The Stowaway

On board an English steamer a little ragged boy, aged nine years, was discovered on the fourth day of the voyage out from Liverpool to New York, and carried before the first mate, whose duty it was to deal with such cases. When questioned as to his object in being stowed away, and who had brought him on board, the boy, who had a beautiful sunny face, that looked like the very mirror of truth, replied that his step-father did it, because he could not afford to keep him nor pay his passage to Halifax where he had an aunt who was well off, and to whose house he was going.

The mate did not believe his story, in spite of the winning face and truthful accents of the boy. He had seen too much of stowaways to be easily deceived by them, he said; and it was his firm conviction that the boy had been brought on board and provided with food by the sailors.

The little fellow was very roughly handled in consequence. Day by day he was questioned and requestioned, but always with the same result. He did not know a sailor on board, and his father alone had secreted and given him the food which he ate. At last the mate, wearied by the boy's persistence in the same story, and perhaps a little anxious to inculpate the sailors, seized him one day by the collar, and dragging him to the fore, told him that unless he told the truth, in ten minutes from that time he would hang from the yard arm. He then made him sit under it on the deck. All around him were the passengers and sailors of the midway watch, and in front of him stood the inexorable mate, with chronometer in his hand, and the other officers of the ship by his side.

It was a touching sight to see the pale, proud, scornful face of that noble boy; his head erect, his beautiful eyes bright through the tears that suffused them. When eight minutes had fled the mate told him that he had but two minutes to live, and advised him to speak the truth and save his life. But he replied with the utmost simplicity and sincerity, by asking the mate if he might pray. The mate said nothing, but nodded his head, and turned as pale as a ghost, and shook with trembling like a reed in the wind. And then all eyes turned on him, the brave and noble fellow-- this poor boy whom society owned not, and whose own step-father could not care for--knelt with clasped hands and eyes upturned to heaven. There then occurred a scene as of Pentecost. Sobs broke from strong, hard hearts, as the mate sprang forward and clasped the boy to his bosom, and kissed him, and blessed him, and told him how sincerely he now believed his story and how glad he was that he had been brave enough to face death and be willing to sacrifice his life for the truth of his word.

--Illustrated Weekly Telegraph

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