the hard struggle he often had to get bread enough for his own children.

"I'll just have to stay out a bit longer, or go out in the boat a bit oftener," he said, with a light laugh, when they attempted to reason him out of his project. He did not know then that the days of his boat were numbered; but he knew it now-knew that starvation stared them in the face, and at no distant date either. He could never hope to buy a new boat. It would cost over twenty pounds, and he seldom owned twenty pence over the day's stock of bread and other household necessaries. Among these he counted his whisky; for that a fisherman could do his work without a daily supply of ardent spirits never entered his head. Blue ribbon armies and temperance crusades had never been heard of, and it was a fixed belief among the fisher folk that a man could not work without drinking as well as eating, and drinking deeply, too.

So Coomber never thought of curtailing his daily allowance of grog to meet the additional expense of his household: he rather increased the allowance, that he might be able to work the boat better, as he fancied, and so catch more fish. When he forgot his bottle and left it at Fellness, it struck him as something all but marvellous that he should be able to work the next day without his usual drams, but it had not convinced him that he could do without it all together. Of its effect upon himself, in making him sullen, morose, and disagreeable, he was in absolute ignorance, and so the children's talk about it came upon him as a revelation. He knew that Tiny sometimes shrank from and avoided him; but he had considered it a mere childish whim, not to be accounted for by anything in himself; and so to hear that she was absolutely afraid of him sometimes was something to make him think more deeply than he had ever done in his life before.

But he did not say a word to Tiny about this. When he had done rubbing his gun he carried it home, and Tiny was left free to make acquaintance with the farm children.

She walked shyly up to where they were sitting-Polly reading, and Harry throwing sand at Dick, who had seated himself at a short distance, and was returning the salute.

"Would-wouldn't you like to tell me about these letters, please?" said Tiny, holding out her paper to Polly.

"Well, that's a rum way of asking," said Harry, with a laugh. "Suppose she wouldn't now, little 'un," he added.

"Then she mustn't," said Tiny, stoutly; though the tears welled up to her eyes at the thought of all her hopes being overthrown just when they seemed about to be realised.

"Don't, Harry; what a tease you are!" said his sister. "I should like to tell you, dear," she added, in a patronising tone. "Come and sit down here, and tell me what you want."

"It's what you want; don't forget that, Polly, else she'll get her back up, and go off again," laughed her brother; but he was not sorry the embargo had been taken off their intercourse with the fisherman's family; for although he had had surreptitious dealings with boys sometimes, they had to be so watchful lest they should be discovered that the play was considerably hindered. Now he understood that this advance on Tiny's part was a direct concession from Coomber himself, for he and the boys had long ago agreed to try and draw the little girl into some intimacy as the only way of breaking down the restrictions laid upon them. But Tiny had proved obstinate. She had been asked again and again, but she had always returned the same answer: "Daddy would let her some day, and then she would play with them." So Harry Hayes was perfectly aware that she had won the fisherman's consent at last, although no word had been said about it.

When the girls were left to themselves, Polly took up the picture and looked at it, then turned it over and read, "God is good to all: He loves both boys and girls." At this point Tiny interrupted her by laying her hand on her arm, and saying eagerly: "Are you quite sure that is what it says?"

"Why, don't you think I can read?" said Polly, in a half-offended tone. But the subject was new to her, and so she was anxious to read further, and turned to the page again and read on. At the bottom was a line or two in smaller print, and Polly read these longer words with a touch of pride: "Jesus said, Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God."

"Then this must be Jesus, and these are the little children," concluded Polly, as she turned over the paper to look at the picture again.

The two girls sat and looked at it and talked about it for a few minutes, and then Tiny said wistfully: "Will you show me now how you make up them nice words?"

"Oh, it's easy enough if you know the letters; but you must learn the letters first," said Polly; and she proceeded to tell Tiny the name of each; and the little girl had the satisfaction of knowing now that she had remembered them quite correctly, and that G O D did spell God, as she had surmised.

She was not long now in putting other words together; and before she went home she was able to spell out the first two lines of the printed page, for they were all easy words, and intended for beginners.

What a triumph it was to Tiny to be able to read out to the fisherman's family what she had learned on the sands that day. She was allowed to have the candle all to herself after supper, and they sat round the table looking at each other in wondering amazement as her little finger travelled along the page, and she spelt out the wonderful news, "'God is good to all: He loves both boys and girls.' It's true, Dick, what I told you, ain't it?" she said, in a tone of delighted satisfaction.

Dick scratched his head, and looked round at his father, wondering what he would think or say. For a minute or two the fisherman smoked his pipe in silence. At length, taking it from his mouth, he said, in a slow, meditative fashion: "Well, little 'un, I s'pose if it's printed that way it's true; and if it is, why I s'pose we've all got a share in that 'Star of Peace' we was talking about to-day."

Tiny did not quite follow his train of thought; but she nodded her head, and then proceeded to tell them what she had heard about the picture, and the conclusion she and Polly had arrived at upon the subject-that Jesus, the kind, loving man of the picture, had come to show them how kind God was to them.

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