Home  |  Authors  |  Books  |  Stories  |  What's New  |  How to Get Involved 
   T h e   B a l d w i n   P r o j e c t
     Bringing Yesterday's Classics to Today's Children                 @mainlesson.com
Search This Site Only
 
 
Parables from Nature by  Mrs. Alfred Gatty


 

 

[Illustration]

ACTIVE AND PASSIVE

"They also serve who only stand and wait."

—MILTON.

[116] "RESTLESS life! restless life!" moaned the Weathercock on the church-tower by the sea, as he felt himself swayed suddenly round by the wind, and creaked with dismay: "restless, toiling life, and everybody complaining of one all the time. There's that tiresome weathercock pointing east, cried the old woman, as she hobbled up the churchyard path to the porch last Sunday; now I know why I have got all my rheumatic pains back again. Then, in a day or two, came the farmer by on his pony, and drew up outside the wall to have a word with the grave-digger. A bad look out, Tomkins, said he, if that rascally old weathercock is to be trusted, the wind's got into the wrong quarter again, and we shall have more rain. Was it my fault if he did find out through me that the wind was in, what he called, the wrong quarter?  Besides, the wind always is in somebody's wrong quarter, I verily believe! But am I  to blame? Did I choose my lot? No, no! Nobody need suppose I should go swinging backwards and forwards, and round and round, all my life, if I had my choice about the matter. Ah! how much rather would I lead the quiet, peaceful exist- [117] ence of my old friend, the Dial, down below yonder on his pedestal. That is  a life, indeed!"


[Illustration]

"Restless life! restless life!" moaned the Weathercock on the church tower.

"How he is chattering away up above there," remarked the Dial from below; "he almost makes me smile, though not a ray of sunshine has fallen on me through the livelong day, alas! I often wonder what he finds to talk about. But his active life gives him subjects enough, no doubt. Ah! what would I not give to be like him! But all is so different with me, alas! I thought I heard my own name too, just now. I will ask. Halloo! up above there. Did you call, my sprightly friend? Is there anything fresh astir? Tell me, if there is. I get so weary of the dark and useless hours; so common now, alas! What have you been talking about?"

"Nothing profitable this time, good neighbour," replied the Weathercock; "for, in truth, you have caught me grumbling."

"Grumbling . . . ? Grumbling, you?"

"Yes, grumbling, I! Why not?"

"But grumbling in the midst of an existence so gay, so active, so bright," pursued the Dial; "it seems impossible."

"Gay, active, bright! a pretty description enough; but what a mockery of the truth it covers! Look at me, swinging loosely to every peevish blast that flits across the sky. Turned here, turned there, turned everywhere. The sport of every passing gust. Never a moment's rest, but when the uncertain breezes choose to seek it for themselves. Gay, active, bright existence, indeed! Restless, toiling life I call it, and all to serve a thankless world, by whom my very usefulness is abused. But you, my ancient friend, you, in the calm enjoyment of [118] undisturbed repose, steady and unmoved amidst the utmost violence of storms, how little can you appreciate the sense of weariness I feel! A poor judge of my troubled lot are you in your paradise of rest!"

"My paradise of rest, do you call it?" exclaimed the Dial; "an ingenious title, truly, to express what those who know it practically, feel to be little short of a stagnation of existence. Dull, purposeless, unprofitable, at the mercy of the clouds and shades of night; I can never fulfil my end but by their sufferance, and in the seasons, rare enough at best, when their meddling interference is withdrawn. And even when the sun and hour do smile upon me, and I carry out my vocation, how seldom does any one come near me to learn the lessons I could teach. I weary of the night; I weary of the clouds; I weary of the footsteps that pass me by. Would that I could rise, even for a few brief hours, to the energy and meaning of a life like yours!"

"This is a strange fatality, indeed!" creaked the Weathercock in reply, "that you, in your untroubled calm, should yearn after the restlessness I sicken of. That I, in what you call my gay and active existence, should long for the quiet you detest!"

"You long for it because you are ignorant of its nature and practical reality," groaned the Dial.

"Nay, but those are the very words I would apply to you, my ancient friend. The blindest ignorance of its workings can alone account for your coveting a position such as mine."

"If that be so, then every position is wrong," was the murmured remark in answer; but it never reached the sky, for at that moment the mournful tolling of a bell in the old church-tower announced [119] that a funeral was approaching, and in its vibrations the lesser sound was lost.

And as those vibrations gathered in the air, they grouped themselves into a solemn dirge, which seemed as if it rose in contradiction to what had just been said.

For it gave out to the mourners who were following the corpse to its last earthly resting-place, that every lot was good, and blessed to some particular end.

For the lots of all, (it said,) were appointed, and all that was appointed was good.

Little, little did it matter, therefore (it said,) whether the lot of him who came to his last resting-place had been a busy or a quiet one; a high or a low one; one of labour or of endurance. If that which was appointed to be done, had been well done, all was well.

It gave out, too, that every time and season was good, and blessed to some particular purpose; that the time to die was as good as the time to be born, whether it came to the child who had done but little, or to the man who had done much.

For the times and seasons, (it said,) were appointed, and all that was appointed was good.

Little, little did it matter, therefore, (it said,) whether the time of life had been a long one or a short one, if that which was appointed to be used, had been rightly used, all was right.

Echoing and re-echoing in the air, came these sounds out of the bell-tower, bidding the mourners not to mourn, for both the lots and the times of all things were appointed, and all that was appointed was good.

The mourners wept on, however, in spite of the dirge of the bell; and perhaps it was best that they [120] did so, for where are the outpourings of penitence so likely to be sincere, or the resolutions of amendment so likely to be earnest, as over the graves of those we love?

So the mourners wept; the corpse was interred; the clergyman departed, and the crowd dispersed; and then there was quiet in the churchyard again for a time.

Uninterrupted quiet, except when the wandering gusts drove the Weathercock hither and thither, causing him to give out a dismal squeak as he turned.

But at last there was a footstep in the old churchyard again, a step that paced up and down along the paved path; now westward towards the sea, now eastward towards the Lych-gate at the entrance.

It was a weather-beaten old fisherman, once a sailor, who occasionally made of that place a forecastle walk for exercise and pondering thoughts, since the time when age and growing infirmities had disabled him from following regularly the more toilsome parts of a fisherman's business, which were now carried on by his two grown-up sons.

He could do a stroke of work now and then, it is true, but, the nows and thens came but seldom, and he had many leisure hours on his hands in which to think of the past, and look forward to the future.

And what a place was that churchyard for awakening such thoughts! There, as he walked up and down, his own wife's grave was not many yards distant from his feet; and yet, from amidst these relics and bitter evidence of finite mortality, he could look out upon that everlasting sea, which seems always to stretch away into the infinity we all believe in.

Perhaps, in his own way, the sailor had often felt [121] this, although he might not have been able to give any account of his sensations.

Up and down the path he paced, lingering always a little at the western point ere he turned; and with his telescope tucked under his arm ready for use, he stood for a second or two looking seaward, in case a strange sail should have come in sight.

The sexton, who had come up to the churchyard again to finish the shaping of the new grave, nodded to him as he passed, and the sailor nodded in return; but neither of them spoke, for the sailor's habits were too well known to excite attention, and the sexton had his work to complete.

But presently, when half-way to the Lych-gate, the sailor stopped suddenly short, turned around hastily, and faced the sea, steadying the cap on his head against the gale which was now blowing directly on his face—looked up into the sky—looked all around—looked at the Weathercock, and then stood, as if irresolute, for several seconds.

At last, stepping over the grave-stones, he went up to the stone pedestal, on the top of which the Dial lay, waiting for the gleams of sunshine which had on that day fallen rarely and irregularly upon it.

"If the clouds would but break away for a minute," mused the old man to himself.

And soon after they did so, for they had begun to drive very swiftly over the heavens, and the sunlight, streaming for a few seconds on the dial-plate, revealed the shadow of the gnomon cast upon the place of three o'clock.

The sailor lingered by the Dial for several minutes after he had ascertained the hour, examining the figures, inscriptions, and dates. A motto on a little brass plate was let into the pedestal below: "Watch, [122] for ye know not the hour." There was some difficulty in reading it, it was so blotched and tarnished with age and long neglect. Indeed, few people knew there was an inscription there at all; but the old sailor had been looking very closely, and so found it out, and then he spelt it all through, word for word.

It was to be hoped that the engraver (one Thomas Trueman), who claimed to have had this warning put up for the benefit of others, had attended to it himself, for he had long ago—aye! nearly a hundred years ago—gone to his last account. The appointed hour had come for him, whether he had watched for it or not.

Perhaps some such thoughts crossed the sailor's mind, for certainly after reading the sentence, he fell into a reverie. Not a long one, however, for it was interrupted by the voice of the sexton, who, with his mattock over his shoulder, was passing back on his way home, and called out to the sailor to bid him good evening.

"Good-night, Mr. Bowman," said he; "we've rather a sudden change in the wind, haven't we?"

"Aye, aye," answered Bowman, by no means displeased at this deference to his opinion, and he stepped back again to the path, and joined his village friend.

"It is  a sudden change, as you say, and an awkward one too, for the wind came round at three o'clock, just at the turn of the tide; and it's a chance but what it will keep this way for hours to come; and a gale all night's an ugly thing, Tomkins, when it blows ashore."

"I hope you may be mistaken, Mr. Bowman," rejoined the sexton; "but I suppose that's not likely. However, they say it's an ill wind that blows nobody [123] good, so I suppose I shall come in for something at last," and here the sexton laughed.

"At your age, strong and hearty," observed the sailor, eyeing the sexton somewhat contemptuously, "you can't have much to wish for, I should think."

"Strong and hearty's a very good thing in its way, Mr. Bowman, I'll not deny; but rest's a very good thing, too, and I wouldn't object to one of your idle afternoons now and then, walking up and down the pavement, looking which way the wind blows. That's a bit of real comfort, to my thinking."

"We don't know much of each other's real comforts, I suspect," observed the sailor abstractedly, and then he added—

"You'll soon be cured of wishing for idle afternoons when they're forced upon you, Tomkins. But you don't know what you're talking about. Wait till you're old, and then you'll find it's I that might be excused for envying you, and not you me."

"That's amazing, Mr. Bowman, and I can't see it," persisted Tomkins, turning round to depart. "In my opinion you've the best of it; but anyhow, we're both of us oddly fixed, for we're neither of us pleased."

With a friendly good-night, but no further remark, the two men parted, and the churchyard was emptied of its living guests.

When the sailor sat down with his sons an hour or two afterwards to their evening meal, said he, "We must keep a sharp look-out, lads, to-night; the wind came round at three with the turn of the tide, and it blows dead ashore. I've been up to the Captain's at the Hall, and borrowed the use of his big boat in case it's wanted, for unless the gale goes down with the next tide,—which it won't, [124] I think,—we might have some awkward work. Anyhow, boys, we'll watch."


* * * * *

"Just what I said," muttered the Dial, as the sound of the last footsteps died on the churchyard path. "Just what I said! Everything's wrong, because everybody's dissatisfied. I knew it was so. We're right in grumbling; that's the only thing we're right in. At least, I'm sure I'm  right in grumbling. I'm not so certain about my neighbour on the tower above. Halloo! my sprightly friend, do you hear? Did you notice? Isn't it just as I said? Everything wrong to everybody."

The strong west wind continued to sweep through the churchyard, and bore these observations away; but the Weathercock meanwhile was making his own remarks to himself.

"There, now! There's the old story over again, only now it's the west wind that's wrong instead of the east! I wish anybody would tell me which is the right  wind! But this, of course, is an ill wind, and an ugly gale, and they're afraid it will blow all night, (I wonder why it shouldn't, it blows very steadily and well, as I  think,) and then they shake their heads at each other, and look up at me and frown. What's the use of frowning? They never saw me go better in their lives. It's a fine firm wind as ever blew, though it does take one's breath rather fast, I own. If it did not make quite so much howling noise, I should have had a word or two about it with my old comrade below, who sits as steady as a rock through it all, I've no doubt. There is  one thing I am not quite easy about myself. . . . In case this west wind should blow a little, nay, in [125] short, a great deal harder, even than now, I wonder whether there would be any danger of my being blown down? I'm not very fond of my present quarters, it's true, but a change is sometimes a doubtful kind of thing, unless you can choose what it shall be. I wonder, too, whether people would be glad if I was gone; or whether, after all, I mightn't be rather missed? And I wonder, too——"

But it began to blow too hard for wondering, or talking, or doing anything, but silently holding fast, for the gale was rising rapidly; so rapidly, that before midnight a hurricane was driving over land and ocean, and in its continued roaring, mingled as it was with the raging of a tempest-tossed sea, every other voice and sound was lost.

Tracts of white foam, lying like snow-fields on the water, followed the breakers as they fell down upon the shore with a crash of thunder, and were visible even through the gloom of night.

Hour after hour the uproar continued, and hour after hour the church clock struck, and no one heard. Due west pointed the Weathercock, varying scarcely a point. Firm and composed lay the Dial on his pedestal, and the old church on her foundations, mocking the tumult of the elements by their dead, immovable calm.

In the village on the top of the cliff many were awakened by the noise; and one or two, as they lay listening in their beds, forgot for a time their own petty troubles and trifling cares, and uttered wishes and prayers that no vessels might be driven near that rock-bound shore, on that night of storm!

Vain wishes! vain prayers! As they turned again to their pillows to sleep, with their children around [126] them, housed in security and peace, the blue lights of distress were sent up by trembling hands into the vault of heaven, and agonised hearts wondered whether human eye would see them, or human hand could aid.

And it might easily have happened, that, in that terrible night, no eye had caught sight of the signals, or caught sight of them too late to be of use, or that those who had seen had been indifferent, or unable to help.

But it was not so, or the Weathercock would have pointed, and the Dial have shown the hour, and the sailor looked at both in vain.

And this was not the case!

People were roused from their pillowed slumbers the next morning to hear that a vessel, with a passenger crew on board of her, was driving on the rocks. From cottage casements, and from the drawing-room windows of houses on the top of the cliff, the fatal sight was seen, for the dismasted ship, rolling helplessly on the waters, drifted gradually in front of the village, looking black as with the shadow of death.

Delicate women saw it, who, all unaccustomed to such sights, and shuddering at their own helplessness, could only sink on their knees, and ask if there was no mercy with the Most High.

Men saw it whom age or sickness had made weak as children, but who had once been brave and strong; and their heart burned within them as they turned away and sickened at the spectacle of misery they could not even try to avert.

Children saw it, who, mixing in the village crowd that by degrees gathered on the cliff, never ceased the vain prattling enquiry of why some good people [127] did not go to help the poor people who were drowning in the ship?

"Young 'un, you talk," growled one old fellow who was eyeing the spectacle somewhat coolly through a telescope; "and it's for  such as you to talk; but who's to get off a boat over such a surf as yon? Little use there'd be in flinging away more lives to save those that's as good as gone already."

"How you go on, Jonas!" cried a woman from the crowd. "Here's a lady has fainted through your saying that; and what do you know about it? While there's life there's hope. My husband went down to the shore hours and hours ago, before it was light."

"With coffins, I suppose," shouted some one, and the jest went round, for the woman who had spoken was the sexton's wife. But many a voice cried "shame," as Mrs. Tomkins turned away to lend her aid in carrying the fainting lady to her home.

It was strange how time wore on, and no change for better or worse seemed to take place in the condition of the unhappy vessel, as far as those on land could judge of her. But she was at least a mile from shore; and even with a glass it was impossible to detect clearly the movements and state of her crew.

It was evident at one time that she had ceased to drift, and had become stationary, and all sorts of conjectures were afloat as to the cause; the most popular and dreadful of which being, that she was gradually filling with water, and must go down.

This was the reason (old Jonas said) why part of the crew had got into the boat that was being towed along behind by means of a rope, so that, when every other hope was over, the rest of the men might [128] join them, and make a last desperate effort to escape the fate of the sinking vessel.

But still time wore on, and no change took place, nor did the vessel appear to get lower in the water, although at times the breakers rolled over her broken decks, and cries of "It's all over! There she goes!" broke from the crowd. The man at the wheel seemed still to maintain his post; those in the boat behind still kept their places, and the few visible about the ship were busied, but no one could say how.

At last somebody shouted that they were raising a jury-mast, though whether as a signal to some vessel within sight of them, or for their own use, remained doubtful for a time; but by and by a small sail became visible, and soon after, it was observed that the vessel had resumed her course, and that she was no longer drifting, but steering! It was clear, therefore, that she had been anchored previously, that the crew had not given up hope, and that they were now trying to weather the rocky bay, and get into the nearest harbour.

Old Jonas turned away, and lent his glass to others. The vessel was not filling with water, it was true, but could such a battered hulk, rolling as it did, ever live through the "race" at the extremity of the bay? He doubted it, for his part—but he was disposed to doubt!

Others were more hopeful, and many a "Thank God for His goodness" relieved the anxious breasts of those who had hitherto looked on in trembling suspense.

The villagers were gradually dispersing to their different occupations, when a couple of boys, who had gone down by the cliffs to the shore, came running [129] back with the news that the old sailor's (Mr. Bowman's) cottage, the only one near the shore, was shut up, the key gone, and nobody there.

This new surprise was heartily welcome, coming as it did to enliven the natural reaction of dulness that follows the cessation of great excitement; and the good wives of the village, with their aprons over their heads, huddled together, more full of wonder and conjecture over the disappearance of the Bowmans, than over the fate of the still peril-surrounded ship. It was then discovered, but quite by an accident, that some one else had disappeared—no other than Tomkins, the sexton.

A neighbour, on her road home, accidentally dropping in at Mr. Tomkins's door to ask after the lady that had fainted, found the good woman sitting over the fire, rocking to and fro, and crying her heart out.

"Go away, woman!" cried she to her neighbour, as the door opened. "Get away wi' ye! I want none of ye! I want none of your talking! I'll not listen to any of ye till I know whether the ship's gone down or not!"

"The woman's beside herself!" cried the neighbour. "Why, you don't know what you are saying, surely. The ship isn't likely to go down now! There's a mast and a sail up, woman!"

"Aye, aye, but the 'race'!" cried Mrs. Tomkins, rocking to and fro in despair.

"The 'race' will not hurt it, there's a many says. It was only old Jonas that shook his head over that. Eh, woman, but you've lost your head with watching them. Where's your good man?"

Mrs. Tomkins almost shrieked, "There!  he's there—with them!  I saw him through Jonas's glass."

[130] The neighbour was thunderstruck. Here was news indeed. But she pressed the matter no further, thinking in truth that Mrs. Tomkins's head was unsettled, and so, after soothing her a bit in the best fashion she could, she left her to talk the matter over in the village.

Mrs. Tomkins was not unsettled in her head at all. She had been one of those who had had a peep through Jonas's glass, and, to her horror, had detected, by some peculiarity of dress, the form of her husband sitting in the boat behind the vessel. The terror and astonishment that seized her rendered her mute, and she had retired to her own cottage to think it out by herself—what it could mean, and how it could have happened—but she had caught Jonas's remark about the "race," and on reaching her own fireside all thoughts merged in the one terrible idea that her husband might go down with the devoted ship.

The report of Mrs. Tomkins's hallucination soon spread, and there is no saying to what a pitch of mysterious belief in some supernatural visitation it might not have led, had not the arrival of Bowman's daughter in the village, and the account she gave, explained the whole affair.

Bowman and his sons had not gone regularly to bed at all on the night previous, but, true to their intention, had kept watch in turn, walking up and down along the front of their cottage, which stood upon ground slightly raised above the shore. It was the old man himself who happened to be watching when the first blue lights went up, and it was then considerably past midnight.

"What a mercy!" was his first exclamation, after hurrying to the cottage, and bidding his sons follow [131] him to the Hall; "what a mercy!" and he threw up his right arm with a clenched fist into the air, his whole frame knit up by strong emotion. The boys, not knowing what he meant, had only stared at him in surprise for a moment, for there was no time for talking.

But the mind of the old man had, with the first sight of the lights, gone back to his churchyard lounge, to his observations on the weather, to the startling inscription, and to his determination to watch and provide. It had gone, forward, too, as well as backward. Forward, with the elastic determination and hope, which comes like inspiration to a good cause; and for him, by anticipation, the daring deed had been done, and the perishing crew rescued. "—What a mercy!"—the exclamation comprehended past, present, and future.

As by the position of the signals of distress, Bowman judged it would be best to put off the boat from the place where it usually lay, he locked up his cottage, (for the girl refused to be left there alone,) taking the key with him, and proceeded at once to the Hall; but recollecting that his friend, the sexton, had made an urgent request to be called up, should any disaster occur, one of the lads ran up the cliff to the village, to give notice of what they were about.

But before he was halfway there, he met poor Tomkins himself, who, rendered restless and uneasy by Bowman's fears and the terrible weather, had come out to enquire how matters were going on. Thus, therefore, he joined their expedition at once, while his wife remained as ignorant of his movements as the rest of the village.

The Captain, a fine old sailor, round the evening of whose days the glories of Trafalgar shed an undying [132] halo, had made it clearly understood, when applied to, that, in case of the boat being wanted, his own assistance, also, might be depended upon; and he was true to his word; so that as soon as the dawn had broken, five men were to be seen on the beach under the Hall, up to their waists almost in water, struggling with the foaming breakers, and pushing off, with an energy which nothing but the most desperate resolution could have given them, a boat from the shore.

Few words were spoken; the one gave orders, and the rest obeyed—promptly, implicitly, and willingly, as if they had worked for years in company; and thus, life and death at stake, they rowed over the waste of waters with mute courage, and a hope which never for an instant blinded them to the knowledge of the peril they incurred.

And thus it was that ere the full daylight had revealed to the villagers the disaster at sea, and even while they were shuddering for the fate of the supposed doomed vessel, help and comfort had reached the despairing hearts of the bewildered men on board.

There were plenty of people afterwards to say that anybody might have known—if they had only thought about it—that that man who was lashed to the wheel, and who had never changed his position for an instant, could have been nobody but the grand old Captain who had been so long in the wars!

There were plenty also to say that Bowman, old as he was, was constantly on the look-out, and was sure to be the first to foresee a disaster, and suggest what ought to be done, even when he could not do it himself; and didn't everybody know too, that Tomkins was always foremost to have a hand in a job, whatever it might be?

[133] The vessel cleared the "race," and got safe to the harbour, and half the village went with Bowman's daughter and Mrs. Tomkins (now weeping as hard for joy as she had before done for terror), to meet them as they landed.

What a talking there was! and what bowing to the Captain, who, dripping wet and cold, had nevertheless a joke for everybody, and even made Mrs. Tomkins smile by saying her husband had come with them on the look-out for a job, but happily his professional services had not been required, though he had done his duty otherwise like a man.

But the wet fellow-labourers had to be dried and taken care of, and the half-exhausted crew had to be attended to and comforted; and the time for chatting comfortably over the events of that night did not come till people's minds and spirits had cooled down from the first excitement.


* * * * *

The weather cleared up wonderfully after that terrible storm had passed over, and the following Sunday shone out over village and sea, with all the brilliancy of spring.

It was just as they were issuing from church after morning service, that the Captain observed Bowman standing by the porch, as if waiting till the crowd had passed. He looked far more upright than usual, and had more of a smile upon his face than was commonly seen there. The Captain beckoned to him to come and speak, and Bowman obeyed.

"This has made a young man of you, Bowman," was the Captain's observation, and he smiled.

"It has comforted me, Sir, I'll not deny," was Bowman's answer.

"I hope it will teach  as well as comfort you," [134] continued the Captain, with a half good-natured, half stern manner. "You've been very fond of talking of age and infirmity, and 'cumbering the ground,' and all that sort of thing. But what it means, is, quarrelling with your lot. We may not always know what we're wanted for, nor is it for us to enquire, but nobody is useless as long as he is permitted to live. You can't have a shipwreck every day to prove it, Bowman, but this shipwreck ought to teach you the lesson for the rest of your life."

"I hope it will, Sir," cried Bowman.

"Not that you've so much credit in that matter, after all, as I thought," observed the Captain with a sly smile. "By your own account, if it hadn't been for these comrades of yours in the churchyard here," and as he spoke the Captain pointed with his stick to the Dial and Weathercock, "you might have gone to bed and snored composedly all the night through, without thinking of whether the storm would last, or what it would do."

Bowman touched his hat in compliment to the joke, recollecting with a sort of confusion that, as they were bringing the vessel into port, he had told the Captain the whole story of his noticing the change of wind at the particular hour of three, harping nervously and minutely on the importance of each link in the little chain of events, and dwelling much on the half-effaced inscription, the words of which had never left his mind from the moment when he got into the Captain's boat, to that when they reached the shore in safety.

Scarcely knowing how to reply, Bowman began again—

"Well, your honour, it's really true, for if it hadn't been that——"

[135] "I know, I know," interrupted the Captain, laughing. "And now let us see your friends. I must have a peep at the inscription myself."

The old sailor led the way over the grassy graves to the Dial, and pointed out to his companion the almost illegible words.

There was a silence of several minutes, after the Captain had bent his head to read; and when he raised it again, his look was very grave. Except for the mercy that had spared their lives in so great a risk, the hour  might have been over for them.

"Bowman," cried the Captain at length, in his old good-natured way, "these comrades of yours shall not go unrewarded any more than yourself. Before another week is over, you must see that this plate is cleaned and burnished, so that all the parish may read the inscription; and as to the Weathercock, I must have him as bright as gilding can make him before another Sunday. Come, here's work for you for the week, and the seeing that this is done will leave you no time for grumbling, eh, old fellow?"

Bowman bowed his lowest bow. It fell in with all his feelings to superintend such an improvement as this.

"And while you're looking after them, don't forget the lesson they teach," continued the Captain.

Bowman bowed again, and was attentive.

"I mean that everything, as well as everybody, is useful in its appointed place, at the appointed time. But neither we nor they can choose or foresee the time."

On the following Sunday, the sun himself scarcely exceeded in brilliancy the flashing Weathercock, which hovered gently between point and point on the old church-tower by the sea, as if to exhibit [136] his splendour to the world. Not a creak did he make as he moved, for all grumbling was over, and he was suspended to a nicety on his well-oiled pole.

Below, and freshly brightened up and cleaned, the Dial basked in the sunlight, telling one by one the fleeting hours, while the motto underneath it spoke its warning, in letters illuminated as if with fire. Many a villager hung about the once-neglected plate, and took to heart those words of divine wisdom,

"Watch, for ye know not the hour,"

and many an eye glanced up to the monitor of storms and weather, and echoed the "What a mercy!" of old Bowman the sailor.


* * * * *

"Are you silent, my sprightly comrade?" enquired the old Dial from below, of his shining friend above.

"Only a little confused and overpowered at first," was the answer of the Weathercock. "My responsibility is great, you know. I have a great deal to do, and all the world is observing me just now."

"That's true, certainly," continued the Dial. "Things are coming round in a singular manner. Everything's right, after all; but under such a cloud as we were a short time ago, it was not very easy to find it out."

"Undoubtedly not, and a more excusable mistake than ours could not well be imagined. People, with fifty times our advantages, are constantly falling into the same errors."

"Which is such  a comfort," pursued the Dial, smiling as he glowed in the sunbeams. "However," added he, "that's a good idea of the old gentleman [137] that was here just now, and I shall try and remember it for future occasions, for it really appears to be true. 'Everything is useful in its place at the appointed time.' That was it, wasn't it?"

"Exactly. And, conscious as I feel just now of my own responsibility, I could almost add, (in confidence to you, of course, my ancient friend,) that I have a kind of sensation that everything is useful in its place, always, and at all times, though people mayn't always find it out."

"Just my own impression," was the Dial's last remark.


 Table of Contents  |  Index  | Previous: The Law of the Wood  |  Next: Daily Bread
Copyright (c) 2000-2017 Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.