A meek figure, indeed, he looked, and when he saw me advancing he said, with a deference that was almost timidity:
“Good morning, sir.”
“Good morning, brother,” I returned heartily.
His face brightened perceptibly.
“Don’t stop on my account,” I said; “finish off your work.”
He knelt again on his bit of carpet and proceeded busily with his brushes. I stood and watched him. The lettering was somewhat crude, but he had the swift deftness of long practice.
“How long,” I inquired, “have you been at this sort of work?”
“Ten years,” he replied, looking up at me with a pale smile. “Off and on for ten years. Winters I work at my trade—I am a journeyman painter—but when spring comes, and again in the fall, I follow the road.”
He paused a moment and then said, dropping his voice, in words of the utmost seriousness:
“I live by the Word.”
“By the Word?” I asked.
“Yes, by the Word,” and putting down his brushes he took from an inner pocket a small package of papers, one of which he handed to me. It bore at the top this sentence in large type:
“Is not my word like fire, saith the Lord: and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?”
I stood and looked at him a moment. I suppose no one man is stranger than any other, but at that moment it seemed to me I had never met a more curious person. And I was consumed with a desire to know why he was what he was.
“Do you always paint the same sign?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” he answered. “I have a feeling about what I should paint. When I came up the road here this morning I stopped a minute, and it all seemed so calm and nice”—he swept his arm in the direction of the fields—“that I says to myself, ’I will paint “God is Love."’”
“An appropriate text,” I said, “for this very spot.”
He seemed much gratified.
“Oh, you can follow your feelings!” he exclaimed. “Sometimes near towns I can’t paint anything but ‘Hell yawns,’ and ‘Prepare to meet thy God.’ I don’t like ’em as well as ‘God is Love,’ but it seems like I had to paint ’em. Now, when I was in Arizona——”
He paused a moment, wiping his brushes.
“When I was in Arizona,” he was saying, “mostly I painted ‘Repent ye.’ It seemed like I couldn’t paint anything else, and in some places I felt moved to put ‘Repent ye’ twice on the same rock.”
I began to ask him questions about Arizona, but I soon found how little he, too, had taken toll of the road he travelled: for he seemed to have brought back memories only of the texts he painted and the fact that in some places good stones were scarce, and that he had to carry extra turpentine to thin his paint, the weather being dry. I don’t know that he is a lone representative of this trait. I have known farmers who, in travelling, saw only plows and butter-tubs and corn-cribs, and preachers who, looking across such autumn fields as these would carry away only a musty text or two. I pity some of those who expect to go to heaven: they will find so little to surprise them in the golden streets.