Doctor Cortlandt Sees His Grave
"Is it not distasteful to you," Cortlandt asked, "to live so near
these loathsome dragons?"
"Not in the least," replied the spirit. "They affect us no more
than the smallest micro-organism, for we see both with equal
clearness. Since we are not obliged to breathe, they cannot
injure us; and, besides, they serve to illustrate the working of
God's laws, and there is beauty in everything for those that
the senses required for perceiving it. A feature of the
spiritual world is, that it does not interfere with the natural,
and the natural, except through faith, is not aware of its
"Then why," asked Cortlandt, "was it necessary for the Almighty
to bring your souls to Saturn, since there would have been no
overcrowding if you had remained on the earth?"
"That," replied the spirit, "was part of His wisdom; for the
spirit, being able at once to look back into the natural world,
if in it, would be troubled at the mistakes and tribulations of
his friends. Now, as a rule, before a spirit can return to
earth, his or her relatives and friends have also died; or, if he
can return before that happens, he is so advanced that he sees
the ulterior purpose, and therefore the wisdom of God's ways, and
is not distressed thereby. Lastly, as their expanding senses
grew, it would be painful for the blessed and condemned spirits
to be together. Therefore we are brought here, where God reveals
Himself to us more and more, and the flight of the other
souls--those unhappy ones--does not cease till they reach
"Can the souls on Cassandra also leave it in time and roam at
will?" asked Cortlandt.
"I have seen none of them myself in my journeys to other planets;
but as the sun shines upon the just and the unjust, and there is
no exception to Nature's laws, I can reply that in time they do,
and with equal powers their incentive to roam would be greater;
for we are drawn together by common sympathy and pure, requited
love, while they are mutually repelled. Of course, some obtain a
measure of freedom before the rest, and these naturally roam the
farthest, and the more they see and the farther they go, the
stronger becomes their abhorrence for everything they meet."
"Cannot you spirits help us, and the mortals now on earth, to
escape this fate?"
"The greatest hope for your bodies and souls lies in the
communion with those that have passed through death; for the
least of them can tell you more than the wisest man on earth; and
could you all come or send representatives to the multitudes here
who cannot as yet return to you, but few on earth would be so
quixotically sinful as to refuse our advice. Since, however, the
greatest good comes to men from the learning that they make an
effort to secure, it is for you to strive to reach us, who can
act as go-betweens from God to you."
"It seems to me," said Bearwarden, "that people are better now
than formerly. The sin of idolatry, for instance, has
disappeared--has it not?"
"Men still set up idols of wealth, passion, or ambition in their
hearts. These they worship as in days gone by, only the form has
"Could the souls on Cassandra do us bodily or mental injury, if
we could ever reach their planet?" asked Bearwarden.
"They might oppress and distress you, but your faith would
protect you wherever you might go."
"Can you give us a taste of your sense of prescience?" asked
Bearwarden again; "for, since it is not clear in what degree the
condemned receive this, and neither is it by any means sure that
I shall be saved, I should like for once in my history to
experience this sense of divinity, before my entity ends in
"I will transfer to you my sense of prescience," replied the
spirit, "that you may foresee as prophets have. In so doing, I
shall but anticipate, since you will yourselves in time obtain
this sense in a greater or less degree. Is there any event in
the future you would like to see, in order that, when the vision
is fulfilled, it may tend to stablish your faith?"
"Since I am the oldest," replied the doctor, "and shall probably
die before my friends, reveal to us, I pray you, the manner of my
death and the events immediately following. This may prove an
object-lesson to them, and will greatly interest me."
"Your death will be caused by blood-poisoning, brought on by an
accident," began the spirit. "Some daybreak will find you weak,
after a troubled night, with your bodily resources at a low ebb.
Sunset will see you weaker, with your power of resistance almost
gone. Midnight will find you weaker still, and but little
removed from the point of death. A few hours later a kind hand
will close the lids of your half-shut eyes, which never again
will behold the light. The coffin will inclose your body, and
the last earthly journey begin. Now," the spirit continued, "you
shall all use my sight instead of your own."
The walls of the cave seemed to expand, till they resembled those
of a great cathedral, while the stalactites appeared to be
metamorphosed into Gothic columns. They found themselves among a
large congregation that had come to attend the last sad rites,
while the great organ played Chopin's "Funeral March." The high
vault and arches received the organ's tone, and a sombre light
pervaded the interior. There was a slight flutter and a craning
of necks among those in the pews, as the procession began to
ascend the aisle. While the slow step of the pallbearers and
those carrying the coffin sounded on the stone floor, the clear
voice of the clergyman that headed the procession sounded these
words through the cathedral: "I know that my Redeemer liveth,
and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth." As
the bier advanced, Bearwarden and Ayrault recognized themselves
among the pallbearers--the former with grey mustache and hair,
the latter considerably aged. The hermetically sealed lead
coffin was inclosed in a wooden case, and the whole was draped
and covered with flowers.
"Oh, my faith!" cried Cortlandt, "I see my face within, yet it is
but a decomposing mass that I once described as I."
Then again did the minister's voice proclaim, "I am the
resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in
me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth
and believeth in me shall never die."
The bearers gently set down their burden; the minister read the
ever-impressive chapter of St. Paul to the Corinthians; a bishop
solemnly and silently sprinkled earth on the coffin; and the
choir sang the 398th hymn, beginning with the words, "Hark, hark
my soul! angelic songs are swelling," which had always been
Cortlandt's favourite and the service was at an end. The bearers
again shouldered all that was left of Henry Cortlandt, and his
relatives accompanied this to the cemetery.
Then came a sweeping change of scene. A host of monuments and
gravestones reflected the sunlight, while a broad river ebbed and
flowed between high banks. A sexton and a watchman stood by a
granite vault, the heavy door of which they had opened with a
large key. Hard by were some gardeners and labourers, and also a
crowd of curiosity-seekers who had come to witness the last sad
rites. Presently a funeral procession appeared. The hearse
stopped near the open vault, over the door of which stood out the
name of CORTLANDT, and the accompanying minister said a short
prayer, while all present uncovered their heads. After this the
coffin was borne within and set at rest upon a slab, among many
generations of Cortlandts. In the hearts of the relatives and
friends was genuine sorrow, but the curiosity-seekers went their
way and gave little thought. "To-morrow will be like to-day,"
they said, "and more great men will die."
Then came another change of scene, though it was comparatively
slight. The sun slowly sank beyond the farther bank of the broad
river, and the moon and stars shone softly on the gravestones and
crosses. Two gardeners smoked their short clay pipes on a bench
before the Cortlandt vault, and talked in a slow manner.
"He was a great man," said one, "and if his soul blooms like the
flowers on his grave, he must be in paradise, which we know is a
finer park than this."
"He was expert for the Government when the earth's axis was set
right," said the second gardener, "and he must have been a
scholar, for his calculations have all come true. He was one of
the first three men to visit the other planets, while the
obituaries in the papers say his history will be read hereafter
like the books of Caesar. After burying all these great people,
I sometimes wish I could do the same for myself, for the people I
bury seem to be remembered." After this they relapsed into their
meditations, the silence being broken only by an occasional
murmur from the river's steady flow.
Hereupon the voyagers found they were once more in the cave. The
fire had burned low, and the dawn was already in the east.
Cortlandt wiped his forehead, shivered, and looked extremely
"Thank Heaven," he cried, "we cannot ordinarily foresee our end;
for but few would attain their predestined ending could they see
it in advance. May the veil not again be raised, lest I faint
before it! I looked in vain for my soul," he continued, "but
could see it nowhere."
"The souls of those dying young," replied the spirit, "sometimes
wish to hover near their ashes as if regretting an unfinished
life, or the opportunities that have departed; but those dying
after middle age are usually glad to be free from their bodies,
and seldom think of them again."
"I shall append the lines now in my head to my history," said
Cortlandt, "that where it goes they may go also. They can
scarcely fail to be instructive as the conclusions of a man who
has seen beyond his grave." Whereupon be wrote a stanza in his
note-book, and closed it without showing his companions what he
"May they do all the good you hope, and much more!" replied the
spirit, "for the reward in the resurrection morning will vastly
exceed all your labours now.
"O, my friends," the spirit continued most earnestly, addressing
the three, "are you prepared for your death-beds? When your eyes
glaze in their last sleep, and you lose that temporal world and
what you perhaps considered all, as in a haze, your dim vision
will then be displaced by the true creation that will be eternal.
Your unattained ambitions, your hopes, and your ideals will be
swallowed in the grave. Your works will secure you a place in
history, and many will remember your names until, in time,
oblivion covers your memory as the grass conceals your tombs.
Are you prepared for the time when your eyes become blind, and
your trusted senses fail? Your sorrowing friends will mourn, and
the flags of your clubs will fly at half-mast, but no earthly
thing can help you then. In what condition will the resurrection
morning find you, when your sins of neglect and commission plead
for vengeance, as Abel's blood from the ground? After that there
can be no change. The classification, as I have already told
you, is now going on; it will then be finished."
"We are the most utterly wretched sinners!" cried Ayrault. "Show
us how we can be saved."
"As an inhabitant of spirit-land, I will give you worldly
counsel," replied the bishop. "During my earthly administration,
as I told you, people came from far to hear me preach. This was
because I had eloquence and earnestness, both gifts of God. But
I was a miserably weak sinner myself. That which I would, I did
not, and that which I would not that I did; and I often prayed my
congregation to follow my sermons rather than my ways. I seemed
to do my followers good, and Daniel thus commends my way in his
last chapter: 'They that turn many to righteousness shall shine
as the stars forever and ever,' and the explanation is clear.
There is no surer way of learning than trying to teach. In
teaching my several flocks I was also improved myself. I was
sown in weakness, but was raised in power, strength being made
perfect in weakness. Therefore improve your fellows, though
yourself you cannot raise. The knowledge that you have sent many
souls to heaven, though you are yourself a castaway, will give
you unspeakable joy, and place you in heaven wherever you may be.
Yet remember this: none of us can win heaven; salvation is the
gift of God. I have said as much now as you can remember.
Farewell. Improve time while you can. Fear God and keep His
commandments. This is the whole duty of man."
So saying, the spirit vanished in a cloud that for a
time emitted light.
"I am not surprised," said Bearwarden, "that people took long
journeys to hear him. I would do so myself."
"I have never had much fear of death," said Cortlandt, "but the
mere thought of it now makes my knees shake, and fills my heart
with dread. I thought I saw the most hateful forms about my
coffin, and imagined that they might be the personification of
doubt, coldness, and my other shortcomings, which had come
perhaps from sympathy, in invisible form. I was almost afraid to
ask the spirit for the explanation."
"I saw them also," replied Bearwarden, "but took them to be
swarms of microbes waiting to destroy your body, or perhaps
trying in vain to penetrate your hermetically sealed coffin."
Cortlandt seemed much upset, and spent the rest of the day in
writing out the facts and trying to assign a cause. Towards
evening Bearwarden, who had recovered his spirits, prepared
supper, after which they sat in the entrance to the cave.