• 21 Nov - 27 Nov, 2020
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

The First Church of Tiverton stands on a hill, whence it overlooks the little village, with one or two pine–shaded neighbourhoods beyond, and, when the air is clear, a thin blue line of upland delusively like the sea. Set thus austerely aloft, it seems now a survival of the day when men used to go to meeting gun in hand, and when one stayed, a lookout by the door, to watch and listen. But this the present dwellers do not remember. Conceding not a sigh to the holy and strenuous past, they lament – and the more as they grow older – the stiff climb up the hill, albeit to rest in so sweet a sanctuary at the top. For it is sweet indeed. A soft little wind seems always to be stirring there, on summer Sundays a messenger of good. It runs whispering about, and wafts in all sorts of odours: honey of the milkweed and wild rose, and a Christmas tang of the evergreens just below. It carries away something, too – scents calculated to bewilder the thrift–hunting bee: sometimes a whiff of peppermint from an old lady's pew, but oftener the breath of musk and southernwood, gathered in ancient gardens, and borne up here to embroider the preacher's drowsy homilies, and remind us, when we faint, of the keen savour of righteousness.

Here in the church do we congregate from week to week; but behind it, on a sloping hillside, is the last home of us all, the old burying–ground, overrun with a briery tangle, and relieved by Nature's sweet and cunning hand from the severe decorum set ordinarily about the dead. Our very faithlessness has made it fair. There was a time when we were a little ashamed of it. We regarded it with affection, indeed, but affection of the sort accorded some rusty relative who has lain too supine in the rut of years. Thus, with growing ambition came, in due course, the project of a new burying–ground. This we dignified, even in common speech; it was always grandly "the Cemetery." While it lay unrealised in the distance, the home of our forbears fell into neglect, and Nature marched in, according to her lavishness, and adourned what we ignored. The white alder crept farther and farther from its bounds; tansy and wild rose rioted in profusion, and soft patches of violets smiled to meet the spring.

Here were, indeed, great riches, "a little of everything" that pasture life affords: a hardy bed of checkerberry, crimson strawberries nodding on long stalks, and in one sequestered corner the beloved Linnaea.

It seemed a consecrated pasture shut off from daily use, and so given up to pleasantness that you could scarcely walk there without setting foot on some precious outgrowth of the spring, or pushing aside summer loveliness better made for wear.

Ambition had its fulfillment. We bought our Cemetery, a large, green tract, quite square, and lying open to the sun. But our pendulum had swung too wide. Like many folk who suffer from one discomfort, we had gone to the utmost extreme and courted another. We were tired of climbing hills, and so we pressed too far into the lowland; and the first grave dug in our Cemetery showed three inches of water at the bottom. It was in "Prince's new lot," and there his young daughter was to lie. But her lover had stood by while the men were making the grave; and, looking into the ooze below, he woke to the thought of her fair young body there.

"God!" they heard him say, "she sha'n't lay so. Leave it as it is, an' come up into the old burying'–ground. There's room enough by me."

The men, all mates of his, stopped work without a glance and followed him; and up there in the dearer shrine her place was made. The father said but a word at her changed estate. Neighbours had hurried in to bring him the news; he went first to the unfinished grave in the Cemetery, and then strode up the hill, where the men had not yet done. After watching them for a while in silence, he turned aside; but he came back to drop a trembling hand upon the lover's arm.

"I guess," he said miserably, "she'd full as leaves lay here by you."

And she will be quite beside him, though, in the beaten ways of earth, others have come between. For years he lived silently and apart; but when his mother died, and he and his father were left staring at the dulled embers of life,

he married a good woman, who perhaps does not deify early dreams; yet she is tender of them, and at the death of her own child it was she who went toiling up to the graveyard, to see that its little place did not encroach too far. She gave no reason, but we all knew it was because she meant to let her husband lie there by the long–loved guest.

Naturally enough, after this incident of the forsaken grave, we conceived a strange horror of the new Cemetery, and it has remained deserted to this day. It is nothing but a meadow now, with that one little grassy hollow in it to tell a piteous tale. It is mown by any farmer who chooses to take it for a price; but we regard it differently from any other plot of ground. It is "the Cemetery," and always will be. We wonder who has bought the grass. "Eli's got the Cemetery this year," we say. And sometimes awe–stricken little squads of school children lead one another there, hand in hand, to look at the grave where Annie Prince was going to be buried when her beau took her away. They never seem to connect that heart–broken wraith of a lover with the bent farmer who goes to and fro driving the cows. He wears patched overalls, and has sciatica in winter; but I have seen the gleam of youth awakened, though remotely, in his eyes.

to be continued...