Read CHAPTER II - THE LIGHTS THAT NEVER SLEEP of The Boy With the U. S. Life-Savers , free online book, by Francis Rolt-Wheeler, on

It was a happy awakening in the life-saving station the next morning, for both the rescued men were well on the road to recovery. Eric had intended to be the first to tell Willett the entire story, but the events of the night had been a heavy strain on him and he had slept late. Indeed, he did not waken until the gang of boys came round for their morning drill. Drill was scheduled at nine o’clock, but it was seldom that there failed to be at least half a dozen urchins around the station by eight, or even earlier.

“What’s all this drill the kids are talking about?” Willett asked Eric, as the boy came back from breakfast. “To hear the way they go on, you’d think it was the only important thing that had been scheduled since the world began!”

“That’s the Commodore’s doing,” replied Eric, with a laugh. “He’s got us all going that way. You know Hailer is one of those chaps who believes so much in what he’s doing that everybody else has to believe in it, too.”

“But I thought Hailer was commodore in New York, not out here in ’Frisco.”

“So he is,” agreed the boy. “But a mere trifle like a few thousand miles doesn’t seem to weaken his influence much. Of course the biggest part of his time is given to superintending the New York end, but the work’s spreading in every direction and all our reports go to headquarters. After all, organization does make a heap of difference, don’t you think? How about it? Are you fit enough to come and see the youngsters at their work?”

“I’m a bit wobbly,” the rescued man answered. “I suppose I ought to expect that. But I feel all right. I can get as far as that bench, anyway, and I’d like to see the drill. You teach them all to swim?”

“We try to teach everybody we can get hold of,” replied Eric. “Hailer has an idea that every man, woman, and child in the United States ought to be able to swim, even when asleep. I’ve heard him say that it was as much a part of our job to prevent accidents as to do the best we can after accidents have happened. I think he’s about right. Everybody ought to swim, just the same way as they know how to walk. Then we wouldn’t have to fetch out of the water a lot of people who are already half-drowned.”

“You do that in great shape, too,” said Willett gratefully, “I can testify to that! I was a goner last night, sure, if you fellows hadn’t been there. And the way you brought Jake around I wouldn’t have thought it possible.”

“We were mighty lucky,” agreed the boy.

“You were!” exclaimed Willett. “I think we’re the lucky ones.”

“I suppose you are,” said Eric. “But, after all, if both your chum and you had been A N swimmers, just see how easy it would have been! You could have got ashore in a few minutes. That’s what we want to do with the kids. We want to teach them to swim so that if they tumble off a dock with their duds on they can strike out for shore like so many frogs. We manage to break in nearly every youngster who comes down to this beach. Most of them want to get the hang of it, anyway, and when there’s a bunch of youngsters to start with, it’s a cinch to get the rest to join in.”

“But still I don’t see how you can teach them on land,” Willett objected.

“Why not?”

“You’re supposed to swim with your legs as well as your hands, aren’t you?”

“Of course. It’s the legs that you really do the swimming with.”

“That’s what I thought. But how can you kick out with both legs when you’re standing on them?”

“Oh, that’s what’s troubling you,” said Eric laughing. “But there’s nothing difficult in that. The idea in the leg motions of swimming is to bring the legs to the body, isn’t it?”

“That’s what I always thought.”

“It doesn’t make any difference if you bring the body to the legs, does it?”

“I suppose not,” the other said, dubiously.

“Of course it doesn’t. That’s just the idea. You watch the kids going through the drill and you’ll get on to it. Why, I can put a bunch wise to swimming, though they’re a thousand miles away from any water deep enough to drown in.”

Eric had hardly got outside the station when the boys flocked to him in a body. He answered their fusillade of greetings with equal heartiness and then called them to attention.

“Get to business, now!” he called, and the group lined up in fours, each boy about six feet from his neighbor. “Ready!” he called. “One! Hands together, palms to each other. Swing ’em around a little behind the level of the shoulders turning ’em palm outward as you go. This way!” He showed the motion. “At the word ’Two’ bring the hands in to the breast. At ‘Three’ put the hands forward. All together, now: One! Two! Three!”

The boys followed the motions, some doing it well, but others looking very clumsy and awkward. A dozen times or more the boys went through the drill until a certain amount of regularity began to appear.

“Leg motions next,” Eric called briskly. “At the word ‘One!’ bring the body down to the heels in a sitting position. At the word ‘Two’ straighten up and jump with both legs wide apart. At the word ‘Three,’ jump and bring the legs close together. That’s the one that shoots you ahead.”

This was repeated a dozen or more times and then Eric started the youngsters doing both the arm and leg motions together. It was really hard work, but when he let the urchins go at the end of about half an hour, some of them could do it like clockwork.

“How much real swimming do you suppose the kids learn from that stuff?” Willett asked.

“About one-third of them can swim right away,” Eric answered. “It’s mostly in getting used to it. After all, if a kid gets hold of the right stroke and practises enough so that he can do it automatically, he can’t do anything else but that when he gets into the water. The more scared he is, the surer he is to do the thing he’s got used to doing. What sends people down in the water, is that they’ve got a wrong idea. They wave their arms about, and as soon as your arms are out of the water, it just alters the balance enough to put your mouth under.”

“Seems to me I might learn something from that myself ” Willett was beginning, when a long-continued whistle blast sounded from the station. Eric was off like a shot. Quick as he was, however, he was only just in time to scramble into the first boat.

“What is it?” the boy asked.

“Motor-boat on fire,” answered the coxswain, “an explosion, most likely. I guess the boat’s done for, but the Eel saw the trouble the minute it happened, so we oughtn’t to have any trouble picking the people up. He said there were girls, though, and probably they can’t swim.”

As the life-saving boat cut through the water, it passed three or four swimmers who had started out from the beach on seeing the accident. There was a great deal of excitement on shore, as, being a fine Sunday morning, the beach was crowded.

“We’ll be with you in a minute,” shouted one of the intending rescuers as the boat swept by.

As usual, the Eel was the first man overboard, and his queer snake-like stroke showed to full effect. There had been five people in the boat, three men and two girls, one of them just a child. One of the men and one of the women couldn’t swim a stroke. The woman had already given up and the Eel took care of her. Another of the life-savers tackled the struggling man.

It was evident that there was no need for more help there, so Eric swam to where the little girl was striking out bravely for the shore.

“Can I give you a hand?” he asked.

The child, though swimming pluckily, evidently was hampered by being fully dressed.

“Can’t swim a bit with my boots on,” she gurgled. The boy smiled with genuine appreciation of her grit.

“You’re the real thing,” he said. “But it is hard swimming with boots on. Suppose you let me take you to shore. It’s just as easy!”

He swam in front of the child.

“Put your hands on my shoulders,” he said, “and keep your feet well up. Are you all right now?”

“Quite all right,” she answered, dashing the water out of her eyes.

“I see they’ve put the fire out,” said Eric, swimming quietly and easily, for the girl’s touch was like a feather on his shoulder. “I don’t believe the boat’s much hurt.”

“I’d be awfully glad if it wasn’t,” she answered, “because Jack just borrowed it for the day and I’m sure he’s feeling terribly. We were just going to buy one this week.”

“Perhaps this will scare him off.”

In spite of her fatigue and fright the girl laughed brightly as Eric’s feet touched bottom and he stood up.

“It might him, but it won’t me,” she said, with a joyous disregard of grammar. “And Jack’s buying the boat mainly for me. I really can swim quite well, but I suppose the explosion scared me. I don’t believe I’d have been frightened a bit if I had jumped in of my own accord. But it was all so sudden!”

“Well,” said Eric, “it’s a good thing for you it didn’t happen a long way from shore. And I’m glad I was able to help a bit, too, because this is my last day on duty and having helped you is about the best way of celebrating it that could have happened.”

“Your last day?” she said, with a note of regret in her voice. “You’re going away?”

“Yes,” Eric replied, as they came to the water’s edge and the crowd began to congregate to meet them, “I’m just getting ready to join the Coast Guard!”

“Great!” she exclaimed, her eyes sparkling, as she shook back her wet hair. “But how can I thank you?”

“You have thanked me,” the boy answered, as he took her to the beach where the lifeboat had landed and where her friends were anxiously awaiting her, “you’ve given me a chance to quit in a sort of ’blaze of glory.’ Don’t you think that’s something?”

“But won’t you tell me who you are?” she pleaded.

“United States Volunteer Life-Saving Corps,” he answered with a smile, as he turned to go back to the station, “that’s where the credit ought to go.”

“So this is your last day, Eric,” said the Eel, an hour or so later, as the boy stood on the platform of the life-saving station, looking regretfully at the strip of beach.

“Yes, Eel,” Eric rejoined thoughtfully. “I hate to leave here, too.”

“I always hate to go, of course,” his chum agreed, “but then it’s different with me. This is my vacation. When I quit here, it means that I’ve got to get back to work. You’re only going back to school.”

“Not my fault,” was the half-rueful answer; “I’d a heap sooner be going into the Coast Guard right away. But I’m not ready yet.”

“You will be, next year,” said his friend, sympathetically.

“I know. But next year’s a long way off and I wanted to stay here until I was sure of my appointment. If Father were only going to stay another year on the coast, I could finish my work here and then get ready for the exams in June.”

“Is he leaving?”

“Of course. Don’t you remember I told you before!”

“Yes, so you did. I’d forgotten.”

“We’re hiking off at the end of this month. Father’s been put in charge of one of the districts on the Great Lakes.”

“But I thought he was inspector here?”

“He’s been acting-inspector for quite a while. But that was a temporary appointment, while the inspector was ill.”

“And you’re going home a couple of weeks ahead to help pack, eh?”

“Ye-es,” Eric answered, “of course that’s a part of it. But I’m going now because I want to see Uncle Eli before I go East. He’s on Tillamook Rock, you know.”

“I knew he used to be,” the Eel said, “but I thought when he made that big real estate haul, he quit.”

“He tried to,” the boy agreed, “but he found he couldn’t. Uncle Eli’s an old-timer, Eel. I used to be jealous of the Tillamook Light. He’s just as fond of it as he is of me, more, I think. I can quite see how he would feel that way. It’s always been just like his child. He was there when the light was born.”

“You mean its designing?”

“I mean its being born,” Eric insisted. “Nearly all my people have been in the Lighthouse Service, you know. They all have that way of thinking of the lights as if they were real folks. It’s something like a captain’s idea about his ship. She’s always alive. And lights are just as responsive. Some way, I’ve a bit of that same feeling myself.”

“Yes,” the Eel said thoughtfully, “I can see that, in a way. They do seem a bit human, don’t they? And it must be deadly lonely for the keepers, out of reach of everybody, with nothing to do.”

“What?” shouted Eric, so loudly that the Eel jumped. “With nothing to do?”

“Except just attend to the light,” his chum said apologetically. “What else is there?”

“I suppose you think they just light the lantern when they have a mind to and then snore all night long?”

“N-no, of course they can’t,” the Eel replied, humbly, “I hadn’t thought of that. I suppose they have to keep watch.”

“You bet they do,” Eric said emphatically, “and a mighty close watch at that. And when it comes to discipline the Lighthouse Service has every civilian organization in America beaten to a frazzle.”

“I didn’t know it was so strict.”

“Strict! Carelessness means dishonorable dismissal, right off the bat! Not that there’s ever much chance of such a thing ever being needed. The Commissioner has built up such a sense of pride in the service that a chap would do anything rather than neglect his duty. I’ll tell you a story of a woman light-keeper, a woman, mind you, Eel, that’ll show you. You know Angel Island?”

“Right here in San Francisco Bay?”

“That’s the one. You know that there’s a light and a fog signal there?”

“I hadn’t ever thought of it,” the other replied. “Yes, I guess there is.”

“There’s a new fog-horn on that point now, Eel, but when I was quite a small shaver, in 1906, the fog signal was a bell, rung with a clapper. In July of that year the clapper broke and couldn’t be used. A heavy fog came down and blanketed the island so that you couldn’t see anything a foot away. That woman light-keeper stood there with a watch in one hand and a nail-hammer in the other and struck that bell once every twenty seconds for twenty hours and thirty-five minutes until the fog lifted. She didn’t stop for meals or sleep. Two days later, the bell not having yet been fixed, another fog came down at night and she did the same thing the whole night long. That’s what I call being on the job!”

“Yes,” the Eel agreed with admiration, “you can’t beat that, anywhere.”

“And you spoke of light-keepers being idle!” continued Eric, warming to his subject. “Keeping a lighthouse in the shape that the Commissioner insists on isn’t any easy chore. I tell you, the operating room of a hospital isn’t any cleaner than the inside of a lighthouse. They tell a story in the service of a hot one that was handed to a light-keeper by one of the inspectors. The keeper hadn’t shaved that morning. The instant the inspector saw him, he said:

“‘If the lamp doesn’t look better kept than you do, you’re fired!’”

“That’s swift enough!” the older boy answered, with a whistle.

“Nothing saved that light-keeper but the fact that everything else about the place was in apple-pie order. I’ve heard Father tell how some of the inspectors go around with a white handkerchief, and if they find any dust there’s trouble for somebody!”

“Don’t you think that’s carrying it a bit too far?” queried his chum.

“I used to think so,” Eric said, “but I don’t now. I’ve got the idea that’s behind the rule. Everybody isn’t cut out to be a light-keeper. The work calls for just one thing, a tremendous conscientiousness. There’s no one to keep constant tab on men in isolated stations. Men who haven’t got the right point of view won’t stay in the service, and those who have got it, get it developed a lot more. The way it looks to me, the Commissioner has built up an organization of men who do their work because they believe in it, and who naturally have a liking for regularity and order.”

“You’re sure stuck on the Lighthouse Service, Eric,” said his chum with a laugh.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” the lad replied. “If all my folks are in it, I’ve probably got some of that same sort of feeling in my blood. But I’m different, too. The same thing to do over and over again, day after day, month after month, would get my goat. I want to do something that’s got more variety and more opportunity. That’s why I’m going to join the Coast Guard if I can get in.”

“Well,” the Eel said, sighing, “I envy you. So far as I can see, I’m like your lighthouse-keeper. I’m stuck at a desk for the rest of my life. You go ahead, Eric, and do the big stuff in rescue work, with uniform and epaulets and all the rest of it. I’ll stay right on my job in the city and on Saturdays, Sundays, and vacations I’ll do my little best in the volunteer job on this beach.”

“It’s bully work here, all right,” agreed Eric, “and I’m only sorry I can’t be in two places at once. Good luck, old man,” he continued, shaking hands with his chum heartily, “I’ll drop you a line written right on Tillamook Rock, and maybe it’ll have the real sea flavor to it!”

Eric was quite excited in joining his father at Astoria, where they were to take the lighthouse-tender Manzanita to Tillamook Rock. During all the years his father had been connected with the light, both as light-keeper and as inspector, he had never taken his wife or son there. Of course, under no circumstances would they have been allowed to stay over night, but Eric had never even visited the rock. The boy had begged for a chance to stay over one night, just to stand one watch in the lighthouse, but rules were rules. The utmost privilege he could get was permission to go to the lighthouse with his father, when the latter was making his final inspection before transfer to another district.

“I hear you’ve been distinguishing yourself, Eric,” the veteran said, when the Manzanita had cast off from the wharf.

“How do you mean, Father?”

“Rescues, and that sort of thing. It made me feel quite proud of my son.”

“There were a few,” the lad answered, with a quick flush of pride at his father’s praise, “but at that I don’t think I got my full share. We had a fellow there we called the ‘Eel.’ Nobody else had a chance to get anything when he was around.”

“Good swimmer, eh?”

“He was a wonder! Why, Father, he used to swim under water nearly all the time, just putting his nose out to breathe once in a while, and at the end of his side stroke he had a little wiggle that shot him ahead like greased lightning. Funniest stroke you ever saw!”

“Couldn’t you pick it up?”

“Oh, I got the stroke all right,” Eric answered confidently, “but I can’t do it the way he did. And you should have seen him dive!”

“I always was glad you took kindly to that work,” said the inspector thoughtfully, “because I believe it is pretty well handled, now that it’s on an official basis. It certainly supplements the government’s life-saving work very well. I’ve wondered, sometimes, whether it oughtn’t to be taken hold of by the nation.”

“I don’t think it’s necessary, Father,” Eric replied. “You see, if it was a government station, the regular crew would have to be on duty all the time. There’s no need for that. There aren’t any accidents there, except when the beach is crowded, and that’s just for Saturdays and Sundays, mainly, and a couple of months in the summer.”

“That may all be true, but when an accident does occur, experts are needed in a hurry. Amateur work doesn’t amount to much as a rule.”

“This isn’t amateur!” protested the boy. “Why, Father, do you know what a chap has to do before he can even enlist?”

“No,” the other replied. “I never heard the requirements, or if I did, I’ve forgotten them. What are they?”

“A fellow who applies has got to show that he can swim at least a hundred yards in good style, and twenty yards of that must be in coat, trousers, and shoes. He’s got to be able to dive and bring up something from the bottom, at a depth of ten feet. He’s got to swim twenty yards carrying a person his own weight and show that he knows three different ways of carrying a drowning person in deep water. He’s got to show that he can do at least three of the ways to ‘break’ death-grips made by a drowning person. And besides that, he’s got to know all about first aid, especially resuscitation.”

“You mean that an applicant has to pass that test before entering the volunteers at all?”

“He sure has, and he’s got to show that he can do it easily, too!”

“That’s good and stiff,” said the old inspector. “You can do all that, Eric, eh?”

The boy smiled.

“I’ve got a Proficiency Medal, Father,” he said, not a little proudly.

“What’s that for?”

“That’s the test to show you’re really A 1. To get that medal you’ve got to swim under water for over thirty-five feet, you’ve got to know all the ‘breaks,’ and you’ve got to show a ‘break’ to be made by a third party if you’re rescuing a rescuer who has got into the clutch of a drowning man in any way that he can’t shake loose. Besides that, you’ve got to swim back-stroke sixty feet with the hands clear out of water, and sixty feet side, using one arm only. Then, just to show that it isn’t exhibition stuff but the real goods in training for life-saving, you’re made to swim sixty feet fully dressed and back forty feet, on the return carrying a man your own weight; dropping him, you have to start right off for another sixty feet out and forty feet back, this time carrying the man back by a different method.”

“It’s real swimming!” exclaimed the veteran of the sea.

“You bet,” said Eric, “and I’m not nearly through. There’s another sixty-foot swim, and at the end of it you’ve got to dive at least twelve feet and bring up from the bottom a dead weight of not less than ten pounds and swim ten feet carrying that weight. I tell you, Father, that’s quite a stunt! And then, besides all the swimming stuff, you’ve got to show that you’re Johnny-on-the-spot in throwing a life-buoy, to say nothing of a barrel of tests in first aid, and in splicing and knot-tying of nearly every sort and shape. You don’t get any chance to rest, either. All that swimming business has to be done on the same day. It’s a good test of endurance, all right.”

“And you passed it, son?”

“I got ninety per cent.,” Eric answered. “I thought I’d told you all about it. No, I guess it came off when you were on one of your trips. I don’t go much on boasting, Father, but I really can swim.”

“Well, my boy,” the other said, “I’ll take a little credit for that. Don’t forget I was your first swimming teacher! But I couldn’t do all those things you’ve been telling me about, now. I’m glad to know they’ve got as high a standard as that in the Volunteer Corps. I shouldn’t wonder if the Coast Guard would be able to get some of its best men from the volunteer ranks. Take yourself, for example.”

“It’s done me a lot of good,” said the boy.

“Of course it has. It would do anybody good. But I’ve been wanting to ask you, Eric, what effect the formation of this new Coast Guard will have on your plans?”

“It won’t hurt them a bit,” the boy answered. “I wrote to the Captain Commandant about it and he sent me the dandiest letter! I’ll show it to you when my trunk gets home. You see, Father, when the Life-Saving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service joined together under the name of the Coast Guard, it was arranged that every member of both services might reenlist without examination. And my application was in last year. So that there’s nothing special, I’m just going through the regular order of things. That is, if I can make the Coast Guard Academy.”

“You ought to manage it, I think,” said his father. “I’m really glad you have made up your mind to it, Eric,” he continued; “it’s a good full-size man’s job. And you have quite a bit of the salt in your veins, my lad, for, after all, most of your kin are seafaring folk.”

“You never had anything to do with the old Revenue Cutter Service, had you, Father?”

“I was never a member of it,” the other replied, “but I’ve seen it at work, many times these forty years. No, I got into the Lighthouse Service when I was about your age and I’ve given every bit of myself to it ever since. I’m glad I did. I think the last fifty years has shown the greatest development of safety at sea since the days of the discovery of the compass.”

“Yet you didn’t want me to join!”

“Not now,” the old inspector answered. “Conditions have changed. The Lighthouse Service of to-day is a complete and perfected organization. Every mile of United States territory is covered by a beacon light. We were pioneers.”

“I see,” said the boy thoughtfully.

“It’s a good deal the same sort of development that’s struck the cattle country,” the Westerner said, meditatively. “When I was a youngster, a cattle-puncher was really the wild and woolly broncho-buster that you read about in books. In the days of the old Jones and Plummer trail, when there wasn’t a foot of barbed wire west of the Mississippi, a cowboy’s life was adventurous enough. A round-up gang might meet a bunch of hostile Indians ’most any time, and a man had to ride hard and shoot straight. But now the ranges are all divided up and fenced in. The range-runner has given way to the stock-raiser. It’s like comparing Dan’l Boone to a commercial traveler!”

“I don’t quite see how that fits the Lighthouse Service,” said Eric, smiling at the Daniel Boone comparison.

“Well, it does to a certain extent. When I first went into the Service, half the coast wasn’t protected at all. And even the important lights we had were weak, compared with what we have now. Why, Eric, we’ve got lights so powerful now that we can’t even tell how strong they are!”

The boy looked up incredulously.

“It’s an absolute fact,” the old inspector continued. “The most powerful light we have is on Navesink Highlands, near the entrance of New York Harbor. It’s reckoned at between two million and ten million candle-power. Nobody’s been able to measure it. The United States Bureau of Standards was going to do it, but so far, they’ve left it severely alone.”

“How far can that be seen, Father?”

“All depends on the height of the ship’s deck from the water,” was the reply. “The curvature of the earth determines that. Say, thirty miles on a vessel of moderate size. But the reflection of the Navesink Light on the sky has been seen as far away as eighty miles.”

“White light?”

“Yes, white flashing,” was the reply.

“I’ve noticed,” the boy said thoughtfully, “that red is only used for the smaller lights. I wanted to ask you about that the other day. Now there’s Point Adams Light,” he continued, pointing off the starboard bow as the lighthouse-tender steamed out of the mouth of the Columbia River, “it looks just as big as this light on the other side, on Cape Disappointment, but it’s a lot harder to see. When I’ve been headed for home, on a misty night, after a day’s fishing, I’ve missed Point Adams when Cape Disappointment was as clear as could be.”

“But you could see other lights?”

“Oh, yes, there wasn’t any difficulty in making the harbor, either in or out. I was just wondering whether the color of the light had anything to do with making it seem dim?”

“Of course,” his father answered; “a red glass cuts off sixty per cent, of the light. You can’t see the Point Adams Light for more than about eleven miles, but, in ordinarily clear weather, you can see the fixed white light of Cape Disappointment for all of twenty-two nautical miles.”

“I don’t quite see why,” said the boy, puzzled.

“That’s because you’re not taking the trouble to think,” was the impatient reply. “You know that light is made up of all the colors of the rainbow?”

“Of course.”

“And red is only a small part of that, isn’t it?”


“Well, don’t you see? Red glass only lets the red rays through and cuts off all the rest. How could it help being a lot fainter? And, what’s more, red doesn’t excite the nerves of the eye as much as white does, so that if there were two lights of equal power, one red and one white, the red would be less easily seen.”

“Why do the railroads use red for danger signals, then?”

“Habit, mainly. It’s wrong, of course, and a good many of the railroads are changing their danger signals from red to yellow. So far as we’re concerned in the Lighthouse Service, however, we’re getting rid of all the fixed red lights wherever a long-range warning is needed.”

“How do you distinguish the different lights, then?”

“Using flashing lights, with flashes of different duration.”

“Why didn’t you always do that?” asked Eric.

“Didn’t know enough,” was the simple reply. “It’s only lately that we’ve found out how to work a flashing light without any loss of power. In the old days we used to depend on occulting lights, but now, flashing lights are much more powerful. You know the difference?”

“Sure! An occulting light means that some of the time the light is shut off, and at others it isn’t. Wasn’t it worked by a revolving shutter with wide slits in it?”

“That was the old idea. We use it still as a cheap way of changing a fixed light to one with a definite character. It works all right, only it’s a waste of power to have the light darkened part of the time. Then, too, if the shutter revolves too quickly, the light is like little flashes of lightning, while, if it goes too slowly, a lookout might happen to scan that point on the horizon at the instant it was dark. In that way the value of the warning would be lessened.”

“I know the flashing light is quite different, Father, but just how is it worked?” asked the boy. “It’s because of some arrangement of the lens, isn’t it?”

“Exactly. Light travels in straight lines in every direction. One of the problems of illumination in lighthouse work is to make all these beams come to one focus. We don’t want to light the sky, nor the sea at the foot of the lighthouse. So a first-order light is built up of rows on rows of prisms so arranged that the light will be refracted from every direction to one point. An ordinary student’s reading lamp, inside a big lighthouse lens, would give a light that could be seen a good many miles!”

“That is, if it were high enough up.”

“Of course.”

“Just how quickly does the earth’s curve come into play, Father? I know the earth is round, of course, but, somehow, it seems so big that one never thinks of taking it into any practical account.”

“It works mighty rapidly, my boy,” said the old inspector. “You put a light right at sea level, on a day when there isn’t a ripple on the sea, and five miles away, at sea level, you won’t see a sign of it! Fifteen feet is the unit. Fifteen feet above sea level, you can see a light fifteen feet above sea level, seven miles away.”

“Then why not build lighthouses like the Eiffel Tower, a thousand feet high!”

“Once in a while, Eric,” his father said, rebukingly, “you talk absolutely without thinking. Didn’t I just show you that the rays of a lantern had to be sent out in a single beam?”

“Yes, but what of that?”

“Can’t you see that if your light is too high, the beam will have to strike the water at such an angle that its horizontal effect would be lost? That would mean that a ship could see the light seventy miles away, and lose it at fifty or forty miles from the lighthouse. No, boy, that wouldn’t work. Tillamook Rock is quite high enough!”

“It does look high,” agreed the boy, following his father’s gaze to where, over the port bow, rose the menacing and forbidding reef on which the light stood.

“It’s the meanest bit on the coast,” said the inspector. “Wouldn’t you say the sea was fairly smooth?”

“Like a mill-pond,” declared Eric. “Why?”

“That just shows you,” said his father. “You’d have to nail the water down to keep it from playing tricks around Tillamook. Look at it now!”

The lad’s glance followed the pointing finger. There was hardly a ripple on the sea, but a long slow lazy swell suggested a storm afar off. Slight as the swell was, it struck Tillamook Rock with a vengeful spirit. Long white claws of foam tore vainly at the grim reef’s sides and the roar of the surf filled the air.

“Mill-pond, eh?” said the inspector. “Well, I can see where I get good and wet in that same mill-pond.”

He slipped on a slicker and a sou’wester.

“You’d better dig up some oilskins, Eric,” he said. “Any of the men will let you have them.”

The boy slipped off part of his clothes, standing up in undershirt and trousers.

“I like it better this way,” he said.

The old inspector looked at his son with approval and even admiration. Considering his years, the lad was wonderfully well developed, largely as a result of swimming, and his summer with the Volunteer Corps had sunburned him as brown as a piece of weathered oak.

“I think I’d rather go in that kind of a costume myself,” his father said, with a chuckle, “but I’m afraid it would hardly do for my official uniform on an inspection trip!”

As he spoke, the rattle of the boat-davits was heard.

“Come along then, lad,” said the inspector. “Just a moment, though. Don’t get any fool idea about showing off with any kind of a swimming performance. You just be good and thankful to be hauled up by a crane!”

The boy took another look at Tillamook Rock, frowning above the surf.

“I’m not hankering after a swim there,” he said; “I don’t claim to be amphibious, exactly. As you say, it’s calm enough on the open water, but I don’t think anything except a seal or a walrus or something of that kind could land on that rock. Not for me, thank you. I’ll take the crane, and gladly.”

The ropes rattled through the davit blocks, and, as the Manzanita heeled over a little, the boat took water, the blocks were unhooked, her bows given a sharp shove and she was off.

Down at water level, the slight swell seemed considerably larger. Indeed, it actually was increasing. And, as they pulled in toward the entrance of the reef, the boat met a rip in the current that seemed to try to twist the oars from the hands of the boat-pullers. But lighthouse-tender sailors are picked men, and though the little boat was thrown about like a cork, she fairly clawed her way through the rip. As they neared the entrance in the reef, the surf rushed between the rocks, throwing up spume and spray as though a storm were raging. Eric had to look back out to sea to convince himself that the ocean was still as calm as it had seemed a moment or two before. In among the crags to which the boat was driving, there was a turmoil of seething waters, which came thundering in and which shrank away with a sucking sound, as though disappointed of a long hoped-for vengeance.

“It’s like a witches’ pot!” shouted Eric to his father.

“This is about as calm as it ever gets,” was the inspector’s unmoved reply. “You ought to see Tillamook when it’s rough weather! I’ve seen it with a real gale blowing, when it seemed impossible that the rock could stand up five minutes against the terrific battering. Yet it just stands there and defies the Pacific at its worst, as it has, I suppose, for a hundred thousand years or more, and the light shines on serenely.”

With consummate steering and a finer handling of the oars than Eric had ever seen before and he was something of an oarsman himself the boat from the lighthouse-tender neared the Rock. It was held immediately under the crane and a rope was lowered with a loop on the end of it. The inspector swung himself into this and went shooting up in the air, like some oilskin-covered sea-gull. He took it as a matter of course, all a part of the day’s work, but, just the same, it gave Eric a queer sensation. It was his turn next.

In a moment the loop was down again for him. The rest of the boat’s crew were busy getting ready the mail bag, the provisions and the other supplies that they had brought with them, so the boy stepped unhesitatingly into the loop.

Swish! He was on his upward flight almost before he knew it. The back curl of a breaker, baffled in its attack on the rock, drenched him to the skin. He laughed, for this was just what he had bargained for. Beneath him, already but a small spot on the sea, was the boat he had left; above him the grim nakedness of the barren rock, and below, snarling with impotent fury, was the defeated surf.

The crane above him creaked as it swung inboard. Drenched, cold, but thoroughly happy, Eric stood on Tillamook Rock. For the moment, at least, he was one with that little band of men which is Uncle Sam’s farthest outpost against the tempest-armies of the western seas.