"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 are 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.