The Mansion by Henry Van Dyke

I enjoyed reading The Mansion by Henry Van Dyke.

Thanks to the recommendation:
http://lds.org/broadcasts/article/christmas-devotional/2011/12/because-he-came?lang=eng

Thanks to Project Gutenberg for the text:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/704

Thanks to David Leeson and LibriVox for the audio version:
http://librivox.org/short-story-collection-vol-036/
The Mansion by Henry van Dyke (1852-1933) – 00:51:29 
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Read by: David Leeson

The Mansion

By

Henry van Dyke



There was an air of calm and reserved opulence about the Weightman
mansion that spoke not of money squandered, but of wealth prudently
applied. Standing on a corner of the Avenue no longer fashionable for
residence, it looked upon the swelling tide of business with an
expression of complacency and half-disdain.

The house was not beautiful. There was nothing in its straight front
of chocolate-colored stone, its heavy cornices, its broad, staring
windows of plate glass, its carved and bronze-bedecked mahogany doors
at the top of the wide stoop, to charm the eye or fascinate the
imagination. But it was eminently respectable, and in its way
imposing. It seemed to say that the glittering shops of the jewelers,
the milliners, the confectioners, the florists, the picture-dealers,
the furriers, the makers of rare and costly antiquities, retail traders
in luxuries of life, were beneath the notice of a house that had its
foundations in the high finance, and was built literally and
figuratively in the shadow of St. Petronius' Church.

At the same time there was something self-pleased and congratulatory in
the way in which the mansion held its own amid the changing
neighborhood. It almost seemed to be lifted up a little, among the
tall buildings near at hand, as if it felt the rising value of the land
on which it stood.

John Weightman was like the house into which he had built himself
thirty years ago, and in which his ideals and ambitions were incrusted.
He was a self-made man. But in making himself he had chosen a highly
esteemed pattern and worked according to the approved rules. There was
nothing irregular, questionable, flamboyant about him.

He was solid, correct, and justly successful.

His minor tastes, of course, had been carefully kept up to date.

At the proper time, pictures of the Barbizon masters, old English plate
and portraits, bronzes by Barye and marbles by Rodin, Persian carpets
and Chinese porcelains, had been introduced to the mansion. It
contained a Louis Quinze reception-room, an Empire drawing-room, a
Jacobean dining-room, and various apartments dimly reminiscent of the
styles of furniture affected by deceased monarchs. That the hallways
were too short for the historic perspective did not make much
difference. American decorative art is capable de tout, it absorbs all
periods. Of each period Mr. Weightman wished to have something of the
best. He understood its value, present as a certificate, and
prospective as an investment.

It was only in the architecture of his town house that he remained
conservative, immovable, one might almost say
Early-Victorian-Christian. His country house at Dulwich-on-the-Sound
was a palace of the Italian Renaissance. But in town he adhered to an
architecture which had moral associations, the
Nineteenth-Century-Brownstone epoch. It was a symbol of his social
position, his religious doctrine, and even, in a way, of his business
creed.

"A man of fixed principles," he would say, "should express them in the
looks of his house. New York changes its domestic architecture too
rapidly. It is like divorce. It is not dignified. I don't like it.
Extravagance and fickleness are advertised in most of these new houses.
I wish to be known for different qualities. Dignity and prudence are
the things that people trust. Every one knows that I can afford to
live in the house that suits me. It is a guarantee to the public. It
inspires confidence. It helps my influence. There is a text in the
Bible about 'a house that hath foundations.' That is the proper kind of
a mansion for a solid man."

Harold Weightman had often listened to his father discoursing in this
fashion on the fundamental principles of life, and always with a
divided mind. He admired immensely his father's talents and the
single-minded energy with which he improved them. But in the paternal
philosophy there was something that disquieted and oppressed the young
man, and made him gasp inwardly for fresh air and free action.

At times, during his college course and his years at the law school, he
had yielded to this impulse and broken away--now toward extravagance
and dissipation, and then, when the reaction came, toward a romantic
devotion to work among the poor. He had felt his father's disapproval
for both of these forms of imprudence; but is was never expressed in a
harsh or violent way, always with a certain tolerant patience, such as
one might show for the mistakes and vagaries of the very young. John
Weightman was not hasty, impulsive, inconsiderate, even toward his own
children. With them, as with the rest of the world, he felt that he
had a reputation to maintain, a theory to vindicate. He could afford
to give them time to see that he was absolutely right.

One of his favorite Scripture quotations was, "Wait on the Lord."

He had applied it to real estate and to people, with profitable results.

But to human persons the sensation of being waited for is not always
agreeable. Sometimes, especially with the young, it produces a vague
restlessness, a dumb resentment, which is increased by the fact that
one can hardly explain or justify it. Of this John Weightman was not
conscious. It lay beyond his horizon. He did not take it into account
in the plan of life which he made for himself and for his family as the
sharers and inheritors of his success.

"Father plays us," said Harold, in a moment of irritation, to his
mother, "like pieces in a game of chess.

"My dear," said that lady, whose faith in her husband was religious,
"you ought not to speak so impatiently. At least he wins the game. He
is one of the most respected men in New York. And he is very generous,
too."

"I wish he would be more generous in letting us be ourselves," said the
young man. "He always has something in view for us and expects to move
us up to it."

"But isn't it always for our benefit?" replied his mother. "Look what
a position we have. No one can say there is any taint on our money.
There are no rumors about your father. He has kept the laws of God and
of man. He has never made any mistakes." Harold got up from his chair
and poked the fire. Then he came back to the ample, well-gowned,
firm-looking lady, and sat beside her on the sofa. He took her hand
gently and looked at the two rings--a thin band of yellow gold, and a
small solitaire diamond--which kept their place on her third finger in
modest dignity, as if not shamed, but rather justified, by the splendor
of the emerald which glittered beside them.

"Mother," he said, "you have a wonderful hand. And father made no
mistake when he won you. But are you sure he has always been so
inerrant?"

"Harold," she exclaimed, a little stiffly, "what do you mean? His life
is an open book."

"Oh," he answered, "I don't mean anything bad, mother dear. I know the
governor's life is an open book--a ledger, if you like, kept in the
best bookkeeping hand, and always ready for inspection--every page
correct, and showing a handsome balance. But isn't it a mistake not to
allow us to make our own mistakes, to learn for ourselves, to live our
own lives? Must we be always working for 'the balance,' in one thing
or another? I want to be myself--to get outside of this everlasting,
profitable 'plan'--to let myself go, and lose myself for a while at
least--to do the things that I want to do, just because I want to do
them."

"My boy," said his mother, anxiously, "you are not going to do anything
wrong or foolish? You know the falsehood of that old proverb about
wild oats."

He threw back his head and laughed. "Yes, mother," he answered, "I
know it well enough. But in California, you know, the wild oats are
one of the most valuable crops. They grow all over the hillsides and
keep the cattle and the horses alive. But that wasn't what I meant--to
sow wild oats. Say to pick wild flowers, if you like, or even to chase
wild geese--to do something that seems good to me just for its own
sake, not for the sake of wages of one kind or another. I feel like a
hired man, in the service of this magnificent mansion--say in training
for father's place as majordomo. I'd like to get out some way, to feel
free--perhaps to do something for others."

The young man's voice hesitated a little. "Yes, it sounds like cant, I
know, but sometimes I feel as if I'd like to do some good in the world,
if father only wouldn't insist upon God's putting it into the ledger."

His mother moved uneasily, and a slight look of bewilderment came into
her face.

"Isn't that almost irreverent?" she asked. "Surely the righteous must
have their reward. And your father is good. See how much he gives to
all the established charities, how many things he has founded. He's
always thinking of others, and planning for them. And surely, for us,
he does everything. How well he has planned this trip to Europe for me
and the girls--the court-presentation at Berlin, the season on the
Riviera, the visits in England with the Plumptons and the Halverstones.
He says Lord Halverstone has the finest old house in Sussex, pure
Elizabethan, and all the old customs are kept up, too--family prayers
every morning for all the domestics. By-the-way, you know his son
Bertie, I believe."

Harold smiled a little to himself as he answered: "Yes, I fished at
Catalina Island last June with the Honorable Ethelbert; he's rather a
decent chap, in spite of his ingrowing mind. But you?--mother, you are
simply magnificent! You are father's masterpiece." The young man
leaned over to kiss her, and went up to the Riding Club for his
afternoon canter in the Park.

So it came to pass, early in December, that Mrs. Weightman and her two
daughters sailed for Europe, on their serious pleasure trip, even as it
had been written in the book of Providence; and John Weightman, who had
made the entry, was left to pass the rest of the winter with his son
and heir in the brownstone mansion.

They were comfortable enough. The machinery of the massive
establishment ran as smoothly as a great electric dynamo. They were
busy enough, too. John Weightman's plans and enterprises were
complicated, though his principle of action was always simple--to get
good value for every expenditure and effort. The banking-house of
which he was the chief, the brain, the will, the absolutely controlling
hand, was so admirably organized that the details of its direction took
but little time.

But the scores of other interests that radiated from it and were
dependent upon it--or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, that
contributed to its solidity and success--the many investments,
industrial, political, benevolent, reformatory, ecclesiastical, that
had made the name of Weightman well known and potent in city, church,
and state, demanded much attention and careful steering, in order that
each might produce the desired result. There were board meetings of
corporations and hospitals, conferences in Wall Street and at Albany,
consultations and committee meetings in the brownstone mansion.

For a share in all this business and its adjuncts John Weightman had
his son in training in one of the famous law firms of the city; for he
held that banking itself is a simple affair, the only real difficulties
of finance are on its legal side. Meantime he wished the young man to
meet and know the men with whom he would have to deal when he became a
partner in the house. So a couple of dinners were given in the mansion
during December, after which the father called the son's attention to
the fact that over a hundred million dollars had sat around the board.

But on Christmas Eve father and son were dining together without
guests, and their talk across the broad table, glittering with silver
and cut glass, and softly lit by shaded candles, was intimate, though a
little slow at times. The elder man was in rather a rare mood, more
expansive and confidential than usual; and, when the coffee was brought
in and they were left alone, he talked more freely of his personal
plans and hopes than he had ever done before.

"I feel very grateful to-night," said he, at last; "it must be
something in the air of Christmas that gives me this feeling of
thankfulness for the many divine mercies that have been bestowed upon
me. All the principles by which I have tried to guide my life have
been justified. I have never made the value of this salted almond by
anything that the courts would not uphold, at least in the long run,
and yet--or wouldn't it be truer to say and therefore?--my affairs have
been wonderfully prospered. There's a great deal in that text 'Honesty
is the best'--but no, that's not from the Bible, after all, is it?
Wait a moment; there is something of that kind, I know."

"May I light a cigar, father," said Harold, turning away to hide a
smile, "while you are remembering the text?"

"Yes, certainly," answered the elder man, rather shortly; "you know I
don't dislike the smell. But it is a wasteful, useless habit, and
therefore I have never practised it. Nothing useless is worth while,
that's my motto--nothing that does not bring the reward. Oh, now I
recall the text, 'Verily I say unto you they have their reward.' I
shall ask Doctor Snodgrass to preach a sermon on that verse some day."

"Using you as an illustration?"

"Well, not exactly that; but I could give him some good materials from
my own experience to prove the truth of Scripture. I can honestly say
that there is not one of my charities that has not brought me in a good
return, either in the increase of influence, the building up of credit,
or the association with substantial people. Of course you have to be
careful how you give, in order to secure the best results--no
indiscriminate giving--no pennies in beggars' hats! It has been one of
my principles always to use the same kind of judgment in charities that
I use in my other affairs, and they have not disappointed me."

"Even the check that you put in the plate when you take the offertory
up the aisle on Sunday morning?"

"Certainly; though there the influence is less direct; and I must
confess that I have my doubts in regard to the collection for Foreign
Missions. That always seems to me romantic and wasteful. You never
hear from it in any definite way. They say the missionaries have done
a good deal to open the way for trade; perhaps--but they have also
gotten us into commercial and political difficulties. Yet I give to
them--a little--it is a matter of conscience with me to identify myself
with all the enterprises of the Church; it is the mainstay of social
order and a prosperous civilization. But the best forms of benevolence
are the well-established, organized ones here at home, where people can
see them and know what they are doing."

"You mean the ones that have a local habitation and a name."

"Yes; they offer by far the safest return, though of course there is
something gained by contributing to general funds. A public man can't
afford to be without public spirit. But on the whole I prefer a
building, or an endowment. There is a mutual advantage to a good name
and a good institution in their connection in the public mind. It
helps them both. Remember that, my boy. Of course at the beginning
you will have to practise it in a small way; later, you will have
larger opportunities. But try to put your gifts where they can be
identified and do good all around. You'll see the wisdom of it in the
long run."

"I can see it already, sir, and the way you describe it looks amazingly
wise and prudent. In other words, we must cast our bread on the waters
in large loaves, carried by sound ships marked with the owner's name,
so that the return freight will be sure to come back to us."

The father laughed, but his eyes were frowning a little as if he
suspected something irreverent under the respectful reply. "You put it
humorously, but there's sense in what you say. Why not? God rules the
sea; but He expects us to follow the laws of navigation and commerce.
Why not take good care of your bread, even when you give it away?"

"It's not for me to say why not--and yet I can think of cases--"

The young man hesitated for a moment. His half-finished cigar had gone
out. He rose and tossed it into the fire, in front of which he
remained standing--a slender, eager, restless young figure, with a
touch of hunger in the fine face, strangely like and unlike the father,
at whom he looked with half-wistful curiosity.

"The fact is, sir," he continued, "there is such a case in my mind now,
and it is a good deal on my heart, too. So I thought of speaking to
you about it to-night. You remember Tom Rollins, the Junior who was so
good to me when I entered college?"

The father nodded. He remembered very well indeed the annoying
incidents of his son's first escapade, and how Rollins had stood by him
and helped to avoid a public disgrace, and how a close friendship had
grown between the two boys, so different in their fortunes.

"Yes," he said, "I remember him. He was a promising young man. Has he
succeeded?"

"Not exactly--that is not yet. His business has been going rather
badly. He has a wife and little baby, you know. And now he has broken
down,--something wrong with his lungs. The doctor says his only chance
is a year or eighteen months in Colorado. I wish we could help him."

"How much would it cost?"

"Three or four thousand, perhaps, as a loan."

"Does the doctor say he will get well?"

"A fighting chance--the doctor says."

The face of the older man changed subtly. Not a line was altered, but
it seemed to have a different substance, as if it were carved out of
some firm, imperishable stuff.

"A fighting chance," he said, "may do for a speculation, but it is not
a good investment. You owe something to young Rollins. Your grateful
feeling does you credit. But don't overwork it. Send him three or
four hundred, if you like. You'll never hear from it again, except in
the letter of thanks. But for Heaven's sake don't be sentimental.
Religion is not a matter of sentiment; it's a matter of principle."

The face of the younger man changed now. But instead of becoming fixed
and graven, it seemed to melt into life by the heat of an inward fire.
His nostrils quivered with quick breath, his lips were curled.
"Principle!" he said. "You mean principal--and interest too. Well,
sir, you know best whether that is religion or not. But if it is,
count me out, please. Tom saved me from going to the devil, six years
ago; and I'll be damned if I don't help him to the best of my ability
now."

John Weightman looked at his son steadily. "Harold," he said at last,
"you know I dislike violent language, and it never has any influence
with me. If I could honestly approve of this proposition of yours, I'd
let you have the money; but I can't; it's extravagant and useless. But
you have your Christmas check for a thousand dollars coming to you
to-morrow. You can use it as you please. I never interfere with your
private affairs."

"Thank you," said Harold. "Thank you very much! But there's another
private affair. I want to get away from this life, this town, this
house. It stifles me. You refused last summer when I asked you to let
me go up to Grenfell's Mission on the Labrador. I could go now, at
least as far as the Newfoundland Station. Have you changed your mind?"

"Not at all. I think it is an exceedingly foolish enterprise. It
would interrupt the career that I have marked out for you."

"Well, then, here's a cheaper proposition. Algy Vanderhoof wants me to
join him on his yacht with--well, with a little party--to cruise in the
West Indies. Would you prefer that?"

"Certainly not! The Vanderhoof set is wild and godless--I do not wish
to see you keeping company with fools who walk in the broad and easy
way that leads to perdition."

"It is rather a hard choice," said the young man, with a short laugh,
turning toward the door. "According to you there's very little
difference--a fool's paradise or a fool's hell! Well, it's one or the
other for me, and I'll toss up for it to-night: heads, I lose; tails,
the devil wins. Anyway, I'm sick of this, and I'm out of it."

"Harold," said the older man (and there was a slight tremor in his
voice), "don't let us quarrel on Christmas Eve. All I want is to
persuade you to think seriously of the duties and responsibilities to
which God has called you--don't speak lightly of heaven and
hell--remember, there is another life."

The young man came back and laid his hand upon his father's shoulder.

"Father," he said, "I want to remember it. I try to believe in it.
But somehow or other, in this house, it all seems unreal to me. No
doubt all you say is perfectly right and wise. I don't venture to
argue against it, but I can't feel it--that's all. If I'm to have a
soul, either to lose or to save, I must really live. Just now neither
the present nor the future means anything to me. But surely we won't
quarrel. I'm very grateful to you, and we'll part friends.
Good-night, sir."

The father held out his hand in silence. The heavy portiere dropped
noiselessly behind the son, and he went up the wide, curving stairway
to his own room.

Meantime John Weightman sat in his carved chair in the Jacobean
dining-room. He felt strangely old and dull. The portraits of
beautiful women by Lawrence and Reynolds and Raeburn, which had often
seemed like real company to him, looked remote and uninteresting.

He fancied something cold and almost unfriendly in their expression, as
if they were staring through him or beyond him. They cared nothing for
his principles, his hopes, his disappointments, his successes; they
belonged to another world, in which he had no place. At this he felt a
vague resentment, a sense of discomfort that he could not have defined
or explained. He was used to being considered, respected, appreciated
at his full value in every region, even in that of his own dreams.

Presently he rang for the butler, telling him to close the house and
not to sit up, and walked with lagging steps into the long library,
where the shaded lamps were burning. His eye fell upon the low shelves
full of costly books, but he had no desire to open them. Even the
carefully chosen pictures that hung above them seemed to have lost
their attraction. He paused for a moment before an idyll of Corot--a
dance of nymphs around some forgotten altar in a vaporous glade--and
looked at it curiously. There was something rapturous and serene about
the picture, a breath of spring-time in the misty trees, a harmony of
joy in the dancing figures, that wakened in him a feeling of
half-pleasure and half-envy. It represented something that he had
never known in his calculated, orderly life. He was dimly mistrustful
of it.

"It is certainly very beautiful," he thought, "but it is distinctly
pagan; that altar is built to some heathen god. It does not fit into
the scheme of a Christian life. I doubt whether it is consistent with
the tone of my house. I will sell it this winter. It will bring three
or four times what I paid for it. That was a good purchase, a very
good bargain."

He dropped into the revolving chair before his big library table.

It was covered with pamphlets and reports of the various enterprises in
which he was interested. There was a pile of newspaper clippings in
which his name was mentioned with praise for his sustaining power as a
pillar of finance, for his judicious benevolence, for his support of
wise and prudent reform movements, for his discretion in making
permanent public gifts--"the Weightman Charities," one very complaisant
editor called them, as if they deserved classification as a distinct
species. He turned the papers over listlessly. There was a description
and a picture of the "Weightman Wing of the Hospital for Cripples," of
which he was president; and an article on the new professor in the
"Weightman Chair of Political Jurisprudence" in Jackson University, of
which he was a trustee; and an illustrated account of the opening of
the "Weightman Grammar-School" at Dulwich-on-the-Sound, where he had
his legal residence for purposes of taxation.

This last was perhaps the most carefully planned of all the Weightman
Charities. He desired to win the confidence and support of his rural
neighbors. It had pleased him much when the local newspaper had spoken
of him as an ideal citizen and the logical candidate for the
Governorship of the State; but upon the whole it seemed to him wiser to
keep out of active politics. It would be easier and better to put
Harold into the running, to have him sent to the Legislature from the
Dulwich district, then to the national House, then to the Senate. Why
not? The Weightman interests were large enough to need a direct
representative and guardian at Washington.

But to-night all these plans came back to him with dust upon them.
They were dry and crumbling like forsaken habitations. The son upon
whom his complacent ambition had rested had turned his back upon the
mansion of his father's hopes. The break might not be final; and in
any event there would be much to live for; the fortunes of the family
would be secure. But the zest of it all would be gone if John
Weightman had to give up the assurance of perpetuating his name and his
principles in his son. It was a bitter disappointment, and he felt
that he had not deserved it.

He rose from the chair and paced the room with leaden feet. For the
first time in his life his age was visibly upon him. His head was
heavy and hot, and the thoughts that rolled in it were confused and
depressing. Could it be that he had made a mistake in the principles
of his existence? There was no argument in what Harold had said--it
was almost childish--and yet it had shaken the elder man more deeply
than he cared to show. It held a silent attack which touched him more
than open criticism.

Suppose the end of his life were nearer than he thought--the end must
come some time--what if it were now? Had he not founded his house upon
a rock? Had he not kept the Commandments? Was he not, "touching the
law, blameless"? And beyond this, even if there were some faults in
his character--and all men are sinners--yet he surely believed in the
saving doctrines of religion--the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection
of the body, the life everlasting. Yes, that was the true source of
comfort, after all. He would read a bit in the Bible, as he did every
night, and go to bed and to sleep.

He went back to his chair at the library table. A strange weight of
weariness rested upon him, but he opened the book at a familiar place,
and his eyes fell upon the verse at the bottom of the page.

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth."

That had been the text of the sermon a few weeks before. Sleepily,
heavily, he tried to fix his mind upon it and recall it. What was it
that Doctor Snodgrass had said? Ah, yes--that it was a mistake to
pause here in reading the verse. We must read on without a pause--Lay
not up treasures upon earth where moth and rust do corrupt and where
thieves break through and steal--that was the true doctrine. We may
have treasures upon earth, but they must not be put into unsafe places,
but into safe places. A most comforting doctrine! He had always
followed it. Moths and rust and thieves had done no harm to his
investments.

John Weightman's drooping eyes turned to the next verse, at the top of
the second column.

"But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven."

Now what had the Doctor said about that? How was it to be
understood--in what sense--treasures--in heaven?

The book seemed to float away from him. The light vanished. He
wondered dimly if this could be Death, coming so suddenly, so quietly,
so irresistibly. He struggled for a moment to hold himself up, and
then sank slowly forward upon the table. His head rested upon his
folded hands. He slipped into the unknown.

How long afterward conscious life returned to him he did not know. The
blank might have been an hour or a century. He knew only that
something had happened in the interval. What is was he could not tell.
He found great difficulty in catching the thread of his identity again.
He felt that he was himself; but the trouble was to make his
connections, to verify and place himself, to know who and where he was.

At last it grew clear. John Weightman was sitting on a stone, not far
from a road in a strange land.

The road was not a formal highway, fenced and graded. It was more like
a great travel-trace, worn by thousands of feet passing across the open
country in the same direction. Down in the valley, into which he could
look, the road seemed to form itself gradually out of many minor paths;
little footways coming across the meadows, winding tracks following
along beside the streams, faintly marked trails emerging from the
woodlands. But on the hillside the threads were more firmly woven into
one clear band of travel, though there were still a few dim paths
joining it here and there, as if persons had been climbing up the hill
by other ways and had turned at last to seek the road.

From the edge of the hill, where John Weightman sat, he could see the
travelers, in little groups or larger companies, gathering from time to
time by the different paths, and making the ascent. They were all
clothed in white, and the form of their garments was strange to him; it
was like some old picture. They passed him, group after group, talking
quietly together or singing; not moving in haste, but with a certain
air of eagerness and joy as if they were glad to be on their way to an
appointed place. They did not stay to speak to him, but they looked at
him often and spoke to one another as they looked; and now and then one
of them would smile and beckon him a friendly greeting, so that he felt
they would like him to be with them.

There was quite an interval between the groups; and he followed each of
them with his eyes after it had passed, blanching the long ribbon of
the road for a little transient space, rising and receding across the
wide, billowy upland, among the rounded hillocks of aerial green and
gold and lilac, until it came to the high horizon, and stood outlined
for a moment, a tiny cloud of whiteness against the tender blue, before
it vanished over the hill.

For a long time he sat there watching and wondering. It was a very
different world from that in which his mansion on the Avenue was built;
and it looked strange to him, but most real--as real as anything he had
ever seen. Presently he felt a strong desire to know what country it
was and where the people were going. He had a faint premonition of
what it must be, but he wished to be sure. So he rose from the stone
where he was sitting, and came down through the short grass and the
lavender flowers, toward a passing group of people. One of them turned
to meet him, and held out his hand. It was an old man, under whose
white beard and brows John Weightman thought he saw a suggestion of the
face of the village doctor who had cared for him years ago, when he was
a boy in the country.

"Welcome," said the old man. "Will you come with us?"

"Where are you going?"

"To the heavenly city, to see our mansions there."

"And who are these with you?"

"Strangers to me, until a little while ago; I know them better now.
But you I have known for a long time, John Weightman. Don't you
remember your old doctor?"

"Yes," he cried--"yes; your voice has not changed at all. I'm glad
indeed to see you, Doctor McLean, especially now. All this seems very
strange to me, almost oppressive. I wonder if--but may I go with you,
do you suppose?"

"Surely," answered the doctor, with his familiar smile; "it will do you
good. And you also must have a mansion in the city waiting for you--a
fine one, too--are you not looking forward to it?"

"Yes," replied the other, hesitating a moment; "yes--I believe it must
be so, although I had not expected to see it so soon. But I will go
with you, and we can talk by the way."

The two men quickly caught up with the other people, and all went
forward together along the road. The doctor had little to tell of his
experience, for it had been a plain, hard life, uneventfully spent for
others, and the story of the village was very simple. John Weightman's
adventures and triumphs would have made a far richer, more imposing
history, full of contacts with the great events and personages of the
time. But somehow or other he did not care to speak much about it,
walking on that wide heavenly moorland, under that tranquil, sunless
arch of blue, in that free air of perfect peace, where the light was
diffused without a shadow, as if the spirit of life in all things were
luminous.

There was only one person besides the doctor in that little company
whom John Weightman had known before--an old bookkeeper who had spent
his life over a desk, carefully keeping accounts--a rusty, dull little
man, patient and narrow, whose wife had been in the insane asylum for
twenty years and whose only child was a crippled daughter, for whose
comfort and happiness he had toiled and sacrificed himself without
stint. It was a surprise to find him here, as care-free and joyful as
the rest.

The lives of others in the company were revealed in brief glimpses as
they talked together--a mother, early widowed, who had kept her little
flock of children together and labored through hard and heavy years to
bring them up in purity and knowledge--a Sister of Charity who had
devoted herself to the nursing of poor folk who were being eaten to
death by cancer--a schoolmaster whose heart and life had been poured
into his quiet work of training boys for a clean and thoughtful
manhood--a medical missionary who had given up a brilliant career in
science to take the charge of a hospital in darkest Africa--a beautiful
woman with silver hair who had resigned her dreams of love and marriage
to care for an invalid father, and after his death had made her life a
long, steady search for ways of doing kindnesses to others--a poet who
had walked among the crowded tenements of the great city, bringing
cheer and comfort not only by his songs, but by his wise and patient
works of practical aid--a paralyzed woman who had lain for thirty years
upon her bed, helpless but not hopeless, succeeding by a miracle of
courage in her single aim, never to complain, but always to impart a
bit of joy and peace to every one who came near her. All these, and
other persons like them, people of little consideration in the world,
but now seemingly all full of great contentment and an inward gladness
that made their steps light, were in the company that passed along the
road, talking together of things past and things to come, and singing
now and then with clear voices from which the veil of age and sorrow
was lifted.

John Weightman joined in some of the songs--which were familiar to him
from their use in the church--at first with a touch of hesitation, and
then more confidently. For as they went on his sense of strangeness
and fear at his new experience diminished, and his thoughts began to
take on their habitual assurance and complacency. Were not these
people going to the Celestial City? And was not he in his right place
among them? He had always looked forward to this journey. If they
were sure, each one, of finding a mansion there, could not he be far
more sure? His life had been more fruitful than theirs. He had been a
leader, a founder of new enterprises, a pillar of Church and State, a
prince of the House of Israel. Ten talents had been given him, and he
had made them twenty. His reward would be proportionate. He was glad
that his companions were going to find fit dwellings prepared for them;
but he thought also with a certain pleasure of the surprise that some
of them would feel when they saw his appointed mansion.

So they came to the summit of the moorland and looked over into the
world beyond. It was a vast, green plain, softly rounded like a
shallow vase, and circled with hills of amethyst. A broad, shining
river flowed through it, and many silver threads of water were woven
across the green; and there were borders of tall trees on the banks of
the river, and orchards full of roses abloom along the little streams,
and in the midst of all stood the city, white and wonderful and radiant.

When the travelers saw it they were filled with awe and joy. They
passed over the little streams and among the orchards quickly and
silently, as if they feared to speak lest the city should vanish.

The wall of the city was very low, a child could see over it, for it
was made only of precious stones, which are never large. The gate of
the city was not like a gate a all, for it was not barred with iron or
wood, but only a single pearl, softly gleaming, marked the place where
the wall ended and the entrance lay open.

A person stood there whose face was bright and grave, and whose robe
was like the flower of the lily, not a woven fabric, but a living
texture. "Come in," he said to the company of travelers; "you are at
your journey's end, and your mansions are ready for you."

John Weightman hesitated, for he was troubled by a doubt. Suppose that
he was not really, like his companions, at his journey's end, but only
transported for a little while out of the regular course of his life
into this mysterious experience? Suppose that, after all, he had not
really passed through the door of death, like these others, but only
through the door of dreams, and was walking in a vision, a living man
among the blessed dead. Would it be right for him to go with them into
the heavenly city? Would it not be a deception, a desecration, a deep
and unforgivable offense? The strange, confusing question had no
reason in it, as he very well knew; for if he was dreaming, then it was
all a dream; but if his companions were real, then he also was with
them in reality, and if they had died then he must have died too. Yet
he could not rid his mind of the sense that there was a difference
between them and him, and it made him afraid to go on. But, as he
paused and turned, the Keeper of the Gate looked straight and deep into
his eyes, and beckoned to him. Then he knew that it was not only right
but necessary that he should enter.

They passed from street to street among fair and spacious dwellings,
set in amaranthine gardens, and adorned with an infinitely varied
beauty of divine simplicity. The mansions differed in size, in shape,
in charm: each one seemed to have its own personal look of loveliness;
yet all were alike in fitness to their place, in harmony with one
another, in the addition which each made to the singular and tranquil
splendor of the city.

As the little company came, one by one, to the mansions which were
prepared for them, and their Guide beckoned to the happy inhabitant to
enter in and take possession, there was a soft murmur of joy, half
wonder and half recognition; as if the new and immortal dwelling were
crowned with the beauty of surprise, lovelier and nobler than all the
dreams of it had been; and yet also as if it were touched with the
beauty of the familiar, the remembered, the long-loved. One after
another the travelers were led to their own mansions, and went in
gladly; and from within, through the open doorways came sweet voices of
welcome, and low laughter, and song.

At last there was no one left with the Guide but the two old friends,
Doctor McLean and John Weightman. They were standing in front of one
of the largest and fairest of the houses, whose garden glowed softly
with radiant flowers. The Guide laid his hand upon the doctor's
shoulder.

"This is for you," he said. "Go in; there is no more pain here, no
more death, nor sorrow, nor tears; for your old enemies are all
conquered. But all the good that you have done for others, all the
help that you have given, all the comfort that you have brought, all
the strength and love that you have bestowed upon the suffering, are
here; for we have built them all into this mansion for you."

The good man's face was lighted with a still joy. He clasped his old
friend's hand closely, and whispered: "How wonderful it is! Go on, you
will come to your mansion next, it is not far away, and we shall see
each other again soon, very soon."

So he went through the garden, and into the music within. The Keeper
of the Gate turned to John Weightman with level, quiet, searching eyes.
Then he asked, gravely:

"Where do you wish me to lead you now?"

"To see my own mansion," answered the man, with half-concealed
excitement. "Is there not one here for me? You may not let me enter
it yet, perhaps, for I must confess to you that I am only--"

"I know," said the Keeper of the Gate--"I know it all. You are John
Weightman."

"Yes," said the man, more firmly than he had spoken at first, for it
gratified him that his name was known. "Yes, I am John Weightman,
Senior Warden of St. Petronius' Church. I wish very much to see my
mansion here, if only for a moment. I believe that you have one for
me. Will you take me to it?"

The Keeper of the Gate drew a little book from the breast of his robe
and turned over the pages.

"Certainly," he said, with a curious look at the man, "your name is
here; and you shall see your mansion if you will follow me."

It seemed as if they must have walked miles and miles, through the vast
city, passing street after street of houses larger and smaller, of
gardens richer and poorer, but all full of beauty and delight.

They came into a kind of suburb, where there were many small cottages,
with plots of flowers, very lowly, but bright and fragrant. Finally
they reached an open field, bare and lonely-looking. There were two or
three little bushes in it, without flowers, and the grass was sparse
and thin. In the center of the field was a tiny hut, hardly big enough
for a shepherd's shelter. It looked as if it had been built of
discarded things, scraps and fragments of other buildings, put together
with care and pains, by some one who had tried to make the most of
cast-off material.

There was something pitiful and shamefaced about the hut. It shrank
and drooped and faded in its barren field, and seemed to cling only by
sufferance to the edge of the splendid city.

"This," said the Keeper of the Gate, standing still and speaking with a
low, distinct voice--"this is your mansion, John Weightman."

An almost intolerable shock of grieved wonder and indignation choked
the man for a moment so that he could not say a word. Then he turned
his face away from the poor little hut and began to remonstrate eagerly
with his companion.

"Surely, sir," he stammered, "you must be in error about this. There
is something wrong--some other John Weightman--a confusion of
names--the book must be mistaken."

"There is no mistake," said the Keeper of the Gate, very calmly; "here
is your name, the record of your title and your possessions in this
place."

"But how could such a house be prepared for me," cried the man, with a
resentful tremor in his voice--"for me, after my long and faithful
service? Is this a suitable mansion for one so well known and devoted?
Why is it so pitifully small and mean? Why have you not built it large
and fair, like the others?"

"That is all the material you sent us."

"What!"

"We have used all the material that you sent us," repeated the Keeper
of the Gate.

"Now I know that you are mistaken," cried the man, with growing
earnestness, "for all my life long I have been doing things that must
have supplied you with material. Have you not heard that I have built
a school-house; the wing of a hospital; two--yes, three--small
churches, and the greater part of a large one, the spire of St. Petro--"

The Keeper of the Gate lifted his hand.

"Wait," he said; "we know all these things. They were not ill done.
But they were all marked and used as foundation for the name and
mansion of John Weightman in the world. Did you not plan them for
that?"

"Yes," answered the man, confused and taken aback, "I confess that I
thought often of them in that way. Perhaps my heart was set upon that
too much. But there are other things--my endowment for the college--my
steady and liberal contributions to all the established charities--my
support of every respectable--"

"Wait," said the Keeper of the Gate again. "Were not all these
carefully recorded on earth where they would add to your credit? They
were not foolishly done. Verily, you have had your reward for them.
Would you be paid twice?"

"No," cried the man, with deepening dismay, "I dare not claim that. I
acknowledge that I considered my own interest too much. But surely not
altogether. You have said that these things were not foolishly done.
They accomplished some good in the world. Does not that count for
something?"

"Yes," answered he Keeper of the Gate, "it counts in the world--where
you counted it. But it does not belong to you here. We have saved and
used everything that you sent us. This is the mansion prepared for
you."

As he spoke, his look grew deeper and more searching, like a flame of
fire. John Weightman could not endure it. It seemed to strip him
naked and wither him. He sank to the ground under a crushing weight of
shame, covering his eyes with his hands and cowering face downward upon
the stones. Dimly through the trouble of his mind he felt their
hardness and coldness.

"Tell me, then," he cried, brokenly, "since my life has been so little
worth, how came I here at all?"

"Through the mercy of the King"--the answer was like the soft tolling
of a bell.

"And how have I earned it?" he murmured.

"It is never earned; it is only given," came the clear, low reply.

"But how have I failed so wretchedly," he asked, "in all the purpose of
my life? What could I have done better? What is it that counts here?"

"Only that which is truly given," answered the bell-like voice. "Only
that good which is done for the love of doing it. Only those plans in
which the welfare of others is the master thought. Only those labors
in which the sacrifice is greater than the reward. Only those gifts in
which the giver forgets himself."

The man lay silent. A great weakness, an unspeakable despondency and
humiliation were upon him. But the face of the Keeper of the Gate was
infinitely tender as he bent over him.

"Think again, John Weightman. Has there been nothing like that in your
life?"

"Nothing," he sighed. "If there ever were such things, it must have
been long ago--they were all crowded out--I have forgotten them."

There was an ineffable smile on the face of the Keeper of the Gate, and
his hand made the sign of the cross over the bowed head as he spoke
gently:

"These are the things that the King never forgets; and because there
were a few of them in your life, you have a little place here."

The sense of coldness and hardness under John Weightman's hands grew
sharper and more distinct. The feeling of bodily weariness and
lassitude weighed upon him, but there was a calm, almost a lightness,
in his heart as he listened to the fading vibrations of the silvery
bell-tones. The chimney clock on the mantel had just ended the last
stroke of seven as he lifted his head from the table. Thin, pale
strips of the city morning were falling into the room through the
narrow partings of the heavy curtains.

What was it that had happened to him? Had he been ill? Had he died
and come to life again? Or had he only slept, and had his soul gone
visiting in dreams? He sat for some time, motionless, not lost, but
finding himself in thought. Then he took a narrow book from the table
drawer, wrote a check, and tore it out.

He went slowly up the stairs, knocked very softly at his son's door,
and, hearing no answer, entered without noise. Harold was asleep, his
bare arm thrown above his head, and his eager face relaxed in peace.
His father looked at him a moment with strangely shining eyes, and then
tiptoed quietly to the writing-desk, found a pencil and a sheet of
paper, and wrote rapidly:

"My dear boy, here is what you asked me for; do what you like with it,
and ask for more if you need it. If you are still thinking of that
work with Grenfell, we'll talk it over to-day after church. I want to
know your heart better; and if I have made mistakes--"

A slight noise made him turn his head. Harold was sitting up in bed
with wide-open eyes.

"Father!" he cried, "is that you?"

"Yes, my son," answered John Weightman; "I've come back--I mean I've
come up--no, I mean come in--well, here I am, and God give us a good
Christmas together."

End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of The Mansion, by Henry Van Dyke

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/704