How Amyas Came Home the Third Time

“It fell about the Martinmas,
   When nights were lang and mirk,
That wife’s twa sons cam hame again,
   And their hats were o’ the birk.

“It did na graw by bush or brae,
   Nor yet in ony shough;
But by the gates o’ paradise
   That birk grew fair eneugh.”
   —The Wife of Usher’s Well.

It is the evening of the 15th of February, 1587, and Mrs. Leigh (for we must return now to old scenes and old faces) is pacing slowly up and down the terrace-walk at Burrough, looking out over the winding river, and the hazy sand-hills, and the wide western sea, as she has done every evening, be it fair weather or foul, for three weary years. Three years and more are past and gone, and yet no news of Frank and Amyas, and the gallant ship and all the gallant souls therein; and loving eyes in Bideford and Appledore, Clovelly and Ilfracombe, have grown hollow with watching and with weeping for those who have sailed away into the West, as John Oxenham sailed before them, and have vanished like a dream, as he did, into the infinite unknown. Three weary years, and yet no word. Once there was a flush of hope, and good Sir Richard (without Mrs. Leigh’s knowledge, had sent a horseman posting across to Plymouth, when the news arrived that Drake, Frobisher, and Carlisle had returned with their squadron from the Spanish Main. Alas! he brought back great news, glorious news; news of the sacking of Cartagena, San Domingo, Saint Augustine; of the relief of Raleigh’s Virginian Colony: but no news of the Rose, and of those who had sailed in her. And Mrs. Leigh bowed her head, and worshipped, and said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Her hair was now grown gray; her cheeks were wan; her step was feeble. She seldom went from home, save to the church, and to the neighboring cottages. She never mentioned her sons’ names; never allowed a word to pass her lips, which might betoken that she thought of them; but every day, when the tide was high, and red flag on the sandhills showed that there was water over the bar, she paced the terrace- walk, and devoured with greedy eyes the sea beyond in search of the sail which never came. The stately ships went in and out as of yore; and white sails hung off the bar for many an hour, day after day, month after month, year after year: but an instinct within told her that none of them were the sails she sought. She knew that ship, every line of her, the cut of every cloth; she could have picked it out miles away, among a whole fleet, but it never came, and Mrs. Leigh bowed her head and worshipped, and went to and fro among the poor, who looked on her as an awful being, and one whom God had brought very near to Himself, in that mysterious heaven of sorrow which they too knew full well. And lone women and bed-ridden men looked in her steadfast eyes, and loved them, and drank in strength from them; for they knew (though she never spoke of her own grief) that she had gone down into the fiercest depths of the fiery furnace, and was walking there unhurt by the side of One whose form was as of the Son of God. And all the while she was blaming herself for her “earthly” longings, and confessing nightly to Heaven that weakness which she could not shake off, which drew her feet at each high tide to the terrace-walk beneath the row of wind-clipt trees.

But this evening Northam is in a stir. The pebble ridge is thundering far below, as it thundered years ago: but Northam is noisy enough without the rolling of the surge. The tower is rocking with the pealing bells: the people are all in the streets shouting and singing round bonfires. They are burning the pope in effigy, drinking to the queen’s health, and “So perish all her enemies!” The hills are red with bonfires in every village; and far away, the bells of Bideford are answering the bells of Northam, as they answered them seven years ago, when Amyas returned from sailing round the world. For this day has come the news that Mary Queen of Scots is beheaded in Fotheringay; and all England, like a dreamer who shakes off some hideous nightmare, has leapt up in one tremendous shout of jubilation, as the terror and the danger of seventeen anxious years is lifted from its heart for ever.

Yes, she is gone, to answer at a higher tribunal than that of the Estates of England, for all the noble English blood which has been poured out for her; for all the noble English hearts whom she has tempted

  By PanEris using Melati.

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