The Hero of Cape Lonely Light
by Geoffrey T. Williams
Audies® Award Finalist
The Cape Lonely lighthouse in Fortunate Bay is a brilliant beacon of hope for sailors and their sailing ships. But had they ever faced a storm this fierce, this dangerous, or this deadly?
Can the old lighthouse keeper and his extraordinary cat keep the schooner Reliant from smashing to pieces on the treacherous rocks and cliffs that surround the bay? And when the youngest seaman is washed overboard, will they get him in time?
A story of danger and destruction on the high seas; a tale of hope, loss, and redemption.
Chapter IOn a moonless night in Fortunate Town When the wind blew wet and wild, Tom was born in a box behind a store— No place for kitten or child. His mother left when he was young. His father he never would know. Brothers and sisters drifted away— He was left to survive on his own. His claws were sharp, his legs were long. His whiskers thick and bold. His fur was the color of shadows at dawn, His eyes were yellow gold. You grow up fast in Fortunate Town Or you don't grow up at all. There's only one law—the rule of the claw, And you always walk alone.
Chapter IISo Tom grew up, quick and smart, And learned to live by his wits. Surviving on scraps, fighting harbor rats For occassional slivers of fish. Danger he knew like the back of his paw; He made survival an art. But more than that, this special cat had Something that set him apart. He could sense weather, and when the tide turned, As sure as your grandfather's clock. He'd sniff the air, feel a breeze through his hair, And be off like a shot for the dock. Call it black-magic, cat-sense, or luck, Call it instinct, or hunch, When anchor was dropped, Tom was there on the dock, The first one in line for lunch.
Chapter IIIHis favorite spot was a ledge on a cliff Overlooking the bay below. Some nights he would hear—distant, but clear— A low and insistent moan. The deep, mournful voice of a foghorn, Like the lonely voice of a soul Forever lost and storm-tossed, Wandering far from home. Then through the gathering dark he'd see From the lighthouse across the bay A shaft of white and welcome light, That turned the night to day. So the foghorn and the lighthouse Became a part of his life; Around every corner, down every street, They were seldom out of his sight.
Chapter IVOne day in the harbor at Fortunate Town An overdue cutter weighed in. There were laughter and tears, shouting and cheers — A joyful, noisy confusion. Tom found himself lost in the noisome crowd. He was trampled, jostled, and tossed. Before he could hide, a boot in his side Tumbled him off of the dock! The water was deep, so deep and so cold — And what cat do you know can swim? Was it Tom's fate to be lost at sea? Was this the last of him? As he pawed wildly to stay afloat He felt a nudge at his side. Driftwood doing what driftwood does — Floating along on the tide. With the last of his strength he snagged an edge Of the bobbing, bouyant piece. And then, like the rest of the flotsam, He floated on out to sea. He drifted beyond the harbor, Fighting a losing fight, When somehow he reached the distant beach Below Cape Lonely Light.
Chapter VThe sky was blue and the breeze was warm, The waves foamed green and grey. A day like countless others On the island in Cape Lonely Bay. A gaggle of gulls gathered nearby Noisily squabbled and squawked; A small dory boat rocked and floated By a ramshackle, weathered dock. The lighthouse stood above it all— A tower of masonry— Cape Lonely Light, the guardian, For those who lived by the sea. Across the bay in Fortunate Town, Were families and children at play; Main Street had shops full of buttons, and mops, And tea from distant Cathay. At anchor were schooners and tall brigantines, With treasure filling their holds: Bright bolts of silk, coconut milk, Incense, and Ceylonese gold. Fortune smiled down on Fortunate Town, On the families and children at play. Did they ever give thought, or had they forgotten The lighthouse across the bay? When waves crashed and roared, and fog crept in, When hurricanes wailed and groaned, Who guarded the light that guarded the night? Who called Cape Lonely Light home?
Chapter VISince that day long ago when he'd washed ashore Tom called the lighthouse his home. He fancied the Cape was his private estate, There was nowhere he didn't roam. He knew every inch of Cape Lonely by heart, Every cave, and cranny, and nook. When hunting for fish, his favorite dish, He always knew just where to look. There was another who shared the Cape And its solitary life, A rough-bearded man, with tough, callused hands, The keeper of Cape Lonely Light. Each had forgotten the other one's name— They'd known each other that long— To the tomcat the man was just "Cap'n." To Cap'n, the cat was "Ol' Tom." Late in the day you could find these two friends Beside the warm kitchen stove. Ol' Tom would purr, and groom his fur, While Cap'n worked on his boats. He carved them of hickory, walnut and elm. The wood seemed alive in his hands. Scrimshaw and models, small ships in bottles, Made from memory, not plans. And once in awhile, when the wind was right, And the call of the sea was clear, Cap'n would pause and listen To sounds only he could hear. His gaze would move to the boat in his hand, Then off in the distance awhile, And then he'd begin to talk to his friend With a sad and bittersweet smile. "I once had a ship," the old man would say, As he carved by the sun's waning glow. "I once had a ship—a clipper— A lifetime and more ago. "She had sails as white as a seagull's wing, And masts that touched the sky. From stern to bow she was trim and proud, She was my great delight. "We chased the wind around the world, From Mandalay to Maine. East to West, her crew was the best, Loyal, strong, and brave. "She had no match, my Southern Maid. We traded from Pole to Pole. She was my pride and my joy; I thought her invincible.
Chapter VII"But one black night rounding the Horn We met a devil wind. I pray that I never live to see A storm such as that again. "High the waves towered overhead, Fifty and sixty feet. Our sails were ripped, our timbers split, We were pounded relentlessly. "All through that night and into the next We fought, both ship and men, 'Til blown aground on a sunken reef My lovely Maid met her end. "The last lifeboat was over the side As I turned to battle the wheel. Then came a sound like the world tumbling down And nothing more did I feel."
Chapter VIIIIt was here Cap'n stopped to give a sigh, His strong face drawn and pale. Until at length, he found the strength To finish his dreadful tale. "A captain's sworn to follow his ship," His words came haltingly. "For better or worse, to the ends of the Earth Or the bottom of the sea. "What was left of my loyal crew Dragged me from the sea's grip. I should have gone down. I should have drowned, And gone to rest with my ship."
Chapter IXSlowly making his way back North, He wandered from place to place, Pursued through the years by faces and fears, That haunted him in his disgrace. When he became keeper of Cape Lonely Light It suited him so it would seem. No conversation, no explanations. Just the occasional dream. He vowed he would never set sail again— A terrible price to pay. The song of the sea was in his soul, But he's kept his vow to this day. He thought that his life had settled, He thought that he'd weathered its trials. He'd thought he'd found peace, some blessed relief, Though most days he never smiled. Then one day he found a cat half—drowned Lying near death at his door; Another soul tossed and all but lost On life's mysterious shore. Each needed the other—each had no one else— That's how it sometimes begins. That lonely old man with his tough weathered hands Carried the gray cat in. They nursed one another back to health; And Cap'n forgot his grief. Safe harbor both found after running aground On Fate's precarious reef. There's plenty for Cap'n to do these days: There's a small garden to tend, Clothing to mend, lamp wicks to trim, And polishing the lighthouse lens. Tom's days too are quietly spent In ways that he thinks are fun— Such as dozing for hours in meadows of flowers, Under the warm yellow sun.
Chapter XOl' Tom was cat-napping that fateful day. He'd found a place sunny and nice. He was happily dreaming of bowls full of cream, And fields of cooperative mice. He suddenly woke, wide-eyed and wary, Shivering, though it was warm. His whiskers twitched, his tail gave a hitch, His cat-sense shrilled an alarm. His ears tilted up, he looked all around, But nothing seemed out of place. Then he saw something on the horizon That chased all his daydreams away. Lightning flashed like faraway fire At the very edge of the world; An echoing boom—a shadow of doom? Thunder like boulders hurled.
Chapter XIThe schooner Reliant was under full sail, Running before the wind, Racing the sun to Fortunate Town, Home to family and friends. The sea for miles was calm and clear, The sky was blue and bright. The wind was crisp, fresh and brisk. Every sail was tight. The youngest apprentice, a lad named Jack, Was taking his turn at watch. He loved the breeze, the smell of the sea, The thrill of climbing aloft. The westering sun coppered the sea, Dolphins danced in the wake; A hornpipe played—what better way To end a sailor's day?
Chapter XIIThe first sign of trouble came from astern— The wind made a sudden change; Crackling sounds filled the air all around— A little frightening and strange. The hair on the back of Jack's neck stood up, An omen of what was to come. The rigging was charged and glowing with sparks, The mains'l started to hum. Like a bolt from the blue the storm lashed out With the force of a hurricane! The heavens were split by a fiery fist! Lightening blasted the main! Reliant was rocked by the terrible blow. The mast exploded in flames. With a thunder—crack the yardarm snapped. The sea seemed to go insane!
Chapter XIIIFrom meadow to lighthouse scrambled Ol' Tom. He'd never run so fast, Spurred on by the flash, the thunderous crash Of another lightning blast. Like gathering armies waves marched to the shore, The wind began to sing. The seagulls took flight, shrieking in fright, Fear lending speed to their wings. The steep spiral stairs wound up to the top. Ol' Tom took them two at a time. Cap'n came after—though not quite so fast— It's a long and serpentine climb. On top of the lighthouse, facing the storm, They knew they had cause to worry. "This is a bad one," shouted the Cap'n, Watching the ocean's fury. The sun disappeared behind ominous clouds; A curtain came down on the day. "We'll fire up the light early tonight." The wind whipped his words away. The Cap'n well knew the peril that lay Beneath those savage waves. Rocks and reefs with jagged teeth, To take careless ships to their graves. As Cap'n went in to light up the lamp Tom's cat-sense sounded alarm! He searched the sea. Could it possibly be? A ship caught up in the storm!
Chapter XIVWaves drove the Reliant toward the cliffs, Jagged and white with foam. The helmsman fought with all his might But the wheel had a mind of its own. Bravely the ship's crew battled on, Fighting for their lives. But their last hope of staying afloat Was spotting Cape Lonely Light. Young Jack held fast to the rigging As the blaze engulfed the sail. The stricken ship shook like a stick In the teeth of the mighty gale. The path to safe harbor lay past the cliffs That guarded Fortunate Bay. But without the light—their guardian— How would they find their way?
Chapter XVThe wind tore at Cap'n's jacket and beard As he struggled to light up the lamp. But the hard—driving rain blew out the flame And made the triple wick damp. Cap'n remembered another storm. The memory brought nothing but pain. "The ocean's a demon. I pity the seaman Caught in this hurricane." With a hiss and a sputter, the fuel finally caught, The wick finally started to burn. As gears and chains groaned and complained The huge lens shuddered and turned. Each facet of glass focused the fire To a narrow and brilliant beam. And Cape Lonely Light shot through the night Across the roiling sea. Reliant rushed to meet her doom. Would it be rocks or fire? When just then a blinding brightness came shining— A lifeline across the water! At the first sight of Cape Lonely Light The helmsman cried with relief. As sheets of rain put out the flames The crew watched in disbelief. But the sea wasn't done with them—not by a prayer. Salvation was still faraway; For no man known can battle alone The tide of his onrushing fate. While skirting disaster off starboard side And certain death off port, A wave—it was giant!—slammed the Reliant. Jack was swept overboard!
Chapter XVIOn top of the lighthouse Tom gave a howl, A desperate, piercing wail, A fearful cry that cut through the heart Of the madly shrieking gale. Cap'n looked out as the light swept the sea, Squinting against the rain. With a gasp of surprise, he wiped his eyes. The light lit the scene again. What was he seeing? Was it a dream? His nightmares come to life? A ship with sails tattered, mainmast shattered, Fighting to stay alive! Tom looked up to Cap'n for help But the old man only scowled. "It's too late. The storm is their fate! I must hold true to my vow!" Tom barely gave a backward glance As he turned and raced down the stairs. Then out to the boat, now barely afloat, Tied to the wooden pier. Leaping aboard, he perched on the prow In the midst of the furious storm, And faced unafraid every wave That battered the rocky shore. Cap'n watched his only friend With a haunted look on his face. He was held fast by his tormented past— The wreck of his Southern Maid. He hunched his back against the storm, Feeling beaten and old. "Can't you see I'm afraid? I sent men to their graves!" The cry was torn from his soul.
Chapter XVIIAlone in the midst of the merciless sea, With no one to know or care, Jack's world was a roaring ceaseless downpour, A sailor's darkest nightmare. His cries for help were lost in the gale, Engulfed by the raging sea. He bravely fought on, though his strength was gone; His struggles began to grow weak. Saltwater seared his aching throat, The current was dragging him down; As he choked and coughed his only thought was "Please, I don't want to drown." As the next wave closed over his head His hand reached out to grasp— Hope against hope! A length of rope! A piece of Reliant's mast!
Chapter XVIIIWith one last look at Cape Lonely Light Cap'n made up his mind; Putting his past to rest at last, He left the lighthouse behind. It took all his strength to follow Ol' Tom. Strength and something more. He couldn't abandon another companion To yet another storm. He felt Ol' Tom nudging his leg As he bent to pick up the oars; In his own way the cat was saying "Glad to have you aboard." "Memories may cloud my eyes," Cap'n told Ol' Tom. "But while you're near, I'll be here. Lead on, old friend, lead on." With an oar in each hand, he bent his strong back, Pulling with all his might. Through deafening din of waves and wind They passed into the night.
Chapter XIXRiding the crest of a following wave, Past towering, threatening rocks, Limped the Reliant, broken and silent, Safe, but at terrible cost. The fire was quenched, the storm's fury spent; Ahead lay Fortunate Bay. "Where's young Jack?" the First Mate asked. "Does no one know his fate?" The light swept Reliant, now barely afloat, Making for harbor and home. The young boy abandoned to fate's cruel hands To fight for his life alone. Jack watched Reliant carried away, And with it his last shred of hope. The splinter of mast slipped from his grasp, He lost his hold on the rope. His eyes half closed with pain and cold He heard the song of the deep. It promised peace, blessed relief, And wonderful, welcoming sleep.
Chapter XXThe dory was rocked by the wind-driven waves As Cap'n bent to his task. Each stroke of the oars was almost more Than even Ol' Tom could ask. The sky was dark, and dark was the sea, A black, nightmarish scene. But Cape Lonely Light banished the night With each sweep of its powerful beam. Perched on the prow Ol' Tom scanned the sea, Peering through spray and foam. Were his eyes playing tricks? What was this? Fire-scarred wood and some rope! Then from his throat there rose such a cry— A wail of amazement and fear— As from the deep, as though wakened from sleep— A pale, ghostly hand appeared. Cap'n's fading spirits soared. His old heart filled with hope. The arms of the deep weren't going to keep This seaman from reaching home. Shipping the oars Cap'n leaned overboard As the ocean around him roared. With the last of his strength he struggled to bring The young boy safely aboard. As quick as it started, the gale was departing, The skies were beginning to clear. The dark clouds were gone, the ocean was calming, The island was drawing near. Cap'n turned with a ready smile. "Good work, old friend," he said. But the smile on his face was quickly replaced By a look of shock and dread. The prow where Tom had faced down the storm Was empty! He was lost! "Tom, O Tom! Where have you gone? The lad we saved, but what cost!" In anguish Cap'n shook his fist At the sea, so empty now. What tragedy! Was this to be The price of his broken vow?
Chapter XXIYoung Jack was safe in the lighthouse bed, The dory was safe at the dock. The sun was brightening the Eastern horizon As Cap'n walked past the rocks. He knelt in prayer on the rocky ground Watching the waves roll in; And through his tears he thought of the years Ol' Tom had been with him. What price can you put on friendship? What price would Cap'n not pay To have his old friend back again If even for just one day? "What will I do without you Tom? 'Tis neither fair nor right. The uncaring sea took you from me As you gave me back my life." Just then a wave washed up some debris: A fire-scarred plank and some rope. And clinging to life—a glorious sight— The answer to Cap'n's hope. Ol' Tom was weak and very near death As Cap'n knelt by his side. He opened his eyes, too tired to rise, And gazed into Cap'n's smile.
EpilogueThe sky was blue, the breeze was warm, The waves washed green and grey. A day like countless others On the island in Cape Lonely Bay. Seagulls glided above the rocks Where a herd of seal lions played. In a meadow a cat chased butterflies Which he always allowed to escape.