Samuel Levick rubbed his eyes and looked again. Yes, surely he was not mistaken—a thin wisp of smoke rose from among the trees that nestled in a hollow between two wide rolling fields. Somewhere hidden behind him was the home of his friend Gardner whom he was visiting. He had walked far, for his legs longed for exercise, while his brain was tired with the continual strain of carrying spiritual comfort wherever he went on his journey throughout western New York.
The sight of smoke, when he supposed he was far from a hearth, roused Samuel from his thoughts. He walked rapidly down the hill and peered in among the trees. In the deep, damp shade he could make out a hut of rough, unpainted boards. A rusty piece of stovepipe, sticking out at one end, served as a chimney from which the smoke poured. Openings that might once have had glass for windows were now stuffed with old sacking. Samuel walked nearer, picking his way between rotting branches and piles of brush. Still no sound. He stepped to the door and knocked loudly. Almost before he could withdraw his hand, the door was jerked open with a creaking of hinges. Nothing was visible within, but a coarse voice, startlingly loud and close, cried, “Who’s that?”
Samuel was entirely undisturbed.
“May I ask who lives here?” he inquired politely.
“Nobody but me,” and the door slammed shut.
At this point, most men would have been glad to leave. Not so Samuel Levick, who was quite used to talking with people whose unhappiness made them gruff and rude. He lifted the door-latch and without hesitation stepped inside. Before his eyes could adjust themselves to the dim light, he felt a man push past him, and the door was closed on the outside. He groped for the door, stumbled over a broken chair, and stepped outside. A little distance away stood a tall man, so thin and gaunt that the little clothing he wore seemed to hang on him as on a scarecrow. His face and head were covered with scraggly black hair; his eyes were horribly bright and piercing. A great wave of pity surged into Samuel’s heart. Here, evidently, was a hermit who had tried to put himself beyond the help of men and yet who, above all others, needed the hand of a brother.
The man stooped and picked up the axe that lay at his feet. Samuel only stepped closer.
“I have come to see you. Let us sit down on this log and talk together,” he said.
For reply the hermit, still grasping the axe, darted to the door and slammed it behind him. Samuel sat alone for a few minutes upon the fallen tree trunk; then he leisurely arose, knocked courteously again upon the door, and, receiving no answer whatever, again stepped inside. This time the hermit turned toward him with a gesture of despair. The axe was gone, but a flicker from the open stove gleamed on the barrel of a rifle leaning against the wall.
Samuel placed a hand on the man’s shoulder. He shuddered slightly and dropped his burning eyes, but stood still; then he pushed a stool forward, and by a gesture invited Samuel to be seated. The hermit himself dropped on a box in the shadow, his eyes fixed with eager longing on the placid, kindly face of his guest.
Two hours later, Samuel Levick walked into the study where his friend Gardner sat and described his visit to the hermit. Gardner was astounded. He told Samuel that this man was considered one of the most dangerous characters in that part of the country. No violence was supposed to be too desperate for him to undertake against anyone who approached or disturbed him.
“All, whether they are rich or poor, high or low, dependent or independent, need kindness, sympathy, and love.” Counsels on Health, 399.