Once there was a mighty lord, the master of a great estate, the ruler of many people. Daily, as he passed among them, he saw that some of them were poor and wretched, and some of them were rich and wretched, and he spent much time in thought about it, because his heart was tender toward them. Many days he went about among them, searching for the reason of their wretchedness and that which would cure it; and he came to see that the need of a man is to feel the needs of his brother man even as his own, and to render him loving service; that this quality would lead them all toward freedom—the real freedom of peace and happiness. So to each one he gave a garden for his very own, to great and small alike he gave them, and the gardens were fair and fruitful. And he said to his people, "Behold, I give to each one of you an estate of his very own, with water for its refreshment, and seed and vines. The winds are gentle, the sun is kindly, the earth fruitful: work each of you in his own garden, develop it, and find hidden there happiness and peace." And the great lord went his way with joy in his heart, knowing that he had done well.
After a season he went again among his people, that he might see how the gardens fared. There were many which were fair to look upon, but they bore no fruit, nor anything that was useful to man, except as beauty has its own great use, and the great lord in his wisdom tried to make the owners of those gardens see the greater beauty of usefulness. Other of the gardens bore the fruits of hard and joyless labor, and the dwellers therein he sent to learn of their brothers the usefulness of beauty. As he walked about he came upon three gardens which caused him to ponder, so much did they differ. In the first grew weeds and thorns, and poisonous plants which were ill-smelling and unlovely; the earth was dry and parched, the water-sources foul and choked. In all the garden there was neither shade, nor sustenance, nor beauty, nor anything that was of use to man, and the dweller therein was wretched with a wretchedness so bitter that it made the great lord weep. He stopped, and with gentle sorrow said to the man, "Did I not give thee a garden like unto thy fellows? The same sun shines upon it, the same showers refresh it, the hidden springs feed the plants and herbs, and yet, instead of growth, behold, there is only ruin and decay. What hast thou done unto thy garden?" And in great bitterness of spirit the unhappy man replied, "Nothing. What is the use? Thorns grow faster than herbs, and it would take all my time to keep them out; and my neighbor throws trash and filth in the stream and my supply of water is fouled and choked. If there is unending work to keep the garden fair, what is the use? My life is worth more than that and rather than do that which is unworthy of me I have let the garden take care of itself." Then said his lord unto him, '"Is it not well to do thy right labor rather than live among thorns and poisonous weeds—is it not a better choice?" And the unhappy man replied, "What is the use of living at all?" and was silent.
In the next garden sat a man who plucked the weeds that overran the ground, but his heart was not in his work, and discontent spread its shadow upon his face. Regarding him for a space, at length the great lord spoke, and caused the man to start, because he did not know that one was watching him. Said his master, "Thou dost not love thy work?" "Nay," said the toiler, "it is not that, but only that it is always the same work to do; each day must I uproot the weeds lest they kill the useful growths, each day clear out the hidden springs and the water-courses lest they become stagnant and dry. And from my neighbor's garden blow in the seeds of poisonous plants, which quickly take root and cause me added labor, and there seems to be not much use in ever doing the same work. Life is all weeds." Then the master gently questioned, "Do the seeds of poisonous plants and weeds ever blow from thy garden to that of thy neighbor and cause him trouble? Is the stream that flows from thy domain pure and refreshing to those who have need of it?" With bowed head the man made no reply. Again his lord questioned, "Art thou happy?" To which the man replied, "Yea. Lord—sometimes." Then with great tenderness spoke his master and said, "Wilt thou search thy heart and find out what times thou art happy?" And the man answered, "Yea, Lord," and there was wonder in his heart.
As the great lord looked upon the next garden, into his eyes there came a look of content, for there a man worked, — worked with understanding and joy, singing as he toiled, and the fruit of his labor was good to look upon. In all the garden was the smile of violets, and their fragrance reached unto the heart. The man, seeing that his master regarded his work with favor, looked into his eyes and smiled. With the memory of the others upon him, the great lord said, "Dost thou indeed find pleasure in thy work? Is it worth while—to work so hard and unremittingly—for so modest a result?" Then, with a clear gaze, the man replied, "Yea, Lord. I have learned. When first thou gavest me the garden I rebelled, for never had I labored, and I searched for one to do the work for me, but none could be found. And my heart was bitter, for that my great possessions had been taken from me and I had been given a garden no better than my fellows, and work to do in it. Then unwillingly I began, and the labor was hard and unlovely, and my heart was sore, and because I worked not with the desire to do my own right work, it was ever more and more bitter. The weeds grew apace, and the seeds wafted from the poisonous plants in my neighbor's garden took root and flourished; the streams were choked with refuse from without and within the garden, and the useful growths and trees that gave shelter drooped and died for lack of sustenance. Everywhere were ugliness and failure and danger, and the garden was not a garden any more, but a wilderness where none might live. Then I said in my bitterness, 'What is the use? I have tried, and it is no use!' Thus I sat for many days, until my sadness was not to be borne. Daily I wept, and grew to hate my garden, and because I could see no good thing in it, hated I myself, and then him that gave it to me; and at night, prostrate in the dust and ruin, I suffered and wept.
"In the darkness my cheek came in contact with something soft and tender, and its sweet perfume touched my heart. When the light came I looked, and beheld a gentle messenger, a little plant crushed in the dust, dying of thirst, but fragrant still, and I worked to save it. The ground had to be softened, the streams cleared, the weeds uprooted, and as I worked I found other flowers of love, and yet others whose presence I had not known, and I was thankful that I had found them before it was too late. I had found the reason for work, and behold, I sang as I worked; and I loved the garden and its fruits, and was grateful to the master who in his wisdom had given it unto me. I saw that each must do his own work, for himself and for his brother, and that no work is small or to be despised. Now the violets cover all the ground; they are so strong of growth that weeds find not much room or sustenance, and are easily discernible and destroyed. The streams are beautiful and clear, and carry purity and help, both in my garden and beyond its borders. All day is the beauty of my garden before my eyes, and in the night its fragrance is in my heart, and I look forward serenely to the morrow and its work, thankful for today. When the seeds from my garden blow to my neighbors' gardens, there to take root, I know that they are messengers of good, and carry hope and promise with them. The flowers themselves I send to those who are suffering in body and soul, and they carry with them some of the other fruits of the garden, which are love, and peace, and joy, and rest, and thankfulness for work."
The great lord looked upon this laborer in his vineyard in his strength and joy, and blessed him. No longer needed he to say, as did the one in Jesus' parable—"I come seeking fruit . . . and find none."