I looked at the thick clouds that were rolling blackly in from the south-east and then at the white-crested waves breaking over the black, jagged rocks. The tide was coming in very swiftly. The float that held half-a-dozen little row-boats was thumping restlessly against the pier where I stood. A single yacht was dancing up and down like a feather at her moorings a few rods away.
"She 'll part her cables afore mornin', I'll be bound."
I looked at the old skipper. He shaded his shaggy eyebrows with a weather-beaten hand, and gazed alternately at sky and sea. "Ef I owned that boat I 'd take her round to the shelter o' the cove in a minit."
"Then you think we are in for a heavy storm?"
"No doubt, sir; no doubt."
I watched the ever-roughening sea several minutes in silence. The pier was trembling beneath my feet, and I found it hard to stand upright against the fresh, strong wind. I had never seen such sworls of spray before, nor such a foreboding sky, - a long oblique strip of blackness, like a pall, with ragged edges dipping to the very sea. Then I turned and slowly walked up the path to the little brown house, where the tall elms were swaying madly to and fro. A bright face welcomed me from the window. It was the little granddaughter of the old skipper in whose house I had spent the last two months. I had come there to recover from the effects of a long and tedious illness. I was strong and sturdy enough now; and I was sorry to think of parting from this genuine and wholesome New England family, whose quaint and kindly ways had much endeared them to me.
The face I had seen at the window appeared at the doorway when I entered the hall.
"Why, Mira, you come upon me like a ghost!"
Even as I spoke I saw how pale the child was, though she was smiling at me from the sweetest eyes in the world. Since that very first day, when I came to the house, pale and feeble, she had devoted herself very closely to me, - thoughtful and tender always, with the naive thoughtfulness and tenderness of unspoiled childhood. The keen sea air works marvels with flesh and blood, I know; but it may have been partly her devotion that had restored me so quickly. A strong feeling of regard for the child had grown up within me; perhaps it was because I had never known what it was to have a younger sister. We were firm friends; indeed, I think she lavished upon me that sort of love which a boy may sometimes feel for a woman many years his senior. I knew I should miss her greatly. . . . But when I saw her in the doorway smiling at me, her pale face struck me with something like terror.
"Don't mind the wind, Mira. What do we care? I hardly think the storm will carry us away, if the tide be ever so high."
But I saw that she was somehow restless; and after supper, when I had drawn my chair before the glowing wood-fire, "Let me tell you a story, Mira," I said. And with that she seated herself by my side, and, slipping her little hand in mine, she listened dreamily.
By and by my slender stock of stories was exhausted. But she still sat there, very thoughtful and silent.
"Grandfather said you were going away next week. Next week is very near - and you must go?"
"Yes, Mira, I am sorry to say that I must go."
"I 'm glad you 're sorry. You see," she explained artlessly, "I like you so much!"
I clasped the little hand very tightly. Was there any shadow of what a day might bring forth resting on me then?
"But you are coming again, you know. If - if I should not see you then, you would not forget me?"
"What a fancy, Mira! I shall see you many, many times again. And I shall not forget, Mira."
She smiled faintly. Then she drew a little closer to me and laid her fair young head upon my shoulder. "You will not forget me?" She was almost sobbing.
"My dearest Mira!"
She suddenly lifted up her face and kissed me. "Good night, my dear, kind friend!"
The little figure stood a moment in the doorway, looking back at me - then vanished.
For a long time I could not sleep that night. It rained in torrents and the wind blew fiercely. The old house creaked and trembled; the branches swept the roof as though the visible garments of the storm were fluttering by. After a while, however, the wind died down; the violence of the storm suddenly abated; and by and by there was a glimmer of moonlight in the eastern sky. Looking at this, I fell asleep.
When I awoke the waning moon was shining. I raised myself in bed and looked out. The sea was still plunging heavily, throwing up the long spray in drops of glittering silver, and the thunder of the waves still resounded along the shore. Just as I fell back in bed, I thought I heard a noise, like the opening and shutting of a door. I listened intently; I went to the window and looked out. Mere imagination! Yet I partially dressed myself, with a half-defined intention of going down stairs to look.
Merciful heaven! what was it I saw as I glanced again at the window? Only a little white-robed figure walking with outstretched arms along the pier, over those surging waves where a single misstep was death. For a moment I was paralyzed, incapable. Then I leapt forward - down the stairs - out into the night! If I could but reach her before . . . I could only complete the thought with a shudder!
She was now at the very end of the pier. I saw by her motions that she was still asleep, still utterly unconscious of the fearful danger. Despite my utmost speed, I was still several hundred feet away. I heard a sound of flying footsteps behind me. I did not look around. I saw only . . . Only a white arm lifted, a white figure fall . . . It was too late! The receding tide bore her swiftly away. I saw for a moment a golden head lifted from the waters, and heard a cry above the noise of the surf. In my despair I sprang forward to the edge of the pier, intending I know not what - perhaps to spring into the sea, where no such swimmer as I could have lived. But a firm hand held me back.
"Stop!" cried the old skipper. "You cannot save her!"
"The boats! the boats!"
"The float has broken loose, an' the boats are gone - an' it 's too late! O my God!"
Then the old man broke down and cried like a child. I strained my eyes a moment to catch a gleam of white upon the waves. Too late, too late! I stooped down to pick something from the slippery floor of the pier, just as it had fluttered down and fallen a moment since. A piece of blue ribbon that she had worn in her hair!
All this happened two years ago. But tonight, as I hear again the waves upon the beach, I cannot drive the thoughts of that time from my mind. And I hold a bit of blue ribbon in my fingers; and, as I look, I cannot keep back the tears. "If I should not see you then, you would not forget me?" I have not forgotten, Mira!