A Sermon in a Stone

HARRY JONES and Tom Murdock got down from the cars,
Near a still country village, and lit their cigars.
They had left the hot town for a stroll and a chat,
And wandered on looking at this and at that, —
Plumed grass with pink clover that waltzed in the breeze,
Ruby currants in gardens, and pears on the trees, —
Till a green church-yard showed them its sun-checkered gloom,
And in they both went and sat down on a tomb.
The dead name was mossy ; the letters were dim ;
But they spelled out “James Woodson,” and mused upon him,
Till Harry said, poring, “ I wish I could know
What manner of man used the bones down below.”
Answered Tom, — as he took his cigar from his lip
And tapped off the ashes that crusted the tip,
His quaint face somewhat shaded with awe and with mystery,—
“ You shall hear, if you will, the main points in his history.”—
“ You don’t mean you knew him ? You could not! See here !
Why, this, since he died, is the thirtieth year!” —
“ I never saw him, nor the place where he lay,
Nor heard of nor thought of the man, till to-day;
But I ’ll tell you his story, and leave it to you
If’t is not ten to one that my story is true.
“ The man whose old mould underneath us is hid
Meant a great deal more good and less harm than he did.
He knelt in yon church ’mid the worshipping throng,
And vowed to do right, but went out to do wrong ;
For, going up of a Sunday to look at the gate
Of Saints’ Alley, he stuck there and found it was strait,
And slid back of a Monday to walk in the way
That is popular, populous, smooth-paved, and gay.
The flesh it was strong, but the spirit was faint.
He first was too young, then too old, for a saint.
He wished well by his neighbors, did well by himself,
And hoped for salvation, and struggled for pelf;
And easy Tomorrow still promised to pay
The still swelling debts of his bankrupt Today,
Till, bestriding the deep sudden chasm that is fixed,
The sunshiny world and the shadowy betwixt,
His Today with a pale wond’ring face stood alone,
And over the border Tomorrow had flown.
So after went he, his accounts as he could
To settle and make his loose reckonings good,
And left us his tomb and bis skeleton under,—
Two boons to his race,— to sit down on and ponder.
Heaven help him ! Yet heaven, I fear, he hath lost.
Here lies his poor dust; but where cries his poor ghost ?
We know not. Perhaps we shall see by-and-by,
When out of our coffins we get, you and I.”