The Beacon


Amanda stood at the front window of the lighthouse keeper’s cottage and searched the angry white-capped sea again. There was still no sign of her father’s whaleboat. High waves crashed against the rocks, sending white spray high into the air before the wind snatched it away.

If only the storm hadn’t come up, she thought, Father would have been back with the doctor by now.

Baby Jonathan cried fretfully, and Amanda heard Mother’s soft, soothing voice as she comforted him. Then Mother called her name.

Amanda turned and hurried into the bedroom. “Is Jonathan any better?” she asked hopefully.

“His fever is still high,” Mother answered with a worried frown. She looked worn-out from her all-night vigil. Now it was late afternoon. As she replaced the damp cloth on Jonathan’s forehead, he closed his eyes for a moment. “Please bring me a basin of fresh water, Amanda. The cool cloths seem to help.”

Amanda hurried to the kitchen and drew a pan of water from the pump. A sudden gust of wind drove rain against the windowpanes.

The storm is getting worse, Amanda thought. But father is a strong man; he can row for miles without getting tired. And with the doctor’s help, they will make it safely. They just have to!

Amanda carried the basin of water into the bedroom and set it on the low stool beside Jonathan’s bed. “Father will be here soon,” she said, attempting a cheerful tone.

“If only this storm would pass,” Mother said. She wrung out a cloth in the cold water and wiped Jonathan’s flushed face, then laid the cloth on his forehead. A moment later Jonathan closed his eyes and fell into a restless sleep. Amanda tiptoed from the room and closed the door softly.

The cottage seemed extra dark and dismal. Amanda put another log on the fire, to make the room more cheerful. Father and Dr. Benton will be hungry when they get here, she thought. Mother had planned to make stew for supper, so Amanda went into the kitchen and rekindled the fire in the cookstove.

Rain drummed on the roof, and the wind howled around the cottage. Amanda tried not to think about the storm as she prepared the meat and vegetables and put the stew on to simmer. Then she mixed a big batch of corn bread and put it into the oven to bake.

Time passed slowly, but finally the corn bread was out of the oven and cooling, and the stew was thick and rich. The mouth-watering smells made Amanda hungry. It was long past suppertime, and her father still had not come. Amanda lit the lamps and added another log to the fire in the fireplace. She opened the bedroom door quietly and entered with a lighted candle when she heard Jonathan whimpering. “Supper is ready,” she whispered. “Shall I bring you something to eat?”

Mother set the flickering candle on the nightstand and shook her head. “I must have dozed. Is your father back with the doctor yet?” she asked as she bent over the baby.

“No,” Amanda answered. “And it’s almost dark.”

Suddenly Mother put her hand to her face and gasped. “The beacon! Oh, Amanda, how could I have forgotten! The beacon must be lit!”

“Do you want me to stay with Jonathan?” Amanda asked.

Her mother shook her head. “You will have to light the beacon tonight. I can’t leave him.”

Fear tingled down Amanda’s spine at the thought of climbing the circular staircase to the lighthouse tower, more than fifty feet above the ground. When father became lighthouse keeper last spring, she had tried to climb up and watch him light the lamps. But she could never force herself to climb to the top of the tower. “I—I can’t,” Amanda whispered.

“You must!” her mother insisted. “Your father’s life and the lives of many others may depend on that light tonight. Be sure to trim the wicks and polish the reflectors before you fill the reservoirs of the lamps with oil and light them. Go quickly, dear. You must not waste another minute!”

Amanda hurried to the kitchen and got Father’s lantern. Her hand trembled as she lit it. Then she wrapped her shawl tightly around her head and shoulders and stepped out into the storm. The wind tore at her skirt as she started up the long path to the lighthouse. She leaned into the wind and struggled up the hill. When Amanda reached the lighthouse at last, she opened the door and quickly stepped inside. It was a relief to be out of the storm.

Amanda held her lantern high. In the middle of the floor the circular staircase disappeared up into the darkness above. Amanda felt like she was standing at the bottom of a deep well. Her heart beat wildly.

“This time I must climb to the top,” she said as she grasped the handrail and started to climb. Her footsteps echoed hollowly on the iron steps as she went round and round, climbing higher and higher. A wave of dizziness swept over her. Amanda clung tightly to the cold handrail and waited for the feeling to pass. She wanted desperately to run down the steps and back to the warm, cozy cottage.

“You must light the beacon!” she told herself sternly. “Somewhere out there in that awful storm Father may be watching for the light to guide him home.” She tried to force herself to let go of the handrail, but her fingers seemed to be frozen in place.

“Please, Heavenly Father, help me to find the courage to go on,” she prayed. Slowly her fingers loosened their grip. She took a step up, then another.

When she reached the top, Amanda didn’t even take time to breathe a sigh of relief. Quickly she set to work trimming the wicks of the nine lamps and polishing the big shiny reflectors. She found the can of oil for the lamps, then carefully filled and lit each one.

Taking her lantern, Amanda slowly wound her way down the staircase and out into the storm again. When she reached the porch, she stopped and looked back at the long fingers of light reaching out over the raging water. She wondered how far it could be seen in the storm. “The beacon is lit,” she said softly when she reached her mother.

Mother put her arm around Amanda. “You were very brave, dear. I know how much you dread heights. Go and have something to eat now.”

Amanda had finished supper and washed the dishes when she heard footsteps on the back porch. She rushed to open the door. “Father!” she cried. “And Dr. Benton! I’m so glad you’re safe! I was afraid you were lost in the storm.”

“We were until we saw the beacon,” Father said.

The two men took off their oilskins and left them on the porch. They warmed themselves by the fire for just a moment, then hurried in to see Jonathan. Amanda curled up in a chair by the fireplace to wait.

When she opened her eyes again, it was morning and her father was shaking her gently. “I thought you would like to know that you saved three lives last night,” he said. “Jonathan’s fever just broke. Dr. Benton told me he is going to get well.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann