The Keeper of
the Light by Henry van Dyke
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 buildingif 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 lanterna 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
islandin 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 huntingthat 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 newwho 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 birdsCA SERA B'EN DE VALEUR!
Besides, it is impossible. The lighthouse is coming, certain."
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 lighthouse
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 Windigo."
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
minutethat'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 wheels.
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 turnfifty-five, fifty-
six, fifty-sevenwhat's the use of counting? Watch the dial; go to
sleepno! 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 Natalinewell, 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 machinesuch
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 familyyou understand? For us it is
the chief thing. It is my Ten Commandments. I shall keep it or be
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
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
"Monsieur Fortin," he stammered, "will youdo you thinkam 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 peoplea 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 somethinga 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 worldearth and sky and
sealook like a crazy white chaos. And through it all, that weary,
dogged crank must be kept turningturning 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 treestately 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
looksbut 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
heartsteady, 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 Thibault.
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
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
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 down."
"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 soonI have thought of thiswhen 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 blame"
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 then.
"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. Onetwo"
"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, surelyI 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 menot oncetill 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
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 the
It flashed upon her in a moment what it meantthe 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
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.