The Ruling Passion
Henry van Dyke
Part 3 out of 3
This I begged permission to carry away with me, hoping to find in it
something which would throw light upon my picture, perhaps even some
message to be carried, some hint or suggestion of something which
the writer would fain have had done for him, and which I promised
myself faithfully to perform, as a test of an imagined friendship--
imagined not in the future, but in the impossible past.
I read the book in this spirit, searching its pages carefully,
through the long afternoon, in the solitary cabin of my boat. There
was nothing at first but an ordinary diary; a record of the work and
self-denials of a poor student of art. Then came the date of his
first visit to Larmone, and an expression of the pleasure of being
with his own people again after a lonely life, and some chronicle of
his occupations there, studies for pictures, and idle days that were
summed up in a phrase: "On the bay," or "In the woods."
After this the regular succession of dates was broken, and there
followed a few scraps of verse, irregular and unfinished, bound
together by the thread of a name--"Claire among her Roses," "A Ride
through the Pines with Claire," "An Old Song of Claire's" "The Blue
Flower in Claire's Eyes." It was not poetry, but such an
unconscious tribute to the power and beauty of poetry as unfolds
itself almost inevitably from youthful love, as naturally as the
blossoms unfold from the apple trees in May. If you pick them they
are worthless. They charm only in their own time and place.
A date told of his change from Larmone to the village, and this was
written below it: "Too heavy a sense of obligation destroys freedom,
and only a free man can dare to love."
Then came a number of fragments indicating trouble of mind and
hesitation; the sensitiveness of the artist, the delicate, self-
tormenting scruples of the lonely idealist, the morbid pride of the
young poor man, contending with an impetuous passion and forcing it
to surrender, or at least to compromise.
"What right has a man to demand everything and offer nothing in
return except an ambition and a hope? Love must come as a giver,
not as a beggar."
"A knight should not ask to wear his lady's colours until he has won
"King Cophetua and the beggar-maid--very fine! but the other way--
"A woman may take everything from a man, wealth and fame and
position. But there is only one thing that a man may accept from a
woman--something that she alone can give--happiness."
"Self-respect is less than love, but it is the trellis that holds
love up from the ground; break it down, and all the flowers are in
the dust, the fruit is spoiled."
"And yet"--so the man's thought shone through everywhere--"I think
she must know that I love her, and why I cannot speak."
One entry was written in a clearer, stronger hand: "An end of
hesitation. The longest way is the shortest. I am going to the
city to work for the Academy prize, to think of nothing else until I
win it, and then come back with it to Claire, to tell her that I
have a future, and that it is hers. If I spoke of it now it would
be like claiming the reward before I had done the work. I have told
her only that I am going to prove myself an artist, AND TO LIVE FOR
WHAT I LOVE BEST. She understood, I am sure, for she would not lift
her eyes to me, but her hand trembled as she gave me the blue flower
from her belt."
The date of his return to Larmone was marked, but the page was
blank, as the day had been.
Some pages of dull self-reproach and questioning and bewildered
"Is it possible that she has gone away, without a word, without a
sign, after what has passed between us? It is not fair. Surely I
had some claim."
"But what claim, after all? I asked for nothing. And was it not
pride that kept me silent, taking it for granted that if I asked,
she would give?"
"It was a mistake; she did not understand, nor care."
"It was my fault; I might at least have told her that I loved her,
though she could not have answered me."
"It is too late now. To-night, while I was finishing the picture, I
saw her in the garden. Her spirit, all in white, with a blue flower
in her belt. I knew she was dead across the sea. I tried to call
to her, but my voice made no sound. She seemed not to see me. She
moved like one in a dream, straight on, and vanished. Is there no
one who can tell her? Must she never know that I loved her?"
The last thing in the book was a printed scrap of paper that lay
between the leaves:
"Would the gods might give
Another field for human strife;
Man must live one life
Ere he learns to live.
Ah, friend, in thy deep grave,
What now can change; what now can save?"
So there was a message after all, but it could never be carried; a
task for a friend, but it was impossible. What better thing could I
do with the poor little book than bury it in the garden in the
shadow of Larmone? The story of a silent fault, hidden in silence.
How many of life's deepest tragedies are only that: no great
transgression, no shock of conflict, no sudden catastrophe with its
answering thrill of courage and resistance: only a mistake made in
the darkness, and under the guidance of what seemed a true and noble
motive; a failure to see the right path at the right moment, and a
long wandering beyond it; a word left unspoken until the ears that
should have heard it are sealed, and the tongue that should have
spoken it is dumb.
The soft sea-fog clothed the night with clinging darkness; the faded
leaves hung slack and motionless from the trees, waiting for their
fall; the tense notes of the surf beyond the sand-dunes vibrated
through the damp air like chords from some mighty VIOLONO; large,
warm drops wept from the arbour while I sat in the garden, holding
the poor little book, and thinking of the white blot in the record
of a life that was too proud to bend to the happiness that was meant
There are men like that: not many perhaps, but a few; and they are
the ones who suffer most keenly in this world of half-understanding
and clouded knowledge. There is a pride, honourable and sensitive,
that imperils the realization of love, puts it under a spell of
silence and reserve, makes it sterile of blossoms and impotent of
fruits. For what is it, after all, but a subtle, spiritual worship
of self? And what was Falconer's resolve not to tell this girl that
he loved her until he had won fame and position, but a secret,
unconscious setting of himself above her? For surely, if love is
supreme, it does not need to wait for anything else to lend it worth
and dignity. The very sweetness and power of it lie in the
confession of one life as dependent upon another for its fulfilment.
It is made strong in its very weakness. It is the only thing, after
all, that can break the prison bars and set the heart free from
itself. The pride that hinders it, enslaves it. Love's first duty
is to be true to itself, in word and deed. Then, having spoken
truth and acted verity, it may call on honour to keep it pure and
If Falconer had trusted Claire, and showed her his heart without
reserve, would she not have understood him and helped him? It was
the pride of independence, the passion of self-reliance that drew
him away from her and divided his heart from hers in a dumb
isolation. But Claire,--was not she also in fault? Might she not
have known, should not she have taken for granted, the truth which
must have been so easy to read in Falconer's face, though he never
put it into words? And yet with her there was something very
different from the pride that kept him silent. The virgin reserve
of a young girl's heart is more sacred than any pride of self. It
is the maiden instinct which makes the woman always the shrine, and
never the pilgrim. She is not the seeker, but the one sought. She
dares not take anything for granted. She has the right to wait for
the voice, the word, the avowal. Then, and not till then, if the
pilgrim be the chosen one, the shrine may open to receive him.
Not all women believe this; but those who do are the ones best worth
seeking and winning. And Claire was one of them. It seemed to me,
as I mused, half dreaming, on the unfinished story of these two
lives that had missed each other in the darkness, that I could see
her figure moving through the garden, beyond where the pallid bloom
of the tall cosmos-flower bent to the fitful breeze. Her robe was
like the waving of the mist. Her face was fair, and very fair, for
all its sadness: a blue flower, faint as a shadow on the snow,
trembled at her waist, as she paced to and fro along the path.
I murmured to myself, "Yet he loved her: and she loved him. Can
pride be stronger than love?"
Perhaps, after all, the lingering and belated confession which
Falconer had written in his diary might in some way come to her.
Perhaps if it were left here in the bower of honeysuckles where they
had so often sat together, it might be a sign and omen of the
meeting of these two souls that had lost each other in the dark of
the world. Perhaps,--ah, who can tell that it is not so?--for those
who truly love, with all their errors, with all their faults, there
is no "irrevocable"--there is "another field."
As I turned from the garden, the tense note of the surf vibrated
through the night. The pattering drops of dew rustled as they fell
from the leaves of the honeysuckle. But underneath these sounds it
seemed as if I heard a deep voice saying "Claire!" and a woman's
lips whispering "Temple!"
A YEAR OF NOBILITY
ENTER THE MARQUIS
The Marquis sat by the camp-fire peeling potatoes.
To look at him, you never would have taken him for a marquis. His
costume was a pair of corduroy trousers; a blue flannel shirt,
patched at elbows with gray; lumberman's boots, flat-footed,
shapeless, with loose leather legs strapped just below the knee, and
wrinkled like the hide of an ancient rhinoceros; and a soft brown
hat with several holes in the crown, as if it had done duty, at some
time in its history, as an impromptu target in a shooting-match. A
red woollen scarf twisted about his loins gave a touch of colour and
It was not exactly a court dress, but it sat well on the powerful
sinewy figure of the man. He never gave a thought to his looks, but
peeled his potatoes with a dexterity which betrayed a past-master of
the humble art, and threw the skins into the fire.
"Look you, m'sieu'," he said to young Winthrop Alden, who sat on a
fallen tree near him, mending the fly-rod which he had broken in the
morning's fishing, "look you, it is an affair of the most strange,
yet of the most certain. We have known always that ours was a good
family. The name tells it. The Lamottes are of la haute classe in
France. But here, in Canada, we are poor. Yet the good blood dies
not with the poverty. It is buried, hidden, but it remains the
same. It is like these pataques. You plant good ones for seed: you
get a good crop. You plant bad ones: you get a bad crop. But we
did not know about the title in our family. No. We thought ours
was a side-branch, an off-shoot. It was a great surprise to us.
But it is certain,--beyond a doubt."
Jean Lamotte's deep voice was quiet and steady. It had the tone of
assured conviction. His bright blue eyes above his ruddy mustache
and bronzed cheeks, were clear and tranquil as those of a child.
Alden was immensely interested and amused. He was a member of the
Boston branch of the Society for Ancestral Culture, and he
recognized the favourite tenet of his sect,--the doctrine that
"blood will tell." He was also a Harvard man, knowing almost
everything and believing hardly anything. Heredity was one of the
few unquestioned articles of his creed. But the form in which this
familiar confession of faith came to him, on the banks of the Grande
Decharge, from the lips of a somewhat ragged and distinctly
illiterate Canadian guide, was grotesque enough to satisfy the most
modern taste for new sensations. He listened with an air of
gravity, and a delighted sense of the humour of the situation.
"How did you find it out?" he asked.
"Well, then," continued Jean, "I will tell you how the news came to
me. It was at St. Gedeon, one Sunday last March. The snow was good
and hard, and I drove in, ten miles on the lake, from our house
opposite Grosse Ile. After mass, a man, evidently of the city,
comes to me in the stable while I feed the horse, and salutes me.
"'Is this Jean Lamotte?'
"'At your service, m'sieu'.'
"'Son of Francois Louis Lamotte?'
"'Of no other. But he is dead, God give him repose.'
"'I been looking for you all through Charlevoix and Chicoutimi.'
"'Here you find me then, and good-day to you,' says I, a little
short, for I was beginning to be shy of him.
"'Chut, chut,' says he, very friendly. 'I suppose you have time to
talk a bit. How would you like to be a marquis and have a castle in
France with a hundred thousand dollars?'
"For a moment I think I will lick him; then I laugh. 'Very well
indeed,' says I, 'and also a handful of stars for buckshot, and the
new moon for a canoe.'
"'But no,' answers the man. 'I am earnest, Monsieur Lamotte. I
want to talk a long talk with you. Do you permit that I accompany
you to your residence?'
"Residence! You know that little farm-house of logs where my mother
lives,--you saw it last summer. But of course it is a pretty good
house. It is clean. It is warm. So I bring the man home in the
sleigh. All that evening he tells the story. How our name Lamotte
is really De la Motte de la Luciere. How there belongs to that name
an estate and a title in France, now thirty years with no one to
claim it. How he, being an AVOCAT, has remarked the likeness of the
names. How he has tracked the family through Montmorency and
Quebec, in all the parish books. How he finds my great-
grandfather's great-grandfather, Etienne de La Motte who came to
Canada two hundred years ago, a younger son of the Marquis de la
Luciere. How he has the papers, many of them, with red seals on
them. I saw them. 'Of course,' says he, 'there are others of the
family here to share the property. It must be divided. But it is
large--enormous--millions of francs. And the largest share is
yours, and the title, and a castle--a castle larger than Price's
saw-mill at Chicoutimi; with carpets, and electric lights, and
coloured pictures on the wall, like the hotel at Roberval.'
"When my mother heard about that she was pleased. But me--when I
heard that I was a marquis, I knew it was true."
Jean's blue eyes were wide open now, and sparkling brightly. He had
put down the pan of potatoes. He was holding his head up and
Alden turned away his face to light his pipe, and hide a smile.
"Did he get--any money--out of you?"--came slowly between the puffs
"Money!" answered Jean, "of course there must be money to carry on
an affair of this kind. There was seventy dollars that I had
cleaned up on the lumber-job last winter, and the mother had forty
dollars from the cow she sold in the fall. A hundred and ten
dollars,--we gave him that. He has gone to France to make the claim
for us. Next spring he comes back, and I give him a hundred dollars
more; when I get my property five thousand dollars more. It is
little enough. A marquis must not be mean."
Alden swore softly in English, under his breath. A rustic comedy, a
joke on human nature, always pleased him; but beneath his cynical
varnish he had a very honest heart, and he hated cruelty and
injustice. He knew what a little money meant in the backwoods; what
hard and bitter toil it cost to rake it together; what sacrifices
and privations must follow its loss. If the smooth prospector of
unclaimed estates in France had arrived at the camp on the Grande
Decharge at that moment, Alden would have introduced him to the most
unhappy hour of his life.
But with Jean Lamotte it was by no means so easy to deal. Alden
perceived at once that ridicule would be worse than useless. The
man was far too much in earnest. A jest about a marquis with holes
in his hat! Yes, Jean would laugh at that very merrily; for he was
a true VOYAGEUR. But a jest about the reality of the marquis! That
struck him as almost profane. It was a fixed idea with him.
Argument could not shake it. He had seen the papers. He knew it
was true. All the strength of his vigorous and healthy manhood
seemed to have gone into it suddenly, as if this was the news for
which he had been waiting, unconsciously, since he was born.
It was not in the least morbid, visionary, abstract. It was
concrete, actual, and so far as Alden could see, wholesome. It did
not make Jean despise his present life. On the contrary, it
appeared to lend a zest to it, as an interesting episode in the
career of a nobleman. He was not restless; he was not discontented.
His whole nature was at once elated and calmed. He was not at all
feverish to get away from his familiar existence, from the woods and
the waters he knew so well, from the large liberty of the unpeopled
forest, the joyous rush of the great river, the splendid breadth of
the open sky. Unconsciously these things had gone into his blood.
Dimly he felt the premonitions of homesickness for them all. But he
was lifted up to remember that the blood into which these things had
entered was blue blood, and that though he lived in the wilderness
he really belonged to la haute classe. A breath of romance, a
spirit of chivalry from the days when the high-spirited courtiers of
Louis XIV sought their fortune in the New World, seemed to pass into
him. He spoke of it all with a kind of proud simplicity.
"It appears curious to m'sieu', no doubt, but it has been so in
Canada from the beginning. There were many nobles here in the old
time. Frontenac,--he was a duke or a prince. Denonville,--he was a
grand seigneur. La Salle, Vaudreuil,--these are all noble, counts
or barons. I know not the difference, but the cure has told me the
names. And the old Jacques Cartier, the father of all, when he went
home to France, I have heard that the King made him a lord and gave
him a castle. Why not? He was a capable man, a brave man; he could
sail a big ship, he could run the rapids of the great river in his
canoe. He could hunt the bear, the lynx, the carcajou. I suppose
all these men,--marquises and counts and barons,--I suppose they all
lived hard, and slept on the ground, and used the axe and the paddle
when they came to the woods. It is not the fine coat that makes the
noble. It is the good blood, the adventure, the brave heart."
"Magnificent!" thought Alden. "It is the real thing, a bit of the
seventeenth century lost in the forest for two hundred years. It is
like finding an old rapier beside an Indian trail. I suppose the
fellow may be the descendant of some gay young lieutenant of the
regiment Carignan-Salieres, who came out with De Tracy, or
Courcelles. An amour with the daughter of a habitant,--a name taken
at random,--who can unravel the skein? But here's the old thread of
chivalry running through all the tangles, tarnished but unbroken."
This was what he said to himself. What he said to Jean was, "Well,
Jean, you and I have been together in the woods for two summers now,
and marquis or no marquis, I hope this is not going to make any
difference between us."
"But certainly NOT!" answered Jean. "I am well content with
m'sieu', as I hope m'sieu' is content with me. While I am AU BOIS,
I ask no better than to be your guide. Besides, I must earn those
other hundred dollars, for the payment in the spring."
Alden tried to make him promise to give nothing more to the lawyer
until he had something sure to show for his money. But Jean was
politely non-committal on that point. It was evident that he felt
the impossibility of meanness in a marquis. Why should he be
sparing or cautious? That was for the merchant, not for the noble.
A hundred, two hundred, three hundred dollars: What was that to an
estate and a title? Nothing risk, nothing gain! He must live up to
his role. Meantime he was ready to prove that he was the best guide
on the Grande Decharge.
And so he was. There was not a man in all the Lake St. John country
who knew the woods and waters as well as he did. Far up the great
rivers Peribonca and Misstassini he had pushed his birch canoe,
exploring the network of lakes and streams along the desolate Height
of Land. He knew the Grand Brule, where the bears roam in September
on the fire-scarred hills among the wide, unharvested fields of
blueberries. He knew the hidden ponds and slow-creeping little
rivers where the beavers build their dams, and raise their silent
water-cities, like Venice lost in the woods. He knew the vast
barrens, covered with stiff silvery moss, where the caribou fed in
the winter. On the Decharge itself,--that tumultuous flood, never
failing, never freezing, by which the great lake pours all its
gathered waters in foam and fury down to the deep, still gorge of
the Saguenay,--there Jean was at home. There was not a curl or eddy
in the wild course of the river that he did not understand. The
quiet little channels by which one could drop down behind the
islands while the main stream made an impassable fall; the precise
height of the water at which it was safe to run the Rapide Gervais;
the point of rock on the brink of the Grande Chute where the canoe
must whirl swiftly in to the shore if you did not wish to go over
the cataract; the exact force of the tourniquet that sucked downward
at one edge of the rapid, and of the bouillon that boiled upward at
the other edge, as if the bottom of the river were heaving, and the
narrow line of the FILET D'EAU along which the birch-bark might
shoot in safety; the treachery of the smooth, oily curves where the
brown water swept past the edge of the cliff, silent, gloomy,
menacing; the hidden pathway through the foam where the canoe could
run out securely and reach a favourite haunt of the ouananiche, the
fish that loves the wildest water,--all these secrets were known to
Jean. He read the river like a book. He loved it. He also
respected it. He knew it too well to take liberties with it.
The camp, that June, was beside the Rapide des Cedres. A great
ledge stretched across the river; the water came down in three
leaps, brown above, golden at the edge, white where it fell. Below,
on the left bank, there was a little cove behind a high point of
rocks, a curving beach of white sand, a gentle slope of ground, a
tent half hidden among the birches and balsams. Down the river, the
main channel narrowed and deepened. High banks hemmed it in on the
left, iron-coasted islands on the right. It was a sullen, powerful,
dangerous stream. Beyond that, in mid-river, the Ile Maligne reared
its wicked head, scarred, bristling with skeletons of dead trees.
On either side of it, the river broke away into a long fury of
rapids and falls in which no boat could live.
It was there, on the point of the island, that the most famous
fishing in the river was found; and there Alden was determined to
cast his fly before he went home. Ten days they had waited at the
Cedars for the water to fall enough to make the passage to the
island safe. At last Alden grew impatient. It was a superb
morning,--sky like an immense blue gentian, air full of fragrance
from a million bells of pink Linnaea, sunshine flattering the great
river,--a morning when danger and death seemed incredible.
"To-day we are going to the island, Jean; the water must be low
"Not yet, m'sieu', I am sorry, but it is not yet."
Alden laughed rather unpleasantly. "I believe you are afraid. I
thought you were a good canoeman--"
"I am that," said Jean, quietly, "and therefore,--well, it is the
bad canoeman who is never afraid."
"But last September you took your monsieur to the island and gave
him fine fishing. Why won't you do it for me? I believe you want
to keep me away from this place and save it for him."
Jean's face flushed. "M'sieu' has no reason to say that of me. I
beg that he will not repeat it."
Alden laughed again. He was somewhat irritated at Jean for taking
the thing so seriously, for being so obstinate. On such a morning
it was absurd. At least it would do no harm to make an effort to
reach the island. If it proved impossible they could give it up.
"All right, Jean," he said, "I'll take it back. You are only timid,
that's all. Francois here will go down with me. We can manage the
canoe together. Jean can stay at home and keep the camp. Eh,
Francois, the second guide, was a mush of vanity and good nature,
with just sense enough to obey Jean's orders, and just jealousy
enough to make him jump at a chance to show his independence. He
would like very well to be first man for a day,--perhaps for the
next trip, if he had good luck. He grinned and nodded his head--
"All ready, m'sieu'; I guess we can do it."
But while he was holding the canoe steady for Alden to step out to
his place in the bow, Jean came down and pushed him aside. "Go to
bed, dam' fool," he muttered, shoved the canoe out into the river,
and jumped lightly to his own place in the stern.
Alden smiled to himself and said nothing for a while. When they
were a mile or two down the river he remarked, "So I see you changed
your mind, Jean. Do you think better of the river now?"
"No, m'sieu', I think the same."
"Because I must share the luck with you whether it is good or bad.
It is no shame to have fear. The shame is not to face it. But one
thing I ask of you--"
"And that is?"
"Kneel as low in the canoe as you can, paddle steady, and do not
dodge when a wave comes."
Alden was half inclined to turn back, and give it up. But pride
made it difficult to say the word. Besides the fishing was sure to
be superb; not a line had been wet there since last year. It was
worth a little risk. The danger could not be so very great after
all. How fair the river ran,--a current of living topaz between
banks of emerald! What but good luck could come on such a day?
The canoe was gliding down the last smooth stretch. Alden lifted
his head, as they turned the corner, and for the first time saw the
passage close before him. His face went white, and he set his teeth.
The left-hand branch of the river, cleft by the rocky point of the
island, dropped at once into a tumult of yellow foam and raved
downward along the northern shore. The right-hand branch swerved
away to the east, running with swift, silent fury. On the lower
edge of this desperate race of brown billows, a huge whirlpool
formed and dissolved every two or three minutes, now eddying round
in a wide backwater into a rocky bay on the end of the island, now
swept away by the rush of waves into the white rage of the rapids
There was the secret pathway. The trick was, to dart across the
right-hand current at the proper moment, catch the rim of the
whirlpool as it swung backward, and let it sweep you around to the
end of the island. It was easy enough at low water. But now?
The smooth waves went crowding and shouldering down the slope as if
they were running to a fight. The river rose and swelled with
quick, uneven passion. The whirlpool was in its place one minute;
the next, it was blotted out; everything rushed madly downward--and
below was hell.
Jean checked the boat for a moment, quivering in the strong current,
waiting for the TOURNIQUET to form again. Five seconds--ten
seconds--"Now!" he cried.
The canoe shot obliquely into the stream, driven by strong, quick
strokes of the paddles. It seemed almost to leap from wave to wave.
All was going well. The edge of the whirlpool was near. Then came
the crest of a larger wave,--slap--into the boat. Alden shrank
involuntarily from the cold water, and missed his stroke. An eddy
caught the bow and shoved it out. The whirlpool receded, dissolved.
The whole river rushed down upon the canoe and carried it away like
Who says that thought is swift and clear in a moment like that? Who
talks about the whole of a man's life passing before him in a flash
of light? A flash of darkness! Thought is paralyzed, dumb. "What
a fool!" "Good-bye!" "If--" That is about all it can say. And if
the moment is prolonged, it says the same thing over again, stunned,
bewildered, impotent. Then?--The rocking waves; the sinking boat;
the roar of the fall; the swift overturn; the icy, blinding,
Jean was flung shoreward. Instinctively he struck out, with the
current and half across it, toward a point of rock. His foot
touched bottom. He drew himself up and looked back. The canoe was
sweeping past, bottom upward, Alden underneath it.
Jean thrust himself out into the stream again, still going with the
current, but now away from shore. He gripped the canoe, flinging
his arm over the stern. Then he got hold of the thwart and tried to
turn it over. Too heavy! Groping underneath he caught Alden by the
shoulder and pulled him out. They would have gone down together but
for the boat.
"Hold on tight," gasped Jean, "put your arm over the canoe--the
Alden, half dazed, obeyed him. The torrent carried the dancing,
slippery bark past another point. Just below it, there was a little
"Now," cried Jean; "the back-water--strike for the land!"
They touched the black, gliddery rocks. They staggered out of the
water; waist-deep, knee-deep, ankle-deep; falling and rising again.
They crawled up on the warm moss. . . .
The first thing that Alden noticed was the line of bright red spots
on the wing of a cedar-bird fluttering silently through the branches
of the tree above him. He lay still and watched it, wondering that
he had never before observed those brilliant sparks of colour on the
little brown bird. Then he wondered what made his legs ache so.
Then he saw Jean, dripping wet, sitting on a stone and looking down
He got up painfully and went over to him. He put his hand on the
"Jean, you saved my life--I thank you, Marquis!"
"M'sieu'," said Jean, springing up, "I beg you not to mention it.
It was nothing. A narrow shave,--but LA BONNE CHANCE! And after
all, you were right,--we got to the island! But now how to get off?"
AN ALLIANCE OF RIVALS
Yes, of course they got off--the next day. At the foot of the
island, two miles below, there is a place where the water runs
quieter, and a BATEAU can cross from the main shore. Francois was
frightened when the others did not come back in the evening. He
made his way around to St. Joseph d'Alma, and got a boat to come up
and look for their bodies. He found them on the shore, alive and
very hungry. But all that has nothing to do with the story.
Nor does it make any difference how Alden spent the rest of his
summer in the woods, what kind of fishing he had, or what moved him
to leave five hundred dollars with Jean when he went away. That is
all padding: leave it out. The first point of interest is what Jean
did with the money. A suit of clothes, a new stove, and a set of
kitchen utensils for the log house opposite Grosse Ile, a trip to
Quebec, a little game of "Blof Americain" in the back room of the
Hotel du Nord,--that was the end of the money.
This is not a Sunday-school story. Jean was no saint. Even as a
hero he had his weak points. But after his own fashion he was a
pretty good kind of a marquis. He took his headache the next
morning as a matter of course, and his empty pocket as a trick of
fortune. With the nobility, he knew very well, such things often
happen; but the nobility do not complain about it. They go ahead,
as if it was a bagatelle.
Before the week was out Jean was on his way to a lumber-shanty on
the St. Maurice River, to cook for a crew of thirty men all winter.
The cook's position in camp is curious,--half menial, half superior.
It is no place for a feeble man. But a cook who is strong in the
back and quick with his fists can make his office much respected.
Wages, forty dollars a month; duties, to keep the pea-soup kettle
always hot and the bread-pan always full, to stand the jokes of the
camp up to a certain point, and after that to whip two or three of
the most active humourists.
Jean performed all his duties to perfect satisfaction. Naturally
most of the jokes turned upon his great expectations. With two of
the principal jokers he had exchanged the usual and conclusive form
of repartee,--flattened them out literally. The ordinary BADINAGE
he did not mind in the least; it rather pleased him.
But about the first of January a new hand came into the camp,--a
big, black-haired fellow from Three Rivers, Pierre Lamotte DIT
Theophile. With him it was different. There seemed to be something
serious in his jests about "the marquis." It was not fun; it was
mockery; always on the edge of anger. He acted as if he would be
glad to make Jean ridiculous in any way.
Finally the matter came to a head. Something happened to the soup
one Sunday morning--tobacco probably. Certainly it was very bad,
only fit to throw away; and the whole camp was mad. It was not
really Pierre who played the trick; but it was he who sneered that
the camp would be better off if the cook knew less about castles and
more about cooking. Jean answered that what the camp needed was to
get rid of a badreux who thought it was a joke to poison the soup.
Pierre took this as a personal allusion and requested him to discuss
the question outside. But before the discussion began he made some
general remarks about the character and pretensions of Jean.
"A marquis!" said he. "This bagoulard gives himself out for a
marquis! He is nothing of the kind,--a rank humbug. There is a
title in the family, an estate in France, it is true. But it is
mine. I have seen the papers. I have paid money to the lawyer. I
am waiting now for him to arrange the matter. This man knows
nothing about it. He is a fraud. I will fight him now and settle
If a bucket of ice-water had been thrown over Jean he could not have
cooled off more suddenly. He was dazed. Another marquis? This was
a complication he had never dreamed of. It overwhelmed him like an
avalanche. He must have time to dig himself out of this difficulty.
"But stop," he cried; "you go too fast. This is more serious than a
pot of soup. I must hear about this. Let us talk first, Pierre,
The camp was delighted. It was a fine comedy,--two fools instead of
one. The men pricked up their ears and clamoured for a full
explanation, a debate in open court.
But that was not Jean's way. He had made no secret of his
expectations, but he did not care to confide all the details of his
family history to a crowd of fellows who would probably not
understand and would certainly laugh. Pierre was wrong of course,
but at least he was in earnest. That was something.
"This affair is between Pierre and me," said Jean. "We shall speak
of it by ourselves."
In the snow-muffled forest, that afternoon, where the great tree-
trunks rose like pillars of black granite from a marble floor, and
the branches of spruce and fir wove a dark green roof above their
heads, these two stray shoots of a noble stock tried to untangle
their family history. It was little that they knew about it. They
could get back to their grandfathers, but beyond that the trail was
rather blind. Where they crossed neither Jean nor Pierre could
tell. In fact, both of their minds had been empty vessels for the
plausible lawyer to fill, and he had filled them with various and
windy stuff. There were discrepancies and contradictions, denials
and disputes, flashes of anger and clouds of suspicion.
But through all the voluble talk, somehow or other, the two men were
drawing closer together. Pierre felt Jean's force of character, his
air of natural leadership, his bonhommie. He thought, "It was a
shame for that lawyer to trick such a fine fellow with the story
that he was the heir of the family." Jean, for his part, was
impressed by Pierre's simplicity and firmness of conviction. He
thought, "What a mean thing for that lawyer to fool such an innocent
as this into supposing himself the inheritor of the title." What
never occurred to either of them was the idea that the lawyer had
deceived them both. That was not to be dreamed of. To admit such a
thought would have seemed to them like throwing away something of
great value which they had just found. The family name, the papers,
the links of the genealogy which had been so convincingly set
forth,--all this had made an impression on their imagination,
stronger than any logical argument. But which was the marquis?
That was the question.
"Look here," said Jean at last, "of what value is it that we fight?
We are cousins. You think I am wrong. I think you are wrong. But
one of us must be right. Who can tell? There will certainly be
something for both of us. Blood is stronger than currant juice.
Let us work together and help each other. You come home with me
when this job is done. The lawyer returns to St. Gedeon in the
spring. He will know. We can see him together. If he has fooled
you, you can do what you like to him. When--PARDON, I mean if--I
get the title, I will do the fair thing by you. You shall do the
same by me. Is it a bargain?"
On this basis the compact was made. The camp was much amazed, not
to say disgusted, because there was no fight. Well-meaning efforts
were made at intervals through the winter to bring on a crisis. But
nothing came of it. The rival claimants had pooled their stock.
They acknowledged the tie of blood, and ignored the clash of
interests. Together they faced the fire of jokes and stood off the
crowd; Pierre frowning and belligerent, Jean smiling and scornful.
Practically, they bossed the camp. They were the only men who
always shaved on Sunday morning. This was regarded as foppish.
The popular disappointment deepened into a general sense of injury.
In March, when the cut of timber was finished and the logs were all
hauled to the edge of the river, to lie there until the ice should
break and the "drive" begin, the time arrived for the camp to close.
The last night, under the inspiration drawn from sundry bottles
which had been smuggled in to celebrate the occasion, a plan was
concocted in the stables to humble "the nobility" with a grand
display of humour. Jean was to be crowned as marquis with a bridle
Pierre was to be anointed as count, with a dipperful of harness-oil;
after that the fun would be impromptu.
The impromptu part of the programme began earlier than it was
advertised. Some whisper of the plan had leaked through the chinks
of the wall between the shanty and the stable. When the crowd came
shambling into the cabin, snickering and nudging one another, Jean
and Pierre were standing by the stove at the upper end of the long
"Down with the canaille!" shouted Jean.
"Clean out the gang!" responded Pierre.
Brandishing long-handled frying-pans, they charged down the sides of
the table. The mob wavered, turned, and were lost! Helter-skelter
they fled, tumbling over one another in their haste to escape. The
lamp was smashed. The benches were upset. In the smoky hall a
furious din arose,--as if Sir Galahad and Sir Percivale were once
more hewing their way through the castle of Carteloise. Fear fell
upon the multitude, and they cried aloud grievously in their dismay.
The blows of the weapons echoed mightily in the darkness, and the
two knights laid about them grimly and with great joy. The door was
too narrow for the flight. Some of the men crept under the lowest
berths; others hid beneath the table. Two, endeavouring to escape
by the windows, stuck fast, exposing a broad and undefended mark to
the pursuers. Here the last strokes of the conflict were delivered.
"One for the marquis!" cried Jean, bringing down his weapon with a
"Two for the count!" cried Pierre, making his pan crack like the
blow of a beaver's tail when he dives.
Then they went out into the snowy night, and sat down together on
the sill of the stable-door, and laughed until the tears ran down
"My faith!" said Jean. "That was like the ancient time. It is from
the good wood that strong paddles are made,--eh, cousin?" And after
that there was a friendship between the two men that could not have
been cut with the sharpest axe in Quebec.
A HAPPY ENDING WHICH IS ALSO A BEGINNING
The plan of going back to St. Gedeon, to wait for the return of the
lawyer, was not carried out. Several of the little gods that use
their own indiscretion in arranging the pieces on the puzzle-map of
life, interfered with it.
The first to meddle was that highly irresponsible deity with the bow
and arrows, who has no respect for rank or age, but reserves all his
attention for sex.
When the camp on the St. Maurice dissolved, Jean went down with
Pierre to Three Rivers for a short visit. There was a snug house on
a high bank above the river, a couple of miles from the town. A
wife and an armful of children gave assurance that the race of La
Motte de la Luciere should not die out on this side of the ocean.
There was also a little sister-in-law, Alma Grenou. If you had seen
her you would not have wondered at what happened. Eyes like a deer,
face like a mayflower, voice like the "D" string in a 'cello,--she
was the picture of Drummond's girl in "The Habitant":
"She's nicer girl on whole Comte, an' jus' got eighteen year--
Black eye, black hair, and cheek rosee dat's lak wan Fameuse
on de fall;
But don't spik much,--not of dat kin',--I can't say she love
me at all."
With her Jean plunged into love. It was not a gradual approach,
like gliding down a smooth stream. It was not a swift descent, like
running a lively rapid. It was a veritable plunge, like going over
a chute. He did not know precisely what had happened to him at
first; but he knew very soon what to do about it.
The return to Lake St. John was postponed till a more convenient
season: after the snow had melted and the ice had broken up--
probably the lawyer would not make his visit before that. If he
arrived sooner, he would come back again; he wanted his money, that
was certain. Besides, what was more likely than that he should come
also to see Pierre? He had promised to do so. At all events, they
would wait at Three Rivers for a while.
The first week Jean told Alma that she was the prettiest girl he had
ever seen. She tossed her head and expressed a conviction that he
was joking. She suggested that he was in the habit of saying the
same thing to every girl.
The second week he made a long stride in his wooing. He took her
out sleighing on the last remnant of the snow,--very thin and
bumpy,--and utilized the occasion to put his arm around her waist.
She cried "Laisse-moi tranquille, Jean!" boxed his ears, and said
she thought he must be out of his mind.
The following Saturday afternoon he craftily came behind her in the
stable as she was milking the cow, and bent her head back and kissed
her on the face. She began to cry, and said he had taken an unfair
advantage, while her hands were busy. She hated him.
"Well, then," said he, still holding her warm shoulders, "if you
hate me, I am going home tomorrow."
The sobs calmed down quickly. She bent herself forward so that he
could see the rosy nape of her neck with the curling tendrils of
brown hair around it.
"But," she said, "but, Jean,--do you love me for sure?"
After that the path was level, easy, and very quickly travelled. On
Sunday afternoon the priest was notified that his services would be
needed for a wedding, the first week in May. Pierre's consent was
genial and hilarious. The marriage suited him exactly. It was a
family alliance. It made everything move smooth and certain. The
property would be kept together.
But the other little interfering gods had not yet been heard from.
One of them, who had special charge of what remained of the soul of
the dealer in unclaimed estates, put it into his head to go to Three
Rivers first, instead of to St. Gedeon.
He had a good many clients in different parts of the country,--
temporary clients, of course,--and it occurred to him that he might
as well extract another fifty dollars from Pierre Lamotte DIT
Theophile, before going on a longer journey. On his way down from
Montreal he stopped in several small towns and slept in beds of
Another of the little deities (the one that presides over unclean
villages; decidedly a false god, but sufficiently powerful) arranged
a surprise for the travelling lawyer. It came out at Three Rivers.
He arrived about nightfall, and slept at the hotel, feeling
curiously depressed. The next morning he was worse; but he was a
resolute and industrious dog, after his own fashion. So he hired a
buggy and drove out through the mud to Pierre's place. They heard
the wagon stop at the gate, and went out to see who it was.
The man was hardly recognizable: face pale, lips blue, eyes dull,
"Get me out of this," he muttered. "I am dying. God's sake, be
They helped him to the house, and he immediately went into a
convulsion. From this he passed into a raging fever. Pierre took
the buggy and drove posthaste to town for a doctor.
The doctor's opinion was evidently serious, but his remarks were
"Keep him in this room. Give him ten drops of this in water every
hour. One of these powders if he becomes violent. One of you must
stay with him all the time. Only one, you understand. The rest
keep away. I will come back in the morning."
In the morning the doctor's face was yet more grave. He examined
the patient carefully. Then he turned to Jean, who had acted as
"I thought so," said he; "you must all be vaccinated immediately.
There is still time, I hope. But what to do with this gentleman,
God knows. We can't send him back to the town. He has the small-
That was a pretty prelude to a wedding festival. They were all at
their wit's end. While the doctor scratched their arms, they
discussed the situation, excitedly and with desperation. Jean was
the first to stop chattering and begin to think.
"There is that old cabane of Poulin's up the road. It is empty
these three years. But there is a good spring of water. One could
patch the roof at one end and put up a stove."
"Good!" said the doctor. "But some one to take care of him? It
will be a long job, and a bad one."
"I am going to do that," said Jean; "it is my place. This gentleman
cannot be left to die in the road. Le bon Dieu did not send him
here for that. The head of the family"--here he stopped a moment
and looked at Pierre, who was silent--"must take the heavy end of
the job, and I am ready for it."
"Good!" said the doctor again. But Alma was crying in the corner of
Four weeks, five weeks, six weeks the vigil in the cabane lasted.
The last patches of snow disappeared from the fields one night, as
if winter had picked up its rags and vanished. The willows along
the brook turned yellow; the grass greened around the spring.
Scarlet buds flamed on the swamp maples. A tender mist of foliage
spread over the woodlands. The chokecherries burst into a glory of
white blossoms. The bluebirds came back, fluting love-songs; and
the robins, carolling ballads of joy; and the blackbirds, creaking
The priest came once and saw the sick man, but everything was going
well. It was not necessary to run any extra risks. Every week
after that he came and leaned on the fence, talking with Jean in the
doorway. When he went away he always lifted three fingers--so--you
know the sign? It is a very pleasant one, and it did Jean's heart
Pierre kept the cabane well supplied with provisions, leaving them
just inside of the gate. But with the milk it was necessary to be a
little careful; so the can was kept in a place by itself, under the
out-of-door oven, in the shade. And beside this can Jean would
find, every day, something particular,--a blossom of the red
geranium that bloomed in the farmhouse window, a piece of cake with
plums in it, a bunch of trailing arbutus,--once it was a little bit
of blue ribbon, tied in a certain square knot--so--perhaps you know
that sign too? That did Jean's heart good also.
But what kind of conversation was there in the cabane when the sick
man's delirium had passed and he knew what had happened to him? Not
much at first, for the man was too weak. After he began to get
stronger, he was thinking a great deal, fighting with himself. In
the end he came out pretty well--for a lawyer of his kind. Perhaps
he was desirous to leave the man whom he had deceived, and who had
nursed him back from death, some fragment, as much as possible, of
the dream that brightened his life. Perhaps he was only anxious to
save as much as he could of his own reputation. At all events, this
is what he did.
He told Jean a long story, part truth, part lie, about his
investigations. The estate and the title were in the family; that
was certain. Jean was the probable heir, if there was any heir;
that was almost sure. The part about Pierre had been a--well, a
mistake. But the trouble with the whole affair was this. A law
made in the days of Napoleon limited the time for which an estate
could remain unclaimed. A certain number of years, and then the
government took everything. That number of years had just passed.
By the old law Jean was probably a marquis with a castle. By the
new law?--Frankly, he could not advise a client to incur any more
expense. In fact, he intended to return the amount already paid. A
hundred and ten dollars, was it not? Yes, and fifty dollars for the
six weeks of nursing. VOILA, a draft on Montreal, a hundred and
sixty dollars,--as good as gold! And beside that, there was the
incalculable debt for this great kindness to a sick man, for which
he would always be M. de la Motte's grateful debtor!
The lawyer's pock-marked face--the scars still red and angry--lit up
with a curious mixed light of shrewdness and gratitude. Jean was
somewhat moved. His castle was in ruins. But he remained noble--by
the old law; that was something!
A few days later the doctor pronounced it safe to move the patient.
He came with a carriage to fetch him. Jean, well fumigated and
dressed in a new suit of clothes, walked down the road beside them
to the farm-house gate. There Alma met him with both hands. His
eyes embraced her. The air of June was radiant about them. The
fragrance of the woods breathed itself over the broad valley. A
song sparrow poured his heart out from a blossoming lilac. The
world was large, and free, and very good. And between the lovers
there was nothing but a little gate.
"I understand," said the doctor, smiling, as he tightened up the
reins, "I understand that there is a title in your family, M. de la
Motte, in effect that you are a marquis?"
"It is true," said Jean, turning his head, "at least so I think."
"So do I," said the doctor "But you had better go in, MONSIEUR LE
MARQUIS--you keep MADAME LA MARQUISE waiting."
THE KEEPER OF THE LIGHT
At long distance, looking over the blue waters of the Gulf of St.
Lawrence in clear weather, you might think that you saw a lonely
sea-gull, snow-white, perching motionless on a cobble of gray rock.
Then, as your boat drifted in, following the languid tide and the
soft southern breeze, you would perceive that the cobble of rock was
a rugged hill with a few bushes and stunted trees growing in the
crevices, and that the gleaming speck near the summit must be some
kind of a building--if you were on the coast of Italy or Spain you
would say a villa or a farm-house. Then, as you floated still
farther north and drew nearer to the coast, the desolate hill would
detach itself from the mainland and become a little mountain-isle,
with a flock of smaller islets clustering around it as a brood of
wild ducks keep close to their mother, and with deep water, nearly
two miles wide, flowing between it and the shore; while the shining
speck on the seaward side stood out clearly as a low, whitewashed
dwelling with a sturdy round tower at one end, crowned with a big
eight-sided lantern--a solitary lighthouse.
That is the Isle of the Wise Virgin. Behind it the long blue
Laurentian Mountains, clothed with unbroken forest, rise in sombre
ranges toward the Height of Land. In front of it the waters of the
gulf heave and sparkle far away to where the dim peaks of St. Anne
des Monts are traced along the southern horizon. Sheltered a
little, but not completely, by the island breakwater of granite,
lies the rocky beach of Dead Men's Point, where an English navy was
wrecked in a night of storm a hundred years ago.
There are a score of wooden houses, a tiny, weather-beaten chapel, a
Hudson Bay Company's store, a row of platforms for drying fish, and
a varied assortment of boats and nets, strung along the beach now.
Dead Men's Point has developed into a centre of industry, with a
life, a tradition, a social character of its own. And in one of
those houses, as you sit at the door in the lingering June twilight,
looking out across the deep channel to where the lantern of the
tower is just beginning to glow with orange radiance above the
shadow of the island--in that far-away place, in that mystical hour,
you should hear the story of the light and its keeper.
When the lighthouse was built, many years ago, the island had
another name. It was called the Isle of Birds. Thousands of sea-
fowl nested there. The handful of people who lived on the shore
robbed the nests and slaughtered the birds, with considerable
profit. It was perceived in advance that the building of the
lighthouse would interfere with this, and with other things. Hence
it was not altogether a popular improvement. Marcel Thibault, the
oldest inhabitant, was the leader of the opposition.
"That lighthouse!" said he, "what good will it be for us? We know
the way in and out when it makes clear weather, by day or by night.
But when the sky gets swampy, when it makes fog, then we stay with
ourselves at home, or we run into La Trinite, or Pentecote. We know
the way. What? The stranger boats? B'EN! the stranger boats need
not to come here, if they know not the way. The more fish, the more
seals, the more everything will there be left for us. Just because
of the stranger boats, to build something that makes all the birds
wild and spoils the hunting--that is a fool's work. The good God
made no stupid light on the Isle of Birds. He saw no necessity of
"Besides," continued Thibault, puffing slowly at his pipe, "besides--
those stranger boats, sometimes they are lost, they come ashore.
It is sad! But who gets the things that are saved, all sorts of
things, good to put into our houses, good to eat, good to sell,
sometimes a boat that can be patched up almost like new--who gets
these things, eh? Doubtless those for whom the good God intended
them. But who shall get them when this sacre lighthouse is built,
eh? Tell me that, you Baptiste Fortin."
Fortin represented the party of progress in the little parliament of
the beach. He had come down from Quebec some years ago bringing
with him a wife and two little daughters, and a good many new
notions about life. He had good luck at the cod-fishing, and built
a house with windows at the side as well as in front. When his
third girl, Nataline, was born, he went so far as to paint the house
red, and put on a kitchen, and enclose a bit of ground for a yard.
This marked him as a radical, an innovator. It was expected that he
would defend the building of the lighthouse. And he did.
"Monsieur Thibault," he said, "you talk well, but you talk too late.
It is of a past age, your talk. A new time comes to the Cote Nord.
We begin to civilize ourselves. To hold back against the light
would be our shame. Tell me this, Marcel Thibault, what men are
they that love darkness?"
"TORRIEUX!" growled Thibault, "that is a little strong. You say my
deeds are evil?"
"No, no," answered Fortin; "I say not that, my friend, but I say
this lighthouse means good: good for us, and good for all who come
to this coast. It will bring more trade to us. It will bring a
boat with the mail, with newspapers, perhaps once, perhaps twice a
month, all through the summer. It will bring us into the great
world. To lose that for the sake of a few birds--CA SERA B'EN DE
VALEUR! Besides, it is impossible. The lighthouse is coming,
Fortin was right, of course. But Thibault's position was not
altogether unnatural, nor unfamiliar. All over the world, for the
past hundred years, people have been kicking against the sharpness
of the pricks that drove them forward out of the old life, the wild
life, the free life, grown dear to them because it was so easy.
There has been a terrible interference with bird-nesting and other
things. All over the world the great Something that bridges rivers,
and tunnels mountains, and fells forests, and populates deserts, and
opens up the hidden corners of the earth, has been pushing steadily
on; and the people who like things to remain as they are have had to
give up a great deal. There was no exception made in favour of Dead
Men's Point. The Isle of Birds lay in the line of progress. The
It was a very good house for that day. The keeper's dwelling had
three rooms and was solidly built. The tower was thirty feet high.
The lantern held a revolving light, with a four-wick Fresnel lamp,
burning sperm oil. There was one of Stevenson's new cages of
dioptric prisms around the flame, and once every minute it was
turned by clockwork, flashing a broad belt of radiance fifteen miles
across the sea. All night long that big bright eye was opening and
shutting. "BAGUETTE!" said Thibault, "it winks like a one-eyed
The Department of Marine and Fisheries sent down an expert from
Quebec to keep the light in order and run it for the first summer.
He took Fortin as his assistant. By the end of August he reported
to headquarters that the light was all right, and that Fortin was
qualified to be appointed keeper. Before October was out the
certificate of appointment came back, and the expert packed his bag
to go up the river.
"Now look here, Fortin," said he, "this is no fishing trip. Do you
think you are up to this job?"
"I suppose," said Fortin.
"Well now, do you remember all this business about the machinery
that turns the lenses? That 's the main thing. The bearings must
be kept well oiled, and the weight must never get out of order. The
clock-face will tell you when it is running right. If anything gets
hitched up here's the crank to keep it going until you can
straighten the machine again. It's easy enough to turn it. But you
must never let it stop between dark and daylight. The regular turn
once a minute--that's the mark of this light. If it shines steady
it might as well be out. Yes, better! Any vessel coming along here
in a dirty night and seeing a fixed light would take it for the Cap
Loup-Marin and run ashore. This particular light has got to revolve
once a minute every night from April first to December tenth,
certain. Can you do it?"
"Certain," said Fortin.
"That's the way I like to hear a man talk! Now, you've got oil
enough to last you through till the tenth of December, when you
close the light, and to run on for a month in the spring after you
open again. The ice may be late in going out and perhaps the
supply-boat can't get down before the middle of April, or
thereabouts. But she'll bring plenty of oil when she comes, so
you'll be all right."
"All right," said Fortin.
"Well, I've said it all, I guess. You understand what you've got to
do? Good-by and good luck. You're the keeper of the light now."
"Good luck," said Fortin, "I am going to keep it." The same day he
shut up the red house on the beach and moved to the white house on
the island with Marie-Anne, his wife, and the three girls, Alma,
aged seventeen, Azilda, aged fifteen, and Nataline, aged thirteen.
He was the captain, and Marie-Anne was the mate, and the three girls
were the crew. They were all as full of happy pride as if they had
come into possession of a great fortune.
It was the thirty-first day of October. A snow-shower had silvered
the island. The afternoon was clear and beautiful. As the sun
sloped toward the rose-coloured hills of the mainland the whole
family stood out in front of the lighthouse looking up at the tower.
"Regard him well, my children," said Baptiste; "God has given him to
us to keep, and to keep us. Thibault says he is a Windigo. B'EN!
We shall see that he is a friendly Windigo. Every minute all the
night he shall wink, just for kindness and good luck to all the
world, till the daylight."
On the ninth of November, at three o'clock in the afternoon,
Baptiste went into the tower to see that the clockwork was in order
for the night. He set the dial on the machine, put a few drops of
oil on the bearings of the cylinder, and started to wind up the
It rose a few inches, gave a dull click, and then stopped dead. He
tugged a little harder, but it would not move. Then he tried to let
it down. He pushed at the lever that set the clockwork in motion.
He might as well have tried to make the island turn around by
pushing at one of the little spruce trees that clung to the rock.
Then it dawned fearfully upon him that something must be wrong.
Trembling with anxiety, he climbed up and peered in among the
The escapement wheel was cracked clean through, as if some one had
struck it with the head of an axe, and one of the pallets of the
spindle was stuck fast in the crack. He could knock it out easily
enough, but when the crack came around again, the pallet would catch
and the clock would stop once more. It was a fatal injury.
Baptiste turned white, then red, gripped his head in his hands, and
ran down the steps, out of the door, straight toward his canoe,
which was pulled up on the western side of the island.
"DAME!" he cried, "who has done this? Let me catch him! If that
As he leaped down the rocky slope the setting sun gleamed straight
in his eyes. It was poised like a ball of fire on the very edge of
the mountains. Five minutes more and it would be gone. Fifteen
minutes more and darkness would close in. Then the giant's eye must
begin to glow, and to wink precisely once a minute all night long.
If not, what became of the keeper's word, his faith, his honour?
No matter how the injury to the clockwork was done. No matter who
was to be blamed or punished for it. That could wait. The question
now was whether the light would fail or not. And it must be
answered within a quarter of an hour.
That red ray of the vanishing sun was like a blow in the face to
Baptiste. It stopped him short, dazed and bewildered. Then he came
to himself, wheeled, and ran up the rocks faster than he had come
"Marie-Anne! Alma!" he shouted, as he dashed past the door of the
house, "all of you! To me, in the tower!"
He was up in the lantern when they came running in, full of
curiosity, excited, asking twenty questions at once. Nataline
climbed up the ladder and put her head through the trap-door.
"What is it?" she panted. "What has hap--"
"Go down," answered her father, "go down all at once. Wait for me.
I am coming. I will explain."
The explanation was not altogether lucid and scientific. There were
some bad words mixed up with it.
Baptiste was still hot with anger and the unsatisfied desire to whip
somebody, he did not know whom, for something, he did not know what.
But angry as he was, he was still sane enough to hold his mind hard
and close to the main point. The crank must be adjusted; the
machine must be ready to turn before dark. While he worked he
hastily made the situation clear to his listeners.
That crank must be turned by hand, round and round all night, not
too slow, not too fast. The dial on the machine must mark time with
the clock on the wall. The light must flash once every minute until
daybreak. He would do as much of the labour as he could, but the
wife and the two older girls must help him. Nataline could go to
At this Nataline's short upper lip trembled. She rubbed her eyes
with the sleeve of her dress, and began to weep silently.
"What is the matter with you?" said her mother, "bad child, have you
fear to sleep alone? A big girl like you!"
"No," she sobbed, "I have no fear, but I want some of the fun."
"Fun!" growled her father. "What fun? NOM D'UN CHIEN! She calls
this fun!" He looked at her for a moment, as she stood there, half
defiant, half despondent, with her red mouth quivering and her big
brown eyes sparkling fire; then he burst into a hearty laugh.
"Come here, my little wild-cat," he said, drawing her to him and
kissing her; "you are a good girl after all. I suppose you think
this light is part yours, eh?"
The girl nodded.
"B'EN! You shall have your share, fun and all. You shall make the
tea for us and bring us something to eat. Perhaps when Alma and
'Zilda fatigue themselves they will permit a few turns of the crank
to you. Are you content? Run now and boil the kettle."
It was a very long night. No matter how easily a handle turns,
after a certain number of revolutions there is a stiffness about it.
The stiffness is not in the handle, but in the hand that pushes it.
Round and round, evenly, steadily, minute after minute, hour after
hour, shoving out, drawing in, circle after circle, no swerving, no
stopping, no varying the motion, turn after turn--fifty-five, fifty-
six, fifty-seven--what's the use of counting? Watch the dial; go to
sleep--no! for God's sake, no sleep! But how hard it is to keep
awake! How heavy the arm grows, how stiffly the muscles move, how
the will creaks and groans. BATISCAN! It is not easy for a human
being to become part of a machine.
Fortin himself took the longest spell at the crank, of course. He
went at his work with a rigid courage. His red-hot anger had cooled
down into a shape that was like a bar of forged steel. He meant to
make that light revolve if it killed him to do it. He was the
captain of a company that had run into an ambuscade. He was going
to fight his way through if he had to fight alone.
The wife and the two older girls followed him blindly and bravely,
in the habit of sheer obedience. They did not quite understand the
meaning of the task, the honour of victory, the shame of defeat.
But Fortin said it must be done, and he knew best. So they took
their places in turn, as he grew weary, and kept the light flashing.
And Nataline--well, there is no way of describing what Nataline did,
except to say that she played the fife.
She felt the contest just as her father did, not as deeply, perhaps,
but in the same spirit. She went into the fight with darkness like
a little soldier. And she played the fife.
When she came up from the kitchen with the smoking pail of tea, she
rapped on the door and called out to know whether the Windigo was at
She ran in and out of the place like a squirrel. She looked up at
the light and laughed. Then she ran in and reported. "He winks,"
she said, "old one-eye winks beautifully. Keep him going. My turn
She refused to be put off with a shorter spell than the other girls.
"No," she cried, "I can do it as well as you. You think you are so
much older. Well, what of that? The light is part mine; father
said so. Let me turn. va-t-en."
When the first glimmer of the little day came shivering along the
eastern horizon, Nataline was at the crank. The mother and the two
older girls were half asleep. Baptiste stepped out to look at the
sky. "Come," he cried, returning. "We can stop now, it is growing
gray in the east, almost morning."
"But not yet," said Nataline; "we must wait for the first red. A
few more turns. Let's finish it up with a song."
She shook her head and piped up the refrain of the old Canadian
"En roulant ma boule-le roulant
En roulant ma bou-le."
And to that cheerful music the first night's battle was carried
through to victory.
The next day Fortin spent two hours in trying to repair the
clockwork. It was of no use. The broken part was indispensable and
could not be replaced.
At noon he went over to the mainland to tell of the disaster, and
perhaps to find out if any hostile hand was responsible for it. He
found out nothing. Every one denied all knowledge of the accident.
Perhaps there was a flaw in the wheel; perhaps it had broken itself.
That was possible. Fortin could not deny it; but the thing that
hurt him most was that he got so little sympathy. Nobody seemed to
care whether the light was kept burning or not. When he told them
how the machine had been turned all night by hand, they were
astonished. "CRE-IE!" they cried, "you must have had a great misery
to do that." But that he proposed to go on doing it for a month
longer, until December tenth, and to begin again on April first, and
go on turning the light by hand for three or four weeks more until
the supply-boat came down and brought the necessary tools to repair
the machine--such an idea as this went beyond their horizon.
"But you are crazy, Baptiste," they said, "you can never do it; you
are not capable."
"I would be crazy," he answered, "if I did not see what I must do.
That light is my charge. In all the world there is nothing else so
great as that for me and for my family--you understand? For us it
is the chief thing. It is my Ten Commandments. I shall keep it or
There was a silence after this remark. They were not very
particular about the use of language at Dead Men's Point, but this
shocked them a little. They thought that Fortin was swearing a
shade too hard. In reality he was never more reverent, never more
soberly in earnest.
After a while he continued, "I want some one to help me with the
work on the island. We must be up all the nights now. By day we
must get some sleep. I want another man or a strong boy. Is there
any who will come? The Government will pay. Or if not, I will pay,
There was no response. All the men hung back. The lighthouse was
still unpopular, or at least it was on trial. Fortin's pluck and
resolution had undoubtedly impressed them a little. But they still
hesitated to commit themselves to his side.
"B'en," he said, "there is no one. Then we shall manage the affair
en famille. Bon soir, messieurs!"
He walked down to the beach with his head in the air, without
looking back. But before he had his canoe in the water he heard
some one running down behind him. It was Thibault's youngest son,
Marcel, a well-grown boy of sixteen, very much out of breath with
running and shyness.
"Monsieur Fortin," he stammered, "will you--do you think--am I big
Baptiste looked him in the face for a moment. Then his eyes
"Certain," he answered, "you are bigger than your father. But what
will he say to this?"
"He says," blurted out Marcel--"well, he says that he will say
nothing if I do not ask him."
So the little Marcel was enlisted in the crew on the island. For
thirty nights those six people--a man, and a boy, and four women
(Nataline was not going to submit to any distinctions on the score
of age, you may be sure)--for a full month they turned their
flashing lantern by hand from dusk to day-break.
The fog, the frost, the hail, the snow beleaguered their tower.
Hunger and cold, sleeplessness and weariness, pain and
discouragement, held rendezvous in that dismal, cramped little room.
Many a night Nataline's fife of fun played a feeble, wheezy note.
But it played. And the crank went round. And every bit of glass in
the lantern was as clear as polished crystal. And the big lamp was
full of oil. And the great eye of the friendly giant winked without
ceasing, through fierce storm and placid moonlight.
When the tenth of December came, the light went to sleep for the
winter, and the keepers took their way across the ice to the
mainland. They had won the battle, not only on the island, fighting
against the elements, but also at Dead Men's Point, against public
opinion. The inhabitants began to understand that the lighthouse
meant something--a law, an order, a principle.
Men cannot help feeling respect for a thing when they see others
willing to fight or to suffer for it.
When the time arrived to kindle the light again in the spring,
Fortin could have had any one that he wanted to help him. But no;
he chose the little Marcel again; the boy wanted to go, and he had
earned the right. Besides, he and Nataline had struck up a close
friendship on the island, cemented during the winter by various
hunting excursions after hares and ptarmigan. Marcel was a skilful
setter of snares. But Nataline was not content until she had won
consent to borrow her father's CARABINE. They hunted in
partnership. One day they had shot a fox. That is, Nataline had
shot it, though Marcel had seen it first and tracked it. Now they
wanted to try for a seal on the point of the island when the ice
went out. It was quite essential that Marcel should go.
"Besides," said Baptiste to his wife, confidentially, "a boy costs
less than a man. Why should we waste money? Marcel is best."
A peasant-hero is seldom averse to economy in small things, like
But there was not much play in the spring session with the light on
the island. It was a bitter job. December had been lamb-like
compared with April. First, the southeast wind kept the ice driving
in along the shore. Then the northwest wind came hurtling down from
the Arctic wilderness like a pack of wolves. There was a snow-storm
of four days and nights that made the whole world--earth and sky and
sea--look like a crazy white chaos. And through it all, that weary,
dogged crank must be kept turning--turning from dark to daylight.
It seemed as if the supply-boat would never come. At last they saw
it, one fair afternoon, April the twenty-ninth, creeping slowly down
the coast. They were just getting ready for another night's work.
Fortin ran out of the tower, took off his hat, and began to say his
prayers. The wife and the two elder girls stood in the kitchen
door, crossing themselves, with tears in their eyes. Marcel and
Nataline were coming up from the point of the island, where they had
been watching for their seal. She was singing
"Mon pere n'avait fille que moi,
Encore sur la mer il m'envoi-e-eh!"
When she saw the boat she stopped short for a minute.
"Well," she said, "they find us awake, n'est-c'pas? And if they
don't come faster than that we'll have another chance to show them
how we make the light wink, eh?"
Then she went on with her song--
"Sautez, mignonne, Cecilia.
Ah, ah, ah, ah, Cecilia!"
You did not suppose that was the end of the story, did you?
No, an out-of-doors story does not end like that, broken off in the
middle, with a bit of a song. It goes on to something definite,
like a wedding or a funeral.
You have not heard, yet, how near the light came to failing, and how
the keeper saved it and something else too. Nataline's story is not
told; it is only begun. This first part is only the introduction,
just to let you see what kind of a girl she was, and how her life
was made. If you want to hear the conclusion, we must hurry along a
little faster or we shall never get to it.
Nataline grew up like a young birch tree--stately and strong, good
to look at. She was beautiful in her place; she fitted it exactly.
Her bronzed face with an under-tinge of red; her low, black
eyebrows; her clear eyes like the brown waters of a woodland stream;
her dark, curly hair with little tendrils always blowing loose
around the pillar of her neck; her broad breast and sloping
shoulders; her firm, fearless step; her voice, rich and vibrant; her
straight, steady looks--but there, who can describe a thing like
that? I tell you she was a girl to love out-of-doors.
There was nothing that she could not do. She could cook; she could
swing an axe; she could paddle a canoe; she could fish; she could
shoot; and, best of all, she could run the lighthouse. Her father's
devotion to it had gone into her blood. It was the centre of her
life, her law of God. There was nothing about it that she did not
understand and love. From the first of April to the tenth of
December the flashing of that light was like the beating of her
heart--steady, even, unfaltering. She kept time to it as
unconsciously as the tides follow the moon. She lived by it and for
There were no more accidents to the clockwork after the first one
was repaired. It ran on regularly, year after year.
Alma and Azilda were married and went away to live, one on the South
Shore, the other at Quebec. Nataline was her father's right-hand
man. As the rheumatism took hold of him and lamed his shoulders and
wrists, more and more of the work fell upon her. She was proud of it.
At last it came to pass, one day in January, that Baptiste died. He
was not gathered to his fathers, for they were buried far away
beside the Montmorenci, and on the rocky coast of Brittany. But the
men dug through the snow behind the tiny chapel at Dead Men's Point,
and made a grave for Baptiste Fortin, and the young priest of the
mission read the funeral service over it.
It went without saying that Nataline was to be the keeper of the
light, at least until the supply-boat came down again in the spring
and orders arrived from the Government in Quebec. Why not? She was
a woman, it is true. But if a woman can do a thing as well as a
man, why should she not do it? Besides, Nataline could do this
particular thing much better than any man on the Point. Everybody
approved of her as the heir of her father, especially young Marcel
Yes, of course. You could not help guessing it. He was Nataline's
lover. They were to be married the next summer. They sat together
in the best room, while the old mother was rocking to and fro and
knitting beside the kitchen stove, and talked of what they were
going to do. Once in a while, when Nataline grieved for her father,
she would let Marcel put his arm around her and comfort her in the
way that lovers know. But their talk was mainly of the future,
because they were young, and of the light, because Nataline's life
belonged to it.
Perhaps the Government would remember that year when it was kept
going by hand for two months, and give it to her to keep as long as
she lived. That would be only fair. Certainly, it was hers for the
present. No one had as good a right to it. She took possession
without a doubt. At all events, while she was the keeper the light
should not fail.
But that winter was a bad one on the North Shore, and particularly
at Dead Men's Point. It was terribly bad. The summer before, the
fishing had been almost a dead failure. In June a wild storm had
smashed all the salmon nets and swept most of them away. In July
they could find no caplin for bait for the cod-fishing, and in
August and September they could find no cod. The few bushels of
potatoes that some of the inhabitants had planted, rotted in the
ground. The people at the Point went into the winter short of money
and very short of food.
There were some supplies at the store, pork and flour and molasses,
and they could run through the year on credit and pay their debts
the following summer if the fish came back. But this resource also
failed them. In the last week of January the store caught fire and
burned up. Nothing was saved. The only hope now was the seal-
hunting in February and March and April. That at least would bring
them meat and oil enough to keep them from starvation.
But this hope failed, too. The winds blew strong from the north and
west, driving the ice far out into the gulf. The chase was long and
perilous. The seals were few and wild. Less than a dozen were
killed in all. By the last week in March Dead Men's Point stood
face to face with famine.
Then it was that old Thibault had an idea.
"There is sperm oil on the Island of Birds," said he, "in the
lighthouse, plenty of it, gallons of it. It is not very good to
taste, perhaps, but what of that? It will keep life in the body.
The Esquimaux drink it in the north, often. We must take the oil of
the lighthouse to keep us from starving until the supply-boat comes
"But how shall we get it?" asked the others. "It is locked up.
Nataline Fortin has the key. Will she give it?"
"Give it?" growled Thibault. "Name of a name! of course she will
give it. She must. Is not a life, the life of all of us, more than
A self-appointed committee of three, with Thibault at the head,
waited upon Nataline without delay, told her their plan, and asked
for the key. She thought it over silently for a few minutes, and
then refused point-blank.
"No," she said, "I will not give the key. That oil is for the lamp.
If you take it, the lamp will not be lighted on the first of April;
it will not be burning when the supply-boat comes. For me, that
would be shame, disgrace, worse than death. I am the keeper of the
light. You shall not have the oil."
They argued with her, pleaded with her, tried to browbeat her. She
was a rock. Her round under-jaw was set like a steel trap. Her
lips straightened into a white line. Her eyebrows drew together,
and her eyes grew black.
"No," she cried, "I tell you no, no, a thousand times no. All in
this house I will share with you. But not one drop of what belongs
to the light! Never."
Later in the afternoon the priest came to see her; a thin, pale
young man, bent with the hardships of his life, and with sad dreams
in his sunken eyes. He talked with her very gently and kindly.
"Think well, my daughter; think seriously what you do. Is it not
our first duty to save human life? Surely that must be according to
the will of God. Will you refuse to obey it?"
Nataline was trembling a little now. Her brows were unlocked. The
tears stood in her eyes and ran down her cheeks. She was twisting
her hands together.
"My father," she answered, "I desire to do the will of God. But how
shall I know it? Is it not His first command that we should love
and serve Him faithfully in the duty which He has given us? He gave
me this light to keep. My father kept it. He is dead. If I am
unfaithful what will he say to me? Besides, the supply-boat is
coming soon--I have thought of this--when it comes it will bring
food. But if the light is out, the boat may be lost. That would be
the punishment for my sin. No, MON PERE, we must trust God. He
will keep the people. I will keep the light."'
The priest looked at her long and steadily. A glow came into his
face. He put his hand on her shoulder. "You shall follow your
conscience," he said quietly. "Peace be with you, Nataline."
That evening just at dark Marcel came. She let him take her in his
arms and kiss her. She felt like a little child, tired and weak.
"Well," he whispered, "you have done bravely, sweetheart. You were
right not to give the key. That would have been a shame to you.
But it is all settled now. They will have the oil without your
fault. To-night they are going out to the lighthouse to break in
and take what they want. You need not know. There will be no
She straightened in his arms as if an electric shock had passed
through her. She sprang back, blazing with anger.
"What?" she cried, "me a thief by round-about,--with my hand behind
my back and my eyes shut? Never. Do you think I care only for the
blame? I tell you that is nothing. My light shall not be robbed,
She came close to him and took him by the shoulders. Their eyes
were on a level. He was a strong man, but she was the stronger
"Marcel Thibault," she said, "do you love me?"
"My faith," he gasped, "I do. You know I do."
"Then listen," she continued; "this is what you are going to do.
You are going down to the shore at once to make ready the big canoe.
I am going to get food enough to last us for the month. It will be
a hard pinch, but it will do. Then we are going out to the island
to-night, in less than an hour. Day after to-morrow is the first of
April. Then we shall light the lantern, and it shall burn every
night until the boat comes down. You hear? Now go: and be quick
and bring your gun."
They pushed off in the black darkness, among the fragments of ice
that lay along the shore. They crossed the strait in silence, and
hid their canoe among the rocks on the island. They carried their
stuff up to the house and locked it in the kitchen. Then they
unlocked the tower, and went in, Marcel with his shot-gun, and
Nataline with her father's old carabine. They fastened the door
again, and bolted it, and sat down in the dark to wait.
Presently they heard the grating of the prow of the barge on the
stones below, the steps of men stumbling up the steep path, and
voices mingled in confused talk. The glimmer of a couple of
lanterns went bobbing in and out among the rocks and bushes. There
was a little crowd of eight or ten men, and they came on carelessly,
chattering and laughing. Three of them carried axes, and three
others a heavy log of wood which they had picked up on their way.
"The log is better than the axes," said one; "take it in your hands
this way, two of you on one side, another on the opposite side in
the middle. Then swing it back and forwards and let it go. The
door will come down, I tell you, like a sheet of paper. But wait
till I give the word, then swing hard. One--two--"
"Stop!" cried Nataline, throwing open the little window. "If you
dare to touch that door, I shoot."
She thrust out the barrel of the rifle, and Marcel's shot-gun
appeared beside it. The old rifle was not loaded, but who knew
that? Besides, both barrels of the shot-gun were full.
There was amazement in the crowd outside the tower, and
consternation, and then anger.
"Marcel," they shouted, "you there? MAUDIT POLISSON! Come out of
that. Let us in. You told us--"
"I know," answered Marcel, "but I was mistaken, that is all. I
stand by Mademoiselle Fortin. What she says is right. If any man
tries to break in here, we kill him. No more talk!"
The gang muttered; cursed; threatened; looked at the guns; and went
off to their boat.
"It is murder that you will do," one of them called out, "you are a
murderess, you Mademoiselle Fortin! you cause the people to die of
"Not I," she answered; "that is as the good God pleases. No matter.
The light shall burn."
They heard the babble of the men as they stumbled down the hill; the
grinding of the boat on the rocks as they shoved off; the rattle of
the oars in the rowlocks. After that the island was as still as a
Then Nataline sat down on the floor in the dark, and put her face in
her hands, and cried. Marcel tried to comfort her. She took his
hand and pushed it gently away from her waist.
"No, Marcel," she said, "not now! Not that, please, Marcel! Come
into the house. I want to talk with you."
They went into the cold, dark kitchen, lit a candle and kindled a
fire in the stove. Nataline busied herself with a score of things.
She put away the poor little store of provisions, sent Marcel for a
pail of water, made some tea, spread the table, and sat down
opposite to him. For a time she kept her eyes turned away from him,
while she talked about all sorts of things. Then she fell silent
for a little, still not looking at him. She got up and moved about
the room, arranged two or three packages on the shelves, shut the
damper of the stove, glancing at Marcel's back out of the corners of
her eyes. Then she came back to her chair, pushed her cup aside,
rested both elbows on the table and her chin in her hands, and
looked Marcel square in the face with her clear brown eyes.
"My friend," she said, "are you an honest man, un brave garcon?"
For an instant he could say nothing. He was so puzzled. "Why yes,
Nataline," he answered, "yes, surely--I hope."
"Then let me speak to you without fear," she continued. "You do not
suppose that I am ignorant of what I have done this night. I am not
a baby. You are a man. I am a girl. We are shut up alone in this
house for two weeks, a month, God knows how long. You know what
that means, what people will say. I have risked all that a girl has
most precious. I have put my good name in your hands."
Marcel tried to speak, but she stopped him.
"Let me finish. It is not easy to say. I know you are honourable.
I trust you waking and sleeping. But I am a woman. There must be
no love-making. We have other work to do. The light must not fail.
You will not touch me, you will not embrace me--not once--till after
the boat has come. Then"--she smiled at him like a sunburned angel--
"well, is it a bargain?"
She put out one hand across the table. Marcel took it in both of
his own. He did not kiss it. He lifted it up in front of his face.
"I swear to you, Nataline, you shall be to me as the Blessed Virgin
The next day they put the light in order, and the following night
they kindled it. They still feared another attack from the
mainland, and thought it needful that one of them should be on guard
all the time, though the machine itself was working beautifully and
needed little watching. Nataline took the night duty; it was her
own choice; she loved the charge of the lamp. Marcel was on duty
through the day. They were together for three or four hours in the
morning and in the evening.
It was not a desperate vigil like that affair with the broken
clockwork eight years before. There was no weary turning of the
crank. There was just enough work to do about the house and the
tower to keep them busy. The weather was fair. The worst thing was
the short supply of food. But though they were hungry, they were
not starving. And Nataline still played the fife. She jested, she
sang, she told long fairy stories while they sat in the kitchen.
Marcel admitted that it was not at all a bad arrangement.
But his thoughts turned very often to the arrival of the supply-
boat. He hoped it would not be late. The ice was well broken up
already and driven far out into the gulf. The boat ought to be able
to run down the shore in good time.
One evening as Nataline came down from her sleep she saw Marcel
coming up the rocks dragging a young seal behind him.
"Hurra!" he shouted, "here is plenty of meat. I shot it out at the
end of the island, about an hour ago."
But Nataline said that they did not need the seal. There was still
food enough in the larder. On shore there must be greater need.
Marcel must take the seal over to the mainland that night and leave
it on the beach near the priest's house. He grumbled a little, but
he did it.
That was on the twenty-third of April. The clear sky held for three
days longer, calm, bright, halcyon weather. On the afternoon of the
twenty-seventh the clouds came down from the north, not a long
furious tempest, but a brief, sharp storm, with considerable wind
and a whirling, blinding fall of April snow. It was a bad night for
boats at sea, confusing, bewildering, a night when the lighthouse
had to do its best. Nataline was in the tower all night, tending
the lamp, watching the clockwork. Once it seemed to her that the
lantern was so covered with snow that light could not shine through.
She got her long brush and scraped the snow away. It was cold work,
but she gloried in it. The bright eye of the tower, winking,
winking steadily through the storm seemed to be the sign of her
power in the world. It was hers. She kept it shining.
When morning came the wind was still blowing fitfully off shore, but
the snow had almost ceased. Nataline stopped the clockwork, and was
just climbing up into the lantern to put out the lamp, when Marcel's
voice hailed her.
"Come down, Nataline, come down quick. Make haste!"
She turned and hurried out, not knowing what was to come; perhaps a
message of trouble from the mainland, perhaps a new assault on the
As she came out of the tower, her brown eyes heavy from the night-
watch, her dark face pale from the cold, she saw Marcel standing on
the rocky knoll beside the house and pointing shoreward.
She ran up beside him and looked. There, in the deep water between
the island and the point, lay the supply-boat, rocking quietly on
It flashed upon her in a moment what it meant--the end of her fight,
relief for the village, victory! And the light that had guided the
little ship safe through the stormy night into the harbour was hers.
She turned and looked up at the lamp, still burning.
"I kept you!" she cried.
Then she turned to Marcel; the colour rose quickly in her cheeks,
the light sparkled in her eyes; she smiled, and held out both her
hands, whispering, "Now you shall keep me!"
There was a fine wedding on the last day of April, and from that
time the island took its new name,--the Isle of the Wise Virgin.
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