Chapter 39: Captain Jim Crosses The Bar
One day in late September Owen Ford's book came at last. Captain Jim had gone faithfully to the Glen post office every day for a month, expecting it. This day he had not gone, and Leslie brought his copy home with hers and Anne's.
"We'll take it down to him this evening," said Anne, excited as a schoolgirl.
The long walk to the Point on that clear, beguiling evening along the red harbor road was very pleasant. Then the sun dropped down behind the western hills into some valley that must have been full of lost sunsets, and at the same instant the big light flashed out on the white tower of the point.
"Captain Jim is never late by the fraction of a second," said Leslie.
Neither Anne nor Leslie ever forgot Captain Jim's face when they gave him the book--HIS book, transfigured and glorified. The cheeks that had been blanched of late suddenly flamed with the color of boyhood; his eyes glowed with all the fire of youth; but his hands trembled as he opened it.
It was called simply The Life-Book of Captain Jim, and on the title page the names of Owen Ford and James Boyd were printed as collaborators. The frontispiece was a photograph of Captain Jim himself, standing at the door of the lighthouse, looking across the gulf. Owen Ford had "snapped" him one day while the book was being written. Captain Jim had known this, but he had not known that the picture was to be in the book.
"Just think of it," he said, "the old sailor right there in a real printed book. This is the proudest day of my life. I'm like to bust, girls. There'll be no sleep for me tonight. I'll read my book clean through before sun-up."
"We'll go right away and leave you free to begin it," said Anne.
Captain Jim had been handling the book in a kind of reverent rapture. Now he decidedly closed it and laid it aside.
"No, no, you're not going away before you take a cup of tea with the old man," he protested. "I couldn't hear to that--could you, Matey? The life-book will keep, I reckon. I've waited for it this many a year. I can wait a little longer while I'm enjoying my friends."
Captain Jim moved about getting his kettle on to boil, and setting out his bread and butter. Despite his excitement he did not move with his old briskness. His movements were slow and halting. But the girls did not offer to help him. They knew it would hurt his feelings.
"You just picked the right evening to visit me," he said, producing a cake from his cupboard. "Leetle Joe's mother sent me down a big basket full of cakes and pies today. A blessing on all good cooks, says I. Look at this purty cake, all frosting and nuts.
'Tain't often I can entertain in such style. Set in, girls, set in! We'll `tak a cup o' kindness yet for auld lang syne.'"
The girls "set in" right merrily. The tea was up to Captain Jim's best brewing. Little Joe's mother's cake was the last word in cakes; Captain Jim was the prince of gracious hosts, never even permitting his eyes to wander to the corner where the life-book lay, in all its bravery of green and gold. But when his door finally closed behind Anne and Leslie they knew that he went straight to it, and as they walked home they pictured the delight of the old man poring over the printed pages wherein his own life was portrayed with all the charm and color of reality itself.
"I wonder how he will like the ending--the ending I suggested," said Leslie.
She was never to know. Early the next morning Anne awakened to find Gilbert bending over her, fully dressed, and with an expression of anxiety on his face.
"Are you called out?" she asked drowsily.
"No. Anne, I'm afraid there's something wrong at the Point. It's an hour after sunrise now, and the light is still burning. You know it has always been a matter of pride with Captain Jim to start the light the moment the sun sets, and put it out the moment it rises."
Anne sat up in dismay. Through her window she saw the light blinking palely against the blue skies of dawn.
"Perhaps he has fallen asleep over his life-book," she said anxiously, "or become so absorbed in it that he has forgotten the light."
Gilbert shook his head.
"That wouldn't be like Captain Jim. Anyway, I'm going down to see."
"Wait a minute and I'll go with you," exclaimed Anne. "Oh, yes, I must--Little Jem will sleep for an hour yet, and I'll call Susan. You may need a woman's help if Captain Jim is ill."
It was an exquisite morning, full of tints and sounds at once ripe and delicate. The harbor was sparkling and dimpling like a girl; white gulls were soaring over the dunes; beyond the bar was a shining, wonderful sea. The long fields by the shore were dewy and fresh in that first fine, purely-tinted light. The wind came dancing and whistling up the channel to replace the beautiful silence with a music more beautiful still. Had it not been for the baleful star on the white tower that early walk would have been a delight to Anne and Gilbert. But they went softly with fear.
Their knock was not responded to. Gilbert opened the door and they went in.
The old room was very quiet. On the table were the remnants of the little evening feast. The lamp still burned on the corner stand. The First Mate was asleep in a square of sunshine by the sofa.
Captain Jim lay on the sofa, with his hands clasped over the life-book, open at the last page, lying on his breast. His eyes were closed and on his face was a look of the most perfect peace and happiness--the look of one who has long sought and found at last.
"He is asleep?" whispered Anne tremulously.
Gilbert went to the sofa and bent over him for a few moments. Then he straightened up.
"Yes, he sleeps--well," he added quietly. "Anne, Captain Jim has crossed the bar."
They could not know precisely at what hour he had died, but Anne always believed that he had had his wish, and went out when the morning came across the gulf. Out on that shining tide his spirit drifted, over the sunrise sea of pearl and silver, to the haven where lost Margaret waited, beyond the storms and calms.Next