Chapter XIII.
 
"Hitherto hath the Lord helped us."--1 SAMUEL 7:12.

It was a lovely Sabbath afternoon, still and bright; Elsie sat alone on the veranda, enjoying the beauty of the sea and the delicious breeze coming from it. She had been reading, and the book lay in her lap, one hand resting upon the open page; but she was deep in meditation, her eyes following the restless movements of the waves that, with the rising tide, dashed higher and higher upon the beach below.

For the last half hour she had been the solitary tenant of the veranda, while the others enjoyed their siesta or a lounge upon the beach.

Presently a noiseless step drew near her chair, some one bent down over her and softly kissed her cheek.

"Papa" she said, looking up into his face with smiling eyes, "you have come to sit with me? Let me give you this chair," and she would have risen to do so, but he laid his hand on her shoulder, saying, "No; sit still; I will take this," drawing up another and seating himself therein close at her side.

"Do you know that I have been watching you from the doorway there for the last five minutes?" he asked.

"No, sir; I deemed myself quite alone," she said. "Why did you not let me know that my dear father, whose society I prize so highly, was so near?"

"Because you seemed so deep in thought, and evidently such happy thought, that I was loath to disturb it."

"Yes," she said, "they were happy thoughts. I have seemed to myself, for the last few days, to be in the very land of Beulah, so delightful has been the sure hope--I may say certainty--that Jesus is mine and I am His; that I am His servant forever, for time and for eternity, as truly and entirely His as words can express. Is it not a sweet thought, papa? is it not untold bliss to know that we may--that we shall serve Him forever? that nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ?"

"It is, indeed--Christ who is our life. He says, 'Because I live, ye shall live also;' thus He is our life. Is He not our life also because He is the dearest of all friends to us--His own people?"

"Yes; and how the thought of His love, His perfect sympathy, His infinite power to help and to save, gives strength and courage to face the unknown future. 'The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?' 'Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.'

"In view of the many dangers that lie around our every path, the many terrible trials that may be sent to any one of us, I often wonder how those who do not trust in this almighty Friend can have the least real, true happiness. Were it my case, I should be devoured with anxiety and fears for myself and my dear ones."

"But as it is," her father said, gazing tenderly upon her, "you are able to leave the future, for them and for yourself, in His kind, wise, all-powerful hands, knowing that nothing can befall you without His will, and that He will send no trial that shall not be for your good, and none that He will not give you strength to endure?"

"Yes, that is it, papa; and oh, what rest it is! One feels so safe and happy; so free from fear and care; like a little child whose loving earthly father is holding it by the hand or in his strong, kind arms."

"And you have loved and trusted Him since you were a very little child," he remarked, half musingly.

"Yes, papa; I cannot remember when I did not; and could there be a greater cause for gratitude?"

"No; such love and trust are worth more to the happy possessor than the wealth of the universe. But there was a time when, though my little girl had it, I was altogether ignorant of it, and marvelled greatly at her love for God's word and her joy and peace in believing. I shall never cease to bless God for giving me such a child."

"Nor I to thank Him for my dear father," she responded, putting her hand into his, with the very same loving, confiding gesture she had been wont to use in childhood's days.

His fingers closed over it, and he held it fast in a warm, loving grasp, while they continued their talk concerning the things that lay nearest their hearts--the love of the Master, His infinite perfection, the interests of His kingdom, the many great and precious promises of His word--thus renewing their strength and provoking one another to love and to good works.

"Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord hearkened, and heard it; and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name.

"And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him."

Ere another week had rolled its round, events had occurred which tested the sustaining power of their faith in God, and the joy of the Lord proved to be indeed their strength, keeping their hearts from failing in an hour of sore anxiety and distress.

The evening was bright with the radiance of a full moon and unusually warm for the season; so pleasant was it out of doors that most of our friends preferred the veranda to the cottage parlors, and some of the younger ones were strolling about the town or the beach.

Betty had gone down to the latter place, taking Lulu with her, with the captain's permission, both promising not to go out of sight of home.

"Oh, how lovely the sea is to-night, with the moon shining so brightly on all the little dancing waves!" exclaimed Lulu, as they stood side by side close to the water's edge.

"Yes," said Betty; "doesn't it make you feel like going in?"

"Do people ever bathe at night?" asked Lulu.

"I don't know why they shouldn't," returned her companion.

"It might be dangerous, perhaps," suggested Lulu.

"Why should it?" said Betty; "it's almost as light as day. Oh, Bob," perceiving her brother close at hand, "don't you want to go in? I will if you will go with me."

"I don't care if I do," he answered, after a moment's reflection: "a moonlight bath in the sea would be something out of the common; and there seems to be just surf enough to make it enjoyable."

"Yes; and my bathing-suit is in the bath-house yonder. I can be ready in five minutes."

"Can you? So can I; we'll go in if only for a few minutes. Won't you go with us, Lulu?"

"I'd like to," she said, "but I can't without leave; and I know papa wouldn't give it, for I had a bath this morning, and he says one a day is quite enough."

"I was in this morning," said Bob; "Betty, too, I think, and--I say, Bet, it strikes me I've heard that it's a little risky to go in at night."

"Not such a night as this, I'm sure, Bob; why, it's as light as day; and if there is danger it can be only about enough to give spice to the undertaking."

With the last word she started for the bath-house, and Bob, not to be outdone in courage, hurried toward another appropriated to his use.

Lulu stood waiting for their return, not at all afraid to be left alone with not another creature in sight on the beach. Yet the solitude disturbed her as the thought arose that Bob and Betty might be about to put themselves in danger, while no help was at hand for their rescue. The nearest she knew of was at the cottages on the bluff, and for her to climb those long flights of stairs and give the alarm in case anything went wrong with the venturesome bathers, would be a work of time.

"I'd better not wait for them to get into danger, for they would surely drown before help could reach them," she said to herself, after a moment's thought. "I'll only wait till I see them really in, and then hurry home to see if somebody can't come down and be ready to help if they should begin to drown."

But as they passed her, presently, on their way to the water, Bob said: "We're trusting you to keep our secret, Lulu; don't tell tales on us."

She made no reply, but thought within herself, "That shows he doesn't think he's doing exactly right. I'm afraid it must be quite dangerous."

But while his remark and injunction increased her apprehensions for them, it also made her hesitate to carry to their friends the news of their escapade till she should see that it brought them into actual danger and need of assistance.

She watched them tremblingly as they waded slowly out beyond the surf into the smooth, swelling waves, where they began to swim.

For a few moments all seemed to be well; then came a sudden shrill cry from Betty, followed by a hoarser one from Bob, which could mean nothing else than fright and danger.

For an instant Lulu was nearly paralyzed with terror; but rousing herself by a determined effort, she shouted at the top of her voice, "Don't give up; I'll go for help as fast as ever I can," and instantly set off for home at her utmost speed.

"Help, help! they'll drown, oh, they'll drown!" she screamed as she ran.

Harold, who was in the act of descending the last flight of stairs, saw her running toward him, and heard her cry, though the noise of the surf prevented his catching all the words.

"What's the matter?" he shouted, clearing the remainder of the flight at a bound.

"Betty, Bob--drowning!" she cried, without slackening her speed, "I'm going for help."

He waited, to hear no more, but sped on toward the water; and only pausing to divest himself of his outer clothing, plunged in, and, buffeting with the waves, made his way as rapidly as possible toward the struggling forms, which, by the light of the moon, he could dimly discern at some distance from the shore.

Faint cries for help and the gleam of Betty's white arm, as for an instant she raised it above the wave, guided him to the spot.

Harold was an excellent swimmer, strong and courageous; but he had undertaken a task beyond his strength, and his young life was very near falling a sacrifice to the folly of his cousins and his own generous impulse to fly to their aid.

Both Bob and Betty were already so nearly exhausted as to be scarcely capable of doing anything to help themselves, and in their mad struggle for life caught hold of him and so impeded his movements that he was like to perish with them.

Mean while Lulu had reached the top of the cliff, then the veranda where the older members of the family party were seated, and, all out of breath with fright and the exertion of climbing and running, she faltered out, "Bob and Betty; they'll drown if they don't get help quickly."

"What, are they in the water?" cried Mr. Dinsmore and Captain Raymond, simultaneously springing to their feet; the latter adding, "I fear they'll drown before we can possibly get help to them."

"Oh, yes; they're drowning now," sobbed Lulu; "but Harold's gone to help them."

"Harold? He's lost if he tries it alone!" "The boy's mad to think of such a thing!" exclaimed Mr. Dinsmore and Edward in a breath, while Elsie's cheek turned deathly pale, and her heart went up in an agonized cry that her boy's life might be spared; the others also.

The gentlemen held a hasty consultation, then scattered, Mr. Dinsmore hastening in search of other aid, while Captain Raymond and Edward hurried to the beach, the ladies following with entreaties to them to be careful.

But fortunately for the endangered ones, other aid had already reached them--a boat that had come out from Nantucket for a moonlight sail, and from the shore a noble Newfoundland dog belonging to a retired sea captain. Strolling along the beach with his master, he heard the cries for help, saw the struggling forms, and instantly plunging in among the waves, swam to the rescue.

Seizing Betty by the hair, he held her head above water till the sailboat drew near and strong arms caught hold of her and dragged her in, pale, dripping, and seemingly lifeless.

They then picked up the young men, both entirely unconscious, and made for the shore with all possible haste.

It was doubtful if the last spark of life had not been extinguished in every one of the three; but the most prompt, wise, and vigorous measures were instantly taken and continued for hours--hours of agonizing suspense to those who loved them.

At length Bob gave unmistakable signs of life; and shortly after Betty sighed, opened her eyes, and asked, feebly, "Where am I? what has happened?"

But Harold still lay as one dead, and would have been given up as such had not his mother clung to hope, and insisted that the efforts at restoration should be continued.

Through the whole trying scene she had maintained an unbroken calmness of demeanor, staying herself upon her God, lifting her heart to His throne in never-ceasing petitions, and in the midst of her bitter grief and anxiety rejoicing that if her boy were taken from her for a time, it would be but to exchange the trials and cares of earth for the joys of heaven; and the parting from him here would soon be followed by a blissful reunion in that blessed land where sin and sorrow and suffering can never enter.

But at length, when their efforts were rewarded so that he breathed and spoke, and she knew that he was restored to her, the reaction came.

She had given him a gentle, tender kiss, had seen him fall into a natural, refreshing sleep, and passing from his bedside into an adjoining room, she fainted in her father's arms.

"My darling, my dear, brave darling!" he murmured, as he laid her down upon a couch and bent over her in tenderest solicitude, while Mrs. Dinsmore hastened to apply restoratives.

It was not a long faint; she presently opened her eyes and lifted them with a bewildered look up into her father's face.

"What is it, papa?" she murmured; "have I been ill?"

"Only a short faint," he answered. "But you must be quite worn out."

"Oh, I remember!" she cried. "Harold, my dear son--"

"Is doing well, love. And now I want you to go to your bed and try to get some rest. See, day is breaking, and you have had no sleep, no rest."

"Nor have you, papa; do go and lie down; but I must watch over my poor boy," she said, trying to rise from the couch.

"Lie still," he said, gently detaining her; "lie here, if you are not willing to go to your bed. I am better able to sit up than you are, and will see to Harold."

"His brothers are with him, mamma," said Zoe, standing by; "and Edward says they will stay beside him as long as they are needed."

"Then you and I will both retire and try to take some rest, shall we not?" Mr. Dinsmore asked, bending over Elsie and softly smoothing her hair.

"Yes, papa; but I must first take one peep at the dear son so nearly lost to me."

He helped her to rise; then she perceived that Captain Raymond and Violet were in the room.

"Dearest mamma," said the latter, coming forward to embrace her, "how glad I am that you are better, and our dear Harold spared to us!" She broke down in sobs and tears.

"Yes, my child; oh, let us thank the Lord for His great goodness! But this night has been quite too much for you. Do you go at once and try to get some rest."

"I shall see that she obeys, mother," the captain said, in a tenderly sportive tone, taking Elsie's hand and lifting it to his lips.

"I think I may trust you," she returned, with a faint smile. "You were with Bob; how is he now?"

"Doing as well as possible under the circumstances; as is Betty also; you need trouble your kind heart with no fear or care for them."

It had been a terrible night to all the family--the children the only ones who had taken any rest or sleep--and days of nursing followed before the three who had so narrowly escaped death were restored to their wonted health and strength.

Mr. and Mrs. Dinsmore and Elsie devoted themselves to that work, and were often assisted in it by Zoe, Edward, and Herbert.

Harold was quite a hero with these last and with Max and Lulu; in fact, with all who knew or heard of his brave deed, though he modestly disclaimed any right to the praises heaped upon him, asserting that he had done no more than any one with common courage and humanity would have done in his place.

Bob and Betty were heartily ashamed of their escapade, and much sobered at the thought of their narrow escape from sudden death. Both dreaded the severe reproof they had reason to expect from their uncle, but he was very forbearing, and thinking the fright and suffering entailed by their folly sufficient to deter them from a repetition of it, kindly refrained from lecturing them on the subject, though, when a suitable opportunity offered, he did talk seriously and tenderly, with now one and now the other, on the guilt and danger of putting off repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, reminding them that they had had a very solemn warning of the shortness and uncertainty of life, and asking them to consider the question whether they were ready for a sudden call into the immediate presence of their Judge.

"Really now, uncle," remarked Bob on one of these occasions, "there are worse fellows in the world than I am--much worse."

"I am willing to admit that, my boy," returned Mr. Dinsmore; "but many of those fellows have not enjoyed the privileges and teachings that you have, and responsibility is largely in proportion to one's light and opportunities.

"Jesus said, 'That servant, who knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to His will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.'"

"Yes; and you think I'm one of the first class, I suppose?"

"I do, my boy; for you have been well instructed, both in the church and in the family; also you have a Bible, and may study it for yourself as often and carefully as you will."

"But I really have never done anything very bad, uncle."

"How can you say that, Robert, when you know that you have lived all your life in utter neglect of God's appointed way of salvation? hearing the gracious invitation of Him who died that you might live, 'Come unto me,' and refusing to accept it?

"'God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,' and having for years refused to believe, how can you assert that you have done nothing very bad? 'How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?'"

Bob made no reply, but looked thoughtful, and his uncle went quietly from the room, thinking it well to leave the lad to his own reflections.

Passing the door of the room where Harold lay, he was about to enter, but perceiving that the boy and his mother were in earnest conversation, he moved on, leaving them undisturbed.

"Mamma," Harold was saying, "I have been thinking much of sudden death since my very narrow escape from it. You know, mamma, it comes sometimes without a moment's warning; and as we all sin continually in thought and feeling, if not in word and deed, as our very best deeds and services are so stained with sin that they need to be repented of and forgiven, how is it that even a true Christian can get to heaven if called away so suddenly?"

"Because when one comes to Jesus Christ and accepts His offered salvation, all his sins, future as well as past and present, are forgiven. 'The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.'

"Jesus said, 'He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.' 'I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.'"

"But oh, mamma, I find myself so weak and sinful, so ready to yield to temptation, that I sometimes fear I shall never be able to hold out to the end!"

"My dear boy, let that fear lead you to cling all the closer to the Master, who is able to save unto the uttermost. If our holding out depended upon ourselves, our own weak wills, we might well be in despair; but 'He will keep the feet of His saints.'

"'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to His abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.' Can they be in danger who are kept by the power of God?"