Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/Pity the sorrows of a poor blind man!
PITY THE SORROWS OF A POOR BLIND MAN!
So I did. Who could help it! He was, to all appearance, not only blind, but perfectly helpless: an old man with a white head, and limbs all cramped and stiffened; bearing, placarded on his bosom, the above injunction. Let any one among us, who walks in the sunlight, taking his eyes as matters of course, cover them up for a moment, and think what it would be to grope about in a perpetual darkness,—not that he may give himself a gratulatory hug at his freedom from his neighbour’s affliction, but that, feeling its magnitude he may pity it,—and he too would possibly turn and relieve the sorrows of the poor blind man, as the placard bade him do.
Every morning as I passed his corner I pitied him: that is to say, when I was not looking straight before me into my own business too earnestly to remember his. He never whined—a habit which would have set the teeth of my compassion on edge at once—and he never begged orally; only, he was there. Then I caught myself speculating about him. How did he get to the comer? How did he get away again from it?
A certain writer, instancing a difference between genius and no genius, takes two men passing an overturned waggon. The ordinary man, or no genius, simply sees the wreck before his eyes, while the genius immediately begins to imagine what it used to be, and how it looked before it was overturned. According to that view, let me flatter myself that I must have been a genius, since I got into a habit of making this poor old figure up afresh; calculating what he was like before he went blind; how long his legs had been when they were straight, and how far apart his nose and chin when there were any teeth between them. But I never could find out how he got to his post, or from it. In some mysterious way he was there in the morning, always, whether I passed early, or late; and in the same mysterious way he was not there at night, but I never could attain to a sight of his manner of progression.
By-and-by, he became familiar with my voice; there would be a slight trembling of the eyelid, a wistful raising of his head in the direction of the sound when I spoke, and sometimes a mumbled blessing. For you see, I was weak about the sorrows of this poor blind man, and constantly ministered to them.
I began, indeed, in my interest for him, to make sundry inquiries into the nature of asylums for the blind, and to question him concerning his parish, whether he had any friends; where he came from, &c. But to these questions I obtained no other answer than the desponding upward movement of the head and eyelids, or else disjointed phrases, such as—
“No one to care for me—desolate old man—no, no.”
More than once it seemed to me that my questions annoyed him; I put that down to delicacy of feeling, and was all the more anxious that something should be done.
One morning, however, I perceived new and touching symptoms of distress in the countenance of my blind friend. Not that he was demonstrative; he did not speak, but his attitude expressed the utmost despondency, and every now and then he quietly lifted the corner of a ragged handkerchief to his eyes. I noticed, too, that he got more alms than usual,—naturally, for no one could pass without being struck with the silent despair which seemed to hang about him.
Of course, I accosted him, and then his tale of trouble came out. His daughter was dead, and he had no money to bury her. This was his last visit to the corner; there would be no one now to help him along the crowded streets. He was old and crippled:—no help for it; he would not complain. Only let him get the money to bury his daughter decently, and he could die contented, for there was no one to care for him.
Some one among the pedestrians looked at us smiling, and whispered that it was “too old a dodge;” and with a momentary misgiving I slipped the usual small coin into the blind man’s hand, and went on. But when looking round I saw big tears rolling silently down from the poor sightless eyes, I turned back, I could not help it, half-a-sovereign found its way somehow from my fingers to the cramped ones of the vagrant, and the usual mumbled blessing fell on my ears, mingled with an assurance that I should see him no more.
“Where do you go at night?” I asked, hesitating. He made no answer, only shaking his head slowly from side to side.
“Tell me where you are to be found, that I may see if anything can be done for you.”
There was an odd twitching about his mouth as he muttered out that it was “no place for a gentleman to come to—no, no,” following it up with more blessings. I persisted in my questions, however, and then, all at once, raising his head with the old uncertain movement, he said if I would tell him where I lived he would crawl there on his hands and knees, that he might thank me for my goodness.
So I went on my way and saw him no more; and very soon I left off speculating about the sorrows of the poor blind man, or expecting him to crawl on his hands and knees to thank me; the mist of business and time gathered over him, and he was “out of sight, out of mind.”
One day as I was preparing to go out, a neat brougham drew up before my door, and a card was brought in to me, inscribed, “Mr. Valentine Brown.”
I had no knowledge of the name, and I was in a hurry, but so, apparently, was the owner of it, for he followed his card without waiting for the ceremony of invitation, and stood before me bowing; a white-haired gentleman, elderly, but well preserved, and showing a remarkably good set of teeth as he smiled. Also a pair of wonderfully bright black eyes glistened through his gold-rimmed spectacles. As he did not speak immediately, I intimated that I had not the honour of his acquaintance.
“That,” said Mr. Valentine Brown, indicating his card with a pleasant smile, “is the name by which I have been hitherto known. I am about to resume my real one. I have sold my corner.”
Anyone will imagine that my mystification was not lessened by this speech and its singular conclusion. What possible interest could I have in the curious gentleman’s “corner,” whatever that may be, or the sale of it?
“I am indebted to you for many kindnesses,” proceeded Mr. Valentine Brown. “Indeed, I may say that had it not been for the extreme interest—so extreme as to border on the inconvenient—you were pleased to take in my affairs, I might not have effected so early a retirement.”
I was about to express my utter innocence of having been at all interested in the concerns of a gentleman who was an utter stranger to me, but Mr. Valentine Brown checked me with a gently dignified wave of the hand.
“I promised however to call upon you; I consider it only polite to repay your kindness by setting your mind at rest respecting my circumstances. I am retiring from public life, and have sold my corner.”
Repeating this emphatically, Mr. Valentine Brown, by a quick movement, took off the gold-rimmed spectacles, and abstracted a complete set of teeth from his mouth. He then closed his eyes, raising his head in a wistful way which I at once recognised; twitched his eyelids and his mouth, and mumbled out a blessing.
And before I could recover from my amazement I was alone. A white-haired old gentleman was bowing and waving a ringed hand from the interior of the neat brougham, above the door of which, as it rolled away, I fancied—but it might have been fancy—I saw the top line of a well known placard—
Pity the sorrows of a poor blind man!