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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Grave-Diggers
By Thomas Hardy (1840–1928)
 
From ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’

ALL eyes were turned to the entrance as Stephen spoke, and the ancient-mannered conclave scrutinized him inquiringly.  1
  “Why, ’tis our Stephen!” said his father, rising from his seat; and still retaining the frothy mug in his left hand, he swung forward his right for a grasp. “Your mother is expecting ye—thought you would have come afore dark. But you’ll wait and go home with me? I have all but done for the day, and was going directly.”  2
  “Yes, ’tis Master Stephy, sure enough. Glad to see you so soon again, Master Smith,” said Martin Cannister, chastening the gladness expressed in his words by a strict neutrality of countenance, in order to harmonize the feeling as much as possible with the solemnity of a family vault.  3
  “The same to you, Martin; and you, William,” said Stephen, nodding around to the rest, who, having their mouths full of bread and cheese, were of necessity compelled to reply merely by compressing their eyes to friendly lines and wrinkles.  4
  “And who is dead?” Stephen repeated.  5
  “Lady Luxellian, poor gentlewoman, as we all shall,” said the under-mason. “Ay, and we be going to enlarge the vault to make room for her.”  6
  “When did she die?”  7
  “Early this morning,” his father replied, with an appearance of recurring to a chronic thought. “Yes, this morning. Martin hev been tolling ever since, almost. There, ’twas expected. She was very limber.”  8
  “Ay, poor soul, this morning,” resumed the under-mason, a marvelously old man, whose skin seemed so much too large for his body that it would not stay in position. “She must know by this time whether she’s to go up or down, poor woman.”  9
  “What was her age?”  10
  “Not more than seven or eight and twenty by candle-light. But, Lord! by day ’a was forty if ’a were an hour.”  11
  “Ay, night-time or daytime makes a difference of twenty years to rich feymels,” observed Martin.  12
  “She was one-and-thirty really,” said John Smith. “I had it from them that know.”  13
  “Not more than that!”  14
  “’A looked very bad, poor lady. In faith, ye might say she was dead for years afore ’a would own it.”  15
  “As my old father used to say,—‘dead, but wouldn’t drop down.’”  16
  “I seed her, poor soul,” said a laborer from behind some removed coffins, “only but last Valentine’s Day of all the world. ’A was arm in crook wi’ my lord. I says to myself, ‘You be ticketed “church-yard,” my noble lady, although you don’t dream on’t.’”  17
  “I suppose my lord will write to all the other lords anointed in the nation, to let ’em know that she that was is now no more?”  18
  “’Tis done and past. I see a bundle of letters go off an hour after the death. Sich wonderful black rims as they letters had—half an inch wide, at the very least.”  19
  “Too much,” observed Martin. “In short, ’tis out of the question that a human being can be so mournful as black edges half an inch wide. I’m sure people don’t feel more than a very narrow border when they feels most of all.”  20
  “And there are two little girls, are there not?” said Stephen.  21
  “Nice clane little faces!—left motherless now.”  22
  “They used to come to Parson Swancourt’s to play with Miss Elfride when I were there,” said William Worm. “Ah, they did so’s!” The latter sentence was introduced to add the necessary melancholy to a remark which intrinsically could hardly be made to possess enough for the occasion. “Yes,” continued Worm, “they’d run upstairs, they’d run down; flitting about with her everywhere. Very fond of her, they were. Ah well!”  23
  “Fonder than ever they were of their mother, so ’tis said here and there,” added a laborer.  24
  “Well, you see, ’tis natural. Lady Luxellian stood aloof from ’em so—was so drowsy-like, that they couldn’t love her in the jolly-companion way children want to like folks. Only last winter I seed Miss Elfride talking to my lady and the two children, and Miss Elfride wiped their noses for ’em so careful, my lady never once seeing that it wanted doing; and naturally children take to people that’s their best friend.”  25
  “Be as ’twill, the woman is dead and gone, and we must make a place for her,” said John. “Come, lads, drink up your ale, and we’ll just rid this corner, so as to have all clear for beginning at the wall as soon as ’tis light to-morrow.”  26
  Stephen then asked where Lady Luxellian was to lie.  27
  “Here,” said his father. “We are going to set back this wall and make a recess; and ’tis enough for us to do before the funeral. When my lord’s mother died, she said, ‘John, the place must be enlarged before another can be put in.’ But ’a never expected ’twould be wanted so soon. Better move Lord George first, I suppose, Simeon?”  28
  He pointed with his foot to a heavy coffin, covered with what had originally been red velvet, the color of which could only just be distinguished now.  29
  “Just as ye think best, Master John,” replied the shriveled mason. “Ah, poor Lord George!” he continued, looking contemplatively at the huge coffin; “he and I were as bitter enemies once as any could be, when one is a lord and t’other only a mortal man. Poor fellow! He’d clap his hand upon my shoulder and cuss me as familiar and neighborly as if he’d been a common chap. Ay, ’a cussed me up hill and ’a cussed me down, and then ’a would rave out again, and the goold clamps of his fine new teeth would glisten in the sun like fetters of brass, while I, being a small man and poor, was fain to say nothing at all. Such a strappen fine gentleman as he was too! Yes, I rather liked en sometimes. But once now and then, when I looked at his towering height, I’d think in my inside, ‘What a weight you’ll be, my lord, for our arms to lower under the aisle of Endelstow Church some day!’”  30
  “And was he?” inquired a young laborer.  31
  “He was. He was five hundredweight if ’a were a pound. What with his lead, and his oak, and his handles, and his one thing and t’other”—here the ancient man slapped his hand upon the cover with a force that caused a rattle among the bones inside—“he half broke my back when I took his feet to lower en down the steps there. ‘Ah,’ saith I to John there—didn’t I, John?—‘that ever one man’s glory should be such a weight upon another man!’ But there, I liked my Lord George sometimes.”  32
  “’Tis a strange thought,” said another, “that while they be all here under one roof, a snug united family o’ Luxellians, they be really scattered miles away from one another in the form of good sheep and wicked goats, isn’t it?”  33
  “True; ’tis a thought to look at.”  34
  “And that one, if he’s gone upward, don’t know what his wife is doing no more than the man in the moon, if she’s gone downward. And that some unfortunate one in the hot place is a-hollering across to a lucky one up in the clouds, and quite forgetting their bodies be boxed close together all the time.”  35
  “Ay, ’tis a thought to look at, too, that I can say ‘Hullo!’ close to fiery Lord George, and ’a can’t hear me.”  36
  “And that I be eating my onion close to dainty Lady Jane’s nose, and she can’t smell me.”  37
  “What do ’em put all their heads one way for?” inquired a young man.  38
  “Because ’tis church-yard law, you simple. The law of the living is, that a man shall be upright and downright; and the law of the dead is, that a man shall be east and west. Every state of society have its laws.”  39
  “We must break the law wi’ a few of the poor souls, however. Come, buckle to,” said the master mason.  40
  And they set to work anew.  41
 
 
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