第10章 CHAPTER III(3)
"Uncle Otto," she said presently, laying her hand down on the newspaper, and causing the old German to look up over his glasses, "how long did that man say he had been walking?"
"Since this morning, poor fellow! A gentleman--not accustomed to walking-- horse died--poor fellow!" said the German, pushing out his lip and glancing commiseratingly over his spectacles in the direction of the bed where the stranger lay, with his flabby double chin, and broken boots through which the flesh shone.
"And do you believe him, Uncle Otto?"
"Believe him? why of course I do. He himself told me the story three times distinctly."
"If," said the girl slowly, "he had walked for only one day his boots would not have looked so; and if--"
"If!" said the German starting up in his chair, irritated that any one should doubt such irrefragable evidence--"if! Why, he told me himself!
Look how he lies there," added the German pathetically, "worn out--poor fellow! We have something for him though," pointing with his forefinger over his shoulder to the saucepan that stood on the fire. "We are not cooks--not French cooks, not quite; but it's drinkable, drinkable, I think; better than nothing, I think," he added, nodding his head in a jocund manner that evinced his high estimation of the contents of the saucepan and his profound satisfaction therein. "Bish! bish! my chicken," he said, as Lyndall tapped her little foot up and down upon the floor. "Bish! bish! my chicken, you will wake him."
He moved the candle so that his own head might intervene between it and the sleeper's face; and, smoothing his newspaper, he adjusted his spectacles to read.
The child's grey-black eyes rested on the figure on the bed, then turned to the German, then rested on the figure again.
"I think he is a liar. Good night, Uncle Otto," she said slowly, turning to the door.
Long after she had gone the German folded his paper up methodically, and put it in his pocket.
The stranger had not awakened to partake of the soup, and his son had fallen asleep on the ground. Taking two white sheepskins from the heap of sacks in the corner, the old man doubled them up, and lifting the boy's head gently from the slate on which it rested, placed the skins beneath it.
"Poor lambie, poor lambie!" he said, tenderly patting the great rough bear- like head; "tired is he!"
He threw an overcoat across the boy's feet, and lifted the saucepan from the fire. There was no place where the old man could comfortably lie down himself, so he resumed his seat. Opening a much-worn Bible, he began to read, and as he read pleasant thoughts and visions thronged on him.
"I was a stranger, and ye took me in," he read.
He turned again to the bed where the sleeper lay.
"I was a stranger."
Very tenderly the old man looked at him. He saw not the bloated body nor the evil face of the man; but, as it were, under deep disguise and fleshly concealment, the form that long years of dreaming had made very real to him. "Jesus, lover, and is it given to us, weak and sinful, frail and erring, to serve Thee, to take Thee in!" he said softly, as he rose from his seat. Full of joy, he began to pace the little room. Now and again as he walked he sang the lines of a German hymn, or muttered broken words of prayer. The little room was full of light. It appeared to the German that Christ was very near him, and that at almost any moment the thin mist of earthly darkness that clouded his human eyes might be withdrawn, and that made manifest of which the friends at Emmaus, beholding it, said, "It is the Lord!"
Again, and yet again, through the long hours of that night, as the old man walked he looked up to the roof of his little room, with its blackened rafters, and yet saw them not. His rough bearded face was illuminated with a radiant gladness; and the night was not shorter to the dreaming sleepers than to him whose waking dreams brought heaven near.
So quickly the night fled, that he looked up with surprise when at four o'clock the first grey streaks of summer dawn showed themselves through the little window. Then the old man turned to rake together the few coals that lay under the ashes, and his son, turning on the sheepskins, muttered sleepily to know if it were time to rise.
"Lie still, lie still! I would only make a fire," said the old man.
"Have you been up all night?" asked the boy.
"Yes; but it has been short, very short. Sleep again, my chicken; it is yet early."
And he went out to fetch more fuel.