Two Festivals by Eliza Lee Follen
A True Story.
One cold, stormy evening in the middle of winter, a family, consisting of four children and their parents, were gathered round a bright, blazing fire. One merry-looking little girl was sitting with a large, beautiful cat in her lap, which she was stroking, while Miss Puss was purring her satisfaction at her happy lot. An older girl was assisting her mother, who was employed at some needlework. The oldest boy was getting his lesson. The youngest was sitting on his father's knee. "How the wind roars!" said little Robert, as a tremendous blast came swelling and moaning over the fields and rushed against their dwelling, which, saving one old elm tree that bent its protecting branches over it, stood all alone, exposed to the shock of the wind against it. "Shan't we blow over, Father?" said the child. "No, dear; we have stood higher winds than this." "Now it dies away," said Helen, as, for a moment, she stopped caressing her favorite. "The storm is taking breath," said Ned; "now you can hear it a great way off; it sounds like a troop of horse galloping up--now it comes nearer and nearer. Hurrah! there it comes again! hurrah! Hear the poor old elm creak and groan, and hear the icicles rattling down. I hope none of the branches will break, but I am afraid the ice is too heavy for them." "Think of poor old Fanny to-night," said Julia, the elder girl, "in her little cottage, and the walls so thin. Mother, what will she do?" "Her house is so small that the wind seems to pass her by," said the mother, "and, when it is so cold as it is to-night, the poor soul goes to bed, and lies there till it is warmer. Many a time, I have found her in bed in the morning, and given her some breakfast, and advised her to lie there till she could get up with comfort." "It is so still now," said Robert, "that I can hear the flakes of snow on the window panes." "And so do I," said little Helen, "and the wind seems to say, Hush! hush!" "I should not think you could hear any thing while Puss is purring so loud in your ears," replied Ned. "Do put her out of the room; I would rather hear the loudest wind that ever blew than hear a cat purr, purr, purr so forever; it makes my head spin to hear it; hush, Puss! stop purring." Puss purred on all the same, for Ned's words were followed by no hostile act towards her. No one, much less Helen's pet, was ever treated inhospitably at Mr. Nelson's fireside.
Now there was a short silence in the happy group, and nothing was heard but the fitful wind without, the crackling of the fire, and the contented sound of the purring cat within. Mrs. Nelson was the first to speak. "Is it not time," said she, "for John to return from the village? I cannot help expecting a letter from James. If,"--and the color left her cheeks,--"if he was alive and well, I am sure he must have written, and we must have a letter by Captain S." "I hear John coming up the avenue now." In a moment Ned was gone to see what packages were brought from the office, and in another he was back again with a parcel in his hand. "Here, Father," said he, "here are the newspapers, and here, Mother, is a big letter from uncle John for you."
His mother opened her brother's letter. "A letter from Jemmy," said she, with a voice trembling with joy. "A letter from Jemmy," said all the children together, and in a moment each one was silent, in order to listen to its contents.
"Dear Mother: Here we are all safe and sound; but when you get this, you will, I know, thank God you have yet a son Jemmy. I have kept a sea journal which you and father can see when I get home; so I shall say nothing more about our voyage, except that I got along very well, considering I was a green hand, and that I made friends with the mates and all the sailors. O, they were so kind to me! and lucky it was for me that they did love me so well, as you'll see presently. Well, to my story. I hate to come to it, for it makes me feel so badly; but don't be frightened, Mother; here I am on shore, as lively as a cricket, and could make as much noise in your house now as I ever did. Well, dear Mother, all, as I said, went well with me, till one night, when we were on the Grand Bank; it was a rain storm, and the captain sent me up to the topmast to reef a sail; some one had been up, in the course of the day, and dropped some grease, and I think my foot slipped; I was confused, the rain beat in my face, I could not see any thing, and I fell. I must have been stunned, for I am sure some time must have passed before I found myself overboard, struggling to keep myself above water. In a moment, I saw my whole danger. I knew that the ship must have gone on some distance, and that it was useless to try to swim after her. I did not think the sailors would know I had fallen overboard, for some time, and I knew that, in such a dark, stormy night, it was almost impossible for them to do any thing to save me. You know, dear Mother, I am an excellent swimmer; but I immediately thought that my only chance was to save my strength as much as possible; so I turned over on my back and floated, and determined to keep myself as quiet as I could, so as not to exhaust myself before the boat could come for me, which was what I hoped for, though I knew there was small chance of it, on such a night. In a few moments I saw indistinctly one of those great birds that follow after vessels, hovering over me, and I felt his horrid wings brushing over my face. I used one of my arms to drive him away, while, with the other, I kept myself on the top of the water; the waves rolled high, and, as they broke over me, repeatedly filled my mouth with the bitter water, so that I could not scream to let any one know where I was. Presently more birds, smaller however, fluttered their frightful wings over me; but the large one, whose wings I am sure extended as far as I could stretch my arms, was the worst; he kept hovering over me; O, I can see the frightful creature now! Well, Mother, don't be scared, for here I am as well as ever. I found my strength began to fail me. I could not see the ship. The cold was terrible. The horrid birds were hovering, and the waves were rolling over me. I thought of you and father, my brothers and sisters, my dear home; and I felt as if I could not bear my sufferings any longer, and that I had better give up. I was about turning myself over and letting myself go, when I saw a black thing at a distance which I took for a porpoise. While I was looking to see what it was, I heard the words, 'Jemmy! Jemmy!' and I called out, 'Here I am!' This was the first sound I had been able to make from the time I had fallen over, for if I opened my mouth it filled with water. They soon had me in the boat, and, soon after, I was in the ship. Every thing was done for me, that love and kindness could do. I could not have held out much longer. It was three quarters of an hour that I had been in the water. They told me afterwards that when they found I had fallen overboard, they put the ship about; but as they heard no sound from me, and knew not whereabouts I had fallen, the captain said it was useless to do any thing to save me. The steward and cook and one of the men were getting out the boat, but it had a bad leak in it, and the captain advised them not to go. They would not listen to him; they said they would not give me up; and they lowered the boat. One of the men baled all the time, and as he had nothing else to stop the leak with, he put his foot in the place, and he kept the boat above water. By the merest chance they steered directly for the spot where I was. So you see, Mother, it was their love and their courage that saved my life."
"Now, dear Mother, you will not feel anxious about me any more, for I think you may be sure that nothing worse will happen to me than has happened already on this voyage. I hope to be with you in a month after you got this, and I don't think I shall want to go to sea again for one while. My love to father and the boys, and to Julia, and Helen, and the cat, and all inquiring friends. Glad enough I shall be to be with you all again. I never knew before, dear Mother, how much I loved you all. Your affectionate son, Jemmy."
"P.S. After my fall I could not stand for a fortnight, but they all took the kindest care of me, and I am now as well as possible."
It were vain to attempt to describe what passed in the hearts of these parents at hearing of the safety of their son after such a peril. The letter was read over and over again, and each one expressed his happiness in his own way; little Helen wondered he should have thought of Puss, but said it was just like Jemmy. "I would not believe such a story if I had it from any other but James himself," said his father. "Nothing, so uncommon as to save a person that falls overboard in such a way; and at night I never knew of it, and I have been many years at sea. Nothing but James's presence of mind and courage saved his life; he did the only thing that would have been of any avail; had he attempted to swim after the ship, he would have been lost. It seems now as if the story could not be true. His presence of mind, and his courage, and his knowledge of swimming would, however, have been of little use to him, if the love of the sailors for him had not been stronger than the love of their own lives, which they put in the greatest peril to save this poor boy who, a few weeks before, was an utter stranger to them. How noble! how beautiful! The glory of the wise and so-called great of this world fades away as we look at this simple act of self-devoted love. In the hearts of each of these men we see the angel that God has placed within us all, ever declaring, if we would listen, that love is greater than life, that there is no death to the soul."
The children, not long after, retired to bed; the thought of dear brother Jemmy made them insensible to the storm; all was sunshine and peace in their young hearts. The parents sat up many hours of that stormy night talking over and over again the story of their boy's imminent danger and of his miraculous escape.
The hoarse breathings of the wild storm, its alternate deep, far-off moaning and shrill piping, through every loophole and crevice in the house, sounded to these heaven-attuned souls like solemn music, and they joined in sweet accord in silent, grateful prayer to the Infinite Spirit.
Frank and Harry, with their mother, were now silent for a few moments. Soon, slowly and solemnly, the bell struck one, two, three, four, five, six, and so on to twelve, and the first moment of the new year began to be. They kissed each other, said "Happy New Year," and were soon fast asleep in bed.