by Wilfred Wilson Gibson. 1878 - 1962
Just as my watch was done, the fog had lifted,
And we could see the flashing of our light,
And see once more the reef beyond the Head
Over which six days and nights the mist had drifted,
Until it seemed all time to mist had drifted
And day and night were but one blind white night.
But on the seventh midnight the wind shifted,
And I was glad to tumble into bed,
Thankful to hear no more the blaring horn
that ceaselessly had sounded, night and morn
With moaning echoes through the mist to warn
The blind bewildered ships at sea:
Yet, though as tired as any dog,
I lay awhile and seemed to feel
Fog lying on my eyes still heavily,
And still the horn unceasingly
Sang through my head, till gradually
Through night's strange stillness over me
Sweet sleep began to steal,
Sleep blind and thick and fleecy as the fog.
For all I knew, I might have slept
A moment - or eternity,
When, startled by a crash,
I waked to find I'd leapt
Upright on the floor;
And stood there listening to the smash
Of falling glass ... and then a thud
Of something heavy tumbling
Into the next room ...
A pad of naked feet ...
A moan ... a sound of stumbling ...
A heavier thud ... and then no more.
And I stood shivering in the gloom,
With creeping flesh and tingling blood,
Until I gave myself a shake
To bring my wits more wide awake,
And lit a lanthorn and flung wide the door.
Half-dazed and dazzled by the light,
At first it seemed I'd only find
A broken pane, a flapping blind;
But when I raised the lanthorn o'er my head
I saw a naked boy upon the bed
Who crouched and shuddered on the folded sheet,
And on his face before my feet
A naked man who lay as if quite dead,
Though on his broken knuckles blood was red;
And all my wits awakened at the sight.
I set the lanthorn down and took the child,
Who looked at me, with piteous eyes and wild,
And chafed his chill wet body till it glowed,
And forcing spirit 'twixt his chattering teeth,
I tucked him snugly in beneath
The blankets and soon left him warmly stowed;
And stooped to tend the man who lay
Still senseless on the floor.
I turned him off his face
And laid him on the other bed,
And washed and staunched his wound;
And yet, for all that I could do,
I could not bring him to,
Or see a trace
Of life returning to that heavy head.
It seemed he'd swooned
When through the window he'd made way,
Just having strength to lay
The boy in safety. Still as death
He lay without a breath;
And, seeing I could do no more
To help him in the fight for life,
I turned again to tend the lad,
And as I looked on him was glad
To find him sleeping quietly.
So, fetching fuel, I lit a fire
And quickly had as big a blaze
As any housewife could desire:
Then 'twixt the beds I set a chair,
That I might watch until they stirred:
And as I saw them lying there -
The sleeping boy and him who lay
In that strange stiller sleep, 'twas plain
That they were son and father, now
I'd time to look and wonder how
In such a desperate plight,
Without a stitch or rag,
They'd taken refuge from the night.
And, as I wondered drowsily,
It seemed yet queerer and more queer
For round the Head the rocks are sheer,
With scarce a foothold for a bird,
And it seemed quite beyond belief
That any wrecked upon that reef
Could swim ashore and scale the crag
By daylight, let alone by night.
But they who live beside the sea
Know naught's too wonderful to be:
And as I sat and heard
The quiet breathing of the child
Great weariness came over me,
And in a kind of daze
I watched the blaze
With nodding head,
And must have slept, for presently
I found the man was sitting up in bed,
And talking to himself with wide unseeing eyes.
At first, I hardly made out what he said:
But soon his voice, so hoarse and wild,
Grew calm, and, straining, I could hear
The broken words that came with many sighs.
"Yes, lad: she's going: but there's naught to fear,
For I can swim and tow you in the belt.
Come, let's join hands together and leap clear. ...
Ay, son, it's dark and cold ... but you have felt
The cold and dark before ...
And you should scorn ...
And we must be near shore ...
For hark, the horn!
Think of your mother and your home and leap. ...
You would not leave her lonely?
She thinks of us, lad, waking or asleep. ...
Nay! ... then ... go! ...
Well done, lad! ...Nay! I'm here. ...
Ay, son, it's cold: but you're too big to fear.
Now then you're snug: I've got you safe in tow:
The worst is over and we've only
To make for land ... we've naught ... to do ...
But steer ...
But steer ... but steer. ..."
He paused and sank down in the bed, quite done,
And lay a moment silent, while his son
Still slumbered in the other bed,
And on his quiet face the firelight shone:
Then once again the father raised his head
And rambled on. ...
"Say, lad, what cheer?
I thought you'd dropped asleep, but you're all right.
We'll rest a moment. ... I'm quite out of breath. ...
It's further than ... Nay, son! There's naught to fear ...
The land must be quite near. ...
The horn is loud enough!
Only your father's out of puff:
He's getting fat and lazy, is your dad.
But you're too old
To cry for cold.
Now ... keep ... tight hold,
And we'll be off again.
I've got my breath. ..."
He sank once more as still as death,
With hands that clutched the counterpane:
But still the boy was sleeping quietly.
And then, the father sat up suddenly
And cried See! See!
The land! The land!
It's near ... I touch it with my hand.
And now Oh God! he moaned.
Small wonder, when he saw what lay before -
The black unbroken crags so grim and high
That must have seemed to him to soar
Sheer from the sea's edge to the sky.
But soon he plucked up heart, once more:
"We're safe, lad - safe ashore!
A narrow ledge, but land, firm land.
We'll soon be high and dry.
Nay, son, we can't stay here:
The waves would have us back
Or we should perish of the cold.
Come, lad, there's naught to fear. ...
You must be brave and bold.
Perhaps we'll strike a track.
Ay, son, it's steep, and black
And slimy to the hold;
But we must climb, and see! the mist is gone:
The stars are shining clear. ...
Think, son, your mother's at the top,
And you'll be up in no time. See, that star,
The brightest star that ever shone,
Just think it's she who watches you
And knows that you'll be brave and true.
Come, lad, we may not stop ...
Or, else, the cold ...
Give me your hand ...
Your foot there now ... just room to stand.
It cannot be so far. ...
We'll soon be up ... this work should make us warm.
Thank God it's not a storm,
Or we should scarce ... your foot here firm. ...
Nay, lad! you must not squirm.
Come, be a man: you shall not fall:
I'll hold you tight.
There now you are my own son after all!
Your mother, lad,
Her star burns bright ...
And we're already half-way up the height. ...
Your mother will be glad,
Ay, she'll be glad to hear
Of her brave boy who had no fear. ...
Your foot ... your hand ... 'twas but a bird
You startled out of bed:
'Twould think it queer
To wake up suddenly and see your head;
And when you stirred ...
Nay! steady, lad!
Or you will send your dad ...
Your hand ... your foot ... we'll rest upon the ledge. ...
Why, son, we're at the top! I feel the edge
And grass - soft dewy grass!
Let go one moment and I'll draw you up. ...
Now, lad! ... Thank God that's past! ...
And you are safe, at last:
You're safe, you're safe ... and now my precious lass
Will see her son, her little son, again.
I never thought to reach the top to-night.
God! What a height!
Nay, but you must not look: 'twould turn your head:
And we must not stand shivering here. ...
And see! ... a flashing light. ...
It's sweeping towards us, and now you stand bright.
Ah, your poor, bleeding hands and feet!
My little son, my sweet!
There's nothing more to fear.
A lighthouse, lad! And we must make for it.
You're tired; I'll carry you a bit.
Nay, son: 'twill warm me up ...
And there will be a fire and bed,
And even perhaps a cup
Of something hot to drink,
And something good to eat.
And think, son, only think -
Your home ... and mother ... once again!
Once more the weary head
Sank back upon the bed;
And for a while he hardly stirred,
But only muttered now and then
A broken word,
As though to cheer
His son who still slept quietly
Upon the other side of me.
And then my blood ran cold to hear
A sudden cry of fear:
"My son! My son!
Ah God, he's done!
I thought I'd laid him on the bed. ...
I've laid him on white mist instead:
He's fallen sheer. ..."
Then I sprang up and cried: Your son is here!
And taking up the sleeping boy
I bore him to his father's arms,
And as he nestled to his breast,
Kind life came back to those wild eyes
And filled them with deep joy,
And free of all alarms
The son and father lay
Together in sweet rest,
While through the window stole the strange clear light of day.