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Title: Beyond the Gates
Author: Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                           BEYOND THE GATES.

                                  BY

                       ELIZABETH STUART PHELPS,

      AUTHOR OF “THE GATES AJAR,” “THE STORY OF AVIS,” ETC., ETC.

                        _Nineteenth Thousand._

                       [Illustration: colophon]

                                BOSTON:
                     HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
                 New York: 11 East Seventeenth Street.
                    The Riverside Press, Cambridge.
                                 1884.

                           Copyright, 1883,
                      BY ELIZABETH STUART PHELPS.

                        _All rights reserved._

                   _The Riverside Press, Cambridge_:
        Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton and Company.

                           _TO MY BROTHER_,

                                STUART,

                  WHO PASSED BEYOND, AUGUST 29, 1883.



NOTE.


It should be said, that, at the time of the departure of him to whose
memory this little book is consecrated, the work was already in press;
and that these pages owe more to his criticism than can be acknowledged
here.

E. S. P.

GLOUCESTER, MASSACHUSETTS,

_September, 1883_.



BEYOND THE GATES.



I.


I had been ill for several weeks with what they called brain fever. The
events which I am about to relate happened on the fifteenth day of my
illness.

Before beginning to tell my story, it may not be out of place to say a
few words about myself, in order to clarify to the imagination of the
reader points which would otherwise involve numerous explanatory
digressions, more than commonly misplaced in a tale dealing with the
materials of this.

I am a woman forty years of age. My father was a clergyman; he had been
many years dead. I was living, at the time I refer to, in my mother’s
house in a factory town in Massachusetts. The town need not be more
particularly mentioned, nor genuine family names given, for obvious
reasons. I was the oldest of four children; one of my sisters was
married, one was at home with us, and there was a boy at college.

I was an unmarried, but not an unhappy woman. I had reached a very busy,
and sometimes I hoped a not altogether valueless, middle age. I had used
life and loved it. Beyond the idle impulse of a weary moment, which
signifies no more than the reflex action of a mental muscle, and which I
had been in the habit of rating accordingly, I had never wished to die.
I was well, vigorous, and active. I was not of a dependent or a
despondent temperament.

I am not writing an autobiography, and these things, not of importance
in themselves, require only the briefest allusion. They will serve to
explain the general cast of my life, which in turn may define the
features of my story.

There are two kinds of solitary: he who is drawn by the inward, and he
who chooses the outward life. To this latter class I had belonged.
Circumstances, which it is not necessary to detail here, had thrust me
into the one as a means of self-preservation from the other, while I was
yet quite young.

I had been occupied more largely with the experiences of other people
than with my own. I had been in the habit of being depended upon. It had
been my great good fortune to be able to spend a part of my time among
the sick, the miserable, and the poor. It had been, perhaps, my better
chance to be obliged to balance the emotional perils of such occupations
by those of a different character. My business was that of a
school-teacher, but I had traveled somewhat; I had served as a nurse
during the latter years of the war; in the Sanitary Commission; upon the
Freedmen’s Bureau; as an officer in a Woman’s Prison, and had done a
little work for the State Bureau of Labor among the factory operatives
of our own town. I had therefore, it will be seen, been spared the
deterioration of a monotonous existence. At the time I was taken ill I
was managing a private school, rather large for the corps of assistants
which I could command, and had overworked. I had been at home, thus
employed, with my mother who needed me, for two years.

It may not be unsuitable, before proceeding with my narrative, to say
that I had been a believer in the truths of the Christian religion; not,
however, a devotee. I had not the ecstatic temperament, and was not
known among my friends for any higher order of piety than that which is
implied in trying to do one’s duty for Christ’s sake, and saying little
about it or Him,--less than I wish I had sometimes. It was natural to me
to speak in other ways than by words; that does not prove that it was
best. I had read a little, like all thinking people with any
intellectual margin to their lives, of the religious controversies of
the day, and had not been without my share of pressure from the
fashionable reluctance to believe. Possibly this had affected a
temperament not too much inclined towards the supernatural, but it had
never conquered my faith, which I think had grown to be dearer to me
because I had not kept it without a fight for it. It certainly had
become, for this reason, of greater practical value. It certainly had
become, for this and every reason, the most valuable thing I had, or
hoped to have. I believed in God and immortality, and in the history of
Jesus Christ. I respected and practiced prayer, but chiefly decided what
I ought to do next minute. I loved life and lived it. I neither feared
death nor thought much about it.

       *       *       *       *       *

When I had been ill a fortnight, it occurred to me that I was very sick,
but not that I could possibly die. I suffered a good deal at first;
after that much less. There was great misery for lack of sleep, and
intolerable restlessness. The worst, however, was the continuity of
care. Those who have borne heavy responsibilities for any length of time
will understand me. The incessant burden pressed on: now a pupil had
fallen into some disgraceful escapade; now the investments of my
mother’s, of which I had the charge, had failed on the dividends; then
I had no remittance for the boy at college; then my sister, in a
heart-breaking emergency, confided to me a peril against which I could
not lift a finger; the Governor held me responsible for the typhoid
among the prisoners; I added eternal columns of statistics for the
Charity Boards, and found forever a mistake in each report; a dying
soldier called to me in piercing tones for a cup of water; the black
girl to whom I read the Gospel of John, drowned her baby; I ran six
looms in the mill for the mother of six children till her seventh should
be born; I staked the salvation of my soul upon answering the argument
of Strauss to the satisfaction of an unbelieving friend, and lost my
wager; I heard my classes in Logic, and was unable to repeat anything
but the “Walrus and the Carpenter,” for the “Barbara Celarent.”
Suddenly, one day, in the thick of this brain-battle, I slipped upon a
pause, in which I distinctly heard a low voice say,

    “But Thine eternal thoughts move on,
     Thine undisturbed affairs.”

It was my mother’s voice. I perceived then that she sat at my bedside in
the red easy-chair, repeating hymns, poor soul! in the hope of calming
me.

I put out my hand and patted her arm, but it did not occur to me to
speak till I saw that there were masses of pansies and some mignonette
upon the table, and I asked who sent them, and she told me the
school-girls had kept them fresh there every day since I was taken ill.
I felt some pleasure that they should take the trouble to select the
flowers I preferred. Then I asked her where the jelly came from, and the
grapes, and about other trifles that I saw, such as accumulate in any
sick-room. Then she gave me the names of different friends and neighbors
who had been so good as to remember me. Chiefly I was touched by the
sight of a straggly magenta geranium which I noticed growing in a pot by
the window, and which a poor woman from the mills had brought the day
before. I asked my mother if there were any letters, and she said, many,
but that I must not hear them read; she spoke of some from the prison.
The door-bell often rang softly, and I asked why it was muffled, and who
called. Alice had come in, and said something in an undertone to mother
about the Grand Army and resolutions and sympathy; and she used the
names of different people I had almost forgotten, and this confused me.
They stopped talking, and I became at once very ill again.

The next point which I recall is turning to see that the doctor was in
the room. I was in great suffering, and he gave me a few spoonfuls of
something which he said would secure sleep. I desired to ask him what it
was, as I objected to narcotics, and preferred to bear whatever was
before me with the eyes of my mind open, but as soon as I tried to speak
I forgot what I wished to say.

I do not know how long it was before the truth approached me, but it was
towards evening of that day, the fifteenth, as I say, of my illness,
that I said aloud:

“Mother, Tom is in the room. Why has Tom come home?”

Tom was my little brother at college. He came towards the bed as I
spoke. He had his hat in his hand, and he put it up before his eyes.

“Mother!” I repeated louder than before. “_Why have you sent for Tom?_”

But Mother did not answer me. She leaned over me. I saw her looking
down. She had the look that she had when my father died; though I was so
young when that happened, I had never forgotten my mother’s look; and I
had never seen it since, from that day until this hour.

“Mother! am I so sick as _that_? MOTHER!”

“Oh, my dear!” cried Mother. “Oh my dear, my dear!” ...

So after that I understood. I was greatly startled that they should feel
me to be dangerously ill; but I was not alarmed.

“It is nonsense,” I said, after I had thought about it a little while.
“Dr. Shadow was always a croaker. I have no idea of dying! I have nursed
too many sicker people than I am. I don’t _intend_ to die! I am able to
sit up now, if I want to. Let me try.”

“I’ll hold you,” said Tom, softly enough. This pleased me. He lifted all
the pillows, and held me straight out upon his mighty arms. Tom was a
great athlete--took the prizes at the gymnasium. No weaker man could
have supported me for fifteen minutes in the strained position by which
he found that he could give me comfort and so gratify my whim. Tom held
me a long time; I think it must have been an hour; but I began to suffer
again, and could not judge of time. I wondered how that big boy got such
infinite tenderness into those iron muscles. I felt a great respect for
human flesh and bone and blood, and for the power and preciousness of
the living human body. It seemed much more real to me, then, than the
spirit. It seemed an absurdity that any one should suppose that I was in
danger of being done with life. I said:--

“I’m going to live, Tom! Tell Mother I have no idea of dying. I prefer
to live.”

Tom nodded; he did not speak; I felt a hot dash of tears on my face,
which surprised me; I had not seen Tom cry since he lost the football
match when he was eleven years old.

They gave me something more out of the spoon, again, I think, at that
moment, and I felt better. I said to Tom:--

“You see!” and bade them send Mother to lie down, and asked Alice to
make her beef-tea, and to be sure and make it as we did in the army. I
do not remember saying anything more after this. I certainly did not
suffer any more. I felt quiet and assured. Nothing farther troubled me.
The room became so still that I thought they must all have gone away,
and left me with the nurse, and that she, finding me so well, had
herself fallen asleep. This rested me--to feel that I was no longer
causing them pain--more than anything could have done; and I began to
think the best thing I could do would be to take a nap myself.

With this conviction quietly in mind I turned over, with my face towards
the wall, to go to sleep. I grew calmer, and yet more calm, as I lay
there. There was a cross of Swiss carving on the wall, hanging over a
picture of my father. Leonardo’s Christ--the one from the drawing for
the Last Supper, that we all know--hung above both these. Owing to my
position, I could not see the other pictures in the room, which was
large, and filled with little things, the gifts of those who had been
kind to me in a life of many busy years. Only these three objects--the
cross, the Christ, and my father--came within range of my eyes as the
power of sleep advanced. The room was darkened, as it had been since I
became so ill, so that I was not sure whether it were night or day. The
clock was striking. I think it struck two; and I perceived the odor of
the mignonette. I think it was the last thing I noticed before going to
sleep, and I remembered, as I did so, the theories which gave to the
sense of smell greater significance than any of the rest; and remembered
to have read that it was either the last or the first to give way in the
dying. (I could not recall, in my confused condition, which.) I thought
of this with pleased and idle interest; but did not associate the
thought with the alarm felt by my friends about my condition.

I could have slept but a short time when I woke, feeling much easier.
The cross, the Christ, and the picture of my father looked at me calmly
from the wall on which the sick-lamp cast a steady, soft light. Then I
remembered that it was night, of course, and felt chagrined that I could
have been confused on this point.

The room seemed close to me, and I turned over to ask for more air.

As I did so, I saw some one sitting in the cushioned window-seat by the
open window--the eastern window. No one had occupied this seat, on
account of the draught and chill, since my illness. As I looked
steadily, I saw that the person who sat there was my father.

His face was turned away, but his figure and the contour of his noble
head were not to be mistaken. Although I was a mere girl when he died, I
felt no hesitation about this. I knew at once, and beyond all doubt,
that it was he. I experienced pleasure, but little, if any, surprise.

As I lay there looking at him, he turned and regarded me. His deep eyes
glowed with a soft, calm light; but yet, I know not why, they expressed
more love than I had ever seen in them before. He used to love us
nervously and passionately. He had now the look of one whose whole
nature is saturated with rest, and to whom the fitfulness, distrust, or
distress of intense feeling acting upon a super-sensitive organization,
were impossible. As he looked towards me, he smiled. He had one of the
sweetest smiles that ever illuminated a mortal face.

“Why, Father!” I said aloud. He nodded encouragingly, but did not speak.

“Father?” I repeated, “Father, is this _you_?” He laughed a little,
softly, putting up one hand and tossing his hair off from his
forehead--an old way of his.

“What are you here for?” I asked again. “Did Mother send for _you_,
too?”

When I had said this, I felt confused and troubled; for though I did not
remember that he was dead--I mean I did not put the thought in any such
form to myself, or use that word or any of its synonyms--yet I
remembered that he had been absent from our family circle for a good
while, and that if Mother had sent for him because I had a brain fever,
it would have been for some reason not according to her habit.

“It is strange,” I said. “It isn’t like her. I don’t understand the
thing at all.”

Now, as I continued to look at the corner of the room where my father
was sitting, I saw that he had risen from the cushioned window-seat, and
taken a step or two towards me. He stopped, however, and stood quite
still, and looked at me most lovingly and longingly; and _then_ it was
that he held out his arms to me.

“Oh,” cried I, “I wish I could come! But you don’t know how sick I am. I
have not walked a step for over two weeks.”

He did not speak even yet, but still held out his arms with that look of
unutterably restful love. I felt the elemental tie between parent and
child draw me. It seemed to me as if I had reached the foundation of all
human feeling; as if I had gone down--how shall I say it?--below the
depths of all other love. I had always known I loved him, but not like
that. I was greatly moved.

“But you don’t understand me,” I repeated with some agitation. “I
_can’t_ walk.” I thought it very strange that he did not, in
consideration of my feebleness, come to me.

Then for the first time he spoke.

“Come,” he said gently. His voice sounded quite natural; I only noticed
that he spoke under his breath, as if not to awake the nurse, or any
person who was in the room.

At this, I moved, and sat up on the edge of my bed; although I did so
easily enough, I lost courage at that point. It seemed impossible to go
farther. I felt a little chilly, and remembered, too, that I was not
dressed. A warm white woolen wrapper of my own, and my slippers, were
within reach, by the head of the bed; Alice wore them when she watched
with me. I put these things on, and then paused, expecting to be
overcome with exhaustion after the effort. To my surprise, I did not
feel tired at all. I believe, rather, I felt a little stronger. As I put
the clothes on, I noticed the magenta geranium across the room. These,
I think, were the only things which attracted my attention.

“Come here to me,” repeated Father; he spoke more decidedly, this time
with a touch of authority. I remembered hearing him speak just so when
Tom was learning to walk; he began by saying, “Come, sonny boy!” but
when the baby played the coward, he said, “My son, come here!”

As if I had been a baby, I obeyed. I put my feet to the floor, and found
that I stood strongly. I experienced a slight giddiness for a moment,
but when this passed, my head felt clearer than before. I walked
steadily out into the middle of the room. Each step was firmer than the
other. As I advanced, he came to meet me. My heart throbbed. I thought I
should have fallen, not from weakness, but from joy.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said encouragingly; “that is right. You are doing
finely. Only a few steps more. There!”

It was done. I had crossed the distance which separated us, and my dear
Father, after all those years, took me, as he used to do, into his
arms....

He was the first to speak, and he said:--

“You poor little girl!--But it is over now.”

“Yes, it is over now,” I answered. I thought he referred to the
difficult walk across the room, and to my long illness, now so happily
at an end. He smiled and patted me on the cheek, but made no other
answer.

“I must tell Mother that you are here,” I said presently. I had not
looked behind me or about me. Since the first sight of my father sitting
in the window, I had not observed any other person, and could not have
told who was in the room.

“Not yet,” my father said. “We may not speak to her at present. I think
we had better go.”

I lifted my face to say, “Go where?” but my lips did not form the
question. It was just as it used to be when he came from the study and
held out his hand, and said “Come,” and I went anywhere with him,
neither asking, nor caring, so long as it was with him; and then he used
to play or walk with me, and I forgot the whole world besides. I put my
hand in his without a question, and we moved towards the door.

“I suppose _you_ had better go this way,” he said, with a slight
hesitation, as we passed out and across the hall.

“Any way you like best,” I said joyfully. He smiled, and still keeping
my hand, led me down the stairs. As we went down, I heard the little
Swiss clock, above in my room, strike the half hour after two.

I noticed everything in the hall as we descended; it was as if my
vision, as well as the muscles of motion, grew stronger with each
moment. I saw the stair-carpeting with its faded Brussels pattern, once
rich, and remembered counting the red roses on it the night I went up
with the fever on me; reeling and half delirious, wondering how I could
possibly afford to be sick. I saw the hat-tree with Tom’s coat, and
Alice’s blue Shetland shawl across the old hair-cloth sofa. As we
opened the door, I saw the muffled bell. I stood for a moment upon the
threshold of my old home, not afraid but perplexed.

My father seemed to understand my thoughts perfectly, though I had not
spoken, and he paused for my reluctant mood. I thought of all the years
I had spent there. I thought of my childhood and girlhood; of the
tempestuous periods of life which that quiet roof had hidden; of the
calms upon which it had brooded. I thought of sorrows that I had
forgotten, and those which I had prayed in vain to forget. I thought of
temptations and of mistakes and of sins, from which I had fled back
asking these four walls to shelter me. I thought of the comfort and
blessedness that I had never failed to find in the old house. I shrank
from leaving it. It seemed like leaving my body.

When the door had been opened, the night air rushed in. I could see the
stars, and knew, rather than felt, that it was cold. As we stood
waiting, an icicle dropped from the eaves, and fell, breaking into a
dozen diamond flashes at our feet. Beyond, it was dark.

“It seems to me a great exposure,” I said reluctantly, “to be taken out
into a winter night,--at such an hour, too! I have been so very sick.”

“Are you cold?” asked my father gently. After some thought I said:--

“No, sir.”

For I was not cold. For the first time I wondered why.

“Are you tired?”

No, I was not tired.

“Are you afraid?”

“A little, I think, sir.”

“Would you like to go back, Molly, and rest awhile?”

“If you please, Papa.”

The old baby-word came instinctively in answer to the baby-name. He led
me like a child, and like a child I submitted. It was like him to be so
thoughtful of my weakness. My dear father was always one of those rare
men who think of little things largely, and so bring, especially into
the lives of women, the daily comfort which makes the infinite
preciousness of life.

We went into the parlor and sat down. It was warm there and pleasant.
The furnace was well on, and embers still in the grate. The lamps were
not lighted, yet the room was not dark. I enjoyed being down there again
after all those weeks up-stairs, and was happy in looking at the
familiar things, the afghan on the sofa, and the magazines on the table,
uncut because of my illness; Mother’s work-basket, and Alice’s music
folded away.

“It was always a dear old room,” said Father, seating himself in his own
chair, which we had kept for twenty years in its old place. He put his
head back, and gazed peacefully about.

When I felt rested, and better, I asked him if we should start now.

“Just as you please,” he said quietly. “There is no hurry. We are never
hurried.”

“If we have anything to do,” I said, “I had rather do it now I think.”

“Very well,” said Father, “that is like you.” He rose and held out his
hand again. I took it once more, and once more we went out to the
threshold of our old home. This time I felt more confidence, but when
the night air swept in, I could not help shrinking a little in spite of
myself, and showing the agitation which overtook me.

“Father!” I cried, “Father! _where_ are we going?”

My father turned at this, and looked at me solemnly. His face seemed to
shine and glow. He looked from what I felt was a great height. He
said:--

“Are you really afraid, Mary, to go _any_where with me?”

“No, no!” I protested in a passion of regret and trust, “my dear father!
I would go any where in earth or Heaven with you!”

“Then come,” he said softly.

I clasped both hands, interlocking them through his arm, and we shut the
door and went down the steps together and out into the winter dawn.



II.


It was neither dark nor day; and as we stepped into the village streets
the confused light trembled about us delicately. The stars were still
shining. Snow was on the ground; and I think it had freshly fallen in
the night, for I noticed that the way before us lay quite white and
untrodden. I looked back over my shoulders as my father closed the gate,
which he did without noise. I meant to take a gaze at the old house,
from which, with a thrill at the heart, I began to feel that I was
parting under strange and solemn conditions. But when I glanced up the
path which we had taken, my attention was directed altogether from the
house, and from the slight sadness of the thought I had about it.

The circumstance which arrested me was this. Neither my father’s foot
nor mine had left any print upon the walk. From the front door to the
street, the fine fair snow lay unbroken; it stirred, and rose in
restless flakes like winged creatures under the gentle wind, flew a
little way, and fell again, covering the surface of the long white path
with a foam so light, it seemed as if thought itself could not have
passed upon it without impression. I can hardly say why I did not call
my father’s attention to this fact.

As we walked down the road the dawn began to deepen. The stars paled
slowly. The intense blue-black and purple of the night sky gave way to
the warm grays that precede sunrise in our climate. I saw that the gold
and the rose were coming. It promised to be a mild morning, warmer than
for several days. The deadly chill was out of the air. The snow yielded
on the outlines of the drifts, and relaxed as one looked at it, as snow
does before melting, and the icicles had an air of expectation, as if
they hastened to surrender to the annunciation of a warm and impatient
winter’s day.

“It is going to thaw,” I said aloud.

“It seems so to you,” replied my father, vaguely.

“But at least it is very pleasant,” I insisted.

“I’m glad you find it so,” he said; “I should have been disappointed if
it had struck you as cold, or--gloomy--in any way.”

It was still so early that all the village was asleep. The blinds and
curtains of the houses were drawn and the doors yet locked. None of our
neighbors were astir, nor were there any signs of traffic yet in the
little shops. The great factory-bell, which woke the operatives at
half-past four, had rung, but this was the only evidence as yet of human
life or motion. It did not occur to me, till afterwards, to wonder at
the inconsistency between the hour struck by my own Swiss clock and the
factory time.

I was more interested in another matter which just then presented itself
to me.

The village, as I say, was still asleep. Once I heard the distant hoofs
of a horse sent clattering after the doctor, and ridden by a messenger
from a household in mortal need. Up to this time we two had seemed to
be the only watchers in all the world.

Now, as I turned to see if I could discover whose horse it was and so
who was in emergency, I observed suddenly that the sidewalk was full of
people. I say full of people; I mean that there was a group behind us; a
few, also, before us; some, too, were crossing the street. They
conversed together standing at the corners, or walked in twos, as father
and I were doing; or strolled, some of them alone. Some of them seemed
to have immediate business and to be in haste; others sauntered as he
who has no occupation. Some talked and gesticulated earnestly, or
laughed loudly. Others went with a thoughtful manner, speaking not at
all.

As I watched them I began to recognize here and there, a man, or a
woman;--there were more men than women among them, and there were no
children.

A few of these people, I soon saw, were old neighbors of ours; some I
had known when I was a child, and had forgotten till this moment.
Several of them bowed to us as we passed along. One man stopped and
waited for us, and spoke to Father, who shook hands with him;
intimating, however, pleasantly enough, that he was in haste, and must
be excused for passing on.

“Yes, yes, I see,” said the man with a glance at me. I then distinctly
saw this person’s face, and knew him beyond a doubt, for an old
neighbor, a certain Mr. Snarl, a miserly, sanctimonious man--I had never
liked him.

“Father!” I stopped short. “Father, that man is dead. He has been dead
for twenty years!”

Now, at this, I began to tremble; yet not from fear, I think; from
amazement, rather, and the great confusion which I felt.

“And there”--I pointed to a pale young man who had been thrown from his
carriage (it was said because he was in no condition to drive)--“there
is Bobby Bend. He died last winter.”

“Well,” said Father quietly, “and what then?”

“And over there--why, certainly that is Mrs. Mersey!”

I had known Mrs. Mersey for a lovely woman. She died of a fever
contracted in the care of a poor, neglected creature. I saw her at this
moment across and far down the street, coming from a house where there
was trouble. She came with a swift, elastic motion, unlike that of any
of the others who were about us; the difference was marked, and yet one
which I should have found it at that time impossible to describe.
Perhaps I might have said that she hovered above rather than touched the
earth; but this would not have defined the distinction. As I looked
after her she disappeared; in what direction I could not tell.

“So they _are_ dead people,” I said, with a sort of triumph; almost as
if I had dared my father to deny it. He smiled.

“Father, I begin to be perplexed. I have heard of these hallucinations,
of course, and read the authenticated stories, but I never supposed I
could be a subject of such illusions. It must be because I have been so
sick.”

“Partly because you have been so sick--yes,” said Father drawing down
the corners of his mouth, in that way he had when he was amused. I went
on to tell him that it seemed natural to see him, but that I was
surprised to meet those others who had left us, and that I did not find
it altogether agreeable.

“Are you afraid?” he asked me, as he had before. No, I could not say
that I was afraid.

“Then hasten on,” he said in a different tone, “our business is not with
them, at present. See! we have already left them behind.”

And, indeed, when I glanced back, I saw that we had. We, too, were now
traveling alone together, and at a much faster speed, towards the
outskirts of the town. We were moving eastward. Before us the splendid
day was coming up. The sky was unfolding, shade above shade, paler at
the edge, and glowing at the heart, like the petals of a great rose.

The snow was melting on the moors towards which we bent our steps; the
water stood here and there in pools, and glistened. A little winter
bird--some chickadee or wood-pecker--was bathing in one of these pools;
his tiny brown body glowed in the brightness, flashing to and fro. He
chirped and twittered and seemed bursting with joy. As we approached the
moors, the stalks of the sumachs, the mulberries, the golden-rod, and
asters, all the wayside weeds and the brown things that we never know
and never love till winter, rose beautiful from the snow; the icicles
melted and dripped from them; the dead-gold-colored leaves of the low
oaks rustled; at a distance we heard the sweet sough from a grove of
pines; behind us the morning bells of the village broke into bubbles of
cheerful sound. As we walked on together I felt myself become stronger
at every step; my heart grew light.

“It is a good world,” I cried, “it is a good world!”

“So it is,” said my father heartily, “and yet--my dear daughter”--He
hesitated; so long that I looked into his face earnestly, and then I saw
that a strange gravity had settled upon it. It was not like any look
that I had ever seen there before.

“I have better things to show you,” he said gently.

“I do not understand you, sir.”

“We have only begun our journey, Mary; and--if you do not
understand--but I thought you would have done so by this time--I wonder
if she _is_ going to be frightened after all!”

We were now well out upon the moors, alone together, on the side of the
hill. The town looked far behind us and insignificant. The earth
dwindled and the sky grew, as we looked from one to the other. It seemed
to me that I had never before noticed how small a portion of our range
of vision is filled by the surface of earth, and what occupies it; and
how immense the proportion of the heavens. As we stood there, it seemed
to overwhelm us.

“Rise,” said my father in a voice of solemn authority, “rise quickly!”

I struggled at his words, for he seemed to slip from me, and I feared to
lose him. I struggled and struck out into the air; I felt a wild
excitement, like one plunged into a deep sea, and desperately swimming,
as animals do, and a few men, from blind instinct, having never learned.
My father spoke encouragingly, and with tenderness. He never once let go
my hand. I felt myself, beyond all doubt, soaring--slowly and
weakly--but surely ascending above the solid ground.

“See! there is nothing to fear,” he said from time to time. I did not
answer. My heart beat fast. I exerted all my strength and took a
stronger stroke. I felt that I gained upon myself. I closed my eyes,
looking neither above nor below.

Suddenly, as gently as the opening of a water lily, and yet as swiftly
as the cleaving of the lightning, there came to me a thought which made
my brain whirl, and I cried aloud:

“Father, _am I_ DEAD?” My hands slipped--I grew dizzy--wavered--and
fluttered. I was sure that I should fall. At that instant I was caught
with the iron of tenderness and held, like a very young child, in my
father’s arms. He said nothing, only patted me on the cheek, as we
ascended, he seeing, and I blind; he strength, and I weakness; he who
knew all, and I who knew nothing, silently with the rising sun athwart
the rose-lit air.

I was awed, more than there are words to say; but I felt no more fear
than I used to do when he carried me on his shoulder up the garden walk,
after it grew dark, when I was tired out with play.



III.


I use the words “ascension” and “arising” in the superficial sense of
earthly imagery. Of course, carefully speaking, there can be no up or
down to the motion of beings detached from a revolving globe, and set
adrift in space. I thought of this in the first moment, with the
keenness which distinguishes between knowledge and experience. I knew
when our journey came to an end, by the gradual cessation of our rapid
motion; but at first I did not incline to investigate beyond this fact.
Whether I was only tired, or giddy, or whether a little of what we used
to call faintness overcame me, I can hardly say. If this were so, it was
rather a spiritual than a physical disability; it was a faintness of the
soul. Now I found this more energetic than the bodily sensations I had
known. I scarcely sought to wrestle against it, but lay quite still,
where we had come to a halt.

I wish to say here, that if you ask me where this was, I must answer
that I do not know. I must say distinctly that, though after the act of
dying I departed from the surface of the earth, and reached the confines
of a different locality, I cannot yet instruct another _where_ this
place may be.

My impression that it was not a vast distance (measured, I mean, by an
astronomical scale) from our globe, is a strong one, which, however, I
cannot satisfactorily defend. There seemed to be flowers about me; I
wondered what they were, but lay with my face hidden in my arm, not
caring yet to look about. I thought of that old-fashioned allegory
called “The Distant Hills,” where the good girl, when she died, sank
upon a bed of violets; but the bad girl slipped upon rolling stones
beneath a tottering ruin. This trifling memory occupied me for some
moments; yet it had so great significance to me, that I recall it, even
now, with pungent gratitude.

“I shall remember what I have read.” This was my first thought in the
new state to which I had come. Minna was the name of the girl in the
allegory. The illustrations were very poor, but had that uncanny
fascination which haunts allegorical pictures--often the more powerful
because of their rudeness.

As I lay there, still not caring, or even not daring to look up, the
fact that I was crushing flowers beneath me became more apparent; a
delicate perfume arose and surrounded me; it was like and yet unlike any
that I had ever known; its familiarity entranced, its novelty allured
me. Suddenly I perceived what it was--

“Mignonette!”

I laughed at my own dullness in detecting it, and could not help
wondering whether it were accident or design that had given me for my
first experience in the new life, the gratification of a little personal
taste like this. For a few moments I yielded to the pure and exquisite
perfume, which stole into my whole nature, or it seemed to me so then.
Afterwards I learned how little I knew of my “whole nature” at that
time.

Presently I took courage, and lifted my head. I hardly know what I
expected to see. Visions of the Golden City in the Apocalypse had
flitted before me. I thought of the River of Death in the “Pilgrim’s
Progress,” of the last scene in the “Voyage of Life,” of Theremin’s
“Awakening,” of several famous books and pictures which I had read or
seen, describing what we call Heaven. These works of the human
imagination--stored away perhaps in the frontal lobes of the brain, as
scientists used to tell us--had influenced my anticipations more than I
could have believed possible till that moment.

I was indeed in a beautiful place; but it did not look, in any respect,
as I had expected. No; I think not in any respect. Many things which
happened to me later, I can describe more vividly than I can this first
impression. In one way it was a complex, in another, a marvelously
simple one. Chiefly, I think I had a consciousness of safety--infinite
safety. All my soul drew a long breath--“Nothing more can happen to me!”
Yet, at the same time, I felt that I was at the outset of all
experience. It was as if my heart cried aloud, “Where shall I begin?”

I looked about and abroad. My father stood at a little distance from me,
conversing with some friends. I did not know them. They had great
brightness and beauty of appearance. So, also, had he. He had altered
perceptibly since he met me in the lower world, and seemed to glow and
become absorbent of light from some source yet unseen. This struck me
forcibly in all the people whom I saw--there were many of them, going to
and fro busily--that they were receptive and reflecting beings. They
differed greatly in the degree in which they gave this impression; but
all gave it. Some were quite pale, though pure in color; others glowed
and shone. Yet when I say color, I use an earthly word, which does not
express my meaning. It was more the atmosphere or penumbra, in which
each moved, that I refer to, perhaps, than the tint of their bodies.
They had bodies, very like such as I was used to. I saw that I myself
was not, or so it appeared, greatly changed. I had form and dress, and I
moved at will, and experienced sensations of pleasure and, above all, of
magnificent health. For a while I was absorbed, without investigating
details, in the mere sense of physical ease and power. I did not wish to
speak, or to be spoken to, nor even to stir and exercise my splendid
strength. It was more than enough to feel it, after all those weeks of
pain. I lay back again upon the mignonette; as I did so, I noticed that
the flowers where my form had pressed them were not bruised; they had
sprung erect again; they had not wilted, nor even hung their heads as if
they were hurt--I lay back upon, and deep within, the mignonette, and,
drowned in the delicate odor, gazed about me.

Yes; I was truly in a wonderful place. It was in the country (as we
should say below), though I saw signs of large centres of life, outlines
of distant architecture far away. There were hills, and vast distances,
and vistas of hill tints in the atmosphere. There were forests of great
depth. There was an expanse of shining water. There were fields of fine
extent and color, undulating like green seas. The sun was high--if it
were the sun. At least there was great brilliance about me. Flowers must
have been abundant, for the air was alive with perfumes.

When I have said this, I seem to have said little or nothing. Certain it
is that these first impressions came to me in broad masses, like the
sweep of a large brush or blender upon canvas. Of details I received
few, for a long time. I was overcome with a sense of
Nature--freedom--health--beauty, as if--how shall I say it?--as if for
the first time I understood what generic terms meant; as if I had
entered into the secret of all abstract glory; as if what we had known
as philosophical or as poetical phrases were now become attainable
facts, each possessing that individual existence in which dreamers upon
earth dare to believe, and of which no doubter can be taught.

I am afraid I do not express this with anything like the simplicity
with which I felt it; and to describe it with anything resembling the
power would be impossible.

I felt my smallness and ignorance in view of the wonders which lay
before me. “I shall have time enough to study them,” I thought, but the
thought itself thrilled me throughout, and proved far more of an
excitant than a sedative. I rose slowly, and stood trembling among the
mignonette. I shielded my eyes with my hand, not from any glare or
dazzle or strain, but only from the presence and the pressure of beauty,
and so stood looking off. As I did so, certain words came to mind with
the haunting voice of a broken quotation:

    “_Neither have entered into the heart of man_”--
    “_The things which God hath prepared_”--

It was a relief to me to see my father coming towards me at that moment,
for I had, perhaps, undergone as much keen emotion as one well bears,
compressed into a short space of time. He met me smiling.

“And how is it, Mary?”

“My first Bible verse has just occurred to me, Father--the first
religious thought I’ve had in Heaven yet!” I tried to speak lightly,
feeling too deeply for endurance. I repeated the words to him, for he
asked me what they were which had come to me.

“That is a pleasant experience,” he said quietly. “It differs with us
all. I have seen people enter in a transport of haste to see the Lord
Himself--noticing nothing, forgetting everything. I have seen others
come in a transport of terror--so afraid they were of Him.”

“And I had scarcely thought about seeing Him till now!” I felt ashamed
of this. But my father comforted me by a look.

“Each comes to his own by his own,” he said. “The nature is never
forced. Here we unfold like a leaf, a flower. He expects nothing of us
but to be natural.”

This seemed to me a deep saying; and the more I thought of it the deeper
it seemed. I said so as we walked, separate still from the others,
through the beautiful weather. The change from a New England winter to
the climate in which I found myself was, in itself, not the least of
the great effects and delights which I experienced that first day.

If nothing were expected of us but to be natural, it was the more
necessary that it should be natural to be right.

I felt the full force of this conviction as it had never been possible
to feel it in the other state of being, where I was under restraint. The
meaning of _liberty_ broke upon me like a sunburst. Freedom was in and
of itself the highest law. Had I thought that death was to mean release
from personal obedience? Lo, death itself was but the elevation of moral
claims, from lower to higher. I perceived how all demands of the larger
upon the lesser self must be increased in the condition to which I had
arrived. I felt overpowered for the moment with the intensity of these
claims. It seemed to me that I had never really known before, what
obligation meant. Conduct was now the least of difficulties. For
impulse, which lay behind conduct, for all force which wrought out fact
in me, I had become accountable.

“As nearly as I can make it out, Father,” I said, “henceforth I shall be
responsible for my nature.”

“Something like that; not altogether.”

“The force of circumstance and heredity,”--I began, using the old
earthly _patois_. “Of course I’m not to be called to account for what I
start with here, any more than I was for what I started with there. That
would be neither science nor philosophy.”

“We are neither unscientific nor unphilosophical, you will find,” said
my father, patiently.

“I am very dull, sir. Be patient with me. What I am trying to say, I
believe, is that I shall feel the deepest mortification if I do not find
it natural to do right. This feeling is so keen, that to be wrong must
be the most unnatural thing in the world. There is certainly a great
difference from what it used to be; I cannot explain it. Already I am
ashamed of the smallness of my thoughts when I first looked about in
this place. Already I cannot understand why I did not spring like a
fountain to the Highest, to the Best. But then, Father, I never was a
devotee, you know.”

When I had uttered these words I felt a recoil from myself, and sense of
discord. I was making excuses for myself. That used to be a fault of the
past life. One did not do it here. It was as if I had committed some
grave social indecorum. I felt myself blushing. My father noticed my
embarrassment, and called my attention to a brook by which we were
walking, beginning to talk of its peculiar translucence and rhythm, and
other little novelties, thus kindly diverting me from my distress, and
teaching me how we were spared everything we could be in heaven, even in
trifles like this. I was not so much as permitted to bear the edge of my
regret, without the velvet of tenderness interposing to blunt the smart.
It used to be thought among us below that one must be allowed to suffer
from error, to learn. It seemed to be found here, that one learned by
being saved from suffering. I wondered how it would be in the case of a
really grave wrong which I might be so miserable as to commit; and if I
should ever be so unfortunate as to discover by personal experience.

This train of thought went on while I was examining the brook. It had
brilliant colors in the shallows, where certain strange agates formed
pebbles of great beauty. There were also shells. A brook with shells
enchanted me. I gathered some of them; they had opaline tints, and some
were transparent as spun glass; they glittered in the hand, and did not
dull when out of the water, like the shells we were used to. The shadows
of strange trees hung across the tiny brown current, and unfamiliar
birds flashed like tossed jewels overhead, through the branches and
against the wonderful color of the sky. The birds were singing. One
among them had a marvelous note. I listened to it for some time before I
discovered that this bird was singing a Te Deum. How I knew that it was
a Te Deum I cannot say. The others were more like earthly birds, except
for the thrilling sweetness of their notes--and I could not see this
one, for she seemed to be hidden from sight upon her nest. I observed
that the bird upon the nest sang here as well as that upon the bough;
and that I understood her: “_Te Deum laudamus--laudamus_” as distinctly
as if I had been listening to a human voice.

When I had comprehended this, and stood entranced to listen, I began to
catch the same melody in the murmur of the water, and perceived, to my
astonishment, that the two, the brook and the bird, carried parts of the
harmony of a solemn and majestic mass. Apparently these were but
portions of the whole, but all which it was permitted me to hear. My
father explained to me that it was not every natural beauty which had
the power to join in such surpassing chorals; these were selected, for
reasons which he did not attempt to specify. I surmised that they were
some of the simplest of the wonders of this mythical world, which were
entrusted to new-comers, as being first within the range of their
capacities. I was enraptured with what I heard. The light throbbed about
me. The sweet harmony rang on. I bathed my face in the musical
water--it was as if I absorbed the sound at the pores of my skin. Dimly
I received a hint of the possible existence of a sense or senses of
which I had never heard.

What wonders were to come! What knowledge, what marvel, what stimulation
and satisfaction! And I had but just begun! I was overwhelmed with this
thought, and looked about; I knew not which way to turn; I had not what
to say. Where was the first step? What was the next delight? The fire of
discovery kindled in my veins. Let us hasten, that we may investigate
Heaven!

“Shall we go on?” asked Father, regarding me earnestly.

“Yes, yes!” I cried, “let us go on. Let us see more--learn all. What a
world have I come to! Let us begin at the beginning, and go to the end
of it! Come quickly!”

I caught his hand, and we started on my eager mood. I felt almost a
superabundance of vitality, and sprang along; there was everlasting
health within my bounding arteries; there was eternal vigor in my firm
muscle and sinews. How shall I express, to one who has never
experienced it, the consciousness of life that can never die?

I could have leaped, flown, or danced like a child. I knew not how to
walk sedately, like others whom I saw about us, who looked at me
smiling, as older people look at the young on earth. “I, too, have felt
thus--and thus.” I wanted to exercise the power of my arms and limbs. I
longed to test the triumphant poise of my nerve. My brain grew clearer
and clearer, while for the gladness in my heart there is not any earthly
word. As I bounded on, I looked more curiously at the construction of
the body in which I found myself. It was, and yet it was not, like that
which I had worn on earth. I seemed to have slipped out of one garment
into another. Perhaps it was nearer the truth to say that it was like
casting off an outer for an inner dress. There were nervous and arterial
and other systems, it seemed, to which I had been accustomed. I cannot
explain wherein they differed, as they surely did, and did enormously,
from their representatives below. If I say that I felt as if I had got
into the _soul of a body_, shall I be understood? It was as if I had
been encased, one body within the other, to use a small earthly
comparison, like the ivory figures which curious Chinese carvers cut
within temple windows. I was constantly surprised at this. I do not know
what I had expected, but assuredly nothing like the fact. Vague visions
of gaseous or meteoric angelic forms have their place in the
imaginations of most of us below; we picture our future selves as a kind
of nebulosity. When I felt the spiritual flesh, when I used the strange
muscle, when I heard the new heart-beat of my heavenly identity, I
remembered certain words, with a sting of mortification that I had known
them all my life, and paid so cool a heed to them: “There is a
terrestrial body, and there is a celestial body.” The glory of the
terrestrial was one. Behold, the glory of the celestial was another. St.
Paul had set this tremendous assertion revolving in the sky of the human
mind, like a star which we had not brought into our astronomy.

It was not a hint or a hope that he gave; it was the affirmation of a
man who presumed to know. In common with most of his readers, I had
received his statement with a poor incredulity or cold disregard.
Nothing in the whole range of what we used to call the Bible, had been
more explicit than those words; neither metaphor, nor allegory, nor
parable befogged them; they were as clear cut as the dictum of
Descartes. I recalled them with confusion, as I bounded over the elastic
and wondrously-tinted grass.

Never before, at least, had I known what the color of green should be;
resembling, while differing from that called by the name on earth--a
development of a color, a blossom from a bud, a marvel from a
commonplace. Thus the sweet and common clothing which God had given to
our familiar earth, transfigured, wrapped again the hills and fields of
Heaven. And oh, what else? what next? I turned to my father to ask him
in which direction we were going; at this moment an arrest of the whole
current of feeling checked me like a great dam.

Up to this point I had gone dizzily on; I had experienced the thousand
diversions of a traveler in a foreign land; and, like such a traveler, I
had become oblivious of that which I had left. The terrible incapacity
of the human mind to retain more than one class of strong impressions at
once, was temporarily increased by the strain of this, the greatest of
all human experiences. The new had expelled the old. In an intense
revulsion of feeling, too strong for expression, I turned my back on the
beautiful landscape. All Heaven was before me, but dear, daily love was
behind.

“Father,” I said, choking, “I never forgot them before in all my life.
Take me home! Let me go at once. I am not fit to be alive if Heaven
itself can lead me to neglect my mother.”



IV.


In my distress I turned and would have fled, which way I knew not. I was
swept up like a weed on a surge of self-reproach and longing. What was
eternal life if she had found out that I was dead? What were the
splendors of Paradise, if she missed me? It was made evident to me that
my father was gratified at the turn my impulses had taken, but he
intimated that it might not be possible to follow them, and that this
was a matter which must be investigated before acting. This surprised
me, and I inquired of him eagerly--yet, I think not passionately, not
angrily, as I should once have done at the thwarting of such a wish as
that--what he meant by the doubt he raised.

“It is not always permitted,” he said gravely. “We cannot return when we
would. We go upon these errands when it is Willed. I will go and learn
what the Will may be for you touching this matter. Stay here and wait
for me.”

Before I could speak, he had departed swiftly, with the great and glad
motion of those who go upon sure business in this happy place; as if he
himself, at least, obeyed unseen directions, and obeyed them with his
whole being. To me, so lately from a lower life, and still so choked
with its errors, this loving obedience of the soul to a great central
Force which I felt on every hand, but comprehended not, as yet, affected
me like the discovery of a truth in science. It was as if I had found a
new law of gravitation, to be mastered only by infinite attention. I
fell to thinking more quietly after my father had left me alone. There
came a subsidence to my tempestuous impulse, which astonished myself. I
felt myself drawn and shaped, even like a wave by the tide, by something
mightier far than my own wish. But there was this about the state of
feeling into which I had come: that which controlled me was not only
greater, it was dearer than my desire. Already a calmness conquered my
storm. Already my heart awaited, without outburst or out-thrust, the
expression of that other desire which should decide my fate in this most
precious matter. All the old rebellion was gone, even as the protest of
a woman goes on earth before the progress of a mighty love. I no longer
argued and explained. I did not require or insist. Was it possible that
I did not even doubt? The mysterious, celestial law of gravitation
grappled me. I could no more presume to understand it than I could
withstand it.

I had not been what is called a submissive person. All my life,
obedience had torn me in twain. Below, it had cost me all I had to give,
to cultivate what believers called trust in God.

I had indeed tried, in a desperate and faulty fashion, but I had often
been bitterly ashamed at the best result which I could achieve, feeling
that I scarcely deserved to count myself among His children, or to call
myself by the Name which represented the absolute obedience of the
strongest nature that human history had known. Always, under all, I had
doubted whether I accepted God’s will because I wanted to, so much as
because I had to. This fear had given me much pain, but being of an
active temperament, far, perhaps too far, removed from mysticism, I had
gone on to the next fight, or the next duty, without settling my
difficulties; and so like others of my sort, battled along through life,
as best or as worst I might. I had always hurried more than I had grown.
To be sure, I was not altogether to blame for this, since circumstances
had driven me fast, and I had yielded to them not always for my own
sake; but clearly, it may be as much of a misfortune to be too busy, as
to be idle; and one whose subtlest effects are latest perceived. I could
now understand it to be reasonable, that if I had taken more time on
earth to cultivate myself for the conditions of Heaven, I might have had
a different experience at the outset of this life, in which one was
never in a hurry.

My father returned from his somewhat protracted absence, while I was
thinking of these things thus quietly. My calmer mood went out to meet
his face, from which I saw at once what was the result of his errand,
and so a gentle process prepared me for my disappointment when he said
that it was not Willed that I should go to her at this immediate time.
He advised me to rest awhile before taking the journey, and to seek this
rest at once. No reasons were given for this command; yet strangely, I
felt it to be the most reasonable thing in the world.

No; blessedly no! I did not argue, or protest, I did not dash out my
wild wish, I did not ask or answer anything--how wonderful!

Had I needed proof any longer that I was dead and in Heaven, this
marvelous adjustment of my will to that other would in itself have told
me what and where I was.

I cannot say that this process took place without effort. I found a
certain magnificent effort in it, like that involved in the free use of
my muscles; but it took place without pain. I did indeed ask,--

“Will it be long?”

“Not long.”

“That is kind in Him!” I remember saying, as we moved away. For now, I
found that I thought first rather of what He gave than of what He
denied. It seemed to me that I had acquired a new instinct. My being was
larger by the acquisition of a fresh power. I felt a little as I used to
do below, when I had conquered a new language.

I had met, and by his loving mercy I had mastered, my first trial in the
eternal life. This was to be remembered. It was like the shifting of a
plate upon a camera.

More wearied than I had thought by the effort, I was glad to sink down
beneath the trees in a nook my father showed me, and yield to the
drowsiness that stole upon me after the great excitement of the day. It
was not yet dark, but I was indeed tired. A singular subsidence, not
like our twilight, but still reminding one of it, had fallen upon the
vivid color of the air. No one was passing; the spot was secluded; my
father bade me farewell for the present, saying that he should return
again; and I was left alone.

The grass was softer than eider of the lower world; and lighter than
snow-flakes, the leaves that fell from low-hanging boughs about me.
Distantly, I heard moving water; and more near, sleepy birds. More
distant yet, I caught, and lost, and caught again, fragments of
orchestral music. I felt infinite security. I had the blessedness of
weariness that knew it could not miss of sleep. Dreams stole upon me
with motion and touch so exquisite that I thought: “Sleep itself is a
new joy; what we had below was only a hint of the real thing,” as I sank
into deep and deeper rest.

Do not think that I forgot my love and longing to be elsewhere. I think
the wish to see her and to comfort her grew clearer every moment. But
stronger still, like a comrade marching beside it, I felt the pacing of
that great desire which had become dearer than my own.



V.


When I waked, I was still alone. There seemed to have been showers, for
the leaves and grass about me were wet; yet I felt no chill or dampness,
or any kind of injury from this fact. Rather I had a certain
refreshment, as if my sleeping senses had drunk of the peace and power
of the dew that flashed far and near about me. The intense excitement
under which I had labored since coming to this place was calmed. All the
fevers of feeling were laid. I could not have said whether there had
been what below we called night, or how the passage of time had marked
itself; I only knew that I had experienced the recuperation of night,
and that I sprang to the next duty or delight of existence with the
vigor of recurring day.

As I rose from the grass, I noticed a four-leaved clover, and
remembering the pretty little superstition we used to have about it, I
plucked it, and held it to my face, and so learned that the rain-drop in
this new land had perfume; an exquisite scent; as if into the essence of
brown earth and spicy roots, and aromatic green things, such as summer
rain distills with us from out a fresh-washed world, there were mingled
an inconceivable odor drawn out of the heart of the sky. Metaphysicians
used to tell us that no man ever imagined a new perfume, even in his
dreams. I could see that they were right, for anything like the perfume
of clover after a rain in Heaven, had never entered into my sense or
soul before. I saved the clover “for good luck,” as I used to do.

Overhead there was a marvel. There seemed to have been clouds--their
passing and breaking, and flitting--and now, behold the heavens
themselves, bared of all their storm-drapery, had drawn across their
dazzling forms a veil of glory. From what, for want of better knowledge,
I still called East to West, and North to South, one supernal prism
swept. The whole canopy of the sky was a rainbow.

It is impossible to describe this sight in any earthly tongue, to any
dwellers of the earth. I stood beneath it, as a drop stands beneath the
ocean. For a time I could only feel the surge of beauty--mere
beauty--roll above me. Then, I think, as the dew had fallen from the
leaf, so I sunk upon my knees. I prayed because it was natural to pray,
and felt God in my soul as the prism feels the primary color, while I
thanked Him that I was immortally alive. It had never been like this
before, to pray; nay, prayer itself was now one of the discoveries of
Heaven. It throbbed through me like the beat of a new heart. It seemed
to me that He must be very near me. Almost it was, as if He and I were
alone together in the Universe. For the first time, the passionate wish
to be taken into His very visible presence,--that intense desire which I
had heard of, as overpowering so many of the newly dead,--began to take
possession of me. But I put it aside, since it was not permitted, and a
consciousness of my unfitness came to me, that made the wish itself seem
a kind of mistake. I think this feeling was not unlike what we called
below a sense of sin. I did not give it that name at that time. It had
come to me so naturally and gradually, that there was no strain or pain
about it. Yet when I had it, I could no longer conceive of being without
it. It seemed to me that I was a stronger and wiser woman for it. A
certain gentleness and humility different from what I had been used to,
in my life of activity, wherein so many depended on me, and on the
decided faculties of my nature, accompanied the growing sense of
personal unworthiness with which I entered on the blessedness of
everlasting life.

I watched the rainbow of the sky till it had begun to fade--an event in
itself an exquisite wonder, for each tint of the prism flashed out and
ran in lightning across the heavens before falling to its place in the
primary color, till at last the whole spectacle was resolved into the
three elements, the red, the yellow, and the blue; which themselves
moved on and away, like a conqueror dismissing a pageant.

When this gorgeous scene had ended, I was surprised to find that though
dead and in Heaven, I was hungry. I gathered fruits which grew near, of
strange form and flavor, but delicious to the taste past anything I had
ever eaten, and I drank of the brook where the shells were, feeling
greatly invigorated thereby. I was beginning to wonder where my father
was, when I saw him coming towards me. He greeted me with his old
good-morning kiss, laying his hand upon my head in a benediction that
filled my soul.

As we moved on together, I asked him if he remembered how we used to say
below:

“What a heavenly day!”

Many people seemed to be passing on the road which we had chosen, but as
we walked on they grew fewer.

“There are those who wish to speak with you,” he said with a slight
hesitation, “but all things can wait here; we learn to wait ourselves.
You are to go to your mother now.”

“And not with you?” I asked, having a certain fear of the mystery of my
undertaking. He shook his head with a look more nearly like
disappointment than anything I had seen upon his face in this new life;
explaining to me, however, with cheerful acquiescence, that it was not
Willed that he should join me on my journey.

“Tell her that I come shortly,” he added, “and that I come alone. She
will understand. And have no fear; you have much to learn, but it will
come syllable by syllable.”

Now swiftly, at the instant while he spoke with me, I found myself alone
and in a mountainous region, from which a great outlook was before me. I
saw the kingdoms of heaven and the glory of them, spread out before me
like a map. A mist of the colors of amethyst and emerald interfused,
enwrapped the outlines of the landscape. All details grew blurred and
beautiful like a dream at which one snatches vainly in the morning. Off,
and beyond, the infinite ether throbbed. Yonder, like a speck upon a
sunbeam, swam the tiny globe which we called earth. Stars and suns
flashed and faded, revolving and waiting in their places. Surely it was
growing dark, for they sprang out like mighty light-houses upon the
grayness of the void.

The splendors of the Southern cross streamed far into the strange light,
neither of night nor day, not of twilight or dawn, which surrounded me.

Colored suns, of which astronomers had indeed taught us, poured
undreamed-of light upon unknown planets. I passed worlds whose
luminaries gave them scarlet, green, and purple days. “These too,” I
thought, “I shall one day visit.” I flashed through currents of awful
color, and measures of awful night. I felt more than I perceived, and
wondered more than I feared. It was some moments before I realized, by
these few astronomical details, that I was adrift, alone upon the
mystery and mightiness of Space.

Of this strange and solitary journey, I can speak so imperfectly, that
it were better almost to leave it out of my narrative. Yet, when I
remember how I have sometimes heard those still upon earth conceive,
with the great fear and ignorance inseparable from earth-trained
imagination, of such transits of the soul from point to point in ether,
I should be glad to express at least the incomplete impressions which I
received from this experience.

The strongest of these, and the sweetest, was the sense of safety--and
still the sense of safety; unassailable, everlasting; blessed beyond the
thought of an insecure life to compass. To be dead was to be dead to
danger, dead to fear. To be dead was to be alive to a sense of assured
good chance that nothing in the universe could shake.

So I felt no dread, believe me, though much awe and amazement, as I took
my first journey from Heaven to earth. I have elsewhere said that the
distance, by astronomical calculation, was in itself perhaps not
enormous. I had an impression that I was crossing a great sphere or
penumbra, belonging to the earth itself, and having a certain relation
to it, like the soul to the body of a man.

Was Heaven located within or upon this world-soul? The question occurred
to me, but up to this time, I am still unable to answer it. The transit
itself was swift and subtle as a thought. Indeed, it seemed to me that
thought itself might have been my vehicle of conveyance; or perhaps I
should say, feeling. My love and longing took me up like pollen taken by
the wind. As I approached the spot where my dear ones dwelt and sorrowed
for me, desire and speed both increased by a mighty momentum.

Now I did not find this journey as difficult as that other, when I had
departed, a freshly-freed soul, from earth to Heaven. I learned that I
was now subject to other natural laws. A celestial gravitation
controlled the celestial body, as that of the earth had compelled the
other. I was upborne in space by this new and mysterious influence. Yet
there was no dispute between it and the other law, the eternal law of
love, which drew me down. Between soul and body, in the heavenly
existence, there could be no more conflict than between light and an
ether wave.

I do not say that I performed this journey without effort or
intelligence. The little knowledge I ever had was taxed in view of the
grandeurs and the mysteries around me. Shall I be believed if I say that
I recalled all the astronomy and geography that my life as a teacher had
left still somewhat freshly imprinted on the memory? that the facts of
physics recurred to me, even in that inroad of feeling? and that I
guided myself to the Massachusetts town as I would have found it upon a
globe at school? Already I learned that no acquisition of one life is
lost in the next. Already I thanked God for everything I knew, only
wishing, with the passion of ignorance newly revealed to itself by the
dawn of wisdom, that my poor human acquirements had ever truly deserved
the high name of study, or stored my thought with its eternal results.



VI.


As I approached the scene of my former life, I met many people. I had
struck a realm of spirits who at first perplexed me. They did not look
happy, and seemed possessed by great unrest. I observed that, though
they fluttered and moved impatiently, none rose far above the surface of
the earth. Most of them were employed in one way or another upon it.
Some bought and sold; some eat and drank; others occupied themselves in
coarse pleasures, from which one could but turn away the eyes. There
were those who were busied in more refined ways:--students with eyes
fastened to dusty volumes; virtuosos who hung about a picture, a statue,
a tapestry, that had enslaved them; one musical creature I saw, who
ought to have been of exquisite organization, judging from his hands--he
played perpetually upon an instrument that he could not tune; women, I
saw too, who robed and disrobed without a glint of pleasure in their
faded faces.

There were ruder souls than any of these--but one sought for them in the
dens of the earth; their dead hands still were red with stains of blood,
and in their dead hearts reigned the remnants of hideous passions.

Of all these appearances, which I still found it natural to call
phenomena as I should once have done, it will be remembered that I
received the temporary and imperfect impression of a person passing
swiftly through a crowd, so that I do not wish my account to be accepted
for anything more trustworthy than it is.

While I was wondering greatly what it meant, some one joined and spoke
to me familiarly, and, turning, I saw it to be that old neighbor, Mrs.
Mersey, to whom I have alluded, who, like myself, seemed to be bent upon
an errand, and to be but a visitor upon the earth. She was a most lovely
spirit, as she had always been, and I grasped her hand cordially while
we swept on rapidly together to our journey’s end.

“Do tell me,” I whispered, as soon as I could draw her near enough, “who
all these people are, and what it means. I fear to guess. And yet indeed
they seem like the dead who cannot get away.”

“Alas,” she sighed, “you have said it. They loved nothing, they lived
for nothing, they believed in nothing, they cultivated themselves for
nothing but the earth. They simply lack the spiritual momentum to get
away from it. It is as much the working of a natural law as the progress
of a fever. Many of my duties have been among such as these. I know them
well. They need time and tact in treatment, and oh, the greatest
patience! At first it discouraged me, but I am learning the enthusiasm
of my work.”

“These, then,” I said, “were those I saw in that first hour, when my
father led me out of the house, and through the street. I saw you among
them, Mrs. Mersey, but I knew even then that you were not of them. But
surely they do not stay forever prisoners of the earth? Surely such a
blot on the face of spiritual life cannot but fade away? I am a
new-comer. I am still quite ignorant, you see. But I do not understand,
any more than I did before, how that could be.”

“They have their choice,” she answered vaguely. But when I saw the high
solemnity of her aspect, I feared to press my questions. I could not,
however, or I did not forbear saying:--

“At least _you_ must have already persuaded many to sever themselves
from such a condition as this?”

“Already some, I hope,” she replied evasively, as she moved away. She
always had remarkably fine manners, of which death had by no means
deprived her. I admired her graciousness and dignity as she passed from
my side to that of one we met, who, in a dejected voice, called her by
her name, and intimated that he wished to speak with her. He was a pale
and restless youth, and I thought, but was not sure, for we separated so
quickly, that it was the little fellow I spoke of, Bobby Bend. I looked
back, after I had advanced some distance on my way, and saw the two
together, conversing earnestly. While I was still watching them, it
seemed to me, though I cannot be positive upon this point, that they had
changed their course, and were quietly ascending, she leading, he
following, above the dismal sphere in which she found the lad, and that
his heavy, awkward, downward motions became freer, struggling upward, as
I gazed.

I had now come to the location of my old home, and, as I passed through
the familiar village streets, I saw that night was coming on. I met many
whom I knew, both of those called dead and living. The former recognized
me, but the latter saw me not. No one detained me, however, for I felt
in haste which I could not conceal.

With high-beating heart, I approached the dear old house. No one was
astir. As I turned the handle of the door, a soft, sickening touch
crawled around my wrist; recoiling, I found that I was entwisted in a
piece of crape that the wind had blown against me.

I went in softly; but I might have spared myself the pains. No one heard
me, though the heavy door creaked, I thought, as emphatically as it
always had--loudest when we were out latest, and longest when we shut it
quickest. I went into the parlor and stood, for a moment, uncertain what
to do.

Alice was there, and my married sister Jane, with her husband and little
boy. They sat about the fire, conversing sadly. Alice’s pretty eyes were
disfigured with crying. They spoke constantly of me. Alice was relating
to Jane and her family the particulars of my illness. I was touched to
hear her call me “patient and sweet;”--none the less because she had
often told me I was the most impatient member of the family.

No one had observed my entrance. Of course I was prepared for this, but
I cannot tell why I should have felt it, as I certainly did. A low
bamboo chair, cushioned with green _crétonne_, stood by the table. I had
a fancy for this chair, and, pleased that they had left it unoccupied,
advanced and took it, in the old way. It was with something almost like
a shock, that I found myself unnoticed in the very centre of their
group.

While I sat there, Jane moved to fix the fire, and, in returning, made
as if she would take the bamboo chair.

“Oh, don’t!” said Alice, sobbing freshly. Jane’s own tears sprang, and
she turned away.

“It seems to me,” said my brother-in-law, looking about with the patient
grimace of a business man compelled to waste time at a funeral, “that
there has a cold draught come into this room from somewhere. Nobody has
left the front door open, I hope? I’ll go and see.”

He went, glad of the excuse to stir about, poor fellow, and I presume he
took a comfortable smoke outside.

The little boy started after his father, but was bidden back, and
crawled up into the chair where I was sitting. I took the child upon my
lap, and let him stay. No one removed him, he grew so quiet, and he was
soon asleep in my arm. This pleased me; but I could not be contented
long, so I kissed the boy and put him down. He cried bitterly, and ran
to his mother for comfort.

While they were occupied with him, I stole away. I thought I knew where
Mother would be, and was ashamed of myself at the reluctance I certainly
had to enter my own room, under these exciting circumstances.

Conquering this timidity, as unwomanly and unworthy, I went up and
opened the familiar door. I had begun to learn that neither sound nor
sight followed my motions now, so that I was not surprised at attracting
no attention from the lonely occupant of the room. I closed the
door--from long habit I still made an effort to turn the latch
softly--and resolutely examined what I saw.

My mother was there, as I had expected. The room was cold--there was no
fire,--and she had on her heavy blanket shawl. The gas was lighted, and
one of my red candles, but both burned dimly. The poor woman’s magenta
geranium had frozen. My mother sat in the red easy-chair, which, being a
huge, old-fashioned thing, surrounded and shielded her from the
draught. My clothes, and medicines, and all the little signs of sickness
had been removed. The room was swept, and orderly. Above the bed, the
pictures and the carved cross looked down.

Below them, calm as sleep, and cold as frost, and terrible as silence,
lay that which had been I.

_She_ did not shrink. She was sitting close beside it. She gazed at it
with the tenderness which death itself could not affright. Mother was
not crying. She did not look as if she had shed tears for a long time.
But her wanness and the drawn lines about her mouth were hard to see.
Her aged hands trembled as she cut the locks of hair from the neck of
the dead. She was growing to be an old woman. And I--her first-born--I
had been her staff of life, and on me she had thought to lean in her
widowed age. She seemed to me to have grown feeble fast in the time
since I had left her.

All my soul rushed to my lips, and I cried out--it seemed that either
the dead or the living must hear that cry--

“Mother! Oh, my dear _mother_!”

But deaf as life, she sat before me. She had just cut off the lock of
hair she wanted; as I spoke, the curling ends of it twined around her
fingers; I tried to snatch it away, thinking thus to arrest her
attention.

The lock of hair trembled, turned, and clung the closer to the living
hand. She pressed it to her lips with the passion of desolation.

“But, Mother,” I cried once more, “I am _here_.” I flung my arms about
her and kissed her again and again. I called and entreated her by every
dear name that household love had taught us. I besought her to turn, to
see, to hear, to believe, to be comforted. I told her how blest was I,
how bountiful was death.

“I am alive,” I said. “I am alive! I see you, I touch you, hear you,
love you, hold you!” I tried argument and severity; I tried tenderness
and ridicule.

She turned at this: it seemed to me that she regarded me. She stretched
her arms out; her aged hands groped to and fro as if she felt for
something and found it not; she shook her head, her dim eyes gazed
blankly into mine. She sighed patiently, and rose as if to leave the
room, but hesitated,--covered the face of the dead body--caressed it
once or twice as if it had been a living infant--and then, taking up her
Bible, which had been upon the chair beside her, dropped upon her knees,
and holding the book against her sunken cheek, abandoned herself to
silent prayer.

This was more than I could bear just then, and, thinking to collect
myself by a few moments’ solitude, I left her. But as I stood in the
dark hall, uncertain and unquiet, I noticed a long, narrow line of light
at my feet, and, following it confusedly, found that it came from the
crack in the closed, but unlatched door of another well-remembered room.
I pushed the door open hurriedly and closed it behind me.

My brother sat in this room alone. His fire was blazing cheerfully and,
flashing, revealed the deer’s-head from the Adirondacks, the stuffed
rose-curlew from Florida, the gull’s wing from Cape Ann, the gun and
rifle and bamboo fish-pole, the class photographs over the mantel, the
feminine features on porcelain in velvet frames, all the little
trappings with which I was familiar. Tom had been trying to study, but
his Homer lay pushed away, with crumpled leaves, upon the table. Buried
in his lexicon--one strong elbow intervening--down, like a hero thrown,
the boy’s face had gone.

“Tom,” I said quietly--I always spoke quietly to Tom, who had a
constitutional fear of what he called “emotions”--“Tom, you’d better be
studying your Greek. I’d much rather see you. Come, I’ll help you.”

He did not move, poor fellow, and as I came nearer, I saw, to my
heart-break, that our Tom was crying. Sobs shook his huge frame, and
down between the iron fingers, toughened by base-ball matches, tears had
streamed upon the pages of the Odyssey.

“Tom, Tom, old fellow, _don’t_!” I cried, and, hungry as love, I took
the boy. I got upon the arm of the smoking chair, as I used to, and so
had my hands about his neck, and my cheek upon his curly hair, and would
have soothed him. Indeed, he did grow calm, and calmer, as if he yielded
to my touch; and presently he lifted his wet face, and looked about the
room, half ashamed, half defiant, as if to ask who saw that.

“Come, Tom,” I tried again. “It really isn’t so bad as you think. And
there is Mother catching cold in that room. Go and get her away from the
body. It is no place for her. She’ll get sick. Nobody can manage her as
well as you.”

As if he heard me, he arose. As if he knew me, he looked for the
flashing of an instant into my eyes.

“I don’t see how a girl of her sense can be _dead_,” said the boy aloud.
He stretched his arms once above his head, and out into the bright,
empty room, and I heard him groan in a way that wrung my heart. I went
impulsively to him, and as his arms closed, they closed about me
strongly. He stood for a moment quite still. I could feel the nervous
strain subsiding all over his big soul and body.

“Hush,” I whispered. “I’m no more dead than you are.”

If he heard, what he felt, God knows. I speak of a mystery. No optical
illusion, no tactual hallucination could hold the boy who took all the
medals at the gymnasium. The hearty, healthy fellow could receive no
abnormal sign from the love and longing of the dead. Only spirit unto
spirit could attempt that strange out-reaching. Spirit unto spirit, was
it done? Still, I relate a mystery, and what shall I say? His professor
in the class-room of metaphysics would teach him next week that grief
owns the law of the rhythm of motion; and that at the oscillation of the
pendulum the excitement of anguish shall subside into apathy which
mourners alike treat as a disloyalty to the dead, and court as a nervous
relief to the living.

Be this as it may, the boy grew suddenly calm, and even cheerful, and
followed me at once. I led him directly to his mother, and left them for
a time alone together.

After this my own calm, because my own confidence, increased. My dreary
sense of helplessness before the suffering of those I loved, gave place
to the consciousness of power to reach them. I detected this power in
myself in an undeveloped form, and realized that it might require
exercise and culture, like all other powers, if I would make valuable
use of it. I could already regard the cultivation of the faculty which
would enable love to defy death, and spirit to conquer matter, as likely
to be one of the occupations of a full life.

I went out into the fresh air for a time to think these thoughts through
by myself, undisturbed by the sight of grief that I could not remove;
and strolled up and down the village streets in the frosty night.

When I returned to the house they had all separated for the night, sadly
seeking sleep in view of the events of the morrow, when, as I had
already inferred, the funeral would take place.

I spent the night among them, chiefly with my mother and Tom, passing
unnoticed from room to room, and comforting them in such ways as I found
possible. The boy had locked his door, but after a few trials I found
myself able to pass the medium of this resisting matter, and to enter
and depart according to my will. Tom finished his lesson in the Odyssey,
and I sat by and helped him when I could. This I found possible in
simple ways, which I may explain farther at another time. We had often
studied together, and his mind the more readily, therefore, responded to
the influence of my own. He was soon well asleep, and I was free to give
all my attention to my poor mother. Of those long and solemn hours, what
shall I say? I thought she would never, never rest. I held her in these
arms the live-long night. With these hands I caressed and calmed her.
With these lips I kissed her. With this breath I warmed her cold brow
and fingers. With all my soul and body I willed that I would comfort
her, and I believe, thank God, I did. At dawn she slept peacefully; she
slept late, and rose refreshed. I remained closely by her throughout the
day.

They did their best, let me say, to provide me with a Christian funeral,
partly in accordance with some wishes I had expressed in writing,
partly from the impulse of their own good sense. Not a curtain was drawn
to darken the house of death. The blessed winter sunshine flowed in like
the current of a broad stream, through low, wide windows. No ghastly
“funeral flowers” filled the room; there was only a cluster of red pinks
upon the coffin, and the air was sweet but not heavy with the carnation
perfume that they knew I loved. My dead body and face they had covered
with a deep red pall, just shaded off the black, as dark as darkness
could be, and yet be redness. Not a bell was tolled. Not a tear--at
least, I mean, by those nearest me--not a tear was shed. As the body was
carried from the house, the voices of unseen singers lifted the German
funeral chant:--

    “Go forth! go on, with solemn song,
     Short is the way; the rest is long!”

At the grave they sang:--

    “Softly now the light of day,”

since my mother had asked for one of the old hymns; and besides the
usual Scriptural Burial Service, a friend, who was dear to me, read Mrs.
Browning’s “Sleep.”

It was all as I would have had it, and I looked on peacefully. If I
could have spoken I would have said: “You have buried me cheerfully, as
Christians ought, as a Christian ought to be.”

I was greatly touched, I must admit, at the grief of some of the poor,
plain people who followed my body on its final journey to the village
church-yard. The woman who sent the magenta geranium refused to be
comforted, and there were one or two young girls whom I had been so
fortunate as to assist in difficulties, who, I think, did truly mourn.
Some of my boys from the Grand Army were there, too,--some, I mean, whom
it had been my privilege to care for in the hospitals in the old war
days. They came in uniform, and held their caps before their eyes. It
did please me to see them there.

When the brief service at the grave was over, I would have gone home
with my mother, feeling that she needed me more than ever; but as I
turned to do so, I was approached by a spirit whose presence I had not
observed. It proved to be my father. He detained me, explaining that I
should remain where I was, feeling no fear, but making no protest, till
the Will governing my next movement might be made known to me. So I bade
my mother good-by, and Tom, as well as I could in the surprise and
confusion, and watched them all as they went away. She, as she walked,
seemed to those about her to be leaning only upon her son. But I beheld
my father tenderly hastening close beside her, while he supported her
with the arm which had never failed her yet, in all their loving lives.
Therefore I could let her go, without distress.

The funeral procession departed slowly; the grave was filled; one of the
mill-girls came back and threw in some arbor vitæ and a flower or
two,--the sexton hurried her, and both went away. It grew dusk, dark. I
and my body were left alone together.

Of that solemn watch, it is not for me to chatter to any other soul.
Memories overswept me, which only we two could share. Hopes possessed me
which it were not possible to explain to another organization. Regret,
resolve, awe, and joy, every high human emotion excepting fear, battled
about us. While I knelt there in the windless night, I heard chanting
from a long distance, but yet distinct to the dead, that is to the
living ear. As I listened, the sound deepened, approaching, and a group
of singing spirits swept by in the starlit air, poised like birds, or
thoughts, above me:

“_It is sown a natural--it is raised a spiritual body._”

“_Death! where is thy sting?--Grave!--thy victory?_”

“_Believing in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live._”

I tried my voice, and joined, for I could no longer help it, in the
thrilling chorus. It was the first time since I died, that I had felt
myself invited or inclined to share the occupations of others, in the
life I had entered. Kneeling there, in the happy night, by my own
grave, I lifted all my soul and sense into the immortal words, now for
the first time comprehensible to me:

“_I believe, I believe in the resurrection of the dead._”

It was not long thereafter that I received the summons to return. I
should have been glad to go home once more, but was able to check my own
preference without wilful protest, or an aching heart. The conviction
that all was well with my darlings and myself, for life and for death,
had now become an intense yet simple thing, like consciousness itself.

I went as, and where I was bidden, joyfully.



VII.


Upon reëntering the wonderful place which I had begun to call Heaven,
and to which I still give that name, though not, I must say, with
perfect assurance that the word is properly applied to that phase of the
life of which I am the yet most ignorant recorder, I found myself more
weary than I had been at any time since my change came. I was looking
about, uncertain where to go, feeling, for the first time, rather
homeless in this new country, when I was approached by a stranger, who
inquired of me what I sought:

“Rest,” I said promptly.

“A familiar quest,” observed the stranger, smiling.

“You are right, sir. It is a thing I have been seeking for forty years.”

“And never found?”

“Never found.”

“I will assist you,” he said gently, “that is, if you wish it. What will
you have first?”

“Sleep, I think, first, then food. I have been through exciting scenes.
I have a touch--a faint one--of what below we called exhaustion. Yet now
I am conscious in advance of the rest which is sure to come. Already I
feel it, like the ebbing of the wave that goes to form the flow of the
next. How blessed to know that one _can’t_ be ill!”

“How do you know that?” asked my companion.

“On the whole, I don’t know that I do,” I answered, with embarrassment,
“I suppose it is a remnant of one’s old religious teaching: ‘The
inhabitant shall not say I am sick.’ Surely there were such words.”

“And you trusted them?” asked the stranger.

“The Bible was a hard book to accept,” I said quickly, “I would not have
you overestimate my faith. I tried to believe that it was God’s message.
I think I _did_ believe it. But the reason was clear to me. I could not
get past that if I wished to.”

“What, then, was the reason,” inquired my friend, solemnly, “why you
trusted the message called the Word of God, as received by the believing
among His children on earth?”

“Surely,” I urged, “there is but one reason. I refer to the history of
our Lord. I do not know whether all in this place are Christians; but I
was one.--Sir! I anticipate your question. I was a most imperfect,
useless one--to my sorrow and my shame I say it--but, so far as I went,
I was an honest one.”

“Did you love Him?--Him whom you called Lord?” asked the stranger, with
an air of reserve. I replied that I thought I could truly say that He
was dear to me.

I began to be deeply moved by this conversation. I stole a look at the
stranger, whom I had at first scarcely noticed, except as one among many
passing souls. He was a man of surpassing majesty of mien, and for
loveliness of feature I had seen no mortal to vie with him. “This,” I
thought, “must be one of the beings we called angels.” Astonishing
brightness rayed from him at every motion, and his noble face was like
the sun itself. He moved beside me like any other spirit, and
condescended to me so familiarly, yet with so unapproachable a dignity,
that my heart went out to him as breath upon the air. It did not occur
to me to ask him who he was, or whither he led me. It was enough that he
led, and I followed without question or reply. We walked and talked for
a long time together.

He renewed the conversation by asking me whether I had really staked my
immortal existence upon the promise of that obscure, uneducated Jew,
twenty centuries in his grave,--that plain man who lived a fanatic’s
life, and died a felon’s death, and whose teachings had given rise to
such bigotry and error upon the earth. I answered that I had never been
what is commonly called a devout person, not having a spiritual
temperament, but that I had not held our Master responsible for the
mistakes of either his friends or his foes, and that the greatest regret
I had brought with me into Heaven was that I had been so unworthy to
bear His blessed name. He next inquired of me, if I truly believed that
I owed my entrance upon my present life to the interposition of Him of
whom we spoke.

“Sir,” I said, “you touch upon sacred nerves. I should find it hard to
tell you how utterly I believe that immortality is the gift of Jesus
Christ to the human soul.”

“I believed this on earth,” I added, “I believe it in Heaven. I do not
_know_ it yet, however. I am a new-comer; I am still very ignorant. No
one has instructed me. I hope to learn ‘syllable by syllable.’ I am
impatient to be taught; yet I am patient to be ignorant till I am found
worthy to learn. It may be, that you, sir, who evidently are of a higher
order of life than ours, are sent to enlighten me?”

My companion smiled, neither dissenting from, nor assenting to my
question, and only asked me in reply, if I had yet spoken with the Lord.
I said that I had not even seen Him; nay, that I had not even asked to
see Him. My friend inquired why this was, and I told him frankly that it
was partly because I was so occupied at first--nay, most of the time
until I was called below.

“I had not much room to think. I was taken from event to event, like a
traveler. This matter that you speak of seemed out of place in every way
at that time.”

Then I went on to say that my remissness was owing partly to a little
real self-distrust, because I feared I was not the kind of believer to
whom He would feel quickly drawn; that I felt afraid to propose such a
preposterous thing as being brought into His presence; that I supposed,
when He saw fit to reveal Himself to me, I should be summoned in some
orderly way, suitable to this celestial community; that, in fact, though
I had cherished this most sweet and solemn desire, I had not mentioned
it before, not even to my own father who conducted me to this place.

“I have not spoken of it,” I said, “to any body but to you.”

The stranger’s face wore a remarkable expression when I said this, as if
I had deeply gratified him; and there glittered from his entire form
and features such brightness as well-nigh dazzled me. It was as if,
where a lesser being would have spoken, or stirred, he shone. I felt as
if I conversed with him by radiance, and that living light had become a
vocabulary between us. I have elsewhere spoken of the quality of
reflecting light as marked among the ordinary inhabitants of this new
life; but in this case I was aware of a distinction, due, I thought, to
the superior order of existence to which my friend belonged. He did not,
like the others, reflect; he radiated glory. More and more, as we had
converse together, this impressed, until it awed me. We remained
together for a long time. People who met us, greeted the angel with
marked reverence, and turned upon me glances of sympathetic delight; but
no one interrupted us. We continued our walk into a more retired place,
by the shore of a sea, and there we had deep communion.

My friend had inquired if I were still faint, and if I preferred to turn
aside for food and rest; but when he asked me the question I was amazed
to find that I no longer had the need of either. Such delight had I in
his presence, such invigoration in his sympathy, that glorious
recuperation had set in upon my earth-caused weariness. Such power had
the soul upon the celestial body! Food for the first was force to the
other.

It seemed to me that I had never known refreshment of either before; and
that Heaven itself could contain no nutriment that would satisfy me
after this upon which I fed in that high hour.

It is not possible for me to repeat the solemn words of that interview.
We spoke of grave and sacred themes. He gave me great counsel and fine
sympathy. He gave me affectionate rebuke and unfathomable resolve. We
talked of those inner experiences which, on earth, the soul protects,
like struggling flame, between itself and the sheltering hand of God. We
spoke much of the Master, and of my poor hope that I might be permitted
after I had been a long time in Heaven, to become worthy to see Him,
though at the vast distance of my unworthiness. Of that unworthiness
too, we spoke most earnestly; while we did so, the sense of it grew
within me like a new soul; yet so divinely did my friend extend his
tenderness to me, that I was strengthened far more than weakened by
these finer perceptions of my unfitness, which he himself had aroused in
me. The counsel that he gave me, Eternity could not divert out of my
memory, and the comfort which I had from him I treasure to this hour.
“Here,” I thought, “here, at last, I find reproof as gentle as sympathy,
and sympathy as invigorating as reproof. Now, for the first time in all
my life, I find myself truly understood. What could I not become if I
possessed the friendship of such a being! How shall I develop myself so
as to obtain it? How can I endure to be deprived of it? Is this too,
like friendship on earth, a snatch, a compromise, a heart-ache, a mirror
in which one looks only long enough to know that it is dashed away? Have
I begun that old pain again, _here_?”

For I knew, as I sat in that solemn hour with my face to the sea and my
soul with him, while sweeter than any song of all the waves of Heaven
or earth to sea-lovers sounded his voice who did commune with
me,--verily I knew, for then and forever, that earth had been a void to
me because I had him not, and that Heaven could be no Heaven to me
without him.

All which I had known of human love; all that I had missed; the dreams
from which I had been startled; the hopes that had evaded me; the
patience which comes from knowing that one may not even try not to be
misunderstood; the struggle to keep a solitary heart sweet; the
anticipation of desolate age which casts its shadow backward upon the
dial of middle life; the paralysis of feeling which creeps on with its
disuse; the distrust of one’s own atrophied faculties of loving; the
sluggish wonder if one is ceasing to be lovable; the growing difficulty
of explaining oneself even when it is necessary, because no one being
more than any other cares for the explanation; the things which a lonely
life converts into silence that cannot be broken, swept upon me like
rapids, as, turning to look into his dazzling face, I said:
“This--_all_ this he understands.”

But when, thus turning, I would have told him so, for there seemed to be
no poor pride in Heaven, forbidding soul to tell the truth to
soul,--when I turned, my friend had risen, and was departing from me, as
swiftly and mysteriously as he came. I did not cry out to him to stay,
for I felt ashamed; nor did I tell him how he had bereft me, for that
seemed a childish folly. I think I only stood and looked at him.

“If there is any way of being worthy of your friendship,” I said below
my breath, “I will have it, if I toil for half Eternity to get it.”

Now, though these words were scarcely articulate, I think he heard them,
and turning, with a smile which will haunt my dreams and stir my deeds
as long as I shall live, he laid his hand upon my head, and blessed
me--but what he said I shall tell no man--and so departed from me, and I
was left upon the shore alone, fallen, I think, in a kind of sleep or
swoon.

When I awoke, I was greatly calmed and strengthened, but disinclined, at
first, to move. I had the reaction from what I knew was the intensest
experience of my life, and it took time to adjust my feelings to my
thoughts.

A young girl came up while I sat there upon the sands, and employed
herself in gathering certain marvelous weeds that the sea had tossed up.
These weeds fed upon the air, as they had upon the water, remaining
fresh upon the girl’s garments, which she decorated with them. She did
not address me, but strolled up and down silently. Presently, feeling
moved by the assurance of congeniality that one detects so much more
quickly in Heaven than on earth, I said to the young girl:--

“Can you tell me the name of the angel--you must have met him--who has
but just left me, and with whom I have been conversing?”

“Do you then truly not know?” she asked, shading her eyes with her hand,
and looking off in the direction my friend had taken; then back again,
with a fine, compassionate surprise at me.

“Indeed I know not.”

“That was the Master who spoke with you.”

“What did you _say_?”

“That was our Lord Himself.”



VIII.


After the experience related in the last chapter, I remained for some
time in solitude. Speech seemed incoherence, and effort impossible. I
needed a pause to adapt myself to my awe and my happiness; upon neither
of which will it be necessary for me to dwell. Yet I think I may be
understood if I say that from this hour I found that what we call Heaven
had truly begun for me. Now indeed for the first time I may say that I
believed without wonder in the life everlasting; since now, for the
first time, I had a reason sufficient for the continuance of existence.
A force like the cohesion of atoms held me to eternal hope. Brighter
than the dawn of friendship upon a heart bereft, more solemn than the
sunrise of love itself upon a life that had thought itself unloved,
stole on the power of the Presence to which I had been admitted in so
surprising, and yet, after all, how natural a way! Henceforth the
knowledge that this experience might be renewed for me at any turn of
thought or act, would illuminate joy itself, so that “it should have no
need of the sun to lighten it.” I recalled these words, as one recalls a
familiar quotation repeated for the first time on some foreign locality
of which it is descriptive. Now I knew what he meant, who wrote: “The
Lamb is the Light thereof.”

       *       *       *       *       *

When I came to myself, I observed the young girl who had before
addressed me still strolling on the shore. She beckoned, and I went to
her, with a new meekness in my heart. What will He have me to do? If, by
the lips of this young thing, He choose to instruct me, let me glory in
the humility with which I will be a learner!

All things seemed to be so exquisitely ordered for us in this new life,
all flowed so naturally, like one sound-wave into another, with ease so
apparent, yet under law so superb, that already I was certain Heaven
contained no accidents, and no trivialities; as it did no shocks or
revolutions.

“If you like,” said the young girl, “we will cross the sea.”

“But how?” I asked, for I saw no boat.

“Can you not, then, walk upon the water yet?” she answered. “Many of us
do, as He did once below. But we no longer call such things miracles.
They are natural powers. Yet it is an art to use them. One has to learn
it, as we did swimming, or such things, in the old times.”

“I have only been here a short time,” I said, half amused at the little
celestial “airs” my young friend wore so sweetly. “I know but little
yet. Can you teach me how to walk on water?”

“It would take so much time,” said the young girl, “that I think we
should not wait for that. We go on to the next duty, now. You had better
learn, I think, from somebody wiser than I. I will take you over another
way.”

A great and beautiful shell, not unlike a nautilus, was floating near
us, on the incoming tide, and my companion motioned to me to step into
this. I obeyed her, laughing, but without any hesitation. “Neither shall
there be any more death,” I thought as I glanced over the rose-tinted
edges of the frail thing into the water, deeper than any I had ever
seen, but unclouded, so that I looked to the bottom of the sea. The girl
herself stepped out upon the waves with a practiced air, and lightly
drawing the great shell with one hand, bore me after her, as one bears a
sledge upon ice. As we came into mid-water we began to meet others, some
walking, as she did, some rowing or drifting like myself. Upon the
opposite shore uprose the outlines of a more thickly settled community
than any I had yet seen.

Watching this with interest that deepened as we approached the shore, I
selfishly or uncourteously forgot to converse with my companion, who did
not disturb my silence until we landed. As she gave me her hand, she
said in a quick, direct tone:

“Well, Miss Mary, I see that you do not know me, after all.”

I felt, as I had already done once or twice before, a certain social
embarrassment (which in itself instructed me, as perpetuating one of the
minor emotions of life below that I had hardly expected to renew) before
my lovely guide, as I shook my head, struggling with the phantasmal
memories evoked by her words. No, I did not know her.

“I am Marie Sauvée. I _hope_ you remember.”

She said these words in French. The change of language served instantly
to recall the long train of impressions stored away, who knew how or
where, about the name and memory of this girl.

“Marie Sauvée! _You_--HERE!” I exclaimed in her own tongue.

At the name, now, the whole story, like the bright side of a
dark-lantern, flashed. It was a tale of sorrow and shame, as sad,
perhaps, as any that it had been my lot to meet. So far as I had ever
known, the little French girl, thrown in my way while I was serving in
barracks at Washington, had baffled every effort I had made to win her
affection or her confidence, and had gone out of my life as the
thistle-down flies on the wind. She had cost me many of those precious
drops of the soul’s blood which all such endeavor drains; and in the
laboratory of memory I had labelled them, “Worse than Wasted,” and sadly
wondered if I should do the same again for such another need, at just
such hopeless expenditure, and had reminded myself that it was not good
spiritual economy, and said that I would never repeat the experience,
and known all the while that I should.

Now here, a spirit saved, shining as the air of Heaven, “without spot or
any such thing”--here, wiser in heavenly lore than I, longer with Him
than I, nearer to Him than I, dearer to Him, perhaps, than I--_here_ was
Marie Sauvée.

“I do not know how to apologize,” I said, struggling with my emotion,
“for the way in which I spoke to you just now. Why should you not be
here? Why, indeed? Why am I here? Why”--

“Dear Miss Mary,” cried the girl, interrupting me passionately, “but for
you it might never have been as it is. Or never for ages--I cannot say.
I might have been a ghost, bound yet to the hated ghost of the old life.
It was your doing, at the first--down there--all those years ago. Miss
Mary, you were the first person I ever loved. You didn’t know it. I had
no idea of telling you. But I did, I loved you. After you went away, I
loved you; ever since then, I loved you. I said, I will be fit to love
her before I die. And then I said, I will go where she is going, for I
shall never get at her anywhere else. And when I entered this place--for
I had no friend or relative here that I knew, to meet me--I was more
frightened than it is possible for any one like you to understand, and
wondered what place there could be for one like me in all this country,
and how I could ever get accustomed to their ways, and whether I should
shock and grieve them--you _can’t_ understand _that_; I dreaded it so, I
was afraid I should swear after I got to Heaven; I was afraid I might
say some evil word, and shame them all, and shame myself more than I
could ever get over. I knew I wasn’t educated for any such society. I
knew there wasn’t anything in me that would be at home here, but just”--

“But just what, Marie?” I asked, with a humility deeper than I could
have expressed.

“But just my love for you, Miss Mary. That was all. I had nothing to
come to Heaven on, but loving you and meaning to be a better girl
because I loved you. That was truly all.”

“That is impossible!” I said quickly. “Your love for me never brought
you here of itself alone. You are mistaken about this. It is neither
Christianity nor philosophy.”

“There is no mistake,” persisted the girl, with gentle obstinacy,
smiling delightedly at my dogmatism, “I came here because I loved you.
Do you not see? In loving you, I loved--for the first time in my life I
loved--goodness. I really did. And when I got to this place, I found out
that goodness was the same as God. And I had been getting the love of
God into my heart, all that time, in that strange way, and never knew
how it was with me, until--Oh, Miss Mary, who do you think it was, WHO,
that met me within an hour after I died?”

“It was our Master,” she added in an awe-struck, yet rapturous whisper,
that thrilled me through. “It was He Himself. He was the first, for I
had nobody, as I told you, belonging to me in this holy place, to care
for a wretch like me.--_He_ was the first to meet _me_! And it was He
who taught me everything I had to learn. It was He who made me feel
acquainted and at home. It was He who took me on from love of you, to
love of Him, as you put one foot after another in learning to walk after
you have had a terrible sickness. And it was _He_ who never reminded
me--never once reminded me--of the sinful creature I had been. Never, by
one word or look, from that hour to this day, has He let me feel ashamed
in Heaven. That is what _He_ is!” cried the girl, turning upon me, in a
little sudden, sharp way she used to have; her face and form were so
transfigured before me, as she spoke, that it seemed as if she quivered
with excess of light, and were about to break away and diffuse herself
upon the radiant air, like song, or happy speech, or melting color.

“Die for Him!” she said after a passionate silence. “If I could die
everlastingly and everlastingly and everlastingly, to give Him any
pleasure, or to save Him any pain-- But then, that’s nothing,” she added,
“I love Him. That is all that means.--And I’ve only got to live
everlastingly instead. That is the way He has treated me--_me_!”



IX.


The shore upon which we had landed was thickly populated, as I have
said. Through a sweep of surpassingly beautiful suburbs, we approached
the streets of a town. It is hard to say why I should have been
surprised at finding in this place the signs of human traffic,
philanthropy, art, and study--what otherwise I expected, who can say? My
impressions, as Marie Sauvée led me through the city, had the confusion
of sudden pleasure. The width and shining cleanliness of the streets,
the beauty and glittering material of the houses, the frequent presence
of libraries, museums, public gardens, signs of attention to the wants
of animals, and places of shelter for travelers such as I had never seen
in the most advanced and benevolent of cities below,--these were the
points that struck me most forcibly.

The next thing, which in a different mood might have been the first that
impressed me was the remarkable expression of the faces that I met or
passed. No thoughtful person can have failed to observe, in any throng,
the preponderant look of unrest and dissatisfaction in the human eye.
Nothing, to a fine vision, so emphasizes the isolation of being, as the
faces of people in a crowd. In this new community to which I had been
brought, that old effect was replaced by a delightful change. I
perceived, indeed, great intentness of purpose here, as in all
thickly-settled regions; the countenances that passed me indicated close
conservation of social force and economy of intellectual energy; these
were people trained by attrition with many influences, and balanced with
the conflict of various interests. But these were men and women, busy
without hurry, efficacious without waste; they had ambition without
unscrupulousness, power without tyranny, success without vanity, care
without anxiety, effort without exhaustion,--hope, fear, toil,
uncertainty it seemed, elation it was sure--but a repose that it was
impossible to call by any other name than divine, controlled their
movements, which were like the pendulum of a golden clock whose works
are out of sight. I watched these people with delight. Great numbers of
them seemed to be students, thronging what we should call below
colleges, seminaries, or schools of art, or music, or science. The
proportion of persons pursuing some form of intellectual acquisition
struck me as large. My little guide, to whom I mentioned this, assented
to the fact, pointing out to me a certain institution we had passed, at
which she herself was, she said, something like a primary scholar, and
from which she had been given a holiday to meet me as she did, and
conduct me through the journey that had been appointed for me on that
day. I inquired of her what her studies might be like; but she told me
that she was hardly wise enough as yet to explain to me what I could
learn for myself when I had been longer in this place, and when my
leisure came for investigating its attractions at my own will.

“I am uncommonly ignorant, you know,” said Marie Sauvée humbly, “I have
everything to learn. There is book knowledge and thought knowledge and
soul knowledge, and I have not any of these. I was as much of what you
used to call a heathen, as any Fiji-Islander you gave your missionaries
to. I have so much to learn, that I am not sent yet upon other business
such as I should like.”

Upon my asking Marie Sauvée what business this might be, she hesitated.
“I have become ambitious in Heaven,” she answered slowly. “I shall never
be content till I am fit to be sent to the worst woman that can be
found--no matter which side of death--I don’t care in what world--I want
to be sent to one that nobody else will touch; I think I might know how
to save her. It is a tremendous ambition!” she repeated. “Preposterous
for the greatest angel there is here! And yet I--_I_ mean to do it.”

I was led on in this way by Marie Sauvée, through and out of the city
into the western suburbs; we had approached from the east, and had
walked a long distance. There did not occur to me, I think, till we had
made the circuit of the beautiful town, one thing, which, when I did
observe it, struck me as, on the whole, the most impressive that I had
noticed. “I have not seen,” I said, stopping suddenly, “I have not seen
a poor person in all this city.”

“Nor an aged one, have you?” asked Marie Sauvée, smiling.

“Now that I think of it,--no. Nor a sick one. Not a beggar. Not a
cripple. Not a mourner. Not--and yet what have we here? This building,
by which you are leading me, bears a device above the door, the last I
should ever have expected to find _here_.”

It was an imposing building, of a certain translucent material that had
the massiveness of marble, with the delicacy of thin agate illuminated
from within. The rear of this building gave upon the open country, with
a background of hills, and the vision of the sea which I had crossed.
People strolled about the grounds, which had more than the magnificence
of Oriental gardens. Music came from the building, and the saunterers,
whom I saw, seemed nevertheless not to be idlers, but persons busily
employed in various ways--I should have said, under the close direction
of others who guided them. The inscription above the door of this
building was a word, in a tongue unknown to me, meaning “Hospital,” as I
was told.

“They are the sick at heart,” said Marie Sauvée, in answer to my look of
perplexity, “who are healed there. And they are the sick of soul; those
who were most unready for the new life; they whose spiritual being was
diseased through inaction, _they_ are the invalids of Heaven. There they
are put under treatment, and slowly cured. With some, it takes long. I
was there myself when I first came, for a little; it will be a most
interesting place for you to visit, by-and-by.”

I inquired who were the physicians of this celestial sanitarium.

“They who unite the natural love of healing to the highest spiritual
development.”

“By no means, then, necessarily they who were skilled in the treatment
of diseases on earth?” I asked, laughing.

“Such are oftener among the patients,” said Marie Sauvée sadly. To me,
so lately from the earth, and our low earthly way of finding amusement
in facts of this nature, this girl’s gravity was a rebuke. I thanked her
for it, and we passed by the hospital--which I secretly made up my mind
to investigate at another time--and so out into the wider country, more
sparsely settled, but it seemed to me more beautiful than that we had
left behind.

“There,” I said, at length, “is to my taste the loveliest spot we have
seen yet. That is the most homelike of all these homes.”

We stopped before a small and quiet house built of curiously inlaid
woods, that reminded me of Sorrento work as a great achievement may
remind one of a first and faint suggestion. So exquisite was the carving
and coloring, that on a larger scale the effect might have interfered
with the solidity of the building, but so modest were the proportions
of this charming house, that its dignity was only enhanced by its
delicacy. It was shielded by trees, some familiar to me, others strange.
There were flowers--not too many; birds; and I noticed a fine dog
sunning himself upon the steps. The sweep of landscape from all the
windows of this house must have been grand. The wind drove up from the
sea. The light, which had a peculiar depth and color, reminding me of
that which on earth flows from under the edge of a breaking storm-cloud
at the hour preceding sunset, formed an aureola about the house. When my
companion suggested my examining this place, since it so attracted me, I
hesitated, but yielding to her wiser judgment, strolled across the
little lawn, and stood, uncertain, at the threshold. The dog arose as I
came up, and met me cordially, but no person seemed to be in sight.

“Enter,” said Marie Sauvée in a tone of decision. “You are expected. Go
where you will.”

I turned to remonstrate with her, but the girl had disappeared. Finding
myself thus thrown on my own resources, and having learned already the
value of obedience to mysterious influences in this new life, I gathered
courage, and went into the house. The dog followed me affectionately,
rather than suspiciously.

For a few moments I stood in the hall or ante-room, alone and perplexed.
Doors opened at right and left, and vistas of exquisitely-ordered rooms
stretched out. I saw much of the familiar furniture of a modest home,
and much that was unfamiliar mingled therewith. I desired to ask the
names or purposes of certain useful articles, and the characters and
creators of certain works of art. I was bewildered and delighted. I had
something of the feeling of a rustic visitor taken for the first time to
a palace or imposing town-house.

Was Heaven an aggregate of homes like this? Did everlasting life move on
in the same dear ordered channel--the dearest that human experiment had
ever found--the channel of family love? Had one, after death, the old
blessedness without the old burden? The old sweetness without the old
mistake? The familiar rest, and never the familiar fret? Was there
always in the eternal world “somebody to come home to”? And was there
always the knowledge that it could not be the wrong person? Was all
_that_ eliminated from celestial domestic life? Did Heaven solve the
problem on which earth had done no more than speculate?

While I stood, gone well astray on thoughts like these, feeling still
too great a delicacy about my uninvited presence in this house, I heard
the steps of the host, or so I took them to be; they had the indefinable
ring of the master’s foot. I remained where I was, not without
embarrassment, ready to apologize for my intrusion as soon as he should
come within sight. He crossed the long room at the left, leisurely; I
counted his quiet footsteps; he advanced, turned, saw me--I too,
turned--and so, in this way, it came about that I stood face to face
with my own father.

... I had found the eternal life full of the unexpected, but this was
almost the sweetest thing that had happened to me yet.

Presently my father took me over the house and the grounds; with a
boyish delight, explaining to me how many years he had been building and
constructing and waiting with patience in his heavenly home for the
first one of his own to join him. Now, he too, should have “somebody to
come home to.” As we dwelt upon the past and glanced at the future, our
full hearts overflowed. He explained to me that my new life had but now,
in the practical sense of the word, begun; since a human home was the
centre of all growth and blessedness. When he had shown me to my own
portion of the house, and bidden me welcome to it, he pointed out to me
a certain room whose door stood always open, but whose threshold was
never crossed. I hardly feel that I have the right, in this public way,
to describe, in detail, the construction or adornment of this room. I
need only say that Heaven itself seemed to have been ransacked to bring
together the daintiest, the most delicate, the purest, thoughts and
fancies that celestial skill or art could create. Years had gone to the
creation of this spot; it was a growth of time, the occupation of that
loneliness which must be even in the happy life, when death has
temporarily separated two who had been one. I was quite prepared for his
whispered words, when he said,--

“Your mother’s room, my dear. It will be all ready for her at any time.”

This union had been a _marriage_--not one of the imperfect ties that
pass under the name, on earth. Afterwards, when I learned more of the
social economy of the new life, I perceived more clearly the rarity and
peculiar value of an experience which had in it the elements of what
might be called (if I should be allowed the phrase) eternal permanency,
and which involved, therefore, none of the disintegration and
redistribution of relations consequent upon passing from temporary or
mistaken choices to a fixed and perfect state of society.

Later, on that same evening, I was called eagerly from below. I was
resting, and alone;--I had, so to speak, drawn my first breath in
Heaven; once again, like a girl in my own room under my father’s roof;
my heart at anchor, and my peace at full tide. I ran as I used to run,
years ago, when he called me, crying down,--

“I’m coming, Father,” while I delayed a moment to freshen my dress, and
to fasten it with some strange white flowers that climbed over my
window, and peered, nodding like children, into the room.

When I reached the hall, or whatever might be the celestial name for the
entrance room below, I did not immediately see my father, but I heard
the sound of voices beyond, and perceived the presence of many people in
the house. As I hesitated, wondering what might be the etiquette of
these new conditions, and whether I should be expected to play the
hostess at a reception of angels or saints, some one came up from behind
me, I think, and held out his hand in silence.

“St. Johns!” I cried, “Jamie St. Johns! The last time I saw _you_”--

“The last time you saw me was in a field-hospital after the battle of
Malvern Hills,” said St. Johns. “I died in your arms, Miss Mary. Shot
flew about you while you got me that last cup of water. I died hard. You
sang the hymn I asked for--‘Ye who tossed on beds of pain’--and the
shell struck the tent-pole twenty feet off, but you sang right on. I was
afraid you would stop. I was almost gone. But you never faltered. You
sang my soul out--do you remember? I’ve been watching all this while for
you. I’ve been a pretty busy man since I got to this place, but I’ve
always found time to run in and ask your father when he expected you.

“I meant to be the first all along; but I hear there’s a girl got ahead
of me. She’s here, too, and some more women. But most of us are the
boys, to-night, Miss Mary,--come to give you a sort of
house-warming--just to say we’ve never forgotten!... and you see we want
to say ‘Welcome home at last’ to _our_ army woman--God bless her--as she
blessed us!

“Come in, Miss Mary! Don’t feel bashful. It’s nobody but your own boys.
Here we are. There’s a thing I remember--you used to read it. ‘_For when
ye fail_’--you know I never could quote straight--‘_they shall receive
you into everlasting habitations_’--Wasn’t that it? Now here. See! Count
us! _Not one missing_, do you see? You said you’d have us all here
yet--all that died before you did. You used to tell us so. You prayed
it, and you lived it, and you did it, and, by His everlasting mercy,
here we are. Look us over. Count again. I couldn’t make a speech on
earth and I can’t make one in Heaven--but the fellows put me up to it.
_Come_ in, Miss Mary! _Dear_ Miss Mary--why, we want to shake hands with
you, all around! We want to sit and tell army-stories half the night. We
want to have some of the old songs, and--What! Crying, Miss
Mary?--_You?_ We never saw you cry in all our lives. Your lip used to
tremble. You got pretty white; but you weren’t that kind of woman. Oh,
see here! _Crying_ in HEAVEN?”--



X.


From this time, the events which I am trying to relate began to assume
in fact a much more orderly course; yet in form I scarcely find them
more easy to present. Narrative, as has been said of conversation, “is
always but a selection,” and in this case the peculiar difficulties of
choosing from an immense mass of material that which can be most fitly
compressed into the compass allowed me by these few pages, are so great,
that I have again and again laid down my task in despair; only to be
urged on by my conviction that it is more clearly my duty to speak what
may carry comfort to the hearts of some, than to worry because my
imperfect manner of expression may offend the heads of others. All I can
presume to hope for this record of an experience is, that it may have a
passing value to certain of my readers whose anticipations of what they
call “the Hereafter” are so vague or so dubious as to be more of a pain
than a pleasure to themselves.

From the time of my reception into my father’s house, I lost the sense
of homelessness which had more or less possessed me since my entrance
upon the new life, and felt myself becoming again a member of an
organized society, with definite duties as well as assured pleasures
before me.

These duties I did not find astonishingly different in their essence,
while they had changed greatly in form, from those which had occupied me
upon earth. I found myself still involved in certain filial and domestic
responsibilities, in intellectual acquisition, in the moral support of
others, and in spiritual self-culture. I found myself a member of an
active community in which not a drone nor an invalid could be counted,
and I quickly became, like others who surrounded me, an exceedingly busy
person. At first my occupations did not assume sharp professional
distinctiveness, but had rather the character of such as would belong to
one in training for a more cultivated condition. This seemed to be true
of many of my fellow-citizens; that they were still in a state of
education for superior usefulness or happiness. With others, as I have
intimated, it was not so. My father’s business, for instance, remained
what it had always been--that of a religious teacher; and I met women
and men as well, to whom, as in the case of my old neighbor, Mrs.
Mersey, there had been set apart an especial fellowship with the spirits
of the recently dead or still living, who had need of great guidance. I
soon formed, by observation, at least, the acquaintance, too, of a wide
variety of natures;--I met artisans and artists, poets and scientists,
people of agricultural pursuits, mechanical inventors, musicians,
physicians, students, tradesmen, aerial messengers to the earth, or to
other planets, and a long list besides, that would puzzle more than it
would enlighten, should I attempt to describe it. I mention these
points, which I have no space to amplify, mainly to give reality to any
allusions that I shall make to my relations in the heavenly city, and to
let it be understood that I speak of a community as organized and as
various as Paris or New York; which possessed all the advantages and
none of the evils that we are accustomed to associate with massed
population; that such a community existed without sorrow, without
sickness, without death, without anxiety, and without sin; that the
evidences of almost incredible harmony, growth, and happiness which I
saw before me in that one locality, I had reason to believe extended to
uncounted others in unknown regions, thronging with joys and activities
the mysteries of space and time.

For reasons which will be made clear as I approach the end of my
narrative, I cannot speak as fully of many high and marvelous matters in
the eternal life, as I wish that I might have done. I am giving
impressions which, I am keenly aware, have almost the imperfection of a
broken dream. I can only crave from the reader, on trust, a patience
which he may be more ready to grant me at a later time.

I now began, as I say, to assume regular duties and pleasures; among the
keenest of the latter was the constant meeting of old friends and
acquaintances. Much perplexity, great delight, and some disappointment
awaited me in these _dénouements_ of earthly story.

The people whom I had naturally expected to meet earliest were often
longest delayed from crossing my path; in some cases, they were
altogether missing. Again, I was startled by coming in contact with
individuals that I had never associated, in my conceptions of the
future, with a spiritual existence at all; in these cases I was
sometimes humbled by discovering a type of spiritual character so far
above my own, that my fancies in their behalf proved to be unwarrantable
self-sufficiency. Social life in the heavenly world, I soon learned, was
a series of subtle or acute surprises. It sometimes reminded me of a
simile of George Eliot’s, wherein she likened human existence to a game
of chess in which each one of the pieces had intellect and passions, and
the player might be beaten by his own pawns. The element of
unexpectedness, which constitutes the first and yet the most unreliable
charm of earthly society, had here acquired a permanent dignity. One of
the most memorable things which I observed about heavenly relations was,
that people did not, in the degree or way to which I was accustomed,
tire of each other. Attractions, to begin with, were less lightly
experienced; their hold was deeper; their consequences more lasting. I
had not been under my new conditions long, before I learned that here
genuine feeling was never suffered to fall a sacrifice to intellectual
curiosity, or emotional caprice; that here one had at last the stimulus
of social attrition without its perils, its healthy pleasures without
its pains. I learned, of course, much else, which it is more than
difficult, and some things which it is impossible, to explain. I testify
only of what I am permitted.

Among the intellectual labors that I earliest undertook was the command
of the Universal Language, which I soon found necessary to my
convenience. In a community like that I had entered, many nationalities
were represented, and I observed that while each retained its own
familiar earthly tongue, and one had the pleasant opportunity of
acquiring as many others as one chose, yet a common vocabulary became a
desideratum of which, indeed, no one was compelled to avail himself
contrary to his taste, but in which many, like myself, found the
greatest pleasure and profit. The command of this language occupied much
well-directed time.

I should not omit to say that a portion of my duty and my privilege
consisted in renewed visits to the dearly-loved whom I had left upon the
earth. These visits were sometimes matters of will with me. Again, they
were strictly occasions of permission, and again, I was denied the power
to make them when I most deeply desired to do so. Herein I learned the
difference between trial and trouble, and that while the last was
stricken out of heavenly life, the first distinctly remained. It is
pleasant to me to remember that I was allowed to be of more than a
little comfort to those who mourned for me; that it was I who guided
them from despair to endurance, and so through peace to cheerfulness,
and the hearty renewal of daily human content. These visits were for a
long time--excepting the rare occasions on which I met Him who had
spoken to me upon the sea-shore--the deepest delight which was offered
me.

Upon one point I foresee that I shall be questioned by those who have
had the patience so far to follow my recital. What, it will be asked,
was the political constitution of the community you describe? What place
in celestial society has worldly caste?

When I say, strictly none at all, let me not be misunderstood. I
observed the greatest varieties of rank in the celestial kingdom, which
seemed to me rather a close Theocracy than a wild commune. There were
powers above me, and powers below; there were natural and harmonious
social selections; there were laws and their officers; there was
obedience and its dignity; there was influence and its authority; there
were gifts and their distinctions. I may say that I found far more
reverence for differences of rank or influence than I was used to
seeing, at least in my own corner of the earth. The main point was that
the basis of the whole thing had undergone a tremendous change.
Inheritance, wealth, intellect, genius, beauty, all the old passports to
power, were replaced by one so simple yet so autocratic, that I hardly
know how to give any idea at once of its dignity and its sweetness. I
may call this personal holiness. Position, in the new life, I found
depended upon spiritual claims. Distinction was the result of character.
The nature nearest to the Divine Nature ruled the social forces.
Spiritual culture was the ultimate test of individual importance.

I inquired one day for a certain writer of world-wide--I mean of
earth-wide--celebrity, who, I had learned, was a temporary visitor in
the city, and whom I wished to meet. I will not for sufficient reasons
mention the name of this man, who had been called the genius of his
century, below. I had anticipated that a great ovation would be given
him, in which I desired to join, and I was surprised that his presence
made little or no stir in our community. Upon investigating the facts, I
learned that his public influence was, so far, but a slight one, though
it had gradually gained, and was likely to increase with time. He had
been a man whose splendid powers were dedicated to the temporary and
worldly aspects of Truth, whose private life was selfish and cruel, who
had written the most famous poem of his age, but “by all his searching”
had not found out God.

In the conditions of the eternal life, this genius had been obliged to
set itself to learning the alphabet of spiritual truth; he was still a
pupil, rather than a master among us, and I was told that he himself
ardently objected to receiving a deference which was not as yet his due;
having set the might of his great nature as strenuously now to the
spiritual, as once to the intellectual task; in which, I must say, I was
not without expectation that he would ultimately outvie us all.

On the same day when this distinguished man entered and left our city
(having quietly accomplished his errand), I heard the confusion of some
public excitement at a distance, and hastening to see what it meant, I
discovered that the object of it was a plain, I thought in her earthly
life she must have been a poor woman, obscure, perhaps, and timid. The
people pressed towards her, and received her into the town by
acclamation. They crowned her with amaranth and flung lilies in her
path. The authorities of the city officially met her; the people of
influence hastened to beseech her to do honor to their homes by her
modest presence; we crowded for a sight of her, we begged for a word
from her, we bewildered her with our tributes, till she hid her blushing
face and was swept out of our sight.

“But who is this,” I asked an eager passer, “to whom such an
extraordinary reception is tendered? I have seen nothing like it since I
came here.”

“Is it possible you do not know ---- ----?”

My informant gave a name which indeed was not unfamiliar to me; it was
that of a woman who had united to extreme beauty of private character,
and a high type of faith in invisible truths, life-long devotion to an
unpopular philanthropy. She had never been called a “great” woman on
earth. Her influence had not been large. Her cause had never been the
fashion, while she herself was living. Society had never amused itself
by adopting her, even to the extent of a parlor lecture. Her name, so
far as it was familiar to the public at all, had been the synonym of a
poor zealot, a plain fanatic, to be tolerated for her conscientiousness
and--avoided for her earnestness. Since her death, the humane
consecration which she represented had marched on like a conquering army
over her grave. Earth, of which she was not worthy, had known her too
late. Heaven was proud to do honor to the spiritual foresight and
sustained self-denial, as royal as it was rare.

I remember, also, being deeply touched by a sight upon which I chanced,
one morning, when I was strolling about the suburbs of the city, seeking
the refreshment of solitude before the duties of the day began. For,
while I was thus engaged, I met our Master, suddenly. He was busily
occupied with others, and, beyond the deep recognition of His smile, I
had no converse with Him. He was followed at a little distance, as He
was apt to be, by a group of playing children; but He was in close
communion with two whom I saw to be souls newly-arrived from the lower
life. One of these was a man--I should say he had been a rough man, and
had come out of a rude life--who conversed with Him eagerly but
reverently, as they walked on towards the town. Upon the other side, our
Lord held with His own hand the hand of a timid, trembling woman, who
scarcely dared raise her eyes from the ground; now and then she drew His
garment’s edge furtively to her lips, and let it fall again, with the
slow motion of one who is in a dream of ecstasy. These two people, I
judged, had no connection with each other beyond the fact that they were
simultaneous new-comers to the new country, and had, perhaps, both borne
with them either special need or merit, I could hardly decide which. I
took occasion to ask a neighbor, an old resident of the city, and wise
in its mysteries, what he supposed to be the explanation of the scene
before us, and why these two were so distinguished by the favor of Him
whose least glance made holiday in the soul of any one of us. It was
then explained to me, that the man about whom I had inquired was the
hero of a great calamity, with which the lower world was at present
occupied. One of the most frightful railway accidents of this generation
had been averted, and the lives of four hundred helpless passengers
saved, by the sublime sacrifice of this locomotive engineer, who died
(it will be remembered) a death of voluntary and unique torture to save
his train. All that could be said of the tragedy was that it held the
essence of self-sacrifice in a form seldom attained by man. At the
moment I saw this noble fellow, he had so immediately come among us that
the expression of physical agony had hardly yet died out of his face,
and his eye still blazed with the fire of his tremendous deed.

“But who is the woman?” I asked.

“She was a delicate creature--sick--died of the fright and shock; the
only passenger on the train who did not escape.”

I inquired why she too was thus preferred; what glorious deed had she
done, to make her so dear to the Divine Heart?

“She? Ah, she,” said my informant, “was only one of the household
saints. She had been notable among celestial observers for many years.
You know the type I mean--shy, silent--never thinks of herself, scarcely
knows she has a self--toils, drudges, endures, prays; expects nothing of
her friends, and gives all; hopes for little, even from her Lord, but
surrenders everything; full of religious ideals, not all of them
theoretically wise, but practically noble; a woman ready to be cut to
inch pieces for her faith in an invisible Love that has never apparently
given her anything in particular. Oh, you know the kind of woman: has
never had anything of her own, in all her life--not even her own
room--and a whole family adore her without knowing it, and lean upon her
like infants without seeing it. We have been watching for this woman’s
coming. We knew there would be an especial greeting for her. But nobody
thought of her accompanying the engineer. Come! Shall we not follow, and
see how they will be received? If I am not mistaken, it will be a great
day in the city.”



XI.


Among the inquiries that must be raised by my fragmentary recital, I am
only too keenly aware of the difficulty of answering one which I do not
see my way altogether to ignore. I refer to that affecting the domestic
relations of the eternal world.

It will be readily seen that I might not be permitted to share much of
the results of my observation in this direction, with earthly curiosity,
or even earthly anxiety. It is not without thought and prayer for close
guidance that I suffer myself to say, in as few words as possible, that
I found the unions which go to form heavenly homes so different from the
marriage relations of earth, in their laws of selection and government,
that I quickly understood the meaning of our Lord’s few revealed words
as to that matter; while yet I do not find myself at liberty to explain
either the words or the facts. I think I cannot be wrong in adding,
that in a number of cases, so great as to astonish me, the marriages of
earth had no historic effect upon the ties of Heaven. Laws of
affiliation uniting soul to soul in a relation infinitely closer than a
bond, and more permanent than any which the average human experience
would lead to if it were socially a free agent, controlled the
attractions of this pure and happy life, in a manner of which I can only
say that it must remain a mystery to the earthly imagination. I have
intimated that in some cases the choices of time were so blessed as to
become the choices of Eternity. I may say, that if I found it lawful to
utter the impulse of my soul, I should cry throughout the breadth of the
earth a warning to the lightness, or the haste, or the presumption, or
the mistake that chose to love for one world, when it might have loved
for two.

For, let me say most solemnly, that the relations made between man and
woman on earth I found to be, in importance to the individual, second to
nothing in the range of human experience, save the adjustment of the
soul to the Personality of God Himself.

If I say that I found earthly marriage to have been a temporary
expedient for preserving the form of the eternal fact; that freedom in
this as in all other things became in Heaven the highest law; that the
great sea of human misery, swelled by the passion of love on earth,
shall evaporate to the last drop in the blaze of bliss to which no human
counterpart can approach any nearer than a shadow to the sun,--I may be
understood by those for whose sake alone it is worth while to allude to
this mystery at all; for the rest it matters little.

Perhaps I should say, once for all, that every form of pure pleasure or
happiness which had existed upon the earth had existed as a type of a
greater. Our divinest hours below had been scarcely more than
suggestions of their counterparts above. I do not expect to be
understood. It must only be remembered that, in all instances, the
celestial life develops the soul of a thing. When I speak of eating and
drinking, for instance, I do not mean that we cooked and prepared our
food as we do below. The elements of nutrition continued to exist for us
as they had in the earth, the air, the water, though they were available
without drudgery or anxiety. Yet I mean distinctly that the sense of
taste remained, that it was gratified at need, that it was a finer one
and gave a keener pleasure than its coarser prototype below. I mean that
the _soul of a sense_ is a more exquisite thing than what we may call
the body of the sense, as developed to earthly consciousness.

So far from there being any diminution in the number or power of the
senses in the spiritual life, I found not only an acuter intensity in
those which we already possessed, but that the effect of our new
conditions was to create others of whose character we had never dreamed.
To be sure, wise men had forecast the possibility of this fact,
differing among themselves even as to the accepted classification of
what they had, as Scaliger who called speech the sixth sense, or our
English contemporary who included heat and force in his list (also of
six); or more imaginative men who had admitted the conceivability of
inconceivable powers in an order of being beyond the human. Knowing a
little of these speculations, I was not so much surprised at the facts
as overwhelmed by their extent and variety. Yet if I try to explain
them, I am met by an almost insurmountable obstacle.

It is well known that missionaries are often thwarted in their religious
labors by the absence in savage tongues of any words corresponding to
certain ideas such as that of purity or unselfishness. Philologists have
told us of one African tribe in whose language exist six different words
descriptive of murder; none whatever expressive of love. In another no
such word as gratitude can be found. Perhaps no illustration can better
serve to indicate the impediments which bar the way to my describing to
beings who possess but five senses and their corresponding imaginative
culture, the habits or enjoyments consequent upon the development of ten
senses or fifteen. I am allowed to say as much as this: that the growth
of these celestial powers was variable with individuals throughout the
higher world, or so much of it as I became acquainted with. It will be
readily seen what an illimitable scope for anticipation or achievement
is given to daily life by such an evolution of the nature. It should be
carefully remembered that this serves only as a single instance of the
exuberance of what we call everlasting life.

Below, I remember that I used sometimes to doubt the possibility of
one’s being happy forever under any conditions, and had moods in which I
used to question the value of endless existence. I wish most earnestly
to say, that before I had been in Heaven days, Eternity did not seem
long enough to make room for the growth of character, the growth of
mind, the variety of enjoyment and employment, and the increase of
usefulness that practically constituted immortality.

It could not have been long after my arrival at my father’s house that
he took me with him to the great music hall of our city. It was my first
attendance at any one of the public festivals of these happy people,
and one long to be treasured in thought. It was, in fact, nothing less
than the occasion of a visit by Beethoven, and the performance of a new
oratorio of his own, which he conducted in person. Long before the
opening hour the streets of the city were thronged. People with holiday
expressions poured in from the country. It was a gala-day with all the
young folks especially, much as such matters go below. A beautiful thing
which I noticed was the absence of all personal insistence in the crowd.
The weakest, or the saddest, or the most timid, or those who, for any
reason, had the more need of this great pleasure, were selected by their
neighbors and urged on into the more desirable positions. The music
hall, so-called, was situated upon a hill just outside the town, and
consisted of an immense roof supported by rose-colored marble pillars.
There were no walls to the building, so that there was the effect of
being no limit to the audience, which extended past the line of
luxuriously covered seats provided for them, upon the grass, and even
into the streets leading to the city. So perfect were what we should
call below the telephonic arrangement of the community, that those who
remained in their own homes or pursued their usual avocations were not
deprived of the music. My impressions are that every person in the city,
who desired to put himself in communication with it, heard the oratorio;
but I am not familiar with the system by which this was effected. It
involved a high advance in the study of acoustics, and was one of the
things which I noted to be studied at a wiser time.

Many distinguished persons known to you below, were present, some from
our own neighborhood, and others guests of the city. It was delightful
to observe the absence of all jealousy or narrow criticism among
themselves, and also the reverence with which their superiority was
regarded by the less gifted. Every good or great thing seemed to be so
heartily shared with every being capable of sharing it, and all personal
gifts to become material for such universal pride, that one experienced
a kind of transport at the elevation of the public character.

I remembered how it used to be below, when I was present at some musical
festival in the familiar hall where the bronze statue of Beethoven,
behind the sea of sound, stood calmly. How he towered above our poor
unfinished story! As we grouped there, sitting each isolated with his
own thirst, brought to be slaked or excited by the flood of music;
drinking down into our frivolity or our despair the outlet of that
mighty life, it used to seem to me that I heard, far above the passion
of the orchestra, his own high words,--his own music made
articulate,--“_I go to meet Death with joy._”

When there came upon the people in that heavenly audience-room a stir,
like the rustling of a dead leaf upon crusted snow; when the stir grew
to a solemn murmur; when the murmur ran into a lofty cry; when I saw
that the orchestra, the chorus, and the audience had risen like one
breathless man, and knew that Beethoven stood before us, the light of
day darkened for that instant before me. The prelude was well under
way, I think, before I dared lift my eyes to his face.

The great tide swept me on. When upon earth had he created sound like
this? Where upon earth had we heard its like? There he is, one listening
nerve from head to foot, he who used to stand deaf in the middle of his
own orchestra--desolate no more, denied no more forever, all the
heavenly senses possible to Beethoven awake to the last delicate
response; all the solemn faith in the invisible, in the holy, which he
had made his own, triumphant now; all the powers of his mighty nature in
action like a rising storm--there stands Beethoven immortally alive.

What knew we of music, I say, who heard its earthly prototype? It was
but the tuning of the instruments before the eternal orchestra shall
sound. Soul! swing yourself free upon this mighty current. Of what will
Beethoven tell us whom he dashes on like drops?

As the pæan rises, I bow my life to understand. What would he with us
whom God chose to make Beethoven everlastingly? What is the burden of
this master’s message, given now in Heaven, as once on earth? Do we hear
aright? Do we read the score correctly?

“Holy--holy”--

A chorus of angel voices, trained since the time when morning stars sang
together with the sons of God, take up the words:

“Holy, _holy_, HOLY is the Lord.”

       *       *       *       *       *

When the oratorio has ended, and we glide out, each hushed as a hidden
thought, to his own ways, I stay beneath a linden-tree to gather breath.
A fine sound, faint as the music of a dream, strikes my ringing ears,
and, looking up, I see that the leaf above my head is singing. Has it,
too, been one of the great chorus yonder? Did he command the forces of
nature, as he did the seraphs of Heaven, or the powers of earth?

The strain falls away slowly from the lips of the leaf:

“Holy, holy, holy,”--

It trembles, and is still.



XII.


That which it is permitted me to relate to you moves on swiftly before
the thoughts, like the compression in the last act of a drama. The next
scene which starts from the variousness of heavenly delight I find to be
the Symphony of Color.

There was a time in the history of art, below, when this, and similar
phrases, had acquired almost a slang significance, owing to the
affectation of their use by the shallow. I was, therefore, the more
surprised at meeting a fact so lofty behind the guise of the familiar
words; and noted it as but one of many instances in which the earthly
had deteriorated from the ideals of the celestial life.

It seemed that the development of color had reached a point never
conceived of below, and that the treatment of it constituted an art by
itself. By this I do not mean its treatment under the form of painting,
decoration, dress, or any embodiment whatever. What we were called to
witness was an exhibition of color, pure and simple.

This occasion, of which I especially speak, was controlled by great
colorists, some of earthly, some of heavenly renown. Not all of them
were artists in the accepted sense of designers; among them were one or
two select creatures in whom the passion of color had been remarkable,
but, so far as the lower world was concerned, for the great part
inactive, for want of any scientific means of expression.

We have all known the _color natures_, and, if we have had a fine
sympathy, have compassionated them as much as any upon earth, whether
they were found among the disappointed disciples of Art itself, or
hidden away in plain homes, where the paucity of existence held all the
delicacy and the dream of life close prisoners.

Among the managers of this Symphony I should say that I observed, at a
distance, the form of Raphael. I heard it rumored that Leonardo was
present, but I did not see him. There was another celebrated artist
engaged in the work, whose name I am not allowed to give. It was an
unusual occasion, and had attracted attention at a distance. The
Symphony did not take place in our own city, but in an adjacent town, to
which our citizens, as well as those of other places, repaired in great
numbers. We sat, I remember, in a luxurious coliseum, closely darkened.
The building was circular in form; it was indeed a perfect globe, in
whose centre, without touching anywhere the superficies, we were seated.
Air without light entered freely, I know not how, and fanned our faces
perpetually. Distant music appealed to the ear, without engaging it.
Pleasures, which we could receive or dismiss at will, wandered by, and
were assimilated by those extra senses which I have no means of
describing. Whatever could be done to put soul and body in a state of
ease so perfect as to admit of complete receptivity, and in a mood so
high as to induce the loftiest interpretation of the purely æsthetic
entertainment before us, was done in the amazing manner characteristic
of this country. I do not know that I had ever felt so keenly as on this
occasion the delight taken by God in providing happiness for the
children of His discipline and love. We had suffered so much, some of
us, below, that it did not seem natural, at first, to accept sheer
pleasure as an end in and of itself. But I learned that this, like many
other fables in Heaven, had no moral. Live! Be! Do! Be glad! Because He
lives, ye live also. Grow! Gain! Achieve! Hope! _That_ is to glorify Him
and enjoy Him forever. Having fought--rest. Having trusted--know. Having
endured--enjoy. Being safe--venture. Being pure--fear not to be
sensitive. Being in harmony with the Soul of all delights--dare to
indulge thine own soul to the brim therein. Having acquired
holiness--thou hast no longer any broken law to fear. Dare to be happy.
This was the spirit of daily life among us. “Nothing was required of us
but to be natural,” as I have said before. And it “was natural to be
right,” thank God, at last.

Being a new-comer, and still so unlearned, I could not understand the
Color Symphony as many of the spectators did, while yet I enjoyed it
intensely, as an untaught musical organization may enjoy the most
complicated composition. I think it was one of the most stimulating
sights I ever saw, and my ambition to master this new art flashed fire
at once.

Slowly, as we sat silent, at the centre of that great white globe--it
was built of porphyry, I think, or some similar substance--there began
to breathe upon the surface pure light. This trembled and deepened, till
we were enclosed in a sphere of white fire. This I perceived, to
scholars in the science of color, signified distinct thought, as a grand
chord does to the musician. Thus it was with the hundred effects which
followed. White light quivered into pale blue. Blue struggled with
violet. Gold and orange parted. Green and gray and crimson glided on.
Rose--the living rose--blushed upon us, and faltered
under--over--yonder, till we were shut into a world of it, palpitating.
It was as if we had gone behind the soul of a woman’s blush, or the
meaning of a sunrise. Whoever has known the passion for that color will
understand why some of the spectators were with difficulty restrained
from flinging themselves down into it, as into a sea of rapture.

There were others more affected by the purple, and even by the scarlet;
some, again, by the delicate tints in which was the color of the sun,
and by colors which were hints rather than expressions. Marvelous
modifications of rays set in. They had their laws, their chords, their
harmonies, their scales; they carried their melodies and “execution;”
they had themes and ornamentation. Each combination had its meaning. The
trained eye received it, as the trained ear receives orchestra or
oratory. The senses melted, but the intellect was astir. A perfect
composition of color unto color was before us, exquisite in detail,
magnificent in mass. Now it seemed as if we ourselves, sitting there
ensphered in color, flew around the globe with the quivering rays. Now
as if we sank into endless sleep with reposing tints; now as if we
drank of color; then as if we dreamed it; now as if we felt it--clasped
it; then as if we heard it. We were taken into the heart of it; into the
mystery of the June sky, and the grass-blade, the blue-bell, the child’s
cheek, the cloud at sunset, the snowdrift at twilight. The apple-blossom
told us its secret, and the down on the pigeon’s neck, and the plume of
the rose-curlew, and the robin’s-egg, and the hair of blonde women, and
the scarlet passion-flower, and the mist over everglades, and the power
of a dark eye.

It may be remembered that I have alluded once to the rainbow which I saw
soon after reaching the new life, and that I raised a question at the
time as to the number of rays exhibited in the celestial prism. As I
watched the Symphony, I became convinced that the variety of colors
unquestionably far exceeded those with which we were familiar on earth.
The Indian occultists indeed had long urged that they saw fourteen tints
in the prism; this was the dream of the mystic, who, by a tremendous
system of education, claims to have subjected the body to the soul, so
that the ordinary laws of nature yield to his control. Physicists had
also taught us that the laws of optics involved the necessity of other
colors beyond those whose rays were admissible by our present vision;
this was the assertion of that science which is indebted more largely to
the imagination than the worshiper of the Fact has yet arisen from his
prone posture high enough to see.

Now, indeed, I had the truth before me. Colors which no artist’s
palette, no poet’s rapture knew, played upon optic nerves exquisitely
trained to receive such effects, and were appropriated by other senses
empowered to share them in a manner which human language supplies me
with no verb or adjective to express.

As we journeyed home after the Symphony, I was surprised to find how
calming had been the effect of its intense excitement. Without fever of
pulse or rebel fancy or wearied nerve, I looked about upon the peaceful
country. I felt ready for any duty. I was strong for all deprivation. I
longed to live more purely. I prayed to live more unselfishly. I
greatly wished to share the pleasure, with which I had been blessed,
with some denied soul. I thought of uneducated people, and coarse
people, who had yet to be trained to so many of the highest varieties of
happiness. I thought of sick people, all their earthly lives invalids,
recently dead, and now free to live. I wished that I had sought some of
these out, and taken them with me to the Symphony.

It was a rare evening, even in the blessed land. I enjoyed the change of
scene as I used to do in traveling, below. It was delightful to look
abroad and see everywhere prosperity and peace. The children were
shouting and tumbling in the fields. Young people strolled laughing by
twos or in groups. The vigorous men and women busied themselves or
rested at the doors of cosy homes. The ineffable landscape of hill and
water stretched on behind the human foreground. Nowhere a chill or a
blot; nowhere a tear or a scowl, a deformity, a disability, or an evil
passion. There was no flaw in the picture. There was no error in the
fact. I felt that I was among a perfectly happy people. I said, “I am
in a holy world.”

The next day was a Holy Day; we of the earth still called it the
Sabbath, from long habit. I remember an especial excitement on that Holy
Day following the Color Symphony, inasmuch as we assembled to be
instructed by one whom, above all other men that had ever lived on
earth, I should have taken most trouble to hear. This was no other than
St. John the Apostle.

I remember that we held the service in the open air, in the fields
beyond the city, for “there was no Temple therein.” The Beloved Disciple
stood above us, on the rising ground. It would be impossible to forget,
but it is well-nigh impossible to describe, the appearance of the
preacher. I think he had the most sensitive face I ever saw in any man;
yet his dignity was unapproachable. He had a ringing voice of remarkable
sweetness, and great power of address. He seemed more divested of
himself than any orator I had heard. He poured his personality out upon
us, like one of the forces of nature, as largely, and as unconsciously.

He taught us much. He reasoned of mysteries over which we had pored
helplessly all our lives below. He explained intricate points in the
plan of human life. He touched upon the perplexities of religious faith.
He cast a great light backward over the long, dim way by which we had
crept to our present blessedness. He spoke to us of our deadliest
doubts. He confirmed for us our patient belief. He made us ashamed of
our distrust and our restlessness. He left us eager for faith. He gave
vigor to our spiritual ideals. He spoke to us of the love of God, as the
light speaks of the sun. He revealed to us how we had misunderstood Him.
Our souls cried out within us, as we remembered our errors. We gathered
ourselves like soldiers as we knew our possibilities. We swayed in his
hands as the bough sways in the wind. Each man looked at his neighbor as
one whose eyes ask: “Have I wronged thee? Let me atone.” “Can I serve
thee? Show me how.” All our spiritual life arose like an athlete, to
exercise itself; we sought hard tasks; we aspired for far prizes; we
turned to our daily lives like new-created beings; so truly we had kept
Holy Day. When the discourse was over, there followed an anthem sung by
a choir of child-angels hovering in mid-air above the preacher, and
beautiful exceedingly to the sight and to the ear. “God,” they sang, “is
Love--_is_ Love--is LOVE.” In the refrain we joined with our own awed
voices.

The chant died away. All the air of all the worlds was still. The
beloved Disciple raised his hand in solemn signal. A majestic Form
glided to his side. To whom should the fisherman of Galilee turn with a
look like _that_? Oh, grace of God! what a smile was there! The Master
and Disciple stand together; they rise above us. See! He falls upon his
knees before that Other. So we also, sinking to our own, hide our very
faces from the sight.

Our Lord steps forth, and stands alone. To us in glory, as to them of
old in sorrow, He is the God made manifest. We do not lift our bowed
heads, but we feel that He has raised His piercéd hands above us, and
that His own lips call down the Benediction of His Father upon our
eternal lives.



XIII.


My father had been absent from home a great deal, taking journeys with
whose object he did not acquaint me. I myself had not visited the earth
for some time; I cannot say how long. I do not find it possible to
divide heavenly time by an earthly calendar, and cannot even decide how
much of an interval, by human estimates, had been indeed covered by my
residence in the Happy Country, as described upon these pages.

My duties had called me in other directions, and I had been exceedingly
busy. My father sometimes spoke of our dear hearts at home, and reported
them as all well; but he was not communicative about them. I observed
that he took more pains than usual, or I should say more pleasure than
usual, in the little domestic cares of our heavenly home. Never had it
been in more perfect condition. The garden and the grounds were looking
exquisitely. All the trifling comforts or ornaments of the house were to
his mind. We talked of them much, and wandered about in our leisure
moments, altering or approving details. I did my best to make him happy,
but my own heart told me how lonely he must be despite me. We talked
less of her coming than we used to do. I felt that he had accepted the
separation with the unquestioning spirit which one gains so deeply in
Heaven; and that he was content, as one who trusted, still to wait.

One evening, I came home slowly and alone. My father had been away for
some days. I had been passing several hours with some friends, who, with
myself, had been greatly interested in an event of public importance. A
messenger was needed to carry certain tidings to a great astronomer,
known to us of old on earth, who was at that time busied in research in
a distant planet. It was a desirable embassy, and many sought the
opportunity for travel and culture which it gave. After some delay in
the appointment, it was given to a person but just arrived from below:
a woman not two days dead. This surprised me till I had inquired into
the circumstances, when I learned that the new-comer had been on earth
an extreme sufferer, bed-ridden for forty years. Much of this time she
had been unable even to look out of doors. The airs of Heaven had been
shut from her darkened chamber. For years she had not been able to
sustain conversation with her own friends, except on rare occasions.
Possessed of a fine mind, she had been unable to read, or even to bear
the human voice in reading. Acute pain had tortured her days.
Sleeplessness had made horror of her nights. She was poor. She was
dependent. She was of a refined organization. She was of a high spirit,
and of energetic temperament. Medical science, holding out no cure,
assured her that she might live to old age. She lived. When she was
seventy-six years old, death remembered her. This woman had sometimes
been inquired of, touching her faith in that Mystery which we call God.
I was told that she gave but one answer; beyond this, revealing no more
of experience than the grave itself, to which, more than to any other
simile, her life could be likened.

“Though He slay me,” she said, “I will trust.”

“But, do you never doubt?”

“I _will_ trust.”

To this rare spirit, set free at last and re-embodied, the commission of
which I have spoken was delegated; no one in all the city grudged her
its coveted advantages. A mighty shout rose in the public ways when the
selection was made known. I should have thought she might become
delirious with the sudden access of her freedom, but it was said that
she received her fortune quietly, and, slipping out of sight, was away
upon her errand before we saw her face.

The incident struck me as a most impressive one, and I was occupied with
it, as I walked home thoughtfully. Indeed, I was so absorbed that I went
with my eyes cast down, and scarcely noticed when I had reached our own
home. I did not glance at the house, but continued my way up the
winding walk between the trees, still drowned in my reverie.

It was a most peaceful evening. I felt about me the fine light at which
I did not look; that evening glow was one of the new colors,--one of the
heavenly colors that I find it impossible to depict. The dog came to
meet me as usual; he seemed keenly excited, and would have hurried me
into the house. I patted him absently as I strolled on.

Entering the house with a little of the sense of loss which, even in the
Happy World, accompanies the absence of those we love, and wondering
when my father would be once more with me, I was startled at hearing his
voice--no, voices; there were two; they came from an upper chamber, and
the silent house echoed gently with their subdued words.

I stood for a moment listening below; I felt the color flash out of my
face; my heart stood still. I took a step or two
forward--hesitated--advanced with something like fear. The dog pushed
before me, and urged me to follow. After a moment’s thought I did so,
resolutely.

The doors stood open everywhere, and the evening air blew in with a
strong and wholesome force. No one had heard me. Guided by the voices of
the unseen speakers I hurried on, across the hall, through my own room,
and into that sacred spot I have spoken of, wherein for so many solitary
years my dear father had made ready for her coming who was the joy of
his joy, in Heaven, as she had been on earth.

For that instant, I saw all the familiar details of the room in a blur
of light. It was as if a sea of glory filled the place. Across it, out
beyond the window, on the balcony which overlooked the hill-country and
the sea, stood my father and my mother, hand in hand.

She did not hear me, even yet. They were talking quietly, and were
absorbed. Uncertain what to do, I might even have turned and left them
undisturbed, so sacred seemed that hour of theirs to me; so separate in
all the range of experience in either world, or any life. But her heart
warned her, and she stirred, and so saw me--my dear mother--come to us,
at last.

Oh, what arms can gather like a mother’s, whether in earth or Heaven?
Whose else could be those brooding touches, those raining tears, those
half-inarticulate maternal words? And for her, too, the bitterness is
passed, the blessedness begun. Oh, my dear mother! My dear mother! I
thank God I was the child appointed to give you welcome--thus....

       *       *       *       *       *

“And how is it with Tom,--poor Tom!”

“He has grown such a fine fellow; you cannot think. I leaned upon him.
He was the comfort of my old age.”

“Poor Tom!”

“And promises to make such a man, dear! A good boy. No bad habits, yet.
Your father is so pleased that he makes a scholar.”

“Dear Tom! And Alice?”

“It was hard to leave Alice. But she is young. Life is before her. God
is good.”

“And you, my dearest, was it hard for you at the last? Was it a long
sickness? Who took care of you? Mother! did you suffer _much_?”

“Dear, I never suffered any. I had a sudden stroke I think. I was
sitting by the fire with the children. It was vacation and Tom was at
home. They were all at home. I started to cross the room, and it grew
dark. I did not know that I was dead till I found I was standing there
upon the balcony, in your father’s arms.”

“I had to tell her what had happened. She wouldn’t believe me at the
first.”

“Were you with her all the time below?”

“All the time; for days before the end.”

“And you brought her here yourself, easily?”

“All the way, myself. She slept like a baby, and wakened--as she says.”



XIV.


But was it possible to feel desolate in Heaven? Life now filled to the
horizon. Our business, our studies, and our pleasures occupied every
moment. Every day new expedients of delight unfurled before us. Our
conceptions of happiness increased faster than their realization. The
imagination itself grew, as much as the aspiration. We saw height beyond
height of joy, as we saw outline above outline of duty. How paltry
looked our wildest earthly dream! How small our largest worldly deed!
One would not have thought it possible that one could even want so much
as one demanded here; or hope so far as one expected now.

What possibilities stretched on; each leading to a larger, like
newly-discovered stars, one beyond another; as the pleasure or the
achievement took its place, the capacity for the next increased.
Satiety or its synonyms passed out of our language, except as a
reminiscence of the past. See, what were the conditions of this eternal
problem. Given: a pure heart, perfect health, unlimited opportunity for
usefulness, infinite chance of culture, home, friendship, love; the
elimination from practical life of anxiety and separation; and the
intense spiritual stimulus of the presence of our dear Master, through
whom we approached the mystery of God--how incredible to anything short
of experience the sum of happiness!

I soon learned how large a part of our delight consisted in
anticipation; since now we knew anticipation without alloy of fear. I
thought much of the joys in store for me, which yet I was not perfected
enough to attain. I looked onward to the perpetual meeting of old
friends and acquaintances, both of the living and the dead; to the
command of unknown languages, arts, and sciences, and knowledges
manifold; to the grandeur of helping the weak, and revering the strong;
to the privilege of guarding the erring or the tried, whether of earth
or heaven, and of sharing all attainable wisdom with the less wise, and
of even instructing those too ignorant to know that they were not wise,
and of ministering to the dying, and of assisting in bringing together
the separated. I looked forward to meeting select natures, the
distinguished of earth or Heaven; to reading history backward by contact
with its actors, and settling its knotty points by their evidential
testimony. Was I not in a world where Loyola, and Jeanne d’Arc, or
Luther, or Arthur, could be asked questions?

I would follow the experiments of great discoverers, since their advent
to this place. What did Newton, and Columbus, and Darwin in the eternal
life?

I would keep pace with the development of art. To what standard had
Michael Angelo been raising the public taste all these years?

I would join the fragments of those private histories which had long
been matter of public interest. Where, and whose now, was Vittoria
Colonna?

I would have the _finales_ of the old Sacred stories. What use had been
made of the impetuosity of Peter? What was the private life of Saint
John? With what was the fine intellect of Paul now occupied? What was
the charm in the Magdalene? In what sacred fields did the sweet nature
of Ruth go gleaning? Did David write the new anthems for the celestial
chorals? What was the attitude of Moses towards the Persistence of
Force? Where was Judas? And did the Betrayed plead for the betrayer?

I would study the sociology of this explanatory life. Where, if
anywhere, were the Cave-men? In what world, and under what educators,
were the immortal souls of Laps and Bushmen trained? What social
position had the early Christian martyrs? What became of Caligula, whose
nurse, we were told, smeared her breasts with blood, and so developed
the world-hated tyrant from the outraged infant? Where was Buddha, “the
Man who knew”? What affectionate relation subsisted between him and the
Man who Loved?

I would bide my time patiently, but I, too, would become an experienced
traveler through the spheres. Our Sun I would visit, and scarlet Mars,
said by our astronomers below to be the planet most likely to contain
inhabitants. The colored suns I would observe, and the nebulæ, and the
mysteries of space, powerless now to chill one by its reputed
temperature, said to be forever at zero. Where were the Alps of Heaven?
The Niagara of celestial scenery? The tropics of the spiritual world?
Ah, how I should pursue Eternity with questions!

What was the relation of mechanical power to celestial conditions? What
use was made of Watts and Stevenson?

What occupied the ex-hod-carriers and cooks?

Where were all the songs of all the poets? In the eternal accumulation
of knowledge, what proportion sifted through the strainers of spiritual
criticism? What _were_ the standards of spiritual criticism? What became
of those creations of the human intellect which had acquired
immortality? Were there instances where these figments of fancy had
achieved an eternal existence lost by their own creators? Might not one
of the possible mysteries of our new state of existence be the fact of a
world peopled by the great creatures of our imagination known to us
below? And might not one of our pleasures consist in visiting such a
world? Was it incredible that Helen, and Lancelot, and Sigfried, and
Juliet, and Faust, and Dinah Morris, and the Lady of Shalott, and Don
Quixote, and Colonel Newcome, and Sam Weller, and Uncle Tom, and Hester
Prynne and Jean Valjean existed? could be approached by way of holiday,
as one used to take up the drama or the fiction, on a leisure hour, down
below?

Already, though so short a time had I been in the upper life, my
imagination was overwhelmed with the sense of its possibilities. They
seemed to overlap one another like the molecules of gold in a ring,
without visible juncture or practical end. I was ready for the
inconceivable itself. In how many worlds should I experience myself? How
many lives should I live? Did eternal existence mean eternal variety of
growth, suspension, renewal? Might youth and maturity succeed each other
exquisitely? Might individual life reproduce itself from seed, to
flower, to fruit, like a plant, through the cycles? Would childhood or
age be a matter of personal choice? Would the affectional or the
intellectual temperaments at will succeed each other? Might one try the
domestic or the public career in different existences? Try the bliss of
love in one age, the culture of solitude in another? Be oneself yet be
all selves? Experience all glories, all discipline, all knowledge, all
hope? Know the ecstasy of assured union with the one creature chosen out
of time and Eternity to complement the soul? And yet forever pursue the
unattainable with the rapture and the reverence of newly-awakened and
still ungratified feeling?

Ah me! was it possible to feel desolate even in Heaven?

I think it may be, because I had been much occupied with thoughts like
these; or it may be that, since my dear mother’s coming, I had been,
naturally, thrown more by myself in my desire to leave those two
uninterrupted in their first reunion--but I must admit that I had lonely
moments, when I realized that Heaven had yet failed to provide me with a
home of my own, and that the most loving filial position could not
satisfy the nature of a mature man or woman in any world. I must admit
that I began to be again subject to retrospects and sadnesses which had
been well brushed away from my heart since my advent to this place. I
must admit that in experiencing the immortality of being, I found that I
experienced no less the immortality of love.

Had I to meet that old conflict _here_? I never asked for everlasting
life. Will He impose it, and not free me from _that_? God forgive me!
Have I evil in my heart still? Can one sin in Heaven? Nay, be merciful,
be merciful! I will be patient. I will have trust. But the old nerves
are not dead. The old ache has survived the grave.

Why was this permitted, if without a cure? Why had death no power to
call decay upon that for which eternal life seemed to have provided no
health? It had seemed to me, so far as I could observe the heavenly
society, that only the fortunate affections of preëxistence survived.
The unhappy, as well as the imperfect, were outlived and replaced.
Mysteries had presented themselves here, which I was not yet wise enough
to clear up. I saw, however, that a great ideal was one thing which
never died. The attempt to realize it often involved effects which
seemed hardly less than miraculous.

But for myself, events had brought no solution of the problems of my
past; and with the tenacity of a constant nature I was unable to see any
for the future.

I mused one evening, alone with these long thoughts. I was strolling
upon a wide, bright field. Behind me lay the city, glittering and glad.
Beyond, I saw the little sea which I had crossed. The familiar outline
of the hills uprose behind. All Heaven seemed heavenly. I heard distant
merry voices and music. Listening closely, I found that the Wedding
March that had stirred so many human heart-beats was perfectly performed
somewhere across the water, and that the wind bore the sounds towards
me. I then remembered to have heard it said that Mendelssohn was himself
a guest of some distinguished person in an adjacent town, and that
certain music of his was to be given for the entertainment of a group of
people who had been deaf-mutes in the lower life.

As the immortal power of the old music filled the air, I stayed my steps
to listen. The better to do this, I covered my eyes with my hands, and
so stood blindfold and alone in the midst of the wide field.

The passion of earth and the purity of Heaven--the passion of Heaven and
the deferred hope of earth--what loss and what possession were in the
throbbing strains!

As never on earth, they called the glad to rapture. As never on earth,
they stirred the sad to silence. Where, before, had soul or sense been
called by such a clarion? What music was, we used to dream. What it is,
we dare, at last, to know.

And yet--I would have been spared this if I could, I think, just now.
Give me a moment’s grace. I would draw breath, and so move on again, and
turn me to my next duty quietly, since even Heaven denies me, after all.

I would--what would I? Where am I? Who spoke, or stirred? WHO called me
by a name unheard by me of any living lip for almost twenty years?

In a transport of something not unlike terror, I could not remove my
hands from my eyes, but still stood, blinded and dumb, in the middle of
the shining field. Beneath my clasped fingers, I caught the radiance of
the edges of the blades of grass that the low breeze swept against my
garment’s hem; and strangely in that strange moment, there came to me,
for the only articulate thought I could command, these two lines of an
old hymn:

“Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood
Stand dressed in living green.”

“Take down your hands,” a voice said quietly. “Do not start or fear. It
is the most natural thing in the world that I should find you. Be calm.
Take courage. Look at me.”

Obeying, as the tide obeys the moon, I gathered heart, and so, lifting
my eyes, I saw him whom I remembered standing close beside me. We two
were alone in the wide, bright field. All Heaven seemed to have
withdrawn to leave us to ourselves for this one moment.

I had known that I might have loved him, all my life. I had never loved
any other man. I had not seen him for almost twenty years. As our eyes
met, our souls challenged one another in silence, and in strength. I was
the first to speak:

“_Where is she?_”

“Not with me.”

“When did you die?”

“Years ago.”

“I had lost all trace of you.”

“It was better so, for all concerned.”

“Is she--is she”--

“She is on earth, and of it; she has found comfort long since; another
fills my place. I do not grieve to yield it. Come!”

“But I have thought--for all these years--it was not right--I put the
thought away--I do not understand”--

“Oh, come! I, too, have waited twenty years.”

“But is there no reason--no barrier--are you sure? God help me! You have
turned Heaven into Hell for me, if this is not right.”

“Did I ever ask you to give me one pitying thought that was not right?”

“Never, God knows. Never. You helped me to be right, to be noble. You
were the noblest man I ever knew. I was a better woman for having known
you, though we parted--as we did.”

“Then do you trust me? Come!”

“I trust you as I do the angels of God.”

“And I love you as His angels may. Come!”

“For how long--am I to come?”

“Are we not in Eternity? I claim you as I have loved you, without limit
and without end. Soul of my immortal soul! Life of my eternal life!--Ah,
come.”



XV.


And yet so subtle is the connection in the eternal life between the
soul’s best moments and the Source of them, that I felt unready for my
joy until it had His blessing whose Love was the sun of all love, and
whose approval was sweeter than all happiness.

Now, it was a part of that beautiful order of Heaven, which we ceased to
call accident, that while I had this wish upon my lips, we saw Him
coming to us, where we still stood alone together in the open field.

We did not hasten to meet Him, but remained as we were until He reached
our side; and then we sank upon our knees before Him, silently. God
knows what gain we had for the life that we had lost below. The pure
eyes of the Master sought us with a benignity from which we thanked the
Infinite Mercy that our own had not need to droop ashamed. What weak,
earthly comfort could have been worth the loss of a moment such as this?
He blesses us. With His sacred hands He blesses us, and by His blessing
lifts our human love into so divine a thing that this seems the only
life in which it could have breathed.

       *       *       *       *       *

By-and-by, when our Lord has left us, we join hands like children, and
walk quietly through the dazzling air, across the field, and up the
hill, and up the road, and home. I seek my mother, trembling, and clasp
her, sinking on my knees, until I hide my face upon her lap. Her hands
stray across my hair and cheek.

“What is the matter, Mary?--_dear_ Mary!”

“Oh, Mother, I have Heaven in my heart at last!”

“Tell me all about it, my poor child. Hush! There, there! my dear!”

“_Your poor child?_ ... Mother! What _can_ you mean?”--

       *       *       *       *       *

What can she mean, indeed? I turn and gaze into her eyes. My face was
hidden in her lap. Her hands stray across my hair and cheek.

“_What is the matter, Mary?--dear Mary!_”

“_Oh, Mother, I have Heaven in my heart at last!_”

“_Tell me all about it, my poor child. Hush! There, there! my dear!_”

“_Your poor child? Mother!_ _What_ CAN _this mean_?”

       *       *       *       *       *

She broods and blesses me, she calms and gathers me. With a mighty cry,
I fling myself against her heart, and sob my soul out, there.

“You are better, child,” she says. “Be quiet. You will live.”

Upon the edge of the sick-bed, sitting strained and weary, she leans to
comfort me. The night-lamp burns dimly on the floor behind the door. The
great red chair stands with my white woollen wrapper thrown across the
arm. In the window the magenta geranium droops freezing. Mignonette is
on the table, and its breath pervades the air. Upon the wall, the cross,
the Christ, and the picture of my father look down.

The doctor is in the room; I hear him say that he shall change the
medicine, and some one, I do not notice who, whispers that it is thirty
hours since the stupor, from which I have aroused, began. Alice comes
in, and Tom, I see, has taken Mother’s place, and holds me--dear
Tom!--and asks me if I suffer, and why I look so disappointed.

Without, in the frosty morning, the factory-bells are calling the poor
girls to their work. The shutter is ajar, and through the crack I see
the winter day dawn on the world.

                   *       *       *       *       *

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