She is not dead--the child of our affection--
But gone unto that school
Where she no longer needs our poor protection,
And Christ himself doth rule.
Day after day we think what she is doing
In those bright realms of air;
Year after year, her tender steps pursuing,
Behold her grown more fair.
Hark! 'tis the voice of angels
Borne in a song to me,
Over the fields of glory,
Over the jasper sea!
--[W. H. Doane.
As time passed, and I grew more accustomed to the heavenly life around me, I found its loveliness unfolded to me like the slow opening of a rare flower. Delightful surprises met me at every turn. Now a dear friend, from whom I had parted years ago in the earth-life, would come unexpectedly upon me with cordial greeting; now one--perhaps on earth greatly admired, but from whom I had held aloof, from the fear of unwelcome intrusion--would approach me, showing the lovely soul so full of responsive kindness and congenial thought, that I could but feel a pang of regret for what I had lost. Then the clear revelation of some truth, only partly understood in life, though eagerly sought for, would stand out clear and strong before me, overwhelming me with its lustre, and perhaps showing the close tie linking the earth-life with the divine. But the most wonderful to me was the occasional meeting with some one whom I had never hoped to meet "over there," who, with eager handclasp and tearful eyes, would pour forth his earnest thanks for some helpful word, some solemn warning, or even some stern rebuke, that had turned him, all unknown to myself, from the paths of sin into the "life everlasting." Oh, the joy to me of such a revelation! Oh, the regret that my earth-life had not been more full of such work for eternity!
My first impulse daily on arousing from happy, blissful rest, was to hasten to the "river of life" and plunge into its wonderful waters, so refreshing, so invigorating, so inspiring. With a heart full of thanksgiving and lips full of joyful praise, morning after morning, sometimes in company with my brother, sometimes alone, I hastened thither, returning always full of new life and hope and purpose to our home, where for a time each day I listened to the entrancing revelations and instructions of my brother. One morning, soon after my return from my first visit to earth, as I was on the way to the river, my voice joined to the wonderful anthem of praise everywhere sounding, I saw a lovely young girl approaching me swiftly, with outstretched arms.
"Dear, dear Aunt Bertha!" she called, as she drew near, "do you not know me?"
"My little Mae!" I cried, gathering the dainty creature into my arms. "Where did you spring from so suddenly, dear? Let me look at you again!" holding her a moment at arm's length, only to draw her again tenderly to me.
"You have grown very beautiful, my child. I may say this to you here without fear, I am sure. You were always lovely; you are simply radiant now. Is it this divine life?"
"Yes," she said modestly and sweetly; "but most of all the being near the Savior so much."
"Ah, yes, that is it--the being near Him! That will make any being radiant and beautiful," I said.
"He is so good to me; so generous, so tender! He seems to forget how little I have done to deserve his care."
"He knows you love him, dear heart; that means everything to him."
"Love him! Oh, if loving him deserves reward, I am sure I ought to have every wish of my heart, for I love him a thousandfold better than anything in earth or heaven. I would die for him!"
The sweet face grew surpassingly radiant and beautiful as she talked, and I began to dimly understand the wonderful power of Christ among the redeemed in heaven. This dear child, so lovely in all mortal graces, so full of earth's keenest enjoyments during the whole of her brief life--pure and good, as we count goodness below, yet seemingly too absorbed in life's gayeties to think deeply of the things she yet in her heart revered and honored, now in this blessed life counted the privilege of loving Christ, of being near him, beyond every other joy! And how that love refined and beautified the giver! As a great earthly love always shines through the face and elevates the whole character of the one who loves, so this divine love uplifts and glorifies the giver, until not only the face but the entire person radiates the glory that fills the heart.
"Come with me to the river, Mae," I said presently, after we had talked together for some time; "come with me for a delightful plunge."
"Gladly," she said; "but have you ever been to the lake or the sea?"
"The lake or the sea?" I echoed. "No indeed. Are there a lake and sea here?"
"Certainly there are," said Mae, with a little pardonable pride that she should know more of the heavenly surroundings than I. "Shall we go to the lake to-day, and leave the sea for another day? Which shall it be?"
"Let it be the lake to-day," I said.
So, turning in an entirely different direction from the path that led to the river, we walked joyously on, still talking as we went. So much to ask, so much to recall, so much to look forward to with joy!
Once she turned to me and asked quickly:
"When is my Uncle Will coming?"
My hand closed tightly over hers, and a sob almost rose in my throat, though I answered calmly:
"That is in God's hands alone; we may not question."
"Yes, I know. His will is always right; but I so long to see my dear uncle again; and to 'long' is not to repine."
She had grown so womanly, so wise, this child of tender years, since we parted, that it was a joy to talk with her. I told her of my sad errand to earth, and the sorrow of the dear ones I had left.
"Yes, yes, I know it all!" she whispered, with her soft arms about me. "But it will not be long to wait. They will come soon. It never seems long to wait for anything here. There is always so much to keep one busy; so many pleasant duties, so many joys--oh, it will not be long!"
Thus she cheered and comforted me as we walked through the ever-varying and always perfect landscape. At length she cried, lifting her arm and pointing with her rosy finger:
"Behold! Is it not divinely beautiful?"
I caught my breath, then stopped abruptly and covered my face with my hands to shield my eyes from the glorified scene. No wonder my brother had not sooner brought me to this place; I was scarcely yet spiritually strong enough to look upon it. When I again slowly lifted my head, Mae was standing like one entranced. The golden morning light rested upon her face, and, mingling with the radiance that had birth within, almost transfigured her. Even she, so long an inhabitant here, had not yet grown accustomed to its glory.
"Look, darling auntie! It is God's will that you should see," she softly whispered, not once turning her eyes away from the scene before her. "He let me be the one to show you the glory of this place!"
I turned and looked, like one but half awakened. Before us spread a lake as smooth as glass, but flooded with a golden glory caught from the heavens, that made it like a sea of molten gold. The blossom- and fruit-bearing trees grew down to its very border in many places, and far, far away, across its shining waters, arose the domes and spires of what seemed to be a mighty city. Many people were resting upon its flowery banks, and on the surface of the water were boats of wonderful structure, filled with happy souls, and propelled by an unseen power. Little children, as well as grown persons, were floating upon or swimming in the water; and as we looked a band of singing cherubs, floating high overhead, drifted across the lake, their baby voices borne to us where we stood, in notes of joyful praise.
"Come," said Mae, seizing my hand, "let us join them"; and we hastened onward.
"Glory and honor!" sang the child voices. "Dominion and power!" caught up and answered the voices of the vast multitude together, and in the strain I found that Mae and I were joining. The cherub band floated onward, and away in the distance we caught the faint melody of their sweet voices, and the stronger cadence of the response from those waiting below.
We stood upon the margin of the lake, and my cheeks were tear-bedewed and my eyes dim with emotion. I felt weak as a little child; but oh, what rapture, what joy unspeakable filled and overmastered me! Was I dreaming? Or was this indeed but another phase of the immortal life?
Mae slipped her arm about my neck and whispered, "Dearest, come. After the rapture--rest."
I yielded to her passively; I could not do otherwise. She led me into the water, down, down into its crystal depths, and when it seemed to me we must be hundreds of feet beneath the surface, she threw herself prostrate and bade me do the same. I did so, and immediately we began to slowly rise. Presently I found that we no longer rose, but were slowly floating in mid-current, many feet still beneath the surface. Then appeared to me a marvel. Look where I would, perfect prismatic rays surrounded me. I seemed to be resting in the heart of a prism; and such vivid yet delicate coloring, mortal eyes never rested upon. Instead of the seven colors, as we see them here, the colors blended in such rare graduation of shades as to make the rays seem almost infinite, or they really were so; I could not decide which.
As I lay watching this marvelous panorama, for the colors deepened and faded like the lights of the aurora borealis, I was attracted by the sound of distant music. Although Mae and I no longer clung together, we did not drift apart, as one would naturally suppose we might, but lay within easy speaking-distance of each other, although few words were spoken by either of us; the silence seemed too sacred to be lightly broken. We lay upon, or rather within, the water, as upon the softest couch. It required no effort whatever to keep ourselves afloat; the gentle undulation of the waves soothed and rested us. When the distant music arrested my attention, I turned and looked at Mae. She smiled back at me, but did not speak. Presently I caught the words, "Glory and honor, dominion and power," and I knew it was still the cherub choir, although they must now be many miles distant. Then the soft tones of a bell--a silver bell with silver tongue--fell on my ear, and as the last notes died away, I whispered:
"Tell me, Mae."
"Yes, dear, I will. The waters of this lake catch the light in a most marvelous manner, as you have seen; a wiser head than mine must tell you why. They also transmit musical sounds--only musical sounds--for a great distance. The song was evidently from the distant shore of the lake."
"And the bell?"
"That is the bell which in the city across the lake calls to certain duties at this hour."
"There never was a sweeter call to duty," I said.
"Yes, its notes are beautiful. Hark! now it rings a chime."
We lay and listened, and as we listened a sweet spell wrapped me round, and I slept as peacefully as a child on its mother's bosom. I awoke with a strange sense of invigoration and strength. It was a feeling wholly dissimilar to that experienced during a bath in the river, yet I could not explain how. Mae said:
"One takes away the last of the earth-life, and prepares us for the life upon which we enter; the other fills us to overflowing with a draught from the Celestial Life itself."
And I think the child was right.
When we emerged from the water we found the banks of the lake almost deserted, every one having gone, at the call of the bell, to the happy duties of the hour. Groups of children still played around in joyous freedom. Some climbed the trees that overhung the water, with the agility of squirrels, and dropped with happy shouts of laughter into the lake, floating around upon its surface like immense and beautiful water-lilies or lotus flowers.
"No fear of harm or danger; no dread of ill, or anxiety lest a mishap occur; security, security and joy and peace! This is indeed the blessed life," I said, as we stood watching the sports of the happy children.
"I often think how we were taught to believe that heaven was where we would wear crowns of gold and stand with harps always in our hands! Our crowns of gold are the halos His blessed presence casts about us; and we do not need harps to accentuate our songs of praise. We do see the crowns, and we do hear the angelic harps, when and as God wills it, but our best worship is to do his blessed will," said Mae as we turned to go.
"You are wise in the lore of heaven, my child," I answered; "how happy I am to learn from one so dear! Tell me all about your life here."
So as we walked she told me the history of her years in heaven her duties, her joys, her friends, her home--with all the old-time freedom. I found her home was distant from our own--far beyond the spires of the great city across the lake--but she added:
"What is distance in heaven? We come and go at will. We feel no fatigue, no haste, experience no delays; it is blessed, blessed!"
Not far from our home we saw a group of children playing upon the grass, and in their midst was a beautiful great dog, over which they were rolling and tumbling with the greatest freedom. As we approached he broke away from them and came bounding to meet us, and crouched and fawned at my very feet with every gesture of glad welcome.
"Do you not know him, auntie?" Mae asked brightly.
"It is dear old Sport!" I cried, stooping and placing my arms about his neck, and resting my head on his silken hair. "Dear old fellow! How happy I am to have you here!"
He responded to my caresses with every expression of delight, and Mae laughed aloud at our mutual joy.
"I have often wondered if I should not some day find him here. He surely deserves a happy life for his faithfulness and devotion in the other life. His intelligence and his fidelity were far above those of many human beings whom we count immortal."
"Hark! 'tis the voice of angels
"Hark! 'tis the voice of angels
Born in a song to me,
Over the fields of glory,
Over the jasper sea!"]
"Did he not sacrifice his life for little Will?"
"Yes; he attempted to cross the track in front of an approaching train, because he saw it would pass between him and his little master, and feared he was in danger. It cost his life. He always placed himself between any of us and threatened danger, but Will he seemed to consider his especial charge. He was a gallant fellow--he deserves immortality. Dear, dear old Sport, you shall never leave me again!" I said, caressing him fondly.
At this he sprang to his feet, barking joyously, and gambolled and frolicked before us the rest of the way home, then lay down upon the doorstep, with an upward glance and a wag of his bushy tail, as though to say, "See how I take you at your word!"
"He understands every word we say," said Mae.
"Of course he does; he only lacks speech to make him perfect. I somehow hoped he might find it here."
"He would not be half so interesting if he could talk," said Mae.
"Possibly not. How silken and beautiful his long hair is!"
"He has his bath in the river every day, and it leaves its mark on him also. Do you know I think one of the sweetest proofs we have of the Father's loving care for us is, that we so often find in this life the things which gave us great happiness below. The more unexpected this is, the greater joy it brings. I remember once seeing a beautiful little girl enter heaven, the very first to come of a large and affectionate family. I afterward learned that the sorrowful cry of her mother was, 'Oh, if only we had someone there to meet her, to care for her!' She came, lovingly nestled in the Master's own arms, and a little later, as he sat, still caressing and talking to her, a remarkably fine Angora kitten, of which the child had been very fond, and which had sickened and died some weeks before, to her great sorrow, came running across the grass and sprang directly into her arms, where it lay contentedly. Such a glad cry as she recognized her little favorite, such a hugging and kissing as that kitten received, made joy even in heaven! Who but our loving Father would have thought of such comfort for a little child? She had evidently been a timid child; but now as the children gathered about her, with the delightful freedom they always manifest in the presence of the beloved Master, she, looking up confidingly into the tender eyes above her, began to shyly tell of the marvelous intelligence of her dumb pet, until at last Jesus left her contentedly playing among the flowers with the little companions who had gathered about her. Our Father never forgets us, but provides pleasures and comforts for us all, according to our individual needs."
"When shall I behold the Savior? When shall I meet, face to face, him whom my soul so loveth?" my hungry heart began to cry out in its depths.
Mae, as though understanding the silent cry, placed both arms about my neck, looked tenderly into my eyes, and whispered:
"You, too, dearest, will see him soon. He never delays when the time is ripe for his coming. It will not be long; you, too, will see him soon."
So we parted, each to the duties of the hour.