The evening that Master Swift came up to arrange about the burial of the second child, he found the other two just dead. The first two had suffered much and been delirious, but these two had sunk painlessly in a few hours, and had fallen asleep for the last time in each other’s arms.
It did not lessen the force of Master Swift’s somewhat stern consolations that in all good faith he conveyed in them an expectation that the Last Day was at hand. Many people thought so, and it was, perhaps, not unnatural. In these days, which were long years of suffering, they were shut off from the rest of humanity, and the village was the world to them,—a world very near its end. With Death so busy, it seemed as if Judgment could hardly linger long.
It is true that this did not form a part of the Rector’s religious exhortations. But some good people were shocked by the tea-party that he gave to the young people of the place, and the games that followed it in the Rectory meads, at the very height of the fever; though the doctor said it was better than a hogshead of medicine.
“To encourage low spirits in this panic is just to promote suicide, if ye like the responsibeelity of that,” said the doctor to Master Swift, who had confided his doubts as to the seemliness of the entertainment. “I tell ye there’s a lairge proportion of folk dies just because their neighbors have died before them, for the want of their attention being directed to something else. Away wi’ ye, schoolmaster, and take your tuning-fork to ask the blessing wi’. What says the Scripture, man? ’The living, the living, he shall praise Thee!’”
The doctor was a Scotchman, and Master Swift always listened with sympathy to a North countryman. He was convinced, too, and took his tuning-fork to the meals, and led the grace.
Nor could his expectation of the speedy end of all things restrain his instinctive anxiety and watchfulness for Jan’s health. On the evening of that visit to the mill, he used some little manoeuvring to accomplish Jan’s being sent back with him to the village, to arrange for the burial of the three children.
A glow of satisfaction suffused his rough face as he got Jan out of the tainted house into the fresh evening air, though it paled again before that other look which was now habitual to him, as, waving his hand towards the ripening corn-fields, he quoted from one of Mr. Herbert’s loftiest hymns, —
“We talk of harvests,—there
are no such things,
But when we leave our corn and hay.
There is no fruitful year but that which brings
The last and loved, though dreadful Day.
Oh, show Thyself to me,
Or take me up to Thee!”
The beasts of the village.—Abel sickens.—The good shepherd.—Rufus plays the philanthropist.—Master Swift sees the sun rise.—The death of the righteous.