As the days passed I found my desires often led me to the sacred lake, sometimes alone, sometimes with one or more of my own family circle – my revered father and precious mother, my dear brother and sister, and many beloved friends both within and without the bond of kinship. It was always to me an inspiration and an uplifting. I never could grow sufficiently familiar with it to overcome the first great awe with which it inspired me; but I found that the oftener I bathed or floated and slept in its translucent current, the stronger I grew in spirit, and the more clearly I comprehended the mysteries of the world about me.
My almost daily time with the dear ones of our home life from whom I had so long been separated, served to restore to me the home feeling that had been the greatest solace of my mortal life; and I began to realize that this was indeed the true life, instead of that probationary life which we had always regarded as such. I think it was the day after my return from my first visit to earth, that, as I had started to cross the lawn lying between my father’s house and our own, I heard my name being called in affectionate tones. I turned and saw approaching me a tall, fine-looking man, whose uncovered head was silvery white, and whose deep blue eyes looked happily and tenderly into mine, as he drew near.
“Oliver!” I cried with outstretched hands of welcome, “dear, dear Oliver!” It was the husband of my eldest sister, always dearly loved.
“I did not know that you had come, until a few moments ago, when our father told me. It is delightful to have you here; it seems more like the old life to see you than any of the others who are here – we were together so much during the last years of my stay,” he said, grasping my hands warmly. “Where are you going now? Can you not come with me awhile? I was thinking only a few days ago how much I wished you could be here a little while before Lu came; you know here tastes so well. And now here you are! So often our unspoken wishes are gratified in heaven!”
“Is my sister coming soon?” I asked a little later.
“I cannot say for sure; but you know the years of the earth-life are passing, and her coming cannot be much longer delayed. Can you come with me now?”
“Gladly,” I said, turning to walk with him.
“It is only a little way from here,” he said. “Just where the river bends. Lu loves the water so, I chose that spot in preference to one even nearer your home.”
“This is truly enchanting!” I cried, as we drew near the place. “I have not been this way before.”
“I want you to see the river from her room windows,” he said; “I know you will enjoy it.”
We entered the truly beautiful house, built of the purest white granite, so embedded in the foliage of the flower-laden trees that from some points only glimpses of its fine proportions could be seen.
“She loves flowers so much – will she not enjoy these trees?” he asked with almost boyish delight.
“Beyond everything,” I answered.
We passed through several delightful rooms on the lower floor, and, ascending the stairway, which in itself was a dream of beauty, entered the room he was so anxious I should see. I stopped upon the threshold with an exclamation of delight, while he stood watching with keen enjoyment the expression on my face.
“It is the most delightful room I ever saw!” I cried enthusiastically.
The framework of couches, chairs and desk was of pure and spotless pearl, upholstered in dim gold; soft rugs and draperies everywhere; and through the low window, opening upon the flower-wreathed balcony, so enchanting a view of the broad, smooth river below, that again I caught my breath in delight. A thousand exquisite tints from the heavens above were reflected upon the tranquil waters, and a boat floating on the current was perfectly mirrored in the opaline-tinted ripples. Far across the shining waters the celestial hills arose, with domes and pillared temples and sparkling fountains perceptible everywhere. When at last I turned from this entrancing view, I saw on the opposite wall, smiling down upon me, the same Divine face that I daily looked upon in my own room at home.
We descended the stairs without a word, then I could only falter: “Only heaven could give such perfection in everything!”
Oliver pressed my hand sympathetically, and let me depart without a word.
Many months, by earthly time, had passed since that day, and many times I had visited that lovely home and held sweet converse with one I loved so well. I could suggest nothing that would add to the beauty of the place, but we talked of it together, and planned for and anticipated the joy of her coming.
One day I found him absent, and though I waited long for his return, he didn’t show up. I had not seen him for several days, and concluded he had been sent upon some mission by the Master. As I passed onward to our home, I met a group of happy young girls and boys, of different ages, hastening the way I had come, with their arms full of most beautiful flowers. As they drew near I saw they were the grandchildren of my dear sister – Stanley and Mary and David and Lee and little Ruth. As soon as they saw me, they all with one accord began to shout joyfully:
“Grandma is coming! Grandma is coming! We are raking flowers to scatter everywhere! We are so glad!”
“How do you know she is coming, children? I have just been to the house – no one is there!”
“But she is coming,” said little Lee. “We had a message from grandpa, and he is to bring her.”
“Then I will tell the others, and we will all come to welcome her,” I said.
With a great joy in my heart I hastened onward to my father’s house. I found them awaiting me, full of joyful expectation.
“Yes, we also have had word,” my father said, “and were only awaiting your return, that we might go together.”
“Then I will go for brother Frank, that he also may accompany us,” I said.
“He is here!” said a genial voice; and, looking up, I saw him at the door.
“Colonel Sprague is always present when he is needed,” said my father cordially.
So we set forth, a goodly company, to welcome this dearly loved one to her home – my father, my mother, and my sister Jodie; my brother the doctor, and his two fair daughters; my Aunt Gray, her son Martin, and his wife and daughter; my brother-in-law Frank and I.
As we approached the house we heard the sound of joyous voices, and looking in, we saw my sister standing in the room, her husband’s arm about her, and the happy grandchildren thronged around them, like humming-birds among the flowers. But what was this? Could this radiant creature, with smooth brow and happy eyes, be the pale, worn out woman I had last seen, so bowed with suffering and sorrow? I looked with eager eyes. Yes, it was my sister; but as she was full thirty years ago, with the bloom of health upon her face, and the light of youth in her tender eyes. I drew back into the shadow of the vines and let the others precede me, for my heart was full of a strange, triumphant joy. This truly was the “victory over death” so surely promised by our risen Lord. I watched the happy greetings, and the way she took each beloved one into her arms. When, one by one, she had greeted and embraced them all. Then she turned and looked around, whispering to my father: “Is not my little sister here?”
I could wait no longer, but, hastening to her side, cried: “Dearest, I am here! Welcome! Welcome!”
She folded me to her heart and held me fast in her warm arms; she showered me with kisses upon my upturned face, while I returned each loving caress, and laughed and cried for very gladness that she had come at last. Oh, what a family reunion was that inside the walls of heaven! And how its bliss was heightened by the sure knowledge (not the hope) that there should be no partings for us ever again!
My brother-in-law Oliver looked on with proud and happy eyes. The hour for which he had longed and waited had come to him at last; his home-life would now be complete forevermore. I told him how I had waited for him that day, and he said, “We saw you as you left the house, but were too distant to call you. I had taken her into the river, and she had looked at and admired the house very greatly before she knew it was our home.”
“What did she do when she saw her lovely room?”
“Cried like a child, and clung to me, and said, ‘this more than repays us for the lost home of earth!’ If the children had not come, I think she would have been at that window still!” he said, laughing happily.
“I am glad you had her all to yourself at the first,” I whispered; “you deserve that happiness, dear, if any man ever did.”
He smiled gratefully, and looked over at his wife, where she stood the center of a happy group.
“Does she not look very young to you Oliver?” I asked.
“The years rolled from her like a mask, as we sat beneath the water in the river. Ah, truly in those life-giving waters we do all ‘renew our youth’; but she became at once uncommonly fair and young.”
“Her coming has brought youth likewise to you,” I said, noting his fresh complexion and his sparkling eyes; “but I hope it will not change your silver hair, for that is to you a crown of glory.”
He looked at me a moment critically, then said: “I wonder if you realize the change that has likewise come to you in this wonderful climate?”
“Me?” I said, a little startled at the thought; “I confess I have not once thought of my personal appearance. I realize what, through the Father’s mercy, this life has done for me spiritually, but as for the other, I have never given it an instant’s thought.”
“The change is fully as great in your case as in Lu’s, though with you the change has been more gradual,” he said.
I felt a strange thrill of joy that when my dear husband should come to me, he would find me with the freshness and comeliness of our earlier years. It was a sweet thought, and my heart was full of gratitude to the Father for this further evidence of his loving care. So we talked together as the hours sped, until my father said: “Come, children; we must not forget that this dear daughter of mine needs rest this first day in her new home. Let us leave her and her happy husband to their new-found bliss.”
So with light hearts we went our way, and left them to spend their first hours in heaven together.
After we had left my parents and friends on our return from our welcome to my sister, my brother-in-law hastened away upon some mission, and I walked on alone toward the sacred lake. I felt the need of a rest in its soothing waters after the exciting scenes through which I had passed. Before now, I had visited the lake in the early morning hours; it was now in the afternoon and but few persons lingered on the shore. The boats that sped across its calm surface seemed to be filled rather with those intent upon some duty than simply pleasure-seekers.
I walked slowly down into the water, and soon found myself floating, as at former times, in mid-current. The wonderful prismatic rays that in the early morning were such a marvel, now blended into a golden glory, with different shades of rose and purple flashing their splendor. To me it seemed even more beautiful than the rainbow tints; just as the mature joys of our earthly life cast into shadow, somewhat, the more evanescent pleasures of youth. I could but wonder what its evening glories would be, and resolved to come at some glowing twilight and see if they would not remind me of the calm hours of life’s closing day.
I heard the chimes from the silver bell of the great city ringing an anthem as I lay, and its notes seemed to chant clearly: “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God Almighty!” The waters took up the song and a thousand waves about me responded, “Holy! Holy! Holy!”
The notes seemed to “vibrate,” if I may use the expression, upon the waves, producing a wondrously harmonious effect. The front row in the battalion of advancing waves softly chanted, “Holy” as they passed onward; immediately the second roll of waves took up the word that the first seemed to have dropped as it echoed the second “Holy” in the divine chorus; then it, too, passed onward to take up the second note as the third advancing column caught the first; and so it passed and echoed from wave to wave, until it seemed millions of tiny waves about me had taken up and were bearing their part in this grand crescendo—this wonderful anthem. Language fails me—I cannot hope to convey to others this experience as it came to me. It was grand, wonderful, overpowering. I lay and listened until my whole being was filled with the divine melody, and I seemed to be a part of the great chorus; then I, too, lifted up my voice and joined with full heart in the thrilling song of praise.
I found that, contrary to my usual custom, I floated rapidly away from the shore where I had entered the water, and after a time was conscious that I was approaching a portion of the lake shore I had never yet visited. Refreshed and invigorated, I ascended the sloping banks, to find myself in the midst of a lovely suburban village, similar to the one where our home was situated. There was some difference in the architecture or construction of the houses, though they were no less beautiful than others I had seen. Many were constructed of polished woods, and somewhat resembled the finest of the chalets one sees in Switzerland, though far surpassing them in all that gives pleasure to the artistic eye.
As I wandered on, feasting my eyes upon the lovely views about me, I was particularly pleased by the appearance of an unusually attractive house. Its broad veranda almost overhung the waters of the lake, the wide low steps running on one side of the house quite to the water’s edge. Several graceful swans were leisurely drifting about with the current, and a bird similar to our Southern mockingbird, but with softer voice, was singing and swinging in the low branches overhead. There were many larger and more imposing villas near, but none possessed for me the charm of this sweet home.
Beneath one of the large flowering trees close by this cottage home, I saw a woman sitting, weaving with her delicate hands, apparently without shuttle or needle, a snow-white gossamer-like fabric that fell in a soft fleecy heap at her side as the work progressed. She was so very small in stature that at first glance I supposed she was a child; but a closer scrutiny showed her to be a mature woman, though with the glow of youth still upon her smooth cheek. Something familiar in her gestures, rather than her appearance, caused me to feel that it was not the first time we had met; and growing accustomed now to the delightful surprises that met me everywhere in this world of rare delights, I drew near to meet her, when, before I could speak, she looked up and the doubt was gone.
“Maggie!” “Mrs. Sprague dear!” we cried simultaneously, as, dropping her work from her hands, she stepped quickly up to greet me.
Our greeting was warm and fervent, and her sweet face glowed with a welcome that reminded me of the happy days when we had met, in the years long gone, by the shore of that other beautiful lake in the world of our earth-life.
“Now I know why I came this way today—to find you, dear,” I said, as we sat side by side, talking as we never had talked on earth; for the sweet shyness of her mortal life had melted away in the balmy air of heaven.
“What is this lovely fabric you are weaving?” I presently asked, lifting the silken fleecy web in my fingers as I spoke.
“Some draperies for Nellie’s room,” she said. “You know we two have lived alone together so much, I thought it would seem more like home to her, to us both, if we did the same here. So this cottage is our own special home, just a step from Marie’s,” pointing to an imposing house a few yards distant, “and I am fitting it up as daintily as I can, especially her room.”
“Oh, let me help you, Maggie dear!” I said. “It would be such a pleasure to me.”
She hesitated an instant, with something of the old-time shyness, then said: “That is so like you, dear Mrs. Sprague. I have set my heart on doing Nellie’s room entirely myself—there is no hurry about it, you know—but if you really would enjoy it, I shall love to have you help me in the other rooms.”
“And will you teach me how to weave these delicate hangings?”
“Yes, indeed. Shall I give you your first lesson now?”
Lifting the dainty thread, she showed me how to toss and wind it through my fingers till it fell away in shining folds. It was very light and fascinating work, and I soon was weaving it almost as rapidly as she did.
“Now I can help Carroll!” was my happy thought, as I saw the shimmering fabric grow beneath my hands. “Tomorrow I will go and show him how beautifully we can drape the doors and windows.”
So in heaven our first thought ever is to give pleasure to others.
“You are an apt student,” said Maggie, laughing happily; “and what a charming hour you have given me!”
“What a charming hour you have given me, my dear!” I answered.
When we parted it was with the understanding that every little while I was to repeat the visit. When I urged her likewise to come to me, the old-time shyness again appeared, as she said: “Oh, they are all strangers to me, and here we shall be entirely alone. You come to me.”
So I yielded, as in heaven we never seek to gain reluctant consent for any pleasure, however dear; and many were the happy hours spent with her in the cottage by the lake.
On one of my walks about this time, I chanced upon a scene that brought to mind what Mae had said to me about the Savior’s love for little children. I found him sitting beneath one of the flowering trees upon the lake shore, with about a dozen children of all ages clustered around him. One dainty little tot, not more than a year old, was nestled in his arms, with her sunny head resting confidingly upon his bosom, her tiny hands filled with the lovely water-lilies that floated everywhere on the waters. She was too young to realize how great her privilege was, but seemed to be enjoying his care to the utmost. The others sat at his feet, or leaned upon his knees; and one dear little follow, with earnest eyes, stood by him, leaning upon his shoulder, while the Master’s right arm encircled him. Every eye was fixed eagerly upon Jesus, and each child appeared alert to catch every word he said. He seemed to be telling them some very absorbing story, adapted to their childish tastes and capacities. I sat down upon the grass among a group of people, a little removed from the children, and tried to hear what he was saying, but we were too far away to catch more than a sentence now and then; and in heaven one never intrudes upon another’s privileges or pleasures. So we simply enjoyed the smiles and eager questions and exclamations of the children, and gathered a little of the tenor of the story from the disjointed sentences which floated to us.
“A little child lost in the dark woods of the lower world—” we heard the Master say, in response to the inquiring looks of the interested children.
“Lions and bears—” came later on.
“Where was his papa?” asked an anxious voice.
We could not hear the reply, but soon a little fellow leaning upon the Savior’s knee, said confidently: “No lions and bears up here!”
“No,” he replied, “nothing to harm or frighten my little children here.”
Then as the story deepened and grew in interest, and the children pressed more closely about the Master, he turned with a sweet smile—and we could see an increased pressure of the encircling arm—to the little fellow with the earnest eyes who leaned upon his shoulder, and said: “What, Leslie, would you have done, then?”
With a bright light in his eyes and a flush on his fair cheek, the child answered quickly and emphatically: “I should have prayed to you and asked you to ‘close the lion’s mouth,’ as you did for Daniel, and you would have done it!”
“Ah,” I thought, “could C— and H— see the look the beloved Master cast upon their boy as he made his brave reply, they would be comforted even for the absence of their darling.”
Lost in these thoughts, I heard no more that passed, until an ecstatic shout from the little folks proclaimed how satisfactorily the story had ended, and, looking up, I saw the Savior passing onward, with the baby still in his arms, and the children trooping about him.
“Of such is the kingdom of heaven.” How well understood! How much he loved them!
I, too, arose and started homeward. I had not gone far before I met my brother-in-law Frank, who greeted me with: “I am on my way to the city by the lake; will you accompany me?”
“It has been long my wish to visit the city. I only waited until you thought it wise for me to go,” I answered.
“You are growing so fast in the knowledge of the heavenly ways,” he said, “that I think I might venture to take you almost anywhere with me now. You acquire the knowledge for the very love it; not because you feel it your duty to know what we would have you learn. Your eagerness to gather to yourself all truth, and at the same time your patient submission in waiting, often times when I know the trial is great, have won for you much praise and love from our dear Master, who watches eagerly the progress of us all in the divine life. I think it only right that you should know of this; we need encouragement here as well as in the earth-life, though in a different way. I tell you this by divine permission. I think it will not be long before He trusts you with a mission; but this I say of myself, not by his command.”
It would be impossible for me to convey, in the language of earth, the impression these words of commendation left upon me. They were so unexpected, so unforeseen. I had gone on, as my brother-in-law said, eagerly gathering the knowledge imparted to me, with a genuine love for the study of all things pertaining to the blessed life, without a thought that I in any way deserved commendation for so doing; and now I had won the approbation of the Master himself! The happiness seemed almost more than I had strength to bear.
“My dear brother!” was all I could say, in my deep joy, stopping suddenly and looking up into his face with grateful tears.
“I am so glad for you, little sister!” he said, warmly clasping my hand. “There are, you see, rewards in heaven; it does my soul good that you have unconsciously won one of these so soon.”
I wish I could record in detail the precious words of wisdom that feel from his lips; I wish that I could recount minutely the events of that wonderful life as it was unfolded to me day by day; but I can only say, “I may not.” When I undertook to make a record of that never-to-be-forgotten time, I did not realize how many serious difficulties I would have to encounter; how often I would have to pause and consider if I might really reveal this truth or paint that scene as it appeared to me. The very heart has often been left out of some wonderful scene I was attempting to describe, because I found I dared not reveal its sacred secret. I realize painfully that the narrative, as I am forced to give it, falls infinitely short of what I hoped to make it when I began. But bear with me; it is no fancy sketch I am drawing, but the veritable life beyond, as it appeared to me when the exalted spirit rose triumphant over the impoverished flesh, made slavishly subservient through suffering.
My brother-in-law and I walked slowly back to the margin of the lake, where we stepped into a boat lying near the shore, and were at once transported to the farther shore of the lake, and landed upon a marble terrace—the entrance to the city by the lake. I never knew by what power these boats were propelled. There were no oarsmen, no engine, no sails, upon the one in which we crossed the water; but it moved steadily onward till we were safely landed at our destination. Luxuriously-cushioned seats were all around it, and upon one of them lay a musical instrument, something like a violin, although it had no bow, but seemed to be played by the fingers alone. Upon another seat lay a book. I picked it up and opened it; it seemed to be a continuation of that book that has stirred and thrilled millions of hearts in the mortal life—“The Greatest Thing in the World.” As I glance through it while we journeyed, I grasped the truth that this great mind already had grappled with the mighty things of eternity and given food to immortals, even as he had to those in mortal life in the years gone by.
I was roused from my thoughts by the boat touching the marble terrace, and found my brother-in-law already standing and waiting to assist me to the shore. Passing up a slight acclivity, we found ourselves on a broad street that led into the heart of the city. The streets I found were all very broad and smooth, and paved with marble and precious stones of every kind. Though they were thronged with people intent on various duties, not an atom of debris, or even dust, was visible anywhere.
There seemed to be vast business houses of many kinds, though I saw nothing resembling our large mercantile establishments. There were many colleges and schools; many book and music-stores and publishing houses; several large manufactories, where, I learned, were spun the fine silken threads of manifold colors which were so extensively used in the weaving of the draperies I have already mentioned.
There were art rooms, picture galleries and libraries, and many lecture halls and vast auditoriums. But I saw no churches of any kind. At first this somewhat confused me, until I remembered that there are no creeds in heaven, but that all worship together in harmony and love – the children of one and the same loving Father. “Ah,” I thought, “what a pity that that fact, if no other in the great economy of heaven, could not be proclaimed to the inhabitants of earth! How it would do away with the petty contentions, jealousies and rivalries of the church militant! No creeds in heaven! No controverted points of doctrine! No charges of heresy brought by one professed Christian against another! No building up of one denomination upon the ruins or downfall of a different sect! But one great universal brotherhood whose head is Christ, and whose cornerstone is Love.”
I thought of the day we had listened in the great auditorium at home to the divine address of our beloved Master; of the bowed heads and uplifted voices of that vast multitude as every voice joined in the glorious anthem, “Crown Him Lord of all!” and I could have wept to think of the faces that must someday be bowed in shame when they remember how often they have in mortal life said to a brother Christian, “Stand aside; I am holier than thou!”
We found no dwelling-houses anywhere in the midst of the city, until we came to the suburbs. Here they stood in great magnificence and splendor. But one pleasing fact was that every home had its large front yard, full of trees and flowers and pleasant walks; indeed, it was everywhere, outside of the business center of the town, like one vast park dotted with lovely houses. There was much that charmed, much that surprised me in this great city, of which I may not fully speak, but which I never can forget.
We found in one place a very large park, with walks and drives and fountains and miniature lakes and shaded seats, but no dwellings or buildings of any kind, except an immense circular open temple capable of seating many hundred; and where, my brother-in-law told me, a seraph choir assembled at a certain hour daily and rendered the oratories written by the great musical composers of earth and heaven. It had just departed, and the crowd who had enjoyed its divine music yet lingered as though loath to leave a spot so hallowed.
“We will remember the hour,” my brother-in-law said, “and come again when we can hear them.”
Still passing through the park, we came out upon the open country, and walked some distance through flowery meadows and undulating plains. At length we entered a vast forest whose great trees towered above us like swaying giants. The day was well-nigh spent – the day so full of joy and glad surprises and happy hours! Full as it had been I felt there was still something left for me, deep hidden in the twilight-valley of the day; something that held my soul in awe, as the last moments preceding the Holy Sacrament.
My brother-in-law walked by me, absorbed in silent thought, but with a touch beyond even his usual gentleness. I did not ask where we were going at that unusual hour, so far from home, for fear and doubt and questionings no longer vexed the quiet of my soul. Although the forest was dense, the golden glow of the twilight rested beneath the tress, and sifted down through the quivering branches overhead, as though falling through the windows of some grand cathedral.
At length we emerged from the forest upon a vast plain that stretched out into illimitable space before us, and far away we faintly heard the thunder of the breaking waves of that immortal sea of which I had heard so much but had not yet seen. But for their faint and distant reverberation the silence about us was intense. We stood a moment upon the verge of the forest, then as we advanced a few steps into the plain I became aware that immediately to our right the ground rose into quiet elevation; and, as I turned, a sight broke upon bewildered eyes that the eternal years of earth and heaven can never efface. Upon the summit of this gentle slope a Temple stood, whose vast dome, massive pillars and solid walls were of unsullied pearl, and through whose great mullioned windows shone a white radiance that swallowed up the golden glow of the twilight and made it its own. I did not cry aloud nor hide my face, as at former revelations; but I sank slowly to my knees, and crossing my hands upon my breast, with uplifted face, stilled heart and silent lips, laid my whole being in worship at His feet “who sits upon the throne.” How long I knelt thus I know not. Even immortal life seemed lost before that greatest of celestial mysteries. At length my brother-in-law, who had been silently kneeling beside me, arose, and, lifting me to my feet, whispered gently, “Come.”
I felt rather than saw that his face was colorless with the depth of his emotion, and I yielded to his guidance in silence. A long flight of low, broad steps, in gradations, rose from almost where we stood to the very door of the Temple. They, too, were of solid pearl, bordered on either side by channels paved with golden stones through which coursed crystal waters that met and mingled in one stream far out upon the plain. Ascending these steps, we entered the Temple, and for a moment stood in silence. I do not know how it was, but in that brief instant—it may have been longer than I knew – every detail of that wonderful interior was fastened upon my memory as a scene is photographed upon the artist’s plate. Before this it had taken repeated visits to a room to enable me to correctly describe it in detail, but this, in a lightning’s flash, was stamped upon the tablet of my memory indelibly for all time—no, for eternity.
The immense dome, at that moment filled with a luminous cloud, was upheld by three rows of massive pillars of gold. The walls and floors were of pearl, as also the great platform that filled at least one-third of the Temple upon the eastern side. There were no seats of any kind. The great golden pillars stood like rows of sentinels upon the shining floor. A railing of gold ran entirely around the platform upon the three sides, so that it was inaccessible from the body of the Temple. Beneath this railing, upon the temple-floor, a kneeling-step passed around the platform, also of pearl. In the center of the platform an immense altar of gold arose, supported by seraphs of gold with outspread wings, one at each corner; and underneath it, in a great pearl basin, a fountain of sparkling water played, and I knew intuitively it was the source of the magical rivers that flowed through the gardens of heaven and bore from us the last stains of death and sin.
Nothing living, besides ourselves, was within the Temple except two persons who knelt with bowed heads beside the altar-rail upon the farther side; but by the altar stood four angels, one upon either side, dressed in flowing garments of white, with long, slim trumpets of gold uplifted in their hands, as though waiting in expectancy the signal for their trumpet call. Long draperies of silvery gossamer hung in heavy folds back of the altar platform. Suddenly, in the moment that we looked, we saw the draperies tremble and glow until a radiance far beyond the splendor of the sun at midday shone through them, and the whole Temple was “filled with the glory of the Lord.” We saw, in the midst of the luminous cloud that filled the dome, the forms of angelic harpers, and as we dropped with bowed heads beside the altar-rail and hid our faces from the “brightness of His coming,” we heard the trumpet-call of the four angels about the altar, and the voices of the celestial harpers as they sang:
“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth, and sky and sea.
Holy, Holy, Holy, merciful and mighty,
God in three persons—blessed Trinity. Amen!”
The voices softly died away; the last notes of the golden trumpets had sounded; “and there was silence in heaven.” We knew that the visible glory of the Lord was, for the present, withdrawn from the Temple which is his throne; still we knelt with bowed heads in silent worship before him. When at last we arose I did not lift my eyes while within the Temple; I desired it to remain upon my memory as it appeared when filled with his glory.
We walked some time in silence, I leaning upon my brother-in-law’s arm, for I yet trembled with emotion. I was surprised that we did not return into the forest, but went still farther out upon the plain. But when I saw that we approached the confluence of the two streams which issued from the fountain beneath the altar, I began to understand that we would return by way of the river, instead of by forest and lake.
We reached the stream, at length, and, stepping into a boat that lay by the shore, we were soon floating with the current toward home. We passed through much beautiful scenery on our course that I had not seen before, and which I resolved I would visit in the future, when leisure from my daily duties would permit. Lovely villas, surrounded by beautiful grounds stretching directly up from the water’s edge, lay on both sides of the river, and formed a panorama upon which the eye never tired of resting. Toward the end of the journey we passed my sister’s lovely home, and we could plainly see her and her husband drinking in the scene with enraptured eyes, from the window of her own room.
My brother-in-law and I were both silent the greater part of the time during our journey homeward, though each noted with observant eyes the signs of happy domestic life by which we were surrounded on every side. The verandas and steps of the homes we passed were full of their happy inhabitants; glad voices could be constantly heard, and merry shouts of laughter came from the throngs of little children playing everywhere upon the flowery lawns.
Once I broke our silence by saying to my brother-in-law: “More than once I have been delightfully surprised to hear the familiar songs of earth reproduced in heaven, but never more so than I was today. That hymn has long been a favorite of mine.”
“These happy surprises do not come by chance,” he answered. “Once of the delights of this rare life is that no occasion is ever overlooked for reproducing here the pure enjoyments of our mortal life. It is the Father’s pleasure to make us realize that this existence is but a continuance of the former life, only without its imperfections and its cares.”
“Frank, I believe you are the only one of our friends here who has never questioned me about the dear ones left behind; why is it?”
He smiled a peculiarly happy smile as he answered: “Perhaps it is because I already know more than you could tell me.”
“I wondered if it was not so,” I said, for I remembered well how my dear father had said, in speaking of my brother-in-law upon the first day of my coming, “He stands very near to the Master,” and I knew how often he was sent upon missions to the world below.
I lay down upon my couch, on our return, with a heart overflowing with joy and gratitude and love, beyond the power of expression; and it seemed to me the tenderness in the Divine eyes that looked down upon me from the wall was deeper, purer, holier than it had ever been before.
“I will reach the standard of perfection you have set for me, my Savior,” I faltered, with clasped hands uplifted to him, “if it takes all my life in heaven and all the help from all the angels of light to accomplish it;” and with these words upon my lips, and his tender eyes resting upon me, I sank into the blissful repose of heaven.
So much occurred, and so rapidly, from the very hour of my entrance within the beautiful gates, that it is impossible for me to transcribe it all. I have been able only to cull here and there incidents that happened day by day; and in so doing many things I would gladly have related have unconsciously been omitted. Of the many dear friends I met, only a very few have been mentioned, for the reason that, of necessity, such meetings are so similar in many respects that that constant repetition, in detail, would become wearisome.
I have aimed principally to give such incidents as would show the beautiful domestic life in that happy world; to make apparent the reverence and love all hearts feel toward the blessed Trinity for every good and perfect gift, and to show forth the marvelous power of the Christ-love even in the life beyond the grave.
This world, strange and new to me, held multitudes of those I had loved in the years gone by, and there was scarcely an hour that did not renew for me the ties that once were severed in the mortal life. I remember that as I was walking one day in the neighborhood of Mrs. Wickham’s home, shortly after my first memorable visit there, I was attracted by an unpretentious but very beautiful house, almost hidden by luxuriant climbing rose vines, whose flowers of creamy whiteness were beyond compare with any roses I had yet seen in earth or heaven. Meeting Mrs. Wickham, I pointed to the house and asked: “Who lives there?”
“Suppose you go over and see,” she said.
“Is it anyone I know?” I asked.
“I fancy so. See, someone is even now at the door as though expecting you.”
I crossed over the snowy walk and flowery turf—for the house stood in an angle formed by two paths crossing, almost opposite Mrs. Wickham’s—and before I could ascend the steps I found myself in the embrace of two loving arms.
“Rebecca Sprague! I was sure it was you when I saw you go to Mrs. Wickham’s a day or two ago. Did not she tell you I was here?”
“She had no opportunity until today,” I said. “But dear Aunt Ann, I should have found you soon; I am sure you know that.”
“Yes, I am sure you would.”
Then I recounted to her something of my visit to Mrs. Wickham’s that eventful day. She listened with her dear face full of sympathy, then said: “There, dear, you need not tell me. Do I not know? When the Master comes to gladden my eyes, I have no thought or care for anything beyond, for days and days! Oh, the joy, the peace of knowing I am safe in this blessed haven! How far beyond all our earthly dreams is this divine life!”
She sat for a moment lost in thought, then said wistfully: “Now, tell me of my children—are they coming?”
I gladdened her heart with all the cheering news I could bring of her loved ones; and so we talked the hours away, recalling many sweet memories of the earth-life, of friends and home and family ties, and looking forward to the future coming to us of those whom even the joys of heaven could not banish from our hearts.
Then also another evening, as the soft twilight fell, and many of our dear home circle were gathered with us in the great “flower-room,” we heard a step upon the veranda, and as my brother-in-law went to the open door a gentle voice said: “Is Mrs. Sprague really here?”
“She is really here. Come and see for yourself.” And sweet Mary Green entered the room.
“I am so glad to welcome you home!” she said, coming to me with extended hands, and looking into mine with her tender, earnest eyes.
“My precious girl!” I cried, taking her to my heart in a warm embrace. “I have been asking about you, and longing to see you.”
“I could scarcely wait to get here when I heard that you had come. Now, tell me everything—everything!” she said as I drew her to a seat close beside me.
But the questions asked and the answers given are too sacred for rehearsal here. Every individual member of her dear home-circle was discussed, and many were the incidents she recounted to me that had occurred in her presence when her mother and I were together and talking of the dear child we considered far removed from our presence.
“I was often so close that I could have touched you with my hand, had the needed power been given,” she said.
After a long, close converse had been held between us, I took her to the library, where the rest had gone to examine a new book just that day received. I introduced her to them all as the daughter of dear friends still on earth, confident of the welcome she would receive. My youngest sister and she at once became interested in each other, finding congeniality in many of their daily pursuits, and I was glad to believe they would see much of each other afterwards in many different ways.
There was no measurement of time as we measure it here, although many still spoke in the old-time language of “months” and “days” and “years.” I have no way of describing it as it seemed to me then. There were periods, and allotted times; there were hours for happy duties, hours for joyful pleasures, and hours for holy praise. I only know it was all harmony, all joy, all peace, at all times and in all conditions.