THE FAIR PROSPECT.

From his infancy he had loved the sea, with its restless waves; the dark blue ocean, with its white sails; and the idea of a sailor's pleasant life pervaded his very dreams. During the winter months he was satisfied to go to school, and learn to read and write; but in summer, when the soft wind stole with its balmy breath through the windows of the schoolroom, he used to fancy that it brought him greetings from the adjacent sea--that it came fraught with the odour of the sun-bleached deck, of the tarry rope, of the swelling sail--and then the schoolroom became too confined for him, and his little breast heaved with a longing which he could not repress.

All his holidays were spent at the quays, or on the seashore. When a ship arrived from some foreign land, he would gaze at it with longing eyes, and he would wish it were not speechless, that it might tell him of the magnificent clear moonlights on which the tropical skies and the dreamy ocean seemed to unite, and form one wide and bland expanse, or of the dark stormy night on which the tempest, resting on its breezy pinions, broods over the foaming sea. Oh! how he envied the careless, sunburnt sailors, who looked down from the gunwale, or hung, apparently in frolic mood, amid the yards above! Who could be so happy as they, to skim over the sea with only a slender plank beneath their feet, with the white sails outstretched like wings above their heads!

When it became late in the evening, he would saunter slowly and sorrowfully homewards to the small, confined house in the suburbs of the town, where his mother, who had, perhaps, just finished her day's hard work, would meet him with gentle reproaches for staying out so long. When he had then assisted her to bring in the heavy pail of water, to stretch the somewhat blackened ropes in the court, and prop them up with long sticks; to water the flowers in the little garden, and the pots of balsam and geranium in the window; and when their simple supper was finished, it was his delight to place himself on a low wooden stool at his mother's feet, while she knitted, and listened to the stories she told him of his poor father, who had gone far away and had never returned. Vivid were the pictures the good woman drew from the magic-lantern of her memory. Now, it was of her maritime wedding, with the two waving Dannebrog flags, the numerous smartly-dressed sailors, with their short jackets, white hats, and red pocket-handkerchiefs, each with his sweetheart on his arm; now, of the day when his father came home from a voyage, and found him--the boy--in the cradle, a welcome gift on his arrival; now, of the dreadful hour when the owner of the ship sent for her, and she was informed, in a few cold words, that her husband had died out on the wide ocean, had been wrapped in his hammock, and lowered into the deep. The stories always ended here with the widow's tears; but the boy would sit lost in deep thought, and would follow in his imagination the sinking hammock, with his father's corpse, down beneath the blue, blue waves, lower and lower, into the darkening abyss, until he became giddy from his own fancies.

Sometimes his mother was not at home; then he always fixed his gaze upon a miserable little picture which hung against the wall, and which represented a brig in full sail. He would fancy himself standing beneath its broad canvas, and waving his farewell to the land; or he would steal into the recess of the window, and please himself by imagining that he was in the cabin of a ship, and that the white curtain which hung in the window, and was slightly agitated by the wind, was the flapping of the sails in a storm. His little head would at length droop and rest against the window-sill, whilst sleep closed his eyes, and permitted him to continue in dreams his fancied voyage.

One day--a bright sunshiny day--he was strolling along the edge of the harbour wall, gazing at the ships, and chattering now and then with the seafaring people. His little white hat had fallen back, and rested awry upon his curly head, as the poor boy jumped and played about, his shirt sleeves tucked up, and without any jacket. How happy he was when the sailors bade him run an errand for them, or what was better still, help them to move or lift anything. As he wandered farther and farther on, he came upon a large ship that was lying close to a wharf, and taking in its cargo. The boy stood long opposite to it, and looked attentively upon it.

That strange, mysterious feeling in the human mind, which arises at the sight of the place where our death-bed is to be, or our coffin is to rest, prompted him to exclaim, 'How quiet; how peaceful it is here.' Though he thought--unknowing of the future--that his grave would be under some shady tree, yet in contemplating the scene before him, he felt that it was cool, and fresh, and inviting to repose. It was with a peculiar and undefinable sensation that his eye wandered over the newly-tarred hull of the ship--around which the glancing waves were lightly sporting--up the supple mast, till it rested on the pennon at its top. The busy crew went backwards and forwards, to and from the vessel, which appeared to be nearly ready for its approaching voyage, and the master stood upon the deck, issuing commands, and superintending everything.

The boy ventured nearer and nearer; with earnest looks he watched everything on board, and everything seemed to have been familiar to him in some dream of the past--everything, from the nicely-painted half-open cabin-door, to the dog that rattled its chains whenever any of the sailors passed it. The captain at length came forward, and, as he leaned over the gunwale, his scrutinizing eye fell upon the boy, who as steadily gazed at him. For a time they stood thus--both silent. At last the captain said:

'What do you want here, boy? Are you waiting for anyone?'

'No; I am only fond of seeing ships, sir,' was the boy's answer; as he took off his little white hat, and twirled it about in his hand.

'To whom do you belong?' asked the skipper.

'My mother supports herself by her labour, sir,' replied the boy, 'and my father lies out yonder;' he pointed towards the ocean. 'I also should like to go to sea; but my mother says I am too little yet. Do you think, sir, I am really too little?' he added, with an arch, insinuating smile, as he looked up into the captain's eyes.

'Well, well, perhaps not,' said the master of the vessel. 'Do you know anything about a ship?'

How happy was the boy at that moment; with one bound he was at the side of the captain, and he proceeded with sparkling eyes and flushed cheeks to name to him all parts of the ship; there was not a sail, not a rope, not a topmast unknown to him, and the master's looks followed him with approbation and goodwill.

'I am bound to the Brazils,' said he; 'would you like to go with me? But it is a long voyage, and the weather is not always good.'

The boy's answer was a cry of joy; he seized the skipper's hard hand and pressed it to his soft cheek, but suddenly his gladness was checked.

'My mother!' he exclaimed, sorrowfully.

'We will go to her,' said the captain, as he laid aside his pipe and took his hat.

Next day there was a fresh and stiff breeze, but the wind was fair, and the good ship 'The Fair Prospect' bent its way out of the harbour under full sail; it was going to the Brazils, far away beyond the wide, wide ocean, and many a month must pass before its anchor would again drop amidst the waters that laved the shores of the dear native land. But--'Away, into the world--away!' came wafted on the joyous breeze;--'Be of good cheer!' smiled the gay, bright sun;--'Farewell--forget me not!' whispered the rolling waves; and high up amidst the masts hung the exulting ship-boy, while he waved his little red cap, and wept from mingled feelings of grief and joy.

How many remained upon that shore in unruffled tranquillity! They only felt that they were obliged to be stationary, and would never see all the beautiful, the grand, and the wonderful things that the vast world has to display. But among them stood the loving mother, who had no joy on earth but him who had just left her--and in deep sorrow she concealed her tearful countenance. 'Dear mother, farewell!' he breathed upon the air; but she could not hear these, his parting words. Yet he felt as if his heart would have burst from his breast, and flown to her. And surely she knew this. Did she not feel that there were some sad, tender, affectionate thoughts from him who was gone, following her to her humble home, to her deserted rooms, to the empty little couch, on which she cast herself in an agony of grief? Alas! how many anxious nights would she not have to pass in that lonely cottage, now terrified by frightful dreams, now startled from her troubled sleep by the howling and uproar of the midnight storm!

One was terrible to listen to. It was a night in spring; but the heavens were black and threatening, so that all was darkness around. The tempestuous clouds chased each other wildly through the skies, and cast their gloomy masses from one part of the heavens to another; the moon shone forth every now and then for a moment, as if in derision of its own impotence, and when its straggling beams then glanced in through the small windows, they seemed for one second to gleam upon the floor, merely to vanish again. The low house shook; the tiles fell from the roof with a loud crash into the little court below; the doors swayed backwards and forwards as if moved by invisible hands; and the wind absolutely roared in the chimney.

The mother lay awake in her little chamber: she sat up in her bed, clasped her hands, and cried in her agony of spirit, 'Oh, my dear, dear child! where are you this fearful night?' Then she looked at his bed, which had so long stood empty. How willingly she would have cheated herself into the idea that all was a dream, and that it really was his fair little head she saw resting on his pillow; but it was fancy--only fancy--for no living form was there! There was none to speak one word of comfort to her; no human being near to console her; she raised her thoughts to heaven, and prayed to God to spare the life of her child in that terrific night; she prayed that she might once more be allowed to fold him in her arms, and earnestly did she further pray--alas! for a mother's heart--that if he must die, the death-struggle might be brief!

And where was the boy while these anxious prayers were ascending to Heaven on his behalf? Behold! Yonder on the vast wild sea, where the tempest is lashing the waves into mountains, flies the slight bark with the lightning's speed! The subordinate has become the master: the wind, that but lately, managed by the sailors' art, wafted their vessel gently along, has suddenly burst forth in its might, and in its wanton fury assails them from every point. Now the ship seems engulfed by the raging waters; now borne aloft as if it were about to career in the air. Yet on these frail planks, which seem to be but as a toy to the elements, there is a will stronger than theirs. See how every stitch of canvas disappears from the towering masts! Look at the fearless, determined countenance of the man who holds the rudder in his strong grasp! See how boldly, how firmly, yon sailors tread upon and hang among the swaying yards above! Oh slip not, slip not! for ye hold life and death in your hands; place cautiously the searching foot; turn the swimming eye from yonder raging deep. Hark! what a frightful blast of wind! It seems to come howling from afar, then rolls with a hollow sound over the foaming waves. The ship trembles from stem to stern; and, as if battling with the ocean, it swings first to one side, then to the other, and then it seems to rise and ride triumphant over the heaving billows. In its lightness lies its only hope of safety.

But what is that which has fallen from the main-topsail-yard down into the sea beneath? The bubbling foam conceals it for a moment, but it rises to the surface. From a break between the dark heavy clouds the moon casts a solitary ray, mild as a compassionate smile. It is the boy--the boy who loved the blue billows so much--he has fallen into their wild embrace, and they like him too well to give him up again. In vain do anxious faces bend over the side of the ship; in vain are ropes cast out; the small hands fight but a feeble battle for life; the fair curly head, over which his unseen mother's prayers and blessings are at that moment hovering, raises itself once more in the pale moonshine; but the struggle is soon over. Some few undefined thoughts flit through his soul: he fancies that he hears his mother's voice. Yes, peace be with you, child! She is praying with you at your hour of death. And he sinks down--down--calmly beneath the waves. The subsiding tempest chants his requiem; the moon sheds a farewell ray upon the spot where he sank; and the grave has closed over the sea-boy's corpse! The war of the elements is over, and the ship glides peacefully into its destined harbour.