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The Sojourners
by [?]

“My father, shall we soon be there?”

The man stopped, and shading his eyes with his hand, looked long before him into the silver haze. They were on the southern bank of a wide valley, flanked by deep hills looking wise as grey-headed youth, a legion of close comrades, showing no gap in their ranks. They seemed to breathe; to sit, looking down into the valley, with heads dropped on their breasts, and deep overshadowed eyes, that never changed, in mist or snow, or sun, or any kind of weather: dark brooding lights that knew the secrets of the world, watchful yet kind. Races, ardent with longing, had come and gone through the valley, had passed the shining porches in the North on the way to the quiet country; and they had never come again, though shadows flitted back and forth when the mists came down: visiting spirits, hungering on the old trail for some that had dropped by the way. As the ages passed, fewer and fewer travelled through the valley-no longer a people or a race, but twos and threes, and sometimes a small company, like soldiers of a battered guard, and oftener still solitary pilgrims, broken with much travel and bowed with loneliness. But they always cried out with joy when they beheld far off in the North, at the end of the long trail, this range of grey and violet hills break into golden gaps with scarlet walls, and rivers of water ride through them pleasantly. Then they hurried on to the opal haze that hung at the end of the valley–and who heard ever of any that wished to leave the Scarlet Hills and the quiet country beyond!

The boy repeated his question: “My father, shall we soon be there?”

The man withdrew his hand from over his eyes, and a strange smile came to his lips.

“My son,” he answered, “canst thou not see? Yonder, through the gentle mist, are the Scarlet Hills. Our journey is near done.”

The boy lifted his head and looked. “I can see nothing but the mist, my father–not the Scarlet Hills. I am tired, I would sleep.”

“Thou shalt sleep soon. The wise men told us of the Delightful Chateau at the gateway of the hills. Courage, my son! If I gave thee the golden balls to toss, would it cheer thee?”

“My father, I care not for the golden balls; but if I had horse and sword and a thousand men, I would take a city.”

The man laid his hand upon the boy’s shoulder.

“If I, my son,” he said, “had a horse and sword and a thousand men, I would build a city.”

“Why dost thou not fly thy falcon, or write thy thoughts upon the sand, as thou didst yesterday, my father?”

The man loosed the falcon from his wrist, and watched it fly away.

“My son, I care not for the falcon, nor any more for writing on the sands.”

“My father, if thou didst build a city, I would not tear it down, but I would keep it with my thousand men.

“Thou hast well said, my son.” And the man stooped and kissed the lad on the forehead.

And so they travelled on in silence for a long time, and slowly they came to the opal haze, which smelled sweet as floating flowers, and gave their hearts a halcyon restfulness. And glancing down at him many times, the father saw the lad’s face look serenely wise, without becoming old, and his brown hair clustered on his forehead with all the life of youth in it. Yet in his eyes the lad seemed as old as himself.

“My father,” said the lad again, “wouldst thou then build a city?”

And the father answered: “Nay, my son, I would sow seed, and gather it into harvest–enough for my needs, no more; and sit quiet in my doorway when my work was done, and be grateful to the gods.”