But after a time her step became slower and her face paler, and at last she was too weak to go down the rocks to the pier, when the steamer arrived on Monday morning. And soon after this I was left motherless.
From that day, the day on which my mother died, my grandfather became both father and mother to me. There was nothing he would not have done for me, and wherever he went and whatever he did, I was always by his side.
As I grew older, he taught me to read and write, for there was of course no school which I could attend. I also learnt to help him to trim the lamps, and to work in the garden. Our life went on very evenly from day to day, until I was about twelve years old. I used to wish sometimes that something new would happen to make a little change on the island. And at last a change came.
THE FLARE AT SEA.
My grandfather and I were sitting at tea one dark November evening. We had been digging in the garden the whole morning, but in the afternoon it had become so wet and stormy that we had remained indoors.
We were sitting quietly at our tea, planning what we would do the next day, when the door suddenly opened and Mr. Millar put his head in.
‘Sandy, quick!’ he said. ‘Look here!’ My grandfather and I ran to the door, and looked out over the sea. There, about three miles to the north of us, we saw a bright flare of light. It blazed up for a moment or two, lighting up the wild and stormy sky, and then it went out, and all was darkness again.
‘What is it, grandfather?’ I asked. But he did not answer me.
‘There’s no time to lose, Jem,’ he said; “out with the boat, my man!”
‘It’s an awful sea,’ said Millar, looking at the waves beating fiercely against the rocks.
‘Never mind, Jem,’ said my grandfather; ‘we must do our best.’ So the two men went down to the shore, and I followed them.
‘What is it, grandfather?’ I asked again.
‘There’s something wrong out there,’ said he, pointing to the place where we had seen the light. ’That’s the flare they always make when they’re in danger and want help at once.’
‘Are you going to them, grandfather?’ I said.
‘Yes, if we can get the boat out,’ he said. ‘Now, Jem, are you ready?’
‘Let me go with you, grandfather,’ I said; ‘I might be able to help.’
‘All right, my lad,’ he said; ‘we’ll try if we can get her off.’
I can see that scene with my mind’s eye as though it were but yesterday. My grandfather and Mr. Millar straining every nerve to row the boat from land, whilst I clung on to one of the seats, and tried in vain to steer her. I can see poor Mrs. Millar standing on the pier, with her shawl over her head, watching us, and two of her little girls clinging to her dress. I can see the waves, which seemed to be rising higher every moment, and ready to beat our little boat to pieces. And I can see my grandfather’s disappointed face, as, after many a fruitless attempt, he was obliged to give it up.