The three days’ voyage by boat and rail was irksome.
I bought my kit at Sainte Croix, on the Central Pacific Railroad, and on
June 1st I began the last stage of my journey via the Sainte Isole broad-gauge,
arriving in the wilderness by daylight. A tedious forced march by
blazed trail, freshly spotted on the wrong side, of course, brought me
to the northern terminus of the rusty, narrow-gauge lumber railway which
runs from the heart of the hushed pine wilderness to the sea.
Already a long train of battered flat-cars, piled with
sluice-props and roughly hewn sleepers, was moving slowly off into the
brooding forest gloom, when I came in sight of the track; but I developed
a gratifying and unexpected burst of speed, shouting all the while.
The train stopped; I swung myself aboard the last car, where a pleasant
young fellow was sitting on the rear brake, chewing spruce and reading
“Come aboard, sir,” he said, looking up with a smile;
“I guess you’re the man in a hurry.”
“I’m looking for a man named Halyard,” I said, dropping
rifle and knapsack on the fresh-cut, fragrant pile of pine. “Are you Halyard?”
“No, I’m Francis Lee, bossing the mica pit at Port-of-Waves,”
he replied, “but this letter is from Halyard, asking me to look out for
a man in a hurry from Bronx Park, New York.”
“I’m that man,” said I, filling my pipe and offering him
a share of the weed of peace, and we sat side by side smoking very amiably,
until a signal from the locomotive sent him forward and I was left alone,
lounging at ease, head pillowed on both arms, watching the blue sky flying
through the branches overhead.
Long before we came in sight of the ocean I smelled it;
the fresh, salt aroma stole into my senses, drowsy with the heated odor
of pine and hemlock, and I sat up, peering ahead into the dusky sea of
Fresher and fresher came the wind from the sea, in puffs,
in mild, sweet breezes, in steady, freshening currents, blowing the feathery
crowns of the pines, setting the balsam’s blue tufts rocking.
Lee wandered back over the long line of flats, balancing
himself nonchalantly as the cars swung around a sharp curve, where water
dripped from a newly propped sluice that suddenly emerged from the depths
of the forest to run parallel to the railroad track.
“Built it this spring,” he said, surveying his handiwork,
which seemed to undulate as the cars swept past. “It runs to the cove—or
ought to—” He stopped abruptly with a thoughtful glance at me.
“So you’re going over to Halyard’s?” he continued, as
though answering a question asked by himself.
“You’ve never been there—of course?”
“No,” I said, “and I’m not likely to go again.”
I would have told him why I was going if I had not already
begun to feel ashamed of my idiotic errand.
“I guess you’re going to look at those birds of his,”
continued Lee, placidly.
“I guess I am,” I said, sulkily, glancing askance to see
whether he was smiling.
But he only asked me, quite seriously, whether a
great auk was really a very rare bird; and I told him that the last one
ever seen had been found dead off Labrador in January, 1870. Then
I asked him whether these birds of Halyard’s were really great auks, and
he replied, somewhat indifferently, that he supposed they were—at least,
nobody had ever before seen such birds near Port-of-Waves.
“There’s something else,” he said, running a pine-sliver
through his pipe-stem— “something that interests us all here more than
auks, big or little. I suppose I might as well speak of it, as you are
bound to hear about it sooner or later.”
He hesitated, and I could see that he was embarrassed,
searching for the exact words to convey his meaning.
“If,” said I, “you have anything in this region more important
to science than the great auk, I should be very glad to know about it.”
Perhaps there was the faintest tinge of sarcasm in my
voice, for he shot a sharp glance at me and then turned slightly. After
a moment, however, he put his pipe into his pocket, laid hold of the brake
with both hands, vaulted to his perch aloft, and glanced down at me.
“Did you ever hear of the harbor-master?” he asked, maliciously.
“Which harbor-master?” I inquired.
“You’ll know before long,” he observed, with a satisfied
glance into perspective.
This rather extraordinary observation puzzled me. I waited
for him to resume, and, as he did not, I asked him what he meant.
“If I knew,” he said, “I’d tell you. But, come to think
of it, I’d be a fool to go into details with a scientific man. You’ll
hear about the harbor-master— perhaps you will see the harbor-master.
In that event I should be glad to converse with you on the subject.”
I could not help laughing at his prim and precise manner,
and, after a moment, he also laughed, saying:
“It hurts a man’s vanity to know he knows a thing that
somebody else knows he doesn’t know. I’m damned if I say another
word about the harbor-master until you’ve been to Halyard’s!”
“A harbor-master,” I persisted, “is an official who superintends
the mooring of ships—isn’t he?”
But he refused to be tempted into conversation, and we
lounged silently on the lumber until a long, thin whistle from the locomotive
and a rush of stinging salt-wind brought us to our feet. Through
the trees I could see the bluish-black ocean, stretching out beyond black
headlands to meet the clouds; a great wind was roaring among the trees
as the train slowly came to a stand-still on the edge of the primeval forest.
Lee jumped to the ground and aided me with my rifle and
pack, and then the train began to back away along a curved side-track which,
Lee said, led to the mica-pit and company stores.
“Now what will you do?” he asked, pleasantly. “I can give
you a good dinner and a decent bed to-night if you like—and I’m sure Mrs.
Lee would be very glad to have you stop with us as long as you choose.”
I thanked him, but said that I was anxious to reach Halyard’s
before dark, and he very kindly led me along the cliffs and pointed out
“This man Halyard,” he said, “is an invalid. He lives
at a cove called Black Harbor, and all his truck goes through to him over
the company’s road. We receive it here, and send a pack-mule through once
a month. I’ve met him; he’s a bad-tempered hypochondriac, a cynic at heart,
and a man whose word is never doubted. If he says he has a great auk, you
may be satisfied he has.”
My heart was beating with excitement at the prospect;
I looked out across the wooded headlands and tangled stretches of dune
and hollow, trying to realize what it might mean to me, to Professor Farrago,
to the world, if I should lead back to New York a live auk.
“He’s a crank,” said Lee; “frankly, I don’t like him.
If you find it unpleasant there, come back to us.”
“Does Halyard live alone?” I asked.
“Yes—except for a professional trained nurse—poor thing!”
“No,” said Lee, disgustedly.
Presently he gave me a peculiar glance; hesitated, and
finally said: “Ask Halyard to tell you about his nurse and—the harbor-master.
Good-bye—I’m due at the quarry. Come and stay with us whenever you
care to; you will find a welcome at Port-of-Waves.”
We shook hands and parted on the cliff, he turning back
into the forest along the railway, I starting northward, pack slung, rifle
over my shoulder. Once I met a group of quarrymen, faces burned brick-red,
scarred hands swinging as they walked. And, as I passed them with
a nod, turning, I saw that they also had turned to look after me, and I
caught a word or two of their conversation, whirled back to me on the sea-wind.
They were speaking of the harbor-master.
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