Musgrave is nearest her; her hand is clasped in his; even at this sacred and supreme moment a pang of most bitter earthly jealousy contracts my heart that it should be so. What is he to her? what has he to do with our Barbara?—ours, not his, not his! But it pleases her.
She has never doubted him. Never has the faintest suspicion of his truth dimmed the mirror of her guileless mind, nor will it ever now. She goes down to the grave smiling, holding his hand, and kissing it. Now and then she wanders a little, but there is nothing painful or uneasy in her wanderings.
Her fair white body lies upon the bed, but by the smile that kindles all the dying loveliness of her face, by the happy broken words that fall from her sweet mouth, we know that she is already away in heaven. Now and again her lips part as if to laugh—a laugh of pure pleasantness.
“As the man lives, so shall he die!” As Barbara has lived, so does she die—meekly, unselfishly—with a great patience, and an absolute peace. O wise man! O philosophers! who would take from us—who have all but taken from us—our Blessed Land, the land over whose borders our Barbara, at that smile, seems setting her feet—you may be right—I, for one, know not! I am weary of your pros and cons! But when you take it away, for God’s sake give us something better instead!
Who, while they kneel, with the faint hand of their life’s life in theirs, can be satisfied with the probability of meeting again? God! God! give us certainty.
The night has all but waned, the dawn has come. God has sent his messenger for Barbara. An awful hunger to hear her voice once more seizes me, masters me. I rise from my knees, and lean over her.
“Barbara!” I say, in a strangling agony of tears, “you are not afraid, are you?”
Afraid! She has all but forgotten our speech—she, who is hovering on the confines of that other world, where our speech is needed not, but she just repeats my word, “Afraid!”
Her voice is but a whisper now, but in all her look there is such an utter, tender, joyful disdain, as leaves no room for misgiving.
Nay, friends, our Barbara is not at all afraid. She never was reckoned one of the bravest of us—never—timorous rather! Often we have laughed at her easy fears, we bolder ones. But which of us, I pray you, could go with such valiant cheer to meet the one prime terror of the nations as she is doing?
And it comes to pass that, about the time of the sun-rising, Barbara goes.
“She is gone! God bless her!” Roger says, with low and reverent tenderness, stooping over our dead lily, and, putting his arm round me, tries to lead me away. But I shake him off, and laugh out loud.
“Are you mad?” I cry, “she is not dead! She is no more dead than you are! Only a moment ago, she was speaking to me! Do dead people speak?”