As Mollie took her place at the table the mother's watchful eyes noted signs of annoyance on the usually happy face.
"What's the matter, dear? And where is Nora?" she added.
"She stopped to play with Frankie Taylor." In the answer to her second question Mrs. Cameron read the reply to her first also. She said nothing for awhile, but presently remarked cheerfully: "Frankie's a nice little boy, but he mustn't make Nora late so often."
"Oh, Mother! It isn't that at all! You know about Frankie's father--he's in prison--prison, Mummy, for forgery, and Miss Dare says that's just the same as being a common thief!"
"But Frankie has not been in prison," said her mother, quietly.
"No, but really, Mother, he isn't quite a fit playmate for Nora, is he? And he's always making mud-pies!"
Mrs. Cameron could not forbear a smile at the climax. Her little daughter's fastidiousness was the source of much secret amusement to the rest of the family, and the look of disgust with which she mentioned Frankie's obnoxious mud-pies was really quite comical to those who did not share her great aversion to them.
But just then the truant Nora came in, brimming over with for she had just remembered that this was All-Hallows' Eve and that there would be exciting doings in the evening, for in this house hold all the traditional customs of the season were faithfully observed by the children.
During the merry evening that followed, Mollie completely forgot her annoyance and went to bed happy and content, with sleepy thoughts of the morrow's service.
The maid who called her in the morning brought her a message from her mother that she had such a bad headache she could not go to church till later, so Mollie set out alone. She felt a little forlorn as she made her way through the streets of the busy town, thronged as they were already with people hurrying to their daily work, for she had only been confirmed a few months before and had never been to her Communion without her mother. And she knew well (at least she thought she did), how dull and dreary the church would look, for it was not an attractive building, and, as a rule, only the barest handful of worshippers gathered to meet their Lord. She had heard her mother say, only the day before, that even on All Saints' Day there would probably be no more than usual--just the two or three churchworkers, old Mrs. Jones, perhaps two young Sunday School teachers, and the old rag-and-bone man from whom Mollie always edged away as far as possible. He smelt so very rag-and-bony!
No! It was not a cheerful prospect for All Saints' Day.
She had just discovered she was very early, so, pushing the door open, she slipped in and knelt down in the back row, meaning to move up later. She always liked the sense of space and freedom that being at the back gave her. She bent her head in prayer for a moment and then looked up.
How big the church seemed! Even as she looked in half-dazed bewilderment, it expanded till there was no sign of wall visible anywhere. Her eyes travelled upwards--a long way up--but the roof, if roof there were, was hidden under a soft, rainbow-tinted cloud.
And then as she stumbled eagerly to her feet, the pew in which she had been kneeling vanished, and she walked out into a wide, open space, covered with soft green grass and sweetly-smelling flowers. Away in the distance gleamed the Altar, and round it dim figures she could only just discern seemed to be moving. Slowly she made her way towards it, and then she became aware that others were about her in this strangely transformed church. Here and there she saw figures that seemed familiar, singly or in groups, and every now and then something soft would brush her face that made her think of angels' wings. Gently moving beings were about her on every side and presently as she went quietly on she began to see them more plainly. She tried to touch one, but he eluded her, though something brushed softly against her hand that made her think again of angels' wings.
But who was this? She had been following a little stream flowing so peacefully through the flower- decked meadow, and came suddenly upon a little boy sitting on the bank. His face and clothes were none too dean but he looked very happy as he energetically patted with a small wooden spade a very substantial mud-pie.
"Frankie!" she gasped.
Frankie looked up and laughed, and feeling more bewildered than ever, Mollie walked on. How could such a grubby little boy be allowed to play in this lovely place? And then it struck her that Frankie seemed much more at home there than she was herself, and she went on very thoughtfully. Here and there she saw people she recognized. There were the churchworkers she had been expecting to see, and a little further on, the young Sunday School teachers, but she did not stop to speak to them. She was anxious to explore this wonderful and glorified church further, if indeed it were the church, and she thought it must be because of the Altar gleaming in the distance.
And now as she drew nearer to the Altar, she saw there was no wall behind it, but the beautiful fair country through, which she was walking stretched away beyond it. Only she could not see clearly what lay on the far side, for a thin mist hung between that side and this, like a curtain. But it was so thin and transparent that even from this distance she could distinctly see figures moving behind, and as she drew nearer they grew in numbers. There were crowds there, and they seemed to stretch back into a limitless distance--crowds upon crowds of them--and snatches of song and echoes of silvery voices came to her listening ears.
As she looked and hurried towards them, she stumbled and nearly fell. Recovering herself, she discovered what she had not noticed at first, that the ground was not all fair and beautiful, but that there were many rough places, and here and there quite dangerous pitfalls. Some of the people seemed to be in difficulties, she noticed.
Much she saw that made her wonder.
Here was an old man struggling manfully up a very difficult path. Mollie was just about to spring for ward and lend him a hand when she suddenly recognized the old rag-and-bone man. Instinctively, she drew back, but at that moment someone slipped from behind the misty cloud that half hid the "Other Side," as she called it in her mind, and taking him firmly by the arm, led him safely to the top. And, oh! the radiant beauty of that heavenly helper!
Presently, a little wail struck upon her ears, and she turned aside into a lonely path that seemed to lead to it. In a few minutes, she came upon a baby lying on the ground alone. He was sucking his thumb at the moment but took it from his mouth at her approach to give another heart-breaking wail.
"Why, it's Mrs. Hartley's baby!" she cried. "Mother says he's hardly left off crying for his mother since she died. Poor little Bobbie-Boy!" But as she ran towards him, she stopped suddenly, for a woman came hurrying from "The Other Side," and, lifting the baby in her arms, covered him with kisses.
And Bobbie-Boy looked up in his mother's face and laughed happily.
And now as she drew nearer to that mysterious, filmy cloud that hid, while it half revealed, the wonders of the life beyond, and to the Altar, keeping its stately solitary place just between that side and this, a hush fell on all around. She hardly dared lift her eyes. To her mind sprang words she knew and loved--or were they being softly chanted by the myriads round her?
"Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly-minded, for with blessings in his hand,
Christ, our God, to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.
"Rank on rank the host of Heaven spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of Light descendeth from the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish as the darkness clears away."
Tremblingly, she lifted her eyes.
Yes, there they were; she heard the soft and mighty rush of countless wings, saw the gleaming, glowing mass thronging round the Altar, here and there she caught a glimpse of a face that stabbed her heart with its beauty. And then she bowed her head for she dared look no more.
There was a great silence, broken at last by a tinkling bell.
In a few minutes more, Mollie joined the people making their way up to the Altar. They were just the handful she had expected to see, but she knew now they were not alone in their worship. She knew the "ten thousand times ten thousand" of whom she had had a glimpse were joining in their great act of adoration of the One Lord of all, and knew, too, that the whole company of the baptized were one with that glorious host.