The Story of a Year:
WHAT IT BROUGHT AND WHAT IT TAUGHT.
BY GLANCE GAYLORD.
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1867, by HENRY HOYT, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of Massachusetts.
INNES AND NILES, Stereotypers and Printers, 37 Cornhill, Boston.
I.—The Old Stone House 5
III.—On the "White Gull" 37
V.—The First Evening 71
VI.—Culm Sights 89
VII.—How the Month was spent 107
VIII.—Noll's Decision 124
IX.—Dirk's Trouble 142
X.—In the Sea 159
XI.—Dirk's Treasure 177
XII.—Firelight Talk 195
XIII.—The Winter's Waning 219
XIV.—Ned Thorn 236
XVI.—The Work Begun 272
XVII.—The Work Progressing 288
XVIII.—The Work Finished 304
XIX.—A Happy Walk 320
XX.—New Thoughts and New Plans 336
XXI.—In Peril of the Sea 353
XXII.—Weary Watching 367
XXIV.—Days of Calm 400
XXV.—Out of the Sea 416
[Transcriber's Note: In this e-text, italics have been denoted by enclosing the affected text in underscores]
THE OLD STONE HOUSE.
Culm Rock was a wild place. You might search the coast for miles and not find another bit of nature so bare and rent and ragged as this. So fiercely had the storms driven over it, so wildly had the wind and waves beat, that the few cedars which once flourished as its only bit of greenness were long ago dead, and now held up only bleached and ragged hands. Jutting out into the sea, the surf rolled and thundered along its jagged shore of rock and sand, and was never silent. It would have been an island but for the narrow strips of sand, heaped high and ridgelike, which bound it to the main land; and this slender bridge, it often seemed, would be torn away by the ravenous sea which gnawed and engulfed great tracts at once, and yet heaped it higher and broader in the next storm. Beyond, on the firm and unyielding land, the pine woods stood up, vast, dim, and silent, stretching away into the interior. So, with the great dark barrier of forest behind and the waste of shining sea in front, Culm Rock seemed shut out from all the rest of the world. True, sails flitted along the horizon, and the smoke of foreign-bound steamers trailed against the sky, giving token of the great world's life and stir; and there were Skipper Ben and the "White Gull" who touched at the little wharf at Culm every week; but for these, the people—for there were people who dwelt here—might have lived in another sphere for aught they knew or were conscious of what was transpiring in the wonderful land which lay beyond the stretch of sea, and between which and themselves the "White Gull" was the only means of communication.
Do you wonder that people could spend their lives here, die, and never have seen the world without? There were only a dozen houses,—poor, racked, weather-beaten things, nestled on a bit of sand on a far corner of Culm,—inhabited by fishermen and their families. They were rough, hardy folk, but ignorant, and with only ambition enough to get their living out of the great sea, and a poor and scanty enough living at that. Skipper Ben brought them molasses and calicoes down in the "White Gull," and took their fish in exchange; and if he told them a bit of news from the great city and the greater world, it was all very well. If he failed to do this, it was all very well too.
Back of the fisher huts, the rocks rose high and dark, and quite hid the pine woods and the isthmus of yellow sand, and everything that could make Culm at all cheery or pleasant. This eminence was Wind Cliff, and served as a landmark for all the sailors whose path lay along the coast. Around this the gulls were alway flitting and screaming, and their nests were everywhere in the crevices of the rocks. Bald and gray it rose, scarred and rent with storms and age, and so steep as to be almost inaccessible. It fronted the north-west, and from its sharp tip the rock sloped south to the sea, and held in one of its great hollows down by the shore a house—such a house as you would not have looked for at Culm—with walls of stone and tall, ancient chimneys and deep-set windows, like eyes looking forever at the sea.
It was so dark and weather-beaten that at first sight you might almost fancy it to be but some quaint, odd shape which the rocks had taken, by dint of the stress of winds and waves beating upon them for long ages. But a house it was, and made by human hands, and human beings dwelt in it. At night the red light from its windows streamed out upon the water, and in many a dark and tempestuous watch had Skipper Ben guided the "White Gull" into port through the friendly gleaming of this beacon. For a long period of years the old house had stood empty and tenantless, the windows and doors broken and gone, the wind sweeping through and the rain beating in, and everything but the stout walls and chimneys a ruin. The superstitious fishermen would not inhabit it, and told tales of smugglers and pirates who made it their haunt, with other fanciful stories which always seem to linger about the sea, and in which there was not the faintest shadow of truth. Desolate and neglected, it stood there year after year, till, one day, Skipper Ben brought down carpenters and masons on the "White Gull," and straightway they went at work upon the old house. Doors went up, windows went in, a piazza pushed itself out towards the sea-front, and there was great bustle and activity about it for weeks. Then the laborers went away, and when the skipper came again, he brought, instead of groceries and store-cloth, a great quantity of furniture, the like of which the poor people at Culm Rock had never seen, and with the furniture came the master of the new house—a sorrowful, bowed man—and his housekeeper, a thin, wrinkled negro woman.
Then the smoke curled out of the great stone chimneys once more, the light streamed from the windows at night, and the fishermen and sailors rejoiced that at last the old house had found a tenant and no longer yawned bare and empty. The "White Gull" came more than once with a cargo for the master of the stone house, who, the skipper told the Culm folk, "was a mighty rich man, but the down-heartedest chap he'd ever cast eyes on. Why, man, he just sot lookin' over the rail the best part o' the way down, with his eyes in the water, and said no more nor a stone. What ye think? Now lookee here, men, let me give ye a bit o' advice. Don't ye go to pesterin' him with yer talk and yer questions; fur he's diff'rent make 'an I be, an' 'twon't do. Let him alone, an' keep yer own side o' the Rock."
The skipper's word was looked upon with respect by all the fish-folk, and they heeded his advice. So, in consequence, the owner of the stone mansion was undisturbed, and lived in the greatest seclusion. He never came within the limits of the little village, and whenever he was seen, it was only as pacing slowly along the shore. He passed the fishermen as they were hanging up their seines in the sun without heeding them, or acknowledging their respectful bows. The old black housekeeper came down to the village sometimes after fish or gulls' eggs, but went her way without satisfying the eager questions with which the women plied her. So one year passed away, then a second, and the master of the stone house was still as much a mystery to the poor fishers as ever. He rarely walked upon the sand, gave them not a look if ever they chanced to meet, and living, apparently, for no one but himself, took not the slightest interest in their welfare, cared naught for wreck or disaster on the shore, and seemed always stern and sorrowful.
No company ever came down on the "White Gull" to visit this strange and silent man, and he had no friends, apparently. Skipper Ben brought stores for him occasionally, and sometimes a letter; but this last event was a rare one, and the man seemed to have little more communication with the great world out of which he had come than did the humble Culm fishermen. With winds and storms, the third year rolled around, and the master of the old house was still as much of a recluse as ever; but the Culm people had ceased to regard him with any interest, and the man led a most solitary life, hardly seeing a human being, other than his housekeeper, from month to month. Do you wonder what could make him so stern and sad? Here is his story:—
One sweet and golden summer day, a man stood by the bedside of his wife,—he, crushed and heart-broken; she, faint and dying, but calm and loving and comforting. She held his hand, and whispered brokenly such words as she could only hope to comfort him with; and the last faint whisper which trembled on her lips was, "Oh, Richard, don't fail—don't fail to—to find Him and cling to Him, and come—come up—too." And with that she was dead. And the man left the bedside, and went out into the summer fields, where the birds were flitting and the bees droning and the wide earth seemed brimming with life and joy, and prayed that he might die too, since she was gone. But the birds sang on as joyously as ever, and the sun shone no less brightly because of the sorrow in the earth, and after his first tears were shed, his heart began to grow hard and bitter, and he put away the dying whisper, and went back to the dear dead face, cold and stern. His friends came to console him, but he would not listen, and after it was all over, and the gentle face hidden forever under the brown earth, he began to think of fleeing to some spot where he might find rest and quietness, and hide himself from all thoughts of the dear one who had left him, smothering his sorrow, and living as if she had not been. "I have been robbed," he said, bitterly; "all my happiness has been stolen from me. I can't seek Him; I will not. Oh, if there is a kind and merciful God, why has he stricken me? why has he taken all the joy out of my life? why has he left me without a comforter in the world?" So, without seeking for a Comforter, without striving to "find Him," as the dear voice had whispered, he turned away and strove to crush out the love and the tender memories which haunted his heart, and most of all that dying whisper which said, "Don't fail—don't fail to find Him."
Grown suddenly stern and morose, Richard Trafford looked about him for a refuge where he might flee from all society, and most of all from the spot where her presence seemed yet to linger. He discovered wild and solitary Culm Rock, and purchased the old stone house. Here, he thought, with the everlasting sound of the sea in his ears, with all the wildness and barrenness about him, and apart from the rest of mankind, he would bury himself, and forget all the bright and happy days which had passed. He left his friends without giving them any clew to his whereabouts, and with faithful old Hagar, who persisted in following him, took up his abode by the sea. But do you think his sorrow lessened? Do you think he found peace and happiness again? He carried his hard and bitter heart with him, and there was no happiness to be found by the sea. One year after another rolled away until the three were gone, and still he was wandering along his own thorny path, bowed with his sorrow, sighing and lamenting for the bright form which had left him, and still deaf to its whisper, "Find Him, and come up too." He walked on the sands, lonely and desolate; he paced about the great rooms of the stone house, oppressed and heavy-hearted; he shut himself up in his library and pored over books in vain. His sorrow clung to him, followed him everywhere; his heart was stubborn and bitter and rebellious. Perhaps he despaired of ever losing the burden, for one day he brought out a portrait, wrapped and swathed with great care, and, tearing all the veilings off, gazed once more on the sainted face which he had not looked upon for three long and heavy years. He did not hide it again, but hung it upon his library wall, where the tender face and calm and loving eyes looked down and almost melted him to tears.
He wondered how he could have kept it veiled and hidden so long. He wondered if those three years had not been spent in vain, unless it were to learn that he could not crush out his sweet memories if he tried.
He sank down into his chair as he thought of this, and going back over the three past dreary years, remembered what a weary blank they were, thought, with a heavy sigh, what a shipwreck his life had been, and how he was now floating about without rudder or compass or anchor, merely a drifting wreck. And as he sits there in the sunshine which streams through the wide, high old window, we will see him for the first time.
Richard Trafford was a man of forty; but his hair was tinged with gray, and grief and wretchedness had worn heavy lines in his face. As he sat in the library this September afternoon, looking up at the portrait on the wall, he seemed almost an old man. The room was wide and high, with tall oaken bookcases at either end. Two great windows, before one of which he sat, looked out upon the sea and the white line of foam curling upon the sand. The waves were but mere ripples this calm afternoon, but from the shore there came up a ceaseless, steady murmur that made itself heard in the quiet of the room; and by and by Trafford's eyes turned from the calm face above him and looked out seaward. White and shining lay the vast expanse, with here and there the faint film of a sail upon the horizon. Nothing to be seen but water and the great dome of sky and the little spit of yellow sand where the tide was murmuring. How many sunny afternoons he had thus looked out upon the sea, vast and gleaming! How many lonely afternoons and long, weary nights he had listened to the slow chanting of the tide, watched it creep up the sand with its puffs of thick foam, watched it as it slowly receded and left its burden of weed and shell behind! Flowing and ebbing forever, alway at its work, in and out, in and out, through storm and shine, through night and day, it seemed to mock his own idle, useless life, and reproach him with its never silent voice. Of what use, he wondered as he sat there, was such a life as his? To-morrow the tide would be at its work again, the ships go on, the sun shine warm and bright over all,—and he? For him to-morrow would be but the repetition of to-day; the same dragging hours, the same apathetic poring over books, the same half-hours at the organ with the music-books, playing sad melodies which accorded well with his own sombre feelings. He looked up at the portrait and sighed; remembered the dear one's dying words, and thought, "I might have found Him once; but it's too late now. All that passed away a long time ago, and now,—it's only to plod on and on, year in and year out, till the end." And what then?
There came a soft rap at the door.
"Come in, Hagar," said he, heavily, without taking his eyes off the sea; and then the door was pushed open, and a head, surmounted by a great yellow turban, looked in.
"Somethin' fur you, Mas'r Dick," said the owner of the turban, without coming in, however.
"What is it?" said Trafford, abstractedly.
The door opened wider, and the old housekeeper entered. She was bent and thin, with great wrinkles in her forehead and face, and wherever a tuft of wool peeped out from under the fanciful headgear, it showed quite gray; but her step was quick and firm as she went across the floor to the figure by the great window.
"A letter, Mas'r Dick," said she, standing by Trafford's chair; "dat yer old skipper brought it. Said he brung it straight from de city."
"Ben Tate?" asked the master.
Hagar nodded assent. "Said ye was to hev it dis yer afternoon, sure," said she; "'twa'n't no letter to be lyin' 'round in dem Culm huts, so he cum up here wid it hisself. Be it frum Hastings, Mas'r Dick?"
Hagar had lived in the Trafford family from childhood, and Richard had grown up to manhood under her eyes, had married, and she went to live with the young people. She had seen the wife fade and die, and the husband grow stern and gloomy, and out of solicitude and affection had clung faithfully to him through all fortunes. It would seem, to hear her talk, that she never had quite realized that Richard Trafford, the man of forty, was any other than "Mas'r Dick," the boy whose smartness at school, and whose popularity among his companions, had always been her boast and pride. Gray and worn he was getting, gloomy, sad, even harsh at times to her, yet he was only "Mas'r Dick," and her own little boy, for whom she must watch and care to the best of her ability. Now, as she queried where the letter might be from, she dropped down in a chair a little way from him, and waited till he should see fit to answer her question; for could there be a paradise on earth, it would have been represented to Hagar by Hastings,—that great city where their old home had been, where her own childhood had been spent, and where all the friends of her kin and color dwelt. It was a hard matter to tear herself away from them all and follow Richard Trafford to dreary Culm Rock; but, with some tears and sighing, she had said to her people, "Yer don't know nuffin about it. Ye habn't got any 'Mas'r Dick;' so how ken ye? 'Tain't in dis yer old heart to let de chile go off sufferin' all by hisself, now! Bress de Lord, I'll stick to de poor boy, an' keep him frum jes' worryin' his life out." So here she was in her old age, away from all her people, yet happy because it was to serve "Mas'r Dick."
Trafford took up the letter,—a large, thick one, bearing the marks of the skipper's great fingers on its envelope, and smelling of fish, as if it had performed its journey in company with herring and cod,—and said, "Yes, Hagar; it's from Hastings, of course."
The old housekeeper lingered, looked at the master in hopes that he would bid her stay, and then, as he tore open the letter with a moody face, went slowly out, closing the door softly behind her.
The handwriting was unfamiliar, and Trafford wondered where it came from, feeling vexed that it should have arrived at that moment; and so began to read an emphatically business letter:—
"HASTINGS, Sept. 7th.
"To Mr. Richard Trafford, of Culm Rock:
"SIR,—I am sorry to be under the painful necessity of informing you of your brother's death. The Rev. Oliver Trafford died the 15th of March last, leaving me as the executor of his estate. He was anxious to see you till the very last; but as we had no clew to your whereabouts, and only discovered your place of residence by accident a short time ago, that pleasure was denied him. He left one child—a boy of fourteen, or thereabouts—for whose welfare he was much distressed. He often expressed it as his desire that, should you ever make your appearance, this boy might be received by you as your own, and, indeed, left written statements to that effect. There is, also, among his private papers, a sealed letter for you, which, I doubt not, contains some such request. The boy, I am happy to say, is not likely to prove a burden or trouble to you, being obedient and all that could be desired. He is smart and sprightly, and quite a favorite in the circle in which his father moved, and from my own acquaintance with him (very intimate during the past six months) can assure you that he will prove anything but a poor acquisition.
"As to the estate, I am sorry to say that Mr. Trafford left but little of value,—enough, perhaps, to educate the boy; but, as I hear you are a gentleman of fortune, this, I presume, is a matter of very little moment. I shall be happy to show you your brother's accounts at any time, and to have the honor of answering any inquiries which you may be disposed to make. I enclose a note from your nephew. Awaiting your decision in the matter, I am, sir, your most obedient servant,
"Thomas Gray. "Room 8, at No. 67 Court St."
With a gloomy face, Trafford laid down the lawyer's letter, and took up his nephew's. He did not remember ever having seen the boy. He was, most likely, a crazy, boisterous lad, that would be forever in mischief, and bring the house about their heads. As for having him at Culm Rock, it was too preposterous a thought to be entertained for a moment. He had decided at once how Mr. Gray's letter should be answered, and felt too indifferent to care about reading his nephew's. What did these things matter to him? Yet, after a time, he thought better of it, and took up the note again, saying to himself, "I'll read it, if only because it's poor Noll's boy;" and opening the missive, found therein the following frank boy's letter:—
"HASTINGS, Sept. 7th.
"DEAR UNCLE RICHARD,—I don't know what to say to you—it all seems so strange and awkward. Mr. Gray said I was to write, however, and send the note with his; so I am trying. It is such a long time since I saw you that I've forgotten your face, and I think you must have forgotten that there was such a person as myself in the world. Papa died almost six months ago, and he said all the time, at the last, 'Go for Uncle Richard!' but I didn't know where you were, and Mr. Gray could not find out till a short time ago; so papa died without seeing you. I don't know what he wanted to say, but he told me that I was to live with you and be your boy; and Mr. Gray says the papers say the same thing." Here the writer had evidently faltered, and been at a loss how to proceed further with intelligence which it, apparently, was very irksome for him to disclose; but he continued with, "There are only you and me left, and I am sure I would like very much to be your boy and live with you, as papa said; but—but I don't know—I mean—Well, I can't say it, Uncle Richard, but I mean that I wish I might know what you thought about it first. I wouldn't like to come, you know, unless you liked,—unless you were glad to have me. Mr. Gray has all papa's business to settle, and I suspect he wants to get me settled, too, somewhere, pretty quick; and so, if you please, I hope you won't mind whatever he may say about me, and only do just as you like about giving him permission to send me. I can find a home somewhere, if you would rather.
"My name is Oliver,—Noll, everybody calls me; I'm almost fifteen, and have always been at school in Hastings, and papa used to give me lessons beside. Is there a school at Culm Rock? I do wish you could have seen papa, dear Uncle Richard, he longed so for you when he died; but there is a letter for you among his papers, which will be sent to Culm Rock, if I do not come to bring it. Mr. Gray will tell you all about me, I suppose, and the affairs besides; so I will stop.
"—And don't mind what Mr. Gray says, please, and only do as you like."
Richard Trafford finished this letter with something like a grim smile on his lips.
"The boy has got the true Trafford spirit," he said to himself, "and some of Brother Noll's gentleness, I fancy. Ah, Noll was always a happier man than I!"
He read the boy's letter again, wondering what made it seem so bright and pleasant, and feeling vexed with himself for doing it. Why should he care for this boy or this boy's letter? Had he not fled to Culm Rock to escape all knowledge of what was transpiring in the world without,—to forget friends and kin, if that was possible? He looked up and met the sweet, grave eyes of his wife looking down into his, and read something there which made his eyes fill and his lip quiver.
"Ah," he sighed, "why did I not try to follow after?" And with this thought in his heart, he rose and stood by the window, looking down at the crawling tide. His thoughts came back to the boy, presently, and with another grim smile upon his face, he remembered what a dull and dreary place Culm Rock would be for a lad of fourteen. He would soon tire of it, and be glad enough to go back to Hastings, he fancied. If he was a wild boy, he should go back on the return of the "White Gull;" if he could be tolerated, he might stay till he tired of it. It was poor Brother Noll's boy, after all, he thought, and he could not make his heart quite hard enough to refuse him a home. So, when Skipper Ben returned to Hastings with his next cargo of fish, he carried a letter hidden away under his pea-jacket, and this was what it contained:—
"CULM ROCK, Sept. 12th.
"To Noll Trafford:
"Come; you are welcome.
ON THE "WHITE GULL."
The breeze was crisp and fresh that morning, and the skipper anxious to set sail. Everything was in readiness on board the "White Gull," but still its master did not give the word to cast off, and stumped up and down the deck, muttering and grumbling to his mate.
"Allus jes' so!" he said, wrathfully; "these town folks never up to time. Think on't, Jack, that 'ere lawyer, Gray, promised to get the youngster here a good half-hour afore sunrise! Here it's sun-up already, and this breeze won't last forever, nuther."
"Why don't ye go 'long 'thout him?" queried Jack Snape from his seat on a bucket.
"Would, ef 'twa'n't fur that pesky lawyer!" growled the skipper; "an' 'tain't every day ye can get a passenger fur the Rock, nuther. Mought as well take what passage-money he can, a fellow mought, Jack."
The mate of the "White Gull" began to whistle, and fumbling in his pea-jacket brought out a pipe and tobacco, with which he proceeded to console himself. Skipper Ben took a few more impatient turns up and down the deck, and sat down at last in grim despair, while the wind came in strong, steady puffs, and the craft rocked and swayed gently on the swell of the tide. The city behind them was hardly awake yet. Its roofs and steeples loomed through a veil of haze or smoke which hovered over and clung about the towers, and only a faint murmur told of the stir and bustle which were presently to reign. On the wharves a few early drays were rumbling down after their loads of merchandise, and one or two vessels had left their moorings, and, taking advantage of the favorable breeze, were standing out to sea, which fact did not at all add to Skipper Ben's good-nature.
"Here they come," drawled the mate, putting up his pipe; and then a carriage came rattling down the wharf, stopping in front of the "White Gull."
"Come at last, hev ye?" shouted the skipper, gruffly. "Call this a half-hour afore sunrise, squire?"
"Well," said the lawyer, looking at his watch, "I thought we were prodigiously early. Driver, put these trunks aboard in a hurry, since the skipper is waiting; and—Noll, are you ready?"
The skipper left his craft and came to bear a hand with the trunks, looking askance, meanwhile, at the boy who had got out of the carriage and stood on the wharf's edge, surveying the "Gull."
"Hope you'll have a good run, skipper," said the lawyer, as the baggage went over into a cavernous aperture in the deck; "fine breeze, I should say. Have a good care of this passenger of yours, man."
"Ay, squire, we'll manage. Can't stop fur words from ye this morning; should ha' been a long piece down the coast afore this time o' day. Bear a hand there, Jack!"
"Good-by, Noll," said the lawyer; "keep up a stout heart, my boy, and don't forget your city friends. You'll have a fine run down to Culm, and you must send me a line back by the skipper. Good-by!" and Mr. Gray got into his carriage and rolled back toward the city.
Noll Trafford stood leaning against a great post and looking after the lawyer's carriage with a slight choking in his throat, till the skipper's gruff "Get aboard here, lad!" warned him that the "Gull" was about to cast off. Slowly the wharf glided away, and the little coasting vessel stood out into the channel. The city spread itself out behind them, a long maze of brick and slate, with spires and domes showing dimly through the blue haze which wrapped them about. On the far, watery horizon lay a belt of vapory clouds which presently began to rend and tear and float off in ragged masses, and then a great red sun gleamed through and made a golden roadway across the sea, and transformed the misty fleeces of vapor to wonderful hangings of amethyst, streaked with great threads of scarlet.
"Jes' sunrise!" muttered the skipper; "make the best o' this 'ere breeze, eh, Jack?"
"Ay," drawled the mate, "we'll catch it afore long, skipper."
The city's old cold front suddenly gleamed out in vivid gold, the spires grew rosy in the first rays of sunlight, and, all its dimness and dulness gone, Hastings lay gleaming and glowing in the fair morning light like some vision of fairyland.
Noll Trafford, sitting on a great bale of merchandise near the stern of the "Gull," gazed at the city, slowly sinking and fading in the sea, with a feeling somewhat akin to homesickness. It had never looked so bright to him before as at this moment of his departure from it, and he was leaving behind a great many friends—all his school acquaintances, all the scenes and haunts that were dear to him—to go—where? He hardly knew, himself, but his bright fancy had pictured Culm as some pleasant little sea town, where there would, perhaps, be a great beach to ramble upon and hunt for minerals and shells, and where he would soon make plenty of new acquaintances. And Uncle Richard he had pictured to himself as a gentle, kind man,—grave, perhaps, but who would love him and try to fill the place of his own dead father. So, with these bright visions filling his mind, it was little wonder that he turned from the stern, after Hastings had faded into the merest blue dot on the horizon-line, and looked forward to the time when the journey's end should be reached, with happy anticipations. Before them lay the vast and boundless sea, with no trace of shore or island save a low blue belt in the south, like a cloud, and the "Gull" began to pitch and toss somewhat with the great ocean-swell. Skipper Ben, having got well in the way of the breeze which was carrying his vessel steadily before it, began to regain his good-humor. Sitting on the top of a cask, he puffed away at his pipe and soliloquized to himself about his passenger, who sat regarding Jack Snape's movements at the helm with much interest. The skipper had three or four boys at home,—great sturdy, brown-faced, stout-armed fellows,—between whom and this fair-faced, curly-headed boy there was little resemblance, he felt. "Town breedin', town breedin'," muttered he; "it's curi's what it'll make of a lad. This chap'll grow up with his head full o' le'rnin' into a lawyer or parson or somethin' like, and my lads'll be skippers like their dad, with no le'rnin' to speak on. I'll warrant this lad could get off more book-stuff in five minutes 'an mine ever heerd on." His eyes followed the boy as he went out to stand by Jack's elbow and ply this slow-witted gentleman with quick, eager questions. He was slender and rather tall for one of his age, but lithe and agile, as the skipper noted. "One o' mine could jes' trip him with a turn o' his hand," thought he; yet he regarded the lad with a mixture of kindness and respect, after all. There were other things in the world beside bone and muscle, he remembered, and when the boy came slowly along the deck, after a fruitless attempt to coax the mate into conversation, he put out one of his big red hands and stopped him. Noll looked up, inquiringly.
"Goin' down to Culm for a bit o' vacation?—to git scarce o' the books, eh?" queried the skipper.
"Vacation? Oh, no," said the boy, quickly; "I'm going there to live,—to have a home."
The master of the "Gull" came near dropping his pipe with amazement. "You live at Culm!" said he, incredulous; "what ye goin' to live in?"
It was Noll's turn to look amazed. He suddenly faced the skipper, saying, very earnestly, "What kind of a place is Culm Rock, anyhow? Isn't it a town?"
A broad grin stretched across the old sailor's face, then he laughed aloud. "Did ye hear that, Jack?" he cried; "here's a lad what's goin' to Culm to live, an' he wants to know ef it's a town!"
"'Twon't take him long to find out arter he gets there," drawled Mr. Snape.
Noll turned away and walked to the stern, thinking the skipper was a very uncivil fellow to laugh at his ignorance, and sat down again on the bale, secretly ill at ease on account of these sailors' words. What kind of a place could Culm Rock be?
All around the boundless waste of waves flashed and glittered under the sun, and the "Gull" sailed steadily on her course with not a fleck of land in sight,—nothing around but the vast blue of the sea,—above, only the great azure arch of sky. It was a new and strange sight to Noll Trafford. He lay on his back on the bale, and looked up into the wonderful depths of the blue dome, where no clouds sailed, and speculated about his destination. Somehow, the bright vision of a pleasant sea town with a shining beach of sand and pebbles had faded, and in its stead there was doubt and perplexity. Was it only a rock, as the name suggested, and no town? However, Uncle Richard was there, and that was one comfort; and perhaps the skipper was only joking, after all. He wished, though, that he might know what to expect; he wondered why he had not thought to ask Mr. Gray before starting. He lay a long time listening to the rush of water about the vessel, a strange and unusual sound to his ears. By and by a brawny hand touched his shoulder, and a gruff voice said,—
"Lookee here, lad!" Noll turned about and saw the skipper. "'Twa'n't manners in me to laugh at ye, I 'low," said he, good-humoredly; "but 'twas droll, ennyhow. Hain't ye never been to Culm afore?"
"Never," said Noll.
"An' ye don't know nuthin' what it's like?"
"No; how should I?" said his passenger; "I didn't know there was such a place in the world a month ago."
The skipper looked incredulous once more. "An' now ye goin' there to live!" he exclaimed; "why, there ben't but one house there fit fur such as you, an' 'tain't there ye're bound, not by a long shot!"
"But one house! Whose is it?" cried Noll, eagerly.
"Why, it be one Trafford's, one o' the strangest—" A sudden expression in the boy's face checked the words on the skipper's tongue, and the truth began to dawn upon his slow brain. "Great fishes!" cried he, falling back a step or two, "ye ben't goin' there?"
"Yes," said Noll, as quietly as he could. "Why not?"
The skipper gave him a long, steady survey, and then stumped away across the deck without another word, leaned over the rail, and began to whistle. Noll looked after him, half determined to follow and demand what he meant, yet half dreading to learn that all his visions were a great way from the truth. Perhaps it would be better to wait, he thought; night would bring the journey to an end, and then he should know all. So he did not follow the skipper, but kept his seat, while a great many shadowy forebodings crept into his heart, and he began to look back over the trackless waste which they had come, and wish, almost, that he was back in dear old Hastings—in the old home where papa and he had spent so many happy hours—and that Culm Rock was a myth. The sun rose royally up to noon, and odors of dinner began to ascend from the hatchway. Noll had a dinner of his own somewhere in a basket, which he brought forth and ate on the bale which served him for a seat, enjoying the novelty in spite of the anxious speculations concerning his new home in which he could not help indulging.
After dinner the skipper was in better humor than ever, and took his turn at the helm. Noll, wandering about the deck, stopped to watch him, whereupon the master of the "Gull" good-naturedly answered all his questions, and even allowed him to take the tiller a few minutes, laughing the while at his white hands that could hardly grasp it.
"Wish ye could see my lads' hands!" he said; "could take both 'o' yourn in one uv 'em, an' not know they was holding anything. But you'll have browner paws afore ye leave Culm!"
"Of course!" said Noll, "for I'm going to get Uncle Richard to teach me to row,—I can swim now,—and I'm going to be around the shore half the time."
"Likely enough, likely enough!" said the skipper, meditatively; and when Noll had passed on, he muttered, "It's a pesky shame fur the lad to be sent off and cooped up on the Rock! Don't know what he's comin' to, nuther. I'll be blamed ef I ain't sorry for the boy!"
It was late afternoon when land loomed up blue on the horizon. Mr. Snape had taken the tiller, and Noll stood leaning over the rail by him, eager and watchful for the first look at Culm. "Mought as well wait a bit," Jack Snape had drawled out; "we sha'n't get there fur a long while yet, lad."
But the boy chose to keep his place, and kept his eyes unweariedly on the distant point for which the "Gull" was making. Yet it was but tiresome watching, after all, and the brisk breeze seemed to have failed them somewhat, for the vessel's speed had sensibly diminished.
"He'll be glad 'nough to look t'other way arter he gits there," muttered Skipper Ben, between the whiffs at his pipe; "my lads 'ud think they's killed for sartin to be shut up there a week." He got up at last, knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and disappeared down the hatchway, returning presently with a spy-glass, which he carried to his passenger with, "Lookee here, boy, take this an' make out what ye ken. 'Tain't much ye'll see yet, but mebby ye'll get a look arter a time." He sat down again, looking at the boy's face from time to time, and wondering if this sending him to Culm Rock was not some of that Lawyer Gray's work. The skipper had not a very high opinion of lawyers.
Slowly, slowly the blue point began to take shape, and Noll's glass brought it to his eyes all too faithfully. The skipper saw the eager look and the warm color which had been on his face fade slowly out as the "Gull" drew nearer and nearer the journey's end, and the warm-hearted sailor waxed indignant. "Mought ha' told him what ter expect, anyhow!" he muttered, shaking a great bale with his brawny hands as if it had been Lawyer Gray's shoulders.
The "Gull" stood in toward shore. First, the pine woods, vast and sombre, showed themselves; then, a little way on, Culm Rock came slowly into view, bald, ragged, and desolate. Noll's face was very grave, but he kept his place and said nothing. Slowly the curve of the shore unfolded itself, a long line of yellow sand, length after length of scarred and jagged rock. The sound of the surf came faintly out, sounding over the ripple of water about the "Gull's" prow. Not a sign of life, as yet, had showed itself. The vessel kept steadily on till, at last, the whole great breadth of the Rock lay before them, rising huge and massive out of the sea, and, in a sheltered hollow on the shore, a great stone house stood up, gray and weather-beaten as the cliffs about it.
"Is that the house?" Noll asked, turning to the skipper, and laying down his glass.
The old sailor nodded assent, thinking to himself that he had never seen it look darker and gloomier, and wondering what the boy thought.
"Aren't you going to stop?" Noll asked, as the "Gull" kept on, and the stone house dropped astern.
"Goin' round to the landin'," explained Mr. Snape; "'tain't good moorin's till ye git half a mile fu'ther round. Ye'll git ashore pretty quick."
Under the cool and heavy shadow of the Rock they crept, coming out of it at last into the full glory of the sun's setting. All the west was aflame, and the sea glowed and sparkled like molten gold. Even the wretched little Culm fish-huts looked almost fair and comely in this flood of light.
Noll Trafford scanned the little wharf, where a motley collection of men were gathered, with a quick-beating heart. Which of them could be Uncle Richard? Would he give him a kind welcome? The boy's spirits began to rise somewhat under the influence of the broad, cheerful glow of sunshine and the speedy prospect of meeting this uncle who was to be as a father to him. The remembrance of the gray old house under the shadow of the rocks around the curve of the shore still lay somewhat heavily on his heart; but if Uncle Richard were only glad to see him, all that would not matter, he thought. He stood by the prow as the "Gull" moved slowly up to the wharf, eagerly scanning every face that was watching the craft's motions. A sudden pang of disappointment chilled him from head to foot, for among that idle, shiftless-looking group, there was not one whom he could possibly mistake for his uncle. They were all fishermen, dull-faced, dirty, and out at their elbows. Some frowsy, ill-clad women had come out of their houses, and, with children clinging to their skirts, looked on with idle curiosity.
So this was Culm Rock! Noll's bright fancies had all fled, and his heart was suddenly very heavy. He looked back across the sea toward Hastings, longingly, and thus verified the skipper's prediction. If Uncle Richard had only been there to greet him, he thought, chokingly, it would not have mattered so much, but now, it was all forlorn and dreary enough.
"'Tain't much uv a town arter all; is it?" drawled Mr. Snape, with a broad grin on his thick features.
"Shut up, Jack!" growled the skipper. "Can't ye see the lad's got all he ken weather?" Then he turned to Noll, proffering his rough sympathy. "Sorry fur ye!" he said. "Culm ain't the place for the like o' you, an' what ye cum here fur, I can't see. But keep a stout heart, lad, an' rough it out best way ye can; ain't no other way now."
"I'm going to," said Noll, with an effort; "I won't mind after a little, I guess. Good-by, skipper;" and he stepped out on to the little wharf among the fish-folk, who made way, regarding him curiously.
"Keep 'long up the shore," called the master of the "Gull" after him, "and you'll cum to the house afore long. I'll send yer trunks up by some o' these 'ere good-fur-nothin' Culm folks. Good-by, lad!"
The skipper watched the boyish figure walking away up the sands, and remarked to his mate, "Ef I knew that was some o' Gray's work, I'd jes' like the fun o' bringin' the ole chap down here on the 'Gull,' an' lettin' him loose to browse on the rocks,—jes' to see how he'd like it!"
Noll walked briskly, trying to keep up good heart by whistling and humming snatches of tunes, looking back over his shoulder at the wonderful gleaming of the west, and the queer picture which the fish-huts and the group of idlers made, with the "Gull" lying by the little wharf, her cloud of canvas yet unfurled and its shadow gleaming white as ivory in the depth of water on which she floated. At his feet the tide was murmuring. How far and vast stretched the sea! What a minute atom of earth was Culm Rock, compared with the boundless waste of waves which compassed it about! Bending over all, the evening sky lay cool and serene, flushed, where it met the water, with lovely stains of color. Noll was but dimly conscious of these things as he hurried on, because his heart was filled with conjectures about the stone house and the friend he was to find there. The disappointment of not finding his uncle awaiting him with a warm greeting still lay heavily on his heart; and as he passed the curve of the shore, and the stone house came in sight, his quick pace slackened, and he walked but slowly.
There was no one visible on the piazza. All the doors and windows were closed, though the evening was warm and mild.
The boy wondered if his uncle was absent. Perhaps, he thought, with a little thrill of pleasure, that, after all, was the reason why Uncle Richard had failed to meet him.
A thin blue film of smoke crept up from one of the tall chimneys, telling him that some one was within the gloomy old structure, which, it seemed to him, looked much more like a grim fortress than a peaceful dwelling. Not a blade of grass or anything green flourished about it; all was rock and sand and stranded kelp.
His heart beat fast as he went up the piazza-steps, and noted how his footsteps echoed in the silence. He rapped on the great oaken front-door. No one answered the summons. He rapped again, wondering if Uncle Richard was really gone, and his heart began to grow heavy again, as it had done upon his first disappointment at the wharf. The lonely voice of the sea stole up to his ears, and he turned about to look. Twilight was fast settling down upon it, and already the far horizon was hidden; but along the shore the waves shone and gleamed whitely. Noll's first pang of genuine homesickness came upon him here. It seemed as if he had not a friend this side of the wide, dark sea.
This second summons met with no better success than the first. Noll turned away, went back down the steps, and there stopped to look about him. He discovered some straggling footprints in the sand leading around the corner of the house, and these he followed for lack of a better guide. They led him to a long, low projection from the main body of the house, a kitchen it appeared to be, and here he found a wide-open door, from whence came the strains of a hymn half chanted, half sung. Noll rapped. The singing ceased. A slow step came across the kitchen floor, and a voice said, "Bress us! who's dis?"
Noll looked up at the wrinkled black face framed by a great yellow turban, and said,—
"I'm Noll Trafford. Didn't—didn't Uncle Richard expect me?"
Old Hagar threw up both hands crying, shrilly, "Bress de Lord! is dis Noll Trafford's boy?" and then stared blankly at him.
"Yes, if you mean Uncle Richard's brother," said Noll, still very sad-hearted; "and wasn't he looking for me at all?"
"Bress ye, honey!" said Hagar, recovering her senses, "he didn't say one single word to me 'bout ye! Dun forgot it, I 'spose. But don't ye stan' on dem yer steps another minnit; come right in, honey. I'll see Mas'r Dick dis instant."
Noll followed her into the little kitchen, where on the hearth a fire was crackling and flashing its red flicker over the walls. He sat down on a rough wooden bench by the door, wondering if his uncle could really have forgotten that he was coming, and feeling not all light-hearted, while Hagar clattered away to "see Mas'r Dick." She came back pretty quick, saying,—
"You's to go right in to de lib'ry, chile, right in jes' as soon as I git dis yer candle lit;" and getting down on her knees she puffed away at the coals and burned splinters till she succeeded in coaxing her tallow candle to burn. She got up, came back to where Noll was sitting, and holding the light close to his face, looked down at him long and steadily.
"Bress de Lord!" she said, stroking his curly hair, "you's de bery picter ob yer father. 'Pears like 'twas him I see'd dis minnit 'fore me! Did ye drop down frum de sky, or what, chile?"
"I came down on the 'White Gull,'" Noll answered.
"Well, now!" said Hagar; "an' why didn't yer father come too?"
"Papa? Oh, why—papa is dead," said Noll, with a little quiver in his voice which he could not possibly prevent, he was so lonely and homesick.
Old Hagar gave a shrill wail and set her candle down.
"Now don't tell me dat!" she cried. "Mas'r Oliver dead? Well, well, honey, we dunno nuffin on dis yer Rock? De whole ob creation might cum to an' end, an' we nebber hear on't. An' you's all alone now, chile?"
"Yes," said Noll, feeling at that moment as if there wore never truer words spoken.
"An' you's come down to lib wid yer Uncle Dick?"
"Well, bress de Lord fur dat!" said Hagar, joyfully; "couldn't a better ting happened to dat yer man, nohow. Jes' what he wants,—a boy like yerself, wid yer own father's face. An' did Mas'r Dick know ye's comin'?"
"Yes, he knew," said Noll; "he—he told me I'd be welcome. Do you think I am?"
"Why, yes, honey! What made ye ask dat? Yer Uncle Dick is a strange man, an' ye mustn't mind if he don't say much to ye, an'—but come right in de libr'y, chile, fur he's waitin' fur ye. Come right along; I's lit de lamp in dar;" and taking up her candle, she led the way.
"Don't yer mind dis ole hall," said Hagar, by way of apology as they entered a long, bare, chilly corridor; "nobody comes here but me, an' I don't mind. It's only my road frum de libr'y to de kitchen. He nebber comes out here."
From this hall they passed into the dining-room, where stood a supper-table very plainly spread.
"Mas'r Dick didn't eat nuffin to-night," said Hagar, glancing around as she clattered on. At one end of the dining-room they came to a door which the old housekeeper softly opened.
"Go right in, honey," she said to Noll, in a whisper; "he's dar," and then turned away.
Richard Trafford sat by one of the great bookcases, reading. The lamplight fell full upon his worn and sorrowful face. He did not hear the door open, did not hear Noll's light step, and was first conscious of the boy's presence when two arms were suddenly clasped about his neck, and a voice, trembling with a mixture of joy and sadness, cried, "Oh, Uncle Richard!"
THE FIRST EVENING.
Richard Trafford, a little startled, unclasped the boy's hands without a word, and held him off by one arm. Full in the light he held him, gazing in his face long and keenly. Then he said, "So this is Noll!"
Oh, how coldly the words fell upon the boy's heart! How the stern voice and the keen gray eyes chilled him! Not a word of welcome, after all,—only those four chilling words. The boy's disappointment was so great, his heart so lonely and homesick, that he stood with downcast eyes, before his uncle, to hide the tears that glittered in them, and could not answer a word. Trafford released his nephew's arm with a sigh. The boy was the very counterpart of his father, of Brother Noll, he thought,—the same fair, high forehead and curling locks, the same deep blue eyes, the same eager, impetuous manner. This resemblance touched him somewhat; he noted, also, that the boy's lips quivered a little, and so said, in a kindlier tone,—
"You're very welcome to Culm, Noll. Are you tired with the journey?"
"No—yes—some, I mean," stammered poor Noll, winking hard to keep the tears back.
"And you'd like some supper, I dare say," continued his uncle.
"Yes, by and by," the nephew managed to answer.
A silence fell upon them here,—long and deep,—in which the eternal murmur of the sea stole in. Trafford's eyes did not move from the boy's face; and at last he said, taking his hand,—
"You're wonderfully like your father, Noll,—in more ways than one, I hope. Can a lad like you ever be contented in this old house?"
"I—I hope so, Uncle Richard," Noll replied, mocking these words, however, by a very despairing tone.
Trafford smiled grimly. "He's weary of it already," he thought; "and who can wonder? Noll and I couldn't have endured it at his age, I suppose." Then he added aloud, "If you tire of it, Noll, you shall have liberty to return to Hastings whenever you choose. You're not to stay against your will, remember. You may find it lonely and dull, perhaps; if so, I leave you to go or stay, as you choose."
The tone in which this was spoken was so sad that Noll ventured to look up into his uncle's face. The gray eyes had lost their stern light, and looked very sorrowful.
"I—I will never want to go back, Uncle Richard, if you would like me to stay," he said, quickly.
"Ah, you don't know what you say, Noll," Trafford answered, stroking the boy's hair; "it's a lonely place. For a boy it is horrible. Even I sometimes find it but a weary resting-place. Ah! wait and see, wait and see. I've little hope you'll stay longer than a month."
At this Noll's heart gave a leap of joy. "Do you really hope I'll stay, Uncle Richard?" he cried.
Trafford looked at the boy's eager, searching face for a second, then answered, "Yes, if you can be contented." This was hardly such an answer as Noll craved, yet it made his heart lighter. Perhaps it was only Uncle Richard's way, he thought, which made it seem as though he was not welcome. The old black housekeeper, he remembered, had warned him not to mind it. With this thought, his heart grew somewhat more cheerful, and he began to take a brighter view of things. He noted the tall cases of books and the open organ, and unconsciously these evidences of taste and refinement made the thought of dwelling in the stone house more acceptable. If Uncle Richard would only care for him, he thought, all the rest would not matter.
Trafford let go his hand, saying, "Go and get your supper, Noll; Hagar will show you. Then, if you like, you can come back."
The boy took two or three steps toward obeying, then, as if remembering some duty unperformed, turned and came back.
"I had forgotten the letter,—papa's letter,—Uncle Richard," he said, drawing the missive from his pocket. "Would you like it now?"
Trafford extended his hand without a word. Noll placed the precious letter therein, and walked away, looking back at the door to see that his uncle had broken the seal. Not till the boy's footsteps had died away did the uncle look upon the hurriedly-traced lines which the note contained. The letters were feebly made, hinting of the weakness of the hand which traced them. This was what he found:—
"MY DEAR DICK,—I write this to you from my dying-bed, not knowing that it will ever reach you, or that you are even upon the face of the earth. If ever you do return,—if ever you receive this, be kind to my poor Noll for my sake. Make him your own,—he'll love you,—and make him such a man, before God, as you know I would have him.
"If he has disappeared, look him up, search for him, and cherish the boy as my precious legacy. And, dear Dick, look well to yourself. A man needs much when he lies where I am lying. We ought to have been more to each other these past years, not living with a great gulf, as it were, atween us. This and the thought of my boy is all that weighs upon me now.
"And, dear Dick, till we meet again, farewell, farewell. O. TRAFFORD."
A sudden mist came across the reader's eyes, a sudden throb to his heart. Brother Noll! the blithe, warm-hearted, once precious brother! he who had astonished all his friends by studying for a minister, and who, with all the fervor of youth, had devoted every talent and energy to the sacred cause. How he had loved him once! How proud and happy he had been at his success! And here were words, his last thoughts on earth, breathed from the very depths of his heart, and thrilling with love for himself and this boy. They stirred the man's heart as it had not been stirred before since that dreary afternoon when all the joy and sunshine fled out of his heart and left it so cold and bitter. He had not realized before that Brother Noll had really ended his pilgrimage, and passed out of the earth, which, to himself, was such a weary abiding-place. Now, with the last whispers of that dear heart before him, the whole bitter sense of his loss came upon him, and he covered his face, sighing heavily. Back came the remembrance of the long and happy days of boyhood, with visions of the shining meadows where they strayed together; with visions of careless, joyful hours, when they sailed and fished and hunted the woods for purple grapes and glossy nuts; with visions of those calmer days when they grew up to manhood together,—Noll always bright and brave and loving, and a check upon his own wilder spirits. Now he was gone; and all the years to come could never again bring joy so deep and love so everlasting. Yet, true and dear to the last, he had breathed his life out in one sweet message to himself, confiding his love and this boy to him as a precious legacy. Trafford almost groaned when he thought of his loss. Oh, what a cruel thing was Death! A fierce, pitiless robber, seeking for the loveliest and brightest, it had lain in wait, all his life long, despoiling him of whatever he set his heart upon, he thought, and leaving him wrecked and desolate. He had thought that no death or sorrow could ever move him again; yet here was his heart aching as wretchedly as ever. Was there no place in the wide, wide earth where such wretchedness could not pursue? He had hoped to find it in this wild and barren Rock; yet here sorrow had crept in, bitter and poignant as in the busy city.
Trafford rose from his chair, put away the message from out of his sight, and sat down at his organ to still the pain in his heart with the charm of its music.
Noll had had his supper, and was sitting, sad and solitary, by Hagar's fire in the kitchen. He would wait a little, he thought, before going back to the library, that Uncle Richard might have time to read his letter. He wondered what its contents could be, and wished and hoped that papa had written some message there for himself. Would Uncle Richard tell him if there were? he wondered. Then his thoughts went back over the sea to Hastings, and there came up such pictures of the dear old home there, and the faces of his school friends flocked before him so vividly,—Ned Thorn's in particular,—that he could look about him only through tears that he strove in vain to banish.
Hagar had gone out with the candle, so the kitchen was quite dusk, save where the fire flared scarlet light on the wall and ceiling. Suddenly, in this silence, there stole in a heavy throbbing, like the beating of a great, muffled heart, and with a slow and solemn movement, rolled and swept in long chains of sound through the house, till, at last, a clear, sweet, flutelike warble broke in and ran up and down, seeming to wind in and out with the heavy undertone. Hagar came in just then with her flaming candle, and began to rattle about among her pots and kettles.
"What is that?" Noll asked, quickly, as the strains kept stealing in above the clatter which the old negress made. It had startled him at first, coming so suddenly, and corresponding so well with the gloom and mystery which seemed to fill the house.
"Bress ye, honey!" said the black old figure, stooping over the cooking utensils on the stone hearth, "don't ye know? Dat's Mas'r Dick at his organ. He sits dar mos' times at ebenin', an' 'pears like I ken jes' tell his feelin's by de music he makes. Sometimes I ken hear it jes' as sad as nuffin ye ken think ob, an' sometimes it's singin' as ef 'twas 'live and 'joicin.' It dun make ye homesick?" queried Hagar, dropping her dishcloth and looking up into the boy's face.
"No," Noll answered, with a sigh, "'tisn't the music. It will all be gone in the morning, I guess," and tried to look his cheeriest.
"You's tired out, chile," said Hagar, with ready sympathy; "better go to bed. I's been makin' ye one in de room jes' side o' Mas'r Dick's. Bes' room in de whole house!"
The music had ceased, and Noll left his seat and went groping his way along the dark, echoing hall, through the dimly-lighted dining-room to the library-door. Entering, he found his uncle still seated before the organ, but with his head bent forward upon the music-rack, and apparently lost in deep thought, for he did not look up till Noll stood beside him. Trafford made a faint attempt to smile, and asked,—
"Could Hagar find you anything fit to eat? We can't live here as at Hastings. The sea brings us our food."
Noll said something about not being hungry, and presently Trafford asked, with the stem and gloomy look upon his face,—
"Did you know that Brother Noll, your father, did a very unwise thing when he put you into my hands?"
Noll started at the strangeness of the question, and the bright color came into his face.
"Do you mean that papa did wrong?" he asked, quickly.
"Yes, so far as your good is concerned. I can be no companion for you. You would have got more good anywhere else than here."
"Don't say that, Uncle Richard!" Noll pleaded.
"Why not?" Trafford queried, not unkindly; "it is the truth."
"Papa said that you—you—" There was such a choking in Noll's throat that he could get no further, and stopped, looking very much distressed. Trafford took the boy's hand in his own.
"My boy," he said, huskily, calling him by that title for the first time, "I'm but a poor wreck at best. I can teach you no good, and God knows I wouldn't be the means of putting a shadow of evil in your heart. Your father says, 'Make him such a man, before God, as you know I would have him.' He asked too much, Noll. Why, boy, I can't rule myself." Noll said not a word. Uncle Richard was getting to be more of a mystery to him than Culm Rock had been. "And," continued Trafford, "we will leave the matter thus: you shall be at liberty, after the first month, to go or stay, as you like. If you go, it shall be to stay away forever; if you stay, it shall be at your own risk. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Uncle Richard."
Trafford saw the boy's lips quiver again, and turned quickly away; the face was so much like his dead brother's. Noll came to him pretty soon, said "Good-night," and went away. Hagar guided the boy up to his room, bidding him good-night with many assurances that "'tw'u'd be pleasanter to-morrow, 'nough sight!" and left him to himself. The stars shone brightly over the sea. Noll could not read his Bible verses that night, for the familiar, precious gift of mamma was locked in the trunk away round the shore at Culm; but he prayed with all the stronger longing for the Saviour's pity and help; and then from his bed by one of the great windows, lay listening to the moaning of the tide below, which seemed the saddest, lonesomest sound he had ever heard. And his heart ached too.
When Noll awoke the next morning, the sun was shining brightly in. It was not until after some long minutes of yawning and rubbing his eyes, that he comprehended where he was; then, with some chills of disappointment, he remembered, and bounded up to look out the window. The sea lay rippling, cool and fresh below. Here and there faint trails of mist floated and hovered over the waves, but the breeze was fast tearing and blowing them away. With a feeling of delight, he saw on the far horizon-line the white film of shadowy sails. It showed that there was life and stir somewhere, he thought, and it was pleasant to think of them as bound for far-off Hastings. Then he remembered Skipper Ben and the "White Gull," and wondered when he would return; and then Mr. Gray's note had not been written, he recollected.
"Well," thought Noll, "I'll find time for it to-day, I guess. I wonder if my trunks will come this morning? and—When am I to begin my studies, and who am I to recite to?" This last thought had not entered his head before. There was evidently not a school of any kind upon Culm Rock, and of course Uncle Richard was the only person capable of teaching him anything. "I wonder if he will offer to teach me?" Noll thought in perplexity, "or shall I have to ask him? I can't do that! he's so cold and stern; and besides, I don't believe he would like the trouble. I wonder if I am to grow up like those dull Culm people?" He dressed himself, thinking busily enough of a dozen troublesome matters which had already sprung up to puzzle him, and with these in his head, went down-stairs. He found the dining-room at last, after getting into three or four empty, unoccupied rooms, and there found Hagar putting the last dishes upon the breakfast-table.
"You's lookin' brighter, honey," said she, gleefully. "Didn't dis yer ole woman tell ye so? Ki! I knowed how 'tw'u'd be las' night."
"It does seem pleasanter," Noll admitted; "and where's Uncle Richard?"
"Mas'r Dick? He's in de libr'y; goin' to call him dis minnit. Breakfas' dun waitin' for ye both, honey; an', bress de Lord! how much ye looks like yer father dis mornin'!" and Hagar caressed the boy's hair with her skinny old hands, muttering, as she gazed affectionately in his face, "You's de bery picter ob him,—de bery picter!"
So Richard Trafford thought as he answered the old housekeeper's call and entered the dining-room where his nephew was waiting with a cheery "Good-morning, Uncle Richard." The boy's sunshiny face, somehow, made the great room brighter, Trafford thought, and Hagar bustled about and poured the coffee with a lighter heart than she had had since leaving her people at Hastings.
"Jes' what's been lackin' de whole time!" she thought to herself; "Mas'r Dick wants somethin' he ken love and talk to. 'Pears like dar'll be a change in dis yer ole house afore long, de Lord willin'." It was such a long time since the old negress had seen a young face, or heard the pleasant accents of a young voice, that she made various pretexts for lingering in the room while the two sat at the table, and though it was for the most part a silent meal, yet it was a wonderful pleasure to see Noll eat, Hagar thought. And when the two had left the table and gone to the library, she soliloquized, "Nebber thought I'd see a day like dis yer, agen! Wonder what Mas'r Dick t'inks o' de boy? Bress de chile! if mas'r don't take to him, 'pears like he'll nebber take to nuffin. Be like habbin' poor Mas'r Noll's face afore him de whole time, an' ef he ken stan' dat, athought lubbin' him, I's 'feard he's dun got colder'n a stone, de whole ob him. You jes' wait an' see, Hagar!"
Noll followed his uncle from the breakfast-table into the library, hoping that he would at once say something about his books or studies, or at least hint what plans he had made concerning himself. It would be a great deal pleasanter, Noll thought, to have Uncle Richard dispose of him, even in a stern, cold way, than to do nothing at all with him and remain indifferent as to whether he studied or grew up in ignorance.
But Trafford had relapsed into one of his gloomy, absent moods, and took up a book as soon as he reached the library, without a look or word for Noll. The boy stood by one of the great windows and looked out on the sea, striving to drown his disappointment by thinking of other matters. When he had tired of this, and found that disappointment was long-lived, and would not be drowned, he loitered by the bookcases, reading the titles, now and then peering into a volume and looking over its top at his uncle, and thinking him a very cold or else a very forgetful man. When he had made the tour of the room several times, and was about to go out in despair, Trafford looked up.
"Noll, did you wish to speak to me?" he asked, abruptly.
The question came upon Noll unawares.
"Yes, if—if you were not too—too busy," he stammered. "I thought—I hoped you would say something about my books—my studies, I mean, Uncle Richard."
"What about them?"
"Why, whether I were to study with you, or by myself, or how; and whether I am to begin now, or wait a while," said Noll, wishing that his uncle would look less keenly at him.
Trafford leaned his head upon his hand and reflected a little. At last he said,—
"You will wait, Noll, till your month is up. There would be no use in beginning studies which, perchance, may end in so short a time. If, at the end of four weeks, you conclude to stay, then we will talk about study. Till then, you will wait."
Noll's blue eyes said, as plainly as eyes could, "Don't mention that month again, Uncle Richard!" but his tongue was silent, and he acquiesced in this decision by a nod of his head.
"You can fill up the time," continued his uncle, "as you like. You had best make yourself acquainted with the Rock before you decide to stay here. You will hardly explore it all in one day, I think;" and with this Trafford turned again to his book.
Noll found his hat and went out, determined to keep a brave heart if Uncle Richard was cold and gloomy. If there was no other way, he would make him love him, he thought, though how that was to be done he had, as yet, but a very slight idea. He went through the dining-room, and from thence found his way to the broad front piazza which faced the sea, and where, the previous evening, he had stood so lonely and homesick. Everything looked much cheerier to him now, and he ran down the sand, in front of the house, to the water's edge, resolved to see the bright side of everything which pertained to gray, barren Culm. There were stranded shells and bright-hued weeds on the wet, glittering sand, which made Noll's eyes sparkle with delight.
"Wouldn't Ned's eyes open to see these!" he thought, "and wouldn't the dear old fellow like some for his museum! I'll gather a whole box full and send them up by the skipper some day."
Thinking of the skipper made Noll remember his trunks, and he wondered if the "White Gull" had continued her voyage farther down the shore.
"There's a whole month to explore and pick up shells in," he said to himself, "and I'll take this forenoon to go around to the landing and see the skipper, if he's there."
With this thought, he started off, hoping to find the "Gull" still lying off the little wharf. The skipper seemed almost like an old friend, already; and, however rough he might be, he came from Hastings, and this fact alone made the boy long for a sight of his face. So he hastened along the sand, toward Culm, with an eye and ear for everything which he passed. Great boulders, all green and fringed with sea-weed, were strewn everywhere,—in the yellow sand of the beach, in the line of the tide and waves which whitened themselves to foam, and murmured hoarsely against them. In some places the great mass of the rock came down so near the water's edge that only a slender path of pebbles was left between it and the waves. In high tide, Noll thought, this narrow way must be quite covered, and he wondered why the sea did not carry it quite away. But in other places the beach was broad and smooth, quite wide enough for many horsemen to ride abreast. This morning the sea was peaceful and calm. Neither did it look so vast and illimitable as on the previous night. The tide was going out, stranding great quantities of glittering weeds and all sorts of curious objects, the sight of which made Noll's heart glad; but, without stopping to examine or preserve them, he hastened on, hoping to soon catch sight of the "Gull." But in this he was disappointed. No sooner had he passed the curve of the shore than he saw that the skipper and his craft were gone. There were his trunks to see to, however; so he kept on, though at a slower pace, wondering if those dull-looking fishermen could tell him when the "Gull" would return.
Not half so fair or comely did the dozen houses look as in the gold of sunset. Such racked, weather-beaten dwellings Noll had never seen before. It was a mystery how they could ever stand in a high gale. Not a solitary vestige of anything green was there to enliven the barrenness. Long lines of seine were stretched upon stakes, and dangled from the sides of boulders upon the shore. In the sand some dirty-faced children were playing, who got up and ran away at his approach. A little farther on he came upon two fishermen dividing a basket of fish. They looked up, stared, and nodded respectfully.
"When did the skipper go?" Noll asked, pausing.
"Ben, ye mean?" asked one of the men, suspending his labor to take a more leisurely survey of the questioner.
"Yes, Ben Tate," said Noll.
"Afore sunrise," said the other. "Did ye want the skipper, lad?"
"No, not particularly. When is he going to stop here again?"
"Ben? Why, he comes Mondays and Thursdays, he does," said the fisherman; "ye'll find him here day after to-morrow, lad,—early, too, mos' like."
"Can you tell me where he left my trunks?" queried Noll.
At this question, the men looked perplexed. "Do ye mean boxes like?" they asked, after a time.
Noll was astonished at this lack of knowledge, but managed to explain to the two what he meant.
"Ye'd best go up to Dirk Sharp's," said one; "the skipper leaves much with Dirk, he does, an' ye'll be like to find 'em there."
"Back o' the wharf, lad,—back o' the wharf Dirk lives," the other called to Noll, as he walked away.
Dirk Sharp's house was rather smarter than the others,—at least, it was in better repair; but the look which Noll caught of its interior, as he stood rapping by the open door, sufficed to destroy any anticipations of industry or thriftiness which he might have formed from the dwelling's exterior. Dirk was a great broad-shouldered, slouching fellow, with a general air of shiftlessness about him. At Noll's summons, he came lounging out of an inner room, and, catching sight of the boy, said,—
"Lookin' for yer trunks, lad? The skipper said ye was to hev 'em las' night, shore; but ye see," pulling up his sleeve, "as how I got a cut what's hindered," displaying a long, bloody wound upon his arm. "Ye sh'u'd ha' had 'em, lad, but for that, as the skipper said. But ef ye ken wait till the men get back from their seinin'—Ho! there be Bob an' Darby now," he exclaimed, as he spied the two whom Noll had just passed.
"Ahoy there, lads! here be a job fur ye!" he cried to the fishermen.
The two left their work and came up to Dirk.
"Here be two trunks to go 'roun' to the stone house fur this lad," said he. "Ef ye'll shoulder 'em roun' the shore, yer welcome to what the skipper left fur't. What ye say, lads?"
"We'll do't fur ye, Dirk, seein' yer cut," said the one who was called Darby. "Where be the boxes, man?"
Dirk led them into the inner room, from whence they presently emerged, each with a trunk on his shoulder, and, bending with their burdens, started up the shore.
Noll followed slowly after, wondering why they did not use their boat, instead of enduring such back-breaking toil. It struck him that he had never seen such dull, apathetic faces as these Culm people had. Such utter shiftlessness as everything about the cluster of tumble-downs betokened he had never imagined. Perhaps all this dreariness and desolation made itself more keenly felt because the boy was just from the city, which teemed with life and bustle and energy. In its poorest quarter he had never seen such a lack of tidiness as the interior of Dirk Sharp's house presented. He followed the slowly-plodding trunk-bearers up the yellow sand, wondering if there was such another wretched, desolate, and forlorn place as Culm Rock in the whole wide earth.
HOW THE MONTH WAS SPENT.
They were a long time in getting to the stone house. Before they passed the curve of the shore, the sun was well up in the sky and beat down with fervid rays upon the sweating, toiling fishermen. Noll rejoiced when the trunks were safely landed in his room at the top of the stairs, and the men had taken their departure, each with a piece of silver in addition to the skipper's fee. It seemed to him that there was no bright side to the life over in those wretched Culm huts. If there was, he could not see it. It puzzled and perplexed him to imagine how human beings could live in such ignorance and apathy of all that was transpiring about them; and the sights which he had seen in the miserable, tumbledown village left a very disagreeable feeling in his heart. Somehow, his hitherto blithe spirits were dampened by this morning's walk, and he thought the great bare Rock would be a great deal more endurable if the fish-huts and their inmates were only off it. True, it would be much lonelier, but that was far more endurable than the sight of such shiftlessness and ignorance. He wondered if Uncle Richard ever went among them, and whether he really knew what a degraded people they had got to be. If he did know, Noll thought, it was very strange that he did not try to lift them up, teach them something, or, at least, have a school opened for the children. Papa, he thought, would have done something for them long ago. There would have been a little schoolhouse and a teacher. A new wharf, he was sure, would have taken the place of the rickety old thing; and by degrees the women would have learned thrift and neatness, and the men energy and industry. To be sure, it seemed a great deal to do for such dull, apathetic people, who seemed not to have a particle of energy and ambition about them; but papa, he thought, could have done it, and would have done it, had he lived here as long as Uncle Richard. He remembered a little sea-town, where they had lived before dwelling in Hastings, how wretched and dirty and ignorant the fishermen were, and what a great change for the better came over the place through his father's efforts.
But now papa was gone, and Uncle Richard? The man was so much of a mystery to Noll, as yet, that he did not know whether there were any hopes of his setting himself to the task of lifting the Culm people out of their slough of wretchedness; but he hoped that his uncle would see and realize what needed to be done before another year had worn away. And if he did not? Why, then they would have to go on in their old way, he thought. He wished that he might do something toward the work; but, then, how could he? He had no money, and no means of getting any, and he was not fifteen.
Noll put away, or tried to do so, all thoughts of the Culm people and their life, and went to writing the note which Skipper Ben was to carry to Mr. Gray on his return to Hastings. When it was finished, he unlocked his trunk, took a look at the thumbed, worn little Bible which had been mamma's; at the familiar covers of his school-books, which brought up a hundred visions of pleasant, happy hours in the great, buzzing schoolroom,—wondered if he should ever know such joyful moments again,—it seemed quite an impossibility, now,—and took up, one by one, the keepsakes and knick-knacks which his boy friends had given him on his departure. There was the new ball which Sam Scott had given him,—how Sam did love ball-playing!—and which was now not of the least possible use to him. There was a great bundle of fish-hooks which Archie Phillips had bestowed upon him, more in fun than in earnest, but which Noll had treasured because Archie was his seat-mate. Then there were all sorts of relics and mementos, such as boys set their hearts upon,—bits of carved wood, favorite drawing pencils, a purple amethyst, which Johnny Moore, whose father had been in India, had given him, and, best of all, there was Ned Thorn's dear, merry face beaming upon him from out the little ebony frame in which Ned's own hands had placed it the night before his departure.
Looking at this face, and gazing upon these mementos of his friends, did not serve to make Noll at all more contented with Culm Rock and the prospect before him, and, being presently made aware of this by the heaviness which began to settle upon his heart, he closed the trunks in great haste, and ran off.
The day passed quickly enough, even for Noll, and was only the first of many happy ones spent by the shore and on the rocks. The boy had a taste for treasuring curiosities, and in the wonderful wealth of weed and shell which the sea was continually throwing upon the sand, his love of collecting and preserving was gratified. Every return of the tide was a great sweeping in of the wonders and beauties of the sea to add to his stores. There was always something new and strange to excite his delight and admiration. Then, too, there were long hours spent in climbing the rocks, till all its cliffs and hollows began to grow familiar to the boy. He climbed to Wind Cliff, and from its top looked down on the Culm houses on the sand, and into the gulls' nests far below in the crevices of the rock, and enjoyed their wild wheeling and screaming about him as he stood there. From this high look-out he often stood looking upon such sunsets as he had never seen before. High up toward the zenith the sun shot its great banners of flame as it dipped in the sea, and made the vast expanse glow and glitter. In the east the sails flitted along the purple line of the horizon, and down in the dusk shadow of the Rock he could see the grim stone house and the blue thread of smoke from Hagar's kitchen chimney. Sometimes he made use of Archie Phillips' gift, and caught fish off the rocks, much to the advantage of the old housekeeper's dinner-table.
One week after another passed, and still there seemed plenty of variety and amusement for every day. In one of his rambles, Noll came upon a little cluster of graves, with the rudest of monuments to mark them,—most of them were rough head-boards in which the sleeper's name was cut or scratched,—and this sight of such poor, uncared-for resting-places in the sand made him sad and thoughtful for more than one day. What if he were to die and be buried there, too? he surmised. The thought chilled him. True, he knew that heaven beyond was just as bright and fair for all that the graves were so forlorn and dreary; but the thought of lying far from all his friends, on bare and lonely Culm Rock, oppressed him till new sights and adventures had somewhat effaced the remembrance of the sight from his mind. Nearly one day was spent in the pine woods, whose fragrance and sombre light, and the deep hush reigning within, both awed and delighted him. Then there were days of storm and mist which could only be spent in his chamber or in the library.
Uncle Richard was generally as silent and stern as ever, and sometimes chilled the boy's heart with his coldness, and sometimes touched it by his prolonged and heavy sadness. Noll found more ways than one to make his affection known, and even when his uncle was stern almost to harshness, found some excuse for his unkindness in his warm heart, thinking that all would come right at last, and Uncle Richard lose his coldness and be as kind and regardful as he could wish. Only once did he lose his temper and rebel, and for this Noll repented heartily as soon as it was done. He went into the library one afternoon and asked permission to go around to Culm and climb up to the gulls' nests on Wind Cliff. He had explored every nook of the Rock, and this was a pleasure which he had reserved till the last, and, though not quite confident of being successful in an attempt to scale the precipitous cliff, yet he was eager and anxious enough to make the trial. Trafford was in one of his gloomiest moods, and replied, sternly,—
"You would like to break your neck, I suppose, sir, and give me the pleasure of seeing you brought home bruised and bleeding! No, you shall not go near Wind Cliff!"
The angry color came into Noll's face in an instant. "I believe it would be a pleasure for you to see me brought home with a broken neck!" he cried, impetuously; "and oh, I wish I were back in Hastings, where somebody cared for me!" And with this Noll hurried out of the library, slamming the door behind him.
Trafford heard these words with astonishment; then, as his nephew's footsteps died away along the hall, he covered his face and sighed heavily.
"Ah," he thought, "I did it for his good; yet—the boy distrusts me. He can't know what I would be to him if I could; how can he? He thinks me cold and unloving, and—well, he has reason to."
Hardly had ten minutes elapsed before the door swung softly open, and Noll re-entered. Trafford did not look up, did not hear him, in fact, and presently was startled by a voice saying, brokenly,—
Then he looked up. Noll stood before him with downcast eyes and a trembling lip.
"Well?" said Trafford, speaking neither with coldness nor yet with kindness.
"I—I—I didn't mean what I said a few minutes ago, Uncle Richard," said Noll, chokingly; "there was not a word of truth in it, and I oughtn't to have said such a thing."
A deep silence followed, broken at last by another "Well?" from Trafford's lips.
"Will you forgive me, Uncle Richard? I was angry then, and I don't wish I was back at Hastings," said Noll, grieved, and fearful lest he had only put a wider gulf between himself and his uncle.
Trafford was silent so long that the boy ventured to raise his eyes. To his surprise and astonishment, his uncle was regarding him with eyes that were neither cold nor stern, but almost tender and yearning.
"Oh! do you forgive me?" Noll cried, taking hope.
Trafford laid his hand on his nephew's fair, curly hair, stroking it gently as he had once before done on the boy's arrival.
"You need not ask that, Noll," he said. "Go where you will,—I can trust you."
"But I'll not go to Wind Cliff?" said Noll, "and I wish—you don't know how much, Uncle Richard!—that I could take back those words."
"There is no need," said his uncle. "Go where you will."
Noll took his departure, more confident than ever that under Uncle Richard's coldness and seeming indifference there lurked love and regard for himself, and, true to his word, gave up all idea of ascending the cliff.
As for Trafford, though outwardly stern and cold as ever, his heart went out to the boy more yearningly after that. The month was drawing near its close, and in spite of himself, he could not regard the approaching day on which Noll's decision was to be made without some forebodings. Yet, lest the boy should be influenced by perceiving that his uncle wished his presence, Trafford was gloomier and more forbidding than ever, those last days. The boy should be perfectly free to make his choice, he thought; he would use no influence to change or bias his decision in any manner.
"Everything I have set my heart upon has been snatched away by death," he said to himself; "Noll shall stay only because it is his choice. Never will I, by look or voice, influence him to share my life and loneliness. If he stays, and I love him as my own, just so surely will death snatch him away."
But that the boy was a great comfort and delight to him he could not but confess to himself. He was surprised to find how, in those few short weeks, his cheery presence had won upon his heart. He watched him from the window as he walked on the sand below, searching for sea treasures, and could not endure the thought of having the boyish figure gone forever out of his sight. Neither could he think of the loneliness and silence which would settle down upon the old house when the gladsome voice and quick footsteps were gone, without a sigh. Now it was a great pleasure to go out to the tea-table at evening and find Noll, fresh and ruddy from his ramble on the shore and rocks, awaiting him one side the table with his grave and yet merry face. How would it be when he was gone? It were a great deal better, Trafford thought, that the boy had never come to brighten the old house with sunshine for a brief space, if now he went and left it darker and gloomier than before. And would he go? He should be left to choose for himself, the uncle thought, though the decision proved an unfavorable one.
Noll stayed. The day on which the decision was to be made he came into the library, where Trafford sat, saying, gravely, "Uncle Richard, to-day I was to choose, you know; and I would rather stay at Culm Rock and be your boy than to go back. May I?"
"May you?" exclaimed Trafford, on the impulse of the moment, while even his heavy heart was glad. "How can you ask that? Oh, Noll! do you know what you are doing?"
"To be sure, Uncle Richard! I'm going to stay with you," replied Noll, without any shadow of regret in his eyes.
"Ah, boy, I fear you will rue it," said his uncle, shaking his head mournfully; "remember, whatever befalls, that I did not bid you stay,—it was at your own risk."
"Why, what do you mean?" Noll asked, with a puzzled face,—"what is to befall me, Uncle Richard?"
"I know not,—I know not," Trafford answered; "there may be nothing to harm you; yet death ever snatches all that is dear to me, and I tremble for you, my boy."
Noll looked grave and puzzled still. "I don't understand, Uncle Richard," he said.
"No; how can you?" his uncle said, after a pause. "To you, death is only God's hand; to me, it—oh, Noll, I cannot tell you what it is! I don't wish to shock you, boy, but I'm a long way from where your father was when he penned me that calm note,—lying in the very arms of death at the moment." Noll was silent. "Yes," continued Trafford, "for me there is no brightness beyond the depths of the grave. All is dark,—dark! and so many of my friends have vanished in it,—so many have been lost to me there! Ah, my hope was all wrecked long ago!"
Noll looked up quickly, with, "Papa lost to you, to me, Uncle Richard? Oh, that is not true at all! Papa lost to us?"
"Not to you, not to you, Noll, thank God!" Trafford replied; "but to me,—yes! His faith he left to you,—I can see, I feel it; but I have none."
Noll looked up to the sad-eyed, gloomy man, and fathomed the mystery of his sorrow at once. Who would not be forever sad with nothing beyond the grave but blank and darkness in which loved hearts were alway vanishing?
"Oh, Uncle Richard," said he, "I'm sorry for you!"
"I don't deserve it," Trafford said, with unusual tenderness. "How can you love such a man as myself? Oh, my boy, I've been harsh with you, and cold and stern; go where you'll find some one that can care for you better than I!"
But Noll's face suddenly grew bright. "I wouldn't do that," he said, earnestly,—"never, Uncle Richard! Papa said I was to live with you and love you, and I will, unless you wish me to go. And if you do not, don't tell me to leave you again!"
"I will not, Noll," Trafford said.
So it was all settled, at last, and Noll's heart—in spite of Uncle Richard's gloominess—was light and glad. He would stay and see if the man's sorrow and wretchedness could not be driven away, he thought; perhaps—who could tell?—he would lose his sternness, and become kind and regardful, and follow in the path which papa had trod. It all seemed very doubtful now, it was true, but such a thing might be, after a time.
"Yes," said Noll, as he thought of these things, "I would much rather stay with you, Uncle Richard—always. And now shall we talk about studies?"
"True, we were to consider that matter," said his uncle; "yet I had little hope that you would stay, then. What do you study, Noll?"
"At Hastings I had arithmetic and geography and Latin. Then with papa I studied history, and a little—a very little, Uncle Richard—in mineralogy,—he liked that so, you know."
"And what do you propose to do here?" asked his uncle.
"I would like to do just the same," said Noll, "and keep up with my class, perhaps."
"He has still some thoughts of returning?" Trafford wondered; then said aloud, "Well, it shall be as you like. And when will you commence?"
"At once, if you please, Uncle Richard. I've had such a long vacation that it will seem good to get back to books once more; they're all waiting for me up-stairs. Shall I get them?"
Noll bounded away as his uncle nodded assent, and went up-stairs with a merry whistle. Trafford listened to the quick footsteps and the light-hearted music, and really rejoiced that they were not to flee and leave the old house desolate. It would be a brighter dwelling than it had been till—till death came, he thought. And if he could not teach the boy as Brother Noll had desired him to do, yet he would see that in the matter of books and study he had every advantage. So, when the boy came down with his arms full of books, he set himself to his task with an earnestness that pleased Noll wonderfully.
"Uncle Richard means that I shall progress," he thought; "and oh, I do hope I can keep up with Ned and the rest!"
Trafford found his nephew an apt scholar. He had expected that, however, for the boy came of a book-loving race. Very likely, had the pupil proved but a dull one, he would sometimes have wearied of his task of hearing the recitations every day; but as it was, he found a positive pleasure in his capacity as Noll's instructor, and generally a relief from his gloominess.
Noll's study-hours were at his own discretion; the recitations came in the afternoon, and after four the boy had the remainder of the day to spend as he liked. Sometimes the shore claimed him, sometimes the rocks. Then there were excursions, in company with old Hagar, to the solitude of the pines, after cones and dry, resinous branches for the kitchen fire, which never seemed to burn well unless the old housekeeper had an abundance of this kindling material.
"Nuffin like dem yer pine cones fur winter mornin's," Hagar always said; and many were the visits which she and "Mas'r Noll" paid to the woods, returning with laden baskets.
Somehow, after a time, the boy found more delight in these simple pleasures than at first. Once, with all his friends about him, he would have found no entertainment in a journey into the forest after cones,—there were other delights in abundance, then; but now, forced to get all his enjoyment out of the simplest, humblest events, this work of gathering winter fuel grew to be a positive pleasure, after the recitations were over, and the short October days drawing to a close. Then, too, the winter stores were being brought down from Hastings on the "Gull," and Skipper Ben and his crew came often to the stone house, to break the monotony of days in some little manner.
"Yer 'live an' hearty yet, lad!" was his greeting as he came around in the "Gull's" boat with a variety of provisions for winter use, one cloudy afternoon. "Well, I mus' say I didn't think to find ye so? Lonesome any? Goin' to let me carry ye back to Hastings afore the 'Gull' stops runnin'?"
"No," said Noll, bravely, "I'm going to stay, skipper."
"Ye'll find the weather a tough un, bime-by," drawled Mr. Snape, as he rolled a flour-barrel up the sand.
"Yes," said the skipper, "winters are mos'ly hard uns down here. An' what ye goin' to do when the 'Gull' stops cruisin' fur the season, an' ye can't get a word frum the city?"
This was a contingency for which Noll had made no calculation. Not hear a word from Hastings for a whole long winter?
"Well," he said at last, "that isn't pleasant to think of, but I'll manage somehow, skipper. And you must bring me a great packet of letters to last till the 'Gull' commences her trips again."