He tramped in the woods endlessly, pushing his gaunt body to extreme limits. He drank from streams and ate what wild berries and roots he could find. With his cloths in shreds, he shivered in the cold forest nights under a layer of leaves he’d salvaged from the forest floor. He hunted down wild animals, which in turn hunted him. His blistered bare feet, which he had vainly tried to cover with large leaves and strong vines, was one of the least misfortunes he encountered in his aimless wanderings. Daily he was growing more emaciated. Daily more and more in infected insects punctured his leathery skin. Daily his stride grew weaker. He did not know where he was headed, nor where he should go, but he was determined to move forward.
On a sultry afternoon. He reached a small clearing that was covered with blooming wildflowers and tall, bending forage. The perfume of the various flowers pervaded the air, but there was one scent his smell-starved nose could not miss— the savory fragrance of bread, fresh bread. His famished hungry eyes grew wild, scanning the grassy span of land for habitation. He sniffed greedily. Then, his sharp eyes rested on a chimney that peeked over the tiny hill in front of him. Forgetful of his undernourished body, he skimmed over the overgrown land and arrived breathless and exhausted on the other side of the hill.
A picturesque cottage hid under a blanket of cultivated ivy leaves. Elm trees surrounded the garden and orchard behind the homely dwelling. Before his mind had a chance to process everything, his ears caught the sound of feminine singing. Singing! Never in more than ten years had he heard music, much less such music that was floating toward him on the gentle breeze. He felt drawn to this peaceful place, not only because of his bodily wants, but by something indescribable. Something he had not felt before: a sense of belonging. That he could be a person once more—not an outcast from the world. That he had something different, that the world did not own: himself.
With an aim in view he took up his interrupted journey, and arrived at the threshold of the humble abode. Raising a thin, sunburned arm, he paused. The music was still in motion, but now he heard the words. The words of an old hymn.” There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuel veins, and sinners plunged beneath the flood, lose all their guilty stains.” Sung in a sweet soprano voice, the music stirred something deep in his soul, something land forgotten. He had heard the words a long eternity ago. Memories flooded his mind: memories of kindness, of pity: of servant-hood, and of unfair and harsh judgement.
Pushing the past roughly behind him, he knocked sharply on the wooden door. The singing abruptly ended. A stifled scream, and a rustling— as if someone was trying to hide something—began to sound, until the door was quietly opened. A young woman, about 19 years old, appeared before him. To his eyed, the blonde girl, dressed in a plain calico dress and a starched apron, seemed to be the most pristine angel. He stared stupidly at her. She returned his gaze with a look of mixed surprise, fear, and disappointment.
Regaining her composure with an effort, she blushed and said with an imperceptible tremor in her voice, “Sir, have you lost your way? How can I help you?”
The utter despair in his voice as she answered frightened her. “I had no way to lose. I need—I desperately need food and water. For weeks on end I have been wandering in the woods— running away from everybody, except those that would accept me—“ he lowered his eyes from her half fearful, half- pityingly face”—if any would… They would not even look at me, if they knew where I came from. So none had. But I have done nothing wrong.” He looked into her wondering light brown eyes “—nothing that I regret of, and nothing that I will ever be ashamed of.”
Before he had finished speaking, the thoughtful girl had already laid out bread and cheese for the hungry stranger. As an afterthought, she brought out a chunk of cured ham, and began to cut off thin, pink slices. He sat down on the chair she had placed for him, and after hoarse hoarsely muttering, “thank you, miss,” he devoured the simple meal in front of him. Weariness settled on him after his ravenous hunger was satisfied, and he began to nod. In a few moments he was asleep, his tangled, bushy head cradled in his arms.
Like the gentle and practical lady she was, the maiden silently stepped around the slumbering man, clearing off the plates and cutlery from the table.
Glancing ever so often at the creased face of the uninvited guest, she mused to herself:
“Who could he be? What strange things he said to me? Poor man, he must have had some hardships in his life… wonder how old he is. Not less than forty, I think. What rags he has on! And what a beard! How he frightened me! And I thought it was…”
She drifted off in to a reverie, about her father, who had gone off to war, and of the months of loneliness in the cottage.
The small woman took a last glance at the tidy kitchen, mentally noting what items were worth stealing if the man had come to steal. “He doesn’t seem to be of that sort, though,” she thought to herself,” I’ll just finish up my sewing.” but she felt uncomfortable as she stepped into another room. “I’ll just leave my door open, so I could keep my eye on him.” Suiting her actions to her words, she was soon engrossed in her embroidery work.