The Episode of
Life by Robert Herrick
Jack Lynton is becoming stone like that. His is a case in point, and a
good one, because the atrophy is coming about not from physical
disease, or from any dissipation. You would call him sane and full of
fire. He was. He married three years ago. Their life was full, too,
like ours, and precious. They did not throw it away; they were wise
guardians of all its possibilities. The second summer—I was with them,
and Jack has told me much besides—Mary began talking, almost in joke,
of these matters, of what one must prepare for; of second marriages,
and all that. We chatted in as idle fashion as do most people over the
utterly useless topics of life. One exquisite September day, all
steeped in the essence of sunshine—misty everywhere over the
fields—how well I remember it!—she spoke again in jest about
something that might happen after her death. I saw a trace of pain on
Jack's face. She saw it, and was sad for a moment. Now I know that all
through that late summer and autumn those two were fighting death in
innuendoes. They were not morbid people, but death went to bed with
them each night.
Of course, this apprehension, this miasma, came in slowly, like those
autumn sea-mists; appearing once a month, twice this week—a little
oftener each time.
Jack is a sensible man; he does not shy at a shadow. His nerves are
tranquil, and respond as they ought. They went about the business of
life as joyfully as you or I, and in October we were all back in town.
Now, Mary is dying; the doctor sees it now. I do not mean that he
should have known it before. She knew it, and she noted how the
life was fading away until the time came when what was so full of
action, of feeling, of desire, was merely a shell—impervious to
And Jack is dying, too—his health is good enough, but pain which he
cannot master is killing him into numbness. He watches each joy, each
experience with which they were both tremulous, depart. And do you
suppose it is any comfort for those two honest souls to believe that
their spirits will recognize each other in some curious state that has
dispensed with sense? Do you suppose that a million of years of a
divine communion would make up for one spoken word, for even a shade of
agony that passes across Mary's face?
She. If God should change their souls in that other world, then
perhaps their longings would be quite different; so that what we think
of with chill they would accept as a privilege.
He. In other words, those two, who have learned to know each other in
human terms, who have loved and suffered in the body, will have ended
their page? Some strange transformation into another two? Why not
simply an end to the book? Would that not be easier?
She. If one had the courage to accept these few years of life and ask
for no more.
He. I think that it is cowardice which makes one accept the ghostly
satisfaction of a surviving spirit.