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FROM A FAR COUNTRY
HERE lived a Spirit once upon a time. I cannot tell the
name of the place where he lived, but it was a good
place, and there were many other
spirits in it, and beautiful and bright and they all
wrought together at happy tasks, following the bidding of
a heavenly Voice.
But the Spirit of whom I speak was not happy. He knew not
what ailed him, but it was a cruel ail, and left him
no rest. He saw some spirits who were set at higher tasks
than his, and he said: "They are wiser than I; they can
tell me what my ail is, and how to cure it."
So he went to those spirits, and looking in their faces, he
saw them full of peace and light. And he asked them:
have ye this peace and this light, while I
 am empty save of darkness, and cannot rest?"
They looked kindly on him and said: "We have learned the
Earth-lesson; now your time is come to learn it, and
therefore you cannot rest. Ask of the Voice, and do what
it bids you!"
Then the Spirit asked, and the Voice said: "They speak the
truth; your time is come. Shall I send you, or will you
choose for yourself?"
And he said, "I will choose."
Then the Earth Book was opened before him, and he saw many
pictures therein, as it were spirits like himself, clothed
in mortal flesh. He saw a beggar in fluttering rags, and
a soldier in a red coat; a poet with threadbare cloak, his
eyes fixed on the stars, and a prince clad all in gold and
silver. And he said, "I will be a prince."
Then sleep fell upon him like a mantle; and the next hour,
in a kingly house on the earth, a prince was born.
Every one said that so beautiful a prince had never been
seen. Courtiers and ladies bowed around his cradle, and
 opened his baby eyes, he saw smiles and soft faces, and
rich colors of gold and gems.
"But why does he cry?"
asked the Queen his mother; and that no one, not even the
wisest, could tell her.
The prince grew up. All the days of his youth were filled
with gay and joyous things, and every hour brought its
pleasure; for his parents said: "His life shall be
perfect. He shall lack nothing that earth can give."
Yet no one thought the prince a happy youth. True, no one
heard an ungentle word from him, and his lips wore a smile,
because he was kind at heart; but his eyes were grave, and
seemed to be always asking a question that was never
answered. Sometimes those who were about him would see him
take up a corner of his rich cloak and look at it
wonderingly, as if it were strange to him; and when
travellers came from foreign countries, the prince would
send for them, and look earnestly on them, and ask them
searchingly of the lands whence they came.
One day came one in a threadbare cloak, with a lute on his
arm, and bright eyes that
 were at once sad and joyful. The prince looked on him and
trembled, yet could not cease looking.
"Who are you, stranger?" he cried.
The man laughed.
"A stranger indeed," he said; "yet no more strange than
you, Brother;" and he touched his lute, and sang a few
words in an unknown tongue.
Then the prince came down from his throne, and laid his arm
round the stranger's neck, and led him away into his garden.
Long they walked and talked together there, this one
questioning and the other making answer; and the prince's
laughter came ringing through the trees.
"But why does he laugh!" asked the Queen his mother; and
that no one, not even the wisest, could tell her.
When the stranger was gone, the prince laughed no more, but
he smiled often, with kind lips. He sought no more for
pleasures, but set himself to labor for his people,
toiling early and late to raise them from poverty and
ignorance, and to make them happy. After a time he died,
and his people said: "He was a
 good prince, but a stranger to us; the others loved
festivals and good cheer, and that we could understand, for
it is the same with us."
But the free Spirit went back to the good place whence he
came, and where the other spirits went to and fro at their
happy tasks. They crowded about him with joyful faces,
welcoming him home.
"Have you learned your lesson?" they cried.
But he shook his head and answered sadly: "It was not
my lesson that I tried to learn, but another's. Pray for
me, that I may be suffered to try once more."
Then all the spirits prayed, and he with them; and the
Voice said, "Be it so; he shall try once more."
Then again the Earth Book was spread open before him, with
the pictures of prince and peasant, gay soldier and learned
sage; but he laid his hands over his eyes. "Choose thou!"
And sleep fell upon him like a mantle; and in that hour, in
a green place under a blossoming tree, in a humble cottage
on the earth, a poet was born.
 "He is a healthy child," said the village gossips. "May
he have strength to earn his bread!"
"But why does he laugh?" asked the poor mother;
and that no one, not even the wisest, could tell her.