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The Lighthouse

The following is from The Lighthouse by R. M. Ballantyne:

Chapter Sixteen--New Arrangements--The Captain's Philosophy In Regard To Pipeology

That night our hero was lodged in the common jail of Arbroath. Soon after, he was tried, and, as Captain Ogilvy had prophesied, was acquitted. Thereafter he went to reside for the winter with his mother, occupying the same room as his worthy uncle, as there was not another spare one in the cottage, and sleeping in a hammock, slung parallel with and close to that of the captain.

On the night following his release from prison, Ruby lay on his back in his hammock meditating intently on the future, and gazing at the ceiling, or rather at the place where he knew the ceiling to be, for it was a dark night, and there was no light in the room, the candle having just been extinguished.

We are not strictly correct, however, in saying that there was no light in the room, for there was a deep red glowing spot of fire near to Captain Ogilvy's head, which flashed and grew dim at each alternate second of time. It was, in fact, the captain's pipe, a luxury in which that worthy man indulged morning, noon, and night. He usually rested the bowl of the pipe on and a little over the edge of his hammock, and, lying on his back, passed the mouthpiece over the blankets into the corner of his mouth, where four of his teeth seemed to have agreed to form an exactly round hole suited to receive it. At each draw the fire in the bowl glowed so that the captain's nose was faintly illuminated; in the intervals the nose disappeared.

The breaking or letting fall of this pipe was a common incident in the captain's nocturnal history, but he had got used to it, from long habit, and regarded the event each time it occurred with the philosophic composure of one who sees and makes up his mind to endure an inevitable and unavoidable evil.

"Ruby," said the captain, after the candle was extinguished.

"Well, uncle?"

"I've bin thinkin', lad,--"

Here the captain drew a few whiffs to prevent the pipe from going out, in which operation he evidently forgot himself and went on thinking, for he said nothing more.

"Well, uncle, what have you been thinking?"

"Eh! ah, yes, I've bin thinkin', lad (pull), that you'll have to (puff)--there's somethin' wrong with the pipe to-night, it don't draw well (puff)--you'll have to do somethin' or other in the town, for it won't do to leave the old woman, lad, in her delicate state o' health. Had she turned in when you left the kitchen?"

"Oh yes, an hour or more."

"An' Blue Eyes,--

"`The tender bit flower that waves in the breeze,
And scatters its fragrance all over the seas.'

"Has she turned in too?"

"She was just going to when I left," replied Ruby; "but what has that to do with the question?"

"I didn't say as it had anything to do with it, lad. Moreover, there ain't no question between us as I knows on (puff); but what have you to say to stoppin' here all winter?"

"Impossible," said Ruby, with a sigh.

"No so, lad; what's to hinder?--Ah! there she goes."

The pipe fell with a crash to the floor, and burst with a bright shower of sparks, like a little bombshell.

"That's the third, Ruby, since I turned in," said the captain, getting slowly over the side of his hammock, and alighting on the floor heavily. "I won't git up again if it goes another time."

After knocking off the chimney-piece five or six articles which appeared to be made of tin from the noise they made in falling, the captain succeeded in getting hold of another pipe and the tinder-box, for in those days flint and steel were the implements generally used in procuring a light. With much trouble he re-lit the pipe.

"Now, Ruby, lad, hold it till I tumble in."

"But I can't see the stem, uncle."

"What a speech for a seaman to make! Don't you see the fire in the bowl?"

"Yes, of course."

"Well, just make a grab two inches astarn of the bowl and you'll hook the stem."

The captain was looking earnestly into the bowl while he spoke, stuffing down the burning tobacco with the end of his little finger. Ruby, acting in rather too prompt obedience to the instructions, made a "grab" as directed, and caught his uncle by the nose.

A yell and an apology followed of course, in the midst of which the fourth pipe was demolished.

"Oh! uncle, what a pity!"

"Ah! Ruby, that comes o' inconsiderate youth, which philosophers tell us is the nat'ral consequence of unavoidable necessity, for you can't put a young head on old shoulders, d'ye see?"

From the tone in which this was said Ruby knew that the captain was shaking his head gravely, and from the noise of articles being kicked about and falling, he became aware that the unconquerable man was filling a fifth pipe.

This one was more successfully managed, and the captain once more got into his hammock, and began to enjoy himself.

"Well, Ruby, where was I? O ay; what's to hinder you goin' and gettin' employed in the Bell Rock workyard? There's plenty to do, and good wages there."

It may be as well to inform the reader here, that although the operations at the Bell Rock had come to an end for the season about the beginning of October, the work of hewing the stones for the lighthouse was carried on briskly during the winter at the workyard on shore; and as the tools, etcetera, required constant sharpening and mending, a blacksmith could not be dispensed with.

"Do you think I can get in again?" enquired Ruby.

"No doubt of it, lad. But the question is, are ye willin' to go if they'll take you?"

"Quite willing, uncle."

"Good: then that's all square, an' I knows how to lay my course--up anchor to-morrow mornin', crowd all sail, bear down on the workyard, bring-to off the countin'-room, and open fire on the superintendent."

The captain paused at this point, and opened fire with his pipe for some minutes.

"Now," he continued, "there's another thing I want to ax you. I'm goin' to-morrow afternoon to take a cruise along the cliffs to the east'ard in the preventive boat, just to keep up my sea legs. They've got scent o' some smugglin' business that's goin' on, an' my friend Leftenant Lindsay has asked me to go. Now, Ruby, if you want a short cruise of an hour or so you may come with me."

Ruby smiled at the manner in which this offer was made, and replied:

"With pleasure, uncle."

"So, then, that's settled too. Good night, nephy."

The captain turned on his side, and dropped the pipe on the floor, where it was shivered to atoms.

It must not be supposed that this was accidental.

It was done on purpose. Captain Ogilvy had found from experience that it was not possible to stretch out his arm to its full extent and lay the pipe on the chimney-piece, without waking himself up just at that critical moment when sleep was consenting to be wooed. He also found that on the average he broke one in every four pipes that he thus attempted to deposit. Being a philosophical and practical man, he came to the conclusion that it would be worth while to pay something for the comfort of being undisturbed at the minute of time that lay between the conclusion of smoking and the commencement of repose. He therefore got a sheet of foolscap and a pencil, and spent a whole forenoon in abstruse calculations. He ascertained the exact value of three hundred and sixty-five clay pipes. From this he deducted a fourth for breakage that would have certainly occurred in the old system of laying the pipes down every night, and which, therefore, he felt, in a confused sort of way, ought not to be charged in the estimates of a new system. Then he added a small sum to the result for probable extra breakages, such as had occurred that night, and found that the total was not too high a price for a man in his circumstances to pay for the blessing he wished to obtain.

From that night forward he deliberately dropped his pipe every night over the side of his hammock before going to sleep.

The captain, in commenting on this subject, was wont to observe that everything in life, no matter how small, afforded matter of thought to philosophical men. He had himself found a pleasing subject of study each morning in the fact that some of the pipes survived the fall of the previous night. This led him to consider the nature of clay pipes in general, and to test them in various ways. It is true he did not say that anything of importance resulted from his peculiar studies, but he argued that a true philosopher looks for facts, and leaves results alone. One discovery he undoubtedly did make, which was, that the pipes obtained from a certain maker in the town invariably broke, while those obtained from another maker broke only occasionally. Hence he came to the conclusion that one maker was an honest man, the other a doubtful character, and wisely bestowed his custom in accordance with that opinion.

About one minute after the falling of the pipe Ruby Brand fell asleep, and about two minutes after that Captain Ogilvy began to snore, both of which conditions were maintained respectively and uninterruptedly until the birds began to whistle and the sun began to shine.

Chapter Seventeen--A Meeting with Old Friends, And an Excursion


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