The Lighthouse Keeper of Aspinwall

The Lighthouse Keeper of Aspinwall – Poland
Polish literature begins a thousand years ago, but until towards the middle of the last century there is very little prose fiction, and probably no single short story of outstanding merit.

The history of Po- v land is so strikingly dramatic and her political vicissitudes so many and so varied that it is scarcely to be wondered at that the Poles failed to develop narrative fiction. One of the greatest Polish writers was Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1843), and though he wrote very little fiction he was largely instrumental in establishing a literary tradition.

With the novels of Mme. Orgaszo and Sienkiewicz Polish literature entered a new and very productive age. During the past two generations the short story has been assiduously developed by a dozen writers of exceptional talent. Prus and Szymanski, Orzeszkowa, Sienkiewicz and Zeromski have utilized the form for the expression of their deepest convictions. Among the later writers who have written short stories are Reymont, Kaden-Bandrowski, and Mme. Rygier-Nalkowska.
Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846—1916)
Sienkiewicz was born at Wola Okrzejska in Lithuania. He studied at the University of Warsaw, and began writing at a comparatively early age. When he was thirty he went to the United States. In 1884 he published his first successful novel, With Fire And Sword.

Quo Vadis came some years later. He was one of the most gifted of the Polish writers of stories, and The Lighthouse Keeper of Aspinwall is the best of his short tales.
The present version is reprinted from the volume Yanko the Musician, etc., translated by Jeremiah Curtin. Copyright, 1893, by Little, Brown & Co., of Boston, by whose permission it is used here.
The Lighthouse Keeper of Aspinwall
On a time it happened that the lighthouse keeper in Aspinwall, not far from Panama, disappeared without a trace. Since he disappeared during a storm, it was supposed that the ill-fated man went to the very edge of the small, rocky island on which the lighthouse stood, and was swept out by a wave.

This supposition seemed the more likely, as his boat was not found next day in its rocky niche. The place of lighthouse keeper had become vacant. It was necessary to fill this place at the earliest moment possible, since the lighthouse had no small significance for the local movement as well as for vessels going from New York to Panama.

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He saw everything as it was; everything asked him, Dost remember. He remembers! he sees broad fields; between the fields, woods and villages. It is night now. At this hour his lantern usually fllummates the darkness of the sea; but now he is m his native village.

His old head has dropped on his breast, and he is dreaming. Pictures are passing before his eyes quickly, and a little disorderly. He does not see the house in which he was born, for war had destroyed it ; he does not see his father and mother, for they died when he was a child, stfll th village is as if he had left it yesterday—the line of cottages with light in the windows, the mound, the mill, the two ponds °PPoslt® other, and thundering all night with a chorus of frogs.

Once he had been on guard in that village all night; now that past stood bef°re b at once in a series of views. He is an Uhlan again and he stands there on guard; at a distance is the public-house; he looks with swimming eyes. Th

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Who shinest in Ostrobrama and preservest The castle town Novgrodek with its trusty people,

As Thou didst give me back to health in childhood,

When by my weeping mother placed beneath Thy care I raised my lifeless eyelids upward,

And straightway walked unto Thy holy threshold,

To thank God for the life restored me,

So by a wonder now restore us to the bosom of our birthplace.”

The swollen wave broke through the restraint of his will. The old threw himself on the ground; his milk-white hair was mingled with the sand of the sea. Forty years had passed since he had seen his country, and God knows how many since he heard his native speech; and now that speech had come to him itself it had sailed to him over the ocean, and found him in solitude on another hemisphere it so loved, so dear so beautiful!

Simply implored forgiveness

In the sobbing which shook him there was no pain only a suddenly aroused immen

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The society had sent him the books with thanks. The books came in the natural way; but at the first moment the old man could not seize those thoughts. Polish books in Aspinwall, on his tower, amid his solitude—that was for him something uncommon, a certain breath from past times, a kind of miracle.

Now it seemed to him, as to those sailors in the night, that something was calling him by name with a voice greatly beloved and nearly forgotten. He sat for a while with closed eyes, and was almost certain that, when he opened them, the dream would be gone.

The package, cut open, lay before him, shone upon clearly by the afternoon sun, and on it was an open book. When the old man stretched his hand toward it again, he heard in the stillness the beating of his own heart. He looked; it was poetry. On the outside stood printed in great letters the title, underneath the name of the author.

Strange to Skavinski

The name was not strange to Skavinski;

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Whole weeks passed in this way, so that no one saw him and he saw no one. The only signs that the old man was living were the disappearance of the provisions left on shore, and the light of the lantern kindled every evening with the same regularity with which the sun rose in the morning from the waters of those regions.

Evidently, the old man had become indifferent to the world. Homesickness was not the cause, but just this—that even homesickness had passed into resignation. The whole world began now and ended for Skavinski on his island. He had grown accustomed to the thought that he would not leave the tower till his death, and he simply forgot that there was anything else besides it.

Ceasing to exist

Moreover, he had become a mystic; his mild blue eyes began to stare like the eyes of a child, and were as if fixed on something at a distance. In presence of a surrounding uncommonly simple and great, the old man was losing the feeling of personal

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Farther on, between Aspinwall and Panama, was a great forest over which every morning and evening hung a reddish haze of exhalations—a real tropical forest with its feet in stagnant water, interlaced with lianas and filled with the sound of one sea of gigantic orchids, palms, milk-trees, iron-trees, gum-trees.

Through his field-glass the old man could see not only trees and the broad leaves of bananas, but even legions of monkeys and great marabous and flocks of parrots, rising at times like a rainbow cloud over the forest. Skavinski knew such forests well, for after being wrecked on the Amazon he had wandered whole weeks among similar arches and thickets. He had seen how many dangers and deaths lie concealed under those wonderful and smiling exteriors.

Torpedo fish and swarming with crocodiles

During the nights which he had spent in them he heard close at hand the sepulchral voices of howling monkeys, and the roaring of the jaguars; he saw gigant

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From early morning a light eastern breeze brought a confused hum of human life, above which predominated the whistle of steamers. In the afternoon six o`clock came; the movements in the harbor began to cease; the mews hid themselves in the rents of the cliffs; the waves grew feeble and became in some sort lazy; and then on the land, on the sea, and on the tower came a time of stillness unbroken by anything.

The yellow sands from which the waves had fallen back glittered like golden stripes on the width of the waters; the body of the tower was outlined definitely in blue. Floods of sunbeams were poured from the sky on the water and the sands and the cliff. At that time a certain lassitude full of sweetness seized the old man. He felt that the rest which he was enjoying was excellent; and when he thought that it would be continuous nothing was lacking to him.

Men built houses for invalids

Skavinski was intoxicated with his own happiness; and since a

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If the infinity of the sea may call out thus, perhaps when a man is growing old, calls come to him, too, from another infinity Still darker and more deeply mysterious; and the more he is wearied by life the dearer are those calls to him. But to hear them quiet is needed.

Beacon tower

Besides old age loves to put itself aside, as if with a foreboding of the grave. The lighthouse had become for Skavinski such a half grave. Nothing is more monotonous than life on a beacon-tower. If young people consent to take up this service they leave it after a time. Lighthouse keepers are generally men not young, gloomy, and confined to themselves.

If by chance one of them leaves his lighthouse and goes among men, he walks in the midst of them like a person roused from deep slumber. On the tower there is a lack of minute impressions which in ordinary life teach men to adapt themselves to everything. All that a lighthouse keeper comes in contact with is gigantic an

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It is true that such modest happiness was his due; but he was so accustomed to disappointments that he thought of rest as people in general think of something which is beyond reach. He did not dare to hope for it. Meanwhile, unexpectedly, in the course of twelve hours he had gained a position which was as if chosen for him out of all the world.

We are not to wonder, then, that when he lighted his lantern in the evening he became as it were dazed—that he asked himself if that was reality, and he did not dare to answer that it was. But at the same time reality convinced him with incontrovertible proofs; hence hours one after another passed while he was on the balcony. He gazed, and convinced himself. It might seem that he was looking at the sea for the first time in his life.

From the darkness

The lens of the lantern cast into the darkness an enormous triangle of light, beyond which the eye of the old man was lost in the black distance completely,

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He believed that some mighty and vengeful hand was pursuing him everywhere, on all lands and waters. He did not like, however, to speak of this; only at times, when someone asked him whose hand that could be, he pointed mysteriously to the Polar Star, and said, “It comes from that place.” In reality his failures were so continuous that they were wonderful, and might easily drive a nail into the head, especially of the man who had experienced them.

Means of salvation

But Skavinski had the patience of an Indian, and that great calm power of resistance which comes from truth of heart. In his time he had received in Hungary a number of bayonet-thrusts because he would not grasp at a stirrup which was shown as means of salvation to him, and cry for quarter. In like manner he did not bend to misfortune. He crept up against the mountain as industriously as an ant. Pushed down a hundred times, he began his journey calmly for the hundred and first time.

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He was in truth like a ship whose masts, ropes, and sails had been broken and rent by a tempest, and cast from the clouds to the bottom of the sea—a ship on which the tempest had hurled waves and spat foam, but which still wound its way to the harbor. The pictures of that storm passed quickly through his mind as he compared it with the calm future now beginning.

A part of his wonderful adventures he had related to Falconbridge; he had not mentioned, however, thousands of other incidents. It had been his misfortune that as often as he pitched his tent and fixed his fireplace to Settle down permanently, some wind tore out the stakes of his tent, whirled away the fire, and bore him on toward destruction.

Almost every occupation

Looking now from the balcony of the tower at the illuminated waves, he remembered everything through which he had passed. He had campaigned in the four parts of the world, and in wandering had tried almost every occupation. L