Christie, the King's Servant
Chapter 8: A NIGHT OF STORM
It was late when I got back to my lodging, and I walked like one in a dream. Polly opened the door, and she seemed troubled about the child. Little John was evidently in pain, for I heard him moaning as I went upstairs.
'I should get a doctor, Polly,' I said.
'So Duncan says, sir; we shall have to send for him in the morning if he's no better.'
I slept calmly and peacefully, and I woke up to feel that I was beginning an entirely new life. Henceforth I was not my own. I was standing on the heavenward side of the line, and I had taken my place amongst the servants of Christ. I had never felt so happy before.
Duncan had set off for the doctor before I was down that morning. Little John was better, Polly said, but was still very feverish, and would eat nothing. She brought him down before I went off to my work, wrapped in a shawl, and I thought he looked very ill, but I did not like to say so.
Duncan came in just at that moment, and the child put out his arms to his father, and he took him on his knee by the fire, and when I came home to dinner he was still lying there.
'Has the doctor been?' I asked.
'No, sir; he was out when I called this morning. He had gone to a bad case, they said, ten miles off, but I left a message. I hope he'll come before I go this evening. I should be more comfortable like if he did.'
However, the evening came, and Duncan's mates were whistling for him from the shore, and the doctor had not appeared. The boy was still in his father's arms, and he was walking up and down the kitchen to soothe him.
'It's hard to leave him, sir,' he said, when he heard the whistle, 'but he seems a bit better, I think, this afternoon; he hasn't cried so much, has he, Polly?'
But I saw there were tears in his eyes as he gave the boy to his mother.
'I'll walk with you to the shore, Duncan,' I said, for I saw that the poor fellow was very downcast.
'Thank you kindly, sir,' he answered.
I stood on the shore whilst the nets and fishing tackle were put on board, then he said in a low voice,—
'It's a comfort to feel you will be near my poor lass to-night, sir. It cuts me to the heart to leave her; if anything happens to little John, whatever would me and my missus do! But the Lord knows, sir—He knows,' he repeated, and he wiped away a tear which fell on my hand as he grasped it.
I went back to Duncan's house, to find the doctor there. It was influenza and pneumonia, he said, and the boy must be kept in one room. He was a very silent man, and whether he thought it was a serious case or not I could not discover.
I determined not to go to bed that night, but to sit up in my room, in case I should be of any use. I was really glad of the quiet time for thought and prayer.
I am ashamed to confess that I had brought no Bible with me to Runswick Bay; I had not opened a Bible for years. But when all was quiet in the house I stole quietly downstairs, and brought up Duncan's Bible, which was lying on the top of the oak cupboard below. What a well-worn, well-read Bible it was! I wondered if my mother's Bible had been read like that. There was his name on the title-page, 'John Duncan, from his affectionate father.' It had evidently been given to him when a boy, and underneath the name was written this verse: 'Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law.' I said that little prayer before I began to read, and I have said it ever since each time that I have opened my Bible.
About twelve o'clock that night the weather became very stormy. A sudden gale set in, and in a very short time the sea became lashed into a fury. I have never heard wind like the wind that night. It literally shrieked and moaned as it blew, and every window and door in the house rattled, and sometimes I felt as if the cottage itself would be swept away.
'What a time they must be having out at sea!' I said to myself.
I went to the window, and putting out my candle, I tried to see out into the darkness; but I could distinguish nothing whatever, so black was the sky and so tremendous was the rain.
It must have been about one o'clock that I heard a step on the stairs. I opened my door and went out. It was Polly.
'How is he, Polly?' I asked.
'Very bad, sir; very bad,' she said. 'He doesn't know me now, and he won't take anything; and oh, sir, do you hear the wind?'
Who could help hearing it? It was raging more furiously every moment, and the house seemed to rock with the violence of the storm.
'Let me help you, Polly,' I said; 'let me come and sit with you beside little John.'
'Well, sir, if you would just stay a few minutes whilst I fetch Betty Green,' she said; 'I feel as if I dursn't be alone any longer, I'm getting that nervous, what with little John talking so queer, sir, and the wind blowing so awful, and his father on the sea!' and Polly burst into tears.
'Polly,' I said, 'God is on the sea as well as on the land. Go and fetch Betty, and I will sit by the child.'
She went down and opened the door, and the wind rushed into the house and up the stairs, and I had to shut the bedroom door hastily to keep it out. Then I heard Polly pulling and pulling at it, and vainly trying to shut it, and I had to go down to help her. She was some minutes away, for she had difficulty in rousing her neighbour, and I sat beside the unconscious child. He was talking the whole time, but I could distinguish very little of what he said. It seemed to be chiefly about going with his daddy in his boat, and every now and then he would call out quite loudly, 'Come, daddy, come, daddy, to little John.'
When Polly returned with old Betty, I had again to go down to help them to close the door.
'What do you think of him, sir?' said Polly.
I did not like to say what I thought, so I answered, 'Well, perhaps it would be as well to get the doctor to have another look at him. I'll go for him if you like.'
'I don't believe you could manage it, sir,' said Betty. 'You can't stand outside; me and Polly has been clinging on to the palings all the way, and it will be terrible up on the top.'
'Shall I try, Polly?'
She gave me a grateful look, but did not answer by words. But the two women gave me so long a description of the way to the doctor's house, and interrupted each other so often, and at length both talked together in their eagerness to make it clear to me, that at the end I was more bewildered and hopelessly puzzled than at the beginning, and I determined to go to Mr. Christie before I started, in order to obtain from him full and clear directions.
It took me quite ten minutes to reach his house, and I felt as if I had gone through a battle when I arrived there at length, quite spent and breathless. I saw a light in the lower room, and I found Mr. Christie and his wife and children sitting in the room where I had passed through so much the night before. Marjorie and little Jack were in their nightgowns, wrapped in a blanket, and sitting in the same arm-chair. My mother's picture was looking at me from the wall, and I fancied that she smiled at me as I came in.
'What a terrible night!' said Mrs. Christie. 'The children were so frightened by the noise of the wind in their attic that we brought them down here.'
I told them my errand, and Mr. Christie at once offered to go with me for the doctor. I shall never forget that walk as long as I live. We could not speak to each other more than a few necessary words, we were simply fighting with the storm. Then, to our disappointment, when our long walk was ended, we found that the doctor was away, and would probably not return until morning.
The walk home was, if possible, worse than the walk there, for the wind was dead against us as we came down the cliff. It had changed somewhat the last hour, and was now blowing from the north-east.
'There will be trouble out at sea,' Mr. Christie said, as we stopped to take breath.
'And what about the boats?' I asked.
'Yes,' he said, almost with a groan, 'what about the boats?'
We could see very little out at sea, though it was beginning to grow light, but we determined to make our way to the shore, to see all that it was possible to distinguish. He went home for a moment, and then followed me to my lodging. Polly and her old friend were still watching the child.
'I think he's a little better, sir,' she said; 'he's quieter. Oh, Mr. Christie, I am glad to see you, sir! Will you pray, sir? I think I shall hear the wind less if you pray!'
We knelt down beside the child's bed, but the noise of the storm almost drowned his voice. At the end of the prayer the child began once more to cry for his father, so piteously, so beseechingly, that at last I could bear it no longer, but ran downstairs, to be out of the sound of that touching little voice. Mr. Christie soon followed me, and we went out together in the grey light of that terrible morning.
'The child is dying, Jack,' he said.
'Oh, don't say so, Mr. Christie!' I answered; 'dying before his father comes back.'
'God grant he may come back!' he said; 'look at the sea, Jack.'
The sea was dashing wildly against the rocks, and the noise of the wind was so great we could hardly hear our own voices. In the dim uncertain light we could at length distinguish a group of anxious watchers on the shore. Some old fishermen were there trying to hold a telescope steady in the gale, that they might look across the water for any sign of a boat, and mothers and wives and sweethearts of the absent fishermen were there also, with shawls tied over their heads, and with troubled and tear-stained faces, peering out into the dismal light of that sorrowful morning.
Mr. Christie and I stood near them, and he spoke from time to time a word of encouragement and hope to the anxious women beside him. As the light increased the wind dropped somewhat, and the gale seemed to have spent its violence. We were thankful to notice, that although the sea was still very rough, and would be so for hours, the wind was gradually subsiding; instead of howling and shrieking, as it had done the whole night long, it was dying away with gentle moans, like a child weary with passion who is crying himself to sleep. But still there was no sign of the boats.
The women on the shore were wet through, and Mr. Christie tried to persuade them to go home. Their men would want good fires and hot tea on their return, he told them, and they ought to make ready for them. I was glad to notice that one by one they followed his advice, and turned to climb the hill towards their cottages. Then we turned also, and went back to my lodging. We crept into the room, and found old Betty asleep in her chair, and Polly holding the little hand in hers as the child slept.
'Have the boats come, sir?' she said as we went in.
'Not yet, Polly; but please God they will come soon.'
We sat down beside her for a little time, but we presently heard a shout from the shore.
'Thank God,' said Polly, 'he's come!'
The child seemed in some strange way to have heard that shout, and to have understood its meaning, for he opened his eyes and said, 'Come, daddy, come to little John.'
We hurried down to the shore, where a large crowd had already collected. The whole of Runswick Bay seemed to have gathered together in that short space of time. We could distinctly see the boats far out at sea, but wind and tide were with them, and they, were coming rapidly nearer. What a night they must have had, and what a welcome they would receive from the watchers on the shore!
'How many boats went out last night, Bob?' said one man as they drew nearer.
'There was eight, Jem,' he said—'the Jane Ann one, Lady Hilda two, the Susan three, the Mary Ann four, Princess Alice five, the Lightning six, the Eliza seven, the Alert eight.'
'Are you sure, Bob?'
'Quite sure, I saw them start.'
'Well, there's one missing, Jem,' he said; 'catch hold of this glass, and just you count.'
'One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.'
There was one missing, and I felt that I knew which it was before they came in sight.
It was the Mary Ann.
Next Chapter: Chapter 9: Over the Line
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