THE LITTLE ONE
When we reached the river, the first sound we heard, was that of childish laughter.
“Can it be the baby-angels?” Janet asked at once, for her mind was never very far away from them.
“Come and see!” our guide invited, leading the way to the bank through a fringe of tall rushes.
We halted at the water’s edge, looking at the scene smilingly. In the water a number of children were playing, swimming and splashing each other. On the water, sailing about in little boats fashioned out of the rushes were many of the baby-angels. Some of them were drifting lazily, but a few had raised and spread their little wings, so that they caught the breeze and acted as a sail! These were clinging to the sides of their boats and laughing gleefully.
“Have these little ones come from the Angel’s Playground?” I asked.
“Yes,” said our teacher, turning to look at Janet’s enraptured face. “Where He is, all the baby-angels love to be. Their love for Him, and their delight in Him draws them, wherever they may be. Particularly is this so when He appears in a little body-cloak.” ”
Do you mean as a Babe?”
“Yes – or a young Child. Listen!”
As he spoke we heard the sound of trumpets and in the distance saw a group of angels with their instruments raised to their lips.
At the very first note, a hush fell upon the children. The baby angels guided the boats to the riverside and all came to stand upon the firm ground beyond the rushes.
Slowly, the angels turned, forming two ranks. They lowered their trumpets and stood motionless in the reverent way of angels when in the presence of their King.
Then, down the aisle between them came the Little One. He was robed in a short, white tunic, girded at the waist. He was holding the hand of an old man, who walked slowly with the aid of a stick.
“I thought all people became young in Heaven,” I mused aloud.
“This man had always thought of himself as old in Heaven,” our teacher explained. “He used to hire out rowing boats, and he was particularly fond of taking out young boys as passengers. Early in his life he had read the story of St. Christopher, how the man had carried a child across the river and had then discovered it was the Infant Jesus. All his life he had remembered this, especially when he rowed innocent little lads out on the water. Now in the fulfilment of his desires, this is his Heaven.”
“Will he always remain old? ” Janet asked.
“No, he will eventually regain his youth, but so gradually that he will not notice it.”
Again the trumpets sounded. Then the angels put aside their instruments and came to walk behind their little King.
How courteous was the Holy Child as He matched His steps to those of the old man! They came at last to the river-side-and immediately the baby-angels knelt before Him, folding their hands and their wings in prayer. Then came the children. They had no wings to fold, but they made up for this by bending low to touch the hem of His robe with their lips.
While they paid Him homage, the Little One, who had disengaged His hand from the old man’s, held up two of His fingers in blessing, folding the other fingers over with His thumb. His face glowed with the innocence of childhood, but there was an added radiance of purity and joy most beautiful to see.
As soon as this little ceremony was over, all the children (angels included) clustered about Him. They were perfectly at home with Him, taking hold of His hands, pulling at His robe to attract attention and calling out their items of news excitedly.
“Oh Jesus, we have been swimming in the river. The water was cold.”
“The baby-angels couldn’t swim because they did not want to get their wings wet. We laughed at them.”
“And we laughed at you because we made sails out of our wings. You could not do that.” Who is happiest in Heaven, Jesus?”
He answered, then, smiling radiantly in sympathy with their joy. “He who loves the Father most of all!”
While they talked, the old man had gone to get his boat from among the rushes. He was obviously very proud of it, and he had need to be, for it was beautifully painted and there was not a spot or a scratch upon all its glossy sides.
Just as the Little One was about to enter the boat, there was a wild tumult among the heather. He waited, evidently knowing well what it was. Then a host of the lesser brethren appeared, flinging themselves upon Him in a rapturous joy. At the same time scores of birds of every size and hue appeared, and clustered about Him. Some hovered in the air, others alighted on His hands and arms and head. He laughed delightedly, picking up a squirrel in one hand and a kitten in the other, cuddling them against His breast. A puppy gambolled around His feet, yelping madly, a fox sat down to regard Him solemnly and a young bear leant heavily against His side.
For a time the Little One played with them, singing to them so that they could all join in in their very own way.
“That is well-be joyful!” He cried, “The Father who made you loves you still. He knows the needs of the very least of you. Be kind to one another, then, and praise Him night and day!”
It was obvious that they understood Him perfectly, and reaching out for the information I knew that He spoke in their own language, also, so that men, angels, animals and birds could all follow His words.
“Fishes, too,” our angel murmured, replying to my thought. You will see that it is so, in a little while.”
Janet and I had been so entranced with this scene that we had almost forgotten ourselves, but now the Little One detached Himself from the lesser brethren and walked toward the boat. When he reached us, He paused at once, smiling up at us with wide child-eyes.
“Oh, Jacob!” He called. “Here are three guests. Do let us take them with us in the boat.”
“Of course, little Master!” the old man agreed heartily. “Now let me carry you over the water.”
The Little One held up His arms at once (He was about as tall as a child of five, on earth) the old man waded into the water, carrying his precious burden. Soon He was settled in the boat. Janet, the angel and I walked over the narrow strip of water eagerly. Jacob climbed in and took a firm grasp of the oars. We were about to seat ourselves beside our angel who was already in the stern, but the Little One made room for us on either side of Him. “Now we are ready!” He called gaily.
Jacob pulled strongly on the oars and the boat shot out over the water, the children immediately plunged in too, swimming beside us, or under us and then bobbing up on the other side, leaping about on the surface or just floating placidly by the bank. The baby-angels scrambled gleefully into their rush-canoes, and now they all made sails of their wings and paddled their hands in the water so that they could keep up with us.
To our great joy, the Little One put one hand in Janet’s and one in mine, looking up at us confidingly.
“Jacob is such a kind man!” He said warmly. “On earth he loved all the little boys for My sake, and now the Father has sent him Me “What a lovely Heaven,” Janet said.
“Yes, isn’t it? For both of us.” He looked across at Jacob with so much affection that my eyes misted. Truly the loving kindness of the Father was infinite…
Presently, Jacob leant on his oars. “Here are your friends, little Master!” he said. The Little One stood up in the boat, then, lifting up His hands.
“Welcome, My lesser brethren!” He cried. “Come and receive the blessing that your Creator sends you”
At once there was a surging in the river, and to our astonishment a great multitude of fishes appeared. The big ones and the little ones all came up together, their heads just visible out of the water for an instant. As each disappeared, its place was taken by another, and for the time the river foamed as though swept by a gale.
“Remember, you live by His power!” cried the Little One. “Be kind to each other and praise Him as well as you are able.”
When all the fish had disappeared and the surface of the river was calm again, the Little One again seated Himself between us, taking hold of our hands. This time He did not speak as Jacob sent the boat swiftly along the river, but the clasp of His little hands were enough for us. From His fingers there seemed to flow a strong current of power which flowed into our hearts and filled us with ecstasy.
When at last Jacob pulled the boat towards the bank, we found that most of the babies had fallen asleep among the rushes.
“We will not wake them,” the Little One whispered. “Presently they will gather about Me to hear a message I bring them from my Father, but now I, too, will sleep. Jacob will let Me rest against his shoulders. I often do.”
Silently the old man carried his little Master to the dry land and our angel whispered to us that we must go. When we told the Little One, He just stood on tip-toe, reaching up His arms to wind them round our necks.
“Goodbye, Janet! Goodbye, Bernard!” and He gave us each a Holy kiss.