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The Book that Brought Bags of Gold

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The Book That Brought Bags of Gold

D

uring the war between France and England a frigate sailed from a South American port, on board of which were a Brazilian widow named Maria da Silva and her child Francisca. Her husband had been in the service of the British Government; she herself had become a Protestant, and was now driven by persecution from her home. She was coming to Europe in the hope of finding a brother, her only surviving relative, who had preceded her some years before. The poor woman's health was failing when she came on board. Anxiety and sorrow soon completed the work which disease had begun, and her death drew near. The sailors were very kind to her in their rough way, especially Wat Connor, who was an old messmate of her husband's, and had gone through many hardships and dangers with him.

Feeling that her end was near, Maria da Silva expressed to Wat her solicitude respecting her little Francisca, so soon to be left an orphan amongst strangers. Wat at once promised that little "Sisker Silver," as he called her, should never want a friend as long as he lived. The dying woman raised her eyes in grateful acknowledgment of his kindness, and said——

"I have nothing to leave her but this little money. I have a Bible: if you will promise me that she shall learn to read it, I shall die in peace."

"She sha'n't want for nothing while I can get it; and as to the book——all right——when she's old enough, I'll see to her tackling it."

"And will you read it, too?" said she, earnestly.

"I would if I could," said Wat, bluntly; "if it would do you any good, or her either."

"Not for her nor me, but for yourself," she said. "Depend on it, kind, dear friend, it will be better to you than bags of gold. This Book helped my husband to bear sickness, meet death, and submit to leave me alone in the world; it has supported me under his loss, and enabled me to see nothing but love in all the troubles I have had; and now, trusting in its promises, I am not afraid to die——not afraid to leave my child. Do believe what I say, learn to read, and make this precious Book your friend——oh, do !"

"Well, I will——thank'ee," said Wat, taking the book with respect. "I can't say no fairer."

Very soon after this the widow was lowered among the waves. Wat immediately took possession of her purse and clothes, which he made into a little bundle for the child; and having stowed that and the Bible safely away, he went to work with his charge, with whom he had become very familiar.

With a gravity, importance, and fatherly tenderness, Wat regularly attended to what he called "rigging little Sisky." Perfectly indifferent to the jokes of his companions, he went as methodically through all the ceremonies of the nursery as if he had been "groom of the chamber" or "mistress of the robes."

"Where's Wat?" was asked, one morning, when he was busy with Sisky's toilette.

"Oh, he's with the child," said a messmate.

"What, topping and tailing his gooseberry?" was the reply.

From that time "Sisky" was better known as "Wat's gooseberry" than by any other name; and Wat himself, being highly diverted with the joke, took to calling her Gooseberry, declaring it was a deal more English-like than "Sisky."

When the voyage ended, Wat, who had no relations but an old grandmother, was rather at a loss what to do with his charge, who was now about six years old; but after a little consideration, he mounted a stage-coach which ran from the port where he had landed to the place where his grandmother lived.

Nothing could exceed the delight of the child at all she saw. After the tedious life on board ship, the green hedges and trees, the fields, the cottages, the pretty sights all along the road, made her clap her hands with joy. Wat was happy, too; and if anything could have made him more light-hearted than he was, it was the high spirits and rejoicing of his little Gooseberry.

Some years had passed since he had been to see his grandmother. Was she alive? He looked out rather anxiously at the places he passed, till the coach came to the top of a green lane, with an alder hedge on each side.

"Into port, captain," he cried, checking the coachman; "here's our landing-place." And dismounting, he took Gooseberry on his shoulder and the bundles under his arm, and went down the lane.

One cottage——two——three——he passed, but at last he stopped at a pretty, though very humble dwelling, with flowers trained round the door. That  was the house. There was the old boat summer-house that his father had made, and there was his granny knitting in the garden.

The old lass was well pleased to see him, and he was heartily glad to find her "all right and tight," as he said, and hugged her as if she had been his mother.

After a few words of pleasure and surprise, granny turned towards Gooseberry, who was staring with her great black eyes on all before her.

"What, married, my lad? and brought me thy little one?" she said.

Wat told the story, and taking up her bundle, he added, "When she's able to be put forward in life, I shall lay out the money on her, and give her them clothes; but till then I shall look to her like my own."

Granny remonstrated. The workhouse was the proper place. He might marry, and then what could he do with this child? This was right and reasonable, as Wat allowed, but he affirmed that it was "righter and more reasonabler" that he should keep his promise. Granny, finding him positive, consented to let Gooseberry live with her; and though he had a misgiving that she wouldn't have a lively time of it, yet he felt she would be safe for the present. So he emptied his pockets most liberally of pay and prize-money, and gave the child into her care.

"Ye see, mother," he said, the night before he left, "I am bound to have her learned to read, and to read this Book; and I'm bound, likewise, to learn to read the Book myself, seeing as I promised I'd do both them things. Now nobody can be at sea and on shore at the same time; and by that rule, how can I leave the Book for her, and take it for myself?"

Wat, talking to Granny, and Gooseberry near sea

Wat's puzzle was set at rest by Granny's telling him that she would teach Gooseberry out of her Bible, which would be the same thing, as all Bibles were exactly alike.

"I reckon so," he said, with a perplexed look, comparing Sisky's with the old baize-covered one on the settle. "But there's a lot of signs and marks in this 'un," pointing to red ink notes on the margin, and underlinings of several passages.

Granny inspected it, and shook her head.

"I don't know nought of the writing, lad, but the printing is the same as mine," she said; and reading the opening of Genesis from both the Books, she succeeded in persuading him that they were one and the same, except the red ink.

"Heave to, then!" he cried. "I'll have Sisky's; it's trimmer to haul about than yonder woolly-backed one, and I'll try to spell it out when I get aboard again."

To say truth, Wat had found his engagement to take care of the child less troublesome than his promise to learn to read. He had got on till now extremely well without any knowledge of that art, and he felt a hearty repugnance to a job he knew so little about.

It was not long before Wat got a ship, and sailed again. The parting between him and Sisky was a sorer trial than he had looked for. Granny was not so sensitive, and couldn't understand how he should care to leave a little one like that, who had no call on him, more than his own old grandmother whom he had not seen for so long. Sisky openly rebelled at the idea of being left behind. When he had really gone the child was for a time inconsolable. Her only consolation seemed to be to sit in the old boat summer-house, where she could see the sea, and watch every vessel that glided by, hoping, till the hope faded away, that her dear "Daddy Wat" would come back again.

Granny left her very much to her own devices. She fed her and clothed her; and, that done, there was but one thing more she had engaged for——to teach her the Bible. This she tried very earnestly to do; but Sisky didn't like her, and wouldn't learn, and gave her so much trouble, that, finding the funds sufficient, she put her in charge of Mary Keythorn, an excellent young woman, who supported her aged mother by teaching the village children.

"She's as wigglesome and unsettled as ever a sailor on land, or a fish out of the sea," said Granny, as she delivered her over to Mary; "but Wat made me promise she should learn to read this Bible, and I'm bound to keep my word."

Gooseberry pricked up her ears at this. She had never been told it was Daddy Wat's desire she should read; but now she knew it, she went to work with her whole heart, and what with fair abilities, a thorough good will, and a gentle and patient teacher, she soon became a pretty good scholar.

Wat was not quite so prosperous in his studies. Once fairly on board again, he seldom thought of Sisky's Book, and when he did, it made him uneasy. He wished in his heart he had never made the promise.

The ship had been running before a gale for some hours, and everything portended a storm. The ship was nearing a coast where many a wreck had happened. All that seamanship could do had been done, and they were now waiting the result.

One of the passengers, with a Book in his hand, said calmly, as Wat passed him,——

"Do you think there is danger?"

"Lots," said Wat.

The man, after a moment's pause, reopened his Book and read on.

"You take it very comfortable," said Wat.

"I am not afraid. I can depend on this promise," said the man, pointing to his Book.

Wat shook his head.

"I can't take in that, worse luck, master. May be yourn's the same as this," said Wat, taking Sisky's Bible from his pocket, where he always kept it when his conscience was troubled, as if to pacify it with a sort of showing his good intentions.

The man looked attentively at the Bible, while Wat, in a few words, told him its history, and confessed his neglect, which he had never more truly lamented.

A sudden call from the mate made him leave the book in the man's hands, and it was not till after two or three hours of hard work that he returned with the joyful news that the danger was past.

"The Lord be praised!" said the man.

"Poor Sisky's mother used to talk about the Lord," said Wat. "She told me reading that Book would be better than bags of gold to me."

"So it will. Let me teach you," said the man.

"With right good will, my hearty," said Wat; "and I'll pay you with part of my 'bacca or rum now, or money when I get my pay."

"My good fellow," said the man, "I want no pay. I am greatly in your debt already. This Book belonged to my sister; it was all she had of my father's goods. He had nothing to leave, but he told her she would find it better than bags of gold. She did. You have only to read it, and you will find the same."

"Well, that's curious enough," said Wat. "And how came it you never looked after her and little Sisky?"

"I was in Europe; I have been long away from home. Until I heard your story, and saw from this Book who the mother and the child you spoke of were, I did not know her history."

The stranger told him further that he was desirous to provide for his sister's child, and after he had been home and arranged all his family affairs, he would return to England, and take his niece under his protection, and, as far as he could, repay him for his goodness to her.

Wat declared that he could not part with his little Gooseberry, but he gratefully set to work to learn to read. As he learned, Da Silva, whose heart was penetrated with the truth, kept earnestly endeavouring to present it acceptably to his pupil; and as the letter of the Word entered his mind, the grace of God blessed it to his true conversion.

The voyage ended, he lost no time in going to his Granny's. There he found her, as usual, knitting in the garden.

After greetings were passed, he asked for Sisky, and hearing she was at school, went to fetch her. He made his best sailor's bow to Miss Mary in somewhat a shy style, for he had once tried to induce her to look with favour on him, but, for some undeclared reason, she had not consented. The meeting between him and the child was very joyous. She held his jacket tight, as if to prevent his again giving her the slip.

"Hear me read, Daddy Wat! Mistress has taught me! I can read quite fast!" she cried.

"All right. The next thing is to understand it, and then you'll be all right for sea," said Wat.

Sisky opened the Bible and began to read. It happened to be a place that Wat knew pretty well, so he was well pleased to prompt her now and then, and, moreover, to give her a concise commentary, more to Mary's pleasure and edification than little Sisky's, who was impatient at the interruption.

Before they left, Wat felt that Mary looked more kindly on him than she had done in old days. She was still free. He was not long in coming to a point when he was clear upon its propriety. So he, quite suddenly, a few days after his return, asked her without much "roundabouts," as he said, "whether she'd the same objections to sail along with him as she had once manifested." Mary honestly answered no. She told him her objections before had not arisen from any want of liking for him; but she said, "I knew that I was but a weak and ignorant Christian, and I was afraid, from the way you talked, you were not one at all; and I dared not venture on such a marriage."

"I'm a poor hand at it now," he said, with great humility.

"Poor enough I am," she answered; "but so long as we are of one mind we shall help one another on. I feel safe about that."

Poor Wat! Every year of his married life brought him, as he said, "fuller bags of gold;" for a sweeter, kinder, better wife, man never had than Mary made him.

The peace came. Wat left the service, but his character was so good that he had no difficulty in getting a place in the coast-guard; and in his cottage by the sea he maintained wife and children, old granny, and little Gooseberry, who, however, was little no longer. In his spare time he cultivated a bit of ground, and this with his pay kept all comfortable. Still his family was increasing, and food was dear: money went faster and faster. "Never mind," said Wat, "godliness with contentment is great gain."

One day when he came home from duty, he found all out, the door locked, and the key in the thatch, as usual. He went in, and on the table was a canvas bag. He opened it, expecting to find beans for sowing, but out tumbled Spanish dollars. While he was wondering, Sisky, who had been to look for him, ran in. The tale was soon told. Her uncle had come for her, and had put that bag on the table for her Daddy Wat.

Philip da Silva, having settled all his affairs, had resolved to live in England, all his near relations having moved away from his native place or died. He purchased a small property in the neighbourhood, taking care that Wat and his wife should share in his prosperity. Little Sisky, whom he looked on as his child, helped him heartily as years went on to forward the happiness and interests of her foster-father and his family.

"Mary dear," said Wat, many and many a time, "what blessings have come to me through getting this Book! Bags of gold! why, what are they to having you for a wife? and, above all, to the hope I've got of being pardoned for all my sins, and received into heaven when I die?"