" Keep your seat," said Mr Stoddart. " I '11 get it."
And he got a basin from the cupboard, and put it on
the bed to catch the drop.
5*4 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.
The old woman held my hand in hers; but by its
motion I knew that she wanted something ; and guess-
ing what it was from what she had said before, I made
her husband sit on the bed on the other side of her and
take hold of her other hand, while I took his place on
the chair by the bedside. This seemed to content her.
So I went and whispered to Mr Stoddart, who had stood
looking on disconsolately :
" You heard me say I would visit some of my sick
people this afternoon. Some will be expecting me with
certainty. You must go instead of me, and tell them
that I cannot come, because old Mrs Tomkins is dying;
but I will see them soon."
He seemed rather relieved at the commission. I gave
him the necessary directions to find the cottages, and he
I may mention here that this was the beginning of a
relation between Mr Stoddart and the poor of the parish
a very slight one indeed, at first, for it consisted only
in his knowing two or three of them, so as to ask after
their health when he met them, and give them an occa-
sional half-crown. But it led to better things before
many years had passed. It seems scarcely more than
yesterday though it is twenty years ago that I came
upon him in the avenue, standing in dismay over the
fragments of a jug of soup which he had dropped, to the
detriment of his trousers as well as the loss of his soup.
" What am I to do ? " he said. " Poor Jones expects his
soup to-day." "Why, go back and get some more."
" Hut what will cook say ? " The poor man was more
A SERMON TO MYSELF. 525
afraid of the cook than he would have been of a squad-
ron of cavalry. " Never mind the cook. Tell her you
must have some more as soon as it can be got ready."
He stood uncertain for a moment Then his face bright-
ened. " I will tell her I want my luncheon. I always
have soup. And I '11 get out through the greenhouse, and
carry it to Jones." " Very well," I said; " that will do
capitally.'' And I went on, without caring to disturb
my satisfaction by determining whether the devotion of
his own soup arose more from love to Jones, or fear of
the cook. He was a great help to me in the latter part
of his life, especially after I lost good Dr Duncan, and
my beloved friend Old Rogers. He was just one of
those men who make excellent front-rank men, but are
quite unfit for officers. He could do what he was told
without flinching, but he always required to be told.
I resumed my seat by the bedside, where the old
woman was again moaning. As soon as I took her
hand she ceased, and so I sat till it began to grow
" Are you there, sir?" she would murmur.
" Yes, I am here. I have a hold of your hand."
" I can't feel you, sir."
" But you can hear me. And you can hear God's
voice in your heart. I am here, though you can't feel
me. And God is here, though you can't see Him."
She would be silent for a while, and then murmur
" Are you there, Tomkins?"
" Yes, my woman, I 'm here," answered the oM man
526 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.
to one of these questions ; " but I wish I was there in-
stead, wheresomever it be as you 're goin", old girl."
And all that I could hear of her answer was, " Bym
by ; bym by."
Why should I linger over the death-bed of an illiterate
woman, old and plain, dying away by inches? Is it
only that she died with a hold of my hand, and that
therefore I am interested in the story 1 I trust not. I
was interested in her. Why? Would my readers be
more interested if I told them of the death of a young
lovely creature, who said touching things, and died
amidst a circle of friends, who felt that the very light of
life was being taken away from them 1 It was enough
for me that here was a woman with a heart like my own;
who needed the same salvation I needed ; to whom the
love of God was the one blessed thing ; who was passing
through the same dark passage into the light that the
Lord had passed through before her, that I had to pass
through after her. She had no theories at least, she
gave utterance to none ; she had few thoughts of her
own and gave still fewer of them expression ; you
might guess at a true notion in her mind, but an abstract
idea she could scarcely lay hold of; her speech was very
common; her manner rather brusque than gentle; but
she could love; she could forget herself; she could be
sorry for what she did or thought wrong; she could
hope; she could wish to be better; she could admire
good people ; she could trust in God her Saviour. And
now the loving God-made human heart in her was going
A SERMON TO MYSELF. 527
into a new school that it might begin a fresh beautiful
growth. She was old, I have said, and plain ; but now
her old age and plainness were about to vanish, and all
that had made her youth attractive to young Tomkins
was about to return to her, only rendered tenfold more
beautiful by the growth of fifty years of learning accord-
ing to her ability. God has such patience in working us
into vessels of honour ! in teaching us to be children !
And shall we find the human heart in which the germs
of all that is noblest and loveliest and likest to God have
begun to grow and manifest themselves uninteresting,
because its circumstances have been narrow, bare, and
poverty-stricken, though neither sordid nor unclean ;
because the woman is old and wrinkled and brown, as
if these were more than the transient accidents of hu-
manity ; because she has neither learned grammar nor
philosophy ; because her habits have neither been deli-
cate nor self-indulgent? To help the mind of such a
woman to unfold to the recognition of the endless de-
lights of truth ; to watch the dawn of the rising intelli-
gence upon the too still face, and the transfiguration of
the whole form, as the gentle rusticity vanishes in yet
gentler grace, is a labour and a delight worth the time
and mind of an archangel. Our best living poet says
but no ; I will not quote. It is a distinct wrong that
befalls the best books to have many of their best words
quoted till in their own place and connexion they cease
to have force and influence. The meaning of the pas-
sage is that the communication of truth is one of the
528 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.
greatest delights the human heart can experience. Surely
this is true. Does not the teaching of men form a great
part of the divine gladness ?
Therefore even the dull approaches of death are full
of deep significance and warm interest to one who loves
his fellows, who desires not to be distinguished by any
better fate than theirs ; and shrinks from the pride of
supposing that his own death, or that of the noblest of
the good, is more precious in the sight of God than that
of " one of the least of these little ones."
At length, after a long silence, the peculiar sounds of
obstructed breathing indicated the end at hand. The
jaw fell, and the eyes were fixed. The old man closed
the mouth and the eyes of his old companion, weeping
like a child, and I prayed aloud, giving thanks to God
for taking her to Himself. It went to my heart to leave
the old man alone with the dead ; but it was better to
let him be alone for a while, ere the women should
come to do the last offices for the abandoned form.
I went to Old Rogers, told him the state in which I
had left poor Tomkins, and asked him what was to be
" I '11 go and bring him home, sir, directly. He can't
be left there."
" But how can you bring him in such a night ? "
" Let me see, sir. I must think. Would your mare
go in a cart, do you think ? "
" Quite quietly. She brought a load of gravel from
the common a few days ago. But where 's your cart 1
1 haven't got one."
A SERMON TO MYSELF. 539
" There 's one at Weir's to be repaired, sir. It
wouldn't be stealing to borrow it."
How he managed with Tomkins I do not know. I
thought it better to leave all the rest to him. He only
said afterwards, that he could hardly get the old man
away from the body. But when I went in next day, I
found Tomkins sitting, disconsolate, but as comfortable
as he could be, in the easy chair by the side of the fire.
Mrs Rogers was bustling about cheerily. The storm
had died in the night The sun was shining. It was
the first of the spring weather. The whole country was
gleaming with water. But soon it would sink away, and
the grass be the thicker for its rising.
A. COUNCIL OF FRIENDS.
Y reader will easily believe that I returned
home that Sunday evening somewhat jaded,
nor will he be surprised if I say that next
morning I felt disinclined to leave my bed.
I was able, however, to rise and go, as I have said, to
Old Rogers's cottage.
But when I came home, I could no longer conceal
from myself that I was in danger of a return of my last
attack. I had been sitting for hours in wet clothes,
with my boots full of water, and now I had to suffer
for it But as I was not to blame in the matter, and
had no choice offered me whether I should be wet or
dry while I sat by the dying woman, I felt no depression
at the prospect of the coming illness. Indeed, I was too
much depressed from other causes, from mental strife
and hopelessness, to care much whether I was well or
ill I could have welcomed death in the mood in which
A COUNCIL OF FRIENDS. 53!
I sometimes felt myself during the next few days, when
I was unable to leave my bed, and knew that Captain
Everard was at the Hall, and knew nothing besides.
For no voice reached me from that quarter any more
than if Oldcastle Hall had been a region beyond the
grave. Miss Oldcastle seemed to have vanished from
my ken as much as Catherine Weir and Mrs Tomkins
yes, more for there was only death between these
and me ; whereas, there was something far worse I
could not always tell what that rose ever between
Miss Oldcastle and myself, and paralysed any effort I
might fancy myself on the point of making for her
One pleasant thing happened. On the Thursday, I
think it was, I felt better. My sister came into my room
and said that Miss Crowther had called, and wanted to
" Which Miss Crowther is it?" I asked.
"The little lady that looks like a bird, and chirps
when she talks."
Of course I was no longer in any doubt as to which
of them it was.
" You told her I had a bad cold, did you not? "
" Oh, yes. But she says if it is only a cold, it will
do you no harm to see her."
" But you told her I was in bed, didn't you ?"
" Of course. But it makes no difference. She says
she 's used to seeing sick folk in bed ; and if you don't
mind seeing her, she doesn't mind seeing you."
" Well, I suppose I must see her," I said.
532 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.
So my sister made me a little tidier, and introduced
" O dear Mr Walton, I am so sorry ! But you're not
very ill, are you ? "
" I hope not, Miss Jemima. Indeed, I begin to think
this morning that I am going to get off easier than I
" I am glad of that. Now listen to me. I won't keep
you, and it is a matter of some importance. I hear that
one of your people is dead, a young woman of the name
of Weir, who has left a little boy behind her. Now, I
have been wanting for a long time to adopt a child "
" But," I interrupted her, " What would Miss Hester
" My sister is not so very dreadful as perhaps you think
her, Mr Walton , and besides, when I do want my own
way very particularly, which is not often, for there are
not so many things that it's worth while insisting upon
but when I do want my own way, I always have it. I
then stand upon my right of what do you call it ?
primo primogeniture that 's it ! Well, I think I know
something of this child's father. I am sorry to say I
don't know much good of him, and that 's the worse for
the boy. Still "
" The boy is an uncommonly sweet and lovable child,
whoever was his father," I interposed.
" I am very glad to hear it. I am the more deter-
mined to adopt him. What friends has he ? "
" He has a grandfather, and an uncle and aunt, and
will have a godfather that 's me in a few days, I hope."
A COUNCIL OF FRIENDS. 533
' I am very glad to hear it. There will be no oppo-
sition on the part of the relatives, I presume 1 "
" I am not so sure of that. I fear I shall object for
one, Miss Jemima."
" You ? I didn't expect that of you, Mr Walton, I
And there was a tremor in the old lady's voice more
of disappointment and hurt than of anger.
" I will think it over, though, and talk about it to his
grandfather, and we shall find out what 's best, I do
hope. You must not think I should not like you to
" Thank you, Mr Walton. Then I won't stay longer
now. But I warn you I will call again very soon, if you
don't come to see me. Good morning."
And the dear old lady shook hands with me and left
me rather hurriedly, turning at the door, however, to
" Mind, I 've set my heart upon having the boy, Mr
Walton. I've seen him often."
What could have made Miss Crowther take such a
fancy to the boy? I could not help associating it with
what I had heard of her youthful disappointment, but
never having had my conjectures confirmed, I will say
no more about them. Of course I talked the matter
over with Thomas Weir ; but, as I had suspected, I
found that he was now as unwilling to part with the boy
as he had formerly disliked the sight of him. Nor did
I press the matter at all, having a belief that the circum-
stances of one's natal position are not to be rudely
534 ANNALS OF A QUIFT NEIGHBOURHOOD.
handled or thoughtlessly altered, besides that I thought
Thomas and his daughter ought to have all the comfort
and good that were to be got from the presence of the
boy whose advent had occasioned them so much trouble
and sorrow, yea, and sin too. But I did not give a
positive and final refusal to Miss Crowther. I only said
" for the present ; " for I did not feel at liberty to go
further. I thought that such changes might take place
as would render the trial of such a new relationship
desirable ; as, indeed, it turned out in the end, though
I cannot tell the story now, but must keep it for a
I have, I think, entirely as yet, followed, in these
memoirs, the plan of relating either those things only at
which I was present, or, if other things, only in the same
mode in which I heard them. I will now depart from
this plan for once. Years passed before some of the
following facts were reported to me, but it is only here
that they could be interesting to my readers.
At the very time Miss Crowther was with me, as
nearly as I can guess, Old Rogers turned into Thomas
Weir's workshop. The usual, on the present occasion
somewhat melancholy, greetings having passed between
them, Old Rogers said
" Don't you think, Mr Weir, there 's summat the
matter wi' parson ? "
" Overworked," returned Weir. " He 's lost two, ye
see, and had to see them both safe over, as I may say,
within the same day. He's got a bad cold, I'm sorry
to hear, besides. Have ye heard of him to-day?"
A COUNCIL OF FRIENDS.
" Yes, yes ; he 's badly, and in bed. But that 's not
what I mean. There 's summat on his mind," said Old
" Well, I don't think it 's for you or me to meddle
with parson's mind," returned Weir.
" I 'm not so sure o' that," persisted Rogers. " But
if I had thought, Mr Weir, as how you would be ready
to take me up short for mentionin' of the thing, I
wouldn't ha' opened my mouth to you about parson
leastways, in that way, I mean."
" But what way do you mean, Old Rogers ) "
" Why, about his in'ards, you know."
" I 'm no nearer your meanin' yet."
" Well, Mr Weir, you and me 's two old fellows, now
leastways I 'm a deal older than you. But that doesn't
signify to what I want to say."
And here Old Rogers stuck fast according to Weir's
" It don't seem easy to say no how, Old Rogers," said
" Well, it ain't. So I must just let it go by the run,
and hope the parson, who'll never know, would forgive
me if he did."
" Well, then, what is it 1 "
" It's my opinion that that parson o' ours you see,
we knows about it, Mr Weir, though we 're not gentle-
folks leastways, I 'm none."
" Now, what do you mean, Old Rogers ? "
" Well, I means this as how parson 's in love. There,
that's paid out*"
53$ ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.
" Suppose he was, I don't see yet what business that
is of yours or mine either."
" Well, I do. I 'd go to Davie Jones for that man."
A heathenish expression, perhaps ; but Weir assured
me, with much amusement in his tone, that those were
the very words Old Rogers used. Leaving the expres-
sion aside, will the reader think for a moment on the
old man's reasoning 1 ? My condition was his business;
for he was ready to die for me ! Ah ! love does indeed
make us all each other's keeper, just as we were intended
" But what can we do?" returned Weir.
Perhaps he was the less inclined to listen to the old
man, that he was busy with a coffin for his daughter,
who was lying dead down the street. And so my poor
affairs were talked of over the coffin-planks. Well, well,
it was no bad omen.
" I tell you what, Mr Weir, this here 's a serious busi-
ness. And it seems to me it 's not shipshape o' you to
go on with that plane o' yours, when we 're talkin' about
" Well, Old Rogers, I meant no offence. Here goes.
JVtnv, what have you to say] Though if it's offence
to parson you 're speakin' of, I know, if I were parson,
who I 'd think was takin' the greatest liberty, me wi' my
plane, or you wi' your fancies."
" Belay there, and hearken."
So Old Rogers went into as many particulars as he
thought fit, to prove that his suspicion as to the state of
my mind was correct ; which particulars I do not care
A COUNCIL OF FRIENDS.
to lay in a collected form before my reader, he being in
no need of such a summing up to give his verdict, seeing
the parson has already pleaded guilty. When he had
" Supposing all you say, Old Rogers," remarked Tho-
mas, " I don't yet see what we're got to do with it.
Parson ought to know best what he 's about"
" But my daughter tells me," said Rogers, " that Miss
Oldcastle has no mind to marry Captain Everard. And
she thinks if parson would only speak out he might have
Weir made no reply, and was silent so long, with his
head bent, that Rogers grew impatient.
" Well, man, ha' you nothing to say now not for
your best friend on earth, I mean and that's parson?
It may seem a small matter to you, but it's no small
matter to parson."
" Small to me ! " said Weir, and taking up his tool, a
constant recourse with him when agitated, he began to
Old Rogers now saw that there was more in it than he
had thought, and held his peace and waited. After a
minute or two of fierce activity, Thomas lifted up a face
more white than the deal board he was planing, and said,
u You should have come to the point a little sooner,
He then laid down his plane, and went out of the
workshop, leaving Rogers standing there in bewilder-
ment But he was not gone many minutes. He re-
turned with a letter in his hand.
5^8 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.
" There," he said, giving it to Rogers.
" I can't read hand o' write," returned Rogers. " I
ha' enough ado with straight-foret print. But I '11 take
it to parson."
" On no account," returned Thomas, emphatically.
" That's not what I gave it you for. Neither you nor
parson has any right to read that letter; and I don't
want either of you to read it. Can Jane read writing 1 "
" I don't know as she can, for, you see, what makes
lasses take to writin' is when their young man 's over the
seas, leastways not in the mill over the brook."
" I'll be back in a minute," said Thomas, and taking
the letter from Rogers' s hand, he left the shop again.
He returned once more with the letter sealed up in an
envelope, addressed to Miss Oldcastle.
" Now, you tell your Jane to give that to Miss Old-
castle from me mind, from me ; and she must give it
into her own hands, and let no one else see it. And I
must have it again. Mind you tell her all that, Old
"I will. It's for Miss Oldcastle, and no one else to
know on 't And you 're to have it again all safe when
" Yes. Can you trust Jane not to go talking about it 1"
" I think I can. I ought to, anyhow. But she can't
know anythink in the letter now, Mr Weir."
" I know that ; but Marshmallows is a talkin' place.
And poor Kate ain't right out o' hearin' yet. You'll
come and see her buried to-morrow, won't ye, Old
Rogers 1 "
A COUNCIL OF FRIENDS. 539
"I will, Thomas. You've had a troubled life, but
thank God the sun came out a bit before she died."
" That 's true, Rogers. It 's all right, I do think,
though I grumbled long and sore. But Jane mustn't
speak of that letter."
" No. That she shan't."
" I '11 tell you some day what 's in it. But I can't
bear to talk about it yet"
And so they parted.
I was too unwell still either to be able to bury my
dead out of my sight or to comfort my living the next
Sunday. I got help from Addicehead, however, and the
dead bodies were laid aside in the ancient wardrobe of
the tomb. They were both buried by my vestry-door,
Catherine where I had found young Tom lying, namely,
in the grave of her mother, and old Mrs Tomkins on the
other side of the path.
On Sunday, Rogers gave his daughter the letter, and
she carried it to the Hall. It was not till she had to
wait on her mistress before leaving her for the night
that she found an opportunity of giving it into her own
Then when her bell rang, Jane went up to her room,
and found her so pale and haggard that she was fright-
ened. She had thrown herself back on the couch, with
her hands lying by her sides, as if she cared for nothing
in this world or out of it. But when Jane entered, she
started and sat up, and tried to look like herself. Her
face, however, was so pitiful, that honest-hearted Jane
could not help crying, upon which the responsive sister-
54O ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.
hood overcame the proud lady, and she cried too.
Jane had all but forgotten the letter, of the import of
which she had no idea, for her father had taken care
to rouse no suspicions in her mind. But when she saw
her cry, the longing to give her something, which comes
to us all when we witness trouble for giving seems to
mean everything brought to her mind the letter she
had undertaken to deliver to her. Now she had no
notion, as I have said, that the letter had anything to
do with her present perplexity, but she hoped it might
divert her thoughts for a moment, which is all that love
at a distance can look for sometimes.
" Here is a letter," said Jane, " that Mr Weir the
carpenter gave to my father to give to me to bring to
" What is it about, Jane ? " she asked listlessly.
Then a sudden flash broke from her eyes, and she
held out her hand eagerly to take it. She opened it
and read it with changing colour, but when she had
finished it, her cheeks were crimson, and her eyes
glowing like fire.
" The wretch," she said, and threw the letter irom
her into the middle of the floor.
Jane, who remembered the injunctions of her father
as to the safety and return of the letter, stooped to
pick it up : but had hardly raised herself when the door
opened, and in came Mrs Oldcastle. The moment she
saw her mother, Ethelwyn rose, and advancing to meet
A COUNCIL OF FRIENDS. 54!
" Mother, I will not marry that man. You may do
what you please with me, but I will not"
" Heigho ! " exclaimed Mrs Oldcastle with spread
nostrils, and turning suddenly upon Jane, snatched the
letter out of her hand.
She opened and read it, her face getting more still
and stony as she read. Miss Oldcastle stood and looked
at her mother with cheeks now pale but with still flash-
ing eyes. The moment her mother had finished the
letter, she walked swiftly to the fire, tearing the letter
as she went, and thrust it between the bars, pushing it
in fiercely with the poker, and muttering
" A vile forgery of those low Chartist wretches ! As
if he would ever have looked at one of their women !
A low conspiracy to get money from a gentleman in his
honourable position ! "
And for the first time since she went to the Hall,
Jane said, there was colour in that dead white face.