Chapter XXIII. Max
 

"Papa," said Max one morning, as they rose from the breakfast-table, "I feel as if a long walk would do me good. I'd like to go farther down the beach than I ever have yet."

"Very well, my son, you may go, only keep out of danger and come home in time for dinner," was the indulgent rejoinder, and the lad set off at once.

He presently fell in with two other lads a little older than himself, boarders in one of the near hotels, and casual acquaintances of his. They joined him and the three rambled on together, whistling, talking, and occasionally stooping to pick up a shell, pebble, or bit of seaweed or sponge.

At length they reached an inlet that seemed to bar their farther progress, but looking about they spied an old boat stranded by yesterday's tide a little higher up the inlet, and were of course instantly seized with a great desire to get her into the water and set sail in her.

"Wouldn't it be jolly fun?" cried Bob Masters, the eldest of the trio. "Come on, boys."

Max was a rather heedless fellow, and never stopping to consider the right or wrong of the thing, or whether he were running into danger or not, went with the others.

They found the boat, as they thought, in fair condition; there were two oars in her, and both Max and John Cox, the other lad, thought they knew pretty well how to use them, while Masters was sure he could steer.

With a good deal of exertion they set the little craft afloat; then climbing in they pushed boldly out into deep water and bore down toward the ocean.

Max had thought they were only going to cross to the farther side of the inlet and continue their walk; but almost before he knew it, they were out upon the sea, and the boat was rocking upon the waves in a way that seemed to him decidedly alarming.

"Boys," he said, "let's put back as fast as we can. We don't know anything about managing a boat out here, and see how big the waves are!"

"That's because the tide's coming in," laughed Masters, "so if we should upset it'll wash us ashore."

"I don't know," said Max, "I'd rather not risk it; there's the undertow to carry us out again."

"Oh, you're a coward!" sneered Cox.

"I'm not going to turn back yet," said Masters; "so stick to your oar, Raymond, and if the sight of the big waves frightens you, just turn your back to 'em."

At that moment a hail came from a fishing-smack not far away. "Halloo! boys, you'd better put back as fast as you can; that boat's not safe, especially in the hands of such green-horns as you."

At the same moment a big incoming wave washed over them, carrying away their hats and Max's coat, which he had pulled off when taking the oar.

Masters and Cox were now sufficiently frightened to be willing to turn back; they made the attempt at once, but found it far more difficult than they had anticipated. They struggled hard, and several times nearly gave themselves up for lost; but at last, after many narrow escapes, a huge wave carried them high on to the beach, and left them there with barely strength to crawl up out of the way of the next.

It was a good while before they were able to do anything but lie panting and gasping on the sand.

Max had not been long gone when Zoe ran into the cottage of the Raymonds, to tell of a plan just set on foot in the other house to get up a party to visit some points of interest several miles distant.

They were to go in carriages, take a lunch with them, and not return till late in the afternoon, when all would dine together at Mrs. Dinsmore's table.

"Mamma is not going," she said, "and offers to take care of Gracie, if the child stays behind. Every one seems to fear the ride would be too long and wearisome for her."

"Yes, I think so," the captain said, fondling her, for she was sitting on his knee.

"I'd like to go, papa," she said, looking up coaxingly into his face, "I like to go driving, and to sit on your knee."

"And I love to have my baby girl in my arms, and to give her pleasure," he responded, repeating his caresses, "but I should feel very sad to see her made sick."

"Then I'll be good and not ask to go, papa," she said, with a slight sigh, laying her head on his shoulder.

"That's my dear, good little Gracie! You shall have a short drive every day when I can manage it. Perhaps a moonlight drive along the beach, to-morrow evening. Will not that be nice?"

"Oh, ever so nice, dear papa!" she cried, clapping her hands in delight.

"Mamma not going, Zoe!" exclaimed Violet in a tone of disappointment. "That will rob the excursion of half its charm for me. Is she not well?"

"She has a very slight headache, she says, and fears the sun would increase it. Besides she is so much interested in a book she is reading that she prefers staying at home to finish it. We had hard work to persuade grandpa to go without her, but he has consented at last; only, I believe, because Grandma Rose refused to go without him, and mamma insists that she is in no danger of a bad headache if she keeps quiet."

"Yes, grandpa is so fond and careful of her."

"We have two large carriages, so that there is abundance of room for everybody," pursued Zoe; "and we hope, Captain, that you will let Max and Lulu go."

"Lulu shall certainly, if she chooses," he said, turning with a kind, fatherly smile to the little girl who stood silently at his side, waiting with a wistful, eager look, to hear if she were to be of the party, but ashamed to ask the indulgence because of a vivid remembrance of her late rebellion and disgrace.

"Oh, thank you, papa!" she cried joyously, giving him a hug and kiss. "Mamma Vi, what shall I wear?"

"Your travelling dress will be the most suitable I think," said Violet.

"Then I'll run and put it on," returned Lulu, hastening away with cheerful alacrity.

"Max shall go too, Captain, shan't he?" queried Zoe, with whom the boy was a great favorite.

"He might if he were here," the father answered; "but unfortunately he has gone off for a long walk and may not be back before dinner-time."

"And we must start in a few minutes," remarked Vi; "I am really sorry, for I know Max will regret missing it. Gracie, dear, I'm going over to speak to mamma; shall I take you with me?"

"Yes, if you please, Mamma Vi, when I've kissed my dear papa good-by."

Having done so, she took her doll in her arms and gave her hand to Violet. She felt a little lonely at the thought of being left behind, but was quite comforted on learning that little Walter Travilla had decided to stay at home and play with her.

The excursionists drove off, and Elsie, having provided the little ones with amusement, gave herself up to the enjoyment of her book and an easy-chair set where she could catch the pleasant sea breeze without feeling the sun. Still, she did not forget the children, but now and then laid aside her book for a little, while she suggested or invented some new game for their entertainment.

So the morning passed quietly and pleasantly.

It was a little past noon when, stepping out upon the veranda, she caught sight of a forlorn figure, hatless, coatless, and dishevelled generally, yet bearing a strangely familiar look, slowly approaching the other cottage. A second glance told her who it was.

"Max!" she exclaimed in astonishment, and forgetting all about her headache, caught up a sunshade and hurried to meet him.

"Max! can it be you?" she asked. "Why, my poor boy, where have you been? and what has happened to you?"

"O Grandma Elsie!" he said, looking much mortified and ready to cry, "I did hope I'd be able to get into the house without anybody seeing me! Do you know where my father is?"

"Yes; the two families have all gone on an excursion except Gracie, Walter, and me. But come in out of the sun," she added, leading the way into the Raymonds' cottage. Max followed her, and won to confidence by her sweet and kindly sympathy, told her the whole story of his morning's adventure.

"O Max, my dear boy! what a narrow escape!" she said, with tears in her eyes. "What a mercy that you are alive to tell the tale! What a terrible, terrible shock it would have been to your father to learn that his only son was drowned! and that while in the act of disobeying him, for you say he bade you not to go into any danger."

"Yes, Grandma Elsie, and if he finds it out I'll be pretty sure to get a severe flogging. I deserve it, I know; but I don't want to take it. You won't tell on me, will you? Perhaps he'll find it out through the loss of the coat and hat, but I hope he won't miss them, at I have several others."

"No, Max, I shall certainly not tell on you; no one shall ever learn from me what you have told me in confidence; but I do hope, my dear boy, that you will not try to deceive your kind, loving father, but will confess all to him as soon as he comes home, and patiently bear whatever punishment he sees fit to inflict. It is the only right and honorable course, Max, and will save you a great deal of suffering from remorse and fear of detection."

"But it will be dreadfully hard to confess!" sighed Max. "I believe I really dread that more than the flogging."

"Yet take courage, my boy, and do it. Do not allow yourself to indulge in moral cowardice, but dare to do right, asking help of God, who is able and willing to give it."

Max made no reply, but sat there before her, looking very guilty and miserable.

"You must be hungry," she said presently, "and it is not easy to be brave and strong on an empty stomach. Suppose you go to your room and make yourself neat, then come into the other house and join me and the little folks in a nice luncheon."

The proposal was accepted with thankfulness.

Max looked several degrees less miserable after satisfying his appetite, yet all the afternoon seemed restless and unhappy.

Elsie said little to him, but many times silently lifted up her heart on his behalf, asking that he might have strength given him to do the duty he felt to be so difficult and painful.

As the time drew near when the pleasure-seekers might be expected to return, he slipped away out of her sight.

Presently the carriages drove up and deposited their load. Max stood waiting in the veranda, his heart beating very fast and loud, as his father, Violet, and Lulu came up the path that led from the garden-gate.

All three greeted him affectionately, expressing their regret that he had missed the pleasure of the excursion; then Vi and Lulu passed into the house and on upstairs.

The captain was about to follow when Max, stepping close to his side, said, with a slight tremble in his voice, "Papa, I--want to speak to you."

"Very well, my son, say on," answered the captain, stopping and turning toward him.

"It's something I want to tell you, sir," and Max hung his head, his cheeks flushing hotly.

His father gave him a searching look, took his hand, and led him into the parlor.

"Don't be afraid of your father, Max," he said kindly, "why should you?"

"Because I've been a bad boy, sir, deserving of a flogging, and expect you to give it to me," Max burst out desperately.

"Tell me all about it, my son," the captain said in a moved tone, "and tell it here," seating himself and drawing the boy to his knee. "Perhaps it will be easier."

"Oh, yes, papa, because it makes me know you love me even if I am bad; but it makes me more ashamed and sorry for having disobeyed you," sobbed Max, no longer able to refrain from tears as he felt the affectionate clasp of his father's enfolding arm.

"Then it has a right effect. My boy, I think if you knew how much I love you, you would never disobey. It will be a sore trial to me, as well as to you, if I find it my duty to inflict any severe punishment upon you. But let me hear your story."

Max told it in broken accents, for he was full of remorse for having behaved so ill to so kind a parent.

When he had finished there was a moment of silence. It was the captain who broke it.

"My boy," he said, with emotion, "it was a really wonderful escape, and we must thank God for it. If you had been drowned, Max, do you know that it would have gone near to break your father's heart? To lose my first-born, my only son, and in the very act of disobedience--oh, how terrible!"

"Papa, I didn't, I really didn't think about its being disobedience when I got into the boat, because it didn't seem dangerous till we were fairly out among the waves."

"Do you think I ought to excuse you on that account?"

"No, sir; you've reproved me so often for not thinking, and for not being careful to obey your orders; and I know I deserve a flogging. But, O papa, please don't let Mamma Vi know about it, or anybody else. Can't you take me upstairs here when they are all in the other house?"

"I shall not use corporal punishment this time, Max," the captain said, in a moved tone. Dressing the boy closer to his side, "I shall try free forgiveness, for I think you are truly sorry. And then you have made so frank and full a confession of wrong-doing, that I might perhaps never have discovered in any other way."

"O papa, how good you are to me! I don't think I can ever be so mean and ungrateful as to disobey you again," exclaimed Max, feelingly. "But I don't deserve to be praised, or let off from punishment, because of confessing, for I shouldn't have done it if Grandma Elsie hadn't talked to me about the duty of it, and persuaded me to take courage to do it because it was right."

"Bless her for it! the dear, good woman!" the captain said, with earnest gratitude. "But I think, Max, you do deserve commendation for taking her advice. I have something more to say to you, my son, but not now, for the call to dinner will come directly, and I must go and prepare for it."

There was a hearty embrace between them, and they separated, the captain going to his room to make his toilet and Max to the other house, where he soon managed to let Grandma Elsie into the secret of his confession and its happy result, thanking her with tears in his eyes for her kind, wise advice.

Elsie rejoiced with and for him, telling him he had made her heart glad and that she hoped he would always have courage to do right.

As Max prepared for bed that night he was wondering to himself what more his father had to say to him, when he heard the captain's step on the stairs, and the next moment he came in.

Max started a little apprehensively. Could it be that his father had changed his mind, and was about to give him the dreaded flogging after all?

But with one glance up into the grave yet kindly face looking down at him, all his fear vanished. He drew a long breath of relief.

"My boy," the captain said, laying his hand on Max's shoulder, "I told you I had something more to say to you, and I have come to say it now. You are 'my first-born, my might and the beginning of my strength.' Never until you are a father yourself can you know or understand the tide of love, joy, and thankfulness that swept over me at the news of your birth. Nor do you know how often, on land and on sea, in storm and in calm, my thoughts dwell with deep anxiety upon the future of my son, not only for time, Max, but for eternity."

The captain paused for a moment, his emotions seemingly too big for utterance, and Max, throwing his arms around his neck, hid his face on his breast.

"Papa," he sobbed, "I didn't know you loved me so much! Oh, I wish I'd always been a good boy!"

The captain sat down and drew him to his knee.

"My dear son," he said, "I have no doubt that you are sorry for every act of disobedience toward me, and I fully and freely forgive them all; but what I want you to consider now is your sinfulness toward God, and your need of forgiveness from him. You are old enough to be a Christian now, Max, and it is what I desire for you more than anything else. Think what blessedness to be made a child of God, an heir of glory! to have Jesus, the sinner's Friend, for your own Saviour, your sins all washed away in his precious blood, his righteousness put upon you."

"Papa, I don't know how."

"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,' the Bible says. It tells us that we have all broken God's holy law, that we all deserve his wrath and curse forever, and cannot be saved by anything that we can do or Buffer; but that 'God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.' He offers this salvation to us as his free gift, and so we are to take it, for we can have it in no other way. Go to God, my son, just as you have come to me, with confession of your sins and acknowledging that you deserve only punishment; but pleading for pardon through the blood and merits of Jesus Christ. Accept the salvation offered you by the Lord Jesus, giving yourself to him to be his, his only forever. 'Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins,' and he will give them to you if you ask for them with all your heart. He says, 'Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.' My son, my dear son, will not you come now? God's time is always now, and only the present is ours."

"Papa, I will try; I am sorry for my sins against God, and I do want to belong to him. Papa, won't you pray for me?"

They knelt down together, and with his son's hand in his the captain poured out a fervent prayer on the boy's behalf, of confession and entreaty for pardon and acceptance in the name and for the sake of Him "who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification."

Then, with a silent, tender embrace he left him.