Penelope

— What can we now affirm as to the kingliness of the “ king of men,” the eloquence of Nestor, the fierce valor of Achilles, worthies of the world’s childhood ? For that matter, how can we be sure about the attributes which memory attaches to the Homeric figures of our individual childhood ? Do these figures shine by their own or by a borrowed light of morning-time fancy ? I, for one, am inclined to accept without discount my childhood’s galaxy of worthies. Among these a certain but half - familiar personage plays some such part in my imagination as the ScholarGipsy might have enacted, reappearing by rare and fugitive glimpses ; especially, as, like the Scholar-Gipsy, he now seems to me to have been always awaiting the “spark from heaven.”

My first distinct recollection of this personage refers to an April morning, when I, an eight-year-old child, was trying to suit the springy steps of that age to the halting ones of my grandfather, in his discontented and pleasureless daily walk. He, poor man, was bent nearly double by the ravages of rheumatism, in this respect resembling no one so much as Chaucer’s graybeard who knocketh evermore upon the earth, and crieth, “ Leeve mother, let me in ! ” As we went along the village path, our painful progress was stopped by my fancy’s friend, who, after inquiring very particularly about my grandfather’s perennial malady, added cheerfully : “ But you must keep up good hope, sir. We all of us live on hope, you know.” Now it was not the light, mellifluous, ingratiating voice of our interlocutor that so deeply impressed me, nor yet was it his notable figure, the symmetrical head and shoulders with their adornment of golden-gray hair ; but it was the sudden uplifting of the face that accompanied his little homily on hope, and a certain mystical air of scrutiny where there could be no scrutiny,—for my fancy’s friend was blind ! To my young companions and myself he was “ Blind ’Lisha,” if indeed our seniors knew him by any more formal appellation. Each year, about those days when the schoolboy listens for the little bird whose note gives the welcome warning “ Time to go a-fishing!” Blind ’Lisha was wont to make his appearance, — whence coming we knew not ; that and his passing, after a short sojourn and round of visiting in the village, are now most delightfully shrouded in mystery. He again crossed the orbit of Our tranquil world and its interests in the autumn, doubtless then on his return to winter quarters with some relative. I only know that he could bring my mother gratefully received news from distant cousins and seldom seen friends who lived in the Purple Land of the hillward prospect. He was also made the depositary of all the most interesting recent occurrences in our neighborhood, beside being charged with many messages for those living yet farther than ourselves from the delectable Purple Land. Sitting at evening upon our doorsteps, to all that was thus imparted and enjoined he maintained an attitude of intent listening, slightly leaning forward, and always with the subtle characteristic smile of the blind playing over his handsome old face. But none of these details, however significant now, was the one which my childhood regarded as of first importance. To me the remarkable thing about Blind ’Lisha’s appearance was the slender silver trumpet which hung by a cord around his neck ; and yet more attractive than the trumpet itself were the trumpet’s decorations, — knots and loops of various-colored ribbons, these ribbons no sooner disappearing than replaced by others as bright and as talismanic. Disappearing, I repeat, for on his arrival among us the children of the neighborhood at once flocked around him, and, expectant, raised the expected clamor, “ ’Lisha, please give us a ribbon ! ” But beyond the joy which this boon afforded was that anticipated in the question, “ ’Lisha, won’t you tell us the name of the trumpet ? ” Invariable was the answer : “ Penelope. And remember, children, it was Penelope gave you the ribbon, with her love.”

The trumpet had its own good reason for being. It was, so to speak, the blind man’s “ voice crying in the wilderness ; ” for if on the well-known road of his summer wanderings any perplexity overtook him, he had but to blow the trumpet, which was no loss effective in bringing aid than was the bugle-horn sounded in (Sherwood Forest. Moreover, when he supposed himself to be near any village or “four corners,” he gave a warning blast ; for ’Lisha dearly loved the many-voiced and hospitable welcome which never failed him, both as an unfortunate fellow-mortal and as the purveyor of much pleasant gossip. So the trumpet was not an inexplicable matter, but how about Penelope ? I wish, when I had received my blue ribbon (blue because I had been privately informed by the almoner of her favors that Penelope herself liked blue best), — I wish I had asked about the trumpet’s christening. But I did not ask, and I have now for sole explanation only the romantic constructions of latter-day musings, based upon an apocryphal rumor of the neighborhood. There came a spring when the wanderer did not return with the little angler’s sing-song bird. Commenting upon the inroads which the past winter had made upon old mortality, the report went abroad that ’Lisha would come no more. To which report it was added that in the short illness which closed his days he had asked for his trumpet. “ For,” he said, “ I ’m coming into town, and I want to give them warning I ’m coming ! ” In the attempt to lift the trumpet to his lips he had dropped it, uttering some indistinct word, which those about him had conjectured to be “ Penelope ; ” and a further interpretation had been ventured, that the sweetheart of his youth had herself come to lead him into the Celestial City.