Treats of a very poor subject. But is a short one, and may be found of importance in this history.
It was no unfit messenger of death, who had disturbed the quiet of the matron's room. Her body was bent by age; her limbs trembled with palsy; her face, distorted into a mumbling leer, resembled more the grotesque shaping of some wild pencil, than the work of Nature's hand.
Alas! How few of Nature's faces are left alone to gladden us with their beauty! The cares, and sorrows, and hungerings of the world, change them as they change hearts; and it is only when those passions sleep, and have lost their hold for ever, that the troubled clouds pass off, and leave Heaven's surface clear. It is a common thing for the countenances of the dead, even in that fixed and rigid state, to subside into the long-forgotten expression of sleeping infancy, and settle into the very look of early life; so calm, so peaceful, do they grow again, that those who knew them in their happy childhood, kneel by the coffin's side in awe, and see the Angel even upon earth.
The old crone tottered along the passages, and up the stairs, muttering some indistinct answers to the chidings of her companion; being at length compelled to pause for breath, she gave the light into her hand, and remained behind to follow as she might: while the more nimble superior made her way to the room where the sick woman lay.
It was a bare garret-room, with a dim light burning at the farther end. There was another old woman watching by the bed; the parish apothecary's apprentice was standing by the fire, making a toothpick out of a quill.
Cold night, Mrs. Corney, said this young gentleman, as the matron entered.
Very cold, indeed, sir, replied the mistress, in her most civil tones, and dropping a curtsey as she spoke.
You should get better coals out of your contractors, said the apothecary's deputy, breaking a lump on the top of the fire with the rusty poker; these are not at all the sort of thing for a cold night.
They're the board's choosing, sir, returned the matron. The least they could do, would be to keep us pretty warm: for our places are hard enough.
The conversation was here interrupted by a moan from the sick woman.
Oh! said the young man, turning his face towards the bed, as if he had previously quite forgotten the patient, it's all U. P. there, Mrs. Corney.
It is, is it, sir? asked the matron.
If she lasts a couple of hours, I shall be surprised, said the apothecary's apprentice, intent upon the toothpick's point. It's a break-up of the system altogether. Is she dozing, old lady?
The attendant stooped over the bed, to ascertain; and nodded in the affirmative.
Then perhaps she'll go off in that way, if you don't make a row, said the young man. Put the light on the floor. She won't see it there.
The attendant did as she was told: shaking her head meanwhile, to intimate that the woman would not die so easily; having done so, she resumed her seat by the side of the other nurse, who had by this time returned. The mistress with an expression of impatience, wrapped herself in her shawl, and sat at the foot of the bed.
The apothecary's apprentice, having completed the manufacture of the toothpick, planted himself in front of the fire and made good use of it for ten minutes or so: when apparently growing rather dull, he wished Mrs. Corney joy of her job, and took himself off on tiptoe.
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