Oh yes. And tall trees But they are not so separate from the sextons labours as you think.
Not in my mind, and recollection such as it is, said the old man. Indeed they often help it. For say that I planted such a tree for such a man. There it stands, to remind me that he died. When I look at its broad shadow, and remember what it was in his time, it helps me to the age of my other work, and I can tell you pretty nearly when I made his grave.
But it may remind you of one who is still alive, said the child.
Of twenty that are dead, in connection with that one who lives, then, rejoined the old man; wife, husband, parents, brothers, sisters, children, friends a score at least. So it happens that the sextons spade gets worn and battered. I shall need a new one next summer.
The child looked quickly towards him, thinking that he jested with his age and infirmity: but the unconscious sexton was quite in earnest.
Ah! he said, after a brief silence. People never learn. They never learn. Its only we who turn up the ground, where nothing grows and everything decays, who think of such things as these who think of them properly, I mean. You have been into the church?
I am going there now, the child replied.
Theres an old well there, said the sexton, right underneath the belfry; a deep, dark, echoing well. Forty year ago, you had only to let down the bucket till the first knot in the rope was free of the windlass, and you heard it splashing in the cold dull water. By little and little the water fell away, so that in ten year after that, a second knot was made, and you must unwind so much rope, or the bucket swung tight and empty at the end. In ten years time, the water fell again, and a third knot was made. In ten years more, the well dried up; and now, if you lower the bucket till your arms are tired, and let out nearly all the cord, youll hear it, of a sudden, clanking and rattling on the ground below; with a sound of being so deep and so far down, that your heart leaps into your mouth, and you start away as if you were falling in.
A dreadful place to come on in the dark! exclaimed the child, who had followed the old mans looks and words until she seemed to stand upon its brink.
What is it but a grave! said the sexton. What else! And which of our old folks, knowing all this, thought, as the spring subsided, of their own failing strength, and lessening life? Not one!
Are you very old yourself? asked the child, involuntarily.
I shall be seventy-nine next summer.
You still work when you are well?
Work! To be sure. You shall see my gardens hereabout. Look at the window there. I made, and have kept, that plot of ground entirely with my own hands. By this time next year I shall hardly see the sky, the boughs will have grown so thick. I have my winter work at night besides.
He opened, as he spoke, a cupboard close to where he sat, and produced some miniature boxes, carved in a homely manner and made of old wood.
Some gentlefolks who are fond of ancient days, and what belongs to them, he said, like to buy these keepsakes from our church and ruins. Sometimes, I make them of scraps of oak, that turn up here and there; sometimes of bits of coffins which the vaults have long preserved. See here this is a little chest of the last kind, clasped at the edges with fragments of brass plates that had writing on em once, though
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