Ben Hadden; or, Do Right, Whatever Comes Of It, by W.H.G. Kingston.
This small book, starts Ben off as the son of a fisherman on the east coast of England. The father is a pious Christian, and brings Ben up to be one too. Unfortunately various accidents befall the family, and they fall on hard times. Ben, in rescuing some children from a runaway horse, is injured, but is befriended by Lieutenant Charlton, who is able to arrange so that things go better for Ben's mother.
Ben and Charlton go to sea, where Ben has it in mind to find his long-lost brother Ned.
Many accidents befall Ned, culminating in a shipwreck in the Pacific. Eventually he is rescued, and, not long after, finds his brother Ned. They come home together, and set up a new life in support of their mother.
Throughout, Ben's morale is upheld by his Christian belief. We are told a great deal about the progress of missionaries among the Pacific Islands. Rather definitely a Victorian book, but a good read.
BEN HADDEN, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
On the east coast of England, there is a small hamlet surrounded by high sand-hills, with scarcely a blade of grass or even a low shrub to be seen in its neighbourhood. The only vegetable productions, indeed, which can flourish in that light soil, are the pale green rushes, whose roots serve to bind the sand together, and to prevent the high easterly winds, so constantly blowing on that coast, affecting it as much as they would otherwise do. Even in spite of the opposition of the rushes, several deserted huts have been almost entirely covered up by the drifting sand. See Note 1.
The population of the village consists of seafaring people and their families. The men form the crews of the numerous vessels employed in the herring fisheries which belong to the various fishing-places on the coast. Nowhere along the shores of England are finer sea-boats or more hardy crews to be found.
Most of the herring vessels are luggers, from thirty to forty tons burden, and entirely decked over. Each carries from eight to ten men. They are divided below into compartments, or tanks: in one compartment, salt is stowed; into another, the herrings, as soon as caught, are thrown; in a third they are salted, and are then packed away in lockers, on either side of the vessel, till she is full. She is then steered for the shore to the point nearest to a railway, or where there is a market. Each vessel has several long nets: the upper part of the net floats close to the surface of the water, buoyed up by bladders; the lower part is kept down by small bits of lead, and one end is moored to the bottom by a heavy weight. The fish, as they swim in large shoals, strike against the net as against a wall, and are caught in the meshes. Herring fishing is carried on at night, when the fish cannot see the nets. When a vessel or boat has cast out her nets, she hangs on to the lee [See note 2] end of them till the morning.
Besides these large herring luggers, many open boats are used; and great numbers of other boats from the coasts of Scotland and the North of England resort to these seas in the herring season. There is yet another class of vessels which frequent this coast. They are the deep-sea fishing smacks—cutters measuring from thirty to fifty tons, each carrying about ten men. Their nets differ much from those used by the luggers and boats. They fish with trawls, and so are called trawlers. A trawl is a net with a deep bag fastened to a long beam, which long beam has a three-cornered iron at each end. This beam is dragged along at the bottom of the sea, and stirs up the turbot, bream, plaice, soles, and other flat-fish which lie there; when they swim into the bag and are caught. These trawlers fish in the North Sea, sometimes a hundred and a hundred and fifty miles away from England, off the Texel. Other fishing grounds are from twelve to twenty miles off the British coast. At times, more than a hundred vessels are together, forming a large fleet. One of the oldest and wisest of the captains is chosen as their head man, and is called the admiral of the fleet.
They have, of course, many rules and laws to govern them. When they fish far from the land, they remain out six weeks, or more; and do not once, all that time, go into port. There are, however, steamers employed, which run to and fro to carry them food and fresh-water, also to take ice to them. With this ice the fish are packed, as soon as caught, in large baskets. The steamers then collect the fish from the different fishing-vessels, and carry it to London, or to the nearest port where there is a railway station. This account will give an idea of the many thousand people employed as fishermen on the eastern coasts of our country. In summer, while the weather is fine, their calling is pleasant and healthy; but when storms arise the hardships and perils are very great, and many of the men every year lose their lives, leaving widows and orphans behind them.
There was belonging to Sandhills, the little hamlet about which I have spoken, as fine and bold a set of fishermen as any to be found on the British coast. There were from fifteen to twenty families. The largest family was that of old John Hadden. He had eight sons and several daughters: three of his sons were away at sea—two of these were on board men-of-war, and the third was on board a trading-vessel; four followed his calling as fishermen, and formed part of the crew of the lugger of which he was master; the youngest, the eighth—Little Ben as he was always called, the son of his old age—was as yet too young to go regularly to sea. He, however, went with his father and brothers in the summer season, when fine weather was looked for, and he would not probably be exposed to hardships too severe for his tender years.
The fishermen of that coast were long known as rough and careless men, thinking nothing of religion, and utterly ignorant of religious truth. It used to be said of them, that as a rule they lived hard and died hard, caring for nobody, and nobody caring for them. This was too true of many, but not of all. It was not true of John Hadden. His outside was rough enough, and very much so in winter, when he had on his high fishing-boots, broad-flapped sou'-wester, thick woollen comforter, Guernsey frock, with a red flannel shirt above it, and a pea-coat over all. But he had an honest, tender, true, God-loving, and God-fearing heart. As he had been brought up, so he brought up his children in "the way they should go," trusting "that when they were old they would not depart from it."
John Hadden was able to do what many of his friends could not; he could read, having learned early in life. Not that he read very well, but well enough to study the Book of books so as to understand what it teaches. There are many, alas! who can read it far more easily than could John Hadden, but do not. How many have the Bible, but do not even look into it, treating it as though it were of less value than any common book! How many would rather read light foolish books than the "Holy Scriptures," though they "are able to make us wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus!"
What does that verse mean? That if we read and study the Scriptures, with faith in Christ Jesus, they will show us how we may, without fail, gain more joy, happiness, wealth, and glory than words can tell; not such as will pass away in a few short years, but such as will last for ever and ever.
John Hadden prized the Bible as the only light which could point out to him the way of eternal life. He read and read, and, more than all, he prayed as he read, till he understood the Bible well, and was able to shape his own course by it, and to point out to his sons how they might shape theirs. When he took up the Bible he humbly prayed, "Lord, teach me that I may read and understand Thy holy Word aright." These words, and the spirit of these words, he taught his children.
John Hadden and his family neglected no means or opportunities of knowing more about the Bible, or of obtaining instruction. He did not say, as some do, "I can read, and I can pray; and so why should I go away from my own home and own fireside to listen to another man?" John Hadden was a real Christian, and therefore he was a humble Christian. The place of public worship was far off, and the road was rough; but John, with his wife and children, never failed when he was on shore, unless hindered by sickness, to go there on the Sunday to hear the Word of God read and explained, and to pray with other Christian people. When John and the boys were at sea, Mrs Hadden and the other children went, and she used to say she dearly loved to do so, because then she could pray with others to the good Lord, and say, "That it may please Thee to preserve all that travel by land or by water." John often also said that when he was away on the ocean, he always felt happy as the hour of public service came round, because he knew that his wife and children, and other Christian friends, would be praying for him and his companions at sea.
Among the precepts which John Hadden found in his Bible was this: "Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath-day. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all that thou hast to do; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt do no manner of work." Now John Hadden was a plain man, and he understood things plainly. When, early in life, he first understood this commandment, he determined that he would keep it; and so, while others cast out their nets on Saturday night, as usual, John always kept his in. If he could, he ran into harbour, and worshipped God with his fellow-men on shore; if not, he and his sons and the rest of his crew united in prayer: he also read to them from the Holy Scriptures, and often besides from some religious book likely to feed their souls with spiritual food. John Hadden had acted in this way for years. The masters of other boats had tried in vain to make him give up this practice. They told him he would be ruined; that he had a large family to bring up; that it was foolish, and not required; that such commandments wore for shore-going people, and not for poor fishermen. But John's answer was always the same: "I'll tell you what, mates: God says, 'Do no work on the Sabbath'—don't fish, that means; and I'm very certain that what He says is right. So it is not right to fish more than six days in the week. What I tell you, mates, and what I tell my boys, is this: 'Do right whatever comes of it.'"
Note 1. This plant is the round-headed rush, or Juncus conglomeratus of naturalists, and is cultivated with great care, especially on the banks of the sea, in Holland, to prevent the water from washing away the earth; for the roots of these rushes strike very deep in the ground, and mat together near the surface so as to form a hold on the loose soil. These rushes do not grow so strong in England as in the richer soil of Holland.
Note 2. Sailors call the side on which the wind strikes, the weather or windward side, and the opposite to it the lee side. A net is cast out to windward, and the vessel drops slowly down from it till it is all out, when she remains at the lee end. Sometimes the nets are left with only a buoy to mark their position, and the vessel goes to a distance to cast out others.
BEN'S FATHER AND HIS MOTTO.
It would be well if all, of high or low degree, landsmen and sailors, gentle and simple, kept to old John Hadden's rule. How much misery and suffering would be saved! how much remorse of conscience! how much grief and shame! How much better would Satan, that great foe of man, be kept at a distance! That is just the reason he whispers, whenever he can get an opening, "Do wrong that good may come of it," or, "Do a little wrong, just a little, and no harm will come of it;" or again, "Commit a small sin; God will not see it, or if He does, God will not care for it." That is just what Satan has been saying over and over again since he first tempted and deceived Eve in the garden of Paradise. He spoke then from envy, to drive our first parents out of an earthly paradise; he in like manner lies now to us, to hinder us from getting into the heavenly paradise, prepared for those who love and obey God. John Hadden knew this full well, and so he would allow no departure from that rule; he would have it stuck to closely. He was for ever saying to his sons, "Do right at all times, my lads; it is not your business to think of what will happen afterwards. God will take care of that; He will guide you better than you can guide yourselves. If you act as I say, no real evil will befall you. You may fancy that what happens is an evil just for the time; but, depend on it, what seems an evil will turn out for your good in the end."
A stranger, visiting in the neighbourhood, once walked over to Sandhills. He had a talk with John Hadden, who happened to be on shore. He soon found that John was a Bible-reading man, and that he obeyed the law of the gospel.
"And so you have followed this plan of yours for some time, and have found it answer?" said the stranger.
"Yes, sir," said John, "I have followed it since I was a young man, and now I am an old one. I never have fished on a Sunday, and I hope that I never shall. Look at me, sir. Am I more feeble, am I thinner, am I more sickly than my neighbours? am I less able to work?"
"No, indeed you are not," answered the stranger; "you are the stoutest and one of the most able-bodied men I have seen in the place."
"Am I poorer? is my cottage less comfortable? are my children worse educated? are they inferior in health, strength, or activity to the children of others in the hamlet?" asked John, warming with the subject.
"No, my friend," answered the stranger; "your sons are the finest young fellows in the place, and the best brought up, as I hear from all sides, while your cottage is the neatest and most comfortable."
"That it is; that's what I say to my brother fishermen," exclaimed John Hadden, warmly. "Now, sir, I will tell you more than this. Instead of being a poorer man for not fishing on a Sunday I know that I am a richer one, and I can prove it. God knows what is best for us; so in His love He gave us the Sabbath, that we might rest, and that our souls might turn to Him and be glad. While others have been toiling all the year round, day after day, wearing out their bodies, and dulling and saddening, so to speak, their souls, I have rested one day out of seven, and on that day my strength and my spirits have been renewed. I have not grown old so fast as they have. Then again, if I had been toiling and working for the bread which perisheth, and made my sons toil and work with me, how could I have fed my soul and their souls with that bread which will make us live for ever? Instead of being steady, honest, hard-working, God-fearing young men, a credit to me, and respected by all who know them, they would have been careless, idle, and vicious. Neighbours often say to me, 'How is it, John Hadden, that your sons are good steady young men, and do as you tell them?'—then I say, 'It is just this, because I bring them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. The Bible tells me how to bring up my children, and I do it. If you brought up your children as the Bible tells you to do, your children would make you as happy as mine do me.'
"But, sir, I was speaking about fishing on a Sunday. Now look here, sir; there is another reason why I have an advantage over those who fish every day in the week: my nets will last longer than theirs, and at the end of a couple of years are worth one-third more. While their nets have always been wet,—for they have not had time to mend them properly,—I have had mine brought on shore on Saturday morning, spread out all day in the sun, mended in the evening, and left to dry all the next day. The wear and tear of the boats and the boats' gear also have been saved. So you see that those who break God's commandments for the sake of gain do not find it all profit. There is an old saying, sir, that 'The devil's wages slip through the fingers.' Whose wages are those gained by working on the Sabbath but his? A man fancies that he has got them safe in the palm of his hand, and when he wants to spend them, they are gone. At the end of the year,—I have said it, and I know it,—by following God's commandments, simply because He has commanded, I have been a richer man than those who disobeyed them; and I know surely that I have been a stronger, a more healthy, a happier, and a more contented one.
"Again, sir, look here; many say they can't work on from the beginning to the end of the fishing season without drink: no more they can, maybe, but rest is better far than drink; and if they would take the Sabbath-day's rest they might save the cost of the week's drink, and that's more by a long way than the Sabbath-day's toil gives them. So, as I say, when we obey God we do the best thing for ourselves, even in this life; and that to my mind shows what a merciful and loving God He is. He does not want to make us suffer pain or grief, He wants to make us happy; and so all His laws are such that if we would obey them, we should be happy. It is because men do not obey them that they are unhappy. There, sir, that's my belief. I'm an old man now; but I thought so when I was a young one, and every year since I have had good cause to think the same."
"You speak nothing but the truth, my friend," observed the gentleman; "I will tell others what you have said to me, and how you have acted, and I will try to persuade them to follow your example."
"My example, sir!" said John Hadden gravely. "Say rather, sir, the same example I try to follow."
"You are right, my friend," said the gentleman, wringing the fisherman's rough hand and walking thoughtfully away.
Some time after this, John Hadden was sitting with his spy-glass resting across his knees, at the top of the highest sand-hill near the village. A strong gale from the north-east, which would not let any of the fishing-boats put to sea, was blowing. It was at the time of the year when the larger fishing-vessels are laid up. John had more than once put his glass to his eye; he now kept it there, and made a crutch of his left arm to hold it up. While thus employed, he was joined by one of his sons.
"If he don't take care he'll be on the bank as sure as my name is John Hadden," he cried out, pointing to a large ship which had stood in from the offing (that is, from the sea far off), and was trying to work to the northward. A slant of wind which would allow the stranger (see note 1) to lay well up along shore, had tempted him to stand in closer than he should have done. Old Hadden and his son watched the strange vessel for some time with great interest. Still he stood blindly on.
"There, I feared that it would be so!" exclaimed John; "and if help don't go to them before high water, not a soul of all on board will escape."
Too true: the fine ship lay fast, her broadside struck again and again by the heavy seas, which came rolling in from the eastward.
"Jem, we must go to her!" exclaimed John Hadden suddenly. "Call your brothers, lad; it won't do to let these poor fellows perish for want of help."
Scarcely two minutes passed after this, before John Hadden and his five sons—for Ben also went—were launching their yawl through the surf which broke on the sandy beach. A few of the people of the village nearest the water came running down to see the boat off, but John had not time to tell his wife and daughters of what he was going to do. He would fain have given them a parting kiss, but time was precious. He sent up a lad, though, to his home. "Tell them," he said, "we are doing our duty; we shall be cared for." Away through the foaming sea the brave men pulled their stout boat. The spray flew over her, and speedily wetted them through, but for that they cared nothing. The seas, however, sometimes broke on board, and little Ben was kept hard at work, baling out the water.
"She is well out at the end of the spit, lads," observed old Hadden; "we may get close enough for them to heave a rope on board us, if she hangs together, and I don't see that there is much doubt about her doing that."
They pulled on for some time, without any one again speaking. "She will hang very well together," observed John; "but, oh! more's the pity, they seem to be lowering one of their boats, instead of waiting for our coming, as if they could reach the shore in her." Such was indeed the case. A small boat was lowered, and several people were seen to leap into her. She shoved off, but a current, of which the strangers could not have known, swept the boat towards the breakers. In another instant she was rolled right over, and all in her must have perished. Still the Haddens, thinking that others might be left on board, pulled on lustily to give them help.
As they rowed out more to sea, they saw another boat making her way towards the wreck. She had come from a hamlet a short distance to the north of Sandhills, from which place the wreck had been seen as well as from the Haddens' village. Though she had not left the shore till after the Haddens' boat had put off, she had the wind more in her favour, so it seemed likely that she would reach the wreck as soon as they could. When more than one boat is launched to go to a wreck, there is always a rivalry among the boatmen of the coast to try who will be the first on board, and if anything had been wanting to make the young Haddens toil harder than they had been doing, this would have made them. Still, the gale blew so strong that they could scarcely make any way against the wind, and all they could do at times was to keep the boat with her head to the sea to prevent her from being swamped (or filled with water). Yet on they went. They believed that they might be able to save some of their fellow-creatures from death, and that thought was enough to make them run all risks.
The last squall had been stronger than any others. Soon after it had passed over, John Hadden took a steady look to windward. "My boys," said he, "the gale is breaking. By the time we get up to the wreck, it will be calm enough to allow us to climb on board. It is to be hoped that her crew will stick by the vessel. No! what folly! they have launched another boat, and she will meet, I fear, with the fate of the first." He was silent for some minutes, while he looked now and again towards the wreck. "I feared so!" he cried at last; "they are lost, every one of them; no man could swim through that boiling surf."
Nearly another half-hour passed after this before the two boats got up to the wreck. The gale had by this time very much abated, and, the tide having turned, the sea had gone down. The boats pulled under the lee of the wrecked vessel, which held well together, and had her crew stayed on board, they might have been saved. Not a person was to be seen on deck. The fishermen shouted loudly; no one came. It seemed certain that all must have perished. Without help from the ship it was at first difficult to get on board, except at great risk. However, after waiting some time longer, the boats were able to run alongside, and the crews reached her deck. They searched the ship through; not a human being was found on board. A fire, however, was burning in the cabin grate, and before it sat a cat, quietly licking her paws. (A fact.) Instinct had guided her better than man's sense, of which he is often so proud.
The Haddens, with the men of the other boat, began, without loss of time, to search through the ship. She was a foreigner. It was clear that those who had left her were in great fear, and had thought only of saving their lives. Many articles of value lay scattered about in the cabins. John Hadden and his sons were on deck; the rest were below.
"Hurrah!—a prize! a prize!" cried one of the men of the other boat. "A box of gold!"
"Hush!" cried one of his companions. "Don't talk of it, man. If no one else sees it, we may have it all to ourselves."
At that moment John Hadden entered the cabin. His eye fell on the box, as the men were trying to hide it; he looked at what was in it. "Friends, this property is not ours," he remarked, in a calm, firm voice; "we shall get a fair reward if we succeed in saving it. I hope, if we stay by the ship, that we may get her off, at the top of the next flood, by lightening her a little. What say you? Will you stay by my lads and me, and do the job?"
The other men, however, had set their hearts on getting the box of gold. Have it they would, and they made all sorts of excuses to get away from the ship, that they might take it with them. John Hadden was a man who not only would not do wrong himself, but would stop others, if he could, from doing it.
"Mates," he said, "I do not want to quarrel with you, or with any other men; but the goods on board this ship must remain just as we found them. I am sure that my own lads will bear me out in what I say: none of us will touch them."
"Oh, we always have heard that you were a very strict man, Mr Hadden, and now we find it true enough!" replied one of the men, with a sneer.
"No," said John Hadden quietly; "I only say, 'Do right, whatever comes of it.' If we take the goods on board this ship, we should be doing wrong. And others doing so, won't make wrong right. That's all."
"Well, well; we don't want to quarrel. We wished you to share; but if you won't, you won't, and neither will get it," answered the other; "so, Mr Hadden, let's say no more about it."
John, honest and true himself, did not think that any trick was going to be played him. The other men joined him and his sons, with seeming goodwill, in getting out warps, and in heaving overboard some of the cargo. Thus they worked on till night stopped them. There was a promise of a fine night; and so, making fast their boats under the lee of the wreck, they prepared to spend the time on board till the return of day. Of course, they had to keep a watch on deck. The first watch was kept by the Haddens; the morning watch by the people of the other boat. When John Hadden and his sons awoke in the morning, and came on deck, the other boat was gone, and so was the box of gold, which had been left in the cabin.
Daylight returning, a white speck was seen away to the northward. John Hadden, as he looked through the glass, knew that it was the boat of those who had been with him. There were some sand-banks, and a narrow passage through them, by which a long distance might be saved. At certain tides this passage was dangerous, even in fine weather.
"The foolish fellows are making for the Gut!" exclaimed John Hadden. "I would not try to go through it for any sum." Just then some clouds were seen driven across the sky by a squall; the wind struck the boat. "She's lost! she's lost!" cried John Hadden, in a tone of pity. Over went the boat; nor she, nor her crew, nor the box of gold were ever seen again.
The ship was soon got afloat, and was brought by John Hadden and his brave sons into harbour. They gained a large sum for saving the ship.
"I told you," said John to his sons, "do right, whatever comes of it. This time, much good has come to us; so it generally will. If it does not, never mind; we don't see the good—that's all. God knows best what is best. Still do right."
Note 1. When the name and character of a vessel met at sea are not known, it is spoken of by sailors as 'a stranger'; of a stranger they say he, but a known vessel is named she.
A SHIP IN DISTRESS.
As yet the sun seemed always to have shone on little Ben. He had a good fond mother to look after him at home, and a kind father who set him a good example, taught him well, fed him well, and never took him to sea in bad weather, or let him suffer any hardships which could be helped. Seldom could a merrier, happier fellow than Ben then was be found. Dark days, however, were coming for him, of which he little thought. Thankful, indeed, should we be that our ever-kind God does not allow us to know beforehand what we may be called on to suffer.
The summer passed away, the winter returned, and the large luggers being once more laid up in harbour, John Hadden and his sons went home to spend their Christmas. It was a very happy one. Nearly all the family were together; two sons had returned from sea, a daughter had come home for a visit from service, and many a pleasant evening they spent as they sat over the cottage fire, while the sailors recounted the adventures they had met with in their voyages to distant lands. The fishermen had also their tales to tell, and many an old story was recalled to mind and recounted by John and his eldest sons, or a neighbour who had stepped in to see them. John, too, would read to his family, not only on a Sunday evening, but on every evening in the week, when he was at home, from the Book of books.
"I can't see why people should fancy, as many do, that they need read the Bible only on one day in the week. It was surely given us to be our guide not only for Sundays, but for every day. There is no business in life in which it won't tell us how to act whenever we may have any doubts about the matter," said John one evening, after he had been reading the Scriptures; and then he continued, "In every page the Bible says, 'Do right, whatever comes of it,' and that is the very thing we ought to be reminded of, day after day, for it is the very thing we are too apt to forget."
John not only read the Bible, but he profited by what he read, and so did his children; and that is the reason why they were a happy, united, and prosperous family.
Some time after Christmas, John Hadden had gone out by himself on the sea-shore, with his constant companion, his spy-glass, under his arm. He walked up and down, and his mind dwelt on many of the scenes and events of his past life; he thought of the many dangers he had gone through, and of how often he had been mercifully preserved. "People do say that the life of a fisherman is a very dangerous one," he thought to himself. "They are right. How many of those I have known have lost theirs! Not a year that I can call to mind but some friend or other has been drowned. Such may be my end. God is merciful; He knows what is best. He will not call me away, except for some good purpose."
Continuing his walk, Hadden's mind grew more and more serious, almost melancholy; yet it must not be said that his mind was one of a gloomy turn; no man was generally more cheerful. The day, however, had an effect on his spirits. The clouds gathered thickly in the sky, and hung low down; the wind moaned as it came across the dull, leaden-looking ocean, and found its way among the sand-hills, making the tall rushes bend before it. Sheets of cold mist came rolling in every now and then towards the land; and, though they swept by, they were quickly succeeded by others, till they grew denser and denser, and a regular heavy wetting mist settled down over the face of the land and the water.
John Hadden was about to turn his steps homeward, when one of his sons came to remind him that it was time to return home to tea. Just then a heavy squall burst on the land from the eastward, and the clouds and mist breaking away left a clear space all the way to the horizon.
"I'll come, Bill, I'll come, my boy," he answered, lifting, however, his glass to his eye, to take another last look over the troubled waters before he went in for the evening. Just then he caught sight of a stranger in the offing, where, outside the sand-banks, a high sea was running. He looked earnestly through his glass for half a minute.
"There is a large ship," he said to his son, "driving on towards the banks, and totally dismasted. Unless there is a pilot aboard who knows his way through the passage, he'll be on the bank to a certainty, and then, with such a night as we shall have presently, Heaven have mercy on the unfortunate people! Even if the wreck should hang together till the morning, they will be washed overboard and be lost. Though we missed saving the people from the wreck last year, through their own folly, we must not be dispirited. Perhaps we may be able to save these. Bill, go and find your brothers, and tell them that there's a ship will be on shore directly, and that we must do something to help. Say nothing, though, to your mother, boy." Bill hastened away, and old John still watched the ship.
As he had foreseen, the stranger very soon drove on to a dangerous part of the sand-banks, and the sea before long was evidently making a clean breach over the deck. In a short time all the young Haddens, and several other men, came down on the beach, bringing old John's rough-weather coat and boots, which he put on while they were getting ready to launch the boat. Little Ben came with his brothers.
Old John put his hand on the boy's shoulder, and looked earnestly into his face. "No, Ben, I'll not take thee, my child, to-day," said he; "it's over-rough work we are going on; I couldn't even tell thy mother of it; so go home, and take care of her."
Little Ben pleaded hard to be taken, but he pleaded in vain. "No, lad, no, I cannot take you," repeated the father. "Go home now, go home. It may be late before we return. Perhaps we shall be out all night, so mother will want you at home to keep her company. Read to her, lad, out of the Bible; and, I say, Ben, if thy father never comes back, remember that his last words to thee were—Trust to God. Do right, whatever comes of it."
Old John Hadden then joined the young men and the rest of the boat's crew, and their united strength soon launched her, with all her gear on board, into the water; and as they all leaped in, each man seizing an oar, they quickly had her through the surf, which had begun to roll in somewhat heavily. Little Ben stood on the top of a sand-hill, and watched them as they pulled away out to sea. His eye anxiously followed the boat as she grew less and less distinct, till she was lost to sight among the breaking seas, which leaped upwards around the sand-banks. For a time he could clearly see the wreck towards which they were directing their course. Then the shades of evening increasing, and a thick mass of mist gathering round her, she also was lost to sight.
Ben, as his father had desired him, went home, and having reported that he had seen the boat get well off, sat himself down by the side of his mother, who was working with her needle before the fire, and taking the big Bible on his knees, he began to read to her out of its sacred pages. His father's mark was at the thirteenth chapter of Saint Luke's Gospel, and he read: "There were present at that season some that told Him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
"Father was saying that to me the other day, mother," remarked little Ben. "He told me that he had known many God-fearing men to lose their lives, and many bad ones live on and remain still in their wickedness."
"Yes, my boy; God knows best when a servant of His has lived long enough. He calls us when He wants us," replied Mrs Hadden; adding, "It matters little to a Christian when or how he is taken from earth. The great thing of all is to know that we are Christians, not in name only, but in truth. And to be a Christian is to believe on and love the dear Saviour, who has done so much for us; and so to be born again of God's Holy Spirit, as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has told us: 'For, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.'"
Ben read on to his mother till she told him that it was time for him to go to bed. He repeated his prayers, and then he went up and lay down in the room which he and his brothers usually occupied; but he was the only one there. Every now and then he awoke, expecting to hear them coming in; but he only heard the rain dashing against the lattice window, and the wind howling and whistling dismally. A heavy gale was blowing right on shore. Every now and then there was a flash of vivid lightning, and a loud crash of thunder rattling away across the sky. Ben tried again to go to sleep, but he could not. He was certain that his poor mother could not be sleeping. He crept down to her room, where a light was burning. Her head had not pressed her pillow; she was on her knees, with her face bent down to the bed, and her hands clasped together.
Noiselessly Ben stole back to his attic. "I can pray too, and join my prayers to mother's," he said to himself. He prayed for his father and brothers exposed in their open boat to that fierce storm near those terrific breakers, which rolled in over the sand-bank where the ship had struck. He fully understood all the dangers to which they were exposed. "God knows best what to do—God's will be done," he repeated as he rose from his knees.
Daylight came at last. Ben got up, and, slipping on his clothes, he ran out to the sand-hills, whence he could obtain a clear view over the sea. He well knew the spot where the ship had struck. She was not there, nor was there any sign of the boat. He could not bring himself to go back to his poor mother with this account, so he went down to the beach. The shore was strewed with bits of the wreck, showing the fearful character of the gale which had blown all night, and was still blowing.
Hour after hour passed by; but no boat neared the shore. His mother came to look for him, and with trembling voice called him in; yet she lingered, watching anxiously with haggard eyes the foaming ocean. At length night returned. Neighbours looked in, but they could give her no comfort. The boat might have run into port, but it was not likely. Sadly that second night passed away. The morning brought no gleam of hope. Mrs Hadden's lot has been that of many fishermen's and sailors' wives.
A SORROWFUL HOME AND A NEW FRIEND.
As day after day passed away, Mrs Hadden ceased to hope. Neither John Hadden nor any of his companions were ever again heard of. There could be no doubt that they had been lost in their gallant attempt to carry succour to their fellow-creatures on the wreck. Mrs Hadden was a widow and little Ben was fatherless.
"Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth," repeated the bereaved woman over and over to herself. "Oh, may He in His mercy give me strength to bear the lot He has thought fit in His wisdom to prepare for me, and make it profitable to my soul."
She had many trials to bear. Her husband and sons, those able to support her, were gone; and some time passed before she could gather strength to arouse herself to consider what she could do for the sustenance of little Ben and herself. He was willing and eager to work, though he could not hope to gain much as yet. He soon had also another besides his mother and himself to work for. One of his sisters at service fell ill, and had to come home and be nursed; and, poor girl, it made her feel worse to know that she was thus trespassing on her mother's scanty means; though little Ben did his best to cheer her up, telling her that it was just a double pleasure to have two to work for besides himself, instead of only one.
He did his best certainly, though that was but little. His mother entreated him not to go out in the fishing-boats, for she dreaded (and that was but natural) that the same fate which had befallen his father and brothers might overtake him. He, however, bought, on credit, fish caught by others, and all the fishermen were ready to trust him. He carried them for sale to the houses of the neighbouring gentry and farmers. Sometimes, with his basket at his back, he got a lift in a cart to the nearest town, where, in the summer season, he was able to obtain a better price than he usually asked of his regular country customers. People who had once dealt with him were always ready to deal again. They found that they could without fail trust him. He could always tell the day, and almost the very hour, the fish he had to sell had been caught, and his customers found from experience that he never deceived them. At the first, when in a frank manner he told them the exact time the fish had been landed, some were inclined to laugh, and others to be angry, fancying that he was practising on their credulity; but the more generous soon saw, from the honest blush which rose on his cheeks when he assured them that he was simply saying what he knew to be the case, that he was really speaking the truth. He thus gained many friends, and even bargain-loving housekeepers ceased to try and beat him down. His price was always moderate, and the profit he made was, after all, but a small remuneration for the toil he went through.
To be up early, to be on his feet all day, and often unable to reach home till late in the evening, was now little Ben's fate. He did not complain; far from it. He rejoiced that he was thus able to assist his widowed mother.
John Hadden had saved but little money. His boat and his nets composed the principal part of his worldly wealth, besides the cottage he lived in. The boat was gone; and the nets, without the hands which used them, could gain nothing. Mrs Hadden was therefore advised to sell them, with the portions of the boat-gear which had remained on shore. The times, however, were bad, she was told, and the things were sold very much under their real value. She was still thankful for what she received, and she resolved to live as frugally as possible, that her humble means might the longer hold out.
Her daughter was a heavy expense to her. Poor Susan grew worse and worse; yet she still lingered on, utterly helpless to look at, yet not helpless in reality, for she was supported by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. She was perfectly happy, as far as she herself was concerned; her only regret being that she deprived her mother of part of the scanty means she so much required for herself. At length, full of hope and joy, she died. Little Ben wept bitterly for the loss of his sister: he had never for one moment thought of the money spent on her. The bereaved mother mourned more silently.
Mrs Hadden was yet to be further tried. A letter one day reached her from a stranger. It told her that her only surviving son, besides Ben, had been cast away in the far off Pacific Ocean, and, with many others, murdered or held captive by savages. The writer, Thomas Barlow, said that he and Ned were great friends, and that they had agreed, should any misfortune happen to either, the survivor should write home, and give an account of what had occurred. Barlow wrote, in fulfilment of his promise, addressing his letter to John Hadden: all the hope he could give was that Ned might have escaped with his life, as some white men had been known from time to time to be living among those savages; but the opinion was that all their shipmates had been murdered. The writer added that he, with six other men only of all the crew, had made their escape in the longboat of the wrecked vessel, and, after suffering great hardships, had been picked up at sea by a ship bound for Sydney, New South Wales.
"Poor Ned! poor Ned!" exclaimed little Ben, crying bitterly; "he must not be lost! I'll go and look for him, mother. If he is alive, I'll find him, and bring him back to you."
"Oh no! no, Ben! don't you go away from me," cried the poor widow. "I should indeed be forlorn if I was to lose you. Yet, Ned! Ned! poor Ned! where can you be—among savages, or killed? You wouldn't find him, Ben; they would only treat you in the same way, and I should lose you, Ben. It cannot be: oh, don't—don't think of it, Ben!" And the poor widow at length found some relief to her feelings in a flood of tears. It was seldom that she gave way in this manner; but the announcement of Ned's too probable fate, and the thought of losing Ben, completely overcame her.
The idea, however, that he would go to sea and find his brother had entered little Ben's head, and, moreover, that they together would bring back wealth sufficient to support their mother in comfort. That idea was not very easily driven away. Day after day it occurred to him. His difficulty was to persuade his mother to let him go. He did not understand as clearly as an older person might have done, that he could not go away without making her very unhappy. He argued that he should be away only a short time, and that then he should come back so rich, and be able to take such good care of her, that she would gain ample amends for the pain she might suffer by parting with him for a season. Poor fellow! he little knew the dangers and hardships he would have to encounter in a sailor's life.
Ben's mind was full of his plans, and they served at all events to beguile many a weary mile, as he trudged on through the country, contentedly as usual, selling his fish. One day, however, when walking along the streets of the town, he met with an accident. A horse, dragging a cart, took fright and was dashing along the road, near the sea, towards a group of little children whose nursemaids were standing chatting to each other, not thinking much about their young charges. The women, startled at hearing the horse coming, were so frightened that they knew not what to do. They snatched up one child after the other, running here and there, and leaving several of the little creatures, unconscious of their danger, in the very way of the maddened animal. Ben saw the peril in which the children were placed, and, throwing down his basket of fish, he sprang forward and caught the reins, which were hanging over the shafts. He had not strength to stop the horse, though he turned it aside, while he still hung on to the reins; he was at the same time dragged down, and the wheel passed over his side and one of his legs. The horse, thus turned from his course, dashed against some railings, and was stopped. The children were saved.
A gentleman looking out of a window saw the accident, and the gallant way in which little Ben had behaved. He rushed out of the house, took him in, placed him on a sofa, and sent for a surgeon. His leg was not broken, but some of his ribs were. The gentleman said that Ben should remain at his house till he was cured. He also at once sent off to Mrs Hadden to inform her of the accident, and to assure her that her son was well taken care of. Immediately she received the sad news, she set off to see Ben. She could not bear the thought of letting him remain with strangers, however kind they might prove.
It was almost midnight when she arrived. Ben's friend received her kindly, and her heart was comforted when she found that her son was going on so well. The gentleman told her that he was Lieutenant Charlton, of the navy, and again assured her that he would take good care of the boy. Satisfied that Ben's new friend would keep his word, she returned home the next day.
In less than six weeks Ben was almost himself again. Lieutenant Charlton nursed the poor boy as if he had been his own son, and showed how much pleased he was with him. Ben spoke frankly to him, told him of his past life, hopes, and wishes.
"Well, my boy, I will take you to sea with me when next I go, and that will be, I hope, before long," said the lieutenant to him one day.
"I should like to go, sir, very much indeed, but mother says that she cannot part with me," answered Ben.
"I will speak to your mother, and explain to her how seamen in the British navy are now treated," said the lieutenant. "She, I daresay, believes that they are no more cared for than they used to be at one time; whereas, the truth is that they are better looked after than many people on shore, and certainly much better than the seamen in the merchant service."
"It is not ill-treatment either she or I fear, sir," said Ben. "I'd go anywhere with you, sir; but mother cannot bear the thought of parting with me—that's the truth of it, sir."
"I'll speak to her about the matter, and perhaps she may see things in a different light," said Lieutenant Charlton. "Perhaps I may be able to find a home for her while you are away, and then she will be content to let you go, knowing that you are well provided for."
Ben thanked the lieutenant very much. He made up his mind, however, that, unless his mother was perfectly ready to let him go to sea, nothing should persuade him to quit her. He had not forgotten his father's last words, "Do right, whatever comes of it."
"The Bible says, 'Honour thy father and thy mother,'" said Ben to himself. "I should not be honouring my mother if I was to disobey her wishes, even though I was to become an officer, and see all the world, and come back with my pockets full of gold. No, no! Lieutenant Charlton is very kind and very good—that I am sure of; but, poor dear mother, I'll not leave her, unless she bids me, in God's name, go and prosper."
Ben was now sufficiently recovered to return home. He went back in a cart provided for him by the good lieutenant, who had also during his confinement not been unmindful of his mother. Ben found that some ladies had called on her, saying that they were the parents of the children who had been saved by Ben's bravery and presence of mind, and they insisted, as the least they could do, on supplying all her wants during his absence. They also promised further aid when they had learned how they could best bestow it. Indeed, Mrs Hadden had been much better off of late than she had been for a long time before.
"I think, mother, that we should say, besides 'Do right, whatever comes of it,' 'Whatever happens is for the best,' even though it looks to us like a great misfortune. I thought that I was very unfortunate when I got knocked down and had my ribs broken, and yet you see how much good has come out of it. You have been well looked after, and I have gained more friends than I might otherwise have found during all my life."
"Yes, Ben," answered Mrs Hadden, "yes. God orders all for the best, there's no doubt about that; but His ways are not our ways, and we cannot always see how that which happens is to work for our good as clearly as we now see how your broken ribs which you speak of have brought me many comforts I should not otherwise have enjoyed. Your father, Ben, would have said what I do; and I often think, now that he is in heaven enjoying perfect happiness, how he blesses God that he was born a poor humble fisherman, with the grace and the religious privileges he enjoyed, instead of some rich man, whose heart might have remained unchanged, or instead of one who might have put his faith in the Pope of Rome, or in that wicked impostor we were reading about, Mahomet. Ah, Ben, we often are not thankful enough for all the religious advantages we enjoy, and, above all, that we have so fully and freely the gospel placed before us."
A TURN IN BEN'S HISTORY.
Little Ben had now sufficiently recovered to follow his former business, for though not as strong as before his accident, he calculated on getting an occasional lift in a cart, so as to make his rounds with less difficulty. The first day he went down to the beach when the boats came in, he was welcomed with a friendly smile from all the fishermen. They had heard how he had saved the little children from being run over by the horse and cart. First one brought him a couple of fine fish, saying, "That's for you, Ben. Don't talk of payment this time." Then another did the same thing, and another, and another, till his basket was so full that he could scarcely carry it. He thanked the kind fishermen all very much, and said that he was sure he did not deserve that from them; but they replied that they were better judges than he was of that matter, and that they only wished they could afford to fill his basket in the same manner every morning. This was very pleasant to Ben's feelings, and he got so good a price for the fish, which were very fine, that he was ever afterwards able to pay ready money for all he bought.
Day after day Ben went his rounds; but, though he generally got a fair price for the fish he sold, he could scarcely gain sufficient to procure food and clothing for himself and his mother, and firing and lights, and to pay the taxes with which even they were charged. Sometimes he did not sell all the fish he had bought, and, as fish will not keep long, he and his mother had to eat them themselves, or to sell them to other poor people at a low rate. Then he wore out a good many pairs of shoes, as well as other clothes, as he had to be out in all weathers; for those who wanted a dish of fish for dinner would not have been satisfied had he waited till the next morning to bring it to them on account of a storm of rain or snow. Mrs Hadden had thought of taking to sell fish herself, to relieve Ben somewhat, but he urged her not to make the attempt. She was not strong, and, although a fisherman's wife, had been unaccustomed to out-door work. She had been in service during her younger days as a nurse, where she enjoyed every comfort she could desire. When she married, though no man's cottage was better kept than John Hadden's, and no children were better cared for and brought up, she could not help him in the way the wives of most of the fishermen were expected to do. "But then," as John remarked, when some of his friends warned him that he was a lout to marry a fine lady and a useless person, "she is a God-fearing, pious woman, and she'll do her best in whatever I wish her to do." So she did, and till the day of his death John never had reason to regret his choice.
"God will show us what ought to be done, and give the strength to do it, if I ought to go out and sell fish to obtain our daily food," said Mrs Hadden, after she had one day been talking over the subject with Ben.
"Yes, mother, there is no doubt but that God will show us what ought to be done," he answered. "But the minister was telling us on Sunday that God brings about what He wishes to take place through human means, and does not work what we call miracles; so I think that, if He hasn't given you the strength of body to carry about a basket of fish through the country, He does not wish you so to employ yourself."
The discussion was cut short by the appearance of Lieutenant Charlton, who had ridden up to the door of the cottage. Ben ran out to welcome him and to hold his horse, but he said, "No, we must get somebody else to take care of the animal while you and I have a talk with your mother over matters." Ben easily found a lad to lead his kind friend's horse up and down on the sand, and then he accompanied the lieutenant into the cottage.
"I have a great deal to say to you, Mrs Hadden, and so I hope that you will hear me patiently," said the lieutenant, sitting down in the chair John Hadden used to occupy. "First, I must tell you that I am going away to sea. I have a mother who is a great invalid, and requires the constant attendance of a sensible, good-tempered Christian woman who can read to her, and talk and amuse her. I know no person so well qualified for the post as you are. My sister, who lives with her, thinks so likewise, and will be most thankful to have your assistance. In this way, if you will accept our offer, you yourself will be well provided for. Now, with regard to little Ben. Selling fish is a very respectable occupation, but not a very profitable one, I suspect, from what I can hear, and I think that your son is fitted for something better. To be sure, he may some day become a full-grown fishmonger, but that can only be some years hence; and, from what he has told me, I find that he has a strong wish to go to sea, though, unless you were comfortably provided for, nothing would tempt him to leave you. Now you see my plan: you shall take care of my mother, and I will take care of your son. What do you say to it?"
"That I am most grateful to you for your kindness, sir," answered the widow in a trembling voice; "thus much I can say at once; but I am sure that you will excuse me for not giving a decided answer immediately. I should wish to lay the matter before God in prayer, and Ben and I will go over to-morrow morning to give you our reply, if you can kindly wait so long. I wish to do what is right; but ah, sir, it is a hard thing to have to part from my only boy, after having lost so many!"
"Though my time is short before I must join my ship, of which I am first lieutenant, and I am much hurried, I will gladly wait till to-morrow morning, that you may decide for the best," answered the lieutenant. "I shall not be, I hope, less your friend, though you may differ in opinion with me and decline my offer." The kind officer, however, before he took his departure, told Mrs Hadden, in case she should give Ben leave to accompany him, what preparations she should make for him, saying that all expenses would be borne by the friends who wished to serve her. He assured her that Ben would be well treated, and would probably find many good men on board ship, who would support him in doing right, though he would of course find many who would do their utmost to lead him astray; that, if he continued as he had begun, he would certainly be made a petty officer, and very likely, if he wished it, a warrant-officer, when he would be able to retire on a comfortable pension, and at all events, in case of being wounded, he would have Greenwich Hospital to fall back on.
Mrs Hadden and little Ben thought and talked and prayed over the subject after the lieutenant was gone, and the result was that his offer was accepted. Instead of leaping for joy, as Ben thought he should do if this conclusion were come to, he threw his arms round his mother's neck, exclaiming, "Oh, mother, mother, how can I be so cruel and hard-hearted as to think of leaving you! I'll stay with you, and work for you as before, if you wish it, indeed I will. I would rather stay— I shall be very happy at home with you."
Mrs Hadden knew that these feelings were very natural, and, believing that it was to Ben's advantage that he should go to sea with so kind an officer as Lieutenant Charlton, she would not allow her resolution to be shaken, though her mother's heart was saying all the time, "Let him give it up, and stay at home with you." Children often but little understand how much parents give up for what they, at all events, believe will benefit those children.
The lieutenant had desired Mrs Hadden to let him know as soon as she had decided, as, should Ben not go with him, he should take some other boy in his place. In spite of all she could do, tears blotted the paper as she wrote her humble thanks accepting his offer. The lieutenant remarked it, observing, "Poor woman! I suppose it must be a trial to her to part with her boy—I did not think much of that."
"Indeed it must be, my son," said Mrs Charlton, his mother, who overheard him: "I found it very hard to part with you—though I did so because I thought it was right."
"You did, mother, I am sure, and providentially I fell into good hands, and have every reason to be thankful that I went to sea," said the lieutenant.
"I trust that Mrs Hadden will hear little Ben say the same when he comes back from sea," said Mrs Charlton.
"I pray that I may be able to do my duty towards the boy, and watch carefully over him," said the lieutenant.
"Depend on it, God will aid you. He always does those who trust in Him and desire to serve Him," answered Mrs Charlton. "Tell the boy also, should he at any time appear anxious about his mother, that I also will do my best to take care of her."
Mrs Hadden had indeed reason to say, "Truly God careth for the fatherless and widows who put their trust in Him."
Ben's outfitting operations now went on briskly. Some kind ladies sent a piece of strong calico to make him some shirts, and from morning to night Mrs Hadden's busy fingers were plying her needle till they were finished. Other friends supplied his different wants, and he was soon quite ready to accompany Lieutenant Charlton. The day to leave home came. The worst part of the business was parting from his mother; yet, great as was the pain, it was not so great as might have been expected. People when conscious of doing right are saved much grief and suffering; especially, if they trust in God, they know that He can and will deliver them out of all their troubles.
"I shall come back, mother, to you; I know I shall. God will take care of me; I will try and do right, and serve Him faithfully; and perhaps, mother, I may bring back Ned with me," said Ben to his mother, who had taken up her abode with Mrs Charlton. These were his last words to her as he again and again embraced her, and then, tearing himself away, he ran after the lieutenant, who was walking rapidly down the street towards the inn from which the coach started that was to convey them to Portsmouth.
Ben felt as if he had reached a new world even as he travelled along the road, much more so when he entered London itself, where Mr Charlton went to the house of a relation. Ben was shown into the kitchen, and handed over to the care of the page. He found that, at the very outset of his career, he was to meet with temptation to do wrong. After the late dinner, the page came down with two rich-looking dishes untouched, and took them into a little room, where he had invited Ben to meet him.
"Be quick, let us eat them up," he said, "all but a small part of each; the housekeeper will never find it out, and I can tell cook how much I heard people praising them."
"No; unless the housekeeper or cook gives it to us, I will touch nothing," answered Ben stoutly.
"Nonsense! wherever did you learn such stuff?" exclaimed the page in surprise. "Why, we think nothing of that sort of thing; what harm can come of it?"
"I don't see that that has anything to do with the matter," said Ben. "I've been taught always to do right, whatever comes of it; and 'tis doing very far from right to take what doesn't belong to one; it is doing very wrong—it is stealing."
"I never should have thought that," said the page; "I wouldn't steal sixpence from no one, that I wouldn't! but just taking something out of a dish of good things that comes down from the parlour is altogether different."
"Now I don't see any difference at all," said Ben, more earnestly than before; "the long and the short of the matter is, that it's wrong, and we mustn't do wrong even if we fancy good is to come out of it. Just the contrary: we must do right, whatever we think may come out of it. God says, 'Do right.' He'll take care of the rest."
The page did not utter another word, and Ben had the satisfaction of seeing him take the dishes into the housekeeper's room. This was a great encouragement to him. "If I can persuade one person to do right in what he thinks a trifle, I may persuade others; and, at all events, I will go on, with God's help, doing so whenever I have an opportunity," said Ben to himself. "That is right, I know."
The page was not at all the less friendly after this, but he treated Ben with much more respect, and Ben was very sorry to part with him. Nearly his last words to him were, "Never mind what you have been accustomed to think or to do, but just remember to do right at all times. Jesus Christ, who came on earth to save us, and to teach us how to live and act in the world, has left us an example that we should walk in His steps. And if we were always to ask ourselves what He would have done if He had been put in our place, and do accordingly, that will be the right thing for us."
Ben spoke so naturally and so earnestly, that the page didn't think it anything like canting; but he answered, "I'll try and do what you say, Ben, and when you're away at sea perhaps you'll remember me, and ask God to show me what's right. He's more likely to listen to you than to me."
"Oh no, no! don't suppose that for a moment!" exclaimed Ben. "He's ready to hear all who call upon Him faithfully. He's very kind, and loving, and gentle. He waits to be gracious. We should never get better if we waited to get better of ourselves. We must go to Him just as we are, trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ to wash away our sins; that will do it—nothing else."
Little Ben had an advantage over a very large number of people, educated and rich, as well as poor and humble. He had been all his life accustomed to read the Bible, and so he knew more about God and His will, and could talk more rightly about Him, than those who do not read God's Word can possibly do. He went daily to the fountain, and kept his pitcher full of the water of life. They who seldom or never go, must have their pitchers empty.
LIFE ON SHIPBOARD.
Mr Charlton had been appointed as first lieutenant of the Ajax, a thirty-six gun frigate, fitting-out for the Pacific station. On his arrival at Portsmouth, he at once repaired on board, taking Ben with him. As they pulled up the harbour in a shore boat towards the frigate, which lay lashed alongside a hulk, Ben was astonished at the number of ships he saw, and the vast size of many of them. It seemed to him as if the wind could never affect such monstrous constructions, even to move them along through the water; and as to the sea tossing them about as it did the boats to which he was accustomed, that seemed impossible. Several of them carried a hundred huge iron guns, and others even a larger number. He saw many more on the stocks in the dockyard, and others moored up the harbour, and he thought to himself, "Now, if people of different nations would but live at peace with each other, and try to do each other all the good in the world they can, instead of as much harm as possible, and employ their time in building merchant vessels and other works for the advantage of their fellow-creatures, how very much better it would be!"—Many wise and good men think as did little Ben, and yet they have to acknowledge that, while nations continue wickedly ambitious, and jealous of each other's wealth and power, it is the duty of governments to be armed and prepared to resist aggression.
Ben felt very much astonished, and almost frightened, when he found himself on board the frigate, at the din and bustle which was going forward, and the seeming confusion—the shrill whistle of the boatswain, and the hoarse shouting of his mates, as yards were swayed up, and coils of rope and stores of all sorts were hoisted on board. Ben could not understand one-half that he heard, so many strange expressions were used—indeed, there seemed to be a complete Babel of tongues, with, unhappily, much swearing and abuse. Ben thought that the work would have gone on much more satisfactorily without it. He observed, after a time, that which appeared confusion was in reality order. Each gang of men was working under a petty officer, who received his orders from superior officers, of whom there were three or four stationed in different parts of the ship; and they, again, were all under the command of the officer in charge. Each man attended only to his own business, and, let all the petty officers bawl as loud as they might, he was deaf to the voice of every one of them except to that of the officer placed over him. As Ben was left standing by himself alone, he had an opportunity of making observations on what was going forward. He would have naturally formed a very unfavourable opinion of a man-of-war, had he seen her only thus in all the hurry of fitting-out. He was beginning to think that he was forgotten, when a boy of about his own age, neatly dressed in white trousers, and shirt with a broad worked collar, came up to him, and said—
"The first lieutenant wants you: come with me."
Ben was very glad to move.
"What's your name?" asked the boy.
Ben told him.
"Mine is Tom Martin," said his companion; "I'm the boatswain's son. Mr Charlton says I'm to look after you, and tell you what you want to know. But you've been to sea before, haven't you?"
"Only in fishing-boats," answered Ben; "and I shall be much obliged to you for telling me what I ought to know."
"As to that, you'll soon pick it up; for you don't look like one of those chaps who come aboard with the hay-seed still in their hair," said Tom. "Here we are at the gun-room door."
Mr Charlton's voice and eye were as kind as ever, though he spoke in rather a stiffer manner than was his custom on shore. He told Ben that he had had his name entered on the ship's books, and that the boatswain would look after him, and give him instruction with his own son; besides this, that he was to be one of the boys employed in attending on the gun-room officers, which was an advantage, as it would give him plenty to do, and some little pay besides.
"You may go forward now," said Mr Charlton. "The gun-room steward will tell you what to do when he comes on board. And remember, Martin, I shall depend on you to show Hadden everything he ought to know, and all about the ship."
"Ay, ay, sir," said Tom, pulling a lock of his hair, as of course he held his hat in his hand. Then he gave Ben a nudge, to signify that he was to come away with him.
"You are a lucky chap to have the first lieutenant for your friend," observed Tom, as they went forward.
"Yes, he's a kind, good gentleman as ever lived," answered Ben warmly.
"That may be; but what I mean is, if you keep wide awake, and try to win his favour, you'll have a comfortable time of it, and get a good rating before the ship is paid off," observed Tom.
Ben, resolved as he was to keep to his principles, and to be ready to own them on all fit occasions, looked at his companion, and said, "I know, Martin, there's one thing I have to do, and that is, to do right whatever comes of it. If I do right, I need have no fear but that, in the long-run, I shall please the first lieutenant and all the officers; at any rate, I shall please God, and that's of more consequence than anything else."
"Oh, I see what sort of a chap you are!" observed Tom. "Well, don't go and talk like that to others—they mayn't take it as I do; for my part, I don't mind it." And Tom put on a very self-pleased, patronising air.
"I don't see that I have said anything out of the way," remarked Ben. "It stands to reason that to do right is the only way to please God, and that to please God is the wisest thing to do, as He gives us everything we have; and of course He will give more to those who try to please Him than to those who do not. There are many other reasons, but that is one, is it not?"
"Yes, I suppose so; but I haven't thought much about such things," said Tom.
"Then do think about them. I know that it is a good thing to do," said Ben.
"I'll try," whispered Tom.
It must not be supposed that Ben and Tom often talked together like this at first. There was too much bustle going forward for anything of the sort; they, as well as everybody in the ship, were kept hard at work from sunrise to sunset, and they were both so sleepy at night, when they turned into their hammocks, that they instantly fell fast asleep.
Ben had thus an opportunity of observing the whole process of fitting-out a ship. First he saw the huge, heavy guns hoisted on board, by means of tackles, with as much ease as an angler draws a big fish out of the water; then they were mounted on their carriages, and secured along the sides. Tackles, he learned, are formed by reeving ropes several times backwards and forwards through blocks. Then the topmasts and yards were got on board, swayed up, and crossed. Next, stores of all sorts were brought alongside—anchors, and chain-cables, and coils of rope, and round shot, and sails, and canvas, and paint, and tools for the various departments, and muskets, and cutlasses, and pistols, and bullets. No powder, however, came; and Ben learned that that would not be brought on board till the ship was out at Spithead. This rule was made because of accidents which had occurred formerly, ships having been blown up in the harbour, and been not only themselves destroyed, but caused the destruction of others, and the lives of very many people. Ben, however, saw the place where it was to be kept—a room lined with iron, with two doors. Between the doors was a sort of anteroom, and the outer door had an iron grating in it. There were means of flooding the magazine, in case of the ship catching fire. Last of all, the provisions and water were got on board—casks of beef and pork, and flour, and groceries, and spirits; and there were candles, and clothing, and (more necessary than most other things) water came alongside in lighters, and was pumped up into large iron tanks at the bottom of the ship. These tanks were large enough to allow a person to get into them to clean them out. They were in the inside coated with lime, and Ben was told that the water was kept in them fresh and pure for years.
The tools and stores were under the charge of three different warrant-officers—the gunner, the boatswain, and the carpenter. The first had everything connected with the guns, the shot, and powder; the boatswain had charge of all the ropes, sails, anchors, and cables; and the last of all, the woodwork, and spars, and pumps.
The provisions and clothing were under charge of the purser, who was an officer of superior rank, living with the lieutenants and surgeon. There was another officer, called the master, who also ranked with the lieutenants. He had charge of the navigation of the ship.
When the ship was completely fitted out, a body of soldiers called marines, under the command of a lieutenant, came on board. There was also one cabin full of young gentlemen, called midshipmen, their ages varying from thirteen up to five or six-and-twenty; with them, however, were the captain's and purser's clerks, and master's assistants, and assistant surgeons. They had two or three boys to attend on them. Ben was very glad that he was not selected for the duty, as the young gentlemen were frequently somewhat thoughtless in the way they treated the boys.
Above all the rest was the captain, who was answerable to no one on board; but he was bound by certain laws laid down for his guidance, and, if he broke any of them, would have to explain the reason to the Government at home, administered by the Board of Admiralty.
Ben soon understood that all these people could not live together in harmony, nor the ship be properly managed, without prompt and exact obedience to all laws and orders. The captain must obey the laws—the articles of war, as they are called—and the rules and regulations of the service, and all the officers and men the orders issued by those above them.
One of the last things done was to bend the sails, that is, to stretch them out on the yards; and the men were then exercised in furling them, which means, rolling them up; in again loosing them; and in reefing, that is, reducing their size by rolling up only a portion of each sail. At length, the ship being ready for sea, she sailed out to Spithead. As Ben, who was on the forecastle with Tom Martin, saw her gliding through the water for the first time, like a stately swan, he felt very proud of belonging to her, though he was nearly the youngest boy on board, and of the least consequence. "So I am," he said to himself, recollecting this; "but still, though I am but small, I can do as well as I am able whatever I am set to do; that, at all events, will be doing right." Ben thought rightly that no one is too young or too insignificant to do his best in whatever he is set to do, never mind what that doing may be.
The powder was received on board, and until it was stowed carefully away in the magazine, all lights were extinguished. If people were as careful to avoid sin and its consequences as sailors are to avoid blowing up their ship, how different would be the world from what it is! Yet how far more sad are the consequences of sin!
A few more stores and provisions came off; so did the captain. Blue Peter was hoisted [see note 1]; all visitors were ordered out of the ship; despatches and letters for many distant places she was expected to visit were received; the anchor was hove up to the merry sound of the fife as the seamen tramped round and round the capstan, and, her canvas being spread to the wind, she glided majestically onward, her voyage now fairly commenced.
The wind was fair, and the frigate quickly ran down Channel, and took her departure from the Lizard, one of the south-western points of England. She had a wide extent of ocean before her to traverse, and many weeks would pass before land would be again sighted. Still, the master, with the aid of the compass, his sextant, and chronometer, was able to steer his course with as much certainty as if land had been all the time in sight.
Martin told Ben, jokingly, that the object of the sextant was to shoot the stars and the sun; but Ben found that it was to measure the height of the sun above the horizon, and the distance of certain stars from each other. The chronometer, he learned, was a large watch made to keep exact time, so that the time in London was known wherever the ship went. Ben saw another instrument, a reel with a long line and a triangular piece of board at the end of it. The line was divided into twelve or more parts; the end with the board attached was thrown overboard, and, as the line ran out, a seaman held up a little sand-glass shaped like an hour-glass. By it the number of knots or divisions run out were easily measured, and the number of miles the ship sailed over in one hour was ascertained, and the distance made good each day calculated. Ben looked at the compass with the greatest respect, and was much pleased when Mr Martin, the boatswain, could take him and Tom aft to explain its use to them, and to show them how the ship was steered. As they were not officers, they could not go when they liked to that part of the ship, only when they were sent to perform some piece of duty.
Ben seldom exchanged a word with Mr Charlton, who, however, never failed when he passed to give him a kind glance of the eye, to show him that he was not forgotten. This made him feel happy and contented. People of all ages feel thus when they know that a kind friend is looking after them. How much more, then, should Christians feel happy and contented when they know that their Father in heaven, the kindest of friends, and at the same time the most powerful, who never slumbers nor sleeps, is ever watching over them to guard them from all evil; and that if He allows what the world calls a misfortune to overtake them, it is for their real good.
Ben soon learned all about a ship, for, having been from his childhood on the water, things were not so strange to him as they are to a boy who had come from some inland place with, as Tom said, the hay-seed in his hair. He was as active and intelligent and daring as any of the boys in the ship, not only of his own size, but of those much bigger and older. Though also he had his duties in the gun-room to attend to, he learned to go aloft, and to furl and reef sails, and to knot and splice, and to perform many other tasks required of sailors. He made many friends, too, among the best men and the petty officers, for he was always obliging and ready to serve any one he could in a lawful way; but any one who had asked Ben to do what he knew to be wrong would have found him very far from obliging.
Day after day the frigate sailed on over a smooth ocean, it being scarcely necessary to alter a sail, but the crew were not idle; the ship had to be got into perfect order below, and there was much painting, and cleaning, and scrubbing; then the men were exercised in reefing and furling sails, and going through all the operations necessary to bring the ship to an anchor. Though no gale threatened, topgallant masts and their yards were sent down on deck, and everything was made snug, so that they might quickly make the proper preparations when one should come on. The men were also daily exercised at the guns. To each gun a particular crew was attached, who cast it loose, went through all the movements of loading and firing over and over again, and then once more secured it. Sometimes powder was fired, and, whenever there was a calm, an empty cask with a target on it was towed off some way from the ship, and shot were fired at it.
On several occasions, in the middle of the night perhaps, that dreadful sound of the fire-bell was heard, and then the men sprang into their clothes—each man going to his proper station; the fire-buckets were filled, the pumps manned, and all stood ready to obey the orders of their officers to meet the danger. "Very well, my men; you were quickly at your stations," cried the captain. "Pipe down." The men then returned to their hammocks. Really there was no fire, but they were summoned to their posts that, in case a fire should take place, they might be cool and collected, and know exactly what to do. This was very different from "calling wolf," because a sailor must obey whatever signal is made to him or order given by his superior, without stopping to consider why it is issued. When the drum beats to quarters, he must fly to his station, though he knows perfectly well that no enemy is near.
One day Ben and Tom, with the gunner, the purser's steward, and the sergeant of marines, were seated in the boatswain's cabin to enjoy what he called a little social and religious conversation. All the party were above the average in intelligence. This was shown by their having risen from their original position. Various subjects had been discussed.
"To my mind, as I have often said, a ship is just like a little world," observed Mr Martin, who had some clear notions on many matters. "Every man in it has his duty to do, and if he doesn't do it, not only he, but others, suffer. It is not his business to be saying, Why am I to do this? Why am I to do that? It's the law in the articles of war, or the rules and regulations of the service; that's enough. If you join the service, you must obey those rules. It's your business, though, to learn what they are. Now, that's just the same when a man becomes a Christian. He mustn't do what he would like to do according to the natural man; but he must learn Christ's laws, and try and obey them. Just see how the men on board a man-of-war are practised and exercised in all sorts of ways to make them good seamen. Here they are, from morning till night, exercising at the guns, shortening sail, reefing topsails, drilling with the small-arms, mustering at divisions, going to quarters, and fifty other things; and though sometimes they don't like the work, it's all for their good and the good of the service, and to enable them to support the honour and glory of our country. Just in the same way, I've often thought, God manages us human creatures. We are sent into the world to fit us to become His subjects; we are exercised and practised in all sorts of ways, and, though we often think the way very hard, we may be sure that it is for our good, and, what is more, to fit us to support His honour and glory."
"I never saw the matter in that light before," observed Mr Thomson, the gunner. "I've often thought how there came to be so much pain and sorrow in the world, and how so many things go wrong in it."
"Why, look ye here, Thomson, just for this cause, because men don't obey God's laws," exclaimed Mr Martin. "Adam and Eve broke them first, and their children have been breaking them ever since. Sin did it all. What would become of us aboard here, if the ship, however well-built she might be, was badly fitted out at first, and if we all were constantly neglecting our duty and disobeying orders? Why, we should pretty soon run her ashore, or founder, or blow her up, or, if we met an enemy, have to haul down our flag."
The sergeant and purser's steward, who were both serious-minded men, though not much enlightened, agreed heartily with Mr Martin; and Ben learned many an important lesson from listening from time to time to their conversation.
Their example had also a very good effect on the ship's company generally; there was far less swearing and quarrelling and bad conversation than in many ships; for even the best of men-of-war are very far from what they should be. In course of time three or four of the men met together regularly for prayer, reading the Scriptures, and mutual instruction; and by degrees others joined them. As they were very anxious to have a place where they could meet free from interruption, Mr Martin allowed them the use of his storeroom, which, though the spot was dark and close, they considered a great privilege. He also occasionally united with them, and came oftener and oftener, until he always was present unless prevented by his duty. Ben gladly accompanied him, and he also took Tom with him; who, however, did not appear to value the advantage, for he was generally found fast asleep in a corner at the end of the meeting.
Altogether the Ajax was a happy ship. On one important point the widow's prayers for her son were heard, and Ben was kept out of the temptations and the influence of bad example to which poor sailor boys are so often exposed.
Note 1. A blue flag so called; it gives notice that the ship is about to sail.
AMONG THE ICEBERGS.
Ben found the weather growing hotter and hotter as the ship approached the line, which Mr Martin told him was not really a line, but only a circle supposed to be drawn round the widest part of the globe, and where the sun at noon appears directly overhead. Still no one was much the worse for the heat; and gradually, as the ship sailed farther south, the weather became cooler and cooler, till it was as cold as it is in the winter in England; and Ben learned that the frigate was approaching the southern pole. She was then to sail round—not the pole, but a vast headland called Cape Horn; and on the other side, that is to say, to the west of it, to enter the wide Pacific Ocean. Ben had shown so much intelligence, and had made himself so generally useful, that Mr Charlton had placed him in a watch, that he might learn to do his duty by night as well as by day.
Scarcely had the ship's head been turned to the west than heavy weather came on. The seas rolled in vast watery heights one after the other in quick succession, so that no sooner had the frigate risen to the foaming summit of one high wave, than she sank down into the other, surrounded by dark, watery precipices, which looked as if they must break on board and overwhelm her. Ben, as he stood on the deck of the big ship of which he had become so proud, and watched the succession of the mountainous seas on every side, felt how insignificant she was, how helpless were all on board, unless trusting in the protection of God. Now she would slowly climb up the top of a huge sea; there she would remain, other seas following and seeming to chase the one on which she rode; then down again she would glide into the valley, once more to rise to the crest of another sea. If the spectacle was grand and awful in the daytime, much more so was it at night, when the ship went rushing on into darkness, no one knowing what she was to encounter ahead. The danger was not only imaginary, but real, for she was already in the latitude of icebergs, which, at that season of the year, float far away north from their original positions.