Adam Bede HTML version

10. Dinah Visits Lisbeth
AT five o'clock Lisbeth came downstairs with a large key in her hand: it was the
key of the chamber where her husband lay dead. Throughout the day, except in
her occasional outbursts of wailing grief, she had been in incessant movement,
performing the initial duties to her dead with the awe and exactitude that belong
to religious rites. She had brought out her little store of bleached linen, which she
had for long years kept in reserve for this supreme use. It seemed but yesterday-
-that time so many midsummers ago, when she had told Thias where this linen
lay, that he might be sure and reach it out for her when SHE died, for she was
the elder of the two. Then there had been the work of cleansing to the strictest
purity every object in the sacred chamber, and of removing from it every trace of
common daily occupation. The small window, which had hitherto freely let in the
frosty moonlight or the warm summer sunrise on the working man's slumber,
must now be darkened with a fair white sheet, for this was the sleep which is as
sacred under the bare rafters as in ceiled houses. Lisbeth had even mended a
long-neglected and unnoticeable rent in the checkered bit of bed-curtain; for the
moments were few and precious now in which she would be able to do the
smallest office of respect or love for the still corpse, to which in all her thoughts
she attributed some consciousness. Our dead are never dead to us until we have
forgotten them: they can be injured by us, they can be wounded; they know all
our penitence, all our aching sense that their place is empty, all the kisses we
bestow on the smallest relic of their presence. And the aged peasant woman
most of all believes that her dead are conscious. Decent burial was what Lisbeth
had been thinking of for herself through years of thrift, with an indistinct
expectation that she should know when she was being carried to the churchyard,
followed by her husband and her sons; and now she felt as if the greatest work of
her life were to be done in seeing that Thias was buried decently before her--
under the white thorn, where once, in a dream, she had thought she lay in the
coffin, yet all the while saw the sunshine above and smelt the white blossoms
that were so thick upon the thorn the Sunday she went to be churched after
Adam was born.
But now she had done everything that could be done to-day in the chamber of
death--had done it all herself, with some aid from her sons in lifting, for she would
let no one be fetched to help her from the village, not being fond of female
neighbours generally; and her favourite Dolly, the old housekeeper at Mr.
Burge's, who had come to condole with her in the morning as soon as she heard
of Thias's death, was too dim-sighted to be of much use. She had locked the
door, and now held the key in her hand, as she threw herself wearily into a chair
that stood out of its place in the middle of the house floor, where in ordinary times
she would never have consented to sit. The kitchen had had none of her
attention that day; it was soiled with the tread of muddy shoes and untidy with
clothes and other objects out of place. But what at another time would have been