On the stern, pine-clad southern coast of Norway, off the picturesquely-situated town of Arendal, stand planted far out into the sea the white walls of the Great and Little Torungen Lighthouses, each on its bare rock-island of corresponding name, the lesser of which seems, as you sail past, to have only just room for the lighthouse and the attendant's residence by the side. It is a wild and lonely situation,—the spray, in stormy weather, driving in sheets against the walls, and eagles and sea-birds not unfrequently dashing themselves to death against the thick glass panes at night; while in winter all communication with the land is very often cut off, either by drift or patchy ice, which is impassable either on foot or by boat.
These, however, and others of the now numerous lights along that dangerous coast, are of comparatively recent erection. Many persons now living can remember the time when for long reaches the only lighting was the gleam of the white breakers themselves. And the captain who had passed the Oxö light off Christiansand might think himself lucky if he sighted the distant Jomfruland up by Kragerö.
About a score of years before the lighthouse was placed on Little Torungen there was, however, already a house there, if it could be dignified by that name, with its back and one side almost up to the eave of the roof stuck into a heap of stones, so that it had the appearance of bending forward to let the storm sweep over it. The low entrance-door opened to the land, and two small windows looked out upon the sea, and upon the boat, which was usually drawn up in a cleft above the sea-weed outside.
When you entered, or, more properly speaking, descended into it, there was more room than might have been expected; and it contained sundry articles of furniture, such as a handsome press and sideboard, which no one would have dreamt of finding under such a roof. In one corner there stood an old spinning-wheel covered with dust, and with a smoke-blackened tuft of wool still hanging from its reel; from which, and from other small indications, it might be surmised that there had once been a woman in the house, and that tuft of wool had probably been her last spin.
There sat now on the bench by the hearth a lonely old man, of a flint-hard and somewhat gloomy countenance, with a mass of white hair falling over his ears and neck, who was generally occupied with some cobbling work, and who from time to time, as he drew out the thread, would make some remark aloud, as if he thought he still had the partner of his life for audience. The look askance over his brass spectacles with which he greeted any casual stranger who might come into the house had very little welcome in it, and an expression about his sunken mouth and sharp chin said plainly enough that the other might state his business at once and be gone. He sought no company; and the only time he had ever been seen at church was when he came rowing over to Tromö with his wife's body in her coffin....