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IT was a very sad day, and every heart in the house felt the deepest grief; for the youngest child, a boy of four years old, the joy and hope of his parents, was dead.

Two daughters, the elder of whom was going to be confirmed, still remained: they were both good, charming girls; but the lost child always seems the dearest; and when it is youngest, and a son, it makes the trial still more heavy. The sisters mourned as young hearts can mourn, and were especially grieved at the sight of their parents' sorrow. The father's heart was bowed down, but the mother sunk completely under the deep grief. Day and night she had attended to the sick child, nursing and carrying it in her bosom, as a part of herself. She could not realize the fact that the child was dead, and must be laid in a coffin to rest in the ground. She thought God could not take her darling little one from her; and when it did happen notwithstanding her hopes and her belief, and there could be no more doubt on the subject, she said in her feverish agony, "God does not know it. He has hard-hearted ministering spirits on earth, who do according to their own will, and heed not a mother's prayers." Thus in her great grief she fell away from her faith in God, and dark thoughts arose in her mind respecting death and a future state. She tried to believe that man was but dust, and that with his life all existence ended. But these doubts were no support to her, nothing on which she could rest, and she sunk into the fathomless depths of despair. In her darkest hours she ceased to weep, and thought not of the young daughters who were still left to her. The tears of her husband fell on her forehead, but she took no notice of him; her thoughts were with her dead child; her whole existence seemed wrapped up in the remembrances of the little one and of every innocent word it had uttered.

The day of the little child's funeral came. For nights previously the mother had not slept, but in the morning twilight of this day she sunk from weariness into a deep sleep; in the mean time the coffin was carried into a distant room, and there nailed down, that she might not hear the blows of the hammer. When she awoke, and wanted to see her child, the husband, with tears, said, "We have closed the coffin; it was necessary to do so."

"When God is so hard to me, how can I expect men to be better?" she said with groans and tears.

The coffin was carried to the grave, and the disconsolate mother sat with her young daughters. She looked at them, but she saw them not; for her thoughts were far away from the domestic hearth. She gave herself up to her grief, and it tossed her to and fro, as the sea tosses a ship without compass or rudder. So the day of the funeral passed away, and similar days followed, of dark, wearisome pain. With tearful eyes and mournful glances, the sorrowing daughters and the afflicted husband looked upon her who would not hear their words of comfort; and, indeed, what comforting words could they speak, when they were themselves so full of grief? It seemed as if she would never again know sleep, and yet it would have been her best friend, one who would have strengthened her body and poured peace into her soul. They at last persuaded her to lie down, and then she would lie as still as if she slept.

One night, when her husband listened, as he often did, to her breathing, he quite believed that she had at length found rest and relief in sleep. He folded his arms and prayed, and soon sunk himself into healthful sleep; therefore he did not notice that his wife arose, threw on her clothes, and glided silently from the house, to go where her thoughts constantly lingered- to the grave of her child. She passed through the garden, to a path across a field that led to the churchyard. No one saw her as she walked, nor did she see any one; for her eyes were fixed upon the one object of her wanderings. It was a lovely starlight night in the beginning of September, and the air was mild and still. She entered the churchyard, and stood by the little grave, which looked like a large nosegay of fragrant flowers. She sat down, and bent her head low over the grave, as if she could see her child through the earth that covered him- her little boy, whose smile was so vividly before her, and the gentle expression of whose eyes, even on his sick-bed, she could not forget. How full of meaning that glance had been, as she leaned over him, holding in hers the pale hand which he had no longer strength to raise! As she had sat by his little cot, so now she sat by his grave; and here she could weep freely, and her tears fell upon it.

"Thou wouldst gladly go down and be with thy child," said a voice quite close to her,- a voice that sounded so deep and clear, that it went to her heart.

She looked up, and by her side stood a man wrapped in a black cloak, with a hood closely drawn over his face; but her keen glance could distinguish the face under the hood. It was stern, yet awakened confidence, and the eyes beamed with youthful radiance.

"Down to my child," she repeated; and tones of despair and entreaty sounded in the words.

"Darest thou to follow me?" asked the form. "I am Death."

She bowed her head in token of assent. Then suddenly it appeared as if all the stars were shining with the radiance of the full moon on the many-colored flowers that decked the grave. The earth that covered it was drawn back like a floating drapery. She sunk down, and the specter covered her with a black cloak; night closed around her, the night of death. She sank deeper than the spade of the sexton could penetrate, till the churchyard became a roof above her. Then the cloak was removed, and she found herself in a large hall, of wide-spreading dimensions, in which there was a subdued light, like twilight, reigning, and in a moment her child appeared before her, smiling, and more beautiful than ever; with a silent cry she pressed him to her heart. A glorious strain of music sounded- now distant, now near. Never had she listened to such tones as these; they came from beyond a large dark curtain which separated the regions of death from the land of eternity.

"My sweet, darling mother," she heard the child say. It was the well-known, beloved voice; and kiss followed kiss, in boundless delight. Then the child pointed to the dark curtain. "There is nothing so beautiful on earth as it is here. Mother, do you not see them all? Oh, it is happiness indeed."

But the mother saw nothing of what the child pointed out, only the dark curtain. She looked with earthly eyes, and could not see as the child saw,- he whom God has called to be with Himself. She could hear the sounds of music, but she heard not the words, the Word in which she was to trust.

"I can fly now, mother," said the child; "I can fly with other happy children into the presence of the Almighty. I would fain fly away now; but if you weep for me as you are weeping now, you may never see me again. And yet I would go so gladly. May I not fly away? And you will come to me soon, will you not, dear mother?"

"Oh, stay, stay!" implored the mother; "only one moment more; only once more, that I may look upon thee, and kiss thee, and press thee to my heart."

Then she kissed and fondled her child. Suddenly her name was called from above; what could it mean? her name uttered in a plaintive voice.

"Hearest thou?" said the child. "It is my father who calls thee." And in a few moments deep sighs were heard, as of children weeping.

"They are my sisters," said the child. "Mother, surely you have not forgotten them."

And then she remembered those she left behind, and a great terror came over her. She looked around her at the dark night. Dim forms flitted by. She seemed to recognize some of them, as they floated through the regions of death towards the dark curtain, where they vanished. Would her husband and her daughters flit past? No; their sighs and lamentations still sounded from above; and she had nearly forgotten them, for the sake of him who was dead.

"Mother, now the bells of heaven are ringing," said the child; "mother, the sun is going to rise."

An overpowering light streamed in upon her, the child had vanished, and she was being borne upwards. All around her became cold; she lifted her head, and saw that she was lying in the churchyard, on the grave of her child. The Lord, in a dream, had been a guide to her feet and a light to her spirit. She bowed her knees, and prayed for forgiveness. She had wished to keep back a soul from its immortal flight; she had forgotten her duties towards the living who were left her. And when she had offered this prayer, her heart felt lighter. The sun burst forth, over her head a little bird caroled his song, and the church-bells sounded for the early service. Everything around her seemed holy, and her heart was chastened. She acknowledged the goodness of God, she acknowledged the duties she had to perform, and eagerly she returned home. She bent over her husband, who still slept; her warm, devoted kiss awakened him, and words of heartfelt love fell from the lips of both. Now she was gentle and strong as a wife can be; and from her lips came the words of faith: "Whatever He doeth is right and best."

Then her husband asked, "From whence hast thou all at once derived such strength and comforting faith?"

And as she kissed him and her children, she said, "It came from God, through my child in the grave."

 

墓里的孩子

屋子里充满了悲哀,每一颗心都充满了悲哀。一个四岁的孩子死去了。他是他爸爸妈妈唯一的儿子,是他们的欢乐和未来的希望。他的爸爸妈妈还有两个较大的女儿,最大的那一个这一年就要受坚信礼了。她们都是可爱的好孩子,但是死去的孩子总是最心疼的孩子,何况他还是一个顶小的独生儿子呢?这真是一场大灾难。两个姐姐幼小的心灵已经悲哀到了极点;父亲的悲痛更使她们感到特别难过。父亲的腰已经弯了,妈妈也被这种空前的悲哀压倒了。她曾经日日夜夜忙着看护这个生病的孩子,照料他,抱着他,搂着他,觉得他已经成了她身体的一部分。她简直不能想象他已经死了,快要躺进棺材,被埋葬到坟墓里去。她认为上帝不可能把这个孩子从她的手中抢走。但事情居然发生了,而且成了千真万确的事实,所以她在剧烈的痛苦中说:

“上帝不知道这件事!他的那些在世上的仆人,有的真是没有一点良心;这些人随便处理事情,简直不听母亲们的祷告。”

她在痛苦中舍弃了上帝。她的心中涌现了阴暗的思想——她想到了死,永恒的死。她觉得人不过是尘土中的尘土,她这一生是完了。这种思想使她觉得自己无所依靠;她陷入失望的无底深渊中去了。

当她苦痛到了极点的时候,连哭都哭不出来。她没有想到她还有年幼的女儿。她丈夫的眼泪滴到她的额上,但是她没有看他。她一直在想那个死去了的孩子。她的整个生命和存在都沉浸在回忆中:回忆她的孩子,回忆他所讲过的每一句天真幼稚的话。

入葬的那一天终于到来了。在这以前她有许多夜晚没有睡过觉;但是天明的时候,她疲倦到了极点,所以就迷迷糊糊地睡去了。棺材就在这时候被抬到一间僻静的房子里。棺材盖就是在那儿钉上的,为的是怕她听见锤子的声音。

她一醒,就立刻爬起来,要去看孩子。她的丈夫含着眼泪说:

“我们已经把棺材钉上了——事情非这样办不可!”

“上帝既然对我这样残酷,"她大声说,"人们对我怎么会更好呢?"于是她呜咽地哭起来了。

棺材被抬到墓地里去了。这个无限悲痛的母亲跟她的两个女儿坐在一起。她望着她们,但是她的眼睛却没有看见她们,因为她的意识中已经再没有什么家庭了。悲哀控制了她整个的存在。悲哀冲击着她,正如大海冲击着一条失去了罗盘和舵的船一样。入葬的那一天就是这样过去的,接着是一长串同样单调和沉痛的日子。这悲哀的一家用湿润的眼睛和愁苦的目光望着她;她完全听不进他们安慰的话语。的确,他们自己也悲痛极了,还有什么话好说呢?

她似乎不再知道睡眠是什么东西了。这时谁要能够使她的身体恢复过来,使她的灵魂得到休息,谁就可以说是她最好的朋友。大家劝她在床上躺一躺,她一动不动地躺在那儿,好像睡着了似的。有一天晚上,她的丈夫静听着她的呼吸,深信她已经得到了休息和安慰。因此他就合着双手祈祷;于是渐渐地他自己就坠入昏沉的睡梦中去了。他没有注意到她已经起了床,穿上了衣服,并且轻轻地走出了屋子。她径直向她日夜思念着的那个地方——埋葬着她的孩子的那座坟墓——走去。她走过住宅的花园,走过田野——这儿有一条小路通向城外,她顺着这条小路一直走到教堂的墓地。谁也没有看到她,她也没有看到任何人。

这是一个美丽的、满天星斗的夜晚。空气仍然是温和的——这是九月初的天气。她走进教堂的墓地,一直走到一个小坟墓的近旁。这坟墓很像一个大花丛,正在散发着香气。她坐下来,对着坟墓低下头,她的眼光好像可以透过紧密的土层,看到心爱的孩子似的。她还能活生生地记起这孩子的微笑:她永远忘记不了孩子眼中的那种亲切的表情——甚至当他躺在病床上的时候,眼睛里还露出这种表情。每当她弯下腰去,托起他那只无力举起的小手的时候,他的眼光好像在对她吐露无限的心事。她现在坐在他的坟旁,正如坐在他的摇篮边一样。不过她现在是在不停地流着眼泪。这些泪珠都落到了坟上。

“你是想到你的孩子那儿去吧!"她身旁有一个声音说。这是一个响亮而低沉的声音,直接打进了她的心坎。她抬起头来,看到旁边站着一个人。这人穿着一件宽大的丧服,头上低低地戴着一顶帽子;但是她能望见帽子下面的面孔。这是一个庄严的、但是足够使人信任的面孔。他的眼睛射出青春的光芒。

“到我的孩子那儿去?"她重复着这人的话。她的声音里流露出一种迫切的祈求的调子。

“你敢跟着我去么?"这人影说。"我就是死神!”

她点了点头,表示同意。于是她马上觉得上面的星星好像都射出了满月那样的光辉。她看到坟上有各式各样的花朵。土层像一块轻飘的幕布一样慢慢地、轻柔地向两边分开。她沉下去了,幽灵用他的黑丧服把她盖住。这是夜,死神的夜。她越沉越深,比教堂看守人的铲子所能挖到的地方还要深。教堂的墓地现在好像是盖在她头上的屋顶。

丧服有一边掀开了;她出现在一个庄严的大厅里面。这大厅向四面展开,呈现着一种欢迎的气氛。周围是一片黄昏的景色,但是正在这时候,她的孩子在她面前出现了。她紧紧地把他搂住,贴着自己的心口。他对她微笑,一个从来没有的这样美丽的微笑。她发出一声尖叫,但是没有人能听见,因为这时响起了一片悦耳的、响亮的音乐,一忽儿近,一忽儿远,一忽儿又像在她的身边。这样幸福的调子她的耳朵从来没有听到过。它来自那个大黑门帘的外边——那个把这个大厅和那伟大的、永恒的国度隔开的门帘。

“我亲爱的妈妈!生我养我的妈妈!"她听到她的孩子这样叫。

这声音是那么熟悉,那么亲热。她在无限的幸福中把他吻了又吻。孩子指着那个黑色的门帘。

“人世间不可能这样美丽!妈妈,你瞧!你仔细地瞧瞧这一切吧!这就是幸福呀!”

但母亲什么也没有看见。孩子所指的那块地方,除了黑夜以外,什么也没有。她用人间的眼睛,看不见这个被上帝亲自召去了的孩子所能看见的东西。她只能听见音乐的声调,但是分辨不出其中的字句——她应该相信的字句。

“妈妈,现在我可以飞了!"孩子说,"我要跟其他许多幸福的孩子一起飞到上帝那儿去。我急于想飞走,但是,当你哭的时候,当你像现在这样哭着的时候,我就没有办法离开你了。我是多么想飞啊!我可以不可以飞走呢?亲爱的妈妈,不久你也可以到我这儿来了!”

“啊,不要飞吧!啊,不要飞吧!"她说。"待一会儿吧。我要再看你一次,再吻你一次,把你在我怀里再拥抱一次!”

于是她吻着他,紧紧地拥抱着他。这时上面有一个声音在喊着她的名字——这是一个哀悼的声音。这是什么意思呢?

“你听到没有?"孩子问。"那是爸爸在喊你。”

过了一会儿,又有一个深沉的叹息声飘来了,一个像是哭着的孩子发出来的叹息声。

“这是姐姐们的声音!"孩子说。"妈妈,你还没有忘记她们吧?”

于是她记起了她留在家里的那些孩子。她心里起了一阵恐怖。她向前面凝望。有许多人影飘浮过去了,其中有几个她似乎很熟悉。他们飘过死神的大厅,飘向那黑色的门帘,于是便不见了。难道她的丈夫,她的女儿也在这群幽灵中间吗?不,他们的喊声,他们的叹息,仍然是从上面飘来的:她为了死去的孩子几乎把他们忘记了。

“妈妈,天上的钟声已经响起来了!"孩子说。"妈妈,太阳要出来了!”

这时有一道强烈的光向她射来。孩子不见了,她被托到空中,周围是一片寒气。她抬起头来,发现自己是在教堂墓地里,儿子的坟墓边。当她做梦的时候,上帝来抚慰她,使她的理智发出光辉。她跪下来,祈祷着说:

“我的上帝!请原谅我曾经想制止一个不灭的灵魂飞走,曾经忘掉了你留给我的对活人的责任!”

她说完这些话,心里似乎觉得轻松了许多。太阳出来了,一只小鸟在她的头上唱着歌,教堂的钟声正在召唤人们去做早祷。她的周围有一种神圣的气氛,她的心里也有一种神圣的感觉!她认识了上帝,她认识了她的责任,怀着渴望的心情急忙赶回家来。她向丈夫弯下腰,用温暖的、热烈的吻把他弄醒了。他们谈着知心和热情的话。她现在又变得坚强和温柔起来——像一个主妇所能做到的那样。她心中现在有一种充满了信心的力量。

“上帝的意旨总是最好的!”

她的丈夫问她:"你从什么地方得到这种力量——这种恬静的心情?”

她吻了他,还吻了她的孩子。

“我通过墓里的孩子,从上帝那儿得来的。”