Read PART III: CHAPTER XVI of The Home , free online book, by Fredrika Bremer, on ReadCentral.com.

A SICK CHAMBER.

If the sun shine on the head of the crucified, if a bird lift up its joyous song in presence of a broken heart, it seems to us cruel. But beautiful is the unconscious irony of nature in comparison with that which exists in human circumstances. We have here an example of this before us. See these sparkling false diamonds, this red gauze finery, these ruins of theatrical ornament. They seem to mock the misery of the room about which they are strewn. In that wretched room is want of light; want, not only of all the comforts of life, but also of its most necessary things. And yet where could they be more useful than here?

Forlorn, upon a miserable bed lay a woman, who appeared to have seen better days; still is she handsome, although passion and suffering seem early to have wasted her yet young countenance. Fever burned on the sunken cheek and in the dark eye, and her lips moved themselves wildly; but no one was there to refresh with friendly hand the dry lips and the hot brow; no cooling fever-draught stood near her bed. Two new-born babes lay weeping near the mother. Uneasy phantoms seemed to agitate the unhappy one: sometimes she raised herself in the bed with wild gestures, but sunk back again powerless; whilst her pale, convulsed, and wandering lips spoke from the depths of her torn heart the following incoherent words:

“It is a bitter, bitter path! but I must, must fly for help! My strength is broken I can do nothing the children cry to be heard, hungry, half-naked! Parents! sisters! help!

“It is night the wind is cold I freeze! The waves swell and swell they drive a wreck ashore they strike on the rocks ah! wherefore did it not go down in the storm on the open sea? How dreadful in full consciousness to be dashed to pieces! And thou, thou who art the cause of all, thou sittest by and lookest coldly on me! Miserable egotist! Dost thou bear a heart in thy breast? The temple is dashed to pieces, and thou that has ruined it treadest upon its ruins! I knew not how misfortune looked I knew not what it really is! Misery! But thou miserable one who

“Hush! is it she? Is it my foster-mother who comes here so lightly, so gently, so softly? It becomes bright! She will lay her warm hands on my little children, and wrap them in the warm coverlet which she made for me

There sits a dove so fair and white
All on the lily spray.

Is it she? No! it is the moon, which rises palely out of black clouds. How coldly she looks on my misery! Away, away!

“Sisters, I thirst! Will no one give me a drop of water? Have you all, all left me? I thought I saw you again. It is so strange in my head. Perhaps I shall become mad if I thirst much longer. It is dark I am afraid! I am afraid of the dark bird! If it come again it will begin to rend my heart; but if I am ever again strong, fresh and strong, I will kill it with my own hands will I murder it! Day and night a wick burns in my heart; its name is Hate, and the oil that supplies it is bitterness!

“When shall I be strong again? Do you see how he has misused me; has fettered me to the sick-bed? Do you hear the children cry? the children which, through the abuse of the father, have come into the world before their time, and now will die? Give nourishment to the children, for the mercy of God, sisters! Let me die, but help the children! Now they are quiet! Thanks! thanks! Shall I die this morning? No, no, not yet!

“The gulf is so dark! Ah, what an abyss!

“Again comes the black bird; I had fled from him, but he followed me, tore off my wings, so that I can fly no longer!

“Help me up, I must dress myself! Here, with my handsome attire! haste! To-night I must appear anew before the public, and be admired; must hear the clapping of hands and bravos; must see garlands showered before my feet! See you, sisters; it is so glorious! It is an hour of life! It is a real burst of joy! See how I glitter how I beam forth! Listen to the tempest of applause! How it thunders! But wherefore is it now again so still? still and dark as the grave? It was a short joy! Cursed be he who made it so short!

“Do not look so sternly upon me, foster-father! Am I not already sufficiently cast down! Your stern look penetrates me. Give me your hand, that I may lay it on my burning brow. You turn from me! You go! Oh!

“It is so desolate! The strand has such sharp stones! It is so dreadful to be wounded against them!

“I will not die! I am so young, have so much strength of life in my soul! I will not yet go down into eternity! No!

“Who saves me? There come foaming waves! or are they your white arms, sisters, which you stretch out towards me? Is it you whom I see like grey misty ghosts wandering on the corpse coast! Are you then dead? Do you hear the noise? It is death it is the black bird which comes! now I must fly fly fly or die!”

With a violent effort the delirious woman rose from the bed took a few steps, and then fell down as if lifeless. Her head struck against the bedstead, and a stream of blood gushed forth from her temples.

At this moment a tall man habited in black entered the room softly; light locks surrounded the noble but somewhat aged head; the mild, serious expression of the countenance, and the affectionate look of the blue eyes showed, still more than the dress, whose servant he was. A lady, who was not handsome, but whose countenance bore the stamp of beauty of the soul, like her husband’s, followed him. With a look of the deepest compassion this couple surveyed the room, and then drew near the sick-bed.

“Merciful heaven!” whispered they, “we are come too late! The children are dead and so is the mother!”

Let us now turn our eyes away from this dark picture that they may rest upon a brighter one.