Read CHAPTER II - THE HEIGHT of Allegories of Life, free online book, by Mrs. J. S. Adams, on ReadCentral.com.

There was once an aged man who lived upon an exceeding high mountain for many years; but, as his strength began to decline, he found the ascent so tedious for his feeble steps that he went into the valley to live.

It was very hard for him to give up the view from its lofty height of the sun which sank so peacefully to rest. Long before the sleepers in the valley awoke, he was watching the golden orb as it broke through the mists and flung its beauties over the hills.

“This must be my last day upon the mountain top,” he said. “The little strength which is left me I must devote to the culture of fruit and flowers in the valley, and no longer spend it in climbing up and down these hills, whose tops rest their peaks in the fleecy clouds. I have enjoyed many years of repose and grandeur, and must devote the remainder of my life to helping the people in the valley.”

At sunset the old man descended, with staff in hand, and went slowly down the mountain side. Such lovely blossoms, pink, golden, and scarlet, met his eye as he gazed on the gardens of the laborers, that he involuntarily exclaimed, “I fear I have spent my days not wisely on yonder mountain top, taking at least a third of my time in climbing up and down. Richer flowers grow here in the valley; the air is softer, and the grass like velvet to the tread. I’ll see if there is a vacant cottage for me.”

Saying this, he accosted a laborer who was just returning from his toil: “Good man, do you know of any cottage near which I can rent?”

“Why! you are the old man from the mountain,” exclaimed the astonished person addressed.

“I am coming to the valley to live. I am now seeking a shelter.”

“Yonder,” answered the man, “is a cottage just vacated by a man and wife. Would that suit you?”

“Anything that will shelter me will suit,” was the answer. “Dost thou know who owns the house?”

“Von Nellser, the gardener. He lives down by the river now, and works for all the rich men in the valley.”

“I’ll see him to-night,” said the old man, and, thanking his informant, was moving on.

“But, good father, the sun has already set; the night shades appear. Come and share my shelter and bread to-night, and in the morning seek Von Nellser.”

The old man gladly accepted his kind offer. “The vale makes men kindly of heart and feeling,” he said, as he uncovered his head to enter the home of the laborer. A fair woman of forty came forward, and clasped his hand with a warmth of manner which made him feel more at ease than many words of welcome would have done.

The three sat together at supper, and refreshed themselves with food and thought.

He retired early to the nice apartment assigned him, and lay awake a long time, musing on the past and the present. “Ah, I see,” he said to himself, “why I am an object of wonder and something of awe to the people of the valley. I have lived apart from human ties, while they have grown old and ripe together. I must be a riddle to them all a something which they have invested with an air of veneration, because I was not daily in their midst. Had it been otherwise, I should have been neither new nor fresh to them. How know I but this is God’s reserve force wherewith each may become refreshed, and myself an humble instrument sent in the right moment to vivify those who have been thinking alike too much?”

He fell asleep, and awoke just as the sun was throwing its bright rays over his bed. “Dear old day-god,” he said, with reverence, and arose and dressed himself, still eying the sun’s early rays. “One of thy golden messengers must content me now,” he said, a little sadly. “I can no longer see thee in all thy majesty marching up the mountain side; no longer can I follow thee walking over the hill-tops, and resting thy head against the crimson sky at evening: but smile on me, Sun, while in the vale I tarry, and warm my seeds to life while on thy daily march.”

The old man went from his room refreshed by sleep, and partook of the bread and honey which the kind woman had ready for him. Then, thanking them for their hospitality, he departed.

The laborer and wife watched him out of sight, and thought they had never seen anything more beautiful than his white hair waving in the morning breeze.

At dusk a light shone in the vacant cottage, and they sent him fresh cakes, milk, and honey for his evening meal.

Ten years passed away. The old man had cultured his land, and no fairer flowers or sweeter fruits grew in the valley than his own. He had taught the people many truths which he had learned in his solitary life on the mountain, and in return had learned much from them. He faded slowly away. The brilliant flowers within his garden grew suddenly distasteful to him. He longed to look once more on a pure white blossom which grew only at the mountain top. With its whiteness no flower could compare. There were others, growing half way up, that approached its purity, but none equaled the flower on the summit.

“I should like, of all things,” answered the old man, when they desired to know what would most please him, for he had become a great favorite in the valley, “to look once more upon my pure white flower ere I die; but it’s so far to the mountain top, none will care to climb.”

“Thou shalt see it!” exclaimed a strong youth, who was courageous, but seldom completed anything he undertook, for lack of perseverance.

The old man blessed him. He started for the mountain, and walked a long way up its side, often missing his footing, and at one time seeking aid from a rotten branch, which broke in his grasp and nearly threw him to the base.

After repeated efforts to reach the summit, he found a sweet, pale blossom growing in a mossy nook by a rock.

“Ah! here it is the same, I dare say, as those on the mountain top. So what need of climbing farther? What a lucky fellow I am to save so many steps for myself!” and he went down the mountain side as fast as he could, amid the rank and tangled wood, with the flower in his hand.

Day was walking over the meadows with golden feet when he entered the cottage and placed the blossom exultingly in the old man’s palm.

“What! so quick returned?” he said. “Thou must have been very swift but this, my good young man, never grew on the mountain top! Thee must have found this half way up. I remember well those little flowers they grew by the rocks where I used to rest when on my journey up.”

The crowd who had come to see the strange white flower now laughed aloud, which made the youth withdraw, abashed and much humbled. Had he been strong of heart, he would have tried again, and not returned without the blossom from the mountain top. Many others tried, but never had the courage to reach its height; while the old man daily grew weaker.

“He’ll die without setting eyes on his flower,” said the good woman who had given him shelter the night he came to the valley. She had not the courage to try the ascent, but she endeavored to stimulate others to go to the top and bring the blossom to cheer his heart. She offered, as reward, choice fruits and linen from her stores; but all had some excuse, although they loved the old man tenderly: none felt equal to the effort.

Towards noon, a pale, fragile girl, from a distant part of the vale, appeared, who had heard of his desire, and stood at the door of his cottage and knocked.

“What dost thou wish?” he asked from within.

“To go to the mountain for the flower and place it in thy hand,” she answered, as she entered his room and meekly stood before him.

“Thou art very frail of body,” he replied, “but strong of heart. Go, try, and my soul will follow and strengthen thee, fair daughter.”

She kissed his hand, and departed.

The morning came, and she returned not. The end of the second day drew nigh, and yet she came not back.

“Pooh, pooh!” exclaimed one of a group of wood-cutters near by the cottage. “Such a fool-hardy errand will only be met by death. The old man ought to be content to die without sight of his flower when it costs so much labor to get it.”

“So think me,” said his comrade, between the puffs of his pipe; “so think me. Our flowers are pretty, and good ’nough, too. Sure, he orter be content with what grows ’round him, and not be sending folk a-climbing.” This said, he resumed his smoking vigorously, and looked very wise.

The aged man of the mountain was passing rapidly away. The kind neighbors laid him for the last time on his cot, and sat tearfully around the room. Some stood in groups outside, looking wistfully towards the mountain; for their kind hearts could not bear to see him depart without the flower to gladden his eyes.

“The girl’s gone a long time,” remarked one of the women.

“The longer she’s gone, the surer the sign she’s reached the mountain top. It’s a long way up there, and a weary journey back. My feet have trod it often, and I know all the sharp rocks and the tangled branches in the way. But she will come yet. I hear footsteps not far away.”

“But too late, we fear, for your eyes to behold the blossom, should she bring it.”

“Then put it on my grave but hark! she comes some one approaches!”

Through the crowd, holding high the spotless flower, came the fair girl, with torn sandals and weary feet, but with beaming eyes. The old man raised himself in bed, while she knelt to receive his blessing.

“Fair girl,” he spoke in those clear tones which the dying ever use, “the whiteness of this blossom is only rivaled by the angels’ garments. Its spotless purity enters ever into the soul of him who plucks it, making it white as their robes. To all who persevere to the mountain top and pluck this flower, into all does its purity, its essence, enter and remain forever. For is it not the reward of the toiler, who pauses not till the summit is gained?”

“Oh! good man, the mountain view was so grand, I fain would have lingered to gaze; but, longing to lay the blossom in thy hand, I hastened back.”

“Thou shalt behold all the grandeur thy toil has earned thee. Unto those who climb to the mountain summit, who mind not the sharp rocks and loose, rough grass beneath their tread, unto such shall all the views be given; for they shall some day be lifted in vision, without aid of feet, to grander heights than their weary limbs have reached.”

The old man lay back and died.

They buried him, with the flower on his breast, one day just as the sun was setting. Ere the winter snows fell, many of the laborers, both men and women, went up the mountain to its very top, and brought back the white blossoms to deck his grave.

The summit only has the view, and the white flower of purity grows upon it. Shall we ascend and gather it? or, like the youth, climb but half the distance, and cheat our eyes and souls of the view from the height?