There is always an often unconscious, sometimes half-realized nostalgia in the heart of him who has abandoned the silent and inspiring company of pines and birches and purple beeches for the noisy and inharmonious company of men. He wonders at the restlessness of his own being, at the bewilderment he feels, and one by one he studies the struggling, blindly groping human selves that rush by him in the streets, in the hope of finding one whose eye is clear and steady and whose step is firm and unhurried, to whom he may communicate his discordant thoughts and varying emotions — but no one sees him, and he sees no one who resembles him for whom he is waiting. He looks for thought and sees but blind, impatient action: he looks for harmony and is surrounded by a stream of conflicting mind-impressions, words, and acts. At last, weary and disappointed, he goes back to his trees and flowers, and on the way his disappointment changes to quiet contentment, and as he is reabsorbed into the harmony there reigning he thankfully sits down on the grass where he had once sat and feels with something of wonder that his thoughts can hold communion with the trees as of yore, and that the air around him reverberates with sympathy and mute yet most eloquent understanding. Thus does the man regain his willfully deserted childhood.
It was in this state of mind that Vincent went back to the woods he had so long neglected when, tired of the restlessness and turmoil of the world of men, his spirit drew him thither. As he came within sight of the verdant hills his horse suddenly shied and almost threw him off its back. Surprised, he looked aside, and beheld a little child lying on the grass and weeping bitterly. Immediately he descended and approached it.
"Why are you weeping, child?" he asked compassionately. The child looked at him with eyes that were red with weeping, and sobbed in answer:
"I have lost my favorite, my most cherished toy!"
And it went on weeping. It looked so lonely and so little, lying on the moist grass, that Vincent felt he could not leave it there with its sorrow, and bending over it he asked again:
"Will you come with me? I cannot leave you here all alone: my memory would reproach me ever after if I did."
The child looked at him again and sobbed, "Yes, I will come with you."
Thus it happened that Vincent arrived at the old man's cave, not alone as he had thought to do, but in unforeseen company. He was surprised to hear the sound of voices coming from within: evidently the old man was not alone as he had expected to find him. He stopped his horse and walked into the cave with the child which was still sobbing in a most distressing manner. Eagerly he looked into the dark interior and round a cheerful fire perceived his old friend sitting in a circle with several other men.
"May a traveler who has ridden all day rest among you?" he asked. Instantly everybody ceased speaking and turned in his direction. Then the old man recognized him and arising greeted him joyously.
"Welcome, my son! You have then not forgotten to come as you promised! I have awaited you for a good many days, but I knew all the time that I would not have to wait in vain. You have, however, allowed many days to pass before you thought of turning your step hither."
"Yes," agreed Vincent with a rueful smile. "You were right again. I thought I would go to you the day after we had separated. I smiled indulgently when I thought of your words about my not being ready for the peace of the woods, and wondered at your lack of insight, and now I see with sadness that you were right to have sent me away as you did."
"Do not think of that now," said the old man quickly. "But what is this curious sound I hear?" And then he perceived the sobbing child.
"What! You have brought a child with you?" he exclaimed. "A weeping child?"
"I found it on my way here," Vincent answered. "It has been weeping ceaselessly ever since. A lost toy is the cause of its tears. I have tried to calm it, but without success. Will you not try?"
The old man took the child by the hand and spoke to it soothingly — but the child only went on weeping as before. Then the old man turned to the group around the fire and said pointing at Vincent:
"Friends! I pray you to accept my friend here with welcoming minds. He, as you, has forsaken the tumult and the active battle-fields of the world for the meditative restfulness of the forest."
At his words all the men nodded to Vincent and said kindly:
"Welcome, stranger. Come and join our circle and add to its coziness with your presence!"
Vincent smiled in answer and went and sat down by the fire. Then their host placed his hand on the child's shoulder and continued:
"He did not come alone. With him came this weeping child. It has lost its toy, brothers, and nothing I can say will alleviate its grief."
And as if to confirm this statement the child uttered a wail of the utmost sorrow. Then the old man turned and looked at it and shook his head and said:
"What can we do to stop its tears?"
All were silent for a while and then one of the men said thoughtfully:
"I know of but one way to rid the mind of an obsessive idea, and that is to fill it with other matters. Let us tell this child fairy tales. All children are fond of them."
"Yes, you are right," said the old man. "We will tell it fairy tales!"
And he went and sat down among them and placed the child on his knee, and nodding to him who sat beside him said: "Will you not begin, brother?"
He, thus addressed, smiled his agreement and began:
"Do you want to hear a fairy tale, a tale of fantasy and strange adventure? Well then, listen.
"Somewhere in the mystic East, in the land of the rising sun, there once stood a mighty, snow-capped mountain, which was so high that mortal eyes could not distinguish its summit from the valleys below, as it rose above the heavy clouds and vanished in the immeasurable blueness of the sky. And all who went past this mountain were compelled to stop and marvel at it, for crowning it was a most wonderful thing: a Light shining through the grey layer of clouds, which poured out golden glory over the world below, and did not disappear at night nor during the day — nor did any storm, however violent, in the least diminish its flow of radiance, nor the strongest win move it from its place upon the sky. The only way leading up to this Light was a chain of wild and steep precipices, which hung over dark abysses and sharp cliffs, and on these precipices were carved arrows, all pointing upwards, and the following words, written in all the languages of the earth: 'The Way to the Land of Bliss.' And many were the pilgrims that came from near and from afar and trod the weary path that led to the summit of this mountain, but few, very few were those who ever succeeded in reaching the top: the majority climbed but a short distance and then came down again, bruised and exhausted. Some climbed a little higher; and some all but reached the dazzling Light, but when they looked up and saw the steep and perilous piece of rock that yet remained, they lost heart and turned back, reaching the point where they had begun their ascent with bleeding hands and feet. Now, beside the first of the arrows that pointed upwards there sat an aged, aged woman with snow-white hair and wrinkled visage, and as each pilgrim prepared to climb she asked him this question: 'What Power dost thou choose, O pilgrim, to help thee in thy enterprise?' And as each pilgrim whispered his answer she nodded and moved away from his path. Various were the answers she received, this Aged One: some named Courage, some Knowledge or Ambition; some chose Goodness or Hope or Desire; some whispered reverently 'God!' — others proudly answered 'Self,' but not one of these ever reached the goal, not one of them ever saw The Land of Bliss.
"One day, among the never-ending stream of pilgrims there came a certain Man clad in sack-cloth and wearing sandals of coarse, plaited straw. His eyes were weary and he moved with the slowness of one who has walked a long way; but as soon as he beheld the first arrow carved in the rock, his eyes lit up with an inward fire, and hastening forward he threw himself on the ground and kissed the spot immediately below it. His face glowing with hope and joy he advanced, in his emotion not noticing the wrinkled old woman beside him. Then, suddenly, he felt her hand arresting him, and only then looked down and saw her on the ground.
" 'What Power dost thou choose to help thee in thy task, oh pilgrim?' she asked him.
"Then he bent down and whispered softly in her ear, 'Love!'
"Without a word she moved away, and the Man's eager fingers touched the steep sides of the first precipice.
"Slowly and painfully he climbed, breathing with difficulty, for the rock was rough and hard, so that his hands soon began to bleed — but this he did not notice, his attention being all fixed on the goal above him. Bit by bit he ascended, and the way grew more difficult and dangerous with each step he took. Higher — higher — over higher he climbed, until but the last, steep precipice remained above his head. Then he looked up and saw it towering above him like some monstrous, mocking thing, and despair filled his heart, and he felt that he could go no higher. His hands and feet were causing him great pain, and all his strength seemed suddenly to have left him.
" 'Love, mother of light, in thy name!' he whispered in an agony of despair, and then suddenly felt all his strength flow back to him, and all his pain gone. With a mighty effort he slowly drew himself up the last, terrible part of the way, and reached the gateway of The Land of Bliss.
"There he stood still for a moment, blinded by the glory that surrounded him on all sides. When his eyes grew accustomed to the light he noticed a man with noble features standing before him and gazing at him attentively.
" 'Welcome to the Land of Bliss!' he said when he perceived that the Man had noticed him. A strange awe overcame the Man at the sound of his voice, for it was very beautiful.
" 'Who art thou?' he exclaimed.
" 'I am but a keeper of the entrance to The Land of Bliss,' answered he who stood before the Man. 'It is my appointed duty to help those who are brave enough to climb the last precipice, and it was I who helped thee reach the top, unseen but not unseeing, for I saw thee start thy laborious climb and heard thee invoke the one true Power that governs the universe.
" 'Thou hast well spoken,' he continued with a grave smile, 'for no other power would have helped thee. Thus it is written in the Great Law: behold!' And he pointed to a slab of rock behind him on which were graven these words, 'Through Wisdom alone canst thou reach The Land of Bliss.'
" 'But I invoked Love, not Wisdom!' exclaimed the Man, and turned round, amazement and eager questioning in his eyes, but the Keeper of the entrance was gone, and he was once more alone.
"Long waited the other pilgrims at the foot of the mountain for the return of the Man, but the days passed and he did not come back. Doubtfully they searched the cliffs around them for his dead body, but they found nothing, and at last they understood that they would never see him again. Strange and bitter were the feelings that this realization awakened in their breasts. Then slowly a whisper passed through their ranks, and rose and grew louder. Pushing aside those who stood beside him, one of them stepped forward and going up to the old woman, cried passionately:
" 'Oh, grey-haired mother! Star of wisdom! Tell us the answer that the no-more-returning pilgrim whispered in thy ear! Proclaim to us the name of the Power with whose aid he reached The Land of Bliss!'
"But the Silent One only smiled strangely and answered nothing."
When he had ended the child was weeping no longer. It looked eagerly at the others and said: "Tell me another!"
Then the whole company laughed, and another among them immediately volunteered to tell the second fairy tale. This is what he told the child:
"The Divine Smith stood bending over his anvil, hammering into shape the yet unshaped parts of Cosmos. The fire-helpmate sparkled brightly around him and lent itself eagerly to the great work. As the heavy hammer of the Divine Smith fell upon the anvil two little sparks suddenly flew up into the air, circled thrice round in the immaterial spaces, and then sank down to the sphere of a terrestrial globe. As they turned gaily in the several airs, the two sparks collided with each other, and forthwith recognizing each other's existence they became inseparable companions.
" 'Come, let us explore the fields of being together!' said one of them, and the other assenting they left the aerial regions and, like little children who must imbibe elementary knowledge before they can grapple with maturer problems of the mind, they descended into the most elementary kingdom of life on that globe, the mineral, there to start their pilgrimage of learning through the various forms of life. Assuming appropriate robes, one of the sparks lay and faced the world in an armor of granite, and the other displayed to the sun its flanks of dull gold, and tried to shine as brightly as the Regent of the sky. The clouds wept over them; the wind whistled past them; the mountain-torrents washed them; the snow covered and enveloped them in fleecy coats of white. Then men came and took away the lump of gold, and made divers ornaments of it, but the stone was allowed to remain as it was, untouched and unnoticed. When some time had elapsed the two sparks discarded their mineral robes and took unto them flower robes. And one of the sparks became a forget-me-not, but the other became a proud lily. And the stars shone over them at night; and during the day the sun smiled upon them. All around them the green grass grew, and the lily and the forget-me-not listened in wonder as the wind swept over the field and the green blades sang and murmured to one another. Then two human beings came one day, and one of them bent down and plucked the lily.
" 'Because you are fairer and purer than anything else in my eyes, I give you this lily,' said he who had plucked it, and bending fastened it in the sparkling curls of the maiden who stood beside him.
" 'And I offer this to you, that you may love me for ever, and never forget me. Keep it near your heart!' she said, and stooping plucked the forget-me-not with gentle fingers, and gave it to the man. Eagerly he took it, and looked at it, and hid it near his heart. And as the lily and forget-me-not slowly expired, deprived of the friendly soil, they wondered at the sweetness and the harmony that vibrated in the air around them.
"Emerging from their fragrant robes the two sparks entered into two acorns, and grew up and became two stately oaks. Birds sang within their foliage; squirrels with bushy tails and bright, beady eyes ran up and down their branches. Sometimes a crowd of children came and sat down in their shade and laughed, and sang, and played with the acorns that lay upon the ground. Then came a great thunder-storm. The wind shrieked and wailed past them, tearing off their leaves and breaking their twigs and their more slender branches; the rain fell down with increasing violence and soaked them right through: then a streak of lightning pierced the sky and passed through one of the oaks, and as the thunder rolled overhead it fell down, a broken and lifeless thing. The storm passed and left one oak standing in mournful solitude beside its fallen companion. And then men came with saws and axes and felled it, and laid it beside its mate. Thus did the two sparks experience life as cognized by trees and all growing things.
"Abandoning these robes they chose wild beasts for their parents, and were born, one a lion's cub, the other a tiger. And as they grew up they went about in the forest and preyed upon the weaker animals, for only thus could they live.
"Not content with the beast-form the two sparks assumed the semblance of human beings, one that of a man, the other that of a woman. And both were taught suffering and joy by life, and both tasted of sweetness and of gall. And when they withdrew from the forms they had made for themselves they assumed new ones, only this time the former man was a woman, and the former woman a man.
"At length, when both sparks knew that they had nothing more to learn on that terrestrial globe, they rose to a higher sphere, chastened and humble, and eager to know more of life's innumerable phases. And as they rose from sphere to sphere, ever learning and expanding in wisdom and understanding, they were seized with an intolerable longing for home, and leaving the sphere which they had lastly reached, they rose still higher, and as they beheld the Divine Smith bending over the well-remembered anvil, they rushed forward with a cry of joy, and were immersed in and re-absorbed into the Divine Fire."
And as he finished speaking the child sighed with contentment and murmured: "More! Tell me some more!"
Then another of the men poked the fire, and immediately began the third fairy tale:
"Once upon a time there was a man who went out into the world to find God.
" 'I have heard so much about Him,' he said, 'poets have written eulogies in His praise; in the churches he is prayed to daily; He is said to be the creator of all things animate and inanimate — yet have I never seen Him, never heard His mighty voice, never felt His terrible presence. I will go out into the world and find Him, for until then I feel I cannot rest, nor be at peace.'
"And he put on a pair of thick sandals and took a staff in his hand, and thus equipped he left his home.
"And first of all he entered various churches and asked the priests where he could find God, but they all stared at him uncomprehendingly and told him that no man could see God, for God dwelt in Heaven, and not on earth among sinners. If he led a pious life, however, and went to church regularly every Sunday he would see God face to face when he died, they assured him. But the man was not satisfied.
"Then he went to a man who was said to be very wise: he wrote thick books about stars, and planets, and animals, and flowers, and trees, and metals, and the earth as it had been millions of years ago, and many other things besides, and he wrote so cleverly that no one understood what he meant, and that, as you know, is a sign of real wisdom. So the man went to him and asked him where he could find God.
" 'God, my dear friend, is a convenient term expressing an abstract impossibility. God is either a humanized conception, in which case He is a limited Consciousness, and hence not divine and eternal — or an incomprehensible Essence, in which case limited human understanding cannot conceive Him, and therefore has nothing whatever to do with Him. In either case He is unreal to you or me, and it is useless to try and come in contact with Him. Now, if you desire to broaden our mind, you must read my book; it is a clever book, a very clever book — in fact, the most clever book I know!'
"And he gave him a thick volume, and shook his hand, and looked meaningly at the door. The man thanked him humbly and went out feeling very doubtful and perplexed. At the first opportunity he sat down to read the book he had been given. It was entitled, 'My Theory of the Probable Essence of Matter and the Origin of the World, with a few Hints concerning Pre-mundane Cosmic Conditions: also a short Exposition of the Four-dimensional Atom.'
"He turned to the first page and tried to read it, but when he had read to the end of the first paragraph his head was full of confused sentences and long, strange words, and in despair he laid it on the ground, feeling no wiser than before. Then he arose and took his staff and said:
" 'I will go to the famous artist who paints such beautiful pictures of God and Heaven and angels. Surely he will tell me where to find Him I seek!'
" 'And he went to the famous artist and asked him where to find God. The famous artist looked at him in great amazement and then burst out laughing.
" 'God does not exist!' he said.
" 'But you always paint Him,' said the man. 'If you do not believe in Him, why do you portray Him?'
" 'That is another matter altogether,' said the artist calmly. 'I paint whatever the public demands, and as the present taste of the public is for God and angels I obey, and paint angels and God. When it will have grown tired of these, I shall start painting dragons and bloody battlefields. You must come and see my exhibition. Nearly all my paintings deal with saints and angels, and with God in every possible phase, bearded and unbearded, fair and dark, old and young, stem and benevolently smiling. But, of course, if you prefer something more exciting there is a beautiful picture of Hell with three devils dancing around a cauldron full of lost souls in agony. Here is an entrance ticket. Take it and enjoy it!'
"And he thrust a piece of paper into the man's hand and turned away. However, the man did not go to the artist's exhibition. He did not care for an artificial God: what he wanted was the real one.
"'I will go no more to famous men's houses,' he said to himself. 'Their minds are so full of pictures of their own perfections that there is no place in them for God. I will go among the common people and ask them instead, for they are surely nearer to God in their simplicity and unsophisticatedness.'
"And he went among the simple people that live outside the towns, and earn their bread through work done in the fields and in the woods.
"'Can you tell me where to find God?' he asked them, but they all laughed at him and said to one another, 'He must be mad!' But to him they said, 'Ask the priest who talks so beautifully every Sunday morning in the chapel, or ask the fine gentlemen whose pockets bulge with gold and silver — what they tell us we believe, for this we have been doing for countless generations.'
"Then the man went back home, his heart full of sadness and misery. It was night when he stood before the door of his house again, and overhead twinkled thousands of bright stars, while the pale moon showed her brooding face from behind the mountains that lay before him. Then the man threw himself down upon the ground and cried: 'Oh God, where art Thou?' "And then a little daisy that grew outside his door nodded to him and said, 'I am here!'
" 'I am here!' said the moon.
" 'I am here! I am here!' sang the countless stars.
" 'I am here!' gurgled the brook that flowed beside him.
" 'I am here!' cried the dark mountains mightily.
" 'I am here!' whispered the earth.
" 'I am here!' he heard his own heart say.
"Then the man rose from the ground and wept for joy.
" 'Fool that I have been!' he cried. 'I have looked for God in far-off lands when He is everywhere, even in my own heart!'
"And he bent his gaze downwards and contemplated with a new reverence the nodding daisy at his feet."
As he ended the child looked at him with bright, shining eyes and cried:
"I like your fairy tales very much!"
And it smiled. As the men around the fire gazed at it, charmed by the change they had wrought in its appearance, it suddenly stood up, and sorrow and fairy tales alike forgotten, spread out its arms, and laughing merrily, ran out into the sunlight.
Vincent instantly arose with the intention of following after it and bringing it back into the cave, but at that moment he felt a restraining hand upon his shoulder and heard his host say softly:
"Let it be, friend! Let it run out into the sunshine, and play upon the grass! It dwells nearby, for I have seen it before, and it will surely find its way back home. This cave is dark and bare and suited only to those whose minds can clothe it in beauty and light: it is no place for a little child to dwell in."
Silently Vincent resumed his place. Until nightfall they all remained around the fire and talked of various matters, each adding to the general interest by some fresh thought or opinion. Then, having eaten of the food prepared for them by their host, each according to his individual taste and appetite, they all lay down on heaps of straw and slept. That night Vincent slept more calmly and more soundly than he had done for many years.