The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Man with the Seven Hearts
Neat, clean, and cheerful was the hospital, and soft were the nurses' steps upon the polished floor. In the ward were faces that had done with their fears and were only waiting. But on one bed lay a man who was evidently in great pain, for the sweat was on his cheeks and forehead, and he clutched the coverlet with his hands. And a woman of the people sat by his bedside.
He had been brought there a month before by one who had found him in the streets. And surely there never was within those walls a greater wreck. He was a cripple, and his crutch hung over his bed; his voice was a mere croak; his clothes were rags; his face was wizened and twisted; and his eye without hope. His speech was as horrid as his look, and his muttered words at first were such that the nurses almost shrank from him, and wondered why that woman who had found him out could thus stay for hours by his bed. But the woman did so, for the matron had given her leave, and no one but the woman could charm his present troubles from him. Now he lay quiet with closed eyes, waiting for death.
One evening as the surgeon went his rounds the man lifted a hand and laid it on the surgeon's arm.
"Doctor," said he, "stop with me. I am worth your while. I am worth any doctor's care, for he never met with such a man before. I have seven hearts, doctor, six others and my own. Lay your hand upon my head, woman; I do not know your name; lay your hand upon my head, and I will tell him my story, and when I am dead he shall find it to be true."
The woman did so and the doctor stayed awhile; and the man's voice grew softer at the woman's touch, and his eyes lightened, but not with hope.
"I was once rich, I am a beggar now. It was an evil day for me when I parted with my wealth."
"Ay," said the doctor, "riches were meant for men to keep and not to throw away. It was an evil day."
"Nay," said the woman, "was it an evil day?"
"Was it an evil day?" repeated the form upon the bed. "I know not, but I gained a heart.
"I was a singer. To crowded halls I have sung ballad and rhyme and love song. Listen now to my voice. It is a croak that a frog would be ashamed to utter. O my beautiful voice! It was an evil day when I gave my voice away."
"Yes," said the doctor, "no greater gift has God given to man than to touch the hearts of others by the voice."
"Nay," whispered the woman, "was it an evil day?"
"I do not yet know," said the beggar, "but I gained a heart.
"I was full of life, and hope, and joy. The earth was light under me, the sky was blue over me, as I walked. I knew that God was with me; and nothing failed me that I handled. My hopes were boundless as space; my aims were high as heaven; my heart was always with my fellows, and God removed all sorrow from me."
"It was a beautiful life, then," said the doctor, "and the memory of it is good."
For doctors cannot stop to preach to men about their sins, seeing that their sins are there upon the bed and preach for themselves.
"Where is hope now?" continued the man. "I am a cripple. I cannot see the sky. I have again and again put out my hands to kill myself. I do not know where God is; He has deserted me. It was an evil day when I gave up my hope, and my faith, and my joy."
"No, no," said the woman, "it was not an evil day. It was a beautiful day. They are all returning to you now. Hope and faith and light and God are coming back to you. We can see it in your face as you lie there. You have only laid them aside for a time, and you are returning to yourself." And she bent over him and kissed his eyes, and, as she kissed, the man's eyes opened and the light in them was that of peace.
"See," said the doctor, "you are changing back again. You have perhaps been wretched; you are no longer so."
"For every gift I had," said the man, "I gained a heart, and the gifts went from me. And you shall see when I am dead that in my heart are six other hearts. But how they came there you shall not know. Woman, do not tell your history."
The woman bent her head upon her hands, and through her fingers the blush shone.
So the man died, and the doctor, who had smiled over his story, found that it was just as the man had said, for in the man's heart, which was but a shell, were six full-formed smaller hearts, the hearts which he had so strangely gained.
And the thing made a great noise in the city, and all the people talked of it far and near. And the doctors took the hearts and would not bury them with the man, but kept them in a vessel, and the man lay there dead--with no heart in him at all.
But on the day before the man was to be buried, there came to the hospital at different hours a priest, and a merchant, and a porter; and they spoke with the surgeons of the place. They were shown to the room where the dead man lay. And as they looked at him and at the woman (for the woman was there still) two others in a carriage drove to the door, and they too came in, and all stood round the man.
And the doctor who had heard the story was among them, and he said,
"You see the man you came to see; the hearts are here; his story is true. Judge for yourselves."
And the merchant came and looked closely at the man.
"It cannot be the same," he said.
So said the others, "It cannot be the same."
But the woman looked up and said,
"Is it not the same? is it not the same? look closely."
"What do you mean? what same?" said the doctor.
But they were silent.
Before them lay that twisted wizened face, worn into fretful wrinkles. And at last the priest spoke.
"Sir," said he, "I came here thinking I might find the man who was once all in all to me. It may be that I see him. But I will tell my story briefly."
And he told how he had once in the days of wild and senseless youth met with a man who was rich and learned and good, and how the man had everything that could charm him away from God, and yet he was not charmed from Him. And the priest (he was not priest then) had laughed the man and his God to scorn, and had argued with him and worried him until the rich man said to him,
"See, what will you give me if I give you faith in God?" And the priest had promised that if such a gift could be given him he would give anything for it, except his reason and his money. "Your money and your reason I do not want," said the man; "give me your heart." And the priest, laughing, agreed; and all at once the man's face had changed, and he went from the priest, saying, "What have I done?" "And," said the priest, I cannot tell you how; but my old life went from me, and I became as I am now. Is this the man to whom I gave my heart?"
"Look!" said the doctor, "look!"
And, as they looked, the twisted face of the dead slowly straightened and was no more troubled.
And the priest fell on his knees.
"Is it the man?" said another. "Is it the man who met me when I was in a sad plight. Refused by everyone, I thought I never should gain my end, for my voice failed me when I sang, and I met with one who comforted me and helped me; but my voice would not do what I asked of it; and at the last he said to me, 'I am rich; I can sing well; what is my voice to me?' And he offered it to me, and I said, 'What can I give you in return?' 'Your heart,' said he. And I gave it him. Look! look! it is--it is the same!"
And as they looked in fear, a sunbeam broke from the cloudy sky and pierced the blinds in the chamber and shot over the quiet face, and in the light of the sunbeam a smile moved upon the dead man's lips.
"And are your stories the same?" whispered the doctor, turning to the rest.
"Yes," said one. "I rode here in my carriage. I was a beggar once. He showed me how to win wealth, and I lost all knowledge of him after I had given him my heart. O, why did I not know that his wealth had come to me, and that he was in distress? I cannot give him anything now. Happiness has come back to him; but riches, never!"
"He is better so," said the surgeon.
"And who were you?" said they, as they saw the stalwart man with his eyes full of tears. "And did you, too, give him your heart?"
"I did," said he; "I was a cripple once. He met me. I would be a cripple now--if I could get him back again."
"And you?" they said, as they looked at the merchant.
"Ay," he said, "I too; I cannot tell of the despair that went out from me to him."
There was only the woman left, kneeling by the bed, as she had knelt all the time. They looked at her and at one another.
"Ask her not," said the priest. "Leave her story with him."
And they turned and left her kneeling there.
So the man who had been rich and wise and good, and full of life and hope and song, and who had bartered all his gifts one after the other for a heart, was laid to rest in a churchyard near by; and six mourners went with his body, and their hearts are in his grave.
Typed July 2013