“Why, what’s that sticking against the willow?” continued Seth, beginning to walk faster. Adam’s heart rose to his mouth: the vague anxiety about his father was changed into a great dread. He made no answer to Seth, but ran forward preceded by Gyp, who began to bark uneasily; and in two moments he was at the bridge.
This was what the omen meant, then! And the grey-haired father, of whom he had thought with a sort of hardness a few hours ago, as certain to live to be a thorn in his side was perhaps even then struggling with that watery death! This was the first thought that flashed through Adam’s conscience, before he had time to seize the coat and drag out the tall heavy body. Seth was already by his side, helping him, and when they had it on the bank, the two sons in the first moment knelt and looked with mute awe at the glazed eyes, forgetting that there was need for action—forgetting everything but that their father lay dead before them. Adam was the first to speak.
“I’ll run to Mother,” he said, in a loud whisper. “I’ll be back to thee in a minute.”
Poor Lisbeth was busy preparing her sons’ breakfast, and their porridge was already steaming on the fire. Her kitchen always looked the pink of cleanliness, but this morning she was more than usually bent on making her hearth and breakfast-table look comfortable and inviting.
“The lads ‘ull be fine an’ hungry,” she said, half-aloud, as she stirred the porridge. “It’s a good step to Brox’on, an’ it’s hungry air o’er the hill—wi’ that heavy coffin too. Eh! It’s heavier now, wi’ poor Bob Tholer in’t. Howiver, I’ve made a drap more porridge nor common this mornin’. The feyther ’ull happen come in arter a bit. Not as he’ll ate much porridge. He swallers sixpenn’orth o’ ale, an’ saves a hap’orth o’ por-ridge—that’s his way o’ layin’ by money, as I’ve told him many a time, an’ am likely to tell him again afore the day’s out. Eh, poor mon, he takes it quiet enough; there’s no denyin’ that.”
But now Lisbeth heard the heavy “thud” of a running footstep on the turf, and, turning quickly towards the door, she saw Adam enter, looking so pale and overwhelmed that she screamed aloud and rushed towards him before he had time to speak.
“Hush, Mother,” Adam said, rather hoarsely, “don’t be frightened. Father’s tumbled into the water. Belike we may bring him round again. Seth and me are going to carry him in. Get a blanket and make it hot as the fire.”
In reality Adam was convinced that his father was dead but he knew there was no other way of repressing his mother’s impetuous wailing grief than by occupying her with some active task which had hope in it.
He ran back to Seth, and the two sons lifted the sad burden in heart-stricken silence. The wide-open glazed eyes were grey, like Seth’s, and had once looked with mild pride on the boys before whom Thias had lived to hang his head in shame. Seth’s chief feeling was awe and distress at this sudden snatching away of his father’s soul; but Adam’s mind rushed back over the past in a flood of relenting and pity. When death, the great Reconciler, has come, it is never our tenderness that we repent of, but our severity.