CHAPTER XXVIII. REUNION.
WEEK after week glided away in the St. Clare mansion, and the waves of life settled back to their usual flow, where that little bark had gone down.
Still St. Clare was, in many respects, another man. He read his little Eva's Bible, seriously and honestly; he thought more soberly and practically of his relations to his servants; enough to make him extremely dissatisfied with both his past and present course; and one thing he did, as soon as he could bring it about, and that was to commence the legal steps necessary to Tom's emancipation, which was to be perfected as soon as he could get through the necessary formalities. Meantime, he attached himself to Tom more and more, every day.
"Well, Tom," said St. Clare, the day after he had commenced the legal formalities for his enfranchisement, "I'm going to make a free man of you; so, have your trunk packed, and get ready to set out for Kentuck."
The sudden light of joy that shone in Tom's face as he raised his hands to heaven, his emphatic "Bless the Lord!" rather discomposed St. Clare; he did not like it that Tom should be so ready to leave him.
"You haven't had such very bad times here, that you need be in such a rapture, Tom," he said, drily.
"No, no, Mas'r! 'tan't that, it's bein' a free man! That's what I'm joyin' for."
"Why, Tom, don't you think, for your own part, you've been better off than to be free?"
"No, indeed, Mas'r St. Clare," said Tom, with a flash of energy. "No, indeed!"
"Why, Tom, you couldn't possibly have earned, by your work, such clothes and such living as I have given you."
"Knows all that, Mas'r St. Clare; Mas'r's been too good; but, Mas'r, I'd rather have poor clothes, poor house, poor everything, and have 'em mine, than have the best, and have 'em any man's else,—I had so, Mas'r; I think it's natur, Mas'r."
"I suppose so, Tom, and you'll be going off and leaving me, in a month or so," he added, rather discontentedly. "Though why you shouldn't go, no mortal knows," he said, in a gayer tone; and, getting up, he began to walk the floor.
"Not while Mas'r is in trouble," said Tom. "I'll stay with Mas'r as long as he wants me, so as I can be any use."
"Not while I'm in trouble, Tom?" said St. Clare, looking sadly out of the window. . . . . "And when will my trouble be over?"
"When Mas'r St. Clare's a Christian," said Tom.
"And you really mean to stay by till that day comes?" said St.
Clare, half smiling, as he turned from the window, and laid his hand
on Tom's shoulder. "Ah, Tom, you
soft, silly boy! I won't keep you till that day. Go home to your wife and children, and give my love to all."
Marie St. Clare felt the loss of Eva as deeply as she could feel anything. Poor old Mammy, in particular, whose heart, severed from all natural domestic ties, had consoled itself with this one beautiful being, was almost heart-broken.
Miss Ophelia felt the loss; but, in her good and honest heart, it bore fruit unto everlasting life. She was more softened, more gentle; and, though equally assiduous in every duty, it was with a chastened and quiet air, as one who communed with her own heart not in vain. She was more diligent in teaching Topsy,—taught her mainly from the Bible,—did not any longer shrink from her touch, or manifest an ill-repressed disgust, because she felt none. Topsy did not become at once a saint; but the life and death of Eva did work a marked change in her.
One day, when Topsy had been sent for by Miss Ophelia, she came, hastily thrusting something into her bosom. "What are you doing there, you limb? You've been stealing something, I'll be bound," said the imperious little Rosa, who had been sent to call her.
"You go 'long, Miss Rosa!" said Topsy, pulling from her; "'tan't none o' your business!"
"None o' your sa'ce!" said Rosa. "I saw you hiding something.—I know yer tricks." The clamor and confusion drew Miss Ophelia and St. Clare both to the spot. "She's been stealing"' said Rosa.
"I han't neither!" cried Topsy, sobbing with passion. "Give me that, whatever it is!" said Miss Ophelia, firmly.
Topsy hesitated; but, on a second order, pulled out of her bosom a little parcel done up in the foot of one of her own old stockings.
Miss Ophelia turned it out. There was a small book, which had been given to Topsy by Eva, containing a single verse of Scripture, arranged for ever, day in the year, and in a paper the curl of hair that she had given her on that memorable day when she had taken her last farewell.
St. Clare was a good deal affected at the sight of it; the little book had been rolled in a long strip of black crape, torn from the funeral weeds.
"What did you wrap this round the book for?" said St. Clare, holding up the crape.
"Cause,—cause,—cause 't was Miss Eva. O, don't take 'em away, please!" she said; and, sitting flat down on the floor, and putting her apron over her head, she began to sob vehemently.
St. Clare smiled; but there were tears in his eyes, as he said, "Come, come,—don't cry; you shall have them!" and, putting them together, he threw them into her lap, and drew Miss Ophelia with him into the parlor.
"The child has improved greatly," said Miss, Ophelia. "I have great hopes of her; but, Augustine," she said, laying her hand on his arm, "one thing I want to ask; whose is this child to be?—yours or mine?"
"Why, I gave her to you," said Augustine.
"But not legally;—I want her to be mine legally," said Miss Ophelia.
"Well, well," said St. Clare, "I will;" and he sat down, and unfolded a newspaper to read.
"But I want it done now," said Miss Ophelia.
"What's your hurry?"
"Because now is the only time there ever is to do a thing in," said Miss Ophelia. "Come, now, here's a paper, pen, and ink; just write a paper."
"Why, what's the matter?" said he. "Can't you take my word?"
"I want to make sure of it," said Miss Ophelia. "You may die, or fail, and then Topsy be hustled off to auction, spite of all I can do."
"Well, seeing I'm in the hands of a Yankee, there is nothing for it but to concede;" and St. Clare rapidly wrote off a deed of gift, which, as he was well versed in the forms of law, he could easily do, and signed his name to it in sprawling capitals, concluding by a tremendous flourish.
"There, isn't that black and white, now, Miss Vermont?" he said, as he handed it to her.
"Good boy," said Miss Ophelia, smiling. "But must it not be witnessed?"
"O, bother!—yes. Here," he said, opening the door into Marie's apartment, "Marie, Cousin wants your autograph; just put your name down here."
"What's this?" said Marie, as she ran over the paper. "Ridiculous! I thought Cousin was too pious for such horrid things," she added, as she carelessly wrote her name; "but, if she has a fancy for that article, I'm sure she's welcome."
"There, now, she's yours, body and soul," said St. Clare, handing the paper.
"No more mine now than she was before," said Miss
Ophelia. "Nobody but God has a right to give her to me; but I can protect her now."
"Dear little Eva,—poor child!" said St. Clare, "she had set her little simple soul on a good work for me."
It was the first time since Eva's death that he had ever said as many words as these of her, and he spoke now evidently repressing very strong feeling.
Miss Ophelia did not reply. There was a pause of some moments; and St. Clare's countenance was overcast by a sad, dreamy expression.
"I don't know what makes me think of my mother so much, to-night," he said. "I have a strange kind of feeling, as if she were near me. I keep thinking of things she used to say. Strange, what brings these past things so vividly back to us, sometimes!"
St. Clare walked up and down the room for some minutes more, and then said,
"I believe I'll go down street. a few moments, and hear the news to-night."
He took his hat, and passed out.
Tom followed him to the passage, out of the court, and asked if he should attend him.
"No, my boy," said St. Clare. "I shall be back in an hour."
Tom sat down in the verandah. It was a beautiful moonlight
evening, and he sat watching the rising and falling spray of the
fountain, and listening to its murmur. Tom thought of his home, and
that he should soon be a free man, and able to return to it at will.
He thought how he should work to buy his wife and boys. He felt the
muscles of his brawny arms with a sort of joy, as he
thought they would soon belong to himself, and bow much they could do to work out the freedom of his family.
Then he thought of his noble young master, and, ever second to
that, came the habitual prayer that he had always offered for him; and
then his thoughts passed on to the beautiful Eva, whom he now thought
of among the
angels; and he thought till he almost fancied that that bright face and golden hair were looking upon him, out of the spray of the fountain. And, so musing, he fell asleep, and dreamed he saw her coming bounding towards him, just as she used to come, with a wreath of jessamine in her hair, her cheeks bright, and her eyes radiant with delight; but, as he looked, she seemed to rise from the ground; her cheeks wore a paler hue,—her eyes had a deep, divine radiance, a golden halo seemed around her head,—and she vanished from his sight; and Tom was awakened by a loud knocking, and a sound of many voices at the gate.
He hastened to undo it; and, with smothered voices and heavy tread, came several men, bringing a body, wrapped in a cloak, and lying on a shutter. The light of the lamp fell full on the face; and Tom gave a wild cry of amazement and despair, that rung through all the galleries, as the men advanced, with their burden, to the open parlor door, where Miss Ophelia still sat knitting.
St. Clare had turned into a cafe, to look over an evening paper. As be was reading, an affray arose between two gentlemen in the room, who were both partially intoxicated. St. Clare and one or two others made an effort to separate them, and St. Clare received a fatal stab in the side with a bowie-knife, which he was attempting to wrest from one of them.
The house was full of cries and lamentations, shrieks and screams;
servants frantically tearing their hair, throwing themselves on the
ground, or running distractedly about, lamenting. Tom and Miss Ophelia
to have any presence of mind; for Marie was in strong hysteric convulsions.
The physician now arrived, and made his examination, but it was evident, from the expression of his face, that there was no hope.
"Now," said the physician, "we must turn all these creatures out; all depends on his being kept quiet."
St. Clare could say but little; he lay with his eyes shut, but it was evident that he wrestled with bitter thoughts. After a while, he laid his hand on Tom's, who was kneeling beside him, and said, "Tom! poor fellow!"
"What, Mas'r?" said Tom, earnestly.
"I am dying!" said St. Clare, pressing his hand; "pray!"
And Tom did pray, with all his mind and strength, for the soul that was passing,—the soul that seemed looking so steadily and molfrnfully from those large, melancholy blue eyes. It was literally prayer offered with strong crying and tears.
When Tom ceased to speak, St. Clare reached out and tools his hand, looking earnestly at him, but saving nothing. He closed his eyes, but still retained his hold; for, in the gates of eternity, the black hand and the white hold each other with an equal clasp. He murmured softly to himself words that he had been singing during the evening.
"His mind is wandering," said the doctor.
"No! it is coming Home, at last!" said St. Clare, energetically; "at last! at last!"
The effort of speaking exhausted him. The sinking paleness of
death fell on him; but with it there fell, as
if shed from the wings of some pitying spirit, a beautiful expression of peace, like that of a wearied child who sleeps. So he lay for a few moments. Just before the spirit parted, be opened his eyes, with a sudden light, as of joy and recognition, and said, "Mother!" and then he was gone!