IN the month of December, in the neighbourhood of Paris, two men, one young, the other rather advanced in years, were descending the village street, which was made uneven and almost impassable by stones and puddles.
Opposite to them, and ascending this same street, a labourer, fastened to a sort of dray laden with a cask, was slowly advancing, and beside him a little girl, of about eight years old, who was holding the end of the barrow. Suddenly the wheel went over an enormous stone, which lay in the middle of the street, and the car leaned towards the side of the child.
“The man must be intoxicated,” cried the young man, stepping forward to prevent the overturn of the dray. When he reached the spot, he perceived that the man was blind.
“Blind!” said he, turning towards his old friend. But the latter, making him a sign to be silent, placed his hand, without speaking, on that of the labourer, while the little girl smiled. The blind man immediately raised his head, his sightless eyes were turned towards the two gentlemen, his face shone with an intelligent and natural pleasure, and, pressing closely the hand which held his own, he said, with an accent of tenderness,
“How!” said the young man, moved and surprised; “he knew you by the touch of your hand.”
“I do not need even that,” said the blind man; “when he passes me in the street, I say to myself, ‘That is his step.’” And, seizing the hand of Mr. Desgranges, he kissed it with ardour. “It was indeed you, Mr. Desgranges, who prevented my falling—always you.”
“Why,” said the young man, “do you expose yourself to such accidents, by dragging this cask?”
“One must attend to his business, sir,” replied he, gayly.
“Undoubtedly,” added Mr. Desgranges. “James is our water-carrier. But I shall scold him for going out without his wife to guide him.”
“My wife was gone away. I took the little girl. One must be a little energetic, must he not? And, you see, I have done very well since I last saw you, my dear Mr. Desgranges; and you have assisted me.”
“Come, James, now finish serving your customers, and then you can call and see me. I am going home.”
“Thank you, sir. Good-by, sir; good-by, sir.”
And he started again, dragging his cask, while the child turned towards the gentlemen her rosy and smiling face.
“Blind, and a water-carrier!” repeated the young man, as they walked along.
“Ah! our James astonishes you, my young friend. Yes, it is one of those miracles like that of a paralytic who walks. Should you like to know his story?”
“Tell it to me.”
“I will do so. It does not abound in facts or dramatic incidents, but it will interest you, I think, for it is the history of a soul, and of a good soul it is—a man struggling against the night. You will see the unfortunate man going step by step out of a bottomless abyss to begin his life again—to create his soul anew. You will see how a blind man, with a noble heart for a stay, makes his way even in this world.”