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

had written.

"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.