Jeff Coffey couldn’t believe his good luck. Crab Island was “his” until next summer! He’d always lived on the mainland during the winter, but this year his mom was going to teach him at home on the island. He swung his ax over his head, determined to have the wood chopped and piled before his dad returned with the last load of supplies. Once the channel iced over, it would be almost impossible to get any more supplies before spring. He looked anxiously at the leaden skies. Already the wind was picking up.
As soon as his dad’s boat landed, Jeff wouldn’t care what the weather did. He was glad to be having school and Primary at home. The wind pushed his straight brown hair across his blue eyes. He lowered the ax to brush his hair back with a muscular hand.
Thinking about his Primary teacher, Sister Bartlett, made his lips tighten as he remembered how she had made a big deal out of reminding the class to pray every day to Heavenly Father. She must have seen the smirk on his face, because she had looked him directly in the eye and said, “There’ll come a time, Jeff, when praying is all that you’re going to have to pull you through a tough spot.”
While Jeff looked again at the sky, the strong wind picked up gravel and slapped it against his legs. He’d better get the sheep. As for Sister Bartlett’s advice, Jeff knew that he could handle anything that came up—and handle it all by himself, just as he always had.
He ran to the park in the middle of the little island town, where he saw Mr. Gordon herding the sheep with his white cane. The reclusive, cranky old man had been dubbed the Off-Islander because he always stayed behind when the summer vacationers left. “Mr. Gordon! It’s me—Jeff Coffey.”
Mr. Gordon turned his head toward the sound of Jeff’s voice. “Your sheep are scared in this wind,” he rasped. “Take them home and pen them up.”
Jeff nodded, forgetting for a moment that the old man was blind. The wind pried a board off a shuttered cabin window and sailed it over the backs of the sheep. It thudded against a tree.
“You’d better follow me home,” Jeff yelled above the now-howling wind. “It’s cranking up to be a bad storm.”
Mr. Gordon swatted the air with his hand. “It makes no difference to me if the weather’s fair or stormy,” he growled. “I can’t see it.”
“It isn’t safe for you to be out alone in this storm,” Jeff persisted. “It’s bad enough that my dad’s not home yet.”
“What’s that? Your father went to the mainland?”
“He went for the last of our supplies, and he isn’t back yet. He should be here anytime, though,” Jeff said.
Mr. Gordon was silent; then he spoke sharply. “Get on home, boy! Take care of your animals!”
“Yes, sir.” Jeff turned to the milling sheep, and the old man tapped his way down the street.
By the time that Jeff gathered the sheep safely in the barn, the sky was dark with thick snow. When he got to the house, he found his mother knotting one end of a rope to the iron ring bolted to the back door. Jeff knew the story of how his grandmother had once saved his grandfather by tying a rope to her waist and then fighting her way through a storm to the bell tower to ring his boat safely home.
“You’ll have to ring the bell for your dad, Jeff,” was all that his mother said now.
Jeff knotted the rope’s loose end around his waist, took the flaring black pot that his mother handed him to light his way to the tower, and started out. Then he looked back at his mother. She was holding her lantern high to given him his bearings. The snow was already piling up, making walking slow and arduous. Jeff had looped the coil of rope loosely over one arm so that he could pay it out as he walked. He could hear the sea thundering against the rocks below.
Ocean spray told Jeff that he was near the bell. After he had located it, he set the kettle of light in the bell cradle’s saucerlike top. When he grabbed the frayed and weathered rope, the coat of ice on it made it slide right through his hands. Twisting the rope around his fist to keep it from slipping, Jeff pulled hard on the rope again and again. The bell’s clang hurt his ears, cold seeped into his bones, and his arms ached. He switched arms, then switched again—first one, then the other. His father had to hear the bell! Jeff couldn’t give up.
Despite his efforts, the rope slipped out of Jeff’s cold hands frequently. And each time it did, the bell went unrung and unheard! Jeff’s shoulders ached; his fingers cramped with cold. He pulled again.
The rope spun away, caught by the wind. Jeff scrambled to catch hold of the rope and lost his footing. He slammed down, face first, against the icy rock. As he struggled to his feet, he felt something warm and wet on his face. His nose was bleeding. He wiped away the blood with a stiff hand.
Grabbing the rope in both hands, Jeff pulled hard. The sound of the bell just had to carry across the thrashing waves to his dad! Jeff’s fingers were numb, and his arms felt as though they had been yanked out of their sockets. He wasn’t sure that he could endure much longer.
The rope snapped out of his hands once more, its icy surface tearing at his already raw palms. Jeff caught a glimpse of his mom’s lantern through the swirling snow. With the baby coming, she depended on Jeff’s endurance.
Suddenly Jeff knew that he’d done all that he could do. He needed help! For once he wasn’t the tough, do-it-himself guy that he’d always been. He’d never been in such a tough spot in his life. Tough spot! That’s what Sister Bartlett said that I’d find myself in one day, Jeff thought. And she said that praying is all that I’d have to pull me through. Well, I’m in the toughest spot that I’ve ever been in, and I sure do need His help!
Humbly Jeff asked Heavenly Father to help him toll the bell for his dad. He asked it in Jesus’ name, then said amen. Knowing that he still had to do his part, too, Jeff kept on struggling to pull the rope.
Almost at once he felt a tug at his waist as if someone were advancing along on the rope still tied there. But his mom’s light still shone from the doorway. …
“Who’s there?” Jeff called.
“Gordon!” came the unexpected answer.
As the Off-Islander loomed into view, Jeff asked, “How did you get here?”
Mr. Gordon gave a short laugh. “I don’t need a light to find my way, boy.”
“B-but why did you come?” Jeff continued pulling the bell rope.
Mr. Gordon shook his head. “I don’t know why. I was warm and dry at home when I got this feeling that you needed help, and I just had to come.”
Jeff smiled as wide as his cracked lips and frozen face allowed. “I know why, Mr. Gordon. Heavenly Father sent you to help me.”
“It’s been a long time since I let myself think about anyone but myself,” said Mr. Gordon, a sense of wonder in his voice. He reached up. “If we pull together, the bell will ring louder.”
Together the old man and Jeff pulled on the rope. The bell clanged above the breaking waves again and again and again. And finally they heard the answering bells on Jeff’s dad’s boat!
Jeff forgot his cracked and blistered hands, his bloody nose, his sore arms. Sister Bartlett was right: Sometimes the only way out of a tough spot is by praying to Heavenly Father for help.