« AnteriorContinuar »
and asked if they would allow him to rest a little in their cottage. Susan consented, and placed him near the fire, where Frank was cooking limpets. He had not much to say at first, but looked eagerly about the room, and often fixed his eyes upon Frank and his mother. In the meantime Susan had told him a little of their history, and invited him to share their meal, though it was so scanty. He consented, and they divided the three potatoes amongst them, having exactly one each, with a proportionate number of shell-fish. The stranger was grateful, Susan and Frank were grateful; and warmer thanksgivings ascended to heaven from that scantily-spread board than from many a rich man's dwelling, whose table overflowed with dainties.
After Susan had removed the cloth he asked if she had heard aught of her husband since his mysterious departure. She told him no, and that every Christmas-tide it was her one saddening thought. She had stooped to pick up a half-burnt brand, and Frank was looking up into the strange man's face, when he suddenly slipt off the bandage from his brow, and sat quite still in his chair. "Look, mother!" said he; and Susan gazed at their visitor. Another look, another, and a great cry of joy; and they were locked in each other's arms, mingling their kisses and tears together. Frank was nearly frightened out of the house; but he grasped the side of the mantel-piece and wondered. Nor was it long before the whole mystery was explained, much to his satisfaction, so that he danced around the room, clapping his hands and kicking the fender and the fireirons for joy. The reader will scarcely need be told that this was Frank's father, and the long-lost husband of Susan Fraddon. A brightness had entered that poor home which poverty could not darken.
"And so you have only had three potatoes and a few shell-fish for dinner?" sobbed Solomon Fraddon. "If I were at home, it would not have been so. And why is it, wife, that my slippers are here ready for me by my chair?"
"Oh," replied Susan, with the tears running down her face, 327
"your slippers have always been put by your chair every Christmas Eve; for we believed you would come some day."
Before he would agree to tell them his story, he asked his son Frank to go out with him into the cow-house. There they found a package containing bread, beef, turnips, tea, butter, coffee, and a great fat goose, which he had purchased with the money he had in his pocket, when he left them so many years ago, which he had secreted and recovered on his return. Susan was soon in the midst of cooking a very different dinner to that of which they had partaken a short time before, and Frank was leaping around, saying he was surely the happiest boy in the universe—that God had sent him his own dear father, and he did not want anything more. The cooking was hastened as fast as the fuel would permit; and after a more substantial meal than Susan and Frank has enjoyed for a long period, Solomon Fraddon told them how the press-gang had blindfolded Mm in the market, when he was borne on board a ship, carried into a strange land, and compelled to be a sailor. Of the sad scenes he had witnessed, he would make on mention then.
Crossing a river at the mouth of a harbour, the wind suddenly arose and drove their boat to sea. Three of his companions were lost, and he was picked up by a Norwegian bark, and carried to their country. Here he remained a long time, and had an opportunity of reading his Bible to some of the inhabitants who had learned to speak our language. This was the Bible Susan had given him when they were betrothed, and which he had with him that morning at the market. By-and-by a ship bore him to England, where he arrived five days ago, and at once set on foot towards home. And here he was at last, overcome with excessive joy thus to meet them on Christmas Day. Poor he was, yet his heart was as warm as ever; and the loving Master whom he had still tried to serve was his supporter and friend, and he could not doubt would make a way for their escape. With Frank and Susan, he was rich; though he had been the victim of conscription and the press-gang, which had entailed untold horrors upon him and upon his household. But his right arm was still strong, and he would trust to it and the blessing of Jehovah. Frank would soon be able to help him on the farm; and he trusted in a few years, by dint of perseverance, to regain what was lost. Though he had been parted from them, he had not been sundered from his God; and henceforth it would be his greatest delight to serve Him.
They sat by the embers until the last piece of driftwood was burnt, Frank holding his father's hand in his own, and whispering just loud enough for his mother to hear, " God has answered our prayer, and sent us a handsome Christmas Day."
And years afterwards, when a little sister was born to Frank, and the well-cultivated farm yielded the best crops in the neighbourhood; when they had cows in the meadows and pigs in the stye, milk and cream in the dairy, and flitches of bacon hanging from the kitchen hooks; when friends came to see them, amongst whom was the rector himself, and they rode to church on Sundays in their own pretty conveyance, and sat in the pew close behind the Squire—on every Christmas Eve the poor people of the district were called to their pretty home, when a present was made to each; and while they were being regaled with the good things of earth, in the presence of Susan and Solomon Fraddon, Frank told them of the return of his father to their empty home, when his mother and he had only three potatoes and a few shell-fish for their Christmas dinner. This rehearsal would draw tears from the eyes of the grateful audience, and, indeed, from the eyes of Susan and Solomon also, and they would all join in the carol of the angels at the birth of the world's Redeemer, "Glory to God in the highest: and on earth peace, goodwill towards men."
A TALE IN TWO CHAPTERS.
"It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn Thy statutes."— Psa. cxix. 71.
CHAPTER II.—BABY'S SECOND BIRTHDAY.
j]T was a wild, windy evening. Twelve months had
passed away, and baby was a year old. The
bells were ringing merrily once again, as they
had done that night when Tom Anson had hurried
along the lane leading to his cottage, his heart beating fast
with pride and anxiety about his young wife and infant
No snow fell now, and there was no appearance of any. A strong south-westerly gale was blowing, lashing the waves of the sea to fury as they rolled in dark volumes on to the shore, breaking against the rocks in a cloud of spray, with a noise like echoing thunder. Mary sat in her cottage alone, save for the little one in the wooden cradle at her side.
Ruth had been married in July, and was now with her husband far away from Ilton; the broad Atlantic divided her from her sister, and it might be years ere they saw each other again. Tom was away on a fishing cruise; but he had promised his wife he would be back by Christmas Eve, and Mary, as she sat by the brightly blazing fire, was listening eagerly to every footfall that passed by down or up the lane.
She finished her work, folded it together, and going once to the window, opened it and looked out; but the force of the wind obliged her to close it again quickly. A feeble cry from out the old-fashioned wooden cradle, in which she herself had lain when an infant, called her attention in a moment, and she lifted the little white-robed figure from its nest of warm blankets, and seating herself by the fire, she placed the baby in her lap and began to tell her the history of the "five little pigs that went to market" on her tiny pink toes; but baby somehow did not seem to care about the story just then, and hiding her little face in her mother's breast, gave vent to a low wailing cry that went to the mother's heart.
"My darling! My baby! What is it, my pet? Does she want father to come home again? He's coming soon, little May. To dance his little girl up so high, and show her how the great ships go up and down at sea, and give her his big silver watch to play with, that says 'tick, tick.' Hark at the pretty bells, baby dear! Ding dong! They're singing a lovely song because it's baby May's birthday."
The child still continued to cry in spite of all poor Mary's coaxing. She had not been well now for two or three days, and Mary rose from the low chair with an anxious pain at her heart, and walked up and down the room with her, singing a soft lullaby. At length baby seemed easier, the little head drooped upon her shoulder, and the crying ceased.
The wind roared and shrieked round the cottage, rattling the doors and windows, and sending great puffs of smoke down the chimney into the middle of the room.
Mary did not like the appearance of her child as she lay asleep in her lap, the drawn look of the little mouth and the dark lines under the closed eyes made her very uneasy.
"Oh, I wish Tom would come home! I'm sure baby is ill. She will die, perhaps, and I shall have no one with me. Oh! Tom, Tom! my husband! come home to your wretched wife!"
The poor young mother longed to get up and go and call her next-door neighbour in to help; she had three or four children of her own, and could tell her what to do; but she dare not move for fear of waking her baby, who lay in such a fitful sleep in her arms.
At length the blue eyes opened slowly and gazed wonderingly up at the ceiling above.
Mary bent down and kissed the little flushed face, but her caress met with no response; then snatching the child