The trail was taken up next day by a lone dog that passed that way. And then a wise bellwether sheep pursued the trail o'er vale and steep, and drew the flock behind him, too, as good bellwethers always do.
And from that day, o'er hill and glade, through those old woods a path was made. And many men wound in and out, and dodged and turned and bent about, and uttered words of righteous wrath because 'twas such a crooked path. But still they followed (do not laugh) the first migrations of that calf, who through this winding woodway stalked – because he wobbled when he walked.
This forest path became a lane that bent and turned and turned again. This crooked lane became a road, where many a poor horse with his load toiled on beneath the burning sun, and traveled some three miles in one. And thus a century and a half they trod the footsteps of that calf.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet. The road became a street; and this, before men were aware, a city's crowded thoroughfare. And soon the central street was this of a renowned metropolis. And men two centuries and a half trod in the footsteps of that calf. Each day a hundred thousand rout followed this zigzag calf about, and over his crooked journey went the traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led by one calf, near three centuries dead. They followed still his crooked way, and lost one hundred years a day. For thus such reverence is lent to well-established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach were I given to preach, for we are prone to go it blind along the calf-paths of the mind, and work away from sun to sun to do what others have done. We follow in the beaten track, and out and in, forth and back, and still our dubious course pursue, to keep the path that others do.
We keep the path a sacred groove, along which all their lives they move. But how the wise old woods to laugh, who saw the first primeval calf. Ah, many things this tale might teach – but I am not given to preach!
Reprinted from Grace Drops, Volume II (2004).