(The hero of this tale had once been a famous trapeze performer.)
Cheeriest room, that morn, the kitchen. Helped by Bridget’s willing hands,
Bustled Hannah, deftly mixing pies, for ready waiting pans.
Little Flossie flitted round them, and her curling, floating hair
Glinted gold-like, gleamed and glistened, in the sparkling sunlit air;
Slouched a figure o’er the lawn; a man so wretched and forlore,
Tattered, grim, so like a beggar, ne’er had trod that path before.
His shirt was torn, his hat was gone, bare and begrimed his knees,
Face with blood and dirt disfigured, elbows peeped from out his sleeves.
Rat-tat-tat, upon the entrance, brought Aunt Hannah to the door;
Parched lips humbly plead for water, as she scanned his misery o’er;
Wrathful came the dame’s quick answer; made him cower, shame, and start
Out of sight, despairing, saddened, hurt and angry to the heart.
“Drink! You’ve had enough, you rascal. Faugh! The smell now makes me sick,
Move, you thief! Leave now these grounds, sir, or our dogs will help you quick.”
Then the man with dragging footsteps hopeless, wishing himself dead,
Crept away from sight of plenty, starved in place of being fed,
Wandered farther from the mansion, till he reached a purling brook,
Babbling, trilling broken music by a green and shady nook,
Here sweet Flossie found him fainting; in her hands were food and drink;
Pale like death lay he before her, yet the child-heart did not shrink;
Then the rags from off his forehead, she with dainty hands offstripped,
In the brooklet’s rippling waters, her own lace-trimmed ‘kerchief dipped;
Then with sweet and holy pity, which, within her, did not daunt,
Bathed the blood and grime-stained visage of that sin-soiled son of want.
Wrung she then the linen cleanly, bandaged up the wound again
Ere the still eyes opened slowly; white lips murmuring, “Am I sane?”
“Look, poor man, here’s food and drink. Now thank our God before you take.”
Paused he mute and undecided, while deep sobs his form did shake
With an avalanche of feeling, and great tears came rolling down
O’er a face unused to showing aught except a sullen frown;
That “our God” unsealed a fountain his whole life had never known,
When that human angel near him spoke of her God as his own.
“Is it ’cause my aunty grieved you?” Quickly did the wee one ask.
“I’ll tell you my little verse then, ’tis a holy Bible task,
It may help you to forgive her: ‘Love your enemies and those
Who despitefully may use you; love them whether friends or foes!'”
Then she glided from his vision, left him prostrate on the ground
Conning o’er and o’er that lesson—with a grace to him new found.
Sunlight filtering through green branches as they wind-wave dance and dip,
Finds a prayer his mother taught him, trembling on his crime-stained lip.
Hist! a step, an angry mutter, and the owner of the place,
Gentle Flossie’s haughty father, and the tramp stood face to face!
“Thieving rascal! you’ve my daughter’s ‘kerchief bound upon your brow;
Off with it, and cast it down here. Come! be quick about it now.”
As the man did not obey him, Flossie’s father lashed his cheek
With a riding-whip he carried; struck him hard and cut him deep.
Quick the tramp bore down upon him, felled him, o’er him where he lay
Raised a knife to seek his life-blood. Then there came a thought to stay
All his angry, murderous impulse, caused the knife to shuddering fall:
“He’s her father; love your en’mies; ’tis ‘our God’ reigns over all.”
At midnight, lambent, lurid flames light up the sky with fiercest beams,
Wild cries, “Fire! fire!” ring through the air, and red like blood each flame now seems;
They faster grow, they higher throw weird, direful arms which ever lean
About the gray stone mansion old. Now roars the wind to aid the scene;
The flames yet higher, wilder play. A shudder runs through all around—
Distinctly as in light of day, at topmost window from the ground
Sweet Flossie stands, her golden hair enhaloed now by firelit air.
Loud rang the father’s cry: “O God! my child! my child! Will no one dare
For her sweet sake the flaming stair?” Look, one steps forth with muffled face,
Leaps through the flames with fleetest feet, on trembling ladder runs a race
With life and death—the window gains. Deep silence falls on all around,
Till bursts aloud a sobbing wail. The ladder falls with crashing sound—
A flaming, treacherous mass. O God! she was so young and he so brave!
Look once again. See! see! on highest roof he stands—the fiery wave
Fierce rolling round—his arms enclasp the child—God help him yet to save!
“For life or for eternal sleep,”
He cries, then makes a vaulting leap,
A tree branch catches, with sure aim,
And by the act proclaims his name;
The air was rent, the cheers rang loud,
A rough voice cried from out the crowd,
“Huzza, my boys, well we know him,
None dares that leap but Flying Jim!”
A jail-bird—outlaw—thief, indeed,
Yet o’er them all takes kingly lead.
“Do now your worst,” his gasping cry,
“Do all your worst, I’m doomed to die;
I’ve breathed the flames, ’twill not be long”;
Then hushed all murmurs through the throng.
With reverent hands they bore him where
The summer evening’s cooling air
Came softly sighing through the trees;
The child’s proud father on his knees
Forgiveness sought of God and Jim,
Which dying lips accorded him.
A mark of whip on white face stirred
To gleaming scarlet at his words.
“Forgive them all who use you ill,
She taught me that and I fulfill;
I would her hand might touch my face,
Though she’s so pure and I so base.”
Low Flossie bent and kissed the brow,
With smile of bliss transfigured now:
Death, the angel, sealed it there,
‘Twas sent to God with “mother’s prayer.”