That very night, I looked in at the little shop beneath us and met Riggs. It was no small blessing, just as I was entering upon dark and unknown ways of life, to meet this hoary headed man with all his lanterns. He would sell you anchors and fathoms of chain and rope enough to hang you to the moon but his ’lights’were the great attraction of Riggs s. He had every kind of lantern that had ever swung on land or sea. After dark, when light was streaming out of its open door and broad window Riggs’s looked like the side of an old lantern itself. It was a door, low and wide, for a time when men had big round bellies and nothing to do but fill them and heads not too far above their business. It was a window gone blind with dust and cobwebs so it resembled the dim eye of age. If the door were closed its big brass knocker and massive iron latch invited the passer. An old ship’s anchor and a coil of chain lay beside it. Blocks and heavy bolts, steering wheels, old brass compasses, coils of rope and rusty chain lay on the floor and benches, inside the shop. There were rows of lanterns, hanging on the bare beams. And there was Riggs. He sat by a dusty desk and gave orders in a sleepy, drawling tone to the lad who served him. An old Dutch lantern, its light softened with green glass, sent a silver bean across the gloomy upper air of the shop that evening. Riggs held an old un lantern with little streams of light bursting through its perforated walls. He was blind, one would know it at a glance. Blindness is so easy to be seen. Riggs was showing it to a stranger.
‘Turn down the lights,’ he said and the boy got his step-ladder and obeyed him.
Then he held it aloft in the dusk and the little lantern was like a castle tower with many windows lighted, and, when he set it down, there was a golden sprinkle on the floor as if something had plashed into a magic pool of light there in the darkness.
Riggs lifted the lantern, presently, and stood swinging it in his hand. Then its rays were sown upon the darkness falling silently into every nook and corner of the gloomy shop and breaking into flowing dapples on the wall.
‘See how quick it is!’ said he as the rays flashed with the speed of lightning. ’That is the only traveller from Heaven that travels fast enough to ever get to earth.
Then came the words that had a mighty fitness for his tongue.
’Hail, holy light! Offspring of Heaven first born.
His voice rose and fell, riding the mighty rhythm of inspired song. As he stood swinging the lantern, then, he reminded me of a chanting priest behind the censer. In a moment he sat down, and, holding the lantern between his knees, opened its door and felt the candle. Then as the light streamed out upon his hands, he rubbed them a time, silently, as if washing them in the bright flood.
‘One dollar for this little box of daylight,’ he said.
‘Blind?’ said the stranger as he paid him the money.