Every Wrinkle a Line of Beauty
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1858
"I don't like old people," said a thoughtless young girl, "they are either cross, disagreeable, or ugly."
"You have been unfortunate in your chances of observation," replied a lady, sitting near her.
"It may be so, but I speak, at least, from experience. All the old people it has been my fortune, or misfortune, to meet — have been cross in temper and repulsive in appearance. I have an old aunt who is always associated in my mind with the Witch of Endor. From a child I have had a perfect horror of her. I doubt if she ever gave utterance to a kind or uncomplaining word in her life."
"You must not judge all by this aunt, my young friend," said the lady. "There are handsome and agreeable old people in the world, and not a few of them either, but many. Age does not necessarily sour the temper, nor mar the countenance. There is such a thing as 'growing old gracefully' and the number of those who are thus advancing along the paths of life, I am pleased to say, are increasing yearly. I happen to have an old aunt also, but, so far from being a second Witch of Endor — I heard a gentleman, not many days ago, remark, in speaking of her, 'Why, every wrinkle in Mrs. Elster's face is a line of beauty.' And so it is; for every wrinkle there was born of patient endurance, or unselfish devotion to the good of others. I look at her dear old face often, and say to myself, 'Now, is she not pretty?'"
"I would really like to see your aunt," said the young girl, half skeptically.
"Come to my house tomorrow, and we will pay her a visit," answered the lady. "It will do both of us good."
"Thank you for the invitation. I will certainly call."
The next day came, and the young lady was early at the house of Mrs. Barton.
"Glad to see you, Kate," was the pleasant greeting she received. "We are to call on my aunt Elster, I believe."
"Yes; you promised to introduce me to an old lady who, so far from being cross and ugly, is sweet-tempered and beautiful. The sweet temper I can imagine, but not a face wrinkled and beautiful at the same time."
"You shall see," was answered.
"Ah, good morning, Mary," said a low, but very pleasant and cheerful voice, as the two ladies entered the small but neat and orderly sitting-room of Mrs. Elster.
"My friend, Miss Kate Williams," said Mrs. Barton, presenting the young lady.
Mrs. Elster laid her knitting upon a table, close to her open Bible, and rising, took the hand of Miss Williams, looking earnestly into her young face as she did so, and smiling so sweet a welcome, that Kate did not see a wrinkle, for the beautiful light that shone from the old lady's placid countenance.
"I am always pleased to see young faces," said Mrs. Elster, "and to feel the warmth of young hearts."
"How are you today, aunt?" inquired Mrs. Barton.
"Not so well in body as when you were here last. I sleep but poorly."
Mrs. Elster smiled as if she were telling of enjoyments, and then added —
"But this is only one of the penalties of old age. I knew it must come, and long ago made up my mind to be patient and enduring. These are some of the light afflictions, lasting but for a moment, which, if borne in Christian meekness, help to work out for us that far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, to which the apostle refers in one of his sublime passages."
Miss Williams looked at the old lady half wonderingly.
"Always doing something, Aunt Elster," said Mrs. Barton, placing her hand upon the half-knit yarn stocking which the old lady had put aside as she rose to take the hand of Miss Williams. "Knitting, I suppose, has grown into a kind of habit. The act brings its own reward. It is your pleasant pastime."
"No, child, not my pleasant pastime, but my useful employment," answered Mrs. Elster. "I can't do much in this world for other people; still I can do a little, and I am thankful for the privilege; for I don't believe it is possible for anybody to be happy, who is not engaged in some useful employment. I manage to keep the children of half a dozen poor families in warm stockings for the winter, and that is something added to the common stock of human comfort."
The eyes of Miss Williams were now fixed intently upon the old lady's age-marked features. Wrinkles went curving about her cheeks, her lips, and chin, and wrinkles planted themselves deeply upon her forehead. Grey hairs were visible beneath her cap-border; her calm eyes lay far back in their hollow sockets; the symmetry of her mouth was gone; and yet it seemed to the young girl, as she gazed at her wonderingly, as if every wrinkle in that aged face were indeed a line of beauty!
"But you must have a surer foundation for happiness, than knitting stockings," said Mrs. Barton.
The old lady seemed thoughtful for a moment. She then said, with sweet impressiveness —
"There is only one foundation upon which we can rest and find happiness, and that is God's love in the heart. The great question for us all is, How to obtain that love. It will not come at our command. We cannot drag it down from Heaven. We cannot find it, search we ever so diligently. God's love is God-given. First, love of the neighbor; then, love of good, which is divine love in the soul, the sure foundation for abiding happiness. So you see, Mary, the value of even knitting stockings to one like me. It is useful work, and that, as the old monk said, is worship."
Miss Williams could not withdraw her eyes from the old lady's face. Its beauty and its goodness seemed to fascinate her. She was a girl of quick feelings and some enthusiasm. Suddenly rising from the chair she had taken a few moments before, she came forward, and stooping over Mrs. Elster, kissed her, almost reverently, on the forehead, saying, as she did so —
"May I be like you when I grow old — every wrinkle in my face — a line of beauty!"
"Grow old in goodness, my dear young friend!" answered Mrs. Elster, taking her hand tightly within her own, and speaking with emotion — for the young girl's sudden speech had stirred her feelings to an unusual depth — "Grow old in goodness, through the discipline of self-denial and the gentle leadings of neighborly love. It is the only path that conducts to a peaceful old age."
"Thanks for the lesson you have taught me," said Miss Williams, when she again clasped the hand of Mrs. Elster in parting. "I will try to grow old, as the years pass inevitably onwards, in the better way that you have walked. And may my last days be, like yours, my best days, and radiant with light shining down from the better world."
"I am a skeptic no longer" (she was now in the street with Mrs. Barton); "beauty and old age are not incompatible."
"But the beauty of old age," replied Mrs. Barton, "is unlike the beauty of youth; the one is natural, the other spiritual and celestial. The one is of the earth — earthly; the other is of the heavens — heavenly. An evil soul gradually mars the face, until every lineament becomes repulsive; but a soul of goodness continually recreates the countenance, and covers it with living beauty."