I felt then that my work was over, and that the best thing that I could do would be to go to bed. But I glanced back from the door as I went out, and I saw the little hands held out, and I heard Duncan sob like a child as he cried, ’Oh, my little lad, my own little John, I never thought to see you again!’
The next day Duncan was able to tell me what he had passed through during that terrible night. It seems he was separated from the other boats by the very first outburst of the gale, and never saw them again through the long hours of that night of storm. For some considerable time he and his mates, by straining every nerve, were able to keep the water out of their boat; but as the night went on, and the sea grew rougher and the waves seemed mountains high, they were compelled at last to own that their attempt was hopeless. ‘At that time,’ said Duncan, ’I just trusted my soul again to Christ, for I expected the next wave would sweep us to the bottom.’
’Was I frightened, sir, did you say? No, I think not; I felt more awed like, if you understand, and in them few moments all sorts of thoughts seemed to be running through my head, but through them all was the thought of my poor lass, of Polly and little John. Yes, sir, of Polly and little John, and I cried to Him as alone could help me, “O God,” I said, “save me, for Polly and little John want me so bad!” And He heard my prayer, sir. I’ve often thought how them fishermen cried to Him in the storm that day, “Master, save us, we perish!” they said; and He heard their cry, didn’t He, sir? And He heard mine. Yes, He heard mine, for when the wave did come which carried us over, the Mary Ann was driven right past where we were struggling in the water, and we caught hold on her. We clung on for dear life, sir, but we couldn’t have clung there many minutes, for the sea was that cold and icy our hands was well-nigh frozen. But God Almighty knew how to save us, and He sent a steamer to pick us up, in less than ten minutes after we went overboard. And they were good to us, sir, for all they were foreign folk aboard. They warmed us, and gave us hot coffee, and lent us dry clothes, and they ran into the Hull docks in the afternoon and landed us there. Well, sir, you may be sure I came home as quick as ever I could, for I thought maybe I should never see my little lad again. Hasn’t God been good to us, now hasn’t He, sir?’ he concluded, as he gently patted his little boy’s hand.
The doctor gave a much better report of little John that day, although he said he was not yet out of danger. But from that time he improved slowly but steadily, and before very long he was able to lie once more in his father’s arms, and to stroke his face with his little thin hand.
It was very touching to see the love and the gratitude of both Duncan and Polly; they could not say enough about the help and comfort I had given them in their time of trouble, small though I felt these to have been. If I had been a prince, I think they could not have made more of me, and I believe I should have been altogether spoiled if I had stayed in Runswick Bay much longer.