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The Lighthouse

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

Chapter Thirty One--Midnight Chat In a Lantern

"I'll have to borrow another shirt and pair of trousers from you, Dove," said Ruby with a laugh, as he returned to the kitchen.

"What! been having another swim?" exclaimed the smith.

"Not exactly, but you see I'm fond o' water. Come along, lad."

In a few minutes the clothes were changed, and Ruby was seated beside Forsyth, asking him earnestly about his friends on shore.

"Ah! Ruby," said Forsyth, "I thought it would have killed your old mother when she was told of your bein' caught by them sea-sharks, and taken off to the wars. You must know I came to see a good deal of your friends, through--through--hoot! what's the name? the fair-haired lass that lives with--"

"Minnie?" suggested Ruby, who could not but wonder that any man living should forget her name for a moment.

"Ay, Minnie it is. She used to come to see my wife about some work they wanted her to do, and I was now and again sent up with a message to the cottage, and Captain Ogilvy always invited me in to take a glass out of his old teapot. Your mother used to ask me ever so many questions about you, an' what you used to say and do on the rock when this lighthouse was buildin'. She looked so sad and pale, poor thing; I really thought it would be all up with her, an' I believe it would, but for Minnie. It was quite wonderful the way that girl cheered your mother up, by readin' bits o' the Bible to her, an' tellin' her that God would certainly send you back again. She looked and spoke always so brightly too."

"Did she do that?" exclaimed Ruby, with emotion.

Forsyth looked for a moment earnestly at his friend.

"I mean," continued Ruby, in some confusion, "did she look bright when she spoke of my bein' away?"

"No lad, it was when she spoke of you comin' back; but I could see that her good spirits was partly put on to keep up the old woman."

For a moment or two the friends remained silent.

Suddenly Forsyth laid his hand on the other's shoulder, and said impressively: "Ruby Brand, it's my belief that that girl is rather fond of you."

Ruby looked up with a bright smile, and said, "D'you think so? Well, d'ye know, I believe she is."

"Upon my word, youngster," exclaimed the other, with a look of evident disgust, "your conceit is considerable. I had thought to be somewhat confidential with you in regard to this idea of mine, but you seem to swallow it so easy, and to look upon it as so natural a thing, that--that--Do you suppose you've nothin' to do but ask the girl to marry you and she'll say `Yes' at once?"

"I do," said Ruby quietly; "nay, I am sure of it."

Forsyth's eyes opened very wide indeed at this. "Young man," said he, "the sea must have washed all the modesty you once had out of you--"

"I hope not," interrupted the other, "but the fact is that I put the question you have supposed to Minnie long ago, and she did say `Yes' to it then, so it's not likely she's goin' to draw back now."

"Whew! that alters the case," cried Forsyth, seizing his friend's hand, and wringing it heartily.

"Hallo! you two seem to be on good terms, anyhow," observed Jamie Dove, whose head appeared at that moment through the hole in the floor by which the lantern communicated with the room below. "I came to see if anything had gone wrong, for your time of watch is up."

"So it is," exclaimed Forsyth, rising and crossing to the other side of the apartment, where he applied his lips to a small tube in the wall.

"What are you doing?" enquired Ruby.

"Whistling up Joe," said Forsyth. "This pipe runs down to the sleepin' berths, where there's a whistle close to Joe's ear. He must be asleep. I'll try again."

He blew down the tube a second time and listened for a reply, which came up a moment or two after in a sharp whistle through a similar tube reversed; that is, with the mouthpiece below and the whistle above.

Soon after, Joe Dumsby made his appearance at the trap-door, looking very sleepy.

"I feels as 'eavy as a lump o' lead," said he. "Wot an 'orrible thing it is to be woke out o' a comf'r'able sleep."

Just as he spoke the lighthouse received a blow so tremendous that all the men started and looked at each other for a moment in surprise.

"I say, is it warranted to stand anything?" enquired Ruby seriously.

"I hope it is," replied the smith, "else it'll be a blue lookout for us. But we don't often get such a rap as that. D'ye mind the first we ever felt o' that sort, Forsyth? It happened last month. I was on watch at the time, Forsyth was smokin' his pipe in the kitchen, and Dumsby was in bed, when a sea struck us with such force that I thought we was done for. In a moment Forsyth and Joe came tumblin' up the ladder--Joe in his shirt`. It must have been a ship sailed right against us,' says Forsyth, and with that we all jumped on the rail that runs round the lantern there and looked out, but no ship could be seen, though it was a moonlight night. You see there's plenty o' water at high tide to let a ship of two hundred tons, drawin' twelve feet, run slap into us, and we've sometimes feared this in foggy weather; but it was just a blow of the sea. We've had two or three like it since, and are gettin' used to it now."

"Well, we can't get used to do without sleep," said Forsyth, stepping down through the trap-door, "so I'll bid ye all good night."

"'Old on! Tell Ruby about Junk before ye go," cried Dumsby". Ah! well, I'll tell 'im myself. You must know, Ruby, that we've got what they calls an hoccasional light-keeper ashore, who larns the work out 'ere in case any of us reg'lar keepers are took ill, so as 'e can supply our place on short notice. Well, 'e was out 'ere larnin' the dooties one tremendous stormy night, an' the poor fellow was in a mortial fright for fear the lantern would be blowed right hoff the top o' the stone column, and 'imself along with it. You see, the door that covers the manhole there is usually shut when we're on watch, but Junk (we called 'im Junk 'cause 'e wos so like a lump o' fat pork), 'e kep the door open all the time an' sat close beside it, so as to be ready for a dive. Well, it was my turn to watch, so I went up, an' just as I puts my fut on the first step o' the lantern-ladder there comes a sea like wot we had a minit ago; the wind at the same time roared in the wentilators like a thousand fiends, and the spray dashed agin the glass. Junk gave a yell, and dived. He thought it wos all over with 'im, and wos in sich a funk that he came down 'ead foremost, and would sartinly 'ave broke 'is neck if 'e 'adn't come slap into my buzzum! I tell 'e it was no joke, for 'e wos fourteen stone if 'e wos an ounce, an'--"

"Come along, Ruby," said Dove, interrupting; "the sooner we dive too the better, for there's no end to that story when Dumsby get off in full swing. Good night!"

"Good night, lads, an' better manners t'ye!" said Joe, as he sat down beside the little desk where the lightkeepers were wont during the lonely watch-hours of the night to read, or write, or meditate.

Chapter Thirty Two--Everyday Life on the Bell Rock, And Old Memories Recalled


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