SWARMS OF CHILDREN.
“As our hope is that this our sister doth.”—Burial Service.
And now was to take place that ceremony to which Madam Melcombe’s thoughts had so often been directed. She had tried to arrange that it should be imposing, and imposing indeed it was, but not by virtue of the profusion of the refreshment, not by the presence of the best hearse from the county town, the best mourning coaches, the grandest plumes, but by the unsolicited attendance of a great company of people come together to do homage to a life distinguished by its misfortunes, its patience, and its charities.
She had never been able to think of herself as taking part in that ceremony unconsciously; her orders had always been given as if by one who felt that if things were meanly done she should know it; but in taking care that refreshments should be provided for all the funeral attendants, she little thought that the whole parish, men and women, were to follow her, and most of them in tears. But it was so. The tenants had been invited; they walked after her in scarf and band, two and two, and after them, in such mourning as they could afford, came all the people, and pressed on in a procession that seemed to the real mourners almost endless, to look down upon her coffin and obtain a place near her grave.
It was out of doors, and all nature was in white. Round the churchyard pear-trees grew, and leaned their laden branches over its walls. Pear-trees, apple-trees, and cherries filled the valley and crowded one another up all the hills. Mr. Craik’s voice, as he stood at the grave, also in white, was heard that quiet afternoon far and near. It was remarked on all sides how impressively he read, and there were plenty to be edified by the solemn words who had never heard his voice before, for many people had walked over from neighbouring parishes, and stood in groups at respectful distances.
All looked at the stranger-sons; they stood side by side, awe-struck, motionless, depressed. The old do not easily shed tears, but there was something in the demeanour of both these old men that was felt to tell of no common emotion. One of them seemed unable to look down into the grave at all, he kept his eyes and his face lifted up. The other, as little Peter stood crying by his side, put his hand down and let it rest on the child’s uncovered head, as if to quiet and comfort him.
This little, half-unconscious action gave great umbrage to some of the spectators. “Hadn’t the dear child allers been the biggest comfort to his grandmother, and why indeed wasn’t he to cry as much as ever he liked? He had nothing to reproach himself with, and if he had had his rights, he would have been made chief mourner. Those that stood next the corpse had never been any comfort or pleasure to her, but that dear child had walked beside her to church ever since he had been old enough to go there himself.”