Suddenly she shivered. “I am afraid; I never thought of—this. Will nobody come and speak to me?”
Oh, how Elizabeth longed for Miss Hilary, for any body, who would have known what to say to the dying woman; who perhaps, as her look and words implied, till this hour had never thought of dying. Once it crossed the servant’s mind to send for some clergyman; but she knew none, and was aware that Mrs. Ascott did not either. She had no superstitious feeling that any clergyman would do; just to give a sort of spiritual extreme unction to the departing soul. Her own religious faith was of such an intensely personal silent kind, that she did not believe in any good to be derived from a strange gentleman coming and praying by the bedside of a stranger, repeating set sayings with a set countenance, and going away again. And yet with that instinct which comes to almost every human soul, fast departing, Mrs. Ascott’s white lips whispered, “Pray.”
Elizabeth had no words, except those which Miss Leaf used to say night after night in the little parlor at Stowbury. She knelt down, and in a trembling voice repeated in her mistress’s ear—“Our Father which art in heaven”—to the end.
After it Mrs. Ascott lay very quiet. At length she said, “Please—bring—my—baby.” It had been from the first, and was to the last, “my” baby. The small face was laid close to hers that she might kiss it.
“He looks well; he does not miss me much yet, poor little fellow!” And the strong natural agony came upon her, conquering even the weakness of her last hour. “Oh, it’s hard, hard! Will nobody teach my baby to remember me?”
And then lifting herself up on her elbow she caught hold of nurse.
“Tell Mr. Ascott that Elizabeth is to take care of baby. Promise, Elizabeth. Johanna is old—Hilary may be married; you will take care of my baby?”
“I will—as long as I live,” said Elizabeth Hand.
She took the child in her arms, and for almost another hour stood beside the bed thus, until nurse whispered, “Carry it away; its mother doesn’t know it now.”
But she did; for she feebly moved her fingers as if in search of something. Baby was still asleep, but Elizabeth contrived, by kneeling down close to the bed, to put the tiny hand under those cold fingers; they closed immediately upon it, and so remained till the last. When Miss Leaf and Miss Hilary came in, Elizabeth was still kneeling there, trying softly to take the little hand away; for the baby had wakened and began its piteous wail. But it did not disturb the mother now.
“Poor Selina” was no more. Nothing of her was left to her child except the name of a mother. It may have been better so.
the beloved wife of Peter Ascott, Esq.,
Of Russell square, London,
and daughter of
the late Henry leaf, Esq.,
Of this town.
Died December 24, 1839.
Aged 41 years.”