It was routine by now. The packing of a week’s provisions for Grandad. I watched as my mother wrapped the food. A hunk of salted pork, dried beans, rice, cheese, potatoes, nuts, a bag of crisp apples and some freshly-baked biscuits. I pulled on my long overcoat as she placed the basket by the door. “Be careful out there, Simon. I fear there’s a storm brewing.”
The air outside was frigid and my breath blew in soft puffs that vapourised against heavy, grey skies. To the left, a range of snow-draped mountains stood silent and tall, shadowing the choppy, green ocean on my right.
I quickened my pace, wanting to reach Grandad before dusk. He had been the lighthouse keeper for eons and I admired him greatly. It didn’t bother me that he never came to our house but it bothered Mam. Just the other night, I heard her discussing him with Pa. “Someone needs to do something about Grandad.” She said. “I swear he hasn’t left that lighthouse in fourteen years. Last time was in 1862 when our Simon was born.”
“Leave him be.” Dad replied. “He’s happy enough like he is.”
“Ain’t natural I say. People speak of him in the village. Say he’s a little barmy.”
“It’s his choice, May. Besides he does go out in the boat occasionally. Does a little fishing and the like.”
“Hmphh.” She snorted. “He may do but it’ll take a miracle to get him back on the shore.”
Granddad met me on the rocks, a stocky figure with a graying beard and straggling hair. The tide was in and salty spray soaked us as we secured the boat. “You’ll be staying tonight.” It was a statement more than a question. “There’s a storm brewing out there. I know yer mam wouldn’t want yer tramping home through it.”
We stripped off our wet coats and I followed him up the weathered spiral-stairs to the living area. Grandad smacked his lips as he unpacked the provisions and set the pork onto a platter. “Reckon we’ll eat well tonight.” He lit a couple of lamps and then jerked his head. “Coming up?”
The lamp room was my favourite part of the lighthouse. The place where acrid fumes from the coal stove mingled with damp storage barrels and the slightly sour smell of lard oil. Grandad had trained me well and I skillfully lit the lamps, feeling proud as their warning flashes swept across the leaden sky.
Dinner was good. Some of the salted pork from Mam with a heaping of smoked herring, baked potatoes and gravy. Later, I munched on a crunchy apple as Grandad prepared tankards of hot spicy cider. Outside the wind was whipping itself into a right frenzy. “You were right about the storm.” I commented as I gazed through the narrow window. The lighthouse beams illuminated churning froth and massive waves crashing amongst the rocks.
“Aye. I’ll be up more often than usual tonight. Got to keep those lamps burning bright.”
It was past midnight when Grandad pulled the quilt from me. “Simon! A ship’s aground on the rocks!” I stumbled to my feet, fumbling for my clothes.
“Where?” Grandad grabbed a rope as we started to run down the stairs.
“To the right of the lighthouse, near to shore. I saw it when I went to check the lamps. The force of the storm and currents must have dragged it off course.” By now we were outside the lighthouse, wrestling with the little boat which was bouncing like a cork in rapids. Grandad took the oars and as he skillfully rowed to shore, my eyes searched for the ship.
Impaled on rocks, the stricken vessel groaned and splintered as the ocean tore into it. The lighthouse illuminated figures struggling with life boats. “Look!” Grandad pointed along the coast line. “There’s a couple of men who’ve made it.” He was already running toward them. “Go for help, Simon,” he called over his shoulder. Raise the alarm at the farm houses and then go into the village. We’ll need blankets, carts, whisky, the doctor, as many people as can come.”
It was only as I raced off, wet clothes flapping and icy water dripping that I realised Grandad was on the shore. A warm glow came over me. A miracle had happened tonight. I suddenly had great faith that all the people on the ship would survive. It was a night for miracles.
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