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O! as Tou hope for mercy in ils.it hour,
vvlien all whu are merciless shall plead in vain,
Grant some small respite!
But one short hour of grace! We yet have hopes,
Oh! blast them not; but think the fatal stroke
Is murder, when it intercepts a patdoa.—Alasco.
In that part of Herefordshire which approaches the ancient principality of Wales, there is a secluded valley which has not escaped altogether the notice of travellers. A small stream—too insignificant to have been marked on our maps—winds its way in serpentine evolutions through it; and from the frequent interruptions which are occasioned by the irregularity of the bed over which it runs, its waters emit a gently pleasing sound, which may be said to add considerably to the romantic beauty of the place. The rocks which environ it, though abrupt, are not very high ; and the natural ruggedness of the spot, its remoteness, and want of fertility, have effectually prevented the erection of any kind of habitations, unless when a hand of gipsy vagrants make it their temporary abode. Though somewhat harren, it does not want the attiaction of rich and varied vegetation. Here and there spots are covered with wholesome grasses, upon which the cattle of the farmer feed; and amidst the rocks, and along the margin of the stream, trees grow in great profusion. In summer, nothing can be more romantically attractive than the place; and, with somewhat of an oriental fancy, the neighbouring peasants call it Eden Dale.
About twenty years ago public attention was attracted in a particular manner to this secluded spot: a poor and lonely man, full of years, and indebted to the charity of others for the means of subsistence, erected for himself in one of the natural recesses of the dell, an humble abode. The little dwelling betrayed in its construction much of that taste which we might suppose induced its owner to select for his residence a place so remote from the haunts and footsteps of men; an overhanging rock secured it against the effect of storms, whilst its perpendicular hase formed the abut
ment, against which the rude rafters were raised. The joof was thatch and shingles; the shed had no window, and the door was lowly and ill-secured; the approach to it was intricate and circuitous, and the site appeared to have heen chosen for the express purpose of avoiding the eyes of men. Still, when discovered, it bore an air of neatness; a woodbine was taught to climb the rude wall; and a few flowers were planted in an artificial bed before the door. The interior, notwithstanding an appearance of penury, was cleanly kept; and although deficient in furniture, there was enough to shew that humble comfort was not altogether excluded from the shed.
Secluded and solitary, however, as this abode really was, the appearance of the inmate indicated nothing of ascetic or cynical habits. Age had thinned his locks, and furrowed his cheeks; but the hand of Time, in passing over his countenance, had not defaced those looks of kindness and humanity which are always agreeable, but which, when seen on the face of an old man, are peculiarly interesting; the more so, perhaps, because so seldom found amidst those deep traces which care and years are sure to leave behind them. He had about him nothing of the misanthrope: his eye was devoid of that ruffian fire which is supposed to prompt the daring to desperate deeds, and the brow which overshadowed it was neither compressed cor pursed by sullen thoughts or disappointed hopes. The lover of his kind was stamped upon his forehead; and over his venerable countenance was diffused that holy placidity which is generally the companion of religious hope. When he spoke, his tone was subdued; and even his manner of addressing others, evinced a mind more accustomed to solicit favours, than to busy itself with morbid speculations or unsocial musings. Retiring, however, his habits undoubtedly were ; but they were those of a man who chose to be absorbed his own feelings, rather than of one who, from any strong hatred, shunned society. When accident brought any one to Eden Dale, they were invited to his shed;
and when conversing with the young, the associations of other days would rush upon his memory, and his venerable countenance would brighten up with recollections of the past. At such times he would mention some of the incidents of his history, and they were eventful; for 'he had been a soldier in his youth,' and had 'fought in famous hattles.' Of himself, however, he was wont to speak but seldom; but the traditions of his country—for he was a Welshman—with which his xuind was stored, he was always willing to pour out for the amusement of all who chose to listen to him; and his superstitious lore was highly prized by his visitors.
In general, however, he was to be found seated iu or near his humble hut, only in the morning or evening. The intermediate part of the day was occupied in soliciting a small pittance from the humane of the neighbourhood; aud the gentleness of his manner, and the kindness of his look, seldom failed of interesting those who could best relieve him. The parish officers were then less assiduous in the suppression of mendicity; and the kind esteem, in which he was held secured him from an untimely incarceration in the workhouse. A similar sentiment of regard in the proprietor tolerated his residence in Eden Dale; and all felt so pleased with the good old man, that he was known throughout ■the district by the name of Poor Owen. The epithet ''poor' was used more for the purpose of expressing the feelings of the speaker towards him, than as indicative of his condition. The very children participated in the general respect for his humble worth, and the approach of poor Owen was sure to awaken in them feelings of gladness: the old peasants were fond of conversing with him, and the younger part of the community delighted to listen to his legendary histories. At such moments the kindlier feelings of his nature would glow within him ; his eyes would assume an unwonted brightness, and even a faint smile would play about his lips. It was observed, however, that the moment the excitation ceased he relapsed into his usual calm of sombre resignation . but this trait in one so aged excited no surprise.
When Owen first became a tenant of Eden Dale, he had with him a little girl: she was an only granddaughter, her father and mother were both dead, and the old man seemed to regard her with more than a parent's fondness. She merited all his affections; and when in her twelfth year, the wife of a neighbouring farmer, compassionating her situation, undertook to instruct her in the duties of a housemaid. She grew up in all womanly perfection; acquired the good opinion of her mistress, the esteem of her fellow-servants, and, as might be expected from the bloom on her cheeks, the attention of more than one rustic beau. The guardian of her infancy, in this hour of prosperity, was not forgotten; if she did not rock the cradle of his declining years, she laboured to diminish its inquietude: the little residue of her earnings was freely given to promote his comforts; but as these were insufficient for his support, and as he did not wish to profit by parochial law, he was still necessitated to make his humble appeals to his patrons.
Within the circuit of Owen's rounds stood a cottage, distinguished from the generality of such habitations, in Herefordshire, by an air of superior comfort and elegance. It was surrounded by gardens and paddocks, and well cultivated fields; and the house itself had rather the appearance of being the residence of a retired tradesman, than the dwelling of a toiling peasant. Such, iu fact, had originally been the case, and though economy had evidently been studied in its erection, there was an indication of outlay about its exterior which could hardly be expected from a proprietor whose only support was his individual industry. The windows were well glazed, the glass was kept clean, and a rich vine, in climbing the wall, spread over the casement that look of rustic comfort, which, in an Englishman's mind, is associated with the name of cottage.
For nearly twenty years Owen was in the habit of calling weekly at its door, and during that long period he was never repulsed with harshness. The inmates expected his visit on each successive Monday as a thing of course, and seldom failed to provide for him something that might induce him to return. At length the master of the mansion died, and his family removed to a distant part of the country. The cottage remained for months untenanted, and Owen was not aware it had been let, when, from the mere force of habit, he found himself, one Monday morning, standing before the door. The sight of a little girl, with an animated intelligent countenance, and a rosy cheeked boy, whose face beamed with an innocent and joyous beauty, awoke him from his reverie. It now Hashed upon him that the cottage had received new inmates; and as the children appeared, from their manner and dress, to belong to a olass somewhat above that of peasants, he signified his respect for them, and intimated the purpose of his presence, by taking off his hat, and extending the hand which held it.
It was the beginning of autumn, and the children were regaling themselves with the first offerings of that delightful season. On seeing the suppliant posture of the aged mendicant, the little fellow, from a generous impulse of humanity, arose to present Owen with his portion of the fruit; and his sister, approving of his s benevolent purpose, seconded his intentions by sustaining him on his toes as he strained to reach the poor man's hat. Owen blessed the lad with the pious unction of one who prized a blessing, and with a smile, which bespoke the breathings of his heart, declined the proffered donation. The generous contest brought to the door the mistress of the mansion; and on casting her eye upon the good-natured aspect of the mendicant, she approved of her son's charity, and as Owen still declined the fruit, she presented him with a more substantial offering.
The look and manner, no less than the fair eyes and beauteous countenance of the boy, riveted the poor man's attention. He gazed upon him with a benevolent