Paul looked out on the rolling sea. It was grey and stormy this evening. Far above, the glow of the light beamed down but in the dense fog Paul wondered how far it was penetrating.
For as long as he could remember, his father had done his job faithfully, trying to keep ships safe as they passed their treacherous rocky shore. Now, in wartime, it was even more crucial that they keep the light glowing brightly.
This week it had been much more difficult than usual though. Father had been laid up with a bad bout of influenza but tonight, Christmas Eve, he’d made his way up the long flight of stairs to the tower.
“Come on, boy. We can do it.”
Paul was doing fine, following with cot and blankets. It was his father that was gasping for breath.
“I don’t think this is such a good idea,” he had ventured.
“You have to get some sleep, Paul. You’ve been keeping up the light for days now along with taking care of me. I’m a little better. I can watch the light tonight.”
Paul had a feeling that his father had more in mind than keeping the light. He’d seen him sneaking about, taking a package from the shopkeeper’s wife who had come to the door that day delivering supplies. Paul hadn’t seen anything more of the package so he knew it had been hidden.
Of course there was no yule log nor was there a duck to cook, what with Father being so sick. He’d been unable to cut down a tree or go hunting this year.
Now, Paul shook his head for he’d almost dozed off. He was actually too weary to care. Whatever the shopkeeper’s wife had brought would be enough for Christmas dinner. Besides, with Americans so engaged in the war against Britain, people had little money for Christmas doings.
All that mattered now was his father. Paul hoped he was all right up there. Paul headed inside to bed as the wind and rain started up again. At least it wasn’t snow. It had been very warm lately and he was glad.
As he ducked inside the door, he suddenly stopped. He’d heard something…he thought. Or was it his imagination?
Paul turned back and scanned the waves, trying desperately to see through the pouring rain and fog. The wind screeched eerily, making it difficult to for him to hear but—yes! There it was again!
Paul hooked up his slicker and raced out into the yard, moving on to the sandy, narrow beach. “Who’s there!”
“Help!” There it was…more clearly now.
He sprinted along the shore, trying to catch a glimpse of the man. Suddenly he came upon a small boat. The dory was stuck between large boulders and cracked in two. Boards broke off and washed away with every wave that crashed over it.
Then he saw the rope. It was still hooked to the metal loop on the boat and it was taut—at the other end of it, gasping as he came up out of a high wave, a man held on. He couldn’t seem to swim or pull himself in, what with the waves so strong and the wind whipping at him.
Paul hurried to grab the rope, relieved that he wouldn’t have to try to swim out to the man. He was a strong swimmer and had helped his father in many rescues but the sea was just too wild tonight.
He pulled and heaved but the wind was too strong. He didn’t know if he could do it alone. But Father couldn’t come out in this weather….
“Oh Lord God help me…don’t let this man die,” Paul prayed frantically, remembering how God had helped him many times in the past.
And it suddenly appeared that God was answering. As Paul pulled on the length of rope, it seemed like he had more strength than a boy of twelve possibly could. It was as if someone else was drawing the man in. Paul even looked over his shoulder to see if anyone had come up behind him and grabbed the rope—but he was alone.
Finally, as the man reached shallow water, he was able to get his feet on firm ground and stumble in. He gripped a rock and pulled himself up. Paul reached down and grabbed his hand, hauling him up the rest of the way.
“Thank you….” The man gasped and collapsed in the broken-down boat.
It was then that Paul noticed that he was wearing a uniform. Blue—he was American.
“A little further up. Then you can rest,” said Paul as the boat cracked against the rocks again and again. More planks were washed away each time.
The man crawled to safety. “Thank the good Lord for that rope –and for you, boy.”
“I hit a good many of your sharp rocks out there. But my knee is the worst.”
“What are you doing out here on such a night?”
The man closed his lips, as if not wanting to tell, then said, “all in good time. And you?”
“My father’s the lighthouse keeper.”
The man relaxed and looked up at the light. “Of course. Good. I have a task for him if he’s willing. It’s very important.”
“He can’t.” Paul put an arm around the man’s waist, causing him to gasp in pain again. Paul half dragged him up the beach. “He’s been ill and he’s still very weak. What is it? I’ll have to do it.”
But there was no further talking as the man’s knee gave out. It was all Paul could do to get him up to the house. He dragged him into his father’s room and heaved him onto the bed.
“I must go,” said the man. “It’s crucial.”
“You can’t. You could hardly get up here. Let me get you some dry clothes and something to eat.”
“No. This must be done right away. There’s a ship out there, waiting for my signal. We’re trying to capture the smugglers around here once and for all. I’ve been living in town and watching them. There’s soldiers out there, ready to round them up but I must signal to let them know if they’re here tonight.”
“The constable says that smugglers like this kind of weather to do their dirty work. But on Christmas Eve?” asked Paul.
The man nodded. “They’d think it a good night what with everyone home celebrating. I was trying to get to Hidden Cove. Do you know it?”
“Yes, only because my father knows all the coves around here. We’ve rescued people all along this shore.”
But Hidden Cove was dangerous—and named such because—well, it was hidden. For the most part, only people who had lived here a long time knew exactly where it was. It was difficult to see from both sea and land.
“Paul—” They both heard the father’s call from the stairs. “I saw you rescue that man. Is he all right?”
Paul ran halfway up to where his father stood on the landing and explained everything.
“I’ll go, Father.”
“You be careful, boy. How’s the man? Can he fend for himself or shall I go down?”
“He’s in your bed and I’ll give him food. He says he’s just weary but he can’t go himself due to his knee.”
Paul hurried back down, got more instructions from the soldier, whose name was Charles, then donned his slicker. He took up an unlit lantern, made sure he had his tinderbox, and headed out into the storm.
Paul was relieved that the wind had died down but it was still a miserable night. He hurried down the beach and finally rounded a bend which seemed to bring him to a solid rock wall. He knew the secret, however. He slipped through a narrow crevice and there it was, a high arch where rushing water roared in due to the tide and storm.
Even by daylight, the entrance was hidden in the shadows of high rocks and was not able to be seen by sea. No one could possibly see it tonight, in this fog.
Paul saw no sign of life in the cavern so he climbed down the rocks, feeling his way carefully. He left his unlit lantern on a boulder. A glow off to the right let him know that something was definitely going on. He was able to see just enough to make his way down to a narrow ledge. The water swirled furiously below. He knew it wasn’t deep but he didn’t want to fall and perhaps be swept out to sea.
Paul cautiously inched along the ledge. It was some time before it widened, giving him more room to move. He navigated the ledge safely and soon was down on dry ground.
He stayed hidden and quiet for there was a great deal of activity going on. Crates and barrels, most likely brought in by boat from the sea entrance over a long period of time, were now being sorted and carried into a tunnel. Paul knew this led to an entrance in the woods not far from town.
Paul had seen what he needed to know. He withdrew, wanting only to get out safely and signal the ship. If the smugglers were really emptying this cave and moving on as Charles thought, he needed to work quickly.
The boy climbed up the rocks and made his way back along the ledge. He emerged to find that the fog had lifted somewhat and the rain, though steady, was not pouring down as it had been. He could even see the outline of the ship now. It was anchored not too far away.
Paul retrieved his lantern and slipped through the crevice. Standing on the bluff, he shielded his lantern from the wind and fumbled in his pocket for the small tinder box. Sometime later he finally succeeded in lighting the wick with the tricky flint. Then he turned toward the sea and held the lantern high for a long time. He finally headed back to the lighthouse.
“I did it,” Paul told the soldier. “And you were right. They were definitely loading up and taking the goods out.”
“We’ll see tomorrow if you were successful. You’re a brave lad.” The man lay back down wearily and Paul fell into his own bed with his clothes still on. He was asleep in minutes.
The sun was shining brightly when Paul woke. It was late morning but the fragrant smell of bacon and porridge let him know that they were only now having breakfast. He realized that he was very hungry.
He leaped out of bed. “Any news?” he asked as he entered the main room.
He stopped short. “You look dreadful,” he told his father. “What have you been doing?”
The man seemed extremely pale and weak all over again.
“And you don’t look well either!” this as he turned to Charles, for the first time noticing the bruising and cuts on the soldier’s face and arms.
Then he followed their gazes and saw the yule log burning in the fireplace.
His father chuckled. “I’m afraid neither one of us is very strong yet. It took the two of us to bring it in. Mr. Roberts cut it yesterday and left it in the back while you were fishing for our supper.”
Paul’s gaze went further. Someone had hung one of his stockings from the mantle.
“Go ahead,” said his father. “Of course we normally do this at midnight on Christmas Eve but….” He shrugged.
Paul went to the table and took a Christmas candle.
He moved to the fireplace and lit it from the yule log. Back at the table, he lit several more of the long holiday candles.
He made the customary wish and was pretty sure the two men were doing the same. It was probably the wish and prayer that every American was making this Christmas. A successful end to the war.
Then he took down his stocking. It was heavy. He pulled out a peppermint stick. Then—a book. And another!
“Thank you, Father!” he said, grateful for his father’s generosity. How many children received two presents–plus candy!
“Not too many boys I know would be so excited about books,” laughed Charles.
But these would while away the long winter nights when they were sometimes snowbound for weeks on end. Robinson Crusoe! Paul had always wanted to read that. And Pilgrim’s Progress!
“I’m no match for him at checkers,” his father was saying ruefully. “He wins every time and then gets bored.”
“Ahh, well I’m not bad at checkers. If I were staying, he could have a go at me later,” Charles said. “And no, Paul, we haven’t heard anything yet about last night. I’m eager to find out, too.”
Paul’s father turned the bacon. “Come and have your porridge. You must be hungry. And look what the ladies in town just brought us. Charles will have to stay and help us eat it up.”
A small goose—all cooked. And two pies, one mince and the other pumpkin. They would have their Christmas dinner after all.
Charles was sitting at the table with a mug of strong coffee, his leg stretched out. In the morning light, his scraped and bruised face did look rather horrible.
“You can go into town after you’ve eaten and see if you can find out anything,” Father continued.
“I’ll go with him,” said Charles. “I must get back to my duties.”
“You’ll go nowhere until the doctor comes. Paul can stop at his house and tell him he’s needed here.” Father placed bacon and corn cakes on a plate and gave it to Paul, who had pretty much gulped down his porridge already.
Suddenly a pounding on the door startled them all.
“Maybe that’s the doctor now-come to check on me,” said Father.
“Hello, in there!”
“No, it’s my captain. He has news perhaps!” Charles tried to get up, using a wooden stick as a cane.
Father hurried to the door. “Come on in. If you’re looking for your officer, he’s here.”
A burly red haired, jolly man in uniform entered. “I was going to say what a good job you did for we got those smugglers once and for all but….” He peered at the bandaged knee and the man’s injured face.
“It wasn’t me who signaled—it was this lad.”
“You saw my light then!” exclaimed Paul.
“We did indeed. And the sea calmed enough that we were able to get in with boats and sneak up on them. What a fight we had. They weren’t about to give up easily. I sent some of my men ‘round by land and they were able to stop several wagonloads of contraband that were already on the move. I know there are plenty more smugglers all up and down this coast but these were some of the worst. It’s good to have them in prison.”
“I’m trying to get Charles here to rest another day but he insists he must go,” Father said.
“Take the time you need,” the captain told Charles. “You’ve done good work here in this town. You’ll meet us down the coast when you’re ready. You know where we’ll be.”
The captain reached out and shook Paul’s hand. “Because of you we salvaged thousands of dollars’ worth of supplies and ammunition for our troops. A splendid Christmas present for them, for sure. Keep up the good work, m’boy.”
“Thank you, sir!” said Paul, glad he’d been able to help in some small way in the effort to gain America’s freedom. “And a merry Christmas to you, sir!”
By: Carol Bennett