Paul and the Smugglers
Paul looked out on the rolling sea, grey and stormy this evening. Far above, the glow of the light beamed down, but in the dense fog, Paul wondered how far it was penetrating.
As he ducked inside the door, he also wondered if there were any ships out there. These days, vessels carrying weapons and supplies for their soldiers came by continually. It was vital that they make it around the Point safely.
Was that someone calling? Or was it his imagination? Paul turned back and scanned the sea, trying desperately to see through the pouring rain and fog. The wind screeched eerily, making it difficult to for him to hear but—yes! There it was again!
Paul grabbed his slicker and raced down to the sandy beach. “Who’s there?”
“Help!” There it was…more clearly now.
He sprinted along the shore, trying to catch a glimpse of the man. Suddenly he came upon a small boat. The dory was stuck between large boulders and cracked in two. Boards broke off and washed away with every wave that crashed over it.
Then he saw the rope. It was still hooked to the metal loop on the boat and it was taut. At the other end of it, gasping as he came up out of a high wave, a man held on. He couldn’t seem to swim or pull himself in, what with the waves and the wind whipping at him.
Paul hurried to grab the rope, relieved that he wouldn’t have to try to swim out to the man. He was a strong swimmer and had aided his father in many rescues, but the sea was just too wild tonight.
He pulled and heaved, but the wind was too strong. He didn’t know if he could do it alone. But Father couldn’t come out in this weather… he’d been sick with influenza and finally this evening, Christmas Eve, he had made his way up the long flight of stairs to the tower. He’d insisted that he could tend the light while his son got some sleep….
Paul dismissed the thought of his father as the man suddenly cried out again.
“Oh Lord God! Help me…don’t let this man die!” Paul prayed frantically, knowing well how God had helped him many times in the past.
And it suddenly appeared that God was answering. As he pulled on the lengths of rope, it seemed like he had more strength than a boy of twelve. It seemed as if someone else was drawing the man in. Paul even looked over his shoulder to see if anyone had come up behind him and grabbed the rope—but he was alone.
Finally, as the man reached shallow water, he was able to get his feet on firm ground and stumble in. He gripped a rock and pulled himself up. Paul reached down and grabbed his hand and hauled him the rest of the way.
“Thank you….” The man gasped—and collapsed in the broken-down boat.
It was then that Paul noticed that he was wearing a uniform. Blue—he was American.
“A little further up. Then you can rest,” said Paul, as the boat cracked against the rocks again and again.
The man crawled to safety. “Thank the good Lord for that rope –and for you, boy.”
“I hit a good many of your sharp rocks out there. But my knee is the worst.”
“What are you doing out here on such a night?”
The man hesitated, then said, “all in good time. And you?”
“My father’s the lighthouse keeper.”
The man relaxed and looked up at the light. “Of course. Good. I have a task for him. It’s very important. If he’s willing.”
“He can’t.” Paul put an arm around the man’s waist, causing him to gasp in pain again. Paul half dragged him up the beach. “He’s been ill and he’s still very weak. But what is it? I’ll have to do it.”
The man didn’t answer; he was too weak, himself. It was all Paul could do to heave him up to the house. He dragged him into his father’s bedroom and laid him on the bed.
“I must go,” gasped the man. “It’s important.”
“You can’t. You could hardly get up here. Let me get you some dry clothes and something to eat.”
“No. This must be done right away. There’s a ship out there, waiting for my signal. We’re trying to capture the smugglers in this area, once and for all. I’ve been staying in the village and watching them. There’s a ship—with soldiers out there, ready to round them up, but I must signal to let them know if they’re here tonight.”
“The constable says that smugglers like this kind of weather to do their dirty work. But on Christmas Eve?” asked Paul.
The man nodded. “They’d think it a good night what with everyone home celebrating. I was trying to get to Hidden Cove. Do you know it?”
“Yes, my father knows all the coves around here.”
But Hidden Cove was dangerous—and named such because—well, it was hidden. For the most part only people who had lived here a long time knew exactly where it was. It was difficult to see from both sea and land.
“Paul—” They both heard the father’s call from the stairs. “I saw you rescue that man. Is he all right?”
Paul ran halfway up to where his father stood on the landing, and explained everything.
“I’ll go, Father.”
“You be careful, boy. How’s the man? Can he fend for himself or shall I go down?”
“He’s in your bed and I gave him food. He says he’s just weary. But I know he’s in a lot of pain. He can’t go himself .”
Paul got more instructions from the soldier, whose name was Charles, then donned his slicker once again. He took up an unlit lantern, made sure he had his tinderbox, and headed out into the storm.
Paul was relieved that the wind had died down, but it was still a miserable night.
He hurried down the beach and finally rounded a bend which seemed to bring him to a solid rock wall. He knew the secret, however. He slipped through a narrow crevice. Nearby, rushing water roared through an entrance that was a bit larger. Even by daylight, the openings were hidden in the shadows of high rocks, and not able to seen by sea.
He saw no sign of life in the cavern, at first, so he climbed down the rocks, feeling his way carefully. He left his unlit lantern on a boulder.
Then a glow off to the right let him know that something was definitely going on. And he was able to see just enough to make his way down to a narrow ledge. Below the water swirled furiously, due to the tide and storm.
Paul cautiously inched along the ledge. It was some time before it widened. He navigated the ledge safely and soon was down on dry ground.
He stayed hidden and quiet, for there was a great deal of activity going on. Crates and barrels, which most likely had been brought in by boat from the sea entrance over a long period of time, were now being sorted and carried into a tunnel. Paul knew this led to an entrance in the woods not far from the village.
Paul had seen what he needed to know. He withdrew, wanting only to get out safely and signal in case the ship really was out there. If the smugglers were really emptying this cave and moving on as Charles thought, he needed to move quickly.
The boy climbed up the rocks and made his way back along the ledge. He emerged to find that the fog had lifted somewhat. The rain, though steady was not pouring down as it had been. He could even see the outline of the ship now. It was anchored not far away.
Standing on the bluff, he shielded his lantern from the wind and fumbled for his tinder box. Sometime later he finally succeeded in lighting the wick with the tricky flint. Then he turned toward the sea and held the lantern high for a long time.
He finally headed back to the lighthouse.
“I did it,” Paul told the soldier. “And you were right. They were definitely loading up and taking the goods out.”
“We’ll see tomorrow if you were successful. You’re a brave lad.” The man lay back down wearily.
The sun was shining brightly when Paul woke. It was late morning but the fragrant smell of bacon and porridge let him know that the men were only now having breakfast. He realized that he was very hungry.
He leaped out of bed. “Any news?” he asked. He stopped short. “You look dreadful,” he told his father. “What have you been doing?”
The man seemed extremely pale and weak.
“And you don’t look very well either!” this as he turned to Charles, for the first time noticing the bruising and cuts on the soldier’s face and arms.
Then he followed their gazes and saw the yule log burning in the fireplace.
His father chuckled. “I’m afraid neither one of us are very strong yet. It took the two of us to bring it in. Mr. Roberts cut it yesterday and left it in back while you were fishing for our supper.”
Paul’s gaze went further. Someone had hung one of his stockings from the mantle, and it was bulging.
“Go ahead,” said his father. “We normally do this at midnight on Christmas Eve, but….”
Paul went to the table and took a Christmas candle. He moved to the fireplace and lit it from the yule log. Back at the table, he lit several more of the long holiday candles. He made the customary wish, and was pretty sure the two men were doing the same. It was probably the wish and prayer that every American was making this Christmas. A successful end to the war.
Paul’s father turned the bacon. “Come and have your porridge. You must be hungry. And look what the ladies in town brought us, since I’ve been sick. Charles will have to stay and help us eat it up.”
A small goose—all cooked. And two pies, pumpkin and mince! Suddenly a pounding on the door startled them all.
“Hello, in there!”
“It’s my captain. He has news, perhaps!” Charles tried to get up, using a wooden stick as a cane.
Father hurried to the door. “Come on in. If you’re looking for your officer, he’s here.”
A burly red haired man, in uniform, entered. “I was going to say what a good job you did, for we got those smugglers once and for all, but….” He peered at the bandaged knee and the man’s injured face.
“It wasn’t me who signaled—it was this lad.”
“You saw my signal, then!” exclaimed Paul.
“We did indeed. And the sea calmed enough that we were able to get in with boats and sneak up on them. What a fight we had. They weren’t about to give up easily. I sent some of my men ‘round by land and they were able to stop several wagonloads of contraband that were already on the move. I know there are plenty more smugglers all up and down this coast, but these were some of the worst. It’s good to have them in prison.”
The captain reached out and shook Paul’s hand. “Because of you, we salvaged thousands of dollars’ worth of supplies and ammunition for our troops. A splendid Christmas present for them, for sure. Keep up the good work, m’boy.”
“Thank you, sir!” said Paul, glad he’d been able to help in some small way in the effort to gain America’s freedom. “And a merry Christmas to you, sir!”