The Beautiful Gate by William H G Kingston

Story type: Literature

One morning, by break of day, old Josiah, who lived in the little cottage he had built, on the borders of the Great Forest, found his wife awake long before him–indeed she had scarcely closed her eyes that night; and she was ready to speak the moment his eyes opened; for she had promised their dear Tiny, their only child, that she would have a private talk with his father. So she said in a low, but distinct voice, as though she were talking to herself:

“I have nursed him, and watched over him year after year. He has been like the sun shining in my path, and precious as a flower. There is not another like him. I love him better than I do my eyes. If he were away I might as well be blind.”

“That puts me in mind of what I’ve been dreaming,” said the old man. “If I was only sure that he would come at last to the Beautiful Gate, I wouldn’t say another word. But who can tell? And it it actually happened that he lost his sight–poor Tiny!”

Josiah did not finish what he had begun to say, but hid his face in the bed-clothes, and then the good wife knew that he was weeping, and her own tears began to fall, and she could not say a word.

After breakfast, when Josiah had gone off into the woods, the mother told Tiny of this bit of a conversation, but of course she could not explain about the dream. She knew no more what the boy’s father had dreamed than you or I do, only she knew it was something curious and fanciful about the Beautiful Gate.

Tiny listened with great interest to his mother’s words, and he smiled as he kissed her when she had done speaking; and he said, “Wait till this evening, mother dear, and you shall see.”

And so she waited till the evening.

When they were gathered around the kitchen-fire at night, Tiny took down the harp that hung on the kitchen wall.

It had hung there ever since the day that Tiny was born. A poor old pilgrim gave it on that very day to Josiah in exchange for a loaf of bread. By that I do not mean that Josiah sold the loaf to the poor old hungry pilgrim. Josiah was too charitable to make a trade with a beggar. But the stranger said this strange thing to Josiah:–“I am near to death–I shall sing no more–I am going home. Keep my harp for me until a singer asks you for it, and promises you that he will sing unto the Lord a New Song. Give it to him; but be sure before you do so that he is worthy to sing the song unto the Lord.”

So Josiah had taken the harp home with him, and hung it on the wall, as I said, on the day that Tiny was born. And he waited for the coming of the poet who should have that wondrous song to sing.

The father, when he saw what it was the boy would do, made a little move as if he would prevent him; but the mother playfully caught the old man’s hand, and held it in hers, while she said aloud, “Only one song, Tiny. Your father’s rest was disturbed last night–so get through with it as quickly as you can.”

At these last words the old man looked well pleased, for he fancied that his wife agreed with him, because he would not yet allow himself to believe that it was for his boy Tiny that the old pilgrim left the harp.

And yet never was a sweeter voice than that of the young singer–old Josiah acknowledged that to himself, and old Josiah knew–he was a judge of such things, for all his life he had been singing songs in his heart.

Yes! though you would never have imagined such a thing, that is, if you are in the habit of judging folks from their outward appearance–he had such a rough, wrinkled face, brown with freckles and tan, such coarse, shaggy grey hair, and such a short, crooked, awkward figure, you never would have guessed what songs he was for ever singing in his heart with his inward voice–they were songs which worldly people would never hear–only God and the angels heard them. Only God and the holy angels!–for as to Kitty, though she was Josiah’s best earthly friend, though she knew he was such an excellent man, though she believed that there was not a better man than he in all the world, though year by year he had been growing lovelier and lovelier in her eyes–yes! though his hair, of course, became rougher and greyer, and his figure more bent, and his hands harder, and his teeth were nearly all gone!–growing lovelier because of his excellence, which increased with age as good wine does–still even she, who knew him better than any person on earth, even she knew him so little that she never so much as dreamed that this wonderful voice of Tiny’s was but the echo of what had been going on in Josiah’s heart and mind ever since he was himself a child!

It was because he understood all this so very well that Josiah was troubled when he thought about his son.

But to go back to the singer in the chimney-corner. Tiny sat alone on his side of the fire-place, in the little chair fashioned out of knotted twigs of oak which his father had made for him long ago. Opposite him were the old folks–the father with his arms folded on his broad chest, the mother knitting beside him, now and then casting a sidelong glance at the old man to see how it went with him.

Wonderful was that song which Tiny sung!

Even the winter wind seemed hushing its voice to hear it, and through the little windows looked the astonished moon.

Josiah lifted up his eyes in great amazement as he heard it, as if he had altogether lost himself. It was nothing like his dream that Tiny sang, though to be sure it was all about a Beautiful Gate.

Altogether about the Beautiful Gate! and of the young poet, who, passing through it, went his way into the great Temple of the World, singing his great songs, borne like a conqueror with a golden canopy carried over him, and a golden crown upon his head! Riding upon a white horse splendidly caparisoned, and crowds of people strewing multitudes of flowers before him! And of the lady who placed the victor’s crown upon his head! She was by his side, more beautiful than any dream, rejoicing in his triumph, and leading him on towards her father’s palace, the Beautiful Pearl Gates of which were thrown wide open, and the king himself with a bare head stood there on foot, to welcome the poet to the great feast.

With this the song ended, and with a grand sweep of the silver strings Tiny gently arose, and hung the harp against the wall, and sat down again with folded hands and blushing cheek, half frightened, now when all was over, to think what he had done. The fire had vanished from his eyes, and the red glow of his cheek went following after; and if you had gone into Josiah’s kitchen just then, you never would have guessed that he was the enchanter who had been raising such a storm of splendid music.

At first the old man could not speak–tears choked his words. “Ahem,” said he once or twice, and he cleared his voice with the intention of speaking; but for a long time no words followed. At length he said, shaking his head,–“It isn’t like what I dreamed–it isn’t like what I dreamed;” and one would have supposed that the old man felt himself guilty of a sin by the way he looked at Tiny, it was with so very sad a look.

“But beautifuller,” said the mother, “beautifuller, isn’t it, Josiah!”

“Yes,” answered Josiah; but still he spoke as if he had some secret misgiving–as if he were not quite sure that the beauty of the song had a right to do away with the sadness of his dream.

“But,” said Tiny, timidly, yet as if determined that he would have the matter quite settled now and for ever–“am I a singer, father? am I a poet?”

Slowly came the answer–but it actually came, “Yes,” with a broken voice and troubled look, and then the old man buried his face in his hands, as if he had pronounced some dreadful doom upon his only son.

“Then,” said Tiny boldly, rising from his seat, “I must go into the world. It says it needs me; and father, shall your son hide himself when any one in need calls to him for help? I never would have gone, father, if you and mother had not said that I was a singer and a poet. For you I know would never deceive me; and I made a vow that if ever a time came when you should say that to me, then I would go. But this is my home, father and mother; I shall never get another. The wide world could not give me one. It is not rich enough to build me a home like this.”

See also  A Casual Of The Sea by Christopher Morley

“Don’t speak in that way,” said the old man; and he turned away that Tiny should not see his face, and he bent his head upon the back of his chair.

Presently Tiny went softly up to him and laid his hand upon Josiah’s arm, and his voice trembled while he said, “Dear father, are you angry with me?”

“No, Tiny,” said Josiah; “but what are you going to do with the world? You! … my poor boy.”

“Good!” said Tiny with a loud, courageous voice–as if he were prepared, single handed, to fight all the evil there was in the world–“Good, father, or I would not have dared to take the pilgrim’s harp down from the wall. I will sing,” continued he still more hopefully, and looking up smiling into the old man’s face–“I will sing for the sick and the weary, and cheer them; I will tell the people that God smiles on patient labour, and has a reward in store for the faithful, better than gold and rubies. I will get money for my songs, and feed the hungry; I will comfort the afflicted; I will–“

“But,” said Josiah solemnly, lifting his head from the back of the chair, and looking at Tiny as if he would read every thought there was in the boy’s heart, “What did all that mean about the Beautiful Gate? Ah, my son, you were thinking more of your own pride and glory, than of the miserable and the poor!”

“It was only to prove to you that I had a voice, and that I could sing, father,” answered Tiny.

Long gazed Josiah upon the face of his son as he heard this. Then he closed his eyes, and bent his head, and Tiny knew that he was praying. That was a solemn silence–you could have heard a pin drop on the kitchen floor.

Presently the old man arose, and without speaking, went softly and took the harp down from the wall. “Take it,” said he, handing it to Tiny, “Take it–it is yours. Do what you will. The Lord direct your goings.”

“Without your blessing, father?” said Tiny, stepping back and folding his arms upon his breast. He would not take the harp. Then, with both hands pressed on Tiny’s head, the old man said, “May God bless you, my son.”

The old man’s face was very calm then, and there was not a tear in his eyes as he spoke; he had begun to hope again. And he turned away from Tiny to comfort his poor wife.

“Many, many years we lived alone before our Tiny came,” said he, “and we were very happy; and we will be very happy yet, though he is going away. He is our all; but if the world needs him he shall go and serve it.” Nothing more said Josiah, for his heart was full–too full for further speech.

Well, Tiny the singer went sailing down the river one bright morning, on a boat loaded with wood, which in that part of the country is called lumber; his harp was on his arm, and the rest of his worldly goods upon his back.

Tiny sat upon the top of the lumber, the most valuable part of the ship’s load by far, though the seamen and the owner of the lumber thought him only a silly country lad, who was going down to the city, probably on a foolish errand. And Tiny looked at the banks of the river, right and left, as they floated down it, and thought of all the songs he would sing.

All the first day it was of the poor he would help, of the desolate hearts he would cheer, of the weary lives he would encourage, that he thought; the world that had need of him should never find him hard of hearing when it called to him for help. And much he wondered–the poet Tiny sailing down the river towards the world, how it happened that the world with all its mighty riches, and its hosts on hosts of helpers, should ever stand in need of him! But though he wondered, his joy was none the less that it had happened so. On the first night he dreamed of pale faces growing rosy, and sad hearts becoming lighter, and weary hands strengthened, all by his own efforts. The world that had need of him felt itself better off on account of his labours!

But on the second day of Tiny’s journey other thoughts began to mingle with these. About his father and mother he thought, not in such a way as they would have been glad to know, but proudly and loftily! What could he do for them? Bring home a name that the world never mentioned except with praises and a blessing! And that thought made his cheek glow and his eyes flash, and at night he dreamed of a trumpeter shouting his name abroad, and going up the river to tell old Josiah how famous his boy had become in the earth!

And the third day he dreamed, with his eyes wide open, the livelong day, of the Beautiful Gate, and the palace of Fame and Wealth to which it led! and he saw himself entering therein, and the multitude following him. He ate upon a throne, and wise men came with gifts, and offered them to him. Alas, poor Tiny! the world had already too many helpers thinking just such thoughts–it had need of no more coming with such offerings as these. Would no one tell him so? Would no one tell him that the new song to be sung unto our Lord was very different from this?

At the end of the third day, Tiny’s journey was ended… And he was landed in the world… Slowly the ship came sailing into harbour, and took its place among a thousand other ships, and Tiny went ashore.

It was about sunset that Tiny found himself in the street of the great city. The workmen were going home from their labour, he thought at first; but could it be a city full of workmen? he asked himself as the crowd passed by him and he stood gazing on the poor. For he saw only the poor: now and then something dazzling and splendid went past, but if he turned again to discover what it was that made his eyes ache so with the brightness, the strange sight was lost in the crowd, and all he could see were pale faces, and hungry voices, and the half-clad forms of men, and women, and children. And then he said to himself with a groan, “The city is full of beggars.”

As he said that, another thought occurred to Tiny, and he unfastened his harp, and touched the strings. But in the din and roar of the city wagons, and in the confusion of voices, for every one seemed to be talking at the top of his voice, what chance had that harp-player of being heard? Still, though the crowd brushed past him as if there was no sound whatever in the harp strings, and no power at all in the hand that struck them, Tiny kept on playing, and presently he began to sing.

It was that they wanted–the living human voice, that trembled and grew strong again, that was sorrowful and joyous, that prayed and wept, and gave thanks, just as the human heart does! It was that the people wanted; and so well did they know their want that the moment Tiny began to sing, the crowd going past him, heard his voice. And the people gathered round him, and more than one said to himself with joy, “Our brother has come at last!”

They gathered around him–the poor, and lame, and sick, and blind; ragged children, weary men, desponding women, whose want and sorrow spoke from every look, and word, and dress. Closely they crowded around him; and angry voices were hushed, and troubled hearts for the moment forgot their trouble, and the weary forgot that another day of toil was before them. The pale woman nearest Tiny who held the little baby in her arms, felt its limbs growing colder and colder, and once she looked under her shawl and quickly laid her hand upon her darling’s heart, but though she knew then that the child was dead, still she stood there smiling, and looking up towards heaven where Tiny’s eyes so often looked, because at that very moment he was singing of the Father in Heaven, whose house of many mansions is large enough for all the world.

See also  Ain’t Nature Wonderful! by Edna Ferber

It was strange to see the effect of Tiny’s song upon those people! How bright their faces grew! kind words from a human heart are such an excellent medicine–they make such astonishing cures! You would have thought, had you been passing by the crowd that gathered around Tiny, you would have thought an angel had been promising some good thing to them. Whereas it was only this young Tiny, this country lad, who had journeyed from the shadow of the Great Forest, who was telling them of a good time surely coming!

When he had finished his song, Tiny would have put up his harp, and gone his way, but that he could not do, because of the crowd.

“Sing again!” the people cried,–the beggars and rich men together (it was a long time since they had spoken with one voice). Did I tell you that a number of rich men had gathered, like a sort of outer wall, around the crowd of poor people which stood next to Tiny?

“Sing again,” they cried; and loud and clear above the other voices said one, “There is but a solitary singer in the world that sings in such a strain as that. And he, I thought, was far away. Can this be he?”

Then Tiny’s heart leaped within him, hearing it, and he said to himself: “If my father and mother were but here to see it!” And he sang again– and still for the poor, and the weary, and the sick, and the faint-hearted, until the street became as silent as a church where the minister is saying, “Glory be unto the Father.” And indeed it was just then a sacred temple, where a sacred voice was preaching in a most sacred cause.

I’m sure you know by this time what the “cause” was? And while he sang, the rich men of the outer circle were busy among themselves, even while they listened, and presently the person who had before spoken, made his way through the crowd, carrying a great purse filled with silver, and he said, “You are the poet himself–do with this what you think best. We have a long time been looking for you in the world. Come home with me, and dwell in my house, oh, Poet, I pray you.”

Tiny took the heavy purse, and looked at it, and from it to the people.

Then said he–oh, what melody was in his voice, how sweet his words!–“None of you but are my friends–you are more–my brothers and sisters. Come and tell me how much you need.” As he spoke, he looked at the woman who stood nearest him, with the dead baby in her arms. Her eyes met his, and she threw back the old, ragged shawl, and showed him her little child. “Give me,” said she, “only enough to bury it. I want nothing for myself. I had nothing but my baby to care for.”

The poet bowed his head over the little one, and fast his tears fell on the poor, pale face, and like pearls the tears shone on the soft, white cheek, while he whispered in the ear of the woman, “Their angels do always behold the face of Our Father.” And he gave her what she needed, and gently covered the baby’s face again with the tattered shawl, and the mother went away.

Then a child came up and said–now this was a poor street beggar, remember, a boy whom people called as bold as a thief–he came and looked at Tiny, and said gently, as if speaking to an elder brother whom he loved and trusted: “My father and mother are dead; I have a little brother and sister at home, and they depend on me; I have been trying to get work, but no one believes my story. I would like to take a loaf of bread home to them.”

And Tiny, looking at the boy, seemed to read his heart, and he said, laying his hand on the poor fellow’s shoulder, “Be always as patient, and gentle, and believing as you are now, and you will have bread for them and to spare, without fear.”

Then came an old, old man bending on his staff, and he spoke out sharply, as if he were half starved, and all he said was, “Bread!” and with that he held out his hand as if all he had to do was to ask, in order to get what he wanted.

For a moment Tiny made him no answer, and some persons who had heard the demand, and saw that Tiny gave him nothing, began to laugh. But at that sound Tiny rebuked them with his look, and put his hand into the purse.

The old man saw all this, and he said, “I am tired of begging, I am tired of saying, `for mercy’s sake give to me,’–for people don’t have mercy–they know nothing about being merciful, and they don’t care for mercy’s sake. I don’t beg of you, Mr Poet. I only ask you as if you were my son, and that’s all. Give me bread. I’m starving.”

And Tiny said, “For my dear father’s sake take this–God forbid that I should ever be deaf when an old man with a wrinkled face and white hair speaks to me.”

Afar off stood a young girl looking at the poet. Tiny saw her, and that she needed something of him, though she did not come and ask, and so he beckoned to her. She came at that, and as she drew nearer he fancied that she had been weeping, and that her grief had kept her back. She had wept so violently that when Tiny spoke to her and said, “What is it?” she could not answer him. But at length, while he waited so patiently, she made a great effort, and controlled herself and said, “My mother!”

That was all she said–and Tiny asked no more. He knew that some great grief had fallen on her–that was all he needed to know; he laid his hand in hers, and turned away before she could thank him, but he left with her a word that he had spoken which had power to comfort her long after the money he gave her was all gone–long after the day when her poor mother had no more need for bread. “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will lift me up.” That was what he whispered to her as he left her.

And thus he went through that crowd of miserable people, comforting them all. But it was remarkable how much more value the poor folks seemed to put upon his word than they did upon the money he gave them, much as they stood in need of that! I wonder if you ever thought about the wonderful power there is in words?

At length, when the purse was empty, he stood alone in the midst of the circle of rich men who had given him the silver to distribute as he would. Then the man who handed him the purse went up and said to Tiny, “Poet, come home with me. You are come at last! the city ought to be illuminated–we have stood so long in need of you, expecting you.”

So Tiny, believing what the rich man said, went home with the stranger– and for a long time he abode in that house.

And rich men feasted Tiny, and taught him to drink wine: and great men praised him, and flattered him till he believed that their praise was precious above all things, and that he could not live without it! Was not that absurd? Nay, children, was not that most terrible, that our dear Tiny should ever have been tempted to believe such wicked trash and falsehood! He, too, who was to sing that sweet and holy New Song to the Lord!

They surrounded him day and night, these rich, gay men, and these great men, and they fed upon the delicious thoughts he gave them, and they kept him in such a whirl of pleasure that he had no time to work for the poor, and hardly any time to think of them–excepting at the dead of night, when he sometimes fancied or dreamed that the old pilgrim owner of the harp had come, or would come quickly, and take it away from him. At these times poor Tiny would make excellent resolutions, but the next day was sure to see them broken. He seemed no stronger when he attempted to keep them than a poor little bird who is determined that he will be free, and so goes driving against the wires of his cage!

See also  Paz by Honoré de Balzac

When Tiny spoke with his friend, as he sometimes did, about the plan with which he had come into the world, his friend always made him very polite answers, and good promises–oh, yes, certainly he would do all that he could to help him on in such an excellent cause! But the fact was, he did everything to prevent him. I wonder if anybody else has got any such friend in his heart, or in his house, as our Tiny found in his very first walk through that city street? If I knew of any one that had, I should say, look out for him! Beware of him.

And so Tiny lived, and presently it happened just as you would expect; his conscience troubled him no longer; he only sang such songs on feast days, and holidays, and even in the church, as his companions liked; and he became very well pleased with his employment! That was the very worst of it.

I shall tell you in a very few words what happened next. Tiny suddenly fell ill of a very curious disease, which caused all his rich friends to forsake him, and he almost died of it.

In those days his only helper was a poor young beggar girl–one of those persons whom he had relieved by his songs, and by the money he distributed from the rich man’s purse that happy day,–the little girl who had wept so bitterly, and whose only word was, when he questioned her,–“My mother!”

He recovered from his disease in time, but all his old acquaintances had forsaken him; and he must have felt their loss exceedingly, for now he had an attack of a desperate complaint, which I pray you may never have!–called Despair–and Tiny crept away from the sight of all men, into a garret, and thought that he would die there.

A garret at Home is a very different place from a garret in the World; and so our poet thought, when he compared this miserable, dismal place with the little attic far, far away in his own father’s cottage, where he was next-door neighbour to the swallows who slept in their little mud cabins under the cottage eaves!

Never in his life was Tiny so lonely. He had come to help the World, said he, talking to himself, and the World cared not half so much about it as it would about the doings of a wonderful “learned pig,” or the extraordinary spectacle of a man cutting profiles with his toes in black paper!

“Have you been all the while helping the World, and is this all the pay you get?” said the girl, his poor friend, who remembered what he had done for her, when she was in her worst need.

“Yes,” said Tiny; but there was no truth in what he said. He did not intend to speak falsely, however,–which proves the sad pass he had arrived at; he did not even know when he was deceiving himself! And when Tiny said, that “yes,” what do you suppose he thought of? Not of all the precious time that he had wasted–not of the Pilgrim’s Harp–not of the promises he had made his father–nor of the great hope of the poor which he had no cruelly disappointed–but only of the evil fortune which had fallen on himself! This beggar girl to wait on him, instead of the most beautiful lady in the world for a crown bearer! This garret for a home, instead of a place at the king’s table. And more fiercely than ever raged that sickness called Despair.

But at length his strength began to return to him a little, and then for the first time poor Tiny discovered that he was blind. And all the days and weeks that came and went were like one long, dark night. In those dreadful days our singer had nothing to do but to think, and the little beggar girl had nothing to do but to beg; for Tiny’s charity and goodness of heart seemed to have all forsaken him, and one day in his anger he drove her out of his garret, and bade her return no more, for that the very thought of her was hateful to him. In doing this, Tiny brought a terrible calamity upon himself; he fell against his harp and broke it.

After that, while he sat pondering on the sad plight he was in, hungry and cold and blind, he suddenly started up. A new thought had come to him. “I will go home to my father’s house,” he said. “There is no other way for me. Oh, my mother!” and bitterly he wept as he pronounced that name, and thought how little like her tender and serene love was the love of the best of all the friends he had found in that great city of the world.

As he started up so quickly in a sort of frenzy, his foot struck against the broken harp, and instantly the instrument gave forth a wailing sound, that pierced the poet’s heart. He lifted up the harp: alas! it was so broken he could do nothing with it; from his hands it fell back upon the floor where it had lain neglected, forgotten, so long. But Tiny’s heart was now fairly awakened, and stooping to the floor, he raised the precious treasure again. “I will carry back the broken fragments,” said he; “they shall go back to my father with me. The harp is his; I can do nothing more with it for ever. I have ruined it; I have done nothing for the world, as I promised him. A fine thing it is for me to go back to him in this dreadful plight. But if he says to me, `Thou art no son of mine,’ I will say, `Father, I am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me thy hired servant–only pay me in love.’”

And so saying, Tiny began to descend from his attic. Carefully he went down the stairs, ready to ask help of the first person whose voice he should hear. But he had groped his way as far as the street door, before he met a soul. As he stepped upon the threshold, and was about to move on into the street, a voice–a child’s voice–said to him–

“I’m very hungry, sir.”

The patient tone of the speaker arrested Tiny’s steps, and he pondered a moment. It was the hearts that belonged to voices like this, which he had vowed to help! His own heart sunk within him at that thought. “Wretched soul that I am,” said he to himself, thinking of the opportunities which he had lost. But to the child he said–

“I’m blinder than a bat, and hungry, too. So I’m worse off than you are. Do you live about here?”

“Just round the corner,” said the little girl.

“Is there a physician near here?” he asked next; for a now thought–a new hope, rather–had come into his heart.

“Yes, sir–very near. I know where it is,” said the child. “I got him once for my mother.”

“If you will lead me to him,” said Tiny, his voice broken as his heart was, “I will do a good turn for you. You won’t be the loser by it. Who takes care of you?”

“Of me, sir?” asked the girl, as if surprised that he should think that any one took care of her. “Nobody. I’m all alone.”

“Alone! alone!” repeated Tiny: “your hand is very little; you are a mite of a girl to be alone.”

“They’re all dead but me, every one of ’em. Yes, sir, they are.”

“No mother?” said Tiny, with a choking voice–thinking of the kind heart and tender loving eyes away off in the lonely little cottage on the border of the forest–“no mother, little girl? Was that what you said?”

“Dead,” replied the child.

“Did you love her?” asked Tiny, the poet, while his heart wept burning tears.

The girl said not a word, but Tiny heard her sob, and held her hand close in his own, as though he would protect her, even if he were blind, while he said aloud–

“Lead me to the physician, little friend.”

Quietly and swiftly she led him, and as they went, Tiny never once thought, What if any of the great folks who once courted and praised him should see him led on foot through the streets by a little beggar girl, himself looking hardly more respectable than the poorest of all beggars!

“Shall I ring the door bell?” asked she, at length coming to a sudden halt.

“King it,” said he.

But before she could do that the house door opened, and the physician himself appeared, prepared for a drive; his carriage was already in waiting at the door.

“Here he is,” exclaimed the girl; and at the same moment a gruff voice demanded–

See also  Dick Lawson And The Young Mocking-Bird by T. S. Arthur

“What do you want, you two, eh? Speak quick, for I’m off.”

In one word Tiny told what it was he wanted.

“Blind, eh?” said the doctor, stooping and looking into the pale face of the unhappy singer; “born blind! I can do nothing for you. John! drive the horses away from that curb-stone.”

He stepped forward, as he spoke, as if about to leave the children, but he stood still again the next minute, arrested by the sound of Tiny’s indignant voice.

“Born blind!” the singer cried; “no more than you were, sir. If you knew how to use your eyes to any good purpose, you never would say such a thing. Since I was ill I’ve been blind, but never a moment before.”

“Come into the house a minute,” said the doctor, who had been carefully studying Tiny’s face during the last few seconds. “Come in, and I’ll soon settle that point for you.”

“For yourself, you mean,” said Tiny, in an under tone, as he and the beggar girl went in.

“What’s that you carry?” said the physician. “Lay down your pack for a moment.”

But Tiny would not do that. He had taken up his harp in much the same spirit as if it had been a cross, and he was determined never to lay it down again until he came to his father’s house. So he merely said, “Don’t call it a pack; it was a harp once, but now it’s only some bits of wood and cord.”

“Broken!” said the doctor; and you would have been in doubt, if you had heard him, as to whether he meant Tiny’s harp or heart. “Broken! ah, …;” and he seemed to get a little new light on the subject when he looked again into Tiny’s face. “Ah,” he said again, and still more thoughtfully; “now! about those eyes. You went into a great rage just now when I told you that you were born blind. On a closer examination of them, I am still tempted to think that if you were not born blind, you never had the full use of your eyes. How are you going to prove to me that I’m mistaken? If you can prove that it came after your sickness,”–he hesitated a little–“I’m not so sure but that something might be done for you.”

At that Tiny’s anger was not much lessened; and he was in doubt as to what he should do, until the child said to him, “Sing to him about your mother.” The words had the effect of a broad ray of light streaming into a dark and dismal place, and without another word Tiny began to sing. His voice was faint and broken; it never once rose into a high strain of pride, as if he had his merits as a singer to support; he sung with tears, and such pathos as singer never did before, of his Mother and her Love. By the words of his song he brought her there into that very room, with her good and pleasant looks, her loving eyes and tender smile, so that they who heard could also behold her. He sung of all that she had been to him in his childhood, of the brightness she made in their home, of all that she had done for him, and concluded with the prayerful longing that his eyes might once more receive their sight, that so he might behold her.

“The doctor is weeping,” whispered the little girl in Tiny’s ear.

It was a long time before the doctor spoke; but at length he arose and laid some pieces of silver in Tiny’s hand; and he said, “I cannot help you. But what you have to do is to go to the Beautiful Gate, and there you will find a physician famous for the cure of such cases as yours. True enough you weren’t born blind–far from it. I ask your pardon for the mistake. I wish there were more blind in the way you were. Go your way to the Beautiful Gate.”

As the doctor spoke he arose and walked quickly towards the door, and the children followed him out. All at once Tiny recollected that they had yet one very important thing to learn, and he cried out–

“But, sir, which way shall we go in order to arrive at the Beautiful Gate?”

Too late! while he spoke the doctor stepped into his carriage, the coachman closed the door with a loud bang and drove away, and Tiny and the little girl were left quite in the dark as to what they should do next. For a long time they stood still in perfect silence. At last Tiny said, “Lead the way, little girl, for I am blind and cannot see. Come! we will go on, if you have an idea that we shall ever come to the BEAUTIFUL GATE.”

“In all my life I never heard of it before,” said she sadly.

“But I have,” cried Tiny, trying to keep his courage up by speaking brave words. “Come on with me!” yet, in spite of his words, he held fast to the girl’s hand, and she led him down the street.

Presently, towards nightfall, they came up to a crowd of people, a mob of men and boys who were quarrelling.

Well did Tiny understand the angry sound; and, as for the girl walking with him, she trembled with fear, and said, “Shall we turn down this street? They are having a terrible fight. I am afraid you will be hurt.”

“Not I,” said Tiny. “Is the sun near setting?”

“It has set,” said the girl.

“And does the red light shine on the men’s faces?” asked the poet.

“Yes,” answered the girl, wondering.

“On the night when I first came into this city’s streets it was so. My harp was perfect then; but it was the voice, and not the other music, that the people eared for, when I sang. Wait now.”

The little girl obediently stood still, and all at once Tiny began to sing. None of his gay songs sung at feasts, and revels, or on holidays, but a song of peace, as grand and solemn as a psalm; and the quarrelling men and boys stood still and listened, and, before the song was ended, the ringleaders of the fight had crept away in shame. Other voices then began to shout in praise of the young stranger, who with a few simple words had stilled their angry passions. “The brave fellow is blind,” said they; “we will do something good for him!” And one, and another, and another, cried out, “Come with us, and we will do you good.”

But instead of answering a word, Tiny went his way as if he were deaf as a post, as well as blind as a bat, and by his side, holding his hand close, went the little beggar girl.

Until they came in the increasing darkness to a narrow, crooked lane, and met a woman who was running, crying, with a young child in her arms. “What is this?” asked Tiny.

“A woman, pale as death, with a child in her arms,” said the girl.

“Wait!” shouted Tiny, stopping just before the woman. His cry so astonished her that she stood, in an instant, as still as a statue. “What is it that you want?”

“Food! medicine! clothes! a home!” answered she, with a loud cry.

“Give me the child–take this–get what you need, and I will wait here with the little one,” said Tiny.

Without a word the woman gave her child–it was a poor little cripple– into his arms; and then she went on to obey him; and softly on the evening air, in that damp, dismal lane, arose the songs which Tiny sang to soothe and comfort the poor little creature. And in his arms it slept, hushed by the melody, a slumber such as had not for a long time visited his eyes.

Wonderful singer! blessed songs! sung for a wretched sickly stranger, who could not even thank him! But you think they died away upon the air, those songs? that they did no other good than merely hushing a hungry child to sleep?

A student in an attic heard the song, and smiled, and murmured to himself, “That is like having a long walk in in the woods, and hearing all the birds sing.”

A sick girl, who had writhed upon her bed in pain all the day, heard the gentle singing voice, and it was like a charm upon her–she lay resting in a sweet calm, and said, “Hark! it is an angel!” A blind old man started up from a troubled slumber, and smiled a happy smile that said as plain as any voice, “It gives me back my youth, my children, and my country home;” and he smiled again and again, and listened at his window, scarcely daring to breathe lest he should lose a single word. A baby clad in rags, and sheltered from the cold with them, a baby in its cradle–what do you think that cradle was? as truly as you live, nothing but a box such as a merchant packs his goods in! that baby, sleeping, heard it, and a light like sunshine spread over its pretty face. A thief skulking along in the shadow of the great high building, heard that voice and was struck to the heart, and crept back to his den, and did no wicked thing that night. A prisoner who was condemned to die heard it in his cell near by, and he forgot his chains, and dreamed that he was once more innocent and free–a boy playing with his mates, and loved and trusted by them.

See also  A Legend Of Sammtstadt by Bret Harte

At length the mother of the crippled infant came back, and brought food for her child, and a warm blanket for it, and she, and Tiny, and the beggar girl, Tiny’s companion, ate their supper there upon the sidewalk of that dark, narrow lane, and then they went their separate ways–Tiny and his friend, taking the poor woman’s blessing with them, going in one direction, and the mother and her baby in another, but they all slept in the street that night.

The next morning by daybreak Tiny was again on his way down that same long, narrow, dingy street, the little girl still walking by his side. Swiftly they walked, and in silence, like persons who are sure of their destination, and know that they are in the right way, though they had not said a word to each other on that subject since they set out in the path.

“What is that?” at length asked Tiny, stopping short in the street.

“A tolling bell,” said the girl.

“Do you see a funeral?”

“Yes; don’t you?”

Tiny made no answer at first; at length he said, “Let us go into the churchyard;” and he waited for the beggar girl to lead the way, which she did, and together they went in at the open churchyard gate.

As they did so, a clergyman was thanking the friends who had kindly come to help in burying the mother of orphan children. Tiny heard that word, and he said to the girl, whose name, I ought long ago to have told you, was Grace–he said, “Are there many friends with the children?”

“No,” she answered sadly.

“Are the people poor?” he asked.

“Yes, very poor,” said she.

Then Tiny stepped forward when the clergyman had done speaking, and raised a Hymn for the Dead, and a prayer to the Father of the fatherless.

When he had made an end, he stepped back again, and took the hand of Grace, and walked away with her in the deep silence, for everybody in the churchyard was weeping. But as they went through the gate the silence was broken, and Tiny heard the clergyman saying, “Weep no longer, children; my house shall be your home, my wife shall be your mother. Come, let us go back to our home.”

And Grace and Tiny went their way. On, and on, and on, through the narrow filthy street, out into the open country,–through a desert, and a forest; and it seemed as if poor Tiny would sing his very life away. For wherever those appeared who seemed to need the voice of human pity, or brotherly love, or any act of charity, the voice and Hand of Tiny were upraised. And every hour, whichever way he went, he found THE WORLD HAD NEED OF HIM!

They had no better guide than that with which they set out on their search for the BEAUTIFUL GATE. But Tiny’s heart was opened, and it led him wherever there was misery, and want, and sin, and grief; and flowers grew up in the path he trod, and sparkling springs burst forth in desert places.

And then as to his blindness.

Fast he held by the hand of the beggar girl as they went on their way together, but the film was withdrawing from his eye-balls. When he turned them up towards the heaven, if they could not yet discern that, they could get a glimpse of the earth! So he said within himself, “Surely we are in the right way; we shall yet come to the Beautiful Gate, and I shall have my sight again. Then will I hasten to my father’s house, and when all is forgiven me, I will say to my mother, Receive this child I bring thee for a daughter, for she has been my guide through a weary way; and I know that my mother will love my little sister Grace.”

“And what then?” asked a voice in Tiny’s soul, “What then wilt thou do?”

“Labour till I die!” exclaimed Tiny aloud, with flashing eyes.

“But for what, Poet, wilt thou labour?”

“FOR THE POOR WORLD THAT NEEDS ME,” bravely cried he with a mighty voice.

“Ah,” whispered something faintly in his ear, with a taunting voice that pierced his heart like a sharp sword–“Ah, you said that once before; and fine work you made of it!”

Tiny made no answer to this taunt, with words, but with all the strength of his great poet mind he cried again, “For the poor world that needs me!” and the vow was registered in Heaven, and angels were sent to strengthen him in that determination–him who was to sing the New Song to the Lord.

A long way further Grace and Tiny walked together on their journey; they walked in silence, thinking so fast that, without knowing it, they were almost on a run in the attempt their feet were making to keep pace with their thoughts. At length Grace broke the silence with a sudden cry–

“Oh, Tiny! what is this?”

Tiny looked up at the sound of her voice, and then he stood stock still as if he were turned to stone.

“Oh, Tiny! can you see?” again exclaimed Grace, who was watching her companion’s face in a great wonder; it became so changed all at once. “Oh, Tiny, Tiny, can you see?” she cried again, in terror, for he did not answer her, but grew paler and paler, swaying to and fro like a reed in the wind, until he fell like one dead upon the ground, saying–“My home! my home! and the Beautiful Gate is here!”

Just then an old man came slowly from the forest, near to which they had come in their journey. His head was bent, he moved slowly like one in troubled thought, and as he walked he said to himself, “Long have I toiled, bringing these forest trees into this shape; and people know what I have done–of their own free will they call it a Beautiful Gate. But oh, if I could only find the blind one lying before it, ready to be carried through it to his mother! then, indeed, it would be beautiful to me. Oh Tiny! oh my child, when wilt thou return from thy long wanderings?”

“Please, sir,” said a child’s voice–it was the voice of our little Grace, you know–“please, sir, will you come and help me?” and she ran back to the place where Tiny lay.

Swiftly as a bird on wing went Josiah with the child. Without a word he lifted up the senseless Poet and the Broken Harp; and with the precious burden passed on through the Beautiful Gate of the Forest, into the Cottage Home–Grace following him!

Once more the Broken Harp hung on the kitchen wall–no longer broken. Once more the swallows and the poet slept side by side, in their comfortable nests. Once more old Kitty’s eyes grew bright. Once more Josiah smiled. Again a singing voice went echoing through the world, working miracles of good. Rich men heard it and opened their purses. Proud men heard it and grew humble. Angry voices heard it and grew soft. Wicked spirits heard it and grew beautiful in charities. The sick, and sad, and desolate heard it and were at peace. Mourners heard it and rejoiced. The songs that voice sang, echoed through the churches, through the streets; and by ten thousand thousand firesides they were sung again and yet again. But all the while the great heart, the mighty, loving human heart from which they came, was nestled in that little nest of home on the border of the forest, far away from all the world’s temptations, in the safe shelter of a household’s love.

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *