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"Guide me, oh, thou Great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through a barren land!
I am weak, but thou art mighty,
Lead me with thy powerful hand."
Never in his life had Percy so realized his own finiteness,
never had he so reverenced the Supreme Majesty of the Creator, as while
he listened to that voice, singing the familiar words with indescribable
pathos and passion.
Percy's fearless criticisms of creeds and dogmas had won for him, among people of illiberal thought, the undeserved reputation of an atheist.
The world is full of good-hearted, but short-sighted people, who brand any man as an infidel or lunatic, whose ideas of divine worship differ from their own.
Percy's whole nature was deeply reverential; but his conceptions of religion were too high and broad for the ordinary mind, accustomed to the well-worn ruts of thought to understand or even grasp. In his early boyhood, he had believed in everything; church, woman, home, happiness. But one woman had wrecked him in mid-ocean; and he had thrown overboard all his old faiths in things human and divine, barely saving his life and reason.
Then, as time passed on, and his hurts healed, his inborn reverence for Something over and beyond himself returned. His belief in a future life was as fixed and firm as it was vague and undefined. But oftentimes he felt conscious of the near presence of his mother--the mother who had died when he was a youth and most needed her. And he knew that she lived, and loved him, and watched over him. It was her occasional presence, which convinced him, beyond the possibility of doubt, that death was only the gateway to a new life.
Always, when he was untrue to himself or his principles, her spirit fled away from him, and again she came so near, he could almost hear the rustle of her wings.
It was long months now, since she had come to him. Never in his dreams, never in his waking hours; and the sense of loneliness and longing was sometimes overwhelming.
But now, while he listened to that unseen singer's voice, his mother came back to him; there, in the golden haze of that Indian-summer morning, he felt as conscious of her near presence as if his eyes beheld her.
"Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more,"
sang the voice, and it seemed to ring up to the very courts of heaven
with a great cry of hunger and longing.
Never had Percy so felt the craving in his own soul for heavenly manna, and for something beyond and greater than himself on which to lean, as at this moment.
It seemed to him, that he could not rest until he had looked upon the face of the singer.
He entered the church, and sat down in an unoccupied pew near the door.
The singing had ceased, and from his position the choir was entirely hidden from view by a curtain.
Percy sat through the long and tedious sermon, and listened with impatience to the dreary, uncomforting discourse.
"No wonder," thought he, "that the singer put so much pleading into her cry for 'Bread of heaven,' if she derives her spiritual sustenance from the droppings of this sanctuary. The weary soul would faint by the wayside, who depended upon such food."
The sermon seemed interminable, but it ended at last, to the gratification of the tired congregation. Again Percy heard that voice of heavenly beauty, soaring up to the very Throne in song; but, strive as he might, he could catch no glimpse of the singer.
He left the church, soothed, uplifted, but disappointed.
As he sat in his room at the hotel, late in the afternoon, writing letters, Mr. Griffith called.
"I saw you at church this morning,'' he said, "and my wife sent me around to bring you home to tea. She thought it might be dull for you here at the hotel, and though we are plain folks, we shall he glad to have you come and take common fare with us."
"You are very kind," Percy answered, but I ought to finish these letters"--
"Never mind the letters," insisted Mr. Griffith. "My wife will feel hurt if you don't come; and we can promise you some good music, at least. Maybe you noticed our soprano singer in the choir this morning. She boards with us, and we think she's about as good as any of your city singers. There is no service to-night at the church, and when there is not, she always sings for us at home. People fairly hang on the gates to listen. I hope you'll come."
"Thank you!" said Percy, with alacrity, rising and pushing aside his writing materials. "I will."
When he stood face to face with Helena Maxon--for it was our old friend, whom we greet again after more than five years--Percy felt a slight disappointment. It had seemed to him, that such a voice must belong to a creature as fair as the morning--an ethereal being, all gold and blue and white, like Aurora herself.
Instead, he saw a shapely form, inclined to be voluptuous in its curves, and a face absolutely without tints; a dusky head, and sombre eyes, and a skin like the brown side of a peach, and perfectly devoid of color, save in the full red lips of the rather large mouth.
"Her face is too round for beauty," he said, in his swift mental analysis, "and her mouth and nose are not classic. But what exquisite care she bestows upon her person; what perfectly-kept hands and teeth and hair! She radiates purity and cleanliness like a water-lily. And where did she learn her matchless charm and manner?"
As the conversation progressed, Percy's wonder grew. Miss Maxon's ready flow of words, her simple dignity and her animation, rendered her positively charming. He soon forgot her absence of tints; for as she talked, the light of her spirit seemed to shine through and brighten her face like sunlight shining through an autumn leaf. And the strange peculiarity of her eyes presently attracted him, and fascinated him with their mesmeric spell. So soon as Helena became interested in any subject on which she conversed, or in her music, or in the personality of her listeners, a delicate film, which had almost the appearance of smoke seen rising over the face of the heavens at night, completely enveloped her dark eyes. It seemed to shut out all material objects from her vision as if her soul drew a curtain before her sight, that it might better contemplate the wonders visible only to spiritual eyes. Yet through this curtain you felt conscious that her soul looked into yours.
It is a peculiarity seen only in the eyes of those possessed of clairvoyant powers; and it riveted Percy's gaze upon Helena's face, and fascinated him as no mere physical beauty had ever fascinated him.
By and by she sang, and again Percy felt himself lifted up into a new, rarified atmosphere, while he listened.
It was as if his soul projected itself out of his body, and floated up on the waves of her voice close to the spirit world.
Percy never knew quite how the conversation began : but after she had resumed her seat, he suddenly found himself telling her how peculiarly her singing had affected him.
"No doubt you will think me a sort of a lunatic!" he said. "But while you sang this morning, it seemed to me that my mother, who has been dead since my early manhood, came near to me. The impression lasted throughout the day : and it has brought me an inexpressible happiness."
A sudden light transfigured Helena's face, rendering it absolutely beautiful. She leaned slightly forward, with her hands clasped before her.
"Then you are susceptible to these impressions?" she said, ' I am always pleased and interested in meeting any one who is. There are so few people in the world who realize how thin the veil is which divides us from our dear ones. Why, Mr. Durand, often when I am singing, I not only feel, I know that my father and my mother are close beside me, enveloping me with their love and sympathy. And then I sing, as I never sing at other times. The exhilaration of their presence fills me with a strength and ecstacy that is indescribable. I feel almost more than human."
She ceased speaking suddenly, and her face was luminous with a divine light. A subtle warmth and fragrance seemed to emanate from her; Percy felt thrilled and magnetized, with an influence as mysterious as it was powerful.
"Then your parents are not living?" he said, gently.
"Not here," she answered, with a sad smile. "They died in one year. My father was the victim of a violent fever which devastated our town : my mother grieved herself into the grave a few months later. It had been a perfect union; they were mental comrades, spiritual affinities, physical mates. They could not exist apart. It was better that she joined him so soon."
"It left you very much alone?" Percy spoke softly, scarcely knowing what to say in presence of such a bereavement.
"Yes, and no," she answered. "If I had believed they were lying in the earth waiting the Judgment Day, scores, thousands or millions of years hence, I should have been crazed with my desolation. But my faith was so comforting to me, however unorthodox, that I have found strength and happiness in it."
"Tell me what it is?" urged Percy, earnestly, almost eagerly. "These subjects interest and fascinate me. Long ago, my intellect rejected old dogmas. Yet I find it difficult to know what to believe. The worn out creeds insult my intelligence. The liberal teachers of the day shock me with their irreverence, and leave my soul hungry : and in Spiritualism I find so much trickery, fraud, and immorality, mixed up with a few mysterious and unsatisfactory truths, that I am again in despair."
"But you must not be in despair," Helena said, with one of her beautiful smiles. "You have not looked at Spiritualism from the right standpoint. So long as you seek its truths through professional mediums, you will be dissatisfied and confused. "
"Then you think they are all humbugs?"
"Certainly not :" Helena replied, with emphasis. "There are people endowed with the gift of divination, beyond doubt. There are peculiarly organized beings who can read the future and the past--beings who see through and beyond this thin veil of mortality, into the spiritual realms which lie very close to us. But we must not look to those people for our enlightenment upon this subject. If we do, we soon lose our individuality; we grow dependent and unpractical and visionary. God placed us here to carve out our own destinies--to work and wait for events, not to tear aside the curtain and read the cypher which is understood by a few."
"But how, then, can I obtain the benefits you mention from this belief ?" questioned Percy.
"You must look to the development of your own spiritual nature, and to the consequent crucifying of your baser self, in order to obtain the comfort and benefit of this belief. In this you will have the help of your departed friends."
"You think they retain their interest in and love for us, the same there as here?"
"Oh, yes, assuredly. Yet often our sorrows seem, to their enlarged vision, as the sorrows of children over broken toys seem to us; yet they strive to comfort us."
"If that is true," interposed Percy, "why was it, that after my mother died, and I used to lie awake at night, and plead with Heaven to let me feel her touch, or see her face, if only for a second, why did she not come to me?"
"Because," Helena answered gently, "there are restrictions upon their liberty, there are limits to their powers, even as there are to our own. They live higher, freer, more exalted lives, but they are not gods. I remember when I was first sent from home to boarding-school, how bitter was my homesickness and sorrow. I used to write tear-blotted letters to my mother, begging her to corne to me. She did not come; other and more important duties detained her at home. She knew it was better for me to remain and overcome my loneliness. So your mother in the spirit world may have been detained by the wonderful tasks given her to do. Yet on other occasions she no doubt comes to you, as she came this morning. I think we can not expect frequent companionship from these pure spirits, how ever, unless we cultivate the better part of our natures. They will not linger near us if we are wholly earthly in our aims and ambitions, and immoral in our lives."
"I believe that--I am certain of it in my own experience," Percy said, in a low voice. "Whenever I violate a principle, my mother flies from me as in fear. She has been absent many months, Miss Maxon, until your voice wooed her back."
"Therein lies the great religious lesson in this belief ;" continued Helena. "I find that even my petty tempers, my uncharitable feelings, or thoughtless criticisms of other people, frighten away this holy company. I have to set a constant watch upon my mind and heart, to let no evil or selfish thought enter, if I would retain their helpful and loving influences. It is no easy task, Mr. Durand. It is constant warfare, between the material and the spiritual nature. But the results are glorious. Often when I have put to rout evil feelings, and selfish thoughts, back to my soul, like a flock of white doves, the spirits of comforting friends fly, lifting me into an atmosphere so heavenly and beautiful, that I seem scarcely to belong to earth. Oh surely, God could not give better employment to his angels, than to let them sometimes comfort us, like this. Surely, there is nothing irreverent or wrong in this belief.''
''No, it is the sweetest of all beliefs," Percy answered. "It robs death of all its horrors, and it is a belief which is gaining ground. Do you not think so?"
"Yes, indeed, with the more intellectual classes. There was a time, when it was considered an evidence of ignorance to profess any faith in spirit aid. Now it is considered an evidence of ignorance to declare positively that there is nothing in it. But sensible believers do not waste their time in seeking after crude miracles--miracles which can help no human soul, and only serve to confuse and puzzle the intellect. They turn their attention rather to the development of their own higher natures, which enables them to understand and enjoy these beautiful truths."
"Do you believe that the spirits of our dear ones ever reveal themselves to us?" asked Percy, growing more and more interested. "Have you ever been blessed by such a vision?"
"Never, though I have longed for it. Yet I believe others have been so blessed. You know the Bible overflows with such occurrences. We have, there, the inspired record of the re-appearance upon earth after death--of Samuel, Moses, Elijah, and Christ himself. If we believe the Bible, we must believe these things occurred. And I think God loves his people now as dearly as He loved them then. But I have no belief in, and no patience with, the miserable artifice and wicked pretense of the so-called materializing mediums. I do not believe the lovely spirit of my dear mother could be shown to me through any cabinet--like a jack-in-a-box. The idea that the spirits of the intellectual dead have nothing better to do than move furniture or rap on ceilings and floors, is disgusting and nonsensical in my view. I am a good deal of a Sweden-borgian : I think with him, that the body--the eye--is merely a telescope, through which the soul gazes. What the soul sees, and how far it sees, depends upon many conditions, just as a clear or a murky atmosphere, and the mechanism of his instrument, influences the observations of the astronomer. When the soul, and the body, and the spiritual atmosphere are all in perfect condition, I believe we can see the spirit forms about us. You know St. Paul says : 'Run your race in patience, for you are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.' But in our gross material lives, these conditions seldom occur. As for myself, I am satisfied with the comfort and strength I receive through unseen presences. I do not ask, or seek anything more."
A spiteful-voiced clock on the mantel counted off eleven strokes.
Percy arose in sudden confusion.
"How inexcusably late I have remained," he said, " how can I ever obtain pardon--"
"No excuse is necessary!" interposed Mrs. Griffith. "We all thank you for causing Miss Maxon to talk so freely. It is seldom she does, and we love to hear her conversation as well as her singing. Be sure and come again, Mr. Durand."
As he walked back to his hotel, in upon his strangely enlarged and enlightened vision, a sudden thought of Dolores darted. He stopped in the street and put his hand to his brow. "My God I" he cried, "how can I go back to her?"
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