Two men were informed, as they were listlessly standing and gazing into a dense forest one day, that beyond it lay a fertile and beautiful valley, reached only through the dark and close woods; but, when reached, it would repay them for all their efforts.
They started one morning, entering the forest together, and forced their way for a while through the tangled woods. They held the branches for each other to pass, and walked along in social converse. Soon one began to grow restless and impatient of the slow progress made.
“I must get on faster than this,” he exclaimed, and began to quicken his pace, regardless of overhanging boughs and thorny branches, which pierced his flesh at every step. He rushed forward, leaving his companion; and, so intent did he become on reaching the valley with all possible speed, that he no longer noticed the briers which pierced him or the underbrush which entangled and made his feet sore. In a few days he reached the valley, tired, worn, and bleeding from head to feet.
The laborers who were working in their gardens looked on him with pity, and several, at the command of a leader, carried him to a house (for he could no longer walk), where he was cared for and nursed.
His companion, whom he had outrun, took a better and wiser course. Finding the wood so dense, he bethought himself of making a pathway as he journeyed. It would take much longer, but the comfort and good to others who might follow could not be told. Faithfully he labored, cutting away the branches which impeded his progress, and clearing the underbrush from the ground; while each day, in the valley beyond, the wounded man wondered that he came not, and concluded that he must have perished in the forest.
The days passed into weeks, and yet no sign of his companion. If he could only rise from his bed, he would go in search of him; but, alas! he was helpless, lame, and sore in every joint.
At the close of a beautiful autumn day, when the laborers had bound their sheaves and were going to their homes, a traveler was seen coming with a firm step from the forest. On his shoulder he carried the axe, whose polished edge glittered strangely in the rays of the setting sun. The laborers wondered why he was not torn and weary like the other.
“Thee must have had a better path than the one who came before thee,” said one of the group to the stranger.
“I made a path,” was his only answer; and then he glanced around the room, as though he would find him with whom he started: for the interest felt for any companionship, however brief, is not easily laid aside.
The laborers told him of his companion’s inability to work, and of his days of pain.
“Let me see him,” he said; and they went with him.
The next day the traveler who had slowly journeyed, and made a path for those who would come after, was able to go to his labors; while his companion was disabled for many days longer.
Soon after, many others came through the forest to the valley, and their first remark was, “Show us the traveler who made for us such a comfortable path;” and, seeing him, they all blessed him in word and deed for his nobleness in making their way so easy for them.
“But for that path,” said many to him, “I should never have come to this lovely valley.”
There are two ways of journeying through life: one, like the first pilgrim, who thought only of self and of speedily reaching the vale and the journey’s end; the other better and wiser one, productive of greater good to all, of making a path, that all who come after us may be blessed by our labors.