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- Sara, a Princess - 3/43 -
supplies, while numerous smaller craft were paddled or rowed about, closer in shore.
The wide white beach, unbroken for a considerable sweep by even a headland, was now alive with an excited crowd--talking, laughing, weeping, and gesticulating, while back on the higher ground could be seen the small, straggling village, of but little more than one street, where nearly all the houses turned a gabled end to the highway, while a well-trodden path led through a drooping gateway to a door somewhere at the side or rear.
There were few trees to hide their unpainted homeliness; but some windows showed house-plants and muslin curtains within, while the most noticeable architectural features were the long, open sheds, used for cleaning and packing fish, and a bald, bare meeting-house, set like conscious virtue on a hill,--the only one to be seen, just back of the village, and only worthy the name because there was nothing whatever to dispute its claims in the way of highlands in that region.
As Sara stood half dreamily taking it all in, more by imagination than eyesight, for it was still mistily gray, except off to the east beyond the Cliff light, where the sky was brilliant with the first crimson blush of the morning, a man approached her, a young fellow, still tall, trig, and ship-shape in figure, as few seamen are apt to be after thirty.
"Good-morning, Sairay," he said respectfully; "we've got a fine day for the start, a'ter all." "Yes, Jasper, very fine, and I'm glad enough. The last start was dreadful! I cried all the next night, for, don't you remember? the wind kept rising till it was a perfect gale, and I couldn't help thinking of that dreadful Mare's Head Point. Mother was sure you'd get there about midnight, and saw signs and warnings in everything."
He laughed cheerily.
"Oh, she enjoys it, Sairay; don't 'grudge her that comfort, for a'ter all we mostly gets home safe, barrin' a broken rib perhaps, or a finger. I've had three falls from the rigging, and one wreck, and I'm pretty lively yet!" A general movement seawards interrupted them. This was the final scene, the actual start. He held out his hand quickly.
"Well, good-by, Sairay."
"Good-by, Jasper. You'll look after father? That is, he's getting old, you know, and if anything should happen"--
"I won't forgit, Sairay. I'm on the Sea Gull, but I'll see him now and then. Good-by."
His voice was wistful, but his eyes even more so, as he clasped her hand in a quick, strong pressure which almost hurt her, then turned, and went with great strides towards his father's long-boat just about pushing off; for this was Jaspar Norris whose father was captain of the fleet, and by far the richest and most consequential man in Killamet.
Sara turned from the young man's hand-clasp to her father's embrace.
"Waal, Sairay, we're off, an' good luck goes with us, ef a man kin jedge by the weather. Good-by. God bless you, darter!"
Sara could not speak, but she held him close a minute, then stood with tearful eyes and watched him embark, telling herself he had always returned safe and sound, and surely he would again. Even her heartache could not dull the beauty of the scene, as, with all sails set, the white-winged vessels glided smoothly out toward the open sea, and suddenly her face grew bright, and she caught her breath in excitement, for just as the leader rounded the lighthouse, the tips of the masts caught the first rays of the rising sun, and gleamed almost like spear- points in the strong light, which soon inwrapped the whole fleet in a beautiful glow. Others saw it as well as herself, and some one shouted, "A good sign! A good sign!" while a hearty cheer rose from the little group of women, children, and old men upon the beach.
Sara joined in it, and felt glad as well as they; for while she might have doubts of howling dogs and dripping candles, this seemed an omen that heaven itself might deign to send as a comfort to their anxious hearts.
STORM AND TROUBLE.
They turned homewards presently, and Sara, walking between the now momently subdued Morton and Molly, heard her name called with a purity of pronunciation so seldom accorded it in Killamet that she knew at once who spoke.
"It's Miss Prue, children; run on home, while I stop and see what she wants," she said, turning from them and passing through the little gateway in a neat white paling fence at her side. Then she followed the path to the door, as usual near the rear of the cottage, but here prettily shaded by a neat latticed porch, over which some vines, now bare of leaves, clambered, while a little bay-window close by was all abloom with plants inside. Between the plants she caught a glimpse of a smiling face, which presently appeared at the door.
"Good-morning, Sara. Come in a minute, child. I haven't seen you this fortnight!"
Sara smiled up into the kind elderly face, around which a muslin cap was primly tied.
"No, Miss Prue, I've been very busy getting the nets and father's clothes ready; he's been expecting the start every day."
"Yes, I suppose so. What a fine morning for it! I've been watching them from the skylight through my binocle; 'twas a brave sight!"
"Yes, beautiful, only that father is getting old for such hardships. I dread his going more and more every time."
"Ah! but where will you find a stouter heart, or a steadier hand and eye, than belong to good old Reuben Olmstead? He can put many of the young men to shame, thanks to his temperate life! Your father is one of the best types of his class, Sara,--brave, honest, and true,--did you know it?"
As she spoke, she led the girl from the tiny entry, with three of its corners cut off by doors, into a pleasant room lighted by the aforesaid bay window. It had a bright red-and-green square of carpeting in the centre, with edges of fine India matting; a large cabinet of seashells and other marine curiosities occupied one end; a parrot was chained to a high perch near an open Franklin stove at the other, and the walls between were decorated with queer plates and platters of dragon-china, while great bunches of tassel-like grasses and wings of brilliant feathered fowl filled the odd spaces.
Motioning her guest to a small easy-chair, Miss Prudence Plunkett took her own, one of those straight-backed, calico-cushioned wooden rockers dear to our grandmothers, and drew it up opposite the girl's.
"No, child, you musn't worry! Reuben Olmstead's a good sailor yet, and, better than all, a good man. His Father will look after him more tenderly than you can," giving her cap an odd little jerky nod, which caused the parrot to suddenly croak out,--
"'Taint neither!" "Hush, Poll, nobody's talking to you! It's astonishing, my dear, how much that creature knows. She thinks when I nod my head I'm trying to convince her of something, and it always makes her quarrelsome."
"'Tis too!" croaked the bird again, determined to get up an argument, if only with herself.
Sara had to smile in spite of her sadness, at which the creature gave such an odd, guttural chuckle, that she laughed outright.
"That's right; pretty Poll, nice Poll! Cheer up, cheer up!" she rattled off, looking, through all these merry outbursts, so unutterably solemn, that the effect was ludicrous in the extreme.
"Silly thing!" said Sara, wiping her eyes. "She always will be heard; but while I think of it, I must tell you how I've enjoyed your 'Studies in Russia' that you lent me, Miss Prue. It must be fine to travel and see the world!"
"Yes; and it's decidedly comfortable, too, to sit by a good fire and see it through other people's eyes, Sara. These thrilling adventures, these close shaves from shipwreck, fire, frost, and robbery, are much pleasanter to read about than to realize, I imagine. Do you know, I always feel like adding a special thanksgiving for books to my daily prayer. What _would_ my lonely life be without them?"
Sara's eyes kindled.
"I've felt so, too, Miss Prue; and another for you, because you have helped me to enjoy so many!"
"All right, my dear, remember me in every prayer, if you will. It's doubtless better thanks than I deserve, but I won't refuse anything so good; and now what shall it be to-day, more Russia?"
"You said something about one,--'A Trip through Siberia,' wasn't it?"
The elder woman stepped across the room, and opened a glass door screened by a thick red curtain, thus displaying several book-shelves thickly packed, from which she selected the volume named; then handing it to Sara, who had risen to depart, said gently,--
"My dear, I don't like that little line between your eyes; it looks like discontent; or is it only study?"
"Something of both, perhaps."
"Smooth it out, child, smooth it out! No one can hope for wisdom until he has learned patience; now is your time to cultivate your own. Did you ever see a mountain top that could be reached without a hard scramble, Sara?"
"I never saw a mountain top at all, Miss Prue," smiling whimsically. The elder woman laughed.
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