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CHAPTER 1.—BABY'S FIRST BIRTHDAY. VING dong ! ding dong! The bells rang out merrily 1 on the frosty air, now loud, now soft, as the wind carried the sound far and near.
“We shall have a white Christmas, I guess," exclaimed Thomas Anson to his companion, as he toiled up the steep hill leading to his own home. .“ Yes, those clouds look like snow, and this keen wind 'll soon bring it down;" and Mrs. Wilmot drew her thin shawl round her shoulders and hastened on. Her short footsteps had hard work at times to keep pace with Tom's long strides.
“My little ones like to see the white flakes come fluttering past the window, and it's high fun to see the boys snowballing each other. Somehow, thank God, they don't seem to feel the cold like we older ones do; they enjoy the winter, so they say, though there's my Johnnie now with
his feet quite useless with broken chilblains. He has to keep them up all day, wrapped in old rags soaked in liniment, and never a boot on this week; and yet, bless his little heart, he doesn't complain, but just sits at the window, watching his brothers and sisters at play, and his laugh is as merry as any of theirs. I'm sure suffering children set us a grand example of patience and resignation.”
“Ay, they do that,” murmured Tom.
“Sometimes the pain and irritation are so great that he can't help crying, and then he looks up into my face and says, “Mother, I'm not naughty, am I? But they do hurt so.' And then I can't help my tears coming when I dress them for him. It's pitiful to see the state his poor little feet are in."
“Ay, you've enough to do, Mrs. Wilmot, with your seven. If I live to see as many olive-branches round my table, I reckon I shan't be as patient in times of adversity as you have always been;" and the young sailor looked into the woman's face with a smile of admiration as he spoke.
“Oh yes, you will, Tom. The very sight of their helpless innocence would urge you on to forget your own troubles, and work bravely for their sakes."
The sky looked very dark and lowering, and the sound of the wild waves dashing on the shore below could be heard distinctly by those two as they climbed the steep hill path leading into the little village of Ilton.
They parted at the corner, and Tom Anson made his way down the tiny lane towards the tiny thatched cottage, where the cheerful glow of the fire shone on the windowpanes, and looked most inviting to the cold and tired sailor.
“A merry Christmas, my boy," was the cheerful greeting of an old coastguardman as he passed Anson on the road. “How's your wife now, Tom ?” and he stopped abruptly in his walk and caught hold of his arm.
“ I've not seen her this week, and I'm anxious to get to her; so don't hinder me, there's a good man;" and he was about to pass on quickly, but old Martin would not let him go.
“I guess I've some news for you, Tom, that'll make you hold your head some inches higher for many a day to come;" and the old man smiled in a very knowing manner as he gazed into the sailor's handsome sunburnt face. “What would you like to know best, eh?”
“That my Mary has passed through her trial, and is going on well,” was the ready answer.
“She has, Tom; and you've a little daughter."
Tom Anson seized the old man's hand, and shook it heartily. “ Thanks, a thousand thanks, for your good news, Martin. A right merry Christmas to you and yours.” And with these words he was off, tearing up the lane at his utmost speed. He drew up suddenly when he reached his own door, and stood with his hand on the latch a few minutes ere he entered. At length he opened the door softly and went in. The little sitting-room of the cottage was empty.
How strange it seemed to Tom to see no Mary running to meet him! Her chair was vacant; no work littered the table; no tea was prepared for him, and I don't know that he felt quite inclined to receive the tiny stranger now lying in its young mother's arms, in the small bedroom on the left of him, with such a welcome as he had at first intended giving it. He missed his wife sadly already.
“ Tom,” said a gentle voice from the next room.
He started at the sound. “I'm coming, Ruth, directly I've got my sea boots off. How is my darling ?”
The big boots were quickly thrown off, and Tom, in his stockinged feet, crept away to see his new little daughter.
His wife's sister, Ruth Huntly, brought forward a large roll of flannel as he entered; but he was too anxious to see Mary again to take any notice of the baby yet, but in a short time he was able to devote a few moments to his little girl.
“ Isn't she a darling wee thing, Tom ?” exclaimed the proud young aunt, as she folded back the blanket from her niece's face and displayed its minute features. “I can't see much of her yet, Ruth ; she's too tiny to give any opinion about for a month or two. I suppose she'll grow, though it hardly seems possible," said Tom, as a happy smile played round the corners of his mouth, and he drew his big brown finger across the soft velvet-like cheek of the infant. At length a little feeble cry was heard, and baby was soon hushed to sleep in her mother's arms, and Ruth went with Tom into the sitting-room, where she soon made up the fire, filled the kettle with water, and set it on to boil in readiness for his tea.
“How beautifully the bells are ringing, Tom. What a happy Christmas Eve this is for us, is it not?” said Ruth, as she spread a white cloth on the little round table, fetched two cups and saucers from a small cupboard on the righthand side of the fireplace, and a half-quartern loaf, from which she cut two slices of bread, and kneeling down on the rug, proceeded to toast them. Tom went over to the lattice window, and, throwing it open, leaned out.
Ding dong ! ding dong ! ding dong ! ding dong!
Ruth dropped the toast down from the bars, turning her pretty fair head on one side to listen.
“How lovely! They sound like joy-bells, ringing in honour of your baby's birth. Don't they, Tom ?".
“ Yes,” he murmured, coming back into the room.
“ You'll go to church with me to-morrow, I know; won't you, Tom?” she said, as they sat together at tea.
“Why? Christmas Day isn't Sunday!”
“No; but don't you want to go and thank God for giving you such a Christmas gift?” and Ruth raised her large. thoughtful eyes to his face, with a very earnest look in their blue depths.
Tom shuffled his feet under the table, and went on eating his hot toast without replying.
There was silence for a few minutes. The coals crackled in the fire, and the snow fell noiselessly without.
“If everybody went to church every time they had a son or daughter, the churches would be pretty full, I guess," said the young sailor at length.
“ Then you don't mean to go with me, Tom?”. “Who's going to stay with Mary?".
“Mrs. Farmer's coming in to be with her just while I'm at church. You've been saved from all the perils of the sea, brought safely home to your wife, had a dear little daughter given you; and have you no thanks to offer to the Giver of all these good gifts, Tom ?”
“Oh, of course I'm thankful enough, and all that; but I'm not going to make a parade of my feelings in church, so I tell you, Ruth. I'm going for a walk to-morrow with Jim Patterson. I promised him I would to-day, and I don't intend to break my word.”
“And a Christmas Day service is so beautiful,” murmured Ruth; "and you won't have the chance of hearing one again for another year, remember, Tom.”
“ All right; I know. Don't you worry yourself about my salvation, Ruth, there's a good girl, or I'm afraid you'll find it a harder task than you bargained for;" and Tom laid his hands on the girl's shoulders and looked into her face with a saddened look in his dark eyes. “I only hope my little daughter will grow up just such another as her Aunt Ruth, and then she may do some good in the world, which is more than her father has done, or ever will do, I fear."
“How can she grow up good if you don't set her the example ? Children invariably follow their parents in everything. If you and dear Mary don't go to church, or ever teach your little one to love Jesus, how can she grow up a good and loving child ? “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. You know in what book those words are written, don't you, Tom, dear ? And again, One says,
Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.' Won't you give your little one to Jesus ?”
“Do you think our baby is going to die then, Ruth ?” exclaimed the sailor, in a startled tone.
“No, indeed; I trust not, Tom. She seems healthy enough; but she can belong to Jesus without dying. If we