I saw a good deal of Duncan during those wet days. He would come and sit beside me as I painted, and would tell me stories of storms and shipwrecks, and of the different times when the lifeboat had been sent out, and of the many lives she had saved.
’Have ye seen her, sir? You must go and have a look at our boat; she lies in a house down by the shore, as trim and tight a little boat as you could wish to see anywhere!’
’I suppose you’ve been in many a storm yourself, Duncan,’ I said.
’Storms, sir! I’ve very near lived in them ever since I was born. Many and many’s the time I’ve never expected to see land again. I didn’t care so much when I was a young chap. You see, my father and mother were dead, and if I went to the bottom there was nobody, as you might say, to feel it; but it’s different now, sir, you see.’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘there’s Polly and little John.’
’That’s just where it is, sir, Polly and little John, bless ’em; and all the time the wind’s raging, and the waves is coming right over the boat, I’m thinking of my poor lass at home, and how every gust of wind will be sweeping right over her heart, and how she’ll be kneeling by little John’s bed, praying God to bring his daddy safe home again. And I know, sir, as well as I know anything, that when God Almighty hears and answers her prayer, and brings me safe to land, Polly and little John will be standing on yon rocks a-straining their eyes for the first sight of the boats, and then a-running down almost into the water to welcome me home again. Yes, it makes a sight o’ difference to a married man, sir; doesn’t it, now? It isn’t the dying, ye understand, it’s the leaving behind as I think of. I’m not afraid to die,’ he added humbly and reverently, as he took off his oilskin cap. ’I know whom I have believed.’
‘You’re a plucky fellow, Duncan,’ I said, ’to talk of not being afraid to die. I’ve just been at a death-bed, and—’
‘And you felt you wouldn’t like to be there yourself,’ Duncan went on, as I stopped. ’Well, maybe not, it comes nat’ral to us, sir; we’re born with that feeling, I often think, and we can no more help it than we can help any other thing we’re born with. But what I mean to say is, I’m not afraid of what comes after death. It may be a dark tunnel, sir, but there’s light at the far end!’
What are you?
On Saturday of that week the sun shone brightly, and I was up betimes, had an early breakfast, and set to work at my picture as soon as possible. I had not been painting long before I again heard voices above me, the same childish voices that I had heard before.
‘You give it to him,’ said one voice.
‘No, Marjorie, I daren’t; you take it.’
‘You ought not to be afraid, because you’re a boy,’ said the first speaker; ‘father says boys ought always to be brave.’