T WAS A STRANGE DAY, the day that I was born. The waves were beating against the lighthouse, and the wind was roaring and raging against everything. Had not the lighthouse been built very firmly into the strong solid rock, it and all within it would have been swept into the deep, wild sea.
It was a terrible storm. My grandfather said he had never known such a storm since he came to live on the island, more than forty years before.
Many ships went down in the storm that day, and many lives were lost. But in the very midst of it, when the wind was highest, and the waves were strongest, and when the foam and the spray had completely covered the lighthouse windows, I, Alick Fergusson, was born.
I was born on a strange day, and I was born into a strange home. The lighthouse stood on an island, four miles distant from any land. The island was not very large; if you stood in the middle of it, you could see the sea all round you — that sea which was sometimes so blue and peaceful, and at other times was as black as ink, and roaring and thundering on the rocky shores of the little island. At one side of the island on a steep rock overhanging the sea stood the lighthouse. Night by night as soon as it began to grow dark the lighthouse lamps were lighted.
I can remember as a child how I used to admire those lights. I would sit for hours watching them revolve and change in color. First, there was a white light, then a blue one, then a red one, then a green one — then a white one again. And as the ships went by they always kept a lookout for our friendly lights, thereby avoiding the rocks of which they warned them.
My grandfather, old Sandy Fergusson, was one of the lighthouse men whose duty it was always to keep these lamps in order and to light them every night. He was a clever, active old man, and did his work well and cheerfully. His great desire was to be able to hold his post till I should be able to take his place.
At the time when my story begins I was nearly twelve years old, and daily growing taller and stronger. My grandfather was very proud of me and said I should soon be a young man, and then he would get me appointed in his place to look after the lighthouse.
I was very fond of my strange home, and would not have changed it for any other. Many people would have thought it dull, for we seldom saw a strange face, and the lighthouse men were only allowed to go on shore for a few hours once in every two months. But I was very happy, and thought there was no place in the world like our little island.
Close to the tower of the lighthouse was the house in which I and my grandfather lived. It was not a large house, but it was a very pleasant one. All the windows looked out over the sea, and plenty of sharp sea air came in whenever they were opened. All the furniture in the house belonged to the lighthouse, and had been there long before my grandfather came to live there. Our cups and saucers and plates had the name of the lighthouse on them in large gilt letters and a little picture of the lighthouse with the waves dashing round it. I used to think them very pretty when I was a boy.
We did not have many neighbors. There was only one other house on the island, and it was built on the other side of the lighthouse tower. The house belonged to Mr. Millar, who shared the care of the lighthouse with my grandfather. Just outside the two houses was a court with a pump in the middle from which we got our water. There was a high wall all round this court which made a little shelter for us from the stormy wind.
Beyond this court were two gardens, divided by an iron railing. The Millars' garden was very untidy and forlorn, and filled with nettles, and thistles, and groundsel, and all kinds of weeds, for Mr. Millar did not care for gardening, and Mrs. Millar had six little children, and had no time to look after it.
But our garden was the admiration of everyone who visited the island. My grandfather and I were at work in it every fine day, and took a pride in keeping it as neat as possible. Although it was so near the sea, our garden produced the most beautiful vegetables and fruit, and the borders were filled with flowers, cabbage-roses, and pansies, and wallflowers, and many other hardy plants which were not afraid of the sea air.
Outside the garden was a good-sized field — full of small hillocks, over which the wild rabbits and hares, with which the island abounded, were continually scampering. In this field were kept a cow and two goats to supply the two families with milk and butter. Beyond it was the rocky shore, and a little pier built out into the sea.
On this pier I used to stand every Monday morning to watch for the steamer which called at the island once a week.
It was a great event to us when the steamer came. My grandfather and I, and Mr. and Mrs. Millar and the children, all came down to the shore to welcome it. This steamer brought our provisions for the week from a town some miles off, and often brought a letter for Mr. Millar, or a newspaper for my grandfather.
My grandfather did not get many letters, for there were not many people that he knew. He had lived on that lonely island the greater part of his life, and had been quite shut out from the world. All his relatives were dead now, except my father, and what had become of him we did not know. I had never seen him, for he went away some time before I was born.
My father was a sailor, a fine, tall, strong young fellow, my grandfather used to say. He had brought my mother to the island, and left her in my grandfather's care while he went on a voyage to Australia. He left in that same little steamer which called every Monday morning. My grandfather stood on the end of the pier as the steamer sailed out of sight, and my mother waved her handkerchief to him as long as any smoke was seen on the horizon. Grandfather has often told me how young and pretty she looked that summer morning. My father had promised to write soon but no letter ever came. Mother went down to the pier every Monday morning for three long years to see if it had brought her any word from her sailor husband.
But after a time her step became slower and her face paler, and at last she was too weak to go down the rocks to the pier when the steamer arrived on Monday morning. And soon after this I was left motherless.
From that day — the day on which my mother died — my grandfather became both father and mother to me. There was nothing he would not have done for me, and wherever he went and whatever he did, I was always by his side.
As I grew older, he taught me to read and write, for there was of course no school which I could attend. I also learned to help him trim the lamps and to work in the garden. Our life went on very evenly from day to day until I was about twelve years old. I used to wish sometimes that something new would happen to make a little change on the island. And at last a change came.
There's a Friend for little children,
Y GRANDFATHER AND I were sitting at tea one dark November evening. We had been digging in the garden the whole morning, but in the afternoon it had become so wet and stormy that we had remained indoors.
We were sitting quietly at our tea, planning what we would do the next day, when the door suddenly opened and Mr. Millar put his head in.
"Sandy, quick!" he said. "Look here!"
My grandfather and I ran to the door, and looked out over the sea. There, about three miles to the north of us, we saw a bright flare of light. It blazed up for a moment or two, lighting up the wild and stormy sky, and then it went out, and all was darkness again.
"What is it, Grandfather?" I asked. But he did not answer me.
"There's no time to lose, Jem," he said; "out with the boat, my man!"
"It's an awful sea," said Millar, looking at the waves beating fiercely against the rocks.
"Never mind, Jem," said my grandfather; "we must do our best." So the two men went down to the shore, and I followed them.
"What is it, Grandfather?" I asked again.
"There's something wrong out there," said he, pointing to the place where we had seen the light. "That's the flare they always make when they're in danger and want help at once."
"Are you going to them, Grandfather?" I said.
"Yes, if we can get the boat out," he said. "Now, Jem, are you ready?"
"Let me go with you, Grandfather," I said; "I might be able to help."
"All right, my lad," he said; "we'll try if we can get her off."
I can see that scene with my mind's eye as though it were but yesterday — my grandfather and Mr. Millar straining every nerve to row the boat from land, while I clung on to one of the seats and tried in vain to steer her. I can see poor Mrs. Millar standing on the pier with her shawl over her head watching us, and two of her little girls clinging to her dress. I can see the waves, which seemed to be rising higher every moment, ready to beat our little boat to pieces. And I can see my grandfather's disappointed face, as, after many a fruitless attempt, he was obliged to give it up.
"It's no use, I'm afraid, Jem," he said at last; "we haven't hands enough to manage her."
So we got to shore as best we could and paced up and down the little pier. We could see nothing more. It was a very dark night, and all was perfect blackness over the sea.
The lighthouse lamps were burning brightly; they had been lighted more than two hours before. It was Millar's turn to watch, so he went up to the tower, and my grandfather and I remained on the pier.
"Can nothing be done, Grandfather?"
"I'm afraid not, my lad. We can't make any way against such a sea as this; if it goes down a bit, we'll have another try at it."
But the sea did not go down. We walked up and down the pier almost in silence.
Presently a rocket shot up into the sky, evidently from the same place where we had seen the flare.
"There she is again, Alick! Poor things! I wonder how many of them there are."
"Can we do nothing at all?" I asked again.
"No, my lad," he said; "the sea's too much for us. It's a terrible night. It puts me in mind of the day you were born."
So the night wore away. We never thought of going to bed, but walked up and down the pier, with our eyes fixed on the place where we had seen the lights. Every now and then for some hours rockets were sent up; then they ceased, and we saw nothing.
"They've got no more with them," said my grandfather. "Poor things! It's a terrible bad job."
"What's wrong with them, Grandfather?" I asked. "Are there rocks over there?"
"Yes, there's the Ainslie Crag just there; it's a nasty place that — a very nasty place. Many a fine ship has been lost there!"
At last the day began to dawn; a faint gray light spread over the sea. We could distinguish now the masts of a ship in the far distance. "There she is, poor thing!" said my grandfather, pointing in the direction of the ship. "She's close on Ainslie Crag — I thought so!"
"The wind's gone down a bit now, hasn't it?" I asked.
"Yes, and the sea's a bit stiller just now," he said. "Give Jem a call, Alick."
Jem Millar hastened down to the pier with his arms full of rope.
"All right, Jem, my lad," said my grandfather. "Let's be off; I think we may manage it now."
So we jumped into the boat and put off from the pier. It was a fearful struggle with the winds and waves, and for a long time we seemed to make no way against them. Both the men were much exhausted, and Jem Millar seemed ready to give in.
"Cheer up, Jem, my lad," said my grandfather; "think of all the poor fellows out there. Let's have one more try!"
So they made a mighty effort, and the pier was left a little way behind. Slowly, very slowly, we made that distance greater; slowly, very slowly, Mrs. Millar, who was standing on the shore, faded from our sight, and the masts of the ship in distress seemed to grow a little nearer. Yet the waves were still fearfully strong, and appeared ready every moment to swallow up our little boat. Would my grandfather and Millar ever be able to hold on till they reached the ship, which was still more than two miles away?
"What's that?" I cried, as I caught sight of a dark object, rising and falling with the waves.
"It's a boat, surely!" said my grandfather. "Look, Jem!"
Will your anchor hold in the storms
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