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A Sealed Spirit
by [?]

A few weeks ago I was staying with a friend of mine, a clergyman in the country. He told me one evening a very sad story about one of his parishioners. This was a man who had been a clerk in a London Bank, whose eyesight had failed, and who had at last become totally blind. He was, at the time when this calamity fell upon him, about forty years of age. The Directors of the Bank gave him a small pension, and he had a very small income of his own; he was married, with one son, who was shortly after taken into the Bank as a clerk. The man and his wife came into the parish, and took a tiny cottage, where they lived very simply and frugally. But within a year or two his hearing had also failed, and he had since become totally deaf. It is almost appalling to reflect upon the condition of helplessness to which this double calamity can reduce a man. To be cut off from the sights and sounds of the world, with these two avenues of perception closed, so as to be able to take cognisance of external things only through scent and touch! It would seem to be well-nigh unendurable! He had learnt to read raised type with his fingers, and had been presented by some friends with two or three books of this kind. His speech was, as is always the case, affected, but still intelligible. Only the simplest facts could be communicated to him, by means of a set of cards, with words in raised type, out of which a few sentences could be arranged. But he and his wife had invented a code of touch, by means of which she was able to a certain extent, though of course very inadequately, to communicate with him. I asked how he employed himself, and I was told that he wrote a good deal,–curious, rhapsodical compositions, dwelling much on his own thoughts and fancies. “He sits,” said the Vicar, “for hours together on a bench in his garden, and walks about, guided by his wife. His sense of both smell and touch have become extraordinarily acute; and, afflicted as he is, I am sure he is not at all an unhappy man.” He produced some of the writings of which he had spoken. They were written in a big, clear hand. I read them with intense interest. Some of them were recollections of his childish days, set in a somewhat antique and biblical phraseology. Some of them were curious reveries, dwelling much upon the perception of natural things through scent. He complained, I remember, that life was so much less interesting in winter because scents were so much less sweet and less complex than in summer. But the whole of the writings showed a serene exaltation of mind. There was not a touch of repining or resignation about them. He spoke much of the aesthetic pleasure that he received from an increased power of disentangling the component elements of a scent, such as came from his garden on a warm summer day. Some of the writings that were shown me were religious in character, in which the man spoke of a constant sense of the nearness of God’s presence, and of a strange joy that filled his heart.

On the following day the Vicar suggested that we should go to see him; we turned out of a lane, and found a little cottage with a thatched roof, standing in a small orchard, bright with flowers. On a bench we saw the man sitting, entirely unconscious of our presence. He was a tall, strongly-built fellow with a beard, bronzed and healthy in appearance. His eyes were wide open, and, but for a curious fixity of gaze, I should not have suspected that he was blind. His hands were folded on his knee, and he was smiling; once or twice I saw his lips move as if he was talking to himself. “We won’t go up to him,” said the Vicar, “as it might startle him; we will find his wife.” So we went up to the cottage door, and knocked. It was opened to us by a small elderly woman, with a grave, simple look, and a very pleasant smile. The little place was wonderfully clean and neat. The Vicar introduced me, saying that I had been much interested in her husband’s writings, and had come to call on him. She smiled briskly, and said that he would be much pleased. We walked down the path; when we were within a few feet of him, he became aware of our presence, and turned his head with a quiet, expectant air. His wife went up to him, took his hand, and seemed to beat on it softly with her fingers; he smiled, and presently raised his hat, as if to greet us, and then took up a little writing-pad which lay beside him, and began to write. A little conversation followed, his wife reading out what he had written, and then interpreting our remarks to him. What struck me most was the absence of egotism in what he wrote. He asked the Vicar one or two questions, and desired to know who I was. I went and sate down beside him; he wrote in his book that it was a pleasure to him to meet a stranger. Might he take the liberty of seeing him in his own way? “He means,” said the wife, smiling, “might he put his hand on your face–some people do not like it,” she added apologetically, “and he will quite understand if you do not.” I said that I was delighted; and the blind man thereupon laid his hand upon my sleeve, and with an incredible deftness and lightness of touch, so that I hardly felt it, passed his finger-tips over my coat and waistcoat, lingered for a moment over my watch-chain, then over my tie and collar, and then very gently over my face and hair; it did not last half a minute, and there was something curiously magnetic in the touch of the slim firm fingers. “Now I see him,” he wrote; “please thank him.” “It will please him,” said the Vicar, “if we ask him to describe you.” In a moment, after a few touches of his wife’s hand, he smiled, and wrote down a really remarkably accurate picture of my appearance. We then asked him a few questions about himself. “Very well and very happy,” he wrote, “full of the love of God;” and then added, “You will perhaps think that I get tired of doing nothing, but the time is too short for all I want to do.” “It is quite true,” said his wife, smiling as she read it. “He is as pleased as a child with everything, and every one is so good to him.” Presently she asked him to read aloud to us; and in a voice of great distinctness, he read a few verses of the Book of Job from a big volume. The voice was high and resonant, but varied strangely in pitch. He asked at the end whether we had heard every word, and being told that we had, smiled very sweetly and frankly, like a boy who has performed a task well. The Vicar suggested that he should come for a turn with us, at which he visibly brightened, and said he would like to walk through the village. He took our arms, walking between us; and with a delicate courtesy, knowing that we could not communicate with him, talked himself, very quietly and simply, almost all the way, partly of what he was convinced we were passing,–guessing, I imagine, mainly by a sense of smell, and interpreting it all with astonishing accuracy, though I confess I was often unable even to detect the scents which guided him. We walked thus for half an hour, listening to his quiet talk. Two or three people came up to us. Each time the Vicar checked him, and he held out his hand to be shaken; in each case he recognised the person by the mere touch of the hand. “Mrs Purvis, isn’t it? Well, you see me in very good company this morning, don’t you? It is so kind of the Vicar and his friend to take me out, and it is pleasant to meet friends in the village.” He seemed to know all about the affairs of the place, and made enquiries after various people.