“Then good-day to you, Gampling; I can’t part with the Irish lass at your price.”
A sturdy laborer came along the road eating a hunch of bread and cheese. Mr. Carnegie asked him how his wife did. The answer was crabbed: “She’s never naught to boast on, and she’s allus worse after a spiritchus visit: parson’s paying her one now. Can you tell me, Mr. Carnegie, sir, why parson chooses folk’s dinner-time to drop in an’ badger ’em about church? Old parson never did.” He did not stay to have his puzzle elucidated, but trudged heavily on.
“Mr. Wiley does not seem very popular yet,” observed Bessie.
“He is more so than he was. But his wife, who helps the poor liberally in the winter, is of twice the use in the parish that he is, with his inopportune ‘spiritchus visits.’ I have remonstrated with him about going to the cottages between twelve and one, when dinner is being eaten and the men want a bit of rest, but he professes that it is the only time to catch them in-doors. I suppose Molton won’t bear it, and takes up his food and walks out. Yet Beechhurst might have a worse pastor than poor Wiley. He is a man I pity—a martyr to dyspepsia and a gloomy imagination. But I will not deny that he often raises my choler still.” The doctor was on the verge of having it raised now.
At the last bend of the road to the village, and nearly opposite the forge, was a small cabin of one room, the abode of the respectable Mrs. Wallop, the mainstay of Beechhurst as a nurse in last illnesses and dangerous cases—a woman of heart and courage, though perhaps of too imaginative a style of conversation. Although it was but a work-day, she was sitting at her own door in her Sunday black gown and bonnet, and, like Niobe, all tears. Mr. Carnegie pulled up in sheer amazement at the deplorable spectacle his valued right hand was making of herself in public, and, as if she had been on the watch for him, up she rose from her stool and came forward to answer his unspoken questions.
“Ay, Mr. Carnegie, sir, you may well ask what I am doing at home all day idle,” said she. “It is a Judas I feel, and if I don’t get it off my mind it will be too much for me: I can’t bear it, sir.”
“Then out with it, Mrs. Wallop,” said the imperative doctor. “It is nothing very private, or you would not advertise it by crying at the corner of the street.”
“No, sir, but it shames me to tell it, that it do, though you’re one o’ them that well knows what flesh and blood comes to when the temptation’s strong. I’ve took money, Mr. Carnegie, wage for a month, to go nowheres else but to the rectory; and nobody ill there, only a’ might happen. It never occurred to me the cruel sin I’d done till Robb came along, begging and praying of me to go to them forlorn poor creturs at Marsh-End. For it is the fever, sir. Mr. Wiley got wind of it, and sent Robb over to make sure.”
“Lost in misery they are. Fling away your dirty hire, and be off to Marsh-End, Mrs. Wallop. Crying and denying your conscience will disagree very badly with your inside,” said Mr. Carnegie, angry contempt in his voice.