But the mother’s joy was also mixed with the alloy of Amanda’s despair. On the day after the return, the girl had taken to her bed; and despite a mother’s love and Mrs. Lord’s kind counsel and cheery words, Amanda went down into the valley of the shadow. Seldom speaking, save to reiterate the statement that she had come home to die, and that all was dark, she lay anticipating the hour when, as she said, ’the great God would punish her according to her sins.’ This idea had taken fast hold of her mind: she was going to hell to burn for ever and for ever, and she would only get her deserts; she had sinned—she must suffer.
With the strain of constant watching, and the long hours of solitude, and the nightmare of her girl’s damnation hanging over her yearning heart, the poor mother’s condition verged on madness, until at last she summoned courage to ask Mr. Penrose to call and drop some crumbs of his Gospel of comfort and love at the bedside of her child; for, as she said to Mrs. Lord, ’even the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.’ The truth was that hitherto Mr. Penrose had not cared to risk the scandal which he knew would be created in the village by a visit on his part to Amanda Stott. When, however, he received his summons from the mother, and a sharp reprimand from Dr. Hale, who told him that a minister was as free to visit without risk to his character as a doctor, he resolved to throw aside proprieties and obey the call.
As Mr. Penrose was walking up Pinner Brow, towards the house of Mrs. Stott, he unexpectedly met Amos Entwistle, the senior superintendent of the Sunday-school, and known to the children as ‘Owd Catechism,’ because of his persistent enforcement of the Church tenets on their young minds.
‘Good a’ternoon, Mr. Penrose. And what may bring yo’ in this direction?’
‘I’m looking after some of my sheep, Amos.’
‘Not th’ black uns, I hope.’
‘No! I am looking after the hundredth—the one that went astray.’
‘Better leave her alone, Mr. Penrose. There’s an owd sayin’ i’ these parts that yo’ cornd go into th’ mill baat gettin’ dusted. That means in yur talk that yo’ cornd touch pitch baat gettin’ blacked. If thaa goes to Mrs. Stott’s they’ll say thaart goan for naught good. If thaa wur a married mon, naa, and bed childer, it ‘ud happen be different; but bein’ single, thaa sees, th’ aatside o’ yon threshold is th’ reight side for such as thee and me.’
(Amos, be it known, was an old bachelor of over seventy years of age.)
’Nonsense, Amos; you are reversing the teaching of the Master. He went after the sinner, did He not?’
’Yi, He did; and He lost His repetation o’er it. They co’d Him a winebibber, and a friend o’ all maks o’ bad uns. I couldn’t like ‘em to say th’ same abaat thee. Rehoboth ‘ud noan ston’ it, thaa knows.’
Mr. Penrose did not know whether to laugh or to be serious. Seeing, however, that Amos was in no laughing mood, he turned somewhat sharply on the old man, and said: