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Under the pressure of this awful threat, little Sam Baker produced the required sum from his trousers-pocket, and gave the coins to big Alfred Hawkes, who threw them into the air, caught them over-handed, and walked off, whistling. Little Sam Baker, left to himself, turned out the pocket of his trousers, which he had not yet explored, found a half-melted acidulated drop sticking in one corner, removed it, placed it in his mouth, and enjoyed it with great relish. This refection finished, he leaned his little arms over the park-paling of the cricket-field, where the above-described colloquy had taken place, and surveyed the landscape. Immediately beneath him was a large meadow, from which the hay had been just removed, and which, looking brown and bare and closely shorn as the chin of some retired Indian civilian, remained yet fragrant from its recent treasure. The meadow sloped down to a broad sluggishly-flowing stream, unnavigated and unnavigable, where the tall green flags, standing breast-high, bent and nodded gracefully, under the influence of the gentle summer breeze, to the broad-leaved water-lilies couchant below them. A notion of scuttling across the meadow and having "a bathe" in a sequestered part of the stream which he well knew, faded out of little Sam Baker's mind before it was half formed. Though a determined larker and leader in mischief among his coevals, he was too chivalrous to take advantage of the opportunity which their chief's illness gave him over his natural enemies, the masters. Their chief's illness! And little Sam Baker's eyes were lifted from the river and fixed themselves on a house about a quarter of a mile further on--a low-roofed, one-storeyed, red-brick house, with a thatched roof and little mullioned windows, from one of which a white blind was fluttering in the evening breeze. "That's his room," said little Sam Baker to himself. "Poor old Ashurst! He wasn't half a bad old chap; he often let me off a hundred lines he--poor old Ashurst!" And two large tears burst from the small boy's eyes and rolled down his cheeks.

The boy was right. Where the white blind fluttered was the dominie's bedroom, and there the dominie lay dying. A gaunt, square, ugly 'room with panelled walls, on which the paint had cracked and rubbed and blistered, with such furniture as it possessed old-fashioned, lumbering, and mean, with evidence of poverty everywhere--evidence of poverty which a woman's hand had evidently tried to screen and soften without much effect. The bed, its well-worn red-moreen curtains, with a dirty yellow border, having been tightly bound round each sculptured post for the admittance of air, stood near the window, on which its occupant frequently turned his glazed and sunken eyes. The sun had gone to rest, the invalid had marked its sinking, and so had those who watched him, and the same thought had occurred to all, but not a word had been spoken; but the roseate flush which it leaves behind still lingered in the heavens, and, as if in mockery, lent momentarily to the dying man's cheek a bright healthy hue such as it was not destined to wear in life again. The flush grew fainter, and faded away, and then a glance at the face, robbed of its artificial glory, must have been conclusive as to the inevitable result. For the cheeks were hollow and sunken, yellowish-white in colour, and cold and clammy to the touch; the eyes, with scarcely any fire left in them, seemed set in large bistre rings; the nose was thin and pinched, and the bloodless lips were tightly compressed with an expression of acute pain.

The Rev. James Ashurst was dying. Every one in Helmingham knew that, and nearly every one had a word of kindness and commiseration for the stricken man, and for his wife and daughter. Dr. Osborne had carried the news up to the Park several days previously, and Sir Thomas had hemmed and coughed; and said, "Dear me!" and Lady Churchill had shaken her head piteously on hearing it. "And nothing much to leave in the way of--eh, my dear doctor?" It was the doctor's turn to shake his head then, and he solaced himself with a large pinch of snuff, taken in a flourishing and sonorous manner, before he replied that he believed matters in that way were much worse than people thought; that he did not believe there was a single penny--not a single penny: indeed, it was a thing not to be generally talked of, but he might mention it in the strictest confidence to Sir Thomas and my lady, who had always proved themselves such good friends to the Ashursts--that was, he had mentioned to Mrs. Ashurst that there was one faint hope of saving her husband's life, if he would submit to a certain operation which only one man in England, Godby of St. Vitus's Hospital in London, could perform. But when he had mentioned Godby's probable fee--and you could not expect these eminent men to leave their regular work, and come down such a long distance under a large sum--he saw at once how the land lay, and that it was impossible for them to raise the money. Miss Ashurst--curious girl that, so determined and all that kind of thing--had indeed pressed him so hard that he had sent his man over to the telegraph-office at Brocksopp with a message inquiring what would be Godby's exact charge for running down--it was a mere question of distance with these men, so much a mile, and so much for the operation--but he knew the sum he had named was not far out.

Fiction & Literature
8 March
Library of Alexandria

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