DANVILLE, as everybody knows who has traveled, is on the shores of the Atlantic ocean. A somewhat vague description, but it is all that is necessary for the present. Danville contains, besides others of less importance, one long street, called Main Street, at the foot of which is Mr. Hiram Higgins' store, where dry goods and groceries, brooms and molasses, are sold to the villagers--forgive me--I meant citizens of Danville; for Danville, albeit a small place, has a Mayor and Common Council, is lighted with a few feeble gas lamps, and is an undoubted city.
The street is long, and the road white with powdered oyster shells. The business part of the street has the Bank, the Court House, the First Presbyterian Church--so called because there is a second feebler sister in one of the bye-streets, where Elder Muggins has presided for now twelve years--the Methodist Episcopal Church, which is built of brick, and looks like the Parthenon, at Athens, or is supposed to do so; the Public Hall, where concerts and rnoral entertainments are given, and a few stores besides. After you pass them, come the best houses of the town;
Mr. Hogie's, of brick, stuccoed, with a cupola on the top--is the house of the place, and is pointed out to strangers, by enthusiastic Danvillers, as the residence of Sylvester Hogie, Esq., a man of great wealth and much public spirit. After passing Mr. Hogie's, and a few other houses of lesser note, which, as it were, repose under its shadow, Main Street loses its magnificence. The side-walk, formerly of stone, becomes unexpectedly plank, and finally ends in a well-beaten footpath, which reaches out to the extreme end of Danville Promontory and St. Mary's Church.
Danville Street is common-place enough, but there is a sort of parallel line to the street, which is anything but common-place--a line not straight, but irregular, and defying all mathematical terms to describe it--of coves, and bays, and reaches of sand, and pools left by the receding tide, a long line of beach, upon which the people of Danville, on the east side of Main Street, look down from the high land on which Danville is perched; and where the children pick up shells and sea-weed, and where, sometimes, are pieces of spars and water-logged wood, which tell stories of the sorrows hid in the bosom of the ocean. The people of Main Street do as most other people in that part of the world. Some are honest and some cheat. They keep up a busy noise of buying and selling, and talk of one sort or another; the wagons go up and down, and the carts come in from the country to trade, and the sounds of daily life quite drown the sounds of the ocean. There seems to be a sort of rivalry between Danville Street and tha ocean, and, on market daysr especially, Danville Street has the best of it; but at night, when the people have gone home, and the stores are shut, and lights shine cheerily from the windows, the ocean asserts its superiority. It keeps up a solemn roar, which grows deeper as the night goes on, and makes nervous people get up, now and then, from their comfortable beds, and look out of the windows into the night, with a sort of fear, lest the sea should suddenly have broken through its barriers, and be making an onslaught on its old enemy.
On winter days, too, when the snow blocks up Main Street and makes traveling difficult, and, except for sleigh-bells, very noiseless, and when the sea roars, raves and tosses,. and the wind blows from the north-east, one has a sort of feeling in the upper stories of Danville House, as though one were out at sea and in immediate danger of shipwreck. Then the ocean has altogether the best of it, and even Mr. Hogie's house has a mystified, weather-beaten appearance, and really seems as though it would blush, were it not for the stucco.
To the west, the ocean is further away, and there is farm-land--such as it is--between Danville and the sea, on that side. Out at the end of the promontory, doing double duty as a church and a beacon to sailors, stands St. Mary's Church. It is a bleak spot there, on the end of the promontory, and one has a sort of compassionate feeling for the church, as though it had been left out in the cold by its more fortunate sisters, the First Presbyterian and the Parthenon-like Methodist Church.
The church is of wood, painted white, and has a square tower at the east end, in which is the chancel, an arrangement which Danville people, who have never heard of Orientation, regard as in some way putting the house wrong side before--a bad mistake of the architect, as Elder Muggins always remarks, when some adventurous stranger, passing by Mr. Hogie's elegant mansion, makes for the sea, and is attracted by the very cheerlessness of the spot. There is a small grave-yard, fenced in by a white paling, around the church, and a few scraggy trees, all bending one way, and leaving a general impression on the mind as though they could not stand it much longer.
It is a grave-yard, however, only by courtesy, for very few people in Danville wish to be buried in a spot so comfortless. The cemetery, to the west of Danville, is the fashionable place of interment, and all Danville dead, except the grandfathers and grandmothers of the present generation, who are supposed to be sleeping somewhere under Danville Bank (that spot having formerly been a grave-yard), are buried there.
Two or three sailors, who came home to Danville to die, are buried in St. Mary's Church-yard--three old communicants, English born, who still cherished a memory of some country church-yard in the old country; these, and Captain Graham, make up the company who rest there.
Captain Graham's grave, with a cross at the end of it, and the inscription: "Here lieth all that is mortal of Edward Graham, who died aged 52," and "R. I. P." at the bottom, is a constant attraction to the village children. They do not generally know what R. I. P. means, and have a vague feeling that it contains something derogatory to the character of Captain Edward Graham, known only to his widow. Not that anybody knew anything against Captain Edward Graham, except that he had built St. Mary's Church.
Certainly there were no Episcopalians in Danville, except old widow Jones, who had always attended the Methodists before Captain Graham came in and stirred up her latent Churchmanship. Out in the country, there were a few others, and in the summer, some people who came down from Dorchester for the bracing air. And in course of time, when the Rev. Mr. Southey, an old English Priest, preached sermons mostly compiled from Jeremy Taylor and Bishop Bull, and preached even better ones by a gentle, blameless life, there were a few converts. When Miss Nancy Hogie, Sylvester's maiden sister, left the topmost pew in the First Presbyterian and the fervent prayers of Mr. Coxie, for the cold formalities and lip-service of the Episcopal liturgy, all Danville was in an uproar. Mr. Coxie preached four sermons on the Beast in the Apocalypse, whose deadly wound was healed, and completely annihilated Episcopacy. Still Miss Nancy persevered, and was followed by a few other lesser lights, and some young men who went to church because their fathers commanded them to attend meeting.
So there was a small congregation who breasted the northeast wind for a Sunday morning service, and a still smaller number, who found their way to some other occasional services good Mr. Southey held on week days.
The shipmasters who sailed by on the way to the harbor of Dorchester, the great city some thirty miles to the north, and who, for some nautical reason unknown to landsmen, kept near the shore as they passed Danville Promontory, hailed the far-off sight of St. Mary's Church, through fog and mist, as a vision of home; but then they knew nothing of Captain Edward Graham and the horrors of Episcopacy.
That grave-yard and that church seem home-like enough to Mrs. Graham, in spite of their cheerlessness. They are the only places she ever leaves her house to visit, and storms which keep half the piety of Danville indoors on the Sabbath, are no impediment to her, week-day or Sunday.
The night on which our story opens, she is safely indoors, and thankful enough, for there is a terrible tempest raging. The ocean had decidedly the best of it, though it is no later than Michaelmas. People looking up Danville street, at mid-day, could not see St. Mary's Church for the mist and storm.
The coach from Dorchester came in two hours behind time, and when the driver blew his horn, and tried to do it cheerfully, it was a sad failure. The one traveler, inside, wrapped in an overcoat, and with a red pocket handkerchief about his face, leaving only the redder tip of a nose visible, stopped at the Hogie Hotel, and would go no further, though bound for Nandusky; and the driver himself, after harnessing the new horses, shook his head, and sat down in the bar to smoke, and drink whisky.
The stores were generally shut early, and the gas lamps in the streets flickered in the wind, while on the shore, the, waves beat louder and louder.
Indoors, at Mrs. Graham's, it looks comfortable enough. The house is on Main Street, just at the end of the plank walk. There are a few feet of land in front, which, according to Danville fashion, are as carefully fenced in as if they contained a gold mine, while lilac bushes and a great variety of shrubs, shut out the sunlight from the lower windows.
There is a broad hall through the middle of the house, and the back door opens upon a garden. There is, perhaps, half an acre of land behind, but it is fenced off into, at least, six different yards, with as many gates, and each appropriated to a different purpose, while at the end, a huge barn shuts out any prospects of the sea, which, otherwise, might have been seen in the distance.
The house is large and roomy, and full of pantries and closets, where Mrs. Dorothy stores away, yearly, quantities of preserves and pickles.
But on the night of the twenty-ninth of September, Mrs. Graham and her grandson, Robert--aged ten years and eleven months--and Mrs. Dorothy, are seated in the back parlor. It is a large, comfortable room, with an open fire-place, in which, as the storm is a cold one, a bright fire is blazing.
Mrs. Graham is seated on one side, with a small stand, on which are two silver candle-sticks, reading her Prayer Book. She is dressed in deep mourning. Her hair is as white as snow, and, contrary to the fashion of the day, she wears no frisette. She would seem very much broken, were it not for a ruddy glow still on her cheeks, and a keen glance of the eye, which shows vigor still remaining. Her eyes are fixed on the Collect for Michaelmas, "O, Eternal God, who hast ordained and constituted the services of angels and men in a wonderful order j" but as every now and then the storm howls louder, she turns the leaves over hastily, and, with her lips moving, says the prayer for those at sea.
Mrs. Dorothy, on the other side, knits, partly by the light of the fire, and partly by the light of the candle. She nods now and then, but recovers herself defiantly.
Robert is on the floor, in front of the fire, playing with the cat, which lies before the comfortable blaze, and purrs approvingly.
The mantel-piece is nearly as tall as the ceiling, which is low, and leaves only room between the shelf and the ceiling for a portrait of Cap--in Graham, taken years ago, when he was a young man.
"It was just such a night as this," said Mrs. Graham, looking up from her Prayer Book.
"Hush! Hark!" exclaimed Mrs. Dorothy, interrupting her.
They both started from their seats at once; Robert, also, treading on the cat's tail as he did so, and producing the usual musical accompaniment. They all listened attentively, but there was nothing except the load roaring of winds and waves.
Mrs. Graham was the first to sit down again, while Robert went to the window and strove in vain to penetrate the darkness. Presently he stole quietly out of the room, and in a moment returned, crying out--
"Grandma, I have been to the door, and you can hear the sound of a cannon out at sea. It must be a ship in distress."
In a moment more, all three were at the door, and, in spite of the driving rain, listening for any sound that could be heard. There they stood together, and far away the waves beat on the shore, but not a sound could be heard except the roar of the ocean.
"It must have been imagination," said Mrs. Graham, as she closed the door and came in again and sat down at her Prayer Book. She resumed where she had left off--
"It was just such a night as this"--And Mrs. Dorothy would have heard, for the hundredth time, a story of Mrs. Graham's childhood, had not the clock in the kitchen, just at that moment, struck nine--the hour for family prayers and Robert's going to bed. Slowly and solemnly Mrs. Graham read the prayers, and added the prayer for those at sea, and Robert kissed her for good-night, and Mrs. Dorothy, and went up stairs to bed.
He woke up in the morning with a troubled and uneasy feeling, as though, in some way, his rest had been broken--a sort of memory of the light of a lantern, seen through the darkness, and the closing of the front door, and many voices--but he could not tell whether it had been a dream or not. It was not a morning to feel uneasy, however, for the sun was shining bright, and wind and rain had ceased, and the leaves just turning red and golden, were sparkling bright, in the glancing sunlight.
Usually, on coming down stairs, he was at least an hour behind Mrs. Dorothy; but this morning, to his surprise, she was not sweeping the hall, or shaking the mat on the front steps, or cleaning the biid cage, or bending over the stove, or setting the breakfast table--arrangements which, one and all, marked the different periods of Mrs. Dorothy's time, before breakfast. The carpet, too--an unwonted sight--showed marks of muddy feet. Something must have happened to Mrs. Dorothy. Such a thing had not happened in the memory of man. When, just as thoughts of robberies, and all the horrible things he had read about in a book entitled "Remarkable Events," came crowding upon him, suddenly the door opened, and in walked Mrs. Dorothy.
"O, Mrs. Dorothy!" said Robert, "see the mud. What is the matter?"
She did not answer; her face was all aglow with some unwonted excitement; she only said, "Hush!" put her finger on her lips, and pointed up stairs.
"Is Grandma sick?" said Robert, surprised at her unusual manner. Robert was frightened, and almost ready to cry, big boy as he was, when kind hearted Mrs. Dorothy seized him by the hand, and pulled him after her, up stairs. Her shoes were heavy and creaked loudly, but she laboriously marched on tip-toe, an example which Robert assiduously followed, the more so that Mrs. Dorothy impressed upon him, by every variety of pantomime, the absolute necessity of silence.
They came to Mrs. Dorothy's bed-room, which she quickly opened, and pulled him in and pointed to her bed. Robert's eye wandered around the room, and at last rested on what seemed a heap of bed-clothes supported by pillows. Following Mrs. Dorothy he came nearer, and cosily on the pillow lay a little head, with tangled curls almost white, and long black eye lashes, and white cheeks, looking like a dead angel, except that the lips were just a little red, and parted, and there was a slight motion to show that she was sleeping.
Robert could only gaze in blank astonishment, and was about to ask a hundred questions, when Mrs. Dorothy, seizing him by the hand, pulled him down stairs again, and, seating him on a chair, told him the amazing story of how the little girl was the only one of all the passengers, on board a vessel ship-wrecked last night off Danville Promontory, who had been saved. The boatmen, who had been on shore to see if any help could be given, had rescued from the waves this little one, and brought her there, as to the nearest house.