Chapter VII.

BY the dim light of the dull December morning, I saw my mother on her knees, beside my sisters' bed. Her face was hidden in her hands, and the room echoed her convulsive sobs. The Watcher had crept up in the darkness, and carried off his prey.

My first feeling was one of stubborn, indignant unbelief. My father could not thus have gone away for ever, without one farewell word or smile for me! And then that “for ever” clasped and strangled me. I choked and struggled as though a hand had clutched my throat, and a giant's knee had been pressed upon my breast. Next came the remembrance of how little lately I had loved the dead—and now he could never know how dearly I had loved him; how I had watched his looks, and hung upon his words! And who was there left to care for me as he had cared? I dashed my head upon the pillow, and prayed that I might die

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—might overtake him before he entered heaven, and entreat him to forgive me and take me with him.

Tears came, at length, as if they would never cease to flow. But before two days were over, the fountain was dried up; and I feared that people would think that I did not care for my father's death, because I could not cry. With an hypocrisy of grief that yet was only half hypocrisy, I would take out my handkerchief and force myself to sob, when those who had not seen me really weep came in.

How strange, how shocking, it appeared, that any one could do anything just as if he had been alive—talk about any one but him! I overheard the girl who came from the village to help make the mourning, chatting in the kitchen with Jenny about some coming wedding; and when I saw Jenny laugh, and then heard her scold the girl for making her let down a stitch in her knitting, I was horror-struck. For people out of doors to be thinking about merry-making, even to go on as usual with their daily work; for Jenny to knit in that unconcerned way and to laugh, with my father lying dead in the house,—seemed a kind of sacrilege. I didn't even like to see my mother writing those sad letters with the mournful news to distant friends. The black wax and the deep-bordered paper only half reconciled me to a task that I thought she ought to have been too sorry to perform. I kept a jealous watch over my sisters' every look and word. A robin that came every morning to the window of the breakfastroom for crumbs, had been neglected lately. Janet noticed its reproachful tapping at the pane, and ran out with its long intermitted meal; and when she came back, began to tell us gaily how the robin had perched upon her shoulder, and eaten out of her hand. I told her that she cared more for her bird than she did for her father, and was glad to make her cry. I felt for the first time in my life superior to her. Pride, like a rock-plant, can grow in scanty soil, and clings all the more closely to it for its scantiness.

When my father had been placed in his coffin, we were taken in to see him. I had longed to see him, but I felt angry and defrauded when I had seen him. I was robbed of my memory of him as he was when alive by the sight of the unfamiliar-looking corpse. Those nipt features, those sealed and sunken eyes, with the long, black lashes streaking the white cheeks like ink, that cold, hard brow that made me shiver when I kissed it and turned my lips to stone, were so unlike the face I had expected—so void of any look of love or care for me—that then I experienced to the full my loss, felt that my father, indeed, was gone for ever.

The sickly scent of the burning lavender stifled me; the chilly sunbeams, stealing in through the diamond-holes of the closed shutters, had

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a ghostly look as they fell upon the coffin-lid standing upright against the wall, and lighted up the date of death upon the polished plate; the awful hush in the room made it appear as though there were watchers there in whose presence we did not dare even to whisper. I rushed out, and tried to forget what I had seen—to recall my father as he was when he used to take me on his knee.

But not even in fancy could I get near him now. He was severed from me, it seemed, by an immensity of space and time. The few days that had elapsed since his death were like a gulf of ages. And evermore the picture of the darkened room, with the strange inmate that Death had left in it when he took away my father, rose up before me. When the moon shone at midnight, I had to follow its light, through the shutter-holes, down to the shimmering plate, and the marble face, and the still, shadowy half-forms with which I had peopled the chamber. I saw them now keeping their silent sentry round the corpse. I knew that I was lying in my bed, and yet in spirit I was peering through the shutters, trembling lest one of the watchers should turn and fix me with its spectral eye. The agony of my terror often made me shriek. It was a waking nightmare.

My father had no surviving relatives. My mother's few friends lived in England; too far away to be present at the funeral. I was the only one of the family that was to follow my father to the grave; but, according to the custom in South Wales, all the parish, and scores from the villages around, flocked to the churchyard.

It was a bright frosty morning. The snow lay deep upon the hills. The red shawls of the women, as they came down, stained it as with a trickling stream of blood. The waters of the bay, contrasted with its whitened shores, seemed doubly blue, and shone like polished steel.

The doctor, the undertaker, Mr. Brown, my mother and myself were in the library. Brown and the doctor sipping their wine, and munching with much enjoyment the rich funeral cake that always makes me think of the rank churchyard soil; the undertaker fitting on the hat-bands, and gliding about with the true undertaker's cat-like tread, heaving sighs to be paid for, although not recorded, in the bill (“To Sorrow, so much” would have a startling look!); my mother, pale in her widow's cap and glossy mourning, sternly quelling her grief as a keeper might hold down a struggling tiger—afraid for one moment to relax his hold, lest then the furious beast should master him.

There was a shuffling of feet in the room above stairs. Brown began to pick the paper from the buttons of his gloves, and to blow out the

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fingers; the doctor took up his hat and smoothed the crown; the undertaker, with more delicacy, slipped out to lessen the noise. Presently the heavy, uncertain tread of many feet was heard upon the stairs—a subdued rustling and bustle in the hall—and then the undertaker looked in and whispered “we are ready, gentlemen!” For those who have to stay in the death-robbed house, that is the awful moment. A wild light flashed in my mother's eyes, as though she would stop the funeral, and still retain her own. They fell on me, and cut me to the heart; for, lurking in the love with which they filled—like a sea-monster deep down beneath the summer waves—I saw this thought: “Oh, why was not Willie left me?” It was not envy that I felt then, but a crushing sense of my worthlessness, a pang of anguish because I could be no support, no solace to one whom I loved next to my father, and whom he had loved the best. She clasped me to her breast as though to atone for the slight she saw I had discovered, and burst into a passionate flood of tears. Brown then clutched me in his hateful hand, and led me away. We went out. The simple train was soon marshalled, and winding round the leafless rosebushes powdered with sparkling rime, passed through a silent throng of uncovered villagers along the churchyard path.

Sadly the psalm rose and fell as we moved slowly over the crunching snow. The waves had sorrow in their voices as they broke softly—hushed, as it were—upon the rocks beneath us. The faint twitter of the few birds, feebly springing from bough to bough in the cold wintry sunlight, and noiselessly sprinkling the dark pall with the glittering crystals they shook down, seemed fit for funeral song.

The psalm ceased when we reached the lych-gate, and a deep voice that I had never heard before, began to intone the solemn Burial Service. I was glad that Brown was not to bury my father; but what business had Brown to be walking with me? What did he care for the dead?

We entered the church, the coffin was placed upon the trestles in the aisle, and the service went on. Everything had an unreal, unfamiliar, dream-like look. Pulpit and reading-desk were hung with black. The lustrous leaves and crimson berries of the holly in the pews reminded me for the first time that Christmas had come and gone. Most “merry” had been ours! Everywhere were there strange faces; but I cared not now for the eyes fastened on me. My grief was almost swallowed up in pride that so many should have come to see my father buried, and that I was the only one who belonged to him in all that solemn throng.

We came out again into the biting air, and circled the fresh-dug grave. The black gaping pit in the else unbroken snow brought back all the bitterness

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of grief. A few more minutes, and the last trace of my father would have vanished from the earth. Cruelly quick the clergyman seemed to read. My head swam as the cords were placed under the coffin, and when it had been lowered to its narrow bed, and the rattling soil had consigned “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” and we leaned forward to take the last look of that which was to be covered up until the Archangel's trump shall summon all to judgment, I lost all further consciousness, and fell senseless on the ground.

When I came to myself, I was at home, lying on the sofa. My mother was bathing my forehead; the clergyman who had buried my father standing by. He had carried me from the churchyard, and now told me that my father had been his dearest friend, then kissed me, and went upon his way. I never saw him again, but I long associated his kind, calm, serious face, as he stood looking down upon me, with that of Him who stopped the bier outside the gates of Nain; and never forgot, either, to add, as a rider to the recollection—that son was worth restoring to his mother!

The blinds were up once more, and the house, after its week's gloom, looked most unfeelingly bright in the unwonted sunshine. But the weeks rolled on, and I soon remembered my father only as we remember a ship that we have passed at sea.