The dying girl lay with closed lids, and unconscious, the drapery upon her breast faintly rising and falling as her wasting life ebbed away. At intervals a sigh or a muffled sob broke upon the stillness. The same haunting thought was in all minds there: the pity of this death, the going out into the great darkness, and the mother not here to help and hearten and bless.
Helen stirred; her hands began to grope wistfully about as if they sought something--she had been blind some hours. The end was come; all knew it. With a great sob Hester gathered her to her breast, crying, "Oh, my child, my darling!" A rapturous light broke in the dying girl's face, for it was mercifully vouchsafed her to mistake those sheltering arms for another's; and she went to her rest murmuring, "Oh, mamma, I am so happy--I longed for you--now I can die."
Two hours later Hester made her report. The mother asked:
"How is it with the child?"
"She is well."
A sheaf of white crape and black was hung upon the door of the house, and there it swayed and rustled in the wind and whispered its tidings. At noon the preparation of the dead was finished, and in the coffin lay the fair young form, beautiful, and in the sweet face a great peace. Two mourners sat by it, grieving and worshipping-- Hannah and the black woman Tilly. Hester came, and she was trembling, for a great trouble was upon her spirit. She said:
"She asks for a note."
Hannah's face blanched. She had not thought of this; it had seemed that that pathetic service was ended. But she realized now that that could not be. For a little while the two women stood looking into each other's face, with vacant eyes; then Hannah said:
"There is no way out of it--she must have it; she will suspect, else."
"And she would find out."
"Yes. It would break her heart." She looked at the dead face, and her eyes filled. "I will write it," she said.
Hester carried it. The closing line said:
"Darling Mousie, dear sweet mother, we shall soon be together again. Is not that good news? And it is true; they all say it is true."
The mother mourned, saying:
"Poor child, how will she bear it when she knows? I shall never see her again in life. It is hard, so hard. She does not suspect? You guard her from that?"
"She thinks you will soon be well."
"How good you are, and careful, dear Aunt Hester! None goes near herr who could carry the infection?"
"It would be a crime."
"But you SEE her?"
"With a distance between--yes."
"That is so good. Others one could not trust; but you two guardian angels--steel is not so true as you. Others would be unfaithful; and many would deceive, and lie."
Hester's eyes fell, and her poor old lips trembled.
"Let me kiss you for her, Aunt Hester; and when I am gone, and the danger is past, place the kiss upon her dear lips some day, and say her mother sent it, and all her mother's broken heart is in it."
Within the hour, Hester, raining tears upon the dead face, performed her pathetic mission.
Another day dawned, and grew, and spread its sunshine in the earth. Aunt Hannah brought comforting news to the failing mother, and a happy note, which said again, "We have but a little time to wait, darling mother, then se shall be together."
The deep note of a bell came moaning down the wind.
"Aunt Hannah, it is tolling. Some poor soul is at rest. As I shall be soon. You will not let her forget me?"
"Oh, God knows she never will!"
"Do not you hear strange noises, Aunt Hannah? It sounds like the shuffling of many feet."
"We hoped you would not hear it, dear. It is a little company gathering, for--for Helen's sake, poor little prisoner. There will be music--and she loves it so. We thought you would not mind."
"Mind? Oh no, no--oh, give her everything her dear heart can desire. How good you two are to her, and how good to me! God bless you both always!"
After a listening pause:
"How lovely! It is her organ. Is she playing it herself, do you think?" Faint and rich and inspiring the chords floating to her ears on the still air.