Harper's Young People, May 2, 1882 An Illustrated Weekly
|HULDAH DEANE'S HEROISM.|
|THE PYRAMIDS OF EGYPT.|
|DOGS OF MY ACQUAINTANCE.|
|THE CANOE FIGHT.|
|MR. STUBBS'S BROTHER.|
|THE VAIN SPARROWS.|
|RATS AND MICE.|
|OUR POST-OFFICE BOX.|
|vol. iii.—no. 131.||Published by HARPER & BROTHERS, New York.||price four cents.|
|Tuesday, May 2, 1882.||Copyright, 1882, by Harper & Brothers.||$1.50 per Year, in Advance.|
HULDAH DEANE'S HEROISM.
BY MRS. M. S. PETERS.
A sky darkened by clouds hurrying before driving winds, a sea gray-facedand wrinkled tossing restlessly beneath a mass of barren rocks uponwhich stood a tall light-house, made up the dreary picture Huldah Deanewas gazing upon with such wistful intentness. Her gray eyes presentlyfollowed the swoop of an osprey, and his after-flight upward with hisprey in his talons.
"I would rather be that fish-hawk than Huldah Deane," she said, givingexpression to her gloomy thoughts. "I must stay here day in, yearout—here, where nothing happens, where the sea frets, and I fret withit. So I light the Captain's pipe, scrub the tower, and do chores forthe dame. Who cares what else I do, or what becomes of me? Yes, old sea,I'd rather be a fish-hawk, and snatch fish from you, than be HuldahDeane. Oh dear! If something would only happen! If I could do somethinggreat or wonderful—go out in a life-boat, maybe, to save drowningfolks, or—"
"Huldy! Huldy Deane!" The quick, impatient call reached her, even abovethe roaring of the surf. It was Captain Dutton's voice. "Come right on,quick; mother's taken in a spell, an' I can't make it out."
Huldah obeyed in awed silence. A spell the Captain couldn't make outmust be very bad, she thought. What if neither she nor anybody elsecould make it out? And, alas! who could understand the fixed stare ofthe dame's kind eyes, or the pinched shrinking of the features sosuddenly grown unfamiliar to the two who dwelt under the same roof withher?
"She's got to hev the doctor as soon as he can be fetched, Huldy."
"The doctor from shore?" questioned the girl.
"Certain. There's none closer as I know. Do you?"
"No," she gravely answered; "but the mainland's a long ways off, and astorm's rising."
"It makes no difference," said Captain Dutton, stubbornly. "She's been agood mother to me, an' she's in a bad fix. The doctor's got to befetched, that's all."
In his rough, good-hearted way the Captain loved his mother as he lovednothing else.
"Ef she should die, I want her to know somehow as I tried to do my dutyby her last of all. And, Huldy"—laying his hand on the girl'sshoulder—"I ain't concerned but what she'll be took care on as fur asyou can do it, child. It's hard lines to leave a young one like you herewith such terrible trouble, but there's no help for it. I'll fetch thedoctor soon as I kin—leastways 'fore the sun drops. No sailor kin sayas ever Kyle Dutton missed lightin' the beacon wi' the last ray o'sunshine, or turnin' off lamps as the sun stepped 'crost the horizon.Livin', I'll be here in time for that, Huldy."
He nodded and went away.
Huldah shivered as she glanced down at the motionless figure on thecouch below. Maybe she would be left thus utterly alone for hours—fordays. Her breath came hurriedly. It seemed to her more than she couldbear. Frantically she forced open the window, and, thrusting her headthrough, shouted herself hoarse in a vain effort to make Captain Duttonhear her above the roaring of the sea. The boat, tossed from wave towave, plunged further and further away.
And it was but a few hours ago that Huldah had wished she might have anopportunity to do some great heroic deed. Now she said to herself: "Youwere a pitiful coward then, Huldah Deane. You brave enough to go in alife-boat to save drowning folks! You deserve to be nothing better thana fish-hawk. Because Dame Dutton lies ill yonder, and the Captain putsoff to fetch a doctor, is that any reason why you should go into spasmsof fright? For shame! Remember what father told you that day he sailedaway never to come back any more: 'Do your duty always, Huldah.' Isn'tit your duty now, foolish girl, to get right down from here and see topoor Mrs. Dutton?"
Closing the window, she descended from her perch to renew her exertionsfor the relief of the poor dame. But toil as she might, nothing shecould do would change the fixed attitude, or calm the quick-drawn breaththat told of bitter suffering.
Presently the day began to wane. The clouds ranged themselves in solidmasses, and darkness and storm besieged the sea-girt tower. Crossing tothe clock in the corner, she scanned its face. "Five o'clock! So late?Why, the sun is down in less than half an hour, and the Captain willlose his place if the beacon is not lighted by sundown. But what can Ido? It's the order, he says, that women and children sha'n't haveanything to do with the lights."
One moment she stood with tightly compressed lips. Then a brave,resolute smile parted her lips.
"Well, I'm hardly a child, I suppose, but neither am I a woman. Shipsmay be lost if the beacon is not lit." Then lighting the lantern theCaptain always used, she hung it on her arm, and after one more look atthe sick woman, left the chamber.
Almost at the threshold began the seemingly endless stairway, winding upinto regions of height and loneliness. She did not allow herself tohesitate now, but began the ascent hurriedly. A fearful journey itseemed, through the darkness, broken only by fitful glimmerings of herlantern, and now and then cross rays of light from the slits of windowsin the thick walls. Clasping the iron rail, she toiled on, her limbsfailing, her heart thumping, and her brain in a whirl. Not until she hadreached the top step did she drop down to rest. Exhausted by fatigue andnervous excitement, she had to recover strength before she could evenopen the door into the lantern-room.
Fortunately the great lamps were trimmed and supplied with oil. Everypart of the machinery was also in working order. Captain Dutton was oneof the most careful of the light-house keepers.
"And he shall see that I do not mean him to lose his place for onenight's failure to light the tower," Huldah said, her heart warming forthe first time to the silent man who had, in his way, done his duty byher as well as by the place of trust he filled. "Who knows, though, thislight may fall upon the very spot where he has gone down to the bottomof the sea."
Again a shiver crept over the slender figure, and only the blazing forthof the beacon dispelled her vivid fancy. One by one the lamps flared up,and were turned into place. The reflectors, polished to their utmost,caught the cheerful rays, and sent them in a far-reaching circle ofradiance, out through the darkness and the storm, to give warning tothose who were "gone down to the sea in ships."
But this was only the beginning of Huldah's work. It was a chief part ofthe keeper's duty, she knew, to see that the lights burned undimmedthroughout the night. Now, however, she must return to attend to thedame awhile. But as she turned to go there was a sudden crashing of theglass above her, a whirring swoop of some swift-winged creatureoverhead, a gust of wind, a flaring of the circle of lights, and thendarkness, rayless, absolute. The storm moaned and shrieked in her ears,and Huldah shrieked too, hiding her face in her shawl.
What had happened? Again the winged intruder whirred by, beating the airwith wearied and dripping plumage. Ah! now she understood. Once CaptainDutton had told her of a storm-bird breaking one of his transparencies.Attracted by the light, doubtless, this wanderer had dashed against theglass.
There was but one thing to be done. She could not hope to relight thelamps until those blasts were shut out. She must find another frame andtransparency.
How the descent was accomplished Huldah could never think without ashudder. At the very outset, when she had groped her way to the landing,and had succeeded in relighting her little lantern, the door she hadlatched behind her flew open, giving outlet to those terrible winds,which tore at her clothing savagely, extinguishing her light, andleaving her again in darkness. Of necessity she stood still until thecurrents had strangled each other, and sunk down into the depths ofgloom below her. Then, shutting her eyes tightly, she went on herperilous journey.
From the basement stores she procured the frame and fixtures, andreturning with them by the same winding route upward, found it not sucha difficult thing to unhinge and replace the shattered transparency, thetempest having lulled slightly, and the force of the wind being broken.Yet by the time her task was complete, and the lamps relit, her strengthfailed her. Vaguely thinking that maybe she was going to die, she fellupon the floor, and with a deep-drawn sigh her eyes closed.
Four hours later an Inspector from the mainland passing to the islandlight-house was hailed by the Captain of a brig which had weathered thestorm, and come to anchor for repairs.
"What ails the tower light, sir?" he asked of the officer, noddingtoward the beacon, through the transparencies of which a steady streamof light was still pouring, though the sun was doing his best to dim itsglory.
The Inspector frowned. "I only know that the keeper's neglecting hisduty."
The sailor shook his head. "Something more's amiss, I'm thinking. Thelight come near playing us a jack-o'-lantern trick just before day. Sheput on her night-cap all of a sudden, and 'twas like the pole-star hadlet loose o' the compass needle. A little more'n we'd 'a dashed upon thereefs, only she waked up and showed us her shiners. And not a wink hasshe took since. Somewhat's wrong. Cap'n Dutton's been prompt as the sunthis twenty year."
"Captain Dutton? Is't Captain Kyle Dutton that's keeper of thelight-house yonder?" asked one of the brig's passengers, startingforward, excitedly.
"Yes, Kyle Dutton. He's a queer chap, but he ain't the fellow to shirkduty."
In a moment the stranger had asked to be put ashore.
The landing was effected with little risk, but those of the boat's crewwho ascended the cliff and sought entrance to the tower found themselvesbaffled. The ladder was gone, the iron door barred, and all theirpounding awoke no response other than muffled echoes from the interior.
"We may get in through a window," said the Inspector. "Hodges, fetch theboat-hook."
The hook was brought, and at the second throw caught over the ironbalcony under Dame Dutton's window.
The Inspector climbed the rope, followed by the others, and soonadmission was gained to the room beneath.
"Here's one of the Seven Sleepers," said Dick Trail, going up to thecouch. He started back. "Why, it's the Cap'n's mother, and she looks asif she were dying."
Two of the men gathered closer to see what they could do for the poorwoman, and the others began to search the tower. No clew to the mystery,if mystery it contained, was found below. Together in silence theymounted the winding stairway.
A flood of mellow light poured upon the group as the officer opened thedoor into the lantern-room. There upon the floor, bathed in the glory,lay Huldah Deane. To her locked senses, lulled into unconsciousness bythe roar of the storm-lashed ocean, the tumult in the tower had neverreached.
She was only awakened now by feeling herself lifted in a pair of strongarms, and strained to the breast of the stranger seaman.
"Huldah! Huldah! My little one! my daughter!" she heard a tender voicemurmuring, and in her glimmer of consciousness felt hot tears droppingon her face.
After the first wild emotion of joy, what a sense of rest the child had,feeling the protecting arms of her father about her! For the stranger,who had endured shipwreck and danger, was