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THERE was in the dominions of a certain Great King, one province, small indeed compared with many others, but rich and fruitful, filled by his favour with abundance of all good things, and flourishing all over like a beautiful garden. The inhabitants were charged to cultivate it, and take care of the goodly trees and plants, so that their land might abound more and more with the fruits pleasing to the Great King. They however, not only.
neglected to do this, but allowed an enemy to come in and sow all kinds of noxious plants, so that ere long no wilderness could be more barren or wretched. Thorns, briers, and poisonous herbs came up all over it, and the people starving and miserable quarrelled and fought together, and ruined still more their once pleasant land.
Amid all this confusion there was a great dread among many, lest the King should one day come and punish them for having so disobeyed him and spoiled his lands; and sometimes they longed to restore the country to its former fruitful state, but their endeavours were vain. Wild beasts howled around in the tangled thickets, and when they thought themselves happiest, some sudden alarm came upon them, and they found no rest nor pleasure anywhere. The King was not unmindful however of his miserable subjects, and he would not yet punish them for all their rebellion; he saw how wretched they had become, and he pitied them. As they could not possibly help themselves, his own much loved Son went to that wasted land, and called the inhabitants to learn of him how they might be restored from the dreadful state they had fallen into. But strange to relate, few came to him; the greater number preferred living as they were in the woods, and mocked and insulted the King's Son, who had come into their unfortunate abode to relieve them. He gathered to him many of the children however, and bearing the weakest in his arms, he brought them out of the desert, and led them to the entrance of a garden, which he had planted in the midst of that land and fenced round with a low yet solid wall.
Beside the gate which opened into this garden was a clear fountain, in which when the children had bathed, their torn limbs were healed, the marks of their scars and bruises removed, and they felt fresh and well. Then as clothed in clean garments they passed through the gate, one of the King's officers placed a mark on their foreheads, to show they were now adopted by him, and wrote their names in a large book which lay open before him, Very many were thus written down and entered the garden. Now the King's Son looking mildly and lovingly on the assembled band said,-Children, you are
now gathered out of the desert, and are safe in this garden; you have been saved by me from the wild beasts and from starving; remember this, and keep within this place, and observe what I now tell you. You know that you are not now poor outcasts, but the King has pitied you and taken you to be his children. He has made ready for you a home in his own palace, that you may always live with him as king's sons and be happy. But only obedient and loving children can enjoy the pleasures there provided, and so the King leaves you all my children in this garden for a while that you may learn to be fit for your own home. I shall return to my father, but I shall from that distant palace look on you, and watch you continually; and I leave you a gift which will enable you also to see me, and even the glorious palace in which I dwell.
Then their kind Deliverer showed the children a mirror of pure gold very brightly polished, and bade them remark how clearly they themselves and everything around them were reflected in it. He pointed out to them his own bright image there, and the palace of the Great King; but so glorious were the golden walls that the children's eyes were dazzled by their light, and they could only faintly discern their outline. Then said the King's Son, "This mirror I leave with you, my children, and you must continually look into it, for there you behold my image, which will still remain though I depart, and to which you must always be striving to become like. There also you will behold your own home, and though now it is too bright for you to gaze on, the more you look into the mirror the more visible will it become. You must strive while you remain here to be like me; and the more you study my image, the more you look to the palace of your Father, the more you will be so, I do not now promise you pleasure and rest, but if you are contented to wait, and do what your Father commands, you shall return with me to his palace, where is neither labour nor pain, but pleasures always. Do not therefore seek amusement greedily in every thing around you, your time of toil is now, and rest afterwards; but if you listen to the King's enemies, and are persuaded by them
to leave this place, to forget the mirror, and take delight in other things, you will soon lose all likeness to me, and your eyes will become so bent to the ground that you will be quite unable to lift them up and see any of the bright images of the mirror. I leave you each a portion of ground to take care of; you must root out all the weeds, and cultivate the good plants whose roots I have placed in it. The morning and evening dews shall descend to nourish them, and the more abundant are the fruits the more pleased will your Father be with you. Look carefully at your plants in the mirror, for only by so doing can you distinguish between really good plants and the weeds which often resemble them. Remember
that when I come again I shall examine your gardens, and call you to account for the use you have made of them, and of the roots I have planted in them. Those whose countenances are become like me, and whose ground produces fruit, shall come with me to their joyous home; but the others shall be shut up in a dark and dismal prison. I do not tell you when I shall return, ere that time many of you may have become wearied and fallen asleep, but all shall again awake at my coming, and those countenances bearing my mark shall enter my house."
Then their Deliverer left the children, and they saw him no more; but as they eagerly fixed their eyes on the mirror, they beheld still his mild and loving face reflected there, and saw the rays which streamed from the golden palace.
Their own forms too were distinctly visible, cleansed from the stains of the wilderness; and on every brow shone the King's mark though but faintly. The children stood for a long time in silence, wholly engaged in looking into the mirror, whose many and wonderful images filled them with delighted astonishment. At length one of them named Euphilus, whose eye had been bent on the mild face of their Deliverer, said,—" We must begin our work diligently, and do what the King has set us, that our gardens may flourish and be filled with fruit, when he sends again to us."
"It is so delightful to look into this mirror," exclaimed
Gnostus; "I can see such wonderful things in the clouds that float round the palace walls."
"We were told to look constantly at the mirror," said another," and it is much pleasanter to watch it, than to work in the gardens; besides there is plenty of time."
"Let us do all our Deliverer bade us," replied Euphilus, our eyes may be constantly fixed on the mirror while we labour. Look how the feet of the King's Son bled as he came to seek us, and let us prepare to show our thankfulness to Him, by labouring to nourish the plants he delights in; he will surely smile on us, and we shall see ourselves becoming like him."
"I hope," said a little girl named Oriana, "that the King will soon send for us; I long to be in that bright palace, and see the real face of our Deliverer again."
Soon most of the children had begun their labours, and though they found often a great deal of hard work in clearing away the stones and weeds, they were cheered by finding the fair plants springing up; and the mild face of their Deliverer shone on them from the mirror. Ever when they felt wearied they said to each other, "Now, we must labour and not mind pain; in our own home we shall forget all this trouble, and rejoice that by means of it we have become like the King's Son."
The children had indeed been rescued from the perils of the wilderness, and were in a place fenced round from the open assaults of their enemies; but nevertheless these contrived to make their way in secretly, and mingled among the children as friends. They whispered to them how hard it was through the bright summer day to toil; how delightful were the green plains beyond the garden, and that while the warm long days lasted they might enjoy themselves, and leave the task of preparing their gardens for a later season.
Lest the children should learn from the mirror to know the real character of their tempters, and avoid them, these false ones gave them small glasses, in which nothing but the faces of the children themselves were reflected, and by some charm made to appear much more beautiful than they really were.
The ill effect of these evil things was too soon visible.