Admiral's Light - Henry Milner Rideout - ebook
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Admiral's Light written by Henry Milner Rideout who was a native of Calais, Maine. Author of sixteen novels, twenty-three short stories and novellas, and a biographical memoir. This book was published in 1907. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.

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Admiral's Light

By

Henry Milner Rideout

Illustrated by

Martin Justice and Charles H. Woodbury

Table of Contents

CHAPTER I. THE GYPSY MARE

CHAPTER II. CAPTAIN FLORIO

CHAPTER III. THE SAFFRON MAN

CHAPTER IV. PAN’S PIPES

CHAPTER V. THE HIGH WOODS

CHAPTER VI. THE COUNCIL

CHAPTER VII. HABAKKUK’S LIGHT

CHAPTER VIII. THE OTHER CAMP

CHAPTER IX. THE RUNNING BROOK

CHAPTER X. TONY PASSES

CHAPTER XI. THE RISK

ANNA HILLIARDFrom a drawing by Martin Justice

CHAPTER I.THE GYPSY MARE

Thrusting his tousled head through the trap-door, Miles made his third and last inspection for the night. Fierce yellow light flooded the glass cage; against the panes, like restless, irritated snowflakes, a few belated moths fluttered in vain. The circular base of the lamp cast downward a shadow so black as almost to appear a solid supporting cone. At the edge of this Miles reared his shoulders higher. Under the blue flannel shirt their weary movement was that of a sleepy boy; but his thin, dark face shone grave as a man’s. He sniffed the familiar smell of oil and hot brass, and glanced perfunctorily; the lamp burned as bright as it had three hours ago, at midnight, or as it would burn three hours hence, at sunrise,—with the same provoking virtue that made his nocturnal rounds a waste of labor and sleep.

“Some one has to,” he said aloud. “Burn away, Beast!” With this customary good-night, he clattered downstairs, locked the lighthouse door, caught up his lantern, and went whistling along the narrow path by the river. From below, to the left, stole the salt coolness of seaweed bared at low tide,—a sharp aroma that set him wide awake. From above, over a black phantom hill, peered Orion’s red shoulder-star. Hurtling shadows of undergrowth before his lantern rose magnified, parted in rout, wheeled slowly, fell prostrate and infinitely prolonged. The grass fringe of his smooth-beaten trail gleamed with a pearly rime of autumnal dew. “Nearly frost to-night,” thought the boy.

He raced down into a steep gully, drummed across a little foot-bridge, took by scrambling assault the other bank, and on the crest, suddenly, as their black wall yawned to engulf him, entered a low grove of pines and cedars. The cold wet bristles bedewed his hands, as he skipped along, now scuffing loudly on a worn ledge, now over a stretch of wet touch-wood, the full, fern-bordered length of a vanished log, that made him advance silent as a ghost.

A ghost—he often thought of that, for now came the one mild excitement. Three times every night, his grandfather’s unofficial deputy, he tramped this triangular beat, downhill, along the shore between the two fixed lights, uphill again to the farmhouse. At first a lark, this tramp had in the last year become dull monotony; his score, penciled in the back of his beloved atlas, showed over a thousand tours, on which nothing ever happened; and yet now and then, as he neared the Admiral’s deck, he felt the childhood presentiment that just ahead something would appear. Usually a nameless emotion, faint and swiftly obliterated, it came now, in the early morning darkness, almost as the pristine thrill.

At the place which had helped to name the whole shore, his path widened into a clearing beside a low bluff. The lantern twirled its shadow-ribs across a floor of rotten wood,—old ship’s planking, the few solid remnants auger-bored. Here, beside a stout rail which now tottered over the dark gulf, Admiral Bissant, the boy’s great-uncle, had walked the quarter-deck in his dotage. Miles’s grandfather never mentioned the tradition; but old Fisherman Bull had often told how, dropping down river in the Mystic Tie, he had seen an aged figure pacing the verge above, in faced uniform and cocked hat. “Givin’ orders he was,” said the fisher, “to nobody—trompin’ an’ mumblin’ amongst the trees, bossin’ hemlocks fer men.” To prove the story there remained uniform, cocked hat, and sword as well, rescued by Uncle Christopher when the old Bissant house burned, and now hung in the “front hall” of their cottage. And these mouldering planks still outlined the landfast quarter-deck. A ghost there must be, Ella said. Of course that was her nonsense. Only a faint breeze of dawn sighed through the drooping needles.

“Nothing ever happens,” thought Miles. He dived into a dark billow of firs, brushed along with now and then a gossamer damp across his cheeks, and following the outward curve of the shore, emerged on a tiny promontory, down which a ragged wall of Norway pines sloped to the second lighthouse,—another stunted white obelisk tipped with radiance. Here again his inspection was needless; and soon he climbed the homeward field, where fast encroaching fir-trees squatted like a thinned regiment of dwarfs.

At the farmhouse door he blew out his lantern; and tiptoeing from the stair-head past his grandfather’s room, undressed in the dark, and was soon abed and asleep.

Full flood of autumn sunshine woke him; and from a late breakfast alone, he went, as usual, straight to the “library.” Before a snapping beech-wood fire, his grandfather, a tall, spare man, whose ruddy, clean-shaven face was marked with severe wrinkles, paced in uncertain fidgets, both hands clasping a Bible at his back.

“Get your Testament, sir,” he commanded querulously, without turning his hook-nosed profile. Ella, the “girl” who had served their family these thirty years, looked up and nodded furtive encouragement, then bent to as furtive a study of the long words. Sitting beside her, Miles could see the fat fingers, white and puckered from hot water, faltering across the narrow columns, balking beneath Urbane, Stachys, Tryphena and Tryphosa. When her turn came to read aloud, she omitted them one and all, glibly, but with the air of a nervous knitter dropping stitches. The old man, standing braced before the fire, affected not to notice. It was one of his few compromises. He read on sonorously, his head uplifted before the portrait of his brother, the Admiral, who stared down from the canvas with the same ruddy face and close white curls, the same beaked severity and intolerant poise.

Their devotions ended, Ella went bustling to her kitchen, and the head of the Bissant family turned to its youngest survivor.

“Good-morning, sir! Are you any better prepared to-day?” With eyes of a confused, smoky brightness, he surveyed his grandson, then searched the few old books on the shelves. “Hmm! Sallust—yes, just so. Come, begin—where’s the lesson, eh?—No, not there, either, take it all!—Hmm!—Ah, here ’tis, boy: Volturcius interrogatus de itinere—”

“Please, sir,” said Miles humbly, “we don’t—it’s Saturday, grandfather.”

“Eh, what the devil?” complained the old man. “So ’tis, boy, so ’tis. Always Saturday.” Frowning vaguely, he thumped the book on the table. “Well, and how d’ye propose to waste your time to-day?”

“Shooting, sir, if you don’t mind,” ventured Miles. “The law’s off on patri—”

“Don’t let me hear that barbarism!” cried his grandfather bitterly. “Must we talk like rustics? If you will miscall the ruffed grouse, sir, call it p-a-r-t—partridge! Say it!”

“Partridge, sir,” mumbled the boy sheepishly.

“Louder!”

“Partridge.”

“Again!”

“Partridge, sir.”

“Now go,” commanded his grandfather, “and write out that word fifty times, before Monday’s lesson!—Come back here; who said I’d finished? Write it with a capital R!”

“Yes, sir,” said Miles, and slipped from the room. The door closed, and the rebuke vanished; for there stood the shotgun ready in the corner, and Ella packing his basket. As he stepped out into autumn sunshine, he repaid her with a promise,—

“I’ll bring home some good pat—partridges.”

“Fat ones?” she jeered, her freckled face again in the doorway. “Then you’ll have to feed ’em first. A high old hunter are you! They’re still in the lowlands a-stuffin’ alder-berries, thin as Macfarlane’s geese.”

“I didn’t say fat partridges, Ella,” he called back. A shrill protest pursued him: “O-o-h, Master Miles, you did, because I heard you!”

Behind their house the hillside rose, abrupt, and slippery with ripe yellow grass. After a brief climb Miles could look back over the warped roof and see the convex field plunge toward the river. Pausing again for breath, he could see the trunks of the two tall hackmatacks which stood before the door, green pillars of an imaginary gate. From between them two brown paths forked wide,—sides of the triangle described by his nightly tour. Pines and underbrush of solemn evergreen hid the distant base, but the twin lighthouses marked each extremity by a fat white column, low and red-capped. Beyond these, in the crisp air, the river shone steel-blue, streaked with tides, blackened with light squalls, and throughout the two miles of its width, empty, except for the dotted penciling of weirs, and for one dark fir knoll, the little midway island. Yellow birches, scarlet maples, flamed like bale-fires along the evergreen headlands on the other shore; but hay-fields of the American borderers, over there, still remained verdant squares, dressed in the living green of second crops.

He gained the crest, and shifting his gun, struck across a decrepit orchard toward the green wall of the woods. Suddenly a white fleck, through the pattern of gnarled boughs, stirred in the adjoining field. A horse whinnied. The boy stopped in astonishment. What were men and horses doing by the ruins of the old house? He changed his course.

Where the Admiral’s house, last sign of family prosperity, had long ago burned to the ground, the cellar yawned like a grassy crater in a pasture knoll. Hawthorns, a hedge grown high and wild, screened the mound on its river side; and framed in glossy leaves and scarlet clusters, a little man scrubbed vigorously the back of a tethered pony. The beast was curiously piebald, blotched with snow white and dingy gray.

Miles and the pony stared at each other. The man, without pausing, turned a swarthy face, scowled, and then grinned.

“Hello, Squair,” he called slyly, “don’t give a poor chap away now, will ye?”

“Give what away?” said Miles, wondering.

“Pipe-clay,” replied the stranger. He dangled a rag aloft, stirred it in a bucket on the grass, and smeared another snow-white patch down the pony’s flank. “How’s that, huh? Look a-here,”—his crafty black eyes twinkled,—“I’ll tell you what, Squair. If you won’t give me away, I’ll let ye finish the rest of him.”

Miles joyfully vaulted the rails. Horses, in his life, had been rare. Hardly had he begun this new, odd, and delectable employment, before the little man was seated on the mound of ruin, a luxurious critic.

“Don’t rub so hard.” He stuffed tobacco into a black pipe. “Ye ain’t curryin’. Coat her smooth and even.”

Pleasure gave way, at last, to curiosity.

“What’s it for?” asked the boy.

“Well, now, ’tain’t my fault,” rejoined the stranger candidly. “But our paterons do like to see a white horse. No use o’ talkin’, they do. Now Terry’s smart as the Old Sarpint, but he ain’t altogether a thorough white. Not thorough and complete, he ain’t.”

“Why, he’s a gray!” cried Miles, patting the inquisitive muzzle.

“I give ye credit for that!” approved the man. “To them that didn’t know him well, Terry would seem grayish. I don’t deny they’s mottles, suspicion o’ gray, in places, as you say.”

Behind the speaker, a black shape bounced up out of the ground. A large Newfoundland dog, leaping from the cellar, raced down the bank, frisked about Miles with wide-flung paws, made a kind of salmon leap into the air, turned an amazing somersault, and, rebounding from the grass, perched on the pony’s back. Next moment he sprang down again, and with forepaws on the boy’s shoulders, barked riotously in his face.

“Oh!” cried Miles, dazed and deafened. “So that’s it. You keep a show!”

The little man blew upward a cloud of smoke in the sunlight, and nodded lazily.

“Other side the hawthorn,” he grunted. “Go look.”

Spread to dry across the sheep-sorrel, long strips of canvas bore inscriptions red and blue: “Gypsy Fair,” “Abram the Magician,” “Performing Quadrupeds,” “Madge the Egyptian Seeress tells your Future,” “Equine Theatre,” “Terry the Horseflesh Wonder,” “Ride the Gypsy Mare.” The boy returned with round eyes alight. Here was the Romany Rye, not in grandfather’s book, but in real life.

“Do you—do you keep a seeress?” he cried. “And a real magician?”

“Come here,” said the man mysteriously. “What’s wrong with your nose?” He tweaked that organ viciously three times, and produced in swift succession a whittled square of black tobacco, a stag-horn knife, a blue cotton handkerchief. “Beats all,” he marveled. “Beats me, Squair, why ye ever stowed those up there! Gettin’ hunchback, too, ain’t ye? Bend over.” Miles felt the man’s hand slip beneath his collar, then something cold between the shoulder-blades. “Well, no wonder,” said the magician. There in his hand was a bell-mouthed flageolet, with tarnished German-silver keys.

“Are you Abram?” asked the boy, laughing, but a little daunted.

The other nodded. “Onhitch Terry. Now ye watch.” Putting the flageolet to his lips, he squealed forth a sprightly air. At the first notes the pipe-clayed pony reared on his little hind-legs, and, keeping rude time, staggered through a precarious pirouette.

“He can choose colors, too,” said his master, when Terry had dropped to all fours, “and add sums, and fire me a pistol, and play me a toon on bells.”

“And carry me on his back, standing up,” called a treble voice above them. A barefoot girl with strange light-colored hair, and a woman in gray calico, stood on the edge of the grassy crater.

“We’re campin’ in the cellar,” explained Abram,—“my little girl and my wife; she’s Madge the Seeress.”

“Are you—are you,” faltered Miles, fearing to give offense—“are you—Egyptians, please?”

“A descendant o’ Pharaoh,” said Abram gravely. “Born on the banks o’ the Nile. The Seeress’ll tell your fortune. Got any money?”

Miles grew cautious, remembering dark tales.

“No,” he said. “That is, hardly any. One twenty-cent piece and a lucky penny.”

“Heard some jingle when ye clumb the fence,” objected the wizard.

“That was cat—cartridges,” retorted Miles, drawing back uneasily.

“For shame, Abe!” interposed the woman. “For shame! We’re not in the tent now: no need lyin’ to innocents like that.—Come here, my boy,” she said kindly.

Miles climbed toward the Seeress, embarrassed and deeply disappointed. Her neat calico, her tired, honest face, smooth gray hair, and friendly eyes were a sore disillusion. Where were elf-locks and eldritch voice? He had hoped for Meg Merrilies.

“Did you ever hear tell of a Pharaoh named Tucker?” she asked, taking his hand. “Me neither, and that’s my husband’s name. And if the Nile ever flowed in Sagadahoc County, it run dry ’fore my day.” She smoothed his open palm. “No one can tell fortunes, sonny, but I can tell characters. This palm’s an honest palm; so take your time, go careful, and you’ll grow to be an honest man. And a clever palm. There’s gentle blood in the veins. That always speaks out. A good head, but the heart’ll run away with it. Master power o’ friendship, few friends. I guess there’s danger ahead o’ you, but else I’m much mistaken you come o’ people fond o’ danger. You’ll do better by others than yourself—”

“Are you coming to our show?” interrupted the girl. Miles turned shyly. Girls, at Admiral’s Light, were rare as horses. And though of about his own age, this was a strange little creature. Her luminous brown eyes seemed at once frank and shy; thoughtfulness in the tanned oval face was changed, by a circumflex arch of eyebrows, to a mischievous, almost elfin gravity; and her hair reminded him of oak leaves in winter, except that they were dead and dull, and this color shone exceedingly alive.

“Coming to our show?” she repeated: “this afternoon, uptown?”

“I can’t,” he stammered. “We’re too—We don’t go to many—many entertainments.”

Madge the Seeress gave him an odd, shrewd glance of approval.

“Never mind,” she said. “Most of our show you’ve seen already. Would you like to ride the Gypsy Mare, though?” The look on the boy’s face answered. “Abe, let him.”

The man rose, grumbling, “A free ride, when he’s got twenty cents?” but nevertheless disappeared behind the mound, and returned leading a beautiful sleek white mare, already saddled. “No pipe-clay there!” He tightened girth and shortened stirrups. “Up ye go, Squair!”

Miles had ridden Hab Belden’s plough-horse once or twice, but never a mount like this. The mare footed among the sorrel, swift and gentle as the fairy charger that cantered over eggs. He pulled up reluctantly, with face glowing.

“A born trooper,” said Abram. “Straight back, close seat, flat thigh, soople. Ye rode her like a gen’ral! Now would ye believe me, Squair, if I spoke but the two words, she’d throw ye like a rocket. Five dollars I offer in open tent for the man or boy that sticks her—and only two ever done it. Want to try? Shall I speak to her?”

“Why, I don’t know,” began Miles.

“Fraid-cat!” laughed the girl.

“Speak to her,” he ordered tartly.

“Throw him, Jubilee!” cried the conjurer.

Miles felt the white body tremble under him, as in terror. With a snort and a swoop, the mare plunged uncontrollably along the brow of the hill, head down, switching herself double from side to side, as a fish fights in a net. Losing his seat, Miles caught it again by blind miracle, just as she spun dizzily and reared in lightning estrapades. Hereditary instinct, the spirit of the cavalry captain, his father, served him well. Sick with fear—not of a broken neck, but of humiliation before that girl—he clung as in a desperate dream. He felt the back hump like a dromedary’s, the close-bunched hoofs pound the earth with quick, disintegrating jars. Some one shouted. He ducked. A hawthorn bough furiously swept his back. The bole of an elm flashed past, and he was conscious of powdered bark smeared on a smarting leg. Then they fought it out, raging mare and raging rider, till with a balk that nearly shot him over her neck, Jubilee stopped dead, and, trembling as when she began, seemed gradually to sink beneath him. He kicked out of stirrups, swung over, fell with a crushing pain in one ankle, and, through an interminable leisure in which he tasted sour sorrel, rolled clear from the flourishing hoofs.

Roaring blasphemy, the showman had snatched the bridle, and as the white mare rose, was beating her over the head with a cudgel.

“Stop that!” cried Miles, from the ground.