It was not in moments of tender feeling, or at his prayers, or by Abel’s grave, that Jan recalled his foster-brother’s dying charge; but as he emptied slops, cleaned grates, or fastened Mrs. Lake’s black dress behind. Nor did gratitude flatter his zeal. “Boys do be so ackered with hooks and eyes,” the poor woman grumbled in her fretfulness, and then she sat down to bemoan herself that she had not a daughter left. She had got a trick of stopping short half way through her dressing, and giving herself up to tears, which led to Jan’s assisting at her toilette. He was soon expert enough with hooks and eyes, the more tedious matter was getting up her courage, which invariably failed her at the stage of her linsey-woolsey petticoat. But when Jan had hooked her up, and tied her apron on, and put a little shawl about her shoulders, and got her close-fitting cap set straight,—a matter about as easy as putting another man’s spectacles on his nose,—and seated her by the fire, the worst was over. Mrs. Lake always cheered up after breakfast, and Jan always to the very end hoped that this was the beginning of her getting better.
Even after a niece of the windmiller’s came to live at the mill, and to wait on Mrs. Lake, the poor woman was never really content without Jan. As time went on, she wept less, but her faculties became more clouded. She had some brighter hours, and the company of the schoolmaster gave her pleasure, and seemed to do her good. When the Rector visited her, his very sympathy made him delicate about dwelling on her bereavement. When the poor woman sobbed, he changed the subject in haste, and his condolences were of a very general character. But Master Swift had no such scruples; and as he sat by her chair, with a kindly hand on hers, he spoke both plainly and loudly. The latter because Mrs. Lake’s hearing had become dull. Nor did he cease to speak because tears dropped perpetually from the eyes which were turned to him, and which seemed day by day to lose color from the pupils, and to grow redder round the lids from weeping.
“Them that sleep in Jesus shall god bring with Him. Ah! Mrs. Lake, ma’am, they’re grand words for you and me. The Lord has dealt hardly with us, but there are folk that lose their children when it’s worse. There’s many a Christian parent has lived to see them grow up to wickedness, and has lost ’em in their sins, and has had to carry that weight in his heart besides their loss, that the Lord’s counsels for them were dark to him. But for yours and mine, woman, that have gone home in their innocence, what have we to say to the Almighty, except to pray of Him to make us fitter to take them when He brings them back?”
Through the cloud that hung over the poor woman’s spirit, Master Swift’s plain consolations made their way. The ruling thought of his mind became the one idea to which her unhinged intellect clung,- -the second coming of the Lord. For this she watched—not merely in the sense of a readiness for judgment, but—out of the upper windows of the windmill, from which could be seen a vast extent of that heaven in which the sign of the Son of Man should be, before He came.