« AnteriorContinuar »
dying one listened sweetly; but when she found herself alone again with Kate, she said, "I let them talk, Catherine; for if they really have any hopes of my recovery, I do not wish to destroy those hopes by telling what I know; and if they only talk so to cheer me, why even then I do not like to make them sad by not seeming to believe them. And yet, and yet, perhaps, I ought to tell Frank; perhaps I will.”
Catherine devoted herself to the service of the invalid, labouring zealously for her spiritual as for her bodily good; indeed, the girl glided into the performance of such duties as naturally as if she felt herself especially called to the work, born for the work. The selfish wish for her own comfort and pleasure had never been very strong in the heart of Catherine; and within the last two years it seemed to have expired. She lived only for the good of others. She had grown to believe that there was no individual happiness for herself, except in the service of others. Young hope had died out in her heart; she was resigned. She adopted the submissive words of Mary and her son, and said within her heart, in deepest sincerity, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord!" "Not my will, but thine, O God!"
Zuleime was lifted from the bed to the easy-chair every morning, and calmly and profoundly the invalid enjoyed those glorious summer mornings; but she was failing very fast. She grew very anxious for the coming of her sister; but, unwilling to disturb anyone by her anxiety, she confided it only to Kate. They had not heard from Major Clifton since the letter announcing his expected embarkation. They justly supposed him to be on his voyage home, accompanied by Carolyn, and were now daily looking for a letter announcing their landing and their speedy arrival home. The middle of June passed, and no letter had come. The first of July arrived, but brought no news of the voyagers.
"Oh, if they had come when they promised, they might have seen me before I died; but I cannot hold out much longer, Kate. I feel as if the longing to meet Carolyn again had kept me up as by the excitement of expectation; but, Kate, I feel very weary, very much inclined to droop, yet know, if I should give way, I should drop into the arms of Death. I wish they would come. I want to see Carolyn; I want to see her happiness with my own eyes; and then it is not for myself-for, if I die before she comes, Carolyn will
take it very much to heart to know that her poor little sister had been found and had died so inopportunely, just before she had got home. I wish they would come."
The second week in July arrived, with three days of cloud, and rain, and gloom. Zuleime could not leave her bed for her favourite seat at the window, but Catherine served her with more love and zeal than ever. The family had as yet received no news of the travellers; and though they daily grew more anxious, there was no foreboding in their anxiety. Sea-voyages at that day were of such uncertain length; all was no doubt well.
But on the evening of the second rainy day, while Captain Fairfax and Catherine sat with Zuleime, and all the other members of the family were assembled in the summer-saloon, the door of the latter was quietly opened, and Major Clifton stood before the astonished circle. His mother advanced to meet and welcome him. Then she noticed, and they all noticed, that he was clothed in deep mourning. That told the tale! They welcomed him with affectionate sympathy, but no one asked a question; nor did he as yet volunteer a word of his sorrow's history. It was only the next day that his mother learned from him how deceptive was the seeming convalescence of his wife; how from the day of their embarkation her strength declined; how for weeks their hearts fluctuated between hope and fear, as with the changes of her flattering disease she seemed better or worse; how, when all thought of life was gone, but one earthly hope possessed her soul to die at home; of the waning of that last hope; of the death at sea; and, finally, of the lone grave in the ocean isle, where slept the mortal remains of the haughtiest beauty that ever trod the halls of a palace.
They would willingly have concealed the fact of her sister's decease from the dying girl; no one ventured to tell her of the event-they fondly believed that she remained in ignorance of it; but she knew it all from what she saw and heard. She knew that Major Clifton had returned alone, and she surmised the rest from the sad and tearful faces of all around her. Yes, she knew it all, as well as any could have made her know it; and, in the tender thoughtfulness of her soul, she would not distress any by asking them questions relating to the last moment. But from this hour she sank rapidly she could no longer be lifted from her bed without
fainting. In deep trouble, Captain Fairfax summoned the old family physician. When he came and saw the patient, his opinion was decidedly formed and truthfully given: he said that the Richmond physician had evidently abandoned the case as hopeless when he sent her home to die; that her life had probably been prolonged by her residence in the country, but that nothing could have saved her, and that she had now not many days to live. Captain Fairfax was almost mad with grief, and all the self-possession and self-control that he had learned in the long attendance upon her sickbed well-nigh deserted him. It was many hours before he was sufficiently composed to take his usual place by her bedside, and then his agonised countenance betrayed the extent of his suffering. Catherine was sitting by her when he entered. Zuleime raised her dying eyes, and, looking at him tenderly, beckoned him to approach; then she motioned Catherine to leave her. When they were alone, she laid her hand within his own, and, looking at him with unutterable love, said, "Dear Frank, dearest Frank, I see that you know it all at last. Dearest Frank, I have known it a long time. Now let us talk freely and confidentially about it; let there be no more of that painful mist between us as when you thought only of my restoration to health, and I knew I was sinking fast into the grave." She paused a moment, and then said, "I want so much to comfort you. I have something to say to you."
His fingers closed upon her hand convulsively. choked down his strong, rising emotion, and said, try to talk, love; the effort will exhaust your strength."
No-no, it will not. I am not so weak as I was when you came in. Dearest Frank, when you sit by me, and hold my hand, new life seems to run up my feeble veins, and I feel stronger. Let me talk, love. Ah, do not look so sad! It is better as it is, love. It is better I should go. I have spoiled my own life, and should spoil yours if I should live. Ah, it is a dreadful thing to occasion the death of any one! it is an awful thing to cause the death of a father! I caused the death of the most loving father that ever lived; and, dearest Frank, though in the struggle, in the bitterness of poverty, in the pangs of hunger and of cold, and in the pain and debility of illness, the feeling of compunction has been diverted, yet, had health returned with prosperity, remorse
would then have darkened all my life; and in ruining my happiness would have marred yours. Yes! I have spoiled my own life. It is well that I should not live to spoil yours, dearest Frank! I talk not of expiation now. Nothing that I could do or suffer would alter the irrevocable past. We have all one Redeemer-Jesus Christ the Righteous. So I talk not of expiating the past; though, perhaps, if any heart is hardened against me, my early death may soften it. But let me speak of the future your future, dearest Frank; and let me say it is better for all your coming years that I should die."
'Oh, do not say so, Zuleime-you break my heart!" "Dear Frank, you will grieve for me, I know you will; but be comforted. You are so young yet. This sorrow will pass like a morning cloud, and leave all your life a long bright day." She paused abruptly-a grey shadow swept darkly over her face and vanished. He did not see it; his face was buried in his hands. Then she asked to have her child brought to her. Frank went out, but soon returned to say that little Fan had been put to bed; and to ask her if the child should be woke up." No, do not wake the poor little thing," she said; and then added, "I am very, very sleepy, Frank. Dearest Frank, kiss my eyelids down to slumber like you always do, and hold my hand till I fall asleep. Kiss my lips, too, this time; kiss them last of all-there-good-night, love!" Her voice sank away in a low, inaudible murmur, like a dying sound on the Æolian harp.
Her husband sat and held her hand, never moving, scarcely breathing, lest he should disturb her long, deep sleep. He sat there more than an hour. The room grew dark with the shades of evening; and when at length Catherine entered with the night-lamp, he raised his hand with a sign of silence and caution, murmuring, "She has fallen asleep.' Catherine approached quietly, shading the lamp with her hand, and looked upon the sleeper. Hush, be very cautious-do not disturb her," whispered Frank.
The sweet and solemn voice of Catherine gently arose, saying, "Come away, Captain Fairfax. Nothing will ever disturb her more. She has fallen asleep in Jesus !"
Two months have passed since the death of the sisters. To the consternation of the haut ton of the city, the beautiful Mrs. Clifton has left Richmond and come down to mourn with those that mourn at White Cliffs. With an air at once of earnest conviction and graceful weariness, she says that it is all vanity and vexation of spirit," meaning fashionable society, spring travelling, and sight-seeing; summers at watering-places, among the mountains, or by the sea-side; winters in town, with plays, concerts, balls, dressing, visiting, and waltzing; autumn parties in the country-houses, with equestrian expeditions, sailing excursions, and forest rides and drives; and even the moonlight serenades, and 'the slight flirtation by the light of the chandelier.' Mrs. Georgia speaks the truth. "Vanity "all this undoubtedly is in her. But, entre nous, the "vexation of spirit" appertains to certain small" accounts, ranging from fifty to fifteen hundred dollars, and sent in by landlords, merchants, jewellers, milliners, &c.-people so wanting in delicate perception as not to see that the honour of the belle's custom was quite payment enough in itself for their goods; and so utterly destitute of classic lore, and the faculty of distinguishing persons, as actually to draw out on a piece of paper a list of items opposite to a row of figures, with a sum total at the bottom, and send it to a Circe, as if she were a tradesman and could understand it. Charming Georgia did not even try to comprehend such mysterious hieroglyphics; she knew, bewitching creature! that " where ignorance is bliss 'tis folly to be wise." Therefore, to escape duns, to recruit health and spirits, and, of all things, to console Major Clifton, she has come down to White Cliffs. The beautiful Georgia presented herself to the mourning master of White Cliffs in a very deprecating spirit. She said that she felt her arrival there at such a moment to be almost an intrusion, but that he would excuse it, as she had exhausted money and credit, and had no other home.
"You know," she added, as the tears suffused her large