Chapter XXIX. Hannibal Learns How His Heart Can Be White
 

When Edith rose the next morning she found Laura only at her mother's bedside. Mrs. Lacey had gone home quite early, saying that she would soon come again. Mrs. Allen's delirium had passed away, leaving her exceedingly weak, but the doctor said, at his morning call:

"With quiet and good nursing she will slowly regain her usual health."

After he was gone, Laura said: "Taking care of mother will now be my work, Edie. I feel a good deal stronger. I'll doze in a chair during the day, and I am a light sleeper at night, so I don't think we shall need any more watchers. Poor Mrs. Lacey works hard at home, I am sure, and I don't want to trespass on her kindness any longer. So if Mrs. Groody sends you work you may give all your time to it."

And early after breakfast quite a bundle did come from the hotel, with a scrawl from the housekeeper: "You may mend this linen, my dear, and I'll send for it to-morrow night."

Edith's eyes sparkled at the sight of the work as they never had over the costliest gifts of jewelry. Sitting down in the airy parlor, no longer kept in state for possible callers, she put on her thimble, and, with a courage and heroism greater than those of many a knight drawing for the first time his ancestral sword, she took her needle and joined the vast army of sewing-women. Lowly was the position and work first assigned to her--only mending coarse linen. And yet it was with a thrill of gratitude and joy, and a stronger hope than she had yet experienced, that she sat down to the first real work for which she would be paid, and in her exultation she brandished her little needle at the spectres want and fear, as a soldier might his weapon.

Hannibal stood in the kitchen regarding her with moist eyes and features that twitched nervously.

"Oh, Miss Edie, I neber tho't you'd come to dat."

"It's one of the best things I've come to yet," said Edith, cheerily. "We shall be taken care of, Hannibal. Cheer up your faithful old heart. Brighter days are coming."

But, for some reason, Hannibal didn't cheer up, and he stood looking very wistfully at Edith. At last he commenced:

"It does my ole black heart good to hear you talk so, Miss Edie--"

"Why do you persist in calling your heart black? It's no such thing," interrupted Edith.

"Yes, 'tis, Miss Edie," said Hannibal, despondently, "I'se know 'tis. I'se black outside, and I allers kinder feel dat I'se more black inside. Neber felt jes right here yet, Miss Edie," said the old man, laying his hand on his breast. "I come de nighest to't de toder day when you said you lubbed me. Dat seemed to go down deep, but not quite to whar de trouble stays all de time.

"But, Miss Edie," continued he in a whisper, "I'se hope you'll forgive me, but I couldn't help listenin' to you last night. I neber heerd such talk afore. It seemed to broke my ole black heart all up, and made it feel like de big ribers down souf in de spring, when dey jes oberflow eberyting. I says to myself, dat's de Friend Miss Edie say she's gwine to tell me 'bout. And now, Miss Edie, would you mind tellin' me little 'bout Him? Cause if He's your Friend, I'd t'ink a heap of Him, too. Not dat I specs He's gwine to bodder wid dis ole niggah, but den I'd jes like to hear 'bout Him a little."

Edith laid down her work, and turned her glorious dark eyes, brimming over with sympathy, on the poor old fellow, as he stood in the doorway fairly trembling with the excess of his feeling.

"Come and sit down here by me," she said.

"Oh, Miss Edie, I'se isn't--"

"No words--come."

Hannibal crouched down on a divan near.

"What makes you think He wouldn't bother with you?"

"Well, I'se don't know 'zactly, Miss Edie. I'se only Hannibal."

"Hannibal," said Edith, earnestly, "you are the best man I know in all the world."

"Oh, Lor bless you, Miss Edie, how you talk! you'se jes done gone crazy."

"No I haven't. I never spoke in more sober earnest. You are faithful and true, unselfish and patient, and abound in the best material of which men are made. I admit," she added, with a twinkle in her eye, "that one very common element of manhood, as I have observed it, is dreadfully lacking, that is conceit. I wish I were as good as you are, Hannibal."

"Oh, Miss Edie, don't talk dat way, you jes done discourages me. If you'd only say, Hannibal, you'se sick, but I'se got a mighty powerful medicine for you; if you'd only say, I know you isn't good; I know your ole heart is black, but I know a way to make it white, I'd stoop down and kiss de ground you walks on. Dere's sumpen wrong here, Miss Edie," said he, laying his hand on his breast again, and shaking his head, with a tear in the corner of each eye--"I tells you dere's sumpen wrong. I don't know jes what 'tis. My heart's like a baby a- cryin' for it doesn't know what. Den it gits jes like a stun, as hard and as heavy. I don't understan' my ole heart; I guess it's kinder sick and wants a doctor, 'cause it don't work right. But dere's one ting I does understan'. It 'pears dat it would be a good heaven 'nuff if I'se could allers be waitin' on you alls. But Massa Allen's gone; Miss Zell, poor chile, is gone; and I'se growin' ole, Miss Edie, I'se growin' ole. De wool is white, de jints are stiff, and de feet tired. Dey can't tote dis ole body roun' much longer. Where am I gwine, Miss Edie? What's gwine to become of ole Hannibal? I'se was allers afeard of de dark. If I could only find you in de toder world and wait on you, dat's all I ask, but I'se afeard I'll get lost, it seems such a big, empty place."

"Poor old Hannibal! Then you are 'heavy laden' too," said Edith, gently.

"Indeed I is, Miss Edie; 'pears as if I couldn't stan' it anoder minute. And when I heerd you talkin' about dat Friend last night, and tellin' how good He was to people, and He seemed to do you such a heap of good, I thought dat I would jes like to hear little 'bout Him." "Wait till I get my Bible," said Edith.

"Bless you, Miss Edie, you'se needn't stop your work. You can jes tell me any ting dat come into you'se head."

"Then I wouldn't be like Him, Hannibal. He used to stop and give the kindest and most patient attention to every one that came to Him, and, as far as I can make out, the poorer they were, the more sinful and despised they seemed, the more attention He gave to them."

"Dat's mighty quar," said Hannibal, musingly; "not a bit like de big folks dat I'se seen."

"I don't understand it all myself yet, Hannibal. But the Bible tells me that He was God come down to earth to save the world. He says to the lost and sinful--to all who are poor and needy--in brief, to the heavy laden, 'Come unto me.' So I went to Him, Hannibal, and you can go just as well."

The old man's eyes glistened, but he said, doubtfully, "Yes, but den you'se Miss Edie, and I'se only black Hannibal. I wish we'd all lived when He was here. I might have shine His boots, and done little tings for Him, so He'd say, 'Poor ole Hannibal, you does as well as you knows how. I'll 'member you, and you shan't go away in de dark.'"

Edith smiled and cried at the same time over the quaint pathos of the simple creature's words, but she said, earnestly, "You need not go away in the dark, for He said, 'I am the light of the world,' and if you go to Him you will always be in the light."

"I'd go in a minute," said Hannibal, eagerly, "if I only know'd how, and wasn't afeard." Then, as if a sudden thought struck him, he asked, "Miss Edie, did He eber hab any ting to do wid a black man?"

Edith was so unfamiliar with the Bible that she could not recall any distinct case, but she said, with the earnestness of such full belief on her part, that it satisfied his child-like mind, "I am sure He did, for all kinds of people--people that no one else would touch or look at--came to Him, or He went to them, and spoke so kindly to them and forgave all their sins."

"Bress Him, Miss Edie, dat kinder sounds like what I wants."

Edith thought a moment, and, with her quick, logical mind, sought to construct a simple chain of truth that would bring to the trusting nature she was trying to guide the perfect assurance that Jesus' love and mercy embraced him as truly as herself.

They made a beautiful picture that moment; she with her hands, that had dropped all earthly tasks for the sake of this divine work, clasped in her lap, her lustrous eyes dewy with sympathy and feeling, looking far away into the deep blue of the June sky, as if seeking some heavenly inspiration; and quaint old Hannibal, leaning forward in his eagerness, and gazing upon her, as if his life depended upon her next utterances.

It was a picture of the Divine Artist's own creation. He had inspired the faith in one and the questioning unrest in the other. He, with Edith's lips, as ever by human lips, was teaching the way of life. Glorious privilege, that our weak voices should be as the voice of God, telling the lost and wandering where lies the way to life and home! The angels leaned over the golden walls to watch that scene, while many a proud pageant passed unheeded.

"Hannibal," said Edith, after her momentary abstraction, "God made everything, didn't He?"

"Sartin."

"Then He made you, and you are one of His creatures, are you not?"

"Sartin I is, Miss Edie."

"Then see here what is in the Bible. Almost the last thing He said to His followers before He went up into heaven, was, 'Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.' Gospel means 'good news,' and the good news was, that God had come down from heaven and become a man, so we wouldn't be afraid of Him, and that He would take away their sins and save all who would let Him. Now, remember, He didn't send His preachers to the white people, nor to the black people, but to all the world, to every creature alike, and so He meant you and me, Hannibal, and you as much as me. I am just as sure He will receive you as that He received me."

"Dat's 'nuff, Miss Edie. Ole Hannibal can go too. And I'se a-gwine, Miss Edie, I'se a-gwine right to Him. Dere's only one ting dat troubles me yet. What is I gwine to do wid my ole black heart? I know dere's sumpen wrong wid it. It's boddered me all my life."

"Oh, Hannibal," said Edith, eagerly, "I was reading something last night that I think will just suit you, I thought I would read a little in the Old Testament, and I turned to a place that I didn't understand very well, but I came to these words, and they made me think of you, for you are always talking about your 'old black heart.'" And she read:

"I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and will give them an heart of flesh."

To Hannibal the words seemed a revelation from heaven. Standing before her, with streaming eyes, he said:

"Oh, Miss Edie, you'se been an angel of light to me. Dat was jes de berry message I wanted. I knowed my ole heart was nothin' but a black stun. De Lord couldn't do nothin' wid it but trow it away. But tanks be to His name, He says He'll give me a new one--a heart of flesh. Now I sees dat my heart can be white like yours, Miss Edie. Bress de Lord, I'se a-gwine, I'se a-comin'," and Hannibal vanished into the kitchen, feeling that he must be alone in the glad tumult of his emotions.