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The Red Island Shoals
by [?]

The house was fairly shaking in the gale, and any one but Uncle Rube, who had lived in it since he put it there forty years before, would have been expecting things to happen. But the old man sat dozing in his chair beside the crackling stove, and the circling rings of smoke rising over his snow-white head were the only signs of life about him. The only other occupant of the house was a little girl whom Uncle Rube had taken for “company,” the year that his wife left him. The coast knew that his only lad had been lost aboard some sealer many years ago. The little girl was lying stretched out on the wooden settle close beside him. Twice already in the dim light of the tiny window, now well covered with snow outside and frost within, I had mistaken her towsly golden curls for a hearth-brush, she lay so still.

At length, as the cottage gave a more violent lurch than usual, even my book failed to keep my mind at rest.

“Aren’t you afraid the house is going to blow away, Uncle Rube? You remember that our church blew into the harbor, pews and floor as well as walls and roof. You could see the pews at low water till the ice took them away.”

Crack! Crack! Crack!

“No fear of she, Doctor. She’s held on this forty years, and I reckon she won’t bring her anchors home till I does myself.”

“Never to go again till the old man died,” I hummed.

Something, however, seemed to have roused up Uncle Rube. For, carefully laying his pipe in its place on the shelf, he went to the door, opening it enough to allow him to peer out through the crack. Unfortunately another eddying gust struck the house at that very moment, tore the door from his grasp, and by sweeping in and taking the fortress from within, very nearly gave it its coup de grace. In the momentary lull that followed we managed to shut the door, and to barricade it from inside.

The child was astir before we got back to the genial warmth of the stove. Crack! Crack! Crack! went the little dwelling again, as a more than usually fierce blast of the hurricane, strengthened by the furiously driving snow, hit it like another hammer of Thor. Crack! Crack! The house seemed to swing like a pendulum before it came to rest again. I could see that the old man was uneasy.

“What is it, Uncle Rube? What is it?” the little girl cried out petulantly.

“Why, nothing, little one, nothing. Only ’tis as well to take a peek out on times. There’s no knowing when there might be some one astray through this kind of weather. ‘Tis no hurt to make sure, is it?”

She was a pale-faced little thing, with the lustrous eyes and delicate skin that often so pathetically array the prospective victims of the White Man’s Curse. She had been a tiny, unwanted item in a large family of twelve with which “Providence had blessed” a struggling friend and neighbor. The arrival of the last had robbed him of his only help. “Daddy gived me to Uncle Rube,” was her only explanation of her being there.

“‘T is cold, though,” she answered. “It made me dream that you were on the old island again, and I was with you, and then the house shook so that it woke me up.”

For answer he went to an old and well-worn seaman’s chest which served ordinarily for an additional seat. The reverent care with which he turned over the contents would have honored a priest before the sanctuary. But eventually he returned with a really beautiful shawl which he tenderly wrapped around the child, and sitting down laid her head upon his shoulder. In this position she was almost immediately asleep again, and, fearing to wake her, I had forborne to break the silence. Indeed, I was far enough away from ice and snow and blizzards for the moment–the Indian shawl having carried me home to England, and the old camphor trunk which my own mother, herself born in India, had taught us boys to reverence as the old man did his, filled as ours was with specimens of weird patterns and exquisite workmanship.