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   Chapter 8 BRIGHTER DAYS.

A Sailor's Lass By Emma Leslie Characters: 15128

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The dreary winter came to an end at last, and with the first spring days there was a general bustle of preparation in the fisherman's family, for boat and nets alike required overhauling, and there would be a good deal of repairing to do before the old boat would be fit for further use.

Bob's face was fast losing its sullen, defiant, angry look, and he was whistling as merrily as a lark one morning, when he and Coomber went to remove the tarpaulin that had been covered over the boat during the winter; but the whistling suddenly ceased when the boat was uncovered, for, with all their care, the winter's storms had worked sad havoc with the little craft. Seams were starting, ribs were bulging, and there were gaping holes, that made Coomber lift his hat and scratch his head in consternation.

"This'll be a tough job, Bob," he said.

"Aye, aye, dad, it will that," said the lad, carefully passing his finger down where one rib seemed to be almost rotten.

A few months before Coomber would have raved and blustered, and sworn it was all Bob's fault, but since that tea-meeting at Fellness he had been a changed man-old things had passed away, and all things had become new; and none felt this more than Bob. It was a blessed change for him, and he had given up all thoughts of running away now, if the old boat could only be patched up and made serviceable. But it was a problem whether this could ever be done effectually enough to make it seaworthy.

"If I'd only found out ten years ago that I could do better without the whisky than with it, we might ha' got a new boat afore this, Bob," said the fisherman, with a sigh.

"Aye, aye, and had Jack with us, too, dad," Bob ventured to remark. He had not dared to mention his brother's name for years, but he had thought a good deal of him lately, wishing he could come home, and see the blessed change that had been wrought in his father.

The old fisherman lifted his head, and there was a look of bitter anguish in his face, as he said: "Hark ye, lad, I'd give all the days of my life to bring Jack back. The thought of him is making yer mother an old woman afore her time, and I can't help it now; it's too late, too late;" and the old fisherman covered his face and groaned.

"There now, father, ain't I heard you say it was never too late to repent?"

"Aye, lad, that you have, and the precious blood of Christ can take away the guilt of our sin; but, mark me, not even God Himself can do away with the consequences of sin. Hard as they may be, and truly and bitterly as we may repent, the past can't be undone; and as we sow we must reap. Poor Jack! Poor Jack! If I could only know where he was. Why, it's nigh on ten years since he went away, and never a storm comes but I'm thinking my boy may be in it, and wanting help."

Bob recalled what had passed on Fellness Sands the night they rescued Tiny, and which had helped him often since to bear with his father's gruff, sullen ways and fierce outbursts of temper; but he would not say any more just now, only he thought that but for that tea-meeting his father would now be mourning the loss of two sons; for he had made up his mind to leave home when it was decided to take Tiny to the poorhouse.

They were working at the boat a few days after this, caulking, and plugging, and tarring, when Tiny, who had been playing on the sandhills a little way off, came running up breathless with some news.

TINY AND THE OLD MAN. [See page 130.

"Oh, daddy! there's a little ugly, old man over there, and he says my name is Coomber. Is it, daddy?"

The fisherman lifted his hat and scratched his head, looking puzzled. Strange to say, this question of the little girl's name had never suggested itself to anybody before, living as they did in this out-of-the-way spot. She was "Tiny," or "deary," or "the little 'un," and no need had arisen for any other name; and so, after scratching his head for a minute, he said: "Well, deary, if I'm your daddy, I s'pose your name is Coomber. But who is the old man?" he asked; for it was not often that strangers were seen at Bermuda Point, even in summer-time.

"I dunno, daddy; but he says he knowed my mother when she was a little gal like me."

Coomber dropped the tar-brush he was using, and a spasm of pain crossed his face. Had somebody come to claim the child after all? He instinctively clutched her hand for a minute, but the next he told her to go home, while he went to speak to the stranger.

He found a little, neatly-dressed old man seated on one of the sandhills, and without a word of preface he began:

"You've come after my little gal, I s'pose?"

The old man smiled. "What's your name, my man?" he said, taking out a pocket-book, and preparing to write.

"Coomber."

"Coomber!" exclaimed the old man, dropping his book in his surprise.

"Why, yes; what should it be?" said the fisherman. "Didn't you tell my little Tiny that you knew her name was Coomber? But how you came to know--"

"Why, I never saw you before that I know of," interrupted the other, sharply; "so how do you suppose I should know your name? I told the child I knew her name was Matilda Coomber, for she is the very image of her mother when she was a girl, and she was my only daughter."

"Oh, sir, and you've come to fetch her!" gasped the fisherman.

The stranger took out his snuff-box, and helped himself to a pinch. "Well, I don't know so much about that," he said, cautiously; "I am her grandfather, and I thought, when I picked up that old newspaper the other day, and read about her being saved, I'd just like to come and have a look at her. I was pretty sure she was my Tilly's little one, by the description of the silver medal she wore, for I'd given it to her mother just before she ran away to get married to that sailor Coomber."

"Oh, sir, a sailor, and his name was Coomber! Where is he? What was he like?" asked the fisherman, eagerly.

"He was drowned before his wife died; she never held up her head afterwards, the people tell me. I never saw her after she was married, and swore I'd never help her or hers; but when she was dying she wrote and told me she was leaving a little girl alone in the world, and had left directions for it to be brought to me after her death. With this letter she sent her own portrait, and that of her husband and child, begging me to keep them for the child until she grew up. A day or two after came another letter, saying she was dead, and a neighbour was coming from Grimsby to London by ship, and would bring the child to me; but I never heard or saw anything of either, and concluded she was drowned, when, about a month ago, an old newspaper came in my way, and glancing over it, I saw the account of a little girl being saved from a wreck, and where she might be heard of. I went to the place, and they sent me here, and the minute I saw the child, I knew her for my Tilly's."

The old man had talked on, but Coomber had comprehended very little of what was said. He stood looking half-dazed for a minute or two after the stranger had ceased speaking. At length he gathered his wits sufficiently to say: "Have you got them pictures now?"

"Yes," said the old man, promptly, taking out his pocket-book as he spoke. "Here they are; I took care to bring 'em with me;" and he brought out three photographs.

Coomber seized one instantly. "It is him! It is my Jack!" he gasped. "Oh, sir, tell me more about him."

"I know nothing about him, I tell you," said the other, coldly; "I never saw or spoke to my daught

er after she married him; but I'm willing to do something for the little child, seeing it was my girl's last wish."

"The child," repeated Coomber. "Do you mean to say little Tiny is my Jack's child?"

"Well, yes, of course I do. What else could I mean?" replied the other.

"Then-then I'm her grandfather, and have as much right to her as you have," said the fisherman, quickly.

The stranger shrugged his shoulders. "Well, I s'pose you have," he said; "I'm not going to dispute it. I'm willing to do my duty by her. But mind, I'm not a rich man-not a rich man," he added.

Coomber was puzzled for a minute to know what he meant, and was about to say that he wanted no payment for keeping Tiny; but the other lifted his hand in a commanding manner, and exclaimed: "Now, hear me first. Let me have my say, and then, perhaps, we can come to terms about the matter. You've got a wife, I s'pose, that can look after this child. I haven't; and if she came to me, I shouldn't know what to do with her. Well now, that being the case, she'd better stay here-for the present at least; she's happy enough, I s'pose; and I'll pay you twenty pounds a year as my share towards her expenses."

Coomber was about to exclaim indignantly against this, and protest that he would accept no payment; but just then he caught sight of Bob and the old boat, and the thought of what that money would enable him to do kept him silent a little longer.

"Well now," resumed the old man, "if that plan suits you, we'll come to business at once. You've had her about eighteen months now, so there's about thirty pounds due. You see I'm an honest man, and mean to do the just thing by her," he added.

"Thirty pounds!" repeated Coomber, to whom such a sum seemed immense wealth. But the other mistook the exclamation for one of discontent, and so he said, quickly, "Well now, I'll throw you ten pounds in, as I hear you were the one that saved her, and pay you the next six months in advance. That'll make it a round fifty; but I won't go a penny farther. Now will that satisfy you?"

Satisfy him? Coomber was debating with himself whether he ought to take a farthing, considering what a rich blessing the little girl had been to him. It was only the thought of the bitter winter they had just passed through, and that, if he could get a new boat, he could better provide for the child, that made him hesitate, lest in refusing it he should do Tiny a wrong.

At length, after a pause, during which he had silently lifted his heart in prayer to God, he said: "Well, sir, for the little 'un's sake I'll take your offer. But, look you, I shall use this money as a loan that is to be returned; and as I can save it, I shall put it in the bank for her."

The other shrugged his shoulders. "You can do as you like about that. I shall come and see the child sometimes, and--"

"Do, sir, do, God bless her! To think she's my Jack's child!" interrupted Coomber, drawing his sleeve across his eyes. "Do you know, sir, where my boy went down?" he asked, in a tremulous voice.

But the other shook his head. "I tell you I know nothing of my daughter after she married; but she sent me a box with some letters and these portraits, and some other odds and ends, to be kept for her little Matilda. I'll send you them if you like;" and the old man rose as he spoke. "Can you go with me to Fellness now, and settle this business about the money?" he added.

"But don't you want to see Tiny?" exclaimed Coomber, who could not understand his willingness to give up his claim to the child.

"I have seen her. We had a long talk here before you came. You may tell her that her Grandfather West will come and see her sometimes. And now, if you'll follow me as quickly as you can to the village, we'll settle this business;" and as he spoke, Mr. West turned towards the road, leaving Coomber still half-dazed with astonishment.

"Bob, Bob," he called at last, "I've got to go to the village. A strange thing has happened here to-day, and I want to get my wits a bit together before I tell your mother. But you needn't do much to the boat till I come back, for it may be we shall have a new one after all."

Bob looked up in his father's face, speechless with surprise. He spoke of having a new boat as though it was a very sad business. But his next words explained it. "I've heard of Jack," he said; "no storms will trouble him again;" and then the fisherman burst forth into heart-breaking sobs and groans, and Bob shed a few tears, although he felt heartily ashamed of them.

"Now go back, Bob, and tell your mother I've gone to Fellness; and if I ain't home by five o'clock, you come and meet me, for I shall have some money to carry-almost a fortune, Bob."

Having heard so much, Bob wanted to hear more, and so walked with his father for the first mile along the road, listening to the strange tale concerning Tiny. Then he went back, and told the news to the astonished group at home; and so, before Coomber returned, his wife had got over the first outburst of grief for the death of her son, and she and Bob had had time to talk calmly over the whole matter. They had decided that the money must be used in such a way as would give the little girl the greatest benefit from it, and that she must go to school, if possible.

"Now, if dad could buy a share in one of the bigger boats where he and I could work, wouldn't it be better than buying a little one for ourselves?" suggested Bob; "then we could go and live at Fellness, and Tiny could go to school-Sunday-school as well as week-day."

"And Dick, too," put in Tiny.

"Yes, and we should all go to God's house on Sunday," said Mrs. Coomber, drying her eyes.

Strange to say, a similar project had been suggested to Coomber by his old friend Peters, who knew a man who wanted to sell his share in one of the large fishing-boats, and was asking forty pounds for it.

"That will leave us ten pounds, mother, to buy the children some new clothes, and take us to Fellness. What do you say to it now?" asked her husband, after they had talked it over.

"Why, it seems too good to be true," said the poor woman, through her tears. "But oh! if only poor Jack was here!" she sighed.

Her husband shook his head, and was silent for a minute or two; but at length he said: "God has been very good to us when we had no thought of Him. I always knew the little 'un must be a sailor's lass, but to think that she should be our Jack's own child is wonderful. The old gentleman had made quite sure of it before he came here-he wouldn't part with his money unless he'd been sure, I know; and now she's ours, just as much as Dick and Bob is. And we'll take good care of her, God bless her, and Him for sending her to us."

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The rest of my story is soon told. The fisherman and his family removed to Fellness, and brighter days dawned for them than they had ever hoped to see. When the box arrived from Mr. West, containing the letter and papers relating to the latter years of their son's life, they found that he had become a true Christian through his wife's influence. He had also learned to read and write; and in the last letter sent to his wife before his death, he told her he meant to go and see his parents as soon as he returned from that voyage. Alas! he never did return; but the "little lass," of whom he spoke so lovingly, became God's messenger to his old home, and the joy and comfort of his parents' hearts.

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Printed by Cooke & Halsted, The Moorfields Press, London, E.C.

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