An orphaned boy, living with a wise man, woke and found himself alone in the middle of the night. He could not get to sleep again and his heart grew so restless that he rose and went down the stairs.
The moon shone in at every western window and his way was now in glimmer, now in gloom.
On the first landing he saw a door wide open which he had never seen open until now.
It was the door of the wizard's room.
Within, all was bright with moonlight, and the boy first peeped, then stepped in, and peered timidly about him.
The farther end of the room was hidden by a curtain stretched
quite across it, and, curious to see what was behind, he approached it.
But before he reached it, the curtain slowly divided in the middle and,
drawn back to each side, revealed a place with just light enough in it
from the moonshine to show that it was a dungeon.
In the middle of it, upon the floor, sat a prisoner, with fetters to his feet, and manacles to his hands; an iron collar was round his neck, and a chain from the collar had its last link in an iron staple deep-fixed in the stone floor.
His head was sunk on his bosom, and he sat abject and despairing.
'What a wicked man he must be thought the boy, and was turning to run away in terror when the man lifted his head, and his look caught and held him.
For he saw a pale, worn, fierce countenance, which somehow, through all the added years, and all the dirt that defiled it, he recognized as his own.
For a moment the prisoner gazed at him mournfully; then a wild passion of rage and despair seized him.
He dragged and tore at his chains, raved and shrieked, and dashed himself on the ground like one fed up with his imprisonment.
For a time, he lay exhausted, then he half rose and set as before, gazing helplessly upon the ground.
By and by a spider came creeping along the bar of his fetters.
He put out his hand, and, with the manacle on his wrist, crushed it, and smiled.
Instantly through the gloom came a strong, clear, yet strangely sweet voice and the very sweetness had in it something that made boy think of fire.
And the voice said:
'So, in the midst of your misery, you take delight in destruction!
Is it not well that you are chained?
If you were free, you would in time destroy the world.
Tame your wild beast or sit there till I tame him.'
The prisoner peered and stared through the dusk, but could see no one.
He fell into another fit of furious raving, but not a hairbreadth would one link of chain yield to his wildest endeavor.
'Oh, mother' he cried, as he sank again into a pit of despair and exhaustion.
'Your mother is gone from you,' said the voice, 'outworn by your evil ways.
You chose to turn only to yourself and not to your mother, and now you have only yourself and she is gone.
I only am left to care for you - not with her caresses and sweet words, but in your self-made dungeon.
Unawares to yourself you have forged your own chains and riveted them upon yourself.
Not even Hercules could free you from such imprisonment.'
The man burst out in tears, and cried:
'What then am I to do, for the burden of them is intolerable.'
'That I will tell you,' said the voice; 'for only in that way so will your chains fall from you.'
'I will do it,' said the man.
'Your prison is foul,' said the voice.
'It is,' answered the prisoner.
'Cleanse it, then.'
'How can I cleanse it when I cannot move?'
'Cannot move! Your hands were upon your face a moment ago and
Now they are upon the floor!
Near one of those hands lies a dead mouse; yonder is an open window.
Cast the dead thing out into the furnace of life, that it may speedily make an end thereof.'
With sudden obedient resolve, the prisoner made the endeavor to reach it.
The chain pulled the collar hard, and the manacle wrenched his wrist but he caught the dead thing by the tail, and with a fierce effort
threw it out.
Out of the window it flew and fell and the air of his dungeon seemed already clearer.
After a period of silence, the voice came again:
'Behind you lies a broom,' it said; 'reach forth and take it, and sweep around you as far as your chains will give you scope.
The man obeyed and as he swept, at every stroke he reached farther.
At length - how it came he could not tell, for his chains hung still heavy upon him - he found himself sweeping the very foot of the walls.
A moment more, and he stood at the open window, looking out into the world.
A dove perched upon the windowsill, and walked inquiringly in.
He caught it in his hands, and looked how to close the window, so that he might have it for company.
Then came the voice:
'Wil you, a prisoner, make of yourself a jailer?'
He opened his hands, and the dove fluttered and flashed for a moment, like a bird of light; then re-entered and flew into his very hands.
He stroked and kissed it.
The bird went and came and was his companion.
Still, his chains hung about him, and he sighed and groaned under their weight.
'Set yourself down,' said the voice, 'and polish your irons.'
He obeyed, rubbing link against link busily with his hands.
And thus he labored - as it seemed to the boy in the vision - day after day,
until at last every portion within his reach, of fetter, and chain, and collar, glittered with brightness.
'Go to the window,' then said the voice, 'and lay down in the sunshine.'
He went and lay down and fell asleep.
When he awoke, he began to raise himself heavily; but the sun had melted all the burnished parts of his bonds and the rest dropped from him and he sprung to his feet.
For very joy of his lightness, he ran about the room like a frolicking child.
Then said the voice once more:
'Now carve out of the wall the figure of a man, as perfect as thou can think it and make it.'
'Alas!' said the prisoner to himself, 'I do not know how to carve or fashion the image of anything'.
But even as he said this, he turned to find among the fragments of his fetters what piece of iron might best serve him for a chisel.
To work he set, and many and weary were the hours he wrought, for his attempts appeared to him nothing better than those of a child.
Again and again as he carved, he had to change his purpose, and cut away what he had carved;
for the thing he wrought would not conform itself to the image he had of it.
It seemed he made no progress in the task that was set him.
But he did not know that this was because his thoughts wandered and were not focused enough to give strength and skill to his hand,
as well as that the idea of what he must carve seemed too good for his hand to follow.
One night he wrought hard by the glimmer of his wretched lamp until, overwearied, he fell fast asleep, and slept like one dead.
When he awoke, a man of light, lovely and grand, stood where he had so wearily carved the unresponsive stone!
He rose and drew nigh.
Behold, it was an opening in the wall, through which his freedom shone!
The man of light was the door into the universe.
And with a shout of joy he darted through the wall into the Light.