Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/The settlers of Long Arrow - Part 4
THE SETTLERS OF LONG ARROW.
A Canadian Romance in Thirty-one Chapters.
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Keefe Dillon’s feelings were more moved by his parting with Coral than he was willing to let himself own, and to banish his unusual dulness and melancholy, he went to a logging bee given by one of his neighbours, worked hard all day, and danced half the night. He slept longer than usual the next morning, and was only just out of bed when a lad, breathless with haste, rushed into the house, crying out, as soon as he could speak, “Mr. Dillon, there’s a schooner on the reef!” Keefe caught up his cap, and darted out, followed by the eager messenger.
Several men, women, and children were collected on the shore, and fresh stragglers were continually adding to the number. The sun was now bright, and the sky tolerably clear, but the wind was as high as ever, and the waves pouring faster and more furiously on the shore. Just as Keefe reached the beach one great wave threw at his feet a sailor’s woollen cap, and an oar, waifs of the drowned mate and his comrades.
“I guess they took to their boat, and have all gone to the bottom,” said one of the men.
“There’s some one on the wreck still,” said Keefe, examining the schooner with his keen eyes; “don’t you see something white waving? There—I see the figure plain enough now; I guess it’s a woman.”
“God help her,” said a woman near him; “can nothing be done to save her?”
“Something must be done,” said Keefe, decisively; and as he spoke every eye turned on him.
For an instant his steady energetic glance and clear voice communicated to the crowd a portion of his own courage, but it was only for a moment; the wild billows breaking on the shore, the fierce gusts of wind, the memorials of the drowned men at their feet, overcame the impulse of daring and generosity his words had kindled.
“One of you come with me, lads, and we’ll see what the Mother Cary can do; she’s stood many a stiff gale.”
The men shook their heads.
“It can’t be done, Keefe; she’s the best boat on the lake, and you’re the best sailor, but nothing could live in those waves.”
“We’ll try that,” said Keefe, coolly; “if no one will come with me, I’ll go alone.” Every voice was instantly raised to denounce such a resolution as the wildest madness, and when they saw him going off with unmoved determination, some of the women caught hold of him, and the men closed round him, as if resolved to prevent him from such a hopeless undertaking.
“Just wait a bit,” said some one, “the storm can’t last much longer.”
“It will last till the schooner goes to pieces,” said Keefe; “there’s no use in your trying to stop me, for go I will;” and with a sudden exertion of his great strength he shook off the women, broke through the circle, and ran towards the little cove, where his skiff lay.
“Where’s Mr. Dillon going?” asked a boy who had just arrived as Keefe went off.
“He’s going to the wreck by himself,” answered a girl, who was looking after Keefe with all a woman’s admiration for bravery: “they say he’ll be drowned, but I don’t know; I wish I was a man, and he shouldn’t go alone at any rate.”
“He ain’t going alone,” said the boy, stoutly, “I’m going with him.”
“No, you ain’t,” said a man, catching hold of the boy as he was running after Keefe; “if Keefe Dillon’s mad, and going to throw his life away, that’s no reason why you’re to do the same; you’ll just stay where you are.”
“Let me go, Hiram Cooke, let me go! I will go!” and the boy kicked, shouted, and struggled. But his captor, a strong man, held him firmly; and, finding all his efforts to break loose useless, the boy began to try persuasion. “Oh, for the love of heaven, Hiram Cooke, let me go! I’ll kill myself as sure as the sun’s above us if anything happens to Keefe Dillon. Oh, he’ll be gone if you don’t let me go, and what will I do then? There now, you are choking me—let me loose and I won’t stir.”
“I guess I ain’t so soft as to trust you, you young rascal. I know you well enough. Stay quiet, will you, or I’ll make you. Now, here’s your mother.”
“Oh, mother, mother!” cried the boy, distractedly, “Mr. Dillon’s going to the wreck, and there’s no one to go with him, and if I went I could help him, I know I could. I was often with him in a squall. Tell Hiram Cooke to let me go, or it will be too late. Sure I wouldn’t be here now, only Keefe saved my life when I broke through the ice, and was nearly lost himself saving me.”
“You’re right, my brave boy,” said his mother; “shame befal me and mine if we ever saw him in need, and didn’t risk life and limb to help him. Let the boy go, Mr. Cooke; go with Mr. Dillon, Con, my jewel, and the good God will watch over you and him.”
Hiram Cooke loosened his hold, and the boy shot away like an arrow. A murmur of admiration followed him, and the women gathered round his mother, but she seemed unconscious of their presence or their words, and throwing herself on her knees, in a sort of frenzy of excitement, she poured forth prayers as fast as her tongue could utter them, beating her breast in frantic invocation, and keeping her face steadfastly averted from the waves on which the boy was now being tossed. Keefe was shoving his skiff into the water when Con reached him. He was quite alone, for the other men, ashamed of their own faint-heartedness, contrasted with his heroism, had not followed him when they saw they could not prevent him from going.
“I’m just in the nick of time, Mr. Dillon,” said the boy, joyously, “let me help you.”
Keefe looked round hastily.
“Keep back, Con,” he said, “you can’t come, this is a desperate venture; it’s too great a risk for you.”
“Not if it ain’t too great for you,” said Con.
“Yes, it is. If I’m lost there’s not a soul to cry for me, but you’ve got your mother.”
“She knows I’m going; she bid me go. Don’t ask to stop me, Mr. Dillon. How would you like stopped yourself; and as little as I am, I guess I’m just as positive as you.”
“Yes, I dare say, but you don’t know the danger as well.”
“I know it right well, but if there was no danger where would be the credit of going? So now let me in, Mr. Dillon, you’ve no right to stop me; why shouldn’t I have my chance to do a brave thing?”
“Well, come along then; it’s not the first stormy voyage you and I have had together, and I hope it won’t be the last.”
“No fear of that,” said Con; “we’ll do bravely,” and he seized the paddle to steer.
“Hurra! she rides like a gull! She has need to do her best, and so have we, too. Now be steady, Con, mind hand and eye. I know you are brave, let me see if you can be cautious.”
“I will, sir; you’ll see I will!”
Con kept his word, behaving not only with coolness and courage, but with prudence and skill, obeying Keefe’s slightest sign or word with ready promptness, and almost appearing to divine his thoughts before they were spoken. His hardy, daring, buoyant nature seemed insensible to doubt or fear, and when they lost the shelter of the shore, and felt the full force of the huge surges which came tumbling towards them, and the furious wind which impelled them, his bold, brown, saucy visage, with its black elf-locks blown about by the gale, glowed with a wild exultation at the perilous excitement of the scene. No reckless lightness of nature like that of his young companion screened Keefe from a full perception of all the chances against their safe return, but strong in the consciousness of his own powers of mind and body, so often tried in danger, and never found wanting, he felt a proud, stern joy in taxing them to the uttermost. Every fibre of his frame, every pulse of his being, seemed imbued with a more vigorous and sentient life; his nerves seemed braced with tenfold hardihood and strength, his brain inspired with tenfold clearness and might, his heart filled with more indomitable energy and daring than he had ever known before, and every faculty seemed to put forth its utmost powers and capacity to conquer in the deadly struggle. He knew the merits of his little skiff well, and had braved as fierce a storm in her more than once before. She was almost as long, light, and narrow as a canoe, and now she shot over the waves like a meteor, scarcely seeming to touch the foam-wreaths that curled round her path.
Guided by her master’s strong hand and stout heart, aided by the fearless little fellow who sat at her helm, she carried them triumphantly through their hazardous course, and as Keefe rowed her under the shelter of the wreck, Con gave a wild hurrah, rising shrill above the tumult of the winds and waves. But it was scarcely heard by Keefe, for at that moment he had caught sight of the beautiful face of Helen Lennox looking down at him. Her dark, flashing eyes, dilated with feverish excitement and high-wrought feeling, her long dark tresses falling loose about her, dashed here and there with a speck of white foam from the boiling waves that broke on the rocks around, her delicate white fingers interlaced in the rope by which she held, thrilled him as he gazed up at her, with a strange magical charm. He had come to save a woman, it was true, but it was such a woman as the rough uncultured beings among whom his life had been spent had made more familiar to him than any finer or more delicate type of womanhood, and could this fair vision be nothing more? No syren just risen from the wave ever seemed lovelier to the dazzled eyes of wandering seamen than the beautiful girl he now gazed at seemed to Keefe Dillon. Ferdinand could not have felt more wonder and admiration when his eyes first encountered Miranda. But he quickly recovered his self-possession; this was no time for fancy or fooling, but an emergency which required the firmest nerves and promptest energies. He had seen as he neared the wreck that its frame was rapidly opening, and he knew it could not hold together much longer.
“Is there any one else but you?” he asked. At first Helen could not answer, her lips moved, but they uttered no sound. Unable to endure the tortures of uncertainty, she had steeled her nerves to watch the progress of the skiff she had seen leave the shore, and though she dreaded every moment to see it go down, she continued to gaze as if spell-bound, till it reached the wreck; and now the certainty that she might really hope again, agitated her so much that it almost deprived her of breath and sense. But at last words came:
“My father! But he cannot move without help.”
“Mind yourself, Con, till I get on board,” said Keefe. “There, now, all’s right.”
Following Helen to the spot where her father lay perfectly passive, and almost insensible, Keefe tried to rouse him.
The young stranger’s clear and manly voice, his air of courage and determination, and the look of hope and animation that had returned to Helen’s eyes, partially revived Mr. Lennox, and Keefe managed to get him safely into the skiff with less trouble than he had expected. Then he helped Helen to descend.
“Make haste, Mr. Dillon,” cried Con; “there won’t be a bit of the wreck together in another minute.”
Helen looked up for Keefe in an agony of terror, but it quickly passed as she saw him spring into his place, seize his oars, and bring the boat round. In a minute they were flying over the waves with greater speed than even before, for the wind and sea were now in their favour, and there was not nearly so much difficulty in keeping the skiff from falling broadside to the waves. “If we take in water you must bale,” said Keefe to Helen, pointing to a tin dipper beside her.
She nodded promptly, but so skilfully did he and Con manage the boat that they scarcely shipped a cupfull ere they reached the shore amidst the cheers of the crowd assembled to greet them, and the answering hurrahs of Con. Then Keefe looked back for the schooner, but she was gone; they had scarcely left her side when she parted asunder and disappeared among the breakers. Helen’s glance had followed Keefe’s, and as she saw by how short a space she and her father had escaped death, she shuddered. Then she looked at Keefe.
“Thank God,” she said, “and you!”
Never while he lived did Keefe forget that look.
But Helen’s joy was saddened by anxiety on her father’s account. He lay at the bottom of the skiff, his head resting on her lap, unconscious that their perils were over, insensible to his daughter’s tender care, and scarcely giving any sign of life, except the breath he feebly drew.
“Father! dear father!” said Helen, “we are safe. Father! don’t you know me? Speak to Helen!” But he remained silent and motionless.
“He does not hear me—he does not know me!” she exclaimed in great alarm.
“He’s only tired and worn out,” said Keefe, gently. “When he gets warmth and sleep he’ll soon come round.”
Foremost of all the crowd to welcome them was Con’s mother, laughing, crying, and praying in her ecstacy of joy.
“Sure I knew he’d come back safe!” she cried. “I trusted in God’s goodness and in your strong arm, Mr. Dillon, the brave, generous man that you are!”
“It was good luck more than good management brought them back, Mrs. Doyle,” said a well dressed, consequential-looking man in a very supercilious tone of voice.
“Good luck!” cried the woman, scornfully; “let me see the man who says he could do the like with all the luck was ever given to cowards, and I’ll know what to call him.”
“It has been a madman’s deed,” said the supercilious gentleman, “and Dillon has had a madman’s protection.”
“Fortune always favours the brave, Mr. Nibbs,” said Keefe, gaily. “Now, some of you, help me to place this sick stranger under the shade of those cedars, till we get some way of carrying him to my house.”
“But why didn’t you wait for me, Keefe?”
“Why didn’t you send for me?”
“And for me?”
“And for me?” Cried three or four young men who had not come down to the beach till Keefe and Con had put off for the wreck.
“If I had, I might as well have stayed away,” said Keefe; “there were not many seconds to lose. Why did you dance so late last night, and sleep so long this morning? Con, if you have done kissing your mother, run and tell Mrs. Wendell to have a bed ready. Davis, let us get a door from that old shanty, and when we put some coats on it, it will carry the sick man comfortably.”
Meanwhile, Helen sat beside her father, supporting his head, and the women gathered round her, partly from pity and sympathy—partly from curiosity; all pouring forth such condolences as they thought the case required, and asking such questions as their inquisitiveness prompted, as fast as they could speak.
“Well, do tell! I guess you’ve had a pretty narrow chance of it; there ain’t no one but Keefe Dillon could have brought you through. And what is it ails the old gentleman?
“I expect it’s the fright has overcome him. You must have had a pretty stout heart your self to have stood it so well. I guess I’d never have come through such a time alive. You do look kinder pale though. And the captain and sailors all left you, did they? Well, they hadn’t the hearts of men in them. And you saw the boat go down, did you? Well it was just what they deserved. You must have felt real bad when you saw them go off. I expect you did. And what’s your name? And where were you going to? And where did you come from?”
These were a very small number of the words crammed into Helen’s ears, but she scarcely heard them. The rude though not unfeeling gaze of the crowd, their rough language and demeanour, were unnoticed, though, at another time, she would have felt so uncongenial a scene very painful. She tried once or twice to answer their expressions of kindness gratefully, but her air of grace and refinement, her gentle reserve, and sad quietude of manner insensibly operated as a check on the wondering and inquisitive group surrounding her, and at length, to her infinite relief, they drew somewhat away, and left her in quiet. In a short time the door of the shanty was brought, Mr. Lennox was placed on it, and, assisted by two or three other men, Keefe carried him to his house, Helen walking by his side. As they were moving away from the shore, Mr. Nibbs, who had been attentively examining Helen’s dress and appearance, walked forward, and, in a stately manner, offered her his arm, but she quietly rejected it, and Keefe, who had seen the offer and refusal, smiled to himself as he watched the air of offended dignity with which Mr. Nibbs walked haughtily away.
Keefe’s dwelling was a large log-house with gable-ends, a wide space in front, wreathed with wild vine and clematis, a group of butternuts at one end and an orchard at the other, and at each side of the path which led up to the house were rose-bushes, now covered with half-blown buds.
They were met at the door by Keefe’s housekeeper, a tall thin woman with sharp features and sallow complexion, but with an aspect of order, neatness, and serenity, with also a grave kindness impressed on every line of her face and figure.
“Well, I thank God I see you safe, Mr. Dillon,” she said in a voice whose harsh Yankee twang was aggravated by the unusual earnestness with which she spoke. “This has been a great deliverance for you all. I guess you had best carry the stranger to his bed; it’s all ready for him. This is his daughter, I reckon. Poor gal, you’ve had a bad time of it, and no mistake; throw off that wet cloak and go to the fire, I do suppose you’re tired out,”—and she pointed to the blazing fire of logs which filled the large open fire-place; “dry your wet clothes, poor child, and leave your father to me; I’ll take care of him.”
“Thank you, but I can’t leave him,” said Helen. And throwing off her cloak and twisting her loosened tresses of hair round her head she followed Mrs. Wendell into the room prepared for her father.
In a few minutes Mr. Lennox was placed comfortably in bed, and Mrs. Wendell, whose experience had taught her some knowledge of diseases, their symptoms and treatment, such as women often possess in those remote settlements where a regular physician is not to be had, felt his pulse, examined his countenance, and shook her head.
“You think him very ill, do you?” said Helen.
“Well, he’s real weak,” said Mrs. Wendell, “but a little rest may do wonders for him.”
“Can you send for a doctor?” asked Helen.
“Well, there ain’t no doctors nearer than forty miles; no doctor ever comes here. But you needn’t feel bad about it, dear; a good sleep would be the best cure for him, I reckon; and if it is God’s will, he may get that without any doctor. But you must be real tired and hungry yourself, I guess.”
She was gone before Helen could answer, and quickly returned with bread and butter, tea, fried ham, and preserves, which she placed before Helen, pressing her to eat with earnest kindness, but finding that she could not eat, Mrs. Wendell urged her to go to bed.
“You must have rest some time or other,” she said, “and you’d best try and take it now when he can’t feel your absence; by and by, when he comes to his senses, he’d miss you more.”
But Helen declared so earnestly that she could not sleep, and so firmly that she could not leave her father for an instant, that Mrs. Wendell ceased to urge her to do so; but the good woman would not leave her till she had made her exchange her wet shoes for a pair of dry moccasins, and bathe her face and hands in cold water, which somewhat refreshed her; then placing a rocking-chair for her beside the bed, and softly repeating, “‘Even as a father pitieth his own children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him,’” she left the room. Those words had been familiar to Helen from childhood, but now they impressed her with a power which she had never felt in them before. In this hour of bitter grief, her heart fainting within her at the dread of a woe which seemed too heavy for her to bear, the sacred promise fell upon her aching heart like softest dew upon the burning earth. Falling upon her knees beside the bed, she hid her face and wept; and then a few words of earnest prayer strengthened and calmed her mind.
All day she sat beside her father, watching every restless movement, listening to every heavy breath with that sickening anguish which the sufferings of a beloved one inflict on the heart that, while it would give its own life-blood to relieve the pain it beholds, can only watch in helpless despair; struggling to keep down the agony that at times threatened to overwhelm her self-control, and calling on God for hope and courage. Mrs. Wendell sometimes came into the room with noiseless steps and kind gentle words, brought her coffee, and even coaxed her into taking some. She did not again ask her to leave her father, for she felt that to know she had watched him in his last hours would soon be the poor girl’s only comfort.
As the day wore on the wind calmed down, the sun shone gloriously in the blue sky, and the clouds disappeared beyond the horizon. About sunset Mr. Lennox appeared somewhat easier, and Helen, believing that he slept, began to indulge a faint and trembling hope. The setting sun fronted the window of the room in which she sat, and now came streaming in through an opening in the blind, forming a shining bridge to the opposite wall, and as she watched it, thoughts filled with faith and hope, bright promises of peace and joy, seemed ascending and descending on its golden threads, like the angels in Jacob’s dream. At last it paled, faded, vanished, twilight fell, and then darkness, and still he seemed to sleep; but just as Mrs. Wendell stole in to ask if Helen would like a light, he raised himself feebly, and called her. “I am here, father, I am with you,” and she clasped his hands and kissed him.
Still he looked about him with a puzzled air, and then a look of returning memory and consciousness came into his face.
“I remember it all now,” he said, “we were saved. But it is too late for me. I am dying, my darling.”
“Oh! no, no, dear father, you are weak, but you will get better soon.”
“Never, Helen. But whose house is this—where are we—who is that person?”
Helen told him.
“Is there a clergyman here?” he asked, addressing Mrs. Wendell.
“Well, no, there is not.”
“And this brave young man, what is his name? Has he a father or mother here?”
“I guess he’s got no living kin in this country.”
A pause ensued, so long, that Helen feared he was relapsing into stupor, but at last he broke it by asking to see Keefe.
“Dear father, wait till to-morrow,” said Helen; “you will exhaust yourself by all this exertion and excitement.”
“I guess your daughter’s right,” said Mrs. Wendell; “I’ll get you a drink, and then you must try to sleep.”
“Let me see this young man first,” he answered, impatiently; “I shall have time enough to sleep afterwards.”
Summoned by Mrs. Wendell, Keefe came immediately.
“Let him come close to me,” said Mr. Lennox, “and bring the candle near that I may see his face.”
The scene was altogether a strange one, full of strong contrasts.
Keefe stood beside Helen, in his working-dress of gray homespun, the soil of his day’s labour still hanging about him; but the dignity of a clear strong mind and a brave noble heart speaking in his face. Mrs. Wendell, at the other side of the bed, held a candle that threw its light on the group, her prim and sallow visage surmounted by a starched and snow-white cap; her angular figure clad in a blue and scarlet striped woollen gown, and her keen, though not unsympathising eyes, closely and sharply watching the strangers—no one could have looked into that homely chamber, and gazed on the persons it contained, without curiosity and interest.
After a long and earnest look into Keefe’s face, Mr. Lennox said, turning his dimmed eyes from the young man’s clear and candid look to the keen shrewd face of Mrs. Wendell:
“He has a face I can trust, but he is very young, yet I feel he is true. And you, too,” he added, after examining Mrs. Wendell’s face as closely as he had scrutinised Keefe’s, “you look firm and kind. God grant that you may prove so to her.”
Then his glance rested on the pale and anxious countenance of his daughter.
“My child I my beloved! my only one! can you forgive me? I little knew the fate to which my selfish pride was bringing you.”
“Father, father, you did rightly; it is my pride and glory to be your child.”
“My darling! my darling! I must leave you alone, unprotected in this wilderness. I could almost wish we had died together.
“You will not die, my own dear father; you will get better; God will have mercy!”
“He has mercy, my child; he does all things well. Never forget that, Helen, never doubt it; cling to that faith through all things; it is an anchor which will save the soul through tempests and floods; let it go, and when trouble comes, what is to save us from sinking into the gulf of despair? That faith, that certainty, that all things work for the good of the creatures whom a God of love has called into being, has been my support through life, and on it I lean now, when the grave is opening at my feet.”
Dashing away her tears, Helen struggled for composure, that she might comfort her father.
“My darling father! do not fear for me,” she said, “I have strength, I have courage. I will show you that your lessons have not been thrown away on me. I fear nothing in the world only losing you, and God will spare me that.”
Mr. Lennox gazed upon her tenderly and sadly, then he cast an appealing look on Mrs. Wendell and Keefe.
“Look at her!” he said, “and promise me to watch over her while she is near you! Her own good sense will be her best guide, God’s protection her best safeguard; but she will want a friend while she remains here; some one to take care of her till she can return to Quebec.”
“I will do as much for her, as if she was my own daughter,” said Mrs. Wendell, fervently.
A look of satisfaction passed over the dying man’s face. He then turned his eyes on Keefe.
“You saved her life,” he said; “will you pro miss me to take care of her, till you see her safe with her friends?”
Keefe met his gaze with an earnest, steadfast look.
“All you could ask of me,” he said, “I will do, as far as man can do it.”
It was impossible to doubt the truth ex-pressed in the earnest tones of the young man’s voice, the fervour that glowed in his dark eye; and there was, besides, so much firmness and power in the character of his face, that it gave assurance his word was never lightly given, and never broken. A smile passed over the ghastly paleness of Mr. Lennox’s face; he put out his hand to grasp that of Keefe, but before he could touch it, a shudder convulsed his frame, his hand fell on Helen’s head, and he breathed his last in one deep and heavy sigh.
The shock of her father’s death was the greater to Helen, because, in spite of his own assurances, she had not believed him in any immediate danger.
She had mistaken the “lightening before death,” the last flicker of the expiring lamp of life, for a true amendment, and it was long before she could really believe that he was dead. When at last convinced that there was no hope, that he could never more feel her caresses nor respond to her love, her agony of grief might have melted the sternest heart. Keefe could not bear to see it.
“How can I comfort her? What can I do for her?” he said to Mrs. Wendell; “it kills me to see her suffer this way.”
“Well, you can do nothing,” said Mrs. Wendell, “nor no one else; no one can comfort such sorrow but God, and his help will come to her at the right time. It would only do her harm to come between her and her grief. Let her cry on, poor thing; her tears will do her more good than anything else could.”
Helen did not hear them, she was in a stupor of grief; she was conscious of nothing but that her father was gone far beyond the reach of her yearning heart.
Some hours later, when Mrs. Wendell again came to entreat her to go to bed, she found her buried in a repose almost as profound as that of the lifeless form by which she lay. Deeply touched at the sight, Mrs. Wendell called Keefe softly, and he carried her to the bed prepared for her, and laid her there, without disturbing that death-like hush of exhausted anguish; a mother could not have placed her babe in its cradle with more tenderness and care.
Every one that has known sorrow has felt the bewildering, torturing sensations of doubt and fear struggling against the nightmarelike oppression of grief weighing upon the senses, which comes after the first interval of rest has been broken, and the fresh agony of woe which follows the full return of memory and consciousness.
All this Helen felt when she woke the next morning, but after this crisis was over she grew calm; her mind had regained its power of self control, and though she instantly resumed her place beside her father, and would not leave him again, silence and darkness alone witnessed the tears she shed. Mrs. Wendell anxiously entreated her to go into the open air, to take more food, for she scarcely tasted any, and when night came again, to go to bed, but nothing could induce her to give up her loving watch; and shaking her head, Mrs. Wendell told Keefe that the poor thing was likely enough to be ready for her coffin before her father was put into his grave.
Keefe said nothing, but he would have given half his allotted years to have had the privilege of sharing and soothing her sorrow.
When at last he saw her, the day before her father was to be buried, she came into the orchard, where there were some beds of flowers, to gather sweet violets, primroses, and “the beautiful Puritan pansies,” to strew in his coffin. Coming home from his work about seven o’clock in the evening Keefe found her there. The heroism with which he had risked his life to save her and him who was now at rest, their dangerous passage through the wild waves in the little skiff, and the night he had stood beside her, and listened to her father’s dying words, all rushed on Helen when she saw him; emotion stifled her voice, she could only hold out her hand. It was a lovely evening, rosy light filled the orchards, the blossoms of the fruit-trees perfumed the air, and bees from a stand of hives placed beneath two fine old peach-trees were humming among the branches. The sweet summer air, the soft light, the rich fragrance soothed and refreshed Helen’s sad heart, nor was she insensible to the deep, silent sympathy expressed in Keefe’s look and manner. As for Keefe, a strange transformation seemed to take place in him, all his finest and best emotions were stirred in her presence, and the roughnesses with which that “mis-creator,” circumstances, had crusted his nature, disappeared.
“What a lovely evening,” he said; “I think it is the first true summer’s day we have had.”
“It is lovely, too lovely, too bright; nature will not mourn with me.”
“She does better,” said Keefe, “she smiles to cheer you; will you let me help you to gather the flowers? I know where the finest grow.”
He brought her a handful of half-blown roses, and as she took them, he saw tears fall softly and silently over their bright blossoms.
“He always loved me to bring him the first roses,” she said, “and now I shall lay them in his coffin.”
“I know,” said Keefe, gently, “you like still to do what pleased your father when he was with you, and if you will only think how it would pain him to see you destroying your health with grief, I am sure you would not do so.”
“Oh! I know it is wrong to grieve so much for him, when he is but gone to that God who is his Father and mine; but you can’t tell,” said poor Helen, “how much we were to each other.”
“I think I can imagine it; but can those who love ever be divided? Is not your father’s love as much yours in that unknown land to which he has gone as it would have been if only the Atlantic had separated you?”
“Do you believe this?” asked Helen, raising her eyes earnestly to his.
“Yes; the only one who ever loved me is gone to that spirit-land, but I feel and know that her love is with me still; when I do right I know she is glad, when I do wrong I know that it grieves her. And if your father sees you now, will it not pain him to see your eyes so heavy, and your cheek so pale? Mrs. Wendell tells me that you neither eat nor sleep.”
“Indeed I have tried to do both, but I cannot. And you forget how soon he will be taken from me; let me watch beside him till then.”
“At least stay out a little longer,” entreated Keefe, for she had turned as if to re-enter the house, “the sky is flushing brighter every moment, and listen—the clear, ringing notes of that bird, like little silver bells, always remind me of the fairy chimes for which I used to listen when I was a child, though I never heard them, nor did I ever catch a glimse of the elfin knights and damsels for which I used to watch in every lonely glen.”
“Then you are not an American,” said Helen, “for who, in this prosaic country, believes in the wonders of fairy land.”
“No, I was born in Ireland; and in that wild land, in the clefts of its rocky mountains at whose feet the stormy Atlantic comes tumbling in, and round whose top the eagle scars, on the shores of its lonely cliffs, and in the recesses of its green glens, all those mystic legends and dark superstitions which here are scornfully scouted, are believed with the firmest faith. In Ireland I believed them too, and even now I sometimes wish I could summon up the thrill, half of terror and half of mysterious delight, with which I used to watch in hopes of seeing the fairy folk dance on the old rath by the light of the new May moon; still I love to recall the old tales and ballads with which my nurse fed my fancy, and bewitched my senses.”
“Then your childhood was a happy one?” said Helen.
“While my mother lived, it was as happy as a dream of Eden, but when she died—the difference could hardly be greater, if one of those little ones who is in heaven, always beholding their Father’s face, should suddenly be cast into hell. All the feelings I had inherited from her, all the principles she had taught me, were mocked and outraged till I learned to hide them in the deepest centre of my heart, and I myself almost believed them extinct. Oh! children can suffer agonies undreamt of by those around them, more bitter, perhaps, than they can ever know in after-years, for it seems to me a child’s feelings can be as strong as those of any grown person, and his power to control or combat them is much less.”
“But you had your father,” said Helen; “was he unkind to you?”
“No, not unkind, but he neglected me. My mother’s death was a dreadful one—some other time I will tell you about it, if you care to hear, and I think his anger and grief at her sad fate hardened his heart against God and man. But my physical sufferings were never worth mentioning. I had, naturally, a strong, tough nature, which made light of toil and privation, and never knew fear; all my misery sprang from the want of that love which my mother had so tenderly lavished on me, and my innate and unconquerable disgust at the scenes of coarse vice among which I was thrown. I said unconquerable, yet I do not want you to think me better than I am, Miss Lennox, and I sometimes think that if I had not often felt my mother’s presence, and the touch of her hand, when I lay down at night, I might have been as bad as any of those about me. But why should you care to hear all this about me?”
“I like to hear it,” said Helen, “it has done me good. I, too, will try to believe that the love which on earth was so true and strong will be still treasured up for us in heaven; and that it is only the mists of earth which hide from us those we have loved and lost.”
“And, look,” exclaimed Keefe, with an earnestness which shook his voice, “look what a glory of loveliness rests now on the sky and earth, and what a soft calm seems breathing all around. How can we doubt that a presence of peace and love hovers over us?”
“Yes,” said Helen, “but the beauty of this hour will soon fade.”
“And then the stars will come out. See! there is one star. It has often been my guide home when I have lost my way in the bush, and I always look on it as an omen of hope and good.”
“Ah!” said Helen, “now the cloud hides it.” “But the star is there still; and, look!—now it shines out again, as bright as if its lustre had never been dimmed. Think of that star breaking through the cloud when your thoughts are sad, and take it as an omen of hope coming after sorrow?”
“Yes. Now I must go. Good night.”
She walked a few paces away, and then turned back.
“I have not once thanked you,” she said, in an agitated manner, “for all your kindness; but I know you will not think me ungrateful.”
She could not say any more.
“If you think you owe me anything,” said Keefe, very gently, “repay me by taking care of yourself. If I could only see you comforted, I should feel so glad.”
“I am comforted,” she answered, and so they parted.
Keefe remained strangely excited. He was in a new world, teeming with new emotions, hopes, and desires; he scarcely knew himself, all within and around him had changed; the earth, the heavens, his own being. The fetters that had hitherto held his finer faculties enthralled were loosened, a divine spark had kindled within his soul, chasing the dark mists that had till now clouded and dulled it, and opening to his view visions of higher aspirations, nobler emotions, and purer joys than had visited him before; he could not bear to leave the spot which Helen’s presence had so lately made enchanted ground, and throwing himself on the grass, he remained in a waking dream of sweet thoughts, till the deepening night and the chill winds of the early summer at last drove him into the house, where he found the pancakes which Mrs. Wendell had prepared for his supper completely spoilt, and her patience quite worn out by his unusual delay.
Nor had their meeting been without its effect on Helen: the genuine sincerity of Keefe’s sympathy had made itself felt without words. That invisible but powerful affinity which draws two hearts of the same mould to each other with irresistible force had exerted its influence over her as well as over him, though she did not know it; and the peculiar circumstances which had thrown them together had been better calculated to strengthen and develop the sympathy which nature had formed them to feel for each other, than years of common intercourse could have been. Besides, she was yet too young, her heart was still far too warm and expansive for one sorrow, however deep and intense, to shut up all its beautiful life in “cold abstraction,” and freeze its abundant springs of life and love. The tears she shed as she scattered the flowers Keefe had helped her to gather, in her father’s coffin, were less bitter than those that had preceded them; already the young buds of hope were springing up beneath the memories of her past happiness.