As they were making their way towards the inn where they were to pick up a neighbor, in whose cart they were to be driven home, their progress was hindered by a crowd, which had collected near one of the churches.
Mrs. Lake was one of those people who lead colorless lives, and are without mental resources, to whom a calamity is almost delightful, from the stimulus it gives to the imagination, and the relief it affords to the monotony of existence.
“Oh, dear! oh, dear!” she cried, peering through the crowd: “I wonder what it is. ’Tis likely ’tis a man in a fit now, I shouldn’t wonder, or a cart upset, and every soul killed, as it might be ourselves going home this very evening. Dear, dear! ’tis a venturesome thing to leave home, too!”
“’Ere they be! ’ere they be!” roared a wave of the crowd, composed of boys, breaking on Mrs. Lake and Jan at this point.
“’Tis the body, sure as death!” murmured the windmiller’s wife; but, as she spoke, the street boys set up a lusty cheer, and Jan, who had escaped to explore on his own account, came running back, crying, —
“’Tis the Cheap Jack, mammy! and he’s been getting married.”
If any thing could have rivalled the interest of a sudden death for Mrs. Lake, it must have been such a wedding as this. She hurried to the front, and was just in time to catch sight of the happy couple as they passed down the street, escorted by a crowd of congratulating boys.
“Well done, Cheap John!” roared one. “You’ve chose a beauty, you have,” cried another. “She’s ’arf a ’ead taller, anyway,” added a third. “Many happy returns of the day, Jack!” yelled a fourth.
Jan was charmed, and again and again he drew Mrs. Lake’s attention to the fact that it really was the Cheap Jack.
But the windmiller’s wife was staring at the bride. Not merely because the bride is commonly considered the central figure of a wedding-party, but because her face seemed familiar to Mrs. Lake, and she could not remember where she had seen her. Though she could remember nothing, the association seemed to be one of pain. In vain she beat her brains. Memory was an almost uncultivated quality with her, and, like the rest of her intellectual powers, had a nervous, skittish way of deserting her in need, as if from timidity.
Mrs. Lake could sometimes remember things when she got into bed, but on this occasion her pillow did not assist her; and the windmiller snubbed her for making “such a caddle” about a woman’s face she might have seen anywhere or nowhere, for that matter; so she got no help from him.
And it was not till after the Cheap Jack and his wife had left the neighborhood, that one night (she was in bed) it suddenly “came to her,” as she said, that the dwarf’s bride was the woman who had brought Jan to the mill, on the night of the great storm.