Chapter XXI.
 

"Annis, dear, my ain love, my bonny lass," Mr. Lilburn said, when at last he could get a moment's private chat with her, "why condemn me to wait longer for my sweet young wife? Is it that you fear to trust your happiness to my keeping?"

"Oh, no, not that," she replied, casting down her eyes, and half turning away her face to hide the vivid blush that mantled her cheek; "but you hardly know yet, hardly understand, what a risk you run in asking me to share your life."

"Ah," he said, "my only fear is that you may be disappointed in me; and yet if so, it shall not be for lack of love and tenderest care, for to me it seems that no dearer, sweeter lass ever trod this earth."

"Ah, you don't know me!" she repeated, with a slight smile. "I am not afraid to trust you, and yet I think it would be better for us to wait a little and enjoy the days of courtship. One reason why I would defer matters is that we will never again have an opportunity to see this wonderful Fair, and I have seen but little of it yet; also I would not willingly miss spending as much time as possible with my dear brother and sisters whom I am about to leave for a home with you, and I must make some preparation in the matter of dress too."

"Ah, well, my bonny lass, 'if a woman will, she will you may depend on't, and if she won't, she won't and there's an end on't.' So I'll even give up to you, comforting mysel' that ye'll be mine at last; and that in the mean time I shall have your dear companionship while together we explore the streets and buildings of this wonderful White City."

At that moment others came upon the scene and put an end to the private talk.

The next two weeks were those of delightful experience to all our friends, to Annis in particular, spent in visits to that beautiful Court of Honor, and to various interesting exhibits to be found in other parts of the Fair, with an occasional change of scene and occupation by a shopping excursion to Chicago in search of wedding finery.

She would not allow herself to anticipate the pain of the partings from the dear brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, that lay before her, but gave herself up to the enjoyment of the present; in especial of the intercourse with him who was the chosen companion of her future life on earth.

The yacht could not furnish night accommodations for all, but usually all the relatives and friends gathered about its supper table and afterward spent an hour or more upon its deck in rest that was particularly enjoyable after the day's exertion, and in cheerful chat over their varied experiences since separating in the morning; for they were now much too large a company to keep together in their wanderings in and about the White City.

But the time approached when they must separate. The trousseau--with the exception of such articles as it was considered more desirable to purchase in New York or Philadelphia--was ready, all the arrangements for the wedding feast had been made, and but a day or two intervened between that and the one which was to see Annis become a bride and set out upon her wedding tour.

The evening meal was over, and leaving the table they assembled upon the deck.

"Has anyone seen the evening paper or the morning one either?" asked Mr. Dinsmore, addressing his query to the company in general.

"Yes, sir; I have," answered Harold. "There has been an awful railroad collision, one section of the train running into another; a good many killed; one lady meeting with a most terrible fate," he added with emotion, "but she was an earnest, active Christian worker, and no doubt is now rejoicing before the throne of God."

"But oh, couldn't they have saved her?" asked his mother, in tones tremulous with feeling. "How was it? what was the difficulty?"

"The car was crushed and broken, her limbs caught between broken timbers in such a way that it was impossible to free her in season to prevent the flames--for the car was on fire--from burning her to death. The upper part of her body was free, and she close to a window, so that she could speak to the gathered crowd who, though greatly distressed by the sight of her agony, were powerless to help her. She sent messages to her dear ones and her Sunday-school class and died like a martyr."

"Poor dear woman!" said Violet, in low, tender tones. "Oh, how well that her peace was made with God before the accident, for she could do little thinking in such an agony of pain."

"Yes; and such sudden calls should make us all careful to be ready at any moment for the coming of the Master," said Mr. Dinsmore.

"Yes," assented the captain, "and we do not know that he may not come at any moment, for any of us; either by death or in the clouds of heaven. 'Be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh,' is his own warning to us all."

"Dear Christian woman, how happy she is now!" said Grandma Elsie; "that agony of pain all over, and an eternity of bliss at God's right hand--an eternity of the Master's love and presence already hers."

A moment of deep and solemn silence followed, then from the lake they seemed to hear two voices sweetly singing:

        "I would not live alway: I ask not to stay
         Where storm after storm rises dark o'er the way;
         The few lurid mornings that dawn on us here,
         Are enough for life's woes, full enough for its cheer.

        "I would not live alway, thus fetter'd by sin,
         Temptation without and corruption within:
         E'en the rapture of pardon is mingled with fears,
         And the cup of thanksgiving with penitent tears.

        "I would not live alway; no, welcome the tomb:
         Since Jesus hath lain there, I dread not its gloom;
         There, sweet be my rest, till he bid me arise
         To hail him in triumph descending the skies.

        "Who, who would live alway, away from his God;
         Away from yon heaven, that blissful abode,
         Where the rivers of pleasure flow o'er the bright plains,
         And the noontide of glory eternally reigns;

        "Where the saints of all ages in harmony meet,
         Their Saviour and brethren, transported, to greet;
         While the anthems of rapture unceasingly roll,
         And the smile of the Lord is the feast of the soul."

Hugh Lilburn was present among the guests of the evening, and before the finishing of the first verse, the voices seemingly coming from the water had been recognized by more than one of the company as those of his father and himself. As the last notes died upon the air, a solemn silence again fell upon them all.

It was broken by Mrs. Travilla saying softly, and in tones tremulous with emotion:

"I have always loved that hymn of Muhlenberg's. Ah, who would wish to live alway in this world of sin and sorrow, never entering, never seeing, the many mansions Jesus has gone to prepare for those that love him?"

As the last word left her lips, the seemingly distant voices again rose in song, the words coming distinctly to every ear:

    "Jerusalem the golden,
       With milk and honey blest,
     Beneath thy contemplation
      Sink heart and voice opprest.
      I know not, O I know not
       What joys await us there,
     What radiancy of glory,
       What bliss beyond compare.

    "They stand, those halls of Zion,
       All jubilant with song,
     And bright with many an angel,
       And all the martyr throng.
     The Prince is ever in them,
       The daylight is serene;
     The pastures of the blessed
       Are decked in glorious sheen,

    "There is the throne of David;
       And there, from care released,
     The shout of them that triumph,
       The song of them that feast.
     And they, who with their Leader,
       Have conquered in the fight,
     For ever and for ever
       Are clad in robes of white.

    "O sweet and blessed country,
       The home of God's elect!
     O sweet and blessed country,
       That eager hearts expect!
     Jesus, in mercy bring us
       To that dear land of rest;
     Who art, with God the Father,
       And Spirit, ever blest,"

"Thank you very much, gentlemen," said Mildred as the last notes died away. "What lovely words those are! Ah, they make one almost envious of that dear woman who has already reached that happy land where sin and sorrow are unknown."

"And death never enters," added Grandma Elsie low and feelingly. "Oh, 'blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.'"