Read CHAPTER VIII of Saved at Sea A Lighthouse Story, free online book, by Mrs O. F. Walton, on ReadCentral.com.

WAITING FOR THE BOAT.

Poor Mrs. Millar went out of her house, and followed my grandfather down to the pier. I waited indoors with little Timpey, straining my ears to listen for the sound of their footsteps coming back again.

But the clock struck half-past seven, and still no sound was to be heard. I could wait no longer; I wrapped the child in a shawl, and carried her into the Millars’ house, and left her under the care of Mrs. Millar’s little servant. And then I ran down, through the thick, smothering fog, to the pier.

My grandfather was standing there with Mrs. Millar. When I came close to them he was saying, ’Cheer up, Mary, my lass; he’s all right; he’s only waiting till this mist has cleared away a bit. You go home, and I’ll tell you as soon as ever I hear his boat coming. Why, you’re wet through, woman; you’ll get your death of cold!’

Her thin calico dress was soaked with the damp in the air, and she was shivering, and looked as white as a sheet. At first she would not be persuaded to leave the pier; but, as time went on, and it grew darker and colder, she consented to do as my grandfather told her, and he promised he would send me up to the lighthouse to tell her as soon as Jem arrived.

When she was gone, my grandfather said ’Alick, there’s something wrong with Jem, depend upon it! I didn’t like to tell her so, poor soul! If we only had the boat, I would go out a bit of way and see.’

We walked up and down the pier, and stopped every now and then to listen if we could hear the sound of oars in the distance, for we should not be able to see the boat till it was close upon us, so dense had the fog become.

‘Dear me,’ my grandfather kept saying anxiously, ‘I wish he would come!’

My thoughts went back to the bright sunny morning when Jem Millar had started, and we had heard him singing, as he went, those two lines of the hymn,

’On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.’

The time passed on. Would he never come? We grew more and more anxious. Mrs. Millar’s servant-girl came running down to say her mistress wanted to know if we could hear anything yet.

‘No,’ my grandfather said, ’nothing yet, my lass; but it can’t be long now.’

‘Missis is so poorly,’ said the girl; ’I think she’s got a cold: she shakes all over, and she keeps fretting so.’

‘Poor soul! well, perhaps it’s better so.’

‘Whatever do you mean, grandfather?’ I asked.

’Why, if aught’s amiss, she won’t be so taken aback as if she wasn’t afraid; and if Jem’s all right, why, she’ll only be the better pleased.’

The girl went back, and we still waited on the pier. ‘Grandfather,’ I said at length, ‘I think I hear a boat.’

It was a very still night; we stood and listened. At first my grandfather said he heard nothing; but at length he distinguished, as I did, the regular plash plash plash of oars in the distance.

‘Yes, it is a boat,’ said my grandfather.

I was hastening to leave the pier, and run up to the house to tell Mrs. Millar, but my grandfather laid his hand on my shoulder.

‘Wait a bit, Alick, my lad,’ he said; ’let us hear what it is first; maybe it isn’t Jem, after all!’

‘But it’s coming here, grandfather; I can hear it better now.’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘it’s coming here;’ but he still kept his hand on my shoulder.

The boat had been a long way off when we first heard it, for it was many minutes before the sound of the oars seemed to become much more distinct. But it came nearer, and nearer, and nearer. Yes, the boat was evidently making for the island.

At last it came so near that my grandfather called out from the end of the pier,

‘Hollo, Jem! You’re late, my lad!’

‘Hollo!’ said a voice from the boat; but it wasn’t Jem’s voice.

‘Whereabouts is your landing-place?’ said the voice; ’it’s so thick, I can’t see.’

‘Why, Jem isn’t there, grandfather!’ I said, catching hold of his arm.

‘No,’ said my grandfather; ’I knew there was something wrong with the lad.’

He called out to the man in the boat the direction in which he was to row, and then he and I went down the steps together, and waited for the boat to come up.

There were four men in the boat. They were sailors, and strangers to me. One of them, the one whose voice we had heard, got out to speak to my grandfather.

‘Something’s wrong,’ said my grandfather, before he could begin; ‘something’s wrong with that poor lad.’

‘Yes,’ said the man, ’we’ve got him here; and he pointed to the boat.

A cold shudder passed over me as he said this, and I caught sight of something lying at the men’s feet at the bottom of the boat.

‘What’s wrong with him? Has he had an accident? Is he much hurt?’

‘He’s dead,’ said the man solemnly.

‘Oh dear!’ said my grandfather, in a choking voice. ’However shall we tell his wife? However shall we tell poor Mary?’

‘How did it happen?’ I asked at length, as soon as I could speak.

‘He was getting a sack of flour on board, over yonder’ said one of the men in the boat, ’and it was awful thick and foggy, and he missed his footing on the plank, and fell in; that’s how it happened!’

‘Yes,’ said another man, ’and it seems he couldn’t swim, and there was no boat nigh at hand to help him. Joe Malcolmson was there and saw him fall in; but before he could call any of us, it was all over with him. We got him out at last, but he was quite gone; we fetched a doctor, and took him into a house near, and rubbed him, and did all we could; but it wasn’t of no good at all! Shall we bring him in?’

‘Wait a bit,’ said my grandfather; ’we must tell that poor girl first. Which of you will go and tell her?’

The men looked at each other and did not speak. At last one of them, who knew my grandfather a little, said, ’You’d better tell her, Sandy; she knows you, and she’ll bear it better than from strangers; we’ll wait here till you come back, and then we can bring him in.’

‘Well,’ said my grandfather, with a groan, ’I’ll go then! Come with me, Alick, my lad,’ said he, turning to me; ’but no, perhaps I’d better go by myself.’

So he went very slowly up towards the lighthouse, and I remained behind with the four men on the shore, and that silent form lying at the bottom of the boat.

I was much frightened, and felt as if it was all a very terrible dream, and as if I should soon wake up to find it had all passed away.