My next charge was leaning against a rock when I reached her side. She was a young girl, pale of skin, but wiry and graceful; and she made as pretty a picture in her loose white robe as the trees behind her. I approached her cautiously for she seemed lost in thought. When I knew that she had seen me, I smiled.
“I am Bernard. Can I help you in any way?” She put out her hand and touched mine.
“That is kind of you. I am Isobel.” We stood leaning against the rock in silence. Calm as she was, there seemed to be undercurrents of sadness which I could not at first define. I was about to search beneath the surface of her mind, but decided to draw back and wait. Different people demanded varied treatment and Isobel, I thought, would prefer to tell me her own story.
“Tell me about yourself,” she said at last.
“Well, I have been here quite a while—or a very short time; I do not know which. Time has no measure here!”
“Is that an advantage?”
“Yes. I think it is. You see, there is no sense of hurry and strain, no tearing of oneself away from a joy because an hour strikes. Then, with friends, one can have endless time with them, if one will, going deeply into absorbing subjects that could only be touched upon on earth.”
“Are you happy here?” She was leaning her cheek against the rock and did not look at me.
“So happy that I did not know such happiness existed!”
“You have all you desire?”
“All. And far more than I deserve.”
“Ah,” she murmured, “how much do any of us deserve?”
“Very little, but does not the beauty of this place speak to us of the generosity of the Father?”
“Does it?” she whispered.
“Isobel!” I chided. “You cannot doubt the Father’s Love!”
“No, no,” she agreed hurriedly, “only it is hard, at first. All your life to want a thing, and then at the end to have something else.”
“When you have seen the Lord,” I said in a hushed voice (for I felt that she was not far from Him), “you will meet the love-light in His eyes, and then you will understand that you have loved Him all the time.”
“Oh, but I love Him now,” she cried passionately, turning towards me so that I saw the tears on her cheeks. I put my arm around her.
“I am just being silly, I expect—wanting an impossibility.”
“Well,” I smiled, “are you sure it is an impossibility? A friend of mine told me once that if people form a picture first of what they think a place will be like, it is very hard to get at the truth. You see, they go on looking at their mental picture instead of observing what they see before them.”
“Yes, I see what you mean, but in this case—.”
“Suppose you let me see ‘this case’ too!”
“All right. When I was very small—I can only just remember—I used to live with my grandfather on his farm. Oh, it was glorious! I was allowed to run about among the animals just as I liked, so I practically grew up with horses, pigs, cats, chickens—you know what it is like on farms!”
“Then my grandfather died. Of course I did not know what had happened then, but my mother came for me—she was an actress—and took me on tour. After that, it was all travelling, stuffy lodging-house rooms and the noise of the stage. No more country life for me. My mother trained me as a dancer, so I lived like that.” She stopped, and I murmured, “It must have been very hard, Isobel.”
“It was. But something always kept me happy, always kept me looking forward, thinking it was worth while. It was the hope of living on a farm again! Sometimes I would sit dreaming of it between my turns, thinking that if I worked hard and saved, one day I could buy a holding, work it myself, and surround myself with animals. Oh, I used to pray so much about it!”
“Yes. I used to tell the dear Lord that I did want to live a good life—a good, clean life that would please Him, and in return I asked if I could have my life, in the end. I did not mind waiting. I had just begun to save, and then—it all came so suddenly—and I was here. Yes, Bernard—,” as I would have spoken—“I know He is Love. No doubt He has a wonderful Heaven here. It was just—the animals. I did love them so!”
“So you had your preconceived picture after all,” I smiled.
“Yes, but you don’t mean—,” she broke off, hope lighting up her eyes.
“You are coming along with me,” I said firmly, linking her arm in mine. “Oh, Isobel,” as we started on our way, “how could you think that He would take our dearest dreams, if they were good ones, and give us only ashes in return!”
“It did seem hard,” she confessed, “seeing all those rolling plains and valleys, and thinking there were no animals here. You mean that there are animals, I suppose?”
“You shall see,” I chuckled.
“I do believe you are enjoying this!” And then I became serious again, saying gravely, “It is a great joy, to unveil the Father’s Love to men, even though one knows so little oneself.”
“Do you know only a little?”
“Yes; but as we rise higher towards the Light, so veil after veil falls from the face of the Father’s Love.”
“It must be very wonderful. Shall I wear a robe the same colour as yours one day?”
“It is the Purple Gown and I think that you will wear it very soon.” Then I cried, “We’re here!”
Coming across the grass, smiling a welcome, was Marie. She caught my hand and pressed it.
“Bernard, I had your message. It is good to see you again.”
“And to see you!” I held her off for inspection. “Congratulations, Purple-Gowned!”
“What a hunger it was, Bernard, and when I saw my robe, I thought it never would be cleansed. How long it took!”
“Long!” I echoed. “Why, you were much quicker than I. . . Forgive me for not being present at your clothing. My duties kept me in the Hall of Reception. . . .”
“I know. Stephen told me and brought me your message—though you may be sure I would have reached out for it anyway! Oh, to have seen Him! I have seen the King in His beauty. . .” Her voice trailed off, and then, “But is this Isobel?” I stepped forward to introduce them, and I saw that Isobel was gazing at Marie with starry eyes, evidently quite prepared to hero-worship a little. It looked like being a very happy partnership.
“Go with Marie, Isobel. She has a wonderful surprise for you.”
“Where is this place?” She was still holding on to a tiny doubt, so I said quickly, “The Hall of Animals.” How her face lit up! “He is Love! Oh, I knew He was Love,” she cried, and then to Marie, “What are you doing here? Are you here because you love animals too?”
“Yes, what are you doing here, Marie? Out with it, now!”
“Well, I came here first because I loved animals.” She was looking at Isobel and pretending to ignore me. “After a while, I went to meet—the Master. . .” She paused, and we remained silent in sympathy.
“And now it is my duty to serve in this Hall for a time, so here I am.”
“I see.” Isobel gazed at her pleadingly. “Will you take me to see the animals now?”
“Of course I will!” With linked arms they started off together. Just as they left me, Marie cried out, “I have a surprise for you, Bernard. Call Bimbo and see who runs up with him!”
“Bimbo!” I called, knowing full well who his companion would be. Sure enough, they came tearing into view—Bimbo and Rainbow, with a couple of frisky kittens, and a canary and a cockatoo flying overhead. I flung myself on the grass and allowed Rainbow to kiss me as hard as he liked.
“I know, old man,” I said, taking a large paw out of my ear, “but you have been happy. Own up now!” Rainbow only grinned. We made an arrangement after that. He was to stay on here, exploring the place as much as he wished, and I would make this a kind of headquarters and return to him frequently. He was particularly pleased about this as he had never had long enough to visit the interior, and his adventurous heart thirsted after it.
“It has been a long time,” he panted.
“Are you not scared of being eaten by a lion?” I asked, forgetting for a moment that he had come here at birth and knew nothing of earth-ways.
“Am I afraid of being eaten by you?” he retorted slyly. (At least that was the impression he pressed upon my mind.) He went on to tell me of the big cats who lived in the interior, and the thrilling games he wanted to play with them. “I am going to ride on a tiger’s back,” he boasted. I gathered the little fellow on to my knees, pulling down his ears to meet at the tip of his nose as all good spaniels should. Then I told him all about Isobel—or as much as he could understand.
“Keep an eye on her, old chap,” I finished casually. “You know animals in Heaven have a very special job—to bring the healing of joy to the newcomers. Don’t fuss, but just be there when she wants you; and tell some of the others to gather round, too.” Rainbow looked at me with shining eyes, and seemed to nod his head at this. “Now let me see,” was the impression borne in upon my mind. “I could get some of the fellows to be there when I am away. I cannot be there all the time, of course—.”
“Of course not,” I said hastily, remembering the lions and tigers.
“Got some work to do,” he continued importantly. “Now Bimbo could be on call in my absence—he has seen the interior, anyway.”
“Is that where your work is?”
“Partly.” He hurried on, pressing swift pictures into my brain.
“Bimbo will always be somewhere near Marie, and Marie will always be somewhere near Isobel.” He mused a while. “I know the very crowd! There’s a baby kangaroo—he fell out of his mother’s pouch. (She must have been careless!) Anyway, he’s as happy as can be with a young rabbit he has palled up with, and a monkey is mothering the two of them. The only difficulty is that a tortoise insists on joining them, but he holds up all their games because they have to wait for him to catch them up—only of course they could not tell him, or it would hurt his feelings. I guess they like him really.”
All this Rainbow impressed on my mind without a bark, and when he had finished I gave him a great hug. “You’re a born organiser old boy. That arrangement will be fine.”