BOOK THE THIRD: A LONG LANE
Chapter 9: Somebody Becomes the Subject of a Prediction
'"We give thee hearty thanks for that it hath pleased thee to
deliver this our sister out of the miseries of this sinful world."'
So read the Reverend Frank Milvey in a not untroubled voice,
for his heart misgave him that all was not quite right between
us and our sister--or say our sister in Law--Poor Law--and that
we sometimes read these words in an awful manner, over our Sister
and our Brother too.
And Sloppy--on whom the brave deceased had never turned her
back until she ran away from him, knowing that otherwise he
would not be separated from her--Sloppy could not in his
conscience as yet find the hearty thanks required of it. Selfish in
Sloppy, and yet excusable, it may be humbly hoped, because our
sister had been more than his mother.
The words were read above the ashes of Betty Higden, in a corner
of a churchyard near the river; in a churchyard so obscure that there
was nothing in it but grass-mounds, not so much as one single
tombstone. It might not be to do an unreasonably great deal for the
diggers and hewers, in a registering age, if we ticketed their graves
at the common charge; so that a new generation might know which
was which: so that the soldier, sailor, emigrant, coming home,
should be able to identify the resting-place of father, mother, playmate,
or betrothed. For, we turn up our eyes and say that we are all
alike in death, and we might turn them down and work the saying
out in this world, so far. It would be sentimental, perhaps? But
how say ye, my lords and gentleman and honourable boards, shall
we not find good standing-room left for a little sentiment, if we
look into our crowds?
Near unto the Reverend Frank Milvey as he read, stood his little
wife, John Rokesmith the Secretary, and Bella Wilfer. These, over
and above Sloppy, were the mourners at the lowly grave. Not a
penny had been added to the money sewn in her dress: what her
honest spirit had so long projected, was fulfilled.
'I've took it in my head,' said Sloppy, laying it, inconsolable,
against the church door, when all was done: I've took it in my
wretched head that I might have sometimes turned a little harder
for her, and it cuts me deep to think so now.'