The Wedding Guests
F the guests who were bidden to the Wedding Feast, there were two who started at the same moment; and both were given the same equipment for the journey, namely, a staff in the hand, and a jewel to wear in the breast.
The first one said, "A staff is well enough, but why should I walk, when I might ride? I should soil my wedding garment."
So he got him an easy carriage, and stout and swift horses, and servants to drive him, and clad himself in a rich garment, and started on his journey. As he travelled, the road, which at first was smooth and flowery, grew ever steeper and rougher; and at each steep pitch, he called for more and softer cushions, and for stronger horses; and he wrapped himself in fold on fold of rich stuffs, lest any whiff of dust or drop of mud should stain his wedding garment; the folds were so thick across his bosom that they hid the jewel he wore, and quenched its light. And as he went, many by the wayside cried to him to stop and help them, for it was a weary way, and full of pitfalls, and of sharp flints that bruised the feet, and sharp thorns that tore the flesh. But he only bade his servants drive on the faster. "These be evil ways and evil days," he said; "I fear for the jewel in my breast, and for my wedding garment; drive on, lest ill befall us!"
The second guest started out staff in hand on his journey, and for a while strode merrily on; but by and by he too came to the rough steep hills, and to the pitfalls, and the sharp flints that bruised the feet, and the sharp thorns that tore the flesh. Then, because he was slender of mould, he many times stumbled and fell, and got up again all bleeding and bemired from the flints and the pitfalls. His staff bent in his hand, and seemed like to break, yet it did not break; and the thorns tore his clothes to tatters, and the wind whistled through them. These were evil days for the wedding guest. Moreover, the men who were travelling that same road called to him, some praying for help, and others jeering at him, and making mock of his ragged clothing and slender staff. Yet many times, when one cried to him from the depth of a pit, he stopped, and held out his staff to the fallen man, and drew him out; and then the staff seemed stout enough.
Still other men there were who called to him, saying, "Give up the rough road and the weary way, and come and revel here with us!" and laid hold on him; and when he would not, they fell upon him and beat him, and tried to take his jewel from him. But he beat them off with his staff, and again it seemed stout enough for this.
Now the Lord of the Feast waited to receive his guests; and as these two had started at the selfsame moment, even so they came together to the door of the banqueting hall; and the first one entered proudly, but the other stood without at the door.
Then said the Lord to the first guest, "Where is your staff?"
"Lord," said the man, "I had no need of a staff, for I came hither in a carriage, lest I soil my wedding garment."
"And have you your jewel?" asked the Lord.
"Yea, Lord!" said the man. "I have it safe, and so well covered with rich stuffs that nothing could come near it, neither dust nor soil."
As he spoke, he drew back the thick folds from his breast; and there lay the jewel indeed, but it gave no light, and was as a thing dead.
"And you, son," said the Lord of the Feast to the other guest; "why do you stand at the door and lean upon your staff, when the feast is ready?"
And the second answered, "Lord, my garment was poor at the starting, and now it is torn and stained with brambles and dust, so that I am not fit to come in; and as for the staff, I am weary to faintness, and I lean upon it because it holds me well, though it be slender; and indeed it is stouter than it was, I know not how."
"And your jewel?" asked the Lord.
"Alas!" said the man. "I have striven so hard and fallen so often by the way that I many times forgot the jewel, and know not even now whether I have it; and even if I have, it may well be dim with dust, and dead of its light, like this man's."
"Show it me!" said the Lord of the Feast.
Then the man drew aside the ragged cloak that covered him; and the jewel shone out, and lighted the room.
Then said the Lord of the Feast to him, "Come in, and sit with me at my table!"
And as the man crossed the threshold, the tattered clothes fell from him, and he stood robed as it were in a garment of light, and the jewel shining in his breast; and he passed in to the feast.
Now when the other guest saw that, he cried out bitterly, and said, "Lord, does this man pass in, and I stay without?"
And the Lord said, "Nay! come you in also, and serve him and me!"