The Project Gutenberg eBook, Admiral's Light, by Henry Milner Rideout,Illustrated by Martin Justice and Charles H. Woodbury
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Title: Admiral's Light
Author: Henry Milner Rideout
Release Date: July 25, 2018 [eBook #57577]
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***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ADMIRAL'S LIGHT***
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HENRY MILNER RIDEOUT
Author of Beached Keels, The Siamese Cat, etc.
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
The Riverside Press, Cambridge
COPYRIGHT 1907 BY HENRY MILNER RIDEOUT
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published November 1907
NATHANIEL ALLISON, M. D.
|I.||THE GYPSY MARE||1|
|III.||THE SAFFRON MAN||49|
|V.||THE HIGH WOODS||91|
|VIII.||THE OTHER CAMP||157|
|IX.||THE RUNNING BROOK||181|
Note. The frontispiece is from a drawing by Martin Justice. Theeleven half-titles are from drawings by Charles H. Woodbury.
THE GYPSY MARE
Thrusting his tousled head through thetrap-door, Miles made his third and last inspectionfor the night. Fierce yellow lightflooded the glass cage; against the panes,like restless, irritated snowflakes, a few belatedmoths fluttered in vain. The circularbase of the lamp cast downward a shadowso black as almost to appear a solid supportingcone. At the edge of this Miles rearedhis shoulders higher. Under the blue flannelshirt their weary movement was that of asleepy boy; but his thin, dark face shonegrave as a man’s. He sniffed the familiarsmell of oil and hot brass, and glanced perfunctorily;the lamp burned as bright as ithad three hours ago, at midnight, or as itwould burn three hours hence, at sunrise,—withthe same provoking virtue that madehis nocturnal rounds a waste of labor andsleep.
“Some one has to,” he said aloud. “Burnaway, Beast!” With this customary good-night,he clattered downstairs, locked thelighthouse door, caught up his lantern, andwent whistling along the narrow path by theriver. From below, to the left, stole the saltcoolness of seaweed bared at low tide,—asharp aroma that set him wide awake. Fromabove, over a black phantom hill, peeredOrion’s red shoulder-star. Hurtling shadowsof undergrowth before his lantern rose magnified,parted in rout, wheeled slowly, fellprostrate and infinitely prolonged. The grassfringe of his smooth-beaten trail gleamedwith a pearly rime of autumnal dew. “Nearlyfrost to-night,” thought the boy.
He raced down into a steep gully, drummedacross a little foot-bridge, took by scramblingassault the other bank, and on the crest, suddenly,as their black wall yawned to engulfhim, entered a low grove of pines and cedars.The cold wet bristles bedewed his hands, ashe skipped along, now scuffing loudly on aworn ledge, now over a stretch of wet touch-wood,the full, fern-bordered length of a vanishedlog, that made him advance silent as aghost.
A ghost—he often thought of that, for nowcame the one mild excitement. Three timesevery night, his grandfather’s unofficial deputy,he tramped this triangular beat, downhill,along the shore between the two fixedlights, uphill again to the farmhouse. Atfirst a lark, this tramp had in the last yearbecome dull monotony; his score, penciledin the back of his beloved atlas, showed overa thousand tours, on which nothing ever happened;and yet now and then, as he nearedthe Admiral’s deck, he felt the childhoodpresentiment that just ahead something wouldappear. Usually a nameless emotion, faintand swiftly obliterated, it came now, in theearly morning darkness, almost as the pristinethrill.
At the place which had helped to name thewhole shore, his path widened into a clearingbeside a low bluff. The lantern twirled itsshadow-ribs across a floor of rotten wood,—oldship’s planking, the few solid remnants auger-bored.Here, beside a stout rail which nowtottered over the dark gulf, Admiral Bissant,the boy’s great-uncle, had walked the quarter-deckin his dotage. Miles’s grandfather nevermentioned the tradition; but old FishermanBull had often told how, dropping down riverin the Mystic Tie, he had seen an aged figurepacing the verge above, in faced uniformand cocked hat. “Givin’ orders he was,” saidthe fisher, “to nobody—trompin’ an’ mumblin’amongst the trees, bossin’ hemlocks fermen.” To prove the story there remaineduniform, cocked hat, and sword as well, rescuedby Uncle Christopher when the old Bissanthouse burned, and now hung in the “fronthall” of their cottage. And these moulderingplanks still outlined the landfast quarter-deck.A ghost there must be, Ella said.Of course that was her nonsense. Only afaint breeze of dawn sighed through thedrooping needles.
“Nothing ever happens,” thought Miles.He dived into a dark billow of firs, brushedalong with now and then a gossamer dampacross his cheeks, and following the outwardcurve of the shore, emerged on a tiny promontory,down which a ragged wall of Norwaypines sloped to the second lighthouse,—anotherstunted white obelisk tipped withradiance. Here again his inspection was needless;and soon he climbed the homeward field,where fast encroaching fir-trees squatted likea thinned regiment of dwarfs.
At the farmhouse door he blew out his lantern;and tiptoeing from the stair-head pasthis grandfather’s room, undressed in the dark,and was soon abed and asleep.
Full flood of autumn sunshine woke him;and from a late breakfast alone, he went, asusual, straight to the “library.” Before asnapping beech-wood fire, his grandfather,a tall, spare man, whose ruddy, clean-shavenface was marked with severe wrinkles, pacedin uncertain fidgets, both hands clasping aBible at his back.
“Get your Testament, sir,” he commandedquerulously, without turning his hook-nosedprofile. Ella, the “girl” who had served theirfamily these thirty years, looked up andnodded furtive encouragement, then bent toas furtive a study of the long words. Sittingbeside her, Miles could see the fat fingers,white and puckered from hot water, falteringacross the narrow columns, balking beneathUrbane, Stachys, Tryphena and Tryphosa.When her turn came to read aloud, sheomitted them one and all, glibly, but with theair of a nervous knitter dropping stitches.The old man, standing braced before thefire, affected not to notice. It was one of hisfew compromises. He read on sonorously,his head uplifted before the portrait of hisbrother, the Admiral, who stared down fromthe canvas with the same ruddy face andclose white curls, the same beaked severityand intolerant poise.
Their devotions ended, Ella went bustlingto her kitchen, and the head of the Bissantfamily turned to its youngest survivor.
“Good-morning, sir! Are you any betterprepared to-day?” With eyes of a confused,smoky brightness, he surveyed his grandson,then searched the few old books onthe shelves. “Hmm! Sallust—yes, just so.Come, begin—where’s the lesson, eh?—No,not there, either, take it all!—Hmm!—Ah,here ’tis, boy: Volturcius interrogatusde itinere—”
“Please, sir,” said Miles humbly, “wedon’t—it’s Saturday, grandfather.”
“Eh, what the devil?” complained theold man. “So ’tis, boy, so ’tis. Always Saturday.”Frowning vaguely, he thumped thebook on the table. “Well, and how d’yepropose to waste your time to-day?”
“Shooting, sir, if you don’t mind,” venturedMiles. “The law’s off on patri—”
“Don’t let me hear that barbarism!” criedhis grandfather bitterly. “Must we talk likerustics? If you will miscall the ruffed grouse,sir, call it p-a-r-t—partridge! Say it!”
“Partridge, sir,” mumbled the boy sheepishly.
“Now go,” commanded his grandfather,“and write out that word fifty times, beforeMonday’s lesson!—Come back here; whosaid I’d finished? Write it with a capital R!”
“Yes, sir,” said Miles, and slipped fromthe room. The door closed, and the rebukevanished; for there stood the shotgun readyin the corner, and Ella packing his basket.As he stepped out into autumn sunshine, herepaid her with a promise,—
“I’ll bring home some good pat—partridges.”
“Fat ones?” she jeered, her freckled faceagain in the doorway. “Then you’ll have tofeed ’em first. A high old hunter are you!They’re still in the lowlands a-stuffin’ alder-berries,thin as Macfarlane’s geese.”
“I didn’t say fat partridges, Ella,” hecalled back. A shrill protest pursued him:“O-o-h, Master Miles, you did, because Iheard you!”
Behind their house the hillside rose, abrupt,and slippery with ripe yellow grass.After a brief climb Miles could look backover the warped roof and see the convex fieldplunge toward the river. Pausing again forbreath, he could see the trunks of the twotall hackmatacks which stood before the door,green pillars of an imaginary gate. Frombetween them two brown paths forked wide,—sidesof the triangle described by his nightlytour. Pines and underbrush of solemn evergreenhid the distant base, but the twin lighthousesmarked each extremity by a fat whitecolumn, low and red-capped. Beyond these,in the crisp air, the river shone steel-blue,streaked with tides, blackened with lightsqualls, and throughout the two miles of itswidth, empty, except for the dotted pencilingof weirs, and for one dark fir knoll, thelittle midway island. Yellow birches, scarletmaples, flamed like bale-fires along the evergreenheadlands on the other shore; but hay-fieldsof the American borderers, over there,still remained verdant squares, dressed inthe living green of second crops.
He gained the crest, and shifting his gun,struck across a decrepit orchard toward thegreen wall of the woods. Suddenly a whitefleck, through the pattern of gnarled boughs,stirred in the adjoining field. A horse whinnied.The boy stopped in astonishment.What were men and horses doing by theruins of the old house? He changed hiscourse.
Where the Admiral’s house, last sign offamily prosperity, had long ago burned to theground, the cellar yawned like a grassy craterin a pasture knoll. Hawthorns, a hedgegrown high and wild, screened the mound onits river side; and framed in glossy leavesand scarlet clusters, a little man scrubbedvigorously the back of a tethered pony. Thebeast was curiously piebald, blotched withsnow white and dingy gray.
Miles and the pony stared at each other.The man, without pausing, turned a swarthyface, scowled, and then grinned.
“Hello, Squair,” he called slyly, “don’tgive a poor chap away now, will ye?”
“Give what away?” said Miles, wondering.
“Pipe-clay,” replied the stranger. Hedangled a rag aloft, stirred it in a bucket onthe grass, and smeared another snow-whitepatch down the pony’s flank. “How’s that,huh? Look a-here,”—his crafty black eyestwinkled,—“I’ll tell you what, Squair. Ifyou won’t give me away, I’ll let ye finishthe rest of him.”
Miles joyfully vaulted the rails. Horses,in his life, had been rare. Hardly had hebegun this new, odd, and delectable employment,before the little man was seated onthe mound of ruin, a luxurious critic.
“Don’t rub so hard.” He stuffed tobaccointo a black pipe. “Ye ain’t curryin’. Coather smooth and even.”
Pleasure gave way, at last, to curiosity.
“What’s it for?” asked the boy.
“Well, now, ’tain’t my fault,” rejoinedthe stranger candidly. “But our paterons dolike to see a white horse. No use o’ talkin’,they do. Now Terry’s smart as the Old Sarpint,but he ain’t altogether a thorough white.Not thorough and complete, he ain’t.”
“Why, he’s a gray!” cried Miles, pattingthe inquisitive muzzle.
“I give ye credit for that!” approved theman. “To them that didn’t know him well,Terry would seem grayish. I don’t denythey’s mottles, suspicion o’ gray, in places,as you say.”
Behind the speaker, a black