EVAS bed-room was a spacious apartment, which, like all the other rooms in the house, opened on to the broad verandah. The room communicated, on one side, with her father and mothers apartment; on the other, with that appropriated to Miss Ophelia. St. Clare had gratified his own eye and taste, in furnishing this room in a style that had a peculiar keeping with the character of her for whom it was intended. The windows were hung with curtains of rose-colored and white muslin, the floor was spread with a matting which had been ordered in Paris, to a pattern of his own device, having round it a border of rose-buds and leaves, and a centre-piece with full-flown roses. The bedstead, chairs, and lounges, were of bamboo, wrought in peculiarly graceful and fanciful patterns. Over the head of the bed was an alabaster bracket, on which a beautiful sculptured angel stood, with drooping wings, holding out a crown of myrtle-leaves. From this depended, over the bed, light curtains of rose-colored gauze, striped with silver, supplying that protection from mosquitos which is an indispensable addition to all sleeping accommodation in that climate. The graceful bamboo lounges were amply supplied with cushions of rose-colored damask, while over them, depending from the hands of sculptured figures, were gauze curtains similar to those of the bed. A light, fanciful bamboo table stood in the middle of the room, where a Parian vase, wrought in the shape of a white lily, with its buds, stood, ever filled with flowers. On this table lay Evas books and little trinkets, with an elegantly wrought alabaster writing-stand, which her father had supplied to her when he saw her trying to improve herself in writing. There was a fireplace in the room, and on the marble mantle above stood a beautifully wrought statuette of Jesus receiving little children, and on either side marble vases, for which it was Toms pride and delight to offer bouquets every morning. Two or three exquisite paintings of children, in various attitudes, embellished the wall. In short, the eye could turn nowhere without meeting images of childhood, of beauty, and of peace. Those little eyes never opened, in the morning light, without falling on something which suggested to the heart soothing and beautiful thoughts.
The deceitful strength which had buoyed Eva up for a little while was fast passing away; seldom and more seldom her light footstep was heard in the verandah, and oftener and oftener she was found reclined on a little lounge by the open window, her large, deep eyes fixed on the rising and falling waters of the lake.
It was towards the middle of the afternoon, as she was so reclining,her Bible half open, her little transparent fingers lying listlessly between the leaves,suddenly she heard her mothers voice, in sharp tones, in the verandah.
Topsy, who had stood sullenly, holding down her head, now came up and offered her flowers. She did it with a look of hesitation and bashfulness, quite unlike the eldrich boldness and brightness which was usual with her.
It was rather a singular one,a brilliant scarlet geranium, and one single white japonica, with its glossy leaves. It was tied up with an evident eye to the contrast of color, and the arrangement of every leaf had carefully been studied.
Not since she s been here, I m sure. If she has nt been talked to, and preached to, and every earthly thing done that anybody could do;and she s just so ugly, and always will be; you cant make anything of the creature!
St. Clare closed his lips, and stood gloomily eying the long, beautiful curls, which, as they were separated from the childs head, were laid, one by one, in her lap. She raised them up, looked earnestly at them, twined them around her thin fingers, and looked, from time to time, anxiously at her father.
It s just what I ve been foreboding! said Marie; it s just what has been preying on my health, from day to day, bringing me downward to the grave, though nobody regards it. I have seen this, long. St. Clare, you will see, after a while, that I was right.
Evas clear blue eye looked earnestly from one to the other. It was the calm, comprehending gaze of a soul half loosed from its earthly bonds; it was evident she saw, felt, and appreciated, the difference between the two.
Papa, my strength fades away every day, and I know I must go. There are some things I want to say and do,that I ought to do; and you are so unwilling to have me speak a word on this subject. But it must come; there s no putting it off. Do be willing I should speak now!
Eva lay back on her pillows; her hair hanging loosely about her face, her crimson cheeks contrasting painfully with the intense whiteness of her complexion and the thin contour of her limbs and features, and her large, soul-like eyes fixed earnestly on every one.
The servants were struck with a sudden emotion. The spiritual face, the long locks of hair cut off and lying by her, her fathers averted face, and Maries sobs, struck at once upon the feelings of a sensitive and impressible race; and, as they came in, they looked one on another, sighed, and shook their heads. There was a deep silence, like that of a funeral.
I sent for you all, my dear friends, said Eva, because I love you. I love you all; and I have something to say to you, which I want you always to remember I am going to leave you. In a few more weeks, you will see me no more
Here the child was interrupted by bursts of groans, sobs, and lamentations, which broke from all present, and in which her slender voice was lost entirely. She waited a moment, and then, speaking in a tone that checked the sobs of all, she said,
If you love me, you must not interrupt me so. Listen to what I say. I want to speak to you about your souls Many of you, I am afraid, are very careless. You are thinking only about this world. I want you to remember that there is a beautiful world, where Jesus is. I am going there, and you can go there. It is for you, as much as me. But, if you want to go there, you must not live idle, careless, thoughtless lives. You must be Christians. You must remember that each one of you can become angels, and be angels forever .. If you want to be Christians, Jesus will help you. You must pray to him; you must read
Never mind, she said, raising her face and smiling brightly through her tears, I have prayed for you; and I know Jesus will help you, even if you cant read. Try all to do the best you can; pray every day; ask Him to help you, and get the Bible read to you whenever you can; and I think I shall see you all in heaven.
Amen, was the murmured response from the lips of Tom and Mammy, and some of the elder ones, who belonged to the Methodist church. The younger and more thoughtless ones, for the time completely overcome, were sobbing, with their heads bowed upon their knees.
Yes, I know you do! There is nt one of you that has nt always been very kind to me; and I want to give you something that, when you look at, you shall always remember me. I m going to give all of you a curl of my hair; and, when you look at it, think that I loved you and am gone to heaven, and that I want to see you all there.
It is impossible to describe the scene, as, with tears and sobs, they gathered round the little creature, and took from her hands 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.
Here, Uncle Tom, said Eva, is a beautiful one for you. O, 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.
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.
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 fathers thoughts at once to another channel.
They are all yours, papa, said she, smiling,yours and mammas; 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.
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 him. 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 Evas room. The child suffered much from nervous restlessness, and it was a relief to her to be carried; and it was Toms 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.
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!
Poor Mammys 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 the noise was in Evas 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.
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 cant throw things off, as you do.
St. Clare smiled. You must excuse him, he could nt 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 Evas 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.
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.
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 could nt sleep out o hearin, no ways.
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.
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, heart-felt 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.
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.
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, unmistakable, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Farewell, beloved child! the bright, eternal doors have closed after thee; we shall see thy sweet face no more. O, 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!