A LITTLE PILGRIM
By Margaret O. (Wilson) Oliphant
A LITTLE PILGRIM.
IN THE UNSEEN.
She had been talking of dying only the evening before, with a friend, and had described her own sensations after a long illness when she had been at the point of death. "I suppose," she said, "that I was as nearly gone as any one ever was to come back again. There was no pain in it, only a sense of sinking down, down—through the bed as if nothing could hold me or give me support enough—but no pain." And then they had spoken of another friend in the same circumstances, who also had come back from the very verge, and who described her sensations as those of one floating upon a summer sea without pain or suffering, in a lovely nook of the Mediterranean, blue as the sky. These soft and soothing images of the passage which all men dread had been talked over with low voices, yet with smiles and a grateful sense that "the warm precincts of the cheerful day" were once more familiar to both. And very cheerfully she went to rest that night, talking of what was to be done on the morrow, and fell asleep sweetly in her little room, with its shaded light and curtained window, and little pictures on the dim walls. All was quiet in the house: soft breathing of the sleepers, soft murmuring of the spring wind outside, a wintry moon very clear and full in the skies, a little town all hushed and quiet, everything lying defenceless, unconscious, in the safe keeping of God.
How soon she woke no one can tell. She woke and lay quite still, half roused, half hushed, in that soft languor that attends a happy waking. She was happy always, in the peace of a heart that was humble and faithful and pure, but yet had been used to wake to a consciousness of little pains and troubles, such as even to her meekness were sometimes hard to bear. But on this morning there were none of these. She lay in a kind of hush of happiness and ease, not caring to make any further movement, lingering over the sweet sensation of that waking. She had no desire to move nor to break the spell of the silence and peace. It was still very early, she supposed, and probably it might be hours yet before any one came to call her. It might even be that she should sleep again. She had no wish to move, she lay at such luxurious ease and calm. But by and by, as she came to full possession of her waking senses, it appeared to her that there was some change in the atmosphere, in the scene. There began to steal into the air about her, the soft dawn as of a summer morning, the lovely blueness of the first opening of daylight before the sun. It could not be the light of the moon, which she had seen before she went to bed; and all was so still, that it could not be the bustling, wintry day which comes at that time of the year late, to find the world awake before it. This was different; it was like the summer dawn, a soft suffusion of light growing every moment. And by and by it occurred to her that she was not in the little room where she had lain down. There were no dim walls or roof, her little pictures were all gone, the curtains at her window. The discovery gave her no uneasiness in that delightful calm. She lay still to think of it all, to wonder, yet undisturbed. It half amused her that these things should be changed, but did not rouse her yet with any shock of alteration. The light grew fuller and fuller round, growing into day, clearing her eyes from the sweet mist of the first waking. Then she raised herself upon her arm. She was not in her room, she was in no scene she knew. Indeed it was scarcely a scene at all, nothing but light, so soft and lovely, that it soothed and caressed her eyes. She thought all at once of a summer morning when she was a child, when she had woke in the deep night which yet was day, early, so early that the birds were scarcely astir, and had risen up with a delicious sense of daring and of being all alone in the mystery of the sunrise, in the unawakened world which lay at her feet to be explored, as if she were Eve just entering upon Eden. It was curious how all those childish sensations, long forgotten, came back to her as she found herself so unexpectedly out of her sleep in the open air and light. In the recollection of that lovely hour, with a smile at herself, so different as she now knew herself to be, she was moved to rise and look a little more closely about her, and see where she was.
When I call her a little Pilgrim, I do not mean that she was a child; on the contrary, she was not even young. She was little by nature, with as little flesh and blood as was consistent with mortal life; and she was one of those who are always little for love. The tongue found diminutives for her, the heart kept her in a perpetual youth. She was so modest and so gentle, that she always came last, so long as there was any one whom she could put before her. But this little body, and the soul which was not little, and the heart which was big and great, had known all the round of sorrows that fill a woman's life, without knowing any of its warmer blessings. She had nursed the sick, she had entertained the weary, she had consoled the dying. She had gone about the world, which had no prize or recompense for her, with a smile. Her little presence had been always bright. She was not clever; you might have said she had no mind at all; but so wise and right and tender a heart, that it was as good as genius. This is to let you know what this little Pilgrim had been.
She rose up, and it was strange how like she felt to the child she remembered in that still summer morning so many years ago. Her little body, which had been worn and racked with pain, felt as light and unconscious of itself as then. She took her first step forward with the same sense of pleasure, yet of awe, suppressed delight and daring and wild adventure, yet perfect safety. But then the recollection of the little room in which she had fallen asleep came quickly, strangely over her, confusing her mind. "I must be dreaming, I suppose," she said to herself, regretfully; for it was all so sweet that she wished it to be true. Her movement called her attention to herself, and she found that she was dressed, not in her night-dress, as she had lain down, but in a dress she did not know. She paused for a moment to look at it, and wonder. She had never seen it before; she did not make out how it was made, or what stuff it was, but it fell so pleasantly about her, it was so soft and light, that in her confused state she abandoned that subject with only an additional sense of pleasure. And now the atmosphere became more distinct to her. She saw that under her feet was a greenness as of close velvet turf, both cool and warm, cool and soft to touch, but with no damp in it, as might have been at that early hour, and with flowers showing here and there. She stood looking round her, not able to identify the landscape because she was still confused a little, and then walked softly on, all the time afraid lest she should awake and lose the sweetness of it all, and the sense of rest and happiness. She felt so light, so airy, as if she could skim across the field like any child. It was bliss enough to breathe and move, with every organ so free. After more than fifty years of hard service in the world, to feel like this, even in a dream! She smiled to herself at her own pleasure; and then once more, yet more potently, there came back upon her the appearance of her room in which she had fallen asleep. How had she got from there to here? Had she been carried away in her sleep, or was it only a dream, and would she by and by find herself between the four dim walls again? Then this shadow of recollection faded away once more, and she moved forward, walking in a soft rapture over the delicious turf. Presently she came to a little mound, upon which she paused to look about her. Every moment she saw a little farther: blue hills far away, extending in long, sweet distance, an indefinite landscape, but fair and vast, so that there could be seen no end to it, not even the line of the horizon,—save at one side, where there seemed to be a great shadowy gateway, and something dim beyond. She turned from the brightness to look at this, and when she had looked for some time, she saw, what pleased her still more, though she had been so happy before, people coming in. They were too far off for her to see clearly, but many came each apart, one figure only at a time. To watch them amused her in the delightful leisure of her mind. Who were they? she wondered; but no doubt soon some of them would come this way, and she would see. Then suddenly she seemed to hear, as if in answer to her question, some one say, "Those who are coming in are the people who have died on earth." "Died!" she said to herself aloud, with a wondering sense of the inappropriateness of the word which almost came the length of laughter. In this sweet air, with such a sense of life about, to suggest such an idea was almost ludicrous. She was so occupied with this, that she did not look round to see who the speaker might be. She thought it over, amused, but with some new confusion of the mind. Then she said, "Perhaps I have died too," with a laugh to herself at the absurdity of the thought.
"Yes," said the other voice, echoing that gentle laugh of hers, "you have died too."
She turned round, and saw another standing by her, a woman, younger and fairer, and more stately than herself, but of so sweet a countenance that our little Pilgrim felt no shyness, but recognized a friend at once. She was more occupied looking at this new face, and feeling herself at once so much happier (though she had been so happy before) in finding a companion who would tell her what everything was, than in considering what these words might mean. But just then once more the recollection of the four walls, with their little pictures hanging, and the window with its curtains drawn, seemed to come round her for a moment, so that her whole soul was in a confusion. And as this vision slowly faded away (though she could not tell which was the vision, the darkened room or this lovely light), her attention came back to the words at which she had laughed, and at which the other had laughed as she repeated them. Died?—was it possible that this could be the meaning of it all? "Died?" she said, looking with wonder in her companion's face, which smiled back to her.
"But do you mean—You cannot mean—I have never been so well: I am so strong: I have no trouble—anywhere: I am full of life."
The other nodded her beautiful head with a more beautiful smile, and the little Pilgrim burst out in a great cry of joy, and said,—"Is this all? Is it over?—Is it all over? Is it possible that this can be all?"
"Were you afraid of it?" the other said. There was a little agitation for the moment in her heart. She was so glad, so relieved and thankful, that it took away her breath. She could not get over the wonder of it.
"To think one should look forward to it so long, and wonder, and be even unhappy trying to divine what it will be—and this all!"
"Ah, but the angel was very gentle with you," said the young woman; "you were so tender and worn, that he only smiled and took you sleeping. There are other ways. But it is always wonderful to think it is over, as you say."
The little Pilgrim could do nothing but talk of it, as one does after a very great event. "Are you sure, quite sure, it is so?" she said. "It would be dreadful to find it only a dream, to go to sleep again, and wake up—there—" This thought troubled her for a moment. The vision of the bedchamber came back; but this time she felt it was only a vision. "Were you afraid too?" she said, in a low voice.
"I never thought of it at all," the beautiful stranger said; "I did not think it would come to me. But I was very sorry for the others to whom it came, and grudged that they should lose the beautiful earth, and life, and all that was so sweet."
"My dear!" cried the Pilgrim, as if she had never died, "oh, but this is far sweeter! And the heart is so light, and it is, happiness only to breathe. Is it heaven here? It must be heaven."
"I do not know if it is heaven. We have so many things to learn. They cannot tell you every thing at once," said the beautiful lady. "I have seen some of the people I was sorry for, and when I told them, we laughed—as you and I laughed just now—for pleasure."
"That makes me think" said the little Pilgrim; "if I have died, as you say—which is so strange, and me so living—if I have died, they will have found it out. The house will be all dark, and they will be breaking their hearts. Oh, how could I forget them in my selfishness, and be happy! I so light-hearted, while they—"
She sat down hastily, and covered her face with her hands and wept. The other looked at her for a moment, then kissed her for comfort, and cried too. The two happy creatures sat there weeping together, thinking of those they had left behind, with an exquisite grief which was not unhappiness, which was sweet with love and pity. "And oh," said the little Pilgrim, "what can we do to tell them not to grieve? Cannot you send? cannot you speak? cannot one go to tell them?"
The heavenly stranger shook her head.
"It is not well, they all say. Sometimes one has been permitted; but they do not know you," she said, with a pitiful look in her sweet eyes. "My mother told me that her heart was so sick for me, she was allowed to go; and she went and stood by me, and spoke to me, and I did not know her. She came back so sad and sorry, that they took her at once to our Father; and there, you know, she found that it was all well. All is well when you are there."
"Ah," said the little Pilgrim, "I have been thinking of other things. Of how happy I was, and of them; but never of the Father,—just as if I had not died."
The other smiled upon her with a wonderful smile.
"Do you think he will be offended—our Father—as if he were one of us?" she said.
And then the little Pilgrim, in her sudden grief to have forgotten him, became conscious of a new rapture unexplainable in words. She felt his understanding to envelop her little spirit with a soft and clear penetration, and that nothing she did or said could ever be misconceived more. "Will you take me to him?" she said, trembling yet glad, clasping her hands. And once again the other shook her head.
"They will take us both when it is time," she said: "we do not go at our own will. But I have seen our Brother—"
"Oh, take me to him!" the little Pilgrim cried. "Let me see his face! I have so many things to say to him. I want to ask him—Oh, take me to where I can see his face!"
And then once again the heavenly lady smiled.
"I have seen him," she said. "He is always about—now here, now there. He will come and see you, perhaps when you are not thinking. But when he pleases. We do not think here of what we will—"
The little Pilgrim sat very still, wondering at all this. She had thought when a soul left the earth that it went at once to God, and thought of nothing more, except worship and singing of praises. But this was different from her thoughts. She sat and pondered and wondered. She was baffled at many points. She was not changed, as she expected, but so much like herself; still—still perplexed, and feeling herself foolish; not understanding: toiling after a something which she could not grasp. The only difference was that it was no trouble to her now. She smiled at herself and at her dullness, feeling sure that by and by she would understand.
"And don't you wonder too?" she said to her companion, which was a speech such as she used to make upon the earth, when people thought her little remarks disjointed, and did not always see the connection of them. But her friend of heaven knew what she meant.
"I do nothing but wonder," she said, "for it is all so natural, not what we thought."
"Is it long since you have been here?" the Pilgrim said.
"I came before you; but how long or how short I cannot tell, for that is not how we count. We count only by what happens to us. And nothing yet has happened to me, except that I have seen our Brother. My mother sees him always. That means she has lived here a long time, and well—"
"Is it possible to live ill—in heaven?" The little Pilgrim's eyes grew large, as if they were going to have tears in them, and a little shadow seemed to come over her. But the other laughed softly, and restored all her confidence.
"I have told you I do not know if it is heaven or not. No one does ill, but some do little, and some do much, just as it used to be. Do you remember in Dante there was a lazy spirit that stayed about the gates and never got farther? But perhaps you never read that."
"I was not clever," said the little Pilgrim, wistfully; "no, I never read it. I wish I had known more."
Upon which the beautiful lady kissed her again to give her courage, and said,—
"It does not matter at all. It all comes to you, whether you have known it or not."
"Then your mother came here long ago?" said the Pilgrim. "Ah, then I shall see my mother too."
"Oh, very soon, as soon as she can come; but there are so many things to do. Sometimes we can go and meet those who are coming; but it is not always so. I remember that she had a message. She could not leave her business, you may be sure, or she would have been here."
"Then you know my mother? Oh, and my dearest father too?"
"We all know each other," the lady said with a smile.
"And you? did you come to meet me—only out of kindness, though I do not know you?" the little Pilgrim said.
"I am nothing but an idler," said the beautiful lady, "making acquaintance. I am of little use as yet. I was very hard worked before I came here, and they think it well that we should sit in the sun and take a little rest, and find things out."
Then the little Pilgrim sat still and mused, and felt in her heart that she had found many things out. What she had heard had been wonderful, and it was more wonderful still to be sitting here all alone, save for this lady, yet so happy and at ease. She wanted to sing, she was so happy; but remembered that she was old; and had lost her voice; and then remembered again that she was no longer old, and perhaps had found it again. And then it occurred to her to remember how she had learned to sing, and how beautiful her sister's voice was, and how heavenly to hear her,—which made her remember that this dear sister would be weeping, not singing, down where she had come from; and immediately the tears stood in her eyes.
"Oh," she said, "I never thought we should cry when we came here. I thought there were no tears in heaven."
"Did you think, then, that we were all turned into stone?" cried the beautiful lady. "It says God shall wipe away all tears from our faces, which is not like saying there are to be no tears."
Upon which the little Pilgrim, glad that it was permitted to be sorry, though she was so happy, allowed herself to think upon the place she had so lately left. And she seemed to see her little room again, with all the pictures hanging as she had left them, and the house darkened, and the dear faces she knew all sad and troubled, and to hear them saying over to each other all the little careless words she had said as if they were out of the Scriptures, and crying if any one but mentioned her name, and putting on crape and black dresses, and lamenting as if that which had happened was something very terrible. She cried at this, and yet felt half inclined to laugh, but would not, because it would be disrespectful to those she loved. One thing did not occur to her, and that was, that they would be carrying her body, which she had left behind her, away to the grave. She did not think of this, because she was not aware of the loss, and felt far too much herself to think that there was another part of her being buried in the ground. From this she was aroused by her companion asking her a question.
"Have you left many there?" she said.
"No one," said the little Pilgrim, "to whom I was the first on earth; but they loved me all the same; and if I could only, only let them know—"
"But I left one to whom I was the first on earth," said the other, with tears in her beautiful eyes; "and oh, how glad I should be to be less happy if he might be less sad!"
"And you cannot go? you cannot go to him and tell him? Oh, I wish," cried the little Pilgrim; but then she paused, for the wish died all away in her heart into a tender love for this poor, sorrowful man whom she did not know. This gave her the sweetest pang she had ever felt, for she knew that all was well, and yet was so sorry, and would have willingly given up her happiness for his. All this the lady read in her eyes or her heart, and loved her for it; and they took hands and were silent together, thinking of those they had left, as we upon earth think of those who have gone from us, but only with far more understanding and far greater love. "And have you never been able to do anything for him?" our Pilgrim said.
Then the beautiful lady's face flushed all over with the most heavenly warmth and light. Her smile ran over like the bursting out of the sun.
"Oh, I will tell you," she said. "There was a moment when he was very sad and perplexed, not knowing what to think; there was something he could not understand. Nor could I understand, nor did I know what it was, until it was said to me, 'You may go and tell him.' And I went in the early morning before he was awake, and kissed him, and said it in his ear. He woke up in a moment, and understood, and everything was clear to him. Afterward I heard him say, 'It is true that the night brings counsel. I had been troubled and distressed all day long, but in the morning it was quite clear to me.' And the other answered, 'Your brain was refreshed, and that made your judgment clear.' But they never knew it was I! That was a great delight. The dear souls, they are so foolish," she cried, with the sweetest laughter, that ran into tears. "One cries because one is so happy; it is just a silly old habit," she said.
"And you were not grieved—it did not hurt you—that he did not know—"
"Oh, not then, not then! I did not go to him for that. When you have been here a little longer, you will see the difference. When you go for yourself, out of impatience, because it still seems to you that you must know best, and they don't know you, then it strikes to your heart; but when you go to help them,—ah," she cried, "when he comes, how much I shall have to tell him! 'You thought it was sleep, when it was I; when you woke so fresh and clear, it was I that kissed you; you thought it your duty to me to be sad afterward, and were angry with yourself because you had wronged me of the first thoughts of your waking—when it was all me, all through!'"
"I begin to understand," said the little Pilgrim. "But why should they not see us, and why should not we tell them? It would seem so natural. If they saw us, it would make them so happy and so sure."
Upon this the lady shook her head.
"The worst of it is not that they are not sure, it is the parting. If this makes us sorry here, how can they escape the sorrow of it, even if they saw us?—for we must be parted. We cannot go back to live with them, or why should we have died? And then we must all live our lives, they in their way, we in ours. We must not weigh them down, but only help them when it is seen that there is need for it. All this we shall know better by and by."
"You make it so clear, and your face is so bright," said our little Pilgrim gratefully, "you must have known a great deal, and understood even when you were in the world."
"I was as foolish as I could be," said the other, with her laugh that was as sweet as music; "yet thought I knew, and they thought I knew. But all that does not matter now."
"I think it matters, for look how much you have showed me. But tell me one thing more: how was it said to you that you must go and tell him? Was it some one who spoke? Was it—"
Her face grew so bright that all the past brightness was as a dull sky to this. It gave out such a light of happiness, that the little Pilgrim was dazzled.
"I was wandering about," she said, "to see this new place. My mother had come back between two errands she had, and had come to see me and tell me everything; and I was straying about, wondering what I was to do, when suddenly I saw some one coming along, as it might be now—"
She paused and looked up, and the little Pilgrim looked up too, with her heart beating, but there was no one. Then she gave a little sigh, and turned and listened again.
"I had not been looking for him, or thinking. You know my mind is too light; I am pleased with whatever is before me. And I was so curious, for my mother had told me many things; when suddenly I caught sight of him passing by. He was going on, and when I saw this a panic seized me, lest he should pass and say nothing. I do not know what I did. I flung myself upon his robe, and got hold of it,—or at least I think so. I was in such an agony lest he should pass and never notice me. But that was my folly. He pass! As if that could be!"
"And what did he say to you?" cried the little Pilgrim, her heart almost aching, it beat so high with sympathy and expectation.
The lady looked at her for a little without saying anything.
"I cannot tell you," she said, "any more than I can tell if this is heaven. It is a mystery. When you see him you will know. It will be all you have ever hoped for, and more besides, for he understands everything. He knows what is in our hearts about those we have left, and why he sent for us before them. There is no need to tell him anything, he knows. He will come when it is time; and after you have seen him you will know what to do."
Then the beautiful lady turned her eyes toward the gate, and while the little Pilgrim was still gazing, disappeared from her, and went to comfort some other stranger. They were dear friends always, and met often, but not again in the same way.
When she was thus left alone again, the little Pilgrim sat still upon the grassy mound, quite tranquil and happy, without wishing to move. There was such a sense of well-being in her, that she liked to sit there and look about her, and breathe the delightful air, like the air of a summer morning, without wishing for anything.
"How idle I am!" she said to herself, in the very words she had often used before she died; but then she was idle from weakness, and now from happiness. She wanted for nothing. To be alive was so sweet. There was a great deal to think about in what she had heard, but she did not even think about that, only resigned herself to the delight of sitting there in the sweet air and being happy. Many people were coming and going, and they all knew her, and smiled upon her, and those who were at a distance would wave their hands. This did not surprise her at all, for though she was a stranger, she too felt that she knew them all; but that they should be so kind was a delight to her which words could not tell. She sat and mused very sweetly about all that had been told her, and wondered whether she too might go sometimes, and with a kiss and a whisper clear up something that was dark in the mind of some one who loved her. "I that never was clever!" she said to herself, with a smile. And chiefly she thought of a friend whom she loved, who was often in great perplexity, and did not know how to guide herself amid the difficulties of the world.
The little Pilgrim half laughed with delight, and then half cried with longing to go, as the beautiful lady had done, and make something clear that had been dark before, to this friend. As she was thinking what a pleasure it would be, some one came up to her, crossing over the flowery greenness, leaving the path on purpose. This was a being younger than the lady who had spoken to her before, with flowing hair all crisped with touches of sunshine, and a dress all white and soft, like the feathers of a white dove. There was something in her face different from that of the other, by which the little Pilgrim knew somehow, without knowing how, that she had come here as a child, and grown up in this celestial place. She was tall and fair, and came along with so musical a motion, as if her foot scarcely touched the ground, that she might have had wings: and the little Pilgrim indeed was not sure as she watched, whether it might not perhaps be an angel; for she knew that there were angels among the blessed people who were coming and going about, but had not been able yet to find one out. She knew that this new-comer was coming to her, and turned towards her with a smile and a throb at her heart of expectation. But when the heavenly maiden drew nearer, her face, though it was so fair, looked to the Pilgrim like another face, which she had known very well,—indeed, like the homely and troubled face of the friend of whom she had been thinking. And so she smiled all the more, and held out her hands and said, "I am sure I know you;" upon which the other kissed her and said, "We all know each other; but I have seen you often before you came here," and knelt down by her, among the flowers that were growing, just in front of some tall lilies that grew over her, and made a lovely canopy over her head. There was something in her face that was like a child: her mouth so soft, as if it had never spoken anything but heavenly words, her eyes brown and golden, as if they were filled with light. She took the little Pilgrim's hands in hers, and held them and smoothed them between her own. These hands had been very thin and worn before, but now, when the Pilgrim looked at them, she saw that they became softer and whiter every moment with the touch of this immortal youth.
"I knew you were coming," said the maiden; "when my mother has wanted me I have seen you there. And you were thinking of her now that was how I found you."
"Do you know, then, what one thinks?" said the little Pilgrim, with wondering eyes.
"It is in the air; and when it concerns us it comes to us like the breeze. But we who are the children here, we feel it more quickly than you."
"Are you a child?" said the little Pilgrim, "or are you an angel? Sometimes you are like a child; but then your face shines, and you are like—You must have some name for it here; there is nothing among the words I know." And then she paused a little, still looking at her, and cried, "Oh, if she could but see you, little Margaret! That would do her most good of all."
Then the maiden Margaret shook her lovely head. "What does her most good is the will of the Father," she said.
At this the little Pilgrim felt once more that thrill of expectation and awe. "Oh, child, you have seen him?" she cried.
And the other smiled. "Have you forgotten who they are that always behold his face? We have never had any fear or trembling. We are not angels, and there is no other name; we are the children. There is something given to us beyond the others. We have had no other home."
"Oh, tell me, tell me!" the little Pilgrim cried.
Upon this Margaret kissed her, putting her soft cheek against hers, and said; "It is a mystery; it cannot be put into words; in your time you will know."
"When you touch me you change me, and I grow like you," the Pilgrim said. "Ah, if she could see us together, you and me! And will you go to her soon again? And do you see them always, what they are doing? and take care of them?"
"It is our Father who takes cares of them, and our Lord who is our Brother. I do his errands when I am able. Sometimes he will let me go, sometimes another, according as it is best. Who am I that I should take care of them? I serve them when I may."
"But you do not forget them?" the Pilgrim said, with wistful eyes.
"We love them always," said Margaret. She was more still than the lady who had first spoken with the Pilgrim. Her countenance was full of a heavenly calm. It had never known passion nor anguish. Sometimes there was in it a far-seeing look of vision, sometimes the simplicity of a child. "But what are we in comparison? For he loves them more than we do. When he keeps us from them, it is for love. We must each live our own life."
"But it is hard for them sometimes," said the little Pilgrim, who could not withdraw her thoughts from those she had left.
"They are never forsaken," said the angel maiden.
"But oh! there are worse things than sorrow," the little Pilgrim said; "there is wrong, there is evil, Margaret. Will not he send you to step in before them, to save them from wrong?"
"It is not for us to judge," said the young Margaret, with eyes full of heavenly wisdom; "our Brother has it all in his hand. We do not read their hearts, like him. Sometimes you are permitted to see the battle—"
The little Pilgrim covered her eyes with her hands. "I could not—I could not; unless I knew they were to win the day!"
"They will win the day in the end. But sometimes, when it was being lost, I have seen in his face a something—I cannot tell—more love than before. Something that seemed to say, 'My child, my child, would that I could do it for thee, my child!'"
"Oh! that is what I have always felt," cried the Pilgrim, clasping her hands; her eyes were dim, her heart for a moment almost forgot its blessedness. "But he could; oh, little Margaret, he could! You have forgotten, 'Lord; if thou wilt thou canst—'"
The child of heaven looked at her mutely, with sweet, grave eyes, in which there was much that confused her who was a stranger here, and once more softly shook her head.
"Is it that he will not then?" said the other with a low voice of awe. "Our Lord, who died—he—"
"Listen!" said the other; "I hear his step on the way."
The little Pilgrim rose up from the mound on which she was sitting. Her soul was confused with wonder and fear. She had thought that an angel might step between a soul on earth and sin, and that if one but prayed and prayed, the dear Lord would stand between and deliver the tempted. She had meant when she saw his face to ask him to save. Was not he born, did not he live and die, to save? The angel maiden looked at her all the while with eyes that understood all her perplexity and her doubt, but spoke not. Thus it was that before the Lord came to her, the sweetness of her first blessedness was obscured, and she found that here too, even here, though in a moment she should see him, there was need for faith. Young Margaret, who had been kneeling by her, rose up too and stood among the lilies, waiting, her soft countenance shining, her eyes turned towards him who was coming. Upon her there was no cloud nor doubt. She was one of the children of that land familiar with his presence. And in the air there was a sound such as those who hear it alone can describe,—a sound as of help coming and safety, like the sound of a deliverer when one is in deadly danger, like the sound of a conqueror, like the step of the dearest beloved coming home. As it came nearer, the fear melted away out of the beating heart of the Pilgrim. Who could fear so near him? Her breath went away from her, her heart out of her bosom to meet his coming. Oh, never fear could live where he was! Her soul was all confused, but it was with hope and joy. She held out her hands in that amaze, and dropped upon her knees, not knowing what she did.
He was going about his Father's business, not lingering, yet neither making haste; and the calm and peace which the little Pilgrim had seen in the faces of the blessed were but reflections from the majestic gentleness of the countenance to which, all quivering with happiness and wonder, she lifted up her eyes. Many things there had been in her mind to say to him. She wanted to ask for those she loved some things which perhaps he had overlooked. She wanted to say, "Send me." It seemed to her that here was the occasion she had longed for all her life. Oh, how many times had she wished to be able to go to him, to fall at his feet, to show him something which had been left undone, something which perhaps for her asking he would remember to do. But when this dream of her life was fulfilled, and the little Pilgrim, kneeling, and all shaken and trembling with devotion and joy, was at his feet, lifting her face to him, seeing him, hearing him—then she said nothing to him at all. She no longer wanted to say anything, or wanted anything except what he chose, or had power to think of anything except that all was well, and everything—everything as it should be in his hand. It seemed to her that all that she had ever hoped for was fulfilled when she met the look in his eyes. At first it seemed too bright for her to meet; but next moment she knew it was all that was needed to light up the world, and in it everything was clear. Her trembling ceased, her little frame grew inspired; though she still knelt, her head rose erect, drawn to him like the flower to the sun. She could not tell how long it was, nor what was said, nor if it was in words. All that she knew was that she told him all that ever she had thought, or wished, or intended in all her life, although she said nothing at all; and that he opened all things to her, and showed her that everything was well, and no one forgotten; and that the things she would have told him of were more near his heart than hers, and those to whom she wanted to be sent were in his own hand. But whether this passed with words or without words, she could not tell. Her soul expanded under his eyes like a flower. It opened out, it comprehended and felt and knew. She smote her hands together in her wonder that she could have missed seeing what was so clear, and laughed with a sweet scorn at her folly, as two people who love each other laugh at the little misunderstanding that has parted them. She was bold with him, though she was so timid by nature, and ventured to laugh at herself, not to reproach herself; for his divine eyes spoke no blame, but smiled upon her folly too. And then he laid a hand upon her head, which seemed to fill her with currents of strength and joy running through all her veins. And then she seemed to come to herself, saying loud out, "And that I will! and that I will!" and lo, she was kneeling on the warm, soft sod alone, and hearing the sound of his footsteps as he went about his Father's business, filling all the air with echoes of blessing. And all the people who were coming and going smiled upon her, and she knew they were all glad for her that she had seen him, and got the desire of her heart. Some of them waved their hands as they passed, and some paused a moment and spoke to her with tender congratulations. They seemed to have the tears in their eyes for joy, remembering every one the first time they had themselves seen him, and the joy of it; so that all about there sounded a concord of happy thoughts all echoing to each other, "She has seen the Lord!"
Why did she say, "And that I will! and that I will!" with such fervor and delight? She could not have told, but yet she knew. The first thing was that she had yet to wait and believe until all things should be accomplished, neither doubting nor fearing, but knowing that all should be well; and the second was that she must delay no longer, but rise up and serve the Father according to what was given her as her reward. When she had recovered a little of her rapture, she rose from her knees, and stood still for a little, to be sure which way she was to go. And she was not aware what guided her, but yet turned her face in the appointed way without any doubt. For doubt was now gone away forever, and that fear that once gave her so much trouble lest she might not be doing what was best. As she moved along she wondered at herself more and more. She felt no longer, as at first, like the child she remembered to have been, venturing out in the awful lovely stillness of the morning before any one was awake; but she felt that to move along was a delight, and that her foot scarcely touched the grass. And her whole being was instinct with such lightness of strength and life, that it did not matter to her how far she went, nor what she carried, nor if the way was easy or hard. The way she chose was one of those which led to the great gate, and many met her coming from thence, with looks that were somewhat bewildered, as if they did not yet know whither they were going or what had happened to them,—upon whom she smiled as she passed them with soft looks of tenderness and sympathy, knowing what they were feeling, but did not stop to explain to them, because she had something else that had been given her to do. For this is what always follows in that country when you meet the Lord, that you instantly know what it is that he would have you do.
The little Pilgrim thus went on and on toward the gate, which she had not seen when she herself came through it, having been lifted in his arms by the great Death Angel, and set down softly inside, so that she did not know it, or even the shadow of it. As she drew nearer, the light became less bright, though very sweet, like a lovely dawn, and she wondered to herself to think that she had been here but a moment ago, and yet so much had passed since then. And still she was not aware what was her errand, but wondered if she was to go back by these same gates, and perhaps return where she had been. She went up to them very closely, for she was curious to see the place through which she had come in her sleep,—as a traveller goes back to see the city gate, with its bridge and portcullis, through which he has passed by night. The gate was very great, of a wonderful, curious architecture, having strange, delicate arches and canopies above. Some parts of them seemed cut very clean and clear; but the outlines were all softened with a sort of mist and shadow, so that it looked greater and higher than it was. The lower part was not one great doorway, as the Pilgrim had supposed, but had innumerable doors, all separate and very narrow, so that but one could pass at a time, though the arch inclosed all, and seemed filled with great folding gates, in which the smaller doors were set, so that if need arose a vast opening might be made for many to enter. Of the little doors many were shut as the Pilgrim approached; but from moment to moment one after another would be pushed softly open from without, and some one would come in. The little Pilgrim looked at it all with great interest, wondering which of the doors she herself had come by; but while she stood absorbed by this, a door was suddenly pushed open close by her, and some one flung forward into the blessed country, falling upon the ground, and stretched out wild arms as though to clutch the very soil. This sight gave the Pilgrim a great surprise; for it was the first time she had heard any sound of pain, or seen any sight of trouble, since she entered here. In that moment she knew what it was that the dear Lord had given her to do. She had no need to pause to think, for her heart told her; and she did not hesitate, as she might have done in the other life, not knowing what to say. She went forward and gathered this poor creature into her arms, as if it had been a child, and drew her quite within the land of peace; for she had fallen across the threshold, so as to hinder any one entering who might be coming after her. It was a woman, and she had flung herself upon her face, so that it was difficult for the little Pilgrim to see what manner of person it was; for though she felt herself strong enough to take up this new-comer in her arms and carry her away, yet she forbore, seeing the will of the stranger was not so. For some time this woman lay moaning, with now and then a great sob shaking her as she lay. The little Pilgrim had taken her by both her arms, and drawn her head to rest upon her own lap, and was still holding the hands, which the poor creature had thrown out as if to clutch the ground. Thus she lay for a little while, as the little Pilgrim remembered she herself had lain, not wishing to move, wondering what had happened to her; then she clutched the hands which grasped her, and said, muttering,—
"You are some one new. Have you come to save me? Oh, save me! Oh, save me! Don't let me die!"
This was very strange to the little Pilgrim, and went to her heart. She soothed the stranger, holding her hands warm and light, and stooping over her.
"Dear," she said, "you must try and not be afraid."
"You say so," said the woman, "because you are well and strong. You don't know what it is to be seized in the middle of your life, and told that you've got to die. Oh, I have been a sinful creature! I am not fit to die. Can't you give me something that will cure me? What is the good of doctors and nurses if they cannot save a poor soul that is not fit to die?"
At this the little Pilgrim smiled upon her, always holding her fast, and said,—
"Why are you so afraid to die?"
The woman raised her head to see who it was who put such a strange question to her.
"You are some one new," she said. "I have never seen you before. Is there any one that is not afraid to die? Would you like to have to give your account all in a moment, without any time to prepare?"
"But you have had time to prepare," said the Pilgrim.
"Oh, only a very, very little time. And I never thought it was true. I am not an old woman, and I am not fit to die; and I'm poor. Oh, if I were rich, I would bribe you to give me something to keep me alive. Won't you do it for pity?—won't you do it for pity? When you are as bad as I am, oh, you will perhaps call for some one to help you, and find nobody, like me."
"I will help you for love," said the little Pilgrim; "some one who loves you has sent me."
The woman lifted herself up a little and shook her head. "There is nobody that loves me." Then she cast her eyes round her and began to tremble again (for the touch of the little Pilgrim had stilled her). "Oh, where am I?" she said. "They have taken me away; they have brought me to a strange place; and you are new. Oh, where have they taken me?—where am I?—where am I?" she cried. "Have they brought me here to die?"
Then the little Pilgrim bent over her and soothed her. "You must not be so much afraid of dying; that is all over. You need not fear that any more," she said softly; "for here where you now are we have all died."
The woman started up out of her arms, and then she gave a great shriek that made the air ring, and cried out, "Dead! am I dead?" with a shudder and convulsion, throwing herself again wildly with outstretched hands upon the ground.
This was a great and terrible work for the little Pilgrim—the first she had ever had to do—and her heart failed her for a moment; but afterward she remembered our Brother who sent her, and knew what was best. She drew closer to the new-comer, and took her hand again.
"Try," she said, in a soft voice, "and think a little. Do you feel now so ill as you were? Do not be frightened, but think a little. I will hold your hand. And look at me; you are not afraid of me?"
The poor creature shuddered again, and then she turned her face and looked doubtfully, with great dark eyes dilated, and the brow and cheek so curved and puckered round them that they seemed to glow out of deep caverns. Her face was full of anguish and fear. But as she looked at the little Pilgrim, her troubled gaze softened. Of her own accord she clasped her other hand upon the one that held hers, and then she said with a gasp,—
"I am not afraid of you; that was not true that you said! You are one of the sisters, and you want to frighten me and make me repent!"
"You do repent," the Pilgrim said.
"Oh," cried the poor woman, "what has the like of you to do with me? Now I look at you, I never saw any one that was like you before. Don't you hate me?—don't you loathe me? I do myself. It's so ugly to go wrong. I think now I would almost rather die and be done with it. You will say that is because I am going to get better. I feel a great deal better now. Do you think I am going to get over it? Oh, I am better! I could get up out of bed and walk about. Yes, but I am not in bed,—where have you brought me? Never mind, it is a fine air; I shall soon get well here."
The Pilgrim was silent for a little, holding her hands. And then she said,—
"Tell me how you feel now," in her soft voice.
The woman had sat up and was gazing round her. "It is very strange," she said; "it is all confused. I think upon my mother and the old prayers I used to say. For a long, long time I always said my prayers; but now I've got hardened, they say. Oh, I was once as fresh as any one. It all comes over me now. I feel as if I were young again—just come out of the country. I am sure that I could walk."
The little Pilgrim raised her up, holding her by her hands; and she stood and gazed round about her, making one or two doubtful steps. She was very pale, and the light was dim; her eyes peered into it with a scared yet eager look. She made another step, then stopped again.
"I am quite well," she said. "I could walk a mile. I could walk any distance. What was that you said? Oh, I tell you I am better! I am not going to die."
"You will never, never die," said the little Pilgrim; "are you not glad it is all over? Oh, I was so glad! And all the more you should be glad if you were so much afraid."
But this woman was not glad. She shrank away from her companion, then came close to her again, and gripped her with her hands.
"It is your—fun," she said, "or just to frighten me. Perhaps you think it will do me no harm as I am getting so well; you want to frighten me to make me good. But I mean to be good without that—I do!—I do! When one is so near dying as I have been and yet gets better,—for I am going to get better! Yes! you know it as well as I."
The little Pilgrim made no reply, but stood by, looking at her charge, not feeling that anything was given her to say,—and she was so new to this work, that there was a little trembling in her, lest she should not do everything as she ought. And the woman looked round with those anxious eyes gazing all about. The light did not brighten as it had done when the Pilgrim herself first came to this place. For one thing, they had remained quite close to the gate, which no doubt threw a shadow. The woman looked at that, and then turned and looked into the dim morning, and did not know where she was, and her heart was confused and troubled.
"Where are we?" she said. "I do not know where it is; they must have brought me here in my sleep,—where are we? How strange to bring a sick woman away out of her room in her sleep! I suppose it was the new doctor," she went on, looking very closely in the little Pilgrim's face; then paused, and drawing a long breath, said softly, "It has done me good. It is better air—it is—a new kind of cure!"
But though she spoke like this, she did not convince herself; her eyes were wild with wondering and fear. She gripped the Pilgrim's arm more and more closely, and trembled, leaning upon her.
"Why don't you speak to me?" she said; "why don't you tell me? Oh, I don't know how to live in this place! What do you do?—how do you speak? I am not fit for it. And what are you? I never saw you before, nor any one like you. What do you want with me? Why are you so kind to me? Why—why—"
And here she went off into a murmur of questions. Why? why? always holding fast by the little Pilgrim, always gazing round her, groping as it were in the dimness with her great eyes.
"I have come because our dear Lord who is our Brother sent me to meet you, and because I love you," the little Pilgrim said.
"Love me!" the woman cried, throwing up her hands. "But no one loves me; I have not deserved it." Here she grasped her close again with a sudden clutch, and cried out, "If this is what you say, where is God?"
"Are you afraid of him?" the little Pilgrim said. Upon which the woman trembled so, that the Pilgrim trembled too with the quivering of her frame; then loosed her hold, and fell upon her face, and cried,—
"Hide me! hide me! I have been a great sinner. Hide me, that he may not see me;" and with one hand she tried to draw the Pilgrim's dress as a veil between her and something she feared.
"How should I hide you from him who is everywhere? and why should I hide you from your Father?" the little Pilgrim said. This she said almost with indignation, wondering that any one could put more trust in her, who was no better than a child, than in the Father of all. But then she said, "Look into your heart, and you will see you are not so much afraid as you think. This is how you have been accustomed to frighten yourself. But now look into your heart. You thought you were very ill at first, but not now and you think you are afraid; but look into your heart—"
There was a silence; and then the woman raised her head with a wonderful look, in which there was amazement and doubt, as if she had heard some joyful thing, but dared not yet believe that it was true. Once more she hid her face in her hands, and once more raised it again. Her eyes softened; a long sigh or gasp, like one taking breath after drowning, shook her breast. Then she said, "I think—that is true. But if I am not afraid, it is because I am—bad. It is because I am hardened. Oh, should not I fear him who can send me away into—the lake that burns—into the pit—" And here she gave a great cry, but held the little Pilgrim all the while with her eyes, which seemed to plead and ask for better news.
Then there came into the Pilgrim's heart what to say, and she took the woman's hand again and held it between her own. "That is the change," she said, "that comes when we come here. We are not afraid any more of our Father. We are not all happy. Perhaps you will not be happy at first. But if he says to you, 'Go!'—even to that place you speak of—you will know that it is well, and you will not be afraid. You are not afraid now,—oh, I can see it in your eyes. You are not happy, but you are not afraid. You know it is the Father. Do not say God,—that is far off,—Father!" said the little Pilgrim, holding up the woman's hand clasped in her own. And there came into her soul an ecstasy, and tears that were tears of blessedness fell from her eyes, and all about her there seemed to shine a light. When she came to herself, the woman who was her charge had come quite close to her, and had added her other hand to that the Pilgrim held, and was weeping and saying, "I am not afraid," with now and then a gasp and sob, like a child who after a passion of tears has been consoled, yet goes on sobbing and cannot quite forget, and is afraid to own that all is well again. Then the Pilgrim kissed her, and bade her rest a little; for even she herself felt shaken, and longed for a little quiet, and to feel the true sense of the peace that was in her heart. She sat down beside her upon the ground, and made her lean her head against her shoulder, and thus they remained very still for a little time, saying no more. It seemed to the little Pilgrim that her companion had fallen asleep, and perhaps it was so, after so much agitation. All this time there had been people passing, entering by the many doors. And most of them paused a little to see where they were, and looked round them, then went on; and it seemed to the little Pilgrim that according to the doors by which they entered each took a different way. While she watched, another came in by the same door as that at which the woman who was her charge had come in. And he too stumbled and looked about him with an air of great wonder and doubt. When he saw her seated on the ground, he came up to her hesitating, as one in a strange place who does not want to betray that he is bewildered and has lost his way. He came with a little pretence of smiling, though his countenance was pale and scared, and said, drawing his breath quick, "I ought to know where I am, but I have lost my head, I think. Will you tell me which is—the way?"
"What way?" cried the little Pilgrim; for her strength was gone from her, and she had no word to say to him. He looked at her with that bewilderment on his face, and said, "I find myself strange, strange. I ought to know where I am; but it is scarcely daylight yet. It is perhaps foolish to come out so early in the morning." This he said in his confusion, not knowing where he was, nor what he said.
"I think all the ways lead to our Father," said the little Pilgrim (though she had not known this till now). "And the dear Lord walks about them all. Here you never go astray."
Upon this the stranger looked at her, and asked in a faltering voice, "Are you an angel?" still not knowing what he said.
"Oh, no, no; I am only a Pilgrim," she replied.
"May I sit by you a little?" said the man. He sat down, drawing long breaths, as though he had gone through great fatigue; and looked about with wondering eyes. "You will wonder, but I do not know where I am," he said. "I feel as if I must he dreaming. This is not where I expected to come. I looked for something very different; do you think there can have been any—mistake?"
"Oh, never that," she said; "there are no mistakes here."
Then he looked at her again, and said,—
"I perceive that you belong to this country, though you say you are a pilgrim. I should be grateful if you would tell me. Does one live—here? And is this all? Is there no—no—but I don't know what word to use. All is so strange, different from what I expected."
"Do you know that you have died?"
"Yes—yes, I am quite acquainted with that," he said, hurriedly; as if it had been an idea he disliked to dwell upon. "But then I expected—Is there no one to tell you where to go, or what you are to be? or to take any notice of you?"
The little Pilgrim was startled by this tone. She did not understand its meaning, and she had not any word to say to him. She looked at him with as much bewilderment as he had shown when he approached her, and replied, faltering,—
"There are a great many people here; but I have never heard if there is any one to tell you—"
"What does it matter how many people there are if you know none of them?" he said.
"We all know each other," she answered him but then paused and hesitated a little, because this was what had been said to her, and of herself she was not assured of it, neither did she know at all how to deal with this stranger, to whom she had not any commission. It seemed that he had no one to care for him, and the little Pilgrim had a sense of compassion, yet of trouble in her heart; for what could she say? And it was very strange to her to see one who was not content here.
"Ah, but there should be some one to point out the way, and tell us which is our circle, and where we ought to go," he said. And then he too was silent for a while, looking about him as all were fain to do on their first arrival, finding everything so strange. There were people coming in at every moment, and some were met at the very threshold, and some went away alone with peaceful faces, and there were many groups about talking together in soft voices; but no one interrupted the other, and though so many were there, each voice was as clear as if it had spoken alone, and there was no tumult of sound as when many people assemble together in the lower world.
The little Pilgrim wondered to find herself with the woman resting upon her on one side, and the man seated silent on the other, neither having, it appeared, any guide but only herself, who knew so little. How was she to lead them in the paths which she did not know?—and she was exhausted by the agitation of her struggle with the woman whom she felt to be her charge. But in this moment of silence she had time to remember the face of the Lord, when he gave her this commission, and her heart was strengthened. The man all this time sat and watched, looking eagerly all about him, examining the faces of those who went and came: and sometimes he made a little start as if to go and speak to some one he knew; but always drew back again and looked at the little Pilgrim, as if he had said, "This is the one who will serve me best." He spoke to her again after a while and said, "I suppose you are one of the guides that show the way."
"No," said the little Pilgrim, anxiously. "I know so little! It is not long since I came here. I came in the early morning—"
"Why, it is morning now. You could not come earlier than it is now. You mean yesterday."
"I think," said the Pilgrim, "that yesterday is the other side; there is no yesterday here."
He looked at her with the keen look he had, to understand her the better; and then he said,—
"No division of time! I think that must be monotonous. It will be strange to have no night; but I suppose one gets used to everything. I hope though there is something to do. I have always lived a very busy life. Perhaps this is just a little pause before we go—to be—to have—to get our—appointed place."
He had an uneasy look as he said this, and looked at her with an anxious curiosity, which the little Pilgrim did not understand.
"I do not know," she said softly, shaking her head. "I have so little experience. I have not been told of an appointed place."
The man looked at her very strangely.
"I did not think," he said, "that I should have found such ignorance here. Is it not well known that we must all appear before the judgment-seat of God?"
There words seemed to cause a trembling on the still air, and the woman on the other side raised herself suddenly up, clasping her hands and some of those who had just entered heard the words, and came and crowded about the little Pilgrim, some standing, some falling down upon their knee, all with their faces turned towards her. She who had always been so simple and small, so little used to teach; she was frightened with the sight of all these strangers crowding, hanging upon her lips, looking to her for knowledge. She knew not what to do or what to say. The tears came into her eyes.
"Oh," she said, "I do not know anything about a judgment-seat. I know that our Father is here, and that when we are in trouble we are taken to him to be comforted, and that our dear Lord our Brother is among us every day, and every one may see him. Listen," she said, standing up suddenly among them, feeling strong as an angel. "I have seen him! though I am nothing, so little as you see, and often silly, never clever as some of you are, I have seen him! and so will all of you. There is no more that I know of," she said softly, clasping her hands. "When you see him it comes into your heart what you must do."
And then there was a murmur of voices about her, some saying that was best, and some wondering if that were all, and some crying if he would but come now—while the little Pilgrim stood among them with her face shining, and they all looked at her, asking her to tell them more, to show them how to find him. But this was far above what she could do, for she too was not much more than a stranger, and had little strength. She would not go back a step, nor desert those who were so anxious to know, though her heart fluttered almost as it had used to do before she died, what with her longing to tell them, and knowing that she had no more to say.
But in that land it is never permitted that one who stands bravely and fails not shall be left without succor; for it is no longer needful there to stand even to death, since all dying is over, and all souls are tested. When it was seen that the little Pilgrim was thus surrounded by so many that questioned her, there suddenly came about her many others from the brightness out of which she had come, who, one going to one hand, and one to another, safely led them into the ways in which their course lay: so that the Pilgrim was free to lead forth the woman who had been given her in charge, and whose path lay in a dim, but pleasant country, outside of that light and gladness in which the Pilgrim's home was.
"But," she said, "you are not to fear or be cast down, because he goes likewise by these ways, and there is not a corner in all this land but he is to be seen passing by; and he will come and speak to you, and lay his hand upon you; and afterwards everything will be clear, and you will know what you are to do."
"Stay with me till he comes,—oh, stay with me," the woman cried, clinging to her arm.
"Unless another is sent," the little Pilgrim said. And it was nothing to her that the air was less bright there, for her mind was full of light, so that, though her heart still fluttered a little with all that had passed, she had no longing to return, nor to shorten the way, but went by the lower road sweetly, with the stranger hanging upon her, who was stronger and taller than she. Thus they went on, and the Pilgrim told her all she knew, and everything that came into her heart. And so full was she of the great things she had to say, that it was a surprise to her, and left her trembling, when suddenly the woman took away her clinging hand, and flew forward with arms out-spread and a cry of joy. The little Pilgrim stood still to see, and on the path before them was a child, coming towards them singing, with a look such as is never seen but upon the faces of children who have come here early, and who behold the face of the Father, and have never known fear nor sorrow. The woman flew and fell at the child's feet, and he put his hand upon her, and raised her up, and called her "mother." Then he smiled upon the little Pilgrim, and led her away.
"Now she needs me no longer," said the Pilgrim; and it was a surprise to her, and for a moment she wondered in herself if it was known that this child should come so suddenly and her work be over; and also how she was to return again to the sweet place among the flowers from which she had come. But when she turned to look if there was any way, she found one standing by such as she had not yet seen. This was a youth, with a face just touched with manhood, as at the moment when the boy ends, when all is still fresh and pure in the heart; but he was taller and greater than a man.
"I am sent," he said, "little sister, to take you to the Father; because you have been very faithful, and gone beyond your strength."
And he took the little Pilgrim by the hand, and she knew he was an angel; and immediately the sweet air melted about them into light, and a hush came upon her of all thought and all sense, attending till she should receive the blessing, and her new name, and see what is beyond telling, and hear and understand.
THE LITTLE PILGRIM GOES UP HIGHER.
When the little Pilgrim came out of the presence of the Father, she found herself in the street of a great city. But what she saw and heard when she was with Him it is not given to the tongue of mortal to say, for it is beyond words, and beyond even thought. As the mystery of love is not to be spoken but to be felt, even in the lower earth, so, but much less, is that great mystery of the love of the Father to be expressed in sound. The little Pilgrim was very happy when she went into that sacred place, but there was a great awe upon her, and it might even be said that she was afraid; but when she came out again she feared nothing, but looked with clear eyes upon all she saw, loving them, but no more overawed by them, having seen that which is above all. When she came forth again to her common life—for it is not permitted save for those who have attained the greatest heights to dwell there—she had no longer need of any guide, but came alone, knowing where to go, and walking where it pleased her, with reverence and a great delight in seeing and knowing all that was around, but no fear. It was a great city, but it was not like the great cities which she had seen. She understood as she passed along how it was that those who had been dazzled but by a passing glance had described the walls and the pavement as gold. They were like what gold is, beautiful and clear, of a lovely color, but softer in tone than metal ever was, and as cool and fresh to walk upon and to touch as if they had been velvet grass. The buildings were all beautiful, of every style and form that it is possible to think of, yet in great harmony, as if every man had followed his own taste, yet all had been so combined and grouped by the master architect that each individual feature enhanced the effect of the rest. Some of the houses were greater and some smaller, but all of them were rich in carvings and pictures and lovely decorations, and the effect was as if the richest materials had been employed, marbles and beautiful sculptured stone, and wood of beautiful tints, though the little Pilgrim knew that these were not like the marble and stone she had once known, but heavenly representatives of them, far better than they. There were people at work upon them, building new houses and making additions, and a great many painters painting upon them the history of the people who lived there, or of others who were worthy that commemoration. And the streets were full of pleasant sound, and of crowds going and coming, and the commotion of much business, and many things to do. And this movement, and the brightness of the air, and the wonderful things that were to be seen on every side, made the Pilgrim gay, so that she could have sung with pleasure as she went along. And all who met her smiled, and every group exchanged greetings as they passed along, all knowing each other. Many of them, as might be seen, had come there, as she did, to see the wonders of the beautiful city; and all who lived there were ready to tell them whatever they desired to know, and show them the finest houses and the greatest pictures. And this gave a feeling of holiday and pleasure which was delightful beyond description, for all the busy people about were full of sympathy with the strangers, bidding them welcome, inviting them into their houses, making the warmest fellowship. And friends were meeting continually on every side; but the Pilgrim had no sense that she was forlorn in being alone, for all were friends; and it pleased her to watch the others, and see how one turned this way and one another, every one finding something that delighted him above all other things. She herself took a great pleasure in watching a painter, who was standing upon a balcony a little way above her, painting upon a great fresco: and when he saw this he asked her to come up beside him and see his work. She asked him a great many questions about it, and why it was that he was working only at the draperies of the figures, and did not touch their faces, some of which were already finished and seemed to be looking at her, as living as she was, out of the wall, while some were merely outlined as yet. He told her that he was not a great painter to do this, or to design the great work, but that the master would come presently, who had the chief responsibility. "For we have not all the same genius," he said, "and if I were to paint this head it would not have the gift of life as that one has; but to stand by and see him put it in, you cannot think what a happiness that is; for one knows every touch, and just what effect it will have, though one could not do it one's self; and it is a wonder and a delight perpetual that it should be done."
The little Pilgrim looked up at him and said, "That is very beautiful to say. And do you never wish to be like him—to make the lovely, living faces as well as the other parts?"
"Is not this lovely too?" he said; and showed her how he had just put in a billowy robe, buoyed out with the wind, and sweeping down from the shoulders of a stately figure in such free and graceful folds that she would have liked to take it in her hand and feel the silken texture; and then he told her how absorbing it was to study the mysteries of color and the differences of light. "There is enough in that to make one happy," he said. "It is thought by some that we will all come to the higher point with work and thought: but that is not my feeling; and whether it is so or not what does it matter, for our Father makes no difference: and all of us are necessary to everything that is done: and it is almost more delight to see the master do it than to do it with one's own hand. For one thing, your own work may rejoice you in your heart, but always with a little trembling because it is never so perfect as you would have it—whereas in your master's work you have full content, because his idea goes beyond yours, and as he makes every touch you can feel 'That is right—that is complete—that is just as it ought to be.' Do you understand what I mean?" he said, turning to her with a smile.
"I understand it perfectly," she cried, clasping her hands together with the delight of accord. "Don't you think that is one of the things that are so happy here? you understand at half a word."
"Not everybody," he said, and smiled upon her like a brother; "for we are not all alike even here."
"Were you a painter?" she said, "in—in the other—"
"In the old times. I was one of those that strove for the mastery, and sometimes grudged—We remember these things at times," he said gravely, "to make us more aware of the blessedness of being content."
"It is long since then?" she said with some wistfulness; upon which he smiled again.
"So long," he said, "that we have worn out most of our links to the world below. We have all come away, and those who were after us for generations. But you are a new-comer."
"And are they all with you? are you all—together? do you live—as in the old time?"
Upon this the painter smiled, but not so brightly as before.
"Not as in the old time," he said, "nor are they all here. Some are still upon the way, and of some we have no certainty, only news from time to time. The angels are very good to us. They never miss an occasion to bring us news; for they go everywhere, you know."
"Yes," said the little Pilgrim, though indeed she had not known it till now; but it seemed to her as if it had come to her mind by nature and she had never needed to be told.
"They are so tender-hearted," the painter said; "and more than that, they are very curious about men and women. They have known it all from the beginning, and it is a wonder to them. There is a friend of mine, an angel, who is more wise in men's hearts than any one I know; and yet he will say to me sometimes, 'I do not understand you,—you are wonderful.' They like to find out all we are thinking. It is an endless pleasure to them, just as it is to some of us to watch the people in the other worlds."
"Do you mean—where we have come from?" said the little Pilgrim.
"Not always there. We in this city have been long separated from that country, for all that we love are out of it."
"But not here?" the little Pilgrim cried again, with a little sorrow—a pang that she knew was going to be put away—in her heart.
"But coming! coming!" said the painter, cheerfully; "and some were here before us, and some have arrived since. They are everywhere."
"But some in trouble—some in trouble!" she cried, with the tears in her eyes.
"We suppose so," he said, gravely; "for some are in that place which once was called among us the place of despair."
"You mean—" and though the little Pilgrim had been made free of fear, at that word which she would not speak, she trembled, and the light grew dim in her eyes.
"Well!" said her new friend, "and what then? The Father sees through and through it as he does here; they cannot escape him: so that there is Love near them always. I have a son," he said, then sighed a little, but smiled again, "who is there."
The little Pilgrim at this clasped her hands with a piteous cry.
"Nay, nay," he said, "little sister; my friend I was telling you of, the angel, brought me news of him just now. Indeed there was news of him through all the city. Did you not hear all the bells ringing? But perhaps that was before you came. The angels who know me best came one after another to tell me, and our Lord himself came to wish me joy. My son had found the way."
The little Pilgrim did not understand this, and almost thought that the painter must be mistaken or dreaming. She looked at him very anxiously and said,—
"I thought that those unhappy—never came out any more."
The painter smiled at her in return, and said,—
"Had you children in the old time?"
She paused a little before she replied.
"I had children in love," she said, "but none that were born mine."
"It is the same," he said, "it is the same; and if one of them had sinned against you, injured you, done wrong in any way, would you have cast him off, or what would you have done?"
"Oh!" said the little Pilgrim again, with a vivid light of memory coming into her face, which showed she had no need to think of this as a thing that might have happened, but knew. "I brought him home. I nursed him well again. I prayed for him night and day. Did you say cast him off? when he had most need of me? then I never could have loved him," she cried.
The painter nodded his head, and his hand with the pencil in it, for he had turned from his picture to look at her.
"Then you think you love better than our Father?" he said; and turned to his work, and painted a new fold in the robe, which looked as if a soft air had suddenly blown into it, and not the touch of a skilful hand.
This made the Pilgrim tremble, as though in her ignorance she had done something wrong. After that there came a great joy into her heart. "Oh, how happy you have made me!" she cried. "I am glad with all my heart for you and your son—" Then she paused a little and added, "But you said he was still there."
"It is true; for the land of darkness is very confusing, they tell me, for want of the true light, and our dear friends the angels are not permitted to help: but if one follows them, that shows the way. You may be in that land yet on your way hither. It was very hard to understand at first," said the painter; "there are some sketches I could show you. No one has ever made a picture of it, though many have tried; but I could show you some sketches—if you wish to see."
To this the little Pilgrim's look was so plain an answer that the painter laid down his pallet and his brush, and left his work, to show them to her as he had promised. They went down from the balcony and along the street until they came to one of the great palaces, where many were coming and going. Here they walked through some vast halls, where students were working at easels, doing every kind of beautiful work: some painting pictures, some preparing drawings, planning houses and palaces. The Pilgrim would have liked to pause at every moment to see one lovely thing or another; but the painter walked on steadily till he came to a room which was full of sketches, some of them like pictures in little, with many figures,—some of them only a representation of a flower, or the wing of a bird. "These are all the master's," he said; "sometimes the sight of them will be enough to put something great into the mind of another. In this corner are the sketches I told you of." There were two of them hanging together upon the wall, and at first it seemed to the little Pilgrim as if they represented the flames and fire of which she had read, and this made her shudder for the moment. But then she saw that it was a red light like a stormy sunset, with masses of clouds in the sky, and a low sun very fiery and dazzling, which no doubt to a hasty glance must have looked, with its dark shadows and high lurid lights, like the fires of the bottomless pit. But when you looked down you saw the reality what it was. The country that lay beneath was full of tropical foliage, but with many stretches of sand and dry plains, and in the foreground was a town, that looked very prosperous and crowded, though the figures were very minute, the subject being so great; but no one to see it would have taken it for anything but a busy and wealthy place, in a thunderous atmosphere, with a storm coming on. In the next there was a section of a street with a great banqueting hall open to the view, and many people sitting about the table. You could see that there was a great deal of laughter and conversation going on, some very noisy groups, but others that sat more quietly in corners and conversed, and some who sang, and every kind of entertainment. The little Pilgrim was very much astonished to see this, and turned to the painter, who answered her directly, though she had not spoken. "We used to think differently once. There are some who are there and do not know it. They think only it is the old life over again, but always worse, and they are led on in the ways of evil; but they do not feel the punishment until they begin to find out where they are and to struggle, and wish for other things."
The little Pilgrim felt her heart beat very wildly while she looked at this, and she thought upon the rich man in the parable, who, though he was himself in torment, prayed that his brother might be saved, and she said to herself, "Our dear Lord would never leave him there who could think of his brother when he was himself in such a strait." And when she looked at the painter he smiled upon her, and nodded his head. Then he led her to the other corner of the room where there were other pictures. One of them was of a party seated round a table and an angel looking on. The angel had the aspect of a traveller, as if he were passing quickly by and had but paused a moment to look, and one of the men glancing up suddenly saw him. The picture was dim, but the startled look upon this man's face, and the sorrow on the angel's, appeared out of the misty background with such truth that the tears came into the little Pilgrim's eyes, and she said in her heart, "Oh that I could go to him and help him!" The other sketches were dimmer and dimmer. You seemed to see out of the darkness, gleaming lights, and companies of revellers, out of which here and there was one trying to escape. And then the wide plains in the night, and the white vision of the angel in the distance, and here and there by different paths a fugitive striving to follow. "Oh, sir," said the little Pilgrim, "how did you learn to do it? You have never been there."
"It was the master, not I; and I cannot tell you if he has ever been there. When the Father has given you that gift, you can go to many places, without leaving the one where you are. And then he has heard what the angels say."
"And will they all get safe at the last? and even that great spirit, he that fell from heaven—"
The painter shook his head and said, "It is not permitted to you and me to know such great things. Perhaps the wise will tell you if you ask them: but for me I ask the Father in my heart and listen to what he says."
"That is best!" the little Pilgrim said; and she asked the Father in her heart: and there came all over her such a glow of warmth and happiness that her soul was satisfied. She looked in the painter's face and laughed for joy. And he put out his hands as if welcoming some one, and his countenance shone; and he said,—
"My son had a great gift. He was a master born, though it was not given to me. He shall paint it all for us so that the heart shall rejoice; and you will come again and see."
After that it happened to the little Pilgrim to enter into another great palace where there were many people reading, and some sitting at their desks and writing, and some consulting together, with many great volumes stretched out open upon the tables. One of these who was seated alone looked up as she paused wondering at him, and smiled as every one did, and greeted her with such a friendly tone that the Pilgrim, who always had a great desire to know, came nearer to him and looked at the book, then begged his pardon, and said she did not know that books were needed here. And then he told her that he was one of the historians of the city where all the records of the world were kept, and that it was his business to work upon the great history, and to show what was the meaning of the Father in everything that had happened, and how each event came in its right place.
"And do you get it out of books?" she asked; for she was not learned, nor wise, and knew but little, though she always loved to know.
"The books are the records," he said; "and there are many here that were never known to us in the old days; for the angels love to look into these things, and they can tell us much, for they saw it; and in the great books they have kept there is much put down that was never in the books we wrote, for then we did not know. We found out about the kings and the state, and tried to understand what great purposes they were serving; but even these we did not know, for those purposes were too great for us, not knowing the end from the beginning, and the hearts of men were too great for us. We comprehended the evil sometimes, but never fathomed the good. And how could we know the lesser things which were working out God's way? for some of these even the angels did not know; and it has happened to me that our Lord himself has come in sometimes to tell me of one that none of us had discovered."
"Oh," said the little Pilgrim, with tears in her eyes, "I should like to have been that one!—that was not known even to the angels, but only to Himself!"
The historian smiled. "It was my brother," he said.
The Pilgrim looked at him with great wonder. "Your brother, and you did not know him!"
And then he turned over the pages and showed her where the story was.
"You know," he said, "that we who live here are not of your time, but have lived and lived here till the old life is far away and like a dream. There were great tumults and fightings in our time, and it was settled by the prince of the place that our town was to be abandoned, and all the people left to the mercy of an enemy who had no mercy. But every day as he rode out he saw at one door a child, a little fair boy, who sat on the steps, and sang his little song like a bird. This child was never afraid of anything,—when the horses pranced past him, and the troopers pushed him aside, he looked up into their faces and smiled. And when he had anything, a piece of bread, or an apple, or a plaything, he shared it with his playmates; and his little face, and his pretty voice, and all his pleasant ways, made that corner bright. He was like a flower growing there; everybody smiled that saw him."
"I have seen such a child," the little Pilgrim said.
"But we made no account of him," said the historian. "The Lord of the place came past him every day, and always saw him singing in the sun by his father's door. And it was a wonder then, and it has been a wonder ever since, why, having resolved upon it, that prince did not abandon the town, which would have changed all his fortune after. Much had been made clear to me since I began to study, but not this: till the Lord himself came to me and told me. The prince looked at the child till he loved him, and he reflected how many children there were like this that would be murdered, or starved to death, and he could not give up the little singing boy to the sword. So he remained; and the town was saved, and he became a great king. It was so secret that even the angels did not know it. But without that child the history would not have been complete."
"And is he here?" the little Pilgrim said.
"Ah," said the historian, "that is more strange still; for that which saved him was also to his harm. He is not here. He is Elsewhere."
The little Pilgrim's face grew sad; but then she remembered what she had been told.
"But you know," she said, "that he is coming?"
"I know that our Father will never forsake him, and that everything that is being accomplished in him is well."
"Is it well to suffer? Is it well to live in that dark stormy country? Oh, that they were all here, and happy like you!"
He shook his head a little and said,—
"It was a long time before I got here; and as for suffering that matters little. You get experience by it. You are more accomplished and fit for greater work in the end. It is not for nothing that we are permitted to wander; and sometimes one goes to the edge of despair—"
She looked at him with such wondering eyes that he answered her without a word.
"Yes," he said, "I have been there."
And then it seemed to her that there was something in his eyes which she had not remarked before. Not only the great content that was everywhere, but a deeper light, and the air of a judge who knew both good and evil, and could see both sides, and understood all, both to love and to hate.
"Little sister," he said, "you have never wandered far; it is not needful for such as you. Love teaches you, and you need no more; but when we have to be trained for an office like this, to make the way of the Lord clear through all the generations, reason is that we should see everything, and learn all that man is and can be. These things are too deep for us; we stumble on, and know not till after. But now to me it is all clear."
She looked at him again and again while he spoke, and it seemed to her that she saw in him such great knowledge and tenderness as made her glad; and how he could understand the follies that men had done, and fathom what real meaning was in them, and disentangle all the threads. He smiled as she gazed at him, and answered as if she had spoken.
"What was evil perishes, and what was good remains; almost everywhere there is a little good. We could not understand all if we had not seen all and shared all."
"And the punishment too," she said, wondering more and more.
He smiled so joyfully that it was like laughter.
"Pain is a great angel," he said. "The reason we hated him in the old days was because he tended to death and decay; but when it is towards life he leads, we fear him no more. The welcome thing of all in the land of darkness is when you see him first and know who he is; for by this you are aware that you have found the way."
The little Pilgrim did nothing but question with her anxious eyes, for this was such a wonder to her, and she could not understand. But he only sat musing with a smile over the things he remembered. And at last he said,—
"If this is so interesting to you, you shall read it all in another place, in the room where we have laid up our own experiences, in order to serve for the history afterwards. But we are still busy upon the work of the earth. There is always something new to be discovered. And it is essential for the whole world that the chronicle should be full. I am in great joy because it was but just now that our Lord told me about that child. Everything was imperfect without him, but now it is clear."
"You mean your brother? And you are happy though you are not sure if he is happy?" the little Pilgrim said.
"It is not to be happy that we live," said he; and then, "We are all happy so soon as we have found the way."
She would have asked him more, but that he was called to a consultation with some others of his kind, and had to leave her, waving his hand to her with a tender kindness which went to her heart. She looked after him with great respect, scarcely knowing why; but it seemed to her that a man who had been in the land of darkness, and made his way out of it, must be more wonderful than any other. She looked round for a little upon the great library, full of all the books that had ever been written, and where people were doing their work, examining and reading and making extracts, every one with looks of so much interest, that she almost envied them,—though it was a generous delight in seeing people so happy in their occupation, and a desire to associate herself somehow in it, rather than any grudging of their satisfaction, that was in her mind. She went about all the courts of this palace alone, and everywhere saw the same work going on, and everywhere met the same kind looks. Even when the greatest of all looked up from his work and saw her, he would give her a friendly greeting and a smile; and nobody was too wise to lend an ear to the little visitor, or to answer her questions. And this was how it was that she began to talk to another, who was seated at a great table with many more, and who drew her to him by something that was in his looks, though she could not have told what it was. It was not that he was kinder than the rest, for they were all kind. She stood by him a little, and saw how he worked and would take something from one book and something from another, putting them ready for use. And it did not seem any trouble to do this work, but only pleasure, and the very pen in his hand was like a winged thing, as if it loved to write. When he saw her watching him, he looked up and showed her the beautiful book out of which he was copying, which was all illuminated with lovely pictures.
"This is one of the volumes of the great history," he said. "There are some things in it which are needed for another, and it is a pleasure to work at it. If you will come here you will be able to see the page while I write."
Then the little Pilgrim asked him some questions about the pictures, and he answered her, describing and explaining them; for they were in the middle of the history, and she did not understand what it was. When she said, "I ought not to trouble you, for you are busy," he laughed so kindly that she laughed too for pleasure. And he said,—
"There is no trouble here. When we are not allowed to work, as sometimes happens, that makes us not quite so happy, but it is very seldom that it happens so."
"Is it for punishment?" she said.
And then he laughed out with a sound which made all the others look up smiling; and if they had not all looked so tenderly at her, as at a child who has made such a mistake as it is pretty for the child to make, she would have feared she had said something wrong; but she only laughed at herself too, and blushed a little, knowing that she was not wise: and to put her at her ease again, he turned the leaf and showed her other pictures, and the story which went with them, from which he was copying something. And he said,—
"This is for another book, to show how the grace of the Father was beautiful in some homes and families. It is not the great history, but connected with it; and there are many who love that better than the story which is more great."
Then the Pilgrim looked in his face and said,—
"What I want most is, to know about your homes here."
"It is all home here," he said, and smiled; and then, as he met her wistful looks, he went on to tell her that he and his brothers were not always there. "We have all our occupations," he said, "and sometimes I am sent to inquire into facts that have happened, of which the record is not clear; for we must omit nothing; and sometimes we are told to rest and take in new strength; and sometimes—"