ON a rock-bound coast of Maine stood the little cottage where Ben Walton lived. He always went by the name of Skipper Ben; half the people on the coast could not have told you his real name. He was a kindly old man, always ready to tell the boys stories, or to rig them out little boats to sail in the bay.

Up the beach a ways stood a hotel, that all through the summer months was filled with people who came to enjoy the cool sea breeze. This was Skipper Ben's busiest time. He had grown too old and stiff to go to sea; and so he made his living by carrying pleasure parties around the bay in his little skiff; and by selling to the hotel the fish that he caught, and the blueberries that grew on the mountains back of his house.

This afternoon the wind blew gently from the shore, and the waves lazily lapped the pebbles on the beach. The sun shone hot on the sand. Once in a while a loon or a sea-gull, flapping his wings, rose from the waters, and uttering a dismal cry, sailed slowly over the house. Mr. Harris and his wife, who, with their little boy Fred, had come to the seaside for a few weeks, walked slowly down the beach, till they came to Skipper Ben's house.

"Here," said Mr. Harris, "lives an old playmate of my father's; I can remember coming down to his house with my father when I was a boy, and carrying home a boat he made for me."

Just then old Ben came round the house, and holding out his hand said, "How are you, my boy?

It's many a year since I've set eyes on your face; but I should know you anywhere, you look so like your father." Then he led them into his sitting-room. The floor was as white as soap and sand could make it, and the brass candle-sticks on the shelf shone till you could see your face in them.

The cool breezes swept through the room, rustling the snowy curtains.

"Where's Aunt Mary, Uncle Ben?" said Mr. Harris, after a pause.

"Ah," replied the old man, drawing his rough sleeve across his eyes, "it's six years come next May since they laid my Mary to rest up yonder on the hill. This is my main comfort now," said he, taking his well-worn Bible from the window-sill, where it lay open, and putting it up on the shelf.

"If you'd like to take a boat-ride, I'll tell you about it."

When they were safely seated, Ben said, taking his place at the helm, and hoisting the sail, "It's just seven years ago this fall since my two strong lads set sail from this bay, and never came home again.

For weeks the ship had been wind-bound, and the captain was getting impatient to be off.

 They'd no business to set sail in such weather, sir; the sea was smooth enough, for that matter, but it looked dirty to the wind'ard, and it was dead ahead. I knew we'd have a squall and stormy weather before a day was over. But the captain was a rough man, sir. He said he'd been lying round these weeks, and he wouldn't wait longer; he'd go to sea if he knew he'd drown the next minute.

"Well, in the night the wind began to rise, and clouds scud across the sky; the snow fell thick. I felt uneasy for the vessel, and went down to the beach to see if I could hear anything, but the roar of the surf drowned all sounds. In the morning my Mary and I heard that the wrecks of a ship lay down the beach a ways. The snow was deep, but Mary was bound to go to see if it was the one our boys sailed in; the Isidore was her name, sir; and she was a fine ship; but her ropes were new and kinky, and the snow and sleet froze to her rigging, so the crew were helpless. She drove on before the gale, and split all to splinters on the rocks.

When we got down to the beach, there the boys lay washed up on the sand, and a clinging to a bit of the mast.

"Mary never spoke a word," said the sailor, tacking about, to return to land; "she just went to work a helping the folks. But she never smiled afterward. It was pitiful to see her pinched, white face, as she went so quiet about her work.

In a little more'n a year she died. It broke her heart, sir, it broke her heart; she set such store by them boys."

"I should think," said Fred, as the boat grated on the beach, "that you'd be afraid to go on the water any more."

"I can trust Him who 'gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment.' We're just as safe on sea as on land, my lad. There's a deal of comfort in the Scriptures for old sailors like me."

When they turned to leave him that night, Uncle Ben gave Fred a boat just like the one he had made for his father when he was a little boy.

"Now, my lad," said he in parting, "remember that we're all sailors, sailing the sea of life. My voyage is almost done, and yours is but just begun. Look out for the breakers, and steer clear of the rocks, and don't mind the false lights along the shore; but take aboard the Great Pilot, Christ Jesus, and he will guide your boat safe into the harbor of heaven."




W. E. L.