“Flinders, I tell ya!” Brogan said, as he threw a telegram on the table, and looked out from his cottage window in Barley Cove, Ireland.
The spring grasses sprouted from the ground that lay fallow through the winter. Beyond this, there was a wide, calm bay.
Brogan swiveled around to face his wife, Cait. “I spent two weeks at the lighthouse and now I have to go back for two-days more.” Brogan’s eyes turned down with sadness, then he looked at his young wife. “I’m sorry, Cait. I know this ain’t what you wanted, but it’s the job of a lighthouse keeper.”
“That dosser, Murphy, has lost his mind. What does he need two days away fer?” Cait faced him, slamming a knot of dough roughly on the table.
“Don’t know, but I’m losing mine, too!” He moved behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. “Winding the lamp clock every eight hours, waking in mid-dream to do it. Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m winding it, or dreaming that I am. And, just as bad, I’ll be sifting that mercury again. I can taste it in me mouth already, like sucking on a farthing.”
“The mercury,” Cait said with a distant stare. “It’s quite fascinating.”
“It’s how we get the Fresnel lens to spin smoothly every twenty-seconds. That lens weighs as much as an elephant, but it floats like a boat on that mercury, but we have to sift it with goat skin and cheesecloth every few days.”
Brogan paused, staring far off and shaking his head. “Funny, ya know… Two days back on my way, from the lighthouse I passed, old man Finnbar O’ Gnimh. He was wearing those bright buckled shoes.”
Cait rolled her eyes. “Was he dancing in the clovers?”
“Stop it, Cait. I know what ya think and it ain’t true.”
“He’s a leprechaun, if there ever was one.”
Brogan’s shoulders shrugged, and he walked to the kitchen window. “This is the year Nineteen hundred and five. We don’t go around believing that craic.”
Cait put her hands on her hips. “He’s the oldest soul in the county of Cork and lives there in Kilcondy all by his lonesome. Nobody knows how old he truly is.” She leaned forward. “And, Spring is when they bring about most of their jiggery-pokery mischief.”
Brogan resigned with a smile. “Very well, Cait. What I wanted to say is that old Finnbar was being harassed by some boyos on his way back from Barley Cove. Well, I was not feeling up for much, let alone a scuffle. But, that old Finnbar set to swiping at them hooligans with a shillelagh that was as knotty and crooked as, he.”
“So, ya helped him, of course.” Cait stood waiting.
“Why, yes, I called out to those langers as I stopped on the other side of the road. ‘Mind your business and crack on, now…’ Well, they looked at me and seemed to not be moved by my words. In fact, Cait, they were believing the same sorts as you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, that they were yanking on old Finnbar’s dark green overcoat, shouting, ‘where’s yer gold.’”
“See, I’m not the only one who believes it.”
“That’s not the point,” Brogan said. “Don’t you see how that thinking has already gotten old Finnbar into a scrape?”
“That’s because when ya catch a leprechaun, he’s beholden… and they always settle what they owe. That’s what me uncle Orville told me and that’s how he says he made his fortune, when he pulled an old geezer from a well near Dunlough years back.”
“It’s nonsense, and how can anyone hurt an old man like that when they don’t even know it’s true?”
Cait gazed upward. “I remember what me Uncle used to say… ‘Curse this well that me soul shall dwell, till I find me magic that breaks this spell.’ That’s what he said the old geezer spoke.”
“That’s an old fairytale of sorts. It can’t be true, that’s all.”
“Well, they always pay what they owe, the legend goes… So, what did you do?” Cait eyed him with anticipation.
“Well, I got on madder than a box of frogs, and I gave it out to ’em.”
“Gave it out to ’em?”
“That’s right, I couldn’t stop myself. I hammered the biggest one on the nose and he fell back. The others ran off. They say strike the shepherd and the flock will scatter, and that’s what they did.”
Cait narrowed her eyes. “Don’t go making enemies of the rowdies around here. Everyone knows yer up at that lighthouse alone and I’m here.”
Brogan nodded in agreement. “Yes, yes, anyhow, it was brutal and perhaps it just goes to prove what they say about lighthouse keepers… That we all be insane.”
“Now, get yer head out of that garden before you convince yourself yer a lunatic.” Cait stamped her foot defiantly. “So…” She changed the subject. “You started by saying it was funny.”
“Yes… After those hooligans ran off, I said to the old man, That was a holy show, aye? Bout ye, now?”
Brogan stood silent.
“Well?” Cait pushed.
“Strange.” Brogan hung his head. “That old Finnbar went scarlet. His wretched face scowled up at me. I couldn’t tell whether he was hurt or angry, but he certainly wasn’t grateful. Then, he answered, ‘Grand, thank you very much. I’m guessing I owe ya know?’”
Brogan shook his head as his expression soured. “His breath smelled like turpentine and I couldn’t help myself but to stare at his craggy teeth that were half gold and the others brown. I answered, ‘you don’t owe me a thing.’ Then he yomped away on his gammy legs, as crookity as that walking stick.”
“Turpentine, ya say? That’s because they drink it or any distillment they can get their hands on.”
“That’s nonsense, Cait.”
“Well, either way, it’s begrudgery, if ya ask me.” Cait paused with her arms still crossed.
She stepped next to Brogan and looked out of the window. “It’s a soft day now, but a wet rain is coming forth.” She pointed beyond the cove toward distant pillowy clouds on the southern horizon.
“I’ll make some supper and pack a basket for ya. Tomorrow we’ll wake early and see ya off. When ya return, we’ll relax then, and maybe trot up ta visit me, uncle Orville in Dunmanway. He’s not doin’ well… Got a touch of the brain fever.”
“Aye, sorry Cait, I know he’s your favorite.” Brogan’s eyes brightened. “Perhaps when we arrive, I’ll get me some of the black stuff.”
Cait put her fists on her hips. “Now, don’t make a show of it.” Her toe tapped. “Though that Guinness would be restorative to the soul. Just remember, we’re going there to see my Uncle Orville, not the beer.”
The next morning, Brogan and Cait exited their cottage. Still dark, the brightest light in the sky was not a star or the moon, but the sweeping flash of the Mizen Head lighthouse, over two leagues away. Brogan counted its passage through the sky, which ended at twenty-four seconds.
“Malarkey! She’s pulling slowly. Three days ago when I left, she was rolling every twenty.”
“That means you’ll have to clean the mercury?” Cait’s gaze fastened on the lighthouse.
“That it does! I think that mercury is giving me a brain fever, sometimes.” Brogan gave a sharp nod.
“One day, ya won’t have to do this. I’m going to ask my uncle for a stash to get us elsewhere.”
“Now, don’t go begging him. It’s not right and besides, you said he’s not well.”
“Darn it, Brogan, it pains me to see ya work like this.”
“I have work, don’t I? Some aren’t as lucky as us.”
Brogan placed his flat tweed cap firmly on his head. He lifted an oversized woven basket for toting sod to his back, with a single strap that held tight around his chest and shoulders.
“I packed you a loaf of bread, slices of black pudding wrapped in cloth, along with cold crubeens.”
“Oh, I can’t wait to eat those pig’s feet.” Brogan smiled and leaned forward. He put his hands on either side of her cheeks and kissed her. “I’ll be back in two mornings from now, my love.”
Though the sun had not yet risen, the sky was light blue to the east. Brogan set out on his bicycle, heading South toward the sweeping light that cut through the darkness. Ten minutes later and halfway to the lighthouse, he approached the town of Shiplake; the place where he struck the young man. Twilight was still peeking above the horizon and he rode steadily as he kept sight of the lighthouse.
Before the bridge to the peninsula of the lighthouse, he arrived at the desolate fork to Kilcondy. The eastern sky was light blue with orange peeking on its horizon. Only to the West, stars still shone, and the lighthouse beam carved through the night sky overhead like a passing sword.
Next to the bridge that connected the mainland to the small cliff-shorn peninsula, a figure stood motionless on the side of the road. In the dim light of dusk, the figure was formless, but took shape when the passing beam of light flashed behind it. Brogan’s eyes widened as he strained to make sense of the figure. Rather than slow, he peddled harder to avoid the shadowy thing that crouched waiting in the dark.
He steered to the opposite side of the road and sped past just as the figure made a sound.
“Fainic droichhead,” a voice called from the side of the road.
Brogan recognized the coat and buckled shoes of Finnbar O’ Gnimh that glinted from the flash of light. Without slowing, he struggled to make sense of the words. Confused, he looked forward just in time to see a plank missing from the bridge, then steered away. He rolled off the road to avoid it.
Brogan jumped from the bicycle, spilling his basket. After he stopped, he stood motionless, looking around through the light blue of the morning.
He rummaged his hands through the mixed wild plants and rocky slope to reclaim his things, then pushed his bicycle back onto the road. Finnbar was nowhere in sight. Brogan looked back and forth along the dirt road, his brow furled, but his eyes widened with a desire to know more.
He pushed his bicycle over the bridge and the last stretch to the lighthouse. He looked around, concerned and in doubt of what he had seen. In front of the lighthouse, Murphy waited next to a mule donned with saddle bags.
“Mornin’, Brogan,” Murphy tipped his head.
“Mornin’ Murphy. Ya owe me, ya know.”
“I know,” Murphy gave a half grin. “The wife is having another.”
“I didn’t expect it to be so sharpish. How many wee ones is that now?” he raised an eyebrow.
“Aye, too many to count.” Murphy took off his cap and scratched his head. “Glad you got the telegram. Thought ya might not.”
“I got it, sadly.” Brogan rolled his bicycle past Murphy and leaned it against a stack of sod logs used for heating.
“Still riding that doodah?”
“You still riding that tatty mule?”
“She’s a hinny.”
“Right… I forgot.” Brogan tilted his head, staring at the animal’s swollen abdomen. “She must be going on eighty stone.”
“Hush yourself, she’s not over fifty,” Murphy petted the animal’s neck, then changed the subject. “I put three sod in the stove a few hours back. Should be good for a few more, but ya probably won’t need it.”
“Thanks, just the same…” Brogan looked back toward the bridge. “Say… Murphy, you know the old speak quite well. What’s the meaning of…” Brogan rehearsed the phrase, and then spoke, “Fainic droichhead.”
Murphy scratched his chin. “Ah, yes, means, beware the bridge, in the old Gaelic.”
“Well… Fainic droichhead to you, Murphy. The bridge has got a plank missing.”
“Aye, thanks for telling me. I could have lost me life falling into that chasm. I’ll pass it on to the regents. Oh, and don’t forget to clean the mercury. She’s getting a little caked.”
“Of course.” Brogan smirked. “Tell me, Murphy, does that old Finnbar come wandering around here often? You know he lives there alone in Kilcondy, just past the bridge.”
“Never seen him about. He’s one of the last Gaeltachts left of the auld sod, as he might tell it, and the only person I know who survived the great famine sixty years ago,” Murphy told.
“Sixty years?” Brogan looked astonished. “He must have been a lad.”
Murphy shook his head in denial. “Not the way I heard it… He was a grown man.”
Brogan stood, confused by calculation.
“Slan leat, goodbye and health to you,” Murphy saluted, turned and left on foot, leading the mule. “Come, Henna,” he said.
Brogan watched the man and animal wander off before he entered the first room of the lighthouse and set his basket on the floor. The smell of kerosene filled his nostrils and a nauseous expression waved over his face. He looked about the room, at the stove, the table and chairs, and the supplies under the staircase that curved upward on the right and which vanished into the next level. He then set out to climb the steps that ushered in the ritual he had performed so many times before.
Seven stories high, he climbed along curved white plaster walls, entering one bleak chamber and then the next. He paused in the sleeping quarters. A drop-tube passed through the center of every room. Brogan looked at a cut-away section that revealed a rope. The rope held ten stone of lead weight which powered the timing mechanism for the turning lamp of the lighthouse. Red paint on the rope meant it was near its end. They tied an additional knot around the rope before the painted section, which had since passed.
“Damn you, Murphy. I’ve got to wind it the moment I arrive!”
Brogan trudged up to the next floor beneath the lens housing where the crank of the clockwork sat. He took out his pocket watch and wound it first. He then took a deep breath, and cranked the ratcheting drum, which coiled a rope that held the lead weight.
Ninety-six rotations of the L-shaped bar turned the rope on a drum entirely. After six minutes, the winding ended. He set the handle in place. The spool turned, the ratchet clicked, and the lens light spun. Brogan pulled out his pocket-watch.
“Seven fifty-eight,” He recounted from memory. “Wind it again at four. Don’t forget to pump the lamp before bed.”
Brogan ascended the last set of stairs to the lantern room and exited to the cat-walk. On the outside of the lens housing, he looked away from the blinding glare of the lamp.
At the top of the lighthouse, an unending view of the Atlantic ocean lay before him. The sun had now risen. He gazed out over rippled water and followed the beam of light as it danced over the surrounding landscape, highlighting the waves, the black cliffs and, finally, the green expanse of the small wind-shorn peninsula that curved around the lighthouse. Rugged, yet tranquil, it appeared soft from above, but was blanketed with scrubby ground-cover of rock samphire, scurvy grass, clover and sprinkled with hardy wildflowers.
Below was a vertical drop into the ocean where the waves ravaged the jagged cliff. The only path down were zigzag sections of iron steps like scaffolding bolted to the cliff side. There, a small boat-dock jutted out into the water, wetted by the oncoming waves that swelled as the passage to the dock narrowed. From a flagstaff, they secured a cable stretched out over the boat dock and to a rocky outcrop beyond it. They used this cable as a supply line to hoist parcels to and from the dock.
Brogan descended the spiral steps to the ground level, where he counted supplies which included four pairs of galoshes of various sizes, three oil-skin coats, seven small caskets of kerosene, five coiled ropes, a tool chest and one crate containing cheese cloth and goat skins. He entered this information into the logbook and included the crate that sat in the clockwork room.
Someone rapped at the door.
“What did you forget this time, Murphy?” Brogan said aloud, and then opened the door.
Outside stood Finnbar. His beady eyes stared from under his thick, wiry brows. He sniffed the air that wafted out from the lighthouse. His eyes narrowed as he breathed in, “Ah, that be a burly brew, ye got, lad.”
“I think you’re smelling the kerosene, and I don’t keep a whiskey about if that’s what you want.” Brogan answered with a nod. “How can I help ya, old man?”
I came to check that ya made it across the bridge dandy.” Finnbar looked on with anticipation.
“That I did, but ya startled me and I ran her off the road just the same and now the tire is warped.”
“Drat!” The word spit venomously from Finnbar’s lips as he looked down at the ground. He then looked up at Brogan with a pointed finger. “You… You…”
“I what?” Brogan asked.
Finnbar turned scarlet red with anger and held his breath like a stubborn child. He then turned and scuttled off.
Brogan stood in the door and watched Finnbar trek back over the bridge and beyond a rocky hillock.
What got into him? Cait was right, it’s begrudgery.
Brogan closed the door and went back to his work.
Every eight hours, between winding the heavy lead weighted rope, he sifted mercury, pumped the kerosene tank, carried supplies to the top level, slept, ate, or read. At regular intervals, he made an observation of the southern ocean to watch for ships and entered his information into the logbook. When weather deemed necessary, they logged meteorological observations. A rain gauge, thermometer and barometer were attached to the flagstaff erected near the steps of the cliff.
When evening came, he did the same, but could only hear the distant clang of the buoy anchored off shore or see a distant lamp of a passing ship and what observations he could make from the lighthouse beam.
After his latest winding of the rope, it was nine minutes after midnight. Brogan stood on the catwalk outside the lantern. Gusts of wind blew and a light rain sprayed his face that inspired shivers. In contrast, the burning kerosene of the lamp warmed him from behind.
His eyes followed the path of the light-beam as it turned clockwise. Every twenty-seconds, it swept over the ocean, illuminating a small section of the waves, lighting their foaming crests. It then reached the cliffs and then dashed over the gentle slope of the small Mizen Head peninsula.
In a brief flash, Brogan leaned forward as he witnessed something dashing across the ground. The light passed, and the object disappeared into the darkness. He anxiously waited for the return of the light, wiping his eyes as if not sure what he had seen. Brogan gripped the railing as the seconds seemed to last an eternity. The light came back around. When it reached the cliff side, something disappeared over its edge. He gasped, putting his hands over his chest, wondering if he was dreaming. The distant clang of the buoy told him he was not.
The light came back around; he waited for it to reach the same spot of the ground. There and along the entire path the light shone upon, not a person or animal was in sight.
Brogan raced down the stairs to the sleeping quarters, grabbed a lit kerosine lamp and carried it with him to the bottom floor and set it on the table. There, he grabbed an oilskin coat and flung it over his back. He slipped his boots into a pair of large galoshes before he ran out, flogging the wet ground with the oversized rubber shoes.
In the darkness, he ran toward the cliff’s edge but froze, waiting for the lighthouse beam to illuminate his path. He called out as he neared the bluff, “Hello, is anyone there.”
A reply never came. Brogan crept, crouching low, as he dared himself to venture near the edge which hid in the blackness. The ground was slick from the rain. The wind blew irregularly, with gusts that swirled in a countercurrent pulling toward the ocean.
“Can anyone hear me?” Brogan called out, and then listened.
Voice-like bits of sound teased from the blowing rain, the crashing hiss of waves one hundred feet below, and the buoy that clanged uneasily as if a sea monster shook it.
Far off in the ocean, the lighthouse beam swept across the sea, revealing wavelets like white horses that raced toward him. Brogan looked up, waiting for it to come near. He willed himself to look over the edge and crouched to the ground. His hands hesitated as they reached forward, feeling for the slightest drop in elevation. The swirling gusts pulled at him. His finger tips trembled as they moved beyond the last of the grass and onto the crumbling rock that marked the edge of the abyss into darkness.
The light rushed toward him. He willed himself and slid toward the precipice. That in its last bit curved downward, threatening with gravity, slick and with a lack of handholds. The tips of his loose fitting galoshes feebly dug into the tufts of low-growing plants as his hips and elbows inch-wormed him closer. His face near to the ground, he could smell the earthen rock as every one of his senses was on alert, gauging any sign that he would fall to his death. He reached for the edge. In that moment something rough and claw-like grabbed his hand. With a reflex he pulled back with a gasp, but knew it must only have been a loose rock or perhaps a bird.
The light met him with a flash as his eyes peeked over the edge… There was nothing human or animal below, but some kind of flotsam near where white foam heaped against the black rocks; something non-living and mechanical. He could see it for only a flash, then it went black.
In the darkness, Brogan exhaled and pushed himself away from the cliff. His eyes dilated in the gloom, scanning with peripheral vision. His expression was blank with wonder of what happened. He touched his hand that still resonated from whatever had gripped him.
He slowly stood and stepped farther away from the cliff edge, matching the intervals of the passing beam. He marched back to the lighthouse.
“I’m losing my mind.” He entered the lighthouse and took off the raincoat.
He kicked off the galoshes, took his lamp in hand, and looked out over the dark landscape once more before closing the door. Exhausted by the excitement, he trudged up the steps.
“Pump the tank,” he reminded himself.
He climbed past the sleeping quarters, to the clock room above. He set himself in a posture to hand-pump a brass kerosene tank with enough air pressure to pass vaporized fuel over a bunsen flame within the lens, which would last until dawn. A gauge illustrated its pressure. Brogan stood straight to stretch his back, then descended to the room below.
There, he took off his boots and lay himself on his cot, fully dressed. He tucked one foot into the cut-away section of the drop tube, reacquainting himself with his familiar sleeping position. Then, waited for a touch from the knot in the rope. This would wake him, as it always did, if he overslept. Again, he would wind the rope as he always did.
Uneasily, he pondered the recent event, disbelieving what he had seen. He leaned to his side and blew out the lamp.
He drifted into a slumber assisted by the hum of the turning lens, the click of the rope spool ratchet, the distant clang of the buoy which echoed along with the whisper of the crashing waves, and the gentle caress of the rope strands against his foot.
The next morning, the knot thumped his ankle. He woke and looked at his watch, which read seven forty-three. He wound it, as he knew he would shortly wind the rope.
He put on his boots, tucked in his shirt, and donned his cap. First, he climbed to the clock room and pumped the kerosene tank once again. He looked at the rope spool and counted six full coils around it.
Still have half an hour.
He descended seven flights of steps. He lit a kerosene burner that sat atop the stove, then opened the door to see a heavy fog had enveloped the peninsula. He used the pot to scoop water from a rain barrel outside that brimmed from the steady rain that fell.
He left the lighthouse door open and set the pot to boil. Inside the stove, he looked to see a half burnt sod and exited to retrieve two more briquettes where he had leaned his bicycle.
Brogan walked out, then stood open-mouthed, as he realized his bicycle was no longer there.
“Damn rubbish! Who’s coddin’ me?” he shouted as he looked out over the green slope and toward the mist-covered bridge. Not a soul was in sight.
“Hooligans! I know it’s you!”
The words fell silent in the fog.
Not far off, he could see the bridge that spanned the crevasse, veiled in mist. Low, drifting clouds obscured the land beyond. Brogan stared at it with curiosity. He peered up at the lighthouse, which vanished into the dense white cloud. Like stirring cream, the light churned through it.
Brogan glanced back at the pot that had not yet boiled. Inside, he put galoshes over his boots and an oilskin coat over his body. Outside, the air was a mist with soft rain that was finitely visible. He yanked the hood of the raincoat over his head as he set off with a brisk walk toward the cliff.
An impenetrable fog hung over the ocean. The clang of the buoy was irregular and hidden within this void, which was a blank white canvas. The view of the cliff was opaque as he approached. Wisps of climbing clouds rose over it and whipped back around like ghostly fingers grabbing at the solid ground and then melted away. Brogan watched and then felt his hand that had been clawed the night before. Hesitantly, he approached the drop-off and stared over its edge again. Below, sea birds flew from rocky ledges, disappearing into the void while waves emerged, splashed the lowest crags.
It must have been a bird.
Relief waved over his face, confirming there was not a lifeless body on the rocks below. He then looked back toward the bridge and hurried in its direction, eyeing his surroundings with suspicion. It took less than a minute and when he arrived, his eyes widened with astonishment when he observed the missing plank was now restored.
It had only been light for less than an hour, and no workers were in sight. Brogan turned in all directions with a look of bewilderment, wondering who fixed it so quickly, and why they did not stop at the lighthouse and bring rations. For it was the routine to bring the latest backlog of supplies when workers visited, and which would have included fresh milk, cheese and butter.
Brogan walked back to the lighthouse. The kettle whistled as he entered. He poured a cup, cut a piece of bread and ate it with a slice of black pudding. Standing in the doorway, he scanned the milky edges of land, expecting to see a human form. He finished his meal, then retrieved his pocket watch. It read four after eight.
Time to wind it again.
His lips curled inward as his teeth gritted. He leaned out of the doorway.
“You think you got me, aye?”
He stood waiting for a reply, but there was none. Brogan slammed the door and paused, studying it. He placed his cup on the table and then dropped a wood beam lock across the door and frame. He took a deep breath, then methodically climbed the steps. His feet fell into a rhythm that matched the click of the rope drum ratchet.
His eyes stared without seeing as his thoughts wandered. Up the steps he clomped like another piece of machinery of the lighthouse.
Are those hooligans playing a trick on me? Did Murphy fix the plank on his way out?
Brogan took a deep breath and then entered the clock-room. He stopped to yawn, with outstretched arms and clenched fists. He exhaled and rubbed his left bicep with his other hand, preparing to exhaust himself once again.
He appraised the drum with one and a half coils wrapped around, calculating the remaining time left.
Ninety-six turns divided by eight hours equals twelve turns an hour. Sixty minutes divided by twelve turns equals five minutes on each turn.
“Seven minutes left, thereabouts.”
He rolled his sleeves to his elbows and cranked the drum. He had wrapped it twice when the low drone of a fog horn bellowed twice, vibrating his ears.
“Holy craic! A steamer?”
He considered the signal. Two long blasts… Underway, but not making way.
Brogan rushed up to the cat-walk outside of the lens housing. The lighthouse beam rotated across the thick fog, as if shining against a wall. He stared out into the empty void that now told only a story through sound; the waves crashed, the wind was calm, but the buoy clanged uneasily.
After a brief silence, the horn blared twice again, shaking the surrounding air.
Brogan looked at his watch.
Two minutes interval.
He listened as a bell rang rapidly.
Anchored off shore?
A gong sounded gently to the right but in the same proximity.
The bell is at the helm; the gong is at the aft. She must be beyond the buoy, or near it.
A minute later, the bell and gong repeated.
Anchored off shore… but why?
Brogan glanced at his pocket watch.
Nine after eight.
He stepped back inside the lens housing and down to the clock room. One glance at the drum told him he had fifteen minutes of rope.
“Damn it all.”
He wound the rope round the drum twice.
That should last me. I’ve got twenty-five minutes.
He hurried down the many spiraling steps, stumbling twice. At the bottom, he grabbed a coat but ignored the galoshes.
“It’s a fine thing, it is!” He sarcastically muttered.
Hurrying around the lighthouse to the ocean-side near the flagstaff, which overlooked the quay, he watched for movement in the fog, then cupped his hands around his mouth. “Ahoy!” he shouted and waited for a response.
He stepped near the scaffolding of stairs that meandered back and forth along the cliff wall and which ended at the base of the dock. The supply cable stabbed out into the white void and abruptly ended, appearing to float in the white mist, defying gravity. A steady sound splashed in the mist.
“The Lady Gwendolyn,” a distant voice cried out from the void.
The Lady Gwendolyn? Haven’t heard of it.
“Ahoy there, Lady Gwendolyn, ’tis the Mizen Head station. About ye, now.”
“In a skiff but unable to row ashore, the surge is hefty,” the voice faintly called from beyond view, but near the edge of the cloud bank. Brogan looked down at the visible section of the dock, disappearing under the oncoming waves.
“The dock is submerged, don’t row ashore. About ye, I say.”
“‘Tis a trouvaille. We ran dry of fuel and by luck anchored near the buoy in the early morn’. We’ve been swaying about like a dandy in a howff. In need of petrol-paraffin.”
“Will kerosene suit ya?” Brogan shouted.
“Aye, Aye, she will, just fine,” Came the voice.
“The quay is too dangerous.”
“What have ye then?” The voice was faint.
Brogan studied the cable that dripped with condensation.
He gripped the cable leading from the flagstaff and followed its length with his eyes where it vanished in the void. “Can you see the cable attached to the rock beyond the dock?”
There was a long pause.
“Rolling near it but pushing back with oars to avoid collision.”
“Remain steady.” Brogan ordered. “Can you take on a casket of kerosene?”
“Aye, we can.”
“Will hoist one casket down the cable. One will have to keep ya, should get ya to a proper port near Barley Cove, heading northwest… Remain ready.”
“Aye, aye,” Came the voice crackling through the sound of the splashing waves below.
Brogan peeked at his watch, wiping the water from his eyes. “Eight twenty-eight.”
Craic, I’ve got six minutes.
Brogan raced into the lighthouse. He counted the caskets of kerosene.
Then, he ran up eight flights of steps to the clock room, where he bent over with his hands upon his knees. Catching his breath, he watched one last wrap of the rope slowly unravel. Brogan grabbed the crank and struggled to wind the rope. He turned it twelve rotations.
There, one hour, that should do it.
Brogan raced down to the bottom of the lighthouse, where he bent to lift a kerosene casket from under the staircase. His arms fit around the girth of the small barrel where his fingers interlocked. The top touched his chin. He breathed in the kerosene fumes that were dizzying, while leaning back slightly, allowing the base to press into his waist. His legs wobbled under the eight stone of weight.
From the lighthouse, he stumbled, breathing deeply. His breath fogged in the air and then vanished into the surrounding mist. At the base of the flagpole, he set the casket to the ground and stayed on his knees, recovering while looking around for a means to lower it down the cable. A small basket with a hook and rope secured at the top of the cable would not do.
He looked once again at the cable that aimed downward into the white void, calculating.
Back in the lighthouse, he hurried. Brogan’s sod basket was the correct width and sturdy enough. He lifted it and gathered another bundle of rope.
After setting the basket on its side, he tipped the casket and pulled the basket over its bottom like a shoe. Then, wrapped the casket with rope from bottom to top and around the sides, then stood it upright. Lastly, he threw the remaining end of the rope over the cable and hoisted it from the ground.
He unhitched the grappling hook attached to the smaller basket and eased the heavy casket of kerosene slowly down the cable.
“Coming down!” He shouted.
The cable dipped from the weight. His feet slipped as he pulled against the increasing weight. He held tight with one hand to the rope as he wrapped his arm around the flagpole. The rope cut into his palm as he gripped it to slow its ascent.
Hesitantly, he let go of the pole and held the rope with both hands, digging his boot heels into the rocky ground that bit by bit crumbled under the pressure.
The cliff edge neared. An impulse let go of the rope, entered his mind and he imagined it smashing into the rocky outcrop below.
Brogan let the rope out steadily, resisting the gravity that pulled it. The cable slunk down as it slid into the unknown, beyond the mist.
“I can’t hold on!” Brogan yelled. He looked up to see his rope pointing into the fog, holding on with an unknown end to his pain. His face contorted as he struggled. “I can’t hold it, I can’t hold it. She’s going to come smashing down.”
“I can see it,” the voice called out.
Brogan closed his eyes as his heels scraped the ground. He groaned with the ache in his arms as he felt them numb with exhaustion. His hands burned with the friction of the sliding rope.
Suddenly, the cable bounced, which lifted his body away from the ground. He looked up with fright. As a reflex, he coiled the rope around his wrist, realizing too late that this was a mistake.
“Oh, God!” Brogan cried, as it pulled his right hand out over the drop-off. He reached up with his left hand to hold the wet cable and halted, with one foot touching the cliff edge and the rest of his body suspended over it.
Brogan froze, his limbs stretched apart, his palms wet, his fear beyond his understanding. The casket rested somewhere at its end, and Brogan let go of the rope. He remained suspended over the cliff, unable to move.
Brogan looked back toward the flagpole to see Finnbar O’ Grimh. He stood within arm’s reach. His eyes glared red. A brown and gold toothy grin stretched over his wizened, leathery face.
At that moment, Brogan’s mouth opened, unable to speak, his eyes watching with disbelief, as Finnbar seemed to raise his shillelagh to strike him.
Finnbar stabbed his walking stick outward. Brogan gasped as it then scooped him by the waist. The old man pulled with one hand, and Brogan’s body eased back over the ground.
“Oh, thank you, Finnbar, thank you so.” Brogan said as relief washed over him. An expression of disbelief grew upon his dripping face.
“Thank you ever so.” Brogan repeated the words, whispering as he looked back at Finnbar who walked away.
“I don’t owe ya now.” Finnbar said without looking back. “I suppose you’ll be pleased to know your bicycle is restored.” His hunched body wobbled with his cane as he disappeared into the fog toward the bridge.
Brogan paused. “Yes, but how?..” Then he looked down at the loose rope in his hands. He opened his palms that were burned and blistering, then back toward Finnbar, who had vanished.
Brogan resumed his duties at the lighthouse. As the fog lifted, he searched for ships, hoping to see The Lady Gwendolyn, but none were near and no record of the Lady Gwendolyn having ever passed. However, more interested, Brogan was in the whereabouts of Finnbar, and how he knew to be there when he was.
That night he lay with his foot against the rope as the ocean and the lighthouse lullabied him to sleep.
The next morning, Murphy arrived as expected. He said nothing about the events, except that a boat out of fuel needed kerosene and to check the log.
When Brogan arrived home, Cait met him in front of the cottage. Her eyes were red from crying. She held a linen handkerchief over her mouth.
Brogan dropped his bicycle.
“Oh, Cait, what is it?” He gazed into her eyes.
She hugged him. “It’s my uncle Orville.” She choked with sobs.
Cait took a deep breath. “Uncle Orville passed to the beyond. God rest his soul.”
“I’m so sorry, Cait. I know how much he meant to ya. But, we’re going to be fine, I tell ya.”
Cait sniffled and shook her head. “We will, we will… My uncle…” Cait paused. ” Left us a fortune.”
“But why?” Brogan asked, as he searched her face for clarity.
Cait and Brogan kissed. After their embrace, Cait stood straight and composed herself and began to speak.
Brogan looked back toward the lighthouse and then at Cait. “Let us go inside… Have I got a story to tell you.”
From inside the cottage, they looked out through the window that opened toward the cove. Cait turned to Brogan, “I promise, ya, my husband, not to ply ya with myths and notions. It’s foolishness, I tell ya, just plain foolishness.”
Brogan put his finger to her lips. “No, no, my dear, you go ahead and believe it. I don’t understand everything that happened, but there’s more to that Finnbar than I can explain.”
In that instance, Finnbar O’ Gnimh’s face rose in front of the window from outside. Brogan and Cait jumped back in shock. Finnbar starred with red eyes. He grinned with his gold and brown teeth. “Curse this well that me soul shall dwell, till I find me magic that breaks this spell.”