Parson Craik had always been poor old Madam’s champion since his coming among them. He had taken pains to ascertain the facts from the oldest Ledger’s old wife, and when first he heard her tell how she had opened her door at dawn to let in her husband, during the great gale that was rocking the orchard trees and filling the air with whirls of blossom, that came down like a thick fall of snow, he made an observation which was felt at the time to have an edifying power in it, and which was incorporated with the story ever after. “And when I telled him how the grete stack of chimneys fell not half-an-hour after, over the very place where they had passed, and how they were in such a hurry to be off that they jumped the edge for fear us should stop them or speak to them. Then says Parson Craik to me, sitting as it might be there, and I a sitting opposite (for I’d given him the big chair), says he to me, ’My friend, we must lay our hands on our mouths when we hear of the afflictions of the righteous. And yet man,’ says he, ’man, when he hears of such heartless actions, can but feel that it would have been a just judgment on them, if the wind had been ordained in the hauling of those chimneys down, to fling ’em on their undutiful heads.’”
Poor Madam Melcombe, her eldest son, whose heir she was, had caused the stack of chimneys to be built up again; but she was never the same woman from that day, and she had never seen those sons again (so far as was known), or been reconciled to them. And now she had desired to be left alone, and had expressly said, “I’ve made up my mind to write a letter to my sons.”
So she was left alone and undertook, with trembling hands and dimmed eyes, her unwonted task. She wrote a letter which, if those about her could have seen it, would certainly have affected their feelings, and would perhaps have made them think more highly yet of her meek forgiving nature, for she neither blamed her sons nor reminded them of what they had done; but rather seemed to offer a strange kind of apology for troubling them, and to give a reason for doing so that was stranger still.
“Son Daniel and Son Augustus,—This comes from your poor unfortunate mother that has never troubled you these many, many years, and hoping you and your families are better than I am at present, son Daniel and you son Augustus; and my desire is both of you, that now you will not deny your poor mother to come and see her, but will, on receipt of this, come as soon as may be, for it’s about my funeral that I want to speak, and my time is very short, and I was never used to much writing.
“If you don’t come, in particular you, son Daniel, you will break your poor mother’s heart.
“And so no more at present from her that never said an unkind word to you.
This letter was addressed to the elder son, went through the village post-office, and when its direction was seen, such interest was excited and so much curiosity, that half the women in the hamlet had been allowed to take a look at its cover before it was sent away.