The Great Stone Face
by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Adapted)
One afternoon, when the sun was going down, a mother and her little boy
sat at the door of their cottage talking together and watching the great
mountains before them, as they changed with the tints of the setting
sun, from gold to crimson, and then to deep purple, till finally the
afterglow was gone, leaving only the bare mountains standing out in gray
relief against the evening sky.
"Mother," said the child, whose name was Ernest, "the Great Stone Face
is smiling at us. I wish it could speak, for it looks so very kind that
I know its voice is pleasant."
And what was the Great Stone Face?
Off in the distance one great mountain rose far up above the others, and
stood like a great giant among its fellows. By some peculiar art the
rocks had been thrown together in such a way as to make the mountain
look almost exactly like a human face. There was the broad arch of the
forehead, a hundred feet in length; the nose, with its long bridge, and
the great lips, which, if they could have spoken, would surely have
rolled thunder from one end of the valley to the other.
It was a happy lot for children to grow up to manhood or womanhood with
the Great Stone Face before their eyes, because all of its features were
noble, so that just to look at it made one wish to be better.
This, then, was what Ernest and his mother sat looking at long after the
sun had sunk behind those great piles of stones.
"Mother," said Ernest, "if I were to see a man with such a face I know I
should love him."
"If an old prophecy comes true," answered his mother, "we may see a man
some time or other with exactly such a face as that."
"Oh, tell me about it, mother. Will it really come true?" eagerly
Then his mother told him a story which her mother had told to her when
she was a child. No one knew who had heard it first. The Indians had
known it years before, and they said it had been murmured by the
mountain streams and whispered by the wind among the treetops. And the
story was this: At some future day - no one knew when - a child would be
born in the valley who would grow up to be the noblest and greatest man
of his time, and his face would look exactly like the Great Stone Face
which had gazed kindly down on the valley for so many years. Many of the
people in the valley said this was only a foolish tale, never to come to
pass, but a few still watched and waited, hoping for the great man to
come, but as yet he had not appeared.
When Ernest heard the story he clapped his hands, and said eagerly: "Oh,
mother, dear mother, I do hope I shall live to see him."
The mother smiled, and, putting her hand on the boy's head, said:
"Perhaps you may."
Ernest never forgot the story his mother told him. It was always in his
mind whenever he looked upon the Great Stone Face. He spent his boyhood
days in the humble little cottage, helping his mother with the simple
household duties, and, as he grew older, working in the fields to earn
their daily bread.
Ernest was a quiet boy, but happy. There was no school in the little
village, but a great teacher was there. After the day's toil was over
Ernest would sit for hours watching the Great Stone Face, and to him it
became the teacher of all that was good and noble. Many times, as the
sunset rays tinted the side of the great mountain and lighted up all the
features of the wonderful face, Ernest would imagine that it smiled on
him, and perhaps it did. Who knows?
Often a great longing would come to Ernest as he watched the Great Face,
and he would say again, "Oh, I wish the great man would come."
But the years passed by, and Ernest grew from a happy little child to a
quiet, thoughtful boy, and still the great man did not appear.
But one time a rumor went through all the valley that the great man had
at last arrived. His early home had been in the quiet valley, but as a
young man he had gone into the world to seek his fortune, and truly he
had found it, for everything he attempted prospered exceedingly, till it
might be said of him, as of Midas in the fable, that whatever his
fingers touched changed at once to piles of gold. His name was Mr.
Gathergold. All who saw him declared him to be the exact image of the
Great Stone Face on the mountain side, and the man so long expected to
fulfill the prophecy.
The whole valley was in a state of great excitement, for the wonderful
personage was coming back to his native home to spend his last days in
peace and quiet. He sent before him a whole army of architects and
workmen, who built for him a palace more beautiful and grand than
anything the simple village people had ever before seen.
The outside was of pure marble, dazzling white, while the interior was
inlaid with solid gold and precious stones.
Ernest watched the great palace grow, and his heart was glad, for
finally his hopes were to come true. He waited eagerly for the great man
himself to come. He spent more time than usual gazing at the face on the
mountain side, that he might know exactly how Mr. Gathergold would look.
Finally the day of the great man's arrival came. The whole village came
out to see him. The rumbling of wheels was heard, and a carriage drawn
by four horses dashed down the road.
"Here he comes!" cried the people. "Here comes the great Mr.
As the carriage drew near the people pressed around, and there through
the window they saw the great man. He was little and old, with a face as
hard and yellow as the piles of gold he had gathered together. He had a
low forehead, small, sharp eyes, puckered about with many wrinkles, and
very sharp lips.
"The very image of the Great Stone Face!" shouted the people. "Sure
enough, the old prophecy is true, and here we have the great man come at
By the roadside there chanced to be a poor woman and her two children,
who, as the carriage passed, held out their hands and asked for help. A
hand was thrust out of the window, and a few pennies were thrown on the
ground. Then the carriage rolled on, and the people continued to shout,
"He is the very image of the Great Stone Face."
But Ernest stood apart from the crowd, nor did he join in the shout, for
his heart was full of sorrow and disappointment. Through an opening in
the trees he saw the Great Stone Face looking benignly down upon him,
and the great lips seemed to say: "He will come. Fear not, Ernest. The
man will come."
The years went on, and Ernest ceased to be a boy. He had grown to be a
young man now. He was not much noticed in the valley, for he was still
quiet and modest. They saw nothing remarkable about his way of living,
save that when the work of the day was done he loved to go apart and
gaze upon the Great Stone Face.
They knew not that it had become his greatest teacher, filling his heart
and mind with thoughts and hopes far above earthly things.
By this time poor old Mr. Gathergold was dead and buried, and the
strange part about the matter was that when his wealth left him, as it
did some time before he died, and he became a poor old man, the people
seemed to forget that there ever had been a resemblance to the Great
Stone Face. Indeed, they said it was all a mistake, and the great man
was yet to come.
Suddenly through the valley there ran another rumor. Years before a
young man had left the valley, had gone into the world as a warrior, and
finally had become a great commander. Such had been his character and
life that the illustrious man was called by the name of Old
Blood-and-Thunder. This old general, being worn out with warfare,
decided to return to his native valley and spend his last days in peace.
But the most wonderful thing about Old Blood-and-Thunder was the fact
that all who knew him said that he was the man so long hoped for in the
valley, for he looked exactly like the Great Stone Face.
Great preparations, therefore, were made to receive the General - a
banquet was to be given and speeches made in his honor. On the day of
the festival Ernest, with all the others of the village, left their work
and went to the woods, where the banquet was held. A great crowd
surrounded the tables, so that Ernest at first could not see the great
man for whom he had waited and hoped so long, so he contented himself
with looking at the great face on the mountain side, which he could see
plainly through the trees. Meanwhile he could hear those around him
talking about Old Blood-and-Thunder and the Great Stone Face.
"'Tis the same face, to a hair," cried one man, clapping his hands for
"Wonderfully like, that's a fact," said another.
"Like! Why, I call it Old Blood-and-Thunder himself, in a monstrous
looking-glass," cried a third.
Just then a silence fell on the crowd, for the General rose to speak,
and as he did so Ernest for the first time saw the hero. There he stood,
head and shoulders above the crowd, with the golden epaulets glittering
on his uniform. Long and eagerly Ernest gazed on his face, and then
beyond, to the one on the mountain side. Were they, indeed, alike?
Ernest saw in the warrior's face only cruelty and hardness, with none of
the tender sympathy he knew so well in the other face.
"This is not the man," sighed Ernest, as he turned sadly away. "Must we
wait longer yet?"
But as the great mountain rose before him, once again the lips seemed to
say: "Fear not, Ernest; fear not. He will come."
The years sped swiftly by. Ernest still lived in the valley, a quiet and
gentle man, doing his work as best he knew. But gradually the people of
the village had come to know and feel that Ernest knew more than they.
Not a day passed by that the world was not better because this man,
humble as he was, had lived. He would always help a neighbor in need,
and the people had learned to know where to come for aid. His thoughts
were of things good and noble, and so his deeds and words were always
By this time the people had seen their mistake in thinking Old
Blood-and-Thunder was the great man of prophecy; but now again there
were reports saying that without doubt the great man had at last
appeared. He, like Mr. Gathergold and Old Blood-and-Thunder, was a
native of the valley, but had left it as a young man, and had now become
a great man. He had not the rich man's wealth, nor the honor of the
General, but he had a tongue which could speak more beautiful words than
the world had ever heard before. Great crowds flocked to hear him from
all parts of the country.
The people of the village were proud to think that they could claim the
great man, for it was said he bore an exact likeness to the Great Stone
Face - so much so that they called him "Old Stony Phiz."
And now the illustrious man was once more coming to visit his native
land, and great preparations were made to receive him.
With great eagerness and hope Ernest waited for his coming, and on the
day appointed went with the crowd to meet him. The air was filled with
music and the shouts of the people, for now they felt that surely the
old prophecy was to be fulfilled.
Then the great man's carriage came in view. There he sat, smiling and
bowing to the people, while they threw up their hats in wild excitement
and enthusiasm, and shouted: "Hoorah for Old Stony Phiz. The great man
has come at last."
Ernest looked long at the man as he sat in his carriage, but finally
turned away sadly and slowly, and said: "The features are alike, but he
has not the heart nor the love and sympathy which make a face beautiful.
He is not the man, but he might have been, had he lived the best he
Then again he turned to his great teacher on the mountain side, and, as
the late afternoon sun tinted all its features, it seemed to smile on
Ernest, and once more the lips seemed to speak:
"Lo, here I am, Ernest. I have waited longer than thou, and am not yet
weary. Fear not. The man will come."
The years hurried onward, and now they began to bring white hairs and
scatter them over the head of Ernest. They made wrinkles across his
forehead and furrows in his cheeks. He was an old man; but more than the
white hairs on his head were the beautiful thoughts in his mind, and the
loving words from his lips, and the kindly deeds from his hands. He was
no longer unknown. Great men from far and near came to see and talk with
him, and as they went away their hearts were better for having been with
him. He had become a preacher, and often, just as the sun set, he would
stand on a little knoll and talk with the people who crowded to hear the
words he spoke.
One evening, as Ernest sat at his doorstep, a friend came to talk with
him. He was a poet, and wrote of things which God had made, in language
so beautiful that one wished always to hear it. Ernest loved to read his
words, and this evening, as they sat together, he looked long and
earnestly at the poet and then up at the Great Stone Face, which seemed
to be smiling down upon them. Then he sighed and shook his head sadly.
"Why are you sad?" asked the poet.
Then Ernest told him of the prophecy which he had longed all his life to
see fulfilled. "And," he said, "when I read your beautiful words, I
think surely you are worthy to be the man I have longed to see, and yet
I see no likeness."
The poet sadly shook his head, and said: "No, Ernest. I am not worthy.
My words, indeed, may be beautiful, but my life has not been so great
and good as the words I write."
Then, as sunset drew near, the two walked to the little knoll where
Ernest was to talk to the people.
He stood in a little niche, with the mountains above him, and the glory
of the evening sun shone around his silvered hair. At a distance could
be seen the Great Stone Pace, surrounded by a golden light.
As Ernest talked his face glowed with the depth of his feeling, and
suddenly the poet threw his arms above his head and shouted:
"Behold! Behold! Ernest is himself the likeness of the Great Stone
Then all the people looked and saw that what the poet had said was true.
The prophecy was fulfilled. The Great Man had come at last.