William Brenton knelt beside the fallen lady, and tried to soothe and comfort her, but it was evident that she was insensible.
"It is useless," said a voice by his side.
Brenton looked up suddenly, and saw standing beside him a stranger. Wondering for a moment how he got there, and thinking that after all it was a dream, he said--
"What is useless? She is not dead."
"No," answered the stranger, "but you are."
"I am what?" cried Brenton.
"You are what the material world calls dead, although in reality you have just begun to live."
"And who are you?" asked Brenton. "And how did you get in here?"
The other smiled.
"How did you get in here?" he said, repeating Brenton's words.
"I? Why, this is my own house."
"Was, you mean."
"I mean that it is. I am in my own house. This lady is my wife."
"Was," said the other.
"I do not understand you," cried Brenton, very much annoyed. "But, in any case, your presence and your remarks are out of place here."
"My dear sir," said the other, "I merely wish to aid you and to explain to you anything that you may desire to know about your new condition. You are now free from the incumbrance of your body. You have already had some experience of the additional powers which that riddance has given you. You have also, I am afraid, had an inkling of the fact that the spiritual condition has its limitations. If you desire to communicate with those whom you have left, I would strongly advise you to postpone the attempt, and to leave this place, where you will experience only pain and anxiety. Come with me, and learn something of your changed circumstances."
"I am in a dream," said Brenton, "and you are part of it. I went to sleep last night, and am still dreaming. This is a nightmare and it will soon be over."
"You are saying that," said the other, "merely to convince yourself. It is now becoming apparent to you that this is not a dream. If dreams exist, it was a dream which you left, but you have now become awake. If you really think it is a dream, then do as I tell you--come with me and leave it, because you must admit that this part of the dream is at least very unpleasant."
"It is not very pleasant," assented Brenton. As he spoke the bewildered servants came rushing up the stairs, picked up their fallen mistress, and laid her on a sofa. They rubbed her hands and dashed water in her face. She opened her eyes, and then closed them again with a shudder.
"Sarah," she cried, "have I been dreaming, or is your master dead?"
The two girls turned pale at this, and the elder of them went boldly into the room which her mistress had just left. She was evidently a young woman who had herself under good control, but she came out sobbing, with her apron to her eyes.
"Come, come," said the man who stood beside Brenton, "haven't you had enough of this? Come with me; you can return to this house if you wish;" and together they passed out of the room into the crisp air of Christmas morning. But, although Brenton knew it must be cold, he had no feeling of either cold or warmth.
"There are a number of us," said the stranger to Brenton, "who take turns at watching the sick-bed when a man is about to die, and when his spirit leaves his body, we are there to explain, or comfort, or console. Your death was so sudden that we had no warning of it. You did not feel ill before last night, did you?"
"No," replied Brenton. "I felt perfectly well, until after dinner last night."
"Did you leave your affairs in reasonably good order?"
"Yes," said Brenton, trying to recollect. "I think they will find everything perfectly straight."
"Tell me a little of your history, if you do not mind," inquired the other; "it will help me in trying to initiate you into our new order of things here."
"Well," replied Brenton, and he wondered at himself for falling so easily into the other's assumption that he was a dead man, "I was what they call on the earth in reasonably good circumstances. My estate should be worth $100,000. I had $75,000 insurance on my life, and if all that is paid, it should net my widow not far from a couple of hundred thousand."
"How long have you been married?" said the other.
"Only about six months. I was married last July, and we went for a trip abroad. We were married quietly, and left almost immediately afterwards, so we thought, on our return, it would not be a bad plan to give a Christmas Eve dinner, and invite some of our friends. That," he said, hesitating a moment, "was last night. Shortly after dinner, I began to feel rather ill, and went upstairs to rest for a while; and if what you say is true, the first thing I knew I found myself dead."
"Alive," corrected the other.
"Well, alive, though at present I feel I belong more to the world I have left than I do to the world I appear to be in. I must confess, although you are a very plausible gentleman to talk to, that I expect at any moment to wake and find this to have been one of the most horrible nightmares that I ever had the ill luck to encounter."
The other smiled.
"There is very little danger of your waking up, as you call it. Now, I will tell you the great trouble we have with people when they first come to the spirit-land, and that is to induce them to forget entirely the world they have relinquished. Men whose families are in poor circumstances, or men whose affairs are in a disordered state, find it very difficult to keep from trying to set things right again. They have the feeling that they can console or comfort those whom they have left behind them, and it is often a long time before they are convinced that their efforts are entirely futile, as well as very distressing for themselves."
"Is there, then," asked Brenton, "no communication between this world and the one that I have given up?"
The other paused for a moment before he replied.
"I should hardly like to say," he answered, "that there is no communication between one world and the other; but the communication that exists is so slight and unsatisfactory, that if you are sensible you will see things with the eyes of those who have very much more experience in this world than you have. Of course, you can go back there as much as you like; there will be no interference and no hindrance. But when you see things going wrong, when you see a mistake about to be made, it is an appalling thing to stand there helpless, unable to influence those you love, or to point out a palpable error, and convince them that your clearer sight sees it as such. Of course, I understand that it must be very difficult for a man who is newly married, to entirely abandon the one who has loved him, and whom he loves. But I assure you that if you follow the life of one who is as young and handsome as your wife, you will find some one else supplying the consolations you are unable to bestow. Such a mission may lead you to a church where she is married to her second husband. I regret to say that even the most imperturbable spirits are ruffled when such an incident occurs. The wise men are those who appreciate and understand that they are in an entirely new world, with new powers and new limitations, and who govern themselves accordingly from the first, as they will certainly do later on."
"My dear sir," said Brenton, somewhat offended, "if what you say is true, and I am really a dead man----"
"Alive," corrected the other.
"Well, alive, then. I may tell you that my wife's heart is broken. She will never marry again."
"Of course, that is a subject of which you know a great deal more than I do. I all the more strongly advise you never to see her again. It is impossible for you to offer any consolation, and the sight of her grief and misery will only result in unhappiness for yourself. Therefore, take my advice. I have given it very often, and I assure you those who did not take it expressed their regret afterwards. Hold entirely aloof from anything relating to your former life."
Brenton was silent for some moments; finally he said--
"I presume your advice is well meant; but if things are as you state, then I may as well say, first as last, that I do not intend to accept it."
"Very well," said the other; "it is an experience that many prefer to go through for themselves."
"Do you have names in this spirit-land?" asked Brenton, seemingly desirous of changing the subject.
"Yes," was the answer; "we are known by names that we have used in the preparatory school below. My name is Ferris."
"And if I wish to find you here, how do I set about it?"
"The wish is sufficient," answered Ferris. "Merely wish to be with me, and you are with me."
"Good gracious!" cried Brenton, "is locomotion so easy as that?"
"Locomotion is very easy. I do not think anything could be easier than it is, and I do not think there could be any improvement in that matter."
"Are there matters here, then, that you think could be improved?"
"As to that I shall not say. Perhaps you will be able to give your own opinion before you have lived here much longer."
"Taking it all in all," said Brenton, "do you think the spirit-land is to be preferred to the one we have left?"
"I like it better," said Ferris, "although I presume there are some who do not. There are many advantages; and then, again, there are many--well, I would not say disadvantages, but still some people consider them such. We are free from the pangs of hunger or cold, and have therefore no need of money, and there is no necessity for the rush and the worry of the world below."
"And how about heaven and hell?" said Brenton. "Are those localities all a myth? Is there nothing of punishment and nothing of reward in this spirit-land?"
There was no answer to this, and when Brenton looked around he found that his companion had departed.