A COURAGEOUS VISITOR
SAMUEL LEVICK rubbed his eyes and looked again. Yes, surely he was not mistaken a thin wisp of smoke rose from among the trees that nestled in a hollow between two wide rolling fields. On the upper edge of one of these pastures he stood, and nowhere in sight was a single house or barn, though; he could see for a long distance in every direction. Somewhere hidden behind him was the home of his friend Gardner whom he was visiting. He had walked far, for his legs longed for exercise, while his brain was tired with the continual strain of carrying spiritual comfort wherever he went on his journey through western New York.
The sight of smoke when he supposed he was far from a hearth, roused Samuel from his thoughts. He walked rapidly down the hill and peered in among the trees. In the deep, damp shade he could make out a hut of rough, unpainted boards. A rusty piece of stovepipe, sticking out at one end, served as a chimney from which the smoke poured. Openings that might once have had glass for windows were now stuffed up with old sacking. A lean gray cat stared a moment at Samuel, then scooted under the door. Samuel walked nearer, picking his way between rotting branches and piles of brush. Still no sound. He stepped to the door and knocked loudly. Almost before he could withdraw his hand, the door was jerked open with a creaking of hinges, and another cat shot between Samuel's legs into the dark hovel through the narrow crack. Nothing was visible within, but a coarse voice, startlingly loud and close, cried, "Who's that?"
Samuel was entirely undisturbed.
"May I ask who lives here?" he inquired politely.
"Nobody but me and the cats," and the door slammed shut, a shrill yowl from a cat suggesting that a tail had suffered.
At this point most men would have been glad to leave. Not so Samuel Levick, who was quite used to talking with people whose unhappiness made them gruff and rude. He lifted the door-latch and without hesitation stepped inside. Before his eyes could adjust themselves to the dim light, he felt a man push past him, and the door was closed on the outside. He was alone in the musty, ill-smelling hole; yet not entirely alone, for soft little bodies scurried desperately around his feet and green eyes peered from black corners. He groped for the door, stumbled over a broken chair, and stepped outside. A little distance away stood a tall man, so thin and gaunt that the little clothing he wore seemed to hang on him as on a scarecrow. His face and head were covered with straggly black hair, his eyes were horribly bright and piercing. A great wave of pity surged into Samuel's heart. Here, evidently, was a hermit who had tried to put himself beyond the help of men and yet who above all others needed the hand of a brother.
The man stooped and picked up the axe that lay at his feet. Samuel only stepped closer.
"I have come to see you. Let us sit down on this log and talk together," he said.
The hermit made no movement except to ask hoarsely, "Who sent you here?"
"No one sent me; nor do any know in what direction I have wandered."
For reply the hermit, still grasping the axe, darted to the door and slammed it behind him. Samuel sat alone for a few minutes upon the fallen tree trunk, then he leisurely arose, knocked again courteously upon the door, and receiving no answer whatever, again stepped inside. This time the hermit turned toward him with a gesture of despair. The axe was gone, but a flicker from the open stove gleamed on the barrel of a rifle leaning against the wall.
"Did Gardner send you here?" demanded the hermit, clenching his fist convulsively.
Samuel placed a hand on the man's shoulder. He shuddered slightly and dropped his burning eyes, but stood still.
"No human being sent me here, and no one outside of this house knows where I am," Samuel replied quietly.
Suddenly the tongs against the stove fell with a startling clatter and the hermit jumped with a terrible oath. With needless violence he threw wide the door and with furious shouts and waving of arms drove out the crowd of slinking cats. Then his manner changed suddenly. Leaving the door open, he pushed a stool forward into the light, and by a gesture invited Samuel to be seated. The hermit himself dropped on a box in the shadow, his eyes fixed with eager longing on the placid, kindly face of his guest.
Two hours later as the sun was setting behind the hills, Samuel Levick walked into the study where his friend Gardner sat. In answer to questions, he described his visit to the hermit. Gardner was astounded. He told Samuel that this man was considered one of the most dangerous characters in that part of the country. No violence was supposed to be too desperate for him to undertake against anyone who approached or disturbed him.