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Patten, William / The Junior Classics — Volume 6 Old-Fashioned Tales
"And why not? He's the greatest man of
this or any other age, beyond a doubt."

And then all three of the speakers gave a great shout, which
communicated electricity to the crowd, and called forth a roar from a
thousand voices, that went reverberating for miles among the
mountains, until you might have supposed that the Great Stone Face had
poured its thunder-breath into the cry. All these comments, and this
vast enthusiasm, served the more to interest our friend; nor did he
think of questioning that now, at length, the mountain-visage had
found its human counterpart. It is true, Ernest had imagined that this
long-looked-for personage would appear in the character of a man of
peace, uttering wisdom, and doing good, and making people happy. But,
taking an habitual breadth of view, with all his simplicity, he
contended that Providence should choose its own method of blessing
mankind, and could conceive that this great end might be effected even
by a warrior and a bloody sword, should inscrutable wisdom see fit to
order matters so.

"The general! the general!" was now the cry. "Hush! silence! Old
Blood-and-Thunder's going to make a speech."

Even so; for, the cloth being removed, the general's health had been
drunk amid shouts of applause, and he now stood upon his feet to thank
the company. Ernest saw him. There he was, over the shoulders of the
crowd, from the two glittering epaulets and embroidered collar upward,
beneath the arch of green boughs with intertwined laurel, and the
banner drooping as if to shade his brow! And there, too, visible in
the same glance, through the vista of the forest, appeared the Great
Stone Face! And was there, indeed, such a resemblance as the crowd had
testified? Alas, Ernest could not recognize it! He beheld a war-worn
and weather-beaten countenance, full of energy, and expressive of an
iron will; but the gentle wisdom, the deep, broad, tender sympathies,
were altogether wanting in Old Blood-and-Thunder's visage; and even if
the Great Stone Face had assumed his look of stern command, the milder
traits would still have tempered it.

"This is not the man of prophecy," sighed Ernest, to himself, as he
made his way out of the throng. "And must the world wait longer yet?"

The mists had congregated about the distant mountain-side, and there
were seen the grand and awful features of the Great Stone Face, awful
but benignant, as if a mighty angel were sitting among the hills, and
enrobing himself in a cloud-vesture of gold and purple. As he looked,
Ernest could hardly believe but that a smile beamed over the whole
visage, with a radiance still brightening, although without motion of
the lips. It was probably the effect of the western sunshine, melting
through the thinly diffused vapors that had swept between him and the
object that he gazed at. But--as it always did--the aspect of his
marvellous friend made Ernest as hopeful as if he had never hoped in
vain.

"Fear not, Ernest," said his heart, even as if the Great Face were
whispering him--"fear not, Ernest; he will come."

More years sped swiftly and tranquilly away. Ernest still dwelt in
his native valley, and was now a man of middle age. By imperceptible
degrees, he had become known among the people. Now, as heretofore, he
labored for his bread, and was the same simple-hearted man that he had
always been. But he had thought and felt so much, he had given so many
of the best hours of his life to unworldly hopes for some great good
to mankind, that it seemed as though he had been talking with the
angels, and had imbibed a portion of their wisdom unawares. It was
visible in the calm and well-considered beneficence of his daily life,
the quiet stream of which had made a wide green margin all along its
course. Not a day passed by, that the world was not the better because
this man, humble as he was, had lived. He never stepped aside from his
own path, yet would always reach a blessing to his neighbor. Almost
involuntarily, too, he had become a preacher. The pure and high
simplicity of his thought, which, as one of its manifestations, took
shape in the good deeds that dropped silently from his hand, flowed
also forth in speech. He uttered truths that wrought upon and molded
the lives of those who heard him. His auditors, it may be, never
suspected that Ernest, their own neighbor and familiar friend, was
more than an ordinary man; least of all did Ernest himself suspect it;
but, inevitably as the murmur of a rivulet, came thoughts out of his
mouth that no other human lips had spoken.

When the people's minds had had a little time to cool, they were ready
enough to acknowledge their mistake in imagining a similarity between
General Blood-and-Thunder's truculent physiognomy and the benign
visage on the mountain-side. But now, again, there were reports and
many paragraphs in the newspapers, affirming that the likeness of the
Great Stone Face had appeared upon the broad shoulders of a certain
eminent statesman. He, like Mr. Gathergold and Old Blood-and-Thunder,
was a native of the valley, but had left it in his early days, and
taken up the trades of law and politics. Instead of the rich man's
wealth and the warrior's sword, he had but a tongue, and it was
mightier than both together. So wonderfully eloquent was he, that
whatever he might choose to say, his auditors had no choice but to
believe him; wrong looked like right, and right like wrong; for when
it pleased him, he could make a kind of illuminated fog with his mere
breath, and obscure the natural daylight with it. His tongue, indeed,
was a magic instrument: sometimes it rumbled like the thunder;
sometimes it warbled like the sweetest music. It was the blast of
war--the song of peace; and it seemed to have a heart in it, when
there was no such matter. In good truth, he was a wondrous man; and
when his tongue had acquired him all other imaginable success--when it
had been heard in halls of state, and in the courts of princes and
potentates--after it had made him known all over the world, even as a
voice crying from shore to shore--it finally persuaded his countrymen
to select him for the presidency. Before this time--indeed, as soon as
he began to grow celebrated--his admirers had found out the
resemblance between him and the Great Stone Face; and so much were
they struck by it, that throughout the country this distinguished
gentleman was known by the name of Old Stony Phiz. The phrase was
considered as giving a highly favorable aspect to his political
prospects; for, as is likewise the case with the Popedom, nobody ever
becomes president without taking a name other than his own.

While his friends were doing their best to make him president, Old
Stony Phiz, as he was called, set out on a visit to the valley where
he was born. Of course, he had no other object than to shake hands
with his fellow-citizens, and neither thought nor cared about any
effect which his progress through the country might have upon the
election. Magnificent preparations were made to receive the
illustrious statesman; a cavalcade of horsemen set forth to meet him
at the boundary line of the State, and all the people left their
business and gathered along the wayside to see him pass. Among these
was Ernest. Though more than once disappointed, as we have seen, he
had such a hopeful and confiding nature, that he was always ready to
believe in whatever seemed beautiful and good. He kept his heart
continually open, and thus was sure to catch the blessing from on
high, when it should come. So now again, as buoyantly as ever, he went
forth to behold the likeness of the Great Stone Face.

The cavalcade came prancing along the road, with a great clattering
of hoofs and a mighty cloud of dust, which rose up so dense and high
that the visage of the mountain-side was completely hidden from
Ernest's eyes. All the great men of the neighborhood were there on
horseback: militia officers, in uniform; the member of Congress; the
sheriff of the county; the editors of newspapers; and many a farmer,
too, had mounted his patient steed, with his Sunday coat upon his
back. It really was a very brilliant spectacle, especially as there
were numerous banners flaunting over the cavalcade, on some of which
were gorgeous portraits of the illustrious statesman and the Great
Stone Face, smiling familiarly at one another, like two brothers. If
the pictures were to be trusted, the mutual resemblance, it must be
confessed, was marvellous. We must not forget to mention that there
was a band of music, which made the echoes of the mountains ring and
reverberate with the loud triumph of its strains; so that airy and
soul-thrilling melodies broke out among all the heights and hollows,
as if every nook of his native valley had found a voice, to welcome
the distinguished guest. But the grandest effect was when the far-off
mountain precipice flung back the music; for then the Great Stone Face
itself seemed to be swelling the triumphant chorus, in acknowledgment
that, at length, the man of prophecy was come.

All this while the people were throwing up their hats and shouting,
with enthusiasm so contagious that the heart of Ernest kindled up, and
he likewise threw up his hat, and shouted, as loudly as the loudest,
"Huzza for the great man! Huzza for Old Stony Phiz!" But as yet he had
not seen him.

"Here he is, now!" cried those who stood near Ernest. "There! There!
Look at Old Stony Phiz and then at the Old Man of the Mountain, and
see if they are not as like as two twin-brothers!"

In the midst of all this gallant array, came an open barouche, drawn
by four white horses; and in the barouche, with his massive head
uncovered, sat the illustrious statesman, Old Stony Phiz himself.

"Confess it," said one of Ernest's neighbors to him, "the Great Stone
Face has met its match at last!"

Now, it must be owned that, at his first glimpse of the countenance
which was bowing and smiling from the barouche, Ernest did fancy that
there was a resemblance between it and the old familiar face upon the
mountain-side. The brow, with its massive depth and loftiness, and all
the other features, indeed, were boldly and strongly hewn, as if in
emulation of a more than heroic, of a Titanic model. But the sublimity
and stateliness, the grand expression of a divine sympathy, that
illuminated the mountain visage, and etherealized its ponderous
granite substance into spirit, might here be sought in vain. Something
had been originally left out, or had departed. And therefore the
marvellously gifted statesman had always a weary gloom in the deep
caverns of his eyes, as of a child that has outgrown its playthings,
or a man of mighty faculties and little aims, whose life, with all its
high performances, was vague and empty, because no high purpose had
endowed it with reality.

Still, Ernest's neighbor was thrusting his elbow into his side, and
pressing him for an answer.

"Confess! confess! Is not he the very picture of your Old Man of the
Mountain?"

"No!" said Ernest, bluntly, "I see little or no likeness."

"Then so much the worse for the Great Stone Face!" answered his
neighbor; and again he set up a shout for Old Stony Phiz.

But Ernest turned away, melancholy, and almost despondent: for this
was the saddest of his disappointments, to behold a man who might have
fulfilled the prophecy, and had not willed to do so. Meantime, the
cavalcade, the banners, the music, and the barouches swept past him,
with the vociferous crowd in the rear, leaving the dust to settle
down, and the Great Stone Face to be revealed again, with the grandeur
that it had worn for untold centuries.

"Lo, here I am, Ernest!" the benign lips seemed to say. "I have waited
longer than thou, and am not yet weary. Fear not; the man will come."

The years hurried onward, treading in their haste on one another's
heels. And now they began to bring white hairs, and scatter them over
the head of Ernest; they made reverend wrinkles across his forehead,
and furrows in his cheeks. He was an aged man. But not in vain had he
grown old: more than the white hairs on his head were the sage
thoughts in his mind; his wrinkles and furrows were inscriptions that
Time had graved, and in which he had written legends of wisdom that
had been tested by the tenor of a life. And Ernest had ceased to be
obscure. Unsought for, undesired, had come the fame which so many
seek, and made him known in the great world, beyond the limits of the
valley in which he had dwelt so quietly. College professors, and even
the active men of cities, came from far to see and converse with
Ernest; for the report had gone abroad that this simple husbandman had
ideas unlike those of other men, not gained from books, but of a
higher tone--a tranquil and familiar majesty, as if he had been
talking with the angels as his daily friends. Whether it were sage,
statesman, or philanthropist, Ernest received these visitors with the
gentle sincerity that had characterized him from boyhood, and spoke
freely with them of whatever came uppermost, or lay deepest in his
heart or their own. While they talked together, his face would kindle,
unawares, and shine upon them, as with a mild evening light. Pensive
with the fulness of such discourse, his guests took leave and went
their way; and passing up the valley, paused to look at the Great
Stone Face, imagining that they had seen its likeness in a human
countenance, but could not remember where.

While Ernest had been growing up and growing old, a bountiful
Providence had granted a new poet to this earth. He, likewise, was a
native of the valley, but had spent the greater part of his life at a
distance from that romantic region, pouring out his sweet music amid
the bustle and din of cities. Often, however, did the mountains which
had been familiar to him in his childhood lift their snowy peaks into
the clear atmosphere of his poetry. Neither was the Great Stone Face
forgotten, for the poet had celebrated it in an ode, which was grand
enough to have been uttered by its own majestic lips. This man of
genius, we may say, had come down from heaven with wonderful
endowments. If he sang of a mountain, the eyes of all mankind beheld a
mightier grandeur reposing on its breast, or soaring to its summit,
than had before been seen there. If his theme were a lovely lake, a
celestial smile had now been thrown over it, to gleam forever on its
surface. If it were the vast old sea, even the deep immensity of its
dread bosom seemed to swell the higher, as if moved by the emotions of
the song. Thus the world assumed another and a better aspect from the
hour that the poet blessed it with his happy eyes. The Creator had
bestowed him, as the last best touch to his own handiwork. Creation
was not finished till the poet came to interpret, and so complete it.

The effect was no less high and beautiful, when his human brethren
were the subject of his verse. The man or woman, sordid with the
common dust of life, who crossed his daily path, and the little child
who played in it, were glorified if he beheld them in his mood of
poetic faith. He showed the golden links of the great chain that
intertwined them with an angelic kindred; he brought out the hidden
traits of a celestial birth that made them worthy of such kin. Some,
indeed, there were, who thought to show the soundness of their
judgment by affirming that all the beauty and dignity of the natural
world existed only in the poet's fancy. Let such men speak for
themselves, who undoubtedly appear to have been spawned forth by
Nature with a contemptuous bitterness; she having plastered them up
out of her refuse stuff, after all the swine were made.

As respects all things else, the poet's ideal was the truest truth.

The songs of this poet found their way to Ernest. He read them after
his customary toil, seated on the bench before his cottage-door, where
for such a length of time he had filled his repose with thought, by
gazing at the Great Stone Face. And now as he read stanzas that caused
the soul to thrill within him, he lifted his eyes to the vast
countenance beaming on him so benignantly.

"O majestic friend," he murmured, addressing the Great Stone Face, "is
not this man worthy to resemble thee?"

The Face seemed to smile, but answered not a word.

Now it happened that the poet, though he dwelt so far away, had not
only heard of Ernest, but had meditated much upon his character, until
he deemed nothing so desirable as to meet this man, whose untaught
wisdom walked hand in hand with the noble simplicity of his life. One
summer morning, therefore, he took passage by the railroad, and in the
decline of the afternoon, alighted from the cars at no great distance
from Ernest's cottage. The great hotel, which had formerly been the
palace of Mr. Gathergold, was close at hand, but the poet, with his
carpet-bag on his arm, inquired at once where Ernest dwelt, and was
resolved to be accepted as his guest.

Approaching the door, he there found the good old man, holding a
volume in his hand, which alternately he read, and then, with a finger
between the leaves, looked lovingly at the Great Stone Face.

"Good evening," said the poet. "Can you give a traveller a night's
lodging?"

"Willingly," answered Ernest; and then he added, smiling, "Methinks I
never saw the Great Stone Face look so hospitably at a stranger."

The poet sat down on the bench beside him, and he and Ernest talked
together. Often had the poet held intercourse with the wittiest and
the wisest, but never before with a man like Ernest, whose thoughts
and feelings gushed up with such a natural freedom, and who made great
truths so familiar by his simple utterance of them. Angels, as had
been so often said, seemed to have wrought with him at his labor in
the fields; angels seemed to have sat with him by the fireside; and,
dwelling with angels as friend with friends, he had imbibed the
sublimity of their ideas, and imbued it with the sweet and lowly charm
of household words. So thought the poet. And Ernest, on the other
hand, was moved and agitated by the living images which the poet flung
out of his mind, and which peopled all the air about the cottage-door
with shapes of beauty, both gay and pensive. The sympathies of these
two men instructed them with a profounder sense than either could have
attained alone. Their minds accorded into one strain, and made
delightful music which neither of them could have claimed as all his
own, nor distinguished his own share from the other's. They led one
another, as it were, into a high pavilion of their thoughts, so
remote, and hitherto so dim, that they had never entered it before,
and so beautiful that they desired to be there always.

As Ernest listened to the poet, he imagined that the Great Stone Face
was bending forward to listen too. He gazed earnestly into the poet's
glowing eyes.

"Who are you, my strangely gifted guest?" he said.

The poet laid his finger on the volume that Ernest had been reading.

"You have read these poems," said he. "You know me, then--for I wrote
them."

Again, and still more earnestly than before, Ernest examined the poet's
features; then turned toward the Great Stone Face; then back, with an
uncertain aspect, to his guest. But his countenance fell; he shook his
head, and sighed.

"Wherefore are you sad?" inquired the poet.

"Because," replied Ernest, "all through life I have awaited the
fulfilment of a prophecy; and, when I read these poems, I hoped that
it might be fulfilled in you."

"You hoped," answered the poet, faintly smiling, "to find in me the
likeness of the Great Stone Face. And you are disappointed, as
formerly with Mr. Gathergold, and Old Blood-and-Thunder, and Old Stony
Phiz. Yes, Ernest, it is my doom. You must add my name to the
illustrious three, and record another failure of your hopes. For--in
shame and sadness do I speak it, Ernest--I am not worthy to be
typified by yonder benign and majestic image."

"And why?" asked Ernest. He pointed to the volume. "Are not those
thoughts divine?"

"They have a strain of the Divinity," replied the poet. "You can hear
in them the far-off echo of a heavenly song.



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