And he passed out of the churchyard, closing the heavy gate with a metallic clang. Nicholas lay on the marble slab, but the book slipped from his hands, and he gazed straight before him at the oriel window, where the ivy was tremulous with the shining bodies and clamorous voices of nesting sparrows. They darted swiftly from gable to gable, filling the air with shrill sounds of discord, and endowing with animation the inanimate pile, wrapping the dead bricks in a living shroud.
On the other side swept the long, colourless grasses, rippling in faint waves like a still lake that reflects the sunshine and swaying lightly beneath myriads of gauzy-winged bees that flashed with a droning noise from blade to blade, to find rest in the yellow hearts of the damask roses. Across the white vaults and the low-lying marble slabs innumerable shadows chased, and from above the gnarled old locust trees swept a fringe of vivid green, the slender blossoms hanging in tassels from the branches’ ends, and filling the air with a soft and ceaseless rain of fragrant petals. Pale as the ghosts of dead leaves, they fell always, fluttering night and day from the twisted boughs, settling in creamy flakes upon the bending grasses, and outlining in delicate tracery the epitaphs upon the discoloured marbles.
Nicholas lay with wide-open eyes, looking up at the oriel window where the sparrows twittered. On a near vault a catbird poised for an instant, surveying him with bright, distrustful eyes. Then, with an impetuous flutter of slate-gray wings, it fled to the poisonous oak on the far brick wall. A red-and-white cow, passing along the lane outside, stopped before the closed gate, and stood philosophically chewing the cud as she looked within through impeding bars. From the judge’s garden came the faint sound of a negro voice as the old gardener weeded the vegetables. Nicholas rolled over again and faced the outstretched wings of the noseless angel on the nearest tombstone. The loss of the nose had distorted the marble smile into a grimace, which gave a leer to the remaining features. As the boy looked at it he laughed suddenly, and his voice startled him amid the droning of bees. Then he sat up and glanced at his brier-scratched feet stretched upon the slab, and laughed again for the sheer joy of discord.
Nicholas followed the main street to its sudden end at King’s College, and turned into one of the diverging ways which skirted the whitewashed plank fence of the college grounds, and led to what was known in the neighbourhood as the Old Stage Road. Passing a straggling group of negro cabins, it stretched, naked, bleached, and barren, for a good half-mile, dividing with its sandy length the low-lying fields, which were sown on the one side in a sparse crop of grain and on the other in the rich leaves and round pink heads of ripening clover. At the end of the half-mile the road ascended a slight elevation, and the character of the soil changed abruptly into clay of vivid red, which, extending a dozen yards up the rain-washed hillside, appeared, in a general view of the landscape, like the scarlet tongue protruding from the silvery body of a serpent.