The poor have but the poor on whom they can depend in an emergency; and it is a blessing that the request for help to each other is rarely if ever made in vain.
She soon returned with plenty of willing hands—one took the babe, and others remained to perform the last sad offices to the remains of him who had gone “a little while before.” Soon the men arrived with the mournful account of the discovery of the children, but Bessy knew it not. God had had compassion upon her, and to save her heart from breaking, had thrown a cloud over her reason.
Silently they stood for a moment in that house of death; and as they turned to go, one after another placed what money each had, noiselessly upon the table: the whole perhaps did not amount to much, but who shall say that it was not a welcome loan to the Lord—an investment in heaven that should in after time yield to them an interest outweighing the wealth of the whole world?
As the day advanced, numbers gathered round the inn where the coroner and jury were assembled. The usual form of viewing the bodies was gone through; and, with the exception of the girl’s ancle, which was found to be dislocated, there appeared nothing to account for death save exposure to the cold.
The coroner quickly summed up, and addressing the jury said—“he did not see how they could bring in any other verdict than ’died from natural causes.’” With one exception all acquiesced, and this one refused to agree to such a verdict, saying that death had been caused by unnatural causes! At last the verdict was altered to “Found frozen to death.” To this a juryman wished to add something about arbitrary laws and inhumanity, but he was overruled.
It needed nothing now but to put them in the earth, and cover them up.
The following morning the whistles shrieked as fiercely, the wheels went round as merrily as ever; two other children were in the places of the lost ones, and it was as if they had never been.
The day for the funeral arrived—the father and children were to be interred together. There was a large gathering of sympathising friends. Poor Bessy! had partially recovered, but seemed like one just waking from a dream; the mournful cortege gained the church yard. The coffins were slowly lowered into the grave. The grey-haired pastor’s voice was at times almost inaudible—every heart was touched, for all took the case home to themselves, and asked the question, “How if they were mine?” “Dust to dust, and ashes to ashes,” and the ceremony was completed.
Few of them had failed to remark the presence of a strange mourner—one whose dress bespoke him to be a gentleman; and as the widow turned to leave the grave, he stept up to her and offered her his arm for support. She took it mechanically, and wended her way to her desolate home. He was the only one, with the exception of Old Becca, who entered with Bessy.
He looked around the forlorn room, gazing now here, now there, to hide his emotion. He seemed about to speak when a knock at the door interrupted him.