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Guiding Light Part 2
Guiding Light Part 2

Guiding Light Part 2


Something bumped against the timber hull. James Millward heard it. It was too dark to see what was down there. He leaned over the side and reached down. His fingers felt soaking wool and someone's shoulder blade underneath it.

"I think its Nye!" James shouted. "He's unconscious. Help me!"

Crewmates got up and reached out. They and James quickly realised this must be Nye. Getting him on board was difficult. Not only was he heavy but they were trying to avoid damaging his spine. Somehow they managed to do it. James checked Nye's pulse. He couldn't find one. The young Welshman's skin felt cold. He wasn't breathing. James began to tremble. He muttered "no, no!" He must try not to panic, hard though it was.

Big hands felt around, hoping to locate some oars. Two were pulled wet from lapping waves while another had stuck in its hook. Thuds, clatters and curses pierced cool night air. They were short of a full complement of oars.

Cox gave orders. "Millward, try to resuscitate Nye. Makham, Milner, Stewart, each of you take an oar. The rest of you start bailing."

His men obeyed. Cox tried to fire up the engine but it had been swamped. Powerful arms pulled on oars. Blue Dolphin began a long and difficult journey home. Not only was she underpowered but her crews' lanterns and compasses had been lost. Would they bring Nye, or a lump of meat that had been him?

James laid both hands on his friend's chest, held straight arms rigid, then started pushing on Nye's heart. It didn't make any difference.

"If I lose him, what am I going to tell Cathy?" James asked silently. He tried to fight off dispair but it grew harder and harder. Tension gripped every man on board, even Cox, like the fingers of a demon. James drove powerful breaths into Nye's mouth, to no avail. Men pulled on oars until they felt as if their biceps were on fire. Stomachs cried out for food, whether sharp, salty bacon or sweeter, subtle lamb. Others worked hard bailing water out of the hull. They couldn't be sure where they were heading. There wasn't even a moon to see by. While steering Cox fell back on memories of their last known position. He could only hope he recalled that well enough.

James had to pause for his arms were aching. Nye's pullover had left indentations in the other man's hands. Blue Dolphin rocked on ocean swells. A third man laid a hand on James's shoulder.

"I'm sorry mate," said that crewmate, "he's gone."

"Ple-ase, let me try one more time. If that doesn't work, I'll stop."

Memories crashed into James Millward's brain like carcasses in floodwater. He had been called up for the Great War. Images of soldiers expiring in ambulances returned to haunt him. Again and again help had arrived too late. A resolve never to let that happen again gave him strength. James focused on Nye and made one last effort to save him. *

Nye opened his eyes. He was in some sort of tunnel. A bright white light shone at its far end. He became confused. Shouldn't he be on Blue Dolphin? He felt light as a feather. Then Nye got pulled down the tunnel by some unseen force. He came out at the other end. He found himself on top of sea cliffs, on the edge of the bluebell wood, looking over azure swells. It was daylight. Nye felt disoriented, then feared for his sanity. He looked around, desperate to see Cathy or one of his crewmates, someone to ask what had happened. There was no one else around.

"Hello, is anybody there?" He shouted. No answer came. Bracken and heather grew in a clearing, making a springy bed for a spotted fawn. The young man felt just as helpless as a newborn creature.

Was this the end? If so then was this such a bad place to be. He started to relax and feel content.

No, he had to go back. He wanted to patch things up with Cathy. His death would shatter his mother's heart. He wanted to save more lives.

A shadow passed over Nye. He looked up and saw a falcon. Black bars patterned her white belly. Pointed wings carried her on a warm breeze. Black markings around butter coloured eyes protected them from the glaring sun. She flew over the sea and wheeled around, dancing on the wind. Next she came back, circled over Nye and then out to sea again.

"What do you want?" Nye asked. "Would you like me to come with you? Where would you take me? I'm in a gush of anxiety. I'd rather follow you."

* Back on the lifeboat, James started pumping Nye's chest. Then he bent over and sent two rescue breaths into his friend's mouth. If this didn't work he would have to give up.

A shudder went through Nye's chest. He began to breath unaided and his heart started beating again. James remained tense. Having been so close to failure he hardly dared to believe it. Only when Nye had taken several breaths did his crewmate shout "he's alive!" James heaved Nye into the recovery position. Then he took an oar while someone else knelt to watch over Nye. James's bottom met a hard plank seat. Nye remained unconscious.

They were still in trouble. The boat was underpowered through lack of oars and a swamped engine. Pitch darkness enveloped them. It was impossible to tell where they were, only that they were too far from home. Everyone was looking for harbour lights, or even light from a farmhouse, but none were in sight. They carried on rowing for some time. If they couldn't get Nye to safety they would loose him again. James fought the temptation to scream with frustration.

Then they spotted a white lantern light, high above the sea. It must be on the clifftop. It illuminated the white trunk of a birch tree. No other lights could be seen. Painful muscles began shaking with relief. James laughed out loud as tension flowed out of him. Two other men did likewise. They put an extra effort into rowing. They knew there was only one birch on the cliff tops for miles around so they could work out their location from it. They couldn't see the lantern bearer's face but every conscious man on board felt grateful to them. Down in the hull, Nye shivered with cold. Then he threw up his last meal. His friends were shivering too. They set a course for home and could be fairly certain of it.

At last Blue Dolphin arrived at the beach. Her station sat on brown and grey shingle. Lights burned in its windows. Wives, mothers and sisters stood waiting. Everyone knew that their men had been out too long. When the boat landed there were many hugs and kisses. Tears of joy and relief flowed freely. Crewmen reeked of salt and sweat but no one cared. James and Cox lifted Nye from the hull. They laid him in the recovery position. A girl pulled her shawl off and draped it over him. One woman lifted her skirt and ran to call an ambulance. Pebbles rattled under her feet. Nye's eyelids fluttered, then fell shut again.

"Hold on mate," James urged. "Help is on its way." Then he noticed that someone was missing. "Where's Cathy?" He asked.

Another woman explained. "She took a lantern and went off James. She said she'd stand on the clifftop and use it to guide you home. She'll have to walk back from there now."

James had never felt so grateful. Cox hunkered down beside Nye.

"He'll be in hospital for some time," Cox announced. "There'll be bills to be paid while he's in there. Why don't we club together to pay."

Every member of the crew agreed to this.

An ambulance came. Paramedics took Nye to hospital. There he regained consciousness. The first person he saw was Cathy. She was sitting at his bedside holding his right hand. Morning light illuminated her. Worry was etched onto het face. Then pink lips curled upwards and a sparkle returned to her eyes.

"Oh Nye!" She exclaimed. "I'm so glad you're back!"

He tried to speak but he was weak and his throat felt dry. He squeezed warm flesh and returned her smile. Cathy leaned forward and kissed him on cracked lips. They wanted to be more demonstrative, but he felt as if talons were digging into his forehead and she was afraid of hurting him.

Weeks passed by. It turned out that the report of a child at the wreck had been a false alarm. In shady woods buds unfurled and became leaves. Eggs of blue tits, blackbirds and woodpeckers hatched. Caterpillars munched on young plants. Nye ap Morgan grew strong enough to leave hospital. He and Cathy strolled through the greenwood hand in hand. A flycatcher bird saw them pass. It was black and white, like a man in a dinner jacket. Nye looked forward to putting on his dinner jacket and returning to the choir. It wouldn't be long now.

They halted by a hawthorn bush. It was covered in blossom, white as snow yet a sign of summer. Pink campion flowers grew beside it. Nye put an arm round Cathy. She leaned on his broad chest.

Nye asked "Cathy Bladen, why didn't you tell me you held up a lantern that night? I found out from James."

"I don't think it was all that special," she replied. "I had an easy time compared with you and your crewmates."

"I must protest. You made a considerable difference that night. Your arm must've ached from holding it up."

"Both your arms must've ached from all that rowing."

An idea had been forming in Nye's mind. It wasn't new but his ordeal had given fresh impetus to it. Thinking of it quickened his pulse and raised his temperature. His gut started tingling to the point of discomfort. A blackbird serenaded them. He plucked a campion flower and stuck it behind Cathy's ear.

She asked "what's that about?"

Nye wondered if they would be here but for his accident. Then the thought faded, like an ember that lands on a hearthstone. They were where they were. He was glad. The tree with outstretched boughs stood close by. Nye thought they could've been thrown open ready to hug.

Nye went down on one knee. There was a hard pebble under his kneecap but he scarcely noticed. He looked up at her and asked "Cathy, will you marry me?"

She replied through smiling lips "yes, yes I will."

The falcon soared over them, heading for her cliff top nest. Her shadow fell on them as if giving her blessing .

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31 Mar, 2024
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