The first time that Lionel Verner took a walk down Clay Lane after his illness was a fine day in October. He had been out before in other directions, but not in that of Clay Lane. He had not yet recovered his full strength; he looked ill and emaciated. Had he been strong, as he used to be, he would not have found himself nearly losing his equilibrium at being run violently against by a woman, who turned swiftly out of her own door.
“Take care, Mrs. Grind! Is your house on fire?”
“It’s begging a thousand pardons, sir! I hadn’t no idea you was there,” returned Mrs. Grind, in lamentable confusion, when she saw whom she had all but knocked down. “Grind, he catches sight o’ one o’ the brick men going by, and he tells me to run and fetch him in; but I had got my hands in the soap-suds, and couldn’t take ’em convenient out of it at the minute, and I was hasting lest he’d gone too far to be caught up. He have now.”
“Is Grind better?”
“He ain’t no worse, sir. There he is,” she added, flinging the door open.
On the side of the kitchen, opposite to the door, was a pallet-bed stretched against the wall, and on it lay the woman’s husband, Grind, dressed. It was a small room, and it appeared literally full of children, of encumbrances of all sorts. A string extended from one side of the fire-place to the other, and on this hung some wet coloured pinafores, the steam ascending from them in clouds, drawn out by the heat of the fire. The children were in various stages of un-dress, these coloured pinafores doubtless constituting their sole outer garment. But that Grind’s eye had caught his, Lionel might have hesitated to enter so uncomfortable a place. His natural kindness of heart—nay, his innate regard for the feelings of others, let them be ever so inferior in station—prevented his turning back when the man had seen him.
“Grind, don’t move, don’t get off the bed,” Lionel said hastily. But Grind was already up. The ague fit was upon him then, and he shook the bed as he sat down upon it. His face wore that blue, pallid appearance, which you may have seen in aguish patients.
“You don’t seem much better, Grind.”
“Thank ye, sir, I be baddish just now again, but I ain’t worse on the whole,” was the man’s reply. A civil, quiet, hard-working man as any on the estate; nothing against him but his large flock of children, and his difficulty of getting along any way. The mouths to feed were many—ravenous young mouths, too; and the wife, though anxious and well-meaning, was not the most thrifty in the world. She liked gossiping better than thrift; but gossip was the most prevalent complaint of Clay Lane, so far as its female population was concerned.
“How long is it that you have been ill?” asked Lionel, leaning his elbow on the mantel-piece, and looking down on Grind, Mrs. Grind having whisked away the pinafores.
“It’s going along of four weeks, sir, now. It’s a illness, sir, I takes it, as must have its course.”