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   Chapter 7 A TEA MEETING.

A Sailor's Lass By Emma Leslie Characters: 15241

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Tiny was very ill the next day-too ill to get up, or to notice what was passing around her. Mrs. Coomber, who had had very little experience of sickness, was very anxious when she saw Tiny lying so quiet and lifeless-looking, the white bandage on her forehead making her poor little face look quite ghastly in its paleness. The fisherman had crept into the room before he went out, to look at her while she was asleep, and the sight had made his heart ache.

"I never thought I could ha' been such a brute as to hurt a little 'un like that," he said, drawing his sleeve across his eyes, and speaking in a whisper to his wife.

"It was the whisky," said his wife, by way of comforting him.

But Coomber would not accept even this poor comfort. "I was a fool to take so much," he said. "Wus than a fool, for I knowed it made me savage as a bear; and yet I let it get the mastery of me. But it's the last, mother; I took the bottle to the farm last night, and they're going to let me have the value of it in milk for the little 'un, and please God she gets well again, it's no more whisky I'll touch."

It was not easy for a man like Coomber to make such a promise, and still more difficult to keep it. For the first few days, while Tiny was very ill, it was not so hard to send Bob and Tom to Fellness, with the teal and widgeon he had shot; but when she began to get better, and the craving for the drink made itself felt, then began the tug of war. During the first few days of the little girl's illness, the fisherman kept carefully out of her sight, though he longed to see her once more, and hear her say she had forgiven him the cruel blow he had dealt to her.

Tiny, too, longed for him to come and see her in the daytime; but as it grew dusk the longing passed away, and every night, as the hour drew near when he usually came back from Fellness, a positive dread and terror of him seized her, and she would lie shivering and holding Mrs. Coomber's hand whenever she heard his voice in the kitchen.

Mrs. Coomber tried to persuade her husband to go and see the child in the daytime; but he only shook his head. "She hates me, and I don't deserve to see her agin," he said, gloomily.

He returned the same answer again and again, when pressed to go in and see her before he went out with his gun in the morning. At length, as he sat at breakfast one day, he was startled by Tiny creeping up to him, just as she had slipped out of bed.

"Oh, daddy, why didn't you come to me?" she said, with a little gasping sob, throwing her arms round his neck.

"My deary, my deary," he said, in a choking voice, gathering her in his arms, and kissing her, while the tears rolled down his weather-beaten face.

"Oh, daddy, don't you love me," said Tiny; "that you didn't come to see me all these days?"

"Love you, my deary? Ah, you may well ask that, after what I've done to yer; but it was just because I did love yer that I kept away from yer," he went on; "I thought you'd never want to see yer cruel old daddy any more; and as for me, why I'd punish myself by not trying to see yer, or get back your love. That's just how it was, deary," said the fisherman, as he looked tenderly at the little pallid face.

"But, daddy, I love you, and I wanted you all the days," said Tiny, nestling closer to him as she spoke.

"Bless you, deary, I believe you're one of God's own bairns, as well as a sailor's lass," said Coomber.

"I wanted you all the days, daddy; but-but-don't-come-at-night," she added, in a hesitating tone.

"I know what you mean; mother's told me, little 'un," he said, drawing his sleeve across his eyes, and sighing.

"I can't help it, daddy, I can't help it," said the little girl, with a sob.

"Well, I s'pose not; but you needn't be afraid now, you know. I've done with the bottle now; and it wasn't me you was afraid of, mother said, but the whisky."

Tiny nodded. "Yes, that's it," she said; "and I shan't be afraid long if I know you don't have it now;" and from that time the little girl set herself strenuously to overcome the terror and dread that nightly crept over her; but still it was some time before she could endure Coomber's presence after dusk.

Meanwhile pinching want was again making itself felt in the household. For some reason known only to themselves, the teal and widgeon did not come within range of the fisherman's gun just now; and sometimes, after a whole day spent in the punt, or among the salt marshes along the coast, only a few unsaleable old gulls would reward Coomber's toil. They were not actually uneatable by those who were on the verge of starvation; but they were utterly unfit for a child like Tiny, in her present weak, delicate condition; and again the question of sending her to the poorhouse until the spring was mooted by Mrs. Coomber. Her husband did not refuse to discuss it this time when it was mentioned, and it was evident that he himself had thought of it already, for he said, with a groan-

"It seems as though God wasn't going to let me keep the little 'un, though she's getting on a bit, for never have I had such a bad shooting season as this since I knocked the little 'un down. It seems hard, mother; what do you think?"

But Mrs. Coomber did not know what to think; she only knew that poor little Tiny was often hungry, although she never complained. They had eaten up all the store of biscuits by this time; and although Dick and Tom often spent hours wandering along the shore, in the hope of finding another wonderful treasure-trove, nothing had come of their wanderings beyond the usual harvest of drift wood that enabled them to keep a good fire in the kitchen all day.

At length it was decided that Coomber should take Tiny to the poorhouse, and ask the authorities to keep her until this bitter winter was over; and then, when the spring came, and the boat could go out once more, he would fetch her home again.

But it was not without many tears that this proposal was confided to Tiny, the fisherman insisting-though he shrank from the task himself-that she should be told what they thought of doing. "She is a sailor's lass, and it's only fair to her," he said, as he left his wife to break the news to Tiny.

She was overwhelmed at the thought of being separated from those who had been so kind to her, and whom she had learned to love so tenderly, but with a mighty effort she choked back her tears, for she saw how grieved Mrs. Coomber was; though she could not help exclaiming: "Oh! if God would only let me stay with you, and daddy, and Dick!"

Her last words to Dick before she started were in a whispered conference, in which she told him to pray to God every day to let her come back soon. "I will, I will!" said Dick through his tears; "I'll say what you told me last night-I'll say it every day." And then Coomber and Tiny set out on their dreary walk to Fellness, reaching it about the middle of the afternoon.

Bob and Tom had let their old friends know that their father had given up the whisky, and now he, foolish man, felt half afraid and half ashamed to meet them; but he was obliged to go, for he wanted Peters to go with him, and tell the workhouse people about the rescue of the little girl, for fear they should refuse to take her in unless his story was confirmed.

Coomber explained this to his friend in a rather roundabout fashion, for he had not found Peters on the shore, as he had expected, and where he could have stated his errand in a few words. He had found instead that all the village was astir with the news of a tea-meeting, that was to take place

that afternoon in the chapel, and that Peters, who was "something of a Methody," as Coomber expressed it, had gone to help in the preparations.

He was astonished to see Coomber when he presented himself, and still more to hear the errand he had come upon. He scratched his head, and looked pityingly at the little girl, who held fast to Coomber's hand. "Well now, mate, I'm in a fix," he said, slowly, and pointing round the room; "I've got all these forms to move, and to fix up the tables for 'em by four o'clock; but if you'll stay and lend a hand, why, you and the little 'un 'll be welcome to stay to tea, I know; it's free to all the village to-day," he added, "and the more that come, the better we shall like it."

Coomber looked at Tiny, and saw how wistfully her eyes rested on a pile of cakes that stood near; and that look decided him. "Would you like to have some of it?" he said, with a faint smile. The little girl's face flushed with joy at the prospect of such a treat. "Oh, daddy! if I could only take Dick some, too," she said.

Both the men laughed, but Peters said, "Well, well, we'll see what we can do; come in here while daddy helps me with the forms;" and he led the way into a small room, where several of the fishermen's wives were cutting bread and butter. Peters whispered a word to one of them, and she seated Tiny by the fire, and gave her some bread and butter at once. When the tea was all ready, and the company began to arrive, Coomber fetched Tiny to sit with him, and the two had a bountiful tea, and such cake as the little girl had not tasted for a long time. But she would not eat much. She took what was given to her, but slipped most of it into Coomber's pocket, that he might take it home to Dick, for the little girl thought they would go on to the poorhouse as soon as tea was over.

But while the tea-things were being cleared away, and they were preparing for the meeting that was to follow, the fisherman drew her aside, and whispered: "I do believe God has heard what you've been a-praying for, deary, for Peters has heard of a job of work for me since I've been here."

"Oh, daddy! and we shall go home together again," exclaimed Tiny, looking round for her bonnet at once.

"Yes, but not jest yet. There's to be some preaching or somethin', and-and-little 'un, I've been a bad man, and I dunno as God'll have anything to do wi' helping such a tough customer to be any better; but if He would-"

And here Coomber drew his sleeve across his eyes, and turned his head aside to hide his emotion.

The little girl threw her arms round his neck, and drew his face close to hers. "Oh, daddy, He will! He will!" she whispered, earnestly; "He loves you, and He's been waiting all this long time for you to love Him; and you will, won't you, now, you know?"

But there was no time for Coomber to reply, for the people were taking their seats again, and Peters touched him on the shoulder, motioning him to do the same. The two sat down, feeling too eager for shyness, or to notice that others were looking at them. A hymn was sung, and a prayer followed, and then Coomber began to feel disappointed, for he was hungering to hear something that might set his doubts at rest. At length he heard the words that have brought help and gladness to so many souls: "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Then followed a simple address, enlarging upon the text, and an exhortation to accept God's offer of salvation. "The Lord Jesus Christ Himself said: 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,'" continued the speaker, "and in His name I beg each one of you to become reconciled to God. He is waiting: He is willing to receive each one of you."

These were his closing words, and Coomber, who had listened with eager, rapt attention, stayed only for the people to move towards the door, and then followed the speaker into the little vestry. "Beg pardon, sir," he said, pausing at the door, "but 'tain't often as I gets the chance of hearing such words as I've heard from you to-night, and so I hopes you'll forgive me if I asks for a bit more. I'm a bad man. I begins to see it all now; but-but--"

"My friend, if you feel that you are a sinner, then you are just one of those whom the Lord Jesus died to redeem. He came to seek and to save those who are lost-to redeem them from sin. He gave His life-dying upon the cross, a shameful, painful death-not, mark me, that they may continue in sin. To say we believe in God, and to live in sin, makes our belief of no effect. We must learn of Christ, or He will have died in vain for us. We must learn of Him, and He will help us to overcome our love of drink, our selfishness, and sullenness, and ill-temper;" for the gentleman knew something of Coomber, and so particularised the sins he knew to be his easily besetting ones.

"And you think He'd help me? You see, sir, He's done a deal for me lately, bad as I am," said Coomber, twisting his hat in his hand.

"Help you! ah, that He will. If He gave His only Son, what do you think He will withhold? 'What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him.'"

"And what are the good things that I'm to ask for," said Coomber. "I know what the asking means; this little 'un here has taught me that praying is asking God; and though I ain't never done it afore, I'll begin now."

"Do, my man. Ask that the Holy Spirit may be given you, to lead you, and teach you, and guide you into all truth. Without His help you can do nothing; but, seeking His help, trusting in his guidance, you will be enabled to overcome every difficulty and obstacle, however hard it may be."

"And you think God will forgive me all the past?"

"My brother, Christ died-He shed His precious blood, to wash away our sin, to set our conscience free from guilt, and to assure us beyond a doubt of the perfect love of God towards us."

The words spoken fell into prepared soil, for Coomber had been hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and he went home that night feeling that he had been fed.

What a happy walk home that was for Tiny and the fisherman! As he left the little chapel at Fellness, a basket, well filled with the odds and ends left from the tea-meeting, had been handed to Coomber to take home, and Peters whispered, as he went out: "I've heard of another job for yer, so be along in good time in the morning, mate." To describe Mrs. Coomber's joy, when her husband walked in with Tiny asleep in his arms, and also with the basket of bread and butter, would be impossible.

"God has given us the little 'un back, mother," he said, placing the child in his wife's arms. "He's been good to me, better than I deserved, only the Lord Jesus Christ has died for me, and that explains it all."

His heart was full of joy and gratitude to-night, and he forgot his usual shyness, and told his wife of the good news he had heard at Fellness, both for body and soul. "Now, mother," he said, as he concluded, "you and I must both begin a new life. We must ask God to help us like this little 'un, and we must teach our boys to do the same. We owe it all to her," he added, as he kissed Tiny, "for if she hadn't come among us, we might never have heard about God down here at Bermuda Point."

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