By Timothy Shay Arthur, 1853
In the very springtime of young womanhood, the destroyer had come; and though he laid his hand upon her gently at first, yet the touch was none the less fatal. But, while her frail body wasted, her spirit remained peaceful. As the sun of her natural life sank low in the sky, the bright auroral precursor of another day smiled along the eastern verge of her spiritual horizon. There was in her heart neither doubt, nor fear, nor shrinking.
"Dear Marion!" said Anna, dropping a tear upon her white transparent hand, as she pressed it to her lips, a few weeks after the alarming hemorrhage just mentioned; "how can you look at this event so calmly?"
They had been speaking of death, and Marion had alluded to its approach to Anna, with a strange cheerfulness, as if she felt it to be nothing more than a journey to another and far pleasanter land than that wherein she now dwelt.
"Why should I look upon this change with other than tranquil feelings?" she asked.
"Why? How can you ask such a question, sister?" returned Anna. "To me, there has been always something in the thought of death that made the blood run cold about my heart."
"This," replied Marion, with one of her sweet smiles, "is because your ideas of death have been, from the first, confused and erroneous. You thought of the cold and pulseless body; the pale winding-sheet; the narrow coffin, and the deep, dark grave. But, I do not let my thoughts rest on these. To me, death involves the idea of eternal life. I cannot think of the one, without the other. Should the chrysalis tremble at the coming change? — the dull worm in its cerements shrink from the moment when, ordained by nature, it must rise into a new life, and expand its wings in the sunny air? How much less cause have I to tremble and shrink back as the hour approaches when this mortal is to put on immortality?"
"Yours is a beautiful faith," said Anna. "And its effects, as seen now that the hour from which all shrink approaches, are strongly corroborative of its truth."
"It is beautiful because it is true," replied Marion. "There is no real beauty that is not the form of something good and true."
"If I were as good as you, I might not shrink from death," remarked Anna, with a transient sigh.
"I hope you are better than I am, dear; and think you are," said
"Oh, no!" quickly returned Anna.
"Do you purpose evil in your heart?" asked Marion, seriously.
Anna seemed half surprised at the question.
"Evil! Evil! I hope not," she replied, as a shadow came over her face.
"It is an evil purpose only that should make us fear death, Anna; for therein lies the only cause of fear. Death, to those who love themselves and the world above everything else, is a sad event; but to those who love God and their neighbor supremely, it is a happy change."
"That is all true," said Anna. "My reason assents to it. But, in the act of dissolution — in that mortal strife, when the soul separates itself from the body — there is something from which my heart shrinks and trembles down fainting in my bosom. Ah! In the crossing of that river from which no traveler has returned to tell us of what is beyond, there is something that more than half appals me."
"There is much that takes away the fear you have mentioned," replied Marion. "It is the uncertain which causes us to tremble and shrink back. But, when we know what is before us — we prepare ourselves to meet it."
"If these doctrines can take away the fear of death, which so haunts the mind of even those who are striving to live pure lives, they are indeed a legacy of good to the world. Oh, Marion, how much I have suffered, ever since the days of my childhood, from this dreadful fear of death!"
"They take away the fear of death," returned Marion; "because they remove the uncertainty which has heretofore gathered like a gloomy pall over the last hours of mortality. When the soul of lover or friend passed from this world, it seemed to plunge into a dark profound, and there came not back an echo to tell of his fate. 'The journey from which no traveler returns!' Oh! the painful eloquence of that single line. But, now, we who receive the doctrine of which I speak, can look beyond this river of death; and though the traveler returns not, yet we know something of how he fared on his entrance into the new country."
"Then we need not fear for you," said Anna, tenderly, "when you are called to pass this river?"
"No, sister," replied Marion, "I know in Whom I have believed, and I feel sure that it will be well with me, so far as I have shunned what is evil and sought to do good. Do not think of me as sinking into some gloomy abyss; or awakening from my sleep of death, startled, amazed, or shocked by the sudden transition. Loving angels will be my companions as I descend into the valley and the shadow of death; and I will fear no evil. Upon the other side I will be received among those who have gone before, and I will scarcely feel that there has been a change as I pass upward to my place in Heaven."
The mother of Marion entered her room at this moment, and the conversation was suspended. But it was renewed again soon after, and the gentle-hearted, spiritual-minded girl continued to talk of the other world as one preparing for a journey talks about the new country into which he is about going, and of whose geography, and the manners and customs of whose people, he has made himself conversant from books.
Not long did she remain on this side of the dark valley, through which she was to pass. A few months wound up the story of her earthly life, and she went peacefully and confidently on her way to her eternal dwelling-place. It was a bitter-sweet time, when the parting hour came, and the mother, brother, and dearly loved adopted sister, gathered around Marion's bed to see her die.
"God is love," said Marion, a short time before she passed away. She was holding the hand of her mother, and looking tenderly in her face. "How exquisite is my perception of this truth. It comes upon me with a power which subdues my spirit, yet fills it with ineffable peace. With what a wondrous love, has he regarded us! I never had had so intense a perception of this as now."
Marion closed her eyes, and for some time lay silent, while a heavenly smile irradiated her features. Then looking up, she said, and as she spoke, she took the hand of Anna and placed it within that of her mother —
"When I am gone, let the earthly love you bore me, mother, be added to that already felt for our dear Anna. Think of me as in Heaven."
In spite of her effort to restrain them, tears gushed from the eyes of Mrs. Lee, and fell like rain over her cheeks. For a short time she bent to her dying one, and clasped her wildly to her bosom. But the calmness of a deeply laid trust in divine Providence was soon restored to her spirit, and she said, speaking of Anna —
"Without her, how could we part with you? I do not think I could bear it."
"I shall go before you only a little while," returned Marion, "only a very little while. A few years — how quickly they will hurry by! A few more days of labor — and your earthly tasks will be done. Then we shall meet again!"
A light, as if reflected from the sun of Heaven, beamed from the countenance of Marion, who closed her eyes, and, in a little while, fell off into a gentle sleep. Silently did those who loved her with more than human tenderness — for there was in their affection, a love of goodness for its own sake — bend over and watch the face of the sweet sleeper, even until there came stealing upon them the fear that she would not awaken again in this world. And the fear was not groundless; for thus she passed away. To her, death came as a gentle messenger, to bid her go up higher. And she obeyed the summons without a mortal fear.
No passionate grief at their loss raged wildly in the bosoms of those who suffered this great bereavement. For years, the mother and son had daily striven against selfish feelings as evil; and now, comprehending with the utmost clearness that Marion's removal was, for her, a blessed change — their hearts were thankful, even while tears wet their cheeks. They mourned for her departure, because they were human; they suffered pain, for ties of the most tender love had been snapped asunder; they wept, because in weeping, nature found relief. Yet, in all, peace brooded over their spirits.
When the fading, wasting form of earth which Marion's pure spirit had worn, as a garment, but now laid aside forever, was borne out, and consigned to its kindred clay, those who remained behind experienced no new emotions of grief. To them Marion still lived. This was the old mortal body, which veiled, rather than made visible, her real beauty. Now she was clothed in a spiritual body, that was transcendently beautiful. To lay the useless garment aside was not, therefore, a painful task. This done, each member of the bereaved family returned to his and her life-tasks, and, in the faithful discharge of daily duties, found a sustaining power.
But Marion was not lost to them. Ever present was she in their thought and affection, and often, in dreams, she was with them — yet, never as the suffering mortal; but as the happy, glorified immortal. Beautiful was the faith upon which they leaned. To them the spiritual was not a something vague and indeterminate; but a real entity. They looked beyond the grave, into the spiritual world, as into a better country, where life was continued in glory.