The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 17/Number 99/The High Tide of December
THE HIGH TIDE OF DECEMBER.
BREAKFAST was ready. Captain Lufflin, who, like most retired old salts, had a healthy stomach, and humored it, crossed and uncrossed his stumpy little legs, and pulled his gray moustache complacently, when he caught the first sniff of the hot coffee and broiling beefsteak.
He had been down on the foggy beach, (for the high winter tides were worth watching on that lonely coast,) and was now quietly drying his feet before the crackling wood-fire in the dining-room grate; but even Ann, (the clam-digger's daughter, promoted to cook,) as she bustled in and out, had seen the Captain was out of temper, as he waited, frowning portentously, and wagging his bald head now and then as if a wasp stung it.
Lufflin, who aboard ship would have risked a thousand lives on his own cool judgment, had been uneasy and irritable for two months back, ever since Mrs. Jacobus had written to him about buying this house for her.
"It was to be a Christmas gift from her to her husband," she wrote. "She wanted it, therefore, kept a secret from him. Any quiet corner along the coast which they could make into a home." Adding something about M. Jacobus "being fagged out with work, and needing rest," at which Lufflin shook his head. The Captain knew, that, bookworm and picture-maniac though he might be, Jacobus had managed to squander, in some unaccountable way, his own and his wife's fortune. So much of their history had got back to the fishing-town where she had lived when a child. People even hinted that they had been almost starving latterly in New York. However that might be, Old Lufflin knew that the sum she remitted to him was the last they had left; and beyond this, he had a shrewd suspicion that in the shipwreck the Jacobuses had made of life, something of more worth than money had been lost, and that this home she talked of was most probably a last effort to bury some shameful secret.
The Captain, in his disgust at the unknown bookworm, fretted under the whole affair. "It's not in my line," he would growl. "It's a cursed bore. Poor Charlotte! she used to swim like a frog in the inlet there, when she was only eleven. She's little heart for swimming now, it's likely!" And would begin his search with re-doubled vigor.
This house, a gray stone cottage of five or six rooms, in the most solitary part of the lee-coast, had been vacant for some time, and was to be sold cheap. Lufflin bought and furnished it in his own name; and then, as she directed, asked the Professor and his wife down to spend the Christmas holidays with him. He was anxious and awkward as a school-boy when they arrived the night before.
"It was too tough a job for you to set me, Charlotte," he grumbled. "How was I to choose a home for a man that lives, they say, by the sight of his eyes and the hearing of his ears? Water's water to me, and rocks rocks,"—trotting after her as she went through the house in silence, ending the survey with two or three sharp, decisive nods, and a quick, pleased little laugh.
"Satisfied? Yes, I am. Yes, I am. We've had a good many houses, Jerome and I; but this is home."
The Captain understood her.
In the morning, however, he felt all his doubts return. Mrs. Jacobus's quick, firm step sounded above, below him; presently she came in with a jug of yellow cream, and set it on the table, adjusting the dishes, putting a glass of holly in the middle, opening the window-curtains to let the cold, gray, wintry light fall on the white cloth and pretty blue china service.
"Those oysters now?" said the Captain, anxiously. "Ann's a poor cook."
"She's clean as a Shaker, though. But I broiled them myself,"—laughing to herself to see his relieved face.
"They're all right, then, Charlotte?"
She would give her mind to the oysters, he knew. It had been her way to put a little of her brains and blood into all her jobs in life, finishing each with a self-satisfied little nod. No wonder that she was worn, now that she was a middle-aged woman.
"She's lost something, Lotty has since I knew her," he thought, watching the light figure in its dark blue dress moving about; "but she's the right stuff for home use,"—with some vague idea in his old salt-water brain of delicate, incomplete faces suiting best with moonlight and country strolls, and of the sparkle of dinner-lights and brilliant eyes agreeing together, but that a face like Charlotte's was the one for the breakfast-table. The shrewd, kindly eyes, the color on her face, and the laugh came on you as fresh as a child's,—if her hair was a bit gray.
She had gone to the bay-window that overlooked the stretch of coast on which the heavy winter tide was coming in, and grown silent watching it. The Captain called to her; he wanted nothing to put the breakfast back this morning. And he fancied that to a woman who had been a leader in the world of culture and refinement yonder this sky and loud foreboding surf might have some meaning of which he knew nothing.
"Nature's voices, eh?" coming to her side.
Some expression that had held her face suddenly escaped it.
"I am watching for Jerome. Yonder he comes with your fisherman, by the inlet,"—pointing to two dark figures in the mist crossing the sands below.
The house stood on a ledge, facing the sea: ramparts of rock, gray and threatening in this light, running down on either side, and shutting out all outlook but that of the dull, obstinate stretch of sand on which the sea had beaten and fallen back for centuries, with the same baffled, melancholy cry. Behind the house were clumps of pines and cedars. Nature had done all she could in wringing out whatever green and lusty life was left in rocks and sand to make the place home-like and cheerful. Beside the trees, there was a patch of kitchen-garden back of the house, a grape-vine or two on the walls, trailing moss hanging to its eaves,—the delicate web-like moss that grows along this coast out of dead wood; even the beach rocks glowed into colors,—dark browns, purples, and reds.
But for all these it needed summer and sunshine. On this, the day before Christmas, the house and the land about it were smothered in a cold mist: only the shivering sea beyond had voice or motion.
"It's a dull, uncanny place, Mrs. Jacobus," said Lufflin, anxiously. "It looks like a prison to me to-day. What if we've made a mistake?"
"We have made no mistake," calmly.
"Indoors," he persisted, "the house is cheerful enough. But it's a rough coast, and the oyster-dredgers and wrackers hint that the house be n't above highest water-mark. They're a wild pack, them wrackers. I doubt it's a gloomy home I've picked for M. Jacobus, after all his"———
Something in her face silenced him.
"You did right, Uncle George," she answered, cheerfully.
But the pleasant eyes he had liked so much last night he noticed were turned to the sea now with a hard look, new to him, begotten both of great pain and obstinate endurance.
"Of course you know, Charlotte,—of course. God knows I want to do what's for the best."
He hesitated, then went on briskly, taking courage.
"See now, Lotty, I'm an old fellow. I've walked you to sleep many's the night, being your father's chum, and living in his house till the day of his death. I'd like you to know I'm a true friend. If so be as you're in trouble, you must tell me. If this house is a sort of hiding, as I've thought once or twice, speak the word, and there's nobody shall get below Barnegat, to disturb it, or"—
Mrs. Jacobus faced him suddenly,—the nerves in her body seeming to stiffen, her half-shut eyes fixed on his. The Captain's quailed.
"You mean Jerome?" in a low voice.
He did not answer. She waited a moment, and then turned again to the window,—holding forcibly down whatever resistance his touch had roused in her.
"You mean well," she said, quietly, after a pause. "But you do not know my husband. I was a fool to expect that; yet I did expect it,"—remembering bitterly how, when she brought her husband here, she had counted surely on a real justice for him from the single-minded old Captain, which shrewd, sensible men had not given.
"How could I know him? You talk like a woman, Lotty," stammered the Captain. "I never saw M. Jacobus till last night. It was a vague whisper, or rather an old man's whim, that there might be something gone which both you and he wished forgotten."
She had her face pressed against the pane, but Lufflin fancied that it lost color, and that the delicate jaws closed with the firmness of a steel spring.
"There was no crime," she said, in a moment or two.
The old man came close to her after a while, and put his hand gently on her hair; streaked with gray as it was, she seemed nothing but a child to him still.
"You're growing like your mother, Lotty," he said.
After a long while she spoke again, but under her breath, as if half talking to herself.
"We had a child once, Jerome and I," she said.
"I know," the Captain rejoined, quickly turning his eyes from her face, and, after waiting for her to go on, added, "Never but the one,—I know."
"It was a boy,—little Tom."
There was a sudden choking gulp in the mother's throat; she had overrated her strength a little. The old man looked steadily out to sea, and took no notice.
"They never were apart, Jerome and the boy," she went on at last, firmly; "and when I would see them at work with their play-tools, or romping together, I used to wonder which of the two had the most simple, affectionate nature, or knew less of the ways of the world."
Lufflin said nothing to this defence. He was annoyed at himself for having vexed her,—conscious and remorseful for any wrong he had done M. Jacobus, but with a stronger suspicion than before that he had galled some old wound in her memory. Whatever the secret might be, it had made her feeling for her husband, he saw, as tender and keen with pain as that for the little child she had lost, and whose place none had ever come to fill.
"I've often thought, too, that when the time comes"———
She stopped abruptly.
"Yes, Charlotte,"—to hide her effort to control herself.
"He's gone, Tom is, you know,—eleven years ago, now. But when the time comes for Jerome to see his boy again, I've often thought he would have no reason to dread the child's eyes. It's different with me. But they may say of my husband what they will, my baby need not be afraid to lay his head upon his father's breast. He needn't be afraid."
The Captain took up the cold hand that was nervously thrumming on the window-sill, and held it quiet, averting his eyes from her face, distorted with dry, silent weeping.
"It's different with me," she cried, "Sometimes I think, Uncle George, it would be better if I'd never see my boy again. I'm sharper and coarser than other women. I've had to rub with the world."
Lufflin was a queer old fellow. He did not tell her these were but the morbid fancies of an hysterical woman, or blame himself for rousing them. He muttered something about low tide and George Cathcart, and bustled off down the stairs. She had a stronger mind than he, he suspected; silence and her own will would bring her to herself quicker than any comfort of his could do.
He proved to be right. She did not notice his going; stood at first looking into the dark bank of sea-horizon, as if she would have forced out of that vague Beyond where her child had gone the truth of all that had hurt her in her life. The dull thud of the retreating tide kept time to her thoughts,—finally came into them: it was so natural for her mind to swing back into whatever was real and at hand.
Not that she forgot the little fellow whose restless feet and hands were quiet at last in the graveyard at Salem: she never forgot him; since they laid him there, the thought of him had sounded in every day of her busy life like a faint hymn sung by lips far away, holy and calm,—a story of God in it.
But she held it down; watched the tide go out, measuring each sullen sweep with calculating eyes: the old swimming and fishing education in the inlet had not worn out its effect on her.
"The wreckers talk folly," she said; "no tide could touch the house,"—leaning farther out to see the two approaching figures go into the doorway beneath.
One man looked up, waving his hat as he passed, and she drew in her head with a sudden blush and a dewy light in her eyes, catching her breath.
"I have made no mistake," she thought, vehemently. "Look in his face! It is the right home for Jerome."
As she listened to the footsteps coming up the stairway, she moved uneasily about the room, touching almost every article in it with the eager fondness of a child: she knew what it had cost her; for the house had been paid for by money she had earned; it seemed as if she could remember now every seam she had stitched, every page she had copied,—the days of heat and sickness and weariness, when she had almost given up in despair.
That was all over now; she could put her hand on the result in actual stone and mortar; and as she thanked God for it, she went about, woman-like, touching and looking for the hundredth time to enjoy it more utterly. Nothing was too trivial to give her pleasure: she measured the depth of the window-frames with her arm, tested the grain of the doors, felt the texture of the curtains; how warm and clear a crimson they were!—remembering how becoming they would be, and touching her worn cheeks with a quick smile.
She peered through into the open door from the dining-room into the room beyond: she meant that for the library; planning rapidly where on the gray walls their one or two pictures could hang,—how Jerome's old desk would fit into one corner, and her work-table in the other: the book-shelves were below, and the books and what other home treasures she had been able to smuggle with her; she would arrange them all to-night, after he was in bed.
In New York they lived in a crowded tenement-house, out of which Old Jacobus, as the boys called him, went to give his daily lessons. How he had argued and prosed for weeks as to whether they could afford these few days! although it was vacation, and Lufflin had sent free passes for the road. To-morrow he would know that the holiday would last always, and that the book could be finished which was to bring them bread. Madame Jacobus knitted her brows, counting for the twentieth time how many months the money she had would last: long enough for the book to be done, provisions were so cheap here.
So would they start afresh, thank God! There would be nothing here to tempt him to———The old look of defiance flashed over her face.
"It was no crime," she said, half aloud; and just then the door-knob turned.
Captain Lufflin, who had left her with conscience and grief both at work with her a few minutes before, opened the door with a half-scared look, pushing Jacobus before him, whose sleeve she caught eagerly, bidding him good-morning with a laugh.
"God bless us all!" said Lufflin. "The ways of women!"
M. Jacobus had a fisherman's corduroy trousers and red shirt hung on him, as one might say. He made a formal apology to Madame for sitting down to breakfast in them.
"But I like to clothe myself according to my occupation," he said to Lufflin, gravely. "I have begun at dawn to make my holiday, the time is so short; I feel myself quite of the sea already."
The clothes being too small for him, his gaunt legs and bony neck protruded above and below, capped by a brown, honest, homely face, over which thin, iron-gray hairs straggled.
"A younger man than I expected to see," thought the Captain; "but that's one of the faces that never grows old."
M. Jacobus munched his breakfast in silence, and then, clearing a space on the table, dragged out of his pocket one or two crabs, a sea-horse finger-length, and a general mess of slimy legs and tails.
"Cancer pagurus! Cirripedes!" triumphantly spreading them on the table-cloth. "The fruits of my morning's labor, except Hippocampus brevirostris, vulgarly called Sea-Horse, which stood to me in the sum of forty cents: it shall be saved in other modes of expenditure,—say shoes,"—with a deprecating glance at his wife.
"Yes, Jerome," her eyes fixed, hungrily, on the childish delight in his face.
Lufflin began to perceive now for what she had worked; he chafed his whiskers, and entered into the spirit of the thing with zest.
"You'd call me a happy man, now, Mounchere, to be the owner of this bit of ground, eh?"
"I can conceive," said the Professor, gravely, catching his squirming prey, and tying them up in a handkerchief,—"I can conceive no better abode than this for a man of esprit,—of what you call stamina in mind. His wants are little; he rests, he works, he studies books, Nature. She is greatly good to him in this place; she opens her most delicate secrets; she gives to him grandeur, beauty, from full hands."
"She fills his stomach, too," said the Captain, hastily. "No better fishing on the coast, not to mention clams and oysters. Yes, Mounchere," after a pause, as they rose from table, "Nature's grand here, as you say,—or God, which is the same thing. If a man don't come nearer to Him by a day's outlook on yon sea than by years of town-life, it's because his eyes aren't worth the having."
M. Jacobus stretched his long neck to look out at the dull, creeping, moaning waste without, his warm Gallic blood shivering with a vague idea that the relentless, inexorable Thing was no bad symbol of the Puritan's God.
"Ah, le bon Dieu!" he muttered. "All that is best in men's nature has been given to make up that image,—and all that is most cruel."
"Eh? yes," said the Captain, not understanding, but wagging his bald head wisely.
"I will go now and preserve my specimens," said the Professor, "and then join our friend George below,—with your permission, Madame? He is but a fisher for the oyster, but I find in him a man of many facts."
When he had mounted to his chamber and secured his prey in a jar, however, he did not return to George Cathcart, but stood irresolute, his hands clasped behind his back, the shiny boatman's hat he wore pulled over his eyes.
Twelve years ago the poor Frenchman and his son had planned this coming to the sea: the boy used to get into his father's bed by dawn to talk it over snugly. It came to be their grand scheme and hope for the future; for neither the father nor little Tom had intellects of a high achieving order. Jacobus had never, I suppose, considered whether his son had genius or not, or what he was to do in the world: to get the boy out of the poisonous city, to see his first look at the ocean, to watch the sturdy little rogue fight the breakers, fish, swim, net for crabs, was about the highest pleasure which the simple old man had ever pictured for them. Now the holiday had come for him; and Tom———
He walked about the room, glancing unsteadily from side to side, as if in search of something lost. The sick, intolerable loneliness of those first days after Tom died came back to him.
"Mon fils! mon fils!" he muttered once, holding his hand to his side.
It gave him actual pain to breathe just then; but his eyes were dry. He never had cried for Tom as his mother did,—never named him to her; she thought he had forgotten. The fancy seized him, that, now that he was here, if Tom cared for him, and for coming there, as he did once, he was not far off at that moment. His sallow jaws colored at the boyish notion, and then he laughed at it,—in a strange saturnine fashion. It was as if another man than the simple Professor suddenly looked out through his eyes,—a man older, more untrustworthy, weak through a life-long doubt,—not his natural self, in a word, but the man which years of life in dirty ways, and the creed which his father gave him, had made of him. He looked out of the window, his fingers knitted behind him.
"There is the sea, and I am here, but Tom is not here; he's dust and ashes, yonder in Salem graveyard,—a heap of yellow dust, nothing more,"—a laugh, which the foulest of French skeptics would have envied, crossing his grim face at this fancy of the child's being yet alive and near to him.
But the creed having asserted itself thus, the simple face grew suddenly blank, and the gray eyes looked out of their dark hollows as if the world were empty and he alone lived to tell the tale.
M. Jacobus had a watchful keeper; she was never far off; she put her hand on his shoulder now with,—
"What do you look for at sea, Jerome?"—speaking cheerfully, and in his own tongue.
He did not turn his head until he thought he had put all his trouble out of sight.
"I pursue your Captain's fancy," he said. "I find in the sea but muddy water, with power to bring rage and destruction for no cause. I find great treasures lying useless below, starving men sailing above,—great pain, death every day,—the baby washed from its mother's arms, the husband from the wife. The good Captain sees a loving God behind all these: my eyes are not so clear."
She pushed the lattice farther open.
"It is a strong sea for December," was all she said. "The tides run higher later, usually."
"Everyman makes his own God and heaven," maundered on the Professor, in a set, monotonous voice, "out of his individual animal or mental needs. The Southern European surrounds Him with virgins, paradise, and music; and the cold Scotchman gives us a magnified shadow of his own grim face, gracious and merciful only to his own petty clan."
Mrs. Jacobus did not reply. It was an old tale to her ears, perhaps; she remembered it croaked by his father with a venomous zest; but Jerome repeated it with a stolid apathy, like one who asked for bread in life, and they gave him but this stone.
"Come down on the beach," she said. "There are curious bits of wreck washed ashore to-day, they tell me: broken sea-weeds from far-off coasts, unknown here; and small shell-fish coming into shoal water for safety, that never ventured so far inland in the memory of any of the wreckers. Come look at this sky, Jerome: how rapidly it has changed!"
M. Jacobus thrust out his head with an assumption of sagacity.
"It was there that Captain Lufflin warned me the danger lay," said his wife, pointing to a mere fleck of quiet and black in the northeast, which remained immovably solid while the whole heaven around was broken into drifting frightened masses. Beneath, (yet not far beneath, for ocean and sky to-day seemed like gray, fast-approaching planes,) the angry roar of the waves and the tossing of yellow frothy caps had been suddenly quelled into the vast silence which rose and fell in slowly darkening, awful pulsations. Jacobus and his wife looked on anxiously.
"These are peculiar features of a storm," he said, "if they forebode a storm. The tide should be at its lowest ebb now. I will go and consult our friend George. Come down! come down!"
As he hurried out of the door, however, he stopped, and put his hand on her shoulder with a deprecating smile.
"I ought not to let those old thoughts strike the life out of the day for me, ought I?"
"No, Jerome, no!" She caught his hand and kissed it as a mother might a child's.
"I had almost ceased to make holiday," he added, gravely, putting his foot up, retying the leather strings of his heavy shoes, and looking down on his fisherman's rig with secret complacency.
"Shall we go down? There are foreboding signs in the sea, that I would wish to study."
Late in the afternoon of that day, Captain Lufflin, coming up the rocks from the beach, (for he had spent the day measuring the advancing tide,) saw a queer-shaped cart or van drive up to the side door, and a woman with divers bundles alight and go in. About an hour after, Madame Jacobus came out to him, a woollen shawl over her head, and stood beside the garden-fence with him, pulling the heads off the dead hollyhock-stalks as she talked.
"I've a story to tell you," she said, her voice thick at first, and her face hot.
"Eh? About yourself, Charlotte?" The Captain's small eyes kindled with curiosity, and he pushed a log for her to sit down. "Go on, my dear."
"About ourselves,—M. Jacobus and me,"—with another pause.
"I perceived," said her father's friend, preparing for the confession of some imprudence, "that your married life has been peculiar: modelled after the ideas of young people, I suppose."
"I do not know," she said, absently. She balanced herself more comfortably against the fence, and went on with her story with a quiet unconsciousness that balked Lufflin's intention of censure.
"We have been poor in the two or three years just past," she said,—"wanted enough to satisfy even his favorite Saint-Simon's theory. My husband is no"———
"Financier?" gently suggested the Captain.
"No. He could beard the world in defence of an idea; but for bread and butter, ah-h! I'm rougher! I ought to have been the man for that! About a year ago he was offered a chance to go with a geological party to Brazil. I was glad of that. The air and sights of our close court were killing him. I wanted to finish some work I had to do, and then"———
She stopped; a scarlet flush broke over her neck and face.
"God was very good to us,"—in an almost whisper. "Six months after my husband left home, He gave us another child."
"You never told me this," cried Lufflin, aghast.
"I never told Jerome," quietly. "I put my baby out to nurse, where it could breathe air, and not poison,—not far from here. I have left it there since. May-be it was wrong," said poor Charlotte, hiding her face in her hands, with a happy laugh. "It was a whim, I know. I may have wronged him, but I had a fancy to give him his home and his child both upon this Christmas day."
The Captain gasped, took a fresh bit of tobacco, but said nothing.
"There is no more to say,—but you want to see the baby?" suddenly.
"Certainly, Charlotte, certainly,—see the baby!" And the old Captain followed her, glancing about him in a mild imbecility of astonishment.
"God bless my soul!" he broke out at last. "The idea of springing a house and a baby on a man in one day! It assuredly is, child, the most unprecedented whim"———
"Yes, yes,"—dodging suddenly into a room, and bringing out a bundle of white linen and wool. She stood in the passage by a window, the red evening light falling about her.
"It's a boy," she whispered, lifting off the covering. "He is very like little Tom,"—an inexpressible awe on her face.
"Yes," said the Captain. He had meant to say a few sensible words to bring her to reason about this matter; but, instead, he took up the little white foot thrust out of the blanket and kissed it sheepishly, looking askance at the woman's figure and face bent over the child, beaming with a rare and tender beauty.
They said little after that. The mother stood playing with her baby, touching its cheeks and chin until it laughed. She forgot Lufflin was there, I suppose. Her soul seemed to be in her fingers, her pure passion to envelop the mite of flesh as the weak sunshine did herself, and to hold it in life. There was something in this wife-and-mother-love which poor Lufflin did not understand.
"Well, well," he said, "I'll go now. God bless you, Lotty! You'll let me have a share in this young fellow here, eh?"—and trotted down the back stairs, leaving her in the narrow hall. "Old Mounchere Jacobus must have been a good fellow," he thought, "to have deserved all this. God deals so differently with different men!"
She had nothing more to say about it, Madame Jacobus had told him; yet, standing there in the quiet cold light, within a few steps of the closed door behind which was her husband, her feet on the floor of the house she had worked hard to buy him, the child in her arms she would give him to-morrow, she thought she had touched in this hour the very depth and height of life.
"It is worth all the pain that's gone,—it's worth it all," she said again and again, pressing the boy so closely that he cried. When she turned to the window, the cold and gathering night somehow made her home more real, the future alive with great and good possibilities.
Yet it was a foreboding, revengeful night. Outside the little panes of the passage-window she could see the gray walls of the house and the bare trunks of the trees darken and draw apart in the dull light. There was no mellowness in the outlines of rocks or beach: they loomed up harsh and threatening. From the low, dingy horizon came at intervals subdued soughs of wind that broke on the projecting headlands with a muffled cry. The floor grew chilly to her feet; the strip of carpet shook in the gusts; and the passage was dark, but for a cheerful glimmer of light under the Professor's door. Charlotte went shivering with her baby into the nurse's room; and when she had watched it safe into its cradle, came out, going again through the hall to the library. As she touched the door-handle, she checked herself in humming some song, growing colorless as she thought what it was,—an old ditty with which she used to lull little Tom to sleep, but never had sung since then. But in a moment a curious smile came on her lips. "That is all right," she said, opening the door. From that moment her little boy and poor Tom, dead in the city graveyard yonder, were as one to the mother: she nursed them in her heart together.
One word as to the plan of the house, for the better understanding of what followed. It was niched, as we said, into a cove of rocks, open only to the sea. In spite of all the croaking of the wreckers, the highest tide had never yet approached nearer than to ten feet sheer descent from the foundation-stones. On the ground-floor was a room appropriated by the Captain, filled with his bunk, fishing-nets, guns, and other trumpery, and the kitchen and offices; above were the library and dining-room; and on the third floor three bed-chambers.
M. Jacobus sat now by the fire in the dining-room, his feet on the fender, some books scattered around him, rapidly getting out with them into a world where northeasters, nor high tides, nor his wife either, ever came. She saw that in the half-frown with which he looked at her over his spectacles.
"M. Jacobus!" she said.
"Plait-il, Madame?" and afterwards laid down his book, thinking the figure before him could hardly be that of his matter-of-fact wife: which was true enough,—for her heart was brimful of her little project and the child, and the face, with its low forehead and resolute jaws, beamed curiously young and eager. Her husband seated her, and stood leaning on the mantel-shelf while she talked: he had all the courtesy of an old-fashioned Frenchman towards women; and besides, M. Jacobus had a keen eye for beauty in this the only woman he had ever loved.
"Go down, Jerome; the tide turns," she said. "Captain Lufflin is watching it. Besides, I want this room to make ready for to-morrow."
M. Jacobus began, obedient as usual, to button his coat, muttering, "To-morrow?" however, with a puzzled face.
"It is Christmas,"—with the repressed excitement now in her voice as in her eyes. "I want that we shall keep the day this year; I have some little plans"———
The skeptic's face altered; he lingered over the last button of the coat.
"It is worth more to you than other days?"—dryly.
"We never observed it before. God has been so good to us, Jerome,—and it is His day of the whole year,—the day," her voice sinking with an inexpressible tenderness, "when Love came into the world as a little child,—as a little child."
He looked at her wistfully for a moment, then took up his stick and an hygrometer, saying, as he opened the door,—
"But hear to the cry of the sea! it grows more muffled and dull each hour. If Death itself could speak, that is his voice, I think." He spoke vaguely, with an anxious, absent look, then went groping down the dark stairway. Presently she heard him come back hurriedly.
"Will it cost you much to give up this day, child?" he demanded, coming close and putting his hand on her head. "I ask it of you. I must be with you in your little plans, and"———
"Your mother kept it," interrupted she, sharply.
"I know,"—with dull, pained looks at the fire, at the night without, everything but her face. "Her faith is not mine."
"No, Jerome," gently,—for she was tender with him always, when he seemed weaker than herself. "But if it could be, my husband?"—her voice growing unsteady. "Humor me this one time: I have looked forward to it so long! Perhaps it was to remember my own childhood; perhaps I had some little gifts to offer you. But let me keep it. If it be childish, let me be a child."
Something in the broken voice reminded him of little Tom's. She put her hands on his arms, too, and in the thin face turned up to his there was a look left by all the years of patient love and work she had borne for him; it struck him back somehow, as by a touch, to those first days when they were lovers together in Canada. It was curious, that, in after years, when M. Jacobus remembered his wife, it was always as she looked at that last moment.
"Don't think me harsh, Sharley," he faltered.
She caught at her advantage. "We will keep it together,"—eagerly.
He thrust her hands from his arms, and went about the room with long, unsteady strides.
"I cannot lie to God! I cannot lie!" he said.
His wife, seeing his face, when he turned, cried hurriedly,—
"It is a trifle; let it go, Jerome. I can give you my little gifts all the same; it is a trifle."
Down below his credulous simplicity and the weight of borrowed ideas with which books had loaded his brain, (borrowed infidelity with the rest,) M. Jacobus was a sturdy, honest man, with a keen sense of honor: it was no trifle to him. She saw that some rough touch of hers had reached a secret depth of his soul never bared to her before.
"What is it, Jerome?"—coming up to catch him again with her trembling hand. "It is to me a matter of so little import!"
"It is this to me. She did keep it,—my mother. It is my first remembrance of our home,—when she was dead. We children made yet a feast upon that day, that she might look back and see. Now that I am no longer a child, and know that she can never look back, that what was my mother is but a heap of bones and dust, I—I cannot keep the day."
She stood in his way.
"Dead is dead!" he cried, fiercely, "When I know that she and the child I loved cannot speak or look at me more than this stone at my feet, I cannot believe in the day on which you say He came to bring eternal life."
"There is nothing more alive to me than my little Tom. I'm sorry you do not feel it so, Jerome," said matter-of-fact Charlotte. "I was not what you call a religious woman before he died; and when better thoughts come to me now, I am sure he brings them from the good Lord."
"Do you remember," he said, suddenly, "a habit the boy had of sitting on the sunny door-step, quite silent, by the hour?"
"I remember,"—turning her head away.
"It used to remind me of the days when I was a boy, on the shore of Lake Erie. My father was a squatter there. There was nothing I did not dare nor hope in those long dreams of what my life was to be. I would hunt, wrestle, fight, as no man had done before. I would be the first leader in the world,—a soldier, a priest,—God! what was there I would not be! What came of it all?"—his voice rising into a weak, wiry cry. "There was a tiny cancer, a little taint in my blood,—a trifle,—bah! a nothing! My grandfather died a drunkard; my father ate opium. I———Sharley, it's an old story to you."
She did not shame him by a look at him: her own face had the old pallor and defiant clench of the jaws which Lufflin had seen. She drew his hand under her arm, and kissed it passionately.
"It was no crime," she cried,—the old burden for many years.
A fine, sad smile crossed his face.
"Poor Sharley!" he said. "No,—no crime; for with the temptation was given me a weak will. So they're gone now, hopes and chances in life,—mind and body eaten away by that one animal thirst,—gone! Who was to blame?"
"You told me," she said, eagerly, "that the stimulant in this air would be all that you would require,—that it would effect a cure."
"Yes; but was it right that the fate of a man's soul should thus depend on outward chances? Was I to blame for this hereditary plague in my blood? Half of the lost millions who crowd the cities can plead against the crime that dragged them down some inherited vice; theft, drunkenness, butchery, were born with them, sucked in with their mothers' milk. This world, that God called good, is but a gigantic mass of corruption, foul with disease and pain, which man did not first create, and never will conquer."
"Why do you talk of this to-night?" said Charlotte, shunning the storm, as usual.
"Because I thank God, that, if He has made this failure, He will blot it out. I liked to fancy once that my mother would waken out of her long sleep into all her old loves and hates and fancies. I thank God now that she knows nothing,—that for her, and for all of us, after death, lies but an eternal blank."
In the pause, the dulled throb of the sea rose for an instant into a fierce warning cry, and then was gloomily still.
"It is as if the dead yonder would drive us back from their rest and silence,"—his speculative eye wandering dreamily out into the night.
But death and all that lay beyond were real to the practical woman beside him; there was no speculation in her eyes; it was an actual life he was dragging from before her; her child was in it; some day her own feet in Mesh and blood would tread there. She put her hand on his shoulder and leaned out beyond him, peering down over the shore, just as if in the night and cold beyond lay in truth the land of the dead.
"I am not afraid of their rest and silence," she cried,—"I'm not afraid, Jerome!"
The fair, clear-cut face came warm and living between him and the darkness; her voice called into the vague distance cheerful and strong.
She turned back to him glowing with color.
"Our boy is there," she said; "and there are others dead that I loved. I always knew they'd keep a watch for us, Jerome!"
He listened with a sad smile.
"And I've no fear," she went on, energetically, "I never had any fear, that He would give them back to us just misty, holy angels, who could neither cry nor laugh with us, when our very hearts were sick to catch their hands and kiss their lips again.—I know," after a pause, "my boy will come first to me, with his old trick of hiding and calling for 'Mother, mother!'—he'll not forget I liked that name the best; and he'll have the same laugh in his eyes, just the same,—he'd find no better look in heaven than that was. I knew, when I closed his eyes that night, it was but for a little while." Yet she stopped suddenly, putting her hand to her throat to choke back a cry of pain, "A little while," she repeated, firmly.
Her husband listened, the smile growing more bitter: she had never seemed more silly or more dear to him than then.
"I am not a child," she said, quickly. "It is not fancy. The dead are in Christ's kingdom; and He is alive, not dead, yonder. It was a real man, Jerome, that ascended from the mountain, loving his friend, censuring Peter, taking care of his mother. Mary found no spirit there, when she died, but the son whose baby-head rested on her breast; and I shall find my boy."
He soothed her, for she had grown nervous and trembling; let her cling to his neck and cry away her trouble, after the fashion of women who have brought their hearts out to argue for them.
"Let us forget that far-away country," he said, after a while, "and go to rest, Lotty. The moans of this storm will wear your strength out,"—leading her to the foot of the chamber-stairway.
She went up, pausing at the top to look back, a smile on her flushed cheeks and swollen eyes.
"It will be a quiet morning," she said, waving a good-night.
There was some meaning in her words which he could not penetrate, but it touched and startled him.
"A quiet morning?"
The words haunted the simple old man, sitting alone to watch the night wear away. He had never been more utterly alone. The new home was strange; the very wood-fire had burned out on the hearth; unfamiliar, cold lines met his eye, wherever he turned; the heavy mist crept in from the sea through every cranny, like vapors from a charnel-house. He had a dull, superstitious dread of what lay beyond that sullen beach of mist,—the undefined. There, whence these low rumblings, and sharp, inarticulate cries reached him: he stood up, looking into it, shivering. A bat swooped past the open window, and struck its clammy wing against his face; the moon had gone down, and the mist that saturated his clothes, so present and close at hand was it, stretched up and possessed the very sky as well as the shore,—yellowed thickened the air he breathed, hid the line where the breakers struck the coast, driven in with a subdued, persistent fury he had never known before. The shore-mist had its bounds: it did not touch that clear darkness beyond, into which Jacobus looked, drawing down his grizzled brows, trying to jeer his cowardice away.
"By daylight," he said, "it is but a bulk of water, full enough of danger and death; but now it might be hell itself yonder, that has 'made the clouds its swaddling-band.'"
He was not sure how long a portion of the night crept by. Sometime in it, however, he saw flashes of light moving through the fog among the rocks: Lufflin and the fishermen keeping watch,—"uneasy ghosts that could not pass over into Hades," he laughed, with the same miserable attempt at a joke; but the laugh died away feebly in the empty room, and it was with a grave face the Professor made his way down the dark staircase, and, finding the Captain's dread-nought coat, put it on before he ventured out into the storm. "To please Lotty," he muttered. His heart was strangely tender to-night to the only friend he had known for years.
There was a dead quiet in the fog as he came out and waited on the flagging before the house. Lufflin and George Cathcart came by, presently, carrying lanterns and ropes, their faces looking ghastly in the greenish light; their voices, too, were thin and far off as in a dream, though the Captain tried to be hearty and gruff as usual.
"Best within, Mounchere Jacobus; it's an uncertain night; best within."
"You apprehend the rain?"
"No; it's a dry storm; unpleasant on this coast. Go in; there's no telling what frenzy may seize the wind, and Charlotte is alone."
But M. Jacobus did not go in. He had observed a curious motion on the part of both men, as they talked: bending their ears at intervals to listen intently, and keeping a keen scrutiny fixed on the small patch of ground at their feet, made visible by their lanterns. He saw, too, that Cathcart stooped, as he turned from them, and, picking up a crisp, yellow flake, showed it to his companion; and he fancied, too, that the grim face of the old Captain lost its color when he saw it. He would not go in: he had a right to see what danger threatened her,—to watch for it,—to know what were these messengers of coming death sent in from the silence yonder. And at that fancy, the old wonder and dread of the far darkness seized him, and he went slowly on through the mist, forgetting alike danger and warning.
With a mocking smile on his face, as he pursued his fantastic theory. What if the dead were not dead? What if, unforgetting and cruel, they could stretch out shadowy hands from that mysterious distance which they peopled, and summon the living to join them? What if Death itself served them to-night, and crept upon Charlotte and him unawares in some horror of this coming storm? Jacobus, like all skeptics, was superstitious; but he had courage and zest enough to fight down the terror that seized him, to pamper and play with it. He threw his lank length upon the wet beach, and clasped his hands under his head; where he disturbed the sand, gleamed sudden flashes of phosphoric light; he brought them out of the darkness with his finger: "Fit writing for the dead gone over to leave upon the shore for those who should follow!" he thought.
Lying on his back, and staring straight up into the fog-covered sky, the thunder of the sea, that before had filled the whole night, seemed to his startled senses to drive its direct tide beneath him,—to articulate, at last, with a new and unexpected meaning. He shut his eyes; the terror had taken shape; he lay drenched and shivering, his brain on fire with fancies. What was vision to Dante was real to him. He lay upon the edge of the fathomless gulf, warm and living, with the cry from Hades made audible to him; as it ebbed and flowed, it wailed like the wind through leafless forests; it shook the earth to its centre, then died into the solitary cry of one in nameless pain. Some broad, dark figure stood afterwards beside him in the fog, and a voice repeated the old word of the prophet,—
"Hell from beneath is moved to meet thee at thy coming; it stirreth up the dead for thee"———
"There is no hell," he cried, getting up and staggering forward,—then smiled at his own folly.
It might have been Lufflin who had spoken, after all; he was well read in the Bible. But he could see no sign of their torches, in the stretch of damp, darkening fog; he was left alone to keep guard.
Jacobus tried to shake off his sickly fancies, and measure coolly whatever danger waited in this strange night; but it rose before him in a form so ghastly and new that his strength was but as a woman's. He was but a landsman,—dull and ignorant besides, outside his library. What was he to do, when the very ground trembled beneath his feet,—when the sky was blotted out,—when, there was lack of a single known stationary object to guide eye or ear? This side of that gray horizon of darkness which absorbed all his fears, the northern lights streamed up, a pale orange glare, and showed him a heavy, impenetrable bulwark of shadow, that rose closer and closer with each throb of the breakers, walling out the sea. His feet sank curiously in the yielding sand, as if he stood at the verge of a maelstrom. Some rough hand griping his shoulder roused him from his daze.
"Cathcart!" he said; then pointing out, "what lies yonder, George? It might be Death's world, I think!"
The fisherman's arm shook, he fancied; but he answered steadily, in his usual piping, weak tones,—
"It don't matter whether it's God's world or the Devil's world, as I see, so long as it kin send ashore a grip on us like that,"—glancing down at his feet, where Jacobus saw the yellow, flaky foam curling up from under the sand. He stooped leisurely to examine it.
"What does this portend?" he asked.
"God! it be the tide, man," shrieked out Cathcart, with an oath. "Can't you see that it's broken over the topmost boundaries? You be standing now above the level of your own house."
One swift, sharp glance was enough to waken him into real life out of his vague dreams. The man, nervous and fierce, that had been smothered in the unable bookworm so long, sprang up to cope with the sudden death that faced him.
"You be too late!" he heard Cathcart's shrill cry, as he fought his way through the surging surf; and at the same moment there was a heavy crash,—where, he could not see.
The fog blinded him; the sand, driven by the resistless wind, cut his skin, penetrated his eyes and nostrils; while higher and higher, as he waded on, the muddy water crept up his body, slimy and cold, and tangling his feet in its undertow of kelp. There was a weight on his chest which strangled him when he tried to cry aloud.—No matter; the next headland passed and the house would be gained.
She was there, standing on a heap of fallen stone, her white night-dress torn and muddied by the rocks and branches which the water swept by her. Jacobus wondered if that were the house whose ruins curdled the dull sweep of water beneath her; then the thought of his wife blotted out all besides. Around her was a creeping, seething stream, widening each moment; he did not see how deep it was, nor that the unsteady pile of stones on which she had climbed was crumbling into it. He threw off Lufflin's coat and his shoes, calling out almost joyously to her, so fierce was the new strength in his muscles, and the passion in his heart.
"Sois tranquille!" he shouted. "Lotty! It is I who comes! I go to swim!"
She never heard the words, it is probable, for only a faint cry reached him, of which he distinguished nothing; but he saw her hand waving him back, and laughed.
"Poor child! she thinks to die, and stupid old Jerome so near! Foolish Sharley!"
But the water weighed him down already, as he struggled ignorantly in it, his gaunt limbs floundering, the tender smile yet on his bony face; it cramped his arms, closed over his head: with a groping wrench he recovered his footing, and breast-high in the rising tide looked at her.
"It is I who comes, Sharley!" he shouted, fiercely. "Wife! wife!" The old English word meant so much to him at that moment!
Whether hours or minutes passed in that struggle he never knew; but at its close he lay washed, like a poor wisp of weed, upon the shore. The stream between them, which he never should pass, deepened, deepened: it licked her feet now, her knees. She stretched out her hands to him,—whether for help, or to say good-bye, he never knew.
He made no sign in reply. Her face was turned to him, not heeding the death at her feet,—the thin face set in its iron-gray hair, with the beauty of all those years of love upon it, the same wistful smile on it with which it looked at him across the fire on winter evenings;—and he was to sit there, unmanned, impotent, helpless, to watch the slow death creep up to her lips, her eyes?
He lifted one hand feebly to his chest, with a dull hope of crushing out the faint life beating uselessly there; then, with a desperate clutch on the sand, struggled towards the water.
"I go to swim! Sharley! Sharley!" he cried, and that was all.
The morning dawned, bleak and blue; the thin light came into the cracks of a wrecker's hut, colder than even on the sea. Jacobus had made a heap of ropes and driftwood on which to lay his dead. He sat holding her head on his breast, having twisted up her wet hair in a vain effort to adjust it as she liked it best. There was no wild vagueness in his eyes, such as dimmed them sometimes over his books; it was a grave, simple, reasonable face that bent over this cold and unanswering one. It seemed as if this one great blow, which God had given, had struck out from his life all its vain vagaries and dreams.
Lufflin and one or two fishermen stood by, looking on; and outside he heard women's voices, in shrill whispers, and a sob now and then.
"I want to carry her in the shore farther," he said, looking up impatiently. "I will not have her vexed by these sounds of trouble."
"Yes, yes," said Lufflin, soothingly. "But you forget, dear Sir, she's beyond all reach of pain now. Sorrow and tears cannot come near her again."
"I don't know," said Jacobus,—"she has a quick ear for any cry of trouble,"—holding the thin, blue-veined hand in his, and looking at it with a face which made old Lufflin turn away.
"She be at rest now, yer woman," piped George Cathcart, in true class-meeting twang. "Not all yer cries, nor the cries of the sea, neyther, 'u'd wake her. Glory be to God!"
Jacobus looked from one to the other, his sickly frame in a heat of inarticulate rage. That these boors, that death itself, should come between him and his wife and say she could not hear his lightest word!
"Why, it's Lotty!"—in a whisper, hugging the stiff body closer, looking up to Lufflin. "Dead or alive, it's my wife. It's Lotty. Do not you understand?"
"Yes, Mounchere, yes, I understand,"—sopping his face and bald head with his handkerchief. "My good men, had you not better go out a moment? We need air here. He only meant," gently, when they were gone, "that she is at rest; our pain cannot pain her now."
"When I do suffer, she will suffer with me," muttered Jacobus. "You don't know," after a pause, "how together we have been, or that you could not say. Is it that I should go back to that den in New York alone? That I live there for days,—for years? That I hunger and work as before, and she not heed nor care,—my wife? Ah! you do not know Lotty!" touching the closed white lids with an inexpressibly tender smile. "I call her 'Sharley,' when we are alone together,"—going on in his simple, monotonous fashion; "and when she sleeps the heaviest, she have never forgot to hear that name. She never will,"—looking up quietly.
"But your wife is dead now," said Lufflin, almost impatiently; "and you yourself thank God that she will never waken to her old loves and hates and fancies."
"I?" gasped Jacobus.
There was a long silence; as his old creed came back to him, the blood rushed thick and cold about his heart.
"God's world, and all His creatures," persisted Lufflin, "are foul with sin. You blessed Him that for them and it death was an eternal sleep."
"I did not remember her love for me," pleaded Jacobus, humbly. "It could not sleep. Why! you man, Lufflin," starting to his feet, and drawing up his full height, "if that could be, would I stand to look at her here? Could I live, if she were truly gone?—she, that has been strength and hope and hands for me these many years? I'm not a strong man, like—like you, Captain," with a sudden weak giving way. "God gave me Sharley. Death cannot take her away."
Lufflin took up her hand.
"So soft it used to be!" he said. "It's been hard-worked since then. It would be well for Lotty, if death were a long sleep: she needs it."
Jacobus made no reply. He sat down and held his dead in his arms; she was his own; so were those years of hard work which had worn her hands rough, and left these sharp lines in her face. He only knew what they had been: in the long silence that followed, while the daylight broadened bluer and colder about him, he lived them over again; and he knew then, by every day of griping poverty, which it wrung the clammy drops out of his face to remember,—by all her patient tenderness,—by the happiness they had hoped for, but which never came,—by the true love they had borne to each other, and to little Tom, which knew so little comfort, he knew that the recompense would come, that the end was not yet She had shaken off the hunger and the pain, and had gone into the world where only the love endured and found its comfort and its late reward. There was such a world—somewhere. He put back the grayed hair from the forehead; little Tom had such a brow,—broad, quiet, melancholy.
"'I will go to them,'" he said, "'but they will not return to me!'"
Was it he that had been dead, and waked again? A strong hand lifting his head; a warm face and breath at his cheek; a voice calling him as sweet and cheerful as when first he heard it on the banks of the—little creek in Canada? Then out of the reeling and groping of shadows and real objects came a square bay-window opening on a sea-horizon of drifting olive-gray clouds, the crackle and glow of a great wood-fire, a cheerful breakfast-room, and some busy chatter about a night spent sleeping in drenched clothes and night-fogs.
Lufflin's round, red face was the first real grip his senses took of it all. The Captain was in his holiday suit of blue and brass, and pulled down his jacket with a complacent twinkle in his eyes.
"Faith, ye'll suffer a sea-change in short order, Mounchere, if you spend a few more nights dreaming by that window! Your very eyes look rheumy and glazed already."
Jacobus got up, stunned and dull beyond his wont,—his eyes fixed, not on the joking Captain, but on the anxious, wondering face upturned to his. He touched the cheek, a little worn and haggard, may-be, but with good, healthy blood reddening it,—felt the nervous hands,—then stooped and solemnly kissed her lips.
They trembled a little; then she laughed.
"Did the sea send you dreams of me?"—trying to jest, but with some of last night's trouble in her eyes.
"Not the sea,"—putting his hand to his head; "I think God sent them, Lotty."
Lufflin, whose instincts were quick as a woman's, glanced at the two, and then said something about its not being long enough after dawn to begin the day, and that he would turn into his bunk for an hour or two, and made his way down stairs. He turned into the kitchen instead, to give Ann and the breakfast a warning look, and, for aught we know, put his own shoulder to the wheel, so far as broiling the chops was concerned. He had been up half the night, helping "the child get ready her holiday," steadying shelves, hanging pictures, dusting books in the library, and now meant to stand aside until the great joy of the day was over: "only they two could share it together."
Yet he stepped to the kitchen-door and listened keenly, when, after a long silence, he heard the door above open, and Charlotte lead her husband into the library.
"Mounchere knows what his wife's done for him at last," he muttered;—"and there goes in the baby," as a faint cry and a rush of skirts followed,—with an amused laugh, and his eyes dim.
But when he heard Lotty coming presently for him, he hurried in, to stretch himself on his bunk, and began to snore.
"It's kind in them to think of an old fellow like me; but they're best alone. They have had a rough pull of it together, and I think this is their first glimpse of land."
He could not wait long, however, but soon went bustling up, with the eager glow of all his childish Christmases in his simple old face and mind. They made ready for the day inland, he supposed; but they could do nothing like this,—glancing in, as he trotted up stairs, at the big fires he had built, and the bits of holly stuck around, and then out at the sweep of barren lee-coast and the desolate sea.
"And Lotty's surprise of the house, and that blessed baby! She's a devilish clever woman to contrive such a day for Mounchere, that's a fact!"
The library, when he reached it, seemed the very heart and core of all Christmas brightness. The very cold, and the hungry solitude of the restless sea on which the window opened widely, deepened the warmth within. The room slept in a still comfort: no fire was ever so clear, no air so calm, no baby so content to be alive as this which lay on its mother's breast while she walked to and fro. Her face was paler and humbler than he had ever seen it; her husband followed her unceasingly with his eyes,—a strange sense of almost loss in them Lufflin fancied, idly.
Jacobus was very silent and still; he did not seem so nervous with happiness as the Captain had fancied this opening of a new life would make him; but there was about him a rested and hushed look,—a depth of content which he did not believe any gain of the house or child could give. Lufflin was awed, he knew not why.
"It is as if they had found something which Death itself could not take away," he thought, after a space of wonder, as if they had talked to God Himself to-day.
The Professor wished him a happy Christmas, in his simple, hearty fashion, and then the two men sat talking of how they kept the day long ago: Lufflin telling of frolics on ship-board, but M. Jacobus going back constantly to the time when he was a boy with his mother.
"I have neglected it for long," he said. "I shall never again. I think she will like us to keep it. She and—our boy."
He laid his hand on the baby's head, but his eyes wandered dreamily away out beyond the sea.
The day was fuller of cheerfulness and pleasure than even the lonely old sailor had hoped; the two people in whom he was beginning to confine his whole interest were happy in a way he could not fathom; he could not understand why Jacobus should look and listen to his wife so hungrily.
"It was the child that the day gave to him, not 'Sharley,' as he calls her," thought Lufflin.
So he took the baby in his arms, feeling as if it were in some sort neglected.
"I like to think," he said, after looking in its face awhile, and speaking with an effort, as he always did, about "religion,"—"I like to think of Christ as a helpless baby; that's the reason I like Christmas for."
"To think," said Charlotte, softly, "that to-day Eternal Love came into the world!—and Life!" glancing at her husband.
But Jacobus did not speak; he had his face covered with his hand, and when he looked up was paler than before. Lufflin fancied there was a change in the simple-hearted old bookworm's manner all day, a quiet composure, the dignity of a man who knew his place both with God and his brother man.
He went down again presently, leaving them alone for a little while. M. Jacobus was standing by the window, watching the awful stillness with which a new day lifts itself over the sea; he had the child in his arms, and beckoned Lotty to his side. She came and leaned her head on his shoulder.
"You will never leave me now, Sharley,—never," he said, his face kindling with a new, strange triumph.
The waves lapped the shore in gentle rifts of spray; the beach itself shone in the rising light like fretted silver. Beyond the foamy earth-colored breakers lay the illimitable sea, a dark violet glow, fading into the dim horizon whence came the dawn. The man's eye was fixed on the far line which his sight could never pass; his wife's quick glance followed his. It was from that dread Beyond, she knew, that he had fancied last night the dead beckoned to him.
She touched him again.
"It is a quiet morning yonder," she said, calmly.
"God sent your dream. I hardly hoped, Jerome," her eyes filling with tears, "that we should keep Christmas together,—you, the baby, and I."
He smiled and pressed her hand, touched the little cheek, and then looked wistfully out again.
He held the baby God had given to comfort his old age proudly and tenderly; but his heart would turn to the other child's face that was watching for him yonder behind the dawn, and listen for the weak little voice which he knew on that Christmas morning was somewhere calling,—"Father! father!"