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V. A Handful of Heather Henry van Dyke

White Heather.

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One of the two should be a good listener, sympathetic, but not silent, giving confidence in order to attract it--and of this art a woman is the best master. But its finest secrets do not come to her until she has passed beyond the uncertain season of compliments and conquests, and entered into the serenity of a tranquil age.

What is this foolish thing that men say about the impossibility of true intimacy and converse between the young and the old? Hamerton, for example, in his book on Human Intercourse, would have us believe that a difference in years is a barrier between hearts. For my part, I have more often found it an open door, and a security of generous and tolerant welcome for the young soldier, who comes in tired and dusty from the battle-field, to tell his story of defeat or victory in the garden of still thoughts where old age is resting in the peace of honourable discharge. I like what Robert Louis Stevenson says about it in his essay on Talk and Talkers.

"Not only is the presence of the aged in itself remedial, but their minds are stored with antidotes, wisdom's simples, plain considerations overlooked by youth. They have matter to communicate, be they never so stupid. Their talk is not merely literature, it is great literature; classic by virtue of the speaker's detachment; studded, like a book of travel, with things we should not otherwise have learnt. . . where youth agrees with age, not where they differ, wisdom lies; and it is when the young disciple finds his heart to beat in tune with his gray-haired teacher's that a lesson may be learned."

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The conversation of the Mistress of the Glen shone like the light and distilled like the dew, not only by virtue of what she said, but still more by virtue of what she was. Her face was a good counsel against discouragement; and the cheerful quietude of her demeanour was a rebuke to all rebellious, cowardly, and discontented thoughts. It was not the striking novelty or profundity of her commentary on life that made it memorable, it was simply the truth of what she said and the gentleness with which she said it. Epigrams are worth little for guidance to the perplexed, and less for comfort to the wounded. But the plain, homely sayings which come from a soul that has learned the lesson of patient courage in the school of real experience, fall upon the wound like drops of balsam, and like a soothing lotion up on the eyes smarting and blinded with passion.

She spoke of those who had walked with her long ago in her garden, and for whose sake, now that they had all gone into the world of light, every flower was doubly dear. Would it be a true proof of loyalty to them if she lived gloomily or despondently because they were away? She spoke of the duty of being ready to welcome happiness as well as to endure pain, and of the strength that endurance wins by being grateful for small daily joys, like the evening light, and the smell of roses, and the singing of birds. She spoke of the faith that rests on the Unseen Wisdom and Love like a child on its mother's breast, and of the melting away of doubts in the warmth of an effort to do some good in the world. And if that effort has conflict, and adventure, and confused noise, and mistakes, and even defeats mingled with it, in the stormy years of youth, is not that to be expected? The burn roars and leaps in the den; the stream chafes and frets through the rapids of the glen; the river does not grow calm and smooth until it nears the sea. Courage is a virtue that the young cannot spare; to lose it is to grow old before the time; it is better to make a thousand mistakes and suffer a thousand reverses than to refuse the battle. Resignation is the final courage of old age; it arrives in its own season; and it is a good day when it comes to us. Then there are no more disappointments; for we have learned that it is even better to desire the things that we have than to have the things that we desire. And is not the best of all our hopes--the hope of immortality--always before us? How can we be dull or heavy while we have that new experience to look forward to? It will be the most joyful of all our travels and adventures. It will bring us our best acquaintances and friendships. But there is only one way to get ready for immortality, and that is to love this life, and live it as bravely and cheerfully and faithfully as we can.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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