“Why, that two out o’ the three should be called afore me. And hard is the manner of it. It’s hard that, after Samuel died o’ fever, Jim shud be blown up at Herodsfoot powder-mill. He made a lovely corpse, did Samuel; but Jim, you see, he hadn’t a chance. An’ as for William, he’s never come home nor wrote a line since he joined the Thirty-Second; an’ it’s little he cares for his home or his father. I reckoned, back along, ‘Lizabeth, as you an’ he might come to an understandin’.”
“William’s naught to me.”
“Look here!” cried the old man sharply; “he treated you bad, did William.”
“Who says so?”
“Why, all the folks. Lord bless the girl! do ’ee think folks use their eyes without usin’ their tongues? An’ I wish it had come about, for you’d ha’ kept en straight. But he treated you bad, and he treated me bad, tho’ he won’t find no profit o’ that. You’m my sister’s child, ‘Lizabeth,” he rambled on; “an’ what house-room you’ve had you’ve fairly earned—not but what you was welcome: an’ if I thought as there was harm done, I’d curse him ’pon my deathbed, I would.”
“You be quiet!”
She turned from the window and cowed him with angry grey eyes. Her figure was tall and meagre; her face that of a woman well over thirty—once comely, but worn over-much, and prematurely hardened. The voice had hardened with it, perhaps. The old man, who had risen on his elbow in an access of passion, was taken with a fit of coughing, and sank back upon the pillows.
“There’s no call to be niffy,” he apologised at last. “I was on’y thinkin’ of how you’d manage when I’m dead an’ gone.”
“I reckon I’ll shift.”
She drew a chair towards the bed and sat beside him. He seemed drowsy, and after a while stretched out an arm over the coverlet and fell asleep. ’Lizabeth took his hand, and sat there listlessly regarding the still shadows on the wall. The sick man never moved; only muttered once—some words that ’Lizabeth did not catch. At the end of an hour, alarmed perhaps by some sound within the bed’s shadow, or the feel of the hand in hers, she suddenly pushed the curtain back, and, catching up the candle, stooped over the sick man.
His lids were closed, as if he slept still; but he was quite dead.
’Lizabeth stood for a while bending over him, smoothed the bedclothes straight, and quietly left the room. It was a law of the house to doff boots and shoes at the foot of the stairs, and her stocking’d feet scarcely raised a creak from the solid timbers. The staircase led straight down into the kitchen. Here a fire was blazing cheerfully, and as she descended she felt its comfort after the dismal room above.