That evening we left for Chicago. We breakfasted and dined with Mr. Moody at the Brevoort House, and arranged that we should take up the work in Chicago, Sunday, December 31; I going back to Peoria, and Bliss going to visit his children until that time. After the Lord was through with us in Chicago, we were to go to England. Bliss yielded about coming to Chicago, but to the last was unconvinced as to its being best.
They left that Friday afternoon by the 5:15 Michigan Southern train. Before leaving the hotel, we met for a few moments of prayer in Room 13, and I parted with them there, never again to meet on earth. He passed the following Sunday in Towanda, Pennsylvania, with his mother and his sister, Mrs. Wilson. Three letters that he wrote from there all speak of the joy he felt at the meeting with the mother - of his thankfulness for the peace that seemed to be filling her soul and the blessing her prayers and faith had been to him. Monday, December 18th, he rode by stage to Rome, and the parents were with their dear little boys again. All of the associations of home for both of them clustered around Father Young's house in Rome, their frequent happy resting-place on life's journey; they came with joy to it now, both almost as merry as their little boys. They had been purchasing and making articles for Christmas presents for weeks, and came with a trunk full of surprises for the approaching holiday. When Christmas came, Mother Bliss was sent for, and all the family circle within reach were gathered at the old home. Mr. Bliss was the Santa Claus. On Saturday he went out on to the hillside and cut the Christmas tree, and with his own hands arranged it in the parlor and hung his surprises. Saturday evening, the presents were distributed and "the happiest Christmas he had ever known," as he said, was quickly passed. He had surprises for everybody and spent the day in making everybody happy. From Grandma Allen down to little George, everybody in the entire circle was remembered, and portions were sent outside the circle to all of whom he could learn in the village as being in want. He himself was not without his surprises. Gifts from the wife and other loved ones, and a magnificent music box from his loved friend and publisher, Mr. Church, added to his happiness. This Christmas was to him the crowning joy and mercy of a year of joys and mercies. His heart overflowed with thankfulness to God and with earnest desire to do more in the service of Christ. He visited nearly every day among the neighbors, and urged the claims of Christ upon the personal attention of those unsaved.
He attended nearly every meeting, and sang and gave Bible readings, and made personal appeals to his friends to at once decide for Christ. All testify that they never knew him so earnest. Grandma Allen says: "Why, that man would come in and say, 'Grandma, I wish I could see every person in this valley a Christian.'" The dear old Grandma is very quaint and original in her way, and "phil," as all at home called him, loved to draw out her odd sayings. The little account Grandma gave me of one of his home meetings with them, on one of the last days, when they gathered for a Bible talk and sing, will illustrate the enjoyment she gave him. She said: "He had been asking them all around where they had rather have seen Jesus, when He was on the earth, if they had to select one place. They all selected different places, and he said he would rather have seen Him as He went up into heaven from the Mount of Olives; and then he asked me where I had rather have seen Him, and I told him that I had rather have seen Him when He was a little helpless baby, there in the manger, among the oxen, and helped take care of Him, and he just cried about it."
God blessed Mr. Bliss' testimony and labor during this last week to the conversion of many old friends and neighbors, and some score or more feel that they owe their decision to his influence, and that the light they have received from the Son of God came through him.
Mr. Bliss' last meeting was held Wednesday evening, December 27. He was full of the Holy Spirit, and sang with more than usual power. Among the pieces that friends remember as sung that night are: "Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed?" to the tune of Dundee; "Happy Day" and "In the Christian's Home in Glory." He sang as solos, "Eternity," "Father, I'm Tired," and as a closing song "Hold Fast Til I Come." In singing, "Father, I'm Tired," he took occasion to speak of his companion in the work, and of his affection for him, and that he would sing the piece because it was one of his favorites. The last song, probably, that he sang on earth, was "Hold Fast Till I Come." He prefaced his singing it by saying that it was one of the first occasions of its being sung, and that it might be the last song he should ever sing to them.
On Wednesday, a letter came to me from Mr. Bliss, in which he wrote:
This letter came in the morning. He had been advertised to sing in Mr. Moody's Tabernacle the following Sunday afternoon. It was necessary to telegraph him to come. But evening came and found me at my home and the telegram was not sent. I had not forgotten it, but did not want to send it. I did not know then, I do not know now, why. All day long, it was upon my mind, and was spoken of to friends that Bliss must be telegraphed for, and that I did not like to take the responsibility of doing it. Late in the evening, the dispatch was forwarded.
Thursday morning, he took his little boys into a room by themselves and prayed with them, bade good-bye to all, and, standing upon the threshold for a moment, said, "I would love to stay. I would far rather stay than go, if it were God's will; but I must be about the Master's work." He wrote back from Waverly, New York, a station on the Erie Railroad, the same afternoon: "Tickets for Chicago, via Buffalo and Lake Shore Railroad. Baggage checked through. Shall be in Chicago Friday night. God bless you all forever."
Taking the afternoon train at Waverly, he expected to be in Buffalo at twelve o'clock that night, and connect with a train that would arrive in Chicago Friday evening. Ten miles up from Waverly (as I learned from the conductor, in tracing him up), the engine of the train broke, and they were detained three hours. Their connection with this train was thus lost; and upon arriving at Hornellsville late in the evening, the evidently decided to wait over, and have a night's rest, and arrive in Chicago Saturday morning at nine o'clock - for at Hornellsville they left the train, and are registered at the hotel, which they left Friday morning, taking the train which connected at Buffalo with the Chicago train, wrecked at Ashtabula, Ohio. The children were not with them, but had been left at Rome, Pennsylvania, in the care of grandparents and aunt.
The story of the disaster by which these two precious lives were lost will be found in another chapter. What experience they passed through, that night of fear and pain, we shall not know until we meet them on the other side. We may confidently believe that God gave the abundant grace for all they met of suffering, and that Christ was consciously near to them in their moment of need.
The time was shortened for the elect's sake and they were soon at home. From all the evidence that could be gathered from the testimony of survivors, it is believed that the Buffalo and Cleveland parlor car, in which they were seen by Mr. Burchell, a lady passenger, and by the newsboy of the train, struck first upon the ice after the fall of the bridge, and that another car fell upon it, crushing and probably instantly killing the passengers within. The floor of this car was identified in removing the wreck, and lay flat upon the ice, with the water that had come from the melted snow and ice, mingled with ashes and cinders frozen over it, substantiating the above theory.
Saturday morning, December 30th, when I read the report of the disaster, my heart sank within me, and I feared the worst. I immediately telegraphed to Rome to know if Mr. Bliss had left. But about three o'clock in the afternoon, before any reply from Rome, Mr. Burchell's telegram came, and we were face to face with the awful fact of their death. The next morning we were at Ashtabula, and remained for three days, until all the wreck had been removed, searching first for their bodies, then for anything that could be identified as having been connected with them. We found nothing; and up to this time nothing has been found. Their watches, sleeve buttons, chains, keys, rings, not one thing connected with them has come to light. Scores of such articles have been raked up from the bottom of the river, but none of them are theirs. They have gone, as absolutely and completely gone, as if translated like Enoch.
Of the meeting with the stricken households, and the dear orphan boys, and the days of mourning passed with them, I cannot speak. God graciously manifested Himself in the comfort vouchsafed to the aged parents, and to brothers and sisters who shared their grief, and it was better indeed to be "in the house of mourning than the house of feasting." Some of the number there gathered were led to consecrate themselves to the work of Christ, and are now engaged in prosecuting the work of the dear departed brother in singing the Gospel. Many at the funeral service held in Rome were led to accept of Christ, and from all over the land has come testimony that Christ has been magnified in the death of His child as in his life. Scores, by the very fact o his death, have been impressed and turned to God. Hundreds will receive the truth through the pathos of memory of his death, giving new meaning to the truths of his songs. "God's ways are always right." No mistake has been made. We bow in submission to His will, and pray that this afflictive providence may be sanctified to us by the Spirit of God and that, "with windows open toward Jerusalem," we may live day by day, ready for "the coming of the King in His beauty," or for our departure to be with Him. "Amen, even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus."
The following lines, printed upon a leaflet, were found in Mr. Bliss' trunk. He carried the leaf for a long time in his pocketbook, until creased and worn, and it was placed among his papers. God in grace grant to writer and to readers, that the message may be as appropriate as a voice from us, when we depart to be with Christ, as it surely is in every line from him.
I shine in the light of God, Rev. xxi. 23 His likeness stamps my brow, 1 John iii. 2 Through the shadows of death my feet have trod, 1 Cor. xv. 55 And I reign in Glory now! Rev. xxii. 5 No breaking heart is here, Matt. xxvi. 38 No keen and thrilling pain, Job xxxiii. 19 No wasted cheek, where the frequent tear Rev. xxi. 4 Hath roll'd and left its stain. Ps. xlii. 3. I have found the joys of Heaven, Is. xxxv. 10 I am one of the angel-band: Heb. xii. 22 To my head a crown of gold is given, 1 Pet. v. 4 And a harp is in my hand! Rev. xiv. 2 I have learn'd the song they sing, Is. xxxviii. 20 Whom Jesus hath set free; John viii. 36 And the glorious walls of Heaven still ring Is. lx. 18 With my new-born melody! Rev. xv. 3 No sin, no grief, no pain - Is. xxv. 8 Safe in my happy home! John xiv. 2 My fears all fled, my doubts all slain, Acts vii. 55 My hour of triumph come! Rom. viii. 37 O friends of mortal years, Prov. xvii. 17 The trusted and the true! 1 John i. 7 Ye are walking still through the valley of tears, Heb. x. 36 But I wait to welcome you. Luke xvi. 22
Farewell, dear friend and brother, true yokefellow in the service of Jesus Christ. The path is often lonely without you, and as they sing the songs you used to sing, and we listen in vain for the voice so wedded to the music, and music so wedded to the words, our hearts ache as the echoes die away, and a strange silence is on the air, as if the song itself mourned for the singer. No resting place beneath the sod can receive the tears we would shed, or the flowers we would bring to tell how we loved you. We turn from the earthly memories to the heavenward realities. The days are fast passing by; soon upon the other shore we shall greet you, and you shall lead our praises to Him who hath redeemed us from our sins by His shed blood, and in His risen life hath given us resurrection hope, and to whom, even Jesus Christ our Lord, we now give all the praise for every sweet memory and for every precious anticipation of future joy connected with you.Do I forget? - Oh, no! Mal. iii. 16 For memory's golden chain 2 Pet. i. 15 Shall bind my heart to the hearts below, 1 John iv. 7 Till they meet and touch again. 1 Thess. iv. 13 Each link is strong and bright, John i. 51 And love's electric flame, Dan. ix. 21 Flows freely down like a river of light Rev. xxii. 1 To the world from which I came. 1 John iv. 9 Do you mourn when another star 1 Cor. xv. 41 Shines out from the glittering sky? Dan. xii. 3 Do you weep when the raging voice of war Deut. xxxii. 1 And the storms of conflict die? Mark iv. 39 Then why do your tears run down, Luke viii. 52 And your hears be sorely riven, Prov. xiv. 10 For another gem in the Savior's crown, Is. lxii. 3 And another soul in heaven? Luke xxiii. 43