WELL, when I had been dead about thirty years, I begun to get a little anxious. Mind you, I had been whizzing through space all that time, like a comet. Like a comet! Why, Peters, I laid over the lot of them! Of course there warn’t any of them going my way, as a steady thing, you know, because they travel in a long circle like the loop of a lasso, whereas I was pointed as straight as a dart for the Hereafter; but I happened on one every now and then that was going my way for an hour or so, and then we had a bit of a brush together. But it was generally pretty one-sided, because I sailed by them the same as if they were standing still. An ordinary comet don’t make more than about 200,000 miles a minute. Of course when I came across one of that sort—like Encke’s and Halley’s comets, for instance—it warn’t anything but just a flash and a vanish, you see. You couldn’t rightly call it a race. It was as if the comet was a gravel-train and I was a telegraph despatch. But after I got outside of our astronomical system, I used to flush a comet occasionally that was something like. We haven’t got any such comets—ours don’t begin. One night I was swinging along at a good round gait, everything taut and trim, and the wind in my favor—I judged I was going about a million miles a minute—it might have been more, it couldn’t have been less—when I flushed a most uncommonly big one about three points off my starboard bow. By his stern lights I judged he was bearing about northeast-and-by-north-half-east. Well, it was so near my course that I wouldn’t throw away the chance; so I fell off a point, steadied my helm, and went for him. You should have heard me whiz, and seen the electric fur fly! In about a minute and a half I was fringed out with an electrical nimbus that flamed around for miles and miles and lit up all space like broad day. The comet was burning blue in the distance, like a sickly torch, when I first sighted him, but he begun to grow bigger and bigger as I crept up on him. I slipped up on him so fast that when I had gone about 150,000,000 miles I was close enough to be swallowed up in the phosphorescent glory of his wake, and I couldn’t see anything for the glare. Thinks I, it won’t do to run into him, so I shunted to one side and tore along. By and by I closed up abreast of his tail. Do you know what it was like? It was like a gnat closing up on the continent of America. I forged along. By and by I had sailed along his coast for a little upwards of a hundred and fifty million miles, and then I could see by the shape of him that I hadn’t even got up to his waistband yet. Why, Peters, we don’t know anything about comets, down here. If you want to see comets that are comets, you’ve got to go outside of our solar system—where there’s room for them, you understand. My friend, I’ve seen comets out there that couldn’t even lay down inside the orbits of our noblest comets without their tails hanging over.
Well, I boomed along another hundred and fifty million miles, and got up abreast his shoulder, as you may say. I was feeling pretty fine, I tell you; but just then I noticed the officer of the deck come to the side and hoist his glass in my direction. Straight off I heard him sing out—
“Below there, ahoy! Shake her up, shake her up! Heave on a hundred million billion tons of brimstone!”
“Pipe the stabboard watch! All hands on deck!”
“Send two hundred thousand million men aloft to shake out royals and sky-scrapers!”
“Hand the stuns’ls! Hang out every rag you’ve got! Clothe her from stem to rudder-post!”
In about a second I begun to see I’d woke up a pretty ugly customer, Peters. In less than ten seconds that comet was just a blazing cloud of red-hot canvas. It was piled up into the heavens clean out of sight—the old thing seemed to swell out and occupy all space; the sulphur smoke from the furnaces—oh, well, nobody can describe the way it rolled and tumbled up into the skies, and nobody can half describe the way it smelt. Neither can anybody begin to describe the way that monstrous craft begun to crash along. And such another powwow—thousands of bo’s’n’s whistles screaming at once, and a crew like the populations of a hundred thousand worlds like ours all swearing at once. Well, I never heard the like of it before.
We roared and thundered along side by side, both doing our level best, because I’d never struck a comet before that could lay over me, and so I was bound to beat this one or break something. I judged I had some reputation in space, and I calculated to keep it. I noticed I wasn’t gaining as fast, now, as I was before, but still I was gaining. There was a power of excitement on board the comet. Upwards of a hundred billion passengers swarmed up from below and rushed to the side and begun to bet on the race. Of course this careened her and damaged her speed. My, but wasn’t the mate mad! He jumped at that crowd, with his trumpet in his hand, and sung out—
"Amidships! amidships, you——! or I'll brain the last idiot of you!"
Well, sir, I gained and gained, little by little, till at last I went skimming sweetly by the magnificent old conflagration's nose. By this time the captain of the comet had been rousted out, and he stood there in the red glare for'ard, by the mate, in his shirt-sleeves and slippers, his hair all rats' nests and one suspender hanging, and how sick those two men did look! I just simply couldn't help putting my thumb to my nose as I glided away and singing out:
"Ta-ta! ta-ta! Any word to send to your family?"
Peters, it was a mistake. Yes, sir, I’ve often regretted that—it was a mistake. You see, the captain had given up the race, but that remark was too tedious for him—he couldn’t stand it. He turned to the mate, and says he—
“Have we got brimstone enough of our own to make the trip?”
“Yes, sir—more than enough.”
“How much have we got in cargo for Satan?”
“Eighteen hundred thousand billion quintillions of kazarks.”
“Very well, then, let his boarders freeze till the next comet comes. Lighten ship! Lively, now, lively, men! Heave the whole cargo overboard!”
Peters, look me in the eye, and be calm. I found out, over there, that a kazark is exactly the bulk of a hundred and sixty-nine worlds like ours! They hove all that load overboard. When it fell it wiped out a considerable raft of stars just as clean as if they’d been candles and somebody blowed them out. As for the race, that was at an end. The minute she was lightened the comet swung along by me the same as if I was anchored. The captain stood on the stern, by the after-davits, and put his thumb to his nose and sung out—
“Ta-ta! ta-ta! Maybe you’ve got some message to send your friends in the Everlasting Tropics!”
Then he hove up his other suspender and started for’ard, and inside of three-quarters of an hour his craft was only a pale torch again in the distance. Yes, it was a mistake, Peters—that remark of mine. I don’t reckon I’ll ever get over being sorry about it. I’d ’a’ beat the bully of the firmament if I’d kept my mouth shut.
But I’ve wandered a little off the track of my tale; I’ll get back on my course again. Now you see what kind of speed I was making. So, as I said, when I had been tearing along this way about thirty years I begun to get uneasy. Oh, it was pleasant enough, with a good deal to find out, but then it was kind of lonesome, you know. Besides, I wanted to get somewhere. I hadn’t shipped with the idea of cruising forever. First off, I liked the delay, because I judged I was going to fetch up in pretty warm quarters when I got through; but towards the last I begun to feel that I’d rather go to—well, most any place, so as to finish up the uncertainty.
Well, one night—it was always night, except when I was rushing by some star that was occupying the whole universe with its fire and its glare—light enough then, of course, but I necessarily left it behind in a minute or two and plunged into a solid week of darkness again. The stars ain’t so close together as they look to be. Where was I? Oh yes; one night I was sailing along, when I discovered a tremendous long row of blinking lights away on the horizon ahead. As I approached, they begun to tower and swell and look like mighty furnaces. Says I to myself—
“By George, I’ve arrived at last—and at the wrong place, just as I expected!”
Then I fainted. I don’t know how long I was insensible, but it must have been a good while, for, when I came to, the darkness was all gone and there was the loveliest sunshine and the balmiest, fragrantest air in its place. And there was such a marvellous world spread out before me—such a glowing, beautiful, bewitching country. The things I took for furnaces were gates, miles high, made all of flashing jewels, and they pierced a wall of solid gold that you couldn’t see the top of, nor yet the end of, in either direction. I was pointed straight for one of these gates, and a-coming like a house afire. Now I noticed that the skies were black with millions of people, pointed for those gates. What a roar they made, rushing through the air! The ground was as thick as ants with people, too—billions of them, I judge.
I lit. I drifted up to a gate with a swarm of people, and when it was my turn the head clerk says, in a business-like way—
“Well, quick! Where are you from?”
“San Francisco,” says I.
“San Fran—what?” says he.
He scratched his head and looked puzzled, then he says—
"Is it a planet?"
By George, Peters, think of it! "Planet?" says I; "it's a city. And moreover, it's one of the biggest and finest and—"
"There, there!" says he, "no time here for conversation. We don't deal in cities here. Where are you from in a general way?"
"Oh," I says, "I beg your pardon. Put me down for California."
I had him again, Peters! He puzzled a second, then he says, sharp and irritable—
"I don't know any such planet—is it a constellation?"
"Oh, my goodness!" says I. " Constellation, says you? No—it's a State."
"Man, we don't deal in States here. Will you tell me where you are from in general—at large, don't you understand?"
"Oh, now I get your idea," I says. "I'm from America,—the United States of America."
Peters, do you know I had him again? If I hadn't I'm a clam! His face was as blank as a target after a militia shooting-match. He turned to an under clerk and says—
"Where is America? What is America?"
The under clerk answered up prompt and says—
"There ain't any such orb."
"Orb?" says I. "Why, what are you talking about, young man? It ain't an orb; it's a country; it's a continent. Columbus discovered it; I reckon likely you've heard of him, anyway. America—why, sir, America—"
"Silence!" says the head clerk. "Once for all, where—are—you—from?"
"Well," says I, "I don't know anything more to say—unless I lump things, and just say I'm from the world."
Peters, he had me, that time. I looked at him, puzzled, he looked at me, worried. Then he burst out—
"Come, come, what world?"
Says I, "Why, the world, of course."
"The world!" he says. "H'm! there's billions of them!…Next!"
That meant for me to stand aside. I done so, and a sky-blue man with seven heads and only one leg hopped into my place. I took a walk. It just occurred to me, then, that all the myriads I had seen swarming to that gate, up to this time, were just like that creature. I tried to run across somebody I was acquainted with, but they were out of acquaintances of mine just then. So I thought the thing all over and finally sidled back there pretty meek and feeling rather stumped, as you may say.
"Well?" said the head clerk.
"Well, sir," I says, pretty humble, "I don't seem to make out which world it is I'm from. But you may know it from this—it's the one the Saviour saved."
He bent his head at the Name. Then he says, gently—
"The worlds He has saved are like to the gates of heaven in number—none can count them. What astronomical system is your world in?—perhaps that may assist."
"It's the one that has the sun in it—and the moon—and Mars"—he shook his head at each name—hadn't ever heard of them, you see—"and Neptune—and Uranus—and Jupiter—"
"Hold on!" says he—"hold on a minute! Jupiter…Jupiter…Seems to me we had a man from there eight or nine hundred years ago—but people from that system very seldom enter by this gate." All of a sudden he begun to look me so straight in the eye that I thought he was going to bore through me. Then he says, very deliberate, "Did you come straight here from your system?"
"Yes, sir," I says—but I blushed the least little bit in the world when I said it.
He looked at me very stern, and says—
"That is not true; and this is not the place for prevarication. You wandered from your course. How did that happen?"
Says I, blushing again—
"I'm sorry, and I take back what I said, and confess. I raced a little with a comet one day—only just the least little bit—only the tiniest lit—"
"So—so," says he―and without any sugar in his voice to speak of.
I went on, and says—
"But I only fell off just a bare point, and I went right back on my course again the minute the race was over."
"No matter—that divergence has made all this trouble. It has brought you to a gate that is billions of leagues from the right one. If you had gone to your own gate they would have known all about your world at once and there would have been no delay. But we will try to accommodate you." He turned to an under clerk and says—
"What system is Jupiter in?"
"I don't remember, sir, but I think there is such a planet in one of the little new systems away out in one of the thinly worlded corners of the universe. I will see."
He got a balloon and sailed up and up and up, in front of a map that was as big as Rhode Island. He went on up till he was out of sight, and by and by he came down and got something to eat and went up again. To cut a long story short, he kept on doing this for a day or two, and finally he came down and said he thought he had found that solar system, but it might be fly-specks. So he got a microscope and went back. It turned out better than he feared. He had rousted out our system, sure enough. He got me to describe our planet and its distance from the sun, and then he says to his chief—
"Oh, I know the one he means, now, sir. It is on the map. It is called the Wart."
Says I to myself, "Young man, it wouldn't be wholesome for you to go down there and call it the Wart."
Well, they let me in, then, and told me I was safe forever and wouldn't have any more trouble.
Then they turned from me and went on with their work, the same as if they considered my case all complete and shipshape. I was a good deal surprised at this, but I was diffident about speaking up and reminding them. I did so hate to do it, you know; it seemed a pity to bother them, they had so much on their hands. Twice I thought I would give up and let the thing go; so twice I started to leave, but immediately I thought what a figure I should cut stepping out amongst the redeemed in such a rig, and that made me hang back and come to anchor again. People got to eying me—clerks, you know—wondering why I didn't get under way. I couldn't stand this long—it was too uncomfortable. So at last I plucked up courage and tipped the head clerk a signal. He says—
"What! you here yet? What's wanting?"
Says I, in a low voice and very confidential, making a trumpet with my hands at his ear—
"I beg pardon, and you mustn't mind my reminding you, and seeming to meddle, but hain't you forgot something?"
He studied a second, and says—
"Forgot something?…No, not that I know of."
"Think," says I.
He thought. Then he says—
"No, I can't seem to have forgot anything. What is it?"
"Look at me," says I, "look me all over."
He done it.
"Well?" says he.
"Well," says I, "you don't notice anything? If I branched out amongst the elect looking like this, wouldn't I attract considerable attention?—wouldn't I be a little conspicuous?"
"Well," he says, "I don't see anything the matter. What do you lack?"
"Lack! Why, I lack my harp, and my wreath, and my halo, and my hymn-book, and my palm branch—I lack everything that a body naturally requires up here, my friend."
Puzzled? Peters, he was the worst puzzled man you ever saw. Finally he says—
"Well, you seem to be a curiosity every way a body takes you. I never heard of these things before."
I looked at the man awhile in solid astonishment; then I says—
"Now, I hope you don't take it as an offence, for I don't mean any, but really, for a man that has been in the Kingdom as long as I reckon you have, you do seem to know powerful little about its customs."
"Its customs!" says he. "Heaven is a large place, good friend. Large empires have many and diverse customs. Even small dominions have, as you doubtless know by what you have seen of the matter on a small scale in the Wart. How can you imagine I could ever learn the varied customs of the countless kingdoms of heaven? It makes my head ache to think of it. I know the customs that prevail in those portions inhabited by peoples that are appointed to enter by my own gate—and hark ye, that is quite enough knowledge for one individual to try to pack into his head in the thirty-seven millions of years I have devoted night and day to that study. But the idea of learning the customs of the whole appalling expanse of heaven—O man, how insanely you talk! Now I don't doubt that this odd costume you talk about is the fashion in that district of heaven you belong to, but you won't be conspicuous in this section without it."
I felt all right, if that was the case, so I bade him good-day and left. All day I walked towards the far end of a prodigious hall of the office, hoping to come out into heaven any moment, but it was a mistake. That hall was built on the general heavenly plan—it naturally couldn't be small. At last I got so tired I couldn't go any farther; so I sat down to rest, and begun to tackle the queerest sort of strangers and ask for information; but I didn't get any; they couldn't understand my language, and I could not understand theirs. I got dreadfully lonesome. I was so downhearted and homesick I wished a hundred times I never had died. I turned back, of course. About noon next day, I got back at last and was on hand at the booking-office once more. Says I to the head clerk—
"I begin to see that a man's got to be in his own Heaven to be happy."
"Perfectly correct," says he. "Did you imagine the same heaven would suit all sorts of men?"
"Well, I had that idea—but I see the foolishness of it. Which way am I to go to get to my district?"
He called the under clerk that had examined the map, and he gave me general directions. I thanked him and started; but he says—
"Wait a minute; it is millions of leagues from here. Go outside and stand on that red wishing-carpet; shut your eyes, hold your breath, and wish yourself there."
"I'm much obliged," says I; "why didn't you dart me through when I first arrived?"
"We have a good deal to think of here; it was your place to think of it and ask for it. Good-by; we probably sha'n't see you in this region for a thousand centuries or so."
"In that case, o revoor," says I.
I hopped onto the carpet and held my breath and shut my eyes and wished I was in the booking-office of my own section. The very next instant a voice I knew sung out in a business kind of a way—
"A harp and a hymn-book, pair of wings and a halo, size 13, for Cap'n Eli Stormfield, of San Francisco!—make him out a clean bill of health, and let him in."
I opened my eyes. Sure enough, it was a Pi Ute Injun I used to know in Tulare County; mighty good fellow—I remembered being at his funeral, which consisted of him being burnt and the other Injuns gauming their faces with his ashes and howling like wildcats. He was powerful glad to see me, and you may make up your mind I was just as glad to see him, and feel that I was in the right kind of a heaven at last.
Just as far as your eye could reach, there was swarms of clerks, running and bustling around, tricking out thousands of Yanks and Mexicans and English and A-rabs, and all sorts of people in their new outfits; and when they gave me my kit and I put on my halo and took a look in the glass, I could have jumped over a house for joy, I was so happy. "Now this is something like!" says I. "Now," says I, "I'm all right—show me a cloud."
Inside of fifteen minutes I was a mile on my way towards the cloud-banks and about a million people along with me. Most of us tried to fly, but some got crippled and nobody made a success of it. So we concluded to walk, for the present, till we had had some wing practice.
We begun to meet swarms of folks who were coming back. Some had harps and nothing else; some had hymn-books and nothing else; some had nothing at all; all of them looked meek and uncomfortable; one young fellow hadn't anything left but his halo, and he was carrying that in his hand; all of a sudden he offered it to me and says—
"Will you hold it for me a minute?"
Then he disappeared in the crowd. I went on. A woman asked me to hold her palm branch, and then she disappeared. A girl got me to hold her harp for her, and by George, she disappeared; and so on and so on, till I was about loaded down to the guards. Then comes a smiling old gentleman and asked me to hold histhings. I swabbed off the perspiration and says, pretty tart—
"I'll have to get you to excuse me, my friend,—I ain't no hat-rack."
About this time I begun to run across piles of those traps, lying in the road. I just quietly dumped my extra cargo along with them. I looked around, and, Peters, that whole nation that was following me were loaded down the same as I'd been. The return crowd had got them to hold their things a minute, you see. They all dumped their loads, too, and we went on.
When I found myself perched on a cloud, with a million other people, I never felt so good in my life. Says I, "Now this is according to the promises; I've been having my doubts, but now I am in heaven, sure enough." I gave my palm branch a wave or two, for luck, and then I tautened up my harp-strings and struck in. Well, Peters, you can't imagine anything like the row we made. It was grand to listen to, and made a body thrill all over, but there was considerable many tunes going on at once, and that was a drawback to the harmony, you understand; and then there was a lot of Injun tribes, and they kept up such another war-whooping that they kind of took the tuck out of the music. By and by I quit performing, and judged I'd take a rest. There was quite a nice mild old gentleman sitting next me, and I noticed he didn't take a hand; I encouraged him, but he said he was naturally bashful, and was afraid to try before so many people. By and by the old gentleman said he never could seem to enjoy music somehow. The fact was, I was beginning to feel the same way; but I didn't say anything. Him and I had a considerable long silence, then, but of course it warn't noticeable in that place. After about sixteen or seventeen hours, during which I played and sung a little, now and then—always the same tune, because I didn't know any other—I laid down my harp and begun to fan myself with my palm branch. Then we both got to sighing pretty regular. Finally, says he—
"Don't you know any tune but the one you've been pegging at all day?"
"Not another blessed one," says I.
"Don't you reckon you could learn another one?" says he.
"Never," says I; "I've tried to, but I couldn't manage it."
"It's a long time to hang to the one—eternity, you know."
Says I, "Old man, I'll be frank with you. This ain't just as near my idea of bliss as I thought it was going to be, when I used to go to church."
Says he, "What do you say to knocking off and calling it half a day?"
"That's me," says I. "I never wanted to get off watch so bad in my life."
So we started. Millions were coming to the cloud-bank all the time, happy and hosannahing; millions were leaving it all the time, looking mighty quiet, I tell you. We laid for the new-comers, and pretty soon I'd got them to hold all my things a minute, and then I was a free man again and most outrageously happy. Just then I ran across old Sam Bartlett, who had been dead a long time, and stopped to have a talk with him. Says I—
"Now tell me—is this to go on forever? Ain't there anything else for a change?"
"I'll set you right on that point very quick. People take the figurative language of the Bible and the allegories for literal, and the first thing they ask for when they get here is a halo and a harp, and so on. Nothing that's harmless and reasonable is refused a body here, if he asks it in the right spirit. So they are outfitted with these things without a word. They go and sing and play just about one day, and that's the last you'll ever see them in the choir. They don't need anybody to tell them that that sort of thing wouldn't make a heaven—at least not a heaven that a sane man could stand a week and remain sane. That cloud-bank is placed where the noise can't disturb the old inhabitants, and so there ain't any harm in letting everybody get up there and cure himself as soon as he comes.
"Now you just remember this—heaven is as blissful and lovely as it can be; but it's just the busiest place you ever heard of. There ain't any idle people here after the first day. Singing hymns and waving palm branches through all eternity is pretty when you hear about it in the pulpit, but it's as poor a way to put in valuable time as a body could contrive. It would just make a heaven of warbling ignoramuses, don't you see? Eternal Rest sounds comforting in the pulpit, too. Well, you try it once, and see how heavy time will hang on your hands. Why, Stormfield, a man like you, that had been active and stirring all his life, would go mad in six months in a heaven where he hadn't anything to do. Heaven is the very last place to come to rest in,—and don't you be afraid to bet on that!"
"Sam, I'm as glad to hear it as I thought I'd be sorry. I'm glad I come, now."
"Cap'n, ain't you pretty physically tired?"
"Sam, it ain't any name for it! I'm dog-tired."
"Just so—just so. You've earned a good sleep, and you'll get it. You've earned a good appetite, and you'll enjoy your dinner. It's the same here as it is on earth—you've got to earn a thing, square and honest, before you enjoy it. You can't enjoy first and earn afterwards. But there's this difference, here: you can choose your own occupation, and all the powers of heaven will be put forth to help you make a success of it, if you do your level best. The shoe-maker on earth that had the soul of a poet in him won't have to make shoes here."
"Now that's all reasonable and right," says I. "Plenty of work, and the kind you hanker after; no more pain, no more suffering—"
"Oh, hold on; there's plenty of pain here—but it don't kill. There's plenty of suffering here, but it don't last. You see, happiness ain't a thing in itself—it's only a contrastwith something that ain't pleasant. That's all it is. There ain't a thing you can mention that is happiness in its own self—it's only so by contrast with the other thing. And so, as soon as the novelty is over and the force of the contrast dulled, it ain't happiness any longer, and you have to get something fresh. Well, there's plenty of pain and suffering in heaven—consequently there's plenty of contrasts, and just no end of happiness."
Says I, "It's the sensiblest heaven I've heard of yet, Sam, though it's about as different from the one I was brought up on as a live princess is different from her own wax figger."
Along in the first months I knocked around about the Kingdom, making friends and looking at the country, and finally settled down in a pretty likely region, to have a rest before taking another start. I went on making acquaintances and gathering up information. I had a good deal of talk with an old bald-headed angel by the name of Sandy McWilliams. He was from somewhere in New Jersey. I went about with him, considerable. We used to lay around, warm afternoons, in the shade of a rock, on some meadow-ground that was pretty high and out of the marshy slush of his cranberry-farm, and there we used to talk about all kinds of things, and smoke pipes. One day, says I—
"About how old might you be, Sandy?"
"I judged so. How long you been in heaven?"
"Twenty-seven years, come Christmas."
"How old was you when you come up?"
"Why, seventy-two, of course."
"You can't mean it!"
"Why can't I mean it?"
"Because, if you was seventy-two then, you are naturally ninety-nine now."
"No, but I ain't. I stay the same age I was when I come."
"Well," says I, "come to think, there's something just here that I want to ask about. Down below, I always had an idea that in heaven we would all be young, and bright, and spry."
"Well, you can be young if you want to. You've only got to wish."
"Well, then, why didn't you wish?"
"I did. They all do. You'll try it, some day, like enough; but you'll get tired of the change pretty soon."
"Well, I'll tell you. Now you've always been a sailor; did you ever try some other business?"
"Yes, I tried keeping grocery, once, up in the mines; but I couldn't stand it; it was too dull—no stir, no storm, no life about it; it was like being part dead and part alive, both at the same time. I wanted to be one thing or t'other. I shut up shop pretty quick and went to sea."
"That's it. Grocery people like it, but you couldn't. You see you wasn't used to it. Well, I wasn't used to being young, and I couldn't seem to take any interest in it. I was strong, and handsome, and had curly hair,—yes, and wings, too!—gay wings like a butterfly. I went to picnics and dances and parties with the fellows, and tried to carry on and talk nonsense with the girls, but it wasn't any use; I couldn't take to it—fact is, it was an awful bore. What I wanted was early to bed and early to rise, and something to do; and when my work was done, I wanted to sit quiet, and smoke and think—not tear around with a parcel of giddy young kids. You can't think what I suffered whilst I was young."
"How long was you young?"
"Only two weeks. That was plenty for me. Laws, I was so lonesome! You see, I was full of the knowledge and experience of seventy-two years; the deepest subject those young folks could strike was only a-b-c to me. And to hear them argue—oh, my! it would have been funny, if it hadn't been so pitiful. Well, I was so hungry for the ways and the sober talk I was used to, that I tried to ring in with the old people, but they wouldn't have it. They considered me a conceited young upstart, and gave me the cold shoulder. Two weeks was a-plenty for me. I was glad to get back my bald head again, and my pipe, and my old drowsy reflections in the shade of a rock or a tree."
"Well," says I, "do you mean to say you're going to stand still at seventy-two, forever?"
"I don't know, and I ain't particular. But I ain't going to drop back to twenty-five any more—I know that, mighty well. I know a sight more than I did twenty-seven years ago, and I enjoy learning, all the time, but I don't seem to get any older. That is, bodily—my mind gets older, and stronger, and better seasoned, and more satisfactory."
Says I, "If a man comes here at ninety, don't he ever set himself back?"
"Of course he does. He sets himself back to fourteen; tries it a couple of hours, and feels like a fool; sets himself forward to twenty; it ain't much improvement; tries thirty, fifty, eighty, and finally ninety—finds he is more at home and comfortable at the same old figure he is used to than any other way. Or, if his mind begun to fail him on earth at eighty, that's where he finally sticks up here. He sticks at the place where his mind was last at its best, for there's where his enjoyment is best, and his ways most set and established."
"Does a chap of twenty-five stay always twenty-five, and look it?"
"If he is a fool, yes. But if he is bright, and ambitious and industrious, the knowledge he gains and the experiences he has, change his ways and thoughts and likings, and make him find his best pleasure in the company of people above that age; so he allows his body to take on that look of as many added years as he needs to make him comfortable and proper in that sort of society; he lets his body go on taking the look of age, according as he progresses, and by and by he will be bald and wrinkled outside, and wise and deep within."
"Babies the same?"
"Babies the same. Laws, what asses we used to be, on earth, about these things! We said we'd be always young in heaven. We didn't say how young—we didn't think of that, perhaps—that is, we didn't all think alike, anyway. When I was a boy of seven, I suppose I thought we'd all be twelve, in heaven; when I was twelve, I suppose I thought we'd all be eighteen or twenty in heaven; when I was forty, I begun to go back; I remember I hoped we'd all be about thirty years old in heaven. Neither a man nor a boy ever thinks the age he has is exactly the best one—he puts the right age a few years older or a few years younger than he is. Then he makes that ideal age the general age of the heavenly people. And he expects everybody to stick at that age—stand stock-still—and expects them to enjoy it!—Now just think of the idea of standing still in heaven! Think of a heaven made up entirely of hoop-rolling, marble-playing cubs of seven years!—or of awkward, diffident, sentimental immaturities of nineteen!—or of vigorous people of thirty, healthy-minded, brimming with ambition, but chained hand and foot to that one age and its limitations like so many helpless galley-slaves! Think of the dull sameness of a society made up of people all of one age and one set of looks, habits, tastes and feelings. Think how superior to it earth would be, with its variety of types and faces and ages, and the enlivening attrition of the myriad interests that come into pleasant collision in such a variegated society."
"Look here," says I, "do you know what you're doing?"
"Well, what am I doing?"
"You are making heaven pretty comfortable in one way, but you are playing the mischief with it in another."
"How d'you mean?"
"Well," I says, "take a young mother that's lost her child, and—"
"Sh!" he says. "Look!"
It was a woman. Middle-aged, and had grizzled hair. She was walking slow, and her head was bent down, and her wings hanging limp and droopy; and she looked ever so tired, and was crying, poor thing! She passed along by, with her head down, that way, and the tears running down her face, and didn't see us. Then Sandy said, low and gentle, and full of pity:
"She's hunting for her child! No, found it, I reckon. Lord, how she's changed! But I recognized her in a minute, though it's twenty-seven years since I saw her. A young mother she was, about twenty two or four, or along there; and blooming and lovely and sweet? oh, just a flower! And all her heart and all her soul was wrapped up in her child, her little girl, two years old. And it died, and she went wild with grief, just wild! Well, the only comfort she had was that she'd see her child again, in heaven—'never more to part,' she said, and kept on saying it over and over, 'never more to part.' And the words made her happy; yes, they did; they made her joyful, and when I was dying, twenty-seven years ago, she told me to find her child the first thing, and say she was coming—'soon, soon, very soon, she hoped and believed!'"
"Why, it's pitiful, Sandy."
He didn't say anything for a while, but sat looking at the ground, thinking. Then he says, kind of mournful:
"And now she's come!"
"Well? Go on."
"Stormfield, maybe she hasn't found the child, but I think she has. Looks so to me. I've seen cases before. You see, she's kept that child in her head just the same as it was when she jounced it in her arms a little chubby thing. But here it didn't elect to stay a child. No, it elected to grow up, which it did. And in these twenty-seven years it has learned all the deep scientific learning there is to learn, and is studying and studying and learning and learning more and more, all the time, and don't give a damn for anything but learning; just learning, and discussing gigantic problems with people like herself."
"Stormfield, don't you see? Her mother knows cranberries, and how to tend them, and pick them, and put them up, and market them; and not another blamed thing! Her and her daughter can't be any more company for each other now than mud turtle and bird o' paradise. Poor thing, she was looking for a baby to jounce; I think she's struck a disapp'intment."
"Sandy, what will they do—stay unhappy forever in heaven?"
"No, they'll come together and get adjusted by and by. But not this year, and not next. By and by."
↑The captain could not remember what this word was. He said it was in a foreign tongue.