Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/250

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242
[Aug. 23, 1862.
ONCE A WEEK.

“How long is it that you have been ill?” asked Lionel, leaning his elbow on the mantelpiece, and looking down on Grind, Mrs. Grind having whisked away the pinafores.

“It’s going along of four weeks, sir, now. It’s a illness, sir, I takes it, as must have its course.”

“All illnesses must have that, as I believe,” said Lionel. “Mine has taken its own time pretty well, has it not?”

Grind shook his head.

“You don’t look none the better for your bout, sir. And it’s a long time you must have been a getting strong. Mr. Jan, he said, just a month ago, when he first come to see me, as you was well, so to say, then. Ah! it’s only them, as have tried it, knows what the pulling through up to strength again is, when the illness itself seems gone.”

Lionel’s conscience was rather suggestive at that moment. He might have been stronger than he was, by this time, had he “pulled through” with a better will, and given way less. “I am sorry not to see you better, Grind,” he kindly said.

“You see me at the worst, sir, to-day,” said the man, in a tone of apology, as if seeking to excuse his own sickness. “I be getting better, and that’s a thing to be thankful for. I only gets the fever once in three days now. Yesterday, sir, I got down to the field, and earned what’ll come to eighteenpence. I did indeed, sir, though you’d not think it, looking at me to-day.”

“I should not,” said Lionel. “Do you mean to say you went to work in your present state?”

“I didn’t seem a bit ill yesterday, sir, except for the weakness. The fever it keeps me down all one day, as may be to-day; then the morrow I be quite prostrate with the weakness it leaves; and the third day I be, so to speak, well. But I can’t do a full day’s work, sir; no, nor hardly half of a one, and by evening I be so done over I can scarce crawl to my place here. It ain’t much, sir, part of a day’s work in three; but I be thankful for that improvement. A week ago, I couldn’t do as much as that.”

More suggestive thoughts for Lionel.

“He’d a get better quicker, sir, if he could do his work regular,” put in the woman. “What’s one day’s work out o’ three—even if ’twas a full day’s—to find us all victuals? In course he can’t fare better nor we; and Peckaby’s, they don’t give much trust to us. He gets a pot o’ gruel, or a saucer o’ porridge, or a hunch o’bread with a mite o’ cheese.”

Lionel looked at the man. “You cannot eat plain bread now, can you, Grind?”

“All this day, sir, I shan’t eat nothing; I couldn’t swallow it,” he answered. “After the fever and the shaking’s gone, then I could eat, but not bread; it seems too dry for the throat, and it sticks in it. I get a dish o’ tea, or something in that way. The next day—my well day, as I calls it—I can eat all afore me.”

“You ought to have more strengthening food.”

“It’s not for us to say, sir, as we ought to have this here food, or that there food, unless we earns it,” replied Grind, in a meek spirit of contented resignation that many a rich man might have taken a pattern from. “Mr. Jan, he says, ‘Grind,’ says he, ‘you should have some meat to eat, and some good beef-tea, and a drop o’ wine wouldn’t do you no harm,’ says he. And it makes me smile, sir, to think where the like o’ poor folks is to get such things. Lucky to be able to get a bit o’ bread and a drain o’ tea without sugar, them as is off their work, just to rub on and keep theirselves out o’ the workhouse. I know I’m thankful to do it. Jim, he have got a place, sir.”

“Jim, which is Jim?” asked Lionel, turning his eyes on the group of children, supposing one must be meant.

“He ain’t here, sir,” cried the woman. “It’s the one with the black hair, and he was six year old yesterday. He’s gone to Farmer Johnson’s to take care o’ the pigs in the field. He’s to get a shilling a week.”

Lionel moved from his position. “Grind,” he said, “don’t you think it would be better if you gave yourself complete rest, not attempting to go out to work until you are stronger?”

“I couldn’t afford it, sir. And, as to its being better for me, I don’t see that. If I can work, sir, I’m better at work. I know it tires me, but I believe I get stronger the sooner for it. Mr. Jan, he says to me, says he, ‘Don’t lie by never, Grind, unless you be obliged to it: it only rusts the limbs.’ And he ain’t far out, sir. Folks gets more harm from idleness nor they do from work.”

“Well, good day. Grind,” said Lionel, “and I heartily hope you’ll soon be on your legs again. Lady Verner shall send you something more nourishing than bread, while you are still suffering.”

“Thank ye kindly, sir,” replied Grind. “My humble duty to my lady.”

Lionel went out. “What a lesson for me!” he involuntarily exclaimed. “This poor half-starved man struggling patiently onward, through his sickness; while I, who had every luxury about me, spent my time in repining. What a lesson! Heaven help me to take it to my heart!”

He lifted his hat as he spoke, his feeling at the moment full of reverence; and went on to Frost’s. “Where’s Robin?” he asked of the wife.

“He’s in the back room, sir,” was the answer. “He’s getting better fast. The old father, he have gone out a bit, a warming of himself in the sun.”

She opened the door of a small back room as she spoke. But it proved to be empty. Robin was discerned in a garden, sitting on a bench: possibly to give himself a warming in the sun—as Mrs. Frost expressed it. He sat in a still attitude: his arms folded, his head bowed. Since the miserable occurrence touching Rachel, Robin Frost was a fearfully changed man: never, from the hour that the coroner’s inquest was held and certain evidence had come out, had he been seen to smile. He had now been ill with ague, like Grind. Hearing the approach of footsteps, he turned his head, and rose when he saw it was Lionel.”

“Well, Robin, how fares it? You are better, I hear. Sit yourself down: you are not strong