It is getting very dark

Brightly rose the week which had been fixed for the Harvest Home, but it
was welcomed by no festivities in the fields and meadows of Wareham
Abbey.

The flags and tents which had been prepared were stored away again; the
holiday dresses were put by unfinished; Dolly, the laundry-maid, hid
away, with a great sob, the flaming yellow print with a red spot she had
been all the way to the market town to buy; and village mothers,
standing in groups at their cottage doors, whispered together with
tearful eyes, and made faint attempts to keep their own restless boys in
sight.

There was mourning far and wide for the young life that was passing
away, and rough voices faltered as they spoke of the bright face and
ringing laugh which should be known no more among them.

Humphrey was sinking rapidly; but like a lamp which, before it goes
finally out, flickers into something like a bright flame, did his brain,
after those many days of wandering unconsciousness, seem to regain
something of its wonted vigor.

“What does it mean?” he asked his father over and over again, whenever
he opened his eyes.

“What does what mean, my darling?”

“Why, this funny noise here”–touching his head.

“It means that your poor head aches.”

“Oh! but it means something else; it’s a sort of rushing and singing
noise, always rushing and singing. What is it like? Do help me to
remember!”

Sir Everard racked his brain to satisfy the poor little questioner, but
to no purpose.

“You’re not trying, father,” said the little fellow peevishly.

Sir Everard wondered to himself whether the child could be thinking of
the rushing of water in the ears described by people rescued from
drowning, and answered–

“Is it like the sound of water?”

“Yes, yes!” exclaimed Humphrey; “it’s like the sound—-,” he stopped,
and then added, “of many waters.”

He seemed struck by his own words.

“What is that, father? Where have I heard that? What is it like?”

Sir Everard thought he had satisfied him, and was distressed to hear the
question again, fearing he would exhaust himself by so much talk.

“I told you before, darling, it is like a sound of water.”

“That’s all wrong,” he said, mournfully, half crying, “it’s not _water_,
it’s _waters_–many waters.”

“Yes, yes, my child,” said Sir Everard soothingly, alarmed at his
agitation.

“But say it again, father; say it right through.”

Sir Everard repeated, “A sound of many waters.”

“There!” exclaimed Humphrey, “_now_ what is it? You must know what it
means now!”

Sir Everard was more puzzled than ever, having thought that they had
come to an end of the discussion.

“I _really_ don’t know, my boy!”

“If _you’d_ got a sound of many waters in your head, father, you’d like
to hear what it means! Oh, where did I hear all about it? Where have I
been? Who was near me? You were there, father, I know, for I remember
your face; and all the while somebody was telling us what the rushing
and singing in my head means!”

Sir Everard thought the boy was wandering, and did not try to answer him
any more. He was accustomed to sit for hours by the bedside, while
Humphrey rambled incoherently on. It was no use trying to follow the
poor little brain through the mazes of thought into which it now
plunged.

Presently Humphrey startled him by saying–

“What does Charlie mean?”

“Well, nothing particular, darling.”

“But it does, it does,” said the child. “Does it mean the same thing as
a sound of many waters?”

“Yes, yes,” said his father, still thinking he was wandering.

“Then if I say ‘a sound of Charlie,'” said Humphrey, “it means the same
as ‘a sound of rushing and singing in my head?'”

“No, no, dear,” answered Sir Everard, surprised to find him so rational.

“Why, you said ‘Yes,’ just now,” said the child, with a sob. “If you
tell stories, father, you’ll go to hell like…. _Who_ was it told
stories about the wild men’s dinner party?” he concluded, excitedly.

“Uncle Charlie,” answered his father, “but he didn’t tell stories, dear,
it was only a joke.”

He turned his head away as he spoke, for the mention of the dinner-party
brought up the image of the boy bursting into the library full of life
and health and beauty, and the contrast with the little worn-out figure
lying on the bed overcame him for a moment.

But the latter part of the speech, and his father’s emotion, were lost
upon Humphrey and he only repeated to himself over and over again,
“Uncle Charlie, Uncle Charlie. Is that what I mean? What is Uncle
Charlie? Who is Uncle Charlie?”

At this moment there is a sound as of an arrival; voices and footsteps
outside; but Humphrey hears them not. Some one knocks at the library
door. One of the maids in the distance steals gently towards it, for Sir
Everard holds up his hand to enforce silence, hoping that the busy brain
may get a few moments’ rest. The door opens, and a young man enters. Sir
Everard rises, and goes to meet him. After a few moments’ whispered
conversation, both advance noiselessly to the sofa, and stand looking at
the little face on the pillow with its closed eyes. Closed, but not
sleeping. The weary brain is trying to rake up, from its fragmentary
recollections of the past, something that may throw a light on his
present perplexities. Dim, confused figures flit across the stage of his
fancy, glimmer, and disappear.

“Stop!” he cries feebly, as if the moving shadows wearied his brain;
“oh, please stand still!”

Roused by the sound of his own voice, he opens his eyes, and, ere he
closes them again, fixes them for a moment on the form standing by his
bedside. Hush! do not break the spell! The mists are clearing, the
shadows becoming more distinct. From the fleeting chaos before him one
figure now stands out more clear, more immovable than the rest–the
figure of a tall, fair man. Hush! he has found the clue! The grey walls
of the old church are rising around him; the sides of the old pew are
towering above him. Just in front of him is the large prayer-book,
surmounted by the monogram “Adelaide,” and by his side the tall, fair
man! Hush it is all coming back now.

In the distance sits his father, with his legs crossed, and his head
turned towards the pulpit, where stands the old clergyman, with his
Bible in his hand. Breathlessly the boy listens for the words he longs
to hear; but no sound comes from the lips of the preacher.
Disappointment comes down upon his spirit, when, in his vision, the
figure sitting by him takes out a pencil, and underlines something in
his Bible.

“Of course,” cries Humphrey out loud, “he knows; he can tell me. Uncle
Charlie!” The real figure by the bedside starts and comes forward, but
Sir Everard holds him back.

“He is only dreaming, don’t disturb him.”

“It _was_ Uncle Charlie,” murmurs Humphrey; “and he can tell me. Many
waters and a pencil and a Bible … and Uncle Charlie sitting there …
and then … there came in his face….”

To the consternation of the by-standers, Humphrey went off into fits of
weak laughter. The association of ideas recalled another circumstance;
his mind has wandered away from the point on which it was fixed, and he
is watching again the encounter between his uncle and the wasp.

“He’ll be stung!” he cries, shaking with laughter, and he puts his
wasted hand to his mouth, as if he knew he was in church, and ought to
check himself. The figure by the bedside turns to Sir Everard, and
whispers, but the only answer is–

“Nothing but a dream. For God’s sake do not awake him.”

Thoroughly exhausted, Humphrey is lying still again, but now his mind is
once more perturbed, for his uncle’s figure has disappeared from his
vision, and he tries to conjure it before him in vain.

“He is gone!” he exclaims, with a sob, “just as I was going to ask him.
Oh, come back, come back, Uncle Charlie!”

Some one kneels by his side, some one lays a hand on his brow and he
opens his eyes with a start. The church, the pew, the prayer-book–all
are gone–but in their place–his uncle!

“Oh, Uncle Charlie!” sobbed the child, trying to throw his feeble arms
round his neck, “is it really you? Where do you come from? _You’ll_ tell
me all about it; _you’ll_ help me to remember!”

“Tell you what, my dear, dear little fellow?”

“I don’t know what! I can’t tell what! It’s something I want to
remember, and I don’t know what it is!”

“What was it like?” asked Uncle Charlie.

“It was like a church,” answered Humphrey, excitedly, “and it was like a
summer’s morning, and you and me and Father sitting still, while
somebody was telling us what the sound in my head means. I _can’t_
remember what he said, but if I _only_ could I shouldn’t mind the
rushing and singing a bit; for when I heard it that time, everything
about it was happy, and bright, and beautiful. But you were there, Uncle
Charlie, and you must know, for you wrote something down about it.”

“I told you so, Everard,” said the young man to his brother-in-law; “I
knew he was trying to remember the sermon on the Revelations we heard
the Sunday I was down here.”

“But you’re not telling me, Uncle Charlie,” sobbed Humphrey.




“I will, my boy, I will; but you must let me go and fetch my Bible, for
I don’t remember the words exactly.”

“Must you go?” faintly uttered Humphrey. “Oh, don’t go, Uncle Charlie;
you’ll disappear like you did just now, and perhaps never come back
again.”

Uncle Charlie reassured him, and gently disengaged himself from his
grasp.

“Be quick! be quick!” panted the child, and his voice failed him with
his excitement. Sir Everard tried to soothe him, and hoped he would be
quiet. But a few minutes after his uncle was gone, it became evident
that Humphrey was struggling to say something before his uncle should
return. His excitement and exhaustion made him more incoherent than
usual, and after once or twice repeating his uncle’s name, his voice
failed altogether, and though his white lips moved, no sound came.

Sir Everard was greatly distressed; the boy fixed his eye so pleadingly
on him, he was so earnest in what he was trying to say, that it went to
the father’s heart not to be able to understand him. He strained every
nerve to catch the words, but in vain.

The excitement of hearing his uncle returning gave Humphrey a momentary
strength, and he held his father’s hand with all the strength he could
muster, and said, “Promise!”

“I promise, my darling,” said Sir Everard, hastily, too thankful to
catch even a word.

And nobody ever knew that the boy’s last request had been that never,
never was his uncle to know that it was his story that had first made
him think of the branch that stretched over the pond where the
water-lilies grew.

Quite worn out he allowed himself to be laid back upon his pillow, and
with closed eyes waited while his uncle opened the Bible and found the
underlined passage:–

“And I heard a voice from heaven as the voice of many waters … and I
heard the harpers harping with their harps. And they sang as it were a
new song … and no man could learn that song, but the hundred and forty
and four thousand which were redeemed from the earth.”

* * * * * *

No more restless questions, no more perplexed search after what is lying
somewhere in the past. He did not speak, he did not answer his father’s
eager enquiry as to whether that was what he had been trying to
remember; and he lay so still, so motionless, that for one moment they
thought he had passed away without hearing the words he had longed for.
But the unsatisfied look had gone from his face, and his father saw that
his mind was at rest. He was breathing gently as in a deep sleep.

That is all the watchers saw. And the child himself! How shall we
attempt to follow the hazy imaginings of his weak and wandering mind?

Dreamily are returning to him the thoughts which had possession of him
that summer Sunday as he sat in his corner in the old grey church.
Visions of beauty are floating before him, evoked that day in his mind
by the powerful imagery of Scripture; now recalled by association: the
material joys which form a child’s idea of heaven–the gates, and the
harps, and the angels. Dim conceptions of white-robed thousands
wandering in the golden Jerusalem, by the jasper sea. Not strange to him
that throng of angels, for foremost among them all, more beautiful than
any, is the figure of his mother, standing as in the picture, looking
down upon him with a smile. Heaven to him is peopled with her image, for
he has no other notion of all that is fair and holy. In that great
multitude whom no man can number, there is not one that can be called a
stranger, all have the soft eyes and the familiar smile.

What recks he more of the throbbing and singing in his aching head–the
sounds as of rushing waters? Is it not all explained? It is the voice of
many waters and the voice of the great multitude, singing the wondrous
song which only they can sing! The preacher heard it that Sunday
morning; did he not say, “I heard a voice from heaven”? and Humphrey
hears it now! Imperfectly as yet it sounds upon his ear, faintly the
echoes are borne to him, but it will sound more clearly soon!

It was not in vain that the old clergyman had warmed and glowed with his
subject, and by the very earnestness of his own feeling carried his
little hearer with him; for his words, though they had lain dormant
during the weeks which followed, apparently wasted and forgotten, were,
by the power of association, rising when they were needed to bless and
soothe his death-bed.

Faint is the heart of the preacher, oftentimes, as he watches his
congregation disperse; for he fears that his words, even though they
chained the minds of his hearers for the moment, will pass away as they
pass the threshold, and be lost in the worldly interests which meet them
at the very door.

And yet it may be, that all unknown to him, perhaps in the very hearts
he would least have expected, his words have taken root, and will bear
fruit some day.

Deep silence reigned in the room, while the two men watched the child.

It was very long before he spoke again, but when he did, it was evident
that he was not himself.

“It is getting very dark,” he murmured, and Sir Everard’s heart sank
within him, for the sun was only just beginning to set. “It is time for
us to go to bed. Where’s Miles?”

For a few brief moments the throbbing has ceased, and with its
cessation, voices and visions have fled away.

Sir Everard stole away to fetch the little fellow, and found him in his
nightgown repeating his evening prayer to Virginie. With a few hasty
explanations, Sir Everard took him in his arms, and carried him away.

“But, Fardie,” said Miles, as they hurried downstairs “I hadn’t quite
finished; I have not said my hymn.”

“Never mind, darling! you shall say it to Humphrey to-night.”

He carried him gently into the drawing room, and set him down upon the
sofa.

Miles was frightened at the silence and darkness, and nestled up closer
to his brother.

“Humphie! Humphie! wake up and give me your hand.”

“Don’t be frightened, Miles,” murmured Humphrey, dreamily: “come close
to me, I’ll take care of you.”

He strove to move to the edge of the sofa, as if he thought his little
brother’s bed was close up against it, and he threw his feeble arm round
Miles in the dear old protecting way.

“We won’t talk much to-night, Miles, because I’m so very sleepy.
Good-night.”

He said something faintly about seeing his mother, but Miles couldn’t
catch the words.

“Didn’t quite understand, Humphie.”

Something of a movement of impatience passed over Humphrey’s face.

“Of course you don’t–because–you can’t–remember her.”

“No,” said little Miles, meekly, “but you’ll tell me, Humphie?”

“To-morrow,” he murmured, “I shall be able to
explain–better–to-morrow–good-night–good-night.”

And in the silence that reigned, every one present heard the little
brothers exchange their last kiss.

* * * * * * * *

“I can’t see them,” said Sir Everard, huskily; “some one draw up the
blind.”

The setting sun outside was illumining the landscape ere it sank to
rest, and shedding its beams on the haunts and the companions of the
boy’s young life. On the lambs he had chased in the meadows, on the
birds he had watched since they had learned to fly, on the fields and
the gardens which seemed so empty without him, it was shining with a
softened glow;–but it seemed to have reserved its richest glory for the
children, for, as the blind went slowly up, such a flood of light poured
into the room, that the eyes of the father were dazzled, and it was some
minutes before he could distinguish them.

There, in the golden sunset, they lay. The sun kissed their little
faces, and touched with a loving hand their curly hair. It lingered
lovingly round them, as if it knew that the lambs would be frisking when
it rose again, the birds would welcome it with their glad song; but that
never again would it rest on the nestling forms and clasped hands of the
two little brothers!

Sir Everard, bending over them, saw a troubled expression over
Humphrey’s face.

“What can it be that ails the child?” he mentally questioned; “is it
physical pain, or is something troubling his thoughts? Is the fear of
death coming over him?”

He did not like to speak for fear of disturbing him, but as the look
deepened almost to pain, he could not restrain himself any longer.

“Humphrey, my darling,” he exclaimed, in his longing to do something, be
it ever so little, to soothe his boy’s dying hour, “what is it? What can
I do for you?”

Nothing! With all his love and all his yearning, nothing!

For surging once more in the boy’s brain is the noise as of rushing and
singing, and with its sound a fear has risen in his breast. Shall he
ever, ever catch the music of that wondrous song? Doubts of his own
power to learn it are troubling his wandering thoughts; dim misgivings
that _children_ can not learn it, founded on his own inability to follow
the singing in church. Always too soon or too late! _Do_ children ever
learn it? “‘And no _man_ could learn that song save the hundred and
forty and four …’ nothing about children _there_!”

Vain is the father’s endeavor to reach a trouble of this kind; vainly,
bending over him, does he seek to discover its cause, in his longings to
remove or alleviate it.

Is the child, then, to pass away uneasy, with a cloud upon his
happiness; or must a miracle be worked in his favor? Must Heaven open
and show him the army of innocents standing at the right hand of God?
No. God’s ways are not as our ways: infinite in power, He yet reveals
Himself by the simplest means.

As once before He sent the child consolation so will He send it now. As
once before, not by signs and wonders, but by the gift of sleep, so
now, not by miracles and visions, but by the voice of his baby brother.

“Talk to me, Humphie. Don’t go to sleep yet. I haven’t said my hymn.
Fardie said I might say it to you to-night. Shall I say it now?”

Without waiting for an answer, Miles raised himself on his knees, and
put his little hands together. Then arose the sound of the baby voice:

“Around the throne of God in Heaven
Thousands of children stand;
Children whose sins are all forgiven,
A holy, happy band.
Singing Glory, Glory, Glory.”

* * * * *

Faster and louder comes the rushing and singing, but the misgiving is
lulled to rest. Faster and faster, louder and louder, surging around
him. But hushed are the doubts at once and for ever, and the fear has
vanished away! Loud in his brain sounds the song of the children,
throbbing there almost to pain; beating so loud as to stun and confuse
him. Everything seems to be turning and whirling; and, as if to save
himself, he opens his eyes. On what a sight did they fall! There, close
before him, bathed in light, and a glory round her brow stands the
figure of his mother, looking down upon him with a smile. And with a
glad smile of welcome he stretched out his arms, and cried, “Has God
sent you to fetch me at last, mother? Oh, mother, I’ll come! I’ll come!”

* * * * *

Those who were standing round, saw only the expression of pain change to
the old sunny smile. His lips moved, and he lifted his arms, as his eyes
were raised for a moment, to the picture above him, on which the sun was
pouring a dazzling light. They closed; but the smile, intensely radiant,
lingered about the parted lips; the short breathing grew shorter …
stopped … and then….

“It’s no use my saying the rest,” said little Miles in a whisper, “for
Humphie has gone to sleep.”

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