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The hint was acted upon immediately, and now the axe came into use, to the great delight of the “simpleton” who had brought it. In a short time two large fires were kindled, and the light falling upon the face of the cliff, and flickering away into the bottomless depths of darkness down below, rendered the scene more weird and, if possible, more terrible than before. It served, however, to show the group of anxious spectators the object of their care still seated quietly astride upon the projecting crag, as if it had been a saddle, his hands resting upon the pommel, and his head thrown back, in order to preserve the equilibrium, or, perhaps, to avoid looking down into the great gulf over which he hung. He scarcely moved, and, for anything they could tell to the contrary, might have been asleep or insensible. But he was neither the one nor the other. He had passed through a great agony during the last half-hour. His courage had failed him; he had become “cowed,” as Mr. Grantly had anticipated, and was still under the influence of an almost overwhelming terror. The repeated failure of every effort to bring the rope within his reach had at first excited his alarm, and the darkness, which interrupted those attempts, together with the silence which followed, and the cold drizzling rain which had now set in, combined to oppress him with a horrible sense of loneliness and misery. He felt himself cut off from all human help. There was nothing that his fingers could take hold of to give him any feeling of security. If he could have grasped the rock with his hands, if he could have clutched a rope or a spar between his fingers, he would have felt comparatively safe; but there was between him and death nothing but the bare smooth rock on which he sat. Before him was darkness and space; below him an unfathomable gulf, with the dreary, melancholy sound of breakers dashing against the rocks, and serving only by their distant echo to indicate the depth that yawned beneath his feet. Behind him was the rock, upright,
pitiless, impenetrable; an eternal wall set up, as it seemed to him, between himself and every living creature. How would it be possible for any one to approach him, or to offer him the means of deliverance? The very attempt to do so was fraught with danger. He heard a distant clock strike ten, and counted the hours which must elapse before the dawn, and felt that it would be impossible for him to live through such an age. He would lose consciousness; his strength would fail; already he fancied he was swaying from side to side upon his seat, unable any longer to maintain himself upright. Presently, he thought, his arms would give way, he should fall forward, and in a moment all would be over. It seemed, too, as if by some strange fascination, he was being continually drawn nearer and nearer to his doom. He dreaded it with inexpressible terror, but felt as if he must yield to it. His head swam ; and although he remained, in fact, glued to the rock with all his physical strength, he fancied more than once that he was already gliding away from it, and falling into the unseen depths below.
From this dreadful state of depression he was aroused by the sight of new objects on the cliffs near him. Lights were moving to and fro, and presently bright flames shot up from heaps of gorse and brushwood which had been hastily collected. Then he could see figures, some of which seemed familiar to him; and presently he so far recovered himself as to recognise the forms of Dr. Piercey and Mr. Grantly. He heard their voices calling to him, encouraging him, and promising him a speedy rescue, and then he saw them hasten away to make fresh efforts for his deliverance. But they could not succeed in doing anything, and a fresh fall of earth and stones, as they trod about in the semi-obscurity near the edge of the cliff, warned them again to desist. The boy had gained fresh courage, however; the sight and sound of so many gathered near him served to dissipate the gloom which had almost overcome him ; he was
2 able to lift up his thoughts once more towards heaven, and to rest in the assurance that, by the providence of God, help, though long delayed, would come at last.
Motionless he sits
s time went on, Tom Howard, worn out with varied
emotions, began, notwithstanding the danger and discomfort of his position, to feel his eyelids grow heavy. He had made up his mind now that nothing more could be attempted for his deliverance till daylight; he had scarcely ventured to move from the position which he had taken up upon the rock after the moment of his greatest peril; and as his mind grew calmer he became more sensible to physical suffering, and began to feel his limbs cramped and in pain. Drawing his feet from under him, he suffered them to hang down over the precipice, and by doing so obtained a little more space and a firmer position. But this relief brought with it another danger, rendering him more liable to give way to sleep. Sleep would have been welcome to him; sleep would have been the greatest boon, if he could have felt secure. Would it be wrong, he argued with himself, to give way to it? He had resolved to trust wholly and absolutely to God's Providence; would it be a tempting of Providence, or would it be, on the contrary, an act of faith, if he should suffer himself to fall asleep where he sat? While musing thus, he heard a distant church clock strike the hour, one-two-three. His heart beat quickly with hope as
he heard the sound; it would be light before five, he thought. Could it be already three? Then he would have only two more hours to wait. But the strokes went on-four-it could not be so late as that, he thought--five--six-seven-then the painful, almost incredible truth forced itself upon him—midnight was not yet passed.
His heart sank within him as he counted the remaining strokes. Yes, it was only twelve o'clock! To watch yet
, through four or five long hours seemed to be a task beyond his strength or patience, and again the feeling of despair which he had before experienced came over him. All was silent around
the hum of voices on the cliff above had ceased, and the howling of the wind was for a time the only sound he heard. He began to think that his friends had grown weary of watching with him, and that, as they could afford him no help, they had gone home to their beds, intending to return at daylight. They would find him dead, he said to himself, when they should come again; dead, dashed to pieces upon the beach below; or perhaps still sitting there upon the ledge of rock, but cold and inanimate. It was unkind of them to go away. Tears coursed down his checks, and he could not refrain from crying aloud like a child as he was. But presently the fire on the point to his right flashed up, and he saw a group of men and women near it, some of them standing with their heads bare, others upon their knees, and one figure in the midst of them with hands clasped and raised towards heaven. He could even hear the sound of a voice, and recognised the accents of
prayer, though he could not distinguish what was said. They had not forsaken him, then, but were praying for him. "Two or three"-nay, more than that—"were gathered together in Christ's name, and there He was in the midst of them.” It is impossible to convey an idea of the comfort which this sight afforded the poor boy. He watched the group with eager eyes, and could see that when the prayer was ended many of them looked towards the spot where he was, though it was hidden from their sight in the gloom ; and his heart leaped as it were to meet them. He tried to call aloud, but his voice was too feeble and husky, and they did not hear him. Soon afterwards they began to sing, and then he was able to distinguish the very words they uttered. They were familiar to him; he had heard his mother read them, and had learnt them by heart, almost unconsciously. It was the metrical version of the 130th Psalm, and these verses came home to him with great force and comfort:
“ From lowest depths of woe
To God I sent my cry;
And graciously reply.
My soul with patience waits
For Thee, the living Lord;
Thy never-failing word.
For Thy enlivening ray,
To spy the dawning day.
O put thy trust in God,
No bounds His mercy knows,
Eternal succour flows."
The hymn ended and the worshippers dispersed; but the words sounded yet in Tom Howard's ears, and he went over them again and again in his own mind. It was like a message from heaven to him. Yes, he would try to wait with patience; he would put his trust in God. He reproached himself for having doubted; he would build his hope on the promise, “No