We had continued our walk as James spoke and now we came upon an open space, flanked on three sides by trees. The centre of the clearing was short grass, studded here and there with the brilliant flowers I had seen on the hillside. On each of the three sides, set with their backs against the trees, were the most colourful buildings I had ever seen. In height, they resembled bungalows and they were built of what appeared to be stone of a pearly sheen.
In the summery light it glowed and sparkled in a thousand iridescent colours which produced an effect almost too beautiful to be real. There were no windows, for the whole of the front of the houses was open, the interior being in shadow so that only glimpses could be seen. The roof-substance appeared to be of thin slats of wood or matting, extending over the houses in front to form a kind of veranda. Over each roof drooped a great tree, its whispering leaves filling the air with music. In my surprise I had come to a halt on the edge of the clearing. The beauty and unexpectedness of it held me speechless, and all the while questions were hurrying through my mind too swiftly for me to reach out for an answer.
Who lived there? Did they build the houses and how were they kept in repair? Was there no protection against the weather? Who designed the clearing? Was this a street and were there any other streets? What did people do here and where were they now? Suddenly Stephen’s voice cut across my thoughts amusedly.
“All these things you will discover by and by, my friend. Perhaps you would like to rest now, and take a little refreshment?” Without waiting for me to reply—which was just as well since I was so amazed by everything I saw—he led the way across the grass into the cool, green depths of one of the houses. As I followed, it struck me that it resembled a place under the sea, for the light, streaming through first the green of the tree overhead, and then the ‘slatting’, gave the effect of sea-coloured, rippled calm. The sense of rest, of sanctuary was amazing. I just sank down on to a pile of cushiony stuff without a word, and lay with hands under my head, gazing up and breathing as deeply as I could.
The sound of children’s laughter roused me at last. I opened my eyes slightly and lay gazing out under my lids on to the grassy clearing. It was peopled with the happiest of little ones! Some were playing games with their mothers—or perhaps teachers or friends. At any rate, the adults were evidently as happy as the children. I spied many a father bowling for his son or crawling on the grass with a ‘passenger’ astride him! Along the edge of the green a fat baby took his first toddling steps while his mother knelt before him, holding out her arms with pride.
I could not help comparing it with a village green—an ideal village green that many a man and woman has built before his ‘castle in the air’. At first I imagined that I was on earth again; then the remembrance of my journey, my subsequent meeting with Stephen and James returned with a rush. I opened my eyes wide, rolled over on my downy couch and found my friends regarding me.
“Had a nice rest?” Stephen inquired. James just smiled at me.
“Glorious!” I cried, marvelling. “It seems as though I had never slept before, as though I never understood what sleep is!”
“Then you must be hungry,” pronounced Stephen, rising.
“Oh no,” I began, and stopped, for I suddenly became aware of an appetite, a zestful desire for food greater than I had ever experienced on earth. “Make it plenty, old man,” I finished urgently. They both laughed at that.
“Have a peach?” said Stephen, dropping something on to my couch. I turned to pick it up, and then stared.
“Why, it is bigger than a melon!”
“Where did you get it?”
“Off a tree in the wood here. There are hundreds of them.” I held it between my hands, trying to remember.
“Why Stephen,” I cried excitedly, “it is your peach!”
“It was the Father’s pattern,” was all he would say.
“Eat it up,” James commanded. I saw they had one each, also. We all fell to in silent enjoyment. The first bite into mine was a revelation. I just turned the delicious, juicy flesh over in my mouth, wonderingly. It took quite a long time to eat that fruit, and when I had finished I was fully satisfied.
“Now break the kernel with your teeth,” James instructed, “and drink up the last drop of juice.” I held the orange-like thing between my fingers and shook it inquisitively. It gave out a drum-like sound as the juice struck against the outer skin. Following their example, I bit into it at the top, stretched the taut skin into a lip and drank. Very soon, all that was left was a wisp of crinkled brown stuff. “Eat that too!” It tasted of nuts, and I chewed it for a long time before swallowing.
“Fruit, nuts and wine!” I exclaimed. “You are a marvel, Stephen.”
“It was the Father’s pattern,” he said again. “All I had to do was to work over it, to get it exactly as He designed.”
“But that was in the Hall of Food,” I pointed out. “How did it come to be here?” James leant forward to tell me.
“As soon as anything is perfected, it pleases the Father to give it everlasting life. From that moment it begins to grow all over Heaven’s realm, and in the Plane Between.”
“Do they need much attention while growing?”
“No attention at all,” Stephen assured me. “There are no adverse weather conditions—except in the Hall of Adventure, and that makes Heaven for the sportsmen! As the weather is always favourable everything grows without a pause. Then, nothing decays. These houses, which man built to the Father’s design, remain like this for ever. They need no attention—no cleaning, even, for there is no dust!”
“Don’t things get very overgrown?”
“He who commanded the waves to be still commands also nature’s growth. He can still it at any point, and it remains, as it were, mute under His Hand until permission is given to grow again.”