Tamsine: A Tale of the Sea
Our Own Gazette; Young Women’s Christian Association News, vol. 2, issue 9 (1885)
Introductory Note: Published in the journal run by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of London, “Tamsine: A Tale of the Sea” reflects the journal’s Christian focus. At the same time, it draws upon the tradition of adventure fiction most often associated with literature written for boys. Its heroine is a humble resident of a seaside village who proves herself capable of both heartfelt faith and daring physical courage.
A BOLD headland jutting out into the sea, a sheltered bay between us and it, a strongly built fishing pier in the foreground, amid a cluster of short, clumsy spars, a while-sailed vessel standing out to sea, and God’s glorious sunshine flooding in a golden pathway across the rippling tide. Such was the little quiet fishing village on our southern coast.
You were there, perhaps, for a few brief weeks in Autumn, when the little town, just beyond the headland, fairly overflowed its limits, and drove some of its surplus visitors to seek humbler accommodation in the village homes. You thought that fishing village a pretty spot, but wofully dull and prosaic,—no promenade, no band, not even a strolling minstrel! Perhaps, as you leaned over the pier, and gazed into the limpid water, watching the long, graceful seaweeds rocked to and fro by the gentle waves, you thought that the life in the village was as calm and as plodding as the slow rhythmic movement of the “flowers of the sea,” and wondered how any one could exist, all the year round, in such a stupid spot. Yet the dulness was not in the village, but in you. There was “life” enough, if you had but thought it worth your notice, and “plenty to see,” if you had not been lacking in sight. Stay! I can prove my words. You could not fail to notice that tall, dark-haired girl, with strongly marked features, and lithe, active frame, who brought fresh fish to your lodgings each morning, and guided visitors to the famous caves. Listen awhile, and I will tell you the story of Tamsine, and show you that the rough, hard training of what you call a dull life, can so mould and shape a woman, as to make her both noble and brave.
Tamsine’s mother was an inland girl, of fair Saxon race—a gentle, winning creature, with little vigour of mind or body—a strange contrast to her tall, dark, handsome husband, who was strong, almost to sternness. Tamsine was an only child, for, the Winter after her birth, the young mother pined and died, the chill exposure of seaside life ill suiting her fragile frame. The little one had to grow as best she could, without a mother’s care; but she was a hardy, healthy child, and throve in spite of adverse surroundings. Combined with her father’s robust constitution, Tamsine inherited her mother’s quiet, gentle ways, and instinctively held aloof from the rougher village children. A pretty sight it was, as she grew to be a dark, winsome little maid, to see the stalwart father walking along the beach, one huge, labour-hardened hand grasped by the baby fingers, while the baby voice lisped, again and again, “I be father’s little maid, I be.”
“Father’s little maid” she truly was. From early dawn to dusk, the little one was ever by his side, except when he launched into the deep, to ply his trade, and even then she would sit and watch the waves in calm expectancy, that “father would not be long from his little maid.”1The original closes the sentence with a single quotation mark. The wives of the fisher-folk gave her many a kindly word, or a bit of dinner, now and then, but Tamsine seemed only to live when her father was near; at other times she waited. Her little heart was sealed, and only the touch of love could unlock the door. Of earthly love she had none, except her father’s, and of the heavenly love she had never heard. Her father— “Big Ben” the sailors called him—was a steady, straightforward man, but he knew little, and thought less, of his Bible, and to him the Sabbath was a day to lounge and idle, if no tempting prospects of a good haul led him to take out his nets. He could not teach his child to pray, for he never prayed himself. There was a pretty church on the headland, where service was held once a week, but the minister only came over for an hour or two, and had little time to look after those who did not seek his ministrations. Once, indeed, Tamsine had followed some other children to church, but the heat and quiet—used as she was to the fresh salt breezes—soon lulled her to sleep, and her fright at awakening in a lonely, empty building was so great, that never again did she venture within the doors.
Poor little woman! was there no one in all God’s universe to care for her soul? Have you ever thought of that, in your seaside trips, as you glanced admiringly at the picturesque fisher children on the beach,—ever remembered that they, too, have souls, and that for them you—yes, you—will have to give account?
The Master wanted this little one to love Him, so He sent His message with power. He will not let one of His chosen be lost; it is we who lose the stars for our crown, the word “Well done” from the blessed lips.
The strand at the town, beyond the beach, was too noisy for our work among the children; we found we needed quieter quarters for our service; so one day we all walked across to the fishing village—a happy band of workers and children—and gathered our little crowd round us on the beach. Tamsine did not come; she seldom went with the other children; but she sat on the end of the pier, and gazed with great brown eyes across the sunlit waves. One of our workers saw her, and sent up a prayer of faith, that that little soul might be won for Jesus that very day. The eight-year-old child brightened quickly at the first kind word, and before long, she and her friend were hand in hand together. As I looked up from the midst of our group on the sands, I could see the intentness of the eager little face, as the story of the Cross fell for the first time on her ears. Not a doubt or hesitation had the child that Jesus loved her, and wanted her to love Him; He had died because He loved her, and He was even then close beside her, seeking her heart—that was the message, simply given, and as simply received. The child had found Someone to love, besides her father.
Day by day she came to us on the sands, shyness forgotten, all fear left behind. Her father passed, one day, as she questioned us, and said, “Don’t believe half they tell you, Tamsine.”
The child looked up, all her faith in her face, and replied, “Oh, father, hush! He’ll hear you.”
Not a word did he say to shake her faith, after that.
The bright summer days changed to autumn, and chilly evenings drove her new friends away; but they left with the girl what had transformed her life. No longer was she a dreamy, solitary child, vague and purposeless; she had found a motive power—the presence of the Saviour in her heart. We arranged that she should be taught to read and write, that winter; and as season after season passed, bringing us our happy holiday work, we saw Tamsine growing in health and beauty, both of soul and body, a fresh, true-hearted, winsome girl.
Plenty of work—what you would call drudgery—filled every moment, from dawn to dusk. The cottage, rude and small though it was, needed care and time; the patch of garden running up the cliff behind the house, needed tending at all seasons; there were nets to mend, and fish to sell, and endless odd jobs to be done on the sea-shore, besides the fulfilment of her promise to spend a certain time, each day, in reading and writing, that she might improve. There was no breach between Tamsine and the father she loved so well. As years passed on, they seemed to cling more closely together; only sometimes the girl would look at him with earnest, yearning eyes, that told of her longing that the truest joy might be his.
Tamsine’s life was one round of work, dull, monotonous, but not purposeless. The God who moulds your life and mine was moulding hers, and He knew that one day He would need the girl whom He was now training by this slow and patient process.
One year, at last, the discipline of monotony was succeeded by the discipline of want. The Winter was hard and stormy, fishing was scarcely possible at all and the fisher folk knew the pangs of hunger more than once. “Big Ben” suffered above the others, for his net was badly torn, and rendered almost useless, in a sudden storm, and had to lie by for repair. Tamsine faced her troubles brightly
“Never mind, father,” said she. “We shall have a grand Summer, please God, and I shall earn doubly among the visitors on the beach.”
She was wont to add quite a nice sum to her father’s earnings, through the summer months, for she was well known on the beach; her dark, striking face ensured notice, and her modest, quiet ways gained respect. But the stormy Winter was followed by a sultry Summer, during which low fever haunted the village homes. Not a lodging was let, and visitors were chary of even entering the caverns near the infected spot. Tamsine earned not a tenth of her usual summer income, and for a time things were indeed dark with her. Her father, kept from his wonted work by the loss of his net, grew moody and more and more silent than before; day by day he sat and brooded by the fire, till the fever laid its hand upon him, and brought him to death’s door.
Night after night, week after week, Tamsine watched beside him, fearless for herself, and saving every penny that should have bought her food, to get little dainties for the sick man. When he dozed in fitful fever-sleep, on went the busy fingers at the toilsome netting, for every shilling, nay, every penny, was of value now, in the little home. All the village rang with tales of Tamsine’s devotion, and many were the offers of help which she received. “If mother were here, she and I would nurse him,” she said with quivering lips; “but she’s gone, so I must fill her place and mine. Father can’t bear me out of his sight.”
One night the girl’s strength was almost gone. A long, weary day had been preceded by a sleepless night, and as the evening closed in, the girl felt as if her burden were indeed too heavy for her to bear. Her father moaned restlessly, now and again, in his sleep, so she set the little window open wide, that what air there was might fan his aching brow. Sadly the girl gazed on the handsome face, so worn and wasted now, and an intense longing rose in her heart that peace—the peace of God—might come to his heart.
She fell on her knees by the bedside, and with the pale moonlight streaming on her upturned face, prayed aloud, as she had often prayed in secret before,—
“O God! Thou knowest what I want for him. Give him the joy of Thy salvation. Oh spare him to me, if it is Thy will; but I ask the other first. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.”
Feeble, simple words! Which of us would dare offer petitions to an earthly king in such lowly form? Yet these words of the fisher maid went straight to the footstool of the “King Immortal,” and were heard and doubly answered.
Outside that window, in the silvery summer night, stood David Pryce, a fine young fellow, owner of the Seabird, the smartest and best fishing smack in the bay. He was no stranger to Tamsine, and of late their friendship had shown signs of ripening into something deeper still. The village gossips nodded their heads, and said it was a grand match for a penniless girl like her, but not so thought David Pryce. “If ever I win her,” said he, “I’ll be the proudest man in the place; but I’m feared she’s too good to think of such as me.”
Tamsine would not let David help her in her time of trouble. She shrank from the thought of letting him know her need and utter poverty; but night by night, the last thing before he went to bed, he would walk slowly past her dwelling, to make sure that that, at least, was safe. He had heard her prayer, and as he stepped past softly, he said to himself, “I wonder, would she pray for me like that? I need a word of prayer, if ever a man did.”
“The darkest hour is that before the dawn.” Slowly Tamsine’s father grew better, and as cooler autumn weather came, the first bracing frosts saw him strolling feebly along the pier, leaning on his daughter’s arm, the shadow of his former self, but still a healthy man, with no tinge of disease.
Then came an offer from David Pryce, which changed the aspect of things. He could not sail the Seabird alone, he wanted a partner, and it would be a real kindness if an old, trained hand, like “Big Ben,” would join him, and take a third of the profits. Thankfully the offer was accepted, and Tamsine’s grateful glance repaid David for it all. Some weeks after, he had another offer to make, this time to Tamsine, not her father, and again the answer was one that pleased him well.
The storm-cloud had turned to sunshine. Tamsine was no less busy than before, but she rose earlier and worked harder, that she might have time to stand on the shore, while the fresh breeze ruffled her hair, watching for the Seabird round the point, or to speed to the beach, after a night haul, to see the silvery fish piled in great hampers, ready for to-morrow’s sale.
An old pleasure boat, seldom used, lay on the beach, and Tamsine would oftentimes pull out to the headland, and sit on a rock-hewn seat at the point, doing some homely work, that she might watch the distant white speck on the blue ocean, that bore the two she loved so well across the deep. As the pretty Seabird passed the point on her homeward way, Tamsine would pull to her side, and getting on board, would tow the pleasure boat home behind the smack.
Winter had come round again,—a different Winter from the last. It seemed as if Tamsine’s troubles were over, yet the full purpose of all those years of training had not yet appeared. A calm Winter it was at first, “good for fisher folk,” they said; but one day the old weather sage of the village shook his head. “If ye’ll be said by me, not a man will take out his boat to-day;” and as he spoke, he leaned over the sea-wall, and set his battered “sou’wester” more firmly on his head.
“Never fear,” laughed David Pryce, “me and my mate will have a haul, and be back before the storm. She’s a good one to go, that boat.”
“She’s fast enough, my lad, but she can’t sail dead agen the wind.”
“Just wait a bit,” answered David, as he sprang into a punt; “see if I don’t bring you a nice bit of fish for dinner.”
“Well, take the punt, any way,” urged the old man; “she’ll be some good to you, if you get into trouble.”
“Not I,” called out David, as the little boat leaped from the beach; “she’s too trim a craft to give this lubberly punt a tow. We’ll weather the headland easy enough, and I’ll leave the punt at the moorings.”
“If you won’t hear reason, why, you won’t,” growled the old man. “I only hope ye won’t repent of it before night.”
Another boat or two followed the example of the Seabird, but the greater number stayed in the safe shelter of the bay. Tamsine was selling some fish, a little way inland, and started uneasily, as she saw the Seabird stand out to sea. “I will go to the point and watch,” she thought; so, hastening to the beach, she pushed off in her boat to the point, to gaze on the brown sails of the boat she loved so well. Far away round the coast, seeking the expected “school” of fish, sped the pretty smack, in the clear sunshine, while the storm-cloud drove fast towards the coast, darkening the horizon, and lashing the distant waves to foam. The other boats, with close-reefed sails, scudded uneasily, one by one, to the shelter of the bay; but Tamsine’s heart sank as the saw the Seabird still standing on her course; for she knew Davie was proud of his boat, and that her father was brave to rashness. Through the long hours of the day she watched and waited, while the storm waxed fierce, and the waves lashed in angry excitement over the long reef that ran from the point. At last a sea-mist hid the channel from her gaze, so she hastened home along the point, leaving her boat moored in a tiny cove, in fear lest the Seabird should slip past her in the mist. The kindly village folk strove to hide their forebodings from the pale, quiet girl, who made no cry, and spoke no despairing word; but it was plain they feared the worst. The old weather-wise sailor laid his hand on her arm and said, “I told him ’twas a bad day, an’ he would go;” but she only answered him, “Hush! God is with the Seabird.”
Evening came on, and though the wind still blew fiercely, the clouds were gone, and the moonlight showed every jagged point of rock in the deadly reef. The missing boat had not come in. Suddenly, from a knot of fishermen on the pier, rose a hoarse cry of dismay, as round the point, still battling with the resistless wind, came the disabled Seabird, no longer fresh and trim, but battered and storm-tossed, ropes flying, and sails rent to shreds. Straight she came for the lee shore; she had rounded the point, but no seamanship could bring the disabled boat clear of the reef. A moment’s awful silence, and then another cry from the gathering crowd, as the brave little boat was suddenly checked in her course, and shivered like a living thing at the blow of the cruel rock.
It was a mile or more to the point by water, and three good miles by land, so, though a dozen willing hands manned the largest whale-boat, it was almost a forlorn hope; the Seabird could not hold together so long amid the breakers, and those on board had, alas! no boat in which to make for the point. It was a risk for the whale-boat to venture among the eddying billows round the reef, but brave men know no fear when comrades are in danger.
Suddenly, from the very end of the headland, a boat, clearly seen in the moonlight, shot among the breakers of the reef. A frail boat, manned by a frail woman, whose strength was from on high. This was the moment when the Master’s wisdom grew manifest; the gold He had been so long refining was tested and tried. Tamsine had gone again to the point to see if the Seabird were in sight; she had stood in silent agony, fearing to distract the men she loved, if, by word or sign, she revealed her presence to them, while the little craft struck on the unfriendly rocks; but then, in a moment, she sprang to her boat, and launched out into the foaming deep.
“Of course!” you say; “any one would have done that. Who could stand by and see those they loved in deadly peril?”
Ay, you and I might have yielded to the blind impulse of love and bravery; but what about the strong, steady arm, or the calm self-control needed to steer the ill-built boat among the awful rocks, or the quick memory of every turn and channel, or the promptness needed to meet each eddying wave? I tell you, it tested the girl to the utmost, and scarce a man in the village could have done what she did.
Breathlessly the whole village watched the two boats. The men in the whale-boat strained every muscle; it was plain they would be too late; but the little boat among the rocks crept steadily on, now hidden by a mountain wave, now balanced on some crushing billow, till it seemed as if each moment must bring its doom.
On board the Seabird there was naught to be done, only to wait—for rescue or death. The two men watched the whale-boat in silent suspense; fishers as they were, they knew the slender prospects of any rescue from the shore.
Tamsine’s voice, “Father! Davie!” made them turn with a start, and there, close beside the smack, was the noble girl, still toiling at her oars. A rope, flung with practised skill, fell across the boat, and in a moment more, the two men had left the Seabird to her doom, and were pulling towards the whale-boat, still some way off. Before they reached the shore, the Seabird was a shapeless mass.
There was joy and rejoicing in village homes that night, and elsewhere too—among the choirs of heaven—for in one of the fishing huts, three people knelt in prayer—a girl who had long loved the Master, and two toil-worn, weary men, who had resolved to take His easy yoke.
Tamsine and Davie and “Big Ben” had to begin life over again, and have not even yet made up for the loss of the Seabird, but they are happy in the possession of the Great Treasure, and Davie has told Tamsine how he listened to her prayer on that summer night, and never felt at rest till it was answered for him, as well as for her father. I cannot tell you of her future life, for she has not lived it yet; I only know that, loving God, and accepting gladly just what He sends, she is sure to be blessed and a blessing.
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- Adventure fiction
- Christian literature
- Girls’ fiction
- Love story/Marriage plot
- Maritime literature
- Fantasy fiction
How To Cite (MLA Format)
Georgina Gollock. “Tamsine: A Tale of the Sea.” Our Own Gazette; Young Women’s Christian Association News, vol. 2, no. 9, 1885, pp. 102-4. Edited by Bree Halladay. Victorian Short Fiction Project, 21 February 2024, https://vsfp.byu.edu/index.php/title/tamsine-a-tale-of-the-sea/.
13 January 2017
20 February 2024
|The original closes the sentence with a single quotation mark.