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BURIAL OF LITTLE NELL.

69

And, like the Pleiads, loveriest of their train,
Shoot from their glorious spheres, and pass away
To darkle in the trackless void,-Yet, Time,
Time, the tomb-builder, holds his fierce career,
Dark, stern, all-pitiless, and pauses not
Amid the mighty wrecks that strew his path
To sit and muse, like other conquerors
Upon the fearful ruin he has wrought.

BURIAL OF LITTLE NELL.

CHARLES DICKENS.

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WHEN morning came, and they could speak more calmly on the subject of their grief, they heard how her life had closed.

She had been dead two days. They were all about her at the time, knowing that the end was drawing on. She died soon after daybreak. They had read and talked to her in the earlier portion of the night, but as the hours crept on, she sunk to sleep. They could tell by what she faintly uttered in her dreams, that they were of her journeyings with the old man; they were of no painful scenes, but of those who had helped and used them kindly, for she often said “God bless you!” with great fervor. Waking, she never wandered in her mind but once, and that was at beaua tiful music which she said was in the air. God knows. It may have been.

Opening her eyes at last, from a very quiet sleep, she begged that they would kiss her once again. That done, she turned to the old man with a lovely smile upon her facesuch, they said, as they had never seen, and never could forget-and clung with both her arms about his neck. They did not know that she was dead at first.

She had spoken very often of the two sisters, who, she said, were like dear friends to her. She wished they could

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be told how much she thought about them, and how she had watched them as they walked together by the river side at night. She would like to see poor Kit, she had often said of late. She wished there was somebody to take her love to Kit. And even then, she never thought or spoke about him but with something of her old, clear, merry laugh.

For the rest, she had never murmured or complained; but, with a quiet mind, and manner quite unaltered—save that she every day became more earnest and more grateful to them-faded like the light upon the summer's evening.

The child who had been her little friend came there almost as soon as it was day, with an offering of dried flowers, which he begged them to lay upon her breast. It was he who had come to the window over night and spoken to the sexton, and they saw in the snow traces of small feet, where he had been lingering near the room in which she lay before he went to bed. He had a fancy, it seemed, that they had left her there alone; and could not bear the thought.

He told them of his dream again, and that it was of her being restored to them, just as she used to be. He begged hard to see her, saying that he would be very quiet, and that they need not fear his being alarmed, for he had sat alone by his

younger brother all day long, when he was dead, and had felt glad to be so near him. They let him have his wish ; and indeed he kept his word, and was in his childish way a lesson to them all. Up to that

me the old man had not spoken once-except to her-or stirred from the bedside. But when he saw her little favorite, he was moved as they had not seen him yet, and made as though he would have him come nearer. Then pointing to the bed he burst into tears for the first time, and they who stood by, knowing that the sight of this child had done him good, left them alone together.

Soothing him with his artless talk of her, the child persuaded him to take some rest, to walk abroad, to do almost as he desired him. And when the day came on, which must remove her in her earthly shape from earthly eyes forever,

BURIAL OF LITTLE NELL.

71

he led him away, that he might not know when she was taken from him.

They were to gather fresh leaves and berries for her bed. It was Sunday--a bright clear, wintry afternoon--and as they traversed the village street, those who were walking in their path drew back to make way for them, and gave them a softened greeting. Some shook the old man kindly by the hand, some stood uncovered while he tottered by, and many cried “God help him!” as he passed along.

“Neighbor!” said the old man, stopping at the cottage where his young guide's mother dwelt, “how is it that the folks are nearly all in black to-day? I have seen a mourning ribbon or a piece of crape on almost every one."

She could not tell, the woman said.

“Why, you yourself—you wear the color too!” he cried. “Windows are closed that never used to be by day. What does this mean?Again the woman said she could not tell.

• We must go back," said the old man, hurriedly. “We must see what this is."

• No, no,” cried the child, detaining him. “Remember what you promised. Our way is to the old green lane, where she and I so often were, and where you found us more than once making those garlands for her garden. Do not turn back!”

“ Where is she now?” said the old man. “ Tell me that."

“Do you not know?” returned the child. “Did we not leave her but just now?” True. True. It was her we left

—was it!” He pressed his hand upon his brow, looked vacantly round, and as if impelled by a sudden thought, crossed the road, and entered the sexton's house. He and his deaf assistant were sitting before the fire. Both rose up, on seeing who it was.

The child made a hasty sign to them with his hand. It was the action of an instant, but that, and the old man's look, were quite enough.

“Do you—do you bury any one to-day?" he said eagerly.

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No, no! Who should we bury, sir?” returned the sexton. Ay, who indeed! I

say
with
you,

who indeed ?" “It is a holiday with us, good sir,” returned the sexton mildly. “We have no work to do to-day.”

Why then, I'll go where you will,” said the old man, turning to the child. “ You're sure of what you tell me? You would not deceive me? I am changed even in the little time since

you
last

saw me.” Go thy ways with him, sir,” cried the sexton, “and Heaven be with ye both!”

I am quite ready,” said the old man, meekly. “Come, boy, come”—and so submitted to be led away.

And now the bell—the bell she had so often heard by night and day, and listened to with solemn pleasure almost as a living voice-rung its remorseless toll for her, so young, so beautiful, so good. Decrepit age, and vigorous life, and blooming youth, and helpless infancy, poured forth-on crutches, in the pride of strength and health, in the full blush of promise, in the mere dawn of life-to gather round her tomb. Old men were there, whose eyes were dim and senses failing-grandmothers, who might have died ten years ago, and still been old—the deaf, the blind, the lame, the palsied, the living dead in many shapes and forms, to see the closing of that early grave. What was the death it would shut in, to that which still could crawl and creep above it!

Along the crowded path they bore her now; pure as the newly-fallen snow that covered it; whose day on earth had. been as fleeting. Under that porch, where she had sat when Heaven in its mercy brought her to that peaceful spot, she passed again, and the old church received her in its quiet shade.

They carried her to one old nook, where she had many and many a time sat musing, and laid their burden softly on the pavement. The light streamed on it through the colored window—a window, where the boughs of trees were ever rustling in the summer, and where the birds sang

BURIAL OF LITTLE NELL.

sweetly all day long. With every breath of air that stirred among those branches in the sunshine, some trembling, changing light, would fall

upon
her

grave. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Many a young hand dropped in its little wreath, many a stifled sob was heard. Some—and they were not a few-knelt down. All were sincere and truthful in their sorrow.

The service done, the mourners stood apart, and the villagers closed round to look into the grave before the pavement stone should be replaced. One called to mind how he had seen her sitting on that very spot, and how her book had fallen on her lap, and she was gazing with a pensive face upon the sky. Another told, how he had wondered much that one so delicate as she, should be so bold; hew she had never feared to enter the church alone at night, but had loved to linger there when all was quiet; and even to climb the tower stair, with no more light than that of the moon rays stealing through the loopholes in the thick old wall. A whisper went about among the oldest there, that she had seen and talked with angels: and when they called. to mind how she had looked, and spoken, and her early death, some thought it might be so indeed. Thus, coming to the grave in little knots, and glancing down, and giving place to others, and falling off in whispering groups of three or four, the church was cleared in time of all but the sexton and the mourning friends.

They saw the vault covered and the stone fixed down. Then, when the dusk of evening had come on, and not a sound disturbed the sacred stillness of the place—when the bright moon poured in her light on tomb and monument, on pillar, wall, and arch, and most of all (it seemed to them) upon her quiet grave—in that calm time, when all outward things and inward thoughts teem with assurance of immortality, and worldly hopes and fears are humbled in the dust before them—then, with tranquil and submissive hearts they turned away, and left the child with God.

Oh! it is hard to take to heart the lesson that such deaths

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