Meantime, Elizabeth crept up stairs. Nobody hindered or followed her; nobody cared any thing for the solitary dead.
There he lay—poor Tom! almost as she had left him; the counterpane was hardly disturbed, the candle she had placed on the chair had burned down to a bit of wick, which still lay in the socket. Nobody had touched him, or any thing about him, as, in all cases of “Found dead,” English law exacts.
Whether he had died soon after she quitted him that night, or whether he had lingered through the long hours of darkness, or of day-light following, alive and conscious perhaps, yet too weak to call any one, even had there been any one he cared to call—when, or how, the spirit had passed away unto Him who gave it, were mysteries that could never be known.
But it was all over now; he lay at rest with the death smile on his face. Elizabeth, as she stood and looked at him, could not, dared not weep.
“My poor Tom, my own dear Tom,” was all she thought, and knew that he was all her own now; that she had loved him through every thing, and loved him to the end.
Elizabeth spent the greatest part of her holiday in that house, in that room. Nobody interfered with her; nobody asked in what relation she stood to the deceased, or what right she had to take upon herself the arrangements for his funeral. Every body was only too glad to let her assume a responsibility which would otherwise have fallen on the parish.
The only person who appeared to remember either her or the dead man was the druggist’s assistant, who sent in the necessary medical certificate as to the cause of death. Elizabeth took it to the Registrar, and thence proceeded to an undertaker hard by, with whom she arranged all about the funeral, and that it should took place in the new cemetery at Kensal Green. She thought she should like that better than a close, noisy London church yard.
Before she left the house she saw poor Tom laid in his coffin, and covered up forever from mortal eyes. Then, and not till then, she sat herself down beside him and wept.
Nobody contested with her the possession of the few things that had belonged to him, which were scarcely more than the clothes he had on when he died; so she made them up into a parcel and took them away with her. In his waistcoat pocket she found one book, a little Testament, which she had given him herself. It looked as if it had been a good deal read. If all his studies, all his worship of “pure intellect,” as the one supreme good, had ended in that, it was a blessed ending.
When she reached home Elizabeth went at once to her master, returned him his letter of recommendation, and explained to him that his kindness was not needed now.
Mr. Ascott seemed a good deal shocked, inquired from her a few particulars, and again took out his purse, his one panacea for all mortal woes. But Elizabeth declined; she said she would only ask him for an advance of her next half-year’s wages. She preferred burying her old friend herself.