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."