G_S_FACE

 

1850
TWICE-TOLD TALES
THE GREAT STONE FACE
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

ONE AFTERNOON, When the sun was going down, a mother and her little
boy sat at the door of their cottage, talking about the Great Stone
Face. They had but to lift their eyes, and there it was plainly to
be seen, though miles away, with the sunshine brightening all its
features.
And what was the Great Stone Face?
Embosomed amongst a family of lofty mountains, there was a valley
so spacious that it contained many thousand inhabitants. Some of these
good people dwelt in log huts, with the black forest all around
them, on the steep and difficult hill-sides. Others had their homes in
comfortable farm-houses, and cultivated the rich soil on the gentle
slopes or level surfaces of the valley. Others, again, were
congregated into populous villages, where some wild, highland rivulet,
tumbling down from its birthplace in the upper mountain region, had
been caught and tamed by human cunning, and compelled to turn the
machinery of cotton factories. The inhabitants of this valley, in
short, were numerous, and of many modes of life. But all of them,
grown people and children, had a kind of familiarity with the Great
Stone Face, although some possessed the gift of distinguishing this
grand natural phenomenon more perfectly than many of their neighbors.
The Great Stone Face, then, was a work of Nature in her mood of
majestic playfulness, formed on the perpendicular side of a mountain
by some immense rocks, which had been thrown together in such a
position as, when viewed at a proper distance, precisely to resemble
the features of the human countenance. It seemed as if an enormous
giant, or a Titan, had sculptured his own likeness on the precipice.
There was the broad arch of the forehead, a hundred feet in height;
the nose, with its long bridge; and the vast lips, which, if they
could have spoken, would have rolled their thunder accents from one
end of the valley to the other. True it is, that if the spectator
approached too near, he lost the outline of the gigantic visage, and
could discern only a heap of ponderous and gigantic rocks, piled in
chaotic ruin one upon another. Retracing his steps, however, the
wondrous features would again be seen; and the further he withdrew
from them, the more like a human face, with all its original
divinity intact, did they appear; until, as it grew dim in the
distance, with the clouds and glorified vapor of the mountains
clustering about it, the Great Stone Face seemed positively to be
alive.
It was a happy lot for children to grow up to manhood or
womanhood with the Great Stone Face before their eyes, for all the
features were noble, and the expression was at once grand and sweet,
as if it were the glow of a vast, warm heart, that embraced all
mankind in its affections, and had room for more. It was an
education only to look at it. According to the belief of many
people, the valley owed much of its fertility to this benign aspect
that was continually beaming over it, illuminating the clouds, and
infusing its tenderness into the sunshine.
As we began with saying, a mother and her little boy sat at their
cottage door, gazing at the Great Stone Face, and talking about it.
The child's name was Ernest.
"Mother, said he, while the Titanic visage smiled on him, "I wish
that it could speak, for it looks so very kindly that its voice must
needs be pleasant. If I were to see a man with such a face, I should
love him dearly."
"If an old prophecy should come to pass," answered his mother,
"we may see a man, some time or other, with exactly such a face as
that."
"What prophecy do you mean, dear mother?" eagerly inquired
Ernest. "Pray tell me all about it!"
So his mother told him a story that her own mother had told to her,
when she herself was younger than little Ernest; a story, not of
things that were past, but of what was yet to come; a story,
nevertheless, so very old, that even the Indians, who formerly
inhabited this valley, had heard it from their forefathers, to whom,
as they affirmed, it had been murmured by the mountain streams, and
whispered by the wind among the tree-tops. The purport was, that, at
some future day, a child should be born hereabouts, who was destined
to become the greatest and noblest personage of his time, and whose
countenance, in manhood, should bear an exact resemblance to the Great
Stone Face. Not a few old-fashioned people, and young ones likewise,
in the ardor of their hopes, still cherished an enduring faith in this
old prophecy. But others, who had seen more of the world, had
watched and waited till they were weary, and had beheld no man with
such a face, nor any man that proved to be much greater or nobler than
his neighbors, concluded it to be nothing but an idle tale. At all
events, the great man of the prophecy had not yet appeared.
"O, mother, dear mother!" cried Ernest, clapping his hands above
his head, I do hope that I shall live to see him!"
His mother was an affectionate and thoughtful woman, and felt
that it was wisest not to discourage the generous hopes of her
little boy. So she only said to him, "Perhaps you may."
And Ernest never forgot the story that his mother told him. It
was always in his mind, whenever he looked upon the Great Stone
Face. He spent his childhood in the log-cottage where he was born, and
was dutiful to his mother, and helpful to her in many things,
assisting her much with his little hands, and more with his loving
heart. In this manner, from a happy yet often pensive child, he grew
up to be a mild, quiet, unobtrusive boy, and sun-browned with labor in
the fields, but with more intelligence brightening his aspect than
is seen in many lads who have been taught at famous schools. Yet
Ernest had had no teacher, save only that the Great Stone Face
became one to him. When the toil of the day was over, he would gaze at
it for hours, until he began to imagine that those vast features
recognized him, and gave him a smile of kindness and encouragement,
responsive to his own look of veneration. We must not take upon us
to affirm that this was a mistake, although the Face may have looked
no more kindly at Ernest than at all the world besides. But the secret
was, that the boy's tender and confiding simplicity discerned what
other people could not see; and thus the love, which was meant for
all, became his peculiar portion.
About this time, there went a rumor throughout the valley, that the
great man, foretold from ages long ago, who was to bear a
resemblance to the Great Stone Face, had appeared at last. It seems
that, many years before, a young man had migrated from the valley
and settled at a distant seaport, where, after getting together a
little money, he had set up as a shopkeeper. His name- but I could
never learn whether it was his real one, or a nickname that had
grown out of his habits and success in life- was Gathergold. Being
shrewd and active, and endowed by Providence with that inscrutable
faculty which develops itself in what the world calls luck, he
became an exceedingly rich merchant, and owner of a whole fleet of
bulky-bottomed ships. All the countries of the globe appeared to
join hands for the mere purpose of adding heap after heap to the
mountainous accumulation of this one man's wealth. The cold regions of
the north, almost within the gloom and shadow of the Arctic Circle,
sent him their tribute in the shape of furs; hot Africa sifted for him
the golden sands of her rivers, and gathered up the ivory tusks of her
great elephants out of the forests; the East came bringing him the
rich shawls, and spices, and teas, and the effulgence of diamonds, and
the gleaming purity of large pearls. The ocean, not to be behindhand
with the earth, yielded up her mighty whales, that Mr. Gathergold
might sell their oil, and make a profit on it. Be the original
commodity what it might, it was gold within his grasp. It might be
said of him, as of Midas in the fable, that whatever he touched with
his finger immediately glistened, and grew yellow, and was changed
at once into sterling metal, or, which suited him still better, into
piles of coin. And, when Mr. Gathergold had become so very rich that
it would have taken him a hundred years only to count his wealth, he
bethought himself of his native valley, and resolved to go back
thither, and end his days where he was born. With this purpose in
view, he sent a skilful architect to build him such a palace as should
be fit for a man of his vast wealth to live in.
As I have said above, it had already been rumored in the valley
that Mr. Gathergold had turned out to be the prophetic personage so
long and vainly looked for, and that his visage was the perfect and
undeniable similitude of the Great Stone Face. People were the more
ready to believe that this must needs be the fact, when they beheld
the splendid edifice that rose, as if by enchantment, on the site of
his father's old weather-beaten farm-house. The exterior was of
marble, so dazzlingly white that it seemed as though the whole
structure might melt away in the sunshine, like those humbler ones
which Mr. Gathergold, in his young play-days, before his fingers
were gifted with the touch of transmutation, had been accustomed to
build of snow. It had a richly ornamented portico, supported by tall
pillars, beneath which was a lofty door, studded with silver knobs,
and made of a kind of variegated wood that had been brought from
beyond the sea. The windows, from the floor to the ceiling of each
stately apartment, were composed, respectively, of but one enormous
pane of glass, so transparently pure that it was said to be a finer
medium than even the vacant atmosphere. Hardly anybody had been
permitted to see the interior of this palace; but it was reported, and
with good semblance of truth, to be far more gorgeous than the
outside, insomuch that whatever was iron or brass in other houses, was
silver or gold in this; and Mr. Gathergold's bed-chamber,
especially, made such a glittering appearance that no ordinary man
would have been able to close his eyes there. But, on the other
hand, Mr. Gathergold was now so inured to wealth, that perhaps he
could not have closed his eyes unless where the gleam of it was
certain to find its way beneath his eyelids.
In due time, the mansion was finished; next came the
upholsterers, with magnificent furniture; then, a whole troop of black
and white servants, the harbingers of Mr. Gathergold, who, in his
own majestic person was expected to arrive at sunset. Our friend
Ernest, meanwhile, had been deeply stirred by the idea that the
great man, the noble man, the man of prophecy, after so many ages of
delay, was at length to be made manifest to his native valley. He
knew, boy as he was, that there were a thousand ways in which Mr.
Gathergold, with his vast wealth, might transform himself into an
angel of beneficence, and assume a control over human affairs as
wide and benignant as the smile of the Great Stone Face. Full of faith
and hope, Ernest doubted not that what the people said was true, and
that now he was to behold the living likeness of those wondrous
features on the mountain-side. While the boy was still gazing up the
valley, and fancying, as he always did, that the Great Stone Face
returned his gaze and looked kindly at him, the rumbling of wheels was
heard, approaching swiftly along the winding road.
"Here he comes!" cried a group of people who were assembled to
witness the arrival. "Here comes the great Mr. Gathergold!"
A carriage, drawn by four horses, dashed round the turn of the
road. Within it, thrust partly out of the window, appeared the
physiognomy of a little old man, with a skin as yellow as if his own
Midas-hand had transmuted it. He had a low forehead, small, sharp
eyes, puckered about with innumerable wrinkles, and very thin lips,
which he made still thinner by pressing them forcibly together.
"The very image of the Great Stone Face!" shouted the people. "Sure
enough, the old prophecy is true; and here we have the great man come,
at last!"
And, what greatly perplexed Ernest, they seemed actually to believe
that here was the likeness which they spoke of. By the roadside
there chanced to be an old beggar-woman and two little
beggar-children, stragglers from some far-off region, who, as the
carriage rolled onward, held out their hands and lifted up their
doleful voices, most piteously beseeching charity. A yellow claw-
the very same that had clawed together so much wealth- poked itself
out of the coach-window, and dropt some copper coins upon the
ground; so that, though the great man's name seems to have been
Gathergold, he might just as suitably have been nicknamed
Scattercopper. Still, nevertheless, with an earnest shout, and
evidently with as much good faith as ever, the people bellowed, "He is
the very image of the Great Stone Face!"
But Ernest turned sadly from the wrinkled shrewdness of that sordid
visage, and gazed up the valley, where, amid a gathering mist,
gilded by the last sunbeams, he could still distinguish those glorious
features which had impressed themselves into his soul. Their aspect
cheered him. What did the benign lips seem to say?
"He will come! Fear not, Ernest; the man will come!"
The years went on, and Ernest ceased to be a boy. He had grown to
be a young man now. He attracted little notice from the other
inhabitants of the valley; for they saw nothing remarkable in his
way of life, save that, when the labor of the day was over, he still
loved to go apart and gaze and meditate upon the Great Stone Face.
According to their idea of the matter, it was a folly, indeed, but
pardonable, inasmuch as Ernest was industrious, kind, and
neighborly, and neglected no duty for the sake of indulging this
idle habit. They knew not that the Great Stone Face had become a
teacher to him, and that the sentiment which was expressed in it would
enlarge the young man's heart, and fill it with wider and deeper
sympathies than other hearts. They knew not that thence would come a
better wisdom than could be learned from books, and a better life than
could be moulded on the defaced example of other human lives.
Neither did Ernest know that the thoughts and affections which came to
him so naturally, in the fields and at the fireside, and wherever he
communed with himself, were of a higher tone than those which all
men shared with him. A simple soul- simple as when his mother first
taught him the old prophecy- he beheld the marvellous features beaming
adown the valley, and still wondered that their human counterpart
was so long in making his appearance.
By this time poor Mr. Gathergold was dead and buried; and the
oddest part of the matter was, that his wealth, which was the body and
spirit of his existence, had disappeared before his death, leaving
nothing of him but a living skeleton, covered over with a wrinkled,
yellow skin. Since the melting away of his gold, it had been very
generally conceded that there was no such striking resemblance,
after all, betwixt the ignoble features of the ruined merchant and
that majestic face upon the mountain-side. So the people ceased to
honor him during his lifetime, and quietly consigned him to
forgetfulness after his decease. Once in a while, it is true, his
memory was brought up in connection with the magnificent palace
which he had built, and which had long ago been turned into a hotel
for the accommodation of strangers, multitudes of whom came, every
summer, to visit that famous natural curiosity, the Great Stone
Face. Thus, Mr. Gathergold being discredited and thrown into the
shade, the man of prophecy was yet to come.
It so happened that a native-born son of the valley, many years
before, had enlisted as a soldier, and, after a great deal of hard
fighting, had now become an illustrious commander. Whatever he may
be called in history, he was known in camps and on the battle-field
under the nickname of Old Blood-and-Thunder. This war-worn veteran,
being now infirm with age and wounds, and weary of the turmoil of a
military life, and of the roll of the drum and the clangor of the
trumpet, that had so long been ringing in his ears, had lately
signified a purpose of returning to his native valley, hoping to
find repose where he remembered to have left it. The inhabitants,
his old neighbors and their grown-up children, were resolved to
welcome the renowned warrior with a salute of cannon and a public
dinner; and all the more enthusiastically, it being affirmed that now,
at last, the likeness of the Great Stone Face had actually appeared.
An aid-de-camp of Old Blood-and-Thunder, travelling through the
valley, was said to have been struck with the resemblance. Moreover,
the schoolmates and early acquaintances of the general were ready to
testify, on oath, that, to the best of their recollection, the
aforesaid general had been exceedingly like the majestic image, even
when a boy, only that the idea had never occurred to them at that
period. Great, therefore, was the excitement throughout the valley;
and many people, who had never once thought of glancing at the Great
Stone Face for years before, now spent their time in gazing at it, for
the sake of knowing exactly how General Blood-and-Thunder looked.
On the day of the great festival, Ernest, with all the other people
of the valley, left their work, and proceeded to the spot where the
sylvan banquet was prepared. As he approached, the loud voice of the
Reverend Doctor Battleblast was heard, beseeching a blessing on the
good things set before them, and on the distinguished friend of
peace in whose honor they were assembled. The tables were arranged
in a cleared space of the woods, shut in by the surrounding trees,
except where a vista opened eastward, and afforded a distant view of
the Great Stone Face. Over the general's chair, which was a relic from
the home of Washington, there was an arch of verdant boughs, with
the laurel profusely intermixed, and surmounted by his country's
banner, beneath which he had won his victories. Our friend Ernest
raised himself on his tip-toes, in hopes to get a glimpse of the
celebrated guest; but there was a mighty crowd about the tables
anxious to hear the toasts and speeches, and to catch any word that
might fall from the general in reply; and a volunteer company, doing
duty as a guard, pricked ruthlessly with their bayonets at any
particularly quiet person among the throng. So Ernest, being of an
unobtrusive character, was thrust quite into the background, where
he could see no more of Old Blood-and-Thunder's physiognomy than if it
had been still blazing on the battle-field. To console himself, he
turned towards the Great Stone Face, which, like a faithful and
long-remembered friend, looked back and smiled upon him through the
vista of the forest. Meantime, however, he could over-hear the remarks
of various individuals, who were comparing the features of the hero
with the face on the distant mountain-side.
" 'Tis the same face, to a hair!" cried one man, cutting a caper
for joy.
"Wonderfully like, that's a fact!" responded another.
"Like! why, I call it Old Blood-and-Thunder himself, in a monstrous
looking-glass!" cried a third. "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 inter-twined
laurell 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
moulded 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 towards 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. But my life, dear
Ernest, has not corresponded with my thought. I have had grand dreams,
but they have been only dreams, because I have lived- and that, too,
by own choice- among poor and mean realities. Sometimes even- shall
I dare to say it?- I lack faith in the grandeur, the beauty, and the
goodness, which my own works are said to have made more evident in
nature and in human life. Why, then, pure seeker of the good and true,
shouldst thou hope to find me, in yonder image of the divine!"
The poet spoke sadly, and his eyes were dim with tears. So,
likewise, were those of Ernest.
At the hour of sunset, as had long been his frequent custom, Ernest
was to discourse to an assemblage of the neighboring inhabitants, in
the open air. He and the poet, arm in arm, still talking together as
they went along, proceeded to the spot. It was a small nook among
the hills, with a gray precipice behind, the stern front of which
was relieved by the pleasant foliage of many creeping plants, that
made a tapestry for the naked rock, by hanging their festoons from all
its rugged angles. At a small elevation above the ground, set in a
rich frame-work of verdure, there appeared a niche, spacious enough to
admit a human figure, with freedom for such gestures as
spontaneously accompany earnest thought and genuine emotion. Into this
natural pulpit Ernest ascended, and threw a look of familiar
kindness around upon his audience. They stood, or sat, or reclined
upon the grass, as seemed good to each, with the departing sunshine
falling obliquely over them, and mingling its subdued cheerfulness
with the solemnity of a grove of ancient trees, beneath and amid the
boughs of which the golden rays were constrained to pass. In another
direction was seen the Great Stone Face, with the same cheer, combined
with the same solemnity, in its benignant aspect.
Ernest began to speak, giving to the people of what was in his
heart and mind. His words had power, because they accorded with his
thoughts; and his thoughts had reality and depth, because they
harmonized with the life which he had always lived. It was not mere
breath that this preacher uttered; they were the words of life,
because a life of good deeds and holy love was melted into them.
Pearls, pure and rich, had been dissolved into this precious
draught. The poet, as he listened, felt that the being and character
of Ernest were a nobler strain of poetry than he had ever written. His
eyes glistening with tears, he gazed reverentially at the venerable
man, and said within himself that never was there an aspect so
worthy of a prophet and a sage as that mild, sweet, thoughtful
countenance, with the glory of white hair diffused about it. At a
distance, but distinctly to be seen, high up in the golden light of
the setting sun, appeared the Great Stone Face, with hoary mists
around it, like the white hairs around the brow of Ernest. Its look of
grand beneficence seemed to embrace the world.
At that moment, in sympathy with a thought which he was about to
utter, the face of Ernest assumed a grandeur of expression, so
imbued with benevolence, that the poet, by an irresistible impulse,
threw his arms aloft, and shouted, "Behold! Behold! Ernest is
himself the likeness of the Great Stone Face!"
Then all the people looked, and saw that what the deep-sighted poet
said was true. The prophecy was fulfilled. But Ernest, having finished
what he had to say, took the poet's arm, and walked slowly homeward,
still hoping that some wiser and better man than himself would by
and by appear, bearing a resemblance to the GREAT STONE FACE.


THE END

 

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