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HOME > Inspiring Novel > A Son of Courage > CHAPTER XIII ERIE OF THE LIGHT-HOUSE
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 Through the summer night, Hinter, astride a rangy roan, rode the ten mile trail that lay between the foot of Rond Eau and the light-house. On his left the giant pines stood with sharp points clearly defined against the starlight like the bayonet-fixed guns of a sleeping army; to his right swept dwarf cedars and stunted oaks and beyond them the bay marshes, with weaving fire-flies shimmering like star-dust close above them.  
It was a lonely trail but Hinter had ridden it often. He knew that in the shadows lurked wild things which resented his intrusion of their retreat; that later, when the night grew old, timber-wolves would voice their protest, and fierce-eyed lynx, tufted ears flat and fangs bared in hatred, would look down upon him from overhanging branch of tree. But behind him stalked protection in the form of two great dogs against which no wolf or cat had ever waged successful warfare. Besides, there was the heavy "40-40" revolver in his belt.
"Two Great Danes and a 'bull-dog' should be protection enough for any man," he would laugh to Landon, the light-house keeper, when the latter shook his head doubtfully over Hinter's foolhardiness in riding this lone night trail. And Landon, whose asthma made talking difficult for him, would say no more, realizing that it was useless.
The light-house keeper, who lived with his daughter in a comfortable house on the extreme end of the Point, had always been glad to welcome Hinter to his isolated loneliness. With an invalid's self-centeredness, he believed that it was to relieve the monotony of his existence that this man paid him periodical visits. He did not dream that his daughter, Erie, named after the lake, whose blue lay deep in her eyes and whose moods were of herself a part, was the real attraction which drew Hinter to their home. Indeed it would have taken a much more astute observer than the man who had been keeper of the light for more than thirty years to have observed this. Never by look, word or sign had Hinter shown that in this slender, golden-haired girl, whose laughter was the sweetest note in the world—this girl who could trim a sail in biting gale and swim the wide, deep channel when tempest angered it to clutching under-currents—was more to him than just a glad, natural product of her world. Always his manner towards her had been one of kindly respect. In time she grew ashamed of the distrust she had on first acquaintance intuitively felt for him. He was good to her father and considerate of her. He talked interestingly of the big outside world and described the cities he had visited. Her father liked him and always looked forward to his visits, and with a sick man's petulance grumbled if Hinter failed to come on his regular nights.
"He's a fine man, Erie," he would say to is daughter, "and well off, too. I'd like to see you married to a man like Hinter before I go. Ever since your Ma died, I've been worried about leavin' you behind."
"But I am going to marry Frank, Daddy," the girl would say softly.
"Hey? Oh, all right, all right. Stanhope's a fine youngster, but poor, poor."
He would lapse into silence, sucking his pipe, and watching Erie putting away the supper-dishes.
"He'll never find the Scroggie will," he would speak again. "He'll always be poor."
"But, Daddy," the girl would laugh, "we love each other. We are happy and real happiness is worth more than money, isn't it, dear?"
"Aye," he would answer. "Your mother and I were happy in that way. But she was taken away and all I had in her place was heart loneliness—but for you." Then she would kiss him softly and, stealing about her household tasks, sing him to fitful sleep as she moved quietly about the room.
Tonight as Hinter rode through the pine-scented gloom the light-house keeper sat in his big chair beside the window that looked upon the lake. Spent from a trying fit of coughing, his nerves crying for the rest which was denied him, the sick man had gazed across to where the shuttle of sunset was weaving its fabric of changing colors upon sky and water. But he had not seen those glad lights; had not heard the cries of the haven-seeking gulls or the soft plaintive notes of the night birds from the Point forest. The lights had flashed and departed unseen, the wild calls had been voiced and sunk to silence unheard, because a tenderer light, which had belonged to this, his own hour, had vanished; a sweeter song than even night birds could voice had been stilled—the light in his Erie's eyes and the low notes from her glad heart.
He knew why. She had told him. God, Destiny, Fate, had come between her and the man she loved. The man had lost more than life in playing the part of a man. He was blind! Behind him were only memories that could not be buried. Before him only darkness, bleakness, despair. And he had done an heroic thing in giving her up. Helpless, powerless to support her, what else was there for him to do? So, in his love for her, he had dug a grave and in it buried Hope and all that God in His wise ordinance had allowed him to live and feel. And they had kissed and parted, kneeling beside this grave, cold lips to cold lips, broken heart to broken heart. It was the kiss on the cross which each must carry.
So much had she told him, and the light had gone from her eyes, the song from her lips.
The sick man sank lower in his chair, his face working, his heart crying the same pleading cry as cried the heart of Rachel of old for her children—a cry understood only by the heart in which it was born—and God.
And so Hinter found him there before the window in the gloom, his thin hands clutching the arms of his chair, his white face sunk on his breast. "Landon, old friend, asleep?" he asked softly. No answer. Hinter struck a match and lit the lamp on the table. Then he touched the sleeper's arm; still he did not stir.
Alarmed, Hinter drew the big chair about so that the light would fall on the sick man's face. Slowly Landon opened his eyes. He struggled erect and attempted to speak, but a fit of coughing assailed him and robbed him of breath.
From his pocket Hinter drew a flat bottle and poured a portion of its contents into a glass. Gently raising the emaciated form to a more comfortable position, he held the glass to the blue lips. Under the stimulant of the brandy Landon rallied.
"Thanks," he whispered. Then, hospitality his first thought, he motioned towards a chair. Hinter sat down.
"Worse than usual tonight, isn't it?" he asked in kindly tones.
"Yes, asthma's that way—eases off—then comes back—hits you sudden." He glanced at the bottle. Hinter, understanding, poured him out another portion.
"It seems to be the only thing that helps," gasped Landon as he swallowed the draught.
Hinter nodded. "Not a bad medicine if rightly used," he said. He filled his pipe, lit it, and passed the tobacco-pouch to Landon. He was watching the door leading to the inner room.
"Erie out in her boat?" he asked, casually. "I don't hear her voice, or her whistle."
"She's out on the bay," answered the father and lapsed again into brooding silence.
Hinter waited. At length Landon roused from his musings. "My heart's heavy for her," he said, "and heavy for the young man who loves her. You've heard, of course. News of the like spreads quickly."
"Yes, I've heard." Hinter rose abruptly and strode to the window overlooking the bay. A full moon was lifting above the pines. In its silvery track a tiny sail was beating harborward.
After a time he turned and walked back slowly to where the sick man sat. "Mr. Landon," he said, gravely, "I love your daughter. With your permission I would make her my wife. Wait," as the older man attempted to speak. "Hear what I have to say. I have endeavored to be honorable. Never by word or look have I given her to understand what my feelings are toward her. For Stanhope, the man who was brave and strong enough to give her up, I have always had the deepest respect; and now, knowing the price he has paid, I honor him. He was far more worthy of your daughter than I am. But now, as all is over between them, I would do my best to make her happy."
"That I know well," s............
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