“——Mas has Come” by Leonard Kip

It was called Beacon Ledge fully fifty years before the present lighthouse had been built upon it. For it was said that long ago, when wrecking was a profitable trade along the coast, and goodly vessels were frequently, by false lights, decoyed to their destruction, there was no more favorable point for the exercise of that systematic villainy than this rocky, high-lifted bluff. Projecting three or four hundred feet into the sea, with a gradually curved, sweeping line, it formed, to be sure, upon the one side, a limited anchorage—safe enough for those who knew it; but, upon the other side, it looked upon a waste of shoal, dotted, here and there, at lowest tide, with craggy breakers, and, at high water, smooth, smiling, and deceitful, with the covered dangers. Here, then, upon certain dark and stormy nights, the flaming beacon of destruction would glow brightly against the black sky, and wildly lighten up the cruel faces of those who stood by and piled on the fagots, while gazing eagerly out to sea to mark the effect of their evil machinations. Nor was it until some thirty years ago that the gangs of wretches were thoroughly broken up, and this, their favorite vantage-ground, wrested from them, and the tall, white lighthouse there securely founded—maintaining in mercy what had before been held as a blighting curse; lifting itself, like a nation’s warning finger, and with its calm, serene glow, pointing out the path of safety. Then, in the mouths of all the surrounding inhabitants, Beacon Ledge became known as Beacon Ledge Beacon, and so kept its name, in spite of tautological criticism, or of different and more formal christening, by Government authority.

Still, there hung around the place the memories or traditions of past violence, shipwreck, and murder—partly true, perhaps, but, doubtless, generally false, having only a few grains of fact or probability mingled with all kinds of distorted fictions—the deeds of pirates being supplemented to those of mere wreckers; the imaginations of fishermen along the coast ever inventing plenteous horrors, and wild tales of buccaneering rovers, originally written for other localities, being now wilfully adopted and here located, until, at last, there was hardly a known crime which could not find its origin or counterpart at Beacon Ledge, and the whole neighboring shore became a melancholy storehouse of terrors, disaster, and distress. These tales being discovered to be very pleasing to most strangers, were carefully cultivated and enlarged upon by each interested denizen of the place; and to me, also, for awhile, they had a peculiar charm. I seldom grew tired of hearing some grizzled, tar-incrusted fisherman reel off his tissue of improbable abominations. For awhile, I say, since there came, at last, a day when I cared no longer for such bloody traditions, forgot the shadowy horrors that flitted about the spot, and only thought and cared for it as the place where I had met and loved dear little Jessie Barkstead.

She was the only child of the lighthouse keeper. In a worldly point of view, therefore, was it wisely done that I should have set my affections upon her? Possibly not; and it is likely that, had I known the weakness of my mind, I would have shunned the danger from the very first. But I was gay and reckless in my poor self-complacency and deceitful assurance of inner strength; and long before I had fairly realized how rapidly I was drifting, I found myself whirling down the swift current, and was lost. Nor was it a marvel that this should have so happened. To one who sits aloof in his unromantic, distant home, it is an easy thing, indeed, to moralize about matters of inferior station and mésalliance; but I believe that few could have seen little Jessie, as she first appeared to me, and not have felt some secret inclination to give way before those subtile charms of beauty and manner which invested her. Moreover, let it here be mentioned that she was not at all of humble birth or education. Old Barkstead was himself a gentleman by culture and station, and had once been the master of a gallant ship. In that important position he had been for many years a pleasant and popular officer; but at length, in an evil day, through some temporary weakness or neglect, he had lost his charge, and almost ruined his employers. The world—with what degree of truth cannot now be told—had charged the loss upon intoxication. A storm of obloquy and reproach arose. The man, bowed down with self-abasement and sensitiveness, had yielded to the blast, and attempted no defence; and, after awhile, obtaining, through some friendly influence, the custody of the Beacon Light, he had fled, with his child, to that obscurity, leaving no trace behind him, and caring only to pass the rest of his life in the quiet of the world’s forgetfulness.

I was myself the occasional tenant of a lighthouse, for, during a few weeks of the summer, I had been visiting the Penguin Light, some four or five miles distant up the coast. It was a tall and far-reaching structure, standing upon a jutting point of rock—almost the duplicate of the Beacon Ledge; the two lights glimmering at each other across the little bay between, and only to be distinguished apart at night by the different periods of their revolutions. Penguin Light was in the keeping of old Barry Somers, a long-known and valued sailor-friend of mine, who, in past days, had taught me to swim, and sail a boat, and now seemed to regard his office more for the opportunity it gave of entertaining me than for its actual salaried value. Thither, therefore, I would often repair during the summer months, avoiding the usual crowded haunts, and giving preference to old Barry’s pleasant talk and my solitary rambles along the shore; occasionally running out to sea, that I might speak friendly pilots cruising in the distance; and now and then, by way of change and innocent attempt at usefulness, taking my turn at keeping up and watching over the safety of the lantern-lamps.

It was during one of my lonely wanderings along the beach, when, with gun in hand, I made feeble and unsuccessful attempts against the lives of the merry little sand-pipers, that I first saw Jessie. She sat upon a rock, and was gazing out at sea. In her hand was a book, which she was not reading—who, indeed, could read collectedly, with that fresh breeze lifting such a pleasant array of dancing white-caps, and rolling inward those strong bodies of surf, which broke upon the shore with the ring of sportive Titans? Her handkerchief had fallen off her head, and her curls were flying wantonly in the breeze. I did not, for the moment, dream that she had any connection with the lighthouse, but rather that she was a chance city visitor at some inland country-house; and so I passed on, not venturing to speak with her. So, also, the next day, and the next—finding her always there when I passed, as though that particular hollow in the rock was her own especial, allotted refuge-place. At last, gaining courage from those frequent meetings, and, perhaps, from the half smile with which she began to greet my coming, I addressed her; and so the few words of salutation gradually lengthened into conversation, and, before we were well conscious of the fact, had ripened into terms of intimacy.

How swiftly such matters sometimes proceed, when removed from the stiffness and ceremony of city life! A week only had passed, and I began to find that all my walks led in that one direction. Jessie was always at her place, with the uncompleted book in her hands; and I, going no farther, would seat myself beside her, throw down my useless gun, let the poor sand-pipers go undismayed, and so prepare for the comfortable, pleasant conversation of the morning. It was no unattractive pastime, indeed, to dispose the dry sea-weed for her seat; and then, placing my head upon another pile, remain half reclined at her feet, listening to her lively talk, and pretending to look out upon the blue waves, when, all the while, I was stealthily gazing into the deeper blue of her eyes. Nor, when I heard her story—or, so much of it as at first she deigned to tell me—did I hold her in less respect. The daughter of the lighthouse, indeed! Why, truly, this should matter nothing at all to me. What interest could I have in her past or present associations, or how could they, in any way, detract from her own native grace and loveliness? Were her eyes less bright, or was her conversation less cheery, or were her attitudes less picturesque and pleasing, because old Captain Barkstead, instead of still sailing a fleet merchantman, now mopingly cleaned his reflectors, and, when strangers came, hid himself in the lantern? Moreover, had she not brought with her from her former home, wherever that might be, a wit, and intellect, and intelligence which might adorn any position? What more could be needful in promotion of a quiet sea-side flirtation? In a week or ten days I should go away, and no longer see her. I should carry off with me the memories of a very pleasant face, that had always brightened up whenever I came near; and then, as, after awhile, new forms and scenes came between, I would, of course, forget her. For a time, she might possibly look out longingly after my return, and, finding that I did not come back, might—well, not exactly lose memory of me, I hoped. It was to be desired, perhaps, that a few thoughts of me would always tinge her future life, I argued with something of man’s selfishness. I would not, indeed, that she should make herself miserable about me; but if, when her face had faded from my thoughts, some little record of myself should pleasantly remain with her, and now and then bring a transitory pang of musing regret, who should say nay?

Therefore, in time, I went away. I did not steal off without farewell. That would have been but sorry recompense for the many cheery hours she had given me. But, taking her hand in mine, I gave to her my heartfelt thanks for all the pleasant past, and my cordial wishes for the future. I did not know that I should ever meet her again, I said. I hoped, however, that she would not too soon forget me. It was in my heart to utter more tender and sentimental words than I had any right to use, but I repressed the inclination. I cherished, too a secret hope that she would show some sorrow for my departure; but, if she felt any at all, she did not allow her expression, or her color, to betray her. With quiet self-possession, yet with a certain interest, too—as when one gives up a pleasant, valued friend—she bade me adieu; and so, lifting from her feet the ever-harmless gun, I passed away, round the border of the little bay, and returned to the city.

There, however, somewhat to my surprise, I failed to forget her; and wherever I went, the image of that light, graceful form, seated upon the rock, began to obtrude itself upon my thoughts. Of course, it was only a fleeting impression, I reasoned with myself, and would soon disappear again, as newer scenes and faces forced themselves upon me; and I plunged rather more wildly than usual into society. But the proposed remedy did not have its due effect. In fact, it happened that the routine of gayety and formality seemed, by contrast, to aid the former impressions, making them seem more real and life-like than ever. It could not be that I was falling in love! But yet I could not fail to confess a strange interest; and, while knowing that I was in danger, was content to let myself drift whither the current might carry me.

“I will see her once more. There was something I forgot to tell her when we parted last,” I said to myself, trying in vain to establish and believe in a transparent self-deceit. “It was about a book, or something. It weighs upon my mind that she should deem me neglectful of her wishes. Once more, therefore, and then—”

“Where away, so late in the autumn?” inquired a friend, who saw me starting out.

“Down the bay, blue-fishing!” I exclaimed. “Just the real time for it.”

“Ah? Well, good-by, then! Rather too cold sport for me, though!”

Therefore, I saw Jessie again—and yet again after that. Why should I not confess it?—or, after what I have already told, what is there left for me to confess, at all? For now, at last, I began to acknowledge to myself that it was not mere friendship or esteem I felt, but, rather, the more overpowering passion of real love. Gone, like a thin veil of vapor, were all my sophistries about a limited Platonic interest; my dread of incongruous association; my resolves against possible rashnesses; my fear of the world or its senseless gossip; my prudence, or my self-restraint! These all seemed to vanish in a day; and, yielding myself, slavishly, a willing captive to bright eyes and silvery tones, upon one fine morning I passed the Rubicon of safety, and offered her my hand and heart. But, to my sore dismay, she only softly shook her head.

“You do not love me, then?” I murmured. I spoke not merely with sorrow and disappointment, but with something of wounded pride—feeling mortified that she had not at once accepted my devotion. Certainly, it had seemed to me, all along, that I was not disagreeable to her; and there was no doubt that in her manner, at least, she had always cordially welcomed my approach, and taken pleasure in my company.

“I do not know—I hardly yet can tell!” she faintly said, drawing her hand from mine. “To me, you are my best and dearest friend; perhaps, the only one whom I can really call my friend. I know how glad I always feel when you come hither; how lonely I am while you stay away. But this I do not think is love—the real, true love which I should wish to feel.”

“But can it never be?” I pleaded.

“How can I tell? It might come to that, at last; and yet—” She ceased, and there came over her face a strange, dead look at the sea before her—a straining gaze, as though she would fix her eyes far beyond, in another hemisphere, oblivious of the present.

“Yet tell me, Jessie, have I a rival? This, at least, you might let me know. I will not go further, nor will I ask his name.”

For a moment she did not answer: still sitting, with that strange, rapt, straining gaze, and with an unconscious, mechanical motion, rolling the little sand pebbles down the side of the rock.

“There was one,” she said, at length. “I hardly know how to tell you about it. I believe that I cared for him, and yet I never told him so; nor did he ever tell me that he loved or cared for me, and yet, at the time, I thought that he did. It was some time ago—a very long time, it often seems to me; nor do I suppose that he and I will ever meet again. And now you know almost as much about it as I do myself,” she continued, turning more fully toward me. “Or what more can I say? There was no pledge given on either side—no uttered words—and, of course, it has all gone by. But now and then, when I think about it, I feel regret; and it seems to me as though it were a different and stronger feeling than that which I have for you. Whether I am mistaken in my feelings, or how or what I really think, perhaps I cannot well tell; I am only a simple girl, after all, and know so very little about love, or what love truly is.”

“Yet, Jessie dear,” I pleaded, “if you look upon that old matter as buried and gone—which, doubtless, it must be—why think longer about it, instead of turning to the new and truer affection which now I offer you? Believe me, you are letting your mind dwell merely upon a dream of the past—one of those vain fancies of girlhood, which, though for the time they may control the mind, have no real, vital activity or force.”

“It may be so,” she said, in a sort of saddened, half-regretful tone. “Indeed, it must be so; and it might be that when the influence has passed away, I may find that I have cared for you better than I have imagined. I know that, even now, you seem dear to me as a friend, and that you are kind to me, making me always happy at your coming; yet, at the same time, I think that there is something wanting in it all—something which is not love. You see that I am very plain with you. Better, then, to leave me; is it not so? For I cannot now give you my heart; nor do I know whether, in the future, I can better do so; and it is not right that I should keep you at my side, hoping or expecting what, after all, may never come.”

“Nay, I will not leave you for all that, my Jessie,” I said, impulsively. “I will still remain at your side, and trust even to the mere chance that, at some future period, you may relent.”

Therefore, dropping the subject for that time, I remained, and sought, by new kindnesses and attentions, to win some final increase of her favor toward me, but feeling, at the same time, a little sore and angry with myself. For, how wretchedly was I now maintaining that proper independence of spirit, which I had always insisted even the most blinded and devoted of lovers should feel! Had it not been my cherished theory that no man should surrender his freedom of heart without obtaining in return the utmost, unlimited, and unselfish devotion? Yet, here I was giving up my whole soul to a blind passion, rendered more and more absorbing, doubtless, by the opposition I experienced, and for response I found myself willing to be content with even the cinders of a former and only half-dead affection; trusting, as so many men have vainly trusted, that by earnest care and assiduity, I might, at last, re-illume the fading spark, and make its new brightness glow for me.

So passed the autumn, during which I made frequent journeys between coast and city; striving, at times, with the cares of business to drive her image from my mind, and finding myself continually drawn back again to that quiet nook which, gifted with her presence, had become to me the brightest and only happy spot on earth. These frequent departures, so contrary to my usual habit, soon began to excite the inquiries and surmises of my friends. Fishing and shooting protracted into the season so far as almost to touch the edge of the winter, no longer served as satisfactory excuses for my absences; and there were some among my friends, who, in their speculations, came very near the truth, and hinted suspicions of some rustic passion. But still, turning off their insinuations with a laugh, I kept my secret—holding it the more carefully and earnestly, as I now began to see hope dawning for me in the future.

For now, at last, it seemed as if I was about to prosper in my suit. Each time that I came, Jessie appeared yet more pleased to see me—more willing to give me that attractive confidence which can only exist in full perfection between acknowledged lovers; less disposed to analyze her mind’s emotion with any critical severity, or speculate whether this or that feeling had, or had not, passed the line between friendship and love; more ready, at times, to surrender the struggle and self-examination, confess herself vanquished, and yield up her whole heart to my keeping. But not quite yet.

“A little longer,” she pleaded. “Let me feel somewhat more sure of myself before—”

“And how much longer, then, Jessie?”

“Till Christmas, George. When Christmas comes, I will either be all your own, or will send you away forever. Will not that do?”

“It must, perforce, if I cannot gain better terms,” I answered; and I returned once more to my city life. It was my fixed intention to remain there resolutely until the Christmas morning itself had come; but at last, unable to maintain the suspense, I stole back to the beach once more. It was now only two days from the time. The air was colder, of course, so that Jessie no longer took her place outside upon the rock; but we could sit and talk in the shelter of the lighthouse door, undisturbed by old Barkstead, who usually fretted and moped out of sight, about half way up the shaft.

“Only two days more, dear Jessie,” I said, “and then— Will it be well with me, do you think?”

“I think—I begin to think it will be well,” she said, looking away.

“Then, if so you think, why should you longer delay your choice?” I pleaded.

“Nay, George, it is only two days more. Let it, then, remain as first we said, and we shall be the better satisfied at having held out to the proper end.”

Gaining nothing more from her, but feeling, in my own mind, well assured of ultimate success, I prepared to depart. Not to return to the city, indeed, for that would scarcely be worth while for such a little interval—but to the Penguin Light, where Barry Somers, as usual, had a place ready for me. But, as I was leaving, a sudden idea struck me—a wild, foolish fancy, it might be—yet, coming, as it did, with a certain investiture of originality, it fastened itself firmly and tenaciously upon me, and with animation I returned upon my steps.

“Listen, dear Jessie!” I said. “Until Christmas morning, therefore, I will not see you again, for I do not wish thus vainly to renew my pleadings, and it will be pleasanter to know that when I meet you once more, it will be with sweet confession on your lips, and the permission to look upon you thenceforward as my own. But still, while we are thus separated, can we not commune together?”

“How, George?”

“With the lights, dear Jessie. See here, now! Mark how easily we can arrange our signalling, so that, across the intervening miles, we can flash our secret intelligence, and no one but ourselves be the wiser! Look!—I will now write you out some signs, and with them, at night, we will hold our intercourse. This very evening I will control the lamps at Penguin Light, and you shall read what I will therewith tell you. To-morrow you will answer me from here; and I, in turn, will decipher your sweet words. Will not that be a rare, as well as pleasant correspondence?”

At the suggestion, her eyes brightened up with animated excitement, and at once she prepared to second my plan. How, indeed, could a young girl help approving of such a novel conception? To talk with beacon-lights across five miles of foaming, heaving waters, when all around was dark and dreary!—to flash from one sympathetic heart to another the glowing signals of intelligence comprehended by no other persons!—would not that be an achievement which would not only give pleasure in the actual present performance of it, but also in the recollection of it throughout future years? So, sitting down again, she eagerly listened to me, while I, drawing a paper from my pocket, noted down the requisite tokens, something after the usual signs employed in ordinary telegraphy—short and simple—and left them in her possession. I saw at once that she comprehended the principle; so, feeling no doubt that she would well perform her part, I departed, reading, in her pleased consciousness of sharing that novel secret with me, such probable indications of affection, that, for the moment, I could scarcely resist once more throwing myself upon her pity, and asking instant assurance of my happiness.

But I forbore. Were I now to win her, in anticipation of that predetermined Christmas-day, might it not take something from the zest of the coming midnight correspondence?

So, controlling myself, I returned to Penguin Light. I had been a little troubled with the idea that, perhaps, I might not be able to manage the matter, after all; but, almost to my joy, I found old Barry complaining of his rheumatism, hobbling about, and looking wrathfully up the winding stairs, in surly deprecation of his approaching ascent. Upon which I seized the favorable opportunity, and, while relieving him, forwarded my own views.

“Let it alone for this night, Barry. Do you stay down here and make yourself comfortable, and I will keep watch in the lantern, and tend the lights.”

“And can you keep awake, Georgy, my boy, do you think?”

“Of course I can, Barry.”

Whereupon, for sole answer, Barry stumped away into the closet below—which he called his room—laid himself carefully away upon his old blankets, and I mounted to the lantern. There—the hour of sundown having come—I lighted the lamps, and awaited my time. That was still some hours off; I was to do nothing until midnight. Meanwhile, I laid myself down to take a nap. I had promised watchfulness, but it was hardly necessary in the beginning of the night. The wicks were then fresh, and it was not likely that any accident could happen. It was only toward the end of the night, when the wicks might become incrusted or the reflectors dimmed, that especial care was needed.

I awoke again about midnight, the hour appointed for the commencement of my feat. The sky had clouded over, and not a star was to be seen. All the better, indeed, for the experiment; for now there was no light to be seen in any direction, except where down the coast glimmered the Beacon Ledge Beacon—now faintly coming around the side, then glowing for a second like the mouth of a distant furnace, as its full focus of reflectors was pointed directly at me, then fading away, and so, for an instant, entirely disappearing, as it turned slowly toward the south. With the thick bank of clouds had come a cold wind from the north, premonitory of an approaching storm, though it might be days before it reached us—the only change to be now noted being the somewhat heavier swell of the surf, rolling up with a dull, sullen roar along the curve of the rock-bound shore.

I prepared for action. As I sat in the lantern, the great brazen frame of polished reflectors swung around, once in each minute, within a few inches of the side. Beneath was the projecting handle of a crank, or lever, by pressing upon which the revolution could be instantly arrested. Stooping down, I could sit at ease, with my head clear from any contact with the lamps, and in that position could have the lever-handle within easy reach.

Waiting for a moment until the reflectors pointed directly toward Beacon Ledge, I pressed upon the crank, and thereby suspended the revolution. Thus inert and motionless I held the machinery for a full minute, and then, lifting the rod, allowed the circuit to recommence, and gazed anxiously toward the other lighthouse. For a moment, no response; but then, as its reflectors came slowly around and pointed toward me, they, too, ceased in their motion for a full minute. With that my heart exulted. My signal for conversation had been seen and answered. So far, all went satisfactorily, and there was nothing left but to commence the main business of the night.

What should I talk to Jessie about? I could not frame any lengthy sentences, indeed—for that, time and patience would not suffice. Nor could I tell her any especial piece of news: all such matters had already been discussed between us. Nor did it seem any thing but ridiculous to repeat, in such a labored manner, any of the ordinary commonplaces about health, or the time, or weather. The most I could do, in fact, would be to telegraph some short and simple idea, expressive of my affection for her, and of my ardent faith in its coming realization. This she would comprehend, and, like a proverb, it would tell, in brief, a whole long story.

Watching until the reflectors again came round, I seized the lever, held the machinery in suspense for a whole minute, and then set it free again. Another circuit, and this time I arrested the motion for only fifteen seconds. A third, and here again a suspension of a whole minute. In this way, by putting the three circuits together, I had contrived to spell out the letter C—as in a telegraph office the operator would write a letter, though probably not the same one, with a long, a short, and a long scratch upon the paper slip.

Again: and now I let the reflectors remain stationary, first, for a minute, then twice for fifteen seconds each. This—a long, and two short arrestations—spelled the letter H. So, little by little, I wrote out with the lighthouse flash against the dark sky the simple sentence,

Christmas is coming.

It was plain and expressive. It spoke to Jessie of the approaching day, when she should make her long-deferred decision, and when I so ardently anticipated that she would be mine. It reminded her that the time was now only a few hours distant. It told her that even those few hours were almost too long for me to wait. It was a short message, indeed, but the difficulty of thus spelling it out, letter by letter, made it long enough. Already, ere I had finished, my arm, as well as my attention, was fatigued; and when, at last, I made the long signal of conclusion, and gained, in reply, the token that I had been comprehended, I felt that I had done enough for one night, at least.

Then, remaining awake, with some difficulty, until morning came, I put out the lights, and went down to see after old Barry. He was better; his rheumatism had not troubled him as much as he had feared; he would get up, and himself trim the lights for the coming night, and I had better lie down and rest. Which I gladly did, for I was tired, indeed, and began to have a suspicion that, though lighthouse telegraphy might be a pleasant excitement for once, it was inferior, as a steady means of communication, to the regularly established mails. So, I slept the sleep of the weary, if not of the just; and the morning was far advanced when I awoke.

The new day was not stormy, as I had partly anticipated it would be, nor yet was it clear and beautiful. The gale seemed slowly coming on, but had not quite reached us. The sky was thick with scudding clouds, racing wildly from north to south; the air was cold and cheerless; the sea rolled in with a more powerful swell than usual, breaking along the shore with a boom like that of heavy artillery. The gulls flew to and fro, screaming and unsettled; a few coasting schooners, apprehensive of mischief, had put into the land-locked bay and there lay at anchor, awaiting better weather; and in one place, the fishermen were dragging their boats away back to the foot of the bluff, so as to avoid the still heavier swell which must erelong come. Yet, for all that, the storm had not commenced, and I could easily have walked over to Beacon Ledge and made my daily visit.

But still I forbore. I had already told Jessie that I should not see her again until I came to hear the decision of my fate, and I resolved that I would be firm. Would it not, beside, spoil the whole romance of our midnight correspondence were I to visit her again so soon? I had signalled a greeting to her. What a lowering of sentiment it would be if now I were to obtain her response in commonplace manner, by mere word of mouth, instead of by the bright sheen of the lighthouse itself! Nay, that would never do. So, killing the heavy hours as best I could, I loitered up and down the beach, shooting at the gulls as ineffectually as I had before shot at the sand-pipers; watching the course of a few frightened vessels, which still continued to make for that little harbor of refuge; and, like a child, making sand-forts on the beach, for the pleasure of seeing them washed away again by the next heavy swell.

Night came at last; and, as before, I volunteered to relieve Barry of the care of the lamps, and allow him additional opportunity to nurse his rheumatism. As before, he made some feeble show of hesitation, by way of reconciling his mind to the proffered rest, and then readily succumbed.

“Be it so, Georgy, my boy,” he said. “That is, if you are not already too tired. But I don’t feel as bad now as last night, and may yet crawl up and relieve you.”

“Take it easy, Barry,” I said. “It is not much trouble for me. I could stand it this fashion for a week.”

With that I left him alone in his snuggery, and climbed the stairs to the top. As upon the previous evening, I lighted the lamps, set the machine in motion, and then curled myself down in a corner of the floor to rest till midnight. I did not at once fall asleep, however. The gale, which had been preparing for the last thirty hours, now began to come in force, disturbing me with the sound of the wind—whistling shrilly through every crack and crevice—while the lighthouse itself constantly trembled with the blast. Even at that height, I could hear the sullen dash of the breakers against the shore; and once I could see, by the tremulous movement of lights far out to the eastward, that a large steamer was passing, and was laboring toilsomely with a more than usually heavy sea. She was in no danger, however, and gradually passed away from my line of vision. Then, at last, I fell asleep, though not into the soft, quiet slumber which I usually enjoyed. Even in my dreams the tempest followed me, filling my mind with distorted imaginings. The old stories, which I had so often heard and of late had forgotten, about pirates, and wrecks, and wreckers, and cruelties perpetrated upon the beach, now seemed to take actual life and reality. I could see the dismasted vessels struggling among the breakers, and the rows of hard, fierce, expectant faces lining the shore, and awaiting the turning up of the dead bodies. I was a dead body myself, even, and was being washed up on the beach, already drowned beyond hope of resuscitation, and yet strangely conscious of all that went on around me. A hand was placed roughly upon me, as I lay motionless upon the sand. Then, gaining new life, I cried aloud, and, waking, found old Barry leaning over me, and shaking me into consciousness.

“Look over yonder, Georgy, my boy, at the Beacon Point,” he said. “See how strangely the lights are acting. What do you make of it all?”

I looked, and saw that the reflectors were pointing, motionless, toward me—resting there for a full minute; then they swept around slowly in their accustomed course, and again paused for a minute. Thereby I deciphered the letter M, and started into full and instant animation. I had, of course, overslept myself, and thereby, probably, lost a portion of Jessie’s dear message. How much of it, indeed?

“What is the hour, Barry?”

“Half-past twelve,” he said. “But what do you make of yonder business? Is it some accident to the works, do you think?—or has old Barkstead gone on a spree again, as they say he once did, and is now playing fast and loose with the lights?”

While he had been speaking, new revolutions, broken, by longer or shorter pauses, had succeeded; and I deciphered the additional letters A and S.

“Whatever it may be, Barry,” I then answered—forcing myself to attend to him, and feeling a little guilty for being obliged to keep the mysterious secret from him—“don’t you see that nothing can be done about it, now? Go, therefore, to bed again. This cold lantern is no place for you to remain in. And to-morrow, bright and early, I will go out myself, and ascertain what may be the matter.”

With that, I gently pushed Barry down the first two or three steps, and heard him go grumbling and puffing the rest of the way to his own nook. Meanwhile, the bright signalling from Beacon Point went on—letter after letter—until, at last, I read out the whole sentence:

“——mas has come.

“Christmas has come!” This, of course, was the completion of the message; for it was not now difficult to supply those letters which, through my tardy awakening, I had missed. My heart bounded high with joy and exultation. Sanguinely as I had anticipated a favorable verdict at Jessie’s hands, my utmost hopes had never asked for such a frank and instant admission of her preference as this. To be reminded, at the very first stroke of the midnight hour, that the important day for decision had arrived: what was this but being told that the day should bring its blessing with it?—that Jessie herself had awaited its approach as eagerly as I had, feeling as acutely the delay?—that now there should be no more disguise or misconstruction between us? Christmas had come! It was, indeed, a frank and noble response to my message of the night before, telling me that now, at last, she had surrendered her heart to my safe-keeping. Had it been possible, I would have run over at once to Beacon Ledge, and pressed her to my heart. But, of course, not the tempest merely forbade. I must wait until the more suitable time of morning, still many hours off. Therefore, composing myself as well as possible for quiet waiting, I sat, during the remainder of the night, musing over my pleasant prospects, and watching anxiously for the first ray of morning.

It came at last—later than usual, for the tempest had not yet abated, and the approach of day was to be noted rather by the gradual lightening of the atmosphere, than by any gleam of eastern dawn. Then I extinguished the lights, stopped the machinery, and descended to old Barry.

“I will now cross over to the Beacon Ledge,” I said, “and find out what was the matter last night.”

“Without your breakfast, boy?” growled the old man.

But what did I care for breakfast! My heart was too full of joy to care for any carnal needs; and, therefore, with some lame excuse for my hurry, and a guilty sense of continued deception weighing upon my mind, I set off, promising a speedy return. The task that I had set myself was no trifle, and I could not wonder at the solemn shake of the head with which Barry watched my departure. The tempest was at its height, and a blinding sheet of rain and ocean-spray drove wildly into my face at each step. The breakers dashed furiously upon the beach—so furiously, indeed, that the usual route along the hard-pressed sand had become impassable, and I was obliged to take a higher path through the loose, yielding pebbles. But I persevered bravely and determinedly, though so sorely fettered in my steps, and buffeted in my face, and, after nearly two hours, reached the other lighthouse.

I entered without ceremony, and, in the angle of the first flight of stairs—our usual trysting-place ever since the lateness of the season had denied us the rock by the sea-side—I found dear Jessie. But she was not alone. Beside her, and too near, I thought, sat a pleasant-faced young man, who, at my approach, arose, and with a miserably counterfeited affectation of indifference, sauntered away. Jessie also arose, and with whitened face, came forward.

“Why are you here?” she murmured. “Did I not signal it all to you, so that you might know the truth, and spare both yourself and me this meeting?”

“What do you mean?” I gasped.

“Did you not understand me, after all, kind friend? You know, indeed, that I once told you how I had loved another. I had no expectation of seeing him again, it is true. He was far away with his vessel when we departed from our little village, leaving, as you know, not a trace behind us; and, therefore, there was no way in which the secret of our present retreat could be learned by any one. Nor could I write to him and tell him, for he had not yet spoken to me of love, and I did not know but what he would choose, in the end, to forget me. But Fate, after all, is sometimes kind. Searching for me, without any trace to guide him, he had almost despaired, when, the night before this last, coming in from sea, he saw the Penguin Light; and noticing how, while you were signalling to me, at times it stopped for a moment, he thought it was the Upper Roadstead Light, and so ran in and made this little harbor by mistake. Thereby it was that we have chanced to meet again.”

“But, Jessie, you signalled to me that—”

“I signalled that Thomas had come. Did you not comprehend? Or can it be that I had never happened to mention his name to you?”

“Ah!” I feebly exclaimed, the light breaking in upon me; “Thomas was the word, then, was it? I thought—but no matter now for my thoughts. Well, farewell, Jessie. There can be no good word or wish that any one may give you that will not always be uttered twofold from my heart. You know it, kind friend, do you not?”

“I know it, George, indeed,” she said.

And, tearing myself from her, I returned to city life. There I gave myself once more up to business and its cares, in hopes of drowning my disappointment; and now, after long months of sad regret, I have nearly succeeded, and have become myself again. But, at times, I lie awake in the middle of the night and listen to the city’s roar, and in the sound I seem to hear once more the play of breakers on the shore at Beacon Ledge; and then I think, with sadness, how different might have been my lot, had I not so foolishly determined to utter, with the lighthouse lamps, and so many miles across, those words of greeting which should have been softly whispered instead, by lowly pleading lips, into closely attentive, willing ears.