Marie St. Clare had taken no notice of the child’s gradually decaying health and strength, because she was completely absorbed in studying out two or three new forms of disease to which she believed she herself was a victim. It was the first principle of Marie’s belief that nobody ever was or could be so great a sufferer as herself; and, therefore, she always repelled quite indignantly any suggestion that any one around her could be sick. She was always sure, in such a case, that it was nothing but laziness, or want of energy; and that, if they had had the suffering she had, they would soon know the difference.
Miss Ophelia had several times tried to awaken her maternal fears about Eva; but to no avail.
“I don’t see as anything ails the child,” she would say; “she runs about, and plays.”
“But she has a cough.”
“Cough! you don’t need to tell me about a cough. I’ve always been subject to a cough, all my days. When I was of Eva’s age, they thought I was in a consumption. Night after night, Mammy used to sit up with me. O! Eva’s cough is not anything.”
“But she gets weak, and is short-breathed.”
“Law! I’ve had that, years and years; it’s only a nervous affection.”
“But she sweats so, nights!”
“Well, I have, these ten years. Very often, night after night, my clothes will be wringing wet. There won’t be a dry thread in my night-clothes and the sheets will be so that Mammy has to hang them up to dry! Eva doesn’t sweat anything like that!”
Miss Ophelia shut her mouth for a season. But, now that Eva was fairly and visibly prostrated, and a doctor called, Marie, all on a sudden, took a new turn.
“She knew it,” she said; “she always felt it, that she was destined to be the most miserable of mothers. Here she was, with her wretched health, and her only darling child going down to the grave before her eyes;”—and Marie routed up Mammy nights, and rumpussed and scolded, with more energy than ever, all day, on the strength of this new misery.
“My dear Marie, don’t talk so!” said St. Clare. “You ought not to give up the case so, at once.”
“You have not a mother’s feelings, St. Clare! You never could understand me!—you don’t now.”
“But don’t talk so, as if it were a gone case!”
“I can’t take it as indifferently as you can, St. Clare. If you don’t feel when your only child is in this alarming state, I do. It’s a blow too much for me, with all I was bearing before.”
“It’s true,” said St. Clare, “that Eva is very delicate, that I always knew; and that she has grown so rapidly as to exhaust her strength; and that her situation is critical. But just now she is only prostrated by the heat of the weather, and by the excitement of her cousin’s visit, and the exertions she made. The physician says there is room for hope.”
“Well, of course, if you can look on the bright side, pray do; it’s a mercy if people haven’t sensitive feelings, in this world. I am sure I wish I didn’t feel as I do; it only makes me completely wretched! I wish I could be as easy as the rest of you!”