It was twilight. A stilly silence reigned. I sat alone under the spreading boughs of an old elm tree, listening dreamily to the last song of the birds. Hand in hand with memory I saw the first blush of youth, with its wild enthusiasm, with its hopes, ideals, and aspirations. Then came the breaking of a dream which shattered beauty, love, and truth, leaving in their place the cold, bare ruins of an ordinary existence. Then I fell asleep, and in that sleep I had a dream.
I saw before me a straight but rough road with many side streets, and people setting forth on a journey I knew not whither; I followed until I came to a street called "Fame." Here many were running, some were walking, others were resting by the wayside; at the far end of the street were some very steep steps, and having, after some difficulty climbed them, I saw a throne, above which was written in letters of gold the word "Fame." Here a beautiful woman sat, whose perfect figure was draped in soft white folds. She could see the struggles of the climbers; she could see the weariness of the weak; she could see the utter failure of some of the laggards; but cold, stern, motionless, she sat. Those who reached the throne knelt eagerly at her feet, but as soon as they received their crown of laurels I marked a sudden change on their faces. While enthusiasm, excitement, and eagerness had been previously expressed, just as easily could one discern discontent, disappointment, and dejection. I then found my way to the "Straight Road" again and walked quickly until I came to a street called "Wealth." Deep in thought I followed a crowd of eager men; some fought with each other; some ran, others were kept behind by the more determined; and when I finally arrived at the end of the street I saw a man, proud, selfish, gluttonous, seated upon a throne. His hands clutched greedily bags of gold; and as each man came up to him every coin that fell from his hands gave out sparks of fire. Suddenly there was great disputing; some were dissatisfied, some struggled with each other, but the god of wealth sat unconcerned, indifferent, pitiless. Men stole from their neighbors, they cursed their being, cursed their wealth, which burned and blistered the palms of their hands, cursed their fate; and utterly sickened by the sight I turned to leave when I found I had lost my way.
I wandered disconsolately to and fro not knowing which way to turn, when suddenly a bright light was cast across my path. I looked up and saw a tall woman, perfect in beauty, enveloped in a strange, mystic light. She smiled, and I asked her the way to the "Straight Road." Her eyes looked deep into mine, and she asked: "Do you truly desire to reach that road?"
"Yes," I answered.
"The way is long, and sometimes difficult. Are you prepared for the journey?"
"I know not whither it leads, but I found it straighter than these by-streets."
"You answer well; it is the only way to Peace, Knowledge, and Love."
"Then direct me," I cried eagerly. "I am weary searching for Peace. I have tried Fame, but find that unsatisfying; Wealth have I had, but to me it was a curse; I have proved Pleasure, but find that an Illusion. I am sick at heart; show me where I might find Love, for that I have missed."
"My name is Faith; if you will trust me I will lead you thither."
"I trust you," I replied.
We passed many dark and dreary lanes; but at last the "Straight Road" came in sight, and my heart grew lighter. We walked in silence.
I was thinking of Love which I had scorned; and having pursued empty pleasures I now determined to find Peace in Love. As we walked on, musing, suddenly I heard a voice in my ear. Turning round I beheld a woman, radiantly beautiful, walking at my side. From her bewitching eyes she threw upon me a glance which seemed to penetrate to the depths of my soul.
"My name is Pleasure," said she. "I have come to take you to a land of song and laughter."
Faith looked at me pleadingly, and I answered:
"Nay, I have already pledged my word to Faith, I am going to a land of Love."
"Love?" and Pleasure laughed scornfully.
"If you come with me I can also take you to a land of Love."
Then out spake Faith:
"Decide now; choose between us. We can both give you Love. Pleasure can give you the Love of desire; mine is the Love of Purity; Pleasure's love fades away, but mine is infinite, unchangeable, eternal. Choose now."
I looked at Pleasure, who was now bathed in perfect beauty, but I turned to Faith and said: "I still trust you."
Pleasure gave an artificial, cynical laugh, but at that moment a brilliant light shone forth, and I heard a voice, gentle and loving, saying:
"Thou hast chosen wisely. This is the only way to Truth and Life."
Faith then took my hand and we went on our journey together. In the distance I could see a beautiful country; strains of music were borne upon my ears; and as we came nearer the light grew stronger, so that at times perchance I should have fallen had not Faith upheld me. The music grew louder, heavenly voices chanted, and in my eagerness I dropped Faith's hand, and when I looked for her she had vanished. In her stead I saw three angels, who greeted me with great joy, saying:
The vision faded. I awoke, dazed and startled. The stars were looking down upon me, the birds had gone to rest, and it was night—peaceful night. I was alone with nature and my dream. I realized that Faith was the first step towards that which is highest and best, namely, Love—realized that all other aims were vain if not dominated by a pure love.