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A limitless expanse of opal sea, calm and unruffled, reflecting the crimson and gold of the sky, as the sun went down behind pine woods and moors.
A clear-cut line of cliffs, rising sheer from the stretch of golden sands.
Whirling white wings, as the gulls, shrieking in hungry chorus, swooped to the fringe of the outgoing tide.
A narrow path, skirting the edge of the cliffs, all among the pungent fragrance of gorse and heather and yellow bracken.
Along this path, on a warm September evening, swung a solitary figure; a man with sad eyes, feeling himself a blot upon the landscape, yet drinking in every tint of sunset glory, every wild wonder of snowy wings, every whiff of crushed fragrance. And, as he walked, the water down below seemed to call to him in a silent chorus of sparkling voices: “This is the way to the City of Gold. Leap from the cliff! Take to the waters! This, and this only, is your road for Home.”
It was the Lonely Man’s thirtieth birthday. Nobody had wished him many happy returns of the day. Nobody knew that it was his birthday. He would not have known it himself had it not been for the soiled and faded label which he carried in his pocket-book: Glass with care printed on one side; and, on the other, Returned Empty. Beneath the former was written, in red ink: Luke xii. 6, beneath the latter:September 12, 1883.
This label had been tied to the helpless bundle left, thirty years before, on a door-step in a London suburb, one moonless October night. The man-child, wailing forlornly in the calico wrappings, was obviously a month-old baby.
The matron of the Foundlings’ Institution, to which a stalwart policeman carried the bundle, after she had handed over the infant to her most capable nurse to be washed and clothed and fed, carefully proceeded to examine the wrappings and the label.
The wrappings held no clue. No laundry marks were on the strips of calico sheeting; no fair linen or fine lace pointed to a stealthy removal from a palatial mansion to the cold comfort of the suburban door-step. No jewelled locket held a young mother’s wistful face, or a tress of golden hair. The lonely baby had arrived in the coarsest of unbleached calico sheeting. “Ten-three a yard,” said the matron, and took up the label.
“‘Returned empty.’ Well, that he undoubtedly was, bless his poor little tummy! ‘September the 12th.’ Just over a month ago. That must be his birthday, poor mite! ‘Glass with care.’ Well, I never! They might at least have chosen a label marked ‘Perishable.’ And what’s written here? ‘Luke xii. 6.’ They had better have left the Bible out of their wrong-doings.”