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THE SICKNESS AND HEALTH OF
THE PEOPLE OF BLEABURN.

IN THREE PARTS.—CHAPTER VIII.

THE spectacle of carrying the Good Lady
up to the brow was more terrifying to the
people of Bleaburn than any of the funerals
they had seen creeping along by the same
path,—more even than the passage of the
laden cart, with the pall over it, on the morning
of the opening of the new burying-grounds.
The people of Bleaburn, extremely ignorant,
were naturally extremely superstitious. It
was not only the very ignorant who were
superstitious. The fever itself was never
supposed to be more catching than a mood of
superstition; and so it now appeared in
Bleaburn. For many weeks past the Good
Lady had been regarded as a sort of talisman
in the people's possession. She breathed out
such cheerfulness wherever she turned her
face, that it seemed as if the place could not
go quite to destruction while she was in it.
Some who would not have admitted to
themselves that they held such an impression were
yet infected with the common dismay, as well
as with the sorrow of parting with her. If
Mary had had the least idea of the probable
effect of her departure, she would have been
less admired by the Kirbys for her docility,—
for she would certainly have insisted on staying
where she was.

"I declare I don't know what to do," the
doctor confessed in confidence to the clergyman.
"Every patient I have is drooping, and
the people in the street look like creatures
under doom. The comet was bad enough;
and, before we have well done with it, here is
a panic which is ten times worse."

"I tried to lend a hand to help you against
the comet," replied Mr. Kirby. "I think I
may be of some use again now. Shall I tell
them it is a clear case of idolatry?"

"Why, it is in fact so, Mr. Kirby; but yet,
I shrink from appearing to cast the slightest
disrespect on her."

"Of course; of course. The thing I want
to show them is what she would think,—how
shocked she would be if she knew the state of
mind she left behind."

"Ah! if you can do that!"

"I will see about it. Now tell me how we
are going on."

The Doctor replied by a look, which made
Mr. Kirby shake his head. Neither of them
liked to say in words how awful was the state
of things.

"It is such weather you see," said the
Doctor. "Damp and disagreeable as it is,
this December is as warm as September."

"Five-and-twenty sorts of flowers out in
my garden," observed Mr. Kirby. "I set
the boys to count them yesterday. We shall
have as many as that on Christmas-day. A
thing unheard of!"

"There will be no Christmas kept this year,
surely," said the Doctor.

"I don't know that. My wife and I were
talking it over yesterday. We think * *
Well, my boy," to a little fellow who stood
pulling his forelock, "what have you to say
to me? I am wanted at home, am I? Is
Mrs. Kirby there?"

The Doctor heard him say to himself,
"Thank God!" when they saw the lady
coming out of a cottage near. The Doctor
had long suspected that the clergyman and
his wife were as sensible of one another's
danger as the most timid person in Bleaburn
was of his own; and now he was sure of it.
Henceforth, he understood that they were
never easy out of one another's sight; and
that when the clergyman was sent for from
the houses he was passing, his first idea always
was that his wife was taken ill. It was so.
They were not people of sentiment. They
had settled their case with readiness and
decision, when it first presented itself to them;
and they never looked back. But it did not
follow that they did not feel. They agreed,
with the smallest possible delay, that they
ought to succeed to the charge of Bleaburn on
Mr. Finch's death; that they ought to place
their boys at school, and their two girls with
their aunt till Bleaburn should be healthy
again; and that they must stand or fall by
the duty they had undertaken. As for
separating, that was an idea mentioned only to be
dismissed. They now nodded across the little
street, as Mrs. Kirby proceeded on her round
of visits, and her husband went home, to see
who wanted him there.

In the corner of the little porch was a man
sitting, crouching and cowering as if in bodily
pain. Mr. Kirby went up to him, stooped
down to see his face (but it was covered with
his hands), and at last ventured to remove
his hat. Then the man looked up. It was a
square, hard face, which from its make would
have seemed immovable; but it was anything
but that now. It is a strange sight, the
working of emotion in a countenance usually
as hard as marble!

"Neale!" exclaimed Mr. Kirby. "Somebody
ill at the farm, I am afraid."

"Not yet, Sir; not yet, Mr. Kirby. But
Lord save us! we know nothing of how soon
it may be so."

"Exactly so: that has been the case of
every man, woman, and child, hour by hour
since Adam fell."

"Yes, Sir; but the present time is
something different from that. I came, Sir, to
say * * I came, Mr. Kirby, because I can
get no peace or rest, day or night; for
thoughts, Sir; for thoughts."

Mr. Kirby glanced round him. "Come in,"
said he, "Come into my study."

Neale followed him in; but instead of sitting
down, he walked straight to the window, and
seemed to be looking into the garden. Mr.
Kirby, who had been on foot all the morning,
sat down and waited, shaving away at a pen
meanwhile.

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