It was another blow inflicted on the bruised man.
At length the dreaded week was come, when Amos and his children must leave Shepperton. There was general regret among the parishioners at his departure: not that any one of them thought his spiritual gifts pre-eminent, or was conscious of great edification from his ministry. But his recent troubles had called out their better sympathies, and that is always a source of love. Amos failed to touch the spring of goodness by his sermons, but he touched it effectually by his sorrows; and there was now a real bond between him and his flock.
‘My heart aches for them poor motherless children,’ said Mrs. Hackit to her husband, ’a-going among strangers, and into a nasty town, where there’s no good victuals to be had, and you must pay dear to get bad uns.’
Mrs. Hackit had a vague notion of a town life as a combination of dirty backyards, measly pork, and dingy linen.
The same sort of sympathy was strong among the poorer class of parishioners. Old stiff-jointed Mr. Tozer, who was still able to earn a little by gardening ‘jobs’, stopped Mrs. Cramp, the charwoman, on her way home from the Vicarage, where she had been helping Nanny to pack up the day before the departure, and inquired very particularly into Mr. Barton’s prospects.
‘Ah, poor mon,’ he was heard to say, ’I’m sorry for un. He hedn’t much here, but he’ll be wuss off theer. Half a loaf’s better nor ne’er un.’
The sad good-byes had all been said before that last evening; and after all the packing was done and all the arrangements were made, Amos felt the oppression of that blank interval in which one has nothing left to think of but the dreary future—the separation from the loved and familiar, and the chilling entrance on the new and strange. In every parting there is an image of death.
Soon after ten o’clock, when he had sent Nanny to bed, that she might have a good night’s rest before the fatigues of the morrow, he stole softly out to pay a last visit to Milly’s grave. It was a moonless night, but the sky was thick with stars, and their light was enough to show that the grass had grown long on the grave, and that there was a tombstone telling in bright letters, on a dark ground, that beneath were deposited the remains of Amelia, the beloved wife of Amos Barton, who died in the thirty-fifth year of her age, leaving a husband and six children to lament her loss. The final words of the inscription were, ’Thy will be done.’
The husband was now advancing towards the dear mound from which he was so soon to be parted, perhaps for ever. He stood a few minutes reading over and over again the words on the tombstone, as if to assure himself that all the happy and unhappy past was a reality. For love is frightened at the intervals of insensibility and callousness that encroach by little and little on the dominion of grief, and it makes efforts to recall the keenness of the first anguish.