Chapter XIII: Can This Be Death?
Those telepathic bells of Paradise are not only a useful but also a very necessary institution. The absorbing interests of the life are so numerous and fascinating, opening from one to the other in ever increasing succession, that once launched on an inquiry it is doubtful when one would return—whether he would ever return—without some summons reminding him that loved ones are awaiting his coming.
How little Stennett knew of the blessedness of the life when he sang:
O the transporting, rapturous scene
That rises to my sight!
Sweet fields arrayed in living green
And rivers of delight.
All o’er those wide extended plains
Shines one eternal day;
There God, the Sun, for ever reigns
And scatters night away.
I wonder what kind of hymns Watts and Wesley would have written for the church to sing if they had seen what my eyes have beheld and their ears had heard what I have heard before they commenced their labours. I almost think I shall ask Eilele sometime to write one or two new ones, and either transmit them herself or allow me to do so, when I begin to speak to earth.
But I did not begin this chapter to anticipate what I should do in my new sphere of labour. I was talking of the bells of Paradise recalling us from protracted excursions, or should I rather say enabling us to remain in constant touch with home wherever our interests and studies may carry us.
The record of one such recall will bring me back to an incident from which I have necessarily wandered in my desire rather to follow consecutiveness of thought than action.
“Did you hear me call?” asked Vaone as she greeted my return.
“Yes, I heard, and think it is well you did so. If you do not look after me I shall surely be tempted into leaving you altogether.”
“Wherein lies the danger?” she inquired with smiling confidence as she clasped her arms around my neck, laid her head upon my bosom, and turned her love-lit eyes full upon me.
“You may smile, but I tell you the danger is real—far more so than you appear to imagine.”
She gently shook her head and pressed it a little closer before replying, “You have already forgotten something, my Aphraar. At least, I think you have.”
“What is it, dear?”
“That dangers are impossible here. But what or who is it that tempts you away?”
“The ever-increasing and engrossing interests I am everywhere discovering.”
“I know what you mean,” she answered reflectively. “It exerts a similar fascination over everyone. The comparison is crude and ridiculous, I know, but it constantly recalls to my mind the attraction of Regent Street in the height of the season, where carriages, people, costumes, shop windows—everything, holds one as by an irresistible spell. But you must follow my example and avoid temptation by remaining at home. Why go away when there is so much to enjoy and study here?”
Why, indeed! And yet, while I saw the force and reasonableness of her suggestion, I was equally conscious of a strong resentment to my acceptance of it. This may have been due to the comparison she instituted, which while being a perfectly natural one to the feminine mind, was far from impressing me as a happy one. Or perhaps I had misunderstood her. At least I would give her the opportunity to explain.
“What a curious simile to use!” I remarked.
“Do you think so? I thought it was an inspiration. But then you are not a woman.”
“No! Perhaps that explains it. But may I ask why you sent for me?”
Again she turned her dear face upwards—in its nestling it had fallen easily upon my breast—until her laughing eyes looked full into my own.
“Suppose I was to say it was simply because I missed you?” she replied.
“I should be glad to hear it.”
“Would you? Then allow me to say I had a very different reason for what I did.”
“Then you had two reasons, for I am sure the one was part of it, whatever the other may be. Now, confess; am I not right?”
“If you prefer to think so, do. But I have a mission to perform in which I thought you would like to keep me company.”
“I shall be delighted. Though I am ignorant of its nature, I am confident of its interest. It would be impossible to find a mission here divorced from pleasure and instruction. What is its nature?”
“I am going to earth to assist in the passing of the little friend Arvez recently brought to us.”
“Little Dandy?” I exclaimed. It was the only name the boy knew—an appellation of the gutter we had to retain until we received his new name. “That will be a pleasure in more ways than one. When do you go?”
“Myhanene is sending Azal to receive him. I go to assist, but I am sure he will be glad to have your company. I await his coming now.”
“Does Dandy know?”
“No! Azal will tell him when he arrives.”
“Is the lad here, then?”
“Yes! He is to be detained a little while. I think his accident—as men would call it—depends on his oversleeping himself.”
“Then he is to come suddenly?”
“So I understand. It is far more merciful for such as he. But here comes Azal, and we shall soon know the details.”
He joined us almost before Vaone had finished speaking, and readily assented to my addition to his escort.
“It will be a new and interesting experience for you,” he added. “But we must find the boy, or events will be in advance of us.”
This was a quest ending with its commencement. Dandy was with Jack and several other friends who had spent most of their time with the little probationer since Arvez had introduced him to our valley home. They were busy revising some scheme of operations to be carried out when Dandy’s coming and going should be at an end.
“I wish I’d wakened up for the last time,” I heard the little fellow remark as we approached.
“What makes you wish that?” inquired Azal, introducing himself.
“You don’t know much abart what I has ter put up wi’, if yer don’t know that,” he replied, eyeing his strange visitor with a curious and doubtful interest. Then recognizing myself he came and took my hand.
“Who is he?” he asked.
“I know you, but I doan know ’im.”
“You know Arvez—the angel who brought you here from ‘The College’?”
“This ain’t ’im.”
“No, but he is a friend of his.”
“An’ wot’s ’e want?”
“I have come,” Azal answered for himself, “to do just what I heard you wish for when we arrived.”
“Why, did you not wish that you had wakened for the last time?”
“So I do.”
Then he added with a touch of pathetic weariness, “But it’s such a while comin’ I’m tired o’ waitin’ for it.”
“Poor child! Come with me. You will not wait much longer now.”
“Yer ain’t a goin’ ter tek me away from Jack, are yer?”
“No. Jack can come with us if he wishes.”
“But wheer are we goin’?”
“Back to earth for a little while.”
“I doan want ter go back; why can’t I stop ’ere?”
“Because your body must waken and pull you back. It is going to waken perhaps for the last time, as you wished, then you will be able to stop here altogether.”
It was a strange and indescribable look that rose from the depths of his consciousness through his eyes and covered his wondering face as the meaning of Azal’s words was divined. It was something of impatient gratitude and a wild desire to grasp a fortune that might vanish, prompting him to dart from myself and hold the speaker as a hostage to success.
“I know wot cher mean!” he gasped. “Yer goin’ to kill me. I ain’t afrightened at it. I shall like it. Will yer do it soon?”
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, to the eloquent decision of a child in a choice between life and death!
Azal smiled and affectionately patted the dear little head.
“No, I am not going to kill you,” he replied. “But when you fall asleep we shall just break the cord by which the body pulls you back again. Then you will have your wish, and stop here.”
“It won’t ’urt, will it?”
“No. You will not feel it.”
“An’ shall I be dead then?”
“Your body will.”
“Well, ain’t that killin’ me? But I doan care. This is a lot better’n livin’. Come on, I’m ready.”
“Then we will go,” said Azal.
“Ere! ’Old a minit! Theer’s frepence ap’ny in my pocket. Let me see Bully Peg, an’ gi’ ’im the money, before yer do it, will yer? ’E ’as a awful time, ’e does, an’ frepence ap’ny’ll set ’im up in matches.”
Even Azal did not hurry to reply to that appeal. It was a prayer for time and opportunity to do a Christian service, powerful enough to stay the hand of death; it was a declaration of faith, an act of worship, a Christlike atonement sufficient to wash out the stain of not a trifling sin, which called for and received the recognition of a holy silence, and we each bowed our heads in the presence of it.
“Yes, you shall do as you wish,” said Azal as soon as he could speak.
“Then I don’t care for nuffin’. Come on.”
I am afraid if our passage earthwards had been witnessed by mortal eyes it would have occasioned comment by the violation of orthodox ideas respecting the nature of our mission. But I think the infringement came more from the one most closely concerned than either of his companions. Never was schoolboy more elated at the prospect of vacation than this almost friendless guttersnipe at the one thought which filled his mind.
A few moments ago I took from my Recorder’s bookshelves a volume written by a clergyman and read: ‘The truth is, no one, except under very exceptional circumstances, can restrain a shudder at the thought of dying. . . . Why is this? . . . Is it because death is unilluminated by hope, and there is no expectation of a Resurrection and a Heaven? No; both truths may be implicitly believed; but they are future facts—how future is not known—and meanwhile, what? Nothing definite. No intense conviction of the unbroken continuity of life. No certainty that the moment after death we shall be the same living, thinking and feeling personalities that we have been the moment before.” (“Our Life after Death,” by Rev. Arthur Chambers. London: Charles Taylor, 1894 pp. 68-69)
This is after two thousand years of preaching, and it represents not the author’s individual opinion, but the results arrived at by ecclesiastical and theological Christianity.
I say our passage would have shocked the orthodoxy of such a profession. But Dandy had been made acquainted with what the church might and ought to know, and instead of crying, in the language of another: –
But timorous mortals start and shrink
To cross this narrow sea;
Stand lingering, shivering on the brink
And fear to launch away,
he was at one with David longing for the wings of a dove that he might fly away and be at rest. Why should we be sad and mournful?
But we are at our destination.
The morning had broken, and the busy wheels of London life were already at work. Our little friend had certainly overslept himself. He sought shelter last night among the packing-cases piled up under the archway of a wholesale warehouse. It was a favourite spot, warm, snug and out of the way of police interference. The friendly carter had given permission, and Limpy Jack had formerly shared the quarters with Dandy, but since the former’s decease Bully Peg had taken the vacant place.
“Theer I am,” cried the lad, pointing to where his sleeping body lay;—but, ikey! ain’t I late! Why Bully’s gone, an’ I want ter gi’ ’im my frepence ap’ny!”
“Never mind, I think I can manage to bring him back,” said Azal.
He could not leave the lad even for an instant at such a juncture, but there was abundance of help at hand, so that Bully Peg was speedily brought back again.
How was it done?
That is easily explained, and it will not be amiss to linger carefully as we watch this incident through.
Dandy had constituted himself guardian over the child, the two being brought into a very close and real fellowship by kinship of misfortune. Between them existed a mutual sympathy and anxiety for success, upon which they leaned first to one side, then to the other, for the only meal the day most frequently provided. Thus a double connection had been established—business and family. To this foundation, based on genuine affection, it was not a difficult operation for the ministering angel to telepathically attach Dandy’s wish and thus transmit to his friend a thought of anxious concern respecting his oversleeping protector.
Bully was engaged with two companions when the recalling thought struck him, but he turned on the instant, and without either apology or explanation started back on his errand.
It was all accomplished in less time than it requires to write it, for the distance to be covered was only a short one, and Bully Peg stopped suddenly at the threshold of the gateway where Dandy was still sleeping.
Two men were at work turning over and clearing away the packingcases, and the little fellow was too frightened to speak of the danger in which his friend was placed.
He hoped the noise would wake the lad. Why did it not do so? Then he feared one of the cases had already fallen and killed him. This fear so terrorized him that when he presently gained the necessary courage to speak it had robbed him of the thought to do so.
But why did not that clattering, deafening noise wake the lad? Under other circumstances the silent presence of the constable would have caused him to start and creep further into the darkness.
The explanation all lies in the difference of circumstances. In the present instance they were of God’s more immediate care and design, of which Azal held the plan and had to superintend the working. Dandy’s earthly course was run, but glad as he really was at the prospect of it, in his excitement and shrinking from the process of passing he would have frustrated it had not a strong restraining pressure been put upon him.
“Let me go and wake myself,” he cried at one time, trying to secure his liberty to effect the purpose.
“Wake yourself and live?” Azal inquired.
“But I doan want ter be ’urt.”
“It will not hurt so much as you think. We will mind that, and the little pain will be the price of freedom.”
“Will yer mind me, then?”
“Yes—but go back!” and like a lightning flash he was thrust into his body as a great case toppled over and fell.
There was a piercing shriek of agony, enough to make one’s blood run cold. The two men started and leaped from the cases, dragged the fatal one aside, and there lay the crushed and unconscious form of our little friend, with a stream of blood running from his convulsively twitching mouth.
While the two terrified men were securing help and arranging to carry the lad to the neighbouring hospital, I was busy watching the work of Azal. Though the shriek was painful, I was glad to know that Dandy himself had scarcely felt anything before he swooned. From this he revived, just as they laid him on the improvised stretcher when, in an interval in the operation due to a policeman’s inquiry, little Bully Peg darted forward and stammered through his tears:
“All right, Dandy, I’m ’ere,” as if such assurance would be a comfort to the sufferer.
The head turned somewhat towards the speaker, the eyes half-opened for an instant, and beneath the canvas that covered him a finger moved as if to beckon the lad nearer.
I knew what he wished to say. His mind was on his friend and the coppers he wished him to receive. Even the pain of the working of death was not strong enough to turn him from that one desire.
Five minutes later he was unconsciously lying upon the hospital table, where the rags of clothing were expeditiously but tenderly removed in preparation for the house-surgeon’s examination.
I wonder whether those kindly nurses or doctors ever think how often the angels of God are witnesses of their humane labours? How often such as we wait to supplement their efforts to relieve?
It may be that they did so on this occasion, since they dealt very tenderly and gently with the little arab. That one limb was fractured was at once ascertained, but the kindly surgeon administered restoratives to revive the lad in the desire to ascertain the extent of his internal injuries.
Presently Dandy breathed a heavy sigh and opened his dull, wondering eyes.
“That’s right,” the doctor exclaimed encouragingly. “We shall soon be better now.”
The trembling lips moved in an effort to speak. The doctor dropped his ear to catch the words.
“Money? Yes, I hear,” he said. “Bully Peg? Give your money to Bully Peg? Is that what you mean?”
The lips parted in an attempt to assent, but he could do no more.
“See if he has any money in his pockets.”
“Two or three coppers,” replied one of the students after examination.
“All right. Bully Peg shall have it,” the doctor assured him.
Again the lad feebly smiled in signification that he understood.
By this time it was certain that severe internal injuries had taken place, and the surgeon indicated the fatal nature of the case. The injured limb was speedily splintered and made as comfortable as possible, after which the patient was removed to one of the wards to await the end. Here exhaustion triumphed over pain, and little Dandy rejoined us while his body slept heavily.
The change that had taken place in this temporarily-liberated soul in the short space of time was almost incredible. He was no longer the happy, light-hearted lad we had accompanied back to earth. The sacrament of dissolution was pressing heavily upon him, and I saw the beautiful adaptation of the ministry of angels to such occasions. It was the twilight hour of life. The day was beginning to break. The soul, weary with the sufferings of the night, was longing for the morning from which it hoped for strength; and the blackness was softening into a hopeful yet almost doubtful grey. The night-watch was nearly over; only a few more oscillations of the pendulum, and the hour of relief would strike. Earth had done its last service; Heaven, with its more efficient ministry, was lovingly insinuating itself into consciousness, and the overpowered soul lay helplessly floating out on the ebbing tide.
Azal caught the lad in his arms, and gave him the support he sadly needed.
“Have courage, dear; it is almost over now.”
“Eh! What!” he exclaimed, waking as if from a dream under the invigorating influence of the strength his host of friends were affording him. “Oh, yes! I remember all about it now. Am I dead yet?”
“Not yet; you are sleeping at present, but not soundly enough for us to liberate you. God will send one of His bright angels shortly, then you will soon be free.”
“Have I got to go back again?” he inquired piteously.
“Not for long.”
“Oh, I wish I hadn’t! I can’t remember you there, and it’s, oh, so painful.”
“You will not forget us again, and we can so assist you now that you will feel no more pain.”
“Shan’t I?” and he brightened wonderfully as he accepted the assurance. “Let me go back, then, an’ get it over quick.”
“Wait a little longer; we are not quite ready at present.”
“All right; you are werry kind to me.” Then he started under the sudden impulse of a thought. “’Ere, did Bully Peg get my frepence ap’ny?”
“Not yet; but the doctor has promised that he shall have it.”
“But the doctor don’t know ’im. Can’t yer find ’im an’ let ’itn ’ave it?”
“We will try.” Then pointing Dandy to where his little friend lingered at the door of the hospital he said: “That is him, I think, waiting on the steps.”
We had not left the precincts of the hospital.
“Yes, that’s ’im. Can’t yer tell ’im ter go in an’ arsk the doctor for it?”
“No; he would not hear me speak. But I think we can find a way to manage it somehow.”
Azal looked around. Then I saw him concentrate his will upon the young student who had searched and found the coppers in our friend’s pocket. For a little time the effort produced no effect, then it began to work, and I watched the contest between a strong impulse to go to the front entrance of the institution and continuing to read a medical article upon which he was engaged. It was an interesting experience to watch the gathering force of that strange and unaccountable effect upon the man, which presently became altogether irresistible, and throwing the paper aside, he yielded to the impulse simply to get rid of it.
Standing at the top of the four or five steps leading to the door, with his hands in his pockets, he looked to the right and left, but finding nothing to attract his attention gave a satisfactory laugh at his own foolishness, and was about to return when he caught sight of the cringing little outcast who had tried to squeeze himself between the wall and pillar supporting the semblance of a porch.
“Hello, Tommy! What are you after?” he inquired.
The timid trespasser pushed one finger into his mouth, looked at his toes, and tried to squeeze further behind the pillar, but said nothing until the student dragged him out and repeated the inquiry.
“I on’y wants ter know ’ow Dandy is?” he stammered.
“A box tumbled on ’im an’ they brought ’im ’ere,” was the best answer he could frame.
“Yes, I know. Is he your brother?”
“No, but ’e looks arter me.”
“What is your name?”
“Bully Peg! He was talking about you, and wants you to have his money. Here is sixpence for you.”
The lad looked from the coin to the doctor, then back at the coin again, but utterly failed to understand his good fortune.
“Is it a good ’un?” he asked incredulously. The doctor laughed.
“Why, of course it is. Do you think Dandy would send you a bad one?”
“No, but ’e ’adn’t got this much.”
“How do you know?”
“Becos I seed ’im count it.”
“Perhaps it has grown; but he told me to give it to you if you called.”
“Is he better?”
The young fellow thought for an instant before replying.
Medical students are not always the most sensitively balanced individuals, but he seemed to feel there was something in this instance he could not lightly trifle with.
“He will be better presently,” he answered.
“Can I see ’im? ’E would like it.”
“Not now. I think he’s asleep. Come again on Sunday.”
“I shall want ter know ter-night ’ow ’e is.”
“Very well. If you come up, we will tell you.”
This satisfied the lad so far as it was possible to do without a sight of his friend, and he took his reluctant departure until night.
The result was a very welcome diversion for our little invalid, who was more than delighted at Bully Peg’s good fortune.
There is little more of a preliminary nature to be said. The preparatory sleep was drawing to a close, the certainty of which was made known to me by Myhanene’s arrival.
“Is you the angel as kills ’em?” Dandy asked as soon as he saw him.
“No. We only save from death.”
The lad turned towards Azal with a look of disappointment as he murmured:
“I wish ’e would come. I doan want ter stop now Bully’s got the money.”
“Neither shall you stop. Come, we must wake you for a few minutes.”
“Will it hurt me?”
“No, you will not feel any more pain now.”
“An’ yer won’t go away, will yer?”
“No, we will not leave you. You will see us all the time till you fall asleep.”
The body moved feebly, and the soul was at once drawn back.
The watchful nurse was at his side before his eyes were opened.
“Are you better, dear?”
she asked kindly.
Dandy looked confused for an instant, then almost inaudibly said:
“I’m so tired.”
“I know you are,” she answered.
“Will you try to go to sleep again?”
“Yes; I want-to-sleep.”
It was all over. The quivering life-cord snapped, and Myhanene sped with the sleeping soul to the home of Siamedes.