Grace Darling A Young Heroine of HistoryOn the lonely little island of Brownsman, one of the Farne group, on the coast of Northumberland, England, lived William Darling, lighthouse keeper, a brave, honest, intelligent man. Grace, his daughter, the youngest of seven children, was courageous like her father, good and gentle like her mother. She was a quiet, modest girl, with a slender form, a beautiful face, and the sweetest smile in the world.
The Farne Islands are very wild and desolate, being little better than piles of black rocks towering above the dismal, roaring seas of that stormy and perilous coast. In calm weather they are surrounded by a fringe of white surf, and in times of storm they are almost overwhelmed by the great, raging surges. Through the channels between these islands the sea rushes like swollen torrents; and here, before beacons were built upon the rocks, occurred many shipwrecks. Even now they are very dangerous spots, for in spite of those friendly lights glimmering through the blackness of the tempest and the night, the force of the gale will sometimes drive vessels headlong upon the rocks, dash them to pieces, and scatter them over the boiling deep.
The Brownsman was the outermost of the Farne Islands—the last rocky foothold of human life; and beyond it was a vast expanse and an awful depth of sea. It had scarcely any vegetation, but stood out from the water, bare and black and bleak. The jagged cliffs, and dim, sounding caves, were alive with seabirds—almost the only living creatures to be seen on the island, out of the family at the lighthouse.
In this strange, lonely place, Grace Darling passed her earliest years. She was a shy and thoughtful child, and learned to take pleasure in the wild and dreary scenery around her. Shut out from the world, as she and her dear ones were, it seemed to her they were all the nearer heaven;—denied social pleasures and consolations even while living, toiling, watching for their fellow beings, she felt that God would remember them and protect them. To her the black stone hills of those desolate islands, standing bare-headed under the gray sky, were grander than towers or cathedrals could be; and the stars and the moon shone as tenderly above the wild, rough perch on the lighthouse rock, as on palaces and sweet Italian gardens.
She loved the lighthouse, the guide and saviour of tempest-tossed mariners. She loved the labors of her brave father, and the sports of her hardy brothers; she loved the shy sea-birds—some of these she tamed, by gentle advances and companionship, till they would stoop their swift wild wings to her hand. She loved the sea when it was calm—when the bright waves came running up the sandy beach, and seemed to prostrate themselves before her, caressing her small white feet with soft, cool kisses; and in storm she did not fear it. When it would break on the rocks with a hoarse, threatening sound, and dash over her a shower of angry spray, she would laugh and say, "Roar away, old sea! I am sure you wouldn't be in such a rage if the winds hadn't provoked you. By and by you will get good, and feel sorry, and creep up the sands all calm and smiling, to make friends with me again;—and I'll forgive you, you dear old sea, if you won't do any mischief now, and will leave me all the pretty shells and mosses you are tossing up on the shore."
And Grace dearly loved mosses and shells. She knew all the little caves and coves and sandy nooks where they were to be found, and the best time to look for them, and used to come home from her solitary rambles with her little apron full of treasures, dearer to her simple heart than rare exotics, or costly gems. She said the bright-colored mosses were sea-flowers, torn by the thieving waves out of the mermaids' gardens—and that the shells were the houses or pleasure-boats of the little sea-fairies.
So it was that Grace Darling was not discontented with her lot, nor with her lonely home, where love and God dwelt—did not fear tempest, nor night, nor raging seas, nor the world; but grew up courageous, trustful, unselfish, and "pure in heart."
When Grace was about eleven years old, her father removed from the lighthouse of the Brownsman to that of the Longstone, a neighboring island. And here it was, that on the 7th of September, 1838, when she was about twenty-two, she performed the heroic act which made her sweet name a blessed "household word" the world over.
The steamer Forfarshire, on her voyage from Hull to Dundee, in a terrible gale, struck on a rock amidst the Farne Islands. Immediately a portion of the crew, cowardly and selfish men, lowered the long-boat, leapt into it, and left the captain, his wife, their comrades, and all the passengers, to their fate! In a short time, a huge wave lifted up the entire vessel, then, letting it fall violently, broke it in two parts upon the sharp rock. The after part, on which were the captain, his wife, and many passengers, was carried off and soon dashed to pieces—the fore part, on which were five of the crew and four passengers, remained on the rock. In the little fore cabin, into which every now and then washed the waves, was a woman by the name of Sarah Dawson, with two young children—and piteously, hour after hour, came up to those on deck, the frightened cries of the poor creatures down there in the dark and cold alone. But by and by those cries died away and were still.
The sufferers remained on the wreck, exposed to the fury of the tempest, and expecting every minute to be washed away, all that long, long night. In the morning they were seen from the Longstone lighthouse, about a mile distant. Only Mr. Darling, his wife, and daughter Grace were at home. The storm had somewhat abated, yet the sea ran high, and the surf around the islands and hidden rocks seemed dashing up into the very clouds. It was dark and misty, and the sufferers on the wreck could be but dimly seen through the distance and the storm. Yet Grace saw them clear enough with her tender, sympathizing heart—saw all their peril, their fear, their agony, and, looking into her father's face, she said firmly—
"Papa, those poor people must be saved!"
Mr. Darling shook his head sadly, and then she added,
"You and I must do it. We will go to them in our boat—we can perhaps bring them all away in that."
"Impossible, my child—no boat could live in such a sea. We must leave them in God's hands!"
"No, papa, God has given them into ours; and He will protect us in seeking to rescue them—we can but try."
So Grace won over her father to her noble undertaking, and they two launched the boat, and rowed off bravely toward the wreck. Mrs. Darling not only did not object to their going, though she knew all the dreadful peril of their enterprise, but helped to launch the boat. I think she was not less heroic than either her husband or her daughter.
It was ebb tide, or the boat could not have passed between the islands—but it would be flowing before they could hope to return, which would render it impossible for them to row up to their island alone—so unless they could reach the wreck, and get rowers from there, they would be obliged to stay outside till the next ebb tide, exposed to the greatest peril. All this they knew.
The most serious danger they incurred was that of their boat being dashed by the furious waves so violently against the rock on which the ship had struck, as to break it to pieces instantly. As they drew near, Grace's firm lips moved in prayer, and her father's weather-browned face grew pale. But the same good God who had guided them through the wild white surf, and over the treacherous hidden reefs, sent a smooth strong wave, that gently lifted the prow of their boat on to the rock.
They reached the wreck in safety, to the unspeakable joy and amazement of the poor people there. In the cabin they found Mrs. Dawson, nearly dead, with her arms clasped about her two children, both quite dead. All were lowered into the boat, and safely rowed to the Longstone, where Mrs. Darling received them warmly, and cared for them with motherly tenderness.
Grace, when she reached the lighthouse, was much exhausted with rowing, and almost fell into her mother's arms as she stepped ashore. But she roused her energies, and nerved her noble heart anew, for the sake of the poor sufferers. Without waiting to remove her own wet clothes, or even to wring the sea-water from her long dark hair, she devoted herself to their relief and comfort. She gathered them around the fire—she gave them food, warm drink and dry clothing. Very tenderly she consoled those who had lost property and friends by the wreck. She took the hands of old seamen who had grown as weak as women through suffering, and told them of One who pitied them, "even as a father pitieth his children." She took the childless Mrs. Dawson in her arms, laid her poor distracted head on her breast, and wept with her.
The storm continued so violent that the sufferers were obliged to remain at the lighthouse for several days, as were also a boat's crew who came to their rescue from North Sunderland, too late, and could not return. Yet all were treated most hospitably and kindly—Grace gave up her bed to poor Mrs. Dawson, and slept on a table.
At last the storm passed over, and was succeeded by calm and sunshine—the ship-wrecked guests went to their homes, some rejoicing and some sorrowing, but all bearing hearts warm with gratitude toward their deliverers. Doubtless some of those rescued men and women are yet living, and perhaps on stormy nights, when the winds roar and the sea thunders against the rocky shore, they gather their children or grandchildren about them and tell the story of the wreck of the Forfarshire, of their awful peril and wonderful deliverance.
Grace Darling and her father would soon have forgotten their heroic act had they been left to do so. But the people they had saved, in their gratitude and wonder, told the story wherever they went. Accounts of it appeared in all the papers, and flew over the world. The bleak island and lonely lighthouse were visited by thousands, eager to get a sight of the noble heroine and her brave old father. Costly presents and tributes of admiration poured in upon them from all quarters. The Duke and Duchess of Northumberland invited them over to Alnwick Castle, and presented Grace with a gold watch;—the Humane Society passed a vote of thanks for her heroism, and sent her a handsome piece of plate. A public subscription was raised for her benefit, and amounted to about seven hundred pounds—some three thousand five hundred dollars.
All this fame and applause for what seemed to her a simple act of humanity, surprised and almost overwhelmed the modest girl. She shrank from the curious looks of strangers who thronged to see her, and became more shy and reserved than ever—she refused all invitations to go out into the world—but dividing many of her gifts between her brothers and sisters, she remained with her father and mother at the lighthouse, cheerfully fulfilling her humble domestic duties. God had made her very noble, and the whole world could not spoil her.
But not long was her beautiful, heroic life to brighten that lone and desolate spot. In the fall of 1841 she fell into delicate health, and symptoms of consumption soon manifested themselves. She was removed to the house of her sister at Bamborough, on the coast. It was thought she would get better when the Spring came—but it was not so. She still continued to fail—to fade and fade away. She was taken to Alnwick, from which she was to proceed to Newcastle for medical advice. While at Alnwick, the Duchess of Northumberland treated her with all a sister's kindness—sent her own physician to her—supplied her with every luxury, and better than all, went often to see her, very plainly dressed, and without a single attendant. She had the good sense to lay aside as it were, her coronet—forget her title before the better nobility of that dying girl—and so proved herself something far greater than a Duchess—a true and loving woman.
Grace was soon taken back to Bamborough, that she might meet death with all her loved ones around her. And there, in the place where she was born, she died, on the 20th of October, 1842. She took leave of all her friends calmly, and very tenderly—giving to each one something to keep in remembrance of her—then meekly folded her hands on her breast, and slept in God's peace. She was buried within sound of the sea—within sight perhaps of the lighthouse, and the rock of the wreck—and the sea seems to mourn for her now, and the lighthouse and the rock are her monuments.
Yet, though Grace Darling should be forgotten on earth, though the lighthouse should fall—the rock crumble away—the sea cease to murmur of her—her name shall not perish, for it is written in the Lord's "Book of Life," and she dwells now where storms and death cannot come, and where "there is no more sea."
Compiled From Sources In The Public Domain.
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