"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, an their lives; — it seems selfish. I ought to know such things, I ought to feel about them! Such things always sunk into my heart; they went down deep; I've thought and thought about them. Papa, isn't there any way to have all slaves made free?"
"That's a difficult question, dearest. There's no doubt that this way is a very bad one; a great many people think so; I do myself I heartily wish that there were not a slave in the land; but, then, I don't know what is to be done about it!"
"Papa, you are such a good man, and so noble, and kind, and you always have a way of saying things that is so pleasant, couldn't you go all round and try to persuade people to do right about this? When I am dead, papa, then you will think of me, and do it for my sake. I would do it, if I could."
"When you are dead, Eva," said St. Clare, passionately. "O, child, don't talk to me so! You are all I have on earth."
"Poor old Prue's child was all that she had, — and yet she had to hear it crying, and she couldn't help it! Papa, these poor creatures love their children as much as you do me. O! do something for them! There's poor Mammy loves her children; I've seen her cry when she talked about them. And Tom loves his children; and it's dreadful, papa, that such things are happening, all the time!"
"There, there, darling," said St. Clare, soothingly; "only don't distress yourself, don't talk of dying, and I will do anything you wish."
"And promise me, dear father, that Tom shall have his freedom as soon as" — she stopped, and said, in a hesitating tone — "I am gone!"
"Yes, dear, I will do anything in the world, — anything you could ask me to."
"Dear papa," said the child, laying her burning cheek against his, "how I wish we could go 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.