Withdrawing her eyes from these, she slowly turned towards the clothes-press, and, opening the oaken doors, looked at a suit of black—’the Sunday best’ of her dead husband, left undisturbed since his sudden decease ten years before. Then, turning to a box at the foot of the bed—that historic four-poster whereon the twin messengers of birth and death had so often waited—she knelt and raised the lid, looking into its secrets by the feeble ray emitted from the lamp. What she saw therein we care not to tell. Our pen shall not blur the bloom of that romance and association which for her the years could not destroy. Enough that this was her ark, within which were relics as precious as the budding rod and pot of manna. She was low before her holy of holies—face to face with a light which falls from the inalienable shrine of every woman who has been wife and mother, who has loved a husband and carried a child.
By this time the storm was over, and the winds, lately so tempestuous, were gathered together and slept. A strange hush—a hush as of appeased nature—rested like a benediction over the house. The moon sailed along a swiftly clearing sky of blue, and shot its silver shafts through the great cloud-bastions that still barriered the horizon, and lighted up the chamber in which the old woman was kneeling before her shrine. It was across these God sent His kindly messenger with noiseless tread to bear her sore and sorrowing soul ’where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.’
* * * * *
At an early hour the minions of Moses Fletcher, the money-lender, were hovering round Crawshaw Fold, not daring, however, to enter until the fateful hour of ten. Jimmy, with his wife, sat before an untasted breakfast, wondering how it was his mother was so late in coming downstairs; and when at half-past eight there was no sign of her appearance, he sent his wife, with a strong feeling of foreboding, to find out the reason of the delay. Slowly she climbed the stairs to awaken, as she supposed, the old woman for the last tragic act of the drama. When she stood upon the threshold of the chamber, however, she saw at a glance that a kindly hand had drawn the curtain before the enactment of the fateful and final scene. Calling her husband, he hurried to her side; and, together, they raised Jenny from her kneeling posture before the old chest, and laid her on the bed, thanking God that for her the worst had been forestalled. Four days afterwards old Jenny was carried out of the Fold, feet foremost; and, amid a falling shower of snow, was laid away by the side of little Billy and the good man with whom, for forty years, she had shared her life. As the mourners returned, chilled by the winter’s blast, sleek Moses Fletcher crossed their path, an old woman flinging at him the words:
‘Thaa’s had th’ uttermost farthin’, but thaa’s God to square wi’ yet.’