The pen danced away, writing and re-writing the same paragraph again and again until it smote his heart and rivulets of tears rolled down his cheeks and trickled down on his paper. Deeming this as an appropriate ending, he folded the paper and kept it in his breast pocket.
Wiping his eyes with his frail, wrinkled hands, he stood up from his chair and approaching the dusty, grimy window of his room, peeped out. Watching the din and tumult of the crowded street in the high tide of its occupation was a favorite past time of the old man and he loved the myriad of sounds which eventually blended themselves into a fugue of excitement. That constant pacing to and fro, that incessant tread of feet wearing the rough stones smooth and glossy --is it not a wonder how the dwellers in these narrow streets can bear to hear it! Throngs of people hurried by in opposite directions, with no indication of stopping or exhaustion, intent upon their own affairs, the roar of carts and wagons and the stamping of horses' feet upon the greasy pavement, all pointed towards the approach of dusk, which meant the shops were to be closed. Watching the faces of those who passed by was another favorite amusement of his. Some frowned, some smiled, some made slight gestures, some wore a cunning look of plotting, some were anxious and eager and some were dull and slow. Startled by the sound of the clock as it struck the hour was like a departed sound to him, and sighing explosively, he walked towards his arm chair and sank in it. Outside, the wind began to moan in hollow murmurs, as the sun went down carrying day elsewhere, a train of dull clouds followed it and heralded the coming of thunder and lightening.
The bright fire in the hearth cast a glow upon his face. The unkempt, fuzzy hair, wrinkled face with a prominent mole on the chin, eyes that were half closed and numerous lines scattered on his forehead completed the picture of a man who loved solitude and seldom interacted with anyone. Gazing into the fire, he started humming a half-remembered tune as if he pictured a scene from his childhood. An unexpected knock upon the door shattered his reverie into thin wisps of smoke.
"Confound you! Who is it?" bellowed the old man, craning his neck.
" Its really cold and damp outside, sir, and i have no lodgings for the night, can i stay here please? If you would be so kind."
Spoke a tremulous, meek voice from the half opened door, trembling entirely. Straining his eyes and observing a childish figure clad in tattered, wet garments, he corrected himself and calling her to himself, gave her a few warm blankets to wrap herself in, and made her sit on a chair near the hearth.
"My apologies, ma'am. i'm not accustomed to invite strangers into my house", said the old man in a friendly tone.
"Its quite alright, sir, my name is Nelly", came the reply from the girl, a faint smile spreading on her face at the old man's hospitality.
Gaining his former position on his chair, he resumed staring into the fire -- with an attention of fixed earnestness. The puzzled girl, being sufficiently warmed up by this time and yawning prodigiously at intervals, ventured to break the deafening silence which had reigned in the room and inquired about his strange manner of looking into the fire. A deep frown spread on the face of the old man at this interruption and he turned towards her in vexation, but his frown soon relaxed into a cheerful smile as he thought of the child. Bending forward, he shifted the coals in the hearth with a poker and spoke in a soft voice, " nobody likes me and leaves me to myself. They know my humor See over there -- that's my friend.".
"The fire?" said the child.
"It has been alive as long as i have", the old man made answer, "we talk and think together all night long."
The child glanced at him in bewilderment but he kept looking in his former direction, musing as before.
"Its like a book to me", he said, "the only book i ever learned to read; and it tells me many old stories. Its music, for i should know it's voice among a thousand, elevates my mood and makes me happy. It has it's pictures too. You don't know how many strange faces and different scenes i have seen in the red-hot coals. It's my memory, the fire, shows me my whole life."
The crackle of the coals being engulfed by the fire and the glow from the dying embers brought a smile on his lips, and his eyes sparkled with tears. On turning towards the child and seeing that she snored peacefully in her calm repose, he chuckled discreetly and added, "oh yes, many an old story it tells me, does the fire yonder."
Here, the old man closed his eyes and reclined in his chair, enjoying the serenity in the music from the dying embers, a faint smile still lingering on his lips.