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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 28


page 60


We took a trip to-day to East Homer for butter. Neither angels nor principalities could convince PhŒbe that any butter but "Stephen David's" might, could, would, or should be used in this family. So to Mr. Stephen David's, a journey of four miles, I meekly betake myself at stated periods in the domestic year, burdened with directions about firkins and half-firkins, pounds and half-pounds, salt and no salt, churning and "working-over;" some of which I remember and some of which I forget, and to all of which PhŒbe considers mo sublimely incapable of attending.

The afternoon was perfect, and we took things leisurely, letting the reins swing from the hook,—an arrangement to which Mr. Tripp's old gray was entirely agreeable,—and, leaning back against the buggy-cushions, wound along among the strong, sweet pine-smells, lazily talking or lazily silent, as the spirit moved, and as only two people who thoroughly understand and like each other can talk or be silent.

We rode home by Deacon Quirk's, and, as we jogged by, then broke upon our view a blooming vision of the Deacon himself, at work in his potato field with his son and heir, who, by the way, has the reputation of being the most awkward fellow in the township.

The amiable church-officer, having caught sight of us, left his work and coming up to the fence "in rustic modesty unscared," guiltless of coat or vest, his calico shirt-sleeves rolled up to his huge brown elbows, and his dusty straw hat flapping in the wind, rapped on the rails with his hoe-handle as a sign for us to stop.

"Are we in a hurry?" I asked, under my breath.

"O no," said Aunt Winifred. "He has somewhat to say unto me, I see by his eyes. I have been expecting it. Let us hear him out. Good afternoon, Deacon Quirk."

"Good afternoon, ma'am. Pleasant day?"

She assented to the statement, novel as it was.

"A very pleasant day," repeated the Deacon, looking for the first time in his life, to my knowledge, a little undecided as to what he should say next. "Remarkable fine day for riding. In a hurry?"

"Well, not especially. Did you want anything of me?"

"You're a church-member, aren't you, ma'am?' asked the Deacon, abruptly.

"I am."


"O yes," with a smile. "You had a reason for asking?"

"Yes, ma'am; I had, as you might say, a reason for asking."

The Deacon laid his hoe on the top of the fence, and his arms across it, and pushed his hat on the back of his head in a becoming and argumentative manner.

"I hope you don't consider that I'm taking liberties if I have a little religious conversation with you, Mrs. Forceythe."

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"It is no offence to me if you are," replied Mrs. Forceythe, with a twinkle in her eye; but both twinkle and words glanced off from the Deacon.

"My wife was telling me last night," he began, with an ominous cough, "that her niece, Clotildy Bentley—Moses Bentley's daughter you know, and one of your sentimental girls that reads poetry, and is easy enough led away by vain delusions and false doctrine—was under your charge at Sunday school. Now Clotildy is intimate with my wife,—who is her aunt on her mother's side, and always tries to do her duty by her,—and she told Mrs. Quirk what you'd been a saying to those young minds on the Sabbath."

He stopped, and observed her impressively, as if he expected to see the guilty blushes of arraigned heresy covering her amused attentive face.

"I hope you will pardon me, ma'am, for repeating it, but Clotildy said that you told her she should have a pianna in heaven. A pianna, ma'am!"

"I certainly did," she said quietly.

"You did? Well, now, I didn't believe it, nor I wouldn't believe it, till I'd asked you! I thought it warn't more than fair that I should ask you, before repeating it, you know. It's none of my business, Mrs. Forceythe, any more than that I take a general interest in the spiritooal welfare of the youth of our Sabbath school; but I am very much surprised! I am very much surprised!"

"I am surprised that you should be, Deacon Quirk. Do you believe that God would take a poor disappointed girl like Clo, who has been all her life here forbidden the enjoyment of a perfectly innocent taste, and keep her in His happy heaven eternal years, without finding means to gratify it? I don't."

"I tell Clotildy I don't see what she wants of a pianna-forte," observed "Clotildy's" uncle, sententiously. "She can go to singin' school, and she's been in the choir ever since I have, which is six years come Christmas. Besides, I don't think it's our place to speckylate on the mysteries of the heavenly spere. My wife told her that she musn't believe any such things as that, which were very irreverent, and contrary to the Scriptures, and Clo went home crying. She said: 'It was so pretty to think about.' It is very easy to impress these delusions of fancy on the young."

"Pray, Deacon Quirk," said Aunt Winifred, leaning earnestly forward in the carriage, "will you tell me what there is 'irreverent' or 'un-scriptural' in the idea that there will be instrumental music in heaven?"

"Well," replied the Deacon after some consideration, "come to think of it, there will be harps, I suppose. Harpers harping with their harps on the sea of glass. But I don't believe there will be any piannas. It's a dreadfully material way to talk about that glorious world, to my thinking."

"If you could show me wherein a harp is less 'material' than a piano, perhaps I should agree with you."

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Deacon Quirk looked rather nonplussed for a minute.

"What do you suppose people will do in heaven?" she asked again.

"Glorify God," said the Deacon, promptly recovering himself—"glorify God, and sing Worthy the Lamb! We shall be clothed in white robes with palms in our hands, and bow before the Great White Throne. We shall be engaged in such employments as befit sinless creatures in a spiritooal state of existence."

"Now, Deacon Quirk," replied Aunt Winifred, looking him over from head to foot,—old straw hat, calico shirt, blue overalls, and cowhide boots, coarse, work-wom hands, and "narrow forehead braided tight,"—"just imagine yourself, will you? taken out of this life this minute, as you stand here in your potato-field (the Deacon changed his position with evident uneasiness), and put into another life,—not anybody else, but yourself, just as you left this spot,—and do you honestly think that you should be happy to go and put on a white dress and stand still in a choir with a green branch in one hand and a singing-book in the other, and sing and pray and never do anything but sing and pray, this year, next year, and every year for ever?"

"We-ell," he replied, surprised into a momentary flash of carnal candour, "I can't say that I shouldn't wonder for a minute, maybe, how Abinadab would ever get those potatoes hoed without me.—Abina-dab! go back to your work!"

The graceful Abinadab had sauntered up during the conversation, and was listening, hoe in hand and mouth open. He slunk away when his father spoke, but came up again presently on tiptoe when Aunt Winifred was talking. There was an interested, intelligent look about his square and pitifully embarrassed face which attracted my notice.

"But then," proceeded the Deacon, reinforced by the sudden recollection of his duties as a father and a church-member, "that couldn't be a permanent state of feeling, you know. I expect to be transformed by the renewing of my mind to appreciate the glories of the New Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. That's what I expect, ma'rm. Now I heerd that you told Mrs. Bland, or that Mary told her, or that she heerd it someway, that you said you supposed there were trees and flowers and houses and such in heaven. I told my wife I thought your deceased husband was a Congregational minister, and I didn't believe you ever said it; but that's the rumour."

Without deeming it necessary to refer to her "deceased husband," Aunt Winifred replied that "rumour" was quite right.

"Well!" said the Deacon, with severe significance, "I believe in a spiritooal heaven."

I looked him over again,—hat, hoe, shirt, and all; scanned his obstinate old face with its stupid, good eyes and animal mouth. Then I glanced at Aunt Winifred as she leaned forward in the afternoon light; the white finely cut woman, with her serene smile and rapt, saintly eyes,—every inch of her, body and soul refined, not only by birth and training, but by the long nearness of her heart to Christ. page 63 "Of the earth, earthy. Of the heavens, heavenly." The two faces sharpened themselves into two types. Which, indeed, was the better able to comprehend a "spiritooal heaven"?

"It is distinctly stated in the Bible, by which, I suppose we shall both agree," said Aunt Winifred, gently, "that there shall be a new earth, as well as new heavens. It is noticeable, also, that the descriptions of heaven, although a series of metaphors, are yet singularly earthlike and tangible ones. Are flowers and skies and trees less 'spiritual' than white dresses and little palm-branches? In fact, where are you going to get your little branches without trees? What could well be more suggestive of material modes of living, and material industry, than a city marked into streets and alleys, paved solidly with gold, walled in and barred with gates whose jewels are named and counted, and whose very length and breadth are measured with a celestial surveyor's chain?"

"But I think we'd ought to stick to what the Bible says," answered the Deacon, stolidly. "If it says golden cities and doesn't say flowers, it means cities and doesn't mean flowers. I dare say you're a good woman, Mrs. Forceythe, if you do hold such oncommon doctrine, and I don't doubt you mean well enough, but I don't think that we ought to trouble ourselves about these mysteries of a future state. I'm willing to trust them to God!"

The evasion of a fair argument by this self-sufficient spasm of piety was more than I could calmly stand, and I indulged in a subdued explosion.—Auntie says it sounded like Fourth of July crackers touched off under a wet barrel.

"Deacon Quirk! do you mean to imply that Mrs. Forceythe does not trust it to God? The truth is, that the existence of such a world as heaven is a fact from which you shrink. You know you do! She has twenty thoughts about where you have one; yet you set up a claim to superior spirituality!"

"Mary, Mary, you are a little excited, I fear. God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth!'

The relevancy of this last, I confess myself incapable of perceiving, but the good man seemed to be convinced that he had made a point, and we rode off leaving him under that blissful delusion.

"If he weren't a good man!" I sighed, "But he is, and I must respect him for it."

"Of course you must; nor is he to blame that he is narrow and rough. I should scarcely have argued as seriously as I did with him, but that, as I fancy him to be a representative of a class, I wanted to try an experiment. Isn't he amusing, though? He is precisely one of Mr. Stopford Brook's men 'who can understand nothing which is original.'"

"Are there, or are there not, more of such men in our church than in others?"

"Not more proportionately to numbers. But I would not have them thinned out. The better we do Christ's work, the more of uneducated, neglected, or debased mind will be drawn to try and page 64 serve Him with us. He sought out the lame, the halt, the blind, the stupid, the crotchety, the rough, as well as the equable, the intelligent, the refined. Untrained Christians in any sect will always have their eccentricities and their littlenesses, at which the silken judgment of high places, where the Carpenter's Son would be a strange guest, will sneer. That never troubles me. It only raises the question in my mind whether cultivated Christians generally are sufficiently cultivators, scattering their golden gifts on wayside ground."

"Now take Deacon Quirk," I suggested, when we had ridden along a little way under the low, green arches of the elms. "and put him into heaven as you proposed, just as he is, and what is he going to do with himself? He can dig potatoes and sell them without cheating, and give generously of their proceeds to foreign missions; but take away his potatoes, and what would become of him? I don't know a human being more incapacitated to live in such a heaven as he believes in."

"Very true, and a good, common-sense argument against such a heaven. I don't profess to surmise what will be found for him to do, beyond this,—that it will be some very palpable work that he can understand. How do we know that he would not be appointed guardian of his poor son here, to whom I suspect he has not been all that father might be in this life, and that he would not have his body as well as his soul to look after, his farm as well as his prayers? to him might be committed the charge of the dews and the rains and the hundred unseen influences that are at work on this very potato-field."

"But when his son has gone in his turn, and we have all gone, and there are no more potato-fields? An Eternity remains."

"You don't know that there wouldn't be any potato-fields; there may be some kind of agricultural employments even then. To whomsoever a talent is given, it will be given him wherewith to use it. Besides, by that time the good Deacon will be immensely changed. I suppose that the simple transition of death, which rids him of sin and of grossness, will not only wonderfully refine him, but will have its effect upon his intellect."

"If a talent is given, use will be found for it? Tell me some more about that."

"I fancy many things about it; but of course can feel sure of only the foundation principle. This life is a great school-house. The wise Teacher trains in us such gifts as, if we graduate honourably, will be of most service in the perfect manhood and womanhood that come after. He sees, as we do not, that a power is sometimes best trained by repression. 'We do not always lose an advantage when we dispense with it,' Goethe says. But the suffocated lives, like little Clo's there, make my heart ache sometimes. I take comfort in thinking how they will bud and blossom up in the air, by and by. There are a great many of them. We tread them underfoot in our careless stepping now and then, and do not see that they have not the elasticity to rise from our touch. 'Heaven may be a place for those who failed on earth,' the Country Parson says."

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"Then there will be air enough for all?"

"For all; for those who have had a little bloom in this world, as well. I suppose the artist will paint his pictures, the poet sing his happy songs, the orator and author will not find their talents hidden in the eternal darkness of a grave; the sculptor will use his beautiful gift in the moulding of some heavenly Carrara; as 'well the singer as the player on instruments shall be there.' Christ said a thing that has grown on me with new meanings lately :—'He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.' It, you see,—not another man's life, not a strange compound of powers and pleasures, but his own familiar aspirations. So we shall best 'glorify God,' not less there than here, by doing it in the peculiar way that He himself marked out for us. But—ah, Mary, you see it is only the life 'lost' for His sake that shall be so beautifully found. A great man never goes to heaven because he is great. He must go, as the meanest of his fellow-sinners go, with face towards Calvary, and every golden treasure used for love of Him who showed him how."

"What would the old Pagans—and modern ones, too, for that matter—say to that? Wasn't it Tacitus who announced it as his belief, that immortality was granted as a special gift to a few superior minds? For the people who persisted in making up the rest of the world, poor things! as it could be of little consequence what became of them, they might die as the brute dieth."

"It seems an unbearable thing to me sometimes," she went on, the wreck of a gifted soul. A man who can be, if he chooses, as much better and happier than the rest of us as the ocean reflects more sky than a millpond, must also be, if he chooses, more wicked and more miserable. It takes longer to reach sea shells than river-pebbles. I am compelled to think, also, that intellectual rank must in heaven bear some proportion to goodness. There are last and there are first that shall have changed places. As the tree falleth, there shall it lie, and with that amount of holiness of which a man leaves this life the possessor, he must start in another. I have seen great thinkers, 'foremost men' in science, in theology, in the arts, who, I solemnly believe, will turn aside in heaven,—and will turn humbly and heartily,—to let certain day-labourers and paupers whom I have known go up before them as kings and priests unto God."

"I believe that. But I was going to ask,—for poor creatures like your respected niece, who hasn't a talent, nor even a single absorbing taste, for one thing above another thing,—what shall she do?"

"Whatever she liketh best; something very useful, my dear, don't be afraid, and very pleasant. Something, too, for which this life has fitted you; though you may not understand how that can be, better than did poor Heine on his 'matrazzen-gruft,' reading all the books that treated of his disease. 'But what good this reading is to do me I don't know,' he said, 'except that it will qualify me to give lectures in heaven on the ignorance of doctors on earth about diseases of the spinal marrow."

"I don't know how many times I have thought of—I believe it? page 66 was the poet Gray, who said that his idea of heaven was to lie on the sofa and read novels. That touches the lazy part of us, though."

"Yes, they will be the active, outgoing, generous elements of our nature that will be brought into use then, rather than the self-centred and dreamy ones. Though I suppose that we shall read in heaven,—being influenced to be better and nobler by good and noble teachers of the pen, not less there than here."

"O think of it! To have books, and music,—and pictures?"

"All that Art, 'the handmaid of the Lord,' can do for us, I have no doubt will be done. Eternity will never become monotonous. Variety without end, charms unnumbered within charms, will be devised by Infinite ingenuity to minister to our delight. Perhaps,—this is just my fancying,—perhaps there will be whole planets turned into galleries of art, over which we may wander at will; or into orchestral halls where the highest possibilities of music will be realised to singer and to hearer. Do you know, I have sometimes had a flitting notion that music would be the language of heaven. It certainly differs in some indescribable manner from the other arts. We have most of us felt it in our different ways. It always seems to me like the cry of a great sad life dragged to use in this world against its will. Pictures and statues and poems fit themselves to their work more contentedly. Symphony and song struggle in fetters. That sense of conflict is not good for me. It is quite as likely to harm as to help. Then perhaps the mysteries of sidereal systems will be spread out like a child's map before us. Perhaps we shall take journeys to Jupiter and to Saturn and to the glittering haze of nebulas, and to the sight of ruined worlds whose 'extinct light is yet travelling through space.' Occupation for explorers there, you see!"

"You make me say with little Clo, 'O, why, I want to go!' every time I hear you talk. But there is one thing,—you spoke of families living together."


"And you spoke of—your husband. But the Bible——"

"Says there shall be no marrying nor giving in marriage. I know that. Nor will there be such marrying or giving in marriage as there is in a world like this. Christ expressly goes on to state, that we shall be as the angels in heaven. How do we know what heavenly unions of heart with heart exist among the angels? It leaves me margin enough to live and be happy with John forever, and it holds many possibilities for the settlement of all perplexing questions brought about by the relations of this world. It is of no use to talk much about them. But it is on that very verse that I found my unshaken belief that they will be smoothed out in some natural and happy way, with which each one shall be content."

"But O, there is a great gulf fixed; and on one side one, and on the other another, and they loved each other."

Her face paled,—it always pales, I notice, at the mention of this mystery,—but her eyes never lost by a shade their steadfast trust.

"Mary, don't question me about that. That belongs to the un- page 67 utterable things. God will take care of it. I think I could leave it to him even if he brought it for me myself to face. I feel sure that he will make it all come out right. Perhaps He will be so dear to us, that we could not love any one who hated him. In some way the void must be filled, for he shall wipe away tears. But it seems to me that the only thought in which there can be any rest, and in it there can, is this: that Christ, who loves us even as his Father loves him, can be happy in spite of the existence of a hell. If it is possible to him, surely he can make it possible to us."

"Two things that he has taught us," she said after a silence, "give me beautiful assurance that none of these dreams with which I help myself can be beyond his intention to fulfil. One is, that eye hath not seen it, nor ear heard it, nor the heart conceived it,—this lavishness of reward which he is keeping for us. Another is, that 'I shall be satisfied when I awake.'"

"With his likeness?"

"With his likeness. And about that I have other things to say."

But Old Gray stopped at the gate, and Phoebe was watching for her butter, and it was no time to say them then.