The Little Sailors

They were two droll little German children, Hans and Freda, and they lived near the great, beautiful sea that came tumbling up almost at their very door and broke in a long line of white spray as far as the eye could reach. They loved it, just as you love the beautiful meadows all sprinkled with blue-eyed grass and daisies, and they listened while it talked to them, or sang them to sleep, as it often did on the sweet midsummer evenings, when the song was so low that it seemed only the faintest lullaby.  Were they ever afraid? 

Oh, no; they would have laughed at the thought of fear, though sometimes when the wind was fierce and strong, they saw the mother's face grow pale, and knew that she was afraid; but then the father always came home, and brought plenty of fish with him, and though his coat would be drenched with rain, and his hands sometimes stiff from cold, he always smiled, and seemed content and happy; and how could the little ones know anything of the perils he had passed through. 

 As for Hans, he thought he was quite a sailor, for on two warm summer days he had been out in the boat with his father, and had sailed up and down over the beautiful crests of water until he was almost giddy with the strange sensation and excitement, scarcely to be called pleasure, and yet something very far from pain. His father laughed, and said he was a little sea-sick, but Hans forgot all about it when the boat was hauled up on the beach, and was never tired of telling Freda of the wonderful adventures he had passed through. 

One day, when the father was off with the boat and the nets, and the beach was quite deserted, Hans proposed that he and his little sister, with one of their little mates, should go down to the shore to see if they could get any crabs. The mother was sick with a headache, and so they stole away very quietly, leaving her fast asleep. The boys carried a net and a large basket, as they expected to catch a great many crabs. Both of them knew how very well, and the mothers of the little crab-catchers never worried about them. They looked upon the sea as a sort of nurse for their little ones, who relieved them when they were tired, and was always ready to toss up shells or seaweed for the children to play with when there was no work to do. 

 So down to the shining beach the children ran, hand in hand, until they reached what they called their ship. This was the old, worn out, battered hull of a fishing boat, that /was drawn up high out of reach of the waves, and in which, sometimes when the tide came creeping up, they would rock themselves and splash about in the water, making believe that, like father, they were really and truly going to sea.

They caught several crabs, but not near enough to fill the big basket they had brought, and then they tried to catch the floating seaweed, and pretended it was fish, and such a merry time as they had hauling it in. At last Freda grew tired, and the boys rocked the boat to amuse her, for the tide was creeping up, up, slowly enough, it is true, but creeping very steadily all the same. 

"Let's go on a voyage like father," said Hans; 

"let's go and catch fish—let's go out and meet him, and see who has the most. Let's go, I say." 

Freda clapped her hands for joy. 

"Sail away!" she said to Hans, and then they all began to rock, and dip their hands in the water. 

But presently a little wave came stealing up softly, so softly, and it lifted the battered old hull, with the children in it, just as if it were a feather, and blew it gently out—out toward the open sea. 

At first the little girl laughed, and said it swung like a cradle; but then, as they rocked farther and farther away from the old mooring, Freda clasped her tiny hands and begged the boys to steer toward the shore. They were frightened too, and took the handle of the crab net and put it down in the soft sand and tried to push the boat backward with all their might. But that only sent it farther out, and helped the little wave, which grew bigger and bigger, until it frightened them to see how tall it grew, and how it toppled over and clashed the spray all over them, and threatened to fill the boat. But what could they do with only a crab net against the great swelling sea? Up and down they went, up and down, just like the little song the mother used to sing to Freda when she was a baby,— 

" Here we go up, up, up! 

And here we go down, down, downy!" 

And then Hans felt like crying, too, for would his mother ever have any one to sing it to again? 

They had only been playing sail away, just as they had done a hundred times before, and how was he able to prevent it if the tide came up and carried them off? His mother had never forbidden their playing in the old boat, and he was so used to catching crabs that he never was afraid of any harm coming; and then he sat down in the bottom of the boat,- and covered his face with his hands and cried bitterly. He knew his father never could find them, for it was almost night when he came home, and where would their boat be when the night fell!

"I know what mother does when she is afraid," 

sobbed Freda, "she always says her prayers. Don't cry any more." 

So she folded her hands, and said "Now I lay me down to sleep," and Hans never smiled, for he thought he had never seen Freda look so pretty and sweet as she did kneeling in the bottom of the old boat, with her hands clasped and her eyes closed, as if she was resolved to shut out every other thought. 

And all the time the boat kept rocking, rocking up and down, up and down, as if it was keeping time to the mother's old nursery song,— 

"Here we go up, up, up! 

And here we go down, down, downy! " 

 It seemed strange, but after a little time the children were not afraid. They were only hungry, and the sun seemed to drop down into the sea very, very fast And not a single living thing in sight, and after a time, not even a glimpse of the little brown cabin where mother lay asleep, knowing nothing of the children floating away before her very door. 

It was almost nightfall when the father himself sailed homeward, and as he came nearer the shore, what did he see but the two little curly heads he loved best in the world bobbing about between the big waves.

"Halloo!" he said, and wiped his eyes, and looked again. 

True enough it was Hans and Freda and their little playmate, and all were asleep, and the boat, he noticed, was filling fast. 

"Halloo!" he said again, and this time there was something besides spray in his eyes, and for a moment he could hardly see. Then he used his two strong arms with a will, and in a very short time all were on shore. 

"Freda said her prayers," explained Hans as they all stumbled through the sand up toward the brown house, in whose open door the mother stood anxiously watching. 

But the father said never a word—only—only, I think, that night the father and the mother did not forget to say their prayers.