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There Was A Little City
by [?]

It lay between the mountains and the sea, and a river ran down past it, carrying its good and ill news to a pacific shore, and out upon soft winds, travelling lazily to the scarlet east. All white and a tempered red, it nestled in a valley with other valleys on lower steppes, which seemed as if built by the gods, that they might travel easily from the white-topped mountains, Margath, Shaknon, and the rest, to wash their feet in the sea. In the summer a hot but gracious mistiness softened the green of the valleys, the varying colours of the hills, the blue of the river, the sharp outlines of the cliffs. Along the high shelf of the mountain, muletrains travelled like a procession seen in dreams–slow, hazy, graven yet moving, a part of the ancient hills themselves; upon the river great rafts, manned by scarlet-vested crews, swerved and swam, guided by the gigantic oars which needed five men to lift and swayargonauts they from the sweet-smelling forests to the salt-smelling main. In winter the little city lay still under a coverlet of pure white, with the mists from the river and the great falls above frozen upon the trees, clothing them as graciously as with white samite; so that far as eye could see there was a heavenly purity upon all, covering every mean and distorted thing. There were days when no wind stirred anywhere, and the gorgeous sun made the little city and all the land round about a pretty silver kingdom, where Oberon and his courtiers might have danced and been glad. Often, too, you could hear a distant wood-cutter’s axe make a pleasant song in the air, and the wood-cutter himself, as the hickory and steel swung in a shining half-circle to the bole of balsam, was clad in the bright livery of frost, his breath issuing in grey smoke like life itself, mystic and peculiar, man, axe, tree, and breath one common being. And when, by-and-by, the woodcutter added a song of his own to the song his axe made, the illusion was not lost, but rather heightened; for it, too, was part of the unassuming pride of nature, childlike in its simplicity, primeval in its suggestion and expression. The song had a soft monotony, swinging backwards and forwards to the waving axe like the pendulum of a clock. It began with a low humming, as one could think man made before he heard the Voice which taught him how to speak. And then came the words:

“None shall stand in the way of the lord,
The lord of the Earth–of the rivers and trees,
Of the cattle and fields and vines!
Here shall I build me my cedar home,
A city with gates, a road to the sea
For I am the lord of the Earth!
Hew! Hew!
Hew and hew, and the sap of the tree
Shall be yours, and your bones shall be strong,
Shall be yours, and your heart shall rejoice,
Shall be yours, and the city be yours,
And the key of its gates be the key
Of the home where your little ones dwell.
Hew and be strong! Hew and rejoice!
For man is the lord of the Earth,
And God is the Lord over all!”

And so long as the little city stands will this same wood-cutter’s name and history stand also. He had camped where it stood now, when nothing was there save the wild duck in the reeds, the antelopes upon the hills, and all manner of furred and feathered things; and it all was his. He had seen the yellow flashes of gold in the stream called Pipi, and he had not gathered it, for his life was simple, and he was young enough to cherish in his heart the love of the open world, beyond the desire of cities and the stir of the market-place. In those days there was not a line in his face, not an angle in his body–all smoothly rounded and lithe and alert, like him that was called “the young lion of Dedan.” Day by day he drank in the wisdom of the hills and the valleys, and he wrote upon the dried barks of trees the thoughts that came as he lay upon the bearskin in his tent, or cooled his hands and feet, of a hot summer day, in the moist sandy earth, and watched the master of the deer lead his cohorts down the passes of the hills.