They’ll never write that o’er me, Mr. Penrose. I’m nobbud a withered stalk. Hoo were eight—I’m eighty. But for all that I should like a flaar on mi grave, and Joseph says I shall hev one.’
* * * * *
The autumn gave place to a long and cheerless winter, which all too slowly yielded to a late and nipping spring. The wild March wind swept across the moors, roaring loudly around the old conventicle, chasing the last year’s leaves in a mad whirl among the rows of headstones, and hissing, as though in anger, through the rank grasses growing on the innumerable mounds that marked the underlying dead, and then careering off, as though wrathful at its powerlessness to disturb the sleepers, to distant farmsteads and lone folds where starved ewes cowered with their early lambs under shivering thorns, and old men complained of the blast that roused the slumbering rheum and played havoc with their feeble frames. Scanty snow showers fell late under ’the roaring moon of daffodil,’ whitening the moorlands and lying glistening in the morning light, to be gathered up by the rays of the sun that day by day climbed higher in the cold blue of the sky of spring. Young blades of green lay scattered like emerald shafts amid the tawny wastes of the winter grass, and swelling branches told of a year’s returning life. Just as the golden chalice of the first crocus opened on the graves of the Rehoboth burial-yard, the old woman at the chapel-house died.
* * * * *
The funeral was to take place at three o’clock, but long before the hour old Joseph’s kitchen was filled with a motley group of mourners. They came from far and near, from moor and field, and from the cottages over the way. Every branch of the family was represented—sons and daughters, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, even to babies in arms. As they straggled in, the women attired in their best black, and the men wearing their top-hats (a headgear worn by the Lancashire operative only on the state occasion of funerals), it seemed as though old Joseph, like Abraham, was the father of a race as the stars of heaven for multitude, and as the sands by the seashore, innumerable.
An oppressive atmosphere filled the room, where, on a table under the window, the open coffin rested, in which lay, exposed to all eyes, the peaceful features and straightened limbs of the dead. As the mourners entered they bent reverently over the corpse, and moistened its immobile features with their tears, whispering kindly words as to the appearance the old woman wore in death, and calling to mind some characteristic grace and virtue in her past life.
On another table was stacked a number of long clay pipes with tobacco, from which the men assisted themselves, smoking with the silence and stolidity of Indians, the women preserving the same mute attitude, save for an occasional groan and suppressed sigh—the feminine method in Lancashire of mourning for the dead.