Story type: Literature
THE tempest of grief which, for a time, had raged so wildly in the heart of Mrs. Freeland, exhausted by its own violence, sobbed itself away, and the stricken mother passed into the land of dreams.
To the afflicted, sleep comes with a double blessing–rest is given to the wearied body and to the grieving spirit. Often, very often, the Angel of Consolation bends to the dreaming ear, and whispers words of hope and comfort that from no living lips had yet found utterance.
And it was so now with the sleeping mother. A few hours only had passed since she stood looking down, for the last time, on the fair face of her youngest born. Over his bright, blue eyes, into whose heavenly depths she had so loved to gaze, the pale lids had closed for ever. Still lingered around his lips the smile left there by the angels, as, with a kiss of love, they received his parting spirit. In the curling masses of his rich, golden hair, the shadows nestled away, as of old, while his tiny fingers held a few white blossoms, as with a living grasp. Was it death or sleep? So like a sleeping child the sweet boy lay, that it seemed every moment as if his lips would unclose, his eyes open to the light, and his voice come to the listening ear with its tones of music.
If to the mother had come this illusion, it remained not long. Wild with grief, she turned away as the sweet face she had so loved to gaze upon was hidden from her straining eyes for ever.
Hidden from her eyes, did we say? Only hidden from her natural eyes. Still he was before the eyes of her spirit in all his living beauty. But, to her natural affections, he was lost–even as he had faded from before her natural eyes; and, in the agony of bereavement, it seemed that her heart would break. Back to her darkened chamber she went. Her nearest and dearest friends gathered around, seeking lovingly to sustain her in her great affliction; but she refused to be comforted.
At length, as at first said, the tempest of grief, which, for a time, raged so violently in the heart of Mrs. Freeland, sobbed itself away, and the stricken mother passed into the land of dreams.
For the most part, dreams are fantastic. Yet they are not always so. In states of deep sorrow or strong trial, when the heart turns from the natural world, hopeless of aid or consolation, truth often comes in dreams and similitudes.
The mother found herself in the company of two beautiful maidens, in the very flower of youth; and as she gazed earnestly into their faces, which seemed transparent from an inward celestial light, she saw expectation therein–loving expectation. They stood beneath the eastern portico of a pleasant dwelling, around which stately trees–the branches vocal with the song of feathered minstrels–lifted their green tops far up into the crystal air. Flowers of a thousand hues and sweet odours were woven into forms and figures of exquisite beauty upon the carpet of living green spread over the teeming earth, while groups of little children sported one with another, and mingled their happy voices with the melody of birds.
Yet, amid all this external joy and beauty, the hand of grief still lay upon the mother’s heart; and when she looked upon the sportive infants around her, she sighed for her own babe. Even as she sighed, one of the maidens turned to her and said, while her whole countenance was lit up with a glow of delight–
“It has come. A new babe is born unto heaven.”
And, as she spoke, she gathered her arms quickly to her bosom, and the wondering mother saw lying thereon her own child. The other maiden was already bending over the infant–already had she greeted its coming with a kiss of love. Quickly both retired within the dwelling, and the bereaved mother went with them, eager to receive the babe she had lost.
“Oh, my child! my child!” she said. “Give me my child.”
And ere the words had died upon her lips, the maiden who had received the babe gave it into her arms, when she clasped it with a wild delight, and rained tears of gladness upon its face.
For a time, the two maidens looked upon the mother in silence, and in their bright countenances love and pity were blended. At length, one of them said to her, (and she smiled sweetly, and spoke with an exquisite, penetrating tenderness,)–
“Your heart is full of love for your babe?”
“He is dearer to me than life–dearer than a thousand lives,” replied the mother quickly, drawing the babe closer to her bosom.
“Love seeks to bless the object of its regard.”
There was a meaning in the words and tone of the maiden, as she said this, that caused the mother to look into her face earnestly.
“This is not the land of sickness, of sorrow, of death,” resumed the maiden, “but the land of eternal life and blessedness. Into this land your babe has been born. You are here only as a visitant, and must soon return to bear a few more trials and pains, a few more conflicts with evil; but the end is your preparation for these heavenly regions.”
A shadow fell instantly upon the mother’s heart. Tears rushed to her eyes, and she drew her arms more tightly about her babe.
“Shall we keep this babe in our heavenly home, or will you bear it with you back to the dark, cold, sad regions of mortality?”
“Do not take from me my more than life!” sobbed the mother wildly. “Oh! I cannot give you my child;” and more eagerly she hugged it to her breast.
For a time there was silence. Then one of the maidens laid gently her hand upon the mother, and she lifted her bowed head.
“Come,” said the maiden.
The mother arose, and the two walked into the open air, and passing through the group of children sporting on the lawn and in the gardens, went for what seemed the space of a mile, until they came to a forest, into the depths of which they penetrated; and, for a time, the farther they went the darker and more gloomy it became, until scarcely a ray of light from the arching sky came down through the dense and tangled foliage. At last they were beyond the forest.
“Look,” said the companion.
The mother lifted her eyes–the babe had strangely passed from her arms. A dwelling, familiar in aspect, stood near, and through an open window she saw a sick child lying upon a bed, and knew it as her own. Its little face was distorted by pain and flushed with fever; and as it tossed restlessly to and fro, its moans filled her ears. She stretched forth her hands, yearning to give some relief; even as she did so, the scene faded from her view, and next she saw an older child, bearing still the linaments of her own. There was the same broad, white forehead and clustering curls; the same large, bright eyes and full, ruddy lips; but, alas! not the soft vail of innocence which had given the features of the babe such a heavenly charm. The fine brow was contracted with passion; the eyes flashed with an evil light; and the lips were tightly drawn, and with something of defiance, against the teeth. The boy was resisting, with a stern determination, the will of the parents–was setting at naught those early salutary restraints which are the safeguard of youth.
“Oh! my unhappy boy!” cried the mother.
The scene changed as she spoke. The boy, now grown up to manhood, once more stood before her. Alas! how had the light of innocence faded from his countenance, giving place to a shadow of evil, the very darkness of which caused a cold shudder to pass through the mother’s frame.
“Look again,” said the maiden, as this scene was fading.
But the mother hid her face in her hands, and turned weeping away.
“Look again.” And this time there was something so heart-cheering in the maiden’s voice, that the mother lifted her tearful eyes. She was back again in the beautiful place from which she had gone forth a little while before, and her babe, beautiful as innocence itself, lay sweetly sleeping in the arms of the lovely maiden who had received it on its first entrance into heaven. With a heart full of joy, the mother now bent over the slumbering babe, kissing it again and again.
“Grieving mother,” said the angel-maiden, in tones of flute-like softness, “God saw that it would not be good for your child to remain on earth, and he therefore removed it to this celestial region, where no evil can ever penetrate. To me, as an angel-mother, it has been given; and I will love it and care for it with a love as pure and tender as the love that yearns in your bosom. As its infantile mind opens, I will pour in heavenly instruction, that it may grow in wisdom and become an angel. Will you not let me have it freely?”
“But why may I not remain here and be its heavenly mother? Oh! I will love and care for it with a tenderness and devotion equal to, if not exceeding yours.”
Even while the mother spoke there was a change. She saw before her other objects of affection. There was her husband, sitting in deep dejection, sorrowing for the loss of one who was dear as his own life; while three children, the sight of whom stirred her maternal heart to its profoundest depths, lay sleeping in each other’s arms, the undried tears yet glistening on their lashes.
The wife and mother stretched forth her hands toward these beloved ones, eager to be with them again and turn their grief into gladness. But, in a moment, there passed another change. The pleasant home in which her children had been sheltered for years, no longer held them; the fold had been broken up and the tender lambs scattered. One of these little ones the mother saw, sitting apart from a group of sportive children, weeping over some task work. The bloom on her cheek had faded–its roundness was gone–the light of her beautiful eyes was quenched in tears. And, as she looked, a woman came to the child and spoke to her harshly. She was about springing forward, when another scene was presented. Her first-born, a noble-spirited boy, to whose future she had ever looked with pride and pleasure, stood before her. Alas! how changed. Every thing about him showed the want of a mother’s care and considerate affection; and from his dear, young face had already vanished the look of joyous innocence she had so loved to contemplate.
Again the mother was in the presence of the angel-maiden, to whose loving arms a good God had confided the babe, which, in his wisdom, he had removed from the earth. And the angel-maiden, as she looked first at the babe in her arms and then at the mother, smiled sweetly and said–
“He is safe here; will you not let him remain?”
And, with a gushing heart, the mother answered, “Not for worlds would I take him with me into the outer life of nature. Oh, no! He is safe–let him remain.”
“And you will return to those who still need your love and care?”
“Yes, yes,” said the mother, earnestly. “Let me go to them again. Let me be their angel on earth.”
And she bent hastily to the heaven-born babe, kissing it with tearful fondness.
There came now another change. The mother was back again in her chamber of sorrow; and undried tears were yet upon her cheeks. But she was comforted and reconciled to the great affliction which had been sent for good from heaven.
Those who saw Mrs. Freeland in the first wild grief that followed the loss of her babe, wondered at her serene composure when she came again among them. And they wondered long, for she spoke not of this Vision of Consolation. It was too sacred a thing to be revealed, to any save the companion of her life.