The winds came howling down from the north,
Like a hungry wolf for prey,
And the bitter sleet went hurtling forth,
In the pallid face of the day.
And the snowflakes drifted near and far,
Till the land was whitely fleeced,
And the light-house lamp, a golden star,
Flamed over the waves’ white yeast.
In the room at the foot of the light-house
Lay mother and babe asleep,
And little maid Gretchen was by them there,
A resolute watch to keep.
There were only the three on the light-house isle,
But father had trimmed the lamp,
And set it burning a weary while
In the morning’s dusk and damp.
“Long before night I’ll be back,” he said,
And his white sail slipped away;
Away and away to the mainland sped,
But it came not home that day.
The mother stirred on her pillow’s space,
And moaned in pain and fear,
Then looked in her little daughter’s face
Through the blur of a starting tear.
“Darling,” she whispered, “it’s piercing cold,
And the tempest is rough and wild;
And you are no laddie strong and bold,
My poor little maiden child.
“But up aloft there’s the lamp to feed,
Or its flame will die in the dark,
And the sailor lose in his utmost need
The light of our islet’s ark.”
“I’ll go,” said Gretchen, “a step at a time;
Why, mother, I’m twelve years old,
And steady, and never afraid to climb,
And I’ve learned to do as I’m told.”
Then Gretchen up to the top of the tower,
Up the icy, smooth-worn stair,
Went slowly and surely that very hour,
The sleet in her eyes and hair.
She fed the lamp, and she trimmed it well,
And its clear light glowed afar,
To warn of reefs, and of rocks to tell,
This mariner’s guiding star.
And once again when the world awoke
In the dawn of a bright new day,
There was joy in the hearts of the fisher folks
Along the stormy bay.
When the little boats came sailing in
All safe and sound to the land,
To the haven the light had helped them win,
By the aid of a child’s brave hand.