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The Correspondence of a Little Dressmaker.

I.—HIS LETTER.

NOT being used to letter-writing, I do not know how I ought to begin this. Ought I to call you Miss or Bess? One is too high-faluting, and the other is too familiar-like for me, and we have not seen each other for a good while, although we began to go to work at the same time. Why, now, how long is it since you used to do my sums for me when I could not manage my home-lessons? I mind my old father saying that a letter should always be like a bill, the items put down all spick and span, and nothing in it that is not needed any more than a real business bill would have; but the truth of the matter is I don't know how to say what I want to say, but I suppose there's nothing for it but to put my hand to the helm and steer straight to the point I want to reach. I'm one of those chaps who never get wild over anything one way or the other. They say that's what makes such a good skipper of me. I can always see what is the right thing to do in any sort of weather. I am not saying this to blow my own trumpet, because it comes to me to do the right thing. It isn't my fault. The ketch is my own, and it did not take all of my savings to build her either, the beauty. These are the items. The total is—will you have me for a husband? There, I have got it out at last. You could live in one of the river towns. The thing is you might be lonely while I am away on the Bess. Yes, that's what I've called her I can't alter the name now, whatever your answer is, because everybody knows her by it. I must not persuade, because if you remember me well enough to like me you will come anyhow, and if


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you do not I hope you will not come just to please me. I do not suppose that you will decide all of a sudden, so I will call at the address written on a slip of paper with this in a month's time. God (if He is the chap who looks after things)—God bless you.

Yours, if you like the ownership,

JOHN BAXTON.

P.S.—The ketch is painted green with trimmings of white. I asked an artist chap what colours to have. I remembered that you did not like a red hat and green jacket that sat opposite to us once on the ferry-boat. I had my own cabin-door in red, because it is the colour of colours for me. It's the colour of the gums in the spring.

P.S.—Another item I forgot, a bit of land on the river. The trees are all left. Once you said that houses ought to grow like the trees do. Well, mine has been growing for a good many years in a very small allotment. I hope you won't think in my own head, but, by Jove, perhaps you are tired of reading this by now and having a good laugh at me. I can't help that. I never could help laughing at funny things myself.

P.S.—The flannel-flowers are growing on the bit of land.

II.—THE LETTER SHE SENT.

Dear Mr. Baxton,—

I have never had so hard a task as this of answering your letter. You have honoured me by asking me to marry you. You take a great deal on trust, because you have only memories of me as a child. I have no particular memories of you; in fact, have never thought of you at all. Do not think this is hard or unkind, but I am sure from the manly tone of your letter that you would rather have the truth than anything else. You remember things I thought and said, and I only remember you as a rough-haired boy who was


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fond of laughing. Thanking you and apologising for anything that may seem hard in my letter,

I am, yours very sincerely,

BESS BURNS.

III.—THE LETTER DIDN'T SEND.

My Dearest Old Skipper,—

Your dear letter came like a breath from the sea that you love so well. I remembered very little about John Baxton, but I know the skipper who wrote my letter. Where it is at the present moment I am not going to tell you. But I will tell you that I know it off by heart and say it for my grace while the children are pattering their “We thank Thee, O Lord.” Not that I do not thank Him too. I have so much to thank Him for since the fifth of a very wintry month, this year, but my heart is beating thanks all the time. You said, “If He is the chap that looks after things,” as though you doubted His existence. Why, my would-be sceptic, who do you think makes people so glad sometimes, if everything is left to chance? But I do not care what you say about it, because I know that, if anyone were in trouble, they would not hesitate to go to Skipper Baxton.

Your wife? I have only one objection. You would get to know me so well that you would not go to your imagination for my good qualities any more, and I should not go to the same source for my romantic visions of you, either. I should dearly like to sail with you in the Bess some of the time. Fancy the wife of a skipper who does not know what it feels like to be on the ocean! Once I was in a sailing-boat, in the harbour, down past Bradley's Head, and we nearly capsized, but it is one of the most splendid recollections I have in my poor brain that will only hold needles, scissors, and paper patterns. The wind sang in the rigging, the sails cried out at the strain, and the waves leapt up and tossed the spray in our faces until the boys were compelled to furl the sail and put up the spinnaker instead. And when we were safely round the head and


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in Middle Harbour I felt as though I had had a glimpse of an awful but wondrous life. There, that is all I know of the sea as far as being on it goes. The ferry-boats don't count, because they are very tame compared with the sailer. I have never been since. Mother was so frightened that she made me promise not to go any more.

That much was written on Sunday in church. Now I am waiting for a customer to come and have her dress fitted. It is four o'clock, Saturday afternoon. I am very glad that we makers haven't to marry women, because the wives would have to make their husbands' dresses. You don't think I am going to mend your clothes, do you? Because I am going to drown all needles in the Pacific, and then spend all my days on the bit of land. A house? No, you needn't think of a house. When a house is built, a broom finds its way into the kitchen, and when a woman has hands the broom finds its way into them and they sweep. There's a knock. My customer. I must finish my dissertation on sweeping another time.

If you will promise to keep an automatic machine for sweeping I will not finish my article on the matter, because the rain during the last few days has reminded me that it would not be very pleasant camping in the grounds without a house. I am afraid the flannel-flowers could not hold enough water to keep us dry.

What was it you said about a red hat and a green jacket? Have I been a fashionable dressmaker all these years for nothing? Don't you know that green and purple, and green and red, and green and blue and everything, are fashionable and artistic! When you see me you will know me by the variety of colours I wear. Green hat, blue dress, scarlet necktie. violet sash spotted with pink daisies, and blue roses in my belt. Do you know about the blue roses? Perhaps you have not read “The Light that Failed.” One chapter begins “Roses red and roses white sought I for my love's delight. She would none of all my roses, bade me gather her blue posies Half the world I wandered through, seeking where such flowers grew. Half the world unto my quest answered but with


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laugh and jest. Oh, 't was but an idle quest. Roses red and white are best.” But I am not a visionary, as this might lead you to think; and I can mend torn clothes. So you needn't wonder if all my nonsense is nonsense, or if it is real, because—well, what do you think it is? I do not like brooms.

Would you, could you, bring your ketch into the harbour at a given time?—and I would be at South Head (in all my colours) to welcome her and—her skipper. I wonder what you are like. This is my impression from your occupation: short, thick-set and sturdy when off duty, but nimble as a rabbit when a Sou'-Easter blows you towards the rocks and you want to give them a wide berth. You are to admire my sailor-like talk because I have been reading Clark Russell and the Boys' Own to collect some nautical terms. Please answer these questions in your next letter, which is to come on the wings of the wind, not by the postman, though he is forgiven for all his old tricks now, since—but never mind the date. Question 1. The gunwale is the piece of wood that goes out from the back of the boat in a slanting direction, is it not? Question 2. Is the bumpkin the little fence round the boat to keep the skipper from falling out? And, Question 3. I know the stays are the bulk of the boat, the part under the water, so you needn't answer that question. If these are mistakes you are to understand that they are intended for jokes, but if they are right they are not intended that way. Ask me questions about the different parts of a boat, because I asked a man who knows all about it, yet there was a strange twinkle in his eyes when he told me some of the things. I wonder if he was amusing himself. But you will tell me There is only one thing better than writing to you, and that is seeing you. Am I always to wait for the contrary winds to move along? Can't they be regulated? Ah, it seems so wonderful to me how you sailors can manage to bring the vessels safe and sound into port when contrary winds spring up. I would never do for a skipper. I can't fight contrary forces. I turn back and go with the wind. I have only seen the vessels at anchor in the harbour, and one gets so accustomed to seeing them stolid and still that it is hard to imagine them alive and full of effort. I


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wonder, when you are away on the Pacific and the winds spring up, if I shall be frightened? I don't think so. I shall be sure that the wind never blew and the sea never roared that you could not conquer—and, after all, you are not going to see this. I am just scribbling a fancy letter for recreation.

Good-bye, from

Your BESS.

P.S.—I went to the bush to see if the gums have red leaves, and they have. The spring is late this year. Next spring—

NOTE.

In one of her rare lapses into carelessness the Little Dressmaker must have placed this scribbling-book among some others that were to be given to the Mother for putting into the cake-tins when the cakes were made. And as Mother was tearing the leaves out to put in the tins her eye caught the word “Skipper,” and she read the rest of the page, and, becoming deeply interested, looked for the others and read them all. And when the cooking was finished, this little Mother sat down to the table with paper and pen—a most unusual thing, because Bess always wrote her letters and addressed everything that went through the post. But this letter was written by the Mother, addressed, and taken to the post-office, and nothing was said to anyone, and—anyway, there was no more Correspondence.

MAUD LIGHT.

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