CHAPTER XXIV. FORESHADOWINGS.
TWO days after this, Alfred St. Clare and Augustine parted; and Eva, who had been stimulated by the society of her young cousin, to exertions beyond her strength, began to fail rapidly. St. Clare was at last willing to call in medical advice,—a thing, from which he had always shrunk, because it was the admission of an unwelcome truth.
Marie St. Clare had taken no notice of the child's gradually decaying health and strength, because she was completely absorbed in studying out two or three new forms of disease to which she believed she herself was a victim.
Miss Ophelia had several times tried to awaken her maternal fears about Eva; but to no avail.
In a week or two, there was a great improvement of symptoms, and Eva's step was in the garden,—in the balconies; she played and laughed again: and her father, in a transport, declared that they should soon have her as hearty as anybody. Miss Ophelia and the physician alone felt no encouragement from this illusive truce. There was one other heart, too, that felt the same certainty, and that was the little heart of Eva.
For the child, though nursed so tenderly, and though
life was unfolding before her with every brightness that love and wealth could give, had no regret for herself in dying.
In that book which she and her simple old friend had read so much together, she had seen and taken to her young heart the image of One who loved the little child; and, as she gazed and mused, He had ceased to be an image and a picture of the distant past, and come to be a living all-surrounding reality. But her heart yearned with sad tenderness for all that she was to leave behind.
Eva came tripping up the verandah steps to her father. He folded her suddenly in his arms, and said:
"Eva, dear, you are better nowadays,—are you not?"
"Papa," said Eva, with sudden firmness, "I 've had things I wanted to say to you, a great while. I want to say them now, before I get weaker."
St. Clare trembled as Eva seated herself in his lap. She laid her head on his bosom, and said,
"It 's all no use, papa, to keep it to myself any longer. The time is coming that I am going to leave you. I am going, and never to come back!" and Eva sobbed.
"O, now, my dear little Eva !" said St. Clare, trembling as he spoke, but speaking cheerfully, "you've got nervous and low-spirited; you must n't indulge such gloomy thoughts."
"No, papa," said Eva. "don't deceive yourself!—I am not any better, I know it perfectly well,—and I am going, before long. I am not nervous,—I am not low-spirited. If it were not for you, papa, and my friends, I should be perfectly happy. I want to go, I long to go!"
"Why, dear child, what has made your poor little heart
so sad? You have had everything, to make you happy, that could be given you."
"I had rather be in heaven; though, only for my friends' sake, I would be willing to live. There are a great many things here that make me sad, that seem dreadful to me; I had rather be there; but I don't want to leave you,—it almost breaks my heart!"
"What makes you sad, and seems dreadful, Eva?"
"O, things that are done, and done all the time. I feel sad for our poor people; they love me dearly, and they are all good and kind to me. I wish, papa, they were all free."
"Why, don't you think they are well enough off now?"
"O, but, papa, if anything should happen to you, what would become of them? Papa, these poor creatures love their children as much as you do me. O! do something for them! There 's poor Mammy loves her children; I've seen her cry when she talked about them. And Tom loves his children; and it 's dreadful, papa, that such things are happening, all the time!"
"There, there, darling," said St. Clare, soothingly; "only don't distress yourself, and don't talk of dying, and I will do anything you wish."
"And promise me, dear father, that Tom shall have his freedom as soon as"—she stopped, and said, in a hesitating tone—"I am gone!"
"Yes, dear, I will do anything in the world,—anything you could ask me to."
"Dear papa," said the child, laying her burning cheek against his, "how I wish we could go together!"
"Where, dearest?" said St. Clare.
"To our Savior's home; it 's so sweet and peaceful there—it is all so loving there!" The child spoke unconsciously, as of a place where she had often been. "Don't you want to go, papa?" she said.
St. Clare drew her closer to him, but was silent.
"You will come to me," said the child, speaking in a voice of calm certainty which she often used unconsciously. "I shall come after you. I shall not forget you."