Not long after my conversation with Wauna, mentioned in the previous chapter, an event happened in Mizora of so singular and unexpected a character for that country that it requires a particular description. I refer to the death of a young girl, the daughter of the Professor of Natural History in the National College, whose impressive inaugural ceremonies I had witnessed with so much gratification. The girl was of a venturesome disposition, and, with a number of others, had gone out rowing. The boats they used in Mizora for that purpose were mere cockle shells. A sudden squall arose from which all could have escaped, but the reckless daring of this young girl cost her her life. Her boat was capsized, and despite the exertions made by her companions, she was drowned.
Her body was recovered before the news was conveyed to the mother. As the young companions surrounded it in the abandon of grief that tender and artless youth alone feels, had I not known that not a tie of consanguinity existed between them, I might have thought them a band of sisters mourning their broken number. It was a scene I never expect and sincerely hope never to witness again. It made the deeper impression upon me because I knew the expressions of grief were all genuine.
I asked Wauna if any of the dead girl’s companions feared that her mother might censure them for not making sufficient effort to save her when her boat capsized. She looked at me with astonishment.
“Such a thought,” she said, “will never occur to her nor to any one else in Mizora. I have not asked the particulars, but I know that everything was done that could have been done to save her. There must have been something extraordinarily unusual about the affair for all Mizora girls are expert swimmers, and there is not one but would put forth any exertion to save a companion.”
I afterward learned that such had really been the case.
It developed upon the Preceptress to break the news to the afflicted mother. It was done in the seclusion of her own home. There was no manifestation of morbid curiosity among acquaintances, neighbors and friends. The Preceptress and one or two others of her nearest and most intimate friends called at the house during the first shock of her bereavement.
After permission had been given to view the remains, Wauna and I called at the house, but only entered the drawing-room. On a low cot, in an attitude of peaceful repose, lay the breathless sleeper. Her mother and sisters had performed for her the last sad offices of loving duty, and lovely indeed had they made the last view we should have of their dear one.
There was to be no ceremony at the house, and Wauna and I were in the cemetery when the procession entered. As we passed through the city, I noticed that every business house was closed. The whole city was sympathizing with sorrow. I never before saw so vast a concourse of people. The procession was very long and headed by the mother, dressed and veiled in black. Behind her were the sisters carrying the body. It rested upon a litter composed entirely of white rosebuds. The sisters wore white, their faces concealed by white veils. Each wore a white rosebud pinned upon her bosom. They were followed by a long procession of young girls, schoolmates and friends of the dead. They were all dressed in white, but were not veiled. Each one carried a white rosebud.
The sisters placed the litter upon rests at the side of the grave, and clasping hands with their mother, formed a semicircle about it. They were all so closely veiled that their features could not be seen, and no emotion was visible. The procession of young girls formed a circle inclosing the grave and the mourners, and began chanting a slow and sorrowful dirge. No words can paint the pathos and beauty of such a scene. My eye took in every detail that displayed that taste for the beautiful that compels the Mizora mind to mingle it with every incident of life. The melody sounded like a chorus of birds chanting, in perfect unison, a weird requiem over some dead companion.
She came like the Spring in its gladness
We received her with joy — we rejoiced in her promise
Sweet was her song as the bird’s,
Her smile was as dew to the thirsty rose.
But the end came ere morning awakened,
While Dawn yet blushed in its bridal veil,
The leafy music of the woods was hushed in snowy shrouds.
Spring withered with the perfume in her hands;
A winter sleet has fallen upon the buds of June;
The ice-winds blow where yesterday zephyrs disported:
Life is not consummated
The rose has not blossomed, the fruit has perished in the flower,
The bird lies frozen under its mother’s breast
Youth sleeps in round loveliness when age should lie withered and weary, and full of honor.
Then the grave would be welcome, and our tears would fall not.
The grave is not for the roses of youth;
We mourn the early departed.
Youth sleeps without dreams —
Without an awakening.
At the close of the chant, the mother first and then each sister took from her bosom the white rosebud and dropped it into the grave. Then followed her schoolmates and companions who each dropped in the bud she carried. A carpet of white rosebuds was thus formed, on which the body, still reclining upon its pillow of flowers, was gently lowered.
The body was dressed in white, and over all fell a veil of fine white tulle. A more beautiful sight I can never see than that young, lovely girl in her last sleep with the emblems of youth, purity and swift decay forming her pillow, and winding-sheet. Over this was placed a film of glass that rested upon the bottom and sides of the thin lining that covered the bottom and lower sides of the grave. The remainder of the procession of young girls then came forward and dropped their rosebuds upon it, completely hiding from view the young and beautiful dead.
The eldest sister then took a handful of dust and casting it into the grave, said in a voice broken, yet audible: “Mingle ashes with ashes, and dust with its original dust. To the earth whence it was taken, consign we the body of our sister.” Each sister then threw in a handful of dust, and then with their mother entered their carriage, which immediately drove them home.
A beautiful silver spade was sticking in the soft earth that had been taken from the grave. The most intimate of the dead girls friends took a spadeful of earth and threw it into the open grave. Her example was followed by each one of the remaining companions until the grave was filled. Then clasping hands, they chanted a farewell to their departed companion and playmate. After which they strewed the grave with flowers until it looked like a bed of beauty, and departed.
I was profoundly impressed by the scene. Its solemnity, its beauty, and the universal expression of sorrow it had called forth. A whole city mourned the premature death of gifted and lovely youth. Alas! In my own unhappy country such an event would have elicited but a passing phrase of regret from all except the immediate family of the victim; for there sorrow is a guest at every heart, and leaves little room for sympathy with strangers.
The next day the mother was at her post in the National College; the daughters were at their studies, all seemingly calm and thoughtful, but showing no outward signs of grief excepting to the close observer. The mother was performing her accustomed duties with seeming cheerfulness, but now and then her mind would drop for a moment in sorrowful abstraction to be recalled with resolute effort and be fastened once more upon the necessary duty of life.
The sisters I often saw in those abstracted moods, and frequently saw them wiping away silent but unobtrusive tears. I asked Wauna for the meaning of such stoical reserve, and the explanation was as curious as were all the other things that I met with in Mizora.
“If you notice the custom of different grades of civilization in your own country,” said Wauna, “you will observe that the lower the civilization the louder and more ostentatious is the mourning. True refinement is unobtrusive in everything, and while we do not desire to repress a natural and inevitable feeling of sorrow, we do desire to conceal and conquer it, for the reason that death is a law of nature that we cannot evade. And, although the death of a young person has not occurred in Mizora in the memory of any living before this, yet it is not without precedent. We are very prudent, but we cannot guard entirely against accident. It has cast a gloom over the whole city, yet we refrain from speaking of it, and strive to forget it because it cannot be helped.”
“And can you see so young, so fair a creature perish without wanting to meet her again?”
“Whatever sorrow we feel,” replied Wauna, solemnly, “we deeply realize how useless it is to repine. We place implicit faith in the revelations of Nature, and in no circumstances does she bid us expect a life beyond that of the body. That is a life of individual consciousness.”
“How much more consoling is the belief of my people,” I replied, triumphantly. “Their belief in a future reunion would sustain them through the sorrow of parting in this. It has been claimed that some have lived pure lives solely in the hope of meeting some one whom they loved, and who had died in youth and innocence.”
“You do not all have then the same fate in anticipation for your future life?” she asked.
“Oh, no!” I answered. “The good and the wicked are divided.”
“Tell me some incident in your own land that you have witnessed, and which illustrates the religious belief of your country.”
“The belief that we have in a future life has often furnished a theme for the poets of my own and other countries. And sometimes a quaint and pretty sentiment is introduced into poetry to express it.”
“I should like to hear some such poetry. Can you recite any?”
“I remember an incident that gave birth to a poem that was much admired at the time, although I can recall but the two last stanzas of it. A rowing party, of which I was a member, once went out upon a lake to view the sunset. After we had returned to shore, and night had fallen upon the water in impenetrable darkness, it was discovered that one of the young men who had rowed out in a boat by himself was not with us. A storm was approaching, and we all knew that his safety lay in getting ashore before it broke. We lighted a fire, but the blaze could not be seen far in such inky darkness. We hallooed, but received no answer, and finally ceased our efforts. Then one of the young ladies who possessed a very high and clear soprano voice, began singing at the very top of her power. It reached the wanderer in the darkness, and he rowed straight toward it. From that time on he became infatuated with the singer, declaring that her voice had come to him in his despair like an angel’s straight from heaven.
“She died in less than a year, and her last words to him were: ‘Meet me in heaven.’ He had always been recklessly inclined, but after that he became a model of rectitude and goodness. He wrote a poem that was dedicated to her memory. In it he described himself as a lone wanderer on a strange sea in the darkness of a gathering storm and no beacon to guide him, when suddenly he hears a voice singing which guides him safe to shore. He speaks of the beauty of the singer and how dear she became to him, but he still hears the song calling him across the ocean of death.”
“Repeat what you remember of it,” urged Wauna.
“That face and form, have long since gone
Beyond where the day was lifted:
But the beckoning song still lingers on,
An angels earthward drifted.
And when death’s waters, around me roar
And cares, like the birds, are winging:
If I steer my bark to Heaven’s shore
’Twill be by an angel’s singing.”
“Poor child of superstition,” said Wauna, sadly. “Your belief has something pretty in it, but for your own welfare, and that of your people, you must get rid of it as we have got rid of the offspring of Lust. Our children come to us as welcome guests through portals of the holiest and purest affection. That love which you speak of, I know nothing about. I would not know. It is a degradation which mars your young life and embitters the memories of age. We have advanced beyond it. There is a cruelty in life,” she added, compassionately, “which we must accept with stoicism as the inevitable. Justice to your posterity demands of you the highest and noblest effort of which your intellect is capable.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52