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 sensation.

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.