"Nay, I'll bide till Seth comes. He wonna be long now, I reckon."
It was then past nine by the clock, which was always in advance of the days, and before it had struck ten the latch was lifted and Seth entered. He had heard the sound of the tools as he was approaching.
"Why, Mother," he said, "how is it as Father's working so late?"
"It's none o' thy feyther as is a-workin' — thee might know that well anoof if thy head warna full o' chapellin' — it's thy brother as does iverything, for there's niver nobody else i' th' way to do nothin'."
Lisbeth was going on, for she was not at all afraid of Seth, and usually poured into his ears all the querulousness which was repressed by her awe of Adam. Seth had never in his life spoken a harsh word to his mother, and timid people always wreak their peevishness on the gentle. But Seth, with an anxious look, had passed into the workshop and said, "Addy, how's this? What! Father's forgot the coffin?"
"Aye, lad, th' old tale; but I shall get it done," said Adam, looking up and casting one of his bright keen glances at his brother. "Why, what's the matter with thee? Thee't in trouble."
Seth's eyes were red, and there was a look of deep depression on his mild face.
"Yes, Addy, but it's what must be borne, and can't be helped. Why, thee'st never been to the school, then?"
"School? No, that screw can wait," said Adam, hammering away again.
"Let me take my turn now, and do thee go to bed," said Seth.
"No, lad, I'd rather go on, now I'm in harness. Thee't help me to carry it to Brox'on when it's done. I'll call thee up at sunrise. Go and eat thy supper, and shut the door so as I mayn't hear Mother's talk."
Seth knew that Adam always meant what he said, and was not to be persuaded into meaning anything else. So he turned, with rather a heavy heart, into the house-place.
"Adam's niver touched a bit o' victual sin' home he's come," said Lisbeth. "I reckon thee'st hed thy supper at some o' thy Methody folks."
"Nay, Mother," said Seth, "I've had no supper yet."
"Come, then," said Lisbeth, "but donna thee ate the taters, for Adam 'ull happen ate 'em if I leave 'em stannin'. He loves a bit o' taters an' gravy. But he's been so sore an' angered, he wouldn't ate 'em, for all I'd putten 'em by o' purpose for him. An' he's been a-threatenin' to go away again," she went on, whimpering, "an' I'm fast sure he'll go some dawnin' afore I'm up, an' niver let me know aforehand, an' he'll niver come back again when once he's gone. An' I'd better niver ha' had a son, as is like no other body's son for the deftness an' th' handiness, an' so looked on by th' grit folks, an' tall an' upright like a poplar-tree, an' me to be parted from him an' niver see 'm no more."
"Come, Mother, donna grieve thyself in vain," said Seth, in a soothing voice. "Thee'st not half so good reason to think as Adam 'ull go away as to think he'll stay with thee. He may say such a thing when he's in wrath — and he's got excuse for being wrathful sometimes — but his heart 'ud never let him go. Think how he's stood by us all when it's been none so easy — paying his savings to free me from going for a soldier, an' turnin' his earnin's into wood for father, when he's got plenty o' uses for his money, and many a young man like him 'ud ha' been married and settled before now. He'll never turn round and knock down his own work, and forsake them as it's been the labour of his life to stand by."
"Donna talk to me about's marr'in'," said Lisbeth, crying afresh. "He's set's heart on that Hetty Sorrel, as 'ull niver save a penny, an' 'ull toss up her head at's old mother. An' to think as he might ha' Mary Burge, an' be took partners, an' be a big man wi' workmen under him, like Mester Burge — Dolly's told me so o'er and o'er again — if it warna as he's set's heart on that bit of a wench, as is o' no more use nor the gillyflower on the wall. An' he so wise at bookin' an' figurin', an' not to know no better nor that!"
"But, Mother, thee know'st we canna love just where other folks 'ud have us. There's nobody but God can control the heart of man. I could ha' wished myself as Adam could ha' made another choice, but I wouldn't reproach him for what he can't help. And I'm not sure but what he tries to o'ercome it. But it's a matter as he doesn't like to be spoke to about, and I can only pray to the Lord to bless and direct him."
"Aye, thee't allays ready enough at prayin', but I donna see as thee gets much wi' thy prayin'. Thee wotna get double earnin's o' this side Yule. Th' Methodies 'll niver make thee half the man thy brother is, for all they're a-makin' a preacher on thee."
"It's partly truth thee speak'st there, Mother," said Seth, mildly; "Adam's far before me, an's done more for me than I can ever do for him. God distributes talents to every man according as He sees good. But thee mustna undervally prayer. Prayer mayna bring money, but it brings us what no money can buy — a power to keep from sin and be content with God's will, whatever He may please to send. If thee wouldst pray to God to help thee, and trust in His goodness, thee wouldstna be so uneasy about things."
"Unaisy? I'm i' th' right on't to be unaisy. It's well seen on THEE what it is niver to be unaisy. Thee't gi' away all thy earnin's, an' niver be unaisy as thee'st nothin' laid up again' a rainy day. If Adam had been as aisy as thee, he'd niver ha' had no money to pay for thee. Take no thought for the morrow — take no thought — that's what thee't allays sayin'; an' what comes on't? Why, as Adam has to take thought for thee."
"Those are the words o' the Bible, Mother," said Seth. "They don't mean as we should be idle. They mean we shouldn't be overanxious and worreting ourselves about what'll happen to-morrow, but do our duty and leave the rest to God's will."
"Aye, aye, that's the way wi' thee: thee allays makes a peck o' thy own words out o' a pint o' the Bible's. I donna see how thee't to know as 'take no thought for the morrow' means all that. An' when the Bible's such a big book, an' thee canst read all thro't, an' ha' the pick o' the texes, I canna think why thee dostna pick better words as donna mean so much more nor they say. Adam doesna pick a that'n; I can understan' the tex as he's allays a-sayin', 'God helps them as helps theirsens.'"
"Nay, Mother," said Seth, "that's no text o' the Bible. It comes out of a book as Adam picked up at the stall at Treddles'on. It was wrote by a knowing man, but overworldly, I doubt. However, that saying's partly true; for the Bible tells us we must be workers together with God."
"Well, how'm I to know? It sounds like a tex. But what's th' matter wi' th' lad? Thee't hardly atin' a bit o' supper. Dostna mean to ha' no more nor that bit o' oat-cake? An' thee lookst as white as a flick o' new bacon. What's th' matter wi' thee?"
"Nothing to mind about, Mother; I'm not hungry. I'll just look in at Adam again, and see if he'll let me go on with the coffin."
"Ha' a drop o' warm broth?" said Lisbeth, whose motherly feeling now got the better of her "nattering" habit. "I'll set two-three sticks a-light in a minute."
"Nay, Mother, thank thee; thee't very good," said Seth, gratefully; and encouraged by this touch of tenderness, he went on: "Let me pray a bit with thee for Father, and Adam, and all of us — it'll comfort thee, happen, more than thee thinkst."
"Well, I've nothin' to say again' it."
Lisbeth, though disposed always to take the negative side in her conversations with Seth, had a vague sense that there was some comfort and safety in the fact of his piety, and that it somehow relieved her from the trouble of any spiritual transactions on her own behalf.
So the mother and son knelt down together, and Seth prayed for the poor wandering father and for those who were sorrowing for him at home. And when he came to the petition that Adam might never be called to set up his tent in a far country, but that his mother might be cheered and comforted by his presence all the days of her pilgrimage, Lisbeth's ready tears flowed again, and she wept aloud.
When they rose from their knees, Seth went to Adam again and said, "Wilt only lie down for an hour or two, and let me go on the while?"
"No, Seth, no. Make Mother go to bed, and go thyself."
Meantime Lisbeth had dried her eyes, and now followed Seth, holding something in her hands. It was the brown-and-yellow platter containing the baked potatoes with the gravy in them and bits of meat which she had cut and mixed among them. Those were dear times, when wheaten bread and fresh meat were delicacies to working people. She set the dish down rather timidly on the bench by Adam's side and said, "Thee canst pick a bit while thee't workin'. I'll bring thee another drop o' water."
"Aye, Mother, do," said Adam, kindly; "I'm getting very thirsty."
In half an hour all was quiet; no sound was to be heard in the house but the loud ticking of the old day-clock and the ringing of Adam's tools. The night was very still: when Adam opened the door to look out at twelve o'clock, the only motion seemed to be in the glowing, twinkling stars; every blade of grass was asleep.