THE STATUETTES and pictures in Evas room were shrouded in white napkins, and only hushed breathings and muffled foot-falls were heard there, and the light stole in solemnly through windows partially darkened by closed blinds.
There she lay, robed in one of the simple white dresses she had been wont to wear when living; the rose-colored light through the curtains cast over the icy coldness of death a warm glow. The heavy eyelashes drooped softly on the pure cheek; the head was turned a little to one side, as if in natural sleep, but there was diffused over every lineament of the face that high celestial expression, that mingling of rapture and repose, which showed it was no earthly or temporary sleep, but the long, sacred rest which He giveth to his beloved.
There is no death to such as thou, dear Eva! neither darkness nor shadow of death; only such a bright fading as when the morning star fades in the golden dawn. Thine is the victory without the battle,the crown without the conflict.
So did St. Clare think, as, with folded arms, he stood there gazing. Ah! who shall say what he did think? for, from the hour that voices had said, in the dying chamber, she is gone, it had been all a dreary mist, a heavy dimness of anguish. He had heard voices around him; he had had questions asked, and answered them; they had asked him when he would have the funeral, and where they should lay her; and he had answered, impatiently, that he cared not.
Adolph and Rosa had arranged the chamber; volatile, fickle and childish, as they generally were, they were soft-hearted and full of feeling; and, while Miss Ophelia presided over the general details of order and neatness, it was their hands that added those soft, poetic touches to the arrangements, that took from the death-room the grim and ghastly air which too often marks a New England funeral.
There were still flowers on the shelves,all white, delicate and fragrant, with graceful, drooping leaves. Evas little table, covered with white, bore on it her favorite vase, with a single white moss rose-bud in it. The folds of the drapery, the fall of the curtains, had been arranged and reärranged, by Adolph and Rosa, with that nicety of eye which characterizes their race. Even now, while St. Clare stood there thinking, little Rosa tripped softly into the chamber with a basket of white flowers. She stepped back when she saw St. Clare, and stopped respectfully; but, seeing that he did not observe her, she came forward to place them around the dead. St. Clare saw her as in a dream, while she placed in the small hands a fair cape jessamine, and, with admirable taste, disposed other flowers around the couch.
Rosa suddenly retreated, and Topsy came forward and laid her offering at the feet of the corpse; then suddenly, with a wild and bitter cry, she threw herself on the floor alongside the bed, and wept, and moaned aloud.
Topsy, you poor child, she said, as she led her into her room, dont give up! I can love you, though I am not like that dear little child. I hope I ve learnt something of the love of Christ from her. I can love you; I do, and I ll try to help you to grow up a good Christian girl.
Miss Ophelias voice was more than her words, and more than that were the honest tears that fell down her face. From that hour, she acquired an influence over the mind of the destitute child that she never lost.
There were, for a while, soft whisperings and foot-falls in the chamber, as one after another stole in, to look at the dead; and then came the little coffin; and then there was a funeral, and carriages drove to the door, and strangers came and were seated; and there were white scarfs and ribbons, and crape bands, and mourners dressed in black crape; and there were words read from the Bible, and prayers offered; and St. Clare lived, and walked, and moved, as one who has shed every tear;to the last he saw only one thing, that golden head in the coffin; but then he saw the cloth spread over it, the lid of the coffin closed; and he walked, when he was put beside the others, down to a little place at the bottom of the garden, and there, by the mossy seat where she and Tom had talked, and sung, and read so often, was the little grave. St. Clare stood beside it,looked vacantly down; he saw them lower the little coffin; he heard, dimly, the solemn words, I am the resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and, as the earth was cast in and filled up the little grave, he could not realize that it was his Eva that they were hiding from his sight.
And then all were gone, and the mourners went back to the place which should know her no more; and Maries room was darkened, and she lay on the bed, sobbing and moaning in uncontrollable grief, and calling every moment for the attentions of all her servants. Of course, they had no time to cry,why should they? the grief was her grief, and she was fully convinced that nobody on earth did, could, or would feel it as she did.
So much are people the slave of their eye and ear, that many of the servants really thought that Missis was the principal sufferer in the case, especially as Marie began to have hysterical spasms, and sent for the doctor, and at last declared herself dying; and, in the running and scampering, and bringing up hot bottles, and heating of flannels, and chafing, and fussing, that ensued, there was quite a diversion.
Tom, however, had a feeling at his own heart, that drew him to his master. He followed him wherever he walked, wistfully and sadly; and when he saw him sitting, so pale and quiet, in Evas room, holding before his eyes her little open Bible, though seeing no letter or word of what was in it, there was more sorrow to Tom in that still, fixed, tearless eye, than in all Maries moans and lamentations.
In a few days the St. Clare family were back again in the city; Augustine, with the restlessness of grief, longing for another scene, to change the current of his thoughts. So they left the house and garden, with its little grave, and came back to New Orleans; and St. Clare walked the streets busily, and strove to fill up the chasm in his heart with hurry and bustle, and change of place; and people who saw him in the street, or met him at the café, knew of his loss only by the weed on his hat; for there he was, smiling and talking, and reading the newspaper, and speculating on politics, and attending to business matters; and who could see that all this smiling outside was but a hollow shell over a heart that was a dark and silent sepulchre?
Mr. St. Clare is a singular man, said Marie to Miss Ophelia, in a complaining tone. I used to think, if there was anything in the world he did love, it was our dear little Eva; but he seems to be forgetting her very easily. I cannot ever get him to talk about her. I really did think he would show more feeling!
O, I dont believe in such things; it s all talk. If people have feeling, they will show it,they cant help it; but, then, it s a great misfortune to have feeling. I d rather have been made like St. Clare. My feelings prey upon me so!
Sure, Missis, Masr St. Clare is gettin thin as a shader. They say, he dont never eat nothin, said Mammy. I know he dont forget Miss Eva; I know there could nt nobody,dear, little, blessed cretur! she added, wiping her eyes.
Marie was one of those unfortunately constituted mortals, in whose eyes whatever is lost and gone assumes a value which it never had in possession. Whatever she had, she seemed to survey only to pick flaws in it; but, once fairly away, there was no end to her valuation of it.
Tom, who was always uneasily following his master about, had seen him go to his library, some hours before; and, after vainly waiting for him to come out, determined, at last, to make an errand in. He entered softly. St. Clare lay on his lounge, at the further end of the room. He was lying on his face, with Evas Bible open before him, at a little distance. Tom walked up, and stood by the sofa. He hesitated; and, while he was hesitating, St. Clare suddenly raised himself up. The honest face, so full of grief, and with such an imploring expression of affection and sympathy, struck his master. He laid his hand on Toms, and bowed down his forehead on it.
Who knows anything about anything? said St. Clare, his eyes wandering dreamily, and speaking to himself. Was all that beautiful love and faith only one of the ever-shifting phases of human feeling, having nothing real to rest on, passing away with the little breath? And is there no more Eva,no heaven,no Christ,nothing?
Felt Him in my soul, Masr,feel Him now! O, Masr, when I was sold away from my old woman and the children, I was jest amost broke up. I felt as if there warnt nothin left; and then the good Lord, he stood by me, and he says, Fear not, Tom; and he brings light and joy into a poor fellers soul,makes all peace; and I s so happy, and loves everybody, and feels willin jest to be the Lords, and have the Lords will done, and be put jest where the Lord wants to put me. I know it could nt come from me, cause I s a poor, complainin cretur; it comes from the Lord; and I know He s willin to do for Masr.
Singular! said St. Clare, turning away, that the story of a man that lived and died eighteen hundred years ago can affect people so yet. But he was no man, he added, suddenly. No man ever had such long and living power! O, that I could believe what my mother taught me, and pray as I did when I was a boy!
The chapter was the eleventh of John,the touching account of the raising of Lazarus. St. Clare read it aloud, often pausing to wrestle down feelings which were roused by the pathos of the story. Tom knelt before him, with clasped hands, and with an absorbed expression of love, trust, adoration, on his quiet face.
Toms heart was full; he poured it out in prayer, like waters that have been long suppressed. One thing was plain enough; Tom thought there was somebody to hear, whether there were or not. In fact, St. Clare felt himself borne, on the tide of his faith and feeling, almost to the gates of that heaven he seemed so vividly to conceive. It seemed to bring him nearer to Eva.