I read this story a long time ago...I am filling in some details of my own...if you know the title of the story and the original author, please let me know. The young pastor got off the barge (a raft, really- its gnarled floor was made of two layers of large ancient logs bound together with vines, rope, wire, and almost anything handy) as the dark-skinned oarsman pushed his oar into the muck to steady his craft. On the riverbank, the quiet natives stared in silence as an old man in a long white frock moved forward to welcome the missionary.
"Tulasman!", cried the old man, "The baggage if you please!" At that, a young olive-skinned, muscular teen, burnt by days in the sun, rushed forward and took the young pastor's sachel and duffel bag from the raft.
"Welcome to Sonoriaga! Pastor Wilhelm at your service!" With a loud booming laugh, the old man swung an arm around the the young pastor,"You must be exhausted, Pastor Rhett, but come...there is plenty of food and a good reed mat to rest in!" He led the young man to a small clearing just above the riverbank, where the natives, in a riff-raff smattering of Salvation Army clothes, moved to and fro, preparing what seemed like a banquet in the middle of nowhere. Pastor Rhett could only clear his throat and smile.
"THIS is my send-off party", old Pastor Wilhelm said,"As it is YOUR welcome feast! I leave today soon as we have broken fast, after 10 long years in this wilderness, carved into a civilized society by the Gospel!" The old man stretched his arms out and looked skyward for a second. Then he turned and said, "Sit, sit! Please! The send off program begins!"
A young native woman, her dark skin glistening in the light, took a step forward and spoke softly, "Three gifts to remember us by, Pastor Wilhelm, in your long journey back to America..." she removed a small red blanket from the grass, revealing a reed mat, on it a fur coat, a bow and arrows, a sea-shell.
Touched, the old man picked up the gifts, putting on the coat. "This will keep me warm in New York! Is this the rabbits' furs?" "Yes,Pastor", the young woman said softly,"We saved all of the furs as we learned to cook rabbits from the farm you helped us build, and for that we are grateful". " The bow and arrows will be a good centerpiece above the fireplace!", said the old Pastor...then he looked at the seashell in his hand, stupefied, at a loss for words. He stared at the small white shell...it was a mussel...it must have been. The young woman saw his hesitation, so she clapped her hand and faced the crowd of natives and said, "De quien esta?" A young boy, limping forward bare-footed, raised his hand. "Eet's a shell, Passstorrr", he said in a semi-stupor,"Jes comm back wid eet". He smiled faintly, seemingly more asleep than awake. He was...tired? Drunk? Drugged?, thought the Pastor silently.
Noticing that the older missionary was standing still, the young Pastor moved forward, his hand extended. "If I may, Pastor, take a look at the shell? I have been a collector since my boyhood days..." The old man put the small white shell in his hand and put a hand on the boy's head to bless him.
Pastor Rhett, a small inquisitive expression on his face growing into one of surprise, blurted, "It's a Pacarius Grumiforma!" "A what?", replied the older man.
"Pacarius Grumiforma is a mussel that is found in a lake 30 miles up this mountain- at the crater", he pointed East towards the blue behemoth, "The lake can only be reached on foot, its surroundings jagged and sharp. The volcano's igneous secretions have formed into an impenetrable surface, like broken glass. It's a punishing walk and many have failed to return", the young Pastor Rhett continued. He looked at the boy and said," You say you have just come back from that lake?" "Si", replied the boy. Pastor Wilhelm now understood the exhaustion in the boy, the bleeding feet. Touched, he held the boy to his chest, wiping the boy's bleeding feet with the hem of his garment. "Thank you, thank you, for this gift of the shell", said the old Pastor.
At that, the boy looked up at the old Pastor, shaking his head. The two pastors looked at the boy, wondering. "But you wounded your bare feet walking up to that lake to get me this gift?", asked Pastor Wilhelm. "Si, Pastor," replied the boy, "But you are mistaken?"
"I can't be," replied the old man," I now know how long the walk was, on bare feet, over a surface like broken glass...to get me this rare gift?"
"Si Pastor, pero No", replied the boy,"The shell is not my gift..."
The two pastors looked at each other, confused.
Then the boy continued, tired now from the exertion. He put his arms around the old man's waist, burying his face in the Pastor's robe.
In a very faint, sleepy voice, he said, "The shell was not gift. THE LONG WALK WAS GIFT."