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Death and Life of a Soldier: 7

CHAPTER SEVEN    HOSTS AND GUESTS

Reg had been so absorbed in their conversation that he had ceased to notice the great void, but now he saw that the strange blue light had given place to a grassy hilltop. The three of them stood together, gazing down a winding path into a valley far below. Everywhere were masses of brilliant flowers and as his eyes travelled over the scene, Reg saw his friends approaching.

“Go to meet them!” One of his guides gave him a little push and with a gay farewell he set off across the sloping hillside. They met amid the laughter and the cheerful greetings of the young, and Reg, responding heartily, could scarcely believe that he had died and that this was actually the other side of death. He linked arms with Gordon and Johnn.ie and the chattering group strode swiftly into the valley, making little of the long distance with their light, swinging step.

They went surging onto the green where many were engaged in sports, or with a companion in earnest talk. On the three sides of the green were the little houses of the Plane Between, with their hospitably open fronts and their great trees drooping over the slatted roofs. Reg noticed the exquisite motherofpearl of which they seemed to be composed and exclaimed admiringly. Everyone was delighted to show him round and he went in one house after another, thrilled, adventurous and eager.

Several of the houses were occupied by the Purple Gowned, who resembled Gordon. These were quickly introduced, and all invited Reg to visit them whenever he liked. Here he met Derek, a very special friend of Gordon’s, and there was a house occupied by Stephen and James, who were being visited by their friends, Bernard and Janet. Reg noted that these four were robed in green and wore golden sashes. The room looked very gay with such a variety of colour and he felt almost a child in his simple white tunic. The only other wearer of white was a quiet woman named Rose. She made room for him beside her and he soon forgot to compare the clothes of his companions, so absorbed did he become in the talk around him.

He felt like an explorer in a strange land (as indeed he was). The most amazing places were discussed as though they were just around the corner, and these people seemed to live a life of constant adventure. Breathlessly listening, he heard of the delights of the Hall of Hobbies, of the lovely bowls they made in the Hall of MetalWorkers.

Others said they had just come from the Hall of Gardens, another from the Hall of Sleep, and one enquired for Richard whom apparently he had last seen in the Hall of Audience. It sounded thrilling!

In a very short time, or so it seemed to Reg, the little group broke up. There were some temporary farewells, and then Gordon came to take him to see his “mates”. He was very silent as he walked through the wood with his friends. All around him they were laughing and talking, but he was going over in his mind all he had heard. He felt excited and eager, yet strangely “left out” as though he had missed something that all the others enjoyed. All the same, he had entirely revised his ideas of Heaven; it had become a wholly delightful place
His musings were interrupted when they came out on the other side of the wood where the creamy waves roared up the golden beach and the sparkling sea went out to meet the sky.

“There they are!” said Gordon. At the same moment Reg caught sight of them, sitting on the sand with their backs against a broad rock.

“Oh, let us get to them quickly ! he cried eagerly, but Gordon pushed him gently forward alone.

“You go, Reg. It is you they wish to see.”

“Won’t you come too?” Reg looked up appealingly, feeling suddenly embarrassed, but Gordon shook his head.

“No, off you go, old man. Look, they have seen you.” Even as he spoke, the men rose to their feet, and stood smiling uncertainly. He went slowly forward to meet them.
Silently they gripped hands. Then one of them laughed nervously.

“We don’t quite know whether you are an angel or a man,” he confessed.
“An angel !” Reg protested. “Far from it, I am afraid. What made you think of that, Paul?”

“Well, you have died, I suppose?”

“Yes,” urged Greig; while Ronald and Guy drew nearer, “that is what we want to know!”

“Oh, I can tell you that,” Reg said with relief. “Sit down, chaps, and let us have a talk.”
They all settled down again, leaning against the rock. The waves rolled lazily up to their feet. “This place is not Heaven and it isn’t earth,” Reg began ” It is called the Plane Between. Here, people who have died can meet those who have not died, but have only left their bodies in sleep”

“What, after going into a trance?” Guy queried. “I always thought that was just rot”

“No, in ordinary sleep, I mean. That is what sleep isthe soul going out from the body and sometimes people can come here.”

“I thought you said only the soul came here?” Ronald looked puzzled.

“But the soul is the person,” Greig put in. “Haven’t you heard that?”

“Yes, that’s right. The body is a kind of envelope, and when it is left behind, either in death or in sleep, people can meet here,” Reg exp1ained.

“Why?” Ronald still looked puzzled.

“They come because they have a strong wish to see somebody, or jecause there are things it is good for them to know. Then it prepares them for death, a ‘little death’ the angel said.”

Who said?” Paul shot out the question in amazement; the others stared dumbly.

“The angel,” Reg repeated, and then he laughed in embarrassment. “Oh, I know it sounds strange, but you have no idea how friendly they can be It seems angels are close to men all the time, to guard them while they are on earth and guide them in Heaven.”

“I say, you have learned a lot!” They looked at him with awe, and Reg said hastily:

“Tell me about yourselves.”

“It all seems so far away.” Paul gazed out to sea abstractedly.
When we were there, that little bit of ground we were fighting on seemed the only world there was. Now it seem swell, just a little halting place on the way here. Knowing Heaven really does exist makes it different, somehow. Sort of worth fighting for.”

“Perhaps that’s what we had to come here to learn,” Greig suggested.

“Makes you feel a bit uneasy, though,” Ronald confessed. “I guess there are a good many things I wish I had not done, now. What about sins?

“Well, there has to be a reckoning, you know.”

“Yes,” Ronald agreed soberly. “Was yours very bad?”

“It hasn’t come yet.”

“Not come?” Two of them spoke together. Greig said diffidently;

“I thought a judgement was necessary before a man could have the Lord’s approval. .. What happened, then, when you saw Him?” There was a pause, tense and expectant.

“I have not seen Him yet. You see, I wanted to see all of you first. How could I let you go on fighting, not knowing anything?” They gazed at him solemnly, and Reg flushed. “Well, how could I?” he asked defiantly.

“Of course, it was decent of you to want to know about us old man,” Greig said slowly, ” but…

“But how could you?” Paul interrupted urgently. “If I came to a kingdom and it was possible, I should want an audience with the King first.”

There was another pause while Reg prodded the sand miserably. Ronald leant over his shoulder to suggest reassuringly, “I think you could have helped us more by going straight to Him, Reg. You see, we are further away from Him than you are. If He loves us, He would want us to get the reckoning over quickly and come to Him, wouldn’t He?”

“Yes, I suppose so.” Reg looked more unhappy still, adding in a burst of confidence, “But I don’t know Him!”

“Never mind,” Paul said, “He knows us. Perhaps, Reg, when we come next time, you will have seen Him?”

“Oh, I do hope so!” Reg was surprised at his emphasis, but he suddenly realised why he had had that feeling of being left outhe was the only one of his Heaven friends who had not sought an audience with the King!

In the silence that followed, Reg thought over this new desire. What had Gordon said? “We are chained to our wishes.” Then, if he wished very hard to meet the Lord, he would be chained to that wish. Surely that would be a good thing? Surely that would link him to the Lord? … Musing, he tried to picture that majestic One who walked with the fishermen so long ago. The Figure seemed misty. He wished he had tried to love Him a little on earth. That would have made Him more familiar now. He was so lovable, really, so strong, gentle and wise; so sympathetic when people were miserable or ill or poor. Why had he never loved this One who was so worthy of love?”

“My friends.” A quiet voice broke into his thoughts and he looked up to see Bernard in their midst. He smiled upon them indulgently. “Follow me, for the time has come when the King visits His people.” They all sprang to their feet in a kind of astounded panic.

“Does He come here?”
“Shall we see Him?”

“But this is only the Plane Between!” Their questions and exclamations tumbled out confusedly.

“He comes to His people every evening,” Bernard explained. “Yes, here in the Plane Between. Let us join the people in the avenue and wait for Him.”

As they walked, Reg drew nearer and plucked at Bernard’s sleeve. “Shall I see Him?” he whispered. His companion smiled.

“My son, the measure of our seeing is the measure of our love.”