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- Sara, a Princess - 2/43 -
younkers don't pick up, I'd like to find it! Yes, ef Jap Norris said so, I s'pose it's true; he oughter know, bein' as his fayther's the cap'n. How long'll it take to finish up thet air net, darter?"
"Not much longer; but isn't it early to start, father? The ice is hardly broken up, is it?"
"Waal, it's breakin' fast, Sairay; another day or two like this'll fetch it, an' it's 'first come best haul,' ye know, nowadays, sence all creation's got to runnin' to the Banks. Seems like it ain't skurcely fair for them sportin' men to go out jest for fun; they might leave cod an' herrin' to them what makes a business o' catchin' 'em, seems to me; but there, 'tain't so easy to keep a mortgage on the sea!" and he laughed good-humoredly. Meanwhile Molly, as they called the little Mary, had flung off her hood, and now was down on the floor playing with baby Ned, who welcomed her with crows of delight, for when she felt good-natured she was his favorite playmate.
The room would have seemed overflowing to a stranger, with its curtained bed in the alcove--or rather square projection--at one side, its fireplace at the end, and cradle, table, spinning-wheel, reels, and nets, to fill every available space left over.
Even the ceiling was made useful; for along the rafters were hooks which supported spears, oars, and paddles, while one wall was prettily tapestried with a great brown net, its sinkers hanging like ornamental balls along one edge.
The windows were small and the ceiling low, but the fire shone merrily, and gave light, warmth, and cosiness to the crowded apartment.
It was Sara who had pleaded for the restoration of the open fireplace, and the removal of the cook-stove to a bit of shed just back; and though at first the young mother had fretted at the innovation, she found it so much more cheerful, and such a saving of candles in the long evenings, that she had ceased to grumble.
As the night closed in, after their quickly disposed of supper, they all drew closer about the drift-wood fire, and no one, not even Mrs. Olmstead, seemed inclined to talk.
Sara's eyes wandered often from her book to the rugged face of her father, and each time she saw his eyes gazing thoughtfully into the flames.
In fact, the only sound in the room was the sleepy simmer of the water- soaked logs, and an occasional giggle from the twins, who were absorbed in some game which they played with horn buttons on a bit of board, marked off with chalk into the necessary squares. Once the baby gave a sweet, low laugh in the midst of his dreams in the cradle, and then honest Reuben Olmstead turned and smiled towards the little one in a sad fashion, which made Sara feel the tears near.
"Poor little goslin'!" he said tenderly. "Daddy hopes there'll be suthin' for him to do not quite so tough as facin' March sou'-westers; but then, who kin tell? He's a likely little chap, eh, Sairay?"
"Yes, father; he's a dear baby!"
He turned a little, and glanced back at his wife, who stood across the room reeling off twine, and, hitching his chair a trifle nearer the girl, said in a lower voice,--
"Sairay, ef 't should ever happen 't they was left to you to look arter, all three on 'em, would ye be good to the little fellar too, eh?"
"You know I would, father!"
"Waal, waal, yes, I s'posed ye would, Sairay. I really did, naow; only he ain't jest the same to ye as the twins, to be shore, so I jest thort I'd ask, thet's all, Sairay." He nodded at her once or twice in a conciliatory way, then turned back to his fire-gazing for a long moment, after which he rose stiffly, with a half moan of reluctance.
"Waal, s'pose I must go daown to the boats, an' help 'em a while. Guess likely Nick Hornblower ain't good fer much to-night; too much grog aboard, I'm feared. Hand me them boots, sonny."
Morton, having just risen from his game badly worsted by Molly, who could never refrain from taunting her conquered foe, was glad to make a digression by bringing both the hip-boots and a long worsted scarf, as well, and after the father had passed out came to his older sister's side.
He gave the outer log one or two gentle kicks, which sent the sparks flying upwards like a covey of fire-flies, and finally said in a voice too low for Mrs. Olmstead to hear,--
"Sara, I got a licking to-day!"
"Morton! What for?"
"'Cause I sassed the teacher. He don't know beans, Sara, he don't; and I can't help grinning in his face when he tells us things just the opposite of what you do."
"But I may be wrong, Morton. What was it?"
"It's lots of things, all the time. Guess when you tell me a river runs west I ain't a-going to say it runs east, am I? No, sir; not for anybody!"
"Well, Morton, we'll have to be pretty sure about things then, won't we? Where's your geography? Let's go over the lesson together. Oh! you're on Russia, aren't you? I was just reading something about that country myself. Think of its being so cold they chop up the frozen milk and sell it in chunks; and they go to bed in a sheepskin bag, which they draw up all about them, and fasten around the neck."
"I'd like that!" laughed the boy. "Tell me some more;" and he dropped upon a low seat, which was simply a square block of wood in the chimney- corner, while Molly, her face all alight with eagerness, joined the group.
These true stories of Sara's were the children's delight; for she had the faculty of making them more interesting than fiction, as she told them in simple, vivid language, with her sweet, full voice, pointed by her intelligent face.
But after a time they were sent off to bed, and Sara was left alone with her mother, who now sat knitting before the fire. The wind had risen outside, and was wailing mournfully around the cottage. The young girl shivered to hear it.
"Sounds like a death-wail, don't it?" said Mrs. Olmstead, noticing the movement. "When the wind hes thet sorter long scream in it, it allers means trouble, and your pa off for the long fish to-morrow!"
She shook her head dismally, and went on in a lugubrious tone, "Besides, didn't ye notice the windin' sheet in the candle las' night, an' didn't ye hear the howl o' thet dog along towards mornin'?"
Sara's eyes were fixed upon her with an interested, yet half-doubtful look. She had heard these superstitions from babyhood, till they had become almost a part of her religion. Yet she sometimes questioned, as now.
"But, mother, mightn't these things happen, don't they happen often, and nothing come of it? I'm sure there are winding-sheets always if the tallow is poor, and that dog of John Updyke's howls every time they go away and leave him alone. It seems to me, if God is so great that even the winds and the sea obey him, he might warn us in other finer, higher ways if he wished to; besides, why should he warn us when he knows he is doing everything for our best good? You don't warn the baby when you give him medicine, even though you know he won't like taking it."
"Sairay! Sairay!" her mother lifted an admonishing finger, "be careful how you talk about the A'mighty! Babies is different from growed-up folks, and, besides, I guess ef the Lord ain't too good to count the hairs of our heads, he can even take notice of a dog's howl!" and Sara, who had the reverent soul of a little child, was once again silenced, if not convinced. Just then, too, her father entered, bringing a great gust of cold air with him as he opened the door.
"Up yet?" he asked in his big, cheery voice, as he unwound the gorgeous worsted comforter from about his throat, and shook off the sleety rain from his tarpaulin. "Waal, this fire's a purty sight, I vum, for it's a dirty night out, an' no mistake. But we'd better all turn in naow, for we must be stirrin' early to-morrer; we've got our orders, an' I'm second mate o' the Nautilus."
"O father, the Nautilus? That old tub? I thought you said she wasn't sea-worthy."
"Oh, waal, not so bad as thet, quite. To be shore she's old, an' she's clumsy, but I guess she's got a good many knots o' sailin' in her yet, Sairay. I guess so. Leastwise thet's whar I'm to go, so it can't be helped, thet's sartin. Now, wife, ef you'll git out my kit," and he turned with some directions concerning his departure, while Sara, feeling she was not needed, crept silently up to bed, her soul distracted between gloomy forebodings, and the effort to trust in God and hope for the best.
The next morning, however, broke clear and fine, which was a great comfort; for whatever storms and dangers her father and friends must and would, doubtless, meet on the great ocean, it was something to have them start with fair winds and sunny skies.
All were up before dawn, except the baby, who slept on in blissful unconsciousness of any impending change; and soon the women stood, with their shawls over their heads, down on the sandy, crescent-shaped beach, watching the last preparations.
It was an impressive scene, and never lost that quality to Sara's eyes, though she had been used to it since infancy. As she stood now, near but hardly a part of the noisy throng, she was about midway in the crescent, at either end of which there gleamed whitely through the morning mist the round tower of a lighthouse.
These were only nine miles apart as the bird flies, but over thirty when one followed the concave shore; and the eastern light warned of treacherous rocks jutting out in bold headlands and rugged cliffs, while the western served to guide the mariner past quite as treacherous shallows, and a sandy bar which showed like the shining back of some sea-monster at low-tide.
Within this natural harbor was the little fleet of sloops, smacks, and schooners, getting up sail, and shipping some last half-forgotten
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