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Everything is Possible to Will

Chapter XIII. The Lily

page 155

Chapter XIII. The Lily.

Being saloon passengers, an hour's fixing found Zee in apple-pie order; and, delighted with the ship, the boys were full of the long voyage before them, until seized by a qualm of the sea-green ghastliness which humbles the loftiest head. Sitting dejectedly in their cabin, Rex said: “I wish I had gone back with papa.” “So do I,” faintly gasped Piri. So ludicrously doleful was the picture they presented, that Zee could but laugh at them, though not one whit braver than they. Still she encouraged them to bear the sickness like men; “good times are coming.”

The rolling of the vessel, bringing the great waters close to him, terrified the erstwhile fearless Piri, who cried and clung to his mother, saying: “We shall go overboard—I'm sure we shall go overboard.” Vain were all attempts to convince him to the contrary; so he preferred to remain in the saloon until he became used to the motion of the vessel, and finding that it did not land them “overboard,” he ventured again on the poop; but timid still, his mother's knee was his vantage-ground, which so scandalised the captain, that he cried: “Fie, for shame! put that big boy down Missis. You'll make a fool of him.” Hiding his face, the “big boy” clung only the tighter to his mother, who begged: “Give him time to become used to the changed order of locomotion, and you'll find he is no coward.” And fear having given place to confidence, Piri became bolder than his brother; the little rogue was as mettlesome as a monkey, but his tricks were merry only, not cunning or spiteful. Wrax predicted that Piri would be “a great man on board ship.” He was A 181 with old and young. By common consent page 156 the children voted him to fill the captain's chair at meals, nor was another permitted to occupy the seat of honour. His personality, though pronounced, was too unconscious to provoke jealousy.

Forgiving him his earlier timidity, the captain used to say of Piri: “There never was but one other such child.” Piri was everywhere in demand, his childish simplicity made him pleasantly entertaining. The children dined at reasonable hours, but the captain always had pudding or tart for Piri at the late dinner, which he shared instantly, of his own accord, with the other children. Giving him some greengage tart one day, the captain said: “Now, you eat it; don't give it away.” Putting the plate in the accustomed spot with a disappointed air, Piri tried to hide it from the little folk, expecting to have a good time as usual; what he said is not known, but quickly divining the state of the case, Zee exclaimed: “You've spoilt the fun; the boy can't eat his tart.” So calling Piri to him the captain asked: “How is it you don't eat your tart?” Silence. “Can't you eat it without giving the others some?” “No.” “Off, then, and divide.” Away he bounded, and away went the tart, as far as it would go. Standing on the poop, with his hand locked in that of his mother, and looking dreamily out over the water with, those soulful eyes of his, having sostrange a depth of meaning in them, that one saw only his eyes when one looked at him, Piri, one day, said musingly: “I should notmind being drowned, mamma; I should soon die and go to heaven.” Tightening her grip of his hand, Zee looked wonderingly into his face; but the remark had been quite natural; the saucy rogue often displayed wool-gathering propensities, and nothing could have suited the restless spirit better than to have had one foot on earth and one in heaven. It was even so; he was like heaven, and heaven was like him. Heaven is where God is; God is here, earth is heaven. A strange remark, too, remembering his dread of the water; nothing whatever had led up to it; possibly he was repeating the words of a sailor, an authority with Piri.

He must pass into the unknown realm of sleep with page 157 “lots and lots of kisses” on his lips, and “one kiss more,” and he put out his hand for the “good-night” clasp, adding: “Tuck me up tight, tight, mamma.” The repetition of an act of thoughtlessness against which he had been warned, brought upon him a scold one night, when he said, with a quick pout: “I won't love you.” “All right,” returned Zee, and not another word passed, until tucking-up time came, when the small man broke down, and the childlike tenderness of the sweet face beamed forgiveness full and free, as he claimed the “lots and lots of kisses,” and the unfailing “one kiss more.” His was an affection that grew with his growth. Estrangement presses hard upon innocent childhood; the heart is sore broken, though the lips are still sealed. Ah, why require our pets to say they are sorry? Can we not see it and run to meet them?

To the child who is lived, not talked into goodness, our holy religion will be as attractive as are the flowers in May; so trustful is the child, a felt divinity casts a halo around him, until man's rude handling brushes off the bloom. And that same trustfulness, together with a fertile imagination, enabled Piri to see all things as his mother painted them, and his small mind realised a glorious immortality awaiting little travellers Zionward:82 Death was to Zee too loved a friend to be represented in chilling aspect.

Many circumstances conspired to set him upon high; his sixth birthday came round, and was celebrated with much jubilation. Several of the gentlemen gave him a copper or two, or a sixpence; the captain gave him a whole shilling! Never was he half so rich before, and, to crown it all, Rex gave him his purse, and in it he deposited his wealth. Next thing, if you please, he ordered “a tin of sardines and a bottle of beer.” It was so “like a man” to call for “a bottle of beer;” he heard it all day long; and he would do or suffer almost anything to be “a man.” The sardines, for which he insisted on paying “like a man,” were soon placed before him and his friends; not the beer, he would have disliked it, his taste was natural.

But better than all the money was the captain's page 158 promise that he “would have a sailor's suit made for him (Piri) by the sailors, as soon as the fine weather came.” “Pockets and all?” exclaimed Piri. “Yes, ever so many.” Oh, ecstacy! “Be a sailor before I am a man!” Honor out-running his wildest dreams, and the merry cricket danced his merriest. The sailors, in truth, were no less eager than himself to see him “full-rigged,” and in anticipation of that best of all suits, the boy often asked: “Is it fine weather yet?”

Having reached the latitude where icebergs sport at will, believing that travellers and wonders should meet, Zee expressed a wish to be presented in due form to the stately masses. To which the captain objected, with thunder gathering on his brow: “If you once find yourself among them, you'll never want to see another as long as you live.” By the way, the captain was given to seaman-like explosions if icebergs were mentioned or his satellites blundered, instantly adding: “Excuse my bad French, ladies.” But no, it was too good (?) English to be “bad French.” However, since the mere wishing for the 'bergs would not bring them, Zee extracted a lugubrious promise that she should have timely notice of the first seen, whether by night or by day. Taking her at her word, with a spice of triumph in the summons, the captain sent for her between four and five o'clock, a.m. On deck at four o'clock in the morning, next door to the frigid zone. Think of it! It was midsummer at the Horn, and the weather delightful; but the nights were cold enough for Christmas in civilised regions.

Nothing but an iceberg, a once-in-a-lifetime wonder, could have drawn Zee from her warm bed out into the nose-nipping air. But lest the laugh should be all against her, Zee and the young widow who shared Zee's cabin soon appeared on deck, well muffled in cloaks and hoods. And there, of a surety, was a 'berg, sufficiently large to satisfy any curiosity-mania, and ere its outline could be clearly defined, another and yet another dotted the horizon.

The ship had gone out of her course to escape the 'bergs—a forlorn hope, for it was presently hemmed in page 159 on all sides by zero's proud giants, and for three days and nights passed through successive fields of ice of every conceivable shape and size; some of the 'bergs were dead-white, some frosted and glistening, some blue, some green, while from one mountain rushed quite a body of water as it thawed in the sun. With a smiling sky overhead, clouds lowered on the captain's brow so long as the ice lasted, and “bad English” floated in vapory wreaths about the 'bergs, which are said to throw off a false light, misleading as to distance. Hence, on the third night, in a spirit of revenge, perchance, the 'bergs placed the ship in imminent peril of being blocked. To go forward was impossible, so she had to “back out;” and terrific work it was, judged by the unearthly sounds it occasioned. All hands able to hold a rope were in requisition, and the rushing about and the shouting made it appear as if, by order of their cloven-footed tyrant, the principalities and powers of the nether kingdom were making ready for a fat cargo of ripe souls, to be hurried all of a heap into orthodoxy's yawning abyss of unutterable woe.

The darkest hour before dawn (three o'clock) was the most critical. Panic, noise, nerved Zee, who had been tried by fire and flood, to quiet endurance, prompted her, indeed, to trim her sails and hoist her colors, as it would do almost every woman, but that it is esteemed lady-like to be useless or worse. The young widow was now on deck, fainting heroically. But, fearful of being in someone's way, Zee never so much as glanced at the ship's peril; she had her work to do to preserve anything like quiet in the saloon; one old lady, indeed, clung to her frantically all the time. Rex and Piri slept through it all. How sweet was that sleep to their mother! If they must have gone to the bottom, and could have slept on, Zee would just have folded her arms around them, and as the flood engulfed them, her kisses only would have told them she was with them to the last. Having lived through the turmoil and dangers of the night, the former being the greater, probably, the peep-o'-day was gratefully welcomed, and by the breakfast hour page 160 they had bidden adieu, not regretfully, to the last 'berg. In lieu of dark clouds, mischief twinkled in the captain's eyes, as he inquired of Zee: “Well, have you had enough of icebergs now?” “Yes, ah yes, enough to repletion.”

All the children were expected to keep clear of the saloon during the late dinner, and in fine weather they not unnaturally preferred the poop to their own cabins; but one day, the sea being rough and treacherous, Zee feared to leave her boys on the poop; but they begged to remain, and since all the children belonging to the saloon were there, except the little two-year old, she consented. But being conscious of a strange restlessness, she inquired of more than one gentleman (a thing she had never done before): “Is it safe to leave the children on the poop?” and the answer was “Oh, yes, they're safe,” one gentleman adding: “especially Piri, he holds on so well.”

Thus all fears were allayed, and she proceeded to dress for dinner when, a few minutes later, the father of the family of seven rushed excitedly through the saloon, crying: “What child's that overboard?” “Oh, no child,” wailed Zee, her heart dying within her, as she followed him to the door. There Rex met her, wild and white with horror, screaming: “Piri's overboard! Piri's overboard!” Uttering a great cry, Zee threw up her arms stunned, quite stunned. Someone seized her and led her away, saying: “They'll save him. So and So is going overboard with a rope.” No, his death-knell sounded, the little Piri's, you know, when she heard those awful words. They couldn't save him, and the thought of the child struggling with his mighty conqueror will ever remain an open wound. Still, she mourned too late, having been prevented rushing on deck and asking some strong man to save her boy. How could they have stood idle spectators of the dread scene! A wave threw the little man up upon its crest, his eyes wide open straining at the ship, his clasped hands thrown out in pitiful entreaty, “in prayer” it was said; but no, that was cant. It was his mother he wanted, and for the first time in his life she failed him. The mute appeal was vain.

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Forgive the tears that start unbidden; forgive the love which dwells with painful interest on the sad details of a bereavement much to be lamented. It will never be known what the world and Zee lost in that boy. Why was she thus relentlessly pursued; why must she lose one of two, while the family of seven remained unbroken still? The younger of these was sitting beside him on the poop-deck—sitting for safety, and the sitting posture cost Piri his life; with one fell lurch of the ship he slipped out feet foremost; one piercing shriek rent the air as he went out—out into the cold, angry waters—waters that closed over him, heedless of the precious gem who had gone to swell the number of the pearls of the ocean.

If no accident had happened no one would have thought of danger. There was, nevertheless, a world of reproach to his mother in the fact that she had left him to his fate; admonished by her restlessness to call him down from the poop one moment before the fatal lurch she could have saved her boy, the next moment—where is he? And yet she might have been, as were several men, within a yard of him, and yet have failed to save him. It is well she did not see his last despairing agony, it would have burnt itself in upon her brain never to have been effaced: she has realised it only too fully.

Having flown back to the spot the instant he had uttered his cry, Rex had witnessed the whole tragedy, and his grief was so great that Zee had to turn and comfort him as best she could; he was again her only one, and their one relief was in weeping together. Realise her loss Zee could not. She jumped up many a time certain she heard Piri's voice; she must call him, his glad laugh was ringing in her ears, he could not have gone so far away, he must come back for “one kiss more,” and she expected to see his little hand, blythe laddie that he was, pull aside the curtain of her cabin, as he peeped in with his roguish face to tell of some fresh mischief afloat, which would have lost half its fun had not his mother shared it with him. When he said: “I shouldn't mind being drowned,” Zee never imagined he could go alone. page 162 Oh, why did he go? The grass will never grow over that grave.

A deeper sorrow could not have befallen Zee. It was not that she loved one child more than the other, or could better have spared her first-born; but all the winning trustfulness of childhood lingered about the little Piri, making him the nearer, though not dearer, to his mother. The day before he went away (six weeks to the very day of their leaving Auckland) he begged to have a look at his purse, which he had given into his mother's keeping; but as the request could not be complied with on the instant, it escaped the memory of both, or he would probably have wished to carry it in his pocket “just one day,” and thus have taken it away with him. It is the only thing of his which remains to Zee; it is almost a bit of himself, he was so proud of it. There it lies, just as he left it, the coins all tarnished; they have never been touched since his tiny fingers put them in, and jingled them from very gladness. Many a time since then Zee has wanted a shilling, but never in her sorest need did she think of touching his money; she would have borne the gnawings of hunger, with Spartan-like heroism, before she could have broken in upon it.

It was said that Piri was “too good to live;” but that again was cant. It is impossible to be too good for the life Christ has consecrated; if he was not too good, how can mortal be too good? Piri would have made a noble man—the head and heart were right. His was a massive brow, such as is rarely given to a child —a healthy brain, too, for he was by no means precocious, though sufficiently natural to be almost original.

As the means of saving him were discussed, strong men brushed away the starting tear, which did no violence to their manhood. The singular affection shown the child by old and young had filled his last few weeks with wondrous joy. They knew it not, but in their every act of kindness they were weaving immortelles, such as money could not purchase, to honor the dead. Tiny hands, too, strewed amaranths, unconsciously, upon the lowly grave, the sport of the winds page 163 and the waves. To his mother's memory that kindness is as sweetest incense, swelling his requiem with grateful notes, though he has gone from her sight and she seeks her darling sorrowing. No sailor's suit for Piri. He is singing his “little songs” in the better land, “Happy land!” anywhere where Piri is. “Lots and lots of kisses” salute his mother's vivid recollection of his pristine innocence. Of such is the kingdom of heaven.

The fatal gap, through which Piri had passed had been carefully laced with rope before Zee went again on the poop. How could she have overlooked it? She inquired of the captain whether it really had been left open up to the time of the accident; and, trying to throw the blame on “the man at the wheel,” he answered, reluctantly, “Yes.” Most culpable neglect. Fearing lest her baby girl should crawl through the opening and disappear, perhaps, without being seen, the mother of the family of seven said she had “again and again begged her husband to lace it;” but as he insisted “there was no danger,” she said she “had determined to ask Zee that day to request its being done,” believing in her potency of will and word. Hence the father's fear lest it should be “one of his own boys,” on observing from his stern-cabin window that a child had gone out at that very opening. Mothers, remember little Piri, and the fatal gap. He suffered for all children.

There was Wrax, too, how could Zee tell him of his loss? He loved that child, if he ever loved anything; and his letter, written on the receipt of the painful intelligence, in which he did ample justice to his wife, was the one generous act of his life as far as she is concerned. It was a genuine outburst of repentance; sincere as fervent, so long as it lasted, and it revived the hope that this first real sorrow of his life might prove his salvation. Seeing and hearing the child in them, Piri's simple prattlings are household words of sweet significance; and his angel-face of infancy is ever present to the minds of his parents.

Both the editors of a weekly paper floated in the saloon, versified a little, and wishing to make Piri page 164 living, and Piri lost, the subject of their song and lament, they kindly sent to ascertain Zee's wishes in reference thereto, intimating their willingness to refrain from mentioning him if she preferred it. Oh, yes, the wound was too green to admit of being dressed, with sweet spices even. But she regretted, at the end of the voyage, she had not allowed them to embalm him, that the friends he was never to know might have seen that he nestled, quite at home, in all hearts. His memory will be fragrant still to all on board that ship. Zee gave a little old book of his to a fellow passenger resident in a sister province, and treasuring it reverently for the sake of the guileless, happy boy, the gentleman has had it rebound, carefully preserving the name written therein; and it was quite recently shown to Zee with much feeling. Meanwhile the ship sped on and on, and ere long hugged the shores of old England in a transport of gratitude. But for her irreparable loss the voyage had been delightful to Zee; and now, to avoid the inquiry, Where's Piri? on meeting with friends, she early apprised them of her loss, begging that it might not be mentioned for awhile. Handing a letter to Zee in the channel, the pilot informed her that several friends to whom, at their request, he had telegraphed the ship's arrival, had been to Gravesend the day before, in the hope of meeting her. The docks, consequently, were by no means blank to the travellers as they entered them, for mother and son received greetings from loved ones on shore. Yes, there were Wrax's eldest brother, one of his sisters, her husband, and their eldest daughter. Quite an excess of pleasure.

Distressed by the loss of Piri, and justly indignant at the culpable neglect which made it possible, and which they were unwilling to condone, the brothers mentioned threatened the captain with a full judicial inquiry. But, rightly or wrongly, Zee begged that nothing might be done; no inquiry would give her back her boy; the lesson would not be lost upon the captain; no one regretted the accident more than did he. The neglect was to the last degree reprehensible, and the captain would have been severely censured, if page 165 nothing more, but Zee could not hurt the man who had been so kind to her boy.

Impatient to set foot in fatherland once more, Zee and her friends soon left the ship. After having bidden farewell to her more immediate fellow-passengers, Zee was not less surprised than pleased to find the passengers between decks standing in a row waiting to bid her a respectful “Good-bye”—a mark of esteem as grateful as unlooked for. The friends had scarcely lost sight of the vessel when Zee, strangely enough, found a pure, fresh-gathered lily, lying in her path; she almost stepped upon it. A lily of the valley in the London docks! Surely an angel had dropped it at Zee's feet. No kindlier welcome could her native soil afford; sweet harbinger of happy days to come. “It is just like God, he is always dropping, a lily in my path,” was Zee's thought, as she gratefully inhaled its perfume; and in thought, too, laid it reverently on that lowly grave, deep in the heart of the ocean. She has the lily still; it lies in yon purse, his purse, you know.

With Rex she rusticated almost as completely as in the primeval forest, there was such a backwoods' air in his simple remarks. His first trip by rail was from Greenwich to London, and the train running over the roofs of the houses alarmed him, even to paleness, and he said, tremblingly: “I'm sure we shall run into the houses. How is the train steered, and what is the rudder like?” Later on, observing the many sparrows hopping about in the road, he begged that the cab, in which he was driving, might be stopped, lest it should “run over them.”

Merlee, too, had come to town expressly to await the arrival of the absent ones, and to escort them, as she did, to the home Zee never expected again to see. There, in its friendy porch, impatient to give cordial greeting to the returned “exiles,” stood the father, the mother, and Wrax's mother, a hale gentlewoman of some eighty years; and around them clustered many other members of both families. But the re-union, under circumstances painful in their every aspect, was intensely sad; and when the wife and no wife found page 166 herself encircled by the loving arms of one and another, she bowed her head broken-hearted.

But not yet was she desolate; she had one jewel still; indeed, she felt rich when she could look around on the dear, familiar faces, “so little changed. Time had left his impress nowhere,” Zee said; but no one could return the compliment. It was agreed that she looked ten years older (which perhaps meant twenty) than when she left England, five years before. She had lived so much more than had they in the same number of years, as compared with their smooth and easy course; a lifetime of misery had been compressed into her every day.

Strange to say, she no sooner found herself among friends than she became oppressed by a sense of loneliness. Her first inquiries had been of Wrax. How was he, where was he, what was he? Questions held in abeyance, no word having been received from him. Her own, and the children's anticipated return, gave color to the report, industriously circulated in her native town, that Wrax “was dead.” And lest, through inadvertency, the report should reach and pain her ere she had time to reflect on its want of foundation, Wrax's eldest brother told her of it at once. In all the womanly tenderness of his heart he would, if he could, have shielded her from every painful thought.

In deference to the wishes of the friends who furnished her wardrobe, Zee donned sable robes, feeling it to be a sad mockery of grief at the loss of her little darling. When mourning is measured by relationship only, it must be as superficial as are its flimsy trappings; it would, therefore, answer every purpose, and save a deal of trouble, if those who love to indulge the luxury of grief in crape and paramatta, could hire mourning as hearses and coaches are hired. To publish the extent of our poor lacerated “feelings” is a biting sarcasm on the felicity of the heaven promised —a sarcasm worthy of uncultured heathenism.

81 See note 58. First class, outstanding. Also ‘all one.’

82 Towards Zion; heavenwards.