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He was still looking at the sunset, which had not much changed. The hues were deeper, and streaks of gold shot upwards in the sky. Toward the north there was a broad horizon of green, fading into gold, and pale blue. Never was anything more beautiful. John’s eyes fixed on it.
“If it is so beautiful here, Johnny, what will it be _there_?” he breathed, scarcely above a whisper. “It makes one long to go.”
Sometimes, when he said these things, I hardly knew how to answer, and would let his words die off into silence.
“The picture of heaven is getting realized in my mind, Johnny–though I know how poor an idea of it it must needs be. A wide, illimitable s.p.a.ce; the great white throne, and the saints in their white robes falling down before it, and the harpists singing to their harps.”
“You must think of it often.”
“Very often. The other night in bed, when I was between sleep and waking, I seemed to see the end–to go through it. I suppose it was one part thought, and three parts dream. I was dead, Johnny: I had already my white robe on, and angels were carrying me up to heaven. The crystal river was flowing along, beautiful flowers on its banks, and the Tree of Life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. I seemed to see it all, Johnny. Such flowers! such hues; brighter than any jewels ever seen. These colours are lovely”–pointing to the sky–“but they are tame compared with those I saw. Myriads of happy people were flitting about in white, redeemed as I was; the atmosphere shone with a soft light, the most delicious music floated in it. Oh, Johnny, think of this world with its troubles and disappointments and pains; and then think of that other one!”
The sunset was fading. The pale colours of the north were blending together like the changing hues of the opal.
“There are two things I have more than loved here,” he went on. “Colours and music. Not the clashing of many instruments, or the mere mechanical playing, however cla.s.sically correct, of one who has acquired his art by hard labour: but the soft, sweet, dreamy touch that stirs the heart.
Such as yours, Johnny. Stop, old fellow. I know what you would say. That your playing is no playing at all, compared with that of a skilled hand; that the generality of people would wonder what there is in it: but for myself, I could listen to you from night till morning.”
It was very foolish of him to say this; but I liked to hear it.
“It is the sort of music, as I have always fancied, that we shall hear in heaven. It was the sort I seemed to hear the other night in my dream; soft, low, full of melody. That _sort_, you know, Johnny; not the same.
_That_ was this earth’s sweetest music etherealized.”
Hearing him talk like this, the idea struck me that it might be better for us all generally if we turned our thoughts more on heaven and on the life we may find there. It would not make us do our duty any the less earnestly in this world.
“Then take colours,” he went on. “No one knows the intense delight I have felt in them. On high days and holidays, my mother wears that big diamond ring of hers–you know it well, Johnny. Often and often have I stolen it from her finger, to let the light flash upon it, and lost myself for half-an-hour–ay, and more–gazing entranced on its changing hues. I love to see the rays in the drops of the chandeliers; I love to watch the ever-varying shades on a wide expanse of sea. Now these two things that I have so enjoyed here, bright colours and music, we have the promise of finding in heaven.”
“Ay. The Bible tells us so.”
“And I saw the harpers harping with their harps,” he repeated to himself–and then fell into silence. “Johnny, look at the opal in the sky now.”
It was very soft and beautiful.
“And there’s the evening star.”
I turned my head. Yes, there it was, and it trembled in the sky like a point of liquid silver.
“Sometimes I think I shall see the Holy City before I die,” he continued. “See its picture as in a mirror–the New Jerusalem. Oh, Johnny, I should have to shade my eyes. Not a beautiful colour or shade but will be there; and her light like unto a jasper stone, clear as crystal. When I was a little boy–four, perhaps–papa brought me home a kaleidoscope from London. It was really a good one, and its bits of gla.s.s were unusually brilliant. Johnny, if I lived to be an old man, I could never describe the intense joy those colours gave me–any more than I can describe the joy I seemed to feel the other night in that dream of heaven.”
He was saying all this in a tender tone of reverence that thrilled through one.
“I remember another thing about colours. The year that papa was p.r.i.c.ked for High Sheriff, mamma went over with him to Worcester for the March a.s.size-time, and she took me. I was seven, I think. On the Sunday morning we went with the crowd to service in the cathedral. It was all very grand and imposing to my young mind. The crashing organ, the long procession of white-robed clergy and college boys, the two majestic beings in scarlet gowns, their trains held up by gentlemen, and the wigs that frightened me! I had been told I was going to college to see the judge. In my astonished mind I don’t think I knew which was judge and which was organ. Papa was in attendance on the judges; the only one who seemed to be in plain clothes in the procession. An impression remained on me that he had a white wand in his hand; but I suppose I was wrong.
Attending papa, walked his black-robed chaplain who was to preach; looking like a crow amongst gay-plumaged birds. And, lining the way all along the body of the cathedral from the north entrance to the gates of the choir, were papa’s livery men with their glittering javelins. You’ve seen it all, Johnny, and know what the show is to a child such as I was.
But now, will you believe that it was all as _nothing_ to me, compared with the sight of the many-coloured, beautiful east window? I sat in full view of it. We had gone in rather late, and so were only part of the throng. Mamma with me in her hand–I remember I wore purple velvet, Johnny–was stepping into the choir after the judges and clergy had taken their places, when one of the black-gowned beadsmen would have rudely shut the gates upon her. Upon that, a verger pushed out his silver mace to stop him. ‘Hist,’ says he, ‘it’s the High Sheriff’s lady–my Lady Whitney;’ and the beadsman bowed and let us pa.s.s. We were put into the pew under the sub-dean’s stall. It was Winnington-Ingram, I think, who was sub-dean then, but I am not sure. Whoever it was did not sit in the sub-dean’s stall, but in the next to it, for he had given that up, as was customary, to one of the judges. With the great wig flowing down right upon my head, as it seemed, and the sub-dean’s trencher sticking over the cushion close to it, I was in a state of bewilderment; and they were some way through the Litany–the cathedral service at Worcester began with the Litany then, you remember, as they had early morning prayers–before I ventured to look up at all. As I did so, the colours of the distant east window flashed upon my dazzled sight. Not dazzled with the light, Johnny, though it was a sunny day, but with the charm of the colours. What it was to me in that moment I could never describe. That window has been abused enough by people who call themselves connoisseurs in art; but I know that to me it seemed as the very incarnation of celestial beauty. What with the organ, and the chanting, and the show that had gone before, and now this sight to illuminate it, I seemed to be in Paradise. I sat entranced; unable to take my fascinated eyes from the window: the pew faces it, you know; and were I to live for ever, I can never forget that day, or what it was to me. This will show you what colours have been to me here, Johnny. What, then, will they be to me in heaven?”
 The old East window: not the new one.
“How well you remember things!”
“I always did–things that make an impression on me,” he answered. “A quiet, thoughtful child does so. You were thoughtful yourself.”
True. Or I don’t suppose I could have written these papers. The light in the sky faded out as we sat in silence. John recurred to his dream.
“I thought I saw the Saviour,” he whispered. “I did indeed. Over the crystal river, and beyond the white figures and the harps, was a great light. There stood in it One different from the rest. He had a grand, n.o.ble countenance, exquisite in sweetness, and it was turned upon me with a loving smile of welcome. Johnny, I _know_ it was Jesus. Oh, it will be good to be there!”
No doubt of it. Very good for him.
“The strange thing was, that I felt no fear. None. Just as securely as I seemed to lie in the arms of the angels, so did I seem secure in the happiness awaiting me. A great many of us fear death, Johnny; I see now that all fear will cease with this world, to those who die in Christ.”
A sudden burst of subdued sobbing broke the stillness of the room and startled us beyond everything. Lady Whitney had wakened up and was listening.
“Oh, John, my darling boy, don’t talk so!” she said, coming forward and laying her cheek upon his shoulder. “We can’t spare you; we can’t indeed.”
His eyes were full of tears: so were mine. He took his mother’s hand and stroked it.
“But it must be, mother dear?” he gently whispered. “G.o.d will temper the loss to you all.”
“Any of them but you, John! You were ever my best and dearest son.”
“It’s all for the best, mother: it must be. The others are not ready to go.”
“And don’t you _care_ to leave us?” she said, breaking down again.
“I did care; very much; but lately I seem to have looked only to the time when we shall meet again. Mother, I do not think now I would live if the chance were offered me.”
“Well, it’s the first time I ever heard of young people wanting to die!”
cried Lady Whitney.
“Mother, I think we must be very close on death _before_ we want it,” he gently answered. “Don’t you see the mercy?–that when this world is pa.s.sing from us, we are led insensibly to long for the next?”
She sat down in the chair that I had got up from, and drew it closer to him. A more simple-minded woman than Lady Whitney never lived. She sobbed gently. He kept her hand between his.
“It will be a great blow to me; I know that; and to your father. He feels it now more than he shows, John. You have been so good and obedient, you see; never naughty and giving us trouble like the rest.”
There was another silence. His quiet voice broke it.
“Mother, dear, the thought has crossed me lately, that it must be good to have one, whom we love very much, taken on to heaven. It must make it seem more like our final home; it must, I think, make us more desirous of getting there. ‘John’s gone on to it,’ you and papa will be thinking; ‘we shall see him again when the end comes.’ And it will cause you to look for the end, instead of turning away from it, as too many do. Don’t grieve, mother! Had it been G.o.d’s will, I should have lived. But it was not; and He is taking me to a better home. A little sooner, a little later; it cannot make much difference which, if we are only ready for it when it comes.”
The distant church bells, which always rang on a Friday night, broke upon the air. John asked to have the window opened. I threw it up, and we sat listening. The remembrance of that hour is upon me now, just as vividly as he remembered the moment when he first saw the old east window in the cathedral. The melody of the bells; the sweet scent of the mignonette in the garden; the fading sky: I close my eyes and realize it all.
The girls returned, bringing word that Mrs. Frost was very ill, but not much more so than usual. Directly afterwards we heard Sir John come home.
“They are afraid Barrington’s worse,” observed Helen; “and of course it is worrying Mrs. Frost. Mr. Carden has not been there to-day either, though he was expected: they hope he will be over the first thing in the morning.”
In they trooped, Sir John and the boys; all eagerly talking of the pleasant afternoon they had had, and what they had seen and done at Evesham. But the room, as they said later, seemed to have a strange hush upon it, and John’s face an altered look: and the eager voices died away again.
John was the one to read the chapter that night. He asked to do so; and chose the twenty-first of Revelation. His voice was low, but quite distinct and clear. Without pausing at the end, he went on to the next chapter, which concludes the Bible.
“Only think what it will be, Johnny!” he said to me later, following up our previous conversation. “All manner of precious stones! all sorts of glorious colours! Better even” (with a smile) “than the great east window.”
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