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Lost Days
by [?]

I fully recognize the fact which the Frenchman flippantly stated–that no human beings really believe that death is inevitable until the last clasp of the stone-cold king numbs their pulses. Perhaps this insensibility is a merciful gift; at any rate, it is a fact. If belief came home with violence to our minds, we should suffer from a sort of vertigo; but the merciful dullness which the Frenchman perceived and mocked in his epigram saves us all the miseries of apprehension. This is very curiously seen among soldiers when they know that they must soon go into action. The soldiers chat together on the night before the attack; they know that some of them must go down; they actually go so far as to exchange messages thus–“If anything happens to me, you know, Bill, I want you to take that to the old people. You give me a note or anything else you have; and, if we get out of the shindy, we can hand the things back again.” After confidences of this sort, the men chat on; and I never yet knew or heard of one who did not speak of his own safe return as a matter of course. When a brigade charges, there may be a little anxiety at first; but the whistle of the first bullet ends all misgivings, and the fellows grow quite merry, though it may be that half of them are certain to be down on the ground before the day is over. A man who is struck may know well that he will pass away: but he will rise up feebly to cheer on his comrades–nay, he will ask questions, as the charging troops pass him, as to the fate of Bill or Joe, or the probable action of the Heavies, or similar trifles.

In the fight of life we all behave much as the soldiers do in the crash and hurry of battle. If we reason the matter out with a semblance of logic, we all know that we must move toward the shadows; but, even after we are mortally stricken by disease or age, we persist in acting and thinking as if there were no end. In youth we go almost further; we are too apt to live as though we were immortal, and as though there were absolutely nothing to result from human action or human inaction. To the young man and the young woman the future is not a blind lane with a grave at the end; it is a spacious plain reaching away towards a far-off horizon; and that horizon recedes and recedes as they move forward, leaving magnificent expanses to be crossed in joyous freedom. A pretty delusion! The youth harks onward, singing merrily and rejoicing in sympathy with the mystic song of the birds; there is so much space around him–the very breath of life is a joy–and he is content to taste in glorious idleness the ecstasy of living. The evening closes in, and then the horizon seems to be narrowing; like the walls of the deadly chamber in the home of the Inquisition, the skies shrink inward–and the youth has misgivings. The next day finds his plain shrunken a little in expanse, and his horizon has not so superb a sweep. Nevertheless he goes gaily on, and once more he raises his voice joyously, and tries to think that the plain and the horizon can contract no more. Thus in foolish hopefulness he passes his days until the glorious plain of his dreams has been traversed, and, lo, under his very feet is the great gulf fixed, and far below the tide–the tide of Eternity–laps sullenly against the walls of the deadly chasm. If the youth knew that the gulf and the rolling river were so near–if he not only knew, but could absolutely picture his doom–would he be so merry? Ah, no!