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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 134.djvu/383

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377
THE RIDDLE OF DEATH.

wakeful that I had been conversing with him on ordinary subjects to while away the long hours. Suddenly, while we were thus talking quietly together, he became silent, and fixed his eyes on one particular spot in the room, which was entirely vacant, even of furniture; at the same time a look of the greatest delight changed the whole expression of his face, and after a moment of what seemed to be intense scrutiny of some object invisible to me, he said to me in a joyous tone, 'There is Jim.' Jim was a little son whom he had lost the year before, and whom I had known well, but the dying man had a son still living, named John, for whom we had sent, and I concluded it was of John he was speaking, and that he thought he heard him arriving; so I answered, —

"'No. John has not been able to come.'

"The man turned to me impatiently and said, 'I do not mean John, I know he is not here, it is Jim, my little lame Jim; surely you remember him?'

"'Yes,' I said, 'I remember dear little Jim who died last year, quite well.'

"'Don't you see him then? There he is,' said the man, pointing to the vacant space on which his eyes were fixed; and when I did not answer, he repeated almost fretfully, 'Don't you see him standing there?'

"I answered that I could not see him, though I felt perfectly convinced that something was visible to the sick man, which I could not perceive. When I gave him this answer he seemed quite amazed, and turned round to look at me with a glance almost of indignation. As his eyes met mine, I saw that a film seemed to pass over them, the light of intelligence died away, he gave a gentle sigh and expired. He did not live five minutes from the time he first said, 'There is Jim,' although there had been no sign of approaching death previous to that moment.

"The second case was that of a boy about fourteen years of age, dying also of decline. He was a refined, highly educated child, who throughout his long illness had looked forward with much hope and longing to the unknown life to which he believed he was hastening. On a bright summer morning it became evident that he had reached his last hour. He lost the power of speech, chiefly from weakness, but he was perfectly sensible, and made his wishes known to us by his intelligent looks. He was sitting propped up in bed, and had been looking rather sadly at the bright sunshine playing on the trees outside his open window for some time. He had turned away from this scene, however, and was facing the end of the room, where there was nothing whatever but a closed door, when all in a moment the whole expression of his face changed to one of the most wondering rapture, which made his half-closed eyes open to their utmost extent, while his lips parted with a smile of perfect ecstasy; it was impossible to doubt that some glorious sight was visible to him, and from the movement of his eyes it was plain that it was not one but many objects on which he gazed, for his look passed slowly from end to end of what seemed to be the vacant wall before him, going back and forward with ever-increasing delight manifested in his whole aspect. His mother then asked him if what he saw was some wonderful sight beyond the confines of this world, to give her a token that it was so, by pressing her hand. He at once took her hand, and pressed it meaningly, giving thereby an intelligent affirmative to her question, though unable to speak. As he did so a change passed over his face, his eyes closed, and in a few minutes he was gone.

"The third case, which was that of my own brother, was very similar to this last. He was an elderly man, dying of a painful disease, but one which never for a moment obscured his faculties. Although it was known to be incurable, he had been told that he might live some months, when somewhat suddenly the summons came on a dark January morning. It had been seen in the course of the night that he was sinking, but for some time he had been perfectly silent and motionless, apparently in a state of stupor; his eyes closed and his breathing scarcely perceptible. As the tardy dawn of the winter morning revealed the rigid features of the countenance from which life and intelligence seemed to have quite departed, those who watched him felt uncertain whether he still lived; but suddenly, while they bent over him to ascertain the truth, he opened his eyes wide, and gazed eagerly upward with such an unmistakable expression of wonder and joy, that a thrill of awe passed through all who witnessed it. His whole face grew bright with a strange gladness, while the eloquent eyes seemed literally to shine as if reflecting some light on which they gazed; he remained in this attitude of delighted surprise for some minutes, then in a moment the eyelids fell, the head drooped forward, and with one long breath the spirit departed."