By Timothy Shay Arthur, 1853
"Do you remember Anna May, who sewed for you about a year ago?" said one fashionably-dressed lady to another.
"That pale, quiet girl, who made up dresses for the children?"
"The one I sent you."
"Oh yes; very well. I had forgotten her name. What has become of her? If I remember rightly, I engaged her for a week or two in the fall; but she did not keep her engagement."
"Poor thing!" said the first lady, whose name was Mrs. Bell, "she'll keep no more engagements of that kind."
"Why so? Is she dead?" The tone in which these brief questions were asked, evinced no lively interest in the fate of the poor sewing-girl.
"Not dead; but very near the end of life's weary pilgrimage."
"Ah, well! we must all die, I suppose — though it's no pleasant thing to think about. But I am glad you called in this morning" — the lady's voice rose into a more cheerful tone — "I was just about putting on my things to go down to Mrs. Bobinet's opening. You intend going, of course. I shall be so delighted to have you along, for I want to consult your taste about a bonnet."
"I came out for a different purpose altogether, Mrs. Ellis," said Mrs. Bell, "and have called to ask you to go with me."
"To see Anna May."
"What! — that poor seamstress of whom you just spoke?" There was a look of sincere surprise in the lady's countenance.
"Yes, the poor seamstress, Anna May. Her days in this world are nearly numbered. I went to see her yesterday, and found her very low. She cannot long remain on this side the river of death. I am now on my way to her mother's house. Will you not go with me?"
"No, no," replied Mrs. Ellis, quickly, while a shadow fell over her face; "why should I go? I never took any particular interest in the girl. And as for dying, everything in relation thereto is unpleasant to me. I can't bear to think of death — it makes me shudder all over!"
"You have never looked in the face of death?" asked Mrs. Lee.
"And never wish to," replied Mrs. Ellis, feelingly. "Oh, if it wasn't for terrible death — what a joyful thing life might be!"
"Anna May has looked death in the face; but does not find his aspect so appalling. She calls him a beautiful angel, who is about to take her by the hand, and lead her up gently and lovingly to her Father's house."
There came into the face of Mrs. Ellis a sudden look of wonder.
"Are you in earnest, Mrs. Bell?"
"Altogether in earnest."
"The mind of the girl is unbalanced."
"No, Mrs. Ellis; never was it more evenly poised. Come with me — it will do you good."
"Don't urge me, Mrs. Bell. If I go, it will make me sad for a week. Is the sick girl in need any comfort? — I will freely minister thereto. But I do not wish to look upon death."
"In this aspect, it is beautiful to look upon. Go with me, then. The experience will be something accompany you through life. The image of frightful monster is in your mind; you may now have it displaced by the form of an angel."
"How strangely you talk, Mrs. Bell! How can death be an angel? Is anything more terrible than death?"
"The phantom called death, which a diseased imagination conjures up, may be terrible to look upon; but death itself is a kind messenger, whose duty it is to summon us from this world of shadows and changes, to a world of eternal light and unfading beauty. But come, Mrs. Ellis; I must urge you to go with me. Do not fear a shock to your feelings, for none will be experienced."
So earnest were Mrs. Bell's persuasions, that her friend at last consented to go with her. At no great distance from the elegant residence of Mrs. Ellis, in an obscure neighborhood, was a small house, humble in exterior, and modestly, yet neatly attired within. At the door of this house the ladies paused, and were admitted by a woman somewhat advanced in years, on whose mild face sorrow and holy resignation were beautifully blended.
"How is your daughter?" inquired Mrs. Bell, as soon as they were seated in the small, neat parlor.
"Not so strong as when you were here yesterday," was answered, with a faint smile. "She is sinking hourly."
"But continues in the same tranquil, heavenly state?"
"Oh yes." There was a sweet, yet touching earnestness in the mother's voice. "Dear child! Her life has been pure and unselfish; and now, when her change is about to come — all is peace, and hope, and patient waiting for the time when she will be clothed upon with immortality."
"Is she strong enough to see anyone?" asked Mrs. Bell.
"The presence of others in no way disturbs her. Will you walk up into her chamber, friends?"
The two ladies ascended the narrow stairs, and Mrs. Ellis found herself, for the first time in many years, in the presence of one about to die. A slender girl, with large, mild eyes, and face almost as white as the pillow it pressed, was before her. The unmistakable signs of speedy death were on the pale, shrunken features; not beautiful, in the ordinary acceptance of beauty, but from the pure spirit within. Radiant with heavenly light, was the smile that instantly played upon her lips.
"How are you today, Anna?" kindly inquired Mrs. Bell, as she took the shadowy hand of the dying girl.
"Weaker in body than when you were here yesterday," was answered; "but stronger in spirit."
"I have brought Mrs. Ellis to see you. You remember Mrs. Ellis?"
Anna lifted her bright eyes to the face of Mrs. Ellis, and said —
"Oh yes, very well;" and she feebly extended her hand. The lady touched her hand with an emotion akin to awe. As yet, the scene oppressed and bewildered her. There was something about it that was dreamlike and unreal. "Death! death!" she questioned with herself; "can this be dying?"
"Your day will soon close, Anna," said Mrs. Bell, in a cheerful tone.
"Or, as we say," quickly replied Anna, smiling, "my morning will soon break. It is only a kind of twilight here. I am waiting for the day-dawn."
"My dear young lady," said Mrs. Ellis, with much earnestness, bending over the dying girl as she spoke — the newness and strangeness of the scene had so wrought upon her feelings, that she could not repress their utterance — "Is all indeed as you say? Are you inwardly so calm, so hopeful, so confident of the morning? Forgive me such a question, at such a moment. But the thought of death has ever been terrible to me; and now, to see a fellow-mortal standing, as you are, so near the grave, and yet speaking in cheerful tones of the last agony, fills me with wonder. Is it all real? Are you so full of heavenly tranquility?"
Was the light dimmed in Anna's eyes by such pressing questions? Did they turn her thoughts too realizingly upon the "last agony?" Oh no! Even in the waning hours of life, her quickest impulse was to render service to another. Earnest, therefore, was her desire to remove from the lady's mind this fear of death, even though she felt the waters of Jordan already touching her own descending feet.
"God is love," she said, and with an emphasis that gave to the mind of Mrs. Ellis a new appreciation of the words. "In his love he made us, that he might bless us with infinite and eternal blessings, and these await us in Heaven. And now that he sends an angel to take me by the hand and lead me up to my heavenly home, shall I tremble and fear to accompany the celestial messenger? Does the child, long separated from a loving parent, shrink at the thought of going home, or ask the hours to linger? Oh no!"
"But all is so uncertain," said Mrs. Ellis, eager to penetrate further into the mystery.
"Uncertain!" There was something of surprise in the voice of Anna May. "God is truth as well as love; and both in his love and truth, he is unchangeable. When, as Divine Truth, he came to our earth, and spoke as never man spoke, he said, 'In my Father's house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you.' The heavens and the earth may pass away, Mrs. Ellis, but not a jot or tittle of the divine word can fail."
"Ah! but the preparation for those heavenly mansions!" said Mrs. Ellis. "The preparation, Anna! Who may be certain of this?"
The eyes of the sick girl closed, the long lashes resting like a dark fringe on her snowy cheek. For more than a moment, she lay silent and motionless; then looking up, she answered —
"God is love. If we would be with him — we must love him, and be like him."
"How are we to be like him, Anna?" asked Mrs. Ellis.
"He is love; but not a love of himself. He loves and seeks to bless others. We must do the same."
"And have you, Anna — "
But the words died on the lips of the speaker. Again had the drooping lashes fallen, and the pale lids closed over the beautiful eyes. And now a sudden light shone through the transparent tissue of that wan face — a light, the rays of which none who saw them needed to be told were but gleams of the heavenly morning just breaking for the mortal sleeper.
How hushed the room — how motionless the group that bent forward toward the one just passing away! Was it the rustle of angels garments that penetrated the inward sense of hearing?
It is over! The pure spirit of that humble girl, who, in her sphere, was loving, and true, and faithful — has ascended to the God in whose infinite love she reposed a childlike and unwavering confidence. Calmly and sweetly she went to sleep, like an infant on its mother's bosom, knowing that the everlasting arms were beneath and around her.
And thus, in the by-ways and obscure places of life, are daily passing away the humble, loving, true-hearted ones. The world esteems them lightly; but they are precious in the sight of God. When the time of their departure comes, they shrink not back in fear, but lift their hands trustingly to the angel messenger, whom their Father sends to lead them up to their home in Heaven. With them is the true "peaceful death."
"Is not that a new experience in life?" said Mrs. Bell, as the two ladies walked slowly homeward. With a deep sigh, the other answered —
"New and wonderful. I scarcely comprehend what I have seen. Such a lesson from such a source! How lightly I thought of that poor sewing-girl, who came and went so unobtrusively! How little I dreamed that so rich a jewel was in so plain a casket! Ah! I shall be wiser for this — wiser, and I may hope, better. Oh, to be able to die as she has died! — what of mere earthly good, would I not cheerfully sacrifice!"
"It is for us all," calmly answered Mrs. Bell. "The secret we have just heard — we must be like God."
"How — how?"
"He loves others out of himself, and seeks their good. If we would be like him — we must do the same."
Yes, this is the secret of an easy death — and the only true secret.