Miss Ludington's Sister
To understand the impression which Paul’s letter produced upon Miss Ludington imagine, in the days before the resurrection of the dead was preached, with what effect the convincing announcement of that doctrine would have fallen on the ears of one who had devoted her life to hopeless regrets over the ashes of a friend.
And yet at no time have men been wholly without belief in some form of survival beyond the grave, and such a bereaved woman of antiquity would merely have received a more clear and positive assurance of what she had vaguely imagined before. But that there was any resurrection for her former self--that the bright youth which she had so yearned after and lamented could anywhere still exist, in a mode however shadowy, Miss Ludington had never so much as dreamed.
There might be immortality for all things else; the birds and beasts, and even the lowest forms of life, might, under some form, in some world, live again; but no priest had ever promised, nor any poet ever dreamed, that the title of a man’s past selves to a life immortal is as indefeasible as that of his present self.
It did not occur to her to doubt, to quibble, or to question, concerning the grounds of this great hope. From the first moment that she comprehended the purport of Paul’s argument, she had accepted its conclusion as an indubitable revelation, and only wondered that she had never thought of it herself, so natural, so inevitable, so incontrovertible did it seem.
And as a sunburst in an instant transforms the sad fields of November into a bright and cheerful landscape, so did this revelation suddenly illumine her sombre life.
All day she went about the house and the village like one in a dream, smiling and weeping, and reading Paul’s letter over and over, through eyes swimming with a joy unutterable.
In the afternoon, with tender, tremulous fingers, she removed the crape from the frame of Ida’s picture, which it had draped for so many years. As she was performing this symbolic act, it seemed to the old lady that the fair young face smiled upon her. “Forgive me!” she murmured. “How could I have ever thought you dead!”
It was not till evening that her servants reminded her that she had not eaten that day, and induced her to take food.
The next afternoon Paul arrived. He had not been without very serious doubt as to the manner in which his argument for the immortality of past selves might impress Miss Ludington. A mild melancholy such as hers sometimes becomes sweet by long indulgence. She might not welcome opinions which revolutionized the fixed ideas of her life, even though they should promise a more cheerful philosophy. If she did not accept his belief, but found it chimerical and visionary, the effect of its announcement upon her mind could only be unpleasantly disturbing. It was, therefore, not without some anxiety that he approached the house.
But his first glimpse of her, as she stood in the door awaiting him, dissipated his apprehensions. She wore a smiling face, and the deep black in which she always dressed was set off, for the first time since his knowledge of her, with a bit or two of bright colour.
She said not a word, but, taking him by the hand, led him into the sitting-room.
That morning she had sent into Brooklyn for immortelles, and had spent the day in festooning them about Ida’s picture, so that now the sweet girlish face seemed smiling upon them out of a veritable bower of the white flowers of immortality.
In the days that followed, Miss Ludington seemed a changed woman, such blitheness did the new faith she had found bring into her life. The conviction that the past was deathless, and her bright girlhood immortal, took all the melancholy out of retrospection. Nay, more than that, it turned retrospection into anticipation. She no longer viewed her youth-time through the pensive haze of memory, but the rosy mist of hope. She should see it again, for was it not safe with God? Her pains to guard the memory of the beautiful past, to preserve it from the second death of forgetfulness, were now all needless; she could trust it with God, to be restored to her in his eternal present, its lustre undimmed, and no trait missing.
The laying aside of her mourning garb was but one indication of the change that had come over her.
The whole household, from scullion to coachman, caught the inspiration of her brighter mood. The servants laughed aloud about the house. The children of the gardener, ever before banished to other parts of the grounds, played unrebuked in the sacred street of the silent village.
As for Paul, since the revelation had come to him that the lady of his love was no mere dream of a life for ever vanished, but was herself alive for evermore, and that he should one day meet her, his love had assumed a colour and a reality it had never possessed before. To him this meant all it would have meant to the lover of a material maiden, to be admitted to her immediate society.
The sense of her presence in the village imparted to the very air a fine quality of intoxication. The place was her shrine, and he lived in it as in a sanctuary.