Philippe arrived at the Mountain of Wisdom, eager to climb it and meet the Wisest of the Wise, who lived near the summit, and learn the great lessons of life.
The peace of his surroundings was interrupted by a pounding sound, and he went to investigate.
He found five men, four of them obviously native to the area, erecting a sign. The fifth man looked up and saw Philippe and walked toward him.
“Greetings, friend,” the fifth man said. “I am Karl. You have come to meet with the Wisest of the Wise?”
“Indeed I have, Karl. I am Philippe. I have walked the pilgrim trail from my beloved France to meet with her.”
Karl looked down a moment, apparently trying to compose himself.
“I deeply regret, Philippe, that I will always be known as the last person to talk with her.”
“Then … she is…?”
Karl nodded. “Yes. The aged one now sleeps forever.” He drew a deep breath. “I climbed the mountain, just as you came to do. I found her at death’s open door. She spoke only briefly. I have had this sign made in the village below to tell other pilgrims of her death and to record her last words to humanity.”
Philippe, his mind crying out against fate, permitted Karl to lead him over to the sign. It was written in several languages. Philippe read the French version: “The Wisest of the Wise, as all do, has died. Her final words were, ‘Do not make a shrine of my dying place. Seek the truth of life in your own way.’”
Tears ran down Philippe’s face. He knelt on the ground and sobbed unashamedly as the other men looked on. Then he abruptly pulled himself together and stood.
“My sorrow is nothing,” he declared. “I must go and fulfill her instructions. She left great wisdom, and I must follow it.” He embraced Karl and kissed him on each cheek and then went back the way he came.
The sign maker and his men followed at a discreet distance, leaving Karl alone to contemplate the mountain.
And thus it was that none ever after climbed the Mountain of Wisdom to speak with the Wisest of the Wise, who lived until she died without another visitor.
Karl took the wisdom she had given him and twisted it to build a vast financial empire. He became one of the world’s great plutocrats and died at a greatly advanced age, rich, powerful, and gleefully unrepentant.