Read CHAPTER THIRTY TWO of The Lighthouse , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on


The sun shone brightly over the sea next morning; so brightly and powerfully that it seemed to break up and disperse by force the great storm-clouds which hung about the sky, like the fragments of an army of black bullies who had done their worst and been baffled.

The storm was over; at least, the wind had moderated down to a fresh, invigorating breeze.  The white crests of the billows were few and far between, and the wild turmoil of waters had given place to a grand procession of giant waves, that thundered on the Bell Rock Lighthouse, at once with more dignity and more force than the raging seas of the previous night.

It was the sun that awoke Ruby, by shining in at one of the small windows of the library, in which he slept.  Of course it did not shine in his face, because of the relative positions of the library and the sun, the first being just below the lantern, and the second just above the horizon, so that the rays struck upwards, and shone with dazzling brilliancy on the dome-shaped ceiling.  This was the second time of wakening for Ruby that night, since he lay down to rest.  The first wakening was occasioned by the winding up of the machinery which kept the lights in motion, and the chain of which, with a ponderous weight attached to it, passed through a wooden pilaster close to his ear, causing such a sudden and hideous din that the sleeper, not having been warned of it, sprang like a Jack-in-the-box out of bed into the middle of the room, where he first stared vacantly around him like an unusually surprised owl, and then, guessing the cause of the noise, smiled pitifully, as though to say, “Poor fellow, you’re easily frightened,” and tumbled back into bed, where he fell asleep again instantly.

On the second time of wakening Ruby rose to a sitting posture, yawned, looked about him, yawned again, wondered what o’clock it was, and then listened.

No sound could be heard save the intermittent roar of the magnificent breakers that beat on the Bell Rock.  His couch was too low to permit of his seeing anything but sky out of his windows, three of which, about two feet square, lighted the room.  He therefore jumped up, and, while pulling on his garments, looked towards the east, where the sun greeted and almost blinded him.  Turning to the north window, a bright smile lit up his countenance, and “A blessing rest on you” escaped audibly from his lips, as he kissed his hand towards the cliffs of Forfarshire, which were seen like a faint blue line on the far-off horizon, with the town of Arbroath just rising above the morning mists.

He gazed out at this north window, and thought over all the scenes that had passed between him and Minnie from the time they first met, down to the day when they last parted.  One of the sweetest of the mental pictures that he painted that morning with unwonted facility, was that of Minnie sitting at his mother’s feet, comforting her with the words of the Bible.

At length he turned with a sigh to resume his toilette.  Looking out at the southern window, he observed that the rocks were beginning to be uncovered, and that the “rails”, or iron pathway that led to the foot of the entrance-door ladder, were high enough out of the water to be walked upon.  He therefore hastened to descend.

We know not what appearance the library presented at the time when Ruby Brand slept in it; but we can tell, from personal experience, that, at the present day, it is a most comfortable and elegant apartment.  The other rooms of the lighthouse, although thoroughly substantial in their furniture and fittings, are quite plain and devoid of ornament, but the library, or “stranger’s room”, as it is sometimes called, being the guest-chamber, is fitted up in a style worthy of a lady’s boudoir, with a Turkey carpet, handsome chairs, and an elaborately carved oak table, supported appropriately by a centre stem of three twining dolphins.  The dome of the ceiling is painted to represent stucco panelling, and the partition which cuts off the small segment of this circular room that is devoted to passage and staircase, is of panelled oak.  The thickness of this partition is just sufficient to contain the bookcase; also a cleverly contrived bedstead, which can be folded up during the day out of sight.  There is also a small cupboard of oak, which serves the double purpose of affording shelf accommodation and concealing the iron smoke-pipe which rises from the kitchen, and, passing through the several storeys, projects a few feet above the lantern.  The centre window is ornamented with marble sides and top, and above it stands a marble bust of Robert Stevenson, the engineer of the building, with a marble slab below bearing testimony to the skill and energy with which he had planned and executed the work.

If not precisely what we have described it to be at the present time, the library must have been somewhat similar on that morning when our hero issued from it and descended to the rock.

The first stair landed him at the entrance to the sleeping-berths.  He looked into one, and observed Forsyth’s head and arms lying in the bed, in that peculiarly negligent style that betokens deep and sweet repose.  Dumsby’s rest was equally sound in the next berth.  This fact did not require proof by ocular demonstration; his nose announced it sonorously over the whole building.

Passing to the kitchen, immediately below, Ruby found his old messmate, Jamie Dove, busy in the preparation of breakfast.

“Ha!  Ruby, good mornin’; you keep up your early habits, I see.  Can’t shake yer paw, lad, ’cause I’m up to the elbows in grease, not to speak o’ sutt an’ ashes.”

“When did you learn to cook, Jamie?” said Ruby, laughing.

“When I came here.  You see we’ve all got to take it turn and turn about, and it’s wonderful how soon a feller gets used to it.  I’m rather fond of it, d’ye know?  We haven’t overmuch to work on in the way o’ variety, to be sure, but what we have there’s lots of it, an’ it gives us occasion to exercise our wits to invent somethin’ new.  It’s wonderful what can be done with fresh beef, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, flour, tea, bread, mustard, sugar, pepper, an’ the like, if ye’ve got a talent that way.”

“You’ve got it all off by heart, I see,” said Ruby.

“True, boy, but it’s not so easy to get it all off yer stomach sometimes.  What with confinement and want of exercise we was troubled with indigestion at first, but we’re used to it now, and I have acquired quite a fancy for cooking.  No doubt you’ll hear Forsyth and Joe say that I’ve half-pisoned them four or five times, but that’s all envy; besides, a feller can’t learn a trade without doin’ a little damage to somebody or something at first.  Did you ever taste blackbird pie?”

“No,” replied Ruby, “never.”

“Then you shall taste one to-day, for we caught fifty birds last week.”

“Caught fifty birds?”

“Ay, but I’ll tell ye about it some other time.  Be off just now, and get as much exercise out o’ the rock as ye can before breakfast.”

The smith resumed his work as he said this, and Ruby descended.

He found the sea still roaring over the rock, but the rails were so far uncovered that he could venture on them, yet he had to keep a sharp lookout, for, whenever a larger breaker than usual struck the rock, the gush of foaming water that flew over it was so great that a spurt or two would sometimes break up between the iron bars, and any one of these spurts would have sufficed to give him a thorough wetting.

In a short time, however, the sea went back and left the rails free.  Soon after that Ruby was joined by Forsyth and Dumsby, who had come down for their morning promenade.

They had to walk in single file while taking exercise, as the tramway was not wide enough for two, and the rock, even when fully uncovered, did not afford sufficient level space for comfortable walking, although at low water (as the reader already knows) it afforded fully a hundred yards of scrambling ground, if not more.

They had not walked more than a few minutes when they were joined by Jamie Dove, who announced breakfast, and proceeded to take two or three turns by way of cooling himself.  Thereafter the party returned to the kitchen, where they sat down to as good a meal as any reasonable man could desire.

There was cold boiled beef ­the remains of yesterday’s dinner ­and a bit of broiled cod, a native of the Bell Rock, caught from the doorway at high water the day before.  There was tea also, and toast ­buttered toast, hot out of the oven.

Dove was peculiarly good at what may be styled toast-cooking.  Indeed, all the lightkeepers were equally good.  The bread was cut an inch thick, and butter was laid on as plasterers spread plaster with a trowel.  There was no scraping off a bit here to put it on there; no digging out pieces from little caverns in the bread with the point of the knife; no repetition of the work to spread it thinner, and, above all, no omitting of corners and edges; ­no, the smallest conceivable fly could not have found the minutest atom of dry footing on a Bell Rock slice of toast, from its centre to its circumference.  Dove had a liberal heart, and he laid on the butter with a liberal hand.  Fair play and no favour was his motto, quarter-inch thick was his gauge, railway speed his practice.  The consequence was that the toast floated, as it were, down the throats of the men, and compensated to some extent for the want of milk in the tea.

“Now, boys, sit in,” cried Dove, seizing the teapot.

“We have not much variety,” observed Dumsby to Ruby, in an apologetic tone.

“Variety!” exclaimed Forsyth, “what d’ye call that?” pointing to the fish.

“Well, that is a hextra morsel, I admit,” returned Joe; “but we don’t get that every day; ‘owsever, wot there is is good, an’ there’s plenty of it, so let’s fall to.”

Forsyth said grace, and then they all “fell to”, with appetites peculiar to that isolated and breezy spot, where the wind blows so fresh from the open sea that the nostrils inhale culinary odours, and the palates seize culinary products, with unusual relish.

There was something singularly unfeminine in the manner in which the duties of the table were performed by these stalwart guardians of the Rock.  We are accustomed to see such duties performed by the tender hands of woman, or, it may be, by the expert fingers of trained landsmen; but in places where woman may not or can not act with propriety, ­as on shipboard, or in sea-girt towers, ­men go through such feminine work in a way that does credit to their versatility, ­also to the strength of culinary materials and implements.

The way in which Jamie Dove and his comrades knocked about the pans, teapots, cups and saucers, etcetera, without smashing them, would have astonished, as well as gratified, the hearts of the fraternity of tinsmiths and earthenware manufacturers.

We have said that everything in the lighthouse was substantial and very strong.  All the woodwork was oak, the floors and walls of solid stone, ­hence, when Dove, who had no nerves or physical feelings, proceeded with his cooking, the noise he caused was tremendous.  A man used to woman’s gentle ways would, on seeing him poke the fire, have expected that the poker would certainly penetrate not only the coals, but the back of the grate also, and perchance make its appearance at the outside of the building itself, through stones, joggles, dovetails, trenails, pozzolano mortar, and all the strong materials that have withstood the fury of winds and waves for the last half-century!

Dove treated the other furniture in like manner; not that he treated it ill, ­we would not have the reader imagine this for a moment.  He was not reckless of the household goods.  He was merely indifferent as to the row he made in using them.

But it was when the cooking was over, and the table had to be spread, that the thing culminated.  Under the impulse of lightheartedness, caused by the feeling that his labours for the time were nearly ended, and that his reward was about to be reaped, he went about with irresistible energy, like the proverbial bull in a china shop, without reaching that creature’s destructive point.  It was then that a beaming smile overspread his countenance, and he raged about the kitchen with Vulcan-like joviality.  He pulled out the table from the wall to the centre of the apartment, with a swing that produced a prolonged crash.  Up went its two leaves with two minor crashes.  Down went the four plates and the cups and saucers, with such violence and rapidity that they all seemed to be dancing on the board together.  The beef all but went over the side of its dish by reason of the shock of its sudden stoppage on touching the table, and the pile of toast was only saved from scatteration by the strength of the material, so to speak, with which its successive layers were cemented.

When the knives, forks, and spoons came to be laid down, the storm seemed to lull, because these were comparatively light implements, so that this period ­which in shore-going life is usually found to be the exasperating one ­was actually a season of relief.  But it was always followed by a terrible squall of scraping wooden legs and clanking human feet when the camp-stools were set, and the men came in and sat down to the meal.

The pouring out of the tea, however, was the point that would have called forth the admiration of the world ­had the world seen it.  What a contrast between the miserable, sickly, slow-dribbling silver and other teapots of the land, and this great teapot of the sea!  The Bell Rock teapot had no sham, no humbug about it.  It was a big, bold-looking one, of true Britannia metal, with vast internal capacity and a gaping mouth.

Dove seized it in his strong hand as he would have grasped his biggest fore-hammer.  Before you could wink, a sluice seemed to burst open; a torrent of rich brown tea spouted at your cup, and it was full ­the saucer too, perhaps ­in a moment.

But why dwell on these luxurious scenes?  Reader, you can never know them from experience unless you go to visit the Bell Rock; we will therefore cease to tantalise you.

During breakfast it was discussed whether or not the signal-ball should be hoisted.

The signal-ball was fixed to a short staff on the summit of the lighthouse, and the rule was that it should be hoisted at a fixed hour every morning when all was well, and kept up until an answering signal should be made from a signal-tower in Arbroath where the keepers’ families dwelt, and where each keeper in succession spent a fortnight with his family, after a spell of six weeks on the rock.  It was the duty of the keeper on shore to watch for the hoisting of the ball (the “All’s well” signal) each morning on the lighthouse, and to reply to it with a similar ball on the signal-tower.

If, on any occasion, the hour for signalling should pass without the ball on the lighthouse being shown, then it was understood that something was wrong, and the attending boat of the establishment was sent off at once to ascertain the cause, and afford relief if necessary.  The keeping down of the ball was, however, an event of rare occurrence, so that when it did take place the poor wives of the men on the rock were usually thrown into a state of much perturbation and anxiety, each naturally supposing that her husband must be seriously ill, or have met with a bad accident.

It was therefore natural that there should be some hesitation about keeping down the ball merely for the purpose of getting a boat off to send Ruby ashore.

“You see,” said Forsyth, “the day after to-morrow the `relief boat’ is due, and it may be as well just to wait for that, Ruby, and then you can go ashore with your friend Jamie Dove, for it’s his turn this time.”

“Ay, lad, just make up your mind to stay another day,” said the smith; “as they don’t know you’re here they can’t be wearyin’ for you, and I’ll take ye an’ introduce you to my little wife, that I fell in with on the cliffs of Arbroath not long after ye was kidnapped.  Besides, Ruby, it’ll do ye good to feed like a fighting cock out here another day.  Have another cup o’ tea?”

“An’ a junk o’ beef?” said Forsyth.

“An’ a slice o’ toast?” said Dumsby.

Ruby accepted all these offers, and soon afterwards the four friends descended to the rock, to take as much exercise as they could on its limited surface, during the brief period of low water that still remained to them.

It may easily be imagined that this ramble was an interesting one, and was prolonged until the tide drove them into their tower of refuge.  Every rock, every hollow, called up endless reminiscences of the busy building seasons.  Ruby went over it all step by step with somewhat of the feelings that influence a man when he revisits the scene of his childhood.

There was the spot where the forge had stood.

“D’ye mind it, lad?” said Dove.  “There are the holes where the hearth was fixed, and there’s the rock where you vaulted over the bellows when ye took that splendid dive after the fair-haired lassie into the pool yonder.”

“Mind it?  Ay, I should think so!”

Then there were the holes where the great beams of the beacon had been fixed, and the iron bats, most of which latter were still left in the rock, and some of which may be seen there at the present day.  There was also the pool into which poor Selkirk had tumbled with the vegetables on the day of the first dinner on the rock, and that other pool into which Forsyth had plunged after the mermaids; and, not least interesting among the spots of note, there was the ledge, now named the “Last Hope”, on which Mr Stevenson and his men had stood on the day when the boat had been carried away, and they had expected, but were mercifully preserved from, a terrible tragedy.

After they had talked much on all these things, and long before they were tired of it, the sea drove them to the rails; gradually, as it rose higher, it drove them into the lighthouse, and then each man went to his work ­Jamie Dove to his kitchen, in order to clean up and prepare dinner, and the other two to the lantern, to scour and polish the reflectors, refill and trim the lamps, and, generally, to put everything in order for the coming night.

Ruby divided his time between the kitchen and lantern, lending a hand in each, but, we fear, interrupting the work more than he advanced it.

That day it fell calm, and the sun shone brightly.

“We’ll have fog to-night,” observed Dumsby to Brand, pausing in the operation of polishing a reflector, in which his fat face was mirrored with the most indescribable and dreadful distortions.

“D’ye think so?”

“I’m sure of it.”

“You’re right,” remarked Forsyth, looking from his elevated position to the seaward horizon, “I can see it coming now.”

“I say, what smell is that?” exclaimed Ruby, sniffing.

“Somethink burnin’,” said Dumsby, also sniffing.

“Why, what can it be?” murmured Forsyth, looking round and likewise sniffing.  “Hallo!  Joe, look out; you’re on fire!”

Joe started, clapped his hand behind him, and grasped his inexpressibles, which were smouldering warmly.  Ruby assisted, and the fire was soon put out, amidst much laughter.

“’Ang them reflectors!” said Joe, seating himself, and breathing hard after his alarm and exertions; “it’s the third time they’ve set me ablaze.”

“The reflectors, Joe?” said Ruby.

“Ay, don’t ye see?  They’ve nat’rally got a focus, an’ w’en I ’appen to be standin’ on a sunny day in front of ’em, contemplatin’ the face o’ natur’, as it wor, through the lantern panes, if I gits into the focus by haccident, d’ye see, it just acts like a burnin’-glass.”

Ruby could scarcely believe this, but after testing the truth of the statement by actual experiment he could no longer doubt it.

Presently a light breeze sprang up, rolling the fog before it, and then dying away, leaving the lighthouse enshrouded.

During fog there is more danger to shipping than at any other time.  In the daytime, in ordinary weather, rocks and lighthouses can be seen.  At night, lights can be seen, but during fog nothing can be seen until danger may be too near to be avoided.  The two great fog-bells of the lighthouse were therefore set a-going, and they rang out their slow deep-toned peal all that day and all that night, as the bell of the Abbot of Aberbrothoc is said to have done in days of yore.

That night Ruby was astonished, and then he was stunned!  First, as to his astonishment.  While he was seated by the kitchen fire chatting with his friend the smith, sometime between nine o’clock and midnight, Dumsby summoned him to the lantern to “help in catching to-morrow’s dinner!”

Dove laughed at the summons, and they all went up.

The first thing that caught Ruby’s eye at one of the window panes was the round visage of an owl, staring in with its two large eyes as if it had gone mad with amazement, and holding on to the iron frame with its claws.  Presently its claws lost hold, and it fell off into outer darkness.

“What think ye o’ that for a beauty?” said Forsyth.

Ruby’s eyes, being set free from the fascination of the owl’s stare, now made him aware of the fact that hundreds of birds of all kinds ­crows, magpies, sparrows, tomtits, owls, larks, mavises, blackbirds, etcetera, etcetera ­were fluttering round the lantern outside, apparently bent on ascertaining the nature of the wonderful light within.

“Ah! poor things,” said Forsyth, in answer to Ruby’s look of wonder, “they often visit us in foggy weather.  I suppose they get out to sea in the fog and can’t find their way back to land, and then some of them chance to cross our light and take refuge on it.”

“Now I’ll go out and get to-morrow’s dinner,” said Dumsby.  He went out accordingly, and, walking round the balcony that encircled the base of the lantern, was seen to put his hand up and quietly take down and wring the necks of such birds as he deemed suitable for his purpose.  It seemed a cruel act to Ruby, but when he came to think of it he felt that, as they were to be stewed at any rate, the more quickly they were killed the better!

He observed that the birds kept fluttering about, alighting for a few moments and flying off again, all the time that Dumsby was at work, yet Dumsby never failed to seize his prey.

Presently the man came in with a small basket full of game.  “Now, Ruby,” said he, “I’ll bet a sixpence that you don’t catch a bird within five minutes.”

“I don’t bet such large sums usually, but I’ll try,” said Ruby, going out.

He tried and failed.  Just as the five minutes were expiring, however, the owl happened to alight before his nose, so he “nabbed” it, and carried it in triumphantly.

That ain’t a bird,” said Dumsby.

“It’s not a fish,” retorted Ruby; “but how is it that you caught them so easily, and I found it so difficult?”

“Because, lad, you must do it at the right time.  You watch w’en the focus of a revolvin’ light is comin’ full in a bird’s face.  The moment it does so ’e’s dazzled, and you grab ’im.  If you grab too soon or too late, ’e’s away.  That’s ‘ow it is, and they’re capital heatin’, as you’ll find.”

Thus much for Ruby’s astonishment.  Now for his being stunned.

Late that night the fog cleared away, and the bells were stopped.  After a long chat with his friends, Ruby mounted to the library and went to bed.  Later still the fog returned, and the bells were again set a-going.  Both of them being within a few feet of Ruby’s head, they awakened him with a bang that caused him to feel as if the room in which he lay were a bell and his own head the tongue thereof.

At first the sound was solemnising, then it was saddening.  After a time it became exasperating, and then maddening.  He tried to sleep, but he only tossed.  He tried to meditate, but he only wandered ­not “in dreams”, however.  He tried to laugh, but the laugh degenerated into a growl.  Then he sighed, and the sigh ended in a groan.  Finally, he got up and walked up and down the floor till his legs were cold, when he turned into bed again, very tired, and fell asleep, but not to rest ­to dream.

He dreamt that he was at the forge again, and that he and Dove were trying to smash their anvils with the sledge-hammers ­bang and bang about.  But the anvil would not break.  At last he grew desperate, hit the horn off, and then, with another terrific blow, smashed the whole affair to atoms!

This startled him a little, and he awoke sufficiently to become aware of the fog-bells.

Again he dreamed.  Minnie was his theme now, but, strange to say, he felt little or no tenderness towards her.  She was beset by a hundred ruffians in pea-jackets and sou’westers.  Something stirred him to madness.  He rushed at the foe, and began to hit out at them right and left.  The hitting was slow, but sure ­regular as clock-work.  First the right, then the left, and at each blow a seaman’s nose was driven into his head, and a seaman’s body lay flat on the ground.  At length they were all floored but one ­the last and the biggest.  Ruby threw all his remaining strength into one crashing blow, drove his fist right through his antagonist’s body, and awoke with a start to find his knuckles bleeding.

“Hang these bells!” he exclaimed, starting up and gazing round him in despair.  Then he fell back on his pillow in despair, and went to sleep in despair.

Once more he dreamed.  He was going to church now, dressed in a suit of the finest broadcloth, with Minnie on his arm, clothed in pure white, emblematic, it struck him, of her pure gentle spirit.  Friends were with him, all gaily attired, and very happy, but unaccountably silent.  Perhaps it was the noise of the wedding-bells that rendered their voices inaudible.  He was struck by the solemnity as well as the pertinacity of these wedding-bells as he entered the church.  He was puzzled too, being a Presbyterian, why he was to be married in church, but being a man of liberal mind, he made no objection to it.

They all assembled in front of the pulpit, into which the clergyman, a very reverend but determined man, mounted with a prayer book in his hand.  Ruby was puzzled again.  He had not supposed that the pulpit was the proper place, but modestly attributed this to his ignorance.

“Stop those bells!” said the clergyman, with stern solemnity; but they went on.

“Stop them, I say!” he roared in a voice of thunder.

The sexton, pulling the ropes in the middle of the church, paid no attention.

Exasperated beyond endurance, the clergyman hurled the prayer book at the sexton’s head, and felled him!  Still the bells went on of their own accord.

“Stop! sto-o-o-op!  I say,” he yelled fiercely, and, hitting the pulpit with his fist, he split it from top to bottom.

Minnie cried “Shame!” at this, and from that moment the bells ceased.

Whether it was that the fog-bells ceased at that time, or that Minnie’s voice charmed Ruby’s thoughts away, we cannot tell, but certain it is that the severely tried youth became entirely oblivious of everything.  The marriage-party vanished with the bells; Minnie, alas, faded away also; finally, the roar of the sea round the Bell Rock, the rock itself, its lighthouse and its inmates, and all connected with it, faded from the sleeper’s mind, and: ­

  “Like the baseless fabric of a vision
  Left not a wrack behind.”