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.
But, for a day or two, Eva was so unwell
as to be confined to the house; and the doctor was called.
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. It was
the first principle of Marie's 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.
Miss Ophelia had several times tried to
awaken her maternal fears about Eva; but to no avail.
"I don't see as anything ails the
child," she would say; "she runs about, and plays."
"But she has a cough."
"Cough! you don't need to tell _me_
about a cough. I've always been
subject to a cough, all my days. When
I was of Eva's age, they thought I was in a consumption. Night after night, Mammy used to sit up with me. O! Eva's
cough is not anything."
"But she gets weak, and is
"Law! I've had that, years and
years; it's only a nervous affection."
"But she sweats so, nights!"
"Well, I have, these ten years.
Very often, night after night, my clothes will be wringing wet.
There won't be a dry thread in my night-clothes and the sheets will be so
that Mammy has to hang them up to dry! Eva
doesn't sweat anything like that!"
Miss Ophelia shut her mouth for a
season. But, now that Eva was
fairly and visibly prostrated, and a doctor called, Marie, all on a sudden, took
a new turn.
"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.
"My dear Marie, don't talk
so!" said St. Clare. You ought
not to give up the case so, at once."
"You have not a mother's feelings,
St. Clare! You never could
understand me!--you don't now."
"But don't talk so, as if it were a
"I can't take it as indifferently as you can, St. Clare.
If _you_ don't feel when your only child is in this alarming state, I do.
It's a blow too much for me, with all I was bearing before."
"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 cousin's 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 haven't sensitive feelings,
in this world. I am sure I wish I
didn't 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
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.
Eva's 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 soul's 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.
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. 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 child's 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.
"Uncle Tom," she said, one
day, when she was reading to her friend, "I can understand why Jesus
_wanted_ to die for us."
"Why, Miss Eva?"
"Because I've felt so, too."
"What is it Miss Eva?--I don't
"I can't 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, wasn't 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.
Tom looked at the child with awe; and
when she, hearing her father's voice, glided away, he wiped his eyes many times,
as he looked after her.
"It's jest no use tryin' to keep
Miss Eva here," he said to Mammy, whom he met a moment after.
"She's got the Lord's mark in her forehead."
"Ah, yes, yes," said Mammy,
raising her hands; "I've allers said so.
She wasn't never like a child that's to live--there 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
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.
"Eva, dear, you are better
now-a-days,--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 mustn't indulge such gloomy thoughts.
See here, I've bought a statuette for you!"
"No, papa," said Eva, putting
it gently away, "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
"What makes you sad, and seems
"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, Eva, child, don't you think
they are well enough off now?"
"O, but, papa, if anything should
happen to you, what would become of them? There
are very few men like you, papa. Uncle
Alfred isn't like you, and mamma isn't; and then, think of poor old Prue's
owners! What horrid things people
do, and can do!" and Eva shuddered.
"My dear child, you are too
sensitive. I'm sorry I ever let you
hear such stories."
"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, isn't
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 don't 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, couldn't 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."
"When you are dead, Eva," said
St. Clare, passionately. "O,
child, don't talk to me so! You are
all I have on earth."
"Poor old Prue's child was all that
she had,--and yet she had to hear it crying, and she couldn't 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!"
"There, there, darling," said
St. Clare, soothingly; "only don't distress yourself, 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
"Where, dearest?" said St.
"To our Saviour'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
"You will come to me," said
the child, speaking in a voice of calm certainty which she often used
"I shall come after you.
I shall not forget you."
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
mother's 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