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THE OLD MAN'S HOME.
strong contrast to the lines which must
have been indented upon it by care and WAS walking out on the evening of suffering, no less than the lapse of years.
the 18th of April, 1843, when my at- I cannot recall the words of the chance tention was arrested by a sigh from some observation which I addressed to him :
I turned round, and saw a but it related to the lateness and inclemvenerable old man seated upon a fragment ency of the season, and I was at once of rock by the road-side. His hair was struck by the singularity of his reply. white as silver ; his face deeply furrowed, “ Yes, yes,” he said musingly," the winand yet pervaded by a general expression ter has indeed been very long and dreary ; of childish simplicity, which formed a and yet it has been gladdened, from time
one near me,
to time, by a few glimpses of the coming | indeed, traveled a long and solitary jourspring."
ney; and at times I am weary, very weary; I now observed him more closely. There but my resting-place now must be near at was a strangeness in his dress which first hand." excited my suspicion, and I fancied that I “And whither, then," I asked, could detect a restlessness in his light you going ?" blue eye which spoke of a mind that had “ Home, sir, home," he replied ; and gone astray. “ Old man,” I said, “ you while his voice lost its sadness, his face seem tired ; have you come from far ?" seemed to brighten, and his eye grow
“Ah, woe is me," he replied, in the steady at the thought ; “I hope and believe same melancholy tone as before ; "I have, I that I am going home.”
I now imagined that I had judged him “ And have all your children left you ?" hastily, and that the answers which I had I asked. ascribed to a wandering intellect proceed- “ All, all,” he replied. “My wife took ed in truth from depth of religious feeling. them with her when she went away. She In order to ascertain this, I asked : “Have stayed with me, sir, but seven years, and you been long a traveler ?"
left me on the very day on which she “ Four score and thirteen years,” he
It seems strange now that I could replied; and observing my look of as- have lived with them day after day withsumed wonder, he repeated a second time, out a thought that they were so near their more slowly and sadly than before, "Four journey's end, while I should travel onscore and thirteen years."
ward so many winters alone. It is now “ The home,” I said, “must be very sixty years since they all went home, and far off that requires so long a journey.” have been waiting for me there. But, sir, & Nay, nay,
kind sir, do not speak thus," I often think that the time, which has he answered : “our home is never far off ; seemed so long and dreary to me, has and I might, perhaps, have arrived at it passed away like a few short hours to years and years ago. But often during them.” the early spring I stopped to gather the At this moment, the sun, which had flowers that grew beneath my feet; and been obscured by a passing cloud, suddenly once I laid me down and fell asleep upon shone forth, and its rays were reflected by the way. And so more than four score a path of gold in the silent waters. The and thirteen years have been wanted to old man pointed to it with a quiet smile : bring me to the home which many reach the change was in such harmony with his in a few days. Alas! all whom I love own thoughts, that I do not wonder at the most dearly have long since passed me on metaphor it suggested to him. “ There," the road, and I am now left to finish my said he, " is the blessing of the mourner! journey alone.”
See! how it shines down from the heaven During this reply, I had become alto- above, and gilds with its radiance the gether ashamed of my former suspicion, dreary sea of life.” and I now looked into the old man's face “ True,” I replied ;
" and the sea of life with a feeling of reverence and love. The would be no longer dreary, if it were not features were unchanged; but instead of for the passing clouds which at times keep the childish expression which I had before back from it the light of heaven.” His imobserved, I believed them to be brightened mediate answer to this observation proved with the heavenliness of the second child the image, which he had employed, to be hood, while the restlessness of the light one long familiar to his own mind. “There blue eye only spoke to me of an imagina- are, indeed, clouds,” he said, " but they tion which loved to wander amid the are never in heaven; they hover very treasures of the unseen world. I pur- near the earth ; and it is only because our posely, however, continued the conversa- sight is so dim and indistinct that they tion under the same metaphor as before. seem to be in the sky." “ You have not, then," I said, “ been al- A silence of some minutes followed this ways a solitary traveler ?"
remark. I was, in truth, anxious that the * Ah, no,” he replied : " for a few years old man should pursue the metaphor fura dear wife was walking step by step at ther. But the gleam of light passed away my side ; and there were little children, as the sun sunk behind the western hills. too, who were just beginning to follow us. His feelings appeared to undergo a corAnd I was so happy then, that I some responding change, and he exclaimed, times forgot we were but travelers, and hastily, “ The day is fast drawing to a fancied that I had found a home. But close ; and the night must be near at hand; my wife, sir, never forgot it. She would I must hasten onward on my journey. again and again remind me that we must Come, kind sir, and I will show you where so live together in this life, that in the my friends are waiting for me." world to come we might have life ever- I was wondering whether he now spoke lasting. They are words that I scarcely metaphorically or not, when my thoughts regarded at the time, but I love to repeat were suddenly turned into a new channel, them now.
They speak to me of meeting and my former painful suspicions returned. her again at the end of our journey." As the old man leaned upon his staff, his
wrists became exposed to view, and I saw ing objects of sight and sense, he never that they were marked with deep blue failed to recognize the images of spiritual lines, which could only have been caused things. by the galling of a chain in former years. We walked on together for a few min
The poor wanderer observed the look I utes without speaking ; but the silence gave them. A sudden flush of shame over was suddenly broken by the creaking of a spread his countenance, and he hurriedly cart-wheel, which grated harshly on my drew down his garment to conceal them. ear; and almost before I could look round, It was, however, but a momentary impulse; 1 heard a voice of rude triumph behind he again exposed them to my view, and mo, crying out: " There he is! there he himself gazed sadly upon them as he said : is! there goes the old boy! Stop him! “Why should I try to hide them, when stop him, sir! he is mad.” they are left there to remind me constantly I have no heart to describe the scene of my true condition? For in times past that followed : the poor wanderer shuffled I have borne the pressure of more wearing forward, with a nervous, hurried step; but bonds than those; and though I have been in a few seconds the cart was at his side ; released from them, no one can tell how the driver immediately jumped out, and dark and deep is the stain that they have seizing him by the collar, with many a left upon my soul."
rude word and coarse jest, tried to force Again I was in doubt whether to inter- him to enter it. For a moment, surprise pret his words literally or not; but my and indignation deprived me of speech, for belief now was, that the old man almost had begun to regard the old man with unconsciously used the language of alle- such a feeling of reverent love, that it algory. Long habit had so taught him to most seemed to me like a profanation of blend together the seen and the unseen holy ground. When, however, he turned world, that he could not separate them. his eyes toward me, with an imploring Life was to him a mirror, and in the pass- I look, 1 recovered myself sufficiently to de
mand by what authority he dared thus treatment of the old man, and insisted on molest an inoffensive traveler on his jour- his returning to the cart, and desisting ney.
In my inmost heart I dreaded from all further interference. My hopes the answer I should probably receive ; were greatly raised by this, and I flattered neither was my foreboding wrong; the myself I should now have little difficulty man laughed rudely as he replied : “He in obtaining for the poor wanderer the inhas been mad, quite mad, for more than dulgence which he sought. But I soon fifty years ; he escaped this morning from found my mistake, and, under the irritated the asylum, and one of the keepers has feelings of the moment, almost preferred been with me all day long scouring the the rude conduct of the first comer to the country in search of him."
quiet determination with which his comIt was in vain that I sought a pretext panion listened to my request. for disbelieving the truth of the story. I He merely smiled at the account I gave could not help feeling that it did but con- of my own interview with the old man; firm a suspicion which, in spite of myself, and when I suggested that it contained no had kept crossing my own mind : for the evidence of insanity, shook his head and bright coloring which was shed by faith replied: “You do not know poor Robin. on the thoughts and words of the old man His notions about home are the peculiar was not alone a sufficient evidence that feature of his madness; but you are not they were under the guidance of reason. the first person that has been deceived by Yet, of one thing, at least, I felt sure, that, them.” whatever were the state of his intellect, He spoke in a low tone, as though he it could be no imaginary cause that now so was anxious not to be overheard. But strongly moved him. My heart bled for the precaution seemed unnecessary ; for, him as I listened to the pathetic earnest- though the old man had mechanically reness with which he implored the protection tained his grasp on my garments, he was that I was unable to afford. He even for- now looking eagerly toward the village got to use the language of metaphor in the church, and I could see, from the exagony of his grief. “Indeed, indeed, pression of his countenance, that his sir,” he said, " they call me mad, but do thoughts had passed away from the scene not believe them, for I am not mad now. around him. There, there,” he added, pointing toward When I found my arguments of no avail, the church,“ 'my wife and children are I changed my ground, and besought as a waiting for me. It was on this very day favor that he would make the trial of that they went away, and we have now letting the old man proceed to the end been parted sixty years. I have traveled of his journey, and trust to his promise to very far to join them once again before I return quietly from thence. “ Sir," he die. O, have pity upon me! I only ask replied, in a louder voice, “ I should have for one little half hour, that I may go in no more hesitation in trusting the word of peace to the end of my journey." poor Robin than your own.
Large drops of moisture trembled on deceived me; and, under ordinary cirhis forehead as he uttered these words ; cumstances, I would at once grant his his whole face became convulsed with request ; but the hour is late, and, as it is, emotion, and he clung with such intensity the night will close in upon us before we to my garment, that his rude assailant can get back. The responsibility will tried in vain to unloose his grasp. The rest upon me, if mischief should arise from man himself was evidently frightened by any additional delay. I am sure Robin the agitation which his own violence had himself would not desire it.” As he said caused, and appeared doubtful how to pro- this, he turned toward the old man ; but ceed, when the scene was fortunately in his countenance was unchanged, his eye terrupted by the arrival of his companion. still fixed upon the church, and he either
He was the keeper who had been sent had not heard the words at all, or they from the asylum. His look and manner had failed to convey any distinct imafforded a striking contrast to those of the pression to his mind. first comer, who proved to be merely the After a pause, I again renewed my enowner of the vehicle, which had been hired treaties, urging that it would at least be a for the occasion. Immediately on his ar- better plan than having recourse to viorival, he reprimanded him for his rude I lence, which must eventually produce a
He never “ Of course,'
far more serious delay.
“ for to-morrow I shall not be there. If said the attendant, “ anything is better than you see me again, kind stranger, it must having recourse to violence.” “Then,” | be at home. May God bless you, and said I, “you accede to my request ?" guide you on your way.” The cart was “Only,” replied he, with a provoking already in motion, but he looked back once smile, “ in case all other methods fail ; but more, and waved his hand as he said, as the delay would be a real inconvenience Good-by, sir. Remember that we all to us, you must permit me first to try my are going home !" powers of persuasion. Let me now beg They were the last words I heard him of you, whatever surprise you may feel, speak, and it is perhaps from that cause to be careful to express none.” He again that they made so strong an impression on lowered his voice as he said these words, my mind; for often since then, when I and, in spite of the dislike inspired by the have been tempted to wander from the self-confidence of his manner, and of other right path, or to murmur as I walked along stronger emotions, my curiosity was ex- it, I have thought upon the old man's partcited to know how he would proceed. He ing warning, and asked myself the quesplaced himself opposite to the old man, so tion, “ Am I not going home ?" as to intercept his view of the village, and then, having fixed his eye calmly and Not many months elapsed, and I was steadfastly upon him, with an appearance informed that the old man had indeed gone of real interest, thus soothingly addressed home; and on visiting the asylum I asked him: “I would gladly go on with you, to see the room which poor Robin had ocRobin ; but am sure you are under some cupied. mistake. Your wife and children cannot “ This is it, sir,” said my conductor, as be in yonder village ; they are not there, he threw open the door of a low narrow they are at home. Come quietly with me cell. “ You will find it smaller and more now, and perhaps this evening you may comfortless than many others, but it is the go home also."
one in which he was placed when he was These simple words touched some hid- first brought here ; and he had become so den chord in the old man's heart, and fond of his little window, and the view totheir effect was almost magical. All other ward the East, that it would have been a feelings passed away, and I forgot the mistaken kindness to force him to change presence of his companions, as I watched it." the change which they produced. His I scarcely heard the words of apology, features became composed, his hand re- for I felt a sudden thrill as I found myself laxed its hold, and his voice resumed its ushered thus unexpectedly into the chamformer tranquil tone, as he slowly repeated : ber of death. The old man was lying • They are not there, they are at home ; upon his narrow bed, and a stream of they are not there, they are at home. light through the open window fell upon True, very true; they are not there, they his tranquil countenance. A single glance are at home."
was sufficient to tell me not only that he Presently he raised his eyes to heaven, was indeed dead, but that his end had been and the attendants, no less than myself, full of peace. There was no convulsion were overawed by the solemnity of his of the features, and the first symptoms of
There was a silence of a few decay had not yet appeared. seconds, during which he seemed to listen had been left unclosed, but the wandering intently ; and then, as though he had heard light was no longer there, and the smile some echo from above, which confirmed which from time to time had been wont to the hope that had been held out to him, play across his lips, rested quietly upon he confidently added : “And I also shall
The one idea that his look go home; and this very evening I shall be and posture alike conveyed to the mind there."
was that of perfect tranquillity and repose. I was now forced to bid adieu to the old I felt that his long journey had at length
He appeared so sorry to leave me, been finished, and that the old man was at that I promised to come and see him. I rest in his home. did not like to use the word asylum, so I My companion also seemed for a while said at his dwelling-place.
absorbed in thought. He advanced softly “Not in my dwelling-place,” he said, to the bedside, and it was not until, with