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Chapter 33

That very night, I looked in at the little shop beneath us and met
Riggs. It was no small blessing, just as I was entering upon dark
and unknown ways of life, to meet this hoary headed man with all
his lanterns. He would sell you anchors and fathoms of chain and
rope enough to hang you to the moon but his 'lights'were the great
attraction of Riggs s. He had every kind of lantern that had ever
swung on land or sea. After dark, when light was streaming out of
its open door and broad window Riggs's looked like the side of an
old lantern itself. It was a door, low and wide, for a time when
men had big round bellies and nothing to do but fill them and
heads not too far above their business. It was a window gone blind
with dust and cobwebs so it resembled the dim eye of age. If the
door were closed its big brass knocker and massive iron latch
invited the passer. An old ship's anchor and a coil of chain lay
beside it. Blocks and heavy bolts, steering wheels, old brass
compasses, coils of rope and rusty chain lay on the floor and
benches, inside the shop. There were rows of lanterns, hanging on
the bare beams. And there was Riggs. He sat by a dusty desk and
gave orders in a sleepy, drawling tone to the lad who served him.
An old Dutch lantern, its light softened with green glass, sent a
silver bean across the gloomy upper air of the shop that evening.
Riggs held an old un lantern with little streams of light bursting
through its perforated walls. He was blind, one would know it at a
glance. Blindness is so easy to be seen. Riggs was showing it to a
stranger.

'Turn down the lights,' he said and the boy got his step-ladder and
obeyed him.

Then he held it aloft in the dusk and the little lantern was like a
castle tower with many windows lighted, and, when he set it down,
there was a golden sprinkle on the floor as if something had
plashed into a magic pool of light there in the darkness.

Riggs lifted the lantern, presently, and stood swinging it in his
hand. Then its rays were sown upon the darkness falling silently
into every nook and corner of the gloomy shop and breaking into
flowing dapples on the wall.

'See how quick it is!' said he as the rays flashed with the speed of
lightning. 'That is the only traveller from Heaven that travels fast
enough to ever get to earth.

Then came the words that had a mighty fitness for his tongue.

'Hail, holy light! Offspring of Heaven first born.

His voice rose and fell, riding the mighty rhythm of inspired song.
As he stood swinging the lantern, then, he reminded me of a
chanting priest behind the censer. In a moment he sat down, and,
holding the lantern between his knees, opened its door and felt the
candle. Then as the light streamed out upon his hands, he rubbed
them a time, silently, as if washing them in the bright flood.

'One dollar for this little box of daylight,' he said.

'Blind?' said the stranger as he paid him the money.

'No,' said Riggs, 'only dreaming as you are.

I wondered what he meant by the words 'dreaming as you are .

'Went to bed on my way home to marry,' he continued, stroking his
long white beard, 'and saw the lights go out an' went asleep and it
hasn't come morning yet - that's what I believe. I went into a
dream. Think I'm here in a shop talking but I'm really in my bunk
on the good ship Arid coming home. Dreamed everything since
then - everything a man could think of. Dreamed I came home and
found Annie dead, dreamed of blindness, of old age, of poverty, of
eating and drinking and sleeping and of many people who pass like
dim shadows and speak to me - you are one of them. And
sometimes I forget I am dreaming and am miserable, and then I
remember and am happy. I know when the morning comes I shall
wake and laugh at all these phantoms. And I shall pack my things
and go up on deck, for we shall be in the harbour probably - ay!
maybe Annie and mother will be waving their hands on the dock!

The old face had a merry smile as he spoke of the morning and all
it had for him.

'Seems as if it had lasted a thousand years,' he continued, yawning
and rubbing his eyes. 'But I've dreamed the like before, and, my
God! how glad I felt when I woke in the morning.

It gave me an odd feeling - this remarkable theory of the old man. I
thought then it would be better for most of us if we could think all
our misery a dream and have his faith in the morning - that it would
bring back the things we have lost. I had come to buy a lock for my
door, but I forgot my errand and sat down by Riggs while the
stranger went away with his lantern.

'You see no reality in anything but happiness,' I said.

'It's all a means to that end,' he answered. 'It is good for me, this
dream. I shall be all the happier when I do wake, and I shall love
Annie all the better, I suppose.

'I wish I could take my ifi luck as a dream and have faith only in
good things,' I said.

'All that is good shall abide,' said he, stroking his white beard, 'and
all evil shall vanish as the substance of a dream. In the end the
only realities are God and love and Heaven. To die is just like
waking up in the morning.

'But I know I'm awake,' I said.

'You think you are - that's a part of your dream. Sometimes I think
I'm awake - it all seems so real to me. But I have thought it out,
and I am the only man I meet that knows he is dreaming. When
you do wake, in the morning, you may remember how you thought
you came to a certain shop and made some words with a man as to
whether you were both dreaming, and you will laugh and tell your
friends about it. Hold on! I can feel the ship lurching. I believe I
am going to wake.

He sat a moment leaning back in his chair with closed eyes, and a
silence fell upon us in the which I could hear only the faint ticking
of a tall clock that lifted its face out of the gloom beyond me.

'You there?' he whispered presently.

'I am here,' I said.

'Odd!' he muttered. 'I know how it will be - I know how it has been
before. Generally come to some high place and a great fear seizes
me. I slip, I fall - fall - fall, and then I wake.

After a little silence I heard him snoring heavily. He was still
leaning back in his chair. I walked on tiptoe to the door where the
boy stood looking out.

'Crazy?' I whispered.

'Dunno,' said he, smiling.

I went to my room above and wrote my first tale, which was
nothing more or less than some brief account of what I had heard
and seen down at the little shop that evening. I mailed it next day
to the Knickerbocker, with stamps for return if unavailable.

Irving Bacheller