A Mother’s Love (Chapters 1-2)
NOTE: This entry is in draft form; it is currently undergoing the VSFP editorial process.
Introductory Note: Fred Hastings published his five-chapter short story in the 1883 periodical, The Mother’s Treasury: containing helpful hints for the household. Hastings, a congregationalist minister, wrote several short stories, amply filled with religious imagery and commentary. This tale follows the life and trials of Alexander Parder, a restless young man, who has grown tired of his small village in Bristol and decides to abandon his family and embark on a ship in search of adventure. Laden with Christian themes and Bible references, Hastings crafts a tale about forgiveness and the rebellious nature of mankind that resembles the well-known “Prodigal Son” parable.
Advisory: This story contains racially insensitive terminology.
This entry was published as the first of three parts:
Chapter I.–THE RUNAWAY
In the flat rich district to the northward of Weston-super-Mare, sheltered by the craggy rocks of the Swallow Cliffs, close by the broad Severn, stands all that remains of old Woodspring Priory.1Woodspring Priory is a former Augustinian priory. It’s located in North Somerset, which is close to Bristol. The Priory was founded by a William de Courtenay, who was descended from one of the murderers of Thomas à Becket.2Thomas Becket, also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, was martyred in 1170. He built it as an act of penance for the sin of his ancestor, and it was afterwards enriched by gifts of land and houses from the “repentant posterity” of all who had taken part in that murder. It belonged to the order of St. Augustine, and the monks had comparative peace until the wilful eighth Henry dissolved the brotherhood and granted the extensive manors to a Sir William Loe.3Henry the VIII, king of England from 1509-1547. The Priory was transformed into a farmhouse, but the grand square lofty tower was left untouched. It is still in a perfect state, and from its summit is most clearly seen the stretches of the Bleadon and Mendip Hills, and Brean Down, on which are the three mounds, said to cover the graves of the three murderers of Becket. The barn is part of the monastic pile, and still retains its carved oaken roof, while the ivy grown gateway is ornamented with pieces of quaint sculpture, remnants of mediaeval handiwork, and which the rough hand utilitarianism has fortunately spared. Often has the writer enjoyed a trudge or a scamper to this spot,—skirting Worlebury hill, the site of the remarkable Celtic encampment, through the woods, and then past the sweet little village of Kewstoke, with its picturesque church, nestling at the bottom of the hundred steps,— tinishing up with a breathing on the broad sands that lie between Kewstoke and Woodspring point. Cosy indeed is the spot which monkish judgement had selected, and on which aristocratic compunction had erected a costly, ornate, and noble pile.4For “cozy” the original reads “cosy”.
In this semi-abbey and farm, many years ago, a sturdy yeoman lived, named Elijah Parder.5“Yeoman” is a noun originally referring either to one who owns and cultivates land. The term was first used in mid-14th-century England. He was a hard-working farmer, and a good father. His family consisted of two sons and three daughters. He trained his eldest son Christopher to follow his own occupation of farmer, but the second, Alexander, an active and intelligent youth, was sent to the neighbouring city of Bristol, and apprenticed to a very clever watchmaker in Broadmead.6Bristol is 117.6 miles from London and borders the capital city of Cardiff, Wales. At first the youth liked the business very much, but afterwards, owing to the long hours, the close application, and the harshness of his master, he hated it exceedingly. He was often scolded for his clumsiness or neglect. This fretted the youth very much. Brought up on a farm, it was a great change to have to work all day long at cleaning such minute machinery as that of a watch. Having one day disobeyed a command of his master, he was severely upbraided for his carelessness. Though deserving the rebuke, yet he would not bear it; passion so worked that he foolishly determined, by way of revenge, to run away. He had often strolled to the harbour on Sunday afternoon, or to Penpole Point, or down to Portishead, where he would stand and gaze over the Severn, seaward, longing to know of the world. He liked to see the ships go forth to sea, and oft wished he had been on board one of them. He knew well the difference between the whalers as they started for the Arctic regions, or the timber ships from America, and sugar laden ships from Barbadoes.7For “Barbados” the original reads “Barbadoes”. He envied even the fisher boys in the large yawls that put out to drag for sprats, mackerel, or herring. He was therefore only following out a long cherished device when he determined to run away from his master. He thought that in order to lead his discovery he would tell no one of his intention. It had been better for him to bear with the rebukes, and strive to deserve praise for his skill. But human nature is ever rebellious, not only against men’s commands, but God’s righteous requirements. If is not, alas! an uncommon thing for a youth, thrown for amusement upon the streets of a strange town, to find companions who will lead him into mischief, and give a tone to his mind anything but desirable. Alexander had a super-abundance of energy, and soon came to be foremost in a band of youths who every evening met, and dared each other to sundry tricks such as made them amenable to law, if indeed the police caught them. One of the boys with whom he associated was the son of a corn merchant, whose offices and granaries were hidden behind large gates. This youth managed to leave one shutter of granary undone, and so could gain entrance after the place was supposed to be secure for the night. He and the rest would club their pence together and buy, at a low public-hôuse, porter, beer, and tobacco.8A “public-hôuse” is what we now call a “pub”. It was mean of the publican to sell to such youths, but he cared not about the injury inflicted so long as he gained a small increase in pelf.9“Pelf” is defined in the OED as stolen goods; booty or spoil.
After indulging in these and other practices Alexander thought he would be glad to get away from Bristol. The sea was the great attraction. Wandering along the dock sides and quays in search of a ship that was likely to sail very soon, he saw a large foreign trader, the “Speculation” lade, and apparently ready for sea. Having stepped on board, he inquired for the captain. One of the sailors went aft, and summoned him from the cabin. On presenting himself the would-be runaway asked if there was need for another hand on board.
“A poor hand you’ll make, I fear,” said the captain.
The reply was, “I’ll do the best I can, if only you will take me.”
The captain was rather prepossessed by the appearance of the youth, and being rather short manned, after a little consideration and bargaining, agreed to take him. Two days after the engagement the ship sailed. Alexander went on board just an hour before she was to start. As he had been sent out on an errand his master did not seek him before the ship was well out at sea. He thought Alexander was a long time absent, and at length set out to seek for him. It is needless to say that his search was useless. It was a great disappointment and loss to him. He had hoped to make a good workman of Alexander in time, but was, alas! disappointed in his good intentions.
Without a “Good-bye” to his father, or a kiss from his mother,—who loved him as only a mother could love,—and without sending them even word that he was gone, he started to see the world and escape from his hated apprenticeship.
The “Speculation” had not been out of port many hours, when along the same dock sides and quays the father and mother of that youth might have been seen, hastening with anxious hearts, and ofttimes tearful eyes, from ship to ship to try and find their beloved son. With sad spirits and dreary forebodings they gave up the vain search. They hoped he would come back soon; but day after day passed without their being realized. Night after night did the mother say to her husband, as she was about to lock the door before retiring to bed, “I cannot bear to lock the door, it seems like shutting the dear boy out. Oh, that we could hear something of him!”
As the days lengthened into months, and months into years, the longing to know what had become of him grew more painfully intense. They were not sure that he had gone to sea, they only surmised that he had done so, because they knew he always had a restless disposition, and a desire to know the world. At times they fancied he might have gone up on foot to London,—that dreadful city for youths without protecting care—but they could learn nothing certain. Sometimes they thought that he must have been murdered, or in some way or other died. These thoughts were most distressing, and they banished them as speedily as possible.
Chapter II.–A CASTAWAY
The ship “Speculation” made long voyages, seldom returning to the same port. She never came back to England, so that Alexander Parder had not the opportunity of returning home. Once he sent a newspaper from Australia, with his initials written in one corner, to let his parents know that he was alive. He felt too much ashamed of his rashness, his ingratitude, and of his long silence, to write a letter. His conduct was indeed very like that of the sinning souls who think that because they have lived long without prayers to their heavenly Father, it is useless to re-commence. The newspaper assured his parents that he was alive, and that he was in a distant country. They wrote at once warm-hearted letters to him, addressing them to the Post Office of the place, the name of which had been stamped upon the newspaper. Alexander, however neglected to call at the Post Office to see if there were any letters for him. His parents waited long, hoping to hear from him again, and at length so great was their anxiety to find him, that when they found their letters were unanswered, they sent the eldest brother Christopher to that place in Australia from whence the newspaper had been sent, to seek his brother. He willingly left business and home to undertake the search. After a tedious voyage he landed in Australia and did his best to find Alexander, but it was useless. After staying two months he set sail for home again, deeply sorrowing because of his failure, and because of the disappointment which he knew his parents would afresh suffer. As Christopher came home, he read everything he could find on board in order to pass away time. When he had exhausted the few volumes that the ship contained, he took to the Bible, perhaps as much for amusement as duty. As he read, he came upon the parable of the “Prodigal Son,” and his own useless errand deepened his interest. He had read that “Prince of Parables” before, but it never had so much meaning as now.10The story of the Prodigal Son revolves around a father and his two sons. One son abandons his family, while the other remains loyal. The “Prince of Parables” is referencing the Prodigal Son. He thought of how readily his own father had consented to his going to search for Alexander, and began to realise how great was the love of God in sending His only-begotten Son into the world to seek sinners. He thought it at first strange that in the parable the eldest son was not represented as going to look for the prodigal. On further study he saw how the selfish Jews were represented by the elder son, and he felt thankful that, personally, he had been acting the part of the good elder brother in seeking for Alexander. Certainly he deserved praise for his unselfishness, and for his desire to cheer his parents by tidings of their lost son. He had not sinned, and yet he took a greater burden upon him than any that pressed upon Alexander for a time, on account of his thoughtless action. He came also to understand thereby, something of what the Saviour had suffered for him, in taking upon Him his sins, and coming to seek and to save him. When he reached home he not only had peace in Christ, but had learned to understand something of the meaning of Paul in wishing he were “accursed from Christ for his kinsmen.”11This quote is from Romans 9 of the King James Version of the Holy Bible. The Apostle Paul is lamenting the Israelites’ rejection of Christ’s gospel.
But let us see how Alexander fared. He met at Hamburgh, in a beer-garden, a sailor whose parents lived at Bristol. This was a sufficient reason for association. Alec hunted about for a ship, and sometimes wished he were at home. At length he and his newly found companion contrived to get into the same ship, and they sailed to America. They went up the Bay of Fundy as far as Richubucto.12The Bay of Fundy is located between Canada’s Nova Scotia and New Brunswick provinces, and touches the U.S. state of Maine. The weather was fearfully cold, and often did they both wish themselves home again, especially when hauling at the hard frozen ropes and sails, or standing long time at the wheel. While the ship was being loaded with timber both strove to do a little business on their own account. They bartered away everything possible to the Indians for tobacco.13“Indians” referring to the indigenous people of North America. Alexander even parted with his boot-laces for tobacco, and placed it in tins with a thin covering of sugar over them in order to avoid detection by the custom-house officers.
He was intent on gaining some money, even in a way that was very questionable, that he might be able to settle down at home after a time. He began to feel that he had wandered enough. He bought even presents for his mother, of whom of late he had thought of a great deal, and whom he had hoped soon to see. But how often man purposes, and circumstances dispose another way.
In the sixth year of Alec’s sailor life, when off the west coast of Africa, the ship was, through contrary winds, so driven about that they could make no port. The fresh water on board began to grow short; the men were put on scant water allowance. The quantity allowed was gradually diminished, until it was reduced to half-a-pint a day to each man. The men became so weak that they were unable to work the ship. To crown their misfortunes a storm arose, which drove them on shore. The masts had been cut away, and the ship, with the violence of the waves, turned upside down ere she went to pieces. A few of the crew managed to get into a boat. Even then a further misfortune overtook them, from the surf the boat capsized, and only two of the crew–Alexander and his old companion–reached the land. Alexander managed to clamber up the rocky sides to a place of safety. Their wretchedness was extreme. Weakened and exhausted, they lay on the beach, waiting for the morning to break. The rain came down in torrents. Dark was the night. They could, however, just discern the broad white streak of foam along the coast, and hear the booming sound of tumbling waves. They also thought they heard, above the roar of the elements, several times, the piteous cry for help from some of their struggling companions. But no help were they able to render; indeed, before morning the one who had reached the shore with Alec died through cold and exhaustion.
(To be Continued.)
This story is continued in A Mother’s Love (Chapters 3-4).
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8 March 2023
19 July 2023
|↑1||Woodspring Priory is a former Augustinian priory. It’s located in North Somerset, which is close to Bristol.|
|↑2||Thomas Becket, also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, was martyred in 1170.|
|↑3||Henry the VIII, king of England from 1509-1547.|
|↑4||For “cozy” the original reads “cosy”.|
|↑5||“Yeoman” is a noun originally referring either to one who owns and cultivates land. The term was first used in mid-14th-century England.|
|↑6||Bristol is 117.6 miles from London and borders the capital city of Cardiff, Wales.|
|↑7||For “Barbados” the original reads “Barbadoes”.|
|↑8||A “public-hôuse” is what we now call a “pub”.|
|↑9||“Pelf” is defined in the OED as stolen goods; booty or spoil.|
|↑10||The story of the Prodigal Son revolves around a father and his two sons. One son abandons his family, while the other remains loyal. The “Prince of Parables” is referencing the Prodigal Son.|
|↑11||This quote is from Romans 9 of the King James Version of the Holy Bible. The Apostle Paul is lamenting the Israelites’ rejection of Christ’s gospel.|
|↑12||The Bay of Fundy is located between Canada’s Nova Scotia and New Brunswick provinces, and touches the U.S. state of Maine.|
|↑13||“Indians” referring to the indigenous people of North America.|
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