"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 steep, 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.