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The Keeper of the Light
by [?]

At long distance, looking over the blue waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence in clear weather, you might think that you saw a lonely sea-gull, snow-white, perching motionless on a cobble of gray rock. Then, as your boat drifted in, following the languid tide and the soft southern breeze, you would perceive that the cobble of rock was a rugged hill with a few bushes and stunted trees growing in the crevices, and that the gleaming speck near the summit must be some kind of a building–if you were on the coast of Italy or Spain you would say a villa or a farm-house. Then, as you floated still farther north and drew nearer to the coast, the desolate hill would detach itself from the mainland and become a little mountain-isle, with a flock of smaller islets clustering around it as a brood of wild ducks keep close to their mother, and with deep water, nearly two miles wide, flowing between it and the shore; while the shining speck on the seaward side stood out clearly as a low, whitewashed dwelling with a sturdy round tower at one end, crowned with a big eight-sided lantern–a solitary lighthouse.

That is the Isle of the Wise Virgin. Behind it the long blue Laurentian Mountains, clothed with unbroken forest, rise in sombre ranges toward the Height of Land. In front of it the waters of the gulf heave and sparkle far away to where the dim peaks of St. Anne des Monts are traced along the southern horizon. Sheltered a little, but not completely, by the island breakwater of granite, lies the rocky beach of Dead Men’s Point, where an English navy was wrecked in a night of storm a hundred years ago.

There are a score of wooden houses, a tiny, weather-beaten chapel, a Hudson Bay Company’s store, a row of platforms for drying fish, and a varied assortment of boats and nets, strung along the beach now. Dead Men’s Point has developed into a centre of industry, with a life, a tradition, a social character of its own. And in one of those houses, as you sit at the door in the lingering June twilight, looking out across the deep channel to where the lantern of the tower is just beginning to glow with orange radiance above the shadow of the island–in that far-away place, in that mystical hour, you should hear the story of the light and its keeper.

I

When the lighthouse was built, many years ago, the island had another name. It was called the Isle of Birds. Thousands of sea- fowl nested there. The handful of people who lived on the shore robbed the nests and slaughtered the birds, with considerable profit. It was perceived in advance that the building of the lighthouse would interfere with this, and with other things. Hence it was not altogether a popular improvement. Marcel Thibault, the oldest inhabitant, was the leader of the opposition.

“That lighthouse!” said he, “what good will it be for us? We know the way in and out when it makes clear weather, by day or by night. But when the sky gets swampy, when it makes fog, then we stay with ourselves at home, or we run into La Trinite, or Pentecote. We know the way. What? The stranger boats? B’EN! the stranger boats need not to come here, if they know not the way. The more fish, the more seals, the more everything will there be left for us. Just because of the stranger boats, to build something that makes all the birds wild and spoils the hunting–that is a fool’s work. The good God made no stupid light on the Isle of Birds. He saw no necessity of it.”

“Besides,” continued Thibault, puffing slowly at his pipe, “besides– those stranger boats, sometimes they are lost, they come ashore. It is sad! But who gets the things that are saved, all sorts of things, good to put into our houses, good to eat, good to sell, sometimes a boat that can be patched up almost like new–who gets these things, eh? Doubtless those for whom the good God intended them. But who shall get them when this sacre lighthouse is built, eh? Tell me that, you Baptiste Fortin.”