Marcella Bligh’s thin hooked nose was now like the beak of a bird of prey over the face of the drowned man, upon whose eyelids she was placing penny-pieces, to keep them from opening; and her one eye was fixed on her work, its sightless companion showing white in its socket, with an ugly leer.
Judith Wale was lifting the pail of hot water with which they had just washed the body. She had long lean arms, a hunched back, a great sharp chin sunk on her hollow breast, and small eyes restless as a ferret’s; and she clattered about in great bowls of shoes, old and clouted, that were made for a foot as big as two of hers.
The Doctor knew these two old women, who were often employed in such dismal offices.
“How does Mrs. Bligh? See me with half an eye? Hey—that’s rhyme, isn’t it?—And, Judy lass—why, I thought you lived nearer the town—here making poor Mr. Feltram’s last toilet. You have helped to dress many a poor fellow for his last journey. Not a bad notion of drill either—they stand at attention stiff and straight enough in the sentry-box. Your recruits do you credit, Mrs. Wale.”
The Doctor stood at the foot of the bed to inspect, breathing forth a vapour of very fine old port, his hands in his pockets, speaking with a lazy thickness, and looking so comfortable and facetious, that Mrs. Julaper would have liked to turn him out of the room.
But the Doctor was not unkind, only extremely comfortable. He was a good-natured fellow, and had thought and care for the living, but not a great deal of sentiment for the dead, whom he had looked in the face too often to be much disturbed by the spectacle.
“You’ll have to keep that bandage on. You should be sharp; you should know all about it, girl, by this time, and not let those muscles stiffen. I need not tell you the mouth shuts as easily as this snuff-box, if you only take it in time.—I suppose, Mrs. Julaper, you’ll send to Jos Fringer for the poor fellow’s outfit. Fringer is a very proper man—there ain’t a properer und-aker in England. I always re-mmend Fringer—in Church-street in Golden Friars. You know Fringer, I daresay.”
“I can’t say, sir, I’m sure. That will be as Sir Bale may please to direct,” answered Mrs. Julaper.
“You’ve got him very straight—straighter than I thought you could; but the large joints were not so stiff. A very little longer wait, and you’d hardly have got him into his coffin. He’ll want a vr-r-ry long one, poor lad. Short cake is life, ma’am. Sad thing this. They’ll open their eyes, I promise you, down in the town. ’Twill be cool enough, I’d shay, affre all th-thunr-thunnle, you know. I think I’ll take a nip, Mrs. Jool-fr, if you wouldn’t mine makin’ me out a thimmle-ful bran-band-bran-rand-andy, eh, Mishs Joolfr?”