While we had been talking in this serious strain, the Sky had changed its glowing colours to a pearly gray and twilight began to steal into the room. The Scents from the garden came in more strongly, too, filling the air with fragrance.
Carol rose and silently spread a white cloth over the polished surface of the table, smiling to herself as though she found this a special delight. Then she put the bowl of fruit on the table, with the jug of grape juice beside it, and, to our joy, set five burnished plates at even distances on the snowy cloth. One more dish she took into her hand, and slipping out of the door, went quickly down the path. No-one spoke. Our angel was leaning back in his chair with closed eyes. Janet and I sat looking at the table, and at the five plates, wonderingly.
Presently there were footsteps on the path and we exchanged a swift glance. Was it possible that there was another, besides Carol, approaching? We dare not look out of the open door. Our angel, however, arose, and so we went to stand beside him.
Suddenly we heard Carol’s voice, and its reverent bliss set our hearts racing.
“Oh, Jesus,” she was saying, “I did not expect You so soon and yet I have waited all the day for You!”
“You have been happy, child?” came a deep gentle Voice.
“So happy! People have been coming to the cottage all day to rest, and talk of You, and now, Master, there are three guests…”
We would have fallen on our knees, but the angel restrained us, and looking up at last, we saw our Beloved standing in the doorway, one arm around Carol’s shoulders. He was robed in white, and there was a cream sash passed over his right shoulder and secured at the waist. His face shone with an inner light, and there was so much tenderness in it that my face relaxed into a smile. How I loved Him with my eyes as we looked at one another across the little room Then he disengaged His arm, and holding out both hands to us, said: “Come! ”
I do not know how we got there, but in a moment we were pressed to His breast, Janet and I, while an arm encircled each. Suddenly, I was whispering to Him, much as I had whispered, long ago, when the Great Mother had carried me through the Gates and into the King’s embrace. “Master, Master!” And He as before, murmured:
“Son…” so that it was a kind of blissful chant. Janet, too, spoke very low, close to His heart. As always, she was utterly serene, and very full of joy.
When at last we turned, we found that our dear angel had spread his wings to encircle us, and his face reflected the light that illuminated the Lord’s.
Carol went past us, then setting the dish of bread-stems on the table. In a kind of dazed joy, I went to draw up the chairs, the angel helping me. Soon all was ready.
Slowly, our Beloved took His place at the table, casting a keen glance around to see that we were all comfortably seated. In a breathless hush we watched Him lift up His hands over the food and raise His eyes. As we saw His lips move, all our heads bent low.
He murmured a prayer, drawing in a quivering breath in the midst of it.
We raised our heads to look at Him, then. Carol silently passed up the plates and He placed one of the bread-stems on each, leaving us to select the fruit we wanted from the bowl. Again Carol went to the shelves. This time she brought small glasses and the Master filled them with the grape juice before passing them to us. “Let us sing a hymn before we eat,” He said, rising.
Of course, we rose too. The Master sang, line by line, waiting for us to repeat it. He sang of the Great Creator who made all things, from the tiny seeds hidden in the soil to the mightiest trees of the forests, from the smallest insect to the greatest of living creatures.
When we had finished, He sat down and began to eat. How reverently we looked upon the food that He had blessed and touched! I At first we were reluctant to eat it, but He began to eat with such relish, smiling upon us in such a homely way that we were soon at our ease. “Well, Janet? Well, Bernard?” He said, tenderly.
We poured it all out, then-all our delight in His wonderful Heaven and this sweetest joy of all in His dear Presence.
“Yet I was with you, even on earth,” He reminded us. “Though I was no longer visible there, still I remained with the souls of men, sharing their longings, sympathising with their strivings…”
“Master,” I ventured, “why did You have to go away from Your friends on earth, so that the Comforter could come?”
“How often you have wondered that, My Bernard! Well, if those dear ones could see Me with their bodily eyes, would they have looked within? No, it is in darkness that men are led to look within. There they may seek, and find, for there dwells the Presence-yes, within each human heart.”
“And if they look within?” I whispered.
“Then the Christ-man begins to grow, so that men come to pattern their lives on Mine, to be perfected. It is of this I spoke when I said, ‘Be ye perfect’ and of this spoke Paul when he said ‘Until Christ be formed in you.’ ”
Much more our Beloved One said to us throughout that wonderful meal. The garden was entirely veiled in the curtain of night, and stars sparkled through the screen of trees, yet still we talked on, plying Him with questions and listening eagerly to His voice. All the while, Carol sat beside Him, stealing adoring glances at His face. Sometimes He turned to smile at her, and then I knew just how much she must have loved Him on earth, to have such a wonderful Heaven fulfilment here.
When the night was far spent, He arose and beckoning to our angel, drew him to one side. They remained in conversation for a moment. Then our King called us to say farewell, blessing us most tenderly with a hand on the head of each. At the door, He waited for Carol, and then they went out together into the night-scented garden.
“The Lord desires that we rest here until day-break,” said our angel when we were alone. “Come with me.”
Silently we followed him, for we were too happy for speech. He led us into one of the little sleeping-rooms of the cottage and we all lay down on the yielding softness of the floor. As with the other room, one wall was taken up with a window which was opened wide. Through this, a delicious breeze stole in, laden with many garden scents. We lay gazing up at the sky in its star-jewelled splendour, thinking of the wonders we had seen and heard.
Just before I fell asleep, I heard Carol come back. Softly she moved about the room next to ours, singing a little hymn.