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After Long Years and Other Stories by  Agnes M. Dunne


 

 

HOW IT HAPPENED

THE WOODED ISLAND

[179] In a quaint little cottage not far from the sea-coast, David Duval first saw the light of day. His father, a very industrious man, supported his family by making willow baskets, and his children, as they grew able, helped him considerably. David, the oldest child, was the father's favorite, for he showed great skill in his work, was quick and obliging and rendered his father considerable assistance. Although David gave promise of being a great man some day, yet he had a very grave fault, and this was his headstrong will. He always wanted to have his own way in everything, would never yield to another's rights, and his parents found great difficulty in teaching him to obey orders. His sisters, too, suffered much from his bad temper and from his overbearing manner.

His rich uncle, Philip, gave him many invitations to dine with him. David enjoyed nothing better than to have the feasts which his uncle provided, but they made him dissatisfied with the simple fare of his own modest little home. He grumbled all the while he was eating in his own [180] house, and did not think it worth while to thank God or his parents for his food.

When he was reminded of his faults, he would promise to do better, but in a little while he would fall back to his old ways. This saddened his parents and they thought that the fond hopes which they held for his future would all be blasted.

His uncle would often say to him: "David, David, take care! God will yet send you to a special school, the 'School of Experience,' where He will discipline you, in order to make something good of you."

From the hill upon which David's house stood, one could see a vast expanse of water. A little island which lay not far from the coast lent beauty to the scene by its wealth of verdure. No one lived upon it and David's father visited it, from time to time, in order to gather willow branches for his basket weaving.

David, who was now strong enough to help his father row and also to cut down the branches, often accompanied him. One night his father said to him: "If the sky and the sea stay propitious, we will both row over to the island in the morning." David leaped for joy, and the prospect of the trip would hardly let him sleep.

At dawn on the following day, as the sky began to glow and the morning star grew paler and paler, David stood ready. He helped his mother [181] carry food and wraps into the little boat. It had once happened that the weather had suddenly changed, and David and his father had been obliged to remain on the island for three days, suffering much for the want of food and covering; therefore, mother took the precaution to give them a pot, a pan and some matches, so that they could start a fire and cook something, if necessary.

As everything was now in readiness for the trip, David took his straw hat, while his sister playfully pinned a feather in the ribbon.

"Oh," said his father; "get a couple of baskets, David; we'll need them."

"What for?" asked David.

"You'll find that out soon enough," said his father, laughingly. "Don't you trust that I well know to what use I will put them? You do the same to me, as many people do to their Father in heaven. They always want to know why this or that was ordered. Do what I tell you, and in the end it will come out all right." David then hurried and brought back the baskets.

They both seated themselves in the boat, and pushed from the shore. Mother and daughter called after them: "A pleasant trip and a happy return." David vied with his father in rowing, and it made him so warm that he took off his coat.

Soon they reached the island and made a land- [182] ing, while David tied the boat to a tree stump. They hurried toward the willow trees, cut the branches, tied them together in bundles and carried them to the little boat. The father was delighted with David's helpfulness, and said: "That is right; children should help their parents as much as their strength will permit."

When they had gathered as many branches as were needed, the father said: "Now, let us rest a while and eat some lunch. After labor, rest is sweet, and one's food tastes so much better." When the meal was ended, the father said: "Now I want to give you another pleasure. Get the baskets and follow me." Soon they came to a beautiful walnut tree, whose branches, spreading far out on all sides, were laden with nuts. David was overjoyed at this sight, as he had never seen the tree before. He at once filled his pockets with nuts and tried to crack one with his teeth and get at the kernel. "Father," said he, "why did God put the sweet nut between two shells, a bitter and a hard one?"

"My dear boy," said his father, "God had the wisest purpose for doing this. He wanted to protect the sweet kernel, out of which such a beautiful tree could grow and save it from the gnawing animals. This teaches us how to take the bitter and hard trials of this life. As we do not despise or throw away this sweet nut, because it has a bitter and a hard shell, so we must not resent the [183] sorrows and disagreeable situations that come to us. The first experience we feel is that sorrows are bitter and hard, but we must trust that the good and sweet kernel which they have hidden within them will come to light at last, and will be not only of use, but also a blessing to us."

The father then climbed the tree and began to shake it. David gathered the nuts which rained down and put them into the baskets, which he carried to the boat, where he emptied them, returning many times for more.

"How your mother will rejoice when she sees these nuts," said the father, "and what shouts of joy we'll hear from your sisters when I divide them. The thought of it pleases me now, for certainly there is no joy greater than that of giving pleasure to others."

While David and his father were busy with their work, there crept over the heavens heavy black clouds. Then there arose a dreadful wind storm, just as David stood in the boat emptying his last basket of nuts. The wind bent the trees and raised the waters into high waves. All at once, a blast came, tore the boat from its moorings and took it far out to sea.

David cried loudly, in horror. His frightened father hurried to the shore and saw the boy in the boat, in the far distance. The waves increased in size and soon the little boat could be seen, first [184] on the crest and then hidden in the trough. It was carried rapidly along.

The father saw his boy wringing his hands, but of his cries he could hear nothing, for the sound of the roaring waters and rushing wind drowned them.

The entire sky was now enveloped in black clouds and dark night hovered over the sea. Flashes of lightning illuminated the heavens and dreadful crashes of thunder filled the air. Seeing no more of his son or of the boat, the father sank disheartened under the willow tree and spent the night alone with his grief.

Meanwhile, his wife and other children were distracted with fear. As the lightning broke forth, followed by thunderous crashes, and the island was shrouded in rain, they prayed for the absent ones. When the storm abated, they gazed long and patiently, in the hopes of getting a signal of the returning boat. They saw and heard nothing. The mother spent the night in sleepless anxiety.

As the morning broke forth in beautiful sunshine, and still no sign of the little boat could be seen, the mother's fears grew greater and greater. She ran crying to Philip, and told him her troubles. He knit his brow and shook his head. "It is strange that they have not come back yet. I'll just row over and see what has happened to them." He stepped into his boat lying close at [185] anchor, and, with his assistant, rowed over to the little island. Mother and children stood watching them in anxiety and dread.

At last, they saw the little boat, in the distance, returning with its load. "Oh thanks," cried the mother. "Philip has other passengers in the boat, besides his assistant. Now, it is all right." She hurried down to the shore, but as the boat neared them she cried in fright: "Where is my David?" The father, deathly pale, looked at her in silence. His deep grief had made him dumb. Uncle Philip then spoke to her: "May God comfort you, for our David has been drowned in the sea. Poor David had his faults, but he was a good-hearted boy."

The mother could find no comfort and the children cried.

FAR FROM HOME

[186] While David was being wept over as dead, he still lived. He had had a dreadful shock, riding on the tumultuous waves, far, far out to sea. His boat, over which the waves had dashed in fury, threatened each moment to sink. At last, after hours and hours of torture, the wind drove his boat upon the coast of a rocky island.

As soon as David was sure that the boat was firm on the rocks, he hurried out, waded through the foaming, shallow water to the land and climbed up the rocks, while his clothes dripped with rain and sea water.


[Illustration]

"As soon as David was sure that the boat was firm on the rocks he hurried out."

After he had recovered a little from his shock and fear, he gazed out at his little boat and wondered how it had been so well guided into the clefts of the rocks. A good sailor could have made no better landing. "Who steered this rudderless boat so safely into this haven? God's great goodness and mercy has certainly led me to this safety, and all my life I shall be grateful."

The storm had now been broken and the rain ceased. David thought he could see the green island, with its trees but it seemed no bigger than a bush, that he could easily have covered with his straw hat. The land, still farther away, seemed [187] to touch the horizon, and it looked like a little cloud.

"Oh," cried David, "how dreadfully far I am from human help. This island, on which I have been cast, cannot be seen by my people; I never saw it when I looked out to sea. They will never think that I am here and they will mourn me as dead. The men will go and get my father, but no one will come for me. I have often heard them say, 'for fifty miles out, there is no sign of land.' "

The waters, little by little, grew calmer, so David hurried down to his boat; but, as he was about to step into it, he noticed that it had sprung a leak. "Oh," cried he, "my little boat is useless now, and I am a prisoner on this rocky island. I must stay here till I die and never again shall I see my people." His face grew white with fear and the tears rolled down his cheeks.

As David saw starvation staring him in the face, he collected the nuts that were in the boat, put them into the baskets and carried them to safety, where he also placed the few utensils that had not been washed overboard. Then he pulled his little boat as far up on the rocks as he could get it.

The fear through which he had passed had now exhausted him. He felt almost afraid to sleep, out in the open, all alone, but he prayed his evening prayer as he had been accustomed to, lay [188] down beside his nuts and his few kitchen utensils, and soon was fast asleep. After a restless night, filled with many strange dreams of home, he was awakened by the noise of sea birds, fluttering overhead. As he gazed before him and saw nothing but the boundless sea, he uttered a loud cry.

A bevy of birds flew toward the land. "Oh, dear birds, I wish you could carry a message to my people and tell them that I am here. My good father and uncle would risk their lives to get me."

After he had breakfasted on a few nuts and a little piece of bread, he decided to examine the island. "Perhaps I shall find some fruit trees that will afford me nourishment till God delivers me from this captivity; and maybe I shall find some people living here who will take me to my home."

He wrapped a few pieces of bread and nuts in his handkerchief, tied the bundle to the end of a stick, slung it over his shoulder and started forth. It was a dangerous, weary journey that gave no signs of human life. Nor did he see any of the narrow paths usually made by animals. Numberless trees were there, but none that bore fruit.

"If I have to stay long on this island, I'll die of starvation," said he, as the perspiration rolled down his cheeks. "But before hunger kills me, I know I'll die from thirst." As he continued his [189] way, he heard a murmuring sound, like that of water. He hurried in the direction of the sound, and found a little spring, cold and clear as crystal. He seated himself beside it to cool off, and then drank to his heart's content. He had never before noticed what a blessing from God water really is; but now he appreciated the drink and offered his thanks for it.

He proceeded on his way, and at last reached the highest point of the island. It filled him with dread, as he saw the entire island covered with trees, and lying there, at his very feet and on every side—the immeasureable sea. Now he realized that he was all alone and far from help. "I will come to this point every day and watch. Perhaps a passing steamer will pick me up and take me home."

The sun began to sink and colored the heavens with gold-rimmed rays of purple and red. As David stood gazing at the beauties of the sky which he had never before noticed, he prayed to the Creator to send him help and guide some ship to this lonely island. Then he descended the rocks and retraced his steps. Soon he lay down under a clump of trees and fell fast asleep. When he awoke, he ate a few nuts and some bread.

Each day he wandered to the rocky summit and watched for a ship. But all in vain, for on the great, wide sea no ship was to be seen. He saw the necessity of eating sparingly, or his food [190] would not last; so he took his little knife and made cuts across his bread, showing how much he could eat daily, and only when he was very hungry. The little piece of bread had become very hard and he had to soften it in the water from the spring.

"Oh," cried he, "how many good things I had at my father's table, that I grumbled about and for which I never thanked God." As he sat thinking about himself and all his ingratitude, he saw the fishes swimming in the water. "I'd catch some fish," said David, "if I only had a line." Picking up his straw hat, he ripped out the thread, and taking the pin with which his sister had fastened the feather, he made a hook out of it and tied the thread to it. He searched for some worms, and soon, he began to angle. He tried again and again, but not a nibble could he get. At last luck favored him, and soon he had three fishes. Remembering the matches which his mother had put into the tin-covered pail, he decided to start a fire and cook his fish, adding a little salty water for seasoning. He relished this little repast more than the finest feast served at his rich uncle's house.

One morning, as he again ascended the rocky summit, he saw a large ship that seemed no more than a mile away. Its sails were all unfurled and gilded with the rays of the bright sun. Hope filled his breast and he trembled with fear. He [191] watched it, as it came nearer and nearer. Suddenly, he seized a stick, and tying his red handkerchief to it, moved it to and fro like a signal of danger and distress. But before the ship had come close enough to see the sign, it changed its direction and sailed away into the far distance. David followed its course, till it was lost to view, and then he sank upon the ground disheartened and cried bitterly.

The hours of the day that were not used in fishing, cooking, or chopping, he spent gathering shells, in which he often found pearls. As no person had ever been there to gather them, he found them in quantities. Then, too, he found many beautiful corals in the moss-covered rocks. "If God permits me to return to my people," said he, "I will bring them these pearls and corals, as presents."

He spent his time as best he could and often sighed for companionship. For hours he would gaze at the friendly moon, at which he had never before gazed more than a second. And the twinkling stars, too, seemed to have a new meaning for him. "The heavens truly show God's wonderful work," said David. Even the delicate green moss that he had never deigned to notice now had its value, since it afforded him a soft bed. "I see God's finger in everything about me," said he. "How well everything has been ordered." Good thoughts were now awaking in [192] his mind and they were, like wings, carrying his heart to heaven.

"Loneliness must be sent for a good reason," thought he. "Perhaps God sent me to this dreary, lonely place to make me see and feel what I never understood before." David realized now that he had never been grateful to his parents for their care. Nor as obedient to their wishes as he should have been.

"Oh, if I ever get back to my home, I will be grateful and obedient to my parents." He remembered, too, how disagreeable he had often been to his sisters, and said: "Oh, how sorry I am. If God lets me return I will ask their forgiveness and be a good brother to them. I never appreciated my home, my parents, nor my sisters. God forgive me and let me return, and I will try to repay them in kindness and love for all my negligence."

An intense longing for his people filled David's heart; and it grew stronger every minute. Each day he watched for ships and often sighted one, but they never neared the island. At last he came to the conclusion that the coast was rocky and dangerous, and so no ship would ever come near it.

With this sad thought, he was retracing his steps one day, carrying some wood to his little retreat. But what a terror seized him. He saw in the direction of his little retreat thick, black, clouds of smoke ascending to the heavens, and two [193] red flaming brands of fire, like two church spires. David had often heard of islands that were volcanic and sent forth fire, and now he thought that this was one. He threw his wood to the ground and with palpitating heart drew closer and closer: but all he could see was smoke and flames. The crackling of the fire filled him with more fear. At last he saw that it was not from the earth that the fire issued. He realized that the wind had blown the flames of his little fire, which he always kept lighted, against some bushes and had set them on fire. Almost everything he owned was being destroyed and two immense trees were being consumed.

When he considered, above all, the loss of his little fishing line that meant so much to him, he cried aloud: "Oh, what a misfortune this is! Now, I'll die of hunger. I often heard my father say that from misfortune, fortune sometimes grows, but, when I look at this damage, it doesn't seem possible that any luck could come from it.

"Oh, how good it is to live with people. How easily one can help the injury to another. Oh, if ever I have the luck to get back to my family, how willingly will I help them in times of need. But who will help me, a poor, lost boy, on this lonely island? I am like a poor bird driven from her nest." A mighty painful longing for his father's house again seized him. "If only a ship would come and take me back," he said.

THE SMOKE

[194] His people too, were mourning through these weary, weary weeks. One day the father said to the mother: "I need some willow branches and although it is very painful for me to go to that island, still, there is no other place where I can get them."

"Then you must not go alone," said the mother. "Take the children with you. They will be a help and a comfort to you." Soon they were all ready and rowed over to the island. After landing, they sat under a tree for a while.

"This poplar tree," said the father, "is the very one under which David and I sat the last day we were here. And over in that direction," pointing toward the island, "he was carried in his little boat." Tears stood in the father's eyes; the boy, Andreas, turned his head to wipe a tear; while the girls cried.

"Let us go now and gather nuts," said the father, to cheer them again. They soon filled their baskets and were about to return to the boat, when the boy said: "Dear father, let us go to the top of the hill and get a view. I've never been up there." "Oh, yes," begged the girls, "do let us go."

[195] The father consented and they all mounted the hill. It was a beautiful day. The sky was cloudless and the air was so clear and dry, that one could see distinctly far out into the distance. Suddenly Andreas shouted: "Father, what is that I see? Isn't smoke coming up out of the water?" The father looked in the direction pointed, and seeing smoke, said: "I don't know what it is. I fear it is a steamer on fire. It seems," continued he, shading his eyes, "that I see a dark spot, out of which the smoke is ascending. Don't you see it?"

"Oh, yes," cried the girls, "and it has two sharp points at the top."

"I see it, too," cried Andreas. "One point is higher than the other."'

"That is no ship," said the father, "for a ship would have a different shape, and wouldn't look so big from such a great distance. It must be an island, but I am sure I never heard of it. People must live there, or how could smoke arise from it."

"Oh, my," cried one of the girls, "wouldn't it be wonderful if our dear David lived there."

"Maybe so," cried Andreas.

"Nothing is impossible with God," said the father. "We must leave nothing undone in our search for him. We will ask Uncle Philip's advice and get him to help us. Let us retrace our steps, now, for it is time for us to return."

[196] Little did they know how truly they had prophesied, for the smoke which they saw was ascending from the fire on the rocky island—the same that had cost David many tears of anguish and fear.

When they reached home, they told the mother their happy conjecture at once, and a faint ray of hope filled her heart.

The neighbors were now called together, but their ideas on the subject were varied.

"Nonsense," cried one. "How did that island get there. I never heard about it in my life. It must be a burning ship."

"No," cried another, who always thought he knew better than anybody else, "that's no ship, but a volcano sending out its fire. I have often heard that such islands appear over night. We would come to a nice place, if we should sail near such a fire-brand."

"It's either a ship or a volcano," said a third; "but for a hundred dollars I wouldn't go over there in such little boats as we have."

"If you'll pay me," said a fourth, "I will go, but not otherwise."

The old, honest Uncle Philip raised his quiet voice, and said: "Brother, I will go with you. Here is my hand on it. David was my beloved nephew. It may not be certain that he lives, hardly probable, but still possible. Therefore it is worth the trouble of undertaking the danger- [197] ous trip and God, who gives us courage to go ahead, will also see us through."

Peter, a young, strong lad, shouted: "I will go too. I have often risked my life for a fish, so I'll risk it now to save a human life, if I can. I want no money, for as long as I live I would be happy in the thought that I had helped to save David, and this thought would be a sufficient reward."

"God give us all this joy," said Uncle Philip. "If wind and weather continue favorable, we will set sail at daybreak." The other men departed, shaking their heads and predicting misfortune.

Peter and Uncle Philip remained and discussed the matter a little further. "I will take my sail boat and furnish the food," said Philip.

The following morning proved perfect and a light wind was blowing. Mother and daughter accompanied the men to the boat landing, and said: "God grant that you may return safely, bringing our David with you."

The men unfurled the sails and pushed off from the land, passing the green island and going in the direction of the smoke. Nearer and nearer, did they come, and at last Peter cried: "It is really an island. Let us help with the oars." Suddenly Uncle Philip shouted: "Stop, and furl the sails. There are many dangerous rocks in the sea. We must be very careful or we will founder."

By means of the rudder and much care and [198] pains, they at last made a landing. Peter was the first to leap on shore, and cried: "Now we have reached the island and perhaps we shall find David. Whatever is begun in God's name and out of love to humanity, will succeed."

The other two men now stepped out and fastened the boat securely. Uncle Philip looked at the rocks, shook his head and said: "This isn't a nice place to live."

They began to search the island and climbed over the rocks and deep clefts. At last they reached a little trodden path which led them to David's retreat. Peter hurried ahead.

David had passed a sleepless night in fear and sadness. As the morning sun shone over all, a little lightness had crept into his heart, and he sank upon his knees and prayed.

As David was kneeling, the three men came behind him. But he was so absorbed that he heard no steps.

Peter saw him first, and said to the others: "See, there is a hermit, maybe he can direct us. Brother, can you tell us?"—he had no time to finish his question, for David had risen to his feet. He recognized his father, and cried: "Oh, my father! my father!" Then a silence broke over them, for neither had the power to speak.

At last they controlled their emotion and thanked God in one voice, for bringing them together. David then greeted his uncle and Peter [199] and gathering up his belongings, hastened with them to the boat.

On the homeward trip, David related all his adventures, and shed tears of joy. Even his father had to dry his eyes several times. "You were very wise, and helped yourself wonderfully. Necessity awakened your understanding," said Peter.

"Don't you remember?" said his uncle, "what I once said to you that God would send you to a special school? That's where you've been. In the school of Experience. In this school you learned to know God, to pray to Him, to love Him, and to thank Him for his blessings. What I find most wonderful of all in your story is about the smoke which arose from your island. What is more trivial than smoke, yet the smoke was like a sign from heaven, that this was an island upon which some one lived. That was God's finger." All silently gave thanks for the sign.

"I thought," said David, "that the fire was the worst thing that could have happened to me, but now I see it was my greatest fortune."

Then Uncle Philip said: "Our beloved ones at home are watching and waiting for our return." So, Peter quickly busied himself with a stick upon which he fastened some ribbons.

"What are you going to do with that?" asked David.

"I promised your sisters if we succeeded [200] in finding you, to raise this banner. How they will rejoice when they see it." Then and there he fastened it to the prow of the ship.

Each moment brought them nearer home and David's heart beat high with hope, for on the shore his mother and sisters and all the villagers, big and little, were gathered. As David stepped on land, a cry of joy arose from the people; but the mother's joy at seeing her David was so intense that she wept.

Men and women, boys and girls, shook his hand and wished him a thousand times welcome. David's mother wanted to hear his story and was about to drag him home but the people wouldn't let her. "We want to hear it too," and they led him to a big linden tree and bade him step upon the seat and tell his story. All pressed around him. All eyes were on him. When it was still, David began. He told them of his dangers, trials and suffering, and said, in the end, that these had taught him the things which he had never learned before. "I am grateful to God for my deliverance and for the joy of being with you all again."

Thanking them for their interest in him and bidding them good-bye for the present, he entered his father's house, where a hearty meal was spread before him.

When the meal was over, David opened his little bundle and displayed his pearls and corals and said: "I have brought you all a present from my [201] island." All stood in astonishment and admired them.

"My, my," cried Uncle Philip, examining them closely, "you have brought some valuable things. These pearls and corals will yield much money, for some of them are very large. Now you have helped your father out of all his debts and trouble."

"No, no," said his father, "we will share them with Peter and yourself. You shared the dangers of this trip with me, and you shall also share the treasures. Philip, you take first choice, and then Peter next."

Two of the men who had offered to go on the trip for money, now entered the room and wished they had gone for nothing. "For such a reward as that," they said, "it would have been worth while."

"Go, go, you poor, miserable wretches," cried Philip, "you wouldn't move a hand or foot to help a fellow man in trouble without being paid for it. It serves you right that you get nothing,"

"I wish none of this money," continued Philip, "I have enough and ask no more. But Peter must take his share, for the spirit which he showed gave all of us courage, and he must be rewarded. Besides, he needs it."

Deeply touched, Peter took the reward with thanks.

Then the grateful parents again urged Philip [202] to take the pearls, but he replied: "Let it be, as I said before. The pearls and corals are the least that David brought back with him; for he has gathered unto himself costlier treasures: 'Love for God and to humanity.' These are priceless pearls."

Turning to David, he said: "Not only have you found these treasures for us, but you have brought good fortune to our little community. For pearls and corals can now be gathered by the men of this village, and offered for sale. This will furnish a comfortable living for many of them. So, you have become a public benefactor."

The little household soon resumed its usual routine and David entered into the life and spirit of his home. He became a model of virtue for the village youths, and the joy, staff and crown of his parent's life. He grew to be a noble, pious man, full of love and helpfulness to his fellow men; and his memory remains blessed.


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