As I reached the fringe of the Hall of Reception, word came to me from Stephen that he would like to see me. I was particularly glad of this invitation, for I had laboured long over the newcomers and thought a rest would be very pleasant. I turned at once and started off towards him, he guiding my direction with his mind. It was a joy to speed on my journey and I gave myself up to it with every power of my spiritual senses. It was the longest journey I had made since my arrival, for I went into country that I had never seen before.
It was all very beautiful. Sometimes I was traveling over scenery that much resembled earth, with its plains, hedge-divided fields and gleaming water. Sometimes I circled a coastline for a long way, watching the waves prance up the beach and the cliffs spill their foliage almost into the sea.
Then I journeyed for a long time through a strange scene which gave the impression of skimming over the face of the globe. There was no ordinary scenery to mark my progress, and the light was of a peculiar blue tone. All was still, and the vastness of the expanse through which I was passing filled me with wonder. Curiously enough, I felt no nervousness, for a sense of companionship and protection enfolded me. Later, Stephen told me he had watched my journey all the way, guiding me and giving me his fellowship every moment.
After a long time of stillness (though in reality I was moving at great speed) light clouds began to drift by me. I became conscious of a soft breeze on my face, and a moment later found myself on a hilltop. Moving toward me was Stephen and another man. They both broke into a run as they drew near. Stephen put both hands on my shoulders and gripped hard.
“At last. We have been watching for you for a long time. We climbed the hill as soon as we saw you would arrive here. How are you? Does all go well?” I was so pleased to see my friend again that I could only gaze into his laughing eyes, at first, and smile my replies. Then I managed to say, “How good to be with you. Yes, all is very well. . . And you?”
“Magnificent!” Indeed, his whole being expressed exultation. “I have met The One!” Then, seeing my puzzlement, “Oh, you do not know yet. This is The One—James.” He drew his companion forward and he clasped my shoulder silently.
“We have spoken much of you,” he said at last. His tone was deep. I felt drawn to him at once. There was something strong, firm and rocklike about him.
“What Hall is this?” I asked at last, as we three began to stroll down the slope. I noticed that it was impossible to avoid treading on the flowers, they were growing so thickly, but they proved hardy enough to spring up behind our feet. They were of quite extraordinary brilliance, the richness of the poppy being almost pale in comparison. There was no reply to my question. I was about to repeat it when I found the answer in my mind. “So this is not a Hall at all!” I cried in astonishment, “but the Plane Between. I never expected to come here.”
“Pleased?” asked Stephen.
“Is He—the Master—here?” I questioned, and immediately James answered.
“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” After that there was a long pause.
“I am delighted to be here,” I said at length. “Is this a kind of holiday?”
“You could call it that! I came here to meet The One, and to prepare you to meet The One also.”
“Stephen,” I cried in protest, “what is all this talk about meeting The One? You are doing it to tantalise me.”
“Partly,” he grinned. He turned to James. “Shall we tell him now or wait until we reach the valley?” I looked down the slope, dropping, it seemed, an immeasurable distance over the edge of the world, and groaned. “Evidently he does not want to wait,” chuckled Stephen. “Well, we had better begin.”
“I should think so,” I cried in mock indignation. So, as we walked lightly and tirelessly over the flowery ground, they began their lesson.
“Just as the Creator began with two,” said Stephen, “just as every prophet has had his disciple and every man his friend, just as the Master sent out His apostles two by two, so it is ordained that all shall walk with a companion for Eternity. He is called The One.” I saw Stephen and James exchange an understanding smile, but I did not speak. The immensity of the thought was filling my mind. “Sometimes,” Stephen continued, “two who are ordained to walk together meet quite early on in their life on earth. They may be brothers, or sisters, or playmates; or they may meet in youth and marry. Whatever will be of highest benefit in the future is brought about on earth.”
“How do you mean?”
“Stephen means that life on earth is but a very minute portion of Eternity,” James interposed. “Earth is merely a preparation or training ground for the life to come. There, all that will best fit a man for his life here, is brought into his earth-experience. In the eyes of the angels he is both a mortal and an immortal man, and when they look upon him with their extended vision, they see what he is to be on earth and beyond earth.”
“Yet how important the little earth-life seems at the time,” I exclaimed.
“It is important, for it is the groundwork, the ‘schooling’, you see. But it is only the groundwork and schooling, and that is what earthlings so often forget!” James walked on in silence for a while, and then he said, “Go on, Stephen.”
“Taking James’ illustration of the ‘schooling’, you will readily see that different types need different kinds of preparation, just as various plants need varied climates and conditions?”
“Certainly,” I agreed.
“Some types develop well when learning in company with The One. Others grow most rapidly alone. You see, schooling is bound to bring discipline—”
“I know!” I put in. “Usually it is easy to bear a bit of discipline oneself; it is seeing some-one you care for—”
“Tumbling over his first, crazy earth-steps,” finished James.
“Look here!” Stephen demanded. “Am I telling this, or is it a kind of chant?”
“Oh, you tell it,” said James, good-humouredly. “I will not say a word.”
“Well, just now and then,” conceded Stephen, “and as for you,” he turned to me, twinkling, “you are supposed to be the listener! . . . So you see that some people have to go through life more or less alone—on the surface, anyway.”
“What do you mean by that?” I demanded, forgetting my instructions.
“They meet here, on the Plane Between, during sleep,” he explained. “In this way they come to know each other really well, and not in that superficial way that is often called acquaintance on earth. That accounts for the feeling that they have met before, when, sometimes, earth-people are first introduced. Then, if one is taken before the other, they continue to meet during the earth-one’s sleep. Thus the partner who has reached the Heavenly realm is able to impart knowledge, comfort, and of course, pray powerfully for the other.”
“How little we realise on earth of the vastness of the Father’s plan!” I exclaimed.
“Or its Love,” added Stephen. “Of course, even when the second one dies, they do not meet and continue their journey at once, for each must be equal, each must be Purple-Gowned and each must have given his services in the Hall of Reception.”
“Is that just a rule, or is there a reason?”
“Of course there is a reason for everything,” said James. “Each partner has to learn to live for all men, and not just for himself, or for the two of them. Coming freshly from earth, with its sense of separateness, and the consequent emotion of trying to pierce another’s sheath, there would be a tendency to turn to each other, instead of living outwardly for the good of all.”
“What a wise rule,” I acknowledged.
“But once one is Purple-Gowned,” Stephen finished, “one has received a ray from that great loving Heart.” There was a silence after that. We finished our descent and entered the peaceful valley. To my surprise I saw the roofs of houses between the trees, and heard the laughter of children. In the distance was a sandy beach, with long waves creaming up it.
“Are there buildings here?” I asked in surprise.
“Yes, it is very similar to earth in many ways,” said Stephen.
“Yet so different in many others,” amended James, “Here, being a plane between earth and Heaven, it partly resembles both. There are houses, as you see by the roofs over there, but they are not owned by individuals. Anyone may acquire a house to live in, and they are never closed or locked, but remain open at one side like a summer-house on earth.”