Aunt Phillis's Cabin/Chapter XVI
Mr. Weston and Phillis returned to the sick-room from the funeral. Fever was doing its work with the fair being, the beloved of many hearts, who was unconscious of aught that was passing around her. There was a startling light from the depths of her blue eyes; their natural softness of expression gone. The crimson glow had flushed into a hectic; the hot breath from her parted lips was drying away their moisture. The rich, mournful tones of her voice echoed in sad wailing through the chambers; it constantly and plaintively said Mother! though that mother answered in vain to its appeal. The air circulated through the room, bearing the odor of the woods, but for her it had no reviving power; it could not stay the beatings of her pulse, nor relieve the oppression of her panting bosom. Oh! what beauty was about that bed of sickness. The perfect shape of every feature, the graceful turn of the head, the luxuriant auburn hair, the contour of her rounded limbs. There was no vacancy in her face. Alas! visions of sorrow were passing in her mind. A sad intelligence was expressed in every glance, but not to the objects about her. The soul, subdued by the suffering of its tenement, was wandering afar off, perchance endeavoring to dive into the future, perchance essaying to forget the past.
What says that vision of languishing and loveliness to the old man whose eyes are fixed in grief upon it? "Thou seest, O Christian! the uselessness of laying up thy treasures here. Where are now the hopes of half thy lifetime, where the consummation of all thy anxious plans? She who has been like an angel by thy side, how wearily throbs her young heart! Will she perpetuate the name of thy race? Will she close thine eyes with her loving hand? Will she drop upon thy breast a daughter's tear?"
What does the vision say to thee, oh! aged woman? "There is still more for thee to do, more for thee to suffer. It is not yet enough of this mortal strife! Thou mayest again see a fair flower crushed by the rude wind of death; perchance she may precede thee, to open for thine entrance the eternal gates!"
And what to thee, thou faithful servant?
"There are tears in thine eye, and for me. For me! Whom thou thoughtest above a touch of aught that could bring sorrow or pain. Thou seest, not alone on thy doomed race rests a curse; the fierce anger of God, denounced against sin--the curse, falls upon his dearest children. I must, like you, abide by God's dealing with the children of men. But we shall be redeemed."
What to thee, oh, mother? Thou canst not read the interpretation--a cloud of darkness sweeps by thy soul's vision. Will it pass, or will it rest upon thee forever?
Yet the voice of God speaks to each one; faintly it may be to the mother, but even to her. There is a rainbow of hope in the deluge of her sorrow; she sees death in the multitude that passes her sight, but there is another there, one whose form is like unto the Son of God. She remembers how He wept over Lazarus, and raised him from the dead; oh! what comfort to place her case in his pitying bosom!
Many were the friends who wept, and hoped, and prayed with them. Full of grief were the affectionate servants, but most of all, Phillis.
It was useless to try and persuade her to take her usual rest, to remind
her of her children, and her cares; to offer her the choice morsel to tempt
her appetite, the refreshing drink she so much required. She wanted nothing
but to weep with those who wept--nor rest, nor food, nor refreshing.
* * * * *
It is universal, the consideration that is shown to the servants at the South, as regards their times of eating and of rest. Whatever may have occurred, whatever fatigue the different members of the family may feel obliged to undergo, a servant is rarely called upon for extra attendance. In the Northern country the whole labor of a family is frequently performed by one female, while five or six will do the same amount of work in the South. A servant at the South is rarely called upon at night; only in cases of absolute necessity. Negroes are naturally sleepy-headed—they like to sit up late at night,—in winter, over a large fire, nodding and bumping their heads against each other, or in summer, out of doors; but they take many a nap before they can get courage to undress and go regularly to bed. They may be much interested in a conversation going on, but it is no violation of their code of etiquette to smoke themselves to sleep while listening. Few of the most faithful servants can keep awake well enough to be of real service in cases of sickness. There is a feeling among their owners, that they work hard during the day and should be allowed more rest than those who are not obliged to labor. "Do not disturb servants when they are eating," is the frequent charge of a Southern mother, "they have not a great many pleasures within their reach; never do any thing that will lessen their comforts in the slightest degree." Mrs. Weston, even in her own deep sorrow, was not unmindful of others; she frequently tried to induce Phillis to go home, knowing that she must be much fatigued. "I cannot feel tired, Phillis; a mother could not sleep with her only child as Alice is; I do not require the rest that you do."
"You needs it more, Miss Anna, though you don't think so now. I can take care of myself. Unless you drive me away, I shan't go until God's will be done, for life or death."
Miss Janet often laid down and slept for an hour or two, and returned refreshed to the sick chamber. Her voice retained its cheerfulness and kept Mrs. Weston's heart from failing. "Hope on, Anna," she would say, "as long as she breathes we must not give her up; how many have been thought entirely gone, and then revived. We must hope, and God will do the rest."
This "hoping on" was one great cause of Cousin Janet's usefulness during a long life; religion and reason alike demand it of us. Many grand and noble actions have been done in the world, that never could have been accomplished without hoping on. When we become discouraged, how heavy the task before us; it is like drooping the eyes, and feebly putting forth the hands to find the way, when all appears to us darkness; but let the eye be lifted and the heart hope on, and there is found a glimmering of light which enables the trembling one to penetrate the gloom. Alice's symptoms had been so violent from the first, her disease had progressed so rapidly, that her condition was almost hopeless; ere Mr. Weston thought of the propriety of informing Arthur of her condition. The first time it occurred to him, he felt convinced that he ought not to delay. He knew that Arthur never could be consoled, if Alice, his dearly loved, his affianced wife, should die without his having the consolation of a parting word or look. He asked Cousin Janet her opinion.
She recalled all that had passed previous to Alice's illness. As she looked into Mr. Weston's grieved and honest face, the question suggested itself,--Is it right thus, to keep him in ignorance? She only wavered a moment. Already the traces of agitation caused by his niece's illness, were visible in his flushed face and nervous frame; what then might be the result of laying before him a subject in which his happiness was so nearly concerned? Besides, she felt convinced that even should Alice improve, the suffering which had been one cause of her sickness, might be renewed with double force if suggested by Arthur's presence.
"I know, my dear cousin," she said, "it will be a terrible grief to Arthur, should Alice be taken from us, yet I think you had better not write. Dr. Lawton says, that a very short time must decide her case; and were the worst we fear to occur, Arthur could not reach here in time to see her with any satisfaction. If he lose her, it will probably be better for him to remember her in health and beauty."
Mr. Weston trembled, and burst into tears. "Try and not give way," said Miss Janet again; "we are doing all we can. We must hope and pray. I feel a great deal of hope. God is so merciful, he will not bring this stroke upon you in your old age, unless it is necessary. Why do you judge for him? He is mighty to save. 'The Lord on high, is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea.' Think of His mercy and power to save, and trust in Him."
In these most trying scenes of life, how little do we sympathize with the physician. How much oppressed he must feel, with the charge upon him. He is the adviser--to him is left the direction of the potions which may be the healing medicine or the deadly poison. He may select a remedy powerful to cure, he may prescribe one fatal to the invalid. How is he to draw the nice line of distinction? he must consider the disease, the constitution, the probable causes of the attack. His reputation is at stake--his happiness--for many eyes are turned to him, to read an opinion he may not choose to give in words.
If he would be like the great Healer, he thinks not only of the bodily sufferings that he is anxious to assuage, but of the immortal soul on the verge of the great Interview, deciding its eternal destiny. He trembles to think, should he fail, it may be hurried to its account. If he be a friend, how do the ties of association add to his burden. Here is one whom he has loved, whose voice he is accustomed to hear; shall he, through neglect or mismanagement, make a void in many hearts? Shall he, from want of skill, bring weeping and desolation to a house where health and joy have been? Alice was very dear to Dr. Lawton, she was the companion of his daughters; he had been accustomed to regard her as one of them; he was untiring in his attendance, but from the first, had feared the result. Mrs. Weston had concealed nothing from him, she knew that he considered a physician bound in honour to know the affairs of a family only among themselves--she had no reserves, thus giving him every assistance in her power, in conducting the case. She detailed to him, explicitly, all that might have contributed to produce it.
"You know, my dear madam," the doctor said, "that at this season we have, even in our healthy country, severe fevers. Alice's is one of the usual nature; it could have been produced by natural causes. We cannot say, it may be that the circumstances you have been kind enough to confide to me, have had a bad effect upon her. The effort to do right, and the fear lest she should err, may have strained her sensitive mind. She must have felt much distress in parting with Walter, whom she has always loved as a brother. You have only done your duty. I should not like to see a daughter of mine interested in that young man. I fear he inherits his father's violent passions, yet his early training may bring the promised blessing. Alice has that sort of mind, that is always influenced by what is passing at the time; remember what a child she was when Arthur left. There are no more broken hearts now-a-days--sometimes they bend a little, but they can be straightened again. If Alice gets well, you need not fear the future; though you know I disapprove of cousins marrying."
"Doctor," said Mrs. Weston, "I know you have not given her up!"
"I never give anybody up," said the doctor. "Who will say what God intends to do? I trust she will struggle through. Many a storm assails the fair ship on her first voyage over the seas. She may be sadly tossed about with the wind and waves; but may breast it gallantly, and come back safe, after all. We must do what we can, and hope for the best." These words strengthened the mother's heart to watch and hope.
The doctor laid down to sleep for an hour or two in the afternoon. Cousin Janet, Mrs. Weston, and Phillis kept their watch in silence. The latter gently fanned Alice, who lay gazing, but unconscious; now looking inquiringly into her mother's face, now closing her eyes to every thing. There was no tossing or excitement about her, that was over. Her cheek was pale, and her eyes languid and faded. One would not have believed, to have looked upon her, how high the fever still raged. Suddenly she repeated the word that had often been on her lips--"Mother." Then, with an effort to raise herself, she sank back upon her pillow, exhausted. A sorrowful look, like death, suffused itself over her countenance. Ah! how throbbed those hearts! Was the dreaded messenger here?
"Miss Anna," whispered Phillis, "she is not gone, her pulse is no lower; it is the same."
"Is it the same? are you sure?" said Mrs. Weston, who, for a few moments, had been unable to speak, or even to place her finger on the pulse.
"It is no worse, if you'll believe me," said Phillis; "it may be a little better, but it is no worse."
"Had I not better wake the doctor?" said Mrs. Weston, who hardly knew what to believe.
Miss Janet gently touched the wrist of the invalid.
"Do not wake him, my dear; Phillis is right in saying she is no worse; it was a fainting, which is passing away. See! she looks as usual. Give her the medicine, it is time; and leave her quiet, the doctor may be disturbed to-night."
The night had passed, and the morning was just visible, as symptoms of the same nature affected the patient. Dr. Lawton had seen her very late at night, and had requested them to awaken him should there be any change in her appearance or condition. Oh, how these anxious hearts feared and hoped through this night. What might it bring forth; joy or endless weeping?
This dread crisis past, and what would be the result?
"Doctor," said Phillis, gently awaking him, "I'm sorry to disturb you. Miss Alice has had another little turn, and you'd better see her."
"How is her pulse?" said the doctor, quickly. "Is it failing?"
"'Pears to me not, sir; but you can see."
They went to the room, and the doctor took Alice's small wrist, and lightly felt her pulse. Then did the mother watch his face, to see its writing. What was there?
Nothing but deep attention. The wrist was gently laid down, and the doctor's hand passed lightly over the white arm. Softly it touched the forehead, and lay beneath the straying curl. There is no expression yet; but he takes the wrist again, and, laying one hand beneath it, he touches the pulse. Softly, like the first glance of moonlight on the dark waters, a smile is seen on that kind face. There is something else besides the smile. Large tears dropped from the physician's eyes; tears that he did not think to wipe away. He stooped towards the fragile sufferer, and gently as the morning air breathes upon the drooping violet, he kissed her brow. "Alice, sweet one," he said, "God has given you to us again."
Where is that mother? Has she heard those cheering words? She hears them, and is gone; gone even from the side of her only one. The soul, when there is too much joy, longs for God. She must lay her rich burden at the mercy-seat. Now, that mother kneels, but utters no word. The incense of her heart knows no language and needs none; for God requires it not. The sacrifice of praise from a rejoicing heart, is a grateful offering that he accepts.
"Miss Anna," said Phillis, with trembling voice, but beaming eye, "go to bed now; days and nights you have been up. How can you stand it? The doctor says she is a great deal better, but she may be ill for a good while yet, and you will give out. I will stay with her if you will take a sleep."
"Sleep;" said Mrs. Weston. "No, no, faithful Phillis not yet; joy is too new to me. God for ever bless you for your kindness to me and my child. You shall go home and sleep, and to-night, if she continue to do well, I will trust her with you, and take some rest myself."
Mr. Weston awoke to hear glad tidings. Again and again, through the long day, he repeated to himself his favorite Psalm, "Praise the Lord, oh my soul."
Miss Janet's joy, deep but silent, was visible in her happy countenance. Nor were these feelings confined to the family; every servant on the estate made his master's joy his own. They sorrowed with him when he sorrowed, but now that his drooping head was lifted up, many an honest face regarded him with humble congratulation, as kindly received as if it had come from the highest in the land.