- CHAPTER XVI. GOING HOME.
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IN the evening Lilian went to walk in the park alone. The sun had gone down, but the rich flashing light yet lingered in the slay, and poured down a new beauty on the old kingly trees, the undulating green sward, and the shining watercourses. It was all hour for self-communion and meditation on the mysteries of the Unseen world; an hour to think solemnly on the past, with its errors and its follies, to gather fresh strength and hope for the untrodden paths of temporal futurity, and to muse quietly and prayerfully on the evening time of life, when God has promised light to all who put their trust in Him. Lilian had always loved the beautiful sunset hour; she had been wont from childhood to seek solitude when the shadows deepened, and | | 173 the first stars stole out in the twilight sky, there to dream away the time in poetic reverie and pleased contemplation of Nature's majestic calm. Now the peaceful hour was inexpressibly soothing; but her thoughts had found a new and wondrous channel, and fancy was no longer free to wing its fair, discursive flight; for reality, with all its present hopes, and fears, and cares, was weighing heavily on her spirit.
She thought of Basil, far away amid icy mountains, and dark pine-forests, and wild, impetuous streams; would he ever return to her? would he ever be the same as in happy, bygone days? She thought he would; but it might be very long before he could be won back again to the side and heart of her who, despite of all folly, all temper, loved him so dearly. A long, trying estrangement from her husband might be her punishment for the wilful errors of the past; and Lilian reverently bent her bead, saying, "I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him."
Till the sunlight had quite faded, and the large moon was shining serenely through the trees, she lingered in the little wood, where she had found a seat on a rustic bench; then she walked slowly to the lodge, wondering within herself whether she might gaze on that glorious, solemn beauty around her—woodland and dewy glade—bright summer moon and | | 174 pale, glittering stars—and venture to say, "My Father made them all."
It was rather late when she reached the lodge, and Mr. Brookes came out to meet her. Alice was already settled for the night, and Lilian thought she seemed comfortable and inclined to sleep. She would have liked to stay with her friend, but Bridget would not hear of it.
"Mrs. Hope looked white and weak enough already," she said, without having her rest broken; and she was used to it, and rather liked it than otherwise."
So Lilian went away to the sitting-room and read the evening chapter to Mr. Brookes; for the old man's eyes were growing dim, and, even with spectacles, he had to pore painfully over the large print of his well-used Bible. He looked very pleased when the young lady asked him if she might read what he wished aloud, and he thanked her gratefully, and bade her choose for herself. She selected her favorite fourteenth of John; and once more her heart burned within her, as she read the words of peace and consolation—
"Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
And as she read, she comprehended how the children of the heavenly King might stand secure amidst the wildest earthly storms, fearing nothing, because the Master was at the helm.| | 175
The next day was not so sultry as the preceding ones had been; the air was cool, bright, and clear; and Mice, on her couch near the window, seemed invigorated by the pleasant breeze, bearing with it the breath of many flowers and fragrant leaves.
Lilian sat all the morning by Alice's side, sometimes working, sometimes conversing; then Mr. Brookes came into his dinner, and then followed the quiet afternoon hour, when the breeze died away and not a leaf stirred, not a bud or blade fluttered in the still, clear air.
"I am very tired," said Alice, faintly, when Lilian bent over her to arrange her pillow. I feel as if sleep were coming. What if it be the sleep from which one wakens on the other side of the grave! What if my weary eyelids are going to close for ever on the things of time!"
Lilian looked into the dark, quiet eyes; but they shone with all their native lustre; the hollow check was not thinner or whiter than it had long been, and the features wore their old expression of almost saint-like calm; yet, nevertheless, there was a change—that change that comes but once—that is more easily imagined than described—that, once beheld, is never forgotten by the awed beholder.
It was the aspect that no mortal face may wear till the worn-out garment of the flesh is dropping from | | 176 the redeemed soul on the banks of the river of Death; the light that conies not from any radiance of earth, but is the faint reflection of the glory that beams from the celestial city—the city of the Great ring! Intuitively Lilian recognized the presence of that dark shadow that haunts all thresholds, from the monarch's to the peasant's; but here the dread angel came in his fairest, softest guise, like a dewy sleep to a weary hatcher—like the unbarring of a cage to a long-imprisoned bird.
Lilian knew that the time of departure was at hand, and she summoned Bridget who immediately sent some one to seek her master, and bring him home. It was long ere he came, for the messenger knew not where to seek him; and meanwhile Lilian and Bridget sat watching the fast ebbing tide of that failing human life. The evening wore oil and there was no farther change; but suddenly, just as the sunset rays were gilding the forest boughs, Alice rallied, and asked to be lifted on her pillows. "Lilian!" she said, "dear Lilian! you, too, will tread the way to Mount Zion will you not! You, too, will be of those who serve Him, doing His will here on earth, and at last joining with that multitude before the throne in the song of the redeemed?"
"God helping me, I will," answered Lilian, solemnly. "Here, by your side, Alice, before you go | | 177 to God, I renounce the vain shadows which all my wasted life I have unceasingly pursued. I trust in the mercy of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Saviour, for the remission of my sins, and for the blissful assurance of everlasting life; henceforward I desire to be His in thought, word, and action. But I am very weak, very ignorant."
"His grace is sufficient for the frailest and the simplest," returned Alice. "I am content, Lilian; God has answered all my prayers, and given me the desire of my heart. I longed to see you striving for the best things—the things that make your everlasting peace."
Then after a pause, Alice said, "Is is growing dark, Lilian?"
"Yes; it is rather dusk. The sun has gone down, but the red light is still on the tree-tops."
"It is the light of dawn," said Alice feebly, but clearly.
Lilian thought her senses wandered; but it was not so. Alice went on, but now her voice had sunk to a mere whisper—
"Lilian, I do not see the sunset light on the trees. I see the dawn of eternal day. The darkness is passing away, the radiance brightens; no more shadows, no more night!"
"You will see my boy," said Lilian. "Oh Alice, | | 178 tell him I loved him, and I trust to come to him when God sees fit to call me away. I am glad now he is there; so safe, so happy, in the bosom of Him who loved the little children."
"I will tell him," replied Alice, "if the ministering spirits who do their mission between heaven and earth have not already told him. Is my uncle come?"
He had just arrived, and he came in to speak the last words of love and farewell to her he had taken to his heart as his own child. He bent over her, and took her chilly hand in his, while he tenderly kissed the pallid lips; and she murmured, "God our Father bless you, dear uncle, and bring you safe home!"
"A day's march nearer home he returned: "it will be so every evening. I am an old man; ere long the Master will come and call for me; and then may I, by his grace, be enabled to say, 'I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.' Alice, my precious one, my own sister's child! I hoped you and I might be permitted to spend a few years, or at least a few months together; but it may not be. It is best so; all is for the best. Our Father in heaven knows what is fittest. He is so good, so merciful. Good-bye, Alice; I yield you to One who loves you far better than I. Into his hands I commit your departing spirit."
Alice smiled faintly, and then all was still.| | 179
Bridget whispered to her master that she would bring in the lights.
"Better not; better not," he said. "She must not be disturbed. She is going where they need no candle, neither light of the sun nor moon: she will never look on earthly things again."
It was even so. Alice was passing away. Darkness and light were both alike to her; she knew not whether it was evening-time or morning; she knew not that Mr. Brookes and Lilian were kneeling beside her, that Bridget was weeping at the foot of the sofa; very, very faintly flickered the last pale flame of mortal life; and all was silence in the darkening room. They seemed to be waiting to catch the first rustling of the wings of the angel.
"Hush!" said Alice, suddenly; and the whispered word sounded clearly in the stillness of that solemn hour.
"What is it?" said Mr. Brookes. He bent his head to catch the next words. Slowly, but distinctly, they came—" the sound of many waters; the angels' song!"
That which had been Alice lay cold and still for evermore. The poor clay that had suffered so much, so long, so patiently, rested at last. The ransomed soul was gone to God.
An hour afterwards, Lilian went out into the gar- | | 180 den. The solemn moon shed its chastened, serene light on the turf, and on the lovely flowers; the sky above was cloudless, and the zenith glittered with many stars; all was beautiful—holy, it seemed to Lilian, in that subdued radiance, with the innocent flowers, the relics of a lost Eden, at her feet; and the long avenues of the wood, stretching away like the dine aisles of sonic mighty cathedral; and in the house behind) the visible presence of Death.
"Death, death!" she repeated to herself it is a great mystery! One moment a partaker of the joys and sorrows of mortality, the neat an inhabitant of the eternal world! What is the subtle thing we call life? what is the chain that the last enemy rends asunder? The last enemy!——"
"Yes, the last enemy to the children of the kingdom!" said Mr. Brookes, who came out at that moment, and joined Lilian. "And why he should be called an enemy to them I know not; for to those whom he finds at his coming with their loins girded, and their lights burning, as servants who wait for their Lord, he is rather the herald of the Bridegroom himself!"
"'The wages of sin is death;' 'the sting of death;' 'the sting of death is sin,'" said Lilian, thoughtfully—almost fearfully.
But her companion broke forth triumphantly—"'Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory | | 181 through our Lord Jesus Christ.' 'For now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept. Death is swallowed up in victory: O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?'"
They went back to the house; and when the lamp was lit, the old man opened his large Bible, and taping Lilian's white fingers into the warm clasp of his own broad, brown hand, he said—"Dear lady, read to me the description of the heavenly Jerusalem, where our Mice is gone to dwell."
Lilian turned to the end of the Book, and read that glorious revelation of the city with the golden streets, and the gates of pure pearl, given by John, the be-loved, in the lonely isle of Pathos.
And then they knelt down, and Mr. Brookes thanked God, who had that day, for his dear Son's sake, gathered another soul to unite with angels and arch-angels, and all the glorious company of heaven, in singing the praises of Him whose unspeakable love brought them safely to the end of the journey. And with an earnest petition, that in the fulness of time they might also depart in like manner, and be for ever with the Lord, they rose from their knees, and gravely, but not sadly, parted for the night.
A few more quiet days, and Alice was laid to rest in a sunny little churchyard, a mile or two distant | | 182 from the lodge. It was a calm, secluded spot, where the birds Sang all day long, and the turf was fragrant with wild thyme. Mr. Brookes, Lilian, and Bridget paid the last mournful duties to the beloved remains. They heard, as they entered the old grey church, the voice of the venerable pastor commencing the appointed service for the "Burial of the Dead"—"I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord. . . . I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth."
Then they saw the coffin borne past the font, where, twenty-seven years ago, Mice had received baptism; up the narrow, dusky, north-aisle, and past the marriage altar, where Providence had ordained she should never stand; past the table of the Lord, whence for long years the heavy hand of sickness had detained her; past all these, as if to intimate that even the holiest things of earth were nothing now to her who had gone to where there is neither creed, nor rite, nor ceremony; into the land wherein there is no temple, "for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it."
They heard, again, that note of holy triumph—"O death, where is thy sting? O brave, where is thy victory?" and the words of celestial consolation—"Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord, even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labor."| | 183
Lastly, the blessing of peace; and then the mourners turned away from the open grave, and, in the Sweet, sunny day, walked slowly home. And the wild bees hummed in the purple heather; the birds fluttered from tree to tree; the wayside flowers lifted up their sweet, Bumble heads, as if rejoicing in the clear summer light; but Lilian thought only of her whose mortal frame they had committed to darkness and decay, till the resurrection morning, and of the little one who had once been her own, but was now one of the countless myriads of glorified spirits in the world beyond the grave.
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