Page:Female Prose Writers of America.djvu/326

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weakness of feeling, he now softened his voice as much as it would bear softening. “This way—right behind the—the—pass on!”

Lucy hesitated a moment, and many a generous one longed to step forward and give her an arm; but selfish prudence forbade. One bright girl, who had been Lucy’s playmate from the cradle, but had not seen her face for many months, drew impulsively towards her; but she met a reproving eye from the crowd, and only whispering, “I do pity you, Lucy!” she shrunk back, and sobbed almost as loud as her erring friend. Lucy started at the words, and, gazing wildly round her, tottered on after the coffin.

Loud, and slow, and fearfully solemn, stroke after stroke, the old church-bell doled forth its tale; and slowly and solemnly the crowd moved on with a measured tread, though there was many a careless eye and many a smiling lip, turning to other eyes and other lips, with something like a jest between them. On moved the crowd after the mourner; while she, with irregular, laboured step, her arms crossed on her bosom, and her head bent to the same resting-place, just kept pace with the body of her dead boy. Winding through the opened gate into the church-yard, they went trailing slowly through the long, dead grass, while some of the children crept slily from the procession, to pick up the tufts of scarlet and yellow leaves, which made this place of graves strangely gay; and several young people wandered off, arm in arm, pausing as they went, to read the rude inscriptions lettered on the stones.

On went the procession, away to the farthermost corner, where slept the stranger and the vagabond. Here a little grave had been dug, and the coffin was now set down beside it, while the long procession circled slowly round. Several went up and looked into the dark, damp cradle of the dead child; one observed to his neighbour that it was very shallow; and another said that Tom Jones always slighted his work when there was nobody to see to it; any how, it was not much matter, the child would stay buried; and another let drop a jest, a hard, but not very witty one, though it was followed by a smothered laugh. All this passed quietly; nothing was spoken above a low murmur; but Lucy heard it all;