He held them out, but the wife interposed hurriedly. “Not to him, sir. Give them to Reuben, if you please, and thank you. But he, sir—he’s blind.”
I looked, as my father looked. A film covered both pupils of the old man’s eyes.
“He’ve been blind these seven years,” Reuben explained in a low voice. “Me and Sam are the regular keepers now; but the Board lets him live on here, and he’s terrible clever at polishing.”
“He knows the lamp so well as ever he did,” broke in the old woman; “the leastest little scratch, he don’t miss it. How he doesn’ break his poor neck is more’n I can tell; but he don’t—though ’tis a sore trial.”
While they explained, the old man’s hand went out to caress the lamp, but stopped within an inch of the sparkling lenses.
“Iss,” said he musingly, “with this here cataract I misses a brave lot. There’s a lot to be seen up here, for a man with eyesight. Will ’ee tell me, please sir, what’s the news from France? I was over there, one time.”
It turned out he had once paid a visit to one of the small Breton ports: Roscoff I think it was, and have a suspicion that smuggling lay at the bottom of the business there.
“Well now,” he commented as my father told something of his tale, “I wouldn’ have thought it of the Johnnies. They treated me very pleasant, and I speak of a man as I find en.” He turned his sightless eyes on the family he had brought up to think well of Frenchmen.
“They are different folk in Paris.”
“Iss, that’s a big place. Cherbourg’s a big place, too, they tell me. I came near going there, one time; but my travellin’s over. It do give a man something to think over, though. I wish my son here could have travelled a bit before settlin’ down.”
But Reuben, on the far side of the lantern, was turning the pages of the tattered almanack.
“Well-a-well!” said the old woman. “A body must be thankful for good sons, and mine be that. But I’d love to end my days settin’ in a window and watchin’ folks go by to church.”
It was past seven o’clock when we hoisted sail again, and as we drew near the greater islands a crimson flash shot out over the sea in our wake. On a dim beach ahead stood a girl waiting.
I daresay they never saw, and perhaps never will see, one another. I met them on separate railway journeys, and the dates are divided by five years almost. One boy was travelling third-class, the other first. The age of each when I made his very slight acquaintance (with the one I did not even exchange a word) was about fourteen. Almost certainly their lives and their stories have no connection outside of my thoughts. But I think of them often, and together. They have grown up; the younger will be a man by this time; if I met them now, their altered faces would probably be quite strange to me. Yet the two boys remain my friends, and that is why I take leave to include them among these stories of my friends.