Life among the Lowly
One morning, while Miss Ophelia was busy in some of her domestic cares, St. Clare’s voice was heard, calling her at the foot of the stairs.
“Come down here, Cousin, I’ve something to show you.”
“What is it?” said Miss Ophelia, coming down, with her sewing in her hand.
“I’ve made a purchase for your department,–see here,” said St. Clare; and, with the word, he pulled along a little negro girl, about eight or nine years of age.
She was one of the blackest of her race; and her round shining eyes, glittering as glass beads, moved with quick and restless glances over everything in the room. Her mouth, half open with astonishment at the wonders of the new Mas’r’s parlor, displayed a white and brilliant set of teeth. Her woolly hair was braided in sundry little tails, which stuck out in every direction. The expression of her face was an odd mixture of shrewdness and cunning, over which was oddly drawn, like a kind of veil, an expression of the most doleful gravity and solemnity. She was dressed in a single filthy, ragged garment, made of bagging; and stood with her hands demurely folded before her. Altogether, there was something odd and goblin-like about her appearance,–something, as Miss Ophelia afterwards said, “so heathenish,” as to inspire that good lady with utter dismay; and turning to St. Clare, she said,
“Augustine, what in the world have you brought that thing here for?”
“For you to educate, to be sure, and train in the way she should go. I thought she was rather a funny specimen in the Jim Crow line. Here, Topsy,” he added, giving a whistle, as a man would to call the attention of a dog, “give us a song, now, and show us some of your dancing.”
The black, glassy eyes glittered with a kind of wicked drollery, and the thing struck up, in a clear shrill voice, an odd negro melody, to which she kept time with her hands and feet, spinning round, clapping her hands, knocking her knees together, in a wild, fantastic sort of time, and producing in her throat all those odd guttural sounds which distinguish the native music of her race; and finally, turning a summerset or two, and giving a prolonged closing note, as odd and unearthly as that of a steam-whistle, she came suddenly down on the carpet, and stood with her hands folded, and a most sanctimonious expression of meekness and solemnity over her face, only broken by the cunning glances which she shot askance from the corners of her eyes.
Miss Ophelia stood silent, perfectly paralyzed with amazement. St. Clare, like a mischievous fellow as he was, appeared to enjoy her astonishment; and, addressing the child again, said,
“Topsy, this is your new mistress. I’m going to give you up to her; see now that you behave yourself.”
“Yes, Mas’r,” said Topsy, with sanctimonious gravity, her wicked eyes twinkling as she spoke.
“You’re going to be good, Topsy, you understand,” said St. Clare.
“O yes, Mas’r,” said Topsy, with another twinkle, her hands still devoutly folded.
“Now, Augustine, what upon earth is this for?” said Miss Ophelia. “Your house is so full of these little plagues, now, that a body can’t set down their foot without treading on ’em. I get up in the morning, and find one asleep behind the door, and see one black head poking out from under the table, one lying on the door-mat,–and they are mopping and mowing and grinning between all the railings, and tumbling over the kitchen floor! What on earth did you want to bring this one for?”
“For you to educate–didn’t I tell you? You’re always preaching about educating. I thought I would make you a present of a fresh-caught specimen, and let you try your hand on her, and bring her up in the way she should go.”
“_I_ don’t want her, I am sure;–I have more to do with ’em now than I want to.”
“That’s you Christians, all over!–you’ll get up a society, and get some poor missionary to spend all his days among just such heathen. But let me see one of you that would take one into your house with you, and take the labor of their conversion on yourselves! No; when it comes to that, they are dirty and disagreeable, and it’s too much care, and so on.”
“Augustine, you know I didn’t think of it in that light,” said Miss Ophelia, evidently softening. “Well, it might be a real missionary work,” said she, looking rather more favorably on the child.
St. Clare had touched the right string. Miss Ophelia’s conscientiousness was ever on the alert. “But,” she added, “I really didn’t see the need of buying this one;–there are enough now, in your house, to take all my time and skill.”
“Well, then, Cousin,” said St. Clare, drawing her aside, “I ought to beg your pardon for my good-for-nothing speeches. You are so good, after all, that there’s no sense in them. Why, the fact is, this concern belonged to a couple of drunken creatures that keep a low restaurant that I have to pass by every day, and I was tired of hearing her screaming, and them beating and swearing at her. She looked bright and funny, too, as if something might be made of her;–so I bought her, and I’ll give her to you. Try, now, and give her a good orthodox New England bringing up, and see what it’ll make of her. You know I haven’t any gift that way; but I’d like you to try.”
“Well, I’ll do what I can,” said Miss Ophelia; and she approached her new subject very much as a person might be supposed to approach a black spider, supposing them to have benevolent designs toward it.
“She’s dreadfully dirty, and half naked,” she said.
“Well, take her down stairs, and make some of them clean and clothe her up.”
Miss Ophelia carried her to the kitchen regions.
“Don’t see what Mas’r St. Clare wants of ’nother nigger!” said Dinah, surveying the new arrival with no friendly air. “Won’t have her around under _my_ feet, _I_ know!”
“Pah!” said Rosa and Jane, with supreme disgust; “let her keep out of our way! What in the world Mas’r wanted another of these low niggers for, I can’t see!”
“You go long! No more nigger dan you be, Miss Rosa,” said Dinah, who felt this last remark a reflection on herself. “You seem to tink yourself white folks. You an’t nerry one, black _nor_ white, I’d like to be one or turrer.”
Miss Ophelia saw that there was nobody in the camp that would undertake to oversee the cleansing and dressing of the new arrival; and so she was forced to do it herself, with some very ungracious and reluctant assistance from Jane.
It is not for ears polite to hear the particulars of the first toilet of a neglected, abused child. In fact, in this world, multitudes must live and die in a state that it would be too great a shock to the nerves of their fellow-mortals even to hear described. Miss Ophelia had a good, strong, practical deal of resolution; and she went through all the disgusting details with heroic thoroughness, though, it must be confessed, with no very gracious air,–for endurance was the utmost to which her principles could bring her. When she saw, on the back and shoulders of the child, great welts and calloused spots, ineffaceable marks of the system under which she had grown up thus far, her heart became pitiful within her.
“See there!” said Jane, pointing to the marks, “don’t that show she’s a limb? We’ll have fine works with her, I reckon. I hate these nigger young uns! so disgusting! I wonder that Mas’r would buy her!”
The “young un” alluded to heard all these comments with the subdued and doleful air which seemed habitual to her, only scanning, with a keen and furtive glance of her flickering eyes, the ornaments which Jane wore in her ears. When arrayed at last in a suit of decent and whole clothing, her hair cropped short to her head, Miss Ophelia, with some satisfaction, said she looked more Christian-like than she did, and in her own mind began to mature some plans for her instruction.
Sitting down before her, she began to question her.
“How old are you, Topsy?”
“Dun no, Missis,” said the image, with a grin that showed all her teeth.
“Don’t know how old you are? Didn’t anybody ever tell you? Who was your mother?”
“Never had none!” said the child, with another grin.
“Never had any mother? What do you mean? Where were you born?”
“Never was born!” persisted Topsy, with another grin, that looked so goblin-like, that, if Miss Ophelia had been at all nervous, she might have fancied that she had got hold of some sooty gnome from the land of Diablerie; but Miss Ophelia was not nervous, but plain and business-like, and she said, with some sternness,
“You mustn’t answer me in that way, child; I’m not playing with you. Tell me where you were born, and who your father and mother were.”
“Never was born,” reiterated the creature, more emphatically; “never had no father nor mother, nor nothin’. I was raised by a speculator, with lots of others. Old Aunt Sue used to take car on us.”
The child was evidently sincere, and Jane, breaking into a short laugh, said,
“Laws, Missis, there’s heaps of ’em. Speculators buys ’em up cheap, when they’s little, and gets ’em raised for market.”
“How long have you lived with your master and mistress?”
“Dun no, Missis.”
“Is it a year, or more, or less?”
“Dun no, Missis.”
“Laws, Missis, those low negroes,–they can’t tell; they don’t know anything about time,” said Jane; “they don’t know what a year is; they don’t know their own ages.
“Have you ever heard anything about God, Topsy?”
The child looked bewildered, but grinned as usual.
“Do you know who made you?”
“Nobody, as I knows on,” said the child, with a short laugh.
The idea appeared to amuse her considerably; for her eyes twinkled, and she added,
“I spect I grow’d. Don’t think nobody never made me.”
“Do you know how to sew?” said Miss Ophelia, who thought she would turn her inquiries to something more tangible.
“What can you do?–what did you do for your master and mistress?”
“Fetch water, and wash dishes, and rub knives, and wait on folks.”
“Were they good to you?”
“Spect they was,” said the child, scanning Miss Ophelia cunningly.
Miss Ophelia rose from this encouraging colloquy; St. Clare was leaning over the back of her chair.
“You find virgin soil there, Cousin; put in your own ideas,–you won’t find many to pull up.”
Miss Ophelia’s ideas of education, like all her other ideas, were very set and definite; and of the kind that prevailed in New England a century ago, and which are still preserved in some very retired and unsophisticated parts, where there are no railroads. As nearly as could be expressed, they could be comprised in very few words: to teach them to mind when they were spoken to; to teach them the catechism, sewing, and reading; and to whip them if they told lies. And though, of course, in the flood of light that is now poured on education, these are left far away in the rear, yet it is an undisputed fact that our grandmothers raised some tolerably fair men and women under this regime, as many of us can remember and testify. At all events, Miss Ophelia knew of nothing else to do; and, therefore, applied her mind to her heathen with the best diligence she could command.
The child was announced and considered in the family as Miss Ophelia’s girl; and, as she was looked upon with no gracious eye in the kitchen, Miss Ophelia resolved to confine her sphere of operation and instruction chiefly to her own chamber. With a self-sacrifice which some of our readers will appreciate, she resolved, instead of comfortably making her own bed, sweeping and dusting her own chamber,–which she had hitherto done, in utter scorn of all offers of help from the chambermaid of the establishment,–to condemn herself to the martyrdom of instructing Topsy to perform these operations,–ah, woe the day! Did any of our readers ever do the same, they will appreciate the amount of her self-sacrifice.
Miss Ophelia began with Topsy by taking her into her chamber, the first morning, and solemnly commencing a course of instruction in the art and mystery of bed-making.
Behold, then, Topsy, washed and shorn of all the little braided tails wherein her heart had delighted, arrayed in a clean gown, with well-starched apron, standing reverently before Miss Ophelia, with an expression of solemnity well befitting a funeral.
“Now, Topsy, I’m going to show you just how my bed is to be made. I am very particular about my bed. You must learn exactly how to do it.”
“Yes, ma’am,” says Topsy, with a deep sigh, and a face of woful earnestness.
“Now, Topsy, look here;–this is the hem of the sheet,–this is the right side of the sheet, and this is the wrong;–will you remember?”
“Yes, ma’am,” says Topsy, with another sigh.
“Well, now, the under sheet you must bring over the bolster,–so–and tuck it clear down under the mattress nice and smooth,–so,–do you see?”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Topsy, with profound attention.
“But the upper sheet,” said Miss Ophelia, “must be brought down in this way, and tucked under firm and smooth at the foot,–so,–the narrow hem at the foot.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Topsy, as before;–but we will add, what Miss Ophelia did not see, that, during the time when the good lady’s back was turned in the zeal of her manipulations, the young disciple had contrived to snatch a pair of gloves and a ribbon, which she had adroitly slipped into her sleeves, and stood with her hands dutifully folded, as before.
“Now, Topsy, let’s see _you_ do this,” said Miss Ophelia, pulling off the clothes, and seating herself.
Topsy, with great gravity and adroitness, went through the exercise completely to Miss Ophelia’s satisfaction; smoothing the sheets, patting out every wrinkle, and exhibiting, through the whole process, a gravity and seriousness with which her instructress was greatly edified. By an unlucky slip, however, a fluttering fragment of the ribbon hung out of one of her sleeves, just as she was finishing, and caught Miss Ophelia’s attention. Instantly, she pounced upon it. “What’s this? You naughty, wicked child,–you’ve been stealing this!”
The ribbon was pulled out of Topsy’s own sleeve, yet was she not in the least disconcerted; she only looked at it with an air of the most surprised and unconscious innocence.
“Laws! why, that ar’s Miss Feely’s ribbon, an’t it? How could it a got caught in my sleeve?
“Topsy, you naughty girl, don’t you tell me a lie,–you stole that ribbon!”
“Missis, I declar for ’t, I didn’t;–never seed it till dis yer blessed minnit.”
“Topsy,” said Miss Ophelia, “don’t you know it’s wicked to tell lies?”
“I never tell no lies, Miss Feely,” said Topsy, with virtuous gravity; “it’s jist the truth I’ve been a tellin now, and an’t nothin else.”
“Topsy, I shall have to whip you, if you tell lies so.”
“Laws, Missis, if you’s to whip all day, couldn’t say no other way,” said Topsy, beginning to blubber. “I never seed dat ar,–it must a got caught in my sleeve. Miss Feeley must have left it on the bed, and it got caught in the clothes, and so got in my sleeve.”
Miss Ophelia was so indignant at the barefaced lie, that she caught the child and shook her.
“Don’t you tell me that again!”
The shake brought the glove on to the floor, from the other sleeve.
“There, you!” said Miss Ophelia, “will you tell me now, you didn’t steal the ribbon?”
Topsy now confessed to the gloves, but still persisted in denying the ribbon.
“Now, Topsy,” said Miss Ophelia, “if you’ll confess all about it, I won’t whip you this time.” Thus adjured, Topsy confessed to the ribbon and gloves, with woful protestations of penitence.
“Well, now, tell me. I know you must have taken other things since you have been in the house, for I let you run about all day yesterday. Now, tell me if you took anything, and I shan’t whip you.”
“Laws, Missis! I took Miss Eva’s red thing she wars on her neck.”
“You did, you naughty child!–Well, what else?”
“I took Rosa’s yer-rings,–them red ones.”
“Go bring them to me this minute, both of ’em.”
“Laws, Missis! I can’t,–they ’s burnt up!”
“Burnt up!–what a story! Go get ’em, or I’ll whip you.”
Topsy, with loud protestations, and tears, and groans, declared that she _could_ not. “They ’s burnt up,–they was.”
“What did you burn ’em for?” said Miss Ophelia.
“Cause I ’s wicked,–I is. I ’s mighty wicked, any how. I can’t help it.”
Just at this moment, Eva came innocently into the room, with the identical coral necklace on her neck.
“Why, Eva, where did you get your necklace?” said Miss Ophelia.
“Get it? Why, I’ve had it on all day,” said Eva.
“Did you have it on yesterday?”
“Yes; and what is funny, Aunty, I had it on all night. I forgot to take it off when I went to bed.”
Miss Ophelia looked perfectly bewildered; the more so, as Rosa, at that instant, came into the room, with a basket of newly-ironed linen poised on her head, and the coral ear-drops shaking in her ears!
“I’m sure I can’t tell anything what to do with such a child!” she said, in despair. “What in the world did you tell me you took those things for, Topsy?”
“Why, Missis said I must ’fess; and I couldn’t think of nothin’ else to ’fess,” said Topsy, rubbing her eyes.
“But, of course, I didn’t want you to confess things you didn’t do,” said Miss Ophelia; “that’s telling a lie, just as much as the other.”
“Laws, now, is it?” said Topsy, with an air of innocent wonder.
“La, there an’t any such thing as truth in that limb,” said Rosa, looking indignantly at Topsy. “If I was Mas’r St. Clare, I’d whip her till the blood run. I would,–I’d let her catch it!”
“No, no Rosa,” said Eva, with an air of command, which the child could assume at times; “you mustn’t talk so, Rosa. I can’t bear to hear it.”
“La sakes! Miss Eva, you ’s so good, you don’t know nothing how to get along with niggers. There’s no way but to cut ’em well up, I tell ye.”
“Rosa!” said Eva, “hush! Don’t you say another word of that sort!” and the eye of the child flashed, and her cheek deepened its color.
Rosa was cowed in a moment.
“Miss Eva has got the St. Clare blood in her, that’s plain. She can speak, for all the world, just like her papa,” she said, as she passed out of the room.
Eva stood looking at Topsy.
There stood the two children representatives of the two extremes of society. The fair, high-bred child, with her golden head, her deep eyes, her spiritual, noble brow, and prince-like movements; and her black, keen, subtle, cringing, yet acute neighbor. They stood the representatives of their races. The Saxon, born of ages of cultivation, command, education, physical and moral eminence; the Afric, born of ages of oppression, submission, ignorance, toil and vice!
Something, perhaps, of such thoughts struggled through Eva’s mind. But a child’s thoughts are rather dim, undefined instincts; and in Eva’s noble nature many such were yearning and working, for which she had no power of utterance. When Miss Ophelia expatiated on Topsy’s naughty, wicked conduct, the child looked perplexed and sorrowful, but said, sweetly.
“Poor Topsy, why need you steal? You’re going to be taken good care of now. I’m sure I’d rather give you anything of mine, than have you steal it.”
It was the first word of kindness the child had ever heard in her life; and the sweet tone and manner struck strangely on the wild, rude heart, and a sparkle of something like a tear shone in the keen, round, glittering eye; but it was followed by the short laugh and habitual grin. No! the ear that has never heard anything but abuse is strangely incredulous of anything so heavenly as kindness; and Topsy only thought Eva’s speech something funny and inexplicable,–she did not believe it.
But what was to be done with Topsy? Miss Ophelia found the case a puzzler; her rules for bringing up didn’t seem to apply. She thought she would take time to think of it; and, by the way of gaining time, and in hopes of some indefinite moral virtues supposed to be inherent in dark closets, Miss Ophelia shut Topsy up in one till she had arranged her ideas further on the subject.
“I don’t see,” said Miss Ophelia to St. Clare, “how I’m going to manage that child, without whipping her.”
“Well, whip her, then, to your heart’s content; I’ll give you full power to do what you like.”
“Children always have to be whipped,” said Miss Ophelia; “I never heard of bringing them up without.”
“O, well, certainly,” said St. Clare; “do as you think best. Only I’ll make one suggestion: I’ve seen this child whipped with a poker, knocked down with the shovel or tongs, whichever came handiest, &c.; and, seeing that she is used to that style of operation, I think your whippings will have to be pretty energetic, to make much impression.”
“What is to be done with her, then?” said Miss Ophelia.
“You have started a serious question,” said St. Clare; “I wish you’d answer it. What is to be done with a human being that can be governed only by the lash,–_that_ fails,–it’s a very common state of things down here!”
“I’m sure I don’t know; I never saw such a child as this.”
“Such children are very common among us, and such men and women, too. How are they to be governed?” said St. Clare.
“I’m sure it’s more than I can say,” said Miss Ophelia.
“Or I either,” said St. Clare. “The horrid cruelties and outrages that once and a while find their way into the papers,–such cases as Prue’s, for example,–what do they come from? In many cases, it is a gradual hardening process on both sides,–the owner growing more and more cruel, as the servant more and more callous. Whipping and abuse are like laudanum; you have to double the dose as the sensibilities decline. I saw this very early when I became an owner; and I resolved never to begin, because I did not know when I should stop,–and I resolved, at least, to protect my own moral nature. The consequence is, that my servants act like spoiled children; but I think that better than for us both to be brutalized together. You have talked a great deal about our responsibilities in educating, Cousin. I really wanted you to _try_ with one child, who is a specimen of thousands among us.”
“It is your system makes such children,” said Miss Ophelia.
“I know it; but they are _made_,–they exist,–and what _is_ to be done with them?”
“Well, I can’t say I thank you for the experiment. But, then, as it appears to be a duty, I shall persevere and try, and do the best I can,” said Miss Ophelia; and Miss Ophelia, after this, did labor, with a commendable degree of zeal and energy, on her new subject. She instituted regular hours and employments for her, and undertook to teach her to read and sew.
In the former art, the child was quick enough. She learned her letters as if by magic, and was very soon able to read plain reading; but the sewing was a more difficult matter. The creature was as lithe as a cat, and as active as a monkey, and the confinement of sewing was her abomination; so she broke her needles, threw them slyly out of the window, or down in chinks of the walls; she tangled, broke, and dirtied her thread, or, with a sly movement, would throw a spool away altogether. Her motions were almost as quick as those of a practised conjurer, and her command of her face quite as great; and though Miss Ophelia could not help feeling that so many accidents could not possibly happen in succession, yet she could not, without a watchfulness which would leave her no time for anything else, detect her.
Topsy was soon a noted character in the establishment. Her talent for every species of drollery, grimace, and mimicry,–for dancing, tumbling, climbing, singing, whistling, imitating every sound that hit her fancy,–seemed inexhaustible. In her play-hours, she invariably had every child in the establishment at her heels, open-mouthed with admiration and wonder,–not excepting Miss Eva, who appeared to be fascinated by her wild diablerie, as a dove is sometimes charmed by a glittering serpent. Miss Ophelia was uneasy that Eva should fancy Topsy’s society so much, and implored St. Clare to forbid it.
“Poh! let the child alone,” said St. Clare. “Topsy will do her good.”
“But so depraved a child,–are you not afraid she will teach her some mischief?”
“She can’t teach her mischief; she might teach it to some children, but evil rolls off Eva’s mind like dew off a cabbage-leaf,–not a drop sinks in.”
“Don’t be too sure,” said Miss Ophelia. “I know I’d never let a child of mine play with Topsy.”
“Well, your children needn’t,” said St. Clare, “but mine may; if Eva could have been spoiled, it would have been done years ago.”
Topsy was at first despised and contemned by the upper servants. They soon found reason to alter their opinion. It was very soon discovered that whoever cast an indignity on Topsy was sure to meet with some inconvenient accident shortly after;–either a pair of ear-rings or some cherished trinket would be missing, or an article of dress would be suddenly found utterly ruined, or the person would stumble accidently into a pail of hot water, or a libation of dirty slop would unaccountably deluge them from above when in full gala dress;-and on all these occasions, when investigation was made, there was nobody found to stand sponsor for the indignity. Topsy was cited, and had up before all the domestic judicatories, time and again; but always sustained her examinations with most edifying innocence and gravity of appearance. Nobody in the world ever doubted who did the things; but not a scrap of any direct evidence could be found to establish the suppositions, and Miss Ophelia was too just to feel at liberty to proceed to any length without it.
The mischiefs done were always so nicely timed, also, as further to shelter the aggressor. Thus, the times for revenge on Rosa and Jane, the two chamber maids, were always chosen in those seasons when (as not unfrequently happened) they were in disgrace with their mistress, when any complaint from them would of course meet with no sympathy. In short, Topsy soon made the household understand the propriety of letting her alone; and she was let alone, accordingly.
Topsy was smart and energetic in all manual operations, learning everything that was taught her with surprising quickness. With a few lessons, she had learned to do the proprieties of Miss Ophelia’s chamber in a way with which even that particular lady could find no fault. Mortal hands could not lay spread smoother, adjust pillows more accurately, sweep and dust and arrange more perfectly, than Topsy, when she chose,–but she didn’t very often choose. If Miss Ophelia, after three or four days of careful patient supervision, was so sanguine as to suppose that Topsy had at last fallen into her way, could do without over-looking, and so go off and busy herself about something else, Topsy would hold a perfect carnival of confusion, for some one or two hours. Instead of making the bed, she would amuse herself with pulling off the pillowcases, butting her woolly head among the pillows, till it would sometimes be grotesquely ornamented with feathers sticking out in various directions; she would climb the posts, and hang head downward from the tops; flourish the sheets and spreads all over the apartment; dress the bolster up in Miss Ophelia’s night-clothes, and enact various performances with that,–singing and whistling, and making grimaces at herself in the looking-glass; in short, as Miss Ophelia phrased it, “raising Cain” generally.
On one occasion, Miss Ophelia found Topsy with her very best scarlet India Canton crape shawl wound round her head for a turban, going on with her rehearsals before the glass in great style,–Miss Ophelia having, with carelessness most unheard-of in her, left the key for once in her drawer.
“Topsy!” she would say, when at the end of all patience, “what does make you act so?”
“Dunno, Missis,–I spects cause I ’s so wicked!”
“I don’t know anything what I shall do with you, Topsy.”
“Law, Missis, you must whip me; my old Missis allers whipped me. I an’t used to workin’ unless I gets whipped.”
“Why, Topsy, I don’t want to whip you. You can do well, if you’ve a mind to; what is the reason you won’t?”
“Laws, Missis, I ’s used to whippin’; I spects it’s good for me.”
Miss Ophelia tried the recipe, and Topsy invariably made a terrible commotion, screaming, groaning and imploring, though half an hour afterwards, when roosted on some projection of the balcony, and surrounded by a flock of admiring “young uns,” she would express the utmost contempt of the whole affair.
“Law, Miss Feely whip!–wouldn’t kill a skeeter, her whippins. Oughter see how old Mas’r made the flesh fly; old Mas’r know’d how!”
Topsy always made great capital of her own sins and enormities, evidently considering them as something peculiarly distinguishing.
“Law, you niggers,” she would say to some of her auditors, “does you know you ’s all sinners? Well, you is–everybody is. White folks is sinners too,–Miss Feely says so; but I spects niggers is the biggest ones; but lor! ye an’t any on ye up to me. I ’s so awful wicked there can’t nobody do nothin’ with me. I used to keep old Missis a swarin’ at me half de time. I spects I ’s the wickedest critter in the world;” and Topsy would cut a summerset, and come up brisk and shining on to a higher perch, and evidently plume herself on the distinction.
Miss Ophelia busied herself very earnestly on Sundays, teaching Topsy the catechism. Topsy had an uncommon verbal memory, and committed with a fluency that greatly encouraged her instructress.
“What good do you expect it is going to do her?” said St. Clare.
“Why, it always has done children good. It’s what children always have to learn, you know,” said Miss Ophelia.
“Understand it or not,” said St. Clare.
“O, children never understand it at the time; but, after they are grown up, it’ll come to them.”
“Mine hasn’t come to me yet,” said St. Clare, “though I’ll bear testimony that you put it into me pretty thoroughly when I was a boy.”’
“Ah, you were always good at learning, Augustine. I used to have great hopes of you,” said Miss Ophelia.
“Well, haven’t you now?” said St. Clare.
“I wish you were as good as you were when you were a boy, Augustine.”
“So do I, that’s a fact, Cousin,” said St. Clare. “Well, go ahead and catechize Topsy; may be you’ll make out something yet.”
Topsy, who had stood like a black statue during this discussion, with hands decently folded, now, at a signal from Miss Ophelia, went on:
“Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the state wherein they were created.”
Topsy’s eyes twinkled, and she looked inquiringly.
“What is it, Topsy?” said Miss Ophelia.
“Please, Missis, was dat ar state Kintuck?”
“What state, Topsy?”
“Dat state dey fell out of. I used to hear Mas’r tell how we came down from Kintuck.”
St. Clare laughed.
“You’ll have to give her a meaning, or she’ll make one,” said he. “There seems to be a theory of emigration suggested there.”
“O! Augustine, be still,” said Miss Ophelia; “how can I do anything, if you will be laughing?”
“Well, I won’t disturb the exercises again, on my honor;” and St. Clare took his paper into the parlor, and sat down, till Topsy had finished her recitations. They were all very well, only that now and then she would oddly transpose some important words, and persist in the mistake, in spite of every effort to the contrary; and St. Clare, after all his promises of goodness, took a wicked pleasure in these mistakes, calling Topsy to him whenever he had a mind to amuse himself, and getting her to repeat the offending passages, in spite of Miss Ophelia’s remonstrances.
“How do you think I can do anything with the child, if you will go on so, Augustine?” she would say.
“Well, it is too bad,–I won’t again; but I do like to hear the droll little image stumble over those big words!”
“But you confirm her in the wrong way.”
“What’s the odds? One word is as good as another to her.”
“You wanted me to bring her up right; and you ought to remember she is a reasonable creature, and be careful of your influence over her.”
“O, dismal! so I ought; but, as Topsy herself says, ’I ’s so wicked!’”
In very much this way Topsy’s training proceeded, for a year or two,–Miss Ophelia worrying herself, from day to day, with her, as a kind of chronic plague, to whose inflictions she became, in time, as accustomed, as persons sometimes do to the neuralgia or sick headache.
St. Clare took the same kind of amusement in the child that a man might in the tricks of a parrot or a pointer. Topsy, whenever her sins brought her into disgrace in other quarters, always took refuge behind his chair; and St. Clare, in one way or other, would make peace for her. From him she got many a stray picayune, which she laid out in nuts and candies, and distributed, with careless generosity, to all the children in the family; for Topsy, to do her justice, was good-natured and liberal, and only spiteful in self-defence. She is fairly introduced into our _corps de ballet_, and will figure, from time to time, in her turn, with other performers.
Our readers may not be unwilling to glance back, for a brief interval, at Uncle Tom’s Cabin, on the Kentucky farm, and see what has been transpiring among those whom he had left behind.
It was late in the summer afternoon, and the doors and windows of the large parlor all stood open, to invite any stray breeze, that might feel in a good humor, to enter. Mr. Shelby sat in a large hall opening into the room, and running through the whole length of the house, to a balcony on either end. Leisurely tipped back on one chair, with his heels in another, he was enjoying his after-dinner cigar. Mrs. Shelby sat in the door, busy about some fine sewing; she seemed like one who had something on her mind, which she was seeking an opportunity to introduce.
“Do you know,” she said, “that Chloe has had a letter from Tom?”
“Ah! has she? Tom ’s got some friend there, it seems. How is the old boy?”
“He has been bought by a very fine family, I should think,” said Mrs. Shelby,–“is kindly treated, and has not much to do.”
“Ah! well, I’m glad of it,–very glad,” said Mr. Shelby, heartily. “Tom, I suppose, will get reconciled to a Southern residence;–hardly want to come up here again.”
“On the contrary he inquires very anxiously,” said Mrs. Shelby, “when the money for his redemption is to be raised.”
“I’m sure _I_ don’t know,” said Mr. Shelby. “Once get business running wrong, there does seem to be no end to it. It’s like jumping from one bog to another, all through a swamp; borrow of one to pay another, and then borrow of another to pay one,–and these confounded notes falling due before a man has time to smoke a cigar and turn round,–dunning letters and dunning messages,–all scamper and hurry-scurry.”
“It does seem to me, my dear, that something might be done to straighten matters. Suppose we sell off all the horses, and sell one of your farms, and pay up square?”
“O, ridiculous, Emily! You are the finest woman in Kentucky; but still you haven’t sense to know that you don’t understand business;–women never do, and never can.
“But, at least,” said Mrs. Shelby, “could not you give me some little insight into yours; a list of all your debts, at least, and of all that is owed to you, and let me try and see if I can’t help you to economize.”
“O, bother! don’t plague me, Emily!–I can’t tell exactly. I know somewhere about what things are likely to be; but there’s no trimming and squaring my affairs, as Chloe trims crust off her pies. You don’t know anything about business, I tell you.”
And Mr. Shelby, not knowing any other way of enforcing his ideas, raised his voice,–a mode of arguing very convenient and convincing, when a gentleman is discussing matters of business with his wife.
Mrs. Shelby ceased talking, with something of a sigh. The fact was, that though her husband had stated she was a woman, she had a clear, energetic, practical mind, and a force of character every way superior to that of her husband; so that it would not have been so very absurd a supposition, to have allowed her capable of managing, as Mr. Shelby supposed. Her heart was set on performing her promise to Tom and Aunt Chloe, and she sighed as discouragements thickened around her.
“Don’t you think we might in some way contrive to raise that money? Poor Aunt Chloe! her heart is so set on it!”
“I’m sorry, if it is. I think I was premature in promising. I’m not sure, now, but it’s the best way to tell Chloe, and let her make up her mind to it. Tom’ll have another wife, in a year or two; and she had better take up with somebody else.”
“Mr. Shelby, I have taught my people that their marriages are as sacred as ours. I never could think of giving Chloe such advice.”
“It’s a pity, wife, that you have burdened them with a morality above their condition and prospects. I always thought so.”
“It’s only the morality of the Bible, Mr. Shelby.”
“Well, well, Emily, I don’t pretend to interfere with your religious notions; only they seem extremely unfitted for people in that condition.”
“They are, indeed,” said Mrs. Shelby, “and that is why, from my soul, I hate the whole thing. I tell you, my dear, _I_ cannot absolve myself from the promises I make to these helpless creatures. If I can get the money no other way I will take music-scholars;–I could get enough, I know, and earn the money myself.”
“You wouldn’t degrade yourself that way, Emily? I never could consent to it.”
“Degrade! would it degrade me as much as to break my faith with the helpless? No, indeed!”
“Well, you are always heroic and transcendental,” said Mr. Shelby, “but I think you had better think before you undertake such a piece of Quixotism.”
Here the conversation was interrupted by the appearance of Aunt Chloe, at the end of the verandah.
“If you please, Missis,” said she.
“Well, Chloe, what is it?” said her mistress, rising, and going to the end of the balcony.
“If Missis would come and look at dis yer lot o’ poetry.”
Chloe had a particular fancy for calling poultry poetry,–an application of language in which she always persisted, notwithstanding frequent corrections and advisings from the young members of the family.
“La sakes!” she would say, “I can’t see; one jis good as turry,–poetry suthin good, any how;” and so poetry Chloe continued to call it.
Mrs. Shelby smiled as she saw a prostrate lot of chickens and ducks, over which Chloe stood, with a very grave face of consideration.
“I’m a thinkin whether Missis would be a havin a chicken pie o’ dese yer.”
“Really, Aunt Chloe, I don’t much care;–serve them any way you like.”
Chloe stood handling them over abstractedly; it was quite evident that the chickens were not what she was thinking of. At last, with the short laugh with which her tribe often introduce a doubtful proposal, she said,
“Laws me, Missis! what should Mas’r and Missis be a troublin theirselves ’bout de money, and not a usin what’s right in der hands?” and Chloe laughed again.
“I don’t understand you, Chloe,” said Mrs. Shelby, nothing doubting, from her knowledge of Chloe’s manner, that she had heard every word of the conversation that had passed between her and her husband.
“Why, laws me, Missis!” said Chloe, laughing again, “other folks hires out der niggers and makes money on ’em! Don’t keep sich a tribe eatin ’em out of house and home.”
“Well, Chloe, who do you propose that we should hire out?”
“Laws! I an’t a proposin nothin; only Sam he said der was one of dese yer _perfectioners_, dey calls ’em, in Louisville, said he wanted a good hand at cake and pastry; and said he’d give four dollars a week to one, he did.”
“Well, laws, I ’s a thinkin, Missis, it’s time Sally was put along to be doin’ something. Sally ’s been under my care, now, dis some time, and she does most as well as me, considerin; and if Missis would only let me go, I would help fetch up de money. I an’t afraid to put my cake, nor pies nother, ’long side no _perfectioner’s_.
“Law sakes, Missis! ’tan’t no odds;–words is so curis, can’t never get ’em right!”
“But, Chloe, do you want to leave your children?”
“Laws, Missis! de boys is big enough to do day’s works; dey does well enough; and Sally, she’ll take de baby,–she’s such a peart young un, she won’t take no lookin arter.”
“Louisville is a good way off.”
“Law sakes! who’s afeard?–it’s down river, somer near my old man, perhaps?” said Chloe, speaking the last in the tone of a question, and looking at Mrs. Shelby.
“No, Chloe; it’s many a hundred miles off,” said Mrs. Shelby.
Chloe’s countenance fell.
“Never mind; your going there shall bring you nearer, Chloe. Yes, you may go; and your wages shall every cent of them be laid aside for your husband’s redemption.”
As when a bright sunbeam turns a dark cloud to silver, so Chloe’s dark face brightened immediately,–it really shone.
“Laws! if Missis isn’t too good! I was thinking of dat ar very thing; cause I shouldn’t need no clothes, nor shoes, nor nothin,–I could save every cent. How many weeks is der in a year, Missis?”
“Fifty-two,” said Mrs. Shelby.
“Laws! now, dere is? and four dollars for each on em. Why, how much ’d dat ar be?”
“Two hundred and eight dollars,” said Mrs. Shelby.
“Why-e!” said Chloe, with an accent of surprise and delight; “and how long would it take me to work it out, Missis?”
“Some four or five years, Chloe; but, then, you needn’t do it all,–I shall add something to it.”
“I wouldn’t hear to Missis’ givin lessons nor nothin. Mas’r’s quite right in dat ar;–‘t wouldn’t do, no ways. I hope none our family ever be brought to dat ar, while I ’s got hands.”
“Don’t fear, Chloe; I’ll take care of the honor of the family,” said Mrs. Shelby, smiling. “But when do you expect to go?”
“Well, I want spectin nothin; only Sam, he’s a gwine to de river with some colts, and he said I could go long with him; so I jes put my things together. If Missis was willin, I’d go with Sam tomorrow morning, if Missis would write my pass, and write me a commendation.”
“Well, Chloe, I’ll attend to it, if Mr. Shelby has no objections. I must speak to him.”
Mrs. Shelby went up stairs, and Aunt Chloe, delighted, went out to her cabin, to make her preparation.
“Law sakes, Mas’r George! ye didn’t know I ’s a gwine to Louisville tomorrow!” she said to George, as entering her cabin, he found her busy in sorting over her baby’s clothes. “I thought I’d jis look over sis’s things, and get ’em straightened up. But I’m gwine, Mas’r George,–gwine to have four dollars a week; and Missis is gwine to lay it all up, to buy back my old man agin!”
“Whew!” said George, “here’s a stroke of business, to be sure! How are you going?”
“Tomorrow, wid Sam. And now, Mas’r George, I knows you’ll jis sit down and write to my old man, and tell him all about it,–won’t ye?”
“To be sure,” said George; “Uncle Tom’ll be right glad to hear from us. I’ll go right in the house, for paper and ink; and then, you know, Aunt Chloe, I can tell about the new colts and all.”
“Sartin, sartin, Mas’r George; you go ’long, and I’ll get ye up a bit o’ chicken, or some sich; ye won’t have many more suppers wid yer poor old aunty.”
“The Grass Withereth–the Flower Fadeth”
Life passes, with us all, a day at a time; so it passed with our friend Tom, till two years were gone. Though parted from all his soul held dear, and though often yearning for what lay beyond, still was he never positively and consciously miserable; for, so well is the harp of human feeling strung, that nothing but a crash that breaks every string can wholly mar its harmony; and, on looking back to seasons which in review appear to us as those of deprivation and trial, we can remember that each hour, as it glided, brought its diversions and alleviations, so that, though not happy wholly, we were not, either, wholly miserable.
Tom read, in his only literary cabinet, of one who had “learned in whatsoever state he was, therewith to be content.” It seemed to him good and reasonable doctrine, and accorded well with the settled and thoughtful habit which he had acquired from the reading of that same book.
His letter homeward, as we related in the last chapter, was in due time answered by Master George, in a good, round, school-boy hand, that Tom said might be read “most acrost the room.” It contained various refreshing items of home intelligence, with which our reader is fully acquainted: stated how Aunt Chloe had been hired out to a confectioner in Louisville, where her skill in the pastry line was gaining wonderful sums of money, all of which, Tom was informed, was to be laid up to go to make up the sum of his redemption money; Mose and Pete were thriving, and the baby was trotting all about the house, under the care of Sally and the family generally.
Tom’s cabin was shut up for the present; but George expatiated brilliantly on ornaments and additions to be made to it when Tom came back.
The rest of this letter gave a list of George’s school studies, each one headed by a flourishing capital; and also told the names of four new colts that appeared on the premises since Tom left; and stated, in the same connection, that father and mother were well. The style of the letter was decidedly concise and terse; but Tom thought it the most wonderful specimen of composition that had appeared in modern times. He was never tired of looking at it, and even held a council with Eva on the expediency of getting it framed, to hang up in his room. Nothing but the difficulty of arranging it so that both sides of the page would show at once stood in the way of this undertaking.
The friendship between Tom and Eva had grown with the child’s growth. It would be hard to say what place she held in the soft, impressible heart of her faithful attendant. He loved her as something frail and earthly, yet almost worshipped her as something heavenly and divine. He gazed on her as the Italian sailor gazes on his image of the child Jesus,–with a mixture of reverence and tenderness; and to humor her graceful fancies, and meet those thousand simple wants which invest childhood like a many-colored rainbow, was Tom’s chief delight. In the market, at morning, his eyes were always on the flower-stalls for rare bouquets for her, and the choicest peach or orange was slipped into his pocket to give to her when he came back; and the sight that pleased him most was her sunny head looking out the gate for his distant approach, and her childish questions,–“Well, Uncle Tom, what have you got for me today?”
Nor was Eva less zealous in kind offices, in return. Though a child, she was a beautiful reader;–a fine musical ear, a quick poetic fancy, and an instinctive sympathy with what’s grand and noble, made her such a reader of the Bible as Tom had never before heard. At first, she read to please her humble friend; but soon her own earnest nature threw out its tendrils, and wound itself around the majestic book; and Eva loved it, because it woke in her strange yearnings, and strong, dim emotions, such as impassioned, imaginative children love to feel.
The parts that pleased her most were the Revelations and the Prophecies,–parts whose dim and wondrous imagery, and fervent language, impressed her the more, that she questioned vainly of their meaning;–and she and her simple friend, the old child and the young one, felt just alike about it. All that they knew was, that they spoke of a glory to be revealed,–a wondrous something yet to come, wherein their soul rejoiced, yet knew not why; and though it be not so in the physical, yet in moral science that which cannot be understood is not always profitless. For the soul awakes, a trembling stranger, between two dim eternities,–the eternal past, the eternal future. The light shines only on a small space around her; therefore, she needs must yearn towards the unknown; and the voices and shadowy movings which come to her from out the cloudy pillar of inspiration have each one echoes and answers in her own expecting nature. Its mystic imagery are so many talismans and gems inscribed with unknown hieroglyphics; she folds them in her bosom, and expects to read them when she passes beyond the veil.
At this time in our story, the whole St. Clare establishment is, for the time being, removed to their villa on Lake Pontchartrain. The heats of summer had driven all who were able to leave the sultry and unhealthy city, to seek the shores of the lake, and its cool sea-breezes.
St. Clare’s villa was an East Indian cottage, surrounded by light verandahs of bamboo-work, and opening on all sides into gardens and pleasure-grounds. The common sitting-room opened on to a large garden, fragrant with every picturesque plant and flower of the tropics, where winding paths ran down to the very shores of the lake, whose silvery sheet of water lay there, rising and falling in the sunbeams,–a picture never for an hour the same, yet every hour more beautiful.
It is now one of those intensely golden sunsets which kindles the whole horizon into one blaze of glory, and makes the water another sky. The lake lay in rosy or golden streaks, save where white-winged vessels glided hither and thither, like so many spirits, and little golden stars twinkled through the glow, and looked down at themselves as they trembled in the water.
Tom and Eva were seated on a little mossy seat, in an arbor, at the foot of the garden. It was Sunday evening, and Eva’s Bible lay open on her knee. She read,–“And I saw a sea of glass, mingled with fire.”
“Tom,” said Eva, suddenly stopping, and pointing to the lake, “there ’t is.”
“What, Miss Eva?”
“Don’t you see,–there?” said the child, pointing to the glassy water, which, as it rose and fell, reflected the golden glow of the sky. “There’s a ’sea of glass, mingled with fire.’”
“True enough, Miss Eva,” said Tom; and Tom sang–
“O, had I the wings of the morning, I’d fly away to Canaan’s shore; Bright angels should convey me home, To the new Jerusalem.”
“Where do you suppose new Jerusalem is, Uncle Tom?” said Eva.
“O, up in the clouds, Miss Eva.”
“Then I think I see it,” said Eva. “Look in those clouds!–they look like great gates of pearl; and you can see beyond them–far, far off–it’s all gold. Tom, sing about ’spirits bright.’”
Tom sung the words of a well-known Methodist hymn,
“I see a band of spirits bright, That taste the glories there; They all are robed in spotless white, And conquering palms they bear.”
“Uncle Tom, I’ve seen _them_,” said Eva.
Tom had no doubt of it at all; it did not surprise him in the least. If Eva had told him she had been to heaven, he would have thought it entirely probable.
“They come to me sometimes in my sleep, those spirits;” and Eva’s eyes grew dreamy, and she hummed, in a low voice,
“They are all robed in spotless white, And conquering palms they bear.”
“Uncle Tom,” said Eva, “I’m going there.”
“Where, Miss Eva?”
The child rose, and pointed her little hand to the sky; the glow of evening lit her golden hair and flushed cheek with a kind of unearthly radiance, and her eyes were bent earnestly on the skies.
“I’m going _there_,” she said, “to the spirits bright, Tom; _I’m going, before long_.”
The faithful old heart felt a sudden thrust; and Tom thought how often he had noticed, within six months, that Eva’s little hands had grown thinner, and her skin more transparent, and her breath shorter; and how, when she ran or played in the garden, as she once could for hours, she became soon so tired and languid. He had heard Miss Ophelia speak often of a cough, that all her medicaments could not cure; and even now that fervent cheek and little hand were burning with hectic fever; and yet the thought that Eva’s words suggested had never come to him till now.
Has there ever been a child like Eva? Yes, there have been; but their names are always on grave-stones, and their sweet smiles, their heavenly eyes, their singular words and ways, are among the buried treasures of yearning hearts. In how many families do you hear the legend that all the goodness and graces of the living are nothing to the peculiar charms of one who _is not_. It is as if heaven had an especial band of angels, whose office it was to sojourn for a season here, and endear to them the wayward human heart, that they might bear it upward with them in their homeward flight. When you see that deep, spiritual light in the eye,–when the little soul reveals itself in words sweeter and wiser than the ordinary words of children,–hope not to retain that child; for the seal of heaven is on it, and the light of immortality looks out from its eyes.
Even so, beloved Eva! fair star of thy dwelling! Thou art passing away; but they that love thee dearest know it not.
The colloquy between Tom and Eva was interrupted by a hasty call from Miss Ophelia.
“Eva–Eva!–why, child, the dew is falling; you mustn’t be out there!”
Eva and Tom hastened in.
Miss Ophelia was old, and skilled in the tactics of nursing. She was from New England, and knew well the first guileful footsteps of that soft, insidious disease, which sweeps away so many of the fairest and loveliest, and, before one fibre of life seems broken, seals them irrevocably for death.
She had noted the slight, dry cough, the daily brightening cheek; nor could the lustre of the eye, and the airy buoyancy born of fever, deceive her.
She tried to communicate her fears to St. Clare; but he threw back her suggestions with a restless petulance, unlike his usual careless good-humor.
“Don’t be croaking, Cousin,–I hate it!” he would say; “don’t you see that the child is only growing. Children always lose strength when they grow fast.”
“But she has that cough!”
“O! nonsense of that cough!–it is not anything. She has taken a little cold, perhaps.”
“Well, that was just the way Eliza Jane was taken, and Ellen and Maria Sanders.”
“O! stop these hobgoblin’ nurse legends. You old hands got so wise, that a child cannot cough, or sneeze, but you see desperation and ruin at hand. Only take care of the child, keep her from the night air, and don’t let her play too hard, and she’ll do well enough.”
So St. Clare said; but he grew nervous and restless. He watched Eva feverishly day by day, as might be told by the frequency with which he repeated over that “the child was quite well”–that there wasn’t anything in that cough,–it was only some little stomach affection, such as children often had. But he kept by her more than before, took her oftener to ride with him, brought home every few days some receipt or strengthening mixture,–“not,” he said, “that the child _needed_ it, but then it would not do her any harm.”
If it must be told, the thing that struck a deeper pang to his heart than anything else was the daily increasing maturity of the child’s mind and feelings. While still retaining all a child’s fanciful graces, yet she often dropped, unconsciously, words of such a reach of thought, and strange unworldly wisdom, that they seemed to be an inspiration. At such times, St. Clare would feel a sudden thrill, and clasp her in his arms, as if that fond clasp could save her; and his heart rose up with wild determination to keep her, never to let her go.
The child’s whole heart and soul seemed absorbed in works of love and kindness. Impulsively generous she had always been; but there was a touching and womanly thoughtfulness about her now, that every one noticed. She still loved to play with Topsy, and the various colored children; but she now seemed rather a spectator than an actor of their plays, and she would sit for half an hour at a time, laughing at the odd tricks of Topsy,–and then a shadow would seem to pass across her face, her eyes grew misty, and her thoughts were afar.
“Mamma,” she said, suddenly, to her mother, one day, “why don’t we teach our servants to read?”
“What a question child! People never do.”
“Why don’t they?” said Eva.
“Because it is no use for them to read. It don’t help them to work any better, and they are not made for anything else.”
“But they ought to read the Bible, mamma, to learn God’s will.”
“O! they can get that read to them all _they_ need.”
“It seems to me, mamma, the Bible is for every one to read themselves. They need it a great many times when there is nobody to read it.”
“Eva, you are an odd child,” said her mother.
“Miss Ophelia has taught Topsy to read,” continued Eva.
“Yes, and you see how much good it does. Topsy is the worst creature I ever saw!”
“Here’s poor Mammy!” said Eva. “She does love the Bible so much, and wishes so she could read! And what will she do when I can’t read to her?”
Marie was busy, turning over the contents of a drawer, as she answered,
“Well, of course, by and by, Eva, you will have other things to think of besides reading the Bible round to servants. Not but that is very proper; I’ve done it myself, when I had health. But when you come to be dressing and going into company, you won’t have time. See here!” she added, “these jewels I’m going to give you when you come out. I wore them to my first ball. I can tell you, Eva, I made a sensation.”
Eva took the jewel-case, and lifted from it a diamond necklace. Her large, thoughtful eyes rested on them, but it was plain her thoughts were elsewhere.
“How sober you look child!” said Marie.
“Are these worth a great deal of money, mamma?”
“To be sure, they are. Father sent to France for them. They are worth a small fortune.”
“I wish I had them,” said Eva, “to do what I pleased with!”
“What would you do with them?”
“I’d sell them, and buy a place in the free states, and take all our people there, and hire teachers, to teach them to read and write.”
Eva was cut short by her mother’s laughing.
“Set up a boarding-school! Wouldn’t you teach them to play on the piano, and paint on velvet?”
“I’d teach them to read their own Bible, and write their own letters, and read letters that are written to them,” said Eva, steadily. “I know, mamma, it does come very hard on them that they can’t do these things. Tom feels it–Mammy does,–a great many of them do. I think it’s wrong.”
“Come, come, Eva; you are only a child! You don’t know anything about these things,” said Marie; “besides, your talking makes my head ache.”
Marie always had a headache on hand for any conversation that did not exactly suit her.
Eva stole away; but after that, she assiduously gave Mammy reading lessons.
About this time, St. Clare’s brother Alfred, with his eldest son, a boy of twelve, spent a day or two with the family at the lake.
No sight could be more singular and beautiful than that of these twin brothers. Nature, instead of instituting resemblances between them, had made them opposites on every point; yet a mysterious tie seemed to unite them in a closer friendship than ordinary.
They used to saunter, arm in arm, up and down the alleys and walks of the garden. Augustine, with his blue eyes and golden hair, his ethereally flexible form and vivacious features; and Alfred, dark-eyed, with haughty Roman profile, firmly-knit limbs, and decided bearing. They were always abusing each other’s opinions and practices, and yet never a whit the less absorbed in each other’s society; in fact, the very contrariety seemed to unite them, like the attraction between opposite poles of the magnet.
Henrique, the eldest son of Alfred, was a noble, dark-eyed, princely boy, full of vivacity and spirit; and, from the first moment of introduction, seemed to be perfectly fascinated by the spirituelle graces of his cousin Evangeline.
Eva had a little pet pony, of a snowy whiteness. It was easy as a cradle, and as gentle as its little mistress; and this pony was now brought up to the back verandah by Tom, while a little mulatto boy of about thirteen led along a small black Arabian, which had just been imported, at a great expense, for Henrique.
Henrique had a boy’s pride in his new possession; and, as he advanced and took the reins out of the hands of his little groom, he looked carefully over him, and his brow darkened.
“What’s this, Dodo, you little lazy dog! you haven’t rubbed my horse down, this morning.”
“Yes, Mas’r,” said Dodo, submissively; “he got that dust on his own self.”
“You rascal, shut your mouth!” said Henrique, violently raising his riding-whip. “How dare you speak?”
The boy was a handsome, bright-eyed mulatto, of just Henrique’s size, and his curling hair hung round a high, bold forehead. He had white blood in his veins, as could be seen by the quick flush in his cheek, and the sparkle of his eye, as he eagerly tried to speak.
“Mas’r Henrique!–” he began.
Henrique struck him across the face with his riding-whip, and, seizing one of his arms, forced him on to his knees, and beat him till he was out of breath.
“There, you impudent dog! Now will you learn not to answer back when I speak to you? Take the horse back, and clean him properly. I’ll teach you your place!”
“Young Mas’r,” said Tom, “I specs what he was gwine to say was, that the horse would roll when he was bringing him up from the stable; he’s so full of spirits,–that’s the way he got that dirt on him; I looked to his cleaning.”
“You hold your tongue till you’re asked to speak!” said Henrique, turning on his heel, and walking up the steps to speak to Eva, who stood in her riding-dress.
“Dear Cousin, I’m sorry this stupid fellow has kept you waiting,” he said. “Let’s sit down here, on this seat till they come. What’s the matter, Cousin?–you look sober.”
“How could you be so cruel and wicked to poor Dodo?” asked Eva.
“Cruel,–wicked!” said the boy, with unaffected surprise. “What do you mean, dear Eva?”
“I don’t want you to call me dear Eva, when you do so,” said Eva.
“Dear Cousin, you don’t know Dodo; it’s the only way to manage him, he’s so full of lies and excuses. The only way is to put him down at once,–not let him open his mouth; that’s the way papa manages.”
“But Uncle Tom said it was an accident, and he never tells what isn’t true.”
“He’s an uncommon old nigger, then!” said Henrique. “Dodo will lie as fast as he can speak.”
“You frighten him into deceiving, if you treat him so.”
“Why, Eva, you’ve really taken such a fancy to Dodo, that I shall be jealous.”
“But you beat him,–and he didn’t deserve it.”
“O, well, it may go for some time when he does, and don’t get it. A few cuts never come amiss with Dodo,–he’s a regular spirit, I can tell you; but I won’t beat him again before you, if it troubles you.”
Eva was not satisfied, but found it in vain to try to make her handsome cousin understand her feelings.
Dodo soon appeared, with the horses.
“Well, Dodo, you’ve done pretty well, this time,” said his young master, with a more gracious air. “Come, now, and hold Miss Eva’s horse while I put her on to the saddle.”
Dodo came and stood by Eva’s pony. His face was troubled; his eyes looked as if he had been crying.
Henrique, who valued himself on his gentlemanly adroitness in all matters of gallantry, soon had his fair cousin in the saddle, and, gathering the reins, placed them in her hands.
But Eva bent to the other side of the horse, where Dodo was standing, and said, as he relinquished the reins,–“That’s a good boy, Dodo;–thank you!”
Dodo looked up in amazement into the sweet young face; the blood rushed to his cheeks, and the tears to his eyes.
“Here, Dodo,” said his master, imperiously.
Dodo sprang and held the horse, while his master mounted.
“There’s a picayune for you to buy candy with, Dodo,” said Henrique; “go get some.”
And Henrique cantered down the walk after Eva. Dodo stood looking after the two children. One had given him money; and one had given him what he wanted far more,–a kind word, kindly spoken. Dodo had been only a few months away from his mother. His master had bought him at a slave warehouse, for his handsome face, to be a match to the handsome pony; and he was now getting his breaking in, at the hands of his young master.
The scene of the beating had been witnessed by the two brothers St. Clare, from another part of the garden.
Augustine’s cheek flushed; but he only observed, with his usual sarcastic carelessness.
“I suppose that’s what we may call republican education, Alfred?”
“Henrique is a devil of a fellow, when his blood’s up,” said Alfred, carelessly.
“I suppose you consider this an instructive practice for him,” said Augustine, drily.
“I couldn’t help it, if I didn’t. Henrique is a regular little tempest;–his mother and I have given him up, long ago. But, then, that Dodo is a perfect sprite,–no amount of whipping can hurt him.”
“And this by way of teaching Henrique the first verse of a republican’s catechism, ’All men are born free and equal!’”
“Poh!” said Alfred; “one of Tom Jefferson’s pieces of French sentiment and humbug. It’s perfectly ridiculous to have that going the rounds among us, to this day.”
“I think it is,” said St. Clare, significantly.
“Because,” said Alfred, “we can see plainly enough that all men are _not_ born free, nor born equal; they are born anything else. For my part, I think half this republican talk sheer humbug. It is the educated, the intelligent, the wealthy, the refined, who ought to have equal rights and not the canaille.”
“If you can keep the canaille of that opinion,” said Augustine. “They took _their_ turn once, in France.”
“Of course, they must be _kept down_, consistently, steadily, as I _should_,” said Alfred, setting his foot hard down as if he were standing on somebody.
“It makes a terrible slip when they get up,” said Augustine,–“in St. Domingo, for instance.”
“Poh!” said Alfred, “we’ll take care of that, in this country. We must set our face against all this educating, elevating talk, that is getting about now; the lower class must not be educated.”
“That is past praying for,” said Augustine; “educated they will be, and we have only to say how. Our system is educating them in barbarism and brutality. We are breaking all humanizing ties, and making them brute beasts; and, if they get the upper hand, such we shall find them.”
“They shall never get the upper hand!” said Alfred.
“That’s right,” said St. Clare; “put on the steam, fasten down the escape-valve, and sit on it, and see where you’ll land.”
“Well,” said Alfred, “we _will_ see. I’m not afraid to sit on the escape-valve, as long as the boilers are strong, and the machinery works well.”
“The nobles in Louis XVI.’s time thought just so; and Austria and Pius IX. think so now; and, some pleasant morning, you may all be caught up to meet each other in the air, _when the boilers burst_.”
“_Dies declarabit_,” said Alfred, laughing.
“I tell you,” said Augustine, “if there is anything that is revealed with the strength of a divine law in our times, it is that the masses are to rise, and the under class become the upper one.”
“That’s one of your red republican humbugs, Augustine! Why didn’t you ever take to the stump;–you’d make a famous stump orator! Well, I hope I shall be dead before this millennium of your greasy masses comes on.”
“Greasy or not greasy, they will govern _you_, when their time comes,” said Augustine; “and they will be just such rulers as you make them. The French noblesse chose to have the people ‘_sans culottes_,’ and they had ‘_sans culotte_’ governors to their hearts’ content. The people of Hayti–”
“O, come, Augustine! as if we hadn’t had enough of that abominable, contemptible Hayti!* The Haytiens were not Anglo Saxons; if they had been there would have been another story. The Anglo Saxon is the dominant race of the world, and _is to be so_.”
* In August 1791, as a consequence of the French Revolution, the black slaves and mulattoes on Haiti rose in revolt against the whites, and in the period of turmoil that followed enormous cruelties were practised by both sides. The “Emperor” Dessalines, come to power in 1804, massacred all the whites on the island. Haitian bloodshed became an argument to show the barbarous nature of the Negro, a doctrine Wendell Phillips sought to combat in his celebrated lecture on Toussaint L’Ouverture.
“Well, there is a pretty fair infusion of Anglo Saxon blood among our slaves, now,” said Augustine. “There are plenty among them who have only enough of the African to give a sort of tropical warmth and fervor to our calculating firmness and foresight. If ever the San Domingo hour comes, Anglo Saxon blood will lead on the day. Sons of white fathers, with all our haughty feelings burning in their veins, will not always be bought and sold and traded. They will rise, and raise with them their mother’s race.”
“Well,” said Augustine, “there goes an old saying to this effect, ’As it was in the days of Noah so shall it be;–they ate, they drank, they planted, they builded, and knew not till the flood came and took them.’”
“On the whole, Augustine, I think your talents might do for a circuit rider,” said Alfred, laughing. “Never you fear for us; possession is our nine points. We’ve got the power. This subject race,” said he, stamping firmly, “is down and shall _stay_ down! We have energy enough to manage our own powder.”
“Sons trained like your Henrique will be grand guardians of your powder-magazines,” said Augustine,–“so cool and self-possessed! The proverb says, ’They that cannot govern themselves cannot govern others.’”
“There is a trouble there” said Alfred, thoughtfully; “there’s no doubt that our system is a difficult one to train children under. It gives too free scope to the passions, altogether, which, in our climate, are hot enough. I find trouble with Henrique. The boy is generous and warm-hearted, but a perfect fire-cracker when excited. I believe I shall send him North for his education, where obedience is more fashionable, and where he will associate more with equals, and less with dependents.”
“Since training children is the staple work of the human race,” said Augustine, “I should think it something of a consideration that our system does not work well there.”
“It does not for some things,” said Alfred; “for others, again, it does. It makes boys manly and courageous; and the very vices of an abject race tend to strengthen in them the opposite virtues. I think Henrique, now, has a keener sense of the beauty of truth, from seeing lying and deception the universal badge of slavery.”
“A Christian-like view of the subject, certainly!” said Augustine.
“It’s true, Christian-like or not; and is about as Christian-like as most other things in the world,” said Alfred.
“That may be,” said St. Clare.
“Well, there’s no use in talking, Augustine. I believe we’ve been round and round this old track five hundred times, more or less. What do you say to a game of backgammon?”
The two brothers ran up the verandah steps, and were soon seated at a light bamboo stand, with the backgammon-board between them. As they were setting their men, Alfred said,
“I tell you, Augustine, if I thought as you do, I should do something.”
“I dare say you would,–you are one of the doing sort,–but what?”
“Why, elevate your own servants, for a specimen,” said Alfred, with a half-scornful smile.
“You might as well set Mount Ætna on them flat, and tell them to stand up under it, as tell me to elevate my servants under all the superincumbent mass of society upon them. One man can do nothing, against the whole action of a community. Education, to do anything, must be a state education; or there must be enough agreed in it to make a current.”
“You take the first throw,” said Alfred; and the brothers were soon lost in the game, and heard no more till the scraping of horses’ feet was heard under the verandah.
“There come the children,” said Augustine, rising. “Look here, Alf! Did you ever see anything so beautiful?” And, in truth, it _was_ a beautiful sight. Henrique, with his bold brow, and dark, glossy curls, and glowing cheek, was laughing gayly as he bent towards his fair cousin, as they came on. She was dressed in a blue riding dress, with a cap of the same color. Exercise had given a brilliant hue to her cheeks, and heightened the effect of her singularly transparent skin, and golden hair.
“Good heavens! what perfectly dazzling beauty!” said Alfred. “I tell you, Auguste, won’t she make some hearts ache, one of these days?”
“She will, too truly,–God knows I’m afraid so!” said St. Clare, in a tone of sudden bitterness, as he hurried down to take her off her horse.
“Eva darling! you’re not much tired?” he said, as he clasped her in his arms.
“No, papa,” said the child; but her short, hard breathing alarmed her father.
“How could you ride so fast, dear?–you know it’s bad for you.”
“I felt so well, papa, and liked it so much, I forgot.”
St. Clare carried her in his arms into the parlor, and laid her on the sofa.
“Henrique, you must be careful of Eva,” said he; “you mustn’t ride fast with her.”
“I’ll take her under my care,” said Henrique, seating himself by the sofa, and taking Eva’s hand.
Eva soon found herself much better. Her father and uncle resumed their game, and the children were left together.
“Do you know, Eva, I’m sorry papa is only going to stay two days here, and then I shan’t see you again for ever so long! If I stay with you, I’d try to be good, and not be cross to Dodo, and so on. I don’t mean to treat Dodo ill; but, you know, I’ve got such a quick temper. I’m not really bad to him, though. I give him a picayune, now and then; and you see he dresses well. I think, on the whole, Dodo ’s pretty well off.”
“Would you think you were well off, if there were not one creature in the world near you to love you?”
“I?–Well, of course not.”
“And you have taken Dodo away from all the friends he ever had, and now he has not a creature to love him;–nobody can be good that way.”
“Well, I can’t help it, as I know of. I can’t get his mother and I can’t love him myself, nor anybody else, as I know of.”
“Why can’t you?” said Eva.
“_Love_ Dodo! Why, Eva, you wouldn’t have me! I may _like_ him well enough; but you don’t _love_ your servants.”
“I do, indeed.”
“Don’t the Bible say we must love everybody?”
“O, the Bible! To be sure, it says a great many such things; but, then, nobody ever thinks of doing them,–you know, Eva, nobody does.”
Eva did not speak; her eyes were fixed and thoughtful for a few moments.
“At any rate,” she said, “dear Cousin, do love poor Dodo, and be kind to him, for my sake!”
“I could love anything, for your sake, dear Cousin; for I really think you are the loveliest creature that I ever saw!” And Henrique spoke with an earnestness that flushed his handsome face. Eva received it with perfect simplicity, without even a change of feature; merely saying, “I’m glad you feel so, dear Henrique! I hope you will remember.”
The dinner-bell put an end to the interview.
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.
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 short-breathed.”
“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 gone case!”
“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 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. 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 understand.”
“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 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.
“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 my heart!”
“What makes you sad, and seems dreadful, Eva?”
“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, all 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 together!”
“Where, dearest?” said St. Clare.
“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 was silent.
“You will come to me,” said the child, speaking in a voice of calm certainty which she often used unconsciously.
“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 asleep.
The Little Evangelist
It was Sunday afternoon. St. Clare was stretched on a bamboo lounge in the verandah, solacing himself with a cigar. Marie lay reclined on a sofa, opposite the window opening on the verandah, closely secluded, under an awning of transparent gauze, from the outrages of the mosquitos, and languidly holding in her hand an elegantly bound prayer-book. She was holding it because it was Sunday, and she imagined she had been reading it,–though, in fact, she had been only taking a succession of short naps, with it open in her hand.
Miss Ophelia, who, after some rummaging, had hunted up a small Methodist meeting within riding distance, had gone out, with Tom as driver, to attend it; and Eva had accompanied them.
“I say, Augustine,” said Marie after dozing a while, “I must send to the city after my old Doctor Posey; I’m sure I’ve got the complaint of the heart.”
“Well; why need you send for him? This doctor that attends Eva seems skilful.”
“I would not trust him in a critical case,” said Marie; “and I think I may say mine is becoming so! I’ve been thinking of it, these two or three nights past; I have such distressing pains, and such strange feelings.”
“O, Marie, you are blue; I don’t believe it’s heart complaint.”
“I dare say _you_ don’t,” said Marie; “I was prepared to expect _that_. You can be alarmed enough, if Eva coughs, or has the least thing the matter with her; but you never think of me.”
“If it’s particularly agreeable to you to have heart disease, why, I’ll try and maintain you have it,” said St. Clare; “I didn’t know it was.”
“Well, I only hope you won’t be sorry for this, when it’s too late!” said Marie; “but, believe it or not, my distress about Eva, and the exertions I have made with that dear child, have developed what I have long suspected.”
What the _exertions_ were which Marie referred to, it would have been difficult to state. St. Clare quietly made this commentary to himself, and went on smoking, like a hard-hearted wretch of a man as he was, till a carriage drove up before the verandah, and Eva and Miss Ophelia alighted.
Miss Ophelia marched straight to her own chamber, to put away her bonnet and shawl, as was always her manner, before she spoke a word on any subject; while Eva came, at St. Clare’s call, and was sitting on his knee, giving him an account of the services they had heard.
They soon heard loud exclamations from Miss Ophelia’s room, which, like the one in which they were sitting, opened on to the verandah and violent reproof addressed to somebody.
“What new witchcraft has Tops been brewing?” asked St. Clare. “That commotion is of her raising, I’ll be bound!”
And, in a moment after, Miss Ophelia, in high indignation, came dragging the culprit along.
“Come out here, now!” she said. “I _will_ tell your master!”
“What’s the case now?” asked Augustine.
“The case is, that I cannot be plagued with this child, any longer! It’s past all bearing; flesh and blood cannot endure it! Here, I locked her up, and gave her a hymn to study; and what does she do, but spy out where I put my key, and has gone to my bureau, and got a bonnet-trimming, and cut it all to pieces to make dolls’ jackets! I never saw anything like it, in my life!”
“I told you, Cousin,” said Marie, “that you’d find out that these creatures can’t be brought up without severity. If I had _my_ way, now,” she said, looking reproachfully at St. Clare, “I’d send that child out, and have her thoroughly whipped; I’d have her whipped till she couldn’t stand!”
“I don’t doubt it,” said St. Clare. “Tell me of the lovely rule of woman! I never saw above a dozen women that wouldn’t half kill a horse, or a servant, either, if they had their own way with them!–let alone a man.”
“There is no use in this shilly-shally way of yours, St. Clare!” said Marie. “Cousin is a woman of sense, and she sees it now, as plain as I do.”
Miss Ophelia had just the capability of indignation that belongs to the thorough-paced housekeeper, and this had been pretty actively roused by the artifice and wastefulness of the child; in fact, many of my lady readers must own that they should have felt just so in her circumstances; but Marie’s words went beyond her, and she felt less heat.
“I wouldn’t have the child treated so, for the world,” she said; “but, I am sure, Augustine, I don’t know what to do. I’ve taught and taught; I’ve talked till I’m tired; I’ve whipped her; I’ve punished her in every way I can think of, and she’s just what she was at first.”
“Come here, Tops, you monkey!” said St. Clare, calling the child up to him.
Topsy came up; her round, hard eyes glittering and blinking with a mixture of apprehensiveness and their usual odd drollery.
“What makes you behave so?” said St. Clare, who could not help being amused with the child’s expression.
“Spects it’s my wicked heart,” said Topsy, demurely; “Miss Feely says so.”
“Don’t you see how much Miss Ophelia has done for you? She says she has done everything she can think of.”
“Lor, yes, Mas’r! old Missis used to say so, too. She whipped me a heap harder, and used to pull my har, and knock my head agin the door; but it didn’t do me no good! I spects, if they ’s to pull every spire o’ har out o’ my head, it wouldn’t do no good, neither,–I ’s so wicked! Laws! I ’s nothin but a nigger, no ways!”
“Well, I shall have to give her up,” said Miss Ophelia; “I can’t have that trouble any longer.”
“Well, I’d just like to ask one question,” said St. Clare.
“What is it?”
“Why, if your Gospel is not strong enough to save one heathen child, that you can have at home here, all to yourself, what’s the use of sending one or two poor missionaries off with it among thousands of just such? I suppose this child is about a fair sample of what thousands of your heathen are.”
Miss Ophelia did not make an immediate answer; and Eva, who had stood a silent spectator of the scene thus far, made a silent sign to Topsy to follow her. There was a little glass-room at the corner of the verandah, which St. Clare used as a sort of reading-room; and Eva and Topsy disappeared into this place.
“What’s Eva going about, now?” said St. Clare; “I mean to see.”
And, advancing on tiptoe, he lifted up a curtain that covered the glass-door, and looked in. In a moment, laying his finger on his lips, he made a silent gesture to Miss Ophelia to come and look. There sat the two children on the floor, with their side faces towards them. Topsy, with her usual air of careless drollery and unconcern; but, opposite to her, Eva, her whole face fervent with feeling, and tears in her large eyes.
“What does make you so bad, Topsy? Why won’t you try and be good? Don’t you love _anybody_, Topsy?”
“Donno nothing ’bout love; I loves candy and sich, that’s all,” said Topsy.
“But you love your father and mother?”
“Never had none, ye know. I telled ye that, Miss Eva.”
“O, I know,” said Eva, sadly; “but hadn’t you any brother, or sister, or aunt, or–”
“No, none on ’em,–never had nothing nor nobody.”
“But, Topsy, if you’d only try to be good, you might–”
“Couldn’t never be nothin’ but a nigger, if I was ever so good,” said Topsy. “If I could be skinned, and come white, I’d try then.”
“But people can love you, if you are black, Topsy. Miss Ophelia would love you, if you were good.”
Topsy gave the short, blunt laugh that was her common mode of expressing incredulity.
“Don’t you think so?” said Eva.
“No; she can’t bar me, ’cause I’m a nigger!–she’d ’s soon have a toad touch her! There can’t nobody love niggers, and niggers can’t do nothin’! _I_ don’t care,” said Topsy, beginning to whistle.
“O, Topsy, poor child, _I_ love you!” said Eva, with a sudden burst of feeling, and laying her little thin, white hand on Topsy’s shoulder; “I love you, because you haven’t had any father, or mother, or friends;–because you’ve been a poor, abused child! I love you, and I want you to be good. I am very unwell, Topsy, and I think I shan’t live a great while; and it really grieves me, to have you be so naughty. I wish you would try to be good, for my sake;–it’s only a little while I shall be with you.”
The round, keen eyes of the black child were overcast with tears;–large, bright drops rolled heavily down, one by one, and fell on the little white hand. Yes, in that moment, a ray of real belief, a ray of heavenly love, had penetrated the darkness of her heathen soul! She laid her head down between her knees, and wept and sobbed,–while the beautiful child, bending over her, looked like the picture of some bright angel stooping to reclaim a sinner.
“Poor Topsy!” said Eva, “don’t you know that Jesus loves all alike? He is just as willing to love you, as me. He loves you just as I do,–only more, because he is better. He will help you to be good; and you can go to Heaven at last, and be an angel forever, just as much as if you were white. Only think of it, Topsy!–_you_ can be one of those spirits bright, Uncle Tom sings about.”
“O, dear Miss Eva, dear Miss Eva!” said the child; “I will try, I will try; I never did care nothin’ about it before.”
St. Clare, at this instant, dropped the curtain. “It puts me in mind of mother,” he said to Miss Ophelia. “It is true what she told me; if we want to give sight to the blind, we must be willing to do as Christ did,–call them to us, and _put our hands on them_.”
“I’ve always had a prejudice against negroes,” said Miss Ophelia, “and it’s a fact, I never could bear to have that child touch me; but, I don’t think she knew it.”
“Trust any child to find that out,” said St. Clare; “there’s no keeping it from them. But I believe that all the trying in the world to benefit a child, and all the substantial favors you can do them, will never excite one emotion of gratitude, while that feeling of repugnance remains in the heart;–it’s a queer kind of a fact,–but so it is.”
“I don’t know how I can help it,” said Miss Ophelia; “they _are_ disagreeable to me,–this child in particular,–how can I help feeling so?”
“Eva does, it seems.”
“Well, she’s so loving! After all, though, she’s no more than Christ-like,” said Miss Ophelia; “I wish I were like her. She might teach me a lesson.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time a little child had been used to instruct an old disciple, if it _were_ so,” said St. Clare.
Weep not for those whom the veil of the tomb, In life’s early morning, hath hid from our eyes.*
* “Weep Not for Those,” a poem by Thomas Moore (1779-1852).
Eva’s 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 mother’s 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 Eva’s 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 Tom’s 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 mother’s voice, in sharp tones, in the verandah.
“What now, you baggage!–what new piece of mischief! You’ve been picking the flowers, hey?” and Eva heard the sound of a smart slap.
“Law, Missis! they ’s for Miss Eva,” she heard a voice say, which she knew belonged to Topsy.
“Miss Eva! A pretty excuse!–you suppose she wants _your_ flowers, you good-for-nothing nigger! Get along off with you!”
In a moment, Eva was off from her lounge, and in the verandah.
“O, don’t, mother! I should like the flowers; do give them to me; I want them!”
“Why, Eva, your room is full now.”
“I can’t have too many,” said Eva. “Topsy, do bring them here.”
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’s a beautiful bouquet!” said Eva, looking at it.
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.
Topsy looked pleased, as Eva said,–“Topsy, you arrange flowers very prettily. Here,” she said, “is this vase I haven’t any flowers for. I wish you’d arrange something every day for it.”
“Well, that’s odd!” said Marie. “What in the world do you want that for?”
“Never mind, mamma; you’d as lief as not Topsy should do it,–had you not?”
“Of course, anything you please, dear! Topsy, you hear your young mistress;–see that you mind.”
Topsy made a short courtesy, and looked down; and, as she turned away, Eva saw a tear roll down her dark cheek.
“You see, mamma, I knew poor Topsy wanted to do something for me,” said Eva to her mother.
“O, nonsense! it’s only because she likes to do mischief. She knows she mustn’t pick flowers,–so she does it; that’s all there is to it. But, if you fancy to have her pluck them, so be it.”
“Mamma, I think Topsy is different from what she used to be; she’s trying to be a good girl.”
“She’ll have to try a good while before _she_ gets to be good,” said Marie, with a careless laugh.
“Well, you know, mamma, poor Topsy! everything has always been against her.”
“Not since she’s been here, I’m sure. If she hasn’t 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 can’t make anything of the creature!”
“But, mamma, it’s so different to be brought up as I’ve been, with so many friends, so many things to make me good and happy; and to be brought up as she’s been, all the time, till she came here!”
“Most likely,” said Marie, yawning,–“dear me, how hot it is!”
“Mamma, you believe, don’t you, that Topsy could become an angel, as well as any of us, if she were a Christian?”
“Topsy! what a ridiculous idea! Nobody but you would ever think of it. I suppose she could, though.”
“But, mamma, isn’t God her father, as much as ours? Isn’t Jesus her Saviour?”
“Well, that may be. I suppose God made everybody,” said Marie. “Where is my smelling-bottle?”
“It’s such a pity,–oh! _such_ a pity!” said Eva, looking out on the distant lake, and speaking half to herself.
“What’s a pity?” said Marie.
“Why, that any one, who could be a bright angel, and live with angels, should go all down, down down, and nobody help them!–oh dear!”
“Well, we can’t help it; it’s no use worrying, Eva! I don’t know what’s to be done; we ought to be thankful for our own advantages.”
“I hardly can be,” said Eva, “I’m so sorry to think of poor folks that haven’t any.”
“That’s odd enough,” said Marie;–“I’m sure my religion makes me thankful for my advantages.”
“Mamma,” said Eva, “I want to have some of my hair cut off,–a good deal of it.”
“What for?” said Marie.
“Mamma, I want to give some away to my friends, while I am able to give it to them myself. Won’t you ask aunty to come and cut it for me?”
Marie raised her voice, and called Miss Ophelia, from the other room.
The child half rose from her pillow as she came in, and, shaking down her long golden-brown curls, said, rather playfully, “Come aunty, shear the sheep!”
“What’s that?” said St. Clare, who just then entered with some fruit he had been out to get for her.
“Papa, I just want aunty to cut off some of my hair;–there’s too much of it, and it makes my head hot. Besides, I want to give some of it away.”
Miss Ophelia came, with her scissors.
“Take care,–don’t spoil the looks of it!” said her father; “cut underneath, where it won’t show. Eva’s curls are my pride.”
“O, papa!” said Eva, sadly.
“Yes, and I want them kept handsome against the time I take you up to your uncle’s plantation, to see Cousin Henrique,” said St. Clare, in a gay tone.
“I shall never go there, papa;–I am going to a better country. O, do believe me! Don’t you see, papa, that I get weaker, every day?”
“Why do you insist that I shall believe such a cruel thing, Eva?” said her father.
“Only because it is _true_, papa: and, if you will believe it now, perhaps you will get to feel about it as I do.”
St. Clare closed his lips, and stood gloomily eying the long, beautiful curls, which, as they were separated from the child’s 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.”
“Which will afford you great consolation, no doubt!” said St. Clare, in a dry, bitter tone.
Marie lay back on a lounge, and covered her face with her cambric handkerchief.
Eva’s 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.
She beckoned with her hand to her father. He came and sat down by her.
“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!”
“My child, I _am_ willing!” said St. Clare, covering his eyes with one hand, and holding up Eva’s hand with the other.
“Then, I want to see all our people together. I have some things I _must_ say to them,” said Eva.
“_Well_,” said St. Clare, in a tone of dry endurance.
Miss Ophelia despatched a messenger, and soon the whole of the servants were convened in the room.
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 father’s averted face, and Marie’s 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.
Eva raised herself, and looked long and earnestly round at every one. All looked sad and apprehensive. Many of the women hid their faces in their aprons.
“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–”
The child checked herself, looked piteously at them, and said, sorrowfully,
“O dear! you _can’t_ read–poor souls!” and she hid her face in the pillow and sobbed, while many a smothered sob from those she was addressing, who were kneeling on the floor, aroused her.
“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 can’t 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.
“I know,” said Eva, “you all love me.”
“Yes; oh, yes! indeed we do! Lord bless her!” was the involuntary answer of all.
“Yes, I know you do! There isn’t one of you that hasn’t 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.
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. 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.”
“O, 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. “O, 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!”
“O, Miss Eva, I _is_ tryin!” said Topsy, earnestly; “but, Lor, it’s so hard to be good! ’Pears like I an’t 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 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 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,
“O, 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 the 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 daytime, 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 mustn’t speak loud; Mas’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 tonight?”
“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.
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, 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.
“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!–O!–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.
“O, 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.
“O, God, this is dreadful!” he said, turning away in agony, and wringing Tom’s hand, scarce conscious what he was doing. “O, 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.”
“O, 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.
“O, 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,–“O! 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. 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!”
“This Is the Last of Earth” *
* “This is the last of Earth! I am content,” last words of John Quincy Adams, uttered February 21, 1848.
The statuettes and pictures in Eva’s room were shrouded in white napkins, and only hushed breathings and muffled footfalls were heard there, and the light stole in solemnly through windows partially darkened by closed blinds.
The bed was draped in white; and there, beneath the drooping angel-figure, lay a little sleeping form,–sleeping never to waken!
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. Eva’s 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 rearranged, 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.
The door opened again, and Topsy, her eyes swelled with crying, appeared, holding something under her apron. Rosa made a quick forbidding gesture; but she took a step into the room.
“You must go out,” said Rosa, in a sharp, positive whisper; “_you_ haven’t any business here!”
“O, do let me! I brought a flower,–such a pretty one!” said Topsy, holding up a half-blown tea rose-bud. “Do let me put just one there.”
“Get along!” said Rosa, more decidedly.
“Let her stay!” said St. Clare, suddenly stamping his foot. “She shall come.”
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.
Miss Ophelia hastened into the room, and tried to raise and silence her; but in vain.
“O, Miss Eva! oh, Miss Eva! I wish I ’s dead, too,–I do!”
There was a piercing wildness in the cry; the blood flushed into St. Clare’s white, marble-like face, and the first tears he had shed since Eva died stood in his eyes.
“Get up, child,” said Miss Ophelia, in a softened voice; “don’t cry so. Miss Eva is gone to heaven; she is an angel.”
“But I can’t see her!” said Topsy. “I never shall see her!” and she sobbed again.
They all stood a moment in silence.
“_She_ said she _loved_ me,” said Topsy,–“she did! O, dear! oh, dear! there an’t _nobody_ left now,–there an’t!”
“That’s true enough” said St. Clare; “but do,” he said to Miss Ophelia, “see if you can’t comfort the poor creature.”
“I jist wish I hadn’t never been born,” said Topsy. “I didn’t want to be born, no ways; and I don’t see no use on ’t.”
Miss Ophelia raised her gently, but firmly, and took her from the room; but, as she did so, some tears fell from her eyes.
“Topsy, you poor child,” she said, as she led her into her room, “don’t 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 Ophelia’s 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.
“O, my Eva, whose little hour on earth did so much of good,” thought St. Clare, “what account have I to give for my long years?”
There were, for a while, soft whisperings and footfalls 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.
Nor was it!–not Eva, but only the frail seed of that bright, immortal form with which she shall yet come forth, in the day of the Lord Jesus!
And then all were gone, and the mourners went back to the place which should know her no more; and Marie’s 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.
“St. Clare did not shed a tear,” she said; “he didn’t sympathize with her; it was perfectly wonderful to think how hard-hearted and unfeeling he was, when he must know how she suffered.”
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 Eva’s 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 Marie’s 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 cafe, 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 hollowed 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!”
“Still waters run deepest, they used to tell me,” said Miss Ophelia, oracularly.
“O, I don’t believe in such things; it’s all talk. If people have feeling, they will show it,–they can’t 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, Mas’r St. Clare is gettin’ thin as a shader. They say, he don’t never eat nothin’,” said Mammy. “I know he don’t forget Miss Eva; I know there couldn’t nobody,–dear, little, blessed cretur!” she added, wiping her eyes.
“Well, at all events, he has no consideration for me,” said Marie; “he hasn’t spoken one word of sympathy, and he must know how much more a mother feels than any man can.”
“The heart knoweth its own bitterness,” said Miss Ophelia, gravely.
“That’s just what I think. I know just what I feel,–nobody else seems to. Eva used to, but she is gone!” and Marie lay back on her lounge, and began to sob disconsolately.
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.
While this conversation was taking place in the parlor another was going on in St. Clare’s library.
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 Eva’s 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 Tom’s, and bowed down his forehead on it.
“O, Tom, my boy, the whole world is as empty as an egg-shell.”
“I know it, Mas’r,–I know it,” said Tom; “but, oh, if Mas’r could only look up,–up where our dear Miss Eva is,–up to the dear Lord Jesus!”
“Ah, Tom! I do look up; but the trouble is, I don’t see anything, when I do, I wish I could.”
Tom sighed heavily.
“It seems to be given to children, and poor, honest fellows, like you, to see what we can’t,” said St. Clare. “How comes it?”
“Thou has ’hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes,’” murmured Tom; “‘even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.’”
“Tom, I don’t believe,–I can’t believe,–I’ve got the habit of doubting,” said St. Clare. “I want to believe this Bible,–and I can’t.”
“Dear Mas’r, pray to the good Lord,–‘Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.’”
“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?”
“O, dear Mas’r, there is! I know it; I’m sure of it,” said Tom, falling on his knees. “Do, do, dear Mas’r, believe it!”
“How do you know there’s any Christ, Tom! You never saw the Lord.”
“Felt Him in my soul, Mas’r,–feel Him now! O, Mas’r, when I was sold away from my old woman and the children, I was jest a’most broke up. I felt as if there warn’t nothin’ left; and then the good Lord, he stood by me, and he says, ‘Fear not, Tom;’ and he brings light and joy in a poor feller’s soul,–makes all peace; and I ’s so happy, and loves everybody, and feels willin’ jest to be the Lord’s, and have the Lord’s will done, and be put jest where the Lord wants to put me. I know it couldn’t come from me, cause I ’s a poor, complainin’ cretur; it comes from the Lord; and I know He’s willin’ to do for Mas’r.”
Tom spoke with fast-running tears and choking voice. St. Clare leaned his head on his shoulder, and wrung the hard, faithful, black hand.
“Tom, you love me,” he said.
“I ’s willin’ to lay down my life, this blessed day, to see Mas’r a Christian.”
“Poor, foolish boy!” said St. Clare, half-raising himself. “I’m not worth the love of one good, honest heart, like yours.”
“O, Mas’r, dere’s more than me loves you,–the blessed Lord Jesus loves you.”
“How do you know that Tom?” said St. Clare.
“Feels it in my soul. O, Mas’r! ’the love of Christ, that passeth knowledge.’”
“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!”
“If Mas’r pleases,” said Tom, “Miss Eva used to read this so beautifully. I wish Mas’r’d be so good as read it. Don’t get no readin’, hardly, now Miss Eva’s gone.”
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.
“Tom,” said his Master, “this is all _real_ to you!”
“I can jest fairly _see_ it Mas’r,” said Tom.
“I wish I had your eyes, Tom.”
“I wish, to the dear Lord, Mas’r had!”
“But, Tom, you know that I have a great deal more knowledge than you; what if I should tell you that I don’t believe this Bible?”
“O, Mas’r!” said Tom, holding up his hands, with a deprecating gesture.
“Wouldn’t it shake your faith some, Tom?”
“Not a grain,” said Tom.
“Why, Tom, you must know I know the most.”
“O, Mas’r, haven’t you jest read how he hides from the wise and prudent, and reveals unto babes? But Mas’r wasn’t in earnest, for sartin, now?” said Tom, anxiously.
“No, Tom, I was not. I don’t disbelieve, and I think there is reason to believe; and still I don’t. It’s a troublesome bad habit I’ve got, Tom.”
“If Mas’r would only pray!”
“How do you know I don’t, Tom?”
“I would, Tom, if there was anybody there when I pray; but it’s all speaking unto nothing, when I do. But come, Tom, you pray now, and show me how.”
Tom’s 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.
“Thank you, my boy,” said St. Clare, when Tom rose. “I like to hear you, Tom; but go, now, and leave me alone; some other time, I’ll talk more.”
Tom silently left the room.
Week after week glided away in the St. Clare mansion, and the waves of life settled back to their usual flow, where that little bark had gone down. For how imperiously, how coolly, in disregard of all one’s feeling, does the hard, cold, uninteresting course of daily realities move on! Still must we eat, and drink, and sleep, and wake again,–still bargain, buy, sell, ask and answer questions,–pursue, in short, a thousand shadows, though all interest in them be over; the cold mechanical habit of living remaining, after all vital interest in it has fled.
All the interests and hopes of St. Clare’s life had unconsciously wound themselves around this child. It was for Eva that he had managed his property; it was for Eva that he had planned the disposal of his time; and, to do this and that for Eva,–to buy, improve, alter, and arrange, or dispose something for her,–had been so long his habit, that now she was gone, there seemed nothing to be thought of, and nothing to be done.
True, there was another life,–a life which, once believed in, stands as a solemn, significant figure before the otherwise unmeaning ciphers of time, changing them to orders of mysterious, untold value. St. Clare knew this well; and often, in many a weary hour, he heard that slender, childish voice calling him to the skies, and saw that little hand pointing to him the way of life; but a heavy lethargy of sorrow lay on him,–he could not arise. He had one of those natures which could better and more clearly conceive of religious things from its own perceptions and instincts, than many a matter-of-fact and practical Christian. The gift to appreciate and the sense to feel the finer shades and relations of moral things, often seems an attribute of those whose whole life shows a careless disregard of them. Hence Moore, Byron, Goethe, often speak words more wisely descriptive of the true religious sentiment, than another man, whose whole life is governed by it. In such minds, disregard of religion is a more fearful treason,–a more deadly sin.
St. Clare had never pretended to govern himself by any religious obligation; and a certain fineness of nature gave him such an instinctive view of the extent of the requirements of Christianity, that he shrank, by anticipation, from what he felt would be the exactions of his own conscience, if he once did resolve to assume them. For, so inconsistent is human nature, especially in the ideal, that not to undertake a thing at all seems better than to undertake and come short.
Still St. Clare was, in many respects, another man. He read his little Eva’s Bible seriously and honestly; he thought more soberly and practically of his relations to his servants,–enough to make him extremely dissatisfied with both his past and present course; and one thing he did, soon after his return to New Orleans, and that was to commence the legal steps necessary to Tom’s emancipation, which was to be perfected as soon as he could get through the necessary formalities. Meantime, he attached himself to Tom more and more, every day. In all the wide world, there was nothing that seemed to remind him so much of Eva; and he would insist on keeping him constantly about him, and, fastidious and unapproachable as he was with regard to his deeper feelings, he almost thought aloud to Tom. Nor would any one have wondered at it, who had seen the expression of affection and devotion with which Tom continually followed his young master.
“Well, Tom,” said St. Clare, the day after he had commenced the legal formalities for his enfranchisement, “I’m going to make a free man of you;–so have your trunk packed, and get ready to set out for Kentuck.”
The sudden light of joy that shone in Tom’s face as he raised his hands to heaven, his emphatic “Bless the Lord!” rather discomposed St. Clare; he did not like it that Tom should be so ready to leave him.
“You haven’t had such very bad times here, that you need be in such a rapture, Tom,” he said drily.
“No, no, Mas’r! ’tan’t that,–it’s bein’ a _freeman!_ that’s what I’m joyin’ for.”
“Why, Tom, don’t you think, for your own part, you’ve been better off than to be free?”
“_No, indeed_, Mas’r St. Clare,” said Tom, with a flash of energy. “No, indeed!”
“Why, Tom, you couldn’t possibly have earned, by your work, such clothes and such living as I have given you.”
“Knows all that, Mas’r St. Clare; Mas’r’s been too good; but, Mas’r, I’d rather have poor clothes, poor house, poor everything, and have ’em _mine_, than have the best, and have ’em any man’s else,–I had _so_, Mas’r; I think it’s natur, Mas’r.”
“I suppose so, Tom, and you’ll be going off and leaving me, in a month or so,” he added, rather discontentedly. “Though why you shouldn’t, no mortal knows,” he said, in a gayer tone; and, getting up, he began to walk the floor.
“Not while Mas’r is in trouble,” said Tom. “I’ll stay with Mas’r as long as he wants me,–so as I can be any use.”
“Not while I’m in trouble, Tom?” said St. Clare, looking sadly out of the window. . . . “And when will _my_ trouble be over?”
“When Mas’r St. Clare’s a Christian,” said Tom.
“And you really mean to stay by till that day comes?” said St. Clare, half smiling, as he turned from the window, and laid his hand on Tom’s shoulder. “Ah, Tom, you soft, silly boy! I won’t keep you till that day. Go home to your wife and children, and give my love to all.”
“I ’s faith to believe that day will come,” said Tom, earnestly, and with tears in his eyes; “the Lord has a work for Mas’r.”
“A work, hey?” said St. Clare, “well, now, Tom, give me your views on what sort of a work it is;–let’s hear.”
“Why, even a poor fellow like me has a work from the Lord; and Mas’r St. Clare, that has larnin, and riches, and friends,–how much he might do for the Lord!”
“Tom, you seem to think the Lord needs a great deal done for him,” said St. Clare, smiling.
“We does for the Lord when we does for his critturs,” said Tom.
“Good theology, Tom; better than Dr. B. preaches, I dare swear,” said St. Clare.
The conversation was here interrupted by the announcement of some visitors.
Marie St. Clare felt the loss of Eva as deeply as she could feel anything; and, as she was a woman that had a great faculty of making everybody unhappy when she was, her immediate attendants had still stronger reason to regret the loss of their young mistress, whose winning ways and gentle intercessions had so often been a shield to them from the tyrannical and selfish exactions of her mother. Poor old Mammy, in particular, whose heart, severed from all natural domestic ties, had consoled itself with this one beautiful being, was almost heart-broken. She cried day and night, and was, from excess of sorrow, less skilful and alert in her ministrations of her mistress than usual, which drew down a constant storm of invectives on her defenceless head.
Miss Ophelia felt the loss; but, in her good and honest heart, it bore fruit unto everlasting life. She was more softened, more gentle; and, though equally assiduous in every duty, it was with a chastened and quiet air, as one who communed with her own heart not in vain. She was more diligent in teaching Topsy,–taught her mainly from the Bible,–did not any longer shrink from her touch, or manifest an ill-repressed disgust, because she felt none. She viewed her now through the softened medium that Eva’s hand had first held before her eyes, and saw in her only an immortal creature, whom God had sent to be led by her to glory and virtue. Topsy did not become at once a saint; but the life and death of Eva did work a marked change in her. The callous indifference was gone; there was now sensibility, hope, desire, and the striving for good,–a strife irregular, interrupted, suspended oft, but yet renewed again.
One day, when Topsy had been sent for by Miss Ophelia, she came, hastily thrusting something into her bosom.
“What are you doing there, you limb? You’ve been stealing something, I’ll be bound,” said the imperious little Rosa, who had been sent to call her, seizing her, at the same time, roughly by the arm.
“You go ’long, Miss Rosa!” said Topsy, pulling from her; “‘tan’t none o’ your business!”
“None o’ your sa’ce!” said Rosa, “I saw you hiding something,–I know yer tricks,” and Rosa seized her arm, and tried to force her hand into her bosom, while Topsy, enraged, kicked and fought valiantly for what she considered her rights. The clamor and confusion of the battle drew Miss Ophelia and St. Clare both to the spot.
“She’s been stealing!” said Rosa.
“I han’t, neither!” vociferated Topsy, sobbing with passion.
“Give me that, whatever it is!” said Miss Ophelia, firmly.
Topsy hesitated; but, on a second order, pulled out of her bosom a little parcel done up in the foot of one of her own old stockings.
Miss Ophelia turned it out. There was a small book, which had been given to Topsy by Eva, containing a single verse of Scripture, arranged for every day in the year, and in a paper the curl of hair that she had given her on that memorable day when she had taken her last farewell.
St. Clare was a good deal affected at the sight of it; the little book had been rolled in a long strip of black crape, torn from the funeral weeds.
“What did you wrap _this_ round the book for?” said St. Clare, holding up the crape.
“Cause,–cause,–cause ’t was Miss Eva. O, don’t take ’em away, please!” she said; and, sitting flat down on the floor, and putting her apron over her head, she began to sob vehemently.
It was a curious mixture of the pathetic and the ludicrous,–the little old stockings,–black crape,–text-book,–fair, soft curl,–and Topsy’s utter distress.
St. Clare smiled; but there were tears in his eyes, as he said,
“Come, come,–don’t cry; you shall have them!” and, putting them together, he threw them into her lap, and drew Miss Ophelia with him into the parlor.
“I really think you can make something of that concern,” he said, pointing with his thumb backward over his shoulder. “Any mind that is capable of a _real sorrow_ is capable of good. You must try and do something with her.”
“The child has improved greatly,” said Miss Ophelia. “I have great hopes of her; but, Augustine,” she said, laying her hand on his arm, “one thing I want to ask; whose is this child to be?–yours or mine?”
“Why, I gave her to you,” said Augustine.
“But not legally;–I want her to be mine legally,” said Miss Ophelia.
“Whew! cousin,” said Augustine. “What will the Abolition Society think? They’ll have a day of fasting appointed for this backsliding, if you become a slaveholder!”
“O, nonsense! I want her mine, that I may have a right to take her to the free States, and give her her liberty, that all I am trying to do be not undone.”
“O, cousin, what an awful ’doing evil that good may come’! I can’t encourage it.”
“I don’t want you to joke, but to reason,” said Miss Ophelia. “There is no use in my trying to make this child a Christian child, unless I save her from all the chances and reverses of slavery; and, if you really are willing I should have her, I want you to give me a deed of gift, or some legal paper.”
“Well, well,” said St. Clare, “I will;” and he sat down, and unfolded a newspaper to read.
“But I want it done now,” said Miss Ophelia.
“What’s your hurry?”
“Because now is the only time there ever is to do a thing in,” said Miss Ophelia. “Come, now, here’s paper, pen, and ink; just write a paper.”
St. Clare, like most men of his class of mind, cordially hated the present tense of action, generally; and, therefore, he was considerably annoyed by Miss Ophelia’s downrightness.
“Why, what’s the matter?” said he. “Can’t you take my word? One would think you had taken lessons of the Jews, coming at a fellow so!”
“I want to make sure of it,” said Miss Ophelia. “You may die, or fail, and then Topsy be hustled off to auction, spite of all I can do.”
“Really, you are quite provident. Well, seeing I’m in the hands of a Yankee, there is nothing for it but to concede;” and St. Clare rapidly wrote off a deed of gift, which, as he was well versed in the forms of law, he could easily do, and signed his name to it in sprawling capitals, concluding by a tremendous flourish.
“There, isn’t that black and white, now, Miss Vermont?” he said, as he handed it to her.
“Good boy,” said Miss Ophelia, smiling. “But must it not be witnessed?”
“O, bother!–yes. Here,” he said, opening the door into Marie’s apartment, “Marie, Cousin wants your autograph; just put your name down here.”
“What’s this?” said Marie, as she ran over the paper. “Ridiculous! I thought Cousin was too pious for such horrid things,” she added, as she carelessly wrote her name; “but, if she has a fancy for that article, I am sure she’s welcome.”
“There, now, she’s yours, body and soul,” said St. Clare, handing the paper.
“No more mine now than she was before,” Miss Ophelia. “Nobody but God has a right to give her to me; but I can protect her now.”
“Well, she’s yours by a fiction of law, then,” said St. Clare, as he turned back into the parlor, and sat down to his paper.
Miss Ophelia, who seldom sat much in Marie’s company, followed him into the parlor, having first carefully laid away the paper.
“Augustine,” she said, suddenly, as she sat knitting, “have you ever made any provision for your servants, in case of your death?”
“No,” said St. Clare, as he read on.
“Then all your indulgence to them may prove a great cruelty, by and by.”
St. Clare had often thought the same thing himself; but he answered, negligently.
“Well, I mean to make a provision, by and by.”
“When?” said Miss Ophelia.
“O, one of these days.”
“What if you should die first?”
“Cousin, what’s the matter?” said St. Clare, laying down his paper and looking at her. “Do you think I show symptoms of yellow fever or cholera, that you are making post mortem arrangements with such zeal?”
“‘In the midst of life we are in death,’” said Miss Ophelia.
St. Clare rose up, and laying the paper down, carelessly, walked to the door that stood open on the verandah, to put an end to a conversation that was not agreeable to him. Mechanically, he repeated the last word again,–_“Death!”_–and, as he leaned against the railings, and watched the sparkling water as it rose and fell in the fountain; and, as in a dim and dizzy haze, saw flowers and trees and vases of the courts, he repeated, again the mystic word so common in every mouth, yet of such fearful power,–“DEATH!” “Strange that there should be such a word,” he said, “and such a thing, and we ever forget it; that one should be living, warm and beautiful, full of hopes, desires and wants, one day, and the next be gone, utterly gone, and forever!”
It was a warm, golden evening; and, as he walked to the other end of the verandah, he saw Tom busily intent on his Bible, pointing, as he did so, with his finger to each successive word, and whispering them to himself with an earnest air.
“Want me to read to you, Tom?” said St. Clare, seating himself carelessly by him.
“If Mas’r pleases,” said Tom, gratefully, “Mas’r makes it so much plainer.”
St. Clare took the book and glanced at the place, and began reading one of the passages which Tom had designated by the heavy marks around it. It ran as follows:
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all his holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.” St. Clare read on in an animated voice, till he came to the last of the verses.
“Then shall the king say unto him on his left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: I was sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they answer unto Him, Lord when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he say unto them, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it not to me.”
St. Clare seemed struck with this last passage, for he read it twice,–the second time slowly, and as if he were revolving the words in his mind.
“Tom,” he said, “these folks that get such hard measure seem to have been doing just what I have,–living good, easy, respectable lives; and not troubling themselves to inquire how many of their brethren were hungry or athirst, or sick, or in prison.”
Tom did not answer.
St. Clare rose up and walked thoughtfully up and down the verandah, seeming to forget everything in his own thoughts; so absorbed was he, that Tom had to remind him twice that the teabell had rung, before he could get his attention.
St. Clare was absent and thoughtful, all tea-time. After tea, he and Marie and Miss Ophelia took possession of the parlor almost in silence.
Marie disposed herself on a lounge, under a silken mosquito curtain, and was soon sound asleep. Miss Ophelia silently busied herself with her knitting. St. Clare sat down to the piano, and began playing a soft and melancholy movement with the Æolian accompaniment. He seemed in a deep reverie, and to be soliloquizing to himself by music. After a little, he opened one of the drawers, took out an old music-book whose leaves were yellow with age, and began turning it over.
“There,” he said to Miss Ophelia, “this was one of my mother’s books,–and here is her handwriting,–come and look at it. She copied and arranged this from Mozart’s Requiem.” Miss Ophelia came accordingly.
“It was something she used to sing often,” said St. Clare. “I think I can hear her now.”
He struck a few majestic chords, and began singing that grand old Latin piece, the “Dies Iræ.”
Tom, who was listening in the outer verandah, was drawn by the sound to the very door, where he stood earnestly. He did not understand the words, of course; but the music and manner of singing appeared to affect him strongly, especially when St. Clare sang the more pathetic parts. Tom would have sympathized more heartily, if he had known the meaning of the beautiful words:–
“Recordare Jesu pie Quod sum causa tuær viæ Ne me perdas, illa die Quærens me sedisti lassus Redemisti crucem passus Tantus labor non sit cassus.” *
* These lines have been thus rather inadequately translated:
“Think, O Jesus, for what reason Thou endured’st earth’s spite and treason, Nor me lose, in that dread season; Seeking me, thy worn feet hasted, On the cross thy soul death tasted, Let not all these toils be wasted.” [Mrs. Stowe’s note.]
St. Clare threw a deep and pathetic expression into the words; for the shadowy veil of years seemed drawn away, and he seemed to hear his mother’s voice leading his. Voice and instrument seemed both living, and threw out with vivid sympathy those strains which the ethereal Mozart first conceived as his own dying requiem.
When St. Clare had done singing, he sat leaning his head upon his hand a few moments, and then began walking up and down the floor.
“What a sublime conception is that of a last judgment!” said he,–“a righting of all the wrongs of ages!–a solving of all moral problems, by an unanswerable wisdom! It is, indeed, a wonderful image.”
“It is a fearful one to us,” said Miss Ophelia.
“It ought to be to me, I suppose,” said St. Clare stopping, thoughtfully. “I was reading to Tom, this afternoon, that chapter in Matthew that gives an account of it, and I have been quite struck with it. One should have expected some terrible enormities charged to those who are excluded from Heaven, as the reason; but no,–they are condemned for _not_ doing positive good, as if that included every possible harm.”
“Perhaps,” said Miss Ophelia, “it is impossible for a person who does no good not to do harm.”
“And what,” said St. Clare, speaking abstractedly, but with deep feeling, “what shall be said of one whose own heart, whose education, and the wants of society, have called in vain to some noble purpose; who has floated on, a dreamy, neutral spectator of the struggles, agonies, and wrongs of man, when he should have been a worker?”
“I should say,” said Miss Ophelia, “that he ought to repent, and begin now.”
“Always practical and to the point!” said St. Clare, his face breaking out into a smile. “You never leave me any time for general reflections, Cousin; you always bring me short up against the actual present; you have a kind of eternal _now_, always in your mind.”
“_Now_ is all the time I have anything to do with,” said Miss Ophelia.
“Dear little Eva,–poor child!” said St. Clare, “she had set her little simple soul on a good work for me.”
It was the first time since Eva’s death that he had ever said as many words as these to her, and he spoke now evidently repressing very strong feeling.
“My view of Christianity is such,” he added, “that I think no man can consistently profess it without throwing the whole weight of his being against this monstrous system of injustice that lies at the foundation of all our society; and, if need be, sacrificing himself in the battle. That is, I mean that _I_ could not be a Christian otherwise, though I have certainly had intercourse with a great many enlightened and Christian people who did no such thing; and I confess that the apathy of religious people on this subject, their want of perception of wrongs that filled me with horror, have engendered in me more scepticism than any other thing.”
“If you knew all this,” said Miss Ophelia, “why didn’t you do it?”
“O, because I have had only that kind of benevolence which consists in lying on a sofa, and cursing the church and clergy for not being martyrs and confessors. One can see, you know, very easily, how others ought to be martyrs.”
“Well, are you going to do differently now?” said Miss Ophelia.
“God only knows the future,” said St. Clare. “I am braver than I was, because I have lost all; and he who has nothing to lose can afford all risks.”
“And what are you going to do?”
“My duty, I hope, to the poor and lowly, as fast as I find it out,” said St. Clare, “beginning with my own servants, for whom I have yet done nothing; and, perhaps, at some future day, it may appear that I can do something for a whole class; something to save my country from the disgrace of that false position in which she now stands before all civilized nations.”
“Do you suppose it possible that a nation ever will voluntarily emancipate?” said Miss Ophelia.
“I don’t know,” said St. Clare. “This is a day of great deeds. Heroism and disinterestedness are rising up, here and there, in the earth. The Hungarian nobles set free millions of serfs, at an immense pecuniary loss; and, perhaps, among us may be found generous spirits, who do not estimate honor and justice by dollars and cents.”
“I hardly think so,” said Miss Ophelia.
“But, suppose we should rise up tomorrow and emancipate, who would educate these millions, and teach them how to use their freedom? They never would rise to do much among us. The fact is, we are too lazy and unpractical, ourselves, ever to give them much of an idea of that industry and energy which is necessary to form them into men. They will have to go north, where labor is the fashion,–the universal custom; and tell me, now, is there enough Christian philanthropy, among your northern states, to bear with the process of their education and elevation? You send thousands of dollars to foreign missions; but could you endure to have the heathen sent into your towns and villages, and give your time, and thoughts, and money, to raise them to the Christian standard? That’s what I want to know. If we emancipate, are you willing to educate? How many families, in your town, would take a negro man and woman, teach them, bear with them, and seek to make them Christians? How many merchants would take Adolph, if I wanted to make him a clerk; or mechanics, if I wanted him taught a trade? If I wanted to put Jane and Rosa to a school, how many schools are there in the northern states that would take them in? how many families that would board them? and yet they are as white as many a woman, north or south. You see, Cousin, I want justice done us. We are in a bad position. We are the more _obvious_ oppressors of the negro; but the unchristian prejudice of the north is an oppressor almost equally severe.”
“Well, Cousin, I know it is so,” said Miss Ophelia,–“I know it was so with me, till I saw that it was my duty to overcome it; but, I trust I have overcome it; and I know there are many good people at the north, who in this matter need only to be _taught_ what their duty is, to do it. It would certainly be a greater self-denial to receive heathen among us, than to send missionaries to them; but I think we would do it.”
“_You_ would, I know,” said St. Clare. “I’d like to see anything you wouldn’t do, if you thought it your duty!”
“Well, I’m not uncommonly good,” said Miss Ophelia. “Others would, if they saw things as I do. I intend to take Topsy home, when I go. I suppose our folks will wonder, at first; but I think they will be brought to see as I do. Besides, I know there are many people at the north who do exactly what you said.”
“Yes, but they are a minority; and, if we should begin to emancipate to any extent, we should soon hear from you.”
Miss Ophelia did not reply. There was a pause of some moments; and St. Clare’s countenance was overcast by a sad, dreamy expression.
“I don’t know what makes me think of my mother so much, tonight,” he said. “I have a strange kind of feeling, as if she were near me. I keep thinking of things she used to say. Strange, what brings these past things so vividly back to us, sometimes!”
St. Clare walked up and down the room for some minutes more, and then said,
“I believe I’ll go down street, a few moments, and hear the news, tonight.”
He took his hat, and passed out.
Tom followed him to the passage, out of the court, and asked if he should attend him.
“No, my boy,” said St. Clare. “I shall be back in an hour.”
Tom sat down in the verandah. It was a beautiful moonlight evening, and he sat watching the rising and falling spray of the fountain, and listening to its murmur. Tom thought of his home, and that he should soon be a free man, and able to return to it at will. He thought how he should work to buy his wife and boys. He felt the muscles of his brawny arms with a sort of joy, as he thought they would soon belong to himself, and how much they could do to work out the freedom of his family. Then he thought of his noble young master, and, ever second to that, came the habitual prayer that he had always offered for him; and then his thoughts passed on to the beautiful Eva, whom he now thought of among the angels; and he thought till he almost fancied that that bright face and golden hair were looking upon him, out of the spray of the fountain. And, so musing, he fell asleep, and dreamed he saw her coming bounding towards him, just as she used to come, with a wreath of jessamine in her hair, her cheeks bright, and her eyes radiant with delight; but, as he looked, she seemed to rise from the ground; her cheeks wore a paler hue,–her eyes had a deep, divine radiance, a golden halo seemed around her head,–and she vanished from his sight; and Tom was awakened by a loud knocking, and a sound of many voices at the gate.
He hastened to undo it; and, with smothered voices and heavy tread, came several men, bringing a body, wrapped in a cloak, and lying on a shutter. The light of the lamp fell full on the face; and Tom gave a wild cry of amazement and despair, that rung through all the galleries, as the men advanced, with their burden, to the open parlor door, where Miss Ophelia still sat knitting.
St. Clare had turned into a cafe, to look over an evening paper. As he was reading, an affray arose between two gentlemen in the room, who were both partially intoxicated. St. Clare and one or two others made an effort to separate them, and St. Clare received a fatal stab in the side with a bowie-knife, which he was attempting to wrest from one of them.
The house was full of cries and lamentations, shrieks and screams, servants frantically tearing their hair, throwing themselves on the ground, or running distractedly about, lamenting. Tom and Miss Ophelia alone seemed to have any presence of mind; for Marie was in strong hysteric convulsions. At Miss Ophelia’s direction, one of the lounges in the parlor was hastily prepared, and the bleeding form laid upon it. St. Clare had fainted, through pain and loss of blood; but, as Miss Ophelia applied restoratives, he revived, opened his eyes, looked fixedly on them, looked earnestly around the room, his eyes travelling wistfully over every object, and finally they rested on his mother’s picture.
The physician now arrived, and made his examination. It was evident, from the expression of his face, that there was no hope; but he applied himself to dressing the wound, and he and Miss Ophelia and Tom proceeded composedly with this work, amid the lamentations and sobs and cries of the affrighted servants, who had clustered about the doors and windows of the verandah.
“Now,” said the physician, “we must turn all these creatures out; all depends on his being kept quiet.”
St. Clare opened his eyes, and looked fixedly on the distressed beings, whom Miss Ophelia and the doctor were trying to urge from the apartment. “Poor creatures!” he said, and an expression of bitter self-reproach passed over his face. Adolph absolutely refused to go. Terror had deprived him of all presence of mind; he threw himself along the floor, and nothing could persuade him to rise. The rest yielded to Miss Ophelia’s urgent representations, that their master’s safety depended on their stillness and obedience.
St. Clare could say but little; he lay with his eyes shut, but it was evident that he wrestled with bitter thoughts. After a while, he laid his hand on Tom’s, who was kneeling beside him, and said, “Tom! poor fellow!”
“What, Mas’r?” said Tom, earnestly.
“I am dying!” said St. Clare, pressing his hand; “pray!”
“If you would like a clergyman–” said the physician.
St. Clare hastily shook his head, and said again to Tom, more earnestly, “Pray!”
And Tom did pray, with all his mind and strength, for the soul that was passing,–the soul that seemed looking so steadily and mournfully from those large, melancholy blue eyes. It was literally prayer offered with strong crying and tears.
When Tom ceased to speak, St. Clare reached out and took his hand, looking earnestly at him, but saying nothing. He closed his eyes, but still retained his hold; for, in the gates of eternity, the black hand and the white hold each other with an equal clasp. He murmured softly to himself, at broken intervals,
“Recordare Jesu pie– * * * * Ne me perdas–illa die Quærens me–sedisti lassus.”
It was evident that the words he had been singing that evening were passing through his mind,–words of entreaty addressed to Infinite Pity. His lips moved at intervals, as parts of the hymn fell brokenly from them.
“His mind is wandering,” said the doctor.
“No! it is coming HOME, at last!” said St. Clare, energetically; “at last! at last!”
The effort of speaking exhausted him. The sinking paleness of death fell on him; but with it there fell, as if shed from the wings of some pitying spirit, a beautiful expression of peace, like that of a wearied child who sleeps.
So he lay for a few moments. They saw that the mighty hand was on him. Just before the spirit parted, he opened his eyes, with a sudden light, as of joy and recognition, and said _“Mother!”_ and then he was gone!
We hear often of the distress of the negro servants, on the loss of a kind master; and with good reason, for no creature on God’s earth is left more utterly unprotected and desolate than the slave in these circumstances.
The child who has lost a father has still the protection of friends, and of the law; he is something, and can do something,–has acknowledged rights and position; the slave has none. The law regards him, in every respect, as devoid of rights as a bale of merchandise. The only possible acknowledgment of any of the longings and wants of a human and immortal creature, which are given to him, comes to him through the sovereign and irresponsible will of his master; and when that master is stricken down, nothing remains.
The number of those men who know how to use wholly irresponsible power humanely and generously is small. Everybody knows this, and the slave knows it best of all; so that he feels that there are ten chances of his finding an abusive and tyrannical master, to one of his finding a considerate and kind one. Therefore is it that the wail over a kind master is loud and long, as well it may be.
When St. Clare breathed his last, terror and consternation took hold of all his household. He had been stricken down so in a moment, in the flower and strength of his youth! Every room and gallery of the house resounded with sobs and shrieks of despair.
Marie, whose nervous system had been enervated by a constant course of self-indulgence, had nothing to support the terror of the shock, and, at the time her husband breathed his last, was passing from one fainting fit to another; and he to whom she had been joined in the mysterious tie of marriage passed from her forever, without the possibility of even a parting word.
Miss Ophelia, with characteristic strength and self-control, had remained with her kinsman to the last,–all eye, all ear, all attention; doing everything of the little that could be done, and joining with her whole soul in the tender and impassioned prayers which the poor slave had poured forth for the soul of his dying master.
When they were arranging him for his last rest, they found upon his bosom a small, plain miniature case, opening with a spring. It was the miniature of a noble and beautiful female face; and on the reverse, under a crystal, a lock of dark hair. They laid them back on the lifeless breast,–dust to dust,–poor mournful relics of early dreams, which once made that cold heart beat so warmly!
Tom’s whole soul was filled with thoughts of eternity; and while he ministered around the lifeless clay, he did not once think that the sudden stroke had left him in hopeless slavery. He felt at peace about his master; for in that hour, when he had poured forth his prayer into the bosom of his Father, he had found an answer of quietness and assurance springing up within himself. In the depths of his own affectionate nature, he felt able to perceive something of the fulness of Divine love; for an old oracle hath thus written,–“He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” Tom hoped and trusted, and was at peace.
But the funeral passed, with all its pageant of black crape, and prayers, and solemn faces; and back rolled the cool, muddy waves of every-day life; and up came the everlasting hard inquiry of “What is to be done next?”
It rose to the mind of Marie, as, dressed in loose morning-robes, and surrounded by anxious servants, she sat up in a great easy-chair, and inspected samples of crape and bombazine. It rose to Miss Ophelia, who began to turn her thoughts towards her northern home. It rose, in silent terrors, to the minds of the servants, who well knew the unfeeling, tyrannical character of the mistress in whose hands they were left. All knew, very well, that the indulgences which had been accorded to them were not from their mistress, but from their master; and that, now he was gone, there would be no screen between them and every tyrannous infliction which a temper soured by affliction might devise.
It was about a fortnight after the funeral, that Miss Ophelia, busied one day in her apartment, heard a gentle tap at the door. She opened it, and there stood Rosa, the pretty young quadroon, whom we have before often noticed, her hair in disorder, and her eyes swelled with crying.
“O, Miss Feeley,” she said, falling on her knees, and catching the skirt of her dress, “_do, do go_ to Miss Marie for me! do plead for me! She’s goin’ to send me out to be whipped–look there!” And she handed to Miss Ophelia a paper.
It was an order, written in Marie’s delicate Italian hand, to the master of a whipping-establishment to give the bearer fifteen lashes.
“What have you been doing?” said Miss Ophelia.
“You know, Miss Feely, I’ve got such a bad temper; it’s very bad of me. I was trying on Miss Marie’s dress, and she slapped my face; and I spoke out before I thought, and was saucy; and she said that she’d bring me down, and have me know, once for all, that I wasn’t going to be so topping as I had been; and she wrote this, and says I shall carry it. I’d rather she’d kill me, right out.”
Miss Ophelia stood considering, with the paper in her hand.
“You see, Miss Feely,” said Rosa, “I don’t mind the whipping so much, if Miss Marie or you was to do it; but, to be sent to a _man!_ and such a horrid man,–the shame of it, Miss Feely!”
Miss Ophelia well knew that it was the universal custom to send women and young girls to whipping-houses, to the hands of the lowest of men,–men vile enough to make this their profession,–there to be subjected to brutal exposure and shameful correction. She had _known_ it before; but hitherto she had never realized it, till she saw the slender form of Rosa almost convulsed with distress. All the honest blood of womanhood, the strong New England blood of liberty, flushed to her cheeks, and throbbed bitterly in her indignant heart; but, with habitual prudence and self-control, she mastered herself, and, crushing the paper firmly in her hand, she merely said to Rosa,
“Sit down, child, while I go to your mistress.”
“Shameful! monstrous! outrageous!” she said to herself, as she was crossing the parlor.
She found Marie sitting up in her easy-chair, with Mammy standing by her, combing her hair; Jane sat on the ground before her, busy in chafing her feet.
“How do you find yourself, today?” said Miss Ophelia.
A deep sigh, and a closing of the eyes, was the only reply, for a moment; and then Marie answered, “O, I don’t know, Cousin; I suppose I’m as well as I ever shall be!” and Marie wiped her eyes with a cambric handkerchief, bordered with an inch deep of black.
“I came,” said Miss Ophelia, with a short, dry cough, such as commonly introduces a difficult subject,–“I came to speak with you about poor Rosa.”
Marie’s eyes were open wide enough now, and a flush rose to her sallow cheeks, as she answered, sharply,
“Well, what about her?”
“She is very sorry for her fault.”
“She is, is she? She’ll be sorrier, before I’ve done with her! I’ve endured that child’s impudence long enough; and now I’ll bring her down,–I’ll make her lie in the dust!”
“But could not you punish her some other way,–some way that would be less shameful?”
“I mean to shame her; that’s just what I want. She has all her life presumed on her delicacy, and her good looks, and her lady-like airs, till she forgets who she is;–and I’ll give her one lesson that will bring her down, I fancy!”
“But, Cousin, consider that, if you destroy delicacy and a sense of shame in a young girl, you deprave her very fast.”
“Delicacy!” said Marie, with a scornful laugh,–“a fine word for such as she! I’ll teach her, with all her airs, that she’s no better than the raggedest black wench that walks the streets! She’ll take no more airs with me!”
“You will answer to God for such cruelty!” said Miss Ophelia, with energy.
“Cruelty,–I’d like to know what the cruelty is! I wrote orders for only fifteen lashes, and told him to put them on lightly. I’m sure there’s no cruelty there!”
“No cruelty!” said Miss Ophelia. “I’m sure any girl might rather be killed outright!”
“It might seem so to anybody with your feeling; but all these creatures get used to it; it’s the only way they can be kept in order. Once let them feel that they are to take any airs about delicacy, and all that, and they’ll run all over you, just as my servants always have. I’ve begun now to bring them under; and I’ll have them all to know that I’ll send one out to be whipped, as soon as another, if they don’t mind themselves!” said Marie, looking around her decidedly.
Jane hung her head and cowered at this, for she felt as if it was particularly directed to her. Miss Ophelia sat for a moment, as if she had swallowed some explosive mixture, and were ready to burst. Then, recollecting the utter uselessness of contention with such a nature, she shut her lips resolutely, gathered herself up, and walked out of the room.
It was hard to go back and tell Rosa that she could do nothing for her; and, shortly after, one of the man-servants came to say that her mistress had ordered him to take Rosa with him to the whipping-house, whither she was hurried, in spite of her tears and entreaties.
A few days after, Tom was standing musing by the balconies, when he was joined by Adolph, who, since the death of his master, had been entirely crest-fallen and disconsolate. Adolph knew that he had always been an object of dislike to Marie; but while his master lived he had paid but little attention to it. Now that he was gone, he had moved about in daily dread and trembling, not knowing what might befall him next. Marie had held several consultations with her lawyer; after communicating with St. Clare’s brother, it was determined to sell the place, and all the servants, except her own personal property, and these she intended to take with her, and go back to her father’s plantation.
“Do ye know, Tom, that we’ve all got to be sold?” said Adolph.
“How did you hear that?” said Tom.
“I hid myself behind the curtains when Missis was talking with the lawyer. In a few days we shall be sent off to auction, Tom.”
“The Lord’s will be done!” said Tom, folding his arms and sighing heavily.
“We’ll never get another such a master,” said Adolph, apprehensively; “but I’d rather be sold than take my chance under Missis.”
Tom turned away; his heart was full. The hope of liberty, the thought of distant wife and children, rose up before his patient soul, as to the mariner shipwrecked almost in port rises the vision of the church-spire and loving roofs of his native village, seen over the top of some black wave only for one last farewell. He drew his arms tightly over his bosom, and choked back the bitter tears, and tried to pray. The poor old soul had such a singular, unaccountable prejudice in favor of liberty, that it was a hard wrench for him; and the more he said, “Thy will be done,” the worse he felt.
He sought Miss Ophelia, who, ever since Eva’s death, had treated him with marked and respectful kindness.
“Miss Feely,” he said, “Mas’r St. Clare promised me my freedom. He told me that he had begun to take it out for me; and now, perhaps, if Miss Feely would be good enough to speak bout it to Missis, she would feel like goin’ on with it, was it as Mas’r St. Clare’s wish.”
“I’ll speak for you, Tom, and do my best,” said Miss Ophelia; “but, if it depends on Mrs. St. Clare, I can’t hope much for you;–nevertheless, I will try.”
This incident occurred a few days after that of Rosa, while Miss Ophelia was busied in preparations to return north.
Seriously reflecting within herself, she considered that perhaps she had shown too hasty a warmth of language in her former interview with Marie; and she resolved that she would now endeavor to moderate her zeal, and to be as conciliatory as possible. So the good soul gathered herself up, and, taking her knitting, resolved to go into Marie’s room, be as agreeable as possible, and negotiate Tom’s case with all the diplomatic skill of which she was mistress.
She found Marie reclining at length upon a lounge, supporting herself on one elbow by pillows, while Jane, who had been out shopping, was displaying before her certain samples of thin black stuffs.
“That will do,” said Marie, selecting one; “only I’m not sure about its being properly mourning.”
“Laws, Missis,” said Jane, volubly, “Mrs. General Derbennon wore just this very thing, after the General died, last summer; it makes up lovely!”
“What do you think?” said Marie to Miss Ophelia.
“It’s a matter of custom, I suppose,” said Miss Ophelia. “You can judge about it better than I.”
“The fact is,” said Marie, “that I haven’t a dress in the world that I can wear; and, as I am going to break up the establishment, and go off, next week, I must decide upon something.”
“Are you going so soon?”
“Yes. St. Clare’s brother has written, and he and the lawyer think that the servants and furniture had better be put up at auction, and the place left with our lawyer.”
“There’s one thing I wanted to speak with you about,” said Miss Ophelia. “Augustine promised Tom his liberty, and began the legal forms necessary to it. I hope you will use your influence to have it perfected.”
“Indeed, I shall do no such thing!” said Marie, sharply. “Tom is one of the most valuable servants on the place,–it couldn’t be afforded, any way. Besides, what does he want of liberty? He’s a great deal better off as he is.”
“But he does desire it, very earnestly, and his master promised it,” said Miss Ophelia.
“I dare say he does want it,” said Marie; “they all want it, just because they are a discontented set,–always wanting what they haven’t got. Now, I’m principled against emancipating, in any case. Keep a negro under the care of a master, and he does well enough, and is respectable; but set them free, and they get lazy, and won’t work, and take to drinking, and go all down to be mean, worthless fellows, I’ve seen it tried, hundreds of times. It’s no favor to set them free.”
“But Tom is so steady, industrious, and pious.”
“O, you needn’t tell me! I’ve see a hundred like him. He’ll do very well, as long as he’s taken care of,–that’s all.”
“But, then, consider,” said Miss Ophelia, “when you set him up for sale, the chances of his getting a bad master.”
“O, that’s all humbug!” said Marie; “it isn’t one time in a hundred that a good fellow gets a bad master; most masters are good, for all the talk that is made. I’ve lived and grown up here, in the South, and I never yet was acquainted with a master that didn’t treat his servants well,–quite as well as is worth while. I don’t feel any fears on that head.”
“Well,” said Miss Ophelia, energetically, “I know it was one of the last wishes of your husband that Tom should have his liberty; it was one of the promises that he made to dear little Eva on her death-bed, and I should not think you would feel at liberty to disregard it.”
Marie had her face covered with her handkerchief at this appeal, and began sobbing and using her smelling-bottle, with great vehemence.
“Everybody goes against me!” she said. “Everybody is so inconsiderate! I shouldn’t have expected that _you_ would bring up all these remembrances of my troubles to me,–it’s so inconsiderate! But nobody ever does consider,–my trials are so peculiar! It’s so hard, that when I had only one daughter, she should have been taken!–and when I had a husband that just exactly suited me,–and I’m so hard to be suited!–he should be taken! And you seem to have so little feeling for me, and keep bringing it up to me so carelessly,–when you know how it overcomes me! I suppose you mean well; but it is very inconsiderate,–very!” And Marie sobbed, and gasped for breath, and called Mammy to open the window, and to bring her the camphor-bottle, and to bathe her head, and unhook her dress. And, in the general confusion that ensued, Miss Ophelia made her escape to her apartment.
She saw, at once, that it would do no good to say anything more; for Marie had an indefinite capacity for hysteric fits; and, after this, whenever her husband’s or Eva’s wishes with regard to the servants were alluded to, she always found it convenient to set one in operation. Miss Ophelia, therefore, did the next best thing she could for Tom,–she wrote a letter to Mrs. Shelby for him, stating his troubles, and urging them to send to his relief.
The next day, Tom and Adolph, and some half a dozen other servants, were marched down to a slave-warehouse, to await the convenience of the trader, who was going to make up a lot for auction.