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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 134.djvu/384

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378
THE PEAK IN DARIEN:

A different kind of case to those above narrated by my friend was that of a young girl known to me, who had passed through the miserable experiences of a sinful life at Aldershot, and then had tried to drown herself in the river Avon, near Clifton. She was in some way saved from suicide, and placed for a time in a penitentiary; but her health was found to be hopelessly ruined, and she was sent to die in the quaint old workhouse of St. Peter's at Bristol. For many months she lay in the infirmary literally perishing piecemeal of disease, but exhibiting patience and sweetness of disposition quite wonderful to witness. She was only eighteen, poor young creature! when all her little round of error and pain had been run; and her innocent, pretty face might have been that of a child. She never used any sort of cant (so common among women who have been in refuges), but had apparently somehow got hold of a very living and real religion, which gave her comfort and courage, and inspired her with the beautiful spirit with which she bore her frightful sufferings. On the wall opposite her bed there hung by chance a print of the Lost Sheep, and Mary S———, looking at it one day, said to me, "That is just what I was, and what happened to me; but I am being brought safe home now." For a long time before her death, her weakness was such that she was quite incapable of lifting herself up in bed, or of supporting herself when lifted, and she, of course, continued to lie with her head on the pillow while life gradually and painfully ebbed away, and she seemingly became nearly unconscious. In this state she had been left one Saturday night by the nurse in attendance. Early at dawn next morning — an Easter morning, as it chanced — the poor old women who occupied the other beds in the ward were startled from their sleep by seeing Mary S——— suddenly spring up to a sitting posture in her bed, with her arms outstretched and her face raised, as if in a perfect rapture of joy and welcome. The next instant the body of the poor girl fell back a corpse. Her death had taken place in that moment of mysterious ecstasy.

A totally different case again was that of a man of high intellectual distinction, well-known in the world of letters. When dying peacefully, as became the close of a profoundly religious life, and having already lost the power of speech, he was observed suddenly to look up as if at some spectacle invisible to those around, with an expression of solemn surprise and awe, very characteristic, it is said, of his habitual frame of mind. At that instant, and before the look had time to falter or change, the shadow of death passed over his face, and the end had come.

In yet another case I am told that at the last moment so bright a light seemed suddenly to shine from the face of a dying man, that the clergyman and another friend who were attending him actually turned simultaneously to the window to seek for the cause.

Another incident of a very striking character occurred in a well-known family, one of whose members narrated it to me. A dying lady, exhibiting the aspect of joyful surprise to which we have so often referred, spoke of seeing, one after another, three of her brothers who had long been dead, and then apparently recognized last of all a fourth brother, who was believed by the bystanders to be still living in India. The coupling of his name with that of his dead brothers excited such awe and horror in the mind of one of the persons present, that she rushed half-senseless from the room. In due course of time letters were received announcing the death of the brother in India, which had occurred some time before his dying sister seemed to recognize him.

Again, in another case a gentleman who had lost his only son some years previously, and who had never recovered the afflicting event, exclaimed suddenly when dying, with the air of a man making a most rapturous discovery, "I see him! I see him!"

Not to multiply such anecdotes too far — anecdotes which certainly possess a uniformity pointing to some similar cause, whether that cause be physiological or psychical — I will now conclude with one authenticated by a near relative of the persons concerned. A late well-known bishop was commonly called by his sisters "Charlie," and his eldest sister bore the pet name of "Liz." They had both been dead for some years when their younger sister, Mrs. W———, also died, but before her death appeared to behold them both. While lying still and apparently unconscious she suddenly opened her eyes and looked earnestly across the room, as if she saw some one entering. Presently, as if overjoyed, she exclaimed, "O Charlie!" and then, after a moment's pause, with a new start of delight, as if he had been joined by some one else, she went on, "And Liz!" and then added, "How beautiful you are!" After seeming to gaze at the two beloved forms for a few