Yes! and, said our hostess, they were making it like a garden! It had been long neglected and become disgracefully overgrown with weeds and bushes, but now they were trimming it up in fine style. They were cemetery experts from Batavia way, and the job was to cost sixteen hundred dollars. But it was worth it, for indeed they were making it look like a garden!
Presently we stepped over to the churchyard. We should not have been human if we had not advanced with a Hamlet-Horatio air: “Has this fellow no feeling of his business, that he sings at grave-making?” We found our four friends in a space of the churchyard from which the tombstones had been temporarily removed, engaged, not with mattock and death’s head, but with spirit-level and measuring-cord. They were levelling a stretch of newly-turned and smoothed ground, and they pointed with pride to the portion of the work already accomplished, serried rows of spick-and-span headstones, all “plumb,” as they explained, and freshly scraped—not a sign of caressing moss or a tendril of vine to be seen. A neat job, if there ever was one. We should have seen the yard before they had taken it in hand! There wasn’t a stone that was straight, and the weeds and the brambles—well, look at it now. We looked. Could anything be more refined or in more perfect taste? The churchyard was as smooth and correct as a newly-barbered head, not a hair out of place. We looked and kept our thoughts to ourselves, but we wondered if the dead were really as grateful as they should be for this drastic house-cleaning? Did they appreciate this mathematical uniformity, this spruce and spotless residential air of their numbered rectangular rest; or was not the old way nearer to their desire, with soft mosses tucking them in from the garish sun, and Spring winds spreading coverlets of wild flowers above their sleep?
But—who knows?—perhaps the dead prefer to be up-to-date, and to follow the fashion in funeral furnishings; and surely such expert necropolitans as our four friends ought to know. No doubt the Sheldon Center dead would have the same tastes as the Sheldon Center living; for, after all, we forget, in our idealization of them, that the dead, like the living, are a vast bourgeoisie. Yes! it is a depressing thought—the bourgeoisie of the dead!
As we stood talking, the young priest of the parish joined our group. He was a German, from Duesseldorf, and his worn face lit up when he found that Colin had been at Duesseldorf and could talk with him about it. As he stood with us there on that bleak upland, he seemed a pathetic, symbolic figure, lonely standard-bearer of the spirit in one of the dreary colonies of that indomitable church that carries her mystic sacraments even into the waste places and borders of the world. The romance of Rome was far away beyond that horizon on which he turned his wistful look; here was its hard work, its daily prose. But he turned proudly to the great pile that loomed over us. We had commented on its size in so remote a parish.