In the red gold light of the end of a summer day, a tall dark form, to which much journeying in far off places had given a strange look, was coming into a small town in our quiet New England. The stick in his hand had been with him from the day it had been cut from its branch in the woods of Hindustan : his dark face was still shaded by the hat which had kept off him the sun of Spain : his neck had been burned brown by the winds of the Arabian waste, and touched by the cold breath of the Arctic. From long journeying among violent men, he had under his short coat the blade which he had once sent into the throat of a false Turk. Every strange country had taken from him something of his New England qualities, and from every country he had unconsciously taken something of its colour ; so that it was not surprising that when the walker through strange lands came again into the streets of his town no one had any memory of him, though he was looked at with interest by everyone. But when by chance his arm was touched by that of a young woman going the opposite direction, she gave a step back, almost crying out.
"Ralph Cranfield !" was the name she half said.
"Is that my old school friend, Hope Egerton ?" he said to himself, looking round, but without stopping.
Ralph Cranfield, from the time he was a boy, had been certain that he was marked for great things. We do not say how he got the idea -- if it was uncovered to him in sleep, or by powers greater than man's ; or if he was only taking for the voice of a Sybil1
the desires of his mind. But he wad the fixed idea that three great events of this existence were to be made clear to him by three signs.
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The first of these events, and probably the one to which he had given the most thought, and with most pleasure, was the discovery of the one Woman who, of all women living, would be able to make him happy by her love. He was to go journeying across the earth till, meeting a beautiful woman who had round her neck a chain on which a jewel was hanging, in the form of a heart, he was to say to her ; "Woman, I come to you with a heart of lead. Will you take it, and give me rest ?" And if she was to be his -- if they were to be joined here on earth, and joined with even stronger bands in the hereafter -- she would say with her finger on the jewel : "This, which has been round my neck so long, is the sign that I will."
And secondly, Ralph Cranfield had a fixed belief that there was a great store of gold somewhere in the earth, of which he and no other was to make the discovery. When his feet came to the secret place there would be a hand in front of him pointing down -- he was not certain if it would be of stone, or cut in great size on the side of a mountain, or a hand of flame in the air ; but, at least, he would see a hand, the first finger pointing down, and under it the Latin word EFFODE -- Make a hole !
And making a hole, his work would be rewarded by the gold, or the jewels, or whatever of value was stored there.
The third and last of the strange events in this existence of high purpose was to be his coming to a position of power and
authority over others. The future would
make clear what this position was to be --
he might be a king, and the father of
kings ;, or he might be chief of a great
nation fighting to be free ; he might be the
teacher of a new and truer religion. When
he was to be given the sign that this high
position was his, three old men would
come to him. The chief among them, a
respected and important person in the
dress of the wise men of old times, would
have in his hand the long stick of a seer.1
First, the old man, with this stick, would
make a certain design in the air, and then
he would give the Word which, if Ralph
did as he said, would take him forward to
With this high future before him, young
Ralph Cranfield, full of hope, had gone out
to the discovery of the Woman, the Gold,
and the Wise Man with his offer of unlimited power.
And had he made the
discovery ? It was certainly not with the
air of a man who had had a fuller existence
than others that he now went down the
road to his mother's house, but with the
sad look of one fighting against hard and
bitter conditions. He was here again,
but only for a time -- to put down his
stick hoping that his tired body would get
back a little of its old force in the place
where his high future had been pointed
out to him.
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Little was changed in the town : it was
not one of those places where a year's
good business makes more mark than a
hundred years of slow wasting away, but
a quiet little town, full of old unmarried
women, and old twisted trees, and old
roofs touched with green. Putting together
all the changes ten years had made, it
seemed little more than if Ralph Cranfield
had gone away that same morning, had
been sleeping till night-fall, and was now
turning back again. But his heart was
cold ; because the town seemed to have
kept no memory of him as he had of the
" The change is here !
" he said sadly,
his hand on his heart. " Who is this man
of thought and care, tired with journeying
over the earth, and weighted with broken
hopes ? The young man comes not back
again who went away so happily ! "
And now Ralph Cranfield was at his
mother's door. Letting himself into the garden,
he came to a stop under a great tree,
playing with his desire to go into the house
as one does at those times when the years
seem minutes. He took a long look at the
house, its windows bright with the light
of the sky, its doorway and the stone step,
and the uncertain line of the footway
curving from the door to the street. The
tree against which he was resting was an
old friend, and looking at it, his eye was
taken by something which made a sad
smile come to his lips. It was a half
rubbed-out Latin word -- EFFODE -- the
cutting of which had been a full day's work
when as a boy he was starting to give
thought to his great future. It might be
looked on as a somewhat strange fact that,
over the word, the tree had put out a
growth formed not unlike a hand with the
first finger pointing down. Or so at least
it seemed in the half light.
" Now, a man who had belief in such
things," said Ralph to himself, " might
say that the store of gold for which I have
been looking all over the earth is, after all,
at the very door of my mother's house.
There would be humour in that, truly ! "
He gave no more thought to the thing ,
because now the door came open and an
old woman was on the step looking out
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into the dark to see who it might be who
had come into her garden. It was Ralph
Cranheld's mother. We will say nothing
of their meeting -- which made the one so
happy, and to the other gave hope of rest.
But in the morning he got up with a
troubled mind. Because his brain, sleeping
and awake, had been full of pictures and
memories. All the tires had been lighted
again with which as a boy he had been
buniing to go to the discovery of the three
great secrets of his existence. All his early
thoughts seemed to have been waiting for
him under his mother's roof, and now that
he was here again, came dancing round
him. In the room so fixed in his memory --
on the bed where as a baby he had been
put to sleep -- he had had a more troubled
night than ever in Arabia's waste, or in
the dark woods of Hindustan. The shade
of a woman had come to his bedside and
put her finger on the jeweled heart: a
hand of flame, burning in the dark, had
seemed to be pointing down to something
in the earth: an old Wise Man with a
lifted stick had given him the direction to
a seat of power.
The same shades, though less clear by
day, still went about the house, moving
in and out among the happy faces of the
friends who had come to give Good-day
to the son, out of respect for the mother.
They saw him, a tall, well-made man with
the look of other lands about him, kind in
his talk and in his behaviour, but with an
eye which at times seemed to be seeing
what other eyes saw not.
And all the time, Mother Cranfield went
brightly about the house, happy in her
heart that she had again somebody needing
her love and care, for whom she might
again take on herself the little troubles of
everyday existence. It was almost the
middle of the day when, looking out of the
door, she saw three persons of note in the
town coming down the street through the
warm sun and the shade of the trees.
When they got to her garden they came in.
"See, Ralph !" she said, with a mother's
pleasure in her son, " Here is Squire
Hawkwood with two other committee-men
coming on purpose to see you! Now do
give them a good long account of what
you have seen in other parts."
The first of the three, Squire Hawkwood,
was a very self-important but good old
man, the head and chief mover in everything
which went on in the town, and said
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by all the townsmen to be one of the wisest
men on earth. The hat he had on was a
three-pointed one, of a sort no longer in
common use, and he had a silver-headed
walking stick which seemed to be used
more for waving about in the air than for
helping the work of his legs. The other
two men were old and highly respected
men of the town, who, having the old-time
respect for money and position, kept a
little at the back of the Squire.
When they came up the footway, Ralph
Cranfield, from his seat, looking half
unconsciously at the three, saw these
quite common men through the mist of
" Here " -- and he gave a smile at the
idea -- " here come three old persons, and
the first of them is a wise old man with a
stick. What if these three have the news
of my future ?"
While Squire Hawkwood and the others
were coming in, Ralph got up out of his
seat and took a step forward as a sign of
respect , and his tall form and dark face
had a natural authority quite different
from the foolishly self-important air of
the Squire. The old man, with a wave of
his stick, took off his three-pointed hat to
put his hand over his heated face, and
at last, made clear the purpose for which
they had come.
"This committee," he said, "has
important reasons for coming here today.
For three days past we have been giving
thought to the selection of the right person
for a most responsible position, one to
take upon himself authority and rule
which, rightly looked at, may be said to be
no lower than those of kings and presidents.
And because you, our townsman,
have a good brain well trained by journeying
in far-off lands, and because you have
by now no doubt given up certain wrong
and foolish ideas of your early years --
taking all these things into account, we
are of the opinion that Chance has sent
you here at this time for our very purpose."
While this talk was going on, Cranfield
was looking fixedly at the Squire, as if
he saw something strange and not of this
earth in his self-important little body,
and as if the Squire had been dressed in
the long loose dress of a wise man of past
times in place of a square-skirted coat,
wide collared undercoat, breeches,1
silk stockings. And there was reason
enough for his fixed look, because the
Squire's stick waving in the air had made
the very design which was to be the sign
of the Wise Man for whom he had gone
looking round the earth.
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" And what," said Ralph Cranfield,
his voice shaking, " what is this position
which is to make me the equal of kings and
presidents ? "
" No less than teacher of the town
school," was the answer, " the place being
now open because of the death of old
Whitaker, after 50 years of teaching."
" I will give it thought," said Ralph
quickly, " and you will have my decision
inside three days."
After a word or two more the men went
away. But to Cranfield their forms seemed
still to be present, and to take on more and
more of the overpowering quality of the
shades which had first come to him in his
n sleep, and which, in the daylight hours,
had taken on an everyday look among
common things. He kept his mind upon
the face of the Squire till it got mixed with
the face of the Wise Man of his sleep, till
the one became for him only the shade of
the other. The same face, it seemed to
him, had sent its look upon him from the
Pyramid of Cheops : the same hand had
given him a sign in the gardens of the
Alhambra : the same form he had seen
through the steam of the Great Geyser.
At every turn of his memory he saw again
some quality of the Wise Man in this self-important
little great man of the town.
With such thoughts, Ralph kept in the
house all day, giving only half answers to
his mother's thousand questions about
his journeys and experiences. At sundown
he got up to go for a walk, and going by
the old tree, his eye was again taken by
the hand pointing down at the half rubbed-out
While he was walking down the street
of the town, the level rays of the sun sent
his shade far before him, and it came to
him, that, as his shade was walking among
far away things, so there had been a shade
of what was to come moving in front of
him all his days : and when he came near
the thing over which his tall shade had
gone before him, it was every time seen to
be one of the common memories of his
He had a memory of every turn of the
way. Even the more changing parts of
the picture were the same as in by-gone
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days. A group of cows were taking their
food in the grass at the side of the road,
and he was conscious of their sweet-smelling
breath. " It is even sweeter," was
his thought, " than the sweet smell which
came to our ship on the winds from the
Spice Islands." The small round form of a
baby came rolling from a doorway, laughing,
almost to Cranfield's feet. The tall,
dark man took up the baby and gave him
back to his mother's arms. "The little
ones," he said to himself with a smile,
" are to be in my care." And with a river
of warm feeling running through his heart ,
he came to a house at which he had to go
in. A sweet voice which seemed to come
from a deep and warm heart was ending
a sad little song.
With bent head he went in through the
low door. At the sound of his foot on the
doorstep a young woman came out of the
dark room, at first quickly, and then with
a more uncertain step, till they were face
to face. These two were strangely different
-- he, dark and weathered, like one to
whom existence had been a fight, and
marked by all the suns and all the winds ;
she, sweet and beautiful, and quiet-quiet
even in her strong feeling, as if all her
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existence had been touched by the peace
in her heart. But their faces, different as
they were, had a something which seemed
not so different -- a heat of like feeling
flaming up again from half dead coals.
" I am happy that you have come ! "
said Hope Egerton.
But no answer came from Cranfield :
his eyes were fixed on an ornament in the
form of a heart which was hanging from
a chain round her neck -- the same in
design as the jewel of the Woman of his
Future. It was made of white stone, and
it came back to his memory that it had
been out by himself from one of those
pointed bits of stone used by the Red
Indians -- before he had gone off on his
journey after shades he had given this
jewel fixed in gold to Hope Egerton.
" So, Hope, you have kept the heart ! "
he said at last.
" Yes," she said, coloring -- then more
happily: " and with what new thing do
you come from over the sea ? "
" Hope I " said Ralph Cranfield, saying
the words on an impulse outside his control,
" I come to you with a heart of lead.
Will you take it, and give me rest ? "
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" This, which has been round my neck
so long," said Hope, with her finger on the
heart, " is the sign that I will."
" Hope! Hope I " was Cranf1eld's cry,
taking her in his arms, " you have given
me light where before all was dark."
Yes, the unquiet sleeper was awake at
last. To come upon the store of gold he
was to put the plough to the earth round
his mother's house and take its produce :
in place of military power or the authority
of kings he was to have rule over the little
ones of the town! And now the Woman
had gone from his mind, and in her place
was the dear friend of his early years.
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