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Bert Lloyd's Boyhood
Chapter XXVIII. Well Done, Boys!

THERE comes a time in the life of nearly every boy who attends Sunday school when, no matter how faithful to it he may have been, he finds gradually stealing in upon him the feeling that he is growing too old for it, and he becomes restive under its restraints. He sees other boys of the same age going off for a pleasant walk, or otherwise spending the afternoon as they please, and he envies them their freedom. He thinks himself already sufficiently familiar with Bible truth for all practical purposes, and the lessons lose their interest for him. He has perhaps no ambition for becoming a teacher, nor even of being promoted to a chair in the Bible class.

How best to meet the case of this boy, and save him to the Sunday school is one of the most difficult questions that present themselves to those engaged in that work. You must not scold him or you will infallibly drive him away at once and for ever. Neither is it wise to seek to bring into play influences that will compel him to attend nolens volens, for that will but deepen his dislike, and make him long the more eagerly for the time when he will be his own master in the matter.

There seem to be but two possible solutions of the problem. You must either appeal to the boy’s natural sense of independence, and desire for importance by making some special provision for him that will mark a distinction between him and the younger folk, or you must, by going far deeper, reach the spiritual side of his nature, and through it secure his fidelity to the school.

To Bert this temptation had not presented itself. He no more thought of tiring of the Sunday school than he did of his own home. He had attended regularly ever since his sister Mary would take him with her, and put him in the infant class, and it might be said to have become second nature with him.

With Frank, however, it was different. He had never gone to Sunday school until Bert invited him, and although for some years he was very fond of it, that fondness in time had fallen into an indifference, and of late he had a decided disinclination to go at all. This was not due so much to any resistance to the claims of religion itself, but rather to a foolish idea that he was now too old and too big for Sunday school.

Bert took his friend’s change of feeling very much to heart, and he pleaded with him so earnestly, that for some time Frank continued in his place just to please him. But this of course could not last, and he was in danger of drifting away altogether, when an event occurred which turned the current of his life and set it flowing once more in the right direction, this time with a volume it had never known before.

It was a pleasant custom at Calvary Church to give the Sunday school a picnic every summer, and these picnics were most enjoyable affairs. A better place than Halifax Harbour for the holding of a picnic could hardly be conceived. You go, of course, by steamer, and then have the choice of some half-dozen different routes, each having its own attractions. You might go right up to the head of the big basin that stretched away eight miles or more beyond the north end of the city, and there land, amid the meadows that are bordered by the unbroken forest, or you might stop half-way, and invade the old estate that had once been proud to claim a prince as its possessor.

Steering in the opposite direction, you might go around the Point, and piercing the recesses of the ever-beautiful arm of the sea, find a perfect picnic ground at its farthest bend; or, crossing the harbour, there were lovely spots to be secured on the big, tree-clad island that well-nigh filled the harbour mouth.

This year it had been decided to hold the picnic at the head of the arm. The time was August, just when the cool sea-breeze and the balmy breath of the pines are most grateful to the dwellers in cities. To the number of four hundred or more, a happy crowd of Sunday-school scholars and teachers, and their friends gathered upon the broad deck of the clumsy old Mic-mac, an excursion steamer that had done duty on this line for a generation, at least. Each class had its own banner, as a sort of rallying point, and these, with the pretty dresses and bright ribbons of the girls, imparted plenty of colour to the scene, while the boys gave life to it by being incessantly on the move, and never in one spot for more than one minute at a time.

Bert and Frank were in the midst of the merry crowd, and in the highest spirits. They were neither of them by any means indifferent to the fascination of feminine beauty and grace, and it was easy to secure the most delightful companionship on board the boat, which they did not fail to do. Then they had the games and sports to look forward to, after the picnic ground should be reached, and altogether their cup of happiness seemed well-nigh brimming over. They little dreamed how ere the day closed they would both be brought face to face with the deadliest peril of their lives.

Joyous with music and laughter, the big boat pushed her way onward over the white-capped waves, past the fort and the gas works, and the long stretch of the Point road; and then giving the point itself a wide berth — for the shallows extend far out — around it, and up the winding arm, with its line of stately homes on one side, and scattered clusters of white-washed cottages on the other, until almost at its very end, the landing-place was reached, and the gay passengers gladly deserted the steamer to seek the cool shelter of the woods.

There was a wonderful amount of happiness crowded into that day. All who wanted to be useful found plenty of scope for their talents in the transporting of the provisions, the arranging of the tables, the hanging of the swings, and the other work that had to be done, while those who preferred play to work, could go boating, or swimming, or play ball, and so forth.

The two friends went in for both work and play. They gave very efficient help to the ladies in preparing for the dinner, but they did not miss a grand swim in the cool, clear water of a sequestered cove, nor an exciting game of baseball in the open field.

After dinner came the sports, consisting of competitions in running, jumping, and ball throwing, for which prizes in the shape of knives, balls, and bats were offered. Bert and Frank took part in several of them with satisfactory results, Frank winning a fine knife in the long distance race, and Bert a good ball for the best throw, so that there was nothing to mar their pleasure in this regard.

By sunset all were making for the boat again, and in the soft summer gloaming the old Mic-Mac steamed steadily down the arm on her homeward trip. Many of the children were weary now, and inclined to be cross and sleepy. Others were still full of life and spirits, and could not be restrained from chasing one another up and down the deck and among the benches. But their merriment was ere long suddenly ended by an event which came near casting a dark cloud over the whole day, that had hitherto been no less bright with happiness than with sunshine.

Bert and Frank had joined a group of charming girls gathered at the stern of the steamer, and while pleasantly employed in making themselves agreeable were more than once disturbed by the noisy youngsters, who would persist in playing “chase.”

“Some of you will be falling overboard if you don’t take care,” said Bert, warningly, to them. “Why don’t you keep in the middle of the steamer?”

There was good ground for Bert’s warning, as, across the stern of the old steamer, which had been a ferry boat in her early days, there was only a broad wooden bar placed so high that a child might almost walk under it without stooping.

But the careless children continued their play as the Mic-Mac ploughed her way back to the city. Presently a troop of them came racing down to the stern in chase of a golden-haired sprite, that laughingly ran before them. She was closely pursued by a boy about her own age, and in her eagerness to escape him she dodged underneath the bar that marked the line of safety. As she did so, the steamer gave a sudden lurch; and, poised perilously near the edge as the girl already was, it proved too much for her balance. She uttered a terrified shriek, grasped vainly at the bar now quite out of her reach, and, to the horror of those looking helplessly on, toppled over into the frothing, foaming water of the steamer’s wake.

Instantly there was wild confusion on board the steamer. Scream after scream went up from the women, and all who could crowded madly toward the stern. If the girl was to be saved, immediate action was necessary. Bert did not stop to think. He could swim strongly and well. He would attempt her rescue.

“Frank, I’m after her,” he cried, as he flung off his coat and hat.

“I’m with you,” answered Frank, imitating his action; and before anyone else had thought of moving, the two boys, almost side by side, sprang into the heaving water with faces set toward the spot where a cloud of white showed them the little girl still floated. Putting forth all their speed, they reached her ere the buoyancy had left her clothing, and each seizing an arm of the poor child, who had just fainted through excess of fright, they prepared to battle for her life and their own.

They realised at once that it was to be no easy struggle. The steamer had been going at full speed, and although the engines were reversed at the first alarm, the impetus of her awkward bulk had carried her far away from the spot where the girl fell; and now the boys could just barely discern her through the deepening dusk. The harbour had been rough all day, and the waters still rolled uneasily. Fortunately, it was not very cold, or the swimmers’ case had been well-nigh hopeless. As it was, the only chance of their deliverance hung upon their endurance. If their strength held out, they and the little one they had put themselves in peril to rescue would be saved.

She continued to be unconscious, her pretty face, that was so bright and rosy a few minutes before, now looking strangely white and rigid, and her golden curls clinging darkly about her neck, her broad straw hat, all water-soaked and limp, hanging over on one side.

“Surely she can’t be dead already?” exclaimed Bert, anxiously, to Frank, as the two boys kept her and themselves afloat by treading water, one at either arm.

“No,” replied Frank, “only fainted. But if the steamer doesn’t come soon, she will be; and so will we too.”

“Never fear, Frank, the steamer will be back for us soon. I think I can hear her paddles now,” said Bert, in cheering tones; and they listened intently for a moment, but heard nothing save the soft lapping of the waves all around them. Then Frank spoke:

“Bert,” he asked, “are you afraid to die?”

Bert started at the question. He had not thought of dying, and life was so precious to him.

“We’re not going to die, Frank. God will take care of us,” he answered, quickly.

“Yes, but if the steamer shouldn’t get back to us in time, Bert,” persisted Frank, who seemed to be already losing hope, “aren’t you afraid to die?”

“I don’t want to, but I’m not afraid to,” Bert replied, after a pause; for it was not easy to talk when every exertion had to be put forth to keep above the water.

“But, Bert, I am afraid,” said Frank, with a groan. “I’ve been so wicked.”

“No, you haven’t, Frank; and even if you have, God will forgive you now. Ask Him right away.”

“Oh, I can’t—it’s too late; I cannot pray now,” cried poor Frank, in a voice that sounded like a wail of despair.

“It’s not too late. Come, Frank, dear, we’ll both pray to God to have mercy upon us,” urged Bert; and inspired by his earnestness, Frank obeyed. And there, in the midst of the waves, with their senseless burden between them, the two boys lifted up their souls in supplication to their Omnipotent Father— Bert with the confidence that came of past experience, Frank with the agonised entreaty of one praying in sore need, and, for the first time, with the whole heart. A strange place for a prayer meeting, indeed; but they were as near the great heart of God as though they had been in His grandest cathedral, and the answer to their earnest pleading was already on its way.

When the two young heroes leaped into the water, there had at first been great confusion on board the Mic-Mac, but a minute or two later the captains gruff voice was heard roaring out orders. The paddles that had been thrashing the waves so vigorously suddenly stopped, were silent for a moment, and then recommenced; but now they were bearing the steamer backward instead of forward.

“Get ready the boat for launching,” thundered the captain. And half-a-dozen men sprang to obey.

“Light a couple of lanterns,” he shouted again. And in an instant it was done.

“Reeve a long line round one of them life preservers, and stand ready for a throw,” he cried to the mate. And almost before he had finished speaking the mate stood ready.

“Now, then, clear away there all of you,” he growled at the excited crowd that pressed toward the stern, and they fell back, allowing him clear space, while he swung the lantern out before him, and peered into the dusk that obscured his view.

“Let her go easy now,” he shouted, and the steamer moved slowly on, a profound silence falling upon the crowd of passengers as they watched with throbbing eagerness for the first sign of the imperiled ones being sighted.

Gazing hard into the gloom, the keen-eyed captain caught sight of a gleam of white upon the water.

“Stop her!” he roared, with a voice like that of the north wind. “Hand me that life preserver!”—turning to the mate who stood near him. The mate obeyed, and coiling the long rope ready for a throw the captain waited, while the steamer drew nearer to the speck of white.

“Look out there!” he cried to the boys in the water. “Lay hold of this.” And swinging the big life preserver around his head as though it had been a mere toy, he hurled it far out before him, where the beams of light from the lantern showed not one but three white objects scarce above the surface of the water.

“Look sharp now! lay hold there!” he cried again, and then: “All right. Keep your grip, and we’ll have you in a minute.” Then turning to those behind him: “Lower that boat—quick!”

The davits creaked and groaned as the ropes spun through the blocks; there was a big splash when the boat struck the water, a few fierce strokes of the oars, and then a glad shout of, “All right; we’ve got them,” in response to which cheer upon cheer rang out from the throng above, now relieved from their intense anxiety.

A few minutes later, three dripping forms were carefully handed up the side, and taken into the warm engine room, the little girl still unconscious, and the boys so exhausted as to be not far from the same condition.

Their rescue had been effected just in time. A little more, and utterly unable to keep themselves afloat any longer, they would have sunk beneath the pitiless waves.

“It seemed awful to have to die that way,” said Bert, when telling his parents about it. “I was getting weaker and weaker all the time, and so, too, was Frank, and I thought we’d have to let the poor little girl go, and strike out for ourselves. But we kept praying hard to God to help us; and then all of a sudden I saw a light, and I said to Frank, ‘There’s the steamer—hold on a little longer;’ and then I could hear the sound of the paddles, and the next thing the captain shouted to us and flung us a life preserver, and we got a good grip of that, and held on until the boat took us all in.”

The heroic action of the two boys made them famous in Halifax. The newspapers printed columns in their praise, a handsome subscription was taken up in a day to present them each with a splendid gold medal commemorating the event; important personages, who had never noticed them before, stopped them on the street to shake hands with them, and what really pleased them most of all, Dr. Johnston gave the school a holiday in their honour, having just delivered an address, in which, with flashing eyes and quivering lips, he told the other scholars how proud he felt of Frank and Bert, and how he hoped their schoolmates would show the same noble courage if they ever had a like opportunity.

The parents of the little one they rescued were plain people of limited means, but they could not deny themselves the luxury of manifesting their gratitude in some tangible form. Accordingly, they had two pictures of their daughter prepared, and placed in pretty frames, bearing the expressive inscription, “Rescued,” with the date beneath; and the mother herself took them to the boys, the tears that bathed her cheeks as she presented them telling far better than any words could do, how fervent was her gratitude.

Deeply as Frank had been moved at being brought through his own generous impulse into such close quarters with death, the excitement and bustle of the days immediately following the event so filled his mind that the impression bade fair to pass away again, leaving him no better than he had been before. But it was not God’s purpose that this should be the result. Before the good effects of that brief prayer meeting in the water were entirely dissipated, another influence came to their support. Although he knew it not, he was approaching the great crisis of his life, and by a way most unexpected; he was shortly to be led into that higher plane of existence, toward which he had been slowly tending through the years of his friendship with Bert.

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