On Sand Island
THE island itself is only one mile long, while in width it is always more or less, the ocean giving it new measure storm by storm and tide by tide.
On the island are two houses, the one with its face to the southwest, the other looking toward the east, and occupying positions as far, the one from the other, as the limits of sand permit. A ridge of rocks rises from the sea near either house, suggesting the possibility of the building site having been chosen with reference to something firm. All else on the island is sand and its belongings. Between the two houses, in very high storms, the ocean on the north shakes hands with the ocean on the south, griping the sands in their grinding palms, and giving small promise of letting go while a grain remains to be shaken.
In one of the two houses lived, sixteen months ago, John Ware and his wife Nancy. In the other house lived Dick Dixon, his wife, and their children.
A little more than sixteen months ago, one afternoon in May, John Ware and his wife left the main-land in a small rowboat to go and look at the house on the southwest of the island.
“ We ’ll live here this summer,” said John, after they had looked at the onerooined dwelling, “because it will be so handy to run my boat in at night; and then by the fall we’ll have money enough to go and live like folks.”
“ I wonder why the windows are only on one side of the house,” said Nancy. “ To see the land, one must go outdoors.”
“ I s’pose’t was a queer old fellow that built it; like as not he did n’t want to see the land, nohow,” said John; and he said no more.
The next week, early in June, they moved. The day after the moving, John Ware sailed his boat, the Silver Thistle, up and down the coast after the fishing yacht Menhaden, in search of bony fish. In the afternoon sixty thousand fish were caught in the seine and put into the earry-away, which was John’s boat.
It was near evening when, with a small lad to give him aid, he turned the Silver Thistle toward the main-land. On a point that stretched down oceanward a full mile stood a mill for the making of fish oil. When near the place, John gave a signal from a horn to announce his approach. The fish were hoisted from the boat into a car, and drawn up the bit of wooden railway into the dark entrance to the great mill, where millions of fish disappeared, and from whence came thousands of gallons of oil.
John Ware’s share of that sixty thousand fish was eight dollars. He went home with the good news. Nancy was waiting for him on the sands. “ Eight dollars a day ! ” he said, boyishly. “ Why, Nan, we ’ll be able to live quite like folks by fall, at this rate.”
“ I’m so glad,” she said; “ but there will he rainy days, and days when it blows too hard for you to go fishing, and my eight-dollar days will come then.”
“ Lonely a’ready, hey? ” with gentle commiseration in his voice.
“ It makes a long day with not a soul to speak to. Now that you have come, don’t let’s talk about it,” she said.
“ I’m going to the main after I’ve had my supper, Nan; but the twilight is long, and I ’ll be back afore it’s gone.”
“ I ’ll go in the boat with you.”
He hesitated in speaking, as he answered, “ I ’m sorry. Nan, but I ’m going in the dingey to-night, and I ’ve something to fetch hack; there won’t bo room for you. ”
She was silent and grieved, and lot him depart without going down the sand to see him off; but after he had gone she watched the boat as long as she could see its dim outline, as long as she could discern a dark speck in the distance.
The twilight lingered long that night, but it had been gone two hours when Nan heard a low cry. She listened a mo ment, then opened the door, and a white kitten rubbed itself in and purred about her feet.
Had it been a wild Indian, it would not have surprised her more. Outside, the wind was moving the ocean in an uncertain, desultory way; now a whiff from the south, then a puff from the west, and then a “ dying away,” to be followed by a brisk bit of air out of the north.
Nan took the kitten in her arms; she stroked it as she sat listening and wondering how the cat came to be there. Then she arose and went outside to keep her watch. The heavens above seemed very near to the low roof as she went, thinking, “ It will be a rough sea soon, and John ought to be here before the wind blows much harder.”
From what seemed to be a cloud, lying to the north and west, rays of Hashing light went up toward the zenith. They lit up the troubled sea with a weird light, and made the very sands of the island instinct with strange life.
“I’m glad there’s northern lights; ’t will help him home,” she thought, and went down near the shore, the kitten in her arms. As she went, she saw something that made her draw breath quickly. It was her husband, and be was rolling up the sands a barrel of flour.
Laughing half at the momentary fear that held her, as she knew who it was, and half at the relief she felt in learning why he had not taken her with him in the boat, she dropped the kitten and ran to help him.
“ I thought I'd fetch something home for you to speak to when I ’m away,” he said; “ and even a kitten is better than nothing.”
“ A whole barrel of flour!” said Nan in surprise.
“ Yes; why not? You set me a-tliinking to-night about storms and so on, and I just made up my mind to have it on hand while the weather was just right. It isn’t every night I’d feel willing to row over with a barrel of flour in that mite of a boat.”
“ I wish you had told me, John, what you were going for,” she said, stooping to aid in roiling the barrel up the sands.
“ I wanted to surprise you, Nan,” was all that he said.
And that little “difference” was the only cloud that came into the fair sky of John and His wife that summer.
Every morning John Ware went to his work on the ocean; every day Nan worked and waited, and now and then walked across the island to visit her neighbors, taking care to choose a time for her visiting when the tide should be low, for the sands were wet at high water.
Pleasure parties went sailing past her, sometimes, as she sat alone in her doorway, but there was nothing to tempt any one of them to land on the island. There was only sun and sand and a bit of a weather-brown house.
Nan gave the white kitten a name. She called it Comfort. It did comfort her, for it winked and mewed and purred in reply to the words and the fish she gave it.
John Ware worked hard, was happy, and did prosper amazingly. “ A good load to-day, and I’ll have my two hundred clear to keep us this winter,” he said one morning, as he stepped into his small boat and pushed off to the Silver Thistle. he ran up the sail, looking at his wife as he made it fast. Nan had Comfort in her arms.
A breeze, with September in its every breath, blew down from the main-land. Mad little white caps chased each other far out to sea. The Silver Thistle danced on the short waves while the sail filled, and then the boat shot steadily away before the wind.
The fishing season was nearly over in that region, which was exposed to the full force of ocean waves, and the small boats were not built to weather heavy storms. Nan shivered as she turned away. “ It’s cold, Comfort,” she said. “ and we love warmth, don’t we? ”
Comfort purred, and lay still in her arms as she went in toward the house.
It was Monday. Nan began to wash, wishing that she had a larger pile of clothes than lay in the corner; the day would be so long and the September twilight would come so early. When she went outside to fasten up the clothesline, she saw the Silver Thistle, a distant speck of white, following the yacht Menhaden down the coast.
The wind was blowing harder and faster; the sand began to flutter in little rows across the island, and Nan’s clothes “ whipped ” so on the line that she took them down shortly after she put them up. “ If ’t was only from the other way the wind blew, I'd get one of my eightdollar days,” she thought, “ for would send the boats scudding in.”
As the day deepened into noon, the wind suddenly veered. Presently the short seas changed to a long roll, then quickened and grew into breakers that boomed along the sands. Nan got down the spy-glass and looked across the ocean. Once she saw, or thought she saw, the Silver Thistle in the distance. “It’s him,” she said, “coming in at last! I see the patch that I put in, after the Menhaden’s boom ran through the sail.” Then she hastened to get all signs of suds and tubs out of sight, to make the one-roomcd house look tidy for its master’s coming.
Nan had been a mill girl from her very early childhood. She knew nothing of home until she had part and lot in this one. She was very grateful for it; gratitude, in her nature, arose to a height that love could not reach. Every moment the wind increased and the breakers grew. Nan made biscuit for tea, thinking, as she took the flour from the barrel, of the night when it came home, and how she had laughed at John the next morning for supposing they two would stay on the island long enough to eat a barrel of flour. “ “Why, it’s two thirds gone a’ready, but the sea makes hungry,” was the thought with which she opened the door of the oven in the stove and quickly thrust her pan of biscuit in.
“Now, I’ll take another look out,” she said. Comfort lay in John’s easychair and blinked lazily as her mistress spoke. Nan put her eye to the glass, but, seeing nothing, rubbed the glass with her apron and looked again. A ship was sailing away on the distant horizon; only one! She scanned every mile that lay within sight. Then she thought that she must have been much longer than usual making the biscuit, and that the Silver Thistle had sailed around to the upper side of the island. She laughed softly as she remembered how simple she had been to suppose that John could anchor his boat on that side in such a blow. Nan was sorry and a good deal out of patience that the house had been built with all its windows (there were but two) on one side. She wanted to watch for her husband to come across the eddying sands, and it blew too hard to go out and wait. An hour went by. The biscuit had baked and browned and been taken from the oven. Supper was ready, but John was not come. Clouds had gathered. It was growing near to night.
Nan had run round the corner a dozen times within that hour, but had seen only the ridges of sand shifting and blowing and rising behind the house to a height that prevented sight of the coastline on the north.
“ I must go up where I can see,” she said, at last; never doubting for an instant but that, her battle through, the wind would yield to her vision the Silver Thistle at anchor, and her husband, somewhere.
Her feet sank in the sands; the wind swept her on with a force that bent her strong young figure. Two or three times she fell, tangled in the dense undergrowth that the sea had swept in. Half blinded by the blowing of her hair in her face, she reached the crest of the island and looked across the wide space that lay between it and the main-land. She could discern masts rocking in the distant harbor, but no trace of any boat, or sail, or man, nearer than the town up the coast.
“ He ’s gone in, for fear of his boat,” she thought, “ and I must stay alone tonight. I’ll hurry home before it gets dark; ” and she faced the wind. It took away her breath and made her gasp and turn again to catch it. Boom! boom! boom! The breakers ran up the sands as she reached her door.
Comfort got up and yawned, and turning around three times lay down again as Nan went in.
“ Pussy, pussy, my little comfort you are, to-night! Let me sit down! ” she said, gathering up the furry creature and taking its place in the chair. The supper was cold when she ate of it, and she thought how lonely John would he, for he had grown to be a homo-man that summer.
All that September night the waves tore in upon the sands of the island. Once or twice Nan, lying in her bed, felt a qualm like seasickness, as the poor little dwelling trembled with the force of the wind. “ God bless the poor fellows on the sea to-night,” murmured the woman, repeating the words over and over again with a vague feeling that men must he upon the ocean somewhere that night, and that they would need divine aid and friendliness. She quite forgot to pray for herself or for her husband, safe upon the firm main-land. Toward morning the wind lessened and the oeean lost its highest waves. As soon as the day dawned, the staunchest boat in the harbor up the coast put out to sea.
John Ware had, just before the wind changed on the previous day, taken into the Silver Thistle twenty thousand white fish. The lad who usually went with him was suffering from toothache. John was a good seaman; his load was light, and everything seemed fair for a good run to the factory; therefore the boy was left in the cabin of the Menhaden, and he started for the shore alone.
Darkness had fallen, and yet the fish had not been landed at the mill, and the Silver Thistle was not in the harbor. The men of the fishing gang to which John Ware belonged were in that staunch boat on their way to look for him.
“ It’s no use to look there,” one said, with a nod of the head as they passed by the island.
“ No, poor thing! She will know soon enough ! Let her sleep while she may,” said another. But Nan was on the rocks when the day came. She had gone up the few feet of sand to the height of the island and seen the boat put out. Knowing that it would pass the point of rocks, she was waiting there to hail it as the men went by.
Either they did not see her, or seeing her did not respond to the signal she gave. So she learned nothing of the Silver Thistle that morning.
At noonday Nan grew very restless; a vague feeling that something was wrong crept over her, holding every motive to life in check.
The sea could not answer her question. The Menhaden had not gone out as usual; for it she had kept steadfast watch. In her desire to speak to some one of the fear that bound her, she left her home and toiled through the sand to the house on the eastern end of the island. She found no one at home except two of the younger children. Their father and mother had “ gone to the main,” they said, “before it got so rough the day before, and they two had been alone all night.” The children were so happy to see her, and were evidently so reluctant to stay alone, that Nan took them with her when she went back. As she drew near, the boat that had gone out at daybreak was sailing in toward the island.
The inevitable had come. With words that could not be misunderstood, the rough fishermen told the woman that her husband was lost. Nan could not receive the meaning of this thing that had come to her. She put forth all the resistance of a strong nature against a fact that could not be proved.
“ Have you found the Silver Thistle? ” she cried. “ Till you find that empty, I will not believe you.”
Poor soul! She seemed to feel that these men were active in forcing sorrow upon her, a sorrow that she could only drink in slowly. Nan was like the earth when it has been drying many days under the strong light and heat of the sun, and a sharp rain-fall descends with violence upon it. Her spirit shook off sorrow as the parched earth shakes off the rain.
“Well for her! Well for her that she will not believe all at once,” said the fishermen, as they turned away from the island and went landward.
In a few days the place of the Silver Thistle was occupied by another boat, and at the end of September boats and men went southward, whither the fish had gone.
When Mrs. Ware went to the mill owner for money, she was told that her husband had, the day before he was lost, received all the money due to him. Nan doubted the statement, because John had always told her every particular relating to his money affairs, running to her as gleefully as a boy after a day of good luck on the sea, to tell her all about it.
With her sorrow and her doubt of the truth of the mill owner’s statement and her poverty, Nan still stayed in the place that had been her home. She was waiting for something to happen, — for some proof that her husband was lost. For such indication she watched through all the bright October. With every tide that rose by day she walked up and down on the sands, gathering drift-wood for her fire, but always looking for fragments of wreck from the farther shore.
Dick Dixon and his wife were kind to Nan in their way, but their way was for her to leave the house and go somewhere on the land; back to the cottonmill, perhaps, where Nan had earned her bread before she came to her home. They urged this vehemently; they warned her that it would be in winter, and was even already, unsafe to remain there alone.
Nan listened to them with quiet patience, and thanked them, but remained in her one-roomed house at night, haunting the shore by day, until November came. The flour in the barrel was getting low; that with the fish she caught from the ledge of rock was the only food she had for Comfort and herself.
It was growing cold. The winds cut fiercely at times, as poor Nan gathered drift-wood, scanning with breathless interest each fragment; she was so certain that, she should know if anything came in irotn the Silver Thistle or the small boat.
One day in November, Mrs. Dixon appeared at Mrs. Ware’s cottage just as the latter was at her dinner; that dinner consisted of bread and salt-fish.
“ Next week Thursday will be Thanksgiving,”said Mrs. Dixon (after having spent at least half an hour in urging Nan to leave the island), “and I should like to have you come over and spend it with us.”
Nan promised to go if the weather were clear. When the Thursday came, it was clear with a high wind, after the usual style of that day in November; and Nan went, Comfort following her and shivering in the sharp blast that sent the sands into the air.
“ It ’s wicked ! ” said Nan, as the fisherman and his family were gathered about the dinner table.
“What is it that’s so wicked?” asked Mr. Dixon, as Mrs. Ware stood hesitatingly beside her chair, after all were seated.
“For me to sit down, when it isn’t Thanksgiving with me. I’m not thankful! Tell me what I’ve got to be thankful for! ”
“ h or this dinner. Come! I know you are hungry,” said Mr. Dixon.
“ For this dinner T am thankful,” said the poor woman.
Nan did not tell them that she was living on the smallest allowance of bread, and had been for a week, that she might watch for some token from the sea as many days as possible. She did not betray her hunger, although it was excessive, but she did eat with gratitude. She ate and rose up to go to her own place. In vain they urged her to stay over night.
“ Something might wash up, and I not be there,” said Nan. “ No! I must go.”
Comfort crept out to follow her home, but Nan, with a catch in her breath, put her back; she shut the kitten in and went onward. This woman had shaved her bread with the kitten. Soon one or the other must go without food. Secretly, it was more for Comfort’s sake than her own that Nan had accepted the invitation to that dinner.
Dick Dixon, following with his eves the bleak figure toiling in the wind up the sands, said to his wife, “ She’ll die of cold and starvation.”
And she said, in reply, “ You must go to-morrow, Dick, to the town, atul see about it.”
“ It shall not he my fault, if she stays there another week,” he promised, “ for I will report the case to-morrow.”
While they talked, Nan was going farther and farther over the sands, until at last her figure crossed the height and went down out of sight on the other side. Nan was thinking as she went. She knew as well as they could know that she must go away somewhere before the snow should fall and the breakers come in edged with ice.
The wind was biting cold; the sun had put out from under the clouds a hard, yellow, metallic face that gleamed coldly into hers as she drew near home. Suddenly Nan threw out her arms from her shawl (she had walked with them tightly folded in it); she lifted them up above her head, exclaiming, ”I will! I will he thankful. I will keep Thanksgiving, if only thou wilt send to me some sure thing to tell me he is gone.” Nan turned her eyes from the sky above to the ocean that was spread out southward and westward as far as human sight could reach. “ Cold, awful, cruel sea! terrible sea!” she cried, her full lips trembling with emotion and the chill quivering in the air.
She went into her little house. It was more lonely than ever. She missed Comfort with her accustomed furry rub against her feet; but she tried to think only of the warmth and food the kitten was certain to have in the other house. She made haste to light the fire, that she might go on her daily quest to the shore. The sun was sinking below the far-away sea line when Nan went out, hurrying, as fast as she could go, up the sands and down again. She gathered much drift and threw it back, as she caught it up, where the tide would not sweep it out again, for she felt a coining storm in all the air, and knew that she might need the wood sorely. Now and then a bit of plank or broken spar was driven deep into the sand, and she pulled many times before getting it free. Her lonely round was over at last, and it was time to go to yonder solitary dwelling.
She had ceased to watch ocean or shore. Neither the one nor the other gave answer to her faithful seeking; and yet she did so long, with all her heart, to keep Thanksgiving that night.
When near home she stooped to gather up an armful of wood to keep her little blaze in life awhile longer. When her arm was nearly filled, her hand, outstretched to reach another stick, touched something that was not wood, nor yet was it rock or earth.
Presently she had drawn from under the sand a large piece of old sail-cloth. She dropped her store of fire-wood and dragged the portion she had found houseward to examine it more closely by the light of the fire. Was it by this that she should gain her Thanksgiving? At last the trophy was drawn in and the door shut against the wind, and the. two candles (all she had) were lighted.
With almost reverent hands, Nan unfolded the sail and spread it upon the floor. Near the corner, by the boom, there was a patch. Nan shrieked when she saw it ; it was so like the one she had put into the sail of the Silver Thistle. She examined it almost stitch by stitch and thread by thread, and found the very place where she had put in black linen because the white was used up.
At last she cried out, “ It is ! it is ! I do believe that John Ware is drowned! Now I will go and — and ” —but Nan’s future was very dark. The blackness ol it shut down before her like a pall. She knew then how much easier it had been to wait and not believe, than it would he to believe and go — whither? And yet, had she not promised to keep Thanksgiving? Heaven, by its agents, had already prepared the answer to her prayer and guided her hand to its finding; should she not keep her promise?
She kneeled down before John’s easychair to speak the words that came so slowly back, in responding emotions, from her heart. Burying herface in the cushion, she began to think out her prayer.
Nan was conscientious. She feared to speak words she did not mean, and so she must think about it all.
At last she prayed, “ Help me to be thankful! I am, and I am not. Oh, help me! ”
The drift-wood kindled and shot a ruddy glow out through the chinks in the stove, and the lines of rosy light flickered across the woman’s face as she turned it on the cushion; for she had let the candles burn only while she examined the piece of sail-cloth.
It had grown quite dark out-of-doors when, suddenly, Nan felt that she was not alone. John Ware, her husband, stood in the cabin door, and she rushed up to give him welcome, crying out, " I was trying to keep Thanksgiving, John, because I thought you dead. ‘T was a bitter thanksgiving.”
And he, with his dear, strong voice, told her how the Silver Thistle had all in a moment capsized and gone down, almost before he could loose the small boat and spring clear of the larger one. He told her of his toil in the buffeting waves before he could get into the little boat.
“ I did it for love of you, Nan,” he said; “ and then I floated without an oar until a ship, outward bound, saw me and saved me, and for these two months I ’ve been going from and getting back to you.”
And then, Nan remembered it all: the sight of the Silver Thistle coming in, how it was gone when she looked again, and the ship on the far horizon sailing down the distance. She remembered, too, as one remembers in a dream, her prayers that night for some one on the sea.
“I didn’t know, John dear, that I was praying for you,” she said. “ I ’m so glad I waited here for you to come. They wanted me to go away somewhere,” — plaintively — 44 when there is n’t anywhere without you, for me.”
Just as he was answering her, there came from the wood in the stove a loud snapping sound. Nan jumped up from her kneeling position, startled by the noise. Her thanksgiving was over! She was alone in the one-roomed house, even as she had been when she fell asleep and dreamed the dream that gave her husband to her.
The sharpness of her agony knew no bounds. She wrung her hands and cried, " Cruel! cruel! Who makes dreams? God knows I tried to be thankful; I was thankful. and now to mock me so! ” She gathered up the sail, and, holding it with all the power of crushing that she had, she ran, ini the darkness, to the point of rocks and thrust it: down into the black, boiling sea.
All night poor Nan lay writhing with her agont", for she loved her husband as one may learn to love, having only one object on which to lavish that love. This man, rough fisherman as he had been, to this woman had been all gentleness. He had been to her the very manifestation of divine tenderness and care. And now, what had she to look forward to?
She had outwardly the cold, relentless rim of black, seething waters, four rude walls, a pound or two of flour, a little fire, anil a few articles of furniture. She had in her spiritual nature a blank, dead wall, against which her whole being threw itself with blind fury.
Nan, poor Nan, at last fell into sleep. Another morning dawned. Its brightness aroused her. A healthy hunger urged its power. She prepared the flour, piling the drift-wood into the stove with lavish hand, and ate her breakfast, careless of the future. Then she put her little house in order, made up a bundle of clothing, went out, and shut the door.
Nan had turned her face away from the spot that had been so cruel to her. She went to her only neighbor. " Will you put me on shore? ” she asked; “ I’m going back to the mill.”
“ That’s right, woman,” said Dick Dixon, and he drew his boat along the icy sands until it floated in clear water. Then he rowed across, with Nan in the boat, to the main-land.
She wrung his hand for thanks, and, with her bundle in her arms, wont up into the land, turning only once to glance at the island lying bound in ice in the midst of the sea.
She went to the railroad station. Nan had no money, neither did she owe any man money. Walking up to the ticket office, with a cold, fixed face she drew off her wedding-ring. “ Will you,” she said, " give me a ticket for this to L— ? I have no money.”
“ For a brass ring? ” the man questioned, thoughtlessly.
“For my wedding-ring.! " said Nan, proudly. “But — I don’t need it any more; my husband is dead.”
The station-master looked at Nan a moment. He motioned back the ring almost rudely, and thrusting forward the ticket she needed turned away.
She hesitated. Then she snatched the ring and the ticket, thinking in her heart, “ I ’ll travel hack here and pay for this ticket with the first money I earn.”
With the outward train went Nan; back into the stir of the town she went.
It was night when she reached L—; the mill, where she had toiled before John Ware came into her life, was not far from the station, and she went to it, for the light streaming forth into the November night from its many windows told the story of labor going on within. How well Nan knew the way ! It seemed to her, as she opened the office door and went in, bearing her bundle, as though she had never been away.
She trembled as she put the question, “ Is loom No.—running?” (Loom No. — was Nan’s old working home.) A sudden affection for the loom grew in Nan’s heart. She was skilled in the work of weaving cotton.
“ No,” was the answer.
“ W ll you give it to me? ” she demanded, hunger helping her eagerness, for Nan had eaten nothing since her breakfast on Sand Island.
“You?” with a questioning look at her parcel, “ Do you understand weaving ? ”
“ It is my old loom,” she answered.
“ And your name is ” —
She gave it, forgetting for the moment that it was no longer her name.
The loom was promised to Nan. She went forth to seek lodgings at her old boarding-house, and fell into the same place and the former ways so thoroughly, that oftentimes, when the motion and the noise about her in the great mill filled her sight and hearing, she tried to think that life on Sand Island was only a dream.
While the winds were high and the snows fell and the ice grew, Nan worked patiently and steadfastly from morning until night, six days in the week, weaving cotton.
When the spring, with the warmth of its own rejoicing, made the earth forget its ache of cold, Nan longed to see Sand Island again. It was midsummer when she went to the town on the coast and made her offering of money and thanks to the station-master who, in November, gave her a passenger ticket for L—. The man looked at her with surprise, for of all the people to whom he had given tickets, this was the first that had returnee! to give thanks.
At the town wharf Nan found a boatman. He had just come up from the harbor bar, where he had stayed clamming as long as the rising tide would let him.
“ Never mind the clams,” said Nan, gathering in her dress from contact with them as she stepped into his boat. “It will take loo long to get them out, and the wind may rise.”
“ True! The wind rises now with the tide, mostly. I hope you ’re not afraid.”
“ No,” said Nan, looking out toward the ocean with unspoken fear in her eyes, while at her heart she had no fear. “ Why should I be?” she thought, as the oars touched water and the boat moved on. “ Sand Island and the ocean have done their worst for me.”
And yet the place powerfully attracted and repelled her, as she drew near it. Three times she caused the boatman to cease from rowing, thinking in her heart as she did so that she would not land. The fishing boats were within sight. Soon they would be coming in. It was the desire to learn something of the fishing interests that her husband had once had part and lot in that caused her after the third delay to say resolutely, “ I will go on. ’ ’
The boatman crossed his oars and laid them at rest; the boat floated, turning on the tide. Doubtful and perplexed he said, “ It is n’t my business to know who you are, nor why you ’re bound for yonder island, bnf if it’s drowning yourself that you ’re thinking of, don’t go there to do it.”
“ Did any one, ever? ” eagerly questioned Nan, smiling softly to herself at the thought, and wondering how any one could have courage to go forward to meet Death.
The boatman made no answer. He was watching her narrowly, and wishing that he had her safely on shore.
“ Death is n’t so pleasant to me that I should hasten to meet it,” she said. “ I am Nancy Ware, wife of John Ware.” Even then the poor soul could not bring herself to say widow of John Ware.
Nan’s story was known in all that region, although her face was not. The boatman looked at her with curiosity and interest as he rowed on toward the island. Presently he remarked, “ You’ve heard the news', then?”
“ What news? ” gasped Nan. “ I’ve heard no news,” she said, speaking still louder; “ what is it? ”
“ They ’ll tell you at the house, yonder, all about it,” he replied, rowing with vigor, for he saw, fluttering against the blue of the sky, a far-away ruffle of sea, and knew that the wind was moving on the waters and that he had no time to lose in getting back to the mainland. Faster and faster he rowed, nearer and nearer came Sand Island. As the boat touched the shore the man sprang into the tide and hauled it up. “Come,” he said, “don’t keep me. I’ve not a moment to spare.”
Nan was trembling. She could not. walk a boat’s length without aid. He lifted her to the ground, and giving his boat a thrust forward, springing into it at the same moment, he was beyond recall when she remembered that she had given him no money. Trying bravely to steady her quivering body and make it do service for her will by taking her to the small brown house on the rocks above, she went forward. “With her white face and her asking eyes, she appeared to Mrs. Dixon in the cottage.
“ I’ve been looking for you near a week,” said the fisherman’s wife. “ I knew you was a-coming, but to-night I did n't see any boat crossing over. I’m heartily glad to see you, Nancy Ware.”
“ Did you send for me? Tell me everything,” gasped the excited woman.
“ Send for you? No. Where could I send? But I knew you’d have to come; you who looked so long up and down for something.”
“ Tell me everything,” repeated Nan, wondering how this woman could have news for her and not speak it out at once.
For answer Mrs. Dixon went into the adjoining room and fetched from thence an “oil-skin” jacket, which she laid across Nan’s lap. “There!” she said. “ ’T was found just eight days ago. What do you think of that? ”
Nan was turning it over and over in vain search of something that she did not find.
“ Oh, there is n’t any mistake, not a mite, but what it’s your husband’s jacket. Every man of the crew identified it, even without the contents.”
“ Contents! ” echoed Nan, her large gray eyes grasping in their sight every possible content that a coat, meant for living man, could hold.
“ Poor soul! ” cried Mrs. Dixon, reading the thought that grew into expression in her face. “ Not that that you think; but I will show you.” She went again into the room whence she had brought the jacket, and returned with a small parcel wrapped in paper.
“ This was in the breast pocket, buttoned in tight,” she said, laying it on the coat. Nan’s fingers fell to work taking off tlie paper wrapping, When it was removed, there lay revealed a shrunken, shriveled, water-worn pocket-book. It was ready to fall into fragments at a touch. On any shore, Nan would have recognized it. It was her gift to John Ware before he became her husband.
A dark, faded blur lay across it. It was the mark of tlie ocean over the name that Nan had written there with a flush of “ dainty shame ” that she should dare to write it at all, — a name that meant for her, at that time, all the future on earth and much of heaven beside. The well-known characters had faded from sight, but she could read them in the deeper lines graven on her heart. She looked at it with tearless eyes.
Mrs. Dixon ventured to say, “ I 'd open it, if I was you.”
Mechanically Nan fumbled at the rusty clasp. “ There is nothing in it, I know,” she said. “ I remember it was empty the day before he went.” While she was speaking, the clasp gave way, and a dry, pulpy mass of paper lay disclosed.
“ You must n’t touch it; but it’s money, that is!” said the fisherman’s wife, eagerly. “ It ’ll all fall to pieces if you try to open it. It’s got to go to the bank, or somewhere, afore it’s picked out, and then you can get new money for it, so they say.”
“ Then they did pay John, after all; and I’ve been thinking wrong, hard thoughts against the mill owners all this time,” said Nan, slowly.
“ But you are glad to get the money, Nancy Ware, ain’t you, now? ”
Without giving expression to any feeling of pleasure, she simply asked whore it had been found.
Little Dick, who had entered, said that he knew, for he had found it; and at once Nan arose to go to the place with the lad.
As they were going, little Dick said: “It was a tough old storm that did it, Mrs. Ware. The boat was pounded into the sand fit to grow into it, and all covered up, deep down as my arm up to the elbow. We struck it with a stick, and it sounded just like rock; so Maine and me dug down and found tlie dingey bottom side up. There it is now! The men got it out; and nailed fast to it was the old oiler.”
Nan went to the spot. One glance convinced her that it was the small boat in which John used to come on shore at niglit after anchoring the Silver Thistle. She knelt down on the sand beside it, stroking it softly; coaxing it, the boy said, when he told the story at home, to tell her where it had been and what it had done with John.
On going back to the cottage, she learned the news of the sea, the fishermen, and the boats. When she asked of her home, she was told that it remained as she had left it.
“I don’t think,” said Mr. Dixon, who had returned from his day of toil, “ that a soul has spent a night in the place since you went away.”
The southwest wind blowing over the ocean made Nan restless. She knew with what a cool moan the sea was heaving on the sands upon the farther side. When the moon was up, she arose from her chair, and said, “ I am going over to spend the night in the old place.”
“ You’re not expecting anything more from the sea, are you? ” asked Mr. Dixon, aroused and unwilling to have her go.
“No,” she said, “I am not.” Nan had never heard of poetic justice, yet she could not. help saying, “ The sea took my all from me; why should it not give me back as well? ”
In spite of protest, Nan went forth alone. Dick Dixon sat in his house door as she went, and said to his wife: “ It’s safe enough, but it is tlie queerest freak. Most women would be frightened to death at the thought.”
“ Nancy Ware is n’t like other women,” replied his wife. “ She never showed the least mite of pleasure at finding that money. I do believe she eared a great deal more about the old boat that had carried her husband so many times, and the jacket that had kept him dry, than she did for the money that will serve her many a good turn yet.”
Meanwhile Nan went up the slope and passed out of sight over the crest of the island, and so came to the one-roomed building that had been to her a home. At the instant she reached the door, a goldwhite meteor shot across and down the sky, brighter in its light, for the time, than the moon itself.
“If I were God,” said Nan, “and could do things like that, I would do other things, as well. O God,” she cried, in anguish of spirit. “ Why not? Why not? ” After a time, she loosed the rude fastening of the door and went in, the moonlight slanting in after her. The place was still, lonely, weird, and yet it seemed scarcely touched by human hands since the morning she went away from it. With true neighborly instinct Mrs. Dixon had, in November, removed to her own house all the articles liable to be carried off by a chance visitor. The bed was there, and the stove, and the chairs. Nan had no use for them; nevertheless there came to her at the instant a feeling of satisfaction in the knowledge of their possession. Mrs. Dixon had provided Nan with a candle and matches. She closed the door, lit the candle, and looked around the place. Spiders had taken up their unmolested abode in it. She opened the door, the wind extinguishing the flame of the candle in her hand. She knew that when it was full sea the wind would drop away and leave the ocean phosphorescent, as it rocked softly into calm. Drawing John’s easy-chair into the moonlight, she moved to and fro in it until the old, uneven boards of the floor creaked.
For the first time since her sorrow came, Nancy Ware thought of her future; thought of it not merely as a life at work weaving cotton to-day and perhaps to-morrow, but as a period of time, as a series of years to be endured, to be gotten over somehow, as the best that she could do. She was not yet twenty years old. Childhood she scarcely remembered; girlhood she had not had; hard work for bread and shelter had shut that happy lot away from her. The uncaredfor, uncanny air of the house oppressed her after a time. A swallow darted past her face and flew out through a broken window pane near by.
Meanwhile, in the house at the farther end of the island, Dick Dixon and his wife had talked together about Nan’s spending the night alone, and had decided that “ it would not do at all,” and that they must go over and persuade her to return with them. About half-way between the two houses they met, Nan returning of her own wish.
“ It is musty over there, shut away from the fresh air,” said Nan, simply.
“ Nothing like finding out things for one’s own self, is there? ” said Dick Dixon. “If we’d ’a’told you so, you would n’t have let it make the least mite of difference with your going.”
“You might have waited a night or two and had the place, cleaned up a little before you went,” said Mrs. Dixon, “ but I ’m glad you met us part way. I’m tired and sleepy; the days are so loner, now.” She yawned wearily and straggled through the sand heavily.
“ I’m sorry I made you so much trouble,” replied Nan; “ but I believe I was startled by a swallow in the house. I never liked swallows; they look at you so, and never wink or blink a bit.”
The following morning, Nan startled the fisherman’s household by the announcement that she was going to take a vacation front the mill work and spend it in the little house. She made the statement with a rising blush that puzzled Dick Dixon, especially as Nan spoke with cheerful tones running through the words she uttered.
“Nancy Ware!” exclaimed Mrs. Dixon.
“ Well? ”
“ Don’t you know that you can’t stay there all alone? ”
“ I don’t mean to. Here is little Dick. Will you let him stay with me until some one else comes? There is a poor soul in the mill working her very life out without a day of rest, year in and year out. I am going to send for her to come and stay with me. It will do us both good, and the money in the pocket-book will be a blessing to her as well as to me.”
“I wish you wouldn’t do it,” said Mrs. Dixon. “ It is right enough for a woman to stay with her husband anywhere; but two women just alone, so far off and so lonely and everything ” —
Nan smiled but made no answer, and an hour later she was on her way to the house with a scrubbing pail and soap, accompanied by little Dick with his small hand wagon laden with needful articles.
The weather was perfect. The cool southwest wind met them on the crest of the island and blew in their faces, cooling the air that fell around them as they went down to the little house. Nan’s face shone with a nameless happiness. She ran like a child up and down the shore with the boy, gathering drift-wood to light a fire. She told no one the secret of her new joy. It had come to her partly by thinking the matter of John’s loss over before going to sleep the night before, and coming to the conclusion that, after all, she had not proof enough of John’s loss to dare to marry again (not that Nan had any intention of or wish for such an event, only the thought came to her through the suggestion of the possibility of such a thing as marriage); and partly by the repetition of the very dream, in all its minuteness, that she had dreamed on Thanksgiving night. It had seemed so real and so plausible to Nan, and yet she knew too well that no one, certainly not the fisherman or his wife, would feel the hope or see the reasonableness of it all; therefore she went her way alone, and said nothing of her new hope or of the dream.
There were four young swallows in the nest on the ledge over the window near the door. It went hard with Nan to dislodge them. With little Dick’s help she carefully removed the nest, built of swamp mud and bits of last year’s sedge from the land shore, and, with the parent birds flapping in her face with dives and darts that threatened everything in the way of vengeance, she placed it securely on a projection in the porch at the door.
Nan watched the sea as she worked. It grew dear to her with its old endearing ways of rise and fall and change of hue. At noon, which she knew by the sun, little Dick came in and ate his dinner with her from the basket of provisions that they had brought. In the afternoon, when the room was cleaned, they went back to the cottage together. The next day Dick Dixon went to the town with Nan to get the provisions she needed for her little venture.
lie laughed at her about her summer cottage by the sea, as they went, but Nan sat by, unmoved and content. Slie sent off, that afternoon, a letter to the poor, hard-working woman in the mill at L-, inviting her to spend a month on Sand Island, and asking her to report her absence to tlie superintendent at the mill, also to bring with her Nan’s trunk.
The day following this trip to the town on the coast, Nan and little Dick moved into the cottage, and Comfort went with them. A week later came the woman from the mill. Her thankfulness had so much heart-break in it that N.an cried with pity at finding that there was one soul that had had less joy than she had.
The first week, her guest could do little but look at the ocean and lament that she had lived so long and never seen it until so late. The second week, both women began to look for employment; their lives had been too busy to sit long in idleness. The third week, they were busy at all odd hours stitching shoes, which Dick Dixon obtained for them. Little Dick, with true fisherman’s instinct and luck, caught fish at each day’s rise of the tide, from the ledge of rocks. The two cottages grew very neighborly, their inmates interchanging visits nearly every day.
On the sands John’s boat still lay; it was beyond repair and would he there until time or seas should destroy it. Nan shyly visited it when she could do so unobserved. She clung to it simply because it had been near to John since she had,
“ My month is over,” said Nan’s companion, one day; “ my month is over tomorrow. ’ ’
Nan started visibly. “ Don’t you like it here? ” she asked.
“ Like it! I would live here forever if I could,” she said; “ but I must go back to my work.”
“ Wait with me until the fall winds begin to blow. I ’ll go then,” said Nan. feeling that every day on Sand Island was so much gained, — for what, or by what, she did not stop to ask. “Beside,” she added, “ we can earn enough to live, even here.”
And so it was then and there decided that the two women should stay on until autumn. Pleasure parties, much to Nan’s annoyance, began to land at the island and peer curiously into her little cabin as they sauntered by. Nan’s story was popular in the village, and strangers were eager to see the woman who had stayed through cold and semi-starvation, waiting for a piece of patched sail-cloth to wash up.
The summer was stealing by. Nan made a little notch with every day on the window ledge, a tiny stroke with a pin, to tell how fast the days were growing into the last weeks and the final month of her stay. She stitched shoes faster than ever, now, feeling a pride that John’s money had not yet been touched to supply her needs. She would like to keep it intact as long as possible.
Once in the week Dick Dixon went to the post-office in the town on the coast; usually that once was on Saturday, in the afternoon. The little errands that were given him to do occupied several hours, so that when he returned the sun was nearly always past its setting. Sometimes on his return he rowed around to Nan’s cabin. Sometimes she waited at Ids cottage to take home the parcels he fetched for her.
The last Saturday in August came. Nan and the woman had an unusual number of shoes to return. Little Dick took the parcel across to his father before dinner on that day. They had worked at them during the morning to the neglect of household duties. As soon as the parcel was ready, Nan began her Saturday’s baking, intending to finish it and go across to the cottage in time to fetch back the bundles of new work with little Dick. It was too late to make bread and have it rise in time to bake, and Nan made biscuit. Oddly enough she had not made biscuit since the day John was expected home. As she kneaded the flour before the open window, she said to the woman who sat in the door paring apples for pies, “The fishing boats are coining in early to-day. ” She saw the Menhaden, followed by her seineboats, sailing toward the harbor, and the lighters, fish-laden to the sea’s edge, going before a fair wind to the mill.
Dick Dixon at that moment started for the main-land, wishing as he rowed on that the Menhaden would throw him a line and tow him in ; but the sloop sailed past and was at the harbor’s mouth before he had rowed out half the distance. Before he was at the pier, he saw a group of men on it gesticulating in an excited manner, and at the moment his boat touched the dock a long, loud hurrah went up from a score of fishermen. He laughed. “They’ve had a good catch to-day,” he thought, as he made his boat fast to the dock and climbed up to learn the news. The instant his head appeared above the timbers, another shout rang out. The men were wringing some one by the hand, and laughing like boys over a snow man.
“Hello!” he called. “What’s up? Got a mermaid ashore? ”
“There’s Dixon! See if he knows him,” said the Menhaden’s captain; but there was no chance for the test to be put. The man was at Dick Dixon’s side.
“ How is she, Dick?” were the first words that were spoken.
“ Well and hearty, my lad,” said Dick Dixon, and then he made feint of clinging a moment to John Ware’s hand before dropping down on a timber of the dock. “ Who’d ha’ thought anything would have struck me so? ” he thought, but no one paid attention to Dick Dixon.
“ All aboard! ” shouted some one.
“For what?” shouted Dick, in return .
“ We ’re going to take him over,” said one of the men.
“Not without me in the boat,” he said, clinging to a young lad of the crew and following on. The seine-boat had already a dozen men in it.
John Ware was pleased with his reception; it gave him joy to meet so hearty a welcome to his old life, but he would have preferred his own little dingey and a pair of oars to take himself over to Sand Island. The men, eager and curious to learn his story, plied him with many questions, when he longed to keep still. They learned that which Nan had dreamed. The Silver Thistle capsized and went down. John Ware sprang clear of the sinking boat and battled for life, reaching the small boat, from whence, greatly exhausted, he was picked up by one of the boats of the very ship Nan had seen that day sailing down the horizon.
In the hope of meeting some inwardbound sail, by which he could return, he went with the ship on her voyage to the far East. When, months later, it reached its port, he sought out another ship in which he could return as a seaman. That ship met with storms that disabled it so that time was lost in repairs at a foreign port.
“In fact,” said John, “I’ve had a pretty tough time of it from first to last. I’d rather catch bony fish in sight of a home shore all the year round.”
To save further questioning, he insisted on taking a turn at the oars, but a dozen hands prevented. Then they fell to wondering how Mrs. Ware would take the sudden news, and they talked over, man-fashion, the best way of telling her what had happened.
“ You ’d better leave that to the women,” spoke Dick Dixon. “ They ’ll manage that.”
Nan, on the island, went on with the baking for Sunday. The biscuit were out and the pies were in the oven, when in came little Dick with eyes distended to the utmost.
1 ‘ Oh, Mrs. Ware! ” he cried. " Something ’s happened, I know! There’s lots of men coining over the island, and father ’s along with ’em, and raa too, ’thout anything on her head.”
Nan’s first thought was, “ Wliat could happen to me?” Her second thought made the blood flash like heat lightning in her face.
“ There, now! See the heads coming up over the sand! ” cried the boy, running to the corner of the house. Both women had gone out and were at the corner. The group of men had hesitated and were; standing still. Mrs. Dixon was coming heavily through the sand, with one hand pressed over her heart and the other holding the corner of her apron over her head.
Nan ran lightly to meet her. “What has happened? Is anything the matter? ” she asked.
“No! No! Nothing’s the matter,” she gasped; then, the two meeting, she let go the apron and her heart at the same instant, and clasped Nan in her fat, motherly arms and kissed her. Nan never knew whether the words, “ He’s come!” or the kiss came first.
“ Who’s come ? ”
The coolness of the woman threw Mrs. Dixon off her guard. " Your husband’s come!” she said.
“ Keep those men away! " said Nan; for Mrs. Dixon had given the signal for approach.
Nan felt that her feet were sinking deeper and deeper into the sand. Then John seemed to come and take hold of her before she went down out of sight.
Sarah J. Pritchard.