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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe History Of Little Peter, The Ship Boy - Chapter 1. Peter's Home And Friends
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The History Of Little Peter, The Ship Boy - Chapter 1. Peter's Home And Friends Post by :Laurie Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1074

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The History Of Little Peter, The Ship Boy - Chapter 1. Peter's Home And Friends


"Are you better, mother, to-day?" asked little Peter, as he went up to the bed on which Widow Gray lay, in a small chamber of their humble abode.

"I trust so, my boy," she answered, in a doubtful tone, as she gazed fondly on the ruddy, broad, honest face of her only child, and put aside the mass of light hair which clustered curling over his brow, to imprint on it a loving kiss. "I tried to get up to help Betsy when she came to tidy the house, but did not feel strong enough; and the doctor, who looked in soon after, said I had better stay quiet, and gave me some stuff which I trust may do me good. Betsy kindly stopped and put everything to rights, but since she went I have felt lonely, and have been longing for you to come home."

Betsy was an old woman who lived nearly half a mile off, on the hill-side. She had known Mary Gray from her childhood, and came every day, without fee or reward, to assist her during the grievous illness from which she had long been suffering, while little Peter was away tending Farmer Ashton's sheep on the neighbouring downs.

Widow Gray's cottage stood towards the bottom on the sloping side of some lofty downs, which extended far away east and west, as well as a considerable distance southward towards the ocean, which was, as the crow flies, about ten miles off from the highest point above it. The hill formed one side of a valley, through which flowed a sparkling stream bordered by trees, with here and there scattered about the cottages of the hamlet of Springvale. Far away at the lower end rose amid the trees the slender spire of the little church. On the other side of the valley was a further succession of open downs, crossed only by a single road a considerable distance, off, so that a more secluded nook than Springvale could not be found for many a mile round.

The widow's cottage gave signs of decay, though it was evident that such attempts as required no expense had been made to keep it in repair. The holes in the roof had been stuffed full of furze and grass, kept down by heavy stones from being blown off by the wind; the broken panes in the windows were replaced by pieces of board or stout paper; and rough stakes filled up the spaces where the once neat palings had given way. Each foot of the small garden was cultivated, though clearly by an unscientific hand. Indeed, little Peter was the sole labourer, he devoting to it every moment he could spare from attendance on his sick parent after his return from his daily work, patching up many a rent in the cottage produced by weather and time.

Peter, indeed, did his very utmost to support his mother, by working early and late--not a moment was he idle; but do all he could he often was unable to gain enough to find food for her and for himself, though he was content with a dry crust and a draught from the bright spring which bubbled out of the hill-side. The little cottage and garden was her own, left to her by her father, Simon Field, a hard-working man, who by temperate habits and industry had been enabled to purchase the ground and to build the cottage, though that, to be sure, was put up chiefly by his own hands. Simon Field, however, was more than an industrious man, he was a pious and enlightened Christian, and had brought up his children in the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. Mary, the youngest daughter, had gone to service, and had obtained a situation in the house of a lately married couple, of whom Simon had heard a good report, and felt confident that she would be treated with Christian kindness and consideration. One by one, Simon Field's wife and children were taken from him, and when Mary's kind mistress also died, she returned home to live with her father.

Just at that time Jack Gray, a fine, open-hearted and open-handed sailor, came to the hamlet, where his widowed mother lived. He made love to Mary Field, and won her heart, unhappily before she had ascertained his principles and character. To her simple mind, ignorant as she was of the world, he appeared all that she could desire. As he attended church with her, and behaved with propriety and apparent devotion, she supposed him to be religious, and before he went away to rejoin his ship she promised, with her father's permission, to be his wife on his return.

Soon afterwards Simon Field, who had for some time been ailing, followed his wife and children to the grave, and Mary became the owner of the little cottage with its acre of ground. Though she had many suitors, she remained faithful to Jack Gray. Nearly three years had passed away before he returned. She then fulfilled her promise and married him, but before long she could not help confessing to herself that he had changed for the worse. Instead of being the quiet, well-behaved young seaman he had before appeared, he was noisy and boisterous, and more than once got into a broil at the public-house in the hamlet; still, as he was kind and affectionate to her, her love in no way diminished. He laughingly replied to her when she entreated him to be more circumspect in his conduct:

"Why, old girl, I am quiet as a lamb compared to what I am afloat. They call me on board 'roaring Jack Gray,' and roar I can, I tell you, when I am doing duty as boatswain's mate."

Jack Gray, who would not look for employment on shore, in spite of Mary's entreaties that he would do so, determined when the greater part of his pay and his prize-money had been expended, again to go afloat.

Mary's home was certainly quieter when he was gone, though she would willingly have detained him. She had, however, enough to occupy her in looking after her new-born child, little Peter, who, when his father next came home from sea, had grown into a fine, sturdy boy.

The navy was at this time reduced, and "roaring Jack Gray," who soon grew tired of a life on shore, had to seek for employment in the merchant service. All Mary could hear of him was that he had gone away on a long voyage to foreign parts. The news at length came that the ship he had sailed in had been lost, and that all the crew had perished. For some time she lived on in hopes that her husband had escaped, and might some day return. Not without difficulty was she at length persuaded by her friends that she was really a widow.

While her husband was in the navy, she had received a portion of his pay--now she had to depend entirely on her own exertions for the support of herself and little Peter. On her child she devoted all her care and attention, and brought him up faithfully in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and when he did wrong corrected him carefully and wisely. She had taught him especially to love the Book of books, and at an early age little Peter could read fluently and well. When she fell ill he repaid her loving care with the most tender devotion.

"Mother, shall I read to you?" he asked, as he took his accustomed seat by her side.

"Do, my boy," she answered, taking a small strongly-bound Bible, carefully secured in a leathern case, from under her pillow. "I have been trying to do so, but my eyes are dim, and I could not see the print; but, praised be God, I can remember parts, and I have been repeating to myself our merciful Father's blessed promises to us His children."

"That's true, mother," said Peter, opening the book at the third chapter of Saint John's Gospel.

"'God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved;'" and Peter read on to the end of the chapter.

"Shall I read more, mother?" he asked.

"Read, read," she whispered, "for it will soon be too dark."

At length Peter could see to read no more, and closing the book, he put it carefully back into the case.

"Keep it, my child," said his mother, solemnly; "cherish it, and never part with it while you live. Put it in your breast-pocket now; I would like to see it there, next to your heart, where I pray its truths may find a firm lodgment. It was a gift to me from my dear young mistress on her deathbed. She had intended it for her own child, and she charged me, should I ever have one, to instruct him from his earliest days in its glorious truths. Peter, I have done so, not trusting in my own strength and knowledge, but with earnest prayer that those truths may be imparted to you. And oh, Peter, while you take care of the book, make it a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. Read it with prayer, seeking the aid of God's Holy Spirit to instruct you in its truths, and you will not read in vain."

Mrs Gray spoke with solemn earnestness, and Peter promised to follow her counsels, uttering a petition to Heaven at the same time that he might have grace to do so.

"Peter," she continued, "I am soon to be taken from you, but I die in peace, for I know that God has heard my prayers, and will watch over you and guard you from evil, and support and comfort you, but do you yourself seek comfort and guidance from Him, and you will not be left destitute."

She was silent for some minutes.

"Peter," she said, drawing him closer to her and speaking in a low voice, "I grieve to part from you, but I grieve more when I think of your poor father. God knows how earnestly I have prayed for him, and I cannot even now believe that he was taken out of the world still ignorant of God's love and free pardon to all who believe in His Son. I have often dreamed that he has come to me, looking just as he was when he went away, only paler and more careworn; he seemed to ask me to fetch him from some far-off land whence he could not escape. It may have been but an empty dream working on my fancy, and yet I cannot believe that it was so. Oh, what joy it would bring to my heart could I know that he loved the Saviour, and that he is yet alive and the door of mercy still open."

Peter's heart was too full of sorrow to let him speak. The waning light prevented him from clearly distinguishing his mother's countenance, but there seemed to be a strange brightness in her eye as she spoke with failing voice, and the hopes her dying words expressed were imparted to him.

"Bless you, my boy, bless you!" she murmured, in a scarcely audible voice.

His hand was in hers, she pressed it as she spoke, and tried to draw him nearer to her heart. He leant over her, and put his other arm under her head; gradually he felt her hand relax its loving grasp, but many minutes passed before the fear came over him that her spirit had fled.

"Mother, mother!" he earnestly cried; "speak to me."

There was no answer. He had never been with death before, but he knew too well that she was indeed gone from him.

He sat there long with his face on the bedclothes, too much overwhelmed with grief to move. He longed to go and call Betsy, yet he could not bear to leave his mother's body. Soon, however, a step was heard, and the old woman herself entered the room.

There was still light sufficient to enable her to see at a glance what had occurred. She stepped up, and closing her dead friend's eyes, gently led little Peter into the outer room. She had brought a couple of candles with her, purposing to spend the night at the cottage if she was required, and lighting them, she left one with Peter, bidding him sit down while she took up the other.

"When you feel sleepy, my boy, go to bed; the rest will do you good. I'll stay with your mother; it will be nothing strange to me. I have had so many I loved taken from me, that I am accustomed to watch by the bodies of those who, I hope, went where I am sure she is gone. It's a blessed thing to know that she is happy in heaven; let that comfort you, Peter, and don't take on so, boy."

Saying this, she returned to Mrs Gray's room.

Peter's head sunk on the table--he wept sorely and long. As he bent down, he felt the book his mother had just given him, which he had placed in his bosom. He took it out and began to read it. Promise after promise beamed forth from its sacred pages on his young soul, lighted by God's Holy Spirit, for he took God at His word, and was comforted. After awhile he crept up the ladder to his little attic room, as Betsy had desired him, and was soon fast asleep.

He awoke at daybreak, not forgetting his duty to Farmer Ashton's sheep, and when he got down-stairs he found his kind old friend waiting for him with a crust of bread and a bit of cheese.

"You must not disappoint the farmer," she said; "I'll do all that's wanted for your poor mother."

"I hadn't forgot the sheep," said Peter; "but, Betsy, may I see her? I could not go without!"

Betsy led him into the room. His mother's face looked so calm and peaceable, just like an angel, he thought; he almost fancied she was asleep.

"Now go," said Betsy, after he had gazed at her for some moments. "The red streaks are already in the sky."

Peter lingered for a moment, then recollecting his duty, hurried down the hill to Mr Ashton's farm.

His mother's funeral took place a few days afterwards, he and Betsy and two or three other friends being the mourners.

He found to his dismay that he could not return to live at the cottage. He had had thoughts of taking up his abode there all by himself. During Mrs Gray's illness debts had accumulated, and creditors claimed the little property, which had to be sold, and when his mother's funeral expenses had been paid, four or five pounds only remained as the young orphan's inheritance.

Betsy took him to her cottage, where he shared the bed of one of her grandchildren, and he continued as before to tend Farmer Ashton's sheep.

Often, as the motherless boy sat watching his flock on the sunny downs, he cast his eyes towards the distant blue sea, and wondered what strange lands might be beyond. The thought of his father would then come across his mind. His imagination pictured him still living in those far away unknown regions. What if he could find him and tell him the glorious gospel news! He should be obeying his mother's most earnest wishes. He knew but little of geography; he had read of Palestine and Egypt, and other distant countries, but he had a very indefinite idea as to where they were situated, and as to the rest of the globe, it was, although not quite a blank, yet filled up by his own vivid imagination with strange lands, in which wonders of all sorts existed.

Day after day, as he gazed in the same direction, his desire to visit those wondrous regions increased, till he resolved to go on board a ship, and sail forth over the ocean to visit them.

Little Peter was in earnest in all things; his faith was earnest, his speech was earnest; truthfulness beamed from his eyes, he was in earnest in whatever he was about. Farmer Ashton discovered this by the way he looked after his sheep. Peter knew every one of them, and reported the least sign of disease--not a sore foot escaped his vigilant eye. The farmer offered to increase his wages if he would stop, when Peter told him he wished to leave his service and go to sea, and was very angry when, though thanking him kindly, he said that he had made up his mind on the matter and meant to go. The farmer warned him that he would have to endure all sorts of dangers and disasters, and was a fool for his pains. Betsy also had used every argument to dissuade him from his purpose, but nothing could change it. When she found that all she could say had no effect, she gave him the money she had charge of, and assisted him in getting ready some clothes that he might set forth in a respectable manner to the neighbouring port to which the carrier, who passed through the hamlet once a week, undertook to convey him.

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