Heaven is Fulfilment: Chapter 6
OVER THE MOUNTAINS
We walked across the plain, treading our way among the hurrying figures. Although they seemed so intent on their tasks, all their faces were happy. Some of them gave us a brief smile as they passed. The children were running about everywhere. Most of them were playing or exploring the hills and woods, but some were helping their elders and evidently enjoying it immensely. A few of the youngsters were picking flowers. Of course, they wanted some well out of reach! A woman who was passing, understood at once. She climbed up, picked the blossoms and threw them down to meet the outstretched hands.
“They have time to play with the children, then.” Janet said approvingly.
“Of course!” Our angel looked almost shocked. “That is part of their life.”
We reached the river bank and followed it until we cane to some stepping stones, over which we soon crossed. Another walk brought us to the foot of a mountain. It was clothed in heather and filled us with delight.
“How lovely it all is!” Janet breathed, gazing around at the entrancing scene.
“The Father’s Love is everywhere,” the angel said solemnly.
A small group of men were coming down towards us as we halted to watch them. They were dragging behind them a trolley attached to a couple of stout ropes. Their faces were flushed with effort but they were calling gaily to each other on the way. As they reached us, all the men passed, except one. He came to stand beside us, brushing his hair back from a moist brow, and smiling. He was a young, fine-looking fellow, scantily clothed. His shoulders had that massive quality which proclaimed great strength, his chest broad, his limbs lean and muscular.
“Anything you want hauled up the mountain?” he asked laughingly.
“No, not even ourselves,” I replied, and Janet said; “We would like you to guide us, just the same, and to tell us all about your life here.”
“Oh, are you just come? Then I will guide you gladly. I say, isn’t it great to be here?”
“It is indeed.” Our angel had fallen back a step, and we walked one on either side of our new friend. “My name is Frank,” he volunteered. “What is yours?” We told him, and then I asked: “Are you as happy here as you look?”
“Am I!” His eyes lit up joyously, then shadowed. He seemed to fall into deep thought as we went swinging up the mountain. At last, he murmured. “After that other place.”
“Want to talk about it?” I asked, “or would you prefer not?”
“Why, surely you have just come from there?” he queried in surprise, and then apparently remembering, “No, the master said there were other places, too.”
“The Master!” Janet cried. “Have you seen Him recently?”
I saw what was in Janet’s mind, and I shared the thought with her for a moment. However, Frank’s answer soon dispelled it.
“Of course I have seen him. We can see him about anything or nothing all day if we like! He is a kind of king, here – a very wise man. We call him the master because what he says goes, you know.”
“So the master said there were other places, too?”
“Yes, over that range of mountains.” He waved a hand vaguely.
“You must have come from one of them. Hope it was not as bad as mine.”
“Was it very bad?” Janet asked gently.
“It was awful.” He stood looking out over the plain far below us, then turning, said suddenly: “It was full of all the most horrid people – and the most horrid of all was me!”
I looked up quickly to find him smiling and Janet said:
“Well, you seem to be happy enough here and not at all horrid, either.”
“Oh, here. That is different. Anybody can be happy and good here, but there – shall I tell you about it?”
“Yes, if you would like to.”
“I would! Somehow, it makes me happier than ever when I look back in contrast. Well, on earth I lived with my parents and a young brother. We were not very well off and I had to start work early. While my brother was still at school, my father and mother died. That left me with a cottage, the small wage I earned – and a boy to keep! Well, I got to hate my brother.”
“Oh,” Janet said blankly. She looked down into the tree-tops far below, and her face was a little sad.
“I know it was awful,” Frank went on, “but he was such a tie. I could never go out on week-end trips with other fellows I met at work, and all spare cash went on clothing him. I suppose I forgot what I had been at his age. I used to be furious when he went climbing and came home with torn suits. Oh, I never let myself know I hated him! I used to call it ‘bringing him up,’ but I just went on hating him all the same. Hating him being with me, hating to have to feed him; in the end, hating everything he did or said or looked, even. Sometimes I would lash out at him with my fist and he would whimper. I would feel a sense of power, then. Yes I was a brute to him.”
He fell into a silence. We turned a corner in the winding mountain path and beheld a scene of breathtaking beauty. While we looked at it, Janet said; “But you were sorry…”
“Of course I was!” Frank broke in: “but I wouldn’t say so. The boy grew up, and as soon as he could leave school, he left me and lived-in at his work. I knew where he was, but I never went to him, apologised, and asked him to come back. At first I liked living alone. Then I came to miss him. I missed the way he smiled when I came in and he had managed to get some treat for tea. He would look up all bright of face and tell me how he had traded a fish for ten marbles, or something like that. Then gradually I came to thinking things over and to see, how beastly I had been. Poor kid, he had a right to some childhood, the same as I had had – but I never told him so.”
“What a pity,” I murmured. “What happened then?”
“Well, I had my chance and I lost it. I was in an accident. It all happened so suddenly or I would have sent for the boy at the last. One moment I was working in the factory and the next I was through death’s door! At first everything seemed all right. It was mountain country, something like this, with houses, and everybody busy with their own interests. There was no work to do unless you wanted to, but I got busy pretty soon and wanted to join up with one of the families there. Then I had a shock! They all treated me just as I had treated my young brother. If I wanted something to eat, they would give it grudgingly. The air was cold and I needed extra clothes. I tramped all over the place, asking – even pleading – for some. They all laughed, or chased me off, as though I had been a thief. Nobody would he friends, even. I was desperate.”
“I don’t know how long I lived there. It seemed years. Then one day when I was walking about I saw a man who smiled at me. It was the first time I had seen anyone being kind. I just rushed over to him, crying like a kid. Very soon I had poured it all out to him and told him what beastly people lived here, and how cruelly indifferent they were. He just looked at me and said, ‘My son, they are all just like you.'”
“That gave me a jolt. I began to tell him that I was like that once, but not now, and he said that I was still like that, deep down, because I had not been humble enough to apologise to my brother. Of course I asked him what I could do, and he said I must go back and be humble. After a while, if I accepted it all in that spirit. I would meet a man who would welcome me into his house. Then he would show me the way over the mountains and into a place of happiness.”
Janet and I had been so interested that we had forgotten all about the view. We were watching Frank’s face intently. “And then?” I prompted.
“Well, I went around to every house after that. They all went on being unkind to me, and each time I tried to be humble, and I said a prayer for the happiness of my brother still on earth. Then one day as I walked up a garden path, the door flew open! A man came out, smiling.
‘I was expecting you,’ he said. ‘I am the guide here, and will escort you across the mountains.’
“And so I came here,” Frank concluded. “I never knew who that first man was, though – the man who told me to he humble.”
Suddenly, our angel stood behind us, murmuring into our ears; “It was the lord.”