|The Golden City|
Somewhere in a strange country there is a Golden City, set on a hill-top. It is surrounded by a high wall of time-worn masonry, with wrought-iron gates. A traveler, looking in through these gates, might catch a glimpse of golden towers and domes, richly-chiseled doorways, shady court-yards, orange and pomegranate trees, streams of water flowing along the edges of golden pavements, and a stately river passing under delicate and slender bridges.
But a certain little child who played outside the city walls cared nothing for these things. He never saw what was happening around him, being too fully occupied with his toys. Beautiful women would come out and tend him, giving him milk from golden cups. They would caress and kiss him, and he would kiss them too, but he would always return with satisfaction to his sticks and pebbles.
As the child grew older he would sometimes run down the hill, chasing butterflies. Then the ladies from the city would have to search far afield to find him and give him his milk.
At last one day they lost him altogether; and they said, "Our little lad is growing up. We must let him go, until he wants us again. He will be tended by others, further down the hill."
So, indeed, he was. Delighting in his new freedom, he entered the garden of a little house. Some girls came out and found him, took him in and cared for him. He stayed there for many months, until he was old enough to look after himself. Then they gave him a purse full of money, a supply of food, and a large folded parchment.
"This parchment," they explained, "is a map of the world, with the Golden City in the centre. One day you may want to return. From every point on the map there is a golden line, showing you the quickest route to the city. You will not understand all this now; but keep the map safely by you, and look at it when you are lost."
The boy thanked his guardians for the money and food, and thrust the map into an inner pocket. Then he was off - to see the world.
Some weeks later, the boy was sitting on a rock, turning out his pockets. He brought out the folded parchment, and for the first time felt an impulse to examine it. He spread it out on his knees. It certainly was a wonderful map; but what struck him most was a message printed across the top, marked urgent.
"URGENT. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, GO BACK AT ONCE TO THE GOLDEN CITY. The King has a service for you to perform. "
Fancy! And he had wasted all this time, playing around among the rocks! He wondered what the King wanted him to do, back home. Well, he would soon find out. He would go home at once. Ah, here was his position on the map, and here was the line indicating the quickest route to the Golden City. It wasn't far; he could easily get there by night-fall. In fact, he could cover the distance in a couple of hours.
Well, he would set out after lunch, when it was cooler. There was a cave he wanted to examine before leaving this interesting part of the country. He would have his food now; then he would examine the cave, after which he would return to the Golden City, to take orders from the King.
He scrambled down a deep cleft between two rocks, from the bottom of which a low passage led off into the darkness of the cave. It was all much bigger than he had expected. He groped his way forward for several hours, until he supposed it must be night-time. Well, he would sleep in the cave, and find his way out early next morning, and get to the City in the afternoon. He reminded himself that it was only by chance that he had read- the message on the parchment that day.
Next morning he continued his difficult journey through the cave until he saw a light in the distance. It was an opening! He climbed excitedly out through the undergrowth, and blinked around him. He was in a deep valley, shut in by rugged hills.
He located the position on the map. Gracious! What a distance he had come! It was twice as far, now, to the Golden City, and he would have to go right over that mountain! He must hurry, and not waste any more time.
For many weary hours he scrambled up the mountain footpaths and slid down the screes, until, at nightfall, he reached a pleasant village, nestling in a valley by the side of a river. He was not, far now from home; why, he could just see the tops of the golden towers of the City in the distance. He would stay and rest in the village for a few days, so as to be fresh when he arrived at the City gates.
He spent the night at the inn, and, after a good breakfast, wandered down to the river. A rowing-boat was moored to a willow tree. He climbed in, and began to row lazily down stream. The motion of the water was so restful after yesterday's exertions that he soon fell asleep,
He awoke with a start to find the boat swirling along at 'a tremendous speed between two high walls of rock. His oars were gone; he could do nothing. Terrified, he clung on for dear life, until, exhausted with hunger and cold and fatigue, and the strain of it all, he lost consciousness.
On regaining his senses, he found that the motion had ceased. The boat was safely jammed between a barge and a wharf, in a dirty, busy town. He climbed ashore, and was thankful to feel the solid ground beneath his feet. But what could he do? He had left his jacket, containing his purse and the map, back at the inn. There was nothing for it but to beg for food until he could find a job.
In a few days he was lucky enough to be offered employment in a warehouse. He would save all the money he could, until he had sufficient to take him back to the inn, where hopefully he would be able to recover his coat and the map. His new friends in the town laughed at him about the Golden City, and said it was all a dream. As time passed, he began to lose all hope of ever seeing it again. It was too late; he must put the matter right out of his mind.
Wearily he gave himself up to the pleasures of the town. His past life faded gradually from his memory, and he became like the others with whom he worked, living from moment to moment, year to year, without a thought of anything outside their immediate pursuits. Thus he might have continued till his dying day, if he had not chanced to see, in an antique shop, a yellow piece of parchment spread out on a table, with some vases and books lying on it. For a moment he stared at it, trying to recall where he had seen it before. Then the memory came back to him. It was his map!
He could hardly control his excitement as he entered the shop. Placing a pile of coins on the counter, he almost seized the parchment out of the shopkeeper's hands. Going straight back to his lodgings, he began to work out his route for the Golden City. Then, without revealing his plans to a soul, and scarcely waiting to say good-bye, he set forth again upon his childhood's quest.
His wanderings occupied several years, and he was an old man before he reached his destination. But, when at last he sighted the golden towers on the skyline, his weakness left him and he sprang forward with joy up the last slope of the hill. Tears of gladness wet his cheeks as the gates swung open before him and he passed inside.
The same beautiful ladies were there who had tended him in his infancy. "We are glad you have come back," they said. "We knew you would in the end. But what have you been doing, all these years?" The old man cast his eyes with shame upon the ground. But, feeling the warmth of their acceptance, he was happy and at peace.