Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 28


We have been over to-night to the grave. She proposed to go by herself, thinking, I saw, with the delicacy with which she always thinks, that I would rather not be there with another. Nor should I, nor could I. with any other than this woman. It is strange. I wished to go there with her. I had a vague unreasoning feeling that she would take away some of the bitterness of it, as she has taken the bitterness of much else.

It is looking very pleasant there now. The turf has grown fine and smooth. The low arborvitÆ hedge and knots of Norway spruce, that father planted long ago for mother, drop cool, green shadows that stir with the wind. My English ivy has crept about and about the cross. Roy used to say that he should fancy a cross to mark the spot where he might lie; I think he would like this pure, unveined marble. May-flowers cover the grave now, and steal out among the clover-leaves with a flush like sunrise. By and by there will be roses, and, in August, August's own white lilies.

We went silently over, and sat silently down on the grass, the field-path stretching away to the little church behind us, and beyond, in front, the slope, the flats, the river, the hills cut in purple distance melting far into the east. The air was thick with perfume. Golden bees hung giddily over the blush in the grass. In the low branches that swept the grave a little bird had built her nest.

Aunt Winifred did not speak to me for a time, nor watch my face. Presently she laid her hand upon my lap, and I put mine into it.

"It is very pleasant here," she said then, in her very pleasant voice.

"I meant that it should be," I answered, trying not to let her see my lips quiver. "At least it must not look neglected. I don't suppose it makes any difference to him."

"I do not feel sure of that."

"What do you mean?"

"I do not feel sure that anything he has left makes no 'difference to him."

"But I don't understand. He is in heaven. He would be too happy to care for anything that is going on in this woful world."

"Perhaps this is so," she said, smiling a sweet contradiction to her words, "but I don't believe it."

"What do you believe?"

"Many things that I have to say to you, but you cannot bear them now."

"I have sometimes wondered, for I cannot help it," I said, "whether he is shut off from all knowledge of me for all these years till I can go to him. It will be a great while. It seems hard. Roy would want to know something, if it were only a little, about me."

page 37

"I believe that he wants to know, and that he knows, Mary; though, since the belief must rest on analogy and conjecture, you need not accept it as demonstrated mathematics," she answered, with another smile.

"Roy never forgot me here!" I said, not meaning to sob.

"That is just it. He was not constituted so that he, remaining himself, Roy, could forget you. If he goes out into this other life forgetting, he becomes another than himself. That is a far more unnatural way of creeping out of the difficulty than to assume that he loves and remembers. Why not assume that? In fact, why assume anything else? Neither reason, nor the Bible, nor common sense, forbids it. Instead of starting with it as an hypothesis to be proved if we can, I lay it down as one of those probabilities for which Butler would say, 'the presumption amounts nearly to certainty'; and if any one can disprove it, I will hear what he has to say. There!" she broke off, laughing softly, "that is a sufficient dose of metaphysics for such a simple thing. It seems to me to he just here: Roy loved you. Our Father, for some tender, hidden reason, took him out of your sight for a while. Though changed much, he can have forgotten nothing. Being only out of sight, you remember, not lost, nor asleep, nor annihilated, he goes on loving. To love, must mean to think of, to care for, to hope for, to pray for, not less out of a body than in it."

"But that must mean—why, that must mean—"

"That he is near you. I do not doubt it."

The sunshine quivered in among the ivy-leaves, and I turned to watch it, thinking.

"I do not doubt it," she went on, speaking low,—"I cannot doubt that our absent dead are very present with us. He said, 'I am with you alway,' knowing the need we have of Him, even to the end of the world. He must understand the need we have of them. I cannot doubt it."

I watched her as she sat with her absent eyes turned eastward, and her peculiar look—I have never seen it on another face—as of one who holds a happy secret; and while I watched I wondered.

"There is a reason for it," she said, rousing as if from a pleasant dream,—"a good sensible reason, too, it strikes me independent of Scriptural or other proof."

"What is that?"

"That God keeps us briskly at work in this world."

I did not understand.

"Altogether too briskly, considering that it is a preparative world, to intend to put us from it into an idle one. What more natural than that we shall spend our best energies as we spent them here,—in comforting, teaching, helping, saving people whose very souls we love better than our own? In fact, it would be very unnatural if we did not."

"But I thought that God took care of us, and angels, like Gabriel and the rest, if I ever thought anything about it, which I am inclined to doubt."

page 38

"'God works by the use of means,' as the preachers say. Why not use Roy as well as Gabriel? What archangel could understand and reach the peculiarities of your nature as he could? or, even if understanding, could so love and bear with you? What is to be done? Will they send Roy to the planet Jupiter to take care of somebody else's sister?"

I laughed in spite of myself; nor did the laugh seem to jar upon the sacred stillness of the place. Her words were drawing away the bitterness, as the sun was blotting the dull, dead green of the ivy into its glow of golden colour.

"But the Bible, Aunt Winifred."

The Bible does not say a great deal on this point," she said, "but it does not contradict me. In fact, it helps me; and, moreover, it would uphold me in black and white if it weren't for one little obstacle."

"And that?"

"That frowning 'original Greek,' which Gail Hamilton denounces with her righteous indignation. No sooner do I find a pretty verse that is exactly what I. want, than up hops a commentator, and says, this isn't according to text, and means something entirely different; and Barnes says this, and Stuart believes that, and Olshausen has demonstrated the other, and very ignorant it is in you, too, not to know it! Here the other day I ferreted out a sentence in Revelation that seemed to prove beyond question that angels and redeemed men were the same; where the angel says to John, you know, 'Am I not of thy brethren the prophets?' I thought I had discovered a delightful thing which all the Fathers of the Church had overlooked, and went in great glee to your Uncle Calvin, to be told that something was the matter,—a noun left out, or some other unanswerable and unreasonable horror, I don't know what; and that it didn't mean that he was of thy brethren the prophets at all! You see, if it could be proved that the Christian dead become angels, we could have all that we need, direct from God, about—to use the beautiful old phrase—the communion of saints. From Genesis to Revelation the Bible is filled with angels who are at work on earth. They hold sweet converse with Abraham in his tent. They are entrusted to save the soul of Lot. An angel hears the wail of Hagar. The beautiful feet of an angel brings the good tidings to maiden Mary. An angel's noiseless step guides Peter through the barred and bolted gate. Angels rolled the stone from the buried Christ, and angels sat there in the solemn morning,—O Mary! if we could have seen them! Then there is is that one question, direct, comprehensive,—we should not need anything else,—'Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation.' But you see it never seems to have entered those commentators' heads that all those beautiful things refer to any but a superior race of beings, like those from whose rank Lucifer fell."

"How stupid in them!"

"I take comfort in thinking so; but, to be serious, even admitting page 39 that these passages refer to a superior race, must there not be some similarity in the laws which govern existence in the heavenly world? Since these gracious deeds are performed by what we are accustomed to call 'spiritual beings,' why may they not as well be done by people from this world as from anywhere else? Besides, there is another point, and a reasonable one, to be made. The word in the original (Greek text) means, strictly, a messenger. It applies to any servant of God, animate or inanimate. An east wind is as much an angel as Michael. Again, the generic terms, 'spirits,' 'gods,' 'sons of God,' are used interchangeably for saints and for angels. So, you see, I fancy that I find a way for you and Roy and me and all of us, straight into the shining ministry. Mary, Mary, wouldn't you like to go this very afternoon?"

She lay back in the grass with her face upturned to the sky, and drew a long breath, wearily. I did not think she meant me to hear it. I did not answer her, for it came over me with such a hopeless thrill, how good it would be to be taken to Roy, there by his beautiful grave with the ivy and the May-flowers and the sunlight and the clover-leaves round about; and that it could not be, and how long it was to wait,—it came over me so that I could not speak.

"There!" she said, suddenly rousing, "what a thoughtless, wicked thing it was to say! And I meant to give you only the good cheer of a cheery friend. No, I do not care to go this afternoon, nor any afternoon, till my Father is ready for me. Wherever he has most for me to do, there I wish,—yes, I think I wish to stay. He knows best."

After a pause, I asked again, "Why did He not tell us more about this thing,—about their presence with us? You see if I could know it!"

"The mystery of the Bible lies not so much in what it says, as in what it does not say," she replied. "But I suppose that we have been told all that we can comprehend in this world. Knowledge on one point might involve knowledge on another, like the links of a chain, till it stretched far beyond our capacity. At any rate, it is not for me to break the silence. That is God's affair. I can only accept the fact. Nevertheless, as Dr. Chalmers says: 'It were well for us all could we carefully draw the line between the secret things which belong to God and the things which are revealed and belong to us and to our children.' Some one else,—Whately, I think,—I remember to have noticed as speaking about these very subjects to this effect,—that precisely because we know so little of them, it is the more important that we 'should endeavour so to dwell on them as to make the most of what little knowledge we have.'"

"Aunt Winifred, you are such a comfort!"

"It needs our best faith," she said, "to bear this reticence of God. I cannot help thinking sometimes of a thing Lauderdale said,—I am always quoting him,—from 'Son of the Soil,' you remember: 'It's an awfu' marvel, beyond my reach, when a word of communication would make a' the difference, why it's no permitted, if it were but to keep a page 40 heart from breaking now and then.' Think of poor Eugenie de Guèrin, trying to continue her little journal 'To Maurice in Heaven,' till the awful, answerless stillness shut up the book and laid aside the pen.

"But then," she continued, "there is this to remember,—I may have borrowed the idea, or it may be my own,—that if we could speak to them, or they to us, there would be no death, for there would be no separation. The last, the surest, in some cases the only test of loyalty to God, would thus be taken away. Roman Catholic nature is human nature, when it comes upon its knees before a saint Many lives—all such lives as yours and mine—would become—"

"Would become what?"

"One long defiance to the First Commandment."

I cannot become used to such words from such quiet lips. Yet they gave me a curious sense of the trustworthiness of her peace. "Founded upon a rock," it seems to be. She has done what it takes a lifetime for some of us to do; what some of us go into eternity, leaving undone; what I am afraid I shall never do,—sounded her own nature. She knows the worst of herself, and faces it as fairly I believe, as anybody can do in this world. As for the best of herself, she trusts that to Christ, and he knows it, and we. I hope she, in her sweet humbleness, will know it some day.

"I suppose, nevertheless," she said, "that Roy knows what you are doing and feeling as well as, perhaps, better than he knew it three months ago. So he can help you without harming you."

I asked her, turning suddenly, how that could be, and yet heaven be heaven,—how he could see me suffer what I had suffered, could see me sometimes when I supposed none but God had seen me,—and sing on and be happy.

"You are not the first, Mary, and you will not be the last to ask that question. I cannot answer it, and I never heard of any one who could. I feel sure only of this,—that he would suffer far less to see you than to know nothing about you; and that God's power of inventing happiness is not to be blocked by an obstacle like this. Perhaps Roy sees the end from the beginning, and can bear the sight of pain for the peace that he watches coming to meet you. I do not know,—that does not perplex me now; it only makes me anxious for one thing."

"What is that?"

"That you and I shall not do anything to make them sorry."

"To make them sorry?"

"Roy would care. Roy would be disappointed to see you make life a hopeless thing for his sake, or to see you doubt his Saviour."

"Do you think that?"

"Some sort of mourning over sin enters that happy life. God himself 'was grieved' forty years long over his wandering people. Among the angels there has been 'silence,' whatever that mysterious pause may mean, just as there is joy over one sinner that repenteth; another of my proof-texts that, to show that they are allowed to keep us in sight."

page 41

"Then you think, you really think, that Roy remembers and loves and takes care of me; that he has been listening, perhaps, and is—why, you don't think he may be here?"

"Yes, I do. Here, close beside you all this time, trying to speak to you through the blessed sunshine and the flowers, trying to help you, and sure to love you,—right here, dear. I do not believe God means to send him away from you, either."

My heart was too full to answer her. Seeing how it was, she slipped away, and strolling out of sight with her face to the eastern hills, left me alone. And yet I did not seem alone. The low branches swept with a little soft sigh across the grave; the May-flowers wrapped me in with fragrance thick as incense; the tiny sparrow turned her soft eyes at me over the edge of the nest, and chirped contentedly; the "blessed sunshine" talked with me as it touched the edges of the ivy-leaves to fire. I cannot write it even here, how these things stole into my heart and hushed me. If I had seen him standing by the stainless cross, it would not have frightened or surprised me. There—not dead or gone, but there—it helps me, and makes me strong!

"Mamie! little Mamie!" O Roy, I will try to bear it all, if you will only stay!