Beulah (Chapter 6, page 1 of 5)

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Chapter 6

Several tedious weeks had rolled away since Eugene Graham left his
sunny Southern home to seek learning in the venerable universities
of the Old World. Blue-eyed May, the carnival month of the year, had
clothed the earth with verdure, and enameled it with flowers of
every hue, scattering her treasures before the rushing car of
summer. During the winter scarlet fever had hovered threateningly
over the city, but, as the spring advanced, hopes were entertained
that all danger had passed. Consequently, when it was announced that
the disease had made its appearance in a very malignant form, in the
house adjoining Mrs. Martin's, she determined to send her children
immediately out of town. A relative living at some distance up the
river happened to be visiting her at the time, and, as she intended
returning home the following day, kindly offered to take charge of
the children until all traces of the disease had vanished.

To this plan Beulah made no resistance, though the memory of her little
sister haunted her hourly. What could she do? Make one last attempt
to see her, and if again refused then it mattered not whither she
went. When the preparations for their journey had been completed,
and Johnny slept soundly in his crib, Beulah put on her old straw
bonnet, and set out for Mr. Grayson's residence. The sun was low in
the sky, and the evening breeze, rippling the waters of the bay,
stirred the luxuriant foliage of the ancient China trees that
bordered the pavements. The orphan's heart was heavy with undefined
dread; such a dread as had oppressed her the day of her separation
from her sister.

"Coming events cast their shadows before," and she was conscious that the sunset glow could not dispel the
spectral gloom which enveloped her. She walked on, with her head
bowed, like one stooping from an impending blow, and when at last
the crouching lions confronted her she felt as if her heart had
suddenly frozen. There stood the doctor's buggy. She sprang up the
steps, and stretched out her hand for the bolt of the door. Long
streamers of crape floated through her fingers. She stood still a
moment, then threw open the door and rushed in. The hall floor was
covered to muffle the tread; not a sound reached her save the
stirring of the China trees outside. Her hand was on the balustrade
to ascend the steps, but her eyes fell upon a piece of crape
fastened to the parlor door, and, pushing it ajar, she looked in.
The furniture was draped; even the mirrors and pictures; and on a
small oblong table in the center of the room lay a shrouded form. An
over-powering perfume of crushed flowers filled the air, and Beulah
stood on the threshold, with her hands extended, and her eyes fixed
upon the table. There were two children; Lilly might yet live, and
an unvoiced prayer went up to God that the dead might be Claudia.
Then like scathing lightning came the recollection of her curse:
"May God answer their prayers as they answered mine." With rigid
limbs she tottered to the table, and laid her hand on the velvet
pall; with closed eyes she drew it down, then held her breath and
looked. There lay her idol, in the marble arms of death. Ah! how
matchlessly beautiful, wrapped in her last sleep! The bright golden
curls glittered around the snowy brow, and floated like wandering
sunlight over the arms and shoulders. The tiny waxen fingers clasped
each other as in life, and the delicately chiseled lips were just
parted, as though the sleeper whispered. Beulah's gaze dwelt upon
this mocking loveliness, then the arms were thrown wildly up, and,
with a long, wailing cry, her head sank heavily on the velvet
cushion, beside the cold face of her dead darling. How long it
rested there she never knew. Earth seemed to pass away; darkness
closed over her, and for a time she had no pain, no sorrow; she and
Lilly were together. All was black, and she had no feeling. Then she
was lifted, and the motion aroused her torpid faculties; she moaned
and opened her eyes. Dr. Hartwell was placing her on a sofa, and
Mrs. Grayson stood by the table with a handkerchief over her eyes.
With returning consciousness came a raving despair; Beulah sprang
from the strong arm that strove to detain her, and, laying one
clinched hand on the folded fingers of the dead, raised the other
fiercely toward Mrs. Grayson, and exclaimed almost frantically: "You have murdered her! I knew it would be so, when you took my
darling from my arms, and refused my prayer! Aye, my prayer! I knelt
and prayed you, in the name of God, to let me see her once more; to
let me hold her to my heart, and kiss her lips, and forehead, and
little slender hands. You scorned a poor girl's prayer; you taunted
me with my poverty, and locked me from my darling, my Lilly, my all!
Oh, woman! you drove me wild, and I cursed you and your husband. Ha!
Has your wealth and splendor saved her? God have mercy upon me, I
feel as if I could curse you eternally. Could you not have sent for
me before she died? Oh, if I could only have taken her in my arms,
and seen her soft angel eyes looking up to me, and felt her little
arms around my neck, and heard her say 'sister' for the last time!
Would it have taken a dime from your purse, or made you less
fashionable, to have sent for me before she died? 'Such measure as
ye mete, shall be meted to you again.' May you live to have your
heart trampled and crushed, even as you have trampled mine!"

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