UP in the light-house tower lived Davy, with Old Dan the keeper. Most little boys would have found it very lonely; but Davy had three friends, and was as happy as the day was long. One of Davy's friends was the great lamp, which was lit at sunset, and burnt all night, to guide the ships into the harbor. To Dan it was only a lamp; but to the boy it seemed a living thing, and he loved and tended it faithfully. Every day he helped Dan clear the big wick, polish the brass-work, and wash the glass lantern which protected the flame. Every evening he went up to see it lighted, and always fell asleep, thinking, "No matter how dark or wild the night, my good Shine will save the ships that pass, and burn till morning."
Davy's second friend was Nep, the Newfoundland, who was washed ashore from a wreck, and had never left the island since. Nep was rough and big, but had such a loyal and loving heart that no one could look in his soft brown eyes and not trust him. He followed Davy's steps all day, slept at his feet all night, and more than once had saved his life when Davy fell among the rocks, or got caught by the rising tide.
But the dearest friend of all was a sea-gull. Davy found him, with a broken wing, and nursed him carefully till he was well; then let him go, though he was very fond of "Little Gulliver," as he called him in fun. But the bird never forgot the boy, and came daily to talk with him, telling all manner of wild stories about his wanderings by land and sea, and whiling away many an hour that otherwise would have been very lonely.
Old Dan was Davy's uncle,—a grim, gray man, who said little, did his work faithfully, and was both father and mother to Davy, who had no parents, and no friends beyond the island. That was his world; and he led a quiet life among his playfellows,—the winds and waves. He seldom went to the main land, three miles away; for he was happier at home. Me watched the sea-anemones open below the water, looking like fairy-plants, brilliant and strange. He found curious and pretty shells, and sometimes more valuable treasures, washed up from some wreck. He saw little yellow crabs, ugly lobsters, and queer horse-shoes with their stiff tails. Sometimes a whale or a shark swam by, and often sleek black seals came up to bask on the warm rocks. He gathered lovely sea-weeds of all kinds, from tiny red cobwebs to great scalloped leaves of kelp, longer than himself. He heard the waves dash and roar unceasingly; the winds howl or sigh over the island and the gulls scream shrilly as they dipped and dived, or sailed away to follow the ships that came and went from all parts of the world.
With Nep and Gulliver he roamed about his small kingdom, never tired of its wonders; or, if storms raged, he sat up in the tower, safe and dry, watching the tumult of sea and sky. Often in long winter nights he lay awake, listening to the wind and rain, that made the tower rock with their violence; but he never was afraid, for Nep nestled at his feet, Dan sat close by, and overhead the great lamp shone far out into the night, to cheer and guide all wanderers on the sea.
Close by the tower hung the fog-bell, which, being wound up, would ring all night, warningly. One day Dan found that something among the chains was broken; and, having vainly tried to mend it, he decided to go to the town, and get what was needed. He went once a week, usually, and left Davy behind; for in the daytime there was nothing to do, and the boy was not afraid to stay.
"A heavy fog is blowing up: we shall want the bell tonight, and I must be off at once. I shall be back before dark, of course; so take care of yourself, boy," said Dan.
Away went the little boat; and the fog shut down over it, as if a misty wall had parted Davy from his uncle. As it was dull weather, he sat and road for an hour or two; then fell asleep, and forgot everything till Nep's cold nose on his hand waked him up. It was nearly dark; and, hoping to find Dan had come, he ran down to the landing-place. But no boat was there, and the fog was thicker than ever.
Dan never had been gone so long before, and Davy was afraid something had happened to him. For a few minutes he was in great trouble; then he cheered up, and took courage.
"It is sunset by the clock; so I'll light the lamp, and, if Dan is lost in the fog, it will guide him home," said Davy.
Up he went, and soon the great star shone out above the black-topped light-house, glimmering through the fog, as if eager to be seen. Davy had his supper, but no Dan came. He waited hour after hour, and waited all in vain. The fog thickened, till the lamp was hardly seen; and no bell rung to warn the ships of the dangerous rocks. Poor Davy could not sleep, but all night long wandered from the tower to the door, watching, calling, and wondering; but Dan did not come.
At sunrise he put out the light, and, having trimmed it for the next night, ate a little breakfast, and roved about the island hoping to see some sign of Dan. The sun drew up the fog at last; and he could see the blue bay, the distant town, and a few fishing-boats going out to sea. But nowhere was the island-boat with gray Old Dan in it; and Davy's heart grew heavier and heavier, as the day passed, and still no one came. In the afternoon Gulliver appeared: to him Davy told his trouble, and the three friends took counsel together.
"There is no other boat; and I couldn't row so far, if there was: so I can't go to find Dan," said David sorrowfully.
"I'd gladly swim to town, if I could; but it's impossible to do it, with wind and tide against me. I've howled all day, hoping some one would hear me; but no one does, and I'm discouraged," said Nep, with an anxious expression.
"I can do something for you; and I will, with all my heart. I'll fly to town, if I dont see him in the bay, and try to learn what has become of Dan. Then I'll come and tell you, and we will see what is to be done next. Cheer up, Davy dear: I'll bring you tidings, if any can be had." With these cheerful words, away sailed Gulliver, leaving Nep and his master to watch and wait again.
The wind blew hard, and the broken wing was not quite well yet, else Gulliver would have been able to steer clear of a boat that came swiftly by. A sudden gust drove the gull so violently against the sail that he dropped breathless into the boat; and a little girl caught him, before he could recover himself.
"Oh, what a lovely bird! See his black cap, his white breast, dove-colored wings, red legs and bill, and soft, bright eyes. I wanted a gull; and I'll keep this one, for I don't think he is much hurt."
Poor Gulliver struggled, pecked, and screamed; but little Dora held him fast, and shut him in a basket till they reached the shore. Then she put him in a lobsterpot,—a large wooden thing, something like a cage,—and left him on the lawn, where he could catch glimpses of the sea, and watch the light-house tower, as he sat alone in this dreadful prison. If Dora had known the truth, she would have let him go, and done her best to help him; but she could not understand his speech, as Davy did, for very few people have the power of talking with birds, beasts, insects, and plants. To her, his prayers and cries were only harsh screams; and, when he sat silent, with drooping head and ruffled feathers, she thought he was sleepy: but he was mourning for Davy, and wondering what his little friend would do.
For three long days and nights he was a prisoner, and suffered much. The house was full of happy people, but no one took pity upon him. Ladies and gentlemen talked learnedly about him; boys poked and pulled him; little girls admired him, and begged his wings for their hats, if he died. Cats prowled about his cage; dogs barked at him; hens cackled over him; and a shrill canary jeered at him from the pretty pagoda in which it hung, high above danger. In the evening there was music; and the poor bird's heart ached as the sweet sounds came to him, reminding him of the airier melodies he loved. Through the stillness of the night, he heard the waves break on the shore; the wind came singing up from the sea; the moon shone kindly on him, and he saw the water-fairies dancing on the sand. But for three days no one spoke a friendly word to him, and he pined away with a broken heart.
On the fourth night, when all was quiet, little Gulliver saw a black shadow steal across the lawn, and heard a soft voice say to him,—
"Poor bird, you'll die, if yer stays here; so I'se gwine to let yer go. Specs little missy'll scold dreffle; but Moppet'll take de scoldin fer yer. Hi, dere! you is peart nuff now, kase you's in a hurry to go; but jes wait till I gits de knots out of de string dat ties de door, and den away you flies."
"But, dear, kind Moppet, wont you be hurt for doing this? Why do you care so much for me? I can only thank you, and fly away."
As Gulliver spoke, he looked up at the little black face bent over him, and saw tears in the child's sad eyes; but she smiled at him, and shook her fuzzy head, as she whispered kindly,—
"I dont want no tanks, birdie: I loves to let you go, kase you's a slave, like I was once; and it's a dreffle hard ting, I knows. I got away, and I means you shall. I'se watched you, deary, all dese days; and I tried to come 'fore, but dey didn't give me no chance."
"Do you live here? I never see you playing with the other children," said the gull, as Moppet's nimble fingers picked away at the knots.
"Yes: I lives here, and helps de cook. You didn't see me, kase I never plays; de chilen dont like me."
"Why not?" asked Gulliver, wondering.
"I'se black," said Moppet, with a sob.
"But that's silly in them," cried the bird, who had never heard of such a thing. "Color makes no difference: the peeps are gray, the seals black, and the crabs yellow; but we don't care, and are all friends. It is very unkind to treat you so. Haven't you any friends to love you, dear?"
"Nobody in de world keres for me. Dey sold me way from my mammy when I was a baby, and I'se knocked roun eber since. Do oder chilen has folks to lub an kere for em, but Moppet's got no friends;" and here the black eyes grew so dim with tears that the poor child couldn't see that the last knot was out.
Gulliver saw it, and, pushing up the door, flew from his prison with a glad cry; and, hopping into Moppet's hand, looked into the little dark face with such grateful confidence that it cleared at once, and the brightest smile it had worn for months broke over it as the bird nestled its soft head against her cheek, saying gently,—
"I'm your friend, dear; I love you, and I never shall forget what you have done for me to-night. How can I thank you before I go?
For a minute, Moppet could only hug the bird, and cry; for these were the first kind words she had heard for a long time, and they went straight to her lonely little heart.
"O my deary! I'se paid by dem words, and I don't want no tanks. Jes lub me, and come sometimes to see me ef you can, it's so hard livin' in dis yere place. I don't tink I'll bar it long. I wish I was a bird to fly away, or a oyster safe in de mud, and free to do as I'se a mind."
"I wish you could go and live with Davy on the island; he is so kind, so happy, and as free as the wind. Can't you get away, Moppet?" whispered Gulliver, longing to help this poor, friendless little soul. He told her all his story; and they agreed that he should fly at once to the island, and see if Dan was there; if not, he was to come back, and Moppet would try to get some one to help find him. When this was done, Davy and Dan were to take Moppet, if they could, and make her happy on the island. Full of hope and joy, Gulliver said good-by, and spread his wings; but, alas for the poor bird! he was too weak to fly. For three days he had hardly eaten any thing, had found no salt water to bathe in, and had sat moping in the cage till his strength was all gone.
"What shall I do? what shall I do?" he cried, fluttering his feeble wings, and running to and fro in despair.
"Hush, birdie, I'll take kere ob you till you's fit to fly. I knows a nice, quiet little cove down yonder, where no one goes; and dere you kin stay till you's better. I'll come and feed you, and you kin paddle, and rest, and try your wings, safe and free, honey."
As Moppet spoke, she took Gulliver in her arms, and stole away in the dim light, over the hill, down to the lonely spot where nothing went but the winds and waves, the gulls, and little Moppet, when hard words and blows made heart and body ache. Here she left the bird, and, with a loving "Good-night," crept home to her bed in the garret, feeling as rich as a queen, and much happier; for she had done a kind thing, and made a friend.
Next day, a great storm came: the wind blew a hurricane, the rain poured, and the sea thundered on the coast. If he had been well, Gulliver wouldn't have minded at all; but, being sick and sad, he spent an anxious day, sitting in a cranny of the rock, thinking of Davy and Moppet. It was so rough, even in the cove, that he could neither swim nor fly, so feeble was he; and could find no food but such trifles as he could pick up among the rocks. At nightfall the storm raged fiercer than ever, and he gave up seeing Moppet; for he was sure she wouldn't come through the pelting rain just to feed him. So he put his head under his wing, and tried to sleep; but he was so wet and weak, so hungry and anxious, no sleep came.
"What has happened to Davy alone on the island all this while? He will fall ill with loneliness and trouble; the lamp won't be lighted, the ships will be wrecked, and many people will suffer. O Dan, Dan, if we could only find you, how happy we should be!"
As Gulliver spoke, a voice cried through the darkness,—
"Is you dere, honey?" and Moppet came climbing over the rocks, with a basket full of such bits as she could get. "Poor birdie, is you starvin'? Here, jes go at dis, and joy yerself. Dere's fish and tings I tink you'd like. How is you now, dear?"
"Better, Moppet; but, it's so stormy, I can't get to Davy; and I worry about him," began Gulliver, pecking away at his supper: but he stopped suddenly, for a faint sound came up from below, as if some one called, "Help, help!"
"Hi! what's dat?" said Moppet, listening.
"Davy, Davy!" called the voice.
"It's Dan. Hurrah, we've found him!" and Gulliver dived off the rock so recklessly that he went splash into the water. But that didn't matter to him and he paddled away, like a little steamer with all the engines in full blast. Down by the seaside, between two stones, lay Dan, so bruised and hurt he couldn't move, and so faint with hunger and pain he could hardly speak. As soon as Gulliver called, Moppet scrambled down, and fed the poor man with her scraps, brought him rain-water from a crevice near by, and bound up his wounded head with her little apron. Then Dan told them how his boat had been run down by a ship in the fog; how he was hurt, and cast ashore in the lonely cove; how he had lain there half dead, for no one heard his shouts, and he couldn't move; how the storm brought him back to life, when he was almost gone, and the sound of Moppet's voice told him help was near.
How glad they all were then! Moppet danced for joy; Gulliver screamed and flapped his wings; and Dan smiled, in spite of pain, to think he should see Davy again. He couldn't understand Gulliver; but Moppet told him all the story, and, when he heard it, he was more troubled for the boy than for himself.
"What will he do? He may get killed or scared, or try to come ashore. Is the lamp alight?" he cried, trying to move, and falling back with a moan of pain.
Gulliver flew up to the highest rock, and looked out across the dark sea. Yes, there it was,—the steady star shining through the storm, and saying plainly, "All is well."
"Thank heaven! if the lamp is burning, Davy is alive. Now, how shall I get to him?" said Dan.
"Never you fret, massa: Moppet'll see to dat. You jes lay still till I comes. Dere's folks in de house as'll tend to you, ef I tells em who and where you is."
Off she ran, and soon came back with help. Dan was taken to the house, and carefully tended; Moppet wasn't scolded for being out so late; and, in the flurry, no one thought of the gull. Next morning, the cage was found blown over, and every one fancied the bird had flown away. Dora was already tired of him; so he was soon forgotten by all but Moppet.
In the morning it was clear; and Gulliver flew gladly to the tower where Davy still watched and waited, with a pale face and heavy heart, for the three days had been very hard to bear, and, but for Nep and Shine, he would have lost his courage entirely. Gulliver flew straight into his bosom, and, sitting there, told his adventures; while Day laughed and cried, and Nep stood by, wagging his tail for joy, while his eyes were full of sympathy. The three had a very happy hour together, and then came a boat to carry Davy ashore, while another keeper took charge of the light till Dan was well.
Nobody ever knew the best part of the story but Moppet, Davy, and Gulliver. Other people didn't dream that the boy's pet gull had any thing to do with the finding of the man, or the good fortune that came to Moppet. While Dan lay sick, she tended him, like a loving little daughter; and, when he was well, he took her for his own. He did not mind the black skin: he only saw the loneliness of the child, the tender heart, the innocent, white soul; and he was as glad to be a friend to her as if she had been as blithe and pretty as Dora.
It was a happy day when Dan and Day, Moppet, Gulliver, and Nep sailed away to the island; for that was still to be their home, with stout young Ben to help.
The sun was setting; and they floated through waves as rosy as the rosy sky. A fresh wind filled the sail, and ruffled Gulliver's white breast as he sat on the mast-head crooning a cheery song to himself. Dan held the tiller, and Davy lay at his feet, with Nep bolt upright beside him; but the happiest face of all was Moppet's. Kneeling at the bow, she leaned forward, with her lips apart, her fuzzy hair blown back, and her eyes fixed on the island which was to be her home. Like a little black figurehead of Hope, she leaned and looked, as the boat flew on, bearing her away from the old life into the new.
As the sun sunk, out shone the lamp with sudden brightness, as if the island bade them welcome. Dan furled the sail; and, drifting with the tide, they floated in, till the waves broke softly on the shore, and left them safe at home.