The Pure Pearl of Diver's Bay.
WHEN the great storms raged along the Atlantic coast, they sometimes tossed a token into Diver’s Bay. In more than one of the rude cabins composing the fishermen's settlement memorials of shipwreck and disaster might be found; and these memorials did not always fail to kindle imagination, and to arouse soft feelings of pity for the calamities they suggested.
One morning, that dawned bright and mild after a week of tempest, Clarice Briton went out with her coarse basket to gather the sea-weed tossed on the shore. She was the first child out that morning, and on account of the late storm, which had prevented the usual daily work, the harvest was a rich one.
There was always need that Clarice should work with her might when she found work to do, and she now labored from dawn till sunrise, filling her basket many times over, until the boards where she spread the weed to dry were nearly covered. Then she threw herself down to rest by her father’s door. But when the sun was rising she went and sat among the rocks, and watched the changing of the sky and water, and the flocks of birds as they came screaming from their nests to dive among the waves and mount beyond her sight among the mists of morning. She never tired of watching them, or of gazing on these scenes. She knew the habits of the shore birds, understood their indications and devices, and whatever their movements foreboded concerning the weather. Clarice was also versed in winds and clouds, and knew as well as the wise fishermen what the north-wind had in store, and what the south-wind would give them.
While she sat resting a few minutes, and wondering that the other children of the beach were so long in waking to the pleasant day, suddenly, as she looked down along the rocks that lay between her and the water, she saw lying near her feet, securely lodged by the waves among the stones, a basket. It was a very different affair from that other, lying a few paces off, with which she went about gathering sea-weed. It was small, and light, and delicately woven,— embroidered, too, with tloss. When she bent forward and picked it up, long strings of shiny weed dangled dripping from the handles,—and something beside; for, as she attempted to remove the traces of wild voyaging, something that was not weed resisted her efforts, and caused her to raise the lid. As she did so, a chain, which had been partly secured by the closing of the lid, was disengaged, and fell into her lap.
“ What’s that, Clarice ? ” said a voice just above her, as she in amazement lifted the chain, and endeavored to free it from the weed.
“ Oh, Luke, there must have been a wreck! See ! I found it just here at my feet,” said Clarice, sorrowfully,—apparently not taken by surprise by the sudden coming and speaking of Luke Merlyn ; she did not even lift her head, nor for an instant turn to him from what occupied her.
“ There’s a ring, too, I declare ! ” said Luke, coining down to her side; and be took from her lap a small ring, in which was set a solitary pearl;—the ring had dropped from the chain. “ What next ? Look in.”
Clarice opened the basket again, and turned out the white silk lining, which was soaking and stained with wild seatravel. “That is all,” said she.
“That chain is a gold one,” remarked Luke Merlyn. “ There must have been a wreck. Who do you suppose these things belonged to ? Some lady ? Look at that basket now. She kept her trinkets in it. I suppose lots of ’em got shook out by the way. I am glad it was you found it, Clarice. Just try that ring on your finger now; I should think it might fit you.”
He took up the ring and looked at Clarice, but she shrunk back shuddering.
“ Oh, no !—-I should feel as if it would drag me down to the bottom of the sea after the owner.”
“ It’s the neatest thing I ever saw, though, Clarice. Look, what a pearl! You must keep it for vour own, anyway, if you won’t wear it. Nobody about here is fit but you. The poor little basket, too,—poor little ark!”
He took it up and looked it over, much as though it were a dead bird, or some other pretty thing that once had life, and knew how to enjoy it.
“ Are you going out to-day, Luke ? ” asked Clarice.
“ Don’t you see I’ve got the net ? Father will be down by the time I’m ready. We are tired enough hanging about waiting for the blow to be over.”
“May-be you will see something,” said Clarice, in an undertone. “If you could only find out about the ship, and the poor passengers ! ”
“ May-be,” answered Luke,—saying this to comfort her, “ Is your father going out to-day V”
“ He said he would, last night. I’m glad it came off so pleasant. See how long this chain is!—a great many times longer than his big watch-chain ! ”
“ Worth fifty times as much, too.”
“Is it?'” said Clarice, looking up in wonder, almost incredulous ;—but then Luke had said it.
“ This is gold. Come and walk down to the boat, Clarice. How many times have you filled your basket this morning? You look tired. How did you come to wake up so soon ? I believe I beard you singing, and that was what brought me out so quick.”
“ I haven’t sung any, Luke,” she answered, looking at him in wonder.
“Oh, yes!—I’m sure I heard you. I got up and looked out of my window; there you were. You are the best girl around, Clarice ! Come now, why don’t you say I’m the best fellow ? Then we’ll be even. I am, you know. But then I want to hear you say so.”
The merry fellow was in earnest, though he laughed. He blushed more deeply than the girl,—indeed, she did not blush at all,—when he thus spoke to her. She looked at him a little surprised.
“ Come,” said he, with gentle coaxing, “I know what you think. Speak out, arid make me feel happy, all the days of my life. If it wasn't that, you feel so about the ring-But why shouldn’t you feel solemn about it ? It belonged to some beautiful lady, I suppose, who lies at rest in the bottom of the sea by this time. H. H.”—be read the initials engraved on the clasp of the chain.
Clarice, who held the ring, inadvertently turned it that moment to the light so that her eyes could not fail to perceive that two letters were also written by a graver underneath the pearl. These letters likewise were H. II. She gave the ring to Luke, pointing to the initials.
“ Yes, to be sure,” said he, examining it with his bright eyes. “ It’s the prettiest thing I ever saw. These letters must have stood for something. Clarice,” —he hesitated a moment,—“ Clarice, they might stand for something }yet,—Heart and Hand. Here they are,—take them, —they’re yours,—my heart and my hand, —till Death comes between ! ”
“Don’t talk that way, Luke,” answered the girl, gravel). “Your father is waiting for you, I’m sure.”
But Luke did not believe that she was in such haste to be rid of him.
“ He hasn’t gone down yet. I’ve watched,” said he. “ He’d be willing to wait, if he knew what I was saying. Besides, if you are in a burry, it won’t take but a minute to say yes, Clarice. Will you take my heart and my hand ? Here is your ring.”
Clarice took the ring and looked away ; but, in looking away, her eyes fell on Luke, and she smiled. “It’s the prettiest thing, that ring is, in the world, except you, Clarice,”—so the smile made him speak.
“ That’s new for me,” said the girl. “ Talk sense, Luke.”
“ Handsome is that handsome does, say I. And if you a’n’t the best girl in the Bay, Clary, who is, then? When are you going to say yes ? ” demanded the young fellow.
“Now,” replied Clarice, suddenly.
“ Have you taken my heart and hand?” asked the lad as quickly, his face glowing with delight.
“ To keep forever, Clarice ? ” It seemed, after all, incredible.
“ Yes, Luke.” And so speaking, the girl meant yes,forever.
Now this promise had not really taken either of these children by surprise. They had long understood each other. But when they had given a mutual promise, both looked grave. Clarice stood by the water’s edge, careless that time was passing. Luke was in no hurry for his father.
But at length a shrill voice called the girl. Dame Briton stood in the cabin door, and her angry tongue was laden with reproaches ready for utterance when Clarice should come within easier reach of her voice.
“ I must go,” said Clarice to Luke.
“I'll follow you, to-night. Don’t work too hard,” he answered. “ Take care of my heart, Clarice.”
A storm broke upon Clarice when she went home to her mother. She bore the blame of her idleness with tolerable patience, until it seemed as if the gale would never blow over. At last some quick words escaped her:—
“ Three bushels of weed lie there on the boards ready spread, and drying. I gathered them before another creature was stirring in Diver’s Bay.” Then she added, more gently, “ I found something besides.”
But though Dame Briton heard, she passed this last bit of information without remark.
“ Idling down there on the beach to see the boys off fishing!” she could not help saying. “ You needn’t be up afore the break o’ day for work like that.”
“It was Luke Merlyn.”
“ I showed him what I bad found. Ask him if I’m ever too free. He'd know as quick as anybody, — and care as much.”
Clarice, while speaking this, had departed yet farther both in look and voice from her usual serenity.
The dame let her last words pass without taking them up. She was by this time curious.
“ What did you find ? ” asked she,
Clarice showed the basket and the gold chain. Her mother handled both with wondering admiration, asking many a question. At last she threw the chain around her neck.
“ It’s gold,” said she. “ It’s worth much. If you could pick up the like of that every day, you might let the old weed-basket drift,”
“ I had rather gather weeds till my back was broken doing it, than ever find another,” said Clarice.
The dame took this for a child’s exaggeration ; observing which, Clarice said, sadly,—
“ Why, don’t you see how it came to shore? There’s been a wreck in the storm last week. Oh, may-be I’ve found all that will tell of it! ”
“What’s that in your band?” asked the dame, who spied the ring.
Clarice half opened her palm ; she did not like to let the ring pass from her keeping, and all this while she had stood doubting whether or not she should show it to her mother.
Dame Briton took it quickly. The dull glitter of greedy eyes fell on the mild lustre of the pearl, but found no reflection.
“A ring!” said she, and she tried to fit it to her little finger. It would not pass the first rough joint.
“ Try it,” said she to Clarice.
“ No,” was the quiet answer. But I will keep the ring. It must have been a lady’s. May-be it was a token.”
“ May-be it was.—If your father should take that chain to the Port, he might make a handsome bargain,—if he was worth a snap at bargains.—Here’s something; what be these marks? look here, Clarice.”
The face of the girl flushed a little as she answered,—“ H. H."
“ H. H. ! What does that mean ? I wonder.”
“ May-be the name of the owner," answered Clarice, timidly.
She was thinking, not of what the letters might have meant to others, but of what they had come to signify to her and Luke.
“Who knows?” answered her mother; and she stood musing and absent, and her face had a solemn look.
Clarice now took the basket to the fireplace and held it there till it was dried. With the drying the colors brightened and the sand was easily brushed away: but many a stain remained on the once dainty white silk lining; the basket would hardly have been recognized by its owner. Having dried and cleansed it as well as she was able, Clarice laid it away in a chest for safe-keeping, and then ate her breakfast, standing. After that, she went out to work again until the tide should come in. She left the chain with her mother, but the ring she had tied to a cord, and hung it around her neck.
By this time the children of the fishermen were all out, and the most industrious of them at work. They scattered among the rocks and crags, and wandered up and down the coast three miles, gathering sea-weed, which it was their custom to dry, and then carry to town, the Port, not many miles distant, where it was purchased by the glassmakers.
Clarice had neither brother nor sister, and she made little of the children of the neighboring fishermen; for her life was one of toil, and her inheritance seemed very different from theirs, though they were all poor, and ate the crusts of labor.
Her father, had Nature only given him what she seemed to have intended at the outset, might have been as successful a fisherman as lived at the Bay. But he trusted to luck, and contrived to make half of what he earned a serious damage to him. The remainder was little enough for the comfort of his family, small though that family was.
Briton was a good fellow, everybody said. They meant that he was always ready for sport, and time-wasting, and drinking, and that sort of generosity which is the shabbiest sort of selfishness. They called him “ Old Briton,” but he was not, by many, the oldest man in Diver’s Bay; he might have been the wickedest, had he not been the jolliest, and incapable of hiding malice in his heart. And if I said he was out and out the wickedest, I should request that people would refrain from lifting up their hands in horror, on account of the poor old fellow. We all know—-alas, perhaps, we all love—wickeder souls than could have been produced from among the older fishermen, had all their sins been concentrated in one individual.
Old Briton was what the people called a lucky fisherman. In seasons when he chose to work, the result was sufficiently obvious, to himself and others, to astonish both. But even in the best seasons he was a bad manager. He trusted everybody, and found, to his astonishment, how few deserve to be trusted.
Dame Briton was a stout, loud-talking woman, whom experience had not softened in her ways of speech or thought or action. She was generally at strife with her husband, but the strife was most illogical. It did not admit of a single legitimate deduction in the mind of a third person. It seemed sometimes as if the pair were possessed of the instincts of those animals which unite for mutual destruction, and as if their purpose were to fulfil their destiny with the utmost rapidity.
In the years when Dame Briton, by nature proud and ambitious, was putting forth the most successful efforts she ever made at decent housekeeping, endeavoring to transform her husband into such a person as he was not born to be, striving hard to work her will,—in those years Clarice was born.
Is the pearl a product of disease ?
Clarice grew up iu the midst, of influences not the purest or most elevating. Site was not by nature, gay, but silent, truthful, and industrious. She was no coward by nature, and her training made her brave and hardy. Sometimes Old Briton called her his boy, and exacted from her the service of a son. Dame Briton did not quarrel with him for that; she was as proud as the fisherman of any feat of skill or strength or courage performed by Clarice. In their way they were both fond of the child, but their fondness had strange manifestation; and of much tender speech, or fondling, or praise, the girl stood in no danger.
Idleness especially was held up before her, from the ontset, as the most destructive evil and dire iniquity of which human creature was capable; and Old Briton, lounging about all day with his pipe in his mouth,—by no means a rare spectacle,—did not interfere with the lesson the child’s mother enforced. Winter and summer there was enough for the little feet and hands to do. So, as Clarice grew up, she earned the best reputation for industry of any girl in Diver’s Bay.
Before she became the praise of the serious Bay people, Luke Merlvn’s bright eyes were on the little girl, and he had a settled habit of seeking times and opportunities for quiet talks with her. He liked to ask and follow her advice in many matters. Many a heavy basket of weeds had he helped her carry home from the rocks; many a shell and pebblehad he picked up in his coast-work, when he went beyond the limits of the Bay,— because he knew the good girl had a liking for every pretty thing.
If Clarice Briton was the finest girl, Luke Merlyn, beyond question, was the most promising fellow in this little village of fishermen. He was strong, active, ready for any undertaking that required a hold spirit and firm hand,—was quicker in thought and readier in speech than any lad about. He had a little personal vanity,—and good looks to encourage the same; but he had besides a generous heart, and the conviction was general, whether expressed or not, that in Luke a man was growing up who would some day take the lead among the fishermen of Diver’s Bay. He had a livelier fancy, a more active imagination, than any lad thereabout; these qualities of mind, united to his courage and warmth of heart, seemed to point toward a future worth arriving at.
WHEN Luke returned from fishing, towards evening, he went down to Briton’s cabin, hardly taking time to remove from his person the traces of his day of toil, his haste was so great.
Briton had arrived before him, and now sat at supper with his cup of grog beside him. When Luke entered. Dame Briton was exhibiting the gold chain, reserved, in spite of her impatience, till she had cooked the supper.
It was partly on account of this chain that Luke had made such haste in coming. He felt interested in the fortunes of the family to-night, and he knew Briton’s habit of bargaining and throwing away treasure.
Clarice was standing on the hearth when he arrived. As Luke passed the window, he thought her face looked very sad; but when he crossed the threshold, the expression greatly changed, or else he was mistaken. She had been telling her father how she found the chain,-—but concerning the ring was silent, as in the morning. That ring was still fastened to its cord, and hung about her neck. With reluctance she had shown it even to her mother, and by this time, having scarcely thought of anything beside, it possessed an almost sacred charm to her eyes. Why should I not say it was the most sacred of all things to her, since that is but true ?
“ Is that the chain," asked Luke, as he came up behind the fisherman’s chair, and clapped Old Briton on the shoulder. “ You could trade that for a silver watch."
“ What’s that ? ” asked Briton, quickly taking up the lad’s words; and he pulled out his pewter watch and laid it on the table. “ A silver watch ? ” said he.
“ A silver watch, as good as overrun, for that gold chain. Just see how fine it is!”
“ So, so! ” said the fisherman, thoughtfully resting his rough chin in his broad palm. That was his attitude, when, at home, he contemplated any of those famous bargains which always turned out so differently from anything that he anticipated.
“ Let Luke do the trading for ye,” said Briton’s wife, quickly recognizing his symptoms.
She looked from the lad to her daughter, and back again, five or six times in a second,—-seeing more than most people could have seen in observation apparently so careless and superficial.
“ I kept a sharp look out, Clary, all day, but I saw nothing,” said Luke, going over to the hearth.
“ Nothing,—but,” he added, she looked so disappointed, “but, for all that, some one else may.”
“ Oh, I hope so ! ”
What are you talking about ? ” asked Briton.
“ The shipwreck,” said Luke.
“ Oh !—well, Luke,—will you make the trade, Sir? What do you say, Clarice? The chain belongs to you, after all.” Said Briton, with a laugh,—-he could not help the shipwreck. “ What are you going to do with it, my girl ? ”
“ It is yours, father.”
“ Thank ye!—a present! ” Old Briton looked well pleased.
“And if Luke will take it over”-
“ I'll go to-night,” said Luke, ready to start that moment, if such was the wish of any person in the house.
Briton laughed. “ No, you won’t,” said he. “ What the deuse!-Sit down and take something. What arc you all standing about for? Sit down. You shall do the trading, Luke. There now, I’ve said it, and I hope you are all easy.”
He laughed again; for he knew very well — he had often enough heard it stated in full—the estimate set on his skill in making a bargain.
“You haven’t seen the ring yet?” said Dame Briton, quite kindly, now that this matter was settled to her mind. “Where’s the ring, Clarice?”
Other eyes were on the girl besides those of her mother. Old Briton pushed back his dish, and looked at Clarice. Luke was smiling. That smile became joyful and beautiful to see, when Clarice, blushing, removed the string front her neck and showed the ring.
“ That’s neat,” said Briton, turning the delicate ornament round and round, examining its chaste workmanship admiringly. “ I never saw a pearl like that, Mother. What do you wear it round your neck for, Clarice ?—put it on your finger.”
Luke Meriyn had come to Briton’s cabin to explain bow matters stood between him and Clarice, as well as to look after the other bargain. Taking advantage of her hesitation, he now said,—
“ She could not wear it at her work. And it’s a token betwixt her and me. Heart and Baud. Don’t you see the letters ? That’s what they mean to us.”
Luke spoke out so boldly, that Clarice ceased to tremble: and when he took her hand and held it, she was satisfied to stand there and answer, that the joined hands were a symbol of the united hearts.
“What’s that, old woman?” asked Briton, looking at his wife, as if for an explanation.
“ Luke, what do you mean? Are you asking for Clarice ? ” inquired the dame.
“ Yes, Mrs. Briton.”
“That’s right enough, old woman,” said Briton ; and strong approval, together with some emotion, was in his voice.
“ Babes in arms, both of ’em ! But a promise a’n’t no hurt,”—was the dame’s comment. Neither was she quite unmoved, as she looked at the young pair standing on the hearth; such another, her heart told her, was not to be found in Diver’s Bay.
“ Clarice is a good girl, Luke Merlyn,” said Old Briton, solemnly.
She is so,” confirmed the mother. “ So take the ring there for your token."
Luke came forward and received the ring from Old Briton, and he laid the string that held it round Clarice’s neck.
“ Take this chain,” said Briton, with a Softened voice. “ It’s fitter than the string, and none too good for Clarice. Take it, Luke, and put the ring on’t.”
“ I’m going to trade that chain for a silver watch,” said Luke, answering according to the light he saw in the eyes of Clarice. “ That chain is Clary’s wedding present to her father.”
" Thank you, Luke,” said Briton,—and he drew his hand across his eyes, not for a pretence. Then he took up his old pewter watch, the companion of many years ; he looked at it without and within, silently; perhaps was indulging in a little sentimental reflection : but he put it into his pocket without speaking, and went on with his supper, as if nothing had happened.
This took place before Clarice was fourteen years of age. At seventeen she was still living under her father’s roof, and between her and Luke Merlyn the pearl ring still remained a token.
Luke used to praise her beauty when there was little of it to praise. He was not blinder when the young face began to be conspicuous for the growing loveliness of the spirit within. The little slender figure sprang up into larger, fuller life, with vigor, strength, and grace; the activity of her thoughts and the brightness of their intelligence became evident, as well as the tenderness and courage of her heart. Her own home, and many another, was the better for Clarice.
Some Sunday in this summer of her seventeenth year, when the missionary came down to the Bay, they were to be married. It was settled where they were to live. A few years before, a young artist came to the Bay and built a cabin near the settlement; there, during the summer months, he lodged, for several seasons,—spending his time in studying the rocks of the coast and sailing about in his pleasure-boat. The last autumn he spent here he gave the cabin to Luke, in consideration of some generous service, and it was well known that to this home Luke would bring his wife ere long.
BUT ONE bright day of this gay summer of anticipated bridal, Luke Merlyn went with his father, taking the fishingnets, and a dozen men beside sailed or rowed out from the moorings ; and all that went returned, save Merlyn and his son, —returned alive, but rowing desperately, sails furled, rowing for life in the gale. Nearly all the women and children of the Bay were down on the beach at nightfall, watching for the coming of husband, son, and brother; and before dark all bad arrived except Merlyn and bis Luke.
The wind was blowing with terrific violence, and darkness fell on the deep like despair. But until the windows of heaven were opened, and the floods poured down, Clarice Briton and her father, and the wife and children of Merlyn, stood on the beach, or climbed the rocks, and waited and tried to watch.
There was little sleep among them all that night, With the first approach of day, Clarice, who had sat all night by the fire watching with her fears, was out again waiting till dawn should enable her to search the shore. She was not long alone. The fishermen gathered together, and when they saw the poor girl who had come before them, for her sake they comforted each other, as men dare,—and for her sake, more than their own, when they saw that there had come in to shore by night no token of disaster. Doubtless, they argued, Merlyn had put into the nearest port when the sudden storm arose. As the day advanced, they one after another got out their boats, and rowed down the bay, but did not take their nets.
Bondo Emmins went out with Old Briton, and Clarice heard him say, though he did not address her, that, if Luke Merlyn was alive, they would never come home without him. Now Bondo Emmins never loved Euke Merlyn, for Luke won every prize that Bondo coveted; and Bondo was not a hero to admire such superior skill. When Clarice heard his words, and saw that he was going out with her father, her heart stood still; it did not bless him; she turned away quickly, faint, cold, shivering. What he said had to her ears the sound of an assurance that this search was vain.
All day there was sad waiting, weary watching, around Diver’s Bay. And late in the afternoon but one or two of the boats that went out in search had returned.
Towards evening Clarice walked away to the Point, three miles oil; thence she could watch the boats as they approached the Bay from the ocean. Once before, that day, under the scorching noontide sun, she hud gone thither, — and now again, for she could not endure the sympathy of friends or the wondering watch of curious eyes. It was better than to stand and wait,—better than to face the grief of Merlyn’s wife and children,— better than to see the pity in her neighbors’ faces, or even than to hear the voice of her own mother.
The waves had freight for her that evening. When the tide came in, and her eves were lifted, gazing afar, scanning the broad expanse of water with such searching, anxious vision, as, it seemed, nothing could escape, Luke Merlyn’s cap was dashed to her very feet, tossed from the grave.
Moving back to escape the encroaching tide, Clarice saw the cap lying, caught on the cragged point of rock before her. Oh, she knew it well! She stooped,—she took it up,—she need not wait for any other token. She dared not look upon the sea again. She turned away. But whither? Where now was her home ? So long a time, since she was a child, it had been in the heart of Luke ! Where was that heart lying? What meant this token sent to her from the deep sea ? Oh, life and love ! was not all now over ? Heart stall, hand powerless, home lost, she sat on the beach till night fell. At sunset she stood up to look once more up and down the mighty field of waters, along the shore, as far as her eyes could reach,—but saw nothing. Then she sat down again, and waited until long after the stars appeared. Once or twice the thought that her mother would wonder at her long absence moved her; but she impatiently controlled the feeble impulse to arise and return, until she recalled the words of Bondo Emmins. Luke’s mother, too,—and the cap in her care. If no one else had tidings tor her, she had tidings.
Her father had reached home before her, and there was now no watcher on the beach, so far as Clarice could discover. Perhaps there was no longer any doubt in any mind. She hurried to the cabin. At the door she met Bondo Emmins coming out. He had a lantern in his hand.
“ Is that you, Clarice ? ” said he. “ I was just going to look for you.”
She scanned his face by the glare of the lantern with terrible eagerness, to see what tidings he had for her. He only looked grave. It was a face whose signs Clarice had never wholly trusted, but she did not doubt them now.
“ I have found his cap,” said she, in a low, troubled voice. “ You said, that, if he was alive, you would find him. I heard you. What have you found?”
Then she passed by him, though he would have spoken further. She went into the house and sat down on the hearth with Luke’s cap in her hand, which she held up before the fire to dry. So she sat one morning holding the tiny basket which the waves had dashed ashore.
Briton and his wife looked at each other, and at young Emmins, who, after a moment’s hesitation, had put out the lantern light, and followed her back into the house.
“ It is his cap,” said Bondo, in a low voice, but not so low as to escape the ear of Clarice.
“ The sea sent it for a token,” Said she, without turning her gaze from the fire.
The old people moved up to the hearth.
“ Sit down, Emmins.” said Briton. “ You’ve served us well to-day.” In any trouble Old Briton’s comfort was in feeling a stout wall of flesh around him.
Bondo sat down. Then he and Briton helped each other explain the course taken by themselves and the other boatmen that day, and they talked of what they would do on the morrow; but they failed to comfort Clarice, or to awaken in her any hope. She knew that in reality they had no hope themselves.
“ They will never come back,” said she. “ You will never find them,”
She spoke so calmly that her father was deceived. If this was her conviction, it would be safe to speak his own.
The tide may bring the poor fellows in,” said he.
At these words the cap which the poor girl held fell from her hand. She spoke no more. No word or cry escaped her, —not by a look did she acknowledge that there was community in this grief,—as solitary as if she were alone in the universe, she sat gazing into the fire. She was not overcome by things external, tangible, as she had been when she sat alone out on the sea-beach at the Point. The world in an instant seemed to sink out of her vision, and time from her consciousness; her soul set out on a search in which her mortal sense had failed,— and here no arm of flesh could help her.
“I shall find him,” she said, in a whisper. They all heard her, and looked at one another, trouble and wonder in their laces. “I shall find him,” she repeated, in a louder tone; and she drew herself up, and bent forward,—but her eyes saw not the cheerful fire-light, her ears took in no sound of crackling fagot, rising wind, or muttered fear among the three who sat and looked at her.
Bondo Emmins had taken up the cap when Clarice dropped it,—he had examined it inside and out, and passed it to Dame Briton. There was no mistaking the ownership. Not a child of Diver’s Bay but would have recognized it as the property of Luke Merlyn. The dame passed it to the old man, who looked at it through tears, and then smoothed it over his great fist, and came nearer to the fire, and silence fell upon them all.
At last Dame Briton said, beginning stoutly, but ending with a sob, "Has anybody seen poor Morlyn’s wife? Who’ll tell her? Oh! oh!”
“I will go tell her that Clarice found the cap,” said Bondo Lmmins, rising.
Clarice sat like one in a stupor,—but that was no dull light shining from her eyes. Still she seemed deaf and dumb ; for, when Bondo bade her good-night, she did not answer him, nor give the slightest intimation that she was aware of what passed around her.
But when he was gone, and her father said,— "Come, Clarice,—now for bed,— you'll wake the earlier,”-she instantly arose to act on his suggestion.
He followed her to the door of her little chamber and lingered there a moment. He wanted to say something for comfort, but had nothing to say; so he turned away in silence, and drank a pint of grog.
BONDO LMMINS was not a native of Diver’s Bay. Only during the past three or four years had he lived among the fishermen. He called the place his home, but now and then indications of restlessness escaped him, and seemed to promise years of wandering, rather than a life of patient, contented industry. He and Luke Merlvn were as unlike as any two young men that ever fished in the same bay. Luke was as firm, constant, reliable, from the day when he first managed a net, as any veteran whose gray hairs are honorable. Emmins Hashed here and there like a wandering star; and whatever people might say of him when he was out of sight, he had the art of charming them to admiration while they were under his personal influence. He was lavish with his money; almost every cabin had a gift from him. He could talk forever, and with many was a true Oracle. Though he worked regularly at his business, work seemed turned to play when he took it in hand. He could shout so as to be heard across the ocean,—so the children thought; he told stories better than any; and at the signal of his laughter it seemed as if the walls themselves would shake to pieces. When he hit on a device, it was strange indeed if he did not succeed in executing it; and no one was the wiser for the mortification and inward displeasure of the man, when he failed in any enterprise.
When Emmins came to Diver’s Bay Clarice Briton was but a child, yet already the promised wife of Luke Merlyn. If this fact was made known to him, as very probably it was, Clarice was not a girl to excite his admiration or win his love. But as time passed on, Emmins found that he was not the only man in Diver’s Bay; of all men to regard as a rival, there was Luke Merlyn ! Luke, who went quietly about his business, interfering with no one, careful, brave, exact, had a firm place among the people, which might for a time be overshadowed, but from which he could not be moved. Two or three times Bondo Emmins stumbledagainst that impregnable position, and found that he must take himself out of the way. A small jealousy, a sharp rivalry, which no one suspected, quietly sprang up in his mind, and influenced his conduct; and he was not one who ever attempted to subdue or destroy what be found within him,—he was instead always endeavoring to bring the outer world into harmony with what he found within. A fine time he had of it, persistently laboring to make a victim of himself to himself!
People praised Clarice Briton, and now and then Emmins looked that way, and saw that the girl, indeed, was well enough. He despised Luke, and Clarice seemed a very proper match for him. But while Bondo Emmins was managing in his own way, and cherishing the feeling he had against Luke, by seeking to prove himself the braver and more skilful fellow, Clarice was growing older in years and in love, her soul was growing brighter, her heart was getting lighter, her mind clearer,—her womanhood was unfolding in a certain lovely manner that was discernible to other eyes than those of Luke Merlyn. Luke said it was the ring that wrought the change,—that he could see its light all around her.—that it had a charm of which they could know nothing save by its results, for its secret had perished with its owner in the sea. His mermaid he would sometimes call her,—and declared that often, by that mysterious pearly light, he saw Clarice when far out at sea, and that at any time by two words he could bring her to him. She knew the words,—they were as dear to her as to him.
While Clarice was thus unfolding to this loveliness through love, Bondo Emmins suddenly saw her as if for the first time. The vision was to him as surprising as if the ring had indeed a power of enchantment, and it had been thrown around him. He was as active and as resolute in attempting to persuade himself that all this was nothing to him as he was active and resolute in other endeavors,—but he was not as successful as he supposed he should be. For it was not enough that Emmins should laugh at himself, and say that the pretty couple were meant for each other. Now and then, by accident, he obtained a glimpse of Clarice’s happy heart; the pearl-like secret of their love, which was none the less a secret because everybody knew that Luke and Clarice were to be married some day, would sometimes of itself unexpectedly give some token, which he, it seemed, could better appreciate than any one beside the parties concerned. When some such glimpse was obtained, some such token received, Hondo Emmins would retire within himself to a most gloomy seclusion; there was a world which had been conquered, and therein he had no foothold. If Clarice wore the pearl in her bosom, on Luke’s head was a crown,—and Hondo Emmins just hated him for that.
But he never thought of a very easy method by which he might have escaped the trouble of his jealousy. The great highway of ocean was open before him, and millions of men beside Luke Merlyn were in the world, millions of women beside Clarice Briton. No! Diver’s Bay,—and a score of people,—and a thought that smelt like brimstone, and fiery enough to burn through the soul that tried to keep it,—this for him;— fishing,—making bargains,—visiting at Old Briton’s, — making presents to the dame,—telling stories, singing songs by that fireside, and growing quieter by every other,—that was the way he did it; — cured himself of jealousy ? No! made himself a fool.
Old Briton liked this young man; he could appreciate his exec lienees even better than he could those of Luke; there were some points of resemblance between them. Emmins was as careless of money, as indifferent to growing rich, as Briton ever was; the virtues of the youth were not such as ever reproached the vices of the veteran. They could make boisterous merriment in each other’s company. Briton’s praise was never lacking when Hondo’s name was mentioned. He accepted service of the youth, and the two were half the time working in partnership. In the cabin he had always a welcome, and Dame Briton gave him her entire confidence.
Luke did not fear,—he had once admired the man; and because he was a peace-maker by nature, and could himself keep the peace, he never took any of Hondo’s scathing speech in anger nor remembered it against him. Usually he joined in the laugh, unless some brave, manly word were required; honorable in his nature, he could not be always jealous in maintaining that of which he felt so secure.
If Clarice did not penetrate the cause, she clearly saw the fact that Hondo Emmins had no love for Luke. She might wonder at it, but Luke suffered no loss in consequence,—it was rather to his praise, she thought, that this was so. And she remembered the disputes between the young men which she had chanced to hear, only to decide again, as she had often decided, in favor of Luke’s justice and truth.
When the time of great trouble came, and this man was going out with her father in search of Merlyn and his son, her impulse, had she acted on it, would have prevented him. He looked so strong, so proud, in spite of his solemn face! He looked so full of life, she could not endure to think that his eyes might discover the dead body of poor Luke.
When she came home and found that he had returned with her father, before her, on the evening of that day of vain search for Merlyn and his son, a strange satisfaction came to Clarice for a moment,—touched her heart and passed,— was gone as it came. When she said, " I shall find him,” conviction, as well as determination, was in the words,-—and more beside than entered the earn of those that heard her.
[ To be continued.]