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when first we saw it. It had been worn by long and hard usage in launching and drawing in boats, yachts, and cutters, and it was now aged and weather-beaten and seldom used. It was the centre of attraction, however, morning by morning, for dozens of sailors, old and young; and as many as could conveniently rest their arms upon it did so, while others threw themselves down on the beach close to it, as if it could tell them stories far dearer to them than were ever written in books, or told by eloquent story-tellers.
It was among these idlers in appearance, though not in reality-for they were awaiting the return of the fishing-boats, which brought either the day's grief or joy with them to hundreds of industrious families that I first saw Peter Last. He appeared as old as the capstan, and quite as wrinkled and weather-beaten. Venerable grey locks floated in the wind; a keen blue eye, nevertheless, took in the waste of waters, and a silent, resolute face watched the weighing of anchors and the preparations of the little fishing fleet to return to shore. I was struck with the gentleness and strength of the face, and with the effect which his appearance among them had upon the beachmen. They were not the less cheerful because he came, but their mirth assumed a more subdued character, and they looked at the old man with something of a filial reverence in their faces In his brown canvas suit and coarse sou’-wester, he looked no better than any of them in the social scale ; but no one could have looked into his face twice without feeling that there was no ordinary heart behind it.
The boats slowly made their way in, and as they neared the shore looks of disappointment were exchanged, for practised eyes saw no preparations for landing fish. Soon the dismal truth was made known, that they had toiled all the night and had taken nothing, or next to nothing. Then there arose a kind of sob amongst all assembled on the beach; women turned homeward with pale faces, and husbands and brothers threw themselves sulkily around the old capstan.
“ It is the Lord's will, mates," said a grave voice; do not let us tempt Him by angry and rebellious thoughts."
“ It is all very well for you to say so, Peter”-for it was the venerable seaman who had spoken-“because you can keep a house about your head, fish or no fish; but it is
. different with us; we have day's hunger before us."
“I have had two or three days' hunger and thirst before me ere now," said the old man gently; " and I know what your sufferings must be with wives and children around you; but for all that don't be rebellious; it is the Lord's will, and depend upon it, so long as it is the Lord's will, no harm can come of it; I have experienced that many a time-and it was,” he added reverently, lifting his old tarpaulin, “it was in an hour when I thought I should die of hunger and thirst, that I found the Bread of life and the Water of life.”
I could see, in a moment, that they knew his story well, and that their impatience was softened by it. I determined that on the first convenient opportunity I would throw myself in his way to have a chat with him. The opportunity presented itself on the evening of the day on which the fishermen had been so greatly disappointed. Peter was leading two little children through a narrow street, and each of them held in the disengaged hand two or three sea biscuits, while from the breast-pocket of an old pea-jacket, which he had exchanged for his canvas frock, peeped two or three more. Remembering the conversation of the morning, I thought this one of the most touching sights I had ever witnessed. It told of the poverty of the old sailor, at the same time as of the gentleness and generosity of his soul. What he had he was ready to share with those who had not.
Meeting him on his return, I gained immediately an open door to his heart, by placing in his hand a small sum and begging him to expend it as he thought best. “Will you walk in, sir," he said, lifting his sou’-wester, "and let me be away for a few minutes ?" He conducted me into a kind of little cabin, and immediately vanished. It was
crammed with the knickkpacks dear to sailors; models of boats and ships, bits of rope and seaweed, curious shells and rare pieces of coral, miniature anchors and canoes, rough prints of shipwrecks, and a few old books of a devotional character. We were yet examining his curiosities when the old seaman returned, somewhat out of breath.
“You cannot tell, sir, how thankful the poor creatures were; they would have gone supperless to bed but for you."
“And your biscuits, old friend," I said, with a smile.
“Oh, they were nothing; they were merely for the children to sop and stay their crying. Their fathers and mothers would as soon have thought of dying as touching a crumb of them. We have as fine a set of fellows on the beach, sir, as can be found on any part of the coast; but they do find it so hard to say, 'It is the Lord's will,' in foul weather, though they can do it readily enough in fair."
“ Is it not the case with most of us ? But from what I gleaned this morning I think you must have found foul weather more full of blessing than fair.”
“ Such was indeed the fact," said the veteran seaman gravely, after a pause; "and if you do not mind listening to an old man's yarn, I should like to tell you why.”
“ Above all things it would be what this evening I should like to listen to.”
“Well, then," said the old sailor, with a great sob; “I nearly broke my poor mother's heart by going to sea; but when she saw how strongly I was bent upon it she made the best of it; she gave in, and tried to fit me out as confortable as her slender means would allow. I never knew my father ; but she was father and mother both in one to
One of my most vivid of childish recollections is praying at her knee, and, as I grew older, reading the Bible to her, and hearing her interpret what was difficult, in her sweet, simple way. Of her own griefs, though she was early
, left a widow, with the care of two children besides myself, she seldom spoke; if ever she did, it was to say quietly,
with a hand on our heads, “It is the Lord's will.' Sir, she has been dead nearly thirty years, but I hear her voice now, as if I were a boy again." The old man paused, almost in a listening attitude, that he might recall the tones which had been so long silent.
"I went to sea, and forgot my mother. I plunged into all kinds of dissipation on shore, and was amongst the most profane on board ship. I had promised to write home from every port at which we touched, but I never did so; and if ever a thought of home occurred to me it was so saddening that I immediately checked it in revelry the most wanton. I was the prodigal in the far country, sir, turning my back on my home, and quenching all remembrance of it in riotous living. Thus five or six years passed away, during all which time, partly through shame and partly through a rebellious, proud spirit, I never once wrote or visited home.
“We were homeward bound from New York, when there came on board a young gentleman whom I feared to face;. he was the minister of the little town in which I had been brought up, and he was my mother's friend. He had not been on deck an hour before I saw that he had recognised me, though years had passed since I had met him. I shunned him most studiously, for I feared to hear news from home; he saw my purpose, and made no attempt at recognition. One moonlight night, when it was my watch on deck, I felt in a more softened frame of mind than usual, and allowed my thoughts to steal homewards. I saw my mother in her humble cottage, with my two sisters at her feet, thinking of and praying for the wayward and ungrateful boy who had inflicted such unmerited suffering upon them. A sigh escaped me, and at that moment a hand was gently laid upon my shoulder as these words were uttered : ‘Peter, I fear you have broken your poor mother's heart; I do not expect to see her alive when I get back to England; but
of course that can be a matter of little consequence.' “«What do you mean, sir ?' I asked angrily.
“I mean that I left her on a sick bed, mourning not only your unkindness, but
66 * But what?' I asked, with a shiver.
""The death of your two little sisters when you left them, but fine-grown young women when they died.'
Dead, dead !' was all that I could say.
mother said when she felt herself thus left childless—for she never believed that had you been alive you would so soon have forgotten her—all that she said was: “It is the Lord's will.” Then she took to her bed, and I do not expect to see her alive again.'
“ I fell senseless to the deck, as one who had been struck by lightning. For two or three days subsequently, in every moment of consciousness, my mother's minister, and, as in my case he proved to be, God's minister likewise, was by my hammock's side reading, talking, praying, and reviving old associations, which made me weep as I never thought to weep' again. He brought my great sin to my remembrance, but only to console me by pointing me to the Lamb of God who taketh away all sin. He instructed me, as if I were a child again, in the first principles of the Gospel, and by the Holy Spirit blessing his endeavours I saw myself lost without Christ, but safe in His merits if I accepted Him as my Saviour. What I should have been but for a more solemn teaching 'I know not; but I was no sooner able to do my work again than we were plunged into the most imminent danger. After a day marked by unusual calm there came a night of dreadful tempest. Our captain 'was one of the best and bravest men who ever sailed the seas, and all that man could do to save the ship he did, but all in vain. She had not been well built, and the storm told upon her. The water poured in, and although every man on board worked incessantly at the pumps, she rapidly filled. Ah, sir, you do not know how men feel at such times; it is then that they cry unto the Lord as they never cried before.