|DEC. 4, 1851
It is impossible to describe the scene, as with tears and sobs they gathered round the little creature, and took from her hand what seemed to them a last mark of her love. They fell on their knees, they sobbed and prayed and kissed the hem of her garment, and the elder ones poured forth words of endearment, mingled in prayers and blessings, after the manner of their susceptible race.
As each one took their gift, Miss Ophelia, who was apprehensive for the effect of all this excitement on her little patient, signed to each one to pass out of the apartment.
At last, all were gone but Tom and Mammy.
"Here, Uncle Tom," said Eva, "is a beautiful one for you. Oh, I am so happy, Uncle Tom, to think I shall see you in heaven, for I'm sure I shall; and Mammy—dear, good, kind Mammy," she said, fondly throwing her arms round her old nurse—"I know you'll be there, too."
"Oh, Miss Eva, don't see how I can live without ye, no how!" said the faithful creature. "'Pears like it's just taking everything off the place to oncet;" and Mammy gave way to a passion of grief.
Miss Ophelia pushed her and Tom gently from the apartment, and thought they were all gone, but, as she turned, Topsy was standing there."
"Where did you start up from?" she said, suddenly.
"I was here," said Topsy, wiping the tears from her eyes. "Oh, Miss Eva, I've been a bad girl, but won't you give me one, too?"
"Yes, poor Topsy; to be sure I will. There—every time you look at that, think that I love you, and wanted you to be a good girl!"
"Oh, Miss Eva, I is tryin; but, Lor, it's so hard to be good. 'Pears like I aint used to it no ways!"
"Jesus knows it, Topsy; he is sorry for you; he will help you."
Topsy, with her eyes hid in her apron, was silently passed from the apartment by Miss Ophelia, but as she went she hid the precious curl in her bosom.
All being gone, Miss Ophelia shut the door. That worthy lady had wiped away many tears of her own during the scene, but concern for the consequence of such an excitement to her young charge was uppermost in her mind.
St. Clare had been sitting during the whole time, with his hand shading his eyes, in the same attitude. When they were all gone, he sat so still.
"Papa!" said Eva, gently, laying her hand on his.
He gave a sudden start and shiver, but made no answer.
"Dear papa!" said Eva.
"I cannot," said St. Clare, rising, "I cannot have it so! The Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me;" and St. Clare pronounced these words with a bitter emphasis indeed.
"Augustine! has not God a right to do what he will with his own?" said Miss Ophelia.
"Perhaps so; but that doesn't make it any easier to bear," said he, with a dry, hard, tearless manner, as he turned away.
"Papa, you break my heart!" said Eva, rising and throwing herself into his arms; "you must not feel so;" and the child sobbed and wept with a violence which alarmed them all, and turned her father's thoughts at once to another channel.
"There, Eva! there, dearest! Hush! hush! I was wrong; I was wicked. I will feel any way, do any way—only don't distress yourself, don't sob so. I will be resigned; I was wicked to speak as I did."
Eva soon lay like a wearied dove in her father's arms; and he, bending over her, soothed her by every tender word he could think of.
Marie rose and threw herself out of the apartment into her own, when she fell into violent hysterics.
"You didn't give me a curl, Eva," said her father, smiling sadly.
"They are all yours, papa," said she, smiling—"yours and mamma's; and you must give dear aunty as many as she wants. I only gave them to our poor people myself, because you know, papa, they might be forgotten when I am gone, and because I hoped it might help them remember. . . . . . You are a Christian, are you not, papa?" said Eva, doubtfully.
"Why do you ask me?"
"I don't know. You are so good, I don't see how you can help it."
"What is being a Christian, Eva?"
"Loving Christ most of all," said Eva.
"Do you, Eva?"
"Certainly I do."
"You never saw him," said St. Clare.
"That makes no difference," said Eva. "I believe him, and in a few days I shall see him;" and the young face grew fervent, radiant with joy.
St. Clare said no more. It was a feeling which he had seen before in his mother, but no chord within vibrated to it.
Eva after this declined rapidly; there was no more any doubt of the event; the fondest hope could not be blinded. Her beautiful room was avowedly a sick room; and Miss Ophelia day and night performed the duties of a nurse—and never did her friends appreciate her value more than in that capacity. With so well-trained a hand and eye, such perfect adroitness and practice in every art which could promote neatness and comfort, and keep out of sight every disagreeable incident of sickness—with such a perfect sense of time, such a clear, untroubled head, such exact accuracy in remembering every prescription and direction of the Doctors—she was everything to them. They who had shrugged their shoulders at her little peculiarities and setnesses, so unlike the careless freedom of Southern manners, acknowledged that now she was the exact person that was wanted.
Uncle Tom was much in Eva's room. The child suffered much from nervous restlessness, and it was a relief to her to be carried, and it was Tom's greatest delight to carry her little frail form in his arms, resting on a pillow—now up and down her room, now out into the verandah; and when the fresh sea breezes blew from the lake—and the child felt freshest in the morning—he would sometimes walk with her under the orange trees in the garden, or, sitting down in some of their old seats, sing to her their favorite old hymns.
Her father often did the same thing, but his frame was slighter; and when he was weary, Eva would say to him—
"Oh, papa, let Tom take me; poor fellow, it pleases him; and you know it's all he can do now, and he wants to do something!"
"So do I, Eva!" said her father.
"Well, papa, you can do everything, and are everything to me. You read to me—you sit up nights—and Tom has only this one thing, and his singing; and I know, too, he does it easier than you can. He carries me so strong!"
The desire to do something was not confined to Tom. Every servant in the establishment showed the same feeling, and in their way did what they could.
Poor Mammy's heart yearned towards her darling, but she found no opportunity night or day, as Marie declared that the state of her mind was such, it was impossible for her to rest, and of course it was against her principles to let any one else rest. Twenty times in a night, Mammy would be roused to rub her feet, to bathe her head, to find her pocket-handkerchief, to see what that noise was in Eva's room, to let down a curtain because it was too light, or to put it up because it was too dark; and in the day-time, when she longed to have some share in the nursing of her pet, Marie seemed unusually ingenious in keeping her busy anywhere and everywhere all over the house, or about her own person, so that stolen interviews and momentary glimpses were all she could obtain.
"I feel it my duty to be particularly careful of myself now," she would say, "feeble as I am, and with the whole care and nursing of that dear child upon me."
"Indeed, my dear," said St. Clare, "I thought our cousin relieved you of that."
"You talk like a man, St. Clare—just as if a mother could be relieved of the care of a child in that state; but then it's all alike—no one ever knows what I feel! I can't throw things off as you do."
St. Clare smiled. You must excuse him, he couldn't help it—for St. Clare could smile yet. For so bright and placid was the farewell voyage of the little spirit—by such sweet and fragrant breezes was the small bark borne towards the heavenly shores, that it was impossible to realize that it was death that was approaching. The child felt no pain, only a tranquil, soft weakness, daily and almost insensibly increasing; and she was so beautiful, so loving, so trustful, so happy, that one could not resist the soothing influence of that air of innocence and peace which seemed to breathe around her. St. Clare found a strange calm coming over him. It was not hope—that was impossible; it was not resignation; it was only a calm resting in the present, which seemed so beautiful that he wished to think of no future. It was like that hush of spirit which we feel amid the bright, mild woods of autumn, when the bright hectic flush is on the trees, and the last lingering flowers by the brook; and we joy in it all the more, because we know that soon it will all pass away.
The friend who knew most of Eva's own imaginings and foreshadowings was her faithful bearer, Tom. To him she said what she would not disturb her father by saying. To him she imparted those mysterious intimations which the soul feels, as the cords begin to unbind, ere it leaves its clay forever.
Tom at last would not sleep in his room, but lay all night in the outer verandah, ready to rouse at every call.
"Uncle Tom, what alive have you taken to sleeping anywhere and everywhere, like a dog, for?" said Miss Ophelia. "I thought you was one of the orderly sort, that liked to lie in bed in a Christian way."
"I do, Miss Feely," said Tom, mysteriously. "I do, but now!"——
"Well, what now?"
"We musn't speak loud; mass'r St. Clare won't hear on't; but Miss Feely, you know there must be somebody watchin for the bridegroom."
"What do you mean, Tom?"
"You know it says in Scripture, `At midnight there was a great cry made. Behold, the bridegroom cometh.' That's what I'm spectin now every night, Miss Feely—and I couldn't sleep out o' hearin, no ways."
"Why, Uncle Tom, what makes you think so?"
"Miss Eva, she talks to me. The Lord, he sends his messenger in the soul. I must be thar, Miss Feely; for when that ar blessed child goes into the Kingdom, they'll open the door so wide we'll all get a look in at the glory, Miss Feely."
"Uncle Tom, did Miss Eva say she felt more unwell than usual to-night?"
"No; but she telled me this morning she was coming nearer—thar's them that tells it to the child, Miss Feely—it's the angels—`it's the trumpet sound afore the break o' day,' " said Tom, quoting from a favorite hymn.
This dialogue passed between Miss Ophelia and Tom between ten and eleven, one evening, after her arrangements had all been made for the night, when, on going to bolt her outer door, she found Tom stretched along by it, in the outer verandah.
She was not nervous or impressible, but the solemn, heartfelt manner struck her. Eva had been unusually bright and cheerful that afternoon, and had sat raised in her bed, and looked over all her little trinkets and precious things, and designated the friends to whom she would have them given; and her manner was more animated and her voice more natural than they had known it for weeks. Her father had been in in the evening, and had said that Eva appeared more like her former self than ever she had done since her sickness; and when he kissed her for the night, he said to Miss Ophelia—"Cousin, we may keep her with us, after all; she is certainly better;" and he had retired with a lighter heart in his bosom than he had had there for weeks.
But at midnight—strange, mystic hour—when the veil between the frail present and the eternal future grows thin—then came the messenger.
There was a sound in that chamber, first of one who stepped quickly. It was Miss Ophelia, who had resolved to sit up all night with her little charge, and who at the turn of the night had discerned what experienced nurses significantly call "a change." The outer door was quickly opened, and Tom, who was watching outside, was on the alert in a moment.
"Go for the Doctor, Tom; lose not a moment," said Miss Ophelia; and, stepping across the room, she rapped at St. Clare's door.
"Cousin," she said, "I wish you would come."
Those words fell on his heart like clods upon a coffin. Why did they? He was up and in the room in an instant, and bending over Eva, who still slept.
What was it he saw that made his heart stand still? Why was no word spoken between the two? Thou canst say who hast seen that same expression on the face dearest to thee—that look indescribable, hopeless, unmistakeable, that says to thee that thy beloved is no longer thine.
On the face of the child, however, there was no ghastly imprint—only a high and almost sublime expression—the overshadowing presence of spiritual natures, the dawning of immortal life in that childish soul.
They stood there so still, gazing upon her, that even the ticking of the watch seemed too loud. In a few moments, Tom returned with the Doctor. He entered, gave one look, and stood silent as the rest.
"When did this change take place?" said he, in a low whisper, to Miss Ophelia.
"About the turn of the night," was the reply.
Marie, roused by the entrance of the Doctor, appeared, hurriedly, from the next room.
"Augustine! Cousin!—oh!—what!" she hurriedly began.
"Hush," said St. Clare, hoarsely; "she is dying!"
Mammy heard the words, and flew to awaken the servants. The house was soon roused—lights were seen, footsteps heard, anxious faces thronged the verandah, and looked tearfully through the glass doors; but St. Clare heard and said nothing—he saw only that look on the face of the little sleeper.
"Oh, if she would only wake, and speak once more," he said; and, stooping over her, he spoke in her ear—"Eva, darling!"
The large blue eyes unclosed—a smile passed over her face—she tried to raise her head and to speak.
"Do you know me, Eva?"
"Dear papa," said the child, with a last effort, throwing her arms about his neck. In a moment they dropped again; and as St. Clare raised his head, he saw a spasm of mortal agony pass over the face—she struggled for breath, and threw up her little hands.
"Oh, God, this is dreadful!" he said, turning away in agony, and wringing Tom's hand, scarce conscious what he was doing. "Oh, Tom, my boy, it is killing me."
Tom had his master's hands between his own, and, with tears streaming down his dark cheeks, looked up for help, where he had always been used to look.
"Pray that this may be cut short," said St. Clare—"this wrings my heart."
"Oh, bless the Lord, it's over—it's over, dear master," said Tom; "look at her."
The child lay panting on her pillows, as one exhausted—the large clear eyes rolled up and fixed. Ah, what said those eyes, that spoke so much of heaven? Earth was past, and earthly pain; but so solemn, so mysterious, was the triumphant brightness of that face, that it checked even the sobs of sorrow. They pressed around her in breathless stillness.
"Eva," said St. Clare, gently.
She did not hear.
"Oh, Eva, tell us what you see! What is it?" said her father.
A bright, a glorious smile passed over her face, and she said, brokenly—"Oh!—love—joy—peace!" gave one sigh, and passed from death unto life!
"Farewell, beloved child! the bright, eternal doors have closed after thee; we shall see thy sweet face no more. Oh, woe for them who watched thy entrance into heaven, when they shall wake and find only the cold gray sky of daily life, and thou gone forever!"[TO BE CONTINUED.]