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The Guardian Of The Fire
by [?]

“Height unto height answereth knowledge.”

His was the first watch, the farthest fire, for Shaknon Hill towered above the great gulf, and looked back also over thirty leagues of country towards the great city. There came a time again when all the land was threatened. From sovereign lands far off, two fleets were sailing hard to reach the wide basin before the walled city, the one to save, the other to destroy. If Tinoir, the Guardian of the Fire, should sight the destroying fleet, he must light two fires on Shaknon Hill, and then, at the edge of the wide basin, in a treacherous channel, the people would send out fire-rafts to burn the ships of the foe. Five times in the past had Tinoir been the Guardian of the Fire, and five times had the people praised him; but praise and his scanty wage were all he got.

The hut in which he lived with his wife on another hill, ten miles from Shaknon, had but two rooms, and their little farm and the garden gave them only enough to live–no more. Elsewhere there was good land in abundance, but it had been said years ago to Tinoir by the great men, that he should live not far from Shaknon, so that in times of peril he might guard the fire and be sentinel for all the people. Perhaps Tinoir was too dull to see that he was giving all and getting naught; that while he waited and watched he was always poor, and also was getting old. There was no house or home within fifty miles of them, and only now and then some wandering Indians lifted the latch, and drew in beside their hearth, or a good priest with a soul of love for others, came and said Mass in the room where a little Calvary had been put up. Two children had come and gone, and Tinoir and Dalice had dug their graves and put them in a warm nest of maple leaves, and afterwards lived upon the memories of them. But after these two, children came no more; and Tinoir and Dalice grew closer and closer to each other, coming to look alike in face, as they had long been alike in mind and feeling. None ever lived nearer to nature than they, and wild things grew to be their friends; so that you might see Dalice at her door tossing crumbs with one hand to birds, and with the other bits of meat to foxes, martens, and wild dogs, which came and went unharmed by them. Tinoir shot no wild animals for profit–only for food and for skins and furs to wear. Because of this he was laughed at by all who knew, save the priest of St. Sulpice, who, on Easter Day, when the little man came yearly to Mass over two hundred miles of country, praised him to his people, and made much of him, though Tinoir was not vain enough to see it.

When word came down the river, and up over the hills to Tinoir, that war was come and that he must go to watch for the hostile fleet and for the friendly fleet as well, he made no murmur, though it was the time of harvest, and Dalice had had a sickness from which she was not yet recovered.

“Go, my Tinoir,” said Dalice, with a little smile, “and I will reap the grain. If your eyes are sharp you shall see my bright sickle moving in the sun.”

“There is the churning of the milk too, Dalice,” answered Tinoir; “you are not strong, and sometimes the butter comes slow; and there’s the milking also.”

“Strength is coming to me fast, Tinoir,” she said, and drew herself up; but her dress lay almost flat on her bosom. Tinoir took her arm and felt it above the elbow.