BEING saloon passengers, an hour's fixing found Zee in apple-pie order; and, delighted with the ship, the boys were full of the long voyage before them, until seized by a qualm of the sea-green ghastliness which humbles th_oftiest head. Sitting dejectedly in their cabin, Rex said: “I wish I had gon_ack with papa.” “So do I,” faintly gasped Piri. So ludicrously doleful wa_he picture they presented, that Zee could but laugh at them, though not on_hit braver than they. Still she encouraged them to bear the sickness lik_en; “good times are coming.”
The rolling of the vessel, bringing the great waters close to him, terrifie_he erstwhile fearless Piri, who cried and clung to his mother, saying: “W_hall go overboard—I'm sure we shall go overboard.” Vain were all attempts t_onvince him to the contrary; so he preferred to remain in the saloon until h_ecame used to the motion of the vessel, and finding that it did not land them “overboard,” he ventured again on the poop; but timid still, his mother's kne_as his vantage-ground, which so scandalised the captain, that he cried: “Fie, for shame! put that big boy down Missis. You'll make a fool of him.” Hidin_is face, the “big boy” clung only the tighter to his mother, who begged: “Give him time to become used to the changed order of locomotion, and you'l_ind he is no coward.” And fear having given place to confidence, Piri becam_older than his brother; the little rogue was as mettlesome as a monkey, bu_is tricks were merry only, not cunning or spiteful. Wrax predicted that Pir_ould be “a great man on board ship.” He was A 1 with old and young. By commo_onsent the children voted him to fill the captain's chair at meals, nor wa_nother permitted to occupy the seat of honour. His personality, thoug_ronounced, was too unconscious to provoke jealousy.
Forgiving him his earlier timidity, the captain used to say of Piri: “Ther_ever was but one other such child.” Piri was everywhere in demand, hi_hildish simplicity made him pleasantly entertaining. The children dined a_easonable hours, but the captain always had pudding or tart for Piri at th_ate dinner, which he shared instantly, of his own accord, with the othe_hildren. Giving him some greengage tart one day, the captain said: “Now, yo_at it; don't give it away.” Putting the plate in the accustomed spot with _isappointed air, Piri tried to hide it from the little folk, expecting t_ave a good time as usual; what he said is not known, but quickly divining th_tate of the case, Zee exclaimed: “You've spoilt the fun; the boy can't ea_is tart.” So calling Piri to him the captain asked: “How is it you don't ea_our tart?” Silence. “Can't you eat it without giving the others some?” “No.” “Off, then, and divide.” Away he bounded, and away went the tart, as far as i_ould go. Standing on the poop, with his hand locked in that of his mother, and looking dreamily out over the water with, those soulful eyes of his, having sostrange a depth of meaning in them, that one saw only his eyes whe_ne looked at him, Piri, one day, said musingly: “I should notmind bein_rowned, mamma; I should soon die and go to heaven.” Tightening her grip o_is hand, Zee looked wonderingly into his face; but the remark had been quit_atural; the saucy rogue often displayed wool-gathering propensities, an_othing could have suited the restless spirit better than to have had one foo_n earth and one in heaven. It was even so; he was like heaven, and heaven wa_ike him. Heaven is where God is; God is here, earth is heaven. A strang_emark, too, remembering his dread of the water; nothing whatever had led u_o it; possibly he was repeating the words of a sailor, an authority wit_iri.
He must pass into the unknown realm of sleep with “lots and lots of kisses” o_is lips, and “one kiss more,” and he put out his hand for the “good-night” clasp, adding: “Tuck me up tight, tight, mamma.” The repetition of an act o_houghtlessness against which he had been warned, brought upon him a scold on_ight, when he said, with a quick pout: “I won't love you.” “All right,” returned Zee, and not another word passed, until tucking-up time came, whe_he small man broke down, and the childlike tenderness of the sweet fac_eamed forgiveness full and free, as he claimed the “lots and lots of kisses,” and the unfailing “one kiss more.” His was an affection that grew with hi_rowth. Estrangement presses hard upon innocent childhood; the heart is sor_roken, though the lips are still sealed. Ah, why require our pets to _say_hey are sorry? Can we not see it and run to meet them?
To the child who is lived, not talked into goodness, our holy religion will b_s attractive as are the flowers in May; so trustful is the child, a fel_ivinity casts a halo around him, until man's rude handling brushes off th_loom. And that same trustfulness, together with a fertile imagination, enabled Piri to see all things as his mother painted them, and his small min_ealised a glorious immortality awaiting little travellers Zionward: Death wa_o Zee too loved a friend to be represented in chilling aspect.
Many circumstances conspired to set him upon high; his sixth birthday cam_ound, and was celebrated with much jubilation. Several of the gentlemen gav_im a copper or two, or a sixpence; the captain gave him a whole shilling!
Never was he half so rich before, and, to crown it all, Rex gave him hi_urse, and in it he deposited his wealth. Next thing, if you please, h_rdered “a tin of sardines and a bottle of beer.” It was so “like a man” t_all for “a bottle of beer;” he heard it all day long; and he would do o_uffer almost anything to be “a man.” The sardines, for which he insisted o_aying “like a man,” were soon placed before him and his friends; not th_eer, he would have disliked it, his taste was natural.
But better than all the money was the captain's promise that he “would have _ailor's suit made for him (Piri) by the sailors, as soon as the fine weathe_ame.” “Pockets and all?” exclaimed Piri. “Yes, ever so many.” Oh, ecstacy!
“Be a sailor before I am a man!” Honor out-running his wildest dreams, and th_erry cricket danced his merriest. The sailors, in truth, were no less eage_han himself to see him “full-rigged,” and in anticipation of that best of al_uits, the boy often asked: “Is it fine weather yet?”
Having reached the latitude where icebergs sport at will, believing tha_ravellers and wonders should meet, Zee expressed a wish to be presented i_ue form to the stately masses. To which the captain objected, with thunde_athering on his brow: “If you once find yourself among them, you'll neve_ant to see another as long as you live.” By the way, the captain was given t_eaman-like explosions if icebergs were mentioned or his satellites blundered, instantly adding: “Excuse my bad French, ladies.” But no, it was too good (?) English to be “bad French.” However, since the mere wishing for the 'berg_ould not bring them, Zee extracted a lugubrious promise that she should hav_imely notice of the first seen, whether by night or by day. Taking her at he_ord, with a spice of triumph in the summons, the captain sent for her betwee_our and five o'clock, a.m. On deck at four o'clock in the morning, next doo_o the frigid zone. Think of it! It was midsummer at the Horn, and the weathe_elightful; but the nights were cold enough for Christmas in civilise_egions.
Nothing but an iceberg, a once-in-a-lifetime wonder, could have drawn Zee fro_er warm bed out into the nose-nipping air. But lest the laugh should be al_gainst her, Zee and the young widow who shared Zee's cabin soon appeared o_eck, well muffled in cloaks and hoods. And there, of a surety, was a 'berg, sufficiently large to satisfy any curiosity-mania, and ere its outline coul_e clearly defined, another and yet another dotted the horizon.
The ship had gone out of her course to escape the 'bergs—a forlorn hope, fo_t was presently hemmed in on all sides by zero's proud giants, and for thre_ays and nights passed through successive fields of ice of every conceivabl_hape and size; some of the 'bergs were dead-white, some frosted an_listening, some blue, some green, while from one mountain rushed quite a bod_f water as it thawed in the sun. With a smiling sky overhead, clouds lowere_n the captain's brow so long as the ice lasted, and “bad English” floated i_apory wreaths about the 'bergs, which are said to throw off a false light, misleading as to distance. Hence, on the third night, in a spirit of revenge, perchance, the 'bergs placed the ship in imminent peril of being blocked. T_o forward was impossible, so she had to “back out;” and terrific work it was, judged by the unearthly sounds it occasioned. All hands able to hold a rop_ere in requisition, and the rushing about and the shouting made it appear a_f, by order of their cloven-footed tyrant, the principalities and powers o_he nether kingdom were making ready for a fat cargo of ripe souls, to b_urried all of a heap into orthodoxy's yawning abyss of unutterable woe.
The darkest hour before dawn (three o'clock) was the most critical. Panic, noise, nerved Zee, who had been tried by fire and flood, to quiet endurance, prompted her, indeed, to trim her sails and hoist her colors, as it would d_lmost every woman, but that it is esteemed lady-like to be useless or worse.
The young widow was now on deck, fainting heroically. But, fearful of being i_omeone's way, Zee never so much as glanced at the ship's peril; she had he_ork to do to preserve anything like quiet in the saloon; one old lady, indeed, clung to her frantically all the time. Rex and Piri slept through i_ll. How sweet was that sleep to their mother! If they must have gone to th_ottom, and could have slept on, Zee would just have folded her arms aroun_hem, and as the flood engulfed them, her kisses only would have told them sh_as with them to the last. Having lived through the turmoil and dangers of th_ight, the former being the greater, probably, the peep-o'-day was gratefull_elcomed, and by the breakfast hour they had bidden adieu, not regretfully, t_he last 'berg. In lieu of dark clouds, mischief twinkled in the captain'_yes, as he inquired of Zee: “Well, have you had enough of icebergs now?” “Yes, ah yes, enough to repletion.”
All the children were expected to keep clear of the saloon during the lat_inner, and in fine weather they not unnaturally preferred the poop to thei_wn cabins; but one day, the sea being rough and treacherous, Zee feared t_eave her boys on the poop; but they begged to remain, and since all th_hildren belonging to the saloon were there, except the little two-year old, she consented. But being conscious of a strange restlessness, she inquired o_ore than one gentleman (a thing she had never done before): “Is it safe t_eave the children on the poop?” and the answer was “Oh, yes, they're safe,” one gentleman adding: “especially Piri, he holds on so well.”
Thus all fears were allayed, and she proceeded to dress for dinner when, a fe_inutes later, the father of the family of seven rushed excitedly through th_aloon, crying: “What child's that overboard?” “Oh, no child,” wailed Zee, he_eart dying within her, as she followed him to the door. There Rex met her, wild and white with horror, screaming: “Piri's overboard! Piri's overboard!” Uttering a great cry, Zee threw up her arms stunned, quite stunned. Someon_eized her and led her away, saying: “They'll save him. So and So is goin_verboard with a rope.” No, his death-knell sounded, the little Piri's, yo_now, when she heard those awful words. They couldn't save him, and th_hought of the child struggling with his mighty conqueror will ever remain a_pen wound. Still, she mourned too late, having been prevented rushing on dec_nd asking some strong man to save her boy. How could they have stood idl_pectators of the dread scene! A wave threw the little man up upon its crest, his eyes wide open straining at the ship, his clasped hands thrown out i_itiful entreaty, “in prayer” it was said; but no, that was cant. It was hi_other he wanted, and for the first time in his life she failed him. The mut_ppeal was vain.
Forgive the tears that start unbidden; forgive the love which dwells wit_ainful interest on the sad details of a bereavement much to be lamented. I_ill never be known what the world and Zee lost in that boy. Why was she thu_elentlessly pursued; why must she lose one of two, while the family of seve_emained unbroken still? The younger of these was sitting beside him on th_oop-deck—sitting for safety, and the sitting posture cost Piri his life; wit_ne fell lurch of the ship he slipped out feet foremost; one piercing shrie_ent the air as he went out—out into the cold, angry waters—waters that close_ver him, heedless of the precious gem who had gone to swell the number of th_earls of the ocean.
If no accident had happened no one would have thought of danger. There was, nevertheless, a world of reproach to his mother in the fact that she had lef_im to his fate; admonished by her restlessness to call him down from the poo_ne moment before the fatal lurch she could have saved her boy, the nex_oment—where is he? And yet she might have been, as were several men, within _ard of him, and yet have failed to save him. It is well she did not see hi_ast despairing agony, it would have burnt itself in upon her brain never t_ave been effaced: she has realised it only too fully.
Having flown back to the spot the instant he had uttered his cry, Rex ha_itnessed the whole tragedy, and his grief was so great that Zee had to tur_nd comfort him as best she could; he was again her only one, and their on_elief was in weeping together. Realise her loss Zee could not. She jumped u_any a time certain she heard Piri's voice; she must call him, his glad laug_as ringing in her ears, he could not have gone so far away, he must come bac_or “one kiss more,” and she expected to see his little hand, blythe laddi_hat he was, pull aside the curtain of her cabin, as he peeped in with hi_oguish face to tell of some fresh mischief afloat, which would have lost hal_ts fun had not his mother shared it with him. When he said: “I shouldn't min_eing drowned,” Zee never imagined he could go alone. Oh, why did he go? Th_rass will never grow over that grave.
A deeper sorrow could not have befallen Zee. It was not that she loved on_hild more than the other, or could better have spared her first-born; but al_he winning trustfulness of childhood lingered about the little Piri, makin_im the nearer, though not dearer, to his mother. The day before he went away (six weeks to the very day of their leaving Auckland) he begged to have a loo_t his purse, which he had given into his mother's keeping; but as the reques_ould not be complied with on the instant, it escaped the memory of both, o_e would probably have wished to carry it in his pocket “just one day,” an_hus have taken it away with him. It is the only thing of his which remains t_ee; it is almost a bit of himself, he was so proud of it. There it lies, jus_s he left it, the coins all tarnished; they have never been touched since hi_iny fingers put them in, and jingled them from very gladness. Many a tim_ince then Zee has wanted a shilling, but never in her sorest need did sh_hink of touching _his_ money; she would have borne the gnawings of hunger, with Spartan-like heroism, before she could have broken in upon it.
It was said that Piri was “too good to live;” but that again was cant. It i_mpossible to be too good for the life Christ has consecrated; if he was no_oo good, how can mortal be too good? Piri would have made a noble man—th_ead and heart were right. His was a massive brow, such as is rarely given t_ child —a healthy brain, too, for he was by no means precocious, thoug_ufficiently natural to be almost original.
As the means of saving him were discussed, strong men brushed away th_tarting tear, which did no violence to their manhood. The singular affectio_hown the child by old and young had filled his last few weeks with wondrou_oy. They knew it not, but in their every act of kindness they were weavin_mmortelles, such as money could not purchase, to honor the dead. Tiny hands, too, strewed amaranths, unconsciously, upon the lowly grave, the sport of th_inds and the waves. To his mother's memory that kindness is as sweetes_ncense, swelling his requiem with grateful notes, though he has gone from he_ight and she seeks her darling sorrowing. No sailor's suit for Piri. He i_inging his “little songs” in the better land, “Happy land!” anywhere wher_iri is. “Lots and lots of kisses” salute his mother's vivid recollection o_is pristine innocence. Of such is the kingdom of heaven.
The fatal gap, through which Piri had passed had been carefully laced wit_ope before Zee went again on the poop. How could she have overlooked it? Sh_nquired of the captain whether it really had been left open up to the time o_he accident; and, trying to throw the blame on “the man at the wheel,” h_nswered, reluctantly, “Yes.” Most culpable neglect. Fearing lest her bab_irl should crawl through the opening and disappear, perhaps, without bein_een, the mother of the family of seven said she had “again and again begge_er husband to lace it;” but as he insisted “there was no danger,” she sai_he “had determined to ask Zee that day to request its being done,” believin_n her potency of will and word. Hence the father's fear lest it should be “one of his own boys,” on observing from his stern-cabin window that a chil_ad gone out at that very opening. Mothers, remember little Piri, and th_atal gap. He suffered for all children.
There was Wrax, too, how could Zee tell him of his loss? He loved that child, if he ever loved anything; and his letter, written on the receipt of th_ainful intelligence, in which he did ample justice to his wife, was the on_enerous act of his life as far as she is concerned. It was a genuine outburs_f repentance; sincere as fervent, so long as it lasted, and it revived th_ope that this first real sorrow of his life might prove his salvation. Seein_nd hearing the child in them, Piri's simple prattlings are household words o_weet significance; and his angel-face of infancy is ever present to the mind_f his parents.
Both the editors of a weekly paper floated in the saloon, versified a little, and wishing to make Piri living, and Piri lost, the subject of their song an_ament, they kindly sent to ascertain Zee's wishes in reference thereto, intimating their willingness to refrain from mentioning him if she preferre_t. Oh, yes, the wound was too green to admit of being dressed, with swee_pices even. But she regretted, at the end of the voyage, she had not allowe_hem to embalm him, that the friends he was never to know might have seen tha_e nestled, quite at home, in all hearts. His memory will be fragrant still t_ll on board that ship. Zee gave a little old book of his to a fello_assenger resident in a sister province, and treasuring it reverently for th_ake of the guileless, happy boy, the gentleman has had it rebound, carefull_reserving the name written therein; and it was quite recently shown to Ze_ith much feeling. Meanwhile the ship sped on and on, and ere long hugged th_hores of old England in a transport of gratitude. But for her irreparabl_oss the voyage had been delightful to Zee; and now, to avoid the inquiry, Where's Piri? on meeting with friends, she early apprised them of her loss, begging that it might not be mentioned for awhile. Handing a letter to Zee i_he channel, the pilot informed her that several friends to whom, at thei_equest, he had telegraphed the ship's arrival, had been to Gravesend the da_efore, in the hope of meeting her. The docks, consequently, were by no mean_lank to the travellers as they entered them, for mother and son receive_reetings from loved ones on shore. Yes, there were Wrax's eldest brother, on_f his sisters, her husband, and their eldest daughter. Quite an excess o_leasure.
Distressed by the loss of Piri, and justly indignant at the culpable neglec_hich made it possible, and which they were unwilling to condone, the brother_entioned threatened the captain with a full judicial inquiry. But, rightly o_rongly, Zee begged that nothing might be done; no inquiry would give her bac_er boy; the lesson would not be lost upon the captain; no one regretted th_ccident more than did he. The neglect was to the last degree reprehensible, and the captain would have been severely censured, if nothing more, but Ze_ould not hurt the man who had been so kind to her boy.
Impatient to set foot in fatherland once more, Zee and her friends soon lef_he ship. After having bidden farewell to her more immediate fellow- passengers, Zee was not less surprised than pleased to find the passenger_etween decks standing in a row waiting to bid her a respectful “Good-bye”—_ark of esteem as grateful as unlooked for. The friends had scarcely los_ight of the vessel when Zee, strangely enough, found a pure, fresh-gathere_ily, lying in her path; she almost stepped upon it. A lily of the valley i_he London docks! Surely an angel had dropped it at Zee's feet. No kindlie_elcome could her native soil afford; sweet harbinger of happy days to come.
“It is just like God, he is always dropping, a lily in my path,” was Zee'_hought, as she gratefully inhaled its perfume; and in thought, too, laid i_everently on that lowly grave, deep in the heart of the ocean. She has th_ily still; it lies in yon purse, _his_ purse, you know.
With Rex she rusticated almost as completely as in the primeval forest, ther_as such a backwoods' air in his simple remarks. His first trip by rail wa_rom Greenwich to London, and the train running over the roofs of the house_larmed him, even to paleness, and he said, tremblingly: “I'm sure we shal_un into the houses. How is the train steered, and what is the rudder like?” Later on, observing the many sparrows hopping about in the road, he begge_hat the cab, in which he was driving, might be stopped, lest it should “ru_ver them.”
Merlee, too, had come to town expressly to await the arrival of the absen_nes, and to escort them, as she did, to the home Zee never expected again t_ee. There, in its friendy porch, impatient to give cordial greeting to th_eturned “exiles,” stood the father, the mother, and Wrax's mother, a hal_entlewoman of some eighty years; and around them clustered many other member_f both families. But the re-union, under circumstances painful in their ever_spect, was intensely sad; and when the wife and no wife found hersel_ncircled by the loving arms of one and another, she bowed her head broken- hearted.
But not yet was she desolate; she had one jewel still; indeed, she felt ric_hen she could look around on the dear, familiar faces, “so little changed.
Time had left his impress nowhere,” Zee said; but no one could return th_ompliment. It was agreed that she looked ten years older (which perhaps mean_wenty) than when she left England, five years before. She had lived so muc_ore than had they in the same number of years, as compared with their smoot_nd easy course; a lifetime of misery had been compressed into her every day.
Strange to say, she no sooner found herself among friends than she becam_ppressed by a sense of loneliness. Her first inquiries had been of Wrax. Ho_as he, where was he, what was he? Questions held in abeyance, no word havin_een received from him. Her own, and the children's anticipated return, gav_olor to the report, industriously circulated in her native town, that Wrax “was dead.” And lest, through inadvertency, the report should reach and pai_er ere she had time to reflect on its want of foundation, Wrax's eldes_rother told her of it at once. In all the womanly tenderness of his heart h_ould, if he could, have shielded her from every painful thought.
In deference to the wishes of the friends who furnished her wardrobe, Ze_onned sable robes, feeling it to be a sad mockery of grief at the loss of he_ittle darling. When mourning is measured by relationship only, it must be a_uperficial as are its flimsy trappings; it would, therefore, answer ever_urpose, and save a deal of trouble, if those who love to indulge the luxur_f grief in crape and paramatta, could hire mourning as hearses and coache_re hired. To publish the extent of our poor lacerated “feelings” is a bitin_arcasm on the felicity of the heaven promised —a sarcasm worthy of unculture_eathenism.