It was the end of August that Mr. Barber at the shop fell off a ladder leading to his wareroom, and was killed on the spot; and Mrs. Jarvis, she says to me, ’If that young Barber comes home, as I suppose he will, to take what’s his by right in the eyes of the law, he might as well go and put his head into an oven on a baking-day, and get his worst friend to shove his legs in after him and shut the door to.’
‘He won’t come back,’ says I. ’How could he face it, when every one in the village knows it?’
For when Ellen died it could not be kept secret any longer, and a heap of folks that would have drawn their skirts aside rather than brush against her if she had been there alive and well, with her baby at her breast, had a tear and a kind word for her now that she was gone where no tears and no words could get at her for good or evil.
I see once a bit of poetry in a book, and it said when a woman had done what she had done, the only way to get forgiven is to die, and I believe that’s true. But it isn’t true of fathers and sisters.
It was Sunday morning, and father, he was working away at his bench—not that it ever seemed to make him any happier to work, only he was more miserable if he didn’t,—and I had crept up to the churchyard to lean against the wall and listen to the psalms being sung inside, when, looking down the village street, I saw Barber’s shop open, and out came young Barber himself. Oh, if God forgets any one in His mercy, it will be him and his like!
He come out all smart and neat in his new black, and he was whistling a hymn tune softly. Our house was betwixt Barber’s shop and the church, not a stone’s-throw off, anyway; and I prayed to God that Barber would turn the other way and not come by our house, where father he was sitting at his bench with the door open.
But he did turn, and come walking towards me; and I had laid my crutches on the ground, and I stooped to pick them up to go home—to stop words; for what were words, and she in her grave?—when I heard young Barber’s voice, and I looked over the wall, and see he had stopped, in his madness and folly and the wickedness of his heart, right opposite the house he had brought shame to, and he was speaking to father through the door.
I couldn’t hear what he said, but he seemed to expect an answer, and, when none came, he called out a little louder, ’Oh, well, you’ve no call to hold your head so high, anyhow!’ And for the way he said it I could have killed him myself, but for having been brought up to know that two wrongs don’t make a right, and ‘Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord; I will repay.’
They was at prayers in the church, and there was no sound in the street but the cooing of the pigeons on the roofs, and young Barber, he stood there looking in at our door with that little sneering smile on his face, and the next minute he was running for his life for the church, where all the folks were, and father after him like a madman, with his long knife in his hand that he used to cut the leather with. It all happened in a flash.