The Journey Of Life

(From The New McGuffey Fourth Reader by William H. McGuffey, Compiler)

An Allegory

Once upon a time, a good many years ago, there was a traveler, and he set out upon a journey. It was a magic journey, and was to seem very long when he began it, and very short when he got halfway through.

He traveled along a rather dark path for some little time, without meeting anything, until at last he came to a beautiful child. So he said to the child, “What do you here?” And the child said, “I am always at play. Come and play with me.”

So he played with the child the whole day long, and they were very merry. The sky was so blue, the sun was so bright, the water was so sparkling, the leaves were so green, the flowers were so lovely, and they heard so many singing birds, and saw so many butterflies, that everything was beautiful. This was in fine weather.

When it rained, they loved to watch the falling drops and smell the fresh scents. When it blew, it was delightful to listen to the wind, and fancy what it said, as it came rushing from its home, whistling and howling, and driving the clouds before it, bending the trees, rumbling in the chimneys, shaking the house and making the sea roar in fury.

But when it snowed, that was the best of all; for they liked nothing so well as to look up at the white flakes falling fast and thick, like down from the breasts of millions of white birds, and to see how smooth and deep the drift was, and to listen to the hush upon the paths and roads.

But one day, all of a sudden, the traveler lost the child. He called to him over and over again, but got no answer. So he went on for a little while without meeting anything, until at last he came to a handsome boy. He said to the boy, “What do you hear?” And the boy said, “I am always learning. Come and learn with me.”

So he learned with the boy about Jupiter and Juno, and the Greeks and Romans,—more than I could tell, or he either; for he soon forgot a great deal of it. But they were not always learning; they had the merriest games that ever were played.

They rowed upon the river in summer, and skated on the ice in winter; they were active afoot and active on horseback; at cricket, and all games of ball; at prisoner’s base, hare-and-hounds, follow-my-leader, and more sports than I can think of: nobody could beat them. As to friends, they had such dear friends, and so many of them, that I want the time to reckon them up. They were all young, like the handsome boy, and were never to be strange to one another all their lives through.

Still, one day, in the midst of all these pleasures, the traveler lost the boy, as he had lost the child, and, after calling him in vain, went on upon his journey. So he went on for a while without seeing anything, until at last he came to a young man. He said to the young man, “What do you here?” And the young man said, “I am always in love. Come and love with me.”

But the traveler lost the young man as he had lost the rest of his friends, and, after calling to him to come back, which he never did, went on upon his journey. At last he came to a middle-aged gentleman. So he said to him, “What are you doing here?” And his answer was, “I am always busy. Come and be busy with me.”

The traveler began to be very busy with the gentleman, and they went on through the wood together. The whole journey was through a wood, only it had been open and green at first, like a wood in spring, and now began to be thick and dark, like a wood in summer; some of the little trees that had come out earliest were even turning brown.

The gentleman was not alone, but had a lady of about the same age with him, who was his wife; and they had children, who were with them too. They all went on together through the wood, cutting down the trees, and making a path among the branches, and carrying burdens and working hard.

Sometimes they came to a long green avenue that opened into deeper woods. Then they would hear a very distant little voice crying, “Father, father, I am another child! Stop for me!” And presently they would see a very little figure, growing larger as it came along, running to join them. When it came up, they all crowded round it, and kissed and welcomed it; and then they all went on together.

Sometimes they came to several avenues at once; and then they all stood still, and one of the children said, “Father, I am going to sea;” and another said, “Father, I am going to India;” and another, “Father, I am going to seek my fortune where I can;” and another, “Father, I am going to heaven.”

So, with many tears at parting, they went, solitary, down those avenues, each child upon its way; and the child who went to heaven rose into the golden air and vanished.

Whenever these partings happened, the traveler looked at the gentleman, and saw him glance up at the sky above the trees, where the day was beginning to decline, and the sunset to come on. He saw, too, that his hair was turning gray. But they could never rest long, for they had their journey to perform, and it was necessary for them to be always busy.

At last, there had been so many partings that there were no children left, and only the traveler, the gentleman, and the lady went upon their way in company. And now the wood was yellow; and now brown; and the leaves, even of the forest trees, began to fall.

They came to an avenue that was darker than the rest, and were pressing forward on their journey without looking down it, when the lady stopped.

“My husband,” said the lady, “I am called.”

They listened, and they heard a voice a long way down the avenue say, “Mother, mother!”

It was the voice of the child who had said, “I am going to heaven!” and the father cried, “I pray not yet. The sunset is very near. I pray not yet.”

But the voice called, “Mother, mother!” without minding him, though his hair was now quite white, and tears were on his face.

Then the mother, who was already drawn into the shade of the dark avenue, and moving away with her arms still around his neck, kissed him and said, “My dearest, I am summoned, and I go!” And she was gone. The traveler and he were left alone together.

And they went on and on, until they came very near to the end of the wood; so near, that they could see the setting sun shining red before them through the trees.

Yet once more, while he broke his way among the branches, the traveler lost his friend. He called and called, but there was no reply, and when he passed out of the wood and saw the peaceful sun going down upon a wide purple prospect, he came to an old man sitting upon a fallen tree. He said to the old man, “What do you here?” And the old man said, with a calm smile, “I am always remembering. Come and remember with me.”


So the traveler sat down by the side of the old man, face to face with the serene sunset; and all his friends came softly back and stood around him. The beautiful child, the handsome boy, the young man, the father, mother, and children every one of them was there, and he had lost nothing. He loved them all, and was kind and forbearing with them all, and they all honored and loved him.

DEFINITIONS:—Scents, smells. Cricket, a game at ball very popular in England. Solitary, alone. Summoned, called. Allegory, a truth related in the form of a story.

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