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- Observations of a Retired Veteran - 2/11 -


what a man thinks to-day? What is to us the policy of a political party when the moss has commenced to grow over it. Who would attempt to enforce in this day the medieval creeds and religious practices and church government? What are we put here for, if it is not to learn, every year, every day, every hour if we can. And of what use is all this learning if we are not to advance by means of it? And how could we move a step if we did not tell our neighbor what we think we have learned--that is, tell him our opinions. I say to you, Madam (and I say it the more freely that she is out of hearing), that opinions rule the world, and while it may be possible that mine do not rule my own household, it impairs their value no more than imprisonment and persecution did those of other philosophers in the past. An opinion is a valuable thing--in its information if it is true, in the mental exercise it gives in combating it, if it is error, and in any event as a feather that indicates which way the wind is blowing--in what direction the blind mole of man's finite judgment is groping around its prison in search of an outlet to the infinite. And that is true, Madam, whether you call them opinions, or o-pin-ions!

OBSERVATIONS OF A RETIRED VETERAN II

You have been to the Conference? So have I, but it was twelve years ago. Still I shall never forget a scene I witnessed there. It was in the same Methodist church that this one is being held in. For days I had been interested in a plain, homely-faced minister, considerably past his half century, who came in evidently with great pain on crutches. The town bell striking the hour was not more punctual than the sound of his crutches. His hands were distorted by rheumatism, his limbs twisted, and his face had a patient look as of one who had suffered for a hundred years. His face was rough, but somewhere about its expression there was a graciousness that attracted my attention. One other expression in it struck me; it was the air of a man who had finished his work. Not that he hadn't frequent consultations with the ministers who approached him, or showed any lack of interest in what was going on, but just a look as if he was doing anything for the last time. Once he got up and made an official report of some kind to the Bishop. As he closed it, his eyes burned with an intense anxiety and he opened his lips as if to say something. But it was left unsaid, and as he painfully resumed his seat the old look returned. As the close of the Conference approached, I saw him several times with his head bent over the back of the pew. It was on an evening very near the close. The rays of the westering March sun shone through the windows with a cold, cheerless light. His name was called. He raised his head. His face was flushed. He struggled to his feet and with his crutches hobbled around the aisle to the front of the pulpit, where he stood, balancing himself on his crutches. And then the story came out. It was told to those in the seats rather than to the Bishop. He had entered the ministry young and had hoped to give his whole life to God. But of late years disease had overtaken him. He had struggled against it and tried to do his duty through great suffering, but lately he had found that he could be of no further use and he asked--here he paused and turned from the pews to the Bishop. It seemed that he was about to say something that he had striven for years not to say. His eyes filled and in a thick voice he said: "I ask to be put on the superannuated list." And then he sat down on the nearest seat and wept like a child. What it would have broken the heart of other men to have staid in, it broke his heart to leave. I viewed him with intense curiosity. Five or six of his brother ministers came up one by one, and silently took hold of his twisted hands. I don't think they said a word; I am sure he did not. He did not look at them, for his head was buried on one of his cheap, home-made crutches, and from his pocket he had taken a worn and faded handkerchief, with which he was checking his tears. After he had gotten back to his pew, some ministers here and there over the audience got up and testified to what the man had been and what work he had done. Some of them had seen him, crippled as he was and suffering the agony of rheumatism, driving miles through the falling snow to fill an appointment to preach. Somehow it seemed to me a eulogy of the dead--and it was. When I saw him the next morning he had the air of a man who had met a great loss, instead of a man who had just parted with a life of labor and physical anguish, but there was still the last time look about him. And it was the last time. In six months from that time he was dead. What shall we say when such a life of self-sacrifice passes on to the stars? What can we say, except to speculate on the boundless possibilities that eternity must contain for such a life. What must such a little minute-hand life as sixty years, develop into on the dial plate of eternity, when it is begun as this man's was. Such a man as this, it seems to me, must at some time or other have touched the very hem of the Master's garment.

* * * * *

I saw in your paper this week an expression which continues to run through my head. It is an advertisement of a poultryman for poultry, in which he says with rough frankness, "Old roosters not wanted." Whether it is good policy in him, while attempting to secure tender and succulent birds for the clerical stomach, to affront that venerable class of fowls upon which we sinners are to live long after the clergy have left, I will not say. I do not believe, however, that it will go unresented or unpunished. I believe that many an old rooster will so beplume himself and take on such an extra strut, that he will at last succeed in forcing himself as a young bird between the teeth of our clerical visitors. This will be a sweet revenge. But with this I have nothing to do; what I have now to do with, is the fact that over every department of life I see the same announcement. In society where the sweet amenities of life are monopolized by the young, the aged beau is met by the flaming inscription, "Old roosters not wanted." In politics we hear the cry that the favorite candidate is a representative of the "Young Democracy" or "Young Republicans," as the case may be, and that, except at the ballot-box, "Old roosters are not wanted." If a congregation loses its pastor and commences looking around for a successor, the first thing it does is to print in large letters across the pulpit, "Old roosters not wanted." Across the door of every new enterprise is the same inscription. What, I desire to know, is to become of us old roosters? Not fit for broiling, too tough for roasting, too old for congressmen, for preachers--what are you going to do with us? Ah, the very question shows where we stand. It used to be a few years ago, what we were going to do with you, but the tables have been turned and now it seems to me that the cemetery gate is the only place not decorated with the legend, "Old roosters not wanted." There they are more than welcome; indeed, if it were not for their patronage that institution would do an amount of business very unsatisfactory to its stockholders. Having then this refuge, brethren, let us take courage! Let us take consolation in the thought that we have gotten over so much of the rough road over which those following us have yet to travel, and that having once passed that portal we shall have reached perfect peace. Let us find a spiteful satisfaction in the fact that long after we have entered the silent gates, the young roosters will still have to rise early and crow hungrily for corn, still will have to skirmish with other roosters for bread, and the highest pole in the roost, and that as they show up in the race of life, they will have to read, in their turn, the fatal sign-board along the track--"Old roosters not wanted."

OBSERVATIONS OF A RETIRED VETERAN III

I have often heard people lament ill-health because, they say, sickness loses to a man friends. On the contrary, I hold that it brings him many new and unexpected ones. Let me see--December 15,--July; seven months; that was long enough to make the experiment, wasn't it? Well, let me look over some of the new friends I have made lying all this time in bed. The first new friend that I made, and one who had evidently seen better days, was a Tomato Can, that ever present denizen of the back-yard. On his head he jauntily flew a cocked hat bearing a damaged new picture of himself evidently taken in youth, and across his red waistcoat, in blue letters, was the word "Trophy." There he stood, day after day, leaning jauntily against the doubtful company of a whiskey barrel hoop, telling me the time of day, as if that was his only business in life. If the sun's light lay across his red stomach it was 9 o'clock, if it glistened on his cocked hat it was noon, and if it soberly lighted up the cherry red tomato on his side, it was 6 o'clock. "Sir," he seemed to say, "I have not been always as you see me. I have seen the day when I roosted on the highest shelf in the family grocery, and when I was dusted daily by well dressed clerks--if the employer was around. I was for many years the tenant of a French plate glass window and I have been carried by the soft hand of Beauty, sir, and laid gently in the market-basket. I do not boast, but Beauty itself has carried me through the streets in its arm. I have seen great larks, sir. I have travelled that Main Street at the rate of a mile a minute at the tail of valuable dogs, and at the midnight hour I have bounced into the midst of cat caucuses with great sport. I have been the friend of Man, sir, but what has Man done for me. He has left me here in this miserable back-yard, company of barrel-hoops and brick-bats and bottles. He has--" But here the next door neighbor's servant threw a bucket of slop-water on my friend and cut off his complaint. His red vest peeled down a little further, his cocked hat depressed further over his face, and a potato skin stopped his mouth. How true it is that no person can be in such disreputable circumstances that he has not the remembrance of better days to soothe him, and like the Tomato Can, ever find true comfort in the top-shelf on which he long ago may have roosted.

* * * * *

But as a new friend, the Street must always take the first place with a sick man. How new everything in the Street becomes to the man who views it from a sick bed! You would think he had never seen it before. Nor has he. No man in health lies and sees the Street wake up in the morning. Nor does the man in health, walking about the Street, see how prettily it goes to sleep. The lengthening shadows make it drowsy for a little while, but as evening comes it makes a great stir. It sends hundreds of hustling people along its walks hurrying home. It lights up hundreds of windows and shop fronts and looks as much as to say, "I think I will make a night of it. I've sent all the children to bed and now I'll have a time of it." But the steady old Street on which I live gives up its dissipated idea early, turns off light after light, and soon the lonely sidewalks are without a passenger. The Street does one thing for the sick man you wouldn't expect; it arouses a spirit of rebellion that is astonishing. Resignation is a beautiful virtue, but it chiefly exists on side streets and out of town. The man who is sick on a main street and professes to be resigned is a hypocrite. My friend, the Street, presents to me Thompson. What do I say? "Ah, Thompson, take the blessing of a sick man?" Not a bit of it. I say, what right has Thompson to be walking along attending to business and possibly taking surreptitious cooling drinks, while I am doomed to staring out of the window and drinking beef tea? But Thompson don't drink? Oh, well, what do I care if he don't! I threw that in about drinks to make it as hard on him as possible. It makes a good point on a man just to suggest it. There; there goes Robinson going to church with a new suit on, and a wife hanging on his arm! What has he done to deserve that sort of luck? Why, isn't he up here flat of his back--and there they all go. Resigned? Ah, no, the sick are not resigned. It is only the dead who are resigned.


Observations of a Retired Veteran - 2/11

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