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THE CHILD IN THE GRAVE

 

THERE was sorrow in the housesorrow in every heartTheyoungest childaboy four years oldthe joy and hope of his parents had diedThere still remained to them two daughtersthe elder of whom was about to be confirmedgoodcharming girls bothbut the child that one has lost always seems the dearestand here it was the youngestand a sonIt was a heavy trialThe sisters mourned as young hearts canand were especially moved at the sight of their parents' sorrowThe father was bowed downand the mother completely overpowered by the great griefDay and night she had been busy about the sick childand had tendedliftedand carried itshe had felt how it was a part of herselfShe could not realize that the child was deadand that it must be laid in a coffin and sleep in the groundShe thought God could not take this child from herand when it was soneverthelessand there could he no more doubt on the subjectshe said in her feverish pain

God did not know itHe has heartless servants here on earthwho do according to their own likingand hear not the prayers of a mother.”

In her grief she fell away from Godand then there came dark thoughtsthoughts of deathof everlasting deaththat man was but dust in the dustand that with this life all was endedBut these thoughts gave her no staynothing on which she could take holdand she sank into the fathomless abyss of despair

In her heaviest hours she could weep no moreand she thought not of the young daughters who were still left to herThe tears of her husband fell upon her foreheadbut she did not look at himHer thoughts were with the dead childher whole thought and being were fixed upon itto call back every remembrance of the little oneevery innocent childish word it had uttered

The day of the funeral cameFor nights beforethe mother had not sleptbut in the morning twilight she now sleptovercome by wearinessand in the meantime the coffin was carried into a distant roomand there nailed downthat she might not hear the blows of the hammer

When she awokeand wanted to see her childthe husband said

We have nailed down the coffinIt was necessary to do so.”

When God is hard towards mehow should men be better?”she saidwith sobs and groans

The coffin was carried to the graveThe inconsolable mother sat with her young daughtersShe looked at her daughtersand yet did not see themfor her thoughts were no longer busied with homeShe gave herself up to her griefand grief tossed her to and fro as the sea tosses a ship without compass or rudderSo the day of the funeral passed awayand similar days followedof darkwearying painWith moist eyes and mournful glancesthe sorrowing daughters and the afflicted husband looked upon her who would not hear their words of comfortandindeedwhat words of comfort could they speak to herwhen they themselves were heavily bowed down

It seemed as though she knew sleep no moreand yet he would now have been her best friendwho would have strengthened her bodyand poured peace into her soulThey persuaded her to seek her couchand she lay still therelike one who sleptOne night her husband was listening to her breathingand fully believed that she had now found rest and reliefHe folded his arms and prayedandsoon sank into a deep healthy sleepand thus he did not notice that his wife arosethrew on her clothesand silently glided from the houseto go where her thoughts always lingeredto the grave which held her childShe stepped through the garden of the houseand over the fieldswhere a path led to the churchyardNo one saw her and she saw no one

It was a lovely starlight nightthe air was still mildit was in the beginning of SeptemberShe entered the churchyardand stood by the little gravewhich looked like a great nosegay of fragrant flowersShe sat downand bowed her head low over the grave as if she could have seen her child through the earthher little boywhose smile rose so vividly before herthe gentle expression of whose eyes even on his sick bed she could never for-getHow eloquent had that glance beenwhen she had bent over him and seized his delicate handwhich he had no longer strength to raise As she had sat by his cribso she now sat by his gravebut here her tears had free course and fell thick upon the grave

Thou wouldst gladly go down and be with thy childsaid a voice quite close to hera voice that sounded so clear and deep it went straight to her heart

She looked up and near her stood a man wrapped in a black cloak with a hood drawn closely down over his faceBut she glanced keenly upand saw his face under his hood It was stern but yet awakened confidence and his eyes beamed with the radiance of youth

Down to my childshe repeated and a despairing supplication spoke out of herwords

Darest thou follow me asked the form.“I am Death.”

And she bowed her head in assent Then suddenly it seemed as though all the stars were shining with the radiance of the full moonshe saw the varied colours of the flowers on the grave and the covering of earth was gradually withdrawn like a floating drapery and she sank downand the apparition covered her with his black cloak night closed around herthe night of deathand she sank deeper than the sexton's spade can penetrateand the churchyard was as a roof over her head

A corner of the cloak was removed and she stood in a great hall which spread wide and pleasantly aroundIt was twilightBut in a moment her child appearedand was pressed to her heart smiling at her in greater beauty than he had ever possessedShe uttered a crybut it was inaudible for a glorious swelling strain of music sounded close to herand then in the distanceand then again close at handnever had such tones fallen on her earthey came from beyond the great dark curtain which separated the hall from the great land of eternity beyond

My sweet darling mother”,she heard her child say

It was the well-knownmuchloved voice and kiss followed kiss in boundless felicityand the child pointed to the dark curtain

It is not so beautiful on earthDo you seemotherdo you see them all Oh that is happiness!”

But the mother saw nothing which the child pointed outnothing but the dark night She looked with earthly eyesand could not see as the child sawwhom God had called to HimselfShe could hear the sounds of the musicbut not the wordthe Word in which she was to believe

Now I can fly motherI can fly with all the other happy children into the presence of the AlmightyI would fain fly butif you weep as you are weeping nowI might be lost to youand yet I would go so gladlyMay I not flyAnd you will come to me soonwill you not dear mother?”

Oh stay Stay entreated the mother.“Only one moment moreonly once more I should wish to look at theeand kiss thee and press thee in my arms.”

And she kissed and fondled the childThen her name was called from abovecalled in a plaintive voiceWhat might this mean

Hearest thou?”asked the child.“It is my father who calls thee.”

And in a few moments deep sighs were heardas of weeping children

They are my sisters,” said the child.“Mother you surely have not forgotten them?”

And then she remembered those she had left behindA great terror came upon herShe looked out into the nightand above her dim forms were flitting pastShe seemed to recognize a few more of theseThey floated through the Hall of Death towards the dark curtainand there they vanished Would her husband and her daughters thus flit past No their sighs and lamentations still sounded from aboveand she had been nearly forgetting them for the sake of him who was dead

Mother now the bells of heaven are ringing,” said the child.“Mother now the sun is going to rise.”

And an overpowering light streamed in upon herThe child had vanishedand she was borne upwardsIt became cold round about herand she lifted up her headand saw that she was lying in the churchyardon the grave of her child

But the Lord had been a stay unto her feet in a dreamand a light to her spirit and she bowed her knees and prayed for forgiveness that she had wished to keep back a soul from its immortal flightand that she had for-gotten her duties towards the living who were left to her

And when she had spoken those words it was as if her heart were lightenedThen the sun burst forth and over her head a little bird sang outand the church bells sounded for early serviceEverything was holy around herand her heart was chastenedShe acknowledged the goodness of Godacknowledged the duties she had to performand eagerly she went homeShe bent over her bus-band who still slepther warm devoted kiss awakened himand heart-felt words of love came from the lips of bothAnd she was gentle and strong as a wife can beand from her came the consoling words

God's will is always the best

Then her husband asked her,“From whence hast thou all at once derived this strengththis feeling of consolation?”

And she kissed him and kissed her children and said

They came from God through the child in the grave.”

 


 

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