I was many hundred miles away from home and friends, and had been very ill for many weeks. I was entirely among strangers, and my only attendant, though of a kindly disposition, knew nothing whatever of the duties of the sick room; hence I had none of the many delicate attentions that keep up an invalid’s failing strength. I had taken no nourishment of any kind for nearly three weeks, scarcely even water, and was greatly reduced in both flesh and strength, and consciousness seemed at times to wholly desert me. I had an unutterable longing for the presence of my dear distant ones; for the gentle touch of beloved hands, and whispered words of love and courage; but they never came—they could not. Responsible duties, that I felt must not be neglected, kept these dear ones much of the time in distant scenes, and I would not recall them.
I lay in a large, comfortable room, on the second floor of a house in Kentville. The bed stood in a recess at one end of the apartment, and from this recess a large stained-glass window opened upon a veranda fronting on the street. During much of my illness I lay with my face to this window, and my back to the room; and I remember thinking how easy it would be to pass through the window to the veranda, if one so desired.
When the longing for the loved distant faces and voices became more than I could bear, I prayed that the dear Christ would help me to realize his blessed presence; and that since the beloved ones of earth could not minister to me, I might feel the influence of the other dear ones who are “all ministering spirits.” Especially did I ask to be sustained should I indeed be called to pass through the dark waters alone. It was no idle prayer, and the response came swiftly, speedily. All anxieties and cares slipped away from me, as a worn-out garment, and peace, Christ’s peace, enfolded me. I was willing to wait God’s time for the coming of those so dear to me, and said to myself, more than once, “If not here, it will be there; there is no fear of disappointment there.” In those wonderful days of agonized suffering, and great peace, I felt that I had truly found, as never before, the refuge of “the Everlasting Arms.” They lifted me; they upbore me; they enfolded me; and I rested in them, as a tired child upon its mother’s bosom.
One morning, dark and cold and stormy, after a day and night of intense suffering, I seemed to be standing on the floor by the bed, in front of the stained-glass window. Someone was standing by me, and, when I looked up, I saw it was my husband’s favorite brother, who “crossed the flood” many years ago.
“My dear brother Frank!” I cried out joyously, “how good of you to come!”
“It was a great joy to me that I could do so, dear little sister,” he said gently. “Shall we go now?” and he drew me toward the window.
I turned my head and looked back into the room that somehow I felt I was about to leave forever. It was in its usual good order: a cheery, pretty room. The attendant sat by the stove at the further end, comfortably reading a newspaper; and on the bed, turned toward the window, lay a white, still form, with the shadow of a smile on the poor, worn face. My brother-in-law drew me gently, and I yielded, passing with him through the window, out on to the veranda, and from thence, in some unaccountable way, down to the street. There I paused and said earnestly: “I cannot leave Will and our dear boy.”
“They are not here, dear, but hundreds of miles away,” he answered.
“Yes, I know, but they will be here. Oh, Frank, they will need me—let me stay!” I pleaded.
“Would it not be better if I brought you back a little later—after they come?” he said, with a kind smile.
“Would you surely do so?” I asked.
“Most certainly, if you desire it. You are worn out with the long suffering, and a little rest will give you new strength.”
I felt that he was right, said so in a few words, and we started slowly up the street. He had drawn my hand within his arm, and endeavored to interest me, as we walked. But my heart clung to the dear ones whom I felt I was not to see again on earth, and several times I stopped and looked wistfully back the way we had come. He was very patient and gentle with me, waiting always till I was ready to proceed again; but at last my hesitation became so great that he said pleasantly:
“You are so weak I think I had better carry you;” and without waiting for a reply, he stooped and lifted me in his arms, as though I had been a little child; and, like a child, I yielded, resting my head upon his shoulder, and laying my arm around his neck. I felt so safe, so content, to be thus in his care. It seemed so sweet, after the long, lonely struggle, to have someone assume the responsibility of caring thus tenderly for me.
He walked on with firm, swift steps, and I think I must have slept; for the next I knew, I was sitting in a sheltered nook, made by flowering shrubs, upon the softest and most beautiful turf of grass, thickly studded with fragrant flowers, many of them the flowers I had known and loved on earth. I remember noticing heliotrope, violets, lilies of the valley and mignonette, with many others of like nature wholly unfamiliar to me. But even in that first moment I observed how perfect in its way was every plant and flower. For instance, the heliotrope, which with us often runs into long, ragged sprays, there grew upon short, smooth stems, and each leaf was perfect and smooth and glossy, instead of being rough and coarse-looking; and the flowers peeped up from the deep grass, so like velvet, with sweet, happy faces, as though inviting the admiration one could not withhold.
And what a scene was that on which I looked as I rested upon this soft, fragrant cushion, secluded and yet not hidden! Away, away—far beyond the limit of my vision, I well knew—stretched this wonderful sward of perfect grass and flowers; and out of it grew equally wonderful trees, whose drooping branches were laden with exquisite blossoms and fruits of many kinds. I found myself thinking of St. John’s vision in the Isle of Patmos, and “the tree of life” that grew in the midst of the garden, bearing “twelve manners of fruits, and whose leaves were for the healing of the nations.”
Beneath the trees, in many happy groups, were little children, laughing and playing, running here and there in their joy, and catching in their tiny hands the bright-winged birds that flitted in and out among them, as though sharing in their sports, as they doubtless were. All through the grounds, older people were walking, sometimes in groups, sometimes by twos, sometimes alone, but all with an air of peacefulness and happiness that made itself felt by even me, a stranger. All were in spotless white, though many wore about them or carried in their hands clusters of beautiful flowers. As I looked upon their happy faces and their spotless robes, again I thought, “These are they who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Look where I would, I saw, half hidden by the trees, elegant and beautiful houses of strangely attractive architecture, that I felt must be the homes of the happy inhabitants of this enchanted place. I caught glimpses of sparkling fountains in many directions, and close to my retreat flowed a river, with placid breast and water clear as crystal. The walks that ran in many directions through the grounds appeared to me to be, and I afterward found were, of pearl, spotless and pure, bordered on either side by narrow streams of pellucid water, running over stones of gold.
The one thought that fastened itself upon me as I looked, breathless and speechless, upon this scene, was, “Purity, purity!” No shadow of dust; no taint of decay on fruit or flower; everything perfect, everything pure. The grass and flowers looked as though fresh-washed by summer showers, and not a single blade was any color but the brightest green. The air was soft and balmy, though invigorating; and instead of sunlight there was a golden and rosy glory everywhere; something like the afterglow of a Southern sunset in midsummer.
As I drew in my breath with a short, quick gasp of delight, I heard my brother-in-law, who was standing beside me, say softly, “Well?” and, looking up, I discovered that he was watching me with keen enjoyment. I had, in my great surprise and delight, wholly forgotten his presence. Recalled to myself by his question, I faltered: “Oh, Frank, that I—” when such an overpowering sense of God’s goodness and my own unworthiness swept over me that I dropped my face into my hands, and burst into uncontrollable and very human weeping.
“Ah!” said my brother-in-law, in a tone of self-reproach, “I am inconsiderate.” And lifting me gently to my feet, he said, “Come, I want to show you the river.”
When we reached the brink of the river, but a few steps distant, I found that the lovely lawn ran even to the water’s edge, and in some places I saw the flowers blooming placidly down in the depths, among the many-colored pebbles with which the entire bed of the river was lined.
“I want you to see these beautiful stones,” said my brother-in-law, stepping into the water and urging me to do the same.
I drew back timidly, saying, “I fear it is cold.”
“Not in the least,” he said, with a reassuring smile. “Come.”
“Just as I am?” I said, glancing down at my lovely robe, which, to my great joy, I found was similar to those of the dwellers in that happy place.
“Just as you are,” with another reassuring smile.
Thus encouraged, I, too, stepped into the ‘gently flowing river,’ and to my great surprise found the water, in both temperature and density, almost identical with the air. Deeper and deeper grew the stream as we passed on, until I felt the soft, sweet ripples playing about my throat. As I stopped, my brother-in-law said, “A little farther still.”
“It will go over my head,” I contended.
“Well, and what then?”
“I cannot breathe under the water—I will suffocate.”
An amused twinkle came into his eyes, though he said soberly enough, “We do not do those things here.”
I realize the absurdity of my position, and with a happy laugh said, “All right; come on,” and plunged headlong into the bright water, which soon bubbled and rippled several feet above my head. To my surprise and delight, I found I could not only breathe, but laugh and talk, see and hear, as naturally under the water as above it. I sat down in the midst of the many-colored pebbles, and filled my hands with them, as a child would have done. My brother-in-law lay down upon them, as he would have done on the velvety lawn, and laughed and talked joyously with me.
“Do this,” he said, rubbing his hands over his face, and running his fingers through his dark hair.
I did as he told me, and the sensation was delightful. I threw back my loose sleeves and rubbed my arms, then my throat, and again thrust my fingers through my long, loose hair, thinking at the time what a tangle it would be in when I left the water. Then the thought came, as we at last arose to return, “What are we to do for towels?” for the earth-thoughts still clung to me; and I wondered, too, if the lovely robe was not entirely spoiled. But as we neared the shore and my head once more emerged from the water, the moment the air struck my face and hair I realized that I would need no towel or brush. My flesh, my hair, and even my beautiful garments, were soft and dry as before the water touched them. The material out of which my robe was fashioned was unlike anything that I had ever seen. It was soft and light and shone with a faint luster, reminding me more of silk crepe than anything I could recall, only infinitely more beautiful. It fell about me in soft, graceful folds, which the water seemed to have rendered even more lustrous than before.
“What marvelous water! What wonderful air!” I said to my brother-in-law, as we again stepped upon the flowery lawn. “Are all the rivers here like this one?”
“Not just the same, but similar,” he replied.
We walked on a few steps, and then I turned and looked back at the shining river flowing on tranquilly. “Frank, what has that water done for me?” I said. “I feel as though I could fly.”
He looked at me with earnest, tender eyes, as he answered gently, “It has washed away the last of the earth-life, and fitted you for the new life upon which you have entered.”
“It is divine!” I whispered.
“Yes, it is divine,” he said.
We walked on for some distance in silence, my heart wrestling with the thoughts of the new, strange life, my eyes drinking in fresh beauty at every step. The houses, as we approached and passed them, seemed wondrously beautiful to me. They were built of the finest marbles, encircled by broad verandas, the roofs or domes supported by massive or delicate pillars or columns; and winding steps led down to the pearl and golden walks. The style of the architecture was unlike anything I had ever seen, and the flowers and vines that grew luxuriantly everywhere surpassed in beauty even those of my brightest dreams. Happy faces looked out from these columned walls, and happy voices rang upon the clear air, from many a celestial home.
“Frank, where are we going?” at length I asked.
“Home, little sister,” he answered tenderly.
“Home? Have we a home, my brother? Is it anything like these?” I asked, with a wild desire in my heart to cry out for joy.
“Come and see,” was his only answer as he turned into a side path leading toward an exquisitely beautiful house whose columns of very light gray marble shone through the green of the overhanging trees with most inviting beauty. Before I could join him, I heard a well-remembered voice saying close beside me, “I just had to be the first to bid you welcome!” and looking around, I saw the dearly-beloved face of my old-time friend, Mrs. Wickham.
“Oh! Oh!” I cried, as we met in a warm embrace.
“You will forgive me, Colonel Sprague,” she said a moment later, giving her hand cordially to my brother-in-law. “It seems unpardonable to intercept you thus, in almost the first hour; but I heard that she was coming, and I could not wait. But now that I have looked upon her face and heard her dear voice, I will be patient till I can have her for a long, long talk.”
“You must come in and see her now,” said my brother-in-law cordially.
“Do, do come!” I urged.
“No, dear friends, not now. You know, dear little Blossom,” (the old pet name for me years ago) “we have all eternity before us! But you will bring her to me soon, Colonel Sprague?” she said.
“Just as soon as I may, dear madam,” he replied, with an expressive look into her eyes.
“Yes, I understand,” she said softly, with a sympathetic glance at me. Then with a warm hand-clasp, and the parting injunction, “Come very soon,” she passed swiftly out of my sight.
“Blessed woman!” I said. “What a joy to meet her again!”
“Her home is not far away; you can often see her. She is indeed a lovely woman. Now, come, little sister, I long to give you welcome to our home,” saying which, he took my hand and led me up the low steps on to the broad veranda, with its beautiful inlaid floor of rare and costly marbles, and its massive columns of gray, between which, vines covered with rich, glossy leaves of green were intermingled with flowers of exquisite color and delicate perfume hanging in heavy wreaths. We paused a moment here, that I might see the charming view presented on every side.
“It is heavenly!” I said.
“It is heavenly,” he answered. “It could not be otherwise.”
I smiled my acknowledgment of this truth—my heart was too full for words.
“The entire house, both below and above, is surrounded by these broad verandas. But come within.”
He led me through a doorway, between the marble columns, into a large reception hall, whose inlaid floor, multi-paneled window, and broad, low stairway at the far end at once held my fancy. Before I could speak, my brother-in-law turned to me, and taking both my hands, said, “Welcome, a thousand welcomes, dearest sister, to your heavenly home!”
“Is this beautiful place indeed to be my home?” I asked as well as my emotion would allow.
“Yes, dear,” he replied. “I built it for you and my brother, and I assure you it has been a labor of love.”
“It is your home, and I am to stay with you?” I said, a little confused.
“No, it is your home, and I am to stay with you till my brother comes.”
“Always, dear brother, always!” I cried, clinging to his arm.
He smiled and said, “We will enjoy the present; we will never be far apart again. But come, I am eager to show you all.”
Turning to the left, he led me, still through the beautiful marble columns that everywhere seemed substituted for doorways, into a large, oblong room, upon whose threshold I stopped in wondering delight. The entire walls and floor of the room were still of that exquisite light gray marble, polished to the greatest luster; but over walls and floors were strewn exquisite, long-stemmed roses, of every variety and color, from the deepest crimson to the most delicate shades of pink and yellow.
“Come inside,” said my brother-in-law.
“I do not wish to crush those perfect flowers,” I answered.
“Well, then, suppose we gather some of them.”
I stooped to take one from the floor close to my feet, when lo! I found it was imbedded in the marble. I tried another with the same astonishing result; then turning to my brother-in-law, I said, “What does it mean? You surely do not tell me that none of these are natural flowers?”
He nodded his head with a pleased smile, then said, “This room has a history. Come in and sit with me here upon this window-seat where you can see the whole room, and let me tell you about it.” I did as he desired, and he continued: “One day as I was busily working upon the house, a company of young people, boys and girls, came to the door and asked if they might enter. I gladly gave assent, and then one of them said, ‘Is this house really for Mr. and Mrs. Sprague?’
“‘It is,’ I answered.
“‘We used to know and love them. They are our friends, and the friends of our parents, and we want to know if we may not do something to help you make it beautiful?’
“‘Indeed you may,’ I said, touched by the request. ‘What can you do?’
“We were here at the time, and looking about, one of them asked, ‘May we beautify this room?’
“‘Undoubtedly,’ I said, wondering what they would try to do.
“At once the girls, all of whom had immense bunches of roses in their hands, began to throw the flowers all over the floor and against the walls. Wherever they struck the walls, they, to even my surprise, remained as though in some way permanently attached. When the roses had all been scattered, the room looked just as it does now, only the flowers were really fresh-gathered roses. Then the boys each produced a small case of delicate tools, and in a moment all, boys and girls, were down upon the marble floor and busy at work. How they did it I do not know—it is one of the celestial arts, taught to those of highly artistic tastes—but they embedded each living flower just where and as it had fallen, in the marble, and preserved it as you see before you. They came several times before the work was completed, for the flowers do not wither here nor fade but are always fresh and perfect. And such a merry, happy company of young people, I never saw before. They laughed and chatted and sang as they worked; and I could not help wishing more than once that the friends whom they had left mourning for them might look in upon this happy group and see how little cause they had for sorrow. At last when all was complete, they called me to see their work, and I shared my appreciation for the beauty of the work and for their skill in performing it. Then, saying they would be sure to return when either of you came, they went away together, to do something of the kind elsewhere, I doubt not.”
Happy tears had been dropping upon my hands, clasped idly in my lap, during much of this narrative, and now I asked half-brokenly, for I was greatly touched, “Who were these lovely people, Frank? Do you know them?”
Of course, I know them now; but they were all strangers to me till they came here that first morning, except Lulu Sprague.”
“Who are they?”
“There were three Marys—Mary Green, Mary Bates, Mary Chalmers; Lulu Sprague and Mae Camden. These were the girls, each lovely and beautiful. The boys, all manly, fine fellows, were Carroll Ashland, Stanley and David Chalmers.”
“Precious children!” I said, “How little I thought my love for them in the olden days would ever bring to me this added happiness here! How little we know of the links binding the two worlds!”
“Ah, yes!” said my brother-in-law, “that is just it. How little we know! If only we could realize, while we are yet mortals, that day by day we are building for eternity, how different our lives in many ways would be! Every gentle word, every generous thought, every unselfish deed, will become a pillar of eternal beauty in the life to come. We cannot be selfish and unloving in one life and generous and loving in the next. The two lives are too closely blended—one but a continuation of the other. But come now to the library.”
Rising, we crossed the room that would always hold for me such tender associations and entered the library.
It was a glorious apartment—the walls lined from ceiling to floor with rare and costly books. A large, stained-glass window opened upon the front veranda; and two large bow-windows, not far apart, were in the back of the room. A semicircular row of shelves, supported by very delicate pillars of gray marble about six feet high, extended some fifteen feet into the spacious main room and cut it into two sections lengthwise, each with one of the bowed windows in the back, leaving still a large space beyond the dividing line, where the two sections united again into one. The concave side of the semicircle of shelves was toward the entrance of the room; and close to it, not far removed from the bowed window, stood a beautiful writing desk, with everything ready for use; and upon it was a chaste golden bowl filled with scarlet carnations of whose spicy odor I had been dimly conscious for some time.
“My brother’s desk,” said Frank.
“And his favorite flowers,” I added.
“Yes, that follows. Here we never forget the tastes and preferences of those we love.”
It is not to be supposed that these details were at once noticed by me, but they unfolded to me gradually as we lingered, talking together. My first sensation upon entering the room was genuine surprise at the sight of the books, and my first words were, “Why, have we books in heaven?”
“Why not?” asked my brother-in-law. “What strange ideas we mortals have of the pleasures and duties of this blessed life! We seem to think that death of the body means an entire change to the soul. But that is not the case, by any means. We bring to this life the same tastes, the same desires, the same knowledge we had before death. If these were not sufficiently pure and good to form a part of this life, then we ourselves may not enter. What would be the use of spending years pursuing worthy and legitimate knowledge, if at death it all counts as nothing, and we begin this life on a wholly different line of thought and study? No, no; would that all could understand, as I said before, that we are building for eternity during our earthly life! The purer the thoughts, the nobler the ambitions, the loftier the aspirations, the higher the rank we take among the hosts of heaven; the more earnestly we follow the studies and duties in our life of probation, the better fitted we shall be to carry them forward, on and on to completion and perfection here.”
“But the books—who writes them? Are any of them books we knew and loved below?”
“Undoubtedly, many of them; all, indeed, that in any way helped to elevate the human mind or immortal soul. Many of the rarest minds in the earth-life, upon entering on this higher life, gain such elevated and extended views of the subjects that have been with them lifelong studies that, that they pursue them with zest and write out for the benefit of those less gifted, the higher, stronger views they have themselves acquired; thus they remain leaders and teachers in this heavenly life, as they were while yet in the world. Would we really expect the great soul who has uplifted so many lives while on earth to lay his pen aside when his clear brain and great heart have read the mystery of the higher knowledge? Not so. When he has learned his lessons well, he will write them out for the benefit of others, less gifted, who must follow. Leaders there must always be, in this divine life, as in the former life—leaders and teachers in many varied lines of thought. But all this knowledge will come to you simply and naturally as you grow into the new life.”
After a short rest in this lovely room among the books, my brother-in-law took me through all the remaining rooms of the house; each perfect and beautiful in its way, and each distinctly and imperishably photographed upon my memory. Of only one other will I speak at this time. As he drew aside the gauzy gray draperies, lined with the most delicate shade of amber, which hung before the columned doorway of a lovely room on the second floor of the house, he said: “Your own special place for rest and study.”
The entire second story of the house, instead of being finished in gray marble as was the first floor, was finished with inlaid woods of fine, satiny texture and rare polish; and the room we now entered was exquisite both in design and finish. It was oblong in shape, with a large bowed window at one end, similar to those in the library, a portion of which was directly beneath this room. Within this window, on one side, stood a writing desk of solid ivory, with silver appointments; and opposite was a case of well-filled bookshelves of the same material. Among the books I found afterward many of my favorite authors. Rich rugs, silver-gray in color, lay scattered over the floor, and all the hangings in the room were of the same delicate hue and texture as those at the entrance. The framework of the furniture was of ivory; the upholstering of chairs and ottomans of silver-gray cloth, with the finish of finest satin; and the pillows and covering of the dainty couch were of the same. A large bowl of wrought silver stood upon the table near the front window, filled with pink and yellow roses, whose fragrance filled the air. Several other rare vases were also filled with roses. The entire apartment was beautiful beyond description; but I had seen it many times before I was fully able to comprehend its perfect completeness.
Only one picture hung upon the walls, and that was a life-size portrait of the Christ, just opposite the couch. It was not an artist’s conception of the human Christ, bowed under the weight of the sins of the world, nor yet the thorn-crowned head of the crucified Savior of mankind; but the likeness of the living Master, of Christ the victorious, of Christ the crowned. The wonderful eyes looked directly and tenderly into your own, and the lips seemed to pronounce the benediction of peace. The ineffable beauty of the divine face seemed to illumine the room with a holy light, and I fell upon my knees and pressed my lips to the sandaled feet so truthfully portrayed upon the canvas, while my heart cried, “Master, beloved Master and Savior!” It was long before I could fix my attention on anything else; my whole being was full of adoration and thanksgiving for the great love that had guided me into this haven of rest, this wonderful home of peace and joy.
After some time spent in this delightful place, we passed through the open window onto the marble terrace. A stairway of artistically finished marble wound gracefully down from this terrace to the lawn beneath the trees, no pathway of any kind approaching at its foot – only the flowery turf. The fruit-laden branches of the trees hung within easy reach from the terrace, and I noticed seven varieties as I stood there that morning. One kind resembled our fine Bartlett pear, only much larger, and infinitely more delicious to the taste, as I soon found. Another variety was in clusters, the fruit also pear-shaped, but smaller than the former, and of a consistency and flavor similar to the finest frozen cream. A third, something like a banana in shape, they called bread-fruit; it was not unlike our dainty finger-rolls to the taste. It seemed to me at the time, and really proved to be so, that in variety and excellence, food here was provided without labor or care. My brother-in-law gathered some of the different varieties and bade me try them. I did so with much relish and refreshment. Once the rich juice from the pear-like fruit (whose distinctive name I have forgotten, if indeed I ever knew it) ran out profusely over my hands and the front of my dress. “Oh!” I cried, “I’m afraid I have ruined my dress!”
My brother-in-law laughed genially, as he said, “Show me the stains.”
To my amazement I could not find a single spot.
“Look at your hands,” he said.
I found them clean and fresh, as though just from the bath.
“What does it mean? My hands were covered with the think juice of the fruit.”
“Simply,” he answered, “that no impurity can remain for an instant in this air. Nothing decays, nothing tarnishes, or in any way disfigures or mars the universal purity of beauty of the place. As fast as the fruit ripens and falls, all that is not immediately gathered at once evaporates, not even the seed remaining.”
I had noticed that no fruit lay beneath the trees – this, then, was the reason for it.
“‘And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth,’” I quoted thoughtfully.
“Yes, even so,” he answered; “even so.”
We descended the steps and again entered the “flower-room.” As I stood once more admiring the inlaid roses, my brother-in-law asked: “Of all the friends you have in heaven, whom do you most wish to see?”
“My father and mother,” I answered quickly.
He smiled so significantly that I hastily turned, and there, advancing up the long room to meet me, I saw my dear father and mother, and with them my youngest sister. With a cry of joy, I flew into my father’s outstretched arms, and heard, with a thrill of joy, his dear, familiar “My precious little daughter!”
“At last! At last!” I cried, clinging to him. “At last I have you again!”
“At last!” he echoed, with a deep-drawn breath of joy. Then he resigned me to my dear mother, and we were soon clasped in each other’s embrace.
“My precious mother!” “My dear, dear child!” we cried simultaneously; and my sister enfolding us both in her arms, exclaimed with a happy laugh, “I cannot wait! I will not be left outside!” and disengaging one arm, I threw it about her into the happy circle of our united love.
Oh, what an hour was that! I did not dream that even heaven could hold such joy. After a time my brother-in-law, who had shared our joy, said:
“Now, I can safely leave you for a few hours to this blessed reunion, for I have other work before me.”
“Yes,” said my father, “you must go. We will with joyfully take charge of our dear child.”
“Then for a brief while good-by,” said my brother-in-law kindly.
“Do not forget that rest, especially to one but recently entered upon the new life, is not only one of the pleasures, but one of the duties of heaven.”
“Yes, we will see that she does not forget that,” said my father, with a kindly smile and glance.
Soon after my brother-in-law’s departure my mother said, grasping my hand: “Come, I am eager to have you in our own home;” and we all passed out of the rear entrance, walked a few hundred yards across the soft turf, and entered a lovely home, somewhat similar to our own, yet still unlike it in many details. It also was built of marble, but darker than that of my brother-in-law’s home. Every room spoke of modest refinement and cultivated taste, and the home air about it was at once delightfully perceptible. My father’s study was on the second floor, and the first thing I noticed on entering was the luxuriant branches and flowers of an old-fashioned hundred-leafed rose tree, that covered the window by his desk.
“Ah!” I cried, “I can almost imagine myself in your old study at home, when I look at that window.”
“Is it not a reminder?” he said, laughing happily. “I almost think sometimes it is the same dear old bush, transplanted here.”
“And it is still your favorite flower?” I queried.
He nodded his head, and smilingly said: “I see you still remember the childhood days.” And he patted my cheek as I gathered a rose and fastened it upon his robe.
“It seems to me this ought to be your home, dear; it is our father’s home,” said my sister wistfully.
“No,” my father quickly interposed. “Colonel Sprague is her legitimate guardian and instructor. It is a wise and admirable arrangement. He is in every way the most suitable instructor she could possibly have. Our Father never errs.”
“Doesn’t my brother-in-law have a lovely character?” I asked.
“Lovely indeed; and he stands very near to the Master. Few have a clearer knowledge of the Divine Will, hence few are better fitted for instructors. But I, too, have duties that call me away for a time. How blessed to know there can never again be long separations! You will have two homes now, dear child—your own and ours.”
“Yes, yes!” I said. “I shall be here, I suspect, almost as much as there.”
At this moment a swift messenger approached my father and spoke a few low words.
“Yes, I shall go at once,” he replied, and, waving his hand in adieu, departed with the angelic guide.
“Where do my father’s duties mostly lie?” I asked my mother.
“He is usually called to those who enter life with little preparation—that which on earth we call death-bed repentance. You know what wonderful success he always had in winning souls to Christ; and these poor spirits need to be taught from the very beginning. They enter the spirit-life in its lowest phase, and it is your father’s pleasant duty to lead them upward step by step. He is devoted to his work and greatly beloved by those he thus helps. He often allows me to accompany him and labor with him, and that is such a pleasure to me! And do you know”— with an indescribable look of happiness—“I forget nothing now!”
It had been her great burden, for some years before her death, that memory failed her sadly, and I could understand and sympathize with her present delight.
“Dear heart!” I cried, folding my arms tenderly about her, “then it is like the early years of your married life again?”
“Precisely,” she answered joyously.
A little later my sister drew me tenderly aside and whispered, “Tell me of my boy, of my precious son. I often see him; but we are not always permitted to know as much of the earthly life as we once believed we should. The Father’s tender wisdom metes out to us the knowledge he sees is best, and we are content to wait his time for more. All you can tell would not be denied me. Is he surely, surely coming to me sometime? Shall I hold my darling boy in my arms again?”
“I am sure—yes, I am sure you will. Your memory is very precious to him.”
Then I told her all I could recall of the son with whom she had parted while he was but a child—now grown into manhood, honored and loved, with home and wife and son to comfort and bless him.
“Then I can wait,” she said, “if he is sure to come to me at last, when his earthly work is done, bringing his wife and son. How I shall love them too!”
At this moment, I felt myself encircled by tender arms, and a hand was gently laid on my eyes.
“Who is it?” someone whispered softly.
“Oh, I know the voice, the touch!—dearest, dearest Nell!” I cried, and, turning quickly, threw my arms about the neck of my only brother.
He gathered me warmly to his heart a moment, then in his old-time playful way lifted me quite off my feet in his strong arms, saying: “She has not grown an inch; and is not, I believe, a day older than when we last parted! Is she, Jo?” turning to our sister.
“It does not seem so,” said my sister, “but I thought she would never come.”
“Trust her for that!” he said. “But come, now; they have had you long enough for the first visit—the rest of us want you for awhile. Come with us, Jodie. Mother, I may have them both for a little time, may I not? or will you come, too?” turning to our mother with a caressing touch.
“I cannot go, dear boy; I must be here when your father returns. Take your sisters; it is a blessed sight to see you all together again.”
“Come then,” he said; and, each taking one of my hands, we went out together.
“Halt!” he suddenly called, in his old-time military fashion, after a short walk, and we stopped abruptly in front of a dainty house built of the finest polished woods. It was beautiful both in architecture and finish.
“How lovely!” I cried; and with a bow of charming humility he said: “The home of your humble servant. Enter.”
I paused a moment on the wide veranda to examine a vine, wreathed about the graceful columns of highly-polished wood, and my brother laughingly said to my sister: “She is the same old Sis! We will not get much good out of her until she has learned the name of every flower, vine and plant in heaven.”
“Yes, you will,” I said, shaking my head at his happy face, “but I mean to utilize you whenever I can; I have so much to learn.”
“So you shall, dear,” he answered gently. “But come in.”
Stepping inside a lovely vestibule, out of which opened, from every side, spacious rooms, he called softly “Alma!” At once from one of these, a fair woman approached us.
“My dear child!” I said, “it does not seem possible! You were but a child when I last saw you.”
“She is still her father’s girl,” said my brother, with a fond look. “She and Carrie, whom you never saw, make a blessed home for me. Where is your sister, daughter?”
“She is at the great music-hall. She has a very rich voice that she is cultivating,” Alma said, turning to me. “We were going to find our aunt when she returned,” she added.
“True, true,” said my brother, “but come.”
Then they showed me the lovely home, perfect and charming in every detail. When we came out upon a side veranda, I saw we were so near an adjoining house that we could easily step from one veranda to the other.
“There!” said my brother, lightly lifting me over the intervening space. “There is someone here you will wish to see.” Before I could question him, he led me through the columned doorway, saying, “People in heaven are never ‘not at home’ to their friends.”
The house we entered was almost identical in construction and finish with that of my brother Nell, and, as we entered, three persons came eagerly forward to greet me.
“Dear Aunt Gray!” I cried. “My dear Mary—my dear Martin! What a joy to meet you again!”
“And here,” said my aunt reverently.
“Yes, here,” I answered in like tone.
It was my father’s sister, always a favorite aunt, with her son and his wife. How we did talk and cling to one another, and ask and answer questions!
“Pallas is also here, and Will, but they have gone with Carrie to the music hall,” said Martin.
“Martin, can you sing here?” I asked. He was always trying to sing on earth, but could not master a tune.
“A little,” he answered, with his old genial laugh and shrug; “we can do almost anything here that we really try to do.”
“You should hear him now, cousin, when he tries to sing,” said his wife, with a little touch of pride in her voice. “You would not know it was Martin. But is it not nice to have Dr. Nell so near us? We are almost one household, you see. All felt that we must be together.”
“It is indeed,” I answered, “although you no longer need him in his professional capacity.”
“No, thanks to the Father; but we need him quite as much in many other ways.”
“I would rather think I am the one to be grateful,” said my brother. “But, sister, I promised Frank that you should go to your own room awhile; he thought it wise that you should be alone for a time. Shall we go now?”
“I am ready,” I answered, “though these delightful reunions leave no desire for rest.”
“How blessed,” said my aunt, “that there is no limit here to our mutual enjoyment! We have nothing to dread, nothing to fear. We know at parting that we shall meet again. We shall often see each other, my child.”
Then my brother went with me to my own home, and, with a loving embrace, left me at the door of my room.
Once within, I lay down upon my couch to think over the events of this wonderful day; but, looking upward at the divine face above me, I forgot all else, and, Christ’s peace enfolding me like a mantle, I became “as one whom his mother comforteth.” While I lay in this blissful rest, my brother-in-law Frank returned, and, without arousing me, bore me in his strong arms again to earth. I did not know, when he left us in our home, upon what mission he was going, though my father knew it was to return to my dear husband and accompany him upon his sad journey to his dead wife; to comfort and sustain and strengthen him in those first lonely hours of sorrow. They deemed it best, for wise reasons, that I should wait awhile before returning, and taste the blessedness of the new life, thus gaining strength for the trial before me.
When I aroused from my sleep it was in the gray light of earth’s morning, and I was standing on the door-step of the house in Kentville that my brother-in-law and I had left together, some thirty-six hours before, reckoned by earth-time. I shuddered a little with a strange chill when I saw where we were, and turned quickly to my brother-in-law Frank, who stood beside me. He put his arm about me, and with a reassuring smile, said: “For their sakes be brave and strong, and try to make them understand your blessed change.”
I did not try to answer, though I took heart, and entered with him into the house. Everything was very quiet – no one seemed astir. My brother-in-law softly opened a door immediately to the right of the entrance, and motioned me to enter. I did so, and he closed it behind me, remaining himself outside.
Something stood in the center of the room, and I soon discovered that it was a pall. It was a great relief to me to see that it was not black, but a soft shade of gray. Someone was kneeling beside it, and as I slowly approached I saw it was my dear son. He was kneeling upon one knee, with his elbow resting on the other knee, and his face buried in his hand. One arm was thrown across the casket, as though he were taking a last embrace of his “little mother.” I saw that the form within the casket lay as though peacefully sleeping, and was clad in silver gray, with soft white folds about the neck and breast. I was grateful that they had remembered my wishes so well.
I put my arms about the neck of my darling son, and drew his head gently against my breast, resting my cheek upon his bowed head. Then I whispered, “Dearest, I am here beside you – living, breathing, strong and well. Will you not turn to me, instead of to that lifeless form in the casket? It is only the worn out tenement – I am your living mother.”
He lifted his head as though listening; then, laying his hand tenderly against the white face in the casket he whispered, “Poor, dear little mother!” and again dropped his face into both hands, while his form shook with convulsive sobs.
As I strove to comfort him, the door opened and his lovely young wife entered. I turned to meet her as she came slowly towards us. Midway in the room we met, and, taking both her hands tenderly in mine, I whispered, “Comfort him, darling girl, as only you can; he needs human love.”
She paused a moment irresolutely, looking directly into my eyes, then passed on and knelt beside him, laying her upturned face against his shoulder. I saw his arm steal around her and draw her closely to him, then I passed from the room, feeling comforted that they were together.
Outside the door, I paused an instant, then, slowly ascending the stairs, I entered the once familiar room, whose door was standing ajar. All remained as when I had left it, save that no still form lay upon the white bed. As I expected, I found my precious husband in this room. He sat near the bay window, his arm resting upon the table, and his eyes bent sorrowfully upon the floor. When I entered the room my brother-in-law Frank arose from a chair close beside him and passed by, with a sympathetic look at me. I immediately went to my dear husband, put my arms about him, and whispered: “Darling! Darling, I am here!”
He stirred restlessly without changing his position.
Virginia said, as though continuing a conversation, “I am sure she would say you left nothing undone that could possibly be done for her.”
“She is right,” I whispered.
“Still she was alone in the end,” he moaned.
“Yes dear, but who could know it was the end? She sank so suddenly under the pain. What can I say to comfort you? Oh, Will, come home with us! She would want you to, I am sure.”
He shook his head sadly, while the tears were in his eyes, as he said: “Work is my only salvation. I must go back in a very few days.”
She said no more, and he leaned back wearily in his easy-chair. I crept more closely to him and suddenly his arms closed about me. I whispered, “There, dear, do you not see that I am really with you?”
He was very still, and the room was very quiet but for the ticking of my little clock still standing upon the dressing-case. Presently I knew by his regular breathing that he had found a short respite from his sorrow. I slipped gently from his arms and went to my friend, kneeling beside her, and folding my arms about her. “Virginia, Virginia! You know I am not dead! Why do you grieve?”
She looked over at the worn face of the man before her, then dropped her face into her hand, whispering, as though she had heard me and would answer: “Oh Rebecca darling, how could you leave him?”
“I am here, dearest! Do realize that I am here!”
She did not heed me, but sat absorbed in sorrowful thought.
A few minutes later, a stranger entered the room, and in a low voice said something about its being “near train time,” and brought my husband his hat. He arose and gave his arm to Virginia, and our son and his wife meeting them at the door, they started to descend the stairs. Just then, my husband paused and cast one sorrowful glance around the room, his face white with pain. Our dear daughter stepped quickly to him, and, placing both arms about his neck, drew his face down to hers. (“God bless her in all things!” I softly prayed.) An instant they stood thus, then stifling his emotion, they all passed down the stairs into the room I had first entered.
I kept very close to my dear husband, and never for a single instant left him through all the solemn and impressive services; through the sad journey to our old home; the last rites at the grave, the after-meeting with friends; and his final return to the weary routine of labor. How thankful I was that I had been permitted to taste, during that wonderful day in heaven, the joys of the blessed life! How else could I have ever passed calmly through those trying scenes, and witnessed the sorrow of those so dear to my heart? I recognized the wisdom and mercy of the Father in having so ordered it.
I soon found that my husband was right; work was his great refuge. During the day, the routine of labor kept brain and hands busy, leaving the heart but little opportunity to indulge its sorrow. Night was his trying time. Kind friends would stay with him till bedtime; after that he was alone. He would turn restlessly on his pillow, and often arise and go into the adjoining room that had formerly been mine, and gaze upon the vacant bed with tearful eyes. It took all my powers to soothe and quiet him a little. After a time my brother-in-law Frank and I arranged to spend alternate nights with him, that he might never be alone, and we were especially with him upon his journeys. We found to our great joy that our influence over him was hourly growing stronger, and we were able to guide and help him in many ways.
One night as I was silently sitting beside him while he slept, many months after he was alone, I became conscious that evil threatened him. He was sleeping very peacefully, and I knew his dreams were happy ones by the smile upon his dear face. I passed into the hall of the hotel where he was staying, and found it dense with smoke. I hastened back to him and called, and tried to shake him, but he slept on peacefully. Then I called with all my strength, “Will!” close to his ear.
Instantly he started up and said, “Yes dear, I am coming!” just as he used to do when I called at night. Then in a moment he sank back with a sigh upon his pillow, murmuring, “What a vivid dream! I never heard her voice more distinctly in life.”
“Will!” I again called, pulling him by the hand with all my strength, “rise quickly! Your life is in danger!”
In an instant, he was out of bed, upon his feet, and hurriedly drawing on his clothes. “I am sure I cannot tell why I am doing this,” he muttered to himself. “I only feel that I must! That surely was her voice I heard.”
“Hurry! Hurry!” I urged.
He opened the door and met, not only the smoke, but tongues of flame.
“Do not try the stairway – come!” and I drew him past the stairway, and through a narrow entrance to a second hall beyond, and down a second flight of stairs, filled with smoke, but as yet no flame. Another flight still below these, then into the open air, where he staggered, faint and exhausted, onto the sidewalk, and was quickly helped by friends into a place of safety.
“I am sure I cannot tell what wakened me,” he afterward said to a friend. “I dreamed I heard my wife calling me, and before I knew it I was dressing myself.”
“You did hear her, I have no doubt,” she said. “Are they not ‘all ministering spirits, sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation’? What lovelier service could she do than to thus save the life of one so dear to her, whose earth-work was not yet done? Yes, you did hear her call you in time to escape. Thank God for such ministrations.”
“Yes, it must be so,” he answered, with a happy look. “Thank God indeed.”
After this, he yielded much more readily to our influence, and thus began to enjoy, while yet upon earth, the reunion that so surely awaited us in the blessed life. I also often went to the home of our dear children, but there was so much to make them happy that they did not need me as their father did. Sometimes in hours of great physical prostration, especially during the absence of his wife, I found that I could quiet the overwrought nerves of my dear son, and lead his tired mind to restful thoughts; but with youth and strength and love to support him, the time had not yet come when my ministrations were essential.