“Ah, you have seen me play it,” said the stranger. “There’s no other Lear that declares himself with that gesture.”
“It is Edwin Forrest,” said Darrel, as the stranger offered his hand.
“The same, and at your service,” the great actor replied. “And may I ask who are you?”
“Roderick Darrel, son of a wheelwright on the river Bann, once a fellow of infinite jest, believe me, but now, alas! like the skull o’ Yorick in the churchyard.”
“The churchyard’” said Forrest, thoughtfully. “That to me is the saddest of all scenes. When it’s over and I leave the stage, it is to carry with me an awe-inspiring thought of the end which is coming to all.”
He crumbled a lump of clay in his palm.
“Dust!” he whispered, scattering it in the air.
“Think ye the dust is dead? Nay, man; a mighty power is in it,” said Darrel. “Let us imagine thee dead an’ turned to clay. Leave the clay to its own law, sor, an’ it begins to cleanse an’ purge itself. Its aim is purity, an’ it never wearies. Could I live long enough, an’ it were under me eye, I’d see the clay bleaching white with a wonderful purity. Then, slowly, it would begin to come clear, an’ by an’ by it would be clearer an’ lovelier than a drop o’ dew at sunrise. Lo and behold! the clay has become a sapphire. So, sor, in the waters o’ time God washes the great world. In every grain o’ dust the law is written, an’ I may read the destiny o’ the nobler part in the fate o’ the meaner.
“‘Imperious Forrest, dead
an’ turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep despair away.’”
“Delightful and happy man! I must know you better,” said the great tragedian. “May I ask, sir, what is your calling?”
“I, sor, am a tinker o’ clocks.”
“A tinker of clocks!” said the other, looking at him thoughtfully. “I should think it poorly suited to your talents.”
“Not so. I’ve only a talent for happiness an’ good company.”
“And you find good company here?”
“Yes; bards, prophets, an’ honest men. They’re everywhere.”
“Tell me,” said Forrest, “were you not some time a player?”
“Player of many parts, but all in God’s drama—fool, servant of a rich man, cobbler, clock tinker, all in the coat of a poor man. Me health failed me, sor, an’ I took to wandering in the open air. Ten years ago in the city of New York me wife died, since when I have been tinkering here in the edges o’ the woodland, where I have found health an’ friendship an’ good cheer. Faith, sor, that is all one needs, save the company o’ the poets.
“‘I pray an’ sing an’
tell old tales an’ laugh
At gilded butterflies, an’ hear poor rogues
Talk o’ court news.’”
Trove had missed not a word nor even a turn of the eye in all that scene. After years of acquaintance with the tinker he had not yet ventured a question as to his life history. The difference of age and a certain masterly reserve in the old gentleman had seemed to discourage it. A prying tongue in a mere youth would have met unpleasant obstacles with Darrel. Never until that day had he spoken freely of his past in the presence of the young man.