The Hero of Garside School
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THE MOTHER'S PRAYER
"God grant that it may never happen, Paul; God grant that England may never be invaded, that her foes may never land upon our shores."
And the lips of Mrs. Percival moved in silent prayer. Paul regarded the loved face of his mother for a minute or two thoughtfully, as though he were longing to put to her many questions, but dared not. At length he said, breaking the silence:
"Did father ever speak of it?"
It was one of the greatest griefs of Paul's life that he had never known his father. He had been a captain in the Navy, but was unfortunately cut off in the prime of his career by a brave attempt to save the life of a man who had flung himself overboard. The man was saved, but Captain Percival was drowned, leaving a widow and son to lament his loss. Paul at that time was only a year old, so that it was not till the years went on he understood the greatness of his loss. Often and often his thoughts turned to the father who had been snatched from him by a sudden and untimely death, especially when he saw the boys of his school who were fortunate enough to possess both parents; but often as his thoughts went to his father, he rarely spoke of him to his mother. He could see that the pain and sorrow of his death were still with her—that the awful moment when the news came of that sudden, swift catastrophe had written itself upon her heart and memory in writing which would never be effaced.
Paul did not find out all that he had become to his mother till some time after his father's death—not, in fact, till his first term at school had ended. He had never been away from home so long before, and he never forgot how she pressed him to her, and with what tender earnestness she said, "Ah, dear, you do not know how I have missed you."
That same night, when she had thought him fast asleep, she entered his room, looked long and earnestly in his face by the light of a candle, and then stole gently out. And that Sunday, when he went to the old church with her, he felt her hand steal into his as the vicar read the Litany; and the pressure of her hand waxed closer as the vicar's voice sounded through the church: "From lightning and tempest; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and from sudden death." Then rose the fervent response from the congregation, "Good Lord, deliver us." And none prayed it more fervently than the widow as she knelt by the side of her son.
It was not only that Mrs. Percival had lost her husband at sea, but she had lost a brother, a promising young lieutenant in the Navy, while on active service in China; and Paul's grandfather had lost his life many years back while fighting under Nelson at Copenhagen. It is little to be wondered at, therefore, that Mrs. Percival rarely spoke about the sea to Paul. She feared its fascination; she was anxious to keep his thoughts from it. He was all that was now left to her, and she had no wish that he should go into the service in which the lives of three near and dear relatives had been sacrificed....