He sat at our picnic table, that glorious Maine summer’s day, dressed all in black.

Our family had walked back to the parsonage from church in Dover-Foxcroft, and as we approached, he arose to greet us. He raised his black homburg hat, while his long, threadbare coat brushed his ankles.

“Good morning, Reverend. Good morning, dear lady. It is a fine day God has bestowed upon us.”

Nonplussed at this apparition, I nodded as my husband asked, “What can we do for you?”

“I wondered if I might prevail upon you for some refreshment. You see I am a traveling gentleman who has fallen on difficult times.” He sounded faintly British.

Immediately I spoke. “We’d be happy to give you lunch, if you’d like to step inside.”

I opened the back door and our two children bounded in, interested to see what might unfold. We often had people at our door requesting help but this time was different. As I whisked up eggs to be accompanied by a pot of tea, with a home-baked chocolate cake to follow, he observed me closely. The children watched, mesmerized.

A plate of scrambled eggs with slices of toast was placed before each person including our visitor. My husband, according to his custom, opened with a brief blessing. We picked up our silverware.

The voice broke in. “O dear Heavenly Father. We do indeed thank Thee for this wondrous meal that is set before us.”

His prayer rose and fell, chant-like. As he droned on, my daughter, Kathryn, beside me began shaking and I tried to quell a rising giggle.

Finally he declared “Amen” before our laughter spilled over. Then he shared his tale. “I, alas, am experiencing some unfortunate circumstances. My dear brother, a missionary bishop with the Church of England, is in Africa, while my beloved departed wife is now with our Lord. These days I travel from one place to another.”

His sonorous voice cadenced almost into music. Meantime he ate, then to our amazement, licked his right forefinger to scoop up any remaining chocolate crumbs on his plate.

My husband had previously called a parishioner who now arrived to set up accommodation for our guest at the local Blethen House Inn for the night. As the necessary paperwork was completed, she rapped, “You’re a tramp, aren’t you?”

He cringed. “No, no, dear lady. Please don’t call me that. I’m a traveling gentleman.”

He looked so hurt that my heart ached for him, as my spouse hurriedly ushered her out the door. Eventually he stood up, thanked us warmly, then picked up his worn hat and left.

It is many years since we encountered our traveling gentleman guest, but I often wonder who he really was and if I might see him again some summer’s day.