NCE upon a time there was a wide river that ran into the ocean, and beside it was a little city. And in that city was a wharf where great ships came from far countries. And a narrow road led down a very steep hill to that wharf and anybody that wanted to go to the wharf had to go down the steep hill on the narrow road, for there wasn't any other way. And because ships had come there for a great many years and all the sailors and all the captains and all the men who had business with the ships had to go on that narrow road, the flagstones that made the sidewalks were much worn. That was a great many years ago.
The wharf was Captain Jonathan's and Captain Jacob's and they owned the ships that sailed from it; and, after their ships had been sailing from that wharf in the little city for a good many years, they changed their office to Boston. After that their ships sailed from a wharf in Boston.
Once the brig Industry was coming back from far countries to that wharf in Boston, and little Jacob and little Sol were on her. And, when she was nearly in sight of the end of Cape Cod, a great storm came up, and the wind blew like Sam Hill. It blew harder than it had blown at any time while the Industry was sailing over the wide ocean to the far countries and back again. So, at last, Captain Solomon had to turn her around and run for it. But he ran as slow as he could, for he wanted to get to Boston; and he growled and grumbled all the time because he had to go the way he didn't want to.
Little Jacob had been feeling rather excited and very glad because he was so nearly home again. But, when the Industry turned around and sailed away from Boston, he didn't feel glad any more, but he felt rather mournful. And he was just a little bit frightened at the great wind and at the great waves; for Captain Solomon hadn't turned around until he was obliged to, and that was the last minute that it was safe to keep on. It was getting dark, and Captain Solomon thought it would be a pity to run the risk of getting wrecked on the Cape when the brig had gone all the way to Manila and back safely. So little Jacob crept into his bunk and held on tight, because the ship was pitching and rolling so much, and he tried to go to sleep. At last he went to sleep; but he had horrid dreams.
At last he went to sleep.
Captain Solomon was on deck all that night, and he had on his oilskins and he was sopping wet outside the oilskins, but inside them he was dry as a bone; for oilskins keep the water out beautifully. And the spray was flying high above the rail and, once in a while, the top of a wave would come aboard in solid green water. But Captain Solomon didn't mind the water. He was only very angry at having to sail away from Boston.
The storm kept on for nearly three days and little Jacob was pretty miserable but little Sol enjoyed it. Little Sol wasn't so anxious to get home as little Jacob was. And, at last, one morning when little Jacob woke he didn't feel the ship pitching as she had been, and he was surprised to find that he was a little bit excited once more. And he went on deck as soon as he could, and he found that the wind was still blowing pretty hard but not so hard as it had been blowing, and the ship was headed for Boston again. And all the sailors looked cheerful. And Captain Solomon was the most cheerful of all, although he needed some sleep.
"Well, Jacob," he said, "we're headed for home again. I guess you're glad."
"Yes, sir," said little Jacob, smiling, "I am glad. When shall we get there?"
"If this breeze holds," said Captain Solomon, "we'll get in before dark tonight. But I'm afraid it won't hold."
"Oh," cried little Jacob, "I hope it will."
"So do I, Jacob," said Captain Solomon. "We'll see."
But the wind got less and less. They passed Provincetown, on Cape Cod, a little while after Captain Solomon and little Jacob and little Sol had finished their dinner, and Jacob felt hopeful. But the Industry kept going slower as the wind died down, and Jacob's heart kept going down and down. But he watched, to see if he could see Boston. And, at last, it was almost dark and he hadn't sighted Boston, and his heart was almost down in his boots. He thought that he saw some land away off on the western horizon, but he couldn't be sure whether he did or not, for it was only twilight and the western horizon was all dim and misty. And, suddenly, a little friendly star shone out, just where he was looking.
"Oh," he cried, "what is that star? It just came."
Captain Solomon was standing near him, and he smiled at little Jacob's question.
"That star, Jacob," he said, "is Boston light. We can't get in to-night, but we'll go a little nearer and we'll stand back and forth until daylight. Then we'll go in. But we sha'n't be there to breakfast."
Little Jacob gave a long, shivering sigh. "Well," he said, "I suppose you can't go in to-night. That light is a long way off, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Captain Solomon, "it's a long way off. And, besides, the wind is dying out."
Little Jacob didn't say anything for some time.
"The light-keeper must have to stay up all night," he said, then, "to see that his light doesn't go out."
"Yes, Jacob," answered Captain Solomon, "he stays up all night, taking care of you and me. Or he looks out for his end of it. There are two or three of them—the light-keepers. And, in the daytime, he sees that his lamps are filled and his wicks trimmed and his brasses bright and his glasses polished. When night comes he lights his lamp, and he looks at it every little while to make sure that it is burning all right. If it wasn't, there might be a wreck."
Little Jacob stood and watched the light for a long time without saying anything. Captain Solomon stood and watched it, too.
"That is a very friendly light," said little Jacob, at last, drawing a long breath and smiling at the light. Captain Solomon couldn't see the smile, because it was dark; but he heard it in little Jacob's voice.
"It is, Jacob," said Captain Solomon, "a very friendly light."
"I guess it's my bed-time," said little Jacob. "Good-night, captain."
"Good-night, Jacob," said Captain Solomon. "By the time you're up, in the morning, we'll be almost in."
And little Jacob laughed happily and went down to bed.
And that's all.