Home -> The Press in the Forest -> The Long Ago -> Chapter 6

Previous Page Home Up One Level Next Page

Jimmy the Lamplighter


Bat in front of the Moon
The sun had gone down behind the willows on the river-bank. The night-clouds still carried the crimson-and-purple of the late twilight; and the deep, still waters of the channel gave back the colors and the gleam of the first stars that heralded the night . . . . . The martins chattered under the eaves, scolding some belated member of the clan who pushed noisily for a lodging-place for the night. The black bat and the darting nighthawk were a-wing, grim spectres of the dusk. The whip-poor-will was crying along the river, and far up-stream the loon called weirdly across the water. . . . .

A small boy was sitting on grandfather's front steps, his elbows on his knees, his chin in his palms, seeing familiar objects disappear in the gathering dusk, and watching the stars come out. He was safe, very safe for grandfather had not gone to the dining-room yet, and his arms could be reached for shelter in two or three bounds, if need be. So it was very pleasant to sit on the steps and see the little old town fold-up its affairs and settle down for the night.

And more particularly to watch for Jimmy, the Lamplighter.

Far up the street, in the almost-dark place, about where Schmidt's shoestore ought to be, a point of light flashed suddenly, flickered, and then burned steadily - and in a moment another, across the street . . . . Then a space of black, and two more points appeared. Down the street they came in pairs, closely following the retreating day.

And the Little Boy on the Steps knew that it was Jimmy, the Lamplighter, working his way swiftly and silently. If only the supper bell would delay awhile The Boy would see old Jimmy light the lamp on grandfather's corner, as he had seen him countless times before.

Then, just as the red glow faded in the West and Night settled down, he came swinging sturdily across the street, his ladder hung on his right shoulder, his wax taper in his left hand. Quickly, unerringly he placed the ladder against the iron post that sent its metallic ring into the clear night air as the ladder struck, and was three rounds up almost before it settled into position. Then a quick opening of the glass; a struggle with the matches in the wind, a hurried closing of the door, one quick look upward; an arm through the ladder and a swing to the shoulder - and Jimmy the Lamplighter was busily off to his next corner.

Once, in the later years, he came with his new lighter - a splendid brass affair, with smooth wood handle, holding a wax taper that flickered fitfully down the street and marked old Jimmy's pathway through the dusk. Although he could reach up and turn on the gas with the key-slot at the end of the scepter and light it with the taper, all at one time, he ever carried the ladder - for none could tell when or where a burner might need fixing, or there would be other need to climb the post as in the days of the lamp and sulphur-match.

Short of stature, firm of build, was old Jimmy. The night storms of innumerable years had bronzed his skin and furrowed his face. Innumerable years, yes - for so faithful a servant as old Jimmy the Lamplighter was not to be cast away by every caprice of the public mind which changed the political aspect of the town council. So Jimmy stayed on through the years and changing administrations -in the sultry heat of the summer nights, or breasting his way through winter's huge snow-drifts, fronting the wind-driven sleet, or dripping through the spring-time rain, his taper hugged tight beneath his thick rubber coat, his matches safe in the depths of an inside pocket.

And tonight, as the Boy still watches, in memory, old Jimmy on his rounds, they are a bit odd, these queer old street lamps that just seem to belong to the night, after the garish blaze of electric signs and the great arc-lights in the shop windows. Yet it shines through the years, this simple lamp of the Long Ago, as it shone through the night of old - a friendly beacon only, the modest servant of an humble race. . . . .

Jimmy's boy Ted, who carried his father's ladder and taper when the good old man laid them down, now nods in his chimney-corner o' nights. But his boy, old Jimmy's grandson, is still a lamplighter - still illuminating the streets of his town, still turning on its lamps when the loon calls weirdly across the river in the gathering dusk.

He bears no ladder nor fitful taper - he dreads no sultry summer heat - he breasts no snowdrifts - he battles against no wind-driven sleet and rain.

There he sits, inside yonder great brick building, his chair tipped back against the wall, reading the evening paper while the giant wheels of the dynamo purr softly and steadily. He lowers his paper - looks at the clock - then out into the early twilight . . . . then slowly turns to the wall, pushes a bit of a button, takes up his paper again, and goes on with his reading - while a thousand lights burn white through the city! . . . .

Ah, Jimmy, Jimmy! the world is all awry, man! Your son's son lights his thousand lamps in a flash that's no more than the puff of wind that used to blow your match out when you stood on your ladder and lighted one!

Decorative Candle

Previous Page Home Up One Level Next Page