“Are you in pain, my dear?” I softly asked.
“No!” she answered in a tiny voice, so faint and far away that we held our breath to listen to it; “I am quite well now. Assunta must dress me in my white frock again now papa is here. I knew he would come back!”
And she turned her eyes upon me with a look of bright intelligence.
“Her brain wanders,” said the doctor, in a low, pitying voice; “it will soon be over.”
Stella did not hear him; she turned and nestled in my arms, asking in a sort of babbling whisper:
“You did not go away because I was naughty, did you, papa?”
“No darling!” I answered, hiding my face in her curls.
“Why do you have those ugly black things on?” she asked, in the feeblest and most plaintive tone imaginable, so weak that I myself could scarcely hear it; “has somebody hurt your eyes? Let me see your eyes!” I hesitated. Dare I humor her in her fancy? I glanced up. The doctor’s head again was turned away, Assunta was on her knees, her face buried in the bed-clothes, praying to her saints; quick as thought I slipped my spectacles slightly down, and looked over them full at my little one. She uttered a soft cry of delight— “Papa! papa!” and stretched out her arms, then a strong and terrible shudder shook her little frame. The doctor came closer—I replaced my glasses without my action being noticed, and we both bent anxiously over the suffering child. Her face paled and grew livid— she made another effort to speak—her beautiful eyes rolled upward and became fixed—she sighed—and sunk back on my shoulder—dying— dead! My poor little one! A hard sob stifled itself in my throat—I clasped the small lifeless body close in my embrace, and my tears fell hot and fast. There was a long silence in the room—a deep, an awe-struck, reverent silence, while the Angel of Death, noiselessly entering and departing, gathered my little white rose for his Immortal garden of flowers.
After some little time the doctor’s genial voice, slightly tremulous from kindly emotion, roused me from my grief-stricken attitude.
“Monsieur, permit me to persuade you to come away. Poor little child! she is free from pain now. Her fancy that you were her father was a fortunate delusion for her. It made her last moments happy. Pray come with me—I can see this has been a shock to your feelings.”
Reverently I laid the fragile corpse back on the yet warm pillows. With a fond touch I stroked the flaxen head; I closed the dark, upturned, and glazing eyes—I kissed the waxen cheeks and lips, and folded the tiny hands in an attitude of prayer. There was a grave smile on the young dead face—a smile of superior wisdom and sweetness, majestic in its simplicity. Assunta rose from her knees and laid her crucifix on the little breast—the tears were running down her worn and withered countenance. As she strove to wipe them away with her apron, she said tremblingly:—