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The last Palatine light.

[One of the best-known traditions of our Atlantic coast is that of the “Palatine light,” popularly associated with the wreck, off

Block Island in 1720, of a ship bearing emigrants from the
German Palatinates. The light is reported as appearing at irregular intervals for more than a century, and was last seen in 1832. Its appearance is minutely described by an eye-witness, a resident physician, who saw it Dec. 20, 1810. See Sheffield: Block Island, p. 42.]

Roger Harlakenden climbed the hill
Where no other fisherman dared to go;
The east-wind was blowing bitter and chill,
Sheer was the cliff and the footing slow;
Handgrip on rock and knee on the sod,--
At last on the headland's height he trod.

In the days of the pirates three footpaths led
To that dizzy cliff; but now there was none
Save for the fox, the goat, and the bird:
One path o'er the seaweeds green and red;
From high-water mark to the cave-mouth, one;
And thence o'er the Pirates' Hill, the third. [60]

Roger Harlakenden threw him down,
Breathless at last, on the thin dry grass;
He could see his dory that glistened brown,
He could see the men and the women pass,
Tending the fish-flakes, from door to door;
And then he looked off to the ocean-floor.

Like a land-locked haven in sight of the sea
The life of the twelvemonth past was spread;
Peaceful contentment of heart and head
Since the Lord had found him, from sin set free.
Yet sometimes the thought of his wilder years
Rushed back upon him, teeming with ill,--
Wicked joys and delicious fears;
And then he climbed to the Pirates' Hill.

Was it worth the strength of a man like him
To dwell by the bay, with a calm sweet wife;
No stir in the blood, no peril of limb,
No wild, fierce joy of the coming strife?
Just to clean his boat and to haul the seines,
To cook the fish by the drift-wood fire,
To play with his boy through the autumn rains,
And on Sunday sing with his wife in the choir? [61]

Straight from the far horizon's line
The east-wind blew; the smell of the brine
Banished the months of weary peace,
And bade this desolate torpor cease.
It was almost sunset; there was the sea.
Only a night's hard pull, and he
With his dory made fast to a whale-ship's side
Could rock once more on the ocean wide.

What to him the fare or the men?
The ruder the better. He held his own
Still with the roughest. God! how he longed
To be once more where the sailors thronged,
Or the old-time wreckers might shout again
On some cruel isle of the middle zone!

See! with the sunset came once more
The Palatine Light, the ship on fire!
Each generation, son and sire,
Had watched it gleam, since the current bore
The fated ship to a merciless wreck,
With the crew in sight on the blazing deck.

There was the phantom now! the flame
Climbed stay and halyard to pennon-staff! [62]
There was neither pity nor joy nor shame
In Roger Harlakenden's bitter laugh.
“Let it burn!” he said; “let the ocean roar!
I have looked on burning ships before.

“I will watch that light with a steadfast eye
From this moment out, till the sun goes down;
If it lasts till the last red sunbeam,!
Will be quit this night of the cursed town!”
Then he tried to think of his wife and child;
But his lips grew stern, and the wind was wild.

Suddenly met him the startled face
Of a boy who had climbed to that dizzy place,--
Half-triumphant and yet half-scared,
But daring whatever his father dared.
The fisherman trembled, 'twixt wrath and fright.
Terror next in that young voice rang:
“Father!” it cried. Harlakenden sprang--
Out went the gleam of the Palatine Light!

He clasped the child in his strong embrace,
He thrust back the curls from the rosy face;
Then faded the last bright flush of day, [63]

A shadow fell on the ocean-swells,
And soft from the mainland dim and gray
Came the sweet, far sound of the Christmas bells.
Never since then has a sailor seen
The lurid wraith of the Palatine.

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