« السابقةمتابعة »
With which the very hills rejoice;
WordsWORTH. Well was it for Reginald Grafton that Herbert had so promptly acted up to his own generous impulses, instead of listening to the cautious admonitions and suggestions of others; for neither himself nor Edward Stanley could swim a stroke, and they must both have perished had it not been for his timely aid.
Reginald's situation was even more dangerous than that of Edward Stanley, as the latter was clinging with frantic eagerness to the side of the boat, while Reginald had been thrown a considerable distance farther off. To reach him, therefore, was Herbert's first endeavour; and bravely he fought his way through the rising waves, and perseveringly toiled on against wind and tide, until, at last, he came upon the object of his search ; and, by making one great-almost superhuman-effort, caught him just as he was sinking for the third time.
A low murmur of applause ran through the crowd of spectators as they witnessed this successful attempt, and many anxious, impatient glances were directed toward the boat (which, after much and apparently unnecessary delay, was about to be launched), while sundry conjectures were formed regarding the probable time it would take to reach the sufferers, and fears expressed lest Herbert's strength should fail him before its arrival.
These fears were not causeless; for, if the going out had been attended with difficulty and danger, how much more so was the returning! when, in addition to the other disadvantages under which he laboured, Herbert was burdened with the half-unconscious Reginald, who weighed him down, and in many ways unintentionally retarded his progress.
Yet still he struggled on, struggled and struggled with unabated energy, though he was evidently becoming greatly exhausted. When they were within a few yards of the shore, a rope was thrown to them, and of this Herbert gladly availed himself.
He was welcomed with a burst of enthusiasm, and one after another flocked around him, proud to testify their admiration of his manly conduct; but he could not consider his work finished so long as Edward Stanley was in any danger. Without, therefore, delaying a moment longer than was absolutely necessary, he delivered Reginald over to their
care, and hastened to commit himself once more to the deep.
“Are you mad, sir ? ” cried a man, who, having divined his purpose, intercepted him as he was about to spring into the sea.
" Don't you
know that you are quite worn out already?” he continued, receiving no answer to this question.
“I can return in the boat,” said Herbert, hurriedly. “ But I must go to that poor lad, or he will not be able to hold on till it reaches him. You see they have gone round by the other side, and it may be some time before he is discovered.”
The man shook his head, and still tried to dissuade him from venturing out again; but Herbert neither saw him nor heard him, for he was already off.
His strokes were not now strong and vigorous, for a sense of lassitude and weakness was stealing over him, and he began to despair of reaching his young friend at all. But the sight of the lad's helplessness and danger would come vividly before him, and prove irresistible in leading him to make fresh exertions on his behalf.
Several times Herbert had shouted to him to maintain his hold of the boat until he should arrive to assist him, and gallantly did the poor boy endeavour to carry out his injunctions; but at last he could hold on no longer; his overstrained powers gave way, and he disappeared like a stone in the mighty waters.
Herbert inwardly groaned at this sudden confirmation of his worst apprehensions; but rallying his fast-failing energies, he seemed to gather courage as he proceeded, and redoubled his efforts, apparently quite unmindful of his own physical weakness and exhaustion.
Presently he reached the overturned boat, which was now nearly covered, but no traces of Edward Stanley could he find. Vainly he dived under the water, and, by so doing, placed himself in imminent danger. Vainly he raised his head, and gazed eagerly and anxiously around him--supporting himself meanwhile by grasping with one hand the keel of the boat. All in vain !
Every effort fruitless, every hope defeated ! Labour, and pain, and toil-all, all in vain !
Thus thought Herbert, when he found that his exertions were unavailing; and bitterly he lamented his unfortunate friend's melancholy fate; for now he scarcely dared to indulge even the shadow of hope that he might possibly be spared. A minute elapsed, -not more, —though to him it seemed ages; and Herbert continued, as if fascinated, steadfastly to gaze upon the spot from whence Edward Stanley had vanished; when all at once, as suddenly as it had disappeared, his inanimate form rose to the surface of the water. Herbert seized it in a vice-like grasp, and then he began afresh to battle with the waves.
He knew that it would be sheer madness for him to attempt to swim with his burden to the shore; all he could, therefore, do, was to await the approach of the boat which was drawing near them, after having been instrumental in saving two of Reginald's companions, whom the violence of the wind had carried to a considerable distance.
Two others had gained the shore, partly by swimming, and partly by the assistance of ropes; while a fifth-alas ! that it should be my painful duty to record the fact !—had been summoned to appear, with the sin of Sabbath-breaking still fresh upon his conscience, in the presence of that God who has promised to "render to every man according to his deeds,” whether good or bad. His body was not discovered until it was dashed in on the rocks several days afterward, dreadfully disfigured, and almost unrecognisable.
It was then borne to General Clare's house, from whence, after it had been laid in a magnificent coffin, it was solemnly conveyed to London, and, amid pomp and grandeur and ceremony, consigned to the tomb.
Many mourned over his untimely end. Loving relations wept as they recalled his image. His late associates spoke of his geniality and light-heartedness, his wit and humour, his freedom from pride, arrogance, or self-conceit. His faults were never alluded to; or, if mentioned, only to be metamorphosed into positive excellences. Thus his very failings were quoted as proofs of a noble and generous nature, and his vices transformed into virtues. His thorough contempt of goodness, and beauty, and truth; the life of dissipation he had for some time led; the flagrant violations of God's laws he had unblushingly committed, all these were, and perhaps wisely, forgotten; for death, like charity, covers a multitude of sins, and with its mysterious finger effectually closes the door upon censure, humiliation, and strife, converting harshness into pity and foes into friends.
O ye young men, whose hopes and desires are ever hovering around the same narrow and contracted circle of earth and earthliness —whose thoughts never rise above this poor fleeting world—who strive—though often vainly—to escape from the checks of conscience by plunging deeper and yet deeper into the mire of sin,—why, oh! why do you thus choose to drink of the shallow, polluted stream, instead of that deeper, purer, clearer fountain, from whence issues the unmingled, soul-satisfying aqua vita—the true water of life?
What will it profit you, though after your death friends should weep over you, and speak of you in glowing terms of love and affection? What will it profit you, though a costly monument should be erected to your memory, with your name and rank and the date inscribed on it, together with the record of a thousand virtues which you may have been supposed to possess, and a thousand gallant actions you may perchance have performed? You answer, Nothing : and God, and the Bible, and angels in heaven, and lost spirits in hell, re-echo the word;" for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap—he that soweth to his flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting."
Right willingly the sailors 'plied their oars; but, in spite of their zeal and activity, they only reached Herbert just in time.
Another moment, and he and his precious burden must have gone down together; for, although he felt himself growing weaker and weaker, he would not, even to ensure his own safety, relinquish his hold of Edward Stanley.
The last effort which was required of him he performed with the greatest difficulty; and then, worn out, pale, and trembling exceedingly, he sank down in the boat, in a state of unconsciousness-his whole appearance denoting how painfully he had overtasked his strength.
When he recovered consciousness, he found himself lying on a rude bed in a fisherman's hut. A strange doctor, whom he had never before seen, was bending over him, while at a little distance stood Mr. Seymour, exchanging a few whispered words with his valet. A low exclamation of satisfaction, which involuntarily escaped from the
doctor's lips, when Herbert first opened his eyes and gazed wonderingly around him, attracted their attention once more to the bed, which they cautiously approached.
“I can give you hope now, sir,” said the surgeon, turning to Mr. Seymour, and speaking in a tone of heartfelt felicitation.
A look of relief passed over that gentleman's countenance, and a soft though fleeting smile played on his lips; he, however, merely made a gesture of acknowledgment to the experienced surgeon, who nad, with the assistance of several others, been for a considerable length of time occupied in employing the usual means towards Herbert's recovery apparently without the least chance of success; but uttered no words.
Presently, after having for a few seconds silently regarded the still pale and prostrate form of his son, he inquired in a low voice, “When will it be safe for us to have him conveyed to General Clare's house?
The doctor shook his head very doubtfully. “I cannot yet speak with certainty. Perhaps to-morrow evening; assuredly not before,” he added, on perceiving the somewhat contemptuous glance which Mr. Seymour undesignedly threw around the small and meanly furnished room. “ It is quite possible that he may even then be unfit for removal. And as there is now no cause for alarm, I should advise you to leave him for the night; rest and quiet is all he at present requires, and your servant can remain to render any little service which may be necessary.'
“But his mother ?” said Mr. Seymour, interrogatively, after assenting to this plan, the wisdom of which he at once perceived.
“Oh, I had forgotten my promise to the lady. "Is she still in the outer room?"
“She is, sir,” replied Browning, to whom the question was addressed.
" Then will you beg her—but no, I will speak to her myself.” And the doctor left the bedroom, reappearing the next instant with Mrs. Seymour, who shortly after the departure of her husband and General Clare, had received a vague account of the accident; and, filled with the liveliest solicitude, had followed them to the sands. Most fortunately she was spared the pain of witnessing Herbert's struggles in the water, he having been, before her arrival, carried into the nearest cottage; but perhaps her agony was scarcely less when she beheld him lying white and ghastly upon the fisherman's humble pallet, with blood trickling from his nostrils, and no sign of vitality visible.
Only one look was permitted her; for the doctor, who had been hastily summoned from his attendance on Reginald Grafton, entered the cottage immediately after herself; and his first movement was to dismiss her from the room, with the promise that he would send for her ere long.
And yet hours passed away before that promise was fulfilled, and the poor lady grew sick at heart as she watched and waited in vain for any satisfactory intelligence of her beloved son. Occasionally Mr. Seymour would come and try to encourage and console her, but she could easily see by his manner that he had very little hope himself; and when at length the men who had been engaged in rendering active assistance to the doctor were sent away, she began to fear that the unbroken silence which reigned in that small inner chamber after their departure must be the silence of death.
How great, then, was her joy on learning from Browning—who hastened to her directly he heard the cheering words which had been addressed to his master—that there was hope! A terrible load seemed instantly to be lifted from her heart; and, finding herself relieved from the oppressive weight of apprehension and grief-almost despair—which was fast gathering around her, she bowed her head upon her hands, and gave way to flood of grateful, reshing tears.
In this condition the doctor found her; but immediately divining the purpose for which he had come, she rose, and, with restored calmness, accompanied him to the bedside of her son.