'Do you know how my little brother is, sir?' I inquired.
Mr. Omer shook his head.
'RAT — tat-tat, RAT — tat-tat, RAT — tat-tat.'
'He is in his mother's arms,' said he.
'Oh, poor little fellow! Is he dead?'
'Don't mind it more than you can help,' said Mr. Omer. 'Yes. The baby's dead.'
My wounds broke out afresh at this intelligence. I left the scarcely-tasted breakfast, and went and rested my head on another table, in a corner of the little room, which Minnie hastily cleared, lest I should spot the mourning that was lying there with my tears. She was a pretty, good-natured girl, and put my hair away from my eyes with a soft, kind touch; but she was very cheerful at having nearly finished her work and being in good time, and was so different from me!
Presently the tune left off, and a good-looking young fellow came across the yard into the room. He had a hammer in his hand, and his mouth was full of little nails, which he was obliged to take out before he could speak.
'Well, Joram!' said Mr. Omer. 'How do you get on?'
'All right,' said Joram. 'Done, sir.'
Minnie coloured a little, and the other two girls smiled at one another.
'What! you were at it by candle-light last night, when I was at the club, then? Were you?' said Mr. Omer, shutting up one eye.
'Yes,' said Joram. 'As you said we could make a little trip of it, and go over together, if it was done, Minnie and me — and you.'
'Oh! I thought you were going to leave me out altogether,' said Mr. Omer, laughing till he coughed.
' — As you was so good as to say that,' resumed the young man, 'why I turned to with a will, you see. Will you give me your opinion of it?'
'I will,' said Mr. Omer, rising. 'My dear'; and he stopped and turned to me: 'would you like to see your — '
'No, father,' Minnie interposed.
'I thought it might be agreeable, my dear,' said Mr. Omer. 'But perhaps you're right.'
I can't say how I knew it was my dear, dear mother's coffin that they went to look at. I had never heard one making; I had never seen one that I know of. — but it came into my mind what the noise was, while it was going on; and when the young man entered, I am sure I knew what he had been doing.
The work being now finished, the two girls, whose names I had not heard, brushed the shreds and threads from their dresses, and went into the shop to put that to rights, and wait for customers. Minnie stayed behind to fold up what they had made, and pack it in two baskets. This she did upon her knees, humming a lively little tune the while. Joram, who I had no doubt was her lover, came in and stole a kiss from her while she was busy (he didn't appear to mind me, at all), and said her father was gone for the chaise, and he must make haste and get himself ready. Then he went out again; and then she put her thimble and scissors in her pocket, and stuck a needle threaded with black thread neatly in the bosom of her gown, and put on her outer clothing smartly, at a little glass behind the door, in which I saw the reflection of her pleased face.
All this I observed, sitting at the table in the corner with my head leaning on my hand, and my thoughts running on very different things. The chaise soon came round to the front of the shop, and the baskets being put in first, I was put in next, and those three followed. I remember it as a kind of half chaise-cart, half pianoforte-van, painted of a sombre colour, and drawn by a black horse with a long tail. There was plenty of room for us all.
I do not think I have ever experienced so strange a feeling in my life (I am wiser now, perhaps) as that of being with them, remembering how they had been employed, and seeing them enjoy the ride. I was not angry with them; I was more afraid of them, as if I were cast away among creatures with whom I had no community of nature. They were very cheerful. The old man sat in front to drive, and the two young people sat behind him, and whenever he spoke to them leaned forward, the one on one side of his chubby face and the other on the other, and made a great deal of him. They would have talked to me too, but I held back, and moped in my corner; scared by their love-making and hilarity, though it was far from boisterous, and almost wondering that no judgement came upon them for their hardness of heart.
So, when they stopped to bait the horse, and ate and drank and enjoyed themselves, I could touch nothing that they touched, but kept my fast unbroken. So, when we reached home, I dropped out of the chaise behind, as quickly as possible, that I might not be in their company before those solemn windows, looking blindly on me like closed eyes once bright. And oh, how little need I had had to think what would move me to tears when I came back — seeing the window of my mother's room, and next it that which, in the better time, was mine!