Read CHAPTER XXIV - A WHISPER OF THE OCEAN of Uncle Terry A Story of the Maine Coast , free online book, by Charles Clark Munn, on

The next day was a red-letter one in Albert’s history. In the morning he followed Uncle Terry around the circuit of his lobster traps in the “Gypsy’s” boat, with Telly as a companion, and watched the old man hauling and rebaiting those elongated coops and taking out his hideous prizes. The day was a perfect one, the sea just ruffled by a light breeze, and as her first timidity had now worn away, he found Telly a most charming companion. She not only loved the ocean that in a way had been her playmate since childhood, but she had an artist’s eye for all its beauties. How many features, new to Albert, she called to his attention, and how her naïve observations, so fresh and delightful, each and all interested him, need not be quoted. It was an entirely new experience to him, and the four hours’ pull in and out of the island coves and around isolated ledges where Uncle Terry set his traps passed all too quickly.

“Do you know,” said Albert when they had returned to the little cove where Uncle Terry kept his boats, and as he sat watching him pick up his morning’s catch and toss them one by one into a large car, “that the first man who thought of eating a lobster must have been almost starved. Of all creatures that grow in the sea, there is none more hideous, and only a hungry savage could have thought them fit for food.”

“They ain’t over hansum,” replied Uncle Terry, “but fried in pork fat they go middlin’ good if ye’re hungry.”

That afternoon Telly invited Albert to row her up to a cove, at the head of which was a narrow valley where blueberries grew in profusion. “I want to pick a few,” she said, “and you can make a sketch of the cove while I do.” It must be recorded that helping her picking berries proved more attractive, and when her pail was full, all he did in that line was to make a picture of her sitting in front of a pretty cluster of small spruce trees, with the pail beside her and her sun-hat trimmed with ferns.

“Your city friends will laugh at the country girl you found down in Maine,” she remarked as she looked at the sketch, “but as they will never see me, I don’t care.”

“My friends will never see it,” he answered quietly, “only my sister. And I am going to bring her down here next summer.”

“Tell me about her,” said Telly at once, “is she pretty?”

“I think so,” replied Albert, “she has eyes like yours, only her hair is not so light. She is a petite little body and has a mouth that makes one want to kiss her.”

“I should like to see her ever so much,” responded Telly, and then she added rather sadly, “I’ve never had a girl friend in my life. There are only a few at the Cape of my age, and I don’t see much of them. I don’t mind it in the summer, for then I work on my pictures, but in winter it is so lonesome. For days I do not see any one except father and mother or old Mrs. Leach.”

“And who is Mrs. Leach?” asked Albert.

“Oh, she’s a poor old soul who lives alone and works on the fish racks,” answered Telly, “she is worse off than I am.” It was a little glimpse into the girl’s life that interested Albert, and in the light of what he knew of her history, a pathetic one. Truly she was alone in the world, and except for the two kindly souls who made a home for her, she had no one to turn to.

“You will go away to-morrow, I suppose,” she said with a faint tone of regret as they were rowing home. “Father said your boat was coming after you to-day.”

He looked at her a moment, while a slight smile showed beneath his mustache. “I suppose I shall have to,” he answered, “but I should like to stay here a month. I’ve not made a sketch of your house, even.”

“I wish you would,” she said with charming candor, “it is so lonesome here, and then maybe you would show me a little about painting.”

“Could you endure my company every day for a month?” he asked, looking her full in the face.

“I don’t believe you could endure ours,” she replied, dropping her eyes, and then she added quickly, “There is a prayer-meeting to-night at the Cape; would you like to go?”

“Most certainly,” he answered; “I can imagine it will be interesting.”

Albert had expected to see the “Gypsy” in the harbor when they returned that afternoon, but was most happily disappointed. “I hope they will stay at Bar Harbor a week,” he thought. And that evening when Telly appeared, ready to be escorted to the prayer-meeting, he was certain that no fairer girl was to be found at Bar Harbor, or anywhere else.

She was dressed in simple white, her masses of sunny hair half concealed by a thin blue affair of loosely knitted wool, and had a cluster of wild roses at her throat. It was a new and pleasurable experience to be walking beside a well-dressed young man whose every look and word bespoke enjoyment of her society, and she showed it in her simple, unaffected way. “I am afraid we shall disturb the meeting,” she said with a smile, as they were walking over to the village. “The folks will be so curious to know who you are they will sing worse than ever. That’s about all they do,” she added by way of explanation,-“sing a few hymns, and Deacon Oaks will make a prayer and Mr. Gates another. They may call on you to give testimony,” she continued, looking at Albert archly; “will you respond?”

“Hardly,” was the reply. “I always respect people’s religious feelings, but I must confess I belong to the great majority of sinners who have never had a change of heart.”

That evening’s gathering was a unique one in Albert’s experience, and the religious observances such as he never forgot. The place was a little square, unpainted building, not larger than a country schoolhouse, and when Telly and he entered and seated themselves on one of the wooden settees that stood in rows, not over a dozen people were there. On a small platform in front was a cottage organ, and beside it a small desk. A few more entered after they did, and then a florid-faced man arose, and, followed by a short and stout young lady, walked forward to the platform. The girl seated herself at the organ, and the man, after turning up the lamp on the organ, opened the book of gospel hymns, and said in a nasal tone, “We will naow commence our sarvices by singin’ the forty-third psalm, and all are requested to rise an’ jine.” In the centre of the room hung a large lamp, and two more on brackets at the side shed a weak light on the gathering, but no one seemed to feel it necessary to look for the forty-third selection. Albert and Telly arose with the rest, and the girl at the organ began to chase the slow tune up and down the keys. Then the red-faced man started the singing, a little below the key, and the congregation followed. To Albert’s surprise, Telly’s voice, clear and distinct, at his side joined with the rest. A long prayer, full of halting repetitions, by the man at the desk, followed, and then another hymn, and after that came a painful pause. To Albert’s mind it was becoming serious, and he began to wonder how it would end, when there ensued one of the most weird and yet pathetic prayers he had ever listened to. It was uttered by an old lady, tall, gaunt, and white-haired, who arose from the end of a settee close to the wall and beneath one of the smoke-dimmed lamps. It could not be classed as a prayer exactly, for when she began her utterance she looked around as if to find sympathy in the assembled faces, and her deep-set piercing eyes seemed alight with intense feeling. At first she grasped the back of the settee in front with her long fleshless fingers, and then later clasped and finally raised them above her upturned face, while her body swayed with the vehemence of her feelings. Her garb, too, lent a pathos, for it was naught but a faded calico dress that hung from her attenuated frame like the raiment of a scarecrow. It may have been the shadowy room or the mournful dirge of the nearby ocean that added an uncanny touch to her words and looks, but from the moment she arose until her utterance ceased, Albert was spell-bound. So peculiar, and yet so pathetic, was her prayer, it shall be quoted in full as uttered:

“O Lord,” she said, “I come to Thee, knowin’ I’m as a worm that crawls on the airth; like the dust blown by the winds; the empty shell on the shore, or the leaves that fall on the ground. I come poor an’ humble. I come hungry and thirsty, like even the lowliest of the airth. I come and kneel at Thy feet-believin’ that I, a poor worm o’ the dust, will still have Thy love and pertection. I’m old, an’ weary o’ waitin’. I’m humble, and bereft o’ kin. I’m sad, and none to comfort me. I eat the crust o’ poverty, an’ drink the cup of humility. My pertector and my staff have bin taken from me, and yet, for all these burdens Thou in Thy infinite wisdom hev seen fit to lay on me, I thank Thee! Thou hast led my feet among thorns and stuns, and yet I thank Thee. Thou hast laid the cross o’ sorrow on my heart, and the burden o’ many infirmities for me to bear, and yet I bless Thee, yea, verily shall my voice be lifted to glorify and praise Thee day and night, for hast Thou not promised me that all who are believers in Thy word shall be saved? Hast Thou not sent Thy son to die on the cross for my sake, poor and humble as I am? An’ fer this, an’ fer all Thy infinite marcy an’ goodness to me, I praise an’ thank Thee to-night, knowin’ that not a sparrer falls without Thy knowin’ it, and that even the hairs of our heads are numbered.

“I thank Thee, O Lord, for the sunshine every day, and the comin’ o’ the birds and flowers every season. I thank Thee that my eyes are still permitted to see Thy beautiful world, and my ears to hear the songs o’ praise. I thank Thee, too, that with my voice I can glorify and bless Thee fer all Thy goodness, and fer all Thy marcy. An’ when the day of judgment comes an’ the dead rise up then I know Thou wilt keep Thy promise, an’ that even I, poor an’ humble, shall live again, jinin’ those that have gone before, to sit at Thy feet an’ glorify Thee for life everlastin’. Fer this blessed hope, an’ fer all Thy other promises, I lift my voice in gratitude an’ thankfulness an’ praise to Thee, my heavenly Father, an’ to thy son, my Redeemer, to-night an’ to-morrer an’ forever an’ forever. Amen.”

To Albert, a student of Voltaire, of Hume, of Paine, and an admirer of Ingersoll, a doubter of scriptural authenticity, and almost a materialist in belief, this weird and piteous utterance came with peculiar effect. That she who uttered it had only told the tale of her own sad life and hope he understood at once, and what was of more force, that she believed and felt in her own heart that every word of her recital was heard by her Creator. Albert had heard prayers and religious exhortations without number; prayers that were incoherent, pointless, vague, or uttered to the hearers instead of God; prayers that contained advice to the Deity galore, but of supplication and thankfulness not a vestige; but never before one that reached his heart and touched his feelings as the strange and piteous supplication uttered by this weird old lady there in the dimly-lighted room with the sad and solemn dirge of the ocean whispering through the open windows.

The rest of the services were of little interest to him, except the fact that Telly’s voice at his side, now a little bolder than at first, led the gospel hymns that followed. Old and time-worn they were, and yet rendered with a zest of feeling reflected, maybe, from the plaintive prayer of this old lady.

Our moods, and more especially our thoughts, are often turned from one groove into another by some single word or reference that, like a little rudder at the stern of a great ship, seems of no account. To Albert, who for a year had had no thought except to win success amid the hard, selfish scramble of life in a busy city, this episode, and more especially the utter self-abnegation and piteous appeal of this poor, ill-clad, and gaunt-faced old lady, was the tiny rudder that changed his thoughts and carried him back to the many times when he, a boy, exuberant in spirit, was made to kneel each night at bed-time and listen to a loving mother’s prayer. Then, too, the memory of that mother’s face, and even the very tones of her voice as she prayed that God would guide her boy’s footsteps aright, came back to him now, and into the remembrance too was woven all of that mother’s kind and patient acts; all her earnest and good advice; all her self-denials; all the pinchings and small economies she had endured to enable him to receive an education, and as each and all came trooping back like so many little hands tugging at his heart-strings and moistening his eyes, he realized that there was needed in this hurrying, selfish life of ours something deeper, and something beyond the skepticism of Voltaire and the materialism of Ingersoll. And there in that dim little room, with two dozen poorly clad and simple fisher-folk singing gospel hymns to the accompaniment of a wheezy cottage organ, he realized that while atheism and doubt might appeal to his intellect, it did not satisfy his heart, and that while materialism might be a good enough theory to live by, it was a cheerless belief to die by.

And then too, as he stole covert looks at the fair girl who stood by his side, joining her sweet voice in “Hold the Fort,” “Pull for the Shore,” “Gathering at the River,” and all the other time-worn gospel songs, older than he was, into his heart came the first feeling, also, that she was the one woman he had ever met whose gentle, unaffected goodness and purity of thought was worthy of any man’s devotion. But words are given us to conceal as well as to reveal our feelings, and when the unique little prayer-meeting was concluded with an oddly spoken benediction by Deacon Oaks, and Albert and Telly were on their way back to the point, his first words bore no disclosure of his feelings.

“Who was the poor old lady that prayed so fervently?” he asked; “I have never heard anything like it since I was a boy.”

“Oh, that’s the Widow Leach,” Telly responded; “she always acts that way and feels so too, I guess. She is an object of pity here, and very poor. She has no relation living that she knows of, lives alone in a small house she owns, and works on the fish racks summers, and winters has to be helped. Her husband and two sons were lost at sea many years ago, and father says religion is all the consolation she has left.”

“Does she always pray as fervently as she did to-night?” was Albert’s next query.

“Oh, yes, that’s her way,” was the answer; “father says she is a little cracked about such matters. He pities her, though, and helps her a good deal, and so does ’most every one else here who can. She needs it.” Then after a pause she added, “How did you enjoy the meeting, Mr. Page?”

“Well,” replied Albert slowly, and mentally contrasting it with many Sunday services when he had occupied a pew with the Nasons at their fashionable church in Boston, “it has been an experience I shall not soon forget. In one way it has been a pleasure, for it has taken me back to my young days.” Then he added a little sadly, “It has also been a pain, for it recalled my mother and how she used to pray that I might grow to be a good man.”

“You are not a bad man, are you?” responded Telly at once, looking curiously at him.

“Oh, no; I hope not,” he answered, smiling, “I try to do as I would be done by, but the good people here might think I was, maybe, because I am not a professor of religion. For that reason I should be classed as one of the sinners, I presume.”

“Well, so is father,” responded Telly, “but that doesn’t make him one. Deacon Oaks calls him a scoffer, but I know he trusts him in all money matters, and I think father is the best and kindest man in the world. He has been so good and kind to me I would almost lie down and die for him, if necessary.”

It was an expression of feeling that was not surprising to Albert, knowing as he did her history, but he felt it unwise to discuss it. “How do you feel about this matter of belief?” he asked after a pause. “Are you what this old lady would call a believer, Miss Terry?”

“Oh, no,” she replied slowly, “I fear I am not. I always go to meeting Sundays when there is one,-mother and I,-and once in a while to the Thursday evening prayer-meeting. I think it’s because I enjoy the singing.”

When they reached the point Albert could not restrain his desire to enjoy the society of this unaffected, simple, and beautiful girl a little longer. The moon that Frank had planned to use was high overhead, and away out over the still ocean stretched a broadening path of silvery sheen, while at their feet, where the ground swells were breaking upon the rocks, every splash of foam looked like snow-white wool.

“If it’s not asking too much, Miss Terry,” said Albert with utmost politeness, “won’t you walk out to the top of the cliff and sit down a few moments, while I enjoy a cigar? The night is too beautiful to turn away from at once.”

Telly, nothing loath perhaps, assented, and they took possession of the rustic seat where Albert had listened to her history the night before. Perhaps a little of its pathos came to him now as he watched her sweet face while she gazed far out to seaward and to where the swells were breaking over a low, half-submerged ledge. And what a flood of new and bewitching emotions came to him as he watched his fair companion, all unconscious of his scrutiny!-and with them, a sudden and keen interest to unravel the mystery of her parentage, and the hope that some time he might do it. He also felt an unaccountable desire to tell her that he knew her pathetic story, and to express his interest in it and his sympathy for her, but dared not. “It may hurt her to know I know it,” he thought, “and I will wait till she knows me better.” Instead he began telling her about himself and his own early life, his home, his loss of parents, his struggle to earn a living, and how much success he had so far met. It may be considered egotism, but it was the wisest thing he could have done, for it awakened her interest in him far more than he realized. When his recital and cigar were both at an end and it was time to go in, he said: “I may not have another chance to ask you, Miss Terry, before I leave here; but when I get back to Boston may I write to you, and will you answer my letters if I do?”

The question startled her a little, but she answered:

“I shall be pleased to hear from you, Mr. Page, and will do the best I can in replying, only do not expect too much.”

When he had bade her good night and was alone in his room, the memory of Mrs. Leach and her pitiful prayer, coupled with Telly’s pleading eyes and sweet face, banished all thoughts of sleep, and he had to light another cigar and watch the moonlit ocean for a half hour while he smoked and meditated.