I appreciate that the copyright is rather 'grey', but this story was published 85 years ago, and will otherwise largely languish in archive limbo.
THE FIRING GATHERER
by Henry Williamson
The last wave of the high tide leaves a wet riband above the smoothed sands - a riband of corks, seaweed and pine bark; corpses of gulls stricken by the peregrine falcons, of auks and guillemots and puffins smeared with dark brown oil-fuel; of sticks, tins and bits of boxes. At night the shore rats come down to the jetsam, sniffing for potato peel or cabbage stalk, and or cabbage stalk, and gnawing the bark of green ash twigs. The jetsam has its human prowlers too, who come for the driftwood for firing.
So she padded along the tide-line to the end of her daily prowl, a jagged mass of rock rising out of the sand, on which thrift and samphire grew with lichens, called Black Rock, where she would turn back, collecting the driftwood of broken boxes, herring-barrel staves, and sticks which she had claimed by flinging above the tide-line on her outward way. She was a shrivelled old woman, wearing a flattened shapeless hat that might in some past year have been found half buried in the sand. The torn folds of her many hanging clothes hid her like the black fragments of withered mushrooms. Her voice was a cawing whisper; her hands, with the long chipped nails, were more battered than the bits of roots and branches they grubbed up. She lived in the hamlet with her only grandchild, whose parents were dead, a beautiful fair-haired little girl, thin and shy as she peered through the curtains of the small closed cottage window, her eyes in her pale sharp face blue as borage flowers. To this little maid old grannie gave all life; every stick gathered and brought home was a token of hope. For the old woman believed that the child’s strength would remain and even increase only if she was always before a warm fire.
The little maid was usually behind the closed window: for Granmer was 'tumble afear'd' of cold air, and kept her well wrapped up beside the fire. If she sweated, so much the better.
Sometimes, when the sun laid a bright triangle over the threshold, I saw the child loitering by the open door, looking up at the gulls or curlews passing in the blue sky, or down at the fragments of mussel-shells and small brown pebbles set in the lime-ash floor by her feet. From the confining space of the cottage room she saw and wondered on many things. Even in the gentlest days there was a shawl hiding her mouth, so careful was Granmer.
Once a visitor told the old woman that it was the worst possible thing for a tubercular child to remain in a stuffy atmosphere, all her frail strength leaving her in perspiration; but Grannie would not listen to such clitter-clatter. She set her little dear in the tall-backed wooden chair before the wan yellow flames of the sullen driftwood fire; but it did not improve her. One evening she was “took turrible bad wi’ coughing”, and after that she was kept in bed; and out of this darker room “the dear Lord took her for His own purpose” soon afterwards.
The old woman pushed her rattling perambulator down Vention Lane as before, except that now she went every day (but never on Sundays), heedless of the stormiest weather. The front wheel spokes of her firing-carrier broke through the rims, and she fitted on the rusted spindles a pair of cast-iron wheels off a lawn-mower, and pushed the tilted perambulator front-to-back, to prevent it tipping out its load. Her outward track wandered more, and she remained longer staring at useless objects; and one day she was seen pushing the perambulator on, or rather through, the soft sand, in which the narrow rims of its tall wheels cut deep lines. She spoke strangely to some children, who laughed at her for a while, then became frightened and silent, and hurried home to tell their mother.