The Passing of Van Mitten
The story of a man who passed through the death agony, to learn–what?
WHEN the priest had administered extreme unction, he went away. Van Mitten had only a short time to live, there was not the slightest doubt about that. There was no one in the room with him now but the old nurse. The poor woman, who had been on a strain for days, had fallen sound asleep in her chair. Strangely enough, although the end was so near at hand, Van Mitten was completely and lucidly conscious. He was not suffering in the slightest. His life was ebbing away, that was all. He was an old man, and his vital forces were dying out. He had lived life to the full, for as long as his physique had been able to carry him. The machine was worn out, and in a few hours or minutes the wheels would cease turning.
The dying man's eyes wandered about the room. He had spent many a night within these four walls. Twenty thousand perhaps, or thirty thousand. He tried to calculate, but what was left of his mind was too feeble. His yellowish hands lay side by side on the counter-pane. He tried to cross them on his breast, but that was a task completely beyond his strength. For all practical purposes, he was dead already. There was nothing to do but lie there and wait. Wait and think.
Death.–The thing was certainly much less terrible than he had supposed it would be. He had beenof it in the past, very much afraid of it. Now, now that he was coming face to face with it, the bugaboo did not seem so frightful, after all. A very small thing, to be sure. The mountain was bringing forth a mouse, as had happened so often in the course of his life. He did not feel the slightest fear of it, only curiosity. So this much-discussed hour was about to strike for him, very shortly. And after it struck–what then? There was certainly something more! Annihilation? Or another life?
He had not devoted a great deal of time to speculation during all the years of his long life. Van Mitten had never been what is called a religious man, but neither had he been what is called an atheist. He had been one of those men who take things as they come–who don't understand about the eternal matters, and who make no particular effort to do so. But the moment had come when the eternal matters had to be faced. Evasion was possible no longer. What would happen to him next. Where would he go, what would he be, after he had passed the experience called death?
"I haven't the slightest idea," he said to himself, as he lay perfectly motionless, unable even to open his lips. "I don't know, and nobody knows, and no living person has ever known. But I shall know very soon–I shall know what no living person has ever known!" But at no
- Translated by Roy Temple House from the French.