The weary curate turned and held up the lantern. ’O—what, is it you, Laura?’ he asked in surprise. ’Why did you come into this? You had better go back—the risk is great.’
’But I want to help you, Jack. Please let me help! I didn’t come by myself—Mr. Vannicock kept me company. He will make himself useful too, if he’s not gone on. Mr. Vannicock!’
The young lieutenant came forward reluctantly. Mr. Maumbry spoke formally to him, adding as he resumed his labour, ’I thought the —–st Foot had gone to Bristol.’
‘We have. But I have run down again for a few things.’
The two newcomers began to assist, Vannicock placing on the ground the small bag containing Laura’s toilet articles that he had been carrying. The barrowman soon returned with another load, and all continued work for nearly a half-hour, when a coachman came out from the shadows to the north.
‘Beg pardon, sir,’ he whispered to Vannicock, ’but I’ve waited so long on Mellstock hill that at last I drove down to the turnpike; and seeing the light here, I ran on to find out what had happened.’
Lieutenant Vannicock told him to wait a few minutes, and the last barrow-load was got through. Mr. Maumbry stretched himself and breathed heavily, saying, ‘There; we can do no more.’
As if from the relaxation of effort he seemed to be seized with violent pain. He pressed his hands to his sides and bent forward.
‘Ah! I think it has got hold of me at last,’ he said with difficulty. ’I must try to get home. Let Mr. Vannicock take you back, Laura.’
He walked a few steps, they helping him, but was obliged to sink down on the grass.
’I am—afraid—you’ll have to send for a hurdle, or shutter, or something,’ he went on feebly, ‘or try to get me into the barrow.’
But Vannicock had called to the driver of the fly, and they waited until it was brought on from the turnpike hard by. Mr. Maumbry was placed therein. Laura entered with him, and they drove to his humble residence near the Cross, where he was got upstairs.
Vannicock stood outside by the empty fly awhile, but Laura did not reappear. He thereupon entered the fly and told the driver to take him back to Ivell.
Mr. Maumbry had over-exerted himself in the relief of the suffering poor, and fell a victim—one of the last—to the pestilence which had carried off so many. Two days later he lay in his coffin.
Laura was in the room below. A servant brought in some letters, and she glanced them over. One was the note from herself to Maumbry, informing him that she was unable to endure life with him any longer and was about to elope with Vannicock. Having read the letter she took it upstairs to where the dead man was, and slipped it into his coffin. The next day she buried him.
She was now free.