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 childs 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. It was the first principle of Maries belief that nobody ever was or could be so great a sufferer as herself; and, therefore, she always repelled quite indignantly any suggestion that any one around her could be sick. She was always sure, in such a case, that it was nothing but laziness, or want of energy; and that, if they had had the suffering she had, they would soon know the difference.
Cough! you dont need to tell me about a cough. I ve always been subject to a cough, all my days. When I was of Evas age, they thought I was in a consumption. Night after night, Mammy used to sit up with me. O! Evas cough is not anything.
Well, I have, these ten years. Very often, night after night, my clothes will be wringing wet. There wont be a dry thread in my night-clothes, and the sheets will be so that Mammy has to hang them up to dry! Eva does nt sweat anything like that!
She knew it, she said; she always felt it, that she was destined to be the most miserable of mothers. Here she was, with her wretched health, and her only darling child going down to the grave before her eyes;and Marie routed up Mammy nights, and rumpussed and scolded, with more energy than ever, all day, on the strength of this new misery.
It s true, said St. Clare, that Eva is very delicate, that I always knew; and that she has grown so rapidly as to exhaust her strength; and that her situation is critical. But just now she is only prostrated by the heat of the weather, and by the excitement of her cousins visit, and the exertions she made. The physician says there is room for hope.
Well, of course, if you can look on the bright side, pray do; it s a mercy if people have nt sensitive feelings, in this world. I am sure I wish I did nt feel as I do; it only makes me completely wretched! I wish I could be as easy as the rest of you!
And the rest of them had good reason to breathe the same prayer, for Marie paraded her new misery as the reason and apology for all sorts of inflictions on every one about her. Every word that was spoken by anybody, everything that was done or was not done everywhere, was only a new proof that she was surrounded by hard-hearted, insensible beings, who were unmindful of her peculiar sorrows. Poor Eva heard some of these speeches; and nearly cried her little eyes out, in pity for her mamma, and in sorrow that she should make her so much distress.
In a week or two, there was a great improvement of symptoms,one of those deceitful lulls, by which her inexorable disease so often beguiles the anxious heart, even on the verge of the grave. Evas step was again 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. What is it that sometimes speaks in the soul so calmly, so clearly, that its earthly time is short? Is it the secret instinct of decaying nature, or the souls impulsive throb, as immortality draws on? Be it what it may, it rested in the heart of Eva, a calm, sweet, prophetic certainty that Heaven was near; calm as the light of sunset, sweet as the bright stillness of autumn, there her little heart reposed, only troubled by sorrow for those who loved her so dearly.
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. His love enfolded her childish heart with more than mortal tenderness; and it was to Him, she said, she was going, and to his home.
But her heart yearned with sad tenderness for all that she was to leave behind. Her father most,for Eva, though she never distinctly thought so, had an instinctive perception that she was more in his heart than any other. She loved her mother because she was so loving a creature, and all the selfishness that she had seen in her only saddened and perplexed her; for she had a childs implicit trust that her mother could not do wrong. There was something about her that Eva never could make out; and she always smoothed it over with thinking that, after all, it was mamma, and she loved her very dearly indeed.
She felt, too, for those fond, faithful servants, to whom she was as daylight and sunshine. Children do not usually generalize; but Eva was an uncommonly mature child, and the things that she had witnessed of the evils of the system under which they were living had fallen, one by one, into the depths of her thoughtful, pondering heart. She had vague longings to do something for them,to bless and save not only them, but all in their condition,longings that contrasted sadly with the feebleness of her little frame.
I cant tell you; but, when I saw those poor creatures on the boat, you know, when you came up and I,some had lost their mothers, and some their husbands, and some mothers cried for their little children,and when I heard about poor Prue,oh, was nt that dreadful!and a great many other times, I ve felt that I would be glad to die, if my dying could stop all this misery. I would die for them, Tom, if I could, said the child, earnestly, laying her little thin hand on his.
Ah, yes, yes, said Mammy, raising her hands; I ve allers said so. She was nt never like a child that s to livethere was allers something deep in her eyes. I ve told Missis so, many the time; it s a comin true,we all sees it,dear, little, blessed lamb!
Eva came tripping up the verandah steps to her father. It was late in the afternoon, and the rays of the sun formed a kind of glory behind her, as she came forward in her white dress, with her golden hair and glowing cheeks, her eyes unnaturally bright with the slow fever that burned in her veins.
St. Clare had called her to show a statuette that he had been buying for her; but her appearance, as she came on, impressed him suddenly and painfully. There is a kind of beauty so intense, yet so fragile, that we cannot bear to look at it. Her father folded her suddenly in his arms, and almost forgot what he was going to tell her.
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 nt indulge such gloomy thoughts. See here, I ve bought a statuette for you!
No, papa, said Eva, putting it gently away, dont 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!
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 dont want to leave you,it almost breaks my heart!
O, but, papa, if anything should happen to you, what would become of them? There are very few men like you, papa. Uncle Alfred is nt like you, and mamma is nt; and then, think of poor old Prues owners! What horrid things people do, and can do! and Eva shuddered.
O, that s what troubles me, papa. You want me to live so happy, and never to have any pain,never suffer anything,not even hear a sad story, when other poor creatures have nothing but pain and sorrow, an their lives;it seems selfish. I ought to know such things, I ought to feel about them! Such things always sunk into my heart; they went down deep; I ve thought and thought about them. Papa, is nt there any way to have all slaves made free?
That s a difficult question, dearest. There s no doubt that this way is a very bad one; a great many people think so; I do myself. I heartily wish that there were not a slave in the land; but, then, I dont know what is to be done about it!
Papa, you are such a good man, and so noble, and kind, and you always have a way of saying things that is so pleasant, could nt you go all round and try to persuade people to do right about this? When I am dead, papa, then you will think of me, and do it for my sake. I would do it, if I could.
Poor old Prues child was all that she had,and yet she had to hear it crying, and she could nt help it! 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!
The shadows of the solemn evening closed round them deeper and deeper, as St. Clare sat silently holding the little frail form to his bosom. He saw no more the deep eyes, but the voice came over him as a spirit voice, and, as in a sort of judgment vision, his whole past life rose in a moment before his eyes: his mothers prayers and hymns; his own early yearnings and aspirings for good; and, between them and this hour, years of worldliness and scepticism, and what man calls respectable living. We can think much, very much, in a moment. St. Clare saw and felt many things, but spoke nothing; and, as it grew darker, he took his child to her bed-room; and, when she was prepared for rest, he sent away the attendants, and rocked her in his arms, and sung to her till she was asleep.